Best Laid Plans

Author's note, September 13, 2001:You know...It's times like this that really make me wish that I could draw. Oh, those of you who know me well know that I whine and moan about that all the time, yes. However, it is particularly true now. Because in the wake of the horrible terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington DC, many Transformers fan artists have created some truly beautiful, emotional, moving, and inspiring pieces of art. (No, I won't call them pieces of "fan art" for they are simply art, as far as I'm concerned.) And I...just wish that I had something similar to offer. Unfortunately, my talent lies in drawing with words, not with a pencil, and stringing words together is, for me, quite time-consuming. And with New York refugee houseguests in the wake of the disaster here, my time is even more limited than usual. So, while I'd dearly love to crank out a patriotic sort of story...I can't right now.

But...I feel that I need to make what contribution I can. This is a story that I actually finished on the night before the terrorist attacks of September 11. And I think it's somewhat fitting that it's a rare sort of story for me. It's light and amusing and not meant to be taken seriously rather than being filled with darkness and/or angst, as most of my stories are. Well, maybe that's not "fitting," no, but I really don't want to post fictional darkness and angst when there's already enough of that in the real world at the moment. So... Here it is. My very paltry contribution. An attempt, if you will, to try to raise the spirits of Transfans everywhere who may be consumed by sorrow, anger, and grief...but especially for my beloved family in The Padded Cell. You guys are more like family to me than my real family, and in this time of crisis when one is rather forced to realize what is really important in life, I want to make it abundantly clear right here and now that I love you all, my friends. Every last one of you.

So...Well, enjoy! I hope... That's about all that I have to say...

...Well, except for one teeny-tiny minor note, I suppose, that being that there is a bit in here that you may not "get" unless you have read my story entitled "Vigil." No, I won't make you go and read that monster. :) Just know that in that story, I postulate that at some point in time, Swoop is going to start training as a medic (Don't ask; just go with me here. ;) ), and that creeps into this story in two tiny little references, one in the beginning and one in the end...

OK. NOW you may go read...

Best Laid Plans

For Lisa "Frostbite" Hobbs
The ultimate Wheeljack-o-phile, the inspiration for this story...and my most beloved "twin." I don't care what you say, Frosty, you are my better half. And...Well, this one's for you...

The doors to the Eye of the Hurricane slid open in front of an exhausted, bleary-eyed Ratchet and, in an almost-unconscious reflex-reaction kind of response, he plodded tiredly through them. He immediately spotted Wheeljack slumped at a nearby table, chin resting on his folded forearms, and decided to join him. He carefully walked over to the table that the engineer occupied a bit unsteadily, staggering only once or twice as he went.

Only barely raising his chin from the quite comfortable cradle formed by his forearms, Wheeljack aimed a weary glance up at Ratchet just before he, without a word, claimed the seat across from the engineer. The medic did so by the simple expedient of plopping into its depths and slouching so deeply that he was almost lying down in it. A long, wordless half-groan/half-whimper escaped him as he sprawled there and stared blankly at the ceiling. Without being told, Wheeljack extricated one arm from the embrace of its twin and then slid a large container of energon across the table toward his exhausted friend.

"Here," he said as he did so, his voice almost slurring with his own exhaustion. "I've been keeping it warm for you."

Blearily, Ratchet looked away from the ceiling and angled his gaze down at the proffered drink. For a long moment, he looked as if he had no clue what it was and even less of an idea of what he was supposed to do with it. But then with a grunt of effort he pushed himself up a little straighter in his seat, picked up the container, aimed a forced, jaunty grin in Wheeljack's direction as he raised the container in mock-salute, and then downed the entire thing in one impressively-large gulp. And when he slammed the empty container down hard onto the tabletop afterwards, he simultaneously fought back an insane urge to pound his forehead repeatedly against the very same tabletop, as well. Instead, he leaned back in his chair again and heaved a long and decidedly world-weary sigh.

"I swear to Primus, Wheeljack," he said, his voice a quiet, shell-shocked monotone as he stared listlessly at the ceiling again, sprawled in his chair, "he's gonna be the death of me. If Megatron doesn't kill him soon, I'm thinking I might do well to take a crack at him myself…"

Wheeljack chortled tiredly.

"Let me guess…" he said quietly, the panels on the sides of his head flashing only a dim shadow of their usual bright, electric blue, a sure sign of his exhaustion. As if his slumping posture wasn't proof enough, of course. "You're talking about Cliffjumper, right? No, wait! Ironhide!"

Ratchet shook his head wearily.

"Bzzt! Wrong! Good guesses, though! No, my dear friend, this time it's Bluestreak. I swear to Primus, 'Jack, he's using Ironhide as a role model or something, and it's not very good for his general well-being. Or for my sanity, for that matter, which, in my opinion, is far more important."

Wheeljack chortled tiredly at that as Ratchet continued, heedless.

"I mean, why can't these young yahoos use someone sensible like…like Prowl, for instance!…as a role model? I hardly ever see Prowl in the medbay, you know…To the point that sometimes I even wonder if Prowl isn't actually just some sort of elaborate figment of my imagination…"

"It's just youth, Ratch," Wheeljack asserted ruefully, shrugging as best he could in his position as the medic's voice trailed off fancifully, as he apparently began to contemplate Prowl's possibly hypothetical existence. "Unfortunately, it has a terrible effect on some people."

"Yeah, well, my life would be a lot more peaceful if Bluestreak and Company would stumble upon a more satisfying outlet for their youthful exuberance besides getting in between Optimus Prime and Megatron's fusion cannon."

"He's gonna be OK, though, right?" Wheeljack suddenly asked, his eyes narrowed with concern that was somewhat belated due to overwhelming weariness.

"Of course!" Ratchet scoffed, as if the thought of giving any other answer would have been a personal affront. "He'll be offline for…oh, for several days, I imagine. And he's really not gonna like how much his head is going to ache when he does eventually wake up… But he'll be all right, eventually. I am, after all, outstanding in my field."

"Of course you are," Wheeljack said soothingly though slightly ruefully.

A companionable silence fell between the two for a long moment, during which Wheeljack finally sat up straight in his chair with an audible creak and a visible wince and Ratchet plodded slowly off to the energon dispenser and helped himself to another healthy measure of the glowing stuff. Afterwards, he settled comfortably back into his chair, downed the energon, and then sighed a long and weary sigh.

"Primus, I just love my job," he finally grumbled to no one in particular, after a long moment spent staring meditatively at the dregs of his energon.

