Author's Note: I wrote this a couple weeks ago but couldn't publish it because of how much work I had to do. Now that I have a lull though, here it is. I wanted to go for equal parts comedy and adventure/action here so hopefully I pulled it off. Also, the depictions of Cybertronian society and the newly introduced character here are taken mainly from other stories I've read that had similar ways of showing them, so if they're OOC, that's why. Thanks to everyone that reviewed before, I really appreciate it!
"Welcome to K.O. Drive-in, can I take your order?"
"Yeah, I'll have the number 4 combo with a side of fries. Oh, and hold the mayo."
"That'll be $8.25, sir. Have a nice day."
Jack looked out the drive thru window absentmindedly as he handed off another bag. Another dreary Thursday was winding down and the skies above Jasper had been dark and threatening to storm all day, something that hadn't done much for his mood. Lately it had been school-work-sleep, school-work-sleep, school-work-sleep, rinse and repeat. The bots had been quiet and a bit secretive for the better part of a month and Jack was beginning to wonder what was going on. He hadn't even seen or talked to them in around 5 days and though he wasn't as incessantly and demandingly curious about why as Miko was, part of him still felt a bit left out. Still, at least he had other things to worry about.
The junior prom was coming up at school and though dances weren't exactly his thing, he was still expected to go. His mom was certainly pushing the matter and Miko had done her own share of finagling, trying to convince him to go just so she could get in a year before she was technically allowed. It had taken awhile, but he had given in finally and agreed to go…on the self-appointed condition that it was with someone in particular. Jack had been trying to work up the courage to ask Sierra to go with him since the previous afternoon and was running out of excuses to avoid her and put it off any longer. After all, the dance was tonight.
Interrupting his daydreaming, another car pulled up to the drive-in menu and he let out a sigh. He had just activated the microphone when –
Whirling in surprise, he saw a tall, red-haired girl grinning at him from the sidewalk opposite the drive-thru road and nearly dropped the bag he was holding.
"Sierra?!" he blurted in surprise and she giggled.
"Sorry, you look a little busy."
"N-No!" he lied. "I'm just, you know…doin' what I do. How are you?"
"I'm good," she smiled them said almost shyly. "I'm still looking for someone to go to the dance with tonight though. You…know anyone available?"
He was caught totally off guard.
"Uhhhhhh…" he droned intelligently. "I…uh…"
Her smile fell a bit.
"I mean, Vince asked me but…" she said. "I was kinda…"
He nodded stupidly, still not knowing what to say.
Then she gestured over her shoulder at the road.
"I'm sorry, Jack." She said. "I didn't realize you were so busy. I can talk to you on Monday."
Then she turned to leave and he mentally kicked himself.
'Say something you idiot!' he screamed mentally.
"S-Sierra, wait!" he called at the last minute and she turned almost excitedly.
"Do…Doyouwannagotothepromwithme?" he blurted all at once and she blinked at him.
He took a deep breath.
"Do you want to go to the prom with me tonight?" he asked again. "I…I still need a date too."
"That'd be great!" she exclaimed. "Oh Jack, thank you! The last thing I wanted was to do was say yes to Vince."
"Great!" he grinned ecstatically. "How 'bout I – "
"Well look at the studly squishy!" came a sudden smug voice over his headset, startling him out of his reverie. "Way to go! Though if you're going to go around interfacing, you might wanna keep it on the downlow from Arcee."
Jack clenched his jaw with a grimace, forcing a smile at Sierra. So much for his perfect moment.
"Can you just…give me a second?" he asked and she nodded with a curious smile.
Jack turned back to the microphone.
"Can I help you, Sideswipe?" he deadpanned.
"Yeah," came the mirth filled answer. "I'll have an 'I need to lighten up a little' combo with a side of 'Primus, I'm boring'."
"Hmm." Jack forced another annoyed smile. "So that's one 'I'm the most annoying friend to ever walk God's earth' combo with a side of 'go to hell'. Coming right up, sir."
Then he turned back to Sierra as laughter sounded in his earpiece.
"Friend of yours?" she asked with an amused smirk.
"Mmhmm." He replied dismissively, then lit up with a hopeful look. "So I'll… meet you around 8?"
She nodded with wide smile.
"Sounds good." She said. "I-I'm glad you're the one who asked me, Jack."
"I'll see you then, Sierra!"
"See you then, Jack."
Then she hoisted her bag over her shoulder and walked away down the sidewalk, disappearing from view as Jack pumped his fist with a 'Yes!' and Sideswipe pulled up alongside the window.
"You done yet?" he asked. "Just cause I'm covering for Arcee doesn't mean I wanna sit around this boring-aft place all day. Too many Cons to slag."
Jack raised an eyebrow.
"I haven't even heard from you guys in like a week." He said. "What's going on?"
"We're heading back to base. C'mon!"
"Just following orders, kid. Prime says jump, you say 'how high'. Now, you coming or what?"
"Yeah," Jack replied. "Yeah, I'll be right out. Meet me out front."
By the time he had and they were on their way, the rain had finally let loose, its torrents completely obscuring Jack's view as he studied the landscape and let Sideswipe drive himself. After all, as he'd been reminded on a more than a few occasions, "Nobody controls me but me. Too much gorgeous mech for you squishies to potentially ruin". That was a bit more verbose than Sunstreaker's blunt declaration of "Don't touch me", but it got the message across. Jack shook his head and cleared his thoughts, turning back to where his chauffer was quickly approaching the hidden Autobot base.
