dracoqueen22: (doctorisin)
[personal profile] dracoqueen22
a/n: Another update, wahoo! There's some canonical character death in here. And some minor character death. Some unrepentant killing of humans. Etc.

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 Thirteen

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Dreadwing wastes no time once he retrieves the summons. The damage he had incurred during the fight for the space bridge was only cosmetic, so Lord Megatron had disturbed nothing but a ritual cleaning of his primary weapon. Upon hearing the growl in his master's voice, however, Dreadwing had known he could not delay.

He heads straight for the bridge and he finds it tense. There is an unusual silence permeating the air. The Vehicons are at their tasks, not even chatting subvocally as per their usual behavior. Soundwave is nowhere to be seen. Neither, Dreadwing notes, is Airachnid.

Lord Megatron stands at the helm, hands clasped behind his back, and plating slicked to his frame as though he is about to head to battle.

His fury has yet to abate. The space bridge controls had been lost to them. The Autobots had succeeded on Cybertron for whatever purpose and rumor has it, Orion is in the brig.

No wonder Megatron is perturbed.

Dreadwing approaches his leader and is quick to drop to one knee. Subservience often appeases Lord Megatron when is angered.

“I am here as you commanded, Lord Megatron,” Dreadwing says and presses one fist to his chestplate, bowing his helm.

“Then there is at least one mech aboard this warship who does not test my mercy,” Lord Megatron growls and he turns to face Dreadwing, his optics bleeding with fury. “You are loyal, Dreadwing. And I am suddenly finding that to be the most valuable trait in my subordinates.”

Dreadwing inclines his helm. “I live to serve.”

“Rise,” Lord Megatron commands and then looks Dreadwing over as he pushes to his pedes, his optics narrowing. “I have a task for you, one that I would normally perform myself, but I now wish to leave to my first officer. I have reached my limit of tolerating traitors. I wish for you to dispose of one.”

His first officer? But that would be Airachnid-- Oh.

Dreadwing bows his helm. “Yes, Lord Megatron.”

The warlord's lips curl into a smirk. “I knew you would understand. And I suggest that you come fully prepared. This is one vermin that can not be underestimated.”

“I understand, Lord Megatron.” Dreadwing already knows who will drag into this task. There is none other aboard the Nemesis, save Soundwave, who he can trust to be loyal to Lord Megatron. His partnership with Knock Out notwithstanding. “I will not fail you in this.”

“I know you won't.”

Lord Megatron turns away from him, some of the fury bleeding from his field.

“Dismissed.”

0o0o0


“Out!”

The shout echoes through the hall as Knock Out shoves Ricochet from his medbay, a growl on his lipplates.

The visored mech grins at him, nonplussed by the repeated refusals. “Now, now, Doc. Aren't you supposed to have better berthside manners?”

“Not for mechs like you!” Knock Out hisses, brandishing his energon prod. “Next time you come in here you'd better be carrying a limb.”

“Aw, sweetspark. Ya wound me to my core.” Ricochet licks his lips.

Knock Out shudders and stomps back into the bay. Bad enough Ricochet won't stop pestering him, but the fragger left scratches in his finish.

Scratches!

Where's the slagging buffer?”

Knock Out digs through several disorganized drawers. Hadn't he only used it yesterday?

“Looking for this?”

Knock Out whirls around to find Breakdown holding his favorite buffer, casually tossing it from hand to hand. His partner's expression is as inscrutable as his energy field.

“As a matter of fact, I was.” Knock Out strides across the floor, snatching the buffer away. “Where've you been?”

“Busy.” Breakdown follows him deeper into the medbay. “Not all of us have babysitting duty.”

“Pah! Have you seen these scratches?” Knock Out huffs. “Autobots have no sense of personal dignity.”

Breakdown makes a noncommittal noise. “If you say so. Do you have anymore chargers?”

“A few. Why?”

He rolls his massive shoulders, cannon twitching. “Got a mission. Might need the back up.”

