Only in These Dreams
Setting: 5 years post-Great War. 2205 AD.

The snow underfoot was crisp, pure white and perfect for sculpting. In this pristine forest, the only unnatural object to bruise its beauty were her feet; five-foot long pyramids picking through the drifts, following a more rectangular trail. She found him kneeing in the snow, studying with great interest the paw prints of a grizzly.

"He's gone north," the gentle green tracker observed as she approached. Hound stood up, not even bothering to dust the caked-on snow from his kneecaps and lower legs. Reflectively, he turned his head, gazing off through the trees to the mountains beyond. "The herds usually don't go this way."

Delicately, Flare stepped around the tracks and drew to the Jeep's side. "Perhaps it's because of all the chaos that they've had to endure?"

The Jeep turned towards her and favored her a slow, sad smile. It was easy to succumb to Hound's quiet charm, his farm boy demeanor. With a warm smile of her own, Solarflare slipped her arm around the tracker's. "How much farther?" she asked, trying to see the trees for the forest.

Hound cocked his right wrist, checking the holo-map that sprouted above his joint. "A few more nanoclicks. Where's Arcee?"

Flare chuckled, flicking her crest backwards. "About five clicks back. I told her that she should use my footprints, but she preferred to slog."

"Ah, well, it's not as if we have any Decepticons to worry about. This way, my lady."

The grey femme nodded her agreement and stepped off with the tracker, through the blanketed woods, towards the iron grey mountains beyond. The warm air from her ventilators puffed before her, rising above her head like an angel's cloud. Darkness came early this high up, cloaking them in velvet. Though Hound was correct in saying that after the war, there were no Decepticons to menace them on Earth, Flare still kept alert, ready to drop the Jeep's arm and go for her pistol at a moment's notice. It would be very hard to drop that hair-trigger attitude after two hundred years.

She, Hound and Arcee were one of many small groups canvassing Earth, searching for hidden Decepticon strongholds and the artifacts that they might contain. Optimus Prime and his council firmly believed (and early reconn reports after the declaration of peace had all but confirmed) that there were no more of Megatron/Galvatron's warriors staked out among the hills and mountains, the seas and oceans. But one couldn't be too sure that everything was gone. And so, parties were sent out to set the final nail in the Decepticon Empire's coffin. This small cluster of mountains in Alaska was one of the locations dragged out of Soundwave before he had been sent to Cybertron for his final trial.

Flare considered these treks but one small price to pay in the advent of peace. She would slog through muck and mire, flood, fire and storms to make sure that the taint of the Decepticons was erased from the Earth.


Against this white-coated landscape, searching for the last remnants of universal evil, they walked on.

Full dark fell upon them and Hound, as group leader, called a halt. At the base of the mountain range, Solarflare built a fire and Arcee dragged some fallen timber to use as benches while they warmed their oil over the cheery flames. Across the fire from the two femmes, Hound sat in the snow, more at home with the elements than either of them; feet to the blaze, he rested on his hands, looking up at the sky. The stars were so clear here, so beautiful, it was easy to fall under their spell. This splendor was one of the reasons he chose to stay here instead of going back to Cybertron, as many of their fellow warriors were doing.

He listened with half an audio to Flare and Arcee chatter amicably, which was a great leap from the cool attitude they had presented each other many years ago. A chill arctic breeze flowed through a small pass in the mountains, down upon their little camp. The bonfire fluttered and flared, tossing flamelets into the air. As one, the two femmes looked up; the firelight played differently upon their metallic forms. On Arcee, the glow only enhanced her curves, her plating colored a deep rose all over. For Solarflare, her sharp lines were made even more stark, augmenting her avian appearance.

Just as suddenly, the wind died down, and the femmes chuckled, holding out their hands to the flames as humans were wont to do when cold. Hound smiled a private smile and lay down fully, resting his head on his arms.

A short time later, there was movement to his right. Arching a brow ridge, the tracker lifted his optic shutters to find Solarflare perched nearby. "Did I wake you?" she asked. A quick check revealed that Arcee was propped against one of the fallen trunks, her optics dim in recharge, her fingers resting lightly on the stock of her thick-barreled pistol.

"No," he replied. "What's up?" And he rose to one elbow, attentive.

