(Chapter 1—Embarkation Day)

(A.N. Transformers belongs to Hasbro and whoever they have allowed the rights to it, which certainly doesn't include me. No money has been made from this fanfic and no copyright infringement is intended. All I own are my OCs.

This is a side story to "Come on up for the Rising," taking place just before the first chapter of the epilogue. This story properly wouldn't be higher than T for some language, but I've rated it M because CouftR is, and this won't make sense unless you have read that one first.

A big thanks to Vivienne Grainger for the beta, and for her interpretation of Smokescreen, who appears in the fourth story arc.

I have attempted to define military acronyms and terms when they first appear, when the context permits. /A.N.)

(2025-Diego Garcia, deep space)

The cadet barracks at the Earth Defense Force Academy had been buzzing since 0400. Anna adjusted her cover to just the right angle over her eyes as she got ready to leave.

Today was Embarkation Day, when this year's graduating seniors began their three month long senior cruise. Her cohort had been assigned to the EDS Chicago. It would be the Chicago's shakedown cruise after her year-long refit; she was virtually a new ship with full carrier status, home to the 119th Wolf Pack Squadron. Anna's cohort had had been assigned the posting so that Firefly and Skyrocket could get experience flying with a squadron off a carrier.

The whole senior class assembled in the commons, the humans a sea of pressed and polished cadet blue uniforms, the bots' armor buffed to a mirror finish. As Sara Lennox went down the line of cadets, in her turn Anna presented her weapon for inspection. Sara took a moment longer to look for anything at all out of place. There was absolutely nothing to mark off. Not a flicker of pride or anything else showed in Sara's steel gaze. Anna's eyes remained straight ahead as Sara moved on down the line.

After the inspection ceremony concluded, the cadets took up their duffels and rifles and marched from the Academy to the airfield, where the shuttles were waiting to take them up to the Highport on Mjolnir.

The sidewalks along the parade route were lined with family and friends who turned out to wish them well. Anna saw her dad—her mother, of course, led the parade; Will was with Star's family.

One of the traditions growing up around the Academy was that the embarking seniors' friends and family fell in behind the cadet corps and accompanied them to the airfield. Whether they were in the military or civilians, today they were here only to support their cadet.

When they reached the airfield, Sara turned command over to her second and went over to stand with her family in support of her daughter and niece. It was the first time the relationship between them had been acknowledged. Before that, Anna and Star had just been two more cadets.

There was no better way that Sara could have expressed her confidence and pride in them during their years here than by expecting no less of them than their classmates, often demanding more.

They were called forward by units and assigned to one of the three shuttles waiting to carry them to the Fleet. Once they were aboard, the bots hurried to their assigned spots, while the humans changed into their spacesuits, stowed their gear, and strapped in.

Star magna-locked in place when the alarm sounded. A blond woman whose space suit was the dark blue of the EDF, and displayed several unit patches detailing her service history, stood in the hatch to the next bay. "All right, you baby birdies, listen up! I'm Lieutenant Shana Coriell of the EDF by way of the United States Air Force! Welcome to the real life fraggin' Fleet! You're here to learn and in the fleet we learn by doing. That means you are going to be working a full joor shift every day beginning NOW! After that you will have another joor of academic or practical work, which will be assigned by your detail supervisor.

"Listen up! Out in the black you do not get do-overs or points for effort. Your life and the lives of your shipmates could depend on the successful completion of any task that you may be assigned. Your life and the lives of your shipmates may at any time depend on being where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there! When you are not on duty, you will be in your assigned off duty areas, is that understood?"

They all shouted, "SIR, YES SIR!"

"When I call your name you will reply with 'Present.' Cadet Dragonfly!"

"Present!"

"Cadet Earthshaker!"

"Present!"

"Cadet Firecracker!"

"Present!"

"Cadet Lennox!"

"Present!"

"Cadet Nightstar!"

"Present!"

"Cadet Parker!"

"Present!"

"Cadet Skyrocket!"

Silence.

"CADET SKYROCKET! Get your helm outta your aft and pay attention!"

