dracoqueen22: (doctorisin)
[personal profile] dracoqueen22
a/n: Well, lookee here. Another update. Go me! And in case anyone missed my announcement, make sure you go back and skim chapter four because I accidentally uploaded the wrong version of the chapter but it's fixed now. Enjoy! Oh, and this is self-beta'ed.

Title: Critical Mass
Universe: Transformers: Prime Season Two AU, Event Horizon 'verse
Characters: Autobot and Decepticon Ensemble
Description: New allies have come to assist, but Optimus is still missing, and other matters have complicated the fight against the Decepticons. Time draws ever short as the war races toward an inevitable conclusion.

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Chapter Five

-----------------------

The moment the door clicks open, Ratchet knows who has come to call. He doesn't even have to look.

“I was wondering when you'd come.”

Amusement flutters through a questing energy field, brushing against Ratchet's own as if in greeting before withdrawing again. “I saved your interrogation for last,” Prowl replies in a dry tone.

Ratchet snorts and half-turns, giving Prowl a baleful look. “I assume you already read Sunstreaker the riot act?”

Prowl tilts his helm. “Riot act?”

“Human phrase. You'll learn it soon enough.” Ratchet returns back to his work, which is trying to make sense of the collection of spare parts in front of him. Hopefully, he'll be able to cobble a suitable protoform out of it. “The internet will be of use to you. Ask Raf how best to access it. He understands this blasted human tech.”

“Raf?”

Ratchet picks up a mangled arm, examining the joint ends. Too scrapped for reconnecting. He tosses the appendage into the scrap pile. “One of the three children Optimus has tasked us with protecting. I am certain you will meet them soon enough.”

The door clicks shut as Prowl steps fully into the medbay. “Yes, Arcee did make mention of some human allies. There was also talk of a human named Fowler.”

Ratchet huffs a ventilation. “You and him should get along. He's our liaison with this country's government.”

He examines a pair of optics, in good condition, but fitted with red lenses. Hmm. Those will have to be replaced. Ratchet sets the optics aside, into the refit column. This is not as easy as Sunstreaker thinks it is, frag it.

Prowl makes a noncommittal noise with his vocalizer. “There was also mention made of a new arrival, through Sunstreaker was unsurprisingly silent on the matter.”

Ratchet's search pauses as he lays his hands flat on the table, feeling a bright surge of energy from within him, a combination of the extra charge and a small tremor of concern. “If you're asking whether or not I am fostering, than the answer is yes.”

“I assume you've already considered the risks?”

Ratchet turns his helm, meeting Prowl's perfectly bland stare. The tactician can pull off blank-faced better than anyone Ratchet knows. “It's too late to terminate.”

“That is not what I was implying.” Some of the rigidity in Prowl's stance eases away, his doorwings flicking and then relaxing by degrees. “Your timing, as always, is poor.”

Ratchet snorts, fingers rapping on the tabletop. “You think I don't know that.” He huffs a ventilation and returns his attention to the half-mangled frames arrayed in front of him. “I presume you were filled in on Knock Out's presence.”

“Jazz made mention. Perceptor clarified.” Prowl eases out a soft ventilation. “For what it's worth, I am sorry for your loss, Ratchet. We should have done more.”

“You've done enough, keeping my secret as you have. Primus knows your processor crashed enough because of us.” Ratchet picks up an arm, mostly intact and even in decent shape, save for a need of repaint.

“Even so.” Prowl's pedesteps are barely audible as he starts a low, measuring course around the limited confines of the medbay. Ratchet can practically feel the twitches in the tactician's field at the insufficient quantities of his supplies. “What are we doing about Prime?”

“Jazz is on the Nemesis, against my better judgment,” Ratchet replies, unable to conceal his frown of disapproval. “We've discussed seeking out Optimus' memory back ups but we don't have the knowledge necessary to plan anything further.”

