By the time Officer Blake met Barricade, the story of the phantom patrol car was firmly entrenched in precinct lore.
It had been showing up from time to time over the last six months, at first just something seen out of the corner of the eye and lost in the freeway traffic. The breakroom was filled with whispered mutterings and sightings, but most officers dismissed the rumors as too much coffee and vivid imaginations.
Over the last couple months, though, the sightings had gotten more and more frequent. Officers came in with a blurry tape from their dashboard camera, and a story of rolling into a speed trap to find it already occupied. Always the same car, marked "643." No one had seen a driver. No one could get close enough to investigate, though, and any attempts to block the phantom car in resulted in maneuvers that would have challenged the most talented professional driver, and the car vanishing into the distance.
But phantom cars had been the farthest thing from Ritchie Blake's mind the night he met Barricade. It was a routine traffic stop gone wrong. He'd found himself curled up on the concrete, unarmed, bleeding and disorientated from a blow to his head. He'd been looking down the barrel of his own gun when a flash of lights and the rising whoop of a police siren sent his attackers running.
Blake had never heard anything so beautiful as that siren in his life.
He slowly levered himself into a sitting position as his rescuer pulled up next to him. Vision still a bit fuzzy, Blake blinked at the police shield on the side. Was there something wrong there? His eyes slid to the rear tire, and the unit number.
He froze. There was no unit 643. It was just a story – Vaguely, he heard his radio click, a deep gravelly voice calling in an officer down.
The next thing he remembered was looking up at Sgt. Tacona's worried face.
"You were wrong, Sarge," Blake managed as the paramedics shifted him onto a stretcher.
"Just relax, Ritchie, everything's going to be fine…"
"'S not a patrol car, Sarge." The old sergeant was known around the break room as the phantom car's biggest fan
"643," Blake mumbled. "He's an interceptor." Any reply the sergeant made was lost as Blake passed out again.
By the time Blake was released and returned to duty, the story of his rescue by the mysterious Unit 643 had already made the rounds through the station. The skeptics and most of the brass were writing it off as head trauma, maybe even a hoax. Blake didn't think so. He'd seen the interceptor up close. 643 was real, and it had saved his life. But since seeing ghost cars wasn't the sort of thing you wanted the defense counsel to bring up in court, he kept his mouth shut and let the others speculate.
But after a month of crack-pot theories on the nature of 643 and what had really happened that night, Blake was beginning to doubt if he'd really seen it himself.
Until he pulled up under an underpass to find 643 already there.
Blake didn't even try to trap the interceptor. From what the others had said, attempting to do so would only spook the mysterious car, and he'd never get an answer. He pulled up alongside 643, leaving it plenty of room to pull out. Then he climbed out of his patrol car and perched on the hood, looking over the car next to him.
The car – a Saleen Mustang, he noted – didn't move, but Blake got the unsettling feeling that it was watching him back.
"I wasn't sure if you were real," Blake said after a moment.
The interceptor was still and silent.
"I wanted to thank you," Blake continued, "For saving my life."
Blake would have silly, sitting on the edge of a highway, talking to a car, if it wasn't for the aura of wariness that surrounded the Mustang.
A long minute of silence, then the Mustang's engine rumbled to life and the interceptor started to roll forward.
The interceptor paused.
"Can I get your name, at least?"
Blake didn't think he'd get an answer - after all, even the most ridiculous of the stories running around the precinct didn't have the car talking - but after a moment, a deep voice growled out, "Barricade."
Then the Mustang pulled out into the highway traffic and was gone.
Barricade showed up more and more often as the weeks went by; sometimes sitting on street corners, sometimes tagging along on high-speed chases. And one day Blake walked out of the precinct to find him parked in the chief's spot.
After that, Barricade's existence became something of an accepted fact around the precinct, to the point Dispatch logged 643 as a radio call-number under the name "Barricade." The brass were finally believers after the chief had shown up to work to find a car that wasn't supposed to exist sitting in his spot, talking –talking – to one of his officers.
Quiet inquiries with his contacts had turned up some rather bizarre possibilities concerning the police car who called himself Barricade. The report sitting open on the chief's desk was highly classified, and he'd had to call in quite a few favors to get it. The information it contained was disturbing, on more than one level.
The chief closed the report, thinking hard.
On one hand, if what the report was implying was true, Barricade's continued presence in the city was putting a lot of people in serious risk. The report pegged Barricade as a member of a dangerous alien faction, bent on the total destruction of mankind.
On the other, there was no evidence Barricade had done anything wrong or tried to harm anyone. He hadn't even been at Mission City.
And he'd saved Blake's life.
The chief wasn't so sure about these "Autobot" characters that the military had been getting their Intel from, anyway. Deliberately taking a military target into a densely populated civilian population… they'd been lucky that the death toll had been as low as it had.
He'd trust his gut instincts over these Autobots, and his gut was telling him that Barricade wasn't the monster he'd been made out to be. Aloof, perhaps, but with a wickedly dark sense of humor that the chief had appreciated in their few conversations.
His men were safer with Barricade around. And as long as Barricade protected his men, the LAPD would protect Barricade.
In the meantime, he just had to convince the sentient car to let them change those side decals…