A/N: I live! Well, mostly. Life has swallowed me whole, but it is definitely in a good way. Still, I'm doing my best to complete this story. I owe it to you all to do that. Thank you for the reviews and the private messages that keep me going! :)

Special thanks to Alex Irvine and his Transformers novel "Exodus." Without him and his wonderful imagination, I never would have known about places on Cybertron like "Six Lazers over Cybertron," and the "Plasma Curve" roller coaster! Hydrax Plateau, Crystal City, and even "Maccadam's Old Oil House" (which I found absolutely charming!) likewise never would have come to my attention. Bravo, Mr. Irvine! You are forever one of my literary heroes. :)

Another special thanks to Hummergrey, Razorgaze, and LT-Nightwarp for all their constructive criticisms, support, beta reading and just being awesome. You keep me sane.

Disclaimer: I own nothing, save my OCs. I make no money from this. Please do not sue. This is purely for fun!


She wasn't sure what it was that woke her this time. All things considered, she should have been blissfully unconscious, curled up against her mate for the first time ever without either of them having an extended stay in the med facility. Yet something pulled at her mind, a glimmering blip that danced just out of the corner of her visual range, constantly reminding her that there wasn't time to dream.

Phoenix ignored it at first, stubbornly diving deeper into the recesses of her subconscious. It was there that she found that brilliant glittery golden place where she and her mate could truly bond. They had started by the lake again, the two of them in human form, entwined in each other's arms in only the way a man and his wife could. And all around them the water rolled lazily, the air breathed its warmth across their skins, and they knew utter completeness.

Until that glimmering blip, that annoying, pale-blue flash just kept getting in her way. Ratchet, with his usual sense of diplomacy, handled the situation by winging a wrench at the distraction. How in the world he had managed to smuggle one of his wrenches into their sacred place—in human form, no less—was amusing to say the least. Though she should have realized that her beloved was never anywhere a wrench wasn't within throwing distance, even when he dreamed.

When that wrench passed harmlessly through the ball of killjoy, they had both groaned in unison. "I think… I think it's time for us to go," she sighed.

"My aft, it is," he growled, wrapping her into a fierce hug. "Our time together like this is precious. We aren't leaving just yet."

She had time to lift an eyebrow before her beloved jerked swiftly to the side, toppling them both over and headfirst into the babbling water—

—and then they were running down streets of metal, dipping between Cybertronians out for a stroll on the streets of Crystal City. Small curses floated behind them from older citizens of the upper castes, though nothing too strong a reprimand. No one would dare speak too harshly against one as highly placed as Ratchet. His caste, and indeed the leader of his own clan, was very close to gaining seats on the High Council. Speaking against a member of an ascendant clan was probably the fastest way to be demoted to the smelting city of Kaon. There to forever gaze at the Sea of Rust instead of the splendor that was Crystal City.

Phoenix tried to lag behind, to gape at the beauty and wonder that was Crystal City. The knowledge that made such a place was gone now, lost to the ravages of age and a society trapped in its own decline. Ratchet had often told her that, in the days before the caste system, all of Cybertron had been built on the scale of Crystal City. Back in the vorns when beauty was just as important as functionality. She'd seen the memories that had been gifted to him from the leaders of his clan. He wasn't supposed to have shared them with a clanless like herself. But love had a way of breaking the barriers between clans and castes, and he had wanted desperately to share the beauty of that memory with someone that would understand.

So he'd shown her. He'd shown her a planet that glowed so brightly as to have been another star in that velvet darkness of space. Things that were held aloft in awe in this present time were as commonplace as energon in the golden age of Cybertron. And everywhere, the sky sang with the crystalline structures as solar winds touched them. The very atmosphoere of Cybertron had been made of music. The space bridges that connected the vast Cybertonian Empire used to respond to that music, timing their opening and closing to the melodious notes, the brilliant light from the bridge opening reflecting from the crystalline structures to illuminate the world. The universe had used the planet like a violin, harmonizing the worlds of the Cybertronian Empire with such music.

It had stunned her, frozen her spark with bittersweet reverence. Ratchet had had only that one glimpse, that nanoklik of memory guarded jealously by his clan and passed down only to the worthy. He had found her worthy of it, if only by merit of his divine love for her.

Still, having that snippet of memory was one thing. Walking the last structure that remained of that glorious empire was something else. And so she tugged back, laughing at his impatience, so that she could touch the walls, hear the faint musical tones that a simple touch provided from the material. Ratchet, having lived in Crystal City off and on since his appointment to politics, tugged at her impatiently.

