dracoqueen22: (ratchet)
[personal profile] dracoqueen22
a/n: Another update to this little piece of self-indulgence of mine. Fair warning that it's self-betaed but hey! Lots of characters join the cast this time around. And Things Are Happening. ;)

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 Seven

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Orion stirs at the ping to his quarters, curious as to who would come to call. He sets down his energon and keys the door open, further surprised when Megatron comes strolling in, his field reading satisfaction and no small amount of desire.

“I have a surprise for you,” he says with a smirk.

“Is not your visit enough of one?” Orion asks, arching an orbital ridge, but he steps aside, giving the Decepticon leader free reign to enter.

Megatron chuckles, briefly resting his hand on Orion's shoulder. “One must never be predictable, Orion. Come. Sit.”

He perches on the edge of the berth, patting the empty space beside him. Orion detours for his energon and joins Megatron on the berth.

“What is it?” Orion asks, his tone just shy of youngling eagerness.

Megatron hums in his chassis and withdraws something from subspace, a small cylindrical canister sealed with a clasped lid. “The item I retrieved from the first coordinates you supplied. I thought you might like to see the fruits of your labor.”

Orion sets his energon on the berth behind him. “This is what you found?”

“Yes.” Megatron tips the canister into his hands. “And I invite you to open it.”

Orion's hands pass over the cool metal, examining every minor imperfection. It is somewhat familiar to him, though he can't say from where. He flips the clasps and opens the lid, a puff of displaced air accompanying it. He tips the cylinder on end and something flat and disc-shaped tumbles into his hand.

“It's--”

“The Apex Armor,” Orion finishes for Megatron, recognizing the item in an instant. “I've read of this. It was created by Solus Prime.” He looks up at Megatron with a smile. “This is incredible, Megatron.”

Something in the Decepticon leader's expression softens. “It will be of great use to our cause, yes. And it is thanks to you, Orion, that we were able to acquire it.”

Heat floods Orion's faceplate. “I only decoded a database.”

“You have done so much more.” Megatron takes the Apex Armor from his hands, but only to set it aside. “And together, we can accomplish anything. I have always believed that.” One of his clawed hands rests on Orion's thigh, a warm weight.

“I have, too.” His hand covers Megatron's. And he wants to continue to believe it now. Megatron has changed, but Orion has as well.

“I am glad to hear it.” Megatron's hand cups his faceplate, thumb stroking the curve of his jaw, the size difference, at least, still familiar. Something in his expression softens, even as it becomes unreadable. “Am I preventing you from recharge?”

“No.” Orion leans his helm into the touch, warm and wanted.

In this, at least, there are no lies. Megatron touches him the same. His desire is the same. And the need-filled heat of his field is the same.

“You are welcome to join me in it,” Orion says and banishes all disquiet to the edge of his processor.

For now, this moment, Megatron is his.

0o0o0


“Do you even have a plan, Commander? This chase is getting more ridiculous by the astrosecond. We've even acquired an Autobot.”

Starscream frowns, optics cycling down at the brightly lit console in front of him. “Would you prefer I had left you in that lab?”

Buttons flicker. “It was merely a question,” the shuttle bites out, the energy field humming around them finally backing down to a tolerable level.

“And a reasonable one at that,” Onslaught says. His vocals sour as he tosses Starscream a look, his visor gleaming an annoyed yellow. “It would have been wiser to swing around the ringed planet.”

Blast Off sharply yaws to the side and Starscream grips the console to keep from being thrown from his chair. Onslaught, he notices, doesn't so much as twitch.

“If I wanted your opinion, I would have asked for it,” Starscream hisses, glaring at his newest recruit. “So unless you have something useful to add, mute your vocalizer.”

“I knew I should have stuck with Skywarp,” Thundercracker mutters behind Starscream. He'd taken a position at the back of the cockpit, leaning against the wall and now gripping storage mesh to keep himself from being thrown to the ground.

Starscream grits his denta and swings his gaze back to the windshield, the blue and white of Earth's sky whipping by at a fast pace. “I gave you the coordinates, Blast Off. Follow them. I suspect our newly acquired Autobot will take care of our Dreadwing problem.”

“Why?” Onslaught asks.

