Sam returned to the base to the sight of Scrapper and Hook standing in their protoforms around what looked like a holographic projector. Hook was fiddling with a design. It looked like a copy of the Ghost-2, though not completely. It was bigger, sleeker, and where the Ghost-2 was clearly from Earth, this one was more like what Sam had seen as Cybertronian ship design before.

"Working?" Sam asked, smiling at the two large mechs.

"Testing an idea," Scrapper replied while Hook ignored him completely.

It was a trait that had come out after the mech had stabilized and was finally back to one hundred percent power. He could absorb himself in schematics and hog the computer for days in a row. His creations were no longer tossed and he filed them in an ever-increasing folder that would probably need a new storage place soon. Hook was back, as Mixmaster had once noted. With a vengeance.

Not that the others were any better, but he was the only one of them who could get so completely lost in his work. Scavenger had remarked that you could detonate a bomb and Hook wouldn't so much as waver from his chosen project of the day.

"Shouldn't you be resting? Recharging?"

"We're fine. Thank you for your concern."

Sam shrugged. "Hey, wouldn't want Ratchet's work to be for nothing."

"Don't leave out what you did for us," the Constructicon leader added. He went down on one knee, more at eye-level with Sam. "You saved us more than once, Samuel Witwicky. You saved me. I can't express my regret at what I did. I could have hurt you."

"You didn't. I'm not completely defenseless."

Scrapper nodded. "So I noticed. We'll all be forever in your debt."

Sam shifted uneasily. "I had to help. I couldn't let you guys die."

Scrapper tilted his head. "I've learned much about you, Sam. These past weeks showed me that the trust the Prime places in you comes from both your abilities and your open-mindedness. You accepted us, despite our past affiliation with Megatron. You helped us when you could have extinguished us."

"I'd never…!" Sam started to protest.

Scrapper held up a hand. "I know that now. You're open, unjaded, have a big heart… and you're tough."

Sam blushed. "I don't think…"

Scrapper chuckled. "It's the truth, Sam Witwicky. We all were touched by your abilities. We all felt that powerful mind. It helped us instead of destroying our sparks. Thank you."

The hand extended to Sam had four fingers and missed all the basic armament. He placed his hand against one finger, unable to really grip it. The ultra-dense metal felt smooth, not from this planet. Sam had only once touched protoform metal and it had felt so different. Like now. This was energy and matter, ready to be released.

"You're welcome," Sam replied seriously. His eyes were on the holographic projection again. "Your design?"

Scrapper rose. "Yes. Hook is finalizing the original design and bringing in the engineering part of the project."

"Cool."

The mech's visorband brightened. A clear sign of amusement.

"I'll be heading home this evening," Sam went on. "Just wanted to say good-bye. I heard you guys are going to the Arctic next."

"Yes. Prime has made arrangements already. We'll be exchanging the desert for something colder. We'll see each other again, Sam Witwicky. I'm sure of that."

Sam shrugged. "I'm part of this outfit, Scrapper. I have a job here."

"And a partner."

Sam fidgeted a little. He still wasn't comfortable revealing those facts to other mechs. He sometimes thought it might make Bumblebee as less to others.

"Yeah," he finally said softly.

Scrapper tilted his head. "Never understate who and what you are, Sam. Never be ashamed to have that bond."

Sam shrugged. "Still need to get used to it when it comes to new-arrivals. I know where I am with those around me, but the new ones? Foreign territory."

Scrapper hummed. "Those who get to know you will see your strength. You're not weak. We all owe you our lives, Sam. You have our respect."

"Thanks," he murmured. He met the mostly featureless face. "See you around. And take care. All of you."

Scrapper inclined his head and even Hook had stopped briefly from his work. He was nodding at Sam, too.

Sam left and met up with Bumblebee outside, deep in thought. He still felt the even, balanced waves from the Constructicons' minds, but it was getting less. Soon his mind would be separated from theirs completely.

"Sam?" Bumblebee inquired.

"I'm cool. I want to grab a bit to eat before saying good-bye to Commander Maguire and Captain Carter."