"We'll miss the shuttle, Phoenix," he implored. "Come, we have time to walk the halls later. I promise."

Her fingers drew one last note as she let herself be dragged along. It was a mournful note, however, and it caused her to stumble. She glanced back in shock, a state of dread spreading across her spark. There had been an image reflected in that wall, a tiny ball of blue-white light. And behind that light had been the image of … someone. Jazz, she'd wanted to say. It had looked like Jazz, hazily reflected in that dancing light. But when she turned back, the image was gone. Instead, a tiny disk of wood clattered to the ground and rolled to a stop at her feet.

Frowning, she bent to pick it up. It was a poker chip, worn smooth on one side from countless hands passing it back and forth. She frowned at it. It was so tiny in her Cybertronian hands, barely covering the tip of her index finger. And wood? What was "wood?" There was no substance called "wood" on Cybertron. How had she known that name?

Again that little ball of light flashed just out of the corner of her vision. And again, Ratchet tugged at her. "Please, Phoenix. Let us go. I want to ride the Plasma Curve at least once before we are officially mated. Before I am too ensconced in my duties to the caste to break away for even a klik of fun."

It was the pleading in his tone, the honest look in his optics, that made her nod. The little chip was quickly stuffed into a compartment in her wrist. And her beloved was right. On the morrow, they would be mated and he would be stepping up as one of the facilitators of Crystal City's medical wing. It was a very prestigious promotion, one that promised glory and honor. It was well known that only the best scientific minds were permitted to even enter Crystal City, nevertheless make command decisions as to the running of its departments. Sacrifices would have to be made to accommodate the time needed to run the department, and again he was right. Tonight may be their last night to act like sparklings.

There was time enough later to worry about odd things like this "wood" and how she had known what it was. Perhaps, when she was mated and settled into their apartments in Crystal City, she would take the "wood" to the Hall of Records in Iacon. There was a rumor that a young data clerk by the name of Orion Pax had recently been placed in charge of the ancient records of Cybertron. Maybe, long ago, there had been "wood" on Cybertron? If that were true, then it would certainly make sense that she had found this thing in Crystal City. Primus alone knew what wonders lay within the structure that had yet to be discovered. And if there had been, then Orion Pax or even Alpha Trion would know. Certainly being the mate of a well-placed facilitator of Crystal City entitled her to an audience with either mech.

But that tiny ball of light flashed incessantly, pursued her as she ran behind her beloved to the waiting shuttle.

Phoenix tried to ignore it, settling down in the seat next to her mate. The shuttle took off with a speed that defied thought, whisking them in moments across the Sea of Rust and the ever glowing city of Kaon. There, she knew, was where the metals that made up all Cybertronians were harvested, the foundries and factories in constant production. It was said that Kaon was the last city left that glowed like a beacon in the night sky. It was a shame that the place was nothing more than a factory, dirty and rusting from the inside out. Rusting and dying like what was left of their kind…

She shook her head. And where had that thought come from? Cybetron was not dying. She was looking at it with her own optics! Yet there was a part of her that knew that thought was true, that Cybertron had been dead for millennia already. And when her optics touched on the Sea of Rust, she found herself yearning for oceans of water. Salty, blue-green water on a planet so far away that it seemed impossible she should ever know about it. A planet where she had been born, where her brother had died fighting Megatron. Where she, herself, had nearly died in that same battle, in that same human city…

Phoenix shook her head again and vented air rapidly. Human? What was a human? And Jazz wasn't dead! She'd just spoken with him the other night. He had been refreshing his fluids at that tiny dusty cantina called "Maccadam's Old Oil House" or something like that. She'd admonished him for visiting that place, even if it was the only place that his best friend, that poor data clerk Orion Pax, could afford. He'd promised to burn the high grade from his system before her mating ceremony took place, and with his characteristic sarcastic chuckle, had ended in the conversation.

"Ratchet, I think something is wrong…"

But he wasn't paying attention. Six Lasers Over Cybertron had come into view, and wrapped around the entirety of the amusement park was the famous Plasma Curve roller coaster. She'd always wanted to ride it, and she tried to infuse the excitement and joy of actually being allowed into the park into the dark creeping dread that threatened to swallow her whole. Something was horribly, terribly wrong, a part of her was screaming. She needed to wake up, it said. She needed to wake up and to find Jazz before it was too late. Before they all joined him in the Matrix…

Jazz was dead.

