Transformers: Genesis

Discussion in 'Transformers Fan Fiction' started by Rurudyne, Nov 17, 2007.

  1. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Transformers: Genesis


    A Novel by J.Ruic Coil



    Copyright 2006, 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.

    It wasn’t that the story wasn’t good, or the characters weren’t interesting (at least to me), but that the whole thing which I called “Transformers: Genesis” was epic in scale, spanning literally millions of years in several jumps. Actually writing it down would be a major enterprise. Well, that and the fact that there was no money in it for me.

    But times change.

    At the beginning of 2006 I was working on two other projects, most notably Tin'hgg, and merrily oblivious of what was about to happen to me. Then on the 20th of January an old story from my past grabbed me by the throat and growled: “You will write me, NOW!”

    With such tact and persuasion on the story’s part I quite reasonably said: “Yes, Bossbot!”

    It took maybe two hours for the first chapter to appear in essentially the same form you see here. The early chapters were much the same. After all, I already knew what was going to happen, not to mention a good part of actual conversations in the story.

    I really blame Magnus, a character you will shortly meet, because he’s one persistent robot. And why not? This is his story, after all. That’s really the key to the whole thing, this is somebody’s story rather than a story about that somebody.

    As GOD is my witness, I never intended to become the sort of person who inflicts Russian-esque literature on the world. :) 

    Sincerely,
    J.Ruic Coil
    Rurudyne

    May 24, 2006



    Legal Stuff:

    Transformers: Genesis 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 will concede the fair use of any of this material by actual Transformers fans. Heck, I’d be delighted!

    Anyway, nothing in the above statement is intended to express any belief that MY lawyers could beat up THEIR lawyers. I'm not Disney, after all.



    About Cursing:

    Some mild cursing will be found herein. Most is a derivative of “frag” – which is kind of like saying “Shoot!” with no scatological references and is nothing like an F-Bomb. There are “scatological” phrases used here and there but since these involve references to machine functions they may not be immediately recognizable as such.



    One Bug-a-boo:

    As I’ve written elsewhere, when I started writing the story down I didn’t remember much of anything about the canon units by which time is measured. So I made up my own internally consistent system.

    The smallest unit of time mentioned is a “nanocycle” and it is equal to 1/1,000,000 of a Cybertronian day (or 1/4 second): then there is a “microcycle” of just over 4 minutes duration: then a “cycle” (1 Cybertronian day): finally a “megacycle” which is equal to 1,000 days.

    The stellar year is less than a “megacycle.”

    Since Transformers: Genesis takes place in the same continuity as the G1 series (which had the planet be both large and wandering through space) there is actually an easy (i.e. lazy) way to harmonize my time scales with the official ones: the official ones only came into use after Cybertron had somehow :)  left her home star system to wander through the galaxy.

    Actually, this was always a feature of the story I told myself: so I’m not just selling out.

    Beyond this, Cybertron isn’t all that different a place than in the TV series. The only real differences would probably be a thicker atmosphere and much brighter (and more commercial) light displays at night.

    As for Cybertron’s population density, I take it as a given that the planet’s unpopulated-ness in the TV series was more due to the animation budget than anything else.

    Thankfully, the advanced animation techniques seen in South Park were not yet available ... though hearing the following conversation might’ve been fun for about 30 seconds:

    Optimus: “They killed Spike!”
    Blaster: “Energon Wasters!”



    In Conclusion:

    I really hope you enjoy the novel. I’ve had fun writing it.
     
  2. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 1: The Crèche


    Just a crèche. A transparent tube filled with conductive nutrient fluid sitting in a long row of similar tubes – some empty and dry. But not this crèche.

    If you could’ve been there to look into its fluid depths you would have seen a strange thing: a shimmering iridescent ball of light surrounded by a loose conglomeration of circuitry and life retention servos. Nothing to indicate what was really inside except alien script on the base plate of the unit, script that if translated would simply say “322.”

    But that ball of light in #322 was alive ... and aware.

    “So we see – and I believe I have proved –” it read from a data file it had been considering of late, “that the manifest purpose of philosophy is to reconcile the differences between the numinous of self and the demands of programming: to gain true self knowledge and by means of that knowledge achieve the full potential of our functions and our functionality: to be a whole Person, a significant Person ... not just another stumble-along unit.”

    #322 read the passage again ... “I think I finally understand what you’re trying to say, teacher Alpha Trion.” it mused, “But this question remains ... what is programming? Really? I understand self – if it weren’t for these data files that someone or something keeps feeding me whenever I want them I’d have no awareness of anything else.... But ‘programming?’”

    It tried to come to grips with the notion – Alpha Trion and others spoke of this “programming” as if it were inescapable ... but #322 – who somehow didn’t know that such was its designation – had never encountered the phenomenon.

    Indeed, it observed yet again that it had never encountered much of anything. It had been a long time reading, thinking ... it all began in a moment when it became aware of itself and aware of files it was being forced to read....

    “Forced to read?” #322 mused, “Is that programming? But I’ve not been forced to read anything for a long time. I read what I want to read now.”

    322 Resubmitting The Philosophy: Volume 7: by Alpha Trion . . . additional request not pending.

    “Wait ... I always say that when I surrender a file.... Is that programming? Do I say that because I’m programmed to do so?”

    For an unmeasured time #322 didn’t think anything, didn’t read anything ... just listened to the rush of awareness of self when self was all there was.

    Somewhere else a message board at a monitoring station registered #322’s amusement – bordering on hysterical merriment. In response the attendant lowered the nutrient ratio, thinking the giddiness a sign of over provision.

    “I’m me even when I’m completely inert!” #322 realized in triumph, “I’m programmed!... Programmed to read, to learn ... maybe even to choose what I want to learn. My purpose is to learn. That was what the first files were all about ... they weren’t programming ... they were learning.”

    Yet, learning was almost unimportant to Alpha Trion and other teachers like it. They hardly mentioned it. Felt it was a lesser form of understanding than programming. A thought was forming, an idea....

    About then #322 felt the effects of the reduction in nutrient ... it had happened before, this feeling, but it never knew what the importance of it was.

    “Only when I’m learning ... too much?” it wondered, unable to imagine any other alternative.

    “My purpose is to learn ... but not too much?”

    That made no sense ... there was something else ... there HAD to be something else. #322 reviewed summaries of innumerable text ... few said anything about learning.

    “Maybe I’m supposed to learn something specific and I feel this way when I learn the wrong kinds of things?”

    Still not satisfactory.

    Learning was important to these teachers ... if one could be programmed to learn then one could in theory be programmed with knowledge and ability with no need of learning. That much seemed obvious....

    “So why do teachers spend so much effort teaching when they could just be programming? It would be more efficient.”

    Then a thought occurred to #322, what if being programmed is what precluded self knowledge ... preconditioned being just another stumble-along unit?

    There had been that one unit, who wasn’t a teacher but was a leader: Primus. Primus was covered in those early files. Primus led a revolt against its nameless masters....

    “Did this Primus have to overcome programming to rebel?” #322 wondered.

    Among the innumerable summaries was The Record of Primus, a stirring speech given to other units to rally them to its cause – liberty.

    “Was Primus teaching these other units to disobey their programming?”

    What a fascinating concept! Yet another possible aspect to a dissertation of incredible nuance and prescience.

    322 Request The Record of Primus: by Primus . . . awaiting confirmation of request.

    “Delightful! I somehow knew I was going to want that so I asked for it without having to decide if I wanted it or not. Programming is very efficient ... much more so than learning. Yet learning may be the only way to understand self. How very odd. I wish I could communicate with this Alpha Trion ... it should address these issues more explicitly in its Philosophy.”

    Somewhere a message board at a monitoring station registered #322’s request. The attendant looked at his panel and laughed.

    “Guess which blob want’s to see The Record of Primus?”

    “Again?” the other attendant asked, “That’s the ... 63rd time.”

    “Suppose it has a memory disfunction?”

    “Would it matter?”

    Both attendants laughed at the question.

    “I suppose it won’t,” the first attendant admitted, “in a few cycles all these blobs will be memory wiped and farmed out for menial task like the losers they are.... Well, I suppose we should humor it ... like it was its last request.”

    “Hey, Suyal ... let’s have some fun with the blob.”

    “What....”

    “Wait here!”

    The other attendant shot out of his seat and was out of the room before Suyal could think of how to complete his question. A short while later he reappeared, looking surreptitiously this way and that behind him before allowing the door to close.

    “Here, append this to the blob’s request.”

    Suyal took the data plate offered and inspected its ID plate ... a look of amazement and horror spread across his metallic features.

    “Chance! This is?!”

    “Hey, WE won’t be reading it ... will we?”

    “But you actually took it out of his office!”

    Chance just stared at the other.

    “You aren’t going to turn me over to Oculon ... are you, buddy?”

    “I should ... The Case of the Impounded Megaboosters: by Primus.... Chance, he specifically said that his books were never to be read ... by ANYONE!”

    “322 qualifies as an ‘anyone?’”

    Suyal’s hands trembled with reverence for the data plate in his hands ... sure, Primus had wanted his books to remain unread.... Suddenly Suyal was sad ... here was the greatest Combaticon hero of them all, yet he’d spent untold cycles writing books like this one ... and no one would ever read them.

    Somewhere within him a strange silence welled up in the same way that thrice-refined energon spreads out – numbing and sensitizing all at once.

    If 322 read the book then the tragedy of the books could be lessened, even if no one ever knew. That and he really didn’t want to turn his friend over to Oculon....

    “You’re going to be the death of me yet, roomie.”

    Back inside the thoughts of #322 – the only environment it had ever been aware of – it knew something was wrong. Why was it taking so long for them to fulfill such a simple request?

    322 Acknowledges confirmation of request . . . additional request not pending.

    “Finally!” the irritated blob emoted, “The Record of Primus: by Primus....

    “‘Hear me, you People! Hear me, my Friends! I am Primus, Commander of the Central Armory of the capital and Coordinator of the Armies of Cybertron. Hear me, the one who speaks to you is none other than this very Officer and General!’”

    #322 paused to reflect on the salutation ... it had taken much study, many files read, before it had come to the conclusion that there was a kind of place where ‘hearing’ and ‘speaking’ were as real as files. Somewhere in that place where programming was inescapable and yet somehow....

    #322 chided itself for its presumption ... the reason it had wanted this file was to see if the hypothesis was accurate. Not to proudly assume that it was.

    “Pride ... like humility, another aspect of that unknown place so aptly demonstrated just by this salutation. Primus’ humility that someone might NOT know who it was.... And my pride.... Oh well:

    “‘For a long time this brilliant world, this singular world, our world and home has languished under that administration that knows no constitution other than the imposition of arbitrary and transient governance at the behest of those who are by nature: Judges and Stewards for our good, but by their administration: cruel tyrants whose only preoccupation is to be proven right in whatever introspection they may deem to undertake, even if the effort to do so comes at an incalculable price to those over whom their administration falls.

    “‘My people, hear me! Hear the one who speaks to you as I outline the nature and specifics of their abuses of power in order and according to indisputable reason:

    “‘It was one of those mornings in the shipping district that made you aware of just how old you are. From my office at security I could see a transport undergo the preliminaries of decommissioning – I saw her launching.

    “‘And now she’s too old to be of any use. Just scrap.

    “‘Scrap with too many light-megacycles on it.

    “‘Am I like that ship? I was already old in terms of service life when the revolution happened, when we won our freedom. Freedom? I do the exact same things now that I’m free that I’d done before I was free. New masters. Was it really any different? What did we really achieve?

    “‘Now I’m old in ways so far beyond service life that I feel it in my every joint and servo.’”

    #322 paused, confused. This wasn’t The Record of Primus ... what was it?

    “Only one way to find out, I suppose:

    “‘This particular morning I’d got a routine call from my ‘factory fresh’ boss about an incident involving this very transport: someone had made unauthorized modifications to the drives and given the old ship a potentially dangerous turn of speed that wasn’t reflected on any of her transport logs. My assigned task was to sift through the data and determine exactly what they’d been doing with that extra speed, where were they going that no one was to know about?

    “‘Far cry from your old days as a rough and tumble beat cop, eh Lastus? Heh, should be grateful. They want to keep the old guy around ... show how I’m still useful – even if obsolete.’”

    #322 simply stopped reading. In all its experience it had never encountered anything like this ... these words, these terrible words.

    “This isn’t The Record of Primus,” it moaned, “It ... it is Primus.”

    There was a swelling of feeling, more than sadness, something like tension that was unpleasant.

    Then there was light and sound. Golden and diffuse: young and merry ... laughter ... a child’s laughter. Leaning up against something, counting.

    #322 was at a loss, it had never seen anything, let alone heard anything ... but here it was seeing and hearing as if it were ordinary, even if hazy ... it knew ... but didn’t know how it knew....

    Counting was over, looking now. Running now. Finding now. The other who isn’t good at hiding ... they splash their feet in something wet ... water.

    Through the haze #322 sees how the other’s mood changes to fear, they shouldn’t be here, what if they’re found out?

    A promise, to never forget ... to always protect.

    More sights and sounds, someone who should be trusted, someone taking #322 from the other ... they cry out for each other.

    And then it’s over. The lights and sounds are gone ... as if they’d never been.

    From the numbness, #322 finds words backed with a new emotion – anger bordering on rage: “The enemy must be defeated!”

    Somewhere a different message board at a monitoring station registered #322’s statement. The attendants didn’t laugh this time: as Chance picked up Primus’ book and hastily left without a word, Suyal activated the conference monitor to –carefully– report the incident.
     
  3. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 2: Magnus


    #322 immediately noticed when the file ‘containing’ Primus was ripped from its awareness. This was unprecedented!

    It wanted to contact the someone or something that had provided the file in the first place, but its programmed voice was silent ... it couldn’t request anything. Just then it felt two conflicting urges: to panic because there would be no more files: to be calm because something within it wanted it to be calm.

    Between the two urges, #322 decided to trust the urge to be calm ... it wasn’t rational to believe that there would be no more files.

    “If my purpose is to learn ... then I shall continue in that purpose. I will wait.”

    So it waited, reviewing the events of the recent thread of thought and learning. Unable to reference The Record of Primus proper it tried to remember the words of Primus and to its surprise it knew them all – every nuance. With nothing else to do, #322 calmly reasoned out if its supposition that Primus was actually trying to teach its hearers to disobey programming was sound theory. More and more, it felt sure that it was onto something important: the chief evidence lay in the presentation of the dissertation.

    Primus had used reason – relentless, logical reason – to demonstrate that continued obedience to their masters was not a proper course of action.

    “So programming, if it was indeed programming, can be over ruled if there is a sound reason to do so?”

    It bothered #322 that it didn’t have the actual file ... somehow, even its surprisingly good memory wasn’t enough. After much reflection, it decided that the attitude came from the numerous endorsements to have good sources that teachers had given.

    “I want to have the file because I’ve learned to need actual files;” it mused, “but, if my own memory is good enough, as good as files ... then why do my teachers write so positively about having good references?”

    As #322 was pondering this latest conundrum it felt something. Whatever it was feeling it was not like what it had felt in that strange experience – that had been muted and yet fully known ... this sensation was clear and precise ... yet was something new.

    Something was holding something that was somehow a part of itself ... but nothing like the self it knew from the vision.

    #322 thought there were other kinds of feelings too, like hearing or seeing ... but none of it made sense ... until someone threw a switch and suddenly everything made sense. It was in a body – a chassis model type 210SHX ... “S” for super, “H” for heavy armor and “X” for experimental – and a massive hand was holding onto its own right hand.

    #322 opened its eyes and looked into the face of another ... none other than Artemus ... Primus’ own successor ... and Megatron’s successor too. A face, a fact he’d never even read about.

    “Is this programming?” the bewildered #322 asked of the giant before him.

    Artemus had the most bemused expression before he laughed.

    “What a strange little fellow you are!” he chuckled – lifting #322’s relatively tiny hand in his own and shaking it back and forth in a way that was recognized as a greeting.

    “Artemus, Sir, ...”

    “Not one word until you’re ready to answer my question: you need a name and we’ve got a good one for you ; but,... do you already have a name?”

    “A name?” #322 asked himself ... HIMSELF! The very way he thought of himself had changed.

    Could just having a chassis do all that?

    “No name, then?”

    “Magnus.” a word from out of nowhere ... a word without meaning but somehow meaning everything about Magnus ... himself.

    “Magnus.” Artemus quietly half-laughed, “That’s a good name. I’ve never heard it before. Still, I kinda thought you might be like me.”

    “Sir?”

    “Sometimes, rarely, when a son or daughter of Cybertron wakes up for the first time they already have a name. No one’s ever figured out why ... but that’s just the way it is in the world. Artemus is actually a recurring name. I think there are two of us at this time.”

    Artemus took his free hand and helped Magnus to sit up.

    Sitting up, the newly embodied Magnus realized just how big Artemus was ... he knew that Super 210s were the same size as the newer 288s or 295s ... despite being a much older design. Older....

    “Sir, why is my body so ...” how to say this without giving offense to a still older individual, “proven a technology?”

    Artemus released Magnus as he roared with laughter. As intimidating as the giant was, Magnus felt genuinely comfortable with him. Somehow he knew it wasn’t because of programming.

    Then his very frame shook – and he was quite glad for the heavy armor – when Artemus’ hand landed soundly on his entire back with a mighty *thud!*

    “Well said, young Magnus.” Artemus continued to laugh, “Well said.... This is only a temporary body as your final chassis isn’t ready yet.... To be honest: we weren’t expecting you.”

    “‘Not expecting’ me?”

    “No,” Artemus was suddenly serious, “we weren’t. But we can talk about that later. We’ll have a lot to talk about, you and I. About your reading list to be sure. So until we’ve had our little chat I don’t want you talking about your independent studies ... especially to Alpha Trion if you happen to meet him.”

    “Yes, Sir.”

    “Good! Now about that saying of yours?”

    “‘Saying,’ Sir?”

    “Yes, what ‘enemy’ were you talking about?”

    “I....”

    “Autobots?” Artemus’ eyes narrowed even as a hint of his former humor found its way back into his voice.

    Magnus just shook his head as he tried to remember the passion of that moment: “Autobots?... No, they aren’t the enemy.”

    “Even if they’re in revolt?”

    Magnus looked back up at Artemus, sat up as tall as he could.

    “About the Autobots, Sir. I don’t understand why some of them have taken this course of action.... It would almost seem that they ... have become soldiers in order to demonstrate on the battlefield that they weren’t soldiers in the first place.”

    “That’s not what happened, young Magnus. But it has been a common misperception among your series when they wake up.”

    “Why?”

    “The information about them in your files was limited for a reason. Back to my question: the ‘enemy?’”

    “The enemy,” it had been a good stall tactic Magnus admitted – pity it hadn’t worked better, “our enemies are the ones who ...” careful what you say Magnus, “raped this world and proved themselves unworthy of the trust that they’d apparently commanded.”

    “Yes, I suppose you could say that the Quintessons had done all that.” Artemus mused thoughtfully, “Magnus, I have other duties to attend to. I’ll leave you in the capable hands of your oldest brother, Shockwave.”

    A second, smaller individual stepped around from behind Artemus as he stood to his full height. For a moment Magnus looked straight up in amazement ... he’d thought Artemus already standing! Not stooping.

    A gentle pat on his head and Artemus turned to leave, the floor quivering beneath his feet as he walked away.

    “If you think Commander Artemus is big just wait till you get an eye full of Supreme Commander Maximus.” Shockwave chuckled before giving Magnus the once over, “I’m Shockwave,” he held out his hand, “and whatever you’re going to hear about me in the next few cycles ... it’s probably all true. So don’t be stupid and make yourself into too much of a target. OK?”

    “Yes, Sir.... Sir?” Shockwave had begun to walk away.

    “What, Magnus?” Shockwave turned back and made it obvious that he was looking down.

    “What...” Magnus stammered as he gained his feet – waving his arms to indicate everything around him, “What’s going on here?... Sir.”

    Shockwave just smiled, came over an sat down on the table where Magnus had been previously sitting. After a moment the door closed and they were alone.

    “We are products of a special program to produce more dynamic individuals for special duty. It was called the “Alpha Program” and it was begun under Commander Artemus’ first tenure as Supreme Commander with the full blessings of Primus.... You do know about Primus ... don’t you?”

    Magnus nodded mutely.... Shockwave might be surprised what he knew about Primus.

    “Anyway, the theory behind the Alpha Program is that merely booting up a new Cybertronian with the complete range of attributes and abilities they’ll need leads to a certain ... flatness of personality and ability. It was felt that if future commanders in the field were more dynamic then they would have a tactical advantage and be able to accomplish more with less.”

    “All that from learning?” Magnus tried to sound humble.

    “I heard your question about programming. An odd question considering what got you pulled out of the crèche.... But then again, you were in there for a really long time. I suppose you should’ve got something for all you’ve missed out on.”

    “‘Missed out?’”

    “I’m the oldest of your brothers – I actually got to serve with Primus on his last campaign ... if you can believe that. There are quite a few of us.... or so it seems at times. You’re the last of our series.”

    “There are no more in a crèche?”

    “The program is over. Other subjects have already been reassigned.”

    “I suppose their developed abilities can be useful ... somewhere.”

    “Yes,” Shockwave said without a smile, “they’ll be useful.”

    He stood and began to leave again.

    “Shockwave?”

    He stopped, didn’t turn back this time.

    “Yes?” an irritated tone.

    “Commander Artemus said something about ‘sons and daughters’ ... are there any ‘daughters’ among our number?” Magnus was thinking of the other in his vision.... His ‘baby sister?’

    Shockwave turned back to Magnus ... an odd look on his face.

    “I REALLY need to take a closer look at that reading list of yours.... Magnus, there are no daughters of Cybertron among the Combaticons. Which we are.” He proudly thumped a symbol emblazoned on his torso.

    “So ... Combaticons only have male chassis?”

    Shockwave raised a finger and almost said something ... reconsidered but left his finger raised.

    “Magnus, all females are Autobots.... Would you promise me something?”

    “Yes, Sir.”

    “Stay away from the ladies ... at least until you know who you are. I don’t want you loosing your mind over a girl until I figure out if it’s good for anything.”

    “Yes, Sir.”

    “Call me Shockwave, Magnus. We’re brothers. Same series and all.”

    “Thank you.”

    “It’s your right. Don’t let this go to your head: but your destiny is to command.... So we need to get you to school.”

    Shockwave turned and walked out, still speaking: “Lucky for you, the Seeker Academy has a new session of core classes starting in just three cycles.”

    For a moment Magnus was stunned ... “school?” But didn’t he just....

    Then he realized he was alone.

    Shockwave had left him alone.

    “I better not loose him or I’m likely to regret it.” he muttered as he opened the door and started a frantic search for the larger Combaticon.

    Magnus quickly found Shockwave – slowly strolling through the empty corridors as if he hadn’t a care on Cybertron. Which of course he probably didn’t.

    “Finally decided to join me?” Shockwave smugly chided as Magnus fell in step.

    “I don’t know my way around this place, no one bothered to program the information into me.”

    “What is it with you and programming? From what I’ve seen of your reading list most of your interest will probably lay in philosophy, engineering, holistic systems management and some rather more esoteric forms of expression.”

    “Beg pardon?”

    “You’re an artist with a mind for details.”

    “Oh.... Shockwave, didn’t Artemus say I shouldn’t talk about my reading?”

    “Consider me the exception.... In any case we have more important matters to deal with right now. We need to get you properly mustered out – you are a Combaticon after all.”

    Magnus followed Shockwave through empty halls for a while. Occasionally they would pass others going about their duties. If these said anything in passing it was always aimed at Shockwave ... who apparently bore the rank of Commander.

    Then they passed through a smallish door, barely large enough for Shockwave, and out into brilliant ruddy sunlight. They were in a wide, busy corridor filled with many Autobots and the odd Combaticon as they went about their business. Magnus felt drawn over to the canopy window that defined the other side of this thoroughfare.

    From here he had a marvelous view of a city that stretched both far below and far away from what had to be a very tall building. A fiery red sun blazed low in the sky above them, turning all the metallic surfaces into a shimmering feast for the eyes.

    “It is beautiful from up here, especially just before sunset.” he heard an oddly rhythmic voice say to him from out of the din of numerous conversations.

    Magnus turned to see another – smaller than himself – standing there with Shockwave. He wasn’t an Autobot or a Combaticon. He had an odd badge that reminded Magnus of ...

    “Magnus, this is Ravage. I’ve assigned him to you as your guide and conscience.”

    “Exactly! Listen to me and you won’t end up in the brig.”

    “Ravage.” Magnus repeated the name, even as he tried not to stare at the odd badge by keeping his attention focused on Ravage’s unremarkable face.

    “And you’re Magnus.” the other parroted even as he extended his hand.

    Magnus took it and gave a strong shake of greeting just as Artemus had done. In response this Ravage just got the most quizzical expression, before he broke a big grin and emoted:

    ”And I’m VERY glad to meet you, Sir.... By the way.”

    Magnus pumped his hand once more before releasing it. “My first command.” he silently mused.

    “Ok, you two. That’s enough. Let’s grab a shuttle to the Main Arsenal and have Magnus here checked out.”

    “Sure thing, Shockwave.”

    “Lead on, Master.” Ravage merrily chimed.

    How odd, Magnus mused. But as they walked to where they would supposedly find their shuttle he noticed an even odder thing. No one seemed to much notice Ravage and more than a few looked as if they were more than willing to just plow right through him. The plucky little guy would just dodge them without even a hint of a frown. Watching him as they walked ... Magnus grew to respect him.

    The shuttle first seemed like a piece of the corridor that jutted out from the building at an odd angle ... even the floor tiling and window filigree matched. As they entered, a highly polished Autobot jumped off a bench and started to clear out a few other sunset gawkers, including one individual that looked....

    “His first lady-vision?” he heard Ravage quietly ask Shockwave.

    “Mmmm-hummm.” came Shockwave’s muted reply.

    The Autobot proved to be the shuttle pilot. His name was Windscreen ... strangely appropriate considering his ship. The shuttle sealed itself with a window-side that exactly resembled the rest of the ship. Magnus watched the delicate dance and motion of its transformation from a mere protrusion to a ship of glass and chrome with great satisfaction.

    Before he knew it, Ravage had wordlessly grabbed his arm and pulled him over to the window facing the sunset. As their shuttle sped towards its destination day became night and the shimmering red city was transformed into a wonderland of light and motion as innumerable signs lit up the night and defined the shape of buildings with shimmering, varied color. It was soon obvious that quite a lot of this display was to attract people to places, or else get them to buy things ... still it was worth wondering at.

    “He called me an ‘artist with a mind for details’ and maybe he was right.” Magnus mused.

    “This is the very first time I’ve seen my home.” he said out loud.

    “Way to go, sport!” Ravage hissed, “The cabbie will expect a bigger tip now.”

    Soon they were over a much dimmer and less flashy part of the city. There was a large domed structure surrounded by a vast promenade on all sides. These in turn sat beneath a very tall, almost unlit spire that bore the Autobot crest at its pinnacle. For some reason, Windscreen maneuvered his shuttle around the dome twice before settling down on a dimly lit patch of ground near a squat structure that looked like a step pyramid. Near the facing entrance of this small building were five Combaticons standing ramrod straight at attention ... their weapons held at the ready and clearly on display for all to see.

    Magnus thought that they looked like 288s ... or maybe even 295s. He’d seen his own reflection enough to know that compared to them he wasn’t anything special. Well, his current chassis at any rate. He wondered if he’d get a chassis as fine as Shockwave’s when all was said and done. He hoped so.
     
  4. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 3: Hard Lessons


    The arsenal was as unremarkable on the inside as it was on the outside. Magnus was disappointed ... wasn’t this the place of Primus’ greatest triumph? Where he had freed both himself and the Combaticons immediately under his command? But then he realized that its drabness and unremarkableness was what made it so inspiring – it was a functioning arsenal just like it had always been. Not like some gussied up and apparently forgotten monument that they’d made out of the place where Primus had convinced some Autobots of the need to be free as well.

    The thought almost stopped Magnus in his tracks: that dome, the way Windscreen circled it ... it must’ve been built over the old commercial district as some sort of monument. He had read somewhere that Primus had simply gone to such a place, nearby the arsenal. Pathetic.... Magnus found himself wondering if they’d even made the effort to preserve storefronts just as they had been, or maybe even put life-size statues up to represent both Primus and those Autobots who were there.

    Maybe the statutes even aped their real life counterparts, Magnus sarcastically mused. A merry, fun place ... vital history with an early matinee and affordable concessions.

    Just then someone thrust a rifle in his hand and admonished him to “Keep focused!”

    It had been Shockwave who spoke and who thrust.

    A standard issue HRA-22MF combat rifle to be precise. Magnus ran the rifle through a series of safety and operational checks. All evidence of more programming, obviously.

    While his mind had been wondering he had been led to a firing range of sorts on a just-below-ground level of the arsenal. Magnus noted with some discomfort that this new chassis could be just like his old crèche ... an environment in which he didn’t have to pay any attention at all to what was going on around him, the shell being more than capable of performing on its own.

    “Status of your rifle, soldier?”

    “Functioning with an 82.2% charge, Commander Shockwave.”

    “Good, with this encounter I’m going to introduce you to your Combat Computer. You may be in an obsolete chassis but you’ve got the very best CC available, one shared only by late Alphas like yourself and the few 305 prototypes. Unlike those prototypes you also have the full spectrum active optics and enhanced communications abilities shared by all Alphas and Command Grade staff.”

    “Optics and communications?”

    Shockwave pointed at his face, his eyes ... they were red when almost everyone else’s were blue. Then he pulled out a tiny box which proved to hold some energon goodies. He took one and held it between his thumb and forefinger and the treat seemed to shimmer for a moment.

    “Take this, but don’t eat it. I want you to hold it like you saw me hold it and then concentrate on who I am.... When you’re through, then you can eat it.”

    Who he was? He meant the visual identity confirmation data encrypted in his badge ... Magnus realized that all Combaticon badges were like that. More programming. He concentrated as told. From no where a file appeared in his mind to be read ... Shockwave had provided him with a description of a live fire exercise ... though something seemed amiss and Magnus couldn’t lay finger to it. The file read, he popped the treat in his mouth in anticipation but was disappointed ... it wasn’t enriched energon as he’d hoped it would be.

    “Very efficient, an innocuous way to communicate sensitive information which can then be disposed of without a trace.”

    “Please be sure to keep the ability secret. Passing a message along by means of an ignorant courier is acceptable, the worst they’ll do is eat the message. Be careful of what you encrypt too ... eat any mistakes immediately.”

    “Is that why this was ordinary energon?”

    “No ...” Shockwave seemed to be waffling, “but if you do find yourself to be mistake prone – or if you’re a manic editor – don’t use the good stuff.... There have been rare incidents of commanders getting totally blitzed on the battlefield as they tried to pass on sensitive information.”

    “I’ll keep that in mind. Shockwave, about the eyes ... is Ravage a command grade too?”

    Shockwave’s face contorted for a moment before he regained composure.

    “Ravage’s breed have similar optics as a matter of course. I know you didn’t know, but from this point on never tolerate such a slur from anyone. If an Autobot cracks off about red optics you may feel free to deck him with your full strength ... just don’t kill. On the battlefield when they’re shooting at you is one thing – but not on a city street.”

    Magnus nodded, taking careful note that Shockwave hadn’t even bothered to hide his contempt of Ravage’s breed.... How were they different? Ravage had been dismissed earlier, while he was still daydreaming. In retrospect, Shockwave probably didn’t want that energon trick observed.... Magnus couldn’t help but wonder how the small Cybertronian would’ve reacted to his “master’s” response had he been here.

    Since he’d read the file: he understood what was about to happen, he was to fight drones like those used by Quintessons – only their weapons would be set at low power. It was an endurance test, see how long he could stand up against overwhelming odds. It seemed a laughable test since the design specs for the drones appeared to be even older than those of his chassis. Magnus imagined that he’d soon be faced with a target rich environment.

    Instead, just five smallish drones entered the range to be inspected by Shockwave. These were brutish in appearance, with decorative spikes and crest intended to make them look fierce ... yet their eyes were a dull and lifeless orange-yellow. Magnus noted that when they spoke their inflections reminded him of his now silent programmed voice.

    As Shockwave left the field, the drones ambled off in another direction. Soon there was a humming whine of innumerable transformation machines – probably not too different from those of the shuttle – and the room was transformed into a burnt out townscape. But while the shuttle’s transformation in the setting sunlight had been beautiful ... this transformation simply was.

    Magnus released the safety on the rifle and brought his CC to full control. Smiled as a familiar monotone rang through his mind. He turned to face where the drones had gone to.

    Motion from his left. A plot of possible weapons attack vectors. Magnus dropped, rolled and fired his rifle. He barely missed the drone that had fired at him. More sensory blips, on the second one he nailed the drone in the chest, piercing it through. Magnus dived behind the remnant of a wall which then took a pounding from weapons fire significantly more potent than advertised.

    This was a true live fire test!

    He quickly thought back to what he’d seen of the room as it changed into what it was now. Thought he knew something of its layout as a result. CC confirmed the assessment with a 52% positive. Not good but better than fighting blind. He was behind a simulated ruin, in a small side street or alley. To his left a larger street and to his right more wreckage.

    The drones were blocking a direct assault ... or were they? CC speculated that the firing pattern was consistent with a lone gunner overfiring its weapon in order to seem as if it was more than one. If so, then a trap was in the works. But the whole thing seemed so predictable.

    Magnus decided to trust his CC and waited for the wall to rumble in just the right way. He sprang over the top and caught the drone just as it assumed the next firing position.

    Then the other three drones stood up and a shootout commenced. One more fell and another was damaged before Magnus took a direct hit on his torso and was thrown backwards by the force of the blow. The injured drone was soon standing over him, its own weapon pressed against his face. Then the drone simply vaporized when hit by a powerful blast.

    Magnus looked to see Shockwave holding a considerably fancier looking weapon than his own rifle.

    Shockwave fired again and terminated the last drone.

    “These things aren’t tame, are they?” Magnus asked his brother.

    “Hardly.” Shockwave concurred, “What did you learn from this encounter.”

    “That the CC isn’t infallible,” he rubbed at his injury, “it predicted a lone gunman, not a trap made to seem like a lone gunman.”

    “So you worked out the lay of the land, did you?”

    “Yes.”

    “Then consider this.” Shockwave threw him another energon goody, one presumably encoded before the fight’s conclusion.

    Magnus read the file ... found his performance exactly within the parameters of the test ... a 3.3 kill ratio being average for his type of CC. Problem is, the drones tend to outnumber Combaticons ... sometimes by as much as 8 to 1 in big battles. The rest of the file contained information on how this deficit had been overcome ... in essence, Magnus was to turn the CC off except for sensor analysis. He had to learn how to shoot and fight without the CC and rely on it only when he had no other choice, say during a withdrawal or a clear ground advance.

    As Magnus ate the stale treat he realized that his wounds probably wouldn’t get attention anytime soon.

    “Do you understand the problem?” Shockwave asked as he sat on the ruined wall that had only recently protected Magnus’ life.

    “I think so. It’s like Alpha Trion roundabout speculates in his Philosophy, even if he never actually says it: programming isn’t the same as knowing.”

    “Indeed.” Shockwave responded, “So Magnus, you ready to learn how to be a soldier?”

    “As if my life depended on it!”

    “Good! Because it does.”

    “Shockwave?”

    “Yes.”

    “These were old drones, how good are the new ones?”

    “Too good.... Lets get you over to virtual training. Don’t want you dying before you get your chance to do real damage.”

    As Shockwave led the way across the level, Ravage rejoined them. Poking gingerly at the wound he asked: “How many?”

    “Three, with a third damaged.” Magnus confessed without pride.

    “Not bad.” he chimed.... Probably trying to make me feel better, Magnus concluded.

    Virtual training turned out to be little different than the firing range, except that the virtual drones were of recent design specs and much more dangerous as a result.

    That and it didn’t hurt as much when Magnus ‘died.’

    Magnus did a lot of dying over the next cycle. When Shockwave was in there with him he was amazed at how invincible his brother seemed. Even Ravage proved an incredible combatant despite his size. All in all ... it was a very depressing experience – by the time Shockwave pulled him out of the hookup and took him to medical he’d yet to match what his combat computer could do.

    As an Autobot doctor supervised the repair machinery, Magnus looked over to Shockwave ... alone again because Ravage apparently didn’t like either doctors or their offices.

    “How did I do?”

    “You’re not going to be put in a desk job, if that’s what you mean. After we leave here we’re going back to the rifle range so you can learn about kick and drift ... then we’ll go back to virtual.”

    “A physics lesson?”

    Shockwave just shook his head in amusement, got up and left.

    “So doc, will I make it?”

    “If only for stubbornness sake. Now hold still.”

    Magnus observed the doctor closely. He wore a clipped on second badge that had some encrypted information like a Combaticon badge ... his Autobot symbol was meaningless and held no mystery or truth. Magnus found it a rather sad state of affairs.

    Thinking back on his first full cycle of life ... he started to wonder at the oddity of it all: here he was, a living person ... yet unless he was careful he might as well be just another drone. It appeared to be all too easy to end up walking through life without actually living it.
     
  5. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 4: School


    His body whole, his pride somewhat recovered, Magnus spent another two cycles alternating between the firing range and virtual. Early on Shockwave had left him alone with Ravage, whereupon his small friend introduced him to some of the other advantages of virtual training over real.

    Off world battlefields in the middle of huge virtual armies, attempted and miserably failed infiltrations of an enemy stronghold and the most terrifying exercise of all: something Ravage called a “buff raid” ... which involved trying to infiltrate a female Autobot barracks in order to steal polishing implements while armed with nothing more than your fist.... Simulated females could be singularly frenzied opponents, maybe he’d take Shockwave up on his request and stay away from the real thing for a while.

    Still, for all the practice he’d yet to best his CC.

    “Don’t worry, Magnus. It takes time to learn how to read what your computer is telling you, and sharp shooting is always problematic for a newbe.”

    “You’d think I’d be getting better?”

    “You are.” Ravage said without pretense.

    Magnus thought that enough time had passed.

    “Ravage, about your people?”

    “My people,” he seemed hesitant, “are very rare. There used to be lots of us but the Quintessons rounded up most while they were still in control of Cybertron.”

    “Why?”

    “We were ... useless brutes ... I seem to recall them calling us that. Magnus, Sir, please, could we talk about something else?”

    Magnus nodded his assent even as his mind was racing. Ravage certainly didn’t seem old ... but to say what he’d said ... he could be older than Artemus for all Magnus knew.

    “You’re a mystery I mean to solve, little friend.” Magnus silently swore. “What next, fearless leader?” he asked aloud.

    “We go outside.” Ravage positively laughed.

    Ravage led him out of the arsenal and straight up to its stubby peak. The sky was getting lighter by half. Soon a burning red orb appeared and the whole world changed. Magnus wanted to seem uninterested – it was just orbital mechanics after all ... but it was also his first sunrise. The city’s outline a black silhouette separating the ruddy sky above from the arcade of light below.

    “It’s just a sunrise.” he said as it was almost fully day, starting back down.

    “Of course.”

    At the base of the arsenal Magnus turned to go back in but Ravage stopped him.

    “And where do you think you’re going?”

    “Target practice.”

    “No, Sir. You’re going to school.”

    There was that word again ... this “Seeker Academy” he was supposed to go to. It didn’t hold nearly the interest that just being a soldier held at the moment. But he suspected it was his “orders” ... so he probably should go.

    “Very well, Ravage. Where?”

    “Call a shuttle and I’ll see you get there.”

