Chapter Forty

Reflection

"Well, talk about one hell of a ride," Crowley said quietly, observing the sunset before him. It had taken him several hours to relocate the general, who had been with her children at the time. So now they stood on the balcony railing of the hotel that Naira had chosen, watching the sun sink below the horizon. "Most of us were able to pull through to live and see another day." He leaned forward on the railing before him.

"Mmm," Stanton agreed, but her thoughts were not on the conversation on hand but rather on the three children who were eating their dinners on the other side of the wall behind her. "What is Tom's condition now?" she asked curiously. The security captain hadn't mentioned Tom at all that day.

"Still unknown, ma'am," Crowley replied cautiously. "Sasquatch isn't saying anything," he added as an explanation on why he couldn't really say much on the subject yet, and why he was trying to avoid it completely. "Where was Starscream at the debriefing earlier today?" he asked, tactfully changing the subject from Tom Wilson to the dangerous Decepticon that had abruptly vanished hours ago.

"He left. Keller wanted him gone within three hours of the order being delivered, and he told me that he went back to his home planet," Stanton replied, sighing as she thought of the other Decepticon who had also vanished not too long after Starscream did. It was probably for the best in the end, considering that everyone had felt more at ease at the meeting with neither Barricade nor Starscream hanging around.

"I for one hope he's gone for good. Never liked him much," Crowley muttered, but Stanton ignored the not-so-discreet comment. Crowley turned to face Stanton and asked, "Are you going to be coming back to Area 51 now that Keller literally laid down the law or are you gone for good?"

"Officially, I'm gone for good and only permitted one more visit to collect my personal possessions and any other items. Unofficially, well, let's just say that I'm hoping you won't deactivate my passkey and allow me to come back for a visit," Stanton said, looking at the captain.

"Will do, ma'am," he said, and she smiled. "Where will you be going?" he asked after a few moments of silence.

Stanton made a face. "Some United States naval base in the East China Sea," she said. "Supposedly, while I'm on leave, I can go to Shanghai, Kagoshima, or any of the cities in that area whether it's in Japan or China. I'm going to be gone as long as the Secretary of Defense so chooses."

Crowley snorted. "Yeah, just wait and see. Thayer will pull a few strings, and you'll be back before you know it," he said.

Stanton shrugged. "Keller was pretty mad at him too for covering for me," she reminded Crowley.

"Mommy?"

Stanton and Crowley turned to see Amanda standing on the threshold. She pouted and said, "I don't wanna not see you Mommy." She came over and grabbed her mother's hand and started dragging Stanton away to the open door to the base.

Stanton mouthed, 'I'll call to finish the conversation up', and then Crowley watched as Amanda successfully dragged her mother inside. Then he turned back to the sunset, left alone with his own thoughts and memories.

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"You'll be feeling better in no time," Sasquatch assured her as he checked the IV line. "Trust me, captain, it's all a part of the job."

"What's that?" Alexis asked curiously, gesturing to the yellow unmarked envelope that was sitting on the table by her bed. Sasquatch hesitated, reached over to the table, and then handed her the envelope. He didn't know what was in it, but he had been deliberately holding it back in case it held ill news. He suspected that because it had been a military courier who had delivered it, and as a doctor, he rarely ever saw a courier interrupt the healing process of the receiver of the letter. Generally, some waited until the person in question was out of the hospital before dropping another figurative bombshell on them.

He watched the captain carefully as she pulled the letter out. He was prepared to yank it out of her fingers if her monitors showed signs of growing distress. The last thing the captain needed was another stressful item to worry about. But instead, her face paled slightly, but then the color returned as she read on. Finally she laughed harshly and tossed it onto the bedspread. "What is it?" Sasquatch finally asked, bewildered at the captain's reaction.

"A letter informing me that as a punishment for leading the soldiers, I would have been court-martialed and possibly discharged. The nice thing about it however was that my reward for leading the rescue operation to save the president's daughter was that there will be no mention of this in my record," she said, folding her arms loosely across her chest. "On March 1, 2008 however, I'm to report to Fort Deven in central Massachusetts to return to active service under a new commanding officer." She looked at Sasquatch and asked, "What is going to happen to General Stanton?"

