This little one-shot is written in honor of Turning Points reaching 1 year old. It is not directly related to Turning Points except that it is in the same 'universe.' However, that connection is not made till the end. Actually, I had started writing this well before I had even conceived of Turning Points but I got stuck: I could not think of a way to justify the ending I wanted to have. Then, as I got into writing Turning Points I realized that story gave me the solution I needed.
My other reason for writing this was to see if I could write 'human' again. It's been so long since I've written form a human POV, I wanted to make sure I could still do it. *wink*
This story takes place mere days – no more than a week or two – after the battle in Mission City in TF1. In my personal fanon, it takes place between the events of TF1 and Proving Ground.
Warning: There are a couple of cuss-words in this story.
Thomas Banachek stood on the catwalk; his lips pressed together, one hand grasping the rail, the other holding an innocuous sheet of paper. Where the catwalk had once scaled the side of an alien artifact that had throbbed with unearthly power, glittering with almost surreal beauty, now there was nothing but air.
The Cube was gone, not just from the dam that had housed it for much of the past century, but also from existence. At least according to the reports he had read from Mission City.
Banacheck closed his eyes, the image of NBE-2 reaching up to touch and… sing?... to the cube flashing through his mind. Then the unearthly lightshow that had precipitated the artifact's collapsing in on itself had been a moment of awestruck despair. Amazing in scope and dreadful in its implications.
Then NBE-1 had thawed completely and that time they had not been able to stop it from happening. Eighteen agents had lost their lives in that single incident.
NBE-1 had proven, had justified the concerns and the bone-deep instinctual fear humans tended to have for the NBEs. Banacheck could still hear the metal behemoth's furious, rumbling growl as it demolished the room it had been kept in as well as the lives of the humans working there.
"I am Megatron!"
The creature's voice, even on recorded playbacks, was enough to give Banachek chills. Truly, this 'Megatron' was everything Sector Seven had feared it was.
But then his thoughts flashed back to NBE-2 or, more specifically, the boy whose trust and loyalty the yellow alien had gained.
"People can die here." Banacheck had warned the kid, but the youth had not been fazed.
Then the boy had told them more about the aliens than they had been able to learn in the near-century preceding that moment. Banacheck had known that the five newer NBEs had told him those things; there was no other explanation than.
Even so, that realization had not negated the possibility that the aliens had used lies to get the boy's trust with the intention of betraying him once they had their silver comrade out of stasis.
But the Witwicky boy had been right about NBE-1. The creature had been self aware enough to know its own name. That was more than they had been able to prove and it meant they were actually members of an alien civilization, not just highly developed AI-controlled drones.
The yellow one had also acted in a way only a sentient being could.
Banacheck pressed his eyes closed, leaning heavily against the railing as he remembered the screeching; the inhuman sounds of pain that could be heard echoing from the lab the yellow one had been held in. If NBE-2 – what had the youth called it? Bumblebee? – was actually sentient, that meant…
His hands tightened painfully against cold metal. If this 'Bumblebee' was sentient, then what Sector Seven had done to it was tantamount to torture.
Yes. He remembered the how defensive the alien had acted when it had been released – how he had armed his absolutely gigantic weapon – and yet it had not used that weapon. Part of Banacheck had expected to die that moment and yet… Bumblebee… had listened to the pleading of a human boy to stand down. It… no, he… had then willingly assisted them in getting the Cube to safety and had apparently lost his legs in the ensuing battle.
It did not match the wanton brutal destruction NBE-1 had seemed to revel in.
Witwicky had said something about two factions in a war. One bent on destruction and domination and the other… the Autobots? That was what the reports called them. They had defended humanity at Mission City.
Those same reports painted a grim picture of how Humanity was now a target of the… the Decepticons. Megatron's followers. But those reports also detailed how the other robots… the Autobots… had promised to protect Earth and her inhabitants.
The tortured cries of the yellow one echoed in Banachek's mind again.
He squeezed his eyes tighter.
If they were sentient – and all the evidence pointed to the fact that they were – then he had supervised the capture and torture of someone who was humanity's only hope against the most powerful enemy it has ever known.
In trying to defend his people, he could have doomed them. Yet the aliens were staying to help protect earth.
Opening his eyes, blinking at the haunting emptiness of the cavern that had once housed the… the AllSpark… for so long, Banachek looked again at the paper he held in his hands.
It was an order – signed by the president himself – like so many orders he had received and followed in his lifetime. But this one was different. The Autoots had demanded Sector Seven be disbanded for the crimes the organization had committed against the Cybertronians. That was not a surprise.
Nor was it a surprise that the president, the Joint Chiefs and the Senate oversight committee had agreed.
Banachek understood. He understood the necessity of maintaining favorable ties with the surprisingly benign and friendly alien faction. He understood and he actually agreed with the decision.
The alien leader – an absolutely humongous mechanoid calling itself… himself… Optimus Prime – had requested an accounting of what had happened at the Hoover Dam facility.
Again, Banacheck understood and could not blame the NBEs. In their place he would have done the same.
He read the order, grasped tightly in his hand, again:
Pursuant to the Alien Cooperative Treaty, whereby all previous encounters with Cybertonians or their technologies will be revealed…
Banacheck's eyes skimmed over the legalese to the last paragraph.
'…Upon request of Optimus Prime, the recognized leader of Earth's Autobot allies, you are hereby ordered to report to the temporary NEST base, located outside of Mission City, for a complete debriefing of the entirety of Sector Seven's conduct…'
It was not stated outright, but Banachek was no idiot; he had not survived so long in government service without learning how to read between the lines. As could be expected, the aliens were displeased with what Sector Seven had done. Banacheck, the highest ranking agent and the director of the Hoover Sam facility was being offered as a sacrificial lamb to help ensure good relations with their new allies.
For the sake of his people, his nation and his world, Banacheck understood he was being told to fall on his proverbial sword if necessary.
Again: it was not truly a surprise.
He had seen something like this hovering on the horizon as soon as the orders started filtering down to begin the decommissioning of Sector Seven.
Earth needed the alliance with the Autobots – needed it more than they needed Sector Seven. Banachek understood that. He also knew that his position as the Director of Sector Seven made him the logical fall-guy.
He winced, remembering the electronic screams of agony like a branding iron across his conscience.
Then he straightened to a more respectable bearing.
Though cloaked in secrecy, his entire adult life had been spent dedicated to protecting his nation, his world. If his world needed him to take the fall for the actions he had, in fact, ordered and endorsed, he would take that fall. He would do whatever was necessary for the survival of humanity.
Casting another look about the empty cavern, Banachek lowered his hands to his side.
If that was what his country needed from him, he would answer that call. He would willingly answer for the actions of Sector Seven under his tenure… no matter what happened. It was his duty, and if that was the only way Earth would have the protection it so desperately needed… he would fulfill that duty.
The helpless metallic groaning of a frozen yellow form danced before Banachek's eyes and he shut them again, steeling his resolve.
Perhaps he would also be able to atone for the wrongs he had committed.
Resolve strengthened, Banacheck opened his eyes and turned on his heels. He made his way off the scaffolding, his footfalls echoing forlornly off the metal and cement. Already most of S-7 personnel had been reassigned to other, less sensitive positions. It made the base unnaturally quiet.
For that reason, Banachek was mildly surprised to see two uniformed and armed men waiting at his office door.
"Are you Thomas Banachek?" One of them asked.
"I am." Banacheck answered, feeling like he knew why they were there. "Is there something I can do for you?"
"You received orders to report to NEST's temporary base outside Mission City." It was a statement more than a question.
Regardless, Banacheck nodded. "I did."
"We are here to escort you to your destination." There was a slight pause. "With or without your cooperation and by any means necessary."
There it was; the reality of his situation. Again, Banacheck was not surprised. He was likely to be delivered to stand trial before an alien justice system. This was an extradition.
