Sam had been in the middle of his trigonometry homework and quite frankly on the verge of throwing the book out a window when his phone started frantically vibrating. Quickly, he dug into his pocket, fished it out, and began scrolling through an entire set of text messages that together spelled out:
Sam, 'bot incoming – I'm on collection duty. Alert your parents and Mikaela – further instructions to come in case of emergency. Ratchet's your on-call back-up. B.
Below his window, he heard an engine fire up, and then tires squealed a bit as Bumblebee backed quickly out of the driveway, reversed gears, and tore off down the street. Sam felt his heart knock painfully against his ribs, part hope, part fear, and all curiosity. It had been nearly a year since Mission City, and in all that time, not one single response to Prime's message had been logged. Granted, no one had been expecting one in under a year – 'Bee said it had taken a year for his squad to pick up his call when he'd initially discovered the connection between Archibald Witwicky and Megatron, and two more for them to reach Earth, and they had been close, in galactic terms. But Sam knew that the waiting was hard on his friends, nevertheless.
Now if only this were a happy ending to that wait...! He glanced down at the message once more, then sighed as he stood and flipped the phone open, quick-dialing Mikaela. He hurried down the stairs and into the living room, where his parents were standing by the window, staring out after 'Bee. They'd no sooner turned toward him than Mikaela picked up, and he frantically gestured for silence.
"Mikaela? It's Sam," he said, speaking not just to the phone but to his parents, as they looked on in confusion. "Listen," he said, "I just got a text message from 'Bee – they've got somebody new coming in tonight. He's already on his way out to pick up whoever this 'bot is."
On the other end of the line, he could hear Mikaela suck in a breath. "Somebody finally got the message?"
"Sounds like it. But they don't know who it is yet, and 'Bee said to warn you – if there's any trouble, he'll call. And if he does," he warned, eying his parents significantly, "we should probably be ready for it."
As it happened, however, fortune smiled upon them, for perhaps an hour later, Sam got another phone call. This time, as his parents clustered at his back, one leaning on each shoulder so they could read 'Bee's message all at once, the screen blinked to life with just two words:
"Oh thank God," his mother sighed, and his father squeezed his shoulder. Sam managed a distracted smile, already hitting quick-dial on 'Bee's com-code. A moment later:
"Yes, Sam?" Bumblebee's voice sounded over the phone.
"So who is it? Is everything all right?" Sam demanded, and listened to the Autobot's rumbling chuckle.
"Everything is fine. I'm on my way in with Prime, Ironhide, Blaster, and Slidesign as we speak."
"Blaster and Slidesign?"
"Yes – they're partners."
"But you said it was just one signal," Sam said.
"It was only the one signal. Almost got us all in trouble, since I wasn't expecting Slidesign to be lying in wait in case of attack," Bumblebee added.
"Dude," Sam protested, "you can't just tell me that!"
"Sam, they were being cautious, that's all. No one is hurt. Now, do you want to call Mikaela, or shall I?"
And since clearly Bumblebee wasn't going to be moved to an explanation, Sam sighed, and replied, "I'll call her. You're sure everything's all right?"
"Okay, then, I'll see you when you pull in. 'Bye, 'Bee." With that, Sam hung up. And he stood there in the living room a few moments, eyes closed, before he opened them once more and began redialing Mikaela's number.
When 'Bee pulled into the driveway perhaps forty-five minutes later, Sam was waiting for him. Having called Mikaela, then been forced upstairs by his parents to finish his math homework, he'd eventually taken Mojo out to play fetch for awhile. Then, when even the chihuahua had grown tired of the game, he had scooped the dog up and flopped onto a chair on the porch, waiting for the telltale whine of a Camaro's engine.
Almost as soon as the Autobot pulled onto the drive, Sam was on his feet, taking the steps two at a time, Mojo following along.
"So? What's the deal with these guys attacking you?" he demanded, and he could've sworn 'Bee sagged on his tires. But then the Camaro rolled back a bit, and in just a few seconds, Sam was staring up at a robot who, even kneeling, topped him by a good yard or so.
