This was for the lj comm tf_rare_pairing's October challenge round. The request was:

Pairing Wanted: Optimus/Hound

Rating Wanted: whatever

What do you want to see? Hound and Optimus in New England, HP Lovecraft-esque goings-on...OR SO IT SEEMS!

Three things you want in your story: Hound all into the spirit of the thing, Optimus thinks it's a Decepticon prank, OR IS IT????

Three things you do NOT want in your story: dub/non-con. ...Given the high probability of tentacles being involved, I can hardly disallow sticky now can I...? XD

A/N: I chose to put this in a movie-verse mash-up, combining elements of movie, G1, and IDW to come up with a mythos that gave me the elements I needed.

Yes, Mauna Loa is taller than Everest if you measure from the sea floor, the actual base of the volcano. It is 28,680' or 8,742m tall. The Marianas Trench is 36,200' (11,034m) deep in the Challenger Deep. So why did Michael Bay drop Megatron in the Laurentian Abyss (~19,680' or 6,000m deep)? Hm?

Optimus Prime dove down, using the thrusters in his feet to push against the water. He was flanked by Hound and Sideswipe, both of them pushing down at high speed to the Challenger Deep, the deepest part of the Marianas Trench, where the western edge of the Pacific plate subducted under the smaller, lighter Mariana plate. A signal had erupted yesterday, an old Cybertronian code flashing on their orbital stations and beaming down to them at Diego Garcia. It was the work of a couple of hours to get Optimus, Hound and Sideswipe from Diego Garcia to an aircraft carrier doing drills in the northern Pacific, 4500 miles from Diego Garcia. The carrier and its support fleet had shifted over to the south of Japan, past Okinawa and moving toward Taiwan, heading west at their top speed to reach the location of the signal. This had caused an inquiry from the Chinese government, and Optimus had to put forward a formal request to the Chinese for permission to get as close to Taiwan as he was right now.

To everyone's surprise, the location of the signal was underwater, on the ocean floor. Thus the dive the three Autobots were currently engaged in undertaking, pushing down to a depth that would crush most life. The pressure was immense, and Optimus comforted himself with the thought that Megatron had survived such depths and come back, more powerful than before. Hound was in his element, thrilled with the organic richness of this planet, and even more thrilled to be out on his first mission since arriving on Earth.

They made their depth and turned sideways, Sideswipe holding a portable tracker Ratchet had ginned up for them. They were deeper than the tallest mountain on Earth, the massive volcano of Mauna Loa on the Hawaiian island system. They reached the edge of the trench wall, a huge cliff of old rock, bent and broken by the enormous stresses placed upon it by the subduction and began searching the cracks. Each of them engaged their lights, the beams absorbed by the dark waters quickly.

Hound, being smaller than the other two, was able to reach further back into the cracks and do more searching. Optimus could provide extra lights, but his great size was actually a handicap in this type of search.

::Found it!:: Hound beamed at them. ::But it's wedged in here, and I can't get a grip.::

::Let me try.:: Sideswipe told him.

Hound backed out of the crevice, keeping a grip on the rocks, and pointed out the location to Sideswipe. The warrior engaged one of his blades and began to pry at the artifact, poking away at the rock and finally getting the edge of his blade under the object. He applied pressure, and the object came popping out, whizzing past his head. Hound made a grab for it but missed, and Optimus blessed his speed and size when he was able to grab the relic.

A shock raced through his body from the artifact, and a haze formed over his optics. To Hound and Sideswipe, it looked as if Optimus was gone, his body completely dark and quiet for a few moments until every system blazed to life. He never lost his grip on the object in his hand, and worried, Hound and Sideswipe flanked Optimus as he regained his bearings.

::Are you alright?:: Hound sent, worry colouring his message.

::I think so. We've got what we came for, let's get going.:: Optimus returned, tucking the artifact into a pocket in his armour.

The three Autobots powered up through the dark waters, arriving at the surface quickly. They clambered aboard the aircraft carrier, which steamed away from the islands and back out toward the open ocean. They would have to wait a couple of hours for a big helicopter to make its way to the carrier to retrieve them and take them to a base in Japan, where they would catch a cargo plane back to Diego Garcia. Hound, worried still, sent a tightly beamed message to Ratchet and settled himself where he could watch Optimus.

