Author's Note: The name of this chapter was changed from the original. This is the last chapter of this story. Please read the notes at the end for information on what's coming next.

The Autobot Files

By: Ghost of the Dawn aka Ty-Chou

File #016 -Unique

Crystal stared at the ceiling as she lay on the table during the diagnostics. Several cables snaked from the exposed systems in her head and chest, but she was used to it. It didn't hurt at all; she just had to lie there until they were done. Today, however, lying still took a little bit of extra patience. The diagnostics run was taking longer than usual. Perceptor was looking for something specific.

Crystal had been experiencing small episodes of uncontrollable shaking for awhile now. At first, it was just in her hands every now and then. When Prowl's body had been dragged into the med bay after he had been shot by Decepticons, Crystal felt the shaking in her whole frame and it took a while to stop. After that, she experienced small bouts of muscle cable spasms, usually when her stress levels were high. Since the Nightbird incident, it had been getting even worse and Crystal knew it was time to report what was going on to Ratchet and Perceptor.

Even after she'd given them a full history of what had been going on, the two were a bit uncertain as to what to look for or a possible cause. It wasn't a problem that was common among normal Autobots. Perceptor theorized it was some kind of processor glitch, some stray signal that went to the muscle cables when certain emotions hit. But without anything solid, there was only one thing to do: run a test on everything.

Over an hour passed before Crystal was allowed to dislodge the cables and put herself back together.

"Well, I didn't see anything at first glance, but there's quite a bit of deeper programming information I'll need to comb over," Perceptor said as he approached her. "It will definitely take some time. There's a large set of minute sequences I'll have to look through to try and figure out the cause."

"Do what you gotta do. I'm not going anywhere."

Perceptor gave her a small, amused smile. "I suppose not. Just keep me informed if anything new comes up. I'll pass this information on to Ratchet when he's finished with his routine maintenance appointments."

"Great. I do have a question. Is it possible you'll find something that will prevent me from getting the body transfer?"

Perceptor rubbed his chin in thought, a curiously human action. "I find it doubtful. In fact, if we can't fix the problem ourselves, it's quite possible the problem will be fixed on its own with your upgrade, especially with the new processor I'm building for you. It should bridge the gaps between the emotional and physical far more smoothly."

Crystal allowed herself some private relief. She hated her body more each day. It was ugly, odd and it was slowly turning against her. Never so badly had she yearned to fit in. It was torture waiting for her new design. But at the same time, the last thing she wanted to do was rush them.

She thanked Perceptor and went on her way, not that she had much to do. With her new condition, Ratchet had restricted the types of repairs she could do in the med bay. Any delicate work that required a steady hand was now off-limits. It certainly gave her quite a bit less to do. Ratchet's concern was understandable, but now she had to find other ways to pass the time and keep herself entertained.

And speaking of being entertained....

There was music spilling out of one of the rooms and it drew her forward. Music always did. It was one thing she enjoyed as a human and could still enjoy as a robot. Upon poking her head into the room, expressions of incredulity and extreme amusement fought for dominance on her face. It certainly wasn't what she'd expected to see at all.

All the single ladies

All the single ladies

All the single ladies

All the single ladies

Now put your hands up!

Dancing AND singing to Beyonce was Tracks, not holding back and having a good time of it.

Crystal was floored. All she had ever seen from this Autobot was frowns, brooding and snarky remarks. She really didn't think he had it in him to let loose and have fun. It was the most amusing thing to see him dance around to the song. She would have given her right arm for a video camera.

If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it.

Don't be mad once you see that he want it.

If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it.

Tracks swung his hips this way and that, then he jumped and spun around, stopping dead. The music stopped instantly, obviously coming from his own radio. Crystal had been trying so hard not to burst out laughing she thought she was going to pop a bolt somewhere.

"What are you doing?" Tracks sputtered. His voice actually fizzled out for a second because his pitch went too high.

Crystal tried to respond, but every time she attempted to form a word, her laughter threatened to overwhelm her instead. She tried several times to give a serious reply, but failed.

"So you just wanted to come laugh at me so you can feel better about yourself?" Tracks demanded. He looked as though his energon was boiling in his engine. "Do you enjoy poking your nose in everyone else's business?"

Crystal was beyond trying to explain herself. "I didn't know you could be that fun," was all she could get out.

Tracks was frowning. "You don't know anything about me and I would rather keep it that way. Kindly go poke your transistors somewhere else."

With that, he slammed the door in her face.

Crystal didn't mind. Nothing Tracks did bothered her anymore. She stumbled away from the door, holding her mouth until she could loose her laughter in a utility closet. Then she continued down the hall with a wide grin on her face. That mental image was going to amuse her for some time.

She hadn't gone far before two Autobots were suddenly in her path. One was grey and about her height; the other was red, white and quite a bit taller.

"Gentlemen," she greeted them, a bit curious as to why they were smiling as widely as she was.

"You look happy," Bluestreak chirped. "Did something happen?"

"Oh no, I was just thinking of something amusing. What are you guys up to?"

"Well..." Sideswipe ventured as he sidled up next to her. "We've heard something very interesting about you."

Crystal's grin fell completely. When Bluestreak and Sideswipe got together to conspire, it was always anyone's guess how it would turn out, especially when Sunstreaker wasn't with them. The yellow Autobot was their voice of reason. Quite a surly voice, but reasonable, nonetheless.

"And what is that?"

Sideswipe opened his mouth but Bluestreak popped in first. "We heard you can tell the future!"

Crystal's shoulders sank. "Really. From whom?"

"When I was talking to Wheeljack, he mentioned it. Although..." Bluestreak rubbed his cheek with a thoughtful finger. "He said you couldn't actually do it, you just pretend, come to think of it."

"So how about it, Crys? What's this about? Can you really do it?" Sideswipe pressed. "I didn't know humans had powers like that."

"It's just a card trick people do at parties," Crystal insisted. "I did it for some of the guys for fun. It's not real."

"Do it for us!" Bluestreak said, his door panels quivering in excitement. "Can you, please? It sounds like a lot of fun. We don't have anything like that on Cybertron. I'd like to see how it's done."

Crystal shrugged. "I don't have my cards anymore. I need them to do the trick."

"But you could MAKE some, couldn't you?" Sideswipe pressed.

"I..... guess I could..."

"Alright!" Bluestreak cheered. "I can help, too! Do you need help? I can help you with them. Just tell me what you want me to do."

Crystal tried to keep her pained expression to herself. She knew of a certain blinky-headed Autobot who was going to be helping.

Tracks sulked down the hallways, frowning. He had been in a fabulous mood that morning until it had nosedived into a storm cloud. That nosy female always made him feel that way. It was like her presence just sucked everything positive out of the room. He really didn't like her. He never had, though he couldn't quite put his finger on exactly why that was. They just both seemed to rub each other the wrong way. Tracks wasn't interested in changing that situation; it wasn't worth his time.