"You know what you need, Ratchet?" Wheeljack suddenly and brightly asked, infinite sympathy in his voice as he watched his exhausted friend. He imagined that if Ratchet were human, he'd have dark circles under his eyes that would take up half his face.

"Early retirement?" Ratchet answered archly, not bothering to look up at the engineer, watching with exhausted fascination as the dregs of his energon swirled and glowed in the bottom of the container when he spun it around on the tabletop. "Maybe to bang Optimus and Megatron's heads together repeatedly and tell 'em to knock off this whole stupid war bit before I kill them both? And I'd kill them nice and slowly and painfully, mind you. Something involving a soldering iron, a crowbar, a wooden spoon, and multiple episodes of Knight Rider, I think. Yeah, that's it…"

"Would that it were that easy," Wheeljack said with long, drawn-out sigh and a chuckle as Ratchet's voice trailed off dreamily. "No, I just meant that you need a vacation, Ratch."

That made Ratchet look up. He cocked his head slightly, frowned deeply, and blinked at Wheeljack a few times. He looked for all the world like a supremely befuddled dog.

"Vacation?" Ratchet asked slowly, blankly, blinking a few more times in exaggerated confusion. "I'm sorry, but I'm not familiar with that word… You'll have to explain it to me. In simple, one-syllable words, mind you, because that's about all that my poor, feeble brain can absorb at the moment."

"Oh, knock it off. You know what I mean. You need to get away from…from all of this," Wheeljack insisted, gesturing vaguely at their surroundings in order to indicate the entirety of Autobot Headquarters.

Ratchet just stared at the engineer for a long, contemplative moment before he answered, still blinking slowly several times, chewing on the idea of leaving Autobot Headquarters for a few days…or for a few years… But then, of course, cold, harsh reality struck him with full-force vengeance, as it had a very annoying habit of doing…

"Do you have any idea what happened the last time I took a vacation, Wheeljack?" the medic finally, slowly, blandly asked.

"No. What?"

"People died."

Wheeljack heaved another sigh, this one slightly exasperated.

"I can't deal with that kind of guilt, 'Jack!" Ratchet added before Wheeljack could say anything.

"Well, if you don't get away," Wheeljack countered, "then people will still die, only you'll be the one who's killing them! Besides, you've got your faithful minions to take care of things around here while you're gone, right?"

"Oh, yes!" Ratchet scoffed sarcastically. "My impressively gigantic staff of – Count 'em! – fifteen medics will surely be able to handle the at least two dozen Priority One patients who always arrive in the medbay any time Megatron gets a bug up his barrel about something or other and then decides to start shooting people other than his own troops. And that fifteen is including Sparkplug, mind you. And Swoop, who can't handle a Priority Four by himself yet, let alone a One."

"Ahhh, but he will be able to, eventually," Wheeljack asserted, practically glowing with insufferable paternal pride.

If he could have, Ratchet would have rolled his eyes. Or thrown something heavy at the engineer, perhaps, but…

"Yes, Wheeljack," he said calmly, patiently instead, but he couldn't quite suppress a long-suffering sigh. "Eventually, Swoop will be able to do just about anything his little heart desires. In no way will that 'eventually' coincide with this vacation that you seem to think I need, however. In fact, I'll be lucky if that 'eventually' happens before I die. Tell me, did you have to make Swoop so impossibly stubborn?"

"Me?! I think that was you who did that," Wheeljack insisted without a moment's hesitation. "A bit of self-insertion, if you will."

Ratchet just glared levelly at Wheeljack for a long moment, debating whether or not to argue the point. But then he decided that he was much too tired to engage in such witty repartee this evening.

"Let's just say that he got the worst of both worlds and move on, all right?" he said instead.

"Heh," Wheeljack uttered in agreement, leaning back in his chair and folding his bulky arms across his equally bulky chest. "Probably a good idea."

More comfortable silence reigned between the two for a moment. Silence was something that they were both quite used to, and even long stretches of it disconcerted neither of them. And neither of them usually felt the need to fill such happy silences with words. They were usually too busy working on their respective – or collective – projects for idle chit-chat, anyway, but even so it was nice to know that the other was there. Which was why it surprised Wheeljack when, not very long into this latest stretch of silence, Ratchet suddenly spoke up.

"So…" he said speculatively, absently rubbing at his chin with one red hand. "Where are you proposing that we go on this hypothetical vacation thing?"

Wheeljack, who'd taken to staring at the tabletop when a solution to a particularly nasty engineering problem that had been nagging at him for weeks had finally begun to coalesce in his head, looked up in alarm at that. The infant germ of a solution instantly and annoyingly evaporated with Ratchet's casual question.

"We?" Wheeljack asked, the panels on the sides of his head flashing quickly, visually echoing the alarm in his voice. "Who said anything about we?"

Ratchet shook his head slowly and smiled with all the calm, benign, and baffling serenity of a Buddhist monk rapidly approaching nirvana.

"Ohhhhhh, no, 'Jack. If you're going to drag me out of my hidey-hole to go someplace I don't want to go, then I'm damn well going to drag you out of yours, too. Kicking and screaming, if need be."


"When was the last time you saw the sun, Wheeljack?"

That abrupt question gave Wheeljack pause.

"Uhhhh…" he hedged, thinking frantically, appalled that he couldn't immediately come up with an answer to Ratchet's simple question.

Ratchet, meanwhile, nodded and grinned in smug triumph, much to Wheeljack's annoyance.

"My point exactly," he said with an evil chuckle and a self-satisfied smirk.

"But I can't go, Ratch!" Wheeljack finally managed to protest. "I've got too much that I have to d—"

"All of which can wait," Ratchet asserted firmly. "I mean, really, Wheeljack. If I can be spared for a week in the middle of a war, then I'm sure the vaunted Autobot cause can survive for a week without you and your… your things, too."

That earned Ratchet a long and sullen glare…but in the end Wheeljack also realized that he couldn't exactly argue the point. Because, after all, Ratchet was right...

"I dunno," he said, defeated, flopping back in his chair with a long, drawn-out sigh. "Disneyland?"

"You think you'll be able to drag me out of the medbay for that? Hardly…"

Wheeljack was quiet for a few moments, thinking away…and then an idea occurred to him. Had he been able to, he would have grinned from ear to ear. His brainstorm must have shown on his face, though, because Ratchet suddenly scowled suspiciously at him.

"What?" the medic hesitantly asked. "I hate it when you look at me like that, 'Jack…"

"I know just the place, Ratch."


"You'll like it. Party kind of town."


