dracoqueen22: (doctorisin)
[personal profile] dracoqueen22
a/n: Another update! Please enjoy! Oh, and it's SFW and self-betaed.

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 Ten

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The console pings a high-frequency signal and Perceptor cycles his optics in surprise. He distances himself from his calculations and accepts the signal, expecting it to be an encrypted communication from Jazz. Instead, an achingly familiar signature flashes onto the screen.

“Starscream,” Perceptor murmurs as he skims the rather short message. He'd read the mission notes for Alpha team. He knows what all has occurred on Earth since their arrival.

He also knows that no one has seen or heard from Starscream in quite some time, not since they witnessed Megatron intending to kill his second. They had assumed him dead.

They assumed wrong.

I have valuable information regarding your leader, Starscream sends and Perceptor can imagine his vocals, that familiar drawl. Bring medical kit.

He is injured. Perceptor saves the message, reading it again and again, as though there is some hidden truth between the lines. With Starscream, one can never be certain. There are coordinates attached, to an Earth location, relatively remote and far from human habitation. But not, he notices, beyond the reach of a ground bridge.

Perceptor cycles a ventilation. This decision is not his to make. He lifts a hand to contact Prowl when pedesteps behind him announce the tactician's arrival. He always did have perfect timing.

“What is it?” Prowl asks.

Perceptor gestures to the screen. “Starscream.”

“He's alive?” Their current commander arches an orbital ridge as he skims the message, field drawn in contemplation. “This could be a trick.”

“Arcee's notes seem to indicate that Megatron has marked Starscream for execution.”

“And it is not like Megatron to fail.” Prowl pauses, tilting his helm to the side. “Except in the case of Optimus.” He, like Perceptor, reads the message again, looking for hidden intentions.

“He was their commander,” Perceptor says, careful to keep bias from their tone. “If he does know something of Optimus, we could use the information. But even if he does not, there is other information he has that could be valuable.”

Prowl makes a noncommittal noise. “He is injured. It would be a fair trade, depending on the value of what he has to offer.”

“I'll go,” Perceptor blurts out and then recoils, alarmed by his own haste. He quickly backtracks, but not before Prowl looks at him with that cutting gaze. “I mean that Ratchet mustn't leave the base, not that Sunstreaker would allow it, and First Aid is more trained than I.”

“But you are our best hope for solving the synthetic energon equation.” Prowl's optics brighten as though he's stumbled on some new puzzle. “In truth, I can't afford to lose any of you. Though it would be easier to send you than to deal with Sideswipe's snarling should I send First Aid.”

Perceptor manages a small smile. He is quite familiar with the Twins' antics, something worsened by distance from their respective partners.

“I volunteer,” Perceptor says.

“I know.” Prowl returns his attention to the console, keying a short message to Starscream indicating their willingness to meet though he doesn't give a time. Best to keep Starscream waiting after all. “And don't think for one moment that I do not know why.”

Wisely, Perceptor does not acknowledge the last statement. “I'll go get my medical kit.”

“And I'll find someone to serve as back up.” Prowl's reply is more of an aside, his main focus already bent to the task at hand.

Perceptor retreats from the main control room to the small room he has claimed for his own. It's far too small, but better than the cramped quarters he'd endured aboard their ship. At least here he has privacy. And Ratchet reassures him that there is more space to be found in the lower levels, they need only take the time to clean it out. Time that no one has though Perceptor is certain that it will become a punishment duty sooner rather than later.

A stir-crazy Sideswipe is one who invents things to occupy himself.

Perceptor gathers his small kit and quickly returns to the control room. Starscream's message hadn't indicated the extent of his injuries but if it's bad enough for him to summon help, then it probably requires haste.

When he returns, Mirage and Arcee are waiting for him with Prowl. No doubt they are to be Perceptor's guard, which is fitting. Starscream knows of Arcee already and Mirage can use his electro-disruptor, keeping Starscream from knowledge of how many Autobots are truly on Earth now. This is why Prowl is their tactician.

“Do not hesitate to leave him there if his information is of no use to us,” Prowl is saying as Perceptor arrives. “If there is any sign this is a trap, comm me for a space bridge at once. None of you are expendable.”

“Yes, sir,” Arcee says, her plating drawn taut with tension. Of all the Alpha team, she seems to be taking Optimus' absence the hardest.

Perceptor joins them. “I am ready, Prowl.”

