Author's note: This is my first story of Tracks, G1, an experiment resulting from a late night online, my Bud on IM and 2 cans of Monster.
The Dead Road
Tracks watched his home city of Cetane burn to the bowels of the planet's gut. There was no warning, only the terrible boom of bombs, the rumble of decimated buildings and the cacophony of city defenses as they failed. He and fourteen others were all that survived the destruction. Perched atop a lonely overpass one level up, they watched in grief as Decepticon war machines tore the city and its inhabitants to pieces.
Long after the city was leveled, its people slaughtered and all buildings looted of goods and energy, the survivors remained silent, safe and still high upon the upper level's passway. No words tumbled from their vocalizers; no words to convey the mixed emotions of horror, fear or overwhelming grief. Then one Autobot stood and quietly departed. No questions asked. A second Autobot followed and a third went with him, again no one protested or wished them well.
Tracks never saw or heard from them again.
No one spoke of their former life. Still reeling from the shocking events, the Autobot's sense of self-preservation overrode all other matters. But only one Autobot out of the group had the slightest knowledge how to survive off Cybertron's ruinous landscape. Tracks and the other nine Autobots numbly followed the scavenger, watching his movements, tracing his footsteps and copying his ideas. But when he found energy: no sharing.
One cycle shadowed another as the nine lonely Autobots sojourned across the torn and barren landscape. They rounded mounds of debris, long since abandoned by enemy war camps. They sloshed along a bog of dark oil covered with a thin layer of glowing radioactive fog. Two cycles thereafter, the refugees crept through miles of forests made of used and rusted scrap metal. To Tracks, the piles resembled disease on the land; festering sores seeping contaminated fluids. A stench eked from the piles; a nauseating smell that caused one member of their silent group to choke and cough so that he often lagged behind. Unlike the others, concerned for their own welfare, Tracks waited for the silent straggler until they managed past the forest.
Five cycles beyond the forest, the Autobot group encountered a small town. Towering buildings were now stunted and smouldering. Autobot chassis lay or hung everywhere. Dark optics and seeping lifeblood told a chilling tale of murder and chaos. There was no warning. The perpetrators came, demolished and left. No mercy. Not for the small. Not for the incapable. Not for the innocent.
The group of survivors scavenged what they could. Tracks cringed as two of their numbers fed off the dead. He wondered how long it would be before he found himself desperate enough to do the same.
Primus must have smiled upon Tracks. He found two small precious energon cubes under the bodies of three fallen Autobots.
Ignore the dead. Move on.
Two . . . four . . . nine more cycles passed and the survivors' numbers shrunk by three. Tracks thought they simply shut down to reserve fuel. But their fuel lines ran dry just the day before. Their optics dimmed in despair. Their voices silenced by starvation.
How long before Tracks faced his own demise? Would he accept it in silence? He could just lie down as did they and wait for his last thought. The survival 'trainer' had orphaned the group the previous cycle. Tracks and four Autobots were forced to figure survival on their own.
Tracks longed to ask his silent companions what their plans were, if they had any. But he feared they would ask him the same. He had no plans, no goals other than to survive to the next cycle. All his life he had direction. Tracks lived and breathed by a schedule. Teaching metalloid finishes and chemical alloys kept him on his toes. There was always some wanna-be-expert student who tried to out-know Tracks.
But Tracks, who was of all things a great showman, always had a way to shine the student on and expertly routed his teaching accordingly. Not that Tracks intended to prove who was the better, but the Autobot teacher didn't like to be bested in a classroom full of optics watching his every move, audios listening to every word. After all, presentation was everything.
Tracks' optics lifted to the eternal night sky ruling over Cybertron' s ruinous horizons. There was still 'Out There'. Freed from his precious scheduled life, Tracks could travel as he always dreamed. Class was over; time to move on in life.
But was there a future even in a time of turmoil, warfare and death?
Tracks had no answer even for himself.
He could quit; lie down and allow death to take him as others before him. But why?
"I have a future," he told himself. And that was all his own spark needed. They were his own words, but they were just as true as if someone else said them.
The last of his companions stared. "What?" He was but a timid, slender bot of yellow and white, a Small One who traveled along on two steel-spiked wheels.