The doctor shrugged. "No one usually bothers a doctor with such details," he said kindly as he took the letter and placed it on the nightstand. "I assume that she and Mr. Keller have worked out an arrangement."

"Where is Lieutenant Davis?" she asked suddenly.

Sasquatch hesitated again, and then said, "The general informed me that he was released from duty earlier today and he is heading home now." The doctor didn't know exactly what the cryptic message really meant, but apparently the captain did.

"Oh," was all she said before laying her head back down on her pillow. The doctor smiled sadly as he checked the medicine bags one more time before shutting the room lights off and closing the door.

Alexis stared at the ceiling in the dark, waiting for the medicine to take effect and knock her out for the night. She had no doubt that Starscream was back among the stars where he rightfully belonged.

Alexis Preston closed her eyes for sleep.

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Lennox climbed into the truck bed, securing the last few items. Sarah was going to flay him for coming home without a reasonable excuse, seeing that he had only seen her for a smattering of days since Mission City, plus the fact he had left home one night without leaving a note once he had been contacted about the Washington operation.

"Ironhide, do you have any qualms about defending yourself or me from angry females?" he asked as he checked the last box.

"Why?" Ironhide asked, immediately suspicious of Lennox's intentions.

"Cause Sarah is going to be mightily ticked off with me when I get back home," Lennox said as Epps walked over.

"Ha ha, Monique is a-okay with whatever I do as long as I don't break any laws and lose the house," Epps said, grinning broadly. "Also, she doesn't care as long as I write to her every other day I'm gone."

"We should have a party where we get together and invite relatives from both sides, even the bratty ones. Ironhide loves kids; I bet that Sam and Mikaela are his favorites," Lennox said, fighting back a grin.

"You mean his cannons love bratty kids," Epps said, grinning broadly. "How does that sound 'Hide? Tailgate party complete with games and a swimming pool."

Ironhide made some sound that seemed to communicate his mortification.

"What will you be doing kid?" Lennox asked as Mikaela and Sam walked by towards Bumblebee.

"Eh, school stuff. SATs, ACTs, college apps… whatever they do to prep for college," Sam said, shrugging. He stumbled as he tripped over his shoelaces, and Epps discreetly shook his head in amusement.

"Captain Lennox?"

Lennox and Epps both looked up to see suited, sunglass-wearing, VIPs approaching from the entrance of the garage. "Are you Captain Lennox?" the man asked.

"Yes, sir," Lennox replied warily. He wasn't going to call to attention to the fact that it was technically night time, and sunglasses weren't really necessary.

"We need to talk to both you and, uh, Ironhide about something that's national security level," the second man said.

"All right. I'll be right back," Lennox told Epps, jumping out of the truck bed and followed the two men back towards the building.

They didn't go directly back. They stopped where Rose Connelly was talking quietly with Ratchet's hologram. Lennox politely looked away, feeling like an intruder on what was clearly supposed to be a private conversation.

"Miss Connelly?" one of the men asked, catching her attention.

"Yes?" she replied, walking up to them while Ratchet's hologram vanished from sight.

"We want you to come with us please," the second man said, mimicking the tone of his companion.

Rose looked at the two of them, her opinion of this behavior coming to her lips. Lennox gestured discreetly from behind the two men, suggesting to her to keep her opinion to herself. Sighing, she followed Lennox and the two men towards the government building. "Any bloody idea about what they want?" she whispered to Lennox, her irritation apparent in her tone.

Lennox shrugged. "I just follow one rule with guys like these; keep them happy for now." The two of them watched as the two government officials rounded up Sam, Mikaela, Bumblebee and Ratchet, who came along, keeping his counsel to himself.

Rose pressed her lips together, but didn't say anything. She was quiet for the rest of the trip into the building.

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Ari stretched her arms as she left the gym after an intense workout, and then rubbed her towel against the back of her sweaty neck. Her therapist had recommended physical exercise as a way of letting out her terror of the giant robots. In fact, she felt better already, and less scared, an improvement considering that this was her first therapeutic exercise. Maybe a couple of weeks of this exercise before going on their group vacation to Great Britain would do the trick, and she would no longer be afraid of something that didn't exist.

Humming to herself, she focused her thoughts on the song rather than the path itself. It was a peppy sort of tune, like one of those songs that one wakes up to on a Monday morning and thinks, 'it is just way too early in the morning and week for that sort of joy'. Actually, if she was going to assign a day of the week to the song she was humming, it would probably be a Friday night song.

