((This picks up where my webcomic left off: http://www.tfw2005.com/boards/showthread.php?t=125885 )) ******* Megatron scowled as he stepped through the door, and into Starscream's private laboratory. His plans were proceeding as he desired them to, but he still did not trust Starscream well enough to simply let him operate independantly. After all, he might either slack off, or worse - sabotage at least one of the projects. To his surprise, Starscream was actually hard at work, apparantly placing the finishing touches on the armor of a red body. 'Coughing' to get his attention with a sort of digital white noise, he asked, "Starscream, how go your projects?" The grey and red seeker turned, grinning. "Both are nearly complete, Megatron - and ahead of schedule, too. The primary project is simply awaiting the fabrication of the more... exotic componants. The secondary project, however, shall be complete as soon as I finish placing the chestplate on this third prototype." "Three prototypes?" growled the larger Decepticon. "I only ordered you to build one." Shrugging, Starscream pointed at two other bodies. "One of the flaws in my previous Seeker design, besides the limited laser core size, was a lack of variation. All were armed with twin arm cannons, though the specific type of cannon varied by individual. Some, however, were better suited for close combat, and the arm cannons actually hindered their ability there. Thus the standard body shall possess one cannon mounted on one arm, and an energon blade on the other. The fire support variant shall, of course, have twin cannons, while the assault variant shall have twin energon blades. If they require ranged capability for a specific mission, they may be issued rifles as usual." "Indeed," replied Megatron. "For once, I actually approve of this show of initiative. Which leads me to my next question." Long strides took the white, purple and green mech close to his subordinate, where he loomed down, optics glowing slightly. "Tell me, Starscream... when do you plan your next betrayal?" Whatever Megatron was expecting, a chuckle and a smirk wasn't it. "That entirely depends on you, Megatron." "Meaning?" "Meaning, there are few Autobots who remember the original Starscream. All they really remember is the buffoon, the shrieking traitor whose own arrogance defeated himself time and again. None know I have changed, and this could be used to our advantage." "Explain." "Simple," said Starscream. "Unless otherwise called for by a mission, in public I play the role of the buffoon once more. I rant and rave and shriek, and constantly try to take command. However - every 'betrayal' will be approved beforehand by you." A powerful black hand landed on Starscream's shoulder and began squeezing. "You... want me... to APPROVE your betrayals of me?" Fighting the urge to wince at the force of the grip, the seeker nodded. "They will, of course, be staged. My Null Rays are indistinguishable in their nullification mode from their normal photon emission mode. And... I do believe it is possible to shield your form entirely from these nullification effects. The Autobots see me attempt to wrest command from you, appearing to blast you with everything I have. And when you remain unharmed, it strikes fear in their sparks. Or, I could otherwise build plans around a certain goal. We begin a mission that appears to have a different goal, and during it my so-called 'incompetance' actually allows a secondary team to achieve what we truly wish to." The hand released Starscreams' shoulder. "Hmm... the idea has potential. You obviously followed my earlier directive to all Decepticon commanders, then?" "Of course. I downloaded copies of 'The Art OF War' by Sun Tzu, 'On War' by Clausewitz, and 'The Book of Five Rings' by Musashi Miyamoto, just as you ordered all commanders to do. For Fleshlings, they were quite cunning." "Indeed," said Megatron. "We are the masters of waging war indeed, we have done nothing but since before those monkeys crawled down from their trees. but... I must admit... they are the masters at WINNING wars." ******* Two red Autobots and a white one walked down the halls of Autobase in Iacon City. On first glance, one would notice the larger red Autobot was walking oddly compared to his companions. On second glance, one would see multiple faint dents and paint scuffs that its self-repair routines were slowly clearing up. And on final glance, one would see an expression of sheer misery on his face, though much was concealed by a faceplate. Of course, one would also see the smaller of the red Autobots poorly concealing smirk. "That 'bot is downright sadistic," complained Maximus Prime. He has recently topped himself off on energon, and still felt drained as his self-repair systems gobbled it down to fix the dozens, or perhaps hundreds, of minor dings and dents he had recieved. Hot Rod snickered. "Well, at least he'll make sure those moves are firmly ingrained into you. 'Prime learn to fall down!' It was brilliant!" A hand cuffed the young former Prime on the back of the head. "Watch it, kid. We both outrank you now. Again, in my case.And if you keep this up, you're joining Prime in his sessions with Grimlock." Reaching the end of the hallway, a door the size of an apartment building opened up, and the three walked in to Maximus's office. "Well, bad as I feel right now, we have bigger things to worry about - like the Megatron situation." "Since we know what happened, I assume Jazz has finally gotten back?" asked Hot Rod. "He got back yesterday, right before Mirage did. He would have reported to me already, but he had to see Wheeljack to get the procedure reversed," noted Ultra Magnus. "Good. When he's ready, tell him to come to me." Maximus sighed, and sat down behind a massive desk. "I've decided to let the public know Megatron and the three most notorious Seekers have returned." "WHAT?" yelled Ultra Magnus, who quickly got ahold of himself. Pacing across the room, he stated, "If you let the public know he's back, he's going to have troops flocking to him from every rabble rouser and dissident. He's a cult of personality, and