Starscream's lipplates curl as he tosses the Combaticon commander a smug grin. “I have it on good authority that Dreadwing killed an Autobot or two. You know how personal they tend to take these things.”

“Reinforcements incoming,” Blast Off says, his vocals reverberating around them. He also chooses that moment to curve sharply to the left, throwing his passengers around his interior once more.

Onslaught straightens. “But for which side?”

Starscream glances out a side porthole. Autobots don't fly and he doubts the humans would try attacking. So he's not at all surprised to recognize the familiar dark purple of an Eradicon.

“Megatron may not recognize us, but I am certain he'll aim for an Autobot before anything else,” Starscream says, leaning back in his chair. “Gentlemechs, our distraction has arrived.”

Thundercracker makes a noise of disbelief. “You're going to get us all offlined,” he announces before turning and ducking through the doorway, heading into the cluttered confines of the cargo bay.

Starscream ignores his fellow Seeker. Thundercracker had made the choice to accompany Starscream. Why, Starscream hadn't asked but it is no secret that Thundercracker's loyalty to Megatron is significantly less than his loyalty to the Decepticon cause. A fact Skywarp had not understood which led to the current rift between them.

“Better to turn gray here than in Shockwave's lab,” Onslaught comments, propping his helm on a closed fist as he stares sullenly out the large windshield.

“None of us are going gray,” Starscream retorts with a scathing glance. “I, for one, have no intention to offline. I have plans.”

“Plans you've neglected to elaborate upon,” Onslaught reminds him, though he doesn't look Starscream's direction. “This better be worth my time, Starscream. My debt only stretches so far.”

Starscream bites back several retorts, all of them unpleasant, and settles for something only mildly offensive. “You could always bow and scrape before Megatron. He might forgive you. It's been vorns, hasn't it? Surely he's forgotten why he shipped you off to Shockwave's lab in the first place.”

He can feel Onslaught's hot glare like a laser between his wings, searing on his backplate. But it hardly matters. Onslaught could have chosen to go his own way, but he'd opted to come with Starscream.

Right now, Starscream has the upper hand.

“You were correct, Starscream,” Blast Off says, his even tones giving no hint to his opinion on anything. “The Eradicons are firing at the Autobot. Dreadwing is still on my tail.”

Starscream grits his denta. “Lose him already!”

“He's smaller, faster, and more agile,” Blast Off retorts. “If I could outmaneuver him, I would do it already.”

The comm crackles to life, vocals echoing through the system. “Permission to disembark, sir?” Thundercracker demands, the respectful address sounding just this side of insubordinate.

“Granted,” Starscream barks and feels his processor ache. His so-called allies are more trouble then they are worth. “Get him off our tail and get back here. You fall behind, I'm leaving you there.”

“Whatever you say, boss.”

The comm snaps off and the console informs him that the cargo bay door has opened.

“Blast Off, give me a visual.”

The shuttle is silent, but one of the screens flickers, displaying the view from one of Blast Off's external visual feeds. Thundercracker has whipped around, lining himself up for a strafing run across Dreadwing's dorsal plating.

It's a move Starscream has seen Thundercracker perform hundreds of times during the war. Most mechs know to run when they see him coming. Most Seekers know to clear the skies. So either Dreadwing doesn't know, or he's so focused on taking Starscream down that he doesn't care.

The subsonic boom tears through the atmosphere and though Thundercracker has focused it on Dreadwing, Blast Off still mutters a curse, rocking side to side in the wake of it.

“I fragging hate it when he does that,” Blast Off says, in an uncharacteristic display of ill-temper. “Could have warned me.”

“Should have known it was coming,” Onslaught retorts, but the offense ripples in his energy field.

Starscream ignores both of them, watching as Dreadwing's ship jerks left and right, and then loses altitude at an alarming rate. Well, alarming for Dreadwing. It's going to take him time to get out of that spin, long enough for Starscream and his team to get the frag out of sight.

“Thundercracker's returning,” Blast Off announces.

“Good.” Starscream leans back in his chair, wings twitching behind him. “As soon as he's back onboard, head straight for the coordinates as fast as you can. Lose our pursuers.”

The shuttle trembles around them, a silent confirmation.

