"It's a Cybertronian ore," Ratchet spoke, turning the scrap over in his fingers. "Exceptionally rare for this planet. Your scientists have yet to discover it. Have yet to manage to conceive it, rather."
Epps and Lennox kept their eyes locked on the scrap as if expecting it to try and escape as the chartreuse mechanoid continued to examine it. "Okay, so assuming that the Decepticons are pinching resources since they have no immediately reliable way to get back to Cybertron–that we know of at least, what could they use it for?"
"Its similar in makeup to our bodies, but somewhat different in the way it was tempered, as it was used for building things."
"Building things? That can't be good..."
"There are Energon traces on this," Ratchet continued, a lens device flipping out and down over one of his optics. "Which could simply mean it was nearby during a fight. Or its function, among many things, could have been part of a generator."
"Mm," Ratchet nodded, lifting the scrap above his eyelevel as he turned it. "But then, that in and of itself still leaves a broad spectrum to choose as to its purpose when it comes to our technology. Nearly everything on Cybertron came into contact with Energon. In that respect, it's the equivalent of your species electrical power. While in the same respect, it is nowhere near the same; it flows through our very veins."
"Like having blood running through...buildings and stuff," Epps speculated.
Salani, passing by and stopped to listen long enough to hear the last statement, shivered jokingly. Then he laughed. "We all float down here."
"-Man, don't do that," Epps returned, pointing a warning finger in Salani's face. The soldier snickered, holding up his hands innocently.
Looking on, Lennox shook his head at the noncoms with his arms crossed. "Stop messing around, you two."
Lennox turned back to Ratchet as Salani muttered something about the captain being no fun as if he wasn't standing right next to him. "So what of the Decepticons? Down in the mines?"
"Stockade was the only Decepticon we engaged, aside from the drones of course," volunteered Salvage from where he'd been watching Ratchet as well—mindfully out of the medic's 'I'm working here' wrath zone. "Though I did briefly detect another energy signature from within the mines belonging to neither he nor the drones as we made our departure."
"Are 'Hide and Optimus still out there?"
"It would seem so. They've yet to detect anything but a few indigenous creatures leaving the mines, however."
"Hm. Maybe the 'Cons are down for the count for once," Epps thought aloud.
But Lennox shot him down. "Doubtful. They just don't die, remember?"
"See, look at him. He's all crotchety and down-putting and—"
"—You have work to be doing somewhere—Go," Lennox cut Salani off, unable to keep the smile from cracking his facade. "And get back in your shell, while you're at it."
"Yes, Captain Lennox, sir!," Salani saluted with a laugh as he made his departure. "Or is it 'Major' yet?" he teased.
Ben came back through the portal that led to the small kitchen, more than ready to sleep. She wore her sweats—a name she was really starting to loathe, as she still shivered through the nights nowhere near sweating despite them; a shivering that gave a rather unpleasant burning feeling to her still-sore-from-the-events-nearly-two-days-before-body.
Still, as she sat on the bed to straighten the covers more before she laid down, she gave a sidelong glance at Arson. He had been so eerily unmoving where he was sitting when she'd gone to ready for bed, and still was now. Only, now he sat there glaring at the wall ahead of him with such an intensity, she was surprised it didn't burst into flame.
She observed said wall; it seemed in need of a cleaning, but innocent enough. And she couldn't hear anything that could suggest that something that wasn't supposed to be was on the other side of it. So...
"...um," she tried, glancing cautiously between he and the wall. "What, uh...?—"
"It would seem that 'we' failed to retrieve the other piece that was detected in the mine."
Ben snorted. Other piece? "I presume this has something to do with whatever's behind the emphasis on 'we'?" she air quoted. Tentatively; their 'unwilling participant with unwilling drudge' relationship had merely eased, not dissipated.
Arson rumbled, though Ben could tell for once that it wasn't meant for her.
"There were multiple shards in the mines; perhaps what used to be a single piece that subdivided. That scrap was Stockade's responsibility to retrieve," he growled. "But it would seem that the blame for its loss has been placed on me. He most likely took credit for the piece that we retrieved. Or—The more likely conjunction, and—put the blame for his failure on us."
The human tilted her head. Regathering these materials seemed simple enough; find it, pick it up, go home. So... "And what, may I ask, exactly caused his failure?"
He answered in one word, a word as mysterious to Ben as it was terse.
"...Autobots?" she questioned the title when he didn't clarify.
"I believe the Decepticon found the piece, was getting ready to depart when he one way or another detected the Autobots' presence. Knowing Stockade's nature, he left the piece completely or planted it—the most likely option—for the Autobots to find so he would have an excuse to engage them."
It occurred to her there was a question she'd never bothered to really get an answer to. Something that now that she realized she hadn't asked, slapped her in the face for not doing so sooner and made her forget about her previous query that had gone unanswered as the mechanoid had continued to rant.
"What do they need a generator for anyway?"
Arson turned a look down at her, eye ridges lowering as if the answer should be obvious.
"The generator contains the potential to very near infinitely empower anything—with a surplus of energy. It obviously does not function properly unless it is whole, and it would seem that so too does its power slowly slip away. Like a crack causing a liquid container to leak."
"Okay," Ben confirmed, deciding to try and press on while the mechanoid was still seemingly heatedly venting enough and in the mood to actually answer her, "but what's so special about the energy this generator contains as opposed to, I don't know, the electrical energy we humans use?"
"With the generator, they could power anything they want—including charging one of their ships—much more efficiently, and without that power consumption being detected as easily as it could be were they to utilize your kind's power grid instead. Plus, it's to their advantage, as the type of energy that the generator apparently still contains is far more volatile than your electrical energy."
He looked off into the distance, a hand coming up seemingly absentmindedly to rest for a moment on his chest plating. "Our Sparks."
