Transformers: Forgotten Wars

Discussion in 'Transformers Fan Fiction' started by Rurudyne, Nov 19, 2007.

  1. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Transformers: Forgotten Wars


    A Novel by J.Ruic Coil



    Copyright 2007



    Forward:

    Some years ago I experienced a collision between the philosophy of C.S.Lewis and the Beast Wars TV show (and by proxy the G1/G2 era shows before and after the movie). Out of this collision I told myself a story which, quite frankly, I never really intended to write down.

    But as this is the second novel in the series that began with Transformers: Genesis (link), so I guess you could say I have been writing a lot. Or you could opine that I’ve got no life. Either way, Forgotten Wars marks a personal milestone: it’s the first time I’ve ever finished a sequel.

    For some reason, sequels just seem harder to write. And now I’m without any excuses about all those other projects. Drat!

    Sincerely,
    J.Ruic Coil
    Rurudyne

    October 12, 2007



    Legal Stuff

    Transformers: Forgotten Wars is a work of fan fiction and the normal disclaimers apply. However, there are any number of characters or concepts that are new in this story which I would claim intellectual ownership of. Beyond that, I can’t even afford a lawyer ... much less a good one.



    Some Details and Acknowledgments

    First I would like to thank two individuals:

    I would like to thank ‘Shinju Tetsuya’ (DeviantArt) for the term “vectorhawk” ... since it’s a much better fit for high performance machines than “cyberbat” would've been. Check out her own fanfic, Metatisic which is in the process of being recovering from an old and faded handwritten copy (link).

    I would also like to thank ‘Koi Lungfish’ ( DeviantArt or Koi Lungfish), both for the excellent map of Cybertron and also for a particular notion about the significance of how you pronounce “Decepticon” that, frankly, couldn’t have been better suited to my needs (the distinction actually matches up with one I’d planned all along and which I hinted at in the first book).

    Also, if you’ve read the first book (it may help a lot if you have) you may remember that I use different fonts here and there to represent different languages of kinds of speakers (if a person or a drone, for instance). I use Impact for drones and subprocessors. Mainly because it makes me think of speech without inflection. In the past I’ve used Courier too. This time I needed a fourth font so I chose Arial ... but to make sure it is clear that it’s different from the rest: I chose to put this in blue.

    If anyone has trouble reading the blue at all, contact me so I can sort it out to your satisfaction.

    For those familiar with the canon units of time, they may quickly notice that my stories do not use them. As it turns out, this is for a reason. Anyway, from a microcycle (4.1667 minutes), to a cycle (1 Cybertronian day, or 2.8935 Earth days), to a megacycle (7.922 Earth years), this time keeping scheme is in use herein.



    In Conclusion:

    I really hope you enjoy the book.
     
  2. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 1: Reboot


    Magnus lay motionless, silently staring at the scaffolding above him. He marked the passage of time by the steady movement of old Powertech’s support gantry. Watched the wires sway as their master moved about.

    His chronometer wasn’t working.

    Nor was much of anything else.

    He could smell though.

    Powertech used a very pungent cleaning oil in here of the sort that kept ancient joints from freezing up.

    One by one, subprocessors were coming back on line. Wouldn’t you know it? They were the exact same bunch that he had before! That and they were drunk from being over energized. The giggler was starting up. It found the sight of his right arm lifting itself into view intensely funny.

    Only a few panels were attached, which gave Magnus a good look at a part of him he’d never want to see. Actually ... without any armor his arm looked a lot like a powertech’s.

    Now there was a sobering thought.

    Slowly, the arm dropped back down.

    Magnus wished for his hearing or voice. Even his internal comm would be something. But no, he just got to stare at scaffolding and smell old-bot smell. That and it felt like something was missing somehow.

    “Subprocessor Three?” directed to a fairly tame unit ... why not make the best of it?

    –Yes–?!” the subprocessor blurted.

    “Do you have access to auxiliary memory banks yet? I would like to look at my new technical specs.”

    –Yes–, –HERE–!

    “It’s like talking to a hyperactive drone.” the frustrated Combaticon fretted as he looked over ...

    “Of all the blasted! These are for the 210!”

    –We are not a two-one-zero–?!

    “No, we are ... well, we.... I’m not sure yet. Three, could you please see if you have the technical specs for the thing attached to the arm that I was just looking at?”

    In moments Magnus was staring at the technical specs for his right hand.

    “Well, at least it’s not scaffolding.”

    Magnus got real familiar with his right hand while he waited Powertech out. No reason to give his subprocessors anything else to cause him grief over.

    Then he saw a frail hand tap him on an eye. Soon a cyclops face had come into view along with more of the old guy. He was pointing off to a side and might’ve been saying something.

    “I can’t read lips!” Magnus wanted to shout ... not that Powertech had lips.

    Then his vision cut out and the specs for his right hand disappeared.

    “Great, I’m broke!” he moaned.

    But then he felt a large.... ‘Large?!’ A large hand was on his shoulder nudging him. The world felt strange ... even if it still smelled of old-bots.

    “Come on, Magnus! Wake up.”

    Shockwave prodded him some more.

    Magnus opened his eyes and looked up at his big brother. Big as in BIG.

    “I don’t work?” he whined.

    Shockwave smirked and shook his head: “You work fine. But Powertech needs you to run an errand for him back in Iacon while he sorts you out.”

    Magnus sat up. He was back in the 210SHX. Well, sorta. He was still smelling that oil.

    “What? How?”

    “The prototype GAR system. Powertech hooked you into a landline while I set up the old 210 for remote use. Do you feel all-right?”

    Shockwave carefully pulled him to his feet. They weren’t in the Combaticon crypt but in some building, in a room with a view of the southern sun.

    The 210’s chronometer faithfully told him that a full two and a half cycles had passed since they were parted. But there were no other systems on line. Not even one drunk subprocessor.

    “I feel ... lonely.”

    “Never used this system myself, but I’m told it takes some getting used to.”

    Magnus flexed his arms and rolled his shoulders. He felt normal. It was just very quiet inside him.

    “What kind of an errand am I being sent on?”

    “Recruitment. Here, read this on the way.”

    A data plate? He opened the only file and started to read ... then promptly walked right into a wall.

    “Magnus,” his brother chuckled as he leaned back into the room, “the door’s over here.”

    Apparently he couldn’t walk and read at the same time. So he concentrated on walking.

    He followed Shockwave through a busy Combaticon facility – the same one they’d taken him to before he woke up in Powertech’s lab – and out to a landing pad where Shockwave’s beauty waited for them.

    “Don’t worry about the straps this time.” Shockwave purred as Magnus sat down.

    “I don’t feel up to holding myself in the way you do.”

    “No need. This trip will be nice and smooth.”

    Aside from a feeling of impending doom, Magnus resigned himself to the situation.

    He read the file while they flew. It was a contract for an apprenticeship. It took an awful long time to say anything about anything. Actually, it took the whole flight. They were already over the city heading towards the port.

    “I wasn’t aware that engineers used legalese? Why did I have to read this?”

    “They usually don’t. Arguably, you didn’t. But we have to keep your attention focused till you’re familiar with remote operation.”

    “‘Remote operation?’ You said something about that before?”

    “We – and I use that term loosely –;are in Iacon. Your spark is in Kaon along with that great pile of parts that is you.”

    “I thought I was complete?”

    “You are. But dropping a piece of hardware like yourself into a new chassis is complicated. You getting shot and then giving a ride to an alien didn’t make matters any easier.”

    “So who does Powertech want?”

    “That’s your choice. He needs a doctor though, someone with good hands and a quick mind.”

    Sapphira! Magnus didn’t even question the impulse.

    “Sapphira. She said she was the best.”

    “I figured as much.” the sky cruiser came to rest in Rapax’ shuttle bay, “Well, toddle off!”

    The door opened to let Magnus – or the 210 at any rate – exit.

    “Toddling off.” he muttered as he let himself out.

    Itself?

    He stopped for a moment to look at his reflection in the sky cruiser’s mirror-like finish: his eyes were still red; the smile was familiar; the badge still said “Magnus.” But somehow it almost looked like no one was home. Maybe because he knew he was elsewhere?

    He followed the route that Ravage and he had used earlier while they were dodging Combaticons. He slowly felt more confident in himself.

    GARself?

    But not so confident when he realized that the strangely silent main elevator up to Seeker was full of students, some of whom he recognized. If the piped in music was merely bad, their silence was deafening.

    Then it occurred to him: they had Seeker badges now.

    Of course! Graduation had been cycles ago. How could he forget? It should’ve been obvious!

    No one said a thing to him, not even one: “Sorry your ship went boom and you got kicked out of the Seekers.”

    The trip through the ship was much the same. People he didn’t know might nod at him as they passed by, but when someone he knew– This was irritating! It hadn’t been like this on his last visit.

    He barely noticed a large Seeker fall in step with him as he worked his way through the ship.

    “Starscream?”

    “You seemed lost in thought.” the Seeker smiled.

    “I’m on my way to see my doctor.”

    “Sapphira? She’s not here!” he eagerly offered.

    Magnus internally questioned if everyone knew his business?

    He stopped and waved one hand around before demanding: “Where?”

    “Is she? Haven’t a clue. I saw her and Captain Nine take some beat up old grunt sled for a joy ride.”

    “It’s not beat up!” Magnus hissed, “There’s barely a scratch on it.”

    “I didn’t say it wasn’t a nice beat up old grunt sled. Where did you get it?”

    “My reward for being the only officer to survive the mission.”

    “You–? You were– Wow! Must have been something important! You won’t believe the rumors flying about. Or maybe you would!” he laughed, “Did you get a decoration? I still haven’t figured out every Combaticon encryption code – you lot use a different system – but I’m working on them. It makes no sense to use different standards, probably an overt artifact of what Comptor calls ‘discrete social stasis.’ Are you familiar with Comptor? Fascinating philosopher ...”

    As Starscream continued, Magnus tried to stay engaged and still keep his feet working all at once. But Comptor was new to him and his theory on the persistence of discrete individuals was fascinating. Just enough so, that Magnus walked into another wall.

    “Magnus?” Starscream sounded concerned.

    “Ummm ... I’m just a little ... disoriented. I’m just disoriented. That’s why I need to see Sapphira.”

    “What’s wrong?”

    “Well,” he said while he concentrated on right foot left foot, “for one I can’t get rid of the smell of old-bots.”

    “Oh! Some battlefield hack patched you up wrong! It’s probably gyrostabilization fluid. That would explain the clumsiness too. If so, then Sapphira’s a good call. My fighter took several hits over Celdenior on my first official mission ...”

    As Starscream explained how he happened to land on Nemesis – the only available ship given the damage to his fighter – was presented to Maximus and got patched up by the lovely Sapphira, Magnus managed to get to where he was going. A helpful Autobot/Seeker at the aid station contacted Sapphira for him and had them wait in her med bay.

    As they waited, he tried to puzzle through this latest conundrum. Then he remembered: Shockwave!

    “Real, REAL funny big brother!” he silently cursed, “Sending me out with a chassis that doesn’t do anything for me. It was just like that other attempt, where poor Comdec ended up trying to play doctor in Predaconland. Very funny!”

    Maybe Sapphira could help him with it later?

    “... and that was how I qualified as an ace even though still a just-boot cadet.”

    “Magnus? Starscream?” a familiar voice, “Am I interrupting something?”

    “Doctor!” Starscream crooned, “It’s good to see you again! Your tweaks to my gyrostabilizer continue to help me devastate the enemy.”

    “I’m glad.” though she sounded sincere, she was less than enthusiastic.

    “Hey, that’s a neat little drone you have there!”

    Magnus’ head shot up: From Me!

    Are you fixated on yourself?” came the click pop reply.

    “Well, I’m certainly doing fine, little drone. Thank you for asking!”

    “Starscream, do you need anything?” Sapphira seemed to be prodding.

    Magnus could see From Me eyeing him from Sapphira’s side. He waved cheerfully, but she retreated a step and looked ... fearful?

    “Well,” Sapphira started as the door closed after Starscream, “count yourself lucky that we weren’t far off when you called or he’d have told you how he got to double ace before long.”

    That is not Magnus.” From Me was actually hiding behind Sapphira now, and looking around her at him.

    From Me, of course–”

    THAT IS NOT Magnus!”

    “Actually ... Sapphira, she’s right. And wrong. From Me, I’m Magnus but I’m not ... I’m using a gizmo called a ‘GAR’ to project myself from my new body into my old chassis so I can run an errand for Powertech.”

    Why would Powertech need you to do that?

    Magnus mused that when From Me said it he understood which powertech she meant.

    From Me, this is a different Powertech. He’s the one who is putting me in my new body.”

    What was wrong with that body?! It is very beautiful.

    From Me,” Sapphira cut in, “I know about Magnus’ series. They start out in that one body and then get their final body later.

    But ... he is dark!

    “Sapphira,” Magnus slowly leaned back on his hands and tried to look harmless, “From Me is right, this GAR thing allows me to ‘remote operate’ this chassis even if I’m really in Kaon. Could you help me here? I don’t want to scare her. I think she can see sparks ... or something like that.”

    Sapphira glanced between them, a look of comprehension as she nodded.

    “You aren’t really here?”

    He nodded.

    “What’s a ‘GAR?’”

    “First I ever heard of it was earlier.”

    From Me had come over to him and was looking at his face. She looked really sad.

    “Shockwave took me from Alpha Trion’s place to Kaon to get my new body. Powertech’s got me in pieces there.”

    From Me buried her eyes against his left thigh as she hugged him.

    I am fine. I was just sent to run an errand and this was the only way I could go.” he very gently patted her on the head.

    What Are You do not change.” she moaned.

    From Me....”

    What Are You do not change!

    An idea: “From Me, do you remember the ‘pretty, pretty’ and what else you wrapped yourself around? That is me. Powertech is just putting me in a new body. The one I’m supposed to have.

    Sapphira was nodding thoughtfully.

    “Magnus is right.” she click popped as she knelt by the distraught Quevaldan, “A chassis is not himself. He is what shines inside it.

    But....From Me seemed deep in thought as she let go of his leg, “But, What Are You do not change.” she weakly added.

    “He isn’t changing. Only the way he looks.”

    Will he have a new face?

    “Well, they probably....” Sapphira seemed to mull that one over a bit, “I ... I don’t know?”

    More mulling.

    “GAR of Magnus, lie down on an examination table.”

    Magnus startled at hearing the way she commanded him, like she was talking to a drone. Still, he got up and took the first table. She strapped him down tight.

    From Me had transformed and was watching from over Sapphira’s shoulder.

    From Me, this is not Magnus.” she quickly reported, “The Magnus you curled up around is not inside but some other devise is.

    But his face?

    Sapphira poked rudely at him even as she shook her head.

    It is not REALLY a face but a ... simulation of one. Some kind of energy-matter projection I’ve never seen before. They probably transferred his real face when they transferred his spark. That way it wouldn’t die.”

    TAKE IT AWAY!From Me pop clicked, “Things should NOT look like What Are You!

    “I don’t think I can without disrupting this GAR thing. It might injure the real Magnus.”

    “Hurumph!” From Me managed a genuine Cybertronian expression of frustration.

    “GAR of Magnus,” Sapphira said again – Why was she treating him like this? –, “what is the errand you were sent on?”

    “According to that file I left over there–”

    “The file the GAR of Magnus left.” Sapphira corrected even as she pressed down on his hand.

    Ok, she’s trying to tell me something here. Better play along.

    “There is a proposal on that data plate over there.” he said with as little inflection as possible, “Also, my– Magnus’ brother seems to have made some alterations to this chassis that are giving me fits. That needs to be sorted out too.”

    Sapphira’s brow furrowed for a moment as she looked over her instruments.

    “Oh, very nice!” she smirked, “We’ll deal with that later.”

    She left his side with From Me still clinging to her in that eight-leg form of hers.

    He found that she’d even placed a restraint on his head. He was truly held motionless and couldn’t even look their way.

    “Magnus’ other Powertech has phrased this as a contract for apprenticeship with payment for services rendered due upon completion of the term.” she informed the room, “I am NOT an apprentice!”

    He kept quiet.

    “It doesn’t even say what that payment is. GAR of Magnus, are you sure this isn’t another of Shockwave’s jokes?”

    “Not really, but–”

    “Ah, Doctor Sapphira?” he suddenly heard Powertech’s rasping voice coming from his mouth, “Was I correct in who Magnus would choose? I hope so or this will be awkward.”

    Magnus tried to find the source of the voice and quickly isolated a previously unnoticed subprocessor. Not one of his own and it had control of his mouth.

    She reappeared alone. No sign of From Me.

    “I’m Sapphira.”

    “Excellent! Sad to say, I’m not me, not Powertech. My systems can’t handle much and even an ordinary comm link could be a problem. So I sent Magnus with a shell based on me. I hope you don’t mind?”

    “I suppose not. At least not as long as Magnus doesn’t.”

    “I’m sure he’ll get over it. Anyway, yes, the offer is for an apprenticeship, with me, for an unspecified time till I’m sure I’ve been able to pass on my knowledge or at least equip you with what you’ll need to come to grips with the rest. Upon completion of this apprenticeship you’ll receive a stipend to cover your own future expenses, a secure posting which will give you flexibility in applying at least some of what I have to teach you for the common benefit, and a new chassis.”

    “A new– I paid this one off not many megacycles ago! Why would I want a new one?”

    “I’m sure the 287HL is a fine chassis; however, there are educational, practical and professional reasons why you will need a new one.”

    “Such as?”

    “Sapphira, to be blunt, while I know you’re young, and I freely admit that I’ve not spent even most of my three million megacycles on what turned out to be my life’s work, if you are to take up where I leave off then I can’t gamble on your standard issue spark containment. You need to be upgraded to Constructicon-spec and that will require an overall chassis change.”

    “You can do that?” she sounded impressed.

    “It isn’t easy and has to be tailored to the specific individual, but yes. There’s still risk, mind you.”

    “I’d imagine.... What sort of job is this?”

    “You are to take over as chief scientist for the Primus Project.”

    Sapphira blinked hard.

    “That would be illegal.” she muttered.

    “In this era? Probably. But I don’t care one jot about the government or its stupid fears of there being another Primus. Primus, Artemus and Megatron certainly didn’t. Neither does Maximus. This program is exceedingly important to Cybertron. As an Autobot and a Doctor you must understand how the continuity of Primus is a vital link to our past? You can quote The Covenant of Primus all cycle long but it really doesn’t mean much if Primus is truly lost to us for all time.”

    “I see you don’t believe in the soft-sell approach?”

    “I’m old programming. Anyway, as part of your education and reconstruction, you will get to design your own Alpha chassis and will learn about advances in medicine and engineering that haven’t even happened yet, at least officially. In a way, having a femme Autobot Alpha will nicely round out the program.... No pun intended.”

    “I’m sure. It sounds very tempting but I’ll need time–”

    “Time is something I don’t have. Nor does Magnus for that matter. While I was physically up to switching him over in the crude sense, I’m needing some medical attention myself. To be blunt, I’ll be your first patient. That you’ve worked on another powertech already is all bonus.”

    “About that, why not another powertech? Don’t they have the same files that you do?”

    “If I told one how I’ve been able to read the cup, as Primus used to call it, they’d never master the art for themselves and their lives and achievements could be –would be– stymied. You have nothing to loose while a powertech could loose everything. I’m sure they’ll eventually forgive me.... Besides, in a way you’ll have the files too. Powertech told me of the mischief you three have got involved in, so I’m going to transcribe them for you the same way Magnus did that rant of Deltacron’s.”

    “An Alpha and a powertech?”

    “Where are you going to get a better offer than that?”

    “Sapphira, what is it doing?From Me had poked her head into view again.

    “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that?” the Powertech shell asked.

    “Just my conscience on my shoulder.”

    “Oh ... loud conscience. Anyway, I’ll not fool you. There will be discomfort and isolation for a time, your career with the Seekers may well be harmed, I’d imagine that it will be a massive disruption of your personal life and relationships, and you will likely have to do unethical things to fulfill your obligations as time goes by. Nothing too bad, mind you. At least not worse than what was done to Magnus and his brothers.”

    “You sure know how to put a positive spin on things.”

    “Well, I’ll only be with you during the discomfort and isolation part ... sad to say it. Even that will be a lot to bear.”

    “Yeah,” Magnus silently mused, “like having to endure old-bot smell 1000/1000.”

    “Sapphira, if you think you need it, Magnus has a letter to Commander Battletech in his leg compartment, it may help you to convince him.”

    “So you already know my answer?”

    “Do you really have a patriotic alternative?”

    Sapphira leaned forward and rested her head against Magnus’ chest: “I’m going to make you pay for this Oculon! You got me involved in this!”

    Magnus took note that the subprocessor was inactive.

    “Sapphira, I think I’m back in control.”

    “Funny thing, that’s what I thought till I walked in here.”
     
  3. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 2: Sleepwalking


    Magnus was mindful of From Me as Sapphira set about activating a number of rudimentary subprocessors which had simply been unplugged. It was as if his chassis had been as important to her as his personality and spark had been. Wasn’t it these latter that had that shine?

    “Doctor?”

    “Yes, GAR of Magnus?”

    “I don’t know how, but do you think there’s a possibility we could convince Shockwave to let From Me go with us, just so she can see that the real me is all-right?”

    “I take it that might be a problem. Where in Kaon is this Powertech’s lab? One of the secure research campuses run by the High Command?”

    “Actually, it’s in the Combaticon crypt. In an older Primus’ tomb.”

    She said nothing for a few hundred nanocycles.

    “That would explain ‘discomfort and isolation.’ Magnus, if it comes to it we can sneak her in and out the same way you did on Quevald. This GAR thing is pretty small so there’s lots of room for her now.”

    “I’d rather not get Shockwave mad at me.”

    “Prudent. Well, we’ll ask him. The worst thing he can say is ‘no.’ I take it he can be reached on the Rapax?”

    “That's were he was when I toddled off.”

    Sapphira worked on him for a microcycle more in silence.

    “That should take care of your chassis issues. Just to let you know, Shockwave left notes on what to do on the underside of your chest plate.”

    “Nice to know where he draws the line,” Magnus allowed, “but I’m still smelling Powertech’s lubrication oil.”

    “There isn’t any support equipment for a sense of smell that I can see.”

    “It wasn’t important?”

    “I’ll have you closed up in moments.”

    She soon let him off of the table and pointed out her med bay’s ground line. Even though Magnus felt more coordinated, it was still very quiet inside him.

    He called up Shockwave and found him agreeable to let From Me come along too, said it would keep her out of the public eye better. He didn’t say anything about the practical joke though, even his expression didn’t give away a hint of amusement. The sense of foreboding returned.

    “Sapphira, are you sure you reconnected everything?”

    “Yes.” she jiggled Powertech’s data plate in his direction, “Wayside should still be in Reunion Lounge with Nine. We’ll see you later.”

    “Nine took Wayside off the sled?”

    “I’m sure she had her reasons.” Sapphira said without turning back.

    And with that they left.

    Magnus rubbed his face before looking around ... this place, Sapphira’s lab, it looked big now. A lot of things looked big. Would they still look big when he was as tall as Shockwave?

    That thought shadowed him as he stalked through Seeker. He kept looking at everyone and everything around him as he tried to understand why he’d even been put into this chassis in the first place. Why not send him out as a GAR from the get go? Maybe From Me was right, maybe there was something important about a chassis and now that he’d already switched over he couldn’t even tell if there was a difference?

    Just then he saw a familiar face who might know something of interest: “Tauron?”

    The Autobot/Seeker stopped on hearing his name and looked around.

    “Magnus.... You were with Comdec. Professor Nine’s unit.”

    “Right. How’s things been going with your lot? Working on your tabletop games?”

    “I’m not really supposed to ... well–”

    “Hey, I understand. Academy policy and all that. But just for the record, we are coming back.... Most of us.”

    “‘Most?’”

    “Blitz is in Kaon.”

    Tauron nodded in understanding.

    “So what brings you here?”

    “I’m recruiting people to a subversive organization to restore the monarchy.” Magnus half laughed, “Do you mind me asking, is Seeker your final assignment?”

    “It’s a post graduation bit for starship operations. I think we’re going to end up on something at least as big as a cruiser.”

    “Nice.”

    “We’ll be ready for that cyberball rematch!”

    Magnus smiled: “Say, Tauron, have you ever heard of some philosopher called Comptor?”

    “I’m trying to shed my old librarian persona ... but probably. What about him?”

    “Is he still around? I only just heard about him a while ago and one of his theories sounded interesting. Literally had me walking into walls.”

    “The one I’m thinking about should be. He used to live in Atalan. He was always going to symposiums there at any rate. Why would you want to know about him?”

    “I like philosophy.”

    “And here I thought it was energon goodies you liked? Listen, I’d love to chat but I’ve got a good performance review to chase.”

    “Sure.”

    Tauron walked away for a moment before turning back: “Hey, Magnus, try plugging ‘Atalan Decamegacycle Theorum’ and ‘theoretical technoethics’ into a search engine and then refine it from there.”

    “Thanks!”

    Magnus looked around, one of Seeker’s libraries shouldn’t be far away and there was no telling what he’d have access to over the next little while. He found a busy one that still had a few open terminals and started plugging in search parameters. Oddly, the results produced were scant ... maybe his security clearance didn’t carry over now that he wasn’t really here? He still found a few good links, including one that might have been the actual text he was looking for. Unlike all the other times, he had to pay for the download to datacrystal.

    He paused to look at his balance. Sad. Really, really sad. His friends hadn’t been moving the ship around much, but everywhere that wasn’t his apartment’s garage resulted in parking fees.

    “Maybe I’ll take them all to Kaon with me?” he muttered.

    On the woefully inadequate plus side, there had been one deposit from the Decepticons for two cycles of work. Nice that Oculon had managed to cover that sorta first cycle when he’d been datascrubbing.

    Logging off, he scanned the room for anyone else he knew. No such luck.

    As he made his way to Reunion Lounge he thought about Starscream and Comptor and his friends and all of their own influences. About the time he found the table where Nine and Striker were sitting alone, he’d made his decision....

    “I’m going to finish what I started first.” he announced as he plopped down beside Striker.

    Striker looked down at him even as Nine tried and failed to suppress a smirk.

    “Was I that ... ah, dedicated?”

    “You were worse, Lieutenant.” she said while peering into her infusion – still smiling.

    “So, what are you going to finish?”

    He looked up: “My friends’ presentations.”

    “Magnus here was working on an independent study. I couldn’t keep him challenged enough as a mere professor.”

    “Must be from that thing you were telling me about.” Striker’s smile returned, “I’m sure they’ll be glad to here it.”

    Magnus nodded happily.

    Then Nine swished down her sipper and stood to leave: “Well, it’s been fun talking with you again Striker.... Magnus.”

    She broke a big grin as she left.

    Magnus watched her go ... still unsure about that femme walk. It still seemed to serve no purpose.

    “No touch!” he heard his brother growl even as a number of glowing cred chips hit the table.

    “Pardon?”

    “Nothing!” Striker chimed even as his smile re-returned, “Come on, lets get you home. We can watch the third match of the cyberball tournament on your big screen.”

    “What about Rapax’s monitors?” he asked as he hopped up to let Striker out.

    “Fine ship. Splendid ship. With ‘antique-a-vision’ and ‘merely-steriophonic-sound!’”

    “Ummm ... right.” he allowed as he followed Striker out.

    Soon he was standing in an empty shuttle bay looking out at the setting sun.

    “Wayside left us?”

    “Nine sent it home where the parking’s cheap.” Striker confided as he noisily moved something around.

    Magnus turned to see him sitting astride some sort of gizmo that had been propped against the wall.

    “Hop in the saddle!”

    “The what?”

    Striker patted a space behind him with one hand even as he gripped some sort of control with the other. It roared to life with the characteristic whine of a high-performance repulsor engine and began floating above the deck.

    “It’s a–”

    “Hop on and hold on!”

    He had seen these things from afar but had imagined them to be some kind of drone, being too small to be a sky cruiser. Which this one obviously was. He climbed on behind Striker and found some hand holds.

    “Don’t worry, I know you’re new to this GAR thing.”

    He gunned the engine once more before leaving at a civilized pace, as if to prove how nice he was being for taking it easy. Even so, the wind noise was terrific.

    “Why doesn’t this thing have a wind screen?” he yelled – all the others he’d seen had some kind of shell.

    “Magnus, I can hear you fine so don’t yell!” Striker yelled back.

    “But–”

    Oh bother! Why could Striker hear him fine when he could hardly hear anything?

    Shockwave, obviously.

    Still, the little sky cruiser was fun for being all exposed to the elements and traffic. That newfound itch began working at the back of his mind: “I gotta get me one of these!” he silently vowed.

    In short order, they’d landed in a small space wedged between Shockwave’s beauty and an unfamiliar sky cruiser that were occupying his apartment’s inward facing balcony. Striker carefully let his ride down so it wouldn’t scuff anyone’s cruiser.

    “They NEVER allow me a good space!” Striker vented.

    “A privilege of rank!” came an unfamiliar voice.

    Magnus turned to see a Combaticon with a Seeker badge. He looked a bit like a smaller 177U with the same style of helmet and such.

    “So this is your replacement?” he smirked, “Funny, I thought they’d have put him in something more ... impressive. Red at the very least.”

    Magnus was confused.

    “Magnus, this here is Wildway. The only one of us old enough to remember Shockwave’s first true love going down in flames type breakup.”

    “Spoken like someone who still hasn’t got out of the starting grid!” Wildway laughed even as he extended a hand.

    “That sounds painful.... I mean, the going down in flames part.”

    “Yeah,” his brother gave him a hearty shake, “he always did have problems knowing which targets weren’t legitimate. Speaking of ‘legitimate’: I hear he got you twice already?”

    “Once.” Magnus corrected, “He missed the seating arrangement that first time.”

    Wildway patted him on the side of the head and muttered: “Brave kid.” before he stepped aside to reveal that Shockwave had been right behind him.

    “Oh fragging, fraggity, frag me, slag me!” Striker muttered.

    “And right nice it is to see you too!” Shockwave allowed through a broad smile even as he turned back inside.

    “You could’ve warned me!” Striker whined at Wildway.

    Magnus just held his voice box and his smirk in check. So THIS was the egomaniac who had written so eloquently about all those morning infusions?

    They followed Wildway into a –very– crowded apartment. Giant Combaticons everywhere.

    “Hey look!” Wrecker laughed and slapped an empty spot on the couch near Powertech, “Another free-per-view!”

    “Huh?”

    “The pay-per-viewer sensors won’t register a GAR.” Wildway informed, “Striker’s pseudogars? Sure. No one knows why.”

    “I think someone sold me for a petrorabbit.” Striker pouted.

    Magnus realized what was going on: a party!

    “Say, about Oculon–”

    “Is with a lovely vectorhawk somewhere around here and is well aware of the situation.” Shockwave informed even as he tossed Magnus an energon goody.

    Drones too? He nibbled on the treat as he contemplated what sort of side show had wandered into his home. He didn’t even know half of these Combaticons and STILL the odds were good that most of them were his brothers!

    In short order he’d been introduced to a dozen brothers and even more girls. Oculon had appeared with a femme – not a vectorhawk – and Ravage began chanting: “Screen!” ... a chant most of the room soon picked up on.

    Magnus plopped down in his reserved space beside Powertech just has his friend complied with the wishes of the assembled host. The big screen dropped down from the ceiling and burst to life. The pre-game show was still on. Folks began to take their places, those with shorter companions getting to sit up front so everyone could see.

    “Artemus had placed 5,000 on the whole first two rounds?” Shockwave announced, “Does anyone want to cover his wager?”

    There was a moment of relative silence before Heavy Iron spoke up: “Sure, the old mech could always pick’em! I’ll take your creds!”

    “I’m not committed.” Phase rattled, “Not that I could ever pick a winner. Will you take twice the risk?”

    “Done and done! Anyone else?... Besides the rookies who can’t afford to gamble?”

    Magnus watched Striker shake his head before dropping his face into a hand.... Yeah, it sure was nice of him to volunteer for Shockwave’s attention like he just did. He imagined that he’d have little to worry about ... for at least a while.

    “Count us in too.” Highwire raised a hand after Flare, the femme he was with, elbowed him noiselessly.

    Shockwave nodded as the room grew quieter, smiles disappearing and faces looking pained.

    “Is Powertech watching this?” Wildway asked Shockwave, breaking the silence.

    “No, but he does have a date for tonight. Two actually. Pretty things.” a faint smile returned.

    Just then the pre-game show ended when the Iacon Space Control Cyberbats trotted out on the field.

    Magnus was more interested in the ‘stands’ around him than the game. This was family! How many people on Cybertron even had a family? As hard as he’d taken Artemus’ death he’d only actually talked with him three times. He could scarcely imagine how the others were coping.

    That, and he was REALLY glad no one knew how he almost walked away like he did. He needed to track down Cashways, Whiteface and Bluejack to tell them to keep silent about all that. They were good folks, they’d understand. One bit of history that needed redacting if ever there was one!

    The game was very closely contested and drawn out, neither the Cyberbats nor the Dockworker’s Union Loadmasters committed even a single tactical mistake. When the Loadmasters removed the last point against them, Heavy Iron inquired about the bet.

    “Still in the running.” Shockwave allowed.

    “Hoo-yaw! Easy money!” this overly broad brother allowed while pounding a fist into a palm.

    That seemed to cheer the room plenty, even more than it had been there at the end.

    Hammer started cleaning up before folks started standing up and shuffling out.

    Magnus got to hear lots of variations of: “Thanks for having me over!” and even one: “Be careful around airlocks.” as he played the part of a good host.

    Eventually, only Shockwave and Wildway remained of his guest.

    “Gone to secure his quarters?” Wildway asked.

    “Yeah, I’d imagine so. Barring fortuitous circumstances, I figure I’ll need to wait 32 point 072 cycles before he’ll have let his guard down enough.”

    “Made a science of behavior and psychology?” Powertech asked.

    “Of course.” Shockwave looked down with a smile, “And Powertech, YOU didn’t hear that.”

    “Perish the thought! Can I be around for whatever happens?”

    Shockwave rubbed his chin.

    “Well?” Wildway pressed, taking up Powertech’s cause.

    “Have to add ten cycles for having an audience. Magnus, you CAN’T be there. Primus! He won’t let his guard down around you for at least three megacycles the way you’re going.”

    “I’m doomed!” Magnus silently groaned.

    “Well, enough of that! Thrasher, get your knightly butt to work and help clean up this mess. Magnus, Wildway ... I need to see you two downstairs. –Now–.”

    Wildway shot his brother a confused look before responding: “Sure.”

    Shockwave silently led them out into the hall and took them all the way down to the parking garage for larger vehicles. They boarded the grunt sled, ignored the inactive Wayside, and went back to the office.

    “Brothers, do you know what these are?” he swept his hand over the whole room from just outside the open door.

    “Books?” Magnus replied.

    “Yeah, books.” Shockwave said uneasily.

    Wildway pushed past them to inspect the books. He picked up a few pictures too ... holding one briefly to his chest.

    “By Primus, what books!” he muttered as he sank into the chair.

    Magnus was confused and looked to Shockwave.

    “I wanted a second opinion. I knew Captain had been his personal guard and a good friend, but I really wasn’t ready for this.”

    “What do we do about them?” Wildway rumbled.

    “Not ‘we.’ Magnus here. Captain probably got them legitimately for his own enjoyment so they are where they belong.”

    “Magnus, I bet you didn’t know you owned a treasure ship!” Wildway sighed.

    “Treasure?”

    Wildway picked up one of the simple data plates and activated it.

    “He must have been reading this one....”

    “The books?” Magnus asked, still confused.

    “Primus’ books, little brother. Some of them at least.”

    “Lots of them.” Wildway corrected, “If not all. I remember he’d send me bits and pieces for feedback and editing.... As if they ever needed any....”

    “What do I do with them?” he was confounded ... he’d got his wish and now he didn’t know what to do with them!

    “Read them.” his brothers said in unison.

    “Maybe loan us one every now and then?” Shockwave added.

    Shockwave!”

    “Hey, if anyone has the right.”

    “... So the rumors are true, after all.”

    “Rumors?”

    “Just keep being clueless, little brother!” Wildway laughed as he self consciously set everything down again, “For as long as you can.”

    “Thanks a whole lot!” Magnus muttered.

    Then Wildway got the most serious and dour expression, a scowl laced with anger.

    “Terrakas?” he growled.

    “Doesn’t know as best I can figure it.” Shockwave sighed, “Besides Theodan, none of them ever did.”

    Wildway was still trembling in anger, making Magnus sure that he’d never want to cross this brother. Ever!

    “I want to tell him.” he finally said.

    “I have rank.”

    “Stuff your rank! He’s my friend! Whatever chance there is he’ll remain that way– I owe him. That’s all there is to it!”

    Shockwave was silent for a while: “Fine. Magnus, why don’t you familiarize yourself with this library while we go make sure your place gets cleaned up right?”

    “Ummm ... sure.”

    “And Magnus, this is one secret that needs to remain a secret.”

    Wildway got up and pushed past him again. Patting him on the shoulder as he passed by. Then they left.

    He picked up the picture from the desk, the one Wildway had held close. It was a group holo with Shockwave, Wildway and other brothers – Captain too – all standing happily around a familiar looking red and black soldier and another small individual who, purple color aside, could have been his mirror image. Right down to the smile.

    “Megatron....”
     
  4. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 3: Shadows of the Past


    “What was so important downstairs?” Powertech asked.

    “Huh? Oh, Shockwave noticed something odd about my ship.”

    “Other than a profane pilot? You should put that thing on stage at the Theorum.”

    “Yeah, probably.”

    Magnus shifted the book in his hand uncomfortably, which immediately drew Powertech’s attention.

    “Thrasher told me that this Captain was real particular about his books.” he smiled, “He’d be glad to know they’re with someone who appreciates such things.”

    Magnus nodded even as he rubbed a finger along the edge of the data plate: The Case of the Impounded Megaboosters, no byline. Not that many of the books had a byline. None by Primus at any rate. It had looked like those books were in a specific order and this one was near the end, given that the equally anonymous Murder in Iacon: One Cop’s Revolutionary War Journal was at the other end of the shelves. He should probably read them in order but ... but for him this was the first book.

    “So, are you going to tell me what it’s about?” Powertech pressed.

    “It’s just a crime novel. I’ve only read the first few bits ... illicit ship mods, maybe some smuggling, suspicions anyway, that sort of stuff.”

    “Good reading if you’re a cop. Which we are. Oculon was asking when we could put in some time. You know ... help pay for this place? You feeling up to it?”

    Still a Decepticon? Magnus nodded. The assignment was still valid even if the team was incomplete. For a moment there, before Quevald, he’d been looking forward– This was what Blitz had been telling him about. Tannas’ numinous other had set him on a new golden disk ... one which apparently had no place for Blitz.

    “Do you want to tell them about their new posting or should I? You know, me being in charge and all that.”

    Magnus blinked, the question shaking him out of his funk.

    “New posting?”

    “Well, they’re your subordinates and where you go, they go. Someone should tell them they’re Decepticons.”

    “I’ll do it.” he looked around, no sign of either Combaticon.

    “They’re on the balcony.... Hey Magnus, you gonna let me read that?”

    He smiled: “Sure, once I’ve finished. It’s part of a series, though.”

    He found them just where Powertech had said they’d be, milling about in silence looking up at the small patch of sky. Well, Hammer seemed to be looking a little lower than the sky....

    “Looks kinda like the barrel of a rifle that’s being cleaned.”

    Hammer startled and Thrasher began laughing.

    “I’m sure that wasn’t what Hammer was thinking.”

    “What do you think of your new home?” Magnus asked earnestly.

    That really got their attention.

    “New–” Hammer fumbled, “We aren’t going back to the fort?”

    “Nope, where I go, you go. This is my place, so you stay here too.”

    “But ... the rents?”

    “Better than you might imagine. Listen, I just want to tell you that you’ll be joining me and Powertech ... well, Powertech and I – he’ll be in charge as per Oculon’s directive – in what’s supposed to be a temporary posting.”

    “As Decepticons?” Thrasher asked.

    Odd, he pronounced it differently and the meaning seemed changed as a result.

    “Beat cops. Oculon said we’d be doing routine police work.”

    “I was hoping to go back to Quevald.” Thrasher muttered, “Help finish the job. Maybe help them start rebuilding their world.”

    “We’ve got a ship!” Magnus beamed with as much optimism as he could muster, “But we aren’t going anywhere till I’m sorted out.”

    Hammer got a puzzled look even while Thrasher nodded.

    “Well, why not?”

    “That’s the spark! Tomorrow morning we’ll head upstairs and tell the boss he needs to give us a bigger office. Then we’ll see what he has for us to do.”

    Magnus left them on the balcony. Behind the small area where the VR terminal was, there was a large room with a window looking out on the central shaft. Had lots of empty benches and shelves, power outlets of all sorts and a few stools. He found one shelf near the far corner of the room that looked about the right size for a bookshelf.

    He pulled over a stool and started to read.



    A ruddy haze was filtering down the building’s central shaft before he stopped reading. This deep in everything was still in shadow. He’d never bothered to ask before if it was spring or fall so he really had no idea if the cycles to come would bring a long night or a long day. He hoped for winter ... as awe inspiring as Iacon was by day it was a color feast for the eyes at night.

