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"A Thing of the Past"

Book 1: Today

Chapter 1: Creation

"Behold, Starscream!" said Megatron proudly, his raspy metallic voice echoing throughout the caverns. "My creations are at long last complete!"

Megatron beamed with evil radiance and he stood on a ledge, overlooking Decepticon operations. As much as he had hated to leave the comfort and isolation of his underwater headquarters, the results of temporarily setting up camp in this oversized cavern had been well worth it. The other Decepticons had been laboring for weeks mixing iridium alloys, forging armor plating, assembling support cylinders, and carefully connecting internal wiring--all according to Megatron's plans. It was rare for the entire crew to be engaged in any project; even Buzzsaw and Frenzy had been summoned.

Starscream wore a smirk that bordered on contempt--not at Megatron (though that was present too), but at the eight gleaming vehicles parked in the pit below.

"If they work, you mean," Starscream goaded his leader, something he enjoyed a great deal. "Even if they don't fall apart, they won't be any smarter than those Mesozoic morons, the Dinobots!"

Normally Megatron would have knocked his insubordinate officer off his boots and sent him crashing to the cavern floor, but Megatron was simply in too ecstatic a mood to become perturbed. "Ah, that is where you are wrong, Starscream." He began strolling beside the wall of the cavern, which formed a natural curving ramp to the floor of the huge cave. Starscream followed, more out of curiosity than obedience.

"My new warriors will never fail me," Megatron explained with confidence. "The cybernetic connections to their personality components are flawless--unlike those prehistoric Autobot rattletraps," Megatron continued. "They will function as well as the day they were programmed by Vector Sigma."

A few of the other Decepticons shuffled nervously--they were expecting yet another altercation between the two power-hungry Decepticons.

"I'm still not convinced," Starscream taunted.

"Then it is time for my creations to awaken," Megatron countered coolly, allowing himself a coy smile. "Constructicons--transform!"

The heretofore inert vehicles suddenly sprang to life, each performing its own unique conversion into humanoid form. In seconds, eight green-and-purple robots stood at attention before Megatron.

"I am Megatron, your new master," the Decepticon leader announced. "I have liberated your personalities from storage and manufactured these new bodies for you. This planet is called Earth; our mission here is to destroy the Autobots and collect enough energon to return to Cybertron!"

The Constructicons muttered amongst themselves for a moment or two, apparently digesting this piece of news.

Megatron cut the murmuring short by clearing his throat. "And now to ensure that each of you has survived the transition, state your names to me."

"Well, I'm Scavenger," the first one said. "I'll do my best to make you happy, sir."

"My name is Hook," another said. "You can expect nothing less than perfection from me."

"Call me Long Haul," the third one said. "When do we get to see some action?"

"It won't be soon enough for Bonecrusher," another exclaimed. "I can't wait to start!" He ground his heel into the dirt for emphasis.

"And I'm Mixmaster," announced the next one.

"I'm Scrounge," said another. "I'm g-grateful for your having brought me back to life, mighty Megatron."

"I am known as Steamer," grunted the one next to Scrounge.

"And I am Scrapper," the last one announced. "As leader of this group, I will ensure loyal service from each and every one of us, noble Megatron," he said.

"Excellent!" Megatron said. "What supreme irony that these machines, fashioned after vehicles humans use to build... will be their destruction! You understand your mission, Scrapper?"

"Perfectly," Scrapper responded with a salute, accessing his internal directives. "The flesh creatures' energy disks and power converter will soon be yours, Megatron."

"Then, go!" Megatron commanded, and the eight vehicles reverted to their Earthly forms, driving in formation into the vastness of the desert.

The mission was a success. The Constructicons soon became a staple of Decepticon operations, serving to further enhance the fear and awe associated with the purple insignia. Regarding the human populace, the Constructicons had the fringe benefit of blurring the lines between Autobot and Decepticon even further; the once-steadfast rule of "the ground vehicles are the good guys" no longer applied.

Scrapper, meanwhile, quickly became an accepted member of the Decepticon social crowd; he possessed charisma and spirit that helped the others overlook his newness to the group.

