I want to apologize for the lack of updates. Unfortunately, my uncle, my mother's youngest brother, died in a motorcyclist accident on August 21. It devasted the family. He was a Lieutenant in the Navy, only having just retired in February, and was the father of three children—his youngest being only 12.

I've also been having other issues, such as an electrical problem in my home which basically short-circuits my modem, so internet access has been rather spotty the past few weeks. And as if things weren't distressing enough in my life, I've started to grow concerned over my own health. The problem is that I'm terrified to see a doctor because I don't want to hear bad news. I know I should go, and that delaying a visit is likely do more harm than good, but I can't even make myself share my concerns with my family. If they don't know, then it's not all that serious. At least, that's how I feel most of the time.

Sorry to unload on you guys, but I felt you deserved a reason for why my updates have been nonexistent and why they likely be sporadic for some time.

Please have patience with me.

Transformers Terminology: spark = heart, neural network/processor = brain/mind, axons/axon circuitry = nerves/nervous system, protoform = skeleton, frame/framework = body, helm = head, faceplates = face, optic = eye, ridge =eyebrow, receptor = ear, denta = teeth, glossa = tongue, strut = shoulder, chassis = chest, tank(s) = stomach, servo = hand, digit = finger, pede = foot, stasis = sleep, recharge = rest, sparkling = infant/toddler, youngling = child, mechling/femling = teenager, mech = adult male, femme = adult female, sire = father, carrier = mother, nano-klick = second, klick = minute, breem = hour, sol = day, cycle = week, megacycle = month, vorn = year

Chapter 20: Orion Pax Part III

"Okay." Orion took a moment to gather his resolve. He had not been forbidden access to the ships more heavily protected files, but he hadn't been given permission either. Hopefully, if Megatronus found out about his… prying, his old friend wouldn't be too upset with him. Venting deeply, the mech's faceplates settled into a determined expression as his digits started across the control panel to his hub station. "Optimus Prime."

With little digging he found an image of the Prime. The mech possessed large struts and a heavy frame build. Orion was aware that his frame ad been reformatted. He had not been this bulky before, not as thickly armored. He has not gathered the courage to ask about such things yet. Cataloging the changes to his frame once again, he compared them to the image of Optimus Prime. There were similarities in some cases, but overall this mech looked very different from himself. The archivist studied to depiction a moment longer before reading through the brief description at the bottom of the file.

"Optimus Prime. Leader of the Autobot invaders." He paused, optics darting back to the image in confusion. "I reminded Starscream of him? And Megatronus said Ratchet was the Autobot leader." He stilled, the conflicting information making him realize something awful. "Someone is not telling the truth."

And it was surprising to learn, in that moment, that there was only one mech he thought to speak with over his discovery—Hijack.

Orion frowned at himself, unsure as to why he saw the black mech as a confidant in this situation. By all reasoning, he should want to voice his concerns to Megatronus or Soundwave. He knew both mechs after all. Megatronus was like an elder brother to him, full of hard-earned wisdom, and a way of thinking that was sometimes almost foreign to Orion. And he'd long since considered Soundwave a friend. Back on Cybertron they had communicated with one another through coded messages, building an easy rapport that Orion had quickly grown to enjoy. The mute mech had a processor that was made for gathering intelligence. Sometimes, when Orion had been stuck in his work, he'd ask Soundwave for assistance. It had never failed to astonish him when a data package came back with all his questions answered.

But Soundwave was also Megatronus' closest comrade. And Megatronus, despite how much Orion hated thinking it, may be lying to him. However, just because Hijack was the only option left after his process of elimination, that didn't mean the archivist had plans of speaking with the mech right away. No, right now he needed further information. Maybe it would help if he looked more into this Optimus Prime?

"The Decepticons' Spacebridge is located right here." Ratchet said as he input the coordinates the duplicitous Seeker had given them upon delivering the cubes of Energon they'd agreed on. Starscream had tried to haggle for more, but he'd quickly back down when Bulkhead immediately shifted his servos into his primary weapons. "It's deep within an Energon mine."

