The three minds hooked into the computer(Electrum Beast, Campaign Car, and Bunny Convoy) were interacting with each other- but not with good results. Campaign Car and Bunny Convoy did not want to listen to reason; they simply wanted to fight. Understandable, given their recent history together. Despite Electrum Beast's protests, the two combatants were bound and determined to damage each other.
They were in for a surprise.
Campaign Car fired his gun at about the same time that Bunny Convoy slashed his swords; being at point-blank range, neither could miss. And they didn't. They hit their targets...and passed right on thru. Stunned, they tried again...with the same result. As they stood there looking dumbfounded, their fearless leader chimed in.
Electrum Beast: "This is a holographic enviornment, gentleman. It's all a visual construct; nothing here has any real substance. What did you expect?
Bunny Convoy: "But we *have* substance...I can grab my weapons, and my hands didn't pass thru them...nor did your hands pass thru us when you were trying to keep us seperated. So why did it happen now? Program glitch?
Electrum Beast: "It appears Ticker had the foresight to disable the combat-mode feature in this program. Once you initialized your battle protocols, the program rendered you soluable."
Bunny Convoy: "So we can't fight?"
Electrum Beast: "That's correct. This isn't about battle; this is about healing. Something to keep our minds occupied with while our bodies recover."
Semingly defeated by someone with more foresight into their psyches than even themselves, Campaign Car put his gun away, while Bunny Convoy sheathed his swords.
Electrum Beast: "Wonderful...now, if the two of you are finished, why don't we run the program, and see what Ticker *did* provide us with?"
The others nodded agreement; Electrum Beast gave the command to run the holo-program. In an instant, the scene around them changed; where once there was nothing more than a gridwork of lines and squares, there appeared an image of a planet.
The holoprogram began its narration: "In the beginning, there were two races of robots: the courageous Autobots, and the evil Decepticons...."
The decepticon ship floated effortlessly in outer space. Booster-rockets occasionally fired to maintain orbit; otherwise, it was as close to power-efficient as you could get.
Crackup was giving Optimus Minor a tour of his little operation. Everything a 'bot could want was available either in repair bays, or ships' stores. The decepticon was quite proud of his personal flagship.
Crackup: "Yes, it was an excellent find, the old girl. Salvaged mostly from the Ark. The frame wasn't space-worthy anymore- they crashed her twice- but everything else was reasonably intact. I managed to scour most of the technology before those idiots blew it up. I can't imagine what they were thinking."
Optimus Minor: "So you're telling me that most of the technology here was borrowed?"
Crackup: "In one form or another, yes. You have to realize that with the war going on, research was at a premium; what little was done being geared mostly to military advantage. That's what makes the enemy so useful; even while fighting a war, they never really give up their scientific pursuits. That puts them quite a bit ahead during lulls in the fighting...'peacetime', as some call it. My mission is to periodically close that knowledge gap as much as possible...and thru whatever means necessary. That's the whole purpose of this operation."
Optimus Minor: "Seems a shame, really...couldn't you just cooperate peacefully with the Autobots, have a knowledge-exchange?"
Crackup:(looking at him quizzicly) "Surely, you jest. While many on both sides would believe that this peace is legitimate, I think we both know that it is just a farce. Each side is simply biding their time, waiting for an opportunity to strike."
Optimus Minor: "History *does* show such another war occurring...unfortunately, it was pretty one-sided."
Crackup: "history shows? What an interesting choice of words."
Optimus Minor: "Not really....you suspected it all along, after all."
Crackup: "I *had* noticed something different about you. I was prepared to wait a reasonable amount of time for you to put your cards down on the table."
Optimus Minor: "And if I hadn't?"
Crackup: "Then I would have simply dissected you, and found out for myself."
Optimus Minor: "I appreciate your honesty. I trust, then, that you will appreciate mine?"
Optimus Minor: "History records that, thanks to your efforts this day, both sides were in-fact evenly-matched in a future conflict. Not that it did any good."
Crackup: "I beg your pardon?"