She blinked.

No, he wasn't.

She blinked again.

Yes, he was. And this place wasn't real. They had to get out before it was too late.

But Ratchet wants to ride the Plasma Curve just once! Would staying that long be such a bad thing? It was only one ride…

"Ratchet…"

His hand locked onto hers, their fingers transforming and melding until it seemed that they were two bots joined by one continuous arm. It was frowned upon to merge one's coding with another before the official mating ceremony—unless one wished to be part of a combiner, but what upper caste bot would choose that horrible fate?—however it wasn't strictly forbidden like in the days of old. It was just frowned upon. Ratchet, grinning like a sparkling staring at his first real shell, seemed not to notice they had merged their hands. He was too far gone in the thrill, the joy of being in Six Lasers with the femme he loved.

She had to admit his joy was contagious, and it succeeded in beating back that sinking sensation within her spark just a bit. And so she allowed herself to be pulled through the throngs of mechs and femmes, elated that she was finally there. Everyone wanted to go to Six Lasers Over Cybertron. Everyone wanted to ride the Plasma Curve. And only the elite, the highest of the castes, the richest of mechs, could afford to go. Ratchet's clan leader had given him two passes to attend as a mating day gift. She could not strip this joy from him.

Please, Primus, let us have this one perfect night…

The crowds obscured that irritating pulsing light, the noise of the coaster flying across its tracks enough to drown out the bizarre clinking of that "wood" chip in her wrist compartment. But the feeling of it clanging around inside her arm was unnerving, a reminder that nothing was as it seemed. She pushed the feelings away fiercely, going so far as to deactivate the sensors of that part of her arm to make the fragging thing go away. She should remove it, she knew, just drop it in the nearest recycling center and be done with it. But if this "wood" was some old artifact of Cybertron, didn't she owe it to the science caste to at least visit the Hall of Records, first?

Phoenix tried not to grind her lip plates in frustration. Ratchet had pulled them to the front of the line, his special passes allowing him and one guest to ride the Plasma Curve as soon as possible. Their hands separated as they climbed into the coaster seats, the restraints clicking into place. Ratchet beamed a smile so huge as to be its own joyful beacon in the night. Their hands met again, their optics locked… and the coaster raced off along the track, flipping and turning them in ways that reminded Phoenix of doing barrel rolls at subsonic speeds in her old fighter jet. Back before the war with the Decepticons had reached earth, before Starscream had blown her fighter from the sky and nearly killed her.

She closed her optics tight, whimpering, hearing the clanging of that insipid chip in her arm. She had to be losing her processors. That was it. All these thoughts, these words like "earth" and "wood" and whatever the slag a "decepticon" was, were manifestations of faulty coding in her mainframe. It figured, she thought with sinking depression. Here she was, on the eve of getting everything a femme could wish for, and she was experiencing her reality matrix fragmenting before her optics.

"I love you," she said, the words lost to the roar of the wind and the laughter of all those participants on the Plasma Curve. "I wish things could always be like this for you. For us. But I'm wrong, Ratchet. I don't belong here. We don't belong here, in this place where Cybertron is whole and Jazz never died. Help me, beloved. Help me come back to you…"

The flashing ball of blue-white light was waiting on the tracks of the coaster, just around that next curve. And the closer that got to it, the worse that little "wood" chip bounced around inside her arm, slamming so hard it felt as if it would burst right through her plating. She screamed, the sound again lost to the shrieks and laughs of those on the coaster with her, as an image formed in that blue-white light. The image of a femme that was half human and half cybertronian. And standing behind her in that light was the familiar form of Jazz. The coaster shot through the light, the blazing illumination sending her programming into fits.

And somewhere along that line, her hand had left Ratchet's…

*** TFM *** TFM *** TFM ***

The last bag sat on her bed, the very last article of clothing she possessed on this cursed military island held in her hands. Mikaela stared at it as if it were a foreign thing, and not at all her favorite sweat shirt. It was a favorite, of course, because Sam had given it to her. The fabric still smelled of smoke and dirt and sweat, even after three years of washings, the rough seems where she'd stitched it back together familiar to her fingers. It had been the sweatshirt Sam had worn that day in Mission City, the one that had changed their lives forever. He'd given it to her in a care package shortly before he'd left for college.

She'd carried it ever since.

