Author's Note: The characters from Hellboy are a composite of the Movies and the cartoons, especially Abe, who has his cartoon/comic looks, but a combination of the cartoon/movie personality. The events of this story mesh with the Solarflare Chronicles timeline.
Bring over some of your old Motown records
We'll put the speakers in the window and we'll go
On the roof and listen to the Miracles
Echo to the alley down below
Rod Stewart – "The Motown Song"
There is something imposing about Autobot City – but also something majestic. I remember the first time I laid eyes on this stronghold of Autobot influence in southern Tennessee, nestled in a river-fed valley carved from the surrounding mountains. I was eighteen-years-old and possessed of all those old-time clichés – I was a fresh-faced girl, an idealist and eager. I was also free from my parents and on my own for the first time in my life.
For me, being in the heart of the Autobot offense was a dream come true. From my earliest memories, I had wanted to be a part of this intergalactic war – not as a fighter (I didn't have the guts for that) but as a helper. Perhaps I would have done something different with my life had my parents not been so opposed to their oldest child running off to the Central City, OR Earth Defense Command recruitment center as soon as she was legal, but I highly doubt it. My parents had grounds for their objections that differed from my classmates: Oh, there were the concerns that I would be killed should the Decepticons lay waste to the City (and when the Cons launched their major offensive in 2005, I was out on a business trip) or that I would be stepped on … but for my parents, there was a deeper, darker reason for their disapproval. When I was four years old, my father's younger and only sister, my aunt Alina, was killed at a local Portland library in what was a targeted Decepticon attack. That alone was hard enough, but Aunt Alina had also been a friend of the Autobots and had worked with them for a short time before her death.
My mother and father were convinced that death followed the Autobots – which was fairly true, considering they were technically sentient war machines – but they forgot that these good robots had also tried to save my aunt, and protected her as best they could when she was still alive. I tried to honor my parents' wishes – to never speak of the Autobots in glowing terms – but it was hard. I was a teenager and posters and slogans appeared on my walls, quotes from Optimus Prime – the supreme leader of the Autobots – were scribbled on pieces of notebook paper and tucked into the corners of my mirror. Whereas my friends had the Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC and the Spice Girls on their walls, I had newspaper clippings and printouts from CNN and FoxNews. My mother had a few choice words with me, but surprisingly, I wasn't forced to take any of my decorations down. Dad had his own way of dealing with my modest rebellion – he never set foot in my room.
My friends and I had all talked of going to the University of Oregon together, but then I threw a kink into their plans when, the summer before senior year, I made the decision to enter the EDC. That year at Central City High, I spent study periods holed up in the back of the room with pamphlets and printouts from the EDC website. My friends thought I was crazy, but these were girls whom I had known since I was in middle school, so they were used to my quirks – though Valerie was the most vocal when I let slip I was breaking our "pact". No matter the pleading between my friends, my parents and both sets of grandparents, I was determined to make the EDC my career – but what path?
I've always loved to talk, so during those long hours in study hall, I resolved to join Communications. I couldn't fix a radio or relay that Smokey was on our tail, but I figured I could maneuver into diplomacy. The one problem with that was that I had an issue with tact. My mother was forever chastising me for my free words – especially in front of relatives.
With great reluctance, my parents drove me to the EDC recruitment center a week after graduation. There were two people in that SUV that were happy for me – my younger sister Kassandra and my great-grandfather, Grandpa Hisz. Kassi was one of those people who saw a rainbow beyond every cloud; she had never met our aunt, but she understood that Alina was my inspiration. Grandpa Hisz was pushing 90 and was pretty much in a pool of contentment, so he really didn't care what was going on as long as he got a milkshake afterwards. That said, he did offer his blessing before they packed up and left me to my own devices.
From Central City, my home for all eighteen years of my life, I and fifteen others around my age were sent to Tennessee and Autobot City. We had filled out questionnaires during our recruitment and I had indicated a desire to work in communications. It was a good thing we were sent straight to the dorms before meeting with the enlistment personnel because I was in no place to see anyone; long-afflicted with motion sickness on planes, I had popped Dramamine until it was coming out of my ears and arrived on the edge of D-O-A. The morning found me with a killer case of fuzzy tongue, but I managed to meet roll call when the instructors came banging on our doors.
I was too out of it to properly assess Autobot City when we arrived, but when we were marched outside for instructions, I was hit between the eyes with the sheer massiveness of the structure. Covered in burnt orange Cybertronian metal, Autobot City's tallest point – the Comm Tower – was perched nearly at cloud level, though low enough to keep out of the way of low-flying planes. Gun turrets the width and breadth of Amtrak trains sat atop the roof of every building and then some: two giant cannons lay at the forefront and at the back, tucked away where we raw recruits couldn't see. Our instructors, a man and a woman in their early thirties, pointed out various buildings and promised that we would have a tour later on in the day.
We were standing on the far side, away from Lookout Mountain, with our backs to the City and our faces pointed towards the Autobots' training course. The training course was a large rift in the valley floor, carved by lasers to a length of more than two miles and a breadth of more than two hundred feet. A squat control house manned by EDC personnel sat on the precipice of the canyon and every now and then, we could see smoke and various pyrotechnics explode from the rim, indicating that the course was live. I could barely make out a broad, stub-winged figure standing by the control house. To the north was the landing field were we had arrived the night before; beyond that was the housing for EDC members and their families. We were told that one of these military base-style houses could be ours once we had three years of service under our belts and positive commendations from our superiors … otherwise it was the suite on the EDC side of the City. I wasn't ready for a house of my own, and dorm experience sounded pretty good to a social butterfly like me, who had ditched college for work.