The young seeker had been distracted by the shuttle's pre-flight preparations. He jumped so hard he rattled when the lieutenant shouted. "Sir, yes sir! Present!"

A passing Captain with pilot's wings on his spacesuit muttered as he passed by, "Foxtrot Bravo Bravos!"

The loudspeaker announced, "Lift in one minute!"

Coriell took the nearest unoccupied seat and fastened her restraints. "When we arrive at the Shytown, organics will seal your suits and gather your gear. You will all then disembark from the shuttle, proceed straight ahead and halt as soon as you cross the double yellow line. You will remain there until you are told where to proceed! Organics will keep your suits pressurized until you are told that it is safe to remove your helmets."

"Sir, yes sir!"

The shuttle's engines roared and the craft rode a column of fire into the clear blue sky. The burn stopped and they experienced weightlessness for the first time. Coriell opened her restraints and kicked off with the casual grace of one experienced in zero-gee. She made sure all of them had come through the liftoff safely, then returned to her place and strapped back in for docking. "Bay Alfa-Niner secure for docking!" she reported over her comm unit.

Presently there was a loud metallic boom as the shuttle magna-locked to one of the Chicago's docking ports. Anna grabbed her belongings, then followed the rest of her team off the shuttle, entering the busy flight deck. Because there was always a serious chance of decompression on that deck any time ships were docking and undocking, suits were required at all times. They were required to use magnetics to remain on the deck, but experienced spacefarers were sailing around the bay overhead, often moving sealed containers of all sorts as they flew.

The cadets reached the area where they were supposed to await further instructions.

A large group of people, including the man who had called them FBBs, whatever that was, came off the ramp laughing and joking, swaggering across the deck like they owned the place. Now the cadets noticed that the backs of these organics' suits sported the head of a howling wolf, with the legend "119th Squadron" above it, and "Wolf Pack" below.

These were the pilots who had flown with the seekers in the Battle of Virginia.

Before Virginia, only two pilots had ever survived a dogfight with a seeker. Those two now flew for NEST. Now there were six more, and three of them were aces. And they had just walked past. Skyrocket and Dragonfly were both about to bounce.

The Wolf Pack didn't pay any attention to them as headed for their quarters, carrying on about something they had gotten into down on Diego.

Coriell kicked off from the docking port to a ladder nearby. Shaker said, "Ten-hut!" And they all snapped to. Coriell ordered them, "On my six!"

They followed her across the flight deck, which ran almost the whole length of the ship, and through an airlock. Once the last of them was through the airlock, she gave Lennox and Parker permission to unseal their suits and pulled her own helmet off. "You're all cohort, right? Even you two? I'm not even gonna ask how that happened! Here's the problem. Bot berths are on the hangar deck. Human quarters are up here, but we aren't supposed to separate a cohort. That means you two are special. You can have human quarters up here, or you can stay with the bots in their quarters."

They looked at each other. Anna said to John, "It'd probably be easier if we were all together, and I can Velcro to a bulkhead anywhere."

"Yeah, that makes sense to me. So we go up a gangway to shower and eat, so what," John agreed.

Anna said, "Sir, we would prefer to be assigned to our unit's quarters!"

Coriell nodded, pleased with their attitude. "This way."

The berthroom they were assigned had six berths, and plenty of Velcro panels on the bulkheads. Everything else, they could improvise. Coriell told them where to find the nearest head and shower facilities, then added, "Stow your gear. These three areas are the only places where you will remove your suits. In the head or the showers, you will confirm that the cubicle is sealed before doing so. You will keep them within reach at all times.

"This is the weapons locker. At any time your weapons are not required for your duties, you will secure them here. That includes any weapons that you bots normally subspace. Secure all your gear now. I'll be back in fifteen."

They all came to attention as the LT left the bay, then hurried to secure everything. For lack of personal lockers, John and Anna put their duffels in an equipment locker. They had just enough time to make a trip to the head before they had to be ready to go.

