Ch. 9 ~ Foremost Duty

Three humans were kidnapped.

These humans were later found dead.

The Autobots mourned, coped, came to accept the tragedy and moved on.

Three new Decepticons show up.

These Decepticons are later declared by their leaders to be the aforementioned dead humans made metal.

The Autobots were suitably stunned, shocked, horrified and in disbelief.

For weeks afterwards emotions ranged from straight out denial at the sheer impossibility of it, to frothing fury at the audacity of it, to spark-wrenching horror at the cruelty of it. It was the only thing anyone could talk about, and the debates could run long and angry. The only ones who weren't particularly perturbed by recent events were the Dinobots. As Grimlock put it, "They Decepticons. Dinobots smash Decepticons."

"For once, I'm in agreement."

"Cliffjumper!" Hound exclaimed. "How can you be so callous?"

"I'm being practical," Cliffjumper said. "What happened sucks bearings, but that doesn't mean I'm going to stand there and let them shoot me because someone says they're just poor little victims of circumstance who got their processors screwed up."

"But they don't know what they're doing!" Hound insisted. "We need to help them, not treat them like the enemy."

"How? By inviting over for oil and energon goodies?" Cliffjumper asked. "In case you haven't noticed, they're not wearing those purple sigils as fashion statements. They shoot me, I'm shooting back."

"Even at the risk of killing them?"

"I'm not going to hold back when it comes to defending myself."

The current conversation was taking place at a corner table in the rec room, populated by Hound, Beachcomber, Perceptor, Brawn and Cliffjumper. Why was such a diverse group sitting together today? Because the other tables were full and their usual associates were occupied.

"Self defense is one thing," Perceptor piped up. "But you can shoot and aim for non-lethal damage, can't you?"

"Say's the mech who's fired a gun maybe twice in the last month," Cliffjumper scoffed. "Look, unless you're a sniper shooting from really far away with lots of time to line up the shot, shooting to deliberately avoid fatal damage is fragging hard. You're not always going to have that much time to think in the middle of a firefight."

"Refresh my memory, how many Decepticons have we been able to kill in the last nine years again?" Beachcomber asked innocently.

"Not. The. Point."

"Actually, if you think about it," Brawn said thoughtfully, "when this is all said and done, this whole might not end up being such a bad thing."

Everyone stared at him.

"I am both insanely curious yet terrified to ask why," Hound said flatly.

"Oh, I see what he means!" Perceptor said excitedly. "Learning how the Decepticons managed to perfect the process of transferring and organic mind into a non-organic body would be an invaluable opportunity, especially taking into account what happened when we attempt as such with Spike and Autobot X. It would be fascinating to learn what they had to do to repeat the experiment without the adverse side effects!"

"Brain washing doesn't count as an adverse side effect?" Hound asked.

"I'm pretty sure that's not a byproduct of the transfer," Beachcomber said. "But to be honest, I can't help but wonder if altering their memories is what's letting them be as stable as they are. Spike completely freaked out when he saw what happened, but Ampere, Datum, and Freerun aren't even aware that anything's changed at all. If so, then trying to, uh, 'rehabilitate' them might not be such a great idea. We might mentally and emotionally scar them for life, and it's not like we can put them back in their human bodies to fix them."

Hound raised a hand.

"Um, I don't mean to sound rude or anything, but I'm still waiting for the part where Brawn explains why this isn't 'such a bad thing.'"

Brawn spread his hands in an 'isn't it obvious gesture?' gesture.

"Oh come on, I can't be the only one thinking it. Lots of us have made friends with humans, but we know perfectly well that we'll be lucky to have fifty years with them. And while Spike's always had enough nerve and determination to match the best of us, the first couple of years he spent more time getting kidnapped than being useful."

"He got better!" Hound was quick to point out.

"Look," Brawn went on, "my point is that Chip, Raoul, and Astoria went from fleshy short lived and mostly useless Human bodies to stronger, faster, and just plain better Cybertronian ones that'll probably outlast the human race itself. Having to die first sucks, granted, but they've just gotten the ultimate upgrade."

Brawn looked around the table, expecting signs of acknowledgment, perhaps reluctant but unanimous. It took him an extra couple of seconds to realize that no one was paying the minibot any attention anymore since they were too busy looking at something directly behind him. With a jolt of his tanks and a surreal sense of precognition, Brawn had a horrible sinking feeling of what it was.

