Whoo~ you guys get a long one today. And not only that but we start jumping right into the action. Huzzah!

Bit more of IDW influence introduced that will be explored next chapter. Specifically about Hot Rod & his construction. I'll be using some artistic license, naturally, but it's inspired by the comics. In particular Spotlight: Hot Rod and Dinobot Maximum. You can't tell me how Hot Rod broke free from Scorponok's guards in D.M. the first time wasn't awesome. If you don't know what I'm talking about – go grab a copy and read it. I might post a scan if I'm feeling up to it.

Speaking of artistic liberty – the oh so wonderful subject of interfacing arrives in this chapter and let's face it; none of us [the fandom] really agree on anything revolving around that subject ('spikes' 'sparks' and 'wires' oh my!) and the canon isn't much help either so the fanfiction community feeds off each other with ideas of how it works. I like to draw from wire play myself – so that's what you get along with some ideas I picked up from watching/reading canon.

And now the obscenely long author notes are done. Thank-you for reading and reviewing! Love ya! :D

Chapter 4

All in all, Magnus would have preferred a sneak attack from the Decepticons to start his day.

Fighting, Ultra Magnus could handle in spades. There was something exhilarating about going fist to fist on the battlefield, metal denting, words of honor and the satisfying crunch of a smashed chest plate beneath one's ped. It wasn't that he particularly enjoyed brutality, exactly, but Ultra Magnus was a soldier. A warrior. He was designed to fight, to brawl and there was really no shame in enjoying your primary function as long as one was humble about it.

Ultra Magnus also considered himself capable of handling emergency situations just as adequately, but there was something distinctly more frustrating at falling to the hands of nature over a fellow Cybertronian. After a few days out on their trip and a mere few hours from reaching their destination, it was obvious as to why no one had been to this damn planet before: An asteroid belt around it that was near impenetrable and radiating an interesting magnetic field that made all of their distancing and positioning software fairly useless. A regular death trap, if you would.

Skylynx was quickly caught up in the gravity of the planet as he approached and was thus bombarded with rocks as he tried to make planet fall. Kup, in the meantime, had declared (quite loudly) he was going to strangle whatever idiot overlooked this particular geological feature of the planet and have them tried for either treason or some other crime punishable by offlining. Magnus was inclined to agree when a particularly nasty hit not only tore straight through Skylynx's side, but also knocked into himself, Hot Rod and Blurr. It had flung them from their ride with no choice left but to free fall through the atmosphere on their own.

Needless to say, planet fall without a casing or an asteroid to hitch a ride on was rather painful upon impact.

Magnus found himself alone when he came online, body scuffed and burnt, but otherwise fine. It was times like this his sturdy build came in handy. Finding his teammates became top priority and Magnus set out into the surrounding area, surprisingly dwarfed by the size of the trees. After a few hours the freightliner had yet to find the energetic Blurr or his bickering team mates. Wandering in the damp jungle like atmosphere did manage to pay off, however, as he spotted an unmoving splash of red in the dull surroundings. Ultra Magnus couldn't remember the last time he had moved that quickly.

"Hot Rod! Answer me now!" Ultra Magnus shook the limp body roughly as they sat in the muck of the surrounding swamp and trees. They were both half sunk into what could only be mud despite the green mossy color. Hot Rod appeared to be undamaged save for a dent or two (oddly not a single scorch mark) thanks to the soft landing in the mud - but had yet to online after the fall. Attempts to bring his optics to online was proving futile so Ultra Magnus swiftly struck the 'bot's cheek to try and rattle something on. "That's an order soldier!"

A wheeze from internals coming to life followed by sparks flickering from Hot Rod's optics gave Ultra Magnus a bit of calm. Seconds later, blue optics onlined (after a few failed attempts) and he could hear a bit of grinding as Hot Rod willed his vocals to work. "Are you alright? Hot Rod?"

