Yeah, yeah, I updated early. I more or less finished the next bit after this one, but for the endless picking at it, so I figured it was safe to upload this.
It may seem familiar to you, if you've read all the stuff on my website. This is one of the "fanfic fragments" that I have posted there, which was culled from the original version of this story. This version...isn't all that much different, actually. But I still think it's amusing.
Thanks to those who commented on the stuff up so far. I'm glad you found the prologue interesting. We'll get back to Decepticon HQ, but first! Have a (miserable) morning in the life on Ironhide.
Perversely, one of the worst days in Ironhide's long life to date started out peacefully enough.
He rose half an hour before the crack of dawn, as was his habit. Taking his sweet time, he eventually wandered over to the energon dispenser and ordered up his customary morning pick-me-up: a huge mug of extra strong energon. Eventually moving over to his comfortable, well-worn couch, Ironhide sank down into its depths and snapped on his vidscreen. He sipped idly at his energon while he took a look at the morning news broadcast, something that had become a bit of a habit over the years. Rural northwestern Oregon was a fairly uneventful place, however, and nothing on the news interested him much except for the weather forecast. He was pleased to see that it was promising to be another unseasonably warm early autumn day. Most importantly, there was no rain in the forecast. Rain wreaked havoc with construction schedules.
It was only after his peaceful morning ritual was completed that Ironhide's day rather quickly began to fall apart.
Strolling out of his quarters on the top floor of the first residential complex that had been completed in Autobot City, he took a lift down to the ground floor and almost cheerfully ambled out into the refreshingly cool, dim twilight of early morning. Almost as soon as he set foot outside, Ironhide was accosted by Grapple, who was panicking. This was not necessarily cause for alarm, though; lately, it seemed to Ironhide that Grapple was in a perpetual state of panic.
Already, construction on Autobot City was somewhat behind schedule. The main culprit was Earth's unpredictable weather. Namely, several deluges that had lasted for days and that had put Ironhide in mind of the story of Noah's Flood. The rain had caused several major mudslides, each of which had taken days to clear and that had partially destroyed some of the infrastructure of the city that had been in place. That infrastructure now needed to be rebuilt. There had also been some problems with Earth's equally unpredictable bureaucracy. And then, of course, there were the dreaded environmentalists… In short, Autobot City faced the normal stumbling blocks that slowed almost any development project of the size and complexity of Autobot City's construction.
But now Grapple was reporting that his construction team – a liberal and eclectic mixture of Autobot and human architects, developers, subcontractors, civil and structural engineers, and a small army of volunteer laborers – had already run out of several important building materials, and replenishments for these particular materials could only be procured from Cybertron. Rather than calling Cybertron himself, Grapple was merely passing the buck to Ironhide who, as the city's reluctant administrator during its construction, would be much more effective at cutting through the miles of red tape that a request for a transfer of materials would no doubt generate.
At least, that's what Grapple told Ironhide as he hurriedly shoved a datapad, which displayed the beginning of an exhaustive list of the items that Grapple needed, into Ironhide's hands. Ironhide frowned down at the pad for a moment or two. He didn't exactly agree that his intervention would necessarily speed up the requisition process, but, as administrator, it was his job to deal with the bureaucrats, not Grapple's. Certainly not for the first time, Ironhide wondered why in the world Optimus Prime had given him, of all people, this job. But despite his misgivings, Ironhide assured Grapple that he'd take care of the problem. He just didn't look forward to taking care of it, since doing so meant that he'd be forced to deal with the vast Autobot bureaucracy on Cybertron.
And it had started out as such a nice day...
Ironhide sighed heavily as he and Grapple went their separate ways. Sometimes I think the Decepticons have the right idea, he thought rather blasphemously to himself. They killed all of the bureaucrats that they could get their hands on...
Muttering under his breath, taking his time in order to slightly delay the inevitable, Ironhide proceeded to the administrative building across town and slowly climbed the seventeen flights of steps up to his office instead of riding the lift. It took longer to climb the steps and would therefore delay his confrontation with the bureaucrats on Cybertron by still a few more minutes. When he finally got to his office, he puttered about for half an hour – straightening things that didn't really require straightening, cleaning things that didn't really require cleaning, doing some meaningless paperwork that was already a month overdue anyway – before he finally, reluctantly sat down at his desk and fired up his computer console.