His wanderings took him down to the small quarters Sunstreaker and Sideswipe shared. The door was open, meaning someone was home, and Tracks poked his head in the doorway. It was Sunstreaker, as usual, lounging around inside. Sideswipe was almost never in unless it was to try and coax his brother to come out and do something with him. The red twin always had too much energy to just lie around in his room. Sunstreaker, however, liked to have his quiet time to sit and think or doodle on whatever he found in the Ark to substitute for proper art supplies.

That was what he was doing at the moment, slumped on his cot with legs pulled up, a drawing on his thighs. He looked up when he felt someone lurking in his doorway.

"Hey," came the calm greeting before Sunstreaker looked back down at his drawings.

He had a digital stylus he could use, but he preferred to etch thin pieces of metal. He liked having something physical to touch when he was done. It was on one of those metal pieces that he was sketching.

Tracks strode in and made himself at home on one of the chairs. "What are you doing?"

Sunstreaker didn't look up. "Eh, just killing time. I've got patrol in a few kliks."

Tracks smiled a little. If you caught Sunstreaker doodling and asked him what he was doing, he never said he was drawing. He wondered if the yellow Autobot ever noticed that.

He reached over and picked up one of the metal sheets already filled with sketches. Tracks frowned a bit when he saw what his friend had been drawing. "Really, Sunstreaker?" he said, holding up the sheet. It was covered with drawings of Crystal.

"What?" he defended. "She has a different look. I had to draw it."

"Uh huh. It wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that she's the only thing remotely female around here, would it?"

Sunstreaker leveled an irritated gaze on him. "Are you suggesting I'm getting desperate?"

"I'm suggesting that I thought you were above the old ploy of hanging around ugly femmes to make yourself look prettier."

Sunstreaker looked at the sketch he was working on. "She's not ugly. She's... unique."

Tracks huffed. "Oh please. Why don't you just spark bond with her and get it over with? Oh wait, she doesn't have one, does she?"

Sunstreaker's demeanor visibly darkened. "Are you looking to get evicted? Because I can arrange it."

Tracks waved off the threat as he usually did. They had been friends long enough that they were each used to the other's personality. "So, unique, huh? I guess that's one way of putting it. The look only an artist could appreciate. I suppose one could get tired of traditional beauties eventually. Especially with all the beauties you've seen."

That earned a smirk from Sunstreaker. Before the war, he had made a good living doing paintings and etchings. It was a talent that was quite rare within a robot society. His particular niche of artistry set him apart from the other artists who focused mostly on sculpture and architecture and serene paintings for professional buildings. Sunstreaker could do all that, too, but he made most of his living with the certain specialty for which he was best known.

More than anything else, Sunstreaker enjoyed painting beautiful femmes, both for leisure and for profit. Tracks had been granted the privilege of seeing Sunstreaker's impressive personal collection of beauties-- often without certain parts of their armor-- before Sunstreaker was assigned to the Ark's first and final journey.

Needless to say, such a profession earned the yellow Autobot quite an adequate supply of beautiful femmes whenever he desired their company. Unfortunately, Sunstreaker had an aptitude for picking out the most beautiful and most mentally unstable for his personal affections. Though Tracks met him late in his career, he still had to yank a maddened femme or two off his friend as she tried to rip out his spark. Sideswipe had far more interesting stories from that time period.

Perhaps the answer to the riddle of Sunstreaker's preoccupation with their resident female was that he was finally ready for something different. Crystal certainly was different. Notwithstanding the fact that she was from another planet, she was not a stunning beauty and, even Tracks had to admit, she was mentally stable. Certainly a new experience all around for Sunstreaker.

"So, if you paint her, are you going to show me?"

Sunstreaker gave him a funny look. "Crystal was right. You are kind of a freak."

Tracks returned to frowning.

Crystal hunched over a table in Wheeljack's lab, doing some etching on metal sheets herself. They had been cut into card-shaped proportions and a whole pile waited to be decorated.

The prospect of recreating every single Tarot card was daunting. There was no way Crystal was going to make every card from all four suits plus the major arcana. Even if she just wrote the name on each card, the metal deck would be enormous. She was looking to cut corners wherever she could.

While she was trying to pick and choose which cards she should put in the deck, she got the idea to just start from scratch and make her own. Her mother always told her she had a gift for reading cards, and the main component of Tarot card reading was how the cards were interpreted by the reader. She would just mark a small number of cards with the basic ideas the deck contained as a whole and interpret from there. The Autobots wouldn't know the difference. It was all for fun anyway. When she had satisfied everyone's curiosity, she could just throw them away.

While hatching her plan and deciding what to put on each card, Crystal suddenly became aware that there was someone sitting at the table with her.

"Oh hey, Prowl. Gosh, you're so quiet. I didn't even notice you come in."

The second-in-command looked up from his files. "You seemed quite preoccupied. I did not wish to distract you."

Crystal couldn't help but smile. "I think being distracting is more in Jazz's nature."

"It is indeed," Prowl responded flatly.

Crystal found his tone humorous whether he meant it to be or not. "So, was there something I can help you with? Is that why you came down here?"

"No, not quite. I just..." he paused to find the words. "I enjoy your company so I thought I would bring my paperwork and do it down here." He said it as if just realizing it himself. He had been like that a lot lately, ever since he lost his battle computer. It was as if he was experiencing everything old in life with a new perspective. It was a bit amusing to watch.

He looked at her. "Unless you would rather I went elsewhere?"

"Not at all. I'm not doing anything important, even if you were distracting me. Please feel free to stay."

Prowl gave her a small smile and went right back to his paperwork. Crystal kept watching him for awhile after his attention was no longer focused on her. The two of them always had the oddest, frankest conversations, but they were never uncomfortable. Prowl just had a way about him that always made the room feel calm and pleasant. At least for her. She knew not everyone enjoyed talking to him, but she always did.

Her gaze traveled from his face to the bright red Autobot symbol lighting up the white background of his chest. She wondered what his spark sounded like. She always forgot to take the opportunity to listen to it when she had it. She still had no idea why she had such an obsession with those strange things, but she loved to listen to them. Something about them spoke to her. Each one was different, emitting its own sound which somehow always seemed to accurately define the Autobot who housed it. She kept making bets with herself as to what Prowl's would sound like.

But alas, she couldn't just go out and ask him if she could listen to him. Even with Prowl, she couldn't bring herself to be that straightforward. For now, she would have to settle for a more casual touch.

Right outside the room, Sunstreaker came down the hall before his patrol shift started. Talking with Tracks had got him wondering if maybe he should ask Crystal if he could do some kind of portrait of her. Even though he knew of her aversion to her current body, he kept trying to figure out how he could get her to agree before she got her new one. He could say it was so she could look back someday and remember what she used to look like. Or maybe he could say he would only keep it in his personal collection. No, that sounded a bit creepy. And Crystal wasn't like the promiscuous femmes he used to paint; he couldn't play to her vanity. But he would put the idea in her head and see how she reacted.

He turned into Wheeljack's lab in time to see Crystal sitting next to Prowl, their backs to him. Crystal leaned over and rested her cheek on his arm.

"I enjoy your company, too," she told him.