"So what was with the hiatus?" Jack asked. "I mean, I know you guys are at war but still..."
"We had some…problems to deal with." Sideswipe said cryptically and Jack raised both his brows.
"Megatron?" he prodded and the Autobot seemed to shift in a nonchalant shrug.
"More like…'prissy-bot' problems." He replied and Jack made a face.
"What does that mean?"
"You'll find out."
Jack threw up his hands in defeat and looked back out the window. He supposed he would find out soon. After all, he could see the sloping desert bluff that hid the Autobot base within approaching fast and decided to wait and get a firsthand answer from Optimus himself. Or Arcee. If they were getting called in after almost a week's silence then there had to be at least someone present to talk to. Sure enough, the door slid upward and open as they got within range and by the time Jack saw the familiar interior come into view, he realized that not only were there bots present, they had a packed house.
Jazz and Ratchet stood over by the computer system with Optimus while Bumblebee, Bluestreak and Smokescreen chatted up Raf about something by the television set. Wheeljack, meanwhile was showing Bulkhead and Miko something in his servo as Sunstreaker looked on dismissively. Finally, over by the groundbridge, Arcee was talking to Prowl and Silverbolt, the conversation looking official to say the least. As they came to a halt, Sideswipe popped his seatbelt and threw open his driver's door, not saying another word to Jack as the teen stepped out and made immediately for Raf and his group. After ascending the ladder up to them, he sidled his way into their midst.
"Hey, Jack." Came answers from Raf and Bluestreak as Bumblebee chirped and Smokescreen held out a metal fist to exchange a lopsided fist bump with the arriving human, an element of human culture that the warrior had recently discovered and was determined to use as much as possible.
It amused Jack to no end, particularly when he'd tried it on Optimus.
"So what'd I miss?" he asked, glancing around at them.
"One of my friends is being stubborn about humans and Earth and I don't know why cause this planet is so fascinating but I guess it makes sense given where he came from and what class he is but he really should just give everything a chance and then – " Bluestreak said in one long, continuous stream and Smokescreen took over as Bumblebee put a servo on the gunner's shoulder to stop his chatter.
"We had a new arrival while you guys were gone." He explained. "He's been having some trouble adapting."
"Really?" Jack said in surprise, then turned to Raf. "Did you or Miko meet him yet?"
The diminutive hacker shook his head.
"We just got here 20 minutes before you did." He explained. "Optimus wants to talk to us about it I guess."
"Huh." Jack nodded.
This would certainly be interesting. Then he felt a metal digit brush his shoulder in greeting.
"Hey partner." Arcee greeted as he turned and saw her. "Sideswipe behave himself on the way over?"
"As much as he's capable of, yeah."
"That would certainly be worth an entry in the historical records." Silverbolt said with a wry smile. "The Twins behaving themselves."
That got a round of chuckling from the group and Jack nodded in greeting at the flier.
"Hey Silver." He greeted. "You get called in from exile too?"
The flier's smile widened a little, his helm turning to nod in greeting at Raf as well. It wasn't often he was seen around base either these days, his Decepticon scouting missions sometimes taking days at a time.
"So it seems." He replied, then panned his gaze up behind Jack. "And I guess we're about to find out why."
Sharing a glance with Raf, Jack turned and saw Optimus walking up to the center of the room, Prowl right with him as Ratchet and Jazz stayed back by the computer system.
"To those of you just arriving, allow me to explain what's going on." The Autobot leader said in his deep baritone. "And how I believe you can help."
Looking around at them all, his gaze lingered on the three humans.
"I apologize for our secrecy recently," he continued. "But we've had a new Autobot arrival, and his background necessitated that we ease him into life here in a more gradual manner than usual."
Jack frowned. He wasn't sure what that meant, but fortunately there was always Miko to blurt out what most people knew not to ask aloud.
"What does that mean?" the girl asked from Bulkhead's shoulder. "What is he, 'Earth-phobic' or something?"
Optimus merely listened and continued when she stopped talking.
"His designation is Mirage." He said. "And he's one of our best spies. He was also from a different class of mech then we all were and as a result, acclimating him to Earth took a bit more effort than it did with the rest of us."
"What class is he?" Raf asked. "If he's a spy then that would make him a scout or saboteur right?"
"Not that kind of class." Arcee explained. "Back on Cybertron before the war we had a sort of caste system. The working class mechs were at the bottom and lived in what you might call the slums. The middle class mainly were in Academic or military institutions – "
"Like the Elite guard I was part of at the academy." Smokescreen cut in. "Or the Science institute nearby."
" – and lived in better areas of the cities." Arcee kept going when he was done, not bothering to shoot him a dirty look for interrupting her. "At the top though, was the noble class. They lived in the best areas and made a lot of the laws."
"Unfortunately the caste system was one of the main causes of the war." Prowl said. "Mechs like Megatron and Soundwave were lower class gladiators who rebelled and gathered an army behind them. When the war started, most mechs went with either side."
"Mirage was one of the few Nobles who joined our side." Optimus explained and Jack listened intently, finding the whole thing endlessly fascinating. "But as a result of his upbringing and the way things worked where we are from, he has a harder time connecting to others than most Autobots you'll meet."
