Author's Note: Originally started for Caring Combaticons back in June 2006; takes place in approximately 1993. This story is in the same universe as my other main Transformers universe (which is not the same universe as my other GI Joe fics). Uses a mix of GI Joe cartoon and comic canon as well as my usual cherry picked Transformerly goodness.
Thanks to: CalyhexInmate, ChaosAngel, EagleEyeJoe, Newsy, Amykay73 and Nightfire99201 for beta-reading services.
Given a choice between stepping before the Jugglers conference room and walking into Cobra Commander's throne room, Hawk had to admit he'd have to think about his decision. But he was pretty sure Cobra Commander would be happier to see him.
General Crowther, current leader of the Jugglers, sat at the center of the conference table and glared at Hawk as if Hawk owed him money. Flanking him, Generals Gibbs and Winters looked equally unhappy at Hawks' continued presence in the world in general and their conference room in particular.
The rest of the Jugglers took their cues from their leaders, making Hawk feel as welcome as a pregnant cat.
"General Abernathy," Crowther said, foregoing Hawk's nom de guerre. "You've been brought here to report on the status of the Joes' cross-training with the Autobots. How close is your team to completing their assignment?"
"Our initial team has completed the course," Hawk said, letting his pride for his team show. "We've almost completed Selection for the next group. They'll be in the pipeline by the end of this month and should complete training in another six months."
"Not soon enough." General Gibbs frowned as if he smelled something foul. "Your people are supposed to be the best we have. You should be able to select candidates without all this folderol. What's taking so blasted long?"
Hawk smiled and shrugged, pleased to see that his nonchalance only served to make Gibbs's face go redder. "Our initial team was made up of volunteers who had skills that seemed best suited to training with the Autobots. Our initial class showed us places where we were missing key skills. Our current Selection is an attempt to fill those gaps."
Now it was Winters' turn to jump in. "So your team isn't ready? You mean to tell us we've wasted six months of time and money and the Joes aren't ready? What have your people been doing, Abernathy?"
Writing the book on xenological warfare. Hawk didn't say. "Training hard to the fullest extent of their abilities," he said. "Not only in the field, but in the classroom. The Autobots have been extremely helpful in terms of educating us about their culture and the history of their war."
"You're supposed to be learning about how to destroy them." This from a lieutenant general seated next to General Gibbs; Hawk didn't recognize him, probably the newest member brought in since Malthus had landed himself in Leavenworth.
"The Autobots are our allies," Hawk said. "We're developing tactics with them to use against the Decepticons. Understanding the history of their war helps us to know how to fight the Decepticons."
"Keep in mind Abernathy, that allegiances can shift," Crowther said. "The Autobots are allies now, but we expect you and your team will know where their loyalties lie should things change."
"I do." Hawk looked Crowther square in the eyes. "And my team most certainly does." He held Crowther's gaze until the other man looked away.
"Dismissed, Abernathy." Crowther waved a hand. Hawk saluted and left the room.
X X X
General Crowther stayed quiet after Hawk left, waiting for the others to speak first -- the better to judge their reaction.
"We need to do something about Hawk and GI Joe." General Gibbs pushed roughly back from the conference table and began pacing the room, rhythmically pounding the fist of one hand into the palm of the other. "Can you believe that arrogant devil? He practically told us his team would follow him and him alone."
"He's always been a grandstander." General Winters glared at the door Hawk had just exited through, as if some sympathetic magic would allow him to fry Hawk by proxy. "And the Joes are his own private cult of personality. How a glorified desk jockey like him ever gained command of a unit like the Joes is beyond me."
"Particularly when we all know you wanted that command for yourself." Crowther held up a hand to preemptively silence Winters. "Save it. I agree with you both. However, unlike either of you, I have a plan to do something about it. Not only to disgrace Hawk but also to eliminate the Joes as our military's counter-xenological strike force."
That got their attention. Gibbs stopped pacing, looking warily at Crowther. "What do you have in mind?"
"The American public has no appreciation for failure, particularly not from its armed forces. And most especially not from the heroes of GI Joe." Crowther paused. "If we can show that the Joes cannot protect Americans from the Decepticons -- on American soil, no less -- we can help guide them away from dependence on Abernathy's pack of misfits and towards more reliable defenders."
His fellow Jugglers were quiet, each weighing his words carefully.
"An interesting plan," Gibbs said. "But how do we guarantee the Joes' failure?"
"And, more importantly, who are these more reliable defenders you're talking about?" asked Winters.
"First things first," Crowther said. "The Decepticons are known to monitor our communications net for information. We simply stage a leak, inadvertently informing them of the Joes' new capabilities. Then, we wait for them to make the next move. If they're anything like Cobra, they'll jump for the bait like a shark after chum."
"Is that -- I mean, that can't be ethical." This came from the lieutenant general seated next to Gibbs. Crowther frowned, trying to recall the man's name.