"Ratchet, I just don't understand what this is, and yet…" Optimus told his medical officer.

Ratchet looked up from the artifact on a table in front of him. They had all been extremely careful to not touch it since Optimus had told them what happened to him when he caught it. Hound and Sideswipe had shared the experience from their perspective, and Ratchet had decreed a thorough systems scan, which Optimus was undergoing now. Until they understood what it was, Optimus had decided that he would be the only one to touch the tablet. Prowl had agreed with his logic and all the Autobots had duly received notification that the tablet, until further notice, was not to be touched except by the Prime.

"And yet?" Ratchet prompted his leader.

"And yet something in my spark resonated with that…thing…you're looking at."

Ratchet returned his gaze to the object. It was a tablet, carved with runes. The runes had much in common with the All Spark's markings, and the tablet was made of a metal that had more similarity to the Allspark than to anything created on Earth.

"It appears to be very old and of the same design as the All Spark." Ratchet mused aloud.

"It also appears to pre-date the All Spark, since Hound had the foresight to grab some of the rock from around the object and age date it." Optimus told him, resting comfortably on Ratchet's largest berth in the medbay. He was lying on the berth quiescent, his hands folded over his abdomen as the machines hooked up to him did their scans on his systems.

"How so?" Ratchet asked, surprised.

"The age dating comes back at 165 million years old."

"That is older than this war with the Decepticons," Ratchet stated, "but not older than our oldest records. What do you think it is?"

Optimus was thinking aloud, "I don't think it's Decepticon in origin – too old, predates the division in our people. I had a flash of…" he trailed off and looked helplessly at Ratchet.

"A flash of what?" prodded Ratchet.

Optimus heaved a gust of air from his systems, and Ratchet smiled as he recognized the signs of his Prime gearing up to say something he wasn't completely sure about. Optimus finally said, "I had a flash of tentacle beings, cruelty radiating from them. It's as if my whole spark shivered at the thought of them."

Ratchet leaned against the counter and folded his arms. He and Optimus continued to look at each other for a long time, until Ratchet finally asked, "The Quintessons?"

"That is only a myth, Ratchet."

Ratchet shrugged, "The Council of Ancients had much in their archives that was poorly understood, but there is a running thread, describing a race of tentacle beings that enslaved our people. We were freed by a rebellion, but it is rumoured that they still exist and would enslave us again if they could."

Optimus thought about this and asked, "So what does the All Spark have to do with these possible slavers?"

Again, Ratchet shrugged, "I don't know. The All Spark showed up after the rebellion and became the source of life. It's pretty misty stuff, Optimus, obscured by time and a lack of documentation. For all we know, the All Spark could have been a protective talisman to keep the Quintessons away."

"A talisman from whom?"

"I don't know."

"Then why would there be something similar here on Earth?"

"This is not the first time Cybertronians have been on Earth," Ratchet reminded him, "and for all we know, some other race of beings seeded habitable planets with these talismans."

"I think you're reaching pretty far for an explanation," Optimus told his medical officer gently.

"Perhaps I am, but I've seen things you haven't, Prime, and I don't necessarily believe that everything is a myth."

The scans had come back clean, and after a session of brainstorming with the Autobots, NEST personnel, and JCS, Optimus had brought the tablet to Washington, D.C., to consult with a government archeologist. She was very thorough in her examination of the tablet, and took many photographs and measurements. Afterward, she returned the tablet to him with a moue of regret. He smiled down at her, grateful that the government had arranged for them to meet in one of the sub-basements of the Smithsonian complex, which allowed him to transform to his robot mode and not stay in his vehicle form.

"It's fascinating, but obviously not of human origin," she said, "and it's not my area of expertise. I'm grateful to have a chance to look at it, but the person you really should let look at this is Professor Alan Tarkington. He's retired, lives in Massachusetts, and this was his life's work. He went to many of the most ancient sites, trying to find and map all the odd text like this," and she pointed to the tablet, "and keep track of it. Most of his work is classified, so I wouldn't be able to access it for you. I don't have the clearance for it. I'm actually surprised that I was able to meet you." She smiled at Optimus and included Hound in her look.

