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"A Thing of the Past"

Book 2: Yesterday

Chapter 6: Revelations

Scrapper found himself standing in pitch blackness.

His entire body tingled, as though he was recovering from the effects of a null ray.  Straining from having taken too many laser blasts and letting out a pitiful groan, he tripped the internal reset to his optic sensors. Still nothing. Was he blind?

"H... Hook?" he said, not expecting an answer.

A quiet but delirious giggle came from behind Scrapper. He whirled around just in time to see Mixmaster, illuminating his own face from the bottom with a photon light.

"I see-see-see you!" he exclaimed, grinning insanely.

Scrapper reached into his tool compartment and produced his own photon light. He switched it on and shone it around the room, but it was too dark to make out any details.

Another light source emanated from a few mechano-meters away; it was Hook. He was kneeling by Long Haul, who held his head in one hand, staggering.

"Oh... did anyone get the number of that terror tank?" Long Haul said weakly.

"We survived, Scrapper," said Hook. "But where are we?"

Images came flooding into Scrapper's mind like a tidal wave. Shockwave and his sentinel drones. The battle on Cybertron. The chronosphere. Scrapper didn't remember much more clearly than that, but it was clear his escape attempt had failed. The Constructicons had been imprisoned, and were probably even now being scheduled for execution, Decepticon-style. That either meant being smelted alive in metal-dissolving acid or, if they were lucky, being drawn and quartered. Firing squads were usually reserved for Autobot prisoners, the lucky saps--

"Scrapper, look!" Hook was shining his beam upon the unmistakable Decepticon logo centered directly above the doorway to the space bridge control room. They were on Cybertron in Decepticon Headquarters!

"This cannot be..." Scrapper said wearily, "Where's Shockwave? Where are his sentinels?"

"Who cares?" piped up Scavenger. "Let's get outta here while the getting's good!"

Scrapper took one last sorrowful look at the controls to the space bridge; though he despised Earth, he knew he had a better chance of hiding from Megatron there than he did on Cybertron... But wait--the controls were intact!

"Impossible!" he shouted. He was becoming very agitated by this whole situation. "Shockwave destroyed that control panel!"

Scrapper approached it and began entering space-time coordinates, but the controls were unresponsive. Come to think of it, the entire room was without power. What in the universe was going on? Was someone trying to play with Scrapper's mind?

"And look at this," Hook added, directing his light source to a blank wall near the far corner of the room.

"What happened to the teleport chamber?" Scrapper demanded.

"Exactly," Hook said calmly. "Don't you see...? The chronosphere worked; we are in the past. The space bridge has not been created... at least, not yet.  Neither has the chronosphere--it's gone as well."

Scrapper's world suddenly got much brighter. "Let's get out of here," he said conspiratorially. "We have to find out exactly where in the past we are."

With help from the wrecking ball-mode Scrounge, the eight Constructicons broke through the rust-encrusted doors and made their way to the outside world. It  doused them with a yellow brilliance that compelled several of their number to emit involuntary gasps of awe.

"This can't be real..." Scrapper gasped, barely able to form the words. He stared at the buildings before him and the hundreds of cities off in the distance. It was a sensory experience that made him feel faint. "The Golden Age of Cybertron!"

A Decepticon didn't have to be a history maven to have, at least, heard of the Golden Age. The legends told that centuries ago, before the Autobots greedily sucked dry most of Cybertron's power, the planet was literally alive with energy. Thundercracker had said once that the walls hummed when you touched them; you could feel the ground beneath you pulsating like a heart beat. Scrapper had always fancied that these were stories told by homesick warriors who longed to return. Megatron had probably begun the propaganda to serve as an incentive to gather enough energon to return home victoriously. Scrapper had discounted all of this... until now.

"Incredible," he breathed. "Absolutely incredible!" His words accurately summed up the feelings of the others, their powers of articulation nullified by the sheer beauty of their homeland. None of the Constructicons had ever seen the planet before in its pristine, virgin state; the panoramic view kept them paralyzed for what seemed like a lifetime.

"Maybe we'd better get to cover..." Scavenger suggested, "you know, before Shockwave finds us."

Scrapper was about to give the order to transform and search for sanctuary when it dawned on him.

"He won't find us--he doesn't even know us! We are free, my brothers! Megatron's tyrannical gauntlet cannot touch us here--we have escaped his righteous grasp!" A hearty laugh of victory issued from deep within Scrapper's gut--a rarity unto itself.

The concept had been such an unattainable goal for so long that Scrapper had to run it through in his mind several times more to wash away his disbelief. Here he was, in a time before the Great War had even begun. Autobots and Decepticons lived as neighbors under the stars. Where once Scrapper was furious that his rank had been stripped from him, now he was deliriously grateful to be a nobody. Anonymous. Invisible. Even if Scrapper were to meet Shockwave or Megatron face to face, neither of them would have the faintest notion who Scrapper was.

Scrapper's heart became light, the weights of fear and anger and resentment at long last cut free from their moorings. For the first time, he allowed his mental flood gates to open as dozens of long-dormant ideas washed to the front of his consciousness. Scrapper was an artist reborn; the rush was exhilarating and intoxicating.

"This isn't right."

The voice was Scrounge's, but Scrapper had obviously misunderstood the words. "What did you say?"

"We c-can't stay here. You heard what Shockwave told us about altering history. We could change the future."

Scrapper was incredulous. He did a double take. "Don't you understand? Megatron would have terminated us!"

"Who needs Megatron?" Steamer snarled, thrusting a finger up against Scrapper's chest plate. "Your paranoia just about took care of that!"

"Paranoia?!" Scrapper was deeply wounded, but more than that, he was enraged. He had saved the lives of his brothers, and this was what he got as gratitude?

"This is our chance to at long last fulfill our functions!" he said, gesticulating wildly. "No longer will we be pawns in Megatron's game of destruction! Our reign as kings of our own destiny begins now--after we build our own castles from the ground up!"

"If," Bonecrusher said slowly, "that's what you're in it for." He sidestepped in between Steamer and Scrounge, crossing his arms with an air of finality.

Scrapper clutched each of the others with his gaze, as though daring any of them to move. None of them did.

"Fine," Scrapper said, not bothering to hide the disgust in his voice. "Go about your merry ways, all three of you. Who needs you? I hope your treads rust."

Steamer transformed to his steam roller mode, followed in succession by Bonecrusher and Scrounge. They drove off into the plains, soon disappearing into the golden brilliance.

***

Chapter 7: Assimilation

At first, Scrapper had been very reluctant to carry out his plans.

While he still nearly sprang a gasket out of anger at the thought of Scrounge's words some months ago, there was a ring of truth to what he had said. Theoretically, tampering with the time stream was exceedingly dangerous. There was the old example about a robot warrior tripping over an armor bolt and falling, coincidentally dodging a lethal fusion blast with his name on it. For him, life goes on.

Now, say some enterprising time traveler decides to take a trip to his past, and sees a pretty bolt on the ground. He picks it up; the warrior--with nothing over which to trip and fall--is hit dead-center by the blast and dies instantly. Of course, that warrior was destined to be one of the Decepticon leaders; now in the new time line, the Decepticon Empire ended with one gunshot. All because of a single armor bolt. An extreme example, perhaps, but the dangers were clear.

