by K. Stonham
released 10th February 2008
He'd been a soldier since he was seventeen and hell was breaking loose all around him. He'd had an army captain look him in the eyes and tell him that he was, and just like that, understanding what Lennox meant, what he had to do, Sam Witwicky had... transformed. He didn't have time to think about it then, or even realize it at the time, but that was the moment of his transition from childhood to adulthood. Someone needed to get the AllSpark to safety, and it had to be him. Lennox's team and Sector Seven's soldiers were fighting alongside the Autobots to stop the Decepticons. Bumblebee was badly hurt. And Mikaela... even if he'd been willing to put her in that position of risk, she was the only one capable of getting Bumblebee out of the battle. And Bumblebee had entrusted the AllSpark to him.
No matter what, he couldn't afford to fail.
And so he'd run.
When he was eighteen and freshly graduated from high school, he went though boot camp, befuddling both his laissez faire parents and his pacifist best friend. Basic training was in some ways a formality; he already knew what his path was going to be. But despite the fact that he probably could have opted out of the training and gone a more civilian route, Sam felt the need to go through it. Lennox's sometimes-there-sometimes-not cadre of special ops, made up largely of former Sector Seven agents, had already spoken dibs on him, and he needed to understand, to have this shared background with the humans he was going to be working with. He'd talked with Optimus about his feelings on the matter and had them confirmed.
His personal rite of passage had been a year and more behind him, then, but he would need this social rite of passage as well to win an even footing.
He was only given one special privilege in attending boot camp: his car, a bright yellow Camaro with a pair of black racing stripes, accompanied him. Most everyone thought it belonged to one of the officers, unless they'd happened to put the sleek, expensive vehicle together with the picture in his wallet of his girlfriend perched atop the hood of an identical car.
He found time--made time--to sneak out to his car most days, spending ten minutes or an hour, whatever he could spare, with the vehicle, just talking and exchanging news. On the days he couldn't, when a hike/run/torture session took them all miles from camp until well past lights out, he was marginally comforted by the fact that his dog tags only looked like dog tags. He'd taken them out to the car not too long after they'd been issued to him, and the car had done something to them. They were just a little lighter. They sounded just a little different when they jingled, if you listened carefully. But most importantly, both for his own peace of mind and his car's, they had a built in sensor net.
Bumblebee always knew that he was okay, and would know instantly if, for any reason, Sam needed him.
As far as the physical endurance part of boot camp went, Sam didn't do too badly. He wasn't the best in his training class, of course, but he was far away from being the worst either. It helped that as soon as he'd figured out that he was going to be going through with this plan, he'd asked Lennox and Epps what to expect and started devising a training and studying regimen based on that. It also helped that he regularly ran around with giant robots and that their base of operations was built to their scale... necessitating the development of his agility, ingenuity, and endurance.
He couldn't physically be an Autobot... but hell if he wasn't going to do his damnedest to keep up with them. He knew--everyone in the know knew--that it was only a matter of time until the Decepticons mounted another attack on Earth. There were a handful from the first wave that hadn't been accounted for, and who knew how many more waiting out there in the stars. They were going to take their vengeance on Earth, the Autobots, and the human race as soon as they learned Megatron was dead and the AllSpark destroyed. The Autobots were only hoping more of their people arrived, reinforcements, before the Decepticons did.
Maggie and Glenn were keeping their eyes and ears wide open, doing monitoring at the Pentagon. Secretary Keller was channeling all available resources to the project. Lennox and Epps and the remnants of Sector Seven were quietly training and upgrading the US military forces without giving specific reasons as to why. Mikaela was effectively interning with Ratchet, learning the hows and whys and wherefores of Transformer anatomy and how to repair it... or how to take it apart. Sam had started in on the Cybertronian written language, spending practically every day since the Decepticons had torn up downtown Mission City in studying immersion, and was learning to decode the modem-static spoken language from that. And all of them, from Banachek to Simmons to Optimus, were waiting with bated breath for the scales to tip, the other shoe to drop, the Decepticons to reappear.
They didn't have to wait long.
