In her absence, Ratchet had been busy. Which was hardly a surprise – Mikaela was beginning to think he probably wouldn't take a break until he'd gotten Bumblebee repaired, and maybe not even then. Ironhide still had to be fixed, and the weapons specialist had made that comment about Prime needing to come in, still, to "face" Ratchet, all of which suggested it might be awhile before the medical officer did any 'recharging.' At the moment, Ratchet was bending over Jazz's poor remains; he had a number of long, clear tubes laid out at his side capped by some sort of nozzle-like top that he'd retrieved from who knew where, and a few of them were filled with some strange, glowing fluid.
"Mikaela." Bumblebee had noticed her arrival, and beckoned to her now. He, too, was busy, it seemed – he had a number of servos stacked at his side and blue eyes narrowed as he peered at the one he was currently using some sort of laser-like tool on.
"What's going on?" she asked, gesturing to Ratchet as she joined him.
"Energon extraction. Best to stay away."
Mikaela nodded. Given Ratchet's paranoid concern to keep her away from it yesterday, Bumblebee was no doubt right.
"So what is this energon anyway?" she had asked, when he'd warned her way from a certain module or set of lines for perhaps the tenth time. "What's in it that it's so dangerous?"
"Compounds that are highly reactive until processed in a Cybertronian's central converter," had been the terse reply. And when Mikaela had just looked expectantly at him, his vents had cycled, but he had submitted to the unspoken demand. "It's fuel. It can bind with any number of molecules to take different forms that have a greater or lesser amount of energy stored in the chemical bonds. You'll remember how Sector Seven determined you'd been in contact with us?"
It had taken a moment's thought, but then she had recalled that Simmons had had that counter on him, and all the talk of the weird radiation the Allspark had given off, and had sucked in an alarmed breath. "You guys are radioactive?" she had said.
"No. Well, yes," Ratchet had said, and scowled, and waved a hand. "But that's not the point. Simmons wasn't scanning for radiation – the shielding we have built into our systems means we don't stand out against the background radiation in any industrial sector of this planet. He was scanning for compounds that had traces of bound energon – I suppose they found it simplest to modify a radiation detector.
"In any case, energon has a high reactivity index – it will bind with just about anything, including your skin. We find this both painful and potentially dangerous when it happens to us; in a human, it might be crippling or fatal. So," he had concluded oppressively, "don't touch it. Don't go putting your hands near injectors. And don't play with the energon lines. I don't care how redundant their breach containment system is. There's a reason they have a metal-mesh sheath and two layers of inert insulation! So just keep anything sharp away from them and don't go near the attachment points."
Both of which rules Ratchet appeared to be violating at the moment, between the containers and the power saw he was using. Yup, definitely not the time to wander over. Besides, she wasn't really that eager to watch him cut into Jazz, and it wasn't as if he hadn't already left her something to do earlier. "Were these in my pile?" she asked, gesturing to the servos.
"Thought I'd get a head start," Bumblebee replied, even as he reached and plucked a toolkit off the nearby bench. His vents flared as he said, "It it's not as if I haven't had plenty of practice!"
"These yours?" Mikaela asked, as she accepted the kit and settled tailor style on the floor across from him.
"Some of them. Doesn't matter, though," Bumblebee replied, as he aimed a forefinger at a recalcitrant part and a laser beam appeared suddenly. "Jazz and I patched each other up plenty of times in the field – Ratchet's not the only one who's seen our parts too often." So he said, and seemed to sigh softly.
"Mm." Mikaela chose not to reply in any more detail, but simply bent over the broken part with a screwdriver.
They were silent after that, and as first one hour and then another passed, a steadily increasing number of mended parts made their way from one pile to another, while from the other side of the room, a more punctuated stream of growls and mutterings gave evidence of Ratchet's progress, or lack thereof.
It was all the more startling, therefore, when both Ratchet and Bumblebee froze of a sudden, the two Autobots stiffening with what seemed to be alarm. Mikaela, confused, glanced back and forth between them, as Ironhide's engine roared loudly to life outside the shop. In the distance came the sudden sound of machine gunfire.
That seemed to break the spell, as Ratchet swore – or at least, that's what it sounded like – and faster than she would've thought possible for a being of his size, he was out the front, having dropped what he was doing in an instant. He hollered something short and sharp at Ironhide, transformed, and, to the accompaniment of sirens, squealing tires and the scent of burned rubber, peeled out of the lot and down the street, heading back towards the city center.
"Whoa," Mikaela managed. "What the – ?"
"Prime," Bumblebee said, voice suddenly and utterly cool – soldierly, she supposed. "Combat warning just flashed over the HUD."
"Is it that cop car again?" Mikaela asked, dreading the answer.
"Could be," Bumblebee replied, though a skeptical undercurrent told against that possibility. "I doubt it, though. Prime flagged it an unknown sniper. We know Barricade's somewhere on Earth, but that's just not his style."
"Not unless Barricade's got a death wish," a rumbling voice said, and then Ironhide appeared suddenly in robot form by the entry way. "Even so, he'd need a good long range between himself and Prime to pull off a hit."
"How long a range?" Mikaela asked worriedly, thinking of long, straight city streets.
"Too long for Barricade to succeed," Bumblebee replied, and explained: "At the distance he'd need, he'd come up against the same problem I have. He just doesn't have the firepower to pierce Prime's armor, unless maybe Prime decided to stand stock still and face into a full clip for some reason."
Ironhide shook his head. "Prime could do that and Barricade still wouldn't walk away from it," he said, with a derisory cycling of vents. "Time it'd take him to empty his clip and for the whole payload to hit home, Prime could still get a shot of his own off, and once that happened – " The weapons specialist mimed shooting himself in the head. "Game over. Like I said: for this to be Barricade, he'd need a death wish."
Bumblebee grunted, engine whirring in an agitated fashion, as the sounds of sporadic combat continued, though a little more distantly, as if the shooters were moving away from them. "Be nice if he had one," the smaller 'bot said, hard tone and harsh sentence at odds with his cheerful color scheme.
"Ain't likely, though," Ironhide replied, even as he transformed one arm into a cannon and ran a quick check on its settings. "'F it were Barricade, Prime would've called me in. Slagger might not have the range, but if he wants to get into it, he's likely to mess you up pretty good for all that." The cannon gave an electronic whine, rising in pitch as it charged. "Occurs to me, though, that we might not have seen everyone yet. Could be some kinda decoy."
"Which is why I'm worried about Ratchet being out there," Bumblebee said unhappily.