Bumblebee leaned one hand on his knee and one fist on the ground as he lowered himself down to something approaching eye-level with Sam.
"It's as I said: they were being cautious. And they didn't attack me," Bumblebee replied, firmly, though his eyes were brilliant and he sounded rather amused. More than amused, actually – elated. "You needn't worry, Sam. I've walked into worse trouble before, and I had Ironhide and Prime backing me up. There was very little danger, unless perhaps to newly landed Decepticons."
Sam blinked, but then smiled a bit himself. "I guess not," he replied, eying his friend. Despite the relaxation of disguise regs, Bumblebee hadn't dropped his alt-mode while at the Witwickys' house since he'd first introduced himself to Sam's parents. Yet here he was, in full view of any passing car or neighbor who happened to look out the front window, apparently totally unconcerned about being seen. "So... did they say whether there were others coming?"
Bumblebee nodded, and if possible, his eyes actually brightened further, as a low hum emanated from the Autobot. "They did – and there are. They'll be maybe another year getting here, but they're coming!" That low hum rose a tone, as Bumblebee, with deep contentment, repeated softly, almost to himself as he looked skyward: "They are coming!"
As it had been a Tuesday night when the new Cybertronians had made landfall, Sam had expected to endure a long week, plagued by curiosity, until Friday night finally rolled around. That was the rule, made by his parents in an effort to ensure that he would get his homework done once they'd learned Bumblebee's true nature. Or at least, that was the ostensible reason. Since he could produce compelling evidence (and had done so) that he actually got just as much work done at the base as not, Sam rather suspected that it had been more because they worried that going to the old airfield put Sam at greater risk of attack.
But having come to realize that the Camaro living in their driveway was indeed a person, even if an alien, and that his 'family' lived out on the base, Ron and Judy had given Sam weekend privileges since Bumblebee's duty to him required him to remain near Sam or else find a substitute. Beyond that, Sam had been adamant that the other Autobots were his friends, too. Thus the compromise had been born.
However, given the present unusual circumstances, and that it had been nearly eighty years since Bumblebee had seen any others of his kind besides the surviving members of his squad or Decepticons out to hunt and kill him, Sam's parents had made an exception. Judy had given permission for Sam to ride along with Bumblebee that week, if it made it easier for Bumblebee to carry out his duty of protecting her son while also being able to settle in with the new squad members.
Thus Wednesday afternoon, the second school was out, Sam and Mikaela had piled into their friend's alt-mode and the three of them had quickly made for the base.
"So tell us about these guys," Mikaela said almost immediately. "Did you know them from before? Where'd they come from?"
"I've never worked with Blaster and Slidesign before, although I know Jazz did once," Bumblebee answered. "They're a team specializing in communications and had been assigned to one of the squads looking for the Allspark."
"So that's how come they're out here," Sam surmised.
"Not quite," Bumblebee replied. "They were actually assigned to search a sector about eighteen light years from here."
"That's... not close," Sam said.
"How'd they get here?" Mikaela asked.
"About sixty years ago, they tangled with a Decepticon company and in the attempt to retreat, ended up going through an unstable wormhole that warped each of them to different regions. Blaster isn't certain where everyone else of his team is, but on his way out the wormhole, he managed to deploy an omnidirectional subspace way-marker. He got a ping off two of them that way – enough to extrapolate the parabola the squad likely got dropped along and determine the closest point of intersection of their positions. By now, the other two are about a light-year or a little less from the Solar system. Needless to say, they'll alter course for Earth in response to Prime's message, just as Blaster and Slidesign did."
"And when they landed here last night, this Slidesign guy nearly jumped you?" Mikaela raised a brow.
"Nearly. Fortunately, Blaster is a comm officer and first rate signals analyst – he ran my signal and called him off." There was a pause, then: "I probably should warn you: Blaster's a little different from the rest of us."
"Different how?" Mikaela pressed.
