"So, uh," Smokescreen said, staring at the screen. "I kind of hit a thing and colored lights popped up? Tell me this is some super ultra-secret schematic for energon deposits or something awesome like that."
"Here, let me see." Arcee moved in front of him and peered at this screen long enough that Smokescreen's enthusiasm wilted. Okay, it probably wasn't super ultra-secret energon deposit stuff. But it had been a nice thought. "Oh, Primus," Arcee breathed. "Bee! Bee, get over here right now!"
"What? What?" Bumblebee dashed into the room a few moments later, optics wide and whirring as he focused on the screen.
"Surprise?" Smokescreen said hopefully.
Bumblebee's optics refocused on him, then on Arcee. "Is that—"
"Hot spot energy readings," Arcee confirmed. "Ratchet's going to want to see this." She turned to look up at Smokescreen. "I don't suppose you know how to zoom in. We're going to need specifics."
"Nnno?" Smokescreen reached for the console. "But I can try hitting random buttons again. That worked last time."
"Don't touch that!" Arcee and Bumblebee snapped in unison, like the grumpiest split-sparks ever.
"Okay, okay, jeez. I'm not touching anything." Smokescreen held his hands up and backed away from the console for good measure. They acted really touchy, these days, like they were still fighting Decepticons instead of struggling to help Cybertron get ready to support… way more people than were still alive, probably. What a morbid thought. Smokescreen promptly un-thought it.
Arcee, disregarding her own orders, because of course, started tapping at the console at random. Smokescreen sighed and tried not to fidget. A warrior was cool, aloof, patient…
"Aren't you going to comm Ratchet?" he asked before he could stop himself.
Bumblebee's doors drooped. "I don't want to get his hopes up," he said.
"Sooo… should I get Knock Out instead?"
"Knock Out? Why…?" Bumblebee looked confused instead of grateful. Another miss.
"Well, since you're looking for medics and all…" Smokescreen shrugged. "He's not a soldier, so maybe he's more used to data… stuff? And he was on the Nemesis for way longer than we've been. You know, 'Con and all. He's got to have some insider knowledge."
"I'm pretty sure that Soundwave was the one in charge of information, not Knock Out," Arcee said, her voice dry. "And he's gone off to who knows where instead of helping us."
"Okay, that one was definitely not my fault," Smokescreen said firmly before either of them could start lecturing him. "First of all, I had no way of knowing he was there. Second of all, I barely escaped with my life! He's really deadly for a Communications Chief."
Arcee and Bumblebee stared at him for a moment in a really unnerving way. He couldn't tell if they looked impressed or disappointed. Fortunately, before either of them could say anything to cut Smokescreen down or something— he loved working with Arcee, really he did, but she had this talent for making teammate egos crumble into rust— the console pinged, and text appeared over what Smokescreen assumed were the hot spots.
"Bee?" Arcee's voice had a strange quality to it. "Isn't that… Zeta Prime?"
"If it is, we're going to have a lot more resistance from the 'Cons," Bumblebee said in an almost-too-quiet voice.
Smokescreen tried to see where she was pointing, but her claws and Bumblebee's doors blocked the way. Instead, he looked off to the side, at the smallest list. And… "Whoa. Um. Guys? Not to bust up the Zeta Prime party, but wasn't Orion Pax what they used to call Optimus Prime?"
The bridge went deathly silent except for the whirring of optic hardware.
After what he judged to be an appropriate amount of time for his teammates to absorb the information, Smokescreen shifted. "So… I'm right, aren't I? I'm calling Ratchet."
"No, wait," Arcee said. "It looks like that one's malfunctioning. See? It has guardians registered." She pointed at the name. "But everyone who's arrived on Cybertron is accounted for in the system, and they'd have— oh, scrap."
Smokescreen peered at the names and felt a shock like lightning go through his entire body. "Megatron and Soundwave," he said. "I don't think that's a system failure."
"Scrap, scrap, scrap," Arcee chanted, her fingers flying over the console. "Remote groundbridge access, come on… Ultra Magnus, sir, we have a serious problem."
"No, wait," Bumblebee said. "I thought Megatron disbanded the Decepticons."
"He's lied before." A groundbridge spun into existence. "Ultra Magnus, we just found Orion Pax's hot spot location, but there's a problem: Megatron's already there. And he's not a newspark. No, I— there's a groundbridge. We're going on ahead. You can come later with reinforcements—"
The heavy clang of metal on metal from a frame much larger than anyone currently onboard interrupted her. "Scraaaaaap," Smokescreen whispered as he stared up at Megatron.
Groundbridges worked both ways.
"Relax," Megatron said, sounding irritated. "I'm not here to subjugate you."
That? Was not reassuring. What was reassuring was how fast Bumblebee and Arcee had their weapons out and trained on Megatron's face. The fact that there was an evil warlord standing there and looking cranky? Nope. Then again, Unicron's face always looked cranky. Maybe Megatron was actually happy?
…Huh. Smokescreen tilted his head a little to try to change the angle of Megatron's face as the tense silence stretched out. No, probably not. He was probably only happy when he was being an evil overgrown scraplet.
Evil overgrown scraplet. Heh. He chuckled.
Megatron's gaze narrowed on him, then flickered to the Nemesis' display. "Ah, yes. We thought that might be it," he said. "As you can see, Orion Pax remains unharmed, as do all the other Autobot newsparks."
"Yeah," Arcee said. "I'm really inclined to trust you after how many times you tried to kill Optimus."
"That is not Optimus Prime."
"And," Bumblebee added, his tone hard, "after seeing what you did to Orion."
