Warning(s): Victimized bull's-eyes, cussing
Status: One-shot, complete
Summary: Pre-RotF. Epps is chosen to help integrate Sideswipe into N.E.S.T once he arrives.
Notes: There's a story behind this one. Sosurrealrawr found a Sideswipe toy, a part of the "Human Alliance" line, in which the bio states the Autobot is sent to work with Epps. We laughed, we laughed some more, somehow the subject came up in a discussion with Jyuu, and then something spontaneous happened: she got me into writing it. The two of them are to blame for this brain beast. Absolutely. Also, a thing of note: in the novels, it's mentioned that Epps is married with five kids. Thought I'd bring it up to keep readers from getting confused. :)
Disclaimer: I don't own Transformers; wish I did like everybody else. They should put TF in stock, then I'd buy it all!
Tech. Sergeant Epps had been assigned the job of training an Autobot, of all the crazy crackpot schemes, about close human and machine combat. Despite the choice being out of his hands, he would've preferred the convenience of having a warning.
Staring up at the one called "Sideswipe" – who was an admittedly nice shade of corvette stingray silver – he wasn't that worried. The hard part had been becoming accustomed to working with the original contacts of Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Ironhide, and Ratchet, and because things were settled and most of the kinks had been worked out, he figured that with some patience and the old school of hard knocks, he'd have Sideswipe integrated into the team, pronto.
Besides, he reminded himself amusedly, at least he wasn't the one stuck training three motorcycles at once or a set of twins; he only had to deal with this one. He might have felt bad for his friend if Lennox hadn't insisted on using straws and ended up pulling the shortest one (may Arcee have mercy on his soul). Captain Graham of the British Special Forces unanimously got out-voted and stuck with Skids and Mudflap.
Inclining his head, Sideswipe gave off a confused expression at Epps' stupid smirk, one that had risen without his knowledge in remembering the recent event of who-got-who. He quickly wiped the smile off of his face, not wanting to give the guy the wrong idea.
He reviewed the information he'd jotted down, a couple-page report made after talking with "Big Buddha." He'd needed pieces of information that would help both him and the Autobot standing across from him get this over with, because if he understood some of the other's strengths and weaknesses, then he could formulate a strategy for what to concentrate on. The Autobots had a record on him several terabytes big, and the condensed version he got was that Sideswipe could be arrogant, show-offish, and didn't always like to play nice with others. Epps had his work cut out for him, apparently.
"Alright, your specialty is close combat, right? Then let's start with that. Show me what you got."
He motioned to the obstacle course to the right. This particular base had several acres to permit them a large space for basic training, and at a safe distance from the barracks and other facilities. If something went wrong, there wasn't too much concern over whether or not somebody would get hurt, and they could keep collateral damage to a minimum. There were dirt pathways that were intended to mimic streets, markers that resembled street signs, and beat-up, metal bull's-eyes that were designated as enemy targets (red) and humans (blue). It was just them today, Epps having scheduled it to themselves.
"You got it," Sideswipe acknowledged, and the way he said it was more like "you asked for it." He adjusted his gigantic wrist-blades, got into a running position…and then he was off, kicking up dust every which way and causing Epps to choke on it, coughing and sputtering as he tried to keep a focus on what the other was doing. From what he could gather, the Autobot was whacking the red signs with the sharp tips of his blades, occasionally knocking them off completely, to signify that an enemy was deactivated.
"Ey! Be careful, we have a tight budget!" he warned, just as Sideswipe destroyed another bull's-eye.
After knocking approximately thirty of them, he circled around on his wheeled feet and, at the last minute, he lost a bit of traction and had to make an awkward skid-stop, upper body tilted forward and his blades getting embedded into the ground. One of them stopped barely an inch away from Epps' boots, and they left large streaks behind Sideswipe. He stared down at the large blade and its close proximity, estimating that any closer and he would have lost a toe.
"How was that, Sergeant?"
"Terrible," he admitted, frankly. "Simply awful. I've seen civilians pull off better fights than that, and they were barehanded."