"Well, for one, he and Slidesign aren't just a team – they're a symbiont team."
"They're a what?" Sam asked blankly.
"You mean like those fish that clean off whale baleen?" Mikaela demanded.
"Not exactly. It's complicated." 'Bee left it that, moving quickly on: "But on the topic of symbionts, you've heard Epps and Lennox talk about Scorponok?" And when both Sam and Mikaela murmured 'yes', the Autobot explained: "Slidesign is the same model of symbiont."
Sam frowned. "You mean he's a giant scorpion?"
"No," Bumblebee corrected, rather emphatically, "he's a Kemtex model symbiont who exemplifies a case of convergent adaptive design."
"Huh," had been Sam's response.
"The reason I bring it up," 'Bee continued, "is that I know human beings have an instinctive aversion to arthropods and arthropod-shaped entities. But try not to act on that in this case, all right? Symbionts of his make tend to react strongly to other people's emotions."
When they reached the base, Bumblebee made straight for the med hangar, sliding to a smooth stop and opening his doors for Sam and Mikaela to exit. He'd just finished transforming when something long and low slithered out the door, chittering at them. Sam and Mikaela stopped dead in their tracks. For despite 'Bee's warning, hearing about a giant, mechanoid scorpion was not the same as being faced with one.
The scorpion – Slidesign, Sam forcibly reminded himself – swayed a bit before them, its 'tail' held high, and a pair of radar-like antennae flipped up from just behind the head to fix on Sam and Mikaela.
"Um... hi?" Sam offered after a moment, looking desperately up at Bumblebee as a wide-eyed Mikaela rocked back on her heels a bit. His guardian went to one knee and clicked at the symbiont, who clicked back, then gave a soft, electronic whine, backing up a pace or two.
"Slidesign?" a voice that neither human recognized called just then, and was followed a moment later by the 'bot to whom it belonged. Slidesign gave another series of clicks, then quickly turned and scuttled over to the Cybertronian, crawling up his leg and slithering between an arm and 'ribs'. The 'tail' wrapped about the stranger's torso as Slidesign hooked his pincers into gaps in pectoral armor and hoisted himself up so he could peer over the shoulder of his symbiotic partner.
"Hey, 'Bee," the newcomer greeted Bumblebee with a flash of the light panel at about his midsection.
"Blaster," Bumblebee replied, then gestured to his human wards. "May I introduce Samuel Witwicky and Mikaela Banes?"
Blaster turned towards them then, regarding the two with what seemed interest. Sam and Mikaela stared right back. For despite the fact that it was obvious, just by looking at them, that Cybertronians varied at least as much as, if not more so than, human beings did when it came to their appearance, this particular Cybertronian stood out among the other four Autobots.
For one thing, he was definitely on the large side – he was Optimus's height, easily, though not as bulky as either Prime or Ironhide. Or at least, so it appeared: whereas all the Autobots, and even most of the Decepticons, had appeared to be a solid mass of circuitry, vehicle parts and armor, this one appeared significantly lighter, like a few lengths of metal twisted or braided gracefully into an intricate, if 'airy', frame that fanned out into protective, curved planes. A pair of slender beams protruded from his back, not unlike Bumblebee's panels. What appeared to be his basic support structure was pretty clearly visible in a number of places.
He looked, Sam thought, just a little uneasily, more like Megatron in that respect than any of the Autobots, though unlike every other Cybertronian Sam had ever seen, his 'skin' was a scintillating silvery color, banded with strange red-brown swirls that wound all over him and seemed to converge on the Autobot decal imprinted in a definite, bold red on his chest. But he didn't appear to have any other decals – not even a modified one, like the Search and Rescue emblem that Ratchet bore. Nor was that all he lacked.
He doesn't have wheels, Sam realized after a minute's close scrutiny, perhaps a split second before Mikaela blurted out:
"You don't have an alternate form. Um." She bit her lip, flushing a little at the less than polite impression that must have made.
