Chapter 11

I commed the others to tell them what happened. I don't know how coherent I was. Then, when I calm down enough to think, I hear from them. All of them are as worried as I am about our world's future. "One of the first things he told us is that we go by our original names," Beta said, and fills me in on their promotions as his personal assistants. I hunt through the room looking for something to clean my face with, and find a polishing cloth.

"Like I'm the Autobot liaison," I say. "He's keeping you busy and under his optics. Optimus insisted that I stay here, says he knows I can do the job better because of the tension between the Autobots and the Decepticons. "Damp from my face, the cloth works to get at the dust in my joints too.

"If Megatron is staying until you can go with him, he's planning for the drones to go to Cybertron," Epsilon muses. I hear corridor noise around him.

"Giving them a labor force they consider both useful and easy to control," I agree grimly, "if they take the Sun and we have nowhere else to go. "

"There're bringing in two big scientists from the Autobots," Gamma says. I hear someone say something to her about a cube, and her reply is muffled before she adds, "They're picking up on Shockwave's experiments to figure out why drones can't handle space. It's supposed to be priority." There was tension in her voice, remembering Shockwave.

"Megatron's sending both Scrapper and Scavenger to Cybertron to look into reworking drone factories so humans can work there instead," Beta tells me. "Those two are going because he and Optimus agreed not to make any more drones unless they can remember being humans when they rebirth."

"Might not be any more drones then," Beta says, only half joking.

"Look," Epsilon says, dragging the conversation back to the subject, "what I'm saying is that until they find a way to get the drones to space, they're not going to destroy the Sun. They need workers worse than they need energon. That gives us time, right? What we really need is more information on the Sun Harvester."

We sign off on that thought. I throw the dirty cloth on the berth side table and lie down. I don't feel better, but a defined goal at least gives me a different focus. My dream that I could merge with 71 and live one lifetime working with Megatron instead of fighting him died when I realized how much danger my world faces. Time to get over it and do what I have to do. I lie down and the exhaustion from the emotional roller coaster sends me straight into recharge. When I wake, I discover just how pleasant the quarters are. Several blank datapads and a communication module sit on a desk that's close to my size. There's a private washrack with good solvent and the polishing cloths I found earlier. Added to that is a small door behind the desk, a sight that cheers me. I take a quick wash because only a wash gets the dust from the places you can't reach.

I get out just in time to hear the knock on the door. Ironhide tells me, "The Prime wants to see you." I nod, grab one of the blank datapads in case I need it, and follow him to Prime's office. Opimus greets me and brings out two cubes, gesturing for me to take one.

"You said you wanted to talk to Alpha and that you offered choices," I say briskly. "Care to elaborate?"

He hands me a datapad. "Read this first." I take one sip of the energon and settle back to read. Sometime later I put the datapad down. "Something wrong with the energon?" Optimus asks from behind me and I almost come out of the chair.

"No, no, it's fine." Now that he mentions it, my tank informs me of its emptiness, so I pick up the cube and down it. "The strangest part of this," I say as I disperse the cube, "is that the Fallen did you a favor, hiding this from Megatron. "

"I am well aware of how circumstances worked in my favor," Optimus tells me, amused, before he sobers. "But this truce is very fragile, Alpha. Very. I need your help in this tricky transition. As a Four drone, and as a former human who lived in a world free of Cybertronians, your perspective is priceless. "

"Not to mention my usefulness as a hostage," I say dryly. He starts to deny this and I wave his protests away. "I'm going to work for my people first, Megatron second, and you a very distant third. Megatron knows that. It's part of the reason he put all the original drones to work on the Four problem. "

He surprises me. "He told me the same. This is what Megatron and I discussed. "He goes over the choices such as human/drone self-rule or colony status. "I want Megatron on my Council," he admits. "There are too many who listen to Sentinel."

"The Fallen called him Megatron's tame ex-Prime," I say slowly. "He said that you and Sentinel rebuilt the space bridge. He made it sound like you and he worked together, but that's not really true, is it? Sentinel wants Cybertron rebuilt no matter what it takes." The more I think about it, the more I suspect that Megatron wanted to use Sentinel against the Fallen, pitting two powerful Primes against each other.