Prowl didn't react, but Sunstreaker felt a sudden rush of jealousy that surprised him. Confused by his own emotional reaction, he soundlessly retreated from the room before either knew he was there.

Even though she had been working on her new cards, Crystal was hoping Sideswipe and Bluestreak would eventually forget her promise to them. They didn't. Nor would they let her forget, either. They constantly asked when the cards would be done.

Crystal procrastinated as much as she could until she finally admitted she had enough cards to work with. The two energetic Autobots set her up in the break room and immediately demanded to have their fortunes told. With her limited number of cards, Crystal used a simple three card spread to demonstrate her craft. It wasn't as impressive as a more detailed spread with a full deck, but it was enough to entertain the Autobots.

If Crystal thought she was going to get away with one telling each for Sideswipe and Bluestreak and then be done, she was wrong. More Autobots kept walking in, wondering what she was doing, then either ask to have theirs read as well or be egged into it by one of the others. Sideswipe had had his fortune read three times in the first hour of reading. After first doing the general past, present, and future reading, Crystal made the mistake of mentioning one could also ask the cards a specific question about their lives and have that read.

After a while, several Autobots had gathered around the table listening to all the readings and it had turned into a big game of "Now do so-and-so" or "Ask the cards this". Most of the questions were on the non-serious side and there was lots of general ribbing among the Autobots as they got their fortunes read. Everyone was laughing and having a good time of it. That made Crystal have a good time.

She was glad to see the Autobots realized it was a game and were just having fun with it. She hated when people took Tarot reading too seriously. Her mother was that way. She insisted Crystal had a deep connection with the cards and she should work seriously on improving her craft, but Crystal never wanted it to be more than just a party game.

"What is everyone doing in here?" Optimus Prime asked as he poked his head in curiously. The laughter he heard from clear down the hall definitely caught his attention.

Sideswipe instantly popped out of the crowd. "OH! Do Optimus Prime!"

Before he knew what was going on, the Autobot leader was herded into the room and made to sit in the chair across from Crystal. There were several voices speaking at once, all trying to explain it to him. Though still a bit confused, Optimus thought he understood the gist of it.

"My future?" He wondered. "You're going to predict my future?"

"We call it fortunetelling," Crystal said as she handed Optimus her small deck. "Mix these up. Now do you want a general reading or do you have a specific question you want the cards to answer?"

Once properly shuffled, Optimus handed the cards back to Crystal. "Uh... do I have to tell you the question?"

"Nope," was the immediate reply and Crystal was already putting cards down before he could change his mind.

The general consensus in the room was that it wasn't fair Optimus kept his question to himself. But it was already starting and most quieted down so they could hear Crystal's predictions and see if they could guess what the question was.

She lay three cards in a row face-down. The first card was turned over. It had a few symbols and scribbles, the meanings of which only Crystal knew. "This first card represents your current situation. The card suggests that there need to be changes made in your life. With this card upside down, I feel that this particular situation has been stagnating and these changes have been needed for a while."

No one said anything. No one had a clue to what she was referring, since Optimus did not feel inclined to share. Optimus, however, was looking more and more interested.

Crystal turned over the next card. "This one represents the way you will act upon this situation." She paused and looked at the card for a while, trying to decide its meaning. "You have been aware of this problem and have been sitting on a possible solution for a while. But you have been hesitant to act upon it. This card is upright, which suggests that this idea is a good one."

She paused and looked up at Optimus. "Does this make sense to you? Without the question, I'm just trying to read them the best I can."

"So far," Optimus admitted. "Please continue."

"Alright. This last card reveals the result of this decision if you should act upon it." She flipped it over and again took a while to look at it.

"If you act on this decision, it may not seem like the best thing to do to some and you may even question it yourself, but it is the right way to go. It will put you on the right course to continue on your way to your other goals."

"I see," Optimus nodded. "Thank you for the... advice." He went to get up, but a few Autobots were already protesting.

"Come on, Optimus, one more," Hound urged.

"Yeah, ask it something out loud," Bluestreak added.

"I'm afraid I do have other things to do," Optimus tried.

"Just real quick," Crystal urged. "A one card reading to make everyone happy."

All the Autobots seemed to agree.

"Go on Optimus, ask something," Mirage said. "It can be anything. It doesn't have to be serious."

"Hey!" Sideswipe called. "Ask it if we'll win the war!"

Crystal instantly thought that was too touchy of a subject for a gathering like this, but the Autobots' response was laughter and good-natured comments about how great it would be to be able to put on their calendar exactly when they would finally beat the Decepticons.

Optimus relented under the mood of the room and sat back down. "Very well. One more."

Crystal fanned the cards. "Okay, ask the cards out loud."

He took a moment to try to figure out what wording to use. "Will we- What will be the result of this long war?"

"Now pick a card."

Optimus drew one and then handed it to Crystal. The room was quiet as she looked at it. She was quiet for quite a bit longer than normal. The hand that was holding the card began to shake a little. Crystal willed it to stop, but she still didn't say anything.

"What'd you get?" Jazz asked. "It something bad?"

"Does it say the Decepticons blow us all apart?" Brawn laughed. "Come on, just tell us."

Crystal was quiet for a moment longer and then put the card down on the table. "Peace," she said quietly. "The war will end in peace."

The room was silent. That wasn't an answer any of them had expected. Optimus Prime laced his fingers under his chin and looked thoughtfully down at the card. He didn't have anything to say.

Later that night, Crystal walked down to her room, cards now tucked away in a hip compartment. The loud voices of all the Autobots as they spoke excitedly and shouted her audios off were still ringing in her systems. It was nice to have quiet now. She loved being with the Autobots, especially when they were all having a good time, but she also liked having time to herself. After hours of reading cards, Crystal was actually feeling quite drained and it was more than just a physical feeling. She was quite finished predicting the future for giant robots for a while.

She just wanted to retire to her cot to rest and recharge whatever part of her battery was feeling so low. The door to her room was open. It was a common occurrence; she often left it that way even if she wasn't in the room. There weren't a lot of closed doors at the Ark. It was just the way things were. So Crystal walked in as she would any other time and switched on the lights.

There was already someone else in there and seeing him in the light made her jump back. "Sunstreaker!"

In hindsight, she should have noticed his optics in the dark at least when she came in. She really was drained.

"What's doin' babe?" he grinned in quite a different tone that she was used to hearing from him.

"Just tired, babe," she matched his tone in jest. "I was thinking about trying to sleep. Or going to the recharge room. Or both."

Instead of moving out of her way, Sunstreaker got closer and loomed over her, one hand resting on the wall. "How about I join you?"

She gave him a dubious look. "Would I be getting any sleep?"

Sunstreaker's core temperature suddenly went up and his engine revved a little at the ideas that question put in his processor.

Crystal was still not buying whatever it was he was trying to sell. "Sunshine, I'm really tired. Can we continue this conversation tomorrow?"

"Well, I kind of came here because I wanted to spend time with you tonight,you know? As in, not alone?"

Crystal suddenly looked concerned. "You don't want to be alone? Did something happen? Do you want to talk about it?"