Scrapper accepted his place in the hierarchy, despite the decidedly alien environment. It took a month or so before he was able to recognize the Decepticons in their Earthly forms (even his own team--he tended to confuse the vehicular-mode Scavenger and Scrounge quite often). He cared very little for the barren mudball which the Decepticons were determined to conquer. He longed for the graceful, symmetrical beauty of Cybertron; its precisely engineered structures flowed into one another like a dream. Each magnificent spacescraper erected blended seamlessly into the ever-intricate composition, becoming yet another part of the greater whole that was Cybertron

Earth, in a case study of hideous contrast, was little more than a collection of poorly-erected shacks, thrown together using clay and dead plant life, scattered across the landscape without form or meaning. It was a travesty to architecture that deeply offended Scrapper.

However, his loyalty to the Decepticon cause was part of his programming, so he carried out his missions dutifully.

And yet, he couldn't help but wonder about the conditions which led to his personality component being encoded and placed in storage. He knew nothing of his former life, except for what Megatron had mentioned in passing during his first few days on-line.

"You were rescued from certain death," he had told Scrapper. "That is all you need to know."

Megatron treated it as insignificant; perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, it was. But the knowledge that his previous life existed at all ate away at a small piece of Scrapper's mind, like the ebbing of the ocean tides slowly wearing away at the dunes.


Chapter 2: Resolution

Scrapper had only been a Constructicon for eight months, and he already hated it.

Certainly, the job itself was satisfying. Scrapper lived to design and build, and he relished each new project like it would be his next masterpiece... whenever he actually got to build it, that is.

The interruptions to his work, however, were nothing short of maddening.

Megatron simply didn't appreciate the Constructicons' abilities, nor utilize them to their full potential. He sometimes had them set up temporary bases for various Decepticon operations, but mainly their time was spent erecting Megatron's latest superweapon. It was transfixatron this, or ruby cannon that. Scrapper was an engineer, not a munitions designer. He had finally become thoroughly disgusted after the last ore-mining operation; it was simply too petty an assignment for Scrapper to be bothered with in the first place. He had let Hook run the show, if only so Scrapper himself didn't have attempt to hide his overwhelming disgust when he reported to Megatron. He had dozens of other projects, still in the planning stages, that had been long-abandoned... but not forgotten. Each project relegated to the back burner only added to the bitter feelings building up inside Scrapper for his leader.

Scrapper had approached Megatron about this--once. At first Megatron had insisted, quite diplomatically, that each superweapon completed brought the Decepticons one step closer to eliminating Optimus Prime and returning to Cybertron. When Scrapper had questioned the efficiency of eradicating the Autobots at all, the diplomacy ended. Scrapper had been lucky to escape Megatron's quarters with only a cannon blast to the shoulder.

Scrapper was relegated to base maintenance for four weeks after that little chat.

Then it was back to more weapons. None of which worked, of course--Megatron had given Scrapper such insane deadlines that even if all eight of the Constructicons were drawing the blueprints, there still wouldn't have been enough time to work all the bugs out.

All this effort just to wipe out, as Megatron constantly referred to them, "those miserable Autobots." At times, it seemed to Scrapper that returning to Cybertron was only a shadow of a goal in the Decepticon leader's mind. Perhaps he had cared about it, once. But more and more, his main objective--indeed, his only objective--seemed to be wiping the Autobots off the face of the planet.

And it wasn't even the Autobots' faults, really. After all, they were only doing their jobs, just like the Decepticons. If Optimus Prime had ever stepped back and taken a long, hard look at what Megatron was trying to do, he might have borne a little less hostility towards him. He might have even helped the Decepticons collect the energon they needed. Then everybody could go home, and Prime's precious humans would no longer be in danger.

But that wasn't the Autobot way--and it certainly wasn't Prime's way. The utter hatred he had for Megatron went far beyond the Autobot cause--it was somehow personal...

Some Autobots did understand, of course. Scrapper had even worked with a couple of them, once. Having explained to Megatron it was merely a ruse to exploit the Autobots' plans, Scrapper had formed an alliance with Grapple, the renowned architect, and his assistant. Scrapper was clearly superior to the Autobot, but he admired Grapple's drive. It was rare to find a kindred spirit, one who seemingly accessed inspiration on tap...

"I think we should approach this from an Erectarian perspective," Grapple muttered, mulling over his blueprints.

"No, no, that's ridiculous," Scrapper protested. "Erector was an architectural genius on Cybertron... when it came to one-level defense bases. But this power tower must be defined with grace and beauty... not the cold, hard lines of a fortress."