“Mission?” Knock Out retrieves the spare charges and hands them over. He'd spent most of the afternoon patching up minor damage from the battle at the space bridge. And he'd heard the rumors that Orion is now residing in the brig. Which means they probably don't have any more decoded coordinates.

“No Autobots involved. My paint is safe.” Breakdown laughs and tumbles the charges into a thigh compartment. “Just something that needs handling.”

“Something... or someone?” Knock Out's optics cycle down.

“What's it matter to you? Not like you’re close to anyone on the ship.”

Knock Out folds his arms, turning away. “No,” he agrees, feeling the ache in his chassis. “I'm not.”

The silence is somehow louder for it.

“And who's fault is that?”

Knock Out presses his lipplates together. He's not getting into this argument again.

“Fine. Whatever. I've got to meet Dreadwing. You just... do whatever it is you do around here.”

He hears Breakdown leave, the heavy stride getting further and further away. Only then does Knock Out cycle a ventilation. He rubs his faceplate.

This is all his creators' fault. If they hadn't attempted to 'save' him, Knock Out wouldn't have to lie to protect himself.

Damn then. Damn them both.

0o0o0


Ratchet sits on the bench and watches Sunstreaker work, idly adjusting his own right knee joint. It's soothing to watch Sunstreaker in the midst of focus, every processing kernel devoted to perfection. The quiet sweep of the brushstrokes is as soothing as the soft mingling of their fields.

It was the most peaceful Ratchet has ever seen Sunstreaker in quite some time. Barring the night they bonded of course. And it's nice to see Sunstreaker painting again, even if it is only other mechs. It's a start.

“You stare any harder and I might get a complex,” Sunstreaker murmurs, only briefly glancing up at him.

Ratchet rolls his optics. “You already have one.”

“Good point.” A soft ripple of amusement dances through Sunstreaker's energy field.

Ratchet tightens another bolt and tests the joint. It flexes as smooth as he can manage without proper supplies. It'll do for now.

Ratchet shifts on the berth and returns his attention to Sunstreaker, who is giving him an odd look. “What?”

“Do you need me?”

Ratchet cycles his optics. “Is that a trick question?”

Sunstreaker lowers his brush, setting it down with great care. “You're rubbing your seam.”

Only then does Ratchet realize what he's doing. Discomfort had been such a constant as of late that he's scarcely noticed the odd twinge or pain. But now, there's a telltale jitter in his chestplate and his spark's reading a ten percent increase in temperature.

“So I am.” Joy tugs at Ratchet's lips. “My spark is approaching critical mass. Looks like the energy is forming a life of it's own.”

Sunstreaker startles. “Then...?”

Ratchet nods and slides from the berth, swallowing a grimace. The pain now is more pronounced. Had it been like this the first time?

“Call Perceptor and First Aid,” Ratchet says as his internal systems start a cascade of warnings. “I won't be in a state to make the transfer.”

Sunstreaker crosses the floor, taking his hand and giving it a brief squeeze. He says nothing but the flash of love through their bond is all the words Ratchet needs.

And then Sunstreaker steps away to make the necessary preparations, though he is never far from field contact.

He'd missed Knock Out's first spark of life. He refuses to do the same here.

Ratchet presses on his juddering chestplates, a surge of charge snapping at his fingers, hot enough to scorch. Impatient bitlet!

He activates his comm. --Prowl.--

--Is it time?--

Ratchet slumps, a wave of vertigo washing over him. --Guess you won the bet.--

--I always do.-- Prowl sounds far too smug. --Spark of Sunstreaker's spark would always choose the most difficult time to emerge. Good luck, Ratchet.--

He almost scoffs. He's beyond luck at this point. There's no turning back. The risk is higher but so are the rewards.

Ratchet looks at the youngling frame on the medberth, crafted of spare parts, but exquisitely painted and detailed by a loving genitor.

It's worth the pain.