The computer immediately beeped annoyingly at him, enthusiastically announcing that it had all sorts of messages in memory, just waiting for his perusal. Ironhide ignored them all for the time being and instead ordered the computer to open up a communications frequency to Cybertron, figuring that it was best to take care of his most distasteful task first. The messages could wait.
And wait they did. The computer beeped again a moment later. And then it began speaking in its breathy, disarmingly female voice, someone's idea of a joke, surely. The voice had become universally known around Autobot City as "Marilyn," after Sideswipe had noted that the voice sounded an awful lot like a certain 1950s movie star. The voice made Ironhide long for Teletran One's calming, solid tenor.
"All Autobot communications frequencies between Cybertron and Earth are currently in use," Marilyn placidly announced. "Do you wish to wait for an open channel?"
"Do I have a choice?" Ironhide growled rhetorically under his breath.
Marilyn beeped at him again.
"Your last voice input was unclear," it said cheerfully. "Please try again."
"I'll give you unclear, you stupid pile of microchips," Ironhide muttered.
"Your last voice input was—" Marilyn patiently tried to reply before Ironhide interrupted it with a fierce whack on the terminal's housing.
"Yes, I wish to wait!"Ironhide bellowed at the machine, resisting a sudden urge to smash it into a zillion tiny pieces.
"Thank you," Marilyn said complacently, thoroughly unimpressed with Ironhide's display of temper.
Ironhide just moaned softly and proceeded to bang a clenched fist rhythmically against the desktop while he waited.
And waited. And waited some more.
It took over an hour to get the call through to Cybertron, the myriad vagaries of interstellar communications being what they were. Once the call got through to Autobot Central Communications, it took the ACC worker another half hour to reroute the call to the Urban Development Department, even though the UDD was in the very same building as the ACC, not several thousand light years away, as Earth was. And then it took the UDD receptionist yet another half hour to get Ironhide's call through to the Assistant Director of Material Resources, to whom Ironhide needed to speak in order to get the authorization for the transfer of the necessary materials to Earth.
After more than two hours on the line, waiting to be connected, Ironhide was in none too charitable a mood. He skipped the usual polite pleasantries and brusquely told the Assistant Director who he was and what he needed.
"Ah," the Assistant Director said with a comprehending nod and a bureaucratic smile after hearing Ironhide out. "I'm afraid that's quite impossible."
Ironhide, however, had heard that line before. It was what bureaucrats always said the first time they were asked for something.
"What do you mean, 'quite impossible'?" he replied blandly, with impressive calm considering his foul mood. "Autobot City is a top-priority project, and I was just informed by our master builder that we need this stuff. I don't know what the hell half of it is, but we need it. All of it. Right away. It's my job to tell you this. It's your job to find the damned stuff somewhere and get it shipped here. End of story."
The Assistant Director looked faintly bored. As a bureaucrat, he was used to being screamed at, and Ironhide was still at the reasonable stage.
"Impossible means precisely that, sir. Resources are extremely limited. The initial allocation of materials that you received should have been more than adequate to complete the Autobot City project. If it was not, then the problem is yours to deal with, not mine. I suggest that you speak with your master builder and review with him or her the proper procedures for—"
"Proper procedures?" Ironhide interrupted, his veneer of calm beginning to erode quickly. "Proper procedures?!!" And then he caught himself, took a few deep breaths and continued with strained calm, "Look, I get that resources are very scarce. I really do. And I know you guys up there do your level best to make sure that everyone gets what they need and no more. But that 'initial allocation' that you're so fond of wasn't enough to build a decent-sized bathroom for the humans, let alone a whole city, and you know it."
"I know nothing of the sort," the Assistant Director replied, all unruffled. His bureaucratic smugness easily matched Ironhide's impatient belligerence. "All I know is that you received the standard allocation for an urban development project. No more, no less."
"Yeah, and that's fine and dandy and all. Except that we were supposed to get at least triple that amount. I've got the authorization right here," Ironhide said. He yanked a datapad out of a disorganized stack of datapads on his desk and waved it in front of the screen while the other pads clattered to the floor. "See, it's even got your Director's signature on it. Right. There."
The Assistant Director looked unimpressed.