If he allowed himself to think too much about what fate might lay in his future, he would probably loose his nerve as well as his lunch…
…Alien screams of agony echoed in his ears…
Stiffening his spine, Banachek nodded. He would follow orders. He would take responsibility for his actions and those of his organization. He did not really have much choice any way.
"Understood." He answered the young solider with more calm than he felt. "Allow me to retrieve what I need from my office?"
"Of course sir." The two soldiers stepped aside. "You have fifteen minutes."
How generous, Banacheck thought ironically. Outwardly he only nodded. "Thank you."
Practiced in briefing important people on Sector Seven's discoveries, proposals and the like Banacheck was efficient in gathering what he thought he needed.
His orders had said full disclosure. Considering that the objects of this impending debriefing could easily hack the computer systems to confirm whether or not he had indeed provided a full disclosure, he decided he had nothing to loose.
Ten minutes later, under the ever-careful scrutiny of his two escorts, Banacheck finally closed and latched his metal briefcase.
He glanced around his office, struck with the gut-clenching certainty he would probably never see it again.
Then, before he could give into the little voice that told him to run as fast and as far away as he could, he looked at the two soldiers, "I'm ready."
… … …
It was an unusual sensation to be escorted by two armed soldiers. There was an air of seriousness about the two young men that led Banacheck to believe they would indeed use whatever force they deemed appropriate – or necessary – to deliver him to his destination.
It confirmed his earlier suspicion that he was, in all but name, a prisoner. Again: not that he was surprised.
Banacheck blinked, squinting against the sunlight as they emerged from the base. No matter how many lights they had at their disposal, the underground confines of Sector Seven's headquarters never came close to rivaling the brightness of day.
He was pointed towards a large, black GMC topkick. Not your average government or military vehicle. He blinked, a memory flitting to the surface. One of the aliens had assumed that very vehicle as a disguise.
Banacheck paused, stalling their progress. "Wait. Isn't that…"
"Keep moving Director." The soldier to his right ordered, hand shifting on his weapon.
"But…" They were going to ride inside and NBE?
The word was bristling with threat and Banachek swallowed his protests with a visible gulp and continued walking.
The passenger door to the not-topkick swung open as they approached. Finding that his hands were suddenly trembling, Banacheck hesitated for just a moment before taking hold of a convenient strap and swinging himself inside.
Not knowing what else to do, Banacheck sat gingerly in the passenger seat, looking at the soldiers expectantly.
But the door swung shut, closing him inside… alone.
Then the doors locked.
Banacheck just managed to keep himself from jumping. Then he swallowed nervously. He was locked alone inside and NBE… Ironhide? Was that the alien's name?
He saw the half smile as the soldier nearest the front of the vehicle give the fender a hearty thump, almost like a high-five. Then both soldiers walked around to the side of the vehicle to climb into the not-truck's bed. Both took up positions where they could lay down covering fire if necessary.
"You should put the seatbelt on." A deep, gruff voice suddenly sounded from the speakers, making Banachek jump.
The thought of strapping himself inside an alien - with parts of that same alien - did not sit well. Especially when he suspected that said alien could probably prevent him from getting out if it…no, he… so chose.
He shook his head as much as he dared. "I…"
"That was not a suggestion, Director." The voice sounded irritated.
Banachek tried to object again, but increasing fear kept him from doing so. He licked his lips.
"My orders are to deliver you to our base outside Mission City." The alien spoke again. "While my armor will protect you from most things, I cannot negate the realities of physics. If I have to perform evasive maneuvers, you will be safer if you are strapped in. I do not want your squishy internals splattered across my interior"
Banacheck managed to get his hand up to the buckle but froze. An angry growl gave him incentive to continue the motion he had started.
And really, a part of his mind taunted him in a mockingly reassuring manner, you are being handed over to them. Does it really matter?
The Director of Sector Seven managed to slide the buckle home, swallowing nervously.
His compliance illicited nothing more than an electronic grunt that was similar but different fromNBE-2's. This one was not pained but rather it was almost angry in an entirely alien yet eerily recognizable manner. Still, it was enough to bring that haunting memory of the suffering yellow form back to the surface.
Shutting his eyes with a resigned sigh, Banacheck forced his body to relax, to accept the inevitable.
"Understood… sir." His voice was a mere whisper and he was not even sure the alien robot could hear him. Nor was he entirely sure what exactly he was signifying that he understood.
They drove in silence for nearly thirty minutes, Banacheck watching the steering wheel move as if being manipulated by an ethereal driver for the first fifteen minutes and then listlessly watching the scenery pass by for the next fifteen minutes. He probably should have used the silence to think, to strategize, but found he did not want to; he did not see the point.
"I saw Vince and Blake did not have to handcuff you or otherwise physically subdue you." The deep rumbling voice spoke suddenly, shattering the absolute silence. It was only then that Banacheck realized there was no normal ambience of road noise. "Am I correct?"
Banacheck was not sure what the point of such a statement and question was. Nevertheless he recovered enough to stammer. "Um… yes, you are."
A growling harrumph was the only reply.
Banacheck almost asked if he had done something to offend, but stopped himself. Of course he had. That was why he was sitting there, inside and alien warrior. He lifted one hand to gently touch the seatbelt holding him to the seat. Then he cleared his throat, steeling himself.
"My orders are to answer to your leader for the actions of Sector Seven, sir." He managed to keep his voice even. "I will follow them."
There was silence for a long moment. Was the alien considering what he had said? Was he believed? Was the alien even listening?
When the black truck finally responded, it was with what might have been a touch less antipathy and perhaps even the barest hint of… respect? "By that I take it that you will not require an armed human escort once we reach the base?"
Banacheck blinked. He thought about the question and the possible implications of whatever he might say. He ordered his words carefully, "If you mean, 'will my cooperation hinge on the presence of an armed human guard,' the answer is no."
"That is what I mean." The gravelly voice came back. "But your heart and respiratory rate are elevated and you are perspiring. Our research indicates that is an indication that you are lying."
Oh crap. Was Banacheck's first thought, followed closely by: They can tell that? Only to realize that his heart was beating faster now than before and his hands were starting to tingle. He took a deep breath, feeling like he was under careful scrutiny, which – if the alien was monitoring even his vital signs – he was.
"That is true," Banacheck said carefully, "Because there is an instinctive stress response when a human makes the decision to lie. But I can assure you, the cause of my… stress… is not related to the telling of an untruth"
"And for that I have only your word!" The accusation was flung at him.
Banacheck winced as if it had been an actual blow. If they did not believe him about such a simple thing, what was the chance they would accept the report he was duty-bound to deliver? He did not want to utter his next question, afraid of what the answer might be. But he was responsible for helping to build positive relations with these aliens, helping to undue the harm his previous actions had wrought.
He had to know.
He leaned forward fractionally and forced the words out, "What other proof would you require?"
Nothing happened for a moment and then the seatbelt tightened around him. It was not painful just… intentional and unnerving. His heart rate spiked to even new heights and Banacheck instinctively grabbed at the shoulder strap to try and loosen it. But no sooner had his hands touched the strap than a low growl reverberated through the truck's cabin.
Banacheck suddenly realized he was struggling to breathe and it had nothing to do with the strap pressing across his chest. His hands froze, only just closing around the innocuous looking gray material. The warning in that menacing sound was clear and Banacheck was close to hyperventilating, when the seatbelt tightened a fraction more.
Though it went against every instinct of self-preservation, Banacheck forced his hands to release their white-knuckled death grip on the strap even though it was now tight enough that it was becoming uncomfortable.
With a swallow, he lifted both hands away from himself, palms outward at shoulder height in silent surrender to whatever it was the alien wanted to do to him.
How long he stayed like that, Banacheck did not know, and only realized he had shut his eyes when they snapped open as the seatbelt suddenly released its hold.
"I believe you." Ironhide stated then, his voice softer and he sounded almost surprised.
Banacheck stared at the dashboard. Was that what that was about? Some kind of character test?
