Chapter 10: Betrayal Lio Convoy frowned up at his security screens when the signal for his quarter’s door beeped. He was working in his private lab, his work screen glowing with gentle green hues below the harsher white of the security feed above. Ramjet was standing outside his door, glancing down the halls, and even rubbing one arm anxiously. Wary of traps, Lio Convoy did use the comm, touching a control at his left hand. “Just out of paranoia, Ramjet, what’s the code for today?” He saw the little smile on Ramjet’s face. “Glad you’re being cautious, Lio. ‘For freedom and life’.” The door clicked with a soft beep on Ramjet’s end. The conehead stepped inside, making sure the door sealed in his wake, and he made his way through Lio Convoy's room, until he eventually reached the lab. Indeed, the doors to Lio Convoy’s lab opened, and the mech turned in his chair to greet Ramjet. Lio Conboy seemed a bit confused, but he was cordial. “An unexpected surprise, Ramjet. How are you?” “Well enough, Lio Convoy. I wanted to talk, if that’s alright?” The Convoy frowned in thought, and glanced down to another chair. He gestured, inviting the mech over. Ramjet accepted the indicated chair, and sat down, rubbing his hands together in slow anxiety. “You handled yourself well in the battle.” Lio Convoy smirked a bit. “I'm a Convoy, we're not just one trick ponies you know.” Ramjet chuckled. “I imagine... I did want to ask something, though.” “Go ahead.” “…Were you so set on that plan because of what me and Devcon chose before?” Ramjet asked directly, looking up with a grave set in his eyes. Lio Convoy exhaled, leaning back a bit. “…Yes.” “Why?” “Despite my feelings, you made the right choice, Ramjet. I’m not sure anyone else could have accomplished what you and Devcon have without a much greater loss of life. It made me realize that if you were going to risk your life for this battle, I needed to be willing to do the same. Our relationship may be strained given my previous position, Ramjet, but I think we will remain strong comrades.” Ramjet nodded softly, looking down. “I would hope so, at least.” The two eyed each other in an oddly tense moment. Lio Convoy’s face softened into concern. “You okay, Ramjet?” Ramjet forced a smile, and tipped his head. “Fine, Lio... I trust we’re alright?” Lio smiled, and stood up, offering his hand. They shook hands, and Ramjet simply bowed a bit, and walked out. --- Lightbright leaned back from her desk, rubbing her neck as the servos ticked. "Why are there so many useless combat reports in these files...” she muttered as she flexed her neck to properly spread out the lubricants and hydraulics that had gotten too stuck with her leaning over her console for hours. “Here.” She blinked, and looked at the energon capsule being held down for her by another mech. With an embarrassed laugh, she took the capsule, and smiled up at her companion. “Thanks, Gridlock. I see you’re used to this long haul shift.” Gridlock shrugged, light dancing over his blue and gray frame. “More that I know how focused you get. You forget to charge way too often Lightbright,” he stated. He then turned back, and sighed. "I know that you're worried... Guzzle's doing something stupid again, and I know you're worried about Beta Maxx's mission... what, with our entire operation hinging on that." Lightbright sighed, and then tossed the energon capsule into her mouth, letting her power conversion systems absorb it as she turned back to her console. “I’m just anxious, I guess. It’s been too quiet. Beta hasn't changed anything lately, and... especially with the patrols we’ve sent out to Kuwanger’s bases, I’d expect some kind of skirmish by now... even with Guzzle there." Gridlock moved over to a further console, and sat down as he replied, “Agreed. Everyone is a little wary at the moment. Do you know who’s on security detail tonight?” Lightbright punched up a screen on her console. “Looks like… Drift and his unit. Sheesh, does that guy ever charge either?” “He does seem to be everywhere, I’ll give ya that,” Gridlock answered as he started looking over his security feeds again. They both laughed a bit, and continued their work. After a good chunk of the evening, Gridlock’s brow creased at his console, and he hit a few controls. “…Soundwave, could you check the sensors on perimeter section 14-D for me?” Soundwave instantly snapped his controls into that view, and his face turned grim. “That’s not right. We just checked those sensors this morning.” “Alert?” Soundwave asked first. “I have to make sure we didn’t just break something when we checked them. Signal Drift on normal comms, and let him know what’s happening. Hold down the fort here, I’ll go check those sensors,” Lightbright explained, already hopping up and rushing for the door. “Alone?” “If I’m making a mistake, I want to be the only one paying for it this time,” she answered cryptically, and the door shut in her wake. Gridlock watched the door anxiously for a moment, and then opened his comm. “Drift, do you