Chapter 5

I did not know it was possible to be this happy.

It took two cubes of high grade and the sight of Lord Megatron jealous of 35, but I finally ask him to teach me. Primus, what took me so long? I always wondered what all the fuss was about; now I know.

For the first few weeks, he reminds me over and over that we have the rest of our lives. I have trouble believing that. Fours cherish every chance for pleasure and joy we get, because we never know when we'll get another one. "It's all right, 71," he tells me, holding me against him and holding my hands so I won't try to start again. "You're mine now. We've got the rest of your life." That does comfort me. Drones live long lives compared to humans, but we seem short-lived to our Decepticon masters. But our host is held in a kind of stasis and be recycled if not harmed by some kind of violence. That's why the rumors of Alpha reborn keep cropping up, because host bodies are recycled whenever possible. I don't believe those rumors. How could a human body, fragile as it is, survive that long even in a shell?

Even though sometimes I know things and don't know why.

The Fallen tells me, "He'll use you, throw you back to service and forget about you. He's Megatron and you're a Four." Then, as usual, he asks me if I remember being human. I wonder why.

But everyone knows that an especially useful drone whose shell is damaged or breaks down can have both his host and his shell's memory files transferred to another shell. If I stay useful to Lord Megatron, he could do that for me. I want that. I want to stay by him as long as my host lasts. I want to be for him what Alpha never was. I know, deep in my processor, that I feel this way only for Lord Megatron. But despite what I want, I feel that sooner or later he will tire of me. I hold fast to my resolution. When the time comes and he dismisses me, I will not complain. I store every memory to cherish for that day. Maybe time will prove me wrong and he will keep his word, but Lord Megatron is a Decepticon. I don't count on it.

Eventually, when he keeps me in his berth and sees obsessively to my safety, I relax and let orns at a time go by without begging for more interfacing. For now, I'm with him every moment possible, and when I can't be close or need to run errands, I go out with one of the committee members or one of several members of either 95's or 30's squads. I feel as safe as a being can be in the Decepticon Empire.

My new lover likes to talk to me and tell me stories of the past. I listen for hours, fascinated by descriptions of other planets and times from an older Earth. "I wish I could take you to space," he says. He talks about Cybertron, and mourns its death. I find out that Optimus Prime is his brother. "Cybertron needed changes," he says. "But we didn't agree how. He wanted to work within the system. It didn't work. I guess he's still wandering around space somewhere. I'll go after him for the Cube if the scouts report. We haven't heard from them in a long while. "

He talks with hate about the humans who held him. He still holds that against the humans, even after all these vorns. "It's why I made Alpha at first, in revenge," he said. " I wanted service from the Witwicky boy for defying me and because his ancestor handed me over to his authorities. Sam taught me a great deal about how strong humans can be. He fought me from the beginning, even though he had to know escape was useless. He almost managed to kill himself by just not refueling for weeks. That's part of why I wanted him. I thought, if that determination could work for me, not against me-" He stopped.

We weren't in the berth that time. He went from meeting to meeting that day, while I spent the day working in his office with 35 and the other committee members. When he came back late, he just told me to come and we went to the balcony. I got both of us energon and he talked while we sipped. "Was he worth it?" I asked.

"Yes," he said, and vented. "I made a lot of mistakes with Alpha. He hurt me, and I hurt him, when he recalled, but most of our time together we were so happy. The problem is, he was right sometimes. After the fighting stopped, I'd make a small change and it would make a huge difference. I'm trying to learn this time." He finishes his cube. "You remind me of Alpha in his early days."

"I'm not Alpha," I told him. That night he just holds me, and I nestle against him, just wanting the comfort of each other's warmth.But I remember some of my dreams, and I feel uneasy. I don't think I went into this shell happy and willing. I think, like Alpha, that I fought. I know that the dreams are just old jumbled memory files from my human days.

I ask 35 soon after if he remembers being human. "Yeah," he said. "All Masters do, sooner or later, dealing with humans like we do. It helps with the work. Why do you ask?" I tell him about the dreams. "Come to me if they bother you," he says. "Or any of us. We can help. Don't try to deal with it on your own. I tried that." He gives me a crooked smile. "Why do you think I started the drugs? " I tell him I will, but after that I keep the dreams to myself. Dreams of a young human female with lovely dark long hair, crying and begging. Dreams of a young male with light hair, throwing a ball in some kind of game, trying to persuade me to do something. Dreams of two strong human males trying to take the two young humans away and waving me to come with them. One of the males is black skinned, the other pale like the young humans.

