TFE

C16 Too Great a Price

Copyright 2007, masterfwiffo. All rights reserved.

Michelle grimly watched the scenery roll by. The return of the two MAESTR units told her that the battle had ended, but she did not know who won. Nor did she want to. The thought of one of her friends being hurt at the hands of these contraptions was not one she wished to dwell on.

She warily eyed Smith who was talking quietly over a radio with someone. She didn't know who, but from his words, it seemed he was discussing some sort of construction difficulties. Good, she thought bitterly. Smith had lost all semblance of reason, and she hoped the Transformers would triumph over his madness.

She sighed quietly, slumping back in her seat. Now Smith's captive, she had few options besides watch. She was bait, that much she knew. They wouldn't harm her. But her friends...

Thoughts of their safety continued to worry her.

---

Aidia sighed, and turned. Jazz was stable, that's all that mattered. Whatever weapon the humans had devised was devastating to a Transformer's outer armor. Jazz's had been nearly stripped, exposing vital circuits to heavy damage. Fortunately, Aidia and Red Alert's quick action had kept Jazz alive. Now, he was comatose, offline for an extended healing procedure.

She had been the last to leave the room. Evac had escorted Crosswise out, both clearly shaken by the damage done by those they had once called friends. Aidia wasn't sure who had it worse- Evac was nearly overwhelmed with a range of emotions ranging from fear, to shock, to hatred. But Crosswise seemed deeply upset, like the mere idea that Jazz could die had never occurred to her before. She had been trembling as she had left, casting one last forlorn glance at Jazz's body.

Optimus too had been silent, contemplative. Aidia was unsure what was going through his mind, but she could only hope he wasn't having second thoughts about their newfound Earthbound friends. Jazz's brush with death had affected them all.

Despite his wounds, Ironhide had remained in good spirits, doing his best to maintain a cheerful demeanor despite all the gloom. But the incident had clearly affected him as well. Even his good-natured ribbing seemed slower and more restrained then usual.

Aidia cast one last lingering glance at the burnt, broken form of a wounded transformer, and made her exit as quickly as possible. For a brief time, death had seemed far away from the Autobots, but now, with one of their friends on the verge of termination, everything seemed so fragile now.

She found Prowl mulling over a set of diagnostics, the scrolling words the only thing to illuminate his body in the darkened halls of the ship. After Aris's main personality had effectively disappeared, gaps and hiccups in the systems wiring were beginning to show themselves. It was simply not designed to function without a core personality for an extended amount of time - already, the lights had gone to a low-functioning dim in an effort to conserve power, casting the entire base in a dreary gloom. Now, it seemed that one bot would have to man the systems as much as possible. While Red Alert was most qualified, he was exhausted from the intensive surgery and repair effort Jazz required. That left Prowl as backup.

Aidia watched him check and recheck the various operating systems for a long time, then sighed, walking over to him, and laying a hand on his shoulder. Prowl cast a glance back at her by way of acknowledgment, then returned to his work.

"I don't suppose you can spare a minute." Aidia said softly.

"What for?" Prowl asked dully.

"I- I just need someone to talk to."

Prowl paused, glancing at her again. He still hadn't quite wrapped his mind around what Aidia really wanted from him, but the look in her eyes was one he hadn't seen before.

"I suppose these won't go anywhere." He said, his eyes carrying a soft smile as he paused the diagnostics. "Yes?"

Aidia faltered for a moment. "I really- I just-"

Prowl waited expectantly.

"I just don't want anything more to happen." She finally said. "I don't want anyone else ending up like Jazz. If we lost someone more, I don't think I'd be able to take it."

Prowl continued to just watch her, a curious look on his face.

"I'm just scared." Aidia finally admitted.

Prowl lay his hand on her shoulder, and looked her straight in the eyes. "It'll be ok Aidia." He said gently, with confidence that did not betray his own doubt on the subject.

Aidia sighed and pulled close to him, laying her head on his shoulder. She felt Prowl stiffen a bit, but ignored it. "Thanks for just being here." She said softly.

