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Time Paradox

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"I told him this wouldn't work!" Starscream shrieks, vying to the side to avoid a shot, Ravage carefully held in his talons. "I told him."

"We know! Stop whining already!" Ramjet, carrying Rumble on his back, growls as he pulls up next to the Air Commander, behind his right wing, Thundercracker's position as the Second Wing of the Trine.

But Thundercracker isn't here. And neither is Skywarp, nor the other two Coneheads, or any other Cassette.

They're with Megatron and the rest of the Decepticon army, raiding yet another power plant, while the four of them were supposed to 'distract' the Autobots by attacking a smaller one far away from their real objective.

But, as Starscream pointed out over and over again before Megatron almost slashed his wings and ordered them out nevertheless, four Decepticons aren't enough to attract the attention of the whole of the Autobots. More so if two of said Decepticons are Cassettes and, the two others, Seekers.

If only their Trinemates had been allowed to come along, maybe the distraction wouldn't have been as big a failure as it has been.

At least, it would have earned them more attention than just that engineer Medic and the war-built Minibot.

Oh, and Megatron will blame this on Starscream, no doubt.

"I told him," the Air Commander hisses under his breath, his mood as dark as the sky and as ready to snap as the charge building in the storm clouds.

Though he's not as far gone in his rage to not notice them.

A quick look up and around, and he knows they won't make it out of the cloud cover before the rain begins.

And, worst of all, the lightning.

They may have organic-looking alt modes, but they're still metallic. Plus, they're flying, which only makes them bigger targets.

If it were only Ramjet and himself, Starscream would have taken further up until they were over the clouds. But there are the Cassettes to take into account.

The Seekers' plumage keeps water droplets away from joints and the base layer, so the temperatures of their new altitude wouldn't harm them when the liquid forming the clouds froze. It would be a simple matter of ruffling themselves a bit to get rid of the ice if it became annoying. Their intakes are coded to evaporate any liquid and keep their engines working at optimum efficiency, and their optics are also modified to endure the harsh conditions of higher altitudes.

But the Cassettes' systems are not.

And Starscream really doesn't want to explain to Soundwave why his creations are damaged due to ice forming in their joints and inner workings. Or, worst of all, why they deactivated.

Not that he wants harm to come to the Cassettes, anyway. But that is something better kept in the deepest recesses of his processor.

So, since increasing altitude is out of the question, and continue flying under the cover of the storm is calling for a lightning strike, the Air Commander decides to put Plan C in action.

Find a refuge to stay in until the storm abates or stops completely.

"Huh, Starscream?" Ramjet calls when the growling of thunder echoes far too loud and close, streams of electricity rushing through the clouds.

"I'm looking. Try to find some cave or burrow or anywhere we could stay hidden in. There's no way we're getting out of this right now," he answers with a growl, still searching for a refuge almost frantically.

"There!" the Air Commander turns his head sharply, quickly seeing what the Conehead has, and, without need for anything else, both turn and dive towards what looks like a cave's entrance.

He can hear Rumble squeak at the sudden move, and Ravage tenses in his hold. Still, the Fliers only open their wings to slow their mad descent when they're close enough to confirm it is a cave.

A big one.

They fly inside, Ramjet at the front and ready to 'convince' any previous occupants to leave with his unburdened talons, and find it empty.

Starscream stops midair but doesn't touch down, even if Ravage twitches in his hold.

"A cave this big shouldn't be unoccupied," the Air Commander muses out loud, and the Conehead, also hovering in front of him, turns around. "We need to make sure no other creature is here before we settle down," he orders, and, slowly, he lowers himself to be able to drop the Cassette on the ground.

The Rusty-Spotted Cat shakes himself and stretches as Starscream lands next to him, talons scrapping the ground and big optics fixed on the darkness filling what is starting to look more like a tunnel than a cave.

Ramjet touches down not too far, and Rumble quickly jumps off his back.

"You mean we have to go further inside? Why?"

"We don't know how long this storm may go on. Would you rather we stay here and find ourselves attacked by a pack of coyotes, or a bear, and have no place to go?"

Rumble muses that for a bit, most likely thinking of ways they could tear apart whatever beast they found themselves against. However, a quick look at the four of them makes the Least Weasel's fur bristle.

Yes, they are sturdier that any animal. Yes, they have weapons.

But their energy gauges are not full, and they will need the power to go back to the Victory.

And they are Seekers and Cassettes, some of the weakest, armor-wise, frame types of the Decepticons.

The sturdiest of them is Ramjet, but the Crested Eagle is reinforced with other Seekers in mind, not a bear's thick hide or a coyote's well-placed bite.

No. If they want to stay in one piece, they need to either scare whatever is already inside, or rush to find another shelter while the storm is still brewing.

Without answering, Ravage stalks forwards, ears pricked and whiskers twitching as his darkness-adapted optics scan the cave.

The rest follow, the Seekers’ own heavily developed visual systems looking around, while Rumble sniffs the ground.

"Doesn't seem anything's been here in a while," the Least Weasel whispers after a bit, carefully staying between the Fliers.

"Do you think there may be another entrance?" Ramjet asks as softly, crest fanning all the way open in an intimidating display meant to hide his own doubt and fear.

Starscream is as high-strung as them, but, fortunately, he doesn't have fur or a crest that rise as a reaction. Not that the rest don't know he's as twitchy, but at least it doesn't show as badly.

"It's a possibility we have to take into account. Perhaps our entrance hasn't been used, but if there are more…"

"So what? We're going to look around until we've mapped every micron of this place?" Rumble snarls with distaste, pulling his head up to glare at the Air Commander.

"Look at it this way. If we don't find anything, at least we'll have passed some time. Besides, Megatron will be more likely not to shred all of us if this place turns out to be a good spot to settle an outpost or a secondary base," he answers calmly, and Ramjet nods in appreciation, even if he's smirking almost mockingly.

They all know that, if their leader is going to punish anyone by how the mission went, it will be no other than the Peregrine Falcon. The rest are practically safe, with the Crested Eagle and the Least Weasel only having to worry about being given monitor or cleaning duty.

Distasteful, but at least they won't be harmed by it.

Nevertheless, they stay silent. No one wants to hear Starscream's screechy rambles.

And the creepy dark tunnel-cave they're exploring right now is more than enough to distract them.

A loud roar of thunder stops them and makes dirt and pebbles fall from the tall ceiling.

But, when it dies, there's no other sound from further into the darkness. No whimpering of an animal scared by the storm, no growling, not even the squeaking of bats.

Somehow, if the rising fur and feathers and opening wings are any indication, the quiet doesn't reassure any of them.

"Perhaps we should go back to the mouth of the cave. It's obvious there's nothing here," Starscream whispers, trying for nonchalant but sounding creeped.

Nevertheless, the others nod in agreement, with Ravage taking some steps back to be next to his brother and between the two larger mechs.

And then, no one moves, still staring into the darkness.

Turning their backs to it is not an option.

Before they can do more, though, another roar, louder than before, shakes the cave.

Shrieks and yowls of surprise echo against the walls, but don't drown the crashing growing louder behind them.

A quick look at the path they've come from reveals only a wall of fallen rocks.

Cave in.

They're trapped.

Immediately, Ramjet's fans start to overwork as he squeaks in fear.

Starscream isn't much better, but he's been in similar situations before. Even if this time there will be no Skyfire to help him clear a path.

But the Crested Eagle doesn't need to know that. He just needs to calm down. So, the Air Commander opens a wing and whacks the back of the Conehead's helm with it.

Ramjet stops his little sounds of despair to stare at him with wide optics.

Straightening with a small scowl on his beak, Starscream lifts his wing again.

"Will you calm down?" he asks casually, not shrieking or shouting, making sure his voice is down to a somehow soothing rasp. "Yes, that entrance is blocked. So, we keep walking and see if there's another exit, just like what we were doing before. And, even if there isn't, do you really think Megatron won't come back for us? At the very least, Soundwave will manage to get the Constructicons here to recover his Cassettes. Besides, there's enough space to stretch our wings, see?" he explains, demonstrating his last words by opening his wings as wide as they go.

A bit tentatively, Ramjet mimics him and, when he gets his wings open all the way, finally slumps down a bit in relief, his fans turning off and his crest lowering.

"Now, let's keep going," he orders, once more turning to the tunnel—

Not having realized the Cassettes have pulled closer to him at the Crested Eagle's distressed act, Starscream stumbles on Rumble and almost falls on his beak.

He scowls and glares down at the sheepishly smiling Least Weasel, but the Conehead's snickers are reason enough not to reprimand him.

So, Starscream just huffs, shakes himself as he straightens, and starts to walk.

The soft clicking of Ramjet’s talons and Rumble's scurrying steps are enough to know they follow. The dark silent shape quickly pulling up by his side, optics glinting a bit as it looks around, is all he needs to know Ravage does so too.

It's almost a breem later when another small quake shakes the cave, more dust falling, but no indication of rocks about to crash on their helms.

Nevertheless, they all stop and huddle close without thought, the Cassettes pressing against their legs as Starscream feels Ramjet's wing and side against his own.

It takes some nanokliks before silence falls again.

"Is thunder supposed to do that?" Rumble whispers, and the Air Commander can feel him shiver.

"Looks like it," he answers softly, nudging the Least Weasel away before resuming their walk. "Come now. The sooner we find an exit, the better."

Ramjet is quick to go back to the Peregrine Falcon's side, staying close enough that their wings rub against each other from time to time. The Cassettes stay between them this time, brushing against their legs but expertly moving away from their talons when they take a step.

The loudest roar and worst tremor yet stop them with renewed shrieks, almost sending them to the floor—

The ground caves in.

It's only because of their reflexes that the Cassettes manage to grab onto the Fliers when they start to flap their wings, even if they use their claws to do so. However, none of the Seekers seems to feel the pain in their legs, optics widening as they see the light that has appeared at the end of the tunnel.

With just a quick thought about securing the Rusty-Spotted Cat latched onto a thigh by clasping a talon-ended pede around his dangling lower body, Starscream rushes to the exit, Ramjet close behind.

Dust and pebbles keep falling, accompanied by more dangerous bigger rocks, and the claws digging into his leg tighten their hold as the Seekers take sharp turns to evade them.

But, finally, they fly into open air—

And almost crash into the ground at the sudden environmental readings assaulting them.

The ambient Energon levels are so high that, if it wasn't for the isolation their fur- or feather-like outer layer gives them, their systems would crash.

There's no way this place is Earth.

Dumbstruck, but managing to keep his flight smooth, Starscream hovers close enough to the ground that Ravage is practically laid down on it.

When the Cassette releases his hold on his leg, the Air Commander lands—and hisses as he feels the sharp pinpricks the overwhelming levels of ambient Energon are sending up his damaged leg.

The injuries are minor, barely a dot of fluid where the claws have indented the metal. But they are more than enough to let him feel the effects of the current atmosphere on the lowest possible degree.

"No one transform! The environmental Energon levels are high enough to deactivate us with enough exposure of our root modes. Our fur and feathers are our only protection against them!" he shrieks when Ramjet lands, Rumble falling to the ground with a soft 'oomph'.

"I'll say. This hurts like slagging white-red needles!" the Conehead growls, shaking the leg the Least Weasel was clinging to, which now bears small dots of pink between some of the scales thanks to the Cassette's claws.

"Where the frag are we?!" Rumble exclaims after getting up onto his back legs, observing their surroundings with wide optics. "This can't be Earth, right?"

"It's an organic planet, no doubt. But it doesn't look like Earth," Starscream muses, looking up at the two differently sized C-like satellites visible on the blue sky. "The air composition is fairly similar to it, though the Energon levels are impossibly high," he adds, trying to ignore the jolts going up and down his damaged leg as he scans their surroundings. "Strange…" he whispers at his latest realization, but, just in case, plucks up a blade of what looks like green grass and runs his scans on it again, hoping for different results this time. "This is supposed to be grass. Earth grass."

"I think your scans are shot," Ramjet answers, though his optics are narrowed in confusion. "If this isn't Earth, how could that be Earth grass?"

"Time stamp?"

As one, they all turn to Ravage, who simply looks back at them, waiting for their answer.

All three mechs find themselves shocked when they take a look at their chronometers, and a simple look is enough to let them know it's the same for the rest.

Their chronometers are malfunctioning, still counting from the joor down, but signaling an error when it comes to orn to further up time measures.

"Orn?" Rumble asks, and the Seekers and his fellow Cassette only nod in answer. "Frag."

"So, what? We've been shot into another time? That's ridiculous!" Ramjet shouts, looking around before glaring at Starscream. "How the frag are we going to get back now?!"

"Not shouting, that's for sure," he snarls back, looking at the cave they've come out of.

The entrance is blocked by rocks that look too heavy to be moved.

No way back through there, since none of them would be able to even make any of them twitch.

This is all Megatron's fault.


Soundwave can't recharge.

Correction, he can, there's nothing wrong with his systems.

But he won't.

The Ethiopian Wolf is curled in as tight a ball as possible without crushing his creations.

Laserbeak and Buzzsaw are pressed against his stomach and close to one another. Ratbat hangs from his side with his helm between theirs, as his youngest Cassette can't enter recharge without grabbing onto something.

Soundwave’s hind leg frames them, with his tail covering the Elf Owl and Loggerhead Shrike. The Common Vampire Bat is buried as much as possible in his creator's short fur, and with the small blanket someone stole from the humans hiding both his and the Communications Officer's frames.

But they're all in deep recharge, having worried themselves to exhaustion long ago.

No, the reason Soundwave himself can't recharge is the Cassette curled against his chest plates, still shaking softly, though no longer whimpering.

The dark reddish-brown Least Weasel is halfway curled into a tiny ball and halfway spread over his creator's chest plates, though his optics are shuttered and he is in recharge.

A dark, restless recharge.

Curling his front paws around the small frame only helps so much, as does the proximity. So, Soundwave licks his helm from time to time while keeping his engines to a soft and soothing purr.

Frenzy relaxes a bit at the contact and, despite the awkward position, the Ethiopian Wolf keeps his neck bent to softly nuzzle his Cassette.

He wishes Starscream was here.

All the remaining four Seekers are sharing the Command Trine's quarters, and he knows they are bundled as close as Soundwave and his creations.

They had been returning to the Victory after a failed raid, designated such since they hadn't managed to get as much Energon as they should have if the plan had worked. That had been when the Communications Officer first realized the bonds with Rumble and Ravage were strangely quiet.

They'd gone with Starscream and Ramjet to put in motion Megatron's distraction, despite the Air Commander's complaints that only the four of them wouldn't be enough to really do anything. So, as usual when working in different tasks, they'd kept the bond to a minimum to not distract the others.

Sure, Soundwave had felt their annoyance and even some hints of fear, for they never closed the bond completely, but he'd paid them no mind.

If the situation was dire, they would let him know. Besides, Starscream would never let something happen to his Cassettes and, by extension, neither would Ramjet.

The Conehead could be dense, and more 'servos on' than a thinker, but he wasn't stupid enough to disobey the Air Commander. And Soundwave was sure Starscream had made his creations' safety an order.

But, because of the almost closed state of the bond, he hadn't really noticed when he stopped receiving input, busy with the battle and trying to keep Megatron's rage at bay.

They were over the sea when Soundwave decided that they'd been silent long enough.

He opened the bond—and shock made his anti-gravs fail and he was suddenly underwater, his side hurting, cold liquid filling his intakes—

Strong talons grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and pulled him up. Soundwave had only been able to clear his intakes with loud coughs, unable to reactivate his anti-gravs, as Thundercracker cursed and bodily hauled him to the deck with Skywarp's help, his Cassettes fretting on the side as he finished clearing his intakes.

Hook was there as soon as Skywarp stepped back, growling and looking him over, and Megatron was shouting. But Soundwave hadn’t been able to do more than shake and stare at nothing, as soft whimpers escaped him when he tried the bonds again.

They were still there, but they were empty. The lack of anything coming through them was a sign that they were stretched by distance, that the mechs on the other end were too far away to send or receive anything.

Something that couldn't be possible if they were still on Earth.

If they were in recharge, there would have been a low humming. If they were in stasis, there would have been something similar to static.

But there was nothing.

Only the small trickle of his spark's energy that meant the bond was still being maintained, but nothing else.

Then, fear, horror, and despair filled him as his remaining creations opened their own bonds wide to know what was wrong with him, and noticed their brothers' were silent.

Frenzy's line-rupturing scream was what got him in motion again, pushing past Hook with enough strength to send him into his Gestaltmates as he curled around his Cassettes, none of them caring about the water dripping off his fur as they pressed close to him. The Least Weasel had squeaked and whimpered as he grabbed his chest plate so tight that his claws punctured it.

A language he didn't usually hear out of battle filled the air as the Seekers realized the only thing that could put the Communications Officer and his Cassettes in such a state, and tried to contact their Trinemates. Obviously, they had found the same Soundwave had.

Nothing. Emptiness.

The Constructicons had almost had to sedate them to get them inside, and Soundwave's steps had still been wobbly as he carried his creations to their quarters.

They'd all cleaned together in the wash-racks before curling on the berth. Slowly, one by one, they fell into recharge at Soundwave's assurances that they were with Starscream, and the Air Commander would take care of them.

Except Frenzy.

The Cassette knew the pain of a bond that shouldn't be gone. But that had been a creator-creation bond, not a twin bond.

And this one wasn't broken. It was silent. It meant anything could be happening to his creations, and they would never know, or would know too late.

It meant they could be deactivated this very moment, and they would only know when their sparks stopped maintaining the bond after a time too short to be the result of the passing of the vorns.

Disuse breaks bonds faster and easier than time ever could.

Frenzy whimpers as Soundwave closes the end of his bond with the Least Weasel to keep the despair and pain away from his creation, so he forces the feelings away and reopens it as fast as he can.

The Cassette nuzzles against his chest plates, and falls silent.

Moving so that the small frame is trapped between his neck and shoulder, the Communications Officer lays his head on the berth.

Soundwave wishes Starscream was here, because if he was, his creations would be too.

The Air Commander would never allow any harm to come to the Cassettes, and he would do anything possible, and some impossible things, to bring them back, them and Ramjet. But…

There is no assurance Starscream isn't deactivated himself.

Pushing the thought away as quickly as it appears, Soundwave forces himself to return to his previous musings.

Starscream will never allow any harm to come to the Cassette Carrier's creations, and he will do everything he can to get them all back to the Victory.

He will.

Just like he always recharges with his Trinemates, but when Laserbeak and Buzzsaw are unable to enter recharge against Soundwave's furry hide and the Communications Officer asks him to come, he does.

So, Soundwave concentrates on that memory. The content feeling through all the bonds with his creations. The larger and warmer feathered creature lying against his side, one wing over the Communications Officer's back and the twins resting there. Ravage pressed against his chest plates and Laserbeak and Buzzsaw under Starscream's puffed out chest feathers. Ratbat hanging from the Seeker's upper chest.

Soundwave focuses on all those details, and, before he realizes it, he falls into recharge.

Chapter Text

Cursing Megatron in the sanctity of his processor, Starscream turns back to the strange yet familiar world before them, trying to find something, even the smallest hint, to give them an answer to the many questions bouncing around in his processor.

And he gets the answer to their low energy levels in the form of a yellow and black blur running across the prairie.

Cybertronian processing systems are the most effective ever, able to get energy from almost anything.

Of course, pre-processed Energon is the best choice to fuel them, but, if they came to such a situation, even raw oil could be ingested. It would take longer and be less efficient a power source, but it's possible to process it in their tanks, though it's not the first of their choices.

Except for a few of them. Ratbat seems to love gasoline.

And while organic life-fluids and flesh are one of the weakest energy sources their processing systems can deal with, they are, nevertheless, usable.

Starscream first found out when an expedition went awry and their solar-converter got so heavily damaged that it took him and Skyfire almost five orns to repair it. They wouldn't have lasted enough to do so without energy, though, which is why the Seeker took a leap of faith in that seemingly energy-less organic planet and started to hunt.

Earth's organics are different than those he first encountered, but they are more energetic than the ones he had to force-feed to his exploration partner.

He has tested it.

Both he and his Trinemates have consumed organics on occasion, as have almost all other Decepticons stationed on the mud-ball, but only a few can really hunt them.

And seeing how their potential energy source is quite big, not to say fast, both Cassettes are out of the question.

"Ramjet, have you refueled using organics?"

The Conehead startles at the question, following his line of sight… And his crest opens in surprise as he sees what Starscream is staring so intently at.

"What? I… no, I've never… I know others have, but there was always some vehicle close by…"

Which means he hasn't hunted either.

Great.

"Keep an optic on the Cassettes," Starscream says simply, not as much an order with his tone being more annoyed and tired than anything else, and takes off.

He hears Ramjet squeak something, but he doesn't bother trying to understand it, flapping to the needed altitude.

A cheetah lookalike, and a fast one at that.

While he would have preferred smaller game, and prey animals rather than predators, Starscream isn't going to let this one escape. More so with his, and he's sure the others' are too, dwindling energy levels, and lack of any other refueling source nearby.

He looks, just in case some rat, or rabbit, or something else is in sight, but finds nothing.

Well, they would have needed at least a couple of rabbits or a rat each. This way, he will only need to hunt once.

He snorts at the 'if I down it' thought flashing through his processor. He's not going to fail and lose his prey.

He never does.

After making sure the cheetah won't change course unexpectedly, and calculating for any move anyway, he presses his wings close to his body and dives.

Exhilaration fueling him, Starscream can almost feel the warmth of the organic's blood coating his talons, feel the snapping of its neck when he falls on it with all the power behind his speed. He can almost hear the ripping of flesh as his beak tears it open to get the heart first, and the more energetic blood, before starting to ingest the body.

But then, just as he opens his wings the slightest bit necessary and brings his talons forward, the cheetah looks up.

Its green eyes widen and it jumps in a way that shouldn't have been possible as it seems to open from the middle—

They collide with the deafening clang of metal, the strength of it shaking Starscream's frame as they roll around before finally managing to untangle despite the way talons have imbedded themselves into plating.

"What the frag?!" they both shout in unison, the Peregrine Falcon staring into the optics of the mech wearing the cheetah's outer layer as humans do coats, head resting on his chest plates and legs folded on his back as if they were wings.

Starscream can't even feel satisfied with all the shock numbing his systems when he sees the long gouges his talons have carved on one shoulder plate.

"Whoa, wait, you can talk?" the Cheetah shouts, surprise in his freckled faceplate as one servo reaches to cradle the injury. "Are you Cybertronian?"

And then, the Seeker sees the brand.

And doesn't recognize it.

It's neither the Autobots' nor the Decepticons', nor any of the Golden Age caste brands.

Pit, it isn't similar to any of them!

It's not even like those ancient ones that were used prior to the Golden Age, those the oldest of records already identify as old.

And, once more, it doesn't look alike, either.

"Of course I'm Cybertronian! Would any other falcon attack a cheetah?!" he screeches, processor reeling at the dump of new information. "How did you get here? How did we get here?!"

"You don't know?" the other mech questions with a startled look in his freckled faceplate, and Starscream opens his wings menacingly.

"Would I ask if I knew?! We just… We just walked out and found ourselves here! And the stupid cave collapsed and now we have no way of… of…"

Panic finally being filtered away as his higher function take charge once more, the Peregrine Falcon folds his wings and presses his feathers closer to appear smaller.

To his growing confusion, though, the Cheetah seems… happy? Maybe exhilarated would be a better description.

"Rhinox was right! Shame we didn't manage to get the tower up, but he was right!"

"Huh?"

"And I was right too! I told them I'd seen a shooting star that may have been one of the pods, but they didn't believe me. 'There's no signal on the scans, Cheetor, you are mistaken'. Hah! Take that, Rattrap!" the mech boasts, gesturing exaggeratedly, and Starscream tilts his head in confusion.

"Pod?" he repeats, and that seems to catch the younger Cybertronian's attention.

"Wait, you don't remember being in the pod?"

"I just remember a loud crash that made everything shake, and then I was flying for my function as fast as my wings could carry me to avoid being squished under a crashing mountain," he answers, sincere in his confusion, as pieces of the other mech's rant slowly start to click into the bigger picture. "Was I supposed to be in a pod?"

"Aw, man, looks like your memory banks were messed up, like Tigatron's…" the Cheetah mourns, transforming once more into his alt mode. "You're a Maximal, one of the crew members of the exploration ship Axalon. We were attacked by a Predacon ship and after a transwarp jump we crashed in this planet. The Predacons crashed too, and now we're in a war against them to stop them from getting enough Energon to start the Great War again."

Starscream stays silent for some nanokliks, processing everything and the situation itself.

Whoever this mech is, he's part of a larger crew of these unidentified 'Maximals', who are enemies of the 'Predacons'—and isn't that the name of one of the possible Gestalt teams they left on Cybertron?—and both groups are stranded in this alternate Earth-like planet. He has no idea what a 'transwarp jump' is, or why would the fact he's a Cybertronian with an organic-looking alt mode would automatically mean he's a Maximal whose memory banks are damaged. But he can see the advantage in keeping things that way.

Now, there's only one thing that he needs to clear…

"Great War?"

"Boy, we really need to give you some history lessons," the Cheetah whispers as he shakes his head, but he quickly perks up. "The Great War between our ancestors, the Autobots, and the Predacons', the Decepticons. The Predacons are sore that they lost the War and are trying to start the fighting again to try to win this time. That's why we can't let Megatron get the Energon, because with as much as this planet has, he'll be able to get the War going."

"Megatron?" Starscream chokes out, so tense that he can't even tremble as his feathers puff out in a mixture of shock, rage, and fear.

The Predacons are sore that they lost the War… between our ancestors, the Autobots, and the Predacons', the Decepticons…

The Great War that we know as the Civil War, the Rebellion… The war we're fighting now.

"Yeah, the leader of the Preds. But no need to be afraid, we kick their afts all the time, and I can teach you how to fight. Or even better! We have a Flyer teammate, Airazor. She has the same beast mode you have, only bigger, and she's awesome. She can teach you all these cool flying tricks, and how to kick aft… even if you can pull some good punches already," the Cheetah explains happily, trying to calm what he believes is a scared fellow Maximal, and chuckling as he looks down at the gouges the Peregrine Falcon's talons have racked on his shoulder. "By the way, I'm Cheetor. What's your name?"

"Starscream."

No sooner has the word slipped past his beak, he wants to shoot himself.

Idiot! He's from the future, he knows you're a Decepticon!

And the Maximal does obviously tense, optics widening—before he tilts his head in confusion and… is that amazement?

"Starscream? Like the Decepticon? That's wicked! But… well, he was a good fighter… So, as long as you don't turn out to be a stinky traitor, I guess it's alright."

Before he can stop himself, the Falcon throws himself at the Cheetah, wings wide open and talons first, sharp beak snapping with a high-pitched irate screech.

The Maximal jumps back with a startled yowl, fur standing on end as the Decepticon seethes in place, wings spread menacingly.

"Who are you calling a traitor?! I would never betray my comrades or go back on my word!" Starscream shrieks, forcing his wrath under control as he takes air in sharply to cool his frame. "Never."

"Whoa… Sorry, I guess I deserved that. Remind me not to get you angry again, 'kay?" Cheetor asks with a nervous chuckle, tail still pressed against his hindquarters and ears lowered against his helm. "Say, how about I take you back to the Axalon? The others will love to meet you, and I'm sure Rhinox will want to scan you to make sure everything's fine."