"Nice and warm, too. I know you're no fan of snow…"

"WHERE?! Don't make me shake you!"

Wheeljack chuckled.

"You and me, Ratch… We're going to Vegas!"

Ratchet stared at the engineer for a moment, blinking vacantly, thoughts whirling in his head. The thought that he eventually expressed was the one that yelled at him the loudest.

"Oh Primus help me…" Ratchet moaned.

* * * * * *

Highway 95 gamely and determinedly snaked its way through the middle of nowhere in the state of Nevada, a blistered, sun-baked stretch of concrete that aimlessly wound its way off into the scorching distance for as far as Ratchet could see. In the oppressive, dry swelter of noon on a clear day in mid-July, waves of heat shimmered off the flat surface of the road, and that shimmering illusion was the only thing in sight that actually moved, other than Ratchet himself.

And the highway offered nothing to the intrepid – or insane, depending upon how one looked at it – traveler except endless vistas of monotonous brown and tan. The brown and tan landscape stretched to every horizon, as if it was the only type of landscape that existed in the entire world. There were brown and tan mountains that poked and clawed hopelessly and eternally at the sky above them. There were randomly-scattered brown, twig-like things that vaguely resembled something that might once have been plants sticking up out of the ground here and there. There were the occasional innocent-looking ammunitions bunkers owned by the United States military. Everything, all of it, was colored in varying hues of brown and tan. Downright depressing, it was. The only thing that wasn't brown was the sky, which was, instead, an unending and monotonous stretch of bright, searing blue hanging possessively over the lifeless, arid landscape.

It had taken half a day to get to this desolate place, wherever they were. He and Wheeljack had left Autobot Headquarters happily enough. Ratchet had actually come to look forward to the road trip and the chance to get away from everything for a few days. He enjoyed Wheeljack's company, in general, and, besides, he was actually looking forward to seeing more parts of the country into which Autobot Headquarters had unceremoniously plopped itself. And it was, he admitted if only to himself, nice to be able to see the sights without concurrently having to worry about Decepticons, things blowing up, and people dying. And the half a day that he and Wheeljack had spent on the road so far had been nothing but pleasant. Even the traffic had been kind to them.

But, after crossing the border between California and Nevada, Ratchet had begun to feel progressively less at-ease. He didn't know precisely why, but he'd learned, over the long millennia of his life so far, to trust his instincts. Warnings were sounding in his head now, and their volume kicked up a notch as soon as Ratchet got a scannerful of the open, mountainous, desert terrain that faced them for the remainder of their journey to Las Vegas. But even had he not had that strange sense of foreboding, Ratchet was certain that he still would have felt vaguely…disappointed. And not a little disgruntled.

He'd known, intellectually, that a road trip to Las Vegas would require a stretch of desert driving, of course, but he was just slightly unprepared for the utter and complete desolation that had seemed to swallow him whole. It was sort of like driving through the very worst parts of Cybertron, only hotter. Much hotter. And that comparison was not helping Ratchet's mood all that much.

Especially because Wheeljack, heeding Ratchet's sage words of caution not at all, had suddenly decided that he needed to stretch his legs – proverbially speaking, anyway – and had blithely decided to zoom off down the highway at some insane velocity that was sure to attract the attention of any law enforcement official who might be lurking along the way. He'd pulled ahead of Ratchet, quickly advancing into the brown and tan distance until he could no longer be seen at all, although Ratchet could certainly hear his happy humming over the interpersonal communication frequency they kept open between them. And Wheeljack's apparent happiness with the situation – which wasn't unusual because, all things being equal, it was quite difficult to make Wheeljack unhappy – was, of course, even more…disgruntling.

It wasn't until Ratchet had heaved a sigh of resignation to his fate and made his way ten miles or so along Highway 95 that he saw something that managed to lift his spirits somewhat…if only because what he saw was sure to deflate Wheeljack's spirits… To Ratchet, there was something almost poetic about that… It was even enough to momentarily shunt aside the ill-at-ease feeling that was gnawing at his innards. He chuckled in anticipation as he watched the scene unfold…

* * * * * * *

"Uhhhh...Let me guess...That's not Prowl, is it?" Wheeljack asked hesitantly of Ratchet, as he detected a faint but sickeningly familiar wailing siren and spotted the rhythmic flashing of red lights dancing on the horizon behind him. There was an audible gulp in his voice that greatly – though perhaps inappropriately— amused Ratchet, who was still lagging about five miles or so behind the speed-demon engineer.

"Not unless Prowl woke up one day and decided to become an ugly and rather battered light blue Caprice Classic without me noticing it," Ratchet replied lightly. He fought valiantly to keep the I-told-you-so smugness that he felt out of his voice. Unfortunately, he largely failed. "I told you that zooming down this highway at a buck-twenty-five was not one of your more brilliant ideas, you know… I saw him pull out from behind a billboard that you passed some minutes ago. Figured he had to be after you. Not like there's anyone else on this Primus-forsaken stretch of road, after all..."

"Oy!" was Wheeljack's only response for a long moment, as he watched the police cruiser behind him slowly close the distance that separated them as Wheeljack decelerated in defeat. Then he added a meek, "Um, I'm in a wee bit of trouble here, aren't I?"

Ratchet snickered.

"Hey, look on the bright side, 'Jack!" he said with deliberately exaggerated cheerfulness, just to get his companion's goat. "You can't possibly accumulate as many speeding tickets as Sideswipe has accumulated over the years..."

"Why? How many has he gotten?"

"Ohhhh... At last count, I think it was something like 1,796, give or take two. In fact, as I recall, he once gleefully said something about wallpapering his quarters with them one day..."

"Primus!" Wheeljack exclaimed. And then, after a moment of silent contemplation, he added, "Um, do we actually pay all of those things, then?"

"Oh, how am I supposed to know?! Dammit, Wheeljack, I'm a doctor, not an accountant."

"Of course, Dr. McCoy. How could I have forgotten?" Wheeljack ruefully responded. And then he added with a deep and foreboding sigh, "Uh, guess I'd better pull over, huh?"

"Might be a good idea," Ratchet answered patronizingly. "Unless, of course, you fancy the idea of a very pissed-off human cop firing multiple rounds of primitive projectile ammunition right up your tailpipe. And, mind you, if for some insane reason you do fancy that idea, I'm not pulling all that lead out of there. I don't love you that much, 'Jack."

"Some friend you are, then..." Wheeljack grumbled, to which Ratchet only snickered once again.

