Author's Note: This story was written as a semi-commission/request for a dear friend. Flamestrike is her intellectual property and the tale is posted with her permission. Any haranguing will be politely ignored – as with any commission, you are working for someone else. :)
Autobot City, circa 2000
"Ironhide to City Tower."
"City Tower reads you, Ironhide. We've got you on radar."
"Evenin' miss. How's the skies?"
"As clear as they can be. Cosmos reports nothing unusual in the vicinity. We're scanning all frequencies as we speak."
"I can see the ol' bobble out th' port screen. Approachin' Earth space in a few clicks."
"Acknowledged. Sending Skyfire and Aerialbot contingent to meet you at the rendezvous point."
"See ya in a bit, darlin'."
The bulky red mech in the pilot's chair switched the comm off, letting silence fill the cabin. To his right, a lighter-red, blockier mech was fiddling with the scanning equipment. "I've got Skyfire on comm if ya wanna chat, Ironhide," he said.
"Not unless he's got somethin' int'resting t' say," the older mech returned with a laugh.
From her vantage point right behind the gruff mech Ironhide, Flamestrike could see the round, blue-green globe that was her new post growing increasingly larger in the shuttle's view screen. A thin trickle of trepidation ran up her steel spine, but was quickly banished by the prospect of a new venture. She'd heard so much about the new front of the Autobot-Decepticon war that when the call came for more troops to be stationed at Autobot City, she'd been one of the first to lay her sigil on Elita-1's desk.
While that first transfer of troops had taken several months to shift, containing over forty highly-specialized personnel in addition to one hundred regular maintenance, this shuttle held but twelve Autobots – and she was the lone femme.
—Not that her cortexal gender had anything to do with her posting, mind. Still, the brown-red-gold femme was slightly proud to have been selected by Elita herself and approved by Optimus Prime, the Autobot commander. While not one to praise herself excessively, Flamestrike privately wondered if her skills as an espionage agent, the only one in the five bands around Iacon with a perfect record, had anything to do with it. She thought that might have been one of the influencing factors. However, even with her credentials, she no real understanding of what her position on Earth was going to be. The planet was a wild, organic place, with a dominant form of life embroiled in an interstellar war that wasn't theirs to begin with.
"Skyfire here. Welcome back to Earth, folks!"
Torn from her thoughts, Flamestrike peered over Ironhide's shoulder as the deep, soft voice came over the comm. "We're glad t'be back, partner," he drawled, reaching over the main console to flick several switches. From deep within the shuttle, a whine rolled along the floor, heralding the emergence of the main guns. Around her, the mechs were rising in their seats, going for their weapons.
The sudden prepping of artillery had the old rust-red mech turning in his chair. "Hey! Put those away," he barked. "It's just a precaution."
Placidly, Flamestrike gazed around her, noting the sheepish expressions on the mechs' facial planes. She supposed being on the front lines had to turn someone trigger-happy.
"Keep 'er level, 'hide," Skyfire continued, blissfully unaware. "Do you read Silverbolt?"
"Read 'em and note 'em," the other mech returned. "Ironhide to City Tower."
"City Tower here," the same femme voice replied. "We read you, Ironhide. Sending out the beam now, Blaster. See you when you land!"
"Later, Flare," the blocky red mech Blaster promised, spinning dials with a fervent passion.
Moments later, the shuttle began to shake with the shock of entry. Peering over Ironhide's shoulder, Flamestrike watched as a brilliant coalescence of reds, golds and whites enveloped them, spreading over the burnt orange protective plating. Both mechs had their hands on the controls, deftly steering them towards their intended target.
Once through the upper atmosphere, Blaster lowered the shuttle's protective shields, allowing the passengers to finally see Earth. Flamestrike rested her left arm on the sill, shifting her spoiler so that it rode low on her shoulders in order to peer outwards. Darkness covered this part of the world, sparkling pin-points of light the only indication of habitation. In the distence, a giant mass of illumination heralded Autobot City. It was towards this centerpoint that the shuttle was streaking, the roar of the engines never more potent in Flamestrike's audios. Running counterpoint to the spark-deep rumble was the higher whine of the five jets that seemed to drop out of the clouds and surround the shuttle. Through the darkness, Flamestrike could barely make out the Autobot symbols on their wings.
As they dropped further through the wispy cloud cover, the jets pulled off as one, flying into the night. "Landing gear engaged, Ironhide," Blaster was murmuring. "Beam locked on."
"Hold onta yer skidplates, mechs'n'femme, we're goin' down."
Flamestrike had survived bombing runs, but the shaking of the shuttle almost jarred her armor off its exoskeleton. She found herself clenching her dental plates so badly, her jaw servos protested.