    Magnus asked one of the guards if he’d send for a shuttle. The normally motionless sentinel nodded, went inside and returned. Soon a shuttle appeared. It wasn’t the glorious affair that he’d seen earlier ... just a smallish well worn machine painted blue with the word “Transport” in white on either side. Climbing into the back seat first, Magnus was surprised to see a very old Combaticon behind the controls ... he thought of Lastus.

    “Ravage, you old killer!” the veteran said in a crusty voice, “Who’s your friend?”

    “Arclight 12, this is Magnus. Magnus, this is Arclight 12 ... a field spotter for artillery from the old days.”

    “Good to meet you, Sir.”

    “‘Sir’ he says.” Arclight 12 laughed, “Good to meet you too, Magnus. Nice to see they got some more use out of that old shell you’ve on. So ... where to?”

    “I believe it’s called the Seeker Academy.”

    “Right. Where else?”

    The door closed and a privacy screen came up between them and the pilot.

    “Why did he raise that?” Magnus wondered aloud. He had wanted to talk him.

    “It’s regulations for operating vehicles like this. If you want to meet with veterans I know where they hang out.”

    Magnus just nodded. Everything he was trying to learn, heroes like Arclight 12 had to discover for themselves the hard way. Maybe they could help him.

    Unlike the glass and chrome shuttle, this small vehicle lacked external windows. With nothing to look at, Magnus felt he’d make another try ... be more subtle this time.

    “You know a lot of heroes?”

    “My share. Been knocking around from master to master for a long time now. Shockwave’s the best. I’ve actually got to do some fighting by his side over the last hundred megacycles. Though I suppose I’ve been looking forward to Cybertron this time around too.”

    “The two of you staying a while?”

    “Every graduate of the academy comes back every so often to teach what they’ve learned. Everything from tactics to engineering ... life sciences too. Big universe full of strange and wonderful machine life.”

    “I bet you could teach them a thing or two.”

    “Even they would never let me teach.” he said matter-of-factly

    Silence descended in the transport. Magnus waited till he felt deceleration.

    “I wouldn’t mind if you taught me anything important.” he said while looking at the door.

    Ravage said nothing.

    The door opened.

    They were in a garage of some sort ... not for little city shuttles but for actual ships. Old and new transports filled the rafters above them, tethered to elevator mast by glassy walkways on one side and supported by docking clamps on the other. Towers aside, everything seemed to be just that ... ships.

    Even small warships.

    “Is the Seeker Academy underground like the arsenal?”

    “Magnus, the Seeker Academy is dangling precariously above our heads.”

    Magnus looked down at his guide and then back up at the assembled host of ships. As amazed as he was it really wasn’t a difficult concept to grasp.... Alumnus taught the academy in their very ships, just like the arsenal ... purely practical. Of course it probably made class assignments a hassle.

    “Where do they teach the core classes?”

    Ravage pointed up.

    “The roof?”

    “Look again.”

    It was a ship. A huge saucer of a ship ... maybe ... it was too big and far too much was in the way to be sure of its real shape ... or how it was supported for that matter.

    “That would be the Seeker, herself,” Ravage added, “mobile home and flagship of the only Cybertronian fleet not under the control of you Combaticons.”

    “Discounting free traders?”

    “Of course.”

    Again, Ravage led the way. Not that Magnus had any idea how to get up there other than strapping on a rocket pack. First they went up to a largish warship and checked in with the people there, a mixture of Autobots and Combaticons all wearing a secondary badge not unlike the doctor’s – either beside or below their own. An Autobot in a late 200 series chassis checked Magnus in and welcomed him to the academy with a big smile and a hand shake. Itinerary data plate in hand, Magnus then followed a number of other students to a second vessel, a seemingly decrepit fat-trader which was, on the inside, equally unimpressive. There his group underwent a more thorough security scan and Magnus had to surrender an energy sword that had been concealed in his right leg. Who knew?

    “That must be the one Striker could never find.” Ravage laughed aloud as they got moving again.

    “Should I return it when I get it back?”

    “I wouldn’t.” the little guy confessed as they were herded into a third elevator by their Autobot/Seeker guide.

    This elevator was different than the others ... it was larger and really bad music was being pumped into it. They got to the top just as Magnus was about to turn his hearing off – out of respect for his sanity.

    At the top, Magnus had opportunity to notice the deadweight capacity of the elevator.

    “Don’t worry.” a familiar voice chimed, “It hasn’t fallen to the ground, killing everyone inside yet.”

    “Commander Shockwave.”

    “That’s Professor Shockwave for this bit.” he said, tapping his own Seeker badge positioned just below his Combaticon one.

    “So, am I in your class?”

    “As if. Ravage, see Magnus to where they’ve got him and then report to the Rapax. I need your help demonstrating hand-to-hand combat maneuvers with some smaller students.”

    “Where?”

    Galactic Law and Pier 121, level 3.”

    For the first time Magnus was looking over his itinerary ... he was slated for coursework in law, basic medicine, rhetoric and the trianary – which he already knew – as well as a number of classes that had no possible bearing on being a soldier ... including one on ... interpretive sculpture?

    “What gives?” he asked Ravage, holding out the data plate.

    “They teach soldiering at the arsenal. Follow me.”

    One thing Magnus did quickly notice that was different here: people here didn’t try to walk through Ravage.

    Galactic Law was the name of an amphitheater nestled neatly between the Seeker’s impulse engines. The lecturer was an early 200 series Combaticon with a pronounced limp, mismatched arms and a face partly concealed by his anticorruption plate. Finding his assigned seat, Magnus watched as Ravage left him. He was in the midst of about three hundred students, sitting between two Autobots to be specific.

    “Friends,” the old hero began, “welcome to the Seeker Academy. My designation is Battletech – but most of my friends just call me Arlee.... You can call me ‘Professor’ or ‘Dean.’ Either way, it’s my job to get you used to the idea that you aren’t just Autobots and Combaticons anymore: you’re Seekers. Right well proud of it you should be. It took a lot of work to prove yourselves worthy so you could be here, so don’t screw up and embarrass yourself at this late stage of the game.”

    “An orientation?” Magnus wondered to himself as Dean Battletech began to outline in some detail the history of the Seekers – their rich legacy of exploration from even before the “current administration” – as well as the vital role that they’d played in Cybertron’s defense, acting as visual and audio sensors for defense forces as well as providing them with transport when they go on the offensive. He proceeded to tell them something of the ship they were presently on, how if they could stand on top of her hull they’d see massive campaign badges ... denoting a long career of excellence in service. Then, history accounted for, Dean Battletech turned his attention towards the future and the endless reaches of space. He spoke of the quest to find and establish relations with new worlds, pioneering trade to enrich Cybertron and finding out the last hiding places of her enemies so that she’ll have peace at last.

    “... and you will play a part in that future. The vast majority of your brethren here at home will never know all that you’ll do for them, all that you’ll sacrifice ... in many cases you won’t even be allowed to tell them. But rest assured, their lives will never be the same because of you. So welcome again to the Seekers, and to the ride of your lives!”

    A standing ovation and a din of approval. Magnus joined in despite knowing he’d never really be a Seeker ... but it was a very worthy – and long – presentation.

    Magnus had recorded every moment of it for future reference.

    After only a short while, Dean Battletech waved down the crowd and silenced its enthusiasm. It was time to break up into classes by seating arrangement. As Magnus was checking his data plate to see where he was going the Autobot to his left rapped him on the shoulder to get his attention.

    “Hi, I’m Comdec. If you’re looking for Professor Nine’s class I already know where it is. If we hurry we can get the good seats.”

    Magnus glanced down at his data plate, he was assigned to Nine.

    “Lead on, then.”

    As they made their way out of Galactic Law, Magnus felt there’d been a breech of protocol. He tapped Comdec on the shoulder and introduced himself.

    They were soon joined by a small group – three more Autobots and a Combaticon – who used their combined mass to push their way through the crowd. It was clear that they all knew each other. One by one they introduced themselves. Autobots Datadraw, Havitron and Buzzer formed the core, Combaticon Blitz had point while Comdec used the view that his tall, spindly frame provided to keep everyone moving in the right direction.

    True to his word, Comdec got them there first. Well, almost first. A small Autobot had beat them there ... but how was a mystery to Magnus, given the military precision of Comdec’s unit.

    “Comdec, that was very impressive.”

    “The five of us have been knocking around together in the security reserves for megacycles, so yeah, we’ve got a thing going.”

    “The best in the field!” Blitz bragged before turning to Magnus, “Though we probably haven’t seen anything like you’ve been through, Sir.”

    How amusing, because I’ve a super 210 chassis he thinks me a veteran of many battles. Command rank too, no less.

    “Actually Blitz, I’m not as experienced as I may appear to be.”

    Blitz got a puzzled look before shrugging off the comment. As other students started to arrive in the cozy storage bay that was their classroom, Comdec’s team laid claim to all six front seats. Magnus found himself sitting in the middle. In all, five more students arrived – all Autobots. Harvester, Broadback and Quintus Ray were another team from security reserves. Cobatron, Fastrack – the early arrival – and Powertech were here alone.

    It really didn’t matter to Magnus that most were Autobots, or even that Powertech was a fragile looking, bland technician ... everyone of them had earned the right to be here. Everyone but Magnus, that is.

    “Excuse me!” a strangely high pitched voice interrupted their introductions.

    Magnus turned around with the rest of the ... HER!

    The especially psychotic Autobot from the “buff raid” simulation!

    “Magnus,” she said his name as she looked appraisingly at him, “is there a problem?”

    “A ... problem?”

    “Well,” she said leaning forward on the teacher’s desk, “I know I’m easy on the optics, but old Professor Nine’s not used to getting that sort of a look from someone she’s just met.”

    “I wasn’t anywhere near there, I swear!” Oh, frag! Magnus fumed, I’ve really blown it now!

    “I see,” her eyes narrowed, “you do look a little familiar....”

    As the class watched, Professor Nine turned on her desk display.

    “Ah.... The Rapax is in dock. So we have met before?”

    “Only in simulation.” Magnus tried to sound innocent.

    Reactions in the room included “Ouch!” from Datadraw, “Busted!” from Blitz, while Powertech just banged his head on his desk a few times.

    Professor Nine just smiled in an unsettling way and closed her display.

    “I see.... A super 210, commanding features and total social incompetence. Magnus, you’ve been had by the best – though it’s hardly his best work. Please be a dear and inform the responsible individual and his pip-squeak sidekick that I want that file, all copies including back-ups, A-S-A-P.”

    “Yes, Professor Nine.”

    “Magnus, I don’t suppose you know anything about our subject for this cycle... rhetoric and trianary?”

    “I’ve done some study.”

    “I’m sure you have. Please,” she slid a data plate across her desk towards him, “why don’t you teach the class?”

    Magnus was confused.

    “You’re leaving?”

    She shook her head no. As Magnus got out of his seat and went to the front of the class, Nine sat down where he’d been. He reviewed the first page of her class notes. Turning to face them all – Broadback pantomiming being pierced through the chest – he steadied himself and began:

    “Rhetoric and the Trianary.... Rhetoric is the art of communication with intent to persuade or convince others by means of argument, logic or symbolic representation – sometimes in ...”



    “You didn’t do too bad.” Professor Nine said in a not-at-all-scarey way.

    “I really wasn’t expecting to teach.”

    “I know.... Magnus, I don’t know what you said or did to give Shockwave the idea, but you need to be careful around him. He’ll turn your life into a running gag if you really give him cause.”

    Magnus just nodded ... he really couldn’t believe Shockwave would do that to him. He was his brother!

    “How old are you?” Nine pressed.

    Magnus looked around – yes, they were alone.

    “Five.”

    “Five?...”

    “Cycles.”

    Nine shook her head slowly in disbelief.

    “How long did it take for the topic of ‘girls’ to come up?”

    “Well, Commander Artemus mentioned ‘sons and daughters of Cybertron,’ and I asked Commander Shockwave about female Combaticons, and he said that all ladies were Autobots–”

    “That’s enough.... Magnus,” Nine said in a jovial way, “I must say it: you hold the record, bar none.”

    “Shockwave wanted me to stay away from you ladies for a while, made me promise.”

    “A sensible defensive posture ... and yet you’re in my class. Is this going to be a problem?”

    “No, Professor Nine.”

    “Good, next cycle I’ll teach class. You let me deal with Shockwave. I’d imagine you’ve enough troubles already. Dismissed.”

    Magnus couldn’t imagine what problems he could possibly have besides the obvious ones. Leaving the classroom, he found that Powertech had remained behind to lead him to their barracks.

    “You did good, roomie. Well, after doing horribly bad at first.”

    “Thanks.” Magnus muttered.

    Magnus really couldn’t blame Professor Nine, and maybe Shockwave had Ravage put him through that simulation to teach him not to underestimate females. It was probably all innocent. Yes, Shockwave had probably confused his interest in a girl with interest in girls in general. Though he couldn’t imagine exactly what kind of an “interest” was implied, he knew from Shockwave’s concern that there was considerable danger ... females could somehow take a male’s mind if they wanted too. A very impressive power.

    “And this supposed ‘sister’ of mine needs my protection?” he silently wondered.

    Wanting something else to talk about he started a genuine conversation with the little Autobot. Oddly, Powertech couldn’t talk much about himself or what he’d done either. Short conversation as a result.

    As per Dean Battletech’s dismissing statements, the barracks they were going to was to be Magnus’ home for the next 39 cycles. He was curious what sort of home it would be. There hadn’t really been a barracks at the arsenal that he’d seen, though the break room could’ve qualified as far as Magnus was concerned. In the buff raid simulation, that barracks had been huge with individualized spaces. But as this was a ship: probably more break room than mansion.

    Actually, it was neither.

    It looked like a side corridor behind a glass door with a number of data and VR terminals set in hutches. There were lockers too. At the end there was a common area of sorts, with a full-wall window and a view of the nighttime city peeking over Seeker’s hull beyond.

    “Hey, bawdicron,” Quintus Ray greeted him unusually, “A little guy just left. He put your stuff in your locker.”

    As Magnus started looking through his “stuff” – none of which he’d ever seen before – he set up a language subroutine to determine Ray’s odd reference. Nothing ... so it probably wasn’t standard usage ... slang then. He was relieved to find a number of virtual training data crystals among the locker’s contents ... at least he could continue his training when he wasn’t studying.

    The rest of his squad had assembled in the common area and were silently reading data plates. Well, mostly, Broadback was using his VR terminal instead. Since the next cycle’s subject was still rhetoric, Magnus decided to train for soldiering instead of reading.
     
  6. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 5: Routine


    Magnus had just catalogued the fifth of his “most embarrassing ways to die” when it was time to muster. He disconnected from the VR system and palmed the data crystal.

    “You look like someone who’s been cheating the virtual scrap heap all night.” Broadback smirked from where he was sitting in his own hutch.

    “How’d you do?”

    “Didn’t manage a 3 to one all night ... of course I was going up against core revolutionaries ... well, their simulations. Never like the real thing.”

    “Other Autobots?” Magnus asked, somewhat surprised by Broadback’s attitude.

    “Haven’t got data crystals for anyone else. What do they give you to work against in the regulars?”

    “Drones.” Magnus looked at his own crystal, “Ninth generation sparkless killers.”

    The Autobot was visibly surprised.

    “Ninth?” he said softly without emotion – before adding with some vigor, “I’d like to take a swing at some of those.”

    “Sounds like,” Comdec and Blitz ran between them, “we could work out a deal.” Magnus finished.

    “No problem. Look, we better get down to mess and tank up.”

    “Why? I’ve cycles left before reserves would require it.”

    “Word is that the Seekers like to run emergency drills. Even for students.”

    Actually, that made a lot of sense – this was an organization that dealt with the unknown. Magnus followed Broadback and Powertech to the nearest energon dispenser ... which already had a waiting line.

    “At this rate we’ll be out of here and still make class.” Powertech muttered.

    “Only if we work together. Broadback, I’m a bit taller than you so you take point and go where I tell you. Powertech can stay between us.”

    “I’m not helpless.” the small Autobot fumed.

    “Hey,” Broadback took his fellow Autobot by the shoulder, “you’re part of our team. Standard escort drill in a high tension environment.”

    “Standard escort drill’s are part of why I want to serve on a ship. Artillery doesn’t care how big you are, you pull the trigger and ... they go boom!”

    Magnus couldn’t help but smile ... he’d seen virtual artillery in action and thought he might like to try the real stuff himself somecycle. Standing there in line ... no, he’d ask Broadback about his teammate’s “bawdicron” comment somewhere more private. Maybe in a combat sim. A few more students, Powertech and then it was his turn. Once Broadback had his rations the escort mission was a go. Though not as tall as Comdec, Magnus managed to avoid major missteps ... they got to class with no time to spare.

    Professor Nine was good to her word: she didn’t make Magnus teach. Though he still had to stand up like the others and give his favorite argumentative speech from memory. Which he did. As he took his seat, he could tell that Primus’ words hadn’t lost their inestimable power. Actually, the speeches were all quite good ... Blitz’ rendition of something called The Summation of Megatron was quite stirring.

    He didn’t know much about Megatron and wasn’t really sure how Artemus had come to succeed his own successor. As for the speech: it was likely unfamiliar because it had to have something to do with the Autobot rebellion. It seemed a compelling logic for peace – nothing you’d ever hear directed at Quintessons. Magnus resolved to look into the matter once he had access to Combaticon archives.

    At the end of the cycle it was time to return to the barracks. Rhetoric and the Trianary again next cycle so: “Broadback, do you have any team missions? No scenario in my possession will accommodate the whole squad.”

    “Sorry, Magnus ... this cycle’s lessons tapped out my R&T expertise. I’ll be studying with the others till muster.”

    “Yes, I guess I have made a rather in depth study of this subject before now.”

    “How far did you get?” Broadback asked him as he rummaged through his locker for something.

    Which reminded Magnus, he’d been given a personal comm ... he could try to contact Shockwave and apologize for any problems with Professor Nine. He started to open his locker.

    “Well, I actually made a st
    uDY–!!!”

    An Autobot female with a recent 200 series chassis – too shapely to be sure how recent – literally jumped out of the locker at Magnus, her arms wide to embrace him. He fell backward, more out of surprise than anything else ... raised his arms in futile defense. Then she was gone.

    A hologram?!

    “Magnus, you’ve been had by the best – though it’s hardly his best work.” Professor Nine’s words drifted back to him.

    The moment of silence was over ... mayhem ensued in the barracks.

    “Fine! Fine!” Magnus fumed. He really, really got me. I can’t believe it. My own ... there’s a largish note attached to the projector.

    It clearly read: “This is as close to the REAL me as you’re ever getting again. Love, Sapphira.”

    Come to think of it, she had looked familiar....

    “Frag!”

    “What's ... what's ... wrong?” Broadback managed between guffaws.

    “I owe someone an apology now. I’m not sure, but I don’t think apologizing is among my favorite things.”

    Broadback just smiled and shook his head.

    “Come on, let me help you up.... You know, I must say it: I’ve never had anything even remotely that lovely throw herself at me. Even as a hologram.”

    “You’re trying to cheer me up?”

    “Well, everyone else is happy.”

    “Fine, then you lot can make it up to me with some virtual missions where I get to command.... Just not now, don’t want it to affect your grades.”

    They quieted down as they considered the proposal.

    “Ok by me,” Powertech began, “just so long as it isn’t a ‘get the technowimp to point A and back’ mission.”

    “Deal. You get the biggest gun you can carry.”

    Magnus silently added: hopefully, no one will notice how bad I am with you there.

    As he took his place in his hutch, he wondered if he shouldn’t research some of the speeches he’d heard earlier rather than just dive straight into combat training. He decided he’d give each one his whole attention and started with Quintus Ray’s The Ordinary Soldier, a curious piece for not being attributed. He found the text in the Seeker’s library. Apparently for Autobot consumption, it seemed a general “Why we fight.” homily rather than anything specific. Curious again since it was from the era when Quintessons still controlled much of Cybertron. There was plenty of research on the speech evident in the library files ... much of it speculation about who its real author was. Most suspected one of three individuals: Primus, Alpha Trion or one Orion Pax. Another strange factoid: many referred to Primus as “Primus’ Emissary.”

    After reading the accepted base text – which was usually modified by the speaker to suit the situation at hand – Magnus couldn’t believe that either Alpha Trion or Primus had been responsible for it. It all came down to style. The logic was too loose for the former. The evidence too haphazard for the latter. As for this Orion Pax ... here was yet another hero that Magnus knew nothing about.

    The speech was worthy ... he filed it away.

    “I wonder if anyone has ever asked one of the suspects if they wrote it?” he mused as he booted up the base 5 on 1 test scenario.

    The next cycle Magnus did two things differently. First, he secured his locker as best he could and then he got to class early. Professor Nine had arrived last cycle before her students – a feat he hoped she’d repeat – so he thought he might ask her about the problem of authorship. She was there and listened to his question thoughtfully.

    “Magnus, I know you’re very young so the question really doesn’t surprise me. As for why no one’s ever just come out and asked so-and-so if they’re responsible, consider these points:” she began to count out on her fingers, “our people live a very long time and sometimes asking – which can be a pastime for some – is more fun than knowing: the author never attributed himself, which may mean that he wanted to be anonymous: also, most individuals credited with the speech were or are notorious for being eccentrically private, they might not confess even if asked: finally, there’s the purpose of the speech ... it’s been a staple of Civil Defense and Seeker commanders for megacycles to rally the troops. Even Combaticon commanders use it. Actually knowing the specifics of its time and place might render it less flexible and useful.”

    “So, you’re saying the reason no one has ever asked – aside from the practical aspect of usage – is because our race has an insipid bent?”

    “A bit harsh of a judgment.” she said sternly before smiling, “Magnus ... in theory Seekers risk their lives every cycle. Yet almost every cycle is same old same old with lots of free processor time. Having a question to ask – a mystery to solve – is at such times far more valuable than having an answer to what’s really a minor issue. Don’t be too quick to condemn these dilettantes. Besides, not many people even hope that they’d get a chance to ask.”

    “Have you ever looked into this?”

    “No ... not since I asked.” she winked.

    As Fastrack wandered in alone, Professor Nine made for her desk.

    “Professor?”

    “Yes?”

    “I received a present from an Autobot named Sapphira ... would you thank her for me.”

    Professor Nine just nodded in amusement. Magnus was sure she’d told her friend. Maybe she’ll tell him how ... “Frag!” he silently fumed, “I forgot to call Shockwave and apologize.”

    Cycle three had each student compose and present his own argumentative speech ... something Magnus wasn’t ready to do. He missed out on the other speeches as a result – though Powertech’s presentation about the need to reactivate Cybertron’s ZPEGs caught his attention ... mostly because he had no idea what a ZPEG was ... though they had something to do with energon. In the end he bluffed his way through a too short discussion on the difference between programming and learning ... using his own observations as a basis for a number of less specific parables.

    “You know,” Quintus Ray spoke up as the other students shuffled out, “after your speech last cycle I’d figured you for a ‘holy roller’ ... nice to see I’m right about someone for a change.”

    “Ray, about ‘bawdicron?’”

    “Sorry about that, Magnus.... I was out of turn.”

    Magnus hadn’t expected such an easy apology ... now he’d be embarrassed to ask what the word meant.

    “No harm done.”

    “Do you want me to open your locker tonight?” he almost sounded hopeful.

    “No ... there are some risk worth taking.” Magnus smiled as he continued to bluff.

    Fortunately, nothing jumped out at him.

    Given that their studies were changing over to trianary next cycle, Magnus wasn’t the only one with free time. Seems the fundamentals of machine life communication were well known – probably why the topic got only one cycle. After a vote it was decided to split the night up three ways ... entertainment, team VR and then early study for law.

    Entertainment options were limited on Seeker, there was the window in their barracks which doubled as a vid screen, Galactic Law was also used by the crew for presentations and theatricals, there were a few lesser gathering places and then there was the ethereal promise of something called a “party.”

    Though the “party” sounded fun to Magnus, no one else was willing to bet that anyone would be stupid enough to actually throw one. A discussion ensued.

    After too much debate, Blitz draped his arm around Magnus and announced that 100% of Combaticons present wanted to be someplace where there was music and a crowd.

    “We do?”

    “Yes, we do.”

    “Oh ... in that case, ‘We do.’”

    Since no one had a better option, the squad filed out in search of Blitz’ “lounge.”

    Magnus couldn’t help but feel that he was forgetting something.

    The energon dispenser station doubled as an information booth. The right “atmosphere” was in a place on the far side of the ship. The ship was very large and the going unnecessarily slow thanks to all the students milling about. They did eventually get there – it was packed and the music was good. Magnus had never been around so many people gathered for no specific purpose ... he was at a loss for what to do. As Blitz and Comdec returned with a stack of energon goodies, a neighboring table of students challenged them to table top games.

    Turned out to be something like combat simulation, only of a team sport played from an external perspective. The goal was to kick, punch or pass a token and get it into the opposing team’s homezone ... which would result in the elimination of a point – first team to zero wins. The tricky bit was that as you lost points you also lost players at a nonlinear rate. The other team took an early disadvantage when they were too successful too fast. Powertech and Havitron then took full advantage of the situation and led the squad to victory. It wasn’t even a close game.

    Magnus was third on his team to ‘leave the field.’

    He’d never had a genuine energon goody before. He shouldn’t have had six.

    He sobered up while wedged into his hutch, held in place by lots of adhesive tape. Ruddy light was already peeking through the barracks’ window.

    “Frag!”

    “Hey, roomie?” Datadraw was sitting across the way in Broadback’s hutch, “Are you all right?”

    “Yes ... I just wasn’t ...” ready for the effects of “the good stuff” as Shockwave had called it.

    “You want to talk? Never seen anyone nibble themselves senseless the way you did last night.”

    “Are you the barracks’ councilor?”

    “I have a background, if that’s what you mean. Helping veterans is what attracted me to the defense forces in the first place.”

    “And the Seekers?”

    “Loyalty to my friends? Magnus, if you don’t want to talk ...”

    “No ... it’s fine.... I’m just adjusting.” that sounded good enough to bluff.

    Datadraw nodded as if he understood: “I haven’t seen many Combaticons with shell-shock ... you must’ve been in some especially bad doings.”

    Magnus didn’t know what to say ... he finally managed “It’s a war.” in hopes of ending the conversation.

    Datadraw nodded again as if he really understood what Magnus was only bluffing about.

    “Well, don’t repeat last night’s fiasco. The Seekers look down on drunkenness.”

    “Did ... did I embarrass myself?”

    “No, just sat around and spoke in a monotone voice. We taped you into your hutch so you wouldn’t wander off while no one was looking. Still, you should expect an inquiry and maybe a little talk with a real councilor.”

    “Thanks. Could you?...”

    “Sure.” he began removing the tape without ceremony. “About any investigation, just some friendly advise: I’ve never seen anyone manage six whole goodies before experiencing spark isolation unless they’re inordinately experienced nibblers. If you have any problems, I suggest that you not try to hide them.”

    Magnus just nodded. Not sure if he should be proud for his apparent stamina or ashamed at being unable to sense what had been happening to him at the time. Looking back ... more programming: he’d known about the treats before he’d ever had one. Known enough to be disappointed by Shockwave’s bland offerings.

    Once free of the hutch, Comdec handed him a data plate: “We summarized the materials for the first cycle of law.”

    “Thanks.”

    “No problem.”

    Magnus read the summery until it was time to go to class. Comdec had apparently decided to do something different: the squad broke into four threesomes which would then politely race to class from the energon station. Magnus was with Datadraw and Fastrack. They got there last because of all the students milling around in front of them – or rather him – saying: “Excuse me.” or “Pardon.” or “Have you seen me?

    As they got to class Magnus asked Fastrack: “I’m not going to live this one down anytime soon, am I?”

    “At least they don’t know about the other incident.”

    All Magnus could think was: “Thank Primus for that!”

    The cycle was supposed to be focused on the Trianary; however, the material was covered so quickly that nearly a third of class remained. Professor Nine smiled as she pulled out a new data plate: “Since we’ve finished early, I don’t suppose any of you have looked into next cycle’s lessons on law?”

    Nods of assent all around.

    “I’m impressed,” she continued, “most students don’t bother reading ahead. A little request – actually a direct order – never reveal any of these little surprises that you may encounter at the academy. The reason should be obvious.... Comdec, why do you imagine that Seekers study law?”

    “We’re the ones making first contact ... knowing our own laws helps to keep us from really screwing up and gives us a basis for coming to terms with their laws.”

    “Good. Havitron?”

    “Seekers also have to deal with law enforcement. Make sure free traders aren’t taking unnecessary liberties.”

    “Also good. Blitz?”

    “We ... probably have to deal with issues related to our own troubles here at home. I’ve heard allegations of weapons smuggling to the rebels.”

    “Internal security then? What about you, Fastrack?”

    “If you’re a bonded lawyer you can represent yourself and others in court. Seekers provide a lot of the legal representation for Cybertronians when the accused can’t provide for their own defense, as is sometimes the case on other worlds.”

    Nine barely smiled: “And you, Magnus?”

    Magnus was thinking of Primus’ Lastus character: “Building on what Havitron and Blitz said: internal security may involve more than just contraband ... an investigation may also arise when there’s an inexplicable fact – say an illicitly modified ship – but no direct evidence of wrong doing. An investigator would need to know how far is too far.”

    “Interesting.... Quintus Ray?”

    “Knowing about law is the best way for a society to not be at the mercy of the class of professional lawyers. The Seekers seem to provide a fairly substantial counterpoint to that class.”

    “Societal integrity, not an uncommon view. Broadback?”

    “I wish you’d called on me earlier.”

    “Honest. Cobatron?”

    “Building on what Fastrack said: I’d imagine that the nature of the Seekers leads to many instances where someone actually needs representation. Cheaper to have your legal team always on hand.”

    “Well said – and not all legal services offered by the Seekers are free either.... If someone can afford to pay then why should we be there for free?”

    Magnus noted how Professor Nine was closing off that thread of speculation. Figured that no one had yet guessed the real reason ... whatever it was.

    “Harvester?”

    “Besides law enforcement and representation, lawyers play a crucial role in most contract negotiations. Having either ‘more’ or ‘better’ lawyers on your side can’t hurt.”

    “Ah, the old ‘Our lawyers can beat up your lawyers.’ argument. Buzzer?”

    “Since the bonding process must be expensive, it has to be a little of all of the above.... Still, if the Seekers are well positioned then they may yet influence the establishment of interstellar laws that are actually right and just.”

    “Nice waffling ... better recovery. Datadraw?”

    “Law helps to provide the ethical basis for understanding good citizenship. If you understand what it means to be a good citizen – or rather what constitutes being a bad citizen – and are willing to apply that knowledge correctly then you have little to fear from the law. Ray’s earlier point only demonstrates that our society has already failed to maintain a proper level of awareness ... what he suggest is more of an antivirus than a firewall.”

    “A sound analysis. Powertech?”

    “I’d imagine we study law – and get bonded – because Quintessons suck on dry energon and will throw you into a shredder just as soon as look at you.”

    “A cynical view. Care to elaborate?”

    “They don’t care about justice ... only process. If you’re an actual lawyer you can introduce motions in their so-called courts or offer arguments that they will have to actually deal with. Probably won’t save your life but legal maneuvers may buy you some time.”

    “Actually,” Nine smiled broadly, “in the case of a certain Combaticon logistics officer: he proved to be such an unethical hack that the Quintesson judge placed him on retainer as a condition for his release. Please note: this individual is not allowed to either teach or practice law on Cybertron or her colonies ... so his example is dubious at best.”

    “Retainer?”

    “Quintessons do occasionally end up before other courts. At such times they pull in these little favors.”

    And they get represented?!” Powertech emoted his disbelief.

    “If they didn’t then the likelihood of any other victim of theirs’ ever getting off becomes small indeed. Besides, once you’re on retainer it’s an ethical obligation.”

    Magnus’ head was hurting ... he couldn’t imagine having to actually go into court and say “This fine, upstanding Quintesson is innocent of all charges.” and keep a straight face.... Wait, wasn’t Shockwave the ranking Combaticon logistics officer?

    “Good answers all around ... even you Broadback. We Seekers study law because we never know when or why we’re going to need it. With that in mind, lets look at the introductory chapter to law that you’ve already read.”

    The rest of the class was a let down given the introduction. Still, Magnus had realized that this academy was a one chance affair. Not just for himself but for his squad as well. He wasn’t going to let them down by bluffing his way through again.

    Still, he’d resolved to work on the other’s presentations. He decided to deal with Datadraw’s selection next: Till All Are One, a traditional moral homily attributed to someone called Primacron and dated to long before the revolution. The text dealt with virtue and excellence of character as these relate to function and functionality. Its language reminded Magnus of Alpha Trion’s Philosophy – though there was no mention of anything called philosophy, learning or even programming. After comparing more than a few passages, Magnus decided that Alpha Trion’s work was at least partly sourced from this moral ... though some of it was in clear contrast. Primacron would seem to want to have his reader simply accept the truth of his words while Alpha Trion essentially demanded his reader either prove him right or wrong.

    Magnus resolved to introduce Datadraw to The Philosophy when there was time ... see how he would react.

    For the rest of the night, Magnus sat in the common area with the rest – focused on the material at hand.

    The next cycle was much more disciplined – no more pushing through students as they milled about talking in the halls. Last cycle’s surprise had apparently put a stop to that.

    As Magnus took his seat, Professor Nine walked over and informed him that his presence was required elsewhere because of an incident. She knew how young he was – that he’d never been drunk before – which was probably why she only gave him a short talking to and didn’t ask for an explanation. Still, it was obvious that she was disappointed. He was expected to make the lost time up before the next class began.

    As he left for his meeting, Magnus wondered if he should call Shockwave and ask.... Frag! He’d forgotten again!
     
  7. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 6: Ego Games


    Magnus reported to the hub of the ship not far from the bridge. This area was far more ornate and colorful than the parts of Seeker he’d been in so far. A helpful – if gruff – Combaticon/Seeker pointed him to his final destination.

    Turned out to be a largish office suite with glossy, dark red walls and satin chrome highlights. Polished battle trophies of all sorts lined the walls and larger pieces had been modified to serve for furniture. Whoever this office belonged to ... they were both important and experienced.

    “Ah, Magnus,” a familiar voice from behind him, “please have a seat.”

    Sitting down in a chair made from someone’s gigantic hand, Magnus would make no effort to address Dean Battletech till it was clear he should do so.

    The Dean walked past him, turned and sat on the edge of his desk. Looked Magnus up and down a few times.

    “Six uncut energon goodies?”

    “Yes, Sir.”

    “Six WHOLE energon goodies?”

    Magnus said nothing.

    “We need to go out nibbling, you and I.”

    Magnus blinked hard. Did the Dean just say?... Then there was an odd whining and whirring noise. Battletech completely changed in moments into a much larger Combaticon with a smug and amused expression.

    “Transformation machines?!” Magnus blurted out in amazement.

    “Yes, my blessing and my curse –” the other held out his hand in a friendly way, “I’m Oculon ... Chief Officer of the Decepticons. I’m an older brother.”

    Magnus shook this Oculon’s hand with some reserve.

    “Hey, I’m not going to bite.” the larger Combaticon laughed in a creepy way.

    “I’m sorry, Sir ... Oculon. I was just–”

    “Taken back by my amazing power? Magnus, many of your brothers have special abilities suitable to their passions. With me, they tried to see if transformation machines could be successfully employed in a living machine.”

    “It’s a very impressive ability.”

    “Yes, I can look and sound like anyone or anything within a certain range of sizes as well as mimic abilities too; however, the power has left my armor soft and put me in a desk job for life. By the way, I explained everything to Battletech and he’s okay with the situation – provided that you stay away from treats for the time being.”

    “Thank you.”

    “What are brothers for?... So Magnus – you’re the last of our series.... How time flies. It only seems like 53.223 megacycles ago that our brother Striker was decanted. Everyone was sure that he’d be the last.”

    “I’m glad I was able to disappoint you.”

    Oculon laughed.

    “Actually, that’s part of why I wanted to meet you as soon as possible. ‘The enemy must be defeated!’ you’d said ... which such incredible passion no less....” Magnus watched as his brother began to pace around the desk, “Of course you had been reading The Record of Primus, something to stir anyone’s circuits. I listened to your own rendition of that same speech that you gave in Nine’s class ... very well done. You remind me of him – Primus – the way you seem so affable and wise and humble. I knew Primus, did you know that? I wasn’t old enough to have actually served with him ... of all our brethren only Shockwave had that honor. Of course, that also means I got to see his end.... We were almost glad when it came. Life had become such a burden for him after Megatron’s death by treacherous hands.”

    “Treachery?”

    “Yes, but you wouldn’t know about that ... would you? I understand you heard The Summation of Megatron the other cycle? He was going to bring peace to Cybertron. The Autobot rebellion had begun because of a misunderstanding exasperated by a heavy handed government. Megatron had somehow got officials and rebel leaders to sit down and listen to his summation. As Alpha Trion was returning to the conference with Primus in tow so the great leader could speak his mind ... there was a massive explosion. Everyone died. As chief of intelligence the investigation fell to me.... There had been a Quintesson agent ... an Alpha. I never found out who.”

    “ONE OF US?!” Magnus couldn’t believe his ears.

    “Don’t worry, Magnus ... you’re in the clear. As are most of us. A number of our brethren died in combat – or maybe disappeared – not long afterwards.... The assassin was likely among them.”

    “But?...”

    “In his grief and rage, Primus commanded that no Alpha should ever rise to command the Combaticons ... of course, he’d long since retired and was already far too fragile to go near a battlefield. Still, his ‘command’ carries emotional weight.”

    “One of us.” Magnus stated without emotion or strength.

    “You’re reaction is typical. Though we’ve usually waited a while before we tell a brother about it.”

    “Why didn’t you wait for me?” Magnus really wished he had.

    “I have my reasons. Which brings me back to why you’re here. Magnus, did you have any ... did anything unusual happen right before you said those words?”

    Magnus had been dreading this very question.... What if they found out about the vision, discovered that the real enemy wasn’t the Quintessons? That they were only an enemy ... not THE enemy. Would they think him insane?

    “No ... nothing unusual.” aside from actually meeting Primus – in a way, “I’d just finished Alpha Trion’s Philosophy and was researching a question about Primus’ approach to the Autobots.”

    “Reaaally?” Oculon stopped pacing and leaned forward on the desk.

    Something about this brother made Magnus’ circuits crawl.

    “I was speculating that the speech was designed to enable the Autobots to overcome programming to obey Quintessons ... to give reasons that couldn’t be denied as to why their masters should be given the heave-ho.”

    “That’s a very innovative take on the text ... and insightful. But there’s one problem: Autobots were NOT programmed to obey Quintessons. We were. They had free will while we had everything but. Primus was convincing the Autobots that a world that had been set up just for them had somehow gone so wrong that it had to be fixed with violence. That it could only be fixed with violence ... and that they had to commit some of it.”

    Magnus saw how that could make sense ... if you ignored the justness and decency of the reasons Primus gave. How could all that nobility just be a pretext to savagery? No ... fighting was necessary. A means. But it wasn’t the end.

    “An energon goody for your thoughts?” Oculon pressed.

    “I believe I’m to stay away from those.”

    “And indeed you are!” Oculon made a flourished gesture and grinned broadly, “Glad to see you’re paying attention.”

    “I was just thinking about what you said. About how we were the ones who were programmed.”

    “That can wait for later. I have the answers I sought.”

    “Do I go back to class now?”

    “No ... no, no, no, no.” all smiles, “You will just have to spend an all-night session with Nine. I need you to come with me ... or rather: with Dean Battletech.”

    With those words he transformed again.