Prowl didn't know how to respond, so he elected to stay silent.

----

"I have to go back out there." Evac said quietly, staring at one of the many blank screens that now stood uselessly around the Aris's bridge. "I cannot let Michelle disappear again. Not after I've gone through so much to get her back."

Optimus sighed. "Evac... Please understand, but I cannot risk my men. After seeing what happened to Jazz-"

Evac whirled on him. "You would abandon her?" He said accusingly. "Leave her to rot and die alone? I thought you Autobots had higher values."

Optimus shook his head. "Don't forget, my ship's personality is captured too. Aris is every bit as real to me as your human friend. However, I am also commander of my troops. I must weigh risks against benefits, and right now, I do not see a way we can do this without endangering my men - or yours, for that matter."

Evac continued to glare at him. "So, improvise! Come up with a plan. One of those human contraptions could not stand up against more then one of us. They just caught Jazz off guard, that's all."

"But Evac, he's your friend-"

"He is. And he's lying in stasis over there now. You think I don't know that?"

Optimus remained silent.

"If it were any one of your troops, would you abandon them? Or would you go out and fight, regardless of the risks? Don't lie Optimus, you know as well as I what your course of action would be. So, will you or will you not help me do the same for one of mine?"

Optimus hesitated for a long moment. "Very well." He sighed. "We will help you, in whatever way we can. But promise me this; you won't go charging in without some back up. I'm in no hurry to lose any friends - and that includes you."

Evac nodded. "Thank you Optimus. I knew I could count on you."

"Let's just hope I don't regret it." Optimus muttered under his breath.

A moment later, the long-silent Com squawked to life. "Optimus," Jetfire's voice echoed, "Bring as many as you can. We've got a problem."

---

"All Autobots, report to the bridge!"

Aidia looked up in shock at the com. Prowl immediately let go of her and turned, heading toward the bridge.

"Wait!" Aidia protested, scurrying to catch up to him, and grabbing his arm.

Prowl stopped, and glanced at her hesitantly. "Later, Optimus needs us." He marched off toward the command center, trying desperately to ignore the hurt look in her eyes.

They reached the command center along and found everyone else waiting for them, even Ironhide, who was still looking rather roughed up.

Optimus glanced at them all, Evac at his side. "All right Autobots, listen up. Jetfire told us that the convoy taking Aris and the human has entered a large city, and he can no longer track them. If we want to find them again, we'll have to go in undercover. Unfortunately, that also means we'll have to split up, and that means anyone coming on this mission may be in very real danger of being caught by the human mechanoids unawares. Which is why I'm only taking volunteers for this mission."

There were quiet mutterings for a moment, but then to Aidia's surprise and horror, Prowl stepped forward. "I'll go." He sad quietly. "I owe the humans that much."

"You boys ain't going nowhere without me." Ironhide growled.

"Negative on that, old friend." Red Alert spoke up. "You're not recovered yet. I'll go in his place."

"The slagging heck you will." Ironhide barked. "I'm a going, or you guys will have to nail me to the floor."

Optimus chuckled warmly.

Aidia stared long and hard at Prowl for a long moment. "I'll go too." She said quietly.

Red Alert hawked at her. "No." He said firmly. "You won't. You're staying right here."

Aidia tried to protest. "But-"

"I'm afraid I have to agree." Optimus rumbled. "We'll need you to work the warp-gate system in case anyone gets in trouble and needs a pull out. We'll be relying on you to bring us home. Besides, if any of us end up in Jazz's condition or worse, we'll need your skill."

"But Optimus!"

"No buts. I'm sorry Aidia, but I've made up my mind."

Aidia stood there, staring at him and shaking with rage, before she turned, and stormed off. Prowl optics trailed her, and he almost turned to go after her, but felt Red Alerts hand restrain him. "Not right now." Red Alert said quietly. "You won't help. Talk to her after we come back."

Prowl nodded.

Optimus turned back to the only silent member in the room. "And you, Crosswise?" He asked quietly.

"She'll come." Evac stated flatly. "Come on-"

"I'm sorry Evac. I can't."