Hot Rod tried focusing on the hovering face above him, blue eyes displaying an odd mix of anger and worry. Ultra Magnus then. The young bot tried to answer back but realized quickly that his voice was non-functional. His processor picked up speed when it became apparent he couldn't even turn his head to reply. He tried his vocal functions again but was met with a slight static; his mouth didn't move. Hot Rod realized that over half of his systems had failed to restart from the boot including all of his motor systems.

After a few moments of no response, Ultra Magnus realized something had to be wrong with the boy. There were enough controlled flashes in his optics for Magnus to recognize coherence, but if the limp body was anything to go by, Hot Rod had no control of his body. "Hot Rod, flash your optics twice if you are unable to move."

Hot Rod suddenly felt like a newborn sparkling being so helpless, but he flashed his optics twice regardless. At least it wasn't Kup who had found him or the old 'bot would have yet to stop laughing. Hot Rod wasn't really hurt; he just needed a forced restart from a med pack. It was just embarrassing, that's what it was.

Magnus continued to ask everything from if he felt pain to whether or not he could reboot his systems. Hot Rod flickered his optics accordingly, grateful for ever that movement, and wished he could groan. How could his beloved planet falling betray him like this? Oh yeah, he wasn't prepped. Ultra Magnus looked to be debating something before the larger bot pulled Hot Rod up into a sitting position, and found himself slumped onto Magnus' arm.

"Hot Rod, if you're listening, flicker your optics twice." Magnus waited for the flicker and nodded. He kneeled in the mud for a moment contemplating. Hot Rod was basically dead weight, but it appeared as though his computer was merely having trouble rebooting systems that controlled motor functions.

Magnus was no medic, but he had seen this in the field many times before and knew of a possible solution. It wasn't the most desirable option, but neither was having to carry Hot Rod around should they run into trouble. "I'm going to try and reboot your motor systems using my computer, Hot Rod." Ultra Magnus nearly cursed when he remembered Hot Rod's generation wasn't very familiar with this technique being used for medicinal purposes. "I warn you, its going to feel very invasive, but I am not going to hurt you nor go farther into your computer than necessary. Do you understand?"

Hot Rod stared at Magnus, confused. How was he going to reboot his system? Didn't that require a connection of some sort? He said it would feel invasive but...Hot Rod stilled when Magnus cracked open his chest plate and pulled down a thick wire with a jack on the end.

Ultra Magnus was going to connect the two of them.

"Would you shut up already!?" Springer snarled at Skylynx as they trenched through the thick foliage. Skylynx had left his shuttle half where they hit dirt, but sadly his bottom half could talk as well. He couldn't have landed next to Arcee or Hot Rod. No, he had to be one of the only two who managed to stay in the damn shuttle. His only consolation was Blurr was watching guard over Skylynx's other half instead of following them around. The mud did not do well for Blurr's traction. "We're looking for our team, not complaining about all the damn mud."

"Easy for you to say! You weigh next to nothing compared to my glorious self." Skylynx muttered. This had to count for his all time worst landing. It was still beyond amazing for anyone else to crash so gracefully, but he still crashed. "You try all this sinking."

"I'm sinking enough as it is." Springer shot back. "So just stop it."

"Aren't you a helicopter?" Skylynx muttered before finding his snarky self yet again. "I fancy an aerial view would be more helpful, hmm?"

"I don't want to risk the energy use." Springer huffed and leapt over a fallen log in his path. Skylynx merely stepped over it, the loser. Springer paused to look for any color in the surrounding area. Still no sign of any of his friends. "Takes too much energy to go for extended periods."

"A likely excuse for an inferior model."

"You." Springer stopped and took a calming moment of air through his vents. He wouldn't find Arcee or Hot Rod any faster if he lost his temper. "Just tell me if you spot anyone from your height advantage."

"Naturally." Skylynx hummed and wondered if anyone else was having better luck wherever they landed.

They weren't.