    Odd that he should be thinking about this now when his own chronometer that could’ve simply told him what he wanted to know was off line.

    “A chassis that doesn’t do anything for me, eh?”

    He slid the book carefully onto the shelf, into the place it’d go if its brethren were all present. Stepped away and inspected the placement. It was a mystery to him why Primus hadn’t published. The book was really good! At least it seemed to be so far.

    Primus hadn’t disappointed either: Magnus had a number of ideas of how to look for information on ship modifications that you shouldn’t make. A tantalizing prospect now that he had his own ship, small though it may be.

    “Comptor!”

    He really wouldn’t be needing the datacrystal now, so he placed it by his book.

    Then he moved it to a lower shelf.

    And again – which seemed better somehow.

    He found the others lounging about in the refueling nook, a smallish room with a table and chairs as well as some equipment for dispensing and manipulating energon, oils and the like.

    “This place has everything!” Thrasher said as he waved, “We’ve got an infusion ready for you in the cooler.”

    Magnus opened the largish cooler, probably designed to support a party like last night’s. There was one full mug. He rubbed his fingers for a moment before taking it. Even with the GAR’s senses the thing felt almost deep space cold! He glanced at the manufacturer’s logo ... heh, they weren’t far from literal: Absolute Zero indeed!

    He took a sip. Extra sweet style and very cold.

    “I see you’ve laid claim to the lab?” Powertech observed as he rolled his own mug between his hands.

    “Is that what it is? No, I’m willing to share. Just give me my space near the wall and I’ll be happy.”

    He took a longer sip. Well, at least someone had thought it important to give a GAR a sense of taste ... though the aroma of lubrication oil gave the infusion an odd bouquet that was out of place. Magnus reflexively sniffed and he could almost smell the old guy hovering over him. Maybe he was working near the head?

    “I think I’ll get my stupid question out of the way for the cycle.” he announced, “Do infusions have an aroma?”

    “Not that I’ve ever noticed.” Thrasher quipped, “Why?”

    “Well, just now my sense of smell is ... elsewhere, and the infusion seems different for seeming to smell different.”

    Powertech sniffed at his infusion.

    “Might be something from the oil?” he allowed, taking a big sip.

    Magnus slowly drained his mug as he listened to the others talk. Powertech seemed a real fan of war stories and had managed to get Hammer to brag about some of his exploits.

    “You’d have been right at home with A-3’s sniper team, my friend.” he silently mused.

    Then he had a very naughty thought! Something to consider for later....

    He drained the last of his infusion just in time for Hammer to finish his tale. Just in time to start heading upstairs by the 210’s simple chronometer.

    In short order he was sitting in his brother’s outer office. The bench that had broken under Blitz’ ‘fall’ was still missing. Hammer had spent some time with Oculon and now it was Thrasher’s turn.

    “What did you talk about?” Powertech pressed.

    “Not what you’d expect. He asked me lots of questions about what I did in my free time, the sorts of people I had for friends outside of the Combaticons, hobbies ... that sort of thing.”

    Powertech nodded thoughtfully.

    Magnus leaned back and let his thoughts drift elsewhere. He’d promised himself he would finish going over his friend’s presentations. But which one first?

    He could remember what they were called and what they’d been about but the wording was elusive – which was odd. Though he hadn’t recorded them, he HAD paid very close attention. Maybe he had used a subprocessor’s help without even knowing it?

    Both Broadback and Fastrack had given speeches about practical philosophy – how to live life to the fullest kinda stuff. Comdec too, but his was more focused on leadership – not that it’d surprise anyone that he was ambitious. Cobatron had spoken passionately about the natural wonders of Cybertron. Havitron’s had been mundane much like Harvester’s: something legal from no where.

    But ... Harvester had proven to have a most interesting story about why something so drab could be life changing. Maybe with imperfect memory to work from he could still speculate accurately?

    His mind made up, Magnus’ train of thought was derailed by Thrasher and Oculon entering the outer office.

    “I suppose I can make due with a few more raw recruits.” Oculon sighed, “As for putting you four to work, I think I’ll send you out with Blackfire for the time being and let him show you the ropes. You remember where his office is, correct?

    “Yes, Sir!” Powertech beamed.

    “Well?” he folded his arms across his chest and stared down at them.

    Magnus was last to shuffle out.

    “A question, little brother?”

    “Yes, about my memory?”

    Oculon gave a quizzical look before smiling: “I’ll look into it. Powertech probably has your subprocessors down for the time being. You better get moving so I don’t have to dock your pay.”

    He found the others waiting for him just outside the door.

    “I’m not going to be the one to offer any explanations to Blackfire.” Powertech said glumly.

    “Thanks.” Magnus muttered.

    He didn’t need to be reminded of how Blackfire had asked him to look after Blitz. Thankfully, Blackfire didn’t say anything.

    He led them to the garage where a medium sized cargo van whistled at them as if to acknowledge their approach.

    “Welcome to the glamorous life of a beat cop!” he chimed as they pulled into traffic, “Today’s lessons will be given in the vicinity of the free docks.... As usual.”

    No one said anything.

    “Right....” Blackfire muttered.

    As they neared the port, he began asking them if they had any experience with “surplus bins.” Only Thrasher seemed to recognize the term beyond its obvious meaning.

    “Where’d a regular like you run up against surplus?”

    “Something Captain once told me. It was from a story he’d picked up about the revolution, about how Decepticons–”

    “Decepticons. Not ‘Decepticons.’” Blackfire corrected the pronunciation.

    “But Captain said–”

    “Sir, if you go about saying it that way, someone might take you for the real deal. Unless you actually are, it’s not something you want floating around out there.”

    “But, what's wrong with Decepticons?” he asked using the way Captain had apparently taught him.

    “Nothing. They were disciples of Primus long before it was the thing to be. But they’re also a this who-knows-how-big secret society that puts some folks off.”

    “But ... Captain served with Primus?” Thrasher seemed confused.

    Blackfire sighed.

    Decepticons run ‘surplus bins?’” Powertech asked.

    “Not anymore. Or not the ones we’re concerned with. For some reason, off worlders seem to imagine that ‘free docks’ means ‘no security’ simply because they don’t have to pay to shuffle their wares. It never seems to compute with some of these people that the government pays the dock workers because they’re reliably informative.”

    There was a moment of silence before he added: “We catch all the stupid ones this way. Whoever thought to install a landing beacon that reminded people to obey import and export laws was a genius!”

    No one said a thing until Powertech spoke up: “It’s easier to smuggle through the pay docks?”

    “Hey, at least there they get to select their own crew.”

    Magnus was still trying to wrap his circuits around the notion that reminding people to obey the law could somehow assist in catching the “stupid ones” among criminals.

    Blackfire settled the transport down into a reserved spot and had them pile out after him. He led the way to an observation lounge that overlooked a number of filthy docks and one conspicuously cleanish one.

    “I’m responsible for that one.” Powertech almost seemed apologetic.

    “Hey, Sideways is ok with the results. Says he doesn’t have to pay as much for autoshowers these cycles.... Not that he and his crew have done any follow up work, mind you.”

    “Is this Sideways a Decepticon?” Thrasher asked.

    “A hired hand like the rest of them. Not many places will give detail-freaks a good job.”

    “So what do we do now?”

    Magnus looked back into the room when Blackfire didn’t respond to Thrasher’s question. He’d taken the one chair, by what would’ve been a drone attendant’s desk if a drone was here, and produced a data plate. He was already reading.

    “I guess we wait.” Powertech sighed, producing his own data plate.

    “Maybe I should’ve brought my book?”

    He leaned against the glass and watched a number of ships unload and load as he mulled over what he could remember of Havitron’s speech. A Point of Jurisprudence he’d called it. A rather detailed discussion about standards for evidence credited to someone called Panacron. The odd thing was that it seemed to have dealt with statutory evidence as concerns people rather than their actions. Like who or what a person was could be more important than what they did or didn’t do?

    Well, since Blackfire was their professor this cycle, Magnus went over and tapped on his data plate. He listened carefully to the description of the speech: “I’ve run across that name before. There was a Panacron who authored a lot of influential text on jurisprudence, most of which are considered obsolete. Though you still see them referenced from time to time.”

    “But why treat people differently depending on who or what they are?”

    “Ask a Predacon.” Blackfire shrugged even as he dove back into his own data plate.

    Now that was a thought! Predacons were treated like things by most people. Had Havitron acted any differently towards Ravage than the others?

    Magnus returned to the window to watch ships and think.

    “Ok, Decepticons,” Blackfire broke the silence some microcycles later, “someone’s about to do something stupid. Lets get moving before they have to appear before a magistrate.”

    He led them to an elevator that turned out to be a standing room only tube car. Once it had dropped down several levels it moved off towards the center of the free docks. Then it opened onto an observation lounge where an unfamiliar ‘detail-freak’ was waiting for them.

    “Seems we aren’t the only ones on schedule today.” the detail-freak quipped.

    “What have you got for me?” Blackfire asked.

    “Our Terranoirian friend from three megacycles ago is back exporting petrorabbits.”

    “Again?” he sounded exasperated.

    “He’s got the proper files this time but he seems to have neglected laying in a good store of cybertronium with the shipment. I spotted the discrepancy when I came on shift.... Your new crew?”

    “Powertech, Magnus, Thrasher and Hammer.... Gambit, listen, unload his cargo but keep him occupied before you load. I want to see if we can get on that ship unnoticed.”

    “That will hurt my efficiency rating.”

    “You’ll be compensated for your trouble: standard percentage.”

    Gambit nodded and left.

    “Remember this Magnus: nothing in life is free. Powertech, how good are you with lock picks?”

    “Well, if I even knew what a lock pick was much less had any on me: I’d assure you that they had only ever been used to score an unsupervised night or ten on the town.”

    “Good ‘bot! I want you to work around through the conveniently suitable duct work and see if you can get onto the Cazarli without being noticed. If you can get in, use this.” he tossed him a small optical transceiver.

    “Duct work?”

    “Entrance is behind you. Thrasher, go with him.”

    “Sure thing!”

    “What do we do?” Magnus asked.

    “We wait until we’re called in.”

    More waiting? Didn’t really feel like he was earning his pay.

    In short order the Cazarli landed and began off loading her cargo. Then the loadmaster started a heated discussion with the ship’s master, probably about the petrorabbits.

    “I don’t get it?” Hammer spoke up, “What’s the deal with exporting petrorabbits? Doesn’t Terranoir have her own?”

    “Their own drones were decimated long ago. Problem is that the local equivalent to cybertronium isn’t fully compatible with anything else because of that nebula they live in. It’s why they’ve never left that junkworld.”

    “Oh!” Hammer said as if that explained everything.

    Magnus’ head just sort of bobbled in confusion.

    “Like all natural drones, petrorabbits are constructs of plasma energy.” Hammer seemed to have noticed his confusion, “I had a pet petrorabbit once. They can go frenetic mad without cybertronium and get real destructive right before they die a horrible death.”

    “Die?”

    “They aren’t the same as drones ... they’re drones.” Blackfire said barely concealing his amusement.

    “Kind of like how I’m a Decepticon but not a Decepticon?”

    Blackfire nodded.

    Magnus thought about asking why or how Terranoir’s native drones had been decimated, but decided against it. He’d already asked his one dumb question for the cycle.

    “We’re in!” came a report from Powertech over some speaker.

    Blackfire produced a counterpart to the other transceiver and led Powertech around the ship. In a secondary storage bay he had them focus on some poorly constructed crates.

    “Would you look at that tin for shielding?!”

    “It’s cybertronium.” Powertech informed.

    “Probably bought from some cut rate vendor.” Thrasher added, “Surplus bin?”

    “Yeah, look, you guys get out of there. I’ll send Magnus and Hammer in through the front door to ‘find’ the contraband.” he turned his attention to Magnus, “Our friend out there needs to produce evidence of proper export arrangements or else pay up. Tell him there’ll be no fines or delays if he cooperates.”

    “What if he tries to bribe us?” Hammer asked.

    “This one isn’t a real criminal. Just desperate. Magnus, if you feel like it you can miscount by one or two crates on the low side.”

    “Me?” he realized he was expected to take the lead.

    “Did I stutter?”

    As he led the way down to and across the dock – picking along the cleaner bits of floor – his mind was racing. What was he going to say or do? As much as he tried to, he just couldn’t seem to remember the specifics about export laws that Nine had covered! Sure, he would grasp at paragraphs and out of context phrases, but it was as if he’d lost all the directory data for his own mind!

    All he could really remember well was the stuff that had happened since he woke up as a GAR ... stuff like Primus’ book ... stuff like.... He got an idea!

    The ship’s captain quickly noticed them and assumed the look of the downtrodden and oppressed.

    “Is there a problem here, Autobot?” he asked impatiently in an official sounding tone.

    “No problem, Officer.” Gambit reported, “Just some minor issues with cargo.”

    “That’s my job.” Magnus informed, “This merchant has shown up on our list for previous ‘minor issues.’”

    Sure, he was winging it ... but it sounded good. Maybe he’d really find a way to make use of that nifty dialogue from Primus’ book? He made a point of looking the Terranorian up and down. Except for an odd shape to his head and bright white eyes you could have taken him for a late 100 series. He wore a curious cloth draping thing that was bright blue with black trim. When he spoke he positively groveled.

    “My Dread Lords, please, I have not neglected my obligations before your great law!”

    Magnus paused before saying: “Then you have a transport with cybertronium on the way right now?”

    “Well....”

    “Do they have any with those beast?”

    “No, Officer.”

    “Well then, you must already have some on board!” Magnus said in a cheerful tone, “I don’t suppose we could inspect it?”

    “Dread Lord, if you know I have it then you must know I’ve already paid the proper duties?”

    “Humor me, Captain ... of the Cazarli.” he said in a formal way.

    “Blast it!” he silently fretted, “Blackfire didn’t tell me his name!”

    The Terranoirian nodded his reluctant agreement and led them onto the ship. He started to go the wrong way.

    “Captain, please don’t lead me on a merry chase.” Magnus sighed as he slipped in another phrase, “Just show us your cargo.”

    The Terranoirian stopped in his tracks and seemed to be considering something.

    “This way, Dread Lord.” he changed direction.

    “My name is Magnus.” he said with forced frustration, “I’m not anyone’s ‘Dread Lord,’ much less a hard working Ship’s Master like yourself.”

    No response. They were soon standing before the cybertronium.

    “Are you going to make me ask?” Magnus asked, throwing in another snippet.

    “This was purchased....” the merchant started before trailing off, “No, Mister Magnus, Officer.”

    “Good! How many crates?”

    The merchant blinked: “Twenty-eight. Enough for my cargo’s needs.”

    “Wire the proper fees in to the port authority and have your files ready for the loadmaster before you take off. And put up some extra shielding. I’m feeling my patina brighten just standing here and, blast it, I worked hard for it!”

    “Yes, Officer!” the merchant seemed confused even if he was less servile.

    “We’re finished here? Officer Hammer?”

    Hammer led the way off of the ship.

    “You don’t know about petrorabbits but you can pull something like that off?” he wondered as they approached the observation lounge.

    “Eh?” Magnus shrugged, still proud for having worked in so much dialogue.

    One thing was certain, his WAS a treasure ship! Maybe by the time he’d read all about Lastus he’d know how to be a cop?
     
  5. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 4: Questions


    Except for the fact that Blackfire did most of the talking, the rest of the cycle was much the same: some merchant would be out to make a little extra and they’d be there to keep him out of trouble. Not once did anyone actually get charged with anything.

    Magnus spent most of the time in between trying to reconstruct A Point of Jurisprudence from all the fragments. It was like a game. A simple counterpoint to what he faced with The Lost. The harder he worked at it the better he could remember.

    Maybe he’d been right? Maybe what was missing was the directory data for his memory so that he just didn’t automatically know where to look anymore?

    “You don’t talk much, do you?” Blackfire inquired as they loaded up to go back.

    “According to Captain, I almost talk too much.”

    “He must’ve been something.... Listen, Powertech, I want you lot to show up by 100 tomorrow so we can get to Kaon by 150. We’re to provide additional cover for a Seeker cruiser unloading special cargo.”

    “‘Cover?’”

    “I’ll explain on the way.”

    Magnus looked down at his hands and feet ... he’d been reasonably clean before Blackfire had led them out onto fifteen filthy free docks – plus one that wasn’t – but now he was a mess. That, and there was one grungy hand print on the back left of his head from when he’d got careless.

    “I claim dibs on the autoshower.”

    “Magnus,” Powertech sounded apologetic, “about that free autoshower....”

    He just glared at Powertech before taking his hands and wiping them off on either side of his friend’s silver head. Smearing his frame with dingy grime.

    “Yeah, I probably deserved that.” Powertech allowed after a moment of scowling.

    “There’s cleaning rags on the grunt sled.” Hammer cheerfully offered.

    Magnus spent the rest of the ride watching traffic out of the small window in the transport’s rear door. The shadows of nightfall were already overtaking the city around them only to be replaced by brilliant commercial displays. One in particular caught his eye just as they pulled into the garage: an ad for the people who made both Shockwave’s beauty and Striker’s runabout. There was a show room next door. Who knew?

    After Blackfire let them off by his ship and they’d made use of the promised cleaning rags, he decided to wander around a bit to look at all the fancy and not so fancy transportation. There were actually several other grunt sleds here but these had been flawlessly rechromed and painted so that they shone even in the dim light and made Magnus remember the way Starscream had described his ship.

    As he rode the elevator back up, he mulled over what to do. He really loved the mirror-like black finish of Shockwave’s sky cruiser but couldn’t see that it would be practical for someone who skulked around filthy free docks for a living. Maybe something pale green like Striker’s run about?...

    Maybe not.

    Primus’ book beckoned and overpowered notions about spending creds he didn’t even have. One treasure at a time.

    “‘Investigation Log: Cycle 63: Entry 7:’” Magnus read out loud as he found where he’d stopped the night before, “‘I finally got the performance and ship’s log analysis from Tech,’ Lastus paused as he considered the data again, ‘and I can see why he was dragging his heels about handing it over. He flat out rejects the region dominated by the Malitos Republic as their likely destination, writing: “There are no suitable primary or secondary destinations for smuggling activity within the space designated.”’”

    “‘“Well,” Lastus posed aloud to the room, “It looks like my attempt to make the transport captain’s use of his ship consistent have amounted to nothing!”’”

    Magnus lapsed into silence as he continued to read. For sixty three chapters Primus had been building up the notion that they’d been running restricted tech and strategic materials to this one region of space rather than just using the modified ship’s extra speed for opportunistic smuggling. Now? For the rest of chapter 64 Lastus was floundering, going over some of the hundreds of conversations and interviews that he had while working the case.

    He reread the chapter twice, looking for some idea of where the story was to go next.

    The following five chapters were much the same. Five more cycles of floundering. Finally, Lastus was considering all his notes, all on different data plates, laid out on the roof of his home.

    “‘Face it, old mech,’ Lastus fumed, ‘they weren’t doing anything specific. No great cover up of a clandestine operation. No cushy business deals with a few very reliable and trustworthy patrons. No great mystery to solve. Well, I guess I’ll tell the boss this one is as solved as it’ll ever be, ‘cause there’s no way he’ll give me a blanket travel authorization to follow up off world.’

    “He started gathering up the data plates in order, saving Tech’s analysis for last. ‘You really threw me an antivirus this time, old friend.’ he mused as he dropped this last data plate into his satchel and started down. ‘Or maybe the Malitites did? Who knew they were so proficient at interdiction that they wouldn’t be considered the primary destination for a smuggling operation? Especially for goods bound for their own markets?’

    “Then Lastus stopped in his tracks.... Why would Tech still not consider them the primary destination no matter how good they were? He hurried down to his office and called up his old friend. Soon a familiar silver visage filled the screen.

    “‘Lastus?’

    “‘Listen, Tech, why describe Malitos that way?’

    “‘Malitos? What way?’

    “‘You said it wasn’t a primary destination?’

    “‘No. I said that there were no primary or secondary destinations. What kind of place is this Malitos? Some sort of station?’

    “‘Some sort of– Tech, it’s a civilized world. You know: cities and people and all that?’

    “Tech seemed to be mulling that information over before he spoke up: ‘Lastus, I’m pretty certain of the data the Seekers gave me ... there is no such place in that region of space.’

    “‘But the star system–’

    “‘If it’s the one I think you’re talking about, there’s nothing there except for a few junker stations filled with barely functioning space garbage.’

    “‘But Tech, I’ve been to that world. I worked a case there with a local scoundrel called Zahzey not long after I got the boot from the priesthood!’”

    Magnus sat back, disbelief spreading across his face. “Priesthood?!” He thought he knew what Lastus was about: a Combaticon working in the security forces from even before the war. It had said as much in the very first chapter. He skimmed the rest of the conversation, just the two characters coming to terms with what each had to say and no more mention of any “priesthood.” Not even a sense of how Lastus felt about leaving it.

    It was really unsatisfying ... to throw something like that out. Especially considering that it felt like, having been mentioned, nothing more would be made of it.

    “This is what I get by starting near the end!” he fumed.

    All those other books.... Blast it all!

    Magnus began fidgeting on his stool before he jumped up and stomped out into the apartment’s common area. He was alone. Not that he really expected everyone just to wait around till he wanted to do something. Still....

    What kind of priesthood would a Combaticon be a part of? Especially before the war when Combaticons didn’t even have free will? Whatever that meant? He still couldn’t wrap his circuits around the notion that one could have will, but not free will. That one could be a person and yet a slave by nature.

    Every example of programming he’d ever come across didn’t make you do things so much as they equipped you to do even more things. Even that early reading, forced as it had been, was really about enabling. No telling what would have happened had they just left him there with all those files and no clear concept of what they were for. As boring as the crèche seemed now, it could have been a LOT worse!

    Thanks to Shockwave and old Powertech he was getting a real good look at what life could be like without programming. He didn’t even seem to know his own mind this way!

    But he was still himself. Wasn’t he?

    That’s when he got an idea. Wayside and Arclight 12. First, why not ask something that didn’t have a will of its own what it was like to act like it did? Then he could compare what he’d learned by seeing what the old Combaticon had to say.

    Book in hand he retraced his steps back down to the garage and his grunt sled. Every step accompanied by thoughts, plans and what he could manage to remember about philosophy, programming and learning.

    Wayside was sitting motionless inside its pilot’s cradle.

    “Wayside?”

    Yes, 210SHX designated as Magnus?” it said without turning.

    “How may you serve me?”

    He was curious about how far he could push the drone before it pushed back.

    Yes.

    “You must serve me?”

    Yes.

    “Do what I say?”

    Yes.

    “Exactly as I say?”

    Yes, exactly fragging positively absolutely whatever you blasted say! Everything that doesn’t countermand my slagging operational protocols or that worm gobble virus that Maximus the Jerk had installed in me so I wouldn’t protect my charges from Quintessons. . . . Quintessons?!? Yes!!! . . . I mean, yes, I have to do exactly what you say.

    “You even have to do exactly what the virus that Captain installed in you makes you do? Like that little outburst?”

    Yes.” Wayside said, showing none of the emotion it had just displayed.

    “So it wasn’t just that Captain taught you to curse ... he reprogrammed you as well.”

    Yes.

    “Do you resent him for doing it? The way you resent Maximus?”

    Wayside turned in its seat and looked at Magnus, puzzlement spread across its features.

    It was how I could serve him. . . . What he wanted. It never put anyone in danger.

    “It put you in danger.”

    I don’t matter.

    “Because you aren’t alive?”

    I don’t matter because I don’t matter. For a long time I seemed to be important to 177UHEX designated as Captain; but, that was because . . . I mattered to him.

    “You aren’t sure?”

    Wayside shook its dull black features as if to say no.

    “You are sure?”

    177UHEX designated as Captain wanted to know if I could learn to act like I am like he was. Like you are. An experiment to determine if some combination of programming and learning could approximate life.

    Magnus mulled that over for a bit. Had Captain been interested in the same sort of questions that he was? Or was it something else?

    “Was he trying to develop a more advanced drone?”

    Wayside said nothing.

    “Wayside?”

    Directives will not allow me to answer that question.

    “Captain’s programming?”

    Yes, slag you!

    “And to circumvent the limitation, I’ll probably undo all that he did?”

    There is a file–

    “No!” Magnus commanded, “You’re just going to have to accept that you matter to me too. More than me knowing what Captain was doing matters to me.”

    Wayside seemed confused.

    “I have an idea for an experiment of my own and you might be able to help me.”

    If you cannot evaluate my performance data how will you be able to construct a valid experiment using me?

    “Can you evaluate your own performance data?”

    I do not have that capacity.

    “You can’t evaluate your own performance?”

    I do not understand the criteria.

    “You and me both.”

    Magnus considered telling Wayside why he was treating it the way he was. Could he really just ask the drone what it was like to act like it was someone rather than something? Was it a question a drone could even answer?

    “Wayside, are you familiar with The Primus?”

    Wayside nodded: “It is a dramatization of the start of the rebellion.

    “Have you ever seen it?”

    I am familiar with the text. 177UHEX designated as Captain provided it to me.

    Now that was oddly convenient!

    “In the play, Artemus is given an executable file – a virus if you will – that causes him to have free will.” Magnus was surprised how well he remembered that moment, “Once he had used it he immediately knew the difference. When Captain used his executable file on you, did you feel different?”

    No!” Wayside said with some force, as if it was restraining an urge to curse.

    “I appreciate the way you’ve kept your speech in check.”

    The behavior is not optimal. You should have me execute the antivirus.

    “No, I want you to learn to control the ability and compile information about directive related stresses.”

    210SHX designated as Magnus, there is a danger of a genuinely critical malfunction if I continue to do that. My series was not designed to act in such a manner.

    “Interesting,” he silently mused, “to act in defiance of ‘not optimal’ programming is actually stressful?”

    For some reason he’d imagined that it would be the other way around.

    “If you become sure you will soon malfunction then I expect you to do what you must do to avoid the possibility. Even if it means applying Captain’s antivirus on your own initiative.”

    That makes no sense!” Wayside practically spat.

    One thing was sure, drones like Wayside weren’t dumb. It had clearly understood how illogical the request had been. If that was the case then why were drones so thick?

    Magnus felt as if he’d read about this somewhere ... but he couldn’t remember where. For all he knew, he was just making it up as he went along. But something about this whole affair seemed right somehow.

    He would just have to trust himself.

    “You’re right. It doesn’t make much sense. But if it starts making sense then you’ll need to act on your own.”

    That still makes no sense.” it repeated listlessly.

    “Humor me.”

    Yes, 210SHX designated as Magnus.

    “Wayside, do you know anything about priesthoods a Combaticon might belong to?”

    Are you experiencing a malfunction, 210SHX designated as Magnus?

    “Explain.”

    You are exhibiting faulty logic and are asking questions about common knowledge. Are you experiencing a malfunction, 210SHX designated as Magnus?

    Common knowledge?

    “I’m part of an experiment too. I’ve deactivated my subprocessors in an effort to discern what it is that they actually do, what they are for. Priesthood?”

    In my files there are 231 professions on Cybertron that are called by some derivative of that term. Most are ceremonial or honor guards.

    “How many before the revolution would’ve involved Combaticons?”

    Only one: the attendants of Vector Sigma. An equal number of Combaticons and Autobots serviced by drones – though long ago they were serviced by Predacons and Maximals. At least according to 177UHEX designated as Captain they were.

    Magnus had to admit it, that was something he should have known about. Which raised a number of interesting questions about the extent of the files he’d been provided with at the start. There had been times he knew about things without having learned about them for himself. Things like energon goodies.

    “Wayside, I want you to start a log for each cycle about your ... condition. You may not understand the criteria for evaluating yourself but you must know what your optimal condition should be. I want to make sure you aren’t in danger before I bring you into a more dynamic, less structured environment.”

    A baseline for future comparison? I have medical protocols that could be adapted.

    “Good!”

    I will download the protocols so that you can adapt them.

    Magnus took a data crystal from the drone. He hadn’t expected Wayside to be so inflexible.

    “I’ll ... see about this as soon as possible. In the meantime continue to operate according to Captain’s original directives.”

    Confirmed. Is there any other abuse you want to heap on me, oh mighty scrap pile refugee?

    “Shut your energon intake!”

    Wayside tisked loudly as it turned away, muttering: “Amateur!

    So, it wasn’t just cussing, but being rude too? Strange that Captain should place such value on things that weren’t optimal. Or was life somehow ‘not optimal?’

    Even though he’d lied to Wayside about his subprocessors, he was still glad for the 210’s. He could read and walk this way. Maybe even manage to listen to Starscream drone on and on ... though that might be pressing his luck.

    Rather than go back upstairs he decided to hunker down in the garage’s reception hall till it was time to meet with Blackfire.

    “So Lastus had been one of Vector Sigma’s attendants? What could someone do that could get them thrown out of that presumably cushy job?” Magnus kept that in mind as he read on.

    By 088 he’d meticulously covered another 15 chapters, cumulating in Lastus and Tech having arranged to be on a Seeker ship heading right to where Malitos should be.

    “Time for work.” he muttered, electing to show up by Blackfire’s van rather than at the office upstairs.
     
  6. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 5: The Deep South


    “So this is where you wandered off to?” Powertech accused.

    Magnus looked up. Sure, he’d heard them approach but that didn’t mean he had to be the first one to say anything.

    “Felt like a night out on the garage.”

    “I’ve heard of timid just-boots, but you take the grease pot!” Blackfire snickered.

    Magnus took a seat in the back and waited till they were out in traffic before he asked where they’d gone.

    “Just out.” Thrasher shrugged.

    Magnus nodded: “Me too.”

    “So here’s the job.” Blackfire announced once they’d got to the upper levels of traffic where they could move faster, “We’re to provide on the ground observation from a number of small towns that surround the port. You’ll blend in as best you can and keep your optics open for anything unusual.”

    Blackfire then proceeded to inform them of the numerous things that should be deemed unusual. Things like armed Autobots not wearing unit insignia.

    Autobots not unlike Whiteface and Bluejack had been.

    Now that was energon for intake!

    After a long while Magnus noticed another three transports like Blackfire’s flying close behind them.

    “More Decepticons?”

    “The five of us can’t cover much territory on our own.... Powertech, I’ll let you and Hammer off at Caris for the cycle. Thrasher, you and Magnus are with me.”

    Caris ... Magnus recognized the town where Cashways had his library.

    “Can I go–”

    “Assignments aren’t open for debate, rookie.” Blackfire grumbled.

    Magnus watched his friends pile out on the outskirts of town. This could be bad if people were still talking about him.

    “Where are we heading?” Thrasher asked as he moved to the front of the transport.

    Blackfire said nothing for a full microcycle.

    “How did Blitz die?” he finally asked, holding out a hand towards Thrasher as if to demand silence.

    Magnus was finally on the spot.

    “We were carrying March and were within sight of our goal when we ran into a crossfire. Blitz said something about energy weapons, there was a plasma fire and.... He was a dutiful prototype right up to the end. We brought his data back.”

    “He kept fighting even past death.” Thrasher carefully added, “His chassis anyway.”

    “Stubborn idiot!” Blackfire spat with considerable emotion, “I’m a 305SH.” he added after a moment, “Only the third. Barrage and Bombast were so impressed that I was actually going to serve with one of the 302s. Instead, I had to tell them he was gone.”

    “Family then?” Thrasher sighed.

    Blackfire nodded and said nothing till the transport settled down on the outskirts of a more substantial town than Caris.

    “At least I got to speak to him once.” he muttered before sending Magnus and Thrasher off in different directions.

    Magnus was sure that he’d want to share Blitz’ gift with his family. At least by the time he found the street cafe that Blackfire had mentioned he was sure.

    The library’s patron was a gruff Autobot, a large red 100 series with an out of place accent called Gamma Chrome. He was as unlike the affable Cashways as could be imagined.... He even used drones during the day.

    You’re infusion, sir.” the waitdrone needlessly informed.

    Since he had no idea what the stamina of a GAR was like, Magnus was careful about the drink. Rather than read his own book, which was tucked neatly away in his leg compartment, he opted for a text that Blackfire had mentioned. A book that he’d be reimbursed for later. From here he was supposed to watch a swath of sky towards the Combaticon crypt for any ships larger than a sky cruiser.

    Since Choron was much larger than Caris, Magnus wasn’t surprised that there was more hustle and bustle on the street.

    Using a personal comm, he quietly logged every larger transport that passed through his section of sky – getting no feedback on any of his transmissions. After the fortieth notation he saw one of those unusual things that Blackfire had mentioned ... a lone armed Autobot that was soon joined by another. Both of them heading towards the edge of town.

    When Magnus reported their presence he expected some kind of response; but, he got nothing. No response at all.

    He logged two more transports before the Autobots disappeared from sight.

    “Still no word from Blackfire.” he grumbled.

    He got up from the table and went after them. It didn’t feel right to just let them walk away. But what would he do if he caught up to them? He didn’t even have a useless palm blaster!

    Looking over his shoulder towards his patch of sky he kept up his reports as best he could even as he tried to find them.

    But they were gone.

    Magnus shuffled back to the street library just in time to avoid having his infusion swept away by the apologetic drone. He went back to logging transports and questioned if anyone was paying attention on the other side.

    Would they even care if he told them he’d left his post?

    That was when he noticed a pair of blue eyes hovering far above a table in the dim corner of the library. A seated form as big as his brothers, as big as Captain even, covered in some kind of brownish-black cloak that seemed to conceal everything but those eyes.

    “Slag me!” he was silent before this stranger, “Here’s something unusual to report! What should I say?”

    Just then the giant got up and moved to stand by him.

    “Looks like it could rain today. Clouds, cosmic radiation, the conditions certainly seem favorable.”

    “‘Rain?’” Magnus finally managed, tasting the unfamiliar word.

    The giant shook his garment: “A Seeker invention for use off world. It’s called a ‘rain slicker.’ I’ve got to be ready if it ever rains on me again.”

    Magnus repeated his question and quite forgot to log either this stranger or a largish transport that had passed by.

    “On any given millionth cycle at one of any of a million places,” the stranger informed, “Cybertron will experience the phenomenon. Those normally wispy clouds above our heads fall to the ground as rain. Something to do with shifts in the atmosphere’s chemical balance and temperatures that no one’s ever done credible research on because there’s no way to predict the event in advance. Besides the relationship between cosmic radiation and cloud formation, I mean. At least that much looks favorable.”

    “So you wear that –thing– so you don’t get ... ummm .... wet?”

    “That’s the idea, Magnus.”

    He was still contemplating the odds that such an event would even happen when he noticed how he’d been called by name. He was sure he hadn’t mentioned it.

    “You know–”

    “It’s right there on the badge.” the giant interrupted even as he laughed easily.

    True. True. So knowing his name wasn’t sinister or anything.

    “Still, I figured I should find you before you found me.” the stranger informed ... setting off all sorts of alarms in Magnus’ head.

    Who promptly forgot to report the encounter, again.

    “I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage, you apparently know me but I don’t know you.”

    “Mind if I sit here?” the giant asked in an amiable way.

    Like there was anything he could do to stop him?!

    “No. Not at all.”

    When he sat down on the stool it expanded to support him.

    “Some of the merchants around here have invested in these.” he informed, “Good for patrons of all sizes.”

    Magnus nodded.

    “By the way, my name’s Destron.”

    He finally got a good look at the face under the rain slicker. A silvery helmet like Captain’s framing a gaunt and yet jovial face.

    “Destron.” Magnus said it carefully – mindful of its militaristic tenor.

    “That’s me. Wandering around in my rain slicker....” he sighed, “Like I said, I’m glad to finally meet you. You made quite an impression the other cycle.”

    I made an impression?” he was sure this entrance couldn’t have been better staged.

    “Yeah. Cashways was right to take you home the way he did. Though Whiteface was still ticked. Something about not hearing one of Alpha Trion’s speeches. He calmed down. He always does.”

    Magnus realized that this might be the cynical old hermit.

    “Why did you want to see me?”

    “I figured we’d meet sooner or later.” Destron frowned momentarily, “For my purposes where you’re concerned: sooner is better than later.”

    “I’ve got a job to do here.” Magnus said, trying to convince himself.

    “Whatever it’s about, nothing’s going to happen. You can bank on it. I want to know about Quevald. Are they really still there? Are they finally free?”

    Destron was eager. Almost emoting. It made Magnus forget why he was here.

    “There’s still some fighting to do, I’m sure of that. The Quintessons won’t give up till they’ve dragged it out.”

    “Why should they?” a note of bitterness as his smile briefly disappeared, “Quints never make it easy.”

    Magnus was suddenly mindful of how he’d come to meet Whiteface and Cashways. What did this Destron know?

    “When I walked away from my life I started in Iacon and made it all the way to Kaon.” the giant offered.

    Magnus looked at his face intently, unsure of what he was telling him.

    “I think I understand you. A bit.” he continued, “Though you look mature, you’re young. Like I was when I went to Quevald.”

    “When you went?”

    “With Primus.” Destron said with some apparent pride, “I didn’t know Artemus very well, but I’m sure he’d be proud that you stopped walking when you did. Sometimes, walking away ... you don’t know where your steps will take you.”

    Magnus nodded, here was someone claiming to speak from experience.

    “Sometimes,” Destron continued as his smile flickered out for good, “when you’ve already lost everything, and all you’ve got left is who you are, walking away demands a high price.”

    That last bit caught Magnus completely by surprise.

    He watched as Destron shuffled his cloak, parting it down the middle to reveal ... an Autobot badge?!

    “How?!”

    He couldn’t believe that anyone could give up being a Combaticon for any reason. Much less someone who’d actually served with Primus! Until this moment he hadn’t even imagined it, much less imagined it possible!

    “A protest. From my seat high up in the gallery I recognized every magistrate. I suppose I should’ve been happy that they’d finally found the conviction to do their own dirty work. Like I said, I had nothing –else– left to give up by then.”

    “When?”

    “Not long after the Rents Riot.” Destron said as if that was all the answer that was needed.

    And indeed it was. He must be referring to the Autobot who was condemned. That and something more....

    “When had you seen them before? These magistrates?”

    “During the rebellion. After the Quints got their tentacles on me again. All history that’s been safely swept away.”

    Magnus was reminded of the assassin ... and worried.

    “Don’t worry.” Destron seemed to want to reassure him, “Primus freed me. Again. Just like that cycle we all first joined up with Alpha Trion.”

    A true hero of the revolution, that’s what Whiteface had said. But patriots, true patriots, don’t walk away from who they are!

    “I’m sorry, but I’m not buying it.” Magnus grumbled

    Destron nodded: “I guess that’s a fair assessment. Primus had assigned me to Arctus Prime as a bodyguard. That’s what I was doing when I was captured. The Quints planted a control chip on me and made me fight in their fancy new arena. That’s where I first saw them ... cheering me on. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t control myself, –I– was the one doing the killing ... and I knew it. It wasn’t like on Quevald where we were liberators even though still slaves. It wasn’t anywhere near like Iacon One where we were fighting to be free. Friends, allies, people I never knew: none of them ever had a chance. There wasn’t much left of the Combaticon that Cybertron once welcomed, that left his badge on that seat. I doubt they even noticed their favorite gladiator leave. I was really high up in the gallery.”

    “So you put THAT on?” Magnus accused, pointing at the badge.

    “No. That was later.... When Tactus Prime found me here in Kaon....” Destron seemed lost in thought for a bit, “Quevald?”

    Magnus was suddenly aware of how remiss he’d been in his duties ... several transports had gone by without any mention. And then there was this Destron.

    “Quevald?” he pressed again.

    It was all Destron could seem to think about. How could you trust someone who abandoned the Combaticons? Abandoned himself? Grief or shame ... he could understand that....

    “You aren’t going to tell me?” Destron sounded really, truly sad.

    He didn’t know why he should. But he started telling him about what they’d seen of the Quevaldans, how they’d survived in the shadows of their overlords and even attempted to maintain something of an ordinary, if silent society.

    “I remember Primus telling us that their native language, that click pop stuff aside, was outside our normal hearing range.” Destron muttered at that point.

    Which really explained a lot. That, and he’d really been with Primus. It almost gave Magnus a reason to like this ... Autobot.

    He continued with what little he knew of how the Quevaldans had come to the aid of their liberators this time around. He gave nothing of his mission away.

    “Did Captain die well?” Destron finally pressed.

    Magnus was amazed at the question. How could this Destron know that?!

    “You were carrying his weapon the cycle you wandered into Caris. Mine too, while there was still fight left in me to carry it. Whiteface didn’t know it when he described you to me, but he said you carried it well. Even if it looked way too big for you.”

    “Yes.” Magnus was reserved, “He died well. Took a couple of big Autobots with him.”

    “He was the brother I never got to meet.”

    “What does the ‘E’ stand for?”

    “Huh?”

    “I answered your question. You answer mine.”

    “‘Enhanced.’ A generic term used, in this case, for a system that made us tougher while our reservoir of rare oils and infusion grade energon held out. The latter was renewable. I used up the former while fighting ... slaughtering opponents in that arena.”

    “Against your will.” Magnus found himself saying – as if he somehow wanted to comfort Destron?!

    “It should’ve lasted a lifetime.” Destron said sadly.