Grapple raised a gun-arm to his chin and spent a moment in deep thought. "Mmm, perhaps you're right," he sighed.

Steamer knocked loudly on the doorway of Scrapper and Grapple's recently-built office. "We're ready to lay in the foundation," he growled. Almost as an afterthought, he added, "Mixmaster wanted to know if you wanted any special alloys mixed in, or just the standard cyber-cement. I told him to ask you himself, but he--"

"Tell him to do it exactly as we planned!" Scrapper roared. "Now get out there!"

Grapple jumped noticeably.

"I have found, with Steamer," Scrapper said to the Autobot apologetically, "that the only way to get him to listen to me is to get even angrier than he is."

The two partners in this great venture, Autobot and Decepticon, stepped outside to supervise the operation.

Scavenger and Bonecrusher appeared to have just finished digging the pit for the tower's foundation; Hook was already guiding Mixmaster back to begin pouring the concrete. Scrounge and Long Haul were just finishing carrying off the excess soil.

"We'll need at least eight hundred astro-liters of your cement, Mixmaster," Grapple said, double-checking his notes.

"You got-got-got it, Grap-Grap-Grapple!" Mixmaster cackled happily, starting his mixing drum on a steady rotation as he began pouring concrete into the pit behind him.

"He certainly is enthusiastic," Grapple said with a half-smirk.

"An astro-pint or two short of an energon cube," Scrapper nodded, "but he's a hard worker." Ever since the Constructicons had been knocked into a river of molten lava by the Dinobots, Mixmaster simply hadn't been the same.

Scrounge approached Scrapper the way a beaten dog approaches its master. "There were some potentially valuable, er, that is, useful metals in the soil from the digging site," he said, cowering.

"As soon as you're done here, have Steamer help you refine them," Scrapper said. If Scrapper could truly have been said to have a least favorite teammate, Scrounge would definitely have qualified.

"You know," Grapple said, beaming with pride, "at first I had my doubts about you, Scrapper. But I believe we can really make this project a success."

Scrapper only cleared his throat, averting his gaze. He wasn't entirely sure anymore whether he actually meant to betray this Autobot. Originally, he had simply planned to build the tower and be done with it; he hadn't counted on forging such a perfect rapport with Grapple, the only other true artist on Earth. While the tower would benefit the Decepticon cause enormously, to hand Grapple's creation over to Megatron would effectively sever Scrapper's partnership with him. If Scrapper remained allied with the Autobot, however, this tower could be just the beginning.  "In for an energon chip, in for an energon cube," as the saying went.

But what did that mean? Defection? Scrapper's loyalty coefficient nearly short-circuited at the notion. As much as Megatron had rubbed him the wrong way lately, Scrapper was still a Decepticon under his command. He could never directly disobey Megatron's orders.

And anyway, it was doubtful Optimus Prime would allow the Constructicons into his ranks again... at least, not without using more of those mind-altering dominator disks. Scrapper's mind was his own, and no one had the right to force loyalty or servitude upon him.

Working with the other Constructicons, and an Autobot named Hoist, Scrapper and Grapple had built the gigantic solar power tower, designed to create hundreds of thousands of energon cubes. In the end, Optimus Prime--lacking tolerance for anything remotely associated with the Decepticons--destroyed the tower. Of course.

And as if that hadn't been bad enough, Megatron had demoted the Constructicons a few months later. No write-up, no performance review. They were reduced to performing menial labor around the base like they were some kind of maintenance crew. When asked why, Megatron had explained that newer troops like the Combaticons and Stunticons still required training, and needed the benefit of working close to Megatron. It was doubtful, however, that there was a Decepticon on Earth who didn't know the real reason: The Constructicons-- particularly Scrapper--were not to be trusted.


Chapter 3: Bottom Rung

Scrapper surveyed the main corridor of the Decepticons' Earth headquarters and let out a long, exaggerated sigh. He shook his head slowly to himself and produced a small welding gun, tending to one of several hundred microscopic flaws in the walls.

It required a dedicated schedule of regular maintenance to keep the base operational. The base was actually a space cruiser--designed and built with Decepticon precision, but made of shoddy Earth materials. It had only been intended to last long enough to get Megatron's army back to Cybertron; it was never meant to be a long-term base of operations, and it was certainly not designed for the continuous pressure of resting at the bottom of the ocean.

