The introductions were going well, Sam thought, and the President was slowly losing his innate human fear of talking with someone who was almost five times his height, thousands of times his mass, older than dirt, and bristling with weaponry beyond anything the human race had yet developed. Optimus Prime just had that effect on people.

"You know," Sam muttered sotto voce to Lennox, "maybe we should get Optimus to, like, meet with the Pope or the Dalai Lama or something."

"Oh dear Lord, the images..." Lennox murmured back, sharing a grin with Sam. Ratchet merely rolled his optics at them. Lennox beckoned the medic closer. "So, do I want to ask where the twins are?"

Ratchet's look was as innocent and guileless as someone twenty feet tall and made of metal could manage. "I have no idea where the twins may have gotten to, Major, pair of miscreants that they are."

"Mm-hmm." Lennox was unimpressed. "And if I asked Ironhide the same question...?"

"Ask no questions," Ratchet replied, "and you will be told no lies."

"I still say," Ironhide rumbled, "that we should leave them there and use them for target practice later."

"Isn't there something in the Autobot code about the rights of sentient beings?" Sam asked pointedly, raising an eyebrow.

"I'm not sure the two of them count," Ironhide countered, and the four of them shared a chuckle.

The low sound caught the attention of the President and he glanced away from Optimus Prime to see the two humans and two aliens laughing at a shared joke, at ease in one another's company. His words faltered to a stop, and the alien leader looked to the side too to see what had caught the man's attention. After a moment, the President of the United States of America spoke again. "'The only thing we have to fear is fear itself'," he murmured to himself. After a moment he looked back up at the giant alien robot. "Humans have... always had a hard time accepting things different from them. We have all these tendencies. Racism. Sexism. Classism," he listed off.

"I have noticed that," Optimus Prime agreed with a slight nod.

"We're xenophobes," the President said bluntly, "and I apologize on behalf of myself, and my fellow humans, for that. Your people deserve better from mine. You deserve better from me."

"We are strangers here," Optimus observed. "We will take what is given. To ask for more is not our way."

"If you don't ask for more, you may not ever get it," the President replied. "We've learned that lesson too many times over to forget it."

"Nonetheless." Optimus' tone was dismissive. "Trust is earned, not given."

The President took another look at the four friends, two pairs of beings as different from each other as could be. "Let me earn yours," he responded, turning back to the being that was his ally. "Let's talk disclosure... and integration."

Simulacra: Time and Space
by K. Stonham
first released 5th July 2009

The classy Camaro that pulled quietly inside the hangar did not go unnoticed, nor did the three humans and the miniature Autobot that spilled from its interior, nor were the pair of riderless motorcycles that trailed them overlooked. Sam excused himself and made a beeline to the girlfriend he hadn't seen in person (ironically, they'd last seen one another on this same atoll) for nearly three months.

"Hi," Mikaela said quietly, almost shyly, as their fingers interlaced.

"You look great," Sam said, inhaling the scents of seawater and coconut suntan lotion off her tanned skin.

"You look like you need more sleep," she rejoined, smudging a thumb delicately beneath his eye.

Sam rolled his eyes. "Yes, Ratchet," he responded. That made Mikaela laugh, and her laugh made him smile.

Hound watched the obvious affection between the human couple with a smile of his own. Mirage was never so publicly affectionate, but that was to be expected given the culture of the Towers where she'd been created and educated.

A scent he hadn't expected caught his attention, dragging it away from Sam and Mikaela. Mirage's fingers slipped in his, the human gesture hiding the way the circuitry in the tips of their fingers connected.

Do you-- Mirage asked.

Yes, Hound replied, breathing cautiously, attempting to triangulate a position, a person, an object, from among overlapping and distorting EM fields, scents, echoes.... There.

Mirage's hand slipped out from his, their fingertips looking as human as ever.

The stunning blonde walked calmly, smoothly, toward the President, drawing more than a few glances at her lithe form and the way her hips swayed. A Mona Lisa smile graced her lips as she drew near. The Autobots seemed unconcerned, but the Secret Service kept a wary eye on her nonetheless. That changed as she paused before one of them, said something that sounded like a modem-static question, and suddenly had a sword in her hand that she plunged through the man's head even as he reached for his gun.