Coriell took them on a tour of the ship, familiarizing them with the layout and where the various duty stations were located. Then she checked a small datapad for their assignments. "Skyrocket, Dragonfly, report to Lieutenant Colonel Garner on the Hangar Deck. A word to the wise, don't smart off and pay attention. Garner is the Commander, Air Group. For those former ground-pounders among us, we usually call that person the CAG. He's been flying longer than you've been alive, and he's forgot more than you know about staying online out there. Get outta here."

"Sir, yes sir!" The twins took off.

"Parker, report to Major Vance, our CMO, in her office in medbay. Expect her to put you to work, but before this flight is over, you'll know a shipboard medbay inside and out."

"Sir, yes sir!" He exchanged a glance with Shaker and then headed for the gangway.

Coriell consulted her datapad again. "Firecracker and Nightstar. Brother and sister? One of these days when we get a spare five minutes, we're going to sit down and you're going to explain Cybertronian unit structure to me. The two of you report to Chief Engineer Crystallia at Power Station Alfa. It's on the hangar deck aft of the portside hold."

They gave the expected universal reply to everything and went where they were told.

Coriell took Shaker and Anna with her to communications and left them in the care and custody of the ship's sensors and communications officer, a tall blond Russian named Lt. Gregorov.

"Gregori Ivanovitch! Here are your baby birdies. Cadet Lennox and Cadet Earthshaker."

"Welcome aboard. Have you ever punched down cable for wireless access points?"

Neither of them had, but they figured they were about to.

That was the first of many days when they learned they were going to be kept out of trouble by being made, and kept, insanely busy. Their supervisors took their jobs seriously, often lecturing or quizzing them while they worked side by side. They had expected to swab decks and peel potatoes, and there was always plenty of that kind of work, but mostly they were learning while they were pulling their own weight. When they finally got back to their berth room after their duty shifts, they were usually too tired to do anything but rest.

John had worked in the medbay with Ratchet and his mother, and that had been a lot of hard work, but he had been just a candy-striper then. He had emptied bedpans, tended non-secured supply lockers, mopped and scrubbed and swept up, as well as handing her instruments in surgery. Now that he had qualified as an EMT-B for both humans and Cybertronians, he could do a lot more hands-on work with patients. He saw a lot of the usual shipboard dings and scratches that went with the territory aboard ship in zero gravity, and wondered from time to time how he would handle a true emergency.

Right now, though, he was becoming expert in what happened when loads shifted as the ship changed vector or accelerated, someone slipped on soap or cleanser, or a thumb made the acquaintance of a hammer. One fellow reported with a toothache. A bag of food split open while being transferred from the microwave, and a cook presented with a burned hand.

The worst injury that John saw after having worked there for a week was a dislocated shoulder when a young airman got an abrupt reminder that "weightless" didn't mean "without mass."

John had just finished triage on the guy with the dislocated shoulder when CMO Vance showed up with a healer-trainee femme named Whitefire, who was doing a rotation on shipboard. Vance ordered her to take a scan of the groaning airman's injury, and checked the results on the datapad she carried.

Vance handed the pad to John, then abruptly leaned into the airman's back and pulled sharply on his arm. It went back into place with a loud snap that made both John and Whitefire flinch, and made the airman howl. Then she gave the kid something for the pain. "Next time it could be your neck, afthead! I don't want you back in here for something this stupid, you got that, Airman?"

"Sir, yes sir!"

She took her datapad back and scribbled orders on it. "Go back to your rack and sleep that off. When you wake up, come back down here and get it checked again. You'll be on light duty for a while, till I'm convinced you won't pop it back out and tear the hell outta your rotator cuff the next time."

Still blinking back tears, the airman left. Vance shook her head. "Too fraggin' many ways for idiots to kill themselves out here."

John went back to work sterilizing the exam room for the next patient. He decided that all told, if he did something dumb and got hurt, he'd rather have Ratchet fix it. Ratchet wouldn't throw a wrench at a human. Vance had no such limitations.

The CAG threw Dragonfly and Skyrocket right into the ship's Combat Air Patrol, flying in a trine with them. They soon learned that with Garner's F-27 leveling the field, they were no match for his skill and experience no matter how much raw talent they had. He also had an uncanny understanding of seeker capabilities and tactics, one reason why his unit had been so successful during the Battle of Virginia.

