Chapter 25: Battle at the Space Bridge
They rode to the Space Bridge in complete silence. Around them the planet was dark and still, restlessly sleeping in the temporary quiet between battles. Not a ray of light from sun or either of the two moons showed in the gray landscape around them. As she sat in Sideswipe's cab, holding tight to Sera next to her, Aria could feel the tense atmosphere growing tighter and tighter around her like a noose as they grew closer to their final destination. The thought of going home still struck a tangled chord within her, but she saw no other way. She couldn't just abandon Sera, especially after what she had just gone through. And she didn't think Sera could stand it here, even among the Autobots. The threat of Shockwave was just too much for her.
Eventually they reached their destination and the group stopped out of sight behind one of the slight rises that marked the end of the neutral territory that surrounded the Space Bridge – the buffer zone between Autobot held Iacon and the much larger Decepticon controlled space – and the beginning of the wastelands that had existed even before the war.
"This is it." Aria thought as she climbed out and looked over at the beam of brilliant light that was their ticket home. "Most likely anyway."
Above her Optimus Prime sent Prowl and Bluestreak to scout out the area ahead of them with a nod and a gesture. Then he looked down at her small figure standing beneath him.
Aria swallowed hard. "I-I guess this is goodbye then Optimus." Aria said, managing to keep her voice level.
But the tall mech just smiled down gently at her. "Not forever Ariah, only until we meet again."
Aria felt her mouth slide up at one corner, a small little ball of peace settling in her stomach despite all of the doubt and unease already there. "Yes." She said, desperately clinging to his firm belief, willing it to be true.
"Now remember Aria," Wheeljack burst in, sounding nervous, "the Space Bridge works at the atomic level so it's pretty much going to take you apart and put you back together again in nanokliks, so when you get back home it might be prudent to find an emergency center, just to make sure. And if they find any low level radiation coming from you, that's normal. It should be gone in a few orbits. And try not to-"
Aria smiled up at the clumsy white and green inventor. "Aw I'm going to miss you too Wheeljack." She cut him off gently. "I'll try and remember all that if you make sure to try and keep yourself in one piece."
Wheeljack nodded. "Alright."
"Make sure to take lots of pictures." Was all Hound told her by way of goodbye before she turned to Ironhide and Chromia to tell them to at least try and be good, "I want to know everything you've been doing when we finally catch up to you again."
On her other side Sera was saying her goodbyes as well, except she didn't bother to hide her tears as she wrapped her thin arms around as much of Sideswipe as she could. She sniffed as she stepped away. "I'm gonna miss you Sides'." She told him weepily.
"I know," Sideswipe said, missing his usual upbeat attitude, "I'm gonna miss you too Softie. You just make sure to take care of yourself once you get back. And if any of your organic mechs start getting out of hand you just remember to write their names down and I'll sort them out for you later."
Sera laughed weakly as she wiped her tears away. "I'll do that." She promised before timidly turning to Sunstreaker standing next to his brother.
"Goodbye Sunny," Sera said hesitantly, not sure if she should say anything at all.
Sunstreaker gave her a sideways glare, but didn't say anything about the name. "Just don't get shot." He grumbled.
Sera took it as Sunstreaker speak for 'good luck' and managed to smile at him. "I'll try."
Prowl and Bluestreak reappeared then, cutting off the girls' goodbyes to the mechs that had been their friends for longer then they could think to count.
"Make sure to tell everyone else I said good bye and I'll miss them." Aria whispered up at Optimus once Prowl had given him the all clear.
"Alright," Optimus nodded, then looked up, his mind turning to what he felt sure would be a coming battle. The Decepticons were not that easily fooled after all. "The goal is to get them to the Space Bridge and get out as fast as possible. No drawn out fighting if it can be helped."
The other bots nodded sharply.
"And Ariah," Optimus looked down at the little organic, "this is no longer your fight. You just get to the bridge with your sister. We'll take care of the rest."
Aria looked up at him doubtfully, but nodded all the same. "Fine."