Dreams of fighting. Dreams of standing in front of a huge empty plain, with someone asking what I thought. Dreams of screaming and burning. I firewall the memories away. I don't have time to analyze them. There's work to do, important work. When it's done, I'll talk to 47 and 35 about them. Soon after I put up the firewall, when I'm alone in the quarters again, the Fallen appears. "Such a happy drone," he says this time, and I get the feeling he doesn't approve. Once again he asks me if I remember my human past. Soon after, C-2330 asked me the same question. This time I tell him I don't remember anything. He seems disappointed for some reason. I ask him the same question, and he says, "Not at all, but I think it could be interesting." I just shrug. I like C-2330 a lot; he and C-6784, are my favorites. They don't talk down to me and I feel safe with them.

The project moves steadily despite all the inevitable problems. Every drone involved wants this change to happen. 35 almost works himself into involuntary stasis several times. Once I ask him why, when C-6784 and I walk him to his quarters after a meeting. 47 threatened to haul him to the med bay and sedate him if he wouldn't get some recharge. On the way we pass J-3912 and he joins us. He and 84 talk like old friends. "I want to see this make right," 35 says fiercely. "In all our history, the humans were the victims. Now the humans are finally treated right, and here under our noses the Fours are being treated worse. "

"But you cannot do it all yourself," 84 says kindly. "You and 71 know those in service, but 71 cannot safely gather information now."

"Ha," 12 said. "You should hear the rumors flying. The word went out in less than an orn after Lord Megatron busted those pieces of scrap in public. For the first time this generation of Four drones hopes for changes. Some of them talk to me." We pass service drones in the hall working. One gives us the side look that focuses on our wrist numbers. Then her eyes go up to me. I stop. "35's room isn't far," 12 says quietly to 84. "You get him there, and I'll stay with 71." Then he shouts at the Four, "Hey, why are you slacking," and strides off while I squat.

"It's okay, he'll watch for us," I tell her quietly. "Talk to me."

She keeps working but says, "Tell the Master One that some of the supervisors are talking about the new upgrade. Some of them are suspicious. They say they're going to keep back the more popular ones and see what happens with the rest of us. Some of them are telling their drones that the upgrade means more restrictions." She glances fearfully at 12, who hovers down the corridor.

"It's a lie," I tell her. "You know where I work. Right?"

She nods. "You're a Four, but you can talk without permission," she answers. "I'll spread the word as I can." Fours have ways of getting the word out, despite the restrictions. It's hard, so we save it for important news.

"Be careful," I warn her, and she gives me a withering look. No Four needs that warning. "And I'll pass your message. We'll work it out. "She gives me a timid smile as I stand and walk back to 12.

84 appears from the other side. As he approached, he glanced around the corridor and saw no one else. He stops by her, and says quietly, "You may give anyone with this symbol,' he touches the emblem on his shoulder, denoting his unit, "or the Master you just saw, information, and we will help you." I wonder why 84 is a Commander and not a Master, working with the humans. But a lot of the drones in the project squads act like him. He's even got a few drones in other sections who work with us, giving advice and information. I mention their names to Lord Megatron as support staff when this project needs them. He looks at my notes when the time comes. Most of the drones look clean in the background checks, so he brings most of them in at one time or another.

I remember bringing Megatron and the committee the lists of transfers, of both the Service supervisors and the police drones. It's the first step in the project, and my own work. I feel frightened and proud as the orders go out. That night, we drink high grade and go to the berth for some prolonged 'facing.

The Service administrator, Lord Scavenger cooperates as he wants to keep his position. He even waits until he finishes work now to get to his high grade. He's got a new assistant, a former Constructicon called Hauler. Lord Megatron orders a deep investigation of this Cybertronian who appeared out of nowhere, but I see the results that show he is a fleeing neutral from the old wars who stumbled across Earth by accident. He accepts the assistant job happily even though most Decepticons consider Service the lowest department, and he does most of the work even with Lord Scavenger sober most of the time.

"Some of the new supervisors try to pick up what the old ones left behind," 95 reports at the following meeting, "but the Fours give them a hard time. They know something's up. "

"We're getting more attacks," 47 grumbles.

That's to be expected," 30 reminds her. "Are the medics reporting the attacks as ordered?"

"I am, and the others in my area are," she said. "I don't know about anywhere else. " While she remains the medic on the committee, she's gone back to her old work now that she and 35 completed the programming, to return when the downloads and activations start

"Is it possible to make the report automatic for all attacks?" I ask. "Not just the Fours, but all drones? " Something in the back of my processor tells me it's not only possible, but simple.