Prowl makes a noncommittal noise. “If only we could access Vector Sigma. Perhaps then we could better understand what has afflicted Prime.” He pauses, picking up one of Ratchet's half-finished projects. “Ratchet, I don't believe obtaining Prime's back ups are the answer.”

“I have the same suspicions.” Ratchet gives up work on the frames and turns, leaning back against the counter. He attempts to cross his arms, but putting that much pressure on his chestplates is unpleasant. “Aside from the fact Prime's memory back ups won't cover his time on Earth, they also won't return the Matrix to its original state.”

“Then we are back where we were, scrabbling for answers to an impossible riddle.” Prowl puts down the device, doorwings pressing flat against his back. “Perceptor mentioned researching at the Archives, though it would require a trip to Cybertron, through a space bridge we do not have.”

“And hordes of Terror-cons as well,” Ratchet grumbles, his ventilations hitching as the energies within him lash out, jostling for space in his limited chamber.

Frag it. He's going to need another overload soon. This is becoming embarrassing and exhausting.

“Ratchet?”

He waves off Prowl's concern. “I'm fine. So to speak.” Ratchet shifts his attention to a private comm briefly. --Sunstreaker.--

--You need it?--

Embarrassment threatens to heat Ratchet's faceplate but he fights it down. He's too old to be ashamed of himself. Isn't he?

--Nevermind,-- Sunstreaker hastily corrects. --I can tell you do. Be there in a klik.--

Of course he can. Lust and pain, heavily mixed, course through their new bond. Ratchet hasn't managed to learn how to block out the stronger emotions but he hopes to gain that skill in time. It can't be any harder than learning how to rewire a sensory net.

Ratchet drags a palm down his face and looks at an ever-patient Prowl. “We're going to have to finish this conversation later.”

“Understood.” Prowl nods and adjusts his route back toward the door. “I will also send First Aid by later. He has missed his mentor.”

The door swings open before Prowl can touch the panel, Sunstreaker striding inside but looking startled at the sight of the tactician. Sunny's optics immediately cycle down, his plating lifted in a threat display. That reaction, Ratchet sighs, is not unexpected either.

“Good luck,” Prowl says, wisely sliding past Sunstreaker and hastily exiting. In a fight between the two, Ratchet's certain Prowl will emerge victorious. But he doesn't feel like cleaning up the aftermath. Not in his current state.

“Politeness is a common courtesy,” Ratchet says as the door slides shut behind Sunstreaker, the frontliner's plating starting to smooth down now that they are alone.

Sunstreaker rolls his optics, crowding Ratchet against the table without any preamble. “You summoned?”

Ratchet's hands seem magnetically attracted to Sunstreaker's hip plating, his fingers sliding across expertly polished armor, static already spilling from himself. “I did,” Ratchet replies.

To the Pit with trying to civilize Sunstreaker. It's a pointless endeavor anyway.

“Now how about that overload?” Ratchet adds, pulling Sunstreaker toward him, feeling the subtle pings of armor impacting armor as they collided.

o0o0o


Knock Out steps back and scrutinizes his work. For all intents and purposes, Ricochet is as good as new, if one doesn't count the disparity between new, unpainted plating and the scratched, splotched remnants of whatever had served as his paint before. He's even dug a spare visor out of the medbay's supplies, allowing Ricochet his pick of several styles.

The new mech had chosen a visor with a violet hue as opposed to a crimson one, a color choice still Decepticon in nature at least.

Knock Out has also toned up the sigils on the mech's thigh plating along with fixing all of the major dents and torn lines and other little fiddly bits. The rest Ricochet's self-repair can handle, especially now that he's got a good cube of mid-grade in him. That sludgy, almost-mauve mixture that Knock Out had drained from Ricochet's tanks isn't suited to power an insentient space shuttle much less a Cybertronian warrior.

All in all, Ricochet is good to go. Which Knock Out is quite happy for because he has proven even more annoying than Airachnid.

“Careful there, Doc,” Ricochet drawls, leaning back on the berth with the sort of casual grace that takes most mechs vorns to perfect. “You're staring a bit too hard at shiny old me.”

