Chapter 14

Alpha was right and he was wrong.

He did get time, enough to get everything he wanted done. Those were the happiest years of my existence, those generations when we worked together to deal with the aftermath of a crippling war on both Earth and Cybertron. We worked together, loved together, fought together, and on occasion, scared the daylights out of our assistants with our screaming arguments together.

But the time he got wasn't enough time for me.

Within a month of the Prime's arrival on Cybertron with the All-Spark laden Matrix, the Cube sparks ten more new lives, all of them still thriving when the new rotations begin arriving. Soon after, the bodies of the Ancient Primes arrive. At the ceremony where they are reverently entombed, Optimus tells the story of their sacrifice."Those of you who listened to Sentinel," he says to the gathering, which included most of Tyger Pax and got broadcast to every other city, "believed him when he said we are better than the humans, that our need eclipsed their rights, that we deserved to rule them. Think of how our Primes sacrificed themselves to stop the Fallen from doing exactly the same." I remember watching the holovid later, and how Alpha hunched his shoulders at the next part. "Think how the All-Spark left part of itself in a human, and with the drone he became, we defeated the Fallen at last. He offered to sacrifice his life to help us renew our race. He did not need to. Can we say we are better than them now?"

That killed the last of Sentinel's plans for Earth. The fight to give Earth status as an independent ally and not as a colony takes a lot longer to win. Within a generation, all drones retain their human memories. Perceptor brings Starscream's design for Trent's shell. The difference lay in the firewall. Long Haul, who works with him, predicts over and over that within a generation the two scientists and Optimus would understand the policy behind firewalling the human's memories. Two generations later, he still says the same as they mount the shuttle ramp for the rotation toCybertron. "These new ones have no respect, no manners! They never use titles, they never bow, they don't know their places! "

Alpha snorts from his place by my side. "When that shuttle takes off," he coms me, "I'm going to join the party."

"What party?" I ask, against my better judgment.

"The one Wheeljack and Gamma are throwing to celebrate." Alpha gives me an amused sideways look.

"Don't worry, Long Haul, "Preceptor says with a straight face. "Since Wheeljack is still working on those new shells, you won't need to worry about the behavior of the new drones for a while. And just think, since you'll be doing the work yourself, you can be sure you're doing it to your own satisfaction. "

Long Haul snarls as Alpha steps behind me and stifles his laughter. Long Haul is the last of the old Council to rotate to Cybertron, slowly replaced by Autobots and drones. I'm certain he's noticed that none of the others have rotated back yet. As the shuttle lifts off, Alpha says, "Good-bye, and good riddance. Come on, Megatron, Wheeljack's got some good high grade, and Gamma promises she won't let him near his lab tonight."

Starscream comes for a while to work with Wheeljack on the space drone shells and brought both his trine members and his winglets. The sparklings take a liking to Alpha and follow him around as much as they can. When the humans see media footage of their drone leader followed by two 'baby Cybertronians', the lingering unease with the Autobots evaporates. Now that the Prime remains on Cybertron, I go to him for arrangements, leaving Alpha and his fellow former committee members to carry on. I see sparklings with Bumblebee and Ratchet, and remember Optimus Prime's promise. I want one, but not yet.

Alpha and I argue fiercely over sending humans to Cybertron, until Delta suggests calling for volunteers. Alpha grudgingly agrees as long as they get a full disclosure. Once the call goes out, the list of volunteers to go to space grows faster than either of us expect. With the help of hydroponics and some other renewable life support, a thriving human colony begins to grow, and I begin to see humans in the modified life support outfits in every city on Cybertron when I visit for Council meetings. First Wheeljack and his team produce the life support for the humans, based on Jetfire's old archived information from the human's venture into space before I conquered Earth. "How will you approach the drone shells?" Gamma asks him, tense. Wheeljack's sidebars flash as he regards her solemnly. Perceptor stands behind him; while he is the scientist, everyone knows that Wheeljack the genius remains the best chance of following Shockwave's research.

"I don't approve of what Shockwave did," he tells her. "If I need subjects, I'll ask for volunteers, and I will do everything I can to provide safety. But I'm not going to waste the deaths of you or Alpha or any of the others. I'm going to use Shockwave's research whenever I can."

She vents. "I can live with that," she says, and becomes his most trusted assistant.

They break the news to Alpha and I together. "We can make new shells that will survive space," Wheeljack says. "But we can't change the current shells without killing the host. If a current drone wants to go to space, he has to rebirth. "

"The problem is with free fall," Gamma adds. "It affects the seals that protect the human host. If a current drone shell goes to space, we have to remain in constant gravity. "

I pull Wheeljack aside and ask, "Is there a way to get a drone there alive?" and explain about the All-Spark's invitation as Optimus explained it to me.