Slowly, he turned around in seat to find Tracks standing directly behind him.

"Well, don't stop on MY account," Tracks said with acidic brightness. "I want hear more about how it's such a good and wonderful thing that my best friend had been captured, tortured, and brainwashed to actively try and kill me whenever we meet. Or would you rather I left instead so you don't have to feel so awkward?"

Brawn sunk a bit in his chair. No one had anything to say.

"I see," Tracks said simply. "Then I will leave you good gentlemechs be."

The corvette sharply turned on his heel and left, radiating anger.

No one said anything for a long minute. Hound knocked back the dregs of his cube and watched the empty container dissipate into nothingness.

"Well, if you'll excuse me," Hound said as he stood. The atmosphere had gotten a bit too heavy for his comfort.

Brawn was right, Hound admitted to himself as he left the rec room – the thought HAD occurred to him. It had occurred to every Autobot who ever looked at their human companion and remembered that no matter how hard they tried, how strong the friendship, how much they tried to forget, this friendship would end. That this person would end, and nothing they did could stop it. Hound didn't doubt that many of them harbored a guilty sense of optimism that this situation with Ampere, Datum and Freerun could turn into a hope for 'saving' their human friends from the ravages of time.

But if Beachcomber was right, and that the price for an 'upgraded' body was a permanent alteration of memories…then Hound believed that the price was simply too high.

Every sentient being was defined by the choices they made. Programming and environment played their roles, sure, but it is the choices they made and how they chose to react to the forces outside their control that determined who they were. You could say that it is in the memories that a person comes to be made. How much can you twist those memories before you lost the person he once was and created an entirely new, independent being?

Raoul was the template and influence for Freerun. But that is not the same as Raoul being Freerun.

Hound tried to imagine how he would feel if something like this happened to Mirage, if an evil force took him away and twisted him into a shadowy mockery of who he once was, probably with no hope of returning him to his old self again. It left him sickened. He couldn't even image what Tracks, Powerglide, or pits, even Prowl were going through right now.

All of a sudden Hound was overcome with a powerful need to be with Mirage right then, and he desperately wished the spy was back home and safe in Metroplex, not on a mission halfway around the globe who-knows-where.

oOoOoOo

'Who-knows-where' turned out to be South America, in the jungles of Honduras, clinging to the side of a massive plateau like structure locally known as a 'tepui.' Mirage was thinking of putting a motion in to have it renamed 'vertical hell' for accuracy's sake.

According to surveillance, the Decepticons had set up a small mining camp on top of the tepui within the last few weeks, though no one could say yet what they were excavating just yet. While the top of the structure was flat and bare of cover for anyone larger than a Cassette, it offered a fantastic lookout position and was all but impossible to storm due to the sheer, 400 foot high cliff walls. The Decepticons could come and go with ease. The primarily ground bound Autobots were stuck with spending several hours rock climbing the cliff face. Fortunately Mirage with his invisibility cloak didn't have to worry about being spotted by a Decepticon doing a fly by, making him the obvious choice for this mission.

Lucky, lucky him.

At long last Mirage was able to slowly haul himself over the edge and rest (no, he did NOT collapse!) before his limbs could fall off his body. But ever the professional, he was quickly up on his feet and moving with practiced silent ease.

The flat top of the tepui, exposed as it was to wind and elements, was sparse of vegetation - primarily of small flowering plants and lichen. Or moss. Same difference. And when Mirage calls it 'flat', he means it in the absolute loosest sense of the word. The ground was horribly uneven and difficult to walk, covered in rocks and oddly shaped boulders as if an abstract sculptor had thrown all his pieces on top of this Primus forsaken rock. Every step Mirage took threatened to betray him either with crushed vegetation or a tipped stone.

'And Hound wonders why I am so adverse to nature walks.'

Standing still, the first thing Mirage noticed were the turrets. There were a circle of them surrounding the camp, all pointing outwards. None of them veered towards him as he cautiously approached, so at least that was one threat he was safe from. The camp itself consisted of a handful of tent-like structures (all camouflaged from the top), most of which he presumed served as basic living quarters. The largest tarp was set up as a sort of half tent over a rather large hole in the ground that Scrapper was descending into now with a ladder.

