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"A Thing of the Past"

Book Three: Tomorrow

Chapter 16: Infiltration

Rumor had it that the Autobots had a new ground scanning system, enabling them to track any moving vehicles on the roads to a radius of five mega-miles--possibly more.  Unfortunately for the Constructicons, this meant traveling on foot to their destination, namely the heart of Autobot civilization--Iacon.  No Decepticon had ever been this deep into Autobot sanctuary before.  Then again, no Decepticon had ever been this desperate.

Scrapper's breath caught in his throat as an Autobot scout car approached, hovering no more than a few inches from the ground.  He sucked in his gut, pressing his body tightly against a narrow railing.  He skittishly motioned to the others to do the same.  The patrol vehicle whizzed by, its spotlights momentarily tracing the outlines of Scrapper's chest plate.  Scrapper finally allowed himself to exhale once the scout car had turned off the Iacon Bridge and disappeared into the night.

Scrapper consulted a small handheld instrument, not much larger than his palm.  "This way," he hissed to the others.  Their boots made sharp metallic clanking sounds as they touched Cybertron's golden surface.  Each footfall made Scrapper wince; he was certain they would be heard.  Not that he had much of a choice; forming Devastator was out of the question--he was taller than most of the buildings in the surrounding area.

Nevertheless, a party of eight robots engaged in an exercise of stealth was a challenge, to say the least.  Several times, their number had been split when a patrolling Autobot happened by, forcing those who had not yet crossed his path to remain in hiding.  Scrapper had no doubt that his team could take down one or two guards, but the noise would certainly summon reinforcements.  Scrapper was not prepared for another battle for his life--emotionally or physically.

"We need to get out of the open," Scrapper whispered hoarsely.  His eyes absorbed the immediate area until he spotted an access hatch within sprinting distance.  "Mixmaster, can you unseal that door?"

Mixmaster cocked his head, as though he had just heard a dog whistle.  "I have just the thing," he grinned.


As the last Constructicon cautiously descended the ladder leading from the dripping, smoldering remains of the access hatch, Hook caught up to Scrapper, who had already taken the lead by several mechano-meters.

"We'll never get inside Autobot Headquarters," Hook warned.

"No one ever said we were going to try," was Scrapper's cryptic response.

"It smells strange down here," Scavenger noted, sniffing the air.

"That's because it's clean," explained Long Haul.

Scrapper was silent for the next few minutes; he was busy studying the readout from his data pad.  Every so often he would stop near another access hatch, compare it with the data from the pad, then move on, muttering to himself.

"He's really gone off the edge, this time," Steamer muttered to Long Haul, but the rounded metal tunnels carried his voice much more than he had intended.

"You're wrong, Steamer," Scrapper said, still immersed in his data, "I've never known such clarity in my entire life."

"Then what exactly are we looking for?" demanded Bonecrusher, kicking a discarded piece of sheet metal out of his way.

"The chronosphere," Scrapper said.

"But we're in the past!" Hook protested.  "Shockwave won't create the chronosphere for another eight million years--and that's if we haven't already wrecked history irrevocably!"

"Shockwave didn't create the chronosphere," Scrapper said, matter-of-factly.  "No Decepticon did."

"The Autobots, then?" Hook asked.

"I'm not even convinced of that.  You and I both worked on its circuitry, Hook.  Did you notice anything peculiar about its design?"

"Well," Hook said, staring at the tunnel walls, "just that some of the mechanisms seemed terribly antiquated...  Some of those diodes looked like they were millions of years old."

"And the hull," Scrapper added.  "Quintessium.  There isn't a refinery left in the galaxy that still processes that alloy.  Not when there are so many more energy-efficient and less costly metals available."

Hook shook his head as though to clear it.  "What are you getting at, Scrapper?"

"Nothing, maybe.  But if the chronosphere is as old as I think it is, then the Autobots must have used it at one time for their historical research.  And I'll bet--"

Scrapper's data pad, which had been emitting a steady stream of blips for minutes, began chirping wildly.  

"Up there," Scrapper said, pointing to a hatch near the end of the tunnel.

Hook went first, expertly unsealing the access panel with a laser welder.  The others scaled the ladder into the room above.  Scrapper heard several of their photon lights switch on.

Scrapper put an arm out as Steamer approached the ladder.

Steamer's face instantly crumpled.  "What."

Scrapper was hesitant.  "Steamer, even though I'm your leader, I... I sometimes make the wrong choices," he said, grasping at thin air for the right words.  "What I'm trying to say is, we have our differences, Steamer, but...  I still think of you as... a brother."

Steamer blinked.  "Scrapper, you've pulled some amazing stunts in your day, but taking us all back through history like this...  This has got to take the oil cake."

"And Bonecrusher and Scrounge felt the same way?" Scrapper said.

"Yes... at first.  Actually, they both wanted to go back and find you about ten astro-seconds after we left.  Especially Bonecrusher.  All he talked about was how much he trusted you and that he shouldn't have left.  What a wingnut.

"Although," Steamer confessed, "I guess I agreed with them.  But when we tried to find you, we found Megatron instead... and he made us an offer we couldn't refuse." 

"Don't worry about Megatron," Scrapper said, with a glint in his visor.  "He won't be a problem for much longer."


The Autobot storage facility was cramped, cluttered, and filthy.  Every time one of the Constructicons took a step, he kicked some dilapidated component; and every time he kicked something, metal shavings went flying everywhere.

Bonecrusher coughed.  "Is this a storage shed, or a graveyard?" he said, nearly tripping over a tangled mess of cables.

Scrapper shone his flashlight above the main doorway, which appeared to be rusted shut from the inside.  The name "Wheeljack" was inscribed in the Autobot language.  "That explains a lot," Scrapper muttered.

A sudden jolt of pain shot through Scrapper's body, causing his balance to momentarily falter.  Scrapper had deleted the virus from the robo-smasher; what was wrong now?  There wasn't time to run a full internal systems scan.  