Ben stared at him. Within her brain, she amazingly found that the pieces clicked together quite easily and quickly mere moments later with a sickening shock.
"Sparks? That thing has you guys' Sparks in it?"
"Those of the now deceased, yes," Arson half nodded.
The human continued to gawk. She had already gotten the 'your kind's feeble life force isn't even comparable to that of my kind' followed by a list of reasons why from him in an irritated moment of 'Gah, stupid human...' A heart, a mind, a soul: all in one, from what she'd gathered. She tried to wrap her brain around the entire thing. "Wha...How is that even possible? You guys know how to suck out and keep each other's souls for energynow?" Great, now she couldn't shake the image of cartoonish mourn-faced Halloween ghosts circling inside a glass globe, a stream of electricity between two spiraling antennae on top... Or maybe a water wheel in Styx or something.
Arson shook his head, eyes still distant as his advanced mind was obviously running on more than one track now. "I'm not even sure how Starscream achieved it. But...somehow...he did. Apparently without the Autobots' knowledge either."
"There you go again," said Ben. "'Autobots.' What—"
She stared at him.
"They're the 'good guys,' aren't they?" The human didn't even bother to give him a chance to answer, palming her face. "Decepti— Oh, now I've been turned into a criminal. Figures it happened with space robots..."
At this, the amethyst mechanoid cocked his head at her, curiosity growing to irritating levels until it forced its way out.
Ben answered in a sigh without moving.
"If I fit any of my stereotypes that the media gives, I would have been one before I even met you with my tossed around life. Or at least a runaway gang member—" She flapped her hand, shaking her head as she lifted it. "Doesn't matter—That's not what we're talking about," she re-tracked as Arson suggested that she'd become suicidal instead. "A generator...that uses Sparks...?"
Arson nodded, eyes going distant again. "The generator apparently had multiple Sparks in it. And the belt piece you retrieved had maybe merely one in it, yet it caused so much... It would appear that the Spark tried to overtake my body." He squinted, remembering, analyzing. "And yours as well. Due to the residual material in your veins able to conduct it. Not unlike...what you humans refer to as a ghost, looking for a vessel to posses.
"Then, with multiple Sparks more than capable of having the same effect, how are they planning to utilize that energy to power something they control...?" She could have sworn she saw Arson smirk slightly as he continued to muse aloud. "Since Starscream's original ill-fated plan fell through, I doubt they've even figured that out themselves yet."
Ben couldn't help but to cross her arms at that point and stake him with a look.
"So you don't find anything about helping them restore this Spark sucking thing the least bit wrong?"
The human got the impression that she had stumbled across and poked through a breach in his cold, calculating exterior as she watched antennae lay back some, facade going solemn and his eyes narrowing at the floor thoughtfully. "It's dangerous, of course. But I have serious doubt they'll be able to utilize its power in anyway that is wholly harmful to anyone but themselves." His tone went down a key in volume. "I want nothing more than to be left alone from this war. And this is the only way I see to do it."
After a beat of silence, Ben sighed as she was confused by a rush of disapproval and empathy at the same time.
"Decepticons." She made a noise of frustration. "Deceivobots. Autobots, Aggracons," she growled, rolling over as she laid down to have her back to the mechanoid. Well, there was no harm in helping the 'Decepticons' hurt themselves. She and Arson were just going on recovery missions anyway, right?
Though his reaction did cite one more question she hoped to get in.
"You know, you don't exactly seem thrilled to be here either."
The claret mechanoid made a sort of revving that the human interpreted as a snort of sorts.
"So," she asked. Again, tentatively; she still remembered what had happened the last time she had inquired about his place in all of this. "Why aren't you as hellbent on sucking out Sparks and—apparently from my predicament—enslaving the already messed up world as the rest of the Decepticons?"
His eyes narrowed where they still seemed to be gazing past the wall. "I could care less about your trivial mudball," groused Arson.
"Why?" reiterated the human with a laugh, sitting up again.
"Because I'm not."
She cocked her head at him from where she was seated with a slight laugh, determined to continue following him as he beat around the bush.
"Not? Not what?"
And with that, the mechanoid rumbled, standing slightly as he transformed. The now-quadruped didn't bother to move all the way back to his usual corner as he laid down heavily, making a sort of purring sound that could easily be a parallel of snoring. Ben resignedly smirked lightly at him, disappointed; but apparently she had finally run the meter out. She let him alone though, easily seeing herself doing something of the same thing when put in an interrogation that didn't want to be dealt with. Though it was more humorous in the case of an alien robot who only seemed to 'sleep' when he chose to put himself into that mode. Whatever counted as death for them excluded, of course.
Reaching for and flicking the light switch off, she let herself slink down prone under the covers from allowing the book shelf acting as her bed headboard to support her back. She rubbed her sore arm in anticipation, not looking forward to another cold night.
Ratchet couldn't pull himself away from the scrap for the rest of the day. The traces of Energon... Something told him there was more to its purpose. Still, despite his samplings, tests, and micro studies, he couldn't shake the feeling that something, was deluding him.
Regardless, at the end of the night, he managed to snuff the feeling, powering down his examination equipment. It was probably nothing. And if it was, it seemed to have been immediately important in the past, not present. Isolating the mystery of those thought processes away, beating back the feeling that lives had been lost due to his ignorance, he stepped away and locked the piece up safely.
He had other things more immediately useful to concentrate on.
Ben awoke to the sound of the old hangar doors squeaking open and an engine casually idling in. Ben had the feeling this wasn't the first time he had left during the night without her knowledge. Though in all the days she'd been here, nights where she'd slept all the way through and nights spotted with periods of being awake were about half and half. Unusual for her... She chalked it up to the mechanoid's generator material scavenger hunts wearing her out. Sleep didn't used to be something she was particularly acquainted with, much less fond of.