"Well," he said huffily, "if the Director has authorized a Special Exception to Regulation 427 Alpha, Section B12 – which I doubt – then the exception was not subsequently communicated to me, and I cannot approve your request without appropriate authorization. You will have to take up this matter with the Director herself who, I'm afraid, is on vacation and will not be available for two weeks. Good day, sir."
And then the Assistant Director reached out to terminate the communication. And then Ironhide lost all patience, not to mention any last vestige of civility.
"Oh, no! You wait, and you listen to me," Ironhide growled. He didn't raise his voice, really; he simply let it drown in an undercurrent of deep menace. He leaned in closer to his screen, too, the better to intimidate. "I've been sittin' on this damn line for over two hours waitin' to speak to you, and we will deal with this 'miscommunication' of yours right here and right now. We need these materials. I don't care how you do it, but you will get in touch with that Director of yours, wherever the hell she is, and you will clear up this matter. You will do this personally. You will do this the moment that we end this conversation. I will then get those materials before two weeks is up, or I promise you that I will come up there and get them myself. You, personally, will not be happy if I have to do that. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
The Assistant Director merely blinked at Ironhide, taken aback. He was used to being screamed at, but Ironhide was not screaming. Ironhide was calmly but vehemently threatening him, and the Assistant Director was not at all used to being personally threatened. He was momentarily dumbfounded, particularly because he had heard stories about this Ironhide, and knew that the Autobot warrior was known for a particular lack of restraint when his temper kicked in.
"Do you understand me?!" Ironhide suddenly bellowed, meanwhile, still waiting for an answer from the bureaucrat.
The Assistant Director jumped at the sudden increase in Ironhide's volume, goggled comically at the screen for a moment, and then gulped audibly.
"I'll do my best," he murmured, deflated.
Ironhide scowled malevolently and then jammed Grapple's datapad with its grocery list into the computer interface and uploaded the list of needed materials directly to the Assistant Director's terminal.
"You'd better do better than your best, you miserable, scum-sucking sewer vermin," Ironhide growled while the data transferred, "or I'll be seein' you very soon."
The second the data transfer was complete, Ironhide terminated the communication with a vicious jab of his index finger and then blindly hurled Grapple's now-empty datapad across the room. The speeding pad missed Wheeljack's head by mere millimeters as he walked, unsuspectingly, into Ironhide's office. Wheeljack let out an alarmed, involuntary yelp, making Ironhide look up from the computer screen at which he was still glowering.
"Now what the hell do you want?!" Ironhide demanded of the hapless engineer.
Wheeljack froze in his tracks so quickly that one foot remained raised in mid-step. He cringed at Ironhide's tone.
"Sorry," he said, turning abruptly to leave. "I'll come back later, when you're in a better mood. Will fifty years be long enough, do you think?"
And then it was Ironhide's turn to cringe, only his was a rather more guilty kind of cringe.
"Oh, wait a minute, Wheeljack," he said more calmly. "I'm sorry; I didn't mean to snap at ya. I just got finished dealing with the bureaucrats on Cybertron again, that's all."
Wheeljack turned around again.
"Ahhhhh!" he said comprehendingly, as he walked over to the chair across the desk from Ironhide's and sprawled himself casually across it, lacing his fingers happily across his midsection. "Your bad mood's perfectly understandable, then. What's the problem?"
"Nothing that you can help with, I'm afraid, Wheeljack," Ironhide replied. And then one corner of his mouth jerked upwards a bit in a self-satisfied grin. "'Sides, I think I intimidated the bureaucrat enough to get what I want. So! What's up?"
Wheeljack narrowed his eyes at Ironhide and shrugged.
"You tell me," he replied, confused.
"What do you mean?" Ironhide asked, equally confused.
"Well, you messaged me last night and said something about wanting to see me this morning about something or other. Didn't you?"
Ironhide frowned, then vaguely recalled sending a message to Wheeljack right before he'd retired for the night.
"Oh yeah!" he said. "But not till 10:00."
"It's 10:15," Wheeljack said ruefully. "Sorry I'm late."
"What?!" Ironhide exclaimed, jerking his gaze over to the clock on the wall and scowling at it as if it had betrayed him. "Well I'll be damned," he said wonderingly. "Time flies when you're threatening people."
"That it does," he said. "So. What's up, Ironhide?"
Ironhide leaned back in his chair, lacing his fingers behind his head, taking a moment to remember what he'd wanted to talk to Wheeljack about. Recollection took a few moments, since his mind was cluttered with so many other issues.
