Author's Notes: Been a while since my last update eh? Well, I'm afraid I still cannot guarantee any kind of consistency with my updates, but in any case here is a good sized update for all you patient people who I adore.
The English countryside was vast and more or less featureless, with rolling hills of green and sparingly place shrubbery. Its steeply curved hills with dips and raises provided ample cover for the Autobots as they rested and recovered, administering much needed repairs and refuelings. The last clash with Decepticon armed forces had been across the Channel in France, and although the Autobots had claimed a suitable victory, successfully pushing the Decepticons from the country and into Germany, it had left them with many wounded which were then transported back to England. The front lines were being secured by a mixture of UN and NATO forces, armed with improved weapons of Cybertronian design, and various Autobots. Optimus had been adamantly against having the humans fight in the beginning let alone provide them with weapons, but after some much protest from the various countries and several gains by the Decepticon campaign, Optimus reluctantly agreed.
It had been set up so that each Autobot stationed on the front lines was to be paired with one unit of humans. So far, it appeared to be a very effective system. Humans knew the lay out of the land far better then any of the Autobots and could move across it with ease while the Autobots had better monitoring capabilities and sensitive sensors. The combination of the two had been key in the recent string of victories. But casualties had been many. Human medics and nurses rushed to mend the wounded while soldiers and volunteers from near by towns took up the arduous task of burry the dead. The field the Autobot occupied as temporary base or HQ was hardly the ideal location, but it was better then the front lines.
Optimus Prime stood atop a hill, gazing around him and marveling at the world around him. Many of his warriors often complained of the 'organic waste land' but it was hardly a waste land at all. The native creatures thrived here amongst the abundant greenery and vast space. There was no civilization to spoil the natural beauty of the planet they were so desperately trying to save.
His musings were interrupted by the soft rev of a Mech's engine, the Cybertronian equivalent to a human clearing their throat. Turning to glance over his shoulder, Optimus spotted Prowl behind him, carrying a data pad and two data disks.
"Sir," Prowl said, "We received a reply from Ultra Magnus and a contact notice from Jazz."
Optimus turned all the way around to face the tactician with pleasant surprise. "Magnus sent a reply to our request?"
Prowl nodded gravely. "Yes sir. It was coded and label urgent."
Optimus felt a bubble of unease rise and he put out his hand. "Let me see the message, Prowl."
The black and white Mech obediently handed over the data pad and disks. Prime selected the message from Ultra Magnus and slipped it into the data pad. As he began to read the message, his optics grew more and more narrow and it took all his will power not to simply crush the data pad in his hands. Finally, with great self control, he lowered the data pad and looked to Prowl. The tactician stiffened, ready to receive the news he knew was coming…
"It seems as though our reinforcement request is being granted," He said slowly, a grim tone coloring his voice, causing Prowl's mind to pause, and then added, "But at a great cost."
Prowl was hesitant to ask, even though he already knew. "How so?"
"The Autobot Hub on Cybertron has been over run. Ultra Magnus and those who escaped the siege are on a stolen cargo vessel heading for Earth as we speak; estimated time of arrival, two earth weeks."
Prowl nodded solemnly and a long, awkward silence fell between the two.
"It was inevitable, sir. We knew the Hub would fall."
"Maybe so," Optimus replied forlornly, "But we could have prevented it. If only he had listened…"
"What are your order's sir?" Prowl asked, his tone returning to the no-nonsense canter that characterized him.
"Inform the troops and send word to Home Base," Optimus Prime replied, his own voice ringing with authority. "If we wish to regain Cybertron we must liberate Earth. Even if it means we must abandon it for the time being. With Ultra Magnus's help, I have confidence we will be able to accomplish this in far less time then with our current unit."
"And what of Jazz's contact?" Prowl said, as if to remind the Prime he still had one more message to view.
Optimus allowed a light chuckled bubble up from under the devastating news of the loss of the Hub and removed the disk from the data pad, slipping in Jazz's. The Autobot commander read in silence and didn't say anything for a long moment.