"We thank you for your talents and your time," Optimus told her, carefully extending his hand. She laid hers on his, and he gently moved his hand in mimicry of a handshake. She smiled at them both and turned to leave, whirling back when the noise of transformation echoed off the walls. She raised a hand to her mouth as a long-nose semi and an agile DPV drove away. She would never be able to tell anybody about this, but it made the events of this past summer make a lot more sense.

Optimus and Hound exited the sub-basement and made their way through the streets of Washington to reach an interstate which would take them north. They settled in for a long drive. Their destination was over eight hours away.

They had crossed Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey, almost to New York when Hound realized something was wrong with Optimus. Since they were near the base they used in New Jersey, he beamed an inquiry to Ratchet, who was acting as their backup for this mission.

::He's driving fine, but his system scans as compromised. He won't stop, though.:: Hound told the medic.

::Keep an optic on him. I'll get myself together and follow after you.:: Ratchet's sigh could almost be heard across the comm lines, and Hound thought fondly of the medic, his care and concern a welcome change from Hound's previous medical personnel.

Hound could see that Optimus was struggling as they made their way through New York. He was glad to reach Connecticut, the roads had fewer vehicles on them. They still weren't as empty as the highways of the western United States, but New York seemed to ooze vehicles at them and Connecticut did not. He was relieved when they crossed into Massachusetts. As they approached their destination, traffic resumed and the roads became crowded. By this time, Hound was seriously concerned for Optimus, and he was grateful when their exit appeared. Optimus was moving carefully, his attention on his driving, leaving Hound to focus on their directions. Fortunately, their Smithsonian contact had given them very clear directions and they were able to make their way to a small, neat home on a tree-lined avenue near one of the universities around the greater Boston area. The street was quiet, the trees tall and shading the properties they were planted on, and the entire area was lush and green, giving Hound a quiet happiness at the beauty of the planet he was now living on.

Optimus pulled up to the house, parking carefully at the curb. He sank on his wheels. Hound pulled in behind him and waited for Optimus to gather his energy. When he'd done so, a human figure flickered to life. Hound activated his hologram and had it exit his vehicle form to meet the other human figure.

"Hound, I am not well." Optimus told him.

"Yes, Prime, I understand."

"I want to carry the tablet, but I want you to do the talking. I feel that you understand the situation as well as I do, and you can record what the professor says for later analysis."

"Yes, Prime."

"Let's go." Optimus waved him forward.

Hound took the lead, glad he had upgraded holographic projectors. He was actually semi-solid in this form, whereas Optimus was almost completely made of photons, the tablet the only area that he was solid. Hound shook his head. Sam was going ballistic, trying to understand the technology employed by the Autobots to generate a solid form different from their robotic modes. Hound didn't have the human language down well enough to explain it, and he was pretty sure Sam didn't have the mathematics to understand any explanation Hound could give.

He rang the doorbell and waited. After a few moments, footsteps came to the door. A quiet moment, then the door swung open and a lanky, white-haired man looked out at them.

"Yes? How may I help you?"

"Are you Professor Alan Tarkington, sir?" Hound asked, surreptitiously slipping a hand under Optimus' elbow as the Prime swayed slightly on his feet.

"Yes, I am. What might I do to help you gentlemen?"

"Sir, we were sent here by a young woman at the Smithsonian to get your opinion on an artifact we discovered a couple of days ago."

Optimus held out the tablet, and the professor stepped forward to peer at it. His head snapped up and he exchanged an intent look with Optimus, before stepping back.

"Come in, come in! How exciting! Please, have a seat." He swung the door shut behind them, motioning them into a room just past the entryway.

The room had a large window that overlooked the front lawn and another looking over the side, and was paneled with bookcases from floor to ceiling. The shelves were overflowing with books, some packed in two deep, with another set on the shelf space in front of them. A large desk occupied the center of the room, angled to get the maximum amount of light from both windows. Deep armchairs were in two corners of the room, small tables with lamps and their own stacks of books providing a place for the professor to read. The entire room glowed, the sunlight and the lamps giving light to every nook of the room. It was obviously the place where the professor spent most of his time. A couple of books were open on his desk, with a large paper underneath them.