Of course she'd made the big deal about it then, rolling her eyes that he'd kept the gnarly thing. He'd called it is superman jersey or something like that. Like he was a football star and this was the jersey he'd worn when scoring the touchdown that won the Super Bowl. He was going to keep that shirt forever, he'd said, and so he'd given it to her as a reminder. A reminder that his love for her was forever, too, and as long as she had that shirt, he would always come for her.

The shirt landed with a soft swish in the nearest wastebasket. Her opinions of Sam's promises of forever joining it in a mental and emotional heap.

It was over now, done. She was going back to the states with Trent, and the two of them were going to try this whole relationship thing again. Maybe it would work out. Most likely it wouldn't, she realized. Trent was going to be the rebound guy, the next big thing after the breakup of her longest and most passionate relationship. Rebound guys never stuck around for long. But at least she would be in the States again. She would be finally and forever free of this stupid alien war. And if things with Trent didn't work out, she'd find herself a low-key man somewhere. Someone that enjoyed the easy things in life like working on bikes, beer, barbecue, and loving one woman more than anything else.

She'd wake up every day in the same bed, go to the same job, and come home to the same old news on the television every night. It sounded like heaven.

"You aren't even going to say goodbye, are you," Wheelie said quietly, staring at the shirt in the wastebasket.

"I already did," she replied simply, zipping up the duffle bag and slinging it over her shoulder. "Sam made his choice. I've been here for three days since we broke up and he's yet to come and see me. I think that's as good as a goodbye as I'm going to get."

He looked up at her again, his warrior goddess, and shook his head. "That's not what I meant and you know it, doll. You weren't even going to say goodbye to me, were you?"

She hesitated, biting her lower lip before nodding. "Yeah, I was. I… I can't do this anymore, you understand? I'm not cut out for this. This isn't the life I want."

Wheelie pursed his lips as much as his metallic face could allow and finally nodded slowly. "No room in your life for aliens, I see. Not even little unobtrusive drones like me."

Mikaela sighed, slumping down on the bed. "It's not you, personally, Wheelie. It would be selfish of me to take you with me. I'm never coming back. If you come with me, you'll be cut off from the Autobots for good. At least until you decide you don't want to stay with me anymore."

"I may be a scrap drone, but I'm not stupid. There's more to it than that."

This time she looked away, twisting her fingers in her lap. "You'll be a constant reminder of Sam," she said finally. "And with all the energon detectors in the cities now, I'll never be free of this war if you come with me. I'll always be watched, followed. And I can't live like that."

"You'll always be watched, warrior-goddess," Wheelie rolled over to the bed, grabbing her leg and climbing up it to sit on the bed next to her. "You know about us. We know about you. You'll always be watched over by us, and your own government, too. Though I don't trust those guys to guard a snowball in the middle of winter, myself."

She huffed out a tiny laugh at that, one hand going around him in a sort of hug. "I am going to miss you. When I get settled, when I'm… when I'm over Sam and this whole situation, maybe things will change. Maybe you can visit me."

"Yeah, sure," he replied, shoulders slumping a bit.

A knock at the door interrupted what he would have said next, followed by a Trent walking in. "Hey, babe," he began with a smile, which faded into a frown at the sight of Wheelie cradled in her arm. His eyes hardened. "Hey, the plane is ready. Everything else is loaded. It's now or never. You coming?"

"Yeah, she's coming," Wheelie snapped, leaping off the bed and rolling between Trent's legs. One tiny hand reached out and caught the sweatshirt from the trashcan as he rolled out the door. "Don't mind me. I'm just a little scrap drone. Best to go what scrap drones are best at. Take care, warrior goddess."

Trent barely suppressed a shiver. "I can't wait until we're gone from here. This whole situation creeps me out to no end."

Mikaela opened her mouth on instinct to snap at him, to defend the Autobots for defending humanity. She wanted to tell him that they all deserved his respect and thanks, from the most powerful down to the tiniest. But the words would not come, and she closed her mouth, nodding instead. She had made her choice to leave. She owed Sam and the Autobots nothing more, not with twice helping them to defend earth. No, she'd earned her right to walk away, and she was choosing to exercise that right.

Once the plane lifted off from the airfield, she would be free. It was what she wanted most, wasn't it? Her eyes moved of their own accord to the now empty wastebasket. When Sam's shirt had filled it, everything had seemed so real, so final between them. With it gone? It reminded her that nothing was forever; not Sam's decision to choose the Autobots over her. Not even her decision to leave him. Wheelie had said that she would always be watched, and she knew that was the little guy's way of saying it was never too late to change her mind.

