My apologies for the delay on this, and I hope everyone will bear with me through the Prologue and Part One, I revised them several times but I'm not sure how successful I was. Part Two and Three are shaping up better, and as time goes on I will be addressing the questions that were asked about events in Reunions, so please stay tuned!
This fanfic is dedicated to Dvandom of the Allspark boards for his story "Scars", and also to Dragontail of the Allspark for general inspiration. Thank you both for giving me TF concepts to think on.
Disclaimer: I don't own Transformers, they belong to Hasbro/TakaraTomy, these incarnations also property of Dreamworks and Paramount. This story is for entertainment purposes only.
Optimus Prime looked around at the Autobots gathered in the Ark's "front" room, including those on Teletraan-1's screen who were at Autobase One. He had already spoken with Trailbreaker and Rattlelatch, both now stationed in Washington D.C.. The rest were divided between the bases as evenly as possible -- one way or another. By necessity Perceptor was at Autobase continuing his experiments with the Allspark shard. Ratchet had chosen to remain there until a proper med bay could be rigged up in the Ark, spending his time working out the best way to achieve that goal. Despite how the desert terrain suited their natures better, Ironhide and Chromia had returned to Autobase. Broadcast had command there wih Arcee as his second, Tracks wanted to be closer to civilization, Thundercracker was still under Ratchet's care, and Bluestreak was inclined to make sure the former Decepticon kept his word.
Prowl, Red Alert, Inferno, and Firestar had resumed their Cybertron command hierarchy, while Moonracer served as medic for the crashed ship in the meantime. With the help of Gears and Windcharger, Huffer was slowly but surely working through the Ark's internal structures, adapting anything that was irreversible.
Optimus glanced into the camera transmitting his image to Autobase and met the gaze of Broadcast, who was sitting on Tracks' shoulder to have a higher perch above the larger mechs, and gave a small nod. The communications officer and temporary base chief nodded back. "Today I received the most recent survey from Agent Epps. The responses are still mixed, so I would like to once again ask that you all maintain your cover while away from base. To be honest, I think it will be some time before our presence is significantly accepted to where we could walk down a street without repercussions."
"There's always gonna be somebody who's afraid, Optimus," Broadcast pointed out. "We can't wait forever for 'em to change their minds. I think it would help if they could get to know us better. Not that I'm suggestin' a rally downtown tomorrow, but it's somethin' to consider at some point."
"We shall see," Prime replied. "Does anyone have concerns or opinions on the matter?" He waited patiently. The smaller bots on his side shrugged. Ratchet and Ironhide were unusually silent. If he didn't know any better, Optimus would have thought they were both looking at Prowl, waiting to see what he would say. Something unspoken was going on amongst the three of them. He attributed it to the tensions that had yet to cease amongst all of the Autobots.
Tracks cleared his vocalizer. "I agree with Broadcast. The humans will not adjust unless they have reminders that we are here and will not be leaving simply because some of them don't like us. Why miss opportunities to mingle with those who do?"
"Heh," Huffer piped up, "Still hung up on that car show, eh, Tracks?"
Tracks scowled. "They have better taste in appearances than you."
Optimus sighed loudly, seeing a fight brewing again. "We need suggestions, my friends, not criticisms."
Huffer waved one hand. "I'm not criticizing. I'm speaking the truth."
"You are lucky I am not there, Huffer," Tracks threatened, "Or else you would not dare say--"
"Quiet!" Ironhide snapped, pushing the blue mech out of the camera's range. The older mech settled right back into his stoic pose, ignoring the fact that he had removed Broadcast as well.
Prowl eased his way past Inferno to stand before Optimus. "Prime, if I may -- I believe Tracks might have the right idea. Let us spend more time among the humans. We can keep up our alternate appearances yet also show them what we can do to help them. I would like to take my team to a populated area where we could record how the humans approach dangers and find out how receptive they would be to our specialized assistance."