The mess hall was busy and noisy during every meal. There was a television tucked into the corner where the instructors ate. It generally ran CNN during meal hours, but only a few trainees ever actually paid attention to it. Today was no exception and Sam paid the monitor little mind as he sat between two of his bunkmates and reached for the salt. They talked of little and nothing, Sam holding his tongue and not peppering his speech with casual invectives toward the officers the way the others did. He was all too well acquainted, as they were not yet, with the way a good officer kept his head in a fight and saved as many lives as he could. But he did slowly notice the way the volume in the room went down, hushed ripples spreading out from the corner to the center, and turned his head, chewing his potatoes, to find the cause.
He swallowed and the food went down square as he took in the footage playing live on the television.
Hushed whispers of "Oh shit," and "Is this for real?" and "Turn it up!" were all anyone seemed capable of saying.
He stood, alien dog tags buzzing hot against his skin, as the camera paused on a downed black and white figure--but, no, that couldn't be Barricade because that was Mikaela running toward the Transformer, tool kit knapsack already half-unslung from her back as glowing blue liquid dripped down his arm...
"Sam," Jeremy said quietly, "isn't that... your girlfriend?"
But Sam was already gone.
He was running to the camp parking lot as fast as he'd ever run from Megatron, maybe even faster because this time there were no moving cars to evade, no giant robots with weapons to dodge. Bumblebee would be there... he had to be there. There was no way he would ever leave, even to engage in battle, without giving Sam some kind of warning. There was no way Bumblebee would leave him unprotected.
Still, Sam felt a hot wave of relief wash through him when he rounded the last building corner and saw the bright yellow 'bot still there in car form, waiting for him.
Bumblebee didn't even bother with pretense, just flicked a door open for Sam.
"I'm monitoring your broadcast channels as well as Autobot frequencies," Bumblebee said tensely as he slid in. "Unfortunately, they're too far away. Even if we left now and traveled at top speed..."
"Yeah," Sam agreed. It didn't mean he had to like it. "I know Optimus and Ratchet were going to DC to meet the new arrivals... where's Ironhide?"
"He and Captain Lennox ended up going with them," Bumblebee replied.
"How's it going? CNN had a shot of Mikaela going to do her thing on one of you guys..."
"Prowl." There was silence for a second, then Bumblebee continued, "It sounds like he will be fine. Mikaela does good work."
"No kidding." Sam breathed out a sigh, then asked the question he wasn't sure he wanted the answer to: "Is the attack because it's the capitol, because our guys are there, or because the new guys are there?"
"Possibly all three," Bumblebee answered slowly. "Decepticon motives aren't always singular--ah. It sounds like it might be over. Ironhide says Starscream ordered a retreat."
"Great." Sam ran a hand over the steering wheel, then did so again deliberately, soothingly. "The footage of the attack is all over CNN... there goes that whole 'you guys don't exist' thing the government had going."
Bumblebee laughed, but it was tense. "We never expected that to last beyond the next attack."
"Well, it hasn't." Sam was struck by another thought. "Any way of knowing if there're any Decepticons around here?"
"Not inside a hundred mile radius," Bumblebee answered. "Not that I can detect, anyway." He paused. "Sam, if they go after you..."
"Sounds like they're not targeting humans so far, except maybe the President..." Sam mused. "And, hell, I'm on a military base, right?"
There was a tap at the driver's side window. Sam looked up to see two MPs, rifles out, watching him. "Crap," he murmured. "I'll be back soon."
"Be careful," Bumblebee murmured back as Sam opened the door and got out, hands in the clear.
Sam was not expecting to be marched into the fort commander's office where newly ingrained discipline had him standing at attention until the man looked him over searchingly, then bid him at ease, all before turning around the monitor he had on his desk.
Secretary of Defense John Keller looked at Sam from the telelink conference. "Hello, Sam."
"Sir!" Wanting to do his instructors credit, Sam saluted again. Keller smiled. "At ease."
"Yessir." Conscious of the two MPs still flanking him and the commander standing behind the desk, Sam didn't relax all the way.