"Translation," Sunstreaker sniped from across the room. "He has a massive superiority complex and he's an aft."
"Cause that description doesn't fit anyone else." Arcee muttered beside Jack as Optimus gave the golden twin a silencing look.
"Unfortunately, our progress has not been overly successful thus far and he is now over a day late reporting in from one of his outings." The Autobot leader said. "And that's why you are all here."
Jack frowned again, exchanging another glance with Raf.
"We'll do anything we can to help, Optimus." He said. "But I'm not sure what – "
"There has been a lull in Decepticon activity lately and because of that, I am sending everyone out to look for Mirage and bring him back in." Optimus interrupted him. "I would like the three of you to accompany three different members of the search team. When we find Mirage, I would like you to be the ones to help begin to change his mind on humanity."
"Agent Fowler not working out too well there for ya?" Miko smirked and Optimus had a poker face.
"Agent Fowler is highly trained at many things." He said. "Diplomacy with Cybertronian nobles is simply not one of them."
Translation: yes. Jack nodded as he thought it over. They should be done in time for the prom right?
"Count me in." he said and Miko and Raf both echoed him excitedly.
"Bulk, Wheeljack and I can look – " Miko started and Optimus held up a servo to silence her almost instantly.
"In addition," he said. "I would like to sow the seeds of better teamwork in the field by pairing you with mechs that are not usually your partners. That way everyone involved can benefit from this exercise as we search."
"Aww!" Miko whined. "But why can't we – "
"Miko," Prowl took over, "You will accompany Jazz in the field."
That brightened her expression and the saboteur strode up to her side with a grin.
"I'll choose the music." He smirked and folded down into his alt mode, closing the door as she leapt in and then speeding out of the base opening as if he already had received his search area.
Actually, Jack mused, he probably already had. They could communicate by interior comm after all.
"Silverbolt," Prowl continued. "You will search from the air. The original members of Team Prime will split up into twos and coordinate the search to the South. Sunstreaker, you will accompany Wheeljack to the East."
Both Autobots looked less than thrilled at this and seemed to size each other up as they both folded into alt modes and left through the same door Jazz had. Jack was surprised. They weren't sending Sunstreaker out with his brother? Oh no...
"Rafael." Prowl said. "You will go with Bluestreak and look to the West. Optimus and I will join you and split off soon after to head Southwest instead."
Oh god why…
The teen looked up and saw that Prowl had approached him instead of talking from across the room.
"You and Sideswipe will head North and search there."
Jack turned to meet Sideswipe's gaze and the grin that spread over the frontliner's face could only be described as a shark eying chum. He turned back to Prowl.
"Prowl," he started. "I – "
"Please keep him under control." Came the mech's reply and then he turned and walked away, meeting Optimus over by Ratchet and the groundbridge.
Jack set his mouth in a firm line. His new partner had folded back into his alt mode and popped his gullwing door, inviting him in with a honk of his horn. He took a deep breath.
"Okay then." He said and jogged down the stairs, jumping in Sideswipe's passenger door as he did.
Maybe this wouldn't be so bad.
"I hope you put your affairs in order." Came the bot's voice through his radio, somehow sinister and mirth-filled at the same time.
Or maybe it would.
The next thing Jack knew, they had left the base.
For the first 30 minutes of so of their search, not much was said. Jack wracked his brain to think of places the rogue Autobot could be hiding up north of Jasper but was coming up empty. Sideswipe, for his part, had been scanning ever since they'd left, his radio playing some loud rock songs as he did. He had yet to say anything or veer off in any particular direction though so Jack assumed he was finding nothing as well. Finally, sick of not talking, he decided to initiate some conversation.
"So how well do you know this 'Mirage'?" he asked. "What's he like?"
"Like I said." Came the almost instantaneous answer. "Prissy-bot."
"Come on," Jack prodded. "He can't be that bad if he's one of the best spies you guys have, right?"
"Try living with him for a few eons and see if you still feel that way."
"Fair enough." Jack relented, then decided to focus on the mission again. "So how long do you it'll take to find him?"
"Who knows?" the Autobot said loftily. "Could take days. Especially if he's engaged his invisibility like he tends to."
"Whoa, what?!" Jack barked in alarm. "Invisibility?! He already could be anywhere and now he can turn invisible?!"
"Did Optimus forget to mention that?" Sideswipe asked in mock concern, sounding like he was enjoying himself very much. "Oof…not lookin' good for that prom thing of yours."
Jack buried his face in his hands.
"You've gotta be kidding me." He muttered in irritation.
"Speaking of which," Sideswipe kept right on going. "You and your girlfriend need a ride to get there? Cause I'd be happy to offer my services as chauffer."
"NO!" Jack blurted, then calmed himself a bit. "Th-That's okay. We'll…figure it out."
This seemed to only further amuse the Autobot.
"Aww," he fake whined. "You don't trust me? Kid that…that hurts. That gets me right in the spark."
"I'm not letting you anywhere near Sierra."
"I may cry myself into recharge. And why might that be?"
"Do you remember what happened when I introduced you to my mother finally after that police chase debacle?"
"I was on my best behavior."
"You called me a 'fleshy chicken fry with windswept hair'."
"I was…being descriptive."
"Yeah," Jack huffed sarcastically. "I'll bet you were."