As they stood in the hangar bay one day after patrol, he gave the two seekers a long look. "You two are still in youngling frames, right?"

"Yes, sir," Dragonfly confirmed. "I won't get much bigger; I'll probably be ready for my last growth cycle soon. Skyrocket will, so it will be another year or two for him."

"Hmm. Think you'll get big enough to transscan an F-27?"

"It would be a stretch, sir. Rocket will."

"OK. Come here, I want to show you something."

They followed him across the bay to the last slip in the hangar bay. The ship there was half the size of an F-27, but still clearly heavily influenced by Cybertronian technology. "That's an F-28. It's designated as a fighter, because it is one. It's lightly armored, but it's the fastest fighter we've got. With a pilot who can keep up with it, it can outfly anything in the sky. It's intended as a scout or AWACS, but we use it for that and everything else too. You might want to consider that airframe if it's the right size for you."

"Yes, sir!" Her optics brightened as she stepped closer. She had expected to get stuck with something like a business jet as Corona had, but this looked much more desirable. An AWACS plane, which stood for Airborne Warning and Control System, was designed to use its sensors and comms to serve as a combat operations "eye in the sky." She filed away a transscan and determined how much more mass she would need to use it; the result was promising.

Outwardly, she was calm and professional, but the CAG would never know that over their sibling bond she and Rocket were screeching like a couple of workbots that got into the high-grade.

The rest of the cadets, aside from the seekers and the medic trainee, got moved through various areas from the galley to engineering to flight ops, learning different skills and doing whatever jobs they were assigned. They all got a reputation for not being afraid of hard work, though of course individual talents meant that some rota were easier for each one than others. Anna, for instance, could dishwash and microwave with the best of them, and follow a detailed recipe. While that was the extent of her culinary talents, she was relieved that nothing more would be asked of her.

They took the usual newbie-hazing more or less in stride, laughing as loud as everyone else. Coming from the big crazy family that was their clan, they were used to it. Every ship had its little quirks and in-jokes. Several of them were sent on errands to find "Chief Master Sergeant Corbis" and give him a message of some sort. Only after a long fruitless search, being sent from place to place all over the ship, did they discover that "Chief Corbis" was actually a plush crow, the mascot of the non-commissioned officers' break room—which they discovered when they all met at the break room, much to the sergeants' amusement.

Shaker didn't let them retaliate until he had a chance to sound Coriell out about where the line was, but then the payback mission was on. He delegated the actual mission planning to Dragonfly and Skyrocket.

They found that the originators of the "Chief Corbis" prank were a pair of roommates, one of whom was a communications tech and the other a supply sergeant. Then the pair decided on a prank which should be completely harmless but extremely annoying. To pull it off, they needed a few supplies from the galley—easy enough for Anna and John to obtain the next time they pulled kitchen duty.

Firecracker found out when the two sergeants were on duty. He got the job of pulling the prank the next time he was landed with swabbing decks—which required him to use the large mopping machine, in which he could hide the prank materials. This machine scrubbed the decks without allowing water droplets to get into the air. All the corridors were swabbed frequently, to prevent grease from building up and causing an accident.

He was chosen for the job for his mods and his size: his digits transformed into fine manipulation arms, necessary for working on guns or building explosives, and he was also still small enough to fit into the sergeants' quarters.

He pulled the sheets off their racks. He first covered each mattress with plastic wrap, then spread a package of dried beans under the wrap on each rack. Then he attached several loops of tape to the plastic wrap and carefully made each rack back up, making certain that the sheets were now taped to the plastic wrap. Then he stuffed the evidence back into the scrubbing machine and continued his day's work.

When the sergeants got off duty and fell into their racks, they immediately noticed that their mattresses were somewhat less comfortable than usual. When they got up and pulled off the sheets to see what was going on, the wrap came off with the sheets and the beans were scattered all over the bay, ricocheting around in zero gravity, and leaving the two men to figure out a way to recapture them all.

