We Have a Communication Problem
The shuttle flight was fairly uneventful, baring the fact that they were flying through a war-zone. Having been assured that the pilot was one of the best, Solarflare nonetheless prepared herself for a deep-space evacuation. She vented a sigh of relief once she was escorted off the shuttle onto the landing platform of Base Camp Phoenix, located in deep in the Delta-quadrant. It was here, on the far reaches of known space that the Autobots had chased their Decepticon foes.
Foul smells wafted off the tarmac, dark brown plumes ejecting into the air under the hulls of the ships. If they were going for the "crappy, under-manned base" look, well they nailed it spectacularly, the femme noted, stilling her intake as she passed by.
Flare forced herself through the press of repair crew, noting the long looks aimed at her appearance. Well, let them look; as long as she got to her destination, they could gawk at her wings all they wanted. The base camp was a hodge-podge of buildings and armaments, all thrown together with no sense of aesthetics. It wasn't as if they were planning on making this outpost permanent. But, if the Cons stay out there, Flare mused, grunting as a sharp elbow joint nailed her in a sensitive torso-joint, then they'll have to make it permanent. Maybe that was why Optimus Prime was here, the femme thought stumbling to a halt outside the base headquarters.
"Who are you?" a deep mech voice rumbled curiously.
Flare smoothed her pinions from their bated position and slowly turned around. It was going to be one of those encounters. A dark grey and blue mech taller than she stood behind her. "Chief Comm Officer Solarflare of Autobot City to see Optimus Prime," she replied smoothly, fishing her ID card from her right hip carrier and handing it over.
The mech didn't bother taking her card; he barely bothered to even look at it, hanging there from her taloned hand. "Prime isn't here," he told her tersely.
Yes, it would be one of those encounters, she decided. "He is indeed …" She inclined her head towards the mech, inviting him to give his name.
"Base Commander Frontline."
" … Base Commander," Solarflare continued as smoothly as she could, giving him a salute proper for his rank. The mech barely shuttered his optics. "They don't let me off-base, let alone off-planet for no reason, sir." She smiled winningly. Arrogant skidplate. I hope that title rusts out your boron compressor.
Frontline frowned. "Again, you are mistaken, soldier. Prime hasn't been here in solar cycles."
Not of her own volition, black steel pinions came up and framed her body, the plasma-tempered feathers rattling in response to her inner irritation. Solider! Ire rose in her synthetic veins, only to instantly cool as a familiar figure appeared without a sound from around a corner. "Then why, sir, is he standing behind you?"
Optimus Prime was as tall and commanding a presence as when Solarflare last saw him. His deep blue optics met hers and she threw him an elegant salute. The supreme Autobot commander patted Frontline on his shoulder strut. "Thank you for meeting Solarflare, Frontline. Please escort the comm officer to my quarters; I will be along shortly."
"Of course, sir." Frontline was all business now and saluted, turning to Flare. "This way." He made no attempt to see if she was following, and the femme decided he was upset at being tactfully admonished in front of a "soldier". She'd had her fair share of public reprimands, but most of those were in her early Ark days, and only a few once they'd transferred to Autobot City. He'd get over it. "Tell me, Comm Officer, how is it that you knew that Prime was here? No one outside of the upper echelon was told of his trip."
Flippancy was out of the question, so Flare kept her game face on. Too bad – the mech looked like he needed to lighten up a bit. "It's the nature of my job, sir. I also happened to be the one who intercepted the deep-space message. Optimus wanted to hear it from me personally." Which surprised the living Energon out of her, truth be told.
They passed a massive refuse pile, stocked high with old compressors and barrels of digested fluids. Reflexively, Flare covered her nasal slits; Frontline's lip components curled in what could be termed an amused smirk. "Not what you're used to, huh?"
Frontline nodded. "And what would the nature of the message be?"
Flare lowered her hand and fixed the commander with a small smile. "That would be confidential, sir." Nice try, though.
"Obviously it has to do with this outpost, otherwise you wouldn't have been sent here."
Sneaky S-O-B, she mused. But does he really think I'm going to give in so easily? "I'm not at liberty to say, commander." She faced him squarely, the tines of her helm upright.
The blue and grey mech studied her for a click, then nodded. "All right, comm officer. You win. Here is Prime's office. Have a pleasant stay." He pointed towards a non-descript shack – there could be no other term – and immediately walked away.