0o0o0


The ping is his first indication that something is amiss. No one comes to visit. Megatron would have summoned him over the comms. Breakdown knows his door code.

Knock Out rises from the berth, a disquiet stirring within him. If there had been a medical emergency, Knock Out would have gotten the alert from his console. This could only be a personal visit.

It better not be Ricochet again. Knock Out is done verbally expressing his disinterest. No one says he has to repair every broken Decepticon that wanders into his medbay.

The door, however, opens to Dreadwing. Knock Out can't think of a single mech more unexpected.

“Can I help you?” Knock Out drawls, leaning against the door frame. He highly doubts the Seeker would have come by for a friendly frag.

Especially considering his expression, his face unreadable and his field tightly withdrawn. There is something stuck all over his armor, and he scents of pine and smoke. Knock Out frowns.

“What do you know of Breakdown's assignment?”

Knock Out folds his arms over his chestplate. “I know he was supposed to be your backup.”

“I see.”

“What is this about?”

“Airachnid.”

Knock Out narrows his optics. “What about her?”

Dreadwing audibly cycles a ventilation. “We were tasked with disposing of her. We failed. Breakdown suffered the consequences.”

Knock Out straightens. “Why didn't you call me to medbay?” he demands, spark a sharp jab in his chassis. He's seen what that spider-slag can do. “It would have been faster.”

Dreadwing grabs his arm before Knock Out can get more than a step away. “That won't be necessary. I wanted to inform you that Breakdown is not in the medbay. Because Airachnid terminated him.”

Knock Out's ventilations stall. “What?”

“It is as I said.” Dreadwing releases his arm and retreats several steps. “I was unable to recover his remains. By the time I worked myself free, both had gone.”

“Then he might still be alive!”

“No.” Dreadwing's field ripples with the faintest edge of an apology. “Airachnid doesn't take prisoners, only trophies.”

Knock Out grits his denta, retreating a step. “And yet you return undamaged.” Though that explains the weird substance covering his frame: webbing.

“Such is the course of Fate.” Dreadwing retreats another pace as though desperate to put space between them. “I've said my piece. Good recharge.”

Dreadwing walks away, leaving Knock Out alone in the hall, a part of him numb with disbelief. No. Not a part. All of him.

He activates his comm. --Breakdown.--

Nothing.

--Breakdown, answer me, frag it!--

Not even static. Just dead air. No reply. As though the receiver does not exist.

Knock Out's hand is shaking. He returns to his quarters, but his processor isn't functioning.

They had survived the war together. They'd survived Cybertron, a stint in a Neutral camp, and an Autobot prison. Together.

He shutters his optics, tries to focus on ventilating, listens to the stutter of the timing mechanism.

--Breakdown, you slagger! Answer me!--

Silence.

Knock Out slumps to the berth and buries his faceplate in his hands.

0o0o0


Waiting is dull but it does have it's rewards, Starscream muses. After all, how patient had he been while plotting his first usurpation of Megatron's command?

And now it proves in his favor once again.

Three Decepticon signals on Earth. This merits a personal investigation. Especially since one of those signals is her.

He leaves Onslaught in charge, ignoring their persistent demands for a plan of action. Blast Off, especially, is tired of being told to work on the engines. He doesn't fit very well down there, no matter how much mass he subspaces, and the tight quarters are offputting.

He has yet to learn the value of patience. A hasty offense would spell their doom.

Starscream follows the ping, keeping to the clouds. He scans all frequencies, sure he'll stumble upon their comm line eventually.

And he's right.

But rather than catch some banal chatter, Starscream hears cursing, shouting and the sound of battle. Which is odd because there are no signs of an Autobot presence. Surely they aren't fighting humans?

Starscream considers the players. Two are of Megatron's most loyal followers. Whereas Airachnid is only loyal to herself.

Starscream laughs. It all becomes clear.

Poor Airachnid. She's not even worthy of Megatron's personal touch. She's only worth the Lackeys.