His data pad began beeping again, shaking Scrapper from his segue.  "There's something made of quintessium here, all right," he said.  He rummaged through a large pile of junk in the corner of the room, tearing away at old blue prints and computer components.  A patch of dark green metal was visible beneath the clutter.

"Bonecrusher, Scavenger--transform.  Let's clear this mess," Scrapper ordered.  He converted to his front loader mode and plowed through countless components.

"Scrapper," Hook said with a touch of concern in his voice, "I know you don't intend to return to our own time.  What are your intentions?"

"My intentions," Scrapper said with a grunt, "are to correct my mistake."

A few moments later, the Constructicons had uncovered the chronosphere.  Shockwave had obviously gotten his sentinels to clean it once the Decepticons had claimed it; this chronosphere had layers of rust and gritty hydraulic fluids caked onto it.  It looked much more ancient than the time machine Scrapper had worked on so long ago... even though this one was millions of years younger.

"We need to get some power running to this thing," Scrapper said, fighting off the needles boring into his optic nerves.  "We need at least 1000 astro-liters of energy.  Where are we going to get that kind of power?"

Long Haul sprang up.  "Oh!" he said.  "I just remembered, I still have a cyber-siphon in my truck bed.  It was leftover from when we were working on the chrono-whatchamacallit."  He transformed and dumped his cargo--a few fuel gaskets, a boron compressor, three surge suppressors, and the cyber-siphon.

"This will be perfect," Scrapper said, snatching up the component.  He shuffled through more junk until he reached the wall, and plugged in the device.  It began to glow, giving off a faint hum.  "Amazing.  Eight million years, and some things never change."

Scrapper found a cord extension on the box-shaped device and connected it to the chronosphere.  It came alive; its steady hum filled the room.

"Did you hear something?" Scrapper gasped, his optics darting to the front doorway.

"Just your paranoia diode," Mixmaster quipped, appearing as though he were about to burst into a fit of hysterics.

"No... I hear voices--Autobots!" Scrapper exclaimed.  "They're outside--they must have detected us somehow!"

"That seems highly unlikely, given our means of arrival," Hook said.

If any of the Constructicons had further commentary, Scrapper did not hear it.  He approached the chronosphere and raised his hand over the controls, hesitant.  He was about to make a monumental decision--the most profound choice any Decepticon had ever faced.  His thoughts had been occupied with survival and coversion for the past few hours; he hadn't even considered what would happen if he had made it this far.

And the pain...!  It was truly unreal--like someone had turned his entire body inside-out.  Now Scrapper realized what was happening!  The robo-smasher was transmitting directly into his cranial chamber--it must have left a receiving beacon inside his head.  The foul machine was trying to rewrite Scrapper's personality remotely.  Taking the underground route had been far more serendipitous than Scrapper had suspected; the tunnels might quite possibly have been the only thing preventing the machine from infiltrating his head.  Once he was topside, however, it was a different story.  So far, Scrapper's anti-virus systems had been able to ward it off, but the price was high.  Scrapper's circuitry couldn't take much more abuse--he had to get away.  But where could he run?  The robo-smasher would eventually track him down.  There was no question about it now--Scrapper had to get out of this time!

In for a chip, in for a cube, Scrapper realized.  He programmed the proper space-time coordinates into the machine, setting it on a short delay.  He stepped upon the transport platform, looking back for just an instant, as though he were leaving something precious behind him.  

"I suggest the rest of you join me," Scrapper said, "if your heads wish to continue their acquaintances with your shoulders."

An instant after the Constructicons vanished, Wheeljack entered the room.

"Looks like you just missed me," Wheeljack addressed the empty room.  "If you have a maintenance request, leave it with the Teletran unit and I'll address it when I can.  Otherwise, you'll have to come back... another time."

And the hologram shut itself off.

***

Chapter 17:  Introspection

Septimus Prime didn't hate the Decepticons; he didn't know any one of them enough to like or dislike, on a personal level.  He hated the idea of the Decepticons.

Certainly, the Autobots had a rightful place in the universe.  They had grown in directive and purpose from mere playthings to a proud and noble race of sentient machines.  Their endeavors to explore the world around them and better themselves through peaceful relations with other planets could only be looked upon as benevolent and just.

Then there were the Decepticons.  The only reason they ever existed were as implements of death, to feed the prejudices of flawed organic creatures and make it easier for them to prove their point by winning their wars.  Even after the Decepticons had exhausted their usefulness as merchandise, they continued to justify their programming by waging a senseless war upon the Autobots.  For the Decepticons to then plagiarize the Autobots' ability to transform, in a vain attempt to become more like the superior race on Cybertron, was not only offensive--it was downright pathetic.

Septimus Prime began the disdainful task of loading his weapon.  That the Decepticons continually forced him into retaliation--taking him down to their loathsome level--never failed to elicit an expectoration from the Autobot leader.

"What is it you plan to do, Septimus?" asked Alpha.  Septimus whirled around--he hadn't even heard his mentor enter the room.

"Isn't it clear, Alpha?"  Septimus said, peering down the sights on his weapon.  "I'm going to stop this insanity once and for all."

"I have counseled you many times on this matter," Alpha said, sitting beside the young Autobot.  "Without the evil of Deceptus to guide them, the Decepticons no longer wish to harm us.  They may choose to live separately from us, but we must respect their wishes."

"Dead or otherwise, Deceptus wasn't the only problem, Alpha.  All Decepticons have a warfare mentality; Deceptus only unified their aims.  Other tyrants will do the same, in time."

"Unless," Alpha spoke softly, "you stop it?"

"I'm no murderer, Alpha.  I'm merely going to take back what the Decepticons stole from us."  With that, Septimus Prime transformed to his vehicular form, revving his engine a few times before starting off toward Decepticon Headquarters.

"What the Decepticons have taken from us," Alpha said to himself, "we cannot ever regain."


Septimus Prime's armored transport mode rumbled across the landscape, leaving a small cloud of metal dust behind him.  Septimus hated his altered form, which was neither pleasing to the optic sensors nor energon-efficient--another quality-of-life issue whose blame laid with the Decepticons.

