Author's Note: So, um, yeah. Funny thing happened yesterday... *hides head in embarrassment* I put the chapter up on the wrong story. Sorry if that confused anybody. For the record, I WILL be expanding Johnston's story, but not for a while. *blushes again in embarrassment* Anyway...
Many thanks to Clifjumpersfangirl, Carmilla DeWinter, RK-Striker-JK-5, Marinelife37, Anodythe, and Kaede Akira for the reviews! I'm trying to respond to them individually, but life's a bit hectic at the moment. For the record, though, your words of encouragement are the reason we get one more chapter with Raquel. :) And let me in know in a review if you'd like to see her in any upcoming fics. ;)
"You're going to love this, Raquel," Ironhide assured me as we turned off the pavement onto a dirt road.
The bombing range didn't look like much. Granted, it was nighttime, but when Ironhide (I was riding in Ironhide again! Squee!) turned left, his headlights swept the field in front of us. And that's all it was – a recently-plowed field. Ironhide brought us to a small set of bleachers and we got out.
A personnel carrier pulled up behind us, and Lennox escorted me to the bleachers while a flurry of activity erupted near the back of the carrier. I heard a metallic sound and turned to watch in awe as Ironhide converted into his robot shape again. I could watch that ten times a day for the rest of my life and still not get bored by it. He strode back to help the humans with whatever they were messing with in the back of the personnel carrier.
"This way, please, Mrs. Gutierrez-Ramon."
"You can call me Raquel," I said as I fell in step with him. "Especially for a gringo, that last name's a mouthful." Besides, he was part of Ironhide's entourage – we were all friends here.
"It is that," he agreed. He helped me climb to the top of the bleachers (darn these high heels), and took his seat beside me.
Looking around for something and not finding it, Lennox hollered, "Hey Ironhide…"
The amazing alien robot turned, his bright blue eyes both terrifying and thrilling in the darkness. "You forgot something," he huffed in answer and handed Lennox a backpack.
"Thanks." Lennox rummaged around in it for a moment and produced a bulky set of binoculars. "You ever use night-vision hardware before?"
This evening was turning out to be so freaking cool! "No."
"Here." He fiddled with the binoculars for a minute and then offered them to me. "Oh, and I've got some bottled water and a blanket in the pack, in case you get cold or thirsty."
I took the binoculars and looked through them. Everything was greenish, but I could clearly see the outline of sagebrush and a rock outcropping on the other side of the field, more than a mile distant. "Thanks. I'm fine."
"We're ready here," Ironhide rumbled, and I heard something whirr to life. Looking back over at him, I jumped to see three more alien robots.
"These are drones," Lennox soothingly explained as the other humans took their places on the bleachers. "Non-sentient robots used for combat scenarios. They were programmed for evasion – target practice, essentially. They won't harm you."
I nodded, my heart still racing, as they zipped out across the field, their eyes glowing a demonic red. Two of them stood on wheeled feet, while the third actually flew. Ironhide collapsed back down into his truck shape and raced off after the drones. I lifted the night-vision goggles to my eyes and took a deep breath.
Ironhide somersaulted out of his truck form, converting on the fly and bringing his cannons to bear mid-flip. Through the goggles, the flash was blinding and I jumped. One of the drones was clipped, flopping to the ground. But Ironhide had already converted back into his truck form and was racing across the uneven ground.
I let out a low whistle.
"Most of our operations are, unfortunately, in urban settings," Lennox said. "So we're trained for them to fight in vehicle mode as much as possible. Sometimes this is easier, sometimes not."
Ironhide was almost to the damaged drone now. As he circled it, one cannon pulled away from the front passenger panel and blasted the other robot to smithereens in a flash of brilliant light. "Wow!" I breathed.
My robot hero didn't stay to gloat, though. He was already speeding across the field, trying to corner the other ground drone. Cutting it off, the bed of his truck form extended, and he did a donut, delivering a robot round-house kick to the drone. My heart was thundering at the sheer power of the blow, which sent the other one flying. Converting to his full height, he lifted both arms and again the blinding flash turned everything I could see through the goggles a flat white. When the dazzle subsided, there was crater where the downed drone had been. Double cannon-blast to the spark. I grinned and punched the air. "You go, stud!"
The human beside me sniggered.
