"Wow, you can totally see it now. Jen, come here. You've got to see this!" Max gestured excitedly. "See? The metal was all one color last night. See how blotchy it is now? That's the stuff they replaced. It's already turning." He began filming, alternating shots between the original and the newly replaced leg. "And how is it moving today?"
"The performance is marginal." The lower leg whined in protest as he moved it to demonstrate. "But it is improving." He turned his head. "No, slightly lower. Under the third strut." Jennifer tugged the canvas-covered chain of the suspension harness down as hard as she could. The robot settled his chassis into the sling. "One of them is caught behind my right aileron."
Jennifer jumped down off the cart she'd been standing on to adjust the harness. The engineers had made it look so easy when they did it the first time. She was sure that if any of them were to look at it now they'd find a hundred things wrong. Despite Max's best efforts, some of the chains had gotten twisted, and one of them had snapped when they tried to put the robot's weight onto it. And Starscream had been as good as his word about getting back into it, despite the painfully obvious fact that two unarmed humans really couldn't make him do anything he didn't want to do.
Max was still snapping pictures of the leg, so Jennifer sighed and picked her way up the robot's chest. She still wasn't used to the idea of putting her entire weight on him, even though she weighed less than the NEST soldiers, and they'd climbed all over him like he was a floormat.
"Which one?" She knelt at the top of the robot's shoulder.
"This one." He flapped one of his metal plates. "You see it?"
"Yeah. I see where it's caught." She flopped down to her belly, reaching for the caught chain. Just out of reach. She sat back. "Can't get it."
"Try again, I will assist you."
As she reached for the chain again, the robot shifted the plate forward. The plate caught her fingers against another piece of metal.
"Ouch! Okay, stop!"
"Did I injure you, Jennifer human?"
She yanked her fingers out of the way. One nail was bleeding, but compared to what he'd been through, she didn't feel quite right complaining. "Don't worry about it. I'll try to be more careful."
"Perhaps it would be better if Max assisted you."
"Good idea. Max!" she turned around. "Where the hell are you, anyway?"
He popped out from under the joint's knee. "I'm just looking for something. I lost my phone last night. I was thinking that it might have fallen out when we were undoing the harness."
"Did you find it?"
"Are you sure you
"I'll look around for it later. Right now we should probably fix this before anyone misses you."
"Right." He started climbing up next to her. "Don't think we have to worry too much about that, though."
"I thought you were maintenance monkey for the Autobots?"
"Yeah, don't remind me." He scowled. "But that's what I mean. This place is like a ghost town. I think everyone's gone."
"Well, you know. Most of the soldiers. That guard from last night wasn't even the regular guy. And I haven't gotten a blip from an Autobot yet."
"Hunh." Maybe this was the big deal the colonel had going on with his fancy powerpoints. "Well, more time before we get busted, then, I guess."
"Yeah, I thought of that." Max reached down behind the aileron. "Can't quite reach…hey, can you grab my legs so I don't fall over? Great….hold on, there you go!" He jerked a length of chain, which rattled free. "Success!"
"Seriously, Max," she said, hauling him back. "What the heck are you going to do? They're bound to notice."
"Yeah, I do know that." He wiped his forehead. "It depends how long we can go without them noticing. Another day and the big geeks will start trickling back from Geneva. If I can let one or two of them in on it, we're golden. I'd have to share credit, but, well, there are a lot worse alternatives."
"Don't remind me."
"Oh, come on, it's not like they would actually kill us or anything. The worst they can do is yell at us and send us back to the real world. And think about how much that wouldn't suck: Arby's Horsey Sauce, Snickers bars, People in real clothes,. HBO series…. Look, I'm just saying it's not all bad."
"I suppose you're right," she said, following him down the robot's body. "There's only so much they can do. To us." She didn't want to admit she was worried what they might do to the Decepticon.
