Acknowledgements: Lots of thanks to hydraling110 for her awesome betaing.
Warnings: Just some crackiness.
Disclaimer: Transformers doesn't belong to me in any shape or way.
"And here," Prowl indicated a few squiggly markings on the map spread out on the table, "we have sensors rigged that will alarm us in case any Decepticons are nearby. Taking that and the respective distances of the Autobot and Decepticon headquarters into account, the circled areas have been deemed safe locations for your new power plant, Governor Miller. If you build it anywhere else, chances are we might not be able to make it in time to defend it in case of a Decepticon attack."
Miller nodded in quiet understanding. Prowl had no idea whether any of the acceptable locations for the planned power plant would be compatible with whatever additional constraints the humans had for the project. Perhaps, in the end, it might never come to fruition. The areas that the governor had favoured in their previous meeting had all been shot down by Prowl because of their vulnerability.
There were deep wrinkles of concentration on the governor's forehead as he studied the map. Probably, he was trying to find a fault in the tactician's reasoning and argue for a more desirable location.
Still, Prowl had to admit that he actually liked the governor. For a human, he was highly intelligent and had more wits about him than most of his fellow organics. Even if the two seldom saw eye to eye on an issue, their disagreement usually emanated in interesting discussions and a mutual exchange of new ideas.
But this time, the tactician was fully certain of his conclusions, and was ready to stand up in their defense. None of the unmarked areas on the map were safe, and for the sake of both the humans and the Autobots, he would not give ground on this. Granted, the planet belonged to the humans and they had the right to build whatever they wanted in whatever places they desired, but Prowl refused to give up until he had made the other see things from his perspective.
As Miller looked up from the map, Prowl had a hundred arguments ready to shoot down the inevitable protests that he knew were waiting on the human's lips.
Tapping a finger against his chin in contemplation, the governor let his gaze travel over the Autobot in front of him, as if unsure where to start. Although he was normally an assertive man, this time he looked uncharacteristically hesitant. From the looks of it, he was not going to accept Prowl's map markings by face value.
"You know, I never realized that there were actually..." The governor made a pause, groping around for the right words. "Ah... female Transformers." The intonation made it sound more like a question than a statement of an already known fact.
For a moment, Prowl was at a loss for words. Was this what had been going through the human's mind as he studied the map? The fact that their species consisted of femmes as well as mechs?
Miller was sporting the apologetic expression of someone who was worried that his question might have insulted or otherwise offended his conversation partner, which Prowl found rather odd. Granted, a strategic planning meeting was not an appropriate moment to start discussing Cybertronian anatomy, but the subject matter as such was in no way offensive. Surely the human should understand that much, considering that half of their own species was female.
"Our species exhibits gender dimorphism just like yours does, Governor," Prowl explained patiently. "But unfortunately, Cybertronian femmes have gone almost extinct, and there are now only a very small number left."
Sad but true. He didn't know of any more femmes than a handful, if even that. Perhaps when the war was finally over, there would be none left.
It was a depressing thought that he didn't want to consider any further. He hoped that the governor would be satisfied with the reply and return to the issue of the new power plant's location.
"Oh. I'm sorry to hear that," Miller said, looking genuinely sympathetic. "But seen from that perspective, I think it's even more impressive how females of your kind are doing their part in this war just like the males are."
"Of course. Femmes are just as skillful and capable as mechs."
"Oh, I certainly didn't mean to imply any differently," the governor filled in with lightening speed. And again, there was this tension in his posture like he thought he had offended Prowl.
Well, human culture and behaviour were in many ways different from their Cybertronian equivalents, so perhaps it was no great mystery that Miller's idea of what was appropriate or not differed from Prowl's own.
"I don't mean to be rude, but I just wanted to say that I think it sets a great example for Earth that a female among your kind can hold the position of a highly respected military tactician. I wish that kind of thing were as natural for us here in America. We have so much to learn from your species, and still a long way to...."
Prowl's logic processor made a back flip. Now wait just a minute. Did the governor actually believe that...
"I'm not a femme," Prowl brusquely interrupted the governor, surprised by the unfounded assumption.
"What? But... I thought..." The words were almost choked out, and for a moment the governor looked like he had trouble with his air intakes as he spluttered and coughed. It was followed by the sort of change in facial colour that Prowl had learnt to interpret as a human sign of embarrassment.
Prowl frowned. "I'm a mech. Or a male, going by Earth terminology. There are no Cybertronian femmes – females – stationed on this planet."
"I'm terribly sorry," the human gulped, a hand slapped over his mouth. "I didn't mean to cause any offense..."
"None taken," Prowl said with a shrug. As silly as the assumption had been, he could forgive the human. Miller had never met any femmes and could not be expected to know how to tell them apart from mechs. Prowl remembered how he himself had initially had difficulties judging whether a member of Earth's dominant species was male or female, even if he had eventually learnt to pick up on the subtle differences between the two genders. Considering that, the human's mistake was understandable.
Still, the tactician was intensely grateful there were no others present for this meeting. Having anyone of his comrades present while Miller uttered his little faux paus would have been decisively embarrassing, to say the least.
Eager as the tactician was to leave the topic behind and return to the issue of the power plant, there was one thing he needed to know first to satisfy his own curiosity.
"What made you believe I was a femme, Governor?"
"Well, it's just something I heard," the human said rather meekly.
The tactician's optics narrowed dangerously. "Who told you such a thing?" If it turned out that feeding the governor lies about a superior officer's gender identity was the twins' idea of fun, he would so nail their afts to the wall of the brig and leave them there to rust.
"No one in particular. It's just what... everyone aboard the Ark seems to believe."
The world spun in front of Prowl's optics as the ramifications of the governor's words hit him like a flood wave, putting his interactions in the last couple of days in a very, very different light. And suddenly, horrifyingly, it all made sense to him.
Oh Primus, no. Did his comrades actually think that he... that he...
His processor gave an ominous crackle.
It wasn't possible... It would mean that... that... And his conversation with... B-but... And th-then... th-shkkk...
The tactician wobbled alarmingly, logic circuits overheating.
S-shk… frizzle... spatz... kssshhhhh...
Miller could have sworn he saw blue sparks suddenly shoot out from the tactician's head. He just barely managed to jump aside to avoid a violent death-by-falling-robot as Prowl hit the floor with a loud clang.
Still in shock, the gaping governor could do nothing but stare at the now twitching form on the ground, strategic map squarely forgotten.
End note: Well, this was originally supposed to be the last chapter, followed by a short epilogue. However, now that we're at the end of this story, I've been toying a bit with the thought of continuing with a bunch of "post-revelation" chapters. I have an idea about what direction I would, if that were the case, take it, but I'm not sure if I can expand enough on it to merit a continuation. In either case, this story will be on hold for some time while I figure out if I can do anything more with this storyline. If so, more chapters will be posted, and if not, I'll simply add the epilogue that I have written for this.
In any case, I wish to thank you guys for all your feedback and comments! :) When I started writing this story I never imagined that so many would take an interest in it! So, thank you!