Chapter 13

I contacted Optimus on the way to the pyramid. He admitted that the Matrix Sentinel held was a decoy and could not activate the Harvester. When I got there, I could hear something inside the pyramid and I could see Sentinel on it. I fired on him to give the others time to get away, until Alpha databurst me about the explosion. Whatever blew, it was powerful. I got to Fort Maximus much more quickly than normal.

On the way, I busy myself contacting Giza and giving orders regarding the area where the pyramid and the Sun Harvester used to be. Considering the force of the explosion, I doubt anything survived, but I want the area monitored. Alpha spends the trip in silence. Normally I land outside and transform before pinging to come in. On contacting Optimus on the situation, we agree that I will come in through the shuttle bay. I arrive and maneuver out of the shuttle's way before letting Alpha down to transform. Hoist is there with a mobile stretcher; he gets both Jetfire and Alpha on it and moves. I start to follow, but Optimus pulls me to his office. "What happened?" he asks urgently. "I believed that only the Matrix could activate the Harvester, but Grapple tells me that it exploded. Did the decoy set it off? Do we need to evacuate the planet?"

"We do not need to evacuate the planet. The decoy caused the explosion. " I vent. "I thought the same as you did and was trying to shoot the decoy off the Harvester when Alpha databurst me that the Harvester was rigged to explode if anyone tried to activate it. That's all I know. I've got people monitoring the site." He hands me a cube and I drain it.

"In the meantime, we need to discuss matters with some drones, I believe." He checked with the medbay to see if Alpha was ready to be released.

Alpha was not, it seemed. Hoist's report sent both of us to the medbay. When we came in, Alpha lay curled on a berth near the wall, with his back to the room. A cube of energon sat nearby, ignored. Hoist bent over him, talking softly, and lay a hand on his shoulder, only to have it silently shrugged off. I groan as I realize the problem. "What's wrong?" Optimus asks me.

"I've seen him like this before," I tell him. When Alpha stayed quiet on the trip, I knew he was upset. I didn't know how upset. What did Sentinel say to him?

"So?" Optimus asks.

I look at him. "Let me put it this way. Remember when I told you that Alpha leads every rebellion and the drones and humans follow him?" Optimus nods. "Well, let's just say they already had trust issues, and if you don't convince Alpha of your sincerity, you're going to find out just how hard he is to stop."

Behind us, Jetfire recharged deeply, worn out from too much warping in too short a time. I consider waking him, as he's one of the few Alpha trusts, when Hoist offers the energon to Alpha again. "Your levels are critically low," the medic coaxes.

"What else is in it?" he asks. There's static in his voice. Primus, can this get worse?

"What the hell is this attitude?" I look over and see Gamma at the door. She turns to Beta and Delta behind her and adds, "Delta, get the prima donna a cube from the rec room. " She moves swiftly across the med bay, Beta behind her. Hoist looks over at us. Optimus waves him over.

"That's Gamma, a drone medic and one of Alpha's closest friends," I inform him. "Get her what she needs and get out of her way. " He nods and moves around the medbay gathering supplies. To Optimus I say, "Since we've got three here and one on the way, see if someone can round up Epsilon." He murmurs agreement.

Hoist takes the supplies to Beta. Beta accepts them and assists Gamma. While she and Alpha snip at each other, she jacks in his medical port, does her exam, and deals briskly with the minor problems. She hands the energon to Hoist with the recommendation he drink it himself. Hoist downs the cub without hesitation, as the drones watch. Some of their tension eases. "She reminds me of Ratchet," Optimus says, admiration in his voice. "I miss his bluntness sometimes."

"Where is Ratchet?"

"He's heading the Council while I'm gone. " That makes sense. Before the war, the cranky medic was a Senator that the Prime trusted. Delta appears carrying two cubes, and Epsilon follows him with two. They each take one, leaving the extra by Alpha. He pushes up, accepting help from Beta, and drinks the first one down as the others sip. I look at Optimus and we casually move to cover the door as Hoist drifts over to the other exit. At some kind of signal from Optimus, he leaves and we hear a lock engage behind him. The two military drones drift just as casually so that Alpha is in the middle of a square. For a moment, we assess each other in silence.

