A/N: Wow, got shanked by life. Still here, though, and only one chapter left! I will respond to the regular reviewers sometime this weekend! Thanks for staying with me!

Chapter 16: Of Elephants and a Little Bit of Stupid

Astrid really shouldn't have been surprised when she walked into Jenna's room. It shouldn't have surprised her that her old friend still had the lava lamp she had bought as a teenager glowing in all of its goopiness on the dresser. She shouldn't have been surprised by the Happy Days and Doctor Who posters covering the walls. She REALLY shouldn't have been surprised by the stuffed elephant sitting on the pillow. But, still.

After all that had happened, Jenna was still a kid at heart. Where Astrid had surrendered to the weight of her worries, Jenna had fended hers off with 60's lighting and plushy accomplices.

And Jenna was waiting for her, right next to the stuffed elephant.

"I was wondering how long it would take you to come seeking my lair," said Jenna.

"Uh, yeah." Careful of the elephant, Astrid took a seat beside her on the bed. Globs of mustard-yellow 'lava' melted together and pulled apart in their sea of topsy-turvy tranquility, and Astrid stared at them for inspiration. "So, um, how have you been?"

"Well, seeing as how my best friend abandoned me and I've become the personal slave of Doc Hatchet, not bad."

"Sorry."

"Apologies are nice, thank you, I'll add it to my collection. If you want to give me what I actually had on my wish list, though, you'll decide to sentence yourself to eternal servitude to the Autobot-human alliance so I'll have some company of my own intelligence level."

Astrid smirked. "I resent that."

"Yes, well, you resemble it, too." For a second Jenna joined Astrid as she raptly observed the sluggish dance of the lava lamp. Then she grabbed up her elephant and fell back on the pillows. "Man, when I signed up for this whole friendship program I didn't realize there were escape clauses."

"There aren't."

"Then why did you take off?"

"It's complicated."

"No, sweetie, trigonometry is complicated. This is just stupid."

Astrid wondered if she could vaporize lava lamp goop by glaring at it. "It's not stupid."

"Sure it is."

"No it isn't! I didn't leave because I wanted to."

"Did a creeper tie you up and hide you in his basement this whole time?"

"No…"

"Then you stayed away because you wanted to."

Finally turning away from the lava lamp, Astrid glared at her oldest friend. "It wasn't that simple, Jenna. I missed you guys."

"Naturally. But it was your choice. And I never claimed it wasn't simple, just not complicated."

"That's a contradiction."

"So are you. You say you want to come back and see us, but you never one to know one." Jenna rolled over onto her elbows, giving Astrid a flat stare. "What happened between you and Mirage?"

Maybe it wasn't so complicated after all. "We had a fight."

"About…?"

"A guy I dated."

"Seriously?"

"Yeah, I gue…"

"No, that's not what I meant. I meant – SERIOUSLY? You've been all dark and emo because of some freaking lovers' spat?" Jenna leapt up, grabbing her pillows – and also the elephant.

Pillows and elephant began raining blows on Astrid's head.

"GET OUT OF MY ROOM, YOU MORON!"

.O.O.O.

It took an hour for Jenna to calm down, and by that time Astrid was long gone. Goodness knew where the girl had gone, but Jenna was still to peeved to care. Of all the stupid, inane, girly things! A spat! And over some guy Astrid hadn't even thought to name, which was a clear sign there had never been anything resembling a real relationship between the two. It had always been Astrid's weakness to add competition to a relationship. She'd been like that ever since they compared lunches in elementary school.

All of her pent up frustration had to be put to use in some way to prevent a small nuclear explosion, and so Jenna found herself sorting spare parts in the medbay… again. Wouldn't Ratchet be thrilled? All his drilling and brainwashing had paid off. She was sorting parts as a recreational pastime now.

"Nice. I have become a lacky," she muttered. Grabbing what looked like a very large thimble, Jenna tottered over to the nearest oil drum. She dipped her finger in the slick black stuff and doodled what she hoped was a passable villain's mustache on her upper lip. Then she popped the thimble on her head, which she immediately regretted. She wished she had gingerly lowered it instead.

