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Cybertron, City State of Iacon...


Little if any natural light penetrated this deeply into the research labs of the Iacon Science Academy. Shadows gathered and grew as Cybertron's sun dipped below the shimmering horizon of the metal planet, the weak solar rays catching the spires of the Towers and making the city state shimmer like crystal.

The shadows had long since stretched across Shockwave's laboratory, hidden within the depths of the building. Ignoring the grinding sensation within his fuel-tanks, the gun-former's single optic patiently scanned the streams of mathematical equations and geo-political readouts as he dictated his findings into the Academy's central computer core.

"...There have been few, if any, recorded deaths caused by old age in the past 1,000 vorns. Instead, the numbers of deaths caused via civil unrest, poverty, famine and disease continue to rise, while the energon surplus continues to fall..."

He had taken full advantage of the rare peace within the labs to work on his latest thesis, particularly since Soundwave was on medical leave and had thankfully taken the five Pit-spawned demons he termed his creations with him. Barely two orns later, CMO Nightraider had taken a deca-cycle's secondment to the Academy Medical Centre, confirming his prediction that the aforementioned Pit-spawned demons were about to gain a new sibling.

But that was of little interest to him at the present time. Of greater interest, and growing concern to him, were the results of his latest projections of the energy crisis threatening Cybertron.

"...Thus it would be logical to conclude that the increasing demands of a near-immortal society will place an unnatural burden on the planet's already dwindling energon reserves. To this end, I have prepared a preliminary analysis into sourcing raw energon offworld, code-named Re-"

His comm. beeped loudly, quickly derailing his train of thought. Any flicker of negative emotion was curtailed as he registered the ident details of the caller, and the encoding.

CMO Nightraider: emergency communication channel.

His optic widened. Tapping the acceptance key, he rose from his workstation and stared at the vidscreen as it fizzed and crackled before reforming to the shape of a black and red femme jet, faceplates rigid with fear and her optics pale.

"Shockwave, drop whatever you're doing and get over to the Medical Centre now!"

The gun-former quickly saved and locked his preliminary notes within a separate drive, and started to search for his repair kit, quickly guessing he wasn't about to get a choice in refusing whatever it was Nightraider needed him for.

"What services am I required to provide?"

The femme's faceplates grew even more fixed. "Open spark surgery; one adult spark, one premature sparkling. It's trying to re-fuse with the parent spark. We're trying to induce spark separation without exacerbating the tank purges or causing neural cascade failure."

Shockwave paused in packing his subspace to stare at the screen, optic narrowed in disbelief. "You have performed this operation before without my aid. Hook, Scrapper, Ratchet, even Wheeljack would be more adept than myself at this kind of surgery. Why am I needed inthis instance?"

The utter terror on Nightraider's face wasn't lost on the gun-former.

"...It's Soundwave."

One name that told him everything.

Shockwave's empty fuel tanks clenched almost painfully at the quaver in the femme's voice.

"...Give me two joors. Get him prepped for surgery, and have the protoform's frame ready."


The sight of the two sparks, joined together by flickering white tendrils of kinetic energy gave Shockwave a momentary pause as he stood under the sterile field, a tray of surgical instruments before him, and a kinetic stimulator to his left. Outside the field, a small squad of nurse-bots stood ready to take the sparkling through to intensive care, and to offer assistance where needed.

Such a tiny scrap of energy, not even half the size of his hand, and it was powerful enough to cause all of this pain and distress.

And Soundwave had not carried a sparkling to term just once, but five times before this.

All of that torment, for this? And at the risk of damaging his own spark every time he chemically induced it to split?

Surely a sparkling was not worth all of this distress. And yet, he willingly suffered to create his offspring and to aid Nightraider in her symbiotic spark research.


Mercifully, the communications specialist was now unconscious through a combination of his own agony, repeated tank purges, and a dose of sedatives strong enough to down a Guardian robot. The femme CMO had chosen not to take any possible risks.

Particularly not with the one mech she cared for above all others.

He watched as she briefly rested the back of her hand against his face-mask, before she exhaled and grabbed two surgical retractors from the tray and pressed them against the edges of Soundwave's spark chamber.

The two sparks suddenly began to pulse almost frantically, the smaller spark drawing closer to its parent.

Nightraider pressed the retractors into place and ran a scanner over the chamber, her faceplates now fixed in concentration. "Prepare spark containment field."

She placed the scanner on the table and held out a hand. "Laser scalpel."

Shockwave passed her the tool and watched as the refined beam started to delicately sever the energy connections between the two sparks. A pair of spark forceps gently clamped around the tiny spark, encouraging it to separate from its parent.

Nightraider's faceplates relaxed enough for a tentative smile to appear. "There now...come on, little one..."

Another careful slice, and another connection was severed. The tiny spark seemed to move away from the blade of the scalpel, content to stay in the safe grip of the forceps...


"What the...?!"

A yell of horror cut off whatever the jet had been about to say. Rare concern taking over his circuitry, Shockwave pulled the femme's hand away from the incision and saw what had caused the scream.

The sparkling had somehow managed to pass through the scalpel beam, scarring its surface hideously, and was attempting once again to refuse with Soundwave's spark. But with the damage done to the sparkling, the elder spark was simultaneously absorbing and rejecting the sparkling's energy, its colours fading from a swirling blue-silver to a hideous red and orange.

The spark monitors began to emit a stilted, jarring tone instead of the regular soothing spark-pulse.

A spark overload.

Nightraider's amber optics were now white in fear. "No no no no NO!"

On the table, Soundwave's body jolted from the erratic pulses, the edges of his armour turning a frightening grey.

She frantically inserted the forceps, desperately trying to get a grip onto the struggling spark before any more damage could be done. "He's going into sparkshock; I need 3000 volts NOW!"

Shockwave span around and began to set up the kinetic stimulator, his movements almost jerky as he listened to the CMO's orders. Outside the sterile field, three nurse-bots were frantically preparing the protoform's frame, while two others connected the electrical supply for the stimulator into the main power supply.

One paddle was placed against the top of the chamber, the other to the left-hand side. Over the sound of the growing electrical charge, Shockwave stared at Nightraider, and then down at the conjoined sparks.

"Close the chamber!"

"No time, I need to get in there as soon as he's stable!"

The gun-former realised what she meant, and also what could happen with the spark chamber left open. Without a closed chamber, the wave of kinetic and electrical energy that would be discharged would have nowhere to safely filter into the body, and thus would force its way through the largest available opening.

"CLEAR!"

The nurse-bots dropped instantly at the order. Shockwave grabbed the femme jet and pulled them both to the floor, a wave of yellow and silver energy just passing over the tips of his antennae. Underneath him, Nightraider tucked her head under his bulk, barely feeling his hands clutching her to his side.

The energy wave finally dispersed as soon as it hit the edge of the sterile field, the sound of the spark monitor falling back into a regular pulse.

Sparkshock averted.

Nightraider was the first to stand. Grabbing the forceps and scalpel, she forcibly pulled the sparkling away from its parent, and severed all of the energy connections in a single slash. The tiny spark flickered, and finally stabilised as a lavender forcefield surrounded its surface.

"Spark containment field engaged. Get me the protoform now."

The gun-former stood gracelessly, while two nurse-bots entered the shield and hauled a small trolley over to the side of the berth. Resting on it was a tiny silver-grey frame, its faceplates and body completely featureless, an empty spark chamber held open and waiting for its new resident. Nightraider turned, the weakly pulsing spark still restrained in the forceps, and placed it into the open chamber, drawing the seal of the chamber shut and clamping the access hatch shut.


Shockwave neatly took over as the femme jet wrapped the sparkling in a heat blanket and summoned the nurse-bots. He didn't bother listening to the frantic instructions issued; the damage done to Soundwave's spark was a more pressing concern.

One look at the chamber revealed the extent of the wounds. While the colours had reverted to silver-blue, jagged scars of grey marked the surface of the spark like lunar trenches, in patterns worryingly consistent with laser burns.

But he had seen Nightraider make the incisions. Not a wasted movement, and all done so as not to cause scarring or even pain to the sparks as they separated, apart from that last desperate slash, and even then the cut would not have produced scarring of this extent...

The realisation came to him as he studied the images of the surgery. The sparkling had passed through the scalpel's beam, and the scarring from that alone should have killed it. But the tiny scrap that now resided inside a still-grey protoform had no marks of any kind.

Impossible.

And yet, when Soundwave's spark tried and failed to reabsorb its offspring...

The sparkshock.

Whatever had happened in that moment when he and Nightraider had dropped to the floor...

There had been cases of sparkshock during separation, and in all the cases, the parent had remained unharmed, but the sparkling had borne the brunt of the damage. Apart from a few rare occasions, the sparklings had either been killed or so severely damaged that termination was the only viable option. Those that survived were rendered sterile.

But Soundwave.

He was a unique case; the only Transformer ever to undergo spark symbiosis without a partner. His connection to his sparklings rendered him a combination of creator and brother to them, and no-one was in any doubt as to how deep those connections went, or how lovingly Soundwave cared for each of them.

He would be willing to die for each and all of them.

Did that creed extend to his spark?

Had his spark somehow absorbed the damage done to the sparkling, and in turn, renewed it? At the near cost of his life, and rendering himself sterile?

Impossible. And yet...

Shockwave shook his head. There was little use in theorising now.

He picked up the laser scalpel and began the long stint of repairs.


He did not listen to Nightraider's explanation of the surgery to Soundwave's creations, but he was close enough to witness their reactions. The two cyber hawks leaned against each other, Buzzsaw's optics wide and unfocused, while Laserbeak had buried her head in her brother's chest and was now weeping silently.

Rumble and Frenzy were truly silent for the first time in their lives, gripping tightly onto each other's hands as they listened in dread. The red twin was the first to bow his head and cry, his cobalt brother wrapping an arm around his shoulders and pulling him close as his own tears started to fall.

Ravage was focused on the femme jet's words, his black and silver frame trembling and yet still sitting proudly upright, trying so hard to be the strong one for the sake of his siblings. That pride didn't stop him from accepting a gentle stroke from Nightraider.

The CMO stood up and offered a few more words, then quietly turned and headed towards Shockwave. He passed the exhausted jet a cube of mid-grade as they made their way to the recovery ward.

Nightraider slugged her cube back in one gulp, ignoring her colleague's look of askance, and shook her head. "There are some parts of this job that I utterly hate. Having to tell a group of terrified younglings that their creator nearly died and their little brother's only just hanging on is one of them."

"Then why stay a medic? You could return to the Science Academy; your knowledge is greatly missed."

Nightraider sighed. "I'd miss it too much. And besides...Soundwave trusts me."

"You do all of this for a mech who shows so little emotion to any beings other than his creations."

The femme snorted in disgust. "Speaks the mech who disengaged his emotional programming as soon as he reached his majority."


Soundwave was still unconscious as they entered the recovery ward. The external damage had been cleared up by the nurse-bots; Shockwave had done the best he could for the injuries to the mech's spark.

He could see how little the femme looked forward to telling the navy mech of both his own and his creation's status.

One purple hand rested against a red and black arm. "If you...do not feel capable of doing so, I can tell him-"

Nightraider wrenched her arm away from him and glared at him. "No, you will fragging well not. I don't know how he's going to react to this; damage to his own frame is one thing, but to his creations...I can't even give him some false hope about another sparkling to comfort him, since all of us know that it's too dangerous to try again!"

"He is a mech who respects honesty. He will not think less of you for that. Tell him truthfully about what has happened, and let him know what might happen if the sparkling even survives the orn."

Nightraider blew a gust of air sharply through her vents. "I know, I know you're right...but how am I supposed to tell him that when I can't even tell him how I-"

Something caught her attention. Her gaze sharpened as she stared at the prone mech. "He moved!"

Shockwave, if he could, would have rolled his optic. He settled with an attempt at pedantry instead. "You are delusional from exhaustion, Nightraider. He cannot be conscious after the dose of sedatives he received."

The CMO shot another glare at him. "I know my patient, Shockwave."

She returned her attention to the navy mech. "Soundwave? Can you hear me? Just nod if you can hear me."

Soundwave managed to obey despite the obvious pain coursing through his circuits. Nightraider helped to lift him and settle him against the head of the berth, surreptitiously squeezing his arms before she let him go.

"Status?"

Nightraider's exhausted expression grew darker as she stared at him.

"There were...complications. The spark divided earlier than we had anticipated, and then refused to separate from yours; why, we don't know, but we nearly lost you both. You were losing control, the sparkling was fading...we had to intervene. Hence why I summoned Shockwave."

The scientist spared a glance at his purple colleague, calmly wiping his hands on a cleaning rag, his single optic unreadable as always as he took over from the black and red jet.

"The intervention required surgery on a complex scale. Both you and your creation survived, but the damage to your own spark has now rendered you incapable of spark-bearing. Attempting to spawn another spark will take you permanently offline."

Soundwave's hands clenched into fists as he fixed his optics on his berth.

"Sparkling: status?"

Emotion was clearly audible in the femme's voice as she laid a hand on his shoulder.

"...Oh Primus, this never gets any easier...it's not good."

The navy mech dragged his optics away from staring at his berth to look at the CMO.

"Define: not good."

Nightraider closed her optics. "It's a premature mech. Severely premature. We managed to get him to take to a frame, but he's unstable. Believe me, we're doing all we can, but the prognosis...Soundwave, you have to be prepared to let him rejoin the Matrix if his status doesn't improve."

"Situation: noted and understood."

The femme nodded quietly and gestured for Shockwave to follow her out of the bay. "Get some recharge. The rest of your creations have been notified, and will be allowed to visit you in a few joors. We'll let you know if there's the slightest change."

Soundwave didn't bother replying as he lay back on the berth, folded his arms across his chest, and closed his optics.


The gun-former wisely muted his vocaliser as he followed Nightraider down to the staffroom, her pace almost mechanically precise and her dark faceplates frozen in an emotion he couldn't place.

Taking a seat at one of the tables, he watched as she strode over to one of the dispensing machines, punched in her ident code, filled a large cube of high-grade, turned, and moved to join him at the table, her faceplates still frozen.

"Nightraider...?"

In one smooth movement, the femme jet knocked back the entire contents of the cube and slammed it down on the table, the force of the impact causing the cube to shatter into tiny fragments that dug sharply into her hand.

Shockwave tensed imperceptibly. In his vorns of acquaintance with the jet, he had never seen her display this kind of behaviour. She was prone to throwing tantrums, or terse verbal exchanges when riled, but never this. Never silence.

Admittedly, the silence wasn't complete. There was a low rumbling sound, a churning which was starting to grow louder as the astro-seconds passed...


Nightraider only just managed to shove herself away from the table and turn around before she purged her tanks all over the floor.

As she retched, she could just about register Shockwave dropping to kneel beside her, one hand resting against her back, and his other arm wrapping around her, holding her body upright as the waves of nausea crashed through her system.

She coughed, choked, and finally spat out one last mouthful of unprocessed high-grade before she fell backwards against the purple mech, utterly spent.

Too spent to even try holding back her tears.


Shockwave didn't consider attempting to move either of them. He quietly settled himself on the floor and simply let the femme CMO curl into his arms, sobbing her fear and exhaustion out onto his shoulder.

Was the navy scientist and his sparkling worth all of this grief, all of the pain? Instead of a contented family unit, there was now a physically and emotionally drained femme, a scarred and sterile mech, five traumatised younglings, and a desperately weak sparkling who might not make it through the next cycle.

If Soundwave had simply followed his original intentions, and moulded his creations into the perfect stealth unit rather than becoming emotionally attached, all of this could have been so easily avoided.

Surely it could not be that difficult to remain emotionally detached, even from your own sparklings?

Chapter Text

 


Cybertron, City State of Polyhex, Darkmount Fortress...


Solar light was little more than a corrupted memory file in the CPUs of most of the Cybertronian warriors. To the Last Generation, those created after the end of the Golden Age, after Cybertron had torn itself from its orbit and began its aimless voyage through the galaxies, it was a myth; something designed to enchant, to aspire to, something to fight for. The day when their homeworld was bathed in light and life once again, that would be the day when All would became One.

Until then, they saw only the dark silence of space, punctuated with glimmers of silver and gold from the distant stars, and lit only by passing comets and meteorites burning against what remained of the metallic planets atmosphere.

The Decepticon Military Operations officer and the guardian of Cybertron, however, was not cursed by such...Autobot-like sentiment.

He saw only light waves created by superheated gases burning billions of miles away; chunks of ice and rock falling through space to strike on the already heavily scarred ground.

No matter.

The essential military structures of Cybertron were still intact. Energon was being strictly rationed out of the last processing plants in Kaon and Altihex. The Decepticon forces controlled the majority of the planet, the only pockets of resistance being those remaining Autobots too foolish to see the rejuvenation and security that Lord Megatron had brought to their world, and the few pathetic camps of Neutrals who still believed in one planet, one race.

Shockwave sat back in his chair and called up the long-range scans out of desperate habit.

The sub-computer and scanner booted up, though not without a considerable delay. A mild annoyance. Chief Engineer Dreadnought would clearly need to work one of his engineering miracles on the mainframe sometime soon.

"Define parameters of scan cycle."

"Standard trans-orbital scan, distance 10,000 megamiles."

"Define object of search."

"Decepticon battle cruiser, flagship Nemesis."

"Scanning..."

The purple gun-former sat back, joints creaking from neglect, and cast his optic over the scanner.

He chose to ignore the hiss of the main door and the clicking echo of turbine heels as they travelled across the floor to stop behind his chair. There was no need to make any assumptions as to the identity of the mech.

Or femme, in this case.


"Why do you even bother with this anymore?"

Decepticon Femme CMO Nightraider sighed deeply and leaned against the side of the chair, her faceplates now constantly pulled into a downcast expression and pain ever-present in her dulled optics.

"It's been over 24,000 vorns, and you still haven't found any sign of the Nemesis. Even the wreckage would've turned up by now."

Shockwave half-turned so that he could stare up at the black and red tetra-jet. "Would the discovery of wreckage be preferable to you, rather than the crew's survival?"

She scowled at the purple mech. "That's not what I meant and you know it. I just want...something, anything that says categorically that they're all alive or dead."

"And if there was wreckage, rather than the ship simply being MIA?"

The femme's voice was soft, with too much hurt in it for his liking. "At least then I could grieve."

Shockwave, unwisely, opted for a rare attempt at sarcasm. "Yes, of course. Because that would be so different than to what you are doing right now."

Nightraider directed her retort by way of a slap to her comrade's left antenna.

"Well, it beats the frag out of just sitting here like you, waiting for your precious Lord Megatron's return!"

Rare irritation bloomed in the gun-former's processor. "Insolence will not be tolerated, least of all by you, Femme CMO. I have vowed to Lord Megatron that he would return to find Cybertron exactly as he left it, and that is precisely what he shall return to."

"Uh-huh. A planet torn out of its solar orbit, ruined by war with no natural resources left, no financial or civilian structures or inter-species communications still standing, and two military factions who want nothing more than to blow each other and their sainted leaders in absentia out of existence? Yeah, I can see how that's going to be a nice welcome home present."

Shockwave eased himself out of his chair, and loomed over the spitting tetra-jet. "I have my orders. If you no longer feel that our cause is a worthwhile one, I believe that you will find the door to your right."

Nightraider snorted and span around. "And I think you forget I'm only here because no-one else would have me after the Academy sent me packing. The oh-so-sainted Autobots would no doubt have a few issues with accepting a medic-cum-insurrectionist into their ranks."

She stalked off towards the door in the direction of the med bay. Never one to resist clarifying a few facts, the Guardian of Cybertron watched her quietly for a few moments, and then called after her.

"I believe you left out the Neutrals?"

"...You really think I'm stupid enough to volunteer for target practice?"

"Not as such."


Since the black and red tetra-jet had vented her cyber-spleen at him, that meant she would deliberately stay out of his way for at least the next three groons.

Almost entertainingly predictable, and remarkably useful for him.

Keeping the scans running in the background, Shockwave activated a set of early warning alarms before opening a set of files hidden in the depths of his private mainframe. If the Femme CMO ever discovered that he had not only failed to completely destroy these particular records, but had also retained a set for himself, having his head sliced off and served on a platter to Unicron while his chassis was thrown into the Pit would be the least of his concerns.

But the knowledge contained therein...

Files decoded: 49 percent.

It was just too tempting. Nightraider had placed Omega-level security on these particular documents when they had been created, with the security access codes known only to herself, and later by Lord Megatron. While her paranoia over the use of these files was commendable, it was infuriating, not to mention somewhat insulting to him.

She had summoned him to aid in the surgery on Soundwave and his surprisingly resilient sparkling, had she not? She could have chosen anyone to help her in the treatment, but when it came to anything involving a matter of the spark, her spark, had he not been the only one she had trusted then? She had trusted him to represent her at the farce of a hearing before the Academy council, and to remove all traces of her research from the mainframe, had she not?

And yet she refused point-blank to recreate her research, or to let him within a mega-mile of her preliminary notes on the symbiosis process.

In effect, he had reasoned to himself, she had forced him to take these measures. The safety and security of the Decepticon Empire could well be guaranteed by the information contained within those files.

Shockwave launched his personal decoding software, and sat back in his chair, carefully tenting his fingers together and resting the base of his cranium against his knuckles.

A race of sentient weapons systems, all symbiotically bonded to parent-partner units, each mutually ensuring the other's survival. Should the symbiote weapon be permanently damaged or offlined, it would be a simple process to initiate spark parthenogenesis and online a new symbiote.

Soundwave and his creations had proved that the process was feasible, and the theory workable, but for some reason he had chosen not to employ his symbiote-creations as weapons, but instead treated them as his family, and trained them as espionage agents. Even more illogical were Nightraider's actions - willingly supporting the family unit, running herself into financial ruin and near-stasis to help them and protect them from the Autobot security forces.

This was war. Families were a liability. Weapons were not. It was simple logic, and the Decepticon Communications officer had chosen to hold to it completely.


An all-nighter on the security systems probably wasn't the best way to complete his extended shift, but then, it wasn't like he'd had a choice in the matter. Alpha-level engineers were hard to come by at the best of times, but alpha-level engineers who also held the necessary creativity to rewire the security grid with a lack of parts and a lot of hope...

Dreadnought sat back on his massive haunches and yawned, stretching his bulky grey arms over his head and flexing the tired fingers backwards.

POP

-Fzzz-

The battle-cruiser blinked, and worriedly glanced at his left shoulder.

Oh Primus, not again.

He let his right arm fall to his side, and waited patiently for his left to drop down likewise.

It didn't.

He gnawed silently on his lower lip while he ran through his options. Repairs on his own structure were nearly impossible without medical support, and Nightraider was likely to kill him when she saw he'd blown yet another output sensory relay...

He offered a quiet prayer to Primus that Glit was on duty at the moment. At least the feline medic was somewhat less snarky than his larger colleagues.

"Dreadnought to med-bay."

A few short bursts of static, then the soothing tones of Secondary Medical Officer Glit purred through his comm. link. "Report your status, Chief Engineer."

"Um...it happened again."

He could almost hear the feline slapping a paw over his optics. "You were stretching your arm above your cranium."

"...Yeeeeah."

"After Nightraider specifically told you not to, and that we're low on parts as it is?"

"Spare me the guilt trip Glit, 'Raider'll do enough of that if she sees me like this."

In the med-bay, the SMO let out a put-upon sigh and closed his optics. "...Report to the med-bay. But if Nightraider should find you there, you are very much on your own."


Three breems later...

"Hey, watch where you're digging the claws!"

Glit didn't bother to glare at his patient. Dreadnought had long since become immune to most forms of implicitly suggested behaviour, unless it was Nightraider doing the glaring. At that point, he was then as silent and biddable as a new-spawned sparkling.

The silver feline crawled up the battle cruiser's frozen arm and wedged himself against the elbow plating as he activated the surgical lasers fitted to his hips. One quick level two shot should undo the jammed servos...

"YOW!"

"Oh, do kindly shut up. Now, how does that feel?"

Dreadnought wiggled his shoulder joint and sighed with relief as his arm responded and dropped to rest by his side, the SMO quickly scrambling down the plating and perching on his shoulder.

"Primus, that's better. I owe you one."

