Alien
Chapter Nine

By Dreaming of Everything

Disclaimer: I do not own Transformers.

Author's Notes: To be a little melodramatic, the end has come. This is the last and final chapter of this fic. I am not planning a formal sequel.

…And the astute among you will have noticed the 'formal' in there. I am starting a string of oneshots set in this 'verse, collected under the title Alien: Not Over Yet. Once you see the first chapter up, feel free to pop on over there—and perhaps make a few requests, if there's anything in particular you want to see. At this point, I am open to suggestions!

I will also be putting up an "encyclopedia article" about the not-really-Cordyceps figs on my writing livejournal, dream-it-all (dot) livejournal (dot) com, if you're interested in reading it.

Finally, thank you so much to all my reviewers for this fic: my first story for Transformersverse, my most OC-intensive story ever, a big long mess of a not-really-action but definitely gen fic, and a great ride from start to finish—for me, at least, and judging from my reviews, for some of you as well. Thank you!

And a big thanks to mmouse15 for betaing!

oOoOoOo

The funerals took a long time: the speeches were all being translated, from English into Portuguese or from Portuguese into English. Mikaela wasn't crying, but her eyes felt oddly dry and prickly. Next to her, Sam was clutching at her hand, and she was gripping back just as tightly. A few chairs down, Kristine was crying quietly.

A lot of people had died. It was more—immediate, than it had been before, with the battle for the Allspark. People had died then, too, but not as many, and there had been a personal grief: less so for Sam and Mikaela, but they'd known Jazz, too, with the sort of familiarity that comes naturally from fighting a battle, one you know you might lose, with someone. This time, nobody they had known had died. The scientists, the Autobots of course, even the soldiers given guard duty who knew about the Transformers—all of them had lived. Instead, it was faceless Brazilian refugees and misplaced tourists.

Mikaela had recognized one of the women sobbing over a coffin: she'd talked to her in the hallway, once, with Sam. She'd been slightly stupid, well-meaning and with her husband: now her face was lined with inconsolable grief. It had torn sharply into her mind, a sudden stab of her own pain.

They'd cremated the bodies. The coffin the woman was crying over wouldn't have anything but ash inside it. The risk of spreading infection had made it necessary.

It was a greater tragedy, and less personal, and that made it hard to bear. And Mikaela couldn't help but feel responsible, feel that she could have done more. That she could have saved more lives.

oOo

They'd been running searches all week, travelling further and further away, with the base as a zero-point, combing the forest for infected figs. The searches were, in Irene's words, "mind-numbingly thorough." They didn't want to risk anything. The breach that had occurred at the base had been bad enough.

The scientists thought that they had a cause for that, though: a ravine that had never been fully investigated by the Autobots, too steep and overgrown for them to traverse easily. The vines had run into the walls surrounding the refugee camp and home base of operations and been baffled. Blocked by the wall, they hadn't attacked anyone, remaining undetected and simply spreading until the root system had gotten under the compound.

Then they'd been defenseless.

Nobody was going to make that mistake now. Nothing was getting past the new searches: they'd found dozens, possibly hundreds, of new clumps that had been eradicated by the teams that had been organized, made up of an Autobot and a handful of supporting humans.

Much to Kristine's disgust, the government and the Autobots continued to dip into her duffel bag of jab sticks to form Transformer-usable syringes.

They only discovered the meteor craters on the fifth day, and even then one of the soldiers had been wounded by the time they fought their way through to them. It had been the thickest wall of infected plants they'd found, and Ratchet had been wary.

He had ordered the humans to back away and was investigating the craters himself when the back-up they'd radioed for arrived.

"Good timing," said Cahler brightly as Nimbus pulled into the clearing, letting out another four soldiers. Solarity circled the area once before touching down lightly, transforming in midair to land next to Ratchet. "We've just finished working our way through. Ratchet wants the humans over here, though. I think he's found something."

There was a slight shiver of sound and Ratchet's saw made an appearance, slicing cleanly through one of the meteors.

"Holy shit," someone muttered.

"What's happening?" asked Solarity, peering over his shoulder.

"I think there's another infected patch over there," Nimbus said, eyeing a portion of forest over to one side.

"Damn," said another soldier tiredly. "I wish we'd stop running into this stuff."

"As my dear dead mother, God rest her soul, used to say," said Cahler, face comically straight, "'If wishes were fishes, no one would starve.' Or 'If wishes were horses even beggars would ride.'"

"Cahler, your dear dead mother called last night to remind you to write her letters, wash your socks and find a nice someone to settle down with."