"I know a programmer we can ask," C-6784 says. "I can also provide means for Fours to reduce some of the attacks."

"When you have it, give it to me and I'll pass it on," 35 says. 84 sends the information immediately. The suggestions are sensible and simple, but not things I would think of. "Wish you'd mentioned this earlier."

"I put it together for this meeting," he says, "after speaking with the Four the last time I escorted you and 71." Sometimes I wonder how old 84 is. He and most of the members of his squad act older than 12 sometimes, and other times they sound as young as a newly made drone. They seem to be experienced, and then they'll ask about something every drone knows. I never mention this to Lord Megatron, though. I trust 84 and C-2330, more than anyone other than the committee members and I want to keep them as escorts.

The programmer, G-5299, turns out to be a drone about my size but with a sense of humor that doesn't stop. "Easy," he says about the automatic reports from the med-bay. Lord Hook is enthusiastic about anything that will save his medidrones time, and the program is implemented in record time. The reports show patterns, and the squads work out response times and means.

With the prosecution of crimes against Fours, the violence drops somewhat. "We brought in fourteen drones for the same crime in one night," 95 told me. "At this rate, they're going to have the streets swept clean in the city as well as the base!" I think about the matter, and when I can, sort through the data. Sure enough, the worst offenders repeat. I point this out to the committee and Lord Megatron. He changes the punishment code so that repeat offenders get stronger punishments, and the violence drops more.

I still visit 12 when I can. One time we're waiting in line in one of the supply markets, talking. He tells me and C-2330, "Most of the Fours know where the squads patrol, and they try to stay in those areas. Some of the patrons of the protection rings get nasty when the Fours they used to get avoid them now, though."

"That's stupid," I say. "If they paid the protector for the Four, why not offer something to the Four to see them?"

"Like what?"

"Have you ever tasted the energon a regular Four gets?" We got to the front of the line at that time, and I arranged for the transfer of the goods to Lord Megatron's quarters and to the office. When we turned to go, I noticed that a lot of drones watch, their optics thoughtful.

The next time I visit, 12 tells me that my comment fell on some interested ears. "What's more, your suggestion is working for a lot of them," he adds and laughs.

The new police commissioner, Counterpunch, snarks at the squad a lot, but he wants to prove he's worthy of the position, so he reviews and signs off on most of the transfers. He arranges for 95's and 30's squads to work with a specially trained set of P-levels to investigate all crimes against Fours now. He delegates one of his assistants, P-7769, to work with the squads and G-5299. The programmer gives P-7769 a hard time, but they work well together in spite of all that. J-3912 passes on more rumors as he hears them. We laugh over the more outrageous ones.

Hook orders an Empire-wide upgrade of all Four systems due to a 'minor glitch' found in some programming. Inspectors tour and ensure that no suspicious service supervisor or police officer tries to prevent the upgrade in Fours under their 'protection', motivated by a blunt memo stating that for every Four that missed the upgrade, they would lose a level. In the next committee, 30 tells us, "I snuck one set of Fours off while the inspector and the service supervisor shouted at each other. When I got back with them, those two were still arguing. I had to separate them and com the inspector before they killed each other." He laughed."The Fours thought that was hysterical. They grinned and nudged each other while they went off on their assignments."

Finally, finally comes the day of the announcement. I stand with the other committee drones behind Lord Megatron. I don't think I should be here, but everyone insists. "You've done as much work as any of us," the committee insisted. "You need to stand with us." We wait, polished to a bright shine, waiting for the video team to say everything is ready. Those news drones are almost glitching with curiosity.

Lord Megatron begins, "We all know that in the last revolution, Alpha activated the human memories of the Fours, and as a result, this Empire was threatened." He pauses, not for effect, but to be sure that the activation goes out as he speaks. "But the last of the Fours left alive from that time are dead, and I find that the restrictions on all Fours are no longer needed." He lists the restrictions and the releases. I get a message via comlink from 47 that the activation is complete. Then he goes on, "From now on, any drone who runs so called 'protection rings' is demoted to the Four level, as will any convicted of raping a Four." We know the upgrade is complete when we see videos of Fours cheering. Megatron steps off the platform and as he walks by he reaches out and pulls me against him. I look up at him, smiling, and he smiles back.