Trent gave another shudder as Wheelie disappeared down the long hallway. "It's gone, thank goodness. Come on," he reached a hand out to her. "The sooner we're gone from this place, the better. I can't wait to get back to a normal life."

Wordlessly, she picked up her duffle bag and took his hand, the image of that empty wastebasket haunting her the entire way to the airfield.

*** TFM *** TFM *** TFM ***

Phoenix awoke with a silent gasp, half expecting to find herself strapped into a roller coaster. The fact that she was not tied down and indeed not moving was something of a shock. The fact that she could see anything at all was also a little jarring. That white light on the tracks had been blinding, all consuming… and yet oddly familiar. It had reminded her of the last time she'd spoken with Jazz in that wannabe Egyptian desert tomb. The two of them sitting side by side on an ancient stone table, starring up at the blue-white lightning storm that represented her connection to the Matrix.

It took her a moment to regain her sense of balance, her sense of reality. Trembling fingers rose to scrub at her face, to try and wipe away the last vestiges of the dream. She and Ratchet had visited that 'non space' between awake and asleep many times since their mating. It was the only way they could… well… mate. But this was the first time something had disrupted that time together.

Actually, she thought as she lay against his chest plating, listening to soothing thrum of his spark, that was the first time they had visited a place in Ratchet's memories. Before, they had always gone to that little place by the babbling brook, the one that looked like it came from some pastoral Greek play. She had a feeling that he let her choose that setting more for her comfort than for his. Sort of like an attempt to ease her into the situations that her new life presented. She felt a stab of guilt at that. Next time, they would go back to that place where they both stood as Cybertronians, a place of his choosing. It was only fair.

Come to think of it, she mused, wasn't that just what had happened? In diving into that brook, it was possible that they had shifted the 'non space' into his subconscious instead of hers. Maybe he had taken her on a wishful tour of the world he had once called home, fit her into his memories so they could experience them together. That brought a big grin to her lips. Of all the mechs in existence, she had never once believed that her dour, serious, wrench-throwing mate would be the roller coaster junkie. The memory of that smile on his face, however, as the Plasma Curve took off more than proved that theory.

Phoenix rolled over onto her stomach, resting her chin on her palms. She stared at his sleeping form, the utter stillness of a Cybertronian in recharge no longer unnerving to her. They did not breathe like humans breathed, the air they took in through their vents for cooling rather than respiration. But in recharge, the need to cool overworked circuits and processors was minimum at best. So they appeared to be lifeless statues in recharge to the human eye, utterly still and utterly silent. To those with optics to see the flow of energy around them, however, it was a different story. Just looking at that pattern was like watching a sleeping human breathe deeply in sleep. She delighted in his patterns, wanted to wrap herself in them as if they were a fine mink blanket and roll around.

She grinned widely. "You never told me you loved roller coasters," she whispered softly. "And now that I know, I'm so not going to let you forget that."

There was a blip in his energy patterns, a recognition that she had spoken to him, that she was awake. She felt him start that long climb to consciousness and instinctively placed a soothing hand to his mouth plates. Inwardly, her spark sent a gentle wave of love across their bond. It was enough to reassure him that she was fine and send him back into the depths of a desperately needed recharge. Though Jolt and Kup were going to be fine, he continued to worry for them and the long recovery ahead. Worry so much that he ignored his own recharge needs to keep an optic on his patients. The last thing she wanted to do was wake him unnecessarily.

Instead, she gently slipped from the little cocoon of his fingers that housed her while she slept, clutched gently to his chest plating. The dream still nagged at her, tugged at her mind as she made her way towards her desk area. She needed to write it all down while it was fresh in her mind. Though it was quickly fading, as all dreams tended to do upon waking. As she'd learned from the last two times she'd slipped into these strange dreams, it was best to have all the facts before she started asking questions. Mentally she kicked herself for not keeping a dream journal until recently, especially after confessing that she was supposed to be the "destroyer of two worlds," whatever that meant. That had caused all shades of chaos, and she still felt like an idiot because she hadn't remembered enough facts from that dream or whatever it was to answer all of Optimus Prime's questions.

She wasn't going to make that mistake again.