Scrapper and his "pit crew," as some of the others had dubbed the Constructicons, spent at least 20 hours out of every Earth day plugging leaks, reinforcing armor plating, or replacing electronic components that had burned out due to saltwater exposure. Sometimes, extensive repairs necessitated the Decepticon forces to move out for days on end, usually in a cavern off the Pacific coast somewhere.

And if that wasn't bad enough, Scrapper's team had been reduced to little more than janitorial robots, at least in the optics of the other Decepticons. Soundwave still showed a trace of respect around them, but the rest of the troops continuously teased and tormented them, Scrapper in particular. Scrapper even suspected that they were intentionally leaving the base even more of a mess than usual, just for the satisfaction of seeing Scrapper pick up after them.

Scrapper checked his internal chronometer; it was astro-hour 7:98:93 in Cybertronian time. He had started a few astro-minutes early; it wasn't like he had anything better to do...

The familiar sound of metallic footsteps echoes faintly through the corridor, growing continuously louder. Hook turned the corner of the immense hallway and acknowledged Scrapper with a nod, lugging a molecular ionizer tool over his shoulder.

"Late as usual, Hook," Scrapper quipped sardonically.

"I beg to differ," Hook responded calmly, setting down the ionizer gently. "The time is 8:00:01. I was precisely on time, no thanks to Scavenger's gross ineptitude."

As if on cue, Scavenger appeared, running toward his teammates and nearly running into them. He was panting heavily; he was clearly overworking his ventilator systems.

"Sorry..." he panted, "I'm sorry, Hook... I forgot my... welder." He held the tool aloft as proof of the reason for his tardiness.

Scrapper only rolled his optics, thankful that his expressions were hidden to the others behind his visor and mask. Despite their eccentricities and quirks, Scrapper shared a bond with the rest of his team. One could not spend as many months in close quarters as the Decepticons had and not begin to develop close friendships (as well as intense dislikes).

It was an accepted fact that the members of sub-groups tended to treat one another as brothers; it was a close-knit kinship that went beyond simply being another Decepticon. And even though the Constructicons were the bottom face on the social totem pole, to Scrapper, each of them was part of his family.


Chapter 4: Relocation

Finally, the day came.

Circumstances could not have been more perfect for Scrapper--or any more fortuitous. Shockwave had been seeking permission from Megatron for weeks (actually, nagging was a better word) to divert some of the energon supplies on Cybertron to a new, special project. Megatron was normally against any unnecessary energy expenditures--he had a time table to follow, and he wasn't about to be set back by foolishly wasting energon--but he finally gave in to Shockwave's endless requests. When asked, Megatron had explained to Shockwave that he had finally convinced Megatron of the logic of his request... but Shockwave suspected with nearly 79.1% certainty Megatron had given in just to get Shockwave to shut up.

Decepticon technicians were scarce on Cybertron; no Decepticon had ever been created for the express purpose of being a scientist. Occasionally an unwilling Autobot recruit could be reprogrammed, and even less frequently an Autobot would defect to the other side. For the most part, however, Decepticons simply had to learn the art of repairing something rather than destroying it--and very few had the patience or the skill to master it. It simply wasn't what they were designed for.

The Constructicons were among those very few. When Shockwave had requested technicians for the project, Megatron had almost turned around and canceled the project altogether. Starscream, even with his limited scientific background, was much-needed on Earth, and Swindle was just beginning to learn the trade. That left Scrapper and his crew.

Megatron reclined in his throne, gazing at the Constructicons' latest performance review in his palm. He had made sure that Soundwave keep an audio sensor open at all times for any conversations, any words muttered below normal decibel levels, or the slightest off-handed remark from any of the Constructicons that might lead to the conclusion that they were traitors. After all, Megatron hadn't remained Decepticon leader for countless millennia by surrounding himself with backstabbers. But Soundwave had not been able to find a single piece of incriminating evidence.

Megatron trusted absolutely no one. Yes, there were officers he placed his faith in, but there was not a single Decepticon in whose hands he would place his own life. And second only to the treacherous Starscream, Megatron trusted no one less than Scrapper.