Optimus gazed thoughtfully at Teletraan-1's console, then glanced at Ratchet and Ironhide. The medic gave a quick scowl and turned away, busying himself with checking one of his built-in monitors. Meanwhile, Ironhide shrugged then replied, "I don't see why not. We are only going to have to reveal ourselves whenever the Decepticons come out of hiding."
All to true, Prime silently agreed. "Very well. Prowl, you may take your team out. The rest of you may make excursions and observations, but be careful. Until we are certain of the whereabouts of the Decepticons, we will have to limit close contact so that no more of our allies are put at risk."
"But if the humans are to be your allies, are they not all at risk?" The question came from someone behind Ratchet and Ironhide. The two stepped aside, giving Thundercracker room -- and attention he hadn't wanted so directly. He hunched his head down between his patched shoulder armor, red optics shifting back and forth. Ratchet had repaired him using what systems and exoskeletal layouts were left after all the damage, as yet unable to restore the Neutral to his former height. This Thundercracker had accepted for the time being. "In that case, you might as well find closer contacts, more friends who will advocate for you. During my recovery I learned from the World Wide Web that humans in large numbers tend to go with the popular opinion in order to remain in each other's favor. Gain the highest number of followers, gain the popular opinion. Those who don't approve of our presence will be outvoted."
"To put it delicately," Gears scoffed. "Human social structure is much more complex than that. What part of the 'Web' were you studying?"
Ratchet interrupted, "Gears, that is besides the point. We do need more close allies who understand us. But we should go about it carefully. Those we currently count among our friends were tested in battle, showing they did not have ulterior motives. Not every human will be like that -- nor be willing to face such a deciding situation. There may come a time when select humans would try to gain our trust in order to spy on our operations."
A few pointed glances were turned toward Thundercracker. Ratchet growled. "There were no extraneous implications there and you all know that!" He suspected it would hurt the Neutral's pride if he stepped in front of him, so Ratchet resisted the urge to block those glances. Thundercracker gave no sign that he had noticed them or was perturbed by them.
Prime spoke up before anyone could refute the medic's claim. "For now my orders stand at observing. No direct contact and avoid confrontations if anyone approaches you about your symbol. Is this clear?" He looked at the bots around him, then at the screen. Tracks was back in view and appeared to be miffed. No one else offered comments. "Dismissed."
A few salutes came from the Autobase crew, but mostly they wandered off screen. The others at the Ark did the same, except for Prowl's team who held their salutes until Prowl himself lowered his hand. "Sir, shall we leave now or would you prefer for us to wait until there is more progress on the Ark?"
"The ship's condition is as good as it can be at this point. Plan out which areas you are going to visit so we can track you from here. Always work in pairs if not the whole team together. I want no one operating alone."
"Yes, Prime." Prowl nodded. "I will forward the data to you within the hour."
"Take your time. I would prefer if you wait until tomorrow to leave."
"Certainly." Prowl smiled. "Thank you." He nodded to his team and they filed out to return to perimeter duty. Optimus smiled as well. He was glad to have Prowl present again. Chromia had turned down the offer of first lieutenant, so he had asked Prowl to take the position. He had humbly accepted. Chromia had also turned down Broadcast's request, recommending Arcee instead with the suggestion of a younger mech being more suitable. Prime was curious about it since Chromia had always cited experience and age as a necessity. Yet it was good to see some cooperation for a change.
Onslaught tapped his fingers on the side of the angled monitor's screen, glaring at the mech who glared right back at him. "You are commanding our Earth-based operations. I still control our space operations. I can not send you any more resources, Motormaster. You have more than enough at your disposal."
"I need specific items to repair Dirge! While he has proven to be expendable, it would be better if we keep him alive."
"You have the Constructicons for things such as that."
"Hook says he needs the proper material. All sustaining parts and equipment are in reserve. You know that!"
"Then chose between Dirge and Thrust. Their parts are interchangeable." Onslaught scowled in warning. "Waste no more of my time. We have our own shortages to worry about here." He cut the connection before Motormaster could make another demand. Then he angrily drummed his fingers on the console.