"What did he do to Orion?" Smokescreen asked, because what?
"He tried to make him into a Decepticon," Arcee growled.
Megatron's optics locked on Bumblebee instead. "And you killed me," he said. "We all have our histories." There was something weird in his tone that Smokescreen didn't remember hearing before. "But that's beside the point. The Decepticons are finished—"
"Yeah, tell that to Starscream," Arcee muttered. "Why can't either of you stay offline for good?"
Megatron snarled. "The Decepticons are finished. If you would rather not have two former gladiators protecting your precious newsparks from the Predacons, by all means, attempt to extinguish us. I would relish the challenge."
A seed of an idea formed in Smokescreen's head, and he sent a brief wordless ping of apology to Bumblebee and Arcee before making a break for the still-open groundbridge. He could hear yelling behind him— he hoped at least some of it was directed at Megatron and not him— but he ignored it in favor of rolling forward and firing on Soundwave as soon as he had a visual.
Soundwave didn't even have the good manners to look bothered. Instead, he tilted his head towards Smokescreen as a bulky red bot flinched and reflexively shifted his hands to guns.
"Guys," Smokescreen said into his comms, "uh, I don't know what lies he's telling you, but there's more than just Soundwave here," he said.
Soundwave turned towards the red bot and pointed at Smokescreen.
"Scrap," sighed the red bot. He uncurled to display a golden Minicon charger with a red Autobot sigil. "Sorry, I know I was supposed to report in beforehand, but—"
"Autobot Blaster, reporting for duty!" Soundwave said in the red bot's voice with recording overlays. Great. Why did Soundwave have to be so creepy? Also, couldn't he at least pretend to feel threatened? Smokescreen had managed to hold off two Predacons at once.
"Yeah, yeah," apparently-Blaster said. "I'm coming back as soon as they give me the once-over, you hear? If anything happens to my partners in the meantime…"
"I'll rip your spark out!" Soundwave's recording of Blaster said. "I don't care if you're Megatron or Unicron himself. I'll kill you!"
Blaster made an embarrassed, staticky sound. "Yeah, that."
"Uh," Smokescreen said, not daring to lower his weapons as he watched this bizarre interplay. "You do realize he's not actually speaking to you, right?"
But now that he wasn't focused on the immediacy of the fight, he noticed that Blaster and Soundwave were both really banged up. Megatron had been, too, now that he thought about it, and he was pretty sure some of those char and claw marks had been made after the whole Predaterrorcon fiasco. Blaster didn't have claws, so those marks couldn't all be from him— assuming he wasn't some sort of Decepticon plant, which Smokescreen wouldn't put past them— but wouldn't it be nice if he'd been the one to give Megatron that black mark right over his spark chamber?
"Hey," Blaster said to Smokescreen with a small smile. "Nice to meet another Autobot. It's… been a while, for me. I'm Blaster. That bridge lead back to a place I could clean up and report in?"
"Yeah, but it also kind of leads back to Megatron right now," Smokescreen said. "Are you sure?"
"If Megatron wanted to kill me, he would have done it when I attacked him," Blaster said with a bit of self-deprecation. "I wasn't exactly thinking straight at the time. Those are my partners over there." He waved at a cluster of newsparks that looked kind of small, but otherwise exactly the same.
Smokescreen considered this briefly, then eyed Soundwave, who was busy being a silent creeper and not even looking at them anymore. What a jerk. "Yeah, okay. And what do we do with Soundwave? Arrest him?"
"Leave him," Balster said, his voice turning grim. "We don't think the Predacon who found us was with this Predaking person, but if he was, they know where we are. I don't care about factions right now. I care about protecting my partners until they've gotten their plating back."
Soundwave turned to him and displayed… something, some sort of locational thing that Blaster seemed to understand and be reassured by, if the smile was anything to go by.
Something about this just didn't add up to a complete picture for Smokescreen, but he muttered a quick, "Got it," and turned back to the groundbridge just in time to nearly walk into Megatron.
Megatron didn't even look at him; his gaze fixed on Soundwave, and— okay, that was what it looked like when Megatron-or-Unicron smiled. Creepy. "The Autobots have been persuaded to listen to reason," he said, "though Blaster may have to spend some time persuading them that we do not eat newsparks for breakfast."
"Yeah, I kind of figured that was my job," Blaster said. "As long as you're not expecting glowing reviews."
Megatron still hadn't looked at anyone but Soundwave, but he waved an arm dismissively before walking over towards his Communications Chief. "How are the repairs to the growth facility coming?" he asked in a quieter voice clearly only intended for Soundwave's ears.
"Hello? I'm still here," Smokescreen said, but Blaster rolled his optics and shooed him towards the bridge.
"It's fine," Blaster said. "They're not experts or anything, but they managed to fix the energon refiner, so I don't think they're going to do anything too dastardly to the growth facility or the newsparks." When Smokescreen didn't move, Blaster added, "Look, Soundwave's partners are there, too, okay? They really aren't going to eat anyone. They had plenty of time before I showed up, and… they didn't extinguish me, either." He spread his arms. "I attacked them, and they still let me live. I don't think they want a fight."
It kind of stung to be ignored so thoroughly by Megatron and Soundwave— like he wasn't even a threat!— but, yeah, okay. Smokescreen really wanted to know what was going on here, and Blaster seemed like he might have some answers. Or possibly a processor-altering virus that would need to be purged in a really unpleasant way. Smokescreen cast one look back towards where Soundwave had his visor tilted up at Megatron over a delicate piece of machinery, then turned back to go through the groundbridge once more, Blaster at his heels.