The scout had done this before, of course. He was older than human civilization and even allowing for the vast distances between worlds, and eons spent in stasis, he had visited many, many worlds. His current function was primarily that of an advance explorer; he was adaptable, resourceful, and highly intelligent, and had a reputation for both courage and good luck.
Could use some of that luck now he thought, in frustration, listening to the two men argue in his front seat. He was still trying to sort out their language, never mind beginning surveillance. He had arrived on the world only a day before, and while deciphering alien languages was something he was good at, this species seemed more difficult than most. His own language was very precise, with hundreds of millions of words. It was tonal, but rhythm and timing also lent substantial meaning, and octave mattered too.
Humans, by contrast, had a very slippery language, with what he suspected were far too many homonyms and synonyms for the scout's pleasure. Others of his kind had been here before, but that had been tens of thousands of years ago. The language had changed dramatically, beyond any sort of backwards compatability. The result was that figuring out how everything fit together was driving him to glitching out.
So far, he had determined the taller organic creature responded to 'Sam' and the smaller one to 'Dean.' He was not sure if those were names, titles, or relationships. A scan of their anatomic structure indicated that they were both male, and a bit of genetic analysis had shown that they shared the same parents. They were brothers.
At the moment, the two brothers were making loud vocalizations at each other. He had no idea if they were playing, arguing, or if that was normal friendly behavior between them. There was so much he needed to learn before he could even begin his mission to search this world for any trace of the Allspark. He was both fascinated by the puzzle, as he was quizzical by nature, and frustrated by the challenge, as time was always of the essence. Reliable intelligence had warned them that their enemy would soon be arriving on this world too. If the Allspark was here, they needed to find it before the Decepticons did.
He was alone, a single scout, with backup still light years away. It was a lonely role for a social species such as his, and frightening. If he died here, the others might never know what happened to him. If he failed, everything they'd worked for could be lost. The Allspark could not be allowed to fall into 'con hands.
Resolutely, he turned his attention back to the two organic people riding in his cab. Dean's hands on his steering unit were firm, competent, and confident. It was difficult to turn control of his body over to a stranger, but at least Dean seemed to know what he was doing. He drove a bit aggressively, but not recklessly. To tell the truth, if the scout had been controlling his own travel he would have gone a lot faster.
Something occurred to him.
There was a gauge on his dashboard, transcanned from their vehicle. It was clearly meant to indicate speed, and the symbols on the spedometer matched the symbols on signs by the side of the road. Ahah. He had a number system to work with now. Dean seemed to be ignoring the speed limit; either the speed limit was a suggestion, it was a rule Dean wasn't held to, or he was breaking what was probably a minor law. Speed limits were common on roads the unverse over. Even Cybertron had them, for safety's sake. Breaking speed limits was just about as universal as the existence of speed limits.
From that observation, he determined they were using a base ten numeric system, with a fairly straight-forward number structure. Numbers were read left to right. When Sam pulled out a magazine, the scout watched from an optical sensor hidden in the overhead light, and assembled a good sampling of the rest of their alphabet. He did not know what sound was attached to which letter yet, and lacked a context to decipher their language in print, but he was building a library of symbols. It was a start.
The brothers stopped an hour later at a facility that provided food. He watched them through a window, while simultaneously extending his sensor net. He picked up a number of things. There were lightly encrypted and unencrypted radio transmissions, obviously intended for a variety of purposes. Some were two way, some seemed to be broadcast only. There were also relatively mystifying video transmissions. He wasn't sure which were documentaries, which were news, and which were entertainment. Since he didn't know a lot about this culture, it was hard to decipher exactly what he was seeing, but he saved everything for later analysis. Past explorers had made repeated observations that this species placed a high valure on fictional tales, and had told many stories for pure entertainment value.
His people did the same thing. Fiction was comprehensible, and once he had deciphered their language, it would be helpful. He had long ago learned that the two most useful things for learning about an alien culture were that culture's fiction, and that culture's gossip. Both helped an alien such as himself determine what they found most important, and from there one had a key to understanding their mindset.