"What makes you so sure that no one will pick up my 'energy signature' while you're away?" she asked, rubbing her eye as she sat up and he rolled to a stop in his usual spot.
He scoffed. "We're 'out in the middle of nowhere,' as you put it. Not to mention, dampening field set up around the perimeter, oh human of many tried insults."
Ben humorously scoffed back in consent. Her body turned to place a foot on the floor as she lifted her arms above her head and stretched the morning's stiffness away.
However, she was impeded from standing and going through the door to continue the rest of her morning routine when, once the hangar doors had finished squeaking back shut behind him, Arson transformed and moved to where she was in a kneel.
Ben took the small bottle that was offered from careful metal fingers. She stared at the intricately complicated words on the labeling that adorned the glass. Medical terms. Chemical symbols. Warnings.
The bottle looked lifted straight from a hospital.
"Wwhaat is thiiis?" she asked in drawn out singsong.
"The key to you staying quiet long enough for the Autobots to take you in."
Ben stared at him for a few moments, bottle still in hand, before responding pointedly.
"You know, I'm not sure if I'm offended, grateful, or scared right now. Maybe a fine mix of the three."
He rumbled. Then, he delicately picked up something from his other hand, again offering it to her.
This object was strap-like; two thin black tubes side by side which felt almost foam-like, protecting perhaps wires in their centers. And at either of their ends, a piece of metal; one looking like a connector, and the other not only like its socket, but a chip of sorts as well.
"Aaaand this?" she asked the mechanoid as he retreated.
He settled against the wall. "I can't say that I'm sure," Arson said; and she could tell he was genuine, the way he stared at the device as well. "But I was instructed to have you wear it."
Ben gave a look up at him where he was sitting.
Noticing, he tilted his head slightly, regarding her. "You do not like it?" he asked. Ben caught the condescending, mocking tone and sighed.
"Well, it does look like something I could usually get away with wearing. But given the circumstances and where it came from..." she trailed off, muttering something barely audible about "a collar."
Arson sighed, a sound that was more like a windy hissing from the large metallic being, as he eased his head back against the wall with a quiet clang. "Just put it on, organic."
Don't make me have to intervene and make you Ben mockingly filled in for him as she wrapped the band around her neck.
It took her a minute to fasten the...choker around her neck. Having forgotten in her lingering morning groginess to move her hair, her fingers and the ends of the apparatus had gotten tangled in the wiry strands. She finally managed to re-separate all and got her hair above the operation. She turned the choker around so the metal fastener was on the side of her neck. Careful not to pinch skin, she clicked it shut.
Only to yip unexpectedly as a sharp, static-like pain came from the metal piece, followed by what she was sure was a needle stabbing into her neck. Her head began to spin.
Ben groaned when she opened her eyes for a moment to find the lines on the floor distorting. She swore under her breath.
"It will pass," said Arson from where he'd lifted his head and assessed her. He still kept an eye on her though.
Ben half nodded her head, her forehead in her palm. A headache like she hadn't experienced since the day they'd first met had slowly come after the needle prick. Though she hadn't really realized that the headaches had slowly gone away since that fateful day, she now greatly regretted taking the fact for granted.
"Well we have a hint of what something does..," she said, voice slightly hoarse. Arson rumbled, though she couldn't tell in what.
"So, before I pass out," she said, pressing fingertips to a temple. "What, exactly, is this stuff for?"
"To infiltrate the Autobot base."
Oh right. She did vaguely remember him saying something along those lines before the throbbing headache. "So, what, the Autobots just settled down somewhere and... Well... I guess there was military involved in the Mission City thing last year, from the rumors."
Organic eyes snapped to the mechanoid's (albiet in an 'ow my head...' squint).
"Wait-wait," interjected Ben, shaking her head—eyes closing as the movement made the throbbing grow worse momentarily. "Base? So we're talking a military base?"
"And Starscream knows that there are, like, powerful—well, powerfully armed—humans there? You know, with weapons? That can probably hurt you guys too?"
Arson rumbled slightly in what sounded like a mocking laugh.
"The likes of Starscream is not concerned with the likes of any part of your human 'National Defense' system."
In slow motion, she straightened from where she'd been leaned forward towards him, holding her hands up in a sign of giving up. Once these beings had something in their minds, unless you had solid, scientific proof, it was sometimes hard to convince them otherwise.
This she thought, is probably going to be the dumbest thing we've done... "...Alright. So how do we go about achieving this?" Can't wait to hear this plan...
"In essence," Arson growled, "you get to go be an Autobot pet whilst I get to get ordered to fix Stockade's blunder."
Silent for a moment, she screwed her face at him with a sharp release of air through her nostrils.
"Yeah, it's not looking much different here. You do realize you practically just gave me a collar and...—I hope it's just sedative? Ingredients for the perfect toy dog during a thunderstorm." She quickly asked her next question before he had a chance to go at the metaphor. "And how do I achieve 'Autobot pet' status?"
"Through little to no effort of your own, I assure you," he grumbled.
She fell back on the bed, forgetting about morning breath and eye rheum with the head pain. "Yes, 'Ben do nothing' missions. I like it already." Her throbbing head lauded.
Chasing after fleeing Decepticons into tight spaces, Ratchet realized, may not have been the brightest strategy.
Especially not in as large of a group as they had.
The element of surprise had been on their side. That is, of course, until a mishap by Ironhide had spooked the lonely drone. Though it had seemed to have caused its fellows nearby to beat a retreat as well. Optimus, Ironhide, and a pair of soldiers in a Humvee had taken one group. Salvage, Ratchet, Bumblebee, and Salani and Epps in their own separate vehicle had taken the other.
