Optimus stares out of the porthole while I absorb his last revelation. Does he understand that he's forcing me to choose between the future of our race and my beloved? He must. "You are not dragging Alpha to Cybertron without going through me," I say flatly. "If you decide to ignore me, I promise you that no drone on this planet will ever trust you, and it will take several generations before the humans do. "
He moves, putting his hands on the desk and leaning over it to glare at me. "I am not Sentinel, who sees organics a resources and nothing else, "he reminds me sharply. "The humans might be organics and the drones organic hybrids, but they are sentient beings and will be treated as such. "
He's changed. There's a new confidence in him. "Then what do you intend to do? Drone can't survive space, and Sam Witwicky has been a host far too long to survive as much as an hour outside a drone shell or a rebirth tank. At best. " I remember the last time I saw the shriveled human form. It wasn't a pretty sight.
"I believe that should Sam die, the All-Spark will move elsewhere, and there is no way to know where," Optimus agrees. "One of us found Shockwave's research." I snarl at the mention of Shockwave. "I know, but as a scientist he had few equals, even if I don't agree with his methods. Starscream looked over the information and said it looked good, but he's not willing to leave Vos or his winglets at this time."
"Winglets?" I ask, and to my surprise I feel a pang of jealousy. "If there are only ten sparklings-" I stopped. Wait. Before he disappeared, Starscream visited the hatchlings. When the last of them died, he and all the mechs on guard duty that time left to search space for others of our kind. "How did he manage to get any of the hatchlings past me?"
"He ran into Cosmos in space and sparred with him for a time," Optimus admits. "Some time later he appeared and surrendered, begging for help for the hatchlings. Two were seekerlings. The Cube healed them. We're so desperate for sparklings that he was greeted as something of a hero." He sends out a projection, and I see Starscream with the two seekerlings at his pedes. I've never seen him so happy. The sight tears my spark. Healthy hatchlings, when I thought they all died? I can't even hate him for tricking all of us.
"I see," I say. Have I ever had so many conflicting feelings? How can I count on even my loyal Decepticons if they have the chance of sparklings to raise in a rebuilt Cybertron? "Drones don't live that long. Let him come to the end of his lifespan. " Is it too much to ask for one drone lifetime to live with Alpha in peace?
"I can't," he says simply. "Come to Cybertron and you will understand. Our homeland is alive again. "He leans forward. "You know Sentinel. You know his stance."
"Better than you. You do know he intended to betray you?"
He hisses, and I see that Sentinel's pragmatism found no sympathy in his optics. "He almost killed Ironhide to preserve his hold on the space bridge," Optimus says, with rage in his voice. "No one trusts him, but we are desperate, brother. We need to renew this pitiful population as well as rebuild our world. The means are here, both in Alpha and in the humans here. If we do not manage to work together, too many will listen to him. "
I consider my options. I can stall and start fighting as soon as I get back. But where would that get me? The Autobots took all my space bases as I fought. Optimus could lift this ship, sit back, and destroy most of this planet from orbit. He's got the upper hand, and he knows it. My only chance of controlling how the Autobots deal with Earth lies in the mech in front of me. He waits, not pressing me. "I do not leave Earth until Alpha can. We use every means to help him survive space and this transfer of the All-Spark. And if Alpha dies, I get the next healthy sparkling. " If I have to lose my beloved, I need someone else to care for.
"Agreed," he says immediately. Then he gets a com. "Before another battle breaks out, we need to reassure your people that you're still alive. " I wonder who his spy is. We manage to contact my council, show them I am alive and not a prisoner, and I record an announcement for the news services.
Walking back from that comparatively simple task, we meet Ultra Magnus. "I've talked to Alpha," he says without preamble. "We've come to some interesting conclusions."
Optimus looks at me. I shrug, though I feel a little wary of dealing with both of them with no weapons at my disposal. If Optimus wants to avoid a serious war, he needs me and we both know it. He leads us to a large conference room. Ultra Magnus comes in and sits. I'm surprised at his attitude; he's not as hostile as he was earlier, and I wonder why. He relays the discussion with Alpha and Ironhide. When he finishes, all of us are silent for a time, absorbing just how close we came to the total destruction the Fallen desired. "He played all of us," Ultra Magnus concludes. "We got lucky."