copy?” “Yes, report?” --- Lightbright hurried out of the fortress structure on the ground level, looking up at the wall already. Nothing seemed amiss in the night air, but she frowned, and sped up. A maintenance ladder there was all she needed, and she climbed with practiced ease. Along the top of the wall were sensor fields with power-lights glowing to confirm their activity. Except for one. Lightbright reached the top of the ladder, and did an adroit little twist and flip onto the wall itself, crouching at the offline sensor. Her eyes sharpened at the severed circuitry, and she touched her audio sensor at her head. “Alert, Gridlock, Drift. We have confirmed sabotage.” The air in front of her face shimmered, and Lightbright almost yelped, her left hand snapping a blaster pistol out from her storage pack on her back. Chameleao became visible, smiling right in her face as both of his oblong optics focused on her. “How right you are!” The alarms were just starting up throughout headquarters as Chameleao snapped at her neck with his right claw, and Lightbright threw herself backward. "What the hell Chameleao?! What are you doing?! You're on our side!" Chameleao laughed. "Oh how wrong you are about that! I've been working for Great Convoy this entire time, and nobody was none the wiser! You were foolish to trust me 'Commander'!" Lightbright growled and fired off a shot at the Chameleon with a Solar Blast. Chameleao’s lithe body snapped and twisted out of the path of the shot, and he was already climb-racing toward her with his hind legs. "You're all delusional! Great Convoy will bring us peace! I accepted that notion, and acted on it! Great Convoy's been having me spy on your operation since I joined! I've revealed all of your plans to him, and I'll never betray that! I will help him bring peace!" Lightbright’s back hit another power-light, and she gave a shout before ducking her head sharply. Chameleao’s tail decapitated the light instead of her, and she kicked his legs out from under him. The mech simply backflipped with the loss of his feet, and clamped onto the wall itself, smiling up at her as his body started to shimmer out of view. Lightbright’s face turned dark, and her hand shot out, grabbing his snout as her wings aimed at his forehead, before releasing a bright flash. “You’re not going anywhere!” Chameleao seemed startled at first, but then his smile returned. One optic looked behind himself, at the base, the other remaining on her. “Your plan is faulty, my dear.” Chameleao yanked himself down by his claws in the wall. Another of her shots flew out and pinged off the fortress wall as her grip on his snout pulled her forward. Chameleao’s left foot snapped up as his body folded, and his tail clamped around her neck. He ripped off her wing, and dropped it down as Lightbright cried in pain, before holding Lightbright's body over the sheer drop down into the streets below. "I wonder how well you fly with only half a wing..." Lightbright’s eyes got a horrible view of the sheer drop over Chameleao’s body, but she reacted quickly, both kicking down at his head, and grabbing hold of his tail with both hands. Chameleao growled, and whipped his body down. Lightbright was slammed into the wall by his tail, cracking parts of the metal and cement. She shouted in pain, but held on, and growled right back at the now revealed traitor. With a jerk and wrench, Lightbright hefted her legs all the way up, and coiled them around his waist as she kept yanking on his tail with her hands. “We’re falling together if we fall, you slimy bastard!” “Does it occur to you that I’m designed for that kind of impact shock?” Chameleao rather blithely replied down over his shoulder, one optics aimed at her. She frowned up at him, the two comically lashed together, her upside-down, glaring at each other over their shoulders. “I was too, so I’ll call that bluff, goggles.” “Oh, mocking my eyes. I’ve never had an enemy do THAT before,” Chameleao’s visible optic rolled completely around. “I’ll answer your call!” And he actually did let go of the wall. As they started to fall, Lightbright determined not to fail, tried to twist and pitch her body so he would take the brunt of the landing. It was starting to work, but the end of Chameleao’s tail twisted back, aiming straight at her eyes. Her gaze widened as she saw the razor-spines flick out, ready to fire off into her face point-blank. “Scrap!” she cursed, and twisted herself just as they fired. Her head was out of the way just fast enough, the spines digging into the defense wall, but it also twisted the falling pair so Lightbright was aimed at the ground first, Chameleao cackling. Then something hit them both like a battering ram. Lightbright yelled as they spun like a whirling dervish, only aware of blurring colors around her. “Lightbright, let go!” Drift’s voice shouted across the grounds. Hearing a fellow Resistance Member’s voice, Lightbright allowed herself to listen, and she let go, whirling off of Chameleao. She groaned from a sickening impact as