None of the Decepticons were trying to fight them, merely escape. Why the Decepticons were passing up on their favorite passtime to run, they didn't know. With the fact that Ratchet and the others themselves had come to the area merely for reconnaisance of a vague, what had seemed to be lingering drone signal, they were surprised in the first place to find an actual drone still there. So with the unplanned encounter, the goal became to either stop or destroy them before they could reach a more populated area. Otherwise, they might break their discretionary field fund keeping people quiet with their lack of cover story; for lack of a better option, not wanting higher to hear about the catastrophe this was teetering on a razor's edge of becoming.
Of course, the fact that their quarry kept leading them through places with limited to no room (at the moment, they drove under a parking garage) to transform, left them little to no options towards ending the chase.
That was why no one objected when Bumblebee and Salvage carefully began to fire upon the drones and Decepticon in their fleeing party. Carefully, because their was more than just a chance that a shot that had missed its mark could hit and remodel a car or a building. Or worse yet, a civilian.
Bumblebee was the primary firer, as Salvage's line of sight was near-constantly blocked where Bumblebee was leading their procession. And though skilled the yellow scouts shots were, none had any effect as they either merely skimmed their mark, or were dodged accordingly.
That is, until the claret truck in the group was clipped in the taillight by a shot.
Ratchet watched as the shot caused the pursued mech to make a wild turn, nearly sluing right into one of the pillars holding up the upper levels.
What surprised the medic, was when with the force of the truck's motion, something fell out of its now open tailgate. Something that looked and read a lot like...
"I see her," the scout replied, the stress and shock equivalent in his tone. The Camaro swerved and hit the brakes, tires barely keeping from clipping the new human speed bump. Ratchet swerved the other direction due to lack of room, successfully blocking any of the rest of their group from passing. As the Decepticons had probably intended.
"Ratchet, you stay and assist the humans," spoke Optimus, having received the databurst of what had occurred on their end. His own engine still revved loudly in the background. "Autobots, continue the pursuit."
Bumblebee edged around, managing to nothing more than scrape a car as he got back on track.
Once the rest of that team had passed, Epps and Salani emptied out of their Humvee, heading toward the deposited body.
"She has a pulse," Ratchet stated as they neared. "She appears to merely be unconscious, or perhaps sedated, since she does not appear damaged or flustered."
Salani knelt, looking more closely at the girl. Her only injuries appeared to be the scrapes she'd received just minutes before. She had probably just fainted upon being kidnapped by a probably driver-less truck. He looked up at Epps.
"So, assuming she didn't see any robots and if she did she won't believe it, we just hand her over to local authorities and call it a day," he said to the tech.
"I don't think that wise."
Salani raised his brow at the chartreuse ambulance.
"Because...?" he prompted.
Ratchet rolled a bit closer. "Because she is giving off a detectable energy level."
Epps let his head drop some.
"I am just as perplexed, Sergeant Epps," Ratchet consented. "This might explain what the Decepticons were doing here tonight. And I doubt they dumped such a human off on purpose. What would that accomplish?"
"Not to mention no human in their right mind would be likely working with the Decepticons," Salani input. "But still—She's giving off an energy? Like a Cybertronian energy?"
"It would appear so. Which is why it is probably in our best interest to move her now, before she redraws unwanted attention. She should ride with me. I can shield her signal."
Epps sighed, holstering his weapon.
"This day just keeps getting better..."
Ben sighed, slumping down some in her seat. They'd been driving for over an hour, nearly two now, Arson using the time to off an on explain the plan that he'd seemed to be modifying even as they were on their way to initiate.
The gps screen flickered, a red face-like symbol appearing and rotating back and forth, giving what it looked like from different perspectives. "This insignia constitutes that the bearer is of the Autobot faction."
Ben stared intently. "...does this screen usually broadcast in HD, or did you mod it?"
The truck around her rumbled. "Focus."
She chuckled amicably, though the throbbing headache caused her to stop. "Sorry. Just curious. Continue."
After a few more moments, the screen flickered again, this time showing a purple, more pointed looking symbol. "And this, is the Decepticon insignia."
"Cranky old man face, them. Angry badger face, us. Got it."
"They've found them," he informed her, taking a mildly sharp u-turn and speeding up a bit. "Get ready."
Ben sighed, unbuckling her seat belt to crawl into the backseat. "One kidnapped-looking human, coming up..," she groused. The cartoons' 'splat' images that refused to stop playing in her head were not helping. Reaching for the bottle and cloth, she wondered distantly what she would look like in pancake form...
At least, that's all Ben remembered of the ordeal. After that, whatever Arson had done must have made the situation look quiet convincing; the scrapes on her hands and wrists (that made her thankful for her jacket) attested to this. Not to mention the bump on her head. Though, she realized, she should probably be grateful it was just a bump.
Otherwise, once she woke up, she was already inside what she presumed was the base. She'd been greeted with the expected "Are you okay?"'s and "What's your name?", but when she tried to answer, found shecouldn't. Her throat was surprisingly clogged and congested, so any words had merely come as a squeak. There must have been more than just sedative in that bottle, it had dawned on her. Nothing too powerful though, as her throat was already beginning to clear after what couldn't have been more that an hour. Not that anyone around her had to know that...
"We just need to process you, then we'll see where it goes from there," the soldier next to her in the middle cart of the mini-in-building convoy smiled amicably at her—Salani, from his name tape.
But her heart jumped, though she tried not to show it with her distressed nod. Process? What did that mean? They were just trying to find out who she was despite her lack of any form of identification? Or they already assumed she was a criminal? It was only about the second full sentence anyone had said directly to her since she had woken up here, so it was hard to tell. And she hadn't heard anyone say anything about the giant alien robots yet...
Still, either option didn't sound like a good one; she was a either treason-committing criminal, or a dead person miraculously found alive, probably leading to her being questioned about her involvement with the Decepticons anyway. And probably, if found innocent enough (or other), her 'parents' would be called.
