Chapter Eight

I hurt. My arm leaks energon steadily, and my chest burns. The Fallen's remains lie in front of me. Irony, that the Prime he thought dead killed him, a Prime who hid as a drone under our pedes. C-2330 stands beside him, transformed into the Autobot with the insect name. I can see the wound through the shell on J-3912. No wonder he fought like a Seeker. J-no, Jetfire- doesn't look much better than I feel. He leans hard on his staff.

"Brother," I say. "The Fallen thought you were dead. How-Why-" I try to stand, but I can't. My processor can't keep up with all the changes. While Optimus keeps that oversized ax out, he's not threatening me with it. Alpha runs over and stops the bleeding by holding the main fuel line on my arm. While he works, I call Strika, and get no answer. Instead, I call Long Haul. "Situation?"

"Strika's dead. Barricade got a spark shot in before her squads overwhelmed him and his allies. He was the last traitor left. The rest are dead." He sounds eager to give me good news. "But-" He stops, and the rest comes out in a rush. "Autobot forces showed up out of nowhere. They went past the defense network with no problem at all. They choked off the Moon base and currently hover just outside the blast radius for the ground defenses. The one exception is a huge ship that is coming down for a landing." He waits for the cursing or screaming or orders.

I look up and see the ship he's referring to. I look down and see Alpha is getting the same news. I send Long Haul a databurst of my situation. "If the Autobots attack, fight back. Otherwise clean up the mess and wait to hear from me." I cut him off there. The smaller Autobot comes up and offers a patch, which Alpha uses. At least I'm not leaking anymore.

"I've called for pickup and a medic," Optimus says. "I can explain on board. "

"No," I say, as though he would listen. I can't stand up and I doubt I could fire if I wanted to, but I'm not going on that ship without whatever struggle I can manage.

"We have perfectly good medics available, thank you," Alpha elaborates for me. "What are you doing here, Optimus Prime?" He moves to stand in front of me, where a killing shot at me would go through him first.

"Looking for the Matrix, looking for Alpha, and gathering information," the Prime says calmly. "Alpha sent me a message, some time ago, asking for help. I wanted to investigate the situation before acting." He looks up. Alpha follows his gaze, seeing the ship above us the first time.

"And what then?" he asks, his vocalizer rising with each word. "That was twenty-some generations ago, and where the hell were we needed you, when my first shell died to get that message out? When all of us got thrown into a cycle of rebellion and rebirth?"

"It was lost and only recently found." Optimus stands more than twice Alpha's height. He's backing away. Alpha doesn't even have a weapon, since he dropped it to see to me.

"So now just when we get Megatron to the point where he's finally listening to someone besides that spawn of Unicron, you come along and just take over?" Alpha's vocalizer must be hitting its highest registers by now. It's possible the ship can hear him.

"No," Optimus said, trying to stem the flow. I could have told him to spare his vocalizer.

"No?" Alpha snarls, taking a step away from me. He radiates self-righteous rage. "So how do you explain that?" He points at the huge ship making its way down at some distance from us. I see a shuttle peel away from it and head our way. "An investigation doesn't take an army!"

"True," Optimus tries again, looking toward me for help. I just vent. Nothing less than a cannon blast will stop Alpha at this point.

He points to the Fallen's dead body. "Here, right here, was more than half of the problem. You've got the Matrix. You and Jetfire and Bumblebee and whoever else you've got scattered around spying for you did your investigating. Fragging over 30 while you're at it, I might add. He just called, asking me if you were all right, asking me to send you back to help fight the Autobots when they attack. What the Pit will he think when he finds out his lover is the one who brought them?" That jab makes Optimus wince. So 30 doesn't know either, with the two of them that close? Did 95, who works with C-6784 constantly? He must, to know that 84 would be 'effective'. Did the other recalled drones know?

"Where's 71 and what did you do to him?" the yellow bot asks. Grief splashes over Alpha's face. Startled and unhappy at the reaction, the bot looks from Alpha to Jetfire. "I'm sorry, I was joking-"

"71 recalled," Jetfire says flatly. "That's Alpha, in front of you."

My head sags. I knew with my processor that Alpha came through, but Jetfire's words drive the knowledge into my spark. "I'm sorry, Megatron," Alpha tells me, and I can hear the pain in his voice. "He was a good kid. I didn't want to, but we didn't have a choice. That piece of slag reprogrammed him into a puppet. "

"I saw," I tell him, lifting my head to look at him with some effort. Bumblebee and Optimus just look confused.

