The sky darkens, the city's windows and streetlamps beginning to glow with light. I wait, I watch, I remember.
Just when I think that no drone or human would never find a reason to rebel again, the reason appears from nowhere. Just like Alpha, now known as S-4371, to stumble back into my life with the problem written on his back.
"Brooding again, Megatron?" I'm so used to the Fallen's sudden appearances now that I just turn to look at him. "Where is your processor wandering?"
I considered as I walked over to pull cubes out for us. I turn back to the skyline. "All these years," I say, "all that time, we were going about ruling the humans the wrong way." I take a sip of my energon and shake my head. "We should have been winning their hearts from the start, not beating them into submission."
"Remembering Alpha, I see. You really think that would have made such a big difference?" The Fallen sounds amused at my speculation. Why?
I lean back in my seat. "Yes. I believe friendship, not war, would have brought us closer to our goals." I take another sip of my energon. I don't mention that Alpha's rebellions brought about most of the changes. After his shell died, always after he died, I would look at the problem again, and quietly make changes while his human host went for recycling. I try to keep up with where his host body goes, but most of the time I'm too busy dealing with the aftermath.
"There is a bright spot to gaining the human race's trust." I give him an inquiring look. He smirks, taking a longer sip of his energon now. "It means that, for the first time in any of his lifetimes, Alpha will have no chance of gaining the humans' support when he rebels again."
"True," I say, and I frown, remembering why Alpha rebelled. "But there's another reason, unless I can correct it. Do you realize that Fours can't talk unless they have permission? "
"Of course," he says, as though the answer's obvious. "They started the last rebellion and sided with Alpha and the humans."
I corrected him, "The restrictions were for those Fours alone. The new ones haven't done anything. Why should they still be punished? With those restrictions come abuses from other drones."
"So? They're only Fours. They don't matter." He waved a hand in dismissal.
"You said the same about the humans. So did Shockwave, and you know what happened to him."
Master shuddered. All native Decepticons do when they remember what happened to Shockwave. "Don't we all? But these are the lowest level of drones. The others will keep them in line."
I couldn't believe he missed the pattern. Every time we ignore this kind of problem, Alpha rises because the downtrodden follow him. The harsh restrictions on the Fours resulted from just how close the last uprising came to succeeding. But the Fallen never sees matters that clearly, so I give him reasons he understands. "We're making new Fours right and left, and that costs. That's not to mention the expense of repairs and training, and the collateral damage to other drones due to fallout from the violence. " I paused. "And Alpha's current incarnation is a Four." A breeze blew in, and I inhaled the fresh air.
He only smiled. "I saw him. He almost knocked me down in his hurry to get out of here." He paused. "Do you think he's recalled yet?"
I shook my head before tilting my head back and look at the stars. So few can be seen when the lights are on in the city. You have to go outside the city, past the city limits and into the country where Masters and their associated humans farm food for the city humans, to see even the brightest of stars. Once I was among those stars. I feel a longing for my home world, destroyed in our war. Cybertron-only a dream now, a dead world floating forlornly in space the last time I obtained any information on it. As though reading my processor, he asked, "I wonder what happened to your brother?"
"Wandering in space somewhere, since Cybertron's dead. We've had no contact for vorns, not since that signal we started to chase down that led nowhere." Shockwave brought that information when he came to Earth to report the final death of the planet. Only one ship arrived. I let him take over the administration when I went to deal with that Autobot signal that came out of nowhere. That was a mistake. Shockwave regarded anyone not Cybertronian as objects to used. His experiments reflected that brutal attitude. Alpha found out about his experiments, and broadcast the information on the main data net. In the end, all that was left of Shockwave was a small pile of parts. They killed Soundwave, too. That was one rebellion where I wasn't the primary target. The report arrived when I discovered a old, dead base with the Autobot signal coming from an old beacon. Only my timely return stopped the chaos.
There are so few of true Cybertronians left. I can't find the Autobots. I send my troublemakers to look for them. They used to come back and report frequently, refuel, and leave again. Since Shockwave came back, I haven't seen any of them. Most of the hatchlings died when we tried to bring them out of the pods. We pulled out the Decepticons hiding on the Moon with the wreck of the Ark. We found nothing in the Ark but a safety door opened to space and ruin. I think the humans destroyed the space bridge somehow, and scavenged the remains of Sentinel. All we found were pieces.