In all the time I've known these drones, I never met them together like this, with their recall acknowledged. I used them on the committee and witnessed the effectiveness of the four working together, but while 71 worked well with them, he did not lead them. Alpha sits on the berth, exhausted by the crisis he endured. Still in his Four shell, he barely reaches their height sitting on the berth. The Commanders, the Master, and the Medic all need heavier armor, stronger builds, unlike the smaller and lighter frame of the Service Four. All of them radiate the strength and confidence of the successful in their calling, strengths that brought about the changes that gave the Fours back their place in our society. Without Alpha, these drone stood as competent, effective leaders. With Alpha-they form a unit stronger than any I've seen in the war, including Optimus and his highest ranking officers. Seeing them, I realize that I am still alive because Alpha can't kill me any more than I can kill him.

I am the leader of the Decepticons. I am the warrior that the Autobots, including Optimus, fear. I lead the strongest of the strong.

They scare me.

Alpha breaks the silence. "Where's the Matrix?" he asks.

"I have it," Optimus says. "When did you realize Sentinel's was fake?"

"Sentinel wasn't a Prime, but he was handling it. When I compared the one he held to my memory of the one the Fallen showed me, there were some small differences. When I asked Jazz if you were fine when we left, he said you were. "He sounds so very tired. Gamma looks at him, and he sips at the energon in his hand.

"I see. Tell me what happened." Alpha does. "So you do understand that he acted against Megatron and I? " He nods.

"Like you," I point out. "Just what did you do to the Sun Harvester?"

"We set it to explode if someone tried to activate it," he explains. "No one's close, so the only person to die would be the ones trying to activate it."

Optimus shakes his head. "I told you I would never allow this Sun to be harvested." He sounds disappointed instead of sad. "I thought you understood."

"I told you the same," I second. I'm not exactly happy, but I already knew I wasn't high on Alpha's trust list.

"We heard you," Alpha countered. "Sentinel didn't get the memo. He intended to enslave my people and destroy my world for his convenience, and to get his power back. And if he managed to kill you both, the next Prime would look to him as a mentor."

"Admit it, Optimus, they took care of the problem better than we did. Now tell me how you did it. " They look at each other first, but one at a time, they describe their role in the setup. It was ingenious, from analyzing the metal to the setup of the trigger. "Sneaky little glitches," I say in admiration.

"They learned from the best," the Prime snarks.

"Sure we did," Alpha says, dead serious. "And being human at base, we adapt what we learn." That silences both of us as the implications sink in. "This is our world," he goes on, and once again he sounds very tired. "We know neither of you meant to use the Harvester. But that thing threatened my people just by existing. Sentinel proved that. We protected our world and the lives of millions of people. "

"Very well," Optimus says. "In my official report, Sentinel kidnappd Alpha and took what he thought was the Matrix. When he tried to use it, it exploded. I have no wish to make him a fallen hero. I'm having enough trouble with the ones wanting sparklings now."

"Why didn't you tell me earlier about the All-Spark?" Alpha's voice this time holds bitterness.

The question hangs in the air for a time. "I wanted to spare you," Optimus admits finally. "Once we found a possible way for you to survive the transfer, I would have told you. " When Alpha starts to speak again, the Prime lifts his hand. "We will discuss this matter tomorrow, when you have rested. Nothing is going to change overnight."

"He's right," Gamma seconds. "You can barely sit up, and all of us are tired."

"Then we will meet tomorrow, and settle this matter. " Alpha accepts the order and starts to slide to his feet. Gamma catches him before he falls on his face. I carry Alpha to my suite. He falls into recharge on the way. When I get him to our berth, I settle over him protectively. In his sleep, he curls against me. In the morning, I leave Alpha still in recharge and fly over the area where the pyramid used to be. There is a mound of melted slag there, with no sign of the pyramid, the shuttle, Sentinel, or the mechs that helped him. As I fly, I manage the unavoidable business in my inbox and brace myself for an unpleasant meeting.