When he thought about it, however, the more it made sense. He had been braced, so to speak; put in a place where his stated intention to cooperate had been tested. But instinct told him it was more than that as well.
Not that he expected to understand everything: the being was an alien, after all. Perhaps… perhaps if he asked he could find out what that had just happened.
"Thank you." His voice was hoarse with lingering fright and he licked his lips. "If I may ask…"
"Be silent, human!" The truck barked, "I am in no mood to explain myself to you."
Banacheck's mouth snapped closed with an audible clacking of teeth. He swallowed, but forcibly reminded again of his place in the delicate process of negotiating peaceful relations with these aliens he acquiesced, offering only a soft, "Yes, sir."
The rest of the drive was completed in silence.
… … …
They were admitted to the hastily erected base – an abandoned warehouse complex by the looks of it – without trouble. The two soldiers jumped out at the guardhouse, said something to the Autobot and then ambled away.
Banachek kept his silence as he was driven through the buildings to another warehouse. Ironhide drove through the open garage doorway and waited till the door was lowered behind him.
Considering what had happened the last time he had made a move to try and free himself, Banachek just sat still, waiting.
After a moment, the buckle clicked and the straps retracted. A breath later the door unlocked and swung open. Obeying the implied order, Banacheck levered himself up and slid to the ground. Surprisingly the black truck remained stationary as he leaned against the door on legs that were suddenly unsteady.
Once he was balanced and relatively stable, Banachek straightened. Fixing the alignment of his suit, he reached for the briefcase that was still sitting on the alien's floor boards.
"No." The single, barked command made Banacheck freeze. Glancing up at the dash – for lack of a better place to look – he frowned. Ironhide continued, tone just as gruff. "Your scheduled meeting with the Prime is not until he returns. I will be holding onto this."
Not having any other option, Banachek held up his hands and stepped back. "Of course."
"Director." Another voice caused Banachek to spin around.
Captain Lennox, flanked by Sergeant Epps and two other soldiers whose names Banachek could not remember, came marching across the warehouse.
"Captain." Banacheck greeted, wary.
The military man looked him over once then nodded curtly. "You know why you are here?"
Banacheck nodded, feeling slightly insulted. "Yes, of course I do."
Lennox mirrored the gesture. "Good. And, for the record, full disclosure means full disclosure. Nobody here is in a mood for cloak and dagger bull shit."
"That is already understood Captain." Banachek sighed, the muscles along his jaw tightening.
The soldier glanced behind Banachek at the topkick and smiled faintly. "Yeah. I'd imagine so. Alright. Here are the ground rules. This here," he gestured at the warehouse they were in, "is the Autobot's area. Most of us humans are bunking in the warehouse right next to it. However, there are a couple of small offices, turned living areas, in this building. You will be staying in one of them until this is over simply because it's more secure. If you are seen outside this building without escort – either Autobot or human – you will be detained on sight and tried for treason. Understood?"
Banachek had rocked back as Lennox had continued, but he blinked at the last sentence. "Yes." His voice sounded strangled to his own ears.
"An' just 'cause there aren't any humans around, don't think you aren't being watched." Epps added, an aggressive glint in his expression. "They got sensors strong enough they don't need to have ya in visual range."
"Noted." Banachek said softly, wondering what else was about to be thrown at him.
"Now Ironhide," Lennox continued, "told me he doesn't believe you need a human guard assigned to you. I trust his judgment, but what about you? Would you prefer to have as assigned escort?"
That made the Director of Sector Seven blink. Even so, he understood the question, or rather the meaning behind it. It was an oblique offer of comfort, a gesture of something that was almost kindness, and was not something he expected. With an escort there would at least be another human.
Not that one – or even two – armed humans would be able to stop the metal giants. Still, Banachek almost latched onto the offer, but the remembered echoes of the yellow alien's desperate cries flooded his mind again.
Bumblebee, not 'yellow one', had been completely alone while in Sector Seven's 'care'.
He pressed his lips together for a moment. "I'm sure your men have enough to do without adding that to it."
"You're right, they do." Lennox confirmed coldly. "But the offer still stands."
"Until we walk out that door." Epps gestured to a human-sized door.
Lennox shot the enlisted man a quelling look. "It still stands. If you change your mind, tell one of the 'Bots. Someone will be over with food at 18:30. Got it, Director?"
Banachek nodded. "Yes, Captain."
Lennox cast him another appraising once-over then returned the nod. He looked at the black not-truck. "I'll see you at 16:30 for patrol Ironhide."
"Of course, Will." Came the gravelly reply.
So, the alien and the Captain were on first name basis? Before Banachek could even begin to understand the full ramifications of that development, he was watching the retreating back of all four soldiers.
The sound of sliding metal and clicking gears made Banachek spin around and look up… and up, and up… as Ironhide finished unfolding form his truck disguise. 'Alt-mode' the reports had called them.
Now, instead of standing by the front fender of a huge black truck, he was standing close to a huge black foot. Survival instincts had him taking several steps backward until he froze under a bright blue gaze that was suddenly turned on him.
The alien huffed, engine growling in a way that almost sounded disconcerted. "Living quarters are over there," he pointed, "don't get in our way."
"Ironhide, I…" Banachek started.
The large black mech lowered himself so suddenly into a crouch that it was rather predatory and wholly intimidating. "I have followed my orders, Director. While I am not allowed to hurt you, you are not exactly someone I want to see or hear right now. Bumblebee is my friend. Understood?"
"Yes." It was a choked sound as Banachek was having trouble drawing air again. "I'm sorry."
"Yes. Yes you are. But I'm not the one you should apologize to."
With another irritated growl, Ironhide pushed himself to his feet and stalked away. Banacheck watched him for a moment, then turned to investigate the living area he would be occupying for… however long.
… … …
Banachek ended up selecting an office turned bunkroom right off the main warehouse. It had a window so he could see into said warehouse. It was not that he was intentionally making it easier for the aliens to keep watch on him. The opposite really. Given the warning Epps had delivered, he decided it did not matter where he slept, they could observe him in some fashion. He figured then that he should choose a location that made it easier for him to observe them.
He had stayed in his new accommodations for several hours simply because he figured it was the easiest thing to do. Sitting at the desk allowed him a clear view of the warehouse proper. It was for that reason that he knew the moment the one called Ironhide left with Captain Lennox.
Once the large garage door rumbled shut, it was absolutely silent.
Banacheck sat there for a couple of minutes longer then he stood. He walked to the still open doorway to his new quarters… or was it a cell?
No one stopped him. In fact, there was no one around. No vehicles matching the descriptions of the Autobots. No vehicles at all. Not that Banachek forgot Epps' warning, but the Captain's orders specified the building not one particular room.
Deciding he was feeling kind of stir-crazy, Banachek decided to take the opportunity provided by the absence of the walking black tank of a mechanoid to do some exploring.
As the experienced agent would expect, the warehouse was mostly empty. Ironhide was gone on patrol, Optimus Prime was also gone – mission unknown. That left the Ambulance… Ratchet… and Bumblebee. Both were supposed to be bright colored. They should be easy enough to see and thus avoid if necessary.
So, internally buoyed, Banachek slipped into the warehouse. At first there was not much to see. After about fifteen minutes, a soft sound drew his attention. It was similar to the shifting of gears.
Against his better judgment, Banachek headed toward the noise; the innate curiosity that had led him to a career in Sector Seven.
He rounded a corner and froze.
There, to one side of an otherwise empty chamber, lying on an improvised metal table was the same yellow alien that had once been restrained on a laboratory slab in Hover Dam. This time, the lower part of both his lower extremities were in an obvious state of disrepair. An injury?
Yes. Bumblebee had had both legs amputated early in the battle at Mission City.
Banacheck squeezed his eyes shut as the image before him too closely mirrored what had been done to the alien by Sector Seven.
Then the alien moaned again, the strange metallic sound sending shivers down the human's back.
Hands suddenly sweating, Banachek started to back away.
"I know you are there." Bumblebee murmured in a marginally British accent. He had not had a voice of his own before.