Two bodyguards had the President behind them before the man even fell. The rest of the Secret Service detail and half the military present in the hanger had their guns trained on the blonde even as she retracted the blade into her hand and looked calmly up at Optimus Prime.

"Phil?" one of the black-suited women asked, kneeling by the fallen agent. Her eyes widened and she recoiled, seeing blue sparks and circuitry instead of red blood welling from his wound. "Jesus!"

The man's seeming flickered and vanished, leaving the frame of a dead android on the ground instead.

"Your friend is most likely dead," Mirage told the woman. Weapons were slowly being lowered as the truth of the situation sunk in. "When or how, I could not guess." She looked up at the President, standing where he did on the platform that placed humans eye-to-optic with Optimus Prime. "Your security has been compromised."

Wheelie vrrred up to the fallen figure, examining it closely. "Oh, hey, I know this guy," he reported up to Optimus Prime. "Name a' Buzzsaw. He works for Soundwave." As Wheelie himself once had. And if Soundwave or any other Decepticon caught the little traitor... Wheelie was not brave enough to contemplate that fate. "Nice work taking him out," Wheelie complimented Mirage, who looked down at him impassively. "He ain't so nice. Or wasn't, I guess." He kicked a wheel gingerly against the dead Decepticon's shoulder.

"Mirage," Optimus introduced the hunter to the President. "And her partner Hound," he said, gesturing at the other human-seeming Autobot who approached.

"...I didn't know you could look like us, too," the President slowly said, considering the pair that had just exposed and dispatched a spy so close to him.

"It is a rare gift, but there are a few among us who possess it."

Agent Simmons didn't take his eyes off of Mirage as he put the safety back on his piece and put it away. "You know," he remarked to no one in particular, "I think I'm in love."

It was nearly twenty-four hours later before Sam finally, finally found himself on the pristine beach of Diego Garcia for a few hours, alone but for his girlfriend and best friend. They'd given even Wheelie the slip, shamelessly foisting the small bot off onto Optimus, Hound, and Mirage under the pretense of Wheelie needing to brief them in full about Soundwave's other symbiotes.

And Sam was resolutely not thinking about the fact that he had seen Mirage leaving Simmons' room at an obscene hour of the morning. Because that was just wrong in so many ways, beginning with Simmons having sex and ending somewhere around the fact that Sam's roommate was apparently uncannily and uncomfortably like the agent, given that they both wanted to bang the Pretender. So, no. Sam was not thinking about that at all because it would ruin his vacation if he did.

Therefore, he admired the lack of tan lines Mikaela was displaying for his and Bumblebee's edification as they all caught rays and relaxed and just talked the way they really couldn't over internet chats, not with creepy Decepticons still possibly lurking in orbit and intercepting transmissions.

"And fortunately we managed to haul Leo's ass out of the place before he ended up with both a daisy and a kitten tattooed on it," Sam concluded his story. Mikaela was bright-eyed with repressed snickers and Bumblebee (who'd been away at the time of said event) was pounding the ground with one fist, shaking with silent laughter.

"Oh, that's classic," Mikaela finally managed. "You're making me wish I was out there with you."

"Any time you want to join me, babe," Sam repeated his standing offer.

"I'll think about it," she repeated her standing refusal. "So," she asked, lying on her side and tracing a finger down Sam's arm, blue eyes meeting his, "does Leo have any good stories about you getting falling-down drunk? Or I guess I should ask Hound."

"Leo wishes," Sam rebutted. "I've got too much work to do to get stupidly drunk. Though," he temporized, "if I ever do get that drunk, I know what tattoos I'd want to get."

"No kittens on your ass?" Mikaela asked.

"Here, kitty, kitty," Bumblebee chimed in.

"Ha. No." Sam ran fingers across Mikaela's shoulder blades. "'No Sacrifice, No Victory' right across here in black Gothic script like a pair of wings."

"Ooh, nice," she said. Bumblebee agreed, applauding. "And the other one?"

"Um. Other one?" Sam asked, suddenly having his brain kick into gear and trying for a poker face.

