As of 3:45 EST yesterday, I, Meiza, completed my last class of my last semester of school. As of this moment, I am a University Graduate with a Major in English and Minor in Business.
I. AM. DONE!
I'm still having trouble believing it. ^_^
In celebration, I'm updating one story (Elita One, 28 Times) and starting another, the little bit you see right here, inspired by a plot bunny I found on the bunny farm (which will be posted after another chapter or two, to avoid spoilers).
The story takes place nine years after the events of 'B.O.T'. Other details will be made clear as the story progresses.
Read, enjoy, review, and let me know what you think!
Ch. 1 – "The Lost"
~ 1994 ~
"And now we go live to Cindy with a startling new development regarding the recent surge of missing persons. Cindy, what's going on where you are?"
"Bob, I'm standing outside the apartment complex where a musician named Gregory White had been living for the last three years, and who is now confirmed missing as of this morning. Police are combing through his apartment now, but so far not much has been found. This will be the third unexplained disappearance in the last month. Police believe that the same culprit for all three disappearances might be the same group or person, though no demands have been made yet."
"Have there been any leads as to why these people might have been taken?"
"No one knows yet why these three persons were chosen, Bob. They share no acquaintances, no social groups, jobs, or backgrounds, nothing that would connect all three of them together. The first victim, Michael Charles, age 42, is an African American biology teacher who worked at the local high school. The second victim was Charlene Watson, age 31, Caucasian woman and a long time social worker in the city. Now it's White, a 29 year Caucasian male who worked at several night clubs and lived paycheck to paycheck. The only commonalities between these three persons are the odd and disturbing circumstances of their disappearances. Their associates and friends have reported they had all been in good health, not fearful or secretive, and no more stressed than usual. Yet in the morning they would all be missing without a trace, with no signs of a struggle, no notes, no demands, and in the case of Watson, no signs she had even spent the night in her apartment even though her landlord had seen her going up the stairs."
"Alright then, thanks Cindy. If you have any information about any of the missing persons, please call the number at the bottom of the screen. Police are combing through all the evidence and testimonies, but they need your help too.
"Walmart employees are staging a sit in, demanding a better working environment after their managers locked them in for the night-"
Optimus Prime clicked off the screen.
The news caster was right. Michael, Charlene, and Gregory didn't have anything in common with each other. Even their personalities were too different; overall friendly, but too different to be really compatible with each other. Put them in a room together and they'd run out of steam within the first five minutes, and not for lack of trying.
But the news caster was wrong, too. There was one thing they all shared.
Blaster went to Gregory the occasional weekend to check out the smaller music venues and free concerts and events in the city, nearly all of which the human knew by heart. Jazz absolutely loved having someone being able to show him the less mainstream shows, and considered the human a good friend.
Perceptor had bumped into Michael in the city library once, and had been absolutely captivated by his take on biology and the workings of nature, along with his incredible patience and ability to keep up with the microscopes loquacious and verbose ramblings. They kept up a casual friendship and correspondence for the last few months.
Groove met Charlene after he and his team were called in to help evacuate a burning building. The motorcycle had pulled out a pair of kids and tried to find their mother, only to find out that she had abandoned them several weeks earlier. Charlene had been the one to handle the children's case, and kept Groove updated on their status and what was happening until they found a good foster home for them. They had remained in touch as friends ever since.
Now all three of them were missing, and no one knew how or why.
The worst part was that no one realized the pattern until now. Optimus knew about Gregory because Blaster liked sharing the music from his friends band with everyone. He didn't know about Charlene until Groove came to him asking for a few days off just yesterday so he could devote all his time into the search, and he didn't know about Michael until he noticed how jittery Perceptor had been of late and he confronted him about it just two days ago.
They couldn't discount the possibility of Decepticon involvement, but they had been quiet as of late, and none of the humans could offer anything to Megatron by themselves. If Megatron was going to be using them as leverage or hostages, he would have done something by now – it had been nearly a month since Michael went missing, and Megatron wasn't particularly patient.
Still, whatever the ultimate source, precautions had to be taken to protect any and all humans with Autobot associations.
"Bumblebee?" Optimus called over his com link.
"Yes Optimus?" the yellow spy responded.
"Where are the Witwicky's right now?"
"The Witwicky's? Carly's helping Hoist design the human sector of Autobot City, and she's got Daniel with her. Spike and Sparkplug are with Wheeljack. Do you need them?"
"There's been another disappearance; Jazz's friend, Gregory."
Silence on the other end.
"The next time you see them, tell the Witwicky's that none of them are to be outside Autobot City or the Ark without an escort. Whoever has been taking these people, chances are they're going to target our most constant and visible allies sooner or later."
"What about Chip?"
"He's still in Connecticut visiting family. He's not due back for another couple of days, but I don't think we should wait that long. We might have to have him stay here in the City until we're sure it's safe again. At this moment, we have to assume that all our human allies and associates are in danger. We can't uproot them all and hide them in the City, so I am going to leave it to each mech to do what he thinks is necessary to protect whatever humans he associates with, within reason. I'll be sending out the order, but start spreading the word."
Over in Connecticut, in the expansive backyard of a good sized white country house, the now 25 year old Chip Chase was surrounded by half a dozen little cousins, nieces and nephews age three to seven, telling them a story of one of his adventures with the Autobots with the sweeping gestures and animated voice of a master storyteller.