"Incredibly," I agree, shaken.
He hesitates. "That drone of yours," he starts, and stops to think. "He's got me questioning everything we came here for. He keeps asking why we came, suspicious little brat, and he's pushing about the Matrix. He asked outright if we intended to use it for its original purpose. I thought Ironhide would hit him."
I groan. "Not good," I inform them. "If he gets the faintest notion that any Cybertronian might use the Sun Destroyer, he'll turn the drones against us." I remember the Four rebellion. The idea of all the drones turning on us worries me deeply.
"Him?" Ultra Magnus asks with some surprise. He's remembering the scene in the medbay. He didn't see Alpha fight or challenge Optimus in the desert.
I snort. "Alpha's either led or triggered every serious rebellion on this planet, enough that drones and humans equate his name with them. If they think this planet is in danger, they'll follow him. "
"But-" he starts and stops when Optimus nods, agreeing with me.
I wave my hand impatiently. "Yes, he's my lover. But his people and his world come before me and always have," I say sourly. I look at Optimus. "If you think that campaign to improve the Four's situation was totally to keep 71 happy, think again. I knew 71 was Alpha the moment I saw him, and that without some kind of prevention, there was a rebellion waiting to happen. That applies to all of the original five drones. "
"I thought there's over a million drones?" Ultra Magnus asks, puzzled.
"The humans hosts of the first five drones still live, recycled several times. " I look to Optimus for confirmation, but he hesitates. "You do know something about the Original Five, right?"
"Only that they always rebel with Alpha." He looks embarrassed. "We assumed that the stories about Alpha and the Original Five were legends that rebels use to gain support, until I heard 95 talk about 71 becoming Alpha. 30 said absolutely nothing about being anything but a Commander."
I process that. "Did you bother to discover who the original five drones were?"
"Yes, "he says, "but we believed them legends, not fact. I know Alpha is Sam Witwicky and 30 is Delta, Will Lennox. Who are the others?"
"95 is Epsilon, human host Robert Epps. The others are 47, Mikaela Banes, and 35, Miles Lancaster. He was Sam Witwicky's best friend. All of them tried to rescue Alpha, so I made them into drones as well. They made wonderful servants, all of them, hard-working and loyal. Until they recalled. "
"Have the other recalled?" He does know how important a recall is for any drone.
"Alpha was the last for this recycle. I pulled them into the committee to work for me this time, not against me. You saw how effective they were. In fact, whatever you propose to do, I recommend that you include them all. " Then I brace myself. "You said you learned that I did not send the pirates after you. You said you learned I've changed, and this world has changed. You told Alpha you offered choices. What are they?"
"I will not allow this Sun to be harvested," he said flatly. "Not while there is a thriving native population at an elevated level of technology. "
Ultra Magnus agrees, if a little reluctantly. "But since Decepticons rule now, what about colony status until they can manage self-rule? Those drones could really make a difference in the rebuilding." We fill him in on the problem with the drones going to space. "But how will we get Alpha to the Cube?" he asks, dismayed.
"You don't until the science bots find a way," I tell him bluntly.
In the next moment he's on his feet. "You dare sit there and tell me-" I start to rise myself.
"Sit down!" Optimus's voice crackles with authority. We both sit, glaring at each other. "Magnus, this is already worked out. I intend to bring Perceptor and Wheeljack to work on the problem. In the meantime, Alpha will stay here as the drone liaison."
"What!" Now I am on my feet. "You expect me to agree to that?"
"It is not open to negotiation." Both he and Ultra Magnus are on their feet as well. "I am the Prime and I protect the All-Spark. He holds part of it. He will remain under my optic and protection until such time as I can safely take him to Cybertron."
"I can protect Alpha and he is mine! You saw that, you know what he is to me. How would you feel if this was 30?" I stop, hearing the pleading in my voice and hating it.
"He can't cause problems for us if he's here under our optics," Ultra Magnus points out.