Finally calming down, Starscream shakes himself and folds back his wings, studying the relaxing Maximal.

A scan is out of the question. Just by seeing the younger—extremely younger, if he really is from the future—mech's transformation he knows their systems are not alike, but—

A shriek makes his helm snap up, his optics immediately spotting Ramjet flying to them, Rumble on his back and Ravage nestled in his talons.

Cheetor observes with his lower jaw almost lying against his chest as the Crested Eagle hovers close to the ground long enough to let the Rusty-Spotted Cat down before landing, a pained grimace on his features and feathers tightly pressed against his frame.

"What's wrong?" Starscream hurriedly asks as he rushes to his side, and Ramjet lowers his helm to his damaged leg, semi-curled against his stomach, as the two Cassettes stand close by, keeping an optic on the Cheetah.

"This… This ambient Energon is burning me, Starscream… I've got more alert reports than ever before," the Conehead whimpers, as, unlike the Air Commander's own damaged leg, his continues to drip Energon, albeit sluggishly.

"I think I may have ripped something when I grabbed onto him," Rumble mutters softly, huddling against his brother, and the Falcon curses in his processor.

His damage are clean punctures, easy to isolate and fix, but if Ramjet's are more like scratches and have managed to damage something under the scales…

"Where's the ship?" Starscream half-orders half-pleads as he turns to Cheetor, and the Maximal straightens.

"Over a canyon not too far from here. Can he fly or should I carry him? I can call—"

"I can fly," the Conehead growls, crest fanning open menacingly at the insult to his capabilities.

"Lead the way."

"Who is that furball?" Rumble asks with a grimace, receiving a glare from the Cheetah.

"To sum it up, we were in pods before the whole crashing and the avalanche. This is one of our crewmates, another Maximal, and we're at war with some psychos who're trying to restart a war. That enough for you?" Starscream explains, and both Ramjet and the Cassettes have enough sense to realize it's better to go along with the story. "The reason we don't remember anything before the crash is because it damaged our memory banks. We'll get filled in the details when we're back at the ship."

"Well, let's get going then!" Rumble exclaims as he jumps on the Peregrine Falcon's back, Ravage nuzzling against his talons. "Hurry up, pussy cat! We have a ship to get to!"

"Who're you calling pussy cat, you furry bug," Cheetor protests, snarling.

"The name's Rumble!"

"Enough, both of you!" Starscream snaps, flapping off the ground to carefully grab the Rusty-Spotted Cat in his talons. "Cheetor, if you please?" he asks with poisonous sweetness, and, without another word, the Maximal starts running.

Ramjet takes off with some difficulty, grimacing, but he stays airborne easily. The warm currents help them both fly after the Cheetah despite their damage and the weight they're carrying, respectively.

Ravage nuzzles against Starscream's belly, and the Falcon knows exactly what he's asking.

He just holds him close, talons gentle but firm in their hold, and the soft vibrations of purring are easily carried up his legs.

Rumble's claws clench tightly around his back feathers, the Least Weasel's body pressing tightly against his as he slithers closer to his helm.

"I can't feel my brothers or Carrier," Rumble whispers, and Starscream manages to keep his pained grimace to a slight narrowing of his optics.

"They will be fine. And I promise I'll get you back to them. All of you."

Ramjet tilts his head to meet his optics with worry, but only determination burns brightly in the Air Commander's own. So, the Conehead relaxes, flapping maybe a bit closer to the Falcon than any flight formation allows.

Starscream doesn't care about that.

Comfort is not something he's used to sharing, but if a promise and his close proximity do the trick, then he won't push them away, metaphorically or literally.

And, after all, he is the Air Commander and Second in Command.

It's only expected that they look up to him and expect him to be better than them, so why wouldn't they want to be closer to him?

Holding onto that thought to smother his own worries and fears, Starscream turns his attention to their surroundings.

And there, shining brightly under the sun, is the spaceship.

It is stationed on a couple of big and flat rock spires standing tall in the middle of a canyon, while also lying against one of its walls. It really looks more like it crashed there instead of landing naturally.

"There she is!" Cheetor exclaims after a moment, when his ground-bound form and less powerful optics find the craft. "Guys, welcome to the Axalon."

Once they are close enough, they manage to see that, despite the crash, some of its lading pads are intact and functioning, keeping the belly high enough for the elevators on it to be of use.

"Hey, you need to land here!" the Maximal calls, stopping a quite exaggerated distance away, but, wary of any kind of defenses, they obey.

When they are all on the ground, with a proud-looking Cheetah in front of them, the black-spotted mech turns to the ship.

"Sentinel, stand down!"

Fortunately, Cheetor isn't looking at them, and so he doesn't see them tense and exchange some nervous looks while Starscream glares at them to calm down.

That may have been the designation of the Prime before Optimus, but it's also a word that means 'guardian'. So, taking into account it has been called out instead of using a comm line, it's safe to assume it's an automated defense system instead of a mech.

Besides, Megatron made sure that Prime was very much deactivated.

As expected, a force field makes itself visible around the ship before vanishing. When the Cheetah walks towards the craft and its lowering elevator, the others follow, Ramjet leaning against Starscream as he hops along.

The walk isn't excessively long, so, despite their pace, they are aboard the platform and rising to the inside of the ship soon enough.

When the lift stops, they can't help but look around curiously—before they huddle close together, Ramjet and the Cassettes behind Starscream as a huge green and brown mech approaches them.

"Cheetor, what's this?"

"They're Maximals!" the Cheetah answers happily as he trots to the unknown mech's side. "Their pods crashed and got destroyed in an avalanche, and their memory banks are damaged, but they're friendly. Well, as long as you don't piss that guy off, but I kind of deserved being chewed off. Oh, and that one is hurt."

"Come out then. Let's get you into a CR Chamber," the stranger says calmly, gesturing towards some kind of pods. "I'm Rhinox, the main technician around here. What are your names?" he asks as they slowly step off the lift, observing him open one of the 'CR Chambers' with a push of a button.

"You're gonna laugh, big guy," Cheetor adds with a snicker, earning a confused look from Rhinox before he faces them.

"As long as he doesn't start insulting," the Air Commander answers as he ruffles himself, straightening and meeting the large Maximal's optics. "I'm Starscream."

"Starscream? Like the Decepticon?"

"That's just what I said!" the Cheetah exclaims, laughing.

"No, Starscream like myself. I'm not a traitor," the Falcon hisses, and Cheetor chokes on his mirth as he lowers himself to the ground.

"Hey, I already said I was sorry."

"And the others?" Rhinox asks, taking their attention away from the obvious sore point.

"That's Ramjet, and these two are Rumble and Ravage," Starscream answers, calmer, as he gestures with one wing.

"Well, Ramjet, come on in. The Chamber will take care of your injuries."

"Uh, actually, it's fine. It was all that ambient Energon that messed with my self-repair. It's working now," the Conehead explains with a tremulous smile, looking dubiously at the pod-like contraption.

Big, but most likely not big enough to spread their wings wide open. And who knows what it will actually do.

"Are you sure?" Rhinox asks, a searching expression on his faceplate, and the Crested Eagle nods eagerly. "Alright. If there's any problem, just let me know."

"Will do."

"Well, I better go find the Boss Bot and the others," the Cheetah calls happily, turning towards the corridor that will lead him deeper inside the ship before running away.

"So, your memory banks are damaged. What did Cheetor explain?" Rhinox asks calmly, leaning against the round table in the middle of the room.

"That we're part of the crew of an exploration vessel that was attacked by Predacons and crashed in this world along the Predacons themselves. And that we're fighting to stop them from getting the Energon they need to start a war," Starscream sums up calmly, not making a move to push Ramjet away from where he's still leaning against his side.

"That's pretty much it. Although he forgot to mention that we're stranded here until the Maximal High Council sends someone for us."

"Is that a big deal?" Rumble asks, scratching his helm as he sits on his hindquarters. "There's Energon to harvest, we have a ship and compatible alt modes, and no matter who those Predacons are, we can still kick their tailpipes, ain't that right?" he questions, and his smirk is full of sharp teeth as he looks up at the Air Commander, who snorts as answer.

"Don't get cocky, short stuff. We still need to actually know who those Predacons are and what they’re capable of. Although if their leader is calling himself Megatron, they'll be easy pickings."

The other three Decepticons tense, and Starscream almost slams his helm against the ground as he realizes his idiocy.

"Cheetor said that too?" Rhinox asks, carefully observing his companions' reactions.

"Sounds… ominous," the Least Weasel manages, with his brother and the Crested Eagle nodding in agreement.

"I think it sounds silly," Starscream retorts with a scowl, though he inwardly relaxes when he sees the Maximal's curiosity sated by those simple words.

"You're just making up for your designation, Screamer."

Unfortunately, Rumble is swift enough to avoid his peck, so, with Ramjet still leaning against him, the Peregrine Falcon settles for glaring.

"Come on, guys!" Cheetor shouts as he rushes back into the room, making the Decepticons jump.

"Where's the fire, Spots? It isn't as if the new guys will go anywhere," a heavily accented voice calls before a gray and copper mech about a head taller than the Seekers calmly walks inside, the same bright red optics than the larger Maximal and with abnormally large front denta that remind them of organic rodents.

"Rattrap is right, Cheetor. No need to go rushing around," another adds as the last two crewmembers walk inside.

One of them is almost as big as Rhinox, with stripped armor in two shades of brown, blue faceplate and detailing, and golden rib-like armor and shoulder guards. The other has gray and blue armor with red detailing, and black fur covering part of it.

The faceplate of that last one almost makes them tense again, if it wasn't for the fact the red optics and visible mouth make it clear that, despite the similarities, he is not Optimus Prime.

"Hey, look at that! More Flyers!" the first one, Rattrap, if his guess is right, exclaims with a smile as he finally sees them, before confusion replaces it. "And what are those two, some kind of pet?"

"Who are you calling pet, garbage breath!" Rumble exclaims, bristling, as he rushes to be in front of the larger mech, straightening as much as he can with his teeth bared.

"I like that one," the brown-stripped one adds with a sharp smile, receiving a glare from the smaller Maximal.

"Shut yer trap, Scalebelly. No one asked your opinion."

"Rattrap, Dinobot, could you please save your arguments for later?" the Prime-lookalike asks tiredly, as if this isn't the first, second, or tenth time he's asked that.

When the other two stay quiet, though, he gives each a small thankful smile before turning to the Decepticons.

"Welcome back to the Axalon, my friends. I'm Optimus Primal, and these are Dinobot, Rattrap, Cheetor and Rhinox, some of my crew of Maximals. Our other two companions, Airazor and Tigatron, are out patrolling, but you'll meet them soon enough," the Prime-lookalike explains, obviously the leader, as he gestures first to the brown-stripped mech and then to the other three, confirming the Air Commander's suspicions of the copper mech's identity.

"We're glad to be here. These are Ramjet, Rumble and Ravage, and I'm Starscream."

"Starscream? Like the—"

"Enough with the Decepticons!" he screeches, fluffing his feathers to appear larger almost as soon as Rattrap opens his mouth, and Cheetor quickly explains that they have all asked him the same before.

However, the Falcon doesn't miss the split nanoklik of surprise on Optimus Primal's faceplate at Ravage's designation. He calms down soon enough, though, so Starscream relaxes.

If there's already an Optimus and a Megatron, being designated after other 'ancestors' may not be too strange. Even if a Maximal shouldn't carry a Decepticons' name.

Nevertheless, none of them say anything, so the Peregrine Falcon chalks it as a small victory and lets it go.

"Very well. Would you like to choose your rooms or would you like to refuel first?" Primal asks, and all four perk up at those words.

"Refueling, please," the Air Commander answers, and the Maximal gestures down the corridor as he starts to walk.

"Cheetor, Maximize!"

Four helms turn around at that cry, watching the Cheetah go back to root mode.

"Maximize?"

"Yeah, it's our activation code. You should have it installed too, so you can transform to robot mode."

Robot… mode… Is he joking?! And activation codes?! How did that happen?!

Lost in his reverie, and he believes the other three are so too, none of the Decepticons move.

"Uh, guys? Is there something wrong?"

"Ah, no, no. Just… We didn't know about those… codes," Starscream finally answers, exchanging some looks with Ramjet and the Cassettes.

Should they transform and reveal the obvious differences between Maximals and Decepticons? Or should they stay as they are and claim a malfunction of their 'activation codes', and risk the use of those CR Chambers or Primus knows what else?

"You don't have to transform if you're more comfortable in your beast modes," Optimus tells them when they remain as they are, interpreting their uneasiness as some kind of politeness code or whatever.

Nevertheless, all four Decepticons relax before nodding and following down the corridor.

Cheetor and Rhinox stay in the bridge, revising something before the Cheetah goes back on patrol, while the other two follow them while bickering among themselves.

Judging by Rumble's attentiveness, the Least Weasel is taking notes.

Starscream can only smile and shake his helm softly while Ravage lowers his ears, knowing he and his brothers will be the ones to deal with it once they get back to their own time.

Ramjet looks mildly curious, but also a bit disturbed. Taking into account he hasn't been on Earth as long as the rest, the Falcon can't blame him for that, not with certain insults flying by.

One, however, catches Starscream’s attention.

"Pred?" he repeats, turning to Rattrap, who reboots his optics in surprise and confusion. "You called him a 'stinky Pred'."

"'Cause he is a stinky Pred."

"As in 'Predacon'."

"Yup."

"Dinobot left the Predacons after we crashed here," Optimus explains, though said mech scowls.

"And the first thing he did was come here to fight for leadership. The nerve."

"Why settle for anything less?" Ramjet asks, as confused as the rest of Decepticons, and the small Maximal's jaw falls open while the former Predacon looks at them in surprise.

"What, you thought he should've come begging for you to let him in?" Rumble adds mockingly, Ravage snorting in agreement.

"I really do like them," Dinobot comments with a lopsided smirk.

"What, you're going to tell me you agree with him?" Rattrap asks, gesturing to the Predacon.

"Obviously," Starscream answers this time, the others nodding in agreement. "To ask for anything else than leadership would have been demeaning and a complete insult to Dinobot's abilities."

"You're nuts!"

"Mech, we're Cybertronian," the Least Weasel stresses, carefully pronouncing each syllable.

Optimus is obviously trying to be quiet, but he's shaking too much with laughter to be subtle, which earns him a glare from Rattrap.

"Great, the new Maximals are on Chopperface's side and Big Banana is laughing at me. What's next?"

"That's the accursed question, ain't it?" Ramjet asks with a snicker, and the rest of Decepticons nod as the copper mech groans.

Perhaps this won't be as bad after all.

Chapter Text

Airazor is more than a bit excited when she's told they've found not only one or two, but four new Maximals. Especially when they reveal two of them are Fliers, one even sharing her beast mode.

So, when Rhinox asks her to come to the Axalon, she's more than happy to comply.

However, what she didn't really expect is for the new arrivals to be so… small.

In fact, they're the same size as the creatures whose beast modes they've taken.

"Hi there. I'm Airazor," she says, and the pale eagle snaps his beak shut at her voice, earning a dry glare from the Peregrine Falcon. "Nice to meet you."

Snickering makes her look down at the two slightly behind the Falcon, both looking amused at the Crested Eagle's expense, if their mocking looks and the glare being returned are any clue.

"I'm Rumble," the Weasel answers, walking up to her with a wide smile full of sharp teeth. "That's Ravage," he adds, pointing to the Cat, who nods politely, a gesture she mimics. "This one is Ramjet, and the serious one is Screamer."

"Starscream, not Screamer, you furry worm," the Peregrine Falcon hisses, though he keeps an eye on her.

Fortunately, Airazor has been told of their names beforehand, so she just smiles.

"Starscream then. Would you guys like to go for a flight?"

"Yes!" he Crested Eagle almost squeaks, and she has the feeling that if he had a dog beast mode, his tail would be wagging madly.

The Weasel almost falls over in his laughter, the Cat snickering audibly while the Falcon hides his bowed head behind a wing.

Airazor has to laugh.

Such enthusiasm is so cute.

"Shall we?" she asks, gesturing to the elevator, and Ramjet almost skips to it.

"What are you two going to do?" Starscream asks the smaller Maximals, who exchange a look with pensive faces.

"Hey, can we go outside? See them make fools of themselves and get to know our surroundings?" Rumble asks Rhinox, who has been sitting by the monitor.

"I don't see why not."

"We're gonna do that."

The Falcon just nods before walking to join Ramjet in the elevator, and the other three join them before it descends.

Once outside, Airazor changes to her beast mode.

"Let's see what can you do, alright?" she asks, and receives two positively feral smirks in answer before they all take flight.

They're graceful and secure, that much she can tell as they glide in widening circles over the Axalon, almost as if they had been flying for longer than a day.

Yet again, if what she's been told is accurate, their memories are scrambled. Meaning, their beast modes' instincts can take hold easier than in an undamaged mech, resulting in two winged Tigatrons.

"Not bad," she calls over the distance, and can see the Crested Eagle preen while the other Peregrine Falcon gives her a deadpanned look. "What else?"

Starscream lets himself be carried to the canyon—and dives.

Amazed, Airazor watches the speed, the precision, as the bluish-gray blur descends almost too close to the rocky walls, avoiding ledges and stray formations with ease before opening his wings to avoid diving underwater. Using his accumulated speed and some strong flaps, he quickly and easily reaches their height again.

"You were saying?" Starscream asks cockily once they’re all level again, and his smirk is almost mocking.

"Showoff," Ramjet mutters, giving the other a tired glare, and Airazor laughs.

"Impressive. You have both adapted really well to your beast modes."

"Of course," the Falcon scoffs, as if there was no other possibility.

::Airazor, we just got a call from Tigatron about an alien anomaly. Could you check it out?:: Rhinox calls through the comm, and she narrows her eyes.

"What kind of anomaly?" she asks, and while she can feel the other two Fliers attentively observing her, she decides to wait until she has more information about her mission to tell them.

::Some kind of energy pulse. Perhaps another flare. We have the general coordinates, but nothing too specific. I'm afraid you'll have to search a bit first.::

"I'm taking the new Fliers with me."

::What?:: Both Rhinox and the other two Maximals exclaim, one out of surprise and the others in confusion.

"They could use the practice, and there are little things tamer than a recon mission."

::But what if the Predacons show up?::

"Then, we'll make them wish they hadn't."

::Airazor, this is Optimus. Are you sure they can deal with this?::

"If we need to search for the anomaly it'll be easier if we're three. Recon isn't too taxing, and they are good fliers. If there's something they can't handle, they can get away."

::Very well. Tigatron is still in the area, so keep in contact with him.::

"Will do. Airazor out," she answers with a smile on her beak, before she turns to look at the other two, the Peregrine Falcon at her left with the Crested Eagle at his. "We have work to do."

"Recon? What are we looking for?"

"An alien energy signature. We're not really sure if those aliens are hostiles or if we're just lucky to keep tripping over their defenses, but stay alert," she explains and, when they nod, she sets the course and increases her speed slightly. "How good are you at tracking?"

"The best," Starscream answers, voice once more dripping with certainty.

Well, if he's as good as half his flying skills, they should be more than good enough.

They spread out when they reach the coordinates, far enough that they can still see each other, just in case she's trusting their abilities too much, and slow down to carefully look around.

After about half an hour, she contacts the rest of Maximals.

"Airazor to Axalon."

::Axalon here, Fly-girl. Found something?:: Rattrap's voice answers her, and she shakes her head with a tired sigh.

"Nothing at all. It seems like—"

"Down!"

Before she can react to the screech, something heavy falls on her back plummeting her for a scary three seconds before it vanishes, letting her regain her balance.

::Airazor! What happened?!::

"I—Ramjet? Why did you—?" she starts, but he isn’t listening, already flapping away to follow some kind of light trail that seems to be at about the same altitude she had been flying before being pushed out of the way. "I'll call later, looks like we found something!" she shouts into the comm before rushing after the Crested Eagle, quickly catching up to him as she sees a gray blur dive to a bend in the canyon they're now in.

When they round the corner, they find Starscream hovering in midair, a holo-projection of Megatron's head glaring down at him.

“And who would you be?"

"I should be the one asking that," the smaller Peregrine Falcon hisses, as high and mighty as before.

"Megatron, what do you want," Airazor calls, flying to be next to the other Flier.

"That is Megatron?" Ramjet squeaks at her back, but she doesn't look away from the Predacon.

"Ah, my dear Airazor. I wasn't aware you had new comrades."

"I doubt that's the reason you're contacting us now."

"No, it is not. I would like to discuss something with Optimus. In a neutral location and… alone."

"Do you really think he would agree to that?"

"Ah, but what I want to discuss is a truce."

For a moment there’s only silence as Airazor processes those words. But she knows. She knows that, regardless of how wrong that sounds, she can’t just ignore it.

"I'll let him know."

"Thank you, my dear."

And the hologram vanishes, the parts of the projector sphere clicking back together before zooming away.

"You don’t believe that, do you?" Starscream asks dryly, and Airazor shakes her head.

"Of course not. There's something fishy in all this. But for now, the best we can do is go back to the ship."


"I cannot believe you agreed to this!" Dinobot exclaims, but the Decepticons feel more resigned than indignant.

After all it is so Autobot, and consequently so Maximal, that they can just watch the proceedings in detached amusement, as if it was a movie.

"I'm a Maximal. I have to give peace a chance, no matter how unlikely it seems," Optimus answers calmly, justifying the fact he actually agreed to the truce Megatron told Airazor about while they were looking for alien signals.

Starscream groans softly while Ramjet snickers silently. Rumble keeps munching calmly on his Energon treat while Ravage appears bored, optics half-shuttered and head resting on his paws.

"Do you think it may have something to do with that alien energy anomaly?" Rhinox asks, and this time all four Decepticons are more attentive, even if they don't show it on the outside.

Could it be the reason they are here, in this bizarre Earth? Or maybe a method to reverse things?

Airazor leans against the table by their side, and even though they become suddenly aware of her presence, they don't look away from the discussing Maximals.

"Looks like you won't have a moment of peace."

"Peace is overrated," Ramjet answers, the rest nodding almost absentmindedly.

"But it can be nice."

"Would be boring," Rumble answers this time, finishing his treat.

"The Vermin is right. Megatron will surely anticipate this move," Dinobot rumbles, ignoring the Decepticons’ conversation in the background.

Starscream perks up, tuning out the Rumble’s and Ramjet's conversation with Airazor.

Optimus is smiling.

An obvious I've got a plan smile.

And if it's anything like what the Air Commander himself is thinking…

"So? Let him."

It is.

The rest of Maximals exchange confused looks, but when he looks down at Ravage, the Rusty-Spotted Cat returns his gaze with the same determination.

Talk about good luck.

"If I may," he calls when the Gorilla turns around to explain himself to his subordinates, straightening when all optics fall on him. "I suggest Ravage and Rumble take care of this mission."

"What?"

"Megatron knows about Ramjet and I, but he has no idea they exist. And if he has all of you—of us accounted for, he may relax his internal defenses. Besides, they are practically made for infiltration."

"Bring it on," the Least Weasel agrees with a sharp grin, his confusion having cleared at the Air Commander's last word. "At last something interesting!"

Ravage stretches before sitting up, purring, half-shuttered optics gleaming with confidence.

"They don't know anything about the Darksyde."

"Which will make us be more alert, even in areas others would have lowered their guard because of previous knowledge. A spy can't afford to be comfortable," the Cat answers seriously, and the Maximals startle at hearing him talk for the first time.

"The kitty has a point there," Rattrap reluctantly agrees, and Starscream has to fight to keep his expectation hidden under his smug grin.

The Predacon's database is finally in their reach.


When Optimus' communiqué that their infiltration mission has failed reaches them, Starscream nods in his processor.

All is going according to the plan.

Cheetor, running below his and Ramjet's shadows, seems to increase his pace almost happily.

To fool the Predacons, they need to appear uncomfortable with the lack of knowledge, and seeking to find any way to obtain it.

Which is why the three of them are patrolling almost inside the northern part of the enemy territory.

It also serves the purpose of letting the new 'Maximals' get used to patrols and recognizing the borders of the sectors.

Ramjet squeaks, and when the Air Commander whirls around to see what has startled him, he almost does too.

That is one fragging big ant.

"Cheetor!" he calls, and the Grounder stops and quickly locates the obvious Predacon approaching them.

A screech makes both birds look up, easily finding the red Pterosaur on the ant's trail, and recognizing it as yet another Cybertronian.

"Inferno and Terrorsaur. Hope you don't mind us visiting. I have to teach the newbies the ropes," the Cheetah calmly explains, and the insect's antennae flicker with annoyance.

"You will leave the territory of the Colony, Maximal!"

"After all, we wouldn't like to have to break the truce. Especially in front of the babies," the Pterosaur adds mockingly, looking at the two Decepticons.

"Watch it, flying lizard, or we will be the ones to do something you won't like," Ramjet hisses, crest fanning open menacingly.

"Enemies of the Colony! You will burn before you bring it harm!" the Ant shouts, and Cheetor is quick to take a step back.

"Hey, truce, remember?" he exclaims, and it takes an obvious effort for the ground-bound Predacon to take a step back himself.

"As if a couple of chicks would make a difference against me, the mighty Terrorsaur."

"Don't you dare," Starscream snarls, and Ramjet's mocking look directed at the Peregrine Falcon immediately vanishes under a nervous smile.

"I wasn't going to say anything?"

"Of course you weren't."

"You would do better joining the Predacons than staying with those pathetic Maximals. Megatron may be a fool, but when I lead—"

"Don't insult the Royalty!"

Cheetor snorts at Terrosaur's words, but Starscream considers them.

The Predacons are supposed to be the descendants of the Decepticons, while the Maximals are the Autobots', goody two-shoes with a fondness for fleshlings and playing nice and accepting obviously fake truces.

But Dinobot is a Predacon, a true Decepticon descendant. And he left Megatron.

Besides, they have already tricked Optimus Primal and his crew, and the Cassettes are going to bring them any necessary information about the other faction.

And he doesn't think he'd be able to be in the same room as Terrorsaur for more than half a joor.

Starscream is not that insufferable, is he?

"I'd say 'nice try', but that was pitiful at best," he spits instead, and smirks when the Pterosaur's face distorts in anger. "Even if we weren't Maximals, there's no chance we would stoop as low as to join you. Oh, and when the truce is over, I will teach you who is the real chick," he adds, beak snapping with a sound sharp enough to make the Predacon flinch. "I am Starscream, remember my—"

"Starscream?!" Terrorsaur screeches, flapping away from them with such suddenness that both Decepticons pull away in surprise. "Not again! How did you manage to get that ghost back?!" he adds, glaring down at Cheetor.

"Ghost?"

"He's not that Starscream! This one is a Maximal, not a backstabbing undead freak!"

"Undead…?"

"Yeah, right! You know he can possess other mechs, don't you? Remember Waspinator? He took over his body and tried to take over the Predacons!"

"Took over…"

"Starscream?" Ramjet whispers, more than a little freaked out when the Air Commander sways in midair, flapping wings uncoordinated.

Oh, right… he hasn't told them the Maximals and Predacons are from the future, has he…

"He's gone."

