++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Clutterbug had regained consciousness, and was crying as Uncle carried her toward the Medical Bay. Clutterbug: "Oh, it's all my fault! If I wouldn't have interfered, you'd have gotten them." Uncle: "Eh, dere was no guarantee of dat. I coulda easily missed da shot." Windchill, riding on Uncle's shoulder, beeped indignantly. Uncle: "Eh, dat wasn't very nice. You apologise to the little lady." Clutterbug: "No, he's right. You guys would have stopped him." (continues to sob) Uncle: "Dere dere, little lady, nuttin' ta cry over. We'll get you to Medbay and get you fixed right up, hey." Clutterbug: "I'm not hurting on the outside. I'm hurting on the inside." Uncle: "Whaddya mean?" Clutterbug: "The robot that was helping Crackup...was the prisoner I was supposed to be guarding." Clutterbug began to wail in anguish. Uncle could only ponder this new information in silence. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Washout regained consciousness a little more slowly this time around. Whoever had hit him from behind knew what they were doing; a shot to the least-shielded area of the neural cortex like that could have been fatal. But as he was alive to think the thought.... Washout looked over to the side, and spotted the still prone form of his partner Flatfoot. His having not awoken yet was beginning to cause Washout some concern; if left untreated for much longer, his spark could very well join the matrix. Pushing himself up painfully, he grabbed Flatfoot, and headed toward medbay. Perhaps Ticker could put her magic to work, and bring him back on-line. Failing that, it was just a short hop to Cybertron...assuming there was time. With that thought, Washout picked up his pace. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Bugger... Crackup arrived back at the ship without incident. Suprising, considering that traffic was slowed most of the way there. Various areas of the highways were cordoned off as debris were removed and roadways repaired; more of Crackup's handiwork, albeit indirectly. Optimus Minor assumed that much, anyways- he had no way of knowing it was actually Campaign Car that did most of the damage. The history tapes were rather vague on certain areas. All the more reason one had to avoid playing things by ear... Arriving at the ship, Optimus Minor exited Crackup, taking the small robot with him...and getting that odd, tingling feeling a second time. Crackup transformed, and sent a coded frequency to the ship. The hatch opened, and Crackup began walking up the ramp. Optimus Minor hesitated; there was nothing in his orders that specified joining the Decepticon on his ship. Quite the contrary actually; he was only supposed to make sure that Crackup escaped Milwaukee Base with the information, and then return to his own time. Unfortunately, information wasn't the only thing that Crackup escaped with. He also had a hostage- the little robot. And that *definately* wasn't on the history tapes. So now, he had a choice: either consider his mission finished, and leave...or stay on with Crackup, and make SURE the mission was finished. When he thought about it like that, it seemed there really was no choice at all. Optimus Minor went up the ramp, and into the Decepticon ship. Thus secured, the trio sped away, heading toward outerspace...and the unknown. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ The stasis pods in Ticker's medbay were an interesting invention. Like normal pods, they kept a patient just barely on this side of the matrix as the body within struggled to heal. It made sense; like bed rest for a human, the medical version of stasis prevented a cybertonian from doing more damage to himself while he was healing. However, as the body healed, the mind woud normally suffer; without any input or activity from the sensors, a mind could go insane. This is why critical repairs were often time-sensitive; if they didn't repair a body fast enough, or install the spark in a new body, the current personality would be lost. Sometimes, the entire spark, too. Knowing this, Ticker had specially modified her pods to allow the core consciousness an outlet while the body healed. Instead of sensors, the consciousness could be linked to a stand-alone computer running various simulations; a 'holodeck' of sorts for the mind. A shore leave from reality. The ability to dream...where dreams would normally be impossible. This allowed the newer changeforms the extra time they needed to 'heal' (where organics are concerned, 'repair' doesn't seem like the right word). A blissful state of quiet settled upon the medical bay; ony the soft whirr of ventilation fans could be heard, along with the beep of various monitoring devices. And the chirping from the stand-alone computer. Three minds had never been hooked up to the unit before...at least, not at the same time. This made for some interesting changes to the program. The three robots in the stasis pods would literally be interacting with each other in the simulated enviornment. At least, in theory... Ticker made the final connections, flipped the power switch, and left the room. She figured things could take care of themselves well-enough without her interference. If anything were to go wrong, the computer would notify her. In the meantime, she had more patients to attend to... Exiting the