"I take it you've seen the news?"
Sam nodded. "Bumblebee too... was anyone hurt too bad?"
Keller shook his head. "Amazingly, only three civilian deaths so far, a few dozen in the hospital, of course... no Autobot fatalities." Sam's shoulders relaxed a little at that. "Unfortunately," the Secretary continued, "we have no confirmed Decepticon deaths either. I'm sorry to interrupt your basic training, son, but we need you and Bumblebee here in Washington. We need you both on active duty."
Sam nodded. "The attack was on the Presidential motorcade... I'm assuming this is all coming out in the open now?"
"The President is shaken, but his staff are already preparing their spin for the press conference," Keller replied. "Regardless, yes. Any attempts at secrecy or cover-ups now would only be laughable. I wish we'd had more time to prepare for everything, but by tonight, the US is going to be announced to be at war with the Decepticon forces. I need you and Bumblebee to give the troops and trainees there at Leonard Wood a basic briefing, and then head out here. Any advantage you two can give our troops will be appreciated."
"Will do, sir."
"Optimus will be sending coordinates to Bumblebee; we'll expect you here by tomorrow night at the latest. Good luck, son."
"Good luck to you too, Mister Keller, sir."
The connection closed and the screen went to black. Sam looked up at the face of the camp commander and pulled up the memory of spine, of the command voice he'd learned from Prime and Lennox, of how to be who he needed to be and was... the only person on the base who knew just what was going on. "As per Secretary Keller, sir... I have information everyone on this base needs to know."
Numbly, but with sharpness in his eyes that Sam recognized as working past the shock, the commander nodded. "A general assembly will be held in one hour's time."
Sam nodded. "Permission to retrieve my belongings while everyone is assembling, sir?"
"Granted." Sam turned and went for the door, but was stopped by a question. "Witwicky... what the hell is happening?"
He half-turned back, looking at the career military man who was looking at him, lost, and was reminded anew that not everyone lived his life. Giant transforming alien robots were such an ingrained part of his existence now that it was hard to remember what it had been like before he'd unhappily walked onto a used car lot and had his attention caught by a faded '77 Camaro. "Intergalactic warfare, sir," he said simply. "With Earth as ground zero."
His journal had begun in English, started being peppered with Cybertronian glyphs when it hit spring of eleventh grade, and was now almost completely written in an alien language. Sam tucked it on top of his duffel and zipped the bag closed, looking around the barracks to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything. Then he walked out of the building, not looking back, and headed toward the car that stood waiting for him, its engine running. "Optimus has sent me the rendezvous coordinates, Sam," Bumblebee said as he tossed the bag onto the passenger seat and slid in, closing the door behind himself. "We can get going as soon as this briefing is done."
"Which won't be a second too soon," Sam agreed with his friend. He sighed, hands sliding down the curve of the steering wheel. "Me, giving a lecture on giant robotic aliens to an entire military fort. Great."
"Us," Bumblebee stressed, "giving a lecture."
Sam half laughed. "That actually does make it a lot better. Thanks, Bumblebee."
"No," Sam replied, "but the Decepticons don't take readiness into account, do they?"
"Never. So let's get this show on the road." And the Camaro shifted into drive, the turning of the wheel slipping through Sam's hands as they headed together to the field assembly.
Bumblebee waited quietly off the side of the stage, scanning the crowd that stood in neat military formation, discipline holding as they didn't even murmur among themselves. He was fairly impressed with them, actually, as he'd been impressed with most of Earth's militia. They didn't train their recruits the way he'd been trained when he'd entered the Autobot forces... but that, he was concluding, was because the Earth forces were practiced at war. They had a strategy, a plan, a method for molding their warriors.
What the Autobots had gone through hadn't allowed them the discipline of uniformity, or of such detailed simulations. Most of them hadn't been constructed to be warriors...
Sam exhibited similar external control now, though Bumblebee could feel the slightly heightened pace of his heartbeat beneath his military clothing. He thought that reserve and control was mostly superficial, though, in his friend's case. Sam was as sarcastic and witty when talking to him as he'd ever been--ah. The fort commander stepped aside, gesturing Sam to the fore. Bumblebee's human friend breathed a low intake of air, then stepped forward, his shoulders setting back as he addressed the assembled Earth military through a primitive Earth amplification device.