"I used to be lucky when I was a young 'bot, ya' know?" Kup muttered as he pulled himself out of yet another hidden hole beneath the marshy water. He was really starting to hate water. And Mud. And Man would he like to visit a proper washrack. Kup frowned when he realized he was thinking like Sunstreaker. "Maybe everybody's got a set amount of luck and it runs out by the time ya' get to be my age."

Arcee giggled as the older bot complained. For once, being the smallest bot on the team had paid off. Both Kup and Pipes had been sinking and complaining the entire time they had spent looking for their commander. Thanks to her much lighter weight, Arcee had managed to walk along things floating in the mud from stumps to fallen logs. "Maybe you were just due for a bad spell after all that teasing you do?"

"I don't tease anyone that doesn't have it coming, thank-you." Kup snorted.

"Of course you don't." Pipes added with a grunt and pushed a branch out of his way. "Can we keep moving please?"

"Yeah, yeah." Kup muttered. In truth, he was rather worried. The team was split up on a strange planet that they knew nothing about and he was well, with a team. It's one thing to go solo on a dangerous expedition when the only 'bot you had to look out for was yourself, but now he had others to think about. Kup hoped Hot Rod was doing alright wherever he was. It would be a right shame should anything happen to him.

"Move it old man!"

Kup broke from his worry to snarl at the pink femme. "No! You slow it!"

Hot Rod's optics flickered violently when Magnus reached over to open the lad's chest to match his own and reveal his own connection ports and wires. Seems the lad picked up rather quickly just what was going to happen. "Try and stay calm, Hot Rod. If I could think of another option I would implement it, but we do not have the proper equipment and no guarantee of running into Pipes. We have very little time I'd imagine and if you can be back on your feet with a manual reboot we'll just have to suffer through it."

Hot Rod was not new to interfacing. Now, he didn't have the longest list to brag about when it came to that sort of thing, but he did fool around with Springer when he was younger (before they had met Arcee). They hadn't told anybody, but Blurr had talked him into something or another a few months ago because they were bored on a mission assignment. Interfacing was an intimate exchange of files and feelings that felt well, there weren't many words to describe it accurately – but it felt really good and wasn't exactly something you did with just anybody and usually someone your own age.

Ultra Magnus was not going to interface with Hot Rod.

"Relax, Hot Rod." Magnus had yet to plug into Hot Rod and for good reason. He would bet his last ration of Energon Hot Rod had never had his main systems invaded by anything other than a brainless, lifeless reset tool from a Medic. The boy needed to be calm; He needed Hot Rod to trust him. "I know that the only time you've heard of someone doing this is forcefully hacking into a processor or memory bank to steal data or to cause pain, but you need to trust me. Back when I was your age this was a standard practice. I know what I'm doing."

Hot Rod was not convinced and he flickered his optics twice. He trusted Ultra Magnus, he did. But there were entire training regiments based around blocking 'bots out when they tried this! Even the 'cons didn't usually like doing this due to its very nature. Hot Rod hadn't heard one instance of where good came from this.

"I'm not going to lie to you though," Magnus continued. "This is not going to feel pleasant. And if you fight me, its' going to hurt." More flickering optics and Magnus sighed. "This should take less than five minutes if you let me in and it'll be done and you can hit me if you want, but this is the only way I know how to fix this. Before it started to be abused this was fairly common, Hot Rod. Even if it was way before your time." Magnus paused for a moment. "If you really do not want me to do this, then I will refrain but unless I find it is a different problem, it should get you back on your feet. Blink twice if you do not want me to do this, and shut your optics off if it's alright."

As scared as Hot Rod was, being able to move again would be rather nice. And it was starting to sink in, even without the mud, that if he didn't let Magnus do this, than his commander would be stuck carrying him around. If they ran into trouble, Hot Rod would be little more than a heavy, useless burden and that was surprisingly more frightening than having his systems ravaged by another 'bot. Hot Rod steeled himself; this was Ultra Magnus. Not some Decepticon raping his hard drive for information. How bad could it really be?