"Eh…your loss, kid." Sideswipe finally said, still sounding amused. "I'm sure I'll recover from the crushing disappointment. Besides, we can always get Ratchet to take you instead."
The number of ways the night could turn catastrophically embarrassing jumped from 10,000 up to about 5 million with that thought. Jack rubbed at his face again.
"Maybe we'll walk." He sighed and Sideswipe chuckled.
Then, suddenly, a familiar voice filtered through the Autobot's speakers. Jack recognized it instantly.
"This is Prowl checking in with all field units." It said. "Have you encountered any readings? Jazz and Miko?"
Jack heard loud music replace Prowl's voice.
"Nothin', Prowler." Came Jazz's easy-going baritone. "Empty as the cosmos out here."
"Bluestreak and Rafael?"
"Nothing yet, Prowl." Bluestreak responded and Raf chimed in before the gunner could start talking more. "Just a couple broken down cars. That's it."
"Sideswipe?" Prowl was back.
"I haven't seen anything since I entered Sideswipe at the base."
Then he paused and made a face.
"Ooo, there's gotta be a better way to say that."
"Oh but maybe that's the way I want it said, darling." The frontliner mocked in a fake seductive voice and Jack wrinkled his nose further.
"Ha ha." he deadpanned.
"If you two are quite finished." Prowl sounded impatient and suddenly a screen popped up out of the dashboard with his image on it, an audio waveform fluctuating underneath it to indicate that he was the one speaking.
Beside him were images of all the other Autobots, each with its own corresponding waveform. Beneath each one, however…
Jack burst out laughing. He couldn't help it. He knew he should be taking the situation seriously but he was still only a teenager and this…
"What, praytell, is so amusing?" Prowl asked in a dangerous voice, the words 'Ripcord Chucklebot' gleaming underneath his picture from where they had just appeared.
"N-nothing!" Jack gasped, feeling Sideswipe shifting underneath him in his own silent laughter. "I uh… This kid from school I don't like just got pulled over by the cops in front of us, that's all. Sorry Prowl. We'll keep looking."
"Hmm." Prowl rumbled, clearly not believing it for a second. "Keep searching. Prowl out."
Then he was gone and they both laughed out loud again, barely even noticing as Jazz's waveform moved instead.
"Why do ah get tha sense that was a complete lie, Sides?" he asked, his voice sounding amused as 'Jazzmanian Devil' appeared beneath his face.
"Never you mind." Sideswipe replied smoothly. "We're continuing our search."
"Prowl's gonna discipline you hard one of these days Sideswipe." Bluestreak's voice joined in, 'Chatterbot' appearing with it. "He only has so much patience and you don't wanna get in trouble again I mean I know you get in trouble a lot but still – "
"My threshold of caring is low right now, Blue." Came the reply. "Sunny, what do you think?"
"Don't talk to me." Came the gruff reply, the words 'Sunny McGrumpyface' appearing for only a moment before disappearing again. "And don't call me Sunny!"
Sideswipe said something back to his twin but Jack didn't hear what it was, because at that moment they rounded a bend in the desert road and he caught a momentary glimpse of something metallic and gleaming hidden way back in one of the rocky crags and canyons that had begun to surround them.
"Whoa!" he said, patting the steering wheel and putting away his humor. "Back up! Something's back in that canyon."
Sideswipe did as requested and came to a screeching halt, reversing back down the road until they were at the point where Jack could recreate the view he'd had before. Sure enough, the gleam returned, small and distant but still definitely there.
"You see that?" he asked and Sideswipe turned slightly towards the canyon entrance.
"Yeah." He said, his tone totally professional now, as if he could turn that part of him on and off with the flick of a switch. "But I'm not getting any readings."
Then he popped Jack's seatbelt and opened his door, transforming into bot mode as soon as the teen had stepped out.
"Let's check it out." he said and started into the canyon, Jack tailing him in his wake and wondering if they'd discovered the break they needed to find the wayward Mirage.
As they got closer to the object, however, Jack's excitement turned to confusion. He rested his hand on a nearby boulder, frowning as Sideswipe unsheathed one of his battle swords.
"Is that a…turret?" he asked, eying the metallic object jutting seemingly randomly out of a pile of sand a bit warily.
Sideswipe was silent, panning his optics back and forth across the canyon landscape as if he were scanning it. Then suddenly, he leapt into the air with astounding speed and landed behind the object with no more force than if Jack himself had fallen, plunging his sword point down into it in a shower of sparks as the object crumpled in on itself and was no more. Then he looked further down the canyon past it.
"Not anymore." He said smugly, creeping to the crest of the next bend and glancing around it as Jack jogged to keep up, sticking to the wall and out of sight as much as he could.
When he finally got close enough to look around the corner, he froze dead in his tracks. In front of them, situated out of sight from the main road against a far canyon wall, was an old warehouse, its metallic walls and roof rusting from years of being exposed to the elements and bombarded with sand. Littered across the landscape in front of it though, were dozens of motionless bodies. Beside him, Sideswipe twirled a sword absentmindedly in one hand.
"Well slag me," he swore. "Looks like we missed one Pit of a party."
Jack, however, was too busy recognizing the uniforms all the downed humans were wearing.
"Scrap." He said. "MECH."
"MECH?" Sideswipe echoed, scoffing seconds later. "What, those Con wannabe clowns that keep annoying everybody?"