Flare curled her arms around her spiked knees and propped her chin on her forearms. "Arcee and I were talking about what we were going to do after everything is put to order," she began, giving the tracker a slow smile.

Hound laughed. "There's not a day that goes by that Mirage isn't filling my audios with his plans."

Playfully, she swiped at him with one taloned hand, grazing his grill. "That too. But there's something he hasn't told you." Hound cocked an eye ridge, her words carrying a cadence of seriousness despite the warmth in her voice and the smile on her facial planes. "Before we left, Mirage and I had a long talk." Here Solarflare paused, her optics becoming reflective; quickly, she grinned. "We decided to create a child. You're going to be an uncle in about a year, Hound."

A child? Offspring? Hound looked at the grey femme, hardly able to comprehend but for his joy. "But … Vector Sigma is inoperative," he stammered through his grin.

Solarflare's crest flicked assent. "We didn't want to wait until the new Creation Matrix is able to fully tap into Vector Sigma, so Mirage suggested that we try spark fusion." She tapped her chestplate. "A little bit of him, a little bit of me, and a little bit of chance."

Hound sat back, pondering. His optics asked the question he could never utter aloud, or over commlink: But your spark container … your personality … it can't leak …

Safe, she signaled back with a flick of her fingers. Safe. She patted his hand, the contact reassuring.

"Well," he said after a moment's reflection, "this will be something new … for everyone. Though, I can't see Raj as a doting father." He winked.

"You'd be amazed," she replied, stretching, rotating her shoulders and popping a servo or two. "Anyway, I feel the need to see the inside of my shutters, so I'll take a quick nap before we head on." She looked over at where Arcee had stretched herself out by now, and then down at Hound. The green Jeep, his cortex still trying to process the information she'd given him, opened an arm invitingly. With the ease of their long and loving brother-sister relationship, she curled her herself into the crook and slowly shut down.

Hound waited until he was certain she was deep in recharge before turning his thoughts to her announcement. He loved kids – there wasn't a school trip or function he hadn't tried to weasel himself into attending with Spike or Daniel, or to be a guide for tour groups. The way that Solarflare said "child", he was certain that they would be going for a blank slate, a pure mind to be molded by nature and nurture. Thoughtfully, he turned his head and looked upon the femme's peaceful facial planes. After all they had been through, she deserved such happiness … and with that small thought, part of Hound wished that it could be his.

"Why not me?" he remembered asking her so many years ago, in a rare fit of envy and emotion.

Shock, then sadness draped her sharp facial planes. " … Raj needs me more than you," she'd said at last.

After that, the matter had been quietly dropped, never to be mentioned again. Indeed, he'd long forgotten that dark moment until today. Philosophically, once more, he weighed the merit of her words. He didn't need a companion as badly as some might; he was rather content with his wanderings, but now and then, he wished to have someone by his side, as stalwart as Solarflare was to Mirage.

With a low, bitter-sweet sigh, the tracker leaned backwards. Almost as if in response, Flare's fingers wrapped around his wrist, reminding him of what he had. The future was before them all; time enough to find that lucky lady.


Solarflare caught the cable thrown up at her by Arcee and fitted it into the relay she'd erected atop one of the smaller peaks. Down below, Hound was sifting through a mound of snow that was, at the moment, larger than Grimlock. Just after dawn, the three rose, cleared camp and began their trek towards the icy denizens of the far north, following the codes stripped from Soundwave's databanks.

"I've got a signal, it's weak, but it's not going anywhere," Flare shouted down.

Below, Arcee dusted off her hands, looking up at the frozen symbol that had suddenly appeared with Hound's last dig. "You think you'll be able to tap into the database here?"

"It's not that different from ours. I just have to be on the lookout for viruses. I don't the prospect of cybersurfing through old Decepticon software, though."

"You did get that upgrade, right?" Hound asked, leaning on his shovel.

"Yeah, I still feel like I shot a gallon of Listerine through my cortex."

The gentle green tracker chuckled and began to infuse some of Wheeljack's experimental lubricant into the cracks of the door he'd uncovered. Just as Solarflare was finished scrabbling down the steep and icy slope, Arcee completed her rewiring of the door's mechanics. The huge portal, unused, untouched and certainly without maintenance for at least half a century, groaned. It took the combined strength of three iced-over Autobots to get it slide properly into the recess above their heads.