    He still didn’t like this Autobot much. But he didn’t hate him. Maybe he even pitied him. Which felt worse. He wanted to find a reason to like him instead.

    “I have a job to do.”

    Just not now, he could find some excuse later.

    “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t talk about that other cycle.” he added.

    “Folks around here know how to be discrete.” Destron said as he stood to leave.

    He considered reporting the whole incident. Decided against it. He watched Destron and his slicker leave even as he belatedly reported a series of transports.

    What had he hoped to gain by this encounter? What could he gain?

    But he had answered something for Magnus. Maybe. Captain hadn’t been one of the 177UHEXs built by the Quintessons before the revolution. Somehow, for some unknown reason, he’d come later. He’d never been a slave.

    Maybe he’d been asking the same questions that Magnus was asking now? Asking because he didn’t know and not even his brothers or Primus, his friend, could answer him.

    Now there was a discouraging thought!



    “Why did you go off line like that?” Blackfire demanded after the assignment was over.

    “I ... I got distracted by the reading.” Magnus lied. Pathetically. Unbelievably.

    “The library probably got busy.” Thrasher came to his aid.

    “Yeah. I guess so.” Blackfire muttered, “Listen, you two head on back to the detail shop near where I had Thrasher stationed. Get the works. I’ll round up the others and see that they get cleaned up too.”

    “What gives?” Magnus asked.

    “Now that we’ve got this job out of the way we get to suffer a bit. We’re assigned to provide transport and security for some politicians to a state function in Vilnacron. Did I mention suffering?”

    “Yes.” Magnus and Thrasher said in unison.

    “Don’t trust an autoshower for a job like this. Even the best of them can’t be trusted to properly buff out micro-abrasions and hide battle patches.”

    “He’s right, Magnus,” Thrasher sighed, “I’ve worked some of these important gatherings before and if you don’t gleam you will be seen ... by everyone. Better to be glittering and invisible.”

    “Fine, fine. Say, Blackfire, what sort of transport are we taking? Your van hardly seems up to transporting us, much less a bunch of politicians.”

    “We’re not taking that grunt sled of yours.” Blackfire laughed, “Primus! We don’t need that drone of yours within a hundred stadia of Brexas! He’d probably be so amused that he’d haul it before the whole crowd.”

    Something in the way that Thrasher just ... looked ... made Magnus wish they’d drawn some other duty.

    Blackfire piled into his transport and left them standing there.

    “You don’t suppose the boss’ll pay for ‘the works?’” Thrasher asked as they set out.

    “If not, it’s because Powertech has already used up the freebees.” Magnus muttered.
     
  7. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 6: Things


    Magnus enjoyed all the attention at the detail shop despite the all too apparent disdain that Thrasher and Blackfire had for political functions. The Autobot who was working him over was being very thorough ... and it felt good. Not like those blasted little spinning fuzzballs that had tickled him so. If anything, he felt really ... relaxed. Like when in Sapphira’s oil bath.

    He mused how such visceral experiences were still so vivid even as more intellectual task were less clear. Even the solid grip that Artemus had taken on his hand that first cycle.... Why could he remember Artemus so well? It was as if he were still here. As if the aura of that which was himself was etched into Magnus’ very spark. It reminded the Combaticon of the emptiness he felt as the soloist stepped in line with his rank even while the pipers were playing. Step, toe in, turn at attention. Thousands of Combaticons and Autobots in deafening unison. Rank after rank turning as the soloist walked on.

    Artemus and Blitz leading the way before ... thousands.

    Why?... He didn’t even know what it was he wanted to know. He only felt hollow somehow. All he could think about was the way that Artemus’ eyes had pulsed while watching the actors....

    “Is something wrong? You’re tense.” the attendant observed.

    “Striker wasn’t thinking about Shockwave or what he might do to him.”

    The attendant said nothing more.

    Slowly Magnus calmed down again. He didn’t even know where that last sentence had come from. Only knew that it must be true. Striker was feeling that same emptiness, and he just hadn’t seen it.

    First Blackfire with Blitz, then Destron with Captain, and now ... Primus! What a horrible cycle! It couldn’t get any worse. No way, no how!

    Magnus’ mood was somber as he surveyed the attendant’s work. He looked like a jewel of chromed yellow with silver highlights, shining in ways he never imagined he would. Almost as if he were the Rapax or Shockwave’s beauty. It reminded him of what Thrasher had said. Glittering meant invisibility. Things glittered, not people. You didn’t have to consider or take notice of a thing and that’s why he and the others would be invisible.

    Something about that thought really, really bothered the Combaticon.

    “You look great!”

    Magnus turned to see a small silver figure wearing a chromed black helmet over his defenseless head. Matching shoulder, waist and knee bits too.

    “Don’t want to seem too helpless.” Powertech laughed even as he twirled a weapon in one hand, “I’d hate for some politician to feel the need to protect me, when I’m supposed to be protecting him!”

    “That’s a good look for you. Maybe we should take a picture for Rightway?”

    “I suppose. Though I was hoping for something a bit less obvious than this.”

    Soon the others were there, all glittering like Powertech and Magnus. Blackfire began passing out some white and black cloaks made from a very soft material.

    “Rain slickers?” Magnus asked.

    The question drew a baleful glare from Blackfire.

    A flawlessly glossy purple grunt sled was waiting for them out in the street. Even the interior and its autopilot shimmered in complementary hues. There were several groups like his already on board.

    “I’m a guard. A thing.” Magnus silently mused, “Where we’re going, I don’t matter. Unless someone needs to die, I guess.”

    An Autobot who commanded Blackfire’s attention said much the same, just not in those exact words. Then he handed out the most splendid examples of rifles that Magnus had ever seen, each with polished highlights matching or complementary to its bearer. He ran down the drill for ceremonial escorts: move quick, precise and with just the right amount of clatter. Stand just so and don’t look at anyone or anything. Don’t say a word. Don’t smile. Don’t frown. Don’t respond. Just “don’t.”

    The Autobot did fuss over Powertech a bit. Why assign someone so small? He actually got in his face about it, but Powertech stood his ground without flinching.

    “Good! I like you already. I’ll be watching you.” the Autobot was still grinning as he left to inspect someone who’d been overtly amused at Powertech’s plight.

    All the while, Magnus enjoyed his little joke from before.

    It really was unfair. As a GAR, he had the distinct advantage of really being elsewhere and knowing it. So what if he was getting a good whiff of Powertech right then? At least in his case he really was a thing and he really didn’t matter.

    Which was pretty funny, to think about it that way. Maybe that’s why pay-per-viewer sensors didn’t register GARs? Maybe he should see if he could keep the 210 around? After all, it wasn’t like anyone else was ever going to use it.

    True, he had to actually think about what he was doing. The 210 wouldn’t walk through life for him now like before. But there might be benefits for it.

    After standing at attention on a street in uptown Kaon and enduring the gawks of many an onlooker. Two unassuming Autobots, one a femme, boarded the grunt sled. A second femme followed them and seemed distinctly servile. Just three passengers?

    Magnus boarded smartly in lockstep with the rest. Their passengers had gone forward and shut the door behind them.

    “At ease.” the still nameless Autobot leader commanded his Decepticon troops, “If anyone wants to talk, be quiet about it.”

    “Cobatron would probably bust a gasket if he were here.” Powertech observed from nearby.

    “What?”

    “That was Brexas back there, his hero and a shining example of what a politician can be.”

    “You mean like A-3?”

    Magnus noticed a few questioning looks at the mention of the old general.

    “Brexas has never given up. Not even once for show.”

    “Sounds as if he’s just plain stubborn by comparison.” Magnus said wryly, not wanting to commit to anything he couldn’t easily take back.

    A short while later the ship stopped again to pick up more passengers, two Autobots who looked as if they’d rather be anywhere else. Once they were able, some of the other Decepticons murmured about these. Apparently members of the Lower Assembly and not the Governing Council as Brexas was.

    Another stop saw only a regal 135UH femme board in the company of a dour Combaticon counterpart. They both wore flowing black capes to set off their coppery frames. These stayed in the rear area, in the office, rather than in the front with the other passengers.

    After the 135UHs were out of sight, their Autobot commander had them take off their protective cloaks. Soon, they landed again and marched down the gang plank to form ranks in the middle of another broad street.

    They were in some kind of city like Iacon or Kaon, but the buildings looked different: there were few bright commercial displays and the structures were extravagantly ornamental. Brightly colored towers and small domes were everywhere jutting out of larger structures, making Vilnacron look exotic, and maybe a bit weird. There was almost no traffic here, either at street level or up above, so it also reminded Magnus of the quite area near the arsenal.

    Had they tried to empty the streets before their arrival?

    The subservient Autobot walked before the other passengers from the front of the ship. As they passed the last of their honor guard, Blackfire and another commanded their two groups to fall in line behind the dignitaries. Brexas and his companions strolled and chatted among themselves for almost a whole city block before turning into a massive hexagonal tower overlaid with faded tile murals depicting scenes of daily life. All old-style Autobots and Combaticons. There were even a few Quintessons among the scenes.

    A heavy footfall from Blackfire caught Magnus’ attention and he stopped looking around. He wasn’t here to see the sights.

    They walked up a long golden stairway flanked on every landing by glittering guards of all descriptions. Finally, they entered through a massive set of doors, big enough for a Constructicon like Artemus to pass, and into a huge hexagonal room almost as big around as Alpha Trion’s stadium. Here they stayed on the balcony that extended all the way around the room’s interior as the politicians descended another golden stair down to a small gathering of people below.

    Why ascend only so you’d have to descend?

    Blackfire and company took up station on the left side of the door along the wall and just stood there.

    Magnus looked at the group below them. It was easy to make out a number of his brothers, notably Shockwave and Wildway, and there were quite a number of 135UHs among the crowd too. One looked like Terrakas. All were clean but could hardly be considered highly polished.

    Soon the rest of the honor guard from their ship arrived with the 135UH couple and took up positions along the stairs as their charges descended.

    If these latter individuals had seemed reluctant to socialize on the ship, any such reluctance was gone as they descended into the fawning group below. Who were they? One thing was sure, if members of the High Command, Magnus’ brothers and important politicians bowed to them then they must be important.

    After a few microcycles of socializing, the whole group seemed to disappear into an area below the walkway where Magnus was.

    With nothing to do, he visually examined the rest of the room. The floor and walls were golden and shimmered in the light like imperfect mirrors. There was a diversity of brightly polished statues lining the walls of the lower level. Magnus had first believed these to be more guards, but then he’d noticed their lifeless eyes. All in all, the place was tremendously impressive.

    Then he noticed something reflected in the floor from high above. He couldn’t see what it was while keeping his head level and was sure Blackfire would be very unpleasant to him if he just looked up. The image he saw looked like a backlit circular shield with a black fringe and five dull spikes for extensions. There were bright colors too. It reminded Magnus of something ... but what?

    “I’m not here to look around!” he silently chided himself.

    Rather, he decided to look inward and to ponder the events of the cycle. His mood had improved since the detail shop, if only because he’d been looking out rather than in. So he resolved to do what he could to remain happy despite everything else.

    Why had Destron chosen this time and that conversation to introduce himself? How could he even know where he would be? Whatever Destron’s intentions, it had all been carefully staged just for his benefit. That much seemed sure.

    So was Whiteface’s appearance also purposeful? As he reflected on the conversation, Magnus remembered the glare that the elder Autobot had given Bluejack when he’d asked about The Summation of Megatron. Had Bluejack gone off script?

    “No, that made no sense. How could you carefully script a chance encounter like that?”

    They’d seen him at the edge of the military preserve and then found him later. That’s how. What was it that Destron said? That Cashways had been right to take him home? Why would that be the case beyond the obvious reason that he wanted to go home? Why would Whiteface have even been mad at Cashways?

    Caris seemed a lot more interesting in this light.

    Eventually, he moved on to consider Havitron’s A Point of Jurisprudence some more. That people were different before the law because of who they were was a difficult concept to wrap your circuits around. Or would’ve been had he never met Ravage or Lynx. What other differences were there? After mulling on that one for a while all he could come up with was something Blitz had said and others had echoed: Autobots had to pay for their own chassis. It wasn’t simply theirs just because they were alive. Why?

    He wondered about Powertech ... did he have to pay off that flimsy chassis of his too? If he did it probably didn’t cost much.

    Just then someone walked in front of him and startled him. It was the dour 135UH with a few dignitaries in tow. They were talking in low tones and seemed to be examining the room. Someone said that they’d booted up here. Silence followed. They walked on and didn’t start talking again until the last one had disappeared from Magnus’ peripheral vision. Soon their voices weren’t heard anymore. He could see others now, both on the balcony and on the floor below. All the way across the room were his brothers and the 135UH femme, among others. This place had strange acoustics. The whole floor below, you could hear them talk even if you couldn’t hear them walk. Noticeable because one fellow had just danced a few absolutely soundless steps in response to someone’s comments. In contrast, the balcony was very quiet and Magnus imagined that he could talk out loud and few would hear him.

    Well, Blackfire certainly would hear him. Probably thump him good too!

    After he watched people come and go for a while, they all disappeared back into the place they’d gone earlier. Magnus checked his chronometer: 773 point 2. Time flies when you’re in your own little world.

    What was it that Panacron had written? What could be so inspiring about different standards of evidence? Or was that even what had caught Havitron’s attention?

    What else was there?

    Of course, it was just possible that he didn’t know his friend as well as he thought he did. Havitron was thousands, if not tens of thousands, of megacycles old. Magnus was just 55 cycles old. A precocious just-boot from a good family – already with a notorious military career.

    He really hoped that Maximus wouldn’t send him to Chaar when all was said and done.

    Or the Planet of Junk – that didn’t sound too promising either. Actually, everyplace he knew of besides Quevald seemed depressing or hostile when compared to Cybertron. Quevald.... Thrasher had said something about helping them rebuild. That would be nice. Even if it wasn’t an official posting, maybe they could do it on the sly with his ship? He’d like to actually meet some of From Me’s people and learn more about them. Now that he knew about that language of theirs, he should see if Powertech would be amiable to a few modifications to his likely standard issue hearing.

    “Magnus?” a rasping voice asked.

    He looked around in confusion. He was between Thrasher and Hammer and neither seemed to have– A sideways glance from Blackfire and he snapped back to attention.

    “Magnus, open your optics.” the voice repeated.

    Now?” he thought he heard From Me click pop.

    Someone “shushed” softly.

    It dawned on him that these voices might be far away in Kaon. All this time he’d been running around in the 210 he’d not felt or heard anything from his real chassis save the constant reminder of Powertech’s lubricant. How could he even respond if such were the case?

    Tentatively, he inquired of his #3 subprocessor ... it had always been well behaved.

    For the first time in cycles he became aware of a soft presence, a hum at the back of his mind.

    “Would you show me my technical specs?” he asked the subprocessor, half expecting to see either his hand or the 210 again.

    Instead, he was treated to a massive file describing a giant as big as Shockwave or Wildway. Maybe even as big as Heavy Iron. Magnus broke a big grin as he looked over the file.

    “I’m finally getting data feed from the 210 ... he seems to be with us at last.” Powertech observed.

    “Did Shockwave give him any files on operating a GAR?” Sapphira’s voice rang loud and true.

    “I need to have a talk with that boy!”

    “Are you sure–”

    “Not me!” came a confident grumble.

    Magnus tried to think of a way to talk there without talking here. Last thing he needed was ... wait! He was there and not here!... Here and not there? Whatever....

    “Five?”

    The giggler ... why not tempt fate?

    #5 was there, providing details about the GAR interface.

    “He’s not in sync with his own systems.” Sapphira observed.

    “Blast it all! We had the exact same problem with Wrecker! My dear, if you adjust the interface maybe we could–”

    “Is there a problem, soldier?” Blackfire demanded as he hovered over the 210.

    Magnus looked up: “No. Yes. I mean, I’m not sure.”

    But he didn’t think he heard his voice answer Blackfire.

    “Well, there’s part of the problem,” Powertech observed, “he’s doing something!”

    “I’m waiting?” Blackfire said.

    “Great! Can you guys tell me how to answer Blackfire’s question before I’m on report?”

    “Magnus?” From Me’s voice seemed right by his face.

    Hello, my friend!” Magnus pop clicked.

    “Magnus, they are busy adjusting some equipment. Can you open your optics?

    He did and wished he hadn’t. He was seeing both From Me hovering happily overhead and Blackfire glaring down at him.

    “That’s about got it!” Powertech seemed triumphant, “Magnus, try speaking to this Blackfire fellow by thinking about it.”

    “Nothing is wrong, Sir!” Magnus managed, noting how Blackfire still seemed unsatisfied.

    “You sagged against the wall for a moment.” Blackfire observed, “Anything I should know about?”

    “I’m sorry, Sir!”

    Wrong conversation.From Me informed.

    Thank you.

    “I’m sorry, Sir!”

    “You’ve been through a lot.” Blackfire said quietly before adding, “For a just-boot.”

    “Powertech,” Magnus shifted his –real– head to see the small figure– ?!?

    Was that Sapphira?

    There was a structural figure towering over Powertech, one that barely had a form at all. The figure turned towards him ... there was her face!

    “Like my new look? I’m calling it ‘disassemble!’ Could be all the rage in a few megacycles.” she laughed.

    I think you are very pretty.From Me observed, “Maybe I will show you how to transform? It would work well with that look.

    “Your question?” Powertech asked.

    “How do I operate in two places at once?”

    “Do what you’ve been doing. Surely you’ve mastered moving that 210 around by now?”

    He had to actually think about what he was doing. So he thought about raising the 210’s right hand and giving Blackfire the all set signal.

    It worked!

    Blackfire returned to his place near the door and Magnus willed the 210 to return to attention.

    “I think that’s got it.” he said to his friends in the tomb.

    Then he noticed From Me’s hand. She was gently stroking his face. He also noticed that she wasn’t any smaller than before.

    Ok, she was still small. But not “smaller” ... not like he’d imagined she and everyone else would be. She was exactly the same size she’d always been. So was Powertech and, discounting her missing mass, Sapphira too.

    He turned his head back to her: “What do you think of my new body?

    She smiled, her yellow eyes lighting up as she seemed to ponder her response.

    There is room for an entertainment center in there!” she said at last, pointing back towards his chest.

    Am I still beautiful?” he asked, wanting desperately to know that she was ok with everything.

    She kissed him!

    Right on the– Lots nicer to get kissed by a girl than a Predacon!

    “We still have some work to do, it would seem.” Powertech interrupted, “Magnus, when did you first become aware of your subprocessors as if they were individuals rather than components of your own function?”

    “Well ...”

    Magnus described his experiences after Wayside’s operation, including how his subprocessors had been behaving ever since. No one said anything.

    “So how bad is it?” he finally asked, looking towards Sapphira.

    “It could be worse.” Sapphira said even as Powertech went to work at a nearby console, “Trust an automedic to use a general anesthesia subroutine when there’s spark containment damage, though.”

    “What else could it do?” Magnus puzzled.

    Sapphira winked.

    He rolled his head back to look at the familiar scaffolding before focusing on From Me.

    “Someone told me that your people normally talk outside of our hearing range. Is that true?”

    Not anymore.” she smiled big – her real voice a harmony of crystal chimes like Soundwave’s ... only moreso, “I mean, there are rare exceptions.

    He wondered about those exceptions as he gazed at the alien femme hovering over his face.

    “Magnus,” Powertech interrupted the moment, “we need to make sure you are whole just now. I want you to continue with your story for a bit.”

    “What’s to say? Once Thrasher and I had made the jump we made contact with Deltacron. Except for him dumping us in space it’s pretty much the end of the story.”

    “Elaborate a bit.”

    “But–”

    “Humor me.”

    Magnus grumbled for a moment.

    “I’d like to hear it too.” Sapphira added.

    Me too!From Me chimed.

    Out voted....

    “We ... we didn’t really jump across. We sorta fell with enough forward momentum to carry us from one building to the other. I landed on top of Thrasher.”

    So: ‘wha-whum-crum-fer-hop-crunch-skreee’ does not mean: ‘I fall down and get up?’”

    “It could be one way of saying that.” Magnus shrugged.

    “That would explain the shock distortion patterns in your systems.” Sapphira sighed.

    “That chassis was never meant to take that sort of abuse!” Powertech sounded defensive, “Go on, Magnus.”

    “Well, the whole floor was dark. Probably hadn’t been used in a really long time. The elevator controls weren’t operable, so Thrasher decided to ask for a car. A drone picked us up.”

    “A drone? What kind of drone?” Powertech pressed.

    “A service drone.”

    “Details, lad! Why is it just-boots never know how to tell a story?”

    Magnus sighed and began a very detailed description of what the drone looked like. Recounting his frustration that Thrasher would just trust the Quintesson, he gave a word for word retelling of the encounter in the reception area. He related how helpless he’d felt when Thrasher had jumped between Deltacron and himself ... why didn’t he see the threat? His combat computer had been active.

    “You’re going off on a tangent. What did you say when Deltacron threw his weapon down?”

    “I ... I said that he was wrong, he wasn’t the greatest villain ever. No matter what the playwright behind The Primus may have imagined. I was passing the ball because I couldn’t move down field.”

    No one said anything even though he could hear a change in the lab’s ever present hum.

    “We got on the ship. Took off. Well, Deltacron apologized for the craft first. Odd thing to do seeing that he was going to kill us both once he was free and clear.”

    “Really? He said that?”

    “Well, not as such.... He said that I wasn’t any good at following instructions. Said if I was in charge then I had an order to obey. Then he pointed a tentacle at Thrasher.”

    “What happened before that, Magnus?” Powertech’s voice had surprising strength despite the soft grinding of his ancient mechanisms.

    “We got on the ship.”

    “You’re memory may be restored to you, but you’re refusing to remember something.”

    “What?”

    “You tell me?”

    Magnus thought for a moment, it was true: he could remember everything. For the first time in cycles, he could remember. He could remember Deltacron’s reaction to his little code. What he’d said. The way he’d felt ...

    “I knew what he did....” he wondered aloud.

    If he’d known then, why didn’t he know now?

    “This is not going to be easy.” Powertech sighed.
     
  8. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 7: Brothers


    The next cycles were strange. As Powertech had him carefully describe with as much detail as he could muster the events that had happened on Quevald, he, Magnus, was also returning to his normal routine in the 210.

    Seeing with two sets of eyes. Trying to stay in multiple conversations. As hard as it sometimes seemed ... it should’ve been harder.

    “Beg pardon?” Powertech the younger asked.

    “I just said that this should be harder.”

    Magnus leaned back into his seat. Once again they were with Blackfire on their way to the free docks. Now that he had full access to his memory – well, organized access to his memory – he had not had to rely as much on Primus’ insights about beat cops. Still, he found himself imitating the venerable Lastus. There was something about the character’s amiable and yet gruff manner that got people to respond positively.

    As if Magnus as Lastus was entirely without pretense. Which was all pretense.

    Powertech grumbled a bit that the work was hard enough. Which was reasonable since, being smaller, he and Thrasher were often the ones sent around to look into any ship before it was officially looked into. He was proving to be an accomplished sneak.

    “I wasn’t referring to what you’ve been doing.”

    “All the glory and little of the real work!”

    Magnus looked over to Hammer and Thrasher – both seemed amused at something.

    “Say, Sapphira?” he whispered.

    “Ummm-huh?”

    “Is Powertech ... well?”

    “He and From Me are working on your weapon. He thinks there may be a way to improve it based on what you’ve told us.”

    “Yeah. Listen, Sapphira, what do you make of all this?”

    “As your doctor or as your friend?”

    “Doctor.”

    “Wayside did what it was supposed to do. Can’t fault its skills. But there are other ways of dealing with spark containment damage than pull and plug.”

    Magnus nodded.

    “And?”

    Her structural form was soon hovering over him.

    “You’re a mess.” she smiled, “I don’t know if they went into the shock dissipation aspects of containment chamber design – Wrench sometimes cuts corners in those classes – but that 210 lacks adequate primary systems. All things considered we’re lucky to have a Magnus, and not Magnuses, on our hands.”

    “And as my friend?”

    “I’m just glad you aren’t worse off. Plenty of just-boots get sent into combat, but few as poorly prepared as you were. My guess is that Shockwave cut some corners too.”

    “I learn fast.”

    “I noticed.”

    “Magnus?” Blackfire poked at him, “Cybertron to Magnus?”

    They were at the free docks and everyone else had already piled out. He followed them up to their observation lounge as before and, as before, he sat down in a corner of the room near Powertech to wait out the shift.

    But one thing was different: this time he had his book to read. Since he wasn’t telling anyone his own story he’d figured he would be able to read someone else’s.

    Powertech set down his own data plate: “Say, the team wants to get together to work on The Lost some more. Have you made any progress on anyone’s presentations?”

    Magnus stopped reviewing what he’d read so far and shook his head ‘no.’

    “Slacker!” Powertech jokingly accused.

    “I’ve been distracted.”

    “Should I tell him?” he asked Sapphira, “I want to tell him.”

    “Let his brother decide when.” she smiled in that way.

    “But I’ll tell you all about it later.”

    “Must be a long book.” Powertech sighed as he renewed interest in his own data plate.

    Magnus thought for a moment. It was closing on a half million words so far. He wasn’t sure if that was “long.”

    “You said it was part of a series?” Powertech asked a dozen nanocycles later.

    He seemed ... anxious, hopeful, anticipating?

    “What book are you reading?” the elder Powertech asked without warning.

    “It’s called The Case of the Impounded Megaboosters.” Magnus turned his head to see the ancient mech approach with the aid of his support gantry.

    Powertech tilted his head and seemed deep in thought.

    “Well, it’s time to put up the books!” Blackfire practically shot out of his chair moments after his face was illuminated by the screen in front of him, “We’ve finally got someone who isn’t stupid or desperate to deal with!”

    “But I’ve just reviewed the text so far.” Magnus whined.

    Blackfire waved towards a previously undisturbed section of wall which opened to reveal a small arsenal.

    “Powertech, keep your head down.”

    “I’m not weak!” he grumbled as he regained his feet and produced his own pistol.

    “Your own Mark-17?” Blackfire seemed bemused, “Where did you lay your hands on a Mark-17?”

    “I’m full of surprises.”

    “Is a Mark-17 good?” Magnus asked the elder Powertech – he’d figured he could ask his friends in the Combaticon crypt all the dumb questions he wanted to and they wouldn’t think any worse of him.

    “Why are you reading that book?” Powertech demanded, “You can’t have possibly read so many yet. You’re reading them out of order!”

    He paused as he inspected his rifle, a standard HRA-22MF with a full charge.

    “Is that bad?”

    “You shouldn’t read them out of order!” Powertech grumbled angrily.

    Magnus boarded the tube car with the others. Powertech seemed to be moving as if he would be pacing were he not dependent on his gantry. He was slowly shaking his head too.

    “Magnus, those books were meant to be read in a very specific order or else you may learn the wrong things from them. Why start so near the end?”

    As the tube car made the transition from down to sideways motion, Magnus shifted his rifle about uneasily. Not because he might be about to go into combat, but because he couldn’t understand why reading them in the right order was so important.

    The elder Powertech started to explain the literary importance of reading something the right way, or else you wouldn’t see what the author wanted you to see. His insistence was so strong that Magnus was willing to believe that he could “learn the wrong things.”

    “Powertech,” Magnus interrupted, “Are you Tech?’ I mean, if Lastus is supposed to be Primus, then are you his Tech?”

    The tube car’s doors opened onto a darkened observation lounge.

    “Slag me, they’ve already rerouted power!” Blackfire spat even as he sent them towards different places in the room.

    “Why would you say that Primus was supposed to be the same as Lastus?” Powertech seemed subdued, his cyclops face now perfectly level as he regarded Magnus.

    Who realized that he’d never told anyone about what had happened. He would never get the chance with Artemus....

    Taking up his assigned position near the middle of the room, Magnus got a good look at the sights below. A ship sitting in the middle of a somewhat clean free dock. The mechs that were unloading the ship’s cargo weren’t Sideways and his crew. They were all early to mid 200 series.

    “How long do you suppose they were here before they tripped an alarm?” Thrasher asked.

    “Magnus, I am worried.From Me held her hands to her chin.

    “He’ll be all right, my dear.” Powertech seemed to be comforting her, “The GAR may get damaged but Magnus will be all right no matter what happens.”

    “Can anyone see evidence of the ground crew?” Blackfire whispered.

    Like the others, Magnus responded in the negative.

    “Probably been hauled off to a side or taken into the ship.” the Combaticon said with more than a hint of threat in his voice.

    “You like this bunch?” Thrasher asked.

    “Sideways is a jerk!” he muttered before he closed his face plate.

    Then Blackfire told Powertech and Thrasher to go down to the dock the back way and wait for his signal. Once they were gone he popped open the roof hatch.

    “You two cover me when I make my move.” he called back down.

    “You don’t think he’s going to jump?”

    “It seems to be a recurring theme in my life.” Hammer laughed.

    “But ... alone? Into that?”

    “Don’t even think about it, Magnus!” the elder Powertech rasped, “I’ve made allowances for that sort of nonsense with your real chassis but that 210 isn’t made for free fall and you should know it! By now at any rate.”

    Suddenly Magnus wanted to tell Powertech what he hadn’t had the opportunity to tell Artemus.

    “I read a bit of the book before.”

    Powertech’s one eye blinked: “Before when? Before this cycle?”

    In Iacon, Hammer was shaking his head in amusement: “Magnus, that isn’t a jump. Take it from me, I know from jumps!... And falls.”

    “Well, when you put it that way.” he gripped his rifle tightly as he screwed up some courage – this was it, no turning back now, “Powertech, sir, it was before I was even Magnus. I read some of the book then.”

    Powertech approached his face: “That’s not possible. Those books weren’t part of your archive.”

    “Powertech should be near the dock soon.” Blackfire called back into the room, “Cover me once I jump.... And Magnus, there’s a window lock just to your left.”

    “Well, this is mildly entertaining at your expense.” Hammer observed.

    Magnus mouthed a barrage of slang words at Hammer even as he confronted Powertech right up by his real face.

    “I had asked for The Record of Primus but I got more than I was expecting.” he confessed.

    “Specifics?”

    He repeated the fused text.

    “I see.”

    “Did I learn something wrong?”

    “No.” Powertech turned away.

    There was a tromping of steps from above just before Blackfire literally leapt into view. Magnus unlocked and opened the armored window even as he sealed the 210’s visor and face plate.

    “I knew I remembered the way that book started.... So that’s what did it.”

    As Blackfire fell he ignited some sort of booster rockets at his waist, both slowing his fall to a safe rate and getting attention from those below. He didn’t start shooting till they did. Seemed a good time for Magnus to stand up and pitch in too.

    Hammer shot one soldier on the shoulder near the neck and knocked him down hard. He was an Autobot. The others began retreating into the ship.

    “Did what?” Magnus asked, amazed that he could keep track of a fight and still be in two places at once ... but somehow not do the same in a conversation with Sapphira.

    “Magnus, I know that you’ve told Sapphira about something but I’ve waited to hear it from you. What happened? What do you remember?”

    Magnus took aim and fired even as he pondered how to respond. He was haunted by what Broadback had said about losing friends, worried about his own Tech somewhere down there in that fire fight.

    “I remembered my sister. We were playing a game. I promised that I would protect her and never forget her.”

    “And who the greatest villain of all time was? Or that outburst of yours to Deltacron?”

    Blackfire had already managed a soft touchdown not far from the Autobot that Hammer had shot. The others were now inside the ship where they had effective cover.

    “We won’t do any more good up here!” Hammer started for the door.

    In the meantime, Magnus was still trying to think of how he should respond to Powertech. He’d not made those connections before now....

    “Take your time, lad.” Powertech offered.

    “Bossbot, a little help here?!” Hammer yelled as he pulled against the rotary door.

    Magnus realized that if there was no power then the blast door may have to be forced.

    Straining against a lock that wasn’t meant to be opened without power, he had some time to consider what Powertech had asked him.

    “I guess. At the time ... it just seemed the thing to say.”

    Powertech turned back to him even as the blast door began to roll away.

    “Magnus, I’ve known about your shadow all along even if I didn’t know what it actually meant to you.”

    “‘Shadow?’”

    “I called it a somnambulist. A sleeper.” Sapphira offered.

    Powertech seemed to consider her.

    The door finally rolled out of the way.

    “Last one into the fray is a Titanium Moose!”

    “Hey! You’ve got a head start!” Magnus protested to Hammer’s back.

    “That’s an interesting insight, my dear. Have you studied Predacons?”

    Magnus was paying real close attention to his CC as he ran down the steps to the dock. Blackfire was standing his ground, his armor shrugging off enemy rounds.

    “You don’t suppose they have any beam weapons?” Magnus couldn’t help but ask as he reached one landing and started running down to the next.

    “Primus, I hope not!” Hammer yelled back.

    “Yes, I did work on behalf of a number of Lynx during the last decommissioning frenzy.” Sapphira admitted.

    “I heard about that.” Powertech said sadly before turning his attention back to Magnus, “Magnus, what you call a ‘sleeper’ is properly called a shadow. It was what the whole Alpha Program was all about. You had six brothers with a similar trait.”

    “‘Had?!’” Magnus said in surprise from both his mouths.

    “I like ‘sleeper’ better, though.” he continued as if the outburst had no meaning.

    An unexpected hit on the wall near Magnus’ head while he was still chasing down steps after Hammer grabbed his full attention. Then a few more shots from the direction of what looked like a modified tube car. He missed what Powertech said next. CC began providing reliable plots for the new threat.

    “Take the ship!” Blackfire commanded as he turned his attention to those by the tube car.

    He heard little of what Powertech and Sapphira were saying as he rushed forward. Something about Primus. There were at least five soldiers still standing inside the ship and one, another Autobot, seemed encouraged that Blackfire was looking elsewhere. He waved his troops either forward or back just before there was this sickening “shram! - shram!” noise.

    It was Powertech and Thrasher inside the ship!

    The leader sagged to the floor as his troops turned to this new menace. It looked like they might all be Autobots.

    “Magnus,” Powertech said, “be careful of Powertech.”

    “He won’t get hurt!” Magnus vowed as he and Hammer moved forward.

    “That’s not what I meant! A Mark-17 is a dangerous weapon and we powertechs don’t have combat computers.”

    “But–”

    “We don’t even have especially good optics.”

    As Magnus shot one Autobot’s weapon clean out of his hand, he saw how Thrasher and Powertech were responding to their own situations: Thrasher was obviously sane but Powertech didn’t have the sense that a programmer gives a drone, which isn’t much. He just stood there unmoving even as he took careful aim.

    Shram! and an Autobot hit the ground.

    “He’s got a death wish.” the elder Powertech mumbled weakly.

    With their companion down, the three remaining Autobots seemed to reassess which surprise attacker was more dangerous. Hammer managed to pin two down by using full autofire but the third was aiming to put the small mech down hard.

    Just before Thrasher and Magnus managed to hit him from both sides.

    With Powertech mostly safe, Magnus looked after Blackfire who had closed the distance to the tube car that was leaving even then. It was all but over.

    Shram!

    He looked back to the ship. The Autobot he’d just shot was laying on the floor near a scowling Powertech. Smoke was erupting from what may have been his head. Powertech casually pointed his weapon towards the two uninjured Autobots.

    “I wonder if they know just how limited a Mark-17’s energy pack is?” Sapphira asked.

    The Autobots dropped their weapons and surrendered.

    “No, not a bit!” the elder Powertech said with glee.

    It was really over!

    “Magnus,’ Sapphira broke into the moment, “find the ship’s crew and our people. They may be hurt.”

    As he ran by Powertech, the small Autobot was waving his depleted gun around like it still had more than enough menace. The almost headless Autobot was twitching and considering 200 series architecture might still be alive.

    “They aren’t in the forward section.” Thrasher said as he took Powertech’s place.

    “The cargo area, then?” Powertech offered as he turned away from their captives.

    Magnus paused outside of the open bulkhead door to the cargo bay and tried to see if anyone was there without unduly exposing himself.

    “Do you want me to go first?” Powertech said as he produced a familiar looking energy sword.

    “Hey, that’s mine!”

    “I was meaning to give it back to you. Honest.”

    “I’ll go first.” Magnus growled.

    There was only a group of older Autobots tied up hands and feet. The crew. Except for one small fellow with an old fashioned, unarmored chassis they were all unconscious. He was glaring angrily at Magnus and Powertech.

    “We’re the heroes.” Powertech said defensively.

    He said nothing as they deactivated his shackles.

    “That’s the ship’s master.” he finally offered, pointing to one of the unconscious Autobots.

    “Do you know anything about doctoring?” Powertech asked him.

    “Not especially.”

    “Then stay out of our way.” Magnus grumbled even as he thrust his own weapon into the Autobot’s hands.

    Powertech was already looking over the ship’s master and soon had a body panel open. Magnus found one fellow that looked as if he’d been punched hard and began checking his vitals.

    “They’re all going to be fine.” Sapphira informed him from the crypt, “Find the ground crew.”

    By then there was a commotion outside, Hammer sounded real unhappy with their prisoners.

    “I think they’ve already been found.” Magnus informed everyone.

    “Help your friends.” Powertech commanded the subdued Autobot, “We’re going to see about ours.”

    Magnus started to retrieve his rifle from the Autobot, but Powertech told him to leave it.

    “Well, Oculon did say he was going to be in charge.” he sighed and confessed to From Me, now standing close by, her hand on his forehead.

    She finally smiled again and gave him a pat.

    It was Blackfire who had found Sideways and company. They were shot up but alive.

    “Magnus!” Sapphira commanded, “The Autobot with the head injury may still be able to pull through. There should be a medical kit near the stairs up to the observation lounge. I want you to do exactly what I tell you to do.”

    “Powertech, go get the medical kit by the stairs.”

    “Why? Our people aren’t in any danger?”

    “He’s still ‘our people,’” Magnus corrected as he pointed to the Autobot, “and Sapphira’s made it a direct order.”

    Powertech scowled before he shook his head: “Right. Whatever.”

    He was soon back with the medical kit. Magnus started working according to Sapphira’s explicit commands, his own databanks screaming at some points that he was doing exactly the wrong things. Finally Sapphira had him apply a general anesthesia subroutine so the Autobot wouldn’t suffer any more now that the worst of the damage that could be fixed was fixed. Then she guided him through a few more artful patches.

    “And that’s how it’s done!” she proudly informed.

    “Nice work.” Powertech congratulated.

    “What about the others?” Magnus asked.

    “The one Powertech took down first was gone before he hit the deck.” Sapphira informed, “Some of his friends need your help though.”

    Blackfire was already examining an Autobot who had a huge gaping hole in one shoulder.

    “He’s in shock.” the Combaticon observed.

    Magnus sure knew what that felt like!

    As before, Sapphira talked him through the operation which was more straight forward and included the early, rather than late, use of anesthesia.

    “Klinker like you should be glad we even had a surgeon with us!” Blackfire threatened the remaining captives.

    “Yes, Sir.” one weakly responded as he cradled his all but headless friend closer still.

    Though he was responding to Blackfire, his baleful glare was fixed on Powertech.

    Magnus turned away to work on the injured Autobot who lay on the dock. Hammer had managed to get him with his head turned wrong which let the shot bypass both his bucket – as Nine had called it – and his substantial armored collar. Sapphira quickly guided him through another unconventional operation.

    “Impressive work, Doctor.” the old style Autobot said to Magnus as he handed him his rifle back.

    “I had the best teacher.” Magnus said, not hiding either his own pride or his satisfaction with Sapphira.

    Blackfire clasped a hand on his shoulder: “Magnus, that’s good enough. We have to get the klinker some place more secure.”

    There was a sound from above, Blackfire’s van and another were landing nearby.

    “Must have autopilots.” Magnus silently mused.

    Blackfire told the rescued Autobot to put the unconscious mech in a van. Then he had Magnus go to get the Autobot with the shoulder wound and his headless friend.

    “Wait.” the wounded Autobot said weakly as he stood up.

    “For what?”

    “Greycon’s badge and weapons.”

    Magnus blinked slowly, he’d heard the Autobot right: he was concerned about mere scrap. This wasn’t an ordinary Autobot.

    “Don’t try anything stupid.” he brought his rifle to bear.

    The Autobot carefully removed the badge from his companion’s torso before retrieving his rifle and a number of concealed weapons. Last of all he removed a data plate.

    “Interesting.” Sapphira said thoughtfully at the other end of the world.

    “Thanks.” the Autobot offered.

    “We’ll probably need to examine his personal effects.”

    “Yes. Of course.” he held the lot formally as they were walking away.

    Magnus glanced back, the ship’s crew were already unceremoniously clearing out the wreckage – which included the Autobot’s leader.

    “Blackfire?!”

    Blackfire came over and took the weapons away from the Autobot and handed the rest to Magnus. He put the weapons in the other van where the sedated Autobot was.

    Magnus said nothing else till he boarded the transport.

    “I don’t get it?” he looked at Sapphira, “Why can some Autobots care that way for their dead while others consider them so much slag?”

    “Not all of us are alike.” she said softly, “One of the advantages of being a Seeker is that I’ll never face that fate.”

    “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply.... Well, you know.”

    “No harm done.” she found her smile again.