After Deceptus had been presumed destroyed by the Autobots some planetary revolutions ago, Septimus, then a lieutenant, had honestly expected the civil war to die down quietly.  Septimus was wickedly delighted that the epitome of evil had been vanquished, but a few Autobots seemed disturbed by the fall of such a powerful warrior.  If the greatest of the Decepticons had perished in the war, what chance did the Autobots have?  Septimus was blind to that mentality--it wasn't the strong who survived, but the pure.  However, when the remaining Decepticons continued their assaults despite being leaderless, Septimus came to realize that it hadn't been Deceptus he detested.  He had merely been one of many--a like-minded breed of warrior robots who literally, by their very programming, lived to fight.

That several Decepticon troops had recently been spotted with transforming-powers similar to the Autobots was what Septimus had gone to investigate.  It was bad enough that the Decepticons were the Autobots' superiors on the battlefield--the Autobots, despite their best efforts to understand a technology that was all but foreign to them, could not being to replicate the deadly firepower and indestructible armor that was the Decepticons' trademark.  It was nothing short of a miracle that Alpha had made the innovation of transforming a reality.  For the Decepticons to steal the technology that was the Autobots' last stand against the tyranny--it was not only a tactical shift, it was downright blasphemy.

But was it stolen... or given?  There had been no field reports of Autobot soldiers being captured, no sign of the Decepticons implementing any kind of invasive scanners on the Autobots' bodies during battle.  Septimus scowled at the possibility that there were Decepticon sympathizers in his ranks who had handed over the one advantage the Autobots possessed--and with it, unwittingly sealing their own doom.

***

Chapter 18:  Divergence

The time shock wasn't nearly as great this time--Scrapper was practically becoming a pro at time travel.

His circuits tingled all over, but for the moment, the pain in his head was gone.  His entire body still ached from laser wounds, stripped gears, creaky pistons, and basic metal fatigue--but there was little he could do about it now.  Presently, he had a mission to carry out.

"Constructicons," he addressed the others, "it's a miracle that we've made it this far.  But it's only fair that I give you a chance to back out while you still can.  We're on Cybertron, far in the past.  You could all easily begin your lives anew here, without any significant risk to the time stream."

Steamer was the first to speak.  "You're a rusted piece of scrap metal," he grinned, "but you've kept us alive so far.  At this point I'd follow you straight into the smelter, if you'd have me."

Scrounge nodded slowly.  "You've g-got my support too, Scrapper.  Whatever you say, goes."

The other Constructicons muttered in agreement.

"Are you sure about this... all of you?" Scrapper queried.  Their faith in him was flattering, if not misplaced.  Scrapper didn't think any of them truly realized exactly why he chose this particular time.  "Once we proceed, there's no going back."

"Let's do it," said Bonecrusher, clenching his fist.  "We Constructicons have to stick together!"

"We are, after all," Steamer added, "all brothers here."

For once, Scrapper wished his battle mask did not hide his face, which was drawn up into a heartfelt smile.


No longer capable of traveling at top speed, Scrapper rattled across Cybertron's surface, praying his rear axle would hold together for just a few more astro-seconds.  He wasn't entirely certain where he was headed, and the gaping spectators didn't help his concentration.  After centuries of fitting in with the crowd during the end of the Golden Age of Cybertron, it was a bit disconcerting to Scrapper for his team to elicit the same stares and gasps they had received after their first trip through time.  There was no reason this time to make explanations or attempt to fit in--not when Scrapper had this strange premonition that his journeys were about to come to a close.  Scrapper knew his time was running out.

"Scavenger," Scrapper said, "any luck so far?"

Scavenger took a deep whiff of the air with his shovel component.  "Maybe... If it is his scent, it's faint...  About two or three mega-miles due east."

The Constructicons were venturing into the heart of the Decepticon camp, an area known as Dark Steel.  In this chapter of history, Decepticon operations were kept secret from their enemies--who usually gave the entire area a wide berth just as a matter of course.  For those foolish enough to venture into the domain, no Autobot ever returned from the sector alive.  Scrapper, while perfectly safe as long as he bore the Decepticon sigil, nonetheless felt a chill as he drove into the dismal realm.

Scrapper racked his brain, trying to piece together his history lessons in reverse.  This was the part of Cybertron from which the Decepticon Empire would sprout; it all began somewhere from within Dark Steel.  It hadn't occurred to Scrapper that the modern-day Decepticon Headquarters hadn't been built yet.  He and the Constructicons had materialized out in the open, not inside the control room as Scrapper had expected.  He wondered briefly where the chronosphere was in this time stream--if it even existed.  Not that it mattered; this was Scrapper's last stop on a trip that spanned over nine million years.

Suddenly, Scrapper's vehicle mode finally gave up the ghost.  His rear axle snapped in two with the disturbing sound of rending metal; the front axle, straining beneath the doubled load, followed suit.  Scrapper skidded across the planet for a while before he ground to a halt, reverting to his robot mode in a rather undignified manner and ending up on his stomach.  Great Cybertron, even his transforming cog sounded like something Ravage had choked up.

"Scrapper, are you all right?" asked a concerned Hook.

"I'll live," Scrapper grumbled, nursing his left shoulder.  His front tires had worn down so much that one of his protective wheel covers was no longer able to wrap around one of his wheels.  The rounded, green metal hung from his arm, impotent.

Mixmaster, whose vehicle form had also broken down, hopped down from Long Haul's truck bed.  "We'e here, eh, yes, eh?"

"I think so," Scrapper replied.  He stood in front of an underground laboratory, whose ominous spiraling staircase led into pitch blackness.

"And where, precisely, is 'here'?" Hook asked.

"The beginning of the Decepticons," Scrapper said flatly, "and the birthplace of someone very near and dear to our hearts."

***

Chapter 19:  Paved with Good Intentions

"You do realize," Piston said, "the boss is gonna melt us down into steel ingots if he finds out about this little project."