"Arcee, you first, then Solarflare. I'll hold the end," Hound instructed, glancing into the darkness and flicking on his headlights. Blue-purple metal, grimy with disuse and coated with layers of ice, winked back at his initial inspection. Reply came in the form of three pistols being cocked; Arcee slipped one long pink and silvery-white leg over the threshold, peering about before easing the rest of herself across.

"All clear," she radioed, moving forward cautiously.

Flare stepped inside, optics searching, pistol arm at the ready. Decepticon strongholds, like their Autobot adversaries, were uniform in décor – though swapping purple for orange. However, they had different ways of going about defense. The Autobot way was to disarm and retain; the Decepticons were less gentle. If they needed someone for information, they out-right captured them; intruders were systematically destroyed. So, that means claws, sabers, lasers coming out of the floor …, Flare ruminated as she stalked the hall behind Arcee, the pink femme scanning for hidden dangers. Or, we could be really lucky and bet on the ice to have frozen everything solid.

"LOOK OUT!"

You know, there's a reason why I don't play poker, Flare thought in a surreal moment as the passage behind them began to shudder and large purple plates began to retract, revealing several substantial scythes, all spinning in vicious circles, I never win …

Arcee spun around, knocking Flare aside and began to shoot at the scythes. The grey femme slid up against the wall, scrabbling upright with Hound's aid. "Let's go!" he shouted in her nearest audio.

Arcee's blasts echoed along the long passage, a tunnel that seemed to have no end in sight. Distantly, as she ran, Flare swore she could hear the dull roar of water over the harsh clanging of her huge feet as they pounded the mauve metal.

"OHHHHHHHHHHHH NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO …"

A chance look over her left strut saw Arcee running with all her long-legged might against the torrent of water that was spilling from a hole in the ceiling. The river surged forward, overtaking them in mere moments. In a moment of panic, Flare's world was filled with hysterical thoughts of drowning until her body obliged to remind her that she had the option of shutting important valves. Once a semblance of coherency regained control, she did just that; still, her body was being turned and tossed every which way but towards the surface. Through the blue-grey haze, she could almost make out Hound by the spinning of his headlights, and Arcee, by the way the light bounced off of her plating.

The current pulled her along, the fast-moving waters boring into the thin cracks in her plating, into sensitive joint apertures; it pulled her further and further from her friends. Turning, turning, Flare reached out with blind hands, trying to secure purchase on the corridor. Her talons scraped metal, thin ribbons curling under her onyx fingertips before floating away on the fast current.

Water pounded against her, tugging at her wings in a vain effort to drag her into oblivion. Bits and pieces of shattered blades knocked into her, tracing thin cuts in her grey armor, providing an excuse for the water to enter her body. Flare squirmed, gritting her dental plates against the pain. I … can't … dear Primus, I can't hold on! One large "wave" slammed into her chest, ripping her talons free and pushing her with vicious force into a structural support.

PAIN!

The moment she hit, Flare felt something within her head snap. Not only did something shatter, it broke loose and dropped into some unknown cavity inside her titanium skull. I've … suddenly turned into a popper, a little voice noted rather calmly, divorced from the rest of her cortex. They're going to pry open my helm and all these little plastic marbles are going to fall out.

Flare lost her tenuous hold and spun down the corridor with loose parts rattling around and not knowing exactly what they were. She was pushed, pulled and tumbled around in a manner that reminded her of a washing machine.

Icy waves, no doubt fueled by the mountains themselves, slowly sapped her of strength, retarding the give and take of her Energon pump, turning the oil in her silicon veins to sludge. For a femme who had survived one death and battled for two hundred years against another, this was an insult.

Against the maelstrom, she might have seen a pair of glowing eyes, but she was pushed around and saw nothing more.

When will this ever –

A grip, firm and crushing, latched around her upper wing. Crying out only served to allow ice water into her mouth cavity, increasing the sensation of drowning. One more thrust of the waves and a tug on her aching wing had her swinging around to come face to face with Hound, the tracker's visage covered with a transparent mask that protected his receptive sensory circuits from the elements. As she swept under, Hound nodded to something over her shoulder; against the crash and roar of the waters, a low moan, such as that of a blue whale, shook her body with its emanating waves. Through cracked optics already icing-over, Flare watched as a huge panel above their heads was slowly cutting them off from the raging river.

