dracoqueen22: (doctorisin)
[personal profile] dracoqueen22

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 Twelve

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Starscream's words linger in the back of Orion's processor. The more he tries to ignore them, the more they crop to the forefront. It becomes harder to focus on his work.

Someone is lying to him, Orion knows.

He stares at his screen, at the lines and lines of code, and he makes the conscious decision to pause his work. His spark awhirl in his chamber, he shifts his focus. He dives into areas of the Decepticon mainframe that he hasn't dared touch before. He hasn't felt the need.

There is a powerful encryption here, but less complex than what guards the Iacon archives. It is not beyond Orion's ability to break through. But if he does so, it will be with the knowledge that it is against Megatron's wishes.

But Megatron, of all mechs, should know Orion's opinion when it comes to knowledge. It, like freedom, is the right of all sentient beings.

Someone is lying to him. Orion will not let that stand.

Optimus Prime. The designation echoes in his processor, his spark. But it is impossible. There is no way Orion, a data clerk, is this Prime. Starscream must be confused.

But Starscream is supposed to be offline, per Megatron himself. Megatron also said that Ratchet is the leader of the Autobots, but here, in his own Archives, there is a different story. The mech listed here, Ultra Magnus, neither resembles Ratchet nor is he a Prime. But he is the stated leader of the Autobots.

Surely Megatron would know what is in his own Archives. Soundwave would not have allowed false information to stand. He, like Orion, has always appreciated the value of knowledge. There is a reason he is loyal to Megatron.

Orion cycles a ventilation and dives deeper. All attempts at his assignment are forgotten. There is a mystery here, one he must solve.

There is an emptiness in his spark, a black spot in his memories. What is Orion missing? What does he not know? Why can't he be with Megatron without this nagging dread within him?

No.

His optics cycle wider. These are not the true files. There's a second layer of encryption here. Few would have noticed it if they weren't looking for it. But Orion is and he sees it and he has to find what lies beneath.

His fingers fly over the keys. His ventilations cycle faster. Code flashes across the screen. The image of Ultra Magnus blurs. The answers are here, beneath the lies.

And he will find them.

0o0o0


Starscream had not lied.

There are no words for the relief that floods Perceptor as they stand before the space bridge, taken from the Decepticons, hopefully without their knowledge. It is fully operational Perceptor discovers with much joy in his spark. But that Starscream hadn't lied, that is worth a great deal of joy as well.

Perhaps there is still something in him that can be saved.

Prowl barks orders, setting up a perimeter. They send the signal for Jack to join them, and Perceptor waits at the entrance with Arcee and Bluestreak. Part of him wants to decline, to remain with the others. He doesn't want to see the ruin Cybertron has become.

But this must be done. Jack may be able to find Vector Sigma with the key, but there might be other complications. Perceptor is the only one close to qualified to solving potential issues. He must go.

“We'll keep the bridge open so that there is no lag in communications,” Prowl tells Arcee, having deemed her the team leader. A wise choice. “The moment you are successful, comm us and we will bridge you back. Until then, we will hold the line.”

Arcee nods, her optics a bright blue. “We'll be as quick as we can.”

“I know you will. Good luck.”

Luck, Perceptor surmises grimly, is only half of what they will need. They'll need the very hand of Primus himself.

And then he's following his team into the space bridge and onto the desolate streets of an abandoned Cybertron, cold and lifeless in the wake of their war. The sense of urgency dims. The sight of their home planet is a punch to the chest, to the spark chamber.

“What did we fight to save?” he murmurs, aching to his very core.

Bluestreak steps up beside him, laying a hand on Perceptor's shoulder. “We can rebuild,” he says, with a brief squeeze. “We will return and we will rebuild.”

After they've bombed the life out of the cities? After Megatron poisoned the very core with dark energon? What is there left to save?

Perceptor wishes he could be so optimistic. He offers Bluestreak a thin smile. “We can try,” he agrees. Though he's very afraid it will only get them so far.

Jack is a flash of brightness in the dark. He doesn't see a gutted home, but the excitement of having crossed the universe in a breath to visit another planet. His sense of wonder cuts a path through the gloom, but only barely.

Until the key begins to glow and points them in the right direction, to Vector Sigma. But it points them, Perceptor notices with dread, toward Kaon.

0o0o0


Orion stares at the screen, disbelief pouring in a cascade through his processor, his systems, his spark.

It cannot be.


He is not Optimus Prime.