Knock Out arches an orbital ridge and turns, dropping his scanner on a cart behind him. “Shiny is pushing it.”

Ricochet laughs, loud and full, rather grating actually. “Mmm, you make for a good point.” He lifts an arm, peering at a rectangular panel of grey plating. “Got some paint to spare? And make it flashy.” He drawls out the last word, accompanying it with a flicker of his visor.

Knock Out resists the urge to ex-vent audibly. He doesn't need to let Ricochet realize just how irritating he is being. “We have black. Lots of black,” he replies flatly, plating clamping down tightly to his frame.

“Now that's boring.” Ricochet waves a hand through the air, twitching on the berth. “Am I fresh and free to go?”

“Something like that.” Dear, Primus. The sooner Knock Out can get the mech out of his medbay, the sooner he can have some peace and intelligent quiet.

“Wait a klik.” Ricochet launches himself off the berth, drawing to his full height which neatly matches Knock Out's own. He holds his arms out in front of him, plating shifting around as though in test mode. “Where're my weapons?”

Knock Out smirks. “You'll have to ask Soundwave about those.”

If it were possible for a Cybertonian to blanch, Ricochet has. There's a distinctly uneasy look to the mech's faceplate. It's the first smart reaction Knock Out's seen from the so-called Decepticon. Soundwave's one creepy fragger.

A shiver wreaks Knock Out's systems. He still remembers the unwelcome sensation of Soundwave's cables wrapping around him, the mech slithering through his private systems with ridiculous ease, all in the name of data retrieval.

Three trips to the washracks later and Knock Out still has ghost twinges through his sensor net.

“Do I... have to?” Ricochet asks, for the first time displaying some hesitation.

Knock Out smothers a derisive laugh. “Your choice.”

Ricochet shudders visibly and takes a long, sliding step closer to Knock Out. “I gotta better idea. How about you give me a tour of this unique piece of Decepticon machinery?”

Knock Out eases away from Ricochet, putting a respectful distance between them and resisting the urge to enunciate himself with his surgical saw. “I'll take you where you're supposed to go,” he says. “That's tour enough.”

“Suit yourself.” Ricochet drags his hands down his frame, as though making certain he's been stripped of all weapons, and then gestures Knock Out ahead of him. “After you.”

A growl of irritation rumbles in Knock Out's engine but he turns and strides out of his medbay. Honestly. He has better things to do than take Ricochet around, feeling the full force of the Decepticon's visor on his plating. Also, he can't stand to look at the garish, half-painted mech. Ugh.

“Down that hall is the lift to the storage decks,” Knock Out directs in a cheerless tone, only aware of Ricochet following him due to the presence on his scanners. Otherwise, the mech doesn't make a sound. Not a single pedestep. He must have some kind of noise dampener attached to his frame. “There are three of them and they are off limits to anyone without the proper clearance.”

“And that would be?”

“Not you,” Knock Out replies curtly. He turns a sharp corner and this time, gestures to his opposite side where another hallway, darker than the others, slopes sharply down. “Down that corridor is where we keep the labs. Word to the wise, I wouldn't suggest a visit.”

Ricochet laughs, a staticky noise. “What if I got a little mad scientist in me?”

Such a comment doesn't deserve a response so Knock Out says nothing. He heads to the main lift on the floor and punches the button. The deck above contains the soldier's barracks, but that's not where Knock Out is taking Ricochet. He has his orders after all.

“What about that door?”

Knock Out turns, following the line of Ricochet's point to an alcove currently being guarded by two Vehicons. A recent addition after Arcee's untimely visit to the Nemesis. “Another room. Also off-limits.”

The lift dings, announcing it's arrival, and Knock Out moves to step into it. Ricochet, however, doesn't budge.

“But what kind of room?” he asks, leaning toward the guarded door as if intending to dart over there and barge his way inside.

Knock Out reaches out, hooking a hand around Ricochet's arm and dragging the mech away. “None of your business,” he snaps, pushing Ricochet ahead of him.

