Chapter Nine

I take Megatron's expression as permission to raise all the hell I can manage. Still, I go to the washracks with Ironhide without a fuss; once Ultra Magnus mentions sand, I feel coated with it. I head for the one the back corner. I wish I was with Megatron; usually I polish him afterward and that leads to some fun. As the water runs over me, I cast my processor back to the confrontation before that shuttle landed. I line up questions I want answered, and there are a lot of them. Besides, I needed to know how the fight went. I didn't get much from 30. So, as I begin to scrub, I contact 95.

"What the hell is going on?" he explodes, and I send him a databurst. There's a short pause, and this time his com sounds tired and puzzled. "I just sent that to the others." He sends me a databurst while the others join us.

"Well, the Sun's still here, the rebellion is over, Megatron and all of us are alive," I say when all of us absorb the info. "I'm sorry about 71." Grief and guilt hit me again.

"He was a good kid, but Megatron was right," 95 said. "How do think I felt when two of my squad turn out to be Autobots? But when they told me about what the Fallen could do with the Matrix, I had to make the call."

"You made the right one," I tell him. "Not only will I take the Autobots over the Fallen any day, I like the Sun the way it is. And only the Prime could defeat the Fallen. " I consider what the databurst."Pits! If Barricade wasn't dead, I'd kill him for taking Strika out." No matter how much of a mean bitch she was, she could hold the others in line while remaining loyal to Megatron.

"Where's Megatron? Right now Counterstrike and Long Haul are working together, but they can't keep the rest in line for long even with the Autobots breathing down their necks," 95 says, and 30 agrees profanely.

"He's talking to Optimus." God in Heaven and Primus in the Matrix, it felt good to have the sand off! "They separated us this morning."

"84 was Optimus the whole time?" 30 says, and I hear the hurt in his voice. "But-but I've knew him before he got on the squad!"

"How well?" 35 asks him. "You haven't been 'facing him that long, right?" I see Ironhide look over. I pretend to get sand out of my joints. Then he steps out. Good. "Besides, you didn't exactly tell him about being Delta, did you?"

"No. And we started 'facing after I got on the committee. Before that he was just another Commander, assigned to patrol in the boondocks. If I remember right his shell and a few others had the oddball names because they were experimental models." That's not unusual. They're always fiddling with the drone shells, and sometimes they give oddball numbers if the status is a One.

"I picked him because he had a reputation for being fair, but tough," 95 said unhappily. "And I never had a clue until he transformed in front of me!"

I remind him that Megatron and the other True Decepticons, who knew Optimus a lot better than we did, never noticed either. "71 didn't know but I did. I didn't want to come through because he was so happy, and I thought 95 and 30 knew. Since I trusted you guys-"

"Enough with the blame game!" 35 shouts, and I wince into the spray. "Deal with now, okay? Now, how do we find the rest of the spies?"

"Remember way, way back when we had telephones and letters were assigned to the numbers?" I ask. After a pause, they agree, puzzled. "Apply it to 84 and 330. Then think about anyone else with an experimental name."

"Hey, I thought Jazz died?" 47 exclaimed a few minutes later. 35 works through possible names on P-7769, and in a moment gives several ideas.

"Guess not," 95 said. "There's part of our answer. He's right in the middle of the computer network, isn't he? Not to mention P-7769, who's Counterpunch's right hand drone. He could do a lot of playing with the backgrounds and such there."

"Look, they repaired Megatron's arm, and took him to Prime's washracks, so I doubt they intend to kill him. But I have a lot of questions that need answers," I remind them.

"Yeah," 30 agrees. "Like, why did the Prime come on a scout mission when supposedly he's their leader? You don't risk the top guy like that unless you've got no choice."

"How does the Matrix harvest the Sun?" 47 asks. "The energon has to go somewhere, and that was just an itty- bitty thing. Why does Optimus want the Matrix? "

"Why does he want to talk, specifically, to Alpha and if he does why is he talking to Megatron first? " 35 asked. "For that matter, if they're rebuilding Cybertron, why did they bring an army ? Why spend all that money and time for Earth? It's not for us and the humans, I'm sure of that."