Some commander, Flare snorted and set both hands to the rusted iron door. Did they find him in the scrapyard? The inside of the hovel was better-decorated than the outside – outfitted with the latest units. A small table with a larger chair sat squarely in the middle. What looked to be the Cybertronian equivalent of a curb-side couch was shoved to one side. It was definitely Optimus' office – there was the same stack of data pads and charts strewn over the table and papered on the walls as there had been in his old office back in the City.
Flare took up residence on the couch, wincing when several rivets dug into the spaces between her upper thigh and hip plates. She shifted to the far corner and perched, hands folded over her knee spikes. She didn't have to wait long; the door swung open on rusty hinges and Optimus Prime – ducking – entered. He closed the door with his shoulder and turned to face her, brow ridges canted upwards while he shook his head. "Not the City, but they haven't had enough time to properly outfit the post. Still, it is shielded." He walked over to the table and sat down, folding his hands over the top. "Your message was very cryptic, Solarflare."
She flashed him a rueful smile. "I'm sorry, sir. But I consulted with Mirage, Trailbreaker and Ultra Magnus and they all decided that it was for the best." She stood up and crossed to the nearest comm unit. "If you could load my first message?"
Optimus turned in his chair and wheeled up beside her. While he called up the message, Flare pulled a plate from the side of her neck and extracted a thin cord. Once the message was on-screen, she inserted her cord into the comm's data-port; the jolt of connection rocked her, briefly disorienting her system. Codes embedded deep into her core consciousness unlocked, one by one, in the presence of their complementary components. The flow of information implanted into her cortex streamed away like blood, leaving her drained at the end of the transmission. Breaking the connection, Flare stumbled away from the comm unit before collapsing on the couch. There, she sat with her head between her hands, the cord dangling from her neck like a limp fish.
Time flowed around her as if she were a rock in the middle of the river – present, but unmoving. After an undetermined moment, a hand touched her shoulder strut. Slowly, Flare lifted her head; a pair of deep blue optics were inches from her nasal ridge. "Are you all right?"
Gently, Flare touched the side of her head. "Y-es, sir. I've never done anything like that before. I wasn't prepared." The hand didn't move and the optics continued to stare into her very spark.
"Yet, very brave."
"It's … my duty, Optimus. That … and I didn't trust anyone else with the information."
The mask lifted in a version of a smile. "I knew I made the correct choice when I assigned you to communications, Solarflare. These figures confirm my assumptions that Galvatron is assembling a force greater than we anticipated in this sector." He paused. Flare took that moment to stuff the embarrassing cord back into her neck. "What I did not believe was that he would be leading it himself." Prime rose and crossed over to the table. "I need you on the next shuttle back to the City, Solarflare. Take this disk and give it to Mirage and Trailbreaker. But, before you go, I need you to set up a tight beam to Magnus for me."
With her cortex cleared and equilibrium back to normal, Flare shot to her feet. She took the thin, plascard-like disk and slid it into subspace. "I'll need the codes, Prime," she said, taking position by the comm unit.
"Magna-Heaven-Alpha-Baker 1826, priority Red."
Nodding, the grey femme set the sequence into motion, bouncing the signal off of the lone satellite, masking it as an errant transmission. She typed as Optimus dictated and sent it out into space. It was picked up several clicks later by Cybertron computers and verified. When she turned around to confirm the sending, Frontline was in the room, being briefed by Optimus Prime. "… a shuttle for Solarflare prepped and ready to go," the huge supreme commander was ordering. "All personnel on high alert. The attack will not come from the front, but appear to."
Frontline nodded. "Aye, sir." He snapped a salute and all but bolted from the room. Prime sighed and made as if to collapse in his chair. Yet, he remained standing. Wide-optic'd, Flare remained with her hand on the console, the other rising to touch his shoulder. But she couldn't. It wouldn't be proper … Those days were gone.
"Has it been sent, Solarflare?"
His back stayed away from her. "Make for the shuttle, now, Solarflare. Magnus should be preparing the armament shipments as we speak. You will have to be back at the City to deal with all the cruisers coming in."
"Aye, sir." It was a dismissal, and she was long-accustomed to them. She stepped away from the console and started walking towards the door. No … She stopped and spun on her heel. Optimus looked up from his charts, unfathomable thoughts in his optics. Last time, there had been no good-byes. Swiftly, she touched his arm. "Good luck, Optimus." And sprinted for the door, leaving her commander and friend to his plans.