dracoqueen22: (ratchet)
[personal profile] dracoqueen22
a/n: update time! This one's reasonably sfw. And self-betaed. I am not offended if you point out grammatical errors.

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 Eight

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Ratchet never expected to feel sympathy for a human. But with an over-full feeling in his chassis, a sensation of being swollen and overcharged, as though at any moment he might burst, he finds himself suddenly sympathetic to a pregnant female. Surely they must experience the same discomfort.

Of course, to look at him from the outside, no one can tell what he carries within his spark chamber. No one can see the excess of energies lashing in their confines. There is no outward cue to his discomfort.

Save for a hiss of indrawn ventilation and his forced stumble to a chair, one hand gripping the table for balance.

“Ratchet?”

“I'm fine,” he says, better a snarl, and then chastises himself because Perceptor has right to be concerned and he doesn't deserve Ratchet's ire. “This is to be expected. And this is not my first fostering.”

Not that he wants to think about Knock Out at the moment. Memories of his creation are burrs against his spark, sharp pains that he doesn’t dare acknowledge.

“Even so. Allow me the luxury of concern,” Perceptor replies, proving he is unruffled by Ratchet's surly temper. “After all, how else am I going to decipher your notes?” He holds up a datapad, gesturing with a screen full of nearly incomprehensible scribbles.

“Oh, hush.” Ratchet rubs at his chestplate with a roll of his optics. Yes, he's aware his short-hand is nigh but illegible. No need to rub it in.

“Fostering?” A voice repeats. “Is something wrong with Ratchet?”

Ratchet, for his part, winces. Frag Unicron to the Pit and back but he'd forgotten that Jack had been lingering around, working on his “homework” and occasionally asking for clarification for some mathematical problem.

“He is--”

“Fine,” Ratchet interrupts before Perceptor can go into an explanation that no human need hear. “I am a medic, is all. The reconstruction of redundant parts can be, at times, uncomfortable.” It is as good a lie as any, especially to a being who knows very little about how Cybertronians function.

Miko might recognize it for a falsity as she's proven herself both shrewd and scarily interested in Cybertronian biology. Rafael is fascinated with all things Cybertronian, but he knows how to take no for an answer. Jack, however, merely frowns and bends back over his schoolwork.

“If you say so.”

He feels Perceptor's gaze on him and shoots the scientist a warning look. “I do. Though I appreciate your worry,” Ratchet says to Jack and then switches gears. “Hand me that datapad. I'll translate.”

“Fair enough,” Perceptor concedes.

Ratchet regains his balance and straightens, the loud roar of pain easing to a dull ache. His energy levels hold steady. Luckily, he won't be needing to summon Sunstreaker anytime soon, which means he might be able to get some work done.

“There is also the matter of Prime,” Perceptor says, though his vocals are softer and he shifts to Neocybex. “Prowl and I discussed it and I agree, I don't think regaining his memory backups will help.”

“Of course not. They cover nothing of his time on Earth,” Ratchet retorts.

Perceptor shakes his helm. “Not for that reason.”

Ratchet lowers his datapad. “What do you mean?”

“The Matrix did more than change Orion Pax. It altered his construction on a fundamental level. He is not Orion Pax with a Matrix. He is Optimus Prime. They are not the same mech,” Perceptor explains and pulls out his own datapad, fingers sliding across the screen.

Ratchet frowns. “For lack of a better word, duh. I knew that. We all knew that.”

“But we don't understand it,” Perceptor says, and then taps his chin with one finger, optics dimming. “Why and how does it change a mech? And think about it. We call it a repository of memory. It contains the history of the Primes. Why does it?”

“Because it's a historical relic beyond our comprehension?” Ratchet asks dryly, arching an orbital ridge.

“No,” Perceptor says, his scope giving an excited wriggle. “Because it's a memory core.”

Ratchet cycles his optics, hand lowering, interest in his own datapad forgotten. “Beg pardon? You're telling me that the Matrix is nothing more than a superpowered memory core?”

“In part.” Perceptor steps closer, tilting his screen so that Ratchet can look at the hastily rendered schematic. “Of course it's more than that. It has to be self-sustaining to a certain extent, with a larger storage base than our own cores are capable. I believe that once a mech has become Prime, he ceases writing memory to his own core. It is instead seized by the Matrix for future generations.”

It makes an almost terrifying sort of sense.

Ratchet's frown deepens. “That doesn't explain why he can't remember. He didn't destroy the Matrix. He still carries it.”

“Yes, but it's drained. He can't access the Matrix because the battery no longer carries a charge.”