Sideswipe visibly started at that, and pushed himself into a full, upright position.
"I destroyed all my intended targets in a time frame that I know beat Bumblebee's speed record. The mission would have been considered a success," he protested, his pride ruffled.
"Oh yeah? That'd be wonderful news if you hadn't made Jimmy here road kill," Epps said, walking over to a fallen blue bull's-eye. "He just joined the force and was earning money to support his newlywed wife. And over here lies Frankie, who was a week from retiring from N.E.S.T." He kicked the second blue sign, flipping it over to reveal its dusty front.
"The point of all of this is to get you used to working alongside us, so here's what we're gonna do. You're going to pick up every single one of these markers, set them back up all nice and neat, and do it again. And we're going to keep doing it until you get it right."
Epps was earning a hefty paycheck no matter what the results of today were, so he didn't mind if they were stuck out here for twenty-four hours straight.
Not appearing to share his sentiments, Sideswipe grudgingly maneuvered himself around the course again, gingerly picking up signs and putting them back in place. What ones he'd knocked apart he welded together, pulling out a device from his fingertips to do so.
"You missed one over there, and don't forget to turn around that one to your left."
Epps wasn't intimidated by the obvious glare sent his way.
Two weeks later, he decided to up the stakes a notch. Sideswipe had remained stubborn in his tactics but was showing enough improvement that Epps felt comfortable changing up the usual procedure. When he arrived to their meeting point, the Autobot wasn't too far behind. Sideswipe, above all else, had demonstrated that he was a soldier, and while his nature indicated that he liked to do things his way, he wasn't stupid enough to defy an order. If Epps said be there at insane-o-clock, he would be there no later than by a couple minutes. It helped that Optimus Prime had given him a stern talking-to about the subject, too.
But, that didn't mean he'd leave his style behind.
The sounds of his engine revving at maximum power was probably enough to wake the dead – and everyone else back on base who was fortunate enough to sleep in – and informed Epps that he was incoming before he ever caught sight of him. His wildly careening out in car mode was just as well, with what he had in mind for today's exercises.
"Don't bother transforming," Epps instructed when the Autobot was within hearing range, at least for a human. No doubt he could have yelled and been picked up several feet prior, but it would have been difficult for him to hear himself over all the noise Sideswipe was making. "This morning I have a different idea in mind for you."
"Yeah, open up for me," he said, coming around to the driver's side. "We're going to pretend we're out on the streets, right? No Decepticons in sight, just patrolling, cruising along and minding our own business."
Sideswipe snorted, unlocking his doors but making Epps open them, and said, "I fail to see what this is supposed to 'teach' me."
"You will if you'll slow down for a minute."
He slipped inside, at least mindful to knock his feet together to dispel as much dirt as possible, and shut the door once he was situated inside. It was difficult for him not to spare at least one second to inspect the other's interior – all leather, or what the Autobots could fabricate to mimic leather, and various, fancy touches that would make any blue-blooded American male volunteer to cut off all four limbs at the chance of just sitting in one of these seats. Who cared about driving one if they were surrounded by this? And besides, this one drove itself, so missing both arms and legs wouldn't matter.
Resting his hands on the wheel, he barely put a grip on it, since he didn't plan on actually guiding Sideswipe through the course. If this was a real life situation and they were out in public, the corvette disguised robot would have to activate a hologram or trust a human to help them make the camouflage complete. He wasn't here to drive; he was just along for the ride.
"Feel free to get moving, and remember, you're out where the whole world can see you."
The car did so, pulling out onto one of the paths, and picked up speed as he progressed.
"That sign there says it's twenty-five miles per hour; I'd slow down if I were you. You might want to watch out for a surprise attack, too. You never know when one of those jerk-ticons might strike."