Optimus vents. "We want the same end result," he admits, "I want humans and drones to help rebuild Cybertron. The drones especially, but there are jobs the humans will do better than either Cybertronians or human-shell drones. "

"As allies or as slaves?" I ask bluntly. "Unless we get something out of it, you might as well enslave us." Megatron's focus changed to Cybertron and how to secure the best situation for him and his Decepticons the moment the Autobots ships appeared in the sky. I'm not sure he'll protect us anymore.

"That is the issue exactly. I want allies, which will serve us much better in the long run even if I ignore the moral issues. We can offer technology adapted for the humans and drones," he says promptly. "Human's aren't the only organic species we've dealt with. We have neutrals and Autobots who like working with organics and have done this kind of adaptation before. "

I consider that and nod. During the Decepticon takeover, humans lost a lot of technology geared to their comfort and well-being. Part of what I fought for in my rebellions included simple rights and comforts such as regular medical care. "That's useful. " Then he goes over what he expects me to do as liaison, which includes educating Autobots on humans and drones. Finally I ask, "What happened to the Matrix? I know you picked it up in the desert, but where is it now?"

"The Matrix can only be handled safely by a Prime," he says. "As I'm the only true Prime left, I keep it safe. " No matter how much I prod, he won't go into any more detail.

When I exit the office, I find Ironhide waiting for me again. "If you'll promise not to go outside without an escort," he bargains, "you have the run of the ship. "

Without some kind of transport, where the hell would I go? Fort Maximus sits in the middle of one of the biggest deserts on Earth. "I'm not big on washing sand out of my joints," I tell him, "so you have a deal."The main difference as far as I can see is that the outside lock on my door got disabled. I never find myself alone except in my quarters. Often bots want to ask questions. Other times, I get suspicious informal followers. At least no one challenges me the way Cliffjumper did once Optimus makes his protection clear.

The first 'informational" meeting provides an education in just how hard my job will be. I hold it in a large conference room, with a selection of mechs from each ship. Some of the questions I can answer easily, like whether or not humans have ever gone to space. Some I can't but I can get the answers easily, like the ones about food and other basic needs. Some of them manage to shock. "One of them," I tell Beta later while I do datawork in my quarters, "wanted to know if human males really needed to have sex once a week to stay healthy. "

"How-Oh, Primus, they've been tapping into the entertainment channels! There's a new comedy show out with a lot of sex humor." He starts laughing.

"And then there's the one who wants to know how often the women go into heat. He assumed they do since humans are mammals and most mammals do. "

That stopped his laughter. "Tell me you chewed him out."

"I didn't have to. Ironhide told him that was like comparing them to something called turborats. Optimus told all of them that entertainment channels are for entertainment and not research, and to research a question on the information nets for answers before asking me. He also says that I don't have to answer irrelevant questions unless I want to. That reduces the questions from about a million to ten thousand or so."

"Look, he may or may not have meant that as an insult, I wasn't there. What bothers me is they talk the way Shockwave did, and the way a lot of the Masters did before they changed the rebirth qualifications after that last rebellion. Making humans sound worthless and inferior, so it's okay to use them."

I agree with him. Somehow, the bots on Cybertron see humans as 'resources' but not as people. The more Autobots I talk to, the more I can see it's a kind of willful blindness. They know now that Optimus found the missing piece- I keep wondering if he sent it off with someone already, since he hasn't left Earth- and now they see a planet full of workers who can help them rebuild their world, along with the chance to get a lot of energon for that same rebuilding by harvesting the nearby star. From a distance, without knowing the world they're dealing with, that solution must look pretty convenient. On our next meeting, I confront Optimus with the problem. To my shock, he agrees. "Most of my people only know of Earth as where the pirates come from," he tells me. "They don't know humans or the human-shell drones."

"Then we need to do something about that," I say. "We're the people of Earth, humans and drones. We're sentient. We have rights. Every meeting, every datapad, every holovid that goes out emphasizes that." Within a week, I make a holovid answering the most asked questions regarding humans and drones because every Autobot I meet asks the same kinds of questions. Bless him, Optimus requires everyone to watch it. "The holovid is helping," he says at our next meeting, "but it's not enough. We need to bring humans to Cybertron, and introduce them to our population." He looks at the datapad I gave him earlier in the meeting. "The Constructicons can begin building suitable habitations for the first set of workers with the materials Megatron stored."