"Oh, yeah!" he exclaimed, once he managed to access the right file in his brain. "I read that proposal you sent me the other day…" he began.
Wheeljack suspiciously narrowed his eyes at Ironhide again as Ironhide's voice trailed off. He automatically hated Ironhide's tone of voice, because when Ironhide began a speech in that casual, off-handed way of his, it invariably meant that he was going to tell Wheeljack that under no circumstances could he work on the proposed projects.
"Which proposal?" he asked warily. "Not the MiniBomb one!"
"Oh no," Ironhide said. "But I do really like that one! No, this was the one where you were rambling on about ideas that you had, ideas for future projects...?"
"I wasn't 'rambling on,'" Wheeljack said, all prickily defensive of a sudden. "I was brainstorming."
"Whatever," he said with a noncommittal shrug. "Anyway, I was reading it last night, and, well..."
Ironhide's voice trailed off again, making Wheeljack all the warier. He fidgeted in his seat, sitting up a little straighter, waiting for the axe to fall.
"And?" he prompted when Ironhide said nothing for a few moments.
"And something sparked my interest."
Wheeljack sighed, relieved, and slumped down in his seat again. Ironhide's interest was a good sign.
"What was it?" Wheeljack asked.
"What did you call it? A transponder or...or a...transporter, or something like that...?"
Wheeljack nodded his head enthusiastically.
"Oh, yes! The transporter," he said. "Well...actually, that's not my name for it, but that's the name they use..."
"'They?' Who's 'they?'"
Wheeljack shrugged sheepishly. "The guys on Star Trek," he said.
Ironhide would have rolled his eyes if he could have. Here he had thought that this was going to be one of Wheeljack's more promising ideas. He really should have known better, after all the years he'd known Wheeljack.
"Oh no, not that damned show again!" he complained. "The whole thing's a product of one crazed human's lunatic imagination! It's not real! And if you quote one more of James T. Kirk's speeches to me, I'm warning you right now that I'm just gonna have to rip your head off."
Though his face wasn't really an expressive one, Wheeljack still managed to look hurt.
"I know it's not real," he said quietly, defensively. "But this thing can work! I mean, I think I can make it work! I mean, the theory behind it is sound. Sort of..."
"Now where have I heard that before...?" Ironhide airily mused.
"No really!" Wheeljack asserted. "Really, it could work! Basically, the transporter works by converting a person or thing's component matter into phased energy, collecting it and storing the original pattern in a computer archive and then transmitting the energy and the pattern to the place you want to go and then reconverting the energy back into matter and arranging the matter according to the pattern of the original person or thing."
Ironhide looked skeptical, not to mention way beyond the boundaries of his area of expertise.
"Sounds complicated beyond words," he said doubtfully.
"Not really..." he hedged.
"And anyway," he said, "isn't that sort of like what Skywarp does? I heard that eats a hell of a lot of energy."
Wheeljack shook his head vigorously.
"No, it's not at all the same. Similar outcome, maybe, but completely different strategy."
"Oh really?" Ironhide said, knowing that Wheeljack would now expound at length on the differences. He was an engineer; he couldn't resist lengthy technical explanations. Ironhide leaned back in his seat in preparation, getting comfortable for the long haul. Wheeljack, as usual, didn't disappoint, punctuating his lecture with demonstrative hand gestures.
"See," Wheeljack said, hands flying in the air as he tried to explain the finer points of teleportation, "from what I've been able to figure, Skywarp teleports by creating a field that literally warps subspace around him, bringing the point he occupies at that moment very close to the point where he wants to go. He then drops into subspace, moves that tiny bit across the warped bit, then creates a neutralizing field that unwarps space, and voilá! He's moved a considerable distance almost instantaneously. The drawback is that, like you said, it eats tons of energy to warp and then unwarp subspace and, because of that, it can only be done across a relatively short distance. And it's quite the trick to teleport through anything other than empty space. Transporting, on the other hand, is slower, but it should use no more energy than a single laser blast per person or object transported and it could be used, theoretically, across almost limitless distances and through anything. Planetary atmospheres. Buildings. Two miles of Pacific Ocean..."
"You mean down to Decepticon Headquarters," Ironhide said with a nod, catching Wheeljack's drift.
