Adding a little clarity to the end of the last chapter: Alexis took part in the Battle of Mission City, watching Sam's back and becoming grievously wounded as a result. After she recovered, she was handed a promotion and a position within the newly formed N.E.S.T., with the stipulation that she keep her mouth shut. Basically they pulled a Godfather on her. She's seen things she had no business seeing, much like the Marines, and now they want to keep a close eye on her and make use of her abilities at the same time.
Honestly, I had trouble with this (if that wasn't obvious enough by the hella long wait). I hope you enjoy it though. Also, much thanks to everyone who's reviewed, if I didn't already get to you. The quote is by Anatole France.
Chapter Four: In Transit
All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves. We must die to one life before we can enter another.
In the end Captain Starling drove herself up the coast, Bumblebee and his humans in tow behind her. Mikaela spent a good part of the trip watching the Captain's old blue Fiat veer into the oncoming lane, blatantly disregarding the 'no passing' zones and other traffic. After the fourth enraged driver roared past them, blasting their horn and screaming obscenities out the window, she decided to give the older woman a call.
She tucked the cell into the crook of her shoulder, sitting sideways so she could fit her feet into Sam's lap. "You do remember you're in America, right? Land of the free, home of the yardstick?"
Mikaela swore she heard Alexis mutter something about 'barbarians that don't even use the bleeding metric system.' She smirked to herself. "Just checking."
Sam said something then, but it was lost beneath the roar of the wind coming through the open windows. "Hang on a sec." She put a hand over the mouthpiece, and he repeated himself. Laughing, she passed on the message. "Sam wants you to know that if the five-O gets you, consider yourself ditched."
"They can try. This baby's got moves their ickle caddies can only dream about."
Bumblebee, who had been shamelessly eavesdropping, let loose a snarl from his mufflers that Mikaela felt in her teeth. She grinned and leaned forward, eyeing the Fiat ahead of them. "That sounds a lot like a challenge, Captain."
Sam shot her a Look, moving to pat the steering wheel. "Now, guys, remember what the Major said – "
And then the breath was knocked out of him as the Autobot lurched forward, rubber burning as he pulled up beside the Fiat. Mikaela squealed and clung to her seatbelt, nearly dropping the phone in the process. Sam sputtered, and Bee laughed. When they turned to look, they found the Captain staring back from above the rims of her aviators. She flashed them a devastating grin, and raised two fingers in a little salute before using them to push up her shades. It was the last thing the three saw before the Fiat vanished from Bee's side. Sam's jaw dropped.
"Did she just…?"
"She totally did."
Sam pounded the wheel. "Oh, it is on, flygirl! C'mon Bee, show her how Autobots drive!"
It was just past noon by the time they arrived back in Tranquility. Alexis didn't linger, instead making for her new lodgings at N.E.S.T.'s temporary base. When they reached Mikaela's house, Sam helped her pull her trunks inside, even going so far as to haul them – slowly, agonizingly – up the stairs for her, as if to make up for his abysmal failure before. She kept her laughter hidden with a sweet smile and a kiss on his jaw; she knew he needed his manly moments.
Her Gramma was around here somewhere; her Buick was keeping Bumblebee company in the garage. But the kitchen was empty when she went to grab some iced tea, as was the den. Out of the corner of her eye she saw that the door to their cramped back porch was open, and meandered towards it. Voices floated in on the breeze; Mikaela blinked, and faltered. Everything slowed down, then, and she couldn't feel her feet as they sluggishly carried her to the doorway.
There was a man out there with Jodi, sitting with his back to her. From over his shoulder she could see her Gramma laughing, smiling, leaning forward to touch his arm. Then the older woman looked up, meeting Mikaela's eyes. The man twisted in his seat.
Jake Banes hadn't changed much since the last time his daughter had seen him; frequent visits to the State Pen kept them in contact. Dark hair that held a silver sheen was tied back in its ponytail, but his usual stubble was gone. Eyes as blue as hers crinkled in a face that had once held a healthy tan, now pale from being kept indoors. He grinned up at her.