The scout picked through the confusing myriad of transmissions a bit more, then found one that seemed ... different. A quick bit of curious testing, and he discovered it was being broadcast from a wide open, unprotected connection to an alien computer. The alien computer was a primitive thing, he'd met datapads with far more artificial intelligence, but it the transmission proved useful. It didn't take him long at all to connect and determine that the computer used binary as its machine language, and the binary was translated into representations of the letters he'd deciphered earlier by some very primitive code.
Ten seconds later, he had access to the 'internet'.
Hey, useful! He thought, cheerier than he had been since arriving.
There were many very helpful sound and video files. Some files had captions attached. All it took from that point was throwing a tremendous amount of processor power at the problem, and playing 'match the character to the sound' until everything snapped into place. The captions didn't correspond the sound exactly, but they discussed the same context. That gave him enough information to match sound to character and establish the phonetics of their alphabet. It was a surprisingly simple system. Each letter equaled a sound, though some letters were combined to make other sounds. He had once had to decrypt a language with two hundred thousand individual pictograms -- which had been complicated by his inability to ask vocal questions. This was easy, by comparison.
Once he had the phonetics mastered, he turned his focus to comprehension. He found an online dictionary with many pictures, and began to build a vocabulary. This planet had a fairly large networked database of communications and information, maintained by individuals. The damn thing was both archaic and a functional anarchy. It was also slower than the sublight flight. Transmission speeds could be measured in the gigabyte, and he was quickly left irritated, frustrated, and vexed. He needed more input and it was going to be a slow process to get it.
Pit slagging ... He had been right, and the past explorers correct, in that this species had a very slippery, inexact, and difficult language. Every word had multiple nuanced meanings, they used extensive slang, and they had evolved sarcasm to a fine art. Tonality mattered a lot, because it was entirely possible for a human to say one thing and mean something completely different. Understanding this language would be all about context, something he had very little of. Irritated, he turned his attention to plowing through terabytes of data to build the database he needed. Each word was analyzed, each phrase reviewed. It was going to take forever ... days, at least ... before he could reliably communicate.
He would have growled aloud if it would have resulted in anything but a very painful burst of static.
Somewhat to his disappointment, the brothers returned to the car after half a planetary hour in the diner. "Dean, I still say there was something funky in that town ...'
The scout compared that phrase against the information he'd collected so far, googled the word 'funky', then agreed. The funky thing was the scout. Sam's instincts were very good.
"Yeah, maybe, but there's definitely something wrong at that asylum. I'll take a definite over a maybe."
Asylum? Again he searched. Insane asylum? Was someone they knew committed, perhaps in trouble? He wasn't sure. 'Insane asylum' was where they put mentally deranged individuals. 'To seek asylum' meant to look for protection. There might be meanings he didn't know yet, too. It was all so vague.
And frustratingly, he couldn't actually ask them. Optimus said that he was the best scout for this sort of thing, a deep cover surveillance of an alien civilization. He was to search for any reference to the Allspark, and use his best judgement about revealing himself. Due to long ago damage to his vocalizer he was not able to speak himself, though he could certainly communicate in other ways: body language, recorded snatches of sound (he was already building a library of sound bites for that purpose), and text.
Since he coudn't find a way to access the internet while they were moving, as they were no open connections in the area, he started exploring his options for eventual in depth communication. The vehicle he'd transcanned had nothing digital integrated with it, so he couldn't hack a video display to show words without making an alteration to the interior. He might try that later, and generate some sort of screen that he could print words on, but not now. The humans would likely react badly to a sudden change unexplained change to the interior of their vehicle.
A scan of their possessions revealed several possibilities. Both men had small, portable, computers that resembled primitive datapads. These had 'wifi' circuits and he could probably connect to the laptops via a modified comm link. They also owned cellular phones, which had text messaging capabilities. He set a subroutine to writing code for both possibilities.
Ooh. Then he discovered that both computers had sizable video files saved on them. Dean's seemed to be mostly focused on procreation (tutorials perhaps?) and after a quick review the scout dismissed those videos as not particularly helpful. He now knew a bit more about human intercourse than he strictly needed to after seeing those files. He suspected they might consider movies of it a form of performance art (not unusual for organic species) or something of that nature. However, most of the files didn't have much language and it was learning slagging English that was his current focus.