Prowl's wing panels twitched anxiously.
"Sir?" Prowl prompted. "Is there something wrong?"
"No Prowl," Optimus replied with a smile in his voice, "Everything is fine. Jazz is requesting clearance to fortify home base…using recycled materials from the abandoned human settlement it appears."
At the news, Prowl's concern evaporated and he scoffed, "Jazz always did enjoy doing things his own way."
Optimus Prime chuckled at his second in command handed him the data pad.
"You're beginning to sound like Red Alert," Optimus teased.
Prowl took the data pad frowned at his superior, "I resent that comparison."
The sun had already set by the time they reached the Ark. The humans laboring behind him were a growing concern, but Mirage was certain they would be fine with a little rest. He carried the injured one, Seth, in his hands, ever careful of the newly splinted leg. The young man had indignantly refused to be carried around, but Mirage didn't listen and ignored the young man's heated words and attempts to be released. He had stopped complaining little over a breem after they left the town, seeming to have exhausted his low energy reserves. Joseph had reluctantly agreed to Mirage's offer of aid and the blue and white Mech was now leading the small legion to the Ark. The humans seemed convinced, at least somewhat, that he meant them no harm, but still they fidgeted or twitched or jumped whenever he spoke or made a sudden movement. The only human who did not react this way was Maggie who seemed absolutely inquisitive about him.
The trip had taken much longer then if he was alone and he had used his vehicle mode, but he did not want to rush them. He did urge them on when they tired, the steep hills draining what little strength they had, and they seemed determined as anything to press on, the enticement of a warm place to sleep and food pushing them forward. However, there were moments when they seemed to wonder if their primal needs were blinding them and they were walking into a trap. Mirage marveled at how such primitive urges could keep them going so long. Once, the black skinned female stopped and called Maggie to her.
"How do we know this isn't just some trap?" She asked. "How do we know you don't plan to kill us or something?"
Mirage turned and studied the woman, noting her high stress levels and her rapidly beating heart. "I cannot think of anything else to which would prove my sincerity. Only my word. I will not harm you, nor will my fellows. I speak the truth. However if you are that skeptical of my intentions, you are free to refuse my aid and leave if that is what you wish. I have no right to stop you."
She stayed there for a long moment as she pondered her choice, her small dark eyes never wavering from Mirage's face as if trying to discern some hidden truth from his optics. He kept his facial features neutral. Finally, the female gave a resigned sigh and trenched forward up the hill. And they moved onwards.
When they reached the top of the hill, just out of sight of the Ark, Mirage carefully sat Seth to the ground while Janine came forward to help ease the wounded man's leg onto the ground. Joseph helped Claire into a sitting position to rest, pulling out a small bottle of water for her to drink from, and Maggie plopped down beside her. When Seth was safely deposited to the ground, Janine took the opportunity to look over the split and Mirage addressed the group in a quiet voice.
"Our base is just over this hill, but I would like to speak with my superior before we proceed," He said, "Please wait here until I return."
Maggie broke away from her mother and scampered up to him, "I wanna go too!"
"Maggie," Her mother chastised, out of breath and waving tiredly for her daughter to come back to her, "Stop pestering him."
Mirage lowered himself to one knee. "She is welcome to come if you allow it, Claire."
Claire looked startled for a moment and very hesitant, so smiling, he added, "I may be able to plead my case with more success if she is there. Jazz is known to be very…lenient, especial where younglings are involved."
With a sigh, she grudgingly nodded. Maggie giggled excitedly and hoped up and down and Claire rushed to add, "Be good though and mind your manners."
"Yes ma'am," Maggie replied cheerfully. Mirage set down his hand and allowed the child to clamber on.
As he rose to his feet, Claire gave her own demands of him, "You better be careful with her now. If she starts to get scared get her out of there that instant, you hear me?"