“I hope you know what you're doing,” Onslaught mutters.

Starscream's optics cycle down, staring through the viewscreen. He doesn't dignify the Combaticon commander with an answer.

Onslaught had chosen to come with him, as had Thundercracker and Blast Off both. They have only themselves to blame.

0o0o0


“Who is it?”

“That's a frag lot of activity.”

“I want answers, Prowl, and I want them now!”

Demands and requests and curiosity bombards him from all angles. Prowl's doorwings flatten against his back at the onslaught of sensory input, narrowing it down to only what was most important: Fowler's inquiry and his own need for information.

Three, no four groups of Cybetronians identified on the screen. One in front pinged as Decepticon, so did the single shuttle immediately after it. Third in line was an Autobot signal, itself surrounded by a cluster of Decepticon signals.

The first cluster breaks away, arcing off-screen. The second shuttle slips into free-fall. Prowl can't follow them all. This equipment isn't sophisticated or powerful enough.

He has to make a decision.

The Autobot on screen follows the single Decepticon. The cluster of what has to be Vehicon soldiers careens after the Autobot.

They are the biggest threat.

The first cluster blips off the radar, either because it is beyond the scope of his equipment, or they have engaged some type of cloaking.

“Prowl!”

“I'm working on it,” Prowl replies, calm to the core, despite Arcee all but shouting at him. Her insubordination nearly matches Sideswipe and Sunstreaker's. This will have to be discussed later.

“This is not meeting our agreement, Prowl,” Fowler says, his words seething from a secondary screen. “There's a city down there. Aka, collateral damage.”

Prowl shifts his attention to a third monitor. The single Decepticon has crash-landed somewhere in the central United States and the Autobot has followed after it.

“All of our forces are accounted for,” Prowl replies, fingers flying across the keys as he connects to their satellite access, attempting to get a visual.

“You can't tell me that's not an Autobot wreaking havoc just outside of Omaha!” Fowler snaps, nostrils flaring. “I'm staring right at him!”

And in a moment, Prowl will be as well.

“Accessing satellite imagery now,” he says.

“Or you could just see what I'm seeing,” Fowler retorts and one of the monitors flickers, revealing an image of two mechs facing off against each other, Vehicons landing in steady bursts around them.

The smoldering wreckage of one shuttle can be seen in the background. Another shuttle is in better repair, one thruster damaged and spewing smoke.

Fowler zooms in and all attention focuses on the screen.

“That can't be Skyquake,” Bulkhead says, sounding confused. “Bumblebee pounded him to scrap months ago.”

“Except for the fact Starscream gave him a new lease on half-life,” Arcee retorts with a roll of her optics. She gestures to the screen. “Doesn't tell us who the dance partner is.”

Prowl ex-vents, feeling his optical ridges tick. Satellite imagery finally comes through, clearer than Fowler's secondhand, and Prowl zooms in on the Autobot, not recognizing the mech on sight.

“Wheeljack!” Bulkhead exclaims with a laugh. “Jackie's back!”

Primus. Wheeljack. As if Prowl needed anymore insubordinate mechs.

“He's probably going to need some help,” Sideswipe says, and it isn't out of sheer kindness. Lust for battle is thick in his energy field. “So how about a ground bridge, Prowl?”

“I said it once and I'll say it again,” Fowler adds from the screen. “No collateral damage. I don't want to hear of any innocents getting caught in the crossfire.”

Prowl cuts his optics toward the human representative. “We will engage the Decepticon as quickly as possible. You have my word.”

“Better do it fast,” Fowler says, and the image from his camera suddenly jerks. “Whoa! What in Sam Hill--”

Fowler cuts out, the image filled with static.

Prowl's fingers fly over the console, queuing up the coordinates as his processor forms a battle crew. “Agent Fowler? Can you hear me?”

Bulkhead pounds his fists together, energy field whirling with eagerness. “Come on. We're missing all the action!”

“Agent Fowler?”

Nothing.

The ground bridge swirls to life. Prowl keeps his optics locked on the screen, satellite giving him view of Wheeljack and the Seeker-build clashing, Vehicons adding firepower to the mix. Fowler's jet is caught in the crossfire.