stasis-area, she surveyed the next group of patients in her waiting-room. Uncle Whiskey Breath had a damaged knee that was leaking lubricants; Clutterbug had what appeared to be several dents in her crainal module; and of-course the little robot(Windchill, she believed it called itself) was looking sadly at the oversized Blizzard shotgun it was carrying. On the other side of the room, Washout and Flatfoot sat, dented, burnt...and off-line, it appeared, for one of them. That set the priorities. Flatfoot and Uncle would be taken care of first, and then the rest. She pulled out her antigravity cart, and put Flatfoot on it. She then motioned to Uncle; "OK, come-on over. Let's get that line patched and the plate welded before you leak all over my clean floor." Uncle shook his head, and pointed to Clutterbug; her injuries were merely cosmetic, but she appeared to be in more distress than the others. "Well, fine then. Come-on girl, let's get you taken care of first." Clutterbug looked up at Uncle; he smiled and nodded his head. Reluctantly, she let go of his hand, and followed Ticker into the Operating area. Ticker closed the door behind them. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ The computer finished compiling the new information, and displayed the result: a three-dimensional representation of Electrum Beast. Installing the core-consciousness to the computer required a means by which the mind could orientate itself. The process being finished, the computer uploaded this information into the host, so as to better acclimate him to the new enviornment... "What an interesting idea," Electrum Beast thought to himself. "Uploading my mind to a 'holodeck'. I have a digitally-created 'cyber-body' that I can use to move around this world. I wonder what program Ticker will be running?" Before he can finish the thought, he spotted two more figures walking toward him on this digital gridwork, approaching him from opposite ends. "Part of the program?" he wondered. But no. These figures were too-well-detailed to be drone holographic constructs. If he didn't know better, he'd say that his wasn't the only mind running in the program today.... ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Having placed Flatfoot into a stasis pod, Ticker moved the sonic-dent puller over the back of clutterbug's head, removing all traces of the lumps she took earlier. A quick buffing, and she'd look good as new. Superficial physical damage was the easiest to fix; it was the emotional damage that Ticker was still worried about. Putting her tools down, Ticker attempted to broach the subject with her. "So, do you want to talk about it?" "No," replied Clutterbug. "I'm just going to have to accept the fact that I'm a faulure." "Honey, you're not a failure," said Ticker. "From what I'm guessing, you were taken by surprise. You're young. And these things happen. The important thing is that you're still alive." "If that's what's important," replied Clutterbug, "then why do I feel so bad?" "Comes with the territory," said Ticker. "The whole reason Electrum Beast brought you on-board is because he saw potential in you. I don't think that's changed. In-fact, if he were here right now, he'd be telling you the same thing." "You really mean that?" asked Clutterbug. "I sure do," replied Ticker. At that, there was a knock at the door. Uncle Whiskey Breath came in, with Windchill right behind him. "Eh, Windchill has something he wants to say to you." With that, Windchill came around from behind Uncle's leg, stood next to Clutterbug, and said, "Beeeep." "Ooooh, apology accepted," replied Clutterbug. "I know you didn't really mean it." With that, Clutterbug reached out to Windchill, and touched his shoulder. All of a sudden, a surge of power flowed between the two of them. As Windchill glowed brighter, Clutterbug began to glow and change color. Realizing this, she immediately let go, the force of the seperation knocking her onto her back. A disembodied voice called out from within her, as the power concentrated from her entire body to one bright point on her chest. "Clutterbug, Spark-Attack!!" A brilliant beam shot forth from her, tunneling thru the ceiling above her....and thru the floor above that, and the ceiling above that. All told, the energy emission tore thru three levels before it dissapated. Spent, Clutterbug sighed, and collaped onto the table, blissfully unconscious. Uncle stared. Windchill could only shrug his shoulders; he didn't know what happened. Ticker activated her scanning equipment, and ran it over both Windchill and the prone form of Clutterbug. "Amazing," she said. "When she touched Windchill, both their power levels spiked off the chart. But you appear normal now," referring to the little 'bot, "while Clutterbug.....is drained. That emission came right from her spark, channeling all the energy Windchill gave her. Absolutely amazing. She'll be out for awhile. I don't think her systems were ready for that." "Will she be all right?" asked a concerned Uncle. "Oh yes, definately." replied Ticker. "Her power systems simply need a few cycles to bring everything back on-line. But there's no damage that I can detect. It's almost...almost like the old powermaster process, only in reverse. Instead of an organic powering a transector, it was the robot giving juice to the organic. Amazing. I wonder if this was part of Electrum Beast's plan." "Eh....so why did it happen to her, and not to me. Windchill an' me have been in physical contact lots-o times. 