Ratchet cycles a ventilation, his gaze darting from Perceptor to the datapad and back again. “So what, we just hook him up to a generator and give him a... a... jump-start?”

“Nothing so base.” Perceptor manages a light laugh, though his amusement is tempered by the seriousness of their situation. “The Matrix is a repository of knowledge. What else do we know is much the same?”

Ratchet considers, only to ex-vent in a harsh burst. “Vector Sigma.”

“Precisely.”

It is Ratchet's turn to shift his weight, daring to let excitement take hold within him. His gaze wanders to Jack, who is watching them both with confusion and curiosity. “Optimus must have known something. He entrusted Jack with the key before he left.”

Perceptor's optics cycle wide. “You mean to say that we can access Vector Sigma?”

“If we had a space bridge to Cybertron, yes.” Ratchet gnaws on his lower lip plate. They had already discussed seeking Vector Sigma for an answer, but if Perceptor's theory is true, they have their answer. Now they need the recharge and in the end, Vector Sigma remains their hope.

“And Jack already presented a solution to that particular problem,” Perceptor replies, his plating jittering with excitement. “We need only find the space bridge!”

Ratchet scoffs, hating to rain on Perceptor's parade. “Easier said than done. We don't know where it is, save that they've moved it.”

“Then finding it will be our first priority. I'll inform Prowl.”

“Prowl already knows,” Ratchet huffs, following Perceptor with his optics as the scientist heads toward the door, clutching a handful of datapads.

“Yes, but not the urgency of the situation,” Perceptor replies. “I will return shortly to take a closer look at your equations.” Implied in there is a request for Ratchet to make them legible by the time he does.

Pah. He should have seen those scribbles of Bulkhead's before Ratchet got hold of them.

Perceptor vanishes before Ratchet can call him back, not that he made a great effort to do so. While working on the synethetic energon is important, Ratchet has another issue that takes greater precedence. His little one will be viable enough to emerge within a couple short weeks and he has to finish the frame by then.

“Ratchet?”

He startles. Once again, he's nearly forgotten about Jack.

He turns toward the human. “Yes?” It's almost civil.

Jack looks at him with a frown, his expression radiating concern. “Are you sure you're okay?”

“I am as well as can be expected, Jack.” Ratchet recycles a sigh. “Considering that my Prime is missing, we are outnumbered, and lacking in resources, I am fine.”

“But your friends are here,” Jack says, leaning against the side of the workstation. “That counts for something, doesn't it?”

Ratchet tilts his helm, giving the small human a longer look. They had all decided to conceal the details of their relationships from the humans simply because of the human discomfort with intimacy and romance. That they are children and have no business worrying about it is another matter. But there is something in Jack's eyes that suggests he's fishing for information.

Probably on Miko's behest. Bulkhead had admitted, pedes toeing the ground, that Miko's been asking some rather pointed questions. He's done his best to divert her curiosity but Miko is nothing if not tenacious.

“Yes,” Ratchet confirms. “That does count. Most of these mechs I haven't seen in centuries. It is a relief to see that they have survived, though that they have to rejoin the war is disappointing.”

“You spend a lot of time with the yellow one,” Jack says, his tone casual and his words anything but.

They really do need to sit down and introduce everyone, Ratchet thinks. Events have happened too fast for the humans to keep up.

Ratchet answers with a noncommittal noise, moving to his work bench and its array of assorted parts. There's a halfway constructed frame in the private room of his medbay and the last thing he needs is for any human to see it. Bad enough they are going to have to explain the sudden appearance of a new mech, especially when their bitlet can't be mistaken for anything but a child, in temperament but not frame.

“Ratchet?”

“Do you have a question, Jack?” Ratchet asks, trying not to be curt and failing miserably. The ache builds in his chassis again, spark pushing at the confines of his chamber and sending erratic bursts of static through his frame. “Or are you talking because you enjoy the sound of your voice?”

Silence. Heavy.

Ratchet pointedly does not look at the oldest human child.

“I have a question.” Jack shuffles his feet and does Ratchet the courtesy of not looking at the medic either. “But I don't know if you’re going to answer it or not.”

“Well, I can't tell you if I would without knowing the question, can I?” A huff of exasperation escapes Ratchet. His chestplates judder with a noisy creak and he presses a hand to them, sending a ping to Sunstreaker. Well, so much for the chance to get any work done.

It's past time that Jack goes away. The last thing Ratchet wants is an audience. Especially a human one.

Jack scuffs his shoe against the floor. “Miko said--”

“Primus save me from anything Miko says!” Ratchet throws his hands into the air and turns back toward the human, crouching to put them on a more even level. “Miko is too nosy for her own good.”