Ugh. Talk about a conversation that didn't want to be had. Just take me to jail... Though she winced at that option too.
Please be quick with that sign...
Errantly with a quiet, slightly more successful throat-clearing cough, she wondered what Arson's sign would be. He had said something along the lines of causing a power outage, but had said it sounding more like him thinking aloud than—
Suddenly, all the lights went out.
...Well that seemed sign enough. Her mind imprinted the more or less straight path between all the stacks and shelves to her left as it was faded to darkness.
"...What the..." Salani stood and gazed up at the cooling coils in the industrial bulbs high up above, their last bit of light fading. Their little convoy had stopped due to the hazard the lack of sight presented.
"Hell..." He reached and grabbed his comm. "Uh, the lights? Someone, anyone, what's going o—Hey!" Reflexively he dropped the comm into the seat of their transportation and attempted to grab her, but was already too late. He watched in startled confusion as the young woman's sillouhette sprinted away into the darkness with a pretty fast bound for someone in the state they'd believed her to be in. "Hey...! Damn it..."
He reached into several pockets (oh, the wonders of having uniforms with near too many pockets) with his weaponless hand as he started after her, despite hearing both his comm calling after him and his fellows in the convoy trying to figure out what was going on.
Ben finally slowed down once she felt the path she'd seen had come to an end, but she didn't stop. Something her elbow and then shin didn't thank her for upon colliding with things in the darkness. But she couldn't stop, swearing that she'd heard a pursuer come after her, though she could no longer really hear their footfalls.
She was thankful when (apparently weak) back-up generators finally seemed to kick in, relighting the lights just barely, and only some of them at that. Still, it was enough that the barely discernable sillouhettes became more sharply outlined nearer the working lights.
Still, her shin decided to say no to any more darting around in the dark as she still collided with something low-down in the spots of still darkness. She reduced her speed to a trot.
The sound of something large shuffling nearby joined her pants in her ears.
Salani came to a complete stop, growing tired of running into things even in the now-dimness that the back-up generators had presented. He finally victoriously grabbed and cracked a chemical light from one of his remaining unchecked pockets, continuing his search for the young woman.
He heard something shuffle nearby.
Cautiously making his way to the spot, he held the chem light out in front of him with the hand that wasn't nervously ready on his weapon. "Okay," he called into the darkness. "There's no reason to...panic and hide, or run away or whatever. Just come back and we'll get this all worked out..."
As he stepped past the crate that was at the corner, a growl from his left caught the man's attention.
The growl had had a metallic undertone to it. So even though he knew he wouldn't like what he found, even though he knew he would regret it, still he turned to the sound's source.
When his eyes met the gleam of a metal leg, following them upwards to meet a pair of violet optics, his little experience against their robotic allies' counterparts let his mind freeze.
The metal giant opened its mouth enough to expose lethally sharp, metal dagger-teeth as it growled again. Salani felt hot air from within it blow around him. Slowly, he backed away from it, mouth slightly ajar as he gaped at the beast. The quadruped took one step forward, deadly talons gleaming as it lifted one of its massive paws. It gave a slight snarl. Snarl, though it had the undertones of an engine revving powerfully.
"Ohh, mother f—..."
He trailed off as the thing roared tersely, inevitably leading to a heart wrenching all-out roar.
Knowing the odds that a fifteen foot stride had against his three foot sprint, rather than run, the soldier instead leveled his sabot launcher.
This obviously wasn't the welcome the beast wanted.
Before Salani could react, metal jaws clamped unexpectedly down onto his weapon. He cried out when his hand, not quite fully making it away in time, caught some of the slag and shrapnel from the sparking mass that used to be a sabot launcher. Dropping the thousands-of-dollars now-chewtoy at his feet, the human fell as the beast took a purposeful step towards him.
Their eyes stayed locked, one challenging to get on with it, the other...frozen. Salani was infinitely confused, but didn't dare move with the mechanoid's silhouette towering over him, slag from what once was his weapon still dripping from its growling jaws. For whatever reason, there was no doubt in his mind that if he could see his own forehead, red laser-points in the formation of a star would be dead center. Where was the mud and the fire when you needed it...
But then, as he continued the human-to-machine staring contest, he saw something in the light of the emergency back-ups. Though said lights just made the darkness dim at best, it was still enough for his disbelieving eyes to see the girl for a second step quickly over onto the mechanoid's back from the stack of crates to one side of him.
With one final 'Stay.' snarl, the quadruped pivoted on rear footing, taking off to leave Salani gaping after them in incredulity.
"That was discreet," Ben scoffed at his actions, turning to face forward as she could no longer see the carnage her keeper had left behind. Now, from the alarming shouts she could hear nearby, the entire place was about to know Arson was there thanks to his little vocalization and action. Then again, she reminded herself as he sped up to an all-out run that was surprisingly more smooth than she had anticipated, a giant metal lizard running through the bays would probably call for more action than just 'Don't use the good shoe.'
The smoothness of his strides didn't change the fact that she still had to hold on for dear life, his unexpected speed presenting the challenge she'd thought the jarring would. What little of his armor was directly behind her helped a little as she leaned forward to keep hold better, but not much.
He took an extended dash, narrowly avoiding a shot that was the beginning of a salvo as he turned a corner sharply. That was less smooth, causing Ben to hold on a little tighter.
Arson straightened out and regained his rhythm, vocals releasing a few warbles coupled with a snarl.
One of the human shots caught him in the foreleg. While it did little to penetrate his armor, it surprised him; it slowly began to...sting.
This distracted him enough to slow him down. A fact he was grateful for a moment later, upon picking up a Cybertronion energy signature approaching from up ahead. Something about the building made long range scanning for Cybertronian signals even within it inefficient and fuzzy at best; he'd only found Ben once she was inside due to the tracer in the device she wore, coded so the Autobots either didn't or couldn't detect it. But now, he realized that short range scans were largely unfazed.
