Author's Notes: Thanks for the reviews. Back to rib hurting fun. Rule 1 takes place shortly after ROTF. Rule 2's new list will provide hours of endless fun. Not fun for Prowl but hey, that goes with the job of being Second In Command. Sideswipe and the butterflies take place before the events of ROTF. And the story arc will NOT be all about the DOTM movie. I will reference it here and there in events but that will be a SEPARATE fic apart from this one.

This is, as always, dedicated to the readers who need a happy place to go to. Leo and Mikeala will be continue to be in flashbacks as well as other favorite characters. There is a new poll in my profile on what to visit again after over 100 chapters. Reviews are love; new chapters are hopes for better things. And yes, this one got long as it went. Blame finally having a day off from work. Anyone wanting to use parts can. Credit me in the notes somewhere and send me the link please. Good fics are hard to find. Onward to ignorance is bliss unless the twins are smiling.

TF TF TF TF TF TF TF TF TF TRANSFORMERS

304. Do not overestimate human's ability to perceive the truth. Holograms may fool us for a short time as a diversion. Humans will 'believe' what they see regardless of hard data to the contrary. Cross reference rules on imaginary creatures, previously offlined humans and general hologram use.

The college completed rebuilding, the new library wall up and sealed, the plaque on it proudly listing the names of those contributors who provided the major funding. The young man walking down the steps, brushing the brown hair out of his eyes, giving thanks every time he passed it that it was not a memorial plaque listing names of those deceased. "My name would have been the first, and my roommate Leo another though there were times I wish he was gone or at least bound and gagged in the back of a transformer. Or Mikeala. Forgot her birthday last week but at least it made her quit mentioning that day. One stolen kiss and suddenly I'm in the doghouse for life. Wheelie forgave me. Bumblebee chewed me out for endangering myself then forgave me. Why can't Mikeala? Not like we are engaged or anything. Only discovered an alien race together."

Crossing the student walkway, Sam breathed normally, refusing to remember his harried flight up the stairs dropping books as glyphs flashed across his vision. Or the race across the same area later in the opposite directing with the Decepticon Pretender trying to kill him. The spring day drove such dark memories far from him though they could not contain the wistful sigh at the empty parking space normally holding a certain black and yellow Camaro. The young bot away on a training mission in the Middle East. His nightly calls mostly complaining about sand in his gears and the lack of paved roads. Bumblebee had even threatened to take an aerial mode and Sam had laughed, imagining a yellow Cumulus motor glider or Piper TG-8 mini plane greeting him the next time they met. Though secretly Sam hated heights. The fall from the building into Optimus hands had done little to reassure his fears. "Whoever said get back up on the horse after falling never faced Megatron," he muttered, adjusting the history books under his arm. His backpack held his laptop and other gear, stuffed too full for the heavy books. The other students passing by ignoring him, the novelty of the previous semester worn off. The government hid the attack on the Pyramid and most of the public accepted the cover up and lies. Sam himself worried more about the three-hour limit on his essay test than returning Decepticons in faraway lands. Opening the door to his dorm room, he pushed harder than normal, shoving the discarded clothes and smelly sneakers out of the way to cross into his half of the room neatly organized and ready for serious studying.

"Yo bro! Did you see her?" Leo greeted, practically bounding out of the side doorway that led to the computer room. Once his secret pride and joy, he had found online conspiracies less interesting after dodging Devastator's giant feet pads. The young man slouched against the doorway, his rumpled clothes bearing stains of chocolate ice cream among the striped patterns on the shirt.

"Her who?" resting on the bed, Sam sighed before unpacking his backpack. A nap would have been nice but impossible with Leo in the room. Or his studying schedule.

"You know who," Leo waved his hands as if to summon her with a spell. "The new hot chick in your history class. The grad student with red hair, green eyes and the biggest..."

"Hey! I don't want to hear that!" Sam protested, his glare evident as he expertly rapped a fist on his laptop, ensuring it was not a transformer waiting to grab him. Never could be too careful.

"Biggest feet. She's a size what? Fourteen double D wide?" The college student pointed down at his own feet, pretending to be hurt Sam would consider any other area.

"So what? You have a fetish for feet now?"

"Nah man. But I bet she can run fast. Need a girl that can keep up when fleeing from aliens," he smiled.

"And speaking of our alien visitors," Sam pointed to the laptop screen and the small green digital readout in the corner. "Three minutes to activation. Let me know to stop it before anyone else comes in the dorm room."