The professor cleared the books from two chairs in front of the desk and offered them to the Autobots. He then shut the books on his desk and set them aside, finally folding the paper and filing it in a drawer before returning his attention to them.

"Gentlemen, I'm sorry. I did not catch your names."

Hound replied, "Our apologies. I am Lee West, and this is my friend, Peter Smith."

The professor gave him a speaking glance. Hound shrugged. The names were designed to not attract attention and to be suited to the ages they appeared to be. Hound's holoform looked older than Optimus', so he had chosen an older name.

"Indeed. Delighted to meet you, Mr. West, Mr. Smith."

Optimus laid the tablet down on the desk, relieved to be able to release it and thus allow the photons to be in a looser formation, which would not take as much energy and attention.

"Sir, this is what we brought, and we'd like your opinion of it."

The professor pulled out a magnifying glass and bent to the tablet. Optimus took the opportunity to shut his hologram's eyes and sink into a light recharge. Hound pinged Ratchet and got an ETA of two hours, sending him back a current reading on Optimus' systems. He returned his attention to the professor, who was scurrying around the room, pulling various tomes from their places. Politely, he rose and collected the books for the man, placing them on the desk as directed.

The professor resumed his seat and bent over the tablet, examining it closely. He would then consult a book or two before resuming his examination.

Forty-five minutes later, he sat back with a sigh.

"Do you know the age of this artifact?"

"No, sir, not exactly." Hound replied.

"Not exactly? What does that mean, not exactly?" Professor Tarkington asked probingly.

Hound squirmed before replying, "I know the approximate ages of the rocks the tablet was found in, but I do not know the age of the tablet itself, and it has resisted any attempts to date it."

"How old were the rocks?"

"They dated to 165 million years ago. Sir." Hound's voice was quiet.

"Hm. The markings on this tablet match some markings we had on quite ancient structures, ancient by human standards." The professor pulled out a book that Hound realized was a scrap book, filled with old photographs. They matched some of the photos Sam had described from Simmons' stockpile. An Egyptian tomb, a Jordanian archeological dig, a Buddhist temple, cave drawings, and petroglyphs from various sites were catalogued in the book. They all had in common markings that Hound recognized from the All Spark.

Hound sat back. "Sir, how high is your clearance?"

The professor smiled, "Didn't you have me checked out before you came?"

"Yes, sir, we did."

"Then you know I have a Top Secret clearance, and I am familiar with Sector Seven and its files."

Hound sat back and grinned at the Professor, "Let me tell you a story…"

Optimus woke in darkness, a feeling dread invading every cable and strut in his body. He was prone, laid out on a stone table, surrounded by a shadowy mist. He was cold, and his lights did not pierce the darkness so much as gave him a small dome of mist grey surrounding him.

"Who's there?" He called out.

There was no reply, but something slithered over to one side, and Optimus quickly turned that way. The lights showed nothing, and Optimus eased himself off the table, moving carefully in the direction the noise had come. His sensors did not seem to be working, because he got no information from them. Nothing on any scan he could think of, and feeling foolish for his fear, Optimus eased forward.

The tentacles sprang out of the darkness, slapping at him before vanishing. Optimus fell back, a fearful sound echoing around the room as he fell back against the stone table. He called forth his sword, the blaze of light from it casting a bigger ring of light. He put the table behind him and searched the darkness with every sensor he had.

A voice echoed in the darkness around him, "Optimus Prime, you are judged."

The feeling of dread turned to his cables to ice. Optimus felt small and unworthy, unable to bear the weight of leadership and the responsibility for the continuation of his people. The voice rang with true conviction, sealing the dread Optimus felt deep into his spark. He fell, gasping for cool air, clutching his chest as his spark lurched painfully. His sword retracted, his systems unable to keep the power to his weapons.

Suddenly, light blazed forth from everywhere, blinding Optimus for a moment and causing him to fling his arms up in a defensive pose.

The room was wrong. He was used to straight lines, well-defined curves, a regular geometry. Cybertron was angular but regular, Earth showed the stamp of the human race, buildings and roads straight and clear. The remainder of the planet might be wild, but even then, Earth life had its own patterns, discernable to any mathematically minded being, life following a mathematical function.