"Adjacent to a raw fuel supply. Clever." Arcee commented grudgingly.

"Our mission is to covertly gain control of the Spacebridge so that we can gain access to Cybertron." The medic continued, determined to ignore the interruption, when Arcee cut him off again.

"And we're sure we can trust our intel?" She asked acerbically. Ratchet wondered if the venom in the femme's voice was solely for Starscream, or if some of her animosity was aimed towards him. In either case, Ratchet overlooked her tone. Things were much too precarious for them to allow for any infighting amongst them.

"Normally, I'd agree with your suspicions, but we must trust that Starscream was telling the truth." He replied, unable to believe that he'd uttered such a sentence, and hastily tacked on a renunciation to pacify Arcee's righteous anger. "If only just this once."

"Don't get me wrong," Bumblebee started as he turned to the others. "it's great to finally have a plan, but how are we supposed to go about this exactly?"

"Bee has a point." Bulkhead added skeptically. "Blowing up a Spacebridge is a lot easier than commandeering one. And how do we get a hold of Jack to let him know when we're good to go?"

"I think I have the answer to that." Rafael offered hesitantly. "I still have the frequency Jack called me with right before the stuff with Unicron. If he used his comlink, we can contact him that way, right Ratchet?" The medic, who'd started to look worried at the questions Bulkhead and Bumblebee posed, nodded in relief.

"I surmise that's the reason for why my initial attempts to reach Jack failed, because he was inside the Earth's core at the time. Alongside all of you."

"So let's give him a ring now and see if it works." Miko suggested nonchalantly and Ratchet sighed before explaining why they weren't doing that.

"It would be risky to contact Jack while he's aboard the Nemesis. Who knows how Soundwave monitors new recruits? Especially those who were believed to be Neutrals?" He shook his helm at these unknown variables. "No, it would be best to wait until we have seized the Spacebridge. If we fail to get a hold of him through his comlink, then we will still have the option of sending him a message through Decepticon channels."

"Jack may be the only one who can do this," Arcee began as she glared at the others, as if daring them to argue. "but don't think for one moment that I'll allow him to go without backup."

"That would be best." The medic replied, not reacting to her challenging manner. Ratchet had no doubt that she would accompany Jack to Cybertron—regardless of orders. "Then it's decided. Tomorrow we get Optimus and Jack back."

Knock Out hummed absentmindedly as he reviewed the data he'd retrieved on their newest recruit, Hijack. The former Neutral had caught his interest upon their first meeting, and yes, Knock Out would flagrantly admit it was because the mech had a rather attractive finish. He'd never been one to let his opinion on others go unvoiced. Save for Lord Megaton of course. Frame-wise their lord scored a 6 out of 10—losing a few points for the scars he left unbuffed—but personality-wise, Knock Out put him at a solid 3. But Knock Out did like how often he could see his own reflection in the warlord's silver plating.

The medical officer shook his helm, a little annoyed at himself for losing focus, and returned to the data package he was building around Hijack. Alluring features aside, there were a number of items concerning the Neutral that struck Knock Out as curious.

First and foremost, his spark analysis was baffling. The readings it gave off were similar to that of a sparkling at times, but then the pattern would change and start projecting the age of a full-grown mech. Knock Out had never seen anything like it before, and as interesting as that paradox was, it also left him stumped on how such a thing came about. He shelved the bewildering information aside for the moment before moving on to the next bit of noteworthy data.

The medical officer didn't know what sort of life Hijack had led, but the amount of trauma done to his frame was the kind he'd only over seen on torture victims. The dents, nicks, and scratches that marred the surface of his frame had been marginally superficial. With a bit of buffering, no one would realize the kind of damage Hijack had undergone. Knock Out's deep system scans laid bare everything. He knew that the mech at one point had been stripped down to the very innerworkings of his frame. Welding patches were sprawled over his protoform—something that made the medic cringe despite himself—as viable proof of the horrors he'd been subjected to.