Speaking of whom, almost everyone Mirage could see were Constructicons moving around with definate purpose. Odd though, considering they veered more toward the massive in their building projects. The second largest tarp was protecting a – Mirage did a double take. Unless his optics were fooling with him, he was seeing Long Haul operating a miniature processing apparatus. At least, he was assuming it was for processing, if the upturned chute on one end and the spout on the other end next to waiting empty cubes was any indication. Even as he watched, Long Haul was dumping a bucket of rockets in the chute, most of which glinted with a red light in the sun.

'Surprise surprise, they're here to make energon cubes,' Mirage thought as he took a few pictures. 'Now let's see what mineral source they found that was so rich they had to set up camp all the way out here.'

Going into the mine was admittedly dangerous, since the odds of being discovered via bumping into somebody because he didn't have the space to move out of the way rose exponentially. But he needed to see just how far this mining operation has gone.

The mine was wide enough for two to walk abreast, assuming those two weren't Seekers, with tracks already laid down with wheeled carts. As Mirage proceeded cautiously down the tunnels he could hear the sounds of heavy machinery and moving rocks echoing down the mine, and he once had to press his back against the wall to let a humming Scavanger with a cart filled to the brim with the same red glinting rocks he had seen before (which he dutifully photographed) pass him by. After 13 minutes, Mirage realized he could hear voices. He couldn't make out the words himself just yet, they were being garbled by the echo of the cavern, but he went ahead and started recording in hopes of someone being able to decipher it later. He approached carefully until he was able to make out the conversation.

"Okay, seriously, all I said was I'm picking up a huge spike in readings straight down here, better than anything I'm getting down the tunnels you've already dug out. You don't have to get all defensive."

"Madam, my illustrating how your 'suggestion' to reach this new spike is going to get everyone buried under nearly two tons of earth hardly qualifies as being defensive."

Mirage froze.

Scrapper was there, mildly arguing with the red and yellow femme he now knew may have once been Astoria Carlton-Ritz.

Asto – no, Ampere was kneeling on the floor, one hand on her knee and the other tracing a circle with thin fingers. Her Imps were out, gingerly pricking at the dirt beneath her like a pair of birds for grubs. Scrapper stood over her, arms crossed and looking as annoyed as anyone wearing a mask can.

"It's a straight shot straight down," Ampere said firmly, still looking down. "Why can't you just drill?"

"For one, you can't give me an exact depth."

"It's between twenty five and thirty feet down. How much more precise do you want it?"

Scrapper rubbed his forehead. "Ampere, any mistakes could either result in total structural failure of the tunnels that'll bury us in tons of earth that'll leave us trapped and buried alive until someone can dig us out, assuming we don't get crushed to death or overheated from clogged intakes. Personally, I'd rather avoid that.

Ampere looked up at Scrapper in surprise. "But didn't Megatron already mine for Fire Rubies before? I don't remember hearing any problems from then."

Fire Rubies? Oh, that's right. When they first arrived, Mirage remembered that one of the Decepticons early raids had been on a Fire Ruby mine in Burma. He had been under the assumption it had literally been one of a kind, but obviously the Decepticons had stumbled upon an untapped vein.

Scrapper shook his head. "That mine had already been dug out by the local humans. Megatron just had to clear them out and take the rubies from them. They didn't have to dig for anything. This vein is raw, and when you're digging a mine you only get one chance to get it right. If we're going to keep up this zigzag spiderweb system you keep pointing in us going, then we're going to need measurements down to the centimeter to pull it off."

Mirage was getting the impression this wasn't the first time Scrapper had to explain this to someone.

Ampere straightened up and dusted off her hands. "Then you're going to have to get them from someone else. These Imps may have been originally based on mining tools, but after being weaponized they're just not as precise detectors as they used to me. All I can do is sniff and point."

They talked a little more about the current path of the digging and how much further they go in that direction, but even though he continued to record, Mirage himself had stopped paying attention. All his attention was on Ampere herself. The way she held her hands, the inflections of her words, the casual stance, the smirk, the humor…

He couldn't see it. He couldn't recognize Astoria in any of it.

Disappointment was tempered with practical logic. He had spoken with the deceased heiress no more than a handful of times in the decade she had associated with Powerglide. He couldn't possibly know her well enough to pick out her unique mannerisms in a strangers body.

