Chapter 12

When I get up the next day, I'm back to normal, but Primus if every bot I pass doesn't ask if I'm okay. It almost drives me into the vents. But as I reach Optimus' office, I find all kinds of bots milling around. "We just got the news that a shuttle went down in flames, losing all the passengers," Bumblebee tells me when I find a crowd in the hall. "We're trying to find out who was in it. " The crowd lets me pass to see Optimus. He asks me to get more information if I can, and to use the console in my quarters.

I head for my quarters, but contact Epsilon on the way. He tells me what's going on, and adds when the shuttle will get here. "I'm going to make an official contact in a few seconds. " I'm certain my console is monitored. I contact Megatron's office, getting Beta. I solemnly make my official request, while on the com he rags me on sounding like an Autobot flunky and I threaten to bitch-slap him through the com somehow if he makes me laugh out loud. Megatron comes through. "Tell the Prime it's a cover-up and that if he needs to know something, just ask," he says. "He'll understand in about two hours."

I take that message to Optimus. He doesn't understand. I tell him that's all Megatron told me. He studies me. "In about two hours," he repeats. "Very well. Stay here until I find out what that means."

I accept the order without question, pulling out my datapad and starting on the ever-present datawork. Before the given time, Optimus gets a console call that a shuttle is arriving. When those Autobots come out, I recognize one as Jazz, though none of the others. As he passes, I say, "Good to see you, G-5299. Where's P-7769?"

I started laughing at the look on Jazz's face. Another black and white bot with doorwings comes over. "How did you know?" Jazz sputters.

"Come," Prowl says, taking my arm, "you can tell us as we go to report." Jazz takes the other arm. I just grin at them, annoying both further, and cheerfully explain how we outted them. Jazz swore elaborately. "You assured me no one would understand the names," Prowl says to Jazz, exasperated.

"Only human-shell drones from before Megatron's rule," I assure him. "And even then it wasn't until I recognized Optimus and Bee that I figured out someone must have come in early to get them in the system. I thought you died, Jazz."

"Optimus used the Cube to repair me." They've dropped my arms by this time.

"Look, this group knows the people of Earth and human-shell drones. We need all of you to escort the newbies around and help them see us as people and not resources. It's better than being held as hostages." My voice was a little bitter. Optimus sends me out of the room when he debriefs them. I slide around the corner and into the nearest vent before anyone sees me, and listen in. None of them are happy about the situation, Optimus least of all, but Prowl and some of the others point out that Megatron was perfectly within his rights to hold and interrogate them for quite some time before releasing them.

"Hauler and Counterpunch remain," he adds.

I listen in for a while longer for other pieces of information, and pick up a little more. I contact the others that night and pass on what I heard. "Jazz might be a problem with the sneaking around," I complain.

"Why do two of the better higher-up have to be the moles?" Beta mourns.

"I'm already ordered to work with Optimus on the exhumation," Delta tells us gloomily. "He said to work it out with Optimus somehow, that Alpha's got too much work."

"I'd bitch but that's where the Fallen had 71 and Megatron trapped," I admit. "Besides, those bodies give me the creeps. "

Delta's response to that exercises even his extensive vocabulary. But he comes, and goes out to the site with Optimus. The next day, on my way to Optimus' office with Bumblebee, I see Delta in the hall going the other way. He's squeaky clean and moving a little stiffly. "Are you all right?" I ask, concerned.

He glances at Bumblebee, who shakes with laughter. "84 always wears me out," he admits, and when I process this, I laugh so hard I have to lean against the wall. Delta only grins somewhat sheepishly.

"Glad you worked it out," I finally gasp out. "Bee, since I'm early, I'd like to walk Delta to his transport, we shouldn't be long." Bumblebee nods and goes on. "Got to talk quick, before someone else shows up," I say quietly. "Gamma's got her results. Talk to her when you get in. " Sure enough, Beachcomber shows up down the hall and falls in step behind us. "What route are you using to get back?" I ask in a more normal tone.

