Chapter Four

I watch 71 through my one-way window as he works away in the outer office, and worry. I told Dead End the truth when I said 71 handled the office better than the last four Admin One drones he assigned. I strongly suspect he chose those whose loyalty lay with him and not with me. Now that I have 71, he sorts everything for me, assigns priority according to the guidelines I give him, and assures that I keep my schedule. He also brings me energon when I work late and handles visitors when I don't want to be disturbed. I haven't been this comfortable since Alpha's first shell.

He doesn't have to clean, but I find him doing it anyway, especially when he's stressed. Lately the office and my quarters shine.

I planned to take him to my berth when he came back from getting his upgrade activated. I knew he hoarded several cubes of high-grade to take to his J-drone friend. I counted on that and the euphoria of being able to talk freely to ease the way past his fears. One, I'm big for a Decepticon, and Fours are small drones. Two, I'm Megatron, and all his existence as 71 he's been told he's the lowest of the low and expendable. I don't want him to come to my berth out of duty or fear. Buzzed on high grade and grateful I have no problem with at all. Primus, I want to see 71 relaxed. Or buzzed. Or blind drunk if that's what it takes to loosen him up enough to climb in my berth.

Those thrice-Unicron-bedamned drones that attacked him wrecked those plans. How could I take him to my berth after he came so close to being gang-raped and killed? Not even high grade helps with that kind of trauma. He felt safe for the first time in his existence as 71 before they attacked him. He goes nowhere now without an escort from 95 or 30's squad, and I keep him by me as much as possible. Two of the squad look familiar for some reason, but I can't figure out why. One is large, but that's nothing new- Long Haul and some of the other rebirthers like experimenting. He's kinder than usual, but I've seen that before in big drones-they don't have to worry as much about being challenged. The other, who is about the size of most drones, will be as quiet as a Four for a time and then chatter like he just found his voice. I want 71 able to walk from my office to the medbay without looking constantly over his shoulder. I give the committee drones all the authorization they need to investigate, and they tackle the job with enthusiasm.

The Fallen stays away, busy with something of his own. Better than him bothering me over the Matrix, I think.

71 arranges the service supervisor transfers now, as the task force works out procedures for the squad once I make the announcement and the downloads activate. 47 and 35 set up the download protocol for the medical units. As soon as I tell them, they will send the information out. I need to inform the director of Medical and Services first. I've spoken to Scavenger already. He was twitching, missing his normal high grade buzz, but he's noticed problems and likes the idea of someone else handling most of the gruntwork. Hook needs more careful handling.

71 suddenly looks alert. He stands, watching the door expectantly. I listen, and heard the heavy footsteps of one of my fellow native Decepticons. As Hook appears, 71 bows and opens the door to my office. Hooks looks him over, but sees only the top of 71's head. Behind Hook I see another Admin One drone. "Tell me if he gives you any trouble." I remind 71, and he sends me a sideways glance to tell me he heard. By this time I can see the smile behind the face mask. Before the door closes, I give the Admin a hard look, and Hook sees it.

"Don't worry," the Constructicon tells me dryly, "he's heard the story. He likes his level too much to risk losing it." The meeting goes well; of all the divisions, Hook's medical deals most with the violence against the Fours, and while he feels indifferent about the Fours themselves, he does care about the effect on his overworked medidrones and the costs that pile up without the budget to deal with it. I glance out of the window a few times, but while the Admin looks like he's talking to 71, he's keeping his distance.

When Hook leaves, both drones stand and bow. As usual, 71 keeps his head down. "Drone!" Hook barks, "look at me, and drop that facemask." 71 obeys him and Hooks examines his face. So does the Admin drone, with clear admiration. After a moment, Hook flashes me a quick look and leaves without another word. The Admin lingers to speak to 71 before he follows. 71 replaces the mask as soon as Hook turnes away. He picks up a datapad and I turn my attention to my desk, recording the result of the meeting. Hook was my last appointment. I look at my desk and discover nothing more to work on.

I go to the door to find 71 still holding the datapad, but he only stares at it. Clearly his processor is elsewhere. "What did he say to you?" I ask, and he jolts out of his trance.