"Three minutes? It won't explode or self destruct will it or spike a tail?" Leo asked, his eyes going wide as he backed up a few steps towards the window. With his messy habits, piles of clothing and books lay between him and the only exit door out their shared room. The window and fire escape might actually be easier.

"No, Bumblebee cleared it after Optimus approved it. Well, they didn't tell him what it does exactly but it doesn't break any obvious rules," Sam coughed nervously, hoping his roommate would understand Sam had it, no it could not be borrowed, mentioned or used to talk to girls with. The countdown completed, a final warning flashing before multicolored bubble shapes filled the screen.

Grimacing, his roommate moved closer when nothing dangerous happened. "Isn't that, you know, a feminine screen saver? You hang with giant alien robots that turn into cool cars and you have bubbles?"

"Says the dude who uses three shampoos and two conditioners on his hair," Sam retorted.

"My hair needs the work. Girls appreciate a head of hair," Leo said then blinked as the first bubble floated off the screen and into the room. Bright blue, it floated towards the far wall with a soft, flouncy movement as the color sparkled in the sun. A yellow super size bubble joined it, rising straight up as a pink fuzzy one dropped towards to floor.

"Neat huh?" Sam gestured before explaining. "Annabelle has the original program, hence the shiny colored bubbles. Whatever the screen has, with certain limits, becomes three dimensional holographic representations within ten feet of the laptop."

Leo gasped, his mind conjuring up images. "Wait! Can I use it to?"

"Whoa! I know what you're thinking and no, I am not loading images of girls on here for you to see. It's a screen saver not graphics display for your perverted mind," Sam closed the laptop down with a click, his decision on the matter final.

"I'm not perverted, just perfected bro."

"Perfect as pizza in the quad? It's Tuesday and I'm buying," he sidetracked Leo, closing the outer door behind them when the left. Relaxed, he never saw the dirty sock jammed in the hinge, tumbling off the overflowing clothes hamper when thrown. Ten minutes later, the not quite closed door opened and two figures in dark clothes crept in. A minute later they were gone, only the power cords hooked into the wall to show where the laptop had been.

Next floor up, the two thieves entered their dorm room, chuckling at how easy it had been. The younger of the two opened the laptop, inserting a game disk in the disk drive.

"Dude! Check how fast this loads! The battlefield is ready, zombies and ghosts in place and I don't even know where my cheat codes book is," the dark clothed student whined. He scrounged through a pile of books, each a game reference manual as the screen remained unchanged, the zombie battle ready as a small green window appeared the lower left corner.

Screen saver activation: Three minutes

"That will show that Witwicky kid. Thinking he's so smart," the roommate triumphantly held up the paper manual before groaning. "Wrong one. Zombies and vampires not werewolves. Frank, you seen my guide?"

"No! Though we took him to school!" Frank stated, posing before the mirror. He picked a piece of lint off his tight latex shirt. "I took astronomy for an easy A and what happens? These muscles get upstaged by a geeky freshman with weird ideas. Now it's time for payback. Witwicky needs to exercise his muscles but he ain't got any."

"The brain is a muscle, learned that in science class," the younger man said, grabbing more gaming books out of the closet.

Screen saver activation: Two minutes

"Learn this, learn that. Why don't they teach the important stuff? Like teamwork or being sportsmanlike."

"Uhm, sportsmanlike conduct doesn't include stealing other people's stuff."

"Says you," Frank retorted. "Coaches steal each other's plays. Drafts are for beginners. Good players are bought by the best teams. Second place is first place losers."

Screen saver activation: One minute

"Fr..fr...frank!"

"Wh..wh...what? Is there a spider on the wall again? You are such a wimp." He mocked, rubbing the last of the aftershave in. Turning, his hair nearly stood on end as the zombie opened its mouth, blood dripping down between broken teeth. Silently it moved, the rotting flesh hanging from broken bones as the clawed hand raised.

Doors up and down the hallway opened at the high pitched screams. "Is that the fire alarm?"

As their bodies tumbled out the door into the hallway, frantic to escape the zombies, the power pack died on the laptop. Made for normal human usage, the holograms drained it too quickly. Campus security came when called, citing the two for theft and having alcohol when neither were twenty one years old. Sam refused to press charges, grateful to have the laptop back in his possession. He found the game disk, throwing it away. Half decaying game characters were nothing compared to facing NBE's.