Metal groaned and whined, protesting against the punishment the water-trap was inflicting on its mechanics. Had her own system not been messed with as well, Solarflare may have been sympathetic; now, all she wanted was it to get down – fast.

A moment, then two, and the gate was down. Now without a source, the water within the chamber began to slowly disperse, swirling into several large grates set into the floor. Riding the sagging wave to the floor, Flare was grateful for Hound's steady grip around her waist. Across the gate's expanse, Arcee turned towards them, as battered in armor as Flare felt. Once the water level was below their neck guards, Hound flipped his mask up and stared at the gate's bulging sides. Though shut, the never-ending flood was still trying to reach them, drown them in its icy embrace.

Feet on the icy, slick metal, Flare sagged against Hound and proceeded to throw up all the accumulated ice chunks that had found their way into her tank. "It's not going to hold," Arcee observed, her usual confidence undercut by the biting cold and sluggishness in her veins. She threw Solarflare a sympathetic gaze, showing the large welts in her upper arms, chestplate and legs. "I lost my guns in the deluge."

"Me, too," Hound said, keeping Flare upright. "Flare? Are you okay?"

Panting through now-open valves, the grey femme tried to convey her condition with a half-shake, half-nod. Her limbs, normally-infused with skin-like warmth, were bitter cold, leaden. She felt like a cartoonish parody of her usual self, all movement in slow-motion. It's … like that time … in … where? New – London? New … Brunswick? New … new … frag.

"Arcee," Hound queried, still holding onto the grey femme's strut, "is it going to hold?"

His answer could be found in the groaning and whining of a gate that wasn't supposed to be operated in this manner. Already, several rivets had popped loose and a small trickle was running down the purple face. Arcee frowned, rubbing her upper arms in an unconscious imitation of the humans. Her next words confirmed Hound's suspicions: "No. There's too much water. Maybe if we hit this place years ago, when the storage tanks were lower … but now? Primus only knows how much is up there."

The pink femme paused and looked at Flare, her blue optics passing over the senior's condition. "Flare, can you use your lasers on the gate? If we seal it, we'd have more time to find a way out of here."

Having thrown up everything in her tank, so that a brown and pink puddle mixed with the icy trickle at her feet, Solarflare was in no mood for talking. She was often perturbed at the humanesque reactions to a hit in the torso, or swallowing too much high grade, but it made sense: her system could not process such things and was built to reject them. A punch to the torso activated her tank's eject response.

"No," she whispered, her whole body giving into a shake that flung droplets everywhere. "Gone, broken." Waving Hound off, she teetered on her feet. With an unsteady hand, she reached into her subspace pocket and pulled out a thin vial that contained several white pills. Mom always told me to never take Tylenol on an empty stomach, she thought wearily, popping the vial's rubber top. Well, we'll see what instant anti-freeze does to my system.

By no means intended to be a car or transport vehicle, Solarflare had never been equipped with an engine as her companions had. She didn't need it, with her animal altmode and boosters providing the power she needed to get around. In that assessment, Ratchet, Wheeljack and Perceptor had made one grave mistake – not providing her with the tools to keep from freezing into a grey statue. She'd never considered the implications until a trip with the Twins proved that she was susceptible to cold weather – especially if she made a quick transition from heat to chill. Now she carried a vial of pills that mimicked the effects of Cybertronian anti-freeze; these had to be processed through her tank, taken orally instead of through her fuel lines, where "digestion" would see that it found its way into her system.

With trembling taloned hands, she shook one pill loose and dropped it down her throat. The oblong object rattled the entire way down before it hit her tank with an audible clang.

"Here."

Arcee pressed a small flask of oil into her senior's hands. I underestimated her, Flare thought as she gratefully sipped of the low-grade oil. We could have been friends a long time ago, but we were so stubborn and intent on our posturing that we overlooked the better qualities. "Th-ks," she murmured, downing the liquid almost to the dregs.