"Don't take them lightly." Jack warned him. "They're more dangerous than you think."
The Autobot looked back around the corner at the scene.
"The fact that they all seem to have dropped faster than a Vehicon in a frontliner bar seems to disagree with you, kid." He said.
Jack rolled his eyes.
"Yeah well, if you wanna charge right in, you be my guest." He sniped. "When Ratchet's putting you back together afterwards, I'll come visit wearing my 'I Told You So' shirt."
The Autobot smirked, then stiffened slightly again.
"Ooh." He said. "Better put that on hold. Look who we got here."
Following his gaze, Jack saw a familiar red Decepticon stride out of the interior of the structure, a scanning device of some kind whirring in his servo as he turned and seemed to talk to someone inside.
"Knockout." He said unnecessarily, then frowned. "Great. Who's he talking to?"
Sideswipe suddenly snorted with an exasperated grunt and gestured at the East side of the building.
"Check out the far wall." He said. "Just inside the door."
Jack did just that and managed to see a second Cybertronian form sitting propped against it, this one motionless and unfamiliar to him.
"That would be our missing spy," He replied with a judgmental snort. "In all of his glory, shitting the proverbial bed again as you humans say."
Jack gave him a look.
"I'm sensing a history here." He said and the frontliner just hummed at him in reply.
Then he looked back at the scene in front of them.
"Sideswipe to Prowl." He said and it took Jack a second to realize he was summoning backup. "We found his highness Mirage the 1st in a canyon north of the base. Cons on scene. Should I slag 'em?"
There was silence for a moment and then Sideswipe spoke again, sounding somewhat more urgent.
"Sideswipe to Prowl!"
Jack didn't even need to ask to know that nothing came of that one either. He pulled out his phone and speed dialed Arcee.
"Pick up," he muttered. "Pick up."
All he got was static.
"Scrap. Are we - "
"Being jammed?" Sideswipe replied. "You bet. Excuse me while I do something about it."
Then he started forward and Jack grabbed at his ankle armor with his free hand.
"Wait!" Jack hissed, remembering vividly the incident with Smokescreen and Megatron. "We should take cover and wait for backup!"
Sideswipe glanced around their wall edge, seeming to study Knockout for only a split second before turning back to his human companion and smirking down at him.
"Taking cover is for sissies." He replied arrogantly. "I'll just absorb the shots with my charisma."
Then he turned away and was gone, moving quickly and quietly toward the base entrance as Jack ran a hand down his face in exasperation and followed close behind, hoping that Knockout was both alone and oblivious and wouldn't see them. Fortunately, Sideswipe was as talented as he was conceited and Knockout only had time to turn and utter "What the – " before he was leveled across the face with a vicious haymaker, dropping him like a heavy sack right into the arms of his attacker. This done, Sideswipe dragged him off to the side out of the way and then tossed his unconscious form into a sand mound, not taking any care in handling him as he did. Shaking his head with both awe and irritation, Jack ran past the motionless MECH soldiers and joined him by Mirage's side. After scanning their downed ally with effortless precision, Sideswipe knocked on the unconscious Autobot's helm with a metal knuckle, keeping his swords at the ready as he did so.
"Hey!" he barked quietly. "Wakey wakey, afthead. It's time to head back to base."
"Unhhhhhh…" the spy groaned, his optics flickering back to life dimly in the dark of the warehouse. "Wha – Sideswipe? How did…?"
"Cause I'm amazing. Now let's go."
"I'm…" Mirage said quietly, his voice sounding cultured, sophisticated and almost British next to Sideswipe's brash jock tone. "I'm not here alone. Decepticons."
"Yeah," Jack reassured. "We know. We already got Knockout. We're okay to go."
Mirage looked down at him in surprise, clearly seeing him for the first time. Instead of relief at the news though, a look of borderline disgust seemed to spread over his face.
"What is that doing here?" he demanded of his Autobot comrade and Jack straightened up in surprise.
Sideswipe spared the teen a glance and met the spy's gaze challengingly.
"He is part of the team." He replied before adding. "Believe me, I was skeptical too. But he's cool. Better than you actually. Now come on! Knockout's slag and we're clear. Let's fraggin' move."
"What about Soundwave?" came the cold answer. "Did you get him too?"
That stopped both of them in their tracks. Jack looked up at him in dread.
"Soundwave's here too?" he said in shock and Mirage regarded him with a dismissive snort.
"Is that not what I just said?" he demanded condescendingly and Jack gave Sideswipe an annoyed glance.
"Boy, you weren't kidding." He said and the frontliner smirked slightly despite himself.
Then, however, his face changed into confusion and concern and he held up a hand to still Jack where he stood.
"Next to your head on the right. What is that?" he asked.
Jack swiveled his head like a turret and found himself face to face with a digital timer of some kind, one that currently sat at 5 minutes and was steadily counting down even as he looked at it. That didn't really concern him. The fact that it seemed to be attached to a brick of C4, however, did. Backing up a step shakily, he looked further into the structure and saw at least 4 more of the blinking timers situated at seemingly random intervals, all of them no doubt attached to explosives like the one beside him.
"Scrap." He swore.
"That what I think it is?" Sideswipe asked and Jack nodded.
"Yeah." He said. "Looks like the whole building's full of them. Must be one of MECH's security countermeasures."