"Yeah, well, that's where you come in," a preoccupied Ironhide tersely replied, at which pronouncement, Bumblebee darted a concerned look at Mikaela, then glanced back at his taller comrade.
"Um, Ironhide, Prime was pretty clear. I don't think you should go – "
"Oh I'm not going anywhere," the other 'bot interrupted him, and gave a snort of amused laughter, vents flaring, as he eyed Bumblebee. "Like you're in any state to hold a parking place! But you know what I meant: this is Doc Ratchet we're talking about – he doesn't leave a job half-done."
Bumblebee didn't respond to that, just sat staring intently out at the empty street, listening to the firefight. After a few moments, Ironhide shook himself, transformed his other arm into a matching cannon, then said, casually, "Think I'll go take a walk around the block, see what's to be seen. Shoot if you need me."
"Will do. And 'Hide," Bumblebee called after his departing comrade.
"Patch your sensors into mine – you know I've got the better suite, and it's not like I've got a lot to do here."
"You got it. And you, girl," the weapons specialist added, as he took a last look about from the lot, "anything goes down, get yourself under cover and stay out of the way."
"Right," Mikaela said, drawing a deep breath, even as Bumblebee brought his guns up – rocket launchers and energy canon, both. "You really think there might be more than one Decepticon out there?" she asked nervously.
"Anything's possible," Bumblebee replied, but then said, in a reassuring tone: "Most likely, Prime's just playing it safe. Ironhide's right: if he were truly concerned about his ability to handle this, he'd call in the heavy weaponry, not Ratchet."
"Why does he want Ratchet, then? If he doesn't really need him..."
"My guess? Field repair – probably for the other guy. Or else autopsy. But it's possible Prime might take some damage, too, that it'd be better to handle on the spot. And of course," and here Bumblebee's tone grew a little wry, "there's always damage control. He's already gonna be facing one short-fused medic for staying out like he has been, and not coming in to recharge or anything after that face-off with Megatron. If he just showed up here after a fight, Ratchet would take him apart – literally."
With that, Bumblebee lapsed into watchful silence, while Mikaela stood there, feeling tense and a little queasy as she looked about, wondering what would count as cover. When your enemy could flip cars at you as easily as kids threw rocks, that made it rather difficult to come up with anything.
Which was why, in the end, she stalked over to the wall and took down a crowbar, hefting it once just to make sure she could swing it. It probably wouldn't do her much good, but the mace in her purse would be even more useless. At least she could maybe crack a windshield if anything got close. Maybe.
Thus armed against lurking Decepticons, she went and settled herself behind Bumblebee's bulk instead of across from him, laid the crowbar across her lap, hauled a servo over, and kept on with her repair job. It's not like standing around's going to help anything, or anyone, she thought determinedly, though she decided that she wouldn't be telling her grandmother about this when she called home later tonight. In the distance, an explosion rumbled. Nope, definitely not something to mention to Grandma Lori...
Time passed slowly, and other than the occasional click and whir of Bumblebee's servos as he shifted position ever so slightly, and the irregular report of machine guns somewhere in amid the skyscrapers, it was utterly quiet. Wherever Ironhide was, he was certainly lying low and running silent. Mikaela placed her servo in the finished pile and took up another, forcing herself to ignore the sounds of battle entirely too close for comfort, even if it was a mile away.
After a small eternity, however, Bumblebee let out a synthesized trill, and his launchers retracted. "Is it over?" Mikaela demanded hopefully. "Are they all right?"
"Yes, and yes," Bumblebee replied, though he didn't shift his right arm out of cannon mode just yet. "They're coming in. Ironhide – go!"
Apparently, that last had gone into some sort of radio transmitter, for Bumblebee's voice suddenly dropped eerily to Ironhide's lower register. "Rolling," he said tersely. "ETA two minutes to take position."
"Copy that, ETA two minutes," Bumblebee replied, shifting back to his regular voice, then looked over at Mikaela. "You all right?"
"We didn't get shot at," she said and shrugged. Bumblebee's eyes brightened noticeably.
"Which makes it a good day," he agreed, wry amusement evident in his tone, though he glanced once more out at the street. "My sensors aren't picking anything up – we're probably in the clear. But why don't you stay where you are until Prime and Ratchet get here?"
As it happened, that didn't take very long. She heard Ratchet before she saw him – he had his sirens on again, and a minute or two later, a Hummer and a rather battered semi pulled into the lot. Prime transformed first, somewhat more slowly than was usual even for him, while Ratchet sat idling. Mikaela didn't understand that until Prime rapped once on Ratchet's roof, and the back doors of the search and rescue vehicle popped open. Prime reached in and withdrew something smallish and green that looked like it had seen better days.
"What is that?" she asked. Bumblebee spread his hands, as mystified as she.
"Don't know. What happened out there?" he called to his commander and CMO.
"Would you fragging believe a vending machine?" Ratchet's querulous voice floated back, slamming his doors before transforming. He proceeded then to limp back to the garage, clearly favoring his left leg, which sparked at the knee joint and whose plate armor had clearly been breached by a round of bullets.
Bumblebee's door-wings flexed rather noticeably, and his eyes shuttered once, twice, even as their glow increased. "So Ratch," he said, carefully, "are you saying you got popped by a pop machine?"
"It isn't funny," the medic growled, which only inspired the smaller Autobot to put his head in his hands and howl, motor churning and choking with hysterical amusement. Tossing Bumblebee a disdainful glare, Ratchet turned then to Prime and pointed to a spot in the front corner of the garage. "Put him there. I'll take a look later, not that there's much to look at after Des Moines Street!"
"Is it... dead?" Mikaela asked, hesitantly.
"Unfortunately," Prime said heavily, as he followed Ratchet's instructions, then knelt down examine the smaller green robot, whose paint did still bear a recognizable cola label that Mikaela could just make out despite the burn marks and shattered plating. After a moment, the commander of the Autobots shook his head, his tone puzzled and regretful as he said, "I did not recognize his energy signature – no decal, no indication that he understood us, either. Not even when we spoke Cybertronian."
"It's likely he was using a flux inducer to alter his signature. If I can find one, there may be enough left to extract the algorithm he was using to distort it. But you know how they work – once his spark chamber was compromised, it should've triggered an overload in the inducer that would take his transponder with it," Ratchet said, rather more somber than surly now. "Even if I find one, it's likely I won't be able to get enough from it to reconstruct his original signature. We may never know who this was."
"I know. Do your best."