Disregarding the fact that the source had to be nearly upon him before he could detect it.
The quadruped skidded to a sudden halt, a few sparks lighting the dimness. He bowed and shrugged Ben unceremoniously off of his back behind a metal shelving that nearly scaled to the ceiling.
—Nearly in tandem to a glowing plasma shot that somehow merely managed to graze his back.
The burly dark Autobot ran forward from where he had transformed once he'd achieved visual confirmation of the intruder, cannons still primed
"Ah... Autobot Ironhide. We meet again."
Ironhide narrowed his eyes at the four-legged machine facing him when he received the successfully distracting communication over the digital channel that had hailed him, confirming his suspicions that he'd seen the mech before.
"Again?" he sent back, cautiously. His weapons were at the ready, and already he could hear more humans—armed—running their way. If this was the beast's way of bluffing his way out, the old warrior did not see the success in it.
The beast's maw reset in such a way that the weapons specialist was given the impression that he was smirking.
"Well, it wasn't so much of meetings, I suppose. Simply the fact that it's hard to be entangled in the war and not come across Prime's 'figureheads' on at least one occasion."
Immediately, the Autobot's memory banks brought forward scenes from near every Cybertronion battle he'd ever participated in. From the least gruesome, to the reconnaissance missions gone wrong. Still, as he reflected...
"I don't recall ever seeing you—"
"You wouldn't," Arson cut him off. "Many times I'd been informed of your successes—and failures—in driving back Decepticon forces. Several feats, I even witnessed myself. Take Perihex, for example."
Taking the Ironhide's lack of response as an opportunity to continue, Arson did so.
"Most of those Decepticon troops were put offline or driven back by your own hand, or under your guidance." The beast lowered his stance some, optics never leaving the mechanoid in front of him. "I can respect that. But right now, you are standing between me and my exit."
With that, he growled menacingly, a glow emitting from somewhere in his throat.
"Move..," he burst. Weapons in the form of mounted missile racks rose from his shoulders. Being the weapons specialist that he was, Ironhide immediately saw that they were being primed. Or BE moved.
Ironhide lowered his bulk slightly as well, raising his cannons.
"Try it," he spoke.
The mech flicked his tail, giving a snarl as he released the missiles.
Ironhide managed to dodge most, surprisingly swift for his appearance, but some caught him. True to his namesake, his armor was fortunately thick enough to take such abuse, so he was largely unfazed. When he heard the footfalls of his opponent clearing the ground between them, however, he knew his armor was about to go through a new test.
As soon as Arson had seen the humans, armed with their seemingly innocuous yet—his still mildly stinging foreleg reminded him—apparently not little weapons round the corner, he knew his current tactical position was disadvantageous. So, he decided to switch tactics to up close and personal combat, running forward and attaching himself to the other with his teeth.
The quadruped grappled with him in a short battle to overpower the other, before gaining enough purchase on the ground. Purchase which he then used along with his own weight, before Ironhide could level a cannon at him in this point-blank range, to toss the other.
For all the Autobot's mass, it wasn't a very significant toss. But it was enough that he was hard-pressed to keep from crushing any of the humans he was sent hurtling towards.
Just about to reclaim Ben and make good their escape on short notice, Arson stiffened where he had risen. A new energy signal was approaching from the just cleared path; a more prominent one. Still Autobot, but...
Immediately, the beast shot at Ironhide with his primary strength weapon. The old mech was diverted to protect the humans again.
Taking full advantage of this distraction, Arson leapt over to where Ben was hiding.
Ben saw him for a split second as he reappeared around the shelf. Expecting him to lower so she could climb back aboard, she was startled when his throat turbine whirred loudly and she was blasted with jet-force winds. It made her stumble backward and fall in a more or less sitting position, finding herself tucked more away between the shelf and a stack of boxes on her other side once she could open her eyes again.
Arson returned to his original spot just as the signal sources came around the corner. His optics locked on the newcoming vehicles as they approached, bending his forelegs to settle slightly more into his crouch. He paid Ironhide a snarl as the old warrior pointed cannons at the red beast, instantly becoming confused at Arson's new stance and lack of weapons.
The flame adorned Peterbilt came to a stop next to the befuddled Autobot, transforming in tandem with the search and rescue Hummer that had arrived next to it.
Optimus regarded the beast with critical optics upon receiving the digital communication, his humming canon lowering cautiously to his side.
"Why have you come here?" he asked, skipping the formalities.
Arson took a small step back, lowering his head slightly more. "I'm afraid I cannot tell you that, Prime. However, my purposes here did not involve engaging you in combat."
Ironhide spoke just as the Prime's mouth was opening to speak again.
"Why the sudden change? You were more than ready to turn me into a scrap heap a nanosec ago!"
"And still am," replied Arson, baring his clenched teeth at Ironhide slightly.
Ironhide bristled, taking a step forward. "Afraid?" he challenged.
"Sensible, would be the word you're looking for there," Arson transmitted, giving a huff at Ironhide. His optics rested on each Autobot for a mere moment in turn, pointing out his current 'outnumbered' situation; sans even having to mention that among them were the Prime and his right-hand gunman.
"Ironhide..." came Ratchet's voice. The weapon's specialist growled slightly, but pulled back nearer to his comrades. Arson continued to glare at him passively.
"Always the cowards hiding behind brawn and intimidation. Eh, Decepticon?" growled Ironhide, controlling his temper on all other grounds.
Arson bared his teeth more and gave a vicious snarl, but stopped himself, deciding not to level with the Autobot.
Meanwhile, Ben—wondering what Earth product was the equivalent of alien-robot breath mints and where she could get enough of it—peeked out some from her hiding place.