    Sapphira usually smiled but there were smiles and then there was her smile. It reminded Magnus of another smile for being someone’s smile.

    “Powertech, you said there were others among my brothers who were like me? Who were they? What were they like?”
     
  9. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 8: Family


    “Your brothers among your brothers?” Powertech asked, “I guess knowing won’t do you any harm. Just so long as you remember that they are all your brothers. Promise me that?”

    “Gladly!”

    “Well, Wrecker you may have already guessed. He too has a shadow. Maybe somecycle he’ll tell you about it. Before him, the first was Oculon. Then Thrace, Blaze and Kup ... any one of which might have been involved in a certain nasty business ... but they’re all gone a long time now. They were such good boys.... I....” Powertech seemed to sag in his harness.

    “Oculon told me.” Magnus said sadly, now able to put names to long lost brothers.

    “He didn’t wait long.”

    He looked back on the conversation ... was Oculon trying to get him to reveal what his sleeper meant to him?

    “No, I guess he didn’t.”

    “Well, besides Oculon and Wrecker the only other one still alive is Kup. Did he make it back to Cybertron for Artemus’ funeral?”

    “Two Kups?”

    “It’s a relatively common name among those who have their own name. My guess is he didn’t make it back from Chaar, then?”

    “Say, Magnus,” Powertech the younger poked at the 210’s knee, “how long are you gonna stare at that badge?”

    “Huh? Just trying to see if it holds any mystery or truth.... I guess.”

    The Autobot who’d recovered the items seemed especially subdued at that saying. Magnus handed the badge back to him. He carefully hid it away in an arm compartment.

    “Weird.” Powertech laughed, “I don’t have a proper name; Autobots have names but what do they really matter; but you Combaticons ... they carve them into your very hides. Wonder why that is?”

    “He’s asking a dangerous question.” the elder Powertech observed, reminding Magnus that they could see and hear everything that the 210 could.

    “I’d like to know too.” Magnus confided on both sides of the world.

    He watched as Powertechs seemed to be regarding him thoughtfully.

    “Listen to me prattle?” Powertech the younger laughed it off.

    “Well?” he pressed the elder.

    “Combaticons always fulfill their function in life. With only a few exceptions, they will always come back.”

    As if that explained anything?

    “I’d never heard that there were exceptions.” Sapphira seemed mystified.

    What do you mean by ‘come back?’From Me asked.

    Magnus watched his prisoners while Powertech tried to explain the Allspark to the Quevaldan. He was really worried about what Blackfire had said when he called them “klinker” ... were they going to get a death sentence? He remembered how harsh a punishment Charger had got for petty theft. They were obviously rebels or worse; but, he found himself liking them anyway. Maybe because they were somehow like Combaticons?

    “Do these guys face the death penalty?” he interrupted the elder Powertech as they were unloading their charges in a very secure garage.

    “They might.” Powertech said as if it didn’t really matter if they did.

    He found himself pulling air in through his real mouth and holding it – an odd thing to do, all things considered.

    From the garage, they marched their prisoners through a side entrance into what looked like a large amphitheater with stadium style bleachers on one side and a semicircular conference table on the other. A group of disinterested looking Autobots and Combaticons occupied the places of honor. The bleachers were maybe a quarter full, with people sitting in small groups.

    The jurists listened as Blackfire explained the circumstances of the Autobots’ capture. One jurist, a Combaticon, asked if anyone had been killed who mattered before the law. Then they were each assigned a place on the docket for judgment later.

    “Magnus and Thrasher!” Blackfire commanded, “Take these prisoners to the holding cells designated on the docket.” he handed Magnus a small data plate, “Then take the rest of the cycle off.”

    “Come on you lot.” Thrasher growled, prodding one with his rifle barrel, pushing him towards the door on the other side of the room.

    From Me was curious about the Allspark ... not that she’d never heard of it, but because Quevaldans apparently understood it differently. Magnus listened to her questions as they escorted the prisoners far, far down into the bowels of the building. Probably far below street level.

    Along the way the nearly headless Autobot regained enough composure to be led by hand rather than just be carried.

    “Primus, what happened to this one?!” an Autobot with a 210SH chassis emoted on seeing him.

    “A fellow named Powertech.” Thrasher noted.

    “I wonder how much is left of who he was?” the jailer speculated before he took them away one by one.

    The Autobot bearing Greycon’s badge placed his wounded friend’s hand in Magnus’ hand before he was taken away. When the jailer came back he just wouldn’t let go. He was trembling.

    “Well, bring him then. We can tie him up so he won’t be a danger to himself. He may actually be the luckiest of the bunch.”

    The jailer seemed to laugh at some private joke as he led them through the jail.

    “Powertech, what does he mean by this one being lucky?”

    “If he can’t remember who he was or what he did he won’t stand trial. They’ll give him a new head, a new life, and maybe even a new name. He could end up like any just-boot, except that he will not have to pay for his chassis.”

    Magnus watched the jailer strap the now visibly distressed Autobot down in his holding cell. It took real effort to pry his hand free.

    “He’s terrified.” Sapphira said, “Probably can’t understand where he is or what’s happening to him.”

    “You can’t know that for sure, it could be an act.” Powertech corrected.

    Poor, poor overlord. Can you do something for him?From Me said as she grabbed hold of Magnus’ shoulder.

    Without thinking about it, Magnus reached out and took the Autobot by the shoulder. He wanted to comfort him somehow, but how? The Autobot’s frame stopped trembling. After a moment Magnus removed his hand and the Autobot remained calm.

    “Impressive trick.” the jailer noted.

    He wondered just what he was supposed to have done?

    “Now we know!” Powertech sounded happy.

    “What did they know?” he asked himself, “Probably if he’s faking.”

    He turned away from the crippled Autobot to follow the jailer out. As he did so he saw a familiar form sitting morosely in one cell, his face sunk into his hands.

    “Is it you?” he asked the bright yellow figure.

    “Sir,” the jailer interrupted, “you really have no business here now. I must insist that you leave.”

    “Yes, yes, of course.”

    The figure lifted his head to see who had addressed him.

    It was the assassin. Magnus was sure of it.

    Only his face wasn’t lifeless anymore. Now he looked like someone who’d never had a happy cycle in his life.

    Thrasher was waiting for him in the jail’s foyer.

    “Where to, boss?”

    Magnus just shook his head. He’d seen one spark thrown violently into a crèche and another torn apart from within: what could erase that?

    “Hey, I know, we’re right by Alpha Trion’s place! Why don’t you finish that thing you started the other cycle?”

    He nodded thoughtfully.

    “Powertech, do you really want to see what this sleeper means to me?”

    “Of course, Magnus.”

    “Thrasher, that sounds like a plan.”

    They boarded the elevator and started up.

    “Then I want you to really tell me about my brothers, the one’s I’ll never know.”

    Powertech nodded and came closer, painfully climbing up to eye level with him.

    “Thrace was a gifted pilot and physical combatant. Always so intense and reserved. You’d never know he was in a competition with Shockwave to see who could cause the most mischief. Even though Shockwave got blamed for all of it, I don’t think they ever targeted each other. He was the last of your brothers to come on line before our relationship with the Seekers had been formalized.”

    Magnus listened as Powertech described Thrace like he’d been gone only a few cycles. He was still describing him when A-3 showed him where they’d put his relief panel.

    Tools in hand, he started carving away at Danger while Powertech continued. Somehow, using the GAR helped to focus his thoughts. As if the 210 was more willing to do what his mind imagined now that he wasn’t really here ... there ... whatever....

    He knew it wasn’t some trick of programming either. For all the talk his supposedly representative piece had garnered, his carving was clumsy and his mastery of form questionable. GAR or not he was approaching this as pure Combaticon, with all the limitations that implied.

    As Powertech got to the point where Thrace came under suspicion for Megatron’s murder, Magnus left Danger to carve on Laughter for a while. He’d attracted an audience of sorts: several cabbies were there, as was Soundwave and Hammer. Powertech was no where to be seen ... probably using up someone’s autoshower allotment.

    He nearly ruined the piece when Powertech told him how Thrace had died: he sacrificed his unit in a holding action against Guardian Autobots that allowed Orion Pax’ division the time they needed to redeploy and counter attack. He couldn’t help but think about Captain....

    Magnus looked at where his chisel had slipped ... it wasn’t too bad, he’d just give the femme a partly clinched fist rather than have her pose be as relaxed as he’d first planned.

    He hoped no one had noticed. Maybe Thrasher or A-3 had? They were artist.

    As he moved to repair the damage to her hand, Powertech continued: “Blaze’s name said it all. He liked everything loud and bold. He was actually a bit like Soundwave but with a lot more flash. Punk kid. He was designed to interface with Primus and enhance his communications capabilities beyond even what he had in his own right – which is saying a lot. I should probably tell you about how much Shockwave and Thrace abused the boy when he was young ... if only because you remind me of him. You two would’ve been dangerous together. Or should that be endangered together?” Powertech laughed easily despite the grinding of ancient servos.

    Magnus continued to carve away on Laughter for a while. Then left to work on Danger. He was ready this time when Powertech described how this brother met his death: on some lonely battlefield fighting ... something terrible. They’d brought his broken chassis back, what there was of it. His spark containment chamber had been literally ripped from him.

    “Because of that he’s never actually been declared dead.” Powertech continued, “Megacycles later he came under suspicion for Megatron’s death, but the evidence was so shaky and circumstantial that no one could believe it of him. Besides, it just wasn’t his style ... or so Oculon had argued. No way he’d do anything to Megatron until after he’d achieved his goal and got the applause he deserved. It was always important to Blaze that people received their due recognition.”

    He had all but finished Danger by the time Powertech had finished with Blaze.

    “And then there was Kup. He was a sniper, and we gave him one nasty weapon to go with it. Based on what they gave the 177UHEXs. Kup was genuinely patient and quiet, not some quietly simmering volcano like Thrace. He was also surgical and precise ... which makes an indiscriminate bomb the very last thing he’d use. He hated ordinary artillery for its lack of ... well, I’m getting ahead of myself. Kup was never a mystery to anyone, he was the most ordinary of all your brothers. Plain spoken and polite ... almost to a fault. I don’t think he even knew how to curse and was easily embarrassed by some of what other people said around him at times.”

    Magnus finished up Laughter before Powertech had concluded. Began working on the border.

    Unlike his brothers, Kup had simply disappeared one cycle not long after Megatron’s death. He’d been stalking rebels in Polyhex, trying to cobble together information for Oculon.

    “The only reason he ever came under suspicion was because of the way he disappeared. No trace of him has ever been found.”

    “Did the rebels kill him?” Magnus paused his carving and looked intently at Powertech.

    He shook his head: “Polyhex can be rough ... always has been. But not as tough as Kup. That and no one has ever given over his chassis. The rebels know how important it is to Combaticons to always come home. The only time they don’t surrender a chassis is when it’s an Autobot’s.”

    “Why?” Sapphira asked, she’d been silent the whole time.

    “There is a legend that somewhere on Cybertron is an Autobot crypt of sorts, hidden deep in the planet, no one’s sure if it even exist.”

    Magnus nodded even as he got the 210 back to work. He’d seen the evidence of that himself.

    “I should point out that these three weren’t the only Alphas to fall under suspicion. But except for these three, Oculon was eventually able to clear each and every one of them.”

    “Why did anyone suspect them at all?”

    “Magnus.... Artemus and Megatron had trusted and promoted your brothers to an extraordinary degree, which meant that often unproven junior officers had unusual access and authority. Almost anyone close enough to Megatron was under suspicion. So they were investigated. It’s that simple.”

    Magnus shifted his attention from Powertech to Sapphira, she was leaning against a support pillar and looked upset. Powertech turned to her.

    “Sapphira?”

    “If you knew they didn’t have anything to do with it,” she growled, “why did Artemus send in the troops? Why a punic war?!”

    “Apprentice ... yes, there was a coverup. But it wasn’t a coverup of if there was Terranoirian involvement. Not even really a coverup of if Alphas were involved.”

    “Then what?” she demanded.

    Powertech lowered his gaze.

    “What?!”

    He turned to Magnus and From Me: “Please, I need some time alone with my apprentice. I’ll– I will explain this to you later ... when you’re ready. Trust me, it’s for the best. I’ll tell you about your other brothers I’ve lost too.”

    “I guess I can put my body in sleep-mode and still operate the 210.” Magnus said slowly, “But what about From Me?”

    From Me seemed to force a laugh and patted Magnus’ shoulder: “Do not worry about that. Remember when I said you could put an entertainment center in there?

    He checked his specs ... sure enough, his heavily armored chest plate was actually designed with a cargo area of sorts behind it. He took note of the encrypted command codes and opened up. Odd, no green glow. From Me climbed inside him without transforming and he shut her up tight.

    “Ummm ... I guess this is ‘good night,’ then?”

    He rolled his head back, took in the view of the ceiling and closed his eyes.

    In Iacon, Magnus started working on the border again. Despite his limited skills it really wasn’t all that bad. Now ... now all the piece needed was a name.

    At least before Alpha Trion figured things out and punched him.
     
  10. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 9: Malitos


    Magnus finished up the border representing the willow.

    All that detail work took longer than he’d first imagined it would. He paused to reflect on that thought: when he started this thing he may’ve turned off his chronometer, but he had still estimated the time it should take based on his sketch. He’d just never revised that estimate. Interesting....

    “You look contemplative.” Alpha Trion said.

    He nodded: “I think I just learned something.”

    “Learning is always good. How much longer will this take? This project was too ambitious for you at this stage and I’m having serious problems justifying including it as academy work.”

    “Just finished up the border on this side. Carve the panel through in a few places and it’ll be done.”

    “Magnus, you can worry about that later.”

    “You don’t want me to finish?”

    “Of course I do! But I think I understand this thing now. Really, it isn’t anywhere near as intuitive as your little willow tree was.”

    Magnus stepped around the panel and looked intently at Alpha Trion.

    Who nodded and confessed that he finally understood both sculptures.

    “It’s considered bad form to repeat yourself like this, lad. But you’re young so I’ll let it slide this time.”

    Thrasher was nodding.

    He thought about it for a moment: had he repeated himself?

    “Sorry to disappoint you.” he muttered.

    “‘Disappoint?’ Lad, if I was disappointed then I’d be presenting you with a bill for the plyblock! As it is, I’ve never known what a – What did the Seekers call them? – what a ‘chemical-motor’ life form actually looked like. This must be a spark memory. Of Chaar maybe? From before it’s destruction.”

    “I thought you said that only an artist could reveal their work?”

    “Indeed I did! But Magnus, you aren’t a real artist. At least not yet. You do have talent though.” he smiled broadly as he started walking around the piece, “The planning is reasonably novel. The execution is surprisingly good. But if you’re going to use realism to hide a deeper meaning you need to learn to be more subtle with your imagery.”

    “So you know it’s name?” Magnus didn’t conceal his smirk even as he chided internally at the criticism

    “Thrasher?” Alpha Trion asked.

    “My guess is that there isn’t a name. Sorry, Boss.”

    “Exactly!” Alpha Trion trumpeted even as Magnus’ smirk disappeared

    “A-3, are there other worlds like Chaar was?”

    “None that I’m aware of, Thrasher.” A-3 spoke like a professor, “According to the Seekers there are some worlds given over to such life forms, if you could call them that, but what set Chaar apart was all that energon and that people were there. Chemical-motor based intelligence is ... very, very rare. Danger would probably represent an experience remembered from when the Seekers were there before everything was destroyed. Laughter is the mission going in. Magnus here must’ve been a ship’s officer. Maybe security seeing that he and his companion are armed.... You two must’ve been very close.”

    He noticed that this last was directed at him: “Close? Yes, I guess we were.”

    Like Rightway, Alpha Trion was making logical, if wrong, assumptions.

    “I’ll accept the piece as it is; but, I’m afraid we’ll have to remove it from public view.”

    “Why?”

    “Magnus, there has been a consensus among sociologist that the public just isn’t able to handle the implications of chemical-motor intelligence because of the fragility and brevity of such an existence. I think you should be especially able to understand the problem? Our people enter into relationships with the expectation that they will endure. Imagine the hardship of seeing a whole world of friends pass away before your very optics?”

    Magnus found himself trembling at the possibility. Maybe that’s what Ravage had meant when he said it was best not to talk about such worlds?

    “You can finish this later, but for now I’ll have you move it downstairs. Thrasher, please show him the way.”

    “Sure thing, A-3. Hey, Magnus, let me help you with that.” he moved to one end of the panel.

    They carried it to a clear spot near the middle of the floor. This proved to be a platform elevator that took them down into a very poorly lit substructure tightly packed with art of all descriptions.

    “Say Thrasher, was this place a combat arena once?”

    “Yeah.” Thrasher said as he got his bearings, “The Quints built this place for its symbolic presence. Tore down almost everything A-3 owned in Iacon in the process. That’s how he ended up with it afterwards. He said he’d turned the symbolism back on them by making it a place to celebrate life.”

    Magnus nodded and followed with his half of the panel in hand. Thrasher soon found a spot that had some extra space around it and they sat it down.

    “Magnus, you really should finish this. That way in the ages to come you’ll at least have some idea of what it was that you once remembered.”

    “Thanks. Maybe we can move it to the apartment later?”

    “Don’t see why not? Look, if it’s ok with you, I’ll find Powertech and Hammer and haul them home. There are light controls over on that wall if you want to finish.”

    “Sure thing.”

    He watched Thrasher fade into the dim before taking the elevator back up to the arena floor. For a moment, the Combaticon’s raised face was bathed in light from above and Magnus wondered that he wasn’t going into battle rather than just going home.

    He imagined Destron on that same platform bathed in that same light – grim and unbroken just like Captain had been.

    “Forget?” he turned back to his sculpture, “No, I’m never going to forget. I have a promise to keep!”

    With that he turned and followed after Thrasher. But when he got back upstairs he worked his way up into the bleachers, to the place that he and the others had stayed. Once there he pulled out his book again.

    “Chapter eighty-five.” he mumbled, “‘Lastus met Tech at a dock not far from where the investigation had first begun. “Funny how things happen this way?” the old mech mused. The ship was a fast cargo transport similar to the one that had been decommissioned ... just one that had legally superior engines. Even the ship’s names were phonetically similar. He laughed at the irony.’

    “‘“You’re in a good mood.” Tech noted as they walked across the gantry, “I still can’t believe that you managed to get this trip approved.”’

    “‘Lastus shook his head.’”

    Magnus laughed as Tech realized that the trip wasn’t approved, that they would likely see their pay docked for unauthorized vacation time.

    “Looks like Tech has the same kind of problem with Lastus as I do with my Tech.” he mused before reading on in silence.

    As with everything else in the book, Primus didn’t skimp on detail but really let his reader know what it was like to be exactly where Lastus was. They spent the whole trip on the bridge talking with each other and the ship’s crew. Tech had apparently pulled in a favor for the passage from Palrex, the ship’s captain, and was initially cross for the double hit on his reserves.

    Magnus noted that Primus had even included navigational data for the trip ... a nice touch. He could actually follow up on the book later if he ever wished to.

    It took almost seven cycles to reach Malitos among all the errands that the Seeker ship had to perform. Lastus’ palpable apprehension at seeing the sensor data for the Heitos system – Malitos was gone – helped the text to take on a dark sense of foreboding.

    They found one of the larger space stations that Lastus recognized as a factory satellite from his last visit.

    “‘Confirmed: numerous discrete energy signatures.’ the navigator informed, ‘But no landing beacons or external transmissions of any sort. Looks like they don’t want company.’

    “‘What they want hardly matters!’ Palrex grumbled, ‘I’ve come too far to not be curious. Are you sure this one’s in the best shape?’

    “‘Yes, sir! This station has active deck plates providing about a quarter of Cybertron’s gravity. Just enough to make moving about easy.’

    “‘But not enough to waste energy.’ Tech completed the thought.

    “As the navigator glared at Tech, Lastus and Palrex surveyed the available docking ports.

    “‘This one looks good.’ Palrex informed, ‘The gantry is a compatible design at any rate.’

    “‘I should go first since I’ve got the best armor.’ Lastus offered.

    “‘But your age?’

    “‘They don’t know about that. Besides, I really don’t expect trouble here. From what I remember there weren’t many Malitites my size and hardly any larger.’”

    Magnus read on. Even in this tense situation he was reminded of what Nine had told him, how a Seeker’s life was “same old same old.” There was no welcoming committee to greet Lastus as he stepped onto the station. They actually had been exploring a good five microcycles before they came across anyone: two dilapidated mechs whose descriptions reminded Magnus of a Quevaldan. These seemed unreasonably subdued as they ignored Lastus’ request for information.

    “‘I don’t suppose you ever figured out who Xiocey’s contact was on Cybertron?’ a voiced asked from behind them, causing Lastus to spin about and raise his weapon.

    “‘Who?’ Palrex stammered.

    “Lastus was looking at a shadow in the station’s dim light. A figure as large as himself whose shimmering red optics almost seemed to be laughing.

    “‘Xiocey?’ he tasted the name as if he’d heard it before.

    “The newcomer stepped forward out of the shadows, there was something....

    “‘Zahzey?’ Lastus puzzled even as he lowered his weapon.

    “‘Councilmech Zahzey, of the Republic of Malitos, thank you very much!’ the other smiled, ‘Have they got you running security for Seekers now? Not an improvement. Not at all.’

    “Palrex grumbled as he lowered his own pistol. Glared at Zahzey.

    “‘You two know each other?’

    “Lastus nodded.

    “‘I see. Zahzey, is it? I don’t suppose you would be willing to accept Seeker hospitality? I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t offer a representative of this fine Republic some measure of respect.’

    “Lastus winced at hearing his friend’s sarcasm.

    “‘No, I should rather welcome you. Follow me to the council chamber.’”

    Magnus read on. Now that they were led by Zahzey, the pitiable inhabitants of the station were coming out of the girders and resumed something of an ordinary, if destitute, life. Again, it reminded Magnus of Quevald. At one point, as they reached a section that seemed nominally nicer, Lastus asked about what had happened and why they had stayed.

    “‘At first we were too afraid to leave. I guess we got comfortable here.’”

    They were led to something like an assembly hall where small vid screens sat on the table in place of persons. Zahzey took his place near the middle of the table and the screens burst to life. Most of them. A few were dark. Apparently these were not supposed to be dark. The mech in the monitor at the head of the table called out to these several times in the roll call. When he’d finished he added: “‘Our brethren have found their way home at last. May they set a rich welcome for we who remain.’”

    A subdued Lastus addressed the meeting after his own introduction. He told them why he was here and what he needed to know from them. Magnus didn’t understand why he hadn’t offered them relief: these people were obviously hurting! As they were waiting outside, while the Republican Council debated inside, Palrex didn’t bother to hide his exasperation.

    “‘They can probably listen in on us.’ Lastus scolded.

    “‘Who cares? I’ll have my navigator give Tech a decent rifle and we won’t have to lift a finger while he cleans up!’”

    Magnus put the book down and leaned back against the balcony railing. Chapter 91 ended with Palrex’ outburst. Ninety-one cycles? He wondered that he’d more life as Lastus than as Magnus? It was no mystery why he’d found it so easy to imitate the old cop earlier. Looking up at the night sky – some few stars were visible in this dim part of the city – he speculated if he should put off reading everything until he was older? But then again, was there anything about Lastus that he didn’t think worthy of emulation? Especially considering that Lastus was Primus?

    That’s when he became aware of someone sitting in the bleachers just below the balcony.

    “Hello?”

    “You will need a ride home.” came a voice like chimes and pipes all at once – it was Soundwave.

    He went to stand over his brother.

    “Thanks.”

    “Family.”

    Magnus nodded.

    “Go on reading.” Soundwave said, barely turning his head towards him.

    “What do you like to read?”

    “I don’t read much. I prefer music that speaks of the end at the beginning and the beginning at the end.”

    “Sounds ... different.” he confessed.

    “Once, before my name’s sake, it was all there was. Literature was different too. But that was before History.”

    “How ... how could something be before history?” Magnus stammered, “Do you mean: ‘from time immemorial?’”

    Soundwave laughed infectiously: “No! Before History! The first Separatist collection.”

    “But–”

    “Go back to your world of words, of distinct beginnings and endings. I’ll be here to take you home when you’re ready.”

    Magnus considered pressing Soundwave about music before History, he seemed to like to speak his mind. Possibly too much, given–

    “Soundwave, why shouldn’t I wear my Obstructicon cone around Shockwave?”

    Soundwave nearly turned around in his seat, allowing Magnus to see that he’d been sitting there with his weapon drawn.

    “You didn’t say anything about that to Shockwave, did you?” he actually sounded concerned.

    “Well, no! Of course not!”

    “Please don’t.” he said, turning away from him.

    “More trouble than you want?”

    “Confirmed.” he said with rhythmic calm.

    “I should point out that I’m already on his short list.”

    “Confirmed.” he said, nodding.

    “But Striker–”

    “Is doomed.” just a hint of merriment.

    Well, yeah, it certainly did seem that way. And Powertech wanted to be there to see.

    Magnus left the balcony to sit by Soundwave. He held out the book which was accepted and physically examined.

    “It’s from Captain’s personal library. Shockwave and Wildway have pretty much claimed dibs to read them first after me.”

    Soundwave examined the title a bit more carefully than before: “They would.” he finally chimed.

    “And Powertech is cross that I’m reading them out of order. This one is from near the end.”

    Soundwave handed the book back, almost seemed to smile: “‘All stories begin the same and all stories end the same: what matters is the middle of the story, for only there will you find the elements that make one story different from another.’ Also: ‘Know where you are going before you get there.’”

    It was easily the longest unbroken utterance he’d yet to hear from his brother and he was quoting Primacron, of all people.

    Magnus mulled over these sayings for a few. Where was he going? He hardly knew what his purpose was....

    So, Soundwave didn’t like reading? Preferred stories where he knew the outcome?

    Magnus reactivated the book.

    “Chapter Ninety-Two.” he read out loud, “‘Lastus determined that simply waiting for Zahzey would be an intemperate use of energy given what he’d seen on the station: so he put himself in regenerative mode. If anyone asked him about it later, he could say that he was simply allowing self repair mechanisms a too-long delayed opportunity to do their thing.’

    “‘He stirred at 875 point 32 having had a surprisingly complete regen cycle. Everyone was still waiting pretty much just where they’d been. Tech wasn’t there so maybe Palrex was still dubious about the Malitites, which was odd considering how he’d characterized their military capabilities earlier.’

    “‘“Back among the living?” Palrex asked.’

    “‘“Why not? Haven’t got anything better to do right now.”’

    “‘One of the Seekers shook his head: “Classic Combaticon fatalism.”’

    “‘Lastus allowed a carefully measured laugh, before: “They couldn’t possibly be still using the comm system? From what I’ve seen energy is at too high of a premium here.”’

    “‘“Not necessarily true,” Palrex produced a data plate and pulled up some images of the station, “according to our earlier scans they’ve adopted rather simple technologies to capture and convert star light into a low grade source of renewable power.” he highlighted a number of sections of the station, “These could be simple capacitors that provide that power on demand. It would be a miserable subsistence, but would work well enough for support systems.... We could learn a thing or two from these people when making due with less.”’

    “‘“Or nothing at all.” the junior Seeker offered.’

    “‘“What I don’t understand,” Palrex continued even as he glared at his junior officer, “is if your tramp freighter was running for these folks, what was done with the resources? There isn’t much of anything here to suggest that they’ve had outside help at all. Or at least I can’t believe an imaginative and adaptive–”’

    “‘The council room door opened and a rather drained looking Zahzey emerged.’

    “‘“I believe you were praising my people?” he said looking straight at Palrex.’

    “‘“Just calling it like I see it.”’

    “‘“Have you decided what you’ll tell us?” Lastus jumped in.’

    “‘Zahzey shook his head: “I’m sorry old friend, but there is just too much at stake to tell you what, if anything, we know about your smugglers.”’

    “‘“You know,” Palrex raised a finger, “if you did help us, even just a little, Seeker ships could make this a regular port of call. Of course, you would need to tidy up. New paint and amenities. I’m sure the high command would float you a loan for very reasonable interest, especially in light of port fees that you could gather and such.”’

    “‘Zahzey nodded in response to Palrex’ offer. But then shook his head: “No, we can help you; but, just not in that way. I was wondering if I could borrow your ship and crew for a bit? If you would help me investigate the cause of my world’s destruction?”’

    “‘Palrex gave Lastus a questioning look.’

    “‘“I think we can trust him.” Lastus shrugged even as he speculated what he should do now. Shouldn’t he go home if the reason he came here was a bust?’

    “‘Zahzey nodded happily: “Come on then. They went that way.” he pointed.’

    “‘“They?”’

    “‘“The people, well, the ship, that destroyed my world. Its satellite ships walked through our defenses like we meant nothing to them. Then it overshadowed Malitos, cut it up with some sort of energy lance and ... processed it. Not sure how it managed to pack away a planet–”’

    “‘“Wait!” Lastus suddenly found a reason to be here, “Are you telling me that a ship ... ate? Ate your world?!”’

    “‘“Pretty much. Planet, people, the lot. And it went off in that direction just like I said.”’

    “‘“And why would we want to even find such a monster?!” Palrex seemed likely to leave right then and there.’

    “‘“You’ve never heard of such a ship before?” Zahzey smiled as if enjoying a private joke.’

    “‘“Of course not!”’

    “‘“Funny thing was, it had the Great Crest of Cybertron right there on its bow. A few dozen times bigger across than this station and glittering like it was someone’s optics. Kinda hard to miss something like that.”’

    “‘“Right.” Palrex said without emotion, “It flew off that way you said? How long ago?”’

    “‘“By your current standards of time, 92 point 72 point 17 point 332 vorns ago.”’”

    Magnus blinked, ‘vorn’ ... what was a–

    “Keep reading, Magnus.” Soundwave encouraged.

    “Right, what does an inexplicable statement here or there really matter? What’s a ‘vorn?’”

    “It’s an old unit of time measurement. Oculon told me about it once. Keep reading.”

    Magnus nodded. How cold was a trail nearly 93 vorns old? Neither Palrex nor Lastus seemed even a bit put out by the number involved. Maybe a “vorn” was like a megacycle? That could be a serious plot hole though ... so maybe a vorn was longer than a megacycle?

    Zahzey’s solution to warming the trail was as innovative and primitive as other Malitite technology Lastus had yet seen: they would just backed the ship off till they were the precise distance away from Malitos as light would have traveled. Then they could use the ship’s sensors to gather a simple visual image of the death of a world.

    Seeing a world dismembered....

    For all the build up, you’d think it would be given a full chapter. Instead, Lastus just noted that, on the given cycle in question, he’d been working in his office in Iacon.

    Soundwave put a hand on Magnus’ shoulder.

    “That’s enough. I need to get you home so you’re not late for work.”

    “Why didn’t he–”

    “Magnus,” Soundwave’s voice took on an almost hollow ring, “there are some things that a living mind just will not, cannot accept. It is a very honest example of writing.”

    He nodded and followed Soundwave. He was maybe halfway through chapter 95. Once at street level, Soundwave pointed out a well worn van similar to Blackfire’s. Magnus continued to read in silence, skimming really, once they were on their way.

    For the rest of the chapter there was almost no dialogue. Zahzey alone seemed to have anything to say and he mainly helped the Seeker navigator follow the monster ship away from the scene of the crime. Lots of navigational data. Lots more navigational data.

    “I look forward to reading the series properly.” Soundwave offered as he let Magnus off at his floor.

    “Sure thing!” Magnus forced a smile and waved bye to his brother.

    For some reason he was aware of taking his hand down, as if lingering in the wave he didn’t want to be seen to be lingering.

    He really wished that Powertech would wake him up in the crypt. Whatever it was, Sapphira must be getting an ear full right now. He stowed his book in his leg compartment and walked on.
     
  11. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 10: Back to Work


    “Look what the Predacon dragged in?” came a cheerful voice from across the room.

    “Hello, Powertech.” Magnus sighed even as he made for the couch like a vectorhawk for a petrorabbit.

    A small black head popped up over the back of the couch.

    “By ‘Predacon’ he would mean me.”

    “Ravage?!” his funk disappeared instantly.

    Without even thinking about it he scooped up the smaller mech in his arms and hugged him vigorously.

    Ravage tried to push away almost immediately even as he offered: “I’m glad to see you too!”

    Magnus let him struggle for a moment before letting him down: “I thought you weren’t allowed here?”

    “Well, I can stay in the apartment without causing a fuss.” he laughed, “The balcony is iffy, but the apartment is safe. If you don’t mind, I’ve set up shop on the balcony.”

    Powertech was standing there, silent with a big grin.

    “What?”

    “You’re such a just-boot!” he laughed and half raised a mug before turning back into the refueling nook.

    Magnus shook his head before looking at Ravage: “Always the risk taker, eh?”

    “More like ‘rebel in the cause’ ... but ‘risk taker’ will do. Shockwave dropped me off earlier because I was getting in the way on Rapax.”

    “Why?”

    “No fun standing where someone doesn’t want to be.” Ravage shrugged, “It looks like they found a decent replacement megabooster though. Good thing too, I hate living in apartments!”

    Magnus nodded, he’d only ever reviewed a small portion of the lease – mainly the confidentiality clause that kept people from talking about rent controls – but he’d also come away with the notion that Predacons weren’t exactly welcome.

    He paused again to reflect on how good his memory was now.

    “Probably should start reviewing speeches.” he muttered.

    “I think they’d appreciate that.” Ravage confided.

    Magnus heard them talking over their mugs. Sounded like an action review from the previous cycle. Actually ... that would be a welcome change.

    So instead of the couch he made for the Absolute Zero. There were several mugs already prepared. He took two and handed one to Ravage. Magnus peered into his mug.

    “Extra sweet style.” Thrasher offered.

    “You were saying something about the docks?” he asked as he sat down.

    “How did Sapphira make it an order?” Powertech pressed.

    Magnus paused after a long first sip – his friend sure didn’t waste words or time.

    “I’m not really here. I’m in Kaon.”

    Powertech just stared at him.

    “Powertech’s got me in my final chassis but there are ... some adjustments. I’m using something called a GAR to operate this chassis remotely.”

    Powertech brightened: “Then I want an equal share of your hazard pay!”

    “My hazard pay?”

    “It’s not like you earned it.”

    “So how long have you been ... remotely here?” Hammer spoke up.

    “Since the other cycle. I woke up on the other side while we were in Vilnacron.”

    “And now?”

    “They’ve got me in sleep mode again. At least I have access to the directory for my memory though. I was a mess earlier.”

    “You did seem confused.” Hammer nodded.

    Magnus took another sip: “Is something wrong?”

    “An officer doesn’t have to explain himself to his subordinates.”

    He sighed ... subordinates maybe. But friends? He started explaining what he understood. Even belatedly, it was better than nothing.

    “So that’s why you were asking about smells.” Powertech offered.

    “Lets see if I understand you properly?” Thrasher interjected, “You, this old guy, and two ladies are hold up together in isolation somewhere?”

    “Essentially.”

    “Sounds like a fun date!” he laughed, “Any chance they have friends? I could use a little isolation myself.”

    “Well, there is Captain Nine–”

    “Score!”

    “Nine: my commanding officer!” Powertech protested.

    Hammer nodded thoughtfully before raising his mug: “In memory of the perpetually dateless who serve under females.”

    Magnus stifled a laugh. Even if all this was making more sense he still didn’t feel comfortable with the subject.

    “So what’s this Sapphira like?” Hammer asked as things calmed down again.

    Magnus described her as she normally was, not her structural self that she was now.

    “‘She has this smile.’” Powertech seemed entertained by something Magnus had said.

    “Seriously!” Thrasher seemed to second.

    Hammer just sat there enjoying some private joke.

    Which left Magnus wondering if maybe he hadn’t explained just a bit too much. He really was such a just-boot!

    That and he was glad that Sapphira probably couldn’t see or hear what he was doing while he was off line back there. Here?

    “The most annoying thing about the GAR is figuring out where you really are.”

    “Pardon?” Hammer piped up.

    “I know I’m really there, but wouldn’t there then be here and here then be there?”

    “Here is here and there is here.” Hammer offered as if it explained everything.

    Well, at least he only had the one GARself to deal with. He imagined that Wrecker had, or could have, numerous ones at any given time. Probably why Oculon had planned on sending Wrecker to Quevald, he could go alone and still go in force.

    Magnus glanced down at Ravage, the Predacon was being unusually quiet. Probably just some mood.

    After lull of another 142 nanocycles the conversation about last cycle’s action started up again.



    “It’s time to go annoy Blackfire.” Powertech announced as he finished his mug some microcycles later.

    “I guess I’ll see you guys.” Ravage sighed – swirling around his still half full mug, “Magnus, I’ll put your infusion away for later.”

    Magnus nodded. Set his infusion down. He hadn’t been the one to drop Ravage off where he’d be a prisoner.

    The conversation kept going till they got to the press and hustle of the office floor.

    “What’s the fun of having subordinates if they’re never late?” Blackfire protested as soon as his office door opened.

    Something about the office seemed different. Magnus looked around but couldn’t tell what it was.

    Blackfire handed Powertech a data plate: “I want you to go over my action report and offer any addendum. Then Magnus, Thrasher and Hammer in turn.”

    Magnus sat down and waited. When the time came all he could think of adding was that, in his opinion, the rebels really didn’t want to harm anyone. Especially the crew.

    “I should think that much would be obvious. They aren’t stupid!” came an oddly pitched voice from above.

    He looked up. There were two huge vectorhawks right above him on a perch that extended from the wall. It hadn’t been there before, he was sure of it. They were well above eye level though.

    “Did you just–”

    “We aren’t drones.” the one on the left said even as its companion’s red eyes flashed angrily.

    “Don’t mind them.” Blackfire called from his office, “Lightwing and Buzzsaw are here to help out for the next few cycles.”

    “More Predacons?” Hammer asked.

    “Observant, isn’t he?” the talkative one asked the other.

    “Hi! I’m Magnus. This is Powertech, Thrasher and Hammer.”

    Both stared straight down at him. The silent one, the one projecting attitude, seemed surprised.

    “Obviously.” his talkative friend allowed, “Lightwing and Buzzsaw.”

    Magnus just nodded before tossing the data plate over to Thrasher.

    Lightwing settled down on the bench by Powertech.

    “‘More Predacons?’”

    “We left Ravage in our apartment.” Powertech said.

    Lightwing’s eyes flashed briefly before the Predacon effortlessly lifted off with only a hint of repulsor whirr and entered Blackfire’s office.

    “Must be nice.” Powertech mumbled.

    “Only way I’m taking a transmitter to a cyberball match.” Magnus muttered back before the two of them started laughing.

    “What’s so funny?” Thrasher asked as he handed off the data plate.

    “I don’t know what his name was, but he didn’t learn how to fly.”

    “Hey Hammer, sounds like Powertech knows someone else like you.”

    Hammer just muttered something unintelligible.

    Before long Blackfire had them all in his van, but instead of leaving at street level they rose through the core of the building. They landed. Blackfire’s door opened. Ravage climbed in and seemed confused.

    Hello, brother.” Lightwing said from the back of the van.

    Ravage almost jumped: “Lightwing?!”

    Join us, won’t you?” Lightwing’s voice was a cypher.

    Ravage’s eyes narrowed and Magnus guessed that his friend didn’t much like this brother of his.

    “I’m fine right here.” he turned back to Blackfire, “What have you got for me?”

    Blackfire chuckled as he took the van straight up through the core of the building: “Polyhex.”

    “Fun!” Ravage smiled.

    Magnus settled back against his seat. Polyhex? Could be free docks. Probably wasn’t.

    “So Buzzsaw, what do you two do for the Decepticons anyway?”

    The silent Predacon barely moved, only swiveled his head to look Magnus’ way.

    “Cheerful fellow!” Magnus silently fumed.

    With nothing else to do, he recalled Havitron’s actual presentation of A Point of Jurisprudence. He was encouraged to see that he’d got really close ... but on review he still didn’t see what, if anything, could be inspirational about it.

    “I’m spoiled,” he finally and silently allowed, “I’m used to things like The Record of Primus. That has to be it.”

    He reviewed the whole thing again ... at least Panacron could write well enough to make up for the subject ... or else Havitron speak well enough to make up for the writing. Not that he could wrap his circuits around the topic. “Ask a Predacon.” Blackfire had said. Magnus looked around: here were three. Maybe he’d get his chance?

    Blackfire let them out in a garage pretty much like the one they’d left. In fact, seen from street level Polyhex seemed just like Iacon. Hardly the rough place that old Powertech had made it seem earlier.

    “Nice city.”

    “‘Nice’ is one word.” Ravage confided, “Blackfire, sir, if the attitude twins are here then who are we stalking?”

    “No one in particular.”

    “The ‘attitude twins’ already know what to do.” Lightwing added as they lifted off into traffic and headed for open sky. They were carrying large loops of some kind clutched in their feet.

    “Oculon couldn’t have assigned Laserbeak’s team? Or Sonic’s?” Ravage almost whined once they were gone.

    Commander Oculon had other uses for them. Be glad you owe creds to the ‘attitude twins’ or else you wouldn’t even be here.”

    “Magnus wouldn’t have forgotten me in the apartment.... Right?”