That was the biggest reason Scrapper had been surprised at Megatron's decision to work on the chronosphere. One wrong move, and history would be altered inexorably. Scrapper winced at the thought of some buffoon like Starscream with that kind of power in his grasp.

But trepidation gave way to impatience, and the need for creative expression won out. Scrapper wasn't about to spend his remaining days hiding in some warehouse because he was afraid of picking up the wrong armor bolt. He hadn't risked his life to escape from Megatron's totalitarian rule for nothing.

Scrapper justified venturing out in the world to himself by deciding that it had always been his destiny to travel to Cybertron's past. He was not disrupting some great cosmic plan; he was very much a part of it. It took little persuasion for him to convince the others; they obviously weren't tortured in philosophical angst the way Scrapper was. Whether they didn't understand the nature of the time stream or didn't care, was ultimately immaterial.

Scrapper soon came to learn that his fears were pointless. Even though he had become something of a celebrity in certain circles, for the most part he went unnoticed. Not only was he not endangering history, Scrapper decided, he was incapable of doing so. In his current role, Scrapper would have absolutely no effect on the time line.

The only thing that drew confused looks from passers-by was the Constructicons' vehicular modes; they were as alien and out of place as Shockwave might have been on Earth. Scrapper soon got into the habit of explaining that they were new, experimental, revolutionary designs. (The sheer irony that primitive Earth vehicles could ever be considered "new" or "revolutionary" never failed to get a chuckle out of Scrapper. What struck him as even funnier was the number of robots who actually believed that story.) Scrapper had never quite gotten around to redesigning himself and his brothers into proper Cybertronian forms; he had drawn up some halfhearted designs for them, but his real interest lay vested in the resumption of Cybertronic architecture.

It had been almost a year in Earth time since Scrapper had laid out plans for one of his own projects; while Transformers lived for millions of years, a time span of that length could be an eternity to an artist, starving to express himself. He often shuddered when he realized how much precious time had been wasted pursuing Megatron's pointless endeavors.

Gathering supplies was the easy part; most merchants were only too happy to help out a budding developer, especially one with as much enthusiasm as Scrapper and his crew. Space was still plentiful; Scrapper was genuinely amazed as how much of Cybertron's outermost level was barren of surface structures (Hook had estimated it at 55.1 percent). Scrapper could spend a hundred thousand years erecting his creations and not run out of room.

No, the dilemma Scrapper faced was what, exactly, to build first. He wanted his first creation to last a lifetime or more; it had to be a masterpiece. He worked on plan after plan, making subtle changes in the foundation here, altering the building style there. Scrapper was sure he was driving the Constructicons mad, having to put up with his obsession, but he didn't care.

Then, in a moment of utter clarity that strikes a select few individuals once in an entire lifetime, it came to Scrapper in a dream. Everything came together--the lines, the curves, the angles--in an equation of physics, aesthetics and architectural ingenuity so precise and perfect that Scrapper began work on it that night without even completing his recharging cycle. He poured over his plans for days nonstop, manically scribbling until his gears ground into each other due to being overworked.

It would take months--possibly years--of piston-grinding effort, millions of pounds of raw materials, and enough energon to power Cybertron itself for days. But it would be Scrapper's ultimate creation.

***

Chapter 8: Guardianship

To the millions who lived there and the hundreds more who had visited, Cybertron had been the most ideal planet in the galaxy. Each morning, majestic, metallic towers sparkled radiantly in the light of dawn. The brilliant orange sky instilled onlookers with a sense of warmth and security, complemented by the harmonious, almost musical winds rushing in from the brass canyons. And the shining, golden horizon, stretching into infinity, gave way to a calm serenity as the night sky conquered, presenting countless pinpricks of light as a silent offering until the next break of day.

This had been the cycle on the home world of the Transformers, as it had been for a million years and would be for countless millennia to come. The dark times were long behind them; peace and prosperity reigned.

Then Megatron came.

At first, he went largely unnoticed--an energy raid on one of the local power plants here; an attack on one of the nearby cities there. Most of the Autobots remained unconcerned; some uppity Decepticon's ego was just getting too big for his chassis.

But it soon became all too clear that Megatron's aspirations reached far greater than his predecessor. The former Decepticon ruler, Deceptus, had been intent on conquering Cybertron. His philosophy was one based on function and purpose: the Decepticons were soldiers at heart, designed as military hardware and meant for war. They had been built to fight and conquer... and the Autobots became their new victims.

Deceptus was the ultimate war machine, unstoppable and unmerciful. He could not be reasoned with; he wore his single-minded goal like blinders, oblivious to all else. Determined to rule the planet, he amassed an army of a thousand like-minded robots. He even tried reprogramming those who disagreed with his ideals. Cybertron became his obsession; all other considerations fell by the wayside.

His methodical assaults on Autobot installations hit like drops of acid rain; a single one was insignificant, but a perpetual downpour caused a deterioration. Steadily, almost rhythmically, he wore down the Autobots and their way of life. Happiness ebbed away; Deceptus had begun the Second Cybertron War. His erosion of the planet lasted nearly one million years. The Autobots, nearly extinct, were desperate for a change.

Deceptus had not counted on the Autobots transforming an imminent defeat into their greatest achievement. It was to his credit that he pressed on, even after the Autobots devised a mechanical alteration technology that turned their own bodies into vehicles of stealth and evasion. The Autobot fatality count dropped to virtually zero, and they began to re-take their city-states. As their defenses grew stronger, the Autobots developed strategies to outwit the Decepticons' easily predictable attacks; even with the superior firepower of his thousand-robot army, Deceptus had lost the advantage. He finally conceded; his ultimate fate became lost in the annals of history. With the driving force behind the Decepticon attacks squelched, most of the remaining warriors were content to live side by side with the Autobots.

A few Decepticons, however, would not tolerate being treated as second-class citizens. The Autobots clearly saw themselves as the rulers of the planet; it was a concept intolerable to many of Cybertron's warrior race. Under the guise of peace, they clandestinely developed even stronger weapons and nearly impervious armor alloys. It took them centuries, but they even mimicked the Autobots' powers of transformation. Their alternate modes took the form of fighter jets, battle tanks, and predatory creatures--extensions of their own weapons systems. They also perfected a new flight technology that made them masters of the skies.

Led by a malevolent beast named Megatron, evidently a former follower of Deceptus, they incited a terrible wave of destruction that killed hundreds and wounded thousands more. Megatron developed a reputation for hatred and aggression that overshadowed Deceptus by light years. A fire burned brightly within Megatron... one fueled by a limitless, insatiable hunger... one that could never be extinguished. He would not rest until the entire universe was within his grasp.


For Omega Supreme, it was a blessing.

Not that he approved of the destruction and the killing--it appalled him. In fact, Megatron's renewal of the war reminded Omega a little too much of the days before Cybertron was free... back when he was a Dark Guardian. He would sooner have his diodes ripped out one at a time by a surgeon droid with shaky hands than return to those times.

However, as a Guardian Robot, he existed for a singular purpose--keeping the peace. His role had been largely unnecessary since the downfall of Deceptus; when presented with the option, many of the remaining Guardians had opted to shut down. A number of Omega's friends were stored in some forgotten warehouse, collecting rust. Omega had refused to become one of them. After you'd been alive for a few millennia, Omega realized, you came to understand things on a much larger scale. History had a funny way of repeating itself; Omega Supreme wasn't about to fool himself for a fraction of an astro-second. He would be needed again, eventually.