“Then good luck.” Prowl reaches behind him, activating the ground bridge. “And be on your guard. We can't trust Starscream anymore than Megatron did.”

An understatement of epic proportions. Perceptor steels himself and follows his team to the ground bridge. Arcee enters first, blasters drawn, and Mirage takes the rear, invisible to everything except for a sense of awareness. If you know he's there, it's easier to recognize his presence. Not so much if you aren't expecting him.

It's one of those phenomenon that defy explanation.

They emerge in a forest, in the dark of night, moonlight filtering through the branches above them. Perceptor, taller than Arcee, spies Starscream immediately. The Seeker is sitting on the ground, hitched up against a rock, his legs stretched out in front of him. The problem is evident, energon forming a small pool beneath his left leg. It is not an immediate concern, but it would make travel difficult for Starscream. Especially if he is on his own.

“So good of you to come,” Starscream purrs, his optics focused on Arcee first before he notices that she is accompanied. “I was beginning to think you were going to let me die out here.”

“We still might,” Arcee says, her tone icy enough to freeze what energon is left in Starscream's line. There is no love lost between them.

Starscream chuckles and then those Decepticon red optics focus on Perceptor. “Well, I see you've gained some crew. Might I ask whatever happened to Ratchet?”

Arcee's blasters whine as she powers them up. “What information do you have for us, Starscream? We didn't come to chat.”

“Of course you didn't,” Starscream says, but he's not looking at her. His optics are for Perceptor, who finds himself for once, at a loss for words. “Are you missing something? Because Optimus Prime is aboard Megatron's warship and he doesn't seem to mind how much fun he's having.”

Oh, Starscream. Perceptor bites back a sigh. He's never one to resist baiting someone for any reason.

Arcee's engine growls. Enough is enough.

Perceptor steps forward, further from Mirage and past Arcee. They could go on all night like this, baiting each other.

“You tell us what we already know,” Perceptor says, careful to keep his vocals soft. “We need information of worth, Starscream.”

The Seeker smirks, lounging against the rock as though his leg isn't sluggishly pulsing out his life's fluid. “You've gotten ruthless, Perceptor. My doesn't the war change us all.”

Arcee makes a noise but Perceptor holds up a hand, indicating that he can handle this. He may be a scientist, but he hasn't survived this war by letting others fight his battles for him. And he would have never survived being partnered to Starscream if he couldn't stand up for himself with some witty banter.

He crouches within reach of Starscream, a quick scan reporting Starscream's vitals. Energy levels down, to be expected. A symphony of minor injuries, nothing his self-repair can't handle. Spark energy somewhat unsettled, again unsurprising. Other than the wound on his leg, Starscream is the picture of health.

This is not the frame of a mech who has been scrabbling around for scraps to survive.

“Where is the space bridge, Starscream?” Perceptor asks.

Red optics widen as Starscream snarls. “Space bridge?” he repeats, true anger in his vocals. “They finished it without me?”

“Given that they stole a power source from the humans, I believe the answer is yes.” Perceptor tilts his helm and gestures to the leg. “I have my medkit and some spare energon. All I need is a location.”

Starscream huffs, some of the revulsion draining from his expression. “There's nothing on Cybertron. Why do you need the space bridge?”

“That's our business and none of yours!” Arcee snaps. “Do you know where it is or not?”

“Of course I know! I chose the location!” Starscream's field spikes with agitation, his wings fluttering against the stone. “Whether or not I'll tell you is another matter.”

“Then we go. Come on, Perceptor. He's useless to us.”

Perceptor doesn't move. He knows Starscream better than anyone, coward and traitor that he can be. “You have no loyalty to Megatron.”

Starscream rolls his helm. “In that regard, I have no loyalty to anyone.”

“Except yourself.”

“Except myself.” Starscream smirks and pats his injured leg. “Fine. Fix me. I'll tell you where the space bridge is. You don't have a chance in the Pit of taking it, but that's your problem, not mine.”

Arcee makes a low sound of frustration behind them and whirls around, stomping away. She keeps within sight, but out of field reach. Whatever Mirage thinks, Perceptor doesn't know. He's sure the both of them will have questions after he returns to base.

Perceptor moves closer to examine the wound. “You could always join us.”

Starscream barks a laugh. “Perish the thought.” He looks at Perceptor, his optics assessing. “I didn't follow you then. I won't follow you now.”