"No," I tell him, and he frowns. "Whatever work you need done, we can do here. Humans shouldn't leave Earth if they can't survive on Cybertron without assistance. It's too dangerous for them. What do you need to build?" It's the one topic we can't agree on. Optimus wants to revamp the factories on Cybertron and bring humans to work there. I don't want humans to leave Earth. We do agree that the crews on the ships need to visit the planet, and I agree to talk to Megatron about arranging escorts for them.

Once again I ask about the Matrix, and once again he politely pushes me off. "Before I forget. You're driving yourself too hard. Take some time to relax. Megatron won't thank me if he comes and finds you exhausted."

I leave the room to find I have a new guard, one I'm glad to see. "Hi, C-2330," I say when Bumblebee falls into step with me. Except when I get my quarters at night, I am never alone.

"Hi, 71," he responds, and we both laugh. I relax as soon as I see him, because both parts of me, human and shell, see Bumblebee as a protector. "I hear you've been pretty busy. "

"You could say that," I admit. I've been working harder here than 71 ever did, partly because I'm looking for a way to get Delta and Epsilon here to look over the Sun Harvester before the Autobots find it, and partly because I desperately miss Megatron and home. If I fall into the berth tired, I manage to get some sleep.

"Take the rest of the shift off and talk to me." He moves toward the rec room and I stop. I have a mountain of datawork to do, and I've gotten an idea of how to get Delta and Epsilon out here I want to run past the others. "I've got some spiced energon you'll like," he coaxes.

"High-grade? I don't want to get buzzed," I say doubtfully. 71 didn't get buzzed except with those he trusted most, and Bee knows he wasn't on that list.

"From what Ironhide says it would do you a world of good," he says. "But no, this is just energon with tasty additives." I open my mouth to remind him that drones can't always drink what the Cybertronians do, and he adds," Optimus shared some with 30 once, and 30 liked it." Well, if Delta drank it and he was okay, I should be. Bee wants to talk about something, and I wonder what. I can finish the paperwork tomorrow between meetings. I go to the rec room with him. It's got a pretty good crowd, but Bee finds us a table and pulls a few cubes from his subspace for us. We talk a little about the holovid I made. "I wish I had something like that when I started in drone society," he says, and talks about some of his mistakes. I laugh and sip the energon. It's good and it's not high grade, just as he promised. I notice several of the mechs drifting closer. When my cube is about half gone, Bee asks, "What happened to you at Mission City after I got hurt, Sam?"

I sober, look at my cube, and tell him about giving Optimus the Cube, about the oath, and Megatron's reaction. "It was like something took over me," I lament softly. "I thought Megatron would follow Optimus and go after the Cube. Instead, he grabbed me and took over Earth, getting revenge for the time humans held him in stasis."

When I stop talking, I realize how quiet the rec room is, every mech there listening to the story. "The energon's good, isn't it?" Hoist says into the silence, from a few tables away. Someone's lowered the lights, and the blue of the Autobot's optics glow in the dimness. There's some soft conversation in the back of the room.

"You told me you were the first drone. How did that happen?" Ironhide asks. I tell them and they listen to it the way humans listen to ghost stories, horrified and fascinated.

"Why don't you hate him?" Cliffjumper blurts out.

"Megatron?" I ask. By this time the cube sits empty in front of me, and I sit slumped in the chair. "Well, I woke up without any human memories and with a lot of loyalty programming. What that translated into was a metal equivalent to a human three year old child, desperate for Megatron's attention and approval. None of them expected that. From the beginning he looked after me, protected me from the rougher Decepticons, and never let me anywhere near a battle. Even after he made the other drones, I was always his favorite. "

"I think someone needs to find his berth," Ironhide says. I see him moving toward me, a darker bulk in the dimness. Bee gets up too, and together they haul me to my feet. That's when I see that not only is every chair filled, there are bots standing against the walls. As I walk out, I hear a buzz start behind me.

"I guess I'm more tired than I thought," I say as we reach my quarters, "but the energon was good, Bee. Thanks."