"Once I finish with the living. Which I'll do, just as soon as I get the shrapnel out of this and a patch-weld," the medic muttered.
"Need any help, doc?" Bumblebee asked. And when Ratchet shot him a look, he shrugged, and said, "Since I'm at knee level already. And I can do a pretty mean jury-rig – get right around the burnt out stuff and recalcitrant bullets."
"Yes, I've seen the signature 'Bee bypass entirely too often." For a moment, Ratchet seemed to be weighing pride against prudence, but in the end, pride bowed. "No wisecracks," he said, adamantly, and the smaller robot shook his head.
"Wouldn't dream it," he said, and seemed actually to mean it, as he cast an eye over the latest casualty of a war that should've ended yesterday. Then: "Mikaela, you want to maybe find somewhere else to stand, just in case I do pop an energon line. Only for awhile, though: this shouldn't take too long."
"I'll just be outside then," she said, retreating out of the garage while Bumblebee flicked his headlights on and leaned in to see what he could find buried in Ratchet's gears.
"Smart girl," Ratchet said, and then said over his shoulder: "Meantime, you can sit and conserve power until I have time to deal with you!" And then, as an afterthought: "Sir."
"Yes, Ratchet." Optimus Prime didn't even bother to argue, just sank down and leaned his back against the corner of the garage. He gave her a nod as she came to join him. "Mikaela," he greeted her. "How are you today?"
"Ok, I guess," she said and shrugged, staring briefly down at the broken little 'bot before averting her eyes. "We could hear the gunfire. What happened back there?"
"We are not entirely certain," Prime replied, contemplatively worrying at a burned patch of metal just below what in a human would have been his collar bone, courtesy of Megatron's literal parting shot. Mikaela could see some shorted out and blackened wiring where the energy discharge had pierced all the way through, and following the scorch marks as they radiated outward, also at the juncture of his left shoulder. "The preliminary report came from some of the soldiers stationed in Bravo sector, which is west of the streets we were on yesterday. They said they were under fire from another Cybertronian, though they reported no match in form, size or armament with any of the data we had given them on Barricade or any other Decepticon that we knew of as regularly affiliated with Starscream's company."
"So he wasn't even shooting at you at first? He was going after our guys?" Mikaela frowned.
"Strangely, yes. My arrival changed that, but it also drove him back inside some buildings." Prime made a soft noise, as of frustration. "That fight wouldn't have lasted half as long, save that a 'bot that size can find many more places to hide that I can't reach without doing severe damage to city property. Lennox's teams had to do most of the hunting. I had them flush him into a blind alley off of Des Moines Street where Ratchet and I blocked him in.
"We tried communicating, but as I said, he didn't seem to understand us and I fear may have taken the attempt to force a digital link as a threat. He opened fire – I caught the plasma discharge, Ratchet took a clip from the machine gun, and Sergeant Epps's team took him down with a couple of grenades and sabot rounds at point blank range. He wasn't heavily armored – the blasts probably compromised his spark chamber immediately." Prime shook his head. "We still do not know why he chose to attack, particularly once the odds turned so heavily against him."
"Is Sergeant Epps all right?" Mikaela asked, worriedly.
"He is unhurt, as is Captain Lennox," Prime assured her.
"And you really don't know where this robot came from?"
Mikaela bit her lip, glancing back over her shoulder at the city in ruins. "Do you think," she asked, "that there are many more out there?"
"It is hard to say," Prime replied.
"But you think there are," she pressed.
The Autobot leader gazed at her a moment, then nodded. "Yes."
If ever there were bad news to be had… Mikaela folded her arms across her chest, chewing gently on her lip as she considered the unhappy possibilities. "What happens now?" she asked at length.
"That depends in part on your people – on all of Earth's residents. We recognize the danger you have been put in due to our presence here, and we will do all that we can to shield you from any revenge Starscream might devise," the Autobot commander said firmly. "But it is not clear yet how to proceed. Your world is riven by factions and we must consider above all how to assist you in defending yourselves without allowing ourselves to be used by any of these factions." He paused and shook his head. "Not the simplest of tasks! But we will come to some arrangement in time."
"But you are going to stay here. On Earth?"
"For a time at least, and permanently if we can come to a reasonable accommodation with the powers of your world. Barricade and Scorponok are still at large, and we should be available to intercept them as swiftly as possible. Beyond that, we could not risk settling on one of your other planets until we had a functional passive alert and tracking system that would cover at least the inner belt of your star system. Otherwise, if the Decepticons returned, and we were settled elsewhere, we might be far out of position to aid you in time. And," Prime mused, "since we haven't the raw materials or facilities to fabricate such a system, we'll have to find some way of trading for them, which brings us back to the rather delicate political situation..."
Mikaela made a soft noise in the back of her throat. She wasn't one to watch the news – she most often found it irritating and fake and filled with people who smiled way too much to be trusted – but even she knew a little of what was going on in the world. And so she knew there was a lot of distrust right now, a lot of fear that with the war in Iraq, the U.S. was back to the bad old days of fighting for empire, not for freedom, and of course, everybody else was probably busy stuffing skeletons into their own closets and making out like bandits on get-out-of-jail-free cards. Her dad had taught her that.
"As soon as something's gone wrong, you can bet that everyone else is gonna start checking their backs, looking to see who has dirt on who and how much he can sell, how much he can get away with, 'specially if an unspoken rule's been broken. In crime and politics, you can count on it," he'd told her.
Where's the 'happily ever after all the bad stuff'? she wondered, dispiritedly. Where was that supposed to fit in? It was funny, but in all the movies, whether the aliens were good or bad, when they came to earth, everybody sort of united, as if nothing seemed that big anymore in the face of alien life.
But the people who had built Hoover Dam and made little Simmonses weren't likely to think that way.
And since when has life ever been that perfect? she berated herself. She didn't have a juvenile record because everything was fair in the world, after all. She and Sam and everyone else hadn't been thrown into a war zone because they deserved it. The Autobots might have saved them from Decepticon invasion, but people in power were always looking for a way to spin things, make them come out in their favor, whether they had earned it or not. No wonder Prime seemed a little preoccupied as he sat there, fingers still massaging gently around that burn hole. Mikaela frowned.
"Is that really bothering you?" she asked, pointing up at the injury.
"I've had worse," Prime replied.
Mikaela gave him a look. "Yeah, but is it bothering you?"
The Autobot commander gave her a measuring look. "I see," he said, after a moment, sounding amused, "that Ratchet has instilled a lamentable suspicion in you already."