At my growl, Optimus holds up a hand. "Megatron, with you he's endangered by both your own Decepticons and the overzealous and ignorant of my Autobots. Here, under my protection, he is much safer, and we can assure him that his Sun and his world are not in danger. I swear to you on the All-Spark that you can come and see him as often as you want. "He sits, and gestures Ultra Magnus down.
I glare at him, but I lower myself as well. I don't like this, not at all, but he's right. "Alpha won't like it."
"No, but he will accept it. He is the best choice for your liaison on this ship. Alpha knows how your world and government work as well as you do. Here, he will work for the best interest of his people. Correct?"
"And his presence here assures that I won't do anything against you, doesn't it?" I hiss.
He gives me a level look. He knows who has the upper hand here. "You can visit as often as you see the need," he stresses. "What is more, until we know that we can take him to Cybertron safely, I want him to know nothing of his situation. " That, I agree with. "Now, among your Decepticons, which are most likely to volunteer to return with us?"
We agree that the 'pirates' will go back to Cybertron as forced labor with more restrictions than I put on the rebelling Fours. I will call for volunteers and allow the Autobots to select the first rotation. They release my own restrictions, including my weapons, and Optimus walks me to a hatch. On the way I try again. "You're being far too overprotective of Alpha. 71 was not any kind of fighter. Alpha can take care of himself."
"He is still the best choice for liaison. You know he's capable of the job, and his presence here will make my people less difficult to deal with. "
"Yes, but you assume too much. He's going to think he's a hostage. "
"It's necessary. We will take good care of him, and he will have full access to all communications."
We talk a while longer, until we reach the hatch. Optimus is annoyed because Alpha got away from Ironhide. I wonder what took him so long, when he calls to me. He's covered with dust, and he slides past Optimus to get to me. I hug him and let Optimus pull him away, charging the Prime with his safety. His stricken face haunts me as I fly back to base.
I call the Council as soon as I land at base and get their accounts. Then I detail everything I discovered. "The Fallen played all of us," I finished, grim. "He intended to destroy the Sun, killing all of us, including the Autobots' army, then take the survivors and wake Unicron." From their reactions, either they knew as little as I did or their acting skills are excellent. Most of them look unhappy. I don't blame them. Yes, we escaped death and the total destruction of the ground beneath our feet. Yes, the Autobots are not attacking in force and taking us back to Cybertron as war prisoners. Yes, our homeworld lives, and the hope of rebuilding exists. But we intended to rule that world, direct that rebuilding. Now we find that the Autobots got there first, and the world we ruled yesterday is ours no longer. If we bother to look out of any window, we see that fact confirmed. "I want volunteers for first rotation. I need some of the Constructicons to go to assess the possibility of rotating humans to Cybertron for factory work."
"Why not bring the materials here?" Dead End asks.
"Because they have the drone factories and materials there, and think reworking them for the humans is easier than building factories here," I say. "Or that seems to be the plan. Part of the assignment is to assess the feasibility of that idea." I run my optics over them. "All of us will rotate to Cybertron on one time or another," I add. "If you chose to stay, you can, or you can rotate back here."
"When our people leave, who is going to take their places?" Scrapper asks. The management positions are all Cybertronian, and we expect most of the volunteers to come from middle management. "Autobots? Most of them have no idea what humans and drones are, much less how to deal with them!"
"Until the scientists look at Shockwave's research and get it working, the drones will take up the slack during the rotations. So look at the drones in your sections and make sure they can keep things running."
"If we promote drones, we need to make more to fill in the vacant positions and we don't have the shells to make that many more drones," Long Haul says.
"And I slowed down preparations due to not needing as many Fours," Scavenger complains.
"The Prime insists that until they find a way for humans to retain their memories after rebirth, the production of drones is to stop."
That starts a chorus of disbelief. Long Haul speaks for the rest when he says, "Idealistic fool. That's asking for trouble. Remember that Trent, Starscream's pet drone?"