This room was off. No straight lines, the curves were of different radii, everything seemed off-kilter. Surrounding him were tentaclde beings, floating at various points in the room.

A large being, the largest of them all, floated toward him.

"Optimus Prime, you are judged. What have you to say for yourself?"

Optimus had no words, nothing to say in his own defense. He bowed his head.

"Very well. The defendant has nothing to add to the proceedings. How do you vote?"

A strange hissing language broke out, causing Optimus to shiver and pull in to himself.

"Indeed. Optimus Prime, you are sentenced to death."

Optimus cried out. Blackness overwhelmed him.

When next he regained consciousness, he was back up on the table, this time chained down. He moaned and the lights slowly came on, casting a dim glow over the bottom of the large room. Several of the…creatures…moved forward, their bodies bulbous, held up by spindly tentacles. They seemed to undulate across the floor, held up by some fantastic method he couldn't discern.

They approached him. He could feel himself shrinking away, trying to become smaller. He shuddered when the first one reached him and began running tentacles over his legs, feeling the wheels on the back of his legs, reaching under his knee guards. Another set of tentacles began feeling his other leg, then third set began running over his arm. He tried to move away, held in place by the chains holding him down, pulling away from one set of tentacles and into another. They felt slimy, weird, and wrong. Optimus thrashed helplessly, overwhelmed by the feeling of having anything under his armour and repulsed by the looks of the beings around him.

"Where is it?" The one over his head asked. Optimus didn't understand the question, thrashing around, trying to get away.

"Very well." A tentacle waved over his head, and the other creatures moved.

They slid under his armour, smaller tentacles sprouting off the main ones and wedging themselves beneath the plating, prying it off. He was suddenly in pain as every plate on his front was pried off and tossed away, exposing his endoskeleton and the cables, wires, and lines protected by the plating. The tentacles were glowing as they slid over him, around him, emthrough/em him. He could feel another set sliding under his helm and forcing their way into his processor. He screamed with the pain as his central processor was pierced, and he blacked out.

The next time he woke up, Hound was leaning over him.

"Optimus? Are you OK?"

He looked down at himself. All his armour was in place, he wasn't strapped down, the sun was shining behind Hound, casting a nimbus around the scout's head.

"I don't know," With that, he once again lost consciousness and found himself again in the room. He was bare, wires and cables torn and sparking. He hurt, and he was still surrounded by the creatures, who were jabbering at him.

His spark heaved and they backed away, their voices rising in excitement or terror, he wasn't sure which.

"Hey, get away from him! Now, you slimy spitballs!"

It was Hound, his guns blazing as he strode into the room. As a shot impacted, the creature exploded in a fountain of gore and slime. Optimus closed his optics just in time as a spray of the green sludge fountained over his face. He waited until it was quiet again and felt a warm body leaning over him.

"Primus, Optimus, no wonder you've been screaming. This isn't good. Here, let me fix that."

He felt a cloth wipe his face, clearing away the muck, and once he was able, he opened his optics and peered up at his friend.

"Thank you, Hound. Where am I?"

"Honestly? You're lost in your own processor. You've got a virus, and you're driving Ratchet mad with it."

"Decepticons?" Optimus questioned.

"Dunno. You're pretty sick, though. We had you towed to a warehouse the US government was kind enough to lease for us, and we've got you stretched out on the floor. You're a mess, because Ratchet's had to pry open some of your interface panels to jack in and track this virus."

"He's safe, though, isn't he? I don't want him infected." Optimus could hear the command ringing in his voice, and Hound reacted to it, too.

"He's fine. You're firewalled six ways 'til Sunday, and he's firewalled and going in through a proxy, and we're doing our best to combat this thing." Hound told him, unfastening the chains and helping Optimus sit up.

"So how am I seeing you?" Optimus asked.

"My holographic projector is jacked into another proxy so I can access your processor. Ratchet is monitoring." Hound found his armour plates and brought them over. Optimus was amazed at the ease with which they attached.

Once he was presentable, Optimus stood and Hound tucked himself under his arm, holding the larger mech up as he swayed, unsteady and barely stable.