Bumblebee didn't press on any further. He simply transformed and they left the Laguna test site, heading for the base.

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Twelve hours later Trent DeMarco nearly resigned from duty as he read the new orders coming in. Not only were five Constructicons to be flown from Yuma to the Arctic – via the Autobot headquarters -- base the moment they had their new alt modes, but the Ghost-2 would undergo a new transformation all of her own. She would have to serve as a long distance cargo ship for those mechs. The Arctic base had already had their collective conniption and had then immediately put in orders and requests to fulfill the new assignment.

Trent called on Lieutenant Fenn's help to make all that needed to happen really happen.

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Scrapper stood outside the underground bunker that had been his home recently. His optics roamed around the Yuma Proving Ground area they had been assigned to for that time and he smiled a little to himself, even if it wasn't visible from the outside. It felt good to be outside again, even if this world was so very different from his own. He had come to like Earth, despite the fact that they had spent six thousand years hiding and running from discovery.

That was over.

They were back.

There was a sound of an engine coming closer and Scrapper turned, smiling more as he identified Hook. The engineer had been the first to trans-scan when Ratchet had allowed them to choose an alternate mode. They were no longer limited to what was possible with their scarce energon resources. They were up to one hundred percent.

All five had chosen their new alternate modes from the vehicles available at the base. Yuma had a number of Military Concept Vehicles, which had come in handy. All had added to their alt forms, which wasn't visible at first glance, and because they were military cars, the Constructicons didn't stand out. It wasn't their plan to be on the base indefinitely, only until their shuttle flight to the Arctic base would get here. Neither had added a faction symbol, though.

Hook transformed, stretching in a way that would remind a human of a cat. They all felt better than in ages and it showed in their ability to transform so easily, to move around without fear of sudden collapse, and how well their systems worked with the energon in their bodies.

"Still here?" Hook asked, joining his team leader.

"Enjoying the silence."

The hot desert temperatures that were just now cooling down a little as evening approached. The dusty air. The bluish-purple shadows of the mountains. The sky dotted with a scarce few clouds. The scraggly bushes and other vegetation. The rustle of animal life that was tiny compared to his size.

The other Constructicon chuckled. "We had that enough. Myself, I'll be glad to do something again."

Scrapper nodded. Currently the humans were trying to refurbish the Ghost-2 to take them all to the Ark, but Scrapper had already suggested to copy the existing ship and build a second one, the Ghost-3. The human lead engineer at the Arctic base, a man called Finch Tomczyk, had talked with the Constructicons and given them an idea where the humans were at the moment and what still needed to be done. It wouldn't be easy since it would all be constructed in a cold and lonely place, in secret, but Scavenger had calculated a month tops.

"Optimus Prime told me we have the go-ahead for the shuttle's twin. Ratchet has already left for the Arctic base. We'll be picked up tomorrow."

Hook nodded. "Some more time to stretch my wheels. Coming?" he invited.

Scrapper felt little eddies of excitement from his friend. Hook was one of those he had a stronger bond to. It was a lot better than what had been between them all before, and sometimes it was amusing or helpful. Still, they all sometimes felt the shadow of Bonecrusher's dead connection. Ratchet hadn't been able to erase that. But it was a lot better than their existence before.

The Constructicon leader transformed and watched with amusement as Hook shot off, and then he followed. They had a whole quadrant to themselves, to use as a proving ground all on their own.

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Ironhide watched the arrival of the five mechs with a mixture of distrust and caution. He knew from Ratchet that nothing of the Modulator's reprogramming had remained. They were themselves again, but Ironhide hadn't survived the millennia of war because he was careless or trusted too easily. Scrapper and his team would only be here for a six hours layover, then they would be Banachek's problem at the Arctic base. Then again, they would always be their problem, too. Scrapper had accepted Optimus Prime's command, which made him part of this team.

The weapons specialist moved uneasily.

The five mechs rolled out of the transport plane, were welcomed by Jazz and Ratchet, and then disappeared into the base. Ironhide kept back, guns ready.