Time for a closer look. Starscream could use the entertainment.

The comm line goes eerily silent. Starscream frowns to himself, returns to root mode, and lands in a clearing, on a gravel road. He is otherwise surrounded by trees. The idle noise of an organic planet in motion has quieted.

It's silent. Too silent for Decepticons to be engaging in mortal combat nearby.

Starscream sets his sensors to high alert and scans for Decepticon signals. Nothing.

He does, however, detect traces of energon.

Starscream eases into the forest, atmospheric sensors picking up the residue of blasters and energy weapons. The ground is disturbed.

Hmm. He reaches out, talons scraping over a tree. There are broken branches and... yes. Energon. Small splatters and then some metal scrap, but no frame.

Starscream crouches to get a closer look at a puddle of energon. He swipes a talon through the sticky mess. Too sticky. Definitely ground frame grade.

There's a trail, minute though it may be. Starscream follows it to a gravel road, recently disturbed. There's no sign of Airachnid, Dreadwing, or Breakdown. But the air reeks of humans. And Airachnid's had dealings with them before.

Starscream follows the road until it is less gravel and more dirt, then over-grown with recently trampled vegetation. This leads to a clearing and a warehouse. How curious.

He keeps to the shadows, observing from afar. Humans clad in uniforms, their faces masked, scurry all over the site. There's a large truck parked nearby, enough to have transported a damaged Cybertronian perhaps? He can see the glow and spatter of energon, so transporting one recently then.

Well, it is no less than Airachnid deserves. But Starscream can't have the humans knowing too much about Cybertronian biology.

He stealths to the back and peers in through an open shutter. It is not Airachnid the humans have acquired, but Breakdown. Except this time, he's most certainly offline. Airachnid had not left him intact.

Trust her to have slithered away. Dreadwing must have survived, too.

Starscream smirks as he notices barrels of fuel stacked nearby. Both within sight and range. They are making it too easy for him.

He steps back from the warehouse, raises his arm, and fires. The resulting explosion brings no small amount of satisfaction. It's even better to circle around the building, picking off the humans attempting to escape the raging inferno.

--Starscream.--

--I'm busy,-- he snaps as he destroys their three transports, the SUVs shredding like tinfoil.

Bullets ping off his plating like rain drops. Starscream swats the humans aide, their fragile bodies shattering.

--The Harbinger's picked up something.--

Starscream huffs his irritation. --I'll return shortly. Starscream, out.--

One more human earns a close encounter with a tree. Starscream scans the clearing but finds no others present. Good.

He returns to the warehouse, still aflame. In the wreckage, amid collapsed walls and a partially collapsed roof, Starscream can make out Breakdown's remains, blackened with soot. He'll be of no use to anyone, Cybertronian or human, now. Not after the fire gets to what remained of his energon reserves.

He is, for all intents and purposes, free.

“You owe me again, Breakdown,” Starscream murmurs. “Too bad I'll never be able to collect.”

There's nothing left of use in the clearing. The humans are dead, their equipment destroyed. Whatever plans they have are burned to ash.

Starscream returns to the Harbinger in record time, more than a little concerned by whatever the scanners had found. Sooner or later, Megatron will remember the Decepticon warship he left behind. Starscream doesn't want to be caught off guard.

“What is it?” he demands as he strolls into what remains of the Harbinger's control center. He's put a lot of effort into these consoles and while they are cobbled together, they function.

His team, and Starscream loosely calls it that, are all waiting for him. The screens, however, show nothing but the usual images. They have been tracking the Nemesis on the off-chance Starscream proves ready to attack. There is a secondary program running an algorithm to help narrow down the location of the Autobot base.

But there is nothing on display that would warrant Starscream's urgent return.

He narrows his optics. “What's going on?”

“We're tired of waiting, Starscream,” Onslaught says, folding his arms across his chassis. Blast Off, behind him and subspacing quite a lot of mass, stands shoulder to shoulder with his once commander.