Then, adding to their bad luck, footsteps sounded from directly to their left and Soundwave himself strode back into the room, walking quietly over to a vacant computer console and hooking himself up to download from it…directly where they needed to go to escape.
"Slag." Sideswipe hissed, then turned to Mirage. "Tell me you can move on your own, prissy-bot."
The spy seemed to suppress a rumbling growl.
"Of course I can't bloody move." He spat back. "He fried my motor systems. At most I can limp on one leg. And my invisibility's shorted out."
"Of fragging course it is." The frontliner replied and then spared Soundwave a glance before turning to Jack.
When he spoke, he seemed genuinely apologetic.
"Look kid," he said. "We don't have time for me to go beat Sounders into scrap and you sure as slag can't carry this one."
He gave a jerking nod in Mirage's direction and Jack frowned, not liking where this was going.
"Can't we just sneak past him?" he asked and got a shake of the head in response.
"He'll catch us." Sideswipe said. "He's too slagging good. And even I can't take him on single handed while protecting you two in the process."
"So what do you suggest?"
"You're gonna have to distract him while I get this bozo to safety."
Jack was sure he blanched at that.
"Jack, I'm sorry, but we've got no choice." Sideswipe said. "We got maybe 4 minutes before this place can be seen from space if you catch my drift."
"You want to send that little meatbag against Soundwave?" he snorted. "He'll be pulverized. You're a bigger fool than I took you for."
Jack had had enough.
"You think I want to do this?" he demanded quietly. "What is your problem with me?!"
"Humans are all the same." Came the answer. "All of you are. You care only about power and think you're the only thing that matters in the universe!"
Jack blinked in surprise and then shook his head to clear the distraction. They didn't have time for this.
"You really need to update your databanks on humanity." He said, trying not to sound rude. "Not all of us are like MECH. Some of us actually want to help."
Then he glanced at Sideswipe again.
"There's no other way?"
"None that I see, kid."
Rubbing at his face in fear and exasperation, Jack glanced out at his newly found Decepticon adversary and willed himself into action before he chickened out. His mom was gonna kill him. He met Sideswipe's gaze one last time.
"If he kills me," he said, gesturing out at the silent Con. "You stay away from my funeral."
That got a grin to spread over the frontliner's face and Jack stepped out from their cover, immediately noticing a breaker box over on the far wall as he did.
'That must feed power to the console Soundwave's using.' he thought, staring at it intently. 'That'll certainly get his attention.'
Sneaking his way over quickly, he opened the panel and shut down the power to the whole building, an action that caused the console Soundwave was using to fade from a brilliant white into a dead, lifeless black. The Decepticon panned his faceless mask down to the machine's control panel, seeming somewhat confused.
"It's not nice to spy on people, you know." Jack called out, wondering where he was finding the courage to do this unprotected.
Soundwave's helm instantly turned in his direction, its terrifying gaze focusing right on him as the Decepticon's body straightened up to its full height. Jack forced himself to stand his ground. He held out his arms to the sides in a questioning motion and walked away from where Sideswipe and Mirage were.
"What are you doing here, Soundwave?" he asked, watching as the Decepticon's head panned with his movement and followed him. "I can't imagine Megatron would send you and Knockout here if it wasn't important."
Soundwave looked at the dark screen he'd been using and then back to Jack, an action the teen suspected was to question whether it was worth his time to deal with him. Jack gestured dismissively at the dark screen.
"Oh, were you using that?" he taunted, watching as Sideswipe and Mirage lurched quietly across the room in the background, moving more slowly than he would've liked. "Sorry. That was rude of me. How about we both just…uh…call it a day and go back to our separate corners, huh? I'll get outta your way. No need for things to get messy, right?"
The Decepticon's only response was to unsheathe his tentacles and charge up their blasters, all four of them pointing right in Jack's face even as he watched. His courage went right out the window.
"Or...not." He squeaked.
Soundwave opened fire. Letting out a yelp of fear, Jack turned and just barely dove out of the way, rolling behind a panel of some kind and managing to scramble up to his feet faster than he thought he'd be able to. It was definitely time to go. Planting one foot in front of the other, he started running as fast as his legs would carry him, seeing the doorway fast approaching and freedom tantalizingly within his reach. That, however, was the moment that one of Soundwave's tentacles grabbed him by the ankle and tore him right off his feet, pulling him hard back into the structure and tossing him into the air like a toy. Then it slammed him into the wall and clamped around his throat as the other 3 tentacles hovered menacingly nearby. Jack tried not to blink as he met the Decepticon's faceless gaze. He was going to key Sideswipe's finish for this. From the afterlife if necessary.
"Come on, Soundwave," he rasped, trying desperately to distract him further. "I thought we had an understanding!"
The silent Con stared at him for a long moment and Jack was certain that he was going to be ignored yet again. Then however…
"NO UNDERSTANDING." A deep, mechanical drone that he had only heard once before thundered forth. "ATTEMPT AT DELAY: FUTILE. DEACTIVATION: IMMINENT."
Then the tip of one of his tentacles began to spark with electricity and spin like a drill, it's point moving closer and closer to Jack's face with every passing second. His breath nearly caught in his throat.
"Scrap." He said.