Mirage stared at the woman for a moment, the sheer dominance her voice portrayed taking him by surprise, and quickly nodded, "Yes ma'am."
Mirage thought he heard the others snicker, but they quickly hushed up when he glanced at them.
Night had just taken over the sky, speckling the inky darkness with bright blips of brilliant light. It was really the only thing that was really recognizable to him, although the constellations were different then the ones back home. When it was quiet and cold he looked up and he could vividly imagine that he was back on Cybertron.
His musings were interrupted when he heard someone call out to him.
"Day-dreaming during sentry duty, are we?" The large black Mech jumped and looked to see Mirage approaching the Ark. The spy smiled, adding, "And at night, nevertheless?"
Trailbreaker glanced at him with an unamused look, but stopped short of replying when he caught sight of what the spy held, cupped in his hands. A small human, dark skin, dressed in dirty pants and what was possible once a clean yellow shirt. Her fuzzy hair was jet black, pulled to either side of her head and tied down with little bands. When he looked down at her, the little human smiled cheerfully at him.
Trailbreaker looked up at Mirage and sighed. "Not you too…"
"I need to talk with Jazz," Mirage said as if he never heard him, "I came across a group of humans refugees down in town."
"Of course you did," Trailbreaker said sardonically. He glanced back down at the human child to see she was still smiling cheerfully up at him. "So who's this then?"
"I'm Maggie," She replied bubbly. Trailbreaker found himself smiling despite himself. "What's your name?"
"Trailbreaker," He answered. "S'wear are the rest of 'em?"
"Just at the edge of the hill," Mirage replied, "I had them wait there for me. One of them is injured and one of the females is expecting to give birth any day. Maggie wished to come and help me convince Jazz to let 'em stay. At least for a while."
Trailbreaker laughed at that and shrugged. "Hey, it worked for Bee. Why not?"
"That is what I was thinking," Mirage added.
"Well he should be in his office," Trailbreaker said, pointing behind him with his thumb.
"Thank you Trailbreaker," Mirage said as he pasted the sentry. From the Mech's hands, Maggie waved and said a cheerful "Thank you!"
Trailbreaker watched as they entered the base and shook his head. "Red's gonna loooove this."
Jazz sat back in his chair and went over the various patrol reports, most of which had nothing to report and the saboteur decided he did not envy Prowl. How did that Mech do all of this tediously arduous work for so long? How had his processor not melted into slag? He had received Red Alert's suggestions for the new security upgrade as well as a basic outline. It called for a fortified wall surrounding the immediate area of the Ark where designated weapons would be installed every 2.5 giga-yards, roughly 100 feet. Jazz still had yet to receive any approval from Prime but he decided it couldn't hurt to go on ahead with the basics. Construction wouldn't begin for a while yet, approval or not.
The recent victories in Europe had lifted moral some, but the events of the last week were still fresh in his mind and it was hard to share in the celebration. His processor heated with ire whenever his thoughts lingered for too long on the subject. Spike's parents had not just been killed, they had been mutilated. Tortured. The wounds inflicted suggested more then a simple kill. There was anger behind it. Revenge maybe. Ravage had taken his time in methodically decimating the bodies and it made the saboteur shudder to wonder if the poor creatures had still bee functional when the horrors had been done.
Something had to be done to quell this…genocide.
Had they the resources to do so, Jazz would order the Mechs under his immediate command to scour the country looking for these refineries and lay siege to the blasted places. But he knew such an action wouldn't be possible and even then it would be irresponsible. Such recklessness would not save the humans. There had to be a way to free them. Jazz made a mental note to give Cosmos a new assignment next time the satellite-Mech orbited around to their air space.
His attention was diverted however when the door to the office slid open and Mirage stepped inside. The blue and white Mech resembled Prowl much in the way of expression. Most of the time the Mech was placid and neutral, giving his opinions when appropriate, and never wasted his words just as the black and white tactician. Jazz smiled as he entered, but the smile faded abruptly.