something slammed into her toward the wall, and cement and metal cracked and dented from something behind her. Lightbright blinked, and looked up to see Drift holding her by the waist with one arm, his other limb holding onto a sword that was buried into the wall. His optics were locked on Chameleao, still falling down. A squad of Soldiers was out on the ground, already firing at the falling Neo-Maximal. “Nice save,” Lightbright coughed out with her recovering respirator. Drift gave her a smirk. They started to free fall, and Lightbright looked down with alarm, before Drift used his sword to skid slowly down and safely reach the ground. Chameleao suddenly twist-flipped, and landed flawlessly on all fours amid a hail of plasma fire. The Resistance Soldiers were aiming well, but Chameleao was like a mad dancer, his body contorting and snapping into maddening positions that always kept him just out of harms way. With a twist and cackle, Chameleao whipped his tail toward the fortress. The spines shot out, and two soldiers dropped, clutching the paralyzing wounds the spines made. “Keep him suppressed!” Drift roared, and then dashed to his left, toward the wall, still charging toward Sting as well. Lightbright and the other soldiers started to march forward, still firing. Chameleao continued his dance of insanity, laughing as his optics flickered everywhere under the streams of fire. Drift, near the wall, suddenly jumped up, throwing his sword up. He then leapt up, and kick-flipped off the wall, his boot round-house-kicking the sword. Drift twisted as he came down, and Chameleao growled as the sword had him pinned down, Lightbright and the others paused their fire for a moment. Chameleao ripped the sword out with a grunt, before his body warped into his stealth mode just as the others could fire his direction again. They tried to follow the distortion, but they missed several times, and suddenly he was gone. Drift slammed his fist into the wall beside him, growling in frustration. “Tricked like a green kid out of the camp,” he muttered fiercely. Lightbright came over to him, offering her hand. “We forced him off.” Drift got up with her help, but shook his head. “That wasn’t a real fight. Something is wrong.” Lightbright’s worry returned. “He was a distraction?” Other soldiers were arriving at headquarters because of the alert. Specifically, Devcon and Ramjet were dashing up to the pair that moment. “What’s going on?” Devcon demanded, understandably short in his manner. Lightbright nodded, and answered, “Chameleao made a play, and we failed to detain him... However, I think he was just a distraction.” Ramjet and Devcon were understandably concerned by the answer. Ramjet asked, “Why do you say that?” Drift looked at Ramjet meaningfully. “It was too easy to pin him as long as we did.” Devcon started to rush for the building. “Damn it! We need to secure everything sensitive! Data, equipment, communications!” Lightbright touched her audio sensor as she started to run. “All units! This is Commander Lightbright– secure the base. We believe the Neo-Maximals are still in the base! Secure all data, communications, and gear. Get on it!” As they ran, Lightbright touched her comm again. “Gridlock, do you read any other holes in the sensors?” The silence after her question made Ramjet, Devcon, and herself share a worried look. “Gridlock?! Do you read?” she checked, growing fear in her voice. “Where?” Devcon and Ramjet asked at the same time. “Command Center!” They started running at full speed. --- For Gridlock, Lightbright had only been gone a few moments when he knew something was wrong. The lights flickered in the command center. The lights never flickered. The power-grid was prioritized to keep this room going above all others. Gridlock touched his comm. “Lightbright, Drift?” He didn’t bother saying more, he could tell the comm was dead. Standing up, he let his left arm convert into a rough blaster, and he looked up and around, starting toward the door. He had to warn them that the command center was compromised. Would he have time to warn anyone? This data was vital… He diverted from the door, and moved toward the mainframe maintenance panel on the left wall. “Not trying to run?” Gridlock froze. It was a cold, rasping voice, both deep and almost like a mist in how lightly it trickled past his sensors. He twisted around, aiming his blaster behind himself. “How brave.” He snapped to his right, his optics wide. Still nothing. “I smell the fear crystallizing your servos, boy.” That was right at his ear! Gridlock whipped around, and fired a shot before he thought. It blew up against the wall. “You were kept here because you couldn't be risked to bring failure... you're bad with combat, and you were never cleared for service, were you?” “We’ll see who’s bad at what!” Gridlock snapped back, his audio-sensors revving high to try and localize the voice. It’s source was changing too fast to be normal. As he turned again, a hand clamped down around his blaster, and Gridlock’s