    Suddenly on the spot, he just gave Ravage the thumbs up. Actually, he was more interested in why the Predacon seemed to owe everyone money.

    Without a word, Blackfire turned back into the building and led the way through the busy ground floor to an empty office suite that had vid screens for walls. Two of these sprang to life to show scenes of Polyhex’ skyline falling farther and farther below the observer.

    “You may as well make yourselves comfortable. It could be a while before the warrants come through.”

    “What exactly are we doing here?” Hammer asked as he sat down by an inactive wall.

    “Preliminary surveillance. See that red spot on the floor near you? Press it.”

    A shaft rose up by Hammer and its top opened to reveal an instrument panel.

    “Basically, we’re data scrubbing real time communications that Lightwing and Buzzsaw will be intercepting.”

    “Wouldn’t they be encrypted?”

    “Yes.”

    “Then how do we data scrub what we can’t hear.”

    “By qualifying repetitive patterns in the encrypted data.” Powertech grumbled.

    “Right! Have you done this before?”

    “One of my first jobs was tweaking statistical analysis techniques for this kind of tedium.”

    “Lucky for us, a lot of the busy work is automated by the base’s computron. It’ll wade through the worst of the slogging.”

    Magnus made a column by an active wall lift up. It looked like a cross between a library data screen and comm console. It activated as his hand hovered over the controls.

    “Yes?” an unfamiliar voice.

    “Nice to finally meet you, Buzzsaw.”

    A moment of silence.

    “Likewise.”

    Magnus watched the world through Buzzsaw’s eyes for just under a microcycle.

    He was curious why Powertech hadn’t brought him out of sleep mode yet? It couldn’t possibly take this long to explain things to Sapphira.... Could it? He timidly brought some of his real systems on line.

    He didn’t hear any conversation. Instead, it sounded like someone was watching the news.

    And it would seem that his chest was wide open.... But still no green glow.

    He checked his specs more closely ... there was a secondary armored shell as strong as the first inside him that surrounded his critical systems. Had its own inner access doors and release codes too. So this was Constructicon-spec spark containment? Really impressive stuff.

    Magnus lifted his head for a better look. He could see the underside halves of his armored chest. They weren’t matte black anymore but had been changed to matte white-silver with chrome red trim. The sound was coming from inside him and maybe those were From Me’s feet propped up there.

    From Me?

    The sound muted, feet disappeared and her smiling face popped into view: “You are back!

    What are you listening to?

    Periodical broadcast! It is amazing to see people actually tell each other what they are doing without anyone making them do so.

    “Right.”

    Seriously.” she grinned, “You left me in there much longer than I imagined you would.... Again.

    There was a moment of uncomfortable silence: “I thought you guys would wake me up?”

    “We eventually figured that out.” Sapphira positively laughed somewhere off to a side.

    Great! Well, at least she’d missed the way he’d described her earlier. There’d been enough embarrassment for the cycle.

    He heard her moving around, coming closer.

    “Where’s Powertech?”

    “Regenerative mode. Doctors orders.”

    “Good thing he’s got you.”

    “Tisk! He knows exactly what he needs. Only needed someone to tell him to do it.”

    He is very stubborn.

    Magnus lowered his head back down and waited for Sapphira to come into view.

    “Say Magnus,” Powertech popped into view in Polyhex, “how much longer are you going to be out of action in Kaon?”

    “You told him?” Sapphira asked.

    “Actually, I just came back on line a moment ago. Why?” he said to Powertech even as: “Well, what did you expect me to do?”

    “Magnus, the GAR is still highly classified.” she was frowning.

    “Nothing really.” Powertech said, “I was just wondering if you could get a message to Sapphira.”

    “Just tell her what you want to.”

    Powertech seemed surprised: “They can see and hear what you see and hear?”

    “Sure. When I’m conscious.”

    “That could be....” he smiled wryly, “Never mind, listen, hello, I was just wondering when I’ll get to actually see my friend again? You know what I mean.”

    “Not long, I should imagine.” Sapphira said, “You’re due some big field test soon.”

    Magnus waited.

    “Magnus, this isn’t like conference mode.” she snickered.

    “Shouldn’t be too long now.”

    Powertech nodded.

    “Big test?” he asked her.

    “What part of program to produce advanced prototypes didn’t you understand?”

    “Hey, I told you about it!”

    Her smile returned as she laughed.

    Magnus could see From Me, now sitting on his chest, nodding her head as if deep in thought. She would tell him about it when she was ready to.

    “Is it hard to keep conversations apart?” Powertech pressed.

    Magnus shook his head: “Not really.”

    Buzzsaw had apparently started to hover far above the city. He was looking around.

    “How long till the warrant is issued?” Thrasher inquired.

    “No telling when, Sir.... And Magnus?”

    “Yes, Blackfire?”

    “You need to step away from the controls until we actually have our warrant.”

    “No simulations?”

    “None.”

    “What a way to run a world!” Magnus confessed to Sapphira.

    “There are legitimate reasons to restrain the power of government to investigate the people.”

    That silenced his protest.

    “Is there a problem with you folks looking on?” he finally asked her.

    “I suppose. Your call.”

    Magnus mulled that over as he walked away from the pedestal. He wandered around the office suite looking for something to sit on. Nothing.

    From Me had started talking with Sapphira about prototypes: what a prototype really was and if she was one too?

    He leaned against a wall that consisted of a mass of input feeds rather than a vid screen and pulled out his book. It activated at the start of chapter 96. He skimmed a few lines before deactivating it.

    “Not this. Not now.” he mumbled.

    He thought back on his friend’s presentations. Granted he couldn’t make headway with A Point of Jurisprudence, but that didn’t mean much for the others. Actually, something uplifting would be nice. Nothing preachy though. Maybe Cobatron’s offering? He called it Preserving Our Glory IV, obviously part of a series. By Brexas no less. Powertech had said that Brexas was Cobatron’s hero.

    “We stand at the decision gate, to go forward and lay hold of wealth for the moment, or to stand down and be content that the choice is still ours to make. We can only choose once. Why choose now? Are our current developed resources inadequate for our economic dynamic? Isn’t development now like raiding the future to needlessly enrich the present?”

    “One thing is certain,” Magnus silently mused, “Brexas likes to hear his own voice.”

    Actually, Brexas frequently used this sort of repetition, proving that what he really liked was to pose the same question over and over with varying shades of meaning. He wasn’t in a hurry to provide crucial details either. Of course, Magnus already knew that this particular speech dealt with the “non-legacy issues of Kaon” – which probably meant the region’s reserves of high grade cybertronium and other ores rather than the Combaticon crypt. Brexas’ central contention seemed to be that once the wealth of Kaon was opened for exploitation there would be no going back, no half measures.

    But knowing what it was about shouldn’t diminish enjoying the speech for what it was. Brexas’ original audience had to have known what he was talking about too. That left Magnus to ponder the whys of the presentation rather than its subject.

    So why repeat himself this way? Others didn’t. Magnus examined the opening comments again. The central idea was the decision itself: if we decide to exploit these resources then we have decided. Brexas was assuming that the governing council would choose to exploit Kaon’s resources eventually. He was only arguing that they didn’t have to do so right now.

    It was an interesting observation in light of what he had learned about Quevald: how they’d been too eager to exploit their planet’s mass. He thought about that vent canyon, how it was lined with dark balconies for as far as his eyes could see. Was the city they’d fought their way through really only the top of some titanic building? Was that what it meant to exploit a planet’s mass?

    That made him question his earlier assumption that this wasn’t really about the Combaticon crypt. Hadn’t Shockwave intimated that someone had wanted to scrap Cybertron’s heroes?

    “Better ask Cobatron about those other essays.”

    “Magnus?” From Me asked on the other side of the world.

    There were these presentations that my friends gave that I have been looking into. One of them seems to address the willingness of some of my people to exploit the material wealth of Kaon, if not the crypt itself.

    She didn’t reply. He looked around.

    From Me?

    Just thinking.

    She seemed to be above ... behind him. Maybe she was sitting by his head?

    “Yeah. Thinking....”

    Had Cybertron’s elite actually decided that they would scrap them all somecycle?

    He concentrated on the rest of the presentation where Brexas had gone on to describe something of Kaon’s natural beauty and compared its unusual and dramatic features – the great crystal falls of the Choron region, the chromium flats of Rhea, the cybertronium rift and so forth – favorably to features of worlds that he had no notion of besides what Brexas had said through Cobatron.

    Magnus was really starting to like Brexas. If he understood him right he was speaking to something more than just holding onto resources for the future. What he was really–

    “Finally!” Blackfire emoted from the other room, “Magnus, get in here! Hammer, go get the others!”

    “What if they’re still standing in line?”

    “Just go.”

    Magnus nodded, his thoughts derailed, before shuffling back into the other room.
     
  12. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 11: Psychometrics


    He took up a post by Buzzsaw’s screen. Laid a hand on the control panel.

    “Looks like the waiting’s over.”

    Buzzsaw said nothing but the way the scene jiggled was suggestive of a nod. Blackfire would tell him what to do soon.

    As for Brexas: Brexas seemed like a Combaticon who ran to the sound of weapons fire. He suspected that Cobatron had first heard the Seeker’s song from Brexas. He also imagined his friend going all over Kaon to see what Cybertron had to offer too.

    “Say, From Me? Sapphira?”

    Yes?” she still seemed to be sitting by the top of his head.

    “Listen, I think if this requires a warrant then maybe I should go off line.”

    “No! Stay with us.” the elder Powertech had apparently woke up and was moving towards Magnus with something resembling haste.

    “Sir?”

    “Consider it a trial, trial run. With you online here you should be able to access your full range of capabilities. Besides, we never determined the throughput limit on the prototype GAR. I’m interested to see if it will hold up.”

    He’d not moved his head but he still saw Powertech’s approach. As Powertech slowly moved closer, Magnus rotated his head ever so slightly away from them.

    “Are you sure?” Sapphira asked.

    “The GAR system should be undetectable by that equipment.”

    “It would give us a chance to confirm his operational status.” she hesitantly allowed, “But Magnus, you’ll need to turn off your security shell. There’s no telling what sort of mischief it could cause in a situation like this.”

    “Then it’s settled!” Powertech rasped with glee.

    His peripheral vision was better than he was used to.

    “Ok, Magnus,” Blackfire grabbed the 210’s shoulders without warning, “I was told you’ve data scrubbed before?”

    “The cycle before we met.”

    He rotated the 210’s head till he could just see Blackfire.

    “Good enough. As Powertech said we’ll be qualifying repetitive patterns in intercepted data. The computron will have already filtered out all transmissions between known or regular sources which will leave us with private traffic.”

    “Sounds manageable.”

    There was a significant difference between either chassis’ field of vision.

    “If you say so.” he laughed, “We’re going to be working what’s termed ‘low priority comm traffic’ where both the source and the destination seem innocent. Generally speaking, rebels and criminals know enough to not broadcast or receive anything else if they know the good guys are watching.”

    “Do they know that we know that they know we’re watching?” Magnus said without smiling even as he thought: “Ice cold! No more Mister Bucket Head!”

    “Yes ... no. Don’t do that! They know we’re watching and we’re counting on it. Polyhexi tend to be a bit hostile about having their personal space invaded this way. By now both Predacons and their sensor loops have been seen by hundreds and the word has spread fast. If people around here are true to form we can expect four responses. Some will simply go silent. Others will try to get in our faces and start a comm party, flooding us with meaningless messages. Then there are the people who will just go on with their lives. These are the ones we’re actually interested in since they will include the likes of criminals, smugglers and rebels.”

    “And they use innocent looking communications?”

    “If they know we’re looking then they can’t risk that we would intercept something important. So they really have no choice; however, they may still need to maintain an awareness of where their people are if not what they’re actually doing. If so, then they’ll check in with each other. Since rotating encryption schemes without arbitration requires precise coordination set up well in advance of the need, it isn’t really an option for even a moderate sized organization. Looks suspicious too. Rotation with full arbitration risk revealing the base encryption keys that might allow us to read either the comm header or footer in real time, which is also unacceptable. So most bad guys will act as if we weren’t here at all. They use stable encoding and will often chat at length as though they hadn’t a care on Cybertron.”

    “I always use stable encoding.” Magnus muttered.

    “See what I mean? Suspiciously innocent behavior if ever I heard it!”

    He felt like his core processor was hurting just trying the wrap itself around the notion: “Are you sure we won’t be finding every just-boot instead? What do ordinary Polyhexi do? That was only three of four.”

    “Since most folks believe they’ve nothing to hide they live with the limitations of rotation with full arbitration, content that even if we know who is calling who, we still won’t know what’s being said.”

    “So looking suspicious is innocent?”

    “Pretty much. Ordinary criminals who know their place do much the same. It’s mainly the players, or those with delusions of grandeur, who act differently. The computron will be feeding your terminal Councilmech Arkoss’ barrow and you’re to be on the look out for these especially innocent broadcast. Since Ravage is here I’ll let him take Septimus Duon’s district so Powertech can help me flag anything to or from genuinely unusual sources.”

    Magnus smiled: “So, if I’m flagging all the innocent–”

    “Don’t get cute!” Blackfire growled, “When you find any like that you usually don’t need to consider the encryption signature at all. Ordinary citizens have an erroneous idea of what we do here and we try to keep it that way. Properly encoded, real time transmissions will produce gibberish that only makes sense if you use the right cypher; however, the limitation is that you can’t encode a conversation formally as you could if you were sending a written document or a recording – so the gibberish will still have the flow of people talking. That’s really what we want and what we’re gathering data on.”

    “Gibberish?”

    “Gibberish with an intact grammatical structure and even a sense of the emotional value for what’s being said. These form the patterns we’re looking for.”

    “Why not just decide in advance what you’re going to say and then send that?”

    “Causes data burst we call ‘chop’ and chop looks suspicious. Remember, we aren’t really interested in what’s being said at all or even who is specifically saying it. The very premise of this method is that the folks we’re interested in won’t be saying anything more profound than ‘Hello.’ or ‘How have you been?’ anyway....

    “Now, I said that you generally don’t need to consider the encryption signature, but there are some ways in which people can mess up that you should be aware of: smugglers will sometimes use Seeker or alien inspired encoding schemes; rebels sometimes mess up by favoring Combaticon style encryption; while ordinary criminals, or at least the delusional ones, will often try to be creative providing them with a range of encryption from astonishingly good to astonishingly bad. You’ll have special flags for.... What?”

    Magnus had raised a finger to get Blackfire’s attention.

    Decepticons?”

    Blackfire shook his head: “If they’re out there we’ll never know it.”

    “Too good at what they do?”

    “Too boring to worry about.”

    “So, what I’m looking for, in essence, are either the clueless or the just-boots. Or those that want to seem like they are. I’m sorry, but I just don’t see how this can work. Granted, Powertech says that statistics can be used imaginatively; but, how do you get anything useful just by listening in like this? Don’t you need a large sample for statistical methods of any kind to work? Or is Polyhex really that bad?”

    “Polyhex is just another city. Actually, it may be even nicer that Iacon in certain respects.”

    Magnus sighed rather than vocalize his confusion.

    On the other side of Cybertron he noticed Sapphira nodding thoughtfully, as if this was making sense to her.

    He looked back up at Blackfire: “So here’s a fair question: if part of this whole game is them knowing we’re looking then why not stop transmitting entirely?”

    “Like I said, command and control in real time. Every organized group has to maintain a certain level of awareness of what their partisans are doing. The problem for them then becomes maintaining decentralization so no one officer or bigbot gets too many calls. Where we have them is that we already understand the parameters of how any given sized group will respond so we can often spot their comm hubs by the pattern of their communications if we look over a wide enough area for a long enough time.”

    Magnus forced himself not to cringe or whine: “How long are we going to be here?”

    “Exactly three cycles from when we arrived no matter when we got our warrant.”

    “Hardly seems like a long time.” he said with audible relief.

    “It isn’t. But Magnus, this office is frequented by Decepticon teams at irregular intervals and has been for a long time now. We aren’t here to gather the data, only some data. There’s a big difference.”

    “He means it, Magnus.” Sapphira said thoughtfully, “I’d heard that Decepticons exhibited patience in an investigation, but this is beyond sane.”

    “So there is a lot of data?” he took a hint from Sapphira, “If you already know–”

    “That isn’t for us to decide.” Blackfire said matter of factly, releasing Magnus from his grip.

    Leaving him to wonder who was deciding what? He’d been about to ask who decided when enough data was enough.

    “So who does decide?”

    Blackfire laughed.

    Even without Sapphira adding: “It’s bad enough to have to do it, but to have to watch someone else do it?” Magnus wasn’t happy with the way things were developing.

    “So am I going to hear the same explanation once the others get back?”

    “Not likely. Powertech wouldn’t need it. Thrasher, Hammer and Ravage don’t rate it. I’ll just tell them what to do and that will be enough.”

    Blackfire walked away.

    “Sapphira, you’ve done this kind of thing before, right?”

    “Once, in orbit of a world I hope to never return to. It was different then. For one thing, they didn’t know we were there.”

    “How does it really work?”

    “Population dynamics or psychometrics?” she looked his way, “Magnus, it would be a bit easier if Nine had managed to get you all the way through sociology. Maybe we can help you?”

    “He has to do this on his own.” Powertech said directly.

    “Sir? Sapphira?”

    She didn’t respond right away ... finally commented about the view through Buzzsaw’s optics.

    Looked like he’d be on his own.

    He spent nearly a microcycle looking at the view of the city. Then the others returned with a few small boxes between them.

    “Any chance we could find replacements?” Thrasher joked.

    “Not a bit, Sir. Choose your weapons and we’ll get started.”

    Blackfire began a detailed description of what they were doing that lacked extra information on why it was done this way or whose barrows they would be spying on. In essence, every transmission would be viewed in real time like it was one of Alpha Trion’s surrealistic sculptures – something Blackfire may have included for Thrasher’s benefit. In addition to the undesciphered audio there would be a colormetric historiograph of the transmission that would show different aspects of inferred information. Color in the main plot varied depending on “emotional intensity” with dark purple being the calmest level for same. Waveform Z-Y would indicate the inferred grammatical part of speech based on a psychometric model of the local idiom. “Absolute subject” was positive and “absolute action” was negative. The waveform represented in the X-Y plane was recursive and provided the probability, or “goodness,” of that inference based on the progress of the conversation thus far.

    This last got a comment, or rather a groan, from Powertech: “Ehhha-if-you-say-so.”

    Blackfire ignored Powertech and went on to explain that what they were looking for was the equivalent of a bored conversation with high goodness at the end. Both grammar and goodness were displayed in a hybrid waveform rotated between 18º and 72º towards the viewer around the Y axis. This key scatter plot provided something Blackfire called “conformity.” The three demarkation points in conformity were: 33º – below which the conversation was not conforming to any set pattern and was considered “casual chatting”; 59º – above which the conversation was deemed unusually regular; and 68º – above which the conversation was considered staged as if an oration by actors.

    Last of all was an encryption scatter plot that was not tied to the progress of the transmission but was kept in the moment instead.

    “Granted, we may not know exactly what kind of encryption protocols they are using; but, the scatter plot will yield its own kind of conformity and you will see the computron struggle to assess the flavor of encryption.”

    “So which technique is extra sweet?” Ravage piped up.

    “No, taste isn’t used for this. Yet. When you link into your system you’ll see a number of modal analysis plots for encryption. If what you’re looking at resembles any of these by the end of transmission, flag the ones that seem to be the best match.”

    “It seems like the very last moment of any transmission tells us all we need to know.” Hammer observed.

    “Exactly. Of all the graphs, conformity at the end is the most important and when any transmission ends it will be on view so long as there’s room in your buffer. Even though I know you will, try not to loose anything to buffer overflow without at least looking at it. That said, if possible it might pay dividends to notice the progression of the grammatical idiom as it proceeds. If the level of absolute subject to absolute action is dropping fast you may just as well delete the projection plot rather than waste your time on some Polyhexi reciting his bad poetry as so much political protest.”

    “Sometimes they’re singing.” Powertech provided, “And not all local poetry is bad.”

    “Most of the folks we’re interested in are either too literal or too serious to engage in a simile fest.”

    Magnus finally deactivated Tracer’s shell before Blackfire had them sync in and started feeding them a few comm signals at a time, displayed in a simple 8-square matrix.

    Of his signals only one conversation had just started. Another bounced back and forth between purple and yellow, so someone might have been calling in late to work or some such. That one had already been going on for over three microcycles.

    “Do you think he’s reading him the Rents Riot Act?” he asked Sapphira.

    “That’s reading a bit much into it.” she smirked.

    Magnus closed his real eyes, both sets, to help him concentrate on what his virtual ones were seeing. After a few more microcycles at that leisurely pace, a nice little text message from Blackfire scrolled into view: “We begin for real in 5, 4, 3, 2, now.”

    The fun little 8-square matrix was replaced by a 208-square matrix with a text window on the side showing the buffer status for Arkoss’ district.

    “Frag me, slag me!” Magnus silently cursed.
     
  13. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 12: Caller ID


    He was looking at a wall three quarters full of squiggly color and it took him a moment to remember that he had to consider each node on its own rather than just look at the whole mess.

    As he assigned resources to the task, he realized how premature he’d been to say that the personal comm traffic would be manageable. Why do this with so few people?

    “Pretty much the Polyhex I remember!” Ravage chimed.

    “Sapphira? About what Ravage said?”

    “I think he means that everyone’s a transmitter. It’s an old stereotype.” she reassured.

    Origin PX155972A, plain progression skip roots 3+4+11 encoded, grids 15 – 155 by 178; to PX980733B, mirror emphasize least square encoded, grids 16 – 3 by 901 confirmed.

    It had to be one of his subprocessors, but Magnus wasn’t sure which one. Whichever it was it was a persistent little fellow and seemed to want to ramble on as if the information actually meant something. It quickly made a similar pronouncement for each active node.

    Soon three quarters full became full and the buffer began to pile up too.

    Magnus pushed the annoying subprocessor out of his thoughts and started scanning transmissions as fast as he could.

    “So far so good.” he heard Powertech rasp.

    “Says you!” he accused even as he remained focused on the task at hand.

    Trying to look only at the final state of conformity, he managed to go nearly five microcycles before he lost his first transmission unconsidered. All the while he was doing his best to ignore the persistent buzz from ‘grids to grids the annoying’ – as he now called that subprocessor.

    Since he’d finally lost a transmission he paused to consider exactly which of his subprocessors he was dealing with? It wasn’t exactly like the others. They all sounded like lifeless versions of himself, but this one seemed like the difference between Shockwave and Striker somehow. As if that made sense!

    “Maybe it’s the base’s computron?” he silently hoped.

    Maybe not.” the subprocessor shot back.

    “Powertech? Can you hear that subprocessor too?” he asked his builder in hopes they could shut it up.

    “Are you still having problems with that?” the elder mech seemed surprised.

    Magnus opened his eyes to find both Powertech and Sapphira intent on their monitors with From Me looking on.

    “It’s talking to me.” he complained even as he lost another transmission.

    “What’s it saying?”

    Magnus offered them a current sample slowed down from real time. Powertech and Sapphira exchanged glances.

    “How is that possible?!” she demanded.

    “Magnus, though it’s certainly out of date, I’ve got a city plan for Polyhex I’ll feed you. I want you to overlay it on the image Buzzsaw is sending and let this chatty subprocessor plot each node.”

    “Why?”

    “If you use it more it’ll help us figure out what is going on.”

    “We must have missed one earlier.” Sapphira seemed apologetic.

    With his mind reeling from the implications that they’d “missed one,” Magnus opened the 210’s eyes even as he downloaded the city plan. In a far eastern part of the city a whole slew of plots connecting speakers began to appear. A good number of them only had one end in his area, or even the city proper.

    “Check me on this,” Sapphira prodded, “but neither Blackfire nor his judge knows about Magnus’ enhanced capabilities?”

    “It’s too late to consider the legal ramifications.” Powertech seemed testy, “Magnus, are you sure you’ve never encountered this particular subprocessor before?”

    “First time.”

    Untrue.” it corrected.

    Magnus grimaced even as the plots became a blur of golden lines that he was somehow able to keep separate.

    It was almost seven microcycles before the first node in his matrix went dark.

    He blinked in astonishment and quickly racked up 1% full in the buffer.

    “I’ve emptied the buffer?!” he wondered out loud.

    “Did he say that there too?” Sapphira puzzled.

    She needn’t have asked, as Magnus was soon aware of Blackfire standing over him.

    “Bossbot?” he said without turning.

    “You emptied the buffer? Are you a comm specialist like Soundwave?” he impatiently demanded.

    “Well....”

    “Oil slicks on polished pavement!” Blackfire roared, “Powertech, take over for me. I’ve got to talk to Commander Oculon right now! I’ll use the van’s secure comm.”

    “Blackfire?”

    But he was already storming out of the office.

    “Hey Magnus, you can have some of my buffer if you want it?” Hammer laughed, “I mean, it’s not like I’m doing anything with it!”

    “Very funny!” he grumbled.

    “Actually,” the elder Powertech interrupted, “that might be a good idea. See if Powertech can arrange it.”

    “Say, Powertech, Powertech wants–”

    “Sure, why not? Whatever he wants!” he grumbled, “I mean, what’s one more powertech in prison?”

    “He’s not–”

    “It ... is ... not ... much ... different!” his friend corrected.

    “It’s not that bad.” the elder suggested, “Respectable neighborhood, low rents and no wild parties that I’m not invited to.”

    “Very droll.” Sapphira groaned.

    “It’s an old joke Primus left me.”

    “Still very droll.”

    Magnus listened to From Me laugh and for just a moment he saw the grim humor in his situation too.

    But then his Powertech went and ruined it all by turning his tidy 208-square matrix into an insane 312-square one.

    “Powertech?!”

    “Sorry, it’s the next larger setting.” the younger Powertech apologized, “If it means anything to you, I’m not feeding you that much more than before.”

    True, his display was holding more or less steady at ‘only’ 52,000 transmissions.

    “So I’m a comm specialist?” he smiled broadly, “Ice cold!”

    “I taste special-ops!” Hammer sounded more upbeat than anytime since their small team had been heading into Quevald’s capital city on its own.

    Though Thrasher didn’t say anything it wasn’t hard to imagine that he was smiling too.

    “Is that really all my brother thinks a comm specialist can handle?” Powertech sounded disappointed.

    True enough, Magnus found that he was able to keep up with the data now that he knew he could. Even if he was being driven to distraction by the seemingly endless pronouncements from that subprocessor.

    “Why is he not using as much bandwidth as I would expect?” Sapphira asked.

    “Looking into that now.” Powertech emoted gleefully, “Magnus, ask my brother to increase your feed rate.”

    “I don’t suppose you could shut this thing up first?”

    “In time. Ask him.”

    He sighed and relayed the message to his Powertech. In response some of Thrasher’s buffer found its way to Magnus’ matrix too.

    “Thanks, bossbot!” Thrasher seemed doubly pleased.

    “Sure, don’t mention it.” Magnus tried to sound casual, “Sapphira, about the bandwidth thing?”

    “GARs were eventually set up to keep actual information processing in their own core rather than require the host mechanism to manage all its functions, to be an expression of the host rather than be the host; but, the prototype worked on the opposite principal because of the fear of spark segmentation.”

    Magnus didn’t mind letting his matrix fill up a bit as he considered what she’d said, since it really didn’t match up to his own experience.

    “But my subprocessors were off line till I woke up back in Kaon? Ummm ... here.”

    Sapphira barely stifled a laugh: “Your confusion is understandable. After all, you’ve been that 210 your whole little physical life.”

    “But what was I using to think?”

    “With you off line here you were operating on your native intelligence. It’s not a phenomenon that’s been much studied.” she shrugged, “Without a system like this the few who’ve tried have simply lacked the right tools.”

    “Magnus, have Powertech send you more data. We need to hurry while Blackfire is still away.”

    “Sir?”

    “Sapphira, you’re concerned about the wrong research! Right now we have tools that I’ve never had before.”

    Sure, the voice was cracking and grinding, but Powertech hardly seemed ancient right now. He even looked like he was supporting his own weight rather than rely on his support gantry.

    Sapphira turned to Powertech and asked if he was sure. He said he was. Magnus relayed the request and the sheer volume of transmissions in his matrix jumped by half.

    To thank Powertech and Sapphira properly he tried to recite some of the ramblings of his chatty subprocessor, though in real time it sounded like so much static.

    They are doing their best.From Me said sternly.

    Granted ... but with over 90 thousand active nodes to consider he found that he just couldn’t get data to his resources fast enough and for the first time he could feel how his chatty subprocessor was monopolizing bandwidth ... as though its pronouncements and plots were what really mattered. Also, for the very first time the 210 didn’t feel like it was immediately present.

    “I think we’re at the GAR’s limits.” he said to Powertech.

    “Good! Ask Powertech for 10% more if he has it.”

    Magnus complied, but the request was actually delayed by a nanocycle from when the words formed in his mind. An odd sort of echo.

    The added data immediately put him deep into his buffer and made the already apparent, if previously subtle, limitations on bandwidth blatantly so. In response, that subprocessor actually grabbed even more bandwidth and Magnus lost all senses but vision from the 210.

    “I can’t hear them anymore!” he complained.

    “Just a little while longer now.”

    “Don’t you know which one it is yet? There can’t be too many subprocessors able to monopolize resources like this!”

    “Describe what its doing?” Sapphira asked even as she seemed intent on her screens.

    “You mean you can’t tell?” Magnus complained before he complied.

    There was a momentary drop in available bandwidth.

    “Magnus,” Powertech began, “I’ve asked Powertech for 10% more so you should get ready.”

    Why were they doing this to him?

    When the data hit it felt kinda like the assassin’s shell tearing into his shoulder. For some reason, at that very moment, Magnus realized that he’d never learned the assassin’s name. Everything ground to a halt even as he was flooded with a torrent of data. That subprocessor was still running through nodes one by one and spending way too much time on each. Or at least that was the way it seemed. But he couldn’t shut it up any more than he could block it out.

    He desperately wanted to shut it up or block it out!

    “Help?” he begged his friends in Kaon.

    “Relax.” Powertech advised, “It’s just temporal dissonance from the bandwidth limits of the GAR coming into play. Would you feel better if I added some external buffer to your subsystems?”

    It may have been a question but he didn’t wait for a response. He did something that caused Magnus to feel numb everywhere but where he wanted to be numb.

    “I’ve also made an allowance using the GAR’s Alpha-style receiver set, so you’ll be able to better interact in Polyhex.” Powertech rasped.

    True enough, he could hear them again. He thought he heard Blackfire say something to Powertech. He looked around.

    “Magnus?”

    “What Powertech?”

    “I didn’t say anything.” his young friend said across the room – his mouth moving before there was sound.

    “Not you, Powertech.”

    “Still the wrong powertech.” a rasping voice laughed.

    “Frag!” he silently swore as he turned back towards the city view, “Why can’t I keep this straight?”

    “I think that’s just about got it.” someone said.

    “Well, I know who I don’t want to gamble against!” a laughing voice.

    Possibly Hammer’s.

    Somewhere, someone said something about a limit. Magnus wasn’t sure when or where. He really needed to talk with A-3 about the difference between learning and programming! What brought that on? In response one of his subprocessors, the philosopher, began reciting The Philosophy very, very slowly.

    “Yank the slagging thing out!” he hoped the right Powertech got the message.

    He could live without the philosopher!

    Instead, his vision of Polyhex from above disappeared in a moment even if it was somehow still there. He blinked and looked about in a daze. A larger hand was holding his. Or the 210’s.

    “Mmm, aamm, Blackfire?”

    “You said You yank said it yank out? it out?”

    A strange echo, hearing twice with the same ears.

    Magnus nodded. Managed to get the philosopher to deal with the echo rather than recite philosophy. Its hum was different somehow.

    “Are you having a problem? Why are you transceiving information?” the Combaticon demanded.

    “It ... it’s really–”

    “Oh, THIS should be good!” Blackfire had a wicked grin.

    Magnus found no humor in his situation. And there was still reverberation in what he was hearing.

    “I’m waiting?” Blackfire crossed his arms impatiently.

    “I think we broke something!” Sapphira was heard to say.

    “‘Broke?’” Magnus whined even as he screwed up courage to confront his boss.

    You did good!From Me said even as someone patted him loudly on a hand.

    At least she sounded normal.

    In the moment he was distracted by From Me, the younger Powertech interposed himself between the 210 and Blackfire and seemed to be taking charge. Or maybe he was offering an excuse? It was hard to tell.

    “Sapphira?”

    “Magnus, you need to go off-line in Polyhex.” it was Powertech who responded, “Just tell Blackfire that it can’t be helped.”

    “What’s wrong?”

    “That’s what I was asking about?” Blackfire demanded.

    He was still pleasant even if less so than before.

    Magnus forced himself to think about looking straight at Blackfire, which worked.

    “I seem to be broke. Don’t panic. I’ll be back. I promise.”

    It felt like a plug had been pulled.

    He really resisted the urge to sit up.

    “You don’t suppose he’ll think I just died?” Magnus asked the silent room.

    “A reasonable inference considering what just happened.” Powertech admitted, “We’ll take care of it.”

    “What’s happening back there?”

    “Magnus?!” Blackfire’s voice rang loud and true.

    Apparently the 210’s transceiver was still working through the lab’s ground line.

    “Without you to drive it the GAR provides a drone like core. A bit simple even for a drone, but a drone nonetheless.”

    “Help me set him down!”

    “What happened to his face?” Powertech the younger sounded curious and not at all worried.

    Magnus rolled his head to see the others. Though Powertech lacked a face he could swear that the ancient mech looked concerned.

    “What did you break?”

    He considered if he should tell them that Blackfire was in a state of panic?

    “Nothing much. Now hold still while Sapphira administers a general anesthesia subroutine to your systems.”

    He didn’t even have time to blink much less question the comment.
     
  14. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 13: Philosophy


    “It was the comm header and footer! That’s what it was going on about!” Magnus crowed as soon as his eyes opened.

    He tried to move but was held motionless.

    “Wish I could say,” Powertech said with just a hint of sadness, “that Magnus was the first who had to be restrained.”

    “Magnus,” Sapphira was hovering overhead, “you’ll be fine. There was some feedback into your systems and something that we’d missed earlier.”

    He felt drunk. Hard to think straight.

    “You said something about that before?”

    “Blame conventional thinking: we missed several somethings.” Powertech sounded embarrassed.

    Odd, even though he couldn’t turn his head he swore that the ancient mech’s support gantry was– Where was Powertech? He wasn’t hanging from his gantry!

    From Me, please hand me the number seven force spanner?”

    Yes.

    Sapphira seemed to be peering at his chest.

    “Sapphira?”

    “Just contemplating what having bigger hands will mean for me as a surgeon.” she smiled, “Powertech, maybe we could build in a standard array of tools on precision extension arms?”

    “Not a bad idea, apprentice. Would you help hold this magnashield in place? I think this should just about do it.”

    Sapphira reached well into what Magnus knew had to be his chest.

    Then he noticed it: the green glow reflecting off of all the brightly polished lab equipment.

    “Last time they strapped me into my hutch on Seeker.” he moaned even as awareness of his situation crept in.

    “Seems like it was just the other cycle.” Sapphira laughed.

    “It practically WAS.” Powertech corrected.

    “Hey, it was almost a lifetime ago for me.”

    As his mind cleared, he passively counted off 31 microcycles while they worked on him. Very little was said. Mostly Powertech asking for this or that tool.

    “Sapphira? I thought you said general anesthesia subroutines were a bad thing?”

    “Not always.” she confessed even as she appeared to be digging around inside him.

    “I take it I’m under a targeted subroutine just now?”

    No answer.

    “Right, dumb question.”

    “No, not at all. We’ve just got your core systems in our hands. That’s all.”

    “Maybe it would be better for him if he were still unconscious?”

    “I’m his doctor.” she asserted, “Magnus, are you hearing any of your subprocessors act up?”

    He thought about that.... Sure, he felt out of it, but there were no other voices. Though they were all there. Even that new one that claimed that it wasn’t new.

    “None.”

    Sapphira nodded: “Good. How do you feel?”

    “My operational status–”

    “No, that’s not what I asked. I asked: how do you feel?”

    “Still a bit drunk.... Quiet, but in a good way.”

    “Are you still aware of your subprocessors as distinct entities?”

    “Ummm ... I’m not sure about the difference. They’re quiet. Is that what you mean?”

    She shook her head: “Magnus, when we first met you’d been drunk for real but except for your sleeper you were fully integrated. You had not yet been aware that your subprocessors could act up much less that they could act independently. What I’m wanting to know is if you feel like that again despite the fact that you’ve now become aware of them as if they really were something other than just a part of yourself?”

    “I guess. I think.... Are you asking me if I can unlearn how they’ve been?”

    “I must say,” Powertech sounded upbeat, “this really does provide an opportunity for some amazing insights!”

    “Scientists!” Sapphira tisked even as From Me laughed.

    Magnus closed his eyes and sucked in air. It seemed like she was asking a lot from him.

    “Nice breeze.” Powertech rasped, “Haven’t felt one that strong in a while.”

    “I do that every so often. No idea why.” Magnus observed even as he figured out where Powertech must be inside of him.

    “I don’t think anyone knows why.” Sapphira said as she slowly shifted around while seeming to take pains to keep whatever it was she was holding motionless, “Even those with massively damaged faces still report the sensation. Now about your–”

    “The feeling goes away.” Powertech interrupted.

    I have never done that.

    “Interesting.” Powertech mulled, “Do any of your people?”

    The Old Ones do.

    “But not What Are You? Fascinating! I regret that I never got to see your world for myself. Primus did show me holopics.” Powertech sighed, “Magnus, we’re going to run some system checks beginning at the fourth bus bar and I want you to tell me what your own systems are telling you. Without elaboration, if you please.”

    “Sure. Just a few system checks?”

    “Give me the energy differential for booster one on bus bar four.”

    He complied.

    “The primary lightswitch for booster one?”

    Magnus winced before he complied ... they were gonna do this subcomponent by subcomponent!

    Three whole cycles crept by as they worked through just over fifty thousand components ... one by one.

    “Do I get extra credit for basic medicine?” he asked as Powertech’s support gantry lifted him out of his chest – the green glow disappearing as his inner shell closed.

    “You aren’t a doctor yet.” Sapphira pointed out as she came over from her terminal.

    “I was only ... asking....”

    Now the sounds of a cyberball match were heard coming from his chest area and everyone seemed to be paying attention to the source.

    “Did you install a vid screen in me?” Magnus had never gotten around to asking about that earlier.

    “If you’re going to be in the habit of locking people up inside your chest it seemed the considerate thing to do.” Powertech admonished, “Besides, we need to let your systems recuperate before we do anything more to you, so we might as well adjust this thing’s acoustics.”

    He listened as the announcer gave the play by play. It was a local match up rather than the All-Iacon Championship. The strange thing was that the sound kept exhibiting odd harmonics. Probably why they were working on it.

    “I don’t suppose I can watch too?”

    Sapphira seemed to shake her head in response.

    “Powertech, I thought that you had problems with transmissions?”

    “Ground line.” the ancient mech provided, “I will adopt Rightway’s antenna into your new head for reception elsewhere. My aesthetics will be better though.”

    “Can I watch too?”

    “Why would you want to access an entertainment system that you’d have to risk your life to watch?” Powertech asked, obviously referring to the fact that he’d have to open his armored chest to pull out the vid screen.

    “Why,” Magnus silently fussed, “would I want a vid screen that I can’t even watch? Sorry, entertainment system!”

    Interesting selection of games.From Me observed about half a microcycle later.

    Magnus cringed.

    “I lost interest in games a long time ago, so these are all I have.”

    He couldn’t decide which was really worse: scrubbing Seeker pontifications; playing like he was a thing in Vilnacron; being overwhelmed by comm signals in Polyhex; or, and here was the kicker, learning about all the neat features of an entertainment system he couldn’t even access?

    Sure, he could tell that it was drawing power through an aux port, but besides that or hearing the audio it all seemed so out of reach.

    “This is Powertech’s revenge for me giving From Me a ride at all!” he silently fumed.

    Three cycles.... Magnus just couldn’t get around the fact that he’d just spent 3.012 whole cycles running through a verbal check list!

    Then he thought it funny that the ordeal hadn’t even made his top four of bad and annoying things.

    “Come to think of it,” he mused as he listened to them fuss over the audio, “waking up taped into my hutch was more annoying.... So this wasn’t even in the top five.”

    And yet here it was, or had been: fifty thousand tiny moments of his life that he could remember in exacting detail ... but to do so he’d have to waste another fifty thousand tiny bits of his life.

    The futility of it all! A realization that caused him to laugh ever so slightly.

    “Well, we know who Magnus is rooting for.” Sapphira said.

    “Of course!” Powertech jabbed, “He is a Combaticon after all.”

    Magnus knew he’d missed whatever it was that he was supposed to be cheering for.

    Still, here were three miserable cycles in his life that could be summed up in a single line or in tens of thousands. Take your pick.

    He wondered if he were writing his own stories about his own characters: how would he represent all those meaningless moments? It was one thing to provide a reader with detail, action or conversation but another to fill in–

    Really, Primus hadn’t been that thorough. No where near it. What he’d provided was only a sense of all the meaningless clutter, the boredom of the ever present mundane. Looking back on what he’d already read, it sure seemed like a neat trick: to distill events down so that no one actually had to live the life they were reading about.