To prove Max's theory, even the disarmament team was different from the usual one. They noticed nothing unusual. They didn't even protest when she offered to do the work for them. All the leader seemed interested in was checking off items from a clipboard. "Hatches empty and cleared. Okay. Barrels empty and cleared. Check. Suspension harness." He looked up. "Looks okay. All right, guys, we're done. Roll it out." And they were gone.
Starscream insisted on taking a look at her recordings. He'd shown her how to connect him to her computer and she spent the next few hours trying to reorder her vocabulary cards, pausing to switch out CDs when the drives popped open. Her hard drive was filling up with files faster than she could keep track. If only the Autobots were this cooperative!
"You can take a break any time you want," she eventually said, yawning. "It's not like we have a deadline."
"I would like to help you while I can. As you and Max have said, when they discover my leg has been reattached, we do not know what will happen."
"Good point, but, I feel guilty making you work this hard. It's very boring."
"It is easily done. But I will stop if you wish." He waited while she saved the files. "Do you think you might open the hangar door again?"
"Planetbound, I have come to appreciate atmospherics."
"Is Earth that different?" She hit the hangar bay door switch.
"It does not have ion storms, like some planets I have been. One had water upflow. Like your rain, but from the ground to the atmosphere."
"What was that
"The air was heavy with salts. Very corrosive."
"This place must seem pretty boring to you. All we have is like hurricanes and blizzards."
"They are not dangerous to fly through like a magma storm, but they are not nothing." He tilted his head to the open door. Late afternoon sunlight, heavy and gold, slanted through the door. "We face west," he said.
"I guess so. F1 faces east."
"Do all of the hangars face the same directions?"
"Kind of. The ones that face the main tarmac are labeled with 'one'."
"Threes are supposed to be receiving ends. We face away."
"And we are fifth? How many hangars are there?"
"Fifth out of five. Bottom of the pile. It's all very military and orderly and all that."
"You do not have the chance to work your way up in the hierarchy?"
"No, that's already set. It's all stuff you wear on your collar around here. Max and I, obviously, don't even rate. You saw that."
"Jennifer human, I do not have the right words for what I would like to say."
"This sounds serious. Let's hear what you have and we'll fix it." She winked at him. "Might be nice if I actually got to be the teacher around here for once."
"I wish to express…appreciation? For what you and the Max human have done."
"I wouldn't be so quick: Max is just looking out for his own career. Me, well, I can't say I'm doing much different, actually."
"It is more than that. You have not let others taint your mind against me. I think," he paused, "I think that you trust me."
"Isn't that the point of that crazy story you told me?"
"I have not lied to you."
"No, I don't think you have."
"I want you to know that. To remember that. And I shall always remember that you were…," another pause, groping for words, "less unpleasant to me than circumstances dictated."
"There is a better way to say this thing. Yes?"
"Normally we just say 'thank you,'" she said.
"Ah. That is less difficult and more efficient." Two pole stars of his world.
"Starscream, what do you think they'll do to you? When they find out about the leg?"
"You should not worry yourself with that. Of more concern is what they will do to you and the Max human."
The hangar bay door dented with a thundering sound. Another loud hit, and it caved inwards, entirely ripped from its track. The night was thick black outside. Jennifer, jerked awake on her cot, could see nothing more than dark shapes against more darkness. What was happening?
"Starscream," she said, yanking on shoes, "Are you all right? What's going on?" She ran towards him, but her way was blocked by a towering shape. The red eyes were unfamiliar to her. She saw a targeting laser's red light blossom on her chest. He buzzed something in Cybertronian too fast for her to catch. She froze. Starscream blurted something back. The shape over her looked away, and then back, as if puzzled. But it did not move to attack her.
Beyond him, she could see many small lights swinging crazily, approaching the robot. Had the NEST team come in the middle of the night to take him away? No, the lights were clustered together at different heights and as she looked more carefully she could see they swung on joints from two small figures, barely taller than she was. They crawled all over Starscream like bugs, and the metal plates Ratchet had inserted to prevent him from transforming started clattering to the floor.