"Glad you liked it," he said, and closes the door behind me. I lean back against it, hearing the two of them walk down the hallway. The spice covered the taste of a mild sedative, one that encourages a mech to relax and get through a difficult memory. It's hard to lie under it, so it's often used for gentle reports, traumatized victims or witnesses, or mild interrogations.

Megatron's used it on several of my shells, but not for interrogations, because in drones there's a side effect. If the drone gets upset or excited, it magnifies that effect, too, acting more like a stimulant. Drones use it for two reasons. One is as an aphrodisiac. I can vouch that it works great for that, provided you don't have to go on shift later. When it wears off you aren't worth much for a time. I'm certain that's what 84 and 30 used it for. I've used it several times to get through a difficult mission during revolutions. It works fine, until it wears off, so you can only use it for short missions. They think I'm off to recharge. If I sleep late, they'll blame it on the drug.

I open the vent and go in. That night I find several main offices, including those of the Prime. In Prime's, I find a datapad listing every spy he has on Earth. It's quite a list. I manage to get back to my quarters and rinse the dust off before I stagger to my berth and fall in. I notice that the bots talk about humans with a little more respect now. I pat myself on the back mentally for that change, except it come with a price. In the rec room now, where I have to go to get my energon most of the time, bots gather around my table and talk about Cybertron. They talk about how I'm more of like them than like the Decepticons. They hint that I'll like Cybertron when I can visit. It's an incredible relief when I get the word. "Megatron's coming in a few days. You ready to drop your little information bomb?" Delta asks.

"I sure am," I tell him. "Can you bring me a small hologram projector?"


"Ever since my storytime, the bots tend to hover. I don't know why. I think it might come in useful."

"Okay, shouldn't be a problem. I know that Megatron's going to send me back before he comes himself. I'll stop by Giza on my way and check out the pyramid."

Optimus confirms Megatron's visit, and promises to arrange for some privacy. Bless him, he takes me to the hatch himself, firmly shooing everyone else away. Primus, when I saw Megatron, I couldn't move fast enough. That huge bulk of warm metal feels so good. For the first time since he left, I don't feel alone. The room Optimus leads us to sits quite apart from my quarters, and we make use of the berth after a few cubes of the high grade there. I curl against his side afterward, exhausted and wonderfully de-stressed, and we talk for a while. He worries that the bots might threaten me, and I reassure him before we go into recharge.

The meeting holds a lot of bots I haven't met yet, new rotations from the other ships. They look at Optimus when I take over the meeting, but they've seen my holovid and when he doesn't react they stay polite. At the break, I manage to slip off with Delta and he gives me the holo projector, before Ultra Magnus happens to stroll by. "They really don't leave you alone, do they?" he comments. I shrug. I'm used to it be now. "Megatron thinks I'm going to Cairo, but I've got a good reason to head for Giza instead. I'll get that metal sample from the Harvester and we'll go from there."

"Good. I'll go drop the information bomb and see how they react." I mention the bodies I saw in Petra, sure that the Autobots will react. It works better than I hoped. When we arrive there, I stay in the tomb for as short a time as I can manage. It reminds me too much of 71. I manage to get Megatron the spy list and talk to him for a time regarding what I'm doing, feeling better that he's as wary of Sentinel's influence as I am. I even plant the idea of Delta and Epsilon working with Optimus with the exhumation.

Back at Fort Maximus, Optimus calls for a meeting regarding Giza. He tells a story of how the Primes protected the Matrix of Leadership for millennium from the Fallen, and why. He outlines his plans for the exhumation transport to Cybertron. Listening, I realize that with this sacrifice in front of them, there is no longer an easy way any former Autobot can justify taking our Sun. I relay this to the others, but we decide it's better to be sure. "There's too many neutrals and Decepticons in that mix to be sure of anything, and whoever pushing the 'humans are inferior' line isn't going to quit. I'll go forward with the metal testing," Gamma says.

But the arrangements for the new rotations and sneaking around in the evenings with the holovid showing me in the berth begins to tire me out, and Optimus notices. Bumblebee intercepts me in the corridor again sometime later. "Hey, Mirage brought me more of the spiced energon. Want to share some tonight?" I need a break, I decide. The vents can do without me one night. There are some new faces in the rec room when Bumblebee and I arrive. A blue and white mech meets us and produces cubes after Bumblebee introduces him as Mirage. He's new to Earth, having rotated from Cybertron.