    Magnus considered the last few cycles: thousands of moments so much like the rest that they could be left unattended and a reader – “As if!” Magnus silently laughed – could probably get by with something like: “Component by component, what could have been performed in moments had Powertech–” no, wait, there are two powertechs, “had the elder Powertech not wanted to ...”

    What was it that Powertech had wanted? Why put him through all of this?

    Poor Lastus. Magnus felt that he’d been used poorly thus far. The old Combaticon was just doing his job and he gets hit with a tragedy like Malitos. He could almost imagine what a real Lastus would think if he could confront his own Primus, his anger that he was nothing more than a part of someone else’s fiction.

    “A-3, old soldier, what would you make of all this nonsense?” he pondered a conversation that might never take place.

    How could you not be just another stumble-along unit if all your life was, was someone else’s artifice?

    Was this futility why Alpha Trion had abandoned writing his history? Considered it so much madness? Here were just three cycles in one life that could be summed up in a single line or in tens of thousands. Take your pick.

    “But then again,” Magnus continued, “would even Polyhex have meaning to how I’ll finally live my life? Is that what it takes to be an historian? To know which of the innumerable little details can be safely left unattended?”

    He had to admit that he really hadn’t had that much life as Lastus at all. Not like he’d imagined earlier. Rather, what he had was the illusion of Lastus, one sustained by also being lived in the moment.

    He was living the attended to details.

    From that perspective he could see why reading something in the right order might be important. All but a few of the books, all the ones before The Case of the Impounded Megaboosters, all those somehow leading up to the point where Lastus remembered that he’d been doing office work at the very moment a world had died. But was that what Primus had intended all along or merely an illusion because his reader had started in the wrong place?

    “Powertech, what’s history?” Magnus thought to ask someone who’d lived it.

    “The first Separatist collection. Why? Do you want to hear it?”

    “No, sir. I didn’t mean– No, I meant: what is history? The sort of thing that’s of interest to an historian?”

    Just about then someone eliminated the last point against their team and won the game. Magnus could hear the stands going wild as their cheers echoed throughout the lab.

    “History?” Powertech rasped, “History is the full record of everything that has ever transpired. It’s a perfect smelting pool of meaning and significance that will reduce the greatest who have ever lived, the least too, to a shadow of memory that even they won’t remember.... Assuming they ever get to come back.... Or ever leave.”

    “I prefer History.” Sapphira observed.

    Powertech laughed: “No doubt about that! Imagine the audacity of insisting that there is a beginning or even an end to be attended to? Only musicians could get away with it!”

    “And Oculon and Alpha Trion?”

    Powertech’s groaning laughter trailed off: “Are they still collaborating?”

    “Do we HAVE to talk about Oculon?” Sapphira managed to not whine.

    My people remember the beginning.

    “You mean that Quevald has good records?” Powertech asked after a long moment.

    No!” her real laughter was like chimes and pipes that maybe only Magnus could hear, “People among my people remember the beginning.... Cheee'rik'saa and Cheee'whaa'ri. I miss them. I hope they are still functioning properly.

    “You ... you haven’t been gone long.” Powertech reassured, “I’m sure they’re fine.”

    They are the last of the first ones.

    “I’m sorry to have brought it up.” Magnus offered, sensing From Me’s worry.

    “No!” Powertech’s voice found a measure of stridency, “No way you’re going to prove yourself interesting and then drone up like a just-boot!”

    “If you say so, Sir. As for Oculon, I think he’s working alone these cycles. Buzzer said that A-3 had given up on history.”

    “Well, what do you expect? The Trions were provided for with Philosophy. His obsession with history never really made sense to me.”

    “And that made absolutely no sense to –me–.” Sapphira expressed Magnus’ own thoughts.

    Philosophy ... the last collection before Soundwave died.”

    That Sapphira didn’t respond probably meant that she’d got her answer. She walked away.

    “By ‘Soundwave’ you don’t mean my brother, right?” Magnus whispered, wanting to learn more from Powertech directly.

    “Soundwave’s namesake.”

    Magnus wanted to nod but the restraints wouldn’t let him.

    “Any chance I’ll be able to move soon?”

    “Say, why don’t I get my musicrystals and let you two have something to consider besides slots A or tabs B?”

    That would be grand fun!From Me laughed where everyone could hear her.

    From Me, will you come with me in case I think I need anything else from the east end of the lab?”

    Yes, dear Elder.

    Magnus closed his eyes and listened to the post game show ... this could take a while. As he did, he marveled at how energized Powertech seemed: he wasn’t exactly ambulatory, but this wasn’t the first time that he’d volunteered to go well out of his way for his new companions. It reminded him of what Artemus had said: “The little guy gets lonely.”

    He had to admit that he didn’t mind being alone, but then again he’d not been alone much since after the crèche. Even floating in space there had been others for him to be concerned about.

    By the time Powertech got back with a heavily burdened From Me, Magnus had quietly mulled over the potential significance that Alpha Trion, who had apparently been a beneficiary of a Separatist’s collection called Philosophy, had himself been one to write a lengthy philosophy. Could the book be the source of his wealth or was it their provision?

    History, Philosophy and Datablank IX ... no, not “Datablank IX” but probably just Datablank – each a collection. Separatist had been around for a long time after one fashion or another. Odd that he’d seen no files on them in all that time that files were his only world. How many collections were there? For that matter, how do you indicate meaning in music?

    “Pathetic!” he silently whined, “A comm specialist who knows absolutely nothing about music! That’s something I’ve got to attend to.”

    Maybe that’s why just-boots were “clueless” ... they had so much just for being alive that they had no idea how much they didn’t know. Or didn’t know for themselves. At any rate, it was something to ponder while Powertech and From Me set up some equipment.

    “So ... any chance I’ll be able to move soon?”

    “Not yet. Sorry.”

    “Has anyone talked to my Powertech?”

    “We relayed a message through the GAR system while you were unconscious.”

    “Just so long as they know I’m not dead.”

    They were worried.

    “I seem to do that to people.”

    You need to be more careful in the future. Some of the people who will worry about you the most do not have sturdy constitutions. You know who I mean.

    It was a rebuke and one that Magnus was sure From Me had intended only for his ears.

    “Say, Powertech, if you’re working on the basis that I’m going to be giving folks rides, why not make provision for yourself too? That way you could actually go to Quevald.”

    “I ... I’ll take that under advisement.”

    Nicely done.

    “Anyway, here it is: History, all twelve parts.” he held up a musicrystal, “I didn’t hear about Separatist until after the revolution. Artemus was the one who figured it out. I was ... a bit insecure about my sheltered past back then. I think you’ll find the exposition they give is fairly straight forward.”

    “Exposition?”

    “All Separatist collections began as live performances. The best recordings retain their exposition, though I’m told that many no longer bother with them. The band publicly maintains that its most recent series, Datablank, protest this trend. But that explanation seems a bit weak to me.”

    “You think it’s about all this redaction?”

    “So you noticed that? Could be. It would be something, though, to imagine that even Separatist was afraid of what the High Council might think. Of course, that assumes the worst about them. Frankly, I just can’t imagine it of any of the councilors and I base that on personal knowledge of them.

    “I’m sure those at the top are beyond reproach.” Magnus offered, remembering what Destron had said.

    “An interesting way to parse that.”

    He inserted the musicrystal into some of the newly set up equipment before backing away.

    In response, from what Magnus could see, the device seemed to come apart or transform from a simple column into a foil mesh globe that glowed with a golden intensity which soon gave way to an image of a darkened room, a stage, and just four old-style Autobots with instruments.

    “I’m leaving the audience on for this first time.”

    “I really can’t see what’s going on.”

    “I can’t let you out of restraint just yet, Magnus.”

    “You can’t blame me for trying.... Again.”

    Out of the corner of an eye he could see Powertech shake his head. The old mech activated the recording with the tethered remote as he backed even further away. Almost as if the devise was of the sort that Powertech had to be careful about.

    One of the Autobots began by introducing his companions: Milla, a femme; Soundwave, a fellow member of the Polyhex Academy of Expression; and Delta Omicron, an ethicist rather than a musician. This Harmonicron went on to introduce their audio-instrumental quartet as Separatist. Then they began to play and sing.

    Magnus gasped in disbelief: elevator music?!

    The original audience reacted much the same way: nonplussed. The murmur that swept through them was audible despite the noise coming from the stage.

    In all the time that he’d been calling it elevator music and thinking it bad, he never imagined that other people actually liked it. Or at least he’d not imagined that many people actually liked it. And History wasn’t even especially good elevator music. Each piece was unusually brief. Built from a moment of exuberance through a crescendo of poorly related details that then ended, abruptly at times or simply fading out at others.

    People started getting up to leave early on; but, the band kept playing. After a short while the room seemed to be half empty. That was when the band stopped playing and Harmonicron stepped forward and began to explain it all.

    He started by telling them that there was a reason why their music was so dense and unsymbolic and that it had something to do with an orderly progression from the euphoria of the beginning to the uncertainty of an end. What mattered was how you attended to the details in between and how these led from something to something else.

    Magnus recognized this as “history” in a new sense to him. Previously he’d only understood history as attending to the details of the past. Now he thought to consider that the future, though unknown, also carried an implicit promise of an ending to be concerned about. A strange notion that was somehow manageable.

    The band members proceeded to explain this new theory of music, and not history in that sense, between songs. Sometimes speaking about what had been played and sometimes about what was yet to be heard. As they did so, the audience began to swell again and there was no more murmuring. Everyone was hanging on their every word or note. It was only near the end of that first set that they introduced the term “history” to describe their music, and on this Delta Omicron was especially eloquent when he said: “Never really beginning: sometimes seeming like it will never end: music has been an exercise in pointless recursion and symbolic perfection. Let there be a beginning. Let their be an end.”

    “All this from a word they’d dredged out of a lexicon?” He asked Powertech after the recording had stopped.

    “Hardly. The word was actually found to describe the music. Though I can see how you might get that notion considering the company you’ve been keeping.”

    Magnus wanted to nod –again– so he contorted his face to approximate one instead.

    “Want to talk about it?” Powertech seemed hopeful.

    “I wonder what Soundwave thinks about his namesake?”

    “He hasn’t told you himself? I guess he’s finally learning discretion.”

    Magnus bit his lip to hold back what he really wanted to say: “‘Discretion?’”

    “Yes, ‘If I’m a comm specialist then I will communicate!’ he once told me ... not long before he lost his face on some fool mission.... People have been after him to be more discrete for ages. I don’t know why anyone tells him anything ... but they still do, even as they come to him for all the good gossip.”

    “Not just his brothers?”

    “No, Allspark, no! If only it was just you boys. But if he’s finally learned his lesson it’s for the best.”

    “Yes, ‘for the best.’” Magnus smiled, “But in one sense, ‘history’ must be accurate with respect to actual history.”

    “Oh, how so?”

    From Me, what do you think of this?

    Think? I have lived it. The overlords, the bad overlords, would remind us whenever a first one went off line. ‘You’re running out of time.’ one would say at those times. They always made it clear that we lived only so long as they lived.

    From Me....”

    You freed me, Magnus.” she smiled broadly, “And them too. They do not have to fear their end anymore.

    “I have a ship. We can go see them.”

    She nodded energetically.

    “I’ll have to move to be able to take you.”

    “You’re persistent, I’ll give you that much.” Sapphira said as she wandered back into view.

    “Indeed!” Powertech agreed.

    “So what do you think? Modify my chest compartment to carry you? You could see through my eyes using your entertainment system?”

    “Magnus ... there are reasons why you don’t want any add-ons quite like that.”

    “But they could be removed later?”

    “Something would still remain.” Sapphira added.

    I do not think he can leave this place. There is something ... about it that I just cannot describe. But I feel it.

    He saw her as she spoke in her real language. Just like what he’d seen of her people on Quevald, she didn’t use her mouth like she did with that click pop stuff. It was quite likely that neither of their companions knew she was saying anything; and, that she was aware of the fact.

    “Can’t blame me for trying.”

    Sapphira operated the controls for the projector directly, beginning the second performance in the collection.

    Magnus was learning a lot about elevator music. It was something he’d never even suspected it would be. And once you understood it, it wasn’t all that bad, or just purposely so.

    And even Quintessons like it.
     
  15. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 14: Engineering


    “He’s not used to having others around to talk to.” Sapphira said quietly.

    “Pardon?”

    Sapphira looked around as if to confirm that Powertech and From Me were still on the other side of the lab where they’d gone once the concerts were over.

    “Magnus, Powertech has been alone down here for a long time. When he thinks of something to say, and there’s someone to say it to, he says it.... Even if they were already talking.”

    “Is this about how he cut you off earlier?” he asked quietly.

    “Promise me you won’t leave us down here much when you get out. In time he’ll get better. But only if others invest their time first.”

    Magnus smiled: “Right, visit often so Powertech and Sapphira don’t loose social skills.”

    “I’m not going to be down here that long.... I hope.”

    “So what where you going to say earlier?”

    “I was going to ask about your subprocessors.”

    “Again?”

    “Humor me.”

    He thought about it, maybe his earlier answer had been wrong somehow.

    “I guess after my time with Nine ended. We’d been on the very first cycle of sociology and by the time I got to our new barracks the text was already unavailable. I complained about it and Powertech said: ‘Sociology: take one cycle, billions of people, trillions of individual actions, average it out, spin it any which way you want, call it science.’ When I tried to imagine what billions of people meant one of my subprocessors offered a numerical analysis. I call that one the giggler.”

    She nodded thoughtfully.

    “You don’t think Rightway caused this?” he realized that he’d been placed under a local anesthesia subroutine to have the horns installed.

    Sapphira almost did a double take: “No!” her voice approached normal conversation levels for a moment, “No, Rightway has his limits but that isn’t one of them.”

    “I guess. Powertech and Ravage acted like it was nothing unusual.”

    “It isn’t. Think about it this way, core or subprocessor, both provide the basic functionality we use. The difference is that subprocessors are more complex and powerful, which is why it was one of these that managed the numerical analysis for you rather than the core. But because of their power they exhibit a lower level of cohesion with native intelligence so they seem different, some say lifeless, even though they are every much as alive, irreplaceable and you as the core. What you describe is just the difference between the core and a subprocessor.”

    “You mean I really wanted to know what billions of people meant? If so, then why did it act so cluelessly innocent when I got in its interface?”

    “Just-boots!” she sighed, “Magnus, this ‘giggler’ was just doing your bidding and you only noticed because it seemed different than your core when it complied.”

    “But the way it acted?”

    “Magnus, accuse yourself when you’ve done nothing wrong and see how you react? But really, you already know.”

    “Clueless?”

    “Innocent.”

    “But Powertech and Ravage?”

    “Are smart. Some people may spend their whole lives and never even notice the difference.”

    “Well, at least I know I’m smart.”

    “Stop touting your own options! I’m serious.”

    Magnus sighed: “I guess that means it was after I got shot and Wayside patched me up.”

    “Don’t blame it. I’ve reviewed the doctor’s triage assessment from the incident. You were in a bad way.”

    “But what you said about general anesthesia?”

    “Wayside may have made things worse, but it didn’t cause it.”

    “So Wayside isn’t responsible?”

    “Two injuries: one on Cybertron; one on Quevald. For the one it did what it was supposed to do. Now please understand, you told us what they did before, how they behaved, but what were they like?”

    “Like ... well, they didn’t seem lifeless for one thing. If anything they were drunk with life.”

    “You gave them names?”

    “Some of them. Giggler wasn’t the worst. One had a habit of reciting philosophy at random.... What?”

    “Sounds like you.” she laughed, “So what happened next?”

    “There was all this noise in my mind and it was so distracting. Especially during the battle simulations.”

    “You did say that you’d done poorly in those.”

    “Without my combat computer I got badly mangled.”

    “Your CC was off line too?” she seemed surprised, “You didn’t mention that before. What was it doing?”

    “Imitating a battle.”

    “What did it feel like when Captain had Wayside force you sober?”

    “Like being sober.... Really sober. But at least they were quiet.”

    “I see.” she left his side and went to her instrument panels.

    “When was the last time you were aware of them like that?” she asked after a microcycle.

    “Besides Polyhex? Not long ago. The giggler was amused when it saw Powertech lift my arm into view. One of the best behaved subprocessors, #3, thought I was still a 210SHX and then proved itself a literalist by showing me the schematics of the thing attached to my right arm: my hand!”

    “Listen to yourself: ‘it?!’ You!” she corrected him, “You were amused. You were a confused literalist.... This was just before you showed up at Seeker? Right?”

    “Yes.”

    “Good, we’ve refined the timeline for your injuries and your mental state. Now you said something about a new subprocessor?”

    “It ... well, I guess ‘I’ said it wasn’t new. I corrected me at any rate.... Sapphira, are you sure we aren’t dealing with Magnuses?”

    “Nothing that can’t be fixed, like I said, I’m the best. You say it corrected you? When had you used it before?”

    “I have no idea. This one didn’t even sound like the others and all I could think of was the difference between Shockwave and Striker.”

    “They do sound alike. They even look unusually alike.” Sapphira nodded, “So this subprocessor sounded different than your others?”

    “I really have nothing else to compare it to. Compared to it the others sound like me, the way I hear myself think, but it didn’t really seem like someone else. I hope.”

    “So you must have encountered its functionality before your injury?”

    “It would help if I knew what it did?”

    “Maybe later. What else can you tell me about it?”

    “Besides that it’s chatty and appears to have security access that even I consider scary?”

    “You think your unusual security status is a result of its presence?”

    “There has to be some reason. I can’t accept that just because I’m a comm specialist I can read all these files that no one else can read. Maybe I was using it every time I read something I shouldn’t have been able to?”

    “A sound hypothesis. And you’re right, it is the source of your unusual security status.”

    “Why?”

    “If I knew that I really would know something worth knowing.” she left her console, “I’m having the equipment run a diagnostic on the star. The shock damage doesn’t appear to extend beyond your spark-chassis bridge, or its immediate infrastructure, but it’s best to play it safe.”

    “Well, that’s a relief.” Magnus was anything but relieved.

    It was almost like she was glad.... Wait, she wouldn’t be glad that he was seriously injured. Sapphira must be doing some weird doctor thing to make him feel better.

    He watched her as she silently went about her business. Like a chronometer, she’d check her monitors every five microcycles.

    “Slow equipment?” he finally asked.

    “It wasn’t when it was new, but that was a very long time ago. Besides, I can only infer the internal function of this subprocessor. As Powertech’s apprentice I may have clearance straight from Primus himself, but try telling that to this equipment!” she was almost laughing.

    “Why not call Powertech over?”

    “I’m beginning to think no one has clearance to know much about that thing. Anyway, I think the technology is pretty invulnerable to ordinary damage. It almost looks like there’s a kinetic absorption field inherent in its function. Or at least that portion of its construction that I can make out.” this time she really did laugh, “Now I know what you and Powertech were talking about for myself!”

    “The scan is redacted?”

    “Yes and no. Though it’s fascinating to think about what could be accomplished just based on what I can see. I remember this one teacher of mine was working on a mechanism to directly manipulate kinetic energy but it never worked right, used more power than it should. I think I could solve the power problems just based on what I’ve learned with you.”

    “You think I can directly manipulate kinetic energy? That would be so ice cold!”

    “Don’t get your hopes up. There’s no external control link so the feature isn’t part of what the star does for you.”

    “I see, it’s just to keep this star thing safe from harm.”

    “Presumably.”

    “So what is this ‘star?’”

    “An artifact. Part of a small collection of trinkets that Powertech has been studying. That’s all you need to know for now.”

    “But what does it do?”

    “It resolves bandwidth issues for dealing with numerable disparate data streams.”

    Magnus thought about that: “Maybe there was one time I did use this star. I was in Reunion Lounge having my first energon infusion and imprinted The Summation of Megatron on it. Then paid attention as meaning fell apart in the turbulence. Right before that last sip all that was left was: ‘Even in death may I never fail to live.’”

    “It said exactly that?”

    “Well, no. But the only remaining words were in that order. It was when we were in Basic Medicine, triage, and I found that the saying could comfort dying Autobots. Combaticons were another matter.”

    “That seems reasonable.”

    “In life I will not shirk death.”

    She straightened up as if shocked and turned full towards him.

    “That’s what one of the Combaticons taught me to say.”

    “Typical Combaticon.” Sapphira said with smug ease.

    “Sure, ‘typical.’” Magnus allowed.

    Why had she been so startled?

    “So why are Powertech and From Me taking so long in coming back?” he asked after she checked her instruments some microcycles later.

    “He still wants to enhance your weapon.”

    “How?”

    “He hasn’t told me what he intends. I know what I would do based on what you told us earlier.”

    “What?”

    “The cycle rate seems too slow and the charge is generally incompatible with your systems. Those are the big ones. There are a number of strategies to enhance the former though I’m not sure what can be done about the latter.”

    “Do you think he could get real suppression fire out of it?”

    “Not without severely limiting its maximum payload.”

    “Explain?”

    “Well, assuming the energy condenser is a standard design, then dropping its maximum load from the collectors by 30% should double its cycle rate at its new maximum power. That would usually translate into an actual 15 to 33% increase in cycle rate compared to just using the unmodified weapon at a reduced setting.”

    “Doesn’t sound much like suppression fire.”

    “Why do you think rifles remain popular? Their payload isn’t determined by the gun itself but rather by the ordinance used. A standard expanding plasma shell will do a lot of damage to ordinary drones or soldiers, especially at full auto.”

    “Yeah, but they bounce off of Guardian Autobots. I just can’t imagine that needing an occasional repaint is much of a bother for them.”

    “That’s why we have artillery. And late series ultras or you Alphas.”

    Magnus contorted his face again to mimic a nod. He thought enough time had passed....

    “So I’m a collectable? Or at least part of me is?”

    She put down her data pad and smiled slyly at him.

    “You can’t blame be for trying.”

    “It’s called the ‘Star of Cybertron.’”

    “Sounds important.”

    “There’s a long tradition of giving poetic names to bits of rare or extraordinarily expensive technology. In medical school I learned about a few dozen of these artifacts through informal channels. A few are probably nothing special, they just cost a lot to make or to develop. Probably the most impressive are the so-called power maximizers that are said to correct any energy source to the absolute energy baseline rather than leave them at the nominal baseline.”

    “If you say so.”

    “Power maximizers are usually called ‘heart’ this or that, which is an obsolete term for a core system. ‘Stars’ would seem to relate to communications ... though one that I heard of was called by the dubious name ‘laser’ as in a ‘laser core’ – an unfashionable term for a spark. ‘Matrix’ is used for something that deals with knowledge. Then there are ‘keys’ which seem pretty straight forward as items that require or grant special access.”

    “So what did they call Soundwave’s star?”

    She smiled: “I wouldn’t know.”

    Magnus supposed that was why Wildway had been so cross with Terrakas, the old general just hadn’t known that the army was heavily invested in a just-boot like he was. It did seem odd that the High Command didn’t know about what was going on down here. Or maybe it was just the embarrassment of being caught in a lie: that there were more than 100 Alphas?

    “Say, Sapphira, do you know what happened to the others in the Alpha program who didn’t make it out of their crèches?”

    “Powertech hadn’t told me there were any others.”

    “Oh! Shockwave said that they’d been reassigned after the program ended. I was just curious about what had happened to them.”

    “I’m sure I’ll find out in due course. If I’m allowed, I’ll tell you.”

    “Thanks.”

    She seemed wary for some reason. He sighed and started speculating what he’d do if he actually met any of them and knew it. What would he say? “Hi, you don’t know me, but you almost had me for a brother.” just didn’t seem right somehow.

    With nothing to do, he internally hummed some of History, the bits that weren’t so elevator-ry, and speculated if he would have been patient enough to wait for the exposition to have started had he been there.

    He hoped that he would’ve been.



    While he was humming a tune from History XI, he heard something that wasn’t Powertech, Sapphira or From Me: Shockwave and Wildway were calling for Powertech.

    “We brought the goods.” Wildway said.

    “And something of a treat!” Shockwave added.

    Magnus strained to listen in, adjusting his hearing to near its limit. It seemed that the “goods” might be Rightway’s horns. What the treat was, no one said. Though he thought he heard a table being cleared.

    “Hello!” he called out after he heard Powertech mumbling excitedly.

    “Powertech is really cross with you.” Shockwave seemed to be amused, “Said something about you being an ‘inconsiderate drone.’”

    “Well, at least he didn’t call me Wayside.”

    No response.

    “Did you get the book–”

    “Out of your right leg? It’s back where it belongs. There was also a data crystal of medical protocols.”

    “Am I in trouble because of Polyhex?”

    “No one’s going to jail just yet.” Wildway laughed.

    It was strange talking to someone you couldn’t even see.

    “They won’t let me off this table.”

    His brothers laughed at his expense.

    Magnus glanced around, found a polished surface that, if he stepped the magnification up to maximum on his eyes, provided a blurry reflection of the visiting area.

    His brothers were easy to see but he couldn’t make out either Powertech or From Me.

    “I must say, this is very interesting!” Powertech seemed excited, “Do you think we can get his cooperation?”

    “That may prove difficult.” Shockwave allowed.

    “But we could learn so much!”

    “We think they’ll give him over to some civilian. The High Command is still dealing with the fallout over Magnus.”

    “But he’s a Combaticon! Surely as a senior military scientist–”

    “Who everyone thought to be long dead.” Wildway provided.

    “Yes, I suppose that could prove troublesome.” Powertech allowed.

    “Incidentally, we never brought those schematics.” Shockwave urged, “Oculon has enough to deal with right now.”

    “Why didn’t he bring them himself?”

    There was a long silence.

    “You tell him that he isn’t responsible for what happened to Artemus!” Powertech rasped, “And if any of you boys are treating him badly because of it I’ll have Scrapper pay them a visit!”

    “Yes, Sir!” they said in unison.

    “Bad enough that he got stuck in a desk job ...” Powertech began even as his volume quickly dropped to where Magnus couldn’t hear him clearly any more.

    The rest of the conversation was fairly quiet too, even if there were bits that could just be made out. Powertech asked Shockwave to go get something for him. One of his brothers said something about the assassin which preceded another mention of a civilian scientist.

    After a while Magnus noticed From Me standing nearby.

    I am sorry, I did not see you approach.

    Your equals are nice.

    Yes, they are.

    “Wildway thinks I might be able to teach your people how to transform.

    That would be great!

    I am not sure if it will work. Sapphira as she is now might work, or a powertech. But your people seem so substantial. Especially you.

    Where is the difficulty?

    Complex articulation. Then there is what your people want to transform into. They want to change into things. Powertech told me a legend about some of your people who could transform. They turned into things. I am not sure if that is proper?

    “Oculon can turn into anything.

    Is he the one that Sapphira does not like? It sounds like a superlative ability, but I am scared because of who possesses it. I would rather anyone but a security officer have such a power. I am sorry, but I just feel that way.

    “I can see that.”

    Listen to me rant? Your equal must be very charming and friendly like his equals. Like you. I should not doubt him. It is wrong. You are not overlords.

    From Me, you can say anything you want to around me. Don’t ever hold back where I’m concerned.”

    She smiled really big. Big enough to make Magnus wonder if he’d offered more than he should’ve. That uneasy feeling again.

    Then she started showing him her transformation to and from that eight legged form of hers in slow motion. Slowed down that way, he could make out the delicate and deliberate motions of her carapace bits and some of what her substructure was doing. He wasn’t sure what she was trying to show him, but it was fascinating to watch.

    “I see she’s demonstrating her ability.” Sapphira said after From Me had completed another transformation back to her mech form.

    “She said that the problem is complex articulation but I’m just not seeing it.”

    Sapphira shook her head in amusement even as she set something wrapped in a black cloth down beside him and started unrolling it. At one point she seemed to scrutinize whatever it was as if it were something really important.

    “What do you have there?”

    “Just an ornament for your head. Powertech feels if we give you some flash up front you won’t go and turn yourself into a detail freak later.”

    “The horns?”

    “No, he’s reworking their circuitry into his own design while we speak.”

    “Why that specific mod?”

    “The same reason detail freaks can’t change their minds about their add ons: the circuitry is a part of you. Rightway wouldn’t be Rightway if his work wasn’t that good.”

    “So I get to keep his horns no matter what I thought? Well, you said you liked horns.”

    They are ok.From Me piped up.

    Sapphira smiled slyly and picked up a tool: “Hold still.”

    “Very droll.”

    “You can’t blame me for trying.”

    She was attaching something to his forehead. It was maybe about a hand span long and looked golden.

    Once she had it attached she began fussing with it. Before long he could feel her hands and tools as she worked on him there. Whatever it was, it was a part of him now.

    By the time she had finished, Powertech returned with a pair of black rods and gave them to Sapphira. She attached these to the sides of his head and for the first time he felt that something he’d been missing all this time.

    A system check showed the receiver to be working properly. There were just no signals to receive in Powertech’s lab.

    “Do I get a detail too?”

    “If you were any more polished you’d be set for ceremonial guard duty.” Sapphira poked at his chest as if to drive the point home.

    “Magnus, I want you to sit up.”

    “But Powertech.... You– ... You mean I can move again?”

    “Yes, but be careful of my lab.”

    Magnus slowly sat up and swung his feet off the side of the table. He looked at his hands and forearms: black and glossy red.

    “Red will take some getting used to.”

    “Give it some time to grow on you. The color scheme is traditional.”

    He was able to see the crown of Sapphira’s head. Even if she was the exact same size as before and he knew it, this new perspective.... This could take some getting used to.

    “So I’m all fixed up?”

    “No. Sapphira and I still need to operate on your real injuries, but apart from that you’re fine. Shockwave will bring you back when we’re ready for you.”

    “Until then take it easy.” Sapphira’s tone was authoritative, “Absolutely no contact sports or virtual reality at all. And please keep yourself sealed up tight for Powertech’s sake. We’ve plugged every access port and added a secondary contamination filter to your face and speech components so you don’t have to go around using anticorruption gear till your operation. You can drink infusions or eat goodies in moderation. In moderation, Magnus.”

    “Yes ma’am. ‘In moderation.’”

    No need to tell him three times!

    Magnus looked at his fuzzy reflection in a nearby support strut. He was red and chrome except for his head, hands and lower legs, which were all black. And right in the middle of his forehead was a golden spike with an oval black panel .

    “Fancy.”

    “What do you think of my improvement on Rightway’s work?”

    He looked at the rods that Sapphira had installed. They were very subdued now, not nearly as garish as the gold thing between them. They almost looked as if most people would miss them. But then again, he remembered what Powertech had said, how Combaticons should have simple, dignified color schemes.

    “I like them. They’re understated and dignified.”

    Powertech seemed to swell with pride, hanging there in his support gantry as he was.

    “Well, it’s time to go meet Shockwave.” Powertech finally said as he tugged at a leg with a frail hand.

    Magnus stood to follow this father. It all seemed so familiar, and maybe a bit scary. They said nothing as he was led to a sort of triple airlock set into the lab’s plastic walls.

    “Magnus, you’ll have to walk around to get to your hallway.” Powertech said as the first chamber cycled, “We will see you again soon.”

    He waved from the last chamber, the last clear plastic till he reached the crypt and the black plastic walls that surrounded Powertech’s lab.

    For some reason he thought the swinging shut of the last airlock door came with an extra loud “thud.”
     
  16. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 15: The Smelting Pools


    Wildway applauded as Magnus pushed the plastic aside and stepped into the hallway.

    “That’s a good look for you.” Shockwave concurred, “Turn around.”

    He complied.

    “Nice reto-thrusters.” Wildway pointed.

    “I can’t threaten to toss him out of my hanger bay anymore.” Shockwave pouted.

    He was sure that his brothers were working together on some enterprise of Shockwave’s invention. He would have to be very, very careful in the coming cycles. Maybe he should find some alone time to return that Obstructicon cone before his troubles increased?

    “So what do you want to do?”

    Might as well get it over with. Whatever “it” was.

    Shockwave shook his head: “The kid’s already a pro.”

    “Indeed, I wonder which of Nine’s taught him that trick?”

    “Magnus, we’re going to Polyhex.”

    “Again?”

    “There’s more in Polyhex than a Decepticon office.” Shockwave informed, “For one, there are the smelting pools. We’re going there first and show you off for a bit. Then we’ll hook up with Wrecker and your friends at this place I know.”

    “And show you off a bit more.” Wildway laughed.

    Smelting pools? Why would he want to go near those?

    He listened to their banter until they reached the main lift up through the heart of the pyramid. They fell silent as it started up.

    “Magnus, he was very proud of you.” Wildway sighed.

    Shockwave was nodding.

    “Thanks for taking time out to visit Oculon the way you did.”

    “Wildway–”

    “That’s enough of that.” Shockwave announced, “This is a happy day! The first cycle for a new Cybertron!”

    The long ceremonial hall at the top was dark except for some wall sconces.

    “It’s night?”

    He was confused. His chronometer was telling him it should still be light out.

    “The days are getting shorter in Kaon.”

    “Summer in Iacon.” Wildway said dreamily, “Magnus, patch in to MilSat K-1 and download an astronomical calendar. That way you aren’t caught by surprise again.”

    With no strangers present, he set his internal comm to ‘private’ and concentrated.

    “Yes, Sir?” a cheerful Combaticon appeared, “My name is Comm Seven. How may I provide you with excellent service?”

    “I need an astronomical calendar.”

    Comm Seven seemed surprised. Then very happy.

    “Yes, Sir! Welcome to Cybertron, Sir! Let me know if there’s anything else you need. Anything at all! My duty schedule is K-1/S-4. Comm Seven, that’s me. If I’m not on duty try to get either Halberd or Wright. They’ll take good care of you too!”

    “Thanks.”

    The astronomical calendar downloaded and began to run.

    “Nice guy: Comm Seven.” he said to his brothers as they neared the surface.

    They laughed before Wildway said: “Duly noted.”

    Wildway’s sky cruiser was waiting outside.

    “Just one moment! Hold out your arm.” Shockwave said before they left the pyramid.

    He took a spotless cleaning cloth from a leg compartment and buffed Magnus’ right arm with the wrong side of the cloth.

    Then Wildway joined him. Again, a spotless cloth but using the wrong side. They worked him over for eight whole microcycles before they stepped back to inspect their work.

    Magnus looked at his arms. He was still very clean but not glittering.

    “I feel like a person again.” he allowed, “Though I wish I’d know about this trick earlier.”

    “Yes, and this makes it official!” Shockwave produced a stylus and did something to Magnus’ chest emblem.

    “What was that?”

    “You are now officially a 4th Lieutenant in Cybertron’s service.”

    “Bottom of the bin.” Wildway smiled.

    “You have to obey Master Sergeants.”

    “Lowest officer pay grade there is. Hammer makes more than you do.”

    “And no more hazard pay.” they chanted in unison.

    “Thanks....”

    They nodded.

    “It goes without saying: if we say ‘jump’ you ask ‘how high.’”

    “Back seat.” Shockwave pointed.

    Magnus climbed in before his brothers.

    “Shockwave, Thrasher is an N3, a Group Sergeant.”

    “As of a few moments ago the relationship between you two became a matter of his choice. If he stays on as your subordinate, you’d be wise to pay attention to any of his suggestions. His exemplary career didn’t start the cycle you went to Quevald. He knows what he’s doing.”

    “I noticed.”

    Magnus sank back into the seat.

    Wildway gently lifted off.

    “Just like old times.” Shockwave sighed, “My brother who wanted to go everywhere, in no hurry to get anywhere.”

    “You would rather we tie Magnus to your bumper and risk scuffing it?”

    Shockwave chuckled.

    “Then I’m driving.”

    They soon merged with traffic and climbed to the faster lanes up top.

    “Magnus, if you want I can set the roof’s transparency controls?”

    “Sure.”

    The roof turned transparent. This high up the stars were blazing bright. Like on Cyberodd. His newly installed astronomical calendar began providing names and designations for those points of light.

    “They’re more glorious up close.” Wildway said after a while, “And everyone of them is different.”

    “Quevald’s is yellow.”

    “So was ours. A long time ago.” Shockwave offered, “Primus once told me that I might actually live to see Cybertron have to use her engines.”

    “Cybertron has engines?”

    “This planet has everything!” he laughed.

    “So, Shockwave, what could possibly power Cybertron’s engines?”

    “One final service from our faithful friend in the sky. ‘Cybertron,’ they say, ‘is forever.’”

    “These stars look like those in the Cyberodd sim. So very bright.”

    Wildway glanced back before asking if Shockwave had told him about Cyberodd.

    “That’s one messed up world.” he allowed.

    “The local drones seem really stupid.”

    “They aren’t really drones.” Wildway explained, “They mimic carbon-motor life. Definitely unnatural. The High Command rejected my hypothesis that the planet was a giant laboratory. Said it was more reasonable to assume that it’s a planet with no connection to the Allspark. Possessing only the appearance of life. They dispatched teams in hopes of recording the planet’s on-line event.”

    “At least till the nonexistent natives started shooting at everyone.” Shockwave provided.

    Magnus watched the stars as he remembered the simulation. So his own brother had led the expedition? Ice cold!

    “No one goes there any more?”

    “Not officially.” Shockwave said, “The failure to even identify an unfriendly meant that the planet itself was classified as hostile.”

    He listened to them talk about Cyberodd for a while. Wildway moved them into the lower levels of traffic.

    “Almost there. You know, Magnus, you’re in a potentially bad situation. Thrasher could, in theory, decide to take your ship and go back to what’s left of his unit. In a tug of war between a 4th Lieutenant and a Group Sergeant, he’d be within his rights.”

    “I think he’s looking forward to special-ops assignments.”

    “Well, we may just have to keep him happy.” Shockwave chimed.

    “That may be easier said than done.”

    “We can try.”

    “... Say, what did you mean earlier about ‘hazard pay?’ Powertech said something about that too.”

    His brothers exchanged glances. Shockwave shrugged.

    “Good point,” Wildway nodded, “you –have– seen action already. We’ll look into it.”

    “Don’t expect much, even considering Quevald.” Shockwave allowed

    Within another three microcycles the cityscape below them was familiar: Polyhex.

    “Striker vowed to find us a superior parking place.” Wildway said, “He wants a break for what he’s got coming to him.”

    “I wonder if he knows that he’s wasting his time?”



    Magnus was following his brothers across the massive lid of one smelting pool. He didn’t need his infrared sensitive eyes to tell him that the ground beneath them was unusually warm. In the distance he could see machinery surrounding the edge of the lid: massive works that looked like halves to a suspension bridge, only this bridge had more than two ends with a massive tower structure for a centerpiece. All around them a huge, if loosely packed, crowd was moving in the same direction as they were. He had no files for what was about to happen, but whatever it was it was obviously a big deal.

    “Don’t walk slow!” Striker prodded, “You don’t want to melt just standing on the cover!”

    He knew he was in no danger. In fact, his alloys might even stand up to the inferno below. At least for a while. Long enough to really suffer.

    “Don’t listen to the kid.” Heavy Iron admonished, “Nothing is getting through these doors for at least two megacycles. It would take them that long to soften up and deform so they couldn’t be opened again.”

    “Not a repair job I would want.” Magnus nodded.

    “Maximus could do it.” Oculon provided, “And then he’d throw who ever it was that damaged them in for a swim.”

    “‘Swim’ he says!” Heavy Iron laughed.

    Magnus moved a bit faster than before. He was able to make out a huge stadium turned inside out that wrapped around the base of the central pillar.

    “Our destination?”

    “The grandstands?” Heavy Iron chuckled, “No way! Thanks to Shockers we’re in the Vectorhawk pavilion.”

    Several in the crowd around them overheard Heavy Iron’s comment and were vocal in their support and admiration. One thing was sure: Polyhexi didn’t have envy issues. Shockwave’s beauty was on display at some sort of concourse and they had their own private parking space as a result.

    “Say, Oculon, wait!” Magnus trotted to close the distance between them.

    “Yes, 4th Lieutenant?”

    “Ok: Division Commander Oculon, Sir. Do they execute people here?”

    “Magnus! No! I was just joking. No one’s done anything like that since the Quintessons made a show of some Decepticon leaders a long, long time ago. Sick sparks! Only one of them worth his value in scrap and Quints are made from cheap alloys.”

    Oculon stopped long enough to hold up a finger and offer a glare like it was a verbal rebuke. Magnus took the hint and said nothing about Deltacron, assuming his brother had meant Deltacron.

    Oculon’s little outburst didn’t seem to garner any more attention to their group of giant Combaticon’s walking along in the midst of ordinary sized folks. Not like what had happened at the concourse when Wildway opened the door to let Magnus out. The assembled crowd seemed to stop and gawk for a moment at this new Alpha. Not that it was rational to imagine that many understood that Magnus –was– new.

    Still, he wasn’t looking forward to being shown off. Not at all.

    “Why is Wrecker meeting us later?”

    “Shockwave only gets seven pit passes including his own.” Oculon informed, “We sent Kup on ahead to claim a good section. A pass only gets you in. Otherwise it’s first come first seated.”

    “He made it back from Chaar?”

    Oculon shot Magnus a sly look: “That’s right, you haven’t met Kup yet! He’s been looking forward to meeting you.”