“We want what you've promised,” the shuttle intones.

Starscream looks at Thundercracker. “And you?” he asks, stepping closer. “You also want your reward without having done anything to deserve it?”

“I want answers,” Thundercracker says, wings flicking back in challenge. “You've dragged us here to this planet and all we've done so far is hide in the dust and shadows with nothing to show for the risk. You made us promises, Starscream. Now it's time to keep them.”

How frustrating. Starscream cycles a ventilation and drags a palm down his face. “Fine. Onslaught, come with me. There's limited space as it is.”

His three allies exchange glances and mutter amongst themselves. It is times like these that Starscream can understand Megatron's favored method of discipline. Subordinates are less likely to disobey if they think there are consequences. And though Starscream knows himself to be a capable leader, he has to admit that he doesn't have the presence his dear master carries.

Finally, after a short conference, Onslaught steps forward. “Lead the way.”

Starscream huffs a ventilation and rolls his optics. “Come on.” He takes off down a dark hallway, one that heads deeper into the wreckage, closer to where the Harbinger had broke in half.

He'd discovered this long ago, when he'd stumbled here after his encounter with Megatron in the mine. He'd come thinking he was going to die in the abandoned remains of a Decepticon warship. And then he'd found the shuttle and enough energon for a one-way trip to Cybertron.

He'd also found a laboratory, it's contents of little use to him at the time because he didn't have the means to take full advantage of their potential. It was only in remembering a couple old friends did the lab's mysteries hold a purpose.

“This had better not be a trick, Starscream.”

“Or what? You'll kill me?” He flaps a hand at the commander, dismissive. “Megatron has tried. Megatron failed. And then you'll have accomplished nothing.”

Onslaught's engine growls a warning.

“That's what I thought.” Starscream shoves several pieces of artfully placed debris aside before he can push open the door, allowing them entrance to the dusty laboratory. “After you.”

Onslaught's visor gleams a baleful crimson at him, but the massive commander chooses to listen, preceding Starscream into the dark room. He follows, flicking the panel to activate the lights.

“There's power here?” Onslaught demands.

“There's so much more,” Starscream purrs and moves past him, down the narrow corridor to a more open room. “Here, Onslaught, is what I promised you.”

That visor dims in thought as Onslaught follows him and stares at the equipment around the room. Of course, as nothing resembling a scientist, Onslaught can't understand what it's all for. But the five empty protoforms lined against the wall should give him a clue.

“These...?”

“Are what I can use to restore your dearly departed gestalt mates,” Starscream fills in for him. “All I need is a sample of their CNA and enough energon to power the process.”

Onslaught stares at the protoforms, his hands forming slow fists. “What we need, then, is the energon.”

“There's more than enough aboard Megatron's warship.” Starscream makes a gesture toward the sky above them. “Alas, what I lack is the means to take it from him.”

Silence descends and Starscream watches as Onslaught stares at the protoforms, the calculations churning in that tactical processor of his. The precursor, Starscream knows, to the expensive prototype that is the signature of Prime's second in command.

“Very well,” Onslaught says at length. “You've proven your point.”

Starscream smirks. He suspects he'll have no more insubordination from any of his team.

“But how do you plan on retaking the Nemesis and acquiring the energon?” Onslaught asks. “We are outnumbered, underfueled, and short on armament.”

“I have a plan,” Starscream says, inclining his helm. “And if you follow me back to the bridge, I'll be happy to explain the particulars.”

***


a/n: Wheels are turning. Events are being set in motion. Things are happening. I hope this is still proving interesting!

Coming up next in chapter fourteen-->Ratchet and Sunstreaker's youngling greets the world, Knock Out goes looking for Breakdown, the Decepticons get reinforcements and there are new bots in town, Orion is no longer alone in the brig, Knock Out meets the reinforcements, and Jazz has a plan.

As always, feedback is welcome and appreciated. :)

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