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Play the Odds

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"Lord Starscream, Vector Sigma is ready." Acid Storm said, hand on the glowing shield protecting the complex holomatter engine. The great construct was humming in what sounded like contentment, the unfathomable artificial intelligence within probably excited to be at work for the first time since their species fall from the golden age and ready to show the gathered crowd of Seekers what it could accomplish.

"At last!" Starscream bellowed, standing before them in his suit of Allspark forged armor. Of all present, he was most thoroughly enthused, all but pumping his wings in triumph. Turning on his heels to face the crowd, he preened with even greater than average volume.

"You're lucky to be here! You will witness the beginning of a new era! My era!"

Slipstream was thoroughly frozen where she was in the crowd of her former followers, not so much from the terror coursing through her spark but instead due to her duties as a still loyal Decepticon. Even if she could make her escape at this moment, what good would an incomplete report do for Megatron? It was bad enough that Starscream held all the cards, so knowing his intentions with them was key to stopping his plans. She just had to ignore her sense of self preservation for a little longer, and stay alive long enough to see what the deranged former second in command intended to create. Then she could flee for her life and deliver the information.

Starscream wasted no time putting the next step into action, looking to where the Seeker was standing and offering a hand.

"Slipstream! Step forward!"

Slipstream froze, knowing at that moment her plans had just become as good as scrap.

"What?" She gasped, looking about to the other Seekers to see if they were as surprised as she was. Judging by their expectant looks, this was far from not being the plan.

"I said I intended to show you what I can do with the Allspark, did I not? Step forward, and into your destiny!" Starscream invited, moving a single pace towards her. Flinching, she took an equal step backwards, disguising her fear with a glare.

"No way!"

His smile was replaced with a frown of frustration, his gaze going past her with a signaling nod. Before she could even imagine what he was playing at, two of her former charges grabbed her from behind, each taking an arm to pin her where she stood. On instinct, she tried to struggle, unfurling her wings to attempt a hit on her captors. More than familiar with her tricks, they dodged without loosening their grips, keeping her standing at attention before their reanimated leader.

"So what? This is your great plan for the Allspark? Using it to terminate bots one at a time?" She spat, hiding fear behind her anger. There was no way she'd grovel in the end, even if she'd much, much rather have lived...

"Who said anything about terminating you?" Starscream replied with a laugh, gesturing to the powerful tools at his disposal with a theatrical wave of both hands. "I intend to create the next step in our evolution! Our species will be remade in my image, to ensure a glorious era of peace and prosperity! But first, the next generation must begin with what little we have left of our kind. That is where you come in, as our first experiment."

"I don't understand." She said, somehow more confused and more terrified than she'd been before. He looked annoyed for a moment, then shook his head and lit up with a proud grin.

"Isn't it simple enough? With the power of the Allspark, I shall rewrite the core of our coding, and pass my brilliance on to a new race of Cybertronians! You have the most important role; carrying that progeny into being! If you and I can achieve success, then others will follow, and the next step of our evolution will begin!"

There was little enough to misunderstand, and she gave another struggle against her captors in disgust. He wanted to breed with her. "That is not happening!"

"Your hesitation is understandable; who but I wouldn't cower in the face of such a burden? None have even managed to become sparked since our kind lost the Allspark, and the cycle of rebirth ceased. But fear not! Vector Sigma will allow us to guide the power to force conception. You will have our undying protection, and whether you succeed or fail, our kind will sing your name for ages to come!" Starscream carried on, heedless to her resistance or not bothered enough by it to show he cared. Her spark heaved in a mix of revulsion and a new kind of fear she didn't want to acknowledge. Sparklings were indeed something their species needed, but Starscream was as vile as they came in her optics. Even she couldn't grin and bare it with him.

"Listen to him, Slipstream." Nova Storm said, sounding more like she was trying to comfort her former commander. Stepping to be in her line of sight, she held up her hands helplessly as she explained. "Before you, I was the volunteer. But I gave up that honor so Starscream could help you understand. Don't you want to help our kind?"

"You all realize this is madness, don't you?! He's gone insane and lured you in to some kind of sick breeding cult! Don't you remember your loyalty? Don't you remember what we've been fighting for?!"