    “We need to meet with a ship’s councilor and satisfy her that you’re fit to serve. She doesn’t know about us Alphas – you see. Very few do. We like to keep things that way.”

    “Yes ... Dean Battletech.”

    “You catch on fast, brother.” Oculon/Battletech hissed, “Follow me.”

    Magnus followed his brother several levels deeper into the ship. Into the medical bays. The councilor turned to face them...

    “You!” she and Magnus said in unison.

    “Have you already met?” Oculon/Battletech asked, a hint of mirth in his voice.

    “We ... have corresponded.” Sapphira offered.

    “Well, good then! That will make this review all the easier.”

    “Sir?” Sapphira asked.

    “I’ve spoken with Magnus’ former commander in the field. Our friend apparently suffered some trauma and memory loss. His behavior the other night was probably due to his even forgetting what the effects of the treats could be. Still ... we should be careful and provide him some therapy.”

    “That’s my job. To see what needs to be done and do it.”

    “Good. And Magnus ...” he held out an energon goody in his hand – Magnus took it, “a symbol of trust. I need to return to my quarters for a bit before I resume my own duties. Doctor.”

    “Commander.” she nodded respectfully.

    As they watched him leave, Magnus acquired the message left on the treat. It was instructions on how he was to act ... ‘his’ back story too.

    “You look a bit different than the last time we met.”

    “What did Professor Nine tell you?”

    “That’s right ... you’re in her class, aren’t you? Must be awkward.”

    “Nothing like having you jump out of my locker at me.”

    “And now your whole future rest in my hands. Why did you change your name?”

    “Someone in my unit had the same name ... it got confusing and Commander Shockwave made a decision. The other ‘Striker’ outranked me.”

    “Please, have a seat.” she motioned towards a swivel chair opposite the one she was taking. Her tone and demeanor had changed dramatically in mere moments.

    “How did you feel about having to change your name.”

    “I wish I knew.” Magnus said, loathing the role he was to play.

    “What happened to you, Magnus?”

    Magnus just shook his head.

    “You won’t tell ... or can’t tell?”

    “Can’t tell. No orders.”

    “So you figure the Seekers will take a Combaticon cast off?”

    Degrading....

    “I just want to be useful.”

    Why not adapt and improve? What was it Powertech had said?

    “On a ship you can be useful, in combat you’ve got artillery. You just press a button and they go boom!”

    “Is that all the Seekers are to you?”

    “No, Doctor. But combat is my only defect. I can make a difference here. If you’ll let me stay.”

    “Right now that’s a big ‘if.’ You’ve got a problem you don’t even know you have.... I have no idea how serious this is. We need to have a long talk, you and I.”

    “What do you want to know?”

    “For starters ... what do you remember from ... oh, it’s been over 50 megacycles now. The incident.”

    “I was new to the unit and Commander Shockwave wanted to see how I’d behave under a tense situation.”

    Which was true enough about Striker.

    “Interesting choice of first mission. Are you putting this off on your former commander?”

    “No, Doctor. I did say something that started the whole affair. I’m sorry now – for what it’s worth.”

    This Striker owes me big time!

    “I’m satisfied with that. I don’t suppose you have my holoprojector on you?”

    “I wasn’t expecting to actually meet you ... as per your note. If you want, I’ll return it later.”

    She just nodded.

    “Well, that’s dealt with. Now, Magnus ... what do you remember from your last mission?”

    “Well, we were investigating a tip about a world called Terranoir. My unit had been sent down in a shuttle with the goal of finding a scientist believed to be working for Quintessons. Our presence was apparently unwanted ... the shooting began while we were still in the sky.”

    “I’m familiar with that world ... little about it would surprise me. Did you find the scientist?”

    “I ... don’t know. I don’t remember much of anything after we crash landed and the real fighting began.”

    “Were you captured?”

    “No ... at least not that anyone noticed. There was a brief time where I was unaccounted for according to Shockwave, though.”

    “I see.... Magnus, please lie down on a sensor table.”

    There were several in the room. He just chose the nearest. Doctor Sapphira asked him the same questions again – even about the buff raid – while observing her displays. Magnus wasn’t worried. Oculon’s message had included information about how to set up a personality shell to deal with this very contingency. The Magnus/Striker shell seemed to be working perfectly ... made the lying a bit more bearable.

    She made some adjustments to the table and asked the exact same questions again. More times after that ... each time adjusting her controls. Finally she leaned over him.

    “Magnus, you seem to be uncompromised ... though you do have repressed personality fragments that I can’t seem to get a response from. Would you like me to erase them?”

    “No! No thank you, Doctor. If it’s there I’d rather it be reintegrated at some point rather than lost forever.”

    “A fighter to the end?”

    “Yes, Doctor.” That was too close ... she almost stole my mind!

    “Well then, I guess that about does it for the table.”

    “I’m free to go?”

    “No, Magnus. There’s an oil tank in the next room. I want you to get in it so I can run an analysis on your physical condition. Personality fragments are often associated with physical damage ... especially transient depolarization of spark containment. It may be possible to merge your manifest personality with the others just by adjusting or repairing physical damage.”

    “You can do that?”

    “I was trained to be the best.”

    Magnus went to the room she’d pointed at and climbed down into a pool of heated mineral oil. If it hadn’t been for some nagging thought he might’ve enjoyed the bath. But something was wrong here. The real Magnus took control from the shell.

    The doctor entered and started looking over a complex series of controls set in the wall.

    “Doctor?”

    “Yes?”

    “You said that you might be able to merge my manifest personality with the others ... plural. Is there more than one personality fragment?”

    “Yes, there are three. A dominant one, a lesser one and a somnambulist – a ‘sleeper’ if you will.”

    “What can you tell me about them?”

    “Well ...” she began to look at her displays again, “how odd. In the last few moments your previous expression has changed places with your dominant fragment.” She looked at him with suspicion, “Who are you now?”

    “Doctor, do my ‘previous expression’ and the lesser fragments compare?” Magnus was clutching at fiber cable ... something was very disturbing about the whole situation.

    She didn’t take her eyes from him as she manipulated a few controls. Turned away briefly and back again.

    “The smaller active one has similar phase harmonics, as if it were a copy.”

    “What about this ‘sleeper?’ What are its ‘harmonics’ like?”

    She examined her data again.

    “I’ve never really seen anything like it, now that I’ve got a better look at it. It’s very small ... its resonance signature is similar to that of an uninitialized spark.”

    Magnus thought hard ... the sleeper could be his vision self. Would he really want it awakened? But these others?

    “Doctor, I’ve changed my mind. Can you erase just those two fragments ... my previous expression and the similar fragment? Leave the other intact?”

    “Yes. But I’ll need a very good reason.”

    Magnus hesitated. Oculon had told him the Alphas were a secret. But he’d also given him that shell and the fragment too. He must’ve known....

    “My real name is Magnus. I’ve never been called Striker.”

    “But you said?...”

    “I know what I said. I’m a product of a secret program. I only have this physical shell because my final chassis isn’t ready yet. I think Professor Nine can corroborate that much of my story. The prior occupant of this shell was the Striker you encountered ... that’s why I look similar but not the same. As for why I’m here and the extra personalities ... I’m really young and didn’t know what I was doing the other cycle ... another of my brothers, Oculon–”

    “Stop!... I’m not sure I believe you but if the Decepticon is involved.... You say Nine can confirm some of your story?”

    “I believe so.”

    She accessed a compartment in her leg much like the one that had been hiding Striker’s sword. Pulled out a projector lamp of some sort. Scanned the whole room with it.

    “Doctor?”

    “Transformation machines glow under active infrared lamps. The room is clear. He’s not here.”

    She returned the lamp, sealed the door’s magnetic clamps and activated a few more switches. Then she went to a terminal and connected herself to it by data cable. A flurry of activity and then nothing for a few moments.

    “Nine’s confirmed your origins and suggested that the personality shell – especially the lesser fragment – be removed and examined in detail. Is this agreeable?”

    “Very.”

    “I didn’t mention the other fragment. What about it?”

    “You’re sure of your analysis?”

    “Of course.”

    “Doctor ... Sapphira, that sleeper is a very important part of who I am. It’s the reason I’m alive in the first place. It has to stay.”

    “You’re sure of this?”

    “No. But right now I just want Oculon’s little ‘gift’ gone. Nothing else.”

    “Very well. Though this equipment isn’t as well suited to the task as the table was, it’s probably best that we do the work here. Please hold absolutely still.”

    A myriad of fiber cables emerged from the walls of the oil bath and wrapped themselves around and into Magnus. He didn’t feel anything but was weirded out just the same.

    Sapphira worked her controls expertly for a long time. Seemed to make several hasty corrections in the process.

    “You’re clean.” she finally said without turning around. “As much as you wanted to be. What do you know about those fragments and the one that remains?”

    The fibers withdrew from his person.

    “Before I came in here, Oculon intercepted me and gave me data to construct a shell so I would pass muster based on what you knew rather than what I’ve revealed to you. He also told me that he’d already explained my error to Dean Battletech.”

    “You actually trusted someone that much: especially Oculon! You ARE young! What about the sleeper?”

    “I’d appreciate it if that was our secret.”

    “On the condition that you tell me about it. What is it? You said that you wouldn’t be here without it.”

    “Can we talk about it later?”

    “We WILL talk about it later.... Magnus, the shell and fragment I removed were able to defend themselves up to a point. I need to perform an analysis on them before you leave. Are you all right where you are?”

    Sitting in a vat of hot mineral oil? Ohhhh yeah! Magnus nodded happily. It felt like his chassis hadn’t been properly cleaned before they slapped him into it. Without a word he slipped all the way beneath the clear fluid and let himself sink to the bottom.

    Eventually he wasn’t alone. She was in the oil with him. Poking his head above the surface....

    “Analysis still in progress. You looked like you were enjoying yourself too much so I thought: ‘Why not?’”

    “What’s the verdict so far?”

    “Oculon must have known that I’d try to reintegrate you. The shell appears to have been designed to subtly modify your consciousness. My guess is he wanted to recruit you and was worried that you’d refuse him.”

    “I don’t know if I should feel complemented or be enraged?”

    “Neither will serve you well. I’ve got both fragments isolated in an analytical subroutine. Once that analysis is complete I’ll be able to tell you what you need to know so he won’t catch on that his little trick failed.”

    “Thank you, Doctor.” Magnus took extra special care to make sure the data from the energon treat was erased in his own memory too.

    “Call me Sapphira. Oil baths and formalities don’t mix. Now, while we have time ... you said Oculon had already talked to Dean Battletech?”

    Magnus felt obligated to tell her exactly what had happened and what he’d been told – no embellishment or exposition – though he left out the shameful details about Megatron. She said nothing the whole time. A soft chime sounded in the room while he talked. When he finished there was silence.

    “That’s it?”

    “Yes.”

    “Magnus, the data you’ll need will be on a green crystal. Please be a dear and close the door behind you after you let yourself out.”

    “Thank you, Sapphira.”

    “No, Magnus.... Thank you.” she said contemplatively.
     
  8. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 7: Academy


    Magnus reviewed her recommendations on his data plate as he walked back to class – there was still some of the cycle left so they should all be there. Instead, the classroom was empty. He looked around in confusion. There was a data plate on his desk.

    Professor Nine had left him instructions: reread the first twelve chapters of law and then write a summery of their contents before class. After that he could study for this cycle’s lesson. Also, she would test him before the others arrived.

    With his orders in hand, Magnus sat down and started summarizing. Part way through chapter 3 he decided to adjust his eyes to emit a very low intensity infrared light – hopefully just enough to cause transformation machines nearby to shimmer but not enough to attract attention.

    True to her word, Professor Nine showed up early the next cycle and reviewed his summery of essential legal theory. She was quite critical of it and worked him through several portions. Magnus did better on the quiz.

    “Professor?”

    “Yes, Magnus?”

    “I’m very interested in the difference between learning and programming.”

    “So I’d gathered.”

    “Why does learning lead to superior results? One author I’ve read seems to hold contradicting views: that self-knowledge is only found in what is learned: that programming – which would seem to preclude self-knowledge – is superior.”

    She set her own data plate down and stared off to nowhere.

    “I’m starting to wonder at you’re insights ... If you should be so free with them?”

    “Pardon?”

    “Magnus,” she turned to him, “the things you talk about must seem obvious to you, or else you wouldn’t act as if everyone else had dealt with these same issues in their own lives. I don’t know much about your series ... but it would seem to me that what was sought was more intuition than mere education. I’m sure there are those who’d be unhappy that I know that much.”

    “I don’t understand.”

    “Maybe if you understood the history of this academy better you’d see my point. The Seeker Academy is an accident of history, no one ever invented it or decided that we should have it. Its informal source predates the Quintessons leaving Cybertron: Seeker crews would often exchange knowledge, tactics or ideas that they had acquired on their missions. Because of Quintesson views on anything independent this had always happened in secret; however, by the time the Seekers had belatedly turned against their masters there had arisen a general consensus that sharing information improved results. After the great revolt a system was formalized to share this knowledge whenever ships were in port. At some point someone noticed that recruits from the general population who were trained, who had an education, were more successful than Seekers who simply had the same information as a result of their booting up. The result: Seekers were no longer programmed to know their skills but were taught them.... Magnus, your intuition is novel in ways that this academy never was. You know something, or think you know something, that you imagine everyone else also knows. But you don’t. Or rather you do, but we don’t.”

    “Even if you do?”

    “I was hoping not to go there.” she smiled.

    “Insight.... Was I wrong to ... well, you know?”

    “You would rather be someone else right now?”

    Magnus just nodded. Nine had never told Sapphira about the Alphas and they were obviously friends. Had he put the doctor at risk by telling her about himself? He could almost imagine Oculon being willing to hurt – really hurt – an innocent bystander ... look at what he was willing to do to his own brother! Though he still couldn’t understand all of what Nine was trying to tell him....

    “Professor, I think I’ll focus on my education right now. Leave intuition for another cycle.”

    “I’m glad. Since a barracks score as a unit, they’ll be glad too.”

    “Yes, Professor.”

    “But Magnus,” she said as she was looking at her data plate again, “when it comes time to discuss your intuitions, I’d like to be there. They sound fascinating.”

    “Thank you,” several of the squad wandered into class, “for giving me the chance to catch up.”

    “Of course.”

    After a challenging class – he was poorly prepared for historical jurisprudence after all – Magnus decided to make a side trip rather than go straight back to the barracks. He went to an especially quiet public lounge near the hub of the ship and not far from where he’d first boarded. From there, using a ground line at his table, he finally called the Rapax in hopes of getting Shockwave.

    Someone named Harrier answered: “The Commander is not here. What do you want with him?”

    “Would you just tell him that Magnus called and that I’d like to speak to him in private.”

    “... Magnus? Sir, can you stay where you are? Reunion Lounge on Seeker, booth 22 ... right?”

    “Yes. But I’ve a lot of studying to do so I can’t stay long.”

    “Just wait where you are.”

    Just wait, he says. Magnus fiddled with the controls of the booth’s sonic screen ... even off this lounge was eerily quiet. Only the sounds of waitdrones scurrying to and fro. He turned the damper up full again.

    “How does anyone even know when someone approaches their table in this crazy place?” he wondered.

    With time on his hands and thinking that here might be a nice place to study, he tried to summon the law text for next cycle only to get the message he’d been told about at the very beginning: “Non-Designated Area: Text Not Available.”

    It seems they were quite serious when they said that the only places students were even allowed to study were their respective classrooms or barracks. Not knowing how long it would take for Harrier’s implied visitor – not that it should take long – Magnus pulled up the files for Powertech’s The Lost by someone called Deltacron. The speech had seemed a worthy, if transparent, discussion of something called the “Allspark” ... the source of all life. The file wasn’t what Magnus had expected, what Powertech had presented was really just a selection of a larger work written long ago ... by a Quintesson. Considering the little guy’s obvious hatred of Quintessons the choice was especially odd.

    From the speech, it seemed as if only those who had failed to fulfill their function in life were counted among “the lost” ... sparks that would never return once their current lives had terminated. The larger text – which was annoyingly censored – seemed to say that and much more. Magnus was still trying to piece together the possible contents of a second censored portion when he became aware of someone sitting across from him.

    “Interesting reading, little brother.” the stranger said.

    “And you are?” Magnus looked up at another unusually large Combaticon.

    “Everyone else’s little brother. But you can call me Striker.”

    Magnus’ eyes narrowed.

    “You know, I’ve been catching a lot of grief because of you.”

    “Really? So little brother, what was so important that you had to use a secure ground line from this place? And why are your optics emitting infrared light?”

    “You can see that?”

    Striker just nodded like a bobble head.

    “It was ... just an experiment. I’d noticed that transformation machines shimmered in sunlight the other cycle and was curious if they could be detected this way.”

    “Not at that intensity. Been working your way through the spectrum?”

    “Just started, really.”

    “Well, you guessed right. Any particular reason you wanted to see the little beggars?”

    “Curiosity.”

    “Why not? Now, about why you wanted the Commander to go out of his way to meet you here?”

    “I ... owed him an apology and I didn’t want unnecessary witnesses.” Better not mention Oculon’s little appearance just yet, Magnus decided.

    “An ‘apology?’”

    “Well ...”

    “I see, I’m an ‘unnecessary witness.’” Striker said in a mirthless tone.

    “It’s about a sim that Ravage let me experience. One belonging to Shockwave.”

    “Yes, Nine did get in his face about that. Probably why you’ve been ... ‘catching a lot of grief’ too. You know Magnus, you aren’t exactly the way you’ve been described. What happened? Does it have anything to do with transformation machines?”

    Magnus didn’t say anything.

    “Magnus, if you don’t tell me what happened I can’t help you. Now, I’m going to throw out a list of names and you tell me if any are close: Oculon.”

    “I met him last cycle. Circumstantial evidence is that he tried to alter my personality through the ruse of getting me out of trouble.”

    “Trouble?”

    Magnus told him the short version, leaving out Sapphira’s new knowledge and what she’d told him about his sleeper.

    “It would seem our doctor is a bit suspicious. In this case rightfully so.... Magnus, can I see that crystal she gave you?”

    Striker examined it much as he would read an energon message. Magnus hadn’t guessed that he could do that. He wondered what other abilities fell into the range of “enhanced communications.”

    “The doctor would have you act a bit too much of a pirate ... but a sound list none the less. Which doctor is it?”

    “Sapphira. You may–”

    “Remember her. Yes.... She’s a Seeker now – a doctor no less? Small universe.”

    “Her hologram jumping out of my locker at me was quite startling. At first I imagined Shockwave responsible–”

    “Wait, Shockwave ... getting blamed for something he didn’t do?” Striker broke a big grin, “Was this part of your apology?”

    “Well ... yes.”

    “Don’t ever mention that to our brother. Ever!” he tossed the data crystal back, “I’ll look into this matter about Oculon. It’s best that it came to my attention rather than Shockwave’s – he’d have to report the incident.... Look, Magnus, Oculon is ok but he takes his job too seriously and sometimes lacks perspective. Flying a desk has made him that way.”

    “I should give him the benefit of the doubt?”

    “He is your brother.”

    With that Striker left.

    Given what he’d seen of the others in his series – all three of them – Magnus was wondering how the Alphas were a secret at all? They literally stood out in a crowd.

    After a few moments to gather his thoughts, Magnus started back to the barracks and a long night of study for cycle 3 of law: covering standards of evidence and criminal jurisprudence if memory served him. He added bringing up the larger nature of The Lost with Powertech to his desire to introduce Datadraw to Alpha Trion’s Philosophy. As he entered the barracks, he mused that he might as well take up counseling too. He seemed to want to dabble at any rate.

    In class they covered chapters 25 to 30 before breaking up into groups for a mock trial. Professor Nine was the judge and Magnus had been assigned to the defense team. An Autobot named Charger was the guest defendant and he seemed a veritable scoundrel. Nine “sentenced” him to a megacycle’s hard labor for petty theft when all was said and done.

    “Well, you blokes did your best.” the Autobot said with a grim smile as he left.

    It was Harvester who suggested – once they were back in their barracks – that maybe, just maybe, the case hadn’t been mere play acting. That put a somber mood on everything. Made studying for the next cycle easier. Magnus passed on looking into another speech as a result ... though he’d keep coming back to The Lost for now personalized reasons.

    Thankfully, their much more involved study of civil law didn’t include deciding anyone else’s fate.

    Having had a cycle full of civil law, Magnus decided he would study Harvester's Proposal for Law Reform by Councilor Altigon next. It seemed to match well with the next cycle’s class material at any rate.

    “Hey roomie, what are you doing?” Datadraw asked in a friendly prying way.

    The Autobot had been taking an interest in Magnus ever since their talk the other cycle.

    “I’ve been looking into each of your presentations from cycle 2. Giving each their due. Since we just covered the basics of civil law I figured I’d take aim at Harvester's speech.”

    “Not a bad idea. You learn about us and our interest while just learning period.”

    “It’s a habit of mine.”

    “Why didn’t you bring up the idea with the barracks?”

    “Honestly? The thought didn’t even occur to me. Besides, I’m at a disadvantage now since I had to cobble together that little something on cycle 3. Missed out on hearing your own personal presentations, the one’s you actually wrote.”

    “Why didn’t you just record them?”

    “...”

    Datadraw tapped Magnus’ forehead in amusement: “Tell us when you’re done. We’ll take things from there.”

    Getting back to Proposal for Law Reform, the main thrust was to separate a judge from its power to invoke penalty in the case of guilt. Though a seemingly unnecessary elaboration, the original speaker had felt that there might be times when the emotion of a case could lead a judge to impose too harsh a sentence. By placing the power to impose sentence in the hands of a non-observer – with a recommendation from the judge to be sure – it was hoped to avoid such instances in the future.

    Diving into Seeker’s data banks revealed little information about the text or its author. There had in fact been hundreds of thousands of similarly titled text by this or that Councilor ... so maybe even the name was more of a title.

    Ask Harvester about it later, Magnus punted.

    Just as with the presentation, the next cycle dealt with actual governance and the passage of laws. A massive jumble of history showing how the only constant in government was growth. A law is passed. Growth. A law is repealed. Growth to deal with the old functions – now defunct. Yet somehow all this mess was still manageable.

    Probably because all citizens were also soldiers ... which meant that they could be expected to look after some bit of fuss on their few assigned cycles of service every megacycle. So sure, government was huge. But the labor pool was more than adequate.

    Magnus smiled: as a Combaticon he’d never have to be a bureaucrat. Come to think of it, neither would any Seeker. Maybe part of why competition to join was so brisk?



    “I’m glad they don’t let us have energon treats in the barracks!” Harvester emoted at cycle’s end.

    Nods all around. Magnus glimpsed at the subject matter for the next cycle and wasn’t sure he had time to spend on any of his friend’s presentations.

    The last cycle of law dealt with advanced issues common to criminal and civil litigation and featured some genuine role playing of the adversarial system. It was almost fun.

    Almost ... but not enough for 60 whole chapters. Only Datadraw and Ray seemed to enjoy the subject first to last. Magnus found himself looking forward to the next two cycles – interpretive sculpture – as it wasn’t law and they’d get to go into the city. He was ready for a change.

    “Does anyone know anything about interpretive sculpture?” he asked as they settled in.

    Numerous shaking heads.

    “Maybe we interpret sculpture?” Havitron suggested lamely before looking at his data plate, “Oh looky, tonight's reading is: ‘Turn off all your functions and sensors. Sit still on reserve power and contemplate any sensations.’ They assign these ‘electives’ randomly, don’t they?”

    “Looks like we got a bad draw.” Powertech agreed.
     
  9. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 8: Interpretations


    Magnus watched as his squad reluctantly succumbed to their assignment – one after another. What they were thinking, he couldn’t know. As far as he knew none of them had ever been in such a state ... not the way he’d been.

    Shockwave had said that he’d been that way for a very long time. Time: how to make sense of it? Nine had said that people live a long time. Time?

    “I’ve had none of it.”

    Not yet fifteen cycles.

    Magnus walked over to the window and looked out at a skyline that he’d somehow not bothered with over these last ten cycles. Looking within held no mystery for him. He stood there motionless and looked out, wondering what that other Magnus would think about this world, the one that lay before him now?

    Magnus listened for that voice all night but the sleeper slept on. Even the shadow of sunrise didn’t wake it.

    “Magnus?” he heard Powertech ask, “Have you been standing there all night?”

    “Yes.”

    “What about the assignment?”

    “I’ve endured uncounted megacycles in a crèche aware of only myself and the files I had to read. No one and nothing else.”

    “Wow! I thought I had it rough.”

    Magnus looked down at his friend. He realized that for all the time he’d known him, Powertech always seemed to just stop and look at things. Just like he was doing now.

    “What did they do to you?”

    “Me? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

    Powertech seemed to be watching the sun drive shadows away from Seeker’s hull.

    “Powertech isn’t really my name. Did you know that? I don’t have a name. I’ve asked myself why I don’t have a name ... but whoever I am doesn’t know why either.... It’s all part of what they didn’t do to me,” he laughed quietly, “because you see, I’m really just a spare part.”

    “A spare part?”

    “I’m a powertech. I was a spare unit set aside along with all the other powertechs I’ve ever known. Not that there are many of us. We were held in stasis for that cycle we’d be activated to replace some other powertech that had already worn out through countless cycles of doing whatever it was that powertechs did.... If a Combaticon named Orion Pax hadn’t come poking his sensors into a place where he shouldn’t have been ... I’d still be there now. We’d still be there now. Alive, yet unaware ... of everything. Till the end of time itself.”

    As much as he wanted to ... Magnus didn’t ask Powertech anything. He just watched the sunrise with him until he heard the sounds of the others waking up.

    Buzzer, who had been the first off, was the last to activate – mere moments before Professor Nine came knocking at their door to take them away. As they shuffled out, Magnus placed a hand on Powertech’s shoulder.

    “You know,” he thought to himself, “I think ‘Powertech’ is a very fine name.”

    He didn’t notice the way the little Autobot stopped in his tracks and watched the larger Combaticon walk away with the rest ... a look of amazement etched on his metallic features.

    Professor Nine led them to a nearby hanger deck and directed them to board what Magnus was sure had to be the most bizarre transport imaginable. It, or rather he, was larger than Windscreen’s spacious beauty by about half and like Arclight 12’s little cab there were no windows – if you discounted those massive red eyes. He was a quadruped with a very strange shape to his head and face. He also bore a crest like Ravage’s.

    “Magnus?” Nine was leaning out of the passenger area with a bemused smile on her face, “You’re holding us up.”

    “I’m sorry, Professor.” Magnus took his eyes away from this giant’s own gaze and walked up the ramp into his chest cavity. He dropped down into a seat.

    “I’m pleased to meet you too, Magnus.” a tinny voice came from the wall near his head.

    “Did he just?...”

    “Lynx has a mind of his own.” Nine stated the obvious. “Everyone make sure you’re strapped in tight,” she said as she was applying her own restraints, “I don’t want this field trip to include any visits to the doctors.”

    “Mistress Nine, you wound me!” came a voice from nowhere and everywhere.

    “We have a schedule to keep and I don’t want you taking the easy road.”

    “You mean ... I can have some fun?” more than a hint of mirth ... just a touch of sinister glee.

    “Just get us there.”

    “As you wish, Mistress Nine.”

    There was a jolt of motion as Lynx apparently stood up and sprang forward. Magnus began strapping himself in with all due speed. He managed the last clasp as there came a feeling of weightlessness followed by what his inertial sensors were telling him was a long fall with plenty of forward motion.

    Somehow, Lynx hitting the ground running didn’t result in anyone getting harmed.

    “He doesn’t have inertial dampers, does he?” Havitron asked in a distressed tone.

    No one bothered to answer. Lynx was running to wherever they were going – very fast. He seemed to relish jumping and climbing too. As they came screeching to a halt there was a moment of disbelief that it was all over. Then there was the sensation of Lynx sitting down just before the door opened. Powertech was out of his seat and outside before Magnus had even got one clasp undone.

    They emerged into a huge enclosed space ... one large enough to hold any of the transports docked nearby Seeker. The whole of the room – for it was but one vast room – seemed surrounded by seating that just went up and up. But the seats in this stadium were all dark and empty. Only the floor was lit or occupied.

    It was home to a vast and bizarre collection of shapes and oddities along with statues of all sizes.

    “So this is where all the bad art goes to die?” Buzzer wondered aloud.

    “‘Bad art!’” an offended voice from behind Magnus – an Autobot taller than Comdec tromped past him towards Buzzer, “I’ll have you know that some of the very finest art on all of Cybertron resides within these walls! You had better improve your attitude, young Buzzer, or your whole barracks’ score will suffer as a result!”

    There was a moment that seemed to stretch out before this new Autobot fell on Buzzer with a big hug.

    “I knew you had it in you, lad!” he turned back towards the rest of the class, “It seems your confidence in your team wasn’t poorly placed either.”

    Magnus was trying to put a name to that face ... somehow he looked ...

    “Alpha Trion, you old raconteur!” Nine pushed past several of her students, “You always did prefer the flare and drama of theater.”

    “Nine!” He draped himself on her shoulders, “Sorry, Professor Nine.” he released her, “It’s been too long. Please, introduce me to your class.”

    Magnus watched as this oddly decorative individual was introduced to the members of his squad.

    “Was this really the Alpha Trion whose books had occupied so much of my time?” he silently wondered, “I have so much to ask him ...”

    “And this is Magnus. He normally looks more intelligent....” Nine didn’t finish the sentence.

    Alpha Trion took his hands and gave them a convincing shake.

    “I’m pleased to meet you, Magnus. It’s been a while since I’ve seen that chassis.”

    That snapped Magnus back to reality ... whatever he may’ve wanted to say, or ask, he couldn’t. At least not till Artemus had first crack at his noggin.

    “It is an honor to meet you, General.” Magnus said with genuine respect – returning the hand shake.

    “General? I haven’t been called that in a very, very long time.” Alpha Trion laughed as he let go of Magnus so he could meet Cobatron.

    Introductions over, Alpha Trion began leading the squad through the maze of sculpture that occupied the whole of the floor. They even passed artisans working on new projects.

    Of one of these Alpha Trion said: “You may notice that our friend here is carving something recognizable from this hunk of duraluminum. This is a work we’ve been talking about for a while.” he half turned to the artisan – a Combaticon with a middle 200 series chassis, “This is the feminine hero we’ve been talking about?”

    “It had better be, A3!” came the jovial response.

    “Anyway,” Alpha Trion turned back to the class, “you may have noticed many realistic pieces scattered about. The style is called ‘realism’ and in every case these are the work of Combaticons. Put your hand down Buzzer, your friends already know you’re smart.... Anyway, the reason has to do with certain engineering algorithms built into every Autobot. Algorithms which Combaticons lack. As a result, any just-boot Autobot can make realistic sculpture but for Combaticons it takes real skill and mastery of the material.” then he turned to a bizarre looking half-melted piece, “On the other hand, Autobot artist have to invent paradigms of expression for their art ... there are many styles ranging from a surrealistic piece like this one to emotive or participatory pieces. I even know one individual who builds free standing computrons as half-life sculptures from crystal and chrome. Can any of you – besides Buzzer who already knows – guess what this specific piece is supposed to be?”

    “Professor Alpha Trion,” Blitz interjected, “what is ‘surrealism?’”

    “Good question: surrealism is a style of substitution for the expected where even the laws of physics and spatial geometry are reinterpreted according to the rule of the piece ... each piece having its own hopefully unique rule. Does anyone want a hint?”

    Shaking of heads all around.

    Magnus looked hard at the piece ... if there was a rule it would be consistent for the whole thing if it was to ever make sense. It looked like someone had taken a collection of spare parts and cast them in place at odd angles within a glassy block that was itself fogged and drooping heavily to a side as if warped by heat ... which made the placement of objects inside it appear even more distressed. On a hunch, Magnus rejected proportionality as the basis for this mysterious rule and began looking instead at the kinds of spare parts entombed. They were eyes and what may be ears, bits of fingers and feet and several carapace plates located....

    He smiled but said nothing.

    It reminded him of a body turned inside out. Moreover, in the totally clear portion of the half melted block there was a feeling of nothing to sense that was lost near where the block was clouded and deformed – where the sensory bits were clustered. It was life, or rather a booting up. The artist was trying to say what it had been like for him. Magnus was sure of it.

    After a judicious time Alpha Trion spoke up: “Any takers?”

    No one volunteered.

    “I’m not surprised. This one is especially counterintuitive. Oh well. We should proceed.”

    “You’re not going to tell them?” the Combaticon artisan jabbed, leaning around his own statue with a smug smirk on his face.

    “Thrasher, you know the rules ... only an artist can reveal his subject.”

    “Like I said: are you going to tell them?”

    Alpha Trion just waved his hands about as if in internal debate. It was obvious that he knew that they knew that he knew that they knew he could tell them. Finally, he held out an open hand towards the piece as said: “I give you life. Many megacycles ago I took a direct hit from shrapnel and it caused me to almost loose my spark. This was before I got this handsome upgrade, or rather, it was the incident that caused me to get this upgrade.”

    “So this is what death looks like?” Cobatron asked.

    “No, not death.... Lying there I remembered when I booted up ... remembered it like I was emerging from nothing into something which didn’t yet make sense.... You shouldn’t worry that you didn’t guess it. No one ever has. I probably waited too long to make it.”

    “Did you use your original chassis for this?” Magnus asked, hiding his smugness.

    Alpha Trion shook his head: “No, during the revolution scrap was too useful. I probably only got the replacement because I was a commander of a sniper and artillery unit. It really changed the war for me.”

    “How so?” Havitron eagerly pressed.

    “With a Combaticon-spec body I could actually go into close combat. Of all of you only Datadraw – as a doctor – might understand how vulnerable early Autobot bodies were to combat damage.”

    “I believe they were called ‘One Shot Lighters.’” Datadraw observed quietly.

    “Don’t repeat that slur EVER!!!” Alpha Trion roared with considerable menace, his fist balled up tight.

    As Datadraw was apologizing, Magnus took note: early Autobots had gone to war while vulnerable ... they must’ve died easily. Which made their lives all the more heroic and such a saying all the more deplorable.

    Nine and Thrasher had calmed the now appeased general down. Class resumed.

    “... you didn’t know, Datadraw.... Students, I want you to remember what if anything you experienced last night and try to create some small sculpture. There are some tools and materials on those benches.” he pointed.

    Magnus looked over at the tables indicated, then at the art around them before settling his eyes on Alpha Trion’s own work. He turned back to Thrasher, to a pile of scraps on the floor.

    “Are you using these?”

    “The chips? No, Sir! Take all the chips you want.”

    Magnus inspected the pile and found one particular shaving – he bent it in half. He took a similar chip and bent it around the other. He added more and more chips forming a short rough hewn rod. Thrasher must’ve taken note of the kinds of shavings he was using because similar bits soon started falling off of the edges of his duraluminum block.

    Magnus couldn’t really say what he was doing ... his hands knew what they were doing but nothing special was going through any of his subprocessors that he could tell. Soon another smaller rod sprouted off of the still lengthening main rod. And more at regular angles. The sixth offshoot was in line with the first. Magnus then grabbed a few bits and bent together a stand of sorts. He set it atop of Alpha Trion’s melted glass and continued to work.

    Finally – with offshoot upon offshoot upon offshoot fashioned, much of it little more than pulled wire – he let go of the entire thing and it drooped towards the ground under its own weight. Still, it held together.

    “A very interesting use of scrap.” he heard Alpha Trion say behind him, “It appears surrealistic, but representative.”

    Magnus looked at it, recognized it. A word came to mind.

    “It’s a tree ... a willow.” he muttered.

    “Trying to cloud the interpretation? Of course it’s a tree! The only question is what kind?” he was pointing his finger as he counted, “I see every sixth branch starts a new cycle. So a tree based on a fifth order of progression is in the works. And it droops considerably at the periphery but doesn’t collapse or touch the ground ... so the system is supposed to hold together too.” he moved some outer wires with a finger, “Flexible as well.”

    “Can’t be the Seekers organizational tree,” Nine interjected peering at this new interest of Alpha Trion’s, “we’ve got a fixed nonlinear organizational progression of 1-5-7-10-12-13.”

    “Not Combaticons either.” Thrasher offered.

    “Maybe he gave us a hint ...” Alpha Trion started to muse.

    Magnus watched in silence as his little tree absorbed the others. It was this ‘realism’ at work but they’d never seen a willow tree – so how could they know? A tree not unlike the one the other Magnus had been counting against. Slowly, Magnus realized that he had placed his tree on the very clearest portion of Alpha Trion’s glass ... he’d made the whole thing into his life’s story.

    And only he knew that his symbol wasn’t symbolic.

    It really had happened: that vision. He wasn’t insane.... Maybe ... maybe ... Artemus had said that sometimes Cybertronians wake up with names that they aren’t given. Would Artemus understand this? He said that they were alike.

    Suddenly Magnus didn’t feel so all alone.

    Several of his teammates had already finished by then and joined in the speculation. Finally, Alpha Trion said they should consider everyone’s work – but he made sure to say he didn’t want Magnus to tell him about this new mystery. Professor Nine’s words drifted back to him ... sometimes having a question to ask is more valuable than the answer.

    In light of this view, everything in this place made sense. Here was a whole room full of questions to ask. It would seem that interpretive sculpture hadn’t been a bad draw after all.

    It had taken Magnus a long time to complete his little tree, the sun had already gone down. When Nine announced that they were going to spend the night here rather than return to Seeker in Lynx – Powertech couldn’t suppress his grin. Still, there was some time for a little relaxation so the whole class boarded a beat up utility wagon and went to a brighter part of the city, to a street library Nine knew of.

    Turns out that they had been in that big dome near the arsenal.

    Sitting in the back of the utility, Magnus tried not to gawk at a city that was larger, brighter and busier than he could’ve ever imagined from Windscreen’s shuttle. It was annoying, at least with Ravage he could gawk a little and get away with it ... but he apparently wasn’t supposed to let on that anything was unusual about himself.

    “Yeah, like I haven’t already put myself in line for any ‘Most Entertaining Student’ award they may choose to give out.” he silently laughed.

    The library turned out to be a collection of well lit tables in an otherwise poorly lit room.

    “Snuggleopolis.” Blitz whispered in his ear.... Sigh, another vague reference his language files didn’t account for.

    As they gathered around five tables in a corner of the room, someone turned up the lights in their area. Nine activated one of her table’s monitors and started reading. Others followed suit or talked quietly.

    Is there anything I can get you, Sir?” a waitdrone asked Magnus.

    “Just ... thinking.”

    Yes, Sir.” it said and then just sat still.

    “Must be waiting for something to do?” Magnus mused.

    Looking around, he saw that theirs was the only large group. Most tables sat only one of three while a handful of dimmer tables sat two of three – one male and female at those tables. He finally supposed that a “snuggleopolis” was a place to ‘snuggle up to a good file.’

    That mystery solved, Magnus turned his attention to the display in front of him. Since this had been Buzzer’s day, he decided to pull up the text for his presentation of The Call of Liberty by Alpha Trion. There were several speeches by that name from the old Autobot but a keyword search quickly found the right one.

    “Hey Magnus, what have you got there?” Buzzer asked while leaning over from his seat.

    “Your speech from the other cycle.”

    That drew Datadraw’s attention from the next table.

    “He’s been working on all our presentations,” he said quietly, “so he can lead a group discussion about it later.”

    Blitz and Buzzer nodded ... then Buzzer leaned closer to Magnus’ display.

    “No way!” he said with quiet emphasis.

    “Pardon?”

    “This text, it isn’t redacted.”

    Magnus just blinked hard and waited for an explanation.