Belting her robe around her waist, she crossed the landing to her desk area—and froze. Sitting on her desk was what was left of her Louis Vuitton suitcase. It was battered and broken and punctured with so many holes to be almost unrecognizable. But she knew it, knew every inch of that too-expensive piece of luggage. She'd packed it with care the night before she'd boarded Freedom Flight, intending to leave from the factory inspection in Virginia all those months ago and head straight home to Diego Garcia.

Phoenix took a deep breath, reaching for the lid. It opened with barely a squeak of protest, and that brought a bit of a smile to her face. You truly got what you paid for in terms of quality, she mused. Idly she wondered if Louis Vuitton could gain permission to use the war in their slogan. 'Buy our luggage. It's incredibly expensive, but it'll take a Decepticon beating and still protect your belongings!' Somehow she knew both Lennox and Optimus would fall over and die at the suggestion.

She chuckled as she began to go through the contents. Most of the clothing was ruined, along with two pair of her precious Prada shoes. There would be no getting the scent of char and smoke from those items. Not to mention the scuffs and tears from whatever had punctured the suitcase. Best not to think about what could have been rammed through that tough steel and leather, she shuttered. Best not to think about that whole ordeal. The grieving for her fallen friends was just beginning, and the thought of waking her mate with her tears was simply out of the question. Not on their first night as mate-and-mate in their new home.

However, she was delighted to find that the gifts she'd purchased for her friends had survived the assault.

There was the receipt for the ginormous red cape she'd had made to fit Grimlock, monogramed with a giant "G" in gold thread rather than an "S" to mimic Superman's cape. The poor bot had fallen in love with the idea of Superman one night while watching the Justice League with the some of the recruits one evening. She just had to get him a "SuperGrimlock" cape. Come to think of it, that cape should be ready for shipping any day now. With the receipt for the cape, she'd found the DVD set of "Houdini's greatest magical escapes" that she'd purchased for Sunstreaker and Sideswipe, the set of oversized foam wrenches she'd found for Ratchet (to be safely thrown at humans), the model kits replicating the first space shuttles for Wheeljack, and finally the custom made bumper sticker for Ironhide that read "Cannon Control is Hitting Your Target."

With a wry smile, she set the gifts on the desk, frowning slightly as something small and round fell out of the pile, rolling to a stop against her bare foot. Her breath caught as she glanced down. The item was small and round and made of wood, smooth on one side as if worn from countless hands passing it back and forth. Her eyes widened, her optic zooming in as close as it could. There were particles of sand clinging to the chip—not dirt or char or ashes—but sand. Like sand from a desert. She flipped it over in her palm and nearly dropped it in shock.

It pulsed in her hands with tiny blue-white arcs of lightning just like the little blip had in her dreams. Emblazoned on one side of the poker chip was her clan symbol, and on the other was as single name spelled in Cybertronian glyphs: "Jazz."

And just like that, she remembered.

*** TFM *** TFM *** TFM ***

She had no memory of how she had gotten out of their quarters, and only vaguely remembered Ratchet jerking awake, weapons appearing in his hand. Had she told him everything was alright? Had she assured him that her state of shock was nothing to be concerned about? Had she said anything at all? She didn't know, couldn't remember. Everything in her being, in her spark, was aimed like an arrow in one direction. Her bare feet slapped on the cold pavement as she ran, the poker chip clutched in her fist as if it were the only thing holding her to the planet.

Humans and Autobots parted for her as she ran, many with curses and a few with calls of concern. Phoenix was normally dressed to impress, so much so that many forgot that she was a simple budget liaison, a military paper pusher that used to be a fighter pilot before injuries in the line of duty forced her to step away from flight missions. Her internal comm. was ablaze with queries, the data streams that constantly overlapped her vision calling out names to those particular queries. She had no time to concentrate as Prowl had taught her. It took too much for her yet to let down her defenses and formulate replies. So she filed those queries for a later answer and ran for all she was worth.

The poker chip was hot in her palm, almost too hot to touch. Blazing with energy.

"Aunt Lydia!"

Phoenix had the brief impression of nearly running down her nephew. Her subconscious nagged at her, told her that she should stop and say something to Trent DeMarco, and even to that young girl on his arm. What was her name? Michelle? Kayla? Something like that? And wasn't she supposed to be Witwicki's girl? Again, a brief memory surfaced in like a bubble in the raging torrent of her determination. Yes, that girl had once dated Trent in high school, but had left him for Witwicki. Could they have reconciled? She shoved that thought aside for now. She would make this up to Trent as soon as she was finished.