Except that his poker face apparently still sucked. "Sam, you said 'tattoos'," Mikaela chided. "Plural. Give."

"Um." Sam glanced at Bumblebee, then looked back down at the sand. "I'd want an Autobot insignia," he not-quite-mumbled.

Mikaela didn't seem to see anything wrong with this, though Bumblebee jolted straighter in surprise. "Where?"

"Um. Here." He brushed fingers over her spine, below the small of her back.

"Ooh, a man with a tramp stamp. Sexy," she teased, smiling her gorgeous smile.

"Mikaela, it's not mine to get," Sam protested.

"Sure it is," she replied. "It's your body, and you can't say that it wouldn't mean anything to you."

"Mikaela, I'm not an Autobot," Sam pointed out. "I'm human. It's not the same thing."

"Sam, people put things on and in their bodies all the time that don't mean anything to them or to anything else," she rebutted a little impatiently. "I mean, if it bothers you that much, ask permission or something."

"I... couldn't do that," Sam replied. The thought of asking Optimus about something stupid like that... or even worse, if he did and maybe got told no....

"Well, that's just prime," Bumblebee played an audio clip. He reached over Mikaela, giant finger brushing gently over the hexagonal Cybertronian gylph that Sam had drawn on his forearm three months ago while trying to figure out what all the symbols in his head meant. Though the Sharpie markings should have long since washed off, they seemed burned into his skin, as indelible as any terrestrial tattoo.

The mark meant "key."

Bumblebee seemed to be searching for someone else's appropriate words for a moment, then found the ones he wanted. His hand moved to tap ever so lightly on Sam's lower back, over his spine. "You've earned it, kid," he said, using the voice of some actor Sam couldn't immediately identify. Then he switched to background singers from a rap song. "If you want it, baby you got it!"

The two-day stop at the atoll base had been far more fruitful than he had expected, the President thought, exhausted from the long hours of diplomacy but elated, as his plane winged its way back to Washington. Instead of simply viewing the Cybertronians as large, dangerous, heavily-armed invaders, they were now names to him, faces, histories. Medics, scholars, builders.

And bodyguards. He couldn't help but envy Sam Witwicky the pair of Pretenders that shadowed him. Though he hadn't understood quite why, ambassador and friend or not, the young man was still so valuable to the Autobots that he warranted three bodyguards to see him through his college education. Then Optimus had told him, in strictest confidence:

"I believe Sam does not yet realize it, but among us he holds the rank of a Prime," the ancient leader had intoned softly. "All the history and knowledge of our race are held within his mind. He is our link to our past, and here on Earth, our link to our future. The Decepticons--and Earth's governments--absolutely cannot be allowed to get their hands on him."

The President had felt like his eyes were crossing as he tried to absorb the importance of this... and also the importance of how much trust the Autobot was placing in him, telling him this, given his past choices. He'd felt staggered, and silently renewed his vow to treat these people, these refugees, more fairly than he had been. "He's that important to you?"

"He is," Optimus Prime said simply, "my brother. And the key to all of our futures."

Less than four hours after Air Force One had taken off, bearing the President in the opposite direction, a C-17 heading to California departed from Diego Garcia. Onboard were four humans passengers, two humanoids, a snazzy Camaro, and a radio-controlled truck who muttered about hating flying on these things and promptly went into stasis for the duration of the flight. Arcee, now bipartite instead of tripartite, had been reinstated for active duty with NEST and had thus stayed behind on the atoll. Given Ironhide's obvious affection for the femme, Sam had hidden his smiles and not said a word within the considerable hearing range of either.

He and Mikaela were returning home for Christmas with their families, and both Lennox and Epps had taken advantage of their rank (and the cargo plane heading to the right state) to call dibs on holidays with their wives and kids as well. Hound and Mirage, still assigned to Sam despite the President's offers for the both of them to join the Secret Service, were going with him to stay as guests at his parents' place. Sam was trusting the stay would be... educational, both for the Autobot pair and for his parents.