"How would you know that? He has an immortal spark!"

His wings fail him, not flapping anymore, and why aren't they—

"Starscream!"

The impact with the ground is harsh, but he was low enough that it does nothing more than bruise his armor.

"What the—"

"Starscream! Starscream, answer me!"

"I… I'm not… I'm not…" he mutters, curling into himself, optics wide but unseeing.

"Star—"

"The Great War between our ancestors, the Autobots, and the Predacons', the Decepticons. The Predacons are sore that they lost the War and are trying to start the fighting again to try to win this time."

"You were worried back then."

"We're Trine."

"I didn't think you cared."

"I didn't want to."

"You're not going to lose us, Starscream. Not unless you are the one that decides to leave."

"I will never leave you, Thundercracker."

"Don't… please don't leave me…"

"I won't, I won't, I promise I'll never leave you, but you can't leave me now, understand? Look at me, TC is about to come with the Medic, so look at me—"

"But you're an ugly fragger, Screamer…"

"Yes, and imagine the horror it'll be if I am your last sight, so stay awake, Warp, stay awake…"

"Last planet and next stop: Cybertron!"

"You're awfully grumpy."

"Would you want to go back? With all the rationing and the growing dissent? Space is more peaceful."

"But that's precisely why we're here, to find the Energon to stop the shortage."

"As if just the two of us could manage that."

"Now, who is the one that's always saying they're the best Energon Seeker ever?"

"You can't turn my words against me!"

"I believe I just did."

"Skyfire!"

"Come on, Starscream, let's get this over with. And then, we'll go back home together."

"Home. Heh. Sure thing. Just try to not stay behind this time."

"—scream!"

"Ramjet?"

"Yes? Are you alright? Why did you—"

"I'm not him."

"Him? Him who?"

"Starscream! Are you alright?!" Cheetor exclaims, stopping at the Decepticons’ side as the Falcon slowly gets back to his pedes, whole frame trembling harshly with his feathers puffed out.

"I'm not him."

"Starscream…?"

"I am not a backstabbing traitor!" he screeches, whirling around with wings wide open to glare the Pterosaur to deactivation. "I am not!"

"Let's go," the Cheetah whispers, nuzzling them away, and though he's now cursing him in his processor, some tiny part of the Peregrine Falcon knows it's the right choice.

They have a truce, no matter how much of a charade it is, and ripping the Predacons to pieces would most certainly break it.

Starscream can hear the Pterosaur crowing something, tone mocking, but he doesn't bother understanding the words.

He'll get his revenge for those insults, of course he will. Once Ravage and Rumble have the data—

Ravage and Rumble.

"I can't feel my brothers or Carrier."

"They will be fine. And I promise I'll get you back to them. All of you."

"Starscream?! Not again! How did you manage to get that ghost back?!"

"He's not that Starscream! This one is a Maximal, not a backstabbing undead freak!"

"Yeah, right! You know he can possess other mechs, don't you? Remember Waspinator? He took over his body and tried to take over the Predacons!"

"He's gone."

"How would you know that? He has an immortal spark!"

His steps stop and Ramjet is suddenly at his side again.

"Starscream? You're seriously starting to freak me out here."

"I'm… I'm not…"

"What's wrong with him?"

"Does it look like I know?"

"I'm not a traitor… I'm… I'm not…"

"The Great War between our ancestors, the Autobots, and the Predacons', the Decepticons. The Predacons are sore that they lost the War and are trying to start the fighting again to try to win this time."

"… am I?"

"It almost looks like he's having a nightmare…"

"Or reliving a memory."

"A memory? Of what?"

"Something not good. We have to get him back to the ship."

"Help me get him on my back."

A warm feathered body pushes him softly, forcing him to step on strong muscle covered by a furry skin. When the ground moves, he clenches the body he’s perched on tightly with his talons.

"You're not going to lose us, Starscream. Not unless you are the one that decides to leave."

"I never… never… I'm not a traitor…"

The body under his talons starts to move, and he closes unseeing optics and burrows his beak between his puffed-out chest feathers, trying to block out the world.

This is not their future, it can't be.

Can it?


Getting past the defenses is a job that they could have done with their optics offline.

Tigatron, a big white tiger that made both Cassettes do a double take at first due to the similarities with their Megatron's own alt mode, dropped them as close as possible in his patrol route. From there, it was easy for two small Cybertronian to slip past the defenses, especially with the ruckus Airazor and Rattrap were creating.

After, it was even easier.

Seriously, who left so many holes unguarded, not to say unblocked, in a stationary base that had already been breached by the enemy at least once?

Being inside isn't much of a difference.

Black cat in a black ship, and while Frenzy is the darkest of the two, Rumble's grayish-brown fur blends in well enough, especially with his small stature and his fast and silent movements. If any were to get a glimpse of him, they would probably think him an organic rat. They've met a couple of them already.

The ship, however, is playing against them.

It's strange while still being familiar, so it is tricking them.

They've found two hatches that turned out to be accesses to coolant and fuel lines, as well as energy grids, but no single connection to the main computer.

Ravage is getting annoyed.

They are Soundwave's Cassettes, the best spies ever. Not even that paranoid Red Alert's traps stop them, and they get more and more bizarre by the day.

And a crashed ship is going to be their undoing?

Never!

Rumble stops, and Ravage knows they've found another hatch.

His brother may be noisy and more battle-oriented, but he's a master of vibrations. How would he be able to so effortlessly direct his assault with his pile-drivers to a very specific target and nothing more if not?

So, almost unnoticeable as they are, Rumble can manage to use their own footsteps as a kind of radar if he focuses enough.

Which is why the Rusty-Spotted Cat needs to be vigilant for both of them until they get to the needed connection, where the roles of watcher will be swapped.

This hatch is big, but, luckily, it’s just what they have been looking for.

The data they find, on the other servo, is not.

The server is strange, and almost a bit hard to access, but Ravage is good enough.

And then, he sees the timestamp.

They're supposed to get as much data from the Predacons as possible, including the reason for their truce, but the Cassette throws himself to it like a depleted mech does Energon.

The more he finds, the less he wishes he'd done so.

Maximal High Council, Tri-Predacus Council, Pax Cybertronia… all created to maintain peace after the Autobots won the Great War against the Decepticons.

The Darksyde doesn't have a full database of everything, but Ravage doesn't need the list of casualties.

He's pulled out of the hack by Rumble shaking him, both physically and through their bond.

Someone's coming.

They close the hatch and scurry away, as silent as before.

No alarm is raised as they make their way back, exiting through the same rip to cross the lava fields once more, to the rendezvous point with Tigatron, whose large size allows the Cassettes to ride on his back and get back to the Axalon faster than they could have done otherwise.

Ravage stays silent during the whole time, shaking softly and with his brother pressed against his side as if he had been welded there.

When they finally exit the lift inside the ship's bridge, they find the rest of Maximals all there, nervous or worried.

Ramjet is sitting next to one of the CR Chambers and, for the first time since he initiated the hack, Ravage's processor stops.

And then, he notices the Conehead looking at the tiny space between the Chamber and the wall.

Not even hearing the questions about their findings, Ravage runs to their fellow Decepticon's side, Rumble close behind.

There, nestled in a pitiful ball of fluffed out feathers, is Starscream, uncomfortably wedged between the back of the Chamber and the wall.

A Seeker, voluntarily boxing himself.

The Cassette's almost imperceptible shivering turns to full blown trembling.

He has found out something about their future too. That's the only available explanation.

Slowly, Ravage approaches, and an empty red eye opens to look at him.

Whimpering, the smaller Decepticon burrows under the Flier's chest.

And as Starscream stands up a bit to allow him to get comfortable before lying down once more, the Cassette finally realizes why organic birds sit over their fragile newsparks' shells.

It feels like nesting between Soundwave's front legs, curled against his chest plates to hear his fuel pump and feel his pulsing spark, with Carrier's neck lying down over his frame to allow his Creation to feel his warmth and his short fur in an arm-less embrace—

Or like resting inside the Cassette Carrier's chest compartment, all security and care and the knowledge that he's there, and he won't be going away.

Some orns, Ravage wishes he could always be in Soundwave's chest compartment.

Now, he wishes he could always stay under Starscream's feathery chest and belly, and never have to go back to a past that is doomed to be destroyed.

The Falcon moves again and, a nanoklik later, he feels Rumble press against his side, worry and fear through their bond. So, Ravage curls around his brother, paws around his smaller frame to pull him against his chest.

He's the oldest. He needs to be strong.

When Starscream lies down again, he almost breaks down sobbing.

How can he be, when he knows he's going to fail him, his twin, their brothers, their faction, their own Carrier?

"I don't want to lose anyone else," he sobs, shaking harshly, and Rumble presses closer.

"Bro?"

"I don't want to."

"What happened?" Optimus asks, easy to hear even from their actual position, and Ravage can almost see Tigatron's shrug.

"He was in some kind of shock when I picked them up, and the other didn't know anything. What happened to the Flier?"

"We believe he may have remembered something."

And Ravage sobs once more. He wishes he could forget, wishes he would never have to function through more memories of the deactivation of his family.

But he won't be able to.

The future is already—

"We will make our own future."

Megatron.

They rebelled against the Senate for freedom, for their function not to be destined by a bunch of mechs too full of themselves, to break free of the oppressing caste system.

"If you want to accomplish something, you better start working for it."

With some deep intakes, Ravage's tremors stop.

Slowly, he gets out from under Starscream, Rumble popping his helm out of the feathers to observe him with confusion, but doesn't follow when the Cat jumps on the table.

"Ravage?"

"They have a Golden Disk."

"We knew that."

"Another Golden Disk."

Grateful his subspace can be accessed without changing modes, the Rusty-Spotted Cat produces the storage chip where he copied all information relevant to the Maximal-Predacon truce.

"What?!"

Instead of answering, he leaves the chip on the table and jumps down, once more joining his brother under the calmer Falcon's plumage, the Air Commander having moved a bit forward so that Ramjet could squeeze next to him.

Once more in the warmth and safety no mech would expect from Starscream, of all mechs, Ravage curls around the Least Weasel and shutters his optics.

He feels more drained than ever before, and the silence from the carrier-creator and the rest of fraternal bonds isn't exactly reassuring.

But they'll go back, and then he can help Soundwave make sure they don't lose the War…

"Can we go back?" Ravage whispers, the activity of the Maximals as they revise his data helping mask his words.

Starscream puffs his feathers out even more and leans his helm down.

The beak petting his head is sharp as an Energon blade, and has been covered by both organic and Cybertronian life fluids in more than one occasion.

Ravage purrs and relaxes even more.

"I promised I would take you back. Nothing will make me go back on my word."

Safe and secure with his brother by his side and both Seekers watching over them, the Cassette initiates recharging protocols.

"We will make our own future."

Chapter Text

The data they have taken from the Predacons is unsettling, but Rattrap is more worried about something else.

The new Maximals haven't transformed to robot mode, not even once, since Cheetor found them.

While it's obvious they can deal with their beast modes' instincts easily, no one knows anything about their capabilities in robot mode.

Or their weapons.

They have extra blasters and plasma guns in the Axalon—no exploration vessel worth its designation is without weapons to protect the crew in case they manage to get themselves to hostile worlds—but who knows how good they are with them, or even if they can use them?

Ravage and Rumble are small enough that only the tiniest of their extra weaponry will be manageable, and, even then, it will depend on their strength.

Plus, what if they're like Chopperface, more of the hand-to-hand fighters instead of sharpshooters?

They need to know.

So, once the newbies are done with their Energon rations, Rattrap steps forward from the entrance, from where he's been observing the suspiciously calm group.

When none of them startle at his presence, his hunch that they all knew he was there is confirmed.

Perhaps it's thanks to their beast modes' instincts, but there's something about the new guys that Rattrap doesn't like.

Anyway, one thing at a time.

"So, I've been thinking—"

"Did it hurt?" Rumble asks mockingly, receiving a glare from Ravage and Starscream while Ramjet snickers.

Rattrap twitches, but he has more than enough experience bantering to answer that question easily.

"It will hurt you. I need you all to transform," he tells them simply, and watches with narrowing optics how the four of them tense, some more subtly than others. "Things are about to get nasty, and I need to know what you can and can't do. So that we can babysit you properly, you know," he adds with an infuriating smirk at the end, and Ramjet and Rumble bristle, feathery crest and furry hide reacting to their annoyance.

"We can take care of ourselves," Starscream answers in their place, like he always does, as the obvious leader of this little group inside the Maximals.

"But I don't know that. So, wanna do it here or outside?" he asks, the insult that their ability to cause damage is non-existent obvious in his suggestion that the ship won't suffer from such a training session.

There's an audible angered growl that makes Rattrap's very struts tremble from the deceivingly harmless Weasel, but the Peregrine Falcon straightening, eyes narrowed, is enough to mute him.

"Nowhere, because we are not transforming."

"You will if you want to—"

"We can't."

And Rattrap falls silent, mouth still open as disbelief stops him from closing it while those simple two words are processed.

"You can't? What do you mean, you can't?"

"Exactly what I said. It's not just our databanks that got scrambled during the crash," Starscream answers, looking so frigging calm as he speaks those words, like they weren't trapped in their beast modes with battle looming over them.

Though, on the other hand, they have proved their abilities in that form, at least the smaller two.

They had all assumed they had transformed to robot mode to infiltrate and hack the Darksyde, but if they hadn't… Whoa, boy…

"Why didn't you say that?! That's why we have CR Chambers!" Rattrap exclaims, annoyed despite everything.

They may be good infiltrators and excellent fliers, respectively, but they are useless against the Preds without real weapons.

"We are not getting in those things," Starscream spits, head tilting downward menacingly, with a tone that allows no argument.

Rattrap has never been good at listening to such warnings.

"Of course you are! How are you going to use any weapons when you have no hands?" he points with maybe a bit more heat than he should, and red eyes—eerie as they are to be seen in the beast mode as they are—narrow further.

"Our self-repairs are dealing with it, just like they are taking care of our… memories," Starscream answers, and, while the hesitation is barely noticeable, it is obviously there. "There's no need for the Chambers when our own frames can take care of it."

"It will be faster and more efficient. Who knows if your self-repairs aren't scrambled too, if your own transformation sequences got messed up!" Rattrap protests, taking a step closer with an accusing finger pointed at the Falcon—

Rattrap's lucky he has such quick reflexes, because that snapping beak would have severed his dactyl clean had it managed to close on it.

"Hey!"

"We are not getting in those torture chambers!"

Rattrap's mouth opens, temper boiling at the aggressive gesture and display, gray-blue wings opened menacingly with that sharp beak ready to try and rip him to pieces if he so much as twitches closer again—

"Maximal torture chambers!"

And all thought stops.

They had joked after that, once Optimus had been back and when Dinobot wasn't in the room—the first time their commander had had to wrestle the Raptor off of Rattrap for it had been enough of a warning—but they had all assumed such a concept was nothing more than a rumor among the Predacon community, an urban legend, and they had let it go after some days.

These Maximals have their memories scrambled, slowly trickling back. And while the rest have seen little of it, they all know their memories are anything but good.

How would they know about Predacon rumors? Why would they even think about such a… a messed-up concept? Maximal torture chambers? Hah! Impossible!

… Aren't they?

The Axalon is an exploration vessel. That is common knowledge, means nothing more than the crew would be frolicking in uncharted parts of the universe and unknown planets, dealing with gross aliens and dangerous odds and all that thing.

But…

"Awhile back I was contacted about doing a favor for the Maximal High Council. Now that we have what we stopped for, we are going to travel to the Alpha Quadrant and drop it off on the most barren moon we can find. Then we will continue on with our mission."

"The Alpha Quadrant?! How'd we get tapped for that gig?"

"The Axalon is the only ship within a hundred light years equipped with a transwarp drive. And the Council has asked us to do them this favor to help clean up a mistake."

It's been a while since Rattrap last thought about that, what with all the excitement that followed…

"How's that Maximal ship?"

"Not good, Big Bot. I've got two Maximal signals, but they're faint, and their reactor is unstable."

"Not enough time to repair them then… Suggestions?"

"We do have a few blank protoforms in the cargo hold. I could perform a remote spark core transfer into two of the protoform bodies, but my equipment is not properly set up for that type of procedure. They could lose much if not all of their core mainframe."

"If it is our only choice, then do it. We've still got a mission to complete."

Rattrap's pretty sure one of those two Maximal signals was Airazor. The voice calling for them to 'jump in any time' as he tried to lock onto the attacking vessel is hard to forget.

But the other?

"Helloooo? Anyone there?"

He berates himself for it just an instant later, but Rattrap jumps back with a yelp at the sudden tapping against his leg, only to find himself under the scrutiny of the other four Maximals. The Weasel standing in front of him is obviously responsible for both the words and the contact.

Embarrassed, he clears his throat before straightening, using the time to remember what they were talking about.

Right, damaged transformation sequence, self-repair and 'Maximal torture chambers'.

"And how long will it take for you to be able to transform?" Rattrap asks as calmly as he can, as if nothing had happened.

Red eyes narrow suspiciously, but it only takes a second for Starscream to seemingly relax and straighten.

"Less than it would have taken yesterday. We are not defenseless, and we can very well just stay out of the fight if turns out we will only get in the way," the Falcon answers, and even though Ramjet and Rumble scowl at the words and the possibility they refer to, none of them protests.

Starscream's claws can pierce armor, as evidenced by the gouges on Cheetor's plating when they were first brought in. So, it is possible the Crested Eagle's are able to do the same. And the smaller two are good enough to slip under the Preds' olfactory sensors, enough that Megs’ goons have no idea they exist.

It will have to do.

"Let me know when you guys can transform again," he answers simply, receiving a nod from the Peregrine Falcon, before walking out of the room.

That… didn't go as well as Rattrap had expected, but it went better than he could've ever imagined.

He has no idea of the newbies’ capabilities in robot mode, but he has knowledge than he didn't even know he was lacking.

Now, he just needs—

Bingo!

"Hey, Chopperface!"

Rattrap may have sounded happier than he should, because Dinobot's glare isn't his usual annoyed one, but full of suspicion instead.

Oops.

"Vermin," the Predacon returns with narrowed optics, scanning him for anything potentially harmful. "I believe Optimus wants you for some kind of mission."

"Yeah, sure, I'll talk to him later. Just one thing," he starts, and the raptor's gaze sharpens, wariness increasing, as Rattrap shifts slightly as he steels himself for a possible physically painful answer to his next question. "Where did you get that thing about Maximal torture chambers?"

Being slammed against the wall is not unexpected, nor is the almost chocking clawed hand surrounding his neck or the snarling face hovering close to his own. So, Rattrap just clasps a stripped forearm in reflex, but stays otherwise still.

"I seem to recall you were ordered to drop it," the Predacon hisses, rumbling voice echoing through the Maximal's struts in a threatening warning.

"I know, I know. I just… am curious. No mocking, I promise."

Dinobot goes so still that, for an instant, Rattrap thinks someone has messed with his motor controls.

But as bright red optics narrow, staring intently into his own, searching, the Maximal realizes what he has just said.

I promise.

Despite all of their insulting, both of them know Rattrap doesn't give his word like nothing.

In a sense, the spy, infiltrator, garbage muncher, and cowardly rat has his own sense of honor.

Slowly, Dinobot lowers him to the ground and releases the hold on his neck, straightening as he analyzes the Maximal further.

When Rattrap doesn't do more than rub his neck reflexively before letting his servo fall, the Predacon—

Looks away.

Not only down the corridor, as it may seem at first glance, but into space.

Into old memories none but him are aware of, at least not among those conforming the Axalon's crew.

"I have it from a reliable source that they exist, and that your Council keeps them functional," Dinobot whispers, hissing the last word in a way that has more than one meaning, none of them pleasant.

Rattrap has nothing to say to that, so he just looks away from the tense warrior in front of him, clawed hands curled into shaking fists.

"Okay. Thanks," he manages after some seconds to pull himself together, and looks up to meet Dinobot's intense stare.

"Why ask about them now?"

"Something the newbies said."

And the Predacon startles visibly, putting two and two together.

"They're Maximals."

"The Axalon is the only ship within a hundred light years equipped with a transwarp drive. And the Council has asked us to do them this favor to help clean up a mistake."

"I don't know," Rattrap whispers, but knows Dinobot has heard when he sees him scanning their surroundings, soft sniffing sounds reaching his audials.

Perks of their beast modes. There's a reason Dinobot is always complaining about smells.

When he feels secure in the knowledge they're alone, the Predacon turns to him once more.

"Explain."

"The Axalon is an exploration ship. But before we could get to the exploration part, the Council gave us a mission."

"Intercepting the Darksyde."

"Before that one. In Optimus' own words, we had to 'clean up a mistake of the Council'," Rattrap explains, and merely watches as the Raptor tenses, red optics narrowing once more.

"And you think…"

"I'm not sure what I think, what I should think. I just know there's something weird about the new guys."

"Don't you have a list of the crew? Data files? Profiles?"

"We hadn't even taken off when we got the order to chase you. If there are such files, they either were left behind or got damaged in the crash. The Matrix knows they wouldn't be the only thing," Rattrap answers, scoffing at such an obvious question.

As if he hadn't tried to get such information, both from the Axalon and the Darksyde, when he infiltrated it. The main mainframes of both ships are intact, but the price of maintaining the basics during the crash and the failed transwarp jump was the loss of the minor systems and lots of data.

There's a reason they still have to deal with repairs, and why none of the vessels' systems can pinpoint where and when they are.

It's likely they never will, especially after that thing with the transwarp engines and their failed attempt at taking off.

"We should keep an optic on them, then," Dinobot grumbles softly, almost to himself, as he stares down the corridor Rattrap has come through, and the spy finds himself following his gaze, even though there's nothing to see.

"For once, I agree, Scalebelly. I agree."

Chapter Text

"So… is that supposed to happen?" Rumble asks, unable to look away from the glitching screen as Rhinox tries to get some kind of image of whatever is going on.

"No, it's not! Divert all power to space scanner, lock on their beam and right it!" the Rhino orders the computer, clicking madly, and Ravage can feel just how frustrated Starscream is at being unable to do anything, and not because of lack of servos.

Even if he could transform without giving them away, none of them really knows how to operate this machinery.

"Boosting power. Interlocking… Lock achieved. Imaging," the AI proclaims, and some kind of energy pillar appears onscreen, seemingly connecting with one of the moons.

"What the Pit is—"

Despite Ramjet's words, they all hear the clicking of a hatch opening.

Taking into account there's only Dinobot with them in the ship, and he would have no reason to do anything other than walk through the door-less corridor…

There's a black and gold femme hanging upside down from a hatch in the ceiling.

Rhinox is down before he can do more than reach for his weapon, shouting in pain at the current running through his frame, and the Decepticons scatter.

Hidden in the darkness under the console, waiting for the opportune moment, the Ravage can only watch as the stick-like appendages on her arms start shooting like machineguns. Ramjet goes down with a grunt before he can properly maneuver, while Starscream manages to take to the air and round on her from her back, talons fully extended—

And another unknown mech drops from the hatch, also hanging upside down, just to find himself turned into a pincushion.

However, the small room hasn't allowed the Air Commander to build enough speed for his claws to do more than pierce the outer armor… and, before he can retreat, a pincer-like servo closes around his neck with a sickening crunch.

When his frame is thrown aside, he doesn't move again, the bluish Energon that has been slowly replacing their original pinkish one as they refueled from the native resources dripping from the cuts around his neck.

It takes a moment for Ravage to realize the dread and horror he's feeling is not his own.

Well, not completely.

He can't see him, but Ravage knows Rumble is also hiding under one of the consoles, trying to stay still and silent until they can do something.

And then, Dinobot bursts into the room and almost steps on Starscream's immobile frame.

"What the—"

Before he can react, both of the intruders unleash the fury of their arm-mounted machineguns on the Raptor, knocking him through one of the lifts' glass cover. Fortunately, his armor is thick enough that he’s probably just in stasis.

As soon as it started, the battle is over.

The two Predacons, for Ravage can see their sigils now, drop to the ground and look around. And, when they find no more resistance, the purple one lets out a long string of curses as he nurses his pierced chest plates, slow trickles of glittering blue fluid dripping from the puncture wounds.

"Oh, don't be such a baby," the femme scoffs, stepping towards Ravage's hiding place—

No, not towards the Rusty-Spotted Cat, but the console and the image on its screen.

As if they didn't have enough problems, trapped in an alternate future—because Ravage refuses to believe it is their own—with the Autobots' descendants. Now they have to deal with alien anomalies and Predacons invading their ship.

"What is it?" he hears the femme ask, and tenses involuntarily when the purple mech approaches.

"The beginning… of the end."

In unison, both Cassettes snort silently.

So dramatic… If Starscream wasn't in stasis lock he would…

A brief look shows the Peregrine Falcon still on the same ruffled limp position, the barely there Energon easily visible on his grayish and reddish feathers.

Not enough has been spilled, and he still has his color nanites intact. He'll be fine. It's just stasis lock.

He has to be fine.

He promised he would get them all back, and Starscream has never broken a promise.

Which is one of the reasons Soundwave acquiesces to keeping him around, even managing to convince Megatron to spare him when his treacherous behavior seems to go too far.

Despite all his claims to deactivate their leader and take command by himself, he hasn't promised he'll do it.

So, he'll be fine. And, when the other Maximals come back from their recon and get rid of the intruders, they'll focus on whatever the alien anomaly is, and Starscream will somehow twist the laws of physics, or something of the like, and keep them from getting deactivated.

If he feels like it, he'll even manage to get them back to their timeline at the same time, and they'll all laugh about it over some High Grade when they tell the other Decepticons about the experience.

Yes, Frenzy will love to hear about Ramjet acting like an idiot with Airazor. Soundwave will surely enjoy studying the blueprints Ravage's managed to acquire, maybe discus them with the Constructicons to see what can be applied to the Victory or any future contraptions. And Megatron will be making monkey jokes at Prime for the next couple vorn without the Autobot even knowing what is going on.

They will—

Ravage is jolted back to the present as the Predacons move and, making a split-second decision, he follows.

Apprehension fills the bond just before his comm activates and, for an instant, he fears they'll be detected—

But the intruders simply continue on their way, further into the Axalon.

::Bro, what are you doing?!::

::We need to know what they want. Stay in the command center, contact the Maximals, and make sure Starscream and Ramjet are alright. The last thing we need is them being put in a CR Chamber.::

::But you know I know nothing of Medical Repairs!::

And Ravage freezes.

Because it's the truth. Warriors and spies Frenzy and Rumble might be, but, out of all the siblings, only Ravage and Buzzsaw are proficient in more than field repairs on something other than a Cassette frame.

Snarling silently, the Rusty-Spotted Cat whirls around, back into the bridge, and meets the Least Weasel's eyes with a jerk of his head towards the corridor.

Rumble scurries after the Predacons to keep an optic on them, and Ravage hurriedly jumps onto the closest console after ascertaining the other two Decepticons still function by means of checking that they still have their colors.

The machinery may be strange, but there are things that never really change.

And one of them—

"Ravage to Optimus, do you copy?" he calls, voice soft as he keeps his audials prickled for any sound.

::Optimus here, Ravage. Does Rhinox know how to stop—::

"Rhinox is in stasis," he cuts, growling softly as he gives the green weapon next to him a glare. "We have intruders."