"Whatever, smartass. That's merely semantics."

Their captain ignored them with long familiarity and addressed Nimbus with an ease that had grown over the week. At the beginning, he'd jumped whenever the ex-Decepticon had spoken, and then been increasingly angry with himself for his reactions. Now, he was almost comfortable, even with Nimbus, who was the most visually frightening, with the more aggressive, spiky Decepticon build.

"I think we should wait for Ratchet and Solarity to finish, and then go at it together," he said.

"I agree," said Nimbus. "This area's the worst we've seen. It's not a good idea to split our forces. I'll find out what Ratchet's doing and then double-check with him."

What have you found? He sent silently to the other Autobot.

There was a long moment of silence before Ratchet replied.

I need to get back to the lab. The scientists need to see this. We can come back to finish this tomorrow.

The medic sounded serious enough that Nimbus didn't question him.

"We're heading back," he said simply. "I think Ratchet's found something."

oOo

Sam was woken up by the noises caused by multiple people running through the hallway outside his room, pounding on doors and shouting. He looked blearily at his cell phone, sitting on the rickety Brazilian-government-issue bedside table: three in the morning. He groaned with sheer frustration and slumped back down on the bed.

Five and a half minutes later it still hadn't stopped, and he decided to give up. He searched out a pair of pants and the shirt he'd worn the day before, pulling them on in the nearly full-dark room and then stumbling out into the hallway, squinting against the bright lights.

"What's going on?" he asked William, who was walking quickly past him, down the hallway.

"We think we've discovered something about the fungus," the elderly botanist said, voice intense. "We—the scientists—have been told to meet at the main research building—" which meant the Autobot building, a sort of joke "—in five minutes, for an explanation. You can probably find something out in the morning."

Sam shrugged sleepily to himself. He certainly had no desire to listen to complex scientific discussions he almost definitely wouldn't understand. He'd bother Irene for a Science-to-English translation in the morning or something.

In the meantime, he was going to sleep.

oOo

Irene was positively beside herself with joy. "Ahah! Alien! I knew it!"

"We're never going to live this down," sighed Keats.

"Who'd have figured that her crazy who'd-of-thought? alien organism theories would have turned out correct, right?" agreed Kristine, sighing. "Well, I mean, besides me, once we figured out the whole lack-of-ATP deal."

oOo

"Ratchet wants us carbon-based creatures safely outside," said Irene lazily as Sam approached her and reached for the door knob to the Autobot building.

"Why?" Sam asked, turning away from the door to face her, curiosity and concern, or at least the potential for it, mixing in his expression. "Bumblebee said he'd like to head out for a drive after his shift finished… Has something new happened? Does this have to do with all that noise last night?"

And cue expression switching to all-out worry, thought Irene, somewhat dryly, to herself. Out loud, she said "Oh, yeah, William mentioned he ran into you last night. Ratchet thinks he found something—there's this one spot, probably the epicenter of this whole disaster, absolutely rotten with infected figs, and smack-dab in the middle of that was a meteor crater. Ratchet has the meteor holed up in there for tests, and—from what I can gather from non-scientists, IE Gyro, and not-trained-in-organics quasi-scientists, that is, Solarity, yelling through the door, there's essentially some sort of… Well, alien virus inside it, only even more dangerous, because viruses just warp DNA and subvert cells to their own evil purposes. Actually, ignore that last bit, let me try this again."

"Sure," said Sam willing, confused but also amused—which wasn't all that unusual around Irene, all things considered.

"Alright, then. Viruses are not-really-alive, not-really-not-alive packets of DNA that take over cells, right? This alien-thingy does something similar. No DNA, of course, that's an earth-specific gimmick, but it's designed to copy whatever systems it comes in contact with, within certain parameters. Well, not 'designed,' but you get the point. In this case, it first came into contact with spores from some Cordyceps or other, and they happened to be dusted over a fig plant…"

"That's… That's crazy! How does that work?"

"Says the person who has a giant-robot-cum-car as a friend. An unnervingly humanoid one. How's that for parallel evolution? …Or parallel something, anyway, apparently asexual giant robots don't have a real parallel for evolution at all, except for post-creation modifications, and those were only undertaken once the basic template had been more-or-less established, at least according to what Coldfront was telling me. Of course, the Autobots also have what amounts to definitive proof of Intelligent Design for their own species, at least, so I suppose this wasn't the best argument at all, really…"

"You really are great at blundering around blind in the Forest of Confusion after you lose track of the mostly-overgrown trail that is your train of thought," interjected Kristine, mock-impressed, turning the corner to join the other two.