Evac paused mid-stride, turning back to face her. "What?"

"I- I feel like I need to stay with Jazz. I'm sorry, I know how important she is to you- but I, with Jazz like he is, I couldn't focus. I'd be no good to you. I'm sorry."

Evac eyed her warily for a moment, then nodded. "I understand. If we run into real trouble, will you take Omega to us to help?"

"Of course, Evac."

Optimus nodded. "Very well. Autobots, Roll Out!"

----

Smith's black car turned into a small alley, flanked by his two oversized escorts. Many curious stares had followed the MAESETR units into the city, but they remained free of harassment. The alley narrowed, and eventually came out into an empty lot in the middle of the bad part of town. Towering buildings surrounded them, but any windows that may have once looked out into the lot were long since boarded up. The car rolled to a stop, and Smith excused himself, leaving Michelle alone in the car with Ben.

As soon as he did, a large mech stepped up close to him. "About time you showed up." Jason Powers' voice called from within the wire-frame cockpit. "I've been bored out of my mind here."

"Powers!" Duke roared, "Get back into vehicle mode before someone sees you!"

"Who cares?" Powers wanted to know, but obeyed the order anyway, his MAESETR compacting back down into the jeep mode.

Smith sighed, shaking his head. These couldn't have been the best pilots they could find. But, burned bridges and all that. He turned to face Duke's machine and spoke up. "Here's the situation. We know we were trailed from our last encounter, and unfortunately, we have to find a way to stall for time due to delays on the other end. So, we're going to have a quick runaround with our robot friends for a time. We're staying right here until we're discovered, but we've got 6 decoys already spread out throughout the town. With a little luck, our friends will give chase for awhile."

"And what are we doing?" Powers demanded, well out of turn.

Smith glanced at him and shook his head. "YOU are staying right here in case we're discovered. Fairborne and Duke however, are on search and destroy." He turned to their machines. "You two will split up. See if you can catch one of them alone and unawares, and if nothing else, rough it up a bit."

Powers groaned. "I always get the worst assignments."

Under his breath, Duke muttered, "And there's a damn good reason for that." Then, projecting over his speaker, he said, "Understood. Come Fairborne, let's go."

Smith watched the two vehicles turn and head back into the crowded streets of the city, and calmly returned to his car. Michelle was waiting for him.

"What the hell are you doing?" She growled. "What is this?"

"Diversion." Smith answered. "We had to grab you fast, before the hospital released you, knowing we wouldn't be able to find you again. Unfortunately, our weapon's schedule ran into some unexpected delays, so now we have to stall for time."

"What weapon?"

"You'll see." Smith answered with a grin. "In due time, you'll see."

Up front, Ben gave a soft sigh, and continued to stare morosely at the wheel.

----

Aidia sat on the floor in the corner of the main control room, legs drawn up to her chest. She was sulking, she knew she was sulking, and she didn't really care that she was sulking. Forcing her to stay behind while her friends went out in clearly mortal danger hurt. It hurt a lot more then it should have.

As a medic, she was always the one left behind on these missions during the war. You would think that after a thousand times, one would get used to it. But she never did. It hurt each and every time she waved goodbye to some friends, knowing that she may never see them again. But this time, the pain was worse. So long with peace, quiet and friends had faded the continuing war to a distant memory, and with everyone on the ship that she cared so much for now in danger again, the harsh realities and memories of distant pain were brought back all the worse.

She couldn't bear the thought of not seeing Ironhide again, or Optimus, or Red Alert... Or Prowl.

Or Prowl...

"Hi."

Aidia glanced wearily up at Crosswise, who seated herself down beside her. "You look like you could use someone to talk to." The Earth bot said softly.

Aidia looked away.

"I know." Crosswise's words were gentle. "I'm worried about them too. Seeing Jazz nearly torn to shreds has brought up things I never wanted to think about."

"It shouldn't be so hard." Aidia managed to croak. "I'm a soldier. I've lost friends before."

"It's not something that shouldn't hurt." Crosswise answered softly. "But I wouldn't worry too much. Evac and Optimus can bring them back Ok. I know enough to trust them on that."