"A shuttle's giving me a lift to Giza and I'll head out from there on one of the processing transports. I'll coordinate with you and Optimus later on the teams and such." Beachcomber's hailed by someone and while his attention is elsewhere, he says in a low voice, "They sure keep a tight eye on you. "

"Can't let their hostage run around without supervision, can they?" I answer lightly. "They keep trying to turn me, too."

"That's not it. " Beachcomber is gone, replaced by Hound. "I can't put my finger on it, but that's not it." By this time we're at the shuttle bay. "I'll be in touch," he says, and ducks into the transport.

I watch him leave and head back. Bumblebee meets me in the hall again. "Optimus is in a good mood," he tells me, and we both snicker. Jazz appears as we're laughing and wants to know the joke.

That night, Jazz talks me into joining him in the rec room and asks about the first rebellion. I tell the story over a cube of mild high grade, the equivalent of a beer when I was human. "It was so hard," I tell a rapt audience, "turning on Megatron. I wondered if I was programmed to love him. I even accused him of it, once."

"What did he tell you?" Jazz asks.

"He said loyalty can be programmed but love can't. He's right about that. But programmed loyalty dies a bitter death when the one you're loyal to betrays or deceives you. He learned that too. Eventually." To my surprise, everyone applauds, even Prowl. They get more stories from me, but they start telling their own as well.

Jazz keeps me running with the arrangements, but the escort plan works beautifully. By the time the shuttle taking the first volunteers goes out, I feel good about the 'humans are people' campaign, and so does Optimus. "As more rotate in and out, and the factories are set up, I feel confident that we can manage to promote the self-rule option," he says, "and keep Earth as an independent ally."

Megatron comes again. "I hope to come more often," he says as we lie in his berth, sated.

"I want to go home," I admit wistfully. "I miss you, and the others. Besides, I could use the rest."

"Don't wear yourself out," he scolds, and holds me tighter. "But you're doing an excellent job. Optimus was right, you are the best choice for the job. "

Epsilon grabs me in the hall right before they leave and tells me, "We've got the Harvester set up. If nothing happens, the slow solution will finish it in about a month. We have a quick backup if we need it, but it'll be noticed."

"I hope we can manage the slow solution," I say. He agrees, and heads out.

But the next shuttle holds a surprise, and not a good one. Instead of Wheeljack and Perceptor, the shuttle holds a big dark red mech, who carries himself like he owns the world. "What's Sentinel doing here?" Bumblebee murmurs to Hound, standing beside him. I start to retreat to the door.

"The space bridge is working well and both Perceptor and Wheeljack have promising projects," he announces, "so I came, as I am both available and capable of working with the project." I make the door and stand just outside it, against the wall, as he looks around. "Where is this Alpha I hear so much about?" Behind him, someone unloads a box about my size. It looks familiar. I feel a little sick. Why does Sentinel have a rebirth chamber with him?

Bumblebee looks around, as do most of the other bots. "He was here a minute ago," several of them say, puzzled. Their voices fade as I find and get into the nearest vent. The washracks are close by and I head for them. I have the vent system pretty much worked out after weeks of late-night exploration. For a time I wondered if I would meet Jazz in one, as he's one of the few bots that can fit, but apparently he never equates their vents to the service corridors and vents on the bases.

I reach the washracks and was rinsing off dust when I get a summons from Optimus on the Autobot com frequency. Since I can't ignore that, I head out. I'm on the main corridors and surrounded by other bots, which makes me feel a little safer. Ultra Magnus falls into step with me. "I thought you were meeting the shuttle," he says.

"I was," I said. "I left when Wheeljack and Perceptor didn't show." I don't want to admit I ran like hell when Sentinel showed up instead.

He's not fooled for a moment. "I hate to say this, but that was wise. Don't trust Sentinel until Optimus and I know what he's doing here. I'm going to assign you a constant escort, and I want you to stay with them. I'm also moving your quarters. You'll have to deal with a roommate for a time."

