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Chapter 4: “Actions and consequences.”
 

Cybertron, Capital city Darkmount
 

    Darkness still reigned in the capital city, even though days had passed since the Maximal saboteur’s attack. It was estimated that it would be weeks more until something approaching normalcy was restored, despite the fact that the repair teams were working around the clock. Fortunately, many of the planet's space defenses, the dampening field for example, had escaped destruction. The fleet had also returned and now held defensive positions throughout the system to discourage any follow up attacks that might be planned.

    The only building in the entire city that still had power was Galvatron’s palace. The saboteur had only managed a brief excursion into it, and had not managed to inflict significant damage. The palace had its own power supply, and was currently acting as the full command center for all Predacon activities during the crisis. Inside, a meeting was taking place in an attempt to deal with the current situation. Around a table sat the Predacon Generals from every branch of the service. It included Ravage, recently  appointed the new head of intelligence, the “Tri-Predicus” council, which handled civil, scientific, and political affairs, Onslaught, military strategist and infantry commander, and finally, Dinobot, who was given command over the fleet after Cyclonus’ death. Though the post had been listed as ‘acting’ commander, most expected he would be given full command very soon, if he completed the task Galvatron had for him.

    At first the meeting had been a fervor of recriminations and attempts to shift the blame away from one another. This, Galvatron ended with a shot through the ceiling. He took the floor the same way he was trying to take the universe itself, by force.

    “My ‘loyal’ generals,” he began, “we face the darkest time of our empire since the coming of Unicron.” He looked around the table for signs of dissent, and after finding none he continued. “On no less than three separate occasions in the last month, our supposedly ‘impenetrable’ security net has been breached. One of these breaches it turns out has been the head of our intelligence for over TWO HUNDRED YEARS!” This last Galvatron aimed at Ravage, who cowered in his seat. Predacon intelligence officers were supposed to be watching each other for signs of disloyalty. None of them had suspected their commander had been a traitor, much less an actual Autobot.

    “Of more importance however,” he continued, sparing Ravage his attention for the moment, “is the destruction of our fleet command headquarters, our main science complex, the main communication and power relays for the capital city, and the Pluto defense station.” Rumor had it that Terrorsaur, the station’s commander, had survived its destruction only to be terminated by Galvatron personally for his failure to stop the escaping Maximals. No one knew for sure, but he had not been seen since his rescue and no one had the courage to ask Galvatron about his fate.

    “Cicadacon, what report do you have on the attempts to salvage Vector Sigma?” Galvatron asked his scientific advisor.

    The smaller Predacon came to his feet slowly and addressed the table. “The actual supercomputer that is ‘Vector Sigma’ has been analyzed and studied for years. We believe we can salvage and rebuild it.” There was a murmur of hope around the table for a moment. Cicadacon however, was far from finished. “However, without the essence of Primus to empower it, we can only produce mindless drones, devoid of all traces of a spark.”

    It took a few moments for the impact of this to sink in, but it would take Cicadacon’s next statement to truly make them understand. “This means that the death of every Predacon brings us one step closer to extinction.”

    Silence filled the room as they pondered the truth of this statement. Even though they outnumbered the combined armies of the remaining free worlds by a substantial margin, the Maximals still possessed the Matrix as a method of reproduction. For the first time in their history, the Predacons faced the possibility of being on the losing side of a war of attrition.

    “That is where you two come in,” Galvatron said, turning to his new generals, Ravage and Dinobot. “We can prolong the war using drones, but we cannot win it. Once our troops learn that we face extinction, they may mutiny en-masse. To prevent that, we must re-empower Vector Sigma.”

    “How do we do that?” Dinobot asked. “Primus has gone beyond our reach, unless you have found a way to follow him into the afterlife.”

    In response Galvatron brought his rifle around and pointed it straight at Dinobot’s head. He held it there for a tense moment, and then began to laugh. “I can see why Cyclonus liked you! Your impudence can be quite amusing.” He locked eyes with Dinobot. “Do not push me however, or I may just try that method with YOU as my test subject.” After a moment, Dinobot backed down. The results of angering their leader were too well documented for him to ignore. This seemed to satisfy Galvatron, who continued.

