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Title: The Secret
Fandom: Transformers Prime
Character(s): Megatron, Soundwave
Pairing(s): None
Rating: G
Word Count: ~3300
Warnings: Spoilers for the end of season 3 (no spoilers for the series finale); also, spoilers for Foxbear's Trickster.
A/N: This story acts as an epilogue to Trickster, a crucial installment in Foxbear's "Blood and Energon" AU. Trickster's climax reveals a game-changing development about which, as one character tells another, "Megatron cannot know." In storytelling terms, of course, that means "Megatron must find out," and I could not help but imagine how he might react when he does. Many thanks to Foxbear for the beta-read, though this story should be considered metafanfiction and not in any way binding on this AU's "canon." (Foxbear also tried to tone down my Miltonian rhetoric, but what overheated bombast remains is wholly my doing.) Crossposted to [community profile] transficsation. Concrit welcomed with covert intelligence of the highest caliber.

As, when a spark
Lights on a heap of nitrous powder, laid
Fit for the tun, some magazine to store
Against a rumoured war, the smutty grain
With sudden blaze diffused, inflames the air;
So started up, in his own shape, the Fiend.

— John Milton, Paradise Lost IV, 814-819

          Megatron stood on the bridge of the Nemesis, at the hub of all his devices and desires, and was pleased with what he saw.

          Video and data streams coursed through the network around him, most of them dedicated to the reconstruction of the Omega Lock beneath the ship's ventral hull. For all the legends that enshrouded it, the ancient apparatus had posed no mysteries beyond the skill of his engineers to solve. Mechanics were welding the last of its components into place with all deliberate speed, while technicians calculated energy loads and calibrated relays. Others were upgrading the shielding on the Nemesis's most crucial systems, for Megatron had no intention of activating the Lock if the backwash of its power were liable to burn out the ship's engines or disable its helm. That would be an empty victory indeed: to crash, steerless, into the world he had remade. Only the Autobots would appreciate the irony.

          But this time I, not they, shall have the last laugh, he thought as yet another progress report was logged and the project timetable updated. Your ultimate defeat is near, Optimus — and one of your own will ensure it.

          Savoring his imminent triumph, Megatron reviewed the security feeds from Shockwave's lab, where his chief scientist was engaged in uneasy collaboration with the Autobots' medic. Without the cybermatter to fuel it, the Omega Lock was nothing more than an archaeological curiosity, but Shockwave was certain that the synthetic energon Ratchet had developed, combined with his own preparation of CNA, would provide a functional alternative. Unfortunately the synth-en formula was still unstable, requiring the Decepticons to commandeer their enemy's assistance to perfect it. The medic had refused at first, of course, but the vision of Cybertron restored had proved bait too glittering to resist. Nevertheless, Megatron placed no reliance on Ratchet's change of spark. Beneath his traitorous nostalgia for their ruined homeworld, his allegiances remained what they had always been; his stiff posture and stilted courtesies were laughably inadequate to conceal his pangs of conscience. An escape attempt was as inevitable as it was futile. But that was no matter: as soon as he finished his work, the Autobot would be expendable. The calculations he vainly sought to firewall off from outside access were already being decanted from his terminal by Soundwave, a steady stream of inside information.

          As if summoned by his master's thought, the dark mech turned from his station and pinged Megatron's personal comm with a status update: ASSIGNED TASK (INTELLIGENCE GATHERING AND ANALYSIS) COMPLETED.

          "What have you to report?" Megatron asked, without removing his gaze from the monitors before him.

          Soundwave replied with a single glyph: ~Sensitive information.~

          His interest piqued, Megatron tilted his helm to study his communications chief out of the corner of one optic, but Soundwave simply waited for orders, visor blank. "Very well," Megatron replied. Leaving the conn to the helm officer, he gestured for Soundwave to accompany him from the bridge. Together they strode to a secure briefing room across the corridor, Soundwave as ever at Megatron's left, pacing him like a shadow cast by his eminence.

          The door hissed shut behind them and Megatron watched with increasing curiosity as Soundwave not only engaged the lock, but disabled all local sensors and cut the feed from the computer core to the room's terminals. Whatever intelligence he had to deliver was sensitive indeed, held solely in his own cortex and intended for perusal by none but his lord. The only frequencies he left unblocked were Megatron's own comm channels — and that is well for you, he thought, test-cycling his fusion cannon. Soundwave never presumed upon the confidence Megatron reposed in him, but his actions in this instance trod a thin line between sensible precaution and fatal insubordination. No doubt Soundwave realized it, too, as the rising charge of the cannon interfered with the fringes of his EM field. But he simply completed his preparations and faced his master, helm inclined in a proper show of deference, and Megatron powered down his weapon.