The truth stares him in the faceplate, from Megatron's own archives, the decrypted data a direct contrast to Megatron's own words.

Orion stares at the screen, at his own frame, and the title Optimus Prime that is supposed to belong to him. But it does not because he is a data clerk with no memories. A data clerk with the Decepticon symbol branded to his shoulders. A data clerk who shares a berth with a mech who has been lying to him from the start.

His hands clench into fists as they rest on the keyboard. A tremble settles through his substructure. He is not Optimus Prime, that much is clear, but Megatron has not been telling the truth. That much is clearer.

What has he done?

The door opens behind him. The pedesteps that enter, heavy and full of purpose, are familiar. As is the field that accompanies it. Orion does not have to turn to know who has come to call.

He whirls around, looking up into the face of his betrayer, and he can't decide who he is more angry with: Megatron or himself.

“You lied to me,” he says.

Megatron does not flinch. He gives pause. He tilts his helm, and then something slow and uneven curls his lip plating.

“I told you what you needed to hear,” he corrects. “We were allies. The Autobots did steal you from my side. Anything else that falls after is inconsequential.”

Orion's hands form fists at his side. He is keenly aware of the difference in their skills, their size. “I beg to differ.”

“What you beg does not matter,” Megatron snarls, stomping closer, pointing to the computer with a violence Orion has not yet seen. “Unless it is my forgiveness, Orion. You say that I lie, but you betrayed me first and that you don't remember it is no excuse. You owe me your loyalty.”

Orion's ventilations stall, but he gamely forces them on. Is he intimidated? Yes. But so had he been when they first began their fight against the injustices in the Senate and the High Council. Intimidation had not stopped him then. It will not stop him now.

“No,” he says. “I do not.”

Optics stained with purple flare at him. A growl rises in Megatron's chassis. Gone is the mech who held him close, who brought him to overload time and again. The one who recharged peacefully beside him, and laughed when Orion asked question after question.

Questions that he answered with lies.

“Then at the very least you owe me your spark,” Megatron hisses, the distinctive whine of his cannon powering up filling the small room. “Because if you do not do as I ask, I will take it from you.”

“A price I will gladly pay if it means you will never complete whatever ill intentions you have planned.” Orion tilts his helm, baring the delicate structures of his intake.

He may not know who he is. He may not know the truth. But he does know that Megatron's words have all been lies and Orion cannot trust him.

Megatron snarls, but before he can say anything further, the door again opens, Soundwave stepping inside with the same silent presence he always carries. He says nothing, but his faceplate flashes, displaying an image of Cybertron and something marked upon it.

“One of our sentries has activated on Cybertron?” Megatron demands, half his attention stolen by this new information. “How?”

Soundwave's faceplate displays something else. Schematics. Communications. Something. And Megatron's anger grows deeper.

“The Autobots,” he hisses. “What do they think to accomplish?”

Orion, however, stares at Soundwave. “You told me our planet was dead!”

Megatron turns back toward him, optics narrowed. “As you previously stated, I told many lies. I am but a creature of habit.” He moves closer, field a dizzying press of challenge and threat. “You will finish Project Iacon by the time I return, or you will find I am no longer the gracious host. Am I clear?”

Orion works his intake. “Yes.”

If Megatron can lie, then so can Orion.

There's a moment, a beat, and then Megatron turns, taking the vile press of his field with him. “Soundwave, stay here and make sure Orion does as he's told. It appears I have some vermin to exterminate.”

He leaves. Soundwave remains. And Orion stares at him, a mech he once considered his friend, his ally.

“What is he going to do?” Orion demands.

Soundwave points at the console and a recording begins to play, Megatron's vocals echoing around the room. A reminder that Orion has a task to complete.

He works his intake and turns, resting his hands on the keyboard. The image of Optimus Prime is still on the monitor, staring at him with accusation.

He cannot continue to assist Megatron. He can't betray the truth in his spark. He must do what is right.

Orion hits several keys in quick succession, a fail safe he had written into his work from the beginning. It is a habit, one borne from their earliest forays into fighting for change. What they'd spoken then could have had them all deactivated before anyone could care. So Orion had taken action, protecting himself and his allies where he could.

His spark had known the truth all along. Why had he not listened to it?

Orion cycles a ventilation and hits the final key. His screen fills with static and then goes blank. The data has been erased. Weeks of hard work, gone. The newest two coordinates, deleted. He cannot do anything about what Megatron has already found, but he can ensure that no further harm can be done. Especially since he has also written a virus into what remains to be decrypted.