"He said he offered choices," I added, "but what choices?" I glanced over at Ironhide again. He's scowling in my direction. "Look, I've got to go. I'll keep my ears open. You guys get hold of those two and whoever else you think might have answers, and let me know."

I turn off the spray and turn on the dryer. Ironhide comes over while I'm finishing. "Take you long enough?" he grumps.

"You weren't fighting in that damned sand yesterday," I point out. "It gets everywhere, let me tell you, and it itches." He takes a few steps and waits. I don't move. "Where are we going?"

"Rec room," he informs me, and I fall in with him. The moment he mentions the rec room, I realize how long since I refueled. Besides, I need to know where the fuel is.

When we enter the rec room, every optic in the place swivels to me. I follow Ironhide to the energon dispenser conscious of about twenty Autobots in a kaleidoscope of colors and sizes. Murmurs start, most of them curious or hostile. One of the smaller ones, only about a meter taller than I am and a bright red, steps in front of me. "What's a Decepticon doing here?" he asks. "Why isn't he in the brig?"

Ironhide shoves the hostile Autobot away from me. "Get back, Cliffjumper. Prime wants to talk to him when he's finished with Megatron. "

"I told Optimus we'd be glad to go home after all of us defeated the Fallen," I say, loud enough for the room to hear, "but he insisted that we were his guests. Well, now everyone in the room including Ironhide gawks at me." I sip from the cube he gives me. It's as good as the kind Megatron gets, and goes down just fine.

"You helped stop the Fallen," Cliffjumper says, disbelief in his voice. He looks at me, with my small frame, no weapons, and none of the sharp bits and claws most Deepticons have. He huffs in disbelief but sits down.

"Me, Megatron, Optimus, Jetfire and Bumblebee," I qualify. "I took out his space bridge." I was aiming for something more vital, but they didn't know that.

"Sit down and tell us what happened," Ironhide demands, grabbing my arm and moving me to a nearby seat. I sip and tell them about the fight with the Fallen, just saying that the Fallen kidnapped me. I skip the part about 71 and the hacking. "So taking out the space bridge was a lucky hit," Ironhide concludes.

I shrug. "I still took out his space bridge and knocked the Matrix out of his hand. With his own spear, too." Ironhide snorts, amused, as laughter runs through the room. "So what are you guys doing here?" I ask, looking around.

"Pirates," Cliffjumper says. "Those Combaticons and the Coneheads cowards kept sneaking in, blowing up buildings and stealing energon, and they almost killed a sparkling! " He sounds almost sulky when he adds, "But when we got here, they were fighting you, so we waited."

"That's where they've been all this time?" I ask, and suddenly the Fallen's strategy falls into place. The Fallen wasn't just playing Megatron. He was playing the Autobots as well, planning a massive chain of destruction. "They goaded you," I said. "Goaded you until you came after them, and then they attacked here. They wanted you to attack Earth." I look over at Ultra Magnus. He's putting the pieces together, too, but he doesn't want to discuss it in front of the troops. "But why did the Prime come first?"

"The Prime came for the Matrix," he says.

"Well, Optimus has it, and good riddance," I say emphatically. They look surprised. "We need the Sun right where it is. But how does the Matrix work? How can something this small," I sketched out the size and shape of the Matrix, "harvest a Sun? For that matter, why's it called a Matrix of Leadership if it makes stars into energon?"

This time the optics move from me to Ultra Magnus. "It's called a Matrix of Leadership because only Primes can use it," he explains. "It can do a lot more than activate the Sun Harvester. I wonder why the Fallen never used it before?"

"Right before I stuck the spear in him, he held it in front of Megatron and said something about how he found it in spite of Megatron and in spite of his brothers." I shiver, remembering that moment and just how close we were to losing not just our lives, but my world.