Primus, he's more irritating than Bluestreak on a chatty orn!

A surprisingly deft twist of motion and Ricochet breaks free of Knock Out's hold, but he's wise enough not to take off. The door to the lift closes behind them and Knock Out jams the button for the command deck.

“Cool, mech. Just curious.” Ricochet flashes a smile, visor glimmering with amusement. “Never been on a warship before. Since Cybertron went dark, been on one cramped shuttle to the next.”

Knock Out folds his arms, concentrating solely on the power lines running through the lift. Something about this mech makes him plain uneasy. “Who's unit were you in?”

“Turmoil's. Until he skipped off planet and left half of us behind.” Ricochet's smile widens, displaying his denta. “Tried to follow Lord Megatron through the space bridge. Something went shifty. Got spat out on the aft end of some backwater galaxy. Was fun. Should try it sometime.”

“I'll pass.”

The lift dings, the doors sliding open, and Knock Out steps out first, once again sensing more than seeing Ricochet follow him.

Knock Out heads straight for the command center, wanting to be free of Ricochet as soon as possible.

The new mech forces air through an outtake in a harsh whistle. “Think I'm gonna like it here,” he comments, grinning at a couple of passing Vehicons. “See any action?”

“There are Autobots on this planet,” Knock Out concedes. “Including the Prime.” Though Prime isn't really a factor anymore. Not that the newbie needs to know that. Less chance of him accidentally breaking Lord Megatron's carefully crafted illusion.

The doors to the bridge open as Knock Out approaches, the noise of consoles beeping and Vehicons murmuring status updates floating to his audials. Lord Megatron is standing at the helm, a master overseeing his subjects, optics focused on the main screen. He turns at Knock Out's entrance, gaze sifting past the medic to the unknown entity following along behind.

“Ah, Ricochet was it?” Megatron semi-greets, his tone noticeably wary but his expression giving away nothing.

“You've got it.” Ricochet doesn't bother to salute.

Obviously, he's never been on the receiving end of Megatron's idea of discipline for insubordination. Well, he'll learn soon enough.

Knock Out wisely steps out of the line of fire.

Megatron's optics cycle down to narrow slits of scarlet. “Tell me again how you came to be a prisoner of the Autobots,” he says, moving toward Ricochet with a slow, measured stride.

Ricochet's visor, Knock Out notices, tracks every motion that Megatron makes. “Got jumped when I stopped for recharge on this dusty, little moon.”

“And up until then?”

“Searching for energon. And you, of course, most vaunted leader.”

Megatron twitches. Knock Out winces. And is not very surprised when the taloned servo whips out, the clawed back slamming against Ricochet's faceplate and cracking his visor.

Ricochet helm lurches to the side, the sharp slap of metal on metal ringing in the air. The soldier stumbles but manages to keep his pedes beneath him, engine revving as his energy field spikes with surprise.

Knock Out ex-vents softly. He just fixed that visor, frag it.

Energon dribbles from his lower lipplate but instead of wiping it away, Ricochet's glossa takes care of the drip.

“It seems your orns spent in solitude have made you forget proper conduct when around your leader, Ricochet,” Megatron says without breaking stride. “I wonder what else it is you might have forgotten. Soundwave!”

Here, Ricochet flinches, visor dimming behind the visible crack. “Lord Megatron, I--”

He cuts off as Megatron holds up another taloned servo. “Our new recruit could use a few lessons. Instruct him.”

Knock Out takes another step back. And then a third for good measure, watching as Soundwave inclines his helm. His cables whip out, grabbing Ricochet before the soldier can even think of fleeing.

Knock Out's internals lurch and he whirls on a heel. He has no interest in staying. Experiencing Soundwave's special form of interrogation is bad enough. He doesn't want to witness it either, even if Ricochet is as annoying as Starscream.

“Knock Out.”

He pauses, turning back toward Lord Megatron and making a point not to even so much as glance Ricochet's direction. “Yes, Lord Megatron?”