“Bulkhead. Arcee. Sideswipe. Bumblebee. Go.”

“About time!” Bulkhead drops into alt-mode and races into the bridge, Arcee on his aft and Bumblebee right behind her. Sideswipe brings up the rear, tires screeching across the concrete floor.

They disappear into the ground bridge faster than Prowl can register their exit and his fingers fly across the keyboard, pulling up image after image.

The Autobots arrive on the scene, blasters firing immediately. Bulkhead drops into alt-mode, gunning across the pavement toward Wheeljack and the Decepticon. Sideswipe and Bumblebee take aim at the Eradicons, swooping through the air like a flock of Seekers. Arcee moves to investigate the shuttles, a wise choice. There could be injured Autobots or unconscious Decepticons eager to join the fight at any moment.

“Backup has arrived,” Prowl informs Agent Fowler, his own optics riveted on the screen. “I suggest that you retreat.”

There's no sign that the government operative has heard him. Whatever had cut off their communication before remains in effect. He can see Agent Fowler, but that is the extent of their communication.

“Prowl to Bumblebee. Assist Agent Fowler. Ensure his safety.”

An affirmative bleep comes across their connection as Bumblebee drops to alt-mode and zooms out of view. Sideswipe is unfazed, firing steadily at the surrounding Eradicons. There are a half-dozen, or were, Prowl should say. Two lie in smoking ruins.

It is a miracle no humans have stumbled onto this scene or gotten hurt yet.

A miracle, Prowl realizes with a twitch, that may meet its end. Wheeljack and the Decepticon's clash has taken them scarily close to one of the human refueling stations. Bulkhead smashes into the Decepticon, trying to knock him backward, but a powerful blow sends the green mech flying backward.

Wheeljack, incensed, takes aim and fires.

Prowl's hope for an incident without property damage goes up in flames. Literally. The station explodes in a fiery burst of debris and flammable fluids. Wheeljack throws himself to the ground, Bulkhead is nowhere in sight, and thick black smoke fills the sky.

There's shouting on the comms, too much for Prowl to decipher in a moment. Bumblebee bleats something about finding Agent Fowler, that he's unharmed. Arcee gives the all clear for the shuttles.

Bulkhead groans, says he's still alive and then starts laying into Wheeljack about recklessly firing. It saves Prowl the trouble of saying it himself, though he will surely have words with the former Wrecker as soon as they bridge back to base.

Sideswipe stands triumphant over a downed Eradicon, three others in smoking heaps.

“Sideswipe to Prowl. Threat neutralized,” he says, far too smug.

Prowl retracts a sigh. “And the Decepticon?”

“Gone,” says Bulkhead and there's a tightness to his comm. “He took to the sky.”

Prowl skims the screens. There's a small cluster of Decepticon signals heading away from the scene. There's little the Autobots can do to give chase as they are none of them fliers. Besides, he suspects the Decepticon and the surviving Eradicons are returning to the Nemesis and Megatron.

He'll track them, and sets an automatic subroutine to do just that, but Prowl knows their signal will vanish at some point. By the time they investigate, the Nemesis will be long gone. Nevertheless, it might give some clue as to where Megatron might choose to linger.

“Very well. Return to base. All of you.” Prowl turns his helm toward Bluestreak, gesturing toward the ground bridge. “Bring them home.”

“I've got a souvenir,” Sideswipe replies, bending down to pick up the Eradicon beneath him, slinging the energon-dripping frame over his shoulder. “A present for the raging Hatchet.”

“I'm sure he'll be pleased,” Prowl drawls.

“Oh man!” Miko whines behind him, a tertiary sensor witnessing her dramatic slump. “I miss all the action. Every time! I never get to have any fun.”

“Fun!” Jack splutters and raises his hands, as though the urge to wring the female organic's neck almost overcomes him.

Prowl can sympathize. He has often felt that way when faced with Sideswipe's misdeeds or Jazz's for that matter.

The ground bridge swirls to life, their victorious heroes slumping back into base. Thankfully, there is little damage this time but a few singed armor plates and some dents. Wheeljack is the worse injured, a consequence of his crash landing and his encounter with the Decepticon.

“All right!” Agent Fowler says, storming toward them with all the subtlety of a freight train. “I want answers and I want answers now.”