Glit elegantly bounded down from the grey mech's shoulder. "I think we're long past the point where you can ever repay me for the various rage-induced repairs I've saved you from."

The battlecruiser sighed and flexed his fingers. "Better than a guilt trip off 'Raider. She's getting worse."

"I fear there is little we can do. All of the Decepticon forces are suffering, and she is no different."

Footsteps echoed briefly in the corridors outside the repair bay before the double doors swung open, admitting the black and red tetra-jet under discussion. Barely glancing at the two occupants of the bay, she turned and strode towards her office, grabbing a stack of datapads from atop the supply cabinets.

"Your first appointment is waiting in your office."

Nightraider shot a look at the silver feline. "Would it have killed you to ask her to wait outside?"

Glit returned her look in kind. "The head of the Cobalt Sentries versus a Secondary Medical Officer? I'd rather not take those odds."

"Wimp."

She pushed the door button with her elbow and marched in, sparing a quick nod of deference to the petite blue and black frame curled up in the patients' chair.


"Howlback. Is it me, or are these meetings getting just a little too regular?"

The feline enforcer gave her one of her trademark icy stares. "You were hardly my first choice for a representative of the upper echelons of the officers."

The black and red tetra-jet placed a hand theatrically over her cockpit. "And here I thought the bonds of femme solidarity would override the whole issue of me not being Soundwave or Flamewar."

She managed to stop herself wincing at the thought of the Communications officer, but her spark still twisted painfully back on itself.

Howlback sniffed. "Hardly. Now, if you please?"

Nightraider sighed as she dropped into her chair, pulled the top-most datapad off of the stack and shoved it in the other femme's general direction.

"Latest reports as requested. There are a few mentions of a disturbance outside Maccadam's two orns ago. Maccadam himself doesn't want to press charges, but I don't think it'd hurt to run surveillance."

The blue and black feline growled softly. "Kindly refrain from telling me how to do my job, CMO."

To her credit, Nightraider refused to rise to the bait. "The energon stockpile in Iacon has noticeably decreased; no theories as to why or how."

Howlback pulled the datapad closer with a paw and briefly scanned it. "Shockwave has no theories? His drones didn't pick up on the disappearances?"

"Nothing's been spotted."

The femme thought quietly for a few moments. "Consider this investigation active, and inform the Military Operations officer that I will consult my sources in Iacon. Is there anything else of note?"

Nightraider shrugged and leaned back in her chair, joints creaking. "Low on spare parts, suicidal troops, and a couple of bombing raids on the Neutral settlements. Same old, same old."

An awkward silence fell over the room as Howlback first studied the datapad before her, then the desk, and finally Nightraider's battered sedative guns. The femme CMO didn't say anything to speed the process along. She knew full well what was coming, and would have been only too happy to delay it in every briefing for the rest of her existence.

Howlback finally opened her mouth, golden optics now simultaneously fearful and hopeful.

"...The Nemesis?"

The tetra-jet shook her head.

"Nothing."

Howlback slumped slightly. "I had...hoped..."

"I know. Believe me, I do."

"...He cannot be dead."

Nightraider leaned forward slightly. "We have no way of knowing that for certain."

The feline femme's disappointment was slowly being replaced with her default ice-cold demeanour. "He would not break his word to me. You know him. You were present at his onlining. You have been a part of his entire life, right from the start."

"You're right. I was. And I know what Ravage felt for you. But unless Shockwave detects something..."

"...Then we both remain alone."

The silence descended once again, both femmes alone with their thoughts, and a shared pain that neither was brave enough to voice. Eventually, one would leave to root out the traitors, moles and new recruits; the other would repair, report and take inventories until the need for an energon-based distraction large enough to blot out the monotony finally overtook all rational thought.


Files decoded: 49.001 percent.

A most profitable decryption run today. Hopefully the joors before planetary curfew would reveal a little more of his femme colleague's intriguing scientific talents.

Glancing around at the control panels and the assorted security cameras, Shockwave opted to take a calculated risk and activated the stasis chamber controls, watching silently as three of the floor panels retracted, allowing a mini-con sized stasis pod to emerge from beneath the control room floor. Fitted to his desired specifications, the pod's cover was engineered from transparent aluminium, the tiny silver and lavender form lying peacefully under the metal.

A medical computer attached to the pod displayed the protoform's vital statistics and a record of the design blueprint. Or, as much of his design blueprints as Shockwave had been able to find. Every search throughout the Cybertronian DataNet had resulted in a few rough outlines of his form, power analyses courtesy of the Autobots, and, more intriguingly, a number of restricted access messages. All attempts to break into the system had failed, even with his most powerful software. All that he could theorise was that someone or something did not wish for anyone, even himself, to be able to access his blueprints.

Picking up a laser scalpel, the purple gunformer removed the tiny frame from its chamber, settled down in his chair, and set to work on the left shoulder joint. The energon flow to the secondary pulse charger still had a tendency to block around the humeral relays, much as his own left arm had originally done. Access to upgrades and exploratory surgery by the Constructicons had eased the blockages, but the parts needed to maintain the repairs, like everything else in the stores, were in extremely short supply. The medical team had taken to requesting parts scavenged from the battlefield to ease the situation, and it was not uncommon to see shock troopers and Seekers returning to the med-bay covered in their own fluids, but proudly clutching a number of dismembered limbs from enemy troops and their own alike.

As the joors passed, he wondered idly if his own creator or creators had worked on his frame as he was doing now. Steadily, since there was no spark yet resident in the tiny chamber, but delicately, not wishing to subject the little frame to any stress whilst any imperfections were removed.

And then, what to name the tiny being, once the spark was inserted?

He knew from observation, and some of Nightraider's less drunken narratives, that most sparklings could identify themselves from the moment they were onlined, with at least a rough notion of their function. Much had been said about Soundwave's creations within the Decepticons, a great deal of it uncomplimentary, but few could deny how accurately they had named themselves.

Shockwave however bore no recollection of his naming or of his creators, and no references to them had ever been found in the archives.

A flicker on the monitor caught his attention. Hastily tucking the tiny frame back into its pod and activating the camouflage mechanism, the Military Operations officer studied the image, and felt his spark sink slightly.

The monochromatic image of Nightraider was staggering down the main corridor towards the med bay, following something approaching a straight line and clutching a bottle of Maccadam's Finest. The emergency lighting provided just enough radiance to show the tear skids on her faceplates.

Shockwave would have sighed if he could remember how. Instead, he straightened up, rotated his shoulders and strode out of the control room towards the med bay.


"...C'mon c'mon, where'sh the fraggin' blue when it'sh needed...?"

Pausing only to take a swig out of her bottle of high-grade, Nightraider drunkenly scanned the myriad of bottles and boxes in the store-room, her optics rolling as she tried to find the telltale flash of neon blue that would sober her up enough for her next shift.

She didn't recall the exact time when she had first turned to the high-grade to forget her pain, but it had been sometime around the first 10,000 vorns after the Nemesis had had disappeared. She had wanted to obliterate that nagging little voice in her processor, the one saying she should have gone with them, she should've updated their tracking systems more frequently, she should've insisted that the youngest of Soundwave's creations had stayed with her, she should've told the Communications officer how she felt...

That last self-recrimination had sent her almost diving into a serving of high-grade in Maccadam's, empty cubes piling around her as the kindly old mech kept the flow of energon steady, eventually cutting her off after she had exceeded even a medic's tolerance for booze and picked a fight with one of the off-duty Autobot sentries. It had been enough for him to warrant summoning Dreadnought to escort her back to Darkmount.

The tetra-jet had woken up in Dreadnought's berth cuddled against the giant battlecruiser, her joints aching and a hangover doing its best to melt her CPU. She couldn't remember that night, not even if anything untoward had happened, and Dreadnought had been too polite to mention the event.

At the end of her next shift, she had returned to the bar, and tried to drink enough to either remember or to forget, she hadn't been entirely certain which.

To rid herself of the hangovers plaguing her system, and to sober up enough for work, she had taken to dosing herself with a minimal amount of copper sulphate, one of the stronger anti-emetics in the medical stores. A one cc dose was enough to have her on her knees retching the contents of her tanks into whatever was available, but she would be sober within a joor.

Now if she could only find the Primus-damned bottle, she'd be just dandy...

"I believe this is what you are seeking?"

A chunky purple hand suddenly speared in front of her optics, the fingers loosely holding a vial of the neon blue drug.

"Gimme!"

Nightraider took a swipe at the dangling tube, and wasn't entirely surprised when the mauve fingers swiftly moved out of reach.

Turning around, she squinted at the imposing bulk of her superior officer, faceplates now contorted into a drunken snarl.

"I shaid, gimme!"

Shockwave's golden optic scanned her frame with no hint of apology. "I am sure you are aware that this drug, when used constantly, causes system blackouts and significant destruction of onboard RAM?"

"Don' fraggin' preach t'me Shhhockwaf. Now GIMME!"

"Not to mention affecting your fine motor functions and synaptic pathways. I am somewhat amazed that none of your patients have suffered due to your intoxication."

Nightraider was already swaying. "Be fine inna joor. Now gimme th' blue already."

"Will you return to Maccadam's at the end of your next shift?"

"Whassit t'you?"

"There are other, more productive, ways of spending your off-duty time which do not involve emptying a dozen cubes of matured high-grade into your systems."

She rearranged her expression into a look of self-hatred. "Y'think I wanna be like thish? 'S'not bein' productive, it'sh called copin'. An' I'm no bettr'n no worse'n you fer that."

The expression in her optics had no obvious effect on him, but the gun-former couldn't help but see her point.

Purple fingers unwillingly relinquished their treasure.

Grabbing at the vial, Nightraider expertly transferred the required dose of copper sulphate into her sedative gun with a surprisingly steady hand.

Shockwave watched the procedure with something akin to disgust.

"Do you wish me to fetch Dreadnought or Glit?"

With an effort, the black and red tetra-jet shook her head. "Naaah. 'M just gonna shtay in t'med-bay after 'm done."

"...Contact me should you require any form of aid."

With that, he left the med-bay and returned to the control room, the sound of a small grunt of pain and then the unmistakable sound of retching echoing up the hallway.

Perhaps tomorrow would be a more profitable orn. But there was still time for one last scan...


"Define parameters of scan cycle."

"Standard trans-orbital scan, distance 10,000 megamiles."

"Define object of search."

"Decepticon battle cruiser, flagship Nemesis."

"Scanning..."


TBC

Chapter Text

 

Cybertron, City State of Polyhex, Darkmount Fortress...


42,000 vorns.
Perhaps an eighth of the lifetime of an average Cybertronian.
And still there was no sign of the Nemesis, or of her erstwhile crew.

Although it was still early in the orn, Nightraider had long since drunk herself into an energon-induced stupor, and was currently dozing in the medbay under the unimpressed optic band of Dreadnought. Glit was out treating the wounded at one of the many torus bases around Kolkular, and would likely be absent for the next three orns.

Glancing up at the main viewscreen, Shockwave calmly noted that the starscape had dramatically changed. Where there was once the cold dark blue-black of deep space, punctuated only by the pinpricks of light that were distant stars, there were now numerous great clouds of violet-tinted dust particles, streaked with shimmers of red and blue. To the right of the screen, darker patches swirled where the dust had blocked out areas of light sent out by a small cluster of young stars.

Idly, he thought of Starscream and Jetfire, and what their probable reactions would be. The missing SIC would no doubt be regarding the nebula with an apparently jaded optic, dismissive of the sight before him but secretly desperate to escape and soar amid the dust clouds, enjoying the brief gusts of solar winds. Jetfire perhaps would be more analytical, scrupulously scanning the clouds for any pockets of helium or hydrogen that could be converted into energy surplus, but equally as desperate to play in the cold of space as his cynical companion.


The solder hissed as it melted, a shimmering drop falling from the tip of the iron and landing perfectly on the circuit board. Working quickly, Shockwave welded the microchip into the board, his hands steady as a tiny plume of smoke rose before his optic.

A terabyte of hard drive space would be adequate for the sparkling's first few stellar cycles of existence. Upgrades every vorn would then take care of the rest, perhaps with Dreadnought's assistance. The battlecruiser had a way with younglings that Shockwave had never possessed, and until now, had never required, and he was only too aware that he was hardly the most likeable Decepticon in the army.

No matter. The parenting aspect could easily fall to Nightraider and Dreadnought, if the former sobered up for longer than a joor and the latter stopped disapproving of everything the gun-former ever did. He would then be free to concentrate on the binary-bond aspect of the experiment.

The creation and conception processes both seemed straightforward enough. From the percentage of Nightraider's notes he had decoded, apparently using two separate sets of spark energy as would normally occur within a spark-bond to create offspring was out of the question; the jet, when preparing Soundwave for the parthenogenetic process, had injected his spark with a preliminary dose of spark-split reagent, then removed a tiny portion of his spark and modified the CNA to a suitable extent so that while the Cassettes would bear significant elements of their creator's personality and intelligence, the CNA between parent and sparkling would be suitably separate in order to sustain the gestational bonds during the carrying process. If not, the sparkling would either be reabsorbed into the parent due to the similarities, or terminated if there was too great a disparity between the two sparks' CNA.

While he had obviously not witnessed the CNA harvesting or the implantations, he was only too aware of how much trial and error would have gone into perfecting the process. Witnessing both Nightraider's guilt and Soundwave's nearly imperceptible grief during the first half-dozen times spark-split had been initiated and then failed, the treatments and multiple injections of reagent, and the constant observation Soundwave had subjected himself to during each carrying process had been...educational.

Modifying his own CNA enough to retain his own unique imprint and match it to that of the sparkling would be something of a challenge, but if a mouthy half-drunk femme jet could manage it, then surely it would be a minor task to a being of his intelligence.

But how to obtain said CNA...

Shockwave delicately slid the back panel of the sparkling's cranial unit closed and covered the tiny frame. His single optic focussed on his terminal and raced over his fellow scientist's angular writing until he reached the notes on the spark-split reagent.

It was critical that the compound was prepared well before the removal process. In order for the sparkling to form the correct bonds with the parent, the primary dose of reagent to the spark was required three orns before the spark energy removal, then another dose within 12 joors of implantation.

The mixture itself was simple enough. All he would need to do would be to take advantage of Nightraider's less-than-stellar guard over the medical storerooms and remove a few ingredients from his own stores. And when that was ready...

Well.

There were few things inside of his frame that could not be reached by disabling the neural relays in the necessary area. A dose of local anaesthesia, his own steady hands, a reprogrammed medical drone, and a good laser scalpel would take care of the rest.


For once, the medbay was empty of either shell-shocked troopers or half-Empty corpses waiting to have their vital circuitry and fluids removed.

Nightraider was sprawled out on the berth closest to her office, small snoring noises emerging from her vocaliser, and her fingers twitching around the neck of a bottle of Maccadam's oil-grog. Dreadnought, not happy at the idea of leaving the femme jet to her own devices, had installed himself at one of the workbenches and was making a few tweaks to his latest engineering blueprints.

"...Mmmmbrmblefrzznnn..."

Dreadnought glanced up from his datapad at the incoherent mumble from across the medbay.

"Are you alive?"

Not moving her face from where it was pressed against the oh-so-wonderfully cold berth mattress, Nightraider groaned, dropped the grog bottle and wrapped her hands around her head, pulling her legs up to her torso as she did. "Murrrrgh..."

"Okay, somewhat optimistic, but it didn't hurt to ask."

The tetra-jet felt her tanks churn and settle as she managed to sit up. "...Ohhhhhh Primus...what was I drinking last night?"

"Judging by what's come out of your exhaust in the past few joors, I'm guessing plutonium coladas."

Nightraider hiccupped and her faceplates turned a distinct shade of green. "And why didn't someone stop me?"

Dreadnought looked askance. "Stop you drinking yourself into oblivion? I'm good but I'm not that good."

"Well at least tell me you made a brew."

The battlecruiser pointed towards the back of the bay where an outsized beaker was sitting atop an industrial hot plate, the purple contents merrily bubbling away and returned to reading his datapad. "Help yourself. Oh, and you'll wanna look sober fast, Strika's on her way down."

"Oh fan-fragging-tastic. You couldn't've woken me earlier?"

Dreadnought, without looking up, simply gestured towards a medium sized, fist-shaped indentation on his upper left arm, a few flecks of black paint still embedded in the metal.

Nightraider glanced down at her knuckles and winced. "Ah. Sorry."

Silence fell over the bay, broken only by the black and red jet stumbling towards the tiny refectory area and chugging down half the contents of the beaker in one gulp. Her primary tanks made a noise crossed between a backfire and a gurgle as the stimulants in the brew hit her system, but fortunately the contents decided to stay put.

Breathing out a sigh of relief, Nightraider leaned against the cabinets and surveyed the room, quickly noting both Glit's absence and the appearance of a giant containment chamber on the bench next to Dreadnought. Almost the same size as the battlecruiser, the front hatch hung wide open, wiring and circuit boards spread across the surface like mechanical vines. Dreadnought, secure in the knowledge that his companion was now mostly in the land of the sober, was now dividing his attention between his datapad and a side panel which he was poking at with a screwdriver.

Nightraider's optics narrowed. "Please explain why my medbay now appears to be a spare parts repository."

The battlecruiser flashed the tetra-jet a quick grin. "Spark chamber for the new super-Transformer. Thought you'd want to see it."

"Part of Shockwave's pet project? Not so much."

"Aww, c'mon 'Raider. This is easily the biggest project I've had to work on in vorns. Can't you at least pretend to be happy about it?"

The tetra-jet frowned and suppressed a belch as the energon began to fill her secondary tanks. "There is a large part of this scheme which involves Shockwave either trying to create a spark, or trying to gain access to Vector Sigma long enough for it to cough one up. Neither option really fills me with the warm fuzzies. And the possibility of Shockwave getting within a light-year of a spark or sparkling is something I've worked for a good portion of my professional life on to prevent."

Dreadnought matched his frown with hers. "You still let him help you with Ratbat's onlining."

As always, the mention of either the missing Communications officer or any of his offspring made Nightraider's spark clench. "Only because I had no other options. It was either get Shockwave to assist me, or lose all of the Cassettes and Soundwave in one go. And even then I wasn't happy about it."

She fixed him with a Look, her mouthplates pulled downwards. 'You know as well as I do that Shockwave is the last mech in the universe who should be let anywhere near a spark. He regards most of us as disposable commodities; a sparkling to him would just be a liability, at worst, an experiment.'

Dreadnought sighed and stood up, his red optic band meeting his friend's still-bleary amber optics.

"...Okay, you know I like this whole idea about as much as you do. But if there's a way of getting an adult spark, one that he couldn't manipulate-"

A deep femme voice interrupted the battlecruiser's words. "To ask Shockwave not to manipulate a being for his own purposes would be antithetical to his processors."

The bulky dark red, pink and cream frame (1) of Femme Commander General Strika strode into the medbay, scarlet optics immediately settling on the slouching form of her CMO. Nightraider flipped off a quick salute and pushed herself away from the cabinets.

"It doesn't hurt to think about it, General."

The elder femme took a seat on one of the unoccupied berths, her usually stoic expression now one of rare suspicion. "The only absolute with Shockwave, as you well know, is that you never trust him. Only then will you be safe. Even Lord Megatron did not place full belief in his loyalty."

Nightraider huffed. "With respect Strika, are you here to lecture me, or here for a physical?"

"The latter, and do not think your tone will go unnoticed, Femme CMO."

"Yeah yeah yeah, I've already got a datapad of reprimands as long as my arm. You're stuck with me, deal with it. Dreadnought, frag off out."

Dreadnought looked up with a mock-hurt look in his optics. "Awww."

Nightraider jerked her thumb in the general direction of the door. "Femme stuff. Out."

The battlecruiser pouted under his face mask, but did as he was told and shuffled out of the medbay with his datapad and a couple of circuit boards.


Silently noting the appearance of Strika and the departure of Dreadnought, Shockwave managed to slip into the chemical storage rooms unnoticed and quickly called up his list of ingredients.

Iron ore, magnesium sulphate, sorbitol, ammonium nitrate, somatotrophin, placental lactogen, lutropin...it intrigued him as to how Soundwave hadn't suffered more while he had carried his creations. The list of hormones alone would be enough to make any being feel nauseous.

The gun-former calmly tucked the assorted vials into his carry-case and subspaced it before casting his optic around the shelves.

He would need to synthesise a few doses of anabolic steroids before he could start creating the reagent, but that would take four joors as he most.

With his mission complete, he activated his boosters and left as quickly as stealth would allow. If his current predictions were accurate, he would be able to begin the extraction procedure within the next four orns.


Settled atop the berth with her spark chamber open, Strika ignored the sensations of discomfort and focussed on the magnifying screen the red and black jet was currently squinting at.

Nightraider's professional facade was in full force as she zoomed in on the southern hemisphere of the general's spark. "So, is the shield still working for you?"

"As much as it can, considering the parts shortage."

The tetra-jet suppressed a wince as she studied the reddish scars marring the spark in front of her. "You do know you'll have to come off it for a few cycles. It's going to interfere with your mechanical and electrical components, not to mention your spark energy if you don't."

Strika's optics narrowed. "Obsidian will not be pleased with the delay in starting a new treatment cycle."

"With respect, your bonded can suck my exhaust. Either you come off the shield and give your system a rest before you start another cycle, or you can leave it and take a risk during a spark bonding and pray to Primus you don't end up carrying again. Your system can't take another termination, so frankly, the pair of you need to keep your chambers shut and be patient."

"And that's your professional medical opinion?"

Nightraider deactivated the magnifying screen and gestured for the general to close her chest plates. "Pretty much. Except with more swearing."

Strika sat up, slid off the berth and brushed a few of the more obvious dirt spots off of her torso plating. "Then so be it. I believe Obsidian will accept the uncensored version and a minor delay if it safeguards our shared health."

The tetra-jet raised her hands as if to fend off an attack. "I'll take your word for it. My knowledge of sparkbonds is purely academic."

Strika nodded abruptly, indicating the subject was no longer up for discussion. "So. Am I clear to remain on active duty?"

"Affirmative, though I would recommend a parts replacement on some of your gun turrets within the next orbital cycle. Dreadnought'll contact you once we get the parts."

The femme assault tank nodded again and marched towards the medbay doors, pausing briefly to glance back at the Femme CMO.

"I...take it you still cannot find a cure for this condition?"

Nightraider shrugged. "Super-fecundity was rare even before the war. Now it's almost unheard of. I could give you something to reduce your fertility, but I can't predict what the long-term damage would be. And when the war ends, we'll need all the sparks we can get to rebuild."

"What of reactivating the Well of All Sparks?"

"To reactivate the Well, we'd need to reactivate Vector Sigma. To reactivate Vector Sigma, we'd need either a Pit of a generator, the Key to Vector Sigma, or we'd need Alpha Trion. The first we don't have the energy for, the second went missing long ago, and to get hold of Alpha Trion would require something of a miracle considering he's just a legend."

Strika turned away. "I fear faith in the Thirteen is getting harder to come by."

The femme jet wrapped her arms around her torso, leaned against a nearby berth and stared out of the med bay window. "Hey. If they are real, all the potential followers they've got to choose from are a bunch of half-psychotic aerial troops and a decimated science core, and I'm not naive enough to think that Trion's Revelation is coming any time soon."


Strika's arrival had been pretty well timed, in Dreadnought's opinion. Now that Nightraider was up and about, it meant he could get back to his workshop and start tinkering with the manipulator digits on the new super-Transformer.

The battlecruiser let out a satisfied sigh as he entered his lab, placing the circuit boards and datapad on his workbench and turning his attention to the massive frame in the centre of the room. Pincer-like purple digits poked somewhat randomly out of black and silver cybertonium, the entire hand was over two, perhaps even three times the size of a normal Transformer – certainly large enough to adequately rival the hands of an Omega Sentinel.

But, like more than a few of the designs that had emerged from Shockwave's processor, this Transformer would be so much more than a simple guardian. The technology behind the creation of the triple-changers would be vital in both the offensive and defensive properties of this being. While it would obviously have a primary mode as a mobile battle station, Shockwave had envisioned this creature as being large enough to house a small city, or rather its secondary alt-mode, but as a triple-changer, it would be able to support a tertiary mode.