"Psh. You're just jealous of my genius. Anyways, Sam, in conclusion, you shouldn't be surprised by anything at this point, and Ratchet doesn't want us in there while he's working with the meteor because he's not sure that all the not-really-virus things are all 'dead'—and I use quotation marks around dead because they aren't really alive in the first place—and we really don't want those things to end up mixing with, oh, let's say for example, humans."

Sam shivered slightly. "Okay, that makes sense. If Bumblebee sticks his head out or something, could you tell him that I went to find Mikaela to tell her about all of this new stuff?"

"Sure. It's not like I've got better things to do—and I'm being serious when I say that, for once."

oOo

"So you want us to do a panel," said Irene flatly. "Why, exactly?"

"I've been talking with the Autobots," said Keller. "They've agreed to reveal their presence to the leaders and top-level government officials in other countries, presumably because they're hoping for cooperation with other countries as more Autobots arrive, not to mention Decepticons, and that works better when said countries also know they exist. At the same time, I need to inform the rest of the world about these figs, because of the potential risk—and so that we hear about it if anything else like this shows up.

"So we're doing a combined video-conferencing—well, web-conferencing, I can't keep up with all these changing vocabulary words, seems like you get used to something and then it's outdated—meeting to inform them about the two things. In fact, we're using the fact that the Autobots were involved with the figs and our struggle with them as the reason they're being introduced. The diplomats and politicians will be gathered together in a secure location, using a single secure line—we don't want the potential for anyone to hack into this—and you'll be on the other end, at the end of things, to answer questions about the figs, and probably to add a little reassurance about the Autobots. Are you willing to do this for me?"

Irene sighed dramatically. "Why not? I'm not free for a day or two, still, and I might as well cast light and understanding into the darkened world while I'm at it."

There was a moment of dead silence, and then Evan tried—and failed—to stifle a giggle.

oOo

"Any questions?" asked Irene brightly, smiling at the panel of still-shocked high-powered world officials. Being able to help with the sort of lecture they'd just finished presenting—privately, she thought of the title as "Giant Fucking Robots, Evil Space Viruses, and You'—almost made up for being forced to dress for the occasion. You just couldn't face the leaders of half the world in jeans and a t-shirt with your hair down, no matter how much you hated wearing suits and doing anything to your hair more professional than a pony tail. Even if it was a video conference.

Keats, seated beside her, subtly knocked her elbow with his arm. Hmmm. The agreed-upon symbol for "stop looking so smug." And she thought she'd been doing well, too…

"So you're sure this… Space virus isn't a threat anymore?" asked the British Prime Minister, looking extremely unamused.

"There's no threat of it bonding with another species," said Irene. "Evan? Would you explain?"

He shot her a panicky glance—Irene bit down on another smirk. She would be hearing about this later.

"The receptive state appears to be triggered by the heat of entry into a planet's atmosphere," explained Evan carefully.

Yep, definitely nervous. "Once that's triggered, there's only a short window of opportunity for the virus to connect to a carbon-based organism. If that doesn't occur, the… 'virus' dies off. Once it's bonded with something, it can't alter that DNA—or DNA equivalent, in the case of another planet—anymore than you or I can alter ours. William, would you like to cover the spread of the altered Cordyceps through fig populations?"

"The Cordyceps infection is easily spread through direct contact with other figs, but only once the plant spreading the fungus has made contact with another infected plant. Under ideal circumstances, an infected fig plant will produce a fruiting body, more or less equivalent to a mushroom, but the odds of the spores it releases infecting a new fig are minimal, and the odds that the newly-infected fig will meet up with another one within the span of a few days even less likely. If it doesn't, it will die."

"How do you explain the evolutionary circumstances that would bring about an organism that's made to spread between planets?" asked one of the Chinese representatives through an interpreter.

"As of this morning, we think it's a biological weapon created by a now-extinct alien race—there are a few snatches of information that make it fairly likely, if you go back far enough into our records," interrupted an apparently disembodied—and not quite human-sounding—voice. Several governmental representatives jumped or twitched, and they all looked distinctly unnerved.

"Ratchet?" asked Keats, looking amused. "Is that you?"

"Yes."

"This is Ratchet," William introduced to the roomful of people on the other side of the camera; his voice had a distinctly sour note to it. Dr. William Curtis did not take well to unexpected interruptions, even ones presenting qualified information. "The Commanding Medical Officer of the Autobots. He probably would have been present for this meeting, but he's too big, like the rest of the Transformers—except for Gyro, who's on patrol." And also not a good choice for anything that required diplomacy, but he wasn't going to say that.