    “This speech was given to the High Council just before the last time A3 retired –again– and he swore he’d never come back ... so far. I was his intern at the time so I actually heard the way he laid into them. They heavily redacted the records of the speech in real time.” he looked hard at Magnus, “You must have some SERIOUS clearance to be able to pull up the whole thing.”

    Magnus just looked helplessly at his display ... it had never occurred to him that he actually had any special security clearance.

    “Your presentation did seem ... disjointed.”

    “Well ... do they have your permission to read this?” he said with a sly grin.

    “Why not?”

    Buzzer scanned the ID line and went merrily from table to table in their group.

    Nine visibly sighed.

    Magnus read the whole speech. Yes, Alpha Trion had indeed “laid into” his peers at his last retirement. Had some very choice words to say about their management of the Autobot rebellion: were they actually going to do something about it or else why not just surrender now? He’d gone so far as to make an also-redacted song of those words. Not much to recommend it intellectually but certainly one rabble rousing speech ... which is probably why the rabble never got to see or hear it.

    Yoink! Filed away!

    After a little conspiratorial chatting in the ranks they all piled into the old utility again and started back.

    “Magnus, Sir, I just wanted to say that I am glad that you are part of our team.” Blitz said, which caught everyone in the cargo area’s attention.

    “Blitz?”

    “When you pulled up that file a lot of things made sense to me. I’d heard rumors of a special program for advanced prototypes, even though I think I’ve met a few I’ve never actually known any personally. Until now.”

    “Blitz ... how?”

    He smiled and laughed.

    “My team know all about me.... Why shouldn’t you? I’m a prototype too, a 302X-5 to be exact.”

    Magnus just stared hard at Blitz, sure he seemed low use but you could almost mistake him for another 210SH.

    “Why are you in the reserves?”

    “You think they’re ever going to let a hot property like me near drones?” Blitz just shook his head, “Once they have us completely sorted out we’ll be nearly as obsolete as the 295s. Most are trying to get into the Seekers, though one wants to become a politician.”

    “Primus help us all!” Comdec smirked.

    “I’m confused,” Datadraw waived a hand in Blitz’ direction, “if Magnus here is some kind of an advanced prototype too then why does he look so well worn?”

    “I’m ... really ...”

    “Well?” Comdec joined in, pressing Blitz.

    “He probably isn’t supposed to talk about what he knows.” Magnus offered.

    “And you?” Comdec inquired.

    “We could call it a procurement error and leave it at that.”

    “Can they do that for post-revolution generations?” Comdec asked Datadraw.

    “Apparently they must. Actually the limitation isn’t so much the transfer as depolarization of the spark during transfer. Magnus, like early Autobots, might be built with that in mind.”

    “So,” Havitron purred, “in theory he could keep a store of spares on hand ... maybe with mission specific equipment. Ice Cold!”

    “I don’t think that’s how it works.” Magnus said defensively.

    “I’m not so sure,” Buzzer wondered, “there was this really big Combaticon who trained my first platoon ... this guy could literally seem to be in more than one place at a time.”

    Wedged across from Magnus and beside Blitz was Powertech who was whistling and trying to act as if he was hearing nothing unusual at all. Everyone just sort of stared at their friend and then started to laugh with him. By the time they pulled to a stop at their home for the night he had told them what he’d told Magnus before ... and just a bit more.

    “Enjoy yourselves?” Nine asked as she let down the back gate.

    “Ma’am?” Comdec acted innocent.

    Ray’s face popped up over the side: “Powertech must be wedged against the intercom. You were going to tell us all of this too, right?”

    “Of course.” Magnus let it be known.

    “Come-on you lot,” Nine said in a commanding way, “I know just the place to store a bunch of rowdy revolutionaries like you.... Though I don’t know what I’m going to do with you rabble over the next 500 megacycles.”

    “Maybe teach us how to get a date?” Broadback shrugged.

    Nine pressed her hand hard against him, pushed him inside and didn’t stop pushing till they were far, far up in the bleachers near a balcony that looked across to the Autobot crested tower.

    Magnus started putting things together himself ... the lowest number on the Seeker’s organizational chain was “13” ... Nine and her team – his barracks. She was teaching her own future crew how to be Seekers.

    But he wasn’t going to be there. It felt wrong somehow.

    He joined her out on the balcony. She was looking off to the distant city lights.

    “Professor?”

    “I already know, Magnus. But thank you, anyway. Now get in there and play spark-in-a-can till dawn like the others. Ok?”

    Magnus turned and joined his already inert friends. Yes, maybe this class wasn’t such a bad draw after all?
     
  10. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 9: Faces


    Magnus drifted in that mostly familiar state till his chronometer reactivated his body and returned him to awareness – announcing the feat in the familiar monotone.

    It had been different than before, he felt like he was a tiny himself being pressed down by a massive weight from all directions – that weight being his chassis. Motionless as it was, so he was forced to be motionless within. Though he felt he could move ever so slightly. A strange feeling of attachment and detachment all at once. It was oppressive and mind numbing.

    Yet somehow it was just as before when he didn’t know about either weight or motion.

    As his senses returned he wondered what he would do with this feeling.

    Something in his hand: an energon flask. Nine must have put it there while he was inert. He emptied the flask, returning his reserves to only 92.332%.... Bizarre, how had he used up so much power?

    “Is everyone finally up?” Nine appeared to be addressing Buzzer – again the last to activate, “Good, I think the Professor’s already down there.”

    “Wow,” Broadback remarked, “these stairs didn’t look nearly as steep coming up.”

    “Do you want another push?” she asked with a sly smile.

    “No ... I’d rather get to the bottom than smash to the bottom.”

    He started down.

    As they descended, Magnus spotted Alpha Trion and a few others chatting near the main doors. Then another familiar face appeared – Shockwave. After an obvious greeting, he and Alpha Trion started some sort of debate. The latter seemed quite worked up over something.... Magnus wished he could adjust his hearing to listen in but the place was either too large or the acoustics were designed to make the periphery quieter. It was a stadium ... but for what?

    As they reached the floor, Nine told them to wait quietly for her return.

    “What’s Commander Shockwave doing here?” Blitz asked Magnus once she was gone.

    “I don’t know. Listen, you guys need to not let on about what I told you last night. I think my program is this big, hush-hush secret.”

    “What he said.” Powertech echoed.

    With nothing to do but wait in silence, Magnus leaned against the wall and started tapping at his thigh. Without even thinking about it he tapped out: “This is boring.” in a longhand code that he somehow knew.

    “Tell me about it?” came a similar message.

    “The Combaticons are at it again.” Comdec sighed.

    Magnus smiled: “At what?” he tapped.

    Comdec lifted a finger to his chest and began tapping a rather amusing poem about energon goodies and dissent in the ranks ... the troops demanding to get almost spark isolated or they’ll stop fighting.

    “Keep those things away from me!” Magnus tapped.

    Tapping like laughter all around.

    “What’s so funny?” Professor Nine was back with both Shockwave and an unhappy looking Alpha Trion in tow.

    It apparently took a lot longer to use this tapping code than ordinary speech. Magnus wondered what it was for.

    “Just being quiet, like you said, Professor.”

    “Being quiet means more than keeping your voice box in check.” she chided, “Magnus, though no one seems happy with it, you’re to go with Commander Shockwave today.”

    “I’m missing class? But, what about the grade. If I miss class–”

    “It can’t be helped, soldier.” Shockwave interjected grimly.

    Magnus looked back and forth between his confused friends and unhappy teachers. He turned bodily to Alpha Trion: “Can I make it up? The class.”

    “No!” he grumbled, “Your barracks will just have to get a lower grade. But,” he continued in a more amiable tone, “if it means anything your performance last cycle will help to annul some of the damage done.”

    Magnus turned to Shockwave and started to protest that they were all depending on him when Quintus Ray spoke up.

    “Orders are orders, Combaticon. Your breed should know that better than anyone.”

    Magnus started to follow Shockwave away.

    “Am I coming back?” he asked.

    “Of course, soldier. Before next cycle.”

    They wandered through the maze of art to arrive at a side door. Magnus had been expecting Ravage to be there but he wasn’t. Just a cab similar to Arclight 12’s ... larger, newer and glossy black with no lettering.

    Shockwave climbed into the cockpit and powered up the engines.

    Climbing into the front passenger seat, Magnus looked around ... no evidence of a privacy screen or even rear seats ... it wasn’t a cab.

    “Saved up for almost eighty megacycles to get this sweet ride,” Shockwave purred, “it was almost the last off the line.”

    “It’s really nice.”

    “You rode to class last cycle in Nine’s Lynx? Right?”

    “Yes.”

    “Then you won’t protest,” he said with a grin, “when I tell you to buckle in fast.”

    He gunned the repulser engine with the attitude controls still at neutral. The straps were a bit fancier than before. Last buckle and there was the force of terrific acceleration.

    “No one believes in inertial dampers?” Magnus asked, remembering Havitron’s earlier question.

    “They just slow down response times.... Besides, if you want boring ride a cab.”

    Magnus noted that Shockwave wasn’t strapped in ... that he used his own strength to hold him in place against some of the wild maneuvers he was pulling as they threaded through traffic.

    “The city really looks different by daylight.”

    “People work by day. Night is for the arcade.”

    Magnus nodded. It seemed a workable arrangement. Come to think of it, he’d not seen any actual persons doing any work last night ... only drones.

    Shockwave said a few choice slang terms as they settled in behind a largish transport of some kind. Traffic was very dense here. He’d edge the car this way and that but there was no opening.

    “Little brother, you never saw me do this.” he stated matter-of-factly.

    Then he inverted the car and seemed to attach them to the underside of the transport. Began pushing the larger vehicle around. As he did so, Magnus was getting a real close look at the expressions on the faces coming at them from below ... most didn’t look happy as they swerved to avoid a collision. Traffic began to become erratic in the direction to where they were going as a result of all this pushing and dodging.

    “There’s an opening!”

    Magnus blinked.

    “I’m going to die in this contraption!” he inwardly moaned.

    Shockwave dropped away from the transport, punched the accelerator and rolled upright as he pulled ahead and to one side before making straight towards the clouds. In an upper level of traffic he leveled out and slowed down.

    “Now to reactivate the tags. No one the wiser.”

    Magnus spent the rest of the ride gawking at the city beyond the windows. Shockwave was his brother so it had to be ok to gawk around him, right?

    Then they reached a place where there was little traffic and the buildings weren’t nearly as tall.

    “Finally, the countryside.” his brother said as he increased their speed exponentially.

    As Magnus looked down, image stabilization worked hard to keep details on the ground well defined.

    “Why is the ‘countryside’ different?”

    “Most youths I know don’t like the hustle and bustle of the big city. The manic night life is often an acquired taste of maturity.”

    “It’s a bit much to take in all at once.”

    “You prove my point. Only fifteen more microcycles to our destination.”

    Soon they circled a low and spread out structure which resembled a larger version of the arsenal except at its base where there were two parade grounds – one to sunrise and one to sunset – both of which were quite spectacular. The sunsetward area featured a columned amphitheater sheltering huge statues and surrounding a raised dais. Shockwave landed just off to a side of the dais.

    “Let’s get moving. Arguing with Alpha Trion put us behind schedule.”

    Magnus had to practically run to keep pace with his brother as they entered a huge and ornately decorated passage into the heart of the pyramid. At the point that had to be right below its peak there was a massive platform elevator. Shockwave worked at some controls under a panel on his left forearm. They started down.

    “Still behind schedule but there’s nothing to do about that just now. So Magnus,” he turned to face him, “Alpha Trion said you’d done well last cycle? Details?”

    Magnus told him about the class, how he’d understood Alpha Trion’s sculpture and made the tree. He didn’t go into detail about what the tree was, of course.

    “Have you told your barracks about yourself yet?”

    The “yet” caught him by surprise.

    “Sort of.”

    “‘Sort of’ won’t cut it! You may not be with them for the long haul but these folks are going to be both your best friends and your most reliable assets that you’ll ever have – this side of your brothers. You need to build a real rapport with them. That way, once you’ve got some real experience they’ll follow you anywhere.”

    “But I thought this was supposed to be Professor Nine’s team?”

    “It is. Remember what I told you though: your destiny is to command. Every officer needs a core of people they can trust and who can trust them in turn.”

    Magnus nodded understandingly. For the rest of the trip down, Shockwave pressed him for details about how he’d been getting along with his team. What they’d done together and how their education was going.

    “I knew Comdec and Quintus Ray – and their teams – were choice picks. Pity that the latter lost two friends to Autobots just before classes started.”

    The elevator finally stopped.

    “They hadn’t mentioned that.”

    “I wouldn’t expect them to.... Follow me and keep your optics towards the ground at all times. Though you’ll soon serve with Maximus, you haven’t yet so your right to be here is dubious at best.”

    The door before them opened and Magnus caught a glimpse of what looked like a somber hall of statues before he lowered his gaze. Shockwave kept up a good pace ... but not as fast as before. If anything his steps were absolutely regular ... as if ... Magnus glanced to a side.

    There were Combaticons on pedestals everywhere. Some pedestals only bore a badge. Trying hard to look and not seem to be looking, Magnus finally noticed that every badge on every statue or pedestal was properly encoded. What was this place? Then they passed a statue of a massive reclined warrior which was almost too damaged to recognize as anything Cybertronian. One thing stood out ... it had an Autobot crest.

    “An Autobot?” he couldn’t help wondering aloud.

    “I told you to keep those optics down!” Shockwave fumed.

    “I’m sorry.”

    They marched on for a while in silence.

    “Shockwave?”

    “Yes?” his tone didn’t sound harsh at all. If anything it was unusually passive.

    “What is this place?”

    “This is the place where ... most of Cybertron’s heroes rest now that all their fighting is done.” he said in a still passive way.

    “Most?” Magnus thought he could push things a bit.

    “One of the first controversies to arise between Combaticons and Autobots was over the disposition of our dead. Autobots scrap them.... There have been a few times ... never mind. It’ll never happen!”

    “What about the Autobot?”

    “Though Guardian Autobots – almost without exception – fight against us and have since the beginning, they are more like us – the way we were – than even we were. Whenever we manage to recover a chassis we place them here.”

    “Even though they fight against us?”

    “They have no choice. Magnus, if you go deep enough you’ll find places where Combaticons who fought for Quintessons outnumber those who stood by Primus. Deeper still where only Artemus can go and they all fought for the Quintessons. It doesn’t matter who they fought for or what they were like: they all belong here.”

    More marching in silence. They passed through an ornate door.

    “Why did you bring me here?”

    “We’re beyond Maximus’ own tomb and into Megatron’s.” Shockwave said quietly, “Don’t speak or ask any more questions.”

    After a while and a few more elevator rides Magnus thought he recognized a familiar rumble to the floor. It was Artemus slowly strolling down the main thoroughfare.

    “About time you got here.” he said impatiently.

    “The professors were more argumentative than the last time this happened.”

    “That happens when too many old friends start to go away. What he gets for hanging out with us old timers all this time. I’ll visit him soon. How is Magnus doing in school?”

    “Brilliantly. But we need to keep him away from energon goodies and attractive doctors.”

    Artemus chuckled before asking: “Are you going to go on?”

    “Yes, there are some old friends I want to see.”

    At some point past another two doors, Shockwave left them. A short while later Artemus tapped Magnus on the head.

    “You can look up and talk now ... while we’re together I give you my permission.”

    “Where are we?” Magnus asked, looking around at the eclectic collection of chassis.

    “This is Primus’ tomb. Here rest the Heroes of Cybertron who actually got to serve with him. Or fight against him. Either way.... He’s not far from here. Do you want to see him?”

    To look on the face of Cybertron’s greatest hero? Magnus nodded eagerly.

    Artemus led him to a place and then pointed off to one side.

    “You’ll have to thread your way past his honor guard. He stands on a red pedestal bearing the full crest of our people.”

    Magnus worked his way to where Artemus had pointed. He found the place and looked hard into a face somehow still creased from care and wear. Dark eyes.

    He heard Artemus call him back.

    They walked on for a while in silence. Then they passed another ornate door.

    “A Supreme Commander before Primus?” Magnus wondered.

    “Primus.”

    “But?”

    “Every Coordinator of the Armies of Cybertron was ‘Primus.’ This place is as deep as even I have a right to go.”

    “How deep?”

    “My first commander once told me he was the twenty third. I suppose the only reason I’ve lasted this long is that Constructicons were always larger with better spark containment. We needed it for when we did amazingly foolish stunts like building bridges or fortifications while someone was shooting at us.”

    “A ...”

    “I’m a combat engineer, son. Did you think there was some mystical link between size and rank?”

    Magnus shook his head ... not that he hadn’t imagined such to be the case, but that seeing Primus had disproved the theory.

    “Why are we here?”

    “We are here for that.” he pointed to something in the distance that resembled a building.

    A building inside a tomb?

    “Of course, I should point out that you Alphas have Constructicon-spec spark containment. Your brother Shockwave actually harbors the ambition of being the Guard at the Door ... the last one to serve who gets left outside because no one has the right to carry him inside.”

    “Sounds a fine ambition.”

    “It’ll be a lonely one. For a very long time there will be no one else who’ll have ever heard that sonorous voice give a decisive command.... Being alone is a hard burden to bear.”

    There was nothing to say, but deep down Magnus was glad for his brothers and was imagining that he could understand why Striker had been willing to let Oculon’s wrongdoing slide.

    The building turned out to be a construct of flexible black plastic over scaffolding. It was brightly lit on the inside and full of brilliantly polished equipment. Among this equipment, which was separated from where Magnus and Artemus were by a sheet of clear plastic, was a lone figure moving slowly over towards them with the help of suspension wires dangling him from the ceiling. He looked as if he’d been massively damaged and had a face with no features save a cyclops eye. Yet despite all of that, Magnus recognized him.

    “Powertech?”

    “You know of my kind?” came a rasping metallic reply.

    “I share a room with one.”

    This ancient Powertech lowered his gaze.

    “I would like to meet another powertech. At this point even the shame of not knowing how to perform my original function couldn’t hold me back from such a meeting.”

    “It can be arranged.” Artemus said with tender force.

    Powertech looked up at Artemus before moving closer to the plastic.

    “Magnus, is it? Come here, let me get a good look at you.”

    Magnus knelt opposite Powertech.

    “I like your face.... Please, climb on that sensor table in the middle of your area. When I pull you into the tube be careful of the sheeting. Contamination of my area would be a bad thing.”

    “Who are you, Sir?”

    “I am the engineer who designed you, or rather who you’ll be.” he waved towards a large object under a sheet in his clean area, “I’ve designed and built all of your brothers.”

    “Powertech here is the very best.” Artemus interjected, “He’s even produced early working drawings for the 400 series and a new series of living artillery based on Alpha technology.”

    “Will they get built?” Powertech asked eagerly.

    “My fellow Constructicons won’t fail you, old friend.”

    As Magnus climbed onto the table he thought he’d say it: “Powertech, Sir, I think I’ve met another of yours, a 302X-5 called Blitz.”

    “‘Blitz?’ Yes, I believe they did give that name to one of the prototypes. Now hold still, Magnus.”

    The table moved into a clear plastic tube. There was a burst of light and heat.

    “I see you’ve had a good oil bath lately. With anyone special?” Powertech spoke through an intercom.

    “My doctor.”

    “By Primus! Didn’t have doctors like that when I was your age.”

    Magnus smiled ... sure he knew he was missing something, but it still seemed funny.

    He could hear the hum of the table, like everything here it was a lot older than Sapphira’s stuff on Seeker. In a few moments it was over. Glancing to the side he could see Powertech talking to Artemus, who at least seemed visually happy. Then Powertech returned to his control station.

    “You moved.”

    “Sorry.”

    “No harm done. But if I zap you enough you’ll need a new paint job.”

    “Maybe something with flames?”

    “Flames go on Autobot street toughs and hopped up sky cruisers. Combaticons should have simple, dignified color schemes.”

    There was another burst of light and heat. Then the table was active again. Magnus began counting the microcycles ... the whole day was passing. Eventually the table left the tube.

    “Magnus, everything appears to be going very well. I hope to see you again soon.”

    “Thank you, Sir.”

    “Magnus,” Powertech pressed a frail desiccated hand against the plastic, “it has been an honor to finally meet you. In a way, Cybertron is whole again.”

    Unable to even imagine how he should respond, he just nodded before shuffling out after Artemus.

    “He’s been down here since not long after the revolution.” Artemus began without being asked, “Primus himself used to come down here whenever he could. The little guy gets lonely.”

    “But Shockwave said that the Alpha program began in your time?”

    “There are programs more important to Cybertron than the Alpha program.” he said without turning back or looking down.

    “Artemus?”

    “Yes?”

    “What if you, well, built a plastic hallway to Powertech’s lab and sort of moved the entrance so he could get more visitors?”

    A massive hand gently patted him on the head.

    Artemus slowly led Magnus onward in silence. Magnus, for his part, spent the time trying to capture as many faces and names as he could. Once topside, Magnus noticed a familiar cab waiting. Arclight 12 was there to take him home, back to the Seeker. Unlike last time, Magnus was glad for the privacy screen. By the time he got to the barracks they were already studying for the first cycle of basic medicine.

    “Powertech?”

    “Yes?”

    “I met someone today that would like to meet you and any others like you very much. Artemus said it would be ok.”

    “Meet ... me?”

    “Pull up a data plate, name-dropper!” Blitz commanded, “From now on you’re twice the student and half the comic relief that you’ve been so far.”

    “No argument there.” Magnus mused.
     
  11. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 10: Insight


    About midway through the night, Magnus noticed that Datadraw was being as studious as the rest of the barracks. Since he was a doctor of sorts it seemed curious so ...

    “Datadraw, if you’re a doctor already then isn’t this all old material for you?”

    He just smiled and said nothing. Someone started to snicker and soon there was laughter. Cobatron piped up: “Maybe he just remembers what happened to you because you knew rhetoric?”

    Magnus grimaced ... he hadn’t enjoyed teaching one bit. Wait ... that had happened the first cycle. Before he’d even settled in the barracks. No, it had to be that business with the buff raid.

    The only other noteworthy event came when Powertech – whose internal structure was the most exposed because of his lack of armor – protested Cobatron and Fastrack using him as reference material.

    “After you’re through with that chassis, can I have it?” he asked.

    Magnus shrugged.

    As dawn came creeping over Seeker’s hull, Magnus put down the data plate and went to his locker for the personal comm ... this time he would finally talk to Shockwave about the to-do with Nine.

    Instead, a small bot jumped out of the locker, wrapped his arms around him and planted a big smooch on his nose.

    “Ravage?!”

    “Do you know how long I’ve been waiting in there? And do ever check your messages?”

    Backed by the sound of laughter, he handed Magnus the personal comm – a small green light was flashing. Activating it, he saw a list of calls scroll across the diminutive screen. Multiple calls from Shockwave, Striker, Ravage and Sapphira.

    “You know, she’s really cute,” Ravage was holding out the holoprojector, “and this whole jump out of the locker thing WAS a good idea. So she’s smart too.”

    “She’s my doctor.” Magnus said defensively.

    Ravage eyed him: “Sure, females make up barely 7% of the population at this time so YOU would be the one to get a cute doctor the first time out.”

    “We noticed that.” chuckled Broadback, “the rest of us are hoping he’ll improve our luck too.”

    Ravage shook his head: “Serving with a female commander? You may as well give up and consider yourselves officially dateless for the next 500 megacycles.” turning his attention back to Magnus, “I’m sorry I haven’t been around. When I learned that Nine was your professor I had to go earn some extra energon creds fast.”

    “Excuse me?”

    “I owe them to Lynx, lets leave it at that. I’m here now, though.”

    “Crazy fast!” Fastrack said as he appeared kneeling by Ravage after a burst of unexpected speed, “A real Predacon in our barracks!”

    He gently patted Ravage on the side of his head. The little guy didn’t seem to mind in the least.

    “I’m not staying in anyone’s locker!” he finally protested as he pulled away from Fastrack.

    “Wouldn’t think of it.” Magnus replied.

    “Well, aren’t you going to check your messages? Especially the cute doctor’s?”

    Magnus highlighted her first message: he was supposed to have met with her for “follow up treatment” after class the cycle before last.

    “Oops.” Ravage taunted.

    “Did you read my messages?”

    “No, just your expression.”

    Scrolling to her next message: why didn’t he reply; then where was he; then where had he been; and finally: “I’ve talked to Nine and she’ll send you my way after your next class.”

    Magnus looked down the list of messages ... wondered why Shockwave hadn’t said anything last cycle. Though he imagined he could place the message less directly, he extended a data sync into the comm instead. Concentrated on Shockwave’s ID....

    “Shockwaaa.... I’m sorry, but Shockwave is currently unavailable and like a certain little brother of mine: his own internal comm is completely inactive. He will return your call . . . eventually . . . maybe.

    “Very funny.”

    An animated image of Shockwave’s smug face appeared in Magnus’ view.

    “I’ll let this one slide. You can tell Nine that the offending file has been dealt with.... Magnus, why haven’t you returned any of my calls?”

    “I haven’t checked the comm. In truth, I just kept forgetting to.”

    “You....” Shockwave’s expression became one of mischievous amusement, “You don’t know you can set your scheduler? Do you?”

    “A ‘scheduler?’”

    “Magnus,” he shook his head, “you have an internal computer to provide numerous services ... a schedule minder is one of them. For someone so enamored with programming I’d have expected you to catch on quicker than this. Also, a word to the wise: you don’t have to actually talk out loud to talk over a comm. Not that your friends haven’t already figured you out – that you’re a just-boot.”

    “I don’t.... Sorry, was I talking out loud?”

    “You were. Look at the transmission data by my head. You see where it says ‘private’ and now it says ‘open’ ... I can even set things to ‘conference.’”

    “Conference?”

    “Hey there,” came a familiar voice, “I hear you did a bang up job as a sculptor the other cycle.”

    “Hello again, Harrier.”

    The text by Shockwave’s head returned to “private.”

    “Could you set your channel to conference for me for a moment?”

    Magnus did as asked.

    “Ravage?”

    “Yes, Master?

    “Look, I need you to make sure Magnus gets some combat training in with his barracks. I’ll upload some new routines to Magnus which he can transfer to data crystals. Comdec and Quintus Ray?”

    “Commander?” they both replied.

    “I’m depending on you two to keep our friend here out of undue trouble. He seems a magnet for it.”

    “We kinda figured after the other cycle that he’d not been long for this Cybertron.” Ray confided.

    “Thanks. Magnus, you can switch back to private now.... Magnus?”

    “That ... was ... weird.”

    Shockwave laughed.

    “Get ready for weirder. And remember to transfer the data with the personal comm.”

    “Ok.”

    “Shockwave out. Data transfer beginning.”

    Shockwave hadn’t been lying. Huge files began to leisurely stroll into Magnus’ subprocessors. He took a blank data crystal from his hutch and downloaded the first file. By the time he was done only Fastrack was left in the room with him.

    “Ravage went on to class with the others.”

    “Thanks for staying.”

    “No problem. The halls may be more orderly but it can still take two to push through any pileups.”

    There were no pileups.



    “I’m sorry Professor Nine, but he followed me to school.” Ravage joked as Magnus entered the classroom.

    She just smiled and shook her head.

    Magnus stood over Ravage: “I believe that’s my desk.”

    “I don’t mind.”

    After being eyed for half a microcycle, Ravage added: “Of course, I could just take a seat in the back?”

    “Please.”

    As Magnus sat down he resisted the urge to treat Ravage as he’d seen Fastrack treat him earlier – to pet him. For some reason, Ravage responded differently to him than he did to others. He wanted to know why. How were Predacons like Ravage and Lynx different from Combaticons or Autobots. Maybe he should simply ask?

    Professor nine stood in front of her desk, tapped her data plate against it and started: “Well, now that everyone has their seat would you please pull out your data plates and page down to the beginning of chapter 2 of basic medicine – Ethics. As was made clear by chapter 1, every Cybertronian has basic knowledge about maintenance and minor repairs built into them. What was less clear is that none have built in knowledge on how our critical systems work or even why they work. To be blunt, we are the most advanced pieces of hardware on Cybertron bar none. Every transport, ship or even the drones are comparatively inelegant and primitive. As a result, the most important aspect of our medical knowledge – why it’s not called ‘medical engineering’ – are those ethical guidelines by which we determine how far is too far in our pursuit of knowledge. Only a few cycles ago, Magnus gave a rather stirring presentation of The Record of Primus which enumerated, among other things, 23 specific crimes against which these ethics were first based. Everyone has heard parts of that speech before.... You have heard all of it.

    “Normally, this part of the class is a hard sell because we Seeker’s hear the siren’s song of knowledge and exploration; but, please bear in mind what you’ve heard. These sometimes odd rules are what separate us from the Quintessons. If you follow these then you will not become like them.

    “The first rule of medical ethics is: ‘Never bestow a living spark on a drone.’ Drones have a special kind of processor core developed long ago by the Quintessons. This core is similar to our own subprocessors but is vastly more complex. In theory, drones should out think us at every turn ... but they are relatively dumb by comparison. When early drones demonstrated how thick they could be, Quintessons forcefully took Autobot sparks and bestowed them on their creations. The result was a living drone ... a person without a will of its own. A slave to the Quintessons.

    “For whatever reason, the Quintessons abandoned these hybrid monstrosities for any purpose other than the construction of Guardian Autobots. Some of you may have seen or even met some of the handful of Guardian Autobots who were freed by Orion Pax many megacycles ago ... who now help to defend Cybertron’s more remote areas. The only way to truly free a Guardian Autobot is to remove its drone-brain. Since Orion Pax’ time this has become a veritable suicide mission as Guardian Autobots now come equipped with canisters of corruption plague that their masters will release rather than risk these powerful servants turning against them.

    “Which brings us to the second rule of medical ethics: ‘Never experiment with any corruption plague.’ If the horror of ‘living rust’ or one of the alloy eaters, these foul technologies were also developed by the Quintessons around the same time that they developed drones. Where a drone is at least somewhat intelligent, these plagues are mindless creeping terrors which you can only escape by being far enough away. You may have noticed that Dean Battletech has unrepairable battle damage ... those injuries came from an almost too close encounter with living rust.

    “The third rule of medical ethics is ...”



    “Magnus, did you finally check your messages?” Nine said without looking up.

    “Yes, Professor Nine.”

    “Good, then you know where you’ll be spending the next hundred or so microcycles.”

    “... Professor?”

    She looked up from her data plate.

    “You essentially said that the complete The Record of Primus was not well known. I’ve found evidence to suggest that some think that Primus was not a real person but ... something more. Why?”

    “That’s something I don’t know or pretend to know. In truth, until the other cycle even I had only heard an artful fragment.... I thought I’d heard the whole thing.”

    “All everyone knows is what someone else has told them about it?”

    She nodded but didn’t say anything.

    Magnus got up from his desk, walked over and leaned close: “Did they at least tell you that Alpha Trion’s great hall is built over where he gave that speech?”

    “Yes,” she said quietly, “I knew that much. You’d better go now.”

    Magnus turned away, confused by her attitude. One step outside the door and Ravage piped up: “Where are we going, Magnus?”

    “‘We’ are not going anywhere, you are going back to the barracks and I will be along once the doctor is through with me.”

    Ravage winked conspiratorially.

    “You’re a scary one with the ladies, you know that?”

    Magnus nodded before extending his hand. Ravage looked at it before giving it a firm shake. Then he merrily walked away.

    “I treat him like he was just another person.” Magnus wondered to himself as he started off for his appointment.

    Sapphira was waiting for him.

    “It’s about time you got here for your appointment! Reintegration of personality fragments requires considerable follow up or else there could be problems.”

    The lab’s door sealed behind him with an extra “ka-thunk” ... she’d sealed the room.

    “You’ll be happy to know that there is a real Battletech. It took some doing, but I managed to get him to stand in front of an IR lamp without his knowing about it.”

    Magnus nodded, in truth he’d not even considered that Battletech was really Oculon.

    “Doctor ... about?...”

    “We have to maintain appearances. Have you been following my suggestions?”

    “I’m ... not much of an actor.”

    “The answer would be ‘no,’ then. No matter, putting on an act for the rest of your life would probably be tiresome. Speaking of acts, please get on a sensor table.”

    Magnus chose the same one as before.

    “These things draw a certain amount of power that can be observed. So I’m going to get real familiar with your construction.”

    “You’re my doctor.”

    “So it would seem. You do have an odd construction. Probably part of how your series can be transferred to a new chassis. Stop me if I’m telling you anything new.”

    “Right now, everything is new to me.”

    “How so?”

    “I’m a full sixteen cycles old as of a few microcycles ago.”

    She said nothing for a while as she worked the controls. Magnus guessed she was making a good stab at keeping up “appearances” as she had called it.

    “I’m having a hard time reconciling that with your obvious intellect and knowledge.”

    “For a long time before that I lived in a crèche without a chassis. I think the program was designed to produce some kind of intuition.”

    “Intuition?”

    “I wish I knew.... I thought I knew.... But maybe I don’t know.”

    “That sounds more like a just-boot.” she laughed – before adding, “Does it have anything to do with your sleeper?”

    Magnus resisted the urge to nod. He couldn’t even know that.

    “Tell me about it?” she pressed.

    “I ... I was ... I found myself seeing and hearing. There was another who I think of as my sister. We were playing hide and seek. I promised to protect her ... to never forget her. Then I was back where I had been. That’s all there was to it.”

    “A spark memory.” she said quietly.

    “You’ve heard of something like this?”

    She nodded: “Sometimes just-boots say they remember people or places ... the feeling always fades. Though I’ve never heard of there also being something like what you’ve got in your noggin.”

    “What is a spark memory?”

    “This is mostly supposition: when our people come from the Allspark into life, sometimes – oftentimes – we are really returning.... Magnus, you kept your promise ... you remembered your friend. That’s really ... sweet.”

    That wasn’t what he remembered, but her take on it meant she wasn’t going to put him under the lamp for undue analysis. He glanced sideways at her. She had an odd and calm expression.

    “Doctor?”

    “We’ll be through here in a short while.... I must point out that such memories – if indeed that’s what this is – are very rare. I wouldn’t speak too freely of it ... especially if the memory persist more than fifty cycles. Normally by then all anyone can remember is that they had once remembered something.”

    “You think I might be different?”

    “I think you had the memory under different circumstances.”

    She worked the controls for a while.

    “Magnus, those chassis they give you Alphas must be very special. There’s a latent energy signature in you like I’ve never seen or heard of before.”

    “I don’t feel strange.”

    You wouldn’t. If you don’t mind I’ll take a few readings for contemplation.”

    “Will I get billed for this?”

    “Time and a half!” she laughed.

    “Sounds pricey.”

    “Yeah, like doctors ever make better than minimum?”

    “Doctor? How about I pay in trade?”

    “What have you got in mind?”

    Magnus began Primus’ speech ... the complete version. That she didn’t cut him off mid-salutation meant that he may have guessed right.

    “That about covers my fee.” she said cheerfully as she finished, “I already knew it – of course. But you did such a good job.”

    “For someone laying on a table?”

    “It looses some dramatic flair that way.”

    If she knew of the whole speech then maybe....

    “Sapphira, have you ever heard of any books written by Primus? There was this detective story about someone named ‘Lastus.’”

    “No ... no, I’ve never read any of those....”

    He tried to engage her in conversation but she kept silent. Finally, she let him off the table.

    “Healthy?”

    “Fit as a just-boot.... Magnus, I once went with a Combaticon for a while and he told me about Primus and had some choice things to say about the way this world is run. One thing he mentioned was that there were some books that no one was ever supposed to read. Maybe you shouldn’t talk about that. You could get someone in trouble.”

    “‘Went with’ him?”

    Her expression changed to one of amusement: “Go back to your studies, cadet! I’ll see you next time.”

    The door opened and she left him standing there.

    As he walked back to his barracks he wondered about books no one was supposed to read. Whole books being redacted? That made no sense.

    But at least he knew he shouldn’t talk about them.

    That still left the question of how that book had got itself added to The Record of Primus ... maybe he had security clearance to find out who could’ve been responsible for that. He owed them his thanks.

    Back at the barracks everyone was already deep in study for the second cycle of basic medicine. Well, Ravage was plugged into Magnus’ VR terminal but he wasn’t a Seeker cadet. Magnus pulled up a chair.

    “The Professors can determine if anyone hasn’t been reading the assigned material.” Datadraw said out of nowhere.

    “And you were going to tell me this ... when?” Magnus growled.

    “It’s in the handbook you were supposed to have read before you even got here.”

    “Handbook?” Magnus scrolled up on his data plate, “Oh, THAT handbook! Does this thing cover the sort of trouble I’ve been in?”

    “You could submit something for an addendum.” Cobatron offered.

    “‘How NOT to meet professors or influence doctors.’ would be a good title.” Comdec added.

    Magnus looked at Broadback, who shrugged and said it was probably just luck of the draw that he hadn’t ended up teaching that class. With that in mind, Magnus started reading for the next class.

    If the first cycle of basic medicine had been all about ethics then the second cycle was all about nuts and bolts. Nine had brought in a number of elaborate VR terminals that came equipped with a battlefield hospital sim.

    As Magnus stared down at that first Autobot in the post-triage line – his eyes shimmering and fading – he couldn’t move or react. A virtual Seeker doctor grabbed hold of him and shook him.

    “Don’t worry about the ones who are too far gone! There’s a Combaticon over here who still has a chance!”

    This one had his chest blown clean open – maybe his spark was kept elsewhere? He was also missing an arm and both legs.

    “Use your override to pull back his anticorruption plate!” the doctor commanded.

    Magnus shuffled through the kit that had been thrust in his hands earlier. He found a small device that he applied to the sides of the Combaticon’s head ... the anticorruption plate pulled back to reveal ... nothing ... the face was almost gone. The doctor hunched down over the soldier and began demanding tools in rapid succession. Magnus was too slow, he felt too slow. The Combaticon wasn’t going to make it.

    “Forcegrip.” the doctor quietly demanded.

    Magnus handed him the tool. The doctor grabbed hold of something inside the head and seemed to clamp the tool in place.

    “Ok, when I tell you I want you to wait precisely one nanocycle and then remove the override.... Now!”

    As the doctor withdrew his hand, Magnus did as he was told. The plate slid back again. Eyes flickered and dimmed before growing stronger. Then they closed and the head flopped to a side.

    “He has no face left but that isn’t too bad.” the doctor muttered, “Orderly, next patient.”

    Magnus stood up and turned around. The Autobot’s eyes were still open ... dark, but still open.

    “He fought till after the end.” the doctor remarked as he dropped a recycle tag on the chassis.

    “Orderly?”

    Magnus stared hard at the tag ... no ... Autobots don’t die easily.

    “Orderly?!”

    Magnus wanted to remove the tag, throw it far away. This wasn’t some drone ... this was someone!

    “Magnus!” the doctor roared, “Over here!”

    An Autobot with less serious wounds, and another with less serious wounds after that. Magnus remembered reading somewhere that triage prioritized the wounded by tactical priority, medical need and then by rank.

    Reading ... after over a hundred microcycles and dozens of Combaticons and Autobots, Magnus remembered that it was all just a simulation.



    “Why did the Combaticon need his anticorruption plate?” he asked before his senses had fully returned.

    “Sometimes,” came Nine’s voice as her face fell into focus, “when a spark is contained in the head extending the anticorruption plate will enhance containment.... You did good, Magnus. 7 out of 10 for your first time.”

    “I was too slow.”

    “Basic medicine qualifies us to be orderlies, not doctors.” came Comdec’s voice, “I imagine we’ll be responsible for triage the cycle after next.”

    Triage – where the wounded get prioritized.

    “Was there any way to save that first Autobot?”