"I doubt it. Sooner or later he's going to turn up again. Primes always have goals." In an abrupt change of subject, he added, "If you can't kill Alpha, isolate him, make some kind of token change, and keep him here and happy with you. If he doesn't recall, he won't rebel."
"You never did like Alpha." Of course he didn't. Drones come from humans, and the Fallen hates humans.
Those sharp red optics turn back to me. He finishes his cube. "I don't like how easily you fall under his charms. His origins were one thing, but you seemed so happy with him, until he turned on you." He sets down the cube. "You were sparkbroken when he rebelled. You should kill him, you know. He'll always turn on you." With that, he got up and left.
I stand and ponder the situation. Inevitably, my mind wanders instead. I remember Alpha's warm arms, his gentle touch, all the pleasant nights recharging in his arms. I remember how he used to hang on my every word, anticipate my needs. He created the lotion I used on his back tonight. I remember the beginning, Sam Witwicky standing on that street, buildings in ruins around us and facing me.
"Boy, what have you done?" I saw Optimus retreating, taking his band with him. More planes appeared, and Starscream was beginning to take a beating. There were more ground forces coming.
"I gave him the Cube, Megatron." He stank of fear, but he stood his ground. When he went on I knew why. "You want it, you'll have to go after him." He watches me intently. "There's no reason for you to stay on Earth. Optimus will be taking the AllSpark into space."
I looked at him, and could not believe both his courage and his naiveté. "Boy," I say, "Do you really think that I came here simply to find the AllSpark and leave ?" Then I grabbed him.
I remembered the year it took to build that first shell, and how much I learned about humans as I did so. Under pressure, Sam exploited every bit of opportunity he got, escaping and being caught several times. Once I had him firmly secured, he almost escaped to death right in front of me. I wanted that courage and ability in my servant.
I remember sometime later finding him hovering over the integrating shells for Beta and Gamma. "When will they be ready, Master?" Those bright red eyes looked up at me with pleading.
It turned out that by blocking all of his human memories, we blocked all of his life experience. Oh, he worked fine. I had only to tell him to do the a task and he did it, but he acted like a sparkling. His innocence and eagerness to please meant he got petted by half my soldiers (and me, though at the time I would never admit it). His processor worked fine, so he picked up quickly that as a drone he remained inferior . He was desperately lonely. So when his friends showed up, I decided they could join him. All of the initial drones became good, dependable, loyal servants. Alpha remained my favorite. He matured to become my reliable shadow: making my appointments, arranging for everything I needed and in general caring for me. I brought him into my berth thinking I risk loving him.
Then he recalled.
I loomed over Alpha as he faced me, sword in hand. So far he kept me off with the laser, but now it lay on the ground, used up and useless until charged again."Do you think you can fight me, Alpha?" Don't make me kill you, I thought. There has to be a reason why you're doing this. Tell me, let me make it right, and I can bring you back to my arms again.
"Yes," he said, backing up as he said it. We were in a dead end ravine.
"Can you win?" I asked, and he flinched as I stalked closer. I wanted him to beg for mercy, so I could grant it. He found he had nowhere else to retreat, and stopped, still holding the sword defiantly. I'd have it out of his hands as soon as I got close enough. "Why are you doing this?"
I expected hate, or fear, or despair. Instead, pain radiated from him. "Because of my people," he said, waving at the air. "I remembered, Megatron. I recalled every moment of my human life. I did this to them. I have to make it right."
"You're doing this for the humans?" I said incredulously. I stopped moving. "You aren't human anymore. You're a drone, better in every way!" Smoke from the plants burning behind me rose and stank.
"I remember how I got this way," he spat back, and the venom in his voice hurt. "How much of what I feel is programmed? How can I believe it's real?"
I vent, thinking I've found his problem. "No one can program love, Alpha. Loyalty, yes. Love, no. Surrender. Surrender and come home. I'll be lenient." I reached my hand out.