"Megatron didn't want him to find it?" Ironhide asks. Murmurs run through the room.

"No. He thought Cybertron was dead. He had no intention of letting the Fallen destroy this planet when he had nowhere to go. "Dead silence follows.

"How would you know?" Cliffjumper wonders out loud. "He's Megatron, there's no telling what he's hiding. " They don't want to believe me. They came thinking they could get rid of Megatron once and for all.

"I'm his personal assistant," I point out.

"And his lover," Ironhide adds. "Why do you think Megatron went after him, you scraphead?"

Everyone looks at me again. I resist the urge to squirm. "I said, "You came to stop the pirates, and Prime came to get the Matrix. The reason must've been pretty important if he came himself. "

Attention turns again to Ultra Magnus. "Optimus is discussing the matter with Megatron now," he says smoothly. "If you're finished, I'd like to talk to you." Around us a buzz starts up. I walk out with Ultra Magnus and Ironhide feeling pretty irritated with myself. I need to discuss this with Megatron, not one of Optimus Prime's top people. We go straight to an office. I wonder if it belongs to someone, since it's got no decoration at all, just a desk and some chairs. Ultra Magnus sits behind the desk. Ironhide and I sit across from him. "Let me get this straight," Ultra Magnus says. "Megatron thought Cybertron was dead, because Shockwave and the Fallen told him that, and because his scouts never came back." He leans over his desk, looking at me intently.

"The one lead they gave him came up a dead end, an old base or something," I tell him. "It was a trick to get him away from Earth so Shockwave could take over. He got back just in time to settle things down." I feel silly in the chair; it's made for one of the larger bots, not a small drone, and my feet dangle.

They trade looks. "So Megatron didn't order them to attack Cybertron? " The tension in the room is thick enough to cut. I shake my head. Ultra Magnus says carefully, "So the Fallen, he was Megatron's master? He was the leader of the Decepticons?"

"His name was Megatronus Prime," I say. That gets a reaction from both of them. "Megatron called him Master, and at first they worked together, but before Shockwave they started having problems. Megatron was always the leader. The Fallen wanted it that way. He wouldn't come out until he knew the last Prime was dead, because only a Prime could defeat him."

"One of the Original Thirteen," Ironhide whispers. "The one who turned on his brothers. Primus help us all. "Now he believes me. Ultra Magnus nods, just as shaken. "But why kill Megatron?"

"I think the Fallen figured out where the Matrix was only recently. When he believed that Optimus Prime died, I think he planned to goad you into an attack, and use the Matrix and the Sun Destroyer when you came after us, while all the fighting was going on and no one was paying attention. He had to kill Megatron first, because Megatron knew what he would do with the Matrix. That's why he went after me, to distract Megatron and kill him before Megatron brought enough troops to stop him. "

The huge warrior thought it over. "Why did he think Optimus was dead?"

"Scanning a drone shell and transforming hides the spark signature of the Cybertronian. Jetfire's been using it for ages to hide from the Fallen. I think that has something to do with it. He told Megatron that someone called Sentinel wasn't a Prime anymore." I shift in my chair, wishing I could talk to Megatron, but I want convince these two that Megatron never sent the 'pirates.'

"There were some rumors that Optimus was dead after he left to find the Matrix," Ultra Magnus murmurs. "The pirates probably heard them. Between those and the blocked spark-"I nod. "We got word from Optimus to stand down as soon as we arrived, something about a rebellion. That was our pirates, then?"

"Yes. They were working with the Fallen against Megatron; I heard him say so."

"Megatron's changed," Ultra Magnus says, and his voice is grudging. "I need to speak to Optimus, let him know about all this, but I see now why Optimus told us not to attack. This changes everything. " I relax. Maybe the Autobots and Decepticons can work matters out now that the Fallen is gone.

Then I remember the most important question. "Why did Optimus Prime come after the Matrix?" I ask. Maybe if I phrase the question right, I'll get an answer.