"Broca, isn't it?" The man nodded and Crowther continued. "Is it ethical to allow a potential incompetent to remain in power? No, of course not. Consider this a test for the Joes. If they pass it, then clearly they are the team for the job. If they fail, better that they be replaced before too much damage is done."
"Yes, but replaced by whom?" Winter's peevishness brought Crowther's attention back to him.
"I'm getting to that," Crowther said as there came a knock at the door. "Gibbs, since you're up, get that."
Muttering darkly, Gibbs opened the door and stepped back as a man clad in a dark suit that positively radiated "government agent" stepped in.
"Gentlemen," Crowther said. "Allow me to introduce Forrest Forsythe, director of the Intelligence and Information Institute."
Forsythe's smile as he nodded to the assembled Jugglers would not ave been out of place on a junkyard dog sizing up an intruder. "Pleasure's all mine," Forsythe said, shoving a stack of reports at General Gibbs. "Be a pal; hand those out."
"What business is this of the III?" asked Winters as Gibbs, too startled to protest, began handing out the reports.
"III is in the same business you gentlemen are," Forsythe said. "We want to help insure the protection of the American people against all threats, foreign, domestic and extraterrestrial. General Crowther approached me personally to see what we might be able to do about our mutual robotic problem. And if you'll turn to page one, I can introduce you to the solution -- the Rapid Anti-robot Assault Team." Forsythe's junkyard dog grin widened. "R.A.A.T. for short."
X X X
In the short time he'd been on Earth -- or at least awake and aware on Earth -- Optimus Prime had dealt with a wide variety of humans. Good, bad and all the shades in between. But he'd never met a human who both annoyed and frightened him the way General Thurston Crowther did. Even when the man was being outwardly pleasant, there was an undercurrent of menace about him that made Prime's diodes ache. Particularly when Crowther's image was blown up to triple life size by Teletraan-1's viewscreen.
"Mr. Prime, I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank you, once again, for the assistance you and your people have given the United States by helping to train the Joes." Crowther's smile was as broad and as fake as his perfectly even teeth. His eyes, on the other hand, were anything but pleased .
"You're welcome, General." Prime nodded politely. "We're looking forward to working with the Joes in the future. General Hawk and I feel their presence will make a big difference in our battles with the Decepticons."
"Yes, indeed," Crowther said. "I've just spoken to General Hawk. He seemed very pleased with his team's performance and your cooperation. Still, I feel it is important for you to understand that the Pentagon wants the Joes to stand on their own two feet, as it were."
"I'm afraid I don't quite understand." Prime said.
Crowther looked pained. "In the event of a Decepticon attack on US soil, the GI Joe team will be our first, last and -- per Pentagon directives -- our only line of defense. You and the Autobots are, unfortunately, currently forbidden from getting involved. At least until the Joes have proved themselves worthy of this new role."
"But, that's ludicrous!" Optimus said. "General Crowther, please! The Joes are good, but the Decepticons are difficult adversaries even for my people. Perhaps if I speak to the Joint Chiefs, maybe I can help them realize the gravity of the situation and the foolishness of that order."
Crowther shook his head. "I'm afraid it would do no good -- politics, I'm sure you understand. The G.I. Joe team is expected to be able to handle this sort of mission and when the time comes they'll need to show they can stand on their own."
"But surely, the threat posed to civilians warrants our continued involvement," Prime said, almost pleading now.
Crowther frowned and for a brief instant, Prime thought he saw a glint of amusement in the general's eyes. "I'm afraid the sentiment is that if the Joes can't win on their own, they aren't worth the expense."
Prime stared at the general, too dumbfounded to speak. Crowther took the opportunity to continue speaking.
"I'll appreciate it if you keep your people out of any fights, at least in U.S. territory," Crowther said. "I have every confidence that the Joes will perform as expected -- and, besides, the UN General Assembly meets next month. I would think that would be your primary concern, rather than a hypothetical battle. It's about your fuel ration, isn't it? The meeting I mean."
"Good luck. I hear the President hasn't quite made up his mind about the US's portion of your appropriation. If I can assist in any way, by putting in a good word, perhaps, please let me know. Senator Hegel is a close, personal friend."
"Thank you." Prime kept his temper with an effort. "I'll consider the offer, General."
"You're welcome and good day, Crowther out." The viewscreen went blank as Crowther signed off.
"I'll consider it a bribe, though for what I'm not sure." Prime muttered to himself, pressing a button on Teletraan-1's console. "Red Alert, I know you were listening in. Do me a favor, unofficially?"
"Depends what it is, Prime," Red Alert said with his characteristic wariness.
"Have Blaster and Cosmos monitor the Joes' communication frequencies. If they get into trouble, make sure they know they have a lifeline from us."
"Of course, Optimus," Red Alert said. "I'll make sure they get the word. Red out."