"Yeah..." Aidia said quietly.

The two lapsed into silence. Crosswise glanced at Aidia again, then pushed herself to her feet. "I'm going back to Jazz." She said softly. "I'll be there if you need me."

"It must be great, to have such a close friend like him." Aidia said, her voice barely audible.

Crosswise paused, then laughed softly. "You really are still young. Jazz is much more than a friend to me."

Aidia looked up at her, confusion in her eyes. "What do you mean?"

"Humans have an emotion they call love." Crosswise answered with a smile. "I'll let you discover that one on your own."

"I-"

"Come to think of it, you might have already." Crosswise winked, and then she turned and left, leaving Aidia to stare after her, strange and wondrous thoughts racing through her mind. But they were happier thoughts, so Aidia allowed them to remain.

----

Jetfire stood alone, grimly overlooking the city where the humans he had been tracking had vanished. A sound behind him signaled the arrival of his companions. He didn't bother to look back at them, just motioned toward the largest, most clustered part of the city. "I lost track of them in there." He reported.

"Thank you, Jetfire." Optimus said quietly. He glanced over the Autobots briefly. "Well, Evac?"

Evac didn't make eye contact. "Just go."

"Ok Autobots, listen up. Red Alert, Ironhide, Prowl, you three and I are going down there. We'll split up and start combing the city. Remain in vehicle mode at all costs, and if you see them, for the love of Primus don't go near them. Send up a signal. Jetfire, you and Evac wait here for the signal, and as soon as you see it, get there immediately. Everyone else converge on that location. Be careful, stay safe. Autobots, roll out!" Optimus transformed, and led his small convoy toward the cityscape.

Jetfire glanced at Evac. "Your friend better be worth all this."

Evac didn't meet his gaze either. "I don't expect you to understand. But would you not do the same for one of your own?"

"I dunno." Jetfire said grimly. "I've had to make a lot of hard choices during my life."

"And how many were the right ones?"

"Not as many as I would care to admit." Jetfire answered quietly, a distant look in his eyes.

---

Unseen to all eyes who would have peered at him, Sideways sat alone, perched atop the highest building in the city. His red face glowed evilly as he chuckled, surveying all that went on below with senses even Autobots could not begin to comprehend. He saw the small group of fools disperse into the city, and the two human mechanoids diverge in opposite directions. With some amusement, he watched as the two groups seemed to circle each other endlessly, never managing to contact each other, but drawing forever closer. Several times one of the Bots turned to follow a suspicious black car, and always it ended up a false lead, a dead end. The game continued on for what seemed like hours. Then one bot struck out on another angle- by some stroke of fortune, the correct one. Sideways leaned forward in anticipation. He was about to stumble in on where Smith and his one remaining human toy were waiting. This was where the fun began. Sideways leaned back and began collecting energy within himself, drawing in from the dark forces that now powered his spark. He was going to need it.

----

Prowl's highly sensitive audios picked up a recognizable voice among the constant chatter of background. Slowing to a crawl, he pulled alongside one of the buildings. An alleyway was in front of him, wide enough for one car to slide through - and close inspection identified that this alleyway had been recently- and heavily- used. Prowl moved in closer and re-adjusted his audios to hear what was going on.

"-oesn't matter what you think, they are enemies now." Prowl strained his audios - it was a male voice, one he hadn't heard before. But the one who responded was indeed familiar.

"Evac would never be our enemy." Michelle's voice was defiant, angry.

The first voice again, low and ominous. "You can't possibly understand what's at stake here."

There was some sort of protest, and then a door slammed. Despite Optimus's orders and his own better judgment, Prowl transformed, quietly sneaking along the walls to get a better view. Sure enough, as he inched closer through the shadows, the black car sat in a vacant, hidden lot. Besides it, the man who had been speaking stood grimly, staring up at the sky. Inside the car, Prowl could barely make out Michelle's form, her head bowed in despair and defeat. His eyes narrowed as he opened him com, preparing to signal -

When a clawed hand reached out and grabbed him, yanking him forward into the middle of the lot. Smith gave a shout, and quickly backed up against the door, and Prowl was barely able to make out Michelle's face watching in horror as a heavy foot pressed him into the ground. And from behind him, a voice cackled with glee. "This... is going to be fun."