“Yeah, but...” Jack hesitates, gripping the back of his neck before he finally looks at Ratchet. “That doesn't mean she's wrong.”

Ratchet ventilates and buries his optics behind his hand. He rubs his forehelm. “Ask your question,” he grits out. Maybe if it became open knowledge, he could stop jumping at shadows, waiting for the truth to out.

“Okay.” Jack sucks in a breath, his face darkening with a red flush. “I know you guys aren't just machines and that you are giant alien robots so that means you're going to be different even if we are kind of the same.”

Great. He's babbling.

“Jack,” Ratchet says, putting emphasis on his name. “I don't have all day.” Literally, he doesn't. Because Sunstreaker's answered his ping and is on his way and Sunstreaker doesn’t like the humans. At all.

Jack scrubs a hand down his face and then squares his shoulders. “Are you together?”

Ratchet spares a second for debating between the truth and playing dumb before deciding, he's rather done with it all. “Yes.”

Jack's flush deepens. “Oh.”

“Was that all?”

“Um.” Jack's gaze skitters around as though he can't decide where it's safe to look. “Yeah. I guess. Just wanted to... ask that.” He wrings his hands together.

Which is of course when the door slides open and Sunstreaker strides inside, optics landing on Ratchet with that laser-focus he gets sometimes. “You pinged?” he drawls, only to come to a halt as he notices the organic visitor. His optics narrow.

“Jack was just leaving,” Ratchet says, pushing to his pedes and giving the little human a shoo. “He's got homework.”

“I do.” Jack nods rather vigorously and scrambles to gather up his books and backpack. “And, uh, thanks, Ratchet. For telling me.”

“Just don't make me regret it.” Anymore than he already does, that is. Prowl isn't going to be happy but frag it, subterfuge is the last thing on Ratchet's processor right now.

“I won't.” Jack hitches his backpack and sneaks a glance at Sunstreaker, who ruffles his plating upward, purposefully looking like a menace. Jack blanches and out he goes, escaping through the doorway.

“This place is infested,” Sunstreaker mutters.

Ratchet rolls his optics. “Just be glad you missed the scraplet incident.”

Sunstreaker's plating clamps back down. “You're joking.”

“Wish I was.” Ratchet sends a command to the doors, triggering them to shut and lock. “They can be annoying, but you don't have to scare them. The kids are decent, for organics.”

Sunstreaker scoffs but then he glances past Ratchet. “Is that...?”

Ratchet inclines his helm, moving aside so that Sunstreaker can get a closer look. “Half of a frame. I'm making progress.”

A hand lifts, curling around the unpainted helm. “Better than I could have hoped for,” Sunstreaker murmurs. “Bigger, too.”

“I can't make him a true sparkling,” Ratchet says, shifting back toward the half-complete protoform. “Not if he has any hope of possibly defending himself.”

“He shouldn't have to!”

“As much as I want to hope otherwise, he may need to.” Ratchet sighs, free hand rubbing over his chestplate. “The Decepticons won't stay their blasters because he's a child.”

“Monsters.”

“They've said the same thing about you.”

Sunstreaker's engine revs and he withdraws his touch, returning his attention to Ratchet. This time, his hand covers Ratchet's own, no doubt sensing the flicker-surge of his spark energies.

They don't need any more words after that.

0o0o0


Obtaining a private meeting with Lord Megatron is easier requested than achieved. He is fully occupied by the return of his partner and lover, Orion Pax, and even more concerned with his search for these Iacon relics.

Nevertheless, Dreadwing is persistent. He needs a distraction away from the reminder that his brother's murderers are both flying free on this accursed planet, and roaming without restriction aboard the Nemesis. He takes great pains to avoid Orion Pax, for fear of the urge to do him harm. It is another complication to add to his attempts to seek an audience with Lord Megatron.

Airachnid, also, is doing her best to play interference.

She appears from the shadows when Dreadwing least expects, offering cutting words and sly warnings. She shows up at his quarters with a cube of energon, claiming a desire to be friendly.

Dreadwing wants nothing to do with her kind. He takes her energon, but he does not drink it. He has taken to giving it to passing Vehicons and on one occasion, to Breakdown.

He wants no gift that femme has to offer.

His persistence pays off. Or perhaps, it is better to say his patience. Because Dreadwing's status allows him access to the vaults and while he is examining the relics they've obtained from Earth, Lord Megatron arrives, carrying a cylindrical canister.

“My liege,” Dreadwing acknowledges with a dip of his helm. He steps back from the Apex Armor on display. “You are looking well today.”