Dressed in a long-sleeved T-shirt and jeans, Will Lennox joined his partner, watching the new-arrivals with interest. Ironhide wanted nothing more than to push the hybrid away, somewhere he couldn't be seen, but he knew that even a suggestion in that direction would be met with resistance.

"You really think Ratchet could be mistaken and they're just Cons in disguise?" Lennox asked casually.

Blue optics narrowed. "What?"

"You're more paranoid than the time Barricade came to the base the first time," Will told him.

"He was one scrawny Decepticon. These are five."

"First of all, Barricade's a shock-trooper, so the scrawny is relative. Second, the Constructicons never were Decepticons. They were altered and screwed with. Ratchet removed the damage done."

Ironhide flexed his fingers. "Just being cautious."

"It's called paranoid, 'Hide."

That got Lennox a dark look. He simply smiled.

"Give them a chance. Everyone else does."

Lennox turned and walked into the base. Ironhide shot the Constructicons one last look, then followed. He clearly wasn't happy, but he wasn't pushing it.

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It was two months later when two Ghosts lifted off within a time window of one hour. Walker and his crew were on the redone Ghost-2 while Major Michael Bowman took the helm of the Ghost-3 on her virgin flight. He had his own crew of three additional people and one tiny transforming mech by the name of WiFi. Scrapper and his team had split up between the two space crafts.

"You guys okay back there?" Bowman asked as they left Earth's gravitational field.

"Just fine," Scavenger answered. He was sharing the large holding bay with Hook and Mixmaster.

The Ghost-3 was bigger than her sister ship and looked nothing like her. The Constructicons had based her on a Cybertronian cargo ship, adding a few designs that made her sleeker, and she handled like a dream.

"How about you?" Bowman addressed WiFi.

The little Nokia sat right in front of the forward view screen, red optics alight with excitement. He shrilled and warbled, back wings fluttering enthusiastically.

Bowman grinned, a grin shared with the other three men and women of his crew.

"Well, in a few hours we'll be at the Ark. Until then, enjoy the flight."

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On Earth, Optimus Prime stood outside the Autobot base, optics gazing into the dusky sky. He was joined by Jazz about ten minutes into his silent vigil. The much smaller silver mech didn't say a word, just kept his leader company.

"We got lucky," Prime finally said, breaking the silence.

"Guess we did," Jazz agreed. "Same goes for Scrapper and his team."

Prime shot his second in command a brief smile. "Their survival, their sanity, is our asset now. With their help we can take the next step in keeping this planet a little bit safer from Decepticon attacks."

"You think Soundwave will be back?"

The blue optics went back to gazing at the darkening sky.

"He came to this place with a purpose. Even if Megatron is dead, possession of anything connected to the Allspark would give Soundwave a new hold over the surviving Decepticons. We don't know what Will's body might still harbor. He has shown new powers at random intervals and I know his potential hasn't been reached."

Jazz nodded. "But so far he hasn't displayed any kind of power like the Allspark initially had."

"So far," Prime echoed.

"You really think he might?"

The larger Autobot gazed solemnly at his lieutenant. "I've learned to keep an open mind in these matters, Jazz. And even if Soundwave would leave this world alone, there are others who might have followed Megatron and the Allspark's traces. Starscream could return, too. Each step we take is another step to prepare ourselves."

Jazz gave a soft whirr, almost like a sigh. "Let's hope there aren't any more surprises hiding on this world."

Prime's expression was grave. The Constructicons had come to Earth, hiding for six millennia. Yes, there was a chance that more Decepticons, or even Autobots, had followed.

The Constructicons held a special status. They had never been Megatron's followers by choice. They had been forced. Their status now was what they had always wanted it to be: factionless, but allied. Thankfully they were allied to the Autobots. Prime knew they would never bear a symbol again. Even if they affiliated with the Autobots for the rest of their existence, they wouldn't take on the Autobot symbol.

"I wonder if we didn't make a mistake throughout the war, in our response to Devastator," Optimus added, voice filled with guilt.