"Good morning. Most of you don't know me. My name's Sam Witwicky, and I've been in basic training here for eight weeks." He paused, and Bumblebee could almost hear the unspoken "stupid, stupid, stupid" that Sam tended to rant at himself with. But his new discipline held and he went on with barely a hitch, "Most of you by now know that there was an attack on the Presidential motorcade in D.C. this morning. Some of you may have even connected it with the attacks at Soccent Base in Qatar, at Hoover Dam, and in Mission City a year and a half ago. I was present for the second two attacks, and have been authorized by the Secretary of Defense to tell you all what happened."
Sam paused, and Bumblebee felt his gaze slide over to what only looked like a yellow car. Bumblebee buzzed the dog tags slightly, and it seemed to reassure Sam since he smiled and looked back at the audience. "We are not alone in the universe," he said quietly. "Aliens are real, and they are here, among us. Some are friendly, and some--aren't." A murmur broke out among his audience; Sam waited and it quieted. "Roughly twelve thousand years ago, an alien artifact of great power landed on Earth. Somewhere between one and two thousand years ago a single alien followed, intending to recover it, and crash-landed frozen in the Arctic ice. Mankind discovered both of them near the beginning of the twentieth century and studied them. Most of our technology has been reverse-engineered from those two sources. We're physically weaker than they are, but we can hurt them, and they know it. With a little help and a little luck, we can even take them down." He looked to the side again. "Bumblebee?"
And that was his cue.
Shifting, gears rolling out and around, twisting so that one form reconfigured to the other, Bumblebee transformed and stood.
He was impressed again by the way the military men and trainees almost all collectively took a step back, but otherwise didn't move, didn't break ranks and run. He looked a question at Sam, who smiled and gestured out at the militia with an open hand; they were all Bumblebee's. "Greetings," he said quietly, his voice projecting to be equally audible to all, not needing an amplification device the way a softer human voice would. "I am called Bumblebee. My people are called Autobots, refugees from a dying world called Cybertron... like yourselves, we are soldiers who only seek to lead a peaceful existence."
Waves of words were washing quietly over his audience, soft curses, murmured prayers, muttered disbelief. He continued regardless, needing to make them see that he was not their enemy. Not all humans had hearts and minds as open as Sam had. "Those who attacked your capitol today, as well as Soccent Base, Hoover Dam, and Mission City sixteen of your months ago, are also from Cybertron. Their forces are called Decepticons. They have brought our war to your world, and for that we are sorry."
"How do we tell the difference between you and them?" one squadron leader called out.
"In my experience," Sam replied wryly into the microphone, "if they're trying to kill you, they're Decepticons. If not, they're Autobots."
Bumblebee nodded. "We do not harm humans... our leader, Optimus Prime, states it as 'Freedom is the right of all sentient beings'."
"During last year's kerfuffle, both the crash-landed alien, aka Megatron, and the artifact he'd followed here, aka the AllSpark Cube, were destroyed," Sam spoke softly into the mike. "The Decepticons probably aren't too happy about losing their leader... or the Cube. They're coming here to take it out on the Autobots and us. Like Bumblebee and the rest of the Autobots, they can change form and disguise themselves as our machines. They can be anything... not just cars. Planes. 'Coptors. Tanks. They could be hiding anywhere. Their tech outranks ours by so much that we're like little kids playing at being grown-up. They can hack us, whenever, wherever. And a word of warning, people: they don't operate by any Geneva Convention. They don't take prisoners."
"No," Bumblebee agreed sadly, remembering far too many comrades lost to Decepticon cruelty. "They have no mercy, not even that of a swift death." An unexpected touch distracted him and he looked across the stage to see Sam running gentle fingers wordlessly over his altered dog tags. It helped. "They have even less respect for your form of life than they have for us Autobots. If they are allowed free reign, your species will become swiftly extinct." And the Autobots could not allow that to happen.