"For the last time, stick it in neutral, Piston," Lubetube ordered, studiously examining a circuit connection in his patient's brain.  "He's wounded, probably close to death.  It's our duty as medics to save him, no matter what our orders are."

"It still doesn't seem right...  This is Deceptus, after all."

"Shut up and keep your mind on the job," Lubetube replied.  "Where's the three-quarter hyper-spanner?"

"I put it back in the tool compartm--Hey!  What are you guys doing here??"

The pair of technicians whirled around and found themselves face to face with Scrapper and his crew, with weapons locked on them.

Scrapper directed the medics to the corner of the room with his gun barrel.  He mused over their designs--he had only traveled a few more centuries back in time, but these robots looked positively archaic to him--like they belonged in a museum.  Then he noticed the red insignias on their chests.  "Autobots?!" Scrapper exclaimed.

"Yeah, you wanna make something of it?" Piston grimaced, squatting down into a defensive position.

"For Cybertron's sake, Piston--pour some coolant in it!" Lubetube hissed.  He turned to Scrapper.  "Look, I don't expect you to believe me, but we just pulled Deceptus' body out of the recycling yards outside Dark Steel.  He... he's dying.  This was the closest repair facility...  We're just trying to save his life."

Scrapper lowered his weapon and gazed down thoughtfully at the purple-and-grey robot on the operating table.  He was barely recognizable as a Decepticon--most of his armor plating had been melted.  And while Scrapper had never seen holo-images of him before, Scrapper instinctively knew that this was, indeed, Deceptus.  His legend among the Decepticons was awe-inspiring, despite Megatron's constant efforts to squelch the name of Deceptus.  And even lying broken on the Autobots' surgical bed, the once-great Decepticon still filled Scrapper with a sense of respect and pride.  

So this was when Deceptus' reign ended and Megatron's began.  It hadn't occurred to Scrapper that Megatron's promotion was one of attrition; Scrapper had somehow always pictured Megatron asassinating Deceptus and taking his place as leader.  He wondered for a moment whether that had, indeed, been the case.  There were no records of Deceptus' ultimate fate in Decepticon history--Megatron might have simply declared him missing in action and assumed leadership from there.  So at what point, exactly, did he appear and take command?  Who was this brave soldier who would begin the Third Cybertron War?

As Scrapper peered into the darkened optics of Deceptus, following the lines of his charred but familiar face, a horrible realization dawned on him.  

Scrapper decided to test his theory.  "He's completely scrapped," he said to the Autobots. "You'd have to rebuild him from the chassis up."

"That was the plan," Lubetube explained cheerfully, offering a somewhat antiquated data pad.  "Here's the schematics we drew up."

Scrapper took one look at the diagram and nearly sprang a gasket.  His worst suspicions were confirmed.

"This project ends here, Autobots!" Scrapper suddenly shouted, training his laser on Lubetube again.  "It's nothing personal, but I can't allow you to finish repairing him."

"Strange words, coming from a Decepticon," Lubetube said, stroking his chin thoughtfully.  "We may have taken an oath, but we're not stupid.  I have no desires to restore the Decepticon Empire to its former glory.  We're going to initiate a complete memory wipe.  He won't be a threat; he'll know nothing about his past life."

Scrapper grinned mischeviously at the idea, but only for a moment.  He, more than anyone else, knew what a horrendous fate it was to have one's mind stolen from him.  No, better to let him die as the robot he was meant to be, rather than live as a mockery of his former self.

"Don't touch him," Scrapper said.  "Just let him be."

"Take a good look at him!" Piston protested.  "He's barely clinging to life as it stands.  If we don't stabilize him now, his laser core will snuff out in a matter of astro-minutes!  Where is your compassion?  I didn't think even a Decepticon could be so uncaring, especially toward one of his own kind... his leader, no less!"

"Don't lecture me on compassion!" Scrapper exploded.  "This Decepticon is the author of all my suffering ever since I came on-line!  Do you really think for a microsecond that I would continue to let him live, only to repeat the same vicious cycle from now to infinity?!  It has to end now!!"

Long Haul's optics were wide with amazement.  "Scrapper...  do you mean to say that this...  That is, Deceptus is..."

"He will be, at least in one time stream," Scrapper said darkly. "That's what we've come here to change."  There was a burning in Scrapper's optics which Hook had never seen before.  It was almost demonic.

"Would you really stand here and watch him die?" asked Lubetube.

"Yes," was Scrapper's response.

Scrapper stared into the nearly lifeless form that was Deceptus... Megatron... his leader... his enemy... at last, his prisoner.  Scrapper had fantasized literally thousands of times about having this deranged creature at his mercy.  Now that his wish had been granted, Scrapper wanted to savour the moment, like a first sip of the purest, most refined energon.  He found, however, that even he was not capable of such a twisted pleasure.  Scrapper had never taken pleasure in death, and he could not summon such a feeling now, not even toward the one being he hated more than any other in the universe.

Nonetheless, Scrapper would take no action to save him.  The chain had to be broken... here, today, in this room.  Scrapper's soul was as old as the cosmos, and he refused to dance for the pleasure of the gods yet another eternity.  

"Scrapper," said Hook, "if he dies, what will become of us?"

"We live out the rest of our lives in Cybertron's past," Scrapper said.  "In a few million years or so, we will follow him.  Then, it ends."

Hook took a deep breath.  "Have you thought this through?  Without Megatron, how will we find the chronosphere and go back in time?  For that matter, without Megatron, who will build us on Earth in the first place?  We'll be wiping ourselves from the time stream!"

Scrapper's gaze met some unseen realization, compelling him to let out a horrible gasp of realization.  What if Hook was right?  For Megatron to never come into existence would mean far more than being released from his tyrannical grip.  Megatron himself had brought the Constructicons online, what seemed like forever ago.  And there was more at stake than the Constructicons' lives.  Without Megatron, the Autobots would easily defeat the remaining troops and assume control over Cybertron.  That meant no discovery of the chronosphere; no invention of the space bridge; no expedition to Earth, even.  In short, no Decepticons.  Was Scrapper really willing to take the lives of every Decepticon warrior based on his own selfish whims?