After the purple gun-former had revealed the concept designs for a beast mode, Dreadnought had actually skipped around his lab in delight.

Obviously he was limited by the raw material available like everyone was, but a combination of salvage, pillaging and melting down a few Empties when no-one was looking was yielding some pleasing results.

Dreadnought activated the portable generator and watched as electricity crackled through the various wrist motor cables. The giant hand hummed with power as he picked up his remote control board and positioned his fingers over the main switch.

"Okay, big guy, gimme five!"

He made a swipe at the oversized hand and grinned widely at the contact of metal upon metal.

"I said, gimme five!"

The oversized digits twitched briefly.

"Alright, fine, gimme three?"

The fingers twitched once more before the giant hand made a return swipe in Dreadnought's general direction. Sliding backwards out of harm's way, the battlecruiser smirked and made a quick note on his datapad.

"Servos and ligament connections running at 75 percent. Now..."

He fiddled quickly with a few smaller switches. The fingers closed into a fist and relaxed a few times before returning to their original position.

"Ligament memory programming active."

Dreadnought hummed and set the control system on the bench, turning his attention to his datapad.

"Three alt-modes, three programming set-ups; Pit, three fingers. There's gotta be a three or a tri somewhere in your name, huh? Don't move if you agree."

The hand remained still.

"Sweet. So...any thoughts on names? No pressure or anything, but I can't keep calling you super-Transformer or city-former since those just suck."

Dreadnought titled his head as if listening to something.

"Nah, Trio stinks."

A few more beats...

"Okay, whoa, I am so not calling you Triumvirate."

Another beat...

"Triptych? Like the paintings?"

Silence.

"That's a little pretentious, don'cha think?"

No reply.

"We'll stick a 'con' on the end, how about that? Triptych-con?"

He thought for a moment, squinting at the giant hand.

"Cool, so Trypticon works as a place-holder name. We think of anything better, we can change it. Let's face it, 'snot like you're going anywhere in a hurry."


The doors to the main control room were now encrypted with a Level 5 security code and a great deal of soundproofing material. While Nightraider, Obsidian and Strika all held the relevant clearance codes to bypass the encryptions, he would at least get a few breems of warning before they could enter.

It would be enough time to hide the portable lab equipment and the sparkling frame adequately. Anything left over could easily be passed off as parts for one of his, as the chief engineer and the Femme CMO had termed them, pet projects.

A freshly synthesised vial of anabolic steroids stood on the work surface next to one of Nightraider's spare sedative guns. On the tripod stand, an ominous green concoction bubbled slowly above the heat of a portable gas burner.

Shockwave calmly slid the drone's access hatch shut and turned to the service terminal, calling up the drone's input/output stats and reaction processes.

The drones only had limited intelligence, but all of them had been programmed with basic emotional recognition software and safety features. Any action which could potentially kill or cause damage to a Transformer, they were forbidden to perform; likewise, they could not allow a Transformer to come to harm through any inaction. It was also programmed to obey any orders given to it by a Transformer, except where the order would come into conflict with the former instructions. (2)

Disabling the safety features would take a few moments. Increasing the drone's neural relay sensitivity and fine manipulation servos enough for it to safely remove a portion of his spark would take longer.

Prepping the drone's core system for a defrag and programming cycle, the purple gun-former connected the necessary leads into the assorted access ports.

The screen flickered before reeling off the various stats and program lists in a derivative of Old Cybertronian – a paranoid measure, some would say, but Shockwave maintained that he had not survived the end of the Golden Age and the civil wars without a healthy dose of mistrust.

BEEP

His optic flashed. The reagent was ready.


Two physicals, a minor leg servo replacement, one case of energon poisoning and half a dozen suicidal troops.

All in all, a quiet orn.

Nightraider engaged the back-up generator and watched as the lights in the med bay dimmed to the low level emergency power setting. A few of the lesser computer terminals blipped and powered down, the main life support systems remaining on full power.

Idly, she pressed her fingers to her temples and rubbed hard, trying to dispel the ache in her CPU. A plutonium colada powered hangover was one of the fouler self-inflicted ailments to try and recover from, and there wasn't much she could do other than medicate with chilled low-grade and painkillers.

She spared a glance at the chronometer. Glit wouldn't be back from Kolkular for at least another two joors, Dreadnought was holed up in his workshop, Obsidian and Strika were both on duty, and the less she knew about Shockwave's activities, the better.

Since she couldn't get drunk, she had to find another way of passing the time.

Returning to her desk, she activated her node in the Data-Net and settled back in her chair as reams of notes and AV recordings flashed up on screen. This data wasn't strictly part of her original research, but she hadn't had the spark to remove the recordings; after the Nemesis had disappeared, the recordings had been one of the few things keeping her sane.

She called up the first recording and felt her spark twist.


Her office in the Science Academy building had been far less functional and geared more towards comfort than her current surroundings. On screen, her younger self was in that office, squinting into the camera lens and twiddling with an unseen switch. Standing behind her and to her left was Soundwave, with Ravage's black fledgling frame cuddled safely in his arms. Both mechs were watching her with amusement, Soundwave's gaze mixed with what could almost be called fondness, while the feline Cassette tilted his head curiously at the camera.

" Mrorwl?"

The navy scientist gently stroked his creation's head. "Ravage; telepathy."

Ravage frowned in concentration and tried again. What is she doing?

" Camera; necessary apparatus. Event to record; your first unassisted steps."

Why?

"Recording event; posterity."

Why?

" Nightraider; responsible for your onlining. Desire; for her to share in this event."

Why?

Nightraider fought back a laugh at the young feline's questioning, straightened up and moved to tickle the sparkling under his chin. "So he's learned 'why' then?"

Soundwave let out a brief sigh. "Affirmative."

" Just wait until he learns 'shan't'."

" Tempting fate; unwise."

The navy mech knelt down and carefully set his creation on the floor next to his feet, watching closely as Ravage settled into a crouch.

"Ravage; sit?"

Ravage pushed up with his front legs until his head and chest were raised. His aft and back legs remained firmly on the floor.

Soundwave rested a hand against the felinoid's side in a gesture of support. "Ravage; stand?"

With a grunt of effort, Ravage forced his aft to rise and his back legs to straighten until he was standing on all fours, his creator's hand still resting against his side.

Nightraider watched her younger self kneel down and watched expectantly as the little mech wobbled for a moment, and then placed a tentative black and silver paw in front of him. He tested the weight, and, remembering what Soundwave had taught him, slowly brought the back paw on the same side forward one step.

That seemed to work quite well, so he tried the other side, moving the opposite front paw forward and then the back paw, just as he had done before.

A tiny frown of determination settled on his faceplates as he alternated his paws, moving slowly but steadily forward with each step. Until his back paws became tangled about halfway through and he collapsed with a yowl of shock.

Soundwave had been edging alongside his creation until the tumble. Now he reached out a hand in an attempt to comfort the little mech. "Ravage; uninjured?"

Ravage gently batted the proffered hand away with a wave of his claws and studied the area of floor between him and Nightraider's lap, where he knew from long experience a cuddle and an energon goodie would be waiting for him. If he could just make his feet move correctly...

The femme CMO ignored the wetness on her faceplates as she watched the felinoid regain his balance on screen with scarcely a wobble, and restart his trek towards his goal.

"Less than a mechanometer to go, Ravage." Nightraider held out her arms as the black and silver Cassette began to pick up speed, his movements becoming less jerky and more graceful.

Soundwave moved quickly to kneel next to the femme jet, his optics not leaving his creation's frame for even a nanosecond.

With a triumphant meow, Ravage surged forward and landed in Nightraider's lap, a loud and contented purr emerging from his vocaliser as he was picked up and cuddled thoroughly by the femme jet, his creator leaning over his companion's shoulder and resting a proud hand on his head.

"Unassisted walking; success. Feedback; excellent."

The felinoid closed his optics and purred, revelling in the pride and delight radiating from the two adult sparks just inches from his own, and the simple happiness of the smaller, younger spark nestled safely within his creator's chamber.


45,000 vorns and two city states away from her old office, Nightraider shut down the recording and rested her head atop her arms on the desk, finally letting her tears fall freely.


Since there was no colour guidance he could discern from the femme jet's notes, Shockwave was uncertain of whether or not the reagent was the correct shade of...whatever colour it was meant to be.

The luminous green mixture sat in the beaker, slowly bubbling away with the consistency of organic mud. Every so often, a puff of steam would be released from one of the bubbles, the combination of water and heat being released strong enough to leave condensate dripping off his armour.

Not for the first time, the purple gun-former wondered if he was doing the right thing. If the experiment played out correctly, he would found a new form of warfare, perhaps powerful enough to lead the Decepticons to total victory over the Autobots.

If it failed...he could terminate his own spark; he could miscarry the sparkling; he could carry it to term and then die during onlining; they could avert all of those pitfalls and the sparkling could be onlined with serious defects.

Shockwave shook his blocky cranium to clear his thoughts.

He had come too far to turn back now.

He owed it to Megatron, to the Decepticon cause.

He owed it to himself, and to science.

Before he could allow any further doubts to surface, he inserted the vial of steroids into the main chamber of the sedative gun, allowing the contents to drain safely out of the tube before carefully removing the beaker of reagent and topping up the remainder of the chamber with the green fluid.

Briskly shaking the gun to mix the chemicals, Shockwave deactivated the seals on his spark chamber, and watched as the scarred purple plating twisted and retracted, allowing his purple-white spark to float freely.

He exhaled briefly, and tapped the gun chamber to remove any air bubbles.

His fingers tightened on the hand grip of the gun and aimed the instrument at his spark, the tip of the needle just brushing the surface.

Shockwave directed his gaze to the ceiling of the control room and offlined his optic in silent, ironic acknowledgement to his old mentor, now far away and long since gone.

"To Jhiaxus...I do this in your name."

He pulled the trigger.

No-one heard him scream.


TBC

Chapter Text

 

Cybertron, City State of Polyhex, Darkmount Fortress...


Something was wrong.

The three orns that Nightraider's notes had indicated would be sufficient for the preliminary dose of reagent to stimulate the production of energy polyps within his spark had long since passed. The first two attempts had indeed produced an increased number of polyps, but upon extraction, the necessary CNA modifications had caused the casings of all the tiny nodules to disintegrate within their petri dishes.

Theorising that perhaps a condition within Soundwave's spark had enabled him to produce greater numbers of, or stronger, polyps, he had injected himself with a double dose of reagent and began again. At the end of this cycle, he had managed to produce four polyps strong enough to survive the CNA modification process, the subsequent reinsertion, and the secondary dose of reagent.

On his first attempt, at the end of the first lunar cycle, he had examined his spark chamber, and while the process had, by all indications, been successful and he had conceived, the minute energy capsule attached to his spark had only grown by a few micrometres.

Removing it at that stage would have only resulted in a termination, and so, unwilling to accept scientific defeat, he had chosen to continue carrying, and instead had increased the size of his reagent doses to compensate.

Two orns later, he quickly and painfully miscarried in the isolation of his laboratory, deactivating his vocaliser so as to mask his roars of pain.

It took him half an orn to summon up the energy to move off of the operating berth after the drones had removed the mess of energon and half-knitted together CNA strands from his chamber. The remains of the proto-spark were tipped into a preservation tube without a shred of emotion, and observed closely while he recuperated.

Three orns after that, he made his next attempt.


Ignoring one of his increasingly regular bouts of dizziness, Shockwave settled into his chair and scrolled through the reams of notes. Nothing about this situation made sense. He had followed his colleague's decrypted instructions, right down to the glyph, and yet he continued to spawn nothing but little pools of dead CNA, all of which had been dissected and meticulously studied.

Perhaps he was missing something. The decryption program, after all, could only decrypt what was actually present within the files. If there was an extra step or process he had omitted through lack of information, it would not be unreasonable to conclude that was what was causing the miscarriages.

But while Nightraider had been careful to conceal her research, he knew her investigation and recording methods too well. She tended to keep all of her data together so it could be easily traced, and what could not be easily traced was, as he had seen, extremely well encrypted.

No, it would not be like her to deliberately omit details from her notes.

Clearly, he would need to find his own workaround for this problem.

Opening his chamber, he studied his flickering lavender spark, and the tiny silver polyp attached to the base like an energon leech.

He had perfected the budding and extraction process, but when it came to the carrying, the proto-spark always disintegrated within two lunar cycles of implantation. The only logical explanation was that his modifications to the CNA were too extreme, too different to the CNA of the parent spark. But he had already attempted less extreme modifications, and four proto-sparks had been absorbed into his spark within an orn of implantation.

Unless he could come up with another method of obtaining the CNA he needed, the entire project would simply be a waste of resources.

The obvious answer, if he could not sufficiently manipulate his own CNA, would be to use the CNA of another. But the Well of All-Sparks had been dry for thousands of vorns, and requesting a donation from any of the remaining troops within Darkmount was frankly ridiculous.

Wait.

Donation.

Shockwave closed his spark chamber and sat back in his chair, tapping his fingers against his chestplates, his mind now racing.

If he could remember how, he would have cursed himself for forgetting.

Parts and plates for a Cybertronian's chassis or fuselage could be easily manufactured, and unlike organic beings, there was no risk of organ rejection or any need for immunosuppressant medication during or after surgery. If the spark was damaged however, an energy transfusion from a compatible spark-type was necessary to prevent spark failure. It was one of the few fundamental components of a Transformer that modern Cybertronian medicine could not adequately replicate.

In peacetime, the harvesting of required spark energy and the transfusion process had been simple, thanks to regular calls from the Iacon Medical Centre for donations of the most common and therefore most urgently needed spark-types.

In wartime, it had quickly become apparent to the Decepticon medical staff that keeping troops off the front lines due to the abundance or scarcity of their spark-type would not be viable, and so the Constructicons had created the first Spark Bank within the walls of Darkmount. All Decepticon troops were required to have a portion of their spark extracted upon their initiation into the ranks. Those samples were medically nurtured and sustained within the Spark Bank, ready for the inevitable time when they would be needed to rejuvenate their progenitor spark.

The Spark Bank was located underneath the main medical bay, guarded with Omega-level security encryptions. Out of all the areas in Darkmount, it was the one section that was protected most heavily from power-cuts, Autobot raids, and Shockwave himself.

The purple gun-former's optic drifted over to the computer tower holding his colleague's decrypted notes.

He had come this far.

It would be illogical to terminate the project now.


A casual observer, watching through the window of Nightraider's office, would be forgiven in thinking that they were observing a bonded spark-pair receive information of a highly unwelcome kind, and that the medic in charge of breaking the news had been unable to keep her emotions in check.

The Femme CMO in question would have loved it if that were simply the case. Unfortunately...

Strika kept her optics fixed on the ceiling, and Obsidian twiddled his fingers together and wished he was somewhere else.

Nightraider simply clutched onto the screwdriver in her right hand and kept banging her left fist into the back of her cranium as she rested her forehead against the desk.

The Femme Commander was the first to tentatively speak up. "It is still early orns, perhaps you can..."

"Do you want to know what I'm doing right now Strika?" Nightraider raised her head off of her desk and poked the screwdriver in her commander's general direction.

Strika stared down the length of the screwdriver's shaft and glared at the tetra-jet. "Indulge me."

"I'm performing a little thing we in the medical profession like to refer to as 'percussive maintenance'. Do you want to know why I'm performing percussive maintenance at this precise moment in time?"

Obsidian bravely opened his mouth. He closed it as soon as the screwdriver was jabbed into his faceplates.

Nightraider's glare could have stripped paint. "You don't get to talk."

She snapped her gaze back to Strika's bulky frame and tried to stop her fingers from twitching.

"You see, I'm performing percussive maintenance right now because I have gone through all of my notes, all of my recordings and all of my onboard memory for the past five lunar cycles, and at no point whatsoever during any of your medical appointments did I ever say anything that even slightly resembled 'go ahead, spark-bond during the break between contraceptive shield cycles, you'll be absolutely fine'."

She rose out of her seat and loomed over the nervous –looking pair of generals. "Clearly, the only way I'm about to recall this information is if I concuss myself into remembering, because right now, all I'm remembering is me telling you, Strika, in no uncertain terms, that I CAN'T PERFORM ANOTHER TERMINATION IF YOU'RE STUPID ENOUGH TO TAKE THAT RISK AND YOU CONCEIVE!"

An extremely uncomfortable silence fell over the office at these words.

Obsidian finally broke it with a quick clearing of his intake ports.

"So... there is nothing that can be done to solve this issue?"

The red and black jet glared sharply at the Aerial Commander and exhaled.

"I'd suggest this..."

She straightened up, turned and removed a datapad from the shelf behind her, and threw it at Obsidian's head.

The assault chopper caught the pad between two fingers and cast an optic over the contents.

"Doctor Flatline's Guide to Sparkling Development?"

Nightraider sat back down and gave both generals a Look. "Congratulations, you're going to be creators."

Strika and Obsidian exchanged one look of pure, sparkfelt terror.

The tetra-jet closed her optics and buried her face in her hands.

The cream and pink tanker dragged her optics away from her bondmate to stare pleadingly at her femme compatriot. "Th-there must be a way. Some chemical or treatment only we could administer. Something you would not need to be present for. Or perhaps you could clear me for front line combat in Polyhex for the next cycle. A sparkling of this size could be missed if not specifically checked for in a medical exam..."

Nightraider's growl was slightly muffled by her hands. "My audials must have temporarily malfunctioned, because I definitely didn't just hear you suggest any kind of illegal method of abortion - most of which I will point out don't even work most of the time - and which would get all three of us court-marshalled and summarily executed.

"Look Strika... if there was a way to sort this out to yours and Obsidian's satisfaction which didn't involve a significant mortality risk, I'd be doing it. I wouldn't like it, but I'd be doing it. But, as it stands..." The Femme CMO raised her head, her optics tired but not without sympathy, "for the sake of this argument, there are two options. Both are terrifying. Your preferred option will end up with you greying out on my operating table as your spark ruptures and implodes, with your bondmate most likely following right behind you on a medical berth as his spark suffocates and flickers out. Taking the only other available option means that both of you, and your sparkling, will live."

The Femme Commander studied the datapad clutched in her bondmate's hands with barely-concealed fear. "Neither of us are adequately prepared to be creators."

"I don't think I've ever met any creators who were adequately prepared. Even the best creators have often just muddled through the best they can."

Obsidian finally spoke up, his optics full of unease. "A military base does not come anywhere close to being a suitable place to raise a sparkling."

"And yet it's been done before." Nightraider pushed herself away from the desk and stood up.

"Foundlings may not appear regularly, but they still turn up often enough to warrant the need for foster creators on base. You wouldn't be the only Decepticons here in the roles of guardians."

Strika's expression did something fast and complicated. "Esmeral and Deathsaurus."

Nightraider nodded, trying not to wince.

Obsidian stared down at the datapad, deliberately not meeting the CMO's optics. "Except... they chose to be foster creators. We have not even been given a fair choice as to whether or not we want to be creators."

"They chose to be foster creators because they can't be true creators, no matter how much they both wish for it. Even if Deathsaurus wasn't in the military post he's in now, the fact remains that Esmeral is sterile; there's nothing I can do about it, and I can see how much it kills her whenever she takes in a new foundling. So can you, Strika, you can't deny it."

Another painful silence fell over the cramped office.

The cream and pink femme finally stood up and carefully extracted the datapad from her sparkmate's deathgrip.

"...How far along am I?"

"Just under two lunar cycles, so almost halfway through."

Strika nodded.

"I will assume that from this point onwards, I am under strict medical supervision and off active front-line duty."

"Yup."

"I will also assume that during my examination, you reset my fuel intake moderation chip and fitted additional filters to my intake valves to prevent any kind of external toxins entering my energon lines and jeopardising the carrying process."

"Uh-huh."

"Furthermore, I will make the assumption that you were fully aware I had conceived before the examination and simply wanted an excuse to yell at us both before presenting us with a fait accompli."

Nightraider leaned back in her chair and folded her arms behind her head. "Pretty much, yeah."

Obsidian and Strika both glared at her.

Nightraider glowered right back. "And that is just creepy, stop it and get out of my office."

She flapped a hand at them as she turned her attention to her computer screen. "I'll alert Esmeral; go and see her and she'll get you sorted with the basic equipment. I'll see what Dreadnought's got lurking around in terms of parts for protoforms, and the pair of you need to be back in here same time next decacycle for scans and health checks."

The two most feared and respected generals in Cybertron's history shuffled quietly out of the office, looking for all the world like two elder fledglings leaving a Youth Sector Director's office after getting caught with stolen cy-gars.


"...Yo, Dreadnought."

The battlecruiser wriggled around enough to free his arm from the tangle of wires he was busy smothering with soldering paste.

"If you're alive, answer."

He tapped his comm. unit and rerouted the signal direct to his left audial. "'Raider! You sound both sober and annoyed."

"And you sound both smug and upside-down."

Dreadnought looked down, or possibly up, at the ceiling and grinned under his face-mask. "I can neither confirm nor deny the possibility that I'm disobeying the laws of gravity."

"And probably playing with a few laws of thermodynamics into the bargain. Just upright yourself and listen."

"I can solder and listen. Trypticon's neural wiring's at a delicate point and I can't risk leaving it." With that, he relit his propane torch and started heating the soldering paste to melting point.

In her office, Nightraider rolled her optics.

"Fine. Whatever. Look, do you have anything kicking round your workshop at the moment that could work as part of a protoform frame?"

The dull roar of the propane torch filled her audials for a few moments before Dreadnought responded. "Erm, potentially? I'd need to look- waaaaaait a breem!"

She heard the squeak of the propane canister being shut off.

"Is Strika sparked up!?"

"Do you have to be that crude?"

"Duh. Also, protoform? They're keeping it this time?"

Nightraider sighed. "Yes and yes."

A crow of delight echoed through the comm. link. "YES, called it! Contagion officially owes me 50 credits!"

An underwhelmed silence met the battlecruiser's audials as he righted his frame and winched himself down to the platform surrounding Trypticon's massive half-built cranium.

"You're somehow giving me a look of great derision through the medium of sound, aren't you?"

"Correct."

"But, but... 50 crediiiiits."

"Still not impressed."

"You're just unimpressed because you'd called spark-twins if it happened again."

"And Flatline's going to be even smugger than you are, since I now owe him 20 credits."

"Heh. Anyway, d'you know if they've got any preferences as to frame style?"

"Honestly? I think if Strika could bud and expel this sparkling right now, she'd be on my operating table before I could ask her what drugs she wants. Frame style isn't really something they've thought about, especially considering they were only in to confirm if she was actually carrying and then how fast she could... well, not be carrying."

"Ah. So it's one termination too many?"

"The phrase 'I did fragging tell you' was used at least once."

Dreadnought screwed his faceplates up into a sympathetic wince as he checked off the completed neural cables.

"Eeesh. Well then, might I suggest a teeny-tiny beastformer? Bipedal, black and purple as a colour scheme, little wiggly saurian tail... all I have to do is scale down Trypticon's blueprints and do a little scavenging work."

"...Are you seriously suggesting that we give the two most decorated Cybertronian generals in history a mini-city-former as the frame for their first creation?"

The battlecruiser cast his optic band up at the ceiling and waved his hand in a non-committal gesture. "Mmmm."

"I can't see it, but I'm assuming you're now staring at a corner of your lab and twiddling your fingers about."

"FYI, that's creepy. And... yes."

He sighed. "You're about to give me another glare of audible derision, aren't you?"

"Actually, no. I've heard of worse things. Saves them having to choose a name and frame, for starters. I'll run it past them and see what they think."

"Sweet. When d'you need the frame for?"

"You've got two lunar cycles to come up with something sturdy, sparkling-friendly and not installed with its own set of machine cannons."

"Awww, 'Raideeeeer!"

"Don't 'awww, 'Raideeeeer' me. I'm not having a repeat of the Heavyarms incident!"

Dreadnought performed the universal arm gesture for 'oh-for-the-love-of'.

"One time. That was one time!"

"And the repair team had to pick bullets out of two walls, the ceiling, four medical drones and Long Haul's aft for three orns straight, just because one sparkling sneezed and activated a built-in trigger for guns which I distinctly remember telling you at the time were a seriously dumb idea."

"OK, fine, no weaponry. Spoilsport."