"But then the sky grew dark, and before we knew it, it was raining something dark and acrid, nothing like the rainwater on earth. It was as storm of acid rain, created by the Seeker trine called the Rainmakers, and it was sapping the Autobots of their strength until they could barely stand!" Chip explained, curling into himself like the collapsed Ironhide of his tale.
The little audience gasped and leaned in closer, eyes wide and fearful for the fate of the Autobots they heard so much about.
"What did you do?" seven year old Ellie asked in a whisper, as if she hadn't heard this particular story at least a dozen times before. Chip tried not to grin.
"Because I was human, I was the only one not affected by the poisonous rain, but I couldn't leave my friends behind. So I told them-"
'Chey chey' abruptly cut himself off and turned nearly all the way around in his wheelchair to look at the tiny speaker.
"It's rude to interrupt Katelyn," Chip reprimanded his niece. "You have to wait until…"
He trailed off when he saw what was in the four year olds hands – the cordless phone from his sister's kitchen. "Is that a phone call for me?"
"Yeah huh, I answered the phone, 'cause I gots it first, I got it and said "hello, who's this" like Mommy said to, because I should always ask, and he said "Pow," and I don't know Pow, but he said he something, I don't remember what he said, and I told him I'm Katelyn and I like to sing and asked if he wanted to hear a song, but he said no, he wanted to talk to Chey chey, except he didn't say Chey Chey, so I didn't know, so I asked Mommy and she told me he wanted to talk to Chey Chey, except Chey Chey was talking and I shouldn't int-a-upt, and I said "Pow I can't int-a-upt" but he said it's okay it's really really important please for the love of Primus give Chey Chey the slagging phone, that's what he said. So here."
Katelyn dropped the phone on Chips lap and skipped away.
'Note to self,' he thought, not for the first time, 'Never ever leave Katelyn alone in a room with Bluestreak.'
Loquacious four year olds aside, if Katelyn meant what he thought she did by "Pow", then something pretty serious must have happened for Prowl to be calling him way out here, something stressful if it's enough to make the infamously patient police car actually swear a little.
'Another note to self: talk to Prowl about using Cybertronian swear words around impressionable little kids, even if most of them don't know what they mean.'
To his waiting audience Chip said, "Sorry everyone, I've really got to take this call right now. I promise I'll finish the story later, okay?"
The entire audience loudly groaned and protested, and even the adults lingering at the fringes pretending they weren't listening looked disappointed.
Chip wheeled away back towards the house for a bit of privacy before putting the phone to his ear. "Prowl?"
"…Chip? Chip Chase?"
"Not Charles, or Jimmy, or Elliot?"
"…Thank you Primus."
Chip didn't know if he wanted to laugh or feel sorry for Prowl. Either way, he still had a sense of sympathy towards the logic driven tactician for having to try and talk to the nonsensical four year old with all the attention span of the goldfish.
"Has something happened?" Chip asked.
"There's been another disappearance." Prowl answered without preamble. "Optimus has issued that all Autobot associates are to be put on watch and protected. Considering how much you personally have done for us, you're especially at risk."
Chip felt his heart stop. He glanced over at is cousins, his older brothers and sisters, their kids, his parents and grandmother, milling around the lawn with snacks and soda's, the youngest ones running around the talking adults as they laughed and yelled creative insults with no bite.
"How serious are we talking?" he asked hoarsely.
"We have no reason to believe your family is in any danger." Prowl said. "But we would rather have you return as soon as possible."
Chip checked his watch. "I could probably be back as soon as late afternoon today, if I can find a flight with seats left."
"Good. Let me know as soon as you have the details of your flight and arrival time. I'll be picking you up from the airport, and we'll be returning directly to Metroplex. Until then, do not go anywhere alone, and stick to crowds and public places. Whoever is behind the kidnappings has been taking the utmost care to avoid witnesses."
"So we're not sure it's the Decepticons?"
"They remain the strongest probability, but we can't disregard the possibility of another enemy, such as one of the Anti-Autobot groups."
"You really know how to make my day Prowl, you know that?"
"I wasn't aware that was my purpose in life," the 2iC answered blandly. Chip honestly couldn't say if he was joking or not.
"Yeah, sure. I'll call you back later then."
Chip cut the connection and let the cordless fall back to his lap. He leaned back and let his head fall over his shoulders. Well, at least managed a full two days of vacation.
"Hey, Beverly? Mind if I used your computer?"
In a high office building in New York City, the 31 year old CEO of Hybrid Technologies was pouring over the financial forecast for the company. They were one of the few companies fortunate enough to be in a business partnership with the Autobots, receiving certain technologies to improve existing products, in exchange for royalties that were paying for over a third of the construction costs for Autobot City and Metroplex, more than any other company with similar agreements. The partnership had been good for them both, but the woman behind the deal was a bit concerned that too much of the profit margin was being spent on frivolous –
The phone rang loudly in the quiet office, and she distractedly reached for the one on her desk before realizing that the ringing was actually coming from her cell phone in her purse, by her feet.
Frowning in puzzlement, she pulled the item out. Puzzlement turned into surprise when she saw the caller ID.
"Astoria, where are you right now?"
"No, the other red Autobot plane. Yes, me! Where are you rightnow?"
"I'm in my office," she told him, quirking an eyebrow at the odd question. "You know, the same place I usually am five days a week in the early afternoon. Why?"
"Nothing. Just, you know, wanted to check up on you."
The brunette quirked a disbelieving eyebrow.
"Powerglide, sweetie, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, I AM a business woman, and after what I had to go through to get real power back when I got sick of just being a figurehead, I like to think I'm a pretty good one nowadays. So I can recognize total bull when I hear it."