Scrapper was still a Decepticon.  Whatever animosity he bore toward Megatron, he had a bond with his kin that went beyond mere allegiance.  A Decepticon was more than a purple insignia, Scrapper was realizing--it was an entire mindset, a way of life.  He was not prepared to wipe out his own breed, even if doing it meant finally erasing the never-ending cycle that was his life.  "You really are a bastard," he told the motionless form beneath him.  "Even in death, even before you've been born... you torture me."  

Scrapper turned to Piston and Lubetube, who stood staring at each other like someone had just asked them to calculate high-order space-time variables on their fingers.

"Do it," Scrapper said with conviction.  "Save his life."


Piston, Lubetube, and the Constructicons--particularly Scrapper--poured their hearts into the reconstruction.  The Autobot technicians didn't understand fully, but they knew that there was much more at stake than a single life.  Scrapper had wasted precious astro-seconds arguing with the Autobot medics--he just hoped his interference wouldn't cost Deceptus... Megatron... his life.

Whatever had happened to the patient (only by detaching himself personally and ignoring the patient's identity could Scrapper stand to continue his work), he was quite possibly beyond help.  His entire exo-structure had been fused, and his internal workings weren't in much better condition.  The Constructicons had practically had to strip the patient down to his bare chassis just to get started.  A voice inside Scrapper's head was continuously reminding him that this was a hopeless endeavour... but he had to ignore it.  He had to give it everything he had.

Time was also taking its toll on Scrapper and the others--it had been for years.  Hook had asked on two separate occasions to rest for a moment because his optics were straining from the microsurgery and kept shorting out.  Scrapper could hardly blame him--he would have done the same himself, if this project didn't mean so much to the destiny of the Decepticons.

"Scrapper," inquired Piston, "what are you going to do about his memory banks, hmm?  Still keep them intact?"

That was a good question.  In his days on Earth, Scrapper had never heard Megatron ever mention his former life.  Did that mean he had no recollection of it, or merely wished to keep it secret from his Decepticons?  Or did some of the other Decepticons know about it, and it was just kept secret from Scrapper and his pit crew?  Ironically, Scrapper had the patient right in front of him, but could never ask such a ludicrous question.

This decision could still have repercussions if Scrapper made the wrong one.  If Megatron had no memory of Deceptus, then to give him those memories would set him on an entirely different path in life... one that would undoubtedly not include the resurrection of the Constructicons.  The same consequences applied if Scrapper removed an entire chapter of Megatron's life that was always meant to be a part of him.

What were the Autobots planning to do before Scrapper interfered?  Erase his mind.  Could Scrapper permit that?  He hated the idea of even his worst enemy being robbed of his life as Scrapper was--even if it would be a sweet vengeance to do so.  Besides, what if the memory wipe was not destined to be their final decision?  

"No," Scrapper resolved.  "We'll leave him as he is, memories intact."

Piston nodded and began casting the molds for the replacement armor panels.

And I'll be damned to the Abyss if I'm wrong, Scrapper added silently.

***

Chapter 20:  For the Cause

Scrapper had entertained the notion of updating the patient's design--wherever the Autobot technicians had gotten it from, it was terribly antiquated by modern-day standards--but thought better of it.  He had already risked such grave violations to the time stream that they might be completely irreversible; there was no sense in complicating matters based on personal aesthetics.

Besides, the reconstruction was clearly Lubetube's and Piston's baby.  It was also a decidedly forbidden endeavour--and Scrapper knew all about clandestine projects.  More than anything, though, Scrapper realized how greatly the Autobot technicians surpassed him, in both skill and knowledge.  Even Hook had reached his limits during several steps of the operation.  For the first time in his life, Scrapper felt like an amateur compared to the Autobot medics.  They were, after all, programmed for exactly this kind of work.  It made Scrapper wonder how much better an engineer he would have been if he had been born an Autobot--the trade coming by him as a primary function instead of a learned, secondary skill.

"Watch this," Lubetube chuckled.  He tapped a few keys on a console beside the operating platform, and Megatron stood for the first time.

"He lives!" Steamer exclaimed.

"No," Lubetube said with a grin.  I just wanted to check his gyroscope.  Looks like his weapons and motor controls are finished."  He wiped a bead of lubricant from his brow.  "All that's left now are his higher reasoning centers and vocalizer."

"And his new mechanical alternate form?" Piston asked, his white and black body catching the gleam of the computer monitors.

"I thought a battle tank was appropriate," Lubetube explained, "given his dedicated weaponry."

Piston consulted the myriad instruments to which their patient was connected.  "Laser core still pulsates steadily," he reported.

Scrapper worked a mislaid gear in his elbow component back into place by flexing his arm a few times.  "When this is all over," he panted, "I'm going to spend about five days in a hot oil bath."

"I can't do it anymore!" a voice shrieked in Scrapper's left auditory sensor.  It belonged to Mixmaster, whose optics were wide and vacuous.  His hands were upturned, clenching some invisible noose around his neck.  "The circuits and the wires and the people and the colors...  It's too much!!"

Scrapper gaped at Mixmaster, unable to react to such unexpected insanity.

"Heh.  Just kidding," Mixmaster announced.

Long Haul smacked Mixmaster in the face.

Piston's expression, meanwhile, was one of sheer terror.  If Scrapper didn't know better, he could have sworn all the color had drained out of the Autobot's complexion.

"I thought I'd find you here," an unfamiliar voice grumbled.

Scrapper's gaze hit the staircase and met that of an Autobot gladiator, significantly taller than Scrapper and covered with battle scars.  He sported two prominent spikes on his chest and a chiseled face of utter disgust.

"Septimus Prime!" Piston exclaimed, trembling.  "We... w-we were just--"

"You were just what, Piston?  Giving the Decepticons the secret of transforming?  Cancelling out the only hope the Autobots ever had of surviving this war?" Septimus snarled.  