From the outside, we were moved back indoors were our evaluations took place. For more than two hours, I sat in a small room with my classmates and, cursing my Dramamine-induced stupor, managed to fill out the requisite paperwork and then sit for the second round of interviews. We were taken, one by one, out of that small cell and into another equally-tiny room; there was a table and three chairs: two for the interviewers and one for me. To my surprise, both my interrogators were women – one had long, iron-grey hair tied up in a bun; the other was auburn-haired and looked to be only ten years my senior. The older woman wore a neat brown jacket and complementing slacks; the auburn-haired one was dressed in an … interesting silver get-up that looked like it had been hijacked from a '50's sci-fi B-movie. Or, more accurately, swiped from Judy Jetson's closet. I could barely contain a flinch – if these were examples of our work uniforms, I think I would have backed out and applied to the U of Oregon.
The iron-grey woman motioned to the chair in front of the table; somewhat awkwardly, I took my seat. Both women sat down at the same time; the iron-grey folded her hands. "Cybele R. Michaels, correct?"
"Yes, ma'am," I replied.
"I am Senior Special Agent Jenna Gabriel and this is Captain Marissa Fairborne." The auburn-haired woman nodded in my direction; swallowing, I nodded back. My nerves were getting the best of me, and I clenched my hands into discrete fists to win back some confidence. Special Agent Gabriel tapped some papers I hadn't noticed sitting on the desk. "Your file indicates some previous association with the Autobots, Michaels. Care to tell us what that is?"
"Of course," I replied, trying to work out the fuzziness of my tongue. "My aunt worked with the Autobots shortly before she died –"
Capt. Fairborne interrupted me, "Alina Michaels, correct?"
Taken aback, I blinked. That must've been one extensive background check. "Yes, ma'am. My memories are very sketchy, but I have this old Polaroid of her and I and a white and blue Autobot in the background. I used to be able to remember his name – my parents certainly do, but since my aunt's death … they won't talk about it."
The two women looked at each other; Special Agent Gabriel looked at her notes. "That would be Counter-Intelligence Agent Mirage." The moment she said it, I knew that was the right one. I had a brief vision of a blue-silver face and piercing blue-glass eyes.
"What else do you remember?" pressed Capt. Fairborne. It wasn't a memory I thought I would have had to dredge up on command. I struggled for several moments, embarrassed because that had been the day I chose to work with the Autobots.
Brows drawn low, I bit my lower lip in concentration. Not meeting their gaze, I stared at the floor as I recalled: "I remember that she took me to a park because my mother was giving birth to my sister. I was four. We played for a while, then I remember Auntie Alina looking up. She heard something, I guess. Then I remember a black hand and a deep voice." I finally looked up and shook my head. "That's all, I'm sorry."
Special Agent Gabriel favored me with a smile that was echoed by Capt. Fairborne. It was the younger woman who spoke. "Autobot Mirage seems to remember you as well. I was told to pass on his greetings."
Those words left me shocked. From Capt. Fairborne's tone, that was about as close as I was going to get to a recommendation. I certainly didn't want nepotism to mar my non-existent career, but if my aunt's Autobot friend had any clout … What glow I had gained from Capt. Fairborne's words gradually faded as the two women put pressure on me with their questioning. Everything from my family and social life, to if I ever cheated on a test (yes, a few times in middle school and yes, I was ashamed). Had I ever consumed alcohol? Did I smoke? Was anyone in my family currently employed by any government agency? From there they pressed me on why I wanted to join Communications: I was socialable, talkative, sympathetic, a good listener and follower of rules. It also seemed to have the most non-combative options available.
When the hour session ended, I was shown to yet another room that had several TVs and books. My fellow novices who had gone before me where in various states of activity – or boredom. I collapsed in a chair and proceeded to promptly fall asleep. I was woken up some time later in the midst of an old memory; bleary-eyed and more fuzzy-tongued than when I got up this morning, I followed my fellow recruits out the door. One by one, we were lined up into two small queues – one slightly longer than the other. I was in the shorter line; as I looked around at confused faces, I began to form a conclusion. By the looks on the others, they were thinking along the same vein as I was: Is this the reject line?
My fears and fuzzy tongue were for naught. We were led away, in opposite directions, down a long hallway. As we walked, our guide proceeded to tell us that we were now EDC members – raw recruits and in need of training. But as we walked, the final paperwork was being filled and our names added to the payroll.
Suddenly, I was dancing with joy with the girl in front of me. I'd done it! I was part of Autobot City! And yet, as I danced, I cried: for the woman who had set me on this path with one fateful day at the park.
My days were filled with training, with orientations and tours. Ultimately, I found myself placed in the small office of Special Liaisons: humans who were assigned chiefly to Autobots, but also to high-ranking EDC officials. With the Autobots, we were supposed to keep an eye – not on the robots – but the people around them. Though they had been on Earth for almost twenty years, there was still a sense of awe and fear that surrounded these sentient mechanical beings. Our job was to make sure that when not on duty, the Autobot's needs were met and any questions were filed first through us, and then to the Autobot in our "care".
I found out firsthand that not all Autobots liked having a human lackey tailing them. These were gruff, unapologetic hunks of metal who would barely talk to me, let alone acknowledge my presence. But then there were the gregarious mechs and femmes, the talkative ones who made every day worth while. I traveled the world several times over and was settling into a sort of contentedness that could only come from being happy with my place in the world.
And then, eight years into my tenure, what could only be described as my normal routine, changed.