"What was this Cube, that destroying it upset them so badly?" one of the higher-ups standing on the stage asked.
Bumblebee hesitated, then gave the brutal, honest answer, "The source of all life for our kind." The human murmurs got louder and he shook his head. "With it, Megatron and his forces could have ruled the universe, could have erased all organic life from your world... it had to be destroyed." He glanced at his human partner and felt a sudden bright spark of amusement. Sam hated the limelight... "Sam managed to destroy it and Megatron at the same time."
"Sheer dumb luck," his partner shot back. "And, if I remember correctly, you were busy yourself taking out Devastator..." Bumblebee shrugged, not bothering to hide his amusement. "I am so getting you for that later," Sam murmured away from the microphone, knowing full well that Bumblebee picked it up through the tags. Sam turned back to the mike. "In any case, gentlemen, ladies, this is the shape of our allies and our enemies, and this is what we're fighting for. Secretary Keller has informed me that the United States is officially declaring war on the Decepticon forces. Our current effective weapon is armor-piercing sabot rounds. Official announcements of all this will come later, as will more specifics regarding these rather suddenly declassified matters." His grin had come back, sparkling acknowledgment that there was a universe out there that he felt to be full of wonder, no matter the dangers it also contained. "Good luck to us all."
As Sam walked toward the edge of the stage, Bumblebee shifted again, transforming back into the Camaro form he'd adopted for use on this planet. He could feel all eyes on him and had to repress the feeling of amused buoyancy that flooded him. He rather liked, he'd found, being the center of human attention, even when they thought he was just a fancy car. He didn't understand Sam's reticence about the idea of being in the spotlight.
He flicked his driver's side door open as Sam saluted his superior officers, came down the steps, grabbed the duffel bag he'd set to the side earlier, and slid in. "Ready to go?" Bumblebee asked as Sam tossed the bag into the passenger foot well and fastened his safety belt.
With that, Bumblebee revved his engine and left the field and the trainees behind them, heading toward Washington, his friends, and comrades he hadn't seen in millenia.
"I am still getting you for that comment," Sam told him as they left Fort Leonard Wood behind.
"You can try," Bumblebee tossed back.
"Car wash city, baby."
The area around the Washington Monument was thoroughly cordoned off by policemen and thronged by crowds of curious lookers-on. The reason for this was not immediately clear, for despite the crowds the encompassed area held only a few vehicles parked randomly near the base of the white marble monolith, smaller figures who were presumably their drivers lingering nearby. It might have been a promotional photo shoot for a car manufacturer's new products--if the vehicles had been in any way connected. There was a flame-painted Peterbilt 379 truck, a chartreuse Search And Rescue Hummer H2, a black GMC Topkick, a mint condition DeLorean, a blue Impreza that sported neon yellow Subaru rally decals, a sleek blue and white Lotus Esprit, a Ford Expedition SSV in police panda colors, and a fiery red Porsche 997 Turbo.
The slick yellow Camaro with black racing stripes that crept slowly forward through the crowd under police escort and onto the lawn seemed to fit in with the racier half of the eclectic set of vehicles, which still didn't explain anything about what said vehicles were doing there.
"So, names and anything I should know?" Sam asked his car.
"The DeLorean is Wheeljack," Bumblebee replied. "He's the medical officer for their team, though he tends more toward invention and tinkering... not that his inventions always work the way they should. The blue Impreza is Smokescreen; he's in charge of morale and diversionary tactics. The police vehicle--"
"Prowl, right?" Sam asked.
"Right. He's a tactician, their team head... and actually Prime's second in command."
Sam blinked. "What's he like?"
A clip of Leonard Nimoy played briefly over Bumblebee's speakers: "That would be logical."
"He was... close to Jazz," Bumblebee added hesitantly. "Even though they were very different."
"Ah." That was going to be a sensitive topic, then. "I'll go carefully."
"And the other two?"
"The Esprit is Mirage. He's Special Ops, infiltration..."
"A spy like you?" Sam teased.