The shuttle tipped left, then slightly to the right, the boosters cutting in half, then by another half. With a deep roar, the craft tilted backwards and she both heard and felt the impact of wheels on landing strip.
And then there was silence.
Some mech in the back set up a cheer which was quickly taken up by the other passengers, save for Flamestrike. To her, it was a rather well-exectuted landing, nothing to celebrate. The pilots had done what they had been sent to do. While Ironhide and Blaster ran through their post-flight diagnostics, Flamestrike stood up and began to rummage around in the overhead bin for her carry-on; the rest of her meagre belongings were currently sitting in the hold … which, by the sound of things, was being excavated.
"Opening hatch," she heard Blaster mutter. Behind her and several rows back, a pneumatic hiss and a rush of air told her just as much. It was then that the world of Earth came rushing into the shuttle. Flamestrike paused, her hands locked around the handle of her carry-on; a sweet, warm breeze blew through the hatch, bringing with it a myriad of scents and sounds.
"Welcome t'Earth," Ironhide announced, standing up and folding his arms over his boxy chest. "Step orderly now."
Tugging her luggage free, Flamestrike followed the other mechs down the ramp and out of the shuttle. As soon as her feet cleared the ramp, her optics caught sight of Autobot City in all its evening glory. Over a thousand points of light eminated from the massive installation, the roar of water over generators echoing in the darkness. The femme had just enough time to make out a shadowy figure standing in a glass-enclosed tower before being ushered into the building proper.
Just inside the City, the new arrivals were met by Ultra Magnus, the massive City Commander. A shorter, grey-colored mech stood by his side, holding what appeared to be room keys. The Commander made short work of his welcome speech, much to Flamestrike's relief. She was travel-weary and would've liked nothing more than to settle in her new quarters and make sense of everything. She also had to decide what her new alternative mode would be; when she had been picked for duty, she had been told that there would be some reformatting if your Cybertronian altmode was deemed too "alien" to provide acurate cover on Earth. Holding the form of a sleek, tri-wheeled sprintster, Flamestrike was one of those marked for change. Not that she minded; some of the mechs had protested, but it had to be done. She'd been told that officials would provide enough catelogues for her to choose from.
Patiently, she listened to the City Commander's explaination of the layout and was ready to take her key from the grey mech when Ultra Magnus added something to the end of his speech. "Now, I know that all of you would like to get some recharge time in before your formal orientation tomorrow, but there's a 'mixer' tonight in the gymnasium. It's an opportunity for you to get to know your comrades in a neutral setting. I encourage that you attend, but it's not mandatory. Bluestreak will lead you to the gym if you choose to go; I shall walk the rest to the soldiers' barracks."
"Are there gonna be femmes there?" some randy soul called out from the safety of the back. Ultra Magnus peered down at them from his lofty height, folding his blue and white arms over the great blue expanse of his chestplate. His huge steel blue optics narrowed.
"This is a mixed facility, and all of you will act according to your rank and your faction. Optimus Prime does not take transgressors lightly," he warned in a low tone that brooked no argument. There was an embarrassed suffle in the back; the City Commander nodded, effectively ending the conversation.
In twos or threes, the mechs began to disperse, only four of them taking the keys from the fresh-faced Bluestreak. Flamestrike waffled on the edge, indesisive. Ultra Magnus, taking her silence and non-movement for a decision, called the mechs to order and began to lead them to the elevators. With a grin, Bluestreak handed out the remaining keys. "Just follow me," he announced, launching into a long-winded history of Autobot City's founding and various tales of the Ark warriors – of which he was one. Having left her carry-on with the others' on a wide trolley and no one left to lead her upstairs, Flamestrike had no choice but to high-tail it after them.
The soldier in her appreciated the construction of the City; the agent in her remarked on the subtle faults. Bluestreak led them through the main bay and up into the administration level before taking a swift left. Two wide bay doors were thrown wide, letting the heavy pulse of many mechanical voices filter out into the hallway. The mechs went in eagerly enough, but Flamestrike was less enthusiastic. As she casually stepped through the doors, Bluestreak gently caught her upper arm. Quizically, she turned.
"I was to give this to you," he said, pulling a thin card from subspace. Puzzled, she took it, turning it over and above her head to read. It was nothing more than a temporary passkey to the comm tower. In response to her twisted lip components, Bluestreak grinned. "You're to meet with Comm Officer Solarflare tomorrow at 0800."
With a wave, he left her at the entrance, almost cavorting into the throng. Flamestrike pursed her lips, looking once more at the passkey. Was she being reassigned? There had been nothing to indicate such change – and she had been picked because of her skills. A little more than disgruntled, the femme took one more look into the fray, swallowed her pride and stepped into what she would later learn was controlled chaos – City-style.