    “We can use the drones to prolong the war and reduce our losses, but we cannot win it with them. Word of our loss will eventually get out, and when that happens we will face mass desertion,  possibly mutiny.” Each of them looked at one another, knowing he was right. “Before that happens we must obtain the means to re-empower Vector Sigma and eliminate the last of our enemies once and for all,” he repeated himself.

    “How?” Onslaught asked simply.

    A smile played across the Predacon leader’s face as he responded, “Why, we simply attack the Maximals, and take the last remaining spark of Primus from them, the Matrix itself!” A murmur of disbelief rose from the table in response to this statement.

    “How can we take the Matrix from them if we can’t even find them?” Ravage asked tentatively. “Thus far the intelligence teams have only been able to uncover New Earth, New Iacon’s location is still a mystery.”

    “It will not remain a mystery much longer,” Galvatron gloated, “for I take pride in covering all possibilities. Soon we shall move to not only prevent our race’s extinction, but to end our conflict with the Maximals, once and for all!”
 

New Iacon, homeworld of the Maximal resistance.

    The Arcturus 9 system occupied a remote sector in the fringes of the local group of stars. Rarely visited, few knew that it contained any inhabitable worlds, much less that it was indeed actually inhabited. The Autobots and almost a full quarter of the human survivors had built a new home here, from which they intended to defeat the Decepticons and Predacons and gain retribution for what they had lost. The other three quarters had established colonies in other systems with the help of the Autobots in an effort to prevent their extinction if New Iacon was ever discovered. Thus New Earth, New America, and Aurora were founded. Ironically, these splinter colonies had been the first to fall during the three hundred years of the resistance’s existence.

    A Predacon “blood-hound” team discovered New America, and Aurora’s location had been betrayed by the Omega Cluster’s government in an attempt to shift Predacon  attention away from them. The Predacons repaid them for their gift by finishing off their fleet and taking their homeworld from them. When the Cluster fell, the Predacons cut the remaining free worlds off from one another, making Aurora a much easier target to strike at. After its fall, the resistance lost its main supply line and  primary shipyards, not to mention the large portion of the fleet destroyed while trying to defend it. Without these, the resistance was all but a lost cause waiting for the Predacons to finish them off.

    Recent events, however, had renewed hope within the ranks of their army. The Predacons had lost their means of producing unlimited troops, and their command structure had been disrupted by the destruction on Cybertron. Many hoped that this setback to the Predacon advance might finally give them the chance to regroup and rebuild their losses. This hope was dashed when Maximal leader Grimlock addressed his troops. He announced that the locations of New Iacon and New Earth could no longer be considered secure. All inhabitants of these systems were to begin preparations for the immediate evacuation of all personnel to other worlds sympathetic to their cause. With most of the fleet gone, however, this mass evacuation was problematic at best, and transports were filled to danger levels in an attempt to save as many as possible. Many more prepared to defend their homes to the last, for if they could not escape the  Predacons when the invasion came, they were determined to make them pay a high price for their victory.

    Maximal commander Grimlock stood in his office on New Iacon. He had just finished a conference with the human leader Admiral Williams about the division of the fleet. Half its number now occupied each system to augment the planetary defenses. A fraction of the fleet had been assigned to cover the ships carrying refugees out of the projected combat zone, though neither of them believed that these would halt a determined attack. One more ray of hope had arrived with the return of the Maximal ship Axalon. Her successful infiltration of the Sol system was already making its transition into legendary status. Of more immediate importance to Grimlock was the cargo they had brought back with them. He went to great pains to keep it a secret, moving it off ship while the celebration in the crew’s honor was in full swing. He debriefed the ship’s captain, Optimus Primal, and infiltration specialist Night Stalker soon after, to learn the full scope of the situation. He was not fully prepared for what they presented him.