"Nothing important," he says, but his hands clench the datapad hard. "He wanted some inside information, that's all." He looks up at me, and I wonder why he's so tense.

"Nothing else?" I prod. 71 takes in air and vents. My spark pulses faster. What is he working up to?

"He wanted to know how a Four managed to get my job," 71 said, bright red optics glued to my face. "He asked if I was that good in the berth." The datapad bends where his fingers press in. "Then, before he left, he told me he understood now how a Four got into your berth. He said to look him up when you got tired of me and replaced me with a real Admin. "

"I didn't lie when I told Dead End you do better work than most Admins," I told him, a little disappointed. Why does this scrap bother 71? He's not in my berth, yet. Looking at his hands, I hope that he's saved the information on that datapad somewhere else. With the dents where his fingers clench, I doubt it will work.

"No, Lord Megatron," he says, and we head for our quarters. I wonder what he didn't say, but he only brings me my energon and slips into his room. I drink it, visit the washracks, and ponder how much longer I should wait before I make a move. When I emerge, I find the Fallen sitting on the couch, with 71 handing him a cube. As soon as I show up, my little Four slips away. He's afraid of the Fallen. Wise of him.

"Why are you wasting so much time with the Fours?" he asks, irritated. "Barricade is keeping them in line. Let him crush any resistance."

"Barricade's setting me up for another rebellion, and I will not tolerate that! Instead of humans, we'll have the Fours rebelling on us."

"With who to lead them? You've got the leader under your eye. Raise his level and forget the Fours. Work on finding the Matrix of Leadership!"

"And once you find it, what are you going to do with it?" I think. I want this planet to stay in one piece, not be harvested for energon when we make as much as we need now. We tried to revive the hatchlings a few at a time some time ago. Most of them died in weeks, but none of them survived long. I still don't know why. "Do you have information?" I ask aloud. "Any news from the searchers?"

"If you sent out mechs with brains instead of idiots, I might," he growls. I shrug.

"I send out who I can spare. Let the Combaticons and the Seekers find and fight Autobots instead of tearing up my cities." Starscream went out to look for his Trine long ago; I let him go with relief and he never returned or contacted us. " Those damned fools brought me a dead lead once and I came back to a full-blown rebellion, with Shockwave and Soundwave dead."

Then my mind turns to the departmental meeting coming up. I smile to myself. I know now where the whole problem started. If there's one rule all Decepticons follow, it's "Don't get caught." One of my department heads broke it, and I intend to point out the error of his ways. "But I'll give you another searcher, soon." He huffs and leaves.

Ten orns later, I look over my council. The department heads murmur to each other. Once the meeting starts, I listen to the reports as we review old business, and watch them. They're impatient. They want to know what's going on. Finally old business winds down, and we take a break. I contact 71 as I sip energon. Soon after, 35 and 47 arrive with the visual aids. They set up the holographic display and leave for my office, where the others wait. As soon as the door cycles shut behind them, I call the meeting back to order.

"I discovered that a potential threat to our security exists," I tell them. My eyes rove from one to another as I speak. "In the last rebellion, Alpha's latest shell was a G-drone One, G-1271, who used the old internet connections from the human times, and broadcast an upload that reminded all Four level of their times as humans. This resulted in the majority of the Fours joining the human rebellion. Fortunately, Barricade shot Alpha before he could move to the Threes. That is the only reason the rebellion failed. " Barricade smiles.

Sitting beside him, Strika casts the police commissioner a disgusted look. Barricade got to Alpha first because Epsilon and Delta blew up her headquarters as a distraction. "At that time I ordered that all the Fours involved in either riots or rebellion programmed with certain restrictions." I look at Scrapper. "I did not give orders that all Fours from that time on continue the restrictions. " A ripple goes through the department heads. Scrapper shifts uncomfortably. "I'm waiting for the explanation," I prod.

"I researched the situation," the Constructicon explains. "We did the initial downloads and I set the system to wipe the program. When I checked, it was wiped. Sometime later, one of my drones brought the reintegration of the programming to my attention, but this time there was an order on the system to leave the programming due to possible future unrest." He shrugs. My Native Decepticons, like me, seldom deal with Fours, like we seldom dealt with humans until the rebellions. "We recheck the programming once a meta-cycle for routine maintenance and it's still there. I never got an order to remove it. Never knew there was a problem until I got your order to stop rebirthing the Fours until the programming changes."