::What?!::

"Two Predacons, a black and gold femme and a purple miner, with machineguns attached to their arms. Rhinox, Dinobot, Starscream and Ramjet are down. Rumble is keeping an optic on the Preds. They seem to think the alien anomaly is some kind of Doomsday weapon."

::Well, that's just Prime,:: Optimus groans, softly enough that it was probably meant just for his audials, and, while Ravage tilts his head in confusion, a sigh keeps him from asking what the Pit that is supposed to mean. ::Do you think you can get the others back online?::

"Yes."

There's a second too long of silence at the certainty in his voice, but if Optimus is curious, he doesn't ask.

::Alright, do it. I'll get Cheetor and Tigatron to get there on the double. Oh, and Ravage? Those were Blackarachnia and Tarantulas. They have spider beast modes and their weapons can inject a painful dose of Cybervenom. If any of them has been hit with that—::

"Get them in the Chambers, yes. Now hurry!" he hisses before hastily closing the connection and jumping down again, hiding under the console.

His audials haven't failed him, for a red and silver mech drops down the still open hatch a nanoklik later. After a look around, the new intruder decides to ignore the stasis-locked mechs on the floor to go after the other two Predacons.

After a quick burst of alert and wariness through the bond with Rumble, Ravage hurries to Starscream's side and scans the neck.

Misaligned neck struts.

Oh, he's going to be whining for orns after this…

But it's an easy fix, even if he'll have to deal with some coordination problems for some time.

So, with a tiny grimace but full of determination, Ravage gets to work.


Ignoring Terrorsaur's panic, Megatron turns to the computer's holoprojection of the Axalon, confused for a moment, before he feels hope soar again as he reads the details.

"The Maximal base… And the shield is down. Oh, yes!" he crows, a smile making it to his faceplate before he turns his full attention to the projection. "Computer! Scan Maximal base. Use alien frequency."

"Scanning… Two Maximals detected in command center. None functional," it obediently reports, and his smirk starts to widen as he sees the pointers appear. "Units Tarantulas and Blackarachnia active. In stasis hold. Unit Inferno moving toward their position," it adds, and a surge of something like relief fills him at that, for, as annoying as he is, the Fire Ant is the most loyal of his Predacons. "Three unidentified energy signatures in command center. Two active. One unidentified energy signature active in stasis hold."

That… is not good.

"Unidentified signatures? Rescan! I want them identified!"

"Scanning… Unable to identify energy signatures."

"Impossible! They should be—" he cuts himself as it dawns like a punch to the faceplates, sudden and almost painful. "Oh, right. The new Maximals, yes. But why would they show as unidentified? That could only happen if they didn't have neither Maximal nor Predacon programming… And there were only two of them."

"Huh, Megatron? Shields at full power!" Terrorsaur screeches, breaking through his thoughts, and the Tyrannosaur shakes his head.

They have more important things to worry about now. But if Tarantulas manages to get them out of this alive…

A smile starts to grow again at the thought.

"Unidentified energy signatures, aren't you? Yessss…"


Ah, the old trick of shooting your 'ally' on the back. It seems it never grows old.

Hidden in the shadows, Rumble can only be grateful for his small size when he sees and hears the energy shot fly from behind him, slamming the black and gold femme into a bunch of boxes. He makes sure to stay very still as an unknown red and silver mech walks past him without giving him a look.

Thank Primus he was sparked a Cassette…

Predacon or not, though, Rumble has to admire the style and sturdiness of the newcomer as he not only stops the purple one's projectile, but endures various shots from the machineguns and manages to catch his flying blaster as it falls behind him—

Before setting the glitch on fire.

Experience helps him keep his chuckles silent as the techno-geek rushes past him, screeching in pain before slamming against a wall and knocking himself into stasis.

That… was kind of like the Autobot Head of Spec Ops' style. Except for not avoiding the shots. Though, if the black and white flea-bag had the thick armor this one does, Rumble's sure he would have reacted like that.

"Inferno to Royalty. I have intercepted the spiders," the red and silver mech reports through open comm, and the static that answers him makes him tilt his head in curiosity while Rumble contacts his brother to let him know about the escape pod and the planet's imminent destruction. "Can you receive me? My Queen?"

Once more, the Weasel thanks his frame type as he covers his muzzle with his paws and presses against the wall, muffling his laughter.

Queen?

Oh, Starscream's going to laugh himself glitched when he hears about this…

"Ah ah ah. Mustn't touch."

Startled by the voice, Rumble peeks around and, after observing the brief but intense fight, reconsiders his opinion.

The femme—she said widow and she's been called spider, so Black Widow?—must be the descendant of the Autobot Head of Spec Ops, because that was some nifty aft-kicking there, literally. The 'blow the guy with his own weapon' thing was a pretty nice touch too.

::Rumble, the Maximals are here. How are things on your end?::

::Two Predacons down from infighting. The femme's the one standing, and she's doing something to—what the Pit?!::

::Rumble? Rumble!::

::She's hacking the other spider!:: the Weasel lets out, trying not to move so as to not catch the Widow's attention, even though she seems busy enough. ::With some kind of outer interface, a visor-thingy with a cable. Oh, and they all talk aloud too much, she's getting the other Preds' data-tracks to finish modifying the pod into some kind of space-travel-capable tiny ship.::

::Stay safe, we're coming.::

::Hey, it's me, Rumble!::

::Which is precisely why I said what I did.::

Scoffing silently, the Weasel closes the connection—

And jumps with a startled shout as the Predacon screeches in pain, huddling into the shadows as she rips off the visor and looks around.

After a moment, she shakes her helm and recovers the interface, returning to the pod.

Not a klik later, Ravage is suddenly by his side, Rattrap and Airazor behind him with their blasters trained on the Predacon.

The Maximals exchange a look with before turning to the Cassettes, and Rumble gestures for them to wait.

Whatever the Spider is doing, it may prove useful.

Nodding back, they move to better positions to keep an optic on her and wait.


Starscream’s neck hurts, his processor hurts, and he can feel only about 87.3% of his sensory net, which makes for clumsy movements.

But at least he'll be active and aware when they get blasted to the Pit.

"What did you do to those slagging aliens that they're willing to destroy a whole planet to get rid of a servoful of us!" he shrieks, uncaring about how a soot-stained Ramjet inches away from him with a grimace as Tigatron and Cheetor brace themselves against the active CR Chambers holding Dinobot and Rhinox.

"Apparently, we contaminated their experiment," Primal answers, and Starscream feels as if he's been slapped.

"What?! Can they be any pettier and more childish?!" he screeches, wobbling as the ship is rocked by the explosions of the super-heated Energon deposits, and silently vows to let Skywarp know about this experience when they get back.

Maybe then he'll stop messing with Starscream's work.

"Not the time!" Optimus growls, staggering with the next loud explosion that sends the Peregrine Falcon to the floor. "How long until Rhinox is functional?"

"At least a megacycle. He took a pretty big dose of Cybervenom," Cheetor answers, and, after a consultation with the computer's AI, it's clear it will be too long.

"Doesn't this thing have something we can fire at it? Some kind of photon missile?" Starscream shouts from his position on the floor, resigned to the fact he'll fall again if he tries to get up.

"No, and with the shields active—"

"That thing is using far too much energy, which means it doesn't have any defenses to have it diverted to. If we could get a shot in, we could probably take it out!" the Falcon explains, and the Gorilla looks startled that Starscream doesn’t bother holding back the best snarl his beak allows for. "The pod those Preds were modifying! If we can detonate it close enough to that thing, the transwarp explosion should be enough to destroy it!"

"Of course!" Optimus exclaims, optics widening, and, before Starscream can even move, he's picked up and finds himself being bounced against a furry hide as Primal rushes to the stasis hold. "Why didn't you say you had engineering knowledge?"

"Because I don't? Come on, it was obvious from the start! Hit it hard enough in the right spot and even the sturdiest wall will break!" he squeaks, digging his talons in the larger mech's arm.

"You could've said it sooner!"

"A bit busy trying not to get stepped on when I can barely keep myself standing! Now release—oomph!" he tries to protest, but his tirade is cut short when they get to the room and he's unceremoniously dropped to the ground, the Gorilla stalking to the femme being held at gunpoint as the rest of Maximals rush in after them.

"Can it fly?"

"Of course it can fly, you ape," the Predacon scoffs, chin held up proudly, as Ravage and Rumble help Starscream to his pedes. "But it won't do you any good. The systems will only respond to me."

"Then change them to respond to me," Primal orders, picking her up by the neck.

"You'll blow yourself to atoms!" the Falcon exclaims, pushing aside the Cassettes as he takes a step closer. "The transwarp explosion will vaporize everything in its wake!"

"If it saves this planet, it'll be worth it," Optimus answers, and the rest finally realize what they're talking about.

"What we need to do is get it on autopilot."

"What do you think this is, a real spaceship? It's a pod, it doesn't have an autopilot. And before you suggest it, there's no time to get one built, least of all installed," the Spider hisses, and gray feathers fluff out—

Before a new tremor almost sends Starscream to the ground, only Ramjet's firm frame helping him stay standing.

"Looks like it's the only chance we have right now," Optimus lets out with a pointed glare at the Predacon.

After a moment, she glares at the guns pointed at her helm.

"Well? I've got work to do," she growls, and the weapons are immediately taken away to let her go back to the pod and the interface still linked to it.

"You can't do this, Big Bot! I'll fly the ship!" Cheetor exclaims, poking a dactyl against his chest plates, before he's pushed back by Tigatron.

Ugh, hero complex. They're lucky the bigger feline seems to be able to silence the spotted mech.

"No! Let me."

All Decepticons groan out loud, but the sound is muted by the roaring and explosions against the shields.

"I am grateful, but only a Flier has a chance to get clear of the blast," Optimus answers, and Starscream tenses.

Is he really stupid enough to believe he can out-fly an energy explosion able to take out a weapon like the aliens'?

… And, apparently, so is Airazor, for she has just volunteered for the suicide mission.

"They're not fast enough," Starscream mutters, leaning more heavily against Ramjet’s side.

"Well, then why don't you do it?" Rattrap hisses from behind them, and suddenly all optics are on the Decepticons.

"Maybe because my motor controls are scrambled? I can barely stand!" he growls, his claim reinforced not only by his leaning on the Conehead, but by the obvious wobbling not even the jolting ship can be blamed for. "Why don't you?"

"Hey, suicide ain't in my job description."

"Well, at least there's someone with a bit of sense."

"Nor is it in mine. Now start rigging an autocharge on that transwarp cell. I'll need about thirty nanokliks to clear the ship," Primal orders Rattrap, ignoring or not having heard Starscream’s last comment, and the rat nods as he moves to obey.

"Hey, Screamer, you agree with that?" Rattrap hisses as he pries the pod open, and even though he's seething at the nickname, Starscream knows they have more important things to worry about.

"No, but taking into account the constant assault of energy, anything more could mean the ship would get out of course. Just have Airazor ready to catch him when he falls and one Chamber empty and fully functional."

Rattrap grimaces, but returns his full attention to his task.

Barely a klik later, and after some 'teary' goodbyes the Decepticons simply endure with some respectful nods—and obvious amusement when Airazor rewards an 'insensitive' comment from Blackarachnia with a punch to the faceplates—the pod takes flight and the rest rush to the command center to monitor it through their holoprojector.

The tension is evident and growing as they watch the red dot that is the pod approaching the planet-destroying weapon. Especially when the time for safe ejection, or as safe as it's going to get, comes… and goes without change.

"He's almost inside the alien structure, why doesn't he ditch?!" Airazor exclaims, the highest strung of them after being told she'll most likely have to go catch their 'fearless leader' to help him avoid a painful reconnection with the ground.

"What did you do?" Rumble growls at their prisoner, fur bristling from where he's standing next to Ravage, observing the holoprojection from atop the table.

"Too late. Goodbye, Optimus," Blackarachnia answers with a singsong tone, laughing, and the Maximals' faceplates distort with horror.

The alien weapon explodes.


Shock sets in quickly as the computer confirms what they feared.

Optimus is gone.

"But why didn't he leave the ship as planned?" Tigatron questions, his frustration plain to hear.

"Good question," Rattrap hisses, stepping away from the console and reaching for his gun. "And I know just who to ask."

Only, when he whirls around, there's no one there.

"Uh, who was supposed to keep an eye on the Spider?" Rumble asks, and Rattrap feels his temper boil.

The room is empty, only the Maximals there, with the older team members closer to the console while the newbies are next to the table. Starscream is curled into a fluffed feathery ball on the ground, still shaking despite the tremors having stopped, and the other three stay close to the Falcon, as usual.

"I will hunt her down," Tigatron growls, transforming to beast mode—

"Alert. Quantum surge detected. Vector five, nine, seven."

"As expected. The shields are still up, aren't they?" Starscream mumbles, sounding a mix of annoyed and resigned, and Rattrap has to remind himself that strangling him for 'forgetting' to mention that won't help.

"Everyone to your posts! Optimus didn't blow himself up so that we could get scrapped by space junk!" the rodent orders, and the Maximals, with the exception of the newbies, hurry to obey.

"Exterior shields at maximum!"

"We've got power fluctuations all over the board, they'll never hold!"

"Make them hold!"

"Impact in five! Four! Three!"

A quick look around reveals Cheetor's fear, Tigatron's growing distress as he claws the board, Airazor's desperation, and how the smallest Maximals huddle together under the grayish Peregrine Falcon's wing, the Crested Eagle burying against his side.

And Rattrap prays that, whatever happens next, they manage to survive it.

The last thing he wants is for Rhinox and Chopperface to get out of the CR Chambers only to be welcomed by deactivated frames.

"Two!"

The console explodes, sending him flying to slam painfully to the ground, and he can hear Airazor and Cheetor going through the same before new tremors start to shake the ship, Tigatron and Ramjet shouting at the movement. But the only thing Rattrap can see through blurry optics is the way Rumble curls into reddish feathers, terror distorting his face as he clings to the Flier with Ravage pressing close to them both, and Starscream's determined expression as he huddles over them, as if he could shield them from the quantum surge, unwilling to give up despite the stains of Energon all around his neck and the way he can barely keep himself upright—

And then there's pain washing over his frame like super-acidic rain, and Rattrap can feel his armor boiling and peeling off, and there are voices screaming which he can barely hear over his own, but which the tiny part of his processor that is not writhing in pain recognizes as Cheetor and the newbies, and what a lousy leader Rattrap's been, unable to keep the shields up to take care of the youngest members of the cr—

Chapter Text

The Axalon isn't just dark when Rattrap reboots, but also completely trashed.

Ceiling panels have fallen down, tubes and wires hanging like colorful vines, and parts of the consoles and other machinery are strewn around. The holotable has been overturned, sparks giving off brief flashes of light that his optics are having a hard time dealing with…

The groaning voices are what give Rattrap the strength to stand up and walk to them, and he's more than glad to see Tigatron and Airazor undamaged.

"Rattrap and Cheetor!" the Flier exclaims, and he can't help the smile on his faceplates.

"Looking for me?" he calls, and two pairs of stunned optics immediately fall on him.

It's only when he sees Cheetor step up to him and they somehow manage to get themselves in front of the shiny reflective surface of a CR Chamber that Rattrap realizes just what those looks were for.

"Hey. I'm… gorgeous," he laughs, examining his new shiny silver plating with growing awe.

"The surge must've mutated your superstructures," Airazor whispers, as amazed as the rest, and Rattrap has to hide a grimace.

Yeah, and what a painful mutation that was just to get a buff job. The feeling of plating boiling, the pained scream from his own voice box being echoed by Cheetor and—

"The newbies!" Rattrap exclaims, cutting whatever Airazor was going to say as he whirls around, dread filling him as he sees how the table is lying on its side, base having been ripped off of the ground.

There's a curse at his back that sounds a lot like Tigatron as he rushes to where he last saw the tiny Maximals, kneeling down—

A tiny shower of sparks sheds some light on the broken parts under the holotable, and Rattrap feels his breath catch in his throat.

There's an unmoving blackened bundle of something that look suspiciously like feathers next to what was the base. Peeled back cables spurt out of the floor like grass, but there is not even the tiniest hint of electricity coming from them.

The question is, is there no energy because it has been cut, or because it has been spent?

Rattrap approaches slowly, shaking his helm as he refuses to see the unnatural stillness for what it is. He can only think about that conversation with Dinobot before he was sent on the patrol that would land him in the alien bungalow, about not trusting the confused and lost new guys that were even more stranded than the rest of them because of their scrambled memories returning without any semblance of order, sending them into worlds of pain and despair that left them as good as crippled…

"No… C'mon guys, don't…" he whispers, slowly reaching with one of his new shiny silver servos towards the bundle, feeling unnatural heat from the still unmoving scorched frame—

A twitch.

Frozen in place, Rattrap feels hope start to grow as the black bundle shivers, jerkily moving so that wings are pulled back to reveal a curled up white gray creature with two smaller and darker lumps pressed into its feathers—

And then, the thing covering them, protecting them, lifts its head and turns to look at the now silver mech with bottomless pits of impossibly pure white.

Rattrap has heard about abysses, cracks or holes of darkness so thick it seems either like water or alive, but never once did he think there could exist an equivalent with light. Or that it would be even more terrifying.

He's trapped, frame unresponsive as those voids of whiteness swallow him, the complete darkness surrounding them expanding and blocking the world until there's nothing left, not even his body, just light—

"Carrier?"

The creature breaks its stare, and Rattrap scurries away with pained gasps, shaking almost violently as he can suddenly feel again. And yet, he’s still unable to look away from the black thing whose attention is now on where Rumble is shaking himself back to consciousness, having somehow pushed himself away from the dazzled pile of pale feathers and dark fur.

White flickers once, twice, and, after a third time, it starts to dim, its light extending to the black body and slowly giving color back to polished platinum marked with angular black lines that resemble a cross of lightning and ancient Cybertronian writing. The frame soon becomes identifiable as a bird of prey, sharp talons gleaming with the same mixture of firmness and fluidity of quicksilver, its pointed beak cutting the very light as it opens to reveal a tongue of pure darkness—

And the Weasel looks up and freezes, optics wide. But why would he? The thing's optics are no longer pools of infinite light, they're gleaming rubies—

"Starscream?"

… Oh, that would be it.

The metallic bird takes a tremulous step back before shaking itself, and its platinum body melts into soft-looking feathers of gray and reddish and bluish and black, legs and beak turning yellow, before it takes another step back—

And transforms.

Torso and legs change the angle to a more natural position, the leading edges of the wings forming arms while the flight feathers fold against the back of them. The tail parts so the feathers hang off the sides of the hips, as the beak slides back over the head to cover it as some kind of helm, revealing charcoal faceplates quickly covered by a bluish servo ended in three sharp dactyls as the mech rubs his optics with a groan.

"Ow, my processor… What happened?" he asks, and that's definitely Starscream's voice, if raspier and rougher than before.

"No slagging idea," Ramjet groans, wobbly standing up before transforming back to robot mode too with the same strangely fluid process.

However, his wing feathers press over the arms and the tail slides up to rest against his back, becoming extra layers of armor that make him look far bulkier. He also keeps the feathery crest atop his head, folded back.

"Did you feel like… like we were on Cybertron?" Ravage questions, straightening on his back legs as he too changes.

His muzzle splits to slide along the sides of his head, the ears atop his cranium twitching as they react to the almost imperceptible sounds all around. The thicker half of the tail unfurls like a rug before it is pulled up to press against his back, with the last half lying sideways over it, the tail tip resting on his left hip and a vertebra protruding over his right shoulder.

"Felt like being with Carrier," Rumble answers with a morose mumble, getting to his feet as he transforms too.

His head changes much like the Cat's, but ending with a visor instead of optics. The bottom part of his lower body pulls up to reveal long thighs as his beast mode's back legs click together to conform the lower legs. His upper back plating separates from the body in some kind of decorative winglets, while his arms extend fully from where they had been hidden in his sides, his alt mode's clicking together in the same process as his legs. The extra plating from his lower body fills the gaps to leave him with a thicker chest and shoulder armor than it may have seemed at first, his tail opening and pressing against his lower back to replace the mass that has shifted up.

"Whatever happened, I don't want to go through it ever again," Starscream scowls, voice smothering to his usual, as he finally looks up without pain in his faceplate, only annoyance and recognition when he finally sees the Maximals peeking around the uprooted holotable. "Holy Primus, what happened to you?" he asks, optics analyzing Rattrap's frame with an intensity that seems far stronger than any other time before.

"The quantum surge mutated their superstructure," Airazor answers, fascinated, as she approaches them. "And it looks like they weren't the only ones."

Startled, the four small mechs look at each other, and it takes them just a moment for their optics to widen before they start to look over their frames.

"Oh," Rumble whispers, looking between the two Peregrine Falcons. "Oh."

"Are all of you alright?"

"Oh."

"He means yes," Ravage translates, voice chocked, before he shakes himself back to the present. "That…"

"Looks like our transforming sequences were messed up," Starscream whispers, clawed dactyls moving the Cat to observe him more in detail. "But there's nothing in my self-repair queue. Not anymore."

"Neither in mine," Ramjet whispers, crest opening and closing in nervous twitches as he processes things. "Does that mean we'll be… looking like this?"

"Seems so."

"They're not as shiny and awesome as my new body, but they're neat," Cheetor butts in, and Rumble immediately starts criticizing his frame in what seems like an automatic defensive response.

"So, do you have any weapons?" Rattrap asks, finally breaking the spell that hallucination thingy cast on him, blaming the flickering lights and the remnants of the quantum surge for it.

The smaller two exchange a look and, straightening, Rumble steps forward.

His arms change, the extra armor on the shoulders rising as the servos expand into circular slabs, plating shifting to anchor them to the shoulder armor to create some kind of tubes.

And then it's over, and what he's left with looks a lot like—

"Pile-drivers?" Cheetor asks, but the Weasel can only stare at what were his arms with a mixture of horror and disbelief, staring at the flimsy-looking outer casing that doesn't hide the thick pistons and tensile cables inside, which make them look like some kind of skeletal… well, pile-drivers.

"What the Pit happened to me?" he whispers in shock, twitching, and lets out a yelp when the plating on his shoulders presses down so some slabs of armor on what were his forearms slide out, freeing the elbow joints and turning the 'pile-drivers' into monstrous claws almost half of his armlength in size. "What the Pit happened to me?!"

"Whoa, calm down," Ramjet croons softly, but only Ravage steps forward to rest a hand on Rumble's shoulder.

After a moment of looking into the Cat's eyes, the Weasel relaxes enough to shift the giant claws back into arms.

"Wicked," Cheetor whispers, but gets no answer from the still shocked mech. "Hey, Rattrap! Let's see what our beast modes look like now!"

And they do, giving the other modified mechs time to shake off the surprise and pull themselves together enough to see what else the new frames have to offer.

Meanwhile, the Cheetah manages to get himself airborne and slammed into one of the consoles, while the Rat crashes into a pile of debris while testing their new winged and wheeled alt mode variants, respectively.

"This… is gonna get some used to."

When they manage to get themselves back to robot mode, Rattrap sends Tigatron and Airazor to get Blackarachnia. Meanwhile, Cheetor and himself get the last two members of the team back on their feet, and the rookies get used to their new bodies by clearing the essential systems and starting with repairs.

Rhinox is clearly surprised at their new frames, while Dinobot seems to be a mix of amused and unimpressed. Both of them are unchanged, for better or for worse.

"And then we woke up and Cheetor and I were this, eh… trans… metals. And the newbies got their transformation sequences scrambled for good, but at least they can transform and have some semblance of weapons."

"Will you ever stop calling us that?" Rumble groans, approaching with an annoyed look on his faceplate.

"No, so you better get used to it," Rattrap answers with a smug look that immediately vanishes as Dinobot twirls one of the wheels on his shoulders. "Hey!"

"A definite improvement. Although in your case it's not difficult," the Raptor answers with clear amusement, and Rattrap snarls.

"I knew we should've left you in stasis, Lizard-butt."

"Oh, name-calling. How original," Starscream cuts as he gives them a tired look, joining the group with the other two rookies at his back. "Will you ever mature and realize the problem we're in?"

"Problem?"

"Do you really believe this only happened here? That the Predacons were spared?" the Peregrine Falcon hisses, gesturing between himself and the larger Transmetals, and the silence that follows is ominous. "We're weak now, with the state the ship is in. And while they won't be much better, remind me, who are the guys that have people in the inside?"

Blackarachnia may be long gone, but Tarantulas and Inferno…

"The holding cells!" Cheetor exclaims, but before he can go check on them, the sound of an explosion reaches them.

"Sounds like Airazor and Tigatron found Blackarachnia. Rattrap, take Cheetor, Starscream and Ramjet, and check it out. Ravage, Rumble and Dinobot, we'll try to get Sentinel back online."

"Got it, big guy," the Rat answers, breaking out in a run with the others after him, while the Rhino’s instructions fill the room they leave behind.

Whatever it was they were expecting when the lift finally touches down, however, it wasn't to see their teammates knocked out with no sign of their attacker.

"Rattrap to Rhinox. We've got trouble here," he comms, just in case they really have trouble instead of it just being Blackarachnia getting a lucky hit in and running away as fast as possible.

::On our way.::

And with that reassurance, they walk off the lift, weapons in hand—and weaponless Fliers at their back.

Or, at least, it doesn't look like they are armed.

Yet again, neither does Cheetor.

Please, don't let me be the only one with a gun…

And the shooting starts – inside the Axalon.

"Jumping gyros, what's that!" the Cheetah exclaims, and, in that instant of surprise, they fall prey to the ambush they should've known was there.

Waspinator shoots and the Maximals scatter—er… more like they get blasted in different directions.

When Rattrap gets back to his pedes only to find a really changed Megatron as his 'sparring partner', he knows today is not going to be a good day…


The fighting is… not pathetic, but close.

While the quantum surge has given them an out for their different transformations, it hasn't left the Decepticons unscathed.

Not only have their root modes been modified, but their weapons have been… mutated too.

Rumble still has his pile-drivers, though they seem to double as those overgrown claws powered by the same pistons able to create earthquakes that demolish buildings. But, while none of the Fliers has tried to test their own armament yet, neither of them has their shoulder-mounted canons.

However, Starscream knows he still has his null-rays. He just has no idea how to use them in root mode anymore.

Well, no time like the present.

Especially when his 'teammates' are being handled their own afts.

Oh, Rattrap was doing fine against that Megatron mockery turned Tyrannosaur, right until the Predacon activated his processor and went back to root mode to start shooting. And Cheetor… is being kept at bay by Waspinator.

"Ramjet, get the Wasp," he orders, and feels more than sees the Conehead dive towards his target, the sun glinting off his plating as his plumage melts into silvery metal, adding yet another layer of armor to his already thick one. "Well, that's nice," Starscream whistles, watching Ramjet's speed increase when the air resistance is almost nullified with the change—

And winces silently as both Crested Eagle and Wasp mech slam into the Axalon's hull with the force of the impact, bouncing a couple of times before dropping down into the canyon. Fortunately, Cheetor jumps after them to catch the dazed and disoriented Decepticon while making use of his pathetic flying skills.

He will have to give the Cheetah some lessons, if just to get his optics to stop hurting every time he looks at the airborne feline.