    “A prisoner? Galvatron arranged for the highest security in the known galaxy for a single prisoner?” he muttered in disbelief.

    “Not just any prisoner,” Stalker began to say, “he’s the one who....”

    “I know,” Grimlock interrupted. “He claims to have killed Optimus Prime aboard the Ark before he awoke. A claim I’m not sure we can take seriously. I mean, how in the name of Primus did he travel back in time to prehistoric Earth in the first place, and how could he possibly have boarded the Ark?” Grimlock turned and sat down behind his desk. “As you may know, Teletran 1 awoke me and my fellow Dinobots not long after the crash, in response to Shockwave’s landing on Earth. When we left to fight him, the security field was firmly in place, and according to Teletran’s records it remained in place until the Earth year 1984, since we were trapped and unable to return and deactivate it.”

    “Yes sir,” Primal said. “We know the story quite well, but Prime’s death remains a mystery despite the facts. We didn’t have the facilities to interrogate him thoroughly, but if he’s telling the truth....” he trailed off, letting them use their imaginations.

    Grimlock considered for a moment before responding. “I agree that we can’t ignore the possibility, but I can only spare a little time on this. We have to prepare for what may be our last stand against the Predacons, and I for one am not quite ready to pass this on yet,” he said while tapping his chest to indicate the Matrix within.
 

Maximal Intelligence, Detention block 3587

    The Maximal detention block was attached to the intelligence center, much like its Predacon counterpart had been. The resemblance ended there however,  as it was missing many of the torture devices that made the Predacon version the final destination for its victims. The current prisoner sat chained to a chair inside, his movements restricted by a neural dampener much like the restraining bolt he had worn until recently.

    “It’s ironic,” he said as Grimlock entered the room. “Galvatron kept me strapped to a chair for centuries, and when I am finally set free by the enemy, they strap me to another chair.” The prisoner went into a laughing fit that made Grimlock doubt his sanity, but he had a job to do here.

    “Who are you?” Grimlock asked evenly. The prisoner’s laughing eventually abated somewhat, and he answered.

    “In my own universe, I was known as Megatron.”

    “That’s impossible,” Grimlock said. “You’re nothing like Megatron. I should know, I fought him enough times.”

    “And lost,” Megatron sneered. Grimlock however refused to react to his sarcasm.

    “Nevertheless,  I know him well enough to say that you’re not him, alternate universe or not.”

    “Of course I’m not the original Megatron you dolt,” Megatron said with a mild chuckle. “He became Galvatron in my universe as well. I simply took the name for my own since he no longer needed it. I had hoped it would gather troops around me as it had for him so long ago.”

    “You claim to have killed Optimus Prime,” Grimlock said.

    “‘Claim’ to have killed him? HA! I blasted his head into slag as he lay helpless in stasis lock,” Megatron said in a triumphant tone, beginning to chuckle once more.

    “How? In your earlier interrogation, you claim to be from approximately the same time we exist in now. How could you have traveled back in time two hundred and fifty thousand years before you were manufactured?” Grimlock asked sarcastically.

    “You mean you really can’t figure it out?” Megatron asked mockingly. “Why, I used a ship equipped with transwarp capabilities to make the journey.”

    “What?!” Grimlock asked, legitimately surprised. “Transwarp can travel through time?”

    “You mean you didn’t know that?” Megatron asked wonderingly, laughing again.

    “We haven’t had the drive long, and we stole it from the Predacons at that. There hasn’t been time for a full investigation of its properties,”  Grimlock admitted, taking a few steps closer to Megatron.

    Megatron continued laughing until he felt the blade of Grimlock’s sword under his chin.
“Even assuming you traveled back in time, how did you board the Ark? I know for a fact it was secured long before you arrived.”

    Megatron looked from the blade to its owner, then shrugged and said, “The original Megatron in my universe copied the codes as he left the Ark behind to explore the Earth for energy. He stored these codes in a hidden message for a future generation to find in case he lost the war.”