305. Do not make my job harder! I have enough to do without you thick plated loose chipped slaggers messing up my schedule. If I could, I'd throw you all into the brig and forgot the lock code so I could get my work done! * Draft version only. Complete rule to follow pending release from med bay.

DIEGO GARCIA ISLAND, NEST BASE

AUTOBOT COMMAND BUILDING, PROWL'S OFFICE

"Prowl?" Optimus called softly. The ancient Prime paused in the open doorway, unsure of the situation. Prowl was never late and their scheduled meeting in Prime's office was twenty minutes past. His normally active Second In Command officer was faceplate down on his desk, white armored arms wrapped over his head as his chassis sagged in the desk chair. The vibrant energy signature and the faint clicker and whir sounds reassured he was not in stasis lock or in recharge.

"They hate me."

Mumbled, it took his systems a bit to unscramble the softly spoken words. Then confirm the other truly said it. Prowl never used the word hate. Autobots did not hate, the emotion to strong for their attitudes and beliefs.

"I disagree. We respect your command even if we ignore your rules at times." Not the most intelligent of arguments Optimus reflected, moving inside the room.

"It's this list," one white armored hand moved outward enough to tap a stubby finger on a datapad.

"And?"

"There are forty entries in the time the list has existed twelve breems. Do you know how many can be added? My statistical calculator jammed trying to figure it out. It won't reboot even when I tried linking it into my processors," he finally raised his helm, the blue optics far paler than normal. Prowl's expression bordered on sad and he swore Prowl would have been pouting his lower lip plate if it had flexed that way.

"I don't understand why a list would be a problem," Optimus finally admitted, calling to Ratchet for help over the medical frequency. He took the chance Prowl would miss the short encrypted burst. While Optimus could contain the black and white mech if he truly glitched, he always found it difficult to do. His size and power designed for battling enemies, not tackling his own troops. Too often injuries occurred on his own frame during the scuffle followed by wrench dents later.

"Do you remember the first time on earth you _. Please follow with the detailed story of the learning event." Prowl quoted, staring at the screen as if Unicron himself had left the message.

"What is the blank line at the end of the first sentence?'

"The human's way of causing trouble for an overworked bot who is trying to make rules to simplify their lives and they do this!" he began. A single motion and he stood tall, his black and white wing doors flaring out like an angel of vengeance. "Do they appreciate my sacrifices or hard work? Nooo. They make holograms and plan ways to go around my rules. They keep secrets from me to post on a list that is also against the rules! Does no bot understand? It's my job to tell them no! You said it yourself. You ignore what I say!"

:: Yelling at Prowl is not going to help. You should know that by now:: Ratchet pinged back his location outside the front of the building.

:: I am not yelling he is. New list has unbalanced his processor:: Optimus retorted, calculating the exact angle to pin Prowl against the wall without damaging the other's more fragile wing doors.

:: What is the list?:: Ratchet

:: The first time on earth you did blank. Blank being the event or action. Apparently, these occurrences never officially recorded and Prowl is just now finding out about them:: Optimus winced as he read it, making a note to deal with the twins and Hound later on number nineteen. Moreover, number thirty-three explained last month, even if they missed telling him about it. :: I finally understand why Captain Jorgenson refuses to ride in me. Or turns bright red when she sees me. Apparently, they made a human size holographic image of me, timed to appear in her bedroom at night, next to her on the bed::

:: That does sound interesting. I will read the list later:: Ratchet answered, his heavy treads sounding outside the door.

:: Ratchet! This is serious. Prowl needs help:: Optimus grumbled.

:: NEI. Not enough information. Do you know how many strange, vague 'I tripped and this happened' excuse injuries I treat around here? Might be nice to know how the injury actually occurred to prevent it later in some bot else:: Ratchet stated, moving into the room. The fight that ensued lasted a few seconds. Optimus using his mass to pin the other in place as Ratchet injected medical coding to induce stasis. Carried by both bots towards med bay, twin yellow and red mechs watching from a distance.

"Any of those entries I should know about?" Sunstreaker asked, wanting to get into the office to see that list.

"You should. You helped on all but one. Entry number five. First time I tried getting a butterfly collection for Annabelle. Happened right after I landed on earth," Sideswipe admitted, his memory core replaying the event.