The Fallen appears again the next time I'm alone in Lord Megatron's quarters. This time, he says," Such a pretty obedient little servant you are. Don't you want a higher level? Megatron will give you one." I bow my head and say nothing. He asks again if I remember, and I only shake my head. When I look up, he's gone.

"I'm going to raise your level soon," Lord Megatron tells me shortly after. "You got the download activated first, you can be the first to rise in level. You've earned it, and not in my berth. I've already started the paperwork. "

The committee still meets to discuss problems, though with the changes implemented, the time between meetings stretches. So far, there's been nothing we didn't anticipate. As usual, it's held in the conference room near Lord Megatron's office. We tend to gather early. I can't wait to tell the others about the news about the raise in level, now that all Fours can get them. Then the admin for Lord Scrapper shows up. "Hey, 71, can you help me out here? I need the minutes to that last meeting with my boss and Lord Megatron. He's yelling about it. " I sigh and dig up the files, and he heads out. That makes me late, when normally I'm the first one there.

I approach the door and stop to listen when I hear my name. "Do you think 71's recalled yet?" 95 asks. "I worry about him. He must be accessing some of his old files just to run the office as well as he does." The door gapes open just enough for me to see them sitting around the table, and from where I'm standing, they can't see me unless they look in the right way. No one is.

"He said once that he's having dreams," 35 tells them, and he sounds troubled, "but that's been a while and he won't talk about them. Says they're too jumbled to make any sense."

"So nothing's triggered a download yet," 47 says. I see her clench her hands. "It's going to be bad if he keeps fighting it. I remember what it did to me. "

35 snorts, playing with a datapad. "I still don't dare touch high grade," he says. "I keep thinking, if I kept my mouth shut, maybe we'd've found something else without sending that release. Without what happened to the Fours."

"Beta, just because you told Alpha to use the old internet connections to release the Four's human memories doesn't mean it's your fault," 30 tells 35. "I led the assault on the military administration, which, I remind you, failed!"

"Don't blame yourself, Delta, we wouldn't have failed if Alpha got to the rest of the drones," 47 said, and sighed. "Damn that piece of slag Barricade," she added bitterly. "I should have just let him rape me. Instead I fight back, and the message comes at just that moment-"

"Gamma," 95 interrupts, "it wouldn't have mattered if you fought or not. It was just damned bad luck. Any soldier knows that can happen. By this time you should know that!"

"Shut it, Epsilon," 30 says wearily. "Miles and Mikaela were kids when they went into their shells. We were hardened soldiers. It still makes a difference." 35 makes a rude noise with his glossa and 47 lifts her third finger from a fist. "See, they're proving that now."

95 says, "Look, when it comes down to it, we got the reforms the humans needed. Right, Beta? The Masters don't treat humans like dirt anymore, they take care of them. And this time, it's not taking a rebellion to make a change."

"Rebellions are expensive to put down," 30 says cynically.

"He wants to make Alpha happy," 47 argues. "He doesn't really care about the Fours."

"I don't care if our Lord High Conqueror makes changes because he doesn't want a rebellion or because it's cheaper or because he's fragging Alpha and wants to keep him happy. He's making them. We're getting a chance to make it right. Now ditch the guilt trips and let's get some work done, all right?"

"Alpha-no. 71's not here yet. " They all agree to stop using the original drone names. "It's hard when we're all together like this," 95 mutters.

My processor whirls. As I assimilate that conversation, I go over what I know of them.

The Original Five drones. Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon. All made before the mass production of drones began. All made with custom built shells, with implants that, according to rumor, still work with current shells. Sometimes dronemasters play with using those kind of implants, but Hook thinks it's a waste of time and Starscream disappeared long ago into space, looking for Autobots.

Miles Lancaster and Mikaela Banes were friends of Sam Witwicky, the host for Alpha, and they came to rescue him. Instead, they went into shells, becoming Beta and Gamma respectively. They were support staff, like Alpha.

William Lennox and Robert Epps came to the base as scouts, partly because they found out that Mikaela and Miles went. They found the teens being prepared for the drone insertion. They almost got them out. Alpha found them, and they were taken for another drone experiment, to see if drones could be soldiers. They were Delta and Epsilon, respectively.

They said I was Alpha.

I am not Alpha. I am S-4371.

But somewhere in me, something wakes. Memory stores open, and flood my processor with information. I fight it, bringing up the firewall and holding on to it with every ounce of strength I possess. I don't want it. I am not Alpha. I will not be Alpha. I am 71.