Sam's computer, however, held a treasure trove. At first he thought he was looking at documentaries of some sort, but then he encountered a movie that featured humans in outer space ... after a moment's surprised contemplation that this might be an undiscovered starfaring race, he dismissed that possibility. The design of the starcraft, even the way they navigated, clearly indicated that this was fiction. It was very creative fiction, however, and the scout was deeply and profoundly impressed by it.
Holy Primus. This species has not yet mastered quantum mechanics and yet they are already dreaming of travelling the stars. Ambitious little fraggers. Clever, creative, curious people.
It didn't escape his notice that the last survey of this world had been seven thousand years ago. Humans then had been living in caves, and their greatest technological achievement had been pottery. The scout was far older than that. In his own lifetime -- in a fraction of his lifespan, and he was among the youngest of his kind alive -- this short-lived, ephemeral, fragile organic species had gone from baking ceramics in fire to dreaming of sending explorers to the stars. Given a few more centuries he figured they'd achieve it, too.
He added 'Use the force, Luke' to his sound bytes. It might come in handy someday.
"Huh." Dean squinted at the dash board. "Sam, when was the last time we filled up?"
"Gas, you mean?" Sam glanced over. "Uh, yesterday night, I think."
"Shit, we must be running on fumes." It was late afternoon and they'd been driving since dawn except for a short break at a diner. "Something's wrong with the gas gauge, I guess. Still shows full."
Sam sighed. "If we have to walk, I swear Dean ..."
"You swear what?"
"You're walking. I'm sitting right here until you come back."
Dean cast his brother a dark look. "She'll make it."
The Impala did make it to the next truck stop, as improbable as that seemed. Dean also glanced away from the dash, then looked back, and discovered the gauge was on 'E'. Apparently, whatever was stuck had worked loose.
"That's weird. We must have gone at least six, maybe seven hundred miles. The Impala's range is only four hundred or so." Sam scowled at the dash.
"Yes, Mr. Wizard," Dean shot back, "it's obviously more than that today."
"Did we just forget filling up somewhere?" Sam scratched his head. "Something's weird."
The 'asylum' turned out to be an empty, abandoned building with severe structural deficits. The scout scanned the building with some concern and decided it was not in imminent danger of collapse. He hoped the humans would be careful where they walked. The floor was unstable. Also, it had potentially hazardous animal life living within its walls, including arachnids.
The two men took a pair of weapons (which he now recognized as sawed off shotguns) out of the trunk, and loaded them with shells that were filled with salt. He still had not figured out why they were shooting things with salt. The only references he could find to rock salt as a weapon had to do with farmers using it as non-lethal deterrent against thieves. It did not seem like they were farmers, and the asylum was in the middle of a desolate forest. The closest agricultural activity was twenty miles away.
Dean then slapped Sam upside the head, and said, "Geeze, are you six?"
"What did I do?" Sam demanded, indignantly.
"You didn't put the guns away, you just threw them in there!"
"I thought you did it!"
"Something's weird, Dean." This had become Sam's mantra. Aside from the scout's 'oops' with the gas gauge he had made no mistakes, so he wasn't sure how Sam knew something was wrong. The young man was very perceptive.
The scout sank down on his shocks in embarrassment as soon as they turned their backs to him. The argument was his fault. While he had managed to get all of their weapons into his trunk, they were just tossed in. It wasn't like he could easily reach his own aft end! Each brother thought the other had been lazy and messy. He owed them an apology for the confusion, later.
The two humans broke a padlock on the front door and disappeared into the building. He paid alert attention, trying to determine what they were doing. As tactical military targets, it seemed lacking. There were no other life signs within. A thorough scan showed nothing out of the ordinary. It seemed to be nothing more than an abandoned building.
Then, abruptly, he detected something.
Something very odd.
It felt like a spark signature at first, and the scout went from sagging his suspension to nearly jumping off the ground in surprise. Fraggit, Decepticons?