And then, with a long and utterly defeated sigh, Wheeljack, Autobot Engineer Extraordinaire, pulled over to the side of Nevada Highway 95 somewhere in the middle of absolutely nowhere and bravely and almost gracefully faced the consequences of his sudden, all-consuming need for speed...

* * * * * * *

"Primus, will you look at that?!"


"Wow, those poor people… Damn, where's the cops when you actually want them?"

Ratchet sighed exasperatedly.

"What are you babbling about now, Wheeljack? I'm lagging miles behind you again, remember? And didn't you learn your lesson about speed limits a few hours ago?"

"I've decided to give Sideswipe a run for his money," Wheeljack announced smugly. "I'll probably never get as many tickets as him, total, but I'm figuring that I can probably rack up more in a single day than he ever has..."

Ratchet sighed, mumbled almost to himself, "Oh, great...Now he gets competitive..." Then, more loudly, he added, "So what am I supposed to be looking for here? I mean, there's nothing – and I do mean nothing – as far as the old, failing optics can see…"

"There's this family... Pulled over on the side of the road. Their car's broken down...and here they are in the middle of nowhere. You'll pass 'em in a minute or two..."

And sure enough, Ratchet did pass a forlorn-looking human family exactly one minute and twenty-two seconds later. The family consisted of a man, a woman, and several young children, and all of them were milling around a car that was all but enveloped in a cloud of white smoke, which was billowing in copious quantities from under the car's closed hood. The adults were standing on the side of the road, gawking stupidly at the steaming contraption. They had the kind of frozen, dazed expressions on their faces that Ratchet immediately recognized as the same expression humans suddenly acquired whenever there were Decepticons in their immediate vicinity: The "Oh-my-God-I'm-gonna-die" look, was what Ratchet had taken to calling it.

And Ratchet felt rather badly for them as he zoomed past the scene. For a few seconds, he deliberated about stopping and turning around, wondering if he'd be able to do anything for them. He didn't know much about the inner workings of Earth vehicles, after all, other than the few bits and pieces of information here and there that he had managed to glean from Sparkplug over the years. And most of that was just inference on his part, knowledge that he'd backhandedly cobbled together upon hearing the human mechanic continuously bitch and moan about the bewildering differences between the primitive Earth vehicles that the Autobots superficially mimicked and the Autobots themselves.... Still, Ratchet had just about decided that maybe he should go back and try to do something for them...

...And that was when he nearly ran smack into the back end of Wheeljack, about a mile or so down the road from the stranded human family. The whole thinking process and its subsequent nagging indecision had momentarily but fully distracted him from watching where he was driving.

I am getting old, Ratchet thought ruefully as he watched his long and eventful life flash before his eyes.

"YAAAARGH!" was his only verbal reaction, however, as he broke frantically and swerved wildly off the highway to avoid the unexpectedly stationary white, red, and green Lancia Stratos that was suddenly and inexplicably sitting in the middle of the road in front of him.

"Wheeljack!" Ratchet exclaimed exasperatedly when he finally slewed to a halt, drowning and sputtering in a gritty, all-encompassing cloud of dust a dozen meters from the edge of the highway.

"What?" came the mild, distracted, eventual response. It was the response of a person who was barely listening to his companion, who had only belatedly realized that some form of response to said companion was necessary.

" Oh, Primus, never mind..." Ratchet grumbled with a resigned sigh as he carefully navigated up the slight embankment at the side of the highway and back onto the road, coming to a grumbling halt alongside of the engineer.

Ratchet knew, after all, that Wheeljack probably hadn't bothered to notice the fact that he'd come within inches of being flattened by a distracted, deep-in-thought ambulance... He had that odd, distracted air about him that sometimes overcame him, and his voice had that far-away quality that Ratchet, after millennia of knowing Wheeljack, immediately recognized as the one that signified that Wheeljack's mind was hovering somewhere approximately ten light-years away from his body. Such a thing happened whenever Wheeljack was working on a particularly thorny engineering problem...or when an idea had just whacked him upside the head, particularly if it was a wild, insane sort of idea.

Ratchet had a sneaking – and sinking – suspicion that he knew which it was this time. His suspicion was confirmed when Wheeljack started moving, specifically when he started to make a move to turn around and head back in the direction from which he had come.

"Wheeljack! Wait!" Ratchet frantically cautioned. "You can't fix an Earth vehicle!"

"Oh, how hard can it be, Ratchet?" came the ever-cheerful, ever-gung-ho, yet slightly exasperated reply. "Where's your sense of adventure?"

"Trust me, when you spend your life cleaning up after other people's 'adventures,' you very quickly lose the urge to have them yourself."

Wheeljack snorted exasperatedly.

"Fine, Mr. Stick-in-the-Mud," he teased lightly. "You go on ahead, then. I'll catch up later. Easily, too."

Ratchet sighed as Wheeljack then executed a tight, flawless U-turn in the middle of the deserted highway, gunned his engine in a way that would have made Ratchet wince in mechanical sympathy had he been in robot mode, and then roared off the way he had come. A cloud of dust puffed up behind his sleek, low-slung form as he peeled out, and he managed to squeal his tires and spit some gravel in Ratchet's direction, just to annoy him.

Ratchet sat there for a few moments, turning over his options in his mind. But then, without further thought about it, Ratchet suddenly found himself reluctantly following the engineer. Except, of course, that he wasn't quite able to manage the same tight U-turn that Wheeljack had executed without backing up once to complete it. Somehow, that just made his mood even more sullen.

"Right," he groused to himself as Wheeljack pulled farther ahead into the shimmering distance, the cloud of dust still following in his wake like a slavishly obedient servant. "He gets the nifty race car vehicle mode, and I'm stuck with this clunky van thing. It figures..."

* * * * * * *

"Come here!" Wheeljack demanded of Ratchet, exasperated impatience liberally sprinkled into his voice. The engineer was on his knees in front of the still-steaming Earth vehicle by the time Ratchet arrived on the scene and transformed. He was fumbling to find the hood release on his patient. "It's not gonna bite you, you know…"

"That's what you said about that thingamajigger you concocted last week, and I still haven't gotten rid of all the scorch marks yet," Ratchet warily pointed out. "That thing's got smoke coming out of it, Wheeljack!"

"Oh, it's just steam, Ratchet!" Wheeljack asserted with calm certainty and a slightly exasperated sigh.

"Says you. Scorch marks, remember?"

"Ah-hah!" Wheeljack exclaimed, ignoring Ratchet's sarcastic lack of faith as he found the release he'd been searching for and the hood of the car obediently lifted. A billowing cloud of still more steam erupted from under the open hood, dancing away on the hot desert breeze, itself hot enough to scorch the top twenty layers of skin off a human. But of course it fazed Wheeljack not at all.