From the depths of the garage, a resounding and sardonic "Ha!" could be heard, then Bumblebee's voice drifted out to them:
"Wouldn't count on that fantasy, sir. She's hard-wired. The doc just encouraged – all right, all right!" Bumblebee backtracked quickly, no doubt in the face of a threatening glare or perhaps an arc welder. "He just let her have the space to show what she's got."
"Indeed?" Prime considered this information, turning a rather weighty gaze on her.
Mikaela shrugged. "Just doing what my dad taught me to do – which doesn't always work for you guys, but Ratchet's kept me from breaking 'Bee so far." She gave a slight smile. Just because politicians were rotten didn't mean everyone had to be. "Besides, you pretty much saved us..."
"That honor goes to Sam," Prime corrected quietly.
"Still," she insisted; "We wouldn't have known what to do if you hadn't come along. That makes us pretty much even."
"Then if that is so, you don't owe us anything," the Autobot commander reasoned, still watching her as if to see how she would react. "You could petition to return home – I am certain the request would be accommodated."
Which might actually be true, she supposed, though she sort of thought it unlikely anyone would want to deal with one displaced high schooler when there was so much else to deal with. But Lennox had been able to see about having someone go check on her and Sam, and he was making sure her ambulance bill was covered. He seemed like a nice enough guy.
Maybe he could get someone to take me home or get me a bus ticket or something to get past the road blocks out there, she thought, feeling the sudden stirring of hope, to say nothing of homesickness. She could get out of all of this mess and go home to her friends and her own room and bed and just sleep. Like, for a week, the way she was feeling. No more phone calls home. No more worrying Grandma Lori. There would even be a shower with soap and shampoo. It would be heaven.
So why wasn't she springing to try Lennox? There was a whole city in ruins out there, filled with frightened, desperate people, all of whom probably would jump at the chance to leave if they could. Even if they lived in Mission City, they'd probably go for it – anywhere but here, so long as it felt safe. Safe could count as home, after all, and wasn't that what everyone wanted? Yeah, wouldn't we all like to go home? Mikaela thought, as she stared up at Optimus Prime.
"I'm gonna be grounded for life when I get back – probably won't see a car for a year. Might as well earn it," she said, and couldn't quite suppress the nervous little laugh. And: God, could I sound any more self-absorbed? she wondered, appalled. Every time things got serious, whether it was between her and her grandma or her and her dad or her and a boy, it went one of two ways: either she just bluntly said whatever she thought, and there was a fight, or else she laughed it off.
Neither of which were really going to work now. For one thing, she didn't want to say this the wrong way, and she really didn't feel like laughing right now. For the other, she was standing in the middle of a group of Autobots who might not get what she was trying to say. Ratchet, especially, had that occasional literalism issue. So she tried again.
"Look, seriously," she said, feeling rather uncomfortably earnest and, well, small, "I don't mind helping out, you know. Whatever Ratchet's ok with, I'm up for it."
There was no reading the stillness of a robotic face, and in that moment, she felt the weight of inhuman difference as Prime gazed down at her in utter silence that just seemed to go on forever. But finally:
"Then," he said gravely, though his eyes gleamed rather too brightly for 'grave', "though I do not envy you Ratchet in top form, your help is greatly appreciated. Thank you, Mikaela."
Thank God! But before a relieved Mikaela could think of a suitable response, the object of gentle humor, sporting a new set of welding seams, emerged from the garage to take issue with it.
"So you're looking to be off duty for forty-eight hours, instead of thirty-six, is that it?" the Autobot medic demanded of Prime. Limping just slightly still, he took a quick scan of his commanding officer.
"You're lucky your armor is as heavy as it is – our mystery 'bot burned off a good few layers of metal, and there's some damage to cabling from the bleed-over, but nothing to add significantly to pre-existing injuries. Your molecular circuitry should be able to regenerate most of that without much assistance, if you'll just give it something to burn. Otherwise, no neural circuitry damage, no leaks – everything still capped. Excellent." He considered Prime a moment, then turned and fixed an appraising, intent stare upon Mikaela. For a long moment, he said nothing. Then: "Whatever I'm 'ok with,' is that it?" he asked, abruptly.
"Well... yeah. Sure," she replied, a little hesitantly, uncertain what to make of that stare, even as Ratchet's motor purred soft, smug challenge.
"All right, then you've got Prime," he said, and when she gaped slightly at him, said with ruthless assurance: "It's nothing you haven't done yet. Do what you can with the debris and clear out damaged wiring. Bumblebee can talk you through wiring bypasses if necessary; the rest I'll have to see to." Ratchet shook his left arm out into that rotary saw again. And seeing both his patients and Mikaela still staring at him, shook his head and grumped, "Excitement's done for the day. This is a repair bay, however primitive – you either work, or you get worked on, or you get out. Clear?"
"Clear, doc," Bumblebee replied, sounding not at all chastised. "Mikaela?"
"Working," she replied, though she frowned as she looked up at Prime. "Um, anybody see a ladder...?"
The afternoon passed swiftly into evening, and evening into night. During that time, Mikaela had paused only to gulp more aspirin and grab a quick dinner, and otherwise, she did as Ratchet asked. In the process, she had discovered that when not hanging from bridges or on the run from helicopters, Prime made a far more stable platform than any ladder. Either he was simply a more accommodating patient than Bumblebee, or else his injuries were simply less severe and so less bothersome – he never flinched or complained, and bore with her efforts graciously.
At length, however, Ratchet arrived to appropriate her services, and to chase his commander off to recharge. "She can't see in this light, and you're going on close to sixty hours without recharge. Twelve hours offline – minimum," he ordered.
"You need to rest, as well, Ratchet," Prime replied, making no move to depart just yet.
"And I will. Later."
"Ratchet – "
"You've spent your time haggling with Keller and his lot for introductions to the rest of the world's powers, and learning Chinese in between clearing wreckage with the Army Engineering Corps, running your sensor net to its limits to help cover the humans, and getting shot at, to say nothing of actually getting shot," Ratchet interrupted, voice low and flat. "We all do what is needed. I need to get 'Bee running by next week so he can spell you and Ironhide. And you need to recharge now so that I've got until next week instead of tomorrow or the next day."
Given a confrontation between the proverbial immovable object and the unstoppable force, those less robust were well advised to get out of the way. Mikaela therefore eased back a step or two from commander and medic, who continued to stare each other down, each apparently waiting for the other to blink... or whatever Cybertronians did when they lost a staring contest. It was Prime who spoke, finally, though without taking his eyes from his medical officer.