Almost immediately, she felt the effects of the anti-freeze take hold; her joints' lubricants were free to flow, allowing her to stand without a bow-legged appearance. For good measure, she took another, wiping the back of her hand across her mouth. Now, if only I could see properly, she lamented, viewing their tiny world as if from behind permanently-cracked glasses.

"Don't mention it," the pink femme returned with a slight smile. Her features quickly slid back into their concerned mien. "So, what are we going to do?"

"I don't quite know," Hound said after the slight pause in conversation. He looked over at Solarflare. "I heard something rattle; shake your head." Flare did as he asked, wincing as pieces of golden glass tumbled free. Two marbles danced around in the space between her central processor and her optical sensors.

"I'm going to look for a plasma torch," Arcee said at last, walking through the swirling puddles. "And a way out."

While the pink femme went hunting, Flare decided that she was better off sitting in the morass of her own metal bowels than trying to recalibrate her system on her feet. Hound sniffed around the perimeter, putting the tips of his sensitive fingers to the gate's vibrating wall, trying to gauge how much time they had before the lesser Earth metal gave into the deluge. Through optics cracked and crumbling, the protective glass shattered, Solarflare watched, flicking her crest and fanning her wings to get the "blood" flowing to all extremities.

Moments later, Arcee came tromping in, irritation lining her light pink facial planes. "No torches," she reported upon her companions' query. "But I did find another – locked – gate."

"Any comm stations?" the grey avian asked, wincing as another rivet popped loose and hit her in the left audio dial.

Arcee shook her head. "None."

Gritting her dental plates, Flare spun both arms in a set of quick rotations, feeling the last of the stiffness vanish and her equilibrium swing into place. "Okay, let's go."

"We need to solder the gate first, Flare," Hound reminded her.

"With what?" Arcee interrupted. "I looked everywhere."

Hound frowned with concentration, his gaze turned inward behind the blue glass of his optics. "Give me your arm, Flare," he instructed, reaching for her right. Confused, the avian femme watched as he tapped the faint lines that hid her mini fire pellet guns, then asked her to retract the plate. Doing as she was bid, for the first time since her activation, Flare felt every servo, every gear turn in accordance with her mental command; similar to metal tendons, the pistons raised the upper portion of her forearm up and slid the plate backwards. At the same time, three small barrels rose from their recess and extended outwards, the miniature muzzles irising open. "These might work," he mused.

Puzzled, Solarflare extended the barrels further over the black of her wrist. "Hound, they're pellets, remember? It'll eat away, not solder."

At her side, Arcee brightened. "There were some rebars in the back. Let me get them." She was there and back in the time it took for three more rivets to blow, two hitting Hound in the back of his blocky forest green helm this time. Flare suppressed a giggle as the tracker frowned and reached up, stuffing two fat fingers into the holes.

"Here," the femme warrior said, handing the three thick rebars over to Hound.

The tracker took them, spinning them around in his hand, undoubtedly checking the quality. Puzzled, Solarflare turned to Arcee for direction. "You're going to fire and I'm going to aim," the other femme asserted, wrapping her slim fingers around the bottom of Flare's forearm and raising it up, almost to the point of shouldering her limb as she would a rocket launcher.

AIM? Flare thought indignantly, her thoughts conveyed to her facial planes. Arcee noted the shift, smiled and shrugged, maneuvering around the shorter femme to make the best use of her arm. "Sorry, Flare, but you're not the best shot here."

The grunt that came from the depths of the avian's chest was purely self-indulgent. Having the Universe's best sharp-shooter as a mate made sure she was always conscious of her ability with a firearm. These thoughts were interrupted by the sensation of Arcee tinkering with the connections inside her wrist. Looking down with a certain amount of horror, Flare watched as Arcee loosened a plate free on her own right arm and was fitting two thin cables into the ports under her silvery skin. The whole procedure was fairly invasive, bordering on intimacy. Arcee, on the other hand, saw nothing more to the ordeal than a means to their watery end.

With the connections complete, all Flare had to do was shift in time with the pink femme while she leveled her arm in line with the rebars Hound now held over the gate's cracks. Arcee's previous assessment of her own skills with a firearm were not exaggeration – while not up to par with Mirage, the femme's ability was amazing. She managed, through the shared connection, to accurately send the three small pellets into the tip of the rebars, melting the sub-standard metal and fusing it into the cracks of the higher-quality gate. Dark strands of smoke, acrid with a hint of sulfur, floated through their small enclosure, coating the high ceiling with streaks of black by the time they were done.