In the interim, being a Guardian Robot did have its perks. The admiration he had earned just from having survived both Cybertron Wars still tickled his pleasure circuits at times. And he had been more than happy when Septimus Prime himself had venerated Omega in a grand ceremony for his heroic deeds, even offering him a systems upgrade and new paint job. Omega suspected the other functional Guardians still harbored considerable jealousy for him because of this... another thought which occasionally brought a smile to his glass-covered face.

After a million revolutions of Cybertron passed and the Third Cybertron War became a planet-wide concern, Omega Supreme was once again pressed into service. The Guardian Robots managed to keep Megatron at bay, for the most part. What the Guardians couldn't handle, the new Autobot commander, Optimus Prime, and his new defenders took care of. For the time being, the war remained a stalemate.

Quite a few times, Optimus Prime had asked Omega Supreme to join the Autobots. Omega was flattered, but declined each time. He owed allegiance to no one; to become a member of Prime's team meant giving up his autonomy. Omega wasn't ready for that. Still, the Guardians--particularly Omega--commanded considerable respect.

It was no great surprise to Omega, then, when he was asked to attend the opening ceremony for Cybertron's largest and most impressive hamlet ever: the Crystal City.

Omega Supreme usually made it a point to stay away from anything that generated that much hype; nothing that was so richly popular with the masses could possibly hold any interest for him. He had accepted the invitation nonetheless, primarily out of a conscious effort on his part to remind himself how much he despised social gatherings.

He also recognized the need for a Guardian to be present at such a morale-boosting event; while Megatron was not likely to attack the city for energy, it would not be beneath him to destroy it just to undermine the Autobots' spirit. And being a Guardian Robot, Omega felt the need to protect the Autobots as though they were his children.

***

Chapter 9: Chance Meeting

The official opening of Crystal City was a gala affair, with attendance reportedly in the tens of thousands. It was probably the biggest event on Cybertron since Iacon was constructed. While Optimus Prime had been unable to attend, he had made it a point to send several of his Autobots--an event that warranted the appearance of Prime's elite robot team was a rare occasion, indeed.

The opening ceremony itself was unremarkable. Omega stood in a trance-like state, his optic sensors glazing over, as one of the architects who worked on the project rambled on endlessly about the city's design, the craftsmechship, the materials used, and so on. Finally, one of his aides must have informed him he was putting the crowd into a collective coma, because he stopped his speech short and cut the decorative ribbon, marking the birth of the city.

Omega knew practically nothing about architecture, but he knew what he liked. Crystal City was nothing short of gorgeous. Its exterior was composed almost entirely of a lustrous alloy that sparkled vibrantly in the sunlight. Its seemingly random roads and aerial byways wove around one another in a timeless dance. The artificial, pristine beauty of Cybertron itself nearly dulled by comparison. Omega Supreme was in love.

Too large to enter the city limits, Omega was content to remain outside, allowing patrons to pass in and out of the main gates. He was amazed at the sheer numbers of robots who had entered; the city didn't appear large enough to accommodate them. Omega had to remind himself that only the first level of the city was visible; it could have descended ten levels or more into Cybertron's depths. It was difficult for him not to become lost in the flowing beauty of the city's intricate design; several times he found himself stirred from his reverie by a query from one of the attendees, only to realize he hadn't heard the question.

Omega had anticipated the lines to slowly grow shorter as attendance dwindled, but that simply wasn't the case. Nothing spread faster than word of mouth; patrons flocked by the hundreds to see the magnificent sparkling entity. As the daylight began to fade, the Autobot defenders began to direct tourists out of the city. Nightfall was approaching, and the dangers of a Decepticon night strike temporarily overcame the population's fascination with Crystal City.

Omega stood reverently beside the city gates, exhausted. It was extremely difficult for a Guardian Robot to become physically tired; Omega suspected his fatigue was emotional, not bodily. His love for the city had drained him.

One of the architects marched wearily out the gate--the same one who had given the opening speech. He stopped at Omega's foot, then shifted his gaze skyward. He laughed weakly.

"It was nice of you to come, Guardian," Scrapper said. "If I were Megatron, I'd be afraid of coming anywhere near this place as long as you were around."

Omega snorted. "Megatron fears nothing, little one. But your kind words are appreciated."

"No, I mean it!" Scrapper protested. "We need someone to guard the city, at least until this war is over. Won't you consider staying here, at least for a while?" Omega could sense the passion within the architect; the city clearly meant a great deal to him.

Omega stole another fleeting glance at Crystal City, as though catching a glimpse of a beautiful female, then averting his gaze in sudden shame.

"She is truly remarkable, isn't she?" Scrapper said, knuckles on his hips.

"Your design?" Omega asked.

"Yeah. Took me nearly a quartex just to draw up the blueprints. I can't believe I finished it!" Scrapper sighed.

Two more construction robots emerged from the entrance, each looking quite relieved the crowd had left.

"It would be a shame if anything happened to your creation," Omega said, trying to sound as off-handed as possible. "I'll tell you what. I'll remain here for a few days... at least until I get my next assignment."

"It's a deal," Scrapper said.

***

Chapter 10: Trespassing

A few days, as it turned out, lasted several hundred years. Scrapper had a lot more in common with Omega than he had ever thought possible; they were both loners, both disliked authority, and both vehemently disliked Megatron. That in itself had forged the friendship; their differences kept conversation interesting. Omega frequently spent hours relating stories to the Constructicons about Cybertron's past. Very few robots could remember events from times so long ago as Omega could. Scrapper found the progression of each Autobot-Decepticon war absolutely enthralling; he hadn't realized how ignorant he had been of Cybertron history. And Omega seemingly never tired of Scrapper's lessons on the tensile strength of poly-alloys or the 47 main types of Cybertronian building design. Through it all, there was the friends' mutual love for their city. They both worshipped it like a temple; they nurtured it like a child. That, more than anything else, kept them together.

But Scrapper never told Omega that he was from a completely different time.

Ultimately, it may not have even mattered; Omega was very accepting of Scrapper and his Constructicons. The fact that they were Decepticons in heritage didn't seem to matter in the least to Omega Supreme; after all, he had been around before the hostilities between Autobot and Decepticon had ever begun. But somehow, Scrapper was deeply ashamed of having served under Megatron (in what seemed like a lifetime ago); he wasn't sure how Omega would react to that.

Scrapper had never known true friendship before. His working relationship with Grapple had never gone beyond that; outside of their work there was nothing left between them. True, he did share a very real sense of camaraderie with the remaining Constructicons, but even that kind of bond was not eternal, if Steamer and Scrounge and Bonecrusher were any indication. He still missed them sometimes--he had even checked the planet's central database and tried to find them, once or twice--but ultimately, he dismissed them from his mind and left them to their fate.

Sometimes, even Scrapper himself forgot about Earth. Cybertron seemed so natural to him, so completely familiar... in a way he couldn't even explain.  And with each passing year, more and more of the structures on Cybertron, both above and below the surface, were Scrapper's own. At long last, his constant sense of dread, his relentless fear of Megatron--these things had become a thing of the past.


Megatron stood upon the tallest peak of Silica, the largest city in what was considered, technically, neutral ground. Not that it mattered. No Autobot would dare attack him outside of their territory; to do so would be to court death.