"What? No, no! Not like that." He ducked away when her worried hands reached for his face. "It's not--stop it!"

But Crystal was now grinning as she kept trying to grab his face and fuss all over him. "Oh come on Sunshine, what's the matter? You can tell me. Let me see that adorable face."

"Come on! I'm trying to-- I just want to talk to-- Oh slag it."

Sunstreaker suddenly stopped fighting her attempts to grab him and grabbed her instead. He yanked her to him by the shoulders and put his mouth on hers. Crystal's optics flickered brightly in surprise and she went stiff as a board in his grasp.

After a while, he pulled away, still frowning. "Primus, I finally found a way to get you to shut up for two kliks."

"Too bad it doesn't have the same effect on you," Crystal shot back, having quickly recovered.

"That's because you're awful at it," Sunstreaker grinned.

Crystal opened her mouth in silent offense, but didn't say anything to argue.

Sunstreaker put his hands on the wall on either side of her, blocking her in. "Maybe I should help you practice more."

He leaned in once more and Crystal's hand promptly went over his mouth.

"Oh no, that was not an invitation to try it again," she informed him.

"Mrph mmmph?"

Sunstreaker protested, but Crystal's hand was still in the way. She finally removed it to allow him to speak his mind.

"Why not?" he repeated.

"Well where I come from, it's considered bad manners not to ask and go ahead without some sort of visible sign that I want you to."

"Ugh, fine! Can I kiss you again?"

"You... want to?" Crystal suddenly looked like she didn't believe him.

Another sound of frustration from Sunstreaker. "I'm asking, aren't I?"

Crystal looked thoughtful, completely unaffected by the much larger Autobot looming impatiently over her. "Mmm... no."

"No?! Why the slag not?"

"Because it's weird, Sunshine."

"What is? The kissing itself or that I want to?"


Now it was Sunstreaker's turn to look offended. "Oh, I see how it is. It's because I'm not your beloved Prowl, is that right? I don't have a rod shoved permanently up my tailpipe so I'm not as good, is that it?"

"Now wait a minute--"

"Or Jazz? You only like seconds-in-command? I'm not high enough on the ladder? Don't like lowly soldiers, huh? Well let me tell you something, we are just as-- mrphhmm!"

Crystal grabbed his face and kissed him even as he was trying to yell at her. She held him there until he was quiet and then finally let go. Sunstreaker had an extremely stunned, but pleasant look on his face.

"Looks like it goes both ways," Crystal said flatly. "You talk too much without listening to anyone."

"You could be right, you could be right," Sunstreaker said in a much lighter tone. He still had a far-off look on his face. It took him a few moments to shake it off before looking back down at her. "So how was that? Still weird?"

Crystal looked apologetic. "It doesn't feel like anything. Is it... supposed to with robots-- with Autobots, I mean?"

"Well yeah. I mean, we don't do it all the time. There are... other ways. But, you know, there's something there. Didn't it feel like something when you were human?"

Crystal shrugged. "I don't know. I never kissed anyone when I was human."

He couldn't help but give her a sympathetic smile. "That's a little tragic, don't you think? That would make your first kiss-- wow, your first kiss was Sideswipe? That's actually a bit on the pathetic side."


Crystal didn't look happy at that last comment, and Sunstreaker bent to look her in the face. He was grinning. "So does that make me your second?"

"I'm not going to say."

Undaunted by her response, Sunstreaker just chuckled. "I guess we ARE going to have to get you into that new body to make sure you enjoy it."

"Oh, har, har, Sunshine."

"No, I wasn't being sarcastic. I'm serious! If that's what's holding you back, then I'm sure I can get used to a new look if I have to."

Crystal's voice fell flat. "Thanks for the sacrifice."

"Well if we're going to make this work then--"

"Oh whoa, hold on right there." This time Crystal ducked away from him and put a few paces between them. "There is not a 'this,' okay? I thought you were just trying to satisfy some weird curiosity."

"What, you don't like me?" Sunstreaker demanded, taking a step forward.

Crystal knew that with his personality it could easily blow up into a big misunderstanding if she wasn't careful. "Here, come sit with me." She sat on the cot and patted the place beside her.

Sunstreaker sat, but he looked ready to jump up and make a scene at any time.

Crystal tried to be as careful as possible. "Now what I say to you does not leave this room, okay? I've never told anyone this. So if you break my trust and go blab it around, even to Sideswipe, I'll kick your ass, you got me?"

The threat actually smoothed Sunstreaker's hackles a bit. He very much liked the idea of her trusting him with something she hadn't shared with any of the other Autobots.

"Autobot's honor," Sunstreaker promised. "I'll take it with me to the Matrix."

"Okay..." Crystal said slowly as she tried to prepare herself. "And don't laugh either, okay?"

He looked into her face with all seriousness, leaning forward. "Look at me Crys, I'm not laughing."

Crystal had to look away, that face was just a little too intense. Instead, she gazed down at her knees as her hands rubbed at them self-consciously. "Okay, so I've never been in a relationship before. I was always moving around and guys aren't really interested in girls who are taller than them and always have their knuckles torn up from boxing matches. But, you know, I thought one day it would happen. I just had to keep my eyes open. But then..."

"This happened instead," Sunstreaker finished.

"Yeah..." she said in a quiet voice. "And I figured I lost my chance at ever knowing what it would be like to have someone, even just for a little while. I spent a great deal of time trying to kill that part of me that had always hoped for romance. I assumed it wasn't something that could be reciprocated in your culture." She gave a bitter chuckle. "And then I found out I was wrong and I'm still just being as stupid as I've always been."

"That's for sure."

"Thanks," Crystal shot him a look which made Sunstreaker look away in apology.

"Anyway, long story short. I'm still getting used to the idea again. When I first saw Jazz, Prowl and Grimlock, they were like living toys moving around my apartment. I had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that they were actual living beings. Even today, sometimes I look at you Autobots, and I'm not sure which view I should take. But I'm working on it. I'm just not... quite there yet."

"I see." Sunstreaker rested his elbows on his knees in a thoughtful position. "So all that disgusting flirting you do with Jazz...?"

"Testing the waters?" Crystal shrugged. "Practice, I guess. I don't know. It's just how we talk to each other. It's easy to let go and be silly with him. I know I'm safe. It's the same with Prowl. I know I can go up to him at a Christmas party completely drunk out of my mind and proposition him and he wouldn't do anything."

Sunstreaker trained his optics on her. "So am I also one of your 'Safe Autobots'?"

Crystal winced a bit. "Would you be mad if I said no?"

The yellow Autobot surprised her by breaking into a very satisfied grin. "Not at all." He leaned forward, looming over her, their faces getting closer. "In fact, I'd rather not be your safety. Because when you're ready, babe, I'm going to be your adventure."

Jazz glanced up from the large pile of data pads he and Prowl had to go through. Whether a direct result of Crystal's answers to Optimus Prime's questions the night before or not, their leader suddenly had a whole pile of records, reports and proposals for them to read. The dates on a few of them were a couple years old. Optimus had been sitting on these for a while, waiting for the right time to bring them out. He did indeed want some changes and he needed both Jazz and Prowl's feedback and their support on his ideas.