Molten metal, red at the center and grey-black at the edges, cooled around the perimeter of the gate. Hound was left with nothing more than three small stubs, which he tossed into the corner, watching them get pushed by the last light trickle that ran down the barrier's face.

Arcee gratefully disconnected Flare's wires from her own wrist, setting them neatly back into the grey femme's arm cavity. "Maybe we should all put in for a blowtorch accessory, huh?" she quipped, tipping her head towards the rear of the room, where their exit lay.

"Hmph," Flare grunted with a smile. Already, she was pulling a thin cord from the left side of her neck in preparation to interface with the portal's unit.

The trio sloshed through gently swirling pools to the back of the chamber. The room itself was a mess – unpacked crates were strewn about, random tools lay atop benches and old, broken consoles. Briefly, Flare inspected these, looking for any data crystals that might have been left in their slots. She found two; though they were broken and spoke of lost information, she pocketed them into subspace. Anything of the Decepticons' was worth saving even if it contained the littlest bit of information.

The door Arcee had found was larger than the first – possibly a bay portal or an entrance to a warehouse, if this smaller room was anything to judge by. As Solarflare was about to enter the unit attached to the door, Hound laid a hand on her shoulder. With a puzzled twist to her lips, Flare looked up into the tracker's square face. "Don't get too deep, okay?" he told her, giving her strut a squeeze.

"This'll be the only time I don't," she assured him, hesitating a moment before slamming the cord home. The false bravado proved unnecessary and the lock easily broken. Within seconds, Flare pulled back, crest and wings fanning in approval as the lights upon the lock blinked in succession then turned a deep red.

With a bellow, the bay doors swung into their recesses, hissing and spitting steam from several corners. The three Autobots slid to the sides, weaponless but for Flare's wrist-guns, Arcee's long legs and Hound's shoulder-cannon. Arcee was the first to slide her head around the corner, and she blew air through her olfactory sensors in appraisal. "We hit pay dirt, guys."

Flare stepped around the corner, her optics widening, brow ridge up and crest arched in surprise. They had stumbled onto a comm room/warehouse. A long line of consoles with a rack holding a tiny row of data crystals, tracks, holos and pads took up one side of the room. On the other side, hanging from the high-vaulted ceiling, stapled to the wall or laying on the floor were stolen human aircraft in various stages of scrapping and retooling.

Hound walked up and down the line of planes while Arcee marched with him, muttering their names under her breath: "F-15, A-10, F-16 … B-52 Bomber? …"

Flare took the opposite wall, sliding into the lone, hard chair and wheeling up to the console. Her talons tapped with barely-contained excitement before she reined enthusiasm in with a curt reminder about Decepticon booby-traps. Systematically, there was little difference between Decepticon and Autobot technology, having sprung from the same Quintesson source. However, where Autobots were linear, dutifully organizing their information, Decepticons tended to throw everything onto one screen as if comm-work was a never-ending testing of their abilities. Before she could dive into this treasure-trove, she had to make connection with the little relay that had set up that morning … Was it really only a few hours ago? she wondered with a shake of her head.

Images appeared on-screen, frosted and barely visible through the layers of snow and ice that covered the external cameras. Flare typed away and was rewarded with a small blip to the right of her main screen. Bingo, she thought with an amused smile.

External power: 35 and climbing, the comm told her in the jagged Decepticon version of the Cybertronian script. 45 … Connectivity: 50.

Spinning dials and tapping keys with an ease born of long hours, Flare soon had maximum power running to the small relay. "This is Comm Officer Solarflare. Repeat: Comm Officer Solarflare reporting from the Alaskan Decepticon stronghold. Do you read?"

" … zzzzzzzzzzzshhh … zshhhzzssssshhh … zzzzsshhhh-d. I-zsssh … zzs-ver."

Connectivity: 60 – 55. Interference.