An irritated "pffffht" resonated through the comm. link before Nightraider signed off.

Turning back to Trypticon's neural circuitry, Dreadnought shook his head and rolled his optics. "One little mistake and you hear about it for the rest of your life. Femmes. Medics. Medic femmes."

Silence.

"I'm kidding. She can annoy the slag out of me every orn, but I wouldn't trade her for all the high-grade on Cybertron."

More silence.

"Nah, not Glit either. Or that little Seeker femme trainee who came through during the second raid on Altihex... Lyzack, I think?"

A monitor pulsed quietly in the background.

"Fine, I wouldn't trade any of them. Well, 'cept maybe some bits of Shockwave's personality."

A pause.

"Dunno. S'pose for any bits that might mean he could feel for something or—"

His fingers clenched together briefly.

"Or someone."

Another pause.

"Look, you don't need to keep telling me. I know it's pointless even hoping, but... it's, it's what we do. You'll find that out once you're online."

Behind him, the centrifuge finished its cycle with a beep.

Dreadnought closed his optics and hung his head. A sick wave of longing and grief swirled around his fuel tanks.

"You don't get to choose who you love. You'll find that out as well."


Much as he would have preferred to use a software-based method of obtaining the security override, Shockwave was aware that the entire storage unit was kept on its own generator and computer system which he had no access to. The single door into the Spark Bank was accessible only via a single keypad recessed with the doorframe, so any standard decryption tech would stick out like the proverbial injured first digit.

However, according to the blueprints he had hidden in his private node on the DataNet, there was a small lighting component which illuminated the keypad from above. Small enough not to be noticed, large enough that one of the disposable pinhole cameras Overcast had engineered for the Leviathan's crew would fit discreetly to the front.


04:00 joors.

It was now the middle of the night-shift and the med-bay was deserted.

Glit was recharging, and Dreadnought had retrieved Nightraider from her office several joors prior for a drinking session at Maccadam's – apparently the theory was that the femme jet would control her high-grade consumption if she was around other mechs and femmes.

As the party consisted of Oil Slick, Conduit, Fracture, Heavy Load and Rollcage, Shockwave was not hopeful of any of them staying even remotely sober, though at least Diabla was reported to be stationed in Kalis and not invited to this particular gathering. The crew of the Leviathan had a pool running on when exactly the younger femme would successfully offline the older femme or vice versa.

Quietly passing from the main med-bay into the storage area, he glanced around for any security cameras within the room that he had not taken temporarily offline.

Nothing.

Unsurprising. The chemicals stored in here were not dangerous in themselves provided they were handled properly, and any lethal chemical compounds were vacuum-stored in the weapons vaults.

Just to be safe however...

As he entered the stairwell, Shockwave twisted his arm behind his bulky frame to activate a portable antenna rig attached to his back.

The hyper jammer activated with a beep, instantly shielding his chassis from any infrared and radar scanners. It would not work if he had the misfortune to encounter a regular security camera, but, as with the storage area, all of the regular cameras in this section had been deactivated for the duration. The feeds usually remained unmonitored even when they were functioning normally; there was little point trying to observe the medics entering and exiting the area, and having too many security protocols to override during a medical emergency could mean the difference between a patient remaining online and rejoining the Matrix.

In the worst case scenario, he could hack into any of the security recordings and delete his appearance, but it was untidy and something he preferred to avoid.

He knelt on the stairwell landing and quickly scanned the area for additional cameras.

Nothing.

And no alarms had been obviously triggered, so his assumption about the security protocols was proving to be correct so far.

Turning his cooling fans down to minimum, Shockwave slid quietly down the remaining stairs, carefully removing the pinhole camera from his subspace.

The Spark Bank door was titanium-framed and fitted with transparent aluminium panels. Industrial magnets lined the edge of the frame, while a red LED flickered in the shadow above the door, throwing a weak light onto the boxy alarm system below.

Just beyond the grey tinted partition, the Military Ops officer could see hundreds of rows of supercooled canisters, each containing their own little fragment of spark energy.

All of the sparks pulsed in one curious harmony and flickered in perfect, peaceful response to their neighbours' movements. Blue, silver, green, pink, yellow, purple; every colour in the spectrum shimmered within the bay and made the whole floor glow with all the tranquil brilliance of an aurora.

For one brief moment, Shockwave was thrown by the display before him.

He remembered this.

Or rather, he almost remembered it.

The peace.

The light.

No pain.

No war.

Then a face, two faces... no, many faces, all with blue optics.

Autobots?

Their faceplates were hopeful, cautious almost.

As if they were analysing him...

He exhaled sharply and shook his head, ignoring the sudden bolt of nausea in his tanks.

Newborn senses were never to be trusted.

He had learned that lesson well.

The pinhole camera slotted flawlessly into place above the keypad, the light fitting totally obscuring the edge of the device. Feedback from his remote computer link showed a perfect view of the keypad buttons.

Shockwave withdrew his hand and stood back. Now it was time to watch and wait.

And failing that, it would be time to engineer a military operation to suit his needs.


TBC

Chapter Text

 

 


Cybertron, City State of Polyhex, Darkmount Fortress...


Two cycles had passed, and Shockwave was starting to grow desperate.

The tiny polyp he had worked so hard to support was now floating safely in a containment case, bathing his workstation in a silvery glow.

The protoform casing he had built by increasingly shaky hands was resting in its secure stasis pod beneath the floor panels of his laboratory.

His internal systems were on the verge of...something unpleasant.

In order to stabilise his spark and circulatory systems while he waited for the opportune moment to obtain a spark sample, he had removed the proto-spark from his chamber, and halted his doses of reagent and steroids.

This had turned out to be a serious miscalculation on his part.

Within twelve joors of coming off of the drugs boosting his system, he had been forced to relocate to the cramped waste disposal chamber beside the labs, trying and failing to stop the repeated tank purges plaguing his frame.

In agony, and with no wish to call on the services of the medbay and an extremely torqued-off Femme CMO, he had injected his spark with 50cc's of steroids purely to stabilise his tanks. The resulting calm, if not complete cessation of the nausea and tank purges, had confirmed to the gun-former that maintaining a constant low-level flood of drugs in his system would assuage the worst of his misery.

All scientists had to suffer to confirm a hypothesis.

He would be no different.

And, if nothing else, it would mean that he could proceed to the splicing and implantation of the spark within his chamber with the minimum of delays.

Now that Strika was due to bear her sparkling, his best chance to obtain the necessary goods for his investigation was quickly approaching.

Closing his spark chamber after his latest steroid infusion, Shockwave dragged himself back to his chair and called up the security programs. A few clicks, and the security cameras throughout the medbay and the corridors down to the Spark Bank were deactivated.

His left arm twinged with pain.

He clenched his hand into a fist and ignored it.

The portable hyper jammer sat next to his chair.

The feed from the spy-cam at the Spark Bank was active and clear.

On the security screens, he could see Obsidian and Strika entering the doors of the med-bay.

It was time.


Two cycles had passed without incident. Strika had made her wishes clear early on for an assisted separation and onlining, and Nightraider had agreed with her commanding officer. Due to the damage done to the tank's spark through numerous terminations, the chance of something going drastically wrong during a normal delivery was too high to risk, and it would fall to the combined surgical team of Nightraider, Dreadnought and Glit to bring the sparkling into the world.

For once, the Femme CMO was both online and comparatively sober for the start of her shift. Her fingers twitched ever so slightly as she examined a laser scalpel, testing its weight and balance before laying it on a tray full of surgical instruments.

"OK, so that's the primary equipment check done. Glit, cue surgical shield in three, two..."

The silver feline jabbed at the shield interface with a claw and watched as a silver-blue electrical field burst into existence from guidance grids in the floor and ceiling in the operating theatre. Nightraider poked her head through the doorway and scanned the inside of the field with a critical optic before nodding.

"Surgical shield prepped. Dreadnought, is the protoform frame ready?"

The Chief Engineer settled the protoform's transport case onto the nearest trolley and popped open the access hatch.

"Empty and ready to go."

"And all weapons are disengaged?"

Dreadnought pouted. "Yes. Spoilsport."

Rolling her optics, Nightraider finally gazed over at Strika's doped, prone form; Obsidian hovering over her, his slim claws clutching onto his bondmate's chunky fingers in a near deathgrip.

"Are you two ready?"

Strika's head rolled unsteadily towards the sound of the femme jet's voice. "I would assume backing out now would be impossible?"

"Pretty much, yeah."

She straightened up and gestured to Dreadnought. "Trolley-bot, wheel her through. Obsidian, if you're staying, you stay up at the top, keep her calm and do not interfere if you want to live beyond the next orn."

Dreadnought looked somewhat aggravated. "Trolley-bot, really?"

Glit rolled his optics as he set a scanner down on the lower rack of the trolley, then clambered on himself. "Accept it and move on. There is a sparkling to bring online."


The Military Ops officer was fully aware of his colleague's surgical skills, and, through consistent observation and reviews of both written reports and security footage, he was also aware that for an assisted separation and onlining, speed would be of the essence. From opening the spark casing through to the protoform onlining, there would be less than five breems.

Barely enough time to make another raid on the surgical stores, but it would have to serve.

He would then need to hide his supplies, and then ensconce himself somewhere near to the Spark Bank security doors. As the CMO, it was Nightraider's responsibility to take a sample of the new-born's spark and store it in the vaults, and as such, this would be his best chance to obtain the sample he required.

Shockwave slipped quietly through the medbay doors, trusting that the medical team would be too closely engaged in the onlining process to notice his presence.

The glow of the sterile shield was visible, even from the main medbay. He caught the flash of Nightraider's thrusters disappearing into the operating theatre as she pushed her surgical tool trolley before her.

He ducked into the stores without a second thought.

The bulb above his head fins flickered a few times, but stayed bright as he dug methodically through the racks of chemicals and sedatives, carefully plucking out the necessary containers and depositing them in a padded carrier.

A sick roiling within his tanks made him pause for a few vital astro-seconds, his fingers trembling as he leaned against the wall. The energon lines in his cranium felt like they were pulsing fit to burst.

He willed himself to hold back a tank purge.

Despite the regular steroid infusions, the instabilities within his systems had been growing more frequent as of recent orns, to the point where, almost every joor on the joor, he was forced to take himself through to the waste disposal chamber, lock himself inside, and suffer the indignity of an unfiltered waste expulsion cycle strong enough to leave him on the floor, shaking with nausea and exhaustion.

Now rifling desperately through the tiny vials, Shockwave forced himself to cycle air through his vents. He just had to last long enough to get the drugs, hide them, and steal a spark sample.

Perfectly straightforward.

His shaking fingers closed around a full vial of metoclopramide. Too desperate to bother with an injection, he opened his emergency intake valve and tipped the contents of the vial into the mouth of the valve.

His tanks contracted painfully as the anti-emetic made contact with his systems, but his latest energon ration fortunately remained where it was.

Shockwave exhaled, and dropped the last vial safely into his carrier before shoving it behind the most shadowed shelves he could see.

A squeal from the operating theatre caught his attention.

"Awwwww, purty!"

Either the spark had been extracted, or worse, it had been inserted into the protoform.

Either way, he had less than a breem to get into position.

The purple gunformer moved with a speed he didn't know he possessed as he gracelessly charged through the stores, down the stairwell to the Spark Bank, and fitted himself carefully behind a pile of surgical-grade bleach barrels.

The camera feed from the access pad was transmitting directly to an access node in his CPU, the picture clear if slightly blue-tinted.

Now, it was just a matter of time.


Dreadnought held the bright green spark between his forceps with the delicacy of an artist and cooed, "You are the shiniest thing ever, yes you are, yes you are!"

Wearing an expression of exasperation combined with fondness, Glit carefully peeled back the access hatch to the protoform's spark casing and nodded.

"As lovely as it is, it needs to go into its new home."

"And once that's done, if someone could pick Obsidian off the floor, that'd be a massive help." Nightraider gestured at the floor with her laser scalpel and went back to suturing the separation wound on Strika's spark.

The Femme Commander managed to wriggle her head over to the side of the berth just enough to stare down at her bondmate and roll her optics.

In fairness to the Aerial Commander, he had at least managed to last up until the spark separation before he decided to get a better look at the operating theatre's floor tiles.

Dreadnought gently nudged the helicopter's arms out of the way with a foot before turning his attention back to the sparkling. He settled the little green spark safely into the chamber and wrapped a mesh blanket around the frame, then watched as Glit activated the magnetic clamps and prepared the spark shield.

The protoform's muted armour was suddenly flooded with colour. Black was the predominant colour, but flashes of gold and bright turquoise covered its major joints, and the digits and chestplates were liberally covered in Decepticon purple.

Red optics lit up and blinked curiously.

Tiny limbs flailed about helplessly. A miniature tail wriggled in time with the kicking feet.

The little mouth opened.

"...mmmmmmmaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!"

Every conscious mech and femme in room winced at the volume. The one unconscious mech suddenly and abruptly returned to full consciousness, his hands clamping down hard over his audials.

"Oh sweet Primus, make it stop!"

Dreadnought grinned down at Obsidian.

"Eh, bit late for that now, sir."

Nightraider checked the final suture, then sealed up Strika's spark chamber with a twist.

"Ok, pass him over."

Obsidian and Strika both looked up. The Femme Commander's vocal unit sounded somewhat staticky.

"...Him?"

The tetra-jet nodded. "A healthy little mech, judging by that vocaliser."

She made the universal 'pass it over' gesture with her hands.

Glit quickly fitted a safety seal around the sparkling's chamber to hold it open while the femme made her final checks, and Dreadnought then carefully passed the bundle of squalling sparkling over to the femme jet.

The cries died down as Nightraider cuddled the tiny saurian to her chestplates. "There, there...oh, I know sweetspark, it's too bright and cold out here, isn't it? You want to be nice and snug with your creators, don't you?"

She kept up the steady, soothing stream of chatter as she carried the sparkling over to the operating berth, pulling the trolley with Glit and the spark container on it behind her, and nodded at Strika to hold her arms out.

The cream and pink tank looked terrified.

Nightraider simply stared right back.

"He wants you and he needs you. I can do this next part on the trolley, but it's usually far easier and with a lot less trauma involved for all concerned if you hold on to him."

The Femme Commander stared at the black and turquoise bundle for almost a breem before tentatively opening her arms. Obsidian hauled himself upright with some help from Dreadnought, and stared over his bondmate's shoulder in total wonder.

The little saurian growled and nuzzled into his creator's arms. A tiny claw waved about in the air for a few moments before it was captured by two larger cream digits, and held steady for inspection.

Strika's expression was unreadable from this angle, but for now, Nightraider was more concerned with the final stage of the onlining process. She picked up a clean laser scalpel and a set of callipers, and bent over the sparkling's exposed spark.

"This won't be nice, but it will be quick."

Obsidian dragged his optics away from his creation to look at the surgical apparatus. His optics flashed with uncustomary fear.

"It...won't endanger him?"

Nightraider offered him a small smile. "Never lost a patient yet, and I don't intend to start now. Strika, hold him steady."

The Femme Commander reluctantly removed her fingers from the sparkling's tight grip, and watched closely at the tetra-jet made several measurements with the callipers, recording each of them on the instrument's database before setting it down and picking up a tiny surgical clamp and scanning the surface of the spark for a particular area.

"Right, when I say hold, pin his hands and feet."

The clamps opened, and were set at a particular area.

"Hold!"

Strika pressed down firmly around the chamber with her free hand, pinning the sparkling's limbs. The ends of the clamps sprung together, pulling a tiny polyp away from the surface of the spark.

The sparkling tensed, and screamed.

In one move, Nightraider sliced through the energy bonds between the clamps and the spark, the laser cauterising the tiny wounds, and pulled the clamp away. The polyp flashed briefly, and formed itself into a tiny green ball of energy, identical to its larger parent.

"Forcefield."

Glit activated a portable spark shield and nudged the spark container forward. Nightraider turned and dropped the spark sample into the container, slamming the chamber closed and activating the stasis locks.

"Spark sample collected and contained. How is he?"

She turned around and managed not to start giggling.

Strika's arms were outstretched, and she looked slightly stunned as she stared up at her bondmate. Obsidian had snatched his offspring away as soon as the spark sample had been collected, and was hovering back and forth with the sparkling in his arms, his complete attention focussed on trying to stop the little saurian's wails.

The jet paused in his actions only to glare at Nightraider, his arms tight around his creation. "That had better be the last test that needs performed."

The tetra-jet could feel her face-plates cramping from trying not to laugh.

"For someone who was so worried about being a creator, you've got the rabid den-mother bit down pat."

Obsidian glowered and let his creation chew on the end of one of his digits as his wails died down.

Glit let out a brief purr, with just a whisper of amusement colouring the higher notes of the soothing sound.

"All that is left is his designation. Have you had any thoughts as to a suitable name?"

The two Cybertronian generals shared a brief look, before Strika cleared her vocaliser. "His frame design is based on the plans for the new city-former, is that correct?"

Dreadnought nodded. "Yup. I've been using Trypticon as a placeholder name until I come up with something better. Nothing so far feels right."

Strika shared another look with Obsidian before staring up at her creation, now snuggled safely in her bondmate's arms.

"Then if you have already built the adult frame, his designation shall be Trypticon."

Everyone in the room stared.

Dreadnought was the first to speak. "Ummm...are you...saying that once Tiny Chomp-Chomp here is ready to grow up...you want him to be a city-former?"

"Correct. You need a new spark for the project, one that will be safe from Shockwave's grasp. He will be raised with his creators, and his guardians. As a city-former, he will be both a fighter, and a protector."

She reached up and extracted Trypticon from Obsidian's arms. "And he will serve Cybertron, for good or ill, as we have done."

"That's a lot to ask of a being that hasn't been online for even five breems." Nightraider picked up the sample container and headed towards the theatre doors.

"The Acolytes of Primus always said that The Thirteen used to laugh when Cybertronians made plans. Just keep an audial out for any snickering whilst you're brainstorming this kid's future."

With that, she headed out of the theatre and into the storage rooms towards the Spark Bank.


Shockwave cycled in a tank of air as quietly as possible, and clenched his hands into fists.

What in the names of Primus and Unicron was taking Nightraider so long? Had there been some complication? Had the sparkling fallen ill?

He listened for a moment, and shook his head.

No. No signs of wailing mechs or femmes. No alarms being sounded.

He offlined his optic as a somewhat muted wave of nausea rolled through his system.

Whatever the delay was, he could make a strong case for Nightraider being delayed by talking with the creators or fussing over the new-spark.

Footsteps in the stairwell halted his train of thought.

An eerie green glow moved steadily from the top of the staircase down to the doorway of the Spark Bank.

From his vantage point, he could just make out the form of the Femme CMO leaning over the keypad, punching her access code into the system.

The feed from the spy-cam activated.

Her fingers flew over the keys.

64448724337- -18092007-1409

752462537-228825466-#072

227737737-ALPHA

768639283-KAON

342252-OMEGA

The computer beeped three times, and then let out a two-toned chime.

Access granted.

The pressurised door hissed. Pistons slowly drew the transparent panel to the side and beeped as oxygen and nitrogen flooded into the chamber.

The red accents on Nightraider's wings flashed briefly as she disappeared into the eerie glow of the sparklight within the secure chamber.

Shockwave replayed the feed through his CPU while he waited, fingers twitching as he typed through the keystroke pattern. Ancient Cybertronian, with a few keys in the old Iaconian dialect and some Autobot code for good measure. Quite an intelligent security measure.

Idly, he wondered if all medical staff had this number and length of access codes. His own were considerably shorter, but more complex. Turning his decryption software on this could have proved quite interesting.

No matter.

He squeezed himself back into the shadows and offlined his optic as Nightraider marched out of the Spark Bank, reactivated the security software, and charged back up the staircase towards the medbay.

He gave it a breem before he crawled out, his processor spinning uncomfortably. Activating the hyper-jammer, he staggered towards the control panel and keyed in the same access codes, fervently hoping that there were no additional security programs active that he had not planned for

... 342252-OMEGA

The computer beeped three times, and let out the same two-toned chime.

The door slowly slid back.

Success.

Shockwave stepped over the threshold, and drew in a steadying vent of air.

The pulse of the sparks enveloped his senses almost immediately. The pain in his own spark receded slightly as he gazed around the chamber, his optic twitching in the otherworldly light.

No.

Focus.

From what he could see as he studied the shelving system, the sparks were stored in an arrangement not dissimilar to hard drives within a tower. A set of computer controlled claws could pluck the chosen container out from the racks with ease.

He located a terminal and set to work.

The monitor flashed and ran through its start-up processes before opening on the main access screen.

_SPARK BANK ACCESS - DESIGNATION RETRIEVAL?_

He had gotten this far. Which spark to use?

Two designations flashed through his CPU.

If he could still process emotions properly, he would have been able to identify it as resignation.

_SPARK BANK ACCESS - DESIGNATION RETRIEVAL?_

_NIGHTRAIDER OF VOS_
_DREADNOUGHT OF ALTIHEX_

The claws hissed, and ascended.


Dreadnought stood with his hands on his hip plating and glared at Nightraider. "No."

"Yes."

"No, and I'll keep saying no until it actually sinks through your thick cranium."

Nightraider simply raised an eye-ridge. "Well, you'll have a fragging long wait for that to happen."

Glit decided to add in his two shanix. "You can see his point. Perhaps the tradition of wetting the sparkling's head might be slightly out of place in a military setting?"

"It was managed in peace and in war, in the Dead End and in the Platinum Towers of Iacon. The kid's getting a toast."

Now safely in the recovery ward, but forced to stay where she was for the next orn, Strika glowered at her CMO.

"And if we do not wish to take part in this ritual?"

The tetra-jet glanced over her shoulder. "Then I'll toast the kid myself. At Maccadam's. Repeatedly."

Dreadnought, Glit and Strika shared a Look.

Obsidian didn't budge from his position beside his creation's berth, but did look up at the femme jet's words.

"Then I shall join you, if no-one else wishes to."

Nightraider turned, a bottle of somewhat-illegally distilled engex in her hand, and beamed. "Sweet."

She grabbed a set of medical beakers and wiggled her hands. "Guys?"

Dreadnought held his hand out and rolled his optics. Glit and Strika followed suit.

The Femme CMO passed a beaker to each adult member of the group, before setting the last beaker down in front of Glit, and popping the cork from the bottle one-handed.

Obsidian carefully gathered Trypticon into his arms, cuddled him briefly, and settled him in Strika's lap.

Nightraider poured each of them a generous helping of engex, then filled her own beaker and made a salute to the air.

"To Trypticon of Polyhex, onlined in Darkmount, born of Strika of Kalis and Obsidian of Helex, we see you released from the All-Spark, and celebrate your orn of onlining. We salute your creators, and their success in bringing you into this world. We salute your being, and what you will become. And this is the way it shall be, until the day when all are one."

As one, everyone chorused, "Until the day when all are one."

For a moment, there was silence in the medbay as everyone drained their beakers.

Nightraider was the first to finish her drink and wiggle her beaker in the air.

"Gaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhooooothat was nice. Refill anyone?"

"NO!"


The spark samples sat on his main lab bench, both a clear blue-white colour, both pulsing in an unsettling harmony.

His soon-to-be offspring's proto-spark pulsed along with them, just barely an astro-second out of time.

For the first time in an extremely long time, Shockwave was uncertain of how to proceed.

Logic dictated that there was little if any difference between the two sparks. He merely needed to pick one, take what was needed, then return both samples to the Spark Bank.

A rare burst of...something...in the back of his processor gave him pause.

Nightraider of Vos was a self-loathing functional addict, submerged in mourning for the mech she had sacrificed her career, her social standing, and most of her emotional support structures for.

Dreadnought of Altihex was a work-obsessed and partially delusional shell, who was nowhere near capable of hiding the unrequited feelings he held for one particular mech.

Neither of them would have been his preferred choice.

But…

Nightraider of Vos was intelligent, dedicated, loyal to a fault, and protected those she cared for with the maternal instincts of a rabid cyber-wolf.

Dreadnought of Altihex had a CPU on par with the Constructicons, was creative, enterprising, and tended to demonstrate his protectiveness towards those he cared about with his fists as well as his mind.

He offlined his optic and exhaled.