His axon circuitry was severely damaged too. As Knock Out enlarged the images from his scans, he grimaced as he took in the fried diodes. He'd seen this kind of injury before on those who were overly exposed to weapons that dealt with electrical currents, such as his staff or an Energon prod. With his axons shot as they were, it was unlikely that Hijack could feel much of anything at this point, be it casual contact or even pain. 'That would explain how he could remain so unaffected by his injuries.' Knock Out thought as he perused the damage a bit more. True, the initial wound on his strut hadn't been life threatening, but it had definitely warranted more than a frown.

As he continued to familiarize himself with the state of his latest patient, a peculiar expression slowly began to take over the medic's faceplates. There was something inherently recognizable about Hijack's biometrics the longer he stared at it. He couldn't put his digit on what exactly, because just as there was familiarity in the mech's frame, there was also a foreignness to it that Knock Out had never seen before. He assumed the latter had to do with MECH, for the humans had left their fingerprints all over Hijack, both figuratively and literally.

Knock Out spent another few breems trying to work out this mystery as he compiled Hijack's medical profile, before ultimately huffing in frustration. Irritably deciding to leave the enigmas that surrounded their newest recruit alone for now, he was just finishing up his task when the Decepticon warlord himself walked into the medical bay.

"Ah, Lord Megatron!" Knock Out greeted perhaps a little too loudly. In his defense, he wasn't used to their leader strolling into his corner of the ship without being notified first. The medic quickly regained his cool and offered Megatron a smirk as he bowed gracefully. "What brings you here, sir?" He asked, straightening out once the mech nodded at him.

"Merely curiosity." The warlord answered as his gaze swept over the room before resting back on the smaller mech. "Tell me, what have you learned about our newest ally?"

"Ah, great minds think alike it seems." Knock Out chortled, earning a raised ridge in return. "I just finished compiling Hijack's medical history—Well, as best I could without outright asking him."

"And why not ask him?"

"In my experience, patients tend to untruthful about certain injuries. It's best to gather data first and then confront them with it." He smirked at the larger mech. "Makes it much more difficult for them to lie to my faceplates when I have conflicting evidence."

"A method most useful on Starscream, I imagine." The warlord said with little amusement and Knock Out shrugged.

"Surprisingly, no. He was often forthcoming about how he came to be injured." He rolled his optics, remembering the countless breems he'd been forced to listen to the Air Commander's whining. "It was usually the more prideful ones who refused to speak. No one wants to admit that an Autobot got the drop on them." Megatron hummed thoughtfully before frowning.

"And Hijack?"

"To put it bluntly, he's a wreck." He reposted the image of the mech's body on the terminal screen for Megatron's purview. "My scans show he's been exposed to heavy voltage, resulting in severe axon damage. Unfortunately, it's not something I can fix. Even before the war on Cybertron, a case like this would've been untreatable. Likely the only thing capable of restoring him would be Dark Energon." Unseen by Knock Out, the warlord's optics narrowed. "As if that wasn't bad enough, there are over a dozen wielding marks throughout his protoform—safe to say MECH had a hand in that." Megatron's expression twisted into a scowl, although whether it was from the damage report or from the fact that Hijack had been captured by lowly humans, Knock Out couldn't be certain. "Fortunately, they at least did an adequate job patching him together, so I won't need to do any invasive surgery." The medic hesitated for a moment before continuing. "However, there is something odd about Hijack's framework that I just can't seem to pin down."

At first, Megatron didn't see what Knock Out was alluding to, but then after a few minutes of searching, the warlord frowned in confusion. There was something there—familiar lines of coding in Hijack's neural network that appeared intermittently—and the structure of his protoform, despite MECH's mutilations, did seem strangely recognizable at a second glance. Megatron just couldn't identify what it was exactly that inspired such familiarity.