"Pretty!" the little girl laughed, her finger outstretched towards the flowers. Sideswipe vented softly, the expelled air rustling the tropical flowers as he bent closer to scan them for dangers. Annabelle moved fast and even standing behind his left foot pad, he took no chances. Targeting locks engaged as shapes fluttered upwards. A bare astro second kept them and half the walkway from obliteration.

Non-threat, weapons standby: Organic creatures. Confirm: Not Insecticons

"Butterflies. They pretty. All colors," she giggled, clapping her hands.

He vented again, wondering what he had done to get this punishment. "Joining NEST should mean fighting with new allies, not guarding this noisy sparkling. Arcee got mainland patrols and I got this? Should have stayed hidden with the Wreckers. Why did Prime order me here?" The very point he asked Arcee that night.

"You have spark sitting duty again tomorrow," Arcee noted, her tri units slowly powering down for the night. The few humans in the hangar at the other end ignored their conversation in Cybertronian. They had no way to translate it and the two smaller bots of lower rank were welcome but not anyone they answered to.

"Why me?"

"Three reasons. One, show the humans you are not a threat. Two, you are on punishment detail for ignoring orders on our first encounter with Decepticons. You nearly blew our cover blowing up that car dealership trying to find one Con. Until you get back in Prime's good graces you should count your energon cubes you are not on scrap detail the rest of your existence here," the warrior femme reminded.

"And reason three?" His optics blazed, considering her explanation. His twin did better on figuring and planning, he preferred direct action.

"Ironhide treasures that little human like his own sparkling. If you want to be back on the front lines as a melee warrior, you need his approval. "

"Wait a parsec. He trusts me with Annabelle is a good thing?"

"What, you think she's handed to any bot? You are our master sword fighter. Next to Ironhide, you're the best protection around. Or hadn't you realized if she's happy he is happy which makes the human commanding officer happy? She and her parental femme are visiting for a short time. If you can't endure it then go back to space. Planet needs guardians more than it needs god like arrogance mech. Good recharge," she finished, folding down into her motorcycle alt mode.

Morning found him on stock duty, manually cataloging shipments of supplies unloading off the cargo plane. "Primitive backwards world. No scanners, no drones to fetch and carry. What is all this?" Ripping open a wood crate, small white shapes fluttered upward off the parachutes inside.

"Pests," he started to laser them then stopped. Instead, a small square of metal slid back on his wrist. Silently the metal tube extended, creating a faint popping noise as the air and white fliers were sucked into a holding tube. "Give these to Annabelle and maybe they can keep her busy." Two hours later, he felt vindicated. The little girl not only loved her flying surprise but also left him alone. As in pouring through books to identify the type of butterfly and how to take care of them properly.

Mere seconds and the internet provided his answer. Kingdom: Animalia. Phylum: Arthropoda. Class: Insecta. Order: Lepidoptera. Family: Tineidae. Genus: Tineola. Species: T Bisseliella. "Too bad humans could not access it except through primitive hardware."

"Can we keep these a secret?" Annabelle breathed, holding the glass jar as if it was her greatest possession.

"Only if you promise to keep my secrets," the silver mech offered. It took another scan of the internet to realize her head bobbing back and forth meant an enthusiastic 'yes' and not a glitch in her movement gears. One week later he transferred from spark sitter to front line warrior, never mentioning what he had done. Her father, Will Lennox found out while looking for his dress uniform a month later.

"Annabelle!" He pushed the spare bedroom door open to check on the little girl, needing her to help search. His on base quarters were small but she thought like her mother. If anyone could find where Sarah had put it after cleaning last month, Annabelle could. The brown pile inside the glass case had him gasping. "My uniform! What happened?"

"Sideswipe gave me these and they were hungry. You said you didn't like it. Made you sweaty and itchy," Annabelle admitted, ducking her head at his tone.

"Sideswipe gave you?" He asked, standing next to her and the chewed shreds of the uniform he needed.

"Yup. A present. He is nice, he listens, and I like him. Not as much as Ironhide but he's okay."

"Nice," the officer repeated numbly.

"They're not butterflies but clothing moths. They like wool. Dirty clothes make them happy, especially sweaty ones. But you got to keep them away from food. That is why he made me this box. I can see them and they eat and fly and make new baby moths," she smiled.

"Baby moths?"

"Uh huh. I let them go with some of the mommies. There were too many in here," she pressed against the glass, her breath fogging a patch.