Her shriek brought Sam running down the stairs, eyes wild. "Mikaela! What, what?! Is your grandma –"
He burst out onto the porch, and nearly bowled over both her and her dad, who were wrapped around each other tightly. As it was he still ran into them, flinging his arms around his girlfriend and, inadvertently, Jake.
Everyone froze. Slowly, the man lifted his head from his daughter's cheek to stare at the boy, who stared back, eyes wide as saucers.
Mikaela laughed, though it could just as easily been a sob.
It was all very abrupt, and Mikaela found herself wishing fervently she had never complained about Sam's inability to handle change. The irony of it had her wanting to chuck her toolbox across the room.
The three weeks before transfer flew by, of course. Everyone was busy, including Ratchet, so it was left to her to tell herself to suck it up and grow some ball bearings, please. Of the up side, she got to spend that time with her Dad. She wasn't expected to check in at the base, considering the state of things, and she was mostly grateful. That other, smaller, but no less passionate part of her was left wishing she could bury herself up to her shoulders in Barricade's innards like always.
It wasn't fair. But the government did not revolve around Mikaela's personal life, having more important things to worry about – such as relocating the aliens they were secretly harboring to a more secure location. If she'd had more time to prepare…but she couldn't blame Jodi for that; her Gramma hadn't any idea of the transfer when they called to give her Jake's release information. Thinking only to surprise her granddaughter, she had kept quiet, unaware that Mikaela's work would be whisking her away to an undisclosed place over a hundred miles away.
Sam had understood and bowed out gracefully for the time being, leaving her to her family. A handful of phone calls, mostly involving topics of everything she was going to miss in school, were all she got from him, and they left her feeling vaguely saddened and frustrated in turns. So it was with a heavy heart that Mikaela sat down alone with Jodi and Jake and explained that she couldn't stay; she had a job to do.
They took it relatively well (for a paranoid elderly woman and an even more paranoid ex-con, anyway). Of course she had to lie. It had been unanimously agreed upon (she didn't count) that spreading the Autobots' secret was too risky; she had the suspicion that her father's colorful background had played a part in this decision. It was totally not cool, but she grit her teeth and consented.
Her Dad was quiet as she explained to him the situation. It was a government-funded operation, she said, dealing with highly-advanced technology that couldn't be released to the public. She had a contract with them that demanded her utmost discretion. And it was all true…kind of. She adamantly ignored the uneasy feeling in her stomach as she lied to her father's face. She was sure that he could see right through her; years in prison demanded inbuilt BS radar.
So she told herself to suck it up and grow some ball bearings. It hurt like hell, but she managed it. She had other things to take care of, and if she let this drag out then she'd never get anything done. School was only two weeks away by then, and of course she was scrambling to get all her paperwork in, signing up for the online classes and making sure her Gramma had hers in order, too. But she finally got it done, to the relief of everyone involved. She checked it off her mental list gratefully.
Between the paperwork, the interviews with her (now former) principal, and avoiding subjects with Sam, she spent time with her Dad, cruising the streets on his Monster, filling him in on the changes that had been made the last couple of years. He would eye the various body shops thoughtfully, wondering aloud if he should put the government's clean slate program to the test. If he had been released normally, his parole would have prevented him from venturing within at least a hundred yards of the shops. He had his daughter, and – to his eternal surprise – his daughter's boyfriend to thank for that.
She told him what she could – and the alien-free version was, in her opinion, just as extraordinary as the original. She and Sam had both gotten mixed up in politics, and if the government wanted the teenagers' cooperation, then concessions on both sides would have to be made. Mikaela gladly gave the credit for that particular stipulation to Sam, as was deserved.
Her father was one who understood secrets, and the necessity of them. In no way did that stop him from asking questions. Are you good at what you do? Is your boss a pain in the ass? (She sniggered at that one.) How long's your contract for?
That last one always made her pause, and he always noticed. His blue eyes got a little narrower every time. Indefinitely, she should say. A couple of years, she always replied. It wasn't a lie, not really. She knew it would be at least that long. Despite her many reassurances, he didn't like it. Not at all. He was much like the Witwickys when it came to government affiliation; you could dress it up in roses, but it still came up smelling like crap.