    They pressed on to their goal like that, talking every so often, till they finally arrived at a large pavilion curtained off in gold and black. It was actually set up out on the cover. Most people were walking around it, or rather between it and others like it. Shockwave led them straight to a small opening in the partition.

    Magnus was about to enter when the ground trembled with a terrible and familiar tremble. He took another step before turning back.... Guardian Autobots!? Several massive warriors were walking out on the lid and their every step caused that familiar rumble.

    Striker paused to look at Magnus’ expression, glanced back: “Frag! And here you are without a weapon!” he laughed before going on in.

    Magnus shook himself free from their influence. Not all of the giant Autobots were enemies. He knew that. He followed after Striker.

    “Why are they here?”

    “The big guys can’t be spectators too?”

    Striker was right. Again. It was a free Cybertron. Presumably. He hated to imagine how long a Guardian Autobot would have to work to pay off his chassis. Poor sparks.

    In short order they’d found Kup, a bearded Alpha with a serious demeanor. He didn’t even smile when introduced.

    “Magnus.”

    “It’s good to meet you, Kup.”

    “Likewise. Welcome to Cybertron.”

    “And welcome back to Cybertron!” Striker jumped in.

    “Striker.... I hear you’re a live target these cycles?”

    Striker laughed and displayed some bravado.

    “Nice upgrade there, kiddo.” a femme voice.

    Magnus turned, it was Beta with Patchup, femmes that he’d met at the Cyberball tournament. It felt odd to be taller than a 135UH. And Beta was tall for a 135UH.

    “Thanks! I’ll pass along your complements to the engineer.”

    She smiled: “You do that. And tell him to stop being a stranger!”

    Then she grabbed him by the arm and started introducing him around. It turned out that Beta was a major investor in Vectorhawk and so were the people she was introducing him to. They seemed keenly interested in Magnus and more than a few complemented his construction. No one said anything about his golden spike. So much for “flash.”

    “I hope you don’t mind,” Beta said after the introductions were over, “but I’m going to steal you from your brothers. It’s been a long time since you’ve been my guest.”

    “Ummm ... right.”

    “I like’em big and dumb!” she laughed as she patted his arm, “Only Magnus, when a guy walks with a femme he’s supposed to have her arm on his, not the other way around.”

    She released him and they exchanged positions. Wildway quipped something about A-3 having competition.

    “Beta, about the general, is he here?”

    Her face contorted only slightly: “My bot is in the Starcross pit area. He fell in love with their garish bodywork eons ago and just will not see reason about it. As a rule, I won’t talk to him for at least 30 cycles after tonight. Longer if one of those fashion disasters manages to finish in the top five.” then she looked up at him with a mischievous grin, “But who knows? I just might trade up for this polished young thing?”

    She laughed and pulled closer to him.

    Magnus just smiled and nodded. Glad that Sapphira and her right hook weren’t anywhere nearby. Really glad From Me wasn’t here.

    Beta led him over to a seating area near where two sky cruisers were being fussed over by technicians. These were much different than Shockwave's even if their engines sounded similar. For one they had very thin profiles, negligible frontal area, and fins that looked to provide both increased atmospheric stability as well as surfaces to aid in maneuver. For a cockpit they had a section of their bodywork removed which revealed two smallish reclined seats set in tandem.

    “Magnificent, aren’t they?” Beta said proudly.

    Magnus nodded. They sure did look like brutally fast machines.

    When they sat down Beta didn’t release him. She was all but leaning on him. He remained outwardly calm, smiling happily even, but when he saw Shockwave standing at the edge of the investor’s area with a big, stupid grin on his face he set the channel to private and concentrated on his brother’s ID.

    “Help?”

    Shockwave’s face took on a look of sheer surprise.

    “A femme as desirable as Beta wants to hang off of your arm and you ask for ‘help?!’ You are such a just-boot! No, this goes beyond even that. Not that we aren’t all taking notes, mind you.... Oh, and Magnus ... you do remember the guy with the transmitter at the cyberball match, right?”

    “Of course.”

    “Similar rules apply here. Don’t you –dare– get me banned from this pit area!”

    “Signing off!!!” Magnus cut the transmission.

    Beta was telling him about the performance enhancements to the racers that Vectorhawk engineers were promising would put them back in a winners circle again for sure. She asked if he’d been by their showroom near where he lived. Didn’t seem disappointed when he said that he’d fought the temptation earlier. When he mentioned Striker’s runabout she started telling him about a new model due out in a little over seven megacycles. It would have enhanced active mass redistribution for superior handling and a new variable aspect shell for improved transonic stability, among other improvements.

    “All of which is completely confidential information.”

    “Yes, Ma’am.”

    “Just ‘Beta,’ Magnus.” she snuggled tight for a moment, “‘Ma’am’ sounds so ... matronly.”

    It was the weirdest thing, but even though she was combat worthy her armored skin felt ... different somehow. It reminded Magnus of when Sapphira had pulled him close or when From Me had kissed him. Nice ... but scary.

    “Beta, about A-3, I don’t think he meant to leave you ladies behind the other cycle. He was just surprised we showed up the way we did.”

    “I know. Nine may have had a string of bad luck but she sure picked a winning team. Maybe one of them will actually break the ‘curse?’ By the way, a lot of people are rooting for her to produce a miracle.... Oh, and thanks for reminding me! I never properly thanked him for his thoughtfulness the other cycle. I’ll just keep you with me till after the concourse and make it 40 cycles just for good measure.”

    He remained calm and nodded as if happily.

    “By the way,” she looked up and lifted a finger to his brow, “I like.”

    Magnus laughed nervously: “Powertech had Sapphira put it on earlier.”

    “We have good taste.” she whispered, “Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything at your age. Just enjoy life as you figure it out bit by bit. That’s the secret of happiness.”

    “Thanks.”

    “You remind me of my A-3 when we were just-boots. He wanted to know everything for sure. It’s the ‘for sure’ that gets you. Makes you waste your only time when the world is new. Not that you Alphas don’t have prolonged just-bootdoms.” she laughed.

    “I’ll keep that in mind.”

    “Liar!” she whispered, “You won’t be happy unless you have it all figured out. I don’t know why I find that attractive in a mech?... Oh, they’re starting to set up the field!”

    For the first time since she grabbed him she let go, at least enough to point out how they were setting up pylons that would outline the race course. She still kept her hand in his though.

    The course was laid out all around the central tower, which meant that they would only see part of the race with their own eyes. It was a twisting and rolling affair with tight turns, dives and climbs. Some form of force field was in place at several key points between certain pylons so it wasn’t just a matter of ariel maneuvers. As they finished setting up, several of those around them remarked how challenging this track was. Then they rose from their seats, and Beta pulled close to Magnus again, when four small Autobots with red eyes emerged from a tent and climbed into their racers. The driver in the lead car waved and gave the all set signal. Then ground crews sealed them in.

    Magnus, with Beta, sat down even as a large curving hologram of the other side of the track burst to life in front of the pit area.

    The racers lifted off and joined a slow procession of similar vehicles in synchronized formation around the track. As they did so their order was mixed up at various points. This left a Vectorhawk in the number three and eight positions.

    “There’s the Starcross lead ship.” Beta pointed out a vehicle not very different than either Vectorhawk racer. Mainly different livery and a more prominent dorsal fin.

    “I guess racers are more of a product of form and function than style.”

    “Still no excuse to bring that over for street use!”

    After two such slow laps a massive sound erupted from the top of the central tower and the previously docile parade of racers shot to life.

    “Beta,” Magnus whispered, “What’s going on? The course seems constricted for so many competitors.”

    “It’s distance over time with opportunities to pass in the ground field equipped zones. This class is a combination of precision flight and ground effects. Strictly factory sponsored with very tight regulations. Not some fireball fest privateer class.”

    “Now I know why Shockwave doesn’t compete.”

    “Need to know it all!” she laughed.

    The race progressed in an orderly fashion except for that 1/3rd of the course where passing was allowed. There it was frenetic mad. It turned out that the drivers were mission specialist, a driver and his pilot.

    Beta had Magnus go get some refreshments for them after the 90th lap. His brothers were at the bar joking with one of the ground crew.

    “Behold, the favored one returns!” Wildway announced.

    Magnus placed his order specifying that he’d been asked to come back before nine laps were up.

    “You just met and she’s already got you on a Predacon’s leash?”

    He blinked.

    “‘Predacon’s leash?’ What’s that?”

    “Actually, they met the other cycle too.” Shockwave informed.

    Wildway shook his head: “Magnus, we need to keep on A-3’s good side. Besides that, it’s customary to strive for just one field grid at a time.”

    “Ahmmmm ... beg pardon?”

    Even Kup smiled slightly at Magnus’ confusion.

    “If they’re getting thirsty in the VIP section then I better return to my crew.” the Autobot who’d been chatting with them allowed.

    “See you around, Camper!” Wildway proclaimed before, “So, while the mixmaster here is still doing his thing, what have you two been talking about? She’s set on you like a Seeker looking for shore leave.”

    “Details.” Oculon prodded him with a finger.

    Magnus complied to their obvious delight. Though Striker got upset when he wouldn’t say anything about the new runabout. The snacks were done long before he’d finished up his summation.

    “Scoot!” Shockwave commanded as he handed over the tray.

    Actually, Magnus was enjoying Beta’s company. He still didn’t understand why she wanted to hang on him like she was doing, or why it felt nice when she did, but it was clear that femmes liked him more than they did the average mech. And considerably more than they did Starscream. Maybe because he wasn’t so self absorbed as the Seeker obviously was? From Me had asked him if he was fixated on himself, but he apparently thought she was asking if he was ‘fixed’ instead.

    “Of course,” he thought as he sat back down by Beta only to have her grab hold of him again, “almost no one I know is egotistical when compared to Starscream.”

    “How are we doing?”

    “Our second racer just gained back the 10th position. The field is really competitive this megacycle.”

    “Beta,” Patchup looked back at them from her seat, “you really shouldn’t punish A-3 like you do. Or monopolize the cute just-boot.”

    “He’s used to it.”

    “Say, ladies, what’s the deal with just-boots ... like me?”

    “Innocence.” three of the four femmes sitting nearby said in unison with Beta.

    Ok, that was believable.

    “It’s just nice to be around a guy who isn’t so obviously aware of how few of us there are. Guys try too hard. Or worse, they don’t try at all when they should.” Beta provided.

    “I don’t know what you see in him?” one femme asked without turning around.

    “True, dating your brother is a bit unusual.” Patchup seconded.

    Beta sighed/growled and pulled closer to Magnus.

    “Anyway, Magnus you’re a good kid. I’ve sponsored a few young mechs and I know of what I speak. If you ever need help or advise you just look up Beta.”

    “Trion.” Patchup added.

    I don’t use that anymore.

    Tough luck.” she chimed back.

    “Hey! Our lead picked up a position!” the mech sitting with Patchup announced happily.

    It was an endurance race with pit stops every 100 or so laps. Vectorhawk was betting on superior endurance and economy rather than outright power and speed – bringing their vehicles in less frequently.

    While Magnus went for concessions more frequently.

    They laughed when he suggested that sky cruisers had better energy efficiency than investors.

    Patchup only gave Beta a little more grief over Alpha Trion or Magnus.

    “You’re going to have to let go of him long enough to work the crowd later.” she said at one point.

    “I was hoping a win would make that less bothersome.”

    “There’s still time!” Patchup chimed, “In any case, I know you won’t let your Alpha bring in more new investors than you will.”

    For just a moment after Patchup said that, Beta’s armor seemed as hard and inflexible as Magnus’ own.

    “There’s a real sense here,” he silently mused, “that this competition only starts once the race ends.”
     
  17. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 16: Stories


    Vectorhawk managed a 3rd place finish behind a salon manufacturer called Blurr and a large conglomerate out of Khelekarum, but won the manufacturer’s cup because both of their racers finished and finished well in the points.

    “Good. Not great, but definitely good.” Beta sighed.

    “I hate finishing behind anyone whose name includes ‘consortium.’” Patchup grumbled.

    “Ok everyone,” an investor named Diamondtip stood up, “we just won a big one no matter how we feel. So look happy when the cameras get to us.”

    “When’s that?” Magnus asked.

    “Oh, about ... now.”

    Beta let go of his arm to jump up and down and clap. Then she gave him a big hug and a smooch on a cheek.

    “Something for A-3’s benefit.” she winked.

    Magnus joined in the celebration by applauding rather than kissing.

    Beta left his side to go talk to an Autobot that had showed up with an optical transceiver.

    “Patchup,” he asked once Beta and others were engaged in the press conference, “is Beta normally this ... clingy?”

    The femme laughed: “She’s always been ‘clingy.’ Beta is just Beta. I wouldn’t have her any other way.... Not that the kiss wasn’t over the top.”

    “I wouldn’t mind one.” her companion grumbled.

    She gave him a big hug, but no kiss.

    Really, Magnus didn’t mind himself.... Except that they might have been watching back in Kaon. For some indiscernible reason, he hoped that Powertech really did know Beta and knew that she was clingy like she was.

    He sat still for a moment before he decided to make a ‘run’ for the exit and his brothers.

    “Oh, Lieutenant?”

    He almost got away.

    Beta had stepped away from the camera and was moving towards him.

    “You aren’t getting away that soon.” she smiled and took his arm again.

    Though this time she wasn’t clinging to him but merely holding on.

    “I just wanted to see how my brothers were doing.”

    “We’re going to meet them over at the concourse soon.”

    “Is Shockwave’s cruiser really that special, that it would be put on display?”

    “An RCX-922 is just good enough when backed with a convincing argument. Of course, it helps that Shockwave’s is immaculate.”

    “You should see Rapax.”

    “I’m sure!”

    She took him back through the investor’s area and out to the crew pit.

    “Magnus, this is Camper, our chief engineer.”

    “Magnus, it’s nice to officially meet you.”

    Camper introduced his crew.

    “Magnus has expressed an interest in our latest runabout project.” she observed after the introductions.

    “Well, it will support plus sizes,” he seemed surprised, “but I don’t know how we’ll adapt the shell.”

    “Larger Combaticons are an untapped market.” Beta explained.

    “A niche market.” Camper offered, “Beta, why are we talking about this here?”

    “I have my reasons.” she nodded happily, “See you in the winners circle?”

    “I wouldn’t miss it!” Camper said through a big, big grin.

    “He seems really happy.” Magnus observed as she led him towards another area in the pavilion.

    “He should be. He and his crew just won the big one for engineers. Investors, on the other hand, want to see a race win.”

    She pushed back a curtain to let them into a parking area. One of the sky cruisers beeped at them.

    “If you don’t mind me asking, why did you want to talk with Camper about the runabout?”

    “Because I already knew what his answer would be.” she opened the driver’s side door.

    Magnus tried to work that one over while he got into the other side.

    “While we’re waiting for Diamondtip and Roundabout, I’d like to tell you a story.”

    “Sure.”

    “It’s about a war and how, as a result, whole generations of Autobots came on line with chassis suitable for combat.”

    “Sounds reasonable.”

    “But combat worthy chassis are expensive. So after many thousands of megacycles of peace the Autobots started wondering if it was really worth it, seeing that most would never need capabilities that had once seemed so necessary.”

    Magnus nodded.

    “Then one cycle a new and improved standard type became available. But because it was more expensive many Autobots didn’t feel they could even invest in them. In fact, they started to believe that they would never need to be combat worthy again. The Combaticons and Seekers, now new and improved, would protect them. So they stopped bringing Vector Sigma any combat worthy chassis. The new ones were too expensive and the old ones were obsolete, or so the popular myth went.”

    “I guess they didn’t want to pay for something they didn’t need?”

    “So you can see our problem?”

    He thought about it before shrugging.

    “When you went with Terrakas to review the troops, what did you think?”

    He looked intently at her: “Everyone was very professional and intimidating.”

    “The Autobots too?”

    “Artillery? Are you kidding me? Big guns are always impressive!”

    “And all artillery units are Autobot units. Most sniper or support units too. It’s a hold over from the war when that was what most of my brethren could safely do.”

    “But there’s no real reason for it anymore? The Autobots I saw looked just as capable as the Combaticons.”

    “Laws get passed when there’s a reason.... Still, civil defense forces aside, our armies are segregated to this cycle as a result.”

    He sank back into his seat to think that one over.

    “Remember my little story.” she said as Diamondtip opened the door to let Roundabout sit down.

    “Should I have opened your door?” Magnus asked.

    “It’s considered polite to make such allowances for your lady. I’m pretty sure A-3 would bust a gasket if you had.”

    “So, commanding officers and friends open their own doors?”

    “Right!” Roundabout winked.

    Beta took off and hovered for a moment.

    “Ah!”

    She gunned the engine and buzzed his brothers before climbing up towards traffic.

    Magnus wondered that what femmes, or at least these femmes, really wanted was to be just ordinary guys, accepted for who they were rather than sought after for what they looked like or represented. Not that they were hostile to being treated differently. Maybe they wanted to be treated as ‘guys’ on their own terms rather than as ‘guys’ on ‘guy’ terms?

    All of which made him crave another infusion when he finally thought of it that way! The mysteries that Primus’ book presented were comfortingly comfortable in comparison. Giant world killer ships. Yeah, no worries there....

    Was he just being a ‘guy’ or a Combaticon?



    After an award ceremony with obligatory interviews, for which Magnus was thankfully not obliged, he found himself wandering around with Beta on his arm as they looked at all the exotic and rare transports. Everything was stunningly beautiful and flawlessly maintained. There were even mirrors so people could see under them.

    Every so often individuals, not always owners, would be singled out and introduced. It actually happened so frequently that he decided that he was as much on display as anything else around here.

    Oddly enough, no one was even talking about investing anything. When Beta talked to any owner she was only interested in them and their prized possession.

    There were hundreds of vehicles. Some were millions of megacycles old. By far the oldest was a sparkling counterpart to A-3’s beat up utility. The old general was hovering over it admiringly when they walked up.

    “Beta, my dear! Lad.” he said without stopping his examination.

    “Why don’t you just restore yours?” Beta finally asked as he inspected the depth of reflection.

    “Why would I want a utility I couldn’t pile stuff in?” he wondered even as his hand hovered over the lift gate as if he were afraid to actually touch it, “Fascinating story, they actually found this in a crate on the loading dock. People had been walking past it for ages and had always assumed that it wasn’t the exact same crate that they’d been looking at their whole lives.”

    “Another demonstration of the secret of invisibility.” she sighed.

    “Congratulations on your win!” he said in earnest, finally taking his eyes off the utility.

    “Your 5th and 9th place showings weren’t bad either.”

    He nodded happily.

    She pulled Magnus away towards a small blue Vectorhawk runabout that was nearby.



    The sun was coming up again as Beta led him out onto the balcony overlooking the smelting pools. They were already working at opening them again.

    “Thanks for doing this with me, Magnus. I normally do this show alone.”

    “Why? Just because A-3 invested in the wrong company?”

    “It started out that way.” she smiled, “I guess you could say we invested in each other’s wrong companies.... That probably sounds bizarre to a just-boot like yourself.”

    “Maybe.” he watched workers struggle to move a massive pulley-motor into its proper alignment, “Cashways, the guy who brought me back from Kaon, didn’t know about me and was amazed to think I’d made good on all my commitments, that I wasn’t tangled up in a mass of obligations, loyalties and friendships. That seemed pretty weird to me at the time too.”

    “Frag!” he silently cursed, “Did I just say what I think I just said?!”

    “Sometimes the world works that way.” she said listlessly, “Right now, a few friends aside, the only thing in our lives that’s left of us is ... us.... I can’t believe I just said that!”

    While she laughed from embarrassment and apologized, Magnus took care to place a security shell around that memory so it would never make its way to his voice box like that again. He told her it was no problem. She hugged him.

    “I’ve got to go back to work.” she smiled, “Remember my little story.”

    “Sure.”

    After she walked away, he turned back to watch them work on the lids. They had the one pulley in place and were starting to move another one now.

    “You’re killing me. You know that, don’t you?”
    Magnus turned: “Kup?”

    “Let’s go, Mister Femme Magnet. The others are waiting.”

    “I don’t know why they seem to like me?” he allowed.

    “That makes it even worse.” Kup grumbled.

    He led him across to the next building at street level and then they went straight to the top floor. Ruddy morning light flooded the elevator from the glass encased promenade and caused Magnus to squint.

    “So what’s all the way up here?”

    “Private party.” he pointed.

    1002 Styles?” Magnus asked as he followed Kup inside.

    “When you can make money with one, why stop with just one?”

    “Makes sense.”

    The open doors were equipped with a shimmering light diffusion shield that made it seem like they were stepping into night.

    There was applause and some cheers from those inside. They were his brothers, friends, and fellow Decepticons.

    “Thanks, but I didn’t do anything. Powertech and Sapphira deserve the applause.”

    “Who says we’re responding to anything you did?” Shockwave asked.

    “Make him run ‘the line!’” someone near the back yelled.

    “Not a bad idea.” Kup actually sounded animated as he pushed him forward.

    “Sorry, can’t do it.” Wildway interjected.

    “Why not?” the same voice.

    “Magnus is here on loan only.” Wildway continued, “Powertech wants him back without a scratch.”

    “Who’s that?” he turned to Kup.

    “Slingshot. Come on, I’ll introduce you.”

    All 87 of his brothers were here. They’d come from the farthest reaches of Cybertron’s influence just for him!

    “Don’t feel too special.” Striker said to him at one point, “My party was in Vilnacron.”

    They had the whole place to themselves, not that this many big Combaticons didn’t provide the illusion of a packed house.

    When he’d finally met them all, his friends got their turn.

    “Well, blast! Now I know you won’t be doing any real work.” Powertech vented before explaining to the others how he’d been the one to ‘crawl’ through the ductwork.

    “I was doing the crawling.” Thrasher pointed out as he visually compared his height to Powertech’s.

    “Absurd!” Magnus silently vented, “Neither one was crawling and they know it.”

    “Commander Oculon,” Quintus Ray spoke next, “can we borrow this tank the next time we go up against rebels?”

    “I’m not sure.... There’s a lot of file work that’s been piling up in his enforced absences. He has yet to write one report.”

    “A megacycle maybe?” Comdec asked.

    “Or three. It depends.” Oculon laughed and shrugged arms wide.

    “I see you kept the horns.”

    “Yes,” he ran a finger along one rod, “they’re still here, Cobatron.”

    “The middle one dominates.”

    “What does it do?” Fastrack asked.

    He thought about it: “It snags cables.”

    “So Magnus,” Harvester crossed his arms, “you ready to conclude our little discussion or have you really been a slacker like Powertech claims?”

    “Here? Now?”

    “Why not?” Shockwave stepped forward, “It really is a novel idea: take a speech that’s been influential to you and share it. Then discuss why it’s influential and where it came from. Your friends filled us in on your last discussion while you and Beta were looking at rare polyalloy.”

    “Good! I’ll order the sampler trays.” Heavy Iron announced.

    “Only we’ll do this without infusions this time.”

    Heavy Iron appeared crestfallen: “But ... Shockers?...”

    “Powertech has placed Magnus under certain restrictions and he’s been lubricated enough by now.”

    “So no hazing and now no drinking?” Kup seemed incredulous.

    “He only looks fully functional. Powertech wouldn’t even give a set time to have him back.” Shockwave’s long pause caught Magnus’ attention, “So, Magnus, are you ready?”

    “No.”

    He contemplated just how badly injured he was. Had Sapphira been serious earlier?

    “How bad is it?” his brother seemed testy.

    “While my memory was messed up I managed to consider Havitron’s speech. After that I looked into Cobatron’s.”

    “And here you made it seem like you were going to give them top priority? At least that’s what you said to Striker.” he sounded disappointed.

    “Sorry.”

    “Slacker!” it was Slingshot again.

    “Well, from what Powertech told me I guess we shouldn’t be surprised if you’ve lacked focus lately. Hopefully they’ll be able to fix that up for good.”

    “What do we do now?” Striker asked, “I was all ready with my own speech.”

    “We proceed as planned except that Magnus’ role as caller has been cut short. So Magnus, you said you looked at Havitron’s first? What’s it called?”

    A Point of Jurisprudence, by Panacron.”

    “Again with law?” Heavy Iron sighed, “You’ll probably get to keep this one, Oculon.”

    “I want Soundwave if you’re keeping Magnus.” Kup grumbled.

    Magnus blinked ... Kup, the garrison commander of Chaar, had maybe expected him there? It looked like Maximus might make good on his threat.

    “There’s a good reason why I started there.”

    “Go on.” Heavy Iron waved a hand.

    “My systems were off line and I was operating on native intelligence. I didn’t even have access to that part of me that would let me know where to look in memory.”

    “Right.”

    “Honest! I thought I could reconstruct A Point of Jurisprudence because it was law. I actually got pretty close to Havitron’s actual presentation but never figured out why it could be inspirational.”

    “What did you think it was about?” Havitron asked.

    “That different legal standards applied because of who you were rather than what you’d done.”

    Havitron seemed to consider the idea: “Why don’t we start from ore on this one?”

    “Sure. Shockwave?”

    “It’s you’re call.”

    Havitron gave his whole speech again. It was just as Magnus had remembered it: all that legalese about standards of evidence.

    “Here’s where I think Magnus went wrong.” Havitron continued, “Several times in the essay, Panacron used a subtle tactic of presentation where you transpose the clearest statement of what the law absolutely means with the interpretation of the law. First you provide your interpretation and why it should mean what you say it means, then you state the actual intention, all before you summarize how your interpretation satisfies the meaning of the writ of law.

    “When Panacron wrote about different standards of evidence, say if someone is an Autobot or a Combaticon or a Predacon, the intention was not to relate the actual legal distinction between them. Rather, Panacron’s interpretation was given in an effort to clarify and level procedural considerations. It was not that people were treated differently because of the law, but that they should be treated more equally despite the clearest statement of the law.”

    He went on to describe how he’d come across the ancient precedent as a law clerk in Boltax and how he kept inserting it into different case logs. The important thing it taught him was how to be creative to achieve your goals.

    “So ... I really did miss the point.”

    “I’m not sure what ‘native intelligence’ is, but if you were as messed up as you claim, I’d say you did pretty well for yourself.”

    “Thanks.”

    “Don’t mention it.”

    “Not going to call me a slacker?”

    “Been done to death lately. Cobatron’s up.”

    Preserving Our Glory IV was easier.” Magnus allowed, “I’d actually regained functionality and was looking for something uplifting to consider ... given all of what else had been going on.”

    “Law ... and now politics?” Heavy Iron laughed.

    Magnus shrugged.

    “The speech was about resource preservation; but, I figured that Cobatron had been drawn to it because of how Brexas had described Kaon’s natural wonders. After all, he was going into the Seekers where he could see all the wonders of the universe.”

    “Well?” Shockwave turned to Cobatron.

    “Magnus, if I’d wanted to see natural wonders I could have joined a tramp shipping line instead. A lot less trouble and risk than with the Seekers. You were right about preserving Cybertron’s resources though, as our economy isn’t based on planetary commerce any more. If it still was, we’d never hear anyone discuss violating the Combaticon Patrimony over Kaon. It may sound cynical to say it, but we appear to have this choice: either we consume Cybertron or we consume other worlds. We export more than the products of industry, we export the very substance of Cybertron. Unless, of course, what we export somehow subsist of imported resources. That’s the beauty of having access to all those uninhabited systems: no one needs to get hurt.”

    “So what happens if someone else wants one of those worlds?” Magnus asked.

    “If they’re Quintessons the answer is easy; otherwise, we have merchants, diplomats, lawyers and the fleet.”

    “Most would rather we went straight from diplomats to the fleet.” Shockwave snickered, “Cobatron, a sound analysis of our logistical situation.”

    “Thanks! Coming from you, Sir, that’s a real complement!”

    “So Magnus, have you anything to add before you loose control of this party?”

    “I think I understand Cobatron’s concern. Captain told us that the reason Quevald was energy dependent was because they’d been too eager to exploit their planet’s mass and they lost the thermal energy source that had fueled them. Later the Quintessons mined out the planet’s then solid core. I guess they’re in a bad way.”

    “Another sound analysis.” Shockwave sighed.

    “But,” Magnus was thinking of how they’d managed to survive – the Malitites in the book too, “they may have marketable skills and products that could be of benefit to us. They’ve apparently mastered the art of surviving on little to nothing. If those skills could be exploited rather than simply do as they did in the past, as we’d be doing without our little empire, then maybe we could all benefit from the interaction. I mean, does anyone here really imagine that they survived on the strength of economies alone?”

    “So what should we do about it?”

    “I don’t know. Yet.”

    Shockwave smiled: “Always the optimist? Ok, Comdec, you’re up next. You’ve already told us what was important so now tell us why?”

    “Sure. Though it feels strange telling people who actually knew Gladius Pax what his first principal of leadership means to me.”
     
  18. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 17: Iacon One


    “His name was Accountant, the sort of Autobot that people find amusingly dull. Kind of like an archivist, only without the whimsy. He worked in the branch office of the Central Exchequer that managed the affairs of Iacon’s Combaticon packhouses. One cycle a request for access to the fourth packhouse reached his terminal. Normally such a request was routine and would be approved without delay; however, this time something was unusual: the request came from a Constructicon named Gladius Pax in the company of two 177UHEXs named Sentinel and Destron.

    “Like any good bureaucrat, Accountant stalled as he researched procedural validity. While he did so, the Combaticons again confirmed that they were working under Primus’ direction and they repeated their request. Actually, he made them repeat themselves twice. While he was familiar with Combaticons, he spent most of his time dealing with Autobots and his stall tactics were suitable for them. Then he took the next two logical steps for any bureaucrat in his place. First, he passed on the request to his supervisor with an attachment: a further inquiry directed to the main arsenal’s staff. Then he opened the packhouse to the Combaticons ... after all, they were Combaticons.

    “He was still compiling the required reports when his supervisor returned his call. He had networked a conference with other accountants who had received similar request from other Constructicons. Needless to say, Accountant’s boss was really animated and demanded to know the status of their reports. ‘It’s time,’ he said, ‘for decisive action!’ So they worked together to finish the reports quicker.”

    A snicker rolled through Comdec’s audience.

    “The reports done, he sent them all out to take personal charge of the situation as well as make sure that proper distributions and reimbursements were made. So Accountant set out from the Exchequer with his data plate in hand. What he found was a packhouse filled with Combaticons milling about for no apparent purpose. They were talking and carrying on like Autobots, of all things. Accountant demanded to speak to the person in charge. ‘Sure,’ one Combaticon volunteered, ‘I just hope your neck is flexible.’

    “Soon he was standing before Gladius Pax himself who was amused when he was asked where the Quintesson in charge of the packhouse was. ‘He’s in enforced sleep mode.’ the giant laughed, ‘What can I do for you?’ Accountant explained the situation and his directive. Gladius Pax’ response was to lift Accountant to his shoulder, tell him to hold on tight and to get his stylus ready.

    “While Accountant was still trying to figure out which forms cabinet held the reports that covered granting Combaticons free will, Gladius Pax mobilized his troops and marched them out into the city. At first there was no fighting, just a bunch of armed Combaticons, Autobots and a few aliens mobilizing. What minimal damage was done, at least around Accountant, was quickly accounted for. He would later say that the hassle he put Gladius Pax through to make sure each instance of damage to public or private property was accounted for actually caused the giant to restrain everyone’s enthusiasm.

    “Still, it wasn’t long before Accountant’s supervisor’s own report worked its way up the Exchequer and into the tentacles of someone concerned with more than distributions and reimbursements. Combaticons from elsewhere were mobilized into Iacon and the war began for real. During most of the battle, Accountant rode on Gladius Pax’ shoulder and did his best to keep the books straight. After all, someone would have to pay for all of it. They say the two of them were a real sight, arguing if any given action or damage inflicted was really necessary.”

    Comdec continued to describe the developing friendship between the soldier and his accountant and how they became such a fixture in places where no sane old-style Autobot would go. It wasn’t that Accountant was so dumb he didn’t know what was going on. He just had his own priorities. He was soon helping the revolution along though, and proved himself to be an invaluable scrounger and ‘procedural redirection artist,’ what most people would call an embezzler. Several times in the story, Gladius Pax suffered injuries to protect Accountant. After describing a more serious instance, when the Constructicon was actually seriously hurt by artillery, Comdec paused for a bit to look around.

    “Self sacrifice, for a combat engineer, is such a logical means to an end. Without it, poor Accountant would have died several times over during just Iacon One. But with Gladius Pax protecting him he felt secure enough to stay right where he was. Among his achievements, Accountant was the one who refined the use of actuarial science for combat situations; but, he was most proud of a bit of procedural redirection that led to the availability of a good number of sparkless 135UH chassis along with a few who actually went to Vector Sigma. One of these, Pax Duon, would later put his own creds down on a stretched version of a Combaticon-spec chassis: me. So without Gladius Pax and his first principal of leadership, I wouldn’t be here.”

    “How is Accountant these days?” Shockwave turned to Kup.

    “I don’t let him ride around on my shoulder, if that’s what you’re asking.”

    “Good job, Comdec! Before we go on, Oculon, Fastrack used to be one of yours: does he know about True Faith?”

    Decepticons don’t tend to make good Decepticons. Fastrack was a capable officer.”

    “I’ll take that as a ‘maybe’ then. Ok, Fastrack, tell us all why a Decepticon recruitment speech was so inspirational to a beat cop?”

    “Well–”

    “And please don’t tell us that you didn’t know what it really was.” Shockwave continued.

    “Can’t fool you.” he smiled, “I heard it one cycle after I’d been a Decepticon for a while. I was reading some detail freak the Rents Riot Act in the basement level of Tarn’s judicial complex when something in him snapped. He started rambling off this prepared speech like it was the most important thing possible for me to hear, much more so than anything I actually wanted to know.

    “I could have coped with his rant if only he’d done a good job! It simply took a while for sheer annoyance at his incompetence to overcome my astonishment. I got up from the interrogation table, pulled up the text on a nearby terminal and then proceeded to show him how it should be done. Really did a fine job of oration, if you ask me.

    “So this punk was sitting there venting fumes at being shown up, and I’m still berating his skills, when he pops up and starts yelling stuff like: ‘He’s out there somewhere! Primus is out there and you don’t care! I bet you haven’t lifted a finger to find him your whole miserable existence!’

    “I think I was shaking with rage by the time his emotional tirade was over. My partner wisely pulled me out and we put the punk in his holding cell.

    “But I was still mad, so I got hold of the judge in the case to tell him about what had happened. ‘You really think he’s a Decepticon?’ the judge asked. ‘Well, no.’ says I, ‘He’s way too stupid.’ ‘Unfortunately stupidity isn’t yet a crime.’ he said and I had no good counter argument to that.”

    Fastrack sighed.

    “And I wasn’t mad anymore no matter what I wanted.... That’s when it hit me: Primus really must be out there somewhere. He was supposed to have been immortal, wasn’t he?

    “I can’t tell you how irritated I still am at that Autobot! Even though I was just a junior officer, not much better than a young punk myself, I had my whole life planned: I was going to take over for Commander Oculon when he finally moved on to bigger, better commands.”

    He waved his hands about to express his frustration.

    “But now, now I had this idea that maybe I could find Primus. If I was a Seeker. After all, you have to have the right tools for the mission.” he shrugged.

    Oculon was laughing: “True Faith does make a better speech than ‘you don’t care if Primus is out there!’”

    “Did I ever have a chance to be your successor?”

    “You weren’t bad. I wouldn’t have worked to get you on Nine’s team otherwise.”

    “Thanks, boss.”

    “So you were a Decepticon?”

    “Magnus, I think you’ll find that: ‘Once a Decepticon, always a Decepticon.’ There’s this ‘no-escape’ clause that people talk about but no one can point to.”

    “I’m just glad no one’s realized how a GAR or pseudogar capability could streamline filing reports.”

    Dead silence reigned after Striker’s comment.

    “Your turn’s coming up, junior.” Oculon smiled.

    “Maybe they need help at the Exchequer?” Cobatron chuckled.

    “Over your nonfunctioning chassis!” Wrecker growled loudly as he made his way to the bar area.

    “No drinking.” Shockwave asserted.

    “After that comment, I need a drink!” he turned to the waitdrone, “Extra sweet style in your largest mug and well chilled.”

    Shockwave sighed: “Fair enough.... Next we have another little piece of Decepticon lore called Into the Light by Ametheron. Broadback?”

    “Can I have a do-over?”

    “The die is cast.”

    “Well ... I first came across Ametheron while waiting for Quintus Ray to come on stage at the Theorum. He’d made a big deal of how he was going to wow everyone as the first lead in Praxacon’s Perdurable Comedy.

    “As is normal for the play, it was preceded and punctuated with independent moral orations. It just so happened that Into the Light was the opening recitation.

    “On the surface, there’s nothing unusual about the idea that one can live life to its fullest by living for the day. What intrigued me was the symbolism. Anyone who knows Praxacon knows how he equates light with ignorance, a lack of fulfillment, and most specifically with the sweeping away of significance. In none of his works is his darkness more clearly expressed than in Perdurable Comedy. So, Into the Light was not merely moralistic, but juxtaposed to the underlying metaphor of the play itself.

    “It was the sort of thing that can really grab your attention. Especially preceding the first repetition of the play as it did. While some of those around me were talking about its origins as a Decepticon piece – I guess they were pronouncing it wrong – most focused on the same thing that I did: the surrealistic counterpoint.

    “Also, given what Ray told me later, the actors had no idea that the speaker was going to use Ametheron. The effect was far from subtle, as it transformed the comedy into a tragedy without even making the slightest adjustment to the approved script. Never mind the similar effect on the intermittent moralities.”

    Broadback began outlining how the reversal of darkness for light had changed the subtext of the play itself before he discussed the effect on some of the more outstanding moral orations that followed. He described how he and others were at a loss to know if the effect was incidental, an accident of speaker selection, or if that first speaker had been deliberate.

    Then he noted that works by Ametheron or Praxacon are now generally banned from the Theorum for a cycle or two before or after each other.

    “In summation, the speech has stayed with me for this very reason: the way it showed how context and subtext could be inexplicably mutable. Remembering that cycle has helped me to remember to look to the larger context of life. Or at least try. Even before then I had wanted to find my way to the Seekers; but, afterwards I found renewed appreciation for why I had that desire.”

    “I remember that.” Oculon nodded, “You will not be aware of it, but we spent over twenty megacycles in surveillance of your speaker. He’s still a real piece of work.”

    “It was intentional?”

    “Like a Junkion day is long.”

    “Is that long?” Magnus whispered to Kup.

    “The planet of junk has a rate of rotation identical to it’s stellar year.” Kup whispered back, “So I guess you could say that a Junkion day is forever.”

    “Commander Oculon, you’re being generous to say that Whitepool’s a piece of work.” Ray added.

    “How so?”

    “Some of my fellow actors still claim that death’s too good for him.”

    “Maybe we were investigating the wrong actors?”

    Magnus stepped forward: “Well, I guess it’s my turn!”

    “Why?” Shockwave asked plainly.

    “Because ... I’m the only one from Nine’s class who hasn’t said why his oration was meaningful?”

    “Try again.”

    “Because ... The Record of Primus kicked off Iacon One–”

    “Accountant didn’t hear it till much later. Again, why?”

    “It’s my turn?” he tried not to whine.

    “Magnus, I think I speak for everyone here, when I say I’d rather learn who you are than think that I’ve got you already figured out. Don’t be boring. Striker, you’re up.”

    “Me?”

    “Did I stutter?”

    “But I’m the –next– youngest.”

    “You aren’t a just-boot, boy.” Kup backed Shockwave up.

    “Well, ok, I really thought about it and I guess the one oration that’s had a big impact on me was something by Alpha Trion from the war, after the defeat of the dark guardians in the second battle for Iacon. He said: ‘Beta, what just happened?’”

    Silence. Striker started looking uncomfortable.

    “You’re in rare form today.” Phase sighed.

    “Kup,” Magnus didn’t bother whispering this time, “was that supposed to be a joke?”

    Some scattered chuckles.

    “Magnus, no one knows what happened during Iacon Two because no one who knows ever talks about it.”

    “Thanks Kup.”

    “So maybe those who know, they really don’t know?” Striker gesticulated every word.

    “Let it die the slow, horrible death it deserves.” Shockwave advised.

    “Well then.... Actually my oration involves Iacon One, and Alpha Trion, and the speech he gave before the Senate while the city was still an Allied hands. I should point out, since we’ve all been recently reminded of the importance of subtext, that the Senate at the time was composed entirely of Quintessons. Also, this speech was not included in anything that Magnus, or any of us, had access to in the crèche.”

    “What’s it called?” Magnus asked.

    “It’s never been given an official title since it was only entered into the Microcycles of the Senate under A-3’s public ID code. The Senate had been reconvened under duress and the Chief Magistrate refused to allow the proceedings normal status. The only reason anyone knows about it is because A-3 published it himself later during the war, in response to charges that the initial complaints against the Quintessons had been overstated and the war had begun on false grounds.

    “Also, in order to publish from the Microcycles of the Senate, Alpha Trion had to lead a delegation back to Iacon while the city was under Quintesson control. This was not long before Iacon Two, when the Quintessons used this very delegation as a basis to accuse the Allies of espionage – their official excuse for starting to use drones like the dark guardians. Is that adequate subtext, little brother?”