"I don't mind at all," I inform him. "Do you know what he had with him?" But he doesn't answer the question, as we reach the Prime's office.

"A drone?" Sentinel says when I come in with Ultra Magnus. The only free chair is the one next to him. I go right past it to stand by the Prime's shoulder, and from that safety point, I study the ex-Prime who's already made it clear with two words that I'm not a person in his optics. Ultra Magnus sits. "I asked to meet with the Decepticon liaison."

"Alpha is the liaison for Megatron and Earth's current government," Optmus states. "You wished to meet him. He is here. What business do you wish to discuss with him?" I get the feeling that Optimus just set Sentinel up and cut him off at the knees, but I can't figure out why.

"I wished to discuss the means to move drones to space. According to Starscream drones aren't allowed to learn the process."

"That's true," I confirm. "That's why whoever works on the project has to go to Megatron's main base and work with Long Haul and Hook. "

"You will leave with the next shuttle," Optimus states firmly, "Considering the prior relationship between you and Megatron, I will not allow you to work with the Decepticons, even if he would agree to allow you into his base. How likely is that, Alpha?"

I know that Unicron will come again before most of the Decepticons will work with Sentinel. When I was still in my first shell, the Decepticons used to tell stories about Cybertron before the war. The Council Sentinel led figured largely as the bad guys. "I must speak with Lord Megatron before I can venture a response to that question, my lord Prime," I say formally and blandly.

They all make agreement sounds. "However, I did bring a solution for the storage and transport of the remaining piece of the All-Spark," he goes on. "There is no reason I cannot take it back with me."

"In fact, that solution was discussed and discarded," Optimus says firmly. "We will not discuss this matter further. " Sentinel does not like that dismissal, and I feel the tension in the room skyrocket.

"You could never make the hard decisions," Sentinel begins, but Optimus shuts him off.

"Ultra Magnus, escort Sentinel to his quarters." Optimus stands, and pushes me behind him. For a moment I think the ex-Prime might attack, but he stands and leaves with Ultra Magnus instead. I let out a deep vent.

"Can I just stay in your shadow until he leaves?" I ask. "Or go home for a few days?"

He's amused, but shakes his head. "Ironhide is on his way. He, Jazz, and Prowl will be your escorts. Go nowhere without them. "He sits back down. "I will contact Megatron directly on his presence here." Like me, he knows the scientists won't work with Sentinel.

Ironhide comes in and take me to my new quarters. It reminds me of my quarters with 35, though it's more comfortable and the beds are bigger. Prowl's at one of the desks, doing datawork. He greets me calmly.I go to the desk he isn't at and start on my own datawork. When I get through most of it, I contact Beta. He brings in the others immediately. "Why would Sentinel bring a rebirth chamber with him?" Epsilon asks.

"I can't believe that whatever the fragment's in, it's still here," Gamma says. "They must want the All-Spark completed!"

"I don't like this," Delta says, worried. "Alpha, you stick with those guards and watch your back. Optimus never ever admits you're a hostage, but we all know you are, and I can't help but wonder if Sentinel thinks to take you to Cybertron to force the labor issue."

A drone can't survive space, but humans can, given the right life support. If my human core is moved quickly enough into the rebirth chamber and handled carefully, Sam could survive to go back into a shell, preferably a shell that could handle space and Cybertron. That shakes me. If I had my way, I would never rebirth again. "If I think that's happening, if any of you believe that it might be happening, go with the fast solution," I tell them. "I'd rather deal with the fallout than take any kind of chance." We sign off on that unhappy note.

But the first day goes by pretty much normal, if a bit boring. For once, I get caught up on my paperwork. I go to the rec room for a cube with Prowl and Jazz, and afterward they teach me a Cybertronian game a lot like the Japanese game of go, only a lot harder. If they planned to distract me, it works. In the morning, I go about my usual business, when Jazz coms me. "Sentinel's got a request," he says, sounding annoyed. "He wants to see Petra. He says he want you to come with us."