No, what fazed Wheeljack was the bewildering expanse of unfamiliar mechanical guts that now faced him.

"Ummmm…" was all that he could think of to say for a moment before he poked gingerly at a twisting length of dirty black rubber hose with one cautious finger, as if he fully expected it to bite him for the insult.

Despite himself, Ratchet peeked over the engineer's shoulder, curiosity getting the better of him…and he couldn't hold back an amused chuckle at what he saw. Impulsively, he looked up and over the raised hood of the car, toward the car's completely bewildered human owners. The three children were now hiding behind their parents' legs, cowering in fear.

"Don't worry," he said to them with a wide, jaunty grin plastered to his face. "Wheeljack here's got it all under control."

Hidden by the open hood of the car, Wheeljack aimed a stricken, wide-eyed look up at Ratchet.

"I do?" he whispered, his "ears" flashing in near-panic.

"Bedside manner," Ratchet muttered down at him. "It's just this thing I do."

"Ah. Any bright ideas, then, Mr. Outstanding-In-My-Field?"

After aiming another reassuring smile at the owners of the car and then kneeling down next to Wheeljack, Ratchet critically surveyed the machinery in front of him for a moment. He poked at things here and there, traced almost-familiar fuel lines elsewhere, and suspiciously eyed translucent plastic reservoirs filled with unidentifiable and obscenely neon-colored liquids. But then his trained, clinical eye zeroed in on something that just didn't look right…and then he harrumphed in triumph.

"Well," Ratchet said smugly, straightening up a bit, "if I were you, Wheeljack – and I've gotta say that I'm really glad that I'm not – I'd start with that," he said, pointing with distaste at a radiator hose, one with a gaping hole in it. Steam still trailed in occasional wisps from the ugly, ragged-edged gash.

"Oy," Wheeljack responded, blinking stupidly at the damaged hose. "I… I, uh…don't suppose you have anything like that on you somewhere…?"

Ratchet aimed an irritated and somewhat arrogant glare down his nose at his friend.

"Wheeljack…my dear, dear friend…I am a physician. I have all kinds of stuff on me. Stuff that you could not begin to understand even in your wild, fevered imaginings. However, last I checked, I was not affiliated in any way, shape, or form with Pep Boys."

Wheeljack sighed exasperatedly.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," he said. "You're a doctor, not an auto parts emporium. Got it. But maybe you have something in there that I can sort of…you know…modify or something, maybe? Yes?"

"Wheeljack…" Ratchet's voice was pained.

"Oh, c'mon, Ratch! Are you really gonna leave these poor people stranded here in the middle of nowhere where they could even…you know, die or something, just to assuage your bloated sense of superiority?"

"Do what to my what?" Ratchet tried to respond indignantly, but Wheeljack spoke over him.

"Come on, oh great medical master. Transform. Let me take a peek…"

Ratchet sighed dramatically. Then he aimed a glance over the hood of the car again, at the still wide-eyed and still quite frightened humans...and ultimately realized that he had been defeated from the start.

"Oh for the love of…" But then he stood up and hastily transformed. "Just make it quick, all right?"

If he could have, Wheeljack would have grinned widely. And then he clambered into the back of Ratchet's ambulance form, ducking his head and hunching his shoulders so that he didn't whack either on something. He began to rummage around in the various compartments where Ratchet stowed his gear and emergency spare parts.

"Look in the compartment to your left," Ratchet helpfully suggested, but then hurriedly, anxiously added, "No, wait! Not that one--!"

But it was too late. Wheeljack had already opened that forbidden compartment and subsequently saw what was hidden in there. He pulled out the small device that he'd discovered and contemplatively and repeatedly turned it over in his hands, like a nun with a strand of rosary beads. But even he, Autobot Engineer Extraordinaire, could not make heads or tails of whatever it was that he held in his hands, nor could he determine – or even imagine – what it was supposed to do.

"What is this thing?" Wheeljack finally demanded to know.

"It's Jazz's," Ratchet wearily answered, as if that explained everything.

And knowing Jazz, it almost does explain everything, Wheeljack thought ruefully.

"It looks…um, painful," Wheeljack said aloud after a few moments spent blinking quizzically and in utter confusion at the thing he held in his hands.

"That's because it probably is painful," Ratchet said with a long and resigned sigh. "Jazz told me it was a…uh, 'present' for Red Alert and that he needed somewhere safe to keep it until the time was right to…uh, give it to him…"

"Oh," Wheeljack responded dully, nonplussed, before adding, "I…really don't think I want to know." And then he gingerly replaced the small, oblong object that was liberally studded with six-inch-long and very sharp spikes back into the compartment where he had found it.

"I think that's a marvelous decision, 'Jack," Ratchet responded with obvious relief. "Now, try the compartment below that one."

Wheeljack did as he was told…and then he beamed as he drew several of the items that he found out of the storage compartment.

"Ratchet, my friend," he declared as he held his loot triumphantly aloft, "you are about to witness utter genius in action…"

And, approximately sixteen minutes later, a happy human family was once again on its way to Reno to visit relatives, Wheeljack was looking incredibly smug and pleased with himself…and Ratchet was, of course, grumbling.

"Y'know," he said to no one in particular as he watched the human family drive off into the sunset, his face creased in a scowl and his arms folded across his bulky chest, "I really hope that Optimus Prime isn't going to need that thing any time soon…"

* * * * * *

"Primus, will you look at that up there?"

"No," Ratchet immediately responded. "No, I will not, Wheeljack. I'm not looking at anything else you tell me to look at until we get to Las Vegas…"

"I'm serious, Ratch," Wheeljack said, with enough foreboding in his voice that Ratchet suspected that his friend wasn't kidding around this time. The suspicion was confirmed when Wheeljack fearfully added, "Because I swear to Primus, if that's who and what I think they are, then I'm going to…to…"

"Die," Ratchet helpfully and mournfully supplied, as he aimed his scanners upwards and recognized the six jets that were sedately flying through an evening sky that was delicately painted in mellow shades of red, pink, and orange. The jets were arranged in an inhumanly precise formation, and they were flying thousands of meters above him.

They were, of course, Decepticons. Ratchet couldn't immediately identify which ones they were, but that didn't much matter. He and Wheeljack were only two Autobots, neither of whom was particularly well-known for his martial ability, and they were out in the open with no cover to speak of. And there were, of course, six Decepticons. Ratchet didn't like those odds. Not at all. The nagging sense of unease that he'd felt since crossing into Nevada now made perfect sense to him.