          "Well?" he demanded.

          Soundwave replied with a clip of Megatron's voice. "Review the recordings of Ratchet's interrogation. I want every scrap of data you can cull from them."

          Ah. Megatron grinned. Shockwave had strip-mined the medic's memories in search of the formula for synth-en, but he was inclined to overlook stray nuggets of information peripheral to his aims. Soundwave, an omnivorous collector of unconsidered trifles, would not. "And?" Megatron asked, anticipation roughening his voice. "What else has the good doctor to tell us?"

          Soundwave hesitated, and Megatron lowered the priority on several background processes to focus more of his regard on the silent mech. He could read Soundwave's enigmatic demeanor as readily as that of any bot online and what he now perceived in the other's stance and field unsettled him. Soundwave was disturbed, and that did not bode well. Suppressing his unease, Megatron allowed impatience to billow through his own field like the wavefront of an ion storm. "Report!" he ordered.

          Soundwave's left-hand datacable slid from its housing to plug into the terminal beside him and the wall screen brightened into life, displaying a video of Optimus Prime in the ground-bound form that had preceded his most recent transformation. He was seated on a medical berth in what Megatron recognized as the Autobots' previous Earth base, and his expression, as he bent forward to address the minuscule human before him, was tense and solemn. "June," he said, "I have formed a Guardian bond with Jackson."

          Megatron's optics widened, his entire awareness focused on the screen as if locked onto the Prime himself on the field of battle. Every other thread he was managing shut down, starved of attention, as his processor struggled to encompass this irrational datum. "Impossible!" he exclaimed. "No Prime can imprint a sparkling." There are no more sparklings, an analytical subroutine added: he and Optimus between them had seen to that. Aloud he snorted derisively. "He is delusional, is that it? Hardly news, Soundwave."

          For answer, Soundwave opened another window through which scrolled two complex waveforms accompanied by what seemed an excess of medical information. Megatron could recognize a spark scan when he saw one, but the diagnostics were beyond his skill to interpret. His engine grumbled restively and Soundwave paused the readouts to highlight an element in each, a parallel frequency, the same theme lilting through two different symphonies. "A Guardian bond," he explained in Optimus Prime's voice.

          Megatron's glance jumped briefly to his subordinate, then returned to the spark scans. "Impossible," he repeated, but with less conviction than before. There was the evidence, plucked from the mind of Optimus Prime's closest confidant, an expert medic and a realist (or what passed for such among the Autobots). But if this revelation were no flight of fantasy, what purpose did it serve? "A trick," Megatron suggested. "A plant, surely." Suspicion bloomed in his processor. "These engrams cannot be related to the development of synthetic energon; why would Shockwave have acquired them?"

          Soundwave brought up the metadata for both files and tagged their encryption levels; then, for comparison, he opened a third window with a draft version of the synth-en formula. Megatron understood: all were secured at the highest level and heavily obfuscated. Shockwave had clearly harvested every scientific or medical memory Ratchet had sought to hide. Megatron's servos clenched into fists. "And why," he inquired dangerously, "did my chief science officer fail to mention this information to me?"

          "Only confirmation that the synthetic energon formula is unstable, and that the Autobot medic's work on it remains incomplete," Soundwave replied, in Shockwave's words this time, but with their tone modulated upward, robbing the scientist's voice of its gravitas.

          Megatron frowned, but not at the sarcasm. Shockwave's exacting focus and absolute reliance on logic were as much weaknesses as strengths and Megatron knew it, as he knew all of his subordinates' weaknesses: Starscream's ambition, Knockout's vanity, even Soundwave's devotion to Laserbeak. No doubt Shockwave had dismissed these files as corrupt or simply erroneous, contrary to premises so long established as to be principles. "A Prime cannot form a Guardian bond," Megatron murmured thoughtfully. "This is well known. Unless ... " He turned once more to Soundwave, for surely the Autobots would not have let this mystery rest.

          Soundwave did not disappoint him. He displayed another video, this one of the medic himself addressing the same human to whom Optimus Prime had spoken, a fact which Megatron filed for future reference. Ratchet's features were drawn and his plating trembled with exhaustion — no, Megatron realized as the medic began to speak: with rage. "It was explained to me by the Senate members that all of Cybertron was under the guardianship of the Prime. He could not be distracted from his care of Cybertron by the responsibilities of a sparkling bond." Ratchet expelled his next words like projectiles. "They outright stated that this was the will of Primus — that any who carried the Matrix was forever severed from the Well of Allsparks in this one way."

          "A lie, of course," Megatron concluded. The subtext of the medic's speech was clear even without any accompanying field resonance.

          "Coding ... pressed upon Optimus in stealth by the Senate ... designed to prevent imprinting," Soundwave confirmed in Ratchet's outraged accents.