Alpha turns to Optimus. "You want to talk to me? Fine. Tell your damned army to go back to wherever the hell they came from, and send a decent diplomatic delegation when we've had time to clean up from this mess. "

"Take it down an octave, and give the Prime a chance to speak," Jetfire tells him testily, as the shuttle lands and mechs emerge. I try to stand again, and again get nowhere. "If he wanted you dead, Megatron, you would be."

"I did complete my investigation," Optimus says to Alpha. "I offer all of you choices. I ask you to come to Fort Maximus and discuss them, as my guests."

"Oh?" Alpha challenges. "Since when do you need an army to offer choices? Or extend an invitation? "

"I needed to be sure you would listen," the Prime replies in a bland voice, as the mechs approach warily. One is Ultra Magnus, one of the few Autobots that can give me a challenge when I'm normal. Two of the mechs herd a cursing Alpha away as Optimus and Ultra Magnus disable my weapons, my transformation cog, and my com. So much for being a guest, I think.

When we get to the medbay, Optimus stays behind as Ultra Magus leaves. "Call me when Hoist gets to you," he tells Optimus, and gives me a hostile glance. We've tangled in the past.

Hoist runs some scans on me. "I've never seen anything like it," the orange and green medic says, mystified. "There are dents in your spark chamber. I'm sure it hurts like the Pit, but your spark's strong. Considering the risk working that close to your spark, you're better off letting your self-repair take care of it." He offers some painkiller energon, but I refuse it, wanting to keep my head clear. He doesn't argue, only turns off the pain receptors in my arm and starts to work taking off the patch and starting the repair. Jetfire lies on a berth nearby, with a new repair over his spark chamber.

Alpha sits on a berth, watching anxiously. Bumblebee stands nearby. "Is it true your host is Sam Witwicky?" he asks.

"When did Ratchet finally get around to repairing your voice?" Alpha asks instead of replying. "Which is good, since we don't have radio stations you can use anymore."

"You're Sam," he says.

"I was when I was human," Alpha tells him. "I was a human for seventeen years. I was a drone for more than twenty generations before I recalled , so I'm Alpha."

Bumblebee considers that and vents. "That makes a weird kind of sense," he admits. "But I still don't understand how you were 71 and now you're Alpha. I know Jetfire said you recalled, but I thought that just meant you got access to your human host's memories."

"I'm different," Alpha says, and jumps up to pace.

I can see the signs of a meltdown, but before I can speak up, Hoist says, "I'm going to turn your receptors back on. Please move your arm." The feeling returns to my arm, and I move it. While Hook could do better, I decide the repair was adequate. I thank the medic stiffly. He trots over to Jetfire to check that the welds on the repair set properly.

"What happened to 71?" Bumblebee persists before I can stop him.

"Look, 71's gone," Alpha says, and his vocalizer gets full of static. "I had to override him," and his vocalizer went into static again. Ultra Magnus appears at the door, but stands watching silently.

"You mean you killed him?" Bumblebee says, and his look is hostile. I remember that he escorted 71 a lot because 71 liked him.

"There were two personalities in you?" Hoist ventures. "And you erased his to take control?"

"I had to!" Alpha shouts. "You don't understand." He looks at me, pleading with his optics. "I didn't have a choice."

Usually when I need to calm down Alpha in a state like this-that includes any of his shells, 71 included- I prefer to use at least two cubes of high grade and some prolonged interfacing. At this moment that's not an option. Instead I hold out my arms.

Alpha rushes to me. "It's all right," I tell him. "I knew 71 would recall sometime. I knew who his host was as soon as I saw him." With my good arm, I bring him to my lap. "Tell me what happened. 35 said 71 recalled and the Fallen took you from the medbay." I glance at the Autobots, but they only stare in shock. Bumblebee opens his mouth, but Jetfire smacks him and he says nothing.

Alpha presses his head into my neck. "71 tried to firewall off the download," he says, barely loud enough for the others to hear. He described what happened. "He fought so hard. If he hadn't, the Fallen would have found me, and all of us would've died. He was so busy tormenting 71 and hacking the shell programming that he didn't look further."

The Autobots look at us with horror. "The Fallen hacked him?" Hoist asks. To some Cybertronians, being hacked is the worst form of torture. "But you weren't affected."

Alpha nodded. "He didn't want to die," he says, and had to reset his vocalizer again. "But I couldn't undo the hack. He hooked it into 71's core programming, made him a puppet."

"So 71 had the choice of being controlled by the Fallen or letting you overwrite him," Hoist sums up, and I see sympathy and understanding on all their faces. These are battle-hardened soldiers, and all of them understand hard choices.

"Before I tried, 71 was a puppet. I didn't want to overwrite him, but we had no time. I couldn't undo the hack. The best I could do was make sure I had all his memories stored. He told me to do what I had to." He presses his face into my neck and keens.