optics widened up to his right, right into a pair of green eyes. Eyes that were cold as ice, and sharp as blades. It was like some kind of demon had appeared before him, bladed horns atop a crimson and blue head. The body was tall, but skeletal, barely armored. His colors shimmered, as though he were still being cloaked. “This better?” the flat faceplate below the eyes asked, powerful and haunting as before, but several times as loud with the source right there. Gridlock roared, sending his fist toward that faceplate. The beetle pulled his head back, and caught the fist with a blur of motion from his other arm. Without hesitation, he twisted and yanked, pulling Gridlock over and down onto the flooring with a bang. Leaning down into Gridlock’s face, upside-down, the Neo-Maximal asked, “Have you suffered for their cause, child?” Ventilation tubes, almost like proboscis down the sides of the face, slowly hissed for respiration around Gridlock’s head. “No,” Gridlock answered, keeping his manner hard and brave. “Ah good, honest... just like your sister... Then I have exquisite news. You’re about to.” Gridlock looked on shocked, before he shook his head, and his body started to glow. “I’m a bad fighter, I know that, but I figure that I still have a shot at killing you if I overload the inhibitors keeping my Electrical abilities in check… Kuwanger.” The green eyes narrowed off-kilter, incredulous. “Only if you still have your servos in place.” Gridlock’s eyes widened just before a flicker of motion between them. All he could do was scream as sparks and fluids burst out of his frame, energon leaking everywhere. --- The command center door snapped open, Ramjet, Lightbright, and Devcon charging through. They halted as fast. Even Devcon’s optics widened in controlled horror at the scene before them. Lightbright’s mouth fell agape, and then she sank down to one knee, groaning in an ill manner. Ramjet steeled himself, swallowing thickly, and stepped further out. In the center of the entry area was a mess of energon and scorch marks. Ramjet knelt at the edge of it, and looked up, where the energon smeared into a path all the way to the far side of the room, and out through a shorn hole in the wall. Closing his eyes, Ramjet tilted his head as if to look over his shoulder. “...It was Gridlock, wasn't it?” “…Yes,” Lightbright managed through her teeth. Her hair was down over her face this time, a fist pressed to the ground near her knee. Devcon took a moment to collect himself, and moved further out into the room. Other soldiers arrived a moment later, but quickly realized what was going on. Devcon came near to the hole Kuwanger left, and sharpened his optics at it. “Razor-sharp cuts, not explosives. This kind of precision and speed. I’m thinking it was Kuwanger, Commander,” he said clearly toward the front of the chamber. Ramjet moved over, touching Lightbright’s shoulder as the others came in. Drift finally came in, and replied, “Seems right, yes.” Ramjet nodded, as they kept scanning the now-compromised Resistance base of Operations. "We'll have to evac to Acadeimos now... " Lightbright slowly nodded, and stood up. “Alright... well, here's the report. Twenty minutes ago, Gridlock and I noticed the security sensors on the Southeast wall were down. Since we had just examined those this morning, I wanted to confirm they weren’t malfunctioning, while Gridlock notified Drift and his unit.” Drift shrugged faintly. “And that left Gridlock helpless here in the Command Center... and now Great Convoy has one of the most powerful weapons known to Cybertronian history approaching his command..." All of a sudden there was a shout from Soundwave. "Commander! I found a data-spike in this console’s interface. I isolated it from the network first, but now that I have it running, I think it’s a message,” Soundwave explained quickly, gesturing to the screen. Ramjet leaned in. “Show us.” Soundwave tapped a few controls, and the screen filled with a video feed. Kuwanger’s demonic head appeared, his optics smiling faintly. “Ah good, you’re watching. You should know your little pet project put up a good show of himself. Willing to blow himself up with an Elemental overload to take me down and protect the Resistance, I might add. Gridlock, I think his name is? “Anyway, after I cut off his override controls… literally,” he emphasized quietly while rubbing a hand along his bladed horn. Ramjet’s fists clenched, but he remained quiet as he went on, “I took him captive. Oh yes, he’s quite alive. Don’t let the mess fool you." “I’ve taken him to my own headquarters. He'll be sent to Great Convoy in 5 days time... since I know he wants this specimen for himself, oh I do know that... and I know some of you—I won’t name names—consider it a point of honor to keep all of your friends alive and safe. I dare you to live up to that ideal. Come and claim him.” The signal cut there, and Ramjet bowed his head. Soundwave firmly pulled the data spike out of the console. “I’ll give the system a clean wipe, and scan