And then Soundwave storms forward, shoving him out of the way with one arm. Orion cries out as his data cable rips free, spitting charge. It retracts into the safety of his frame, but the pain lingers.

“It's no use,” Orion gasps as Soundwave's larger data cable snakes from his substructure and slams home in the console's connector. “I've erased it all.”

Soundwave looks at him with that blank faceplate, not even his field betraying an emotion. He tilts his helm, still cabled to that console, and then another cable emerges. It moves faster than Orion could have anticipated, slamming into his frame and shoving him back against the wall.

He groans as feedback echoes in his audials. And his monitor blinks, the console making a series of low chirps. Orion watches, staring in disbelief, as one by one, everything he thought gone returns to the screen. The cable tightens around his frame and then Orion is airborne, tossed as though he weighs nothing more than a sparkling.

He braces himself, expecting to hit a far wall, when a ground bridge swirls to life and he skids through it, plating making a horrendous screech over the floor. He does hit a wall, but not in the computer room. No, here it is dark, a chill lingering in the air.

The ground bridge swirls shut, leaving him alone.

Orion groans and pushes himself to hands and knees. All that provides light are energy bars, preventing his escape.

The brig. Soundwave had bridged him to the brig. But only after he'd retrieved the data.

Orion had failed in all respects. He sighs and leans against the wall, frame aching. He had defied Megatron at the least.

Now, he supposes, he is here to await his execution.

0o0o0


The key leads them to the heart of Kaon, to an empty courtyard and for a moment, Perceptor thinks it has brought them to a dead end. Until the ground starts to shake, some of the building breaks apart, and an entrance rises up from beneath them. It is the stuff sparkling tales are borne of, but the large double doors open in the light of the key.

And then the Insecticon attacks and Perceptor takes Jack and runs, per Arcee's instructions. They dive inside and the last thing he sees before the doors close behind him, is the Insecticon tackling Arcee as Bluestreak takes potshots from a distance.

He tells Jack it will be okay, and tries to help himself believe it.

Jack pats him on a heel strut. “I've seen Arcee take down worse,” he says. “And Optimus is counting on us.”

He starts down the hallway before Perceptor, and the scientist follows, scanners detecting nothing. Not that they need the key to lead the way now. There is but one corridor, intermittently lit. It takes them to a massive, empty chamber.

Perceptor expects a massive computer or console, something that they plug the key into like a data drive. The floor, however, is covered in glyphs. Jack walks into the center of them, turning in low circles.

“What next?” Perceptor asks.

The key pulses in the human's hands as if trying to offer advice.

Jack looks down, tilts his head, and crouches. His free hand sweeps over the dust-laden swirl. “I think it goes here.” He doesn't wait for agreement. He sets the key down and the entire chamber begins to hum.

Perceptor's scanners go haywire as Jack backpedals. The floor breaks apart along the seams, the key flashing as it doubles, triples, and then quadruples in size. Energy fills the chamber from all directions, thrumming through the metal.

This is going to work after all.

0o0o0

Sideswipe and Sunstreaker are sparring in a corner, occasionally tapping out with Wheeljack, which in Prowl's opinion, is a far better use of their time than needling Mirage. They are all on a razor's edge, waiting for the data upload to complete while hoping the Decepticons do not notice.

“This is taking a long time,” Jack comments over the open comm-line.

“It is millions of years worth of knowledge, Jack,” Ratchet replies, sounding tired but alert from their base. “That it can fit on the key is the true marvel.”

Prowl makes a low sound of assent.

“I could help,” Bulkhead says, pounding one fist into the other. “Send me. I'll take down that Insecticon.”

Prowl is sorely tempted. But he trusts Bluestreak and Arcee have the situation well in hand. Or at least, they have not yet indicated otherwise.

And then a ground bridge swirls to life behind them. Prowl turns, spark hammering in his chassis. “Ratchet?”

“That did not come from me,” the medic says.

Not that Prowl had needed the confirmation. Not when Megatron comes striding through, flanked by Airachnid and Dreadwing, a phalanx of Eradicons flooding in his wake. Not when anger burns bright in Megatron's optics, a sneer revealing sharpened denta.

“Prime's pet tactician,” the warlord acknowledges. “I should have known.”

Prowl's blaster slides into his fingers and he steps in front of the console. They are to protect it at all costs. Jack and the others will return and they will restore Optimus' memories.

