Just a quick AN, I seem to use some strange made-up definitions of Cybertonian time units, which I've grown accustomed too and am too stubborn/lazy to change :). These are the definitions I'm using:

A breem is the equivalent of a minute.





I'm sorry for any confusion and inconveniences this may cause.

Either the Autobots just had the worst timing ever, or fate saw it fit to keep inexplicably crossing their paths with those of the Decepticons, no matter how hard they tried to avoid one another.

Etraum was a small, out-of-the-way sector of Cybertron, designated as Neutral, known mostly for containing research laboritories, some of the most famous on all of Cybertron. The research that was conducted there had little or nothing to do with the current war. Nothing that either side could want.

Or so that's what they said.

Ratchet had other thoughts on the matter. The current situation was just wrong. He and his small 'safety net' of a team had arrived quietly on the outskirts of the sector to make a supply run. Ratchet knew one of the scientists in Etraum, someone who was willing to arrange supply drops to replace any equipment or medical items Ratchet needed. Only...when they had arrived, the place had been under attack by Decepticon forces. The attack was brutal enough that Ratchet's team could not penetrate the sector's outer limits for fear of being discovered by the Decepticons that stalked the streets and tore through the skies.

'This is a Neutral zone. Why attack it? To antagonize us? Or simply out of boredom? They certainly aren't helping to convince any Neutrals of their purpose, whatever the case.'

Ratchet had immediately called for backup, even though the city was as good as lost by that time. He still needed to get to the supply stop, and enough Decepticons were hanging around, prowling the sector, that his small team would stand no chance on their own.

Help had arrived quickly enough, and the enemy was scattered from the outer fringes of Etraum. Ratchet had taken his fellow mechs and slipped through the weakened Decepticon forces. He knew the way well enough, even though the streets were broken from Seeker missiles and buildings had collapsed here and there. The way was littered with the bodies of the fallen, mostly Neutrals who had no way to defend themselves, and it tore up the medic that he could do nothing for them.

His spark had given a painful jerk when he saw that his destination was halfway blasted to the Pits. But he had continued toward it, hoping that someone within was still alive, that he could still get the equipment he so desperately needed.

Someone had been alive. He had been shooting the slag out of some unfortunate Seekers when Ratchet and his team had arrived. The mech had launched a particularly powerful explosive of some sort at them, and the resulting detonation left one Seeker legless, the others wounded, and Ratchet sprawled on his back on the cracked metal walkway.

After the Seekers had taken off, carrying their amputated wingmate to safety, the Autobots had tried to approach the mysterious mech, only to find his guns now aimed at them.

They had been pinned behind the pile of rubble for some time now. Any attempts to reason with the mech had failed, usually ending with them being shot at yet again. Calling for help from the other Autobots was dangerous at best, with the Decepticons still permeating the sector; their signals would be detected, and they themselves located in short order. Unable to move from their spot, they could only sit and wait for the time being.

Ratchet shifted slightly, resting his back against a piece of metal, bracing himself with his broad feet.

"Just one mech. One mech!" Bluestreak said from his left. "That guy can shoot. Like Ironhide. 'Cept Ironhide would be doing a lot more shouting and probably would have already killed us."

"I say we just frag 'em," Sunstreaker growled from beyond the younger mech.

"No!" Ratchet hissed. "He's a Neutral. We will not harm him." The stranger's party allegiance had been determined early on, based on the fact that he shot at Decepticons and Autobots alike, with the same intention: to injure or kill. Restraining the Twins from taking out the Neutral in an act of self-defense had been very, very difficult.

"A Neutral, huh?" Sunstreaker leveled one of his famous glares at the medic. "What kind of Neutral runs around armed like that?" He waved one golden arm in the general direction of behind the rubble pile. The unknown mech was at the other end of the room--what had once been a room, anyway, two of the walls had been blown out at some point--hiding behind a similar pile of fallen, twisted scrap.

"The kind who has something to protect," came Mirage's smooth voice, from his hiding place behind a smaller pile of rubble to Ratchet's right.

Ignoring the bickering match that was sure to start momentarily between the gold and blue mechs, Ratchet twisted himself around to call over his hiding spot. "Just put down your guns already! I'm here to see Greenstar!"

"I'm sure you are," came the mech's surly reply. "...Slagging Autobots," he added, though not so softly that he couldn't be heard.

"He's not going to budge," Sideswipe commented.