"Let them go where?" his hand moved towards the radio on his hip, the emergency number for maintenance clicking in his mind.

"All over base. They need room to grow," she smiled.

'Room enough a certain mech I know won't be able to hide from me," he grumbled, typing out the text. Thankfully, they were on an island and the small fragile creatures would drown before reaching the mainland. His fingers stopped typing as his brain went into overdrive. "The flight. Please no."

"What daddy?"

"Nothing pumpkin," he smiled, suppressing the panic he felt. His eyes darted towards the wall clock, estimating the time before the planeload arrived. The plane carrying nearly a hangar full of spare supplies to Nellis Air Force base for long-term storage. He keyed the signal code from memory. "Sideswipe, meet me at the communications platform in twenty minutes."

"I didn't release them randomly. I'm smarter than that," Sideswipe stated, his swords retracted as he stood still. Rolling on his feet pad wheels tended to upset humans and made them complain about twisting all directions to follow him. And Optimus and Ironhide standing on either side kept him on best behavior. "I did no harm to them as living creatures and no rules were broken."

"So what did you do with them?" Will asked, pulling at the over tight collar of his spare uniform.

"Put them where they could be useful."

"Useful? They eat material! Do you know the danger they pose?"

"Or potential for fun. Name the human on base who wears the ugliest, most impractical clothing," Sideswipe hinted.

"You didn't."

"I did."

General Morshower's face filled the communication screen. "Any one there care to tell me why Director Galloway is refusing to attend this meeting because, and I quote "he has nothing to wear?"

STORY ARC

ONE END, TWO PATHS (part 1)

"As easy as ABD," Will stated, signing off on the final battle plan. Scrubbing at the stubby beard growth, he accepted the hot cup of coffee from Epps. The late night hour and being in the spare hangar gave them privacy, only three humans and two mechs present.

"Daddy, it's not ADB," Annabelle said, pausing her datapad lesson. "It's ABC. Everybody and bot knows that."

"ABD as in Army Digitized Battlefield," Will explained, pointing at the mechs standing close by. "Best way to work with them and not waste ammo."

"I like my ABC's better. Always Be Careful Decepticons Everywhere Fear Great Hulking Ironhide," she began with a giggle. Her blond ponytail swung as she covered her mouth with her hands.

"She was little when I taught her that," Ironhide sheepishly admitted as they all turned to look at him.

"She's still little," Ratchet noted.

"That why you taught her how to swear?" Ironhide retorted.

"Me? You're the foul mouthed slagger."

"Only around patients too thick plated to understand simple medical directions like stay off the injured parts until they are repaired."

"Can't you play nice together?" Annabelle's soft feminine human voice interrupting them.

"We do!" they chorused together.

"Uh huh. Optimus told Prowl he wished you would work together more and fight less. Almost as bad as the twins but I like you both. Can I stay with you forever?"

"Not forever," Ratchet replied absently, promising to have a talk with Optimus. At his next full physical that suddenly appeared on the schedule.

"As long as you want," Ironhide rumbled, his processor shying away from facing their situation. She had the potential as a human civilian of existing longer than he did. Ancient, he knew any battle could be his last. Everyone thought him indestructible but he knew better. The other bots woke each morning with renewed hope for the war to end. Any morning he pulled out of recharge and his footpads hit the floor intentionally meant another day of survival.

The next time Annabelle took her afternoon nap, still use to a North American time zone half a world away, he keyed open his digital recorder, wrapping the blank file with heavy security protocols.

He considered the usual 'If I'm gone I messed up but here,' message then discarded it. "Not a slagging goodbye note, ain't spare parts yet" he rumbled. "Annabelle, you are like my own sparkling and one of the duties of a parental mech is to teach. Pit! Been around command too long. Sound boring. This message I leave for my sparklings, whether flesh or metal so you may know my spark." And he began recording, layering memory packets under the words. Annabelle might never be able to access them but other Transformers could. And learn something that could save them one day.

IRONHIDE ENTRY:

Keep it simple, is the best advice I have ever heard. On the battlefield, they shoot, I move, they miss, and I shoot them back. Only I don't miss. They raise a weapon and it's all over for them. They run without shooting or hurting any bot, I let them go. Barricade survived Mission City that way. Raced for the exit with his tailpipe tucked, my threats ringing across his communications array.