Banachek licked his lips, feeling them start to tingle as his stress level suddenly skyrocketed. "I… I'm sorry. I did not mean to bother you."
"That is a hard statement to believe, considering what happened the last time." That statement was delivered with no easily recognizable intonation.
Banachek swallowed. "I…"
But the alien did not give him a chance to answer, cutting him off, "What is your purpose here?"
Taking a deep breath, turning to face the alien more fully, Banachek steeled himself. He saw that Bumblebee was now sitting up on the platform. Interestingly, this actually made Banachek feel better as it increased the difference between the present and the memories that haunted him, even if the alien was now towering over him to an even grater degree.
"My orders…" He snapped his mouth closed at a dismissive hand gesture from Bumblebee.
"I know why you are on the base." Bumblebee's optics narrowed. "What is your purpose here?"
Banacheck blinked, surprised the alien would think on that level. Then he berated himself. They were sentient, after all. He looked up to meet incredibly blue optics and felt his gut lurch. There was absolutely no emotion displayed in any form that would be readily apparent, and yet it was there: pain, distrust, suspicion, anger and… hope?
Banachek remembered Bumblebee's electronic cries of pain as scientists… scientists under his command… probed and studied him and he felt a wave of nausea. How could they have known he was a sentient being rather than a mere robot or drone?
A friend rather than an enemy?
"I hope to make up for mistakes I have made." Banacheck heard himself speaking.
"What sector Seven did to me… you see it as a 'mistake' then?" Bumblebee asked with what seemed like misleading flatness.
Swallowing, Banacheck had to resist the urge to wipe his hands on his pants. He shook his head quickly. "No. What we did to you was wrong."
Those optics just continued staring at him. Banacheck found himself babbling. "We… we didn't know you were sentient and even if we suspected, we thought you were like NBE… um, Megatron. We had no idea you were different…"
"So that is how you would treat an enemy then?" The yellow being cut him off.
Banacheck swallowed, recognizing the unspoken question and accusation: would he torture an enemy? When he did not answer, Bumblebee clearly took that as an affirmative.
"Then there is little difference between you and the Decepticons." He turned his gaze away dismissively and, if Banacheck did not know better, a hint of sadness.
Banacheck flinched, but he could see how the alien could come to that conclusion. And, honestly, he knew he did not have enough facts to contest that conclusion.
The alien never glanced back at him. Was it a dismissal? Banacheck cleared his throat, but Bumblebee did not look at him.
"I'm sorry," He said at last, sure his words would not be acknowledged, "For everything we did to you… Had we known then what we do now… Had I known then what I do now, I would never have allowed it to happen. I… I know that doesn't really help. I can't undo anything that happened and I know you have no reason to trust me…"
Banacheck looked aside, all the grief he had felt since realizing the truth about the yellow alien they had tortured boiling up inside him. "You say I'm like a Decepticon. I don't know what that means exactly, but I… I can't contest it. You would know better. I'll believe you if that's a comparison you want to make. I just… I'm sorry."
Sucking in a ragged breath of air, Banacheck forced himself to continue, though he could not look back at the being he was speaking to as his heart clenched in his chest. "If… If I could take it back… But I know I can't. I'm sorry."
Suddenly that sounded lame to his own ears. Banacheck took another breath. "I… mean… I want to apologize for what Sector Seven did to you. If there is anything I can do to make up for it…"
The ground trembled under Banacheck's feet suddenly, cutting him off. He stumbled to a stop, spinning around just as he heard a snarled exclamation. "Slagging glitch!"
A chartreuse form, larger than Bumblebee – closer to Ironhide's size – stepped into the chamber. The new mech's optics were blazing with cerulean fire as he lowered himself smoothly yet in a way that made him actually loom over Banachek.
"You, Human. Who do you think you are?" The words were barked, accompanied by the growling of a powerful engine.
Banacheck reacted on instinct, backing away hastily from the gigantic creature that his basest instincts insisted was a threat. He only realized he had retreated when he backed into the metal table Bumblebee still sat on. He could not make his voice work, suddenly unable to even draw breath.
"Well? Are you glitched?" The new alien demanded, leaning even closer
"Ratchet," Bumblebee was the one who answered, "you are terrifying him."
"You expect me to feel sorry for him after…"
"Ratchet!" Then Bumblebee started making noises that sounded like a mixture of modem and the grinding of gears. Their native language, Banachek realized belatedly.
The Director of Sector Seven opted to stand perfectly still, now that he had regained control over his own body, and watched intently. The new one, Ratchet apparently, responded in the same language Bumblebee had used. Banachek wanted to run, more than he ever had before, but he knew that was not an option. Not now. So he stood still.
Suddenly, the looming alien backed away. "My apologies, Director."
Ratchet's voice was much less heated this time. The genuine chagrin Banachek heard in those words caused him to blink. He answered without truly planning what he would say.
"Don't apologize." He found himself cursing the tremble in his voice. "You have every right to be angry."
Those glowing optics stared at him for a moment, then Ratchet looked away. Shame? Embarrassment? Anger? Banachek knew the danger of imposing human body language on aliens, but he desperately wanted to know and could not help trying to guess.
When Ratchet spoke again, he did so without looking at him. "Perhaps. But that does not excuse my behavior. It is wrong to accuse you without knowing the full of the matter."
"I… appreciate that… sir." Banachek stammered, at a loss of anything else he could say.
"I'm not saying that for your sake, Director." The larger alien replied caustically, his optics narrowing dangerously as they swung back to look at him with unearthly intensity. "Only to make sure I live up to the moral ideals my faction subscribes to."
It felt like a verbal slap, the unspoken accusation of which was not lost on Banachek. America claimed torture to be illegal and morally reprehensible, yet Sector Seven had used it on one of them.
Banachek nodded, looking at the floor or, more precisely, the larger yellow-green and black foot nearest him. "Point taken."
Then Banachek forced his gaze back up to the alien's. "You are right. Sector Seven failed to live up to our country's highest standards. We saw a threat to our very survival and we did whatever we thought necessary to protect ourselves."
His gaze fell away as he remembered Bumblebee's pained cries yet again and he had to suppress a shiver. "We forgot that the outcome does not always justify the means. I'm here to do all in my ability to rectify that situation."
"You were ordered to come here." Ratchet pointed out, seemingly unmoved by Banachek's declarations.
Banachek sighed. He did not know how to explain to towering mechanical aliens what was on his mind. Why he had come willingly. Perhaps it was foolish to even try and explain it to them. Even so, as one was demanding an explanation from him, he would do his best.
"Perhaps." He said at last. "But that doesn't change the fact that I know this is where I should be."
The chartreuse mech… yes, mech. That was a word Banachek had heard applied to the aliens. And it fit. The chartreuse mech gave a shuttering of some kind of lens cap over its optics. A blink? Of surprise?
Then the one called Ratchet straightened all the way, looking down at Banachek as the human might look down at a rat. "Do you have need of refueling? Prime will be returning in less than one of your hours."
Banachek could only stare. Why would the aliens – aliens who were about to stand as his judge and jury – offer him the kindness of a meal after what he had done? A last meal perhaps?
The nausea he had been fighting roared back to the surface.
But the giant beings were waiting on him to answer. His body was probably hungry, but Banachek knew he would not be able to eat. Not right now.
Banachek shook his head. "No. Thank you." Was his ingrained, polite response, though he wanted to curse at the audible tremor in his voice.
Both of the yellow mechs looked at each other, exchanging grinding noises and electronic twitters.
Finally the medic grunted. "Right. That means I get to play sparkling sitter. Lovely."
Banachek frowned faintly, not entirely sure what that meant, but it sounded close to 'baby sitter'. His instincts told him he was about to be left to his own devices once again. Only this time with the two of them in the room as well. For all the 'study' Sector Seven had done, he knew next to nothing about the very beings the majority of his adult life had been dedicated to learning about.