For the moment, Prowl ignores him. “Bulkhead, take Bumblebee and Mirage and find a place to hide Wheeljack's ship.”

“But make sure I can find it again,” Wheeljack says, slumping onto the nearest medberth with help from First Aid. “I'm not staying long.”

“Long enough,” First Aid retorts tartly. “I need to weld this and from the look of things, your ship's scrap.”

“We'll see,” Prowl says, and redirects his attention to the human. “Do you wish to retrieve your transport now or after our conversation?”

Agent Fowler glares, his hands tightened into fists, his jaw grinding. “Now,” he grits out and turns on a heel, following Bulkhead and the others back into the swirling vortex.

Good. This leaves Prowl enough time to discuss among the Autobots without having their human correspondent overhear. He can form answers for Agent Fowler once he has all the data.

Sideswipe, standing there with an Eradicon dripping all over the floor, backs toward the south hall. “I'll just take this to Ratchet then?” he suggests with another backward step.

Prowl waves him off. “Do as you will.” He turns away from the console, considering the smaller humans, all of whom are gaping at the bustling activity. He doesn't wish to have this conversation around their ears either.

Fortunately Arcee, though occasionally insubordinate, senses the need to make them vanish. She urges them out of the control room toward the eastern corridor, ignoring Miko's complaints, but having no trouble with the other two. Thank Primus for small favors.

This leaves Prowl free to speak with Wheeljack, but not before he orders Bluestreak to take over at the console. If the Seeker and the Eradicons return, Prowl wants to know. Especially if the first vanishing shuttle reappears.

First Aid has already begun welding but Wheeljack looks up as Prowl approaches, a decidedly mulish set to his faceplates.

“Wheeljack,” Prowl says, bracing himself for insubordination at the least. “Report.”

The Wrecker cycles a ventilation. “The Seeker's Dreadwing. I'd been roaming the universe, caught on to Seaspray's signal and set up a rendezvous. But Dreadwing must have caught the same ping. He got there first.”

“And Seaspray?”

“Dead.” Scarred lips twist with fury. “Tried to get me, too, but the Jackhammer's sturdier than she looks. I rode out the shockwave and followed Dreadwing. How was I to know he'd lead me back to this rock?”

Dreadwing. Prowl rolls the name around in his memory banks. The name is familiar. He's a Seeker, different class than Starscream. He's one of Megatron's more loyal Decepticons. He was once a commander in his own right, though his entire unit had been wiped out by the Wreckers once upon a time. Dreadwing's survival had been in question.

Prowl now has his answer.

“Dreadwing is fiercely loyal to Megatron. It stands to reason that he would have eventually found his way here,” Prowl muses aloud. There are any number of Decepticons that he expects will find their lord and master as well.

They must retrieve Optimus and defeat Megatron before then. Though scattered around the universe, the truth remains that the Autobots are outnumbered and outgunned by the Decepticons. If they have any hope of winning this war, it rests on taking out Megatron. The smaller pockets of surviving Decepticons will be easier to defeat given the combined force of the Autobots.

Megatron, in Prowl's opinion, has always been the lynchpin.

“And what of the other vessel?” Prowl asks. “The one Dreadwing followed.”

Wheeljack rolls his shoulders, prompting First Aid to mutter to himself. “Frag if I know. No faction symbols and I didn't recognize it. But the moment Dreadwing caught a stray signal or something, he shifted course. I followed him and that's when he intersected with the other ship. Whoever it is, they aren't friends.”

“But they aren't Autobots either,” Prowl says. Otherwise they would have picked up on some kind of signal. Autobots following Optimus' call would have announced themselves.

He would have to analyze the footage later, perhaps ask the others if they recognized the ship. It had gone to locations unknown, vanishing somewhere further west of the initial altercation.

“Whatever. Just let the kid fix me up and I'll be out of your plating soon enough,” Wheeljack says and bellows again when First Aid snatches a piece of dented plating from his side. “Frag, that hurts.”

“It might help if you stayed still,” First Aid snaps, displaying that edge he'd learned working side by side with Ratchet in the slums of Uraya.