And she hadn't even mentioned the Ducati yet. If there was anything that would push Jake over the edge and into the murky waters of Proactive Parenting, it was his other baby. Primus help her.
Despite her father's presence, and Ratchet's mandates, it took everything in Mikaela to keep away from the warehouse the next few weeks. There were plenty of people more knowledgeable than her working on the relocation; she would only be in the way (so she told herself, and Ratchet was quick to affirm). He commed her once or twice to ascertain her health –was she sleeping, was she eating, was she breathing – and then promptly ignored her, telling her in no uncertain terms that he had enough to deal with there and she that needed to mind her own business. She knew it was just his way of making sure she took care of her own.
It was hard, though, to put her life's work on the back burner. Throughout the next week she found herself halfway across town several times, on her way to the base. Frustrated, she would pound the wheel and hit the brakes, swearing profusely. They were so close. As soon as she got the next few days out the way, she'd be on the fast track to godhood and her very own medic's license. It was a heady feeling, and the hours couldn't pass by fast enough.
At one point she got a call from Captain Starling (sure, Ratchet, give everyone my comm. frequency. Fragger.). This conversation, too, was succinct and on the dry side. Mostly it involved talk of paperwork, the status of her toolkit, and the general idiocy of the American bureaucratic system. Come to think of it, it was rather like talking to a female Ratchet. That was a terrifying thought – two of the most cynical, OCD-ridden people she'd ever met in the same vicinity of one another. As if she didn't have enough to worry about.
Sam, of course, was constantly on the edge of her thoughts. Memories of the beach would rear their heads at the most inopportune times, of Sam's face when Alexis had announced that they were relocating. It gnawed at her, that look. Whenever she would dwell on it, an uneasy feeling would spread through her. She should be doing something about it, but she found that it was easier to talk about Bumblebee, or Mojo, or his work, the grass, anything but what needed to be said. The uneasy feeling settled and became stagnant as the weeks went by.
And what was wrong with Bumblebee? She had never gotten a chance to talk to him, not since his strange behavior at the beach. He had obviously been left in the dark about Diego Garcia; was that it? Was he upset about the move? The questions kept piling up, and she found that she was afraid to ask even one of them. Avoidance was a skill she was quickly embracing.
Time flew, and suddenly one afternoon she was hanging on to Jodi for dear life, tears in her eyes as she muttered a goodbye into her shoulder. Then it was her Dad's turn, and she repeated the gesture. He backed up, coughing into his fist as she tried to pretend she hadn't seen the tears in his eyes. Her Gramma cracked her hand towel at them, denouncing the two of them as pansies. It helped.
Then Jake picked up something off the table that she hadn't noticed before, a small, oblong box wrapped shoddily in…yeah, that was Christmas paper. She stared as he offered it to her, not knowing what to do. He grunted irritably, grabbing one of her hands and shoving the box into it. She stared some more.
"…I'm not supposed to wait for Christmas, am I? Because I do get vacations, you know –"
"Oh, God, girl, just open it."
She did, and then the tears that she'd been holding valiantly at bay flooded her.
She was holding a brand new, apple red pair of Chuck Taylors. Stars and all.
He coughed again, smoothing one hand across his hair. "I noticed your old ones, ah, gettin' a bit small. Thought you could use 'em. You know, if you needed a quick ride back home." My ruby slippers. He remembered.
Yeah, okay. She was a pansy. But he was too, so it was alright. She threw her arms around him one more time, for one brief, painful moment not wanting to ever let go. To stay home with her daddy, and have him take her for rides on his motorcycle and have her recite all the pieces to a '69 Mustang Cobra Jet. Then the moment passed, as they all did, and she smiled and gave him a loud, sloppy kiss on the cheek. He laughed, but didn't push her away like he usually would.
Mikaela never did ask for the bike; she'd do it over the holidays, or the next time she visited, or – sometime. In any case, something was telling her not to do it. So she let it go, and said her goodbyes.
And then, as she headed down the sidewalk towards where her moped was waiting, Jake called her back. She turned on the spot, expecting some last minute jibe about Sam or to watch her back around government folk. So she was totally unprepared when something flashed in the sunlight as Jake tossed it at her.