The plane made a sound best described as a verbal cringe, and Astoria couldn't help but smile a little as she mentally awarded herself a point. After nearly nine years, Astoria could proudly say she knew her little plane almost as well as he knew himself. Not the extent of his millions of year's long existence – goodness no, no human would be able to comprehend the intricacies of such a long singular existence – but his personality and habits had become so easy for her to map out and predict at this point. Goodness, in personality he was still the same daredevil but secretly sweet 'bot she first met back when she was still a spoiled heiress of 22.
The exact same bot…
"So what is this really about?"Astoria asked, absently twirling the twisted phone cord on her finger.
A long, uncomfortable silence followed. Astoria's finger slowly stopped twirling. A sinking feeling rose in her stomach that whatever Powerglide told her next, she was NOT going to like it, and the longer he took to summon the nerve to say anything, the more she was going to not-like it.
"Okay, here's the deal: you know those 'mysterious disappearances' on the news? We just figured out that they were all friends with at least one Autobot. You're VERY good friends with an Autobot. You can do the math."
"You're right, I can. But Powerglide, those people were waaay over there by where you guys are, and I'm waaay over here in New York. And frankly, I'm a bit too high profile for an easy kidnapping. And before you ask, no, I haven't seen anyone or experienced anything suspicious, disturbing, alarming, or weird. It's been pretty routine around here."
"You can't be sure," Powerglide insisted. "The others just up and disappeared without a trace. Literally! Optimus is basically saying that pretty much any human we meet regularly might be in danger, and you're fragging dating one!"
'On and off, and off for nearly six months, what with my company and you keeping busy with the City's construction,' Astoria nearly pointed out, but bit her tongue. This wasn't the time to bring back a conversation they've already had many times before.
"Look, can you just do me a favor and just be careful?" Powerglide insisted. "Don't go anywhere alone and always make sure someone knows where you are, and that your phone is on and charged and the tracking system is working so we can find you in case something happens, and start carrying around a stunner if you've got one."
"I'll be careful Powerglide," she promised. "Just try and calm down, okay? I'm not going to do anything to put myself needlessly in danger."
"I'm sorry, I thought I was talking to Astoria. Could you put her back on the phone please?"
"Hardy har har. You crack me up."
"You love me anyway. See you later then."
"Looking forward to it." She said back in a little flirty voice by way of good bye, a little tradition of theirs, before she hung up.
Two minutes later, the phone rang again.
"On second thoughts, just stay where you are. I'll come by in a couple of hours."
"Way to keep calm, Powerglide." Astoria commented dryly. "I suppose me telling you it's not necessary would be a total waste of time and energy on my part, wouldn't it?"
"Alright, fine. I should be done by five thirty, and you can escort me home. Meet you on the roof then?"
"Five thirty on the dot. At five thirty one I'm assuming the worst and coming in after you."
Astoria glanced at the wall to wall window of her large office that gave her a fantastic view of the city at sunset, and which also provided plenty of room for a determined plane to crash through if he was so inclined.
"I'll keep that in mind," she promised.
"Also, close all your blinds, and lock your door. Wait, don't lock it, you might need a quick escape. Do you have a fire escape, or a secret exit, or something? Actually, how about you call it a day right and I pick you up as soon as I get there?"
"Powerglide, calm down," Astoria said. "I'll close the blinds, but if the Decepticons were going to come after me – assuming this is even them at all – they would have done it by now. This might sound bad, but they'd have a lot more to gain from me personally than from Michael, Charlene, or Greg. I'm not going to let this arrest my life and force me to put everything on hold. I won't let fear win like that. I have work to finish, so I'll meet you on the roof at five thirty like we agreed, alright? Don't worry, I promise not to disappear between now and then.
"Don't joke like that, Astoria," Powerglide said softly, seriously.
Astoria's little smile faded. She sat up and leaned against her desk as her whole demeanor become more serious, more empathetic, and more sincere to reflect the words she was about to say and totally, utterly mean.
"Hey, Glide? Listen to me, okay?" she said gently. "I know the disappearances are scaring you. I'm sorry for acting so flippant. I am taking the danger seriously, and I won't leave before you get here. I'm not going to let myself become a victim, and I trust you to do what you think is best and safest for me.
"I promise you Powerglide, it's going to be okay. I'm not going anywhere."
"I'm going to hold you to that Astoria. I…Yeah, I'd be really mad if you started breaking promises now. See later then."
"Looking forward to it," she repeated, but with a fonder tone than the flirty one from before. This time when she hung up, the phone didn't ring again.
Astoria leaned on her elbows, chin resting on her entwined fingers, looking at the innocent cell phone on her desk. In spite of the seriousness of the situation, the part of her that still survived from the selfish but plucky younger self was itching for it. That part of herself longed for the excitement, the rush, a little danger, and best of all, her Autobot guardian being around all the time again, not just the occasional stolen day or two in a month. Running the company kept her busy, and she was glad to keep her father's legacy alive and thriving, but it wasn't exactly soul fulfilling work either, and she was increasingly having days were she just wanted to shove it all off to the next guy and do what she wanted again.
"Yeah, well, that's the real world for you," she muttered sardonically to herself. "Life, work, responsibility…it's supposed to suck."
Still, all things taken into account, it'll be nice to spend some real time with Powerglide again. Maybe it'll be enough to stop the growing distance between them. Call her selfish, call her immature, but she didn't want to let go of that exotic, fantastical, exciting world just yet.