Once again, Optimus offers energon. I take a cube, as he does. The drones ignore the offering. They decline to sit. They stand, Alpha in front with Gamma and Beta flanking him, and the commanders behind them.
Alpha stands with an attitude I've seen before. He's come to some kind of decision. The others are somber. That means it's not one I'm going to like. Optimus looks at me, seeing warning signs and not sure how to interpret them. "I would like to know the situation from the beginning, "Alpha states. "I am tired of being lied to, either directly or by omission of facts. If I stand in a position where my host has to be sacrificed on the altar of your Cube in order to continue your race, I have the right to know what is going on."

The silence stretches. Then the Prime outlines the situation as he outlined it to me. They listen without interrupting. "I meant well," Optimus concludes. 'Again, we will do our best to see that you survive."

Alpha and the others commune for a moment. "All right. That information matches the intelligence we already have. I accept that you meant well., as long as in the future I get the information the way you would give it to one of your own. "

"We're not children, Optimus Prime," Delta adds. "If we are mature enough to share your berths and sentient enough to help you rebuild, we have the right to information that affects our lives. You lived as a drone for more than a generation. You know that. "

Optimus doesn't like hearing that, which is why Delta is saying it instead of Alpha. But after a time, he nods his head and says, "All right."

They share some kind of consensus. "My host won't survive another recycle," Alpha says flatly. "I accessed my last shell's memories last night. His last coherent memory was Barricade handing him over to the Fallen, who warped the dying shell to a rebirth chamber. I was able to research the records this morning. The technician who handled the transfer recorded extreme difficulty with stabilizing the host. "

"I sent them to Scavenger's second in command," Gamma adds. "He said it was a miracle from Primus that the transfer worked even under perfect conditions. " My spark hurts. She's confirming what I already suspected.

"Is there any chance at all this can wait until Alpha's shell reaches the end of its normal lifespan?" Beta asks, his optics going from one of us to the other.

"No," I say heavily. "Alpha, I don't know what Sentinel told you, but even our own Decepticons want sparklings. Sentinel was power hungry, but he was no fool. "

Alpha nods. He's already come to that conclusion. "I figured he wouldn't do all this if he didn't think he had support. " He looks at the others. "I understand that this has to happen. Even if I had a choice, I'd still do this. I can't let a race die out if I can save it." He looks at me. "I just wanted one life with Megatron where we could work together."

"We still have to wait until the research is finished," I tell him, full of mixed feelings. "You'll have to deal with protective custody, but we're looking at a generation or so."

"Not if someone else thinks a rebirth chamber is the answer," Gamma says. "I can tell you now it's not, because they tell medics not to bother trying a recycle if it's going to take more than an hour to get to a rebirth center. And even with a first recycle they fail six times out of ten."

"If you're just looking for a way to get Sam to the Cube, we think we have a way. " He turns and faces Optimus squarely. "But first I want to see the Matrix. I want to touch it and know that it's real. I want a promise that Megatron gets the next healthy sparkling when I die. And I want you as Prime to promise me, swearing by the All-Spark, that you will work to get Earth to human or drone self-rule."

Optimus pauses. Then he nods. "I swear on the All-Spark that when the Cube accepts the last part of the All-Spark from your host Sam, and he dies, I will provide Megatron with the next healthy sparkling and work for human/drone self-rule for Earth."

"No!" I shout, and surge up. "No. You agreed to wait until the research is done. There's no reason not to let that go forward. Alpha, there's no reason not to wait, we don't have to do this now." Even as I talk, I shove the drones aside and seize Alpha, plotting the fastest way out. If Alpha does this, he's going to be on the next shuttle out that Optimus can manage. The Prime doesn't have a choice.

Over the com, Alpha tells me, "I love you. I always will." Then he shocks me. Before I can throw off the effects, Optimus produces the Matrix and holds it out in his open palm. Alpha, leaning on the table for support, reaches out and places his hand on it. Both of them freeze. The Matrix begins to glow.