Mirage jerked to the side as Ampere came his way, just barely avoiding a brush. She passed the invisible spy as she headed for the exit, and Mirage was following her before he could even think about it. He followed her back up the tunnels, up the ladder, waited as she stopped to stretch and bask in the sun for a moment, and matched her steps as she made a beeline for the circular tent in the center of the camp. When Ampere lifted the flap to enter Mirage was able to slip in right behind her.

"I'm bored. Entertain me!" she chirped.

"Read a book file." Thundercracker deadpanned.

The blue Seeker was sitting at a field table set up with several monitoring devices, presumably the make shift security system for detecting approaching Autobots, his feet propped up on the table as he leaned back in his chair with his own book file.

"I don't want a book file," Ampere complained as she came around the table. "Everything you brought blows raspberries at me as it flies right over my head."

"Not my fault you left all your favorite movies and files sitting on top of your berth on the Nemesis."

"Okay, you know what: you're officially useless to me. I'm putting in a request for a sentry who won't make fun of me every time I'm nice enough to chat with him."

"You're the one who insists on dropping in here all the time," Thundercracker pointed out.

"That's because I've only got you for another two days before you switch out sentry duty, so I've gotta make the most of it. I mean, what if the next guy is even more boring than you?"

As mildly entertaining as this was, Mirage was starting to get impatient with the meaningless chatter. He couldn't leave until Ampere or Thundercracker did and opened the flap again, so if he was going to be stuck in this stupid tent in the meantime the least the Decepticons could do was do or say something usefully incriminating.

"Last I knew we were only going to be here for another couple of weeks." Thundercracker said as he scrolled down his page. "I don't think that's going to kill you."

Hello.

"Please. I'm never that lucky," Ampere said as she stood behind the seated Thundercracker. "Every time I think we're reaching the end of the vein I find another one deeper down. Seriously, I'm never getting off this stupid rock. You're lucky you're not stuck here watching six color coordination challenged perfectionists dig a hole in the ground."

"How much do you think is left?" Thundercracker asked, craning his head back to look up at Ampere upside down.

She shrugged. "In weight, I couldn't tell you. Personally, I can't see us getting out of here in less than a month, if this one hot spot I found is as good as the last one. Heck, it might be even better. Astrotrain's going to have to start coming on weekly runs instead just the every other week he's been doing."

"If he does, maybe we can shorten the sentry shifts to just one week too," Thundercracker mused as he lowered his head again. "He's supposed to escort the new guy in and the old guy back with each run anyway."

Ampere flicked the back of his head with a metallic bink. "Uh uh. If I have to suffer, you have to suffer with me."

"Yes but you're here for another month." Thundercracker reminded her with a smirk. "I get to leave in two days. You're just going to have to harass the next poor sap who replaces me."

'So Astrotrain is coming in two days, most likely to pick up the energon cubes Long Haul is processing next door, as well as to bring in a new sentry and escort Thundercracker back to the Nemesis,' Mirage summarized in his head. 'While no one seems certain just how much further the ruby vein goes, it will take at least another month to excavate it using the most conservative estim-'

Mirage's internal monologue came to a screeching halt when Ampere leaned down to thread her arms between Thundercrackers shoulder vents and his head to let her hands cross and dangle in front of his chest.

"No thanks. You're the only poor sap for me," she said with a bright smile.

"Good to know you think so highly of me," Thundercracker replied as he turned his head to look up at her again. But the light sarcasm was belied by the way his smirk softened into what Mirage could only describe as a fond smile.

The spy abruptly turned his head, no longer comfortable with watching this.

When Ampere abruptly decided Thundercracker needed to take a break and dragged the unresisting Seeker outside, Mirage made his escape. He stayed long enough to photograph the rest of the camp and the insides of the tents when he could before deciding he had gathered enough intel, staying clear of the tent that the Seeker and femme had dissapeared into. His task done, Mirage headed for the tepui edge and eased himself over for the long, arduous climb down.