His spark froze when he caught sight of the little creature cupped in Mirage's hands and a distinct feeling of 'not again' filtered through him. Seeing the abrupt change in his captain's facial features, Mirage hastened to explain himself. He did not need to ask what the Mech was thinking, he had a good idea what conclusions he was leaping to. "Jazz, do not worry. It is not what you are thinking."
Jazz seemed to relax a bit and a small smile returned to his face-plate. "Well that's good then. I didn't think we could handle any more bad news."
Mirage nodded and stepped further into the room, depositing the small human child on the desk. The child wobbled a bit as she stood, but Mirage carefully steadied her with one hand. "This is Maggie."
The little human smiled cheerfully up at the visored Mech and in sweet voice said, "Hello Mr. Robot."
Jazz's smile widened into a grin and he leaned forward closer to her level. "Hey there yourself little lady. You can call me Jazz."
Maggie beamed and nodded, "Ok."
Jazz glanced up at Mirage, seeming more tired then before, "So what's the story behind this one, then?"
"I was taking a survey of the city in preparation for construction and I came across a group of humans."
Jazz's interest peaked. "A group?"
"Yes. There are five of them all together; two males and three females, including Maggie," Mirage elaborated, "I had them wait outside for me until I had spoken with you. One of the males is injured and they are very…jumpy. They almost did not trust me enough to come. It took some persuading."
Jazz didn't need to hear anymore. He quickly got up from his seat and walked around the desk, quickly scooping the little girl up and he gestured to the door, "Lead the way, then."
Mirage couldn't suppress his pleasure as a smile crept to his face and he nodded before following along eagerly.
Janine felt like she was about to faint when she saw a gargantuan black robot approach them. Long enforced fear of the robots still had a hard grip on her and she wasn't exactly sure how they all came to trust, even a little, the blue and white Mech that called himself Mirage. She gripped onto Claire's hands while at the same time trying to shield Seth as he lay prone on the ground. She was a paltry defense, but in his injured state, Seth wasn't much help to himself either. Joseph leaped to his feet as the robot stood before them and took place in front of the group, eyeing the metal giant.
The display of aggression was enough to freeze the Mech in his tracks. Blue robotic eyes hovered over the group, taking in the sight of their pitiful condition.
"You don't need to be scared of me," the giant said with a smile, holding his hands aloft in mock surrender. "I'm not gonna hurt you guys."
"What do you want?" Joseph asked after a tense moment of silence, his voice was terse, but worn and tired.
The giant's 'eyebrow' rose quizzically at the question. "Nothing," he said simply, "Just checking up on you. Mirage said one of you was injured."
Seth raised his arm feebly in the air and said in a tired, miserable, voice, "That'd be me."
Pain and exhaustion seemed to have drained any fight the young man had in him and he had taken to playing the role of the group gimp. Janine looked over the make shift split once more with growing concern. Her attention turned back to the robot as it slowly lowered itself to its knees, eyes focused on Seth. "The injuries aren't life threatening are they?"
The group blinked up at him with surprise.
"N-no," Janine answered, unable to quell the quiver in her voice, "His leg was broken, but it's not life t-threatening."
She felt a shiver run through her when the robot glanced her way, trying to keep herself calm. Janine watched the black robot's face as his mechanical eyes trailed over to look at Seth's bandaged leg and she was taken aback when she saw his 'eyebrows' crease in what she interpreted to be a look of…concern?
"Does it hurt?" He asked the man.
Seth laughed mirthlessly, hand gripping the dirt as if trying to rebuke the pain he was in, "Like hell. Have you ever had your leg snap in half like a twig?"
"No," was the flat answer, "I did have it blown off once though."
Seth blinked and propped himself up on his elbows, wincing a little, to stare at the robot with a quizzical, if not skeptical, look.
The robot nodded and then waved his hand in gesture, "When I was younger of course. Stepped on a smelter shell. Blew everything from the middle thigh down to scrap and torn a hole through the other. I spent the next fifteen orns strapped to a medical berth. Hurt like slag too."