Perceptor makes a noncommittal noise. The wound is simple enough. Starscream probably lacks the supplies, not the skill. Or perhaps he has other motives. Starscream has always been complex.

He pulls out the spare cube of energon, offering it to Starscream. “Here. You'll need it by the time I'm through.”

Starscream watches him, taloned fingers wrapping around the cube. “When did you get here?”

“I don't think our commander would approve of me sharing such information.”

“Of course he wouldn't.” Starscream tilts his helm. “With your vaunted Prime aboard the warship, I imagine you follow Ratchet's orders. But Ratchet is not the one here, which suggests he's indisposed.” Starscream's lips curl into a smirk. “You have someone else.”

Perceptor keeps his silence. Starscream's mind has always been a thing of wonder, he makes great leaps and bounds where Perceptor had been a lateral thinker. It is part of the reason they had worked so well together.

“I thought you dead, you know,” Starscream says, his vocals much quieter than before, pitched so that they carry no further than Perceptor's audials.

Perceptor keeps his gaze focused on the wound and his welding. “You didn't seem so concerned when you led the attack on Perihex.”

Starscream's field wavers, a moment of regret perhaps. “Yes, well, these things happen in war.”

“Mmm.” Perceptor finishes the weld and applies a static bandage, one laced with nanites to promote recovery. “I would recommend berth rest but something tells me that is not an option for you.”

Starscream's chuckle lacks amusement. “I've not the comfort of a base, no.” He shifts his weight. “You'll want your payment then.”

Perceptor tucks his medkit into a compartment on his thigh. “Arcee will insist.”

“I'm sure.” Starscream rolls his helm and smirks as he spits out a series of coordinates on Earth and when Perceptor cross-references them, underground. “You're welcome.”

Perceptor pushes to his pedes as Starscream examines his work, giving it a pat of approval. “If you change your mind--”

“I won't.”

Well, it never hurt to try. Perceptor bites back a sigh and rejoins Arcee. “Let's go.”

She gives him a long look. “You get the coordinates?”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

Arcee summons the ground bridge and Perceptor resists the urge to look over his shoulder. Whatever Starscream does with himself now is none of his concern.

They return to base, Mirage shimmering into view, Arcee finally putting her blasters away.

Perceptor heads for the main console and plugs in the coordinates. It is underground, near an energon mine. Smart. Of course, no one ever accused Starscream of being otherwise.

“If this works, we owe Starscream more than a minor repair,” Prowl murmurs as he looks over the location, gauging the difficulty of acquiring the space bridge for their use.

“It will work,” Perceptor says.

Mirage appears on his other side, his gaze focused on Perceptor. “You were quite cozy with Starscream.”

“Mirage.” Prowl doesn't look at his mate, but his warning tone is one not to be ignored. “Enough.”

“We all have a past,” Perceptor allows, drawing his energy field against his frame so that no one can sense the depth of it. “But I have always been nothing if not dedicated to the Autobot cause.”

“It was an observation, Prowl,” Mirage says, his expression unreadable. “Nothing else.” He turns away from the console, leaving them alone.

“Megatron will have the bridge guarded,” Arcee points out, her arms folded across her chassis. “We have to be able to use it, which means we have to hold it, long enough to get to Cybertron and Vector Sigma, and return.”

Prowl inclines his helm. “And that is only half the equation. We need retrieve Optimus as well.”

The real work has only just begun. Perceptor sighs and tucks his small medkit into his subspace.

There's a good chance he will be needing it in the future.

0o0o0


Earth is not Cybertron. Will never be anything like home. Bumblebee can appreciate the organic beauty and ephemeral nature. But he still longs for Cybertron.

He dares to believe they might return some day.

“You know, I don't think I'll ever get used to this planet,” Sideswipe grumbles from behind Bumblebee, his patrol partner for the day. “Sunstreaker's lucky he hasn't really left base.”

Bumblebee would be amused if this isn't the sixth or seventh time he's caught Sideswipe griping. And they all thought Sunstreaker was the vain one.

--It's not so bad,-- Bee replies. The feel of the sun's warmth on his plating is worth the grit on his undercarriage.

Sideswipe's gears grind with disgust. “It's not so good either. What do you do for entertainment?”

Somehow, Bee doesn't think Sideswipe means human television or monster trucks.