Stubbornly ignoring his suggestion about the speed limit, Sideswipe asked, "What are you talking ab-"
As Sideswipe drove onto a new route, he triggered a motion-sensitive wire Epps had placed under the dirt, causing one of the red bull's-eyes to spring up and smack into the front bumper of the other's front. The Autobot let out an electronic noise that sounded a lot like shock, and slammed into reverse. When they went backwards, another trap was activated, and this time the metal pole attached to the bull's-eye smacked him in the rear bumper and sent him shooting off again in surprise.
It would take tons more than that to hurt him, so Epps wasn't worried about that, but he intended to keep the other on his…wheels, or whatever it was he stood on, and having hotwired the entire course like this, he planned to do just that.
"Look out for the one coming up on your left flank-"
"I see it," Sideswipe snapped, completing a half-circle and suddenly deploying Epps from his seat. He changed immediately afterwards, easily sliding around to face the "enemies" and slice off their tops like they were heads.
Groaning, Epps pushed himself into a sitting position, dust and other particles floating off of him at the motion. That hadn't gone according to plan at all, and he supposed he deserved to be dumped out like that to a degree, but that didn't mean he was about to let the other off easy.
"Man, you can't just go throwing people around like that! We got bones that break and organs that could go splat. You can't just go transforming where everyone and their grandma can see you, either!"
"My superiors have done it lots of times prior to my arrival," Sideswipe pointed out, undaunted.
Sighing, he rubbed the bridge of his nose, saying, "Yeah…yeah, they have. Hard to break habits. But we're precious cargo, got it? If you have to transport someone out of danger, you can't be throwing them back into harm's way. Your commander also trusts you to fight only when necessary; you can't always bring the fight to their doorstep, or innocent people could end up in the crossfire. You're made for speed, aren't you? Escape shouldn't be an issue."
If he didn't know better, Epps would claim that the Autobot rolled his eyes at him. The motion was a bit different, but the way the gears that made up the "iris" appeared to spin rapidly had him considering it.
"You humans have a lot of rules," he groused, nonchalantly flicking one of his weapons. "It's a wonder you allow us to fight at all."
"Yeah, tell me about it."
He didn't try to argue it; there were a lot of regulations to follow, some of which he considered stupid, too. But when the President and his men said jump, you didn't waste time asking how high, you just jumped and then thanked them for the command.
"But you know the drill by now – help me set this place back up, and it's back to the grind. I've helped raise four baby girls and a son, and if I can get them potty trained, than I can get you used to how we do things on Earth. And please, don't dump me on my ass this time. I like being able to sit at dinner."
Epps was having trouble sleeping. Such an event happened more often than he'd care to admit, the only spice in it being that the reasons varied whenever they felt like it. Sometimes it was the war overseas, the attack on Qatar, what his family was doing, the Decepticon fight in Mission City, Decepticons in general – lots of things.
Tonight, however, he couldn't stop thinking about his current assignment – namely, Sideswipe. He'd thought at first that he was making some headway, but whenever they took a step forward, they somehow ended two or three steps back. For some reason, things weren't clicking for the Autobot, and Epps was struggling with the reasons why. He'd gone to Lennox and asked for advice, wondering how he was handling things with Arcee and reviewing past tactics with the initial Autobots. Nothing helped, and he was starting to run out of ideas.
Figuring that getting rest was a lost cause, he threw back the covers, slipped on a pair of shoes, and went for a walk around the base. Maybe a change of scenery or fresh air would give him a magical revelation that would fix all his ails.
Along the way, he nearly ran – literally – into Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots standing vigilant near one of the hanger doors. They were permitted to explore after dark, though the higher-ups frowned on them going out on their own, unsupervised, so it was "recommended" that they stick close to the hanger that was their assigned resting place. This wasn't strictly the case, but the Autobots were respectful guests and tried to value their hosts' wishes.
"Hey," he greeted, receiving a nod in return.
"Are you troubled, Sergeant Epps? It's unusual to see you at this hour, unless you are on duty."
"Eh, I guess you could say that."
Suddenly, the distant roar of an engine caught his attention, and he looked towards the origin of the noise. It was in the direction of the obstacle course, and his gut told him he knew who was using it.
"I must not be the only one tonight, huh?"