"Hmm." Ratchet sat back down. He needed those supplies. But this mech, whoever he was, would gun him down in no time if he simply tried to walk up to the door that led to the section of the building that was still standing--the section where Greenstar's supply drop was contained. The Neutral would probably be able to cut down the rest of the team if they tried as well, even if they all ran at once. Coming up with ideas that didn't involve harming the unknown mech was difficult.

The stalemate dragged on.

"Do you have a plan?" Mirage asked after a while.

"We need to subdue him..." Ratchet said, thinking out loud. Then he glanced up at Mirage.

The war was still fairly young, and Mirage hadn't been with the Autobots all that long. Ratchet had heard of the mech's abilities, but had not had a chance to witness them for himself. He could only hope the rumors were true. "Do you think you can use your cloaking to get to him and keep him down long enough that I can calm him?" By 'calm him,' Ratchet meant 'load the guy up with sedatives until he stops shooting.' He hated having to do that to anyone, he really did, but seeing as no one in his team was equipped with null rays, it was the only thing he could think of that might work.

Mirage appeared thoughtful. "Perhaps. But not if he's still directing all his attention over here. He could hit me with a stray shot. I can make myself invisible, but not immaterial."

Ratchet turned to the Twins. "All right, here's the plan. You two, get around the side, keep his attention split between yourselves and Bluestreak and I. Mirage will come up the other side of the room and get the Neutral down; you will assist him in keeping the mech restrained, if he needs your help." He added a glare. "But don't harm him."

The feral look that was so common on Sunstreaker's face had returned. His brother merely nodded silently.

"Bluestreak and I will attempt to keep him talking. That should distract him even more."

"Talking's what the brat does best, right?" Sunstreaker said in a low voice.

Bluestreak gave a nervous smile.

Ratchet motioned for them to get moving. "Stay low, stay quiet. Don't move unless you're sure you can make it before he shoots. I don't fancy having to put you two Pit-born terrors back together again."

The Twins slipped out from behind the cover, making a mad dash for the next nearest rubble pile. Sideswipe very nearly got his aft fried by the Neutral's bullets.

Mirage, meanwhile, had activated his cloaking system, fading from view until he was a mere ghost of himself, shimmering faintly with a broad spectrum of colors. Then that too was gone, leaving nothing.

Ratchet turned to the young gunner beside him. "Time to put that motormouth of yours to good use."

Bluestreak nodded numbly, for once momentarily at a loss for words.

The medic slapped his palm against his forehead in frustration. 'Leave it to the rookie...'

But Bluestreak recovered soon enough. He shifted so he could talk over the top of the shelter without exposing himself. "That was an impressive show you put on with the Seekers."

A moment of silence. "You'll get to see it first-hand if you don't get the hell out of my damn lab."

Ignoring his own terrified shaking, Bluestreak pressed on. "What was it, some sort of thermal grenade?"

"Solar grenade," was the immediate correction.

Bluestreak blinked in surprise, a look that Ratchet mirrored. 'That's a slagging powerful weapon for a Neutral to be carrying.'

"Where'd you get something like that?" Bluestreak was definitely impressed now, if he hadn't been before.

"Made it."

The halfway-destroyed room suddenly rang with the sound of the mech's gun firing. Ratchet could hear Sideswipe swearing over their internal comm frequencies. -Watch yourself!- the medic admonished.

-He knows exactly where we are! Almost took off Sunny's head!- A pause. -Can't really go much further until Mirage takes him down.-

-He's good,- Mirage cut in, a hint of respect apparent in his even-toned voice.

-He's just got big guns with a big kick. And really lucky aim,- Sunstreaker stated sourly.

-Mirage, what's your position?- Ratchet strained to hear Mirage's movements, but all that reached his audios was the soft sound of suddenly-superheated metal hissing as it froze once more.

-I need about half a breem more to reach him.-

Ratchet waited. Bluestreak had retreated to his earlier position, safely and completely hidden behind a large piece of crushed metal. He closed his optics, as if willing his trembling to stop.

The medic knew Mirage had pounced when there was a shout of surprise from the far side of the room, and the mech's gun went off again, bullets striking one wall, arching across the ceiling, and going off into the other wall. The two mechs collided noisily, rolling into something as they each fought to subdue the other.

-Sunstreaker! Sideswipe! Get over here!- Mirage shouted.

Ratchet heard the Twins suddenly take off from their hiding spot, joining the fray. Soon enough, the sounds of the struggle were quieting.

-Is he down?- Ratchet queried.