But finished with what? She shook her head, the tail of her robe streaming behind her as she ran. All that mattered was reaching Jazz. She had to reach Jazz before it was too late.

Two sets of footsteps ran behind her, one heavy with military precision and pacing, the other light and erratic. Her optic sensor told her it was Trent and the girl, replaying the image of the two of them following her down the hallway. She ignored them, feeling like an arrow drawn and ready to release at the target. Tension sang in her every movement, her every step. She had to go faster. She had to hurry.

Giant blue-armored feet appeared before her, a query flashing in her mind so powerful it blocked out all other objects in her vision. Optimus. Her Prime was standing before her, demanding to know what was so important as to have half the base in an uproar. She should stop. She should bow her head and explain. But then that bow string would snap. She could not let the arrow that was her purpose fly free without a target. She had to keep running. She had to reach Jazz. She hadto!

The poker chip in her palm was on fire. She could feel it searing her flesh. She chose to run around him, to ignore her Prime.

COMMAND OVERRIDE: OPTIMUS PRIME. FRAME CONTROL INITIATED.

"NO!" she screamed, seeing those words fill her vision, feeling them sink into her being. Her arm and leg, her optic, and one of her ears just … stopped. Any part of her that was cybertronian, save for her spark and its casing, ceased to respond to her will. She stumbled and fell, half blind. Half deaf. Half crippled. And still she clawed at the floor with her good hand, tried to move forward. Time was running out. She had to get to Jazz.

The poker chip in her palm was like holding a branding iron. She whimpered from the pain, from the effort to keep her fingers wrapped around the thing.

Giant silver hands scooped her up from the floor. In her one functioning ear, she could hear Trent screaming for her, demanding to know what had happened to his aunt. Demanding to help her. The girl at his side tried to sooth him, to tell him that it was okay. He wasn't listening. The last thing she heard before Optimus lifted her to his optic level was Trent's fist colliding with a security officer's jaw.

"Jazz," she sobbed. "Please, I need to get to Jazz. You have to take me there, now."

Optimus nodded. He just simply… nodded. Her eyes opened wide, too wide. Her hand felt like a ball of charred nerves, fingers trembling. She was half surprised that she did not smell charred flesh in the air around her. Yet with her optic dark, she could not see that side of her body. With one arm and one leg useless, she could not turn herself to see what was left of her hand.

Optimus started walking forward. "After we reach Jazz, you will explain what is happening."

"Yes, my Prime," she managed out between hiccupping sobs, no longer sure if they were tears of agony or tears of relief. "I'm sorry. I don't know why I have to reach him. I just have to. I have to as fast as I can, or it'll be too late."

"To late for what?"

"I don't know!" she cried in frustration. "I just know I have to get there. And it has to be now. Now… or all is lost. Forever."

COMMAND OVERRIDE RELEASED: OPTIMUS PRIME.

The world started to jostle up and down as Optimus ran. Feeling returned to her whole body as his will released her frame. Phoenix flung her arms around his fingers to steady herself, a wave of utter devotion and loyalty pouring from her before she could stop it. He was trusting her, she realized. Trusting her as she had begged him to trust her in the past. She had said that it was dire to reach Jazz's remains as soon as possible, and he was taking her at her word.

He would bring her to Jazz regardless of the cost, because she had said it was necessary. Because one of his Autobots had told him in truth that something needed to be done. He would see it done.

And then he would see to it that things were set to rights, of course. She knew that she would most likely face brig time for the uproar she'd caused. Trent would most likely be there, himself, for striking an officer. There, she assured herself, she would have time to explain to him just what had happened in the past three or so months. But first, she had a job to do.

A job that would be done as a team, as Autobots.

She could no longer feel the hand that held the poker chip. She wasn't certain if that was good or bad.

When they burst into the chamber that held Jazz's remains, Ratchet was already there, unsealing the metal coffin that held her spark-brother's remains. She didn't ask her mate how he knew where she was heading. Some things the bond just translated without words. Optimus placed her gently on the edge of the coffin and no one said a word as she climbed onto Jazz's chest armor. The poker chip clinched in her fist blazed like she was holding liquid energy in her palm. She dared not look at it, afraid it would burn both eye and optic to ash if she did. Instead, she laid her fist onto Jazz's cold chest plating.

"Come back to us, spark-brother," she whispered. "We need you."

She slowly opened her hand.