'Ain't No Mountain High Enough' was definitely a Friday night song.

Ari walked down the hall, thinking of her plans for her time on leave while singing her Friday night song softly to herself. First, she was going to Boston to pay a visit to her mother and her old driving instructor, pilfer the plane tickets he owed her, and then get on the first flight out of the country.

Wait… she had to work in renewing her passport in there somewhere. General Stanton hadn't been a big international traveler while the squadron was on duty, so Ari didn't think she was going to need it for a while. As fate would have it, the damned document went missing in action about a year prior to the Mission City attacks. Then Stryker Davis of all people accidentally found the document without meaning to: when he and Alexis had been destroying the hangar the first time, a firecracker had apparently smashed into the wall, shaking the hangar. A box had fallen onto the ground, spilling its contents. Ari found her passport near the open box, but it was covered in pink goo and had been expired for about six months.

Ari muttered a curse to herself. Renewing the darn things took precious hours… but she did want to go to Great Britain. She made a mental note to renew it here in the capital while she waited for Alexis to get out of the doctor's prison.

She wondered if she should have invited Stryker to come along. A trip with friends had to be better than going home. Plus she would've got to see the end to the Stryker-Alexis drama that occupied a large part of her life at the moment.

Ari continued singing as she approached the door, not paying attention to the brass plate on the door identifying that it led to the main hangars. She frowned when the doorknob refused to turn, and muttered to herself, "Damn it Tobias. Don't you know not to lock the damn door… it's the freaking girls' quarters!" She swiped her military ID card through the lock, and nodded with satisfaction at the click that announced that the door was unlocked. At this point, she had just gotten to the rousing chorus of her Friday night song, and sang it loud and proud as she walked in.

Ari came to an abrupt stop when she got a real sense of her surroundings.

First off, it wasn't the girls' quarters. Two… men, Secret Service or FBI guys from the looks of them, Alexis's army buddies, and those two annoying teenagers all looked up and stared at her, mainly in surprise. Ari's gut churned uncomfortably when she vaguely recognized the giant robots standing there behind the humans, all staring at her as well.

"Aw shit," she said, becoming very well aware of her baggy, sweaty self-appearance as well as the return of the iron giants. She let out a breath out of one side of her mouth and said, "Wow, uh, hey guys… I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere."

"No kidding. I need you here anyway, captain," one of the FBI guys said.

"As much as I appreciate the instantaneous promotion, I'm going to have to decline. I have business that calls elsewhere," Ari said sweetly, edging out the door.

"She's not the captain; the captain is in the hospital still," Will said, catching the attention of the other FBI guy. "She's a second lieutenant."

"You mean another underling who has next to no clue about their surroundings?" the first FBI guy said.

Ari scowled. "For your information, I outran the same cop three times, dodged and hid from an eighteen-wheeler cab, and that part wasn't easy, plus I fly a F-22 as a part of my job, I car-jacked a truck in an attempt to escape the aforementioned cop, and I managed to survive the Mission City attacks. So there," she snapped.

"Just get your captain now! I don't care if you have to drag her here, just get her and shut up!" one of the agents snapped, his patience snapping with the pilot's inattentiveness. "It's a miracle you made it this far in the military at all!"

Ari toyed with the idea of submitting to her fears and running like the man suggested. But she couldn't let him get away with insulting her and ordering the captain around as though the captain was a mere servant rather than an officer. She decided to approach the man.

"Do you know what a rat tail is?" she asked, walking towards the man while twisting her towel into a makeshift whip.

"Don't you dare!" the man shouted, jumping back out of range of the weapon. The black iron giant reacted by pulling out one of the biggest cannons she'd ever seen and aiming it straight at her face.

It was enough to send Ari running from the room.

"This ain't over!" she shouted over her shoulder as she rushed back to the hospital to find the doctor.

Time to make some serious changes to her lifestyle.

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As night fell over the capital city while signaling the end of another day, it also signaled the end of a certain someone's government career.

