Author's Note: This fic is a TIE IN to the fic The Daily Buzz, chapter 7 (The Crappy Town Where I'm A Hero). It will be worlds funnier if you read that chapter first. :)
I left the courthouse feeling pretty darn pleased with myself. The deposition had gone better than expected. Under a little pressure, the prosecution's primary witness had offered contradictory testimony. If he took the stand, we would impeach him. Emerson, the prosecutor, would be much more willing to negotiate a plea deal after today.
When the elevator doors of the parking garage opened, however, the day took an immediate turn for the worse. Parked next to my beloved truck was an identical vehicle – a souped-up black GMC Topkick. David! He'd teased me for years now about my obsession with the black alien robot who had saved my life, but I couldn't imagine my husband going to these lengths. I mean, Topkicks aren't cheap, and to buy another one as a prank... He must have rented it or something.
I set my jaw and marched over to the trucks. I would have no problem telling which one was mine. As I got closer, though, a stranger got out of the Topkick to the right. My pace slowed to a stop.
"Mrs. Raquel Gutierrez-Ramon?" the stranger said. "Known online as MyBBB?"
"I am Major William Lennox. I'd like to have a word with you."
Still suspecting a prank, I sidled closer. "There are surveillance cameras," I warned him.
He stepped forward to the edge of my personal space. "I am fully aware of that." He glanced over his shoulder at the truck. "And so is he."
Oh, please! "How much did David pay you to do this?"
"I assure you, ma'am, this is no joke."
The truck's engine roared to life beside me and it inched forward. The windows rolled down, even though I couldn't see anyone in the cab. "Raquel," a deep voice said, and the passenger-side door popped open on its own. "Please get in."
I looked uncertainly from the truck to the major and back again. Did it just speak to me? Or did they have a CD in the player so they could mess with my mind? But it was moving without a driver. It went against every ounce of intelligence to get into a stranger's vehicle. I mean, this had kidnapping written all over it. But...what if it was the robot?
"And if I don't?"
The truck door shut, though the windows stayed down. It seemed to be the equivalent of stepping back, but keeping a hand extended in...friendship, maybe. Then again, if this thing had military ties, friendship was definitely too much to ask for.
The deep voice from the cab said, "Then they'll shut down your site without a word of explanation, and just guessing from your gumption and career choice, you'll spend the rest of your life in a free-speech lawsuit. If you come with me, then you'll at least get an explanation. And some resolution."
The military was shutting down my site. My heart sank, absolutely plummeted. I half-worried this might happen eventually, but I hadn't really expected it. All of the video we posted was recorded by members – it wasn't like we were posting stuff we'd stolen from the government. And I didn't post anything that was obviously illegally obtained, though I tended to not delve too deeply. I looked to the major again. "This really isn't a joke."
"No," he said, dead serious. "It isn't. You're welcome to follow me in your own vehicle, but all things considered, I thought you would prefer to ride with Ironhide."
David wasn't anywhere near creative enough for this. I eyed the truck again and stepped closer. To the major, I said, "May I inspect the interior first?"
The passenger-side door opened again, and I climbed in, keeping an eye on Major Lennox. The door slammed shut and the locks jammed down. "There. You're safe from your fellow human. He's not getting in unless I say so, and I won't let him in until you're satisfied. Now do you feel better?"
My hands flew to my face, covering my mouth in surprise. "It's really you."
The engine idled hard, shaking the whole vehicle, and the voice – it was indeed coming from the stereo – chuckled. "Yes, Raquel. It's really me."
He said my name. My robot hero knew my name! "But how...why...?"
"This isn't the best place for an explanation. Are you willing to come with me and Major Lennox? I can vouch for him. He's a personal friend."
"Anywhere," I whispered in wide-eyed wonder. "You can take me anywhere."
The locks released and Major Lennox opened the driver-side door. "You ready?"
I nodded, not really trusting my voice.
He put the robot in gear – his name was Ironhide, I remembered – and drove forward, out of the parking garage.
"You let a human drive you?" I asked.
"He won't be able to talk to you while we're around other vehicles," Major Lennox said. "The technology he uses to talk through the radio's speakers is vaguely similar to an FM transmitter. He projects a signal of his voice that will come through any speakers that are turned on within about 10 feet. Once we're away from civilization a little bit more, you'll be able to carry on a conversation. In the meantime, yes, he permits me to drive in the interest of blending in."
"But he can hear me?"
Addressing Ironhide, I said, "I've dreamed of being able to meet you, but I never thought I'd ever see you again. I just wanted to say thank you. Ironhide. Thank you for saving my life." I was on a first-name basis with him! He couldn't answer, of course, but I was almost deliriously happy at finally being able to say the words.
Lennox grinned, shaking his head slightly. After a moment, he said, "I don't want anyone to ever have a reason to take a second look at the surveillance tapes from the garage. Is there someone who would report you missing?"
"Oh. Yeah. Let me call the office and my husband." I pulled out my cell phone and hesitated before dialing. "How late should I tell them we'll be?"
"You'll be gone for at least 2 hours. Officially, this meeting isn't happening, and you've never met Ironhide. Think up a cover story. The drive is an hour one way. I assume you'll want to spend a little time chatting with Ironhide, so maybe give yourself three hours? Four?"
Ironhide's engine made a sound suspiciously like a groan, and I bit my lip in worry. I didn't want to annoy him and overstay my welcome. Three hours, then. Any excuse that could reasonably detain me that long could also detain me for another hour, if we did end up talking longer. I pulled David up on the speed dial and punched 'Send.'
"Hey, guapeton," I answered. "Something's come up. On a case. Can't tell you what, of course – confidentiality and all – but I won't be home until late."