“Our special guest will be needing his fuel shortly. Do not forget.”

Knock Out bites back several sarcastic remarks that would also get him a talon to the faceplate and simply inclined his helm. “I will attend to that immediately,” he responds with a little bow and quickly takes his leave.

Sometimes, a part of him agrees with Starscream's assessment. There's something not quite right in Lord Megatron's processor. He seems to be the only one who can handle the continued exposure to dark energon without any repercussions, but Knock Out is not so certain. Vorn by vorn, Megatron's been losing it.

The Autobots are going to lose, he reminds himself.

And Knock Out will take an insanely ambitious leader over a soft-sparked, hypocritical Prime any day.

o0o0o


“Sideswipe.”

“Hmm?”

“Let me up.”

“No.”

The weight on First Aid's frame snuggles closer, near-smothering him. Sideswipe's arms are wrapped firmly around his midsection, Sideswipe's faceplate pressed into First Aid's neck components. He can feel Sideswipe's ex-vents tickling his sensors, not enough to make him laugh or arouse him, but just enough to be tangible.

Aid's lips twitch. “We'll need to refuel eventually,” he says, one hand resting on Sideswipe's back, fingers dragging down over unfamiliar, smooth armor.

Sideswipe's silence is all too telling. Sometimes, despite being bonded, First Aid feels as though he doesn't understand his mate at all. Other times, he can almost guess what Sideswipe is thinking. This instance? It's a bit of both.

“Sides, talk to me.”

More silence. He can feel the thrumming of Sidewipe's spark, off-balance which is usually indicative of his mate's distress. Sideswipe's energy field is also withdrawn, when he would usually twine it eagerly around First Aid's.

It can't be just the vorns long separation that has him so reserved. There must be something else. And First Aid guesses that it has something to do with a certain mech who is bright gold.

“I can feel it, you know,” First Aid continues, both hands now resting on Sideswipe's dorsal plating, feeling the heat of his mate's frame. “Your spark's erratic.”

Finally, Sideswipe stirs.

“Been recharging alone,” he mutters, though it's a half-afted response at best.

It's a start.

Aid hums thoughtfully. “Sunstreaker?”

Sideswipe's frame shakes with a laugh, but it lacks humor. “Vorns of being separated and they're still at each other's intakes and I'm still picking up the pieces. When I'm not making myself scarce that is.” His tone is not quite bitter, but definitely tired.

Ah. Not just Sunstreaker then but also the querulous relationship he has with Ratchet. Then again, there are few mechs who don't have a somewhat antagonizing relationship with Ratchet.

“We should just go,” Sideswipe says after a moment passes, his vocals almost too soft for First Aid's audials to pick up. “Put wheels to the road and drive somewhere the war doesn't exist.”

First Aid's hand shifts up, stroking over the back of Sideswipe's helm. “You don't mean that.”

He expects another dark laugh. For Sideswipe to agree that yes, he'd been joking even though parts of him meant it.

What First Aid gets is more of that incriminating silence. Primus, what has happened in the past vorns? What has he missed?

“Sideswipe.”

“Maybe I do,” his mate says, and finally lifts his helm, his optics dim with stress and dismay. “I'm fragging tired, Aid. Tired of one inhospitable planet after the other. Stale energon and empty galaxies. Cramped quarters and sitting by Sunny as Percy puts him together again because he misses Ratchet and doesn't know how else to say it except to keep getting himself scrapped.”

Sideswipe pulls himself up onto his elbows, one hand flitting over to rub down his faceplate with a heavy ex-vent. “I'm tired of trying not to break and knowing it's inevitable. I just want to be home again.”

First Aid let Sideswipe's confession wash over him, unable to help the pulse of concordance from his spark.

He shutters his optics, venting carefully. He has no words to soothe because the truth remains bitter. He can't and won't offer Sideswipe false optimism.

They've lost everything except for each other. Sideswipe still has his brother. First Aid believes Blades is out there somewhere. He supposes they should consider themselves lucky for being able to hold on to even a small portion of their family.