He ignored it. "Why wouldn't you listen? It was so simple-all you had to do was release some food surplus from other areas and relocate the humans in that sector. The tsunami ruined the fields there. They rioted because they were hungry. I told you!"
I couldn't believe it. Alpha, my beloved, the most loyal of my own up to and including Soundwave, was defying me over the fleshlings. "You little fool. There are still two billion of the short-lived fools, plenty to spare."
"I was organic," he said, anguish in his voice, "and I made the mistake that let you conquer them. If you would just listen-I studied this, we can make it better without-"
"Stop this nonsense and come home." I waved at the ravine. "Look around you! You're trapped." I moved swiftly and his sword flew into the air, landing point first in the sandy ground and quivering there. "You can't win and you know it! Be reasonable, Alpha!"
"I can't win," he agreed sadly, but as I bent to reach for him my head hit rock that shouldn't be there. As he stepped back, the ravine reformed as a hologram dissolved. He backed into an opening under a jutting cliff. "Unless I cheat." I stepped back to maneuver, just as other holes in the ravine walls opened and the shooting started. I took one last look at Alpha's hard face, before the pain was too much and I flew.
I don't know why that particular file comes to mind now. It's one of the ones that hurts the most, I think. The other-
I know he's protecting something. For a full Earth year, he's held me off by never fully engaging, running a guerilla war, hiding in all the difficult terrain this planet offered. Then he and the other drones appeared in one of the main spaceports. Epsilon and Delta held off a small army of military drones until Starscream got to them from overhead, and they lay in stasis now. Gamma and Beta locked themselves in a communications room, and Barricade prepares to gas them even now, trying to get them before they suicide. I can't figure out what they're doing. But Alpha stayed, knowing in a confrontation he had no chance against me, knowing I wouldn't allow anyone else deal with him. But he will not stop fighting, getting up again and again despite my blows to the most painful targets in an effort to beat him into submission.
"It's over, traitor," I say. My spark aches. I can't forgive him. I would lose my throne, and rightly, for such a weakness. He doesn't respond. I gesture for the closest soldier to take him, when he reaches into his exposed throat and pulls the main fuel line.
I drop my sword and rush to him as the energon gushes. Before my eyes, his shell opens, and ejects a naked human body dotted with implants. I snatch up the Sam Witwicky host and go. He is not getting away from me so easily. As I fly to the nearest rebirth center, I contact Starscream and Barricade to bring the other drones. We'll do the same to them. I made them, and I am not letting them go.
I shook my head, irritated at myself. Like it or not, I needed to figure out what to about both Alpha in his latest incarnation, and the Fours. I run the conversation over in my processor again. So, this C-1730 intended to investigate. Fine-he could report to me. I made calls, including one to 71's supervisor.
Orns later, I sit in my office wondering if Primus loves me or hates me. Hates me, because thinking about this situation with the Fours and the massive changes involved give me a processor ache. Loves me, because this time I possess the opportunity to head off this rebellion before it can start.
That's a first.
Every single element from the last rebellions is staring me in the face. The injustice to a large lower caste, the buildup of resentment and hate as a result, the huge difficulty in making a change mark the beginnings. The other element? Standing in a circle around my desk are five drones, all Ones except for S-4371. 71 looks frightened as he stands nervously by M-1735, his roommate, friend, and protector. My spark constricts as I remember looking at the datapad with 71's medical record. From what he's brought himself to tell me, he's managed to survive as long as he has with the protection of 35 and an elderly drone of the Jet class who feeds him high-grade and advice. K-1347 provided the medical records of other Fours, and between those and the information from the others, I know the culture of violence against the Fours runs deep. This is not going to be easy.
"I have met with all of you regarding the attack on S-4371 here. As a result, I have decided that the restriction on the Fours have gone on long enough," I announce, and watch while the reaction rippled through the five of them. I gauge who has and who has not recalled by that reaction. M-1735 and C-1995 stiffen with shock before they control themselves and assume blank expressions. C-1730 nods and his eyes go a little blank, no doubt making plans. K-1347 manages no reaction at all. I see S-4371 look directly at me, hope in his optics. That one reaction makes this whole undertaking worth pursuing.