"So you hacked into the system or something?" asked Irene, sounding terribly amused.

"We got permission first," cut in Solarity, the slightest hint of mock-reproach creeping into his voice. Several of the politicians and diplomats jumped visibly—again.

"Fine. What were you saying again, Ratchet?" William clearly wanted to get on with this.

"I've been searching through our records, and there's a few mentions of an alien race, now extinct, that had been locked in battle with another civilization a few solar systems away. Their primary weapons were often non-specific in their targets, but were also designed to only be harmful to carbon-based life forms, so our scientists at the time took little interest in them. The species probably responsible for this were hydrogen-based; there's a fair amount of research on their biology and its implications on their culture, but not much else.

"The material of the meteor could possibly originate in that sector of the galaxy, and it's in line with the little reliable information we do have about that species; it's our only reliable guess at this point, since it's extremely unlikely that something like that could have come about by chance."

"Fascinating," Irene said, suddenly animated. "That would explain a lot… And it would be the ideal biological weapon, wouldn't it? One that can't harm you no matter if it ends up on your side of the battlefield or not, and has almost no chance—effectively no chance, in fact—of mutating to the point where you would be affected by it…"

"Does the panel have any more questions?" asked Kristine pointedly, interrupting Irene's musings.

"How many… Cybertronians?" asked a diplomat, half stumbling over the final, unfamiliar word.

"Nine Autobots," said Solarity promptly. "Two Decepticons unaccounted for, and one Decepticon symbiote missing, presumed dead."

"But there are more of you out there," pressed the diplomat.

"We hope so," started Solarity, before he was interrupted by Ratchet.

"We don't know. It's extremely that numbers range above two hundred left for both factions; (1) it's far more likely to be more in the range of fifty, total."

"Unlikely to be more than two hundred… And they could land anywhere."

Optimus' voice cut in. "I am Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots."

He paused for a minute, to let that sink in. "You have my word that we, the Autobots, will work with you, and fight to protect humanity, from the Decepticons especially. But that can wait; are there any further questions for the scientists?"

"If the leader of the Decepticons is dead, this Megatron fellow, how big of a threat are they?

"We're hoping that some Decepticons will agree to live peacefully on earth, or even switch to Neutral status, instead of a named faction, now that Megatron is dead and the Allspark has been lost. However, many Decepticons are violent by nature and won't want to rein in their tendencies; others will hold a grudge, either against humanity for their role in the Mission City incident or against the Autobots for centuries of war. Yet others will join or try to lead a new Decepticon order, filling the power vacuum Megatron's destruction left. We believe that is what Starscream, Megatron's second-in-command and one of the unaccounted-for Decepticons, is currently doing."

There was a blank silence.

"Good. I'll get in touch. Optimus Prime out."

"So… I need to go measure CO2 emission levels for contaminated figs within the next fifteen minutes," said Irene, checking her watch after a minute of silence. Evan looked torn between horror, outrage and disbelief at her utterly casual, unaffected attitude, even when faced with a good percentage of the most powerful people on the planet, convened for a top-secret disclosure.

The Mexican vice-president seemed to recover herself a little, shaking off her shock and looking at her notes briefly.

"What's the likelihood of the contaminated figs being exported?" she asked.

"Preliminary evidence suggests that contaminated fig plants don't produce syconiums—that is, fruit," said Evan promptly.

"Hmmm. Thank you," replied the vice-president somewhat distractedly, jotting down another note.

"How much contact did you have with the Autobots?" asked someone, face and tone blankly neutral.

"For me? A lot," said Irene. "I was working in their assigned area. Several were invaluably helpful, not only with the physical aspects of working with the figs, out in the jungle, but with the science. Ratchet arguably played a bigger part than I did in this whole ordeal."

"Very little," said William, adjusting his glasses absent-mindedly. "I was in another of the three main labs. Zoologist Toni—Antonio Martinez was in one, investigating the animals found dead; Evan and I were focusing on the spread of the fungus, later with help from mycologist Charles Cleve; and Irene was working on the behavior and reasons for observed behavior with help from Kristine and Keats. Antonio and Mr. Cleve were forced to leave early, for unrelated reasons, so they're not present for this meeting."

"The rest of us fall somewhere in the middle," said Evan, fighting to control a blush—he hated his painfully fair complexion—as the conversation brought back memories of his own adjustment period to the presence of the Autobots.