With everything settled, the Autobots split up into their two teams, Prowl's providing cover as Optimus and his made a dash for the Space Bridge, Aria and Sera at their center.
They were barely halfway there, square in the middle of the open land surrounding the Space Bridge, when Decepticons appeared and opened fire. Next to her, Sera screamed as the first shots flew over their heads, striking dirt and armor for the most part, thankfully doing no real damage to the Autobots protection them.
Prowl's detachment returned fire instantly, but the handful of Decepticons Aria saw had taken shelter amid the ruins of the station that had once monitored and controlled the Space Bridge, making them difficult to hit. Off in the distance behind the ruins though, Aria saw the tell tale sign of dust clouds as something – probably lots of somethings – headed their way very, very fast.
"More incoming!" Ironhide suddenly shouted.
"And how," Aria found herself thinking as what looked like a wave of Decepticon alt-modes suddenly spilled in ordered ranks over the far ridgeline, all brimming with what Aria could only think to call instruments of torture. Fortunately, they had little in the way of long range weaponry, giving the Autobots a slight advantage, at least until the Decepticons got too close and hand to hand combat erupted around the two human girls' heads.
Aria shoved Sera down and covered her gold head with her torso, keeping an arm around Sera's back to at least try and keep her out of danger's way. She chanced a look up to see what was happening around them and felt her mouth drop open at what she saw. It wasn't just a bunch of rank and file Decepticons attacking them now. Megatron himself was there! Grinning madly as he joined the melee, a giant among the other ants.
Aria gave a small shriek and threw Sera and herself to the ground as one of Ironhide's cannon blasts soared directly over them before crashing through an unfortunate Decepticon's chest.
"To the bridge!" The aggressive mech yelled at the girls, "Go!"
Aria didn't bother to nod, just grabbed her sister under the arms and hoisted her up, dragging Sera along behind her as she dashed for the Space Bridge, ducking under rifle slugs and swinging arms or legs as she dashed haphazardly through the all out mêlée. Sera screamed once when one of the smaller Decepticons crashed to the ground in front of them after being thrown by Hound, making her and Aria jerk to a stop, but otherwise she was silent as Aria pulled her to the blinding light that she remembered from their first trip here.
Finally they reached the edge of the Space Bridge.
Just in time for it to fizzle out with a giant 'doom', like an enormous light going out.
"Damn," Aria swore under her breath, panting too hard to shout above the roar surrounding her.
"Aria," Sera used the temporary lull space around them to speak, "Aria are you sure this is safe?" She asked, her voice rising in anxiety. "I mean, how do you know we won't just end up somewhere else? Somewhere worse?" She demanded, looking like she was about to cry.
Aria had wondered that too last night. "I don't know," she told her sister honestly, "but it's the only choice we've got." She pointed out.
The Space Bridge chose that moment to reignite, making both girls shield their eyes from its intense light. They had no more time to think about this; it was now or never. Aria looked over at Sera. Sera's blue-gray eyes flashed between her sister's face and the light beyond her shoulder. Then she nodded quickly.
Aria swallowed hard, her tongue sticking uncomfortably to the roof of her mouth, feeling like it was made of lead. "Let's go then." She murmured.
She ushered Sera over the outer railing first, then followed her across the dead space that surrounded the bright light of the bridge. No bot dared to get this close to the portal, afraid of where it would send them if they accidentally stumbled across its event horizon. Aria was more afraid of where it might not send them.
Her eyes watered more the closer they got. By the time they were standing next to the low base that held the different, glowing pillars, Aria's eyes felt like they were on fire. Maybe that was why she glanced back, or maybe she just couldn't leave without one last look at the place that had been as much a home to her as her parent's house had been. She almost regretted it when she saw the chaos, the terrifying action, that was taking place behind her, especially knowing that it was all for her sake, so she and Sera could get away.