It went without saying that Prowl was better at going through mountains of information than Jazz was. Though Jazz was just as intelligent and had just as many good ideas, he didn't have Prowl's stamina for staying in place and staring at words all day. Jazz needed breaks in between reports. He liked having a few minutes to process the information for a while before taking on another one. Prowl, on the other hand... Jazz had a theory that Prowl's processor could spend half its computation power mulling over old information while the other half took in new information. He really was some Autobot.

Prowl also had an acute talent for never getting distracted when he was really into reading something. Jazz could crank his music as loud as he wanted and Prowl would easily tune him out. Or turn off his audios. Either way, he didn't let anything short of physical removal slow him down.

Jazz was the unfortunate opposite. He liked to let things distract him. Sometimes he went looking for distractions when the work got too tedious. It just so happened there was a nice readily available distraction in the office right then.

Crystal had come in earlier, claiming she needed a place to hide out for a while. She didn't mention that both Smokescreen and, surprisingly, Tracks were looking for her. She was in too good of a mood to see either one. Prowl looked a bit doubtful when she wanted to stay there. Crystal had never spent much time in his office before, especially while he was working. But she promised she would be so quiet they wouldn't even know she was there.

So far, she was keeping her promise. She had sat in an empty chair and hardly moved from that position since. It disappointed Jazz a bit.

She must have picked up some of Prowl's patience, because she could sit just like a statue and not move for quite some time. In fact, she looked content just to sit there quietly among them and not make a sound. Jazz couldn't even imagine how she was doing it. He was having a hard time having her sit right next to him and not be talking to her.

Luckily, he had just finished a report. Distraction time. "So Crys, what are you thinking about?"

Crystal stayed still a while longer. She had been resting her cheek on her knuckles while gazing dreamily at the space between Prowl and Jazz as if trying to keep them both in her sights at once. Her optics had been dimly lit until Jazz addressed her.

She shifted in her seat. "Not much. Just thinking about the difference between safety and adventure."

"Oh? That's a bit of a random topic."

"Not really, it's relevant to me."

Jazz leaned toward her on his armrest, a bit intrigued. "Care to expound on that thought?"

Crystal looked over at Prowl who, most likely, had not heard a single thing. "Not really."

She looked back over at Jazz, whose grin had turned into a cute little pout. Despite the fact that Ratchet had told her most mechs were built with the same general face design, there was something about Jazz's mouth that always caught her attention. Maybe it was the way he smiled; she couldn't say. He seemed to have a fuller bottom lip than most. She found it... what? Sexy? She wasn't sure. But every time she looked at it, it made her want to bite her own.

Crystal found herself wondering what it would be like to kiss him. Would be it any different from Sunstreaker or Sideswipe? Was it just because she didn't have the correct physical receptors in that area, or was it the Autobot that she was kissing?

Then Crystal suddenly wondered if she was being a robo-whore, thinking all these things about different male Autobots and not considering the consequences. The last thing she wanted was her life to end up like some kind of teenage girl's fantasy where every guy was in love with her. The pathetic thing was that it would only be because she was the only thing remotely female and close to their species on the entire planet. That was hardly something to be proud of.

Besides, she had just told Sunstreaker yesterday that she was still having trouble seeing the Autobots in that light. Had that been a lie? It was that yellow Autobot's fault to begin with. He put her mind in the gutter with that lanky body moving into hers and his vague yet exciting promises in that husky voice.

If she agreed to a relationship with him, or any of them for that matter, what did that mean, exactly? Did Autobots go on dates? Did they get married? Did they enjoy each other on a physical level? She had no idea. Here she was sizing up different males when she had no clue what to do with them. How pathetic was that?

"Okay Crys, you have to spill," Jazz ordered, forcing her from her thoughts. "Whatever you're thinking about, your expressions have been jumping all over the place. I have to know what's going on in that processor of yours."

Crystal wasn't aware she had been making faces, but she didn't much have a mind to be embarrassed. Jazz gave her a moment to gather her thoughts before she spoke.

"Okay so, say you have a female Autobot, er femme, as you call them, and you want to be intimate with her. What do you do?"

The only sound in the room was the snap of Prowl's data pad as he suddenly broke it in half. Apparently he had been listening after all.

Ratchet had to lean on the table for support; he was losing his strength to stand. It was because he was laughing so hard.

"Come on, man! It's not that funny!" Jazz insisted, hands on his hips. If anyone liked a good joke, it was Jazz, but not necessarily at his own expense. He didn't much care for the fact that Ratchet was laughing at him, in part.

Prowl stood next to him and did not look happy at all. Prowl absolutely hated to be laughed at. It did not happen very often.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Ratchet tried to get his vocal processor under control. "That is just the most amusing thing I have heard in vorns."

"It's not our fault she pops the million dollar question out of nowhere," Jazz shot back. "I want to know who put that idea in her head."

"I can't believe you two, of all Autobots, tried to explain it to her," Ratchet let out a fresh peal of laughter. "Oh Primus, I would have paid money to see that."

"Your discretion is appreciated," Prowl said dryly.

Ratchet might not even have learned of the situation if it had not gone as badly as it did. Jazz and Prowl had always worked seamlessly as a team, but they did not fare well teaming up on this. Each had differing ideas on what was and what was not appropriate to share and it all came out as a garbled, confusing mess.

It only got worse when Crystal asked them about certain parts of male Autobot anatomy with horrifying bluntness.

"Oh come on," she had said, thoroughly enjoying their discomfort. "Just give me a hint." She picked up Prowl's stylus. "Does it look like this?" She pointed to a long canister in the corner. "Or is it big like that?"

That was about the point both seconds fled from the office and ran down to the med bay for backup. Unfortunately, Crystal followed them, determined to get some sort of answer even if it might not be a truthful one.

Ratchet had looked up when all three came in and was confused when Crystal picked up a drill.

"Does it move like this would?" she asked, optics wide and all grins. She was obviously having the time of her life terrorizing the two Autobot seconds. "Maybe it's more this size?" She picked up a small screwdriver.

It was the first time Ratchet had ever had to chase Crystal from his med bay. That was the only way he could get the full story out of the two embarrassed Autobots. By the time they finished telling him what happened, Ratchet had bent over his examination table, laughing too hard to stand.

"Well what did you want us to do?" Jazz demanded. "Whip out the equipment and show her how it all works?" He suddenly came to the horrible realization that there were some Autobots on the Ark that just might do that if she asked.

Ratchet was still grinning widely at their serious expressions. "I'm quite sure she did it because she got such a great reaction from the both of you. If you two hadn't run in fear like you were newly out of the spark chamber instead of the experienced mechs you are, she wouldn't have chased you. I believe the Earth phrase is 'she smelled the blood in the water.'"

Jazz continued to pout at Ratchet's extremely amused face. "Yeah well, next time she asks about it, you're telling her."

Baby, baby, since first we met

I knew in this heart of mine

(I wanna tell ya, doot-doot)

The love we had could not be bad

I play it right and bide my time.