"Only to Petra?" I ask. There are a lot of Autobots and drones at Petra, working on the exhumation. Delta and Epsilon work there frequently. Delta visits to check on me. He says. I'm sure why he leaves moving carefully and with a satisfied air around him.

"Prime's limiting him to the area because Megatron said he's shoot him down if he came anywhere near his people," Jazz says, and to my surprise I hear approval in that statement. "Jetfire, Epsilon, and Delta are all there today. I checked. "

"All right," I agree.

Arriving at the shuttlebay, Ironhide waits until Jazz appears before he trudges out. We file in, and I find myself sitting close to Sentinel. He has a lot of questions about Petra. "So they considered us gods, and build a temple around the Prime's bodies," he muses.

"No," I correct him, and he gives me a sharp look. "They saw the Fallen as a demon, and the bodies looked like him. So they covered the bodies to erase them from human memory. The temple was an appeal to their gods for protection." Just as they built a pyramid over the Sun Harvester to hide it and buried their Pharaoh gods underneath it for the same reason, but I don't tell Sentinel that. To my knowledge, no one besides my fellow originals knows where the Sun Harvester is. I want out of this conversation and check my chronometer. "Shouldn't we be at Petra by now?" I ask. Jazz goes alert, but too late. The two mechs sitting behind him and Sentinel all move at the same time. Seconds later, the two mechs carry a Jazz in stasis off while the ex-Prime holds on to me with all the ease of a man handling a struggling puppy. I try to contact the Autobots, but the com is blocked.

"Recognize this?" He holds up a beautifully curved and filigreed object, and I go still. He smiles at the look on my face. "Never mind how I got it. I also know where the Sun Harvester is. The pirates were quite informative when I told them what I intended to do."

"What are you going to do?" I ask. My gut is clenching. Why is Sentinel kidnapping me like this?

"I want to confirm my information on the Sun Harvester first," he explains. "Then I'll see the last piece of the All-Spark where it belongs." He hisses. "Optimus is a fool. He talks about waiting, about giving this world self- rule and ally status, about taking our time and rebuilding slowly."

The mechs come back . "We'll be at the Harvester soon, Lord Prime."

"You have no idea what you're doing!" I tell him. "We're doing it this way because it's better, safer. Megatron and Optimus want the best for Cybertron. Going too fast is only going to make everything harder in the long run."

He looms over me and I shut up. "Cybertron can't wait. We need the Cube at full power. We need labor to rebuild. We need energon to power the rebuilding. All of that is right here, and I intend to take it and return Cybertron to its full glory!" He turns to the two mechs, who take hold of me. "Take him back with Jazz. Make sure he's secure but handle him carefully. That's our future."

In the back of the ship, sitting by a still Jazz, I pray to Primus that the difference in drone and Cybertronian coms means my com frequency with the other drones still works. To my infinite relief, I reach Beta and the others. "We need the quick solution," I tell them, "and we need it now."

"Did you find out what's holding the last part of the All-Spark?" Epsilon asks.

"Yeah," I say, and they know I'm upset.

According to Jazz and Prowl, Optimus thought the last part of the All-Spark was lost, but he picked it up when he found the Matrix. They were prioritizing enabling drones to go to space. Optimus insists that I stay with him, and Megatron agrees to it. I think of the way Autobots hover around me and listen to me talk about my life. Add that to my memory of handing the Cube to Optimus, and feeling like something is controlling me. All the clues in front of us, and we never saw it. "It's in Sam," I tell them, and explain. There's a stunned silence.

"Jetfire and I will get to the pyramid first," Epsilon assures me grimly, and drops out.

"I'll tell the Autobots what's going on," Delta says, and drops out.

"I'll tell Megatron," Beta says, and leaves.