'Bout all he charges up on my is my gun." "Well, the easiest explanation is that you don't have any organic components." replied Ticker. "Apparently, our fearless leader designed the process to work primarily with organic transformers...and with inanimate objects as a secondary function. That's why Windchill can boost the power of your gun, and how he changed Clutterbug....but not you." At that, Uncle shrugged his shoulders. "Eh, well, dat's allright too...I'm already plenty powerful." He flexed his metallic biceps; Ticker giggled. "Alright, tough guy, how about we fix that leg of yours?" A nod, and Ticker began her work. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Electrum Beast grew tired of pulling the two combatants apart. "Listen, you two! Electrum Beast shouted. "It doesn't matter what brought the two of you here. The point is, you're both here, and we have to make the best of it until our physical bodies are healed." "I wouldn't be in this situation at all if it weren't for him," shouted Bunny Convoy. "He's the reason I 'died' previously. If he would have stood down, and not fired, none of us would be here right now!" "And I said I was sorry!" Campaign Car shouted back." I was tricked by Crackup. If I would have realized what he had planned all along, I never would have gone thru with it..." "Sorry isn't going to cut it with me," replied Bunny Convoy. "You had your chance to kill me 'out there', and I survived. Now, it's my turn." With that, Bunny pulled out his hare-splitter swords, and charged him. Growling, Campaign Car pulled out his rifle, and prepared to fire. Electrum Beast sighed, and stepped out of the way. There wasn't much he could do right now anyways; it's not like these holographic versions of their bodies would actually be damaged. Still, he figured he'd hang close, 'just in-case'. No telling what these two hotheads had planned for each other.... ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ The technology was amazing. Crackup continued to probe the small transformer, while Optimus Minor and Ironhide stood by. "What an odd-fellow, that one," thought Minor, staring at the guard in the room . "Wears the autobrand, is named after an Autobot legend....but he's here at Decepticon HQ. Another defector, perhaps?" For the moment, Optimus Minor kept his questions to himself, and returned his gaze to the operating table. He felt sorry for the little 'bot, suffering under Crackup's minstrations as he was. Deactivated, partially disassembled....this Decepticon was a butcher. And yet, if these things didn't come to pass, the future would be changed...for the worse. So he kept quiet. It wouldn't due to tip his hand so early in the game, especially when the future of the entire Maximal race was still at stake. Another probe; this one directly into the spark-holder. The body twitched; even though the primary relays were off-line, such rough handling of the spark itself would cause a power-surge, as the soul tried to escape from that which was causing the pain. Unfortunately, there was no escape from this...this....words failed Optimus Minor as Crackup began to take readouts from the spark he had just violated. "Amazing," Crackup said, checking his readouts. "This one is unique; the spark has been over-written only once, as far as personality goes...and that's only for this new form here. I wonder why? Perhaps I'll reinstall the old personality, and ask it." Crackup tapped a few keys on his pad, and the spark began to glow orange as the old personality was restored. When the spark turned from orange to a faint purple-white, Crackup disconnected the probe, and closed the hatch to the spark-holder. He began to piece the small robot back together; adding some components of his own along the way. Like a voice-synthsisizer; for some odd-reason, this little fellow wasn't equipped with one. A reinforcement bar in the torso; very odd. And the last piece; another one of those odd-ports that the little fellow was already equipped with. For some reason, Crackup installed this one into his chestplate, directly over the spark-holder. It seemed an odd-thing to do, since as far as he could tell, Crackup didn't even know what the other two ports were for.... Satisfied with his work, Crackup disconnected the final probe, and reactivated the small robot, closing the chestplate as he did so. The small robot ran thru its boot-up sequencer. As though it were recovering from stasis-lock, the eyes came on slowly, before flaring brightly as he became fully active. "NNNnnngggh," the small robot said, as he sat up, and flexed his limbs. "Something's different-rent. Program'ssss been altered. What's happened-happened?" Crackup: "Your spark was altered, and placed in this new body by the Autobots. We rescued you, and restored your original personality. My name is Crackup. What is your designation?" Small robot: "My designation-ion is classified-ied..." Crackup: "Here, let me fix that odd echo in your vocoder. (small bot nods; Crackup accesses a small port on the side of his neck with his scanner, and punches in a few keys.) There. That should get rid of that strange echo. Now then, can you tell me under whose orders your designation has been classified?" Small robot: "Mission