    Grimlock stood rock still for a moment as the plausibility of this raced through him. He lowered his sword and turned away. Megatron took this as having caused the Maximal pain, and made the mistake of laughing again. It was almost the last mistake he ever made, as he didn’t hear Grimlock ignite the sword’s energy field. In a flash almost to fast to follow, Grimlock swung around and buried the blade into the wall scant inches from Megatron’s neck. The now silent Predacon watched as Grimlock slowly pulled the blade free, and held it with both hands over his head.

    “It seems then, that the universe has given me the opportunity to avenge the death of not only Prime, but also of every Maximal and human that died as a result of your actions,” Grimlock said, his voice a low growl of barely contained fury.

    Megatron tried to sneer at him, but the look in Grimlock’s eyes convinced him he wasn’t bluffing. If he was to survive this encounter, he had to play his last hand well.
“Kill me, and you will be as responsible for their deaths as I am,” he said defiantly.

    Grimlock stood quivering for a moment, then brought the blade down to Megatron’s face. The energy field surrounding it burned the cheek of his faceplate as Grimlock held it in position there.  “What is that supposed to mean?” Grimlock finally managed.

    Megatron tried desperately to ignore the pain as droplets of metal fell from where the sword touched him. “I mean that only I know precisely when I killed Prime. Without that knowledge you can’t possibly fix the timeline.”

    Grimlock seemed unmoved by this, and continued to hold the sword against Megatron, who could now feel the temperature in his head approaching dangerous levels. “You traveled back in time, fought against the Maximals you claim followed you back to stop you, boarded the Ark, and murdered Prime, and I’m supposed to believe you want to help us fix all this,” Grimlock grated.

    Growing desperate, Megatron’s voice finally cracked as his internal computer told him the temperature had reached critical levels. “This universe is not the one I wanted to exist in. I dreamed of a universe where the Predacons reigned supreme, and the Maximals were our slaves.”

    “So what’s your problem then? It looks like you got your wish,” Grimlock said venemously.

    “In my dream, I was greeted as a hero in the new reality, possibly as the supreme leader of the new Predacon army. Instead I was treated as a nuisance, and kept as a prisoner. Galvatron took great pleasure in my suffering, and spent much of his free time making sure I did suffer.” Megatron looked Grimlock directly in the eyes. “I would like to make sure that he suffers worse than I have. For if such is to be my fate in this reality, I would rather it never existed at all!” Megatron yelled, his voice starting to give out. Some of his subprocessors were starting to fail.

    Grimlock stared at him for a moment longer, then deactivated his sword, slowly lowering it away from the battered Predacon. He let his gaze fall across it, and pondered his own reflection for almost a full minute before finally speaking.

    “What you’re saying, basically, is that you destroyed an entire reality just to suit your purpose, and now you want us to help you destroy another, to undo the damage you’ve done to both. Is that about right?”

    “Yes,” Megatron admitted uneasily.

    “What’s to stop me from figuring out the time travel aspect of the transwarp drive and  sending back a team to destroy your ship as soon as it arrives in the Sol system?” Grimlock asked, glaring at him.

    “Because events happened while I was there the first time that changed Earth’s history in ways that brought about the original reality in the first place. Besides, you don’t know exactly when we arrived, just approximately. If you interfere too soon, you could disrupt reality worse than it already had been,” Megatron rasped.

    For several moments, Grimlock stood there, unable to decide what he should do. Finally he walked over to the wall and hit the intercom button so hard he almost shattered it. “Guard, open the door,” he shouted.

    The door shot open and Grimlock marched out. He turned to the guard and ordered him to get a medical unit in to treat the prisoner, and to get Perceptor and his science team into my office immediately. Before the confused guard could even say “Yes Sir!” Grimlock spun and stomped away, already alone with the grim possibilities presented to him.

Maximal HQ, Main conference room

    Several hours later, an equally confused Optimus Primal sat in a secured conference room. Around the table with him sat the legendary scientists Perceptor, Wheeljack, and their numerous assistants. At the head sat Grimlock, who Primal could swear looked several eons older than the last time they had seen each other, which had only been the day before.