Being resourceful individuals they soon hit on the idea of using a hand-held vacuum cleaner, but when they went to get it, word got out to the rest of the non-coms what was going on. Of course they found this highly amusing. By then, Firecracker had disposed of the evidence.

Brewster quickly saw leadership potential in Shaker and Anna, and made sure they spent quite a bit of time on the bridge as gofers and runners. Mostly their job was to stay out of the way, keep quiet and pay attention to whatever was going on.

The Chicago was out here to do two things. First she was to visit a Cybertronian colony to see if anybot survived, determine their situation, and assess any needs they had. Secondly, she was assigned to survey a dead jump point which, if repaired and brought back on line, would bring them within range of two other colonies. After that, she would return to the Sol system and patrol for the remainder of her cruise.

Contact with the Sylura colony had been lost nearly 100 vorns, or 800 years, ago, so no one had any idea what they might find there. Sylura was a Cybertronian-style artificial planet in a system with a yellow star, two rocky planets that had provided raw materials, and a couple of gas giants. Mineral-rich asteroids occupied other orbits.

If Sylura was inhabited, they hoped for trade with the survivors. If it wasn't, future recolonization was a possibility.

The day before they reached Sylura, the whole ship was buzzing with excitement. It was Earth's first official exploration of a possibly inhabited system. Alpha Centauri and Barnard's Star had been the first systems explored, but they were known to be uninhabited before anyone got there. The bots, on the other hand, were anxious to find out what had happened to people that they or their clan had known there long ago.

Coriell came in before lights out to brief the cadets. "We have some great news. Comms picked up radio traffic from insystem, and they answered our hail. Major Crystallia has been talking with their leaders. There are about one hundred survivors plus stragglers that we'll need to find. We've been assigned an area to search, if nothing changes between now and the time we make planetfall next joor. There's no atmosphere, so do full maintenance on your suits. I want both of you carrying a full load of air tanks. There's only about .3 G so the extra tanks shouldn't be much of a problem."

After the LT left, Anna got out of her suit and spread it out on the deck, going through the complicated checklist of a full inspection. Beside her, John did the same. "A hundred-some survivors. That's great, isn't it?"

"Sounds like they're in as bad a shape as the miners," Shaker replied. "They'll need stuff we ain't got. And why would there be stragglers we'd have to find? I got a feelin' somethin' ain't right."

Star nodded. Where Shaker was concerned, slow didn't mean stupid. His instincts were usually good. "Maybe you and I should subspace a few extra air tanks, Shaker," she suggested.

He nodded. "I'll go see if Major Crystallia can spare me some."

The engineer was more than happy to give him a few extra, as well as a box of water refills. It seemed to her that many humans were slow to take advantage of bots' subspace holds. Most of them had extra room. There was no reason not to carry extra vital supplies; this group of cadets seemed better than some of their elders at using each others' abilities.

Dragonfly tried to settle herself on her berth, shifting her weight in a way that looked very uncomfortable to Anna. "Are you all right?"

"I will be. Remember your wisdom tooth?"

Anna winced in sympathy. "Don't remind me, I still have to cut three more. Can I do anything?"

Dragonfly shook her head miserably and rearranged her wings again. Anna didn't seem to recall Star having so much discomfort with either of her growth phases, but then some people didn't even seem to notice wisdom teeth coming in, either.

At lights out, Anna kicked off from the deck to stick her sleeping bag high on the bulkhead, out of the bots' way if there was an alarm in the middle of the night. John found his own spot.

Dragonfly shifted on her berth. Her wings were tender and she couldn't seem to get comfortable no matter what she did. Seekers liked to rest in alt form, but she could only do that in the hangar, and she never had been able to recharge out in the open. It reminded her too much of old terrors from their time with the Decepticons. She finally settled on her front, helm on her arms.