"Oh, yes," Wheeljack assures me. "But they'd be in stasis for leaving and entering atmosphere, and need to stay in a sealed chamber while in the ship. That's established tech, and most of the shuttles have it." To my surprise, he comes up with a life support suit similar to the ones that humans use for space and Cybertron for drones who want to visit Cybertron. Beta turns out to be the first to use it, to investigate some complaints from the humans working in some of the factories on Cybertron. After settling the matter, he comes back both stunned by the destruction on Cybertron and impressed by the determination to rebuild. Gamma goes with Wheeljack and the first set of drones in the new shells.

I ask Alpha to go with me the next time I go for a Council meeting. He looks at me and shakes his head. "Earth is my home," he says. "There's only one reason I'll leave it."

"They want to talk to one of the original drones, and you're the liaison," I argue.

He insists firmly, "Delta can go. He'd like to see Optimus again, and he might not be able to go later." I give in, ungraciously. He nearly 'faces me through the berth that night, trying to ease my disappointment.

It's not until we're on the ship that I realize why Alpha suggested Delta. While the commanders still hold their positions, they've been content with administrative work lately, and I never thought to wonder why. Watching Delta, I realize that he moves slowly. "What's wrong with you?" I ask him.

"I'm getting old," he tells me, optics glued to a viewscreen showing space. "The last few repairs haven't taken well." He sends me a sideways look. I understand why. In the old days, no drone would ever admit to such a weakness. Back in the days of my empire, he'd be on his way to a rebirth chamber.

"Why do drones hate rebirth?" I ask, curious. After all, it's a chance to keep living, isn't it?

He gathers his thoughts. "It's a kind of death," he finally says.

The meeting goes about the same as usual until new business comes up. Delta is called as a witness regarding human technology before my conquest. He speaks on at length and answers questions with almost his old vigor. The next day, Optimus calls me. "I need you as a witness," he says. "Please come to the Temple of the All-Spark." I arrive, to find Delta standing by Optimus in the anteroom to the All-Spark itself. "Delta, the Ancient Primes requested that you and the other original drones come to the All-Spark when you are ready. Are you ready?"

"Yes," he says softly. "It's my time. I'm ready."

Optimus turns to me. "Will you witness?" I nod, not sure what I am witnessing. Is Delta hoping the All-Spark will heal him? The Prime opens the chamber, and Delta steps in. As we watch, blue lightning arcs from the Cube to the drone. As it dances over the drone, the shell opens and the fragile, shriveled human body emerges. There is a huge flash of light. When I can see again, there is only an empty shell in the chamber. The host is gone.

Every plate on my chassis shudders. Optimus goes into the chamber and emerges with the shell, keening softly. I find myself keening with him for a time. "He asked me to take the shell to Perceptor for research," he says softly, and I nod.

When I get back, Alpha and the others wait for me, and I see the grief and tension in them. I tell them Delta's choice. "We knew," Epsilon says. "Can you tell us what happened?"

"Only with some high grade," I say, to find they have it waiting. As I speak, they listen intently. When I finish, Alpha stands. "Here's to a true friend and a strong man," he says. They talk about his various shells, and laugh, and keen. I leave them to their wake.

Alpha comes to the berth completely and totally buzzed. "It's a relief," he says, as I hold him tightly. "Quick and easy, painless. Nice to know when it's my time." I watch him closely in the next few days, but he seems to be fine. In fact, when he sees me watching, he goes out of his way to prove he's fine. I admit I faked concern a few times so I'd find him waiting for me with some high grade and a knowing smile.

A generation or so later, a transport accident mangles Epsilon's legs and the replacements don't take. I take him with me on my next trip, and witness. Some generations later, Gamma goes after an accident in Wheeljack's lab. Wheeljack takes her, and stays on Cybertron. Beta goes next, but he is already on Cybertron investigating a complaint when his fuel pump goes out. When Optimus contacts me and Alpha, he says, "We barely got him there in time. He refused to let Wheeljack repair him, saying he was ready."

I look at Alpha, who gives me a smile. "I'm not ready yet," he assures me. "Too much work to do." Once again, I keep a sharp eye on him for a time. By this time, he's openly acknowledged as the Council head, and I remain as advisor for both Earth and Cybertron's Councils. I spend almost as much time on Cybertron now as I do on Earth. Very few Cybertronians work in government service on Earth except as advisers.

When I get the emergency message, I'm on Cybertron talking to Optimus, and he hears it. He arranges a shuttle immediately. As soon as the ramp touches the ground I leap out and head for the medbay. He looks normal, recharging on the medical berth with a drone working over him. "I'm afraid there's nothing more we can do, Protector Megatron," Lucas tells me, looking up earnestly. Gamma trained him, and I know he's one of the best drone medics we've ever had, including Hook. "The short took out some of his main lines."