"It's a powerful artifact," Ultra Magnus answers. "We need it in the rebuilding. "

"By using it for its original purpose?" I challenge him.

"We don't kill races wholesale," Ironshide growls. "That's Decepticon behavior."

I shrug, unimpressed. Ultra Magnus steps in before Ironhide explodes. "We thought Alpha was a rebel. But now it seems you're Megatron's lover, and the rebellion was Decepticon against Decepticon."

"This one was," I agree.

He gives me a hard look, but decides not to pursue the matter. " Ironhide, take Alpha here on a tour or something while I try to speak to Optimus." I walk with Ironhide and pay attention to the lay of the ship. I also spot several small doors. When I point one out, Ironhide tells me they are maintenance vents. I want to contact the others, but I don't want Ironhide to know my com's working; the bots turned Megatron's off, but not mine.

"How old are you, Alpha?" Ironhide asks as we wander around.

"I was the first drone," I say simply. "I went into my shell a year after the Autobots got the Cube and left Earth. "

He adds up the years, and I see the skepticism. "Humans only live about a vorn."

"A human in a drone shell is different. I don't understand all the mechanics, because that's one thing only True Decepticons, the Cybertronians, handle. They don't want humans or drones knowing how the rebirth works. I do know that drones, the human host in the cybertronian shell, can live more than two or three times longer than humans. My first shell survived almost a thousand years, but the ones they make now don't last that long. There are five of us that have survived since then. The Original Five, we're called."

"It's hard to believe," he said. I shrug. "But that still not close to the time that's passed."

"Human hosts can be recycled when the drone shell is destroyed, if the human host isn't damaged or heavily damaged. They have to get to a rebirth center fast enough. I've been recycled several times. "

Ironhide looks like he's been hit with a clue bat. "You said this morning that I met you the last time I was on Earth. Then you said something about my cannons. You're Sam. Sam Witwicky."

"Congratulations, you can take a hint," I say dryly, but his excitement's got me nervous. "I prefer Alpha," and explain why. Eventually the tour ends back at the rec room, which has only about five people in it. They're all hunched over a game of some kind. Ironhide finds a datapad for me to look at, firmly puts me on a seat as far from the door as possible, and goes over to speak with them.

I pretend to look at the datapad, and contact 35, who brings in the others. After assuring them that I'm fine and haven't seen Megatron, I relay what I've found so far. "Primus," 35 says, sounding subdued, "we just barely dodged that bullet, didn't we?"

Noise erupts from the table. I glance over and catch Ironhide's optic for a moment, before looking back at the datapad. "Ultra Magnus danced around that Matrix question, though," I tell them. "We know they brought the army thinking we attacked them, but has anyone headed for home?" None have that they know of. When I glance back over, I see Ironhide joining in the discussion, gesturing at the table with some animation. I slide from the chair I'm on to the next one.

"Megatron set out a worldwide broadcast, stating that there is no war, that he and Optimus Prime stopped a threat to our Sun and that there was a misunderstanding. He and Optimus Prime are discussing some matters, and he will inform everyone when the discussions are concluded. He looked fine. "

"Good. You guys had a chance to talk to those pretenders yet?" The noise level goes down again and the game seemed to continue. Ironhide still looks over at me, but less often. I slide to another chair.

95 says, "I did better. I overheard them talking. One of the Fours showed me a service corridor close to Jazz's office. P-7769 is Prowl, by the way. I intended to force a meeting but when I checked it out, I heard them talking." His voice was grim. "Here's the deal. That Cube? It's how they have kids, kind've like that demonstration we got at Hoover Dam. Well, since they got to Cybertron, they've only had ten kids, sparklings they call them, that lived. Something about how when it was on Earth it left something of itself behind, and they were sure that whatever it was is long gone."

"Ten? In all that time?" 47 says, but all of us are shocked. No wonder they're desperate. That kind of birth rate is a death sentence for any race, even on as long lived as the Cybertronians.