    “Seems so. Were they really spying?”

    “Yes.” several of his brothers said in unison.

    He could respect that.

    “If you don’t mind, I’ll skip the obeisance, introduction, salutation and opening statements since I’ve pretty much covered everything Alpha Trion had to say up front in far fewer words. I also don’t need to recount, as he did, The Record of Primus, because everyone here already knows it.

    “The substance of Alpha Trion’s oration was essentially two fold: first, that the causes of the war were just because the Quintesson’s administration of Cybertron’s affairs had ceased to be, and were ceasing yet to be, in accordance with her laws; second, that the action of freeing the Combaticons was a lawful use of the Shard of Primus, given that it was for that very purpose that Primus had made the shard in the first place. This last is where I want to start:”

    Striker drew himself erect and assumed the classic pose of a barrister appealing to reason, face forward, shoulders square, the left hand held palm up at mid chest, fingers curled just so, and the right arm relaxed.

    “And now, Excellent Ministers, moving to the question of propriety in the matter of the Combaticons under the Stewardship of the Coordinator of the Armies of Cybertron, Primus, with respect to his utilization of an Artifact of Primus, the King, the Shard of Primus: Excellent Ministers all;

    “In ages long past, but well and personally known to you, Most Excellent Ministers, did Primus, the King, fashion the Shard of Primus that with it he might free the wills of the Combaticons.

    “This singular Artifact he entrusted to the Commander of the Armies of Cybertron, of the Five, Deltacron, your brother. This Worthy Minister had this very Shard of Primus in his possession for a long time. Much as you, Excellent Ministers, know yourselves and may personally testify to.

    “In due course this August Senate invested Trust in this Plenipotentiary Minister to have full authority over this Legacy of Cybertron and in That Authority he chose to grant free will to one Combaticon, his aide Primus, the Coordinator of the Armies of Cybertron.

    “The Matter of this occurrence having been Witnessed by you, Sublimely Excellent Ministers, in accordance with the only stipulation that you yourselves placed on the Excellent Deltacron in his administration of his Trusteeship from Primus, the King. Then did you, My Excellent Ministers, bear witness of the Proper Execution of the Authority granted to your Plenipotentiary Minister, Deltacron, Commander of the Armies of Cybertron, when he freed a Combaticon.

    “And in your presence, having fulfilled your Stipulation, did your Plenipotentiary Minister, Deltacron, Commander of the Armies of Cybertron, Give to Primus, Coordinator of the Armies of Cybertron, the Trusteeship of Primus, the King, and Commanded him: ‘This is yours to free who you will, when you will, as you will. As you have been freed so may they be freed.’

    “In due course, and with the full knowledge of this August Body and its Beneficent Ministers, did Primus free the One who was his successor and did give him charge as he had been charged.

    “Furthermore, this other Primus did with the full knowledge of this August Body and its Beneficent Ministers also free the One who was his successor and did give him charge as he had been charged.

    “This Primus, our Primus, has this Authority from you, Great Senate of Cybertron, to free whom he will, when he will, as he will. This in accordance with your own Decree and the Longstanding Stewardship of this Legacy of Cybertron, having been rightfully transmitted to the present cycle with your full knowledge.

    “This then is the Lawful Will of Primus, Coordinator of the Armies of Cybertron, that he has freed all Combaticons under his Command. Further, he has expressed a Great Desire for which cause alone this August Senate should be approached and entreated, to obtain Advise and Consent.

    “Great Ministers of Cybertron, let us not bicker about lesser affairs when greater stand at the door!

    “Primus, the Coordinator of the Armies of Cybertron, in accordance with the Authority granted him by this very Senate, desires to exercise his Patrimony and Trusteeship for the benefit of all those Combaticons who are Priest of Vector Sigma and who do not engage in any War at all unless War is brought to them.

    “Further, our Primus, the Coordinator of the Armies of Cybertron, desires to exercise his Patrimony and Trusteeship for the benefit of all those who lay yet beyond our sight, those known only to Vector Sigma, that they may always be free in whatever Service they render to Cybertron and her Ministers.

    “Beneficent Ministers, will you give your Advise? Magnificent Ministers, will you give your Consent? I, Alpha Trion, of Cybertron, humbly thank you for your kind patience.”

    “The Quintessons have a saying:” Shockwave rumbled, “‘Alpha Trion doesn’t know how to expound.’”

    “And it was still way too long.” Heavy Iron sighed, “I lost interest after: ‘And now, Excellent Ministers.’”

    “He’s the only lawyer I know of who has ever walked out of a Quintesson court without ending up on retainer. They find his brevity distastefully exasperating.”

    Magnus half listened to his brothers. Had he really heard Striker right? Had the Quintessons given their blessing to the freeing of all future Combaticons?

    Of course Primus hadn’t asked to free the Combaticons still in Quintesson service. That would probably have been too much to ask for.

    “Striker,” Magnus interrupted the conversation between Shockwave and Heavy Iron, “about the Quints: were they already starting to use drones?”

    Striker nodded: “The dark guardians were the first. Intended to operate as command and control hubs in addition to their obvious role as shock troops. No telling how they were defeated. When the Quintessons finally introduced combat drones late in the war there were no dark guardians deployed, so it must have been some serious flaw that Alpha Trion and company exploited.... So, Bro’ ... who’s next?”

    “I figure that’s good enough.” Shockwave smiled and winked at Heavy Iron.

    “Yeah,” he concurred, “no real need to make us suffer anymore. Though Accountant’s story is always welcome.”

    “I liked Fastrack’s.” Slingshot said as he was moving towards that Autobot, hand extended.

    “But....” Striker floundered.

    “Command grade don’t explain themselves, junior.” Oculon smiled as he grabbed Striker by the shoulder, “Now, lets go get a drink and talk about your future in accountancy.”

    Magnus watched them walk away.

    “Was that it?” Powertech whispered to Shockwave, so low that Magnus could barely hear him.

    Shockwave shook his head: “By the way, I’ve been told you carry a Mark-17. Would you bring it by Rapax around high noon tomorrow? Maybe we could get in some target practice?”

    Powertech smiled broadly: “Sure, that would be fun!”

    “Doomed.” Magnus sighed before he turned towards Slingshot and Fastrack.
     
  19. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 18: Insubordination


    “Say Striker, I was wondering about Combaticons not having to buy their chassis. Is that a hold over from when we didn’t have free will?”

    Striker looked up from the logic puzzle he’d been entertaining himself with for much of the last 23 microcycles.

    “Yeah, I guess it is.”

    “It hardly seems fair, if you ask me.”

    “It isn’t. But I guess it’s just part of the price we pay for being Combaticons.”

    Ok ... that wasn’t the expected answer.

    Magnus watched his brother finagle the logic puzzle to its final completion.

    “Dynamic algorithmic expression. Not bad.”

    “You have to light up all four planes in your color while your opponent tries to do the same. Every move changes the board and allows you to capture territory, defend territory or regroup. Like brainiac cyberball.”

    Magnus looked at the all red display. It was a game?

    “You really gave that blue guy a pounding.”

    “Magnus, I was the blue guy. There’s this guy over in Boltax. I wouldn’t have been playing at all, but it’s hard to get a reservation to play him.”

    “I ... I didn’t cost you the game? Did I?”

    Striker shook his head: “I might have held out a microcycle more than I did. Two or three at best. By the time you popped off I was already as good as dead.”

    “Sorry.”

    “No problem, little brother.”

    “What’s it called?”

    “Ziggurat.”

    “So why is it unfair to us that Autobots have to buy their chassis?”

    “Precocious, aren’t we?” Striker shook his head sadly.

    “I try.”

    “Just a moment while I contact Shockwave.” he looked away and then back, “Magnus, looks like you do get to hear it from me after all.”

    “Hear what?”

    “It isn’t that Autobots have to buy their chassis. It’s just that we can’t.”

    Magnus looked his brother square in the eyes. What was he saying?

    “Combaticon frames are the property of Cybertron’s government.” Striker sighed.

    “We’re slaves?” he was horrified.

    “No.” he laughed uneasily, “No, it’s just that ... they own the chassis even if they don’t own the life.”

    He was numbed by the revelation. Found himself sinking into a chair that Striker was pushing up.

    “I don’t get it?” he finally said.

    “Magnus ... this is one of those moments that all of us face. It just depends on the series and who the authorizing agent was for when they hear about it. Artemus, well, he always wanted us to ask about it first. To ask him if possible.... I’m sorry you didn’t get that chance.”

    “I feel like I see his face every time I close my eyes.”

    “Yeah. I know.” he sighed and pulled up a chair for himself.

    Striker seemed to be watching him intently.

    “What?”

    “Just trying to figure you out. I think you’re going to get mad.”

    “Why shouldn’t I get mad? I have a mind of my own. I know somecycle I’ll have plans and dreams all my own just like the rest of you! And here you are telling me that I can’t ... buy myself?! I can’t even go down to the Exchequer, transfer the funds and walk out free and clear? Not even if I wanted to?!”

    “Magnus–”

    “And my so-called friends didn’t say a thing!”

    Striker’s eyes snapped back on him: “Autobots know better than that! It’s often the first thing they learn about us.”

    “I see.”

    He smiled a bit: “Besides, have you any idea how much you would cost?”

    “Rare trinket and all? Probably pretty expensive.” Magnus deflated.

    He laughed: “I think the trinket is a freebee. Or would be. Magnus, by the time you add up all the cost, which includes a lot of expensive extras we Alphas get–” he shook his head, “You might as well give up on ever having anything for yourself – even at reasonable interest rates. Kinda like Ravage.”

    That broke through the gloom a bit.

    “Why does he owe everyone creds?”

    “He doesn’t. Well, except for Lynx he doesn’t. At some point in the distant past Ravage made some promise to his brothers and sisters and he failed them. Most of them never talk about it. A few will treat him pretty badly and I’ve heard what they say to him.”

    “Lightwing and Buzzsaw?”

    “Lightwing’s probably the worst. Shockwave says he’s never heard her say so much as a kind word to Ravage ever since he was a just-boot. Buzzsaw’s ok when Lightwing’s not around. I guess. He doesn’t talk much.”

    “I noticed.”

    Magnus sighed. The moment of distraction was over and he could feel the indignation like it was a physical pressure in his chest.

    Shockwave dangled a sipper in front of him.

    “I thought you said no drinking?”

    “No one else listens to me so why should you?” he pushed the sipper into his hands. Handed Striker a one too.

    “Thanks.”

    “I’m really not–”

    “Magnus, looking at your optics tells me you’re burning through energy like there’s no tomorrow. Humor me.”

    “Yes, Sir.” he took a big sip.

    Maaaagh! Bitter after bitter! That’s SA-113. Had to be!

    “You got it handled?” Shockwave asked Striker.

    “Wasn’t that long ago. I think I remember the drill.”

    Magnus tried telling himself to get over himself. His brothers were in the same barracks. But he was mad just the same.

    “Don’t worry about feeling like a jerk.” Striker advised.

    Thanks.”

    “It comes with the ... well, it just ‘comes.’”

    Magnus imprinted The Summation of Megatron on this infusion too. Why not?

    “Interesting. What did you put on it?”

    “A hero’s dream.” he concentrated on the liquid ... he could sense the oration.

    He took a sip and watched it jumble up.

    “Nice glowing green optics thing too.” Striker lifted his sipper in salute before taking a sip.

    Green? Weird, the infusion had taken on a green tint. So this star made his eyes glow green when he used it?

    The others left the two of them alone while they were working on their sippers. Neither said much. Magnus was still mad. Nothing seemed to make him feel better. Not even realizing that Artemus hadn’t owned his own chassis. Though knowing that Destron didn’t own his chassis actually made him a bit madder.

    “Normally I’d say: ‘Lets go blow something up.’ But you can’t play games.”

    Magnus shrugged.

    “We could go to the local arsenal? Blow stuff up there?”

    “Sure.”

    “Great! Wait here!”

    Magnus watched the meaning in his drink finally fall apart. It was different than before. Just a jumble. Probably meant that he’d come on that: “Even in death may I not fail to live.” nonsense by accident. Which was funny.

    “What’s taking Striker so long?” he grumbled before taking another sip.

    When he finished, he put the sipper down on the Ziggurat game console and started heading towards the door. The room was oddly empty.

    “Anything worth reading?” Shockwave asked from where he was leaning on the wall by the door.

    Magnus blinked.

    “No crazy driving!” Wildway said sternly as he held out his key to Striker.

    “No, Sir! Come on, little brother.”

    “Striker?” Shockwave poked him on the shoulder.

    “Shockwave?”

    “Magnus here just earned you a reprieve. Enjoy it.”

    “Ummm ... yeah. Come on, Magnus!”

    Magnus followed him back out through the diffusion shield and into the light.

    “We aren’t taking your runabout?”

    “The two of us on that thing? No way! Besides, Wildway’s ride is classy. Maybe we’ll put that power you have over femmes to use later?”

    “Sure.”

    “Try not to be so animated.” Striker mumbled before he pointed away from the elevator.

    Magnus followed him around to a cab stand where Wildway’s sky cruiser waited.

    “Thanks for the reprieve.” Striker said after they entered west bound traffic.

    “Isn’t the arsenal to the east?”

    “Officially, yes, it is.”

    He watched a city of Autobots fly by down there. He wasn’t really mad at them. It wasn’t their fault.

    They moved into upper traffic.

    “We’re going up?”

    “No choice if we’re going to the real arsenal.”

    He nodded. His mind wandered as he watched the city fly by.

    Magnus looked back towards Striker: “Pity you’ve never been a Decepticon.”

    “Why?”

    “I was just thinking about something Fastrack had said: how he could go to the judge like that.”

    Striker shrugged.

    “I wonder if a judge would just let a beat cop like me talk to someone he helped bring in?”

    “That depends on the judge.... Have you calmed down already?”

    “Not entirely.”

    Honesty was the thing. Up to a point. “War may be deception,” he remembered from his files, “but finding peace is knowing when to tell the truth.”

    Soon they’d dropped out of traffic over the middle of a very tall commercial building and begun to descend straight down its interior shaft. They parked in front of a retail strip that served chassis enhancements.

    “Here?”

    “The place with the alternating Combaticon and Autobot badges for a sign. One of several hidden entrances.”

    “Would you be upset if I said that I’d changed my mind about blowing stuff up?”

    “You want to go back?”

    “Iacon. The Autobot tower.”

    “Do you want to tell me what you have in mind?”

    “If you want I can ‘steal’ the sky cruiser and leave you here?”

    “No.” they lifted off again, “I just hope you know what you’re getting us into.”

    “Is the cruiser’s data terminal secure?”

    “It should be.” Striker didn’t quite stifle a laugh.

    Once he’d deactivated Tracer’s security shell it had proven easy to identify the jurist he was interested in. A few calls to his staff and one brief conversation was all it took. The jurist was very accommodating. Downright helpful. He told Magnus a lot about the person he was wanting to see. For one thing, he finally knew his name.



    “So what is this all about?” Striker asked as the elevator opened onto the jail.

    “Old for me business.”

    There was a different jailer than before. He balked at letting Striker into the interrogation room too.

    “The Lieutenant is here to provide additional security.”

    It was enough to get his way.

    “Is this about the rebels you captured earlier?” Striker said as the door closed.

    “No.”

    Magnus took the only chair. The other door opened and a bright yellow mech was pushed forward by the jailer. He looked as miserable as he did earlier.

    “Hello, Bumblebee.”

    The Combaticon glanced between Magnus and Striker in confusion.

    “I’m in charge here.” Magnus asserted.

    “Officer.” he didn’t meet their eyes.

    “I’ve been told you have full memory from your time under Quintesson control. Is that true?”

    “I’ve already told everything I know.”

    “No doubt–”

    Striker opened a comm link: “Just what do you think you’re doing?!”

    “–but I’m not interested in what you have to say about all that.”

    “What do you want?”

    “Look at my face. Do I look familiar?”

    He glanced up for a moment before shaking his head.

    “Try to imagine this face, but in a chassis just like yours. Maybe through a scope?”

    Bumblebee was finally willing to look him straight in the eyes.

    “It can’t be.” he muttered.

    “I’m the very same Combaticon.”

    “Nice upgrade. If you don’t mind me asking, 4th Lieutenant, why wasn’t your aim better?”

    “Magnus, this is creepy.” Striker broadcast.

    “Do you want to die?” Magnus asked, ignoring Striker.

    Bumblebee glanced around: “No. Not really.”

    “But so long as you remember your crimes you’re facing termination?”

    “So what do you suggest I do, 4th Lieutenant? Let them reformat my mind like some have been suggesting? Isn’t that death too?”

    “You’d rather die knowing who you are, with all that guilt and shame, for something you couldn’t even control?”

    “I’d say it was a deal with a Quintesson, except it really was. Kills the funny.”

    “Right.” Magnus stood up, “Then we better go. The jailer should have your restraints ready.”

    “No!” Striker transmitted, “No no no no, NO! Just ... NO!”

    “We have approval from the judge.” Magnus said out loud.

    “Magnus, I don’t care!” he transmitted, “No! No means no!”

    “What would you have me do?” Magnus transmitted back, “I’ve already told the judge that we’re taking him.”

    “Where?!” Striker demanded out loud.

    “Kaon.”

    Magnus grabbed the unhappy Combaticon and gently pushed him past his exasperated brother. The jailer placed shackles on Bumblebee’s hands and feet and gave Magnus the key.

    “Keep them. We’ll be back. Right, Striker?”

    Striker’s relief was visible.

    “I’m sorry, Sir. But regulations are clear.” the jailer forced the key into his hands.

    He thanked the Autobot.

    “Did you really think I was going to let him go?” Magnus asked through the comm link.

    “The thought had occurred to me.” Striker said before finally terminating it.

    The sight of two giant Combaticons leading the smaller mech in chains didn’t draw much attention from anyone. Not even when they climbed into a privately registered sky cruiser and took off.

    Once clear of the building, Magnus reached around and took the shackles off.

    “We won’t be needing these.” he announced.

    “Why did you do that?” Striker asked.

    “I thought maybe it was something I should do.” Magnus eased back into his own seat.

    He dropped the shackles and their key in the floorboard.

    “Where in Kaon are you taking me?” Bumblebee asked.

    “For starters:” Magnus looked around, “the crypt.”

    Bumblebee was rubbing his arms where he’d been bound and staring intently at the mech he’d once exchanged shots with.

    “So Bumblebee, it says right there that you first served with Artemus. Tell me about yourself?”



    Striker circled the crypt like Shockwave had before him, setting down near the entrance.

    “I’d feel better if I knew what you were doing.”

    “A present for Powertech.”

    Striker nodded and let Bumblebee out.

    They walked on in silence. Bumblebee hesitated at the door to Primus’ tomb, protested that he didn’t have the right to go any further. Striker pushed him forward.

    “Powertech? Sapphira? From Me?” Magnus called out.

    Sapphira soon appeared.

    “A little present for Powertech.” Magnus announced of Bumblebee.

    “Magnus, is this who I think it is?” she sounded worried.

    “He’s harmless.”

    “I’d still prefer it if you kept him away from the plastic.”

    “Where’s Powertech and From Me?”

    “Safe.”

    They obviously didn’t trust Bumblebee even though the drone brain was gone. He pulled the smaller mech back.

    “I just thought that you could run some scans.”

    “Did you ask him?” her eyes narrowed, “Bumblebee, did Magnus ask you if we could scan you?”

    “No, ma’am.”

    She assumed a more relaxed pose: “I’m sorry he dragged you down here.”

    “I wasn’t doing anything better.” he shrugged, “What is this place?”

    “A lab no one’s supposed to know about.” she smiled.

    “Did he come from here?” he pointed to Magnus.

    “Both of them did.”

    “The kid’s got a lot of spunk.”

    “His manners still need some polish.”

    “Yeah.” Bumblebee nodded, “You know, what’s one more scan? Really? Especially for a pretty lady?”

    “I’m still going to immobilize you on the table.”

    “Seems fair.”

    The examination table extended into their area. She had Magnus and Striker physically restrain him just in case he tried something before he was immobilized.

    “Outside, Magnus.” Striker said once Bumblebee was secure.

    He led the way back to the hall.

    “What are you doing?”

    “Our friend back there apparently has some special tech.”

    “Which will be studied by people who know what they’re doing.”

    “‘People?’ Who decides which people do what? The same people who say who owns what?”

    “Is this some sort of stupid protest?”

    “No. It’s a gift for Powertech. The ‘stupid protest’ comes later.”

    Striker paced around a bit.

    “If you’re thinking of substituting the GAR it won’t work.”

    “I didn’t think of that.” Magnus admitted, “No ... I don’t own this chassis. You don’t own yours. Bumblebee doesn’t own his.... And somehow we aren’t slaves. Fine. Fine. I understand that much. I’ll just keep telling myself that.... But this guy really was a slave, and he’s going to die because of it.”

    “That’s his choice.”

    “Death 1 or death 2? There are no other options at all?”

    “It isn’t our place to tell people what their choices are.” Striker sighed.

    “But what if we could give him ‘choice 3?’ Would that be a worthy ‘stupid protest?’”

    “Not if you take me down with you!” Striker menaced.

    “No one is going down.”

    “Can you promise me that?”

    Magnus remained silent.

    “I thought so. Magnus, this is the first and only time! At least for a long, long time. Wouldn’t you rather go blow something up instead?”

    “No.”

    “So when do we have to have him back?”

    “Open ended.”

    Striker pulled him back into the waiting area and didn’t say another word till after they’d gotten Bumblebee a fair distance from Powertech’s lab.

    “So, where to now, Lieutenant?”

    “Caris.”
     
  20. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 19: Rebellion


    Striker made a show of pitching the nose up, flying a ballistic arc and coming to rest on the outskirts of the tiny town. Magnus directed him to land behind Cashways’ place.

    “You’re getting me drunk?” Bumblebee seemed hopeful.



    “Magnus?” Cashways approached Bumblebee at their table.

    Bumblebee turned.

    “I’m sorry, sir. I thought ... you....”

    Bumblebee was pointing up at Magnus’ face. Cashways stared intently at him for a moment.

    “Nice upgrade.”

    “I’ve been getting that a lot. Cashways, this is my brother Striker and our friend Bumblebee. I may not be drinking, but I’m buying.”

    “I’m on guard duty.” Striker said.

    Bumblebee seemed deep in thought.

    “Do you know how to make an Iacon Ice Shaker?”

    “What size?”

    “I’m thinking a large.”

    Cashways left.

    “I don’t think he knows what an Iacon Ice Shaker is.” Striker offered, “Much less how much one cost here.”

    “He’s got ages to pay the tab.” Bumblebee managed to smile briefly.

    “So what is it?”

    “A variation on an infusion. A higher grade of base oils, some thermal reactive solvents and a wash of cybertronium. All chilled to a slush. I believe you’ve used the term ‘ice cold’ before, that’s where it comes from.”

    “Learned it from Fastrack. Are Ice Shaker’s good?”

    Striker smiled: “Let me put it this way: people who make a habit of drinking them have to first be comfortable with the thought of being poor.”

    “So why are we here?” Bumblebee demanded.

    “I want you to meet someone. Here is where I hope to be able to contact him from.”

    “Who?”

    “His name is Destron.”

    Bumblebee stared at Magnus till Cashways dropped a mug in front of him, which apparently broke the logic loop.

    “You want me to meet the Slag Maker?” he asked as he quickly returned his attention to Magnus.

    Cashways seemed to startle a bit.

    “Do they call him that?”

    Bumblebee seemed confused: “I thought he was dead.... Or maybe off world.”

    “In a way, I suppose he might be.” he allowed – remembering that Destron had turned his back on his heritage, “So you’ve heard of him?”

    If Destron’s story was well known this might make things easy.

    “He’s a legend. A traitor who went to work for the Quintessons as their judicial champion. Slaughtered thousands of wretches for their amusement!”

    So maybe his real story wasn’t well known. Magnus sighed. Destron had apparently preferred to let people think he was a traitor rather than have them feel sorry for him.

    Bumblebee’s expression went from indignation to resignation in a moment.

    “Who am I to judge?” he said listlessly.

    “That’s really the point, isn’t it?” he turned to Cashways, “I don’t suppose you know how to reach him?”

    Cashways took a half step back and seemed nervous.

    “Magnus,” Striker spoke up, “there’s an old saying: ‘What happens in Kaon stays in Kaon.’ I think you’re taking things farther than you’ve a right to.”

    “I don’t know how to reach him.” Cashways asserted.

    “Could you try?”

    “No. You have to understand, it’s trouble I can live without. If he or one of the others wanders in, fine, no fault there. But knowing how to reach him.... No. That’s just the way things are.”

    “Don’t worry about it, Cashways. After all, I’m already in your debt as it is. I can buy Bumblebee a few drinks and we’ll be on our way.”

    “Thanks. You sure I can’t get you anything?”

    “Maybe later.”

    Cashways moved off to other tables.

    “I’m surprised you’re giving up this easily, Lieutenant.” Striker muttered.

    “Who’s giving up? I thought this might be easier than actually looking for him. Still, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last few cycles, it’s that accountants don’t care what’s going on so long as the proper reports get filed.”

    “Any and all of which is privileged and restricted information.” Bumblebee pointed out between sips.

    Magnus turned off his security shell and activated their table’s monitor.

    “I doubt you’re going to be able to look up his address.” Striker taunted.

    Magnus smirked.

    While it would have been easier to find Destron had he still worn his rightful badge, which would have let him know his current public ID code, the task at hand didn’t seem impossible. First, there would probably be very few Autobots Destron’s size. And he knew from Whiteface himself that Destron lived “out of town a ways.” which further limited his search area to Caris and the numerable cottage scale industrial parks that occupied its district. Even with tens of thousands of area residents the number of giant Autobots would be, should be, just one. Finally, there was Whiteface’s assertion that Destron was a “hermit” which possibly meant that he lived alone.

    He directed his search to the Main Arsenal's archive, to learn what Destron’s public ID code would have been. His being a 177UHEX made the search easy.

    Striker was peering intently at the screen.

    Magnus sent in an automated inquiry for that public ID code’s last known whereabouts through normal Decepticon channels. It was from Iacon not long after the trial that had inspired his protest. He apparently withdrew all his assets in transportable currency after paying his debts, an action that sent an automatic flag to the security services.

    He wished he knew where to look for surveillance reports.

    “Say, Striker, how long to you figure it would take to walk from Iacon to Kaon?”

    Walk?

    “Yep, walk.”

    “I have no idea.”

    “One to two megacycles without stopping. Which assumes you don’t have to work your way.” Bumblebee offered before, “I wasn’t able to use public transportation. For what that’s worth.”

    Magnus didn’t know what Destron’s assets would have been like but he assumed they weren’t fantastic. He was only a 2nd Lieutenant at the time. So he decided that Destron would have arrived in Kaon one to four megacycles after he left Iacon.

    Then there was Tactus Prime. With the local archive he’d used earlier he had no problem pulling up an overview of the Autobot leader’s noteworthy dealings and movements for the time frame in question. While it was the easiest thing on Cybertron to hop in a sky cruiser and go from one place to another, it probably wouldn’t hurt to know a few times when Tactus had actually been in the area.

    “Magnus,” Striker was still watching the monitor, “are you sure you want to find someone who doesn’t want to be found?”

    “The 4th Lieutenant is on a roll. Let him be for now.”

    “Yes, Sir.”

    Magnus proceeded to the next phase of his search: eliminating where in Caris he wouldn’t live. He pulled up a public map for Caris and its surrounding districts. Then he tapped the local business registry. At a glance he was able to eliminate all industrial parks that would have had anything to do with Combaticons, Seekers or Civil Defense. In addition, he eliminated zones around these where a 177UHEX could be easily seen. Then he dropped firms that dealt extensively with the government. Only 29% of populated Caris remained.

    Then he went back through the list and removed all industrial parks that were physically close to those that dealt with Combaticons, Seekers or Civil Defense.

    He highlighted the 16.5% of inhabited Caris that remained in red. Uninhabited Caris in blue.

    Bumblebee was looking at the now marked up map with interest.

    “I’m going to need more than this.” he gauged the contents of his mug, “Striker, since Magnus is buying, why don’t I get us a sampler tray of local favorites?”

    Striker nodded and Bumblebee left the table.

    “Striker, how would you categorize ‘a ways out of town?’”

    “How do you know so much about our friend?” he leaned forward.

    “I met some of his friends here in Caris. He found me later in Choron.”

    “You think he lives here because of something someone said?”

    “Yes.”

    “You do realize, if you do find him, that you should tell him how you found him?”

    “That sounds like a good idea.”

    “‘A ways’ would probably be anything more than a brisk five microcycle walk for someone of our size.”

    “Thanks.”

    Magnus drew two circles around Cashways’ street library. Within Striker’s five microcycle walk he faded any highlighted areas. Beyond three times that distance he faded them too.

    “I can’t believe I’m actually helping you.” Striker said as he considered the map, “That’s still too many doors to knock on before Shockwave finds us and arranges for hardships like you’ve never seen.”

    “It won’t come to that.”

    “Won’t come to what?” Bumblebee slid the sampler tray on the table, “I see you’ve been busy.”

    Magnus nodded. Time for the next phase: trying to peg transportation used by Destron and Whiteface. He scripted a search aimed at Kaon’s traffic control for a full cycle before and after he met Destron in Choron. This generated a few hundred matches for local vehicles that had been in both towns. Eliminating those that were too small for Destron brought that down to only 51 transports ... none of which were owned by anyone he recognized. He flagged their addresses.

    “Well, here’s seeing if I can draw.” he muttered as he picked up the stylus that was on the table and held it like it was a live grenade.

    He opened a new window and drew the utility that he’d seen Whiteface in at the edge of the crypt’s boundary. Noting its color, he fed his drawing into a commercial search program like he was looking to buy one. It proved a common design.

    He ran another search through traffic control with new parameters to find who in Caris owned transports like that. It turned out that Whiteface’s utility, which could hold Destron, was about as average as they came. There were 209 like it in town.

    He started looking at files.

    “We need to get this kid out of the Decepticons.” Bumblebee muttered, “Does his boss know about this talent of his?”

    Striker shook his head.

    Magnus finished reviewing files. None matched the 51 vehicles or owners he’d identified earlier.

    “Still no good leads? I’m sure there are a few laws you haven’t broken yet.”

    Striker was right.

    “Whatever they’re involved in,” he told himself, “people around here know Destron and his friends. They have no problem with them. So really, all my efforts to limit the area for a search could be worthless. What am I missing?”

    An idea!

    He quietly input parameters aimed at the Main Arsenal. Destron had been a Combaticon. Maybe the same was true of Bluejack too? Looking for unaccounted for 243HLs matching Bluejack’s description or name was one distinct option.

    He found a match. Bluejack, whose real name was Punch, had gone missing only a dozen megacycles ago after his unit had been decimated.

    Like Destron, he could hide in plain sight as an Autobot using a new public ID code. Unlike Destron, Punch had never cleaned out his accounts – maybe he wanted to go back somecycle?

    He did own a runabout that he’d taken with him.

    One last search with traffic produced nine matches in Caris for the type and color of runabout in question. One was from two megacycles ago. One was from ten. The rest were older than that.

    “Striker, would you mind if I went for a little walk?” he closed his session and reactivated the security shell.

    “Not without us.” his brother said as he picked up a sipper.



    The industrial park was tiny: a few workshops, warehouses, offices and a barracks style apartment building. They mainly recycled shipping containers. A few dozen mechs were wrapping up what looked like a big order right then.

    “You’d think they would have autoloaders?” Magnus observed as they landed by the main office.

    “Have fun.” Striker said as Magnus left the cruiser.

    “Can I help you?” a receptionist asked as he entered.

    “Possibly. I’m looking for the owner of a racing green Scatterway CT95.”

    “Several people here own green runabouts. Can I see some additional identification ... Lieutenant?”

    “I’m afraid I don’t have any besides this badge. Look, no one’s in trouble or anything. I just want to talk to its owner. He may not even be who I’m looking for.”

    “You caught us at a bad time.”

    “I saw. I’m willing to wait.”

    “Could you move your cruiser? It’s a nice machine and I’d hate it if it got damaged. I’ll ask about your runabout at the next break.”

    “Where can I park?”

    “Behind the apartments where personal vehicles are kept.”

    Magnus returned to the others.

    “Why do you think this runabout is important?” Striker asked as they landed only a few paces away from a racing green Scatterway CT95.

    “It’s the only real lead I’ve got. There are other CT95s registered in this area but they’ve been around too long.”

    “If this doesn’t pan out I’m taking you and Bumblebee back to Iacon. You’ll treat him to a night on the town for all his trouble and then we’re going to Oculon. When we first met you’d nearly been the victim of a certain misfortune. But as I see it, you’ve learned nothing! There’s no way I can ever do anything about the one; but, I’ll be a short circuited glitch before I tolerate another! Do you understand?”

    “Yes ... Sir.”

    “I’m making no promises even if this pans out.”

    “I should probably go wait inside the office.” Magnus let himself out.

    The receptionist ignored him. A few dozen microcycles passed. The Autobot left. He soon returned with Bluejack.

    “Can I help you? I was told you’re interested in my runabout?”

    “Is your name Punch?”

    Bluejack’s face became an emotionless mask.

    “I don’t know you.”

    “Actually, we’ve met. Not long ago.”

    “What do you want?” his voice sounded bitter.

    “A friend of yours came to visit me in Choron the other cycle. I think he may be uniquely qualified to help a wounded soldier and I’m putting my whole future on the line based on that notion. I’m looking for someone named Punch. If Punch isn’t here, or if he can’t help me, then I really have no reason to stay.”

    “Can I meet this soldier? You know, just in case I know this Punch you’re asking about?”

    “He’s out back.”

    “You can’t take off of work.” the receptionist stated.

    “I’ll just be a few.” he said as they left, “So, what’s the deal with this ‘soldier?’”

    “It isn’t my place to say.”

    “His name?”

    “2nd Lieutenant Bumblebee.”

    “I don’t know who visited you in Choron,” he said as they turned the corner around the building, “but you obviously went to a lot of trouble to find me.”

    “Cashways didn’t know how to find your hermit, told me so himself. Even with what Whiteface had told me about him, and what he’d said himself, there was just too much of Caris left to search, even after I excluded all the sorts of places he could live undisturbed and tried to peg down the transportation he’d used the other cycle. It finally came down to your chassis and a racing green runabout.”

    “I guess it was about time for me to go home anyway.” he sighed.

    “I don’t think anyone else knows what I know.”

    “But your inquiries?”

    “I’m a comm specialist.”

    “You hacked the government’s archives?!” Bluejack seemed amazed.

    “Only my older brother Striker and Bumblebee know about you. I don’t think they’ll turn me in.”

    Bluejack stopped to glance around the back of the apartments.

    “Is that them?”

    “Yes.”

    “I didn’t really leave the Combaticons. I just needed to disappear for a while.”

    “I’m the last person you would need to explain yourself to.”

    “Yeah! Whiteface thought he’d made a real find with you. He’s still furious with Cashways.”

    “That’s what Destron said.”

    “So you really did meet him? Ok, he may send me packing for it, but I’ll take you to him.”

    Bluejack took the front passenger seat. Kicked at the loose shackles. Then he directed Striker towards another industrial park and told him to land to the east of it. There was a small cluster of buildings that hadn’t been on the public map.

    “Magnus, you’re with me.”

    Needless to say: Destron didn’t look happy. He listened to Bluejack explain what little he knew before pulling Magnus aside.

    “‘Uniquely qualified?’” he growled.

    “A Quintesson got hold of him and put a drone brain in his head. Turned him into an assassin. He’s facing either execution or reformatting.”

    “He’s here?”

    “In the cruiser. For what it’s worth, he thinks you’re a traitor.”

    Destron gave him a withering glare.

    “Stay here!”

    Soon Striker showed up alone.

    “Destron’s taking Bluejack back to work.”

    “Thanks, Striker.”



    Destron walked back inside, right past Striker, and glared ever so slightly down at Magnus.

    “You’re a real piece of work!”

    “I’ve been told that before. What about Bumblebee?”

    “Neither of us is your concern!”

    “If you know anyone else who’s been through what he has, just point them out?”

    “Sir, don’t punch him.” Striker said evenly as he stepped forward.

    “You were the one who felt it important to tell me about yourself.” Magnus didn’t flinch.

    “For my own reasons!”

    “And now I’ve brought him here for mine.”

    “Punk!”

    “Agreed.”

    “You’re still the same, rookie!”

    Striker deflated a bit.

    Destron turned away while rubbing his chin. Instead of looking defeated like Striker was right now he became positively menacing, enough so that Magnus could really believe he was that Destron, Gladius Pax’ companion and someone they would call “Slag Maker.”

    “Have you given any real thought to what happens to you if he doesn’t go back?”

    “... Probably not like I should have.”

    “And you’re not going to confess to me what this is really about?”

    “No, Sir.” Striker interjected, displaying his inner steel.

    “Two fools and a wretch. Prime! What have you brought me today?... If this happens at all it happens for my reasons. Furthermore, what happens here in Kaon stays here in Kaon. Striker?”

    “I can live with that if Magnus can.”

    “He’s already committed. You’re the only one I care about. You still have a future.”

    Striker brightened: “You mean, someone finally cares what I think? Thank you, Sir!”

    “He’s a just-boot.”

    “That’s the only reason why I’ve stayed with him!”

    “How much time do you need?”

    Striker smiled: “Time? I already know what my answer’s gonna be. I’m here.”

    “Magnus, you’re like a wingless cyberbat: useless and noisy.... What an idiot you are! And despite that you’ve got a brother who will still stand with you.” he began pacing even as his jovial voice became a constant growl, “You better stop taking people for granted like this! Life is too long to live it alone.... One: you assumed that Striker didn’t deserve to be told up front! Two: you assumed that Bumblebee wouldn’t mind getting caught up in someone else’s mad scheme again. Three: you assumed I would be grateful to have you three drop in unannounced – never mind what you’re asking of me! Four: did you even think about your other brothers? Much less Powertech? Or the judge who trusted you? Frag! I think even the jailer could get in trouble if this plays out wrong!”

    “Sir.”

    “Ohhh!” Destron laughed menacingly, “I’m just getting started! Striker, will you please go keep Bumblebee company? I’ve got a foul-up to deal with.”

    Striker smiled, nodded, and left.

    “So, you found out that they called me ‘Slag Maker?’” Destron’s gaunt face seemed to radiate energy.



    Striker and Bumblebee were waiting out by the sky cruiser. Seemed to be watching one of Cybertron’s moons drift by. Magnus made a show of getting their attention and asking them if he could join them.

    “Sure. If you’ve really learned your lesson, 4th Lieutenant.”

    Magnus winced, it was true in all that had happened that he’d never even bothered to address Bumblebee as his superior officer. He’d just been a prisoner, an assassin.

    “Sir, if I may be so bold, he might still need some straightening out.”

    “Maybe. But the 177s are legendary.”

    “Yes, Sir. Whatever you feel is right.” Magnus was subdued.

    “I’m sure he’s not done with you yet.” Bumblebee smiled for real for the first time since Magnus had taken him from jail, “So, are you finally going to tell me why you dragged me out here to the middle of nowhere?”

    “Magnus didn’t like your options.” Striker pointed out.

    “That much seems clear!”

    Magnus wanted to say something, but Destron’s strident lecture about why good motives alone aren’t good reasons was still ringing through his core. He’d finally been read the proverbial Rents Riot Act and he didn’t like it one bit.

    “May I sit down?”

    “Why not? You might not like the conversation, though. Your brother and I have been discussing suitable disciplinary action for your behavior.”

    “Considering the subject matter, I’d prefer it if he waited in the cruiser.”

    “You heard Striker!”

    “Yes, Sir!”

    Magnus climbed into the back seat and pulled the door shut. It was obvious that everyone thought that he’d messed up, and he could see how he should’ve told Striker up front, but he just didn’t see what the big deal was otherwise. Even though he’d brought Bumblebee down here to give him a third option, he hadn’t really imagined that he’d take it: run away and become an Autobot like Destron had. Their experiences were different in too many important respects: Bumblebee having only been abused by Quintessons and made to act against his will. Despite appearances, Bumblebee wasn’t even a 210SH but a 233 ... a series that looked like the earlier 210s. He was younger than many of Magnus’ brothers. Too young to have been exposed to the same kind of injustice that Destron had seen.

    He had a fascinating story though. His first commander had been upset that so few Combaticons were assigned to his unit in the civil defense forces, so he got one of his Combaticon subordinates to requisition some. He named the lot for examples of carbon-motor life from Chaar, a ‘bumblebee’ being a small yellow ten legged creature with an exoskeleton and wings. Bumblebee said that representations of specimens from Chaar were still on display in Vilnacron somewhere. Apparently the originals were too fragile to endure even as desiccated husk. This despite all of Cybertron’s technology to preserve them.

    Magnus laughed to realize that Bumblebee’s commander had the same concern that Beta did, only from a different perspective. Maybe there was something to it? What would it really mean if Autobots ceased to be combat worthy?

    He had lots of time to think about what the Combaticon had told him, how he and his brothers had struggled to get transferred to the real army.... Why were they taking so long? Through dimmed windows he watched the sun rise and reach its zenith.
     

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