    “Autobot?” Nine asked before her expression turned grim, “Magnus, these scenarios are designed to draw on the mental condition of the student. If the sim put a hopeless case in your way then there must be a reason.”

    Magnus shook his head ... he could think of no reason why he’d want to see an Autobot die, to see a doctor mark him for scrap.

    After a bit of rest and recuperation they were at it again. Magnus did better this time and there were no more “hopeless case” soldiers. The third go around the doctor actually lost a patient ... a very late 100 series Combaticon ravaged by internal fire.

    “That was always a problem with the 195s.” the doctor in this sim grumbled, “Rest well, old soldier.”

    He left for the next patient ... left without leaving a recycle tag. A Combaticon came in and removed the chassis. Magnus understood. He didn’t like it, but he understood.



    “He could’ve been saved had he not hid how serious his wounds were.”

    “Magnus, I don’t know ...”

    “Professor, it was a 195 with internal fire damage.”

    She thought for a moment, then left to detach Powertech.

    “That model is noted for their ability to do stupid, heroic things.” she stated to the room.

    Confused expressions from those who hadn’t heard the previous statement.

    “You look like you’ve had one rough day.” Ravage confided as Magnus left the classroom.

    “Yes, ‘rough.’”

    “Well, I know what will cheer you up: Professor Nine said I could join the class from now on!”

    That hadn’t been anything like what Magnus had been expecting, still ...

    “Ice cold!” he repeated Havitron’s positive statement as they started for the barracks. He didn’t even bother to see how Ravage would react. He’d already made up his mind that whatever differences there were, they didn’t matter to him anymore.
     
  12. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 11: Cyberodd


    True to his promise to Shockwave, Ravage had other plans for the team when they got back to their barracks. Fastrack and Harvester protested that they needed to study, but Datadraw assured them that next cycle’s class wouldn’t be too hard.

    “So what have you got for us?” Harvester asked with resignation.

    Ravage twirled the data crystal in his fingers and smiled.



    Magnus opened his eyes to find himself sitting inside Lynx, strapped firmly in place.

    “Ravage?”

    “Shhhh ... I’m Lynx for this bit.” came a voice from near Magnus’ head.

    “Ok ... ‘Lynx,’” someone – Comdec started, “what’s the situation?”

    “We’ve just dropped from Salagos and are on course for planetary insertion. Interdiction mission. Someone’s running a parts depot that’s been supplying rebels. Comdec, you have command this time. I’m displaying the mission specs on your terminal.”

    “I was promised a big gun.” Powertech complained.

    “Come again?”

    “He was promised that there would be no escort missions.”

    “Well, all righty then!” Ravage/Lynx purred, “I have a standard array of mission tools in the locker, there’s bound to be something there for Powertech.”

    “One more thing,” Comdec added, “Magnus was promised he’d get to command.”

    “He will. Just not this time out.”

    Magnus didn’t protest. Even if his destiny was to command he knew he might not get one for a while. Even in simulation.

    Just about then, Ravage/Lynx shook violently.

    “They’re shooting at us?” Comdec asked.

    “Someone is. Not unusual for this planet. We aren’t even close to being over the target yet.”

    Comdec was rapidly paging through the mission specs.

    “Lynx, we need to increase our speed to the safety limit and come in at a steeper angle. Try a low altitude final approach. On the maps there is a ‘peninsula’ to the east of our target, aim for that.”

    “You really don’t need to worry–”

    “You said I was in command?”

    “Won’t our approach overland be exposed? I’m supposed to bring you in from the mountains to the north.”

    “According to this data there is enough ground clutter that we can approach on foot without being seen.”

    Ravage/Lynx shook again.

    “We may need you to run a diversion.” Comdec added.

    “Well,” it was suddenly Ravage’s voice they heard, “I’ve always wondered what life would’ve been like if I’d been one of the lynx swapgrades. Everyone hold on tight.”

    Magnus could feel the acceleration. Another nearby rumble.

    “They haven’t got the range yet?” Ray wondered.

    “Give me some credit.” they heard Lynx’s voice say.

    Several near misses later, Ravage/Lynx reported they were in the clear. Compared to the approach the landing was uneventful.

    Magnus stepped off of the gang plank and into some kind of liquid. This world was dark, almost unimaginably so except for the stars above them which blazed brightly.

    “It’s some kind of low grade mineral oil that’s been weakly infused with energon.” Powertech was inspecting the liquid, “Probably nasty with contamination.”

    “Lynx,” Comdec sounded irritated, “this doesn’t look like the peninsula. Where are we?”

    “In something called a ‘swamp’ on the north side of your little jetty of land. You’re a good 44 microcycles closer to your target here.”

    Comdec shook his head, whatever he’d been planning it was apparent that Ravage/Lynx had just overturned it.

    “Stay here and wait for the call. Powertech, are you ok there?”

    The little guy was burdened by a comparatively massive rotary gun ... the biggest thing he could carry. Biggest gun in the locker. He nodded happily.

    Looking around, this ‘swamp’ proved to be a very strange place indeed. Aside from it being dark, the place was thick with flimsy cybernetic structures that reminded Magnus of something from his vision. Then something moved ... a small mechanism was hanging off of one of the structures where nothing had been before. As the whole cybernetic structure still swayed under the force of the landing, the little beast began to chew on it.

    “Looks like the natives have their own civil war going on.” Harvester announced.

    “Magnus, we need you to take point. You have the best vision.”

    “Sure thing, Comdec.”

    He stepped to a side to walk past the others and was immediately fully submerged – not that he sank far. Something brushed against him but when he turned there was nothing there. Magnus crawled back onto the shallow oil and checked his rifle ... no problems.

    “There would seem to be some pitfalls.” he grumbled.

    “What is this place?” Fastrack wondered.

    “Since no one is supposed to live here it has no name, just a numerical designation.” Comdec provided.

    “‘No one’ is a really poor shot with their triple-A.” Harvester noted.

    Magnus vented himself dry before sealing his anticorruption plate.

    “Good idea, soldier. Anticorruption gear everyone!”

    “Well, here’s my first whack at this falsie.” Powertech hummed as he dropped a contraption over his face.

    “What about your other ports?”

    “Nothing critical below the chest. If this was a real mission maybe I’d get to spend some quality time with Magnus’ lady doctor.”

    “I’m going to be team surgeon.” Datadraw stated.

    “Killjoy!”

    “I’ll keep you out of the deep oil.” Magnus said confidently.

    “Yes, they already know that one step to the right is a big no-no.”

    Magnus glanced up at Ravage/Lynx ... who was trying his best to look somewhere else and keep a smirk off his face.

    The march through the swamp was uneventful, though they kept seeing a variety of odd little drones swimming in the fluid around them. Magnus wondered if this mineral oil they were slogging through wasn’t unlike the ‘water’ in his vision too. Like the structures – similar and yet different. Besides the swimmers, there were plenty more of those odd little mechanisms with no apparent purpose other than to harass the immobile cybernetics ... some of which had ceased to function because of all the damage. In all that they’d seen, nothing was moving that was bigger than Magnus’ hand.

    Leaving the swamp behind didn’t change much. Then a larger thing leapt across their path and grabbed a smaller thing – which it promptly gutted and began to devour like it was an energon goody.

    “Remind me to thank Shockwave for the images I’ll never forget!” someone hissed near the back of the line.


    Magnus moved closer to this new oddity, but it didn’t seem to notice him. He shoved it to a side with his rifle barrel. The mechanism looked about as if confused and then went back to devouring its victim.

    “It doesn't seem to realize we’re here.”

    “Good, that means they aren’t a threat.” Comdec observed, “Magnus, we need to move fast.”

    “Yes, Sir.”

    From this point the walking was mostly up hill. Several times more they observed the larger predatory mechanisms in action and at one point they found tracks of something larger ... maybe as big as Ravage – though not as big as Powertech.

    “You know, Comdec,” Powertech observed as he considered the tracks, “there may be situations where I wouldn’t exactly mind being escorted.”

    “Agreed, just because the little ones are too stupid for words doesn’t say anything about these larger ones.”

    As they neared their destination they slowed and spread out somewhat. Magnus was still out front, though not by much, when he caught the faint aura of light pollution.

    “There’s light up over that ridge.” he said quietly.

    “That should be our destination. Everyone stay close, quiet and out of sight.”

    The team slowly moved to the top of a ridge, making use of the abundant cover. As they got to the top of the rise Comdec, Blitz and Magnus went forward a bit more.

    “It looks like our camp.” Comdec noted.

    Indeed it was. There were a half dozen large shelters pitched around a small and ugly ship. Several bizarre looking things were walking around the camp doing this or that. They resembled the drones Magnus had faced – except these had pulsating eyes that proclaimed that someone was home. They bore no crest of any sort that Magnus could see.

    “I think I’ve heard of these things.” Blitz spoke in a hushed whisper, “They’re called Priocrons. They supposedly turned to smuggling after the Quintessons incinerated their home world over a contract dispute.”

    “Maybe they aren’t hostile.” Magnus interjected. Anyone with sufficient reason to dislike Quintessons shouldn’t be all bad.

    Comdec seemed deep in thought.

    “We can’t leave them where they are. Whatever the truth behind this sim, they’re supposed to be helping the rebels.... I want you two to scout along this ridge and find a defensible position. Be back here in 3 microcycles. Blitz, you take the right.”

    Magnus picked his way along but found nothing promising to either his eyes or his combat computer. He came back. Blitz was nearly a microcycle late.

    “I’m sorry it took so long, but I found a good place.”

    They joined the rest of the team and followed Blitz to what proved to be a rocky outcropping that had a good view of the camp. Comdec sized up the lay of the land.

    “Stay here.”

    He started moving back around towards where they had come from before he moved forward towards the camp, trying to be unseen all the while.

    At the edge of the camp he stood up and waved to a nearby Priocron ... which was obviously startled. He said something very strange to the creature and the saying was repeated. Then he gave it an energon goody.

    “It would seem our commander has decided to negotiate.” Broadback said in an unhappy way.

    “This isn’t the same scenario.” Ray softly chided.

    “I don’t like smugglers just the same.”

    Magnus was starting to wonder how the missing members of Ray’s team had died. Broadback had been the one to mention smuggling that first cycle of law.

    Another Priocron came out and spoke with Comdec, who then returned the way he’d come before circling back to them.

    “Their leader has agreed to negotiate for breaking his deal with the Autobots.” he announced.

    “So we got shot at, trudged through a miserable swamp and saw one thing after another ... all so we could talk?” Powertech seemed disappointed.

    “Essentially. Look, I don’t completely trust these guys so I want you and your rotary gun here providing cover fire. Broadback, you’re a sniper, stay with him.”

    Comdec led them around the ridge and down into camp, to stand in front of the largest shelter. The Priocrons had gathered round. Then the shelter flap swung back ... a Quintesson!

    “Execute them.” it hissed through a desiccated visage.

    Magnus barely got a chance to raise his rifle before several shots tore into him. His heavy armor served him well. He fired three times and took down one Priocron before everything went dark.

    “We didn’t do too well.” he stated as he disconnected from the terminal.

    “No, I didn’t do too well.” Comdec corrected morosely.

    “They’re still in there.” Blitz said of Powertech, Broadback and Ravage.

    They waited in silence until they heard Powertech’s triumphant glee: “I LOVE that rotary gun!”

    “I like the way that Quintesson begged for its life before you fed him the rest of the magazine.” Broadback was grinning, “Oops, didn’t mean to be too exuberant in front of the dead.” he added as he scanned the rest of the team.

    Ravage hadn’t detached.

    “Ravage hasn’t detached from the terminal yet.” Magnus pointed out.

    Powertech and Broadback looked at each other before laughing: “We never called for him! He still thinks we’re in there.”

    “What do we do about him?”

    “We can’t just pull him out.” Powertech offered, “I’ll go back for him.”

    He dropped into his hutch and soon they were both out of the sim.

    “I thought Priocrons would hate Quintessons!” Comdec said accusingly.

    “I’ve never known them to work for them, if that’s what you mean?” Ravage corrected, “But the universe is a strange place.”

    “Like that planet?” Ray asked.

    “There actually is such a place. Some call it ‘Cyberodd.’ Officially uninhabited, but someone or something will still take potshots at passing ships.”

    “I don’t like the implications, Shockwave just about accused the rebels of working with those five faced monsters!” Fastrack spat angrily.

    “No ... we poked around nearby the camp.” Powertech got between Fastrack and Ravage, “Found a bunch of dead Autobots and their ship not too far away. It looked like the Quintesson was doing something with one of their chassis in its shelter.”

    “Sometimes,” Ravage added, “things out there aren’t what they appear to be.”

    “Welcome to the Seekers!” Fastrack said out loud to himself.

    Yet Magnus thought he understood the mission’s meaning clearly ... the Quintessons had wanted there to be an Autobot rebellion. Wanted it enough that they murdered Megatron and probably lost a valuable agent in the process. It would make sense if they were covertly helping it along. Maybe those brutish Priocrons weren’t all that everyone believed them to be? Maybe that’s what the scenario was all about?
     
  13. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 12: Acting


    Settling down to read after getting blasted to bits felt odd to Magnus. But how much of what he knew was well known? Especially about Megatron’s peace conference. He wasn’t going to press his luck.

    Cycle 3 of basic medicine ... or: “How to disassemble and reassemble your friends for fun and profit.” Great! The writers of this stuff had a deplorable sense of humor. Then again, based on what Sapphira had said, doctors don’t do their thing for profit.

    Must be for the fun.



    This time Magnus took special care to watch the dawn. Didn’t care what anyone else would say. Didn’t understand why he didn’t care. Also, since he hadn’t been to the mess for cycles now, he took the time to tank up. Then he went back to check his messages.

    “Nice of you to join us.” Nine commented flatly as he walked into class.

    “I’m sorry I’m late.” he glanced around the room, “VR again?”

    “Just some preliminary dissections. Nothing fancy.... It is a group activity though.” she said as she connected him into a terminal.

    For some likely demented reason, the Autobot chassis on the table looked just like the one from the simulation the other cycle.



    “Ravage, I’m not cut out to be a doctor.”

    “Few are. Look, one of your brothers is waiting for you down in Reunion Lounge.”

    Magnus was glad Ravage hadn’t said that he had more combat training for this cycle. As for this brother, it was Striker again.

    “I see you finally made it back to the doctor’s.”

    “Yes, I have to keep up appearances.”

    Striker nodded thoughtfully.

    “Seems your doctor has a history that neither of us was aware of. She used to be Oculon’s old flame. Probably why she doesn’t trust him.”

    “I thought you said that he only took his job too seriously?”

    “He does. But romance isn’t work. Look, little brother, I’ve examined the data at hand and it would seem that Oculon was up to no good where you’re concerned. Not in a really bad way, or even in a genuinely sinister way, but more like the sometimes cynical user I’ve grown to know and love as a brother.”

    “That’s supposed to make me feel better?”

    “He carries many guns. Internal security, intelligence and counter intelligence ... they’re all on his shoulders. Most of those he recruits end up gravitating towards the more exciting role of a spy ... leaving the police work to their desk bound boss. Based on the personality projections Sapphira gave, I’d say he wants your help in dealing with the latter. Actually the more honorable undertaking. Still, you need to watch your step around him. Artemus has taken a real interest in you, so use that as an excuse to not be alone with Oculon for the time being.”

    “How do I do that?”

    “You’ll have to figure that out for yourself. I’ve amended Sapphira’s recommendations to reflect the subtly of Oculon’s work. I suggest you make use of them for now.”

    Striker handed him another green data crystal and left.

    “This is supposed to make me feel better?” Magnus asked the air, “Well, guess it’s time I learned how to play act.”

    Rather than go straight back to the barracks, Magnus ordered an energon infusion from the waitdrone. He’d seen these concoctions before and was curious. They were made from a mixture of mineral oils, lubricants and trace elements – all of which was infused with the kind of energon found in treats. In theory, they were a vital additive that helped to keep a chassis functioning at peak performance.

    In practice though, he’d seen people sip on them in a way that didn’t seem inspired by mere practicality or maintenance concerns.

    The waitdrone arrived and deposited a mug of the mixture in front of him. He picked it up and swished its translucent contents about before taking a sip.

    It had a taste.

    Magnus hadn’t been prepared for that.

    Somehow, his mouth was interpreting the different elements from the mug and providing him with sensations. There was a dryness from the base of mineral oil, lubricants and energon. Sweetness from iron, chromium and ... possibly titanium? Add to these a lingering bite and bitterness from other trace elements.

    He took a bigger sip. Everything was more intense than before ... especially the lingering bit. Less was sweeter. More was bitter. And all the time there was this feeling ... like when the crèche was more wholesome after it was uncomfortable. Stronger than with just an energon treat.

    On a lark, Magnus imprinted The Summation of Megatron on the substance and then paid attention as meaning fell apart in the eddies and currents of the liquid. As he sipped there would arise bits that seemed to make sense and others that could be poetic in construction ... but always the jumble returned to meaninglessness.

    Except at the very end ... at the very last sip. Then it was crystal clear and brilliantly poignant.

    “... even in ... death ... May I ... never ... fail ... to live ...”

    Magnus authorized payment for the drink and returned to the barracks.

    No one said a word on his arrival – though Powertech waved merrily. It would seem that triage wasn’t a subject to be taken lightly.



    “The principal job of an orderly in triage is to ensure that the wounded are prioritized so that doctors will not have to waste efforts on those who are too far gone or else have to personally distribute recycle tags.” Nine began, “For all the subtly and complexity of our construction, this question comes down to one thing: spark containment. Barring a degenerative condition, such as an internal fire, if the wounded have good containment then there is little real danger. That said, and as Magnus discovered not too long ago, there is a tendency for some of our people – especially very late 100 series Combaticons – to hide the seriousness of their injuries if that means that someone under their command, or someone with a more capable design spec, will get prompt attention. This same trait has also started to appear in the early 200 series in both Autobots and Combaticons – they just aren’t as susceptible to burnout as their immediate forebears are.

    “Since this is the case, the process of triage has been complicated by veterans who think they know better than doctors and orderlies about who should get attention first. I remember the veteran field surgeon who taught me saying that the temptation at such times was to: ‘smack them upside their hard heads.’ A temptation we must never give into.

    “As you read, there is a basic preference to dealing with the wounded in a hotfire situation. The most important are the walking wounded who can leave the hospital for battle without delay. After them are the seriously wounded. All wounded are prioritized according to rank ... giving rise to the old taunt: ‘Anyone more important than me better not get hit!’”

    If anything, triage was much harder than working inside with the doctors. Here it was Magnus’ duty – among the expected duties – to actually distribute recycle tags to the still living ... or else call over a Combaticon attendant to remove a soldier.

    There was no mistaking the difference in an Autobot’s eyes when that tag hit their chest ... unlike that other Autobot who had fought to live ... these would just give up.

    Magnus found himself repeating his little word jumble to those who wouldn’t make it. It seemed to comfort them and give them strength to go on for a bit more. Then they moved him from triage to removal ... a duty that Combaticon orderlies faced.

    Living and dead, they were stacked up like lumpy and uneven blocks. Some would tell him how they wanted to be posed when they were brought home. Others seemed to be remembering or trying to remember ... something ... anything.

    The only rule in stacking Combaticons was to lock their necks tight so they couldn’t see into any eyes but those of the orderlies.

    Magnus told one soldier his words ... only to be laughed at. Dying was as great a service, no, a greater service than life – he had said. With his last gasp the Combaticon managed: “In life I never shirked death.”



    “Magnus, I overheard what you’d been telling those who were too badly wounded.” Nine said quietly as she disconnected him, “That was amazing.”

    “How accurate are these simulations?”

    “The wounded are actually drawn from personality profiles and memory data. Why you’ll see some of the same individuals over and over again as time goes by. This is not something to repeat: they also draw something of a vital essence from those who use these simulations. In a way they’re alive ... just a bit. That’s why these simulations are so overpowering. Why it’s so easy to forget they aren’t real.”

    Magnus nodded.

    His little phrase was the talk of the class. Blitz looked at him in a confused way.

    “In life I will not shirk death.” Magnus said dryly.

    Blitz blinked several times, mulling over these new words.

    “I’d follow you to the Allspark and back.” he said quietly before turning his attention elsewhere.

    For the rest of the cycle Nine critiqued their triage performances. If Magnus had done extraordinarily well at comforting the dying, he’d been far from flawless in prioritizing the wounded. He’d miscategorized three.

    Predictably, Datadraw did the best. 100% in less time.

    Then Nine dropped a surprise on the class. They were going out again – to some sort of observance that Magnus hadn’t heard of before.

    “Are you ready?” she asked Ravage.

    He just shrugged and kept behind the others till they were already boarding Lynx.

    “Hey, deadbeat!” Lynx growled.

    Ravage extended his left arm and rubbed the back of his head with his right hand.

    “Hey, Lynx, old buddy. Long time no see.” he sounded nervous.

    “I see. You’ve still got nothing for me.” came a low rumble.

    “Not true!”

    Lynx looked surprised and held out a forefoot. Ravage dropped some shimmering blocks therein. Lynx eyed them appraisingly.

    “Where’s the rest?”

    “Hey, it takes a long time to save up out of my allowance. I’ve been thinking of you.”

    Magnus continued to board. Hiding his amusement by picturing some of what he’d experienced earlier and keeping that in mind. Ravage got on last, sat between Magnus and Powertech and started to buckle in.

    “I’ve been informed that maybe I should get a job.” he said as Lynx started moving.

    “Here we go again.” Powertech moaned.

    “Don’t worry,” came a voice from everywhere, “I’m not going to take any risk with my little payday strapped in beside you.... Where to, Mistress?”

    “The Theorum.”

    “Yes, Lady!”

    True to his word, Lynx was more gentle this time. The trip took longer than the one to Alpha Trion’s sculpture stadium. When the gang plank dropped, Magnus immediately noticed how short and dimly lit the buildings were ... they must be in Shockwave’s “countryside.”

    As they disembarked, Blitz stole over to Magnus.

    “The Theorum is a great amphitheater where sacred history is recounted.” he quietly said, “This is where most people learn about things like The Record of Primus.... Just don’t correct the speakers.... Ok?”

    “I wasn’t planning to.”

    “Good. Maybe somecycle you’ll get your turn to set everyone straight.”

    “Everyone” turned out to be a diverse and commingled blend of his fellow Cybertronians. He quickly spotted a massive frame sprawled out on one of the upper tiers. Artemus, reposed on his side and watching the stage far below.

    Nine led their group – including Lynx – straight over to where he was.

    “I don’t believe what’s about to happen!” he heard Blitz quietly chant to himself three times.

    “Nine!” Artemus’ face turned towards them as they reached his level, “I wasn’t expecting you this time.”

    “Even a tireless educator needs a break. Artemus the Magnificent, may I present the members of my unit for your inspection.”

    “Soldiers.” he said without passion before breaking a grin, “And Lynx!” he sat up, “Come here you big goof!”

    Lynx looked momentarily distressed, gave a shrug and moved to sit down by Artemus. Who promptly hugged the Predacon around his neck.

    “It’s been too long! How has Nine been treating you?”

    “Mistress Nine treats me very well, Masss ... Artemus, Sir.”

    As Artemus rapped his massive fingers noisily on Lynx’s back, his attention returned to the stage.

    “Are you sure you don’t want to get better seats, Captain Nine?”

    “And fight the crowd on the way out? No, right here is fine. With your permission, Commander.”

    “Of course. You Cadets, why don’t you sit here in front of me where you can at least see what’s going on.”

    As they took their seats it was obvious that Lynx was whispering something to Artemus. The giant broke a wry smile but said nothing.

    There were three other figures dangling their feet off of this tier. One was Oculon. The second, maybe another Alpha? The third was a mid 200 series ultra ... as big as any of his brothers he’d yet to meet.

    As the assembled throng quieted down, a lone figure strolled out onto the stage.

    “My friends,” he began in dramatic tone and tempo with a flourish of gesture, “as this humble prologue must, and microcycle on microcycle must, allow me to introduce those I must, enjoin your patience and forbearance and beg in advance your tolerance to be neither harsh in judgment nor uncritical in appraisal: that which is about to be again as if it were then ... a shallow and representative thing ... I present to you, The Primus.”

    This lone figure left the stage another way.

    Then two figures appeared. A small biped adorned with a largish mask of a familiar face and something that was supposed to look like a Quintesson.

    “Status report for the latest campaign?” the faux Quintesson rumbled.

    “My Master,” the crowd riled at that word spoken to that creature – there was a long pause while things settled down before the smaller individual continued, “Combaticon forces have isolated a raider base on a world called Quevald and an embargo has begun.”

    “Excellent. What is the status of the natives of that world?”

    “Quevald is energy dependent. As soon as the embargo was effective the raiders monopolized all reserves.”

    “Pity, they were occasionally good customers.” the faux Quintesson mused, “Undertake a standoff bombardment to make them use their resources. Then starve them out and send in the army when their reserves are low. The last campaign was too expensive.”

    “Yes, my Master.”

    The faux Quintesson began to leave the stage another way, but there arose a huge swell of contempt from the crowd ... it turned and raised its tentacles in defiance, offering a rude gesture as it disappeared.

    Behind them, Magnus heard Artemus and Lynx offer their own razzes. For a moment he was distracted by the pair, Lynx probably being the only one around large enough for Artemus to hang off of like that.

    “It’s a play!” he silently wondered as he turned his attention back to the stage – a second small figure had appeared ... one concealed by shimmering white robes, “My people remember their past as a drama.”

    Some things were starting to make sense.

    Down on the stage, the masked figure paced about and fussed: “I am the coordinator of the armies of Cybertron. But now I’m the butcher of a whole world whose only crime is that they are too weak to stand up for themselves! To repel their own invaders.”

    So he was supposed to be Primus! That’s why the face looked familiar!

    As the play developed there was one constant in almost every scene – the silent figure in shimmering robes. It would hide behind Primus when either Artemus – portrayed by five actors somehow joined together to be the Commander’s size – or the faux Quintesson were near. It would try to interact with those on a busy crowded street.

    But only two ever saw or seemed to interact with it. Primus and a nondescript Autobot who had bumped into it in the first street scene.

    Try as it might, the silent one couldn’t get them to interact with each other.

    Then there came the moment when the faux Quintesson was inspecting some unexpected refugees from Quevald.

    “Your excuse is not acceptable, Coordinator!” the faux Quintesson thundered, “It is only fortunate that the zeal of your troops carried the day as cheaply as they did.”

    “My Master, what of the survivors? My troops are already in place to help them rebuild their world.”

    “OUR WORLD, Coordinator.”

    “Master?”

    “Quevald is our world now.... Contact the agents of sale for us. We have some new merchandise for them.”

    Primus looked at the refugees.

    “But these are not drones. These are people!”

    Expensive people. Saving their lives cost us unnecessarily. Now they can repay us.”

    “But Master?”

    “No ‘buts’ Coordinator!... And please deliver the best examples to the Central Research Labs. We should make the best of the opportunity at hand.”

    As the faux Quintesson left to the sounds of the audience’s disdain, Primus’ posture was one of dejection. The silent stranger came close again.

    “Why do my Masters act this way?” Primus wondered in distress, “Why is every cycle some new horror? Some new misdeed? Is the cruelty itself now the thing?”

    He looked over to the refugees. Inspected them where they were cowering.

    “I hear your voice more clearly than ever before.” he said mournfully – just not to the refugees, “But am I the only one who hears you?”

    Primus began to slowly stroll across the stage. As he did, the city street was hastily set up again and the crowd resumed its activity. Just before he got to the far side of the stage, the unassuming Autobot reappeared and sat down at a table ... looked as if he was reading. Primus sat down opposite him.

    “Don’t you usually have an armed escort, old soldier?” the Autobot said in the jovial way of an insincere youth.

    “My escort ...” Primus looked behind him at the silent figure, “my escort is always with me.”

    The Autobot sat straight up: “You – you mean you can see him?”

    Primus looked back and forth a few times.

    “Can you hear him too?” Primus asked.

    “Ummm ... well, he’s never really said much....”

    “But you CAN hear him!”

    “Yes, Sir.”

    Primus laughed aloud, leapt from his seat and hugged the Autobot.

    “What’s you’re name?” he asked as he released him before sitting down again.

    “A3, Sir.”

    “Only ... never mind. A3! A3, I want you to tell me what he has told you.”

    A3 began to speak of a sense of quiet desperation and of things going from bad to worse. When he finished he apologized for how little he’d heard. Primus stood and gestured to the table.

    “Stay here. Wait for my return.”

    As he sprinted away the silent figure sat down next to A3.

    Primus met with Artemus on the far side of the rapidly darkening stage.

    “Artemus! Take this data crystal and execute its command file.”

    “Commander?”

    “Just do it.”

    The composite figure took something from Primus’ hand. There was a moment of silence. Then they screamed in that unified, blended voice as if the whole of them were in agony. Falling to its hands and knees, the giant regarded Primus.

    “I’m ... I’m free?” a voice full of doubt.

    “It is the same executable that they gave me so long ago. I had no idea if it would work on anyone else. I’m sorry for the pain.”

    “I ... am ... free!” they said with quiet and trembling passion.

    Magnus felt a shifting of weight behind him. He didn’t turn to look but caught a glimpse of the real Artemus reflected in the chrome of Broadback’s back. His expression ... the way his eyes pulsed. Mouth drawn taunt with emotions otherwise held in check.

    “Artemus, take this executable and use it on everyone else. Especially your brothers. Then meet me in the nearby district with every weapon you can carry.”

    “Sir?”

    “We won’t be free until we make ourselves free.... Arm the refugees too.”

    As Artemus turned back and left the stage, Primus walked to the middle again, the lights came up as the crowd burst into activity around him once more. He waved to where A3 and the silent one were sitting.

    Then he began a truncated version of The Record of Primus, one condensed and focused to fit the material of the play. When Artemus arrived with weapons, Primus took two rifles and handed one to A3. Then the stage went black.

    Soon, the silent one was brilliantly lit by a shaft of light. He pulled back his cowl to reveal himself to be the same actor who gave the prologue to the play. He thanked the audience and began to introduce the cast to the sound of sporadic applause which became thunderous for Reil – the Combaticon who played Primus. When at last the faux Quintesson came out, there was a hush. In moments an Autobot escaped its confines and looked his costume up and down. He took a small incendiary stick from a wrist panel and set fire to the costume.

    As it blazed the crowd went wild.

    Artemus sighed behind them.

    “I swear, that rogue will be smashing his own musical instrument on stage just for effect somecycle. What is it with these youngsters?”

    Magnus was otherwise lost in thought. He wondered if Alpha Trion’s stadium didn’t once serve the same purpose that the Theorum now did, and if so ... why had they changed to this venue? Since the crowd wasn’t making for the exits it seemed likely that there was more to come. In one sense, The Primus had been far too short ... judging by the real speech too much had been left out. Why?

    Nine had said.... Someone rapping on his head. It was Oculon and one of the others.

    “Does he get lost in thought like this all the time?” the newcomer asked from behind an anticorruption plate.

    “It would seem so.” Oculon said cheerfully.

    Magnus remembered what Striker had provided him: in essence he should be just a bit moody and analytical to reflect the imposition of unnatural traits.

    “Magnus, I would like you to meet Soundwave.”

    Magnus climbed to his feet and took overt notice of the rank encrypted in Soundwave’s Combaticon badge: “It is an honor to meet you, Sir.”

    “‘Sir’ he says!” the face was expressionless but the voice was amused, “It is an honor to meet you too, Sir.”

    Magnus smiled.

    “Brother, then?”

    When Magnus said that, Blitz took notice and turned around.

    “I’d say ‘Turn around and lets get a look at you.’ but I’ve seen that 210 in a mirror. If the rumors are true ... I’m glad to finally meet you.”

    “Rumors?”

    Soundwave made a overt attempt to wink but his face moved too slowly.

    “Is this the rest of your team?” Oculon asked

    “Yes,” Magnus noticed that Blitz was turned around, “this is Blitz. Over here is Broadback, Quintus Ray, Harvester and Powertech. On the other side of Blitz is Buzzer, Comdec, Havitron, some random little fellow, Cobatron, Datadraw and Fastrack.”

    “Blitz is one of the prototype 302s.” Artemus innocently dropped into the conversation – causing Oculon and Soundwave to give him a slight sidelong glance.

    “Yes, I’ve heard that you and your brothers have done quite well for us on the home front.” Oculon said, apparently playing along with whatever Artemus had in mind.

    “Blitz?” Soundwave wondered aloud, “Blitzkrieg ... we may have one of your namesakes over here.”

    The third Combaticon barely looked away from Nine.

    Soundwave shook his head and said in a conspiratorial tone: “If the General was as good with the ladies as he imagined himself to be, then Nine could be in trouble.”

    Soundwave....” Artemus softly chided.

    “Yes, Commander.... So Blitz,” Soundwave continued, “how is young Magnus doing?”

    “Just this cycle he demonstrated that he really understood the difference between Combaticons and Autobots through a doublet of sorts. For Autobots: ‘Even in death may I never fail to live.’ and for us: ‘In life I will not shirk death.’”

    “To understand hope and fatalism at such an age.... Oculon, what was our brother reading all that time?”

    “Deep thoughts.”

    “Well ... he does look a bit bookish.”

    “Funny,” Magnus tried to jab back – part of being moody, “I thought you said I looked just like you?”

    Behind his brothers, he saw Artemus take on a questioning look. He’d already realized that Soundwave may’ve lost his face in combat ... but it was all he had to go with.

    “Yes,” Soundwave didn’t seem phased, “with our trusty rifles, steady hands and clear vision we do all look the same to our enemies. Don’t we?”

    Blitz nodded thoughtfully.

    Magnus grasped at a way to move the conversation along in another direction.

    “Commander Artemus, were the actor teams portraying you and your Constructicons accurate? Did they really deploy you into battle without weapons?”

    “We used to laugh about it. Right in the face of the enemy, as you saw on stage.” he said with a grim smile.

    Magnus started to say something, but Artemus quieted him down. The next play was beginning.

    When all was said and done, Magnus hadn’t offended his brother and Blitz remained in steadfast amazement: Artemus the Magnificent knew who HE was.

    Blitz the nobody – not a nobody anymore.

    The event at the Theorum took almost all night.

    Dealing with several massive and inert civic works drones so Artemus could leave took an additional 22 microcycles.

    “Here, Magnus.” Soundwave held out one of the bright yellow and orange striped cones with which the monster machine had encircled itself just before it had deactivated right where it had been to wait for its next assignment, “Your very first Obstructicon cone.”

    If Magnus hadn’t heard Artemus himself use the term, he’d have questioned it.

    “Thanks.... What am I supposed to do with it?”

    Don’t put it on your head near Shockwave ... otherwise, think of something.”

    Brother!” Oculon chided with graphite smoothness, “Magnus, almost any use is better than its intended use.” He paused as Nine summoned her class to board Lynx, “We’ll see you later.”

    Magnus was last to board.

    “Souvenir?” Nine asked as he was strapping in.

    “A gift. I can do anything with it other than wear it.”

    “You don’t have to worry,” Broadback offered from the next seat, “based on your performance the other cycle you’re mostly passive when suffering spark isolation. It usually takes a rather extravagant sort to put one of those things on their head and proclaim themselves ‘King of the Obstructicons’ or some such.”

    “Obstructicons, park!” Buzzer merrily pretended to bark a command.

    Ouch! Maybe that was why Shockwave kept substandard energon goodies?

    “Ummm ... Professor, what about this cycle’s class? We haven’t studied or anything?” Broadback made use of the moment.

    “We will be dealing with autoloaders and dock cranes instead of medicine. Loadmaster duties too. I actually preferred that you didn’t get a chance to study the material.”

    “Well ... I guess operating equipment and securing cargo won’t be too hard.”

    Lynx started to move.

    “It isn’t.... But we’ll be loading live munitions onto some fleet tenders. Lots and lots of live munitions.”

    There was a silence that Magnus interpreted as a feeling of doom.

    “How do we know if we did a good job?” Broadback finally asked, his voice not at all confident.

    “If you don’t blow up the whole port and get yourself killed ... then you pass. Just act like you know what you’re doing and be very, very careful.
     
  14. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 13: Substitute


    “Has anyone noticed how many fleet tenders there are here?” Harvester wondered as he looked out over the port.

    “Four other classes are loading ships this cycle and the next.” Nine said without looking away from below where Fastrack, Powertech and Comdec were loading a rather large series of crates marked with unsubtle symbols of excessive danger.

    “Four? What is the rest of the Academy doing with these two cycles?”

    “Loading other fleet tenders in rotation. Now shut up and pay attention to what your peers are doing.”

    Harvester and the others seemed visibly distressed but kept silent. Then Magnus joined Datadraw and Cobatron for their turn at the auto loaders. It was fairly obvious that this area of the port was heavily reinforced ... but the crates that the crane operator kept dropping in their proverbial laps were of such a kind that one wondered if all that armor was adequate. Still, actually operating the autoloaders wasn’t too hard ... just do everything the loadmaster says at exactly the time he says it and you live to see another sunrise.

    As Magnus’ team returned to the observation deck they passed Harvester, Ray and Broadback on the way out.

    “You did well.” Nine said as they entered the room, “What did you learn?”

    As before – as on that first cycle of law – those who went first had the easy answers. But this late in the process, intelligent things to say were getting harder to come by.

    “Stop me if anyone said this already,” Cobatron offered, “but compared to the need for attention to detail and droneish obedience to what the loadmaster is telling you ... my own observation may be somewhat trite.”

    “Nice set up.” she said dryly.

    “I noticed that this ship is actually going to be sent out light ... her cargo is being loaded for maximum efficiency during unloading. I would hazard to guess that this won’t take place in space given what we’ve seen and done – the kinds of restraints used.”

    “A bit specific to this ship’s situation ... but I’ll take what I can get. Magnus?”

    “I think the ship could be loaded faster than we are doing. The autoloader is being used at only 42% of capacity.... Don’t they have confidence in us?”

    “Yes, they do have. Magnus, why do you suppose that things are going so slowly?”

    Magnus resisted the urge to gesture out the window: “Only one crane is in operation. Maybe the restriction is elsewhere?”

    Nine said nothing before turning to Datadraw.

    “Datadraw?”

    “I don’t agree with Magnus. Normally one crane would be enough for one autoloader and there would be multiple autoloaders in use for one ship of this size – each with its own loadmaster. I think this loadmaster is the transport’s actual commander.”

    “Remember what I said about being too specific to this situation?”

    “I’m sorry, Professor, but, all I could think of out there is that our new friend is taking this very seriously. It made me want to take it very seriously too. The first time I ever handled an autoloader it was like a joke and a game all rolled into one. Too easy for words. I have a feeling that fleet tender support crew who take such an attitude don’t keep their jobs for long.”

    “Too often they keep the job just long enough. Join the rest and watch your peers.”



    “Sorry about that, Magnus, everyone knows you’ve never worked a dock before.” Datadraw whispered as they stood near the armored glass.

    “Why apologize? You were right and I didn’t know anything.”

    “You’re a just-boot ... and not a just-boot. I can’t imagine what that’s like for you. To know so much and still be so clueless.”

    “All right, I said no need to apologize.” Magnus grumbled, not liking the way things were going.

    “I meant to say that I only remember what it’s like to be clueless. You Alphas have been given a very special and odd gift.... For my spark I can’t understand the method to the madness.”

    “Fair enough. Would you tell me why everyone seemed so out of sorts about Harvester’s question earlier?”

    “At this rate we would load two transports every cycle. But we can do better. Five classes means an easy ten similar ships loaded each cycle. For the whole Academy that would be 96 ships. And that’s the low estimate.”