"Ten hours," he said, in the manner of one making a final offer.
Ratchet shook his head. "That isn't neg – "
"Yes it is," Prime cut him off. "Ten hours, and I'm pulling Ironhide off patrol in twelve hours. That gives you two hours tomorrow morning to tell me exactly what you need in order to get Bumblebee functional in under a week." That, at least, stilled what clearly would have been a fairly violent protest. Assured he had his medical officer's interest as well as attention, Optimus continued: "After those two hours, you are off-duty. You will shut down for at least six hours, and if you agree instead of submitting to an order, I won't leave Bumblebee with the timer."
Ratchet's eyes narrowed. "You think we can get anything from any lab on Earth that's going to cut those repair hours down?" he demanded, skepticism clearly warring with hope.
"I've no doubt of the medic, and as for the equipment, you might be surprised," Prime replied enigmatically. Then: "You have ten hours. I'll hear from you in the morning. Mikaela – set him an example and rest when you need to. Good night to you both."
With that, Prime departed to find a parking place, leaving her and Ratchet to themselves and their work. For Bumblebee had gone into recharge mode at least an hour ago, on the medic's orders, and somewhat to Mikaela's surprise, 'Bee hadn't put up much of a fight about it. Then again, as she stretched, cracking her back and her neck, and wincing over sore muscles, she supposed that being injured was tiring no matter what you were made of.
Warm air set stray strands of hair dancing about her face as Ratchet's vents cycled just above her in what qualified as a pretty gusty sigh. Mikaela glanced up and saw the Autobot medic standing and surveying the work of the afternoon, which had mainly consisted of him disassembling Jazz, piece by piece, and updating inventory, while passing off more basic repairs to Bumblebee. Now, though, Ratchet turned to the little green robot still lying in the corner where Prime had carefully deposited him earlier.
"More inventory," he said heavily, then glanced at her. "Pull some gloves on and bring your toolkit. I've already extracted whatever energon he had in his system and cleared the tubing and injectors. Whatever was dashed about his parts has already bonded by now. It should be safe enough for you to work on him."
When Mikaela had done as he asked, the two of them knelt down to examine the remains. "I told Prime I'd look for a flux inducer, so we'll start there. If I find it, I'll try extracting data from it; if not, I'll help you with disassembling him – you might as well learn the basics, and this looks to be your best opportunity, given the state of his armor," Ratchet said over a rather disapproving sounding growl from his motor. "Thin as it was, he had no place in any sort of firefight!"
Whatever Ratchet's opinion of the robot's armor, it was still nothing Mikaela could easily breach, even with a crowbar, and particularly not the cranial covering. That took a laser-scalpel, but Ratchet was quick about it and before long, he was directing Mikaela on an exploration of the cybernetic brain thus exposed. "What are we looking for?" Mikaela asked, gazing with some trepidation at the intricate 'organ.'
"It's a keychip – size of your nail or smaller, mostly a cluster of capacitors and re-emitters. It should be inserted into the transponder unit itself or else located right below it, on the line that connects the transponder to your comm signal processor. The transponder is usually toward the front of the upper cortex, on the underside. You'll recognize it by the double set of coils. See that port? Start there."
"I take it," Mikaela said, as she began digging carefully through a sort of dense, translucent mesh woven around, it seemed, innumerable microprocessors, battery-like structures, and support structure for all of it, "that this inducer is something added in?"
"It's standard equipment for Cybertronians designed for recon and infiltration, or who end up taking on those tasks. Depending on the 'bot, it may be original to him or it may be an addition; if it's an addition, it'll be external to the transponder."
"So 'Bee's got one of these things?"
"Mm hm. He and Jazz were both fitted out with them," Ratchet replied, without taking his eyes from Mikaela's progress. "Aim for that smaller mass – that's a comm relay cluster. It'll be close to the signal processor."
"And this will tell you who he is?"
"Maybe. I doubt it – I'm already seeing quite a bit of damage, here, probably from the inducer overloading. No, that doesn't look very hopeful," the medic said unhappily.
"Is it this?" Mikaela asked, after rooting about a little longer. Gingerly she extracted a small, brittle piece of plastic and metal, charred and twisted by some sort of power surge, and dropped it into Ratchet's outstretched hand.
"No, that's actually a part of his vocalizer. Keep looking – it should be in that area."
"It's really kind of a mess," Mikaela reported after a few more minutes of searching, and finding nothing but blackened, unidentifiable filaments and warped metal. She shook her head. "I can't tell anything from anything else."
"Slagging grenades must've overloaded his surge breakers," Ratchet muttered, easing her gently out of the way so he could take a closer look, bringing up his scanners. But the holo-imaging that floated overhead showed an indistinct, meaningless jumble, so far as Mikaela could tell. Ratchet seemed to try a couple of different scans – the image wavered, broke up, formed anew and differently, but the glyphs along the sides just ran without settling or else blinked helplessly. With a low growl, he switched the scanner off. Uncapping a laser, he made a quick, neat incision and then began digging through the charred mass himself. It wasn't long, however, before he sat back on his heels.
"Damn," he murmured, sounding genuinely surprised.
"You can't find it?"
"No. I can't find it." Ratchet gestured to the shorted-out, blasted mess. "I can find the transponder, the signal processor, vocal relays, or what's left of all of that. But I don't see an inducer. I don't see any evidence of one." He shook his head. "Damn," he repeated. And as if with that word the floodgates had opened on a rising tide of wrath: "Dammit! Primus fragging dammit to the slagging Pit fires!" he swore, and followed it up as he rose with something that apparently didn't translate but which sounded every bit as vicious.
"I don't get it. What's the matter?" Mikaela asked, staring up at him, surprised and uncomprehending, and just a little alarmed.
"He never had an inducer!"
"Ok," she said cautiously, after a few moments' reflection on this answer brought no enlightenment. "So... what does that mean?"
"It means he's not one of us," Ratchet snapped, turning away. "Not an Autobot or a Decepticon." A few long strides had him across the garage, where he planted his fists none too gently against the wall and leaned there, head down, staring over at Bumblebee, who, firmly locked in timed recharge, slumbered on peacefully oblivious. Ratchet hissed, vents flaring distressedly. "Fraggit, we just vaped an innocent!"
"But Ratchet, you can't know that just from his not having one of those signal distorters!" Mikaela protested. "You said spies have them. What if he's not a spy?"