"Perhaps a relation of Hijack's served amongst the Decepticons?" The silver mech offered before ultimately dismissing the oddness from his processor.

"It's possible." The medic agreed noncommittally. "Whatever the case, I still have concerns for Hijack's damaged axon circuitry."

"Will it prevent him from fighting?" Megatron questioned mildly. A soldier that could not fight was near useless to him, but the ex-gladiator supposed he could assign Hijack to something less strenuous aboard the Nemesis, if that was indeed the case.

"On the contrary." Knock Out replied. "With his damaged axons, the pain from injuries will be halved or practically nonexistent in some cases."

"A warrior unfeeling of his wounds?" Megatron mused in a tone that seemed to enquire if this condition posed any drawbacks.

"And much more." The medic continued dryly. "I doubt he can feel much of anything at this point. A servo on his plating wouldn't even register. That sort of sensory loss can take its toll on the processor. Eventually he will feel disconnected from his frame, which will lead to psychological deficiencies. In such cases, some subjects resorted to self-harm, as pain was one of the few things they could still feel." Knock Out paused, unconsciously stroking the inner plating of his arms. "I'm afraid I've already found evidence of such injuries when I initially repaired Hijack and again after his encounter with Starscream."

"Hmph. A warrior with suicidal tendencies." Megatron concluded, displeasure filling his voice. "Yes, that would be problematic." Seeing the discerning expression on the warlord's faceplates, Knock Out silently waited for his leader to continue. "How much Dark Energon would Hijack need in order for his axons to recover?"

"Hard to say, Lord Megatron, as you are the only Cybertronian to date who has been exposed to its regenerative properties."

"And yet a single shard of Unicron's blood was able to bring me back from the brink of death." The warlord countered as he thought. He still had a deposit of Dark Energon aboard the ship. It would hardly inconvenience him to spare a shard to heal Hijack's damaged axons.

"Should I summon Hijack then, my Lord?" The ex-gladiator paused for a moment, considering his options, before ultimately nodding. The mech was quickly proving himself to be a reliable soldier. Soundwave had informed him of the ruse Hijack had told Orion in the wake of the Autobot's intrusion on his ship. And again, the mech had responded swiftly mere breems ago when Starscream had dared to show his face again—he even managed to offline the traitorous Seeker! Surely, the mech deserved a reward for his actions…

"Yes, Knock Out." Megatron replied as he turned away and made his way out of the medical bay to retrieve the Dark Energon. "I will return shortly with the what you require." Knock Out watched the Decepticon leader leave before doing as ordered.

"Hijack, this is Knock Out." He said through his comlink, only having to wait seconds for a response.

"Hijack here. What did you need, sir?" The medic found the corners of his mouth lift at the term of respect. Not for the first time, he wondered what sort of life Hijack led before the war. There was a rigidness to him that just screamed of responsibility and obedience. Perhaps he'd been in law enforcement?

"Further examination. One of your tests came back inconclusive." Knock Out made-up on the fly. He doubted Lord Megatron wanted him to tell the mech about the imminent… procedure.

"Anything I should be worried about?"

"Perhaps." The medic replied wryly, unable to help himself. "It seems to be something left behind by those grubby humans who managed to get their hands on you." The dark tone Hijack used in return practically sent tingles down Knock Out's back.

"I'll be right there." Smirking to himself as he imagined a dashing scowl on Hijack's faceplates, Knock Out got the berth ready. He paused for a moment in consideration before deciding to activate the restraining cuffs in case Hijack had a violent reaction to the Dark Energon. Klicks later the black mech arrived with little fanfare, his usual blank expression in place. He nodded in greeting before wordlessly laying down on the berth, a seemingly graceful maneuver that he'd only ever seen from those who'd been in his med bay many times. "So, what's the prognosis?"