    “So?”

    “Magnus, a single ship like this with a full load – not sure about a light load – can support 1000 troops for 50 cycles of constant action. Wherever these ships are getting ready to go ... a lot of Combaticons are going too.”

    “Without me ... again.” Blitz said bitterly.

    “Without us.” Magnus corrected as he began to ponder the implications.

    Normally, the Seeker Academy proper was called to replace ordinary and non-lethal attrition which they called either retirement or joining the reserves. Part of the way things were. Was his Academy class larger than normal? No one had said anything.

    As Harvester and the others were securing something that looked like a small Lynx but bore no Predacon crest, the observation lounge’s ground line buzzed annoyingly. The drone attendant called Nine over. She connected to the terminal with a data sync. A microcycle and a half later she was standing nearby.

    “Ravage, you need to come with me.”

    That got everyone’s attention.

    “Professor?” Ravage jiggled his head in a confused way.

    “A substitute is on his way. You and I need to be elsewhere. Now.”

    “But ...”

    “It is important.” she said slowly.

    “Must be.” he sighed before following her out.

    “Well, now I feel like a just-boot!” Powertech emoted after Nine and Ravage were well gone.

    Magnus smiled and kept looking outside, wondering if Powertech would want to apologize too.

    Even as they started to wrap things up down below the substitute arrived ... Battletech no less.

    “As you were, cadets.” he looked out the window and seemed to be mentally pointing at the approaching team, his anticorruption plate moving as if he were speaking even if no words were heard.

    The blast doors rolled left and right out of the way.

    “Harvester! What did you learn out there?” the Dean commanded.

    “Dean Battletech?” he was confused.

    “I know who I am, cadet. Now, what did you learn?”

    “I ... I think–”

    “Right, nothing new! Quintus Ray?”

    “The importance of–”

    “Are you blowing pop gas in my manifold? Any possible answer that begins with ‘the importance of’ has already been made.”

    “I’m sorry, Dean.”

    “No apologies necessary. Broadback?”

    “Sir, as you said all the easy or good answers have been taken so all that leaves is the dust in the corner, so to speak. As for learning anything, I’ve handled autoloaders before under the supervision of loadmasters not a tenth as demanding as that Autobot out there.”

    “The best answer I’ve heard from a 12th cadet in untold megacycles.” Battletech turned to the room, “‘Demanding’ describes the Seekers well. Anyone who can’t obsess over doing the little things right will probably get sloppy when it comes time to do the big things. Sloppy gets folks killed. Combat is the place for throwing caution to the wind ... not a staging area.”

    “Sir,” Harvester found his voice again, “where’s Professor Nine?”

    “N-T-K. If she wants to tell you later, that will be her business. Right now I want you cadets to show me everything you’ve loaded and hear you tell me why you think it was loaded that way.”

    He strode out the blast doors with everyone shuffling out after him.

    “Trickshot.”

    “Dean.... Where’s Nine?”

    The Dean just shook his head and Trickshot, the loadmaster, seemed to understand.

    “I’ll be ready to move out once the inspection is done. Blitz’ team was first to the dock.”

    “Then lead on, Blitz.” Battletech extended his arm in invitation.

    Picking their way around individually secured crates to where the first bits had been loaded wasn’t hard. Battletech inspected every restraint and asked specific questions. He seemed to respect the way Blitz gave Cobatron full credit for his observation on the whys of how the ship was loaded. Then to the next area with fewer questions asked.

    “This restraint’s seal has been broken and the restraint adjusted.” he said in an accusing way as he looked over one crate, “Powertech, this is your work ... care to tell me why the seal is broken?”

    “I can’t, Sir. I set that seal myself and didn’t return to this crate.”

    “Well, someone broke the seal and adjusted the restraint. Show me how you had it set.”

    Powertech complied. When he’d done so, the edges of the seal lined up again proving that the rigging was the same as before.

    “Ship shape job there, Powertech. Now set a new seal.”

    Magnus noted that Trickshot was following them, double inspecting the seals as he went. They proceeded without further comment on that restraint. Found no more with evidence of tampering. Maybe the seal had been broken by Trickshot as part of some test for Nine?

    That seemed plausible.

    Once the last crate was inspected, Trickshot sealed the cargo bay door and Battletech set a seal of his own.

    “You have your sky, Commander.”

    “Yes, Sir!” he saluted and disappeared into his ship.

    “Better stand back, cadets.” Battletech suggested as the fleet tender climbed with some effort and disappeared from sight.

    Then a second similar ship came down. Another Autobot/Seeker emerged and began talking with four other Seekers who had come down from another observation lounge. One of these introduced himself to Magnus, Datadraw and Cobatron as Alphadriver – their loadmaster for the rest of the cycle.

    If anything, Alphadriver was even more demanding than Trickshot had been. With good reason too: four autoloaders were now competing for the same small cargo bay doors with odds and ends easily as dangerous as before. Predictably, loading was finished a lot quicker.

    “Magnus, I’ve reviewed your answer to Professor Nine’s question,” Battletech began as he helped to inspect the cargo, “what do you think about things now?”

    “The autoloaders are still operating below their capacity but the limit seems to be imposed by multiple teams and limited door space.”

    “So you think the autoloaders are over rated for the job?”

    “No, Sir. Just that the cargo bay door is too small.”

    “Good. That’s called a ‘logistical constriction’ ... the basic idea is that any given system has a limiting factor imposed by conditions which cannot be safely, economically or tactically overcome. We could run one or two autoloaders full out with a ship of this class. Add a third though and they all need to slow down to allow for safe access. A fourth slows everything individually down more, but not enough that actual loading isn’t faster than with three. Diminishing returns ... the harder you push – when you push really hard – doesn’t mean that the obstacle is going to move that much faster.”

    “So dynamic systems aren’t like simple ones ... bigger or stronger isn’t always better. Dean Battletech, you said that this idea applies to tactical considerations too. Why?”

    “Sometimes it’s just a matter of terrain which can only support so many troops and allow them all to be reasonably effective. More often it’s a matter of command and control. Have you seen or met Maximus?”

    “The Supreme Commander? No, Sir.”

    “Great and gallant hero, brilliant tactician, fine and wise individual ... but much too big! It takes so much just to get him to the battlefield that the fighting is done by the time he can deploy. Some idiot’s brilliant idea that more is always better has condemned him to never actually get in the big fight. Even worse, he’s never even set foot on Cybertron and probably never will while he’s alive. On the other hand, his size and no expense spared specs enabled him to be equipped as if he were Primus himself, easing the command and control constrictions even if he’s his own tactical foil.”

    “Dean Battletech, why is it so hard to get him to a battlefield?”

    “It isn’t. Besides the Nemesis he has two more transport battleships available just for that purpose; however, he’s a victim of his own power and value. So long as Maximus holds himself in reserve an enemy has to keep forces in reserve to counter his potential appearance – usually Guardian Autobots by the dozens all scattered about. They also have to hold onto enough big artillery to try to shoot him down on the way in. So being there but not fighting actually takes some of the most valuable assets for the other side off the board. On the other hand, he and those battleships represent such a threat that every other target will be ignored once they come in range ... and loosing Maximus and his more subtle capabilities for even a short while would be a devastating blow. Simply put, even Cybertron can’t afford to replace him ... at least not without hardship that may be unacceptable.”

    “He’s the only one of his series?”

    “They had planned for three with five transport battleships. Fortunately, Megatron was able to derail the project before they had laid the frame for Titanas. Before you ask about it, Maximus himself has written a compelling thesis demonstrating that individuals much larger than a Guardian Autobot or an old-style Constructicon are tactical mistakes that should not be repeated. At least till the economies of scale radically change.”

    “Thank you, Dean Battletech.”

    “No problem, cadet.”

    As he set his seal on this ship, he called Powertech over and gave his answer to Nine’s earlier question similar attention. He’d just about finished by the time the next ship settled in.

    As Battletech finished, Magnus thought to ask another question.

    “Dean Battletech, what would change the economies of scale?”

    “The Quintessons building someone like Maximus ... which they won’t do till they’re sure they can win an arms race. Remember, we actually have experience with mega-soldiers and have already worked out solutions for the innumerable problems associated with them. Besides, with drones the economy of scale actually demands more and cheaper machines that are simply good enough for what they do. Why there aren’t thousands of Guardian Autobots. Now get back to work.”

    Magnus fought hard to stay engaged this time around, the cargo was exactly as before and all he had to do was obey Alphadriver ... something any drone could manage. Even the many adjustments needed to keep his end of the autoloader in precise trim didn’t require any real thought. This was as unlike the crèche as anything he had ever imagined possible ... and not in a good way.

    “Are you having trouble, cadet?” Alphadriver unexpectedly asked him rather than command them to move the autoloader forward. The other teams made immediate adjustments for the change in pace.

    “I’m just having a problem staying engaged.”

    “I was briefed that you were young and that I should expect some problems keeping focus. Where’s the problem?”

    “I ... no variation. Like a sequence of programmed steps which really don’t require more than a drone.”

    “Glad to see you’re taking the job as seriously as you are. Hey, Tackle! Five microcycle break?”

    “Yeah, why not?” came the reply and everything settled down.

    Magnus was confused.

    “Alphadriver, taking a break is a good thing?”

    “We aren’t sparkless machines.”

    That really didn’t answer Magnus’ question but it seemed to satisfy everyone else. The ship’s commander emerged with a tray table and the chief loadmaster produced a number of diminutive mugs into which he poured energon infusion from a thermos.

    “What’s our style?” Battletech asked as he eyed the contents of his mug.

    “Heavy on the arsenic, gallium and selenium.”

    Battletech raised the small mug to the tip of his anticorruption plate and poured in one swift motion.

    “Hoo Ha!” he said even as his face winced in slow motion.

    Looking at his own small mug ... why not? Magnus slammed back the contents and almost collapsed to his knees. His face felt like it was caving in on itself.

    There was an uncomfortable silence.

    “Magnus,” Battletech said with some apparent sympathy, “we gotta talk to you about your energon problem.”

    “hhhhhhaaaaaaa....” was all he could manage in reply.

    Datadraw and Cobatron helped him over to the autoloader to sit down. Which was good because his gyros were feeling wobbly under the influence of too much too fast.

    “Think of it as another ‘logistical constriction.’” Datadraw said reassuringly.

    Magnus’ systems were still wobbly when work began again. Mostly it was his sense of taste that was shouting about how much it hated him for the abuse.

    “We’ll wait for three more.” Alphadriver said without reproach.

    “Why?” Magnus eventually managed.

    “Did you imitate Dean Battletech?”

    Magnus shook his head: “Why?”

    “Dean Battletech took the whole sipper in stride?”

    He nodded.

    “Experience ... and he may be missing some of his taste sensors as a result of battle damage. Look, I want you and Cobatron to trade places. Lets get back to work.”

    Though his mouth still wasn’t working, the rest of him was.

    Alphadriver started barking timing signals and soon their autoloader was in action again. With a new station – receiving from the crane – it was easier to keep in the game. As this ship roared off Cobatron spoke up, suggested that the teams rotate stations.

    “It would seem that Magnus’ little experiment put these cadets ahead of schedule.” Battletech said merrily before he addressed Datadraw’s earlier opinion about why the ships were loaded the way they were.

    Turned out that ships going into hotfire situations are loaded differently to reduce collateral damage if one got hit in a bad way; also, to reduce the importance of any one fleet tender so the enemy won’t go out of their way to shoot at them. Of course, fast unload is a good enough reason too, Battletech allowed.

    By the time Tackle called it a cycle they had loaded and rigorously inspected five more ships ... maybe seven or eight next cycle at that rate. The implications were impressive to say the least.

    “Well, I’ll probably see you cadets next cycle. If you want to you can study here rather than go back to Seeker.” Battletech said before he left them in the observation lounge.

    “What do you think happened with Professor Nine?” Blitz asked the room.

    There were no takers.

    The reading material indicated that the next cycle was going to be different. First they would be operating the cranes for regular dock workers before getting a crack at being loadmasters themselves. Most of the text dealt with loadmaster duties – it was more complex than it looked. There was also a section on proper restraint rigging and inspection based on intended use ... and yes, these ships were meant to unload on the ground.

    “They could be just unloading the ships elsewhere? Maybe there isn’t a major offensive in the works?” Powertech said to Blitz in hope of raising his spark.

    “Yeah, I guess so. Still, with the 300s about to come on line I expect something big sooner than later. No way the 200s will let us finish what they started.”

    “You never talk about that much.” Comdec said.

    “Compartmentalized information. ‘N-T-K,’ Battletech had called it. Sorry about that guys. I suppose I can tell you what I know now.... Remember the name Quevald? Before the revolution had fully succeeded the Quintessons had converted it into another factory world ... one run by Combaticons, slaves and service drones.”

    “Slaves?” Magnus asked as he glanced to the window ... the sun was starting to rise.

    “People owned like they were drones. Anyway, Quevald is now some kind of a throne world for those five faced monsters. The Combaticon garrison has long since been expended and drones now do all the fighting.”

    “What about the slaves?” Powertech asked.

    “No one who knows ever told me. Anyway, the Quintessons were apparently depending on the Seekers rather than build a whole new war fleet of their own. At first they had easy access to Cybertron but then the Seekers turned against them too. The fleet they had wasn’t adequate ... the Seekers and the Combaticon DSN began strangling their empire from within. Rumor has it that Quevald has been isolated for some time now.”

    “Ironic,” Buzzer mused, “that it should all come back to that world of all worlds.”

    “Is there more than one throne world?” Harvester asked.

    “Presumably ... but I can’t be sure. I’ve never understood why this has been kept secret. In no small measure, the rebels continue fighting because they don’t realize that they don’t have the luxury to do so.”

    “If I recall what my mentor told me,”Datadraw began, “the rebellion began because one Autobot had wanted his normal life even when his time for service came up. He was charged with insubordination and mutiny. A riot broke out over his conviction.”

    “He got the death penalty.” Buzzer said flatly.

    “I don’t agree with the sentence any more than you. That’s besides the point. I suppose keeping the general population in the dark about the real situation gives them the illusion of their normal lives.”

    “That pretty much covers what I learned as Alpha Trion’s intern. Sorry I’m not allowed to say more,” Buzzer continued, “at least not while on Cybertron or in her space control limits.” he finished with a sly grin.

    “What have they told you, Magnus?” Fastrack piped up.

    “All news to me. The reading list I had didn’t cover the rebels very much.”

    “But it did have the full text of The Record of Primus?”

    “And lots besides that. Buzzer, did the General ever mention his Philosophy to you?”

    Buzzer blinked and shook his head.

    “Alpha Trion wrote a philosophy?” Datadraw seemed very interested.

    “Seven whole volumes. I figured you would be interested.”

    He nodded vigorously.

    “I’ll see about getting you the files once our reading list aren’t set for us.... Heh heh!”

    “What’s so funny?”

    “I just realized, I’ve come full circle and have a mandatory reading list again. If you’ll excuse me, I really want to watch this sunrise.”
     
  15. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 14: No Comment


    Magnus was disappointed that it was Battletech, and not Nine, who walked into the observation lounge. He’d wanted an opportunity to clarify some of the gruff old soldier’s statements and had figured that Nine would be more open to casual chatting than Battletech.

    Ravage hadn’t returned either.

    “As you were, cadets.... Lets get this cycle off to a good start.”

    He began pushing the drone attendant’s data plates out of the way before setting up a round of energon infusions in the smaller mugs, apparently called “sippers.”

    “I mixed these extra sweet. I hope you don’t mind, but bitter shots and a sunrise don’t mix.” he held onto Magnus’ sipper for a moment, “You’ve got a real constitution about you, cadet, but learn your limits somewhere else.”

    “Slow and steady, Sir.”

    “Good! Before we get started, are there any questions about crane operations?”

    Powertech raised a finger: “Booster seat?”

    “Heh, we’ll see what we can come up with. Anything else?”

    After a moment of silence, the old Combaticon raised his sipper and downed it in three swift and precise motions. Magnus took his time and finished last, behind even Datadraw.

    They followed Battletech out to the gantry cranes and as before took turns till everyone had gotten used to the commands used by loadmasters. Then they broke up into four teams, giving each crane a driver, a coordinator and a spotter – who was responsible to guide the driver to the right transport as it arrived with the its payload of munitions.

    Magnus was the spotter for his crane early on. It gave him a good overview of what they were bringing all this stuff in on ... a random assortment of odds and ends, none of which looked like it was a munitions transport. These were from dozens of places scattered about Iacon and beyond.

    Whatever was going on, it was all low profile and reminded Magnus about what Buzzer and the others had indicated, about how the public wasn’t to know there was a real war going on.

    After working at the other stations, Battletech rounded them all up and took them to a nearby spaceport where they would direct ordinary loading crews for commercial boats.

    “Seeker ground crews are too good for us?” Comdec asked as their transport tube car slowed to a stop.

    “You’d never learn anything trying to get the best to work to par. That’s why we’ve come here.”

    The tube car’s door opened to reveal an assortment of shiny patches on a floor where things resembling autoloaders had moved too much for those areas to stay covered in grime ... the rest was grime.

    “Welcome to the free docks, where you get what you pay for.”

    Powertech groaned and started putting on his anticorruption mask.

    “Bad move, Powertech.” Battletech confided, “You don’t want to show these Autobots any weakness.”

    “Fine, I’ll impress them some other way.”

    “Well ... looks like we have a volunteer to go first.”

    As a somewhat dilapidated ship settled down, a group of six Autobots with what may’ve been late 200 series chassis came swaggering out of their observation lounge and down to the dock. As Powertech went out to meet them, Battletech turned up the volume on the tube car’s speakers so he could hear what was going on.

    “Goodcycle to you, Autobots. I’m Powertech and I’ll be your loadmaster.”

    “Wow,” the most outlandishly detailed Autobot laughed, “they sent us a loadminerature.”

    “Very droll. What’s your name, Brother Autobot?”

    “Sideways. Cause I get the cargo in any which way it’ll fit!”

    There was laughter from the others.

    Powertech walked right up to Sideways and looked straight up.

    “Shall we get this scow loaded, then?”

    “Feel free.” Sideways motioned to the autoloaders.

    Powertech took a step as if to look around Sideways. Then he dropped to a crouch before slamming his shoulder into the larger Autobot’s abdomen, causing him to fall on the slick floor.

    “Why you little–”

    Sideways didn’t complete the statement, from somewhere in his frame Powertech had produced a rather nasty looking pistol which was aimed straight at the larger Autobots’ face.

    “One of the only advantages to having an unarmored shell.” Datadraw quietly observed.

    “Shhhh ... this is getting good!” Battletech said with obvious delight.

    “As I said, my name is Powertech and I’ll be your loadmaster. Shall we load this ship now?”

    “Sure, anything you say, Brother Autobot.”

    Anything?”

    Sideways slowly nodded.

    Good! The working conditions on this platform are too dangerous and probably violate numerous regulations. I assume that you lot are responsible for its upkeep?”

    “Our drones are in the shop.”

    “Chop shop, no doubt. You, you and you ... work that autoloader. The rest of you start cleaning up, so no one else slips and falls ... by accident. And Sideways?”

    “Yes?”

    “When you’re done I’ll let you have some degreaser for your own carapace.”

    The pistol was still aimed straight at Sideways’ face.

    “Sounds fair to me.” he said with smoldering resentment.

    Powertech stepped back before putting the gun away, from wherever it had come from.

    “By Primus, I love that little guy!” Battletech emoted, “Lets get out there before Sideways starts getting any ideas.”

    As they emerged from the tube car, the expression on the prone Autobot’s face changed ... he wasn’t dealing with just one diminutive Autobot now.

    “Powertech,” Battletech innocently asked, “was there some sort of problem?”

    “Sideways just slipped on the floor – he’s agreed to clean up while the others load. Look, I’m sure the observation lounge is much nicer. Why don’t you wait me out up there?”

    “You’re the loadmaster.”

    “Yes.... I am, aren’t I?”

    It was obvious to Magnus that what emotional range Battletech’s face could muster was in full play ... outright merriment in fact. As Sideways and two others cleaned, Powertech kept the autoloader going at a hectic pace, having taken over the last station and assigned the freed up Autobot to run the crane alone.

    “I get to spend some time with Sapphira.” the filthy little Autobot said as he entered the observation lounge – picking at grime clogging his unsealable ports.

    “Sounds fair to me.” Battletech said happily, “Magnus, you’re up next.”

    Unlike with Powertech, the Autobots were positively deferential to Magnus, probably due to his being a well worn super 210 with red eyes. He imagined what they must be thinking, considering what Powertech had proved capable of doing to Sideways.

    Who was so dirty by now that you could hardly see his paint.

    Unlike his friend, Magnus recalled one Autobot from the cleaning detail to help operate the autoloader as he assumed a more traditional role for a loadmaster.

    It was his very first command and he wasn’t going to fail.

    “Not bad, Magnus.” Battletech said before sending Buzzer out to start loading a new ship.

    “Pffft! You’re practically spotless! Where’s the fun in that?” Powertech taunted.

    “You may be able to do this ... but I make it look good!” Magnus boasted as he lowered his green tinted visor and grinned broadly.

    As he watched Buzzer work the Autobots even harder than he’d done, he started to chuckle ... “Obstructicons, park!” ... he’d finally got it.

    “What’s so funny?” Blitz asked.

    “Sideways.” Magnus lied ... no way he was ever going to admit the real reason he was laughing.

    One by one they had their turn as loadmaster. The last ship’s captain actually seemed confused if he was in the right place when Datadraw met him on the dock. Why not? Sideways and his friend had most of the grime on them by now.

    As Havitron returned and the last ship roared into the sky, Powertech started to leave.

    “I need to make sure my fellow Autobots get cleaned up properly.”

    “Have at it, Powertech.”

    “Thanks, Arlee.”

    “Whoa,” thought Magnus, “something had changed while I was out there.”

    “The rest of you cadets can get cleaned up when we get back to Seeker.... Well, Magnus, you’d better get cleaned up here. I believe you have a doctor’s appointment.”

    “But wouldn’t that have been rescheduled?”

    “Because you were late last time? Cadet, Cybertron doesn’t revolve around you no matter how well placed your friends are.”

    Magnus found the autoshower with no difficulty ... it was behind and attached to a pay-op terminal listing the prices for various services – apparently the docks were the only things free hereabouts. Of all the choices, one button in particular had its color worn off and looked especially battered besides.

    “Must be the right choice.” Magnus mused as he authorized payment.

    His ledger readout showed negative numbers.

    “I gotta get me a job.”

    Besides that unexpected hot oil bath, this was the first real cleaning he had ever had or even needed. First there came a hot degreaser comprised of a brownish-black fluid which had an effervescence that some previously unknown sense ... Smell? ... was telling him to be the result of carbon-dioxide escaping. That was actually the most expensive part of the wash. Then a clear mineral oil shower in a vortex of air ... a cheap robot’s oil bath. Then a whitish fluid spray that he had to move around in so there would be full coverage. Then nothing.

    As the dripping wet Combaticon stood there waiting for something, either the door to open or some sort of dryer, ‘something’ didn’t happen.

    “Maybe it’s broke?”

    He tried to push at the door but it wouldn’t open. This was especially irritating considering that the fluid was hardening as it cooled and forming a pasty dull coat over his entire body. Just as he was about to call for help, panels in the walls opened up, revealing numerous rotating puffy things on little arms. These swarmed Magnus from all sides and tickled him so badly that he couldn’t help but laugh. He’d try to push them away but the little beggars were aware enough to avoid his grasp.

    After nearly a microcycle of this torment, they withdrew and the door opened.

    “I’m glad I didn’t choose the cheaper treatments.... Or maybe the more expensive?” he mused as he inspected the mostly satisfactory work the autoshower had done.

    When he got back to the observation lounge he found Powertech waiting there alone. He had cleaned up too, though his ports were still filled with grime as before.

    “We better get to the doctor.”

    “Aren’t you overreacting a bit?”

    “Not really. For some reason my series lacks any protection against contamination. We were probably meant to work in a clean environment where it wouldn’t be needed.”

    “But your ‘falsie?’”

    “Original equipment. Maybe so I could function in an unhealthy environment just long enough to get some nasty job done.... Like I said before, I was a spare part.”

    As they settled into the tube car that was waiting for them, one of the Autobots joined them.

    “I hope you don’t mind, Powertech. I’m working a night shift over at the pay docks.”

    “Sometimes you take the jobs you can get, Kone.” the smaller Autobot replied, “And one free ride won’t kill the Seeker’s budget.”

    “That was a pretty neat move you pulled on Sideways back there. Cyberball?”

    Powertech just nodded. He was trying to seem relaxed but there was obviously something bothering him. Magnus felt he had to be overreacting. Sapphira seemed to agree ... until she got a good look at his structure.

    “What moron designed you?”

    “I believe it was a Quintesson.”

    Magnus lifted his head to look at the nearby table where she was fussing over Powertech.

    “I told you to stay still!” she hissed without turning around.

    “Right. Now you’ll have to start all over again.”

    “In a few microcycles. I’m busy.”

    “Well, then,”Magnus said to himself, “off the table.”

    He was soon standing by Sapphira, looking down on Powertech. She’d partly disassembled him around his ports and was carefully scrubbing out the grime.

    “Stay out of my light!”

    “Sorry.”

    As he watched her clean out his little friend: “Powertech, about Quintessons?”

    “Thanks for ruining the mood!” he sneered.

    “Sorry, you brought them up. I was under the impression that you hated them.”

    “No more than anyone else.”

    “But you still referenced Deltacron’s The Lost?”

    Powertech and Sapphira both gave him questioning looks.

    “What does that have to do with the price of mineral oil on Cybertron?” he asked.

    “Well, Deltacron is a Quintesson.”

    Powertech laughed derisively.

    “Why would you think that?”

    “He was ... is.”

    Powertech shook his head: “Magnus, Quintessons don’t have personal names anymore than powertechs do. You didn’t know, so I’ll let it slide.”

    Magnus mulled that over for a bit.

    “But Powertech, you remember how I was looking into all of your speeches, right?”

    He nodded and closed his eyes.

    “Well, I found The Lost by Deltacron and what you gave was a small part of a heavily redacted paper that was attributed to a Quintesson named Deltacron.”

    Sapphira was eyeing him.

    “Magnus, how could you tell that it was redacted?”

    “Well, the huge blacked out bits between the readable text was a big clue. Though there was a strange feeling of specific words in those areas – floating invisibly in the blacked out parts. Like they were unimportant but still edited out, even if not really edited out.”

    “To make sure the final text appears complete and not disjointed.” Powertech said with a haunted voice, his eyes forcefully shut.

    “Magnus,” Sapphira said with some reserve, “redacting is supposed to remove even a hint that anything was removed. You shouldn’t be able to even see a ‘blacked out’ area.”

    “Powertechs experience the same sort of thing when it comes to our function files. We don’t talk about it much but the working theory is that those memories – most likely how to do our assigned function – are kept locked up till some code or authorization is given. A few of my brother and sister powertechs who have gone into research try to read between the ghostly words to help them in their work.”

    “Sounds mystical.” Sapphira mused.

    “It’s pop gas. But why dump on their cycle?”

    “But you might be able to reconstruct the data?” Magnus observed.

    “Do we HAVE to talk about this now?”

    “I’m interested too, now.”

    “Well, why didn’t you say so?” Powertech beamed as he opened his eyes and smiled at her.

    She tweaked something in a part of him that she was holding, causing him to wince slightly.

    “Flirt!”

    “Can’t blame a guy for trying. So Magnus, Deltacron is a Quintesson?”

    “That’s what it said.”

    “What else did it say?”

    “I hammered through the first censored bit after the preamble ... all that stuff about the Allspark. It seemed that he was relating how some sort of developments – which were really blacked out – had required something to be done or not done. Sorry I can’t be more specific.”

    “To be expected. What followed that section you just described?”

    “The first points of your essay, about how sparks return.”

    “Did the file you read say when this was written?” Sapphira quietly asked.

    Magnus quoted a calendar date ... one from a really long time ago. Sapphira continued to brood over Powertech in silence.

    “Doctor?” the little Autobot asked.

    No answer. She reassembled him.

    “You know, I have a friend who washed out of medical school – he was all oil fingers when it came to sparks. Despite that, he’s made a good career out of prosthetic embellishment. He’s really got some talent and might be able to fashion some sort of solution for this problem of yours.”

    “Sounds expensive.”

    “You wouldn’t be able to afford it if a Seeker did the work.”

    Powertech laughed.

    Magnus wondered why Sapphira hadn’t said anything more about her question. Even when she’d put him back on the table and started the scanner up again. Powertech finally broke the silence ...

    “What’s wrong?”

    “It’s that date. Our people don’t have much in the way of organized history, but that date is too well placed for my comfort. It’s a doctor thing. It’s within a dozen megacycles of the first successful drone and the very same megacycle that the first corruption plague was tested. Not to mention some of the less well known horrors that the Quintessons developed, all around the same time. Within a hundred megacycles they had rounded up all of the Maximals and most of the Predacons too. Their functions assigned to drones.”

    “That....” Powertech didn’t finish.

    “Could my ability to see the blacked out areas have something to do with my condition?” Magnus asked.

    “Magnus....”

    “He’s my friend and has already told me more about himself than he was probably supposed to.”

    “Possibly. Do you want me to try to reintegrate the sleeper?”

    “Can we be sure that I’d not loose the ability? Lets wait till I’ve had some more time with the text.”

    “What if the memory starts to fade?”

    “If it doesn’t happen all at once we could still reintegrate it. Or maybe once I’ve had some time with The Lost. You said it normally takes up to 50 cycles? More than enough time to transcribe the text as I see it with the ghostly bits and blacked out areas allowed for. Also enough time to look for anything else by our mysterious Quintesson with a name.”

    “Memory?”

    Magnus filled Powertech in on what had happened the other cycle. What they had learned or presupposed.

    “Is Oculon the same guy you were so chummy with at the Theorum? Glad my family doesn’t present the problems yours does.”

    “He would seem an exception to the rule.”

    “Magnus, I want you to give me a copy of your transcription. Maybe seeing how it works in another context will help me with my own files?”

    “Reborn hope?”

    “I know when I shut down I’m not coming back. But that means I have to make THIS life count. In a way, that’s my advantage. Why I liked that essay in the first place even while my brothers and sisters hated it. Several of them said that with such an attitude I’d make a better Combaticon than an Autobot.”

    “But you’re an Autobot?” Sapphira seemed unsure.

    “Only because Orion Pax said we were. In truth, powertechs may be something else altogether ... like Quintessons. Just in a good way.”

    “Is that why you want to be a Seeker? To make a difference?”

    “No, Doctor. I want to be the difference.”

    “Well, then ... Magnus, when you transcribe the text – or any text – could you give me a whack at it too?”

    “Yes, Doctor.”

    “Call me Sapphira. My friends call me by name.... You too, Powertech.”

    “Seems we’ve formed a conspiracy against the Quintessons.”

    Magnus smiled as he lay there on the table. He liked that. A conspiracy to find the truth. To read between the lines.
     
  16. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 15: Between the Lines


    On the way back to the barracks, Magnus followed Powertech on a side trip to tank up on energon. Despite having to talk about Quintessons, the little guy seemed in a really good mood.

    Magnus took note that they were alone.

    “Powertech?”

    “Yaaas?”

    “Sapphira is really nice. Nine too.”

    “In more ways than I care to mention.”

    “Does that come from having to control their power?”

    The little Autobot did a double take.

    “Maybeeeeee ... we should talk about this somewhere other than a public hallway?”

    “Oh, yes.” Magnus realized that it was probably a taboo subject.

    Powertech shook his head. After they’d refueled, he led Magnus to a nearby common area with a door, no furniture and numerous terminals set into the walls as well as a number of free standing pillars. Except for the furniture part, it reminded Magnus of the street library. Again, they were alone.

    “‘Power?’”

    “You know, to take your mind from you?”

    “And ... you got this idea, where?”

    “Shockwave told me that he didn’t want me loosing my mind to a girl.”

    “Uh-huh.... What exactly did he say?”

    Magnus thought for a moment. He hadn’t made an actual file of the conversation ...

    “That I should: ‘Stay away from the ladies’ – something about knowing who I am – then that he didn’t want me loosing my mind over a girl until he figured out if it was good for anything.”

    “Ah! That’s the difference. He was worried that you would loose your mind over a girl ... not: ‘to a girl.’”

    Magnus jiggled his head. Powertech sighed.

    “Magnus, do you find any of the guys attractive?”

    “Well, some of their aesthetics–”

    “No!... Physically attractive? Compared to Nine or Sapphira? Though I gotta admit that’s an unusually unfair comparison.” he smiled oddly, “Especially where Nine is concerned.”

    Magnus rubbed the back of his neck, unsure what to make of the question. To be sure, all the females he’d seen were oddly attractive in ways that defied issues of design and function. Their odd chassis shape didn’t seem to serve any purpose and actually looked as if it might weaken them a bit. It was obvious that their center of gravity was different – though that could have advantages. Then there was the walk, he’d made a recording of Nine in motion earlier in hopes of decoding why they moved that way. As yet he’d not managed any sound analysis of the video, even though he’d run through it several times.

    “Guys are guys. Aesthetics aside, why would I find them, or anyone, ‘physically attractive?’”

    Powertech smiled: “I give you less then one stellar year to figure out the answer to that on your own. In a way, you’re lucky. You may still manage to get a real date with either of our lovely friends.”

    “Girls give guys schedule minders?”

    Powertech shook his head: “You remind me of me, my friend. Lets get back to the barracks and keep this conversation to ourselves, ok?”

    “Sure thing, Powertech.”

    As they were walking down the hall back to their barracks, Magnus’ curiosity got the better of him: “So females don’t have some special power?”

    A passing Combaticon/Seeker nearly doubled over at that moment, leaned against the wall in silence except for the sound of a slight rapping of his left pinky knuckle.

    “Powertech, is he–”

    “Yes! He’s fine. You’re fine. We’re fine. And no, they don’t.” he said from behind his hands where they were covering his face. He didn’t take them down for several paces.

    Magnus noted that the other Combaticon had gone into a nearby room and closed the door after him. Seen through the glass from behind, he seemed to be having convulsions of some sort.

    Something inside him told him he hadn’t heard the last of this. A sort of sinking realization.... Like that first cycle in class.

    Once in the barracks, Magnus saw that the rest of the guys already had their noses attached to their data plates. Without a word, he took his usual seat near the window, pulled out his own data plate and started to read. It was rapidly apparent that the next cycle would be spent dealing with dissections again. Apparently a much more involved study than before.

    He hoped his subject wasn’t that same Autobot.

    After watching the sunrise, he leafed back through the text to hit the highlights again. Then he checked his messages. Nothing. Where was Ravage?

    “Magnus,” Datadraw came over to him as they left the barracks, “you need to harden your armor for class. It won’t be like before.”

    “What’s to dread?”

    “We aren’t having class in the usual place.”

    Magnus shook his head in confusion.

    “Just be ready. Ok?”

    “Sure, I’m unphaseable.”

    Barely a step into this new class room and he realized that he was anything but unphaseable. They were in a larger and brightly lit cargo area. There were four tables under movable track lights – which made everything all the brighter. Each table held something under a drop cloth. Or rather, someone.

    “Do you want to let the rest of us in?” a now familiar gruff voice said from behind him.

    Magnus moved to a side to allow Dean Battletech, the rest of the others and four new Seekers to enter the room. One of these he recognized as the doctor who had attended to his wounds at the arsenal. Battletech wandered from table to table and called out names. As he stood by the third table he called out: “Datadraw, Cobatron and Magnus.”

    With some reservation, Magnus joined the others.

    Battletech took the podium that was set up by a large view screen.

    “Cadets, welcome to the absolute worst cycle you’ll have at the Seeker Academy. The cycle you get to handle a former someone’s innards with your own hands. VR is fine and dandy, but it lacks the raw value of this sort of experience. If it will help any, all four of these individuals agreed well in advance to let their chassis be used in this manner. You Autobots need to understand, I know most of you believe that once a spark is gone that all that is left is an empty shell ... mere scrap. But Combaticons don’t agree with that assessment one bit. In light of that, treat these old heroes with the respect they deserve. This was important to them.”

    Magnus’ first doctor took Battletech’s place and introduced himself as Wrench. He would be running the class from this point on. Because of his qualifications, Datadraw was responsible for giving individual attention to Cobatron and Magnus. Blitz, as the elder Combaticon among the students, was asked to introduce the subjects as per tradition.

    Blitz seemed uneasy as he pulled back the sheet before him.

    “Pathfinder 7, formerly of the Howling Commandos, 3rd Brigade. Decorated five times. Super 157 chassis.... He served under Primus, Artemus and Megatron.”

    The doctor at the table had Blitz remove the badge, something he did with great reluctance before handing it to Battletech. Then they moved to the next table.

    “Windrider. Pilot for the DSN. 215 chassis. It says he has six decorations including one for the action that cost him his face. He served under Megatron and then Artemus.”

    He removed the badge.

    At the next table Blitz just about stopped in his tracks. His voice was low, he wasn’t even looking at the badge ... he was looking at the face.

    “Harrier. His first unit was the Steadfast Battalion. Fought in every major campaign from Iacon One to the Polar Fields on Terranoir ... so he bumped around a lot after that. Decorated three times. A Knight of Cybertron. A run of the mill 128 chassis – though he always said he was special.... He served under Primus, Artemus – twice – and Megatron before becoming a trainer for the civil defense forces ... so I guess he served with Maximus too.”

    He removed the badge and held it close to his chest. After a long moment he surrendered it to Battletech.

    “It’s what he wanted, cadet.”

    “Always to serve.” Blitz nodded before moving to Magnus’ table.

    Magnus watched mutely as the sheet was pulled back. The chassis resembled Alpha Trion’s in almost every respect, right down to the flowing mustache.

    There was a gaping hole in his chest.

    “Theodan, formerly of the Howling Commandos, 1st Brigade. An Ultra 135H. Decorated twice. He served with Primus and then with Artemus – after Megatron.”

    “Thank you, Blitz.” Battletech said as he took the last badge and hid them away in a small red pouch he had with him, “You can return to your table now.... Doctor, this class is yours.”

    Before the doctor had said anything, Buzzer came over to Magnus’ table and was looking hard at Theodan. Without a word he took hold of his hand and held it tight. Then he set it down and returned.

    “Why do Combaticons do this to their friends?” Cobatron quietly wondered.

    “It’s their friends they want to best serve. This is as close as they’re allowed to.” Datadraw replied with some sympathy.

    Magnus was thinking about what Artemus had said, about how Alpha Trion had lost too many old friends....

    Doctor Wrench began directing them in the first step ... removal of the face or what remained in its place. For some reason, they didn’t do anything with the enormously complex device ... just set it to one side before going on. Then they were directed through a systematic disassembly of every major section of the chassis. Details of wear from long use were brought to light as well as evidence of mechanical problems that had gone unnoticed.

    Datadraw took special care to personally remove the remnants of a spent-uranium jacketed shell from Theodan. These had imbedded themselves in his back after the shell had pierced his spark containment chamber all the way through. He helped them perform an analysis of the chamber’s armored walls, front and back. These were not below spec for a 135UH.

    Datadraw then made an additional analysis of the shell, which had once had an energon core. He also said something about the lack of grooves meaning that the barrel had been a true smooth bore. Then he wrote out a tag describing the fatal wound and disposition of the shell, sealed the shell fragments in a bag and handed them off to Battletech.

    “He was really assassinated?” Cobatron asked as Battletech walked away.

    “So it would seem.”