But then something even more terrifying than the fighting caught her eye. A small, speck of yellow standing, terrified, amidst the chaos, turning in circles as if he was looking for something, or maybe a way out of the madness that before he had only heard of.
"Bumblebee!" She screamed.
"But what is he doing here?" She shouted in her head.
Before Aria could register her heart stopping fear, someone else noticed Bumblebee's presence.
The little youngling started to shake in terror when he saw Megatron himself start to approach him.
The unpainted mech approached the youngling with slow, sure steps, as if he knew no one could even hope to stop him. He was grinning with an unholy, savage glee that made Bumblebee shake where he stood, unable to move away.
When he was barely a few yards away, Megatron laughed loud enough to be heard by everyone on the battlefield. "Well Prime, it appears that you are better at keeping secrets then I had given you credit for." He said, but Aria knew that Optimus hadn't heard him. Megatron hadn't meant for him to hear him that time. "Much good that they did this one in the end."
Aria barely understood his harsh words, but she gasped in terror when she did. He was going to kill her Bumblebee!
"I have to help him!" Aria turned toward her sister. "I can't just leave him!" She yelled frantically.
For a moment Sera didn't move, just looked wildly around them, at Bumblebee and Megatron. She knew the mech possibly better then anyone else here. She knew what he was planning, what would happen if he got any closer to that small, yellow bot.
Sera nodded frantically, understanding what Aria meant to do but still terrified at the thought of her older sister jumping into that fray.
Aria's face suddenly crumpled around the edges. "Oh God Sera, I love you more then anything!" Aria yelled over the cacophony as she flung her arms quickly around Sera's shoulders. "And I hope that one day you'll forgive me."
Now Sera felt scared. "For what?" She shouted into Aria's ear.
Aria gathered her courage in a breath. Then she stepped back and shoved the diary that she had just pulled out of her back pocket at her sister. Sera grabbed it instinctively, but it wasn't enough to keep her from falling backwards-
And into the light of the Space Bridge.
"Ari-!" Sera tried to scream, her voice a high pitched slash through the din.
But her voice was abruptly cut off as the Space Bridge swallowed her up.
For the space of a heartbeat, Aria stared at the afterimage of her sister. "I'm sorry Sera," she whispered hoarsely. But Sera couldn't hear her anymore.
So Aria turned around and bolted across the blank space surrounding the bridge, her feet pounding against the hard packed dirt, sending shockwaves up her legs through the balls of her feet.
"Don't let it happen!" She screamed in her head. "Don't let it happen! I can't lose them both!" She begged to anyone that was bothering to listen to her. Through her own volition, she had probably just lost her sister forever so that Sera could be safe; she couldn't lose her di di too.
Not fifteen feet away but drawing closer, Bee stood frozen amongst the debris and whorl of the fighting. Inwardly, he knew he should move, but for some reason all he could do was stand there in horror as the feared Megatron - every one of the Autobot younglings' nightmare turned real - tightened his grip on his still lowered rifle.
Seeing the look of frozen horror on the youngling's face, the nightmarish mech smiled, showing jagged teeth.
A gauntleted fist suddenly collided with Megatron's head, making him reel slightly. Aria was disappointed to see that he looked more shocked then hurt.
"Back off the youngling!" The mech that had hit Megatron yelled, imposing himself between the still Megatron and the shivering Bumblebee.
"Treads!" Bumblebee yelled in relief.
"Just stay right there kid," Treads told Bumblebee over his shoulder, never taking his optics off of Megatron, "and stay behind me."
'Bee nodded and huddled far enough behind Tread's massive legs to give him room to maneuver.
Megatron bared his teeth and growled at Treads. "Get out of my way Autobot. Before your soft spark gets you killed."
Treads had the audacity to laugh, although it was short. "Yeah? Better to have a soft spark then none at all." He shot back.
Megatron stopped wasting his time with words. He rushed forward, cocking his free arm back in a punch that would have socked Treads low in the torso if he hadn't gone to one knee and blocked it with his stronger shoulder.