"When you overrode him, it erased the hack because you essentially replaced that programming with your own," Hoist says slowly.

"Yes," Alpha says, and his vents hitch again.

"Alpha," I said softly, moving my hand to his neck and rubbing. "You know the Fallen intended to destroy Earth and the humans. So did 71."

He nods against me. "I know," he whispers.

"So we had to stop him. "I move to his shoulders, and they relax a little. "71 was hacked. He couldn't fight. He knew that. He accepted it. "

"You were so happy with him," Alpha whispered. "He had such a hard life, and he was happy for such a short time. I wanted to merge. We could have done it. If he'd just accepted the download!"

"The Fallen would have hacked through to you. You would have killed me when he told you, and either be dead now, or still be his puppet. You know that." Alpha vents again, refusing to weep in front of me. "I'll miss 71. But I have my Alpha back. "I move to rub his back, in that one good place, and feel the tension drain from him. "It's all right," I say again.

When I look up, I see five Autobots gaping at us in shock. Ultra Magnus shakes his head. "Where is Megatron and what did you do to him?" he asks.

"Come," Optimus Prime says. "We'll discuss matters after recharge." They didn't try to separate us as we followed them to a room. It wasn't the brig, which I half-expected, but it locked from the outside, and if I bothered to look I knew I'd find about thirty security cameras. I didn't care. The only thing both of us wanted was that berth, and if they wanted to watch the two of us recharge, let them.

I wake to the familiar feeling of Alpha's warmth against my side. When I stir, he wakes as well, and his hands wander to some interesting places. "My chest still hurts," I tell him.

"You need some distraction," he says, and doesn't stop.

"You know they're watching us," I advise.

"Let's give them a show," he suggests. I grab his hands before he gets too convincing. Fortunately for me, the door opens and a glowering Ironhide appears with his cannons out. I glimpse Ultra Magnus behind him. "Primus, Ironhide, I know you're proud of your cannons, but do you use them for everything? We don't need a shot to wake us up." I hear a rumble of laughter from the larger mech.

Blindsided, Ironhide stars at Alpha. "Do I know you?" he asks.

Alpha gets up and stretches. I enjoy the baffled look on the old soldier's face. "We met the last time you were on Earth," Alpha says. To me he adds, "Looks like he didn't get the memo."

"Brat," I say. Alpha snickers. Ironhide growls.

"Since you're awake," Ultra Magnus says, "I thought you might like to use the Prime's washracks. Afterwards, Optimus needs to speak to you. Alpha, Ironhide will escort you."

"I want to stay with Megatron," Alpha argues.

"That is not an option," Ultra Magnus says. Alpha presses against me. "The washracks for the Prime are tailored to mechs our size. They would flatten you. The regular washracks are too small for Megatron." Then he smiles. "Don't you want to get the sand off?"

I do. So does Alpha, from the way he rubs his arm. "If I have to have an escort, where's Bumblebee?"

"Elsewhere," Ultra Magnus says. "Go with Ironhide." That was a command. Alpha considers his options, and mischievous light fires up in his optics. He glances at me. My mouth twitches. That's all he needs. Meekly, he goes with Ironhide.

84 knew 71. Before recharge, Optimus saw Alpha in distress. He has no idea what Alpha is capable of. I say nothing and go with Ultra Magnus. I expect to have Alpha back with me by the end of the cycle.

The washracks feel wonderful. I take my time, getting the sand out of my joints and missing 71, who loved to polish me afterwards. Well, normally we wound up doing more than polish, if we had time. Primus, I miss him.

When I finish drying, I find Optimus waiting instead of Ultra Magnus. He takes me to his office, where several datapads and a cube of energon await me. "Tell me when you finish," he says, and sits behind his desk. There's a large porthole behind it, with a wonderful view of sand and sunlight.

By the time I finish the datapads, I'm wishing for high grade. A lot of it. How could I be so blind? "So you have Iacon and Tyger Pax rebuilt," I say slowly. "Starscream is rebuilding Vos with his trine and a few others. Why didn't the Coneheads stay?"

"They contested with Starscream and lost," Optimus explains. "When they lost, they started working with the Combaticons, raiding all the cities." I hiss and put down the datapad.

"It seems that the word traveled everywhere but here," I state with some bitterness. He has more than triple the population I do to draw on, including the ones I sent out to search who never came back. Anyone is accepted, regardless of faction, who swears to stop fighting and obey the laws of the planet. "So, who rules Cybertron?"

"I head the Council," he tells me.