Ironhide didn't convert back to his truck form, though. Instead, he looked up, searching the sky. "The aerial ones are the hardest," Lennox explained. "The enemy's ground-based robots have suffered the most casualties, so half of their remaining forces are flyers. It's forced even heavy-hitters like Ironhide to develop a little patience and finesse."
Lifting the angle of the goggles, I strained to find the aerial drone. "I don't see it."
"We set parameters for the distance the drones could go over the ground, but we didn't give the flyer a limit on height. The base has cleared the airspace for us tonight. Ironhide insisted." Under his breath, Lennox grumbled, "Show off."
Looking back to said show-off, I saw that he had his arms raised almost straight up. "He sees it."
"Kind of. They have advanced sensors, of course, and he's tracking it. Problem is, that's a little flyer. That high up makes it a very small, very agile target. Like shooting flies with a BB gun."
The mighty cannons fired again. "Did he get it?"
After a second of hesitation, Lennox said, "No. You might want to watch this part without the night-vision."
Pulling the binoculars away, I squinted in the darkness, barely making out the enormous shape of Ironhide – a deeper black against the night. Two orbs of blue and orange light began to glow near him, and I realized they were his cannons warming up. Then he fired again, illuminating him and the surrounding ground like a flash of lightning. This time, there was an explosion in the sky, brilliant gold and silver. Beautiful! Yes, I was very glad I got to see that one with the naked eye. Lifting my binoculars again, I saw him nod his head in satisfaction as glowing, metallic shards rained down around him.
Shakily laughing, I whispered, "Wow!"
He looked our way, almost like he had overheard me, and began running toward us. Charging like a bull. I shrank back, and Lennox chuckled beside me. Leaping forward and up, Ironhide flipped midair, firing both his cannons when he was face-down. The force was like a handspring and he landed on his feet about fifteen yards away. Lowering the binoculars again, I stared at him, speechless. Only the whirring of a fan – cooling vents? – broke the silence of the desert night.
"Well, Raquel?" Ironhide rumbled, his blue eyes at once awesome and eerie against the darkness. "What do you think?"
It was a good ten seconds before I could speak again, and I blurted out, "Can I have your children?"
Lennox roared with laughter, but the glowing blue eyes moved as Ironhide cocked his head. "Translation?"
It took a few seconds for Lennox to catch his breath, he was laughing so hard. Between wheezes, he said, "She thinks you're one sexy truck."
"That only proves she has taste," Ironhide answered with approval. "But no, you may not have my children."
It was my turn to giggle, and I even heard a few guffaws from the other humans. Ironhide strode closer, while the military men spread out with metal detectors – probably cleaning up any incriminating alien technology. By the faint starlight, I saw Ironhide extend his hand, offering to carry me again. With a euphoric sigh, I climbed into his palm – the metal was much warmer this time – and he brought me over by the personnel carrier. "Our time is almost up, fangirl. Is there anything else I can give you before I bring you home?"
"I don't suppose you give out your phone number?"
He snorted. "Afraid not. I wouldn't mind giving it to you, but the brass would have fits."
Ironhide actually had a phone number?! I'd only been joking. It saddened me, though, that he was so restricted. He had the strength and firepower that he could do anything – anything! – but he let mere humans boss him around. What humility and integrity! I wished the entire world could know about him. "Do you think that will ever change? That the government will ever acknowledge that you're helping us?"
"Can I give you my phone number?"
"If I want to find you, femme, I'll be able to."
I nodded, looking down. Of course he would. I tried to think of another question for him, but only one remained, and it wasn't the one I wanted to ask.
"Anything else?" he pressed after a long silence.
"Will I ever see you again?" I murmured, dreading the answer.
He was silent for a moment, and I knew. No, this one, magical evening was it.
"I can't make any promises. But," he harrumphed, "if you ever see another Topkick parked next to yours, don't put up such a fuss getting in!"
I laughed, looking up into his blue eyes again. Hope. That's what he'd given me that day almost two years ago. Hope then, hope now. Hope that there were angels to battle the demons, that we weren't on our own against the monsters. Hope that maybe, just maybe, our lives' paths would cross again. "I'll hop right in without a second thought," I promised. "And…thank you, Ironhide."
"You're welcome, Raquel." He set me on my feet again and converted back into his truck shape. Opening the passenger-side door for me, he said, "Let's get you home."