"We also currently have on base two teenagers who have worked closely with the Autobots in general and one in particular, since before Mission City," said Keller, from the back of the room the diplomats were in. As Secretary of Defense he'd had to leave Brazil early. "They're not available for questioning, they're both underage and lack parental approval, but of them have only good to say about the Autobots. In fact, I think they owe several of them their lives—and after this brand-new debacle, I think the reverse is true as well. They had quite a role in our little security slip-up.

"While I'm up here talking, thank you to all of you for agreeing to this, and thank you for your open-mindedness."

"You could have brought this to our attention sooner," someone said sharply.

"The Autobots are an independent governmental body, albeit one operating within the borders of the United States of America," objected Keller. "You'll have to ask them their own reasoning later."

"I don't know," said Irene quietly, an odd little almost-dreaming half smile on her face. "I'd feel a little cautious about revealing myself to the dominant species if I crash-landed on an alien planet."

oOo

"So what's left?" asked Sam. He was leaving the next day with Mikaela and Bee, and most of the rest of the Autobots: Optimus, Ironhide, Nimbus and Ratchet. Gyro, Solarity and Landslide were staying behind a while longer, to help with clearing out of the last of the figs and whatever else there was to do. Coldfront hadn't opted to stay or to return immediately to the United States.

"Don't forget to say good-bye tomorrow before everyone leaves," said Kristine, lugging a bag that clattered suspiciously like jab sticks down a corridor.

"Where are you guys headed?" asked Sam, speeding up a little to catch up to her.

"I'm off to bask in the bioluminescent beauty of my jellyfish," said Kristine."William and Evan are staying here to keep on working with the figs. I think Irene's going to run around the Amazon for a few weeks or a month. And Keats is back to his regular job, poor sap."

"Heh. I'll be getting used to normality again, too. I don't know what I'm going to do with the rest of my summer."

"Hanging out with your potential-model girlfriend and alien robot car," said Kristine teasing lightly. "I don't know how you'll ever console yourself. I sure do know that I'm the lucky one—who wouldn't want to spend the summer in a dark, damp, refrigerated basement poking holes into primitive bags of goo? I'm telling you, company isn't good company unless it is, in the most literal sense possible, brainless."

"To be fair, I'm pretty sure the Autobots lack a brain, too," said Irene, falling into step with the other two. "In the most literal sense, as you put it, definitely. Also, a nervous system at all."

"Well, they definitely have a pseudo-brain," said Kristine, looking thoughtful. "And they feel pain, so they must have some sort of parallel version of the nervous system, as well. Therefore, they don't count."

The two women looked at each other, dead serious for one second, two, three, before they broke out into giggles. Sam had to stifle his own smile.

oOo

Irene surveyed the thick tangle of jungle in front of her with barely-suppressed and growing excitement, even through the growing let-down of a finished project and the slight depression of good-byes.

But she'd borrowed a car from the government, she didn't need to worry about money since she was finally tapping into her lifelong Visit-the-Amazon fund, and there were no projects, major or minor, looming on her calendar for another two months.

Today was the start of the culmination of a lifelong dream. She couldn't believe this was finally happening! The Amazon!

Turning to head towards the borrowed, parked car, Irene was slightly startled by the sudden appearance of another vehicle, most definitely not government-issue and strangely familiar—especially considering that she was Not A Car Person, and could barely pick her own, rarely-used vehicle back home out of a lineup. In fact, the newly-arrived car was the same color as…

"Coldfront?"

"Yes," said the car, almost cutting off the end of the word, he finished it so fast. That was unusual: while he was short-spoken, his words were usually brisk, precise and professional, measured and almost atonal.

"Hey! Didn't think I'd be seeing you again for a while—nice surprise, and I say that although I was wrong. What's up?"

"As you may know, Optimus Prime has given me temporary leave-of-duty." Or forced it on him, actually, but Coldfront hadn't been, and wasn't, in any position to argue. "As I… don't have anything to do, I wondered if you would appreciate a ride home."

"You do realize that I might not be leaving a month and a half," said Irene carefully. "So you're, what, offering to chauffer me around the Amazon for as long as I desire?"

"…Yes."

The scientist eyed him, expression unnervingly perceptive, before she spoke.

"Alright, then. Thank you."

Wordlessly, surprised by how relieved he was, Coldfront popped open a door.

Irene's wide, calm and strangely understanding smile turned slightly goofy, unexpectedly, as she approached him. "Well, first I need to drop the ugly government car off," she said, almost apologetically.

oOo

"So, what do we do with the rest of the summer?" Sam asked.