"Optimus. This is a…dream, I guess, is the best word for it. I can't get you out of here, you have to do it yourself." Hound waited patiently for his words to work through Optimus' processor.

"I have to…yes, I understand." Optimus straightened, although Hound kept his elbow in a firm grip, and shut his optics, focusing internally, listening to the beat of his spark, letting the rhythm sooth him. He could feel the room slipping away…

"Welcome back, Optimus." Ratchet's voice was a welcome sound to Optimus.

Optimus turned his optics on and gazed up at the metal roof and struts of a Quonset hut. Ratchet was leaning over one side, while Hound was leaning over the other. He looked around. He was on a bare concrete floor, computers jacked into ports over his body, while Ratchet and Hound were jacked into the computers. Some of his plating was off to provide better access to the ports, and he had an energon drip in one arm.

"It's good to be back?" he questioned.

"Hmph. It better be good. You scared all of us. We thought we'd lost you, and I have no idea what story Lennox is circulating right now to cover for your screams, and how we could have lost you for three days…" Ratchet's voice trailed off.

He raised a hand, and Ratchet clasped it in his. "Thank you, Ratchet, for all you do. I was in the best care possible."

Hound gave a dry laugh. "I learned more curse words than I knew existed. He tried everything."

"You should be glad I tried everything! If I hadn't, we wouldn't have defeated that virus, and we would have lost our Prime." Ratchet snapped.

"Yes, Ratchet, we are so lucky to have you and your expertise. Welcome back, Optimus."

Ratchet unplugged the computers and replaced the armour plates. Optimus simply lay there, letting the medic move him as he would.

Finally, Ratchet bent over him. "Recharge now, Optimus. We'll be heading out when you're ready and not before."

Optimus laughed weakly, feeling himself slide toward recharge and repair. "Did you have problems with any government officials?"

Another welcome voice piped up, Lennox was laughing as he told Optimus, "Director Galloway just ran into Ratchet's temper and decided that retreat was the best option. Your medic is terrifying when he's being protective."

Ratchet merely grunted at him, and Optimus pinged a thank you to him.

::Rest, blast you. Your self-repair needs all the help it can get.::

::Yes, Ratchet.::

The next time he woke, Hound was draped over his chest. He stirred when Optimus moved, raising up and looking down at Optimus.

"Oh, good, you're still alive."

Optimus found that his vocalizer was seriously strained and sounded hoarse and rough, "Am I not supposed to be alive?"

"Ratchet wasn't worried, but I was. I was afraid you'd slip back into that dream. Your vocalizer will self-repair in a couple of days, by the way."

Optimus rested his hand on Hound's shoulder, "No, I think that 'dream' will not return."

Hound stroked over his chest, and Optimus caught his hand, looking up at him carefully. Hound gave him a small smile before saying, "It…I was so afraid we'd lost you."

"You can't lose me." Optimus reassured him.

"Yes, we can. Look what happened last year. You have a value, too, and you need to stop taking such risks, Optimus! If you'd said something about feeling off, we could have diverted to the New Jersey base and Ratchet could have been taking care of you much sooner!"

"You're right, old friend, it was thoughtless of me."

Hound hugged him, wrapping his arms around his chest and clutching Optimus tightly. The larger mech cuddled Hound close, both taking comfort from the presence of the other.

The door was pushed open, and a vehicle drove in, waiting until the door closed to unfold into the medic.

Ratchet came over and plugged into Optimus, humming as he accessed the repair logs.

"You still need rest, Optimus," Ratchet told him, "but by tomorrow, you should be ready to travel."

Optimus suddenly flailed, "The tablet! What happened to it?"

Hound told him, "The professor asked to borrow it. He took a rubbing of it, but he wanted a chance to study it further. Prowl's standing guard over his house while he has it, and it will be as safe as we can possibly make it."

"Skids or Mudflap should rotate with Prowl so it doesn't look as obvious," Optimus told them.

"They are on their way here, since Prowl had the same thought you did. Rest now, Optimus."

He obeyed, sinking into his recharge.

Ratchet stayed plugged in until he was solidly in recharge.

Hound asked, "So, do we tell him?"

Ratchet shook his head, "No. We don't."