Lennox, Epps, Mikaela, and Mirage were playing a killer round of snap, with Hound looking on, as Sam wandered toward the fore of the cargo bay. Curiously, the robot didn't actually seem to be the one winning the round. Crouching down next to Hound, Sam observed this phenomenon and willed away the layered glyphs in his mind that tracked the cards and the probabilities and would make cheating all too easy for him. "She losing on purpose?" he murmured to Hound.

Hound breathed the suggestion of a laugh. "No. 'Raj just isn't very good at these types of games."

Sam raised an eyebrow. "Seriously? There can be things you guys aren't inherently better at than us humans?"

Hound turned his head to look at Sam. "Of course," he said, sounding surprised at the question. "Every species has its limitations, even ours. No one race has all things."

"If they did, they'd be a race of gods," Lennox commented, not taking his eyes off the game. He grinned toothily. "And where's the fun in that?"

"Ha," Epps retorted, eyes and hands also fast on the game. "World-building doesn't sound like too much fun to me. More like work."

"And on the seventh day he rested," Mikaela chimed in. "Ha!"

Sam applauded politely as Mikaela gloated at winning the round.

"You're not playing just to be polite or anything, are you?" Mikaela asked Mirage. "Because you don't have to. Or we could play another game instead."

"No." Mirage canted a smile toward her partner. "Just because I am not skilled at this, yet, doesn't mean I can't enjoy it."

"You want in, Sam?" Epps offered, scraping up the cards and shuffling them.

"I'll pass, thanks," Sam waved off the offer. He settled down and leaned back against the seating as a new round of cards was dealt around, watching the mixed species play the game. "You remember," he asked Hound after a few minutes of thought, "when you asked me if I thought it was possible for transformers to become more like humans?"

Hound looked at him curiously, but nodded. "Yeah."

"I'm not sure there's that much of a difference," Sam said, trying to sort out his thoughts into words that made sense. "Different hardware, sure, but the software?" The card game was slowing down to a pause to listen to him, who had the knowledge of two species stuck in his head. It made Sam want to roll his eyes; he wasn't some font of wisdom the way everyone seemed to think sometimes. "I don't think there's a difference between us. We all run on the same OS."

"You are such a geek, Sam," Mikaela teased, but there was no heat in her voice, only thoughtfulness echoing in her eyes.

He shrugged helplessly, smiling. "Gotta play to your strengths."

"Man, you thinkin' they're gonna be comin' back to let us down?" Mudflap asked his brother.

"Been a long time hangin' here," Skids sighed mournfully, looking at what they could see of the upside-down sunset (their third) through the open hanger doors.

"I'm about ready to kick me some Autobot ass as well as Decepticon," Mudflap raged, struggling ineffectually against the duct tape that bound him.

"I just know this is gonna ruin my paint job..." Skids said with a long face, ignoring his twin who looked not a little like a red caterpillar in a silver cocoon suspended from the rafters.

"I wanted to meet this Pre-see-dent!" Mudflap pouted.

"We all gonna to hang here 'til we rust...."

Outside the hanger, Ratchet and Ironhide stood side-by-side, listening to the whining coming from within.

"You're sure we can't just leave them there?" Ironhide rumbled.

"Unfortunately, yes," Ratchet replied.

"At least," Optimus said, coming up behind the two of them, "they were out of the way for sensitive political meetings. Thank you both for that."

"Any time," Ironhide replied. Ratchet stifled a smirk.

Optimus turned to look at the glorious oceanic sunset, one of the many beauties of this planet. Lacing his hands behind the small of his back, he stood silent for a moment, his men flanking him. "Miracles are too few to hope for," he finally said. "Nonetheless, I believe progress has been made in our acceptance on this planet. For that I would like to thank both of you."

"It was not a problem," Ratchet replied.

"Merry Christmas, Optimus," Ironhide said.

The robotic leader turned back to his men and smiled. "Yes. Merry Christmas, my friends."

A/N: Lots of thanks go to VAWitch aka OkamiMyrrhibis, who helped me hammer this chapter into a workable shape. Though this may be the last chapter of Simulacra, though given that it follows on from The Language of After and I have one more stand-alone to write (which ties in tangentially with Prime's assessment of Sam) I'm not done with this universe yet. ^_^