          Megatron smiled sardonically. It did not surprise him that the Senate had dabbled in desecration when it had waded neck-deep in every other form of corruption, but it must have been a lash to Optimus's spark to learn how those in whom he had naively placed his faith had violated him. Megatron's lip-plates tightened and his field all but etched the deck beneath him with caustic satisfaction. From the first Optimus Prime had embodied the cliché of the commander as a Guardian to his mechs — compensating, Megatron supposed, for what he had renounced. Crèche-raised himself, Megatron had never experienced such a bond. Cybertron's masters had required laborers the vorn he was sparked; thus along with dozens of others, he had passed from the care of the priests of the Well straight to a mining guild nursery. That had been a school for strength, every cycle a competition for the best upgrades, the biggest rations, the warmest berths, Destroyer take the hindmost. He presumed, though he had never investigated the matter, that Orion Pax had been nurtured by a Guardian, as were most bots of his caste. It certainly explained why he had never learned to make the necessary sacrifices — unless that sacrifice was himself.

          The power of the Matrix shall light our darkest hour!

          Megatron cleared his cache and considered the time-stamp on the first clip from the medic's memory. It predated the discovery of the Omega Lock, during that period when Earth's sun had been so unexpectedly active and the Nemesis's nav and comm systems had so unaccountably failed. Megatron sneered to quell the stirrings of ignition in his spark. A coincidence, doubtless, and the basest of clichés, that the imprinting of a Prime's sparkling should be announced by signs in the heavens. Of more practical note was the fact that Megatron had fought Optimus several times since then and had noticed none of the usual weaknesses attendant on a Guardian bond: the softening of the armor, the division of focus. You hid your secret well, Optimus, he thought, but now the truth will out, as you always said it must. "Who is this privileged sparkling?" he inquired mockingly, his processor already turning over the possibilities. Some stasis-locked experiment, perhaps, like those miserable lumps Starscream had stowed away on the Nemesis, or perhaps a legacy of earlier Cybertronian interventions in this system, a living fossil with no proper designation, only a nonsense string of organic phonemes. "Who is this 'Jackson'?"

          To his mild bemusement, Soundwave stepped up to access the terminal manually, his digits drumming an intricate tattoo on its interface as his cable detached from its port. The various data feeds on the screen shrank and clustered in its lower left quadrant to make way for the text of an intelligence report beside the still image of a face.

          A human face.

          Megatron recognized it immediately: the startled visage of the one who had spared him in the collapsed energon mine, to whom Optimus Prime had entrusted the Key to Vector Sigma, and for whom he had traded two Omega Keys and control of the restoration of Cybertron. Jackson Darby, alias Jack, the legend beneath the portrait read, the names spelled out in both their native alphabet and phonetic Cybertronian. A personal designation in stately glyphs followed: Alias Daybreaker.

          Megatron's processors stalled, but his spark blazed with passion and his field flared around him like an aurora, coruscating with excess charge. His vision sharpened until he could discern each pixel in that damnable image even as the screen itself was limned in a violet haze. A growl rumbled in his voice box, rising to a bellow of fury as Megatron slammed his fist down on the terminal. The polymer housing tore like lead foil beneath the blow; the circuits within shattered, splinters flying, and the screen went dark. Megatron roared again, so loudly that the room's sound-dampening panels vibrated in sympathy, and rounded on his spymaster. "You dare," he snarled, claws flexing, "you dare claim that he — that any mech would bind himself — would yoke his very spark! — to a mere organic, a wretched parasite spawned from the corpse of Unicron?"

          Soundwave stood his ground. "I have formed a Guardian bond with Jackson," he repeated, explicitly and uncharacteristically tagging the statement with the glyphs for quotation this time. The message was clear — ~This is Optimus Prime's claim, not mine~ — but Megatron was not mollified. His servos were closing on the armor that protected Soundwave's vocalizer when the mech added in Ratchet's urgent tones, "Megatron cannot know."

          Megatron's processors caught the implication and cycled up once more, drawing off the excess energy of his core to fuel their analysis. Of course the Autobots would want to keep this ... circumstance ... from him. An immature human, an order of magnitude more vulnerable than a Cybertronian sparkling, whom the Prime himself was now bound to protect and preserve at all costs? Such a lever on their chief adversary was a gift to the Decepticons, beyond doubt. And more than that ...