Then, like an avenging angel…an obnoxious avenging angel... Sideswipe came flying in from the side and leveled Soundwave with one massive punch to the face, following it up by stomping the Decepticon the rest of the way to the ground and laying into him with his swords. The tentacle choking Jack's neck loosened and dropped him to the ground, focusing instead on its new attacker, and Jack used the opportunity wisely.
Stumbling first and then sprinting outright, he ran out the opening to where Mirage waited by the canyon wall and continued on past him, not acknowledging the spy's cultured bark of "Go! GO!" as he did. They were home free! That is, until a groundbridge portal opened up directly in front of him and he was beside Soundwave once more inside the building. Jack skidded to a grinding halt.
"Oh, you've gotta be kidding me!" he exclaimed, head whipping around to get his bearings.
The Decepticon immediately lunged for him and Jack jumped aside once more, panting in fatigue as he dodged around objects and headed back for the main doorway. As he passed one of the bombs on a nearby boiler, his heart leapt into his throat as 0:09 shone brightly in the dim light. Grabbing a stray piece of wood, he swung at a tentacle that tried to grab him again and found himself running once more past a bewildered looking Mirage, who stared at him as though he'd grown a second head.
"What in the name of –" he sputtered, clearly wondering how the human had gotten behind him again.
"Take 2!" Jack yelled, jerking his head sideways as the swiftly moving form of Sideswipe was suddenly next to him, transforming into his alt mode as Mirage somehow kept pace behind.
The moment the frontliner's passenger door opened for him, he flung himself inside across the seats and held on tight as a huge 'BOOM' rocked the landscape behind them, causing both Autobots to fishtail slightly with its sheer force. Pulling himself up, Jack looked out the rear window in time to see the drone shaped form of Soundwave fly away from the fireball that had appeared in the sky. He heaved a shaky breath and slumped back in the seat as the adrenaline rush wore off. His ride, however...
"See?" Sideswipe said, and Jack just knew somehow that he was grinning out of sight. "What'd I tell you, kid? You're a natural! Fun, right?"
"Fun?!" the teen howled, clutching at his bruised neck and hearing his heart still racing in his chest. "This is why we can't have nice things, you smooth talking sociopath!"
Sideswipe let out a hearty laugh at that.
"Well gosh, Jack," he drawled lazily, clearly enjoying the whole thing. "You sure know how to butter a mech up. Keep that talk up and we'll be interfacing in no time."
"Oh, shut up and get us back to base." The human barked, holding up a hand in front of him to see if it was still shaking.
He was never going to get Soundwave's voice out of his head for as long as he lived.
Dying a slow death by debriefing had to be the worst way to go. This was something Jack had decided was true by the time Prowl had reached his 3rd round of questions, this time with all the others present. He and his two teammates had agreed to downplay his role in the rescue when delivering reports, but Prowl seemed to have a sixth sense for lies and kept shooting Jack an uncomfortably knowing look, one that he hoped was not too telling in the presence of both Arcee and his mom.
"And both Knockout and Soundwave were on the premises." Prowl repeated.
"Yes sir." Sideswipe replied. "Slagged 'em both, saved the Prissy-bot, and everyone went home happy."
"Do NOT call me that." Mirage demanded haughtily, then turned to their commander. "I apologize for my selfishness and role in this incident. It shan't happen again, I assure you."
"What changed your mind?" Ratchet asked.
"I…" the spy hesitated. "Might have had a preconception proven wrong…at least in this incident."
Prowl's gaze turned to Jack.
"Do tell." He said and the teen met his gaze with a gulp. "And your role in this was minimal and supporting, correct Mr. Darby?"
"Then how did you get that bruise on your neck?"
Jack saw his mother cross her arms in his peripheral vision and didn't dare look her way.
"The seatbelt." He lied smoothly, feeling bad for doing it at all. "Sideswipe stopped kinda short when we first saw them."
"And that was sufficient to bruise you on BOTH sides of your throat?" Prowl said calmly.
Jack met his expressionless, knowing gaze. Good god, it was like staring down a shark.
"Uh…it happened twice?"
Prowl was silent for a long moment, then simply nodded and addressed them as a group.
"Very well." He said. "Thank you for your reports. You may leave."
Jack gave a surprised start at that, turning slowly to walk to where Miko, Raf and his mother stood as the other two Autobots saluted their commander. How had they gotten away with that? He barely got 5 steps before Prowl stopped him with a digit, crouching down as he did.
"You're a remarkable human, Jack," he murmured, his tone intended only for the two of them, "And you're far braver than any your age should be. But the next time you decide to engage Soundwave one on one…do yourself a favor and don't."
Then he rose once more and walked away, leaving Jack wincing in his wake.
'Of course he knew.' The teen thought as Ratchet chided Sunstreaker and Wheeljack for the dents they'd given each other on their outing. 'I'm just lucky he didn't tell my mom.'
Then, right as he was about to rejoin the others, he saw Mirage gesture to him from a hallway, his sleek form seeming to fade into the shadows as Optimus debriefed the others. Frowning in curiosity, he joined the spy quietly, exchanging a smiling nod with Arcee as Miko regaled the bemused group across the room with stories of her outing with Jazz. Turning away from the scene, he looked up at Mirage, who seemed to study him almost curiously.
"Why did you do it?" he finally asked.
"Why did you agree to face Soundwave alone?" came the clarification. "To aid me. Surely you must have realized that he would annihilate you."