Simmons snarled out a curse as the car trunk refused to close. There was too much damn junk in the trunk, but it all had to go. He was never coming back… no, not after that, that, bitch successfully nailed in the last few nails in his career's coffin. What wasn't fair was that since he handed the reins over to Lynch in the beginning of all this, technically Simmons himself had no part in the operation. So he shouldn't be punished at all.

Yet here he was, packing his stuff like an evicted tenant.

"Sir?"

He turned around, ready to bite off the head of the first guy to interrupt him, but stopped when he found that it was his longtime friend Tom Banachek. "What do you want?" Simmons snapped as he pulled out two suitcases in an attempt to pack them up again.

"One of the agents at Andrews found this," he said, holding out a box. Curious, Simmons opened the box, and then unwrapped the object's cloth covering.

"Gorgeous," he breathed as he pulled out the deactivated head of Frenzy. "Maybe I'll pick at this while I'm in exile, see what I can learn from the little bugger. See what the aliens are really planning to do here."

"Do you know where you'll be going?" Banachek asked as Simmons put the head back into the box and put it all in the backseat.

"New York. My mother's got a place there and she's the only relative who has offered work and a place to stay," Simmons said, grunting a few seconds later as he tried forcefully shoving the cases in. To his satisfaction, they went in and stayed. To his even greater happiness, the damn car trunk finally shut properly.

"Do you want to stay in contact?" Banachek asked, watching as his former boss walked around to the driver's side.

"Probably better if we didn't. Don't want to give her a reason to suspect that we're still in collaboration and then give her an excuse to get you fired too. It was an honor working with you Tom," Simmons said, saluting sharply.

Tom Banachek responded in kind and turned around, vanishing back into the night as he walked back across the parking lot to the government building.

Simmons meanwhile got into his car and buckled himself in. He had left the keys in the ignition when he went to the back to fix his luggage, just so that it would be easier to leave faster. He reached forward for the keys, but his fingers only found air and a piece of paper.

Seething, Simmons ripped the note off the ignition and squinted at the message, using the door lights as a reading light. The note read:

MISSING SOMETHING? ;-)

All the way over in the government building, a clerk looked up when he faintly heard what sounded like screams, as though somebody was either being murdered or was going to be. The clerk leaned over and quickly dialed 911 to report the screaming. He momentarily forgot that the sort of screaming he'd just heard could also be done in extreme anger and frustration.

Also in the building but down the hall from the clerk, pilots Tobias Jackson and Andrew Montez were leaning against the wall near the vending machine, Tobias enjoying a soda while Andrew was making quick work of a packet of Cheez-Its. At the sound of the scream, Tobias tilted his head and said, "He sounds awful mad."

"I wonder why," Andrew replied, swinging a key chain that had three keys around his pointer finger. "Makes one wonder if the car keys fell under the seat again."

"Or got borrowed without permission and then were conveniently misplaced in the ladies room," Tobias said, grinning.

"Either way, he's gotta keep better track of his stuff and stop blaming others for the stuff that goes missing in his life," Andrew said, grinning. He tossed the keychain up into the air and caught it deftly with one finger through the key ring.

"Let's go find Ari and see if she wouldn't mind 'misplacing' them for us. I am damned sure that I'm not going into the ladies room, even to drop off a set of car keys," Tobias suggested, and the two men went off to go find their wayward comrade.

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Hidden away and locked up from all society, Ross Lynch paced his cell, awaiting his trial that was taking place in the morning. The clumsy oaf Rad White had yet to arrive to 'keep him company', as Stanton put it. Lynch wasn't worried too much about him. The two men were going to be tried separately, and White was more likely to get the shorter sentence, seeing that he couldn't properly assassinate anyone. Lynch was convinced that the two 'leaks', Marcus Kowalski and Monica Wethersfield, were still alive as well, especially since Stanton passed along the news that Thayer was still alive.

A grin broke out on Lynch's face. Yet, he still found something humorous in his current… 'predicament'. Simmons was still free. Numerous other nameless and loyal ex-Sector Seven agents were still free. The entire history of Sector Seven and every piece of data, no matter how small or large, was under secure protection by the good leader.

Also still free was the agent Craig Donaldson. When Stanton asked for his location, Lynch denied not knowing it. But he did. He did. He did know, and he was the only one who ever would. He also knew why the general wanted Donaldson, why she sought him out. That was why he denied knowing where Donaldson was.