"You weren't the only one who fought in those pits Megatron." Treads ground out as the two mechs pushed against each other, fighting for the upper hand.
"Perhaps," Megatron answered him, his voice much more level despite the strain on his frame, "but I'm the one that never lost."
His fist appeared from nowhere to smash into the underside of Treads' chin, flinging him up so that his feet left the ground.
Then before anyone even knew what was going on, Megatron pulled up his rifle and fired directly into Treads' chest, obliterating his spark in a great flash of fire.
Treads fell back to the ground with a horrible crunch and then was perfectly still.
"Do you see that impossible youngling?" Megatron asked, pointing at Tread's still frame as he advanced on Bumblebee again. The little youngling was already staring at the body in horror. "Death is easy. Nothing more than a bite of pain and you will be with all the others like you. Well," he shrugged one massive shoulder, "that is what some think. Personally I believe that death is nothingness. But if that is true then you will hardly notice it now will you?"
Bumblebee shook his head automatically, barely managing to tear his optics away from the still frame of a mech that had taken care of him almost as often as Optimus and Aria had, but not in agreement. He didn't want to be swallowed up by nothingness. Being alone was scary. He didn't want to go.
But Megatron wasn't about to give him a choice in the matter.
Megatron stopped while there was still space enough to fire between him and the youngling. Then he raised his monster of a rifle and leveled his sights on the youngling's chest, just over his spark.
"Hold still boy and this will be over quickly." Megatron told him.
"NO!" Aria shrieked, seeing what he was about to do. She tried to run faster, willing the distance between her and 'Bee to vanish, but her feet felt like they were being sucked in by wet sand no matter how fast she pushed herself. "Bumblebee!" She screamed, reaching out to him pleadingly.
Then Megatron fired.
'Bee shut his eyes.
…and crashed into the frozen Bumblebee with enough force to send him toppling to the ground.
She made it split seconds before Megatron's shot ripped through her heart.
Optimus had just finished with a particularly stubborn Decepticon when he heard the noise. A terrible, high pitched cry that cut through his auditory systems and sent a fearful shudder down his back. He turned, searching for the source of such a horrible, spark clenching sound, and saw to his abject horror Megatron aiming his long rifle at a familiar speck of yellow kneeling on the battlefield.
"Bumblebee!" Optimus yelled over the roar of the fight still surrounding him. He didn't have time to wonder what the little youngling was doing here of all places as he rushed forward, smashing aside the unfortunate Decepticons that tried to get between him and his youngling.
But he was too late. There was a tremendous blast as Megatron fired on the little mech and Optimus nearly felt his spark implode with terror.
He saw Bumblebee fall and a wave of fury overtook him. Optimus locked his optics on the still grinning Megatron and with a tremendous roar, launched himself at the other mech, taking him by surprise with his unexpected ferocity.
The two fell in a tangle to the ground, rolling as each tried to gain the upper ground. Optimus rammed his fist into Megatron's head, snapping it back before the Decepticon leader had a chance to get his guard up. But Megatron only laughed, as if he was just as exhilarated getting punched repeatedly in the face as if he was the one doing the punching.
"Is that all you've got for me Prime?" Megatron demanded as he rolled again, pinning Optimus with his weight so he could deliver his own sharp knuckled blows. "I felt worse in the gladiatorial pits!" He goaded.
Optimus growled before delivering a punch so strong that it bodily knocked Megatron back off of him to the ground. He was sick and tired of hearing about those slaggin' pits.
"Is that more to your liking Megatron?" Optimus rumbled as he regained his feet, he and Megatron falling into uneasy circling.
Megatron reached an experimental hand up to his faceplate where Optimus had struck him. "Much Prime," he answered in a low growl as he matched Optimus' steps, "this is how real warriors fight after all. One on one with no distractions."
"And do real warriors also murder innocent younglings in cold blood?" Optimus demanded, his rage beginning to get the best of him again.
Megatron had the audacity to throw back his head and laugh. "Ha! Is that all it takes to get your fluids boiling Prime? A child's death?"