He surveyed the valley before him. Things had changed considerably, in the short time Optimus Prime had taken command of the Autobots. His was a much more aggressive stance than Megatron had come to expect from the Autobots. He hated to admit it to himself, but the very real possibility existed that he was on the verge of losing the war.

"Megatron," said Soundwave, his aide, "We'd better get to cover before one of the Autobots spots us."

"When I so order," Megatron said, giving no other acknowledgment of Soundwave's existence. His optic sensors were narrow, focusing intently on a small group of robots just inside Autobot ground. They called themselves the Constructicons.

Without question, Optimus Prime was at the core of Megatron's problems. He possessed a charisma which drew new followers to him like an electro-magnet. The Autobots followed him so blindly that any one of them would no doubt walk straight into a plasma fire, if Prime told him to. Megatron spat in disgust every time he thought about his first meeting with Prime, in which Prime had thwarted what would have been one of Megatron's best prizes ever--an entire power plant.

What was Prime's gripe against Megatron, anyway? He fought with a determination and persistence that sometimes bordered on obsession, to Megatron's way of thinking. Megatron sometimes wondered if, somewhere along the way, he had killed some robot who had been close to Prime--a best friend, a girlfriend perhaps... It was the only explanation for Prime's apparent need for vengeance...

Despite all this, it was the Constructicons who made Megatron the most furious. How dare they erect monuments so close to neutral ground! Were they just idiots, or did they truly possess no sense of fear? They had never shown any sign that they were acting under Prime's orders--they were obviously acting of their own accord. Did they have some kind of agenda? "Erect two buildings for every one Megatron destroys," or some other such nonsense? It was infuriating.

"Megatron," Soundwave urged his leader again, "Prime's got Autobot scouts all over this sector. Your determination inspires me, but unless we want to risk a zone violation, we'd better get out of here!"

"Very well," Megatron said. Soundwave knew how to express urgency without angering Megatron. Megatron liked that in a follower, even if Soundwave did talk too much. If only he could gain the kind of support that Prime had...

Megatron's thoughts seemed to constantly dwell on Optimus Prime. Blast it, Megatron had all but wiped out their peace-loving, inferior breed! Where had Prime even come from? Where had the Autobots been hiding such a formidable warrior, and why didn't he show up sooner? Why did he wait until Megatron had already killed hundreds before he appeared? There was something about him that simply did not compute.

Prime's army was growing at an alarming rate; very few neutrals remained on Cybertron. Those who had wanted no part in the war had fled the planet, centuries ago. Given the strength of robots like Prime and his Autobot defenders, the Decepticons possessed very little strategic advantage. A significant discrepancy in the number of troops could mean the difference between conquering and being conquered.

Furthermore, Megatron was beginning to realize his time was running out. In his youth, he truly believed Cybertron possessed a source of limitless energy. In the past hundred years or so, he had slowly come to realize this was not the case at all. The wars from the past, coupled with the monumental resources Megatron had tapped to build his own army, were finally taking their toll. Cybertron itself was beginning to lose its color, something Megatron had previously only seen with robots who had been completely drained of energon. It was a truly unsettling proposition that the planet beneath Megatron's feet was slowly dying. It saddened the Decepticon leader, but more than that, it made his fury for Optimus Prime even greater. Megatron vowed that once the Autobots were destroyed once and for all, he would begin replenishing the poor planet he had so unmercifully raped in order to bring an end to Prime and his pathetic sense of heroism.

Like a feedback loop, the image of Prime single-handedly gunning down the bulk of Megatron's troops played in his mind, over and over again.


Indignant, Megatron fires. The blast, which would have torn any other Autobot in two, seems to bounce off Prime's chest.

"You--who are you?!" Megatron demands, incredulously.

"Your worst nightmare!" Prime exclaims, like some kind of crazed realvision character.


Oh, to be able to relive that moment again! It was times like this that Megatron sorely longed that it was possible to go back in time. One chance--just once chance! Instead of firing, Megatron would charge the foolish upstart and dig his fingers into Prime's armor plating. He would pull and pry until circuitry was exposed, at which point he would tear away at Prime's insides, relishing the sounds of diodes popping and circuit boards breaking and Prime begging for mercy. Or better yet, Megatron would reprogram Prime--now there was irony! Optimus Prime, a force for evil. The fantasy, as it often did, delighted Megatron to no end. It changed from time to time, but it was all variations on a theme.

But now, a new though dawned on Megatron. What if there was a way to bolster his ranks, and eliminate the Constructicons at the same time? Megatron seemed to recall something that the former Decepticon leader, Deceptus, had once used while he had waged his own little war. Was it possible--

"Megatron, I implore you!" Soundwave admonished. "I have no desire to become a trophy on Prime's mantle somewhere!"

"Yes... yes, of course," Megatron said, shaking off the haze that had washed over him; the two Decepticons took to the skies.

"What a relief," Soundwave sighed, upon approaching the Decepticon base. "You worry me sometimes--but then, I don't possess your intricate mind," he quickly amended. "I could never profess to understand what goes on in that devious brain of yours."

Megatron didn't even hear him. His brain was busier than ever, developing a hideous, twisted plan. A plan of treachery... and revenge.

***

Chapter 11: Confrontation

Scrapper didn't mind a small amount of maintenance work now and again--particularly on one of his own creations.

The Crystal City was remarkably easy to upkeep--which was especially surprising considering the sheer amount of traffic it took in each day. (That was one factor for which Scrapper had not planned; it had worried him for a week or so, until the visits died down to a steady rate of less than a hundred a day.)

For the moment, however, the city was closed down for some minor repairs. Part of the foundation just needed some reinforcing, but Scrapper was never one to do things halfway; he wanted to take the opportunity to fortify the entire bottom level of the city. He hadn't allotted more than a day or two for its completion.

He had also hoped to spend some of that time catching up with Omega Supreme. Although their friendship remained strong, Scrapper's other projects tended to take him away from the city, and from Omega. As he involved himself in more and more jobs, Scrapper had a tendency to immerse himself so completely in his work that his relationship with Omega began to suffer. Scrapper intended to make up for lost time during this visit.

When Scrapper and the Constructicons arrived, sure enough, Omega was patrolling the perimeter in his defense base mode. The city would have looked like it was missing a piece, without Omega there. Scrapper only had time to exchange small talk for a few minutes--but he promised himself that as soon as he'd gotten this work out of the way, he would spend some time with his friend reminiscing.

Taking the lift to the bottom level only took a few moments. The basement was curiously dark--a flaw in the lighting system? Scrapper would investigate that once his task was completed.

"Here we are," he announced to the others, digging his laser welder out of his tool compartment. "We'll start with the inner wall."

When Scrapper approached the access hatch, however, it refused to respond. He pressed his metal palm against the identity confirmation panel. Still nothing.

"Open up!" he commanded, but the voice recognition system was equally as unresponsive. "Open, you stupid door!" He pounded on the huge metal hatch in frustration, the sounds of his fist clanging on the steel ringing throughout the lower level.

Then another sound caught Scrapper's attention: footsteps. The sound was at once familiar and terrifying--

Scrapper whirled around and found himself face to face with his worst nightmare.

"Megatron!"