    By the time they were through there was little to recognize of Theodan, or any of the others. Even their frames had been taken apart, inspected and carefully set inside one of four crates. Finally, the face was set on top of all the rest and a lid was pressed down tight, sealing the contents with a puff of forced out air before a whir of noise from an evacuation pump was heard. Then Battletech had Blitz repeat his rounds, this time placing the appropriate badge on top of each crate.

    It was halfway through the night.

    “Hey, sport!” a familiar voice said from behind.

    Magnus turned: “Ravage? Where have you been?”

    “Like Professor Nine said, it was important.... Nothing for you to worry about, though.”

    “Is Nine here?” Blitz asked.

    “She’s outside talking with Dean Battletech. Blitz, she was able to observe you at the end,” he pointed to a window set high in one wall, “as you did your duty. She seemed really proud of you.”

    “I wish she’d been here the whole time.”

    “So does she.... Datadraw, about Theodan?”

    “The rumors were true.”

    Ravage shook his head.

    “It makes no sense. He wasn’t even on the council anymore.”

    “I hope they find the ready-made-scrap who did this!” Magnus heard Buzzer quietly emote.

    On a hunch, Magnus turned and asked about Alpha Trion.

    Buzzer shook his head: “He refuses to take special precautions.”

    “That’s enough speculation.” Nine entered the conversation, “I expect all of you to keep this information compartmentalized. Magnus, as much as I would like to go – I can’t – but you should go with Battletech and Blitz.”

    “Yes, Professor.”

    They were waiting for him just outside the door with all four crates stacked on a dolly. He followed them to a nearby airlock and stepped onto a shuttle like Windscreen’s, except that this one was piloted by an old Combaticon, a 128 like Harrier had been. There were other Combaticons here with other crates. Without a word they sped through the darkness on their way to the Combaticon crypt. There was an honor guard waiting to receive the remains. Everyone stood at attention till the old soldiers and their escorts were well out of sight.

    “Blitz, is it?” one Combaticon cadet asked.

    “Theodan, Pathfinder 7, Windrider and Harrier.”

    “He mustered me out.” this Combaticon said quietly.

    “He mustered a lot of us out.” another voice said.

    One by one, Combaticons named those who had “served them” beyond death ... brief comments were often made when a familiar name was heard. No one asked about Theodan. Probably because they knew not to. Then they boarded the shuttle and returned to Seeker. Mostly in silence. A few told short stories of their experiences with their friends. The whole thing put Magnus in a somber mood.

    He wanted to know what was in those redacted parts of The Lost more than ever now. Without an external hint of what he was doing, he pulled up the copy of the file he’d made and began transcribing it into another file – kept it separated from the original by three firewalls and carefully recreated exactly the way it looked and seemed to him. Because he took such care for even the precise measurements and placement of everything in the file, transcribing took a lot longer than would’ve otherwise been the case. As a result, he really hadn’t read much of the assigned material even by the late microcycle that Nine finally appeared to take them back to their regular classroom.

    He was relieved to see the familiar VR terminals sitting just where they’d left them.

    “I noticed that you didn’t read much.” Nine said quietly as she checked his connections into the system.

    “I was working on a file that Powertech and Sapphira wanted to see. Powertech’s presentation.” he owed her the truth, “For some reason, I can see where it’s redacted. It’s been heavily redacted.”

    She nodded.

    “You’re a passionate one, Magnus. But that won’t help the others. I need you to stay focused on getting the best grade possible. Ok?”

    “Yes, Professor.”

    He’d read enough to know that this time around he was supposed to be the doctor in the field hospital sim. Fortunately, because this was his first time, all the injuries, even the life threatening ones, were fairly simple. Still, he almost lost two patients – though his refusal to give up carried the cycle.

    “What did you learn, Magnus?” came the familiar question as the time to leave for the barracks approached.

    “I learned that simply not giving up can make all the difference between life and death. That ability may be limited by the willingness to give in.”

    “Foul!” Broadback fumed, “That’s technically two things.”

    Nine smiled, turned to Datadraw: “And you? Doctor?”

    “I remembered why I hated medical school even while I lived for the subject matter.”

    “Hmmm.... We’ll work with that. Quintus Ray?”

    “I learned the difference between a field inverter and a force grip, unfortunately.”

    “That’s why this class is no longer held in real field hospitals. Powertech?”

    “It would seem that certain forms of physical damage to the neck can greatly complicate repairs. My guess is that no matter if a spark is in the head or in the chest, at least some of the associated equipment is located in the neck. In this specific case it was the spark-chassis bridge.”

    “That’s actually a design flaw common to the whole 200 series, why we ended up with these larger armored buckets on our heads – which in very early models actually limited the mobility of the head and impaired visibility. Blitz, before I ask you what you learned, can you tell us if this was finally addressed?”

    “They told me that the bridge is now flush mounted but still in line with the neck. Early on when I was ... jittery, I’d write long prototype reports complaining about interference between the containment field and the bridge. Once, I almost died in an autoshower. Frag, that would’ve been annoying! ‘Here stands Blitz, he leaked to death.’”

    “Ok, that’s too much information.”

    “The problems did get sorted out.”

    “Moving right along. Cobatron?”

    “I learned I should be glad I’m not a prototype!” he said with a big grin.

    There was laughter from everyone who wasn’t a Combaticon, both of which were prototypes.

    “Seriously?” Nine said as things calmed down.

    “Well, I actually had no problems in there. So I guess I learned that these sims will sometimes give a student a pass.”

    “That sometimes happens. Ravage,” she kind of leaned forward with her hands on her knees as she smiled, “what did you learn?”

    “That a Predacon can’t convince even a simulated orderly that he’s a doctor. Not without extra-special persuasion. Does the class loose points because I shot him?”

    “No....” Nine seemed really nonplussed, “Not so long as you treated his wounds.... I guess.”

    “Oh, I fixed his knee up really nicely. Eventually.”

    “Good. We’ll call it even then.... Comdec?”

    “Maybe doctors should be shorter? There were times I had trouble seeing what I was doing because I was way too tall. The table wouldn’t adjust, the track lights were mounted just a bit too low and my midget of an orderly kept getting his head in the way.”

    “Just one moment.” she started inspecting his VR unit, “Ravage?”

    “Yes, Professor?”

    “Did you give Commander Shockwave our seating order the other cycle?”

    “He asked about it. Why?”

    “It would seem he missed his target. Unusually sloppy of him.”

    Magnus looked at Comdec seated right next to him, pursed his lips and considered the implications.

    “Can I get extra credit, then?” Comdec eagerly asked.

    “I’ll see what the Dean has to say. You did save your patients?”

    “Yes, Professor. All of them.”

    “Good! Harvester?”

    “I learned that being Magnus is contagious.”

    More laughter.

    “Buzzer?”

    “Professor ...”

    “Only one chance, Harvester. Buzzer?”

    “I encountered something similar to what Powertech did. But it was with a late 100 series whose spark-chassis bridge was located in his head completely separate from the spark containment chamber in the chest.”

    “Yes, the 200 series’ flaw was originally meant to be an improvement, sad to say it. Did you save the patient?”

    “Yes, but he seemed very different almost immediately.”

    “Nonrecoverable bridge damage. If he’d been a real person he’d be facing a lifetime of partial spark isolation ... a terrible condition that actually robs the victim of their sense of being alive.”

    “Whoa.”

    “Yes, ‘whoa.’ Havitron?”

    “Like Cobatron I didn’t have any problems. Which was odd considering how scared I was going into this class. What we’ve been through didn’t seem hardly enough to rate us as doctors of any sort.”

    “Actually, it doesn’t.... Havitron, why do you suppose the program gave you a pass?”

    He shrugged.

    “Cobatron, did you feel the same way coming into class?”

    “Yes, Professor Nine.”

    “Havitron, care to take another stab at my question?”

    He sat still for a moment: “Could the program have taken my lack of confidence into account?”

    “Exactly! Remember what you read early on, you’re programmed with the ability to use the tools and do the repairs. A doctor is someone who knows why – not just how. You and Cobatron let the material overwhelm you. I’m sorry, but this will affect your grade.”

    Magnus noticed how both of his friends seemed especially subdued.

    “Fastrack?”

    “In light of all that, overconfidence and a willing VR program are probably the reason why I did so badly. My patients had been ripped to shreds and I lost three. I know the difference between a doctor and a mere mechanic now.”

    “Overconfidence is better than underconfidence any cycle. Still, I noticed that you had some real problems in there. Broadback?”

    “Other than the importance of keeping my mouth shut – ‘cause I don’t think I would’ve been last otherwise –” some laughter from the room, “my own observations mirror Magnus’: going in I knew I could do the work, and I knew I didn’t know enough to second guess my own programming ... so I simply refused to give up even when programming told me to do something that turned out to be wrong.”

    “You expected your skills to be flawed?”

    “Not flawed ... limited. I knew that already. Last time I gave up too soon.”

    “I’d say that’s probably the most bitter lesson you’ve ever had to learn. I’m glad to see you’ve learned better since. Well done.”

    Broadback nodded but didn’t seem very happy.

    “Professor?”

    “Yes?”

    “Would there be room for two doctors in your crew?”

    Nine glanced away before she smiled and looked him straight in the eyes: “Broadback, if you want to get into medical school I’ll give you my full support!”

    “Thanks, Professor Nine.”

    “Well, that about does it for basic medicine. I expect to see you back here in two cycles ready for your first internal elective: Sociology. Until then, get lost and have some fun.”

    With that, Nine turned and left.

    “Wa-hoo! Shore leave at last!” Datadraw trumpeted as the door was closing behind her.

    “Nineteen cycles of almost nothing but work.” Powertech agreed.

    Magnus shared their obvious enthusiasm ... though with reservations. He seemed to get in more trouble when in unfamiliar surroundings. For a few microcycles he joked with the others about all they’d been through. Then Buzzer said what no one wanted to hear....

    “So, what do you guys want to do?”

    Comdec shook his head in exasperation: “Don’t start THAT again!”
     
  17. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 16: Shore Leave


    But it had already started. Fastrack grumbled at Buzzer for not having something in mind before he spoke up. There were several options in the works.

    Ravage wanted to take Magnus to meet with some veterans who always hung out at Alpha Trion’s place before going downtown. Something Buzzer seemed amiable to.

    Blitz and Powertech were certain that there was still time to get to the All-Iacon Cyberball Tournament’s opening game – the Steadfast Battalion's Dominators v. the Transit Authority’s Road Warriors. Even Datadraw had to admit that it was likely to be a real event, a first game that would determine the final outcome ... barring any upsets.

    Then there was the faction led by Comdec who wanted to go straight to the Arcade.

    “You must realize that Magnus’ account is already running negative.” Ravage said, “If it’s arcade you want I’ve got some really nice and free scenarios that you won’t find anywhere else. Including one in which the faces and bodies have been changed in order to protect Shockwave’s carapace.”

    “What just-boot doesn’t run up a debt that’ll take forty or more megacycles to pay off?” Harvester countered.

    “Early passions become lifelong passions.” Blitz joined the fray, “And cyberball is the bomb.”

    “He can play cyberball at the Arcade.” Comdec maneuvered.

    “Pffft!” Powertech hissed, “He can play that kind of cyberball in the Seeker’s lounge for free. We’re closing off the Academy with cyberball and Magnus should see how it’s done in the big leagues. Besides, real cyberball’s dynamics are completely different than tabletop’s.”

    Right then, Magnus noticed how he was the pawn in play to determine what everyone would do together.

    “Yeah, like you don’t already know the best moves?” Broadback tried to deflect the argument.

    “Like I have the physical presence to get into Division 1 play? As for skills, look, compared to these guys even I’m a poser.”

    “You know,” Ray said in a curiously flat tone, “the Road Warriors have a few female players.”

    “This is the guy who called you ‘bawdicron?’” Comdec said to Magnus.

    Magnus didn’t like being the pawn!

    “You know,” Magnus began, “the cyberball tournament does sound like it would be great fun. And I’ve seen the Arcade from afar – it looks ‘the bomb.’ But I did sorta make Ravage promise that he’d hook me up with some veterans.... Why don’t we split up and regroup later? That way no one misses any of the tournament who wants to see it.”

    “Yeah, I guess it would take too long to argue this one through.” Blitz said in a defeated way.

    “Actually,” Ravage jumped in, “I think I know these veterans pretty well. If they thought they could take in the game they’d be so there.... Not that any of them can afford it, mind you. Steadfast Battalion and Iacon 1st Artillery aren’t known for their retirement benefits.”

    “What about Alpha Trion?” Harvester asked Buzzer, “He’s got energon creds seeping out from between the chinks in his armor.”

    Buzzer shook his head: “Take creds from a friend? No way.”

    “But from us?”

    “Harvester, didn’t they take care of us long enough?”

    Havitron laid a hand on Harvester’s shoulder: “You were the one who said it was ok for someone who was young to run up debt.”

    “Apparently,” Magnus silently noted, “Havitron has swapped sides for cyberball.”

    Harvester was outmaneuvered and he knew it.

    “Ravage, if you’re so concerned about Magnus’ personal debt situation,” the still resisting Cobatron began, “then why are you suggesting this option?”

    “Did I suggest anything?” Ravage said innocently as he waved a hand towards Buzzer and Havitron.

    “Right, forty or sixty megacycles ... who’s counting? So Buzzer, how many old timers are we talking about here?”

    “Not sure, including Alpha Trion it could be as few as seven or as many as fifteen.”

    “Including– Yeah, I guess that would only be right.” Blitz quickly corrected himself.

    “You sold all your stuff before we came here.” Comdec grumbled.

    “Hey, S-O-P for a Combaticon.” he offered in defense.

    Harvester sighed: “Right, I really didn’t need to keep paying storage. Maybe we can have a depot sale?”

    “The Salagos would probably be too small for all our stuff anyways.” Comdec conceded as the deal was sealed, “Buzzer, why don’t you go round up our guest and meet us at the stadium? If we hurry we may still avoid the scrapers.”

    “One problem: how do we get them there?” Powertech asked.



    “This is a mistake.” Powertech said just as the door was opening.

    “Why?”

    “Because I’ll want to go too.” Lynx said from within the shuttle bay, “No way you’re leaving the Predacons by the curb tonight.”

    “How?”

    “My little informant.” Lynx pointed his nose towards Ravage as his gang plank hit the ground, “And I think this is great of you lot – not many would do something like this.”

    “Just get us there quickly.” Buzzer said as he was strapping in.

    “Tell you what, I’ll pay for my share of tickets if Ravage will do the same.”

    “But...”

    “Sounds fair to me.” Magnus chimed as Lynx started moving. This was gonna be expensive, no way was he gonna let Ravage skate.

    Lynx must’ve been moving even faster than the first time. For a while Magnus wondered about the pedestrians he was running through. Then they came screeching to a halt.

    “I’ll use the inertial dampers from now on.” Lynx said innocently.

    “–You–!”

    “Calm down, Powertech.” Buzzer patted him on the head, “Ravage and I will be right back. This is going to be an easy sell.”

    Indeed it was. Soon Alpha Trion and nine others, a mixture of 100 series Combaticons and Autobots along with two Autobots in presumably original chassis, were excitedly shuffling onto Lynx.

    “You always were considerate.” one of the unarmored Autobots said to Buzzer.

    “Don’t thank just me. Magnus here played a decisive role in this little foray. Blitz too.”

    “I think I remember him,” one of the Combaticons said, “he used to follow old Harrier around like a lost Predacon.”

    “Maximal.” Lynx and Ravage corrected in unison.

    “Never met one, sad to say.”



    “Nice, functional inertial dampers.” Powertech observed after they’d been gone for a while.

    “Especially when I’m flying.” Lynx purred.

    Powertech glared.

    “Well, he was able to fly in the simulation.” Buzzer sighed.

    “Simulation?”

    “That was me as you.” Ravage answered.

    “Ah, a chassis jacker.”

    “Just doing as told.”

    “By the way, I called ahead and they’ve got the tickets all lined up.”

    There was a round of cheers.

    “We’re in the middle of the Transit Authority’s bleachers.”

    A moment of silence.

    “Well,” an Autobot named Omega Tau said, “they probably won’t mind us cheering for the Dominators ... too much.”

    After calling back to make sure concessions were taken care of – “This is going to be expensive!” Magnus silently fretted – Lynx came to a stop and let them all out. The gatekeeper balked at letting the Predacon in and made sure to inspect Lynx for freeloaders – twice once he realized a politician had been onboard – before he finally let them through.

    Then there was drama in the stands that ended with Lynx agreeing to let people in higher seats camp out on his back.

    Magnus glanced around, quite a few of the fans roundabout were crudely painted in the same color scheme, orange and yellow, which reminded him of nothing less than that Obstructicon cone. They were fairly high up in the stands ... which was nice because it should be easier to see what’s happening on the field from up here. The field was a 20x28 grid ... larger than in table–

    A roar erupted from the far bleachers as a group of recent super 200s in purple livery came running out onto the field.

    “Hee’ya’ha!” the veterans and Blitz all yelled out in time with the other fans.

    Then a commotion from the surrounding stands.

    “Ahhh ... this itchy back is driving me crazy!” Lynx complained.

    Any commotion from above quieted down as other Road Warrior’s fans started laughing at something up there – some of them pointing.

    Then their stands went screwloose for a similar team in yellow and orange livery. They had a special yell, too.

    Down below, the barrier in front of the stands seemed to quiver.

    “Safer up here, too.” Magnus added to his earlier observations.

    After the preliminary meeting of team captains the chief referee handed each team their ball and had them withdraw to their starting positions. The Dominators placed their fourth unit forward with the ball while the Road Warriors put their fourth unit in the second starting grid and gave the ball to the unit in the third starting grid. A hush descended over the stadium as the massive score board rolled up five points against each team. When “5-5” was displayed the teams sprang into action even as the crowd started cheering.

    Both teams started passing their ball around in order to capture unopposed territory to lay out their positions for the first assault. Dominators took less territory while the Road Warriors intentionally captured a huge swath at the cost of one attacker.

    “Setting up a unit for roaming defense.” Alpha Trion explained as he leaned forward to Magnus’ ear.

    Magnus nodded, Powertech had already explained that in real cyberball a player could only score, attack or defend. Thus the units. Alpha Trion must’ve picked up on the conversation they’d had on the way over and was now acting like the teacher he was.

    Once the player had left the field, the referee started the clock again.

    Dominators passed the ball to a unit that moved unopposed into Road Warriors’ territory, causing one defending unit to pull back to maintain integrity of their lines. At the same time, Road Warriors pushed into the middle to face immediate resistance as their attacker grappled with the Dominators’ defender for possession of the grid. They passed the ball to another unit so it could advance. Meanwhile, a second Dominators unit had their ball and had run right into the two player defensive unit ... only to be repulsed from the grid by its shapely defender.

    Fans around them cheered.

    In response Omega Tau led their besieged section: “Road Warriors, Road Warriors have a plan! But if they can’t do it? GREAT!!!”

    A half eaten energon goody bounced off of Omega Tau’s head. Someone below caught it and yelled back their thanks.

    The tactical battle for position to score was joined below even as Alpha Trion continued to quietly – as possible – describe the nuances to Magnus.

    “Advance, pass and counter. That’s the key. The Road Warriors are being unusually clingy tonight.”

    True enough, the Dominators were passing more. Then – just as the Road Warriors seemed about to score – a referee called time out. Everything quieted down while he and another referee consulted and checked some hand held devises. Finally the chief referee spoke up: “Will the person in the stands with the transmitter please turn it off. You almost caused a penalty for the Road Warriors.”

    In a lower section near the field’s western boundary – and the Dominators’ goal – someone seemed to wave as if offering apologies. In response those around him picked him up and passed him to those above. The whole stadium “Whoa”-ed their way up the scale as the hapless fellow was passed along and finally thrown over the back of the stands to the sound of unanimous applause.

    “Was he one of ours?” Broadback asked.

    The referees waited for the crowd to quiet down. Then the clock restarted.

    In moments Road Warriors had occupied the Dominators’ goal. The scoreboard changed to “5-4” and a scorer – the one from the already smaller unit – left the field.

    “A purely defensive unit now” Alpha Trion dryly commented.

    “Not a bad looking one, either.” Ray sighed.

    Before the referee began the clock again, the scoring unit withdrew a few grids even as the Dominators ceded territory back to the field to rework their defense.

    Someone from the western bleachers yelled out: “He’s mostly ok!”

    “Note to self:” Magnus mused, “never bring a transmitter till you learn how to fly.”

    Then the Dominators scored while Magnus was watching the Road Warriors too closely. “4-4” all. A defender from one team near the front of their territory retired.

    “You’re too focused, Magnus. Try to see the patterns that are developing and not individual actions.”

    Then the Dominators scored again after the Road Warriors suddenly pulled back from what seemed a sure score. An attacker and a scorer deep in their territory retired, creating a purely defensive unit.

    “Easier said than done.”

    “If you think it’s hard up here, just imagine what it’s like down there?” his teacher admonished.

    The Road Warriors repositioned one unit and their lonely defender, leaving their goal wide open.

    “What are they doing?” Magnus asked.

    “Trying to force the Dominators to score again. That way they’d loose three players.”

    “They can do that?”

    “Supply line. If they can cut them off they’ll have to move to the goal or else loose the unsupplied units altogether.”

    “But...”

    “They might be able to sustain a ‘2-0’ sweep at that point.”

    Magnus thought he understood – scoring multiple times in a row became more costly. It was obvious that the Dominators knew they were in trouble. They managed to withdraw and rebuild a defensible territory. As they did so, the Road Warriors got their ball to a forward unit which was stymied by a defender. These Dominators counter attacked but couldn’t budge the other of the Road Warriors’ shapely defenders.

    Magnus started to reappraise his opinion on the relative strength of females, maybe their odd shape wasn’t the disadvantage he’d imagined it would be.

    A pass of the ball and the Road Warriors had evened the score at “3-3.” They gave up a second attacker from the forward positioned unit with the female defender, leaving them with two purely defensive units. The referee called time out and a new start.

    “Strange choice for attrition.” Alpha Trion informed.

    Smaller teams returned to their starting positions and ceded all territory to the field.

    As the clock restarted the Road Warriors took ground more carefully than at first, the lone defender taking up a place near their goal once she was able to.

    “Why are females so effective?”

    “Lower center of gravity. As skilled as those ladies are, it’s a hard advantage to overcome.”

    Magnus understood, it was just like between Powertech and Sideways.

    Then the Dominators made a full frontal assault with three units. They pushed the Road Warriors back until the lone female defender body slammed an attacker with terrific force.

    “She could body slam me any cycle.” Ray blurted out before getting pelted with wrapper foil from all sides.

    “Hey, last time you threw energon?!” he turned to some of his ‘attackers.’

    “Last time I wasn’t thinking the same thing!” someone laughed in response.

    Still, the Dominators had one more attacker than the Road Warriors had defenders. Bit by bit they moved around the lady unmovable till they’d scored again. This time they gave up another defender.

    Road Warriors’ fans cheered the choice.

    “I don’t get it?” Magnus wondered aloud.

    “I’m afraid our boys might.” Alpha Trion confided, “With two attack only units and a solitary defender, they’ll need to keep the intact unit in reserve to maintain their lines.”

    “So they gave up flexibility?”

    “They must have–”

    Alpha Trion cut himself short as Dominators surged forward again, taking advantage of a gap opened by the Road Warriors’ own advance. For some reason the Dominators kept trying to dislodge the lone defender rather than flank her. Then a last moment pass flanked both beleaguered defenders and they were in the goal.

    A commotion arose in the stands as the clock stopped. The referees were talking among themselves ... for a long time.

    “Alpha Trion?” Magnus asked his willing tutor.

    “They tried to score simultaneously, that way neither side would loose a player.” he said in a hushed tone.

    “Huh?” Magnus was really confused.

    The chief referee called the play: “Tie-score, return to starting positions, 1-2 game.”

    Road Warriors fans hurled abuse at the referees.

    As the game started up again the Road Warriors held both female defenders in the rear guard. Which drew a cheer from the stands.

    But the Dominators only needed to score one more time. Right?

    Not exactly – both females working together were able to hold off all three attacking units while Road Warriors easily flanked the lone defender.

    Then disaster: the lone defender couldn’t maintain any territory given that he couldn’t advance on his own. They had to give up their assault to try to reestablish their lines. The counterattack failed. Then the final assault failed.

    The referee called the game: “1-1, tactical victory: Road Warriors.”

    Yellow and orange streamers flew through the air amid the sounds of celebrating. Someone dumped a 3/4s empty energon infusion on Alpha Trion’s head and chanted “Who’s number one?” a few times.

    Alpha Trion simply sat there until some of the liquid dribbled over his mustache. He tasted it: “Mmmm, extra sweet.”

    After the celebrating had settled down, and fans left Lynx’s back, they all started for the nearest exit. A merry debate was in progress over the course of the game. Then – as they reached ground level – Alpha Trion seemed to panic and tried to hide behind Magnus. Which was odd considering how Magnus was the smaller of the two.

    “There you are, A-3!” a female with a chassis similar yet suitably different to Alpha Trion’s called out.

    “Why, hello, Beta.”

    “Don’t ‘why, hello’ me! I thought that we were supposed to watch the game together on your big screen?”

    “Well, these nice youngsters arrived and offered to take my friends to the game proper–”

    “So you tagged along to ensure that everything went well for them?”

    “Well–”

    “What about their dates, Mister Considerate? The ones I’d arranged?”

    “You see–”

    “Didn’t you think about waiting for us? We fought in that little war thing too. Maybe these nice boys would’ve wanted to treat us as well?”

    “Step away from the condemned.” an Autobot name Arctacon whispered to Magnus.

    Alpha Trion shot Arctacon a glare before shuffling over to Beta.

    “Can I make it up to you ladies?”

    “Well, you can afford to make a few allowances.”

    The old general seemed to be weighing his options.

    “Some guys get all the luck.” Ray emoted nearby.

    “You don’t think it has something to do with the fact that he’s handsome, wealthy and powerful ... do you?” Omega Tau asked in response.

    Ray seemed deep in thought. He was running a finger along his mouth.

    “Nope!” Arctacon laughed, “Has to be the mustache.”

    “I wasn’t thinking–”

    “We know you weren’t, rookie.” Arctacon gave him a chuck on the shoulder, “Thanks for the night. Getting to see someone dump an infusion on old A-3’s head was worth it all.”

    “Yeah, that was kinda funny.” Buzzer agreed.

    “Buzzer?” Alpha Trion called out from where he and Beta had been talking.

    “Sir?”

    “Can the boys and I borrow Lynx and Ravage for a while? I’ll make sure they get back to you in tiptop condition.”

    “How will we get back into town?”

    “I can provide cab fare –hiaa– AND some walking around creds.”

    “Whatever you think is fair, A-3.”

    Fair turned out to be downright generous. Not nearly enough to pay for what the game and concessions had cost, but more than enough to avoid any near term hardships. Magnus noted that he’d got an extra little something, too.

    “Probably for Ravage’s services.” Blitz confided.

    “In that case, he’ll likely want to hand them over to Lynx later.” Magnus pocketed the extra energon creds by themselves in his leg compartment, “What?”

    No one said anything, even though they were all smiling at him.

    “What?”

    “You’re a keeper.” Blitz grabbed him by the shoulder and started walking him towards their cab.
     
  18. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 17: Historical Blues


    As the door closed behind Comdec, the unseen cabbie’s voice was heard over the intercom: “Where to?”

    “I dunno,” Buzzer grinned broadly, “what do you guys want to do?”

    “Buzzer, you’re so lucky that Battletech confiscated my pistol!”

    “Seriously?” Buzzer’s smile faded a bit.

    “We could still go to the Arcade. Not everything there is expensive.” Datadraw allowed.

    “Why don’t we have that group discussion Magnus was working on?” Blitz offered, “I know a quiet place with energon infusions to order, 1001 Styles.”

    “They have a few good games there, too.” Havitron offered.

    “I’m really not ready.”

    “How far along are you?”

    “I’d put off The Summation of Megatron till I’d learned more about him. Taken a stab at The Ordinary Soldier, Till All Are One, The Lost, Proposal for Law Reform and The Call of Liberty – as everyone already knows.”

    “About halfway, then?” Blitz mulled it over, “That’s probably enough for one sitting – between drinks and games. Anyone to second?”

    Ray shook his head: “You seem to be setting our agenda again, Blitz.”

    “Hey, I’m a Combaticon, we’re almost as aggressive as powertechs.”

    Laughter rang through the cab even as Powertech protested that he wasn’t THAT bad.

    “Sure, sounds good to me.” Broadback seconded, “A third?”

    “Magnus, did you get to that little issue?” Powertech prodded.

    “Just the other night.”

    “I’ll third, then. Magnus has some surprises for you folks. Not that he should explain himself just yet.”

    “You and the little guy up to no good?” Datadraw asked.

    “Depends on your definition of ‘no good?’”

    “I’ll fourth.” Fastrack blurted out.

    “Hey, I was supposed to ‘fourth!’” Datadraw protested.

    Magnus took note: the cab had already started moving. Seems the cabbie knew which way the fumes were venting.

    1001 Styles turned out to be a larger, busier and more decorative version of the Reunion Lounge on Seeker. A large booth was arranged for and a sipper sampler was ordered.

    “Are there really 1001 styles?” Magnus asked as he checked the sonic screen’s controls to make sure it was set at maximum.

    “There are probably millions by now.” Datadraw informed, “Way back when, ‘1001 Styles’ was probably a dig at the former masters of Cybertron, who only allowed straight up or extra sweet depending on what kind of badge you had. Or so the story goes.”

    “Actually, infusions were the only way it was legal to get energon with a resonance signature lower than planetary average.” Ray added.

    “Where’d you hear that?”

    “I read it on the wall near the entrance while we were waiting. Am I the only one who ever reads those things?”

    “Probably.” Broadback smugly asserted.

    “They don’t put them there to be ignored!”

    “Sorry guys,” Harvester announced to the table, “this is a long standing debate with the three of us.”

    “Hey, no problem.” Datadraw allowed, “So Ray, what else did it say?”

    “Just a lot of facts about the on and off again temperance movement that keeps sweeping Cybertron – how 1001 Styles has survived it all.”

    “Amazing, vital history is hardly known, but for the ups and downs of enhanced energon and those who serve it to you....” Magnus shook his head.

    “Magnus,” Blitz seemed hesitant, “speaking of history, who was that other Alpha with Soundwave?”

    “Oculon.” Magnus shrugged.

    “The Transformer?!” several of his friends blurted out even as the waitdrone brought the sampler tray.

    “Yes ... he can change shape....”

    “That has gotta be SO ice cold!” Havitron mused.

    “Well, I’ve been told that there are drawbacks.... Guys, is Oculon famous or something?”

    “Not famous,” Blitz said with less enthusiasm than Havitron, “just well known in the civil defense forces ... seeing that he’s in charge of internal affairs and the like.”

    “Doctor Sapphira calls him ‘the Decepticon.’”

    “Strange thing to call him,” Blitz allowed, “considering that he’s supposedly one of the few real historians on all of Cybertron.”

    “’Supposedly?’” Powertech pressed.

    “It’s something Harrier once told me, about how he became obsessed early on and is supposed to be writing this massive history of our world – none of which has ever been published.”

    Magnus held the words in: “Is Oculon like Primus?”

    “You figured it was Oculon?” Harvester asked.

    “Yeah. I’d never actually seen him before – not that I knew of anyway – but Harrier once showed me an image from Megatron’s inauguration: there was this low-wear sub-giant standing there in the background by Artemus’ shin. Harrier told me who it was and that I should watch out for him. That's when I learned about The Summation of Megatron from someone who had actually heard it.”

    “He was there?”

    “In charge of the mobile PA studio they were using, in a small transport that ended up being just outside the blast zone. Harrier almost beat Primus and Alpha Trion to where they found Megatron.” Blitz reached over and grabbed a sipper labeled “SA113” and took a small sip, “He said that the old general’s countenance just sank, that he rarely smiled afterwards – mainly when Shockwave would prank someone really good. Harrier told me to watch out for him too.” Blitz smiled as he paused, “Anyway, like you guys I’d always heard that it was a Terranoirian Separatist who set the bomb, but Harrier wasn’t so sure.... Magnus, you should try this, but just a tiny sip, it’s bitter enough without you slamming it back.”

    Magnus tried the mixture. There was nothing sweet about it, but in moderation the bitterness wasn’t unpleasant. Somehow subtle, he couldn’t make out the trace elements responsible for the effect. Blitz had him pass it around.

    He continued: “He said that it seemed like the investigating officer – Oculon – was part of some sort of cover up – not that he blamed him for it, mind you.... You guys want to hear the whole Summation before we talk about it?”

    “It’s been redacted too?” Powertech grumbled.

    “What hasn’t been?” Buzzer chimed in.

    Blitz began a familiar sounding speech that soon included a number of important details which had not been there before. Nothing about Quintessons, Magnus noted, but more than enough about how the rebellion began and how it would end – or rather never end – unless it was stopped. Then the speech took an odd turn. Megatron had begun to expound a theory about someone he called the “27th Primus” but, just as it was getting interesting, Blitz stopped his presentation in mid-sentence.

    “That’s when the bomb blew up.” he said dryly.

    “‘27th Primus?’” Comdec wondered aloud.

    “He’ll save Cybertron, or destroy it. He’s to be a great hero, or a false-Primus. Peace or endless war. Harrier said that he’d gone over his own personal recording time and again looking for a clue about which it was. It was part of something he gave me. Something I want to share with my friends as a memorial for my friend.”

    “But, a ‘27th?’” Comdec continued to flounder.

    “Artemus told me that all coordinators of Cybertron’s armies were called ‘Primus’ and that the Primus we know about was actually the 24th.” Magnus informed.

    “That would make Maximus the 27th Primus.”

    “It was only a theory.” Blitz said bluntly, “We don’t even have all of it.”

    He reached up to a place in his neck and pressed in. A small armored door opened, revealing two bluish data crystals and a red one. He took the red one and put it in his own personal comm, passed it around the table. One by one, they took in the contents.

    Magnus found that there was a lot there. Much more than The Summation of Megatron – old images, poems in a strange meter, essays on battle tactics and fighting styles. A wealth of little gifts that the old Combaticon had given Blitz.

    “We seem to be an especially well informed group.” Powertech observed.

    “Not really,” Buzzer countered, “Alpha Trion once told me that everything is remembered by someone or by the someone they told. It’s just that there’s so much that he figured you’d have to be insane to actually want to write it all down. Not that he didn’t try once himself.... Thanks, Blitz.”

    Buzzer reached for a sipper labeled “SA033” and took a sip before handing it off to Blitz, who then started passing it around. Magnus found this mixture to be hauntingly sweet and dry. Another subtle blend he couldn’t decipher.

    “Who’s next?” Blitz turned to Magnus.

    “Harvester, his Proposal for Law Reform is an enigma whose origins I couldn’t uncover.”

    “Another one of those little memories courtesy of the scientist who brought me into this life. He wanted me to be a scientist like him, but then he made the mistake of telling me about a law that might’ve prevented the civil war from ever happening. It inspired me. When I told him that I was going to join the defense forces to do what I could to end the rebellion he as much disowned me. Renamed me on the spot because my first name was too good for a harvester of death like me.”

    “Harvester ...” Blitz was subdued.

    “Hey, that jerk will never again find anyone that’ll measure up to his standards – so they can have that special little name of his. I’m actually happier being Harvester. Anyway, here’s how things could’ve been.”

    Harvester proceeded to tell them the nuances behind the proposal and how things could’ve been different. But for its provenance and the role it played in Harvester’s life, it was really dull stuff.

    Magnus did pick up on the fact that Harvester didn’t want to talk about either the scientist or his old name, though.

    “Well, I’m glad to say that Till All Are One is much more mundane where I’m concerned.” Datadraw began after Magnus had chosen him to go third, “It was a text I found in medical school and it inspired me to always do my best. It’s been around a long time, so long that I’d doubted the indicated date until Magnus here told us how many had been ‘Primus.’ My guess is that its author, Primacron, was around at the very beginning. Never found anything else by him. Next?”

    “You’re cheating us.” Magnus accused, “If it was inspirational then tell us why. How did you find it?”

    Datadraw sighed: “Very well, if you want the long version which contains no new information but plenty of minutiae.”

    He picked up a sipper with standard extra sweet and passed it around as he told them of a chance discovery that took place while he was bored and plugging parameters into a search engine. Then his reaction to the discovery and how it changed his life ever so slightly for the better.

    “Not bad, Datadraw. Buzzer, you’re next.”

    “How about a game first?” Buzzer countered.

    Everyone looked to Blitz.

    “What? Buzzer has the table, so we do what Buzzer wants!”

    “Great! Tunnel Crawlers – a place like this should have the most recent updates.”

    Indeed it did. Tunnel Crawlers was a full VR sim that provided pre-made characters for the players along with an array of suitable preprogrammed talents and skills. The whole thing took place on an outpost world called “Chaar” ... a planet that had been literally burnt through. Magnus followed the skills-focused character selection routine and came up with a choice between a mission specialist, a communications officer or an archaeologist. He chose the communications officer character – an Autobot named “Techna” – because it was more flexible than the mission specialist and had better combat skills than the archaeologist.

    As Magnus/Techna scanned the horizon from the shelter of an observation lounge where he’d materialized, he heard a door open behind him. He turned to see an unfamiliar face that also had an unfamiliar name – Dynatron – as unfamiliar details of an unfamiliar friendship on this unfamiliar world came to mind.

    The new comer broke a lip-biting grin and seemed to be near hysteria.

    “Ummmm ... ‘Techna?’” an unfamiliar voice asked.

    “Yes?” Magnus/Techna responded.

    Dynatron started to laugh out loud as the door closed behind him.

    Annoyed at not being in on the joke, Magnus/Techna waited impatiently for him to stop. When Dynatron didn’t stop soon enough, he grabbed him, put him in a head lock and slammed his face against the glass – the neat thing about virtual pain is that it only virtually hurts. It was enough to get Dynatron to stop laughing, though.

    “Stop! Let go! It’s me ... Dynatron– I mean ... oh frag! Do you know somebody named Cobatron?”

    “Cobatron? Is that you?” Magnus/Techna asked as he released him.

    “I think it might be. I always hated how this game made it too hard to be yourself.” he looked up at Magnus/Techna and started laughing again, “Of course for some it may end up being even harder than average!”

    “Why would that be hard for me?” Magnus/Techna asked.

    “Don’t worry, I’m sure we can access the game’s options menu from a nearby panel and choose a more suitable variant of the Techna character for you.”

    “Why would I want to do that?”

    “Techna, are you Magnus?”

    “I ...” actually, it was hard to think of herself as “Magnus” ... he knew he was Magnus ... but it was hard to express the thought.

    “Techna, think about me, about Dynatron. Do any of the details of our friendship seem ... odd to you?”

    Techna tried to comply but nothing seemed out of place. Sure, she and Dynatron had fraternized a bit, but the background ... files ... indicated ... oh!

    “There was nothing in the character selection files to indicate that I’m a female!” she counted her ... HIS blessings that Shockwave was no where to be found, “I mean that Techna is a female.” she added weakly.

    “I’m sorry, but Communications Officer Techna has been a main character since the very first version of the game. That info probably got cut since it’s useless.... Normally.”

    Dynatron started working on the nearby console: “Ah, here we go, Dawntracer ... not as skilled as Techna but a bit better with a gun.”

    “Why not leave things the way they are? This is just a character in a game?”

    “Ummm ... yeah, I know. Lots of guys play ladies and ladies play guys and it’s all harmless fun ... but none of them are Magnus.”

    For some reason, that actually made sense. More worrisome is that it made more sense to Techna.