But either Blaster didn't yet grasp the nuances (or even the gross distinguishing features) of human greetings or else he took pity on their obvious bewilderment, for his facial plates twisted into an approximative smile.
"Actually, I do," he replied. "It just isn't one that's been trans-scanned to conform to human technology. So what I don't have is a disguise." A beat. "Sorry about that."
"Oh, no, no, it's fine – no problem." Mikaela was looking from Ratchet – who had appeared in the doorway of the med bay to watch the proceedings – to Bumblebee and back to Blaster again, as the inevitable conclusion came to her, and a slow smile, filled with wonderment, crawled over her face. "This is what you guys actually look like. Naturally, I mean."
"More or less," Ratchet confirmed, from where he stood leaning a shoulder against the door frame.
"How come you didn't scan anything on the way in?" Sam asked, curious.
"Haven't found anything that fits my specs," Blaster replied, back-beams lifting slightly, as if in a shrug, which caused Slidesign to chitter at him. "Sorry, Slider," he apologized, craning his neck a bit to chitter something in return. Then, glancing back at the humans, the Autobot said, "Speaking of Slidesign, I hope he didn't frighten you earlier. Ratchet mentioned there's a Terran species structurally similar to him that humans tend to fear. He won't harm you, though."
"'Bee said the same thing," Mikaela replied diplomatically.
"Slider really is pretty laid back," Blaster insisted, apparently eager to reassure them. Sam glanced at his guardian and swallowed any mention of near brushes with friendly-fire.
At just that moment, Ratchet straightened and stepped outside, gesturing for Sam and Mikaela to stand aside. "Well, you and your laid back other half need to finish out your systems test," the Autobot CMO declared. "So – get yourselves together. Let's check your transformation sequence."
"You're going to want to stand farther back," Bumblebee warned the two of them in a low voice, as he, too, backed away on an angle.
"You got it," Blaster told Ratchet, even as Slidesign dropped down behind his partner, his tail retracting from about Blaster's waist to the sound of multiple metallic clinks! Blaster grunted slightly, emitting a low hum and twitching his back-beams gently. Metal began to slide, and from somewhere in Blaster's armature, that strange five-toned sound emanated as the Autobot began to shift forms. Folding neatly to his knees, he placed his hands firmly on the ground before ventral and dorsal plating split, then shot upwards along reforming 'backbone' before opening out.
Sam wasn't sure what he'd been expecting – or rather, he knew precisely what he'd been expecting, which was why he blinked in surprise when Blaster was done. What is he? he wondered. Aloud, though, he said only, "So not everyone turns into a car?"
"No," 'Bee replied. "We're not all transports."
"Ah." Sam and Mikaela stared as Ratchet took a slow turn about the... structure... that Blaster had become, the medic's holo-screen up and running as he scanned the new arrival. Sam, trying to figure out how Blaster rearranged himself, decided that, weirdly enough, this was in some ways a little less strange than trying to imagine how a bipedal Autobot fit into a vehicular form. He could more or less see how Blaster tucked up into something like a handstand for maximum height and to support the—"array" was the only word coming to mind, which array was apparently most of his mass. It had a number of spiky protrusions on different axes, all of which more or less seemed to be braced on or built out of Blaster's back and legs... and wherever else Cybertronians tucked things. He thought one of the antenna-like protrusions was Slidesign's tail.
And now that Blaster was in his alt-mode, Sam could see that the apparently random red-brown swirls were actually nothing of the sort: they were glyphs that formed one continuous vertical sequence all along his surfaces. Like a tattoo, Sam thought, wondering what it said.
Still, it was definitely odd. Ratchet, though, seemed happy enough, as he shook his right hand into some kind of meter and "plugged in" via a couple of ports. "How's your targeting?" the medic asked, and the entire top half of the array tilted forward, then back, swiveled side to side, then turned a full three sixty. "No problems focusing?"
"No," Blaster's voice came through clearly from somewhere in the depths of his interior, though he sounded just a little distracted.