There were several representatives of the native top-species (humans) present. They merely nodded in her direction, some with pleasant smiles, before turning back to their servo-popping conversations with some Autobots. Others were up on a small jury-rigged stage on the opposite side, dancing with a few mechs and femmes. Music, loud and harsh to her audios, blasted from this area. Spoiler drooping, Flamestrike looked around for a place to sit. To her chagrin, there were few chairs and those that she managed to spot were already occupied. Slowly, she made a circuit of the room; at the end nearest the stage sat a long, lithe white and blue mech, feet propped up on a crate, an arm slung around the back of the chair to his left. As she neared, she saw that he was watching the action on the raised platform with a certain degree of amusement. Turning to follow his gaze, Flamestrike saw the object of his attention: a strange grey femme with massive wings was being dipped, spun and gyrated against with various levels of enthusiasm by a huge, stocky yellow mech. To this white-blue mech's right, a green mech with pleasant, soft features, leaned over and muttered something in his audios; the other mech tipped his head back and laughed, a low affair that nevertheless carried.
"Excuse me," she said to the white-blue. "Is this seat taken?"
The mech's optics flickered to the stage and up to her; his generous lip components quirked. "Apparently not." And he slung his arm off the chair back, tipping it towards her.
"Thank you. I'm Flamestrike, by the way."
The mech looked at her outstretched hand, then shook it, almost as if contact were an afterthought. "Mirage. This is Hound. You're one of the new arrivals, I take it."
"Just this evening." There was a roar from those gathered around the stage; Flamestrike looked up to see the grey femme being spun in a tight circle by the yellow mech, her wings fanning in and out with grace. "Who's that?" she asked, jerking a thumb.
"Flare," Mirage replied, shaking his head at her antics. "And Sunstreaker."
Across from him, the green mech Hound chuckled. "You better get up there, Raj. You know she'll want one dance with you."
The white-blue mech shook his helmed head and grinned ruefully. "I know. It was nice meeting you, Flamestrike." He stood with a grace and fluidity that surprised even her. With purposeful strides that took him into the heart of the crowd, Mirage reached the stage and held up one hand while gesturing to the side with the other. All too used to sudden changes in her environment, Flamestrike was the only one not to "ooh" when the lights blacked out, then slowly rose to a delicate dusky ambience.
"Showoff," she could hear quite plainly in the silence that followed the mood change. On-stage, the huge golden mech had his arms crossed; the grey femme smiled and reached down for the hand Mirage offered her. In one smooth motion, Mirage took her by the waist, spun her and planted her strange pyramidal feet on the dance floor.
"I take it they're a couple," Flamestrike found herself remarking as alien music filled her audios and Mirage and Flare were swallowed by the rest.
Hound grinned. "Very." He leaned across the empty space. "You don't dance, do you?"
Cocking her head to the side in a gesture that had Hound grinning even wider, she indicated the negative. The green mech shrugged. "Ah, well." He got up and scooted to the empty chair, stretching his legs out as far as they could go without being trampled upon. "What's your specialty?"
"Not bad," he murmured in reply. "I'll have to introduce you to Bumblebee sometime. He could give you some pointers on how to maneuver around Earth."
Resettling her spoiler, Flamestrike nodded absently. Glancing at the green mech out of the corner of her optic, she pulled out the passkey. He seemed open enough. "Would you mind telling me why I have to see this comm officer tomorrow? I don't mean to sound rude, but I have nothing to do with communications."
Hound took one look at the thin plas-card and chuckled. "Oh, Flare sees all the femmes who are stationed here. She's senior, you see."
Flamestrike's brow ridge creased. She looked at the card and then across the dance floor to where the grey, winged femme had her head on Mirage's shoulder, her charcoal lips moving softly. "That's Solarflare?" How could they expect her to respect and honor the requests of a senior who seemed to enjoy publicly humiliating herself?
Hound leaned back, eying her. "Yeah – Flare, Solarflare?"
"I never had a use for nicknames."
The mech's optics narrowed shrewdly, drastically altering the pleasant set to his facial planes. Flamestrike was momentarily taken aback by this sudden show of proprietariness. "Let me tell you something," he began calmly, trying to alter the disapproval in his vocalizer by forcing some gentleness. "We were all deep in it on Cybertron; we're still deep in it here. But every now and then, a mech's gotta turn himself or herself loose. You'll find that out soon enough. Don't judge Flare too quickly by what you see here. Meet her face to face and come back to me later."
"Sure," she replied, getting up with a soft good-bye before exiting the chaos that was the gymnasium.