Without looking, he loaded both samples into the centrifuge on opposing arms, and pressed the protective casing closed. A quick tap, and the centrifuge began a brief spin cycle, the sparks leaving sparkling silver-blue trails as they span.

It was not a logical gesture.

But he had long since given up on applying logic to his two closest companions.

The centrifuge beeped, and began to slow down.

The arms slowly dropped and sank to the bottom of the chamber.

He onlined his optic.

One spark was sitting in its chamber, directly in front of him.

He reached inside, his fingers trembling, and plucked the transparent container out of the centrifuge.

One glance at the label told him all he needed to know.

The forceps and laser scalpel lay on a tray beside his polyp protoform's chamber.

He opened the spark container, and began.


Two cycles later…


After 42,000 vorns, Nightraider felt that she was entitled to be more than slightly annoyed at her lot, and had at least some right to take her temper out on the nearest living Cybertronian in shooting distance.

Unfortunately, after the little incident with the laser targets and a sedative gun, she wasn't allowed to handle weaponry outside of the firing range. Instead, she was lying on her front, one optic shut, and her hands wrapped around her favourite rifle as she peppered a target with laser fire.

Dreadnought had simply supplied her with his latest prototype rechargeable rifle cartridges on the way to the range and gotten out of her line of sight. Howlback, having long resigned herself to sitting through her comrade's irritating displacement activities, was sitting behind the femme jet with a datapad at her feet, attempting to run the day's security briefing.

"Next point: Leviathan will be docking for a three-orn furlong in Kaon. Conduit and Flatline have requested the following list of medical supplies-"

Nightraider peeled off another shot, then glowered over her shoulder at the felinoid. "Am I physically required to be present to hand over the materials?"

"No."

"Is there anything on the list beyond the standard slap-and-patch kits or surgical supplies?"

"Nothing that is obviously out of the ordinary."

"Then leave it on my desk, tell Conduit and Flatline they can pick everything up before they leave, and leave a message for Diabla to drop the attitude for once in her life."

Howlback glared right back.

"You can communicate with Diabla yourself."

"Not if I actually want to get a message other than 'go frag yourself and the equinoid you rode in on'."

Another target bit the dust.

"Is this feud not somewhat petty and vindictive?"

"…You've met her, right? That's pretty much her MO."

The tetra-jet readjusted her rifle scope and picked at a scrape along the barrel with her finger.

"I keep reaching out, she keeps slapping me down, so I choose to maintain the high ground and keep reaching out. She'll either accept it some orn, or self-destruct in a ball of her own loathing. Either way, I'll get a break from her."

Howlback growled and rolled her optics. "…Fine."

"Glad we sorted that out. Anything else?"

"One last item. A security cam-feed picked up Shockwave leaving the medical wing two orns past." The Cobalt Sentry frowned down at her datapad.

"The feed shows him…staggering."

Nightraider sat up and turned around. "…Staggering?"

"Yes."

"And you're sure it was Shockwave?"

"The ID scan confirmed it."

The tetra jet leaned over and grabbed the pad, opening the vid feed with a gesture. A slightly grainy monochrome image filled the screen, displaying the wide corridor outside of the medical bay and supply stores. As the security camera moved, it caught the top edge of a familiar set of antennae and dropped to focus in on the subject.

Sure enough, the mech leaning against the wall of the corridor was none other than their ever-emotionless Military Ops officer. Nightraider frowned as she squinted at the screen.

Shockwave was bracing himself heavily against the wall and favouring his left-hand side. His right hand was raised and slightly in front of his frame, as if trying to keep himself steady.

The fingers of his left hand were digging grooves into the wall panels.

His knee servos were shaking as he fought to keep his balance.

As quickly as the attack seemed to have come on, it ended. The Shockwave on screen straightened up, set his blocky shoulders back, and marched off in the direction of the control room.

The feed ended abruptly as Nightraider shared a look with Howlback.

"This happened two orns ago, and this is the first time I've been made aware of it?"

The black and turquoise felinoid deliberately licked a paw and smoothed it over her brow.

"Considering that less than a joor prior to that footage being recorded, you had staggered into the medical bay several panels to the solar winds and clutching a keg of Old Corroder, then yes, it's the first time you have been made aware of this."

Nightraider's glare didn't have as much effect as anticipated. She looked back down at the pad and sucked in a vent of air though her dental plates.

"I'll get him to come to the medical bay for a check-up. He's been acting a bit cagey lately according to Dreadnought, but he pays more attention to Shockwave than I do."

Howlback delicately pressed a button on her datapad and swiped the screen clear. "See that he does. As the highest ranked member of the Decepticon High Command on Cybertron, he cannot be allowed to function at anything less than full capacity."


The tips of the digits on his left hand were grey.

He blinked wearily and rubbed them together, ignoring the pain and hoping to dislodge whatever grime had adhered itself to his plating.

The plating stayed resolutely grey.

His vents drew in a tankful of air and stuttered. He tried to ignore the sticky, bubbling sound of fluids caught in his respiratory system.

His fuels tanks roiled. The mess of energon and assorted drugs within the tanks slapped unpleasantly against the base of his intake hose.

The power line between his converter and the laser cannon in his left arm had been blocked for the last three orns, the energon within now an unhealthy greyish-purple.

His spark chamber felt as if it was contracting around itself.

His good hand clenched into a fist as he scrutinised the tiny pink and silver sphere orbiting his spark with the help of a mirror.

He could not give up now. Not when he was this close.

An audio-only comm. signal beeped at him from his console.

Femme CMO Nightraider.

Shockwave closed his chamber, set the mirror down, composed himself for a moment, and opened the line.

"Shockwave receiving."

"You. Medical bay. Now."

A sensation he identified as panic flared at the back of his CPU. Surely she could not have realised his plans? He had done everything possible to cover his tracks, hidden everything so carefully…

"Might I ask why my presence is required?"

"Because a certain femme felinoid alerted me to the existence of a rather interesting piece of security footage which shows you, our vaunted Military Ops officer, staggering down a corridor like Mixmaster on a Syk binge."

He narrowed his optic.

"A momentary lurch does not warrant you ordering me down to your office like a wayward sparkling."

"Normally it wouldn't, but it's you. And you haven't ever shown any signs of fatigue or weakness in all the vorns I've known you. So, medical bay, 10 breems, or I send Dreadnought up to haul you out."

Something twisted unpleasantly behind his spark chamber.

"Do I get any form of choice in this request?"

"Who said anything about a request? This is a medical order."

"…Understood. Shockwave out."

He tapped the comm. off and sat back, methodically running through the contents of his toolkit in his CPU and deciding if any of them might conceal his true condition long enough to evade a full medical work-up.

A spray of paint to his fingertips and another dose of anti-emetic if nothing else would mask some of his symptoms.

Shockwave moved to hoist his frame out of his seat and suddenly went rigid.

A gasp forced its way out of his vocaliser as the tightening sensation around his spark chamber reached a piercing crescendo…and physically crushed the reinforced cybertonium inside his torso with an audibly liquid crunch.

He collapsed to his knees.

He could feel something dripping inside his chest.

He quickly pressed a hand to his plates, feeling a disturbingly slimy, foul-smelling fluid already coating the purple armour.

The fluid, when he held his shaking hand up to the light, was a thick red and grey with tints of purple. Perhaps energon?

His optic flickered as he braced himself against the arm of his chair.

His tanks roiled again.

With sheer force of will, he overrode the safety catches on the emergency release taps on the sides of his chest, and tried to empty some of the contents onto the floor.

The same red-grey mixture oozed painfully out of the taps and splattered onto the floor, covering his leg plating with filth.

His spark chamber contracted again, driving him into all fours with a barely suppressed roar of pain.

Something was wrong.

He blearily tore his gaze away from the mess, his pulse pounding erratically through his cranium, and focussed on the door. Two mechanometers.

The medical bay was two floors down, next to a lift which had an access hatch three point seven mechanometers from the door of his lab.

Shockwave hauled himself off of the floor and staggered slowly towards the doorway, leaving a thin trail of red and grey fluid in his wake.


In the medbay, Nightraider chucked an electrodart at the board on her wall before glancing at the bay chronometer.

"Five…four…three…two…DREADNOUGHT!"

The chief engineer poked his head around the door, his welding mask still covering his faceplates. "You bellowed?"

"He's had 10 breems and I see no gunformer standing before me. Go fetch."

Dreadnought flipped his mask up and looked askance. "Why do I have to go fetch him?"

"Because you actually like him, for reasons known only to yourself. Now, off with you." She waved him out of her office with a flick of her fingers.

The battlecruiser let out a put-upon sigh and dumped his welding mask on a nearby trolley as he slouched towards the main doors. Before he could slap the access panel, the familiar blocky form of Shockwave loomed into view through the window.

He grinned and yelled towards the CMO's office. "Raider? Call off the search party, he's just turned up."

The doors hissed open as Dreadnought rubbed his hands together. "Shockwave, awesome, you just saved me from playing-"

All the words in his vocaliser died in an instant.

His optic band went white with horror.

"…Oh Primus…"

The Military Ops officer was visibly swaying on his pedes, one hand clutching the edge of the doorframe while the other was holding his chestplates shut. Oil-filled, rancid-smelling energon coated his legs and most of his lower body, while most of the visible energon lines in his joints were black with infection. The same red and black fluids dribbled weakly out of his emergency release valves, while the edges of his armour were turning a frightening shade of grey.

His optic was straining to focus as he stared dazedly at Dreadnought.

"…I…require…assistance…"

Shockwave's optic suddenly turned a hideous red as the polluted energon welled in his optical ducts and gushed down his plating.

Dreadnought could only scream one word.

"NIGHTRAIDER!"

The tetra-jet flew out of her office at the scream, and staggered to a halt as she stared in shock at the mech before her.

The purple gunformer's body curled in on itself and spasmed once, twice, before a retch that sounded like it had emerged from the Pit itself emerged from his vocaliser.

Energon spewed thickly down his plating as he collapsed to his knees.

"…Help…me…"

The last thing he heard was Nightraider screaming for Glit, and Dreadnought's thumping footsteps as he darted forward to catch him.

The last thing he saw before his systems crashed was Dreadnought's hands coming up to grab him, already covered in tainted energon.

His fluid-soaked optic flared once.

The fibreglass casing shattered, and died.


TBC

Chapter Text

 

 


Cybertron, City State of Polyhex, Darkmount Fortress…


“Get him on the crash trolley now!!”

A trail of grey and red streaked energon decorated the floor as Dreadnought dragged Shockwave’s unconscious frame into the emergency ward and managed to haul him onto the nearest berth.

The hastily wired-in spark monitor started to beep frantically over the crash team’s panicked movements. While the Chief Engineer tried to clean the worst of the contaminated fuel off the gunformer’s plating, Glit was busy programming an energon filtration unit that would take over the patient’s fuel conversion systems at the head of the berth, and Nightraider was darting back and forth between the storage room and the emergency trolley, vials of emetics and coagulants rattling in her hands.

The wheezing sounds from Shockwave’s air intake manifolds grew louder with every passing astrosecond.

Whatever he had managed to do to himself, Dreadnought had the distinct feeling it would not be easily treated.

He delivered a series of desperate slaps to Shockwave’s cranium. “Shockwave, c’mon, stay with me. Wake up!”

Despite the enforced stasis lock, the gunformer groaned. His tanks gurgled, and a fresh wave of filthy energon streaked his chestplates.

“Filtration unit ready!”

Glit grabbed a set of extraction leads with a paw and shoved the primary line into Shockwave’s carotid arterial line. The filtration unit activated with a hiss and click, and slowly started to draw the tainted energon out of the artery. Fresh energon flowed into the unit from the medical storage tanks, and from there it was inserted into the gunformer’s prone frame.

“Filtration unit now running at 60%. Rising to 70%...”

Hints of clean energon could now be seen in the assorted circulatory lines leading out from Shockwave’s neck, but the ugly discoloration remained.

A sudden splash of fluid hit Dreadnought’s right pede. He glanced under the berth and swore violently.

“Aw, slagging Pitfire, he’s bleeding out! Glit, secondary line, now!”

The silver feline immediately held up the necessary tubing in one paw, and increased the filtration cycle setting with the other paw.

Dreadnought grabbed and inserted the secondary extraction line into the blackening hand plating, and watched as an ugly flood of miscoloured energon oozed slowly into the tube.

The puddle of energon under the berth was now slightly more pinkish in colour, but the speed at which the fluid was leaving Shockwave’s frame hadn’t slowed down.

Glit’s silver faceplates screwed up in growing concern. “This isn’t working. He’s losing as much energon as we pump into him, and we can’t get him to stay conscious long enough to perform a systems purge. And the stasis lock won’t stop the decay; it’s just managed to slow the rate of decomposition down to about 97 percent.”

Dreadnought stood up and leaned heavily against the berth, his own faceplates drawn tight in fear. “We’re losing him. Just very, very slowly.”

The femme jet dumped a final handful of medication onto the trolley and punched up Shockwave’s vital statistics on her datapad, biting her lower lip as she scanned the information before letting out a shaky breath.

“I need 10cc of copper sulphate.”

The battlecruiser’s head shot up, his optic band gold with shock. “Barfing Blue? You’re kidding me. Tell me you’re kidding me.”

“The faster the contaminants are out of his system, the better. And BB will work on an offline mech.”

Glit’s optics narrowed. “And you know this how, precisely?”

Nightraider shot her feline companion a dark look. ‘How d’you think I’ve been sobering up every other solar cycle?’

Dreadnought said nothing, but the distaste in his optic band was clear. Rummaging through the pile of drugs on the trolley, he located a vial of the neon blue emetic and slung it over to the femme jet. Catching it in one hand, she loaded it into her sedative gun, took aim against the gunformer’s jugular vein, and braced herself.

Glit opted to stand on the berthside table, out of range of the gunformer’s limbs. Two massive grey hands closed over Shockwave’s shoulders.

The battlecruiser glanced up. “If this doesn’t work...”

“Just shut up and hold him down!”

The dart pierced the energon line without a sound. Barely ten astroseconds later, Shockwave’s body jack-knifed on itself as all of the emergency release taps on his holding tanks were forced fully open. The same grey and red-streaked energon poured out of the three valves built into his chest plates, the input tubes in his neck, and the waste disposal tap in his hip plating.

The two medics and the engineer were instantly covered in waste fuel. Trying not to gag at the revolting stench of the fluid, Glit managed to enable the floor drainage system, normally used during surgery for removing excess energon to a cleaning vat where any impurities could be purged and the remaining fuel returned to the general populace as mid-grade.

He had a feeling however that whatever it was the gunformer had brought up, none of it would be re-entering the fuel cycle.

Withdrawing to a comparatively safe distance, Nightraider wiped one of her fingers onto a diagnosis slide and shoved it under the microscope, her optics searching frantically for any sign of whatever it was that was destroying the Military Ops officer from the inside out...

Dreadnought managed to hitch one of his shoulders up high enough so that he could wipe the energon smears off of his visor. “The purge rate’s slowing! You want me to slap an anti-emetic patch in?”

“...Oh Primus, no.”

The femme jet shoved herself away from the microscope, her optics wide with horror.

“What?”

Glit and Dreadnought both stared at their colleague. “What is it?!”

“Tell me he hasn’t...”

She activated the vidscreen and connected the backlit slide to the input wiring. The image burst onto the screen, the chemical composition readout showing exactly what was mixed in with the waste energon.

“That’s iron ore, magnesium sulphate, sorbitol, ammonium nitrate, and enough growth hormones to populate the Well of All Sparks, all mixed in with a major electrolyte imbalance that’s been in his system for almost two cycles. There’s no way, no reason for him to have this concentration of chemicals in a toxicology readout – or this particular composition.”

Dreadnought shot another glare into the back of her head. “Are you going to continue being cryptic, or would you actually like to give us an explanation?”

“I’m the only one who’s ever used this chemical composition; frag it, I’m the only one who even knows about it!”

Glit’s eternal patience finally wore out. “Then. What. Is. It?!”

“...Spark-split reagent.”

A horrible silence fell over the medbay, interrupted only by the slow trickle of waste energon from the body on the berth.

Dreadnought was the first to find his vocaliser. “...The compound for spark parthenogenesis?”

“I don’t know how, but he’s got it. And if he’s used it...”

The battlecruiser looked down, optics and fingers all searching for the access latch to the gunformer’s spark chamber, his mouth tight with anger and fear. A beep and a liquid-laced hiss of air was his reward as the purple and grey streaked chestplates split apart and retracted, the mauve tinted spark pulsing weakly.

“There!”

Glit gestured to the left side of the chamber with an energon-covered paw. Half-buried in the purple sheen, a pink and silver spark less than a quarter of the size of its parent shimmered under the operating lights.

Nightraider’s amber optics flashed red. ‘He planned this. He planned this all those vorns ago when he first got a glance at my research.”

“’Raider--”

“I fragging told him. He knew the risks! He helped me online Ratbat, he knew what was involved, he saw the damage to Soundwave! But no, he had to bastardise my work for one of his twisted projects!”

Still monitoring the energon drainage out of the purple gunformer’s left arm, Dreadnought snarled as his tact gave out, “And wasn’t that what the Academy accused you of, all those vorns ago?”

Nightraider’s rant stuttered and died. It was a fair criticism, not to mention all-too-accurately recalled. But the hurt in her optics was clear as she stared up at the grey battlecruiser.

“That was unnecessary.”

“And it worked.”

She exhaled sharply and scanned the minute spark as it clung to its parent. This was no time for anger. That could come later, once her patient was well enough to receive a smack in the faceplates.

“If he created and used the reagent within a few orns of unlocking the files, then he should be almost three lunar cycles along.  The chemical analysis backs it up for well over half that time. But that sparkling’s nowhere near the right size for separation to be successful, and in this state, separation would kill them both.”

Glit chose his words carefully. “Would...terminating the sparkling...reverse his condition?”

“In most cases it would, but with Shockwave it’d be impossible to guarantee. Gunformers are rare, and their inner workings are unpredictable at the best of times, but they share a common frame design and we can usually get their blueprints easily enough. This one – nothing. No historical or creation records, a few partial blueprints, and whatever the Constructicons managed to cobble together from his medicals. That’s it.”

Her faceplates tightened.

“Glit. Get him onto full spark-support and program an anti-emetic patch.”

The silver feline nodded and set to work.

“Dreadnought. Get into his lab; I don’t care how. Find everything he managed to access about the spark-split reagent and destroy it. After that, pull every piece of data you can get on his frame and spark support capabilities.”

The battlecruiser tapped a button on his arm, activating his comm. system. “Whose authority is this going under?”

Nightraider’s glare could’ve torn holes in Unicron’s hide. “Use mine and inform Strika; she can bite my head off later if she wants to.”


Another purge, followed up with a pained groan, drew the trio’s attention back to the berth.

Dreadnought whacked his comm. system off and leaned over the blocky body, one hand pressed against Shockwave’s shoulder as the gunformer moaned and tried to activate his damaged optical system. “Shockwave? Shockwave, you in there?”

“...Ugh...yes...”

“Hold still, we’re closing your chamber.”

Shockwave’s shattered optic flashed white in what could almost be described as fear.

Nightraider caught the look and decided to run with it. She joined Dreadnought at the head of the berth, her fingers tightening instantly around Shockwave’s neck.

“Explain. NOW.”

The purple gunformer wheezed at the choking sensation in his primary energon lines. Dreadnought quickly reached over and loosened the jet’s grip enough for Shockwave to speak.

“Weapons...potential...too great...not to try...”

“Weapons poten--” Glit hissed as the officer’s words sank in.

“You were trying to make an instrument of warfare out of your own sparkling!?”

“Doing...what Soundwave...did not...”

Shockwave’s optic flickered a few times and finally faded as he passed out on the berth. Nightraider scanned his vitals, her left optic twitching in barely-suppressed rage.

“Unconscious, but stable.”

She turned and glared at Dreadnought. “I need whatever tech specs you can find, and a damn good reason as to why I shouldn’t just let him die right here and now.”

The battlecruiser’s face-plates twisted.

“Adults you can take or leave, but you’ve never let a pre-term sparkling die without a Pit of a fight first.”

She didn’t respond, but he recognised the look that came down over her face-plates.  Nightraider’s game face, as he thought of it, was simultaneously one of the most reassuring and terrifying sights on Cybertron. Keeping herself focussed on the job in hand was now officially a matter of life or death.

“...Do what you have to do.”

Dreadnought charged out of the medbay without another word.

With that, she turned her attention to Shockwave’s blackened left arm, the hand stiff to the point of rusting. The sparkshock had clearly created a blockage to the fuel lines and neural relays in the limb, and with no other parts available for a gunformer, the prognosis was either amputation, induced paralysis or a fuel line bypass.

“OK, the left hand needs to come off. We can patch in the gun components to keep the energon circulating and the nervous system online.”

Glit nodded in acknowledgment.

“In the meantime, get him started with 50mg of promethazine, the same of methaqualone, and a course of warfarin as well as the spark support.”

“Won’t energon thinners pose a risk to the sparkling?”

“Normally yes, but...” Nightraider gestured at Shockwave’s frame. “It’s not exactly like we have a choice.”

The silver feline nudged the filtration unit into place above the berth, and then stared at the closed spark chamber. He paused for a moment while he considered their most fragile patient.

“…And…what do we do about the little one?”

Nightraider’s fingers twitched for a sparkbeat. She took a deep vent of air and studied her patient.

“I’ll need to get in there as soon as I can and find out what he’s managed to do to his chamber. At that point, we either need to look at a way of stabilising his systems so the carrying cycle can continue, or look at extracting both sparks and placing them in an external chamber.”

She glanced under the berth at the puddle of polluted energon and grimaced. “If that’s coming from where I think it is, the external chamber may be our only option.”

She pulled over a stool, picked up a spark chamber clamp, and set to work while Glit started to rig up a series of IV drips.


Two joors later…


Nightraider’s hands were slick with energon as she felt carefully around the walls of Shockwave’s now patched spark chamber.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say the chamber simultaneously exploded, then contracted.”

She pushed her right arm into the gunformer’s chest almost up to the elbow servo, twisted it around for a moment, then tugged the oil-stained chamber out into the light.

Glit spared a moment from monitoring the IVs and filtration unit to study the chamber and wince. “Primus.”

There was a hole the size of the tetra-jet’s palm on the left side, while the reinforced cybertonium had all but collapsed on the other side. At this point, the only reason Shockwave was even still online was due to the localised forcefield protecting the inside of the chamber.

“Is that, well…normal, with the reagent? Did Soundwave ever suffer from this issue?”

“No, but he wasn’t trying to manipulate an already risky reproductive method by himself.”

The femme jet cast her optics over the mess of energon-covered tubes, pumps and tanks before her.

“I’ve never seen this kind of damage in a carrying mech or femme, no matter what meds were in their systems. Either Shockwave managed to come up with a chemical composition that reacted negatively with the reagent, or…”

“Or?”

Nightraider chewed on her lower lip plates. “Or there’s something wrong with his spark. Something that would react badly with the reagent, no matter what.”

Glit frowned. “Is there any way to be certain?”

“Not without full tech specs and his medical records--” Nightraider cut herself off as Dreadnought entered the medbay, his faceplates rigid.

He was carrying a tiny lavender and silver protoform frame in his hands.

Nightraider and Glit both watched his slow march towards the berth with concern. The femme jet was the first to speak as she gestured at the protoform with an oil-covered hand.

“Do I want to know where that came from?”

Dreadnought’s gaze was fixed on Shockwave. “…Panel under the floor in his lab. Had a sparkling berth and everything.”

He carefully shifted the little frame onto a nearby trolley and reached into his subspace, withdrawing a handful of datapads.

“Those’re all his files, and his tech specs. Looks like he’d pulled them up when he was building the frame.”

He ex-vented slowly and erratically.

“’Raider…I got a look at some of his notes.”

She sat back and groaned. “How bad is it?”

Bad.”

“Ok, let’s be more specific. What kind of bad is it?”

The battlecruiser leaned heavily against the edge of the berth.

“…The kind of bad where, from what I read, he couldn’t successfully gestate a spark generated solely from his own genetic materials, so he used additional spark samples to stabilise the sparkling.”