“Victory tends to please me, Dreadwing.” Lord Megatron approaches an empty pedestal and twists open the cylinder, withdrawing what appears to be a blaster. “Orion's efforts bear many prizes.”

Dreadwing inches closer, peering at the weapon. “I do not recognize this item.”

“It is the resonance blaster. Created by Decepticon scientists and for Decepticons. It is only right that it is in my hands once again.” Megatron sets the blaster on the column and activates the shielding.

Fascinating.

“I do not recall a recent altercation with the Autobots.”

Lord Megatron chuckles and lines the canister next to its twin on a nearby shelf. “Because this one was acquired without any interference. Whatever inadequate equipment they use never detected its presence.”

“How fortunate. You do not intend to use this weapon?”

“I do not need to use this weapon,” Lord Megatron corrects and he turns toward Dreadwing, his optics scrutinizing. “I trust you've acclimated yourself to the Nemesis.”

He presses his closed fist to his chestplate. “Yes, my liege. And while it is not my place to question your judgment, I am concerned.”

“About Orion Pax no doubt.” Lord Megatron waves a dismissing hand. “You needn't worry, Dreadwing. Soundwave is monitoring both he and his console. Without his memories or his matrix, he is no threat.”

Dreadwing shakes his helm. “Actually, it is Airachnid whose loyalty I question. Far be it for me to give Starscream any credit, but she is far more treacherous than that Seeker has ever been.”

Lord Megatron laughs. “I am aware of her devious nature and I have not made the mistake of giving her my complete trust. She does bear scrutiny.” His Lord pauses, optics narrowing as he runs a hand over his chin. “With that in mind, it is time I gave you a task, Dreadwing.”

He dips his helm. “Whatever my Lord wishes of me.”

“Keep an optic on Airachnid. Find truth to the rumor that she is, shall we say, less than loyal.” Lord Megatron's engine rumbles with challenge. “And then we can discuss who is truly worth of being my first lieutenant.”

Dreadwing's optics brighten, but he reins in his energy field. “Yes, my liege,” he says with great pleasure. “I will do as you command.”

0o0o0


Something is dripping in the darkness. The tink-tink of the liquid against metal grates on his audials, makes him grit his denta and curse Megatron all over again. This is all his fault. It has always been Megatron's fault. This is the low Starscream has been forced to wallow within.

“So. Do you have a plan or not?”

Starscream turns away from the jumble of wires, rust, and metal – it used to be a console. “Of course I do,” he snaps, glaring at his once trine-mate. But his trine, like so many other things Megatron has ruined, was broken long ago.

“Care to share?” Thundercracker arches an orbital ridge at him, arms folded across his chestplate, concealing the Decepti-brand so bright on his plating.

“It's the same as it's always been.” Starscream tilts his helm up. “Depose Megatron. Regain control of the Decepticons. And bring an end to the Autobots.”

There's a laugh, mockery, and Starscream doesn't have to look to see it coming from the doorway where Onslaught strides inside the ruined bridge. “And how do you expect to accomplish that given our current accommodations?” He gestures to the ruins of the Harbinger, very little of it useable.

A growl works itself into Starscream's vocalizer. “The Autobots have less,” he hisses. “And if they can manage to defeat Megatron time and again with nothing but human technology and scraped together systems, then surely we can do better with more.” Especially since the Autobot idea of an engineer is their fragging medic. They don't have a tactician either.

Whereas Starscream has each in spades, both engineer and tactician. Why else would he ask Blast Off and Onslaught to accompany him?

“We are smarter,” Starscream continues, wings flicking back and forth behind him, heedless of his attempts to control them. “We have the element of surprise. And we are at an advantage. They will spend their time fighting each other. We need only take the opportunities as they rise.”

“Then we wait.” Onslaught sneers, his arm-mounted cannons twitching with unease.

Starscream nods, processor already churning on half-formed ideas. “We wait for the chance to strike.”

Silence sweeps into the shattered communications center. Onslaught's visor gleams crimson-bright. “This had better be worth it,” he snarls and whirls on a pede, stomping toward the exit. “I'm going to work on the engines.”

He doesn't wait for orders. Not that Starscream expected him to. Onslaught had once been a commander in his own right. He is choosing to work with Starscream, not offering loyal allegiance. They are using each other for their own ends, though Starscream's not entirely sure of Onslaught's motivations.

The once Combaticon commander will bear watching.

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

Starscream stirs, glancing over his shoulder at Thundercacker. “When have I ever not been sure?”

Thundercracker tilts his helm, his expression giving nothing away. The empty place where a trine-bond had been resonates painfully.

“What did he do, Starscream? What mistake did Megatron make that you find unforgivable?”