"I'm surrounded by idiots," Starscream groans before turning his attention to where Rattrap is hiding behind a rock, not-Megatron's shots chipping away at his shelter quite quickly. "Here goes nothing."

With a deep intake that takes all heat of nervousness away with it when expelled, the Peregrine Falcon closes his wings and dives.

And, just before the fall begins in earnest, he reaches for the modification of the coding that pressed his plumage closer to the armor before the quantum surge.

His surroundings blur too suddenly as he feels his outer armor melt from feathers to frictionless polished metal—

Until he reaches for the sensor-dampening code that locked his wings back when he had a Tetrajet alt mode, and disengages it.

The world is silent but focused, brighter than ever and clearer than he can remember, winds and air currents painting a mosaic that he hasn't seen in nine million years, but full of color instead of drowned by shades of white in a blizzard. He knows he's broken the sound barrier and that he's falling fast, but everything seems to have stopped.

For the first time in an eternity, he can see Earth properly.

Yet, no matter how much he wants to just be and enjoy the experience, this is not the time. Starscream promised he'd get the Cassettes and Ramjet back, and they won't have a chance to sit down and ponder the issue as long as the Predacons and that imposter calling himself Megatron are around.

So, he relinquishes his hold on time and focuses.

Starscream feels his null-rays come to life, energy pooling in his chest and spreading through his frame and wings and—

Deactivating his signature weapon for the very reason it may be recognized, Starscream opens his wings slightly and tilts his tail to change his trajectory so that it takes him past Megatron.

While falling twice at the speed of sound.

The Predacon doesn't even have the time to whirl around, and Starscream smirks triumphantly before the shockwave blasts Megatron away, almost sending him to crash against the opposite wall of the canyon if not for him transforming and activating his propellers at the last second.

Slowing his flight as he climbs up again, he quickly turns around to keep his optics on the Predacon—

A flash of red and silver and a loud clanging makes him look at the lift, where what looks like the Ant mech in root mode hurriedly gets to his pedes before taking flight with a sputter of his rotor-abdomen. An arm is missing and there are some long gouges all over his back and abdomen, small enough to have come from Rumble's modified pile-drivers.

"This isn't over!" Megatron roars, and Starscream answers with a defiant screech that he makes sure to turn into laughter when the Ant has to cling to the Tyrannosaur as his flight systems sputter black smoke and go offline.

"Whoa, what did we miss?" Cheetor asks as he flies to Rattrap's side, with Ramjet lying on his back with a dazed expression, and the Peregrine Falcon slowly gliding towards the group.

"I'm not sure myself," the rodent answers while rubbing his helm, and, remembering to use his 'activation code', Starscream goes back to root mode as soon as he lands, helping get Ramjet on his pedes.

"Nothing special. Just some flying."

"You got Megatron blasted away without even touching him!"

"I'm a fast Flier. That was just a burst of speed," Starscream explains with his best humble tone, though his proud smirk easily destroys that image.

"Hey, guys! Did any of you see where that crazy red mech went? We weren't done with him!" Rumble shouts as the Maximals in the ship get out, the Least Weasel bouncing to them happily in his alt mode. "Mech, I love my upgrades. And you should've seen Ravage! His tail is a sword now! It was like slash! Just one cut and the mech's arm fell off! It was awesome! What happened to Ramjet?"

"He slammed himself into the Axalon."

"So he is what dented the ceiling?" Rhinox asks, incredulous, while the Cassettes break down laughing, the Rusty-Spotted Cat far quieter than his younger brother thanks to a paw pressed against his muzzle. "No wonder he looks so… dizzy."

"It's the rush of battle," the Conehead answers with a wide stupid grin, and even Starscream can't keep back a snort at that.

"It was plain 'rushing'. We need you to practice flying again, unless you want to end creating craters everywhere you go."

"But I like crashing… you can feel all the plating breaking that way…"

"Yes, I'm sure. You're proof enough of that," he scoffs, poking Ramjet's helm just enough to make him lose his precarious balance to end sitting on the ground. "I could hear your processor being grinded to dust."

"You were flying faster than sound, how could you hear anything?"

"Because I heard that before breaking the sound barrier?"

"Oh."

"Are you all alright?" Rhinox asks, analyzing the Seekers with curious optics, as well as the two Transmetals, and Starscream opens his beak—

Pain pain pain fire burning consuming his wings his frame boiling away his spARK—

With an almost audible snap, the sensor-dampener code activates, stopping the veins of solar plasma ravaging his frame from extending, but not making the agony go away.

"Don't touch me!" he shrieks, feeling Rattrap try to twitch closer, and focuses on the constant rhythm of his fuel pump.

Slowly, the burning subsides.

"—think that's some kind of side-effect? The going black thingy?"

"Must be. I've never seen anything like this, or what has happened to all of you, so I can't be sure…"

"Screamer?"

The voices stop.

"Don't call me that, Rumble," he answers with a tired sigh, rubbing his faceplate with a servo before onlining his optics again to meet the others’ worried looks.

"Are you alright?"

"Just paying the price of flying at Mach 2 with unlocked wings after going through a reformatting."

"… How are you still functioning?" Ramjet whispers, dumbstruck, and looking kind of sick.

"I'm just that good," he answers with as cocky a smirk as he can, though he can tell it falls flat almost immediately, too tired to make a genuine effort.

"You started going black," the Weasel adds, voice barely higher than a whisper, and Starscream finally drops any pretenses of smirking.

"I… what?"

"You started going black. It looked like you were… I don't know. Getting scorched. Fusion blast scorched. Just… from the inside out," Rumble explains, and, for the first time in a long while, the Peregrine Falcon remembers just how young the Cassettes really are.

"Then I will have to try to avoid a repeat," he answers simply, resting a servo on the Weasel's helm to give it a pat, and earning a scowl for his troubles.

"It's not funny!" Rumble roars, pushing the servo away, fear clear on his trembling frame.

Startled at the over-emotional response, Starscream turns to Ravage, only to stiffen as he sees the Rusty-Spotted Cat's ears pressed flat against his helm in an echo of his brother.

They really were worried about him.

You owe me one, Soundwave.

"Beast mode," he whispers, activating his transformation at the same time, and opens his wings wide once he's back in alt mode.

Rumble is the first to burrow in his feathery chest, but the other Cassette isn't too far.

He doesn't lay down, his battle protocols still very much active from the last confrontation and the fact that their base of operations has been wrecked, but he fluffs his plumage and nuzzles the smaller Decepticons under the cover of a wing, not saying a word when Ramjet presses against his side. The echo of thunder makes them all turn to the brewing storm, Megatron a barely visible silhouette against the dark clouds thanks to the white energy from his propellers.

"Well, the Beast Wars have suddenly become a lot weirder," Rattrap whistles, though they can all hear the tension in his voice.

A couple of nanokliks later, they grab Tigatron and Airazor and go back to the ship.

There's a lot of work to do, and Starscream knows it's not just on the Axalon.

He has a time-space continuum to check on.

Chapter Text

"You saw the moon?" Dinobot asks, voice almost too soft, seeking a confirmation he doesn't need but which he hopes doesn't come, for that would mean he has to believe.

"Yes! One moon now. Planet changed. And that means—"

"Earth," he finishes with the same low rumbling, cutting Waspinator's too proud know-it-all tone.

If even Waspinator can see it, there's no denying it now.

"It means Megatron was right!" Dinobot adds as he lets the bug fall, something like excitement coursing through his wires as he approaches the twirling golden artifacts. "And the disks—"

"Give record of the future!" Waspinator cuts him that time, voice an annoying singsong tone that he can't find it in himself to care about. "The ultimate power."

And truer words have never been spoken…

Waspinator is the one to suggest they team up, probably encouraged by his lack of aggression, and Dinobot readily agrees—just to throw him to the force-field around the disks for the defenses to become distracted long enough.

The flat golden metal feels cold in his claws, and he can't seem to recall if it was like that before or if it's because of his systems running hot with the looming danger of his position.

"Hey, how did you—You!"

Startled by the voice and berating himself for allowing himself to become distracted enough not to hear her coming, Dinobot whirls around—

His spark stops pulsing.

Because that's Blackarachnia in the corridor, with some kind of curled up vibrant purple and black thing at her feet, along the cube of parts Waspinator has been turned into by the defenses. But there's another in front of her, a tiny creature covered by raised black fur and hissing menacingly, ears pressed back.

Ravage.

Using her own surprise at seeing the Predacon-turncoat, the feline rushes away from the Spider, to his supposedly fellow Maximal. The Raptor can only pepper the entrance with his optic lasers, not caring about aiming, before using the distraction to shoot a hole into one of the walls and run away, the smaller mech hot on his pedes even though he can't hear him.

"What are you doing here?!" Dinobot roars as soon as they get outside, stopping just long enough to transform and let the Cat climb to his back, before speeding away.

"What does it look like? I was following you, of course!"

"Why?!"

"Because I wanted to know what you were up to," Ravage answers, and the firmness, the security that he knew Dinobot had been planning something, even before his presence in the Darksyde and the words he surely heard confirmed it, make the Predacon's Energon freeze in his lines.

They stay silent after that, with Dinobot not knowing how to answer and Ravage simply letting him think.

The Raptor only slows down when they get to the base of a certain mountain approximately halfway between the faction territories, but keeps moving. The mountaintop is mostly flat, with some sharp rocks rising to the sky like claws bordering it. Lightning and the full moon illuminate the area easily despite the clouds.

Only when he reaches the top does Dinobot stop, and, when Ravage jumps to the ground, transforms.

The Cat observes him with bright yellow eyes glowing under the moonlight, but doesn't say anything. Just sits there, tail curling around his paws, and looks at him.

It only takes some nanokliks for the silence to become too much.

"Aren't you going to say anything?" Dinobot asks, voice as soft as back in the Darksyde, while taking a moment to wonder how a newly awakened tiny Maximal can make him feel like he is the newspark that has been caught with a servo in the rust sticks' jar.

No answer, just unblinking yellow eyes fixed on his red ones, and Dinobot can't seem to find the strength to look away.

"I went to the Predacon ship without telling anyone, I stole the relics that have the very future written on them, I admitted to Megatron being right!"

Nothing.

Breathing heavy, the Raptor takes a step back and finally manages to look away, helm bowing as he stares at the ground.

"These disks I hold… They are either a record of what will be… or only of what may. If the future is indeed immutably foretold, then my demise is but moments from the confirmation, and I—I could not live if not the master of my fate," he explains, voice low and with the despair that made his words stumble clear in it, so he takes a moment to get rid of it before continuing. "But! If the future can be changed… if these disks record merely one path of all the myriad ways the cosmos might conform…" he adds, voice growing soft once more as he stares at the double reflection on polished gold, before he turns to observe his thoughts, flashing before him. "Then, their power is infinite. And yet, still limited… for they could be used but once," he muses, firmer, focusing back on the disks, and he allows himself to frown, though it is hard to say whether it is at the processor-ache or at the spark-wrenching despair caused by his lack of knowledge. "And in that change be rendered fiction forever more."

Ravage tenses, ears pressing back against his head and fur rising as realization makes his optics widen.

For an uncounted amount of time, they just stare at each other, seeing the fear, the uncertainty, the horror…

"I could destroy them!" Dinobot finally shouts, claws clenching their grip on the disks as he glares down at them with glowing green optics—

But deflates almost as quickly, before turning to look at the Cat.

Ravage just stares, despair all his optics convey, and Dinobot knows he won't speak.

This is Dinobot's decision, and no else's.

And Ravage knows that… and accepts it.

Although that glimmer of hope… is it there in answer to them having obtained such powerful items, or because they have the chance to destroy them?

He doesn't know.

He doesn't know.

And that is what makes him decide.

"I won't. It would be a coward's answer," Dinobot whispers, glaring at the disks once more before allowing the boost of determination his choice has brought help him look at the Cat again.

Ears straight, fur smothered down, tail around his paws, and eyes no longer wide open.

In that yellow gaze, paler than the dark gold of the relics in his claws and impossibly warmer, all he sees is approval.

"I will know the truth instead. Then, it will be either them… or me, that face oblivion," the Raptor adds, a promise clear in his voice and stance, and Ravage nods.

"'Till then?" the Maximal asks, voice smooth and deep and merely curious, and Dinobot turns to observe his surroundings—

There.

With a couple long steps, he gets to the intended rock and kneels down to rest one disk on the ground to lift the middle-sized boulder with his freed servo, not hesitating as he throws the other under the shadow of the stone before letting the rock fall back to its place.

An instant later, the Cat appears at his side, simply observing the unremarkable boulder.

"I want to know too," Ravage whispers, and, slowly, the Predacon looks at his small companion, who takes a moment more before meeting his gaze. "I will keep quiet. This once."

"Thank—"

"Don't," the Cat hisses, eyes narrowing. "I will stay silent. But if asked, I will answer."

And… that is more than he could have hoped for, so Dinobot nods, letting out a silent shuddering sigh.

"May I ask which questions would result in… explaining this?" he asks carefully, picking up the remaining disk to stare at his reflection, knowing the Maximal will understand what he means.

"Very specific ones. We are, after all, in a precarious position. We need to look for the fallen pods, but doing so alone poses risks," Ravage answers nonchalantly, and the Predacon turns to him in surprise. "It was unfortunate that we did not find any in our venture, but that means there were none for Megatron to recover in these quadrants, so it seems the outing hasn't been a complete loss."

"I like how you think," Dinobot purrs, transforming back to beast mode and leaning down to let the Cat climb to his back once more.

"Same here. Most of the time, anyway," Ravage answers, disgust clear in his voice, as a paw scratches a patch of hardened mud on his scales.

Dinobot can only chuckle.


"Journey well, friends. You are part of this planet, let its heart guide your own."

Starscream shudders in disgust and Rattrap gives him an answering grimace that tells him he feels the same. Sure, Tigatron and Airazor are going to leave for an extended reconnaissance mission, with far less contact than they’ve had with the Axalon before, if any. But that’s no reason to get sappy.

"Be careful, Big Cat," Cheetor whispers, and whether he's talking into a comm or to himself is something only he knows.

"You both going soft in the circuits or what?" the Rat finally groans, and the Falcon grins as the Maximal leans over the pod they just found to tap its cover. "Come on, why are we letting this guy snooze? Let's crack the egg and say hello."

"Crude, but he has a point," the Decepticon adds as he shifts his weight to one leg, uncrossing his arms in preparation for whatever may happen.

Ah, the joys of being able to shift to root mode and have usable servos.

"It's a blank. A protoform without a spark," Rhinox answers, and Rattrap groans.

Cursing their luck, Starscream just helps tie the pod to the Rhinoceros and transforms to make their way to the ship, flying by Cheetor's side as he helps the feline perfect his new ability.

He may not want to deal with more of the large Autobot descendants, but he knows they need the numbers. Especially now that Tigatron and Airazor are going on their vacation trip.

Yes, the Decepticons are here and are sure to be far more experienced fighters than whoever they recover, but the difference in size and brute power level the odds.

Ravage and Rumble got lucky against Inferno, seeing how no Predacon knew of their existence and the fact the Ant was focused on Dinobot, but they have lost that advantage now. And, despite the new high-speed mode, Starscream knows he can't count only on it, especially because his null-rays are out of the question if he wants to remain anonymous.

It won't be worth anything for him to be able to outmaneuver and out-fly their enemies if the Maximals, and consequently the Decepticons' access to tools and resources, get taken out.

… At least Cheetor is willing to learn, even if he's way too excitable for his own good.

Reminds him a bit of Skywarp, back at the War Academy…

Starscream shakes the thought away and brings his attention back to his 'student', staying outside some more when they arrive at the ship to keep practicing, before they both get inside to refuel.

And then, Rumble sends him a message to get to the command center ASAP.

Curious, and with the Cheetah still following like a puppy, the Falcon obeys, and walks into a weird scene.

The table-like contraption Rhinox has been working on since the quantum surge—once the defense system was back online and he was convinced the Decepticons, except Ramjet, were good enough to help Rattrap deal with the rest of damage—is in the middle of the room, with the Rhinoceros on it and the Rat leaning over what looks like a pod's lid covering the larger mech's chest and head.

Ramjet is at his post on monitor duty, though staring at the spectacle instead of the screens, while Rumble is sitting on the console, amusement on his face but ears pulled back in wariness.

"—might need your core consciousness right here?!" Rattrap screams, voice deflating before he lies his helm on the glass with a tired and slightly desperate sigh. "What are you looking at?" he deadpans when he sees the newcomers, though he straightens before they get the chance to speak. "Get your shiny new butts skyward and see if you can find Chopperface before the Preds do."

"You mean fly?" Cheetor questions hopefully, and, not waiting for an answer, clasps a hand around Starscream's arm and tugs him into the lift with a happy cheer.

"Let me go, you spotted goofball!" the Decepticon scowls, wrestling his limb free, but not making a move to return inside when the platform touches the ground.

"But we're going flying again! Can you teach me how to make those awesome shockwaves now? Please?"

"No, no, and no matter how many times you ask, no. You can barely fly at normal speeds, no way am I letting you go mach. Beast mode," he snarls, coordinating his transformation with his last words, and flapping off the ground as soon as he can. "Now, let's see if you can take off without running."

"Heh, easy!" the Cheetah answers, changing himself—

And properly slamming into the ground snout first as he gets his jets at maximum burn with the angle pointing them down.

"What did I do to deserve this," Starscream moans, shaking his helm, before flapping higher and away from the Axalon. "Just get on the air, no matter how. We've got work to do," he calls, and soon enough has the Maximal at his side, though slightly behind him.

He sends Ravage a brief message, asking where they are and if there's something they need to worry about, and gets an almost immediate reply of not now!

Meaning, time to stall.

So, Starscream lets the wind carry him, picking a random direction and tuning out Cheetor's blabbering much like he does Skywarp's. And tries to push away the pang of pain and longing from the inactive Trine bond.

It’s only a matter of time now. Now that he can transform to root mode without attracting suspicion, it will be easy to operate the computers and do more in-depth research. They just need to find their footing after the latest developments with the alien’s moon weapon, and Starscream will be able to focus fully on the issue of the Decepticons’ misplacement.

Their flight soon takes them into Predacon territory and the charged clouds, so Starscream and Cheetor lower their altitude to avoid being the target of a stray lightning bolt—

And end up with plasma shots instead.

"Jumping gyros!" Cheetor exclaims, and Starscream quickly locates their attackers—

And lets out a loud curse.

"There's too many of them!" the Falcon hisses, optics narrowing with hate at the sight of the imposter Megatron with the Ant and two unknown mechs, one of them with wings. "Fall back!" he orders, his own words stinging like an acid burn.

Starscream knows he has no choice but to retreat, not this time, not with the clumsy and inexperienced Cheetor here. Inferno has been flying far longer than he and, if those golden appendages are anything to go by, one of the new Predacons has the protocols the Cheetah lacks.

And the fake Megatron has the firepower to down them both with a single shot.

So, for now, the best they can do is return to base—and pick the Predacons one by one as the difference in speed breaks their group.

They aren't Seekers, they don't know there's a reason it's better to go in threes instead of have every Flier on their own.

And Starscream is more than willing to use that.

As expected, the winged Predacon knows what he's doing, catching up quickly and—what the Pit is he supposed to be, some kind of eagle-wolf griffin?

"We're leading a Pred parade!" Cheetor exclaims after a look back, obviously spotting the Flier and the other two behind him, the Ant weighted down by the teal and yellow mech on his back but unwilling to stay behind. "Hey, think we could lose them there?"

A canyon, tall spires of rock rising from the dry riverbed.

The Decepticon smirks, glad to have forced the Maximal through as many obstacle courses as he's done.

"Lead them there and remember to keep your optics forward, I'll deal with the stragglers."

"But you have no weap—hey!"

Starscream's no longer listening, wings having snapped wide to stop him short, the hybrid rushing past his falling frame with a startled look—and is that worry?—but not stopping in his pursuit, while Cheetor dives into the canyon.

"Inferno, get the cat! This one is mine!"

Oh, joy, he gets to play with the wannabe Megatron.

Repositioning himself to a more fluid dive, Starscream sees the flash of red and yellow pass overhead as the two mechs bicker, but quickly focuses on the powerhouse rushing to him. Purple and brown metal shifts as the Predacon changes to root mode, the propellers now on his back keeping him airborne while the tail-turned-arm glows—

With a graceful spin, the Falcon avoids the shots before spreading his wings to cut his fall, easily maneuvering in a spiral around the fake Megatron, air sizzling around him as he 'barely' avoids the plasma projectiles. Starscream has an exaggerated grimace of concentration on his face, but in truth his spark is soaring at the rush and the memories of dancing through asteroid rings and geysers of lava in forming planets.

Good times, those…

Before a certain blizzard in a blue mud-ball that he'd rather not dwell in now.

"Magnificent, yes. Far better than the records made you to be."

Gears freeze for an instant, only half a nanoklik, but it's half a nanoklik too long.

The shot he'd been about to avoid smashes into a wing, and Starscream barely stifles a pained shriek as he rolls in midair, regaining his balance with difficulty and feeling as if his whole side is stabbed with each flap.

More shots, more sharp turns and lances of fire up his damaged wing with even the tiniest movement, and the next plasma bullet gets the tail spot on, organic-looking metallic feathers burning with an acrid smell.

The volley of plasma that follows goes obviously wide, but it's still close enough that the Seeker has no option but let himself be herded to the ground, a nasty smile on the Predacon's faceplate as their pedes touch the scorched and windswept plains.

"Yes, far better."

Feeling chilled at the positively giddy and possessive tone, Starscream hides a shudder by transforming, unable to keep his pained yelp silent as he presses his damaged servo against his chest plates.

Which, taking into account he can't use his null-rays, leaves him with just one set of three clawed dactyls to deal with the thick-plated behemoth.

Slag.

"My apologies for that, but I needed to get you to land somehow. I've been waiting eagerly for a chance to talk with you, Starscream."

Not good, not good!

Whoever this fake Megatron is, talks like a Senator. The only Senator that didn't hate Starscream’s internals with a burning passion was torn apart by his fellows so that they could keep their position.

And he knows the Decepticon's designation.

It means nothing, of course it doesn't. After all, Starscream himself told it to Terrorsaur—who has to have gotten himself deactivated, since he hasn't seen the cocky fool since that first time—and Inferno, so it would have been reported along with his existence.

But something tells him that Megatron isn't thinking of 'Starscream the Maximal' when he speaks that designation.

"And you would be?" he asks as calmly as he can manage, though the snarl on his faceplates is easily echoed in his voice.

"Of course, where are my manners? I am Megatron, leader of the Predacons."

The Seeker snorts, an obvious depreciating sound.

"No, seriously now."

"I'm not joking."

"Neither am I."

Instead of growing angry or insulted, the Tyrannosaur smiles.

A pleased and… oily expression, dark and gluey as tar, and no matter how much he tries, Starscream finds himself unable to look away or even take a step back as the other approaches.

It's not the smile of 'the cat that caught the canary', oh no. This one is far worse.

"I am not who you think," Starscream finally manages to say, the spell broken by something crunching under not-Megatron's pedes, and takes some hasty steps away while still cradling his servo to his chest plate, slightly hunched down around it.

The Predacon stops, but the deranged smile only widens, helm tilting slightly downward so he can better meet the Decepticon's gaze, which makes the red light from his optics magnify the effect of his possessive expression. Starscream has to almost literally shut down his motor controls to keep his apprehensive shiver from being seen and for his fear not to be reflected on his faceplate.

"And who would that be?"

He's playing with him.

The accursed mockery of his leader is toying him. Him, Starscream, Second in Command and Air Commander of the Decepticons!

All wariness, fear and worry burn away to fuel his anger.

"The treacherous and back-stabbing slag-heap that shares my designation. I am not your Starscream."

"Mine? Why, is that an offer?" the fake Megatron purrs, and the Seeker wants to soak his processor in acid, his whole frame shuddering in disgust as that deep and oily voice rolls over him like the honey Skywarp dropped on him that one time.

It is far darker than honey, though. More like stale Energon dripping from frames ripped to pieces.

Impossibly bright optics in the dark, a pile of grayed out husks, tendrils of dead metal curling over themselves—

He's Starscream.

He's dealt with worse than an alternate dimension's big and heavily-armed psychopath with delusions of grandeur, and survived.

When the fake Megatron takes a step closer, the Falcon stands his ground, straightening and letting his servos fall to his sides.

And this time, he's the one to smirk menacingly as the Predacon falters at his unexpected response to him approaching.

"Never. However, I do have an offer to extend to you."

"Which would be…"

"Surrender, of course."

Megatron answers with a bark of laughter, taking the last couple steps to be close enough to touch the smaller mech if he extends his arm.

Which is something he does, slowly, letting Starscream see it come closer to his faceplate.

"To the Maximals? My, and why would I do that?"

"Not to the Maximals," Starscream answers calmly, though his clawed servo snaps up to dig sharp dactyls into the wrist joint just before the Predacon's blunt ones touch his faceplate, causing the larger mech to grimace. "But to a slow and painful deactivation."

And Starscream moves.

Ground or sky, it doesn't matter when it comes to speed, for his enemy is too close to be able to react when the smaller mech slides past his arm, jumps—

And buries the powerful talons of his pedes into the seam between neck cabling and chest armor.

Megatron roars in pain, arm and pincer-like tail-tip reaching up to dislodge the Falcon. But the Decepticon has been here before, when Tarantulas and Blackarachnia infiltrated the Axalon, so he has already pushed away from the larger mech before he can manage to even touch him, somersaulting back over his arms and transforming before he touches the ground, a couple of strong flaps seeing him almost far enough to miss the clanging of the Predacon's body slamming to the ground from his brief assault.

However, Starscream's not out of reach of the irate roar that follows a nanoklik later.

His only reaction is to smirk.

Starscream, 1. Creepy Fake-a-tron, 0.

Chapter Text

Dinobot has to be grateful Ravage is with him. He isn't sure he would've been able to hide the Golden Disk if he was on his own, especially with the high-strung defenses and the nervous and—for one who knows how to recognize such things—scared and freaked out Rattrap.

The fact that he receives him with a happy—happy—cry of his name is more than enough indicative of his emotional state, though he does calm down almost immediately.

"Where've you been? Out saving the universe or something?"

Oh, the irony…

Yes, Dinobot's lucky Ravage is with him and helping out, because that means he isn't here at this precise moment.

The more he can shield the younger Maximal from what they have to deal with now, the better.

"Possibly… Yes," Dinobot answers, making sure not to look too serious or mocking, as he gives the weapons rack the order to lower, hiding the Rodent from sight. "Now, what is the emergency?"

"Oh, well, nothing much," the Vermin lets out with a clearly fake nonchalant tone, and the Predacon listens with just half an audial, checking the armament and making sure that the smaller weapons are in order. "Let's see. Rhinox is off chasing comets with his mind, Cheetor is bringing a squad of Preds on to play, Ramjet and Rumble are making inventory of the many unfixable damages to the ship, Ravage is missing, Starscream is facing Megatron on his own, and, one more flimsy detail, if we get hit, Big Green there goes permanently offline."

… Slag.

He should've been here sooner. But, at least, he's here now, and armed.

"Well, then… We must take the fight to the enemy," Dinobot answers, gesturing to the lift with a gun as the rack vanishes up the ceiling again, before throwing the weapon to the Maximal.