"C-1730, you will lead a special task force to find and deal with the worst offenders with C-1995. I leave you full discretion on choosing your team members. M-1735, while I am rescinding your punishment detail, I am not sending you back to the humans yet. With your experience with the Service section, I want you to head the reorganization. K-1347, I expect you to work with M-1735 to reprogram the changes in the existing Fours. "
All the drones exchange worried glances. "My lord," K-1347 said, "once the word gets out on the changes, there might be some," she bit her lip, "fallout. Right, 71?" I remember that 71 still can't talk without being directly addressed.
"Some of the ones running protections rackets might arrange accidents to cover their tracks," S-4371 agreed, "unless we can hit all the sectors at once, or complete the changes and activate them all at once." Even as he said it, he slid into the shadow of 35 and 30. Jealousy shot through me. He should be hiding in my shadow, not theirs. I reminded myself I have already made arrangements and focus on what he says. The other drones murmur in agreement.
35 says, with a glance at 71, "My lord, I have a suggestion." I wave for him to go on. "If we use the old human internet network that the comlink system is based on, we can send out the activation to all the Fours at once. " He looks at 47, who brightens and nods.
"The download can be done in groups," she says, "by the local medical-" So, 47 wants nothing to do with this matter; 30 seems to be dragging her into it. I wonder idly if they are lovers.
"No," 30 interrupts. "The K's won't put on any kind of priority because it involves Fours or they might actively block it if they're playing the protection game."
47 gives 30 a nasty look. "Medic's don't prioritize Fours because they're in all the time anyway," she snaps at him. "They'd just wait until they came in for some small break or another."
I lean over my desk in her direction, and she flinchs just a little. "So the medics are well aware of the problem," I purr, "and they've ignored it instead of bringing it to someone's attention." Actually, this surprises me, as many medics possess some real concern for their patients.
She moves her gaze to the floor. "Almost every new medic does report, and we slapped down by our superiors. Fixing every minor injury costs and we get reamed for going over budget," she told the floor, making it clear that she suffered one or both quite some time ago. That might account for her attitude. "I don't know of a medic running a protection ring," she added to 30. "That's mostly the service supervisors, like S-3427, and half of them do it so they have enough workers to get the work done from day to day. Right?"
"Not S-3427," both 35 and 71 chorus, and share a short amused glance. "He does it to cover his own desk," 35 goes on. "How 71 managed to hold him off until I came along I don't know, but I do know everyone else in his section takes turns." All of us look at 71, who cringes, but manages to speak up when 35 and 30 encourage him.
"He prefers consent to rape," 71 tells us. I have to strain to hear his voice. "He gives me all the more difficult assignments, with hints that I could spend the day 'assisting' him instead. I think he was about to order me instead when my roommate got killed and 35 moved in." He shot 35 a grateful look. I reminded myself again that I've made arrangements. "He didn't make the pitch for the protection thing, though. One of the other Fours does. Most of them don't mind, 'cause if the other drones know they can get you through a ring, they don't drag you into a duct and you're not as likely to get beat up." Silence followed that little recital. The reality of a Four's life, stated as dry fact. I look at the datapad that holds 71's medical record, and remember that for every treated injury, there was at least one more that he or 35 took care of in the privacy of their quarters.
"All right," I say. "You have your orders. We meet again in ten orns to report progress. 35, you'll get quarters suitable to your status. "Alarm spread over both their faces. "71, I'm reassigning you as well, as my personal attendant. Go with 35 to clear your quarters, and wait for 30 to escort you to sign off with S-3427."
I watch the reaction to that little announcement in all of them. 35 and 95 wipe their faces of all expression. Well, Beta and Epsilon, you've recalled. I knew about Beta when I saw the drug problems 35 had, and his fierce protection of 71. 95 is his supervisor, and I've noticed a few incidents. 47 and 30 only look startled. To elevate a Four to that position is unusual in this time, but in the past Fours performed valet service and such for native Decepticons. After the last rebellion, those positions went to higher ranking drones. Gamma and Delta haven't recalled. I hope they don't, but I can't count on it.
71? 71 lights up like neon advertisement in the commercial quarters. He reminds me so much of Alpha in his first shell when he's happy like that.
I want to keep that expression on his face forever.