--It depends.-- Bumblebee flicks his wiperblades with a flush of cleansing fluid. --Though we'll all have our hands full soon enough.--

“The spawn of Sunstreaker is something to be feared,” Sideswipe says dryly.

They both chuckle.

Bumblebee's sensors beep. He shifts his attention to the newly detected signal. It seems to match the ones appearing as of late though not exactly. There's something off about it.

“Bee?”

--Something on my scanners.--

“Decepticon?”

--Don't think so.-- Bumblebee frowns internally and radios headquarters, only to find Mirage in charge. --Are you seeing what I'm seeing?--

“No.”

Bee skids to a stop on the shoulder, broadening his scanning range. The signal comes in louder, a match for the previous Decepticon weapons.

Sideswipe idles behind him. “What is it?”

--A signal. Another weapon maybe.--

Sideswipe revs his engine. “Let's check it out. I've been bored with patrol anyway.”

Bee hesitates. The signal is an exact match but something reads off. He doesn't have proof, just a spark-deep disquiet.

Sideswipe spins his wheels. “Come on. Prowl says that there are no Decepticons around, but that could change at any moment.”

--Fine,-- Bee says and pulls back onto the road. --Follow me.--

After all, backup is only a ground bridge away.

0o0o0


He's on his way to Orion's workstation when he hears the steps behind him. Knock Out's engine growls, his energy field spikes, and his free hand twitches. It'll take him less than a klik to pull out his energon prod.

“I told you,” he snarls, whirling on a heel strut, energon prod leaping to his fingers, “that I'm not...”

He trails off.

“Not what?” Breakdown tilts his helm, scratching at his jaw.

Not Ricochet after all. Thank Primus for small favors.

Knock Out sighs and smooths his plating back down. He is entirely too jumpy. “Nothing,' he dismisses and collapses his energon prod. “Where'd you come from?”

“Where I'm always at when I'm not your slave.” Breakdown grins at the well-worn joke between them.

Knock Out's lips twitch in something like a smile. “Monitor duty,” he acknowledges aloud and lets the rest of his systems cycle back down into standby.

“Yeah.” Breakdown folds his arms and pins him with a single-opticked look. “And here you are, playing the good delivery bot.”

“We don't all have the fun duties.” Knock Out manages a crooked grin and turns back around. Orion's been hiding at his workstation more than usual lately and he can't let the mech go underfueled.

He doesn't need Megatron to get another reason to poke at him.

And for a single, wild moment, Knock Out almost suggests they go. The option rests at the back of his processor, tantalizing and tempting. They've survived alone before. They can do it again.

But now, Breakdown is far too loyal to Megatron.

The moment passes.

Breakdown falls into step beside him. “Funny you should say that. Kind of like you've been a ghost around here. And when was the last time you went racing?”

Knock Out arches an orbital ridge. “I thought the point was for me to stop racing?”

“Since when do you listen?”

“Since leaving the Nemesis proved to be something of a mistake,” Knock Out retorts and rolls his optics. “Or do I need to remind you of your limited viewpoint?”

Breakdown's engine revs. “Never stopped you before.” His field nudges at Knock Out's, but since he's Breakdown, it's less of a nudge and more of a gutpunch. “And I don't think it's the humans that got you running scared.”

Knock Out huffs a ventilation. “Is there a point to this interrogation or are you simply bored?”

A massive hand lands on his shoulder, dragging him to a halt. Knock Out narrows his optics.

“Is that the way it's gonna be now?” Breakdown demands, but his vocals are much quieter than his tone. He's angry, but to a casual observer, it just looks like they are deep in intimate conversation.

Knock Out tightens his fingers around the cube. “I don't know what you mean.”

“You've been hiding secrets from me. Frag, you've been hiding from me,” Breakdown points out. “And all since you escaped from the Autobots. And it ain't right. We're partners, Knock Out. It's how we survived.”

He gnaws on his bottom lipplate. “I'm not hiding anything,” he insists, and tells himself, it is not fear coiling through his internals.

Breakdown knowing wouldn't only endanger Knock Out, it would endanger himself. Because if he doesn't tell Lord Megatron and word gets out? Megatron will see it as treachery.

And they all know how Megatron handles treachery.

“Pitslag!” Breakdown snarls, and his grip tightens.

Knock Out twists out from under his hand, putting distance between them. “I have work to do, Breakdown,” he snaps, gathering up scraps of indignity. “So if you're quite done with accusing me of whatever you think I've done, I'll be going.”