"That's the ticket," Wheeljack said, also nodding. "You catch on fast. All I have to do is figure out how to safely convert a person's constituent mass into phased energy and back…"
"Sounds like a pretty problem," Ironhide said.
"Ah, but those are my specialty," Wheeljack said confidently.
Ironhide snorted, only slightly dubiously.
"Well, it sounds good to me," he said, "although I'll probably kick myself later for saying that. So get to work."
Wheeljack bounced excitedly to his feet.
"I'll keep you informed," he said, turning to leave and heading for the door.
"You do that," Ironhide said as his office door slid shut behind Wheeljack.
Ironhide shook his head, amused. Wheeljack's boundless enthusiasm for insane projects always amazed him. Still, this insane project, sounded very promising, if Wheeljack could actually make it work. But Wheeljack could be incredibly resourceful when it came to his pet projects, so Ironhide had every confidence that if it could be done at all, Wheeljack would figure out how to make it work.
Ironhide's attention was reclaimed by his computer when it started beeping insistently at him again, informing him that he had an incoming communication. Ironhide half expected it to be the Assistant Director of Material Resources getting back to him about the materials that Grapple needed, so he put on an aggressively expectant face and punched the button on the panel that opened the incoming frequency. He was surprised to find Prowl's face peering out from the screen in front of him instead.
Ironhide tensed instinctively. Prowl wasn't one for calling just to shoot the breeze. In fact, Prowl rarely called him at all, except when something bad was happening or had happened or was about to happen. Ironhide half expected Prowl to announce that the universe was about to explode, but then he actually smiled a bit, something that he didn't often do and certainly wouldn't have done if disaster was imminent. Ironhide relaxed, leaning back in his chair and lacing his fingers behind his head.
"Hey, Prowl," he said amiably. "How the hell are ya?"
"I'm fine," he said. "I have some good news for you."
"Hallelujah!" Ironhide responded brightly. "I sure as hell could use some!"
Prowl frowned, suddenly concerned.
"Is everything all right up there?" he asked.
"Oh, just fine and dandy! I love the smell of bureaucratic bullshit in the morning," he said sarcastically. Then he shook his head apologetically. "Aw, don't mind me," he said. "I've just spent my morning dealing with mad scientists and smug bureaucrats, that's all."
"Well, now that's a combination guaranteed to brighten your day," he said sympathetically. "Now how about adding one cranky Autobot leader to that list of things you have to deal with?"
Ironhide's eyes widened, surprised and slightly panicked at the same time.
"He's coming back?" was all he could think of to say. Optimus Prime had been away on Cybertron for the past few weeks, leaving Prowl in command on Earth. Ironhide had been content to have the Autobot leader far, far away while he dealt with Autobot City's issues.
"I just spoke with him. He and his party are leaving Cybertron tomorrow. They should be here at Headquarters inside of a week. He wants to see Autobot City."
"That's...that's great..." Ironhide said weakly, trying to sound enthusiastic, a forced and likely manic-looking smiled glued to his face. Inside, however, he was panicking. Here they were, behind schedule, materials used up, replacement materials tied up in miles of red tape back on Cybertron, and now Optimus Prime wanted the grand tour. Ironhide's panicked thoughts must have been blazingly obvious because, even though Prowl could never be accused of being the universe's most empathetic individual, he still frowned with concern again.
"Are you sure you're all right, Ironhide?" he asked solicitously.
"All right?" Ironhide echoed, dazed. "Oh! Oh, yeah, I'm fine. Just peachy. Thanks for the info... Listen, Prowl, I gotta run, OK? Got tons of work to do. Talk to you later. Bye!"
And with that, Ironhide leaned forward, terminated the communication before Prowl could get a word in edgewise, and proceeded to bang his forehead against the desktop.
"AAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGHHH!" he yelled in frustration.
Then he abruptly sat up straight in his chair and began to corral his racing thoughts. He told the computer to contact the Assistant Director of Material Resources again, whatever his name was, and he didn't care how long he had to wait. Then he sent out plaintive messages to Huffer, Grapple, and some other key members of the construction team. Then he looked at the list of mail that the computer was holding for him. Then he groaned and bagged it all.
Ironhide flung himself out of his chair and told the computer to flag him when it had reached the Assistant Director. Until then, he was going to pester Ratchet. It wasn't yet 11:00 in the morning, but already he had the universe's worst-ever headache.