She snagged it from the air, and looked down at her prize.
She took off for Sam's on the Monster, her heart full and a grin stretching her face. She had escaped relatively unscathed, but for the ringing in her ears and a vow, on pain of death, to return it, along with herself, in one piece. It was a promise she was happy to make.
Sam was equally impossible to say goodbye to, in his own way. He and Bumblebee both stood there in his back yard, wringing their hands in tandem. Both of their faces were downcast, but Sam's mouth had a tightness to it that augmented the feeling in her belly. No, not now, I can't do this now, she pleaded with him silently. Then he sighed, and tried to smile, doing a better job at it then she would have thought.
"So, ah, you gonna drive to the coast or what?" He eyed the Monster behind her dubiously. "Doesn't look like it would be too comfortable. I mean, for hours on end. Your end."
Thank you, a little piece of her said, and she laughed aloud. "Maybe. I might just trade out with Ratch some of the time, to keep my end from chafing."
That got her a smarmy little grin. "Just making sure your assets are protected."
Mikaela kissed him then, if only to hide the tears in her eyes. Stupid, to think that his third grade humor could reduce her to this. She leaned to put her mouth to his ear, cupping his jaw. "Sweet boy," she murmured, "always taking care of me."
She felt him smile again, the laugh lines around his mouth feathering against her cheek. Mikaela closed her eyes to soak in the warmth that he offered, and slid her arms around his neck. He wrapped his own around her waist, hands hot against her back where they pressed her to him. They stayed that way for a time, and she tried not to count the seconds.
At their side she heard Bumblebee chirp softly. Mikaela lifted her head to smile at him. "Of course you're getting a hug. Don't even think about trying to get out of it."
Sam, however, had other ideas, so she freed one arm to offer it up to Bumblebee. Chittering wordlessly, he ducked his head until his cheek pressed into Mikaela's hair, and very carefully wrapped his much longer limbs around the two humans. She lifted her head until she was pressing back, reaching up to curl her arm around his.
After a minute, Sam started to shift uneasily. "Um, ok, are we done with the group hug thing? Because I think I can feel my manly points dropping."
"Way to kill the mood, Sam. Thanks."
She finally shook herself free from him to give Bumblebee a more proper goodbye. When he started leaking wiper fluid, however, she drew the line. "Alright, you big baby, enough. You wanna make me cry, too?"
"Baby don't hurt me – no more!"
"Oh my God, don't you dare. I will turn around and leave right now if you keep playing that."
An hour or so later found them brushing off the grass stains they had accumulated. Sighing, Mikaela wrapped both boys in her arms one more time, holding them to her as tightly as she could. It was past time she left; dragging this out wasn't good for anyone, and she'd told Ratchet she'd be there by dark.
Sam caught her as she pulled away, fingers digging into the nape of her neck. He breathed deep against her, and she let him. Finally he loosed his hold, fingers tangling together between them. He set his jaw in that way he had, and the feeling rose again, smothering her.
She tried to head him off. "Sam. Sam." She got him to look at her, and the words nearly died in her throat. She pushed on. "It's my life."
His expressive eyes were bright, and she thought she knew what he would say.
But all he said was, "I know."
They watched each other for a minute. Finally Mikaela relaxed as the look in his eyes became clear.
He murmured again, "I know." And he squeezed her hands for emphasis.
That ugly, stagnant thing inside her chest lightened just the tiniest bit.
It wasn't an apology, or a demand for one. It wasn't an explanation, or an argument, or an accusation. But it would tide her over for now.
That evening Mikaela checked into the base, only a day away from relocation. She wasn't allowed near Barricade; Ratchet had her packing up the smaller, handheld equipment that he claimed was too delicate for him to manage. Mikaela knew better; he was giving her busy work. She didn't care, even though it took her long into the night to finish. It kept her mind off of the more delicate things she didn't want to manage – her dad, Sam. Between the two of them she had managed to chew her lips raw.
She wasn't abandoning them. It wasn't like that, not at all. Was it her fault they decided to spring her dad at this exact point in time? Was it her choice for Sam to stay at home in Tranquility? Well, no. It all came down to ethics, and she was going to see this through.