I make my pitch to Optimus, knowing that he's going to accept. He doesn't really have a choice. I don't think the Matrix will hurt me as long as Optimus is holding it, but I'm certain that I'll be able to tell if it's real.

I know Megatron won't agree. I know he wants to hold off, to wait. But as soon as I understood what Sentinel meant, that I hold that last piece they need, I know there will be more attempts.

At core, I'm human. Humans live short lives, but we live on through our children. I understand why the Cybertronians are so desperate. This war is over. They want to see their race go on. They are desperate, and I'm the key.

I'm going to die. But if I go voluntarily, telling them the secret to getting Sam to the Cube, I can set conditions and get them. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the conditions include a lot of matters Optimus wants to do anyway. If he swears, then as the Prime, he and Cybertron must follow through.

It'll take time for them to make the changes in a shuttle anyway. I'll have time to say good-bye to Megatron. So when Optimus agrees and Megatron grabs me, panicking, I shock him. I know I'm going to regret that later, but if I don't seize the moment now, I'll never get it back.

When I touch the Matrix, the room goes away.

I'm standing in a world of mist. I look around, and beside me I see a young human male, black-haired and dressed in dark clothes. He gazes around him, then looks down and touches himself. When he turned to look at me, I recognize him. "Where am I?" he asks, sounding frightened. "I'm human again, real again."

"We brought you here to apologize," a deep voice says, and we both look up. The ancient Primes look down at us. Behind them I see Optimus, who bends down to pick the human up. "Sam Witwicky, I tender our most sincere apologies. When the All-Spark chose to leave a piece of itself within you, it was seeking to remain anchored to this reality. "

"Thanks so much," he says, the sarcasm heavy in his voice.

"We are sorry," the speaker repeats. "But only that act saved your world from being engulfed in this war, while giving Cybertron time to heal. We knew our fallen brother's obsession would keep him here, in his quest to destroy the humans and wake Unicron."

I wanted to speak up, but I could not. I could not move. Not with my host in Optimus Prime's hand.

"I'm tired," Sam says. "I don't want Alpha to die yet," he gestured at me. "I see the world through him. I'd like to experience some happiness with him and Megatron. But I don't want to recycle again." He looks up at Optimus. "Recycles fail because the drone hate them. When my shell comes to its natural end, I want peace."

"As you wish," the speaking Primes says. "But when his time comes, come to Cybertron and before the All-Spark. We extend this invitation to all the ones who came online and remained with you. Come to Cybertron and the All-Spark when you are ready. " He turns to Optimus. "Take the Matrix to the All-Spark and place it on the Cube."

When the glow stops, Optimus stumbles back and Alpha collapses. I get there moments after Gamma. She seizes a cube and lifts his head. "Drink this, dammit, or I'll pour it down your throat," she orders. He groans but manages to get it down in sips.

I look up at Optimus, who looks at the Matrix with awe. He looks at me. "I must get to Cybertron as quickly as possible. " He heads for the door, then pauses. "What was your solution, Alpha?" he asks.

"Maintain Earth-like conditions for the trip and on Cybertron," he said. "It won't work for the labor you need, but it would've kept me alive until I got to the Cube."

The Prime laughs a little ruefully. "So obvious and we never saw it. " To me he says, "I'll let you know if this works as soon as I can. Meantime, Alpha, you still need to remain on board until we know."

"All right." He sounds exhausted. That's not a surprise, after using the defense shock twice in two days. Then he sends all of us a databurst.

"You're going to the medbay," I decide, and carry him there. As we move through the ship, I hear the excited voices. Several mechs give Alpha anxious looks. The other drones stop and speak to them, then catch up to me again.

In the medbay, Hoist and Gamma set up an energon drip. "Rest," Hoist tells him. "If you don't, I'll use a sedative."

Alpha gives him a sweet peaceful smile. "It's over," he says. "The Matrix absorbed the last part of the All-Spark. Optimus just needs to get it to the Cube as fast as possible. " He looks at me. "We have time now. All the time we need. "

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