"The thought had crossed my mind, yes." Jack agreed.
"Because that's what teammates do." The teen smiled. "That's what friends do."
"But you're human!" Mirage sounded genuinely confused. "And we only met today!"
Jack put a hand on his ankle plating.
"But that's not all I am." He said, smiling slightly. "Believe me, there are bad people on this world, just like on yours, but there are good ones too…and we're more resilient than you'd think."
Mirage looked contemplative.
"Even against Soundwave?" he said.
"Even against Megatron." Jack replied. "Look, I'm not fearless. I tried to walk away twice and these guys convinced me to come back."
He nodded over at the conversing group.
"I ended up on the Decepticon warship twice, hunted by a torturer, and threatened by Megatron himself right to my face…but I honestly wouldn't change any of it."
"Because these guys are worth it." Jack smiled. "And we can do some good here, even as a human…or a noble."
A smile finally spread over Mirage's face at that, the first Jack had seen from him, and the spy gave a small, respectful bow before going and joining the others, seeming to finally have the will to do so. As Jack himself turned to walk over too, he caught Optimus's gaze and returned the smile the Autobot leader shot him, one that he swore looked almost proud. Then, however, he remembered where he had to be.
"Scrap!" he exclaimed, looking at the time. "I need to – "
"Get to your prom?" came a voice.
Looking up, Jack saw Sideswipe saunter up to him, his powerful arms crossed across his chest and a strangely normal smile on his face.
"It's okay, Sides." He said, wanting to avert a potential disastrous outcome with Sierra. "Really. I can take Arcee."
The frontliner gave a skeptical frown.
"If I'm not mistaken," he said. "Humans arrive in cars to these things right? Nice cars."
"How did you – ?"
Sideswipe shrugged good naturedly.
"Internet." He said. "Now how 'bout it? You know she'll like a Lambo."
Jack gave him a once over and sighed.
"No tricks." Came the sincere sounding reply. "That was pretty cool what you did back there, with Soundwave and Mirage. I think you've earned a reprieve."
Then he folded down into his alt mode and opened the passenger door invitingly and Jack gave a relieved and grateful smile before climbing in. Then they were off, a few waves of encouragement following in Jack's wake from both Miko and his Mom. As soon as they were underway, Jack changed into decent clothes and readied himself for a great night of unwinding, one he really needed after the long day he'd had.
"I have to admit," Sideswipe spoke up as they headed for the school. "I'm impressed you had the bearings to actually taunt Soundwave to his ugly face. Didn't think you had it in you, Jack."
"Eh," Jack shrugged, smelling something strange as he breathed in but electing to say nothing to the Autobot. "You learn a thing or two hanging around with you guys. Between you, your brother, Wheeljack and Smokescreen I've got some pretty good teachers."
"Heh." Sideswipe chuckled. "We try. We ride rough but we take care of our own. Try not to get too cocky though, kid. You're not cut out to rumble with the big bots full time."
"Oh, don't worry about that." Jack said. "I'll leave that to you guys. Don't tell Miko though, she'll charge right in with you…with a stick if necessary."
"You keep makin' big time enemies, your little aft's the one they're gonna come find, not her's. Careful."
"Thanks, cause I'm not nervous enough about tonight."
"Ah, you got this!" Sideswipe sounded cheerful. "And we got your back."
Then they arrived at the school and Jack tried to straighten his shirt, nearly having a heart attack as Sideswipe's hologram driver activated beside him. Sierra stood ready on the sidewalk, looking expectant and smiling widely as she saw Jack pull up in Sideswipe, the Lamborghini engine revving a few times as the Autobot enjoyed the envious stares he was getting from everyone.
"We have arrived, my squishy friend!" he exclaimed cheerfully. "Take a deep breath and greet your partner!"
Jack grinned. He really owed Sideswipe after this. Maybe he wasn't such a bad guy after all. Taking the recommended deep breath as his ride came to a stop, he opened the door and emerged to greet his gorgeous date, ignoring the strange dizzy feeling he felt right before he stood. All in all, it was the coolest entrance a kid like him could have ever made. He had never felt so suave in his life.
At least until he opened his mouth to talk.
Where once a mature, calm voice had been, Alvin the chipmunk now squeaked in its stead, the surprised look on Sierra's face remaining even as she burst out laughing.
"J-Jack!" she laughed hysterically. "Wh-What is th-that?!"
"Wh-What the scrap?!" Jack squeaked, hands shooting to his throat in horror. "Why does my voice…my…"
Dawning realization crept over him in infuriating waves, even as Sideswipe quaked with mirth beside him.
"You!" he yelled, the voice sounding about as threatening as a hamster with arthritis. "Helium?! Really?!"
"I'm sure I d-don't know what you're talking ab-bout." Sideswipe replied, struggling to get the words out around his laughter.
Jack aimed a furious kick at the Autobot's rear bumper and he peeled out with a squeal of tires, laughing uproariously and giving a teasing beep of his horn as Jack went back to Sierra.
"You okay?" she asked, still struggling not to laugh as Jack flushed red with embarrassment.
"You ever had that one friend you wanted to simultaneously hug and murder?" he replied, his voice slowly returning to normal.
She laughed again, taking his arm as they turned and headed for the entrance, the music inside already playing as they approached. Jack allowed himself a smile. It was going to be a good night indeed.