"What are you doing?"

She spun around so quickly she almost lost of painfully arranged hat. "Dressing the part of the villainous lacky, of course. Look! I'm separating parts in my spare time – and of course the whole base knows that you're the mastermind behind all evil in the universe, so that would certainly make me the Igor to your Dr. Frankenstein… Hm. Maybe I should have put some lumps on my back instead of utilizing the old mustache trick. Oh, well. Live and learn."

"Jenna."

"You rang?"

"I'm glad you're finally coming to understand your place," Ratchet said – fairly imperiously, actually. He looked down his flat-ish nose at her. "I plan on utilizing your various skills for many more decades, regardless of whether Astrid Fenner has returned." He turned to leave. "You have your own place, after all. Now get back to work… minion."

Jenna stood to attention and grinned. "Yes, sir!" Then she realized what she'd just answered to. "Hey, wait a minute!"

But the cranky old doc bot was already gone, leaving her alone with a thimble for a hat, oil for a mustache and an awfully large pile of parts to sort. "Could've at least given me a hand, you nefarious super-villain, you." Then she chucked a human-sized wrench at the door. "Heck of a time to develop a sense of humor, you jerk!"

.O.O.O.

It wasn't easy to ignore the first Decepticon scout spotted just out of range of the base's weapons. He made no effort to hide himself, flying in wide, sweeping arcs and circling around the bubble of protection provided by the massive guns scattered across the island. He showed more caution than Starscream might have shown in his position, but that wasn't say much.

Anyone not looking up at the sky soon turned to follow their comrades' line of sight. Soon everyone outside was watching the gleaming silver beetle as it buzzed just out of striking distance. It hovered on the edge of vision, and its engines growled just loud enough to be heard on the tensely silent base.

There was an almost audible sigh when it left. Several of the humans slumped. Most of the Autobots rechecked their weapons.

"Dang, man," Epps said, sidling over to Prowl and keeping an eye on the spot where the Decepticon had last been seen. "Prime needs to haul it. Just sittin' here waiting for a whoopin' doesn't sound so good."

"I agree," said Prowl. "If the team is still on schedule, they should be approaching their first landing point within the hour. From there it is only a short distance to where the human girl believes she was held hostage."

"And whadda we do if it's the wrong lab?"

"That, as Ironhide would say, is what all the big guns are for. We might need them regardless of the success of Prime's mission. The Decepticons could very well see this as an opportune moment of weaknes."

"This sucks man," Epps said. "This really sucks. Next time Lennox gets to play Red Rover with the 'Cons, and I get to go treasure-hunting for the secret laboratory."

And then Epps' day got worse. Skids and Mudflap came careening across the tarmac, all squealing tires and burning rubber. "We got problems, boss-men!"

"Report," Prowl ordered.

"Screamer's gone, yo! While we were oglin' his buddy up there, he slipped out o' the brig, and now he ain't nowhere."

In the next second a sonic boom echoed over Diego Garcia, and they all looked up to see the tail end of Starscream vanishing in the distance.

"Figures the fragger would show us his aft just when we need a bargaining chip the most."

.O.O.O.

The brig was not a popular location. It was also well away from the main routes for foot traffic through the base halls. It was very quiet, and he missed the sounds of regular activity, even if the activity had nothing to do with him.

Mirage realized that he was lonely. That was really part of the punishment of being confined in the brig, though. Loneliness and boredom. Funny, though, that he should be bored when the rest of the base was busily milling about in an effort to prepare for an all-out Decepticon attack. There was no doubt in his mind though that all their attempts were in vain if Megatron personally joined the assault. Only Prime could best the Decepticon commander, and Mirage had no doubt that the vicious mech would savor such an opportunity as this to shred a few Autobots – and humans.

If only Astrid didn't have to wait until after the current crisis was averted to deliver her own sentence. Now she would be in the line of fire once again, and while Mirage had always been impressed by the girl's ability to both attract and survive the very worst conditions, he had no doubt that her luck would run out one day.