    “You’re probably wondering why I’ve asked you here?” Grimlock began.

    “Yes sir, I am. I’d anticipated rejoining the fleet to help defend the planet when the attack comes,” Primal answered evenly.

    “I’m afraid we can’t spare you, as we need you and your ship for a more important assignment,” Grimlock said.

    Optimus nodded. “I understand sir, you want us to help evacuate the refugees. Our transwarp drive can allow us to make several trips long before the Predacons arrive.”

    Grimlock shook his head. “No, I’ve already sent our few other transwarp capable ships to New Earth to aid in their evacuation and defense. Their larger population will take too long to evacuate any other way. Your ship is the last one available to me, and I can’t spare it for any other reason.”

    Primal gave his leader a questioning look. “Sir, if I may ask, what do you need me to do that’s more important than the evacuation or defense of our last two worlds?”

    “I need you to destroy this reality,” Grimlock said so quietly that it took a moment for Primal to realize what he said.

    “Sir?!” he asked in bewildered disbelief.

    “This reality was never meant to exist. After interrogating the prisoner, and consulting with  my science advisors,” Grimlock waved his hand to indicate the other Maximals in the room, “I have determined that the prisoner did indeed travel back in time and alter the timeline.” He stopped for a moment to see if Primal was catching on. When he didn’t seem to be, Grimlock motioned for Perceptor to explain.

    “A further study of the transwarp drive in areas indicated to us by the prisoner has yielded unexpected results,” Perceptor attempted to explain. “By making marginal adjustments in the navigational controls, it becomes possible to traverse time as well as space.”

    Primal was finally beginning to get it. “So we could send a ship back in time and blast the original Decepticons before they ambush the Ark, and prevent this whole timeline from ever happening!” he said quickly.

    “Theoretically yes,” Grimlock said. “However, I am not prepared to take the chance of  disrupting the timeline further than it already has been. From a further interrogation of the prisoner, we know that in the timeline he changed, the Autobots eventually win the war against the Decepticons, and are currently at peace with them. While I’m sure we would all prefer for the Decepticons and Predacons to have never existed, I think restoring this ‘original’ reality is far preferable to the one we currently occupy.”

    Primal thought this made sense, but it seemed there was something no one had mentioned to him yet. “What happens to everyone in this reality if the timeline changes again?” He asked, half knowing what the answer must be.

    It was Perceptor that answered him. “Those that exist in the other timeline will re-appear, with no knowledge of these events.”

    “And the others?” Primal asked.

    “Obviously, those that do not exist in the other timeline, or have perished, will simply disappear, with no evidence that they ever existed, or lived past their due time,” Wheeljack said.

    The weight of this statement shook Primal like a physical blow. “Primus,” he said, “do you have any idea what your asking me to do.”

    It was Grimlock who spoke this time. “Yes. I know EXACTLY what I’m asking of you, but there’s no other choice.” He stood up and walked around the table towards Primal. “The fleet can’t hold off the Predacons long and Galvatron will hunt down any survivors no matter how long it takes him. Even with the loss of their troop production they still outnumber us by too great a margin to overcome. Unless something changes, we will lose this war, Galvatron will find some other way to produce new Predacons, and the universe will fall under his heel.”

    Primal took a moment. “Before I agree to this,” he said unsteadily, “how do we know he’s not lying. He could be trying to make things worse than they already are.”

    “We have already subjected the prisoner to a mind probe in order to verify the veracity of his claim.” Perceptor said.

    “There are also differences in his construction from any Maximal or Predacon style to back up his ‘Quantum Surge’ story,” Wheeljack interjected. “It’s alien to anything I’ve ever seen before.”

    “So what am I supposed to do if I do go back?” Primal asked, finally getting a grip on things.

    “Your mission,” Grimlock said, placing his hand on Primal’s shoulder. “is to go back and stop Megatron’s earlier self from destroying Optimus Prime. The prisoner will supply you with the coordinates, and the date of the assassination. I already have the access codes for the Ark to give you, as I installed them in the first place.”