Crystal was in a good mood for no reason, or perhaps for several reasons. She wasn't sure why, but her spirits were higher than she remembered them being in a long time. Perhaps it was to do with the horrified looks Prowl and Jazz had given her that still made her grin, or maybe it was due to her interesting talk with Sunstreaker the night before. Either way, Crystal felt like having a good time, and so she was.

She brought her trusty homemade radio with her as she cleaned out one of the several wide storage rooms on the Ark. It was always more fun to work to great music.

Spent a lifetime looking for somebody

To give me love like you.

Now you told me that you wanna leave me

Crystal swayed her hips to the music and couldn't help but belt out the last line.

"Darlin' I just can't let you!"

She jumped up and did a full spin before forgetting the cleaning entirely and dancing to the music, wet rag still in hand. She happily belted out the words, not caring who heard.

Baby, now that I've found you

I can't let you go

I'll build my world around you

I need you so

Baby, even though you don't need me

You don't need me.

She whipped around the room, splashing cleaner here and there and singing as loudly as she pleased. Several Autobots probably heard her enjoying herself, but only one stopped to smirk as he leaned against the door frame.

"My, my. It looks like I'm not the only one who can get caught dancing around by themselves," Tracks said, looking proud of himself for his find.

Crystal turned and saw him, but did not alter her activity. "Yes, but I don't care if someone sees me." She flicked her wet rag at him and Tracks instantly jumped out of the way, his pitch rising.

"Hey! Don't get that on my paint!"

"You're no fun at all, you know that?" Crystal said, even though she was still smiling. Not even Tracks could ruin her day.

She turned to get back to her cleaning and her dancing when a hand grabbed her and she was suddenly yanked against Tracks' smooth blue chest.

"You only think that because you sabotage every conversation I try to have with you."

"I most certainly do not!" Crystal protested as Tracks took her hand in his. "You're just too full of yourself to see past your own shiny ass."

Tracks began to sway to the music and then stepped forward, causing Crystal to step back in sync. "You think it's shiny, huh? Have you been looking?"

"I'm sure you look at it far more than I do," Crystal smiled back, moving as he did. They stepped forward and back to the beat. "But I see your private dancing sessions have paid off. You're not too bad. So why do you keep it all to yourself?"

Tracks let her spin out and then back in. "Honey, I'll have you know I'm a fabulous dancer. It's just that not everyone here appreciates the talent."

"And why do you care what others think of you?

"I don't."

"Uh huh."

"I don't!"

"So if any Autobot looked in right now it wouldn't bother you at all."

At that thought, Tracks looked over at the door and then moved away from her. Crystal gave him a knowing look.

"Look, some of us have more to prove than others, alright?" Tracks defended himself. "Yes, I'm gorgeous, yes I can dance. I'm also far more educated than most of the Autobots in this base. But that doesn't matter here. All that matters is whether I can listen to orders and shoot. And because I'm not some hardened military machine, not a lot is expected of me from bots who are a lot lower down the social ladder than I am."


"So, I don't like it when no one expects anything of me. They should expect greatness. It's what I strive for."

Crystal turned away from him and went back to cleaning. "Well maybe if you didn't think you were so much better than everyone else just because you came from a higher background, the others would take you more seriously. There's nothing wrong with being able to take orders and shoot. It's probably what's kept you alive this long."

There was a moment of silence as Tracks had the grace to take what was said to him into account.

"There's also nothing wrong with being yourself and doing what you love without compromising your responsibilities. I mean, look at Sideswipe. He does whatever pops into his head and no one hesitates to trust him on the battlefield. At least," she added as an afterthought, "that's what I gather from the others."

"Be more like Sideswipe," Tracks mused. "Primus forbid."

"At the moment, it seems to be better than being more like you," she shot back.

Tracks got closer and leaned over her as she tried to work. "You know, this is exactly what I mentioned before. You're doing this on purpose and I'm trying to be cordial to you."

Crystal threw her rag in a bucket and put her hands on her hips to face him. "Fine, what can I help you with? I'm sure you hunted me down with a reason. Let's have it."

"Well for starters, I want to talk to you without you throwing it back in my face."

"I see." Crystal then looked past him to the door. "And what do YOU want?"

Tracks turned around to see Smokescreen, looking amused.

"I didn't know you were entertaining," said the blue Datsun. "I can come back later."

"No," Crystal insisted. "What do you want? You've been skulking around for a few days. So what is it?"

Tracks and Smokescreen exchanged dubious looks with each other, neither knew the other too well and didn't think the other should be there. Crystal was even less thrilled. Her two least favorite Autobots in the same room with her. How quickly the day had gone downhill.

"Well," Smokescreen began. "I heard about your... extra talents from a few nights ago. I was wondering if you would be interested in trying it out at our... usual spot to get a few more answers from our friend."

Tracks had no idea what he was talking about, but it sounded sketchy to him.

Crystal was silent.

"The idea is intriguing, no?" Smokescreen pressed. "I can tell you're curious to try it."

"Maybe," she admitted. "We'll talk about this tonight, okay?"

That answer seemed to wholly satisfy Smokescreen. "I'll keep you to your word."

"I'm sure you will," Crystal mumbled as he left. Then she turned to Tracks. "Now for you. What do you want?"

"For starters, I wish for you to go on a drive--er, I suppose a walk with me."

"And then?"

"And then we'll be walking together and there won't be any Smokescreens to interrupt while I talk to you." Tracks was getting a little ruffled by the end.

"I see." So she would have to wait to find out what his ultimate motive was. "Fine, let's do this and get it over with."

It was April. The snow had melted under Oregon's heavy rains, but for the last few days there had been nothing but sun and the ground was mostly dry. Several Autobots had taken advantage of the good weather and were milling around outside. At the moment, however, anyone caught doing nothing outside was made to help unload all the new supplies Cosmos just brought in. It was a fragile shipment, composed mostly of ammunition.

Tracks and Crystal walked out amid it all, a strange pair to be seen together, indeed. Tracks was happy to move past all the activity and get away from everyone, but Crystal stopped when she saw who was surveying the shipment.

Jazz had on one of his rare business faces as he ticked off all the unloaded items on his manifest.

"Hey Jazz."

He looked up when he heard Crystal's unmistakably feminine voice call his name.

"Is it this long?" she asked with a huge grin, holding her hands about an Autobot's foot length apart.

Strangely enough, Tracks understood to what she was referring as soon as he saw Jazz's reaction. "Actually," Tracks said as he came up behind her and took her wrists. "The way Jazz talks about it, it's more like this." He moved her hands quite a bit further apart.

Crystal's optics grew, as did her grin. "He talks about it?"

"But usually those who have that much to say, are only about like this." Tracks moved her fingers in until they were only about an inch apart.

Crystal made an amused squeal. She found the whole conversation hilarious.

"You guys!" Jazz squawked. "I'm trying to work here! Go pester someone else! Primus!"

Crystal let out a peal of laughter as she ran off. Tracks was behind her, very much amused himself. They didn't stop running until they were out of the frustrated second's view.