Sam cocked an eyebrow. "Aren't spies supposed to be, you know, inconspicuous? That car model is anything but."
"He's... special," Bumblebee replied.
Sam ran a hand over smooth leather upholstery. "You're special."
"Not in the same way, I hope."
Sam laughed a little at the tone. "And the red Porsche?"
"Cliffjumper. He's trigger-happy like Ironhide."
"Great," Sam drawled. "Think he'll end up partnered with Epps?"
"It's a thought," Bumblebee replied as they drew close to the group and stopped. Mikaela was already walking toward them. Bumblebee opened the driver's door and she took advantage of the opportunity to situate herself on Sam's lap before he could even get the seat belt undone, kissing him in greeting.
"Missed you too," Sam said when she let go for air.
"I could tell from your calls," she replied, and glanced at the dashboard. "Hey, Bumblebee, how was boot camp?"
"Very quiet," the Autobot replied.
"Well, lucky us, the quiet's over," she said, and stepped back out. Sam unfastened his belt and followed. Mikaela leaned back against the open door; Sam leaned forward, looking across the car's roof at the collected vehicles and humans, at the great monument, and at the crowd control going on beyond it.
"I can't believe they're really doing this," he said.
"The Decepticons didn't leave much choice this time," a familiar accented voice said behind him.
"More like CNN didn't," someone else chimed in. "Still, yeah."
Sam turned and grinned. "Hey, Maggie. Hey, Glenn. How's it hanging?"
"Better than with you," Maggie said, giving him the once-over. "That military cut really isn't you, Sam."
Sam shrugged. "You have to do what you have to do."
"We hear good things about you," another familiar voice added in, the smiling Army Ranger Captain walking closer, his Tech Sergeant close behind him.
Sam snapped to attention, saluting. "Sir!"
Will Lennox smiled at him, tossing back a casual salute of his own. "At ease." He caught Sam's hand in a firm shake as Epps clapped him on the back. "You really impressed your instructors at Leonard Wood," he said.
"Especially with that little departure speech you two did," Epps agreed, addressing Bumblebee as well. "They're not going to be forgetting either of you soon."
"Great," Sam mumbled, ignoring his car's laughter.
Lennox's smile faded, though, his eyes becoming serious. "Sam, I know you wanted into our unit, but... a problem's come up."
"Problem?" Sam asked, dismayed, his mind racing to try to figure out what it might be. "Is it because I didn't get to complete basic training?"
"No, no, nothing like that," Lennox replied, shaking his head. "I'd be proud to have you under my command regardless, you know that. This is... well, a request came in for you to be in another unit instead."
"Another unit?" Sam asked dumbly, looking around the circle of his closest human friends bar Miles--who he was going to have to call real soon and explain the whole Camaro-being-a-giant-alien-robot thing.
All his friends were smiling.
"...Who made the request?" Sam asked suspiciously.
Lennox's smile reappeared, stealing across his face like dawn. "Well... he did," he said, and jerked a thumb behind himself at the red and blue flame-painted Peterbilt truck that rumbled closer, humans clearing out of the way until Optimus' chrome grill was less than a foot away from Sam, the Autobot symbol close enough to reach out and touch, the same way it had been the first time they'd met.
"Well, Sam," Optimus Prime said softly, "interested?"
"In being a part of... the Autobot unit?" Sam asked, needing to confirm what he thought he was being asked.
"We need a human liaison," Ratchet spoke up.
"Someone we can trust to shoot in the right direction," Ironhide agreed.
"And a medic with smaller hands, even if she's lower-tech," Mikaela chimed in, picking up her medic/mechanic's backpack from where she'd dropped it on the other side of Bumblebee's door. She grinned at Sam.
"Interested, Sam?" Bumblebee asked from behind him, proving he'd been in on the planning of this all along.
Sam looked around the circle of his close friends, human and Autobot alike, and wouldn't've been able to keep the smile off his face for a million bucks. "Yes," he answered. "I'm in."
I am deeply grateful to SaeSama for editing the military aspects of this story for me. I'm a civilian and the last person in my family in the service was my dad, over forty years ago...