----

Sideways saw Prowl go down. If he had the capability, his face would have contorted to an evil, sickening grin. "My turn." He chuckled.

A soft hum began to go through the city below. People on the street, in their cars, all stopped as it became louder. The Autobots and the human mechanoids all stopped in place as the sound began to grow with each passing second. Then the hum leaped twenty decibels into an ear shattering shriek, dropping humans to the ground as they gripped their ears with screams of pain, sending cars skidding into buildings and each other. Optimus Major was forced into a skid, and Ironhide managed to overturn himself was the sound ripped into their circuits. The human machines ground to a halt as their drivers gripped their ears, and Powers mech fell backwards as he reacted in surprise. Then the sound ceased, and with it, every communications device within a 10 mile radius, human and Cybertronian alike, failed completely and entirely.

---

Despite the pain his sensors were sending him, Prowl realized that with the human mech thrown into confusion, now would be his only chance to escape. Balance and audios still thrown off, he wearily climbed to his feet and stumbled back toward the ally way, and hopefully toward rescue.

Then fire shot up his leg. For a brief moment, he could feel the armor swelling, and then the explosion knocked him back to the ground with a shriek.

"You aren't going to get away from me!" An angry voice roared as a clumsy, but effect hand grabbed on to him and hurled him back into the lot. Prowl landed on the ground with a cry, and then another blast struck his chest, swelling it and exploding it outward, forcing a scream from Prowl's vocals. The human pilot's machine ran up and kicked him violently, sending Prowl sprawling. Prowl raised his weapon pointing at the mech. An then his eyes saw through the cockpit shield, the wild of eyes of the human piloting him. And he was given pause. A sudden flashback to another dark street, and what he had done there, how he had almost killed a human. The mech paused, as if waiting for him to fire. But Prowl could not do it. With a grunt that strained his systems, he pointed his weapon straight up into the air and fired, praying his signal would be seen...

----

"What the hell was that?" Evac cried gripping his head as his inner systems tried to re-adjust from the reeling.

"Frequency bomb." Jetfire swore. "Impossible, one that size would take an energy equivalent-"

"Forget it!" Evac cried. "It means they're in trouble."

"You're right." Jetfire growled. "Come on, we've got to round 'em all up." The two took the air and shot toward the city.

A moment later, a series of energy bursts caught their attention. "Over there!" Jetfire called, banking toward the signal. But then he was forced to stop and transform as something blocked his way.

Evac came up behind him and paused as well, his eyes narrowing on the short, stocky figure that hovered in front of them.

"Sideways..." He hissed.

Sideways cocked his head. "Hello Evac. Miss me?"

"Get out of our way!" Jetfire roared.

Sideways shook his head. "I'm afraid I can't allow you to go any further." He hissed, his form unfolding outward to a second, larger robot mode.

Evac glanced at Jetfire who nodded. The two simultaneously transformed, and shot off, arcing around the third transformer. Sideways chuckled, and then wrapped himself in light. A bright flash stunned Jetfire, and he barely had time to readjust his optics before Sideways visage slammed into him, pounding down into his nose cone, and sending him spiraling wildly towards the ground. Sideways vanished again, reappearing to tackle Evac at full force, throwing the Earth Transformer off his balance. Evac transformed, swinging his blade wildly at Sideways, who disappeared and reappeared behind him, slamming his body into Evac, and sending him bitching forward.

Jetfire recovered from the downward fall and transformed, jetting forward toward Sideways who disappeared again and reappeared behind him, his foot delivering a solid blow to the back of Jetfires head, sending him once again spiraling down...

---

Optimus carefully began working through the wreckage, taking great care to find a way to do it without transforming. But it was no easy task. Dully he noted the area surrounding him- the frequency bomb had caused a traffic disaster of untold proportions, with dozens of vehicle crashes within his vision range alone. For a brief moment the sight gave him pause, as he realized the effect that his war could have on the humans...