Optimus Minor: "Your decendants took more than 3 vorn to set your plans into action. By that time, it was too-late. You'd lost the advantage. Others tried to take up the slack, and impinge their corrupted version of the future on our people...but that didn't take, either. And now, with the technology in-place to 'transwarp'- that's what brought me here- I fear things have only gotten worse. Rogues have traveled back and tampered with history, to disasterous results. My mission is to go back...back before it all began anew...and help you, so that victory- and stability- is assured."
Crackup: "I...see. That is...all very hard to believe. And without evidence?"
Optimus Minor: "Anything I could have brought along as evidence would only have served to fray the timeline further. My mission is to assist you; to free you from milwaukee-base, and to make sure your plans are put in-place faster. Otherwise, history itself will suffer."
Crackup: "I wouldn't have escaped, then?"
Optimus Minor: "No. You would have died along with the rest of them when the power-core blew. What little information was salvaged took too-long to act upon. However, with you alive, and your 'borrowed' research intact...things will play out a little differently this time."
Crackup: "I must say, I am...grateful, And intrigued. Tell me more."
As the tour continued, Optimus Minor told Crackup of many things, weaving a grand tapestry of events to come...events that Crackup would personally bring about. He found the thought delightful, to say the least. Just as Optimus Minor had hoped he would. With things set, 'just so', the future would undoubtedly play out exactly the way that he had intended. All he would have to to is sit back...and watch.
When Clutterbug awoke a second time, it was to an empty room. Ticker had gone to begin repairs on the other patients, while Uncle Whiskey Breath and Windchill went off again in search of Crackup and the mystery prisoner. That left Clutterbug alone with her thoughts...and what interesting thoughts she was having. She wondered exactly what had happened to her when she touched the little robot- she remembered feeling a surge of power, and then everything going black. Reviewing her on-line logs provided her with little help; apparently, her power levels spiked off the chart momentarily, and then subsided. "How odd," she thought. "And it happened when I touched Uncle's little friend. I wonder why?" Not finding any answers awaiting her in the medlab, she rose to her feet, and entered the stasis/repair area. She found Ticker hunched over, hard at work on another robot...a rather hulking one. His identcode listed him as Washout. He was the only patient conscious in the room; there were several other stasis-pods in the room, three of which were connected to a newly-installed bank of computers. Two others stood empty against the far wall, and one...seemed to be a stand-alone unit. It was occupied with the robot that Washout brought in earlier. Not wishing to intrude, she instead stayed just to the outside of the door, and listened.
Ticker: "Well in your case, most of the damage is superficial. You have a few nicks and dings, and you'll need a new paintjob...but otherwise, you'll be fine. Nothing a sonic wash won't cure, anyways."
Washout: "What about my friend?"
Ticker: "That, I'm afriad, is another story. I'll do all I can, but he's not built as sturdy as you are. His damage was quite severe. I won't lie to you- I don't know if I can even repair him."
Washout: "But...but he can't be dead! We need him!"
Ticker: "Easy, easy, cool your servos. He's not dead. I never said he was. All I said was that his body is beyond repair. That doesn't mean he won't live again."
Washout: "But how is that possible?"
Ticker: "Well, we've been working on a few new techniques here. We can probably transplant his spark and personality core into a new body; we have one more protoform blank left in-storage. It's not a guarantee...there's some risk that the spark won't take...but it may be the only chance he's got."
Washout: "Protoforms...heard bad things about those. Too-new, too-experimental. Can't you just build a new body for him?"
Ticker: "Sure, we could, but...there's really not enough time. He's in rough shape. I can't keep him in-stasis long enough for that kind of operation. It's too-late to hook his mind into the holoprogram- three others are already running on it. And we both know that ordering a new body from Cybertron would take too-long as well, even with the spacebridge."
Washout: "You mean to tell me that you don't keep pre-made bodies in a research facility like this?"
Ticker: "Nothing that's a blank...they don't have a spark, but the personality programs are pre-encoded, so no matter what spark we put in it, we'd end up with a different robot...not the original. That would be the same as letting your friend die, because either way, he would cease to exist as he is."