"Oh, he's no spy. He's not even a Neutral," the medic spat, disgusted. "If his neural net has more than fifty hours' use on it, and a basic fight-flight program, I'll let Ironhide replace my logic circuits with a crowbar. Primus!" Ratchet swore again, engine grinding out a pained undertone. "No wonder it went down like it did!"
"Wait, are you saying... he was made here?" Mikaela shook herself, glancing from Ratchet to the robot in partial pieces behind her. Not possible, her brain told her, but then again... Who would've thought Hoover Dam had a robot in cold storage?
"Not made – not constructed, or given any guidance programming at all. But sparked, yes. And here. It must've happened sometime during the battle," Ratchet reasoned, tautly. "When Prime and Sam hit the ground – or no, Prime would've noticed that. There must've been some other opportunity for an accidental discharge. It sparked him, woke him up in the middle of a firefight. He probably found some place quiet to hide, 'til some of your people approached on patrol and his programming kicked in." With that, Ratchet pushed himself away from the wall, and returned to stand over the wrecked robot, gears clicking and whirring, clearly agitated.
"We just weren't expecting that. It's been so long since the last time... we couldn't recognize what was right in front of us." The medic fell silent once more, staring at their latest casualty. "Doesn't matter that he didn't have an inducer," he murmured, finally. "We'll still never know what he might've been or done. Primus, I don't need this right now!" He slumped a little, as if with exhaustion, eyes fading to a dull, dim blue. Mikaela bit her lip and looked anywhere but up. 'An innocent,' Ratchet had said, 'not even a Neutral,' and put their mystery 'bot in a class of his own; Mikaela felt her heart sink as unhappy realization slowly dawned.
They just killed a kid. A demented child, a kid with a gun, and destructive as perhaps only Cybertronians could be, but still a kid – maybe the very last child they would ever have. Jesus! she thought, numbly. She watched as Ratchet squatted down once more, and the 'gauntlet' covering on the back of his hand popped up, and some sort of extension formed. Almost gingerly, the Autobot medic turned the 'bot's head to one side, then slid the extension into a neural port. Ratchet's eyes flickered once again, and he stiffened slightly. But he did not remain long connected. After only a few moments, he shook himself, a distressed rattle of vents and gears, then withdrew, pressing the panel back into place on his hand, though he continued to rub at it gently even as he reached down to pluck something from amid the wreckage. Mikaela watched as he rose once more, holding the piece up under his lights – a piece which looked like some sort of vaguely fiber-optic cube...
"Are you gonna use him for parts?" she found herself asking before she could think better of it.
"What?" Ratchet demanded, a little distractedly, still staring intently at the cube.
"Never mind," she said quickly. Maybe a little too quickly, for he lowered his arm and gave her a look that had nothing of patience in it whatsoever.
"Of course we'll use his parts," he snapped, voice sharp with his own frayed temper. A beat, then: "What do you mean 'never mind'?"
Shit! How to get out of this one? "Nothing, I just thought – " she gestured slightly at the green robot " – maybe it's not a good time... to talk..."
"You're talking about disposal. Seems like as good a time as any," came the still rather snappish answer. And when Mikaela couldn't quite stop herself from flinching a little, he growled softly. "There's a lot to do still before dawn, girl – and I've no interest in games or guesswork right now."
Which, all right, deserved an answer. "I'm not playing you," Mikaela replied, with as much of quiet force as she dared use at the moment.
"Then what are you after?" he demanded, setting the cube carefully aside on the car-lift turned workbench.
"You're going to think it's really weird," Mikaela warned him. This garnered a distemperate harrumph! "And maybe... insulting, sort of. I'm serious! Ironhide was insulted," she added, when Ratchet gave her a skeptical look.
"Ironhide finds chihuahuas insulting. Mikaela," Ratchet said tiredly, sounding still on the cross side as he knelt once more before the broken green form, "I appreciate your consideration, but consider in return that I'm not half as likely to shoot you as Ironhide and that frankly, at the moment, I doubt you can rival the insult that is this." He gestured to the body whose plate armor he had begun prying off with the help of a laser-cutter. Mikaela winced slightly. Ratchet made a frustrated sound and the laser-cutter flicked off. "What is it, girl? Your system keeps choking on the edge of overdrive!"
Which demand effectively cut off all escape from answering – at this point, aggravated as he was, Ratchet clearly was not going to take refusal, anymore than he would put up with stalling. Nevertheless, Mikaela gazed at him, her lips pressed firmly together for a good long moment, before she finally answered, "It just... doesn't it feel not right not to keep anything sort of... separate? You know, together and... and not split up and recycled." The words came haltingly, in spurts, and in a small, hesitant, discomfited voice that she almost didn't recognize the voice as hers. Maybe Ratchet didn't either, because he just stared at her, so that she found herself, in the face of that look, babbling on in a desperate hurry, "Don't you want to keep something that's really... him? Or Jazz?"
Ratchet seemed to digest this a moment. Then: "Jazz isn't those parts," he said, as if to someone he suspected of hallucination... assuming Cybertronians hallucinated. Indeed, the way he was looking at her, she suspected he was scanning her for brain damage as he spoke. "Neither of them are a pile of parts."
"I know that," she replied, a little impatiently, "but – just because they are gone, shouldn't you keep something... safe? I mean, all that – " she gestured to the neatly laid out parts " – that's what they were for, I don't know, however long. But now that's all that's left." She shook her head, forestalling the objection she could sense had to be coming. "I get the organ donation thing – I do, but... don't you want there to be something left that's Jazz, or whoever? Because they're people, and people have their own bodies... that belong... to them...?"
She trailed off in the face of a rather deep silence from the Autobot who sat listening to her, while absently running a low-level laser over his damaged knee. "I don't think," he said at length, when she had quieted, "that you quite understand what that would mean to us. Do you know what sets most biological species apart from cybernetic ones?"
"Waste," Ratchet declared. "Intelligent biological species as a rule are exceptionally wasteful – they live on worlds that are overfull of useless redundancies and tend to be fantastically ill-adapted and given to excess in all directions. It's a wonder to all of us that you tend to be the dominant form of life in the universe."
"What?" This time, she was sharp, confused and a little irritated by the patronizing non sequitur.
"So we see it. Cybertron might be a barren world by your standards, but it was a testimony to design. Not to say we haven't our excesses, or we wouldn't be where we are now, but that's a different story." Ratchet waved it off. "Point being, we look on a species like yours and we see waste. How many of the people who died two days ago will be used to further the lives of those in need? A tenth? Of that number, how much will be returned to the society that sustained them? Very little, from what I can find in a quick search of your databases.