He shook the thought off as he continued to work through the debris, his wheels spinning as he tried to crawl over it. Then several flashes of light caught his attention. He saw a several flares fly up - a signal of trouble. With communications shattered and no better way to call for help, Optimus hesitantly transformed. His appearance sent scattered humans fleeing, but he gave no notice - he had to get to his comrades before something terrible happened.

He pushed the debris aside and started forward - then the ground erupted in front of him. Optimus whirled, gun leaping to his hand as one of the human mechanoids stared him down. Optimus studied the machine cautiously, trying to decide between fighting or making a break for his distressed crew-member, but the human decided for him. A barrage of fire sent Optimus diving for cover, cocking his weapons and returning his own flurry of shots at the human-piloted machine.

The human machine leapt aside with surprising agility, and to Optimus' surprise, charged away from him toward one of the buildings. Then with surprising speed and grace, the machine climbed up to the top of it, and immediately opened fire on Prime, who dove to the side while returning fire. Optimus grabbed an empty vehicle and pushed on its side, using it as a shield against the human mech's attacks. The sound of distant gunfire confirmed that one of his other men was engaged with another of the human machines. Optimus swore, praying that whoever had sent the distress signal would be all right...

---

Another kick sent Prowl sprawling, and desperately he sent another volley to the sky.

"Get up and fight!" The human pilot roared. "Fight, damn you!" He kicked Prowl again, and Prowl hit the ground with a groan.

From her safe vantage point within the black car, Michelle watched in horror as the MAESETR's foot came down on Prowl's back with a sickening crack. "Stop it!" She cried, whirling on Smith. "He doesn't want to fight, can't you see that!"

Smith ignored her entirely, too fascinated by the brutal assault unfolding in front of him. Michelle turned toward Ben, her eyes pleading. "Stop him, please!"

Ben ignored her, staring at the wheel in his hands, muttering quietly something about orders.

Powers' mech reached down and grabbed Prowl, hoisting him into the air. "What's wrong?" He hissed. "Is that it?" He slammed Prowl into the wall, the force of the impact shaking Michelle's very soul.

"I thought you robots would be harder to kill." Powers laughed, slamming his machine's fist into Prowl's face. "After all they told us about superior design and tactics, and this is the best you have to offer?" The cannon on his shoulder roared to life, and the energy blasts bisected Prowl, swelling and exploding all of his armor. Prowl collapsed forward, steam and smoke rolling off his body, which now resembled more a skeleton then any machine. He was on his hands and knees, staring weakly at the ground.

"Why won't you fight?" Powers roared, grabbing Prowl's arm and yanking it. Prowl let out a scream as his arm was pulled cleanly off.

Michelle squeezed her eyes close, unable to watch any more, as tears freely rolled down her face.

----

Jetfire spun in the air, firing wildly as Sideways continued to blink in and out of existence, reappearing from every angle possible, and slamming himself first into Evac, and then back into Jetfire.

Evac backed up behind Jetfire, swinging his blades at Sideways' form.

"He's stalling for time!" Jetfire cried. "Come on!" The Autobot transformed, shooting off toward where he had seen the flares, Evac hot on his tail. Sideways appeared above Jetfire bringing his blades downwards and cutting into Jetfires wing. Jetfire cried out, and turned, grabbing the wily robot. "GO!" He yelled at Evac, "Don't worry about me!"

Evac nodded grimly, and shot off toward the flares.

"Let go of me!" Sideways cried, struggling.

"Not on your life!" Jetfire roared.

"Have it your way." Sideways laughed, as energy seemed to shoot out from nowhere and engulf Jetfire, sending him sprawling backwards.

"HEY EVAC!" Sideways suddenly called. "WATCH THIS!"