"And Sentinel? " The datapads mentioned Sentinel in passing as helping to build the space bridge, but Sentinel already had a space bridge. I remembered our deal. He would find a suitable planet, and we would use the space bridge to bring Cybertron to it and use the planet's resources, including its population, to rebuild. If I had access to my weapons, they would be powering up now. While I build Alpha's shell, I had two alternatives. If we found the Matrix, I would harvest the Sun, revive the hatchlings, and use the energon to revive Cybertron. If I found the Autobots and regained the Cube, I would wake Sentinel and use the Cube and Earth's resources to rebuild Cybertron. I never found either. The hatchlings died, and I became absorbed in creating and maintaining my mixed human/drone/Cybertronian empire. Between Alpha and his rebellions, and the work of maintaining an empire, the dream of reviving a dead Cybertron became more and more remote.

Cybertron will not take my people to rebuild. I'll die and take the last Prime with me first.

"I know of your pact with Sentinel," he says. "He smiles grimly. "Once I knew the purpose of the lead pillar, I destroyed it. Sentinel was not happy with me."

"I gather you won that fight." Sentinel was a powerful mech. How much help did it take?

"When I applied the Cube to repair him, the All-Spark within it passed judgment and downgraded him. He is no longer a Prime."

I sit and process that. Then I process it again. "Why are you here?" I ask again. "You've put out a lot of resources to come here. "Those were resources badly needed for rebuilding. He had enough firepower to swoop down and completely take over my empire within weeks. Instead he was sitting here talking to me. Why? "You can rest assured," I added, "that I am listening."

He got up and went to the porthole. "The All-Spark is missing part of itself," he says so softly I have to strain to hear. "In all the time that we have settled Cybertron, we have only had ten successful sparks."

I close my eyes. "Ten sparklings in all this time," I repeat. He nods, not looking at me.

"I know where the part went," he goes on. "But I believed that in all this time, it was lost. Then Perceptor came across a reference to the Matrix of Leadership. We hoped it would help, as it is a powerful artifact. By that time, we made contact with Jetfire. From him we learned that the Matrix was on Earth, and of the existence of the Fallen. So, we came to investigate. I had to come, as only a Prime can touch the Matrix. "He turned to me. "You do know that if the Fallen succeeded, he wanted to wake Unicron."

"No," I admit. "I didn't know that."

"So, we came. We managed to insinuate ourselves into the drones. "He sits down. "We collected a great deal of information, some of it pertinent, some of it not."

"As in how to overload with a drone?" I asked, and enjoy the look he gives me. "You do know that 30 is Delta?" I've startled him. "One of the original five drones. His host is Will Lennox." I let him squirm for a time before I drag my processor back to business. "What did you learn and why is it important?"

"We learned that you believed Cybertron dead, and therefore did not send the Combaticons to prey on us," he says slowly. "We learned that over these centuries, you have changed, and this world has changed."

"So?" I ask, wishing he would get on with it. "What next?"

"One suggestion," he says, " is that we could evacuate the planet, use the Sun Harvester, and take the population to Cybertron to rebuild. There are many planets that the humans can settle in time." He raises his hand as I almost come out of my chair. "I opposed this, and Sentinel does not have the backing to push the matter. " I settle back, still seething. "Another, the one I favor, is to bring you and your fellow Cybertronians back home. There are plenty of cities to rebuild. In return for assisting the humans and drones to self-rule, we ask to use the resources in this asteroid field and the solar system, which at this time the humans do not need." He levels a hard look at me. "One thing I do insist on. There will be no more drones unless and until the human goes in aware and able to control the shell. Wheeljack and Perceptor can work on this if the humans wish to continue the drone program." He paused. "I do know that many of the drones like the idea of self-rule."

Of course they would. "Which drone did you work with?" I ask. Who betrayed me? I wonder.

"None of them knew I was 84 until the Fallen took 71 and you told 95 you were going after him. At that time I explained the matter to him. He knew that if this world was to survive, he had to cooperate with me. He did not like it."

I vented deeply. So, none of my original five drones betrayed me. "Why did you want to talk to Alpha?" I asked.

This time he vented slowly. Then he showed me a hologram, when Sam handed him the Cube. I stared. "He asked you to swear on the All-Spark," I ask. "Not the Cube?"

He nods. "Not only that. When both of us touched the Cube, something spoke to me, telling me to swear and to go. I believe the All-Spark was controlling Sam." My tank begins to churn and my spark to twist. Of course he thought the All-Spark remnant lost, because it went into a human.

For my race to go on, the All-Spark needs the rest of itself, and now Optimus knows that the being it went into is still alive.

Sam Witwicky. Alpha's host.

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