Wings mantling over the back of the chair, Flare flipped a switch and threw a small level. Turning back to the main screen, she watched as the connectivity percentage gradually rose to 65, sank to 62 and then rose again to 70. There's no way I can control it from the outside, she realized. Lifting her left hand, she pulled at the cord in her neck and fed it into the underside of the console. Instantly, she was thrown into a whirlwind tunnel, data and other scraps of digital information swirling past her inner optic with a velocity to which she had long grown accustomed. Free-floating among the cyber-flotsam, she located the relay connection. Gradually adding her own digital self into the conical image, Solarflare called out once more.

"… zzzhsssshh … Say again, Comm Officer? … interference. We're reading a … storm."

From within the bowels of the Decepticon console, Flare automatically corrected data paths, increasing the strengths of some while diverting others. "Read me now?" she queried, checking the status of the hold's power supply with another part of her cortex.

"Why … yes. Almost clear. One moment, officer, we're going to bounce your signal off of Cosmos. Let me know if you can … in quality – now."

In front of Flare, the cone that represented the connectivity between the console, relay and answering unit in the Petaluma, CA substation jumped twice its previous size, glowing yellow. "Much better," she affirmed, and began outlining their findings, all the while keeping an "eye" out for cyberspace defenders.

A second voice, a femme's, joined the conversation. "I've sent your data to Autobot City. Trailbreaker passes on his congratulations and will be sending a recovery shuttle within the hour. Are you able to exit the facility?"

"Let me check the layout …" Flare spun in cyberspace, opening a window to her left, keeping a strong enough hold on the connection. Using the base's security system, she pinpointed their location as well as confirmed that there was indeed an exit in the bay. "Sending schematics."

"Received, Comm Officer," was the instant reply. "Are you able to crack the code on the main doors?"

Solarflare paused, skimming the data. If only we had Prowl … she thought, old grief tightening her Energon pump. "No. Have your cryptologist link through me."

"These systems are old, Officer. Can you sustain a dual link and maintain your connection with the relay?"

"I'm feeding off of the residual power supply as we speak," she returned, checking the status of her own energy reserves. They were stable, but dropping a quarter of a percentage for every five minutes she remained linked. Back at the City, she had no problem balancing her levels by feeding off of the power supplied by the huge water turbines. Here, she risked downloading some unseen Decepticon virus if she accepted a complete link-up.

The femme on the other end seemed dubious, but she replied, "Connecting you with Cryptology, Comm Officer."

There was no way to gauge her time spent within the Decepticons' computer; it could have been mere minutes or hours. By the time the Petaluma cryptologist had succeeded in his breach of the bay doors, Flare's energy readout was low. With a passing complement to the team, Flare began to break down her connections, slipping out of the cyber-realm and into the real world.

Hound was standing by her shoulder as she disconnected and stretched from toe to pinion. "Did it work?" she asked conversationally, swinging her legs back and forth, stalling for time while her system woke up.

"It's been open for about an hour," he replied with a smile. "There's a shuttle outside, too. Arcee and I have been helping to load all the small equipment."

"I sent the schematics of the place to the Petaluma relay station. There's a lot more under this mountain than I thought."

Hound nodded. "They said as much. Trailbreaker sent a larger team, so we can board the shuttle and go home as soon as you can walk." And he winked an optic shutter, holding out his broad green-plated forearm in one of his usual gallant gestures. "Oh," he said as she got up and they began to walk slowly towards the open bay doors, the chill Alaskan wind blowing through, "we're being rotated out. Prime sent down more civilians from Cybertron. They'll be taking over for us."

Flare blinked. "We're being …"

"Retired," Hound finished with a smile of longing. "Optimus is coming in tomorrow."

Retired. The word and all its implications floundered around in her exhausted cortex. "I … can't believe it," she whispered. "Hound, did you ever think that it would have finally come to this? After all this time?"

The solid green tracker paused at the ramp to the shuttle, nodding to the personnel loading and unloading various equipment. Arcee lounged against the orange wall, watching the progression with passing interest.

"Only in my dreams," Hound admitted.

Slipping a little through the snow, grey femme and green tracker ascended the shuttle's ramp, ready to go home.


A/N: Yes, this was based off of a dream I had some weeks ago. The only elements present in this story from the dream are the animal prints in the snow (they were originally cat prints in the parking lot of my childhood home), Solarflare soldering the door shut, and the presence of Hound and Arcee. What did I learn from the dream? ... Well, I found how it feels to be made of metal.