"He asked if it was Decepticons, but I think he knows very well that it wasn't."

Ratchet sighed and began the very careful work of blurring the memories Optimus had of his dream-like state. ::I know that, Hound, but what do we tell him? That the Quintessons are real, that the tablet is a protective amulet sowed millions of years ago, and that if it is destroyed, the Quintessons will be all over this world, enslaving every being on it?::

Hound shook his head, ::No, we don't tell him that. But we could tell him about the tablet.::

::We don't even know the source of the tablet. All we know is the All Spark really did drive the Quints away, and it spewed out millions of those tablets, sending them on trajectories all over the universes, and without the All Spark, I fear for Cybertron? Let me remind you, Hound, that your job for the Council of Ancients was to eliminate anyone that found out any of this information, and that would apply to the Prime as well as any lowly mech.:: Ratchet looked upset as he worked.

Hound laid a hand over Ratchet's shoulder, ::I don't forget.::

Ratchet continued to work in silence for a time, finally speaking, "I'm sorry. That was unnecessarily harsh, and you don't need those kinds of reminders. Let me finish up here and leave Optimus in your capable hands."

Hound caught his hand, ::Ratchet, no one has guarded the secrets of our race better than you. I am proud to have been the sword to your shield, but given what happened with the Fallen and all, perhaps it's time to release some of these secrets, let the light shine on them.::

Ratchet was shaking his head, but promised, ::I'll think about it.::

Hound leaned over and kissed his cheek, "Thank you, Ratchet."

Ratchet merely grunted at him and continued his work, unplugging when he was finally done. He moved to the rear of the warehouse and folded into his vehicle form, finally allowing himself a deeper recharge than he'd had in days.

Hound draped himself over Optimus again, letting the sparkbeat under sooth him into a light recharge. Optimus slumbered on, his systems still taxed by the strain they'd been under.

Back at Diego Garcia, Ratchet tapped into the one satellite the Autobots had put into orbit around the Earth. It was a very secure connection to their ship, the Ark, currently parked in a secure location in orbit around Earth's moon. He connected to the main data bank and thence to his private sector. He had copied many of the files available to him when he was the chief emissary for the Prime to the High Council of the Ancients. He'd seen the machinations of the council, had seen how they had driven a wedge between the factions, made this war inevitable. As a politician, he had done his best to work for Optimus and secure the ascendency of the Autobots, but he had been stymied by the Decepticon representative, Ratbat. Finally seeing that war was inevitable, he had stripped out every file he could, compressing them and storing them until he was attached to Optimus' unit in the quest for the All Spark. He had attached his storage units to the main computer system of the Ark, but had never checked on them. He was now doing so, rapidly filtering through the enormous number of files and finding what he could on the All Spark, the Quintessons, and the rebellion that had throw off the shackles of slavery.

Hound was standing watch over him and monitoring him.

Hours later, Ratchet came out of his trance and told Hound, "I don't know. There really isn't enough information, but the few images match Optimus' dream which you shared with me. The tablet, however, is imbedded with a virus as a precautionary measure – various tablets have been found on other planets, and the first person to actually touch the tablet gets infected. However, once the first person is infected, the table appears to be harmless."

Hound sounded doubtful, "Are you sure? That was a pretty nasty virus, and if Optimus hadn't been strong, I don't think he would have made it."

"I know, and no, I'm not 100% positive. I'd feel more secure if we took the bloody thing and dropped it back on the ocean floor. Even now, I worry that the signal it's still transmitting is going to bring the Decepticons down on our heads."

Hound looked at him, "What about the old Sector Seven headquarters? It would be accessible, but hidden, and still provide the protection…" he broke off, unwilling to say more.

Ratchet thought about that suggestion for a moment, then nodded briskly, "Yes, that's an excellent idea. I'll ping Prowl and let him know so he can arrange for the tablet's transport to Las Vegas. Thank you, Hound."

"You're welcome, sir." Hound bowed respectfully and backed away, heading for the hanger area that was where the Autobots stayed when they were on Diego Garcia.

Ratchet did ping Prowl, and the tablet was stored in the confines of Hoover Dam, but he knew there would be more work done with the tablet. This investigation was not over yet.

However, this is THE END of the story!