-...For now.-

That was all Ratchet needed. Swinging around to the side of his temporary shelter, he broke into a sprint...or what was a sprint for him. Bluestreak easily outpaced him.

-Watch out for his guns, they're still hot.-

It took a few moments for Ratchet to reach the far side of the room, where his team had pinned the mysterious mech, and then to figure out how to get closer without crossing the mech's line of fire. The sight that met him would have been amusing, if said mech had not been trying to kill them just now.

The Neutral was easily as big as the hefty Twins, which was a large part of the reason it had taken three mechs to keep him down on the floor. Mirage had his legs pinned and, as he was slightly smaller than the Neutral, was having a hard time preventing the mech from simply kicking him off. Sideswipe was holding onto the mech's right arm for dear life, trying to keep the cannon mounted on his lower arm from being pointed at the Autobot team. Sunstreaker had his legs tucked beneath him and was simply sitting on the mech's torso, holding his left arm down with no small amount of force, and looking quite pleased with himself about it.

The Neutral was enraged, optics narrowed in a death glare that could put even Sunstreaker's angriest expressions to shame. He struggled against his captors, the vocal resonators on either side of his head flashing pink as he let out an amazing stream of curses.

"He cusses almost as good as Sunstreaker," Bluestreak muttered as he watched the spectacle from a safe distance away.

"Nobody cusses as good as me."

Ratchet crouched near the Neutral. "I didn't want to do this. But I do need to see Greenstar, and you're not helping any."

"Greenstar got killed, you Pit-slagger."

The medic simply observed the stranger for a while, silently running a few scans. The mech had obviously been carrying out his fight against the invading Decepticons for a quite while. He was exhausted, systems taxed from a long, stressful battle, and he bore more than a few injuries.

His scanning did not go unnoticed. "Get the frag away from me!" This brought on a new round of him struggling against the trio of Autobots who had trouble holding on to him.

"You're injured."

"Of course I am, slagger!"

"Shut up," Sunstreaker snarled.

"Take it easy," Ratchet warned the gold mech. Returning to his conversation with the Neutral, such as it was, he said, "I'll repair what I can, if you'll calm down and stop shooting at us. Otherwise I'll have to take your weapons offline, and you probably won't like that so much."

This was met with an incomprehensible series of cursing, the resonators glowing an even darker shade of pink.

Ratchet gave an off-handed shrug. "Sorry free repairs bothers you so much."

"Go interface with a glitch-whore!"

"I just need some--"

"How about I go get what you need, and then shove it up your--"

Sunstreaker backhanded the mech across his face so hard he offlined. "Nobody talks to Ratchet that way except for me, you pathetic spawn of Unicron."

"SUNSTREAKER!" Ratchet lurched to his full height. "I told you not to harm him!"

The golden mech simply looked lazily up at the CMO. "Well he's been subdued, hasn't he? Mission accomplished."

The door from the room to the relatively unharmed part of the building was coded and locked beyond anyone's capabilities to hack. Ratchet and Mirage had been trying for several breems, with no luck. They needed the mech Sunstreaker had so elegantly offlined.

Ratchet had, of course, repaired the Neutral to the best of his abilities, but the mech was still unconscious, stretched out on the floor where he had been left. Ratchet himself was trying to catch a few moments of recharge while he waited for the stranger to wake up.

That came sooner than expected.

The Neutral woke up after another breem, and immediately started firing on the nearest mech, who was, unfortunately, poor Bluestreak. The young soldier yelped, diving behind an overturned desk. The Twins were up and battle-ready in moments; Mirage too drew his weapon. Ratchet woke quickly, ready to run to the action, only to realize that the mech had stopped shooting.

He was sitting on the floor, blade-like 'wings' stiffly jutting out above his shoulders in an impressive display of anger. He swung his gun-bearing left arm from Mirage to the Twins to Ratchet, and back again. He no longer had the advantage against the Autobots, but he stubbornly refused to give in.

"You can put the guns away," Ratchet said softly, as soothingly as he could. "We're not here to harm you."

As if to confirm for himself the medic's statement, the Neutral raised his free hand to his chassis, where earlier he had sported a nasty gash in his armor. His fingers felt along it, tracing newly-welded repair work. After considering this, he tilted his head towards the Autobots who leveled their own weapons at him. "Tell them to back off." His resonators were flashing a more subdued blue now.

Ratchet glanced at his team, lifting his hand to indicate they should do so. Mirage obliged gladly, shouldering his gun and walking away to sit on a smoldering scrap heap. Sunstreaker and Sideswipe looked disappointed that there would be no more excitement for now, but eventually they too stepped away.