"Wow, you really know some buttons to push with Jazz," Tracks commented when they started walking. "I don't think I've ever seen him that flustered."

"I love giving him the business," Crystal grinned. "It's so much fun to tease him. And he knows I do it because I care."

"I am suddenly even more grateful I am not one of the objects of your affections," Tracks quipped.

"Hur, hur. You would be so lucky if you were. My affections are awesome."

"I'll keep that in mind."

They were now making a beeline away from the Ark, heading toward a more barren area with large boulders and few trees. Up ahead the path declined into a ravine from a long dried out river. Walls made out of mud and clay rose on either side.

"So I understand that you've been preoccupied with getting yourself a new design and an alt mode." Tracks took the opportunity to change the subject. "Did you ever consider getting a mode with wings like mine?"

Crystal gave him a doubtful grin. "You want me to look like you?"

"Hardly," came the bland response. "I'm merely suggesting that you have myriad possibilities open to you at this point. No sense limiting your options by not thinking outside the box."

"I suppose not. But having flight... nobody else does. I'd still be in a world of my own. I wouldn't be the same as the others and I want to be with them."

None of the Autobots knew how badly she wanted to know what it felt like to drive at full speed beside them in a phalanx of revving engines and spinning wheels. She daydreamed about it sometimes.

"We do have Autobots that fly," Tracks rationalized. "There are also triple changers who have both a ground mode and a flight mode. Then, there's myself. I have a ground mode with modified flight capability. I have not met an Autobot with modifications like mine."

"Ah, so you like being different then."

"I'm a unique specimen, to be sure."

Crystal laughed. "Boy, I would say so."

"The same could, and has been, said about yourself, you know."

Crystal glanced back behind them. The volcano and the base were getting farther and farther away. Giant robots sure could walk faster than humans could.

"Well there's a difference between being unique and just plain being something else entirely. At least with my new body, whatever mode it gets, I'll look like I belong. I suppose that's good enough."

"I do agree a different body will be a wise step forward," Tracks said as he watched the sky. "Though Sunstreaker seems to like you the way you are."

"Ah ha!" Crystal announced. "So here we go! You wanted to talk to me because of Sunstreaker."

"Well he is my best friend after all," Tracks shrugged.

"You're Sunstreaker's best friend?" Crystal didn't look like she believed him.

"Well he is mine. I don't know about me being his. I don't need many friends. I'm a 'quality, not quantity' type of mech."

"So you felt you needed to talk to me because..."

"Because quite frankly my dear, he likes you. And even though I don't, I'm not interested in joint custody. I don't want to have to wait until you're not around to see him."

Crystal gave him a look that bordered on admiration. "Wow Tracks, that's actually quite gallant of you to do that for a friend. I'm surprised."

Tracks smirked. "Why? Because I'm such a narcissistic bastard?"

Crystal raised her hands in innocence. "Not my words. I didn't say that."

"Yes, you prefer calling those you don't like an ass, I believe."

"That's now Smokescreen's name. He beat you out of that title I'm afraid."

Tracks managed a half smile. "I'll have to thank him for that." He paused. "Whatever did he want with you anyway? It sounded a bit shady."

"With Smokescreen, everything is a bit shady. I'm prepared."

Their walk took them farther into the ravine. The walls began to rise on either side and large, sharp rocks jutted out from everywhere. In hindsight, the enclosed space may not have been the best place to go, but neither thought about that.

Not until the ground began to vibrate.

"What is that?" Crystal wondered. She could feel a forceful, rhythmic pounding beneath her feet.

Tracks was on alert. Even if it were a natural event, whenever the ground quaked there was only one thing he thought of. Instantly all his warning sensors searched for Decepticon signatures, but he couldn't pick up a thing... not just Decepticon signatures, but anything at all. All his instruments were dead.

Soundwave was here. That meant Tracks would be unable to radio the rest of the Autobots to inform them of his presence.

"Stay next to me," Tracks said in a low voice as he retrieved his blaster.

"Why?" Crystal demanded. "What's going on?"

Tracks scanned the area frantically, optics combing every which way, looking for some sign as to how badly he was outnumbered. Crystal looked around wildly as well. She had no idea what was going on or what to expect. She felt helpless and confused and she did not like that feeling at all.

There was a crackle in the air as if the very atmosphere in front of them was splitting in half. In a blink there was suddenly a Decepticon standing in front of them, black and purple with a hateful sneer on his faceplate.

Startled, Tracks raised his blaster to shoot, but the Decepticon was too fast. He shot first and Tracks stumbled back, his chest smoking. Crystal was quick to grab him before he fell.

"Tracks, are you okay? Can you radio the Autobots?"

He winced as he put a hand to his burning chest. The blast had gone through the armor. He was already getting internal damage reports from his systems.

"I can't. Soundwave's got to be here somewhere. He's killed all my communication abilities."

"No one can hear you from here, Autobots," Skywarp sneered as he advanced.

Tracks fired several shots in his direction, but Skywarp disappeared before any damage could be done.

"Crystal," Tracks said in a low voice. "I want you to run back to the base as fast as you can. I'm going to cover you, okay?"

Her optics widened. He was asking her to leave him behind, possibly to die. She had seen this scenario countless times in the movies, but she never thought it felt like something that might actually happen. Oh, she had been so wrong. Usually whomever was asked to run responded with the usual "No! I won't leave you here," but Crystal seriously considered bolting. She wasn't exactly a slow runner and if it brought backup for Tracks, it sounded like a fantastic idea.

Before she could decide anything, however, another Decepticon seemed to grow right up from the ground. He was just as big as the other one, dark blue and bulky, and completely blocked the only exit route toward safety.

"Escape improbable," he told her in a mechanical sing-song voice. It was so devoid of anything that sounded alive that the sound itself scared her.

Tracks instantly went to plan B and transformed. "Crys! Get on!"

She threw her body onto the top of the Corvette without even thinking and he peeled out, raising a heavy cloud of dust as he did so. Tracks swerved wildly this way and that, trying to get proper traction in the loose sand. Crystal held on for dear life. A speeding car wasn't exactly an easy thing to cling to.

Not that they got very far. Something heavy dropped from the top of the ravine and collided with the both of them. It was only a car, but it hit like a train. Crystal, who had been almost falling off to begin with, avoided most of the collision. The second they were hit, she was airborne. She flew sideways into a tree, shattering it before hitting the wall of the gorge, causing dirt and rocks to crumble all over her.

Tracks was in far worse shape. It was Wildrider who had collided with him. The Stunticon's personal force field shielded him from any damage while Tracks' entire side was bent in the shape of the Ferrari's nose. He managed to force a painful transformation into root mode from his mangled body just as Wildrider charged him on foot, fists flying.

The injured Autobot pulled out his weapon, only to have it instantly slapped out of his hand before Wildrider's fist connected with his face. The discarded blaster slid in the dirt and Crystal scrambled over to it before anyone else could reach it. She fired at Wildrider, hoping to hit him somewhere that would do some damage. She really had no idea where to hit Decepticons. She had never used a Cybertronian weapon before. Unfortunately, her hit to his shoulder didn't deter Wildrider's attack.