Starscream called to the other bot, who left her without a backward glance, and pulling out some whirring blade, sliced cleanly through the suspension harness's chains. Starscream surged to his feet, the smaller bots still clinging to him. One scrambled around to attack the governors on his back jets. Starscream moved a little awkwardly, his foot still not fully functional, giving him a heavy one-sided shuffle. The other large bot squeezed his knuckles around the door's interior track.
Jennifer had never seen him standing upright. Sitting he was only ten or so feet taller than her, shorter than Ratchet or Ironhide standing. On his feet he seemed enormous. His head seemed a mile away from her. He squatted down suddenly, faster than anything that big should have been able to move. He signalled to the other bot, who was a bit shorter, but bulkier through the legs. "Quickly," he said, "before they manage a resistance." She could hear feet pounding along the inner hangar corridor and cursing, but the new robot had dented the door's tracks, trapping the door closed. They could yank on it all they wanted.
He pushed her to the floor. "When they assaulted," he said, "these fell on you. That is the story as you will tell it." He reached for two of the supply crates and placed them over her legs, pinning her down.
"I don't understand…?"
"I am leaving, Jennifer human. I have to. It is my mission." One of the governors dropped from his back with a thunderous crash. The small bot nearly fell with it, its lights swinging crazily as it grabbed for a handhold. The second bot worked around to attack the remaining governor.
He pushed back up, paused, and then crouched down again. Behind him, the other bot yelled something. Jennifer heard the rattle of small arms fire. It echoed in the hangar—she couldn't tell where it was coming from. Was it from outside or was it the new robot? She shrunk down flatter to the floor.
"They must have no doubt," he said, as if to himself. To her, "I regret the necessity, Jennifer human. But they must have no doubt that you were uninvolved." Something flitted across his face that she couldn't read. He flexed his injured hand, and then struck, driving the one remaining upright barb through her left shoulder. She felt it burn through her skin, skitter on bone, and then give again as it cut into the floor. She was not a warrior trained to withstand pain. She screamed so loudly that her throat felt like it would catch on fire. The robot twisted his hand sharply, and the talon snapped off, in her shoulder pinning her to the ground.
"Do not lose that," he said. Or something, she couldn't make sense of it or anything anymore. The room flashed white where the NEST team tried to blow the door with explosives. The second governor fell from his shoulder at that same moment, seeming to shake the floor. It was like the world was coming apart. The other robot began firing at the doorway, backing away, making an obvious retreat to the open hangar door.
"I shall not forget you, Jennifer Silver." The fact that he used her full name startled tears into her eyes. "I ask that you do not forget me. And that you understand that I have done what I must." He waited for her to reply, but all that she could do at the moment was cry. With a last look over his shoulder, he raced to the door, and with a roar of engines, launched into the night air.
Somewhere over the Atlantic
"We received your warning in time, Starscream," Blackout said. The gangly repairbots were dangling between the two airborne bots, running a fuel hose into the jet robot's intake. "The mission was called off. They will be attacking an empty forward base, which we took the liberty of liberally trapping. That should keep them entertained for a while. Soundwave admits he was unable to track their intelligence. He is…frustrated."
"He did not seem to exert himself to find me."
"He was distracted. We were pleased to receive your distress beacon, though we were not actively scanning such a low frequency."
"I had to make use of the materials at hand. The cell phone device was the best I could do in the circumstances."
"And do you have any other intelligence to debrief, or should we send you straight to repair bay?"
"I will need treatment for a mild case of metal shock, and my hand requires attention. But they can wait. I believe I may have discovered some useful information about the indigenous energon source."
"And how did you receive this information, exactly? We have fallen for their misinformation campaigns before."
"Conversations, taped by the human who was with me, before I arrived. Unlikely that they would have planted misinformation that far ahead, unless their Prime is now prescient."
"And this human
just handed them over to you?"
"She had no idea what was on them."
"That was the human in the room with you? I would be insulted to have been left to such a pitiful guard."
"She was not a guard," Starscream said. "She was as much a prisoner as I was."