"That wasn't us, Prime!" Lubetube offered.  "We were only trying to save a life!  This patient--"

Septimus looked up at the unmoving patient standing before him.  "Great Cybertron, your 'patient' is a Decepticon!  How dare you disgrace the name of the Autobots by touching his corroded circuitry?!"

Lubetube put out his hands in protest.  "Prime, don't you think you're overreacting just a little b--"

The pellet rifle blast not only tore through Lubetube's head, but ripped a hole in the laboratory wall behind him.  Lubetube's body collapsed to the floor, still clutching a circuit welder in his fist.

"No," said Septimus Prime, "I don't."

Piston began shaking uncontrollably.  "P-P-Prime...  How could you...  How could you?"

"Because there's only one thing I hate worse than Decepticons... and that's traitors."  Septimus Prime said calmly.

His words were the second-to-last thing Piston ever heard.  The last sound was that of his own head being atomized.

Scrapper simultaneously wanted to laugh and cry.  Instead, he just stared incredulously.  "Autobot, you have no idea what you've just done!"

Septimus Prime nodded with a smirk.  "And neither will anyone else."  He fired at Scrapper, but the Constructicon leader had been expecting it.  With reflexes he didn't think himself capable of, he darted underneath the operating table and rolled out the other side.  

"Cease this foolishness, Autobot!" Scrapper demanded, scrambling to his feet.  "We outnumber you eight to one!"

"I've got plenty of ammo," Septimus reassured him.  As if to prove his point, he swiveled to his right and fired at Bonecrusher, disintegrating his lower leg.  Bonecrusher growled in pain, doubling over and clutching the stump that had been his left foot.

Scrapper clenched his fists.  "That's it!  No one harms a Constructicon under my command and continues to breathe through the correct vent!  Constructicons--unite to form Devastator!"

Before Septimus Prime's eyes, the seven remaining robots began shifting and interlocking--components appearing from within hidden compartments--robots levitating while their bodies turned inside-out--to form a one-armed monstrosity that was three times Septimus' size.  It could barely stand upright in the relatively tiny chamber.

"You hurt Constructicon," said Devastator, over half a dozen voices speaking as one, "now Devastator hurts you!"

Devastator took a shot with his gigantic solar beam rifle, but Septimus leaped out of its blast easily.  Devastator responded with a mighty kick that knocked Septimus into the service entrance door frame, shaking beakers off of nearby shelves.

"You're a powerful brute," Septimus admitted, "but how fast can a beast like you be?"  He shifted into his armored transport form and drove in between Devastator's legs before he could react.

--Where'd he go? an inner voice shouted.

--He's behind us! another said.

--Turn around! a third piped up.

--Shoot him! said yet another.

Septimus reverted to his true form, made an adjustment to his rifle and--from behind--pointed it straight at Devastator's midsection.  The shot ripped through Devastator's torso, causing his entire upper body to come crashing down to the ground.  Each of Devastator's components separated and automatically reverted to their Constructicon forms--except for his flight pack, which lay still, save a thin wisp of smoke trailing from the gaping hole in its center.

"He... he got Scrounge!" Scavenger said, his voice cracking.

"This Autobot doesn't play by the rules!" Long Haul said, clutching his smoking shoulder.

"I play by my own rules," Septimus said.  He charged Scrapper, knocking the smaller robot onto the ground and into the lifeless body of Lubetube.

Scrapper would barely be a match for his opponent's physical strength even at top form.  As it was, in his considerably weakened state--

Clunk!  The blow from Scavenger's steam shovel arm knocked Septimus across the room and into another wall.  Scrapper sprang to his feet once more, but Septimus was even faster.  He transformed to his transport mode and plowed right into Scavenger, shoving the Constructicon's form right outside the service door and up the ramp to the planet's surface.

"Long Haul!  Steamer!  Mixmaster!  Help Scavenger!" Scrapper barked.  His warriors immediately chased the Autobot leader back to the surface.

"Don't count me out yet either, Scrapper," Bonecrusher grunted.  "I've still got a few battles left in me!"  He transformed to his bulldozer form and managed to drive off--on only one set of working treads--after his Constructicon brothers.

"Hook," Scrapper said anxiously, "we've got to finish Megatron while that crazed Autobot is distracted!"

"How?"  Hook was as fraught with emotion as Scrapper had ever seen him.  "We've still got hundreds of circuit connections to establish--never mind testing each one individually!"

"Then let's make the best use," said Scrapper, "of the time we've got."


Nothing else was said; Scrapper and Hook were immersed in the inner workings of Megatron's brain. Only a few mechano-meters above, Scrapper's brothers were fighting for their very survival.  Scrounge was lying dead in the very same room, as were those two brave Autobot medics.  But none of this could distract Scrapper now--not when every Decepticon who would ever come to be was in jeopardy.  

Scrapper could hear the laser blasts and battle cries outside, but he had to try to tune them out.  He focused on the nearly microscopic cranial circuitry before him, utilizing surgical extensions in his fingers only a molecule or two in width to carefully connect each new wire that formed part of Megatron's consciousness.  I'm creating my creator, a fleeting thought informed him.  Scrapper shook his head at the impossible irony.

The connections numbered in the hundreds of thousands; it was dizzying, trying to keep track of them all.  Scrapper was way out of his league; his expertise was erecting monuments, not performing cranial microsurgery.  He knew that any moment, a stray laser blast would hit him, possibly killing him--but he had resigned himself to that ultimate fate a very long time ago.  What mattered now was preserving his ancestors who had yet to be.

Somehow, he and Hook had made the final connection.  A quick visual scan to double-check revealed that every synaptic relay had been placed correctly.  There was only one thing left to do now.

Scrapper closed Megatron's helmet, and Hook sealed the cranial chamber closed.  But nothing happened.

What had gone wrong??  Did Scrapper forget something?  All the cerebral connections seemed to be in order, his motor functions checked out, his power systems were...  Of course.  Power.  Scrapper couldn't believe he'd forgotten something so elementary.  

Opening a panel on the left side of his chest, Scrapper extracted a small, palm-sized cube filled with pink, glowing fluid.  Energon--the lifeblood of his race.  He transferred it to it to his cyberdermic needle and slowly injected it into the center of the insignia on Megatron's chest.