A good growl does more than a breem of explaining and a growl with a short threat puts fear in the strongest mech. Not that I am not capable of carrying it out. I don't want to. Rough language is a wonderful way to communicate what you mean. All the flowery pleasing words don't mean a cube's worth of energon as the phrase "Get the slag out of my way!" or "Pit spawned" or even words yelled at a volume and speed they are nigh recognizable. I quoted battle regulations once to new recruits at a fast clip at full volume and they ran for their sparks instead of listening to me tell them about how to clean dusty weapon locks.

As a youngling I never was that threatening. Okay, maybe I was. I did not start any fights but I finished every one. I was the youngest of the clan and that taught me how to fight. Not with weapons or over energon but try telling a mech twice your size and three times your height to give you your toy back. Dent enough shin plates and they get tired of explaining to the parental units why they were the one hurt when picking on a smaller bot. The rest is history until I enlisted in the Planetary Defense Forces. Back when they actually protected Cybertron and weren't Megatron's handpicked drones.

"New recruits, to the firing line," started it. I hit every target, even if only skimming the outer edges. The combat instructor vented lightly, a smile on his faceplates. I, being young and wanting to impress my first command ask, "Any other bot done that good?"

"No but that high score means you can become a sniper."

"Nah, I don't want that. I wanna see my target and hit it! With the big guns," I smirked, striking my palm with my metal fist.

"Big? This might work," he grins back. Anytime a combat instructor smiles, start running. He pulls out a war cannon from the storage room, magnetizing the piece to fit on my lower arm plate.

I try it and love it. Except for one problem. "It's too heavy, pulls me down on that side," I grumped.

"Here," he hands me another one, watching as I tried locking it on my other arm. Two cannons? Maybe I could do this. I step to the firing line again, raising my arms.

Next thing my memory core holds is me embedded in the opposite wall, ringing in my audios and a smoking ion cannon on each arm plate.

"Sorry, the recoil adjusters were never meant to compensate for two equal forces. That is some hole you made in the wall."

"My hide is tough, like Iron," I answered even as the floor seemed to dip under me. Medical alerts flash across my optics, nearly filling my vision until I start dismissing them.

"Ironhide? Hmm, that will do as a warrior's name for now."

And it stuck. Oh, I could have taken other names but power hungry bots who need others to hold them up take names like 'Mega' this or 'Shock' that. Their whole transform becomes the weapon. Me? My name fit just fine. Gave me an excuse to build my armor up nicely too. And I use my weapons not exist as one. I joined the ground forces and first thing they do is throw titles at you. Like your existence fits that one or two word description. Prime for leader or Second In Command or Ultra this and Omega that. Mine happened thanks to a smart aft new guard. Stands outside the Allspark Temple proper and refuses to let me in.

"You need to finish the door entry. What is it you do?" He points to the empty page as I bite back a nasty suggestion of where and how he could put his datapad. The Temple at Simfur is special and the one place I keep my manners. Otherwise, this punk would be spitting out vocal gears at my feet. Either I have access or not. What do they need with more info? Why don't they just ask what hand I empty my waste tanks with or what color my protoform braces are and let me pass. Then it hits me. The perfect way to outsmart this youngling taking his job way too seriously.

"Me? I'm a weapons specialist."

"Specializing in what weapon?" His hand moves, ready to type out my answer.

"All of them. Not just what I carry either." I'm betting any second the entire guards is going to show up or this mech is going to cave, his processors locking as his chassis slumps to the pavement. I am hoping the guard shows. Be a good drill. I trained most of them and ain't seen a one lately except from a distance.

"All?" He repeats.

"I said weapons as in plural buddy. Your audios need checking?"

"Specializing means to concentrate one's efforts in a special activity, field, or practice or to undergo specialization; especially to change adaptively," he quotes as if challenging me.

"And that's what I do," I smirked and leaned close. "I know more weapons than you got parts. Can use them, modify them and hide them. You are targeted by fifty-four systems right now. Wanna guess how many itty bitty parts to scrape up if ya keep annoying me?"

His optics widened at my bluff even if I was not sure how much I was bluffing. I pass by, not one line on that form filled in besides what I wanted to put there. The Temple head officer loves my attitude and mentions the encounter to the head of the Council Security. I get transferred, as in guarding the Primes in council meetings. Finally, I am into the action. How slagging wrong I was! First time I learned to recharge standing upright, battle systems ready to engage.