Nightraider’s faceplates drained themselves of all colour almost immediately as she stood up, mouth gaping open in horror.

“…He got spark samples!?”

“He gained access to the Spark Bank somehow, I don’t know how.”

“How do you know this?”

Dreadnought was silent.

“How. Do. You. KNOW?”

Dreadnought’s frame started to shake. His optic band was an unhealthy shade of yellow.

“…Because his notes refer to two spark samples he obtained.”

He pointed at her, and then back at himself.

“And there’s nothing in there to indicate which sample he used.”


The room started to spin.

Energon roared in her audials.

Her tanks roiled and clenched.

Nightraider was suddenly painfully aware of the noise her vents were making as she struggled to take in air.

The feel of her faceplates turning hot and cold simultaneously.

The shakiness in her servos as she staggered backwards and sat down heavily on the floor, missing her stool entirely.

Shockwave, someone she trusted to a certain extent, someone she had worked with for most of her adult life, had taken part of hers and Dreadnought’s genetic material - effectively parts of their souls - without their permission, and had used one of those souls to create another life.

One of them was already painfully in love with another mech long since lost, and who had optics for no-one else.

The other was in love with the mech on the berth before her, and would have willingly given his spark to him if there was any hope of those affections being returned.

Both of them had been betrayed.

One of them had been raped.

Dreadnought stood above her, his chin trembling.

“…’Raider?”

She started up at him dumbly, unable to move.

“Can you save him?”

She blinked.

“Can. You. Save. Him?”

She clamped her mouth shut against the scream that threatened to burst free, and shakily raised a hand up.

The battlecruiser hoisted her back to her feet, keeping one hand against her hips to steady her.

“Can you?”

She looked up at his broken expression, then over to Glit’s horrified gaze, and finally down to the energon-covered frame lying before her.

“Get an external chamber set up. We’re moving both sparks out of the frame.”

Dreadnought squeezed her hand and finally let go.

He kept his eyes averted from the body on the berth.

“I’ll let the generals and Howlback know what’s happened.”


One orn later…


37 hours of medical treatment and emergency surgery powered by a mixture of fear, anger, guilt and shock from the members of the medical team saw Shockwave’s cranium, t-cog, and spinal wiring safely extracted from his diseased frame, his spark and that of his offspring installed in a new, reinforced spark chamber, and all four components rigged into an Emergency Spark Support Unit under a sterile shield.

His frame was being drained of all fluids before a full cleaning cycle could be run on his internals. His left arm was sitting on a dedicated surgical trolley, awaiting a pressure wash to clear out the blockage in the main energon lines between the hand and the gun component.

Dreadnought pushed himself back from the trolley, optics and spinal relays aching from exhaustion, and spared a weary glance at the next berth over. Nightraider had collapsed onto it headfirst not four joors prior, snoring before she hit the headrest, Glit only following her after the battlecruiser’s insistence that he get some shut-optic as well.

The silver feline was now curled up against the tetra-jet’s cockpit, while Nightraider had managed to twist her own body around Glit’s, a black hand resting heavily against the feline’s flank.

Dreadnought stretched and rolled his shoulders, and cast a look at Shockwave’s disembodied head.

The gunformer would remain offline unless circumstances dictated otherwise. The trauma of experiencing even a brief time without a frame would be enough to cause immediate spark failure in most mechs, and leave the remainder in therapy for the rest of their days. For now, they would need to focus on keeping the parent spark and the sparkling online and stable.

His hands clenched into shaking fists as he sat by the berth, his optics never leaving the sad remnants of Shockwave’s body.

“You really did it this time.”

His vocaliser constricted in his throat.

“I understand why you did it, y’know? I can see the logic. Why you didn’t tell us. Why…you only wanted it to be you who created it.”

Cleaning fluid was building up in his optical ducts.

“…But why one of us? Why ‘Raider? Why…why me?”

He could taste copper in his mouth.

“You could’ve picked anyone. Why one of us?”

He bowed his head.

“Why didn’t you ask? ‘Raider would’ve said no straight off, but…but…”

Cleaning fluid spilled from his optics and over his facemask.

“…I wouldn’t’ve. ‘Least, I don’t think I would’ve.”

He closed his vents to hold back a sob.

“…Who the frag am I kidding, I’d never’ve said no.”

The cleaning fluid dripped slowly onto the floor.

“Is that why you didn’t ask? Because you knew I’d say yes?”

Dreadnought sat back and covered his facemask and optic band with one giant hand.

“You picked a femme who now despises you, and a mech who’d give his spark to Unicron on a platter if it meant you’d feel anything for him, and you chose one of them to be the co-creator of your sparkling. All without giving them a choice.”

The spark monitor continued to beep steadily.

“Do you know how much I want to completely and utterly hate you right now? What I’d give not to feel the way I do?”

He lowered his hand, stood up, and loomed over the berth.

“It’s the same as I want you to be able to love--”


 

“A-hem.”

The battlecruiser closed his optics and rested his fists against the side of the berth. He recognised that vocaliser.

“Howlback.”

The Head of the Cobalt Sentries silently padded across the medbay and leapt up onto a spare stool. Her optics were shadowed with something he couldn’t quite place as she stared at what remained of the Military Ops officer.

“…I wanted to see for myself just how bad this was.”

“Didn’t Nightraider give you the nitty-gritty in the written report?”

Howlback bowed her head. “She did. I had hoped that she was exaggerating.”

“Not in this case.”

The blue and black feline ex-vented. Her sharp optics darted around the medbay, taking in the dried trails of rancid energon, the trays of oil-soaked surgical instruments, the decaying grey and purple mess that was Shockwave’s frame, the vision of Glit and Nightraider curled up on their berth together in shared exhaustion, and finally what remained of Shockwave’s mind, spark and soul under the surgical shield before her.

She took one brief look at Dreadnought’s anguished faceplates and turned away out of respect.

“Is it true? He has managed to conceive a sparkling?”

Dreadnought’s fists clenched.

“I will take that as a yes.”

She studied the glistening surface of Shockwave’s new spark chamber, and tried not to shudder at the sight of his spinal relays draped over the sterile surface of the berth.

“What can be done to save him?”

The battlecruiser leaned over and grabbed Nightraider’s datapad from the end of the berth. “At the moment? Keep him rigged into the ESSU while we try and salvage his body, but whether we can get his critical components repaired and reinstalled without his systems rejecting them is another matter. He’s never been able to accept transplants – his frame’s the same one he’s had since his adult upgrade. Most of the medics have had to do bodge jobs just for basic maintenance.”

“So where does that leave you?”

“Trying to save his life…and his sparkling’s life…with almost no spare components, a contaminated superstructure, and praying that his biochemistry hasn’t been altered beyond our ability to fix.”

Howlback was silent for a moment.

“Is there anything on Cybertron that is likely to save him?”

“Short of reactivating Vector Sigma? Almost nothing beyond what we’ve already planned.”

“What about going to the Galactic Council? We could plead a Level 5 medical emergency – they would be required under interstellar law to acknowledge the request.”

Dreadnought let out a brief, mirthless laugh. “Acknowledge it, and most likely tell us where to shove it. They already blacklisted us because we couldn’t play nicely with the Autobots. The only other planets that might be able to assist are the ones the Council outright banned vorns ago.  And I’m not particularly keen on crawling to either Mondas or Skaro for help.” [1]

The felinoid frowned. “Both planets have well-deserved reputations for genetic and cybernetic engineering.”

“Yeah, after their planet’s ecosystem tanked, the Mondasians replaced almost everything organic with cybernetics and removed their emotions to boot; and after a planetary war that lasted almost as long as ours has, for reasons that no-one can remember or figure out, the Kaleds became little mutated green blobs of hate stuck in travel tanks. Believe me when I say that contact with either planet is not happening.”

“Mmmmph…seconded.” Nightraider cracked open a bleary optic and turned her head in the direction of the voices.

“We’re stuck with this no matter what, so we suck it up and do what we ca--”

She cut herself off and squinted into the energon-soaked frame across from her.

“I thought you’d deactivated all the components in his frame?”

Dreadnought glanced back at her. “I did.”

She pointed at something on the berth. “So why’s that still blinking?”

“What’s still blinking…?”

The battlecruiser leaned over and poked warily at Shockwave’s frame while Nightraider disentangled herself from Glit’s dozing body.

“Ok, never seen that before.”

She leaned over his shoulder and stared at the source of the light. A tiny red LED was blinking steadily at the back of Shockwave’s old spark chamber.

Grabbing a set of tweezers, she reached in and managed to pluck the LED out of the wall, and paused.

“This isn’t on his tech-specs. Anything in his notes?”

Howlback watched quietly from her perch as Dreadnought scanned through a datapad. “Nothing. Is it connected to anything?”

In response, Nightraider tugged slightly at the component. Her optics widened as a set of insulated wires emerged from the metal and wound their way around the chamber to a small circular component embedded at the very top of the metal cylinder. She dug at the hardware for a few astro-seconds before finally yanking whatever it was into the light. The LED blinked twice, and finally died.

“First thoughts?” She waved the tiny object in Dreadnought’s direction.

The battlecruiser squinted at it before taking the tweezers out of her grip. “Some sort of monitor? Wait…”

He tilted it under the fluorescent lights. The surface lit up in the unmistakable shine of…

“That’s a lens…this is a camera.”

He traded a Look with the two femmes.

“Why would there be a camera in his spark chamber?”

Howlback tilted her head. “Is it a recent installation?”

“Not judging by the look of the wiring. This is old. Seriously old.” Nightraider picked up the wiring connected to the LED and studied it closely.

“That’s not just an LED, it’s a transmitter. If it’s not something Shockwave installed himself, then I have no idea what it’s doing in there.”

Dreadnought’s optic band darkened. “So if it’s a transmitter…what’s it transmitting to? Or who?”

The Cobalt Sentry hissed. “This is now officially a security breach. Contain the camera, or destroy it. In the meantime, I will instruct Garboil to increase patrols, and inform Strika and Obsidian to post lookouts on the borders of Polyhex and the entrance to Darkmount itself.”

She bounded effortlessly off her stool and trotted purposefully towards the door of the medbay.

“If whomever that camera is transmitting to appears in our territories, we will at least be forewarned.”

Nightraider and Dreadnought glanced at each other, then at the rotting frame beside them, and finally at Shockwave’s motionless head and spark chamber.

Whatever this was, neither of them had a feeling it was going to be a good thing.


Cybertron, City State of Iacon, undisclosed location…


The last image the spark-cam had transmitted to his personal section of the mainframe was that of a red and black Decepticon tetra-jet armed with a set of surgical tweezers. A femme, judging by the frame design.

All of the readings from the Project’s frame had died as soon as the spark and CPU had been extracted, but from what he had received prior to the signal termination, there was more than enough information there to seriously disturb him.

Enough information to make him break cover for the first time since the Ark and the Nemesis had been lost.

The elder mech stood up, the twin spikes on his helm almost brushing the low ceiling, and turned to his crimson-plated ward, who was leaning against a pillar with a polishing cloth in his hand.

“Prepare my surgical kit and the survival kits. We are needed in Polyhex within the next two orns.”

The younger mech groaned. “We? Don’t tell me I’m getting dragged off on another one of your wild cyber-goose chases.”

“This will be a mission to ensure the wellbeing of Cybertron, not a ‘wild cyber-goose chase’, as you put it. And kindly do not take that tone with me, Apprentice.”

“I have plans, you know.”

“And I am sure that your plans with a high-speed rotary buffer and the washracks can be rescheduled.”

“Not if I want to retain my finish, they won’t.”

The elder mech narrowed his optics. “Your appearance is not a matter of life and death, Knock Out. Go and get packed.”

At the look on his master’s faceplates, Knock Out quickly decided discretion was the better part of valour, and stomped off.

The elder mech turned back towards the bank of monitors he had been studying, his gaze quickly falling on the flickering image of the Project’s spark chamber and the two sparks contained therein, and ex-vented.

“Shockwave, what have you done?”


 

TBC

Chapter Text


Cybertron, City State of Polyhex, Darkmount Fortress…


Two orns and four shift changes had seen no meaningful alteration in Shockwave's condition. His spark and that of his sparkling were both still alight thanks to the combined efforts of the Darkmount medical team, and there were no signs of further deterioration present in either spark.

Unfortunately, that was the only upside of the entire situation.

Dreadnought squinted one optic shut as he tapped the syringe to remove any air bubbles, lined up the nozzle, and carefully injected a fortified mix of ore supplements, biomimetic gel and antibiotics, all mixed in with a dash of medical high-grade, into the energon port on Shockwave's spark chamber.

The tiny spark within the chamber clung to its parent spark and flashed a healthy shade of pink as it greedily absorbed its latest energon ration.

The adult spark remained stable in colour, but the dark grey speckled patches over its surface did not fade.

The battlecruiser removed the syringe and tucked the port closed, letting out a sigh as he turned around to stare at the Femme CMO.

"Seventh nutrient feed supplied."

Nightraider kept her optics fixed on the slide under the microscope. "Any noticeable changes?"

"The sparkling's taken to the energon well, estimated diameter is now 50 millimetres. Then again, not having to feed off contaminated energon should get its growth up to somewhere approaching normal."

"Or whatever normal is with Shockwave." Nightraider pushed herself away from the laboratory table and rubbed the back of her neck with both hands.

"He's used the reagent ingredients in the correct proportions, so they can be expelled out of his system gradually, and the steroids can be traced and eliminated, but what I can't work out is where this electrolyte imbalance has come from. Every treatment I've tried stabilises his spark's biochemistry for a few breems at most, and then reverts. It's like nothing I've ever seen before."

Glit, who was monitoring the chemical purge of Shockwave's frame, frowned and tapped his claws against the energon-stained berth. "Not even in a carrying mech or femme? Not even in Soundwave?"

The femme jet felt her spark clench as it always did at the mention of Soundwave's name. She took a slow vent of air and shook her head.

"The only times I've ever seen that kind of biochemical imbalance in a carrying mech or femme is immediately before, during, and immediately after a miscarriage. Shockwave came incredibly close to losing this sparkling, and I don't even want to consider if he lost any others before this one."

The silver feline's faceplates creased in a mixture of grief and disgust.

"So, if the stability of the electrolytes keeps reverting, that means his spark is now consistently on the verge of a spontaneous abortion."

Dreadnought looked back at the reinforced plates of Shockwave's new spark chamber. "On the verge, and every single time it deteriorates, the sparkling just clings on tighter."

"I honestly don't know which of them is keeping the other alive at this point, but right now, maintaining them both is all we can do." Nightraider stretched her arms over her head, servos audibly popping, and leaned back on her stool.

Glit closed his optics and sighed.

"Until whoever or whatever was monitoring his spark presumably shows up. The Generals and the Cobalt Sentries still haven't found out who received the mystery transmission?"

Dreadnought chewed on his lower lip plating. "That style of transmitter was used before the war for high-level military communications. The range potentially covers the entire planet."

Glit opened his optics. "Only the planet? Not the moons?"

"Yes Glit, only the planet. And Cybertron ain't exactly small."

The silver feline chose to ignore his colleague's sarcasm.

"And that style of transmitter, could it be deactivated remotely?"

"As far as I can tell, yes."

"Then logic would dictate that whoever or whatever received the transmission is not only still on Cybertron, but at a significant distance from Darkmount. Who would stand to benefit from monitoring Shockwave, and couldn't do it from within Decepticon territory?"

"…Autobots? Neutrals?"

"I would think the Autobots are the more likely candidates. The Neutrals that we have encountered have never demonstrated or even indicated that they have access to this kind of technology."

Nightraider rearranged herself on her stool so that she was sitting cross-legged. "But why would the Autobots be monitoring Shockwave? That wiring and the camera was built into the metal of his old spark chamber, and none of it was Autobot in origin."

Glit held up a claw. "That would mean that the installation occurred before the end of the Golden Age, and you had said that he had kept his frame since his adult upgrade. Unless there is an extreme size disparity between a fledgling and adult frame, the spark chamber would remain unaltered."

Dreadnought twitched a finger back and forth. "So…that wiring could have been there from when he was a fledgling. Someone was trying to monitor his growth?"

Nightraider's mind was racing. "Or perhaps making sure that he didn't go offline for any reason. Any kind of alteration like the one we found would have been spotted by a medic if he had to change spark chambers, and changing spark chambers is a process that can only be done safely by a qualified medic and spark specialist team. We know there are almost no official records for Shockwave before he entered the Iacon Science Academy, and barely any medical records. When he got his adult frame, if the spark chamber didn't change, then his guardian or creator could have made the upgrade from fledgling to adult without a medical team. It would've been perfectly legal back then, and would have kept him off the books."

Glit nodded. "So, he was being monitored by someone, someone with a major reason to keep him online and functioning, who couldn't do it without being seen or perhaps recognised, and who could potentially be anywhere, but had made sure they could keep an optic on him from the other side of the planet if needs be."

Dreadnought frowned, and leaned over to grab a datapad, calling up the military mapping application with a gesture.

"If that's the case, then what's on the opposite side of the planet from Darkmount?"

The app bleeped.

"Kaon, with Tarn as the next major city-state."

Nightraider squinted over Dreadnought's massive shoulder as she studied the readout. "The seat of the Decepticon Empire, and Shockwave's home city-state. Kaon was chosen to be the Decepticon HQ because it was the mirror opposite position to Iacon. Tarn's not that far south from Iacon, well within transmission range."

"And all the underground gladiatorial games were held there, which we know Shockwave attended, since that was how he bought you into the fold."

The femme jet briefly looked away and closed her optics. Both mechs were kind enough not to mention it.

"But placing a military grade transmitter, inside a spark chamber, which was potentially transmitting to somewhere or someone in Iacon, by someone who potentially knew that Shockwave would end up on the opposite side of the planet, and on the opposite side of the war from that person?" Glit tapped at the control panel for the chemical flush.

"If you discount wild speculation, then that's either paranoia or precognition, and I've never been a fan of either of those things."


"Why not both?"

All three Decepticons started in surprise at the sudden intrusion. Nightraider was the first to get her vents under control.

"Howlback, how many times? Don't pull the creepy stalking bit in my medbay!"

The feline Cobalt Sentry studied her claws with a deliberately unbothered air.

"You were theorising about a currently open investigation, and I was curious to see if any of your hypotheses bore fruit."

"And do they?"

"Possibly. However, a new variable has just entered the investigation, one which may put your previous theorising into doubt."

Dreadnought heaved himself off his stool and stared down at Howlback. "A new variable?"

"Yes. Specifically, there is someone here to see Shockwave. A mech. Elderly, by his appearance, and accompanied by a younger mech, possibly a late-stage fledgling. He requested Shockwave by designation, and when I refused him admittance, he requested to speak to the Chief Medical Officer, who he described as 'the femme tetra-jet with red and black plating'."

Glit, Nightraider and Dreadnought all exchanged disconcerted looks.

"OK, how…?" Nightraider glanced back and forth between the two mechs.

"…The camera!" Dreadnought snapped his digits.

"It only died after you removed it. There must have been enough on-board power to let the receiver see who interfered with it."

Nightraider nodded, then focussed on Howlback.

"So, where's this mystery mech?"

"Outside the gates of Darkmount. Obsidian and Garboil have weapons locked on."

Dreadnought and Nightraider glanced at each other, then at Howlback, then at the medbay doors.

Both briskly removed their preferred laser weaponry from their subspace; Dreadnought rested the barrel of his musket against his shoulder, while Nightraider withdrew her pistols and spun them a few times in her hands to test the balance.

"Glit, you're in charge. Comm. both of us if there's any change."

The SMO nodded once.

"In the meantime, femme and gentle-mech, shall we go and scare the mech-fluid out of the aging slagger on our doorstep?"

Dreadnought smirked and offered a sweeping bow to his two colleagues. "Femmes first."


In the shadows of the gates of Darkmount, Knock Out studied the impressive array of weaponry primed and aimed at his and his mentor's heads and held up a digit. "You do know that having three charged laser cannons pointed at us isn't likely to make us feel at ease, right?"

His mentor rolled his optics.

Obsidian grinned with all the confidence of an apex predator observing its prey at the nearest watering hole. From his perch on the Aerial Commander's shoulder, Garboil chuckled drily.

"Oh, we're fully aware."

Knock Out returned an equally feral grin in kind. "And you're not likely to deactivate them any time soon?"

"Not until you give a truly spectacular reason as to why we should deactivate them, let alone let you pass."

"I'll leave you to the senior mouth-piece then."

The elder mech glowered at his charge.

"A modicum of respect, Knock Out, that's all I have ever asked."

The Decepticon general narrowed his optics. "Knock Out, eh?"

The younger mech quietly swore under the sound of his vents, then perked up as he registered three life forms approaching. One was the femme felinoid they had encountered not three breems ago, but the two newcomers…

One was suitably androgynous, but he would put credits on it being a mech, possibly a troop carrier, and the other was quite clearly a tetra-jet femme, possibly even the one that had gotten his mentor's bearings in a spin.

The two primed laser pistols in the femme's hands made him back up slightly.

He backed up even further at the sight of the laser musket the mech was carrying.

His mentor, seemingly uncaring of the increasing range of weaponry on display, pulled down the hood of his cloak and raised his arms in greeting.

"My friends, I bid you greetings, and the blessings of Primus be upon our heads."

In response, Nightraider and Dreadnought immediately raised their weapons and fixed their sights upon the intruder.

Knock Out squeaked and ducked behind his mentor to preserve his finish if nothing else.

The femme was the first to speak. "Alright, who asked for me by description and title, and why shouldn't I blow you to the Pit where you stand?"

The elder mech paused for a second, and stepped into the light.

"Because I saw you, in my visions and on a vidscreen displaying a sight you should never have witnessed, my dear-"

He stopped and dug inside his robe for something.

Knock Out sighed and stepped out from behind the cloaked figure.

"Believe me when I say he does this for dramatic effect."


Something clicked softly within Nightraider's spark as she got her first decent look at the elder fledgling before her.

Burgundy coloured plating with what could only be described as luscious curves, slim digits and limbs, and a cranium decorated with a bright red chevron, white faceplates, and cheeky scarlet optics.

It wasn't the same sensation as she experienced while in Soundwave's presence, but this…

She had never believed in predestination, but something told her almost instantly that this mech was someone she was meant to meet.

Not a lover, not a soul mate, but a partner, perhaps a pupil.

And almost certainly a friend.


She cracked a smile at the younger mech's comment and holstered one of her pistols.

"Does the dramatic effect ever lessen his chances of being shot?"

Knock Out chuckled. "Give it two breems and see how you feel."

The elder mech paused only in his rifling to give his companion a dirty look. His expression brightened as he hauled out a hefty-looking datapad and stylus from the depths of his cloak, and tapped at an entry on the touchscreen.

"Ah. Nightraider of Vos, creation of Stridewide of Altihex and Feedback of Tetrahex. Onlined 9th cycle 018, 007th vorn of the Golden Age. Qualified Chief Medical Officer and onlining specialist as of 13th cycle 003, 017th vorn of the Golden Age, majored in spark biochemistry at the Iacon Science Academy, later branching into paediatric medicine, prior to affiliation with the rebel Decepticon movement. Adoptive sister of…dear me."

The elder mech's whiskered faceplates twitched in disapproval.

"Well. I can see why the Autobots wanted you brought in alive, if possible."

Both pistols were immediately pointed at his face, along with the laser musket, two sets of stun grenades on Howlback's and Garboil's frames, and a barrage of photon torpedoes emerging from the Aerial Commander's shoulders.

Dreadnought hissed, "Tread carefully, old mech."

Said mech scanned the assembled company briefly, then stored the datapad and stylus in his subspace with a flick of his hand.

"But I digress. I have proven that I know who you are, Femme CMO, and now I must ask that you show me to my patient."

Nightraider glared at him, old wounds opened just a touch too far.

"My patient, not yours."