We all wince. Trent never recalled because he was the one drone who never forgot who he was. He woke mature, but nothing made up for him being a damned obnoxious imp of Unicron. For some reason Starscream adored him. I tolerated his behavior for two reasons. One, he worked with extreme competence; in the entire time I ruled Earth only Alpha did a better job in administration. Second, he kept Starscream busy and distracted dealing with him.
"The traitors who worked with the Fallen are heading for Cybertron now, looking forward to hard labor in the rebuilding," I advise Long Arm. "If you want to join them, go right ahead and express that opinion to Optimus Prime anytime you wish." He subsides. "If you're right, the Autobots will find out quickly enough. "
"How do we know we won't end up like the Combaticons even if we cooperate?" Dead End asks. Leave it to the eternal pessimist to ask.
"Starscream is rebuilding Vos and has two winglets." That gets their attention, especially Long Haul. After all, if Starscream, who was my second in command, is in good standing and has a sparkling, why not them? I push back from the table and stand. "I'm sending out the call for volunteers tomorrow. Dismissed."
Back at my office, I see the datapads overflowing 71's old desk and sigh. I call for the committee drones. They appear in the conference room subdued and nervous. "Alpha stayed with the Prime as our liaison," I tell them. Since their faces remain blank, I know this is not news to them. "You've been in contact with Alpha."
"Yes, Lord Megatron." I see 95/Epsilon and 30/Delta tense.
"Tell me what happened after I left." They do. The accounts match the most of the information I already have, including the Prime's. "If you had not sent Prime and Bumblebee, I would be dead right now, and this star gone." I look at Delta. "And if half my Council didn't know Optimus Prime right under their optics, I can't blame you for not knowing him either. Now tell me what you've found out since then."
Relieved, they tell me about the mop-up and the power games during my absence. They save the choicest news for last. "We located two spies, Jazz and Prowl."
"Optimus brought his best. Those two are his former second and third in command," I tell them. "Put a watch on them. Keep a watch out for others. In the meantime, none of you go by your drone designations. From now on you are Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon, and you are my assistants, on the same level that Alpha is."
Watching them, I think it's a good thing they're sitting on chairs or they'd be sitting on the floor in shock. "If you say so, my lord," Gamma manages.
I give them the same information I gave the Council. "While Cybertronians rotate in and out, the drones have to carry on until such time as the research on bringing drones to space. I will not leave Earth until I can bring Alpha with me." They nod, understanding this attitude at least.
"Beta, you and Delta go through that mess on 71's desk and use your judgment on what needs my attention and what does not. " They head out. I give Epsilon and Gamma orders, and head for my office. There, I sit at my desk, look at the two drones that are not Alpha, and take a moment to worry before I bury myself in work.
From what I can tell in contacts between Alpha, Optimus, and I, Alpha's doing the same. Within the first few days, he puts together an information hologram to introduce new Autobots to Earth. He tweeked it in a few places at the suggestion of the other drones, but they all thought it covered everything. "He said he made it in self-defence," Beta tells me as I watch it. "It's based on what he has to tell the Autobots all the time."
When I return to Fort Maximus, Alpha and Optimus wait for me. Alpha slams into my arms about two seconds after I come inside. Optimus leads us to a private chamber and says, "I'll see you tomorrow."
Alpha holds on to me with all he's worth. "I was so afraid they wouldn't let me see you," he whispers, and his vocalizer crackles with static. I discover a few cubes of high-grade and bless my brother for his thoughtfulness. After the second cube, Alpha's tension eases, and I apply the other half of my relaxation routine. We both feel much better afterward. "Optimus promised I could see you as often as I wanted," I remind him, as we lay on the berth with him pressed against my side. "Didn't he tell you the same?"
"It wasn't Prime," he says, his vocalizer sounding a bit muffled because his face is against my chestplates. "It's the others."
"Are they threatening you?" I resolve to have words with Optimus when I can move again. Right now I don't think I have the energy. Alpha mumbles something, and I shift to hear him better.