"Mm," Optimus agreed, nodding his head once again. He'd been looking that way from the start, and probably knew who else was up at this time of night.
"How long has he been at it?"
"Sideswipe has been running your course for three of your Earth's hours. I suspect he will have more in before this night is through."
"I'll hand it to the cocky little shit; he's got a lot of endurance," he said by way of accord.
"How is he doing in your training, Sergeant?"
He sighed, sitting down on the ground at the other's feet.
"On the record, he's just the kind of fighter we need right now. The Decepticons fight dirty, and Sideswipe is tough enough to handle anything they can dish out. He can probably dish it right back, for that matter. He respects authority enough to tolerate it, but his disapproval shows."
"I have read your reports. What I am interested in is your personal opinion," Optimus said, though not unkindly. He was good like that – making his point without offending anybody.
Epps scratched the back of his head, having a harder time of sorting those kinds of thoughts. Just because he'd circled around the topic so much didn't mean he was any closer to reaching the center of the problem.
"Man, I don't even know. Honestly? I'm having a hard time considering him N.E.S.T. material. His methods are selfish and two-dimensional; he wants to get the job done and he doesn't care much about the means of doing it, or who gets in the way. I'm surprised he hasn't skewered me yet."
"But you do not fear him," the leader of the Autobots pointed out, stating it as fact.
"Nah, he doesn't strike me as someone who would intentionally do me or anyone else harm. He wouldn't be an Autobot if he would, right? A Decepticon, now those guys give me the willies. They'd sooner punt me into the stratosphere than so much as look at me. Sideswipe…he doesn't mean to be reckless, it's just how he is. How to redirect that is turning out to be the hard part."
All of that was a lot to have them both absorb, so a moment of commendable silence filled in their surroundings as they contemplated it some more to themselves, with the sporadic noise of a car driving like mad echoing over to them.
Optimus, the first to break their lull, said, "Sideswipe is what we would consider young, for our race. All he has known is a Cybertron invested in war, and for a long time, he had to face it alone. The Autobots were scattered, many separated from their allies for longer than should have been asked of them. He is, if nothing else, adaptable. On his own, he is capable of great things, but with the right guidance, I have faith in him to do the impossible."
If that wasn't his cue to go and talk to the speedster, then nothing else would do. Rising back to his feet, he tucked his hands into his pockets and started meandering out towards the obstacle course.
"Don't worry, big guy. I haven't given up on a recruit yet, and I don't plan on starting with him."
Epps waved at him over his shoulder, appreciating the gratitude though it wasn't required.
"Hey, if you believe in somebody, then obviously they're worth it, right?"
In retrospect, he should have asked the other for a ride. The distance between the base and the training area was a tiring amount, even for a soldier like him. Surely he wouldn't have been opposed to giving Epps a quick lift, especially since it would be for a good cause. Although at least this way he had time to think about what he'd say when he got there.
Sideswipe was running the full track when Epps reached his destination, skirting around it in his car mode. With all four wheels on the ground, he looked a lot more comfortable maneuvering on the soil, taking closer turns and smoother lines. For a robot, it wasn't that farfetched for Sideswipe to have the place memorized, avoiding all the enemy objects and human bystanders. When he reached the end, he did a donut before making a complete stop, paused, and then converted over to his bipedal form to do it over again. Halfway through he stopped, having noticed Epps standing a distance away.
"Pretty good that time," he complimented him, still walking closer.
The Autobot looked pleased with it, and planted a hand precariously on his hip joint, demonstrating how comfortable he was with his wrist-blades if he felt natural making such a gesture and not hurting himself.
"Of course. This test of yours isn't so hard."
"You missed two, though," Epps continued, ending up at the opposite end Sideswipe was on, and stepping down on a foot press. The device sprang up two boards that had poor depictions of Decepticons on them, two cheap, red lights embedded in the center of them. They lasered in on the other's chest – direct hits. This was going to be the next addition, and it felt like the right time to tell the other about it.