"I see," I say.

"I've tried to remove it twice. Each time it comes back. I'm tracing the problem now."

"Why bother?" Barricade says with his voice full of contempt. "They can't be trusted and need the restrictions to keep them in their place. Why do you think Alpha chose them? "

"According to the interrogation reports, their comlink server was the unit closest to the door," I inform him. A startled silence followed by snorts of amusement greets that comment. Barricade snarls. "I researched the interrogation notes. He wanted to start with the Ones, but it took too long to get to that area."

"They're the lowest of the low, with the worst of the humans chosen for their rebirth," he says.

"No," Long Haul disagrees. He supervises the rebirths of humans to drones. "I looked at the requirements for all the drones. The Fours primary is work ethic, lack of aggression, and beauty. One of my drones brought it to my attention more than a generation ago and I changed it, because I need those first two for the Masters. When I looked recently, it was changed back. "

"Created to be attractive and useful," Hook muses, "and restricted to be the perfect victims."

"Perfect whores" I say. "That is not what the S-class is created for, nor is that kind of 'service' part of their programming. Correct?" Long Haul agrees. "And the cost of these unauthorized changes is considerable." I activate the holograms and display the figures for time lost due to injured Fours, cost of rebirthing to replace the deaths and the cost of repairs add to the budget for most of the departments. Murmurs run through the room. None of them care about the Fours except where the problem impacts their departments. After all, they're Decepticons. Seeing wasted resources that could go to their department budget matters. "Not to mention that none of us want another rebellion. Being forced into behavior not in their programing and detrimental to their well-being, they only need a leader to start problems."

"Impossible," the police supervisor snarls. "They're weak. They're limited. They can't rebel. And Alpha is dead."

"Shockwave said that about humans. We all know what happened to Shockwave, don't we?" I sweep my eye over all their faces. Most look grim. If I hadn't arrived when I did, they know some of them would have joined the pile of Shockwave parts. "We thought Alpha was dead then, didn't we? Until the military barracks exploded, the Fours started to riot, and the humans attacked the Masters."

Silence. "So. Do we all understand the situation?" I ask.

"This is ridiculous," the police commissioner explodes. "Those costs are twisted! There are more Fours than any other kind of drone, that's all. Besides, without the costs from before the riots, there's no way of knowing if this is normal or not."

"In that case, here you go," I tell him, and I display the difference. In fact, violence in all the levels of drones went up after the Fours got limited. "And all since I rewarded you with this position, Barricade. I've also noticed that your private fortune grows daily from your prostitution –oh, I mean protection rings." I stand up, towering over his seated and now cringing form. "What is the price of treason?" I ask, my face about a foot from my police commissioner's. Everyone gets very quiet. "I asked you a question."

"Permanent deactivation," he says, the word full of static. "I meant no treason, my lord. "

"No?" I ask. "You're saying that you're just incompetent and corrupt."

"No, my lord, I mean, yes-" He stops. There is nothing he can say which will not condemn him further.

"Which is it, Barricade?" He still says nothing. I stand straighter, and my optics sweep the room, catching and holding each one's attention. "In that case, you are relieved of duty and charged with negligence. Strika, escort him to the brig. Barricade will be going out to search for the Autobots within the week." They leave. Silence rules while we wait for her to return. They all know that I've sent Barricade to exile unless he finds something. Considering we haven't heard from any of the others in quite some time, that gets rid of him without deactivating him. If I deactivated every Decepticon that got corrupt, I wouldn't have any left. Instead, slapping down the ones who go too far and cause serious problems, like Barricade, keeps the rest in line and cautious. If Barricade comes back, resentful but ready to serve, I'll give him a place. I've done the same with Scavenger and Long Haul.

When Strika gets back, I outline the steps we are taking, and no one argues with me. "Strika. Recommend a replacement from your ranks for Barricade's replacement, and send him to me tomorrow. "

I am still Megatron. I rule them. And from the looks on their faces, today's reminder does them all good.