It said something that Red Alert agreed so quickly. As the Autobots' security director, Red had been adamantly opposed to cross training with the Joes, objecting almost violently to the idea of training humans to fight and defeat Cybertronians. Clearly, Crowther's odiousness wasn't entirely a figment of Prime's imagination. The thought wasn't the least bit comforting.
X X X
"Vortex, you are an idiot!" Swindle pushed back from the pump where the Combaticons were refueling and approached Vortex with murderous intent in his optics. "Seriously, you are without a doubt the dumbest rust sack I have ever met!"
"And yet, I still scored higher than you on the Standardized Intelligence Test," Vortex said, his optics glowing beatifically. "Even after you cheated."
"I did not cheat!" Swindle yelled as he took a step forward, fists clenched.
"Then it's the first time you didn't!" Vortex giggled, backing away.
"I did not cheat!" Swindle followed him, getting face to faceplate with Vortex.
"Did too!" Vortex sang.
"Did not!" Swindle threw the first punch and in a matter of seconds, the two Combaticons were grappling together, pummeling each other mercilessly.
"Really, Onslaught," Blast Off said. "I don't see why we don't just refuel them in their sleep. Or, better yet, put them somewhere else -- like outside. Or Mars."
Onslaught set down his data pad. 'They're bored, Blast Off," he said, gesturing for Brawl to deal with the fight. "I can't blame them; Megatron hasn't had much use for us lately. It's making us all edgy."
"Indeed," Blast Off said. "And this blasted storm isn't helping matters either."
"No, it's not." Onslaught watched as Brawl grabbed Swindle and Vortex by their necks and slammed their heads together. He winced as feedback crackled over their gestalt connection.
"A little more gently next time, if you please Brawl," Onslaught said. "There's really no reason to hit them hard enough that Bruticus can feel it."
"Slag you!" Brawl snapped. "You wanted them shut up, I shut 'em up. Don't like it, do it yourself next time."
"Ow." Vortex prodded the side of his head. "I think Brawl knocked something loose. I feel tingly."
"Knocked something else loose, y'mean." Swindle got shakily to his feet. "Twitchy."
"Stumpy." Vortex drew the word out. "Swindle's a minibot!"
"I'm as tall as you are!" Swindle shook a finger in Vortex's face. "And rotors don't count!"
"Do so," Vortex said. "Essential equipment counts, minibot."
"Do not!" Swindle's fists clenched again.
"Brawl?" Onslaught sighed. 'If you wouldn't mind?"
"Like you're gonna do it if I don't." Brawl reached out for them again.
"We didn't do anything yet!" Swindle whined, looking at Brawl and the others with an expression of wounded innocence.
"Geeze, a guy tries to have a discussion an' you have to jump in an' stifle everything," Vortex said as Swindle held out a hand for him and pulled him back up. "Thank you, Swindle. Shall we finish refueling?"
"Certainly," Swindle said with exaggerated politeness as the pair moved back toward the pump.
"Children," muttered Blast Off.
"Onslaught, report to primary communications room," Rumble said over the undersea base's loudspeakers. "Soundwave wants t'see you now."
"I wonder what he wants now," Blast Off said.
"Anything I should be aware of, gentlemen?" Onslaught asked as he stood to leave. "Swindle?"
"Okay, that hurts, Ons. That really hurts." Swindle smirked. "But, no, nothing that shoulda caught the spook's attention at least."
"Good," Onslaught said. "Brawl, you're in charge while I'm gone."
"You got it, Onslaught," Brawl said.
X X X
Onslaught stepped into the communications room and stood girder-straight as he waited for Soundwave to turn away from the viewscreen he was studying.
On the screen, Onslaught caught sight of a weather map of the area directly above the undersea base. The nor'easter that had kept the base's crew stuck underwater for the last three days appeared to be breaking up.
"It will be safe to raise the tower again in approximately two hours." Scrapper's raspy voice sounded from a nearby speaker.
"Acknowledged." Soundwave flipped a switch and turned to face Onslaught. As he always did in Soundwave's presence, Onslaught dropped his gaze to the floor. The gesture was not only humble, it also allowed him to avoid looking directly into Soundwave's optic band. Anything to avoid giving the telepathic glitch an edge.
"Onslaught: mission for Combaticons. Americans have developed anti-Decepticon strike force. Megatron wishes to test capabilities. Assemble Combaticons. Departure: two hours."
"Of course, Soundwave," Onslaught said, trying not to sound too eager. "What are the mission parameters?
"Engage strike force. Test capabilities. Destroy strike force," Soundwave said, his entire manner cold and impassive. He could have been ordering a new paint job for all the interest he showed.
"Yes, Soundwave." In contrast, Onslaught felt his excitement rising at the prospect of a fight. "What information do we have on the humans?"
"Download necessary information from mainframe," Soundwave said. "Upon completion, return to base for debriefing."
"Yes, Soundwave." Onslaught turned to leave. "We will accomplish our mission without delay." He switched to his radio. "Combaticons, assemble in our quarters, we have a mission to plan!"