Meanwhile, in an entirely different part of the city, 26 year old Raoul Vazquez was underneath an ancient Toyota that was probably older than he and attempting to pull a Lazarus and bring it back to life, because the owner had unshakeable faith in his car being able to outlive the Apocalypse, mechanics and naysayers be damned.
"For the love of all things good and holy, buy another car!" Raoul muttered darkly to the absent owner. "You've already bought enough replacement parts to build three whole new cars, and I'm guessing low here! This isn't even a vintage classic. I don't care if it was your first car, it's just a freaking Toyota!"
The poor young man had tried to do what most anyone else would have done upon hearing their name being yelled out so frantically, as if the speaker had been on the verge of panic: he sat straight up at attention, heart already pumping with adrenaline. Unfortunately, the car was still in the way, and he cracked his forehead solidly on the undercarriage.
Fun and joy abound.
"Raoul! Are you alright?"
"Oh sure, just peachy. What's a little concussion among friends?" Raoul answered sarcastically, wheeling out from under the car, one hand to the growing bump on his head. The blue firebird corvette that had mysteriously appeared in the garage sunk marginally on its wheels.
"I am sorry about that," the car said sincerely. "I couldn't see you right away. I might have been…overly anxious to ascertain your status."
Raoul gave the car a weird look. "Tracks, you're starting to sound like one of those creepy clingy girlfriends who've gotta know what their man's doing every minute."
"I am most certainly NOT!" Tracks protested, sounding like himself again. Raoul smirked.
"Dude, you totally are. You had a freaking panic attack because you didn't know where I was for three seconds. Tell me that's not a little bit freaky."
"Hmph. Do you usual treat your friends with such contempt?"
"Only the ones I like," Raoul replied brightly, standing up and wiping his hands on a rag.
While his friends Phillip "Pop-Lock" Jones and Nathaniel "Rocksteady" Wilkes still depended on street dancing for most of their income with temp or part time jobs for the winter (and doing ridiculously well for themselves in the summer, actually), Raoul had decided he wanted something more reliable. College was completely out of the question, but he loved cars and he loved working on them. Getting his current job at the garage had been one of the best breaks he had ever gotten. Tracks liked it because he could get confidential repairs that he really, really didn't want to have to explain to Ratchet (which never failed to crack Raoul up). Even without free repairs, Tracks still showed up every other weekend like clockwork, for no other reason than to hang out. Raoul's boss joked about having a special stall constructed just for him, he was over often enough.
Come to think of it, Tracks' last visit was just this past weekend, and today was only Thursday.
"Tracks, don't take this the wrong way, but what're you doing back here so soon anyway?"
The fascinating thing about Autobots was that they somehow could still emote even as faceless cars. Raoul didn't know if it was subtle movements or his own instinct born from being best friends with one for so long, but if anyone were to ask, he would swear up and down on the bible that the Firebird Corvette not only squirmed in discomfort, he also looked nervous, anxious, and maybe a little bit apprehensive.
None of which was doing anything for Raoul's nerves.
"Tracks…" the Latino man said slowly, as he lifted up his wrench. "Either you spit it out, or your bumper is coming off.
Tracks actually backed up a few inches. "You wouldn't dare!"
"Wanna find out?"
"I knew I never should have let you meet Ratchet that one time," the blue car muttered darkly. Louder he asked "Are you done for the day?"
Raoul glanced over his shoulder at the very dead Toyota. "Might as well be."
Tracks popped his door open in invitation. "Come with me then. I'll explain on the way."
As Raoul slid into Tracks cabin, man and machine both failed to notice the eyes on the adjacent building watching them leave.
Chips flight was due to land at 4:55 pm. Chip only took one carry one to expedite the trip and would have his family mailing over the rest of his things later. With no need to stop at luggage pickup, Prowl estimated it would take Chip another half hour, tops to get out to the pick-up lane where he was waiting. He had arrived a little over five minutes early, and expected to wait not more than fifteen minutes.
The fifteen minute mark had come and gone nearly ten minutes ago.
Chip wasn't picking up his cell phone either. Prowl wasn't jumping to conclusions though; turning off one's cell phone was standard procedure during a flight, and forgetting to turn it back on was an easy enough mistake to make. Primus knows how often Chip made that one, to many a friends annoyance.
Instead, Prowl decided to be proactive and contacted the Communications Officer back at Metroplex.
"Blaster, check to see if there had been any delays regarding the take-off or landing of flight 301 Delta."
"On it Prowl, just give me three seconds."
True to his word, it literally only took a few seconds for Blaster to check. This turned out to be the only good thing to happen.
"Prowl, the news is that there isn't any news: the plane landed almost an hour ago, no problems."
"Contact Chips family. Perhaps he missed his flight and forgot to inform us."
Even as he said it, Prowl knew it was unlikely, not with someone like Chip. He wouldn't just forget to let them know of a change in plans, not with something as serious as this.
But, 'unlikely' wasn't the same as 'impossible'.
Blaster was back nearly five minutes later, his voice steady and almost a monotone, something that only happened when he was extremely worried or uneasy.
"Prowl, Chips sister Bev left to drop Chip off at the airport hours ago and no one's been able to contact either of them since."
"…Are you telling me that we have no idea where Chip or his sister are and we have lost contact with them both?"
"I think that's what it's boiling down to Prowl."
Prowl turned out of his parallel parking spot and tore straight to Metroplex as fast as legally possible, he did NOT have the time to deal with the local authorities right now.