for any network leaks, Commander,” he muttered. Ramjet gave Devcon a look, and Devcon narrowed his eyes, but slowly looked to Lightbright, “Commander?” She blinked up at him. “Leave the clean up to the other Resistance Members. I want to draw up a plan of infiltration based on what we know of Kuwanger’s tower.” Her eyes lit up in confusion. "Ramjet excuse me?" “I have to do this Lightbright...” Ramjet tipped his head to Devcon, as the two moved off to direct the crews coming in to clean and repair the command center. “You want to handle this, I assume?” Devcon asked firmly, looking straight at the white armored mech. Ramjet nodded. “I do.” “And you do realize how heavily defended that damn tower is, right? Guzzle hasn't advanced an inch there!” “Of course.” Devcon rubbed the bridge of his nose. “You know our original plan was to just bring the entire thing down, and that’s still the best way to handle that place. We all know that. I’ll give the others time to set up a plan, but we can’t wait on this forever. If you want to hit that place, it has to be fast. Understood?” Ramjet nodded gravely. “I know Devcon... But I have to do it.” Devcon nodded out the door. “Fine... Go.” Ramjet transformed and was out of the door in the blink of an eye. --- Gridlock’s optics slowly lifted open as he groaned. He knew he was suspended by his wrists, but he was too hazy to confirm if his feet were fettered as well, or just heavy from their own dead weight. “Ah, welcome back.” Gridlock narrowed his gaze toward the blurry figure down and out from him. “You... took me... Hostage…?” his voice sputtered a bit, trailing off from his systemic damage. Kuwanger smiled with his eyes up at the suspended mech. Gridlock’s plating was still open, with deep cuts and scorches throughout his torso. His split-spark showing and pulsing with strained beating, his armor in shambles. He was alive, but looked half-dead. “Only if you want to stretch that word a bit. Great Convoy wants to turn you over to Brimstone, and complete the fusion with you and your annoying sister... I won't argue with it. I also imagine your friends’ll try to rescue you. At least the one I’m after, anyway.” “…What?” Gridlock stated, straining to keep his eyes open. “Great Convoy wants the Resistance dead... and those two hunters, Ramjet and Devcon... they've been a thorn in his side for too long,” Kuwanger muttered, moving around the hanging Gridlock. “Logically speaking, they should just bring the tower down. I have plans for that eventuality, of course, but only the morbidly compassionate would actually want to rescue someone in this situation. It would be so much easier to just bring the tower down, wouldn’t it?” Gridlock just kept his mouth shut at this point. “Amusing that you clam up now,” Kuwanger sighed, looking off. “I didn’t do what I did to torture you. I simply had to stop you from destroying yourself. Great Convoy confirmed you can't control your Elemental Prowess... and the signs would have been too hard to disguise with the time allotted. Oh, that, and I had orders to bring you in alive." Kuwanger chuckled. "The point I’m elaboring is this,” he continued, suddenly in front of Gridlock, hanging from the chains above him, eyes hovering just inches from his own, “if I wanted to cause you PAIN, you would still be screaming. Remember that.” Gridlock coughed a bit, and lifted his chin to face Kuwanger evenly. “I don’t care. You’re going down sooner or later. All they’ll lose is one soldier, and you missed the better one of us there that night.” Kuwanger’s optics sharpened… from a smile. He leaned so close Gridlock tilted his face away, cringing. Lifting his free hand, Kuwanger gripped the sides of Gridlock’s face with a slow, crushing squeeze. It stopped short of damage, but was no less vice-like. Gridlock eyed him sideways. “Do you know what the most sophisticated part of a Cybertronian’s body is?” “The Spark,” Gridlock whispered back, awkwardly around the crushing grip on his jaw. “Body, not mind, boy, pay attention. Body, body, body!” Kuwanger rattled Gridlock for emphasis. “…the face.” A fiendish smile shrank Kuwanger’s eyes to glowing slits. “Top marks. Bonus question! Why?” “To properly… simulate… emotion. To make us… seem more alive… to the rest of the Universe...” “Two for two! Excellent student!” Kuwanger suddenly released Gridlock’s face, but in two flickers of motion, he just as quickly held his bladed horns toward Gridlock’s cheek as a boomerang in his hand. He had completely detached them from his head. “Now… does a Cybertronian need his face to function?” Gridlock closed his eyes. “No.” Kuwanger leaned in again, and this time the narrowness of his eyes was pure malice. His voice rushed out as a burning whisper, a rush of malevolent pain, “What do I seem to be missing?” Gridlock opened his eyes, meeting Kuwanger’s with grim acceptance. “Your face.” The malefic voice returned for a simple response. “Top marks.” And then Kuwanger dug his boomerang into Gridlock's head. All Gridlock could do was scream.