"No," he says more clearly. "It's-they don't ever leave me alone, not since that time I got away from Ironhide. The first few days it was really bad, until I put that hologram together and got with Optimus to send it around. He spoke to Ironhide. After that, they got a promise from me that I wouldn't try to go outside without approval and escort, and let me have the run of the ship. At the same time, it doesn't seem to matter where I go, there's someone watching me. I have to go into my room and lock the door to get any kind of privacy, and I'm pretty sure they have some kind of monitor in there."
I ache to tell him why, but I know why Optimus wants him not to know. Why worry him more? He's stressed enough worrying about his world. "Do they give you a hard time about this?" I tap his Decepticon mark.
He considers how to answer. "Not really," he says. "It's more like, don't you think you're more like us, that kind of thing." He runs his hands over me, not so much for interfacing, but to assure himself I'm here. "They keep talking about how I'd like Cybertron, and about the rebuilding there." I stroke him, not for arousal but for comfort, and we slide into recharge.
Work swamps us as soon as we emerge from the room, and I see that Alpha does exactly what Optimus predicted he would. As soon as Optimus opens the meeting, my once-shy little Four stands up and says, "Has everyone in this meeting seen my introductory holovid? If you haven't, leave the room and see it so you won't ask a lot of questions I've already answered too many times." He looks around the table, taking in nods and murmurs of compliance. Many of the mech glance at Optimus, obviously waiting for him to deal with this upstart, but he sits back and divides his attention between Alpha and the room, allowing my liaison to take over the meeting for now.Alpha's strongly against taking humans to Cybertron. "We never went further than the Moon in space exploration due to heavy life support needs," he points out, and displays a fact sheet on human needs for oxygen, food, water, and other organic needs. "That's going to be expensive to maintain on Cybertron, isn't it?" He points out factories on Earth that we can expand or convert for specific needs.
I like that idea. "Alpha's got a good point. Why don't you bring one of your factory people to see if it's feasible?"
"As long as you send someone to explain what the humans-"
"People of Earth," Alpha counters, with a hard look at Optimus.
"-people of Earth need. We need more than fact sheets, Alpha." There's a chorus of agreement.
"Some of the volunteers are Constructicons, and all of them work with humans," I point out. "Let them figure out the cost of converting your factories for humans while your people tell us the cost of converting our factories here."
Delta comes in with Jetfire to report that the traitors are on their way to Cybertron and carrying the list of the volunteers with their profiles. He and Optimus don't speak to each other. Delta won't look at Optimus. Other than one sad look, Optimus pretends not to notice. At one break, I see why Alpha's uneasy. The two drones leave the room for a time. I see them go and think nothing of it, but within a few moments, I notice Ironhide looking around. "Anyone seen Alpha?" he asks.
"He's with Delta," I tell him, and explain about Delta taking Alpha's position. "They'll be back before we start." He starts toward the door anyway, but someone stops him to ask a question. When Alpha and Delta come back, Ultra Magnus is behind him.
As the meeting resumes, Alpha asks me, "Do you remember seeing those bodies in the wall?"
"Bodies," I echo, wondering if Alpha was working too hard.
"In Petra," he explains, "the buildings were torn up, and one of the torn down walls had a bunch of bodies in them that looked like the Fallen." He looks over to Optimus. "Did anybody else go in the buildings?" When they look at him blankly, he just waves a hand and says, "Just asking."
Two hours after the meeting, an expedition consisting of me, Alpha, Optimus, Jetfire and Ironhide heads for Petra. Delta arranges for transportation to Cairo, where he can get home more easily. Optimus stands by the opening and stills, as though he is listening. "When the Fallen built the Sun Harvester here, he knew there was a sentient, primitive species here," he says in a detached voice. I feel cold run down my back strut. "They stopped him, but he was too strong. So, to ensure that the Sun Harvester was never activated, they formed a tomb with their own bodies to protect the Matrix of Leadership."
"Why didn't they just destroy the Matrix?" Alpha asks, but he never gets an answer.
"I wish to send them back to Cybertron," Optimus declares. "Such sacrifice deserves acknowledgement. "
"Like we don't have enough to do," I grumble. I want out of here. The sight of those six bodies bothers me. I don't know why. Maybe because they look so much like the Fallen.