As he spoke, the large black robot gestured to his leg, making a line across his right thigh. All the humans watched and listened, their fear momentarily forgotten as their minds tried to imagine having their legs blown off.
"…what's an orn?" Janine asked quietly, looking around her at the others instead of directing the query to the robot. Joseph and Claire just shrugged.
The robot's eyes fluttered strangely and for no reason at all, Janine had the impression he was blinking. "An orn? It's uh…well…oh, I can never remember the earth time keeping system. An orn is…13 earth days, roughly. I think. I'd have to double check with Jazz, but I'm pretty sure it's 13."
Seth counted on his fingers running through the multiplication table in his mind, "So…fifteen orns would be…uh…" He shook his head after a moment. "…I dunno."
Janine suppressed a laugh and said, "A little over six months."
The red haired man frowned.
"I hate math," Seth grumbled. "Failed it twice in high school. My teacher was a real prick too."
The robot suddenly laughed causing the group of humans to all jump and look at him anxiously as the loud sudden noise echoed through the nights.
Wheeljack stood to the side of the Medbay as Jazz and Mirage herded the small group of humans inside. They stood close to one another, the two adult female clinging to each other while the uninjured male held the little girl in his arms tightly. Mirage carefully held the injured human in his hands, walking to the nearest table and setting the man down, careful of his leg.
"Is this all of them?" Wheeljack asked, flinching a little when the group of humans all snapped around to stare at him, apparently having not seen him as they entered. "Sorry, didn't mean to scare you all."
Jazz laughed, waving at the Mech dismissively, "Nah, their just a bit jumpy; rough day and all y'know. Give 'em some food and rest an' they'll be cool."
"I have some towels and polishing cloths they could use for bedding," Wheeljack offered speculatively, "Spike has that little sleeping pad thing. One of you could use that too. I don't think he'd mind donating it."
The older male who seemed to be their leader, lowered the little girl to the ground and addressed Wheeljack hesitantly, "T-thank you…for your help."
"Think nothing of it," Wheeljack replied, trying to convey some form of cheerfulness to the group. They looked absolutely broken. Their clothes were filthy and their arms and legs were marred with sun burns, healing scabs, bruises, and a myriad of other minor injuries that were but a small indication to the hardships they had suffered. "It's about time we started doing something useful around here."
"Just don't tell Red Alert," Mirage grumbled.
"…he doesn't know they're here?" asked Wheeljack incredulously.
"No," Mirage replied flatly, "And there isn't a thing he can do about it. We can't turn them away now."
"A-a-a-alighty then," Jazz interjected before anything escalated, "Why don't we go and get these folks some nourishment then huh? Leave Red to me guys; I'll smooth his feathers out later. Might wanna go find Bumblebee and Spike. Maybe one of these nice folk can get the kid cheered up some, huh?"
Wheeljack suddenly brightened and turned to the humans who had all been watching the three giants banter. "Would you all be willing to?"
"To what?" The thin blind female asked, unsure of their intentions.
"We've been looking after a human child one of our friends found a little over a month ago," He explained, "And we just recently found his parent's mortal remains. He took it pretty hard and hasn't been eating very much. We were hoping maybe you might be able to fix that, try something we haven't thought of perhaps."
The group carried a collective look of mild shock. The thin blond female stepped up, a newfound resolve brought on by her maternal instincts forming in her. "How old is he?"
"Four year old," Jazz replied, recalling the day he'd first met the frightened little boy. He hoped these folks could help him. Even just a little…
"Four years…" The woman breathed, shaking her head in disbelief. "So young…"
"Poor little guy," the leader added, equally melancholy.
"Will you help him?" Jazz asked, crouching down to the blond female's level, but kept his distance, not wanting to frighten her.
"Of course we will," she replied, surprising him a little at her conviction.
"Bumblebee will be glad to hear that," Wheeljack said in relief.