"Mech, I am so going to enjoy saving Screamer's aft," a voice chuckles from the corridor, and there, in robot mode, are a dangerously grinning Rumble, a battle-ready Ramjet and a serious Ravage, no sign of their outing on the last.

"And where were you?" Rattrap asks, pointing, and the Cat gives him a deadpanned look.

"Out with Dinobot."

"Of. Course. Next time, leave a post on the fridge or something!" the Rodent snarls, stomping to the lift. "Let's go!"

The Predacon transforms with some difficulty after the Vermin takes off, but Ramjet taking some of the weapons in his talons and the smaller two Maximals securing some more once they're on his back allow him to do so, and thus to follow after the Transmetal faster.

And in complete silence, all of them focused on the fight.

They find Cheetor in a dried out river bed, kneeling behind a rock. Before they can ask, a shadow covers them an instant before Starscream lands and transforms at their side, a wing and the tail blackened.

"Aw, I wanted you to owe me a favor…" Rumble moans, jumping to the ground and checking the small guns Dinobot procured for him and Ravage.

"It'll take far more than a psycho to get rid of me," the Falcon smirks, talons lifting just the necessary bit for the sun to reflect on the Energon staining them.

"Did you kill Megatron?" the Cheetah asks in awe, but the roaring of engines gives him his answer.

Followed by Inferno, who is carrying a yellow and teal mech on his back, and a wolf-eagle hybrid, Megatron lands and transforms, his chest plates stained blue.

"You got him on the neck?!"

"Is it so obvious?" Starscream replies cockily, accepting the gun Dinobot hands him before wiping the smirk off his faceplate to examine it. "Glitch was overconfident. Worst mistake a leader can make."

"Which is why all good leaders need a treacherous Second in Com—Ouch!" Ramjet's grin is also quickly vanquished, though this time by Starscream slapping the back of his helm. "Alright, focus on the situation at hand, I get it."

"So, what's the plan?"

It's only when he realizes no one is answering that the Predacon notices it's him they're looking at, the four newbies patiently and attentively, and Rattrap and Cheetor in confusion and surprise.

"What?"

"The plan. What is it?" the Falcon repeats, and Dinobot has to reboot his optics to make sure it isn't a trick of his sensors.

"Why are you asking him?" the Rodent asks, dumbfounded, gesturing to the larger mech. "He's a Pred!"

"Precisely. Who would better know our foes and their strategies than him? Plus, he's a warrior," Starscream points out, and the Predacon feels strangely touched and proud of the small Maximals.

"Oh, come on!"

"Well, he does know how they work," Cheetor adds, and Rattrap finally relents with a long sigh. "Huh, guys?"

A look is more than they need.

That purple, black and orange thing can only be a Transmetal Tarantulas, seeing how Blackarachnia kept her form. The one driving after him is a Transmetal Scorponok, dark blue and looking more like the crane he originally was than a scorpion. Waspinator and a Transmetal Terrorsaur, black color scheme and some kind of engines at the bottom of his body and rotors near the base of his wings, fly over them.

"Ah, of course. We weren't outnumbered enough," the Weasel grumbles, looking over their new enemies with the same sharpness the wayward Predacon himself does.

"That tactical information can come any time now."

"I don't know anything about the new two—"

"The Flier has the needed coding to honor his frame type. I've seen the marks in the canyon, so good work, Cheetor—" Starscream explains, and while the young Maximal preens at the praise, the Falcon doesn't seem to notice or tactfully ignores him. "—but out here, if he takes to the air, leave him to Ramjet and I, as well as Waspinator and Terrorsaur."

"But I can fly too!"

"You don't have the coding or the experience. Anything that gets airborne is ours, you stay here," he orders, and the Cheetah lowers his head, properly chastised though obviously not happy. "Tell us about Terrorsaur."

"Blasters and high-powered cannons. Scorponok can shoot missiles from his pincers, and his tail can inject Cybervenom. However, with them being Transmetals…"

"Watch out, we get it."

"I still want to repay that 'chick' comment," Ramjet hisses, crest fanning open menacingly.

"All in due time. Now, the plan?"

And, once more, all optics are on Dinobot.

"We can't let them get to the Axalon. And if any of you dares get themselves deactivated—"

"Mute it, Maximal," Starscream snorts, though there's a darkness in his optics as he analyzes their enemies that would have made the Predacon shiver if he wasn't as focused in the present as he is. "We have a mission to take care of, no one's going to deactivate."

And then, the shooting starts.

It becomes clear soon enough that not only are they outnumbered, but also outgunned.

They're all fairly good shots—except Cheetor, but the kid still has time to learn… or, well, Dinobot's planning on giving him such a chance—even the smaller four—especially the smaller four, and isn't that something to ponder if there is a later time to do so—but the Predacons are too, and there's a lot more of them.

But maybe…

"We need to flank them. Starscream, do you think you and Ramjet could fly to assault them from the air?"

"Watch and—"

"Wait! There's just one teensy little problem…" Rattrap cuts, taking a stone and throwing it up.

When it falls, it's half its previous size and blackened.

"Ramjet, I'll draw their fire. Take off three nanokliks after me," the Peregrine Falcon orders anyway, transforming and fusing his plumage into frictionless platinum.

"What are you going to do?!"

"A mech can hope, can he not?" Starscream answers with a smirk – and takes off with two flaps, shots burning the air behind his still blackened tail, but none hitting him.

In the lull caused by Starscream's take off distracting the Predacons, Ramjet takes to the air too, though staying low to go unnoticed as the others peek over their rocky shelter to shoot at their enemies, who fall down with startled squeaks at the sudden blaster fire.

"Who knew, sometimes hopes become reality," Rumble snickers, peeking from the side and managing to almost tear the Cobra head out of the new Predacon's shoulder socket.

"Indeed."

Next he looks up, Dinobot can see Megatron arguing with the new Flier – and Waspinator and Terrorsaur taking off after the airborne Maximals.

However, nothing good lasts long, even if it's just a stalemate.

"Incoming!" Ravage shouts, but the eagle-wolf hybrid just flies over them – towards the Axalon.

"They've found out our strategy!" Dinobot hisses, but, before he can say more, a flash of silver shoots overhead. "What the—"

The white Flier barely avoids it, but, as it turns, Dinobot realizes what it is.

"Go, Screamer!" Rumble shouts, before going down with a squeak to avoid a shot.

Their happiness is short lived, however, because Terrorsaur is soon on the small Maximal's tail, and a look shows Ramjet busy with Inferno and Waspinator.

"We've got to stop them from reaching the base!" Cheetor exclaims, all of them observing the dogfight growing farther from them but closer to the crashed ship.

"You're the sky-cat, move up! We'll be right behind you," Rattrap orders, tapping the younger mech's chest.

"I need a running start!"

"Someone throw him to the air!" Rumble roars and Dinobot takes the Maximal and does precisely that while the other three provide cover fire.

After a nanoklik in which it seems the Cheetah is just going to fall down again, he rights himself and takes off, and the other two transform, with Ravage hopping on Dinobot's back and Rumble on Rattrap's. Ramjet shadows them when they follow after Cheetor, once he finally rids himself of Inferno and Waspinator by, bizarrely enough, crashing into them and leaving them either stunned or knocked out.

"Fly ahead!" Ravage calls, and, without losing a beat, the Crested Eagle speeds away.

One good shot from his rider sees Tarantulas squashed under a good-sized boulder, and the Raptor chuckles with dark amusement that is echoed by the smaller Maximal.

"Next target?"

Megatron himself, judging by the blast that almost blows Dinobot's head off his neck.

The other two don't have any better luck, if Inferno's crazy laughter and Rumble's curses are anything to go by.

After some close calls, the Raptor manages to catch from the corner of his optic one of Megatron's rotors exploding – and his skewed flight course sends him straight into the Ant, who seems to have suffered the same problem.

"Nice shooting, bro!" the Weasel exclaims as Dinobot pulls next to Rattrap, and they exchange a look while the smaller two recharge their weapons.

Bro. Brother. Friendly or literal?

Yet something else to ask about.

They're almost at the Axalon when they see the Predacon hybrid go down, but Starscream doesn't stop, Terrorsaur still after him. Cheetor, however, lowers to the crash site with Ramjet.

When they get there, it is to see the unknown mech on robot mode on his back, with a gun and the Cheetah's hatchet-tail trailed on him.

"Hey, Cloud Kitty. We would've been here sooner if Dinobutt wasn't such a turtle."

"You weren't especially fast yourself," the Raptor returns with a snarl, transforming as soon as Ravage jumps off his back.

"So… get on with it. Destroy me," the strange Predacon says, ears lowering, and Dinobot hesitates.

Any other time before, he wouldn't have done so, he'd probably have lifted his sword and chopped the helm off the neck struts. But now…

He can feel Ramjet, Rumble and Ravage looking at him, for they have made it clear they consider him the leader of this mission, and that only makes his resolve waver even more.

What if he's right? What if—

"Nah," Cheetor and Rattrap answer in unison, and Dinobot tenses at the hand on his arm, not knowing when he reached for his sword, but glad that he didn't do more than clasp the handle.

He has questions unanswered, and such an action as deactivating the hybrid could've been… disastrous, in these circumstances.

"It's not what Optimus would've done."

Though those words make him triple-think his decision.

"Maximal sentiment," the Raptor grumbles, lowering his arm and leaving his weapon on his back. "I must have been defective to defect."

"I don't think so," Ravage whispers, though he's close enough that Dinobot can hear him clearly. "Seeing how the rest of Predacons are, I wouldn't want to join them either. Plus, you haven't defected, just allied yourself with the other group."

... And if that doesn't answer some of those conflictive questions—

A punch to the side brings him back to the situation at servo, and though he barely manages to catch 'Bowser' and 'CR Chamber', he knows what is wanted of him as soon as Rattrap finishes the sentence with a gesture to their prisoner.

"I repeat myself," Dinobot grumbles, catching the hybrid's arm and hauling him upwards. "Defective."

That he catches Rumble snickering as he brings the startled and confused Predacon inside doesn't make him happier, but having Rhinox back does – for the brief moments of time before the ship starts shaking again and the shields begin to fail.

Seeing Starscream back on the ground with them, albeit as blackened, scratched and dented as the rest, is a brief but intense joy.

However, that also means Terrorsaur is – ah, no. He isn't back with the rest of Predacons.

One quick questioning look is simply answered by a sharp smirk and a wave of Energon-stained sharp dactyls, and Dinobot grins in kind and hands one of the guns he still keeps on himself that has some energy left.

Starscream can obviously take care of himself in hand to hand combat, even against Megatron, but they won't have a lot of chances to engage in such ways of fighting now. So, seeing that the Falcon seems to have lost his weapon, the one he accepts with a grateful nod will be sorely needed.

Inevitably, the shields fail.

The shooting starts anew – but finishes a lot sooner as their abused weapons give up, Rhinox's machineguns the only thing still working, before they are blasted from his servos.

And then, the Predacons' attention turns to their shelter, and shards of rock start flying.

Sooner than they would have liked, they find themselves out in the open.

Dinobot grabs his sword and rushes forward with a roar, hearing the shifting of transformation accompanied by a screech behind him that he knows belongs to the Fliers—

But he's easily pushed back, the missile on his middle almost blowing the raptor head to smithereens, and he knows the two Maximals haven't managed to take off if their pained yelps, along the rest of his comrades', are anything to go by.

So, Dinobot does the only thing he can.

He rolls around and curls around the tiny mechs, grimacing at the pain on his back.

It seems too long until the shooting stops, but, fortunately, he still functions.

One would say 'unfortunately', but, if he'd deactivated, Dinobot wouldn't have been able to see Starscream uncurl with a murderous snarl, Ravage slithering to see to the Predacon's scorched chest as Rumble transforms his arms to enormous claws and Ramjet rotates his wings to ensure their functionality.

They may be tiny, but a small hope is better than none.

So, despite hearing the other Maximals' despair and the approaching pede-steps of their would-be executors, Dinobot doesn't move, shielding their last defenders from view.

Though he does give Ravage a small smirk when he looks up at him with worry.

As soon as they are out on the offensive, Dinobot will jump to cover them, as he's doing now.

The Cat relaxes with a nod, going back to sealing ruptured Energon lines, ears twitching at the louder steps—

All sound stops.

"Finish it," Megatron orders, and the tiny Maximals tense—

An explosion makes his audials fritz, but Dinobot doesn't feel it.

Instead, turned around from their enemies as he is, he sees its origin point.

And his optics widen as his mouth falls open in surprise and disbelief.

"Big Bot?" Cheetor questions, almost speechless, and, despite not recognizing the Transmetal frame, there are enough clues to make Dinobot agree with him.

"Yes. It worked!" Rhinox lets out, breathless, and that's the last confirmation he needs.

"Primal?" Megatron gawks – Dinobot's sure of that, even though he can't see his face – before snarling. "Destroy him!"

But Optimus pulls the reinforced shield he's brought with him out, and all efforts are futile.

The Raptor can't hear what the Gorilla says due to the distance, but he's sure it's something along the lines of 'my turn', because the next he does is pull some kind of machinegun contraption from his back to rest it on his shoulders and start shooting.

"Alright!" Rattrap exclaims happily as the Predacons run to cover, and, slowly, Dinobot sits up, one of his arms sparking dangerously as it threatens to fall off.

"Go, Big Bot!" Cheetor adds, and even the Raptor lets a satisfied smirk on his faceplate.

"Ramjet, I'm going to show our guests to the door. Care to join me?" Starscream asks innocently, and the Crested Eagle almost shivers in anticipation.

"Of course!"

"But… you're weaponless," Dinobot points out, turning away from Optimus' transformation and take off.

"Are you sure?" the Falcon returns, lifting a clawed servo, and the Predacon snorts.

"You know Terrorsaur is still out there, don't you?"

"And I also know he won't be doing much flying with just one wing."

"That's our Screamer," Rumble snickers, yelping at a beak snapping too close to his head, before the Fliers take off. "Sheesh, you'd think he'd already be used to being called that."

"He wouldn't be Starscream if he was," Ravage points out, turning his attention to Dinobot's arm. "Nasty. I don't know if there's anything I can do here, I'm no Medic."

"Worry not. The CR Chambers can take care of it," he answers, following the shapes of the feathered Maximals, for Optimus and Megatron have landed.

He barely manages to catch a flash of light before one of said shapes seemingly disappears, but the rumbled shot that reaches them after that tells them where to, along two dark shapes going flying with a cloud of dust.

"Aw, I really want to know how to do that," Cheetor whines, obviously having seen Starscream breaking the sound barrier next to the Predacons—

A shadow covers them, and they can only feel dread when they see the eagle-wolf fly quickly over them and towards the battlefield.

Ramjet is busy, having dived to engage more of their enemies, and while the Peregrine Falcon's fast, he's too far to get to the hybrid before—

The mech strikes, and a large shape falls down the canyon.

However, the scream that reaches them isn't Optimus'.

It’s Megatron's.

They can only stare dumbfounded as the Tyrannosaur manages to transform and fly away, other shapes and dust trails after him telling of the rest of Predacons retreating, before four shapes approach them, two very well-known and the other two ones that they'll have the chance to get used to.

And then, when Optimus, the Predacon turncoat and the smaller Maximals land, their leader shining with undamaged armor and looking down at them with a happy smile, it dawns.

They've won.

Optimus Primal is back.

And, apparently, they have a new teammate.

Cheers echo against the canyon walls, before yelps and grimaces replace them.

"Perhaps we should visit the CR Chambers before starting a party, huh?" Rattrap points out, and they all groan in agreement.


Agreed to or not, a party will have to wait, at least for Rattrap, because Optimus didn't take his occupying his quarters very well. And, if the disapproving looks from the rest of the crew, Silverbolt included, are anything to go by, neither do the rest.

Dinobot's slap, strong enough to make his chair start to twirl, is confirmation enough.

Oh, well. Some people just can't understand recycling.

… Though, judging by the amused and calm looks of their four smallest companions, some others can.

Damn rookies, being mysterious and confusing… but, he'll get to the bottom of things, oh yes. Rattrap's going to find out just what they're hiding, and when he does…

Well, they will all have to deal with it, then.

But now, they have others issues.

Like Ravage approaching with his ears pulled back, clearly nervous, before calming with a deep intake.

Both Dinobot and Rattrap look down at him in curiosity, and the rest of Maximals go silent when they realize something is about to happen.

"I don't know how to use a sword. Could you teach me?" Ravage finally asks, calm and almost emotionless, and the Rodent blinks in surprise before looking up at the Predacon, as equally serious as the small mech.

Someone asking the Pred for help, for him to teach? He can sincerely say he didn't expect that.

"I can't help with bladed swords."

And he really didn't expect that answer.

Dinobot uses a sword, why would he say—and why is he kneeling?!

Unnerved and startled, Rattrap can only stay still as he watches the disappointed look of the Cat turn to expectation and slight hope as he looks into the larger mech's red optics and the servo he offers, palm up.

After a moment, Ravage reaches for the vertebrae-hilt of his weapon and unsheathes it, carefully, almost reverently, resting it on the Predacon's servo so that the other can examine it.

Using the chance, for none has really seen the sword up close, Rattrap looks it over too.

Unlike Dinobot's, this one is smooth and polished, a tiny yet long blade, when compared to its wielder. Only one edge is sharpened, and there are almost invisible lines dividing its length into equal segments.

And then, Rattrap's mouth falls open in disbelief, because the Predacon smiles.

Not a smirk or a grin, but a smile, eager and proud, as he returns the sword to the expectant Maximal.

"However, this isn't a bladed sword," Dinobot explains, reaching for his own weapon to display it to the smaller mech like the Cat is doing his. "And neither is this one."

"So, you can teach me?" Ravage asks, hopeful, as he looks up at the Predacon again.

"Perhaps. This kind of swords are called spark blades, because they need their owners' specific spark energy to activate," the Raptor explains and, clenching a servo around the hilt, the pyramidal segments of Dinobot's sword begin to rotate. "They are part of ourselves, of our frames and code. Hold it, feel it. And let us see what kind of weapon you were meant to wield."

After a moment of looking down at the innocent blade, the Cat nods and clasps the hilt.

For some tense nanokliks, nothing happens.

But then, Ravage's optics flash, and the servo under the blade is pulled away as a soft click sounds from it—and the pieces separate, a strong cable keeping them together as they fall to the ground.

A whip.

A bladed whip.

"Not something I have a lot of experience with, but I can definitely help," Dinobot muses out loud, and the Cat beams at him before jerking his weapon up, the segments joining back together with the movement to once more conform a simple sword, and pulling the blade back in the sheath across his back.

"When will we begin, Master Dinobot?" Ravage asks eagerly, and Rattrap grimaces in a mix of disgust and unease.

Master.

He called Dinobot Master.

The Predacon turns serious, red eyes almost drilling into the tiny mech's yellow ones.

"As soon as you promise never to call me that again. I am no one's Master," he growls, and, to the Rodent's utter confusion, the Cat perks up and turns to where the other three rookies are.

Starscream, arms crossed against his chest plate, smiles proudly and nods, and Ravage quickly looks back at Dinobot.

"I promise to never again call you Master, Dinobot. Thanks for your help."

But the Raptor doesn't answer, just gives the smaller mech a nod and turns to the Peregrine Falcon.

"You're willing to let one of your squad be taught by a Predacon," Dinobot says, neither a question nor an accusation, just pointing that out, and Rattrap tenses.

Something is about to happen. Something is happening, but he doesn't know just what.

"As long as he's a real Predacon, I have nothing against them," Starscream answers, and alarms start sounding in the Rodent's processor.

"Like yourself?"

The silence falls like a bomb at Dinobot's two simple words.

Starscream just smiles.

"At the very least."

And that does it.

Rattrap is up on his feet sooner than he can realize, his gun in his servos even before he can give the order, and the rest of Maximals are jerking away in surprise and disbelief at the answer.

"You're Preds?!" the Rodent shouts, but none of them tense, just look at them—

Starscream scoffs.

"We're obviously not Maximals, are we?"

"I can't believe it…"

"But they were in our pods!"

"Did the Predacons reprogram them? But why would they release them afterwards?"

"They weren't reprogrammed," Dinobot interrupts, standing and putting his sword back on its sheath, a snarl on his faceplate. "Although only you can answer why they were on your ship to begin with."

"They're what the High Council wanted us to get rid of, aren't they?" Rattrap accuses, turning to Optimus.

The Gorilla tenses, but immediately relaxes with a tired sigh.

"No, they aren't," he answers, and jaws fall open once more. "I truly don't know why we would have Predacons as our companions, especially since we weren't told this would be a mixed crew."

So, all optics turn to the smaller mechs once more, Ravage by Rumble's side again.

"We didn't want to be thrust into this mess, either, but we had no choice," Starscream scowls, optics dimming but sharp in warning. "And don't start with 'why didn't you tell us' questions. Did you really expect us to simply go 'hello, I'm Starscream, I don't remember anything before having to rush out of a collapsing cave, but hey, I'm a Predacon'?" he sneers, and more than one Maximal looks away in embarrassment. "Besides, we are not going to join that mockery of Megatron, so you have nothing to worry about us. We’re still the same mechs you know."

"But why were you in the Axalon in the first place?" Cheetor questions, and the four newfound Predacons exchange somber looks.

"Do you know how many explorers never return from their missions?" the Falcon answers simply, and Rattrap, Rhinox, Optimus and Dinobot grimace.

"Alright, we get that. The real question is, why would Preds be in a Maximal ship?" the Rodent points out, and red optics go black as Starscream tenses and looks away.

"I had a friend. We liked to explore, visit new worlds and discover new things. But… we got trapped in a storm. I lost contact with my friend, and scoured half the planet for him before my energy levels dropped to the point I barely had enough to return to Cybertron. So, I went back and asked for a team to be sent for my friend. I was charged for spark extinction instead," he explains almost too casually, as if he was talking about the weather, and gasps fill the room.

The words may be the formal version, but they all know 'spark extinction’ is actually 'murder'.

"But… why would you be sent to a Maximal ship?" Rhinox points out, and a humorless smile appears on Starscream's faceplate as he finally looks up with haunted optics.

"What makes you think my friend was a Predacon?"

Silence.

"No slagging way…"

"When I went to ask for help, I didn't go to the Predacons, for they wouldn't have cared. I went to those that I knew would help my friend, even if I got in trouble. I should've known better."

"We are not getting in those torture chambers!"

It makes an awful lot of sense now…

"And… the others?" Silverbolt asks softly, the rest too conscious or stunned to ask, and Ravage and Rumble exchange a look.

"We're brothers," the Cat answers in a whisper, clasping the Weasel's hand tightly. "Our crime was to be created."

Dread starts to fill Rattrap's tanks.

"How could that be a crime?" Cheetor pipes in softly, almost too softly, and the two smallest mechs step closer to each other and look at the floor.

"Because Carrier and Creator weren't supposed to be together."

"Weren't supposed to…"

"Their 'kind' wasn't supposed to mingle," Ravage adds before someone else gets the courage to ask, the hate filling golden optics and red visor speaks almost louder than those words.

"A Maximal and a Predacon. Not something that would be liked, but why would such a union be condemned?" Optimus asks carefully, and the Cat finally embraces his brother, both curling against the other.

"Carrier worked for the Council."

The world tilts and flickers around the edges, and Rattrap's voice box goes through reboot a couple of times despite the fact he has nothing to say.

"Carrier was too valuable," Rumble adds, voice muffled by his resting his head against his brother's neck cables, but audible in the stiffening silence that has filled the bridge. "So, they deactivated Creator and got rid of us by reassigning us to somewhere Carrier would never be able to contact us, and where our deactivation could be easily the result of an accident."

"That… That is deplorable. Disgusting," Silverbolt hisses, ears pressed back and feathers ruffled.

"That is how things work," Starscream answers simply, resting a servo on Rumble's helm and letting them press against his side.

"No way…"

"I asked for a change," Ramjet pipes up, stance and voice nonchalant but refusing to look at the Maximals. "I was tired of having just enough recharge and Energon to function another orn, tired of just the necessary repairs so that we wouldn't fall apart, tired of being nothing but tools. So, I asked for a change. This is what I got. You talk against them, point out the flaws of their system, and they make you disappear."

"You were part of the Cybertron Defense Force," Dinobot comments, not a question, but gets a nod in answer.

Rattrap winces, because he knows the 'Joint Maximal and Predacon Forces for the Defense of Cybertron' is a joke at best. Each faction keeps their real soldiers in their independent armies, only rejects and misfits are sent to the DF.

And they're as poorly maintained as Ramjet just described, at least those that refuse to play good soldier and as thus aren't allowed to do more than drills inside the facilities.

Those that get to patrol are kept at their very best, for the sake of their public.

"But you weren't," Starscream, once more, speaks up instead, and Dinobot tenses. "You were part of the Predacon Army, but were too much trouble, too much of a real Predacon to just follow orders like every other mech. So, they sent you away, disgraced, a failure. Miner or builder?"

The tension is almost palpable, but, finally, the Raptor lets out a tired sigh.

"Builder. You know a lot more than you let out. Contacts or experience?"

"Both," the Falcon answers simply, humorless smile in place but a servo softly caressing Ravage's back much like the Cat is doing with the Weasel, still curled against him but observing the conversing mechs.

"Nothing has changed, you said?" Optimus asks after some nanokliks of uncomfortable silence, and Starscream nods as the smaller two finally pull themselves apart. "Then let us leave the past in the past. There's a lot to do, and the Predacons still have numbers in their favor, so let's get to work."

Everyone nods or agrees verbally and, after half an hour, they're all bickering like usual as they repair Sentinel and the damaged hull, comm lines open between all teams so that they can chatter.

And, as Rattrap solders the plank Dinobot is keeping in place, with Starscream and Ramjet replacing burnt wires and broken tubing, the Rodent realizes that Optimus was wrong.

Things have changed.

The cloud of suspicion isn't there anymore.

Chapter Text

It's both hard and easy, which makes the whole experience frustrating and exhilarating at the same time.

For now, Dinobot is just teaching Ravage forms and swift but incredibly simple counters, putting more emphasis on technique despite not caring a lot for it himself.

Or so it seems on the outside.

Now that he's learning the styles himself, Ravage can recognize moves, subtle identifying twists and steps, and even variations to adjust techniques to the Predacon's preferred fighting method, leaning on his strength and quite admirable maneuverability.

Which explains why his teaching consists on demonstrating a move or stance and having the Cassette repeat it until they're both satisfied as it's adjusted to Ravage's stealth and speed-based style.

If they manage to finish with these rookie exercises today, Dinobot has promised they'll work on incorporating the whip variant to them tomorrow. However, neither of them is in a hurry. Basics are the most important part of everything, so they must be well learnt.

Plus, adapting them to Ravage's preferences is actually quite entertaining.

And… painful.

Dinobot is nothing like the Cassette's creator, but the patience with which he deals with the Ravage, the calm atmosphere… It reminds the Decepticon of those orns long gone, before Frenzy and Rumble were created. When it was just creator and creation exchanging tricks and ideas or simply chatting and playing as they waited for Soundwave to get home.

Like an uncle or an older brother. And for someone who is used to being the oldest of six siblings, being the youngest is a nice change of pace.