"I knew it!" he muttered.

"Ummm, maybe they're on vacation, too?" Wheeljack ventured hopefully, his scanners fixed on the jets above him.

"Which would be nice, yes," Ratchet answered with a resigned sigh, "except that I'm fairly certain that blowing two Autobots to kingdom come would fit quite nicely into the Decepticon definition of 'relaxation.'"

"True," Wheeljack replied with a sigh of his own. "Maybe we should call for help, then?"

"HAH!" was Ratchet's response. "Are you kidding? We might as well paint bulls-eyes on ourselves, 'Jack! They'd pick up the transmission faster than you can say, 'Come and get me, sweethearts!' and then they'd subsequently be all over us like a new coat of paint. Besides, I don't think there are any Autobots in the vicinity who could arrive in time to help…"

Wheeljack sighed in reply again.

"Well, what do you suppose they're after? Hoover Dam? It's not that far away…"

"Oh, who the hell knows, 'Jack? All I know is I'm giving them as wide of a berth as possible…"

"We can't do that, Ratch!" Wheeljack immediately and indignantly responded.

"Oh? And why not?"

"Because…Because…We're Autobots! The good guys, the heroes, the guys in the white hats. And they're the bad guys! Remember?"

"Oh, Primus!" Ratchet grumbled. "You're not going to wax all stuffily heroic on me now, are you? I mean, isn't it bad enough to have one Optimus Prime terrorizing me?"

Wheeljack chortled at that but didn't allow his amusement to deter him from the point at hand.

"But…if they're up to something and we don't do anything about it and they end up, say, killing people or something, wouldn't you then feel…oh, I don't know…enormously guilty, maybe?"

"Wheeljack. Don't. Just don't go there. Don't do that guilt thing you do…"

Heedlessly, Wheeljack continued, "I mean, we can at least try to follow them—"


"—and maybe find out what they're up to—"


"—and then report back to Headquarters and—"

"WHEELJACK!!" Ratchet exclaimed, suddenly slamming on his brakes and coming to an abrupt halt, tires squealing in protest.

"What?!" Wheeljack responded, stopping similarly, though he had to back up a bit afterwards.

Ratchet heaved a long and weary sigh as Wheeljack backed toward him.

"Reality check, please!" he insisted. "Do you, by any chance, know what your ground clearance is? I mean, look at that terrain over there. You'll tear yourself to shreds if you try to navigate that—"

"Ahhhh, but that's what you're here for," Wheeljack blithely interrupted, but Ratchet continued to rant as if he hadn't heard the engineer…which he hadn't, of course.

"—And I'm fairly certain that whatever it is that those Decepticons are up to, they're not doing it conveniently in the middle of Highway 95!"

But Wheeljack, of course, was not listening to a word that Ratchet was saying. Once Wheeljack had an idea in his head, after all, very little could deter him from following through with that idea. And so, once again heeding Ratchet's words of caution not at all, Wheeljack abruptly veered off-course, heading straight for the side of the road. He careened over the slight embankment, slid recklessly down the side of the somewhat steep rise atop which the highway ran, and bounced to a halt at the bottom of the slope with a crash that made Ratchet mentally wince. But then, without another moment's hesitation, he turned around, oriented himself, and headed off in the direction in which the Decepticon jets were flying, hoping, no doubt, that they were far enough ahead of him that they wouldn't notice a race car inexplicably doing some desert offroading.

Ratchet, still up on the highway, watched Wheeljack for a few moments as he carefully but as quickly as possibly navigated the rough desert terrain. Occasionally, the sound of Wheeljack bottoming out would assault Ratchet's audios, making him hiss in sympathy… He considered for half a second the idea of leaving the crazy engineer to his own devices, but instantly realized that he couldn't do that, of course. So, after heaving a long and supremely resigned sigh, Ratchet, too, headed for the side of the road.

"I take it back," Ratchet muttered to no one in particular as he gamely nudged himself over the embankment, navigated the rise that supported the highway far more gracefully than Wheeljack had, and began to follow the cloud of dust ahead of him that marked the engineer's location. "Bluestreak's not going to be the death of me, after all. He is…"

* * * * * *

Lying prone on the hard, cracked, sun-baked earth, Wheeljack inched his way toward the lip of the deep gorge ahead of him, wincing as he went. The off-road drive to…wherever he was…had not been terribly long, but it had been rather hard on his body. Ratchet hadn't been entirely unwise to caution him against following the Decepticon jets off-road into the desert. He wasn't, of course, about to let Ratchet know that because then Ratchet would be insufferably smug about it for at least the next month and Wheeljack was not prepared to deal with that. So, he kept physical complaints to himself, fixated his mind on the task at hand, and just slowly worked his way toward his goal: The gorge into which the six Decepticons that he'd been doggedly pursuing had just descended.

Ratchet was right next to him. His higher ground clearance and sturdier overall form had allowed him to catch up with Wheeljack rather easily and, to the medic's credit, he was at least not being smug about that. He was just gamely half-crawling and half-wriggling toward the gorge alongside of Wheeljack. And for once, he was silent and uncomplaining, although he was radiating nervous tension like heat from a blast furnace. Wheeljack suspected that Ratchet wasn't alone in that, and he was thankful for the medic's presence; he wouldn't have wanted to be doing what he was doing alone.

Finally reaching the edge of the gorge, Wheeljack cautiously propped himself up on his flat-edged forearms and peered down into the dusty, rocky, and utterly barren depths of the gorge below. The steep valley was shadowy in the twilight, but he could see that it held nothing except an ancient and long-dry riverbed…and a hulking, nefarious-looking, and obviously Decepticon installation of some sort. It was made of the Decepticons' favorite purple-grey metal, there were at least two dozen Decepticons milling about…and Wheeljack had absolutely no clue what purpose the installation served. He had a sudden feeling that perhaps he didn't want to know, but…he was an Autobot; he was obligated to find out. More than that, he was an engineer, with an engineer's insatiable and occasionally irritating need to know the function of anything that he saw that was even remotely mechanical. So, what he saw below him both intrigued him and, at the very same time, made him feel enormously uneasy.

"Primus, would you look at that!" he murmured under his breath, as if afraid that the Decepticons below would somehow overhear him. There was both awed fascination and revulsion in his voice.

Next to Wheeljack, Ratchet heaved an exasperated little sigh.

"I really wish you'd stop saying that," he grumbled.