"Yes," Optimus growled.
"And do you think he is the first?" Megatron suddenly snarled. "What about before the war when those unfortunate younglings assigned to castes such as mine? Working in industrial sectors before being scrapped for parts when they were killed by hard labor? Where were you then in your outrage?" He demanded.
Optimus wasn't fooled. Megatron no more cared about the younglings killed before the war then he did about the caste system. It was just another easy argument against the fact that he had been shoved into the lowest levels of society. Optimus distantly wondered if Megatron had been put in a high caste instead, would he still have started this revolution?
He doubted it.
"Tell me Megatron, how many of them did you save from that life by instigating this war?" Optimus asked his own question.
Megatron snarled at him. They rushed together again, Optimus drawing his sword at the last moment and catching Megatron across the side. The other mech shouted in fury at having his fluids drawn first in their fight, then turned his burning optics on Optimus, who had stepped back to get away from too close contact with Megatron.
Megatron drew his own weapon, a blade about half as long as Optimus', but with a serrated edge that would cut deeper with one each successive edge. They clashed together once, twice, three times before Megatron snuck past Optimus' guard and caught him across the back, but it was only a shallow blow. Optimus moved just enough before the blade came down to keep it from severing his spinal column instead.
Optimus knocked Megatron back with an uppercut that caught him square under his pointed chin. He readjusted his two handed grip on his sword as Megatron circled him again, taking stock of his injuries.
"I knew you would be here Prime," Megatron said coolly as they moved, always keeping their opponent squarely in front of them. "Of course you came here. It was a simple matter of deduction. You're not the only one that's spent a lot of time with an organic after all. Where else would you go with them, especially since you're soft enough to try and send them back in the first place?
"But what I do not understand Prime, is the organic itself." Megatron kept on talking, his optics never leaving Optimus' as they warily faced each other, each looking for a way past the other's guard. "Why risk your bots just to rescue some organic creature? Do they accomplish something as a matched set that they cannot do apart?" He asked snidely.
Optimus knew he was only trying to distract him from the battle, but that didn't stop him from answering. "Do you know what your problem is Megatron?" He asked conversationally, although his stance was anything but.
"What?" Megatron drawled.
"You see everything as weapons. Did it never occur to you that she was simply a lost little girl, afraid and alone, wanting nothing more then to go home?"
Megatron swung, but it was not with his full strength. He was simply testing Optimus' defenses. Their blades met in the middle and then fell away.
"You still didn't answer my question Prime. Tell me what is so important about some nameless organic?" He asked again.
Optimus narrowed his optics at his opponent. "Her name is Sera. And you wouldn't understand."
That did it. Megatron growled and leapt forward, swinging his blade straight downward towards Optimus' head. Optimus got his sword up to block it, but he wasn't quick enough to stop Megatron from wrenching away his sword with his own jagged blade and throwing it away from him.
Optimus shouted as Megatron's blade sliced into his side, biting deep. Fortunately he was able to shove the other mech away, Megatron losing his grip on his own blade in the process.
Megatron was the one smiling though, as Optimus carefully drew the serrated blade out of his side.
"Sharp teeth, aren't they?" He asked sarcastically.
Optimus didn't answer, just glared at him and growled as he turned Megatron's sword into a ready position, the needle sharp tip of the blade pointed steadily at Megatron's chest.
Megatron raised an optic ridge at him. "Really Prime? You never struck me as someone to use a mech's own sword against him."
Optimus didn't let that stop him from darting forward and taking a broad swing at Megatron's torso. The Decepticon leapt back, sneaking a fist past Optimus' swing that met the red and blue mech full in the chest.
Optimus rolled with the punch and quickly brought the jagged blade down on Megatron's lower back in a successful swing. Then he drove the sword through Megatron's foot, hit the mech in the first side wound he had inflicted and then rolled away before the mech could retaliate.