Evac cast a glance backwards, just in time to see Sideways transform, and spiral down toward the city below, his cannons raining destruction over a wide path in the city. Evac saw the death, and let out a wild cry as he changed directions shooting toward Sideways his weapon already in hand. Sideways deftly disappeared as Evac sliced through where he had been a second beforehand, and reappeared behind him again. But Evac was prepared. Carrying through the momentum of his first swing, he spun so that his blades intersected Sideway's, locking them together.

As they struggled, Jetfire took the opportunity to shoot past them, still trailing streams of fire from where Sideways' energy burst had damaged him. Sideways saw him and gave a cry, disappearing from Evacs grasp and reappearing over Jetfire. He drove both his blades downwards into Jetfires wings, sheering them clean off. Jetfire gave a cry and went down, this time unable to stop his descent.

Evac gave a roar of rage and charged Sideways again as Jetfire hit the ground below...

----

Duke payed little attention to the fire-fight going on overhead, and concentrated all his fire on the Autobot below. He had heard of this one, that he was one of the leaders, and the skill this Autobot displayed in dodging and returning fire impressed him. Even from his perch high above the ground on top of a building, the Autobot was able to remain out of the way of his blasts. Impressive gunplay, he noted, as the Autobot returned fire again, ducking behind another overturned vehicle.

From his vantage point, he could see Fairborne engaging another robot, which was switching between emergency rescue vehicle and robot like lightning, in a mad dash to get away. Fairborne hadn't pinned her target down well enough, Duke noted. He'd have to talk to her later about that.

One of his blasts finally managed to score a hit on the Autobots' arm, swelling and exploding. Duke leaned forward as the Autobot gave a cry and stumbled backwards, clawing at his arm. Now, a couple more shots and-

A sudden cry of "YEEHAW!" caught his attention. Duke spun as from seemingly nowhere, a beat up red SUV shot into the sky transforming into a robot that tackled him with full force. Dukes machine stumbled backwards and fell from the building. Duke let out a shout as his machine hit the ground, cratering two cars in the process. Duke rolled, trying desperately to get it before the robot attacked again- but it apparently had no such plans. The robot ran to its leader, and both transformed and roared off at full speed. Duke wearily tried to figure out where they were going, and only then did it occur to him that they were heading towards Smith's vehicle...

----

Evac swung wildly at Sideways, always seeming to miss his opponent, who laughed and jeered as his phased in and out of reality between Evac's blades. Evac let loose a frustrated cry as his weapons continually missed.

"Aww, poor Evac!" Sideways taunted, "Unable to handle little ol' me. Why, you'd hardly think you were Primus's chosen!"

Evac ignored his words, not caring that he didn't know what they meant, and continued to swing.

"You can't beat me." Chuckled Sideways. "You're not good enough!"

"Shut up!" Evac roared, swinging at him again.

"You're not good enough to stop me, or save her!" Sideways continued. "One by one, all your friends will fall, until its just you, left miserable and alone, knowing it was your thick-headedness that lead to their deaths!"

"I said shut up!" Evac roared again, each attack missing by a wider margin.

"Oh, it's not easy, is it?" Sideways continued, his laughter growing into full blown mania. "It's never easy! You can't do it alone Evac!"

"Then how 'bout with a friend?"

Sideways whirled as Jetfire shot straight toward him, the last of his energy going into his boosters for one final charge. But the distraction was all Evac needed. His blade came down, slicing easily through Sideways who gave an agonized shriek. But even as the blade separated him, Sideways was dissolving, fading away, and soon he had disappeared entirely.

Evac came forward and grabbed Jetfire, who looked up gratefully at him. "Thanks." He said weakly. "Once those ran out, the only way I was getting down was by gravity."

Evac smiled halfheartedly. "Which way was the flare again?"

Jetfire pointed, and Evac shot off, still gripping onto the wounded Autobot.

----

Prowl lay on the ground, his air intakes doing their best to try and stem the hundreds of tiny fires that had broken out inside his systems. Pain shot through every remaining bit of his body, and it seemed the burning would never cease.

He weakly stared up at the being who tormented him so, the human driven machine that was once more reaching down to grab him by the throat. "All that hype for nothing." Powers' voice echoed through Prowl's head. "This was hardly worth the effort."