Vortex entered the comm room, having been standing in the doorway throughout the conversation. "Shortages, eh?"
"Of soldiers, or bodies, either one," Onslaught said, turning his seat and steepling his hands. "I should not have agreed to send down Skywarp and Thrust. We might have Astrotrain, but they have Tidal Wave. An uneven distribution of forces, given the odds we could be facing." He finished sharply, "I expect any number of Autobots could arrive during this crucial period."
Vortex erased what he had been about to say and nodded a little too enthusiastically. "So, why are we waiting for Starscream?"
Onslaught worked the battle mask that covered his mouth, debating if he wanted to take his ire out on Vortex or not. He decided it would do no good, since the one he truly wanted to give a piece of his mind towas Starscream. "We are and we are not. Right now we observe the humans and see if they reject the Autobots. If they do not, we give them reason to. At the same time, it fits with Starscream's orders to sit around waiting for his useless shell to return. Yet, if Lord Megatron is successfully recovered, we leave for our own facility elsewhere to restore him. Then we see if he wants us to even bother with this pathetically primitive planet. The humans have already damaged their planet beyond repair. Another century and it would be a wasteland for us. Why squander our time?"
"Unless Megatron says otherwise," Vortex ventured.
"Yes. I will await contact from Soundwave. Motormaster and his ilk are only good for one thing: ruining the reputation of the Autobots. That will be Phase Five."
"But Motormaster is equally as loyal to Megatron as we are."
"He also likes to give orders. I am sure he is convinced he has Soundwave under his control. Fool. He deserves to remain with Starscream."
Vortex knew his commander's hatred for all beings tactically inferior was on at full charge, and he decided to not fuel it further. "In short, we await Megatron."
Ratchet stirred from contemplation of a new and improved medical bay when his internal comm alerted him to an incoming secure video feed from Washington D.C.. He used a cable to hook his communicator into the computer. "Receiving."
Rattlelatch's face resolved out of the initial static. "Got some news on the preliminary study of the 'bug'. It's a Decepticon that operates partly by remote control and partly imbued with a tiny spark of its own. It is designated as Bombshell. I found plant residue and dirt on it that doesn't match Autobase's local flora or soil. But they do match..." He paused for a second. "...Those by where Will lives."
"But it was here before Will came to the base." Ratchet stroked his tusks in thought, then realized what Rattlelatch was getting at. "It came in with someone else."
The smaller mech nodded. "It's very likely it was planted on Ironhide. Given the timestamps on the data, I would say it was Ratbat's doing."
Ratchet frowned. "Could that be the actual reason they had targeted Will? It would have been all too easy to engage Ironhide while he was distracted protecting Will, and use him as transport for the insect-'Con. Do not tell Ironhide your conclusion," he warned. "I will handle that part. Did you extract the data this Bombshell collected?"
"Yes. Most of what it downloaded we already know they used. My deployment to D.C., the East Oakland team, the key, Trailbreaker's vehicle form and political affiliation. They obviously already knew the Ark's location."
"Not that it was difficult to miss since they knew what to look for." Ratchet then rumbled unintelligibly before continuing, "Couldn't be helped. Did you get anything from our guest?"
"I tried." Rattlelatch held the container holding Bombshell to his camera and shook it. "Bugger's got an amazing firewall. I haven't been able to crack it yet. Definitely Soundwave's work."
Ratchet nodded. "Do not push it, then. I am sure he has something nasty waiting behind it."
"Heh, don't have to tell me. I ran across some of his toys back on Cybertron. I'm not taking any risks."
"Good. Find out anything else you can within those boundaries. Remember, not a word of this to Ironhide."
"Don't worry. He doesn't ever call me out of the blue so there's little chance I'll slip. I'll report in as soon as I find out something interesting." After another nod from the medic, Rattlelatch disconnected. He then glanced down at the human seated cross-legged by his foot and smirked. "Should we see if we have another assignment, or should we play hooky and try to crack another layer on this guy?" He casually tossed the container up, caught it, then rolled it between his hands a few times before tossing it up again.