She wasn't leaving them. They were staying behind.
It was that evening, after lying down on her cot amidst packing peanuts and flattened boxes, that the nightmares came back.
The air was thick with the stench of sulfur and charred meat. Like the way Hell might smell, if it were real. Maybe that's where she was. Around her came a cacophony of noise – roaring and grinding and shaking – all pounding its way into her skull. She couldn't find her bearings, hair and tears blinding her as she fumbled for something solid to cling to.
From the din she picked out a sharp, hoarse voice – you're a soldier now! – But Sam's response was a smear of meaningless sound. The ground shook from impact as a giant strode towards them, roaring, and she whirled away, desperate to escape. But something wouldn't let her; something kept her feet moving in the opposite direction, toward Sam's voice. Bee, Bumblebee was hurt - oh God his legs, where are his legs – and she couldn't run away. She was too terrified.
Something wrapped around her arm, and she threw herself backwards, panicking. Looked up into blazing green eyes - you're going the wrong way, girl, safety's in the other direction – and she knew that, but for some reason her mouth wasn't working. The soldier's grip tightened, and Mikaela spun out of those grasping hands to run to her friends. Shouting came from behind her, but nothing that made any sense.
We've got to help him. She ran past the two young men – only one wasn't really, he was a giant – towards the abandoned truck. It was familiar beneath her hands, and she ran shaking fingers across it until she found what she needed. Tires squealed, but the sound was lost to the storm around her. She and Sam wrapped Bumblebee up good and tight, vivid blue eyes watching their every move.
Girl, go on, get out of here!
I can't, I'm not leaving him.
The storm drew in around them, deafening her. You're a soldier now. But no, that wasn't right. She was just a girl. Just a girl.
A blur of brown and green. Run, you've got to run! I'll cover you! The woman, the green-eyed soldier, grabbed the back of Sam's jacket, pushing him along. Go, boy! We don't have much time!
Something about this didn't seem right, but she already knew what she was going to do, as if it had happened before. She saw it all laid out: Bumblebee sighting down his rifle haphazardly, hitting whatever he aimed at. Two figures getting smaller and smaller in the distance; a woman in a green jacket, and a boy in a torn hoodie clutching something precious against his chest. Two giants were chasing them – no – were watching them, guarding them. They disappeared into a building, and all she saw was the back of Bumblebee's helm, the flash of his rifle muzzle. Metal and asphalt ground together, sparks flying around them.
A resounding boom echoed, and she saw one of the menacing giants collapse slowly, pieces falling around it as if it were melting. Was it over? She looked back down the road; saw nothing but destruction. She knew it wasn't, even as she hoped. Even before she turned and saw him, she knew it would be Optimus Prime diving headlong down the street, rifle up and battle mask on. Her stomach heaved at the sight, and she squeezed her eyes shut for just a second.
It took an eternity to happen. She didn't really hear it, but she knew Sam was screaming. She wanted to scream too, wanted to warn the Captain – the other way, go the other way! – but it was too late. The walls had already given way, the explosion knocking her straight off the edge of the white tower. She felt Sam's horror and helplessness as he lunged for her, but he might as well have been standing still.
When she finally opened her eyes, Optimus was crouching back down, rifle discarded at his feet. Something in his hands, another weapon of some kind – no, a girl, a girl like her, only broken. Too still to be anything but.
Mikaela tried to catch her breath, but it felt as if the air around her had evaporated, leaving her stranded in a vacuum. She threw herself out of the truck, feet moving without her telling them to, running towards her friend she had strapped to the back of it. She wanted to turn around, wanted to watch the helicopter spin and dip, exploding in a white-hot supernova, propelling Sam off the top of the tower. She knew it was happening, even as she dove back into the cab to haul Bumblebee down the street towards the Marines. Even as she drove, she saw Optimus' other hand reach out and catch the boy, cradling the two small bodies to him.