Mixmaster came racing back down the spiral staircase.  "Scrapper, he's too powerful!  Bonecrusher and the others are down!  That Autobot's crazy!  You've gotta do something, now, now, now!"

As if to illustrate Mixmaster's point, Steamer came flying back down into the lab after him.  In several pieces.

"I will destroy the accursed Autobot enemy."

The metallic, raspy voice sounded like it came from a dream.  Scrapper spun around--he had never expected to hear it again.  "Megatron--you function!"

"Megatron..."  the tall and imposing robot said, as though tasting each syllable.  "Yes, that will do nicely.  Now, stand aside."  He leaped from the table and gracefully landed next to the spiral staircase.  

"Come, my Decepticons," he said.  "Our destiny awaits."  Scrapper, Hook and Mixmaster followed Megatron upstairs.

***

Chapter 21:  Picking Up the Pieces

Megatron set foot for the first time on the surface of his home world.  He took a deep breath of the cool, invigorating air and exhaled triumphantly.  He overlooked the vast landscape of a planet still in its youth... a planet that could be shaped to his will, if he so chose.

"Take one more step, Decepticon," Septimus Prime warned, "and you'll be texture-coating the landscape."

Megatron laughed a guttural, metallic laugh.  "You tried that once," he said, grinning, "as you can see, it didn't work."

Septimus Prime's eyes grew wide with recognition and fear.  "Deceptus?" he whispered.

"Deceptus is dead," the silver robot said.  "I am Megatron, leader of the Decepticons!"

The blast of antimatter from Megatron's fusion cannon tore clean through Septimus Prime's body even as he charged, knocking him him off his feet and onto the cold, hard surface of the planet.  He never got to his feet.

"When you try to kill a Decepticon," Megatron scowled, "get it right the first time."


Septimus awoke in a darkened corner to find a familiar face beside him and a comforting voice in his ear.  It was Alpha.

"I...  I guess I zigged when I should have zagged," Septimus coughed.  "I'm sure...  you'll have me fixed up... in no time..."

"Your wounds are too severe," Alpha spoke softly.  Septimus searched Alpha's face for a sign that he was joking--or lying--but found none.   "I fear to even move you.  There is nothing I can do, my friend."

Septimus couldn't die--he was the Autobot leader!  He had suffered through far worse many times before, hadn't he?  As soon as the pain fully registered, however, Septimus realized he was only fooling himself.  

"We were fortunate to find you at all," Alpha explained.  "I suspected you might venture into Decepticon territory."

Septimus managed a weak smile.  "Guess I need to randomize... my behavior program more often."

"But we cannot remain here," Alpha continued.  "For now, we are hidden, but the Decepticons will find us."  

"Then..." choked Septimus, "you must take... the Matrix..."  Groaning, straining, Septimus brought his hands to his chest and opened it to reveal the Autobots' most sacred talisman, the Matrix of Leadership.

Alpha's voice grew stern.  "I am no leader," he protested.  "Surely there are others more suited to the task--"

"No other Autobot has my... complete trust," Septimus gasped.  "It must be you."

Whether it was the clarity one gains as he is washed with the divine light, or the influence of the ancient Autobots whom Septimus Prime would now join, he was uncertain.  But he now realized his mistake, and in his dying words, ensured that it would never be repeated.   "You must keep the Matrix safe... until you find an Autobot who can... assume command.  Someone more worthy... than I.  Someone who... fights not against evil... but for... good..."

As Septimus Prime expired, Alpha opened his chest compartment, but then thought better of it.  His days as a leader were long behind him.  "I cannot assume command," he said, as much to himself as to his departed friend.  "But I pray that the next Prime who bears the Matrix is not so driven by hatred... that the preservation of life, not the taking of it, is his... optimal concern."


Not far away, Scrapper and the other functional Constructicons were aiding Megatron against the Autobots, in the first battle of Megatron's career.  Reinforcements had arrived to help Septimus Prime in the order of nearly two dozen; Scrapper had spotted some elderly Autobot drag Septimus off the battlefield.  They all looked like something out of a historical documentary, to Scrapper's mind--even their weapons were antiques.

Scrapper woefully regarded his fallen comrades as he returned the Autobots' fire.  He had seen Bonecrusher move a limb or two, but he wasn't sure about Long Haul or Mixmaster--and he didn't even want to think about Steamer or Scrounge, who he was sure were damaged beyond repair.  Hook, meanwhile, still pressed on--even with a gaping wound in his lower torso--using the laboratory generator for cover.

"Never seen your face around before, ugly!" one of the old-style Autobots called out in between shots from his weapon.

"Yeah, don't they bother to give you Decepticons paint jobs anymore?" taunted another.

"I'll paint this entire city with your oil!" responded Megatron.  He leapt into the air and reconfigured his body, slamming to the ground as a silver battle tank.  His turret-mounted fusion cannon erupted in a shower of pink energy that caused Scrapper to involuntarily shield his optics.

"Great Cybertron," shrieked one of the Autobot troops.  "He can transform!"

"He's killed Stickshift!" yelled another.  "Take that, you lousy Decepti-fiend!"

The Autobot's aim was poor; he completely missed his target.  Instead, a few stray blasts licked the outside of the generator in front of Hook.  An instant later, a high-pitched whine issued from within the generator.  It hissed and crackled.

"Hook!" Scrapper exclaimed.  "Get away from there!"  Instinctively, Scrapper dove for Hook's position, pushing him out of the way an instant before the generator exploded.

In tank mode, Megatron systematically targeted his enemies, even as their laser bolts showered his gleaming, metal form.  One Autobot soldier fell, then two.  In a matter of astro-seconds, Megatron had gunned down nearly a third of their forces.  Finally, one of the senior warriors called the retreat, and the remaining Autobots recovered their wounded and transformed to their vehicle modes.   

Megatron reverted to his robot form and grinned.  "Such is the fate of all who oppose Megatron," he promised.