"Oh no, very much my patient, my dear. Shockwave, optionally of Tarn, actual provenance classified. Online date, classified. Creators, classified. Qualified theoretical physicist and Logician First Class, as of 13th cycle 003, 017th vorn of the Golden Age, majored in pure mathematics and astrophysics at the Iacon Science Academy. Developed a controversial theory of seeding potentially resource-rich planets with treated energon, known as the Regenesis program, prior to affiliation with the rebel Decepticon movement. He became Megatron of Tarn's Military Operations officer at the fall of the Golden Age, and has been in de facto command of Decepticon-controlled Cybertron since 5th cycle 022, 048th vorn of the Great War, after the loss of both the Decepticon Star Cruiser Nemesis and the Autobot Star Cruiser Ark. Within the past six cycles, he has implanted his spark with at least eight spark polyps in the apparent hopes of carrying and onlining a sparkling. Seven of those attempts have resulted in miscarriages. The eighth attempt is currently holding on for dear life to a stable but severely weakened parent spark, and will most likely die, along with its parent, if it is not removed and stabilised within the next three orns.

"Do I need to continue?"

The femme jet hissed a vent of air through her intakes, and reluctantly holstered her guns. Howlback and Garboil deactivated their stun grenades, and a gesture from Obsidian disarmed both his photon torpedoes and the laser cannons in the turrets above.

Dreadnought kept his musket aimed at the elder mech's head.

The mech sighed. "Have I not proven my credentials?"

"You gave us a list of dates and achievements, which anyone with a connection to the DataNet could've gotten hold of."

"And the knowledge of his sparkling?"

"Is the only reason I'm not shooting you in the face."

The elder mech moved forward and placed his hand over the barrel of the musket.

"Then know this, Dreadnought of Altihex; I am all that stands between Shockwave and the Allspark. Let me pass, and there may be a chance to save the mech you love."

Obsidian and the two Cobalt Sentries traded looks, but remained silent.

"Dreadnought…"

Nightraider gently reached up and squeezed his shoulder plating.

"Let him through."

The battlecruiser glanced down at his best friend, then at Obsidian, Garboil and Howlback, then to the wide-opticked fledgling, and finally to the elder mech.

He growled and finally lowered his musket.

The tension around the group deflated almost audibly.

"…Thank you."

"Thank 'Raider, not me. And before we let you in here, what's your designation?"

The elder mech glanced back at his protégé, then at the Decepticons before him, and smiled drily.

"Call me…A3."


Glit narrowed his optics and studied the two newcomers as they were escorted into the medbay. The younger mech was all over-waxed red plating and gangly silver limbs, but there was a look of unbridled curiosity in his optics, mixed with what he assumed was habitual self-adoration. He kept a respectful distance from the three Decepticons, but oddly enough, didn't want to remain too close to the elder mech who accompanied him.

Something stirred in his memories as he got a good look at the strange mech. Scarlet and purple plating was shot with gold and silver highlights. His shoulder plating was mostly hidden under a ratty brown cape, possibly of organic make. What looked like an organic face wrap hung from his neck, revealing battered white face plates with silver highlights, and a purple twin-pointed chevron gleamed in the emergency lights.

He knew this mech. Where from, he wasn't sure.

But something about his appearance was making his electronic hackles rise.

"Any change, Glit?"

The silver felinoid shot a final, wary glance at the newcomers, and turned his attention to the Femme CMO. "All life signs are stable."

"For the moment, at least." The elder mech picked up the patient chart from the foot of the berth and scanned it. "I assume that you are monitoring what appears to be a massive electrolyte imbalance within the patient's spark?"

"Correct, and you are…?"

The mech glanced up. "A3. Just…A3."

Glit managed to keep his mouth shut over the gasp that threatened to break free.

He knew exactly who this mech was.


Three joors later…


After one presentation, two arguments, a private comm. and what could only be described as a brief pissing contest, Nightraider collated her most recent notes on a datapad and passed them over to A3. "The concentration of the electrolytes is like nothing I've seen outside of a spontaneous abortion, but for whatever reason, his spark either can't or won't abort the sparkling."

The elder mech sat back on his stool and scrutinised the spiky handwriting. "Presumably you have tried to stabilise the imbalance, possibly with supplements or even an electrical charge?"

The femme jet shook her head. "Supplements yes, but I'm not about to risk an electrical charge around a sparkling unless there's a clear indication he's about to go into spark-shock."

"Even if the charge was enough to save him, at the cost of the sparkling?"

"I'm not risking the sparkling at this point unless I have to. It's too far along for a safe termination, and an electrical charge could offline them both."

A3 set the datapad on the berthside cabinet and folded his arms across his chestplates.

"If he is on the verge of a spontaneous abortion, and yet cannot abort, have you considered aiding the process?"

Dreadnought's expression was one of revulsion mixed with a healthy dose of anger as he bolted up from his perch on the berth and loomed over the elder mech.

"That little spark is on the wrong side of premature. We get him even a few orns further along, we might have a chance of delivering early, and then putting them both on spark support. Giving him the meds now could kill both of them, and it'd kill the sparkling for certain. No chance in the Pit am I letting you do that."

"Your feelings are clouding your judgement."

"Yeah? Well, my fist's about to cloud your face if you even THINK of saying that agai-"

"Ngghh, Dreadnought!"

Nightraider quickly caught Dreadnought's fist and held it between both hands. Knock Out shifted in front of his mentor and offered him an unimpressed glower.

"How about you don't offer that as an option again, Big A?"

"Knock Out…"

A3 paused and ex-vented. "Fine."

Knock Out slid out of the way, and gently patted Dreadnought on the arm. "Stand down, big guy."

The glare aimed in his direction could have stripped paint.

He withdrew his hand and decided to take up a position on the opposite side of the berth.

A3 picked up the datapad, studied the readings again, and tapped the edge gently against the side of the berth.

"With these readings, you'll be lucky to get another two orns gestation at the most. I would honestly recommend getting any equipment you have for premature sparklings prepped and ready."

Nightraider closed her optics. "And Shockwave?"

"Start purging the chemicals from his spark…and hope for all our sakes that he survives."

The femme jet bowed her head. "Glit. Start the spark purge and monitor both of them."

Glit nodded sadly. "Yes, CMO."

"Dreadnought. Get all the neo-natal equipment we have up here and start testing it. I'll check on everything and confirm what we need."

"On it." The battlecruiser reluctantly departed for the storeroom, but not before shooting a quick look at Shockwave's spark chamber.

"A3. Stay the frag where you are."

The elder mech glowered, and resumed his reading. "Charming."

"And Knock Out."

The red fledgling held up his hands. "I know, I know; I have no lines in this play."

"Not quite."

For the first time in three joors, a grin passed over Nightraider's faceplates.

"You're still under the age of majority, correct?"

Knock Out shot a wary look at the femme jet. "…Yeeeeeeees?"

"Then you either fall under the care of your guardian if present-"

"-Trust me, the old mech's not my guardian-"

"-Or the resident foster carers on base."

Both A3 and Knock Out looked baffled. "Foster carers?"

"An established couple who look after, fuel and house any sparklings, fledglings or foundlings on base."

A3 snorted. "I know what foster carers are, my dear. But in the Decepticon ranks?"

"We don't make a big song and dance over it, but yeah, we get orphaned or abandoned minors in here often enough to need foster carers. If Red doesn't have a guardian available, he goes to the carers."

"And they are?"

Nightraider tapped her comm. link and smirked. "OK big guy, you're up. Knock Out, leave and behave, and you'll be allowed back in for the evening shift."

She retreated to the rear of the medbay and started to spray her hands with disinfectant as the main doors slid open.

Knock Out turned and stared upwards…and further upwards.

He felt very, very small, very, very quickly.

"…Eeep."

A gargantuan mech, covered in battered blue, gold, and silver plating, stepped into the med bay. Four scarlet optics gleamed from under a pointed visor topped with golden chevrons, while two massive blue and silver tipped wings flexed behind his body. Silver plated fingers with razor-sharp claws glinted under the beam of the emergency lights. A heavy grey laser rifle was strapped to his back, and something which looked worryingly like a flail dangled from his left hip.

The winged mech loomed over him, a cold look in all of his optics, and opened his mouth…


"Deathsaurus, why are you trying to frighten this poor young mech?"

Deathsaurus's shoulders slumped at the sound of the vocoder behind him, a resigned yet fond look lighting his optics.

"Once, just once Esme, I'd like to inspire a little awe in a youngling, just, just a little smidge, nothing drastic."

He tucked his right wing behind him, revealing the slender red and silver form of Esmeral, trying and failing to look stern as she stared up at her sparkmate.

"Good luck with that, dearspark, every youngling in a fifty mega-mile radius knows you're a soft touch when it comes to imposing your authority on them."

The femme griffin patted the Decepticon general on the wing as she moved past him. The gentle swat to the aft plates in response earned Deathsaurus a mock-scolding look and a pointed finger from his partner before she turned her attention to a confused Knock Out.

"You must be Knock Out. I am Esmeral of Tesarus, one of the resident foster carers on base. The mech-mountain is Deathsaurus of Kaon, commander of the Dark Fortress, and the other resident foster carer."

Knock Out looked up suspiciously at the now-smirking kaiju, arms folded across his scratched chestplates, and grinned maliciously. "So…you're the one who Star Sabre won't shut up about."

Deathsaurus's smirk dropped off his faceplates. His optics narrowed.

"Whatever that little red glory-hog's told you is a total lie."

Knock Out, sensing an advantage, pounced.

"So, he didn't de-energise the Dark Fortress and trap it in a gravity cell at the heart of the Dark Nebula?"

The kaiju growled. "Slagging hypocrite. Makes all that noise about sneak attacks being cowardly and what does he do, fragging little…"

Deathsaurus folded his wings around his shoulders and settled into a well-practiced mumbled sulk.

Esmeral shook her head and sighed. "Possibly not the best opening line you could have picked, but never mind."

She took Knock Out's hand and the leading edge of Deathsaurus's wing, and gently but firmly pulled them both in the direction of the med-bay door. "Now, I'm guessing you'll need some fuel, some recharge and a visit to the washracks. Come along with me, and I'll show you to your quarters. Deathsaurus will show you to the refectory, and while you refuel, you'll need to tell us all about yourself and your area of study."

The young mech blinked, but allowed himself to be pulled along, rather unused to the waves of calm kindness emanating from the slender femme.

"Area of study?"

Esmeral's voice echoed down the corridor as she led both her newest charge and her pouting bondmate out of the med-bay. "Well, yes, I'm assuming that however long it takes to treat Shockwave, you'll be staying in Darkmount, and surely your guardian wouldn't want you falling behind in your studies…"


"So, what's Red's story?"

A3 raised an eyebrow, but didn't look up from the datapad. "I don't know what you mean."

A burly hand plucked the datapad out of the elder mech's hands and set it on the berthside table. Dreadnought dragged a chair over from the somewhat desultory waiting area at the front of the medbay, and placed it in front of A3, parking in it before he had the chance to move.

"The kid's too young to have been onlined before the war, and there's no Autobot insignia, so that puts paid to him being onlined by the cause. I did a quick check on the DataNet while you and 'Raider were yelling at each other over preserving the power supply lines for Shockwave's arm cannon. Onlined in Nyon, but no creators mentioned; he said you're not his guardian which I can believe, since no decent guardian would bring a fledgling into a potential danger zone.

"So. What's. Red's. Story?"

The elder mech sniffed derisively. "You assume there's anything significant to tell. Younger brother of a pair we found wandering the streets of Nyon, and he's been apprenticed to me for the past 20 vorns. The elder brother's already taken the Autobrand, and we expect him to do the same."

"And if he doesn't?"

"Well, there's always the Neutrals. But it would be a waste of his talents."

"What if he joined the 'Cons?"

A3 glared up from under his silver-plated eye ridges.

"Don't be foolish."


Five joors later…


Evening rations in the company of Deathsaurus and Esmeral had been interesting to say the least.

He had been aware of Deathsaurus by reputation, but had never heard even a whisper of Esmeral's existence until now. The Femme Contingent within the Autobots tended not to speak of their Decepticon opposites except in extremely impolite terms – the Decepticon Femmes were all malicious, energon-thirsty harpies fully capable of murder and exquisite cruelty, and most of whom had only achieved their positions by acting as berthwarmers for more easily influenced mechs.

The group of mechs and femmes Knock Out had been introduced to in the refectory turned that idea on its head almost immediately.

Leozack, Killbison and Hellbat had acknowledged their commander with a wave and quickly shuffled over to make space for the newcomers, while Slipstream, Flamewar and Thunderblast had dragged their chairs and rations over, ready to interrogate the newcomer.

One breem in their combined company had quickly made him realise the Femme Decepticons were far more intelligent and nuanced than their counterparts gave them credit for, and as for the mechs…

Well, Hellbat had certainly seemed receptive to his charms.

At least, he'd assumed that was why Deathsaurus had picked up the navy and silver mech and thrown him headfirst out of the refectory with the instruction to "take it to a cold washrack and keep it to yourself, he's underage".

Esmeral had simply handed him a heated beaker of mid-grade and parked herself between him and the other femmes, the oddly pleasant aura of sheer protective den-mother radiating from her in waves.

Refuelled, reloaded and ready to irritate, Knock Out cheerfully strode down the featureless corridor and into the darkened medbay.

His optics took a few astro-seconds to adjust to the gloom, but he quickly made out the form of Shockwave's disembodied cranium and spark chamber. Nightraider was still online, wearily watching the Military Ops officer's vital signs as they beeped monotonously on the monitor.

Of his master, Dreadnought, and Glit, there was no sign.

"Am I intruding?"

The femme jet glanced over her shoulder and tilted her head. "Not at all."

Knock Out trod quietly over to the berth and seated himself on a stool.

"So, where's the rest of the team?"

"Dreadnought and Glit are recharging in my office. If you're looking for A3, he's in the stores with Howlback. Needless to say, none of us trust him around chemicals without an escort."

"But you trust the non-medic feline – no offence intended?"

"None taken, and she knows what to look out for."

The red plated mech leaned back on his stool and studied Shockwave's spark chamber with cautious optics.

"Do you know…why he did it? I mean, from what I've heard, he, well, doesn't seem the type to WANT to be a creator."

Nightraider sighed. "The most we got out of him was something about weapons potential, but his notes refer to something called a Targetmaster, which Dreadnought thinks might be a derivative of the Headmaster process."

Knock Out frowned in confusion. Off of his look, Nightraider cleared her vocaliser and attempted to explain.

"What do you know about Headmasters?"

The younger mech hissed a vent of air through his dental plates. "Not much; it involves the removal of a Cybertronian's cranial unit, and through binary bonding, an organic or cybernetic lifeform takes the place of the cranial unit, but the combined form uses the power of two brains or CPUs and two sets of thought processes. All theoretical though, I've never seen a record of it having been done, much less succeeding."

The femme jet nodded. "That's the bare chassis version. The theory comes from notes made by the Guardians of the Ferrous Youth Sector in Kaon, and research done on and by a telepathic mech spawned from the Well of All-Sparks."

"Soundwave of Kaon. He was the comms. mech for the 'Cons, right?"

Nightraider forced herself to answer civilly. "Communications Officer and Third in Command of the Decepticon Empire. Show a little respect."

Knock Out raised a perfectly waxed eye ridge at the femme's tone, but decided not to push it.

"Soundwave was a telepath; unless the Autobots have one in hiding, he's the only telepath on record for either side. His scientific speciality was furthering research into the so-called paranormal fields; psychokinesis, ESP, telepathy…everything Cybertronian scientists had previously discredited and were forced to rethink after Soundwave had been onlined. One path of interest, and one that had been observed in medical science, was the bond between a creator and their creation. Almost all our race has it in some shape or form, but after Soundwave had borne his creations, he had encountered a far stronger bond than most, and it enabled him to give orders, make and receive psychic suggestions, and much later, to guide and by guided by his creations on the battlefield.

"He and another scientist, Brainstorm, had postulated that that bond could be forged between two living beings, and enable two brains and two thought processes to combine within one body – absolutely formidable on the battlefield, and off the battlefield, they would be beyond friendship, beyond family. Shockwave's Targetmaster theory seems to run along similar lines, but it's between purely cybernetic lifeforms, and it involves binary bonding two beings together, with one becoming a living weapon to be wielded by the other. They would be able to pass on some feedback and tactical knowledge to their handler, but nothing as strong or as intimate as the Headmaster bond."

The young mech stared at a corner of Shockwave's berth. "Did either of them…ever get further than theory?"

Nightraider shook her head. "No idea about Brainstorm, but Soundwave had been interested in researching it once he had taken the steps to become a creator. That idea pretty much died as soon as Ravage was onlined. He's never tried to tamper with the bonds between himself and his creations, and he's never seen them as weapons."

"You seem very sure of that."

The femme jet stood up. "I helped online all of his creations; I'm the one who developed the process for a single Cybertronian to become a creator, without the need for a bondmate."

A3 chose that moment to emerge from the stores with a filled syringe in his hand, Howlback trotting out behind him. "So, in fact, you are partially to blame for Shockwave's condition."

Nightraider turned to face him, a look of incredulous anger screwing up her faceplates. "Excuse you?!"

She pointed a shaking finger at the empty frame in the berth opposite. "How in the name of Primus am I responsible for that?!"

She could hear shuffling and clanks behind her, indicating that Dreadnought and Glit were waking up.

"You have known him, professionally and personally, for a considerable number of vorns, correct?"

"Reluctantly, yes."

A3 set the syringe on the berthside table and folded his arms across his chestplates. "Then you are fully aware that he has a voracious appetite for scientific knowledge and theories. You perfected the process for spark parthenogenesis and chose not to share the exact process with the wider scientific community."

"Because for every successful scientific discovery and process, there's always going to be someone who tries it for themselves, and it almost inevitably results in death and/or destruction. I freely admit that I tampered with the chemical conditions in Soundwave's spark to be able to independently generate sparklings. His telepathic abilities were what helped to stabilise the process; frag it, they're what made it possible in the first place!"

She took a deep vent of recycled air. "I knew that if I published my exact findings, all we would end up with would be a load of dead or mutilated mechs and femmes. As soon as the process was refined, I kept one complete copy of my notes and destroyed everything else. That copy was supposed to have been destroyed before I was expelled from the Iacon SciAc faculty."

"You didn't honestly think that Shockwave would fail to keep those files for himself, did you?"

"…I thought…in hindsight, pretty naively, he would respect my wishes."

A3 gave her a look that would have cut solid titanium.

"You know Shockwave, and you know that his scientific curiosity will override almost any social grace you can name. You were a means to an end to further his research. Not what he was designed for, mark you, but given his origins, somewhat understan-"

Nightraider's optics flashed. "Origins?"

A3's optics narrowed in response. "Classified."

The unmistakable whine of a laser musket being removed and charged filled the medbay. Dreadnought snarled from behind Nightraider, "Declassify them."

A3 glanced between the mightily fragged-off femme, his somewhat nervous looking pupil, and the barrel of Dreadnought's weapon.

Howlback emerged from the medical store, ruby optics narrowed and fixed on the strange mech's back. Glit remained in the doorway of Nightraider's office, his own optics darting between the members of the assembled company.

Blue optics focussed on the gutted remnants of Shockwave's frame, and closed briefly.

"The Targetmaster process..."

He sat down on the edge of the berth.

"The theory itself is sound. It was discovered back at the start of the Golden Age, then all knowledge of it was removed from Cybertronian society. Shockwave…somehow, he managed to excavate and recreate that knowledge, but his execution of it…well. It would never have worked on him had he tried for a thousand vorns."

Dreadnought kept a hand on his gun as it charged. "Why not?"

"Because one who is already a Targetmaster weapon themselves cannot become a Targetmaster head to another weapon."

Nightraider stared and sat down heavily. "…What?"

A3 ex-vented. "Shockwave is a Targetmaster weapon. You've seen his alt-mode, have you not?"

"Yeah, he's a gun-former, I know that."

"A 35-foot long laser gun. You never thought that was unusual?"

"Of course I did. But I could never track down anything of significance relating to his creation or alt-mode."

"And you never thought it odd that his alt-mode was so large?"

"Well, I know it made finding replacement parts a slagger. He couldn't make himself any smaller; it's like he didn't have any mass-shifting capabilities built into his frame."

"Oh, he does."

The femme jet looked askance at him.

"You were merely seeing them at the smallest size for his frame. His true size was mode-locked upon his onlining."

Dreadnought gritted his dental plates together. "And his true size?"

"Given enough fuel and enough space to transform properly…about 1500 kliks." [1]

Nightraider shot to her pedes. "Oh, frag off! That's about a quarter of the radius of Cybertron, who the slag would even need a weapon of that size!?"

"Primus."

"No need to bring him into this, thank you."

A3 rolled his optics. "No, I mean, Primus. He would need a weapon of that size. After so many thousands of vorns in stasis lock, we didn't think his own weaponry would reactivate in time to fight the Chaos Bringer, whenever he arrives."

The femme jet stared at him for a few moments, and then up at Dreadnought. "Tell me you're ready to fire that." She nodded at the laser musket.

"Primed and ready." Dreadnought hoisted the musket up to his shoulder and centred the target on A3's chest plates.

"Femme CMO, I am speaking the truth."

"Er, Primus needs a giant-aft gun to fight Unicron? Forgive me if your 'truth' sounds like a load of lugnuts to me."

Knock Out finally spoke up. "It's not."

"Oh really?"

"Really."

"Knock Out, hush."

The younger mech growled. "I'm trying to back you up here, Trion. A little gratitude for once might be nice!"


A deathly silence fell over the medbay at Knock Out's words. The young mech quietly reviewed what he had just yelled, and slapped a hand over his faceplates.

"Aww frag."

Nightraider's dark grey faceplates drained of all colour as she backed away, her jaw dropping open in horror.

Dreadnought's grip on his laser musket faltered and finally gave out, the gun hitting the ground with a resounding CLANG.

Howlback's optics widened, but she kept her position and started to charge her own weaponry.

"I knew it."

Glit finally emerged from the doorway of the CMO's office and silently padded across the room until he was standing in front of the seething elder mech.

He bounded up onto the berth, keeping his gaze fixed on the ancient features before him.

"Those paint colours. The cloak. The fact that Howlback couldn't get accurate ID readings on your faceplates."

He gestured at the mech's cloak. "That tablet…that's the Covenant of Primus, isn't it?"

The elder mech stared down at him with something that looked like dread on his faceplates.

"And you hold the Quill."

One brief nod was granted to the silver feline.

"A3."

"Yes?"

Glit smiled weakly. "It's not much of a fake designation."

"I had…hoped…that it would be enough."

"Not for those who were built in the earliest vorns of the Golden Age. Not for those who might remember enough to know that the Thirteen weren't always the stuff of legend."

Nightraider's CPU was racing. "The Covenant and the Quill. You're-"

"The Archivist. The Guardian of All That Is and Was." Knock Out's voice was flat.

The elder mech nodded at the shocked group.

"My designation is Alpha Trion. I am the Third of the Thirteen Primes. And we created Shockwave."


TBC

Chapter Text


Cybertron, the Golden Age, unconfirmed location beneath City State of Iacon…


"…Growth state of Project; 96%..."

"…Spark state stable. Solus, he's waking up…"

He slowly opened his…optics? Yes, that was what they were…and tried to focus on the sound of the last…

The last…

Vocaliser…yes, that was it. Not a voice box, a vocaliser, if it was a cybernetic or robotic life form.

He tried to take in a vent of air. It seemed strangely magnified and yet, localised.

He looked down and registered the two filters attached to his…chest vents. Yes, chest vents.

He was a robotic life-form, yet one that still required nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen.

Wait…

Something in his chest surged in time with his…his mind.

Something whispered to him that he should not know that fact yet.

He forced another vent of air through his chestplates and concentrated.

He studied his surroundings. He was in a circular tank full of gestational fluids, with air filters attached to his chest, a…

A gentle tug on the cord connected to his chestplates resulted in a strange inner ache that shook him to the depths of his frame.

A spark monitor then. A spark monitor, and various tubes connected to his…energon valves.

They, whoever they were, were fuelling him.

He stared down at his…well, his body.

Blue and silver plating gleamed in the low light. He raised his…hands…and was confronted by perfect silver digits and spotless silver palms. A glance upwards revealed a reflection of a handsome set of silver faceplates, framed with a royal blue helm, and accented with bright blue optics.

Optics that perfectly matched the ones staring at him through the glass of his…maturation chamber.

And not just one set, but, one, two, three…thirteen.

He suddenly felt very small, and very, very afraid.