"I thought the Matrix could only be handled by a Prime," Gamma points out. "Everybody says Sentinel isn't a Prime so how come he's not dead?"

That pushes past the panic and makes me think. I review the Matrix the Fallen showed me, and this one. "Sentinel won't tell me how he got it," I say slowly, "but I always got the impression that Optimus kept it on him." Hope starts to rise. "Tell me how to bring a mech out of stasis."

She walks me through it. I vent in relief as his optics online. "Megatron's calling me," she says, and is gone.

I contact Epsilon and run my idea past him. "Could work," he agrees. "Once we start the process, there's no stopping it." He pauses. "What about you?" he asks.

"They won't risk me," I say, feeling sick as I think of the reason. "But even if they do, it doesn't matter. We've got to stop him." We sign off and I turn my attention to Jazz. "You all there?"

"Yeah. What's Sentinel doing?" I update him. "Primus, is he insane?"

"I think so," I tell him seriously. "Or just that desperate to get his power back. Can you com out?"

"No. I tried. " He pauses. "Did he say why he wanted you?"

"Why didn't they tell me?" I blurt out, and I can't hide the hurt.

"Aw, don't be like that. They just wanted to spare you, until they had a way for you to make it through the transfer. "I feel better. "Look, if we get any kind of a chance, you take off and worry about me later. "

"Was Optimus all right when you left?" I ask abruptly. He nods, his mind elsewhere. I contact Delta. "Hey. Have you heard from Optimus?" He hasn't. "Has anyone said anything about the loss of the Matrix?"

"They go back and forth about how Sentinel can handle a Matrix when he's not a Prime, and what's going to happen to you," he says. "But I'll tell you this, they're got a squad gearing up and a shuttle ready. I'm going."

I pass on the idea I gave Epsilon. "So don't get too close, and try to keep them away if you can," I warn him. Just then we feel the change, as the shuttle begins to land.

Epsilon contacts both of us. "I see your shuttle, Alpha. Showtime."

We heard footsteps and Jazz takes his optics off-line. Sentinel appears and takes me out, leaving Jazz behind. "I want you to witness this," he says. There's triumph in his voice. He reaches in and pulls me out by the arm, the way a human mother handles a cranky toddler. The mechs come in behind Sentinel and haul Jazz out. When the ramp goes down, the heat and sunlight hits like a blow. I can see that the top of the nearest pyramid is ripped off.

Sentinel picks me up and starts to climb. When we reach the top, he holds me so that I can see the machine inside the hole. It's not as big as I expected. "It's beautiful," he muses. That's when Megatron shows up in one direction, and the Autobot shuttle in the other.

"No!" he screams, seeing all his plans of glory going to the Pit. "No!" He slams the Matrix into the machine. "I will not be thwarted! Cybertron needs this!"

I hear a humming noise begin, and twist frantically. I know what that means. I use the only weapon I have, the shock. He doesn't expect it. With his other hand in the Pyramid, he loses his grip on me, and I fall, tumbling down the rocky surface of the pyramid. Something grabs me and the world whites out. In the next moment, I'm by the shuttle. Jetfire grabs Jazz and the world whites out again. This time we're on the horizon. Megatron is firing on Sentinel, who is firing back. Epsilon comes running up and herds us all toward the shuttle. "Get this thing out of here!" he shouts as Autobots pile out.

"He's right, it's too late for anything else," Jetfire seconds. He sounds exhausted. "I can't warp again." He sends everyone a databurst that has them scrambling back abroad.

"MEGATRON!" I scream at him, both out loud and through the com. "I'm here, I'm out here, I'm safe, get away, get away!" and I databurst him the truth.He disengages and heads our way. I refuse to board the shuttle. Megatron lands, grabs me, and takes off again, getting out of the shuttle's way. We're all in the air and heading away when we hear the first explosions.

Sentinel is still standing on top of the pyramid as it collapses in an explosion so intense that Megatron fights to stay in control when the blast reaches us.

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