Returning to my office, I find the committee working. Before they stand, I wave them down. "Barricade is gone," I tell them, "and his replacement will come from Strika's unit.

"Yes!" 95 crows, and bumps a closed fist with 30.

"Awesome!" 47 and 35 shout and pump raised fists. Human gestures, from the time before their original shells.

71 watches all of them, happy but puzzled. He looks at me, his optics shining bright."Celebrate?" he asks, and I nod. Smiling, he goes to a cupboard and returns with six cubes of high grade and one of regular mid-grade energon. He offers the tray around, coming to me first. 35 takes the mid-grade with a smile at 71. I fight down the rush of jealousy.

"Here's to a good start," I say, and we drink. As they all relax, I notice how they watch 71 protectively as he starts on the extra cube of high grade. I wonder why he's so determined to get buzzed.

The ones heading off the danger of rebellion are Alpha's peers, the original drones who always follow his rebellious lead. Now his latest shell's the one in need of protection. I wonder if they appreciate the irony as much as I do. I remember how I got them.

"Master, Master, look what I found!"

Alpha comes running up with two humans in his arms. They are young, the age he would be if he retained his human body. Seeing me, they struggle, wailing at him. "Shush," he says impatiently, shaking them quiet. They huddle against him. They know who I am. "This is Mikaela and Miles, they came to find me! They want me to come with them, but since I can't do that can they stay with me? Please?" He looks at me with bright excited optics.

"We have to talk to them first, Alpha, you know that." I reach for the femme, whose shrieks shake the rafters.

Alpha retreats, pouting. "But they break when you do that, and then they die. I want to keep these. See, they're young, and they aren't soldiers, they don't have those ugly clothes. They don't know anything. Please?" He sees my frown, and washer fluid spills. "Nobody has time to talk to me anymore. It's always, do this, do that, I'm too busy to talk, Alpha, I'm too busy to play, Alpha! And these are nice, they aren't like those mean soldier humans." One of Alpha's chores is caring for the human prisoners, who assume that he's one of us and treat him accordingly.

Behind me Starscream comes in. Vicious as he normally is, Starscream reacts to Alpha with Seeker caretaker programming. I hate to admit it, but sometimes he's better with Alpha than I am. "Now, Alpha, no matter what, they have to go to the holding cells or they'll deactivate anyway. They need human food, too, and if they don't get to a waste collector they'll make a mess and you'll have to clean it up." Alpha stops crying. "Look, they're shivering." He was accurate, though I question whether it was cold or fear that caused the shaking. "They need to get to the cells and get warm."

"Okay," he admits. "But you won't break them?"

"We'll only talk to them first. But you have to process them like the soldiers, so they don't get you into trouble." Knowing that's the best he's going to get, Alpha moves off, chattering away to the frightened young humans.Through the comlink, Starscream says, :We can use more help, Master. You know I've been working on a better shell for Alpha, we could test it on these two. They seem to be young and healthy enough.:

I like that idea. Then the fights between Starscream and Hook begin. Both have shells in the works, and both want to try them. Starscream's is for support staff and Hook's is for soldiers. Then the two soldiers, Lennox and Epps come to rescue the younger humans. Knowing what happened to Sam Witwicky, they try to 'rescue' him with the younger humans, and get captured. Alpha pleads for them, and Hook decides they'll work better for his shells than the younger, inexperienced humans.

95 and 30 leave first, followed by 47. I watch as 35 and 71 linger at the door, talking quietly, before 35 gives 71 a pat on the arm and departs. "Do you miss him?" I ask 71 abruptly.

"My lord?" he asks, looking up at me. He still has the last cube in his hand, with about half of it remaining.

"Miss 35," I clarify, feeling foolish for bringing up the subject.

He shakes his head. "I still hear from him almost every day on the project," he says. "I don't miss my old life at all." He looks at his half-full cube as though it holds the answers to all the questions in the universe. Then he downs it as though he needs it. "Am I attractive?" he asks.

"What a stupid question," I tell him, getting hopeful. "Why else would all the drones that come through this office still flirt with you?"

He doesn't smile. "I'm a virgin." If he'd produced a gun from his arm and shot me, I would be less surprised. He giggles at my expression. "I need a teacher. Please?"