Tracks, struggling under the onslaught, was becoming weaker. Crystal fired a few more shots, making the Decepticon even angrier. It stopped Wildrider long enough to make him try to decide whether to switch targets.

There were other Decepticons in the ravine: the black and purple plane, the dark blue blocky one, and more cars were coming in. Crystal didn't know what to do. She turned to the opposite direction and fired. The Decepticons that were in the way hurried to move.

Crystal fired several shots in frantic succession, all toward the Ark. She had no idea how far a basic blaster could shoot, but she was praying a shot would go far enough that someone over there would pick it up. Red Alert was on shift. If anyone would notice it, he would.

The Decepticons were startled by her actions for only a moment before they began to close in again. Crystal turned and ran back over to where Wildrider continued to pummel his victim. He stopped when he saw her, almost amused and happy to be shot at just to see what she would do. Crystal didn't fire, however. She may not have had any experience in firing the Autobots' weapons, but thanks to Wheeljack, she had learned a few other nifty tricks they could do.

As she ran, Crystal pulled out the energy stabilizer cord of the blaster, set its power to high and then plugged the output. The blaster heated up at an alarming rate as she deftly shoved it under Wildrider's shoulder gear and ducked out of the way. Less than a second later, there was a small, but powerful, explosion and the Stunticon found himself lying several feet away on the ground and missing his arm.

Crystal didn't even bother to look. Her whole attention was on what remained of Tracks. Most of his chest armor had been ripped off and a great deal of internal systems were exposed and damaged. The largest of his fuel tubes had been yanked out and bright pink liquid was spilling freely in the dirt. Crystal had learned that a spark could be in danger of going out from the mere shock of the body losing too much energy too fast.

"Oh no," she breathed. "No, no, no, no..."

His optics were already fading and his body was motionless. She fished the energy tube out of the energon soaked mud and haphazardly shoved it back in. That was all she was able to do before something big and heavy yanked her effortlessly off her feet.

Jazz looked up from his supply manifest and answered the emergency signal on his radio.

"Jazz here. What's cookin' Red?"

Red Alert's voice held barely-contained urgency. "There were some shots fired in sector 12. I have not received notice of any target practice that may be going on in that area. When I attempted to get another reading, I ran into a dampening field."

"Roger that," Jazz responded, not matching his urgency. "I'll send out a scouting party right now." He looked around to see who he could find. He saw nothing but piles of supplies scattered about, waiting to be put away. He climbed up onto a crate so he could clearly see who was around and didn't have anything in his arms at the moment.

"Hound, I need you to lead a scouting party to check out the ravine real quick. Red said there's some funny readings going on down there. Take uh... Bumblebee, Wheeljack and Bluestreak with you."

Brawn put down the crate he held. "Didn't I see Tracks and Crystal head down that way after you yelled at them?"

Jazz's data pad was thrown to the ground and he had already transformed into car mode before his tires hit the dirt. His engine squealed as he raced towards the gorge. More than just the designated scouts followed after.

The second-in-command could feel a horrible pounding inside him and it wasn't just the fuel pump of his engine. Something felt wrong and urgent and he couldn't will his body to go fast enough. The ground was uneven and full of rocks and plant life. The terrain was tearing up his undercarriage and clogging his grille but he didn't care. The only thing he wanted was to know was that it was a false alarm and everyone was all right.

Unfortunately, that was not the case. As he drove into the ravine, Jazz could see a cloud of dust far ahead. He closed up on it and could make out the retreating forms of the Stunticons. This was not good. Whatever the Stunticons left behind would not be in great shape. That was their style.

Jazz pushed harder. His engine screamed in protest; he almost lost control once or twice from hitting so many rocks, but he refused to slow down. He raced past the marks in the dirt that looked like a struggle and almost past the mangled body that had been left behind. When he saw Tracks' form, Jazz spun around, transforming into robot mode to slide to a stop.

Several Autobots were right on his tail and they grouped around their wounded comrade. The lifeless form of Tracks was mangled, torn open, and sinking in a pool of mud and his own energon.

Wheeljack pushed himself through the crowd and landed on his knees, instantly assessing the damage. "Ratchet," he hailed on his radio. "I need you out here. Tracks is critical. He's lost a lot of fluids. I don't dare move him without help."

"Jazz," Hound called almost at the same time, motioning him over. "Crystal was here, too. Her tracks are all over the place. Can't mistake those for anyone else's."

"Alright Autobots!" Jazz bellowed to everyone. "Fan out! Search everywhere! She can't be too far away. Scan every inch!"

Knowing time was against them if she was seriously injured, the Autobots quickly got to work. Hound used the tracks he found to assign the most likely search areas. Others began to fan out widely to secure the area in case any Decepticons were still about.

Only about two minutes later, a second wave of Autobots arrived, including Optimus Prime, Ratchet and Prowl. The search spread wider when very little was found. They found evidence of an explosion, but none of the charred pieces they found belonged to Tracks or Crystal. They continued searching.

Minutes ticked by like hours. The fear of finding a mangled body was quickly turning into the fear of not finding one at all. Even Optimus searched while Prowl systematically squared out each quadrant of the area to make sure no space was missed.

A seething Sunstreaker stormed up to him, almost slapping his data pad from his hands. "Damnit Prowl, where's Optimus? We need to go after those slagging Decepticons now! They've got her!"

"We don't know that for sure, yet," replied Prowl in a tone that made Sunstreaker's energon boil even more. "We need to keep looking."

"I'm not fragging looking for anything! She's not here! We need to go after them before the Decepticons do something to her! Get your head out of your ass, Prowl!"

The second-in-command leveled a look at him. "Before we go anywhere, youare going to make one hundred percent sure we are not leaving her somewhere in this ravine to die while we fight Decepticons. Do you understand me?"

"Me?" Sunstreaker demanded.

"Yes," Prowl confirmed. "You can decide when we give up the search. I'll make it your responsibility."

Sunstreaker scowled even as he backed up a few steps, fear of the heavy responsibility hitting him full force. "You son of a-" He couldn't even finish his curse before panic to finish the job overtook him and he ran to continue the search.

"Interesting way to win an argument," came Optimus Prime's voice as he walked up behind Prowl. "But you are delaying a truth we are all trying not to face."

Prowl let out a shaky sigh through his vents that made even his door panels shudder. "I know." His voice wavered slightly from its usual calm. "She's not here."

Close File- #016 Unique: Tracks

Author's Final Notes:

Wow! I cannot believe I am done! I honestly wasn't sure I would ever be finished! And this fic certainly was an adventure. I don't believe I ever tried to put so much heart and soul into a story before. So now is the time when I beg the most for reviews. Now that it is over, thoughts on not only this chapter, but what you thought of the fic as a whole would be very much appreciated.

And I thank everyone wholeheartedly for taking the time to read.

So what's up next?

The next fic will be titled "The Secret Life of Decepticons" and, as it suggests, this will be the Decepticon-centric fic I have been promising. So please be on the look out for that when it comes and I look forward to seeing everything there! Thank you again!