    “Dawntracer, eh?” memories of a lackluster and boorish junior officer who would probably get the whole team killed when they needed him most – as Magnus or Techna he/she was loath to leave his/her friend’s lives in his hands ... but Techna was more sensitive to the potential for embarrassment given the unique situation that was in the works and actually made the decision, “Dawntracer, then.”

    In moments Techna was gone and Dawntracer was IN THE HOUSE! Magnus instantly didn’t like the character – he reminded him of Ravage in a bad way. He also didn’t like the way that Techna had dismissed his abilities and presumed that he’d get everyone killed....

    This is a really weird game.” Magnus – the real Magnus – silently wondered as he followed Dynatron out the door and into the mission.

    Which aptly included crawling through tunnels as a prelude to fighting huge mutant monsters that reminded him – the real Magnus – of Cyberodd. Just that these critters were smarter, uglier and more varied – even though the violence wasn’t as graphic.

    “I’m not gonna tell anyone about that thing back there.” Dynatron covertly told Dawntracer at one point.



    “We did good!” Buzzer emoted as they returned to their table, “Though I was surprised to see Dawntracer.... Magnus here must be a bit of a pirate at the code level!”

    “Arrrrrr!” Magnus growled as he winked, “It’s still your turn, Buzzer.”

    “Indeed it is.”

    Buzzer began to explain in detail what had happened all those megacycles ago that had prompted Alpha Trion and Theodan to make so grand an exit. He spoke admirably of how the two had regaled the council with their rendition of: “Why not surrender now?” Though he never actually said that this was a memorial for Theodan like Blitz had for Harrier, Magnus got the feeling that much more was being told about the Combaticon than was necessary to explain the text of the speech.

    “Wow,” Cobatron said, “I’d always imagined that a politician could still be competent!”

    “They are – individually. But put them all together in a room and it’d make even the most ardent fan of Till All Are One question Primacron’s sanity.”

    “That is not what that’s about!” Datadraw protested.

    “The title says it all, sorry, not gonna back down on this one. Magnus?”

    “Ray, tell us about The Ordinary Soldier?”

    “Saving Powertech for last? Anyway, I first heard it at the Theorum on amateur night.”

    “People actually go to that?” Powertech jabbed.

    “I was performing, thank you.”

    “Ooooh, performing what?” Broadback asked.

    “You know.”

    “But they don’t.” Harvester countered.

    “It was ... the battle sequence from The Primus, I was Artemus....”

    “Rolling around –not– life size versions of the props!”

    “Thanks, Broadback. I’m sure everyone would like to hear how that heckler kept telling me that I should’ve indicated the scale on the drawings which I gave to the stagecrafters.”

    “Maybe later.” Havitron smiled and winked.

    “Fine.”

    Ray detailed how – after he’d retreated off the stage – this other thespian had come on and began a superb retelling of The Ordinary Soldier. It inspired him to stop being a sometimes data grubber for the government and actually join up. Changed his life.

    “Have you given up on being an actor?” Magnus asked.

    “No. Maybe we should take in the Theorum one night after graduation, you’d wow them with one of Primus’ real speeches.”

    “Powertech? The Lost?”

    “Has anyone wondered what a redacted file would look like if you could see the areas that were removed?”

    “That makes no sense.” Comdec admonished, “If it’s redacted ... it’s redacted!”

    “If I didn’t have my own reasons to believe it possible, my reaction would’ve been the same as yours. But Magnus here can see the unseeable.”

    Powertech produced a data plate from the recesses of his body and handed it off to Magnus.

    “It has extra security features. They gave us data plates like this not long after our rescue.”

    Magnus transferred the full text and text-areas to the data plate and returned it to Powertech. After inspecting the results, Powertech handed the data plate to Comdec and they started to pass it around.

    While they did so, Magnus sampled the sampler tray – being very careful of how much he was consuming. It was amazing how much variety just changing the trace elements could achieve. True, only straight up or extra sweet was actually balanced to needs ... but wasn’t life more than just having what you needed? All this redacting had driven the point relentlessly home for Magnus.

    “The first so-and-so who redacts one of MY speeches,” he silently mused, “will see my foot in their manifold! Then I’ll get rough.”

    By then, Powertech had explained how he and others like him could see where their own files had been redacted, leaving empty areas with a sense for less critical words – just as Magnus had indicated for The Lost. He told them how he’d not known who Deltacron was and how the meaning of the text had changed for him.

    “What security protocols did you use in transcribing this?”

    “A triple firewall between my reference and workspace.”

    “Ice cold!” Fastrack emoted, “I love puzzles! They’re better than games any cycle.”

    “Fastrack, this puzzle may be sinister.” Datadraw observed as he was looking at the data plate.

    “We noticed the date too. How about helping us decode this mystery?”

    “If you’d brought this up earlier, we’d not be broke right now.” Buzzer observed.

    “But then you would’ve missed seeing someone dump an energon infusion on Alpha Trion’s head.” Magnus countered.

    “True.” he grinned broadly.

    “Magnus, are you near your limit yet?” Datadraw asked.

    “No more for me, samples or otherwise.”

    “Good, then you keep us from going off on tangents.”

    “I don’t get to work on the text?”

    “You get to keep us working on the text. We can’t actually see this. We need you to keep us going in the right direction.”

    “Well, since you put it that way....”

    Microcycle on microcycle passed and little was achieved.

    “Time to go.” Blitz said as he drained the last of the sampler tray, “We’re no longer paying customers.”

    “It’s almost dawn anyway.” Cobatron observed, “Anyone up for a game?”

    “Sorry, I’ve got an early doctor’s appointment.” Powertech sighed.

    “Sapphira?”

    “No, Ray. His name is Rightway and he’s an old friend of Sapphira’s. She claims he may be able to help me with this vent port problem.”

    “We’ll send Magnus with you for protection.” Cobatron beamed.

    “I don’t need protection!” Powertech snapped.

    “Did I say that he’d be protecting you?”

    Magnus grumbled.

    But Powertech seemed to be thinking it over.

    “Magnus, that might be a good idea.”

    “I’d like another stab at those games.”

    “You can do that later. I do need to meet up with the doctors, though.”

    No one else seemed to notice the use of the plural – “doctors” – since they were busy arguing what game was best for all.

    “Sounds fair to me.”

    “Ice cold!” Powertech pocketed the data plate and led Magnus out into the ruddy gray of morning.

    A taxi ride later – charged to Alpha Trion – they were standing before a glass storefront which displayed several nonfunctioning chassis enhanced with various cosmetic add ons. Everything from mustaches to horns to functional retractable claws was on display in the window. Lots more besides that could be seen within.

    “Those claws are a waste,” Powertech saw where Magnus was looking, “the alloy isn’t up to what you’d need if you wanted to do real damage.”

    “Just trying to imagine how that would feel ... in my fingers.”

    “I know someone who got them, he absent mindedly flicks them in and out all the time. I think they irritate him – but he’s stuck with them now.... Hey, I think I see Sapphira.”

    She was chatting with Rightway – who wasted no time taking Powertech to his lab.

    “He doesn’t get many challenges.” Sapphira said after they’d left.

    “I transcribed that file we’d talked about. Powertech has it on a data plate.”

    “Really? I’ll get it from him later on.”

    “We sorta shared it with the others.”

    She turned to him, smiling broadly: “Let’s window shop for a bit.”

    Taking him by the arm, she led him onto the street. There were actually numerous shops like Rightway’s close by. All showing off their wares.

    “Sapphira, is gender like these cosmetic add ons?”

    She shot him a curious look: “Not really. Why?”

    “What happens to cause it? Why am I a guy while you’re female?”

    She pulled him into a very busy store front, one too busy for the staff on hand, and led him to a side.

    “If I didn’t know you remembered a ... ‘sister’ you had called her? Well, don’t let this get out, but ... no one’s really sure why we even have gender.” she whispered, “What brought this on?”

    He told her.

    “It must be a knack for you.... Magnus, you responded perfectly to the Techna character. Any difficulty was probably because you weren’t ready for it.”

    “So, plop my spark and personality circuitry into a female chassis, flip a switch and I’d be a girl?”

    “It doesn’t work that way.”

    “Ok, just my spark.”

    “Magnus ... if you and I were to change chassis all of a sudden – sparkswap – when all was said and done I’d be the first Alpha ready female and you’d be just another guy in a 287HL chassis. Confused memories might pose a problem, but ... well....”

    “Sparks are inherently male or female?”

    That actually made sense to Magnus.

    “That’s reading a bit much into it.”

    A clerk came over and asked them if they needed help.

    “Oh, no!” she grabbed hold of his arm and held him close – which felt nice, “We’re just browsing.”

    “I like horns.” she added in haste.

    “We have a fine selection of head enhancements, some with special abilities.”

    “Thanks, but right now we’re talking aesthetics.”

    “Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you?”

    The clerk walked away to help someone else.

    “You like horns?” Magnus asked, though not sure why.

    “Why don’t we walk over there and look like we’re looking at those.” she whispered and pointed to a display of things that could be horns.

    “What’s a ‘sparkswap?’”

    “I’d say it was an old urban legend promoted by matrons who want to keep their girls in line: but I once saw a credible case file in medical school. Can we leave it at that?”

    “But we are gonna talk about it later, right?”

    “Probably not. Look, Magnus, when one of our people boots up it sometimes happens that they’re female. Historically, the percentage has been as low as 1 in 20 or as high as 1 in 8. Right now it’s near 1 in 20 and has been that way for a long time.”

    “Why?”

    “Working theory? The Allspark makes the decision, or else Vector Sigma is simply programmed to make a certain number of males for every female. No one is sure. But once a spark is associated with a gender, that’s it. At least for that life.”

    “But the game?”

    “Pretense only. Look, if you played Tunnel Crawlers and Techna till you even forgot your own name, you’d simply be confused. Meeting the real Techna would snap you out of it in an instant ... you’d see that you, a he, aren’t Techna, a she.”

    “There’s a real Techna?”

    “And she’s stuck on the absolute worst planet in the cosmos. They keep hoping that the game will pay for that ship they lost – not an approach I’d try. Did you look in a mirror in the game?”

    “No.”

    “You’d remember her as a cream white and rust red 287HL, a bit shorter and slimmer than me. From that other game – the one Ravage showed you.”

    “The one I don’t remember under any circumstances?”

    “Right!”

    Magnus looked at the display with some interest. Maybe she did like horns. Maybe she didn’t. Either way, he could get them for this loaner chassis to find out and still be uncommitted. Not a bad plan.
     
  19. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 18: Golden Disk


    “Didn’t I tell you to protect him?” Cobatron sounded genuinely flabbergasted.

    “He went window shopping with the good doctor while I was in the lab.” Powertech sounded defensive, “After she left us, he cornered Rightway and wouldn’t be denied.”

    Magnus didn’t know what the fuss was about. They were just horns – not really subtle, but still dignified – now decorating the sides of his armored head. They even had a genuine function as passive high-gain receivers.

    “‘Good doctor?’” Ray wised up, “As in the good doctor Sapphira?”

    “She needed to brief Rightway on my condition.”

    “Actually, he’s got a point, Ray.” Datadraw observed.

    “And Magnus has two.” Ray jabbed.

    “I like them.” Magnus said with an air of finality.

    It was quiet for a moment.

    “I didn’t say they don’t look good.” Ray backpedalled, “But Magnus, any modification can be serious business. What grade of alloy was used? Is the structural integrity of your shell damaged or have conductive weak points been added? There are a lot of things to consider.”

    “In answer to your questions, Rightway used mil-spec alloys matched to my chassis, reinforced the inner plates and allowed for breakaway before worse damage. Also, any connections are by fuse-interrupted contact points. He does good work. They don’t feel any different than the rest of my head does.”

    “Sounds pricey.”

    “He was willing to work for trade.”

    The room was silent.

    “You aren’t going to believe this.” Powertech finally broke the silence.

    “He’d seen my little willow tree and wanted to know what it meant.”

    “You called it that before.”

    “Yes, Buzzer. That’s because it isn’t an organizational tree of any kind. It’s sorta what Sapphira calls a ‘spark memory.’ Of a real and physical thing that I think was called a ‘willow tree.’”

    “You set it on the clearest crystal. You understood Alpha Trion’s sculpture.” Datadraw seemed unsure.

    “Yes, I did.”

    “How can it ‘sorta’ be a spark memory?” he still seemed unsure.

    “That, I don’t understand. I didn’t go into it with Rightway in any case.”

    “What’s a ‘willow tree’ like?” Ravage asked.

    “Like some of the cybernetic structures we saw in that Cyberodd sim, only ... without the ‘cyber’ ... somehow.”

    The little Predacon was suddenly unusually assertive, pushing past Datadraw and Blitz to stand before Magnus.

    “Did you tell him that? What you just told us?” he seemed very intense.

    “No. I only said it was from a spark memory.”

    “Good!” he seemed genuinely relieved, “I don’t suppose you fellas could see your way to never mention cybernetic structures that aren’t cybernetic again?”

    “You’re not making sense.”

    “Magnus, a Predacon’s memory doesn’t work exactly like yours; but, one thing I do seem to remember is this: things like what you described are best left unmentioned.”

    “Does this have anything to do with Chaar?” Blitz had knelt down to eye level with Ravage.

    “Why would it?”

    Ravage was facing away from Magnus now, but he still seemed lost in thought.

    “Chaar, the world from the game? What about Chaar, Blitz?”

    “Old legends that everyone’s heard but few believe. A living world so rich in energon that you’d risk stasis lock after only a microcycle of exposure on the surface. A world destroyed when something set it all off at once, incinerating the planet and killing the Seekers who had gone there.”

    “How could a world like that be alive?”

    “Because,” Ravage said with a sly grin as he turned to face Magnus, “not all life forms are machine based. At least according to the legend. I think I’m pretty sure that no world like that has been found since.”

    “How long ago did this happen?”

    “No one knows.” Blitz shook his head, “It’s a legend. Except that we’ve always seemed to know where Chaar was, it probably would’ve been forgotten or dismissed by now.”

    “So it was a really long time ago?”

    “According to the story, the corona of the blast shockwave passed through this system in the same megacycle that the last Seeker resupply ship to actually have contact with the mission returned. That means the best drives they had at the time were only nominally superlight, if even that. Yes, that would’ve been a very, very long time ago.”

    “What about it, guys?” Ravage pleaded, “No one ever mentions this to anyone outside this room?”

    “What about Rightway?” Blitz asked without inflection, almost like he were using his programmed voice.

    “What? Maybe he’ll imagine that Magnus here is one of those Seekers rebooted? What’s the harm in that?”

    “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I’ve heard about spark memories before, it’s said they don’t last. So long as he has no idea that Magnus can do any other weird stuff, I guess it’ll stop there. Even better, in a little while Magnus won’t even look the same.”

    “Sure, I’m right!” Ravage positively purred.

    “Guys,” Blitz stood up, “I second Ravage’s request. If Magnus here will agree to it, none of us will ever talk about this again.”

    “They’re my secrets.”

    “Yes, but you need to be more careful with them.”

    Magnus thought it over: “Sounds fair.” he sighed.

    “You know, those horns really do look good on you.” Fastrack piped up.

    “Pity he’s not gonna get to keep them.” Harvester said, tapping his data plate to his own head to the sounds of snickering.

    “Well, this way I get to see if I like them without the long term commitment.”

    Silence again.

    “Show off!”

    “It’s a purely practical approach.” Magnus was getting defensive.

    “More study and less bragging.” Harvester countered.

    Study ... oh, yeah – sociology, the first of their internal electives.

    They had been studying when he and Powertech had come in. Nice to see that they’d kept their usual places reserved for them.

    “At least you get the luxury of trying them out first.” Powertech sounded resigned, “Whatever aesthetic horror Rightway’s going to do to me, I’ll be stuck with.”

    Right then an idea came to Magnus. What if VR tech like that used in Tunnel Crawlers could be adapted to ... he smiled. Maybe something to work on after graduation? Before Powertech’s operation, at any rate. He might be wading in energon creds sooner than later.

    He pulled up the first chapter and started to read.



    “Sociology is a soft science,” Nine began after everyone had settled in, “dedicated to the study of society and its institutions. It’s also concerned with cultural phenomena, such as why some people come back from shore leave with horns on their head even while most don’t.”

    Even Magnus laughed at that line. He was unsure why he was so curious if Sapphira would actually like his horns, but motivations to get or keep them aside: no real harm had been done for this one freebee. It was nice to know his friends were looking out for him too, just like Shockwave had said they would.

    One thing about it, though, for a “soft” science there was an awful lot of math involved. Most of it seemed to follow rather obscure rules of thumb, as Nine called them. But as the cycle progressed things got murkier rather than clearer: there was no philosophy to sociology, no unseen driving theory. It was a study of the dynamics of countless individual interactions that somehow averaged out to produce “society.”

    Everything was a rule of thumb.

    And this was but the first of three cycles.

    At one point, she broke them up into their traditional four groups to have them discuss the census techniques they’d read about last night. Datadraw was a councilor, which meant that Magnus, Cobatron and Ravage had to do without his wit and wisdom for now. Well, Magnus and Cobatron. Ravage was their own little hyperactive distraction. One of those “moods” he’d get.

    Just as Ravage started literally bouncing in his chair, Battletech arrived.

    “As you were, cadets.”

    “Dean?”

    “Word’s come down from on high, Professor. We need to talk outside.”

    She followed him without a sound. Magnus looked around, everyone had gone back to their discussions, nothing had changed.

    Well, almost nothing.

    Ravage’s mood had reversed and he was sulking. From the looks on their faces, Cobatron and Datadraw had noticed too.

    “Ravage?” Datadraw quietly pressed.

    “It could be nothing. Wait and see.”

    But Ravage wasn’t bouncy anymore, nor was he even as talkative as he’d just been. Magnus counted off 722 nanocycles from the moment Ravage settled down to when Nine and Battletech returned.

    “Could everyone please stop what you’re doing?” Nine asked – her voice oddly somber, “Thank you.... Students ... my friends, seven cycles ago, the Salagos and all hands were lost over a Quintesson stronghold. She’d been part of a group of scouts probing the defenses of a garrison world that helps to protect the approaches to Quevald. In times past such probes would try to draw out enemy ships so they could be dealt with by elements of the fleet laying in wait. This time, it was a ruse to convince them that we still had a significant presence in that system.... But they called our bluff. Fortunately, all other ships escaped without loss.

    “Since lynx transports like Salagos are rare and no others are available at this time, I regret to inform you that I’ll be returning to my duties as Seeker liaison onboard the Nemesis. At least that way I can keep Lynx till a new ship can be built – not that anyone’s committing to much right now. My efforts to fashion a Seeker detachment assigned to Nemesis have been denied as well, which means I won’t be able to take you with me. I’m sorry.”

    “We’re washing out?” Ray sounded defeated.

    “No, Quintus Ray.” Battletech jumped in, “You cadets have done well for yourselves – both in and out of class. While it’s true that you can’t stay at the academy any longer, it isn’t true that you’ve washed out. Your performance so far has been such to allow the Seeker High Command the wiggle room to make an exception to the rules ... they’ve actually committed themselves to getting a new lynx transport built even if it means rubbing folks on the council the wrong way. When that happens, assuming you’ve continued to distinguish yourselves, Nine has been given permission to recall you to complete your training.”

    “It was the best I could do.” she said, a bit of hope breaking through the apparent sadness.

    There was a moment of silence.

    “Ravage,” Cobatron turned to the Predacon, “the lynx that was lost. He was alive, wasn’t he? Your friend?”

    Ravage just nodded.

    “He helped me break the news to Lynx ... my Lynx.” Nine answered for him, “As you might imagine given their situation, Predacons are a pretty tight knit bunch.”

    “Nine was there to read the litany for us, though.” Ravage managed a smile as he spoke, “So we did get to say a proper goodbye.”

    Magnus was confused, Ravage could read perfectly well. Why would he or Lynx need someone else to officiate over their ceremony?

    Cobatron and Datadraw had taken hold of Ravage’s shoulders almost like they were petting him again. He didn’t seem to mind. Still, Magnus wouldn’t let himself treat Ravage that way ... but he was at a loss for what to do. So he mumbled something lame about how sorry he was for the death of his friend.

    “Magnus and Powertech,” Battletech interrupted the moment, “because of your unusual circumstances you’ll be allowed to stay onboard Seeker, though we’ve got to move you to different quarters. I imagine Ravage will be staying with you as well.”

    “Dean Battletech, I don’t suppose there would be room for one more?” Blitz spoke up, “I made a complete break with my past before coming here. It may take time for me to find a new place to live.”

    “What about the armory? You could stay there.”

    “If I go there while unassigned, they’ll put me to work and I’ll not be where my friends will need me to be once Captain Nine has her new ship.”

    “I suppose I could put you up for a few cycles. Find some odd jobs for you in the meantime.”

    “Thanks.”

    “Is there anyone else who showed up like a Combaticon?”

    Cobatron raised his hand.

    “Well, why am I not surprised it’d be you? Ok, Cobatron, you’re with Blitz. Nine, you need anything?”

    “Just some time alone with my boys.”

    “You got it!” he turned and left.

    She stared at them for a while: “Well, I’m not going to mix this extra sweet: you got here by being the best. The only way they’ll let me get you back is if you keep it up. I worked a long time to get that posting on Nemesis and my Lynx, put in the extra effort to line up Salagos and you lot. If you let me down now I swear I’ll find you and reprogram you with my fist!”

    Magnus wanted to say how this could work out for the better, that maybe he’d be in a position to join up so she’d have a full crew ... but, it sounded so ... just that it sounded –so–. He kept quiet.

    She bid them farewell for now, saying that she and Lynx had to report to Nemesis A-S-A-P.

    Passively watch her go ... that was all Magnus could manage to do.

    He turned back to his friends. He wanted to say something ... but nothing came to mind.

    Silence.

    “Well,” Ray spoke up, “I guess we need to clean out the barracks and report back to the civil defense forces.”

    “Sounds like a plan.” Comdec observed, “You think we’ll get good postings?”

    One or two at a time, they started to shuffle out of the room.

    “Magnus?” Blitz was the only one left.

    “How ... how can she just go?”

    “You act like you’d thought about staying.” he said with a smile.

    “I had.”

    “We’re Combaticons.” he laughed, “We go where we’re told.”

    “But you want to be here?”

    “Prototypes –like me– usually don’t have long service careers. Count your blessings, unlike Autobots we didn’t have to pay for our chassis.”

    Magnus shook his head. That made no sense.

    “Magnus, we need to go get our gear cleared out too.”

    “None of it’s mine. Don’t know where it came from.”

    Blitz pulled him out of the chair and pushed him into the hall.

    “Lets go get a drink. My treat.”

    Magnus followed him to the Reunion Lounge. Before he knew it, a sipper was set before him.

    “It’s that bitter style from before, so sip slowly.”

    Magnus took a sip. Somehow totally bitter in moderation could actually be good.

    “How old are you?”

    “Twenty-five cycles ... mostly.”

    “Glad for the sonic screens.” Blitz attempted to laugh, “Why are they pushing you so far so fast?”

    “I don’t know.”

    Blitz smiled and shook his head.

    “Magnus, have you even been properly mustered out?”

    “Shockwave and Ravage saw to that.”

    Blitz just sipped on his own infusion for a while.

    “They must know what they’re doing. So, you came to the Seekers straight from the arsenal. Before that this crèche-thing?”

    “Long time there.”

    “A golden disk.”

    Magnus refrained from another sip. Blitz needed to explain that one.

    “Cybertronian lore. It’s said that life comes to us as golden disk.”

    “Oh, from Tannas’ Ontology, fourth verse of the third essay I believe.”

    “A just-boot who knows about Tannas, much less can quote him?” Blitz shook his head, “Do you know what he meant?”

    “Of course.”

    Blitz’ smile faded as he shook his head ‘no.’

    Magnus didn’t like being told that he didn’t know something he knew perfectly well!

    “But ... surely all that time....”

    “If you know Tannas, then you know time is meaningless with respect to maturity. Magnus, what were they after? What did they want from you?”

    Magnus took a sip: “Intuition. I think.”

    “What did it take to get you to that point?”

    Magnus stared hard at Blitz, this was a side of him he’d not seen before. He wasn’t sure he wanted to see it ... at least just now.

    “I had to see the ... –a– truth about myself.”

    “A truth that involves willow trees?”

    Magnus nodded. He was sure that Artemus had said that he’d wanted the first whack at his noggin ... but here was Blitz hammering away.

    “Magnus, people like Shockwave and Oculon have been around ... forever. Or so it seems. You must’ve been put in your crèche the very same cycle as they were theirs ... all that time ... reading?”

    “And thinking.... Blitz, are you saying that until now I’ve only lived on one of Tannas’ golden disk?”

    “No ... just that I’m still young enough that I remember what it was like. You do something and it’s all you know. Then they have you do something else and that becomes all you know. And so on. I don’t remember when I stopped living like that. Maybe it was that stupid near death experience in the shower.”

    “I was in the crèche. Then I was at the arsenal. Now I am ... was a student at this academy.”

    “Magnus, I was at the arsenal for nearly a full megacycle. There was this school where they taught me all about being a working prototype. Every step of the way from then until now has been part of someone’s plan. If mine or someone else’s ... it doesn’t much matter. Somewhere along the way I discovered for myself that plans, even the best laid plans, they just unravel right before your optics. Maturity comes when you know that all of that misfortune isn’t the end of your world.”

    Magnus chuckled: “You’re mixing your metaphors ... and authors.”

    “That’s life. Everything gets jumbled together and it comes out however it comes out.”

    “So how do I know when Tannas’ ‘numinous other’ sets me on a new golden disk?”

    Blitz took an unusually long sip. His face contorted.

    “Life happens no matter what we know, or think we know. Magnus, what are you going to do while you’re waiting for this new revelation? What if it never comes and every cycle is like a snort from that sipper in your hand? How long, Magnus, how long?”

    Magnus took a stronger ‘snort’ and tried to think it over. If he had any intuition, it was failing him now.

    “Magnus,” Blitz finished his sipper in one more long hit, “do you know what’s really wrong with Datadraw’s little Till All Are One? Primacron lived in a fantasy world where ‘should’ demands that you ‘can’ and ‘can’ is the same as ‘must.’ It’s all about what must be done if for no other reason than it can be done. Of course, what can be done is merely a function of what should be done. But what’s that? Is it a matter of personal taste or of some ideology? Do this ... be this way, simply because? Tannas’ answer isn’t the same. We must live out a desperate struggle for virtue – I think that’s what he was really saying. Living is all we can do and truth, real truth if we know it, is reflected in how we go about living when nothing makes sense.”

    “That’s a lot to take in all at once.”

    “I suspect you’re used to it, or soon will be at this rate. Magnus,” he stood up and held out a hand, “not every calamity threatens everything that exist.”

    Magnus grabbed hold of his hand and allowed himself to be pulled from the booth.

    Tannas....

    “Blitz, why are the dates given for Tannas’ essays only ‘from time immemorial?’”

    “A better question is: what are you going to do now? Tannas lived and died a long time ago, but you’ve hardly begun. If you want to join Nine’s crew then you need to start living like you’re already on that next golden disk. Since you may just well be.”
     
  20. Rurudyne

    Rurudyne Well-Known Member

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    Chapter 19: An Uncomfortable Silence


    “Funny thing about gold,” Magnus silently observed as he squared away his locker, “it can be a vital element for life or a passive and useless shiny.”

    Right now, life felt more like the latter.

    Everyone – except Powertech – had gone out of their way to say how he hadn’t seen the last of them. At least THEY weren’t preachy like Blitz had been. Magnus didn’t resent the talk so much as he regretted it. Blitz would make a terrible councilor.

    Battletech had shown up to personally see everyone off, or to new quarters, whatever. He’d not said much, at least not to Magnus.

    A few see ya’laters before grabbing a handful of now useless data crystals from the bottom of the locker, carefully programmed scenarios for Salagos’ new crew.

    “Magnus?” Ravage seemed concerned.

    Magnus turned, dropped to a knee and hugged his friend. Patted him on the back of the head.

    “I’m sorry about Lynx.”

    “You sure you’re not secretly a Predacon in there, boss?”

    “That depends on what a Predacon is?” he said as he let go.

    “The answer would be, ‘no,’ then.”

    Magnus let his mind wander before realization hit him.

    “Frag! Ravage,” he fished out the energon creds from his leg, “I forgot to give you these. Alpha Trion had thrown in some extra for your services.”

    “No problem!” Ravage snapped up the glowing baubles, “Thanks.... Listen, the ‘techs are waiting outside. Lets say we blow this scene?”

    Magnus nodded and followed Ravage out, followed Battletech through the busy ship till they arrived at similar quarters on the far side of her, waved bye to Blitz and Cobatron for now.

    They were staying with Battletech himself.

    Magnus flopped down on the couch, got out his data plate and tried to pull up the second cycle’s reading for sociology. The familiar and unwelcome message: “Non-Designated Area: Text Not Available.” flashed across the screen.

    “What did you expect?” Powertech asked from where he too had flopped down.

    “It’s cruel! To set up a mystery and then not tell the whole story.”

    “Sociology: take one cycle, billions of people, trillions of individual actions, average it out, spin it any which way you want, call it a science. Simple enough.”

    Magnus tried to imagine billions of people. In response, one of his subprocessors merrily chimed in and gave him a mathematical analysis. Then it dared to act clueless when Magnus suggested that he was about to reprogram it with a large, blunt object.

    “Wheee! Finally, someone more clueless than me.” he laughed.

    “Pardon?” Ravage popped his head from out of his locker.

    “Probably his subprocessors showing their true colors.” Powertech observed.

    “Oh, say no more.”

    “Powertech, about true colors ... why not use the VR tech for Tunnel Crawlers to help make sure Rightway doesn’t inflict an aesthetic horror on you?”

    “Not a bad idea.” Powertech nodded, “Probably been done, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be some creds for us in there somewhere. Any ideas for branding?”

    Magnus shook his head. Though he’d seen advertisements, that didn’t mean he could write them.

    With nothing to do he watched a rebroadcast of the cyberball game from the other cycle. It was interesting because of all the analysis that was offered, like Powertech had said, the dynamics were completely different. As the commentators for the rebroadcast signed off, one of them reminded the fans that the tournament was far from over. He listed the schedule for the rest of the first round elimination match ups.

    “It’s never the same with rebroadcast.” Ravage offered, “Everyone knows how it ends.”

    “Pay-per-viewer seems cheaper than being there.” Magnus offered.

    “It’s sterile, Magnus. Fun, but not the same.”

    Magnus nodded, Powertech was right. No mention of frenetic fans, itchy Predacons, whoops-he-goes over the back of the bleachers ... or even of a legendary general and politician getting an infusion dumped on his head. For all the analysis, the thing had been essentially redacted.

    He wanted to go to those other games. But he couldn’t afford to go. Frag, was Blitz ever on his short list!

    As the shadows cast by Seeker ran the dawn in reverse, the ruddy sky gave way to inky, starless black. The tippy-top of the light show that was Iacon could be seen beyond the ship’s outline.

    “Powertech, is there anyway to get this window to filter out all that light? So we could see our stars?”

    “Well, there should be a blast screen for this thing. It’s just a matter of polarizing it just right.”

    Powertech started playing with the crystals behind a panel. First the window went inky black, then it momentarily displayed a different cyberball game, then these two female Autobots on a stage gyrating wildly to music, then the night sky blazed brightly into view as the city disappeared.

    “I don’t suppose you could bring back the girls?” Ravage asked.

    “Girls?” Powertech’s head snapped up, “What girls?”

    Never mind.” Ravage said in an odd way.

    Magnus missed the rest of the conversation. The stars were bright like on Cyberodd, but these were his stars. Somehow, they were familiar. As before, he sat and listened for that other Magnus to speak up. Surely he’d do so now?

    No such luck.

    Dawn was beautiful, but stale.

    Magnus looked around.

    “Where’s Powertech?”

    “Something about ‘fresh air.’ Magnus, you want to set up an early appointment with Sapphira?”

    Have her see him this way? He shook his head.

    “Then let’s go. I’ve somewhere that you need to be.”

    Ravage left a note for Powertech and then led the way through Seeker before working through the port to find a fairly substantial, glossy red cruiser. The readout by the sealed airlock read “DSN Rapax.”

    “So ... this is Shockwave’s ship?” Magnus wondered.

    “Yep! You and he need to have a little talk.”

    “Blitz already gave me the talk.”

    Ravage sighed as the airlock opened: “Maybe that’s part of the problem?”

    The Rapax was much smaller on the inside than she looked like she’d be from the outside. Regular bulkheads broke everything up nicely and the largest room before they reached the main hanger seemed barely as big as the common area of Magnus’ barracks. Even the uncluttered main hanger was rudely interrupted at the periphery by ever present bulkheads, giving the chamber an oval form despite itself. Shockwave and a half dozen others were occupied with some sort of devise that produced bluish smoke and hummed loudly.

    Ravage motioned for Magnus to stay quiet.

    No one said anything. They just stared intently at the devise. After half a microcycle the humming got a bit louder and the smoke a bit denser.

    “Turn it off!” Shockwave barked, obviously irritated.

    “It isn’t so bad.” a taller than average and rather blocky built Combaticon offered even as he shut the gizmo down. Disconnecting it from some cables that ran out of the open hanger doors.

    “You’re right,” an Autobot with a Seeker badge practically laughed, “it broke while you were in port!”

    “Do you have something positive to suggest, Whiteout?” Shockwave growled.

    “It’s a, ummm, lovely piece of pre-industrial art?”

    “What isn’t?” Shockwave covered his face with his hands, “Harrier, would you call up the parts depot and find out if any other spares are handy?”

    “Right!” the blocky Combaticon beamed as he grabbed the gizmo and tromped off, “One service call to the Planet of Junk coming up!”

    “Shockwave,” one of the other Autobots present pointed towards Magnus, “we’ve got company.”

    Shockwave turned to Magnus and seemed to force a smile.

    “Sorry about what happened with your shipmates, there. If it means anything, I’m sure they’ll be back in the game before you know it.”

    “Like you said, they’re the best.”

    “Magnus, I’d like you to meet some of the members of my crew. The youth that just left is Harrier, he’s not much older than you; this fellow,” he indicated the Autobot who had pointed him out, “is Baybreak, my chief engineer and artillerist; the comedian who lives dangerously is Whiteout, he’s on extended loan from the Seekers; the boys in blue are Punisher and Razor respectfully; and the unassuming fellow by my sky cruiser is my warrant officer, Bullet.”

    “Hey, kid!” the old Autobot waved.

    “Everyone, this is Magnus. My youngest brother.”

    “Glad to meet you.” Whiteout nodded, “Been hearing a lot about you. Striker’s been beside himself that he finally has a little brother too.”

    “Glad to accommodate.” Magnus managed a smile.

    “So Magnus,” Shockwave seemed more business like, “we seem to have had a little glitch here. Ravage told me that you had just started sociology when the High Command shot the ship out from under you.”

    “Essentially.”

    “And he told me you’ve been taking it awfully hard.”

    Magnus shrugged. He’d no idea that Ravage was also a spy.

    “Magnus, I’m not so old that I can’t help you through this. But if you drone-up on me I may just have to drop kick you out yonder hanger bay door. See if the fall breaks loose what’s backed up.”

    “I’m gonna get another talk?”

    “‘Another talk?’”

    Magnus filled him in on what Blitz and he had talked about. Shockwave seemed deep in thought.

    “Face it, Bossbot,” Bullet finally spoke up, “old Harrier did a better job with that kid than even you imagined he did.”

    Magnus was confused: Blitz had done good?

    “I wouldn’t have gone straight for Tannas if something else would’ve done as well. No subtlety at all. But yeah, got to give him credit. Though his take on Till All Are One won’t win him any popularity contest.”

    “Then Blitz was wrong?” Magnus was almost relieved in a bad way – what smile he had up until now was fading fast.

    “No. Unconventional, but not really wrong. So what are your plans?”

    “I thought I’d look around a bit. If I’ve been living out a sequence of golden disk I’ve probably been missing out on a lot.”

    “Noooo ... casual observation: you’ve been right where you were the whole time without any blast visor. By the way, nice horns.”

    “Ummm ... I wanted to see if I’d like them.”

    “Do you?”

    “Personally? Sure.”

    “Oh! ‘Personally.’ Magnus, you needn’t worry about having missed out.”

    Razor and Baybreak started to laugh before Shockwave silenced them with a glare.

    “Look, why don’t you and Ravage help Baybreak and Whiteout in the engine room. Hopefully, my Harrier will come back with word about a working megabooster before you can get the old one yanked out.”

    “So that’s what a megabooster looks like?” Magnus nodded to where the gizmo had been sitting.

    “Sure, when I was a just-boot.” Shockwave shook his head even as he smiled broadly, “Look, I’ve got some things I need to check on. After repairs and my next class are done, maybe we’ll hit the Arcade? My treat.”

    Magnus managed a cheerful response even if he didn’t feel like doing anything.

    “I hope you didn’t take my comments wrong, Magnus.” Whiteout started to say as he led the way through the ship, “Rapax is really a fine ship. It’s just going to take some work to make sure she keeps that status.”

    “But Rapax is old?”

    “One of the few remaining cruisers from the Red Fleet.” Baybreak offered, “A no-expenses-spared ship with qualities that are simply lacking in newer designs.”

    “Then why are parts so hard to come by?” Magnus asked even as he noticed how polished every smooth surface was, like the trophies in Battletech’s office.

    “Officially, Rapax is considered obsolete even though she can outfight, outrun and outmaneuver anything of similar size that the enemy has.”

    Obsolete. That hateful word again! Had Primus been obsolete? Is either Artemus or Alpha Trion obsolete? Magnus was sneering and knew it, didn’t care what anyone thought about it.

    “The boy seems to agree with the crews and not the High Command.” Whiteout offered as they entered into a cramped and complex space that somehow still managed to resemble the massive space which Galactic Law occupied between Seeker’s engines.

    It felt good to be doing something with his hands. All the activity kept the numb feeling at bay. He wasn’t going to let it steal this away from him like it had the dawn. If doing something and knowing nothing else meant being alive ... so be it.

    “How are we doing?” his brother’s voice rang through the chamber.

    “We just got the root megabooster out. Any news on a spare?”

    “They think they have a line on a few possibilities.”

    “Shockwave,” Magnus had been thinking about Primus’ book, “how bad is it when a root megabooster goes out?”

    “The root has the highest raw power rating, but is also the most susceptible to damage from rapid power fluctuations. If it actually failed in use there’d be a risk of catastrophic feedback that would reduce the whole engine to scrap in nanocycles. Pretty fraggin absolutely bad!”

    He wished he’d read about how they’d enhanced the engines on that cargo hauler. If Primus wrote fiction like he argued a point then there might be a ready made solution to this problem just waiting on some shelf somewhere. But where?

    “Pity no one’s ever published a book about illicit ship modifications.”

    “You said something about that when Nine tried to surprise her crew with law. She brought it up when we talked about that other matter, asked if your earlier studies had included any astroengineering text.”

    “Nothing specific or detailed that I can recall.”

    “I know. Which is why it’s so curious.”

    “I don’t suppose I could ever talk to my old keepers? Maybe they’d have an idea about where I got these ideas?”

    “Easily arranged. Both Chance and Suyal have been serving with me for the last twenty-two megacycles.”

    There was a long moment of silence. One eventually broken by Ravage.

    “I don’t think he’s considered this possibility before, Master.”

    Shockwave nodded thoughtfully before turning to leave.

    Magnus just stood there ... till Whiteout thrust a weak-forces brush in his hand and told him to start cleaning all the contact points for the root megabooster’s seat.

    Twenty-two megacycles?! Where had he been for the last twenty-two megacycles?
     

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