It took Scrapper a full second to stop panicking; he was in no danger. This was not the Megatron from his past; this Megatron had never even met him. He was no doubt here to express how impressed he was with the Crystal City, or possibly offer the Constructicons a job...

"You already know my name," Megatron said with an air of formality. "What is yours?"

"I'm Scrapper, and these are my Constructicons." He stopped short; he wasn't certain what else to say. He examined Megatron's gaze, searching for a clue as to his presence here, in Scrapper's city, his sanctuary. Did Megatron really have no idea who Scrapper was? Scrapper began to feel somewhat territorial, like a dog with a strange animal in his backyard.

"I have a proposition for you, my dear Scrapper," Megatron said with a broad smile. "I offer you a place with my Decepticons. It's quite obvious you are one of us already..." he said. Scrapper looked down at the Decepticon symbol on his chest. He'd completely forgotten he still wore Megatron's emblem. It felt uncomfortably warm; he desperately wanted to tear the badge from his chest.

"...but I wish to make it official," Megatron continued. "Swear your allegiance to me, and together we will vanquish the Autobots--all of us!" He made a broad sweeping gesture with his hand to indicate the other four Constructicons.

Scrapper was speechless. Part of him would have accepted in an instant... but then, wasn't he already a Decepticon under Megatron's command? No, he had abandoned the cause. Indirectly or otherwise, he had defied Megatron's rule. It was no different than refusing a direct order to his face. What had happened to his loyalty coefficient? Had he truly ever been a faithful Decepticon, or had he merely been too scared of the consequences for disobeying?

But this, Scrapper realized, was not the Megatron he had abandoned. This Megatron had different ideals, different values, different experiences. Scrapper's loyalty was not in question; he had sworn no fealty to the Megatron standing before him now. But would accepting his offer give him a new lease on life... or would it be accepting the same fate from which Scrapper fought so desperately to escape?

"What if I refuse?" Scrapper said.

"You really have no choice," Megatron responded, as though Scrapper's response had been exactly what he expected to hear. Megatron stepped away from the lift to reveal a large, grey machine vaguely resembling a spider. Its tentacles waved aimlessly; its single optical sensor glowed a sickly shade of green. Standing behind it was Soundwave, wearing a vacant stare.

"It works perfectly... don't you agree, Soundwave?" Megatron said. "Activate the device and program it for new targets!"

"Robo-smasher ready, mighty Megatron," he announced in a stoic monotone.

Megatron chuckled to himself. "This little device will change your mind... permanently!"

Scrapper tried to run, but Soundwave grabbed him from behind. Even using all his strength, Scrapper was unable to break the larger Decepticon's grip. He kicked wildly, but to no avail.

"Hold him steady, Soundwave," Megatron ordered.

"Orders processed and executed," Soundwave responded impassively.

Scrapper turned to Hook--maybe somehow he could escape and find Omega Supreme!--but what he saw caused all hope to drain from him.

Bonecrusher, Steamer, and Scrounge were clutching the others in their grasp. Bonecrusher had a prisoner in each hand.

"Going somewhere?" Steamer said with a glint in his optic.

"No..." Scrapper said, staring at his former brothers in disbelief. "What... what has he done to you?!"

"I have restored them to their original states," Megatron explained, gloating. "This wonderful creation initiates a complete memory wipe for Decepticons, eradicating all traces of their past. It creates a brand-new soldier; a blank slate for me to do with as I wish!"

Scrapper was momentarily stunned. Was this how Megatron enlisted new troops--by robbing them of their minds? How many of the Decepticons had Megatron "recruited" this way? Soundwave? Shockwave? Starscream? All of them? Was this what Megatron planned to do to Scrapper? "No... no! You can't do this to me... I won't become your slave! Let me go!!"

The robo-smasher produced a small circuit welder on the tip of its main tentacle. Scrapper knew instantly what was to come, but he couldn't let it happen. He had come too far, been through too much to let it end here! There had to be something he could do!

This time, alas, there was no escape. Even as he struggled wildly in Soundwave's unyielding grasp, Scrapper could feel a piece of armor being cut away on the back of his head. The robo-smasher's interface tentacle made contact with Scrapper's brain, and the universe shattered.

Scrapper could actually sense his mind deteriorating. Gaps began forming in his memory; he was beginning to forget everything he had ever learned. Names and faces, songs, battles, and everything he had ever built; they all became a thing of the past. His thoughts no longer made sense; the fragments which made them complete were vanishing. Frantically, he called to mind the things that meant the most to him--Omega Supreme... Crystal City... Grapple... his Constructicon brothers... his hatred for Megatron. He tried to hold onto these thoughts like they were his greatest treasures, to protect them from the storm raging within his head. But within moments, even that became meaningless; he had forgotten what it was he had been trying to protect.

***

Chapter 12: Immigration

Scrapper watched as the spider-like device injected four other robots, with color schemes similar to his own. He did not understand what he was witnessing, so he thought it prudent to observe until he could learn more.

"Deprogramming completed," a blue robot announced, after the tentacled machine had finished with the last of them.

"I am Megatron, your new master," said the taller, silver robot. "I am building an army to carry out a great purpose: conquering our home planet of Cybertron!"

Scrapper nodded.

"Your robot forms are crude, but they should suffice. Soundwave, take them all back to Decepticon Headquarters for refurbishment," he said.

"Transport drones await," Soundwave said to Scrapper and the other robots, pointing to the access hatch. "Constructicons, return to level one and board the vehicles."

Scrapper did as he was told; this Megatron was obviously in charge. He would sort out his impressions later, when he had a chance.


After arriving at the Decepticon Headquarters, Scrapper and the Constructicons were quickly herded to a robotics factory beneath the primary level. The plant was bustling with noise and activity; there was so much to take in that Scrapper nearly experienced a sensory overload. Some Decepticons were busy welding armor plating together; others were standing at a makeshift firing range, testing crude energy weapons; still others were unloading cases of supplies from several dozen transport drones. Scrapper wondered, briefly, why one would go to all the trouble to hide such activities.

Scrapper and his party were instructed to take a conveyor belt to the far end of the assembly plant. They were met by a silver and red robot, with an oddly high-pitched voice.

"Ah, you must be Megatron's latest catch," he said, grinning mischievously. "I am Starscream; I'll be your host this evening. If you'll just follow me, we'll get you set up..."

"Excuse me," said Scrapper, "but exactly what are we doing here?"

Scrapper must have said something funny, because Starscream suddenly burst into a giggle fit. "Let's just say you're here for a meeting of the minds."


Outside the laboratory, Megatron gazed through the poly-glass as Starscream's medicroids put each of the Constructicons to sleep, them began disassembling them.

Megatron crossed his arms and felt his face crumple into a contemplative frown; he would hate to lose eight good slaves to Starscream's twisted experiments. He had to remind himself that despite his attitude, Starscream wasn't a half-bad technician. Besides, Megatron was sure this new recruit would shapen up, given a quartex or two.

Besides, if this idea worked, the Constructicons would be ten times more valuable than any ordinary slaves. Megatron had gotten the idea from five travelers he had come across, a millennia or so ago; they were able to integrate their bodies into one larger, stronger robot. Megatron had never seen technology like that before. Although it would represent a considerable investment in time and energon that he simply couldn't afford, Megatron was determined to duplicate that power. If he succeeded, it might shift the balance of power enough for him to destroy the remaining Guardian Robots and at long last gain control of Cybertron.