"Excuse me…" he heard himself speaking, only to swallow as cerulean optics zeroed in on him again. With a faint shake of his head to gather his nerves enough to continue, Banachek did so. "What is the best thing for me to do as we wait so as not to make a nuisance of myself?"
He heard a curious sounding chirp and a rumbling noise from above and behind him: Bumblebee. Ratchet, on the other hand looked at him, shuttering and unshuttering his optics.
"Stay out of the way and don't ask inane questions." Was the tart reply.
Banachek took that as a 'sit down and shut up' order, though he could not be sure. The mech's tone made it clear an attempt to clarify would not be welcome.
Banachek glanced around. There was nothing to sit on save the floor and that was not something he was inclined to do when giant aliens with feet the size of cars were walking nearby. Well, he could stand.
No sooner had he made that decision then a large silver and yellow hand descended into view. It belonged to the injured mech sitting on the exam platform. Surprised, Banachek craned his head back to look up at the alien.
"You won't be in Ratchet's way up here with me." Bumblebee said by way of explanation.
Banachek's mind blanked.
Him… up on the platform with an NBE? The yellow one could squish him like a bug with that hand – a hand that was as tall as he was.
Of course, they were being relatively civil to him. Perhaps it was because their leader had claimed all rights to exact revenge for himself. Still, the thought of being held… speaking of, he was surprised the alien had not simply grabbed him.
"I'm not going to hurt you." Bumblebee spoke with amazing gentleness. Then, as if reading his mind, the mech continued, "and I won't hold you without your permission."
Banachek swallowed. This alien was specifically promising to not do to Banacheck what he, via Sector Seven, had done to him. For some reason, that made his chest tighten even further. When the mech made no move to grab him, despite his continued immobility, Banachek almost could not take it.
Even so, it was not until the alien gave a disappointed sounding whirr-click and started to retract the proffered hand, that Banachek was able to make himself take a step.
With another warbling sound, the hand came back down.
That was not really what Banachek wanted, but he was cornered by his own actions. He did not want to risk offending the mech, especially not after what had been done to him. Stiffly, he continued walking toward the open palm.
Metal fingers curled almost protectively around Banachek as he was lifted into the air.
He was being picked up by an alien.
The teenage geek in him wanted to laugh with excitement. The adult, trained to fear and distrust these aliens based on the little they had learned from NBE-1, tensed even further.
Placed on a relatively flat piece of yellow and gray metal, Banachek noticed it seemed to thrum gently under his feet. It also made up what would be the mech's thigh.
Now he was standing in an alien's lap.
It was truly absurd and it made Banachek's head spin.
"You are truly afraid of us." The bright yellow Autobot observed in the same gentle tone it had spoken in before. "You don't need to deny it. It's quite obvious."
Banachek blinked. What was he supposed to say to that? Well, honesty seemed to be working so far. "Yes, I am."
He winced slightly, waiting for a reaction. The yellow giant's head cocked to the side inquisitively. "And yet Ironhide reported that you turned down a human escort, electing to instead remain here by yourself until your debriefing with the Prime."
He had, hadn't he?
Banachek suddenly doubted his motives. Had he just not wanted another human witness to his humiliation? Had it been a way to help mitigate his own embarrassment and shame?
He looked away from those searching optics. "It was not necessary."
Bumblebee made a whirring sound. "Yet it scares you. Is it because you are not the one in control here?"
Banachek swallowed, thinking he immediately knew the answer. It was 'yes'. He looked down, realizing the turn-about in his and Bumblebee's position: now it was the alien who had him right where he wanted, not the other way around.
He swallowed again. "Humans learn early that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and that all choices have consequences. That does not lessen the trepidation we feel when it comes time to face those consequences."
That was when Banachek realized he could actually see the gears turning in the mech's head as he processed that statement. He could not see that behind him, the chartreuse medic had stopped his tinkering to stare.
"You are saying that…" Bumblebee began, only to have the larger yellow mech cut him off.
"Optimus is here."
Bumblebee spoke in his own language again, to which the medic answered in the same manner. Banachek hated not knowing what they were talking about, but knew he was not exactly in a position to complain. They had not done what they easily could have – what he had feared they would. At least not yet.
For that reason, Banachek counted himself lucky.
Then he heard the sound of a large engine and started. The bulkier of the two yellow Autobots spoke again in his native tongue, though this time the injured one did not reply.
When the medic was instead answered by a deeper, almost velvet bout of the same language from outside the repair bay, Banachek realized who was being addressed.
The human turned toward the door, not noticing that Bumblebee positioned a hand to prevent him from falling should he loose his balance. No, he was far too busy trying to control the sudden shudder at the sheer size of the alien that walked into the chamber with an elegant nobility that just seemed impossible for his mass.
Optimus Prime. Banacheck realized, trying not to stare and failing miserably.
Blue optics of the most pure azure Banachek had ever seen swept the room and its three occupants. Then the blue and red mech stepped closer and Banachek found he was glad he was not still standing on the floor.
He was not a small man, but at the moment he felt rather like an insect on the windshield of a car.
"Director Thomas Banachek, I presume." The deep voice resonated through Banachek's whole body.
Banachek swallowed, such formal politeness was not what he expected. Even so, well honed habit had him responding in kind, even if he could not help the tremor in his voice or the sweat budding on his face and palms.
"Yes, sir," He swallowed. "I regret that our meeting couldn't be under better circumstances, Optimus Prime."
"As do I." The reply was awash with regret and… almost a pain that that was ancient sounding and it only compounded the guilt that had been growing inside Banachek's chest. "Unfortunately, that is not something that can be helped at this juncture in time."
Caught off guard by the amount of genuine sorrow in the alien's voice, Banachekc was a moment in regaining himself. "Understood."
"Then you are aware of the purpose for this meeting?"
All actions have an equal and opposite reaction, Banachek had told Bumblebee. He was about to face that reaction. "Yes, I am."
Bumblebee warbled and clicked something to his leader and when the gigantic mech looked at Ratchet as if for confirmation, Ratchet replied with a brisk nod. The alien leader considered Banachek again. "Your systems are stressed. We can delay our meeting until you are rested or perhaps continue in a more private setting."
Banachek's heart raced, by that statement suddenly reminded of their uncanny ability to monitor his vital signs. He knew he would not be able to sleep. As far as going somewhere alone with the giant mech… While he did not seem cruel – far from it actually – he was still an unknown. For the moment Banachek was being held by the only alien who had promised not to hurt him. For now at least.
Despite not being entirely sure of his decision, Banachek found himself shaking his head. "I do not believe resting is an option right now." He swallowed. "I assume what we discuss will be shared with the rest of your… team?"
Optimus nodded regally. "Of course."
"Then there is no need to leave them out of the discussion." Banachek wanted to slap himself. Why was he always refusing anyone's attempt to make this easier on himself?
But he knew the answer. Deep down, in his gut, he believed he deserved for this to be as painful, as humiliating as possible – as if by suffering purgatory here he might find a way to absolve himself. He had always been his harshest critic – holding himself to a higher standard than anyone else would – and conversely punished himself more harshly than anyone else.
It was the best way to make sure others' punishments and discipline was never that bad.
He doubted suddenly that that approach would work with aliens.
The dignified alien leader considered him for a moment. "Very well. As you wish. Ratchet, patch through to Ironhide until he returns from patrol."
There was some strange static noises for half a second, then, "Done."
"Thank you, old friend." Those blue optics focused on Banachek again and the human was struck anew by the amount of weariness he saw there.
He was even more struck to realize he felt a wave of sadness in knowing that what he had to say would not help ease that load.
"Director," Optimus began formally, "please be aware that what we discuss will be recorded – both for possible tactical applications as well as for the purposes of historical chronicling. Do you have any objections?"
He was being given a choice?
Banachek shook his head, "No sir."
Everything you say can and will be used against you… His mind taunted.
"So noted," Optimus continued, "Please tell us how the AllSpark was first discovered by your people."