“From what I've seen of your vessel, you will be leaving no time soon,” Prowl replies, careful to keep his distaste from his tone. Commanding Wreckers has always been an exercise in futility, Bulkhead notwithstanding. If only Ultra Magnus were here. “You will do better to remain here.”

“Never said I was leaving. I've got business to handle.” Wheeljack's helm dips, optics darkening to a shade that spoke of violence.

Prowl's spinal strut goes rigid. “You will not be seeking vengeance so long as you are under my command. The situation here is far too delicate to accommodate your special kind of behavior.”

“The situation?” Wheeljack snorts a laugh. “Tell me another one. Where the frag is Prime?”

“That is the situation. He is currently captive aboard the Nemesis and I am in command until he returns.” Prowl cycles a ventilation, reminding himself to be calm. If only Jazz were here, he'd send Jazz to deal with Wheeljack. But no. Jazz is off traipsing on the Nemesis, putting himself in mortal peril as well, and Prowl is left to deal with all of the processor-inducing miscreants.

How does Optimus keep them all in line?

“The frag?” Wheeljack's field flares with shock and he lurches forward, nearly off the berth, save that First Aid grabs his shoulder and mechhandles him back. “Optimus is with the 'Cons and you're sitting here getting my field report?”

Prowl swallows down a sigh. “We are doing everything possible to retrieve Optimus. What will not help is you acting recklessly. Do you understand?”

He can see it, the fight in Wheeljack. He tensing of his cables, the clamping of his plating, the flaring of his field. His optics brighten, hands clenching in and out of fists.

Prowl hates repeating himself. “Soldier, do you understand?”

“Yes,” Wheeljack grits out, but there is defiance in his optics. Prowl will have to watch him. “I understand.”

0o0o0


The Nemesis is on this cursed planet, Dreadwing thinks, spiraling high above the organic world below, lingering in the wake of the Eradicon vapor trails. The Nemesis and his brother. He stands no chance of finding the latter without Lord Megatron's assistance. Surely Lord Megatron knows which Autobot is to blame for Skyquake's death.

Dreadwing cuts a swathe through a fluffy cloud and sends out a ping, one perhaps detectable to Autobots, but it is of no concern. They have no means to chase him. If they did, they would have done so already.

There. The Nemesis pings back. It is not visible, but the surviving Eradicons are heading toward something with purpose.

“Captain Dreadwing,” a voice monotones across his comm, perhaps one of Megatron's many Vehicons. “Your arrival is welcome. Hold position. We will come to you.”

“Acknowledged.” Dreadwing dives lower, skirting the edge of cloud cover, getting a glimpse of the organic world beneath him.

Cities interspersed with vegetation. An army of small, squishy beings coating the whole surface. This is where the war has taken them. What could possibly be of value to Lord Megatron here? And how is it that Skyquake has fallen?

So many questions.

Dreadwing picks up a ping seconds before the Nemesis phases into view above him. A loading bay cycles open for him and the others and Dreadwing accepts the invitation, firing his thrusters to come aboard.

“Lord Megatron demands your presence on the bridge,” says a Vehicon over the comm as Dreadwing shifts back to root-mode, landing amongst stacks of crates in one of the supply bays.

This, too, Dreadwing acknowledges.

He has never served on the Nemesis, but he finds the lift with ease and a quick ping to the ship's AI gives him all the schematics he needs. There's also a brief summary of the Decepticons aboard, though Starscream's designation is tagged as “off-line.” Dreadwing knows this to be a blatant lie though if Lord Megatron is perpetuating such a falsity, perhaps there is a purpose to it.

Soundwave's presence is not surprising, Airachnid's is. Last Dreadwing heard, she'd vanished, absent without leave. Lord Megatron hadn't been pleased as they'd been in the middle of a rather urgent offensive against the Autobots. That she's here, undamaged and alive, means Lord Megatron has other plans for her or is simply biding his time.

Knock Out and Breakdown, he's surprised they managed to find their way here from wherever they had been. He is unfamiliar with Ricochet and there are at least four dozen Vehicons and Eradicons on board. All in all, it's a formidable army. Dreadwing wonders how many Autobots are present on this planet.