"You say that a body belongs to a person, but we are nothing but a purposeless excess without the cohort that created us. Look at us! Our bodies were made for a purpose; the knowledge that comes of using them for that purpose belongs to all, and the skill we acquire is to be put to use for others – to sustain life. None of any of that belongs to us insofar as we are isolated beings. That would be..." Ratchet paused, seeming to search for the right words. "It would be nonsensical. Meaningless."
"But you're not just tools. I mean, you're not just what you're made to be," Mikaela interrupted, frowning. "You can't be! You're too..." It was on the tip of her tongue to say 'human,' but not only would that not go over well, she suspected, but it wasn't quite right either. Instead, she simply gestured to Ratchet, as she spoke. "Well, what sense does it make for an ambulance to be like you?" she challenged.
"Of course we're not just tools, and of course we aren't reducible to mere machinery, and no, it doesn't make sense for a medical transport to have my personality – that's an old argument that no one has been able to answer satisfactorily in the several million years it's been on-going," Ratchet said firmly. "But what we know in the mean time is that our spark is unique, as is personality and the feel and content of a friendship – these are ours because of who we are, over and above purpose. But these things are in no danger of being any less our own if our parts are reused and the rest melted down to be recast for others.
"And insofar as our bodies are concerned," he continued, "what more fitting than to put the shell to the use for which it was designated, to take what your brother or your friend has learned and created and do with it as he intended – put it to good use? Jazz wouldn't want to be kept the way you describe – he isn't in a pile of useless or unused parts. When those parts are used, when we take on his memories to improve in the tasks he excelled at, or let the motor-memory that gets imprinted in neural and motor circuitry affect us – then we honor what those parts were to him, and how he was in them. But like this?" Ratchet shook his head. "This is nothing. He wouldn't want that – and we who are his cohort would not do that to him. He deserves better than that." A pause, then: "Do you understand?"
"I guess it makes sense." Mikaela folded her arms across her chest and shrugged slightly. "It still feels weird, though," she admitted, adding quickly: "No offense."
"I assure you your notion of perfectly useful land dedicated to housing perfectly unused and unusable bodies likewise remains very strange," the medic said heavily.
"What if you can't reuse somebody's parts?" Mikaela gestured to the green 'bot. "Isn't he too small for most of you?"
"We'll do the best we can, 'til we can get a proper repair bay built somewhere," Ratchet replied, frowning a little. "I hope Prime is right that your government may have access to technology beyond what's available on public record. That might help, if it could be shared..." The Autobots' medical officer shook himself, then said: "Until then, I've still got inventory, and only nine hours to do it in." He gave Mikaela a searching look. "You don't have to help if it bothers you to do this kind of work – I'm sure you could use the rest."
Mikaela thought about it a moment, but then shook her head. "No, I'll be ok."
"You're sure about that?"
"Yeah. I think... I think it's partly that it's a war," she said, as she came and sank down on her haunches, already reaching for a socket wrench. "We haven't had one here for awhile. Certainly never with aliens! It makes you think of things, like how it could've been you not coming back. And I guess... I never thought I'd ever have to deal with anything like this," she confessed, glancing up at him.
Ratchet grunted. "No one ever does," he said, as he materialized the laser-cutter again. "All right," he said, his manner settling at last back to that of a medic with a mission. "Let's get this done. Plate armor off first, and we'll start going through all his systems to see what's salvageable, so pay attention..."
But though Ratchet did his best to explain the form slowly being displayed in all its complexity before her, and although Mikaela did her best to listen and absorb it all, they had barely gotten started, it seemed, when Ratchet paused and turned toward the entry way of the garage.
"It's not another attack is it?" Mikaela asked, worriedly.
"No, it's Ironhide," Ratchet said quickly, even as headlights flashed twice, then went dark, only to reappear some seconds later at a much greater height. The weapons specialist ambled over and ducked down to poke his head into the garage.
"You two are still at it?" he greeted them. "Even Prime's down for the night!"
"Wonders occasionally happen," Ratchet replied blandly. Mikaela said nothing, just gave him a smile.
Ironhide grunted and nodded slightly at her. "S'pose so. You're looking a little more than tired, though, doc."
"Mmm, it's a long job. Speaking of which, aren't you supposed to be somewhere down in the city center?" Ratchet asked, adroitly changing the subject, Mikaela noticed.
"I'm on my way back – been out on patrol. Thought I'd stop in here, since I've done the same for every other post the Army's got set up."
"Quiet watch, then?"
"Pretty much. People aren't going near vending machines without backup, but so far, no casualties," Ironhide reported, dryly. Then: "What about you? Any news? We know who we're dealing with yet?"
Mikaela watched as Ratchet busied himself with scanning coolant lines for nonexistent leaks, and she held her breath. But after a moment, he said only, "Not yet. By morning, I'll have a report to make." Then, somewhat to Mikaela's surprise: "Right now, I think I've got to take an hour and some energon and recharge."
Ironhide stared at him, then glanced at Mikaela, as if hoping for some further explanation for unprecedented behavior. Mikaela simply shrugged. The weapons specialist made a surprised noise, but held himself to: "Speaking of wonders!"
"Just because the rest of you take such joy in getting yourselves slagged and stupid from exhaustion doesn't mean I have to," Ratchet said, a touch acerbically, as he took up one of the energon containers and a port of some sort popped open on the inside of his left arm. He inserted the nozzle end of the container, and Mikaela watched as the glowing liquid slowly drained. "Especially if Prime wants 'Bee back in commission in under a week, I've got to get some rest now or they'll both have to live with the disappointment."
"Under a week? Prime didn't take shot to the head, did he?"
"Not that I saw," Ratchet replied. "You know Prime – he has his reasons. Mikaela?"
"Hm?" She raised her eyes to his face.
"If you want to work on damaged parts, I'd suggest taking a look at our 'bot's engine. Call me if you encounter anything you can't handle."
"You're sure?" she asked. "If you really need to sleep, I wouldn't want to wake you –"
"Well, I would," came the quick response, as Ratchet pulled the now-empty container free, closed the port, and crossed the garage to kneel down by 'Bee for a final scan. "Six more hours," he confirmed, then settled himself next to 'Bee, bracing his back against the wall. "Safe watch, Ironhide."
"See you tomorrow, doc," Ironhide replied.
"Good night, Mikaela."
"Good night," she replied, and watched as Ratchet's eyes abruptly went dark.
"He's gonna run himself dry one of these days," Ironhide rumbled, gruff, exasperated tone not quite covering his concern. "He's always like this, after a battle."