A bulky form made himself comfortable beside her—Shaker. She smiled. ::What's the matter, Dragonfly?::

::Just growing. Vance is good, but she's not Ratchet. Everything that's integrating either hurts or itches.::

::Maybe we oughta go down there and tell 'er to do it right this time!::

::I don't think she's got the equipment in a shipboard medbay to do the really fine work. It will self repair.::

Very gently, Shaker stroked her wings as he had when they were kids. After a little while she purred softly as she relaxed and drifted toward recharge. ::Shaker, you always did take good care of me.::

::Always will, Dragonfly, always will,:: he promised. ::Ya better get some recharge, t'morrow's gonna be a big day.::

::You too.::

::Yeah, I will.::

He waited until he was sure she was recharging before he went back to his own berth.

The next morning everyone managed to get a look out a viewport as they orbited Sylura. They were close enough to see that it was a metal world, an artificial planet like Cybertron. The cadets were excited about seeing something out of legend, but the older bots in the crew who remembered Cybertron had a little piece of home given back to them.

Everyone was ordered to secure for landing. The cadets went back to their quarters and the bots magna-locked to their berths. Shaker transformed to his bulldozer alt before he locked down. He was thankful that he'd had Ratchet modify his alt form so he could do that, because it gave John and Anna a safe place to ride out landings in bot-specific areas of the ship. They got in his cab and fastened their seat belts.

Once the ship landed, Coriell joined them. "Stay sharp out there," she ordered.

"Yes, sir," was Shaker's quiet rumbling reply.

The crew gathered in the docking bay, watching in excitement as the huge hatch slowly lowered. The Chicago rarely landed anywhere; she was not designed for atmospheric operations. But an airless, artificial world like the Sylura colony was perfect for her. The ramp finally rested on the metal plates of the landing pad.

They looked around at the surrounding towers. In this part of the colony, they were all in good repair and well-lighted. Crystallia and a few others who had lived on Cybertron before the war took its toll looked around with mingled longing and sorrow.

Brewster didn't want to let that go on too long. He gave the order to move out.

All hell broke loose when the space-suited humans came down the ramp, but not for any of the reasons they expected. A crowd of about twenty bots waited for the ship to land, anxious to greet others of their people after so long. It was immediately evident, however, that their visitors weren't all bots.

As soon as that discovery spread through the crowd, Cybertronian chatter flooded the civilian frequencies.

The locals dived for cover. Some fled outright, and the others readied weapons. The bots, silent in the vacuum of an airless planet, disappeared behind anything big enough to hide them like a herd of elephants fleeing from mice.

Brewster radioed Crystallia on a private channel, ::You're the highest ranking bot officer. Talk to them and try to calm them down.::

::What am I supposed to say to them, Colonel?::

::Hell's bells, I don't know, tell them we come in peace and ask them to take us to their leader!::

The minerbot snorted, but stepped forward and held out empty servos. ::Everybot settle down! We're not going to hurt anyone! I'm Crystallia of the Pride of Iacon. Our ship is the EDS Chicago. Who's in charge here?::

::I am.:: A small silver and green door-winged femme stepped forward. ::Shadowdancer of Praxus, Crystallia. What are your, er, shipmates designated?::

::They are humans, indigenous to the planet Earth where we have settled.::

::Are they...organics?::

::Yes, they are. Is that some kind of a problem?::

::Er, no, of course not, it's just I've never seen one before. A lot of these bots don't even know what an organic is, and, well, they're afraid of them. They think they're some other weapon of terror that Megatron cooked up.::

::Megatron was here? What did he do?::

::Well, he wasn't here personally, but about three vorns ago, the Decepticons raided Sylura. Soundwave was in charge. They conscripted many of my people who were able to fight, filled their ship with whatever they wanted to take, and stole all our spacecraft. The rest of us expected them to hunt us down and kill us, but they just took a few bots aboard their ship and released them later. Soon we found out why. Soundwave used us to test a new virus. Everyone infected with it fled contact with other bots, except to try to infect them with the virus. After a while we were able to develop a defense against it, and now the virus can be removed from an infected bot. The trouble is catching them. There were originally seventeen victims. We recovered four and we know of two who were offlined in accidents. We believe there are eleven of them still hiding in the abandoned areas, but we've had no success in capturing them.::

::The war is over, and Megatron and Soundwave were both offlined. Did you pick up Optimus Prime's call?::

::We did, but we don't have a ship. We have what we need to survive here. I'm sorry but I wasn't going out there in comet form without warriors to protect my people, and with no more idea where we were going than a set of coordinates. If the Magnus wishes to judge me for that, then arrest me.::

Crystallia said, ::Can't see that happening. Tell your people the humans won't hurt them, then come aboard and talk to the Primes.::

The Praxian did so, then went aboard the Chicago.