***

Chapter 13: Demolition

"Omega Supreme!" cried Scrapper, driving recklessly across the steel platform leading to Crystal City. The other Constructicons were not far behind.

Omega's battle tank stopped with a halt. The entire defense base folded and contracted as he reconfigured into his robot mode. His face was wrinkled with concern. "What? What is it?"

"The capital city is under Decepticon attack!" Scrapper panted, also reverting to robot form. "They need you!"

Omega Supreme was aghast. Megatron had never dared to so much as step foot on Autobot ground, let alone try to seize Cybertronica. This time he had completely crossed the line. Optimus Prime was no doubt already there, but Omega had a responsibility to--

Responsibility. The city. "But... I can't just leave my post," Omega apologized. Omega's job had gone beyond a promise to a friend. The entire planet loved Crystal City, and Omega could never abandon his duties to protect it.

"We'll guard Crystal City until you get back!" Scrapper offered. He pointed to the eastern spires atop the capitol, barely visible behind the horizon. "Hurry," he urged. "They need you!"

There was no one Omega trusted more than Scrapper, and certainly no one loved the city more than he did. "I'm on my way," Omega said with grim determination.


Once Omega was gone, Scrapper led his Constructicons to the basement, thirteen levels beneath the surface. There, they began an amazing transformation.

Although their appearances had remained much the same after Starscream's modifications, they had been given a new power which no other Transformers on Cybertron possessed. As Scrapper gave the order, each of his warriors assumed their Earthly forms. Then, each of them took on a new form: neither robot nor vehicle, but something far more powerful. Their bodies mingled and connected with one another like magnets. New components emerged: a foot; a fist; a gigantic head. Heretofore invisible panels opened, revealing circuit links and gears that joined with each other, forming a new creation far more devastating than the sum of its parts.

Devastator's optics shone a brilliant red as he awakened for the first time. His bizarre, asymmetrical form could just barely stand upright inside the enormous chamber. He stared at his surroundings, trying to make sense of the thoughts that whirled like eddies inside his mind. From somewhere in the back of his psyche came a single order that could be overheard amongst the din: Destroy.

Devastator pressed his massive arms against the wall and dug his feet into the ground. The foundation of the city had been built to withstand thousands of pounds of pressure per square inch, but it proved to be inadequate against Devastator's might. The poly-alloys began to buckle and rend, as metal fragments began breaking from the ceiling.

--Shouldn't we get out of here before we're buried? an inner voice asked.

Devastator paused, considering the request. His thoughts were a jumble of clipped phrases and vague images; he was unable to sift through the clamor. The concerns became lost in the cacophony and he resumed his attack on the small room that constituted his world. It was the only act which made sense to him.

He punched at support beams and tore away at metal plating relentlessly. A distant thunder grew louder as the entire structure began to collapse. Oblivious to his surroundings, Devastator continued his orgy of destruction.

Charging like a runaway mass-transit car, Devastator smashed through wall after wall. Broken metal stung his face as it struck him; his fists and arms ached from the impact. No directive issued from his brain to halt, however, so he proceeded at a fervent pace.

When the ceiling began to crumble above him, he attacked that as well, flying straight into it using his back-mounted rockets. Producing a gun nearly the size of his arm, he blasted at everything in sight, the searing beams of heat melting holes through the falling platforms. Power generators exploded as the entire city toppled into itself.


Scrapper slowly regained consciousness as the dust settled around him. He was in his front loader mode amongst the tattered remains of the Crystal City. His mission was a success; Megatron would be pleased.

Just then, Omega Supreme came galloping up the platform to the rubble-strewn spot where the city had once stood, screaming in horror and denial.

Megatron had instructed Scrapper not to risk a confrontation. "It's Omega," he told the others, "let's beat it!"

They each started their engines and drove back toward the Decepticon base. Scrapper peered back in incredulity. He didn't know a Guardian Robot could cry.


Omega's life was meaningless.

His dearest friends had betrayed him, destroying the one spiritual bond that drove his existence. He had forsaken his duty to protect the greatest treasure on Cybertron, and now it was gone forever. How could he have been such an idiot? Why did he ever open up in the first place? His subconscious had already began building indelible walls around his heart. He would never expose his feelings again; never risk this kind of anguish for as long as he lived.

Were Scrapper and his cohorts planning this the whole time? Did they really pour oil, lubricant and hydraulic fluid into this magnificent dream, only to tear it down? Decepticons or not, that sort of behavior simply didn't make sense.

No, something must have happened to the Constructicons, some catalyst that caused them to behave so out of character. Those robots were artists; they wouldn't just smash one of their own--

Robots. Smash.

Robo-smasher.

Of course. Megatron had reactivated the unholy device which the previous Decepticon leader had used to suade robots to follow his tyrannical reign. Rumors about its existence had spread like a plasma fire to the Autobot populace. It was a terrible thing, to live in constant fear of one day being pulled aside and stripped of everything you knew, everything you held dear. Omega had no idea how the machine worked, but it had been considered by many Autobots to be a fate worse than death. Once the Autobots had learned to transform, Deceptus simply couldn't get close enough to them to use it; he had reportedly abandoned it.

Omega no longer cared about the Autobots, the Decepticons, or the Third Cybertron War. Megatron had now made a personal enemy. Omega Supreme swore on that day that he would never expire until Megatron's laser core had been extinguished by Omega's own claw.

But first, he had an important task ahead.

***

Chapter 14: Inversion

Scrapper had to appreciate the Constructicons' sheer destructive capabilities. Between the eight of them, they could take down entire structures in astro-seconds that must have taken a lifetime to forge. The sheer power was nearly intoxicating.

Megatron's orders were usually quite specific, and almost always involved the eradication of some Autobot installation. Occasionally, the Autobots would respond in force, and the Constructicons would be pressed into battle. Warfare bored Scrapper; there was blessed little challenge. If it even began to look like the Autobots were gaining an advantage, Megatron would give the order for the Constructicons to unite. Devastator was an unstoppable force of evil who rarely left anything standing--be it buildings or survivors.

Although Scrapper always fought willingly and obediently in the name of Megatron, the battles themselves barely deserved Scrapper's full attention. No, it was the actual projects Megatron assigned him that held his fascination. Demolition was an art unto itself, he was learning--one couldn't simply drive straight through a building's primary level and expect the entire thing to collapse. Charges had to be placed precisely; support columns had to be severed; structural integrity had to be weakened from the inside. Bonecrusher and Scrounge frequently handled the preliminary examination or a potential target, while Mixmaster devised softening agents for the specific alloys of the building. From start to finish, the demolition of a mid-sized fortress took less than a day.

Every so often, one of the Constructicons' potential targets gave Scrapper pause. Some of them looked familiar somehow, as though he were already intimately familiar with its design, its structure, its composition. He usually dismissed it as a feedback loop in his processors and carried on without further concern.


The Constructicons were on, for the moment, what Megatron had called an "extended leave." Apparently he was making preparations for an attack on the Autobots' main base, and needed time to formulate an attack strategy. He had no immediate need for the Constructicons, but he had asked them to remain active, lest the Autobots became suspicious of sudden Decepticon inactivity.

Scrapper didn't like operating without a mission directive, but he did his best to make Megatron happy. He had decided on a seemingly random attack pattern (which had actually been devised by a highly complex algorithm) to make Autobot intervention less likely.