"Mm." Mikaela pursed her lips as she stared at the Autobots' medical officer.
"So what about it? You going to work or rest?" Ironhide asked.
"I don't know," Mikaela confessed, then glanced at the clock on the wall. It was nearly ten-thirty. "I am kind of tired, and I need to call home, now that I've got some quarters."
"You could always hook up Jazz's comm unit; might be a good idea generally, if you're ever the only one online here and need to get a hold of Lennox or whoever's patrolling."
"Um, think I'll just use the pay phone tonight," Mikaela declined. For despite Ratchet's explanation, she still didn't feel quite comfortable with just commandeering parts of former Autobots whenever she needed them. But Ironhide was right, it probably was a good idea, as she thought back over what Prime had told her. "Ironhide? Do you think Starscream's gonna be back soon?"
"Wouldn't be Starscream if he weren't," came the immediate, confident response.
"And the others? Barricade and the other guy...?"
"Scorponok. Yeah, they'll show up eventually."
"Even though there's nothing left to fight over?"
"There's always revenge."
"That's what Prime said," Mikaela sighed. Then: "They aren't gonna let us go, are they?"
Ironhide's engine gave a soft growl. "They're Decepticons," he said, as if that were answer enough.
"Right." She closed tired eyes, and sighed again, running her fingers back through her hair.
"I'm all right," she said automatically. And in the face of the unconvinced silence from the front of the garage, she wrinkled her nose and let her hands drop, opening her eyes once more. Ironhide, a dark shadow against the night, save for the glare of headlights and the glow of his eyes, seemed to hover like a shade on the threshold – which was impressive, for a being of his size. Mikaela couldn't help but smile a little. And:
"No, really," she said to the other's skepticism. "I'm fine. Just... I wasn't looking for this, you know?" She gave a rueful, slightly hysterical laugh. "I'm seventeen! I'm supposed to be worrying about tests and boys and getting into college and then affording it. But now there's this war we can't get out of, and there are aliens, and we never saw any of this coming, and the next thing I know, I'm doing autopsies on robots! Which isn't exactly on the job test! And I'm tired and gross and I miss Sam and I want to go home." She sighed. "And I've gotta at least call Grandma Lori, like I promised.
"I have to get back on my route," Ironhide said at length. "Keep an eye out, girl. If anything happens, give Ratch a shout."
"Will do." She watched as Ironhide straightened up and headed back toward the road without another word, and she frowned a bit. Then: "Ironhide!" she called after him.
Headlights flashed once more in her face, as he turned back toward her. "Yeah?"
"Sorry about that – I'm not complaining, or anything, I'm just... processing. I'll watch out for Ratchet and 'Bee and all of us. Be here all night, 'til it's, well, until it's... done, I guess. Yeah." And God, it was funny, how much you could slip under two letters like that! Funny, too, the things she said when she didn't even know, sometimes, really, why she had to say them. Or even what she was saying, for all it was somehow right, and she knew it. Like now.
Fortunately, in the darkened lot outside, there was a 'bot with an answer that could tell her the question, too.
"Course you will be," Ironhide replied, matter-of-factly, no doubt in the world. "'F' you were gonna walk out, you would've done it sooner. But you're still here."
"Yeah, yeah I am." Mikaela found herself nodding slowly.
"So." Headlights rose slightly as he shrugged. Case closed, she read that. Case closed, and confirmed, as he turned away, and she heard his voice drift back out of the night: "See you tomorrow – once Ratchet's back online, get some recharge, sis'."
It took her a minute – a good long minute before she realized what she'd been told, and by then, he'd already transformed, and all she could see was a set of retreating taillights. For a time, she just stood there stock still, pondering the strange feeling of having signed her life away without quite knowing it.
But then she shook herself. It wasn't getting any earlier, and she had to call her grandmother. She hunted through her pockets until she found the required number of quarters, then took herself out around the side to where the pay phone stood beneath its fluorescent lamp. She dropped the coins in, dialed, waited through the sounds of long-distance electronic ghosts, and the ring tone. And while she waited, she cast a glance out at the Peterbilt truck quietly at rest beneath one of the street lamps, and leaned forward 'til she could see Ratchet and 'Bee asleep in their corner. She smiled, and looked once more after Ironhide.
"G'night, bro," she said quietly into the night, just as the phone picked up. With vast relief, and a broad smile, without even waiting for a greeting, Mikaela said warmly, "Hi Grandma, it's Mikaela. I'm sorry I didn't call earlier, but it's been a busy day, and I just want to say: I love you, I miss you, and I want to come home. But when I do, we've gotta talk... about family."
Author's Notes :
So the amazing, plotless story has run its course. Thank you for staying with me, those who stayed. I can't pretend I'm doing more than winging it, here, but hopefully this was enjoyable as a gap-filler for the live action film, and hopefully, the ending isn't too obscure or horribly sentimental. All the stuff on Autobot attitudes towards their dead clearly violates the cartoons, but thanks to the film's silence, I can extrapolate from being to custom. Also, I know cartoon canon has Transformers drink energon, not 'inject', but, um, let's say it's faster this way? Also, although I do think Ratchet could use a drink at that point in the story, I was trying to stay away from having that line pop out and so wanted the visual image to avoid bringing it up.
Couple of 'thank you' notes: Thanks go to GreendEATHpop for answering a question that unfortunately didn't quite make it into the story. It just ended up working out better going a different route. The discussion of Ironhide's character was also much appreciated. I know he's most likely on the fringes of probable characterization, but I'm hoping that shoot-from-the-hip honesty in whatever he does decide to address (so long as he has the option of reticence) constitutes a possible manifestation of his more trigger-happy gung ho personality.
Also, many thanks to JML, who reviewed anonymously to confirm my suspicion that Bumblebee shouldn't have been able to break car windows with any kind of radio equipment. I passed physics in high school, but there's a reason I don't do that for a living. Even when I think I'm right, I have no confidence in my inferences.
Speaking of things I have no confidence about, chemistry: I passed chemistry and promptly forgot most of what I learned. My efforts to fake it where Autobot fuel is concerned are all based on an admittedly shaky foundation in chemistry, but I maintain that it is no more shaky than the one used by canonical writers. Otherwise, it shouldn't be possible to come up with all or any of this:
transformers dot wikia dot com backslash wiki backslash Energon
Likewise, the stuff on transponders has a minimal factual basis:
www dot nvo dot com backslash natl backslash cookiesnotice backslash
Also, Wikipedia was useful.