There weren't supposed to be any other Autobots on Earth. There were no neutrals left in this quadrant of the galaxy. By process of elimination, that left 'cons. It was a strong signal, an EM spike so powerful that it obliterated the music-oriented radio channels he'd been absently listening to. He nearly transformed in surprise when a power surge made his horn honk. One door popped open on its own.
Oh, pit, that's not a 'con spark, that's a spark that got lost on the way to the Well of All Sparks. He figured it out a moment later, as his radio dial spun on its own, and an oldies song started playing. A damned ghost. Maybe a human soul, but I don't slagging care. Same difference and it's screwing with me.
He was ... not ... happy. He'd run into ghosts before. Most Cybertronian soldiers had. They were annoying nuisances at best, and dangerous at worst. The dearly departed were supposed to go on to the afterlife, and not stick around and twiddle with his mechanisms!
Get the frag out of my systems, you fragging, slagging, pit-born human ghost!
He could feel it poking around. It was probably angry, and it was not being gentle with the way it was prodding at his electronic bits and tugging on his mechanical parts. It was human. No doubt about that. No mechanoid ghost would ever dare be this bold with a pissed off Autobot warrior. The ghost would be certain to know the end result of that sort of a battle.
The scout slammed his force shields up, hard, with an offensive flare. They came online violently enough to hurt, as solidified energy collided forcefully with the disorganized, decaying force that was the dead soul. The ghost uttered a screech of pain that almost certainly was audible clear into spectrums that humans could hear, and retreated twenty feet. He hissed static at the ghost, the only noise he could really make other than chirps and clicks, and the ghost flared an EM pulse angrily back at him.
The noise of his horn had brought the brothers running. Belatedly, he realized that they were heading right into trouble.
The ghost sensed them coming. It spun about, and charged at Sam with lightning speed.
It could killl Sam. The ghost was wickedly powerful, one of the most potent he'd ever run across. It would have a hard time actually hurting the scout, but the humans were far more fragile. The thought that their lives were in danger crossed the scout's processor, and one nanoclick later, he flung himself into a transformation. The end of one hand blurred into a pulse cannon. He leveled the gun at the ghost and fired before it could react. A single pulse of his own spark later, both humans discharged their rock salt laden weapons at the point where the ghost had been.
Ghosts, as a rule, did not deal well with disruptively high levels of energy. It was effectively dematerialized by his blast. (So was a tree, and a chunk of the asylum's wall.) It wasn't dead. It probably wasn't even down for the count. It was temporarily off-lined, however, giving him a moment to figure out what to do. Getting the slag out of dodge seemed like a real possibility. Dealing with hostile alien spirits was so not in his job description.
The humans quickly backed up, staring at him. That was not entirely the best reaction, given he was on their side and the blasted ghost wasn't. They seemed more afraid of him than they were of supernatural threats. He could detect stress hormones, elevated heart rates, and rapid respiration from both of them. He needed to tell them he was on their side somehow, and he cursed his damaged voice like never before. Frantically, he searched through the sound bytes he'd collected that day and found something that was probably appropriate.
"Tell the people back at Earth control
Send Star Fleet legions to save our souls
Always daring and courageous
Ooh Only they can save us ..."
He took a step towards them, gun hand aimed upwards, and the other extended with palm skywards. He chirped, trying to sound as non-threatening as possible.
The ghost reappeared behind Dean.
He aimed his cannon. Dean's eyes grew wide and both brothers shouted curses at him and fired rock salt at his optics. He discharged his pulse cannon at the ghost, missing Dean by about two feet. The shotgun blasts hit his faceplate, doing no more damage than a few stinging scratches. The shock wave from the blast knocked Dean down, but it was better than being knifed in the back by a malignant and evil dead guy.
"What the hell did it do to the Impala!" Dean rolled back to his feet.
"It missed you," Sam noted.
"Ghosts hate iron. How the hell is it manipulating the damned Impala?" Sam demanded.
Bee played the musical notes from a movie called 'Close Enounters' and pointed skywards.
The middle of a battle with something supernatural was generally not the best time to make friends with an alien species. Bee reflected on this truth when both men exchanged a look of bemusement. "It's an alien?" Sam said. Dean shrugged. Then they both shot him with rock salt for a second time.