The ramp sealed and the airlock cycled through. Crystallia and one of the humans escorted Shadowdancer to a conference room that was set up for subspace communications. Along the way, she saw her first humans who weren't wearing space suits. She stopped, scanning them with all her senses. They made a singsong noise to her companions, who replied in that same language. The human with them also removed his helm cover, and nodded to the pair they had just met.

One of them took a step forward and bowed its head respectfully, then offered a credible universal greeting. Shadowdancer knelt to offer her servo, but let the human actually make contact because she was afraid of hurting it. Its tiny servo was warm like hers. She smiled, and the little being returned the gesture.

At least, she hoped it was a gesture of friendship and not some kind of threat display.

Crystallia led her to the conference room, set up to be accessible to both the humans and bots, with a stairway leading up to a platform on one side of the table, where several small chairs were lined up.

Crystallia introduced Shadowdancer to the human with her. He was the captain of the ship, Colonel Brewster. She bowed respectfully, a gesture which he returned with the proper formality.

Crystallia offered her a language file. "This is the language known as English. It's one of their major languages and the one the fleet uses. A lot of the humans speak at least some of it. Most of the humans on board the Chicago do understand our language, but their vocalizers are completely different from ours. They can't make the sounds to say much more than hello. You may distribute it if you like."

Shadowdancer scanned and installed the file, then pushed it out to the clan leaders. It would help to be able to talk to the aliens.

Crystallia got comms going. Shadowdancer knew who Optimus Prime was from her parents' stories of Old Cybertron and the Council at the start of the war. She went to one knee, and waited to be told to rise. She was terrified: her decision to disobey the call to journey to Earth had been in the best interests of her people, but she wasn't sure how he was going to take her display of initiative.

He did not seem to be angry with her when he told her to stand. She said, "I am Shadowdancer, leader of the Syluran Council, Magnus."

"You cannot have had an easy job the last several vorns. What is your situation there?"

"Magnus. I have 112 bots in three clans, including six new sparklings. We have enough energon and raw materials to survive by recycling what we have here. Everything needs repairs and has since the jump points went down, but we don't have the ability to make them ourselves. Large areas of the planet have had to be abandoned as unsafe. And then there are the ferals..."

"Ferals?"

Shadowdancer explained again about Soundwave's experimental virus and its effects on its unfortunate victims.

"Was this the reason you chose to remain there rather than coming to Earth?"

"Yes, Magnus, it was part of it. We could not abandon our family here. They can't truly fend for themselves without someone to leave energon and other supplies for them. But the main reason is that we have no ships. It would have meant bringing civilians, even younglings, a desperately long distance without any fighters to defend us. And now the situation has been complicated even further by the creation of several sparklings. We do not know anything about the world at that location. Many of us have never landed on a planet in meteor form. It was my decision to wait for more information before we set out. With respect, this is our home. We would prefer to stay, with your permission."

"If the colony is still in a condition for you to stay there safely, I see no reason why not. Your reasons for waiting were good ones. Don't be concerned about that. Captain Brewster?"

"We'll do what we can to assist the Sylurans, Optimus."

Optimus nodded, then addressed Shadowdancer. "Our situation seems to be a little better than yours, supply-wise, but at this point we only have two ships capable of carrying a large amount of cargo. Determine what you need the most urgently and we'll do our best."

"Thank you, Magnus." Shadowdancer hoped he couldn't tell that she was shaking with relief. The old council would have had a different reaction. At the very least, she would have been summoned to Cybertron to explain herself in person. But then the old council wouldn't have been so much at ease with the captain that he could be on a first-name basis with the Magnus. Clearly, there had been changes.