"Not get involved in mysterious, life-threatening plant epidemics," said Bumblebee promptly. Sam laughed.

Mikaela, though, just sighed. "I need to tell my mom about you guys—" she patted Bee's steering wheel in demonstration "—and then convince her you're the good guys and then explain why I didn't tell her sooner. Which should keep me busy through college."

"Get the Secretary of Defense to call," said Sam helpfully.

"I'm really not sure that that would make things any better." Mikaela slumped even further into her seat, the picture of teenage despair.

"I'll help," said Bee brightly. Mikaela tried to hold her miserable expression, although it didn't work for long. Finally, she started laughing; her boyfriend—and that thought never failed to make her feel warm and happy, deep inside—joined in, and even Bee let out a brief crackle of static, his version of a laugh.

They hadn't been driving for long, no more than an hour or two, but Mikaela had no idea where they were—somewhere inside the Amazon Rainforest, she supposed. The string of cars (well, Autobots) that had started out together from the base had broken apart as each Transformer found a comfortable speed for them and started to settle in for the long run. She was guessing that they were somewhere out towards the front: Bumblebee was something of a speeder. Mikaela could understand. With the sort of speeds he could manage, and with the sort of reflexes he had, sixty miles per hour was probably pretty boring.

The three of them settled back into their comfortable silence, Sam just zoning out and Mikaela getting caught up in the world flashing past them along the sides of the road.

The silence was finally interrupted by a crack from Bee's radio, and then Optimus' voice.

"Because Nimbus still has time to complete for his probationary period," he said, "I'm looking for someone to be his watcher for a while. Bumblebee, would you be interested?"

"I would, but I'm already watching Sam—"

"Does this mean I have a probationary officer now?" Sam whispered to Mikaela, who snickered.

"—and another expensive sports car, especially one with a 'driver' that isn't Sam, since Nimbus doesn't have a good enough holographic system to synthesize a realistic human face in motion, (2) is likely to cause suspicion. Since Nimbus has proved his loyalty to the Autobot cause already, can't you just write him off as free to go?"

"No, it's procedure," said Optimus, sounding almost amused. "Maybe if you assigned some of your duties to Mikaela Banes which would, I believe, take care of those problems…"

Yep, he definitely sounded amused, Sam thought. Mikaela choked on a mouthful of water and then almost spilled the bottle as she coughed. Sam had the sense of mind to take it off her hands.

"We all know Nimbus is a true Autobot, just one who still happens to have Decepticon symbols. I'd like him to have the time to adjust to earth and our unit, and maybe a little guidance. I understand if you're still hesitant when it comes to him, Mikaela, although I had hoped otherwise—"

"No—what? I don't have any problems with Nimbus. He's saved my life. I'd be happy to, uh, let him crash in my driveway."

"Good. Good. I am also trying to follow protocol here, in case this becomes the precedent." Sam's eyes widened as the significance of that registered—Optimus thought that more Decepticons would arrive and switch factions. "Bumblebee?"

"Understood, sir. I accept. …But what's Nimbus' opinion of this?"

"Thank you, and I already know I made a good choice, asking you—now that you've gotten over yourself. Nimbus said he would be happy to be paired with any willing Autobot, if one was available. I'm giving him the full details of the situation now, but I doubt he'll be upset."

oOo

"Hey, Mom, I'm home!" Mikaela called, poking her head in the door.

"Mikaela! My little girl's back—"

"Mo-om!" Mikaela rolled her eyes, but smiled anyways. Yeah, her mom was a little embarrassing, but she really did mean it, and she didn't take herself too seriously.

"How was it?" her mother asked, coming out onto the porch as Mikaela returned to Nimbus to drag her bag out of the back. "Oh, my—Mikaela! Where did that car come from?"

"I swear it's legal, and I'm not in trouble, I haven't been in trouble, and if you'll just go on a little drive with me I'll explain everything, I promise!" Mikaela babbled, slightly desperately.

Her mother looked hard at her, then sighed. "I hope you're right. Okay, I'll go—put your bag in your room, first, I need to take dinner out of the oven anyways."

"Here's to luck," Mikaela whispered out of the side of her mouth to Nimbus as her mother retreated to the kitchen, pausing just to shoot one more questioning glance behind herself, worried about her daughter. Then she ran up the stairs—it was time to get this over with.

oOo

"Thank God Mom finally let me out of the house," Mikaela muttered sourly to herself as she stomped down the porch steps, towards the waiting Nimbus. Yesterday had been the final day of her two-week grounding for 'keeping something like that secret.'