"Where are we headed next?" Steamer yelled over the sounds of the Constructicons' vehicle-mode engines.

"The manufacturing plant just outside the technolopolis," Scrapper said. "The Autobots haven't been hit there in a few days."

"We can't have them getting complacent, now can we?" Hook said, the smirk evident in his voice.

"Yeah-yeah-yeah!" chimed in Mixmaster, taking the lead. "Let's rock-rock-rock their world!"

Either Mixmaster didn't notice the explosion in front of him, or he was simply unable to hit the brakes in time; either way, he tumbled into the pit beneath him with surprising indifference.

Even after the other Constructicons managed to halt in time, some force from behind them sent them all into the cavity as well. It was Omega Supreme.

"You!" Scrapper yelled, incensed. "What do you think you're doing, Guardian?"

Omega picked up Scrapper with his grappling claw and looked at him in the same way he might look at a kitten with a broken paw. "I'm going to help you," he said softly.

For some reason, Scrapper couldn't think of a response to that.


"Quit squirming! This is for your own good!" Omega said to Scrapper sternly. "I'm going to reprogram you back to your old self if it's the last thing I do!"

And it could easily have been. Omega was many things, but he was no surgeon; this kind of corrective procedure would be best performed by a medicroid, not a Guardian Robot. Omega lacked a surgeon's hands--in point of fact, he lacked hands, period. He feared that even the finest setting on his laser-arm might not be delicate enough to get the job done.

The Constructicons' personality components didn't seem to have been physically altered; all he could do was cut off the pathways that didn't directly affect their minds and hope that it would be enough.

Like an automaton, he performed the procedure eight times, each as exacting as delicate as the last. Once or twice one of them tried to run, but Omega's size enabled him to catch them easily.  Scrapper had been the most difficult of the bunch; Omega had had to secure his friend in his grappling claw so tightly, Omega was afraid he had hurt him.

He closed the panel on the back of Scrapper's head and set him down gingerly.

"How do you feel?" Omega asked anxiously.

Scrapper looked directly into Omega's eyes; his expression was unreadable behind his face plate. "I feel wonderful," he said. "Thank you, my friend."

A wave of relief washed over Omega Supreme.

"I... I feel sane again!" Hook added.

"Then let's go home," Omega said. "Perhaps Crystal City can be rebuilt." Perhaps it was too sensitive a subject to bring up so soon, but it was important to Omega for the Constructicons to know that he forgave them. They had been acting on Megatron's desires, not their own.

Nearby, the dreaded concoction that had tried to take away Omega's friends lurked. It loomed menacingly on the top of a building like some kind of tentacled gargoyle.

"Robo-smasher! Careful," Omega warned, "I don't want it to get you guys again."

As he moved in front of them to protect his dearest friends, he heard the sounds of them transforming to their vehicle modes. Then he heard another transformation--one comparable to Omega's own. Had another Guardian come to help?

Omega whirled around and found himself face to face with the strangest beast he had ever seen. Its body was completely without rhyme or reason--like someone had built it using parts from half a dozen other robots.

Great Iacon--it was the Constructicons!

The gigantic green-and-purple conglomration, nearly as tall as Omega, grimaced viciously. It thrust Omega into the wall of the building with such force that shards of metal broke from its walls. Omega was unprepared for how strong the brute was. Unable to break its grip, Omega's shoulder armor began to buckle behind its might.

"Quit squirming!" it mocked. "This is for your own good!" Its voice was like a chorus of zombies, speaking as one. It laughed heartily.

Were Scrapper and his friends really in there somewhere? The giant's eyes burned with hatred, but though Omega searched for some spark of recognition, he found none.

Suddenly, the robo-smasher dropped down from its perch and wrapped its spidery legs around Omega's shoulders. He could feel its circuit probe attempting to interface with an access port on the back of his head. With a renewed desperation, Omega pushed the giant away and reached up to grab the robo-smasher.

"No... you won't... get... me!" Omega shrieked, grappling the machine, desperately trying to remove it.

The robo-smasher continually inserted and retracted its probe, like it was having trouble finding an interface port. It was almost as though Omega's technology was incompatible with the robo-smasher's design; he was no doubt the first Guardian it had attempted to assimilate. Each time it attempted an interface, Omega's head throbbed in pain. Finally, the probe connected with Omega's mind, and his entire world collapsed in on itself.

Blinded by pain, Omega groped for the invading machine, to no avail. He staggered drunkenly; his brain screamed. With no regard for himself, he slammed backwards into the building, forcing the needle-sharp probe deeper into his skull. He threw himself back again. And again. With a final blow that could have easily crushed his own head, Omega smashed the machine into the wall. The impact caused an explosion in the device's fuel tanks, showering Omega's exposed circuitry with sparks and debris.

Dozens of tiny metal fragments broke off of the machine as it withdrew its hold on Omega's head. It fell on its back, twitching like an insect in its final death throes. Omega collapsed onto his face, momentarily paralyzed. From somewhere out of the corner of his optic sensor, he saw the Constructicons escape.

Omega Supreme had never known such hatred. His feelings extended to Megatron, the robo-smasher, and the Constructicons... but his true animosity was directed internally. Again he had trusted; again he had been betrayed. It was a mistake he would never repeat; he would kill the Constructicons--and himself--before that day ever came.

His personality was completely fragmented. The robo-smasher had erased much of his mind, and the explosion hadn't helped him much either. His diagnostic programs were off-line; he couldn't even determine how bad the damage was. But he felt different.

His self-loathing was boundless. If his other emotions had once occupied a finite amount of space, that space was now completely filled with enmity, the likes of which he had never before realized. Whatever other feelings Omega once possessed were now irrelevant--indeed, they no longer existed.

The hatred was his last line of defense. While everything else had been stripped from him, it was strong enough that it alone could serve to protect him. It carried over into his very being, seeping into his soul. The feeling was a permanent psychosis so powerful that he could barely speak, save a few clipped words.

"Constructicons... betray.

"Constructicons... suffer.

"Omega... promises."

***

Chapter 15: Epiphany

The rather unpleasant confrontation with the Guardian Robot left Scrapper uneasy... but not for the reason he believed.

Scrapper didn’t like the idea of being reprogrammed. He was a Decepticon warrior--no oversized Autobot had the right to alter his mind. It tickled his pleasure circuits a bit to know that the robo-smasher had most likely done the very same thing to Omega Supreme that he had attempted to do to Scrapper.

What Scrapper didn’t realize was that while Omega had been unable to affect the robo-smasher’s reprogramming, he had inadvertantly tripped Scrapper’s anti-virus program.


"Hey," yelled Long Haul over the incessant roar of their engines, "did you see the look on that Guardian's face?"

"Yeah," Steamer said, with feeling.  "Totally broken!  That's just how I like my enemies!  Hah-hah!"

"Where to now, b-boss?" interjected Scrounge.  

Scrapper failed to respond.  He had been driving aimlessly for minutes now, his headlights two brilliant beacons tearing through the black void.  Cybertron routinely shut down most of its operating systems for a brief period during each planetary rotation, creating the illusion of "night."  The entire planet took on an entirely new dimension--even its mood was darker, as though the planet itself were brooding.