At that point Alpha rouses and turns to look at me. "So they got through to you," he says, but his voice is full of static. "Good." He pushes up on one arm and leans to the left. If I had not caught him, he would have fallen, and I realize with a chill that he can't move his left arm.

"What's the damage?" I ask. I see Alpha's second in command in the back of the room.

"I can't feel my right side," Alpha says through his com. "Ivy?" I hear murmuring in the hall. The news has already spread.

The frightened fem comes to the bedside. "Yes, Alpha?" Coolant streams from her optics.

"Call an emergency Council meeting for tomorrow. Contact each of the Council members in person, and explain what's happened." She nods and leaves. He looks at me. "It's my time, Megatron. I'm ready. Please make the arrangements."

"No," I say, and fight down the need to keen. "There must be something more we can do. Some kind of replacement. You don't have to die yet."

"No," Alpha says. He reaches up with his good arm and lays his hand on my face, peace in his expression. As he goes on, he becomes harder and harder to hear through the static, and he resorts to the com. "Sam is tired. I am tired. We need to go."

I carry him to the meeting and hold him in my lap as he formally resigns his office. The Council agrees to announce his illness and that he is returning to Cybertron on the request of the Prime. It takes a week to arrange for the shuttle with the accommodations we need, as Alpha gets weaker and weaker. His mind is clear, and several Council members contact him for information and advice, but his shell's circuitry is eroding a little at a time. Drones and humans line the street as our transport leaves for the shuttleport. As we start to embark, I stop and relay Alpha's com to the crowd. He can't speak more than a few words before his vocalizer goes out.

"People of Earth, I leave with the knowledge I have left this world in the best of hands. Few beings can say that they achieved every goal they have ever made. I can say that. May all of you be able to do the same." They cheer him, though I see tears flowing down almost every face there as I take him onto the shuttle. The captain leads me to the cabin arranged for him, and a medic puts him in stasis for the takeoff. Both are space-shell drones. On the trip, Alpha watches the viewscreen constantly. "I always did want to see the stars," he murmurs. "Sam did, too."

"Sam is his host?" the medic asks.

I nod. We both know it's a sign of final degeneration. She heads for the cockpit. When we arrive on Cybertron, the specialized transport waits for him. To my surprise, it's Bumblebee. "I'm going directly to the Temple," Bumblebee tells me. "Optimus is there. I'm to be the witness."

At the temple, I tell Optimus,"I'm taking him in." I expect an argument, but instead he only nods. "Alpha, are you ready?"

"Sam and I are both ready," he says. As I pick him up, he smiles at me. I've never seen him more beautiful. "I love you. Don't worry. I ordered a sparkling protoform for you through Optimus a long time ago. "I hold him to me tightly. Then I step into the chamber.

As soon as we cross the threshold, blue light flares. "Put him down," I hear. The voice is kind, and soft, and yet I never consider disobeying.

"Please," I say. I want to plead for Alpha's healing.

"That is not your choice," the All-Spark tells me as the shell opens. "Sam?"

The physical form looks horrible, but a shadowy human form stands beside it. "I'm so tired," he says, in Sam Witwicky's voice. "Why did you leave part of yourself in me?"

"I wished to send my Prime home to rebuild. To do so, I had to keep Megatron away, until the Fallen was dead. And so I left part of myself within you, to combat his darkness and protect your planet as best I could in return, knowing he would feel that and wish to keep you near him."

"Why do you need me now?" he asks.

"Alpha is strong," she says, and I hear the amusement in her voice. "As are all of you who merged with the shells made in my children's image. Let me take your memories, and you can choose to stay with me in the Well, or go where human sparks go."

"You can have the memories," he says. "Then I need to go home, to our version of the Well of Sparks. The others are waiting for me. I'm so tired."

"Then go," she says. "I have what I need. I thank you."

Sam turns to look at me. "Raise a sparkling and be happy, Megatron. " Then he is gone.

"Megatron," she says, "be grateful for the time you had with him. He did more than I ever expected. He returned you from the darkness." I bow to the voice, and find myself standing in the chamber with the empty shell beside me. I pick it up and take it out, keening.

I mourn Alpha for a week before I go to pick up the sparkling protoform. Optimus himself takes me to the sparking center. He has a protoform with him as well. "I waited," he says.

Soon after we step out with our sparklings. I look down on my new little fem, who gazes at the world with fascinated eyes. It doesn't take away the pain, but she needs me, the way 71 did, the way the new-made Alpha did.

I will not fail her.

It's time to be a father. Life goes on.

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