What Lays Ahead

Bridges, Ratchet noted with a touch of amusement, were among the few human structures that could accommodate full-sized Cybertronians. Warehouses and overpasses were about the only other ones. None of them offered all that much cover, however. He made due with what he had, though, scooting up along the cement incline at the very end of the bridge's underside until he could rest his arms amidst the metal supports.

Trying to avoid detection now felt like a moot point after the destruction caused in Mission City, but blending in was also a habit of nature. Sometimes, however, a moment called for being oneself, and this was one of those moments. Ratchet prodded at the supports nearest him, soldering a few weak spots here and there as he waited.

He had begun to measure for replacement beams when at last a black pickup truck came trundling along the overgrown dirt service road. Once behind the large support column Ironhide transformed and climbed up toward Ratchet's perch. "Are you comfortable?"

"Mostly," the medic replied. He shifted over a bit, offering Ironhide a seat, but the warrior preferred to stand where it was less cluttered. He braced his hands on an overhead beam and just leaned on it for a long moment before uttering a sigh.

"My thoughts exactly," Ratchet said, feeling along a beam directly over his head. He soldered the middle of it.

"I feel like I can't relax," Ironhide spoke without any other preamble. "As if I should still be ready to launch on the defense at a second's notice."

"I think we all feel that way." Ratchet shut off his tool array and withdrew it back into his forearm, replacing it with his hand. "I mean, look at me. I don't know how to sit still right now."

"You are sitting."

Ratchet shook his head. "Very humorous." He leaned on the beams in front of him. "This will have a psychological impact on all of us for quite some time. We are familiar with the deaths of comrades, but the extent of the loss of the Allspark may be something entirely different."

"Hn..." Ironhide agreed, scowling. "So, what now?"

"For Cybertron?" Ratchet sighed and sat back, lifting his head as if to look through the bottom of the bridge to the sky beyond. "Perhaps there is another way, another source of power that can be used without the risk of anyone claiming it for ill gains. One of our other teams could be finding it right now."

"That is almost too optimistic. How many worlds did we come across that were barely developed into functional civilization?"

"Yet we cannot ignore the possibility that the Allspark could have created other worlds before it became a part of Cybertron." Ratchet glanced at Ironhide with an entreating look, as if hoping someone else had come to the same conclusion. "There is a chance we are not alone."

Ironhide regarded him solemnly. "You had more hope riding on finding the Allspark first than the rest of us."

Ratchet nodded, then lowered his head. "Some of us could feel our planet's pain more acutely than others. Speaking for myself, its death cries will never be erased from my memory banks."

"A thousand sparks extinguished." Ironhide glanced to the side, fingers tightening on the beam enough to make it creak.

Ratchet's optics dimmed as he mumbled, "No need to mention it."

"Apologies." Ironhide released the beam and stepped back, giving the medic some space.

"It is...to be expected," Ratchet conceeded with a nod. "It should not be forgotten, either...lest it be repeated if a similar artifact comes to exist."

"We don't know where the Allspark came from to begin with. What would be the chances of another like it existing?"

"At this time I would like to say 'one never knows'. After all, did any of us expect the humans would be so intrinsic to defeating the Decepticons?"

"I admit the surprise was pleasant." Ironhide looked around the bridge as if impressed that the humans could have built such a structure. After a few moments of silence he absently rubbed at the scarred portion of the right side of his face.

"Is it bothering you again?"

"Hmm?" Ratchet motioned toward where the warrior's hand was. Ironhide peered at his hand even as lowered it. "Only when I think too much."

"We all have thinking to do," Ratchet said with a dry chuckle. "We did not plan for this eventuality, did we? All focus was on getting to the Allspark first. I know I did not consider the possibility of it being destroyed. We counted on going home...not remaining here. Now we need to make plans to sneak parts of the Ark planetside so we can set up a permanent base. Home." He looked toward the horizon. "This is a nice place to call home."

"We could crash it into a volcano to cover the arrival and impact."

"What?" Ratchet snapped his attention back to the warrior.

"The Ark. Make it seem like a big meteor crash."

Ratchet laughed. "I am not very certain of that idea."

Ironhide shrugged. "It would be quickest."

"I will make sure to run that idea by Optimus later." Ratchet chuckled again. He let his attention wander back to the beams. Spying another potential crack, he extended his tool array and soldered at it.

Ironhide snorted. "Are you going to single-handedly repair every structure in the vicinity?"

"Why not? If we show the humans how useful we can be, perhaps we could be better accepted into their society. We can perform the functions of their vehicles and machines, and still have our own ways be preserved."

Ironhide cast a humoring glance at him, noting the medic's hopeful tone. "And where would someone like me find a place?"

"Demolitions." Ratchet smiled. "I imagine someone our size could help guarantee safety, and even persevere on a job that would be quite dangerous to a human."

"Hn. ...Maybe. I do not want to be a soldier forever."

Ratchet nodded. "I am relieved to hear that. It is--"

Ironhide cut him off. "I have sometimes wondered what warriors do when there are no battles left to fight." He raised his left arm; his cannon mechanisms began to unfold by reflex. "However, my core programming does not allow me to entertain the alternatives."

Ratchet blinked, refocusing his optics on his old friend. "You may have been built hard-wired for battle, but you i can /i input changes."

The warrior shook his head sadly. "We have been at this for a while, my friend. It could take twice that amount of time."

"With Megatron gone, what else do we have except time?" Ratchet replied, trying to sound encouraging.

But Ironhide lowered his head with a heavy sigh, muttering, "What do we have, indeed?"

Ratchet looked at him askance. "Ironhide..?"

"We have...no base, almost no supplies, no one ...except the four of us. Only us, on a world that is too small."

Ratchet searched his processor for a response. He and Ironhide had spent many a mission discussing life and its fateful twists, but this was bordering on despair. His earlier comment about psychological impacts returned to him. He didn't say anything for a minute, then asked hesitantly, "Do you...propose that we should leave Earth and return to one of the worlds that contained mechanical life similar to ourselves?"

"It would be Optimus' decision," Ironhide said with finality. Ratchet took that as a confirmation, and also that the warrior was not going to purposely bring it up to their leader. He filed it away, intending to honor his role as his friend's confidant. It was not the first time Ironhide had confessed something he preferred to not admit to Prime.

"There is one thing to consider, however," Ratchet offered. "The Cube landed here and was buried for thousands of years. We are connected to this planet by it, regardless of the organic majority."

Ironhide leaned on the support beam again as he processed the medic's words. He nodded. "An adequate assessment."

"Besides," Ratchet added, hoping to lighten the mood, "I think our vehicle forms here have been the most suitable we have yet taken."

"You just like the flashing lights and siren."

The tone was serious, but after looking at each other for half a second, they both laughed. With the tense situation diffused, Ratchet felt it was safe to share another thought he'd had. "It is even possible that a new energy source could be here on Earth. Humans may be still developing, but this planet is rich with resources that they have yet to properly utilize."

"Should we teach them that, as well as the lessons on proper maintenance?" Ironhide gestured to the beams.

Ratchet nodded. "Again, the Allspark was here, perhaps we were meant to come here. We destroyed our own world...but we have the knowledge to improve this one and prevent them from destroying theirs."

"Will they listen?"

Ratchet gave a tight smile. "We shall have to hope so."

End

(c) 2007 Autumn L. (aka Shiri) This work may not be copied, distributed, or reprinted without the author's permission. All characters belong to Hasbro/Takara/Paramont/Dreamworks.