Scrapper was almost oblivious to the fact that the others were following close behind him.  There was something terribly wrong here, but he couldn't quite make sense of it all.   He felt a bit dazed; his vision was blurring.  What was wrong with him?  None of his thoughts made sense anymore.  But it wasn't just him; it was everything around him.  He felt as though he didn't belong, somehow--like a mislaid puzzle piece.  

He had to shake these bizarre feelings--he needed to get back to Decepticon Headquarters.  Megatron would be awaiting his report.  And yet--even the thought of his leader sent a disturbing chill throuh his circuitry.  There was something about Megatron...  Something he couldn't quite remember...

Hook drove up alongside Scrapper, his headlight beams spotlighting his leader with an almost eerie glow. "Scrapper, you missed the turnpike!" he bellowed.  "You're leading us straight into Autobot ground!  Megatron will melt us down if we dawdle much longer!  Show us the scenic route later--right now, we don't have the time!"

"Time...?" Scrapper muttered.  Without warning, he screeched to a halt, tiny flecks of rubber flying from his tires as they scraped Cybertron's metal surface.  The others just barely managed to avoid colliding with him.

"Hey!" shrieked Steamer.  "What's your problem?!"

Scrapper sprang into robot mode and stumbled blindly forward.  He felt dizzy and heavy, as though each of his limbs were anchored with lead.  He staggered into the spotlight created by an overhanging street lamp, fumbling at its base for support.

"Time..."  His mind grasped desperately at something to which he could connect the word, as though all the mysteries of the universe laid within.  He repeated it several times over, each more emphatic than the last.  

The galaxy whirled around Scrapper's head, trying to steal his thoughts from his own mind.  Beams of light from faroff lamps danced all around him, playing off his armor.  Scrapper wrapped his hands around his helmet, trying to defend himself against the omnipotent, invisible forces.  He screamed, but his ubiquitous tormentors were not intimidated.  

Could the forces be coming from within?  What a devious plot--his own mind turning against him!  Scrapper could not--would not--admit defeat.  He would drive the evils away with his own hand, if he had to.  He clutched the top of his helmet and pulled with all his strength.  Despite his best efforts, he was unable to set the demons loose.  They were trapped within his own skull!  They were clever, but Scrapper would best them.  He produced his laser rifle and grasped the handle with both hands.  The demons were trying to wrest control over the shared body; his hands trembled.  But Scrapper's strength of will would prevail.  Tightening his grip, determined to excise the terrors rampaging throughout his mind, he raised the barrel to his forehead--

"Scrapper, no!" cried Scavenger, tackling his leader and sending him crashing to the ground.  The weapon went flying out of Scrapper's hand, clattering to the ground.  Scrapper laid on his back for a moment, unseeing and unfeeling, with Scavenger kneeling on his chest.  His optics were wide and devoid of light, like a drone.  His head was nestled perfectly in the rather large dent his helmet had made in the golden surface of the planet.

Then, like a flash of lightning, Scrapper came to his senses.  He could remember now!  The robo-smasher, the chronosphere--everything!  But what had happened to him?  The robo-smasher should have wiped his mind clean completely.  It was a miracle of technology that Scrapper's mind still existed at all.

Yes, technology was the answer.  Despite all he wished he had never been, Scrapper was a Decepticon from the future.  His circuitry was more advanced than anything the robo-smasher's computers had ever tried to assimilate.  Perhaps Decepticons of this era simply didn't have anti-virus programs as sophisticated as Scrapper's.  It had easily overcome whatever invasive program the robo-smasher had introduced into Scrapper's systems.

Scavenger, still kneeling on Scrapper's chest, was staring at Scrapper in the same manner as a lost puppy might.

"Scavenger, have your systems recovered yet?" Scrapper asked urgently.

"I... I don't know what you mean," Scavenger grumbled.

"Don't worry--you soon will," Scrapper assured him.  "Now get off me."  

Fighting off a rather strong headache, Scrapper got to his feet.  Joints creaked and pistons groaned as he stood erect.  It had been months since he'd been properly maintained--what he wouldn't give for an oil bath about now!  Perhaps that would be his next project.  Maybe Omega could even--

Omega Supreme.  The Crystal City!  No!  The horror of what he had done suddenly smacked him in the face.  He'd destroyed his home... his greatest creation... his love!  Gone... it was all gone!  

Scrapper bellowed  a wordless cry with such ferocity that his ventilator practically split apart, until he had spent every last ounce of breath.  It was a cry of despair, of sadness... and of rage.

"How dare Megatron!  What gives him the right to try to possess me again?!  I am no one's slave!  My life is my own!  He had no right!!'  His words echoed into the night sky.

Scrapper's thoughts returned to his lost city.  He couldn't even accept the loss; how could something so beautiful and so perfect be gone forever?  He remembered every panel, every bolt that went into his creation; he knew it by heart.  Something with which he was acquainted so intimately, something built to survive long after Scrapper's laser core had extinguished... it should have been immortal.  The other buildings, which he now realized had also been destroyed--he had destroyed--were irrelevant at the moment.  He had poured his soul into the Crystal City; the moment he had finished the blue prints, it had ceased being a mere project.  The city was Scrapper's baby, and he had murdered it.  

How would Scrapper ever live with himself?  His life on Cybertron--this Cybertron--was over.  There was nothing left for him here, now.  His projects, his dreams, and Omega Supreme--none of it mattered any longer.  Megatron had taken away Scrapper's second chance.  His last chance for happiness.  There was nothing left, save quickly-fading memories.  Scrapper had dreamt of paradise, but the inevitable had happened: he had awakened.

Scrapper couldn't believe it.  Megatron had ruined his entire life with one fell swoop.  How dare that pompous, arrogant maniac take away from Scrapper everything he had ever held dear!  What kind of an unfeeling monster was he?

"I'll kill him..." Scrapper seethed, "I'll march into his chambers, walk right up to his throne, and tear the life out of him!"  His hands clasped some imaginary throat, clutching ever-tighter.

"Do you hear me, Megatron?" he screamed.  "I will hunt you down to the ends of the planet until your lifeless skull is crushed beneath my boot!"  He panted, the fury boiling inside him.

"Scrapper," offered Hook, "it is over.  You tried your best, but there is no escaping Megatron.  Perhaps it would be best if we simply returned to him now."

Scrapper's eyes were seething with hatred.  "And which Megatron would that be, Hook?  The one who tried to have us killed, or the one who tried to erase our minds?  Does it really matter which?  Either one would spell the end of us!

"No," he continued,  "I will not give in to that tyrant.  He can't force servitude upon me! The choice is my own!  And I'll die before I surrender my free will!"  Coming back to Megatron--either Megatron--would be to admit defeat.  It would be throwing away everything for which Scrapper had worked.   

Hook was amazingly calm.  "Well, then, what do you suggest?"

Scrapper needed to start thinking rationally.  Calmness, yes.  Deep breaths.  Megatron didn't know that Scrapper had broken free of his control.  Surely that could be used to his advantage.  Or was Megatron somehow aware?  Scrapper felt a presence observing him, studying him.  He still couldn't think straight; a fog was obscuring his vision, and his head still throbbed.  Was his life destined to be unbearable?  Curse the day Megatron had ever been brought on-line!

Wait.  Therein might lie the answer.

"Constructicons," Scrapper announced in a somewhat macabre tone, "I have an idea."

***

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