"Yeah. So they wanted the Matrix hoping it'll fix the Cube somehow, or give it enough power to work better. Not only is the Prime the only one who can use the Matrix, he's the only one who can touch it. Otherwise there are 'unforeseen consequences.' Like somebody dies, they think. " A few mechs come in, get energon, and wander over to the game table. They talk to Ironhide while watching the game. I slide over to another chair. Since I'm working toward them and not the door, Ironhide stays where he is.

"So why aren't they leaving with it?" 35 wonders. I hear water. He must be in the washrack.

"Because they did find the last part, said that Prime picked it up at the same time as he got the Matrix." I wonder when they had the chance to do that. Maybe they went somewhere else before they got to me and Megatron.

"And now some of them are talking about grabbing up Earth's resources and then using the Matrix like the Fallen would."

30 howls, "The Autobots want to destroy the Sun? They'd sacrifice all the life on Earth?" He's in a rec room somewhere, considering the muffled voices in the background.

95 tells us, "We're part of the resources, dude, the main part. They can get all kinds of minerals and such from space, but intelligent workers aren't easy to find. Jazz and Prowl don't like the idea, and from what they said, neither does Prime, but people back on Cybertron who never saw Earth or met a human think it's a great solution."

"Yeah, it's easy to talk that way about someplace you never went and people you never met," 35 says. "But can Prime and the others say no? And what will Megatron do if they offer to let him go home ?"

"We can't leave Earth," 47 reminds him. Behind her I can hear muffled sounds of a sickbay. "Drones can't survive space." Like we'd forget, I think sourly.

30 says, "You remember Swindle? He got hold of some of Shockwave's research for the Fallen, and he's bargaining a release against telling where it is. He said Shockwave found a way."

"The Fallen said that, too," I tell them, feeling sick. "Guys, we have to find this Sun Harvester and get rid of it. If it's not there, they can't use it. I'll keep trying on the Matrix, maybe somebody's slip up and talk about it." Someone in the rec room laughs. I look over, and one of the new mechs, a blue one, gestures as though he's telling a story. Ironhide listens, but he still remembers to check on me every once in a while. He doesn't see what I'm heading for. The door to the vent lies in the corner opposite to me, partly hidden behind a table and chairs.

47 says, "Strika sent a bunch of jets for backup before she got killed, and they took out some of the rebels in Egypt. One got a shot wing and they brought him here so Hook could work on it. While I prepped him, he told me one of the rebels was blasting a pyramid. He got a glimpse of metal before he came down."

"The Fallen tore down a bunch of stone buildings in Petra and there were some pieces of other Cybertronians that looked like him there. I think that must be where the Sun Harvester thing is, then," I say. "One down." I hesitate. "Ultra Magnus said something about taking the Decepticons back to Cybertron," I add. I glance over at Ironhide again. "I'm going to try and find Megatron. I need to ditch a guard in the meantime."

"Give them hell," 35 tells me, before we sign off.

I can't hear the story, but I can tell by the voices and the gestures that it's coming to some kind of climax. While everyone listens, I move to my final destination, and find that the little door opens easily.

71 got several punishment details dusting vents. I know how to maneuver in them. These are about the same size as the ones at the base. I close the vent door behind me and head for the nearest turn. Maneuvering around the bend, I hear, "Where in the Pit did that little slagger go?" and crashing furniture, fading as I head for the vents in the hallway.

By the time I get there, I'm covered in dust. They need a few drones to clean up in here, I think as I listen at what I hope is my destination. My joints creak. I crack it and peek out. Empty hallways greet my optics and I get out, putting the door back before brushing the dust off. I'm off, but in a good way; the office Ultra Magnus used to talk to me are nearby. As I slide into some nearby shadows, I hear steps and voices, both familiar. Talk about luck! They come around the corner, Megatron and Optimus Prime, talking as they go. I wait until they pass me, and then follow. I only hear snatches as they talk, most of it unintelligible.