He turned to Scrapper, whose body was charred from the generation explosion.  He was alive, but entire armor panels had been shorn and vital sections of his circuitry were exposed.  He would not remain functional for long unless he immediately attended to.

"The day is won," Megatron said, kneeling by Scrapper.  "I have you to thank in part for our victory."

Scrapper, lying on his side, managed to support himself with one arm.  "Don't mention it," he said.

And in that instant, the force that had wrapped itself around Scrapper at long last let go.  The vice grip had finally released him; the pressure was washing away.  There was a genuine, physical sensation that Scrapper was being set free.  There was no more anxiety; no more fear.  All the time he had spent running from Megatron, trying to escape him... all futility.  There was no escaping destiny.  Megatron was intrinsically part of Scrapper's fate--he always had been.

"We must return you to the lab," Megatron said.  It was a tone of compassion that Scrapper had never heard from him before.  "You require repairs."

"Go," Scrapper said.  "There are hundreds of Decepticons out there awaiting a leader.  Give them a purpose again--a driving force.  My mission... is complete."

Scrapper was truly at peace.  There was nothing Megatron could do for Scrapper now, but Scrapper had come to terms with his universe.  Somehow, Scrapper knew that this was exactly the way things were meant to be.  The way they had always been meant to be.

Megatron knelt by Scrapper's side.  "I have far greater plans in mind for you," he explained, smiling.  "You see, I know what you did.  You took a Decepticon warrior named Deceptus and gave him a second chance at life.  I plan to return the favor."

Scrapper's world turned black.  Megatron wouldn't dare deny Scrapper the promise of eternal sleep--not now!  

"No one yet knows the name of Megatron," he continued.  "I may yet require loyal soldiers.  To that end, I will extract your personality components.  In time, I will restore you to functional bodies, that you may serve me once more!"  Without further ceremony, Megatron flipped open a panel behind Scrapper's head.

Scrapper's fuel pump beat furiously.  He was in utter shock.  

You were rescued from certain death, another Megatron had said.  As reality disintegrated, the last thought Scrapper entertained was that Megatron would never take pleasure in this deliciously cruel irony.

***

Chapter 22:  Creation Redux

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

He was positively beaming with evil radiance.  Megatron had devised many ingenious plans in the past, but the implementation of the personality components from Cybertron was his crowning achievement.  Not only did it considerably even the odds between the Autobots and the until-now badly outnumbered Decepticons, but it at long last would introduce technicians into the Decepticon Earth forces--heretofore their greatest tactical weakness.  And when the time was right, Megatron would unleash the deadliest secret of all--the ability for the six of them to connect their bodies into one, gigantic robot.  It was a concept Megatron had discovered while studying the files within their memory components, one which Megatron had not hesitated to implement.

"If they work, you mean," Starscream smirked. "Even if they don't fall apart, they won't be any smarter than those Mesozoic morons, the Dinobots!"

Megatron sneered.  Starscream could barely conceal his jealousy at the technicians who would, in all probability, replace him as the Decepticons' sole scientist.  "That is where you are wrong, my dear Starscream.  My new warriors will never fail me!"  Starscream followed him down the rocky path to the cavern floor as Megatron explained his superior understanding of cybernetic personalities.

"I'm still not convinced," Starscream said when Megatron was finished.

"Then it is time, " Megatron said,  "for my creations to awaken.  Constructicons--transform!"

In unison, the six heretofore inert vehicles sprang to life, expanding and enlarging into their green-and-purple robot forms.  They stood proudly before Megatron, awaiting their orders.

"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!"

Megatron gave them a moment to take in this information.  He had debated for weeks whether to proceed with his plans to annex the Constructicons, but in the end, his need for troops won out.  As a precautionary measure, Megatron had had Soundwave permanently delete their memory caches before programming them with their first mission.  It was necessary to prevent past events complicating their new lives--and to preserve Megatron's identity.  Of the six, only one of them had been so badly damaged that Megatron had considered discarding it altogether--parts of it had been fused by extreme temperatures of some sort.  Soundwave had assured him, however, that he could correct the thermal damage.

So far, at least, they seemed no worse for wear; the recent data extraction technology developed on Cybertron had evidently paid off.  "And now to ensure that each of you has survived the transition, state your names to me."

"Well, I'm Scavenger," said the first one.  He almost looked like he was trembling. "I'll do my best to make you happy, sir."

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

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

"It won't be soon enough for Bonecrusher--I can't wait to start!"

"And I'm Mixmaster," announced another.  Soundwave had been correct--he was apparently good as new.

After a brief pause, Megatron glared at the sixth Constructicon.  He seemed to be waiting for something.  "And you are...?"

He snapped out of his trance.  "My apologies, noble Megatron.  Some of my algorhythms have not yet come on-line.  I am Scrapper.  As leader of this group, I promise loyal service from each and every one of us," he said.

"See that you do, Scrapper," Megatron said. "What supreme irony that these machines, fashioned after vehicles which humans use to build... will be their destruction!"  It was delicious poetry,    "You understand your mission, Scrapper?"

"Perfectly," Scrapper responded with a salute.

"Then, go!" Megatron commanded.


Scrapper led his warriors out the cavern entrance to the outside world.  It was dawn; the sun shone brilliantly over the mountain peaks.  Scrapper had to admit that there was a certain beauty to the primitive planet.

"Our destiny awaits, my Constructicons," he said to his team.  "Megatron has entrusted us with an important mission--let us not disappoint--eh?"  He caught the glimmer of something metallic out of the corner of his optic sensor.

He stooped down to pick up the tiny piece of metal.  It was misshapen, as though it had been worn down by battle.  It had probably come off of one of the Decepticons after a recent battle with the Autobots.  Inspecting it between his thumb and forefinger, he almost considered keeping it, but immediately dismissed the absurd notion.  It was, after all, just an armor bolt.

He tossed the bolt over his shoulder, transforming to his Earthly vehicular form.  He led the Constructicons out into the countryside to fulfil their mission... and their destiny.

THE END

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