Hot Rod's optics flickered off and Magnus nodded to himself. He'd make this as quick as possible and get out. Even in the old days, as it were, this was highly unpleasant. "I'm going to plug directly into your system now, Hot Rod. I need you to concentrate on not fighting me and this should go quickly." Magnus pat Hot Rod's arm almost affectionately before continuing and was reminded again at their age difference. "I am not going to be able to talk to you while I'm scanning and repairing data, so you need to stay calm during this. Once I've accessed your files, I'm going to run a quick systems scan before fixing any corrupt code from your crash. Hot Rod, please remember this is nothing like a medic's scan and you are not going to like how this feels, but please bear with it."

Hot Rod felt the moment when Magnus' jack plugged into the standard medic port and oh Primus he felt him and there was a chill that shot straight down his spine. Medic scans involved a slight tingle as they worked with data in your drive but this was something else. This was a person; a mind, something sentient that was crawling around his programs like a thousand spiders with purpose and direction. In a Medic scan and repair Hot Rod was still in control but not now. Hot Rod didn't realize it could feel this helpless. It was like he was detached from his body but still able to feel it and it hurt and he wanted Magnus out and out right now.

Hot Rod was panicking and for not the first time Magnus cursed Prime's insistence that they not practice hard line connections in training activities warning 'bots how to protect their medic ports. He wanted to tell Hot Rod it was alright and to calm down but too much concentration was to be had scanning his systems and working through the complex data that made up half their being. It was true though, it was frightening how much data and information Magnus could manipulate should he choose. Hot Rod was young, inexperienced and his systems still very pliable.

Magnus could destroy him.

Hot Rod could feel it when Magnus stopped scanning and started to repair data. And Magnus' warning proved true. It was painful and things were moving in ways he wasn't used to moving them and processes running that weren't his own and they were foreign and alien and it hurt and Hot Rod felt like screaming. He had to stay calm. Hot Rod needed to stay calm and remember this was Magnus. Magnus was fixing him not breaking him. Fixing. He didn't mean to make it hurt when he found the crashed portion of his firmware and started the reboot and-

Magnus felt all of Hot Rod's systems shut down at once when he found the right switch. It had taken slightly longer than planned as Vector Sigma apparently enjoyed changing code around with newer models of their species. It also did not help Magnus was slightly out of practice. Being around the main units for so long had discouraged him from using this method where it could get back to Optimus. He felt Hot Rod's systems connect to his personal drive for the first boot and counted mentally for when the boy would wake up.

Hot Rod woke up screaming and swinging.

"Hot Rod! Calm down!" Magnus had to physically restrain the boy to remind him where he was. Ironically as they were still connected he could just take control and force him to sit still, but that would be an abuse of trust. It would accomplish nothing but frighten the boy further. "You're alright! Your system reboot worked. Sit still."

Magnus was still inside of him and he wasn't moving but Hot Rod could still feel him and it was worse because now he felt him in all of his systems. Hot Rod's voice was hoarse from all the sparks in his attempts to talk before. "Get out."

"It's alright, Hot Rod." Magnus started the proper disconnecting protocols and slowly pulled his jack from the medic port. "There, all done. Your own systems should be compensating now and running their own scans."

Hot Rod's intakes were shaking as he confirmed what Ultra Magnus had said. "Ye…yeah." His scan reported all systems were green and he finally looked over to Magnus. His eyes looked worse than Kup's that first time Hot Rod did a planet fall without cover. "I'm. I'm okay."

"Are you sure? I am sorry, Hot Rod. I had forgotten how bad the first time could be." Magnus sighed and patted him on the arm.

Hot Rod's joints stiffened slightly before he tried standing up. There was a slight, odd feeling that was lingering on his systems and it made his vents run cool. He looked over at his commander in near disbelief thinking of earlier words while trying to put the disgusting feeling behind him. "You used to do that, like in the field? All the time?"