          Shoving the other mech aside, Megatron folded his arms across his chestplates, still thrumming faintly in resonance with the agitation of his spark. It had pleased him to see the Autobots scattered to the winds of a hundred different stars, their commander stripped one by one of his closest comrades: the blustering chassis-guard, the spiritless tactician, the insolent saboteur, and now the choleric doctor. Without followers, a leader was nothing — an empty shell, a hollow drum. What use the title of Prime, the pomp and circumstance of office, even the power of the Matrix, to a mech alone and friendless? I will take everything from you, he thought, his passion mastered but undiminished, white-hot rage banked to a no less dangerous red heat. You, who once stood at my right hand ... and when you are starved of all that you craved — acclaim and obeisance and rule — then will I break you beneath my heel and make your frame my footstool. And he would begin by plucking this upstart human, this Jackson, from whatever bolt-hole in which his so-called Guardian had secreted him, and crushing him like the vermin he was ...

          A tactical subroutine pounced on the glyph for Guardian and Megatron stayed his calculations as his linguistic protocols broke the complex pictogram into its constituent elements, ~ward~ and ~care~ and ~spark~. The word itself was practically cant; Cybertronian exceptionalists refused to apply it to the nurturers of other species, even those who formed analogous relationships with their young. A cross-species bond was unprecedented, inconceivable; a Guardian who claimed a human sparkling would have been tried by the old regime for sacrilege ...

          A human ... sparkling ...

          A sparkling ...

          His field quieted, shimmering with the deceptive calm of a degenerate white dwarf before it reignites to detonate in a supernova, and his faceplates relaxed into the slightest of smiles. Beside him Soundwave stood impassive, but his weight shifted minutely on his pedes. Lesser mechs fled Megatron's anger; his officers trod softly lest they draw his acid humor; but all quailed before him in this mood, presage to his most intimate and abominable cruelties.

          At length Megatron shook himself free of his thoughts and turned to his communications chief. "Excise all information pertaining to this matter from the original recordings and secure it separately," he commanded. "No one is to access it without my express permission. And tell Shockwave to see me at his earliest convenience. Starscream as well," he added.

          Nodding once, Soundwave messaged the two mechs as he began filing and encrypting the data. Megatron swept from the room, slivers of broken circuitry crackling beneath his pedes as he went. For a few moments after the door had closed between them, Soundwave remained immobile, his processors wholly engaged with his assigned task; then he spared a fraction of his attention to run a diagnostic on Laserbeak. Only when the Minicon reported all systems nominal did he summon a maintenance drone to deal with the wrecked terminal.

          Megatron's response to his intelligence had been everything Soundwave had anticipated, but not even he could predict what his master intended to do next. Strategically, this development should have been of no import: once the Omega Lock was operational, the cyberforming of Earth could begin, dooming Jackson Darby, alias Daybreaker, along with the rest of his species. Let the Autobot hypocrites mourn its passing; Soundwave would not. Enough energon had been spilled in this war that the internal fluids of seven billion primitive organics would scarcely dilute it. Strength prevailed, weakness perished, and Primus slept: that Soundwave had learned long before he had met Megatron in the Pits of Kaon and seen in him the only answer to the artificial inequities of caste. In an arena of unfettered competition, the gladiator had preached, strong and weak alike would earn their places through their deeds, not their affinities. To that ideal future, incarnate in his lord's career, Soundwave had remained ever constant, as well as ever vigilant for the inconstancies of others. Orion Pax he had doubted from the first, but Megatron had not heeded Soundwave's warnings and the archivist's betrayal had taken him at unawares. Even now Optimus Prime remained a distortion in Megatron's otherwise clear vision, a distraction from the victory that lay within his grasp. If he chose to challenge the Prime now, before his designs on Earth and Cybertron were accomplished ...

          I have come for Megatron, and him alone. Stand down and be spared.

          Something of Soundwave's disquiet must have communicated itself to Laserbeak, for the Minicon pinged him again with the results of the diagnostic. He acknowledged the data, then synched with the Nemesis's core to edit the records of the cortical psychic patch held there. By the time the repair drone requested entrance, the redaction was complete. Soundwave rebooted the briefing room's sensors, unblocked its comms, and opened the door to admit the drone. Leaving it to click and whir over the mess like an addled scraplet, he returned to the bridge.

          There Megatron stood in his accustomed place, the axis around which the Decepticon cause revolved. His field brushed Soundwave's in bare acknowledgment of the other's presence, giving nothing away, his regard fixed on the monitors displaying the inexorable progress of his plans.

          Taking up his station, Soundwave likewise immersed himself in the flow of data, ghosting toward victory in his master's wake.

[Acknowledgments: Transformers Prime was created by Hasbro Studios. Copyright for this property is held by Hasbro. Trickster was written by Foxbear; the original characters and situations described therein belong, according to the courtesy due living authors, to hi/r and no other.]


nebroadwe: From "The Magdalen Reading" by Rogier van der Weyden.  (Default)
The Magdalen Reading

August 2014



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