"Bad news I'm afraid." Knock Out answered while experimentally laying a servo on Hijack's chassis. "Can you feel this?" He asked, his digits lightly tracing his frame in a way that could've been described as a caress. The mech frowned, his red visor hiding his optics from view.

"…No." The former human answered quietly, inwardly despairing his lack of touch once again. A part of his wanted to dig his digits back into his plating—to scratch and scratch until he finally felt something. He resisted, but only because Knock Out was present. No doubt the vain mech would cause a fuss about ruining his finish.

"Not surprising. Your axon circuity has suffered severe damage." It took Jack a moment to figure out what the axon circuity was, and he jolted as he realized that it was the Cybertronian equivalent to the nervous system. The numbness wasn't natural then? He wasn't like this because he was Cybertronian, but because of something MECH had done?

"Can you fix it?" The teenager demanded in a rush, uncaring how breathless he sounded in that instant. Knock Out stilled before giving him a flirty smile.

"If I say yes, what would you give me in return?" The implication in his sultry tone automatically had Jack stiffening in alarm and with no small amount of embarrassment. He wasn't sure what sort of expression he made, but it made Knock Out snicker. "Relax, I was only playing." Thankfully, the mech leaned back and continued with a bit more professionalism, though a smirk firmly remained on his face. "Even before the war, this type of injury would've been unrepairable. Fortunately for you, we have other means available to us now."

As if on cue the medical bay door opened to reveal Lord Megatron. Jack automatically moved to stand up and bow to the warlord, but quickly found that he was unable to move his arms and legs. A bit of shuffling and an uncomfortable angling of his head allowed him to see that he was harnessed to the table through manacles that had sprouted from the berth. Jack knew from Hijack's memories that these were only ever used when one was about to undergo painful surgery—or when Knock Out had an enemy strapped to the table.

For a moment he panicked, afraid that they had discovered his real identity.

"Lord Megatron, we are ready to begin the procedure." The medic announced as he gestured towards Jack. "I have explained that his axon circuity is damaged, and that we mean to restore it, but I haven't explained the method we plan to utilize."

"Recently, I received near fatal injuries in a battle against the Autobots." Lord Megatron stated as he walked up to the berth, his servos folded behind his back. "I was at the very heart of a Spacebridge explosion which should've claimed my life." He paused, crimson optics locking onto Jack's visor, and the former human felt his initial fear slowly turn to dread. "I survived only because I had placed a shard of Dark Energon into my spark mere breems beforehand. And when I was exposed to Dark Energon once again, I made a complete recovery."

Megatron brought an arm forwards, revealing the dark purple shard in his grasp.

"With this, you will be restored as I once was." The warlord paused. "Consider this a great honor, Hijack, for no one but myself has been allowed to harness the blood of Unicron."

Jack couldn't even begin to fathom how quickly the situation turned. Shock had rendered him mute and he could only watch as Megatron brought the shard down onto his chassis, as if to stab him with it. There was pain—a sharp ache that pierced through his armor and seeped into his very spark. Jack gasped at the initial sensation, and as the agony grew, it felt as if molten fire was spreading through the rest of his body. He wasn't even aware that he'd started screaming. Violet consumed his vision and a surge of something unnamable seemed to dig its claw into him, dragging him downwards into something unfathomable.

As darkness swept over him, Jack thought he heard laughter echoing from the abyss.

"We will Groundbridge directly in to the Energon mine and make our way to the Spacebridge chamber, neutralizing any Decepticon forces we encounter." Ratchet stated, explaining the plan that would hopefully lead to the return of both Optimus and Jack. "Stealth must be an absolute priority. We will most certainly be outnumbered and if any Decepticon should transmit an alert to their warship–"

"The odds become four hundred to one." Bulkhead muttered grimly.

"Scrambling communications upon entry will certainly provide an edge in this regard." The medic continued. The Autobots had gone over evert detail and possible scenarios almost obsessively. As such, this debriefing was mainly for Agent Fowler's sake, who remained ignorant to certain parts of the plan.