"Tell Optimus that Chip is believed missing and contact has been lost. His sister may be in danger as well. Request the Arielbots be deployed to search the area between the family's home and the airport and to spread out from there, we might still be able to find clues as to where they went."
Logically, Powerglide knew that Astoria was fine. He'd talked to her just a few hours ago, and he knew she would not have left yet her office, wouldn't for another forty five minutes. Logically, he knew that she would have been close to the top of the Decepticons kidnap list, what with how she managed to make a total fool of Megatron (so she told him).
Logically, he also knew he was rarely logical.
Frankly, there was no way he would be able to relax until Astoria was next to him, where he could keep an eye on her. Maybe instead of going back to her penthouse he should just take her straight back to Autobot city, like what Prowl was going to do with Chip. Astoria would probably throw a fit for not asking her, but it's not like she'd be able to stop him once they were in the air. They could always set up a system where she could run her company wirelessly, right? It's not like she needed to physically be there every day, really.
Powerglide called up her cell phone, to let her know he was about twenty minutes out. Who knows, she might be able to get off early and he wouldn't have to hem and haw on her roof for ten minutes.
He waited, and waited, and waited. The phone kept ringing, until her voice mail picked it up.
'She's probably in the bathroom or something,' Powerglide tried to tell himself, trying to stifle the rising panic. 'Give it five minutes, and she'll be answering the phone and making fun of me for being so paranoid.'
Five minutes melted away. Then ten. Fifteen. Three attempts and still no answer. Not-panicking was getting harder and harder.
He could see the tall white letters of HyTech now, the glass windows glinting bright yellow and white in the afternoon sun. Powerglide dipped his wing to circle around to the other side where he knew Astoria's office was. He swore, if she just turned her phone on vibrate and forgot again and left him freaking out over nothing he was so going to-
Astoria's office window on the sixty third level was completely shattered, a black hole glaring against the silver windows around it.
Powerglide's engines stuttered.
He cut into the turn as sharply as he could, and just before he flew straight through the broken window he transformed just outside the frame and let his momentum carry him the rest of the way in. A dangerous maneuver, but it was the only way to get inside, and frankly safety precautions weren't high on his list of concerns right now.
"Astoria! Astoria!" he called out, kneeling down and frantically looking around, hoping against hope she had managed to run, to hide, to escape, because she promised she was going to be okay, she was supposed to be safe, she was supposed to be here waiting for him like she promised!
But he wasn't stupid, or blind. He could hear the glass crunching under his pedes, because the window had been broken into from the outside. He could see the thrown back chair, as if Astoria had shot to her feet and knocked it back. He could see that the door handle had been blasted right off, to stop someone inside from being able to leave. He could see the few busts, vases, and a lamp she decorated her office with thrown across the floor and scuffing on the wall, as if they'd been thrown with a great deal of might in self defense.
She had not been taken without a fight.
But she had still been taken.
"Oh Primus no…"
Powerglide jumped out the window and transformed.
"Powerglide to base! Astoria's gone, her office is a wreck! I'm circling around the city now, send back up to help look before they get too far!"
"So three guys have gone missing?"
"Two men and a woman, but yes."
"And they were all friends of yours?"
"Of the Autobots, yes."
"And you didn't mention this before why??"
"We don't exactly keep a chart of who's hanging out with which human in the Rec room, Raoul. No one knew about the connection until just recently. That's why we're taking action now. Speaking of which, do you have any plans for tonight, or for the weekend?"
"Not anymore, probably."
"Good. I'm taking you home now. Pack a back of things you'll need for a few days, and I'll take you back to Metroplex."
"Say what?? Dude, I can't just up and leave like that! I've got a job for one thing, I can't just disappear on Louie like that."
"I should hope you would prioritize your own safety a little more highly than that."
"Look, Tracks, I've gone against the Decepticons twice. Granted, it was nine years ago, but you guys have long memories. If they wanted me, wouldn't they have taken me by now?"
"Most Decepticons are not venerated for their rational prowess."
"Point. I can't leave Louie hanging like that though, not after all he's done for me."
"I'm sure he will understand, Raoul. If he doesn't, then you need to find a better work environment anyway."
"I'm not going to win this one, am I?"
"You rarely do."
"Yeah right, only because you never want to admit when you're wrong."
"Which is because I am never wrong, so why should I lie?"
"Look Tracks, a flying pig! Wait, wait, sorry, it's just a pigeon. Tell you what, keep talking and we just might see one."
"Oh, how very classy of you Raoul. I'll never understand why you never tire of-"
What Raoul never tired of, he likewise never found out. One second they were driving through Raouls neighborhood, everything quiet and normal. The next, something big, blue and white swung out from the right and smashed Tracks right in the grill with a resounding crash.
Raouls entire body jerked violently forward, straining against the seatbelt and nearly slamming him into the steering wheel.
"Tracks! You okay?"
Instead of answering, after bouncing back from the crash the corvette, acting almost entirely on millions of years of training and experience, Tracks kept on moving even after the head on collision that left his front resembling an accordion. With a squeal of tires and the acrid smell of burning rubber Tracks swerved wildly and tore down the street past the attacker, taking every sharp turn he saw.
Soundwave watched them go dispassionately; just slightly favoring his undamaged leg he used to kick the Autobot as he came by. Crude, but there wasn't anyone else around to do it and it served its purpose, if the Autobots erratic weaving was any indication.
"Lazerbeak: follow. Operation: Prey."