Megatron roared with the pain, no longer liking the way this fight was going. He growled low in his chest as he went to one knee and after making sure to get a good grip on the hilt, yanked the rough edged sword out of his foot in one pull.
His spark was flickering in a sure sign of fluid depravation as he turned back to Optimus, who was crouched down several feet away, watching him.
"Very clever Prime." Megatron rasped. "Quite unexpected. Who knew a librarian such as yourself knew how to fight?"
"Who knew a former gladiator could be struck down with his own blade?" Optimus retaliated.
Megatron somehow managed to grimace and glare at the same time. Optimus also noticed that he was surreptitiously watching the battle around them. The tides had changed, Optimus saw, the Autobots slowly gaining the upper hand as Prowl and his sharpshooters picked off the Decepticons from farther back, while the more experienced hand to hand fighters held them off at the front line. If things didn't change soon then the Decepticons would either be forced to retreat or surrender.
Then, strangely enough, Optimus saw Megatron's optics flicker skyward, as if he was looking for something that should have been there already.
"Starscream." Megatron growled furiously.
"The Seekers," Optimus realized. He had noticed their absence earlier, but apparently it was some kind of mistake, or grab for power on Starscream's part. If Megatron died in battle the flyer would find himself in the coveted position of new leader of the Decepticons. A place that everyone, especially Megatron, knew the Seeker commander wanted more then anything.
Optimus just thanked Primus that Starscream was a power hungry glitch that had inadvertently just saved the Autobots' lives.
"Something wrong Megatron?" Optimus asked causally.
Megatron glowered at his counterpart. "Decepticons!" He roared over the lingering sound of battle, "fall back! Enjoy burying your youngling Prime." Megatron shot before transforming into his well shielded, winged alt-mode and racing away up into the atmosphere, well out of range of Autobot weapons.
Optimus watched him go, a heavy weight inside him threatening to swallow his spark and put it out right then and there.
"Bumblebee," he murmured quietly.
Optimus' optics flew wide open. "Impossible," he thought, spinning around all the same.
But impossible or not, Bumblebee was still there, sitting up and fully functional.
"Bumblebee!" Optimus yelled quickly running over to the youngling, thanking Primus in every way he could think of that his youngling was still alive after being shot at by Megatron.
But his relief was short lived.
It was only as he got closer that he saw the limp form Bumblebee held in his arms and the splash of red she had left on his frame.
"Primus," Optimus whispered in sorrow and shock as he took in the scene, "Ariah."
"She won't wake up!" Bumblebee cried hysterically. "She won't wake up Optimus! Why won't jie mei wake up?"
Optimus was unversed in organic physiology, but he thought that Ariah should not have lost that much internal fluid. He also noticed that her pump had stopped, what little there was left of it. Megatron's blast must have shredded half of it at the very least.
Without thinking he reached out a finger and delivered a controlled electric shock into Ariah's chest cavity.
The organic leapt without waking, the jolt shocking her nerves into automatic motion, including the remains of her pump.
"Bumblebee, press down here, hard." Optimus instructed the youngling, placing his hands over the hole in Ariah's chest, showing him what to do. "Now don't let go no matter what, alright?"
Bumblebee nodded, frightened.
"Good, now I'm going to shock Ariah, so you might feel something, like a little zap, but you still mustn't let go of her."
Bumblebee nodded again.
Optimus copied him, then quickly picked 'Bee up and held him close to his chest armor to keep him from banging against his legs. "Prowl! Ariah's hurt. I'm taking her back to Iacon. See to the others." He called out.
Prowl nodded. "We'll see you there." He told him.
Without another word, Optimus began running, feeding electric jolts into Ariah's body at controlled intervals, forcing her internal fluids to move and her lungs to inflate and deflate regularly.
Against his neck, Bumblebee whimpered, but didn't let up from pressing against his sister's chest wound.
"Hold on Ariah," Optimus pleaded as he ran across the land around the Space Bridge, his long legged gait eating up the distance between them and Iacon, "just hold on a little longer. We're almost there."