“We can't abandon the Autobots,” Aid finally says, onlining his optics once more. “Or your brother. But I won't let Prime separate us again.”

A soft smile curls Sideswipe's lipplate. “Won't? Are you going to ignore a direct order?”

First Aid feels a flush heat his faceplate. “I've done it before you know,” he huffs, rolling his optics. Just because he usually listens to their commanding officers and Sideswipe is known for testing the boundaries only to hop right over them....

“I'll believe that when I see it,” Sideswipe retorts and he shifts his weight to one arm, the other rising free and tickling down First Aid's side armor, where his plating has wider gaps for greater flexibility. “Might be pretty hot actually.”

Trust Sideswipe to flipflop from angst to lust in the span of a few minutes time. And everymech thinks that Sunstreaker is the emotionally unstable one.

Still, lust is easier handled than sadness and First Aid isn't exactly disinclined. It's been vorns since he's seen his mate after all. His spark craves to reconnect.

“I suppose you're going to give me the opportunity to be non-compliant sometime soon then?” First Aid asks, his energy field flexing outward, reaching for Sideswipe's and delighted when his bond responded.

“Nah. I think Sunny's got that front covered for a while yet.” Sideswipe lowers his helm, nuzzling against the windshield on First Aid's chestplate. “But I could use a few reminders, ya know, for old times sake.”

“I am supposed to be on duty in a few minutes.”

Sideswipe's lips nibble at the faux windshield wipers. “I can be quick.”

First Aid sighs, but it's hardly one of disappointment. He's missed this, missed his mate.

And it won't be the first time Sideswipe's helped him be late for a shift. He's certain it won't be the last.

0o0o0


It doesn't make any sense.

Frustration and confusion nag at the edge of Orion's concentration and his processor is already divided between two tasks. The Iacon database is troublesome enough. But trying to hack into the encrypted files of the Nemesis mainframe is even worse.

He must have answers.

He wants to believe Megatron but there are too many inconsistencies, too many facts that just don't add up.

His thoughts keep cycling back to that moment, that look of devastation in the Autobots' optics when he ignored them. They had called him Prime.

He is no Prime.

Even more confusing is Ratchet. Orion remembers him to be a surgeon and a decent scientist. True, he had a bit of a temper, but he ran a free clinic in the slums of Uraya for Primus' sake. Now he's become leader of the Autobots? Granted, Megatron had risen from a gladiator to leader of the Decepticons, but the idea of a medic becoming a dictator seems so very far-fetched.

Megatron wouldn't lie.

And yet, there is so much he won't let Orion see. There are questions he won't answer or distracts Orion away from seeking in the first place.

Those happy orns of planning and plotting and chatting are gone. Orion's left a mech he doesn't recognize, speaking words that make no sense, and the devastating knowledge that Cybertron is gone.

Would that he had never recovered from this, that he had never returned to Orion Pax. He honestly doesn't know what to think.

His console beeps.

Orion frowns, turning away from his third attempt to hack the Nemesis mainframe. A line of code on the main screen flashes bright purple at him. Ah, another piece of the Iacon Database has been decoded. They are coordinates yet again. For this planet.

Why is so much Cybertronian tech hidden here? First the energon and now these relics. It doesn't make any sense.

Orion ex-vents softly and starts to activate his comm, intending to let Soundwave know of his most recent success.

Behind him, the door slides open. Orion whirls to find Megatron striding inside, almost as if he had known.

“Orion,” Megatron greets with a pointed glance around the tiny cubicle. “How is your work progressing?”

He looks at Megatron, really looks at him, searching for any clue, any sign of the noble-sparked Megatronus he had known before. But all he can see is the poisonous glow of that dark energon.

“I have decoded another portion,” Orion answers, returning back to the screen, if only to cease scrutinizing Megatron for the past. “It is another set of coordinates.”