Tracks swerved wildly away from the curb and spared the Mom and Pop grocery store he nearly went flying into. But he over compensated and was now driving in for a head on collision with an 18-wheeler.
"RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT!"
Another swerve, just barely avoiding becoming the world's largest metal accordion with a juicy chewy center by mere inches.
"Tracks, man, you alright?" Raoul asked, trying to keep calm before hysteria took over.
"I…what? I was, that was…who was that…what?" Tracks mumbled. Raoul pulled a face.
"My car has a concussion. That is fan-freaking-tastic. Tracks, pull over man, you're going to get someone killed if you keep driving like this."
"NO!" Tracks shouted, sounding almost lucid again. "I can't, I can't let them take Raoul. I'm protecting Raoul, they can't have him, they can't, I have to go…somewhere. Somewhere, where? Fly, maybe?"
"NO!!" Raoul near shrieked. "No flying, you're in no condition to fly! And ease right, you're drifting again!"
"Have to get, get us away, safe, somewhere safe, because…why? Soundwave was, what? Have to protect Raoul from Soundwave."
"Raoul is a lot more worried about you right now," the Latino young man muttered.
Laser fire rained down along their right side close enough to blister the paint – that Tracks didn't seem to notice said more than anything about his state of lucidity right then. Acting purely on instinct and adrenaline Raoul grabbed the steering wheel and swerved. To his later shock, the car actually responded to the command, veering away from the line of fire and shooting down the adjacent street. The Decepticon condor wasn't about to let them go that easily however, and kept in hot pursuit, peppering them with fire that Raoul just barely avoided.
"Tracks, call us some back up already, I can't shake the stupid bird for you!"
"I, who? Who's calling what? Can't stop, have to keep Raoul away from them…"
"Oh for-! Tracks when this is over, you so owe me a dozen free trips to freaking EUROPE, no questions asked! And I'm eating the biggest greasiest drippiest burger in the city!"
Keeping one hand on the wheel and attempting to hold the dazed Autobot to a somewhat safe road, Raoul fumbled with his cell phone (a gift from aforementioned Autobot, "just in case") with the other hand and hit the speed dial.
"Blaster, Optimus, Prowl, Jazz, the freaking POPE, I don't care who you are, just get someone down here NOW before the freaky bird and Soundwave turn us into…"
Raoul trailed off when he realized, instead of Metroplex, he was getting static. Soundwave had blocked their communications and their Calvary.
They were on their own.
Raoul yelped and nearly hit the ceiling when Tracks went over the curb too fast, and he quickly straightened the Corvette out, but nearly got his hood blasted right off by a direct hit.
Well, if nothing else, Raoul was pretty good at keeping cool in crazy situations and improvising a solution.
"Alright then, the Calvary is out," Raoul said out loud, mostly to himself. "What do I have to do? Get the bird off us. How? Tracks can't fight, and we're barely running. Which leaves…hiding, pretty much. Wait, I know this place!"
Indeed, Raoul had been through this particular section of the city many times before, even once lived in an apartment not too far from here. So if his memory was right, coming up on their left should be-
"Hey Tracks, I've got a slightly crazy idea. You trust me?"
"I always trust you." The firebird said sincerely. Raoul was so surprised he almost missed the turn.
"Uh, right. Here we go!"
Raoul made a sharp, illegal swerve left, too fast for Lazerbeak to anticipate and follow. The bird former flew right on past, but banked and turned back to follow. Except by the time it made the full turn, man and machine were already gone – into the underground parking lot where its advantage of the sky would be lost completely.
Raoul chanced a glance back, but the red and black bird hadn't followed them. For the moment, they were safe.
He heaved a sigh of relief and slumped a little in his seat.
"I think we're about good now." He said. "We'll find you a little place to hide, and I'll find a land line to call-"
A tremor shook through the ground hard enough to rattle the teeth in Raoul's head, and incredibly, unbelievably, a small fissure spit apart in the ground directly ahead of them, too big and too close to avoid. The car crashed nose first straight into it, going almost vertical with only his rear wheels spinning free and useless.
Raoul groaned and felt his head, but for the most part he wasn't too hurt.
"Ow. That was fun." He patted the dashboard. "Track, you alright man?"
"Tracks? Tracks, c'mon, say something, this is NOT the time to be yanking me man!"
No answer. The crash had knocked him off line. The firebird was out, stone cold.
Raoul yelped and covered his head as broken glass rained down on him from above, the remains of Tracks' rear window. Before he even had time to comprehend what had just happened, a laser blast shot just past his head, cutting through the seatbelt and blasting a hole in the dash board.
Tracks woke straight out of his stasis, howling in agony as white hot pain blossomed and spread to every nerve and wire in his body, he couldn't remember the last time he hurt this much. Raoul, his reflexes taking over his common sense, twisted his body around and braced himself against the seats as best he could, using his body to shield as much of Tracks more delicate interior as he could from the next shot.
His reward for his selflessness was a purple fist grabbing him by the front of his shirt and pulling hum up and out like a rag doll.
"Let me go, you psychotic 8-track reject!" Raoul spat, kicking and clawing with all his might and making Rumble work for every inch. But his grip was like iron, and even pumping with strength enhancing adrenaline Raoul was still only human. Tracks, pain having brought him back to lucidity, could only watch in horror as the Cassette tore his friend away.