Drawing in a deep breath, Banacheck started his explanations of how the original seven had discovered it and, knowing it was not from Earth and that it was emitting some type of energy, they had built the dam around it. He explained how they had been afraid that whoever – or whatever – had made the Cube would come looking for their lost property. He described in detail how they had concluded that any race that could craft such an object would be too powerful for humans to defend against should that race blame humanity for taking it.
Without Prompting, Banachek then explained how Megatron had been discovered. He paused, looking down before continuing. "He confirmed our worst fears. We could tell Megatron and the… AllSpark were from the same planet. They both radiated the same energy. And they both had some of the same symbols. We also knew a race of beings that could create both were so far beyond us we had no hope of defending ourselves."
He swallowed sudden bile. "But since he was mechanical – and since most of our own exploration of space was accomplished by unmanned, non-sentient probes, we could not rule out the possibility that NB… Um, Megatron was exactly that. In fact, that was considered the most likely scenario. And it went without saying that any race that could develop such a complex drone was even more terrifying to believe existed."
He glanced around at the mechs who were staring at him with unblinking, alien intensity. "Please understand, our technological level at the time these discoveries happened was such that even cell phones were nothing but science fiction. It was inconceivable that anything mechanical could be anything but a piece of machinery."
Caught up in his explanation, Banacheck leaned forward to rest his weight against a small wall that was just about waist height. It did not dawn on him it was Bumblebee's hand.
"Then," he continued soberly, "when Megatron almost thawed out while transporting him from the Arctic to the dam… When the first thing he did once he started to power up was launch an immediate attack, we knew that any confrontation with more of whatever he was would only lead to the destruction of our planet."
Banacheck sighed. "We only managed to subdue Megatron again because he was still half frozen and we were still in cold enough climate that it did not take much to drop his core temperature."
"That is how you learned that liquid nitrogen was enough to render a mech neutralized, then?" The question was from Ratchet.
Banachek nodded. "Yes. Because of that, policy was developed that any NBE was to be restrained and frozen as quickly as possible to protect our planet. It was assumed, because Megatron was alone, that any other scouts we might encounter would also be single drones. At the time, we did not realize exactly how much of advantage Megatron's already compromised systems gave us in being able to overpower him."
He glanced around again. "By the time your team landed, we thought we had developed technology to the point we could effectively subdue another one if necessary."
"You did." Was Bumblebee's simple, surprisingly unassuming statement.
Banachek shook his head. "No. After everything that happened – after Mission City – I watched the tapes of your capture." Banachek looked back at the mech on who's leg he was still standing. "Mr. Witwicky was right. You didn't fight back. If you had… you could have taken down every single one of those agents. No, you were captured because you allowed yourself to be. It was a huge clue, not only that you weren't like Megatron, but that you guys were more than just drones. But we didn't see it."
"Why not?" That was Ironhide's gruff voice, growling dangerously over some intercom or other.
Banachek tried to repress a shiver at the threat in that tone, but failed. "Because, we had had two generations to conclude – and then reinforce – the mistaken belief that you weren't. We weren't looking for clues that that you weren't what we assumed you were."
"What of your technology?" Optimus asked. "It is vaguely Cybertronian. Was it developed from studying Megatron and the AllSpark?"
Ironhide chose that moment to enter the chamber and Banachek shot a startled look to him before answering the alien leader. "Yes. Virtually everything that might be traced back to the modern industrial age. The first combustion engine, the computer, everything. We couldn't reproduce everything – couldn't even identify some of the alloys, but we were able to apply a lot to what we did have available."
"In all your study, did you ever discover what the AllSpark actually was for our people?" Optimus asked after a moment of tense silence.
Banachek shook his head. "No. All we knew was that it was rippling with energy. There was a power to it that was spellbinding. We even speculated that, if not a weapon or power generator, it might be a religious artifact or something similar."
He might have imagined it, but Banachek thought he saw what looked like a ghost of a smile – a sad smile at that – touch Optimus Prime's face. "It was. Before it was ejected from Cybertron it was housed at the Temple of Simfur. While it produced energon, the life-blood of our people, it was also responsible for producing the sparks that make us sentient."
Banachek stared, a new feeling of dread creeping over him. They were a culture with a religion? "Sparks?"
"Yes." Optimus confirmed, continuing, "Whenever a new mech was to be created, their frame, a lifeless shell, would be presented to the AllSpark and a spark would be placed into its spark chamber if the AllSpark approved. These new creations, sparklings, are the only way my people have of reproducing."
Banachek started, unable to fully comprehend what he had been told. The Cube had been alive? And sentient enough to make decisions about creating life?
Unbidden, memories of countless experiments where the AllSpark's power was channeled into pieces of technology – lifeless machinery – only to transform those items into something alive…
He was trembling by that point. Were those drones… all those terrors the Cube produced… really nothing but children? Children brought to life in a hostile environment and then terminated – murdered – for defending themselves?
Despite his determination to stay upright, the human fell to his knees. "Oh my god."
Holding his head in his hand, Banacheck did not see the looks the four aliens shared. It did not take long for raw anger to follow disbelief on his part and his fists tightened so hard that if he had had nails, they would have pierced the skin of his palm.
Then he was shaking. He had overseen the murder of children!
Alien or not, they had still been children! How many… hundreds?... were now dead because of his order?
Anger morphed swiftly into shame and guilt. Banachek was shaking, air sobbing through his body along with an acute wave of self-directed loathing. If the Auobots had been human, his actions would be nothing less than war crimes. Which explained why he was here. The callus creation and execution of so many children would be a capitol offence. There was no way he was going to get out of it and, for the first time, he did not even want to.
His own actions sickened him.
Banacheck very nearly retched. Only knowing he was standing on one of the aliens helped him keep his lunch down.
"Are you alright, Director?" Optimus voice was calm and almost soothing. "Your systems indicate you are in overdrive and are dangerously close to critical."
Whatever that was supposed to mean.
Banacheck lifted his head, using every ounce of strength he had to make himself meet the alien leader's blue optics. "We saw that." His voice was shaking just as bad as his body was. "Energy from the Cube would make inanimate objects come to life. The first was an old television."
"The first one?" Ironhide growled darkly.
Despite the threat of impending, significant bodily harm, Banacheck continued. "It was wild… it killed nearly ten people before they managed to deactivate it." He licked his lips. "Afterward, it was decided to see if we could replicate the conditions. But every single one of them was dangerous and had to be… oh god… we killed them."
Children… hundreds of children…
The metal being Banacheck was standing on moved slightly, those standing over him tense, bristling. And dangerously low, ominous rumbles washed over him. But Banachek's head was back in his hands, his whole body curled into a miserable ball as the full weight of what Sector Seven, of what he, had done continued to slam into him like a battering ram.
Banachek waited for the killing blow to come. If their places were reversed, he would have already swatted the offending creature for murdering that many children.
"How many, Director?" Optimus inquired, his voice laced with static.
But Banacheck could not speak. He tried, even though he was afraid to, but could not make sound come out. He heard the sound of giant metal feet, felt a breath of hot air rush over him and cringed, forgetting for a moment that he was still standing on living metal.
"How. Many?" It was Ironhide. From directly above him.
Banacheck shook, both at the barely controlled hostility and his own horror. He took another breath, but could not look up. "I… I don't know. The first one happened thirty-two years ago. Without looking at the records, I'd have to… to guess…"
Suddenly, his voice caught and he curled inward, his voice falling to a low, rasping whisper as he finally verbalized the mantra that had been cycled in his mind. "Oh, god… children. Hundreds of children, murdered…"
Though it was hushed, the giant behemoths heard. The black one standing over him snarled in fury. The red and blue leader growled as well, but it was underscored by a soft keening sound that was almost out of a human's range of hearing. But Banacheck felt it pass through him. He winced in momentary pain as the unearthly noise tore into him.