Only then did Ratchet hear the Neutral's gun power down and fold back into his arm. His wing-blades relaxed slightly, and his battle mask pulled back to reveal a scowl. 'Battle mask, huh? You've obviously been preparing for something Ratchet dared to step take a closer. "You said Greenstar was killed."

The mech's blue optics glared back.

"I need to get to his office. He had supplies for me."


Ratchet frowned. "And why not?"

The mech stood, leaning his sturdily-built white and green body uncomfortably close to Ratchet's. "Because you're an Autobot."

"You have a problem with that?"

"If I help you, I'll have as good as chosen a side in this idiotic war."

Ratchet snorted. "And yet, as a Neutral, you carry weapons that would put most of ours to shame. Why is that?"

"Perhaps I just like to test my inventions on myself." He gave a sadistic sort of smile.

"You expect me to believe that?" 'A Neutral who makes weapons? And then is stupid enough to 'test' them by sticking them on himself? What kind of idiot does he take me for?'

The mech stepped back, shrugging. "Believe what you want. I want no part of this war."

"The war's already decided that for you. Do you not see what's happened to Etraum?" Ratchet gestured at the missing walls of the room, at the broken city beyond. "There is nothing left!"

The Neutral's expression was unreadable as he scanned the landscape.

Ratchet shook his head, dropping his arm. "I just need to get to Greenstar's office, grab the supplies, and get out. That's it."

The mech did not move for a very long time indeed. Then, without uttering a word, he spun around on his feet and marched to the door, pointedly punching in a code on the lock pad. "Only because you took the time to repair me," he said in a low voice. The door hissed open. "Get your things and leave."

Bluestreak bounded up, arms in the air. "Woo-hoo! Supply time! And then back to Optimus!" Sideswipe made an exasperated sound at Bluestreak's exuberance, but followed the bouncy youth through the door.

Ratchet was the last to pass through. As he did, he grabbed the Neutral's arm. "You said you made that solar grenade."

"With a little trial and error."

The medic really didn't want to think about what that implied. "We could use someone with your skills."

The mech snorted and shook his head, looking away.

Ratchet released him. "Well, if you ever change your mind, you know where to find a welcoming party."

Optimus had watched the shuttle come in to the base as soon as it had appeared on Red Alert's scans. He had even waited out in the launching bay for it to set down. Now, he affected a concerned, stern expression as the loading ramp lowered. "You're late."

Bluestreak, who had been skipping his way down the ramp, froze when he heard those words, looking for all the world like a youngling caught in the act of doing something naughty. Not expecting the sudden stop, Sideswipe walked right into him, and Sunstreaker collided into his brother. The three tumbled down the ramp in a jumble of flailing limbs and angry shouts.

"What the slag, Bluestreak?" Sunstreaker was disentangling himself from the others. "Look! You made my armor get all dented!"

"You did that yourself, Sunny!" Sideswipe countered.

"Shut up!" Sunstreaker brushed aside his red brother as he made a lunge for Bluestreak.

The gunner squeaked with fright, taking off across the landing bay at speeds Optimus had not thought he could possibly reach. Sunstreaker was right behind him, swiping at the slightly-built Bluestreak as he made his mad dash for freedom. Sideswipe followed them, no doubt tagging along just for the impending troublemaking.

Optimus only shook his head, amused at their antics. 'Let them have their youngling-play while they can.'

Mirage let out a long-suffering sigh as he exited the shuttle, his arms full of supply boxes. "They couldn't even stay to help, could they?"

"Maybe it's a good thing," Ratchet said from within the transport, "seeing as they're off giving each other a beating now."

"True enough."

When Optimus saw Ratchet emerge from the shuttle, a container of some sort held safely against his body, he crossed his arms over his chest. "You should have been back a long time ago."

"Worried about me?" Ratchet smirked.

"Of course."

"We were...held up."

"By what, may I ask?"

Ratchet simply continued walking down the ramp. Optimus was about to repeat his question when he heard someone else start down the ramp. He looked up to find a mech he did not recognize. White armor with sleek green striping, projections resembling fins coming from his head, silvery wing-like spines on his shoulders--overall, a strange build. The mech carried a box of equipment, balancing it against his hip, an almost cocky stance. When he noticed Optimus, he eyed the Prime warily with tired optics.

"Optimus, meet Etraum's Chief Mechanical Engineer. Wheeljack."