What was it about the Constructicon leader that set him on edge? True, he had engaged in a brief liaison with an Autobot. But Scrapper's plans, though at first unauthorized, led to a great source of energy. It was a deception Megatron might once have attempted himself, in his youth.

No, it was the circumstances of how Megatron came to acquire the Constructicons in the first place that bothered him. Megatron knew practically nothing of their background. After Starscream had revealed several months back that he had once been partners with an Autobot explorer, Megatron had resolved never to allow any more robots into his ranks with secrets from their past.

The problem was, the Constructicons didn't know their secret, either. Since Megatron had acquired their personality components before leaving Cybertron, he rationalized to himself that they existed under a kind of grandfather clause. But though he would never admit it to himself, his lack of knowledge concerning their origins bothered Megatron deeply.

The decision had been made, reluctantly, to allow the Constructicons to join Shockwave on Cybertron. It was only a temporary assignment, but to Scrapper, it was like a vacation.

The space bridge transported the Constructicons (along with some technical equipment and supplies) to Cybertron instantaneously; only a brief greeting and rundown of the mission itinerary were doled out by Shockwave before the Constructicons got to work. They had weeks of systems analysis and computer debugging ahead of them, in what would be perhaps the Decepticons' most ambitious project on Cybertron since the creation of the space bridge: the chronosphere.

Scrapper knew blessed little about time travel theory; while the technology had existed on Cybertron for untold centuries, it was unreliable, unsafe, and highly energy-consumptive. Time travel was also strictly an Autobot frontier. Whether the stigma stemmed from Decepticon resistance to ostensibly Autobot-developed technology was not known. The Autobots once used it as a tool to learn about their past. In the era following the advent of the Autobot-Decepticon war, however, it fell into disuse entirely; there were far more energy-efficient means of learning about history.

Scrapper could only guess as to why Megatron only now sought to claim the secrets of this mysterious technology. Now and again, half-pretending to be immersed in some data pad, he caught snippets of conversations between Shockwave and his sentinel drones. He was able to determine very little, save that Megatron had apparently only recently learned how to access the technology.

The atmosphere at Decepticon Headquarters on Cybertron, to Scrapper's mind, was tense; an unspoken hullabaloo. From all indications, the feeling at Decepticon Headquarters on Earth was evidently much the same; it was similar to the ambience Scrapper had heard described when Megatron was preparing to use the space bridge to bring Cybertron into Earth's orbit. Everyone knew that something was afoot--something important; something powerful; something that could change the Decepticons' lives forever. Starscream had even reportedly been caught trying to sneak a trip up to Cybertron to see the experiment first-hand.

Scrapper felt privileged, in a way, to be part of a classified project. It was the first time he had felt like a true member of the Decepticons in months. Unfortunately, there were still aspects to the experiment to which he was denied access--a subroutine here, a memory cache there. It wasn't enough to affect Scrapper's programming work, but it did arouse his curiosity.

At one point, the sentinels had been doing a stress test on the alloys comprising the shell of the device, and Scrapper noticed a rarity that only another engineer would have spotted.

"The chronosphere hull is composed of quintessium," he said. "But that's impossible! That alloy hasn't been in use for centuries." He took another reading, then peered over at the sentinel next to him. The sentinel jerked its data pad away before Scrapper could have a look.

"Shockwave didn't build this device himself, did he?" Scrapper demanded, his optics wide.

"You do not have the necessary security clearance to receive that information," the sentinel told him. It was a phrase Scrapper would hear frequently from Shockwave's mindless automatons.

Scrapper had also picked up a single phrase, uttered by Megatron over the communicator, which sent chills down his circuits. He had been setting up an ultrascanner on the other side of the room and had not heard the entire conversation, but the words "terminate those robots" rang distinctly clear. Megatron's cold, hollow voice repeated itself over and over in Scrapper's mind.

Terminate. Those. Robots.  The words scratched at his mind and bore deep into his soul.

Feelings of rage and betrayal consumed Scrapper for the remaining days until the project's end. There wasn't the slightest doubt in Scrapper's mind that the moment this project was completed, Megatron intended to have Shockwave kill the Constructicons.

"Hook, we need to talk," Scrapper said, his voice echoing across the expanse of the parts warehouse.

"Then talk," Hook replied emotionlessly, busying himself with loading the last of the electronic components into Long Haul's dump truck bed.