Starscream stiffens, his wings snapping straight. “I don't know what you mean,” he hisses. “Leadership of the Decepticons has always been my intention, my right.”

Another beat of silence. Tink-tink. That Primus-be-damned drip increases in staccato. Tink-tink-tink.

Thundercracker shifts, straightening from his lean. “Surround yourself with that lie as long as you wish. But don't say I didn't warn you.”

He leaves as quickly as Onslaught, abandoning Starscream to the dim and that infernal drip.

“This is what I want,” Starscream mutters, whirling toward the scrapped console, plating jittery.

Right now, he can't decide who he's trying to convince the most: himself or his makeshift comrades.

0o0o0

With each line decoded, the algorithms become more complicated, more difficult. It takes longer and longer to decipher the newest batch of coordinates – for coordinates every single one of these coded files are. Orion has ceased asking himself why because the answers are neither given to him nor found anywhere within the files.

Orion stares at the newest set. He knows that they are for this planet, this organic Earth. He knows that the coordinates hide something that could sway the course of the war in favor of whomever finds it. He knows that Megatron wants them.

Why, then, does he feel he is doing the wrong thing? Why does he hesitate over transmitting the coordinates to Soundwave?

Why is he taking longer and longer to decode these files? Not just because they are more complicated, but because he isn't working at his top speed. He finds himself lingering, returning more and more to the Nemesis databanks and the information Soundwave had left for him. He goes over facts and figures and histories.

He searches them for that spark, that something that tells him the disquiet within him is justified. He finds nothing and that doesn't reassure him. He fears he is losing his sanity.

Behind him, the door pings as it swooshes open. Orion feels his plating quiver, shifting to draw tight, and doesn't have to look to recognize the energy field that introduces itself first, as always. It starts at his audial antennae and then works downward, a warm wave over his plating that invites and incites all at once.

Orion shivers. All thoughts of delay leaves him and he presses the key to send the newest coordinates to Soundwave. A simple beep acknowledges the message received.

“As productive as ever, I see,” Megatron rumbles as he slides in next to Orion, standing within the most intimate layers of his field, one taloned hand resting on the base of Orion's back.

It is a familiar gesture, one often shared between lovers, and Orion can remember many times Megatronus had found him buried in his work and the simple pleasure they had taken standing together, chatting, Megatronus' hand resting against his armor.

He wants, so badly, to give in to that gesture as before. To turn and embrace Megatron, losing himself in the crackle of pleasure, the vibration of metal against metal. There is but one thing that remains familiar between them and it is that shared intimacy.

It is everything else that rings false.

“I sent a coordinate to Soundwave,” Orion answers and he stills, instead of flexing his plating for Megatron's talons as he had countless times before in wordless invitation.

“I have already begun decrypting the next,” Orion continues, his focus pinned on the screen and the scrolling characters. His fingers tap an off-beat rhythm on the keyboard. His single cable pulses a sluggish stream of data.

“Excellent.” Approval sings in Megatron's field, warm and inviting against Orion's, and ringing with a subtle petition. “You are, by far, one of my most diligent allies, Orion.”

Ally.

He does not know why the term makes him quail.

“I am glad you think so.” Orion pauses, half-glancing over his shoulder to catch sight of Megatron from the edge of his visual feed. “This coding string is complicated. I think that if I were to stop, I would have to start all over again.”

Megatron smiles. “Well, we can't have that.” He steps back and their fields reluctantly disengage. “I admire your dedication, Orion. If only more of my Decepticons could be like you.”

“Thank you.” Orion returns his attention to the screen, but he is hyper aware of Megatron's presence. His frame misses the warmth of their mingled fields, but his spark sings a different tune. “I will let you know the moment I am done.”

“I know you will.” Megatron briefly clasps his shoulder and then the Decepticon leader is gone, the room feeling much larger in his absence.

Orion ex-vents quietly and rests his hands on the keys, lowering his helm. It does not count as a refusal, not quite.

But he knows, without being able to pinpoint why, that he can't continue like this. Not while the disquiet rages in his spark. He will do his duty. He will search for the truth.

He can no longer share Megatron's berth. Not while he suspects he is being lied to.

It remains to be seen how well Megatron will take that refusal.

****

a/n: Orion is finally listening to his suspicions! Just what is Starscream planning to do? When will Ratchet's spark split? Will Dreadwing survive? Only the future knows.... :)

Another sorta transitory chapter but it had to be done. Wheels are turning. Plots are being laid.

Feedback, as always, is welcome and appreciated. Oh, and Flash Fiction Friday will be this Friday.



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