"How late?" he pouted.
"I should be home around ten o'clock, but it might run a little later. Call Gary or Raul and catch a movie and cervesas, okay? I wouldn't want my man getting lonely."
"Only lonely for you, baby. I'll wait up for you."
I grinned. "Looking forward to it. Ciao."
Neither Major Lennox nor Ironhide commented, for which I was very grateful. Then I pulled up my office on speed dial.
When my secretary picked up, I said, "Carmen? It's Raquel. The deposition went well – make sure we get the transcript ASAP. Oh, and I won't be in again this evening. Something's come up. Tell any callers that I'll be in at six tomorrow morning like usual and I'd be happy to talk to them then."
"Will do. See you tomorrow."
And with that, I belonged to Ironhide for the next three hours.
We rode in silence for a while, and through my euphoria, Ironhide's earlier words started to sink in again. They were shutting down my site. This wasn't a social call; it was a military operation to stifle my free speech. And while my legal mind was now on full alert, my silly fangirl heart couldn't bring me to see it that way. So what if they shut me down – I was joyriding with my BBB! My rights were being oppressively trampled on, and I couldn't quite bring myself to care.
Ironhide might not be able to talk, but I decided to get through the inevitable nastiness with the human rather than make my hero play the bad guy. "So what's your pretense for shutting me down?"
"I've got a laundry list," Lennox said genially. "Everything from Accessory to Breaking and Entering to Conspiracy to Commit Assault."
"Assault?" I winced, suddenly suspicious about where that one was going.
"Yeah. One of Ironhide's sidekicks was attacked due to a video you posted."
"Oh, no." I held up my hands defensively. "As long as you're piling up charges, you're not pinning that on me."
"And why not?" Lennox retorted.
"That wasn't our fault; it was the evil robot's fangirls! They're always flaming my site and badmouthing the BBB. Besides, it's Yellow Camaro's own fault for being so conspicuous."
"Maybe it was girls from your site," he said evenly, "maybe not. But regardless, you can be held accountable for posting video that was illegally obtained."
"Only if I did so knowingly."
Lennox sighed, abruptly frustrated. "Look, lady. We've been following your site for months now. My half of the team would have just pulled the plug, but Ironhide's half felt that was too heavy-handed. You wanna butt heads, fine, we'll butt heads. But first hear Ironhide out, okay? Or he and his buddies are going be ticked with me."
I pursed my lips, annoyed. They were already starting the good cop/bad cop routine. And, so unfairly that it was practically duress, they were giving Ironhide the role of good cop. I mean, how could I not side with my superhero? How could I deny him anything he asked? He'd saved my life, and if I was reading correctly the bits and pieces I'd gleaned, he'd saved the whole darn planet.
"So what exactly do you want me to do?"
"Again, I'll let Ironhide explain that part."
"So I'm just supposed to play Tetris on my cell phone for the next hour?"
He grinned. "No. There's a reason Ironhide and I were the ones who picked you up."
I waited, but when he didn't explain, I took the bait. "And what's that?"
"I know a helluva lot of war stories about him."
Dammit. This battle was already lost. I ran up the white flag of surrender. "I suppose you're going to show embarrassing baby pictures of him, too," I deadpanned.
"Naw, I didn't know him when he was just a Hot Wheel."
I could tell just by the tone of his voice that he was smirking, but the engine revved in response to that. Now, there was the attitude I knew and loved. I resisted the urge to stroke his shiny dashboard soothingly and changed the subject instead.
"What was really going on in Australia between BBB and YC? I mean, between Ironhide and..."
"Yellow Camaro works for now. It was a training exercise. We'd just killed one of the bad aliens and Ironhide was frustrated with Yellow Camaro getting, in Ironhide's mind, careless. They got talking smack – "
"Talking smack?" I interrupted. I tried to imagine my knight in shiny black armor talking smack...and couldn't.
He grinned. "They're guys, what do you expect? Anyway, Yellow Camaro basically said the only reason Ironhide wasn't damaged was because he has those monster cannons and challenged him to a mano-a-mano."
"So they were just buddies duking it out?"
"Sparring, more like."
"That was just sparring? There were chunks of metal falling off them!"
"Yeah, their chief medical officer was less than pleased, but the others enjoyed the sport. Especially when Yellow Camaro won. Hasn't happened before or since, but the rest of them never let Ironhide live it down. Especially since you girls got it on tape."
I flushed, realizing my site had embarrassed my hero.
"Care to hear another one?" Lennox offered.
Despite my chagrin, I couldn't resist. "Please."
The hour swiftly passed as Lennox regaled me with stories about Ironhide and his compatriots. He was careful, of course, using the nicknames I had assigned to Ironhide's various friends and never mentioning details about time or place. Still, I was enthralled the entire time.
I sobered when we entered Nellis Air Force Base. I knew he was military, but Major Lennox was in civilian clothes and had been pretty much disarmingly charming, other than telling me off at the beginning. This was the real deal. I wondered briefly if Ironhide wasn't just an inanimate Topkick with a fancy remote-control system – the military would have the resources to pull that off – but decided it was too late to chicken out now. One way or another, I was going through with this.
Major Lennox gave them his ID, getting us past the gate, and we continued on to a large hangar. Driving in, Lennox nodded to several men in camo who pulled the hangar doors shut. It felt very ominous to see the setting Nevada sun cut off by the imposing metal rolling closed. Lennox got out of the truck and came around to the passenger side, opening the door for me and offering his hand to help me climb out.
"We secure?" he asked one of the men.
Major Lennox shut the passenger side door, patted the front panel once in an almost manly-affectionate way, and said, "Alright, Ironhide. Let's get this over with."