"What's that?" Vaguely I hear sounds of feet, then frantic voices. "He's down. 71, answer me." I ignore them. I must hold the firewall. I am not Alpha. I will not be Alpha. Dimly, I know I've fallen. I'm being carried to the medbay. I hear them tell me not to fight, that I'll hurt myself, that I have to let the memories surface. Drones can't fight downloads; they can control the rate, but not refuse them without doing processor damage.

I don't care. I am not Alpha. I am 71. I will not become Alpha. I will not accept this download. I will let my processor burn out first.

"Get coolant into him." That's 47. Gamma. Mikaela. I get the flash of the young human girl crying again. It's her. I push more power into the firewall. No. I don't want the memories. I don't want to change.

I hear rushed vents from two drones. "My lord," 35 begins, but the berth beneath me goes away, replaced by air, until I feel large arms around me. I try to block it out and concentrate on the firewall.

Then someone else is in my processor. "Little fool," the Fallen croons. "The flood of memory freezes. "Let's see what we have here," and suddenly a memory floods through my processor.

I'm running. I'm running harder than I ever have before. I've never had a reason to run like this before. My lungs burn, breathing in the smells of the city being destroyed. There are explosions all around me, jets flying in the sky. The ground behind me shakes. I'm being chased.

I'm holding something in my hands. Warm metal, engraved with strange symbols, pressing their marks deep into my hands. I keep running.

I'm so small compared to the buildings around me. Smaller than usual. Even the buildings look small. I'm tiny. I'm a human. Oh god.

I trip, the Cube hits the ground, something grunts but I'm not sure if it's me. I stumble to my feet and keep running, hearing something shift and morph behind me.

I'm heading into a building, something in me screams about a roof, getting to the roof, getting the AllSpark out of here. There's no time.

"Give me the Cube, boy!"

I'm falling, falling down, down, down.

"Hang on Sam!" My back hits hard metal, thank god Optimus, Megatron's following us. I watch him fall, holding onto the giant fingers clutching me for dear life as Optimus breaks his fall with the high rises around us.

A missile slams into Megatron, knocking him far away from us, very far away. Optimus lands. A voice whispers in my head. I know what I must do. For Earth… For humanity…

Optimus sets me down, but before he can speak I'm on him. "Optimus, listen to me. The Cube can't stay on Earth, I need you to take it somewhere else. Take it far away from my planet. That's what Megatron wants, right? He wants the Cube , and he'll follow you to get it!"

"Sam, you have to put the-"

" No ! Listen to me Optimus, you know Megatron better than I do! As long as he's alive, he will continue to kill people. I can't stop your war, but I'm going to keep it away from Earth. Take the Cube and go!"

"Sam…" Optimus' optics are so full of regret. "There is another option."

"No. There isn't." My voice is final. "As long as your kind are on my planet, humanity will be in danger. You want the Cube to recreate Cybertron? Then take it!" I ex tend the Cube. Optimus leans back, before resignation enters those optics. He reaches down and his fingers graze the metal surface of the Cube. A humming fills my entire body, and my mouth moves before I can stop myself. "I need you to promise me something Optimus."

Optimus' optics go wide. "Samuel…?"

"Promise me you won't do anything with the Cube that will endanger Earth or my kind."

"I… I promise."

Not good enough, something hisses, and my mouth moves again. "Swear it."

A new expression dawns in those optics. "Sam?"

"Swear it on the AllSpark!"

Optimus stares at me. "I… swear it."

The Cube is lifted from my hand, and I pull away. Optimus stands to his full height, tucking the Cube into some impossible subspace pocket. He calls for a retreat. With one last look at me, he transforms and drives through the chaos, out of the city and out of my life. It'll be the last time I ever see him. There's a loud boom from behind me. I turn around, knowing what I'll see. Megatron watches Optimus retreat, unspeakable disgust on his face. "Boy, what have you done?"

"I gave him the Cube, Megatron." My voice is braver than I actually feel like. "You want it, you'll have to go after him." I watch Megatron intently. "There's no reason for you to stay on Earth. Optimus will be taking the Cube into space."

Megatron looks at me in an odd way. "Boy," He says, "Do you really think that I came here simply to find the Cube and leave ?"

My heart drops to my feet. Megatron lunges. I run again. But this time he catches me.

No, no, no, I am not Alpha!

The Fallen laughs as 35 and 47 protest. "Tell your lord that his brother died. I don't need him anymore. Alpha will take his place. "

Never, I think. Never will I oppose Lord Megatron.

"I'll bring back Alpha, my way," he says. "And you will kill your lord as I watch."

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