with him in the public eye, it's only a matter of time before we're back in the thick of the Great War!" Hot Rod eyed the white truck. "Maybe... but if he doesn't tell the people, and Megatron makes a big public move, then ol' buckethead will still have all the dissidents flocking to him, and he'll have the civilians howling 'Why didn't you warn us?' and demanding a return to the days of the Autobot Council." "And, of course, not only would that be deadly in a war, as we found out at the beginning of the Great War," noted Maximus, "it's also not what Primus intended. We are not meant to be a series of independant states with fractious politics and the like. Hot Rod knows this, he's the one that found that little gem buried deep within the Matrix." Ultra Magnus glared at the Cavalier. "What is the Prime talking about?" "Well... remember when I went inside the matrix right before the Battle of Strega Pass?" "Yes." "I saw a vision of the First Thirteen. Prima, the first Prime, was directly given the Matrix as a show that he was the one chosen by Primus to lead them. It seems we were originally brought forth to be a means by which not only could Unicron be stopped, but also because we would be guardians against other threats, threats that would come after." Hot rod plopped down in a nearby chair. "If there's no threat, we can pretty much do what we want. But if something is on the horizion, we're supposed to all drop what we're doing and follow the Prime." This stunned the former city commander. "But... but that could potentially rewrite every core religious belief the Church of Primus espouses!" "Which is why we can't let it be commonly known," noted Hot Rod."We let that little gem leak out, and we'll have riots in the streets. Some will claim it must be true and demand that there be no such thing as Cybertronian civilians anymore, others will claim it's a lie from Maximus to try and keep power for himself. And those two kinds of viewpoints simply cannot coexist, and any mechs caught in between would be in for a hard time." "The point is, I'm telling the public about Megatron, Starscream, Thundercracker, and Skywarp tomorrow, mid morning Iacon time. Magnus, I want you to get the Nebulon, Earth, and Paradron ambassadors in here as soon as you can, either this evening or tomorrow before I go public. They must be informed." Maximus Prime, his self repair routines complete, stood up. "And until we find where Megatron and his cronies went to ground at, I want every single Autobot unit currently planetside on full alert." ******** Jazz sat up from the exam table and stretched. "Man, it feels good to be back in my old body! Good thing Hun-Grr didn't do too much to it." Wheeljack grinned. "Ah, we kept him under most of the time after the spark swap procedure. And now he's on his way to spark confinement, and your body is all yours again." Shaking his head, the ops chief grinned at his old friend. "'Jack, next time the Prime asks for a volunteer who can do a good impersonation of a dumb 'Con, remind me to stay in the back o' the pack. Especially when it means I 'get' to test out experimental gadgets like your spark-swapper." "Well, you did do the best impression. And apparantly you did it well enough not to get caught." He helped Jazz get down off the exam bed, then they sauntered towards the door. "An' while you may know who's back among the 'Cons, you won't believe who's back among us." Walking down the corridor, Jazz almost instinctively sidestepped around a seven foot tall Master cyborg - a small motorcycle named Redhot. "Well, I know Rodimus stepped down, and we have a new Prime, so it ain't Optimus. Who?" "Uh-uh. Ya gotta guess," chirped Wheeljack. "All I'll say is remember the eighties." "So... that means one o' the guys that was on the Ark, eh?" "Nuh-uh, no more clues," smirked the mad scientist behind his faceplate. They turned a corner, and walked through the door at the end into the rather large lounge in Autobase. "Well, it could be Prowl... or Brawn... or Ratchet... or... IRONHIDE!" "Yeah, you guessed it, I... Hey, Ironhide, what's up?" Jazz was already halfway across the room by the time Wheeljack realized that the individual in question was there, himself. In the modified body of Chalcyon, he looked different, but was still recognizeable. "Hey, Jazz, welcome back. Seems ya weren't here fer my Lazarus impression, huh?" "Man, it's good to see you. You and the others have been sorely missed. Did anyone else come back with you?" The grizzled veteran frowned. "Sorry, Jazz. Jus' me. But, hey, I got my old job back under the new Prime." "So, what's he like, anyway?" asked jazz as he and Wheeljack sat at Ironhide's table. "Well, like Optimus, Maximus used ta be a noncombatant. He's smart as a whip, though, an' picks up on things pretty durn quick. He's not afraid ta ask questions, but he also ain't afraid to make decisions, either. Also, he ain't afraid o' delegatin' things the way Optimus used to be, but he don' do it willy-nilly like Rodimus did." "Speakin' of ol' Roddy," interrupted Jazz, "does this mean he's one of us little guys again? Figuratively speaking, of course." "Sure is, he's back to Hot Rod, now. But he's kinda stuck, seems Maximus decided he'd make a great advisor until he settles into th' role of Prahm." "Poor him. Glad it ain't me, I'd never see any action," chuckled Jazz. "And I'd never get any work done," admitted Wheeljack. "Speaking of work, you got those apprentices trained yet, 'Jack?" Wheeljack nodded. "That Paradron, Wreckerhook, he's sure caught on in a hurry. On the other hand, Backwinch is bein' a real pain in my backside. He always wants to be working on something else other than what he oughta." Chuckling, Ironhide smirked at the green and black Aurobot. "Ya mean like, oh, I dunno, an anti-matter powered Espresso machine?" "Hay," protested the mad scientist, "that was intended as a wedding gift for Spike an' Carly! How was I to know Megatron would find out about it an' think it was a superweapon?" Drinking their energon slowly, the three old freinds talked well into the night, reliving memories of time and friends gone by.