"Saying what?" came the innocent reply.

"Saying… Oh, never mind. What the hell are they doing down there?"

"Hanged if I know," Wheeljack answered with a cavalier shrug, his voice chipper, considering the circumstances.

"Wait a minute," Ratchet said after a beat. "Aren't you the engineer here?"

Wheeljack sighed.

"Ratchet," he answered patiently, "I am an engineer, yes. But I don't claim to understand how the Decepticons' minds work, no."

Ratchet blinked at him for a moment after that, then said the first thing that occurred to him.

"They have minds?"

Wheeljack snickered, his "ears" echoing his amusement.

"Apparently one or two of them do. Either that, or they're a hive consciousness. Stick 'em all together, and you get an entity that can build…well, that," he said, gesturing expansively at the imposing though not-quite-completed installation below them.

"A hive consciousness…" Ratchet mused speculatively as he watched the Decepticons casually going about their business, unaware that they were being watched. "With Megatron as the queen."

Wheeljack choked back the loud guffaw that the image that bloomed in his head evoked. The Decepticons surely would have heard it, had he released it. Instead, he silently watched the Decepticons below for a few minutes…and then came to a decision.

"I'm gonna go get a closer look," he announced. He pushed himself up to his hands and knees…but that was as far as he got. Ratchet, in a move so quick that Wheeljack hardly saw it, reached up, pushed down hard on Wheeljack's already sore back…and Wheeljack suddenly found himself face-down in the dirt.

"Stay!" Ratchet commanded. "Good dog."

Wheeljack glared indignantly at the medic for a long moment, but then returned to the more pressing matter at hand.

"Ratch…We have to know what's going on down there! Because whatever it is, you know it's not good news for us. And I could use some back-up."

"We could both use some backup," Ratchet announced. "I'm calling Headquarters."

"No! They'll hear—"

But Wheeljack's protest was too little too late, because Ratchet had already activated his comm, opening an encoded frequency to Autobot Headquarters. As it turned out, however, the point was moot. Ratchet's comm wasn't working. Or, rather, it was being jammed.

"Damn," Ratchet muttered under his breath before reporting more loudly, "I can't call out. They must have something down there that's jamming our communications frequencies…"

"And I'll bet they've got some kind of scanner screen up and running, too," Wheeljack agreed, nodding, "or else we'd have noticed this place by now…" he paused for a moment before determinedly adding, "Well, that settles it, then. Let's go."

He got all the way up to a kneeling position before, once again, Ratchet held him back and tried to talk some sense into his head.

"Wheeljack…" Ratchet cautioned, his voice a strained whisper as he reached out to grab the engineer's bulky forearm before he could enthusiastically and cheerfully gallop off into mortal peril. "Let's review for a moment here, shall we? There are only two of us here and we can't yell mindlessly for help. Now, I'm a medic who, on a really, really good day, might be able to hit the broad side of Megatron with a laser rifle. Might, mind you. You, on the other hand, are a mad scientist with more brains than firepower. They, meantime, have what? Oh, at least two dozen folks down there, all warriors by the looks of it, each with more weaponry than you have sanity. Now, shall I calculate our probability of dying horribly if we go down there, or would you like to take a stab at it?"

Wheeljack heaved a resigned sigh as he settled back onto his heels.

"Well, what else are we supposed to do, then?" he asked, somewhat rhetorically.

Ratchet shrugged in reply.

"How the hell am I supposed to know?" he groused. "I'd almost suggest getting out of jamming range and yelling mindlessly for help…but I have no idea what that range is… And I really don't like the looks of that place…Especially that thing in the middle there that looks suspiciously like a humongous gun that, if I'm not mistaken, appears to be pointed directly at Autobot Headquarters… Especially because there are green blinky things all over it that I can only assume mean that it's all ready to fire."

"Tell me about it," Wheeljack fervently replied, suppressing a shudder. And then, after a beat, he added, "Love the technical jargon, by the way. 'Green blinky things,' indeed…"

Ratchet aimed a gallows grin in Wheeljack's direction.

"I'm a doctor—" he started to say.

"—not an engineer," Wheeljack finished for him with a resigned nod. "Believe me, I know that… Well, the way I see it, Ratch, we have three options. We can sit here and do nothing. Or one of us can go down there and check things out while the other tries to get out of jamming range and call for help. Or we can both go down there and see what we can do about the situation, see if we can disable whatever it is that's jamming our communicators and probably blocking HQ's sensors, call for help, and then hope that we can hold out until, say, the Aerials can get their tailfins in here and save our posteriors."

Ratchet opened his mouth to respond, but Wheeljack kept talking over him.

"And, no," the engineer said, "I don't need any pithy reminders about there being only two of us against two dozen of them. But we can't just sit here, Ratch! And I'm not exactly sanguine about the idea of only one of us going down there by himself...."

"Pithy? Sanguine?" Ratchet echoed, his face creased in confusion. "Methinks someone's been hanging around Perceptor a bit too much. I mean, what is it with you and the big words today?"

Wheeljack let out an exasperated sigh and aimed a glare in the medic's direction.

"Can we please just once in our lives stick to the point at hand here?"

Ratchet sighed in defeat.

"Oh, all right," he groused. "You're right, of course. I don't think we have enough time to fool around finding out the range of the jamming field and…and that thing gives me the willies just looking at it," he asserted with a frenetic wave at the Decepticon installation. "So…All for one and one for all, as they say…though I'm quite certain that in approximately six hours I'm going to be kicking myself for saying that…"

As it turned out, of course, six hours was entirely too long of an estimate…

Ratchet and Wheeljack managed to work their way silently and stealthily down into the gorge, under cover of the deepening twilight. Equally silently and stealthily, they snuck into the roofless installation through a hole in an incomplete wall. They spent about forty-five minutes silently creeping around the place. Wheeljack was able to determine that the gun-looking thing was, indeed, a gun and that the rest of the installation seemed to be designed to gather solar energy which then powered the gun – which was, Wheeljack also discovered, quite powerful. It was indeed quite capable of blowing up the volcano that housed Autobot Headquarters in a single blast, a fact which made the engineer shudder.

Wheeljack wanted to stay with the gun, find some way to sabotage it and therefore render it inoperative, but Ratchet convinced him that the need to call in reinforcements was the greater concern, and Wheeljack couldn't exactly argue. So they had set off once again and, purely by dumb luck, stumbled upon a small alcove that contained the device in question. A small box, it was, quite unremarkable, yet it was obviously the source of the signal that was jamming Autobot communications frequencies, at least. They had just managed to disable the jamming signal…when they were rudely interrupted.