Somewhere above his cranium, a speaker clicked on. One of the sets of optics looked down and held a microphone in front of them. "Can you hear us?"

He stared at the speaker and nodded cautiously.

The speaker stepped into the glare of the lights, their plating shining an odd silver-pink. Coils of silver cabling snaked down their back, restrained by two audial fins. Their frame was covered in the same silver-pink plating, and on their back was something that looked like a giant lever.

The speaker raised their…no, her, it was a femme for certain, her hand and spoke again into the microphone. "My designation is Solus. Do you know your designation?"

He shook his head, fear building in his tanks.

Solus looked to her left and right before making a sharp gesture with her free hand. Her optics narrowed as she jerked her head and pursed her lip plates.

Somehow, he recognised the gesture as one aimed at a person or group of people to step forward, and there was no option to refuse.

The resulting shuffles and clanks translated as staticky bangs through the speaker as several mechs stepped forward. "There are other here who would like to meet you. May I introduce them?"

He nodded, even as his hands clenched into panicky fists.

Solus studied him for a moment, concern in her optics, but pressed on. The cluster of mechs had formed a rough semicircle around the gestation chamber, their optics all fixed on him.

She patted the arm of the first mech, whose clockwork-covered armour gleamed silver under the lights.

"Vector."

A scarlet and purple mech with silver whiskered faceplates stepped forward. "Alpha Trion."

The shortest mech, clad in battered blue and white plating, flipped him a salute and a smile. "Micronus."

The next mech cleaned a pair of what looked like magnifying lenses before settling them against his nasal plating and peering down at the chamber. "Alchemist."

Odd shapes slithered and flickered across the new mech's grey frame as he crouched down low enough to look at the sparkling. "Nexus."

A massive silver beak and twitching wings framed this mech's faceplates. "Onyx."

Six insanely jointed bronze and silver limbs swung out of the shadows. "Amalgamous."

Golden organic robes covered this mech. Two extra sets of optics adorned his face, his gaze sharp. "Quintus."

Two horns twisted out of the tall mech's green cranium, while a mechanical cape clanked against his back. "Liege Maximo."

A tall black and red mech gave him a penetrating look, one he could feel himself shrinking from. "Megatronus."

Only the barest hint of a silver and blue frame was visible under the lights. "The Arisen."

He wasn't sure how, but he knew something was missing.

Something from almost all their designations.

Something Solus refused to speak.

The femme nodded at The Arisen's retreating form and moved towards the one mech who had not stepped forward. Here, she paused and shot a worried look at the last figure still hidden in the shadows.

"We are the Thirteen…and this is our leader. Prima."


White plating accented with neon blue shone under the fluorescent lights. Armour that looked like silver robes cast flecks of fire over every surface. The polished hilt of a platinum great sword gleamed just over a perfectly sculpted shoulder-plate. Triple-crested audials threw pointed shadows over the tiny frame in the tank.

Piercing blue optics studied him closely, as if waiting for something to appear.

He tentatively met the tall mech's gaze with his own and froze.

The voices in his head started to scream.

Prima…Prime…Primus…

That face…

His frame started to shake.

Prima…Prime…Primus…

Those optics…

His vents slammed shut.

Prima…Prime…Primus…

That was…

"Solus, what's the slag's happening!?"

Prima…Prime…Primus…

The word Solus wouldn't say…

His tanks roiled.

Prima…Prime…Primus…

"He's going into sparkshock, I knew this was a bad idea!"

The Thirteen and their leader…

Prima…Prime…Primus…

Prima…the first…

PRIMA…PRIME…PRIMUS…

"Stabilise him, now! We can't lose this one…"

Primus's first. Primus the god. Primus the creator. Primus and his opposite.

PRIMA…PRIME…PRIMUS…

Unicron. The opposite of Primus. Primus fought Unicron. Primus won. Unicron will rise again. Primus must win.

His optics widened in horror.

PRIMA…PRIME…PRIMUS…

Primus's creations. Primus's army. Primus's weapon.

His CPU surged.

PRIMA…PRIME…PRIMUS…

Primus Dawn. Primus must rise.

Project Primus Dawn.

His scream was drowned out under the gestational fluid as his frame spasmed.

PRIMA…PRIME…PRIMUS…

They were the Primes. They created him. He was the Project. He was Primus Dawn. He would be Primus's weapon against Unicron.

PRIMA…PRIME…PRIMUS…

The last thing he saw was Solus smashing the side of the tank with a giant hammer and reaching in to grab him by the back of his neck.

Alpha Trion darted forwards, wires clutched in his hands. Electrodes suddenly pierced his temples. Energon flowed down his faceplates.

PRIMA…PRIME…PRIMUS…

"300 volts, NOW!"

Electricity burned across his CPU, and everything went black.

Prima…Prime…Primus…


Cybertron, City State of Polyhex, Darkmount Fortress…


"…We assumed that it was seeing Prima's face that triggered the memory cascade. He was forged in the image of Primus…Solus had wanted to exercise caution, but she was overruled."

Perched on a battered stool, Alpha Trion kept his optics fixed on Shockwave's disembodied cranium as he haltingly recounted the tale.

"We purged his memory of anything to do with the Primes, Primus or Unicron. It was safer for his wellbeing that he could not recall them."

The old mech closed his optics.

"We replaced his emotional processor with a stripped-down version. He would be able to identify emotions, but not feel them himself. Emotions would- they would be dangerous, to him and all those around him."

The gun-former's shattered optic stared blankly upwards.

"His plating was changed to a sparkling version of the form that you see now. Nothing was left that could trigger even the most insignificant file in his CPU."

Alpha Trion opened his optics and finally stared up at his aghast audience.

"When he came online again, he recalled nothing of that first experience. Solus and I, we kept the others at a distance until we were certain that there would be no further memory issues…and then…"

Nightraider remained stony-faced as she flicked the safety catch on her sedative pistol on and off.

"Then…?"

"And then Prima asked me to use the Quill to make certain of it."

The implications of this statement filtered slowly into the CPUs of the assembled mechs and femmes.

Glit finally spoke.

"Metaphysical shadowplay. You rewrote his mind with an artefact from prehistory."

"His memory, his mind…and the events leading to his destiny. His destiny, however, will remain as it has always been."

"Which is?"

"When Unicron arrives, Shockwave will transform to his true size. He will fire upon the Chaos Bringer. He is Targetmaster to Primus himself, and he will preserve and defend Cybertron according to Primus's will. And he will die for Cybertron, should it be needed."

Nightraider's CPU was screaming.

"And what if he doesn't want to die for Cybertron?"

"He does not have the luxury of choice. This is his destiny, it has been written as this for thousands of vorns, and I will not change it."

Silence fell over the lab as Nightraider tried not to purge, Howlback and Glit stared blankly ahead, and Knock Out slowly backed away from his tutor, his optics filled with fear and disgust.

Dreadnought finally spoke, his vocaliser staticky with fury.

"Did you ever ask him?"

Trion stared at him.

"Did you ever ask him if he wanted this?"

"No. That would have been a futile endeavour."

The engineer stood up from where he had been slumped next to Shockwave's berth.

"Why. Not."

"Because he has been programmed not to know of his destiny until the Chaos Bringer approaches Cybertron. When that occurs, his systems will engage their emergency protocols, and he will transform as it has been written."

"'As has been…'?!"

Dreadnought took in a shaky vent of air. "You could've just designed a giant gun for Primus and stashed it somewhere under Iacon with a big-aft 'Do Not Touch Until the Endtimes' sign. Why Shockwave? Why a sentient gun?"

Trion's vocaliser was soft. "Because we had trialled it, and the power output was nowhere near enough to put even a dent in Unicron's plating. For that kind of power to be accessible, we needed a spark."

"…So, you made a living weapon, who has no knowledge of where he came from, what he is, or what he will be, and is incapable of understanding what makes a sentient being sentient." Dreadnought started to pace up and down the narrow strip of flooring between Shockwave's berth and the medical team, his optic band flashing a sickly pale yellow.

"Forget any basic arguments about morality, this violates so many conventions of war and genetic engineering on so many worlds, I can't even begin to count them."

The Third of the Thirteen stood up, blue optics cold and calm.

"We intended, and still intend, to preserve our planet and our race from the greatest calamity in the known universe. If Shockwave does what needs to be done, fulfils his destiny and Unicron is destroyed, will anyone on Cybertron really quibble about how it was brought about?"

"I would know!" Dreadnought gestured to the silent, horrified medical team behind him. "They would know!"

"And this is why we restricted his emotional processor. So that he would not be restricted by his own or anyone else's compassion or fear."

The same cold blue optics narrowed as they studied Dreadnought's seething frame.

"Or love."


Knock Out flinched at the sound of the medbay doors slamming shut and slowly ex-vented.

He didn't bother helping his tutor pick himself up from where he had landed after Dreadnought had delivered a beautiful right hook to his faceplates.

He watched as Nightraider crouched down before the Prime, a look on her faceplates that promised only pain. Trion glared up at her, the back of his hand pressed to his energon-covered nasal unit and his left optic flickering from where it had cracked on impact with Dreadnought's fist.

"Do not tell me I deserved that."

"You deserve a broken spinal strut and your innards to be dropped into the Pit before your optics, but I'll settle for that punch."

One black hand darted out and pinned Trion's pointed helm crest to the wall. A laser scalpel was pressed against his jugular tubing with a disturbing sizzling sound.

"You will help me save Shockwave and his sparkling. You will help me get him back to full health, and you will tell him why he was constructed. Then you will leave Darkmount, and never come back."

"And if I refuse these terms?"

Nightraider's lip plating twisted itself into a leer worthy of a serial-killer. The scalpel moved just enough for a dribble of energon to emerge from Trion's jugular tubing.

"Then I get to find out what it takes to kill one of the Thirteen."

A tense silence fell over the med-bay. Trion's optics darted swiftly between the femme crouched before him, the silver feline perched on Shockwave's berth, and his young apprentice, arms folded across his curved chestplates and his faceplates set in cold revulsion.

He sighed and looked away.

"I believe you have three orns at the most before both sparks begin to fail irrevocably. Get the protoform's frame prepared if it isn't already, and your neo-natal cot needs to be set up and running at the highest possible support setting."

The laser scalpel was withdrawn.

"Glit, surgical prep and continue dual spark monitoring. Knock Out, neo-natal cot, then get started on cleaning the rest of Shockwave's frame. Ask Glit if you don't know where stuff is."

The femme jet stood and turned just enough to catch Howlback's gaze. She nodded once. "Any and all communications out of the med-bay will be prohibited. The entire medical wing will be on lockdown, essential personnel only."

Nightraider narrowed her optics as she glared back at Alpha Trion.

"You are staying in here for the duration, so pick a berth. Any non-medical requests go through Howlback. She won't approve any of them, which will at least give me that nice warm glow of petty satisfaction." She clasped her hands together in mock delight.

The old mech poked warily at his still-tender nasal plating. "And what precisely will you be doing?"

"Trying to repair some of the emotional trauma you just inflicted upon my chief engineer."

She sucked in a vent of air through her dental plates and reluctantly strode out of the med-bay.

This was not going to be pleasant.


Dreadnought hadn't bothered locking the lab doors for once, so she tentatively stuck her head around the hatchway and scanned the room.

The mess of scrap metal covering the floor gave her some indication of her best friend's mental state as she picked her way through the lab. A pile of reinforced cybertonium plates had been shoved sideways off one of the giant storage units. Several previously neatly organised boxes of wires and spare transistors lay in a pile beside the east wall, and the nearest window panel had several fist-sized impact marks sprawling like cyber-arachnoid webs across its surface.

Nightraider finally spotted the battle cruiser slumped beside his workstation, his optic band flickering between yellow and amber. His hands rested in his lap; the plating was cracked and thin trails of energon oozed from his servo joints.

The shaky, fluid-filled venting made her bow her head in sympathy.

"Dreadnought?"

He looked up just enough for her to see the trails of cleaning fluid spilling out from under his optic band.

"Dreadnought…"

She clambered over a pile of fuel pipes and finally escaped the chaos of Trypticon's spare parts repository just before Dreadnought's faceplates crumpled in sheer agony. He pressed his damaged hands to his optic band and started to rock desperately back and forth.

Not caring who might see her, she managed to scramble into the battlecruiser's lap and wrapped her arms as tightly round his neck as they would go, burying her face in his shoulder-plates.

His arms tightened around her frame, great grey swathes of plating crushing red and black wings against his chest.

It took her a few moments before she realised that the horrible, high, keening wail echoing around the lab was coming from him.

It was the sound of a being that had been pushed beyond sparkbreak and into pure, absolute grief – unleashing all of the emotions she knew he had been suppressing from the moment he had first encountered the cycloptic Military Ops officer.

She closed her optics and let her own tears fall.

The wail finally stuttered and became a mess of broken sobbing.

"H-He was m-made f-f-or that…"

She clung onto him as tightly as she could.

"They…they di-did that to h-im and-and he di-idn't get any ch-choice…"

She fought down the sob building under her chestplates.

"They m-made him so he can't…he can't feel…"

Dreadnought pressed his face into Nightraider's shoulder-plates.

"…He c-can't…he can't…love…"

The sob fought its way past her vocaliser.

"…I'm sorry. Dreadnought, I'm so, so sorry…"

For what seemed like forever, the tetra-jet and the battlecruiser simply cried and clung onto each other as if they were drowning. There was no need for words, and Nightraider wasn't even certain of which words to say. Nothing she said would be able to touch Dreadnought's spark or mind until he came back to himself, and before that could happen, he needed a long-overdue crying jag. Letting him soak her plating in his tears was the least she could do to help him.

The battlecruiser finally lifted his head after about half a joor, his optic band and faceplates drenched with optical fluid.

His vocaliser stuttered as he took a much-needed vent of air.

"What they did to him…the Thirteen…"

Nightraider braced herself mentally for what was coming.

"…It…it means Shockwave will never feel anything for anyone except tolerance."

She pulled back from him just enough to be able to see his faceplates.

"…He'll n-never love me…the way I love him."

She smiled weakly and cradled his face in her hands.

"Oh…never say never."

Dreadnought wrapped his hands around Nightraider's and stared sadly at her. "Don't- don't patronise me, 'Raider."

She leaned forward to press her helm against his and closed her optics.

"…I don't know what else I can say, Dreadnought. I don't know enough about what's been done to his emotional processors to try and reverse it, and at this point, I don't even know if it's safe to try."

"…Would you? I-if you could?"

She opened her optics and stared warily at him. "…Would you want me to?"

The battlecruiser fell silent at that, save for the odd hiccupping sob.

"If you love him—I mean, if you really do love him, despite all that he is and all that was done to him, then changing him to fit your desires and your intentions…that's even less of a choice than the Thirteen gave him."

She tilted his head up so that their faces were barely a nano-millimetre apart.

"Love isn't conditional. Your love has never been conditional. You're better than that."

Tears still streaming down his cheekplates, Dreadnought silently closed the distance between their faces and kissed her.

Stillness fell over the lab as they held each other close. There was no passion or attraction in the kiss; only desperate sympathy and a need for mutual comfort, along with the warm safety they always felt in each other's company.

Both of them knew the other was imagining the respective mech they had fallen in love with.

They finally broke apart after a few sparkbeats. Nightraider slid down Dreadnought's chestplates to settle more comfortably in his lap, and Dreadnought wrapped his arms around her and rested his helm against hers.

He choked back a sob and stroked her spinal plating.

"Primus…this never would've happened if I'd had the sense to fall for you instead."

She let out a small, mirthless snort, which was quickly ruined by a hiccup.

"Ditto."

She wiped her optics with the heel of her right hand.

"Unfortunately, we're the pair of idiots who fell for the two Thirds-in-Command of the Decepticon Empire. Pretty sure that means we both got a common-sense bypass."

Dreadnought sniffled, sighed, and leaned back against the wall, his left hand moving to rest against his best friend's neck struts while the right settled again the curve of her waist.

"So…what happens now?"

Nightraider rested her head against the battlecruiser's chestplates. "We operate ASAP. We aim to save both, if we can."

"And if we can't?"

"We aim to save the sparkling."

Dreadnought's head snapped downwards to glare at her.

She met his glare with a raised digit. "Ah-ah-ah. Hear me out."

He raised a distrusting eye-ridge.

"We aim to save the sparkling because the sparkling is the unknown variable in this situation. Shockwave - if what Trion says is true and he's destined to do what he's supposed to do, then his survival is guaranteed, or at the very least, much more likely than that of the sparkling."

The glare morphed into a thoughtful frown.

"Trion's confirmed that he's prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure Shockwave's survival, including shadowplay and apparently rewriting the future for Cybertron's gain. If there's even a chance that Shockwave might fade out, I'm willing to bet that he'll either interfere, or he'll use the Quill again."

The frown turned pensive.

"In all the histories and myths about the Thirteen, Alpha Trion was only ever the Archivist. There's no record of him having surgical skills like Solus or Alchemist, and it sounded like a team effort to remake Shockwave that completely after he came online. And if Prima asked Trion to use the Quill to make sure Shockwave stayed the way he was…"

"…Then he could be persuaded to do it again."

"If Shockwave's condition goes downhill enough to warrant it."

The battlecruiser sighed and absentmindedly tapped his digits against her wing.

"What if he tries to do something to the sparkling?"

"…I've made it clear that should he refuse to help, or if he hinders us in any way, I will personally make sure all the energon in his frame exits his body extremely fast and very painfully."

He squinted down at the back of her cranium. "Does that technically count as hubris?"

"Only if it's against a god, I think. Trion's mortal enough."

Nightraider leaned back slightly and wiped the last traces of tears from Dreadnought's faceplates.

"Come on. We've got work to do."

She slid out of Dreadnought's lap, stood up and stretched. The battlecruiser hauled himself to his pedes and held tightly onto the edge of his workstation.

"'Raider?"

"Hm?"

"I know I don't say it enough but…I love you. You know that, right?"

"I know." She quietly hugged him around the waist. Grey arms tightened around her once again.

"I love you too."

"But, y'know, not in that way, because ewww."

She smacked at his hip plating. "Charming. And ditto."

For the first time what felt like orns, Dreadnought smiled.


Howlback, like felines the universe over, was not fond of any kind of fluid being even vaguely close to her.

A private part of her CPU noted that some vital fluids belonging to Ravage, and Ravage alone, were the exception, and only because he was as fastidious as she was about making sure said fluids were cleaned up after any occurrence that caused the fluids to be shed. And there had been more than a few.

Right now, she was choosing to ignore the proximity of the cleaning fluids as she watched the youngest temporary member of the medical team arrange Shockwave's various limbs and internal systems into something which looked like an expanded diagram of his body. Each part was laid out neatly on the floor of the washracks with notations made on the tiles in permanent marker as to where the part connected to, its function, and any observations on how best to clean it.

Knock Out had raided the stores and had assembled a dizzying array of cleaning products, brushes and rags at Shockwave's pedes. He tested the action on one of the rotary buffers, frowned, exchanged the head for another, gave it another spin, and nodded.

Something about his mannerisms and the way he had previously spoken to Alpha Trion didn't strike her as being completely…Autobot.

The red-plated fledgling glanced up at her with a raised eye-ridge and a smirk.

"Are you about to sit there all orn, or do you intend to help?"

She answered the smirk with one of her own. "Do I look like I am about to help?"

Knock Out chuckled, setting the rotary buffer on the floor. "I would never presume anything of a femme, or of a felinoid. Or a felinoid femme."

"Then there's your answer." Howlback tucked her paws under her chest and let her optics shut half-way, just enough so that she could still spot any untoward behaviour.

Knock Out's smirk widened as he turned away and picked up a sealed canister of hydrogen sulphide. If he had understood his metallic chemistry studies, cleaning each component, treating the resulting waste with hydrogen sulphide and then running it through the various metal cleaning cycles would yield a multitude of metal sulphides. Many of these metal sulphides would replenish the medical store's dwindling reserves, and anything else was a pleasant bonus.

Considering all that he had just learned in the past two orns about the Decepticons, the medical team and of Shockwave, he was oddly keen on easing their burdens however he could.

As for his mentor…

The smirk dropped off his faceplates like so much hot slag. He glanced at the doorway leading into the med-bay and felt his tanks roil in disgust. Trion was bent over the gun-former's spark chamber, taking readings with a laser measure and looking distinctly concerned.

The datapad he was entering his findings into wasn't the Covenant, which was a massive relief.

There must have been something in his expression that invited inquiry, as the head of the Cobalt Sentries sat up and tilted her head quizzically at him.

"How did you fall into his servos?"

He glanced back over a beautifully polished scarlet shoulder-plate and blinked.

"How do you mean?"

"I mean, how does a very young mech, with no obvious designation or lineage to speak of-"

"Oh, thank you very much."

"—come to the attention of the Third of the Thirteen? And not only that, but subsequently get instructed on a variety of subjects, including medicine, chemistry, and theology?"

Knock Out was silent for a few moments as he turned to look Howlback in the optics. He sat down on one of the ledges along the washrack walls, drawing his right leg up to his chest plates and letting his left leg hang down, his pede dangling just above the faded grey tiles. His right arm rested atop his knee plating, while his left hand rested in his lap.

He leaned back and rested his head against the metal plated wall.

"Before the War…where were you from?"

She growled softly. A fair question.

"Stanix. An errand-femme for the Senate, before you ask."

Knock Out acknowledged the information with a nod.

"Because you're a beast-former. There was no question about you staying exactly where you were, having to bow and scrape to so-called better mechs who you could run rings around even if you were half-dead."

She acknowledged the veiled compliment for what it was.

"You had other people's expectations forced upon you, other people's rules and beliefs. When you got the chance to be something more, you took it, correct?"

The tiniest of nods was all he received in return.

"My brother and I were onlined after the War began. I don't remember much about my creators, only that they were kind, and we lived in one of the better areas of Nyon."

He studied his fingertips with a practiced air.

"They were killed in a bombing raid. Whose raid, we don't know. They had left us in a basement dwelling while they snuck out to find energon."

A story she had heard too many times before.

"We had been wandering the streets half-dead for about three orns before an Autobot patrol picked us up. They took us back to Iacon, cleaned us up, refuelled us, and then started arguing about what to do with us."

Knock Out's handsome faceplates drew up into a sneer.

"My brother…is an idiot. He was a cycle or two south of his majority at that point, and he demanded to be admitted to the army corps as a grunt as soon as he took the Autobrand. He's all leap first and think never, and he's convinced that one day, he'll be the next Prime."

His right hand clenched reflexively into a fist.

"They asked me if I wanted to follow him when I was of age. I told them, not a chance in the Pit. Unlike my dear brother, I have a well-developed self-preservation instinct, and I have no desire to die for any particular cause."

His fingers flexed briefly.

"They really didn't like that. Before they could start yelling about it, Trion broke in, said that I might be just what was needed, and dragged me off to his lab."

He took a deliberate vent of air.

"I thought at that point, he was like all the other rusting relics around Nyon. Just an old perv looking for 'what was needed', especially if what he 'needed' was underage. Figured I could play along, wait until the moment his plating retracted, then stab him and run like Unicron was on my heels."

Howlback narrowed her optics. "But that wasn't what he was after."

Knock Out shook his head. "Nothing like it. He sat me down at a desk, told me to read a section of the Covenant of Primus, and asked me what I thought about it."

"Which section?"

"Epistemus, chapter 25, verse 17. The path of the righteous mech is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil mechs. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost sparklings.

And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is Primus when I lay my vengeance upon thee." [1]

He blinked once and sighed.

"Earned myself an apprenticeship and a cycle of cleaning duty for saying it could apply to the Prime and Megatron equally. After that, Trion was determined to make me a 'jack-of-all-trades." [2]

He stretched rather deliberately, stood up long enough to grab a pack of sterile cleaning brushes, and sat down cross-legged on the washrack floor and started to test some of the smaller brushes with his thumbs.

Howlback opened her optics fully and studied the young mech thoughtfully.

Eloquent, compassionate, considerate, practical, vain, self-absorbed, sarcastic, intelligent, wilful, smart of vocaliser, and fully able to back-talk one of the Thirteen without hesitation.

None of those qualities was exclusively Autobot or Decepticon.

He was young, he was rebellious, he was foolish.

What would it take to get him to turn?


TBC