In the reflection of the monitor, he can see Megatron's face split into a sharp grin. “Excellent,” he says, one hand clasping Orion on the shoulder, thumb brushing the newly applied brand. “When Knock Out and Breakdown are done with their little errand, I'll retrieve Iacon's gift.”

“Errand?”

Megatron's optics drop from the screen to Orion's shoulder, where his thumb continues to trace the sigil. “The Autobots destroyed our space bridge. We are currently retrieving the necessary machinery to complete another.”

Orion whirls, excitement making his spark skip a pulse. “We can return to Cybertron?” It's more than he can hope for. Megatron claims it is dead, but Orion feels he must see it for himself. He has to see the devastation with his own optics.

“Eventually,” Megatron replies and he tilts his helm. “We must first acquire the necessary energon to revitalize our planet as well as recover the lost Allspark.”

Disappointed, Orion returns to his research. “I see.”

Megatron ex-vents softly, the sound of a weary leader with the weight of the world on his spiky shoulders. “It is an unfortunate necessity to have to wait, I know. Cybertron is and will always be our home.”

Orion ceases typing, his fingers resting on the touch-type keys. “What is it, then, that the Autobots are seeking, if not to restore Cybertron as well?”

“They protect the very system that led to this war in the first place,” Megatron says, enunciating his explanation with a grand gesture. “They do not wish to lose their wealth and indolence.”

Orion's helm dips. That doesn't at all sound like the Ratchet he remembers. Then again, this Megatron doesn't sound like the Megatronus he knows either.

“Why do you ask?” Megatron continues, his arms lowering slowly. “All the data we have on the Autobot menace is available in the Nemesis archives.”

Propaganda. It all reads as propaganda. Orion's seen it, browsed through it, committed it to processor, but like everything else, it doesn't make sense. Lord Megatron this and the glorious Decepticons that and yet, somehow, both factions have managed to nearly obliterate Cybertron. He's failing to see where either of them are in the right.

“The information is incomplete,” Orion starts, hedging because he's seen Megatron's temper, even when the mech thinks he's not looking. He half-turns. “Or encrypted so that I cannot access it.”

Megatron's helm levels. “I'm sure Knock Out has informed you of our problem with Autobot spies. It's an unfortunate necessity.”

“Yes, but...” Orion gathers himself and asks. He won't know if he doesn't push the boundaries of what Megatron is willing to tell him. “All records indicate that your second in command is Starscream.” Whom Orion does, actually, remember. He had never been fond of the Seeker. “Yet I've seen him nowhere aboard the ship.”

Something flickers in Megatron's energy field, but it is there and gone again before Orion can identify it. “Sadly, Commander Starscream was offlined by an Autobot traitor. He will be sorely missed.” His tone lacks any and all sincerity.

“That is unfortunate.”

“Indeed.” Megatron makes a thoughtful noise and then looks at Orion once more. “You have been working for almost two shifts, Orion. It may be time for a break.” The invitation in his tone is unmistakable.

For the first time since onlining to confusion and chaos, Orion finds himself reluctant.

His plating - too heavy, far too heavy, he still isn't used to this armor - clamps tightly to his frame and he turns back toward the monitor. “Perhaps later. I am close to another breakthrough. This piece of the Iacon code is unraveling a bit easier.”

“You are diligent, Orion.” Megatron clasps him on the shoulder, taloned servo lingering longer than a mere professional interest. “My Decepticons could learn from you.”

His talon slides away with an enticing burr of metal on metal before Megatron turns on a pede and heads for the door. “Keep up the good work. I trust that you will continue to do your fellows proud.”

The door slides shut behind Megatron.

Orion's helm lowers, his digits pausing entirely on the keys while the two decryption programs continue to run.

But which, he wonders, are his fellows truly?

***

a/n: A bit of a transitory chapter here, but necessary. Coming up next: Fowler gets frustrated, Arcee is insubordinate, Orion is curious, and Jack has an idea.

As always, feedback is welcome and appreciated! It stirs the muses and helps me plot out Zero Sum. ;)  

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