"We may... we may have very little time. We'll have to act fast if we are to--"

Scrapper stopped short as a sentinel intersected one of the storage bays. It proceeded without acknowledging the three Constructicons present.

"Long Haul, grab that cyber-siphon.  We'll need that as well," Scrapper projected, until the sentinel was out of earshot.

"...if we are to get out of this alive," Scrapper finished in a harsh whisper.

Hook's expression was deadpan, but Scrapper had known him long enough to recognize his lack of a response as disbelief.

"You must believe me--Megatron means to terminate us!"

Long Haul chuckled. "Yeah, just when I finally got into a decent gig. It figures," he grumbled.

"If you are correct," Hook inquired, pausing, "what do you propose, Scrapper?"

"We need a plan. Some way to delay work on the chronosphere," Scrapper muttered, more to himself than anyone else. He began pacing frantically.

"But Megatron won't put up with any setbacks in that gizmo's completion," Long Haul said. "We're a couple days behind already!"

This was true. Megatron was vehement about completing the project on schedule--he had rammed that fact down Shockwave's throat several times in the past week. The first test of the chronosphere's functions would be in a few days--not enough time to track the next space bridge destination. And there was no place on Cybertron Scrapper and the others could go where Shockwave's sentinels would not find them. The sheer inevitability of the situation felt like a vice grip around Scrapper's chest, crushing him ever-tighter. He felt as though a solution was staring him in the face, but across a wide chasm. If only he could bridge the gap--

And suddenly, the answer came to him.


Chapter 5: Escape

"We are ready," Shockwave announced to the occupants of the space bridge control room, sounding almost bored, "to begin the first test of the chronosphere. All technicians, to your assigned stations."

Constructicons and sentinels shuffled, taking their respective places. The control room served as the main station for the Decepticon Headquarters on Cybertron; Shockwave oversaw nearly all his strategic operations from this room.

"Quickly, you fools!" Shockwave barked at Long Haul and Bonecrusher. Bonecrusher shot him a nasty look, but obeyed.

"You'd think Shockwave would be happy to be working with someone other than the sentinels for a change," Steamer muttered as he walked past Scrapper.

"Eh, he can relate to the sentinels," Scrapper muttered under his breath, "No personality." He allowed himself a grin, concealed behind his face plate.

Scrounge approached Shockwave and produced a small spherical device with a numerical readout display on the top. It chirped periodically like a squeaky wheel.

"Has the time probe been programmed?" Shockwave inquired, not bothering to look at the Constructicon.

"I did it myself," Scrounge responded happily, obviously fishing for praise.

"Your ability to follow orders," Shockwave said, his single optic sensor glaring, "is nothing sort of adequate."

"Thank you, sir. Thank you!" was Scrounge's response. He scurried off like a rat who had just been given his body weight in cheese.

"Calibrate the chronosphere for forward-directional jump," he ordered. Two sentinels fiddled with one of the myriad control panels.

"The time probe will enter the chronological ether in two astro-minutes," Shockwave said as though reciting the words for the hundredth time. Scrapper realized he was making a log of the experiment. "If we are successful, the probe will rematerialize in normal time at two-zero-zero-two-zero astro-minutes."

Scrapper checked his internal chronometer out of habit. 1:58:13.

Shockwave placed the probe on a waist-level pedestal, connected to the chronosphere by several cords which trailed and curled along the floor of the teleport chamber.

"Activate chronosphere," Shockwave ordered.

Hook and Mixmaster each pressed a button on their respective control panels, causing the monstrosity to let out a steady, almost inaudible hum.

Scrapper had to take a step back and admire this crude contraption. Dome-shaped, green, and covered with makeshift panels and patches, to Scrapper it had always vaguely resembled a techno-turtle. But this was the first time Scrapper had seen it activated--its tiny lights burning bright; its various tubes and wires flowing with energon; its chassis vibrating ever so slightly. The device was almost alive.

Hook took note of a reading from his instruments. "Ready to begin the experiment," he announced dispassionately.

"Activating time slip," Shockwave said. The black, spherical probe began to glow as a beam of white energy emanated from the pedestal, enveloping the probe. The chronosphere itself began to shoot off tiny arcs of electricity, like miniature lightning bolts.

Shockwave ignored the light show, busying himself with entering calculations into his data pad.