When I step out, leaving Optimus to commune with his ancient forbearers, Alpha goes with me. "You'll get Epsilon or Delta to deal with it," he predicts, and I decide he has a good idea there.
"Which reminds me. 'People of Earth?' Human-shell drones? Where did that come from?"
He vents. "You remember that holovid I made?" I nod. "They want to believe that the humans are more like domestic animals than sentient beings," he says. "They hear drone, and they think mindless machine." He kicks a nearby rock viciously. "It's taken me five rebellions to get the Deepticons to see humans as people, and now I'm dealing with another Prime who's almost as bad! "
"Sentinel?" I ask, feeling cold. I know how ruthless Sentinel can be when it comes to Cybertron. "I thought the Cube changed him."
"He's not a Prime but he used to be and people listen to him," Alpha informs me. "Especially when he's saying what they want to hear."
"Ah." Sentinel's a master of politics. He's bringing pressure. "In that case, I'll prioritize this." The story of the sacrifice the Primes made to spare a low-tech society of organics might remind the Autobots of their ideals, maybe enough to counteract Sentinel.
" Yeah. Optimus wants to take humans to Earth because he thinks interacting with the humans and drones will kill the rumors."
"You don't agree?"
"No. Any organic going to Cybertron is completely dependent on the mechs to survive. Better to introduce the Cybertronians here to the humans and drones on Earth."
"And how are we supposed to do that?" I ask.
"Use the spies," he tells me, and sends me a list. It's a lot longer than I expected. "Don't ask how I got that. They know Earth, know the drones and the humans. I've already run the list past the others, it's what Delta and I talked about just now. All of them fought for you in the Fallen's war, protecting the humans and Fours."
Optimus comes out. I offer to assist in the transfer, and he accepts. "I'll have Delta contact you," I tell him, and enjoy his wince. "Look, settle up with him one way or another. I don't care if you scream it out or 'face him through the berth, just get it over with. He knows how to get things done."
I leave soon after, giving Alpha a hard hug and a promise to return soon. When I get back to the office, I grab Beta and give him the list. He nods as he looks. "More than we thought," he says. "It's going to be hard to watch all of them. Epsilon's watchers are stretched already."
"No. We're going to reassign them to introduce new Cybertronians to Earth. Bring all of them into one of the hangers for training, and I'll take it from there. Arrange for it in two weeks." Then I contact Hook. He whines at the rush, but he produces what I want in plenty of time. In the meantime, I arrange with Epsilon to clear the area and set up a perimeter. I want this kept quiet, but I need room. A lot of room.Two weeks later, I look over the room full of drones, including P-7769 and G-5299. Hook is sitting to the side with the machine I ordered. The drones are mostly Ones and Twos. There's a medic, several Masters, several more Commanders, and a few other specialties here and there. "As you know, I've reassigned all of you for a new assignment. I'm sure some of you wonder why." I walk beside Hook as I speak. As everyone turns to look at us, he fiddles with the machine.
The room is filled with the sound of transforming, followed by chaos as mechs discover all the doors are locked. I grab Prowl, the closest to me, and hold my cannon against his helm. "Don't anyone move," I warn. "I've got Commander units surrounding this building." When all of them quiet, I retract the cannon and step away from Prowl. "There is a shuttle waiting for you outside. All of you are going to Fort Maximus. I expect all of you to work with Alpha to introduce new Cybertronians to Earth or go back to Cybertron. The shuttle will be reported as destroyed in a crash with the death of all on board. "I turn to Jazz and Prowl. "Tell Optimus that if he wants information, he can ask for it." They argue. They complain. They threaten. But the shuttle leaves with everyone on it.
I send Delta to Petra. "I could use Epsilon," he requests, and I tell them to work it out. When they come back, Epsilon teases Delta constantly about the long personal 'conference' with Optimus. On my next visit, Epsilon comes with me since he's coordinating the introductions with Prowl and Jazz. The first set of volunteers goes out. The next shuttle from Cybertron holds Sentinel.
Two days later Beta rushes into my office. "Sentinel's got Alpha," he says urgently, "and he's gotten the Matrix from Optimus."