"Taking the 'bridge is the easy part. You three need to hold it long enough for me to get to Cybertron and back." Arcee stated, censoring Jack's involvement due to Fowler's presence.

"Well if Ratchet gets to go on a commando raid, then I'm going too." Miko remarked enthusiastically, earning her several looks.

"Miko." The medic said firmly. "You will help Rafael operate our Groundbridge and manage the communications hub." He frowned hard at her, hoping to dissuade any rebellious attempts. "This is not up for debate. You must remain here."

"Ugh! Can't go to Cybertron, can't storm the Decepticon Spacebridge!" The girl threw her hands up in frustration before marching away, continuing to grumble under her breath.

"Agent Fowler, you will be on stand-by in case of emergency." The human, after shooting Miko a reproachful look, answered with a salute.

"Will do Ratchet." The medic paused for a moment, his optics lingering on Rafael. The boy met his gaze and nodded silently in acknowledgment. Rafael would contact Jack covertly once Bumblebee sent a message after securing the Spacebridge. Turning to the Groundbridge and inputting the proper coordinates, Ratchet inhaled deeply before activating the portal.

"Autobots, rollout!" Arcee took point as she darted into the vortex. After a moment, when no warning came over the comlinks, the remaining mechs passed through the Groundbridge.

"Clear." Arcee called from several feet ahead of the cavern they arrived in. The Bots exchanged nods, each resisting the urge to draw out their weaponry. Blaster fire would attract too much attention, and life signals may be monitored. No casualties were allowed on this mission. Still leading the group, Arcee held up a servo before raising three digits to show the number of enemies. Silently, she gestured for Bumblebee to follow her and the two skillfully took out a Vehicon each.

"Command!" The third Con shouted in his comlink as he backed away from the pair of scouts. "This is Spacebridge control. We are under attack! Command! Do you–" He was knocked out from behind curtesy of Bulkhead.

"To the lift." Ratchet ordered as he pointed to their destination at the end of the cavernous hallway. Together they swiftly reached their destination, waiting mere moments as they descended deeper into the mind. A Vehicon was stationed at the bottom of the lift and Bulkhead intercepted him.

"Going down." The wrecker quipped before brutally smashing his wrecking balls into the Con's helm, effectively knocking him out. Bumblebee and Arcee took point again as they charged forwards, and the Autobots quickly took cover as they scanned the area.

"By the Allspark." Ratchet said in a hush, his optics reverently roaming over the Spacebridge. Although he hated to give the enemy any sort of praise, he had to admit that they certainly knew how to construct a Spacebridge. In truth, he'd thought they had forfeited their only way back to Cybertron when they'd destroyed the first Decepticon Spacebridge months ago. Now, they had another chance.

"Thank you, Starscream." Arcee murmured. Only four Vehicons were present and the Autobots exchanged looks. "Bee and I will take the ones on the 'bridge platform. Ratchet, you and Bulkhead take the two on the ground." It was a sound plan. The ones on the platform were further away and much closer to the controls. They could easily contact the Nemesis once they realized their comlinks were being scrambled. Speed was key in preventing such a scenario.

With nods traded, the launched their attack, with the scouts easily overtaking their larger comrades. With a series of acrobatics jumps and flips, Arcee used her momentum to deliver a well-placed kick to her opponent's head, rendering him unconscious. She glanced over at the others, seeing that they had all taken out their own targets. She watched Ratchet move to man the controls, where he seemed to pause as he hovered over the panels.

"A masterpiece of engineering." He complimented with no small amount awe. Arcee rolled her eyes as she came to stand beside him.

"Is it operational?" She asked.

"Fully." He replied as digits began their work.

"Perimeter secured." Bulkhead announced triumphantly.

"Let's hope things keep going this smoothly." Bumblebee added lowly.

"Now all we need is Jack." Arcee said as she crossed her arms.