Or they will die trying.

0o0o0


Ratchet again rubs at his chestplate and shifts his weight. Standing in the command center is not helping his discomfort, but he refuses to take to the berth. Not when so much hangs in the balance.

He watches the screen, the conversations bouncing between various Autobots. He hears Jack murmuring “come on, come on” to the key. He hears Arcee shouting obscenities at the Insecticon and Bluestreak's eerie, focused silence.

He hears a battle going full force at the space bridge control, Autobots and Decepticons, fighting gamely for dominance.

Behind him, Bumblebee shadow boxes, his field registering frustration and helplessness. It is a feeling Ratchet knows all too well.

Nurse Darby looks on. Agent Fowler is tense. Miko clutches Rafael's hand and they all wait, on bolts and brackets, for a reply.

“It's done!” Jack shouts, startling them all. “It's fully charged, Ratchet.”

His spark cycles with excitement. “Then regroup with the others. I've got your position marked so Prowl can bring you home.”

“Hurry,” Prowl growls into the network. “I don't know how much longer we can hold them off.”

Bumblebee leaps to Ratchet's side, optics hopefully locked on the screen. --We're one step closer to saving, Optimus,-- he transmits.

Ratchet nods. “That we are, Bumblebee. That we are.”

Just hang in there, Optimus. We're coming.

0o0o0


“Autobots, fall back!” Prowl shouts as he takes another potshot at Megatron and fires a rocket toward a gaggle of Vehicons.

The cavern shudders, debris raining down on them. At this rate, the whole cave might collapse around them. Prowl eyes the space bridge control, wondering if it's worth the effort to destroy it afterward.

They are so few against Megatron and his Decepticons, but they have to hold the line. Arcee's team needs only a few more moments.

--Prowl! We're ready when you are!-- she shouts into the comm and there's an edge to her voice, one of pain.

Insecticons have always been Megatron's largest trump card.

“Fall back!” Prowl shouts again, more urgency in his vocals. “Defend the space bridge – urk!”

He stumbles backward, plating scorched, as he catches the edge of a blast from Megatron's cannon. He struggles to focus, arm going numb, when a heavy weight slams into his frame, pinning him against the rock wall.

“Have you discovered a cure, Prowl?” Megatron snarls, red optics bright and blazing. “Do you think you can take him from me?”

Prowl gasps a ventilation, the taloned claw around his intake squeezing. “He doesn't belong to you.”

Megatron's snarl would have terrified a lesser being. “Orion is mine!”

“And Optimus is ours!”

Prowl hits the ground with his knees, lights dancing in his optics, barely registering the crash of metal against metal as Megatron and Bulkhead go tumbling across the rocks, exchanging blows.

“Prowl!”

Someone shouts his designation, skidding to a stop at his side. Prowl massages his intake, looking up into Bluestreak's optics, his adopted sparkling battered and dented, but alive.

The space bridge!

“You're back,” he rasps.

Bluestreak helps him to his pedes. “With a recharged key even.”

“Then it's time to go.” Prowl activates his comm and contacts Ratchet. --Send us the ground bridge. Now!--

Ratchet's response is lost to the noise of battle. It's a blur to Prowl, whose entire frame feels as though he's been bulldozed by a triple-changer. There's only one mech who's ever been able to stand against Megatron and he's not here right now.

Which is why Bulkhead goes flying past Prowl, slamming into the rock wall, sending another fall of debris to come tumbling down. In his wake is a cry of rage as Wheeljack launches himself at Megatron, only to be summarily tossed aside.

A ground bridge swirls to life, near enough that Prowl has only to stumble toward it. Bluestreak grabs Bulkhead and they limp to their escape.

Prowl shouts for everyone to retreat, vocally and across the open comm. He doesn't care if they look like cowards. They have what they came for. And there's no way they can win.

One by one, Prowl counts them. Bluestreak and Bulkhead are first through the bridge, with Arcee close after, clutching Jack, Perceptor stumbling along side. Sunstreaker and Sideswipe snatch up an unconscious Wheeljack between them and haul aft through the bridge as well, for once not whining about running from a fight.

Prowl is the last and he takes a moment, staring into Megatron's rage and the Decepticon menace, to make a decision. He races for the bridge, hears the pedefalls of Mirage falling into step and Megatron giving chase. He pushes Mirage ahead of him and turns at the last moment, shoulder launchers aiming and firing.