Breakdown stares at him, jaw set. “Fine,” he grits out, his field withdrawing with a sharp snap that makes Knock Out reel. “Do what you want.”

He leaves without giving Knock Out a chance to retort, not that he has any words. What would he say that is not more denial?

Knock Out sighs. He has energon that needs to be delivered. He'll have to worry about Breakdown later.

0o0o0


“Aid!”

The panicked shout hits him from three directions: his comm, his audials, and his spark. He startles, fumbling the welder he'd been cleaning. First Aid whirls as the sound of shouting gets louder before Ratchet's medbay is invaded.

Sideswipe and Bulkhead stagger inside, carrying Bumblebee between them. The yellow scout is limp, his optics dark, but there's no evidence of damage at first glance.

“What happened?” Aid demands as he directs them to the nearest medberth.

“MECH,” Bulkhead snarls, plating fluffed as his field bleeds fury. “Had to be.”

“I never saw them,” Sideswipe says, worry and guilt spinning around his spark. There's a strain in his field as well. “Something hit me. Killed my systems. Sent me into stasis.”

“Then why aren't you out, too?” Bulkhead demands.

“Because he has built in redundancies,” Aid answers, quickly hooking Bumblebee up to the monitors. He contemplates calling his mentor. “I programmed them myself. Before the war.”

Bumblebee's still alive. His spark has a strong, steady pulse. His systems are reading a light stasis, like he's been sent into a soft reboot. But why?

First Aid stares at the ragged cut in Bumblebee's chestplate. A hack job really. Knock Out knows better, would be more precise.

First Aid traces the line, sees the black char of the paint. Whoever did this had used substandard tools. And...

He frowns and initiates another scan, using his in-frame equipment. He compares the results with Bumblebee's schematic that he keeps on file. He has one for every member of Team Prime, old and new alike.

“Aid?” Sideswipe puts a hand on his shoulder, leaning close.

First Aid sags, dread coiling inside of him. “They took his T-cog,” he says, aghast.

“What do you mean?”

First Aid turns as Prowl enters, making the tiny medbay even smaller. Prowl's sensory panels are rigid, reflecting his anger. Sideswipe and Bulkhead shift to make room.

“It's gone.” First Aid gestures to the raggedly welded line. “Whoever attacked him removed it.”

“It would be useless to another Cybertronian though. Right?” Sideswipe offers, scratching his jaw.

“Yes.” First Aid's optics dim as he focuses on repairing Bumblebee and coaxing him from stasis. “They are CNA-coded. There have only been a few recorded cases of successful transplants.”

“The Decepticons have no use for a spare T-cog. Nor would they waste an opportunity to cull our forces.” Prowl's mouth flattens with disapproval. “This was the work of humans.”

“MECH.” Bulkhead slams his fist into his palm. “They are the only ones. They tried dissecting Breakdown and Arcee. They want our tech bad enough to kill for it.”

“I'm inclined to agree. Their work is sloppy. Primitive.” First Aid sighs, though he can't help the angry trill. “There's no point either! They won't be able to understand how it works. They still think us machines!”

Sideswipe inches closer, resting a hand on First Aid's shoulder, his field a soothing balm to the distress that coils within him. First Aid cycles several ventilations.

“But they will continue trying nonetheless. The humans can be quite tenacious,” Prowl murmurs.

First Aid sighs. “I can't fix this, Prowl. I can attempt to reprogram one of the T-cogs Ratchet pulled from a Vehicon trooper but your best hope is to retrieve Bumblebee's own.”

“I understand.” Prowl's optics turn flat and icy. He spins on a heel. “Do what you can, First Aid. Bulkhead and Sideswipe, come with me.”

“Yes, sir.”

They leave and the medbay is silent in their absence. Aid cycles a ventilation and considers summoning Ratchet once more. But no. He'd been trained well. He can do this. Besides, Ratchet can no more replace a missing T-cog than First Aid can.

He can repair Bumblebee, encourage him to wake from stasis. But there is nothing he can do about the missing component.

First Aid has never felt so useless.

***

a/n: I skim a bit over events that happen pretty similar to canon to cut down on exposition. But if it moves too quickly or doesn't make any sense, let me know and I'll expand the scenes. Also, I self-edit so if you see any terrible errors, point them out to me. I don't mind. :)

As always, feedback is welcome and appreciated.

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