I sip the spiced energon, enjoying the mild bite. We talk for a time about some things on the introductory holovid. Mirage asks how I found the bodies. I tell him that the Fallen kidnapped me to bring Megatron to him, and the bodies were in the room he held me. Mirage wants more information, and I tense. "I don't want to talk about that," I say. "Bee was there for most of it."

"I can tell you about it later," Bee agrees, clearly not wanting to go into the complexities of drone recall. I sip, taking my time. Ultra Magnus pauses by our table on his way to the energon dispenser.

"Mirage, did Perceptor and Wheeljack come in with you?" Someone in the back gets a cube and passes it from person to person until it reaches our table, and he sits down. They're trying to hide how they're eyeing the level of the cube in front of me. I manage to hide my smile. I guess they want another history lesson.

"Next shuttle, they should be here soon," Mirage responds. "They wanted to talk to Starscream about something before they came. "

"Those two somebody important?" I ask, curious.

"They're coming to work on the drone project," the large bot says. My amusement fades. I don't like the way he says that, as though changing us is an experiment. He turns to me. "Wheeljack and Pecerptor are our best scientists. Wheeljack is a brilliant inventor, and Perceptor is our best researcher."

Project, I think. He's talking about drones like we're experimental subjects, a puzzle to set their scientists on, so they can get us to Cybertron to do their work for them. With the drug in me, I can't control my expression like I normally do. "What's wrong?" Bee asks.

"Shockwave was brilliant, too," I say, and my voice is harsh. A buzz goes up at my hostile reaction. That only riles me more, and I push myself up and stride over to a nearby console. As I start my search, I go on, "Shockwave showed up in a ship by himself, telling Megatron that Cybertron was dead and he was the only one left on the planet. We know now that he and the Fallen deliberately held a lot of information from us. At the same time, your pirates," I spat the word, "showed up with some information he could use to track down the Autobots. He went himself. He was desperate to find the Cube and renew your planet. "

I've certainly got their attention. Most of them wonder at my sudden change of attitude. Bee's alarmed, worried that I'm having a bad reaction to the drug. "What does this have to do with the drone project?" Ultra Magnus asks.

"I'm about to show you." I slam my fingers down on buttons savagely as I talk. The program I want is deep in memory files and encrypted. "Megatron left Shockwave in charge. Shockwave started making changes as soon as Megatron cleared atmosphere. He discarded every right humans and drones gained in three rebellions. Getting drones to space was his project, too." The console lights up with the program I want. I start it. As I'm forwarding it to where I need it, I go on, "Shockwave ignited the fourth rebellion with his policy changes. That triggered the recall in my shell and all of the original drones, the ones who go by names like mine. He got hold of Gamma, who was my lover at the time, and I went to get her out of his lab. "

Mirage says," How did you get past his defenses? Jazz and I are the best, and we almost never did!"

"Shockwave designed against his fellow Decepticons, not humans or drones," I snap, and he shut up. "After I got her out I went back. I took a holovid recorder with me and set it up to record in the room I took her from, set to activate to voices and sent the results for broadcast. Shockwave caught me on my way out. He took me back to that same room. This is what he did to me." I turned the console to where everyone could see it and started it. They watch, horror dawning on their faces. I keep my optics from the screen. It's bad enough to hear it and remember what caused the sounds. When that part ends, I stop the recording and turn the console. "When that went out, a mob came to Shockwave's research lab. Shockwave already took my host out and put him in a rebirth chamber. They thought he destroyed me. They overwhelmed his defenses and found him." I'm so glad I did not see that part. Gamma and the others witnessed it, and despite how much they hated Shockwave, that memory still makes them shudder. "Shockwave killed over a hundred, and they kept coming, using weapons they tore from his defenders and whatever they brought with them. This is was Shockwave when they finished with him. "I turn the console again. They stare at the pile of parts, with the lone ocular Shockwave used sitting obscenely on top. "Human-shell drones are not," I glared at Ultra Magnus, who is stunned by the storm he inadvertently unleashed, "a project."