Not for Megatron. They won't put so much as a dent in that battle-grade armor. But Megatron's space bridge control is not so protected. It won't prevent the Decepticons from returning to Cybertron, but it will slow them down.

And with Megatron's rage echoing in his audials, Prowl leaps into the ground bridge portal, it closing mere moments behind him.

0o0o0


Ratchet has run out of curse words. He has run out of anger and yelling and shouting. Now, he tends to the wounds in silence. Because there are a lot of them. Scrapes and dents and torn limbs and things he can't replace, can barely repair, but despite it all, this is not an air of defeat.

Instead, the Autobots are smiling. They are shrugging off their injuries. They don't care that already strained resources are at their limits. That sooner, rather than later, they will have to raid one of Megatron's energon mines.

All these battered warriors can see is Jack, being hugged by his mother, a glowing key in his other hand. All they can see is hope.

Ratchet welds the last of Wheeljack's leg – he swears Wreckers are magnetically attracted to injury – and sends him off with orders for berth rest. Not that he expects Wheeljack to obey. It'll be a miracle if Wheeljack sticks around.

He and Prowl don't see optic to optic on much of anything.

Yellow moves into his peripheral vision. “You should rest,” Sunstreaker says, one of the few to have emerged from the battle with his plating mostly intact. Though to hear his muttering about his paint, one would think otherwise.

“Considering I spent the whole mission standing here doing nothing, I'm the furthest from needing rest,” Ratchet retorts, rubbing at his chestplate. And with all the extra energy racing through his frame, he doesn't think he could anyway.

Sunstreaker moves behind him, his hands resting on Ratchet's shoulders where his fingers dip between armor plates and massage the tense cables beneath. “We all had our parts to play. Besides, now we can get to work on getting Optimus back.”

Ratchet sighs and offlines his helm. “Did you see him?” And he knew, without having to clarify, that Sunstreaker would know he didn't mean Optimus.

“... No.”

“He must have stayed aboard the Nemesis.” Ratchet rubs at his chest, the seam between his windows. It feels as though they are betraying Knock Out all over again.

Sunstreaker cycles a ventilation and wraps his arms around Ratchet, resting his helm against the back of Ratchet's shoulder. “We won't fail this time.”

Ratchet rests a hand over Sunstreaker's and wishes he could be as optimistic.

0o0o0


Orion feels Megatron long before he sees the Decepticon warlord. He pushes himself to his pedes from his position on the floor. There's not even the comfort of a berth in this cell, though he supposes that is the point.

Megatron's field is a whirl of wrath, like a strike to the senses, and Orion feels nothing of mercy in that raw fury. And when he comes into view, his armor is a pockmark of injuries that speak of recent battle. He carries the scent of blaster fire and discharged ions.

He's alone as he comes to a halt in front of Orion's cell, optics dark and blazing. His hands are clawed fists at his side.

“Are you satisfied?” he growls.

Orion tilts his helm. “I don't know what you mean.”

“You accomplished nothing with that pathetic attempt to thwart me,” Megatron says, his looming presence the very definition of threat. “You have delayed our cause, but in the end, it is meaningless.”

Orion cycles a ventilation. “Are you going to kill me?”

“The thought has crossed my mind.” Megatron bares his denta. “It would solve so many of my problems. Are you that ready to join the Well?”

“I am ready to do what must be done.”

Megatron's engine growls and he whirls away from Orion, the dizzying press of his field no less fearsome for it. “Even free of your memories, you still sound like him.”

“Optimus Prime?”

“Do not give voice to that name!” Megatron's hand whips through the air and there's something more beneath the fury, something Orion almost dares call hurt. “He does not exist. He is an illusion, a falsity given life by that ancient relic. And I will erase him no matter what it takes.”

Orion says nothing. What words can he offer in the face of this? Whatever it is. Megatron makes no more sense now than he did before, even if then he had been spilling lies.

There's a moment of silence where Megatron ventilates and Orion watches him before the Decepticon lord abruptly leaves, abandoning Orion to the dark loneliness of the brig.

He is alive.

This, Orion realizes as he settles back to the floor, is not what he could have expected.

****


a/n: Oh, Megatron. You just don't know what to do with yourself. I do hope you enjoyed. As always, feedback is welcome and appreciated.

Coming up next in chapter thirteen: Dreadwing is given a task, Knock Out and Breakdown argue, Ratchet's spark is ready to split, Knock Out gets some bad news, and Starscream reveals some of his plan.
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