"Well, well," said a voice from behind them. It was a deep, resonant voice, a voice that would not have been unpleasant at all…had the malice in it not earmarked the owner of the voice as a Decepticon, of course. "It appears that we have unexpected visitors."

Wheeljack and Ratchet froze in place for half a second, exchanging a sidelong glance. In unison, they very slowly turned around to face their adversary. Adversaries, as it turned out, for there were two Decepticons standing there, each with large, malevolent-looking blasters leveled at the two Autobots.

"Oy," was Wheeljack's choked response, his "ears" flashing brightly in the darkened room.

Ratchet's reaction, on the other hand, was somewhat more…profane.

And then, of course, all hell broke loose…

* * * * * *

The mysterious Decepticon installation was crawling with Autobots. Some, like Huffer and Grapple, were inspecting the construction of the place, shaking their heads and tsking over the architectural havoc that Wheeljack had managed to wreak by rigging all of the solar energy collectors powering the gun to explode by means of a sequential overload. No one could quite figure out how the engineer had managed to do that in the midst of a battle when he and Ratchet had been severely outnumbered…but somehow he had accomplished it.

And Wheeljack wasn't talking, insisting that some secrets of the engineering trade had to be kept just that: secret. Ratchet, of course, had merely tiredly informed the questioning, awestruck Autobots that Wheeljack was just really, really good at making things explode.

Meanwhile, other Autobots – namely, Red Alert, Jazz, Ironhide, and Prowl – were busily yet carefully going about dismantling the big gun, which had somehow managed to escape unscathed the intense firefight between the resident Decepticons and Wheeljack, Ratchet, and eventually the Aerialbots, who had been the first to arrive on the scene after Ratchet had managed to put out a plaintive call for help. Hound, at Wheeljack's request, had made detailed holographic scans of the thing before the demolition crew had gone to work, but now the four of them were crawling all over the thing wielding cutting lasers and, in the case of Ironhide and Jazz, blissfully enthusiastic expressions. They were all careful, though, not to damage components that could be recycled or reused.

Still other Autobots were standing around merely looking important or, in the Aerialbots' cases, merely looking utterly bored.

Normally, Wheeljack and Ratchet would have been amongst those Autobots poking around in what was left of the place. Wheeljack himself was itching to get his hands on the gun. He was thankful for Hound's scans, of course, but that wasn't the same as getting to play with the real thing. The truth of the matter was, though, that neither he nor Ratchet was in any sort of shape to do much of anything except possibly sit on the ground and moan for all they were worth.

It had taken what seemed like a small eternity for the Aerialbots and then a second wave of slower, ground-based Autobots to arrive on the scene and help to scatter the Decepticons who, although they had the advantage of numbers at first, had not been at all prepared for an invasion or attack. And while the medic and the engineer had managed to hold their own surprisingly well, thanks to a combination of Ratchet's sheer, cantankerous pigheadedness and Wheeljack's ingenuity and innate talent for making things blow up, neither of them had come out of the resulting altercation in anything close to resembling pristine condition. Both had, among other things, dripping laser gashes and laser burns all over their bodies, scorched, carbon-scored, or missing pieces of armor elsewhere, and various puncture wounds from shrapnel liberally scattered here and there throughout their bodies. The latter two injuries were due largely to proximity to that explosion which Wheeljack had so expertly engineered, that had sent the Decepticons packing, pretty much, even before the Aerialbots had arrived. The two battered Autobots were only just now starting to feel the effects of their injuries, though, the heat and the excitement of the battle having thoroughly, finally, worn off. Ratchet, in particular, just wanted to curl up on the hard, dusty ground and drop into a blissfully oblivious coma.

But he and Wheeljack couldn't do that, even. Hoist was insisting that they haul themselves back to Headquarters for repairs. Unfortunately, Hoist couldn't tow them both.

That, of course, was where Optimus Prime came in…

"I told you this vacation thing was a really bad idea, Wheeljack," Ratchet complained weakly as he and the equally-battered Wheeljack leaned heavily on each other in order to limp their way into a very makeshift ambulance: Optimus Prime's trailer.

"Yes, Huffer. I know," Wheeljack answered with a weary groan as he and his partner in crime oh-so-carefully settled themselves on the floor of the trailer and Optimus slowly began to roll for Autobot Headquarters, very mindful of the battered condition of his passengers.

The medic glowered at the engineer as he tried to find a semi-comfortable position lying on the floor of the dimly-lit trailer while it bounced mercilessly over the rough terrain.

"Very funny," he mumbled sarcastically, his voice weakened with fatigue and injury.

"Well, look on the bright side, Ratch," Wheeljack answered with a nonchalant shrug and then a wince as a particularly hard jolt sent spears of pain merrily zinging throughout his entire body, starting with his bottom. "At least you don't have to clean up the mess this time."

"Hah!" Ratchet replied sourly. "Cold comfort, 'Jack. Cold comfort…"

"But just think!" Wheeljack added with a peculiar mix of overwhelming weariness, teasing excitement, and impending unconsciousness. "Bluestreak can keep you company and tell you all kinds of stories! I mean, I'm sure he's awake by now! And besides that…Well, Swoop does need the practice, you know..."

"Not funny, 'Jack," Ratchet sniped, suddenly wishing for something that he could throw at Wheeljack. "Not funny at all. But you know…it would be amusing if I made him work on you... Without painkillers, mind you. Yes, that would be good…"

"Oh, hah hah! Look, will you just do us both a favor and lose consciousness already?"

"Uh-uh. You first. Age before beauty, as they say…"

Optimus Prime, meanwhile, listened unobtrusively to the customary friendly bickering of the engineer and his chief medic as it continued until both, indeed, lost consciousness. He chuckled ruefully to himself as he listened, as he slowly chugged his way toward Autobot Headquarters, trying as best he could to take it easy on the bumps.

It was frightening to think how close he'd come to losing both of them. They were both vital to the Autobot cause, of course… They were a wonderful team, as well, their respective areas of expertise both overlapping nicely and perfectly complementing one another. But even more than that, they were both very close friends. Their nearly constant bickering was, paradoxically, merely an endearing symptom of that long-standing relationship. Not only that but Optimus Prime fully realized that on this particular day, the two might very well have saved the life of every last Autobot…

And, besides… Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots and champion of galactic freedom, thought as he crawled slowly across the barren Nevada desert with his precious, battered cargo, HQ just wouldn't be the same without them…