Then the attacks happen. Aliens, mysterious flying robots and any other oddity you name is blamed for the energon thefts. Me, I figure its disgruntled locals tired of pushing against Iacon forces, causing trouble. Imagine my surprise when the head officer calls me into his office for a private meeting. "You are being reassigned. With the attacks I need your skills elsewhere."

"Meaning?" Why waste time asking questions when he can just tell me?

"I need you as bodyguard to the new Prime," he says.

I frown, running the concept through my processors. "Another Prime? Hadn't heard we lost one." I wasn't being callous just practical. Primes keep us fighting but not winning. If they were good at their job, they remained online. The worse don't, not for long. The galaxies way of ensuring their bad tactics or timing is not passed on. Megatron executed those Decepticon leaders who failed and returned, we tended to promote the Autobot version if they survive long enough. Only explanation I can process of why Mechner is a Prime but that is for later. In the beginning we were always a step behind, arriving after the attack happened, not sure who the enemy was. They didn't leave witnesses.

"We didn't lose one. The Matrix of Leadership from Iacon has a carrier finally. Sentinel installed it himself. Meet the mech in two breems in the Hall of Heroes by the main lift. Good battling," he dismisses me.

"Offline with honor," I answer automatically, leaving the office. A new Prime? The only time I handled a Matrix was to move it from one temple room to another for cleaning. It hummed but never lit, thank Primus! Now I get to guard whomever it did pick.

The Hall of Heroes is overdone to my tastes. Supersize statues of past leaders that are probably laughing their afts off in the Well of Sparks for how they are remembered. The far transport lift opens, the blue and red armored figure looking around. He sees me, curiosity in his expression and I vent deeply. 'This youngling is the new Prime? Primus! Mechner and the other Primes are going to blow a spark spire.'

"Are you Ironhide?" he asks, his deep baritone vocal catching me by surprise. The femmes are going to love hearing him speak. Except my Chromia. Words don't sway her. Least it gives me something to work with.

"And you are?"

"Optimus... Prime," he answers, almost stumbling over his name.

Great. Confidence to the core in this one. He answered me without finding out his question, not the usual Prime attitude. They bark orders without looking to see if they are followed. Too many times we are below their field of vision. I escort him to the council chamber and make bets on how long this assignment is going to last. He surprises me every time. Smart, plans ahead and actually seems to understand the lower clans. The only Prime thing about him is his title and his grand speeches.

"Keep your battle mask engaged, hides your expression," I tell him an orn later.

"What about your mask?" He asks, his optics trying to focus. Slammed down onto the training mat, even his sensors take an astro second to reset. But he's learning. Took me longer than ever to get him off his feet pads. Best fun I've had in a while and he needs to know he's not invincible.

"Gave it up vorns ago. Hard to snarl when they can't see you," I grunted. He is taller but our mass is about the same at this point. First time he is in the medic's hands I am ordering thicker armor. One sniper shot or ricochet and the Matrix transfers to the next in command. Flaming fate ain't handing it to me with his energon coating it, no way. Worse, he has a femme. She doesn't need the spark break either. I add a Second In Command and Third in Command officer to my growing needs list. We are going to need capable officers in those positions to allow me to do my work as bodyguard and trainer. Sentinel has many skills but teaching ain't one of them. He tends towards the brutal, see that smoking wreckage? Do not fight that way. See that damaged city, these commands went wrong and that happened. Do not do that. Me? I can teach him the why something went wrong as a tactician can explain it fancy. The attacks are changing and we need to adapt. Not making the same mistakes ain't teaching. This youngling has to learn and it's my job to ensure he remains online long enough to do it.

Our first real battle ain't. Chance we were even there. Suppose to be visiting a storage facility for the Science Division when the explosions began. Optimus takes command, giving orders no bot follows. It is a rout. Scientists tried protecting their finds, the locals stayed to watch and the few guards barely fired back. The only defense forces in the area waited to get their orders while sitting on their afts at the command post. What happened to processing being a skill? You hear fighting you go join it. If I didn't know better I would say Megatron picked the soldiers early in the war because they were smart enough to hold a gun and dumb enough to listen to anything he said. Back then, we didn't know he was the Decepticon leader but it didn't make the situation better. A nameless faceless enemy still kicked our afts.