"You know he's capable of the job-"

"Yes, but you assume too much-"


Megatron's unhappy about something; I can see the storm clouds in his stance and hear it in his tone. Optimus' replies sound reassuring at times and unrelenting at others. They turn a corner, and I hurry as well as I can without making noise. Megatron normally strolls so I can easily keep up. I reach the turn, look around, and withdraw as they stand right by it. I vent to cool myself and strain my ears. "Who will you send first?" Optimus asks.

"The Constructicons, of course, with some of the stockpiled material, "Megatron says. He's been stockpiling material for centuries, using the old for current needs but always keeping it at a certain level.

"They can begin building for the humans, then. We have materials; there are not enough hands to work in the refining, and with some reworking they can do much that original drones did. Probably better."

I don't like the sound of that. Why send humans to Cybertron? Why not let them work here and send the product to Cybertron? Megatron seems to agree with me. "Their life support will be expensive to maintain, Prime. "

"Bringing the raw materials and building new factories will as well. We will take good care of the organics, Megatron. They will not go until the means to create an environment they can thrive in exists. I admit I would prefer the human-shell drones."

"Until the research is thoroughly tested, not one drone will leave Earth." His voice gets hard. "I will not leave Earth until Alpha can come with me. That is not negotiable."

"I agree." The Prime pauses. I peek and see a frown.

"Shockwave's research was preliminary at best. The drones objected to his methods." Megatron gives a hissing vent. "He deserved what they did to him, every bit of it. Ask Alpha why. Where is he?"

"It seems he managed to get past Ironhide. They are looking for him. " I slip from the corner.

"Megatron!" I call, and he turns to look for me. Optimus turns as well. I move to my lover's side. "How are we getting back?" I'm too large for his cockpit; he can fly with me for a time, but not very far.

Instead of answering, he kneels to give me a hard hug. I try to cling, but Optimus Prime's strong hands pull me back as Megatron stands. "I have to go before another rebellion breaks out," he says, his voice gruff. "Optimus insists," he gives the Prime an irritated glare, "that you act as the liaison between us, which means you stay here."

I can't believe this. Liaison? I have another word for it. "No," I say, shaking my head. "Lord Megatron, please." My voice breaks into static. He steps back as a hatch opens behind him.

"I'm not abandoning you. I'll be back soon." To Optimus, he says, "I hold you responsible for his safety."

"Above my own," Optimus says. I come out of my shock and try to pull away as Megatron steps out of the hatch, and transforms. As the hatch closes, I hear the sound of a jet taking off.

While the Autobots can see me, I keep myself numb. Later that night, when I am alone, I let the pain consume me as I lie in my cold berth alone. I know Megatron won't abandon me. I know he loves me, maybe more than I love him; I am certain he means to take me to Cybertron and keep me by him as he kept 71 close to him. But he knows, like I do, that if it is a choice between him and my people, my people come first. Every rebellion revolved around that basic fact. Optimus and his fellow spies came looking for me as a rebel leader, an ally to help them get what they needed. What made me an ally then, makes me a liability now.That's why I am on the Autobot ship. Not just as a liaison, not just as a hostage, but because Optimus and Megatron know who always leads human/drone rebellions.

Megatron took over this world to get resources for Cybertron. When he believed that his homeworld died beyond reviving, he began to see this world as his own and not the means to an end. With that, he began treating drones and humans as his. Inferior, poor substitutes for the empire he wanted, but still his own. Cybertron is alive and being rebuilt. Cybertron needs resources, including energon. They have the means to get massive amounts of energon and a captive labor source, right here. That's enough to bend the morals of any Cybertronian, the Prime included.

Megatron sees Earth as a resource to rebuild Cybertron again. As long as a means to harvest our Sun exists, we can't trust them. Either of them. As long as humanity has a sun and a planet to call our own, we can survive.

They will not take our sun.

I wipe my face of the damned washer fluid and start to plan.

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