commander designation classified per previous orders." Optimus Minor: "Ooookaaayyyy...can you tell us what your mission is?" Small robot: "Mission classified per previous orders." Crackup: "Alpha-niner." Upon hearing the odd-code phrase from Crackup, the small bot's eyes immediately went dim. He began to tip over; Optimus Minor caught him, and eased him back onto the table. Optimus Minor: "Back-up plan, I take it?" Crackup: "I downloaded the program thru his vocoder as soon as he said his designation was classified. As a fellow Decepticon, he should have been able to report to me immediately upon his reactivation. Obviously, someone else's name over-rides mine in the High Command....and I would like to know who." Optimus Minor: "So you know he's a decepticon?" Crackup: "He was previosly, until the Autobots over-wrote his personality. I can't fathom why they would, though.....such techniques are more decepticon in style. The autobots would normally imprison the enemy, not destroy his old body and reprogram his spark." Optimus Minor: "You have suspicions?" Crackup:(smiling) "My boy, I *always* have suspicions. It comes with this line of work." With that, Crackup popped open the small robot's chest, and began to probe the spark again. Presumably, Optimus Minor reasoned, he would find away around the program-lock and get the information he desired. Assuming the spark could survive such an attack...these things were seldom attempted in *his* time period, much less here in the past. Perhaps the technique was lost...or abandoned. Another spasm; Crackup continued to tap the keys on his pad as energy flowed back toward the spark. Apparently, the readouts satisfied him, because he smiled, and disconnected the probe. Closing the chest a second time, he waited as the bootup sequence ran again. This time, it finished quickly, the eyes glowed, and the robot came on-line almost immediately. Small robot: "What happened?" Crackup: "There must have been a glitch in your systems. You seem to be ok now, though. What's your name?" Small robot: "My name...one moment please (accesses memory bank). My previous designation is no longer on-file. The name currently assigned to me is Thunderclap." Crackup: "Welcome back, then, Thunderclap. Do you have any idea what happened to you?" Thunderclap: "One moment(accesses memory bank again). According to my internal logs, I was on a mission when I was rendered inert by the military humans on this planet. They turned me over to the Autobots, who then removed my spark, and destroyed my previous changeform. They attempted to alter my personality programming...successfully, it seems, until you brought be back. I am grateful." Crackup: "We're just glad to have you back amongst our ranks." Thunderclap: (scans the room) "Intruder alert! One unidentified, one Autobot. Activating countermeasures." Thunderclap transformed, and flew diractly at Optimus Minor and Ironhide, firing electrostatic bursts from his weapons array. The weapons did little actual damage to Optimus Minor, but Ironhide smoked and went down in a heap, his circuits fried. Thunderclap turned to make a second strafing run at Minor, when Crackup called out: Crackup: "Stop! Stand down, Thunderclap! You are among friends!" Thunderclap transformed back to robot mode, but kept his distance, hovering just beyond reach of either Maximal or Decepticon. Thunderclap: "Negative. Although you appear to be a Decepticon, these other two are not. Therefore, this is some kind of Autobot trick. You will not take me prisoner. You will land this craft immediately, and allow me to disembark. Failure to comply will result in your termination." With that, Thunderclap transformed again, and powered-up his wepons array. Before he could fire, however, Optimus Minor spoke to him: Optimus Minor: "Thunderclap, listen to me...alpha-niner." Upon hearing the deactivation code a second time, Thunderclap powered-down, and literally dropped like a rock. Crackup caught him before he could hit the ground, and placed him on the table once more. Crackup: "Nice work, my friend. Quick-thinking on your part, too." Optimus Minor: "It was obvious we weren't going to sway him by talking. Not listening to others is a decidedly old-school decepticon trait." Crackup: (smiling) "How very true. Perhaps we could interest you in in another insignia?" Optimus Minor: "I'll take care of it." With that, Op Minor's stylized symbol wavered, and focused into a more traditional shape...a decepticon logo. Crackup: "Well, that was an interesting function. Can you change your symbol like that all the time?" Optimus Minor: "When my mission requires it...as it seems to now. What about him," he asked, pointing at the prone form of Ironhide. Crackup: "Well, nothing to be done about it now. I'll have him placed in-stasis, and repaired... when the need arises." Optimus Minor: "I see. And what exactly was an Autobot doing here in the first place?" Crackup: "Ah...that, my friend, is a long story. Perhaps I will tell it at a later date. For now, though, let's see if we can't bring Thunderclap back on-line again. I'll erase his memory of this previous encounter. Third time's the charm, eh?" Optimus Minor: "If you say so. I will reserve judgement." With that, Crackup began his work again...in silence. To be Continued.... ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
ONWARD to Part 5!