The hand loosely cupped around Banacheck tightened, holding him securely in place even though another unnerving keening sound came from Bumblebee as well. But Banacheck was too wrapped up in his own self-flagellation to realize it was more of a protective gesture than a threatening one. The human simply remained where he was, quiescent; waiting to be squished.
But it never happened.
A part of Banacheck wished it would, longed for an escape… any escape.
"Who is responsible for this?" Fury burned in Ratchet's voice. It made Banacheck cringe.
There was the promise of untold destruction in that voice, in the silent vibrations filling the air around Banacheck. He panicked anew. Humanity needed this alliance. If the Autobots decided to leave, Earth would be at the mercy of the Decepticons. If they decided to turn against humanity… it was over. Mankind would not survive.
Renewed purpose and determination overrode everything else. Banachek, finally found the courage to look up at the boiling electronic gaze of the alien leader, though he was careful not to struggle in the hand gently restraining him.
He spoke as steadily as he could, but it came out sounding desperate. "I am. I'm begging you… there were others involved of course and the one who started the experiments died twelve years ago… but the order to continue the experiments was mine. Me. Please… don't take this out on my people! I beg you…"
"You accept sole responsibility?" The question was rumbled, though there might have been a touch of surprise mixed with the anger.
"Yes." Banacheck's voice was breathy and for a moment he could not say anything else, his voice breaking. "Yes. Only a very small percentage of our population ever even heard of Sector Seven. Even fewer knew what we were doing. Please… don't hold this against the entire planet. Do what you want to me, but please spare my people."
The absolute stillness in the room was almost as sudden as the furious rumbling had been. It was in such contrast to the angry growls that had filled the space around Banachek like a tangible presence just moments ago that it was startling in it's own right. Banacheck was afraid to breathe.
Eventually, Optimus spoke again, much softer this time. "What do you expect us to do?"
That was not a question Banacheck was expecting, but he knew the answer. "I don't know… I can only imagine hat I'd want to do if I were in your place."
Those bright blue optics shuttered and unshuttered quickly and the silence descended again.
This time it was broken by the quiet warbling of the bright yellow mech who was holding Banacheck.
Whoever the bout of alien language might have been directed to, it was Ironhide who answered in the same language. Or perhaps the black one was simply adding his own opinion. Banacheck wished he knew.
Optimus seemed to consider their words for a long moment and the stillness grew even heavier, constricting around Banacheck like a vice.
Unable to stand the silence any longer, and perhaps realizing that if he was going to say anything else on the matter before judgment came, this was his chance, Banacheck started speaking. He did not look at any of the giant aliens.
"We didn't know," he said quietly, staring at his hands as four sets of optics suddenly zeroed in on him. "I know that is no excuse, but we didn't know. I god… I am so sorry…"
If Bumblebee had not been holding him, Banacheck might have been rocking in his distress. Thank goodness for small favors.
"Your systems are highly stressed." Optimus Prime spoke again, sounding much closer than he had before. "Please try to relax."
Banacheck blinked, jerking his head up to stare at the tallest of the aliens, to find he had closed the distance between where he had been standing and Bumblebee.
"Relax?" He hissed. "I just find out I'm a mass murder of children and you expect me to relax?" Banacheck shook his head. "I'm not blind and I'm not stupid. I know something like that can' t go un-punished. Shouldn't go unpunished."
"We do not have jurisdiction to render judgment against Humans." Ratchet pointed out with a distinct note of bitterness.
"Yes you do." Banacheck interjected miserably before Optimus could say anything. "At least with me. If you didn't I wouldn't be under penalty of treason if I tried to escape. Sector Seven doesn't exist. Which means, as far as anyone else is concerned, I don't exist either. Trust me, no one would stop you, least of all me."
Another uncomfortable silence settled around them and Banacheck looked down, regulating his breathing as best he could to calm his heart rate. He had known he had been called here to answer for Sector Seven's activities; he had just underestimated what there had been to answer for. He knew that whatever they decided, it would be a sentence he would accept without protest.
"Life is precious, Director Banacheck." Optmus' dignified base tones rumbled almost soothingly in that silence. "In a war that has caused me to loose or question a great number of ideals, that remains strong. Likewise is that all sentient beings have the freedom to choose."
When Banachek's body slowed its violent trembling, Bumblebee's hand eased its gentle hold, returning to its previous position. Banacheck simply stared, mesmerized by the softly glowing optics that peered down at him.
Optimus continued. "You have been honest with us when it was clearly not in your personal best interests. From what you said, your actions were in ignorance and I believe your contrition is genuine."
A rumble moved through the leg Banacheck was still perched on as well as from the other mechs. It did not sound like a pleased rumble.
"That doesn't change the fact that I'm still guilty." Banachek said bitterly.
"No." Optimus agreed. "Is there anything else you would like to share about Sector Seven's activities in relation to those of my race?"
Banacheck winced at the clipped agreement and the abrupt change in topic.
He looked down, drawing in a deep breath of air and forced himself to move forward. "Nothing so dramatic… at least I hope not." He paused, then dared to look at Ironhide. "That briefcase I brought has all the technical details… I'll need my computer."
... … …
When it was over, after Banacheck had explained about Mars and how they had learned to detect the radiation their… sparks… produced, there was a tense moment of contemplative silence. Banachek found his gaze had dropped to his hands as he waited with mounting nervousness for someone to break the sudden stillness.
Finally Optimus spoke. "What are your intentions, Director Banacheck? Where do you go from here?"
Banacheck stiffened, still not looking up, answering with a voice that was unmistakably strained. "Where I go from here, depends on you, sir."
"And your intentions?" Optimus pressed.
Closing his eyes briefly, Banacheck responded honestly. "Considering what I have done… Prime." Yes, Prime felt like a title, not just part of a name… he hoped. "I… I will accept whatever consequences you deem just."
Optimus just stared at him, the weight of his gaze like a tangible thing, though Banacheck could not bring himself to meet it. Then, with the shifting of metal and whirring of gears the alien robot slid gracefully into his vehicle form.
The passenger door swung open in clear invitation.
Banacheck could only stare. With a little chirp, Bumblebee scooped him up and lowered him gently to the ground. Banacheck slid off the silver and yellow hand, gazing uncertainly at the idling semi.
Then he squared his shoulders, straightening the jacket of his suit, and made himself walk forward. Upon reaching the massive not-semi, Banachek stepped up onto the running board and swung himself into the cab with the help of a conveniently located strap. Once seated, the door closed on its own and the vehicle started driving itself out of the warehouse.
A moment or two passed in silence before Optimus spoke again, his voice coming from the radio. "Are you not going to utilize the safety restraints?"
Swallowing, Banacheck glanced at the dashboard. "I… uh… Do you wish me to?"
There was a thoughtful pause before Optimus answered. "Not if it makes you feel uncomfortable. I will not be engaging in any activities that would necessitate their use."
Banacheck could think of no appropriate response to that and so he kept quiet. They settled into an uneasy silence. At first Banacheck watched where they were going. Then he realized he did not really want to know and looked down at his lap. Initially, his hands fidgeted restlessly: he knew there was a real likelihood that he would learn his fate at their destination. Eventually, however, he grew still, resigned to that fate.
Only then, when he finally leaned back against the seat – and he was struck with the suspicion the large mechinoid had been waiting for him to calm down enough to do that – did Optimus speak.
His voice was a smooth, bass rumble. "Early into the war – from our perspective – Megatron enacted a policy of killing all Sparklings his troops encountered."
Starting to feel sick again, Banacheck could not help but see the parallel between that and what Sector Seven had done.
Optimus continued before he could think of anything to say. "Almost an entire generation was lost. Only a handful of younglings from that time still survive. Bumblebee is one of only five."
"Oh god…" No wonder they had reacted so strongly. He was doomed.
Banacheck felt his pulse pick up even as Optimus continued. "Theirs is the last generation of our species to be born because the AllSpark was lost to us before the next generation could be sparked. Now, with the AllSpark's destruction, they are the last of our race."