"This is bigger than bots or cons!" Nova Storm yelled, desperate instead of angry. Within her optics was genuine vulnerability as she spoke. "There's so few of us left, and Starscream is offering a chance to rebuild without anyone else having to die. Didn't you always want that chance? To ensure our sparklings get the life we couldn't? You once told me, long ago, about how you would hold your own on Cybertron when we were done-"

She snarled the other Seeker into silence, angered to have had a moment of weakness between femmes be used against her and so publicly revealed. "This isn't how it's supposed to be done! And even if it was, it doesn't matter, because you can't make me do this!"

"Luckily, I can!"

Starscream entered the shield surrounding Vector Sigma and, without any of his usual theatrics, pressed the activation sigil. Slipstream struggled anew as the ancient technology began to glow, a third Seeker grabbing her from behind to keep her still. The attempts to wiggle free halted when both Vector Sigma and the Allspark thrummed with life, their consciences reaching out to mingle with one another like old friends in a language long forgotten. The conversation made the air vibrate and crackle with energy. Only a moment passed before glowing tendrils seeped from both, twisting and turning blindly until they met in the middle and melded into one. Every spark was pulsing in tune to the rhythmic pounding of power as the tendrils began to knit a shape between them, hot coils rolling precisely until a strand of CNA had been constructed in likeness. It floated silently for a moment, the room going quiet and still before it jerked and seemed to find a target.

Slipstream recoiled when she felt a consciousness greater than any being she'd known turn its gaze on her. There was no time to resist before the tendrils dove for her, their conjoined tips plunging right into her spark.

In that moment, she and reality parted ways.

There was no Bunker, no Starscream, and no band of traitorous Seekers. Just a familiar, all encompassing presence given shape by the power afforded by Vector Sigma. Despite her lack of spirituality, she knew she was communing with the Allspark, even if her own spark was still living free. It's consciousness felt like the sky; an unending blanket that surrounded her without stifling her. It spoke in whispers that weren't really words, as well as pictures that looked like dreams and emotions more intense than anything she'd ever felt. It was a difficult language to truly understand, but the meaning it was conveying was clear enough.

The Allspark offered its sympathy, its endless being aching at the thought of even one of its children suffering as she had, but it also had a proposal. She struggled to follow along as it tried to explain the scale of its vision, her single spark unable to comprehend the vastness of what she was seeing, and her processor began to ache under the strain. The Allspark slowed down, showing her flashes of their race before the war and the many billions of bots living in peace. Then came the fire of conflict, and suddenly a wave of sparks cried out in agony as their lives were cut short, their pain so intense through the memories that her own spark seared in shared pain. She saw their numbers dwindle to the precious few alive today, and for the first time felt the silence left by the fallen. Still separate from the world in real time, she felt hot tears of loss for her people, suddenly truly aware of how great a toll the war had taken on her kind.

"I didn't know..." She said without speaking, feeling woefully unprepared to face the pain of a near God. Everything leading up to this moment felt inconsequential now. What did her suffering matter in the face of billions? How could any war she'd taken part in be worth this much death? The Allspark offered comfort. Her trials were worth everything in its optics, just as all of its children and their lives were never without value. But it had a truly pressing concern to share. There was a limit to its abilities, and those limits were becoming more restrictive with age... It had once crafted the first wave of Cybertronians, building each one with love and care and gifting all with unique personalities and thoughts so they could go forth and build their world. But that effort had drained it considerably, and in the face of how little remained-

"You can't replace what we lost." She finished, suddenly awash in hopelessness. The Allspark had been their last chance to save the planet and replenish their numbers, and they had been chasing it for millions of years. To suddenly find out that hope was unfounded, in addition to everything else, was almost to much for her hardened spark. Comfort came to her again, as well as regret that the burden had to be shared with her. It had tried to share it before, she realized, with Starscream, but his arrogance had twisted its goal. It wanted the fighting to end, for the remaining few to come together and rebuild, and share in the joy of creation in the face of what had once been destruction... But he'd seen only his chance to seize glory and rewrite the future in his image. It was far from what it had hoped.