Jazz shot him a quizzical look.

"Silverbolt and his team."

"Oh. Prime, we didn't force those guys. It was voluntary. And it worked."

Optimus looked doubtful. "We asked five individuals to combine. We changed their bodies and minds to be able to connect."

"And neither went insane. They fit and you know it. Silverbolt might have had a few words back then with AirRaid, but they were a team and Superion wasn't some sluggish brute. Perceptor and Wheeljack had taken care to combine minds that were very much a like, that shared common traits. They wanted that, they worked with it and they were great."

The Autobot leader sighed. "We acted and reacted. Maybe we did the same damage without knowing it."

Because they couldn't ask any of the Aerialbots. They had disappeared like so many, dead or lost, by choice or by force. No one knew. Combiners had been the big weapon of the Decepticons and the Autobots had reacted. What if the reaction had backfired and destroyed lives? Or turned the individuals concerned insane?

"Prime," Jazz begged. "It's a moot point now. I trust in what our scientists did back then. Wheeljack might have been a bit of a mad scientist, but he never endangered a spark."

The first stars came out, weak against the still not yet completely black sky.

It promised to be a clear, cool night.

Optimus nodded slowly. "It's what we have to believe in."

Jazz's expression was intense, unwavering. "I do believe it, Prime. I knew those guys. They were my friends. They never had the trouble the Constructicons suffered from. We never forced them and that was the difference."

The larger mech gave a rattling hum. It weighed on Prime. Heavily. He had to believe that this was the case, that they hadn't done to their own forces what the Manipulator had inflicted on the factionless mechs.

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Tony was surprised when Jarvis announced a personal email had just arrived in his inbox. Stark called up his email folder and his brows rose with even more surprise. He knew the alias – Cyberbuilder3. It was the guy he had been exchanging long and detailed texts about all kinds of technological topics with. Cyberbuilder3 had astounded Tony with his in-depth knowledge of advanced technologies, new developments, and he had a few revolutionary theories of his own. Their email buddy relationship had started a few years back and some drunken nights had been easier when discussing the fundamentals of quantum electronics, nanite technology or the arc reactor theories with a like-minded individual.

Tony had never found out who the guy was. He had tried, especially after Cyberbuilder3 had sent him schematics for defense satellites that couldn't have been drawn up by just anyone. But the guy was good. He hid his signatures and he bounced all over the planet. So Tony had accepted that there was someone out there with an agile, intelligent mind who was as genius when it came to engineering as he was.

And they had had a lot of fun in those years.

Now there was a new account.

That wasn't really all that much out of the ordinary since Cyberbuilder3 liked to switch accounts, but it was the account ID that had him blink. He knew the server ID. Heck, he had helped set it up! Tony started to type in a few commands. The generic address was a cover and what lay beneath was…

… the Department of Defense, specifically the Autobot base net.

"Hello, Tony," the message read. "I apologize for the lack of response lately. It was a health-related issue. Due to a new job I'll be off-world for the next weeks to come, so I'll be incommunicado."

Off-world? Tony thought. Stargate fan?

But it was a base account…

"I should have known who you are when I was briefed on our allies on this planet."

Tony gaped.

"The connection was clear only now. I enjoyed our past discussions. Maybe we can continue our work in person when my job is done. I know you used my ideas in your private research and development, and your own ideas were incorporated in my privately drawn-up models. You are a very unique human, Tony Stark. It'll be a pleasure to get to know you. Scavenger."

Tony gaped some more. Then he started to laugh, a belly-deep laugh.

"I was talking to one of them all the time!" he howled.

"I beg your pardon, sir?"

"I was talking to a Constructicon, Jarvis! All this time I was talking to one of them! For years!" He bent over laughing, his stomach hurting. "I never knew! That brilliant guy was a Cybertronian refugee!""

"You know now, sir," Jarvis remarked dryly.

Yeah, he knew now.

And Tony Stark was already looking forward to meeting Scavenger in person.

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end for this story. Hope you enjoyed it.