Looking over them, I see Optimus standing in the back of the room. Jetfire's beside him. "I knew something about the fourth rebellion," the Prime says in his most calming voice. I'm not sure it that's for me or for his shocked mechs. "Megatron did tell me that Shockwave deserved what happened to him, and to ask you why. I didn't expect such a graphic response."

"What stopped the rebellion?" Bumblebee asks. His vocalizer spits some static as he asks.

Jetfire answers, "Megatron's return to Earth. He immediately reversed all the changes. He made a public broadcast and told everyone what he told Optimus, and he gave a blanket amnesty to every rebel. I was there. He branded Shockwave a traitor for overstepping his authority. More Cybertronians died that that rebellion than in any other in history. Not just Shockwave, but Soundwave, and somewhere around ten more troopers. And Primus, the humans and drones that died makes me sick even now. We hailed Megatron's appearance as a gift from Primus, because he gave us a reason to stop fighting."

When he stops talking, I add, "Shockwave killed more drones and humans in his experiments than the humans and drones that died storming the lab. That's why they tore him apart. They found body after abused body as they went through the lab building, and it just made them worse." I scan the room. "My master shows-showed- this video to any new Decepticon coming in, as a warning. " I turn off the console. "He didn't think the Autobots would need it. Too damn bad he was wrong. Project. " I spit the word out.

"Wheeljack and Perceptor are nothing like Shockwave," Jetfire says, coming over to me. He puts a hand on my shoulder, and I look up at him. Jetfire's survived Earth and the Fallen for much longer than I've existed. He's always been Alpha's friend, through all the shells and rebellions. I trust his word over the Prime's. "Both Wheeljack and Perceptor hated Shockwave, Alpha, because he gave all scientists a bad name. Both of them respect sentients of every kind."

The others see that his words have an effect, and they're quick to back him up. "Yeah, Wheeljack blows himself up all the time but he never hurts anyone on purpose," Hound seconds. "And the biggest danger from Perceptor is your processor breaking from all the tech stuff he spouts."

"The answer's not going to come quick or easy this way, " I warn them, though I feel a little better about this mess. "Hook and Starscream both tried. Their favorite drones died from going to space, right in front of them. Hook especially tried to find out what happened, and you know what a perfectionist he is. They got nowhere. "

"If anyone can solve the problem of why drones can't go to space without using live experiments, these two can," Optimus assures me.

I feel the worse of my outrage fade. "Okay."

"Six Primes died for these vicious organics?" Mirage wonders in a low voice, but most of the room hears him.

My temper reignites. "Oh, for the love of Primus, don't you get it yet? They didn't do it for the humans, or not just for the humans." Everyone is staring at me again, Jetfire and Optimus included.

"Then why did they do it?" Ultra Magnus asks.

"First, the fact that Megatronus Prime planned to destroy a world with life on it, targeting sentient life deliberately, meant he turned! He was their brother, and he turned against all of them, against Primus himself. They had to stop him before he gained more power." I shut down the console completely.

"And?" Optimus prompts softly.

"Second, if they allowed the destruction of one organic sentient race, even a primitive one, they sanctioned destruction in general. They'd be sending out a message that killing anything in a Cybertronian's way was fine, because a Prime did it."

"Opening the way for the Fallen to wake Unicron," Optimus says. "As the Fallen hoped to do after he destroyed this world's sun and all of us with it." At that reminder, they look slightly ashamed, Mirage in particular.

"And before you talk about vicious, you came to a world full of humans and drones for revenge on those pirates," I snap. "A world that had nothing to do with your damn ruined planet in the first place. We were just the unlucky ones that the Cube landed on. " I see Bumblebee's shamed expression and add, "If you don't like that kind of truth, deal with it." With that I shove off Jetfire's hand and storm out the door

I hear heavy footsteps behind me. I hurry, not wanting to deal with being chewed out. Halfway to my quarters the drug wears out. I lean into the wall and vent harshly. The footsteps speed up, and Optimus kneels to look me over. "You need the medbay," he says, alarm in his voice.

"I need to rest," I tell him. "Please. A night's recharge is all I need." He doesn't like it, but he stands and puts out an arm for me to lean on.

"I want to thank you," he says, startling me. "We needed that lesson, Alpha. Needed it badly. "

"You're welcome," I say, and stagger through the door he opens for me to my berth, where I fall into recharge immediately.

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