"Then what do I do? Why talk to me, just to say everything is hopeless?" She demanded, far from the wonder she'd felt when it had first reached out to her. There was an apology, but then an assurance. All was certainly not lost, and it wouldn't have put forth the effort to commune if it didn't believe it could help. There was little it could do to help her escape at present, as Vector Sigma bound it as much as it revitalized it, but it could see dimly into the future, and it had a plan. If she attempted to resist Starscream and fled, it saw only her return to its fold. A fancy way of saying death, she realized. But if she went with his plan, it could work with her, and help guide her to freedom... But it had to confess, its guidance was not without bias. It wanted her to live a long life, free of oppression and bloodshed, but that the path leading to what it hoped would be such a fate also involved her carrying was... not to its disliking.

She was smart enough to understand, as vague and distant as the Allspark tried to be. It was on her side and wanted to avoid anyone dying, but if it also got a sparkling out of the deal if she played along with Starscream... Well, that was a plus it couldn't be blind to. And crazy as it sounded, she understood where it was coming from, thanks in part to its very convincing show. It had been doing nothing but taking in sparks from the fallen for millions of years, to allow a single one to finally enter the cycle of rebirth in the form of a new being was... everything, to the Allspark. But she wasn't yet convinced.

"So I don't have a choice then? Have a sparkling with Starscream, against my will, or die?" She spat, suddenly aware that the ache in her spark was more hopeless than angry. She knew she wasn't venting her anger to the appropriate source. But it was all she had. Eventually this connection would pass, and she'd return to the hell of her current predicament. What good did it do to pretend she was okay with it, just to appease a helpless god?

She was enshrouded in an embrace of love and support, the Allspark wrapping her in its consciousness to comfort her. It felt every bit of her woe, and it shared in her desire for freedom. There was always a choice, it assured, even if it couldn't guarantee her fate. It wouldn't force her to do anything, as Primus had promised, they would always have free will. But its gaze into the future, foggy though it may have been, warned of danger unless the more difficult path was chosen. It would come down to her whether she wished to chance fate or not, and at the end of it all, it would be waiting for her with open arms regardless.

"I guess it's my call, then." She said, finding more comfort in that than anything else. It wasn't a good choice, but it was hers, and she could own it. She already knew what she would do, and the certainty seemed to satisfy the Allspark, it's great consciousness giving her one final embrace before it began to withdraw from her mind. It would be with her as much as it could for the coming trials, even if only in presence, and that was enough for her. After all, she'd certainly survived worse, and she'd be damned if some former Decepticon toadie was going to break her.

Reality came back a little more unpleasantly than she was expecting. Her body was exhausted and shaking on its knees, and she found herself taking in deep vents of stale bunker air to cool her insides. A few tears were dotting her cheeks, and she rubbed them away with a hand that trembled from the effort. She looked around to see she was back exactly where she'd left, with only a few moments of difference despite what had felt like hours in her mind. No one knew what she had seen, or what she'd learned, and judging by the looks of shock on the gathered faces, they hadn't expected what had happened either. How the tables had turned, finally she was the only one not in the dark...

Starscream kneeled before her, putting a hand beneath her chin and tilting her face to look at him. He was just as arrogant and overpowered as before, but somehow she was far less afraid of him now, knowing how his bloated ego had led him to misinterpret the Allspark and it's wishes. It was something she'd easily be able to manipulate.

"Now do you accept?" He asked, theatrical smirk of confidence and all. He was certain she'd seen what he had in her conference, and had come to the conclusion that he was the savior of their race, destined to save them through the conception of a new generation, just as he had. As always, his arrogance was blinding. But she'd long since learned how to play that to her favor. There were indeed two options before her; a choice, all hers to make. She could use his self assurance to gain the element of surprise, and make her escape, if she wanted to chance the warning she'd been given. Or she could play along. The fact that it would involve being sparked, becoming a carrier, and everything that went with it was... not ideal, certainly, but something she knew she could handle. The Allspark had definitely helped make the scale of things easier to understand; enough so that even fragging Starscream was doable. So long as she had a choice, she could overcome anything.

With as much confidence as a bot could have in her situation, she made her decision. Closing her optics, she took a deep, steadying vent, and spoke.

"I do."