Of course, her dear mother had also informed her that it could have been a lot worse: "I would have grounded you for the full summer, but I'm going to be nice, for two reasons. First, this isn't an easy thing to explain, is it? And second, the government didn't want you to, and that's a lot of pressure to stand up to."

At last, her confinement was over! She was free once more!

"Hey," she said, slipping into the car. "Sorry to leave you hanging for so long—At least we can go do something now. Do you know where Sam's house is?"

"Yes," said Nimbus softly.

"Is something wrong?" asked Mikaela, pausing suddenly. His voice had had some strange undertones to it.

"Thank you," he said abruptly. "You didn't have to agree to do this for me."

"What? I…" Why had this come up now, matter of fact? He hadn't mentioned it any of the times that she'd been riding in him on the way back up from Brazil… "I don't really know you all that well, yeah, but you seem nice, and saving my life at least twice that I can think of is sure to count for something, and I know you could probably manage with just your holo, but it's sure to be easier for you with a human driver—and I have to say, it'll be nice to not have to rely on Sam and Bee for rides any more…"

"I'm sorry I caused a conflict between you and your… Mother."

"That has nothing to do with you—or with anything, really. I needed to tell her sometime, anyways, and I didn't really want to keep her in the dark. It was hard, yeah, but it needed doing. I just used you as my example instead of Bumblebee."

"…And I understand that it's unlikely that you'll ever be fully able to trust me, regardless of whether or not I have saved your life. Especially once other Transformers—other Decepticons—start arriving. All of us are waiting for people we're almost positive are already lost, already deactivated—dead. Mine are Decepticons. There's a chance a few of them will at least agree to a truce of non-violence, but…

"That won't help anyone trust me, even if some of my lost friends do set down their weapons. Actually, there's no guarantee that any of them will trust me, either. At that point I will probably need to distance myself from humanity, for its protection. I can't risk either one of my old companions or myself getting… Careless."

"We'll cross that last bridge when we come to it. And I think saying that you'll need to separate yourself from us sentient organics is a little extreme—I'm not telling you to take risks, but give yourself a little credit."

"You don't understand! It's easy when I'm simply around you—the differences are obvious. But it will be harder when it's old friends, people I'm used to, I'll stop thinking about being careful and controlled, it will be far too easy to simply be careless because I know them and I know it's… I don't know how to verbalize it in this language, but it's an unnecessary risk for humans."

"Whoah, Nimbus—calm down, okay? It's not entirely your choice to make, for starters. We humans can think for ourselves sometimes, even. And I think there's a good chance that we'll become friends, so what, you're just going to abandon me because you're worried you might get careless which might lead to a situation in which you might end up hurting a human. Slow down a little, okay? And who's saying that I don't trust you? Sure, I don't know you all that well, but there's time to fix that. And I'm not going to lie when I say that your alt form makes me a little nervous, it's kind of… Spiky and aggressive-looking, I'm sure you have scanning systems that can tell you that for yourself, but it's not something I can't get used to. Just relax, okay?"

"…Thank you," said Nimbus again, voice tight and miserable. Mikaela sighed.

"You just sound like I made things worse," she said, slumping forward, resting her forehead against the steering wheel. "That wasn't what I wanted to do. What is it?"

"It's nothing to do with you."

"You're a horrible liar," Mikaela all-but-giggled, unable to help herself. "Seriously. What is it?"

"You're being very understanding. Do you understand what I have done? What the Transformers I am familiar with have done and do not regret?"

"But you're not your friends or comrades or whatever you're calling them, and you're not the only one who has things in their past that they don't want to think about. Yes, even among us humans. Hell, even among us young humans. Ever heard about a second chance, or do Decepticons not do those? What about Autobots?"

"Decepticons usually don't," said Nimbus, but he seemed to have lost a lot of the tension that had been filling his voice. "Autobots do, though."

"Come on, then, let's go wake Sam up. There's someplace I want to show you—and I'm pretty sure those other two won't be upset we're heading out there again. Actually, it's where we were the day this all started…"

oOo

"Morning, sleepy-head!" Judy said, loud enough that Sam could hear it through his door.

"Nnngh… Mom, it's six AM. Not even. Not even six in the morning. Please go away…"

"Well, Mikaela's here with that Nimbus person, and it'll only take me a few more minutes to finish getting the picnic together. I figured you'd want a few minutes to get dressed and eat breakfast."

"What?" Sam yelped, half falling out of and half getting out of his bed in his haste.

"I'll have toast for you in two minutes," said Judy happily over her shoulder as she headed back down the stairs.