"I'm shutting down the scrambler in order to contact base and maintain communications through the remainder of the mission." Ratchet hesitated for a moment. There would be no turning back after this. "Strike team to base. Objective secured." He announced, and the response was almost immediate.

"This is base. We read you Ratchet." Muting the channel for a moment, the medic turned to the others.

"Bumblebee, contact Rafael." He nodded before physically utilizing his comlink.

"Raf, you there?"

"Loud and clear, Bee." The boy whispered, his voice sounding small in the hollow mine. "I'm patching you guys through to Jack's comlink now." There was a long moment of silence and the Autobots were beginning to think something was wrong when Jack finally spoke.

"Hel-lo?" The single word came out harshly, sounding stilted and broken down the middle. It immediately set all the Autobots on edge.

"Jack, you okay partner?" Arcee asked in a rush, her concern obvious.

"Ar-cee…?" He replied faintly and Ratchet found his digits curling into fists as anxiety swept through him. Jack did not sound well at all. "…wh-at's… wrong?"

"With us? Nothing." She replied candidly. "What's wrong with you?"

"Just l-left… Knock Out's ten-der care…" He replied laboriously. "MECH… tore m-me apart… before put-ting me… b-back toge-ther…"

"As much as I dearly want to get you in my med bay Jack, I'm afraid we have more pressing matters." Ratchet said through clench denta. In his peripheral he could clearly see Arcee glaring at him, and he hated himself for making the boy do this when he was obviously in pain, but they didn't have a choice. "We've managed to take over the Decepticon Spacebridge."

"Optimus… the Key. R-Right. Right." Jack replied, his voice not wavering quite as much. "I'll get down… to Groundbridge Command on the ship. It might… t-take me a few minutes."

"Understood partner. You just keep your comlink open in case you run into any trouble."

"Yes ma'am." He replied, his joking tone falling uncomfortably flat. Over the open channel they could hear the muffled sounds of others speaking. A few respectfully greeted Jack—or rather Hijack, but the boy never responded and likely just nodded in acknowledgement. "Scrap."

"What? What's wrong?" Arcee demanded, only to have her question answered as a familiar voice echoed through the cave.

"Ah, Hijack! Up and about already I see." Knock Out's oily voice had Bumblebee groaning loudly.

"Oh, not that flashy idiot." Bulkhead groused.

"Yes sir." Jack replied in the same tone he'd used with Arcee moments earlier.

"And? Any improvement?"

"Hard to say. My insides still feel like they're burning." That had Ratchet startling a little as Arcee's servos clenched into fists.

"Hmm." Knock Out hummed, sounding amused rather than concerned. "Yes, Lord Megatron mentioned that too. Although he seemed to thrive in it. It should go away in a day or two. If not, inform me." There was a pause. "But I'm more curious if you can feel this."

"What are you–" Jack's voice was suddenly cut off as he took a sharp breath.

"Looks like you can." Knock Out's tone turned... sultry for lack of a better description. "My offer still stands you know. Breakdown and I would give you a ride you'd never forget." More than one jaw dropped as the Autobots gaped at each other.

"Did he just…?" Bumblebee trailed off uncertainly, shuffling his feet awkwardly.

"Not interested." Jack replied with firmly.

"For the moment maybe." The Decepticon countered smugly. "But come a few months on this mudball of a planet and I'm sure you'll start crooning a different tune. Later Hijack." It was quiet for a few seconds before Jack spoke, his voice barely above a whisper.

"When we get Optimus back, we are not telling him about this." Such a comment shouldn't have made Ratchet smirk. Certainly not on top of the interaction they'd just overheard, but Jack sounded so genuinely irritated that he couldn't help it. Bulkhead himself seemed incapable of fully muffling his snickers. "And if you tell Miko, Bulkhead, I'll leave so many dents in your frame others will think you're a Lob ball." That had Bumblebee chuckling aloud while Arcee grinned.

"Er, right." The Wrecker said with a light grimace.