Washout: "Do you have any guarantees that this technique of yours will work?"
Ticker: "It's worked once already...on your team leader."
Ticker: "That's not what he calls himself anymore."
Washout: "I don't understand. I thought you still had him in-stasis...or returned him to Cybertron. What do you mean he doesn't call himself Overdrive anymore?"
Ticker: "Let's just say that, while he has the same personality, there were a few superficial...changes. I believe Scoot anticipated the problems, and prepared datafiles accordingly."
Washout: "And that's what will happen to Flatfoot? Problems?!"
Ticker: "Not at all...if we start now. I can call Scoot back from belowdecks, and we can begin the process. The sooner we start, the more likely that he will be the exact same 'bot you knew before."
Washout: "So you're saying the decision is mine?"
Ticker: "You're his friend...what do you think he would want?"
A nod, and Ticker paged Scoot to come back to the repair bay. Ticker began the prep process on the new protoform. Washout could only watch helplessly as things swung into motion all around him.
No one noticed Clutterbug scurring away from the medlab, with what appeared to be horror in her eyes.
Uncle Whiskey Breath practically flew down the roads, as fast as he could given the fact that he was cloaked. His obstacle-avoidance systems were being taxed to the limit. There was really no other way; he couldn't go full speed uncloaked- his cybertonain tractor-mode, while maneuverable, didn't lend itself well to the public eye. And the other setting on his cloak, 'cow', was only good for standing still.
Windchill had no such problem. As a jet, he soared high above the skies, out of sight of the humans, while helping Uncle track the escaped intruders. No thoughts of what they would do once they stopped them entered the picture; for the moment, it was merely enough to seek them out.
Flying higher, Windchill tracked the signal from his kidnapped 'brother'. At first, they were making headway, but now...now things didn't look so good.
Uncle: "Whats dat? You say they stopped moving?"
Windchill beeped in reply; a series of coded busrts, and Uncle got the general idea that, although they had stopped ground movement for the moment, they *were* moving again- vertically.
Uncle: "I don' spose he's escaped, and his flying ta meet us?"
Windchill beeped sadly in-reply; the signal was heading for orbit, and getting weaker. In a few moments, it dropped off his radar screen entirely.
Uncle: "Aw, don't blame yerself. How could youse know he had a ship ready ta go?"
Radioing in, they informed Ticker of their wherabouts, and asked for further instructions. She told them to head back to base, and wait until everybody was back on-line. Then, they would form a proper battle plan. Resigned to their fates, they turned around, and returned to Milwaukee base. Perhaps she was right- when every one was back up to speed, they would surely find a way to get the little fella back.
Uncle sure hoped so. He felt responsible for the little guy.
"It all makes sense now..."
The process that Ticker described to Washout was very probably the one that created *her*. Being a different transformer previously would explain the flashes of unknown imagery, and the nightmares that followed her perodic involuntary shutdown periods. Apparently the over-write on her personality core didn't take, and memories of her previous life were poking thru. This problem was only excaberated when she suffered the power-spike from touching Windchill...it erased what she had become, bringing forth fully her previous persona. She maintained the memories and identity of Clutterbug, but she also remembered who she used to be....
That was going to be a problem.
Continuing down the cooridors, she made for the hanger area, and the small emergency shuttle that was kept there. Flashing her identcode, the doors opened, revealing the small craft emblazoned with the Defender logo.
The logo that they all wore.
The logo that didn't belong on her.
Entering the ship, she punched in a few seemingly random numbers. The craft came to life around her. Pressing another button, a cooridor just big enough to fit the shuttle opened up in-front of it. A short hop down that path, and she would be free.
Free of the experiments being conducted here.
Free to warn the others about what was going on at Milwaukee Base.
Firing up the engines, she blasted down the cooridor, leaving a fiery trail behind her. On the surface, a barn on a secluded patch of land slid sideways, revealing the other end of the cooridor. In moments, Clutterbug was free of the base, heading for orbit, and wasting no time in getting there.
She had to warn the others.
They had to be stopped.