Bombshell cursed both the Autobot and his government-assigned human partner.
Moments later Ratchet heard the sound of a mis-aligned leg joint just before Ironhide's horned head cleared the med bay entrance. For a second he feared his conversation had been overheard, but one look at Ironhide's face put the fear to rest; he wore a familiar look of resignation about the impediment to his leg. Ratchet calmly turned and stood to greet his patient, tools unfolding from his arm casements. Ironhide seated himself on a table without a word, leaning back on his hands while he stretched his legs out. He motioned with his head to his right leg, then lowered his gaze to the floor on his left.
Ratchet accepted that nothing had been heard and put it out of his processor as he examined the warrior's upper leg and hip. "Severely painful, or catching on a cable again?" Ironhide grunted, which was the repsonse Ratchet had expected. "With some of the supplies I recovered from the Ark, I might be able to combine parts with human tech to finally replace the whole thing."
Ironhide grunted more quietly, which made Ratchet pause and look at his face, but he spoke before the medic could comment. "Ratchet, am I oldenough?" His voice was particularly gruff.
Ratchet raised one half of his brow plating. "Old enough for what? You are older than dirt -- according to the history of some organic planets."
Ironhide didn't answer, his gaze still on the floor. He exhaled heavily through his intakes.
Ratchet took a careful visual scan of him, his expression turning to concern. "Ironhide, is something wrong?"
The other mech scowled and seemed to draw into himself, his optics dimming. Ratchet considered Ironhide's question and compared it to recent events. In the months since the Ark crash there had been several operations to keep the non-publicized bots under cover. It hadn't been easy, but they had all been patient, and things had surprisingly quieted down. The humans seemed to be looking to their governments to decide for them. There had been several attempts by UFO enthusiasts to stake out the Ark. An improved misdirection field at both bases had cut down the number of visitors and intervention by the division lead by Robert Epps helped with the rest. While Ratchet didn't mind more contact with humans, he understood that some things needed to be protected for the time being.
He knew Ironhide felt much the same, so he doubted the human element was bothering him. Or perhaps it was, in a different way than potential invaders. Knowing how short the lives of his human friends were compared to his own might have him feel age-conscious.
Ratchet paused his thought process and looked at the warrior again. Ironhide's face was still, with no trace of annoyance at the delay to the repairs or at the medic's scrutiny. He also showed no indication of answering Ratchet's question.
The medic himself grunted and went back to work, grumbling, "I have ways of making patients talk, you know." When no retort came, he tucked away the cable he had adjusted and placed his hands on the edge of the table, optics searching the warrior's visage again. Ironhide finally met his gaze and stared back passively. Ratchet felt an alarm go off in his processor. With a warning in his tone, he said, "Ironhide..." He leaned forward until he was an inch from the other mech's face. "I will tell Chromia."
"She already knows."
Ratchet drew back slightly. "So this involves both of you?"
"I asked you a question. I did not inquire to receive criticisms. I want your feedback as a professional, not as my friend."
Ratchet was taken aback but then he nodded. "My first question that followed yours still stands. I need to know what context you wish to define your age by."
"Am I old enough to merge my spark with Chromia's?"
Ratchet had to fight to contain his shock. Join, merge, and even combine meant very different things in regard to sparks. The medic cleared his vocalizer and moved to the end of the table, using the three-dimensional light projector to bring up the profile on Ironhide's spark. He quickly scanned the other mech to have an updated image. "This is your spark as it stands now." A sphere of pulsating blue energy rose from the projector, marred by jagged lines and what looked like small punctures, all highlighted in green. "This is my most recent scan of Chromia's." Another blue sphere rose up, shifting the other to the side. It, too, was marked by green. Ratchet had the computer overlay them. Overlapping marks shown in a brighter green, while several gaps blinked red.
"I regret to tell you that you literally do not have a whole spark between you."
He heard Ironhide utter a quiet sound that he had never heard the mech make before. A sob.
To Be Continued