Tracks tried to transform, to escape and stop Rumble, but the fresh ravine that the Cassette had created with his pile drivers was too small, too tight, and the more he tired to unfold to his root mode the more the walls pressed against him, threatening to crush him unyielding to his desperate frantic bids for freedom. Tracks rocked and revved his engines, trying to back out, wiggle out, ANYTHING, even as Rumble dragged the swearing, fighting human away.
"NO!" Tracks shouted louder in desperation. "Leave him alone! Take me instead, surely an Autobot prisoner is worth more than one human! He has nothing to offer Megatron! He's useless to you!"
Rumble actually stopped, and came back (still holding Raoul with his hands behind his back) to peer down at the trapped Autobot with a sneer.
"Hey, I don't know exactly what Megatron wants with this fleshbag, but what the boss wants, the boss gets. Thanks for the present, by the way. Saved us a lot of trouble."
To Tracks bafflement, Rumble just left with the tiring Raoul, as if their business was concluded.
"You're not going to kill me?" Tracks blurted out.
"Shut UP Tracks!" Raoul shouted.
The car couldn't see them anymore, but he could hear the smirk in Rumbles voice.
"Nah. Thought about it, but we figured we'd rather keep you around to see what happens to your pet."
Tracks fluids froze in horror. As he heard the heave metal stops moving attack, taking the fighting Raoul (always fighting, never giving up or running away because he was always ready to fight back) with him, Tracks renewed his struggles with double intensity, partially transforming and wiggling and revving his engines with all his might, fighting in vain as Raouls voice faded away.
"No! Leave him alone! You don't need him! Raoul, Raoul, RAOUL!"
It took Ratchet nearly six hours to repair the damage to Tracks from the repeated collisions and blaster fire.
It took Tracks only 20 minutes after being released on strict orders of bed rest to strong arm Skyfire into flying him back to New York right now.
For once, Ratchet didn't put up much of a fuss. He just asked Skyfire to keep an eye on the corvette in case he pushed himself into forced stasis, "because Primus knows he's bound and determined to do it if Raoul isn't found soon. And while you're at it, watch out for Powerglide goo, before he crashes into a building from energon depletion."
Both mechs were combing through the city with intense vigor with the rest of the search party, unwilling to rest and only stopping to refuel reluctantly. Powerglide had already asked if there was a way for him to refuel mid-flight like some human aircrafts could with the help of Skyfire, or maybe one of the Arielbots.
Prowl said no.
Speaking of which, Prowl was coordinating the search, not just for Astoria and Raoul in New York and beyond, but also for Chip and the three human taken before them. In that line, the minivan belonging to Chips older sister, Beverly had been found by local authorities in Connecticut, tires shot out and run off the road. Beverly herself was unconscious in the drivers seat, and had been taken to the hospital. She had not yet regained consciousness, but Jazz was ready to talk to her about what happened when she did. If they could find one human, chances were they would find them all.
Jazz had already taken on the duty of making sure Prowl refueled regularly and recharged for at least a couple of hours occasionally, even if both had to happen in this office because the tactician refused to leave.
With the Decepticons brazen act, Optimus ordered for all human associates to be brought to Metroplex for their own protection, no exceptions. After Astoria's kidnapping made the news, most of the humans went along without complaint.
Speaking of which, the media was having a field day with this one, and the small but vocal Anti-Autobot Pro-Human groups were trying very hard not to cackle in glee at the 'evidence' that they had been right all along and that both armies needed to be kicked off the planet pronto. Optimus spoke with a couple of the larger news agencies, but there wasn't much else to be done about their image right then. He had bigger things to worry about.
Two days later, with no leads yet, Tracks and Powerglide had yet to slow down, and Silverbolt and Skyfire were getting worried about them, enough to voice their concerns to Ratchet. As these things tended to do, one thing led to another until the two had to be literally dragged back to the City for rest and repairs.
"I told you, I'm fine! I'm still kicking, aren't I?"
"Yes Powerglide, I can see that. And if you don't stop kicking I'm going to bring the twins in to tie you down too."
Tracks from two berths away fumed, having already been chained to the berth when his protests became a little too vehement for the CMO's taste.
"I don't see you getting on Prowl's case," Powerglide muttered darkly.
"Prowl has Jazz making sure he doesn't work himself to deactivation, but I'm not in the mood to be playing nurse for you!"
A knocking sound interrupted the 'discussion'. Medic and patients looked to see Mirage standing in the doorway, one hand still u from knocking against the frame.
"Excuse me, but Optimus wants to see Powerglide."
The plane perked up. "Did they find anything?"
"He didn't say anything to me," the spy said. "He just wants to see you in the Central Command room as soon as you're able."
Powerglide glanced at Ratchet. The ambulance just threw up his hand.
"Fine, go. Just be back here so I can get to those overstressed rotors of yours before you pass out in the hallway."
Overstressed rotors or not, Powerglide had never moved so fast.
"Did they find Astoria?" were, predictably enough, the first words out of Powerglides vocalizer the second he slid to a stop in the room where Optimus was speaking quietly with Prowl.
The Prime looked up as the plan came in. He gave his 2iC a significant look, and the Datsun returned with a brief nod before excusing himself and leaving, passing Powerglide on the way out. If he had seemed more taciturn than usual, or had been making a hard attempt not to look Powerglide in the optic, the plane didn't notice.
"Powerglide, thanks for coming so quickly," Optimus told the nearly vibrating flyer. He gestured to the seat by the monitor. "Please, have a seat."
"Not thanks, where's Astoria?" Powerglide asked. So keyed he was for good news and hope, he couldn't even comprehend the flicker of sadness that passed across his commanders face that his mask couldn't hide.