The lift deposits Dreadwing on the command deck. He exits, ignoring the twinge in his left thruster. The Wrecker had gotten a lucky shot but fortunately, it is nothing fatal or permanently damaging. He trusts his self-repair will get to it in time, or he can speed up the process by locating Knock Out. Whichever Lord Megatron desires of him first.

Lord Megatron stands at the helm, hands clasped behind his back. Soundwave is visible at a console to the right. Vehicons monitor other consoles and through the massive windscreen, Dreadwing can see the white and blue of this planet's sky. More important, however, is Airachnid's presence just behind Lord Megatron.

She occupies the position Starscream would have taken, were he still present. Indeed, the manifest lists her as second-in-command. She smirks when she sees him, her spindly extremities twitching. Dreadwing's optics narrow.

Lord Megatron turns to acknowledge his presence and Dreadwing, without hesitation, drops to one knee, dipping his helm.

“Lord Megatron,” he says. “I live to serve.”

“Rise Dreadwing. I am pleased to see that you've survived, contrary to rumor. What news have you for me?”

Dreadwing pushes himself to his pedes, holding back a wince as his stabilizers protest the motion. Perhaps he will be seeing Knock Out after all. “Your Decepticons remain scattered but I am confident they will come as you've called.”

Soundwave makes a gesture, which Lord Megatron notices, and he directs a fanged grin Dreadwing's direction. “And the shuttle? What of it?”

“I believe that the traitor, Starscream, is aboard,” Dreadwing says, his engines rumbling at the thought. To betray the Decepticons? Starscream deserves to perish. “He has others with him, though I am unsure of their identity.”

Lord Megatron makes a contemplative noise, optics narrowing with distaste. “I see.”

“They are traitors like Starscream himself,” Airachnid says with a dismissing wave of her arm. “We will smoke them out soon enough.”

Traitors, she says. As though she is not guilty of abandoning her vows to the Decepticons. What game is she playing? How can Lord Megatron abide by her presence?

For the moment, Dreadwing chooses to ignore her. Though this will require further investigation later.

“My liege,” Dreadwing prompts when Lord Megatron's attention seems to shift elsewhere. “It is not loyalty alone that brought me here. I seek confirmation of the demise of my brother.”

Optics narrow, Lord Megatron's helm tilting toward him. “Rumor travels far.”

“It is not rumor. Even across the galaxy, I sensed when he emerged from stasis.” The anger vibrated through him, though he was careful to keep it from his field. “And when his spark was extinguished.”

Lord Megatron frowns and he shifts his weight and his attention, both toward Soundwave. The communications specialist nods his helm, faceplate filling with static before a video begins to play.

Dreadwing's talons clench to fists. The sight of his brother, hearty and hale, is a pang to his spark, but worser still is the sight of his defeat at the hands of the Autobots. He recognizes the Prime, though the little yellow menace is familiar to him only in passing. He had been present in the recent altercation.

“This was not under my watch,” Lord Megatron says, the hint of a growl in his vocals, irritation lacing his field in a brief glimpse before it is quickly restrained.

And there, on Soundwave's faceplate, is Starscream.

Dreadwing's engine throttles his fury. “The traitor,” he growls.

“Yes.” Lord Megatron returns his attention to him.

“Then he, along with the Autobots, will meet their end. At my hands,” Dreadwing snarls, the emptiness within him aching beyond the point of return.

“Do with Starscream as you will,” Lord Megatron says, but there is rebuke in his tone. “The sooner you find him, the better. But the Autobots are mine to destroy and you'd do well to remember that. You are here, on this planet, under my command.”

“Of course.” Dreadwing dips his helm, pressing a hand to his chestplate. “I am but loyal to you, my lord.” Though should the opportunity arise, he can not be certain he won't extinguish an Autobot's spark, whether it be that accursed yellow one or Optimus Prime himself.

“Good.” Lord Megatron pauses as though considering something. “There is one other detail that will affect your presence here.”

Dreadwing lifts his helm, inquiring without words.

“Do not be surprised to see Optimus Prime walking our halls.” Here, Lord Megatron smirks, his denta flashing in the overhead lights. “Fortune favors us. He only knows himself to be Orion Pax and I intend to make use of his abilities for as long as I can. The first mech to make him believe otherwise will taste my wrath. Understood?”