This time, he was almost grateful for it. The physical difficulty and intense concentration it would require would keep him from having to think of what he had just seen happen between Ampere and Thundercracker would do to Powerglide.

oOoOoOo

Naturally, leaving the Decepticons alone with their mine was never going to be an option. No humans were being put into direct harm, true, but while the humans currently lacked the technology to access the ruby vein on top of the tepui the Decepticons were still stealing valuable resources that rightly belong to them. However, waiting a couple of days for Astrotrain to make his run and get the large pile of volatile energon cubes out of the way before they ran in guns blazing seem prudent, with the added bonus that, with a little bit of a stockpile to survive on, the Decepticons wouldn't be quite so desperate – and dangerous – on their inevitable next raid.

Just as naturally, since most of the Autobots couldn't fly, any plan of attack was going to rely heavily on the ones that could…with the exception of one.

"What do you MEAN I can't go?" Powerglide exclaimed in angry disbelief.

"I mean exactly that: I'm ordering you to remain here at Metroplex," Optimus repeated patiently.

"You said yourself we need fliers for this mission! Why aren't you using me?"

"Because Ampere is going to be fighting as well."

The red plane froze for a second at the name.

"W-well, then I HAVE to go!" Powerglide insisted. "She won't hurt me if she can help it, and maybe I'll have a chance to get through to her. Shouldn't we be taken every chance we can to get her back?"

"The missions priority has to be removing the Decepticons and leaving the mine for the humans," Optimus reminded him. "We all want to help Ampere, but she and the others have to be handled as a separate matter. If we let their rescue dominate everything we do, we'll just play right into Megatron's hand."

"Is it because you don't trust me?" Powerglide asked angrily, hands balling into fists. "Is this about that time with Soundwave?"

"No Powerglide," Optimus assured him. "I have noticed that you don't lash out as much or as violently as you used to after we lost Astoria…"

Powerglide flinched.

"…but now that we know what happened to her, Raoul and Chip, things have changed. On the battle field she will at least have to defend herself, and I doubt she will stand idly by and allow the Decepticons she now believes to be her comrades to be fired upon. It could create a situation where you would have to make a choice between attacking her or allowing another Autobot be injured. But it you can tell me that you will be able to handle that, I will allow you to join the mission."

Powerglides kneejerk reaction was to give a loud 'Of course!' because while Powerglide had his fair share of faults, his resolve had never been one of them. Yes, he could admit that Optimus had a fair reason to be concerned – if it was Freerun there instead Powerglide would probably bring up the exact same questions for Tracks. But he wasn't the Corvette, and he wasn't stupid, and frankly he was going to have to face her sooner or later, so why put it off?

"Powerglide…" she said slowly, apologetically. "…I don't want to fight you. But next time we meet, I can't…"

She looked up at him with optics that were just a shade too shiny (or was that just the angle of the sun that made them look like that?).

"…I can't afford to hold back."

Powerglide stalled.

She stepped away, down off the rise and back towards the road. She stopped, paused, and half turned back to speak over her shoulder.

"I know you probably won't believe me," she said. "But for what it's worth…I'm so sorry for your loss."

Powerglides shoulders slumped in defeat.

He wasn't the sharpest of mechs, but he knew himself pretty well. Even if he had never found out who Ampere really was, he didn't think he would have been able to bring himself to hurt her, not after what they had shared. Not after he had seen that genuine sorrow in her optics for him, her enemy. Now that he knew the truth, it just made everything even worse. The thought of facing her across the battle field, the possibility that she would shoot to kill another Autobot…

He didn't think he'd be able to bring himself to stop her.

"Can you…can you at least let me know what happens?" Powerglide asked, not looking up. Optimus nodded in sad understanding.

"Of course."

oOoOoOo

Sentry duty was boring.

Sentry duty was even more boring when all you had to do was sit at one table and watch a bunch of monitors while making notes of any and all activities recorded, including that one stupid bird that kept flying by every couple of hours. A drone probably could've done this job. Pit, why have an extra guy here doing this anyway? Just get one of the Constructicons to do it, or Ampere when she wasn't sniffing the mines…

The deep intensive sulking was abruptly interrupted by a flash of sharp sunlight. Speak of the devil.

"Break time!" Ampere announced with an equally bright smile, holding the tent flap wide open and illuminated by the sun shining from behind her.

The sentry tried to glare at her, though the effect was slightly ruined by the hand he had to hold up while his optics adjusted to the intruding illumination.

"Mind letting the door close? It's hurting my optics."

"Oh don't be such a sparkling," Ampere chided. "We already live at the bottom of the ocean; you should be reveling at every bit of sunlight you get!"

As if to make a point, she was already pinning the tent flaps back to keep the entrance wide open.

He lowered his hand and asked "Ya here for a reason, or are you just bored again?"

"I already told you, we're taking a break!" she reminded him. The ever pushy femme hopped over and easily pulled him out of his seat. "You've been sitting in here ever since you got in yesterday. I just had to stage an intervention. Even Thundercracker would take a break every couple of hours – stepping away for ten minutes isn't going to kill anyone."

"Except that your ten minutes tend to turn into two hours," he pointed out.

"Ten minutes, two hours, same thing," she said breezily.

He would have protested that no, ten minutes and two hours were not the same thing, or how irresponsible it was to leave your post unattended…except he really didn't give a slag either way.

"Well, since we're taking a 'ten minute' break anyway, mind showing me why you love that one movie so much? The one with the weird maze?"

"Imaginative story, fun characters, great music, what's not to love?"

"Great music?"

"Dance magic dance! Dance magic dance!"

"Riiiiight."

The pair left, the smaller mech being led easily away by the red femme, leaving the monitoring equipment to its beeping, passive scanning.

Slightly less than an hour later, the terminals buttons suddenly started depressing down on themselves in rapid succession and a new window was pulled up on the screen. A few clicks, and red lights switch to green as the grid was deactivated. A few more commands and one little virus that allowed him to bypass the password and voice command security locks, and the turrets were brought off line as well.

::Security has been disabled.:: Mirage reported over his comm.

::Copy that. Were you able to identify the new sentry?::

::Negative, the tent was empty when I arrived. Should I determine his identity first?::

::No, it doesn't make a difference. Operation Sky Attack is a go.::

Ampere shimmied left and right in time with the 80's music in time with the rock star turned goblin on the screen as her friend watched in dry amusement.

"C'mon, tell it doesn't just make you want to dance along!" she said with a spin.

"Ammy, I know dancing. That's not dancing. That's just swaying back in forth and shuffling your feet with a lot of style."

"Blasphemy! Shun the non believer…"

The Mazarati femme trailed off as she picked up a faint thundering sound that was steadily getting louder. The mech also turned at the sound as Ampere flicked the movie off. Was it thunder? No, the sky outside had been pure blue, and the rumbling noise was long and steady, like engines.

"Seekers?" he guessed. Ampere narrowed her optics at the tent roof.

"No."

She ran out and threw the flap aside just in time to catch Slingshot blast their excuse for a security center into a dramatic fireball.

"Where did they come from?" she exclaimed shrilly as she un-spaced her rifle.

"Is this a bad time to say 'I told you so?'" the former sentry snarked from behind.

It got even better when Silverbolt, Fireflight, and Air Raid swooped down low so Prowl, Tracks and Trailbreaker could jump off to fight on the ground.

The next few seconds were absolute chaos, at least from the Decepticons perspective. The Arielbots were flying all over the sky, taking potshots and moving too fast for anyone on the ground to get a good bead. The Constructicons were spilling out of the mine entrance like ants from a disturbed next and firing back like crazy, trying to keep moving because the exposed surface of the tepui, almost barren from the high winds that plagued it, offered almost no natural protection for beings of their size. Out-numbered, outgunned, out-maneuvered…and why weren't the Primus slagging turrets activating?

Ampere fired wildly behind her and ran for the nearest turret, only to be tripped up and fall flat on her face.

"Try surrendering, it'll be much better for your health," a sophisticated Towers accent suggested. Ampere turned her head and tried to glare at the unseen Autobot.

Both heads jerked around when they heard heavy metal colliding and snapping together as Devestator rose – the Autobots had not been quick enough to disable one of the Constructicons to take him out of the fight. Already the Arielbots were coming together for Superion to match him. Satisfied that the battle wouldn't last much longer, the invisible Mirage knelt down and pressed a knee into Ampere's back, keeping her on the ground.

"You'll thank me for this someday," he mouthed silently as he pulled one arm back to cuff it.

The next instant an energy bolt collided with the air and Mirage shimmered into space, spinning with the force of the blow and falling with a blackened, sparking shoulder and a cry.

"Wow, I can't believe that actually worked," Ampere's savior commented, right before he hurried over and kicked the gun out of the spy's hand.

"I'm going to try and fix the turrets!" she told him as she scrambled to her feet.

"Gotcha! I'll help the miner forty-niners!" he replied as he followed her, leaping over Mirages body like a gazelle and grabbing the spy's rifle along the way. Mirage tried to get back up to his feet, but jolted when he felt the pricks on his necks and the ensuing shock through his body.

"Like we were going to forget about you," Ampere said as she skipped off, leaving Mirage to collapse in an undignified heap. Thankfully, she hadn't had time to deactivate his comm.

::Ampere is trying to reactivate the defenses. I've been paralyzed and can't move, I need assistance.::

Prowl, the mech in command of the operation, immediately issued the orders. ::Trailbreaker, get Mirage out of the battle field now. Tracks, go after Ampere and keep her from activating the turrets. I'll handle the last Decepticon.::

::Yes sir!:: the soldiers responded.

Ampere had already reached the turret, and Tracks quickly decided there wasn't enough time to simply drive around the grappling giants. Dropping to his Corvette mode Tracks drove right through their feet, twisting sharply and dodging around their feet and avoiding being crushed flat by mere inches in just seconds. He transformed into a run and brought his black ray gun up to bear to destroy the turret Ampere huddled by before she could reactivate it –

Until someone grabbed his gun arm with both of their own, forcing the blast to go wild.

"Get off of-!"

Tracks indignant exclamation died as he met infuriated red optics.

"Don't you DARE hurt Ammy!" Freerun warned ferociously, still hanging off of Tracks' arm.

Time stopped.

All motion, all noises, it all just disappeared into nothingness. The world shrank and tunneled sharply, blocking out everything until there was no longer any room left for anything except for this orange, black and white mech with the defiant optics and too much spark for his body. Not even Tracks could move anymore, there wasn't enough space left in the tiny universe.

Freerun's optics flickered, and slowly widened as he spied something behind the Autobot. As if he were moving through molasses Freerun dropped his arm and, with a single graceful bound, leapt impossibly far back even as his mouth opened in warning.

"BEHIND YOU!"

Time snapped back into place just in time for Tracks to throw himself to the side, right before Devestators foot crashed down with a teeth rattling shake right where he and Freerun had been standing a second earlier.

Tracks scrambled up and almost tripped over himself to get out from underfoot. Had he been less distracted, he might have taken a moment to appreciate how Spike probably felt most of the time. But he couldn't think of that because as he was trying to get away, Freerun ran right past him going back in.

"No, don't!" Tracks exclaimed thoughtlessly.

He twisted around and shot out a hand to grab the orange mech, but the smaller and swifter Freerun was too fast. Tracks was left grabbing at empty air.

Oblivious to the Corvettes plight, Freerun took a flying leap and landed on all fours, cat like, on top of Devestators foot even as it was rising again. As Superion and Devestator continued to fight and grapple with each other, tearing up the earth with pounding feet, Freerun leapt again and climbed up the green and purple giants leg, his clever fingers finding every seam and grip as if he'd been climbing a certain rock face all his life. When the hand holds were too far apart, he wouldn't even hesitate before he threw himself higher or sideways to catch it, never stopping or slowing lest Devestators constantly moving parts crushed his digits, as fast and at ease as a monkey and mountain goat combined.

Tracks watched in open mouthed awe.

Up the leg, around the waist, across the back and looking remarkably like a spider while he was at it, and up onto Devestators shoulder, all the while wearing a grin of such pure exhilaration and daring Tracks could see it even from the ground. Now Freerun was holding on for dear life as the Combiners spun around each other, evidently oblivious of the bright orange hang on. Freerun hunkered down and waited, waited, waited…

There!

Devestator managed to grab Superion by both the shoulders and was trying to push him down. As soon as he had a solid grip Freerun took off like a sprinter from the starting lane, down the shoulder and along the arm connecting to Superion like a bridge. When he got to the elbow Superion managed to break Devestators hold and knock him back. As the giant Decepticons arms flew out wide, Freerun leapt off, his entire body twisting with the force of it, and smacked right onto the confused and mildly freaked out Superions stomach. He started to try and swipe the Decepticon off like he was a persistent fly, but Devestator was throwing another punch and Superion was suitably distracted.

Like a beetle Freerun crawled across Superions stomach to his relatively safer back and –

:: What do you think you're doing!::

Tracks abruptly snapped out of his trance. ::What?::

::Why are you just standing there?:: Prowl demanded in uncharacteristic anger. ::Trailbreaker is trying to reactivate Mirage and Ampere has me pinned down. Hurry and destroy the turrets while she's distracted!::

::But, I, Freerun's here!:: Tracks blurted out.

Prowl hesitated for half a beat.

::You can't let that distract you from the mission,:: Prowl told him. ::I can't get to the turrets and Trailbreaker can't leave Mirage. Now hurry!::

::I…yes sir.:: Tracks stammered.

He transformed and took to flight, because the fastest way to take out the ring of turrets would be to blast them as he flew by, taking out the entire circle in less than a minute. In the air he circled around, but he couldn't stop himself from keeping one optic on the orange and black figure clinging to Superions back with one hand. With a triumphant grin he pulled something small and square out of his subspace and slapped it onto the Combiners back. Freerun snapped his head around suddenly, and Tracks realized that he had finally been spotted. With a cocky grin to the Corvette he gave him a mocking salute just before he launched himself backwards off Superions back, turning into a graceful back flip to land dramatically on the ground behind him.

Such was the plan anyway, until Suprion spun his upper body quickly around and accidently smacked Freerun full on in mid air with his elbow.

"NO!"

Freeruns body flew limply through the air, almost horizontal from the force of the blow, and Tracks was already banking right hard to intercept him before he –

PSEW! PSEW! PSEW!

Tracks pulled up sharply and barely avoided getting his from the laser fire from below, close enough he could feel his paint start to blister.

Ka-BOOM!

The magnetized grenade Freerun had planted exploded, drawing a shocked and pained cry from Superion. The damage was not life threatening, but it was distracting enough to give Devestator the opening he needed to take back the upper hand.

And Tracks watched as Freeruns body disappeared over the cliff edge.

In panic he tried to follow, but was forced off course again by another shot that came close to clipping his wing. Superion was also getting peppered an all sides and was swiftly losing his fight. On the ground Trailbreaker had thrown up a force field to protect himself and the still incapacitated Mirage from the turret blasts.

Hunkered down at the base of one turret, ironically the safest spot to hide from the fire, Prowl activated his comm. to Tracks.

::Tracks, what are you waiting for? Hurry and destroy these turrets before Superion takes too much more damage!:: he commanded.

::But, Freerun!:: Tracks stammered.

::I need you to focus on the battle, on the mission.:: Prowl urged. ::Freerun is irrelevant right now.::

::IRRELEVENT!:: Tracks cried out in outrage, even as he flew in zig-zags to avoid the fire. ::I just saw him get punched out by a Combiner and thrown off a 400 foot cliff! I have to find him!::

Prowl felt his tanks freeze in horror. But in less than a second his battle computer provided the only tactical course of action.

::No, you don't. Not right now. I will take care of the turrets myself. Trailbreaker can't repair Mirage and keep up his shields at the same time; I need you to help him get Mirage back on line. That is an ORDER, Tracks.::

At that moment, Tracks wasn't in South America anymore. For a split second, he was back in New York City, trapped in an artificial ravine in a parking garage and watching as Rumble dragged Raoul away, to what he now knew to be his physical death.

He didn't consciously decide to disobey. It was more he chose not to lose what was left of his best friend again.

Without another word to Prowl, he flew right over the 2iC's head and dove over the cliff edge where he had seen Freerun fall.

Prowl hit the turret base in frustration. This was exactly why Optimus had forbid Powerglide from this mission!

With a clicking, crashing sound Superion dissolved into his five separate parts, no longer about to maintain unity under the constant barrage from all sides. The Arielbots were in the sky before they could even hit the ground, circling around Devestator and firing at the behemoth while trying to avoid the turrets.

Prowl shook his head and cleared all thoughts of Tracks and his insubordination. There would be time for that later.

::Slingshot, focus on the turrets, those need to be destroyed first. Trailbreaker, get Mirage as far from the battle field as you can on this plateau and see if you can't get him back on line. I'll cover you in case Ampere tries to stop you.::

With a few shots from his acid-pellet rifle Prowl melted the turret cannon he crouched under and ran out from his cover. With or without Tracks, Prowl was not about to lose this battle or any of his Autobots.