"How far away is Groundbridge Command, Jack?" Ratchet asked, always the first to get things back on track.

"Two floors down and a couple hallways south. Shouldn't take me more than three minutes."

"…Any news on Optimus?" He continued with some reluctance.

"None. I haven't had any contact with him since Arcee stormed the ship. Megatron keeps him busy."

"Doing what?" Bumblebee grumbled suspiciously.

"Decrypting Iacon records." Jack answered bluntly.

"What!?" Ratchet shouted. "How on earth did he get ahold of Iacon records?"

"Couldn't tell you. All I know is that an archivist is exactly who he needs to crack the codes. He's holdup in a room 24/7 which is constantly being guarded."

"And Orion was a rather skilled archivist." The medic muttered darkly. "How could Megatron pass up the opportunity to use Optimus in such an ironic manner? If he knew what he was doing…"

"Will he remember all of this—once we get his memories back?" Jack asked and Ratchet could only shake his head.

"I'm not sure." He admitted dourly. "The Key to Vector Sigma is a mystical object that stands outside the realm of normality. I suspect however, that Optimus' memories will be restored to the exact moment before the Key left his possession."

"So, he won't remember the fight against Unicron?"

"I don't believe so, no."

"Jack what's wrong?" Arcee asked, obviously hearing something amiss in the boy's tone.

"Nothing. I'm at Groundbridge Command. How should I go about this?" He asked in a low whisper, no doubt hiding from the Vehicons presently manning the 'bridge. "Do I say I've been ordered to checkup on the Spacebridge, or should I just knock them out and 'bridge myself there?"

"The latter. We can't risk them verifying such orders. Best take them out now while you have the advantage of surprise. I can give you the coordinates to our location." Ratchet decided a moment of silence passed before the heavy thud of metal on metal alerted them to Jack's movements.

"Hey, you can't–" The Vehicon was cut off with a second thud and the slight scrapping of metal echoed for a few seconds longer.

"You good partner?" Arcee asked.

"Yeah, just had to prop the Cons up. They'll look like they're still at their stations if nobody gets to close."

"Smart." Bumblebee complimented with a whirl and Jack gave a short laugh.

"I got the idea from Miko. She does basically the same thing during third period and hasn't gotten caught yet." He paused. "Or at least that's what she claims. Coordinates, Ratchet?" The medic dutifully passed over their location and a portal of green light appeared some few feet behind them. They watched as Jack stepped through, but besides the numerous dents and nicks marring his frame, his condition didn't seem to be in any worse than yesterday.

Arcee hesitantly moved forward, once again taking in the height difference between them know. He was almost as tall as Bulkhead and Ratchet now, leaving the top of her helm to barely reach the bottom of his chassis. She gently laid a hand on his arm and he gasped sharply, the red glow of his visor dimming dramatically. Arcee wanted to drag him back to base and never let him out of her sight again. She inwardly resented Optimus that she couldn't, because he'd passed the Key onto Jack, making him the only one able to retrieve the Prime's lost memories.

"You ready?" She asked, smiling weakly. His visor slid back, and she barely stopped herself from reacting. His crimson optics stared at her unflinchingly as he nodded.

"Let's do this."

Seeing as I've stuck pretty close to the episodes, it's probably surprising that this chapter isn't finishing the Orion Pax mini arc. I wanted to, but with how much extra stuff I needed to write in concerning Jack's new role, things got a bit away from me. I promise that this mini arc will end in the next chapter.

I've also added to the terminology up above, inputting the whole axons/axon circuitry = nerves/nervous system and protoform = skeleton bits. 5T-3V3 suffered extreme damage from MECH—the Vehicon was tortured after all—which would've had some lasting effects on Jack. Now, however, thanks to Megatron, the nerve damage won't be a problem. Instead, Jack will have a whole different set of problems to deal with now.

Also, Knock Out being a shameless, somewhat handsy flirt, will forever be entertaining to me.