Then, there was an instantaneous flash of light that even made Scrapper shield his optics for a moment. When his photocells readjusted, the probe had vanished.

"Did it work?" Scavenger's voice broke the silence, sounding unusually loud to the others.

"We shall make that determination," Shockwave said, holding aloft his data pad, "in another ten astro-seconds."

And then, with absolutely no fanfare, the probe materialized, its faint but familiar chirping once again filling the room. At first, Scrapper thought he was imagining its reappearance. He stepped over and touched its smooth, black surface.

"What is the time?" Shockwave asked.

"2:00:20," one of the sentinels offered.

"What is the reading from the probe?"

Picking it up, Scrapper turned it over and checked its numeric display.

"It says 2:00:00," Scrapper said in a whisper of astonishment. He clutched the probe delicately, as though it would disappear again without warning.

"Excellent," Shockwave said, with no perceptible change to his vocal tone. "Prepare the second probe."

As if on cue, a probe appeared on the pedestal, identical to the first one, except that it was blue.

Scrounge re-entered the room a moment later, carrying another blue probe. Shockwave plucked the probe from the pedestal, replacing it with the one Scrounge had brought in.

Scrapper suddenly realized that the two probes were, in fact, one and the same; this second probe had come from the future.

"Recalibrate the chronosphere for reverse-directional jump," Shockwave commanded. Again, the two sentinels waved their hands over the controls.

"Wait," Scrapper said, his optics beaming with curiosity. "What would happen if we don't send this probe into the past? We already have the results of the time-jump in our hands--this second probe. Why don't we--"

"That is not part of our mission objective," Shockwave broke in. "Deviations from the mission objective will not be tolerated."

Especially from a condemned mechanism, Scrapper added silently.

Terminate. Those. Robots.

Shockwave didn't seem the least bit excited about this project. Where was his scientific curiosity? His thirst for knowledge? He didn't even recognize the potential in such a miraculous device; all he cared about was carrying out the orders of High and Mighty Master Megatron.

Megatron undoubtedly saw the power this creation gave him, however. Scrapper played a few scenarios though in his mind. What would Megatron do first? Go back and stop the Ark from crashing on Earth? Find Optimus Prime's creator and kill him before Prime was ever born? Or go back farther still and alter the very course of Cybertron history? Scrapper's mind reeled at the sheer possibilities.

Shockwave planted the blue spherical probe on the pedestal, which soon vanished exactly like the first one did. Shockwave duly recorded the data from the time jump in his log.

Scrapper saw his chance. Casually, he strolled over to the far side of the chronosphere, facing the space bridge control panels.

He fired a look at Hook, who began to ask Shockwave pointless questions about the experiment: what does Megatron plan to do now; how are we going to keep this secret from the Autobots; and so on. Hook had a way of playing on Shockwave's ego; Shockwave was all too happy to address questions which related directly to his flawless sense of logic.

Scrapper's computer linkup cable issued from his forearm, plugging into the console. While his hands flew across the keypad, his internal systems handled the more complex data stream from the computer. His anti-virus program kicked in automatically; although all Decepticon technology was inter-compatible, the possibility of the computer systems picking up some encoded Autobot program was ever-present.

Scrapper pinpointed the planetary destination in the space bridge's computer banks. Teralica was light-years away, but it had only recently been liberated from Decepticon rule. Scrapper had no doubt in his abilities to conquer the planet once more; after all, if Decepti-Tran could do it--

"What are you doing?" one of the sentinels demanded. Scrapper's hand nearly slipped off the control panel.

"I, er, was resetting the space bridge destination, as per Shockwave's orders," Scrapper said, trying to sound as official as possible.

The sentinel's domed head cocked to one side slightly. "I have no record of that directive," it said, suspicion in its synthesized voice.

"Ask Shockwave yourself, then," Scrapper said, turning the sentinel around in the other direction. As soon as the sentinel's back was turned, Scrapper deftly flipped open the panel on its back and grabbed a handful of wires. They made a satisfying snapping sound, and the sentinel froze in its tracks.

Scrapper fervently worked the space bridge controls, trying to get them on-line. His optics darted back to Shockwave, still engaged in stimulating conversation with Hook. Scrapper just needed a few more seconds...

Suddenly, as though rousing from a reverie, Shockwave spun around and pointed his gun-arm at Scrapper. "Stop!" he shouted. As one, the seven remaining functional sentinels each turned toward one of the other Constructicons.