She leaned forward from where she was concealed ever so slightly, trying to view at least a little more of the scene playing out before her. The dim outline of the Autobots' shadows were still there, and yet, there was an eerie stillness between them and Arson.
She was infinitely confused.
They kept speaking aloud, as if conversing with someone. But Arson was in his quadruped state, and as far as the lack of words she'd ever heard from him while he was with tail, he couldn't speak while in this form. Although, she realized, the mechanoids probably did have inaudible means of communicating amongst themselves. Now that she thought about it, she'd be more surprised if they didn't. The Autobots currently speaking aloud could be justified by courtesy for the soldiers aligning themselves with them.
But then that brought the question of what they were talking about. Whatever it was, she could have sworn she'd seen Arson give what could have been taken as half a bow when the latter two mechanoids had arrived. Or at the very least, his head had lowered more humbly.
Was he mocking them? Was it genuine? Was her current buzzing adrenaline high just making her see things...?
She beat back her curiosity as she shook her head roughly, gluing her back to the wall behind her. Now that she really examined him, she noticed for the first time the absence of either faction symbol on his armor. She made a mental note to check his other two forms; Now was not the time to further divulge in where her keeper stood in relations in the alien-robot war, she reminded herself sternly of the current situation. And just in time too, for a new group of soldiers arrived, one so close to her she could have sneezed and he probably would have felt it, much less heard it. Luckily, all their attention was absorbed by the scene, their weapons leveled at the ready.
Optimus and Ratchet's expressions had been frozen thoughtful and unreadable, respectively. Finally, the leader stepped forward.
"Regardless of your true intentions," spoke Prime, canon still down but ready, "surrender now, and you will not be harmed." Both for more emphasis and as necessary precaution, the Autobot leader reached over to put a hand on his fellow's still-primed-and-pointed cannons. Ironhide huffed in protest, compromising by merely lowering the humming weapons; though only enough to be counted as "down."
Arson growled lowly, teeth-daggers clenching tightly as he lowered more into his feral crouch. These terms obviously did not sit well with him.
However, interceding a resolution, all Cybertronian eyes suddenly went up.
The humans didn't have time to question this before a loud clanging from the roof was followed by the ceiling crashing down in an explosion. Drones dropped from everywhere, their red optics seeming to bathe the entire dim room with their color. Everyone in the room seemed to begin shouting at once as shots of plasma and explosions began to light the room as well.
Super-advanced, lightning-fast reflexes saw him wheel about to catch the slab from crushing his ward where she'd dove with his head, jaw slamming with a near-shattering sound into the ground at the impact. Ben saw it reopen a moment later to give her—a strained version of—his customary 'Stupid human...' growl, and also to lift the slab a bit more to fit his arm under.
Once he had precariously balanced himself in his limited space, Arson managed to stick the length of his arm under the slab and hook her jacket—to her slight protesting wincing groan; this was one of her favorite ones—securely with a claw. As he dragged her out, she grabbed the soldier nearest her by the collar, Arson taking the other one from her in a free claw with a growl, lest the extra weight of both the soldiers she was pettily trying to save cause him to lose what little purchase he had on her.
Once he released her, Ben rose to a knee and squinted down at the soldiers. It was hard determine their states with nothing but plasma and weaponry fire for light every few seconds—a factor which made it hard toconcentrate as well.
"Let's go." She looked up at the sound of Arson's growl. She hadn't heard him transform in all the noise, his vehicle mode's driver door standing impatiently open and waiting.
She complied—after double-taking back away from him to take the weapon she saw laying nearby, hopefully reducing the nearby reforming soldiers' urge to shoot at them by at least some, immediately clicking her seat belt closed and gripping the sides of the seat in anticipation once she returned to the truck.
Arson apparently had conceived a different route of escape in his mind, as he continued their escape back the way they'd come rather than trying to weave through the battlefield. To Ben's surprise, they were very quickly outside in the last of the set sun's light—albeit, through an impromptu exit in the wall a stray shot had apparently caused. There were a few shots after them by soldiers apparently late to the main fray. Daring to stop trying to make herself as small as possible after realizing that the shots that hit were merely glancing off of Arson's exterior, Ben straightened up and watched back, her head practically pressed against her window to see. Her mind boggled at, judging by the sun's light, it had been at least an entire day since they'd set this plan in motion.
Spontaneously and with no prior warning at all, Arson slammed on brakes as he took a sharp turn at the last possible moment, Ben's head pulled away from then smacking into the window with the sudden movement.
Her eyes closed, Ben pointed at the steering wheel. After a moment however, she relaxed her pose and opened the hand, as if letting something drop from it.
"You know what? I'm going to let that one go, just because I know we're running for something like our lives here. But just know, it has been etched onto the grudge list. Etched."
The sound was nearly swallowed in the sound of the shot that erupted against his side.
The truck spun in circles from the sheer force of it and lack of friction on the dusty dirt road, finally coming to a halt after he smashed through the door of one of the storage areas and smacked into the wall.
Ben saw the unblocked passenger's door opened across from her once the vertigo stopped spinning her vision.
Ben was quick on the uptake of the barked command, Arson releasing her seatbelt and she practically bounding over the middle console and out of the door.
Only to be confronted by four mechanoids, each sporting a lone, oversized crimson optic. One on the end—the taller, more triangular one—had a cannon for an arm, its end glowing and still smoking slightly from the fired shot.
She squeaked in surprise as one of them reached down for her as the firer took another shot at the transforming truck behind her, dodging and running past Arson to find cover as he caved the drone's chest in with an elbow, perceiving the sign of continued hostilities.
But even as he finished the first victim of the fight off, grabbing and attempting to disengage the next, he could feel that something wasn't right. When one of them landed a hit into his back and it caused him to stagger all the way down to a knee, he couldn't shake the surprise.