The prison guard looked up from his magazine at the laughter that was building up on the other end of the hall. A happy prisoner was a dangerous prisoner.

Lynch was very happy because he had the last laugh on everybody's expense.

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It was now past midnight in Washington DC. Most of the city was fast asleep, yet he could still hear the sounds of traffic outside the nearby window. The halls echoed with his footsteps, and his scanners showed that no one was within seven floors of him, above and below. So he was reasonably not concerned about being caught in a restricted section of the military headquarters in the Pentagon.

Starscream getting caught. What a laughable concept. Even Megatron might have found the concept amusing if not promising.

Dressed in the U.S. Air Force dress uniform, Starscream calmly approached one of the security terminals on the floor. He didn't want to jinx any recordings or steal any footage, no he wanted to steal a little information from the highest-secured databanks of the Pentagon. He knew that if he tried to access it from his robotic form, alarms would go off at the hacking. So it was in the human appearance that would grant him the security he needed.

One of Megatron's abundant failures was the ability to recognize the usefulness of the human race. Barricade at least had the sense to recognize that fact after Starscream had outlined the plan to him that night in Washington DC. The cruiser even tolerated consorting with the Autobots.

Barricade had lingered in the capital for a couple of days after the operation, his mission a secret to even Starscream. Then he disappeared altogether, laying low until the moment called him back to duty.

He sighed as he accessed the Pentagon's network. Captain Alexis Preston owed him five times over. One, she repaid him by destroying the anti-aircraft battery that had been carrying sabot rounds, enabling him to get closer to the battleground. Two, she repaid him by allowing Frenzy to accompany her and Ari to the Pentagon in the first place, allowing the little Decepticon to get a good look around the entrance into the building and the security measures the humans used. Three, she had repaid him by unknowingly allowing him use of her military ID card so that he could use it in the numerous security scanners to get this far. Four, she repaid him by allowing him to plant the small, undetectable tracer into her bloodstream when he had visited her in the hospital earlier; he liked to be prepared should he need her for some odd reason or another in the future, although the chances of that happening were close to nil.

He was going to save number five for when he needed her to do something drastic for him. One never knew when that was going to happen, it was there as a precaution.

Starscream easily began hacking into networks, using remote, untraceable codes. He knew exactly what he needed. He had known his goal ever since he had stepped foot inside that base in the southwest all those months ago. Alexis Preston had merely been a means to an end. He had just needed to soften up to her so she would cooperate and be less of a problem.

He was planning to keep his promise to her however. He just never specified as to when he would come back.

A soft ping announced that he had found what he wanted. Starscream carefully memorized the information about where Megatron and other defeated Decepticons had been dumped in the ocean, at the Laurentian Abyss. He memorized the exact coordinates, the humans' many security measures, and the plans for the Autobots in the future, some human-robot cooperation group that was currently unnamed at the moment. Then he shut down the monitor, his personal mission finished and future plans forming.

Not a human soul saw his hologram vanish. The only witness, a little field mouse, promptly forgot about what it had just seen a few seconds later.

-Finis-

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~Disclaimer~

~This is a work of fanfiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of another company, or are the products of the author's imagination, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, places, or locales are entirely coincidental.

~Transformers and all related media belong to Hasbro.

~The character of Rosa Lee 'Rose' Connelly belongs to BlackwingRose and requires her permission to use elsewhere.

~The product of 'Cheez-Its' belong to their proper owners.

~All original characters belong to me and require my written permission to use elsewhere.

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A/N: First, I apologize for the long disclaimer… the first one was picked up in a book and altered to fit the piece better, and the other four break things down to be more specific as to what belongs to who. Second, I actually had this chapter pre-written for about a week now, so I decided to post it. Third, wow. It seems like ages since I started this story, and I can still vaguely remember fretting to myself that it wouldn't do well because it was the second story I ever posted. All I can say now, is THANK YOU SO MUCH for the reviews, the favorites, the alerts, and the support from you all. I'm very happy that you all enjoyed reading the story as much as I enjoyed writing it and hearing from everybody. Until next time then. :)

-Mistflyer1102

p.s.: as for the sequel, the first chapter will be posted today, under the title of Operation Jaguar. If you don't see it on the profile, check back again later. I personally don't like how it takes 4 - 8 hours to get stuff up online.