Scrapper dodged Shockwave's blast an instant before it hit the control panel. Sparks flew; drops of molten metal showered Scrapper's back and legs, stinging like poison. Scrapper twisted around and caught a glimpse of the smouldering heap that had been the space bridge controls.

Hook immediately backed into the space bridge teleport chamber doors, but they refused to budge.

"Scrapper, you incompetent clod," Hook yelled from across the room, swiveling to avoid an attacking sentinel. "Now we'll  be scrapped for certain!"

Fueled by mechadrenaline and an earnest survival instinct, Scrapper transformed to his front loader mode. With a mighty burst of speed, he plowed through three other sentinels, but suddenly found himself backed against a wall with two more approaching. The control room simply wasn't large enough to maneuver, not with over a dozen robots crowding the place.

"You cannot escape," Shockwave's powerful voice boomed. "Surrender yourselves!"

"Make us!" Bonecrusher screamed, leaping onto Shockwave's back. He began pummeling the considerably larger Decepticon, flecks of purple metal flying each time his fists struck. Shockwave groped vainly for him with his one hand.

By now, the others had joined the fight; Steamer and Scrounge had also transformed and were attempting to combat the sentinels in their respective steam roller and wrecking ball forms.  Scrounge had gotten in a few good whacks with his wrecker ball, but they would not last long. Scavenger and Mixmaster had taken cover behind the chronosphere, blindly firing into the brawling aggregation of robots. Long Haul and Hook were lost in the mess somewhere.

Scrapper could do little more than dig his tires into the metal floor. This couldn't be happening! How did the situation escalate so quickly? What in the name of Cybertron was Scrapper supposed to do now? He could never win in a fire fight; more sentinels were undoubtedly on the way. Curse that Shockwave! If only Scrapper had had just a little more time--

Time. Of course.

Scrapper plowed through another sentinel and drove up the domed side of the chronosphere. Returning to robot mode, he produced his laser pistol and shot down a sentinel trying to climb up after him.

Hook appeared, carrying Long Haul's limp form. Hook placed his comrade beside Mixmaster and Scavenger, on the platform.

"Turn it on!" Scrapper shouted to the surgeon.

"Are you insane?" Hook bellowed. "There's no telling what it will do to living robots!"

"We'll be dead robots in about an astro-second if we don't!" Scrapper shouted. "Do it!"

Hook scrambled down the slope of the device and began pressing switches on the chronosphere time controls.

Shockwave had managed to grab Bonecrusher by the waist and hurtled him in Steamer's direction. The impact threw Steamer into Scrounge; all three of them collapsed near the chronosphere in a green and purple heap.

Hook jumped away from the controls an instant before three more sentinels tried to tackle him.

"You will not escape!" Shockwave yelled over the sounds of screams and laser fire, transforming to his gigantic space gun mode before firing a wide-beam burst at the eight Constructicons.

The blast, though bright, was instantly dimmed in comparison to the sudden burst of energy from the chronosphere. It enveloped the eight Constructicons with its energies. The only sound audible in the room was the powerful, insistent hum from the device.

The hum changed to a sharp whine, and the light got brighter. Shockwave reverted to robot mode, blocking his optical sensor with his gun-arm as the entire chronosphere became as bright as a supernova.

Then, as though nothing had ever happened, it stopped. The chronosphere sat noiselessly, its tiny lights blinking sequentially. Shockwave slowly lowered his arms. If he had possessed a jaw, it would have been on the floor.

There was no sign of the Constructicons.

He took several moments to compose himself, then resumed his official log.

"Chronosphere test number two aborted. The Constructicons have vanished into the time stream. Energy expenditure has exceeded budgetary allotment by three hundred forty-two point seven nine percent." He paused to consider how terribly displeased Megatron would be at that.

"Remaining plans will continue on schedule," he continued with an inaudible sigh. "As per Megatron's orders, the shutdown and recycling of the early-model sentinel drones will begin at 3:00:00."

Shockwave had been meaning to see to that for weeks now. The older, treaded sentinels were falling apart, and the robotoid models were performing well enough that Shockwave planned on replacing his entire entourage with them.

It was always a shame to scrap hard-working drones, but Megatron had been insistent in his last communique that Shockwave terminate those robots.


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