"Self-defense?" From the underside of the array 'platform' a pair of rectangular 'cases' dropped down, then transformed into what appeared to be two twin sets of machine guns on swivel mounts. Ratchet hummed approvingly, then:
"Slidesign?" On cue, the symbiont's tail curled down, and some braces on the structure unlocked as other parts began sliding about. Then Slidesign landed on the ground in his scorpion form, weapons spinning up, tail-prongs extended as electricity crackled along their sharp-edged surfaces. The CMO's engine gave a pleased rumble.
"Power flow isn't showing any anomalous fluctuation. Give me a ping," Ratchet ordered, watching as lines on what appeared to be a graph of some sort spiked neatly before he made the screen disappear. "Looks good," the medic said. Pulling his hand free, he rapped his knuckles against a support strut.
Blaster said nothing for a moment, but then, with a soft, electronic whine, he began changing back into his robotic form. Sam took an involuntary step back as support struts retracted, and then the comm officer rolled smoothly out of his stance, like a gymnast somersaulting. Slidesign, however, didn't even wait for him to finish moving or transforming, hastening to crawl back into place somewhere on Blaster's back, though the angle was wrong for Sam to be able to see exactly where he fit.
"I'll log you as duty-fit and inform Prime," Ratchet told him, and his lights flashed a quick sequence at the other. "Welcome to the squad."
"Thanks. Good to have one again," Blaster declared, shaking out his joints before turning to 'Bee and the two humans once more. "So," he said, with enthusiasm, "let's talk. Tell me about this planet of yours."
Blaster, as it turned out, was a lively 'bot. Whether by nature or as a result of a long, lonely, and uncertain trek through space in an effort to rejoin his sundered brothers, he was talkative, pressing Sam and Mikaela for any number of details on any number of subjects, not always in any order that made sense to the two human teenagers. 'Bee, however, appeared unfazed by the apparent chaos, he and Blaster seeming instantly to bond over a common strong streak of curiosity. Blaster was also, as they discovered, another lover of music.
"It's a comm 'bot thing," he told them. "I think it's in the design specs – every 'bot dedicated to signals analysis and communications has to love music. It is, as they say, written."
So he had said, and proceeded to interrogate them on everything musical, from their favorite bands to musical forms to different scales and musical forms (Bumblebee had ended up being more help on that topic than either Sam or Mikaela) to the politics of the American recording arts industry.
"Blaster seems like a pretty cool guy," Sam commented that evening, as Bumblebee drove him and Mikaela home.
"He's a lot like Jazz," Bumblebee replied, sounding just a little wistful, before he added, in a firmer voice, "Which means I probably should avoid taking you up to visit with him until I know you've done your work. Your parents may not be so tolerant otherwise, Sam!"
"I've got the whole night!"
"Yeah, and it's senior year," Mikaela added.
"And you'll finish well or Judy will be after me with her bat," Bumblebee replied. "I'm serious, Sam! And you, too, Mikaela – I think it would be best to wait until you were both finished before heading up to the base. Something tells me that Blaster won't be able to leave well enough alone, and he'd have no lack of conspiracy from you two!"
"We'll get it done, 'Bee, no sweat," Sam replied.
"I never do."
Sam rolled his eyes. "You know what I mean."
A slight, satisfied rumble greeted his exasperated tone. "And you know what I mean," the Autobot replied. "So, finish early tomorrow and we can visit. Otherwise, I'll wait 'til the weekend. The two of us likely wouldn't have much in the way of common deployments in any event, so it won't make much of a difference if I keep to routine." 'Bee sounded rather disappointed by this last, and Sam and Mikaela exchanged a look.
"I think," Mikaela said, mouth twitching just slightly, "that we've just been blackmailed into studying."
"Yeah, I'd say so," Sam replied, ignoring Bumblebee's mock-indignant chirp. "All right, 'Bee, you got it – we'll get the homework out of the way so we can all take advantage of Mom and Dad easing up on the regs for a week. Wouldn't want you to have to hang around the driveway all afternoon!"