Banacheck was trembling again. If he had known… "I'm so sorry." He whispered, unable to garner more volume.
Expecting the worst, Banacheck was not prepared for the strange crooning sound that seemed to emanate from the frame around him as Optimus continued. "There was one mech among Megatron's forces – a fairly high ranking one by that point – who, while not directly involved in Megatron's campaign to destroy all younglings and sparklings, nevertheless did nothing to stop the slaughters. In fact, at that point his overriding mission was to kill as many Autobots as possible. And he was successful."
The human did not dare interrupt as Optimus continued with his story. "Then this mech's home city was attacked, utterly destroyed and he was one of only a handful of survivors. He surrendered willingly to the rescue teams we sent out."
Banacheck shifted uncomfortably in the seat. Why was the alien commander telling him this?
But Optimus was not done. "From the very beginning, starting with his first interrogation as a POW, he was open and honest. He gave us everything we asked for, regardless of how condemning it was for him personally. Over time, we learned his contrition for his part in Megatron's atrocities was real."
A sigh escaped Banacheck's chest as he again started to see the parallels. "This… mech… what happened to him?"
There was almost a smile in the big semi's voice as he answered. "He vowed to uphold our cause and to support us in anyway possible. He also had some impressive skills and abilities. He is now serving as my Second in Command."
"Second in command?" An affirming sound came from Optimus and it gave Banacheck the courage to continue. "And… he's proven himself? You gave him that chance?"
"Indeed." Optimus voice was both gentle and yet no less powerful. "And I am willing to offer the same opportunity to you."
Banacheck was unable to breathe for a long moment, aware that his heart was flip-flopping in his chest. "You… you are?"
"Yes." Optimus confirmed. "Please keep in mind however, that we are a long-lived species and it took Prowl several of your life-times to completely earn our trust and to work his way up from un-ranked to second in command."
That sobered Banacheck immediately. "So, even if I accept, I may never redeem myself in your sight."
"There is that possibility." Optimus confirmed. "Though we are aware of your shorter life-span. It was not an easy process for Prowl. You are an alien and an organically based life-form." Banacheck could only stare at the instrument cluster on the big-rig's dash as Optimus continued. "Do not take that wrong, Director, but as a species, our contact with organic species has been one of inconsistencies."
Banacheck grimaced. "You mean they act like friends and then change their minds."
"Yes, so you will already be starting with that preconception against you." Optimus pointed out.
Banacheck sighed and looked out the window, suddenly wondering how far they had traveled from the base outside Mission City. He knew the truth behind Optimus' condemnation about humanity's fickleness. "I wish I could say humanity is not like that, and while individuals develop strong loyalties… as a race…"
"We are aware of this." Optimus cut him off but without overt condemnation in his voice. "Even if you choose to accept my offer now, should your people ever choose against us, I would not expect you to act against your own kind."
Blinking, Banacheck had to replay that statement in his mind to make sure he had heard properly. "Would… would you ever abandon or turn on humanity?"
Optimus was silent for a long moment, as the miles continued to pass under his tires. Then finally he answered. "We will always fight against the Decepticons and try to defend innocent life, regardless of species, from a war they have no part of. Unless every human chooses to side with the Decepticons, we will help protect those who do not."
"That is what I want as well." Banacheck murmured as much to himself as to the alien he was sitting in. "It is what I have already dedicated a substantial percentage of my life to."
Then something occurred to the Director of Sector Seven. "Can… can I speak to you face to face?"
Immediately the semi slowed, pulling to the side of what was a virtually deserted road.
"If you wish." Optimus sounded a bit surprised by the request.
Nonetheless, the passenger door popped open. Banacheck slipped out and took several steps back. He watched in awe as the semi shifted, parts twisting and sliding, rearranging until the Prime stood before him.
Now that those shining cobalt optics were focused on him again, Banacheck's words came out breathily. "I'd be lying if I said that wasn't impressive."
The sound of a distinct chuckle emanated from the humongous robot before he kneeled down. "So we have been told."
Banacheck allowed himself to smile briefly before drawing himself up and straightening his suit. "Prime… I have already pointed out that in the eyes of my own people I am your prisoner."
The light behind those optics flickered slightly before refocusing on him. The Prime's expression was almost a grimace. "It appears you are correct, Director. Your status within the human chain of command is that of having been extradited to a foreign government to stand trial for potential war crimes."
Banacheck winced, looking down. He had known as much, but actually hearing the words stung.
"I'm sorry, Director." Optimus murmured, seeming truly regretful.
Shaking his head, Banacheck looked back up. "Don't be. It's true."
Optimus continued to look at him. "What would likely happen to you if we refused such an extradition?"
Banacheck grimaced, looking away. "Considering the type of work I've been involved with… I'd probably disappear."
"Would you be harmed?" It was asked with what sounded like real concern.
Banacheck did not even have to think about the answer. "That is a good question Prime. I won't say it's not possible."
Banacheck was surprised at how calmly he could discuss the subject of his impending doom.
Optimus, for his part, seemed genuinely disturbed. "I would not hold a member of another species prisoner. Why would your people make such an assumption?"
"Because I should be. For what I condoned with the… the sparklings. For Bumblebee. Among my people such crimes would justify either execution of life imprisonment." Banacheck forced a half-smile. "The opportunity to spend that life sentence trying to right my wrongs? To spend it continuing the purpose I had dedicated my life to – even if under a different authority structure? That is more than I deserve."
Optimus' gaze was intense but Banacheck forced himself to continue meeting it. Eventually he spoke quietly. "You would rather spend the remainder of your life under Autobot jurisdiction than human?"
This time it was Banacheck's turn to think. Why did he always have to make things harder on himself? Nonetheless, he spoke. "I believe that decision has already been made by my superiors. But… even if they were to change their minds… I would not."
"I would not ask you to stay with us if your people rescinded our current level of cooperation." Optimus said slowly.
"My people make stupid mistakes all the time." Banacheck smiled. "Especially our political leadership. Revoking an alliance with you and your Autobots would be just such a stupid mistake, especially for as long as the Decepticons remain a threat."
That massive head cocked to the side fractionally. "What are you saying, Director?"
"I…" Banacheck hesitated. What was he really saying? He knew, and it sounded to presumptuous to him.
The shutters around Optimus' glowing optics narrowed. "What exactly are your expectations, Director?"
Banacheck unexpectedly found he was able to relax. That question was much easier to answer. "I am already under a life sentence, sir. I am your prisoner. I have no other expectations."
To his surprise Optimus drew back as if caught off guard. Then the large being stood to his full height. "Prowl said almost those exact words to me when he was captured."
Optimus studied Banacheck for a moment longer and the human had never felt so small and insignificant before. So he stayed silent, hoping that the parallel was a good thing, hoping he had not caused offence.
"I will tell you what I told him. Your existence will likely not be pleasant among us, at least not at first. It will take time to prove to us that your intentions are genuine." With the shifting of metal and the amazingly complex rearranging of parts, the regal alien leader collapsed into his alt mode and the passenger door swung open. "I hope you are up to the challenge, as Prowl was. If you are, you will gain not just our trust, but our friendship as well."
A chance… he was being given a chance.
The towering metallic beings still terrified him; Banacheck would not deny that. And he would be lying if he said the thought of being in their custody every hour of every day was not intimidating to say the least. But… the alternatives did not even bear thinking about.
No… his people needed him to atone for what Sector Seven had done.
He had expected to be executed: run over, stepped on or incinerated to think of a few ways. Or, at best, to be turned back over to humanity to be put in a dark cell for the rest of his life or worse. This was more than he could have hoped for.
It was hope where he had had none.
"That is all I want." He breathed the words, acknowledging the Prime's warning and accepting the proffered challenge even as he stepped closer to the semi's running board.
At this point I have no intention of adding anything to this story, though I had briefly considered the possibility of adding one more chapter… when Prowl comes to Earth and his interactions with Banachek. But unless I actually get traction on that idea from you guys, this will stay just a one shot.