"Two out of forty-six are good odds."
"Not if they're bigger, badder, and cooler than you are. What if one of these had been that mega-dude you guys used to fight with? He'd have scrapped you flat and that forty-six wouldn't be worth shit if you're too dead to gloat about it."
"I'm accustomed to fighting against hoards of Decepticons. I'm not afraid."
Epps nodded once, scuffing his foot into the loose earth, mulling over what Sideswipe had said to him and what he'd learned from Optimus Prime. He was beginning to gather what might be the underlying issue here.
"When all else fails," Epps mused aloud, mostly to himself, looking about the training field, "sometimes it's the teacher who needs to learn a thing or two."
The lessons were pretty basic, pretty…human. What he was doing was trying to train a dog using a pencil and paper, and that was a piss-poor way of accomplishing things. A more hands-on approach might get results.
"You got guns on you, right?"
"Any warrior worth something does," Sideswipe said, his shoulders grinding and building up until two Gatling-like guns appeared, one per side.
Epps meandered over to the other, barely coming up to what would be the equivalent of his knee, and grabbed onto one of the metal protrusions within his reach. He set his foot atop the metal plate covering his wheeled foot, and used it to propel himself upwards.
Sideswipe remained still and didn't attempt to shake him off, but he did make an inquisitive, electronic sound, followed by, "What do you think you're doing?"
"Moving onto Plan G," Epps said, continuing upwards and utilizing all his mountain climbing training.
"What's Plan G?"
"Haven't gotten that far. I'm kind of winging it. You willing to have some fun, though?"
A firm shrug jostled Epps the last couple of inches into position on the other's shoulder, tucked behind the firing weapon that had formed there.
"If I've taken anything away from this, Sergeant, it's that your definition of 'fun' and mine don't coincide that well."
"That's okay; I don't get along with my version of fun sometimes, either. We'll both have to get used to it."
"I'm telling you, Prime, these humans don't understand the true meaning of 'preparation.' If they wanted to be ready to take on anything, they'd let me redesign this course to better suit our needs," Ironhide stated conversationally, standing outside the perimeter of the obstacle course in the presence of the N.E.S.T.-bound Autobots and personnel. Today would be the day of Sideswipe's evaluation, Arcee's having been done the day prior and Skids and Mudflap going tomorrow.
Optimus looked, for a moment, strained at his weapon specialist's suggestion, everyone who had been present for Ironhide's first trial of defense and offense upgrades sharing his sentiments. The cannon-toting Autobot had cost the United States government tens of billions of tax-dollars on repairs and recovery costs, not to mention a couple of bribes to keep some of the local businesses and government officials quiet.
"You were advised not to offer any technological advancements to the humans, Ironhide. It would be unwise for you to assist them in this matter," Optimus Prime reminded him.
"Oh, I know that…" Ironhide, abashed in the only way he knew how, said. "I wasn't trying to give them any ideas or nothin'. Was out of habit, that's all – and what I have planned wouldn't be too far ahead of their species' aptitude."
Epps laughed, and Lennox gave the black-painted Autobot a sympathetic pat.
"Give it a rest, man. Nobody's falling for the idea."
Gruffly, Ironhide muttered something too low for anyone to hear, or at least for organic ears to pick up. His leader suddenly turned a scolding look at him, and grasped him by the shoulder, as if to keep him from going off and doing something. No doubt, he might have had an idea or two he'd contemplated implementing.
Lucky for all of them, Sideswipe and the rest of the base crew arrived, signaling that it was time to get the event going. A couple of officials from Washington D.C. had flown in to watch the test in person and report back to the President on whether or not N.E.S.T. would be receiving any new, metallic recruits. They, while not having been around as long as people like Epps or Lennox, had known about the Transformers for a minimum of six months (and in some cases, more), everyone briefed and familiar with the top-top secrets being hidden.
Still, as Sideswipe changed out of his alt. mode and struck a pose that clearly said the star of the show was present, every human there looked in rapt awe at the sight of all those metal plates, car parts, and assortments of wires going from a normal, everyday vehicle to an alien structure in seconds. Even Sergeant Epps found himself staring, never growing bored of it.