Tracks felt stronger with resolve. "I think we'll be alright! We survived this far, we're here." His optics drifted to the horizon as hope lifted in his core. "We're going to be alright."
But the small Autobot only scowled. "You are not looking at the situation at all, are you? We are already dead. Our bodies simply haven't caught up with us yet. Everything around us, everyone we knew is dead." The Small One turned away with a final mutter, "Hate. War. Death. It's just a matter of time."
Tracks stood, horrified. "I won't believe you. Cybertron is too big for everything to cease to exit." But his words fell on deaf audio sensors whose owner had already given up.
Tracks took inventory of his few belongings: half a small cube of energon, a vial of lubricant and a small pistol (half-charged). He had a few precious items to trade for other needed things. It wasn't much. It wasn't much at all. But Tracks clung to the one ounce of hope he had and chose to keep going no matter how foolish his mindset seemed.
After all, what did he have to lose?
He pushed onward, while the Small One remained and waited for death.
Two cycles became two phases. Tracks trudged along a barren, unlit landscape ripped, burned, and ragged; a desert that bled hopelessness. At one point Tracks thought there was not one living soul left on Cybertron. Far and beyond he kept his optics ever on the pathless wasteland before him. Just one more step, one more megamile, one more sparkless town and a few precious drops of energon.
The lone Autobot approached the jagged edge of a broken roadway. He peered into the darkness of a dead lower level. Tracks lifted weary optics to the level above. No lights. No traffic. A bit of smoldering metal shrank under the glaze of plasma fire.
Was there nothing other than corpses and ghost towns? Anger sparked the Autobot's weary heart. He hated everything he saw. Thousands of miles, countless cycles, and Primus knows how many phases he traveled, isolated on a land trashed, scarred and rusting away.
"Hey!" he called. "Am I the only fool on this floating piece of scrap??"
" . . . piece of scrap??" The echo mocked him.
Tracks ripped off a tattered cloak and slammed it onto the blackened ground. "What's the matter with you people?"
" . . . you people?"
The echo carved a chasm into his core. Tracks sat on the remains of a pillar and hunched over. Was he really the last person on this part of the planet? All this expanse of nothing; a desert devoid of breath, a lightless pit waiting for more nothingness.
Maybe the Small One was right. Everything on Cybertron was dead. Just lie down and accept it. He could. There certainly was no one around to mock and appoint him a failure. He was as lost a spark as the life around him. For miles and miles untold Tracks found nothing, not so much as an electro-bug.
He was painfully low on energon. Maybe another cycle's worth. Tracks could just drain it and wait for termination to come via starvation.
Just like the Small One.
Weary, heartsick and lonely, Tracks considered it. He'd dream of his home, now long gone. He missed the fountains, the towering buildings, the hustle of life, the lights. That's what he missed most; the city lights.
Bit by bit, Tracks reluctantly drifted to a light slumber. He could get up just a little while from now and keep going. A little slumber for a weary, homesick traveler.
There came the tanks in his dreams. Huge chunks of reinforced metal driven by Decepticon powerlust. They mowed down buildings, roads, homes, people innocent and powerful alike. Autobots died in mid-motion. Whole crowds perished by fire from above, their screams brief but intense.
The grinding voices of their attackers came ever nearer, ever louder; the screams rose and fell until the expanse of wasteland swallowed everything up.
All was gone.
And so was he.
* * *
How did he get here? And why?
Tracks activated his optics and winced from the glare of a bright light.
"Ah! See? I said he'd come around!"
Tracks gazed into the optics of two Autobots: one with a faceplate, the other with a warm, welcoming smile on his face.
"Hey, fella, we almost didn't see you." The first one's chipper voice sounded like music to Tracks. "I'm Wheeljack. This is Doc Ratchet."
"Let me congratulate you on being the first Autobot to cross the Deadlands! Remarkable!"
Tracks wanted to repeat the name, but lack of energy kept his vocalizer from working.
"Nobody's ever survived the Deadlands and lived to tell about it. Hey, Optimus Prime would LOVE to talk with you!"
There was life after all! He was right!
Tracks wearily smiled and returned to rest. He slept not so much from exhaustion, but because he found his destiny.