He threw Prowl's body aside. Prowl landed on the ground, weakly staring up at the sky. He had imagined that he would be seeing more right now. He had long since heard other Autobots talk about these moments, the concept was no stranger to him. He had heard about life flashing before your eyes, or latent memories your spark carried coming to the surface. But yet, he saw none of that. All he could think about, here at the end, was Aidia.

"Enough." Smith said, watching the fallen robot intently. "Finish it, so we won't have to deal with him again."

"No!" Michelle protested, "Please!"

Prowl's head turned toward her. "I'm... sorry..." His voice croaked.

Powers glanced at her, then at Smith, who nodded. He opened up all missile racks on his machine, and fired.

For a moment, Prowl's body sat there, missiles pierced through every point of his body, his eyes wide and his body arced in pain. Then as one, the missiles exploded. A strange, unearthly scream echoed through the city as a bright flash signaled the extinguish of an Autobot's spark, then all was unnaturally still.

---

Smith, the Black Car, the human mech, and Michelle were gone. The lot was deserted, but for the remains of one young Autobot. Evac, Jetfire, Optimus and Ironhide all arrived at the same time, and all were shocked into silence. Red Alert arrived a few minutes later, having finally shaken the pursuing human mech.

Optimus started forward, reaching down and quietly laying his hand on Prowl body, unable to believe what his optics were telling him.

"Call Aidia." He said quietly.

Jetfire protested, "Optimus our Comms are-"

"DO IT NOW."

Red Alert turned, getting to work on his right away.

----

"You monstrous bastard." Michelle hissed angrily through her tears. "You murdered him. He didn't even fight back! Why?"

"My orders were to contain the alien threat." Smith said stiffly. "Or eliminate them. They cannot be contained. One by one, they will fall."

"You would kill innocents who fought to protect us!" She cried.

"I would kill anything that stood in my way." Smith answered coldly. "Don't test me again."

Michelle sat there, shaking with rage, powerless to do anything more. Ben continued to drive in silence, unwilling to show that his conscience now conflicted with his duties...

And outside, Powers followed close by, a grin on his face. "That really was fun." He chuckled. "It blew up reaaaallly good. I can't wait to do it again."

-----

Once again, Duke found himself atop a building, staring down at the cluster of alien machines. Fairborne had found him after losing her target, then she had continued on ahead to the rendezvous point, while he remained behind for some recon. His MAESETR wait several blocks away, while he remained to do to basic work he had learned as a soldier so long ago. From his spot he watched as a blue light signaled the opening of a rift, and another machine stepped through, this one smaller, and white - one he hadn't seen before, with almost a feminine look to it.

She came through the portal, looking hesitantly at the others, obviously unsure to what was happening. Then her eyes focused on the one that was fallen. She gave a cry and hurried toward it.

Duke watched, and then hesitantly, reached up and turned on his sound amplifier, allowing him to clearly hear what was going on below.

"Wake up Prowl..." The female Autobot said, desperation apparent in her soft voice. "It's ok... I can fix you. I... can- Please- wake up- wake-" Her words were choked away by a sob, and that sob turned into a despairing wail that seemed to shake the very building upon which Duke sat - and his soul shook with it. One of the other Autobots, the white one that had turned into a rescue vehicle, came forward and took her lovingly and gently into his arms, like a father cradling his heartbroken daughter.

The commander of the Autobots watched, and slowly, he raised his hand to his head in a gentle salute. The remaining Autobots followed, grim looks laced with sorrow on all their faces. Then the great red and blue leader stooped forward, picking up the fallen robots body, and turned to the reopening portal, and together, the pack of alien robots carried the fallen away, the small white ones sobs still echoing through the city.

Duke turned away and hurried back to his MAESETR, mind reeling at what he had just witnessed. He had been in a war before. He had seen death, sorrow, and many such emotions - and all that he had seen reminded him of himself, his friends, and his losses.

And as those thoughts persisted, a sickening thought entered his head, and went straight down to his stomach. These robots weren't mindless war machines.

They were every bit as human as he was.

-----