And this day was as good as the next.

"Oh, for heaven's sake, just looking at you makes me depressed."

Mirage jerked his head up and rapidly focused his optics on the little human standing on the free side of his cell wall.

"Astrid," he said. Her name felt funny in his mouth after such a long absence. "What are you doing here?"

"What does it look like?" She held her arms out at her sides and twirled. "I'm your big burly escort. Where you go, I go."

For a moment he just stared. "That is not possible."

She looked slightly put out. "Why's that?"

"Prowl would never allow it."

"Ask him for yourself. He gave me full permission. Glad to have another pair of free hands to help man the walls, I imagine."

Of course, they both knew that was not the issue. "You hate me, Astrid."

That got her to pause for a moment.

"When I left and got a different apartment, well – I might have been just a little stupid." Quickly, she added, "You were, too, but so was I. Setting up the age-old 'if you like me, follow me' test was the worst, vainest idea I've ever acted on. It makes sense that you wouldn't have understood what I was trying to accomplish."

"So… you wanted me to follow you? Is this not considered 'stalking' in your culture?"

"Not if the girl actually wants the guy to come after her. And it wouldn't have been stalking. We would have talked and in my happy fantasy version of the future everything would have been even better than before."

Mirage pondered this. "But things are not better. They are possibly worse."

"Yeah. Like I said, I might have been a little stupid."

"Perhaps, but… perhaps things might still be… better."

.O.O.O.

Playing twenty questions with a giant alien robot (who also turned into a car… a car Jess was riding in) was a whole new world of weirdness. While she was grateful that the Autobot leader had drafted her as his riding buddy for the trip from the airport to the laboratory – mostly because it meant she would NOT be riding with Jeremy Fenner – the brutishly big 'bot never seemed to run out of questions. All of the questions were also extremely relevant to the current endeavor as well, so it wasn't like she could just tell him to mind his own bee's wax.

She had just taken fifteen minutes reciting the epic narrative of the five different therapists her parents had sent her to, explaining everything with pain-staking detail so as to avoid any unnecessary questions from her ride. No dice.

"You claim that none of your kind believed your story?" he asked. "Not even your family unit?"

"Nobody. All it took was one of the cops' trauma experts explaining to the world that I'd created an alternate history to replace what REALLY happened and no one believed a blessed word I said. Even my goldfish gave me looks sometimes. Seriously, though, what sort of sick twisted kid would invent something like THAT to make herself feel better? Really?"

"Apparently, they believed you to be one such child," the radio commented. "Perhaps it was in connection with your strange affinity for black. I understand that this is considered a rather depressing color for humans and that wearing it frequently indicates that the wearer is either making some manner of social statement or is in some way depressed."

"Hey, now, no ripping on my clothes. I like them very much, and, just so you know, I didn't start wearing them until several years after the whole lab rat thing." Jess crossed her arms and glared out the window. "I was already the resident freak. Might as well play the part and enjoy myself, right? Besides, black is slimming."

"Your vocal patterns indicate that you are not pleased with this 'part.'"

Wow. Robots were thick. "Find me fifty high school girls who enjoy being (falsely) regarded as the unfortunate victim of some sort of kidnapping sexual predator and I'll eat my Chucks."

The truck's engine rumbled, and Jess assumed it was laughing. "I believe Ratchet would disapprove. Canvas and rubber are not compatible with your race's digestive tract."

"Ratchet?"

"Our medic."

"Nice name."

"He is also the supervisor and friend of Jenna. I believe you are acquainted."

Jess made a gagging motion, throwing in as many sickly sound effects as she could manage without actually heaving. "Ugh, that girl is the devil."

"I believe that she shares similar thoughts about you. I do not understand adolescent human females."

"Takes one to know one."

With a puff and a whine, the brakes kicked in and the truck came to a gradual halt. "We are here," her ride announced.

Beyond the window, Jess could see an awful lot of trees. She remembered that. Then she remembered how big some of her companions were. This would not be a fun stroll.

A/N: You know the drill.

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