Optimus orders all available defense forces and Elite Guard in the area to meet with him. I watch as he faces them. I wait, making mental bets on what he will say.'I figure it's the we have our afts kicked so see the medics and not our fault speech.' Looking at the strength in his movements, the way his optics seem to meet each warrior there before moving to the next I change my processing. 'Nope, he's going to do the talk to each officer, something personal like I care and you all did well. Go see the medics and hope we do better later.'

Once again, he surprises me. Will I ever figure him out?

"There is no excuse for what happened today. We had superior numbers and technology. Instead, we lost a critical fuel depot storage as well as the building housing ancient artifacts of our history. Moreover, sparks were lost. That is unacceptable," Optimus stated.

"The emergency plan fell apart. We didn't know what to do next. It didn't cover aerial and ground attack or neutrals staying around to watch," the lead guard states. Granted, he fought but not real well. And he's in command because the two officers above him were too slow to dodge attacks aimed their direction. Nothing like a promotion because you duck and hide the fastest.

"The neutrals paid the price for curiosity with their sparks. We had enough warriors to protect them and the depot. We scattered like smelter fragments before a recycling drone. The reports sent back to me lacked the information I needed to know. There is no dishonor in running to save sparks. That is why I called for the retreat. But I will not allow this to happen again," Optimus said.

"How can you plan for everything?" A bot from the front called out.

"We don't even know who the enemy is for sure," another complained.

"What if they block our communications? We need to know what to do, and you were too far away," a tall mech said.

"That is why I will lead the next battle."

His calm statement has my systems in a flux. "Lead? Is he slagging insane?" Primes stay on the sideline with their tacticians, giving orders not making themselves a target. Sentinel Prime is the only fighter and he is sneaky. Carries the nastiest weapons and sets tactical traps. Enemy never sees what hits them. Even pretended to surrender once to buy time to bring his secondary weapons online. Claimed the need to stop the mech outweighed the need to honor his surrender. Alive, he would have been too great a threat and Sentinel chose the hard choice. What had to be done he said. But this? Lead a battle? Optimus means it. I run my black armored hand down my faceplates. His bravery with my armor to protect it. Oh yeah, I know this drill. Worse, the medics know me. Maybe I could convince my femme to become a medical assistant? Spend more time with her that way.

Nineteen battles and he never fails to lead. I feel like my entire world has flipped upside down. I watch the medics repairing the shredded fragment that is Optimus leg and grin. Not for his wound or his pain, the neuron sensors are fried and he feels nothing from the hip plate down I bet. Been there too many times myself. No, he has given me hope. For the first time, the forces retreating were the Decepticons. Now we have a victory and know our enemy. Megatron. Every battle he leaves before we could get close enough. This time he and Optimus fought before the seekers laid cover fire to save metal head's aft.

And junior over there took a face. Shredded the very identity of the mech he fought. Pit spawned Con snuck behind our lines to shoot the wounded and the medics helping them. Fighting on the battlefield is one thing but offlining the retrieved? Not even the parts grabbers are that low. Prime there took his spark and his face in a rage, crippled leg and all. Now the story is spreading faster than a bad case of cosmic rust. He fights for us. He took a face. The new Prime is a warrior who fights with us. I am hearing their excited whispers, getting communication updates from the security team. They should be monitoring for enemy chatter indicating another attack but I let it slide. Optimus earned this moment and the troops need a rallying point. He will make mistakes. Like getting ahead of my weapons fire, costing him a leg and nearly his spark but they will not follow because he is perfect. They will follow because his spark is in it. He leads because he cares. And who knows? He might get it right and end this war. Either way, I am rolling with him.

"Sir, your parental mech is here," one of the medics announce, inserting an energon drip into his arm.

Parental? Primes don't have parents. The dynasty of Primes is all but extinct, even the legend has faded over time. Who could be here? I pull the entry records from the hallway guards and nearly have a spark attack. "You're Alpha Trion's mech? " I vent rapidly in disbelief. Memory cores pull up the image of two mech sparklings in Alpha's arms, the formal presentation to the council. I only glimpse them entering as I stand guard at the council chambers. Now one of those sparklings is on the medical berth before me?

"But that means…" I trail off.

He nods, never saying a word. Megatron, leader of the Decepticons and the mech that tried taking our sparks breems ago is his brother. As in raised with, play and grew up sharing their life together brother. They shared power for nearly two generations as Prime and Lord Protector before the war began. And he has never said. I was so busy guarding his back I never processed how he became Prime. Only that he was.

To be continued...