A shadow falls over them, and a look up is all they need to know it's time for a break.

Starscream, Ramjet and Cheetor are back from flight practice.

Silverbolt would have joined them, but Rattrap nabbed him and Rumble for some patrolling, which the Cassette joined happily.

Apparently, he's taken a liking to riding on the Rat's back, something the Rodent allows with much grumbling and annoyance that everyone knows it's faked.

Despite his brother's eagerness and claims that Rattrap is a good mount, Ravage can't understand why Rumble prefers the Maximal to Dinobot. After all, scales allow for a better grip, and the Raptor has his arms free to catch Ravage should he slip.

Oh, well. Rumble has never had much self-preservation instincts, anyway.

Sheathing their swords, the Grounders get to the shadow cast by the Axalon, where some Energon cubes are waiting by some rocks that'll be used as seats.

The Fliers land gracefully, even Cheetor after all the practice, and transform to join them, the Maximal pouting visibly.

"Did something happen?" Dinobot asks calmly as the newcomers grab their cubes and sit down.

"I can't fly at mach," the Cheetah mumbles, glaring at his Energon.

"I told you, just because you have some Flier coding doesn't mean you're one," Starscream answers with the bored tone of someone speaking on automatic. "You're a Chaser who can fly, be happy with that."

"Easy for you to say. Wait, how did you know I'm a Chaser?" Cheetor asks with a jolt, startled.

"Are you kid—"

"—joking?"

Silence for a nanoklik, as the Predacon and Decepticons exchange surprised looks that quickly turn to realization.

"Maximals," they finally say in unison, earning an indignant yelp from Cheetor.

"What is a Maximals' thing?" a voice asks from the descending lift, an amused smile on Optimus' faceplate as he steps off of it to join them, his own Energon cube already in his servos.

"Your inability to recognize frame types," Starscream deadpans, and the Gorilla chuckles as he sits down.

"Well, these forms make it a bit more difficult, and it requires some practice anyway."

"Practice?" Dinobot repeats, looking insulted, and both Maximals turn to him in curiosity. "Predacons don't need practice, we haven't blinded our sensors as much as Maximals."

It is by an effort of will that Ravage avoids looking questioningly at the other Decepticons, because, as Predacons, they're supposed to already know what has just been revealed.

But, as Decepticons, they don't.

However, the Cassette suspects it has something to do with the Autobots' alliance with the sensor-blind humans and the fact they won the War.

"Really? Then, what's Big Bot?" Cheetor asks skeptically.

"Shuttle Hybrid of Cargo frame type," the four of them answer dutifully, to the Maximals' astonishment and approval, respectively.

"Correct," Optimus confirms with a nod, and the Cheetah's surprise turns to excitement.

"That's amazing! What about Rhinox?"

"Covered Flatbed model of Cargo frame type," they reply in unison once more, exchanging amused looks.

"And Rattrap?"

"Minibot."

"I knew it!"

There are some snorts and chuckles at the youngest Maximal's happy cry, and they all use the chance to drain their drinks some more.

"Do you agree with Tigatron being a Racer model of Road Runner, and Airazor a Seeker model of Seeker frame type?" Optimus asks, receiving nods, before tilting his helm in genuine curiosity. "What would you say Silverbolt's frame type is?"

And Ravage finds himself mute, because he knows what he thinks the Fuzor is, but it doesn't make sense…

"I would say he is a Triple Changer," Dinobot answers slowly, tentatively, and the Cassette knows they're thinking the same.

"Road Runner-Air Weapon Triple Changer, but he's scrambled," Starscream adds calmly, as certain as ever. "Same with Inferno. He's a Tread Roller-Rotor Triple Changer, but his Rotor and robot modes are mixed up, while it is Silverbolt's alt modes that are meshed together."

"So that is it," the Predacon whispers with a nod, a look of realization on his faceplate.

"Looks like we'll need to get some thorough scans done when we're back on Cybertron," Primal mutters to himself before turning to Starscream. "What about you?"

"Seeker model of Seeker frame type," he answers without problem, obviously in a good mood, before pointing at Ramjet, who straightens proudly. "Conehead model of Seeker frame type," he adds, and, finally, the claw moves to Ravage. "Cassette, both him and Rumble."

"And the Predacons?" Cheetor asks curiously, and gets glares from the four not-Maximals. "I mean, the bad Predacons?" he amends sheepishly, receiving approving nods in return.

"Megatron is a Tread Roller, model Mobile Weapon. Scorponok is a Builder; Terrorsaur, a Seeker; Waspinator, a Rotor; and Tarantulas is a Miner model of Builder," Dinobot explains after draining his cube.

"Blackarachnia is a Femme, and Quickstrike feels like a Tread Roller Hybrid of Road Runner frame type," Ravage supplies, getting nods from the other Decepticons and the Predacon to confirm his thoughts on the Fuzor.

"That would explain his belligerent nature," Optimus muses, agreeing with their opinion. "What about you, Dinobot?"

"Tread Roller," the Raptor answers simply, so suddenly serious and tense that it's obvious the topic is across a line better not crossed. "You should have weapons. All Seekers have coded in weapons," he tells the Decepticon Fliers, who don't seem the least bit disturbed by the change in the conversation.

"Care to tell where? Because I had those shoulder-mounted cannons before becoming this fuzz-ball, but not anymore," Ramjet scowls, lifting his arms as if to better show the lack of weapons.

"Airazor has these tiny integrated guns on her forearms… Have you even tried activating your weaponry to see if it's still there?" Dinobot hisses, grabbing a white wrist to observe the inconspicuous armor covering it.

Almost sheepish, the Conehead stutters a bit before finally looking away.

Starscream lets out a tired sigh, sounding too much like 'why the Pit did I get saddled with such idiots' to be anything different.

So, after a simple gesture towards some rocks, Ramjet stands, moves away from the group, lifts his arms, and takes aim.

And the rocks explode an instant later, when tiny but powerful missiles are shot through small grooves opening over his wrist joints.

The Conehead, unsurprisingly, is the most dumbfounded of them.

For a moment.

"Whoo! Did you see that?! I'm the best!" Ramjet exclaims with a slag-eating grin, turning around with the happiness of a newspark who has managed to complete his function for the first time.

Optimus chuckles quietly, Cheetor is as awed as the Conehead, Dinobot smirks, Starscream looks unimpressed, and Ravage purrs in amusement.

Though the feeling of relief between them can't be ignored, nor does anyone want to do so.

At least Ramjet is still armed. Good for them.

"Well, your turn," Dinobot tells the Peregrine Falcon, who snarls quite impressively.

"I don't have weapons," Starscream hisses, receiving curious or confused looks, even as the Crested Eagle moves back to his seat.

"Have you even tried?"

"Of course I have tried, who do you think I am?!" the Falcon screeches, fuming, and Ravage doesn't understand what has happened to break that good mood he was in, leaving him this angered and…

Defensive.

Starscream's weapons are null-rays, one of a kind as far as Ravage knows.

And the Maximals know the future Starscream, and thus would know what his signature weapons are.

Meaning, if Starscream was to use them…

"But maybe you didn't realize you had them? I mean, I didn't even know I could fly when I first got this body, so maybe if you tried again…?" Cheetor suggests, but grows quiet as the glare is turned to him.

Despite the obvious seething, however, Optimus' confused—and maybe suspicious—look is more than enough to get Starscream to stand up and move to where Ramjet aimed at the now half destroyed rocks.

"Alright! I'm telling you I don't have weapons, but do you believe me? No, of course not. So, here, see for yourselves!"

And he lifts his arms in a known stance, obviously aiming at the rocks, and Ravage's fans stutter.

But there's no shooting, no crackling of electricity, no explosions of cluster bombs or missiles. Instead, Starscream's plating turns black before the Flier curls into himself with a gasped curse, staggering a couple of steps to stay on his feet as the wave of darkness recedes to reveal his usual colors.

Everyone is on their pedes before the Air Commander manages to straighten, with Ravage, Optimus and Dinobot rushing to Starscream’s side with their worry plain to see on their optics and stances.

"There. I told you," Starscream hisses, and Ravage deflates in relief at the grumpiness.

He's fine.

But they still have no idea what that blackness is, why it's still there, or how to get rid of it. Could it be a side-effect of the Transwarp wave? Of their transformation?

If so, can they revert it?

"What was that dark thing, Big Bot? Some kind of virus?" Cheetor asks worriedly, standing next to an uneasy Ramjet, even as the Peregrine Falcon straightens, as calm and collected as if nothing had happened.

"I don't know. Have you looked it up? The CR Chambers should—"

"I'm not getting into those things," Starscream snarls menacingly at the simple suggestion.

And with good reason.

None of the Decepticons has tried the CR Chambers since they arrived, just in case the machines can give a clue as to their origins. Instead, they have allowed time, self-repair, and their medical knowledge to deal with whatever damaged they sustained, no matter how much quicker or efficient the Chambers would have been.

Their backstory may be taken care of, and none of the Maximals thinks any differences weren't caused by the Transwarp wave, but none of them wants to take the risk.

Not as long as they can avoid it.

"Starscream—"

"I said no, Primal. And nothing you say, order, or try will make me change my mind."

And, at the menacing snarl on the smaller mech's faceplates, the Gorilla relents.

"Very well. But, please, consider it. We don't want to see you in pain if it can be avoided."

"Not. Changing. My opinion," the Falcon growls, and one servo lifted in defeat is enough to calm him down some, though he still straightens with his servos on his pelvic plating, a mix of proud and unmovable—

And confused, as he pulls his servos off himself to look down at the tail feathers attached to his hips.

"Starscream?"

Instead of answering, the Seeker tentatively reaches for one of the longest feathers, the first on the right side, carefully grabbing the shaft—

And detaching it with a simple tug.

A slow, careful twirl as he moves it to hold it upright, and it dawns on Ravage just what he's watching.

"A sword? Again? What is it with these changes and swords?" he exclaims, half in disbelief and half in confusion, because Starscream's tail feathers may look sharp, but their end is so softly rounded that they don't look menacing.

At all.

Until the Seeker's optics pale in realization and, with another tug, he takes the first feather of the left side in his free servo, twirling it so that it's also held upright.

And, with determination on his faceplate, a new wave of black courses up his arms—and fully engulfs the feather-swords, and just them.

Unlike before, there's only awe and uncountable possibilities rushing through Starscream's optics, instead of pain.

One quick look at the rocks left standing after Ramjet's shooting, and Starscream tenses—

And clears the distance with a couple of quick long strides, pulling an arm up and to the side to let the useless-looking feather-blade's rounded tip caress the dirtied brown stone—

Which opens with an almost poisonous gurgling as a thin gouge appears on it behind the black feather's trail, blazing red molten stone dripping from it.

The sound of jaws hitting the ground is easily heard despite none literally falling off.

"By the Matrix…" Primal whispers, managing to snap the others out of their reverie with the soft words.

Starscream, who is examining the cooling streams of molten rock with scientific curiosity, straightens when he hears their uncoordinated exclamations and questions, looking his usual smug self as he clicks the feather-blades back at his hips—

And the darkness on them vanishes as it rushes back into his body, making him skip a step and almost fall on his faceplate with a pained wince.

"I'm fine, I'm fine!" he calls, taking a couple of deep in-vents and raising a servo to stop the worried mechs from slamming into him, the other carefully rubbing the middle of his chest plates, over the spark chamber. "Should've released that a bit slower."

"That was amazing! How did you do that?" Cheetor asks when Starscream straightens, once more as excited as a turbo-hound puppy.

"I'm not sure myself, but I intend to make the best of it," the Falcon answers calmly, with a dangerous grin growing with his last words.

"Does that mean he gets to train with us?" Ravage asks, looking up at Dinobot.

And Dinobot and Starscream exchange an uncomfortable and hesitant look that, once upon a time, meant 'Carrier and Creator aren't sure you're old enough to know about that'.

Unable to stop himself, the Cassette falls to the ground amidst peals of laughter.


The night is clear and not uncomfortably cold, so Dinobot doesn't feel compelled to go back to the Axalon despite having been out since before the sunset.

Rattrap, Silverbolt and Rumble reported Predacon activity in a certain cave, filled with stable Energon crystals. Even though they managed to blow it up, it means things are starting to get dangerous again.

Which is something that the Cassettes don't appreciate.

The Raptor has tried—is trying—to not let their newly revealed pasts influence his view of them, but…

Well, he's being barely a bit more successful than Rattrap at keeping the unearthed protective streak at bay, and he thinks it may be only because he gets to teach one of them how to defend himself, and thus can make sure he'll be fine.

He hopes.

Dinobot lets a rumbling sigh out at the fierce protectiveness flaring in his spark, stopping his slow pace to tilt his long snout once more up, at the stars.

"We're brothers. Our crime was to be created."

"How could that be a crime?"

"Because Carrier and Creator weren't supposed to be together."

"Weren't supposed to…"

"Their 'kind' wasn't supposed to mingle."

"A Maximal and a Predacon. Not something that would be liked, but why would such a union be condemned?"

"Carrier worked for the Council."

"Carrier was too valuable. So, they deactivated Creator and got rid of us by reassigning us to somewhere Carrier would never be able to contact us, and where our deactivation could be easily the result of an accident."

And so, they sent them to the Axalon.

But… they couldn't have been that old, could they?

They act mature and have obvious experience in fights, but they're Predacons. Even if their carrier was the Maximal, since 'Council' can mean either the Maximal High Council or the Tri-Predacus Council—and Dinobot is betting on the Maximal High Council, if just because such a 'betrayal' by one so close to them wouldn't have been kept quiet by the Tri-Predacus Council—, he has come to see just how well Maximals can adapt to battle conditions. As thus, someone with creations depending on them would have eagerly learnt the arts of war, if just to protect them.

So, despite their youth, both their Predacon and their Maximal creator could've taught them how to fight.

As for their experience…

"Carrier was too valuable. So, they deactivated Creator and got rid of us by reassigning us to somewhere Carrier would never be able to contact us, and where our deactivation could be easily the result of an accident."

That sounds too much like Predacon speech for 'they broke into our home, took us to the Maximals, read the verdict, and deactivated the mech in front of the family so that they would know their place.'

"That is how things work."

That's what Starscream said, and he knows first-servo how the Maximal High Council operates.

Ravage and Rumble were taught from the very first time they came online how to fight, were put in such a situation not too long after that as their family was arrested, and had to watch as their Creator was extinguished in front of them for the crime of loving his family.

And it is love. They wouldn't be talking of the deactivated mech with such fondness, with such pain at the loss, if their creator hadn't been dedicated all the way to his family.

After that, they were taken away from their only remaining family, and thrust into this crazy…

Wait.

If they had been sent to the Axalon after that, when did they have the chance to meet Starscream and Ramjet?

Because, at least to Dinobot, it's obvious they knew each other before they met the rest of Maximals and the Predacon. Their interactions, their words, Starscream’s protectiveness…

Perhaps they met before boarding the Axalon? Surely, there must have been some semblance of travel from Cybertron to the ship, since the Darksyde didn't catch wind of it until they were far enough from their planet, so perhaps then?

Or did they meet before?

Could be too. After all, Starscream had been sentenced by the Maximal High Council too, and, as a Seeker, he may have met Ramjet during training. This would have made that small web of connections between the four of them, with the Peregrine Falcon taking the lead as the common link between the others.

Looks plausible.

Maybe one day he'll ask.

But, back to the current topic.

Predacon activity and the Maximals’ protective streak for the Cassettes.

Oh, was Rumble angry when they came back from patrol…

Apparently, both Rattrap and Silverbolt had tried to 'keep him from the fun' all the while, even when their intention had been to protect him from the Spiders and Quickstrike. Needless to say, the Weasel hadn't taken that very well.

Dinobot can only hope he'll be able to control himself in the next battle. After all, Ravage is learning fast, and Rumble can obviously hold his own. And all of Primal's crew, Maximals and Predacons alike, are keeping an optic on the brothers, so they shouldn't need to be guarded like newly-onlined newsparks.

… Aw, slag. He won't be able to hold himself back, he can feel it.

Ravage is going to turn him into a Raptor-skin purse.

Dinobot has to chuckle at the thought, despite everything else.

As quickly as he's progressing, he might very well be able to accomplish such a feat, especially once they get to work on his whip variant. That will be interesting…

"What's so funny?"

Dinobot almost jumps out of beast mode at the voice, instead whirling around with a threatening snarl to, at the very least, return the scare.

Yellow eyes stare unblinkingly into his from amidst midnight black fur, slit pupils mirroring his own.

"Ravage," he hisses softly as he straightens, more of a sigh than a grumble, and the Cat simply tilts his head, not moving from where he's sitting on a rock slightly higher than the tall green grass, tail curled around his paws. "Shouldn't you be back in the ship?"

And there goes his protectiveness. Though maybe he's sounded annoyed instead of worried?

Yellow eyes narrow, and Dinobot curses in his processor.

"Shouldn't you? I'm not the one who has been walking around for hours. You don't have patrol assigned."

"I… wanted to think. In peace," Dinobot answers, tilting his head with eyes narrowed at those last words, but Ravage either doesn't notice the hint or disregards it completely.

He bets on the second option.

"Well, I wanted to think too," the Cat answers with a soft purr that's just this side of knowingly, so Dinobot knows the smaller mech is purposefully ignoring his worry and his efforts at coming across as annoying. "And I must say that this method of yours is quite successful. Why, I managed to clear a couple of troubling issues," he adds almost happily, which only makes the Raptor be even more suspicious, though he keeps quiet as Ravage transforms to robot mode. "You're a Bestial."

The world tilts and blurs in and out of focus, and Dinobot can just barely maximize and sit down to make it stop, hoping it doesn't look as forced or fearful as it actually is.

Ravage doesn't react, just sits there smiling innocently, as the Raptor puts himself together.

And rage boils.

"And why, exactly, would you make such an assumption?" Dinobot growls, trying to keep the urge to crush the tiny mech in his servos.

Instead of answering, Ravage stands up—

The tiny whirs of transformation almost go unnoticed, but the changes don't.

Dactyls curl into themselves to conform paws and legs shift the angle with the hips. Sheath and blade extend into a tail without being covered by the furry hide of the beast mode. The jaw structure resting at the sides of the head slips forward as if a mask, shining almost white under the starlight in a bone-like mimicry of a cat's snout, its sharp teeth bared without the synth-flesh covering them.

"Because I'm a Bestial," Ravage answers easily, once more sitting back on his haunches with the half fur half blade-bone tail curling around his fur-less paws.

It takes a moment more for Dinobot to snap out of his surprise and engage once more the cooling systems he hadn't realized had stopped.

"You… Why…"

"Because this is what I am. And there's nothing wrong with it, no shame, no fear. I'm a Bestial. And I'm proud of it."

"You shouldn't!" Dinobot hisses, managing to finally put himself together, as he gestures helplessly at the mismatched creature in front of him, at the bone-like appendage and face-mask-like snout, at the curled dactyls on the paw-like servos…

And trembles at the calm in those now pupil-less yellow optics.

He's sincere.

Ravage's a Bestial, and he's not ashamed of it.

"How do you…"

"My creators. What if I was a Cassette, what if I was a Bestial? I was Ravage, and that's all that mattered to them. All that my family cared about," the Cat explains, and Dinobot shudders once more.

However, before he can process the situation at hand, before he can find any words to put his feelings and thoughts into, a soft flapping sound catches both Predacons' attention.

The silhouette that glides over the green grass, towards them, is easily recognizable under the starlight, and well-known.

Without thought, Dinobot jumps to his pedes and stands in front of a still calm Ravage, but Starscream just slows his flight and transforms before landing gracefully and barely with a sound.

"There you are. I was starting to think you'd found some rat-free cave and decided to hole in it without letting us know," the Falcon salutes with a grin, before a confused frown wipes it. "Is there a problem?"

"Not at all," Ravage answers, jumping onto Dinobot's shoulder before dropping in front of him, in plain view of the Falcon while still in his Bestial mode.

"You sure? He looks pretty jumpy," Starscream asks, looking at the Raptor in curiosity but with piercing optics.

And it slams almost as hard as Megatron's fusion blasts.

"You knew he was a Bestial?" Dinobot asks, voice chocked, as he gestures at Ravage, who looks up curiously.

"Yes, as soon as I met him," Starscream answers with a shrug, uncaring about the Raptor's obvious distress. "What, you didn't?"

"I—No! How should I?" Dinobot stammers, and the look he gets in answer, a clear deadpan but with those piercing red optics almost screaming at him to stop playing dumb, make his surroundings blur again. "You… You know…"

"Yes. I may not be a Bestial myself, but I know some. I don't really see why you would be so horrified, but I understand why you've been keeping it a secret."

"You do?" he lets out before he can stop himself, and Starscream nods.

"Yes. Tread Rollers are considered dangerous enough by many, especially those with no experience with warmechs, and so are Bestials. Combine both, especially a Meteoroid Striker model of the Tread Roller frame type with a Bestial mode, and you get a creature out of terror stories. To those that know no better, that is," Starscream explains, smiling with his last words, mocking those stupid enough to let rumors dictate their thinking, and supporting the dumbfounded Raptor that has just had his whole being exposed to the world.

Tremulous, and so emotionally messed up that he doesn't know if he's relieved or terrified, Dinobot can only sit down on the rock Ravage was perched on a moment before.

"You… knew all along?" he asks softly, trying to compose himself, and looking up when the other two approach.

"Not really. I knew you were a Meteoroid Striker, but it took me a couple of days to figure you were a Bestial too. To be fair, however, I've dealt with my fair share of them, so I knew what to look for."

That… is far more reassuring than it sounds at first.

"Who else…"

"Rumble, but Ramjet and the Maximals are clueless," Ravage answers calmly, resting a paw-servo on his foot.

And, when he doesn't flinch or shuffle away from the touch, Dinobot realizes he feels relieved.

These mechs know, one of them is even a Bestial himself, and they don't mind.

Offlining his optics, Dinobot lets his helm rest against his chest plates, allowing all the accumulated tension to slip away as he focuses on the night sounds, the spot of warmth on his foot, and the presence at his side.

For the first time in what feels like forever, he's completely at ease.

Calm.

Almost… belonging?

No, not so far.

But at ease, at least.

"Better?" Starscream asks when he finally brings his optics back online and straightens, and Dinobot can only smile gratefully with a nod. "Now, any reason you were on your own in the middle of the night and away from the ship when we have confirmed an increase in Predacon activity?"

"I… needed to think."

"What you need is to relax," Ravage states firmly, nodding to himself, as he steps away from Dinobot and lowers his front body, tail lazily swinging from side to side. "Race?"

"What—No, no. I'm not meant for racing."

"And my legs are far shorter than yours, so we're evenly matched. Race?" he repeats, this time mewling softly, as he jumps on the spot. "Come on, race?"

"I really shouldn't…"

"Oh, come on! Just say yes already. I promise I won't go faster than your average falcon," Starscream nudges—literally nudges, feathered shoulder bumping against Dinobot's scaly one, but careful not to get the feathers trapped between them—as he gives him a wide grin, stretching and moving away before transforming to his beast mode.

Ravage's excited bouncing increases, so much newspark-like that Dinobot can barely keep himself from joining their game—

But, why should he not?

These mechs know about him, and they don't fear him, don't hate him, they accept him, and they are willing even to… join him in a game he never allowed himself to truly experience.

One last look at Ravage's excited bouncing is the last thing needed to break his resolve.

So, with a playful snarl, Dinobot rises to his pedes and activates a transformation sequence that hasn't been initiated in years.

The gears should feel rusty, locking or grinding as they move, but the changes are as fluid and painless as the very first time they happened. So, Dinobot lets his optics go black as he allows himself to enjoy a side of himself he has ever despised.

His dactyls don't curl into themselves, instead rearranging so that all five of them point forward and one of them revealing the sharp claw that is usually stored in subspace. His pedes split to allow the dactyls to unfold. The backbone-like sheath on his back and the sword stored inside slide to their usual tail conformation without the cover of synth-flesh. The rib-like ornaments on his sides twist around and rise as if they were lances of his back. The raptor head's synth-flesh fills in the gaps the ribs leave behind, while the basic bone-like structure snaps over his faceplate as a skeletal muzzle, before compressing to make it shorter, shards of bone-like strut twisting into either additional larger teeth or ornamental spikes at the back of his helm. The neck guard splits into thinner and more malleable plates that close at the front and extend upwards, lengthening his neck.

For the first time in forever, Dinobot onlines red optics to look at a suddenly sharper world filled with new scents and sounds as he keeps his suddenly heavy upper body upright with the aid of a strut-only tail.

Starscream and Ravage look up at him with awe and respect, and, as slowly as he's able, Dinobot allows himself to fall on all fours so that he's at their optic level.

All he sees in red eyes and pupil-less yellow optics is pride.

And eagerness.

"Race?" he rumbles, feeling dormant coding come back to activation, the need to explore, to stretch his limbs once more, to feel, too strong to repress it again.

And this time, he doesn't even want to do so.

Without a sound, Ravage rushes away as Starscream takes off with what can only be described as an excited screech, but Dinobot's optics can track the moving grass with ease.

With a defiant but excited guttural roar, the Raptor takes off after them.

He's slow, faster than in robot mode but slower than in beast mode, mostly because of his heavy upper body and front legs forcing him to run on all fours, but he's far more agile, the space previously filled by the solid metal of his ribs now replaced by flexible synth-flesh that allows him to jump and curl in positions impossible before. And all the while he manages to keep after Ravage's trail and with Starscream gliding and flapping almost calmly over them.

That’s when he realizes that the Falcon isn't racing, he isn't playing and letting go with them. He's guarding them instead, looking over them as a silent sentinel from the sky, and Dinobot roars once more, but gratefully this time.

Starscream screeches back, head tilted so one red eye lands on them, the corners of his mouth twitching in as much of a smile as his beak allows.

With a burst of speed, Dinobot finally catches up with Ravage, and, using coding he didn't even know he had, he grabs the smaller mech in his jaws and throws him on his back, earning a squeak and some pinpricks as claws catch on his scales.

But, a moment later, the Cat has climbed between his shoulder blades, and, when he roars once more, watching startled birds fly away from the trees they were sleeping in, the tiny Bestial mimics him as best as his higher pitched voice is able.

The river is calm, a surface of polished silver under the night sky, and, vents taking air in almost frantically, Dinobot finally stops, Ravage jumping down and Starscream landing next to them.

Almost in unison, the Bestials transform to their beast modes, the Raptor lying on his side with the Cat curling against his belly.

"That was fun. We have to do it again," Ravage purrs, more in recharge than active, and Dinobot can only chuckle in answer and curl around the tiny mech.

"Yes. We have to," he whispers back, smile growing as he feels warm feathers curling against his shoulders.

"But not today. Now, it's time to recharge," Starscream croons—not literally, but his voice is so low and soft that his usual screechy rasp is almost a purr now—loud enough to be heard, but not enough to get Ravage out of recharge, so, curling his head over his own neck, Dinobot nuzzles the Falcon's head before resting his snout on his forearms. "Recharge, I said!" the Seeker hisses, fluffing himself against the Raptor's scales.

And Dinobot activates his recharge protocols without a single care in the world.

This is what belonging feels like.

Chapter Text

The data on the screen is irrefutable.

And that, more than anything else, is what keeps Ravage and Dinobot mute in dread as they exchange a look.