Drones weren't the easiest targets out there, but it shouldn't be—was never—this hard. How were these drones besting him?
It was then he realized. Everywhere he'd taken a shot from the humans' weapons, now, as if something about the seemingly harmless shells had gone through his armor to his circuitry...burned. He could feel himself weakening by the second; as if the more energy he exerted, the weaker the burning made him become.
He growled in irritation at this. The four-on-one odds now put him at a disadvantage now when normally he could have handled them; the fact that he took out one, severely damaged another, and fairly scuffed the rest despite his injuries were proof of this.
Still, he thought, he could last long enough. Hand converting to cannon, he primed the weapon as he stood and pointed it at the nearest drones to eviscerate them.
Or so he thought.
Of the quartet, the two who had gone largely unscathed (the alpha one of them of course) stood there. And in the smaller drones clenched fist as he rose from where he'd been knocked, Ben struggled.
Arson held his ground, trembling dangerously as a low rumbling emanated from his broadened form. A quietly challenging, low revving escaped him every few seconds. His narrowed eyes blazed sharply against the dimness, intent upon the human in the grasp of his opponent.
Violet optics scanned the young woman habitually. Increased heart rate, elevated adrenaline levels, heightened respiratory activity: all to be expected. Her expression had more or less gone back to the frustrated 'Crap...' from the 'Hoshit-!' it had hit when Arson had first leveled his cannon at them. Regardless, she seemed largely unscathed as she continued to struggle.
Seeing that he had his opponent held at bay simply by being in possession of the human, the slightly smaller mech seemed to gain some confidence at his added leverage. He seemed to bristle some, gaining the nerve to stare straight into the other's violently glaring optics with his own single orb.
The commanded's only reaction was to clench his claws at a slightly slower and more menacing, but still consistent repetition.
Ben made a strained frustrated noise with her struggle at freedom as she managed to wriggle one arm free. "I thought you said they were on our side?" she growled to Arson amidst intermittent grunts.
They're SUPPOSED to be, Arson answered internally, furious visage still locked on the drone in possession of his charge. The thought to obey the drone's command did not even think to occur to his mind. And why should it have, when the would-be-commander had no means of control over him?
He flinched vaguely as the human let out a noise with the air forced out of her lungs by the spastic tightening of the grip around her, her struggles instantly quelled. His no longer narrowed optics focused on the scene, a thought of relevance occurred to him:
This was a drone. A mindless machine. Knowing only what its commander programs into it. Too simple-minded to know the limits of Ben's structure, or possibly: to care. Capable of destruction outside of what it's ordered.
The drone lowered its head slightly. The shutters of its lone optic drew in, giving the impression of a narrowed eye.
"Kneel," it rasped. The warning was there, discernible. And his human's russet complexion, though only faintly seen, was paling quickly as she remained disallowed to breathe.
Arson internally roared in hatred. Slowly, as painfully slowly as possible, cautiously, the mechanoid lowered himself to a knee, retracting his weapon. The two other drones coming and securing restraints on his arms in the next moment was not entirely unexpected. The bonds still allowed him to convert to vehicle mode, designed to transform with their prisoner.
As they did their work, their captive glaring daggers at the one in current possession of Ben, the commander's grip gradually loosened. Ben's practically unconscious form hastily gulped down the air. The drone seemed to pay it no mind, looking down on the seemingly calmly submitting keeper, rage masked.
"Useless fool," said the alpha, as if getting in one final slap to the face.
Turning, the lead drone transformed into vehicle mode, the human (still wavering in limbo between consciousness and unconsciousness) ending up inside of him. He rolled toward the road slowly, waiting.
"Let's go!" scratched one of the remaining drones, jabbing at Arson as his companion followed suit of the first, morphing and taking to the skies. Watching him circle above for a moment, the captive obeyed, transforming into the vehicle with little difficulty. He followed the first, the other flanking him from behind.
A/N: (Fun fact: Even if you replace the 'a' in rapine with another 'e', it still works/makes sense and works/makes sense with what happens! Such things are what appeal to my nerdiness and tickle me nerdily on the inside.)
Dah-HA! Finding substance to fill/redirect accidentally created immediate plot direction, one "Whoops..." at a time. If you're asking yourself what I'm talking about, then my work here is done.
Despite that minor thing (or was it several minor things...), I did take some information out of earlier chapters. The only thing I can remember deleting—frikkn' missing flashdrive...—is Ben's back story. So if you got to read that, consider yourself possibly sneak-peaked. I just couldn't read it without making scrunched up "Eehhhh" faces at it no matter what I did to it. And it sounded and was placed way too fanfiction-character stereotypical. (Swear I wanna beat my younger self over the head with something hard and heavy for so many reasons...) So gone, it is, until fix it up and stick it in elsewhere, I can. Or possibly just leave it in its corner to rot and die. We'll see.
Oh, and I'm gonna change her last name too. Probably. Remembered that there were past movieverse connections to "Avery." (For a last name I came up with by looking at a label pack nearby, what are the odds? Grr... Alan Dean Foster must buy the same labels...) And I hate having a potentially corny connection even exist in this case, so yeah. Curse you, delayed reaction memory...
Why did I keep trying to type "transformering" everywhere "transforming" went? Derp. Hilarious...
Figured I'd throw Salani in there, since he didn't really get to do anything in the prequels (not counting implied stuff) but, ya know, fail to stop idiot scientist from bringing AllSpark shard too close to low-on-Energon do-want-it self-stasis-ing biding-my-time Decepticon. You know those times when you're reading something and you're like "WOW you're an idiot." Yeah. It wasn't technically Salani's fault though, so I still love you.
Oh, and, using Cybertronian places created for a board game ftw.
Ugh, why do creative juices flow more the sleepier you get? Yes, brain, 1a.m. is the perfect time to finally get on a roll writing after trying all day. Tired...