Primus, that admission revs my engine "What a gift," I say, as I kneel and hold out my arms. The cube drops as he slams into me and clings. "Why did you wait so long?" I know he refused to join his supervisor's protection ring, but I assumed like everyone else that he and 35 shared more than a room.

"I didn't want to be hurt. I wanted to find someone right. Someone long-term, that I could trust." He twisted to look at me. "With you I don't care. If it's only tonight, an orn, a handful of orns, I don't care. I'll take what I can get, as long as you want me," he murmurs, and nestles against me. I speed up. My quarters seem too far away.

We make it to my quarters. We don't make it to the berth. Not for the first overload. Once he relaxes, his curiosity gets the best of him and he experiments. As matters heat up, 71 makes so much noise I'm grateful that the balcony is soundproofed. Otherwise everyone on the Highest Floor would hear him. Afterward we notice how hard the floor is and move to my berth. "I'm glad I waited," he says as we lay spooned, relishing the afterglow. Then he turns and starts exploring again. I should have remembered what virgins are like. After the third overload, I remind him that he can't make up for a lifetime of celibacy in one night. "Besides," I tell him, "you're mine."

"As long as you want me." He's figured out my sensitive spots and his hands are already moving again.

"That's going to be a long, long time. " I take his hands in mine. Then I go into recharge. In self-defense.

The next day 71 moves slowly and never stops smiling. I feel good myself.

The project moves along briskly. I get regular reports from Alpha on their progress. He comes to like and trust 95's squad, especially the large commander, C-6784. I know I never met that drone before 95 added him to the squad, but something about him is familiar. One evening after a meeting with the committee on their progress, 71 heads out on some restocking errands he's put off too long, taking C-6784 as a bodyguard. The others gather in the outer office, murmuring to each other and looking after 71 with worry on their faces. They're talking by private comlink when I walk in.

"Tell me what's wrong," I command. No one says anything. "All of you are worried about 71. You all know he's in my berth. Tell me what's wrong."

35 says something about 71 being a target. "So are all of you. Spit it out, Beta." They all stiffen. "Don't go into stasis on me. Part of the reason I kept all of you is because Beta and Epsilon recalled, and it was a matter of time before the rest of you did. I saw when Gamma did. Delta?"

"I recalled first," he admits. "It's why I helped Beta through his drug problem."

"And where did that come from?" I ask Beta, curious.

"I was the one who suggested Alpha use the old internet system to release the human memories of the Fours," Beta says, his voice strained. "If you know, why are we still in our shells and not recycled?" The others look from him to me.

"Because this time I want to hold off the rebellion before it starts." I give them some time to consider that angle. Relief runs through them, and I am satisfied. This way, they satisfy their loyalty programming and deal with their human sensibilities. "What's more, I expect all of you to keep me informed of similar problems once this project is over. But I want to hold off on 71 recalling as long as I can. Hear me?"

This time Gamma spoke up. "My lord, 71's programmed as a service drone, but he's running your office alone better than the office full of Admins used to."

"He's making strategic suggestions better than programmed Commanders," Delta says, and Epsilon agreed.

"He asked me about dreams," Beta admitted. Drones don't dream, but sometimes they remember human memories when they recharge.

"Meaning?" I ask.

"He's worked as admin, military supply, and programmer before. He's recalling his work files from those past shells," Gamma said. "I think," she glanced at the others, "that he's fighting the recall. "

"Explain," I say, sharply. I don't like how that sounds. She cringes a little.

"When we recall," she says, "sometimes the host personality and the shell personality can merge. It's more of a gradual process."

"Sometimes the recall goes for a long time," 30 seconds. "When there's not much going on, the host personality wakes up, and works on breaching the firewall between the human mind and the shell's processor. But other times," he rubs the back of his neck, absently, "it happens all at once. The human personality bursts through, and wipes out the shell's personality completely. We don't know how. We just know it happens."

" I didn't want to recall," she admits. "When the download triggered, I tried to fight it. 35 jacked in and stopped me from burning out my processor."

"She had no defenses at all," 35 says unhappily. "All of it went to fight the download. If I hadn't been there, someone could have gotten in and done a lot of damage."

"My orders stand," I tell them, and they nod.

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