"You ready for this, Sides?"
Mudflap spoke up instead, saying, "Yeah, ready to choke, pretty boy?"
Sideswipe waved the red twin off, taunting him with, "Ready to show you how it's done. You and your brother better watch closely, or you might miss the lesson."
Moving to the start of the training area, Epps took his place near the activation switch, giving everyone the thumbs up. Sideswipe went to another side of the course and got into a start position, and when Epps brought up his other hand, the Autobot drove into action. The first part would be what they'd practiced for the public scene – no transforming, no handheld weapons, and he was being timed on how quickly he could get around. Speed limits didn't have to be abided by this time around, since it was a mockup of a pursuit. Sideswipe, an expert in speed and agility, had no trouble completing this task, ignoring the targets that popped up and utilizing expert evasion maneuvers to get away from the enemy bull's-eyes and not running over the blue ones.
The second part was the real challenge: engagement of threats. Epps envied the corvette in that he didn't have sweat glands, or devices that copied them, because as the course was set up again, he in particular was becoming nervous.
"Remember what we practiced, just remember what we practiced…" he chanted under his breath, waiting until Sideswipe was ready, and then activated the trial again. The targets were up and stationary, but there were many of them, and a couple were decorated with lights that were intended to imitate enemy fire. A makeshift counter was able to identify when one of the lights came in contact with the Autobot's outer shell, and would add up how many times he was "hit."
Two minutes went by, on the dot, as Sideswipe skated around targets, doing figure eights to dispose of the closet ones. His blades would stab the signs directly in the center, leaving a hole to show that he'd taken care of the "enemy," and when it came to taking care of the rest, he suddenly changed tactics and went straight for Epps, who had stepped into the field.
To the surprise of everyone present, Sideswipe angled the center of his weapon under him, scooping Epps up and – while in motion – depositing him on his shoulder, where the other's guns were. In a show of true camaraderie, Epps took care of Sideswipe's back, swiveling the Gatling-gun about the course and destroying foes that were out of the Autobot's reach, and Sideswipe continued getting in close and stabbing any adversaries within his reach. Sideswipe picked up speed at one point, and together they annihilated the mock Decepticon forces.
When they were finished, Sideswipe skidded to a stop in front of the spectators, and let Epps crawl back down to the ground.
"So, how's that for human and Autobot relations?" Epps asked, not even trying to hide his pride in the fact that they'd done, in his humble opinion, a kickass job.
The person holding the timer – a highly decorated woman – had accidentally dropped it, her expression of astonishment mirroring that of those who had watched the entire spectacle.
"Daaaaaamn," Skids said, suitably summarizing the situation. "How come we were never taught how to do that?"
His twin shoved him hard in the side, pointing out, "Because you aren't cool enough, that's why! I bet I could do it if I wanted."
"Oh yeah, I'd like to see you pull that off!"
Optimus Prime cleared his throat, pointedly silencing the twins without having to issue a single word, the two of them hunkering down and looking remarkably humbled.
"His time was within the required limit, and he completed the tasks your government set for him," Optimus said instead, directing his attention to the officials. "What is your verdict?"
One of the men coughed softly and rubbed at his chin, saying, "I think I speak for all of us when I say he's welcome to join our forces on the front lines, provided he keeps that up."
Sideswipe didn't hesitate to make a show of mock-blowing on his hand and buffing it on his chest, and retracting the blade on the other to allow Epps to fist bump it in victory. Nothing needed to be said, and nothing else needed to be done. They knew they were awesome, the N.E.S.T. team knew they were awesome, and very soon, the Decepticons would know it, too.
A/N: Cassandra Cassidy, my beta reader, asked whether or not I'd be doing follow-ups with Arcee and the twins, and while I hadn't, I'm certainly entertaining the ideas now. Not sure when or if I'll get to them, but the possibility exists. Until then, hope you enjoyed this one!