Leaning back against his seat as the Decepticon sits down on the table, the Raptor snarls.

"So, Megatron's plan proceeds even without the disk. If it is successful, what will become of us and Cybertron?"

"Nothing good, that's for sure," Ravage answers softly, looking at the screen once more. "I still say we should bring Starscream into this," he adds, but when Dinobot visibly hesitates, the Cassette turns to face him fully. "You're a Predacon, but Megatron is not. Leaving him wasn't betrayal, antagonizing him isn't betrayal, and stopping him most surely won't be betrayal. And if you ask Starscream, he'll give you a hundred reasons more, at the very least. He may not look like it, but he has some scientific knowledge. If we asked him to help…"

"I… cannot involve him in this. Not when I still have my doubts about it all."

"What doubts? Is it something from before we got here?" Ravage asks, keeping his frustration to himself.

Dinobot is hiding something, but his stupid protective streak won't let him put the Cassette in danger by revealing whatever it is.

Which is why they need Starscream. The Predacon trusts the Seeker, likes him even, and Starscream would surely find some way to trip Megatron's plans—he always manages to do it for their Megatron, after all.

But it seems that protective tendency doesn't include just the Cassettes.

Either that or whatever Dinobot is hiding is really big enough for him to fear for his comrades.

After a moment, the Predacon straightens, as if ready to reveal whatever secret he's guarding—

And the main screen comes to life, startling them both into looking up at Primal.

"Dinobot, report to the command center immediately. I need you to lead a mission into Predacon ground."

"On my way," the Raptor answers, closing the computer, and the screen goes black again.

"Please."

Dinobot freezes at Ravage's voice, though avoiding the smaller mech's optics.

"Not now," the Predacon whispers, standing up almost solemnly, and going to the door.

"Later?"

Just before exiting the room, Dinobot stops.

And, without turning around, gives a nod before finally leaving.

A moment later, Ravage gets the computer open and recovers the data they've been reviewing.

Starscream is up to date with everything, both Decepticons have made sure of that, but whatever invisible line they've arrived at now is different than any before.

They may not be any closer to getting back to their universe, but that only means they need this one to stay stable some more.

Plus, those Golden Disks, and the data they contain…

The one Dinobot and Ravage brought back is the most meaningless of the two, if it can be called such, with just markings whose meaning they have to decipher themselves, while the other…

Well, if Dinobot's behavior means anything, the other is the Big Price, probably with some kind of recording or who knows what juicier information.

Which, Ravage ponders, is precisely why that one was left behind.

If this one proves true, the other will certainly hold their future – all their futures.

If this one doesn't… well, the other may prove one-use-only too.

Starscream would probably be able to make sense of most of the markings in here, so it's about time Ravage got him a detailed image.

As he copies all data in Dinobot's computer, however, the Cassette can't help but feel it's too little too late.

Ravage and Starscream are in the Seeker's quarters as the Rusty-Spotted Cat gives him all the details of their infiltration in the Darksyde, the two disks and their discoveries regarding them, when Rumble contacts them through the private Decepticon comm line. Silverbolt just called in to report an attack and Dinobot's capture.

And Ravage finally knows his feelings weren't just a suspicion.

One single look is all they need.

A moment later, Ravage's curled in Starscream's talons as the Falcon flies away from the Axalon and towards Predacon territory.


Onlining after being shot into stasis—or crashed into—is never a nice experience, but doing so to find himself in a cell in the Darksyde, surrounded by Megatron's troops, is even less enjoyable.

However, no matter how much he wants to rip Terrorsaur's voice box out, Dinobot stays still and silent, giving no sign to having recovered consciousness.

"He's dangerous. Finish him now!" Tarantulas adds darkly, silencing the Pterosaur's screeches for the same.

"And miss the chance to chat with our dear comrade in arms? I think not," Megatron rumbles, the last part a warning to any that decides to share the Spider's opinion. "Wake him."

It takes Dinobot quite the willpower to remain motionless when he feels the laser bars deactivate, and even more when Inferno and Scorponok's servos and pincers are on him, holding him upright.

And then, he hears approaching pede-steps and the crackling of electricity, and his whole programming rebels.

Fortunately, Dinobot manages to keep a hold of himself until he can actually feel the charge of the gun-like contraption tickling his scaly skin, not yet touching—

But close enough to do so, which means its wielder is just in front of his snout.

His long and powerful snout filled with sharp teeth.

With an irate roar, Dinobot jerks back, snapping his jaws closed over Tarantulas' helm and jerking him into Inferno so that the Ant finally releases his hold on him. The Raptor twirls on his spot to throw Scorponok away with his tail before transforming to robot mode to block Quickstrike's shots with his tail-shield.

A lunge is enough to slam the Fuzor against the wall with his rotary defense, and his sword manages to catch Terrorsaur on the chest before the Pterosaur can do more than squeak in surprise, sending him into Blackarachnia with a startled cry.

Dinobot turns around with a menacing snarl, ready to get rid of the last enemy – and finds Megatron's charged cannon locked on him.

He's too far.

The Raptor would never cross the distance before Megatron shot, and, at the first sign of his optic lasers charging, the Predacon leader would shoot too.

So, Dinobot snarls louder, not moving from his position, but keeping half his attention on the stunned Quickstrike trapped under his shield.

He can't move to the sides, either, for the other Predacons have by now recovered enough to point their weapons at least in his main direction.

Despite everything, the Raptor is well and truly trapped.

That doesn't mean he won't go down without a fight, which is the only thing that keeps the others out of grabbing range.

"Ah, impressive as always. But ultimately futile," Megatron croons, as if Dinobot himself didn't already know that. "You so much as twitch, and you'll be scrapped in a nanoklik," he points out, and the sound of weapons reloading or charging only emphasizes this.

"Do not think you will walk away undamaged if your loyal troops open fire," Dinobot hisses, unbothered by the clicks and whirs all around him.

It might sound like an empty threat, but the smile vanishing from the Megatron's faceplate tells everyone that it isn’t.

"Indeed. But that would be a waste of good Predacons, wouldn't it?"

Slag. Slag slag slag slag…

Megatron knows Dinobot took the Golden Disks, knows it was the apparent failure to bring them to Earth that drove his Second away, knows that the Raptor yearns for Predacons to step out from under the Maximals' control, back on Cybertron.

He knows, almost better than Dinobot himself, just how much the so-called Maximal feels torn between his loyalties.

"Oh, don't worry, my dear Dinobot, no. I understand your actions, your decisions. Why, I may even go so far as to say I would have acted just the same, had I been in your position. But times have changed, have they not?" Megatron asks, his smooth and secure tone of voice washing over the Raptor, reassuring, understanding, and Dinobot almost believes.

Almost.

Times have changed, yes.

Now, there are four more Predacons agreeing with him that Megatron's actions were erroneous, even if they too acknowledge the division between Maximals and Predacons as something inadmissible.

And there are even Maximals that know things have to change.

Including Primal.

Dinobot isn't alone anymore.

There's no need for an all-out rebellion.

… He doesn't want an all-out rebellion anymore. He just wants Ravage and Rumble to get back to their carrier, and for Ramjet to join a real defense force. He wants Rattrap to get that break from espionage or whatever he was looking for in the first place. He wants Cheetor to become the explorer he wishes to be under Optimus' command, and for Rhinox to go back to his engineering. He wants Silverbolt to become an Enforcer or something of the like, wants Tigatron to discover Cybertron and its wilds with Airazor, and for Starscream to… do whatever Starscream does.

And Dinobot wants to be there, with them.

He wants to meet the Cassettes' carrier and formally ask to keep teaching his creations. He wants to go to Rattrap's bars to get a drink and meet with the others to talk about their jobs and discoveries and the new experiences. He wants to join a true Predacon force with Ramjet, wants to spend time with Starscream's unbiased opinion, experiences, contacts and meet those other Bestials.

Dinobot wants the chance to get to know himself all over again, and to do it better.

And Megatron won't provide that chance.

"Indeed," Dinobot hisses, almost calmly, taking his no longer rotating shield off Quickstrike, who clatters to the ground with a grunt. "But you know me better than that."

And he charges.

Unfortunately, while the other Predacons' aim has strayed with the sudden movement and the instant of what they thought as surrender, Megatron's has not.

His shield is sent flying at the impact, and a large copper fist slams into Dinobot's faceplate the next instant, throwing his balance off.

That's all the others need to pepper him with energy bullets, throwing him to the ground blackened and sore, and with his sword no longer in his servo—

But in Megatron's.

The Predacon leader's snarl is full of wrath, but his optics are glinting with glee as he points the Raptor's own weapon at his chest plates.

"So I thought, before you chose to fight at Optimus Primal's side," Megatron growls, the tip digging in the scales of the raptor head, and Dinobot snarls back.

"I thought you led us to the wrong planet. And you betrayed me, betrayed us all, your own Predacon heritage!" he shouts, though he doesn't move as his sword moves to his neck, and the delicate lines in there.

If the right one was to be pierced or slashed, Dinobot would leak to deactivation in less than a klik, without the almost automatic cauterization an energy shot provides.

That's one of the reasons Dinobot has always preferred his sword, after all.

"Dramatic as always, I see," Megatron half mocks, knowing very well the position they're both in, before turning serious once more. "Treachery keeps the wits sharp."

"Indeed," the Raptor returns with the same depreciating tone, something that makes the glare directed at him intensify. "And yours are razor-sharp," he finishes with such certainty that he can see the other Predacons exchange looks between themselves from the corner of his optics, though he's too focused on the mech looming over him to decipher them.

"And yet, you still don't realize that this is precisely why victory will soon be in my grasp," Megatron answers almost calmly, completely disregarding Dinobot's accusation with a fake pitying pout directed at the warrior under his feet. "Are you sure you don't want to share in that victory?" he asks condescendingly, like an experienced mech talking to a clueless newspark to reconsider their choice in toys.

"You're willing to let one of your squad be taught by a Predacon."

"As long as he's a real Predacon, I have nothing against them."

"Like yourself?"

"At the very least."

"I am no Maximal," Dinobot whispers, and while he can see the smile growing on Megatron's faceplate, he recognizes the greed and possessiveness under the fake pride.

He is not a comrade, an ally. He is not even a soldier.

Dinobot is a tool.

"But I shall be one of your twisted Predacons no more."

The smile vanishes, and the look bestowed upon him tells Dinobot that he won't have any more chances.

Apparently, the others know it too, because Tarantulas' giddy cackling echoes in the room.

"Allow me to modify Dinobot's programming, my liege. I promise you will have… positive results," the Spider offers excitedly, and, for an instant, the Raptor fears the scientist will have his way.

But then, to his and the rest of Predacons' disbelief, Megatron takes the sword away from him, a dactyl touching the tip as he looks it over like a conqueror examining a vulgar offering of the natives.

"I don't think Dinobot would approve of you loose in his circuits," he comments almost nonchalantly, but the sword is moved to point at Tarantulas, who jumps a bit in surprise, while the Raptor slowly, carefully and ready for anything, gets to his pedes. "Nor would I," he adds, his voice low in yet another warning. "Still… Tarantulas has a point," he comments, losing the seriousness, as he tilts his head to observe the tense Dinobot, who is starting to think it'd be better to just turn tail here and now and run away without a look back. "How do we know your spark has truly changed?"

This time, Dinobot can't suppress his fear as his sword comes to point at his chest plates once more, whole frame shuddering at whatever those words may imply for him.

"I believe some reminders of true Predacon behavior are in order. To… kick out any corrupting Maximal ideology that may have managed to get to you, before we give you a last choice, yes…"

Megatron’s bright red optics and smile are going to haunt Dinobot to the end of his function.

Which doesn't seem too far away…


The fighting is relentless.

One after the other, all Predacons have their chance to pay Dinobot back for the many beatings they've received over their time on Earth, and by the time it seems he's done, the first he dealt with are already out of the CR Tanks and ready for more.

He's being cornered, and he doesn't like it one bit.

The arena is nothing more than a slab of volcanic rock at the border of a lava-filled canyon, cutting all escapes that way. A thin rivulet of molten rock marks the other side, with the Predacons who are not fighting waiting behind it, weapons ready to stop any escape attempt, and the automatic defenses prepared in case he manages to get through them.

And Megatron, Dinobot's sword still in his grasp, just sits there on a throne-like contraption his minions took out with them, smiling pleasantly and asking, after every match, whether Dinobot has finally come to his senses.

After every. Single. Fight.

Depending only on his strength, optic lasers and beast mode is tiring, especially against faster opponents like the Spiders, or Terrorsaur's flying capabilities.

And while he hasn't got himself excessively damaged, sometimes not at all, the blazing blasts from Inferno's flamethrower to get him away from the defeated Predacons are starting to take his toll on him.

Dinobot won't be able to hold on forever.

And he will never bow to Megatron again.

So, it's only a matter of time, of who can out-stubborn who… Of how badly damaged Rattrap and Silverbolt were, and how long it would take them to reach the Axalon and for the Maximals to come.

A new burst of fire, and this time Dinobot yelps as he quickly steps away from a banged-up Tarantulas.

"Inferno, that will be enough," Megatron orders, his voice carrying even over the crackling of flames, and the assault stops.

"Yes, my Queen!" the Ant answers obediently, jerking his flamethrower up in a salute.

This time, most likely how Megatron predicted, Dinobot doesn't try to attack Blackarachnia and Quickstrike as they pull the stasis-locked Tarantulas out of the arena.

But that doesn't mean the Raptor doesn't have other means of defiance… or something more interesting to pay attention to.

"I was not aware you had given yourself a new title," Dinobot comments almost casually, making sure his smirk is mocking enough while still looking innocent.

Megatron's pleased expression turns thunderous as he walks into the arena for the first time, looming threateningly over the tired and blackened warrior.

"The Ant has some faulty programming," he hisses, bending almost too close, but Dinobot knows this isn't his chance yet, for he's being closely monitored by all other Predacons. "But his loyalty is without question," he adds, the lighting of his optics reinforcing the barb.

But Dinobot just widens his smirk, not taking insult.

After all, his loyalty is without question as well.

He's a Predacon, a real one, and thus not one of Megatron's.

And he's proud of it.

Even if the darkening look on the Tyrannosaur's faceplate means only more suffering to come.

However, the smirk growing once more betrays it won't be bearable.

"Now, I'll be merciful and give you one more chance, this one not as torturous. There's the matter of the Golden Disks you stole from me… I assume you still have them."

No. Oh, no. Megatron won't get that from him, no way.

And if he thinks Dinobot's broken, or close to, after some rounds of fighting, he knows him even less than any of them believed.

"No," Dinobot answers simply, snarling, and Megatron frowns.

"So, you gave them to the Maximals. Unfortunate."

"They're hidden. From both sides," he hisses, and if he hurries a bit too much to answer, it isn't to protect the Maximals from attracting the whole of the Predacons' attention.

At least, he hopes that's not the idea Megatron gets from it.

No matter that it's true.

"Where, exactly?"

Does he really think Dinobot will just reveal the location of the remaining disk like that?

… There's something in Megatron's gaze, in his optics, brewing in that twisted processor fueled by his dark spark.

If he doesn't tell him, something bad will happen, something that will harm Dinobot far more than physical damage.

Tarantulas wanted to get in his programming.

If he does, he won't just extract whatever information they wish to know, but he'll have a chance to reprogram him.

And Megatron will turn him against the Maximals, against the tiny Predacons—

"That was fun. We have to do it again."

"Yes. We have to."

"But not today. Now, it's time to recharge. Recharge, I said!"

No. By the Matrix, please, no…

… Is that whistling?

Apparently, Megatron has heard it too, because he looks up at the same time Dinobot does—

And they barely manage to cover their faceplates as a silver streak rushes past the assembled Predacons at the edge of the arena, and the very air explodes after it, throwing them away with startled cries.

There's only one mech capable of flying at mach speeds with such control.

The bullet loses speed as it rises, wings opening with a defiant screech, and the Raptor can't help but smile.

Starscream.

With a roar, Megatron slams his tail-arm against Dinobot's chest plate with enough strength to send his systems through reboot as he slams into some rocks, crushing them at the impact.

When he finally manages to see again, there's a tiny form hovering over him, the dark faceplate splitting into a relieved smile as soon as his optics focus on it.

Him.

"Ravage," Dinobot whispers, a small smile on his faceplate as he carefully gets up, grunting at the pain in his back, sides and the stings of the burns all over him.

"Come now, quickly. Starscream can't draw their fire forever," the Cat hisses, tugging on his servo as he points away from the Darksyde, and, after a quick look, the Raptor sees all the auto-guns hanging uselessly from their supports, cut cables sputtering tiny sparks.

Sabotaged.

By a mech small enough to barely register, or not at all, as one.

This time, his smile is proud as he gets to his pedes—

And the fusion blast on his back sends him down again with a scream.

"Where do you think you’re going?" Megatron snarls, loud pede steps approaching, as Dinobot manages to get to his knees and turn his helm to see the large mech move closer, Terrorsaur up in the air chasing after the platinum Falcon. "Ah, but you have a friend. Does he want to join us in the games?" he adds with a threatening smirk, and Ravage hurries to step between them, sword held firmly in his servos. "You don't plan to face me with that toothpick, now do you?"

"Not really," the Cat answers, and, faster than they can react, he throws his arms back and forward again horizontally, as if chopping a tree just in front of him—

And his sword disassembles into its whip variant, the sharp segments and strong cable wrapping around one of Megatron's ankle joints—

With a sharp tug back, the whip retracts, Energon and sparks flying from cut lines and wires as the Tyrannosaur falls back with a pained roar.

"Run, now!" the Cassette shouts, clicking the blue-stained whip back into its sword form and hurrying to pull on Dinobot's servos.

As Megatron reaches to stop the Energon loss, or a stray spark from igniting it, the Raptor gets back to his pedes—

And stops just long enough to grab his sword, now on the ground as Megatron's damage has forced him to drop it, before transforming and, with the Cat on his back, running away.

Dinobot risks a couple of looks back, and feels relief and awe fill him as he sees Starscream transform into his not-flight-capable robot mode in the middle of his ascent to fall on a startled Terrorsaur, black feather-swords piercing the Pterosaur's mid-section like a hot knife through butter, before jumping off and changing to beast mode again to follow, leaving the other Flier to fall with barely some flailing.

The sounds of pursuit are quickly drowned by irate Peregrine Falcon shrieks and howls of pain, as Starscream drops down on Scorponok, Quickstrike and Inferno to deliver the same treatment that he gave Terrorsaur.

Soon enough, the only thing still after them as they reach the limits of Predacon territory is Megatron's enraged roar echoing against the volcanic rocks.

"Are you alright?" Ravage asks, moving to be closer to Dinobot's head, and the Raptor can just nod, fans straining to allow his frame to keep the fast pace despite the damage. "Where are you going? We would get to the Axalon faster that way."

"The… Disk…" he lets out between pants, and he can feel the Cassette tense on his back.

"Are you sure?" the Cat whispers, and, once more, Dinobot can just nod, though more firmly this time.

"I could get it," Starscream calls from above, a quick look revealing he's Energon-stained and a bit blackened, but seems to have no troubles with his flight. "Get to the ship, I'll meet you there."

"You—"

"I told him everything," Ravage cuts, and Dinobot can feel small dactyls grip his skin tighter, as if the revelation pained the tiny mech. "I had to. He can help, and you needed help, and the other Maximals were discussing strategies and losing time… I had to."

"It's… fine," he manages to answer, grunting as he starts the ascension to the mountain on top of which the Golden Disk is, hopefully, still waiting. "Thanks."

And that seems to surprise the three of them but, once said, Dinobot knows it was the right thing to do.

Only when they're finally at the summit does the Raptor slow down, and that's when his damaged frame betrays him, sending him down on his front like a strut-less heap of metal and synth-flesh, panting rapidly as he tries to cool himself. Inferno's blasts have apparently damaged something inside, as he seems unable to release internal heat as efficiently as he should.

"Dinobot!" Ravage exclaims as he gets out of the roll the larger mech's fall has sent him into, rushing to his side. "What is it? Is there anything I can do?"

"Where's the disk?" Starscream asks as he lands, and the Raptor turns his muzzle to point at where he thinks he hid it.

While the Cat looks over the superficial damage, the Falcon moves to the group of rocks, lifting them one by one with some effort, until he finally finds what they're looking for, as evidenced by the golden glint as the moonlight falls on it.

Awkwardly holding the stone up with both servos, Starscream reaches with his pede to drag the engraved Relic out of its shadow, eagerly letting the rock fall once it is finally out.

And then, once the scratching and grunting and creaking of metal and Dinobot's loud pants stop, is when they hear the whoosh of propeller-powered flight.

The Falcon has just enough time to turn around with a startled look on his faceplate before a fusion blast right in the middle of his chest plates slams him into the rocks with a loud crack.

"Starscream!" Ravage and Dinobot shout when the Seeker falls to the ground limply, optics black and tiny trickles of Energon dripping from the cracks on his plating.

Dinobot has just enough time to tilt his head upwards before a new shot next to him forces him to close his eyes to avoid the dust.

The Cat's yelp, however, is enough to get him to open them once more, watching helplessly as Ravage curls with a pained moan, dark plating covered in soot from the impact.

Megatron lands with a loud thud, and Dinobot somehow finds the strength to get to his pedes and transform with a roar—

And a fist collides against his faceplate before he can even think of reaching for his sword, sending him back to the ground next to the whimpering Cassette.

The snarl on the Tyrannosaur’s faceplate turns to a satisfied smirk.

"Ah, excellent," Megatron croons, walking to where the Golden Disk has fallen without a care for the mechs strewn around, even if Dinobot forces himself to turn around and lift his torso on his elbow joints. "With this little bauble we will write a new chapter in the history of our race," he gloats, subspacing the Relic.

"Or… destroy it," Dinobot snarls, attracting Megatron's attention.

"I assure you, all will happen as I have calculated," the Tyrannosaur answers with a condescending smile, lifting his tail arm to aim at the Raptor as it starts to glow with charge. "Not that it would be any concern of yours."

When the shot comes, however, it is from somewhere behind Dinobot, sending Megatron to the ground as much from the surprise as from the impact.

"Looks like I got here just in time!" Rattrap exclaims, stepping from around some rocks, and Dinobot can say with certainty that he has never felt happier to see the Rodent than in this instant.

"Wrong."

And a fusion blast sends Rattrap back this time, stunning him as he slams against his previous shelter, Megatron rising once more with an almost happy smirk.

However, the Tyrannosaur's position doesn't allow him to see Starscream's optics blaze red once more, nor the three-dactyl servo clutch a tail feather that immediately turns black—

Megatron doesn't fall down, but his pained roar and the way he stumbles forward make it clear it's just by force of will when the Seeker slashes through the back of a knee joint.

This time, Starscream is ready when Megatron whirls around with his tail-arm extended, rolling out of its way while swiping at it with yet another black feather-blade, leaving a gouge in it that makes all charge immediately dissipate.

"Your… ambition… has made you insane, Megatron," Dinobot snarls, slowly getting to his knees and pulling a recovering Ravage up against his chest plates to protect him should the Tyrannosaur try something again against the confused Cat. "It will destroy both Maximal and Predacon. And all who came before," he adds in a hissed growl, and feels the Cat tense, a soft gasp escaping him.

He hears Rattrap get back to his pedes and charge his gun somewhere behind them, while Starscream's optics flash pale with dawning understanding.

"Then return to your Maximals!" Megatron exclaims, furious, as he steps away from the crouched Seeker snarling at him and the Rodent's aimed gun. "See what good it does you."

And, after transforming with a roar, the Tyrannosaur flies away.

"Are you guys alright? What the heck happened?!" Rattrap asks worriedly, putting his gun away and kneeling next to Dinobot, who looks down at the Cassette curled against his chest plates.

Sensing the gaze on him, Ravage looks up, seemingly feeling better and more focused than before, and gives the Raptor a reassuring smile.

"We're fighting a psychopath, that's what's happening," Starscream hisses as he stands, putting his tail feathers back on his hips, where they slowly lose their blackness by turning the rest of his plating gray, but without any apparent pain that isn't caused by his no longer leaking cracked chest plate.

The sound of jets makes them all look up once more, but they immediately let out sighs of relief when they spot Optimus and Silverbolt flying to them.

"Are you alright?" the Fuzor asks as soon as they land, observing them with worry, while Primal turns to the Rodent after a quick look.

"What's the situation, Rattrap?"

"Well, you just missed Megatron," he answers, but the unsurprised looks of the newcomers tell them that they've seen him retreating too.

However, he says nothing about the Golden Disk.

Could it be that he hadn't known it was here in the first place?

Yet…

"I… failed to retrieve the second Golden Disk," Dinobot whispers, the shame weighing so heavily on him that he looks away. "I had it here, but… Megatron took it. I… apologize for my failure."

"It was my servos that Megatron took the disk from. You may have retrieved it, but it was I who lost it," Starscream hisses, startling the larger Predacon into looking up at his disapproving snarl. "Don't you dare take the blame for me."

"It wasn't anyone's fault, but all of ours. After all, I failed to hear him coming too. I should've damaged him further," Ravage adds, ears lowering at the last sentence with his faceplate scrunched up, as if he'd bitten something distasteful.

Yet again, failure never tastes good.

"Oh, for booting up cold!" Rattrap exclaims, attracting their attention. "You can't trust Lizard-breath, and he smells bad… Then there's the teeth. Have you ever seen him eat? And Furball here is a slagging ghost that vanishes without giving a bot a hint, running around with Scale-belly like a pet or something. And let's not even start with Screamer there, just hearing him makes you want to go deaf—"

Indignant shouting and shrieking starts, with some very dangerous glares directed at the Rodent, but Optimus literally stepping between them and raising his servos to get them to quieten holds them at bay.

"But!" Rattrap exclaims, poking out from behind the Transmetal Gorilla with a dactyl up in a knowledgeable pose. "I guess I kinda got used to them," he finishes with a smile, warm and accepting and happy to see them well enough to argue as they've done.

Rattrap Speech for stop blaming yourselves, you bunch of idiots, because we will care for you either way.

That is what finally gets the Predacons to calm down.

And to think.

There's something that the Maximals—No. There's something that Optimus needs to know.

So, Dinobot turns to him, completely serious, and hopes his worry and urgency are safely hidden.

"I must discus something of great importance with you."

"Time enough for that back at base. And after a visit to the CR Chambers," Primal answers, nodding to the three Predacons, and while the Raptor just nods back, the other two scowl.

"I told you I'm not—"

"Starscream. Let's… save this for later," Optimus cuts, sighing at the end due to the incoming processor-ache. "Can you fly?"

"I – No, not really," the Seeker scoffs, looking more angered than embarrassed.

So, while Optimus awkwardly picks Dinobot up, much to the Raptor's mortification and Rvage’s amusement, still resting against Dinobot’s chest plates, Silverbolt steps next to the Falcon, who climbs on with a defeated sigh.

"See you back at base!" Rattrap exclaims cheerfully before transforming and almost flying down the mountain path.

And, sometime during the stay in the CR Chamber, after a slower than usual ride, for the Fliers shadowed the Rodent all the way back to avoid another ambush, Dinobot falls into recharge with the sounds of a, by now, usual argument between the Peregrine Falcon and the Gorilla outside, and a calm conscience.