Okay, so since a few people seem to want more fanfic from me, I decided to start posting this bruiser. It's long (17 chapters), and yes, it's finished. It's also centered around original characters, which might put some people off. But I'm hoping folks will like it, and would love to know what people think. G1-based alternate universe, with a bunch of random details nicked from a bunch of different continuities. I've included a poll (assuming I can figure out how!) asking how often readers would like the chapters to be posted. I can either post 'em all now in this thread, or I can post on some sort of regular schedule. This thing's my magnum opus, and I'm most proud of it, though I know OCs aren't everyone's thing. I hope you all enjoy. ==== Part One Nova Black walked into the shop, kicking at the debris littering the ground. If it even was a shop. It looked like a cross between a dwelling and a scrapheap. If she hadn't seen a few shelves with recognizable parts littering them, she would have thought it was just another hovel. Then again, that was probably the intention. Whoever was here, if anyone, didn't want to be found. Well, Nova sighed as a figure emerged, he and I have that in common. Not that she'd be hard to find right now. She could tell from the flash in the stranger's optics that he was having the same thought. And well he might; he looked ancient. His body was so battered and full of dents she couldn't tell just what he was supposed to be anyway. Whatever colors he'd been painted with when built had turned to a scattered brown that might have been half rust. Even his optics, bright yellow once, had dimmed to a dull amber. The old bot could probably hardly see. And this is where I'm buying parts? She could hardly believe she'd come here. Then again, where else did she have to go? "Easy," Nova said, holding up her hands. "Relax. I'm not here on patrol." His features shifted into something Nova guessed was supposed to be a scowl. "That supposed to impress me, Decepticon? If you were, you'd never have found this place anyway." He squinted. "And you wouldn't look like that, either. Who blasted you half to hell? That doesn't look like Autobot lasers did it." Nova laughed. Maybe this old thing was smarter than he looked. Then she winced. "No, they didn't. And I already told you. I'm - not with them right now." "Ahh." The other bot's head tilted with a grinding sound that rang in Nova's auditory sensors. The sooner she could get this over with, the better. "Hiding?" Nova grimaced. "No. Running. Or flying, as the case may be." "Hah." He laughed, a grating wheeze. "So whose bad side did you get on?" The old bucket of bolts was far too amused for Nova's taste. "Let's just say I could use a new paint job, my friend. These markings on my wings are obvious. I need them... not to be." "I might just be able to help you with that. Long as your former friends don't come looking. If you tracked them in -" "Already handled." Nova fluttered a sore wing, immediately regretting it as pain lanced through her circuitry. "I nicked a signal dampener when I left." She grinned, holding it up. "Whatever happens, I was never here." The dealer whistled, reaching for the disc in the other bot's hand. "Signal dampener? That's fancy stuff. If it's real." She quickly tucked it away. "If it weren't real, I'd be slag by now." "Good point." He turned to a wall of junk behind him, rummaging through piles that looked indistinguishable to Nova. "I don't suppose you want to tell me exactly how you got yourself in that much trouble?" "No." He shrugged, turning around, a part in his pitted hands. "Electronic paint job. Cover those things right over, and immediately too. No mess." It didn't look all that high-quality to Nova, but at least it was something. Relieved to be done with the smalltalk and getting on to the bargaining, she drew out a few small cubes of energon she'd stolen, laying them on the shelf. "Excellent." He looked her over. "'Course, it won't do anything about your shape. Oh, it'll fool most bots at a distance and a few close up. But you're pretty common 'Con construction, and anyone who looks close enough will figure it out. You'd need a hologram to really look like something else." Oh, slag, Nova thought. She'd been afraid he'd say something like that. Just when things are finally going well... "And how much is a hologram generator?" "Judging by what you've just offered and what that probably means you're keeping back for yourself, more than you stole from your old cronies." This was getting irritating. She raised a laser. "Really now?" The old bot held up an arm, revealing a huge, if rusted, cannon. "Really." Nova winced. The old bot barely functioned, but she didn't care to find out how much of his auxiliary systems he'd devoted to that cannon. He nodded, pleased with her reaction. "I don't have time for Decepticon games. You'll have to make do with this." "I already told you," Nova snarled, "I'm not a Decepticon any more." "And here I thought you were just lying low." He whistled again. "Do you really mean to tell me you're actually leaving?" Nova chuckled again. Yes, this one was definitely smarter than he looked. "Leaving those idiot malfunctions I served under, at least." "And the grand and glorious Decepticon empire?" "Can go rust, for all I care." Her fist clenched. "If it hasn't already. I'm surprised the enforcers for this area even had as much energon as I was able to nick." The shopkeeper shook his ancient head. "Well, I see you're set to make yourself all kinds of new friends." "Which reminds me." He turned back to his shelves, then laid two small yellow objects on the counter. Nova picked one up and examined it. "Optic sensors?" "An electronic paint job will change your paint," the old bot said, slowly, as if explaining to someone newly constructed. "It won't do a thing about those pretty red optics." Nova stared. "You're telling me to rip out my own optics and put these in for them?" "You're the one who says she wants to go Neutral." The old bot grinned, his gears creaking. Looking at his rusted, scratched face, Nova could see even more wear around his optic sockets. He did this himself, she realized. He was one of us too. Her jaw tightened. Or an Autobot. He hadn't seemed to care much for Decepticons, after all. Now there was an interesting possibility, if a slightly disgusting one. The Autobots all had the same idealistic glitch in their programming, the same willingness to believe in something so strongly they'd risk their spark rather than abandon their principles. What, Nova wondered, could shake up someone like that enough that stellar cycles later he'd be here, selling parts on the black market to someone with red eyes and purple insignia on her wings? A grating whine brought Nova out of her ruminations. She shuddered to think exactly what parts of the old bot scraping together backwards had made such a horrible noise. His optics - yellow like the ones he held in his rusted hand - shone as he laughed again. "I'd advise you to remove the old ones and install the new ones one at a time. It's not easy to install new hardware blind."