"Hmm?" Magnus rose to his peds and laughed at Hot Rod's confused look. "No, of course not. That was a technique for emergencies only and you could only do it if you had proper training."

"They have training to learn how to do that?" Hot Rod gaped. "They won't even let us plug into each other at our classes."

"It was another era, Hot Rod." Magnus sighed and started to walk. They had spent far too long in this one position and made themselves vulnerable. Besides, if Hot Rod's screaming hadn't attracted attention from a local of some sort, he didn't know what would. "Shortly before your generation came online, the Decepticons had realized it was a useful method to force information from a captive. In response, Autobots pushed to be allowed to do the same to our own prisoners in retaliation.

"Optimus realized that the more who knew how, the more chances there were for it to be abused behind his back. As such, he banned anyone who wasn't a medic from learning how to hard-line into another's systems be they 'bot or 'con. It was not a decision he made lightly, mind you."

"So that's why we only learn the Decepticons might try it and not how to actually fight it once they're in?" Hot Rod trailed next to Ultra Magnus and crossed his arms. "But that doesn't make any sense. How can we fight them off without practice?"

"You can't practice without someone who knows what they're doing." Magnus sighed. "And to be honest, most of the 'bots on our side who know how are either medics and have no time to train or commanding officers who are equally as busy. Many of the others not in those two groups who knew have already fallen." Magnus looked over at Hot Rod. "And to be blunt, what the Decepticons would do to you is nothing short of torture and many instructors do not have the fuel tank to do that to their students, preparation for the future or not."

"Yeah, they definitely make it out to be something horrible." Hot Rod shivered a bit. "And after that I can see why. That was, awful."

"You do get used to it, though." Magnus chuckled as memories started to flow back. "I can't even count the number of times I'd been jacked into on the field."

"I thought you said it wasn't that common." Hot Rod got his foot stuck in the mud and had to pause to yank it out.

"It wasn't, but my unit was usually off by itself for long periods of time." Magnus chuckled as memories flooded back of battles on the outskirts of Cybertron. "And it didn't help that our medic was killed fairly early. Whenever there was a malfunction or injury the only way to check for hidden damage was by using a port. Eventually they started to teach me how to do it and we all took turns. When we returned to the main base I received formal lessons since I showed a proficiency in the subject."

"Wow." Hot Rod started to look around for any sign of colored metal in the trees absently. Proficiency in a skill that was nine of ten times used as a method of torture. Hot Rod wasn't sure what to think about that. "Sounds rough."

"Not as much as you might think." Magnus was glad. He had been afraid for a moment the boy would be angry with him still over the connection. Thankfully, the questions seemed to be distracting him. "It becomes second nature after a while. As you can see, just now it was the first thing that came to mind."

"Yeah." Hot Rod held up an arm. "Worked great though." Magnus chuckled and Hot Rod looked away, slowing his walk down just a bit so he was no longer side-by-side with Ultra Magnus. "Sorry uh, about freaking out earlier, too. I should have known you weren't going to hurt me."

"That's alright, Hot Rod." Magnus put a hand on his shoulder and leaned down slightly to get a better look into his optics without the boy straining to raise his head. "Not only had you been taught to be scared, but it was your first time having someone in your head. I would have been more surprised if you hadn't freaked out."

"Well, thanks anyway." Hot Rod smacked Ultra Magnus on the arm much like he'd done to Springer more than once. "But uh, don't tell Kup about the systems shut down thing, okay?"

"Why?" Ultra Magnus looked over at his suddenly embarrassed companion.

"Because he's always gone off about how my planet falling hobby was going to be the death of me." Hot Rod chuckled to himself. He'd have to think up an excuse for the couple of dents he had as well. "I'd never live it down if he found out! But speaking of the old guy, we should go find him and the others."

Magnus stared at Hot Rod's back as he started to trudge ahead. Did he just say hobby?