    “So we wait until he’s on board, and take him down before he shoots Prime, right?” Primal said.

    “If necessary, yes. If you can arrive early enough, you may simply be able to change the access codes and prevent him from entering the Ark at all. However, you can’t do that until after this Megatron has entered the Ark for the first time,” Grimlock replied.

    “He was in there twice!” Primal snapped in surprised.

    “Apparently yes. He was somewhat reluctant to alter anything aboard the ship the first time, so he left and made a vain attempt to destroy humanity instead. After that didn’t work, he reluctantly returned and finished the job,” Grimlock said.

    “So, all I have to do is go back, take a shuttle down to the planet, stop Megatron from making a bad career move, and hope that each of us exists in the new reality. What’s the catch?” Primal asked, a slight sarcastic tone in his voice.

    “Easy, you’re taking Megatron along with you as a guide,” Grimlock said.

    “What!” Primal said suddenly. “By the Matrix, have you gone insane? If you’re right, he caused all of this in the first place. Why would we want him along?”

    Grimlock sighed and met Primal’s gaze. “Megatron has a vested interest in seeing the timeline restored, most notably the survival of his race. I’m also giving you this,” he said,  tossing Primal a small remote. “I’ve had charges placed throughout his body. With this control, you can detonate any one, or all of them at once.”

    “You still haven’t told me why I should bring him along in the first place,” Primal asked again.

    “You need him to keep from interfering in events that are supposed to have taken place in this other reality. He has a detailed knowledge of its history that could prove invaluable to you,” Grimlock answered.

    “We can’t trust him,” Primal said, starting to stand up. Before he could, Grimlock grabbed both his shoulders and forced him to sit back down.

    “We have no choice,” he said forcefully. “We have to take this last chance that fate has offered us. If we don’t, it won’t matter one way or the other, because we’ll be dead anyway. If we can change reality however, I want to minimize the damage your presence might cause to this other universe.” Primal slumped in surrender. As flawed as he knew the logic of the plan must be, he had to agree that there was no other choice.

    “When do I leave?” he asked finally.

    “As soon as the prisoner is loaded, your crew is aboard, and we make a few final adjustments to your drive system,” Wheeljack told him. “We’ve also come up with a new form of organic ‘beast mode’ that will allow you to better blend in with your surroundings.”

    “This isn’t going to be like that ‘Pretender’ fiasco is it?” Optimus asked apprehensively.

    “We’ve made some improvements,” Wheeljack answered with only a slight amount of embarrassment in his voice. “Your R-chambers are being programmed with ‘beast’ modes appropriate to the era you will be in.”

    “We’re also adding Night Stalker to your entourage, as his stealth capabilities will allow you to reconnoiter the other Transformers without being detected yourself,” Perceptor added.

    “That makes sense,” Primal agreed.

    “Very well,” Grimlock started to say. “Let’s get everything ready for.....” Before he could finish however, every alarm in the complex began to sound. Over the din, Grimlock hit the comm button and asked for a status report.

    “The outer system defense net has detected multiple hyperwave signatures on an approach vector,” an exasperated human tech answered him.

    “How many?” Grimlock asked.

    “Over a thousand!” she said, her voice breaking.

    “Then this is it,” Grimlock said, turning back to the others. “After all this time, the enemy has finally found us.”

Hyperspace, on approach to New Iacon, and New Earth.

    It was the largest fleet ever assembled. Over three thousand ships of every class ever built by the Predacons. They had split into two fleets, in order to hit both planets at the same time. Galvatron aboard his flagship the Overlord, would take New Iacon and the Matrix, while Dinobot in the Vengeance, destroyed New Earth.

    “To think,” Galvatron announced to his bridge crew, “ I might never have found Grimlock’s bolt hole if he hadn’t chosen to bring my stolen property directly back here. That was a mistake I will make him pay for, and all the others of his kind shall pay right along with him!”

    Galvatron’s laughter filled even his most loyal followers with dread as they approached the system, and the Maximals trapped within.