For a long moment, Dreadwing isn't sure how to process the information. Optimus Prime? Aboard the Nemesis? What madness could have caused such a thing? Is he expected to blithely accept the presence of the leader of the Autobots? One of the very mechs involved in Skyquake's demise?

His optics flash, his field threatening to spill his agitation. Airachnid's smirk widens, a soft laugh rumbling in her chassis.

“Dreadwing,” Lord Megatron continues, vocals a rumbling warning.

He cycles a ventilation. “I understand, Lord Megatron. I will restrain myself.”

“See that you do,” Lord Megatron says, and turns back toward the helm, hands still clasped behind him. “Attend to your injuries. We will discuss the destruction of the Autobots when you are repaired.”

“As you command.” Dreadwing tilts his helm in a bow and whirls on a heel-strut without sparing Soundwave a glance. Nor does he offer Airachnid one.

He will discuss her presence with Lord Megatron when it can be done in private.

He should have worked harder to blast Starscream out of the sky, Dreadwing thinks. It had been enough to view Starscream as a traitor but to know he contributed to Skyquake's death? Starscream will understand the consequences of his actions with as much pain as possible. Dreadwing vows this.

With difficulty, he reins in his anger. He must continue to exert control. Starscream is sly and crafty. If he does not keep his composure, he may find himself outwitted.

Fortunately, Dreadwing will have time to plot.

The Nemesis schematics direct him to the medbay and Dreadwing steps through the doors, optics searching for the resident medic. What he sees, instead, causes an exercise in restraint.

Optimus Prime – Orion Pax, his processor whispers with a hiss of loathing – is present along with Knock Out, the two of them discussing something off in a corner. Both look up at his arrival, and there must be truth to Lord Megatron's words. Because what Dreadwing sees in Orion's optics is naivete. He maintains a quiet dignity and strength, but the knowledge of millennia of battle is gone.

“Am I interrupting?” Dreadwing asks, directing the question to Knock Out but unable to keep his optics away from the Prime.

“Depends. Who the frag are you?” Knock Out demands, not a hint of respect in that one. He flicks a dismissive hand, giving Dreadwing a longer look. “Other than a mech in need of my expertise.”

“I am Dreadwing and you would do well to remember my designation.” Dreadwing tilts his helm, assessing the Prime. “You are unfamiliar to me,” he lies.

The Prime opens his mouth, perhaps to introduce himself, but Knock Out inserts himself between Dreadwing and the Autobot. “Aren't we all strangers?” he says with a grin he probably considers disarming.

“Some of us more than others,” Dreadwing replies.

Knock Out's optics cycle down, but he maintains a facade of friendliness. “How true. Orion, don't you have work to do?”

“Yes.” The Prime, unassuming, ducks his helm. “I appreciate your help, Knock Out.” He pauses, regarding Dreadwing with something that could have almost been recognition. “Welcome to the Nemesis.”

He leaves, Dreadwing watches him go, aware that his plating is twitching. The sight is more than strange, it is downright eerie. He doesn’t know what plans Lord Megatron has for the Autobot leader, but surely none could be worth the tactical value of extinguishing the Prime's spark here and now.

“You must enjoy living dangerously,” Knock Out says, all humor gone from his vocals, his grin replaced by a frown.

Dreadwing redirects his attention to the medic. “What did Optimus Prime want?”

“One, you call him that in front of him and I won't be able to fix what Megatron does to you,” Knock Out retorts, arching an orbital ridge. “Two, you're not my commander so I don't have to answer anything you demand from me. Do you want to be fixed or not? I've got better things to do than stand around staring at you.”

There are mysteries aplenty here aboard the Nemesis. And Dreadwing would out them. Because Starscream had gone but that didn't mean there weren't remnants of plots against Lord Megatron. And if he could not think logically to protect himself with Orion Pax aboard, Dreadwing would have to do it for him.

****


a/n: More players enter the game.But how will Starscream's arrival affect canon as we know it? Only future chapters will tell. I'm having great fun with this little canon rewrite of mine and I hope you are as well. I welcome any and all theories. After all, there's a whole final piece to this trilogy still to go. And as always, feedback is welcome and appreciated.


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