"Powerglide, I think you are going to need to take a seat," Optimus said gently.
Only then did it begin to dawn on Powerglide that this might not necessarily be good news.
"Optimus," he said slowly, pleadingly, as he slowly sat. "What happened to Astoria?"
Optimus lowered his optics momentarily, but met Powerglides own steadily.
"Seaspray found her just a short while ago."
Hope and joy welled up in the planes spark. "So she's alright?" he asked excitedly. "She's okay? Is she hurt? Are they bringing her here, or is she in the hospital? When can I see her?"
Optimus placed a gentle hand on the planes shoulder. "Powerglide…"
Hope and joy shriveled and died.
"Optimus, she's okay, isn't she?" he pleaded, silently begging his leader to tell him she was hurt, unconscious, in a coma, had amnesia, was delusional and believed she was Gloria Estefan, tell him anything, just don't let her be-
"I'm sorry. We couldn't save her. She's gone."
Powerglide felt the universe slow and freeze for an instant and an eternity.
He slid off the chair and landed heavily on his knees, kept up almost entirely by the firm hand on his shoulder and back. He could sort of tell that someone was kneeling next to him, saying something, but he kept shaking his head, because it was a lie, wasn't it? She couldn't be, she promised she was going to be okay. She PROMISED him she'd be okay, and she…she's never broken a promise before, so it has to be a lie, because that's the only thing that made sense, right? So please, please Primus, don't let it be true. Let it me a mistaken identity, a bad diagnosis, an intern who messed up the paperwork, just let it me a lie, please!
But all the denial and prayers in the world weren't going to change anything.
He couldn't protect her.
Astoria was gone.
Powerglides keened and his entire body racked with sobs, and he allowed Optimus to wrap his arms around him, for once uncaring about a tough guy, devil may care image, because none of that would help his broken and devastated spark.
Seaspray had found Astoria floating by the river bank, barefoot, with a long but shallow cut along her forearm. Though her lungs were filled with water, the coroner found several tell tale signs of electrocution, the real cause of death, and possibly why she was barefoot at all.
Chip was found later that same day by a homeless man in the back of an ally, his head twisted at an unnatural angle but otherwise untouched. When Beverly woke up a few days later, she confirmed that they had been attacked by "an orange and black robot bird" than had forced them off the road. Beverly had hit her head and lost consciousness after that, but aside from the head injury she would be alright. Prowl volunteered to be the one to tell her about the fate of her youngest brother.
Raoul was discovered a little over a day later, by a bus boy taking out the trash for the Fine Dining restaurant he worked at. The body had been left in the trash bin behind the eatery, his chest crushed in by pile drivers. No one had found him before because the restaurant had been closed for a few days for renovations and had just reopened up.
The Decepticons were nowhere to be found.
The humans stayed in Metroplex for nearly a month, and would remain under watch and protection for another three months after. Whether the heightened security scared off the Decepticons or they had already finished what they set out to accomplish, no more attempts were made on the humans.
It was a hollow consolation.
Every Autobot that could, attended Chips viewing, held outdoors to accommodate the special guests. Optimus had even been asked to say a few words, which he did from his spark. The funeral itself was a more private affair for family and close friends, but it still included the Witwickies, Bumblebee, Prowl, and Optimus. Even baby Daniel kept quiet the entire time.
Astoria's funeral was an elaborate, expensive, grand affair, but cold. The majority of the guests were business associates or family members more interested in the will than the woman, and just looking at them, Powerglide couldn't help but hate them, hate them for not understanding the loss that has happened. The only wet eyes there were that of Elliot Hampton, the business partner and best friend of the late Jacob Carlton-Ritz, who had watched Astoria grow up as if she were his daughter too.
Powerglide couldn't bring himself to look Hampton in the eye when they spoke afterwards. Hampton said that Powerglide had made Astoria happy, and he knew she wouldn't want him to hold anger towards anyone. He knew Powerglide had done everything in his power to help her, and he didn't blame him for anything.
Even Powerglide could tell that it was a kind and generous lie.
Raouls funeral was comparatively tiny, but it was a genuinely sad affair. There were only maybe a dozen attendee's, including Rocksteady, Pop-Lock, Raoul's mother Maria and his little sister Lupé. The chapel was small, but the left the doors wide open so Tracks and Blaster could attend. Tracks was asked if he would like to say something, and he talked about the first time he ever met the boy, the street punk with a sharp tongue, a dubious possession of common sense, and a heart of gold.
Afterwards, Maria Vasquez approached Tracks and gave him her heartfelt thanks for trying so hard to save her son, coming very close to losing his own life in the process, and for working so hard to find him afterwards. She presented him Raouls old jacket, the tan one he had worn when he first the Corvette and what would become one of his most prized possessions. She believed Raoul would have wanted him to have it.
It would be the closest Blaster ever came to seeing Tracks cry.
For days afterward, the entire mood of the Autobots was somber as they mourned in their own ways for several weeks or more. Prowl dove into his work more than normal with the social aversion of a hermit, the only ones able to so much as approach him being Optimus, Jazz, and occasionally Bluestreak. Powerglide volunteered for every long range patrol available, the ones that usually went to Skyfire, just to get away and be alone. Tracks kept visiting the places he used to spend time with Raoul at – the garage, the city square – as if trying to keep the memories tangible.
Everyone, but especially these three, at some point, beat themselves over the head with a single persistent question: