Darkness had long fallen at Diego Garcia. But to the tall graceful giants of Cybertron, it wasn't much of a real concern. They were not tied to the same day-night cycles that the humans were, and so, they were often seen working well into the dark of the night. Nevertheless, their night activity was still drastically reduced from what they would normally do, in respect to their human allies with whom they shared the base with. And what little they did do was kept minimal and as quiet as possible.
But tonight, both human and Autobot were awake.
Ever since Optimus and his group had left base, Diego Garcia had been left on standby. They were too far away to be of any immediate help should the Autobot leader need it, but that didn't mean Lennox wouldn't be ready to act, and by extension, the base. His promise to stay behind didn't have to be a promise to remain uselessly behind.
And of course, Sam had managed to go find trouble.
Optimus and Ironhide kept the NEST base well updated, in addition to the occasional report from Prowl. But it was those few reports that Arcee transmitted that worried him the most. It hadn't been long before the situation really began to deteriorate: first with Optimus and his group being occupied by Starscream, and then by Skywarp's and Stormcloud's untimely arrivals.
So Barricade remained unaccounted for and Sam's only protection was Arcee.
"You should rest, Major Lennox," a low voice arose from the quiet. Lennox didn't need to turn to recognize the voice of Ratchet. "There is nothing more you can do here. Take the opportunity to obtain some sleep."
The Major sighed. Currently, he was in the main Autobot hanger, staring at the various screens that were positioned within a raised metal platform. It was where they had Optimus speak with various officials stationed off-base. As he stood to turn around, one of the technicians immediately took his place. Shrugging, he stepped up against the rail, where he was almost at eye level with Ratchet. He thought of how Optimus towered over him whenever he stood right where Ratchet was now. Sometimes, he really forgot how tall Optimus was.
Lennox frowned. "I don't know why, but something feels off."
"How so, Major?"
Gut feeling? Irrational misgiving? How do you explain that sick feeling in the stomach to a colossal metal alien? He didn't doubt that their Cybertronian friends had hunches too, but he wouldn't dare guess how it manifested.
"Don't you think it's a little strange how far they're going to kill Sam? I understand sending Barricade after him, but after being in hiding for so long, they come out for this?" He paused, thinking back about what he just said and quickly amended: "Not that Sam's unimportant; it just seems a little strong for them."
Ratchet processed his words thoughtfully. "I must agree, Major Lennox. It certainly seems out of character for the Decepticons, especially with so many involved. They had always given the impression that they consider your species nothing more but a minor nuisance." The bright coloured Autobot tapped his chin, a habit he had picked up from his human allies.
But neither the medic nor Lennox had the chance to say much more on the subject, as a red Autobot had made his way over to the two at that moment. He gave a quick passing glance at Lennox, but didn't give him much thought, preferring to instead direct himself to Ratchet only.
"Why we not chasing after these Decepticons? I will morire di here!" The red Autobot scoffed, adding: "Maybe you pigrone, but I'm ready to take down some Decepticon."
The larger Autobot wasn't fazed. "It hasn't been that long since you've arrived, Mirage, and Optimus would prefer you to become better acquainted with our human friends."
Mirage gave Lennox another look, but he still wasn't impressed. "Waste of time. I would do far more good on the mainland than here."
As each of the Autobots arrived on Earth, they all responded differently upon meeting their shorter allies. Some took to the humans immediately; others like Mirage (much like Sideswipe when he had first landed) took a little more convincing.
A touch of annoyance began to creep into the medic's voice. "It is a delicate assignment..." Ratchet began, but he was interrupted by the arrival of another very different Autobot.
"There is a great deal of good one can accomplish behind the front lines. If you need something to do..." he trailed off. Lennox much preferred Wheeljack to Mirage, particularly among the new wave of Autobots. But then, he hadn't yet met them all: so far, he still hadn't been allowed to meet the trio who were called by the others as the Wreckers. All the same, Lennox wasn't insulted by Mirage–he knew the shock of meeting an alien that wasn't at all like you, and that took a little time.
"Maybe that's good enough for you, fannullone, to stay back and make your toys, but that is not what I do."
"I beg your pardon, but what I make are not 'toys' as you call them. Why, just the other day, I finished up that new blaster Ironhide's been after me for."
But Mirage had stopped listening, doing the Autobot equivalent of an eye roll.
Ratchet had enough. He had better things to do than to listen to bickering. Wheeljack should know better. Shaking his head, he began walking away, but not before first saying in parting to Lennox: "I do suggest you take the opportunity to sleep, Major, while you still can."
After he was some distance away, the CMO began to transform, folding himself into his rescue hummer. His transformation was quick and he hadn't quite finished before he was already rolling away. He didn't have the patience for it today, but he would have to teach Mirage some more manners. As for Wheeljack, well, just because he was an old friend of his didn't mean he would let it slide by. He knew Lennox could take care of himself.
The man listened to the two Autobots for a little while longer before he too began shaking his own head. He really was accomplishing nothing by staying here. Turning around, he placed his hand on the shoulder of the technician that took his place. "I'm heading out. Let me know if we find out anything different."
"Of course, sir," the technician replied, keeping his eyes trained on the screen. The other technicians nodded.
Just as he was about to head down the long stairs, one of the other technicians spoke up, stopping him just as he took his first step down. "Wait a minute, sir. I have something here. I can't quite make sense of it..." Lennox was immediately behind the woman as she began to explain the numbers.
Mirage had stopped talking mid-sentence. He gave a Wheeljack an incomprehensible look before he wordlessly turned around and made his way over to the hanger entrance. His scans were already running full speed as he peered into the darkness. Nothing, there was nothing...? His expression twisted into that of confusion.
It didn't remain that way for long.
"Decepticons! Get down!" Mirage cried to those behind him.
He barely had enough time to drop to the ground in a roll and engage his cloaking system just as a flurry of gunfire followed.
x x x x
The dread that filled her was like nothing she had ever felt before.
First, when Arcee had finally caught up to Barricade, her first sight had been that of Sam flat on the ground. For a moment, for a terrible moment there, she feared she had been too late. With her power half depleted and her strength waning by the millisecond, there had been no plan when she flew through the air to grab at Barricade. All that mattered was that she had to stop him somehow, had to give Sam another chance to escape, even at the cost of her own life.
Optimus had taught her that.
Pain had shot through her when she was swatted away, her body crumpling against the debris that littered the now destroyed parking lot. She had no strength left to control her fall.
And before she could regain her bearing, she was suddenly in the air again.
The immense pressure of Barricade's metal grip threatened to collapse her body, and she had found her body heaving involuntarily as it tried desperately to lessen the strain. But Barricade was unrelenting and she could barely even struggle.
"For that, you get to watch me kill your precious fleshling," he had growled menacingly.
But the full terror that Sam was going to die, and the sickening dread that came with the realization that she was too weak, too powerless to do anything to stop it from happening didn't set in until Barricade slowly took aim. Once again, here she was: watching helplessly because she had been too weak to fight. Again, she would fail Bumblebee.
She had never been the warrior. Chromia had always been the one most at ease in battle, the one who, although she detested war, had found her calling somewhere among the despair of Cybertron. Elita-1 was not like Chromia, but she had been a warrior long before Chromia had been, fighting in the original wars between the tribes before the All Spark had been found by Sentinel Prime. But her? Arcee loathed fighting. But the war gave no exceptions, and here she was, fighting. And now, as the only one left of her sisters, she knew she had to step up to where they had once stood.
Instead, she was barely half functioning and ensnared right when she was most needed.
Despair filled her.
"Sam, SAM!" she cried.
As Barricade's cannon came to life, Arcee couldn't help but stare at Sam's frozen body, still on the ground where he had fallen earlier. Such a pity. After all he had been through, after surviving battles that would have long claimed any other normal human, this is where he would fall: at the hands of a single stealth Decepticon with no one but Arcee to witness his undeserved death.
And Bumblebee ran into the line of fire.
Author Note: Have some bad news, I'm afraid. I had been hoping to finish this story and have the final chapters ready to publish before I went on holiday... but I didn't manage to do it. You won't be hearing from me until September, when I get back. But I promise you: you will hear from me! I've really gotten into this story again.
In the meantime... I've alluded to a few events that occur in the prequel movie comics by IDW, and I really suggest you get your hands on them!