Sam bit back a curse, but he really wasn't all that angry.

After all, it had been a while since he'd just gotten the chance to relax, and it felt even longer—a small eternity. And the three of them—himself and Mikaela and Bee, and Nimbus too, now, he supposed—had finally found a picnic spot isolated enough for the Transformers to transform.

Today was going to be perfect.

oOo

"God damn it, what do you want?" Irene snarled into the phone.

"Do you always answer like that?" Kristine asked casually.

"Huh? No, not under normal circumstances. My stupid, stupid dog just managed to run into my ladder at exactly the wrong moment, causing me to spill a large bucket of paint all over myself, himself, the house, the ground and Coldfront. My day has not been all that fantastic. I knew I should have stayed in the Amazon. Anyways, what do you want?"

"Isn't it enough for an old friend to call and chat?" Kristine said, clearly amused.

"If you ever actually did just that, you'd be considerably more convincing," said Irene dryly. "Seriously, what do you want?"

"I'm actually just calling to tell you that there's going to be an awards ceremony in a few weeks."

"…Am I imagining things, or haven't we already been to one of those?"

"Yeah, but this one's by the Brazilian government. You gonna be there?"

"Just a second. Hey, Coldfront!"

"Yes?"

"You up for another trip to Brazil?"

"Yes."

"Let me rephrase that: you want to go on another trip to Brazil?"

"If you wish to."

"That's… That's not what I'm asking. Look, just give me a straight opinion, damn it."

"I don't care either way, Irene."

"Okay, okay, I understand… Sounds like we're going, Kristine."

"Thanks. You'll probably get an official call in the next few days, but I figured I'd give you a heads-up. See you then!"

"Yeah, see you—bye."

Irene sighed mournfully. "You know, Chester, this thing seems like it's never going to be over," said Irene to her dog, who was dripping water and diluted paint, and looking up at her soulfully.

The sound of loud footprints coming around one corner of her house made her look up. "You sure you don't have any problems with going down to Brazil?" she said.

"Yes," he said again, simply, and Irene sighed loudly again.

"I can't wait until you get good at developing and then sticking up for your own opinions," she said. "Then I'll be able to stop being thoughtful about whether or not you actually want to do something. And I won't feel guilty about making you tag along on things you don't want to do."

Coldfront looked at her blankly.

"Turn around," Irene just sighed at last, reaching for the hose. "I need to finish getting the paint off of your legs before it sets."

"You're covered in paint as well," pointed out the Autobot. "You should see to your own needs first."

"Eh, whatever," said Irene with a slight smile. "It'll all come out in the shower. And I've been needing a haircut anyways."

Coldfront gave her one more long, measured glance before he followed her directions.

oOo

Optimus Prime was waiting.

Unlike the others, he wasn't waiting for anyone in particular to answer his call to return to Earth: he had definitive proof of the death of the Autobots he had been closest to, other than his current team. So he wasn't waiting for any particular Transformer who had disappeared into the war, not provably dead but almost definitely not alive.

He was waiting for anyone, really, to answer his call. Regardless that some already had, he was waiting. Each new arrival was full of promise.

For the first time in what felt like an eternity, he had real hope.

Oh, he'd always had hope; he hadn't given up, he'd kept on fighting, even when he knew, logically, that it was a losing battle. Megatron disappearing had helped, but there'd always been the paranoid, niggling certainty that he would reappear.

And he had. And he had been killed. True, the Allspark had been lost with him; they would never be a thriving race, or anything more than a dying race, again. That was hard, but not impossible, to live with. The Allspark had been lost for years, and they'd all had to face the possibility that it had been lost for good.

But now, there was hope. The playing field in the battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons had been equaled once more, and possibly changed beyond all recognition. The fighting wasn't about who would control the Allspark anymore. He hoped that most of the Transformers would no longer have any reason, any need, to fight now.

And the growing acceptance of human governments, or at least tolerance, was heartening. The acceptance of individual humans, more than that. They were all rebuilding lives here on earth. It was more than Optimus had ever let himself hope for, and now it was coming true.

oOo

(1) For movie canon, I place the total number of Autobots and Decepticons as much higher than in, say, G1, for example. I think it matches the larger scale of the movies a little better.

(2) The Decepticon moustache-man, which is what Nimbus has as his holographic driver (see chapt. 7) is too blank-faced for me to think that the Decepticons are outfitted with something subtle enough to mimic human facial expressions—which isn't as ridiculous as it sounds when you consider the fact that the human face is an incredibly subtle method of communication.

oOo

--END Alien--