The monster that rose above them all roared, the sheer rage it emanated causing the ground to buckle and split. Terror drove her foot to the floorboard, the accelerator creaking from the force. Before she realized it, she had drawn level with the soldiers, grimy, soot-streaked faces staring at her in consternation. A hand smacked against her door, a mouth opened to say something –
And then she looked up, and saw moonlight reflecting off the canary yellow of a Camaro, only it wasn't a Camaro. It watched them from its towering height on the hill, waiting for something. Her lower vantage point in the gravel pit left her feeling very small.
Sam's fingers brushed hers for just an instant, but she felt it linger even after he pulled away. There was no sound, no speech, no breath. Everything hung suspended, and she couldn't remember what she was supposed to do next. They all watched one another, and the words she needed to say hung in her throat, forgotten. The warmth from her friend's hand became chilled, and when she looked down she saw that his fingers were pale and stiff. Feeling as if she were sleepwalking, she slowly looked back up, and saw the blue tint of his lips, the glazed emptiness of his eyes.
From his other side the Captain observed the pair, her expression remote. When she spoke, her voice was low and calm. It's too late, you know.
Mikaela met the woman's eyes, seeing for the first time the darkness that seemed to swallow the green irises whole. When had her eyes been green? She couldn't remember. A little frown puckered her brow. But there's still time.
You can't go back. It's too late. The Captain reached out to turn Mikaela around, and when she looked she saw the dark, empty road that had been behind her, disappearing into the desert. She strained towards it, but the chain-link fence barred her way. She could feel its prongs digging into her flesh. She glanced down, and saw cold light reflecting off the metal talons that held her there. Her gaze followed it up, and up, into the star-lit night, catching a flash of twin red beacons high above. Frightened, she ducked away from those hands, craning her neck to look for Bumblebee, but her friend was gone. Everyone was gone. They were alone in the gravel pit.
She wanted to find the road again, but it was still blocked by the razor-wire fence. Sighing in frustration, she turned to make her way up the hill, but stopped halfway. In the Camaro's place stood a colossal motorcycle, black as pitch, the rays of the floodlights seeming to stop just short of its shadow.
Entranced, she drew nearer, drinking in the machine. Wide mounted handlebars swept out like demons' horns, framing a broad expanse of chassis devoid of any markings. Jagged six-inch spoilers jutted out menacingly to either side of narrow tires whose treads looked like they could shred steel.
It was a thing of malevolent beauty, and she wanted badly to touch it. Her palms itched with the need, and she took the last few steps forward without hesitation to run a hand confidently down the handlebars. At her touch the engine snarled to life, a malicious sound that she could feel all the way down to her toes. The spoilers quivered angrily, and as she trailed her fingers across the frame she saw the chassis ripple with her movements, like a lazy cat enjoying its mistress' attentions.
She waited for a voice – get in the car – but it never came. She tilted her head, a slow, dull frustration building inside of her. She was supposed to go somewhere, wasn't she? Why weren't they telling her to go? Idly she tapped a finger against the saddle, feeling the machine lurch impatiently beneath her hand.
It was time. She couldn't wait any longer.
Without another thought she slung a leg across the monster, sliding into position effortlessly. She had only just settled into the seat when the machine leapt forward, a dark horse breaking from the gate. Asphalt was ground to dust beneath them, rising around them like a shroud.
The fence was gone, and before them sprawled the highway, a ribbon of darkness disappearing into the endless wasteland. To either side rose a gauntlet of stars, glittering coldly from their blanket of deepening blue. It was the only thing left that she could see, so she set her heel down, bracing herself, and felt the machine fishtail. Down the hill, out of the pit, and onto the highway they rode, its engine roaring like the blood in her ears. She didn't look back.
Slowly, feeling as if she were swimming in Jell-O, Mikaela awakened. She peeled her eyelids apart, squinting against the bare bulb that hung over her corner. For a full minute she stared blearily into the shadows that lay across the enormous room, not registering her surroundings.
Finally she blinked, and swallowed experimentally. Her mouth was cotton-dry. She pushed herself upright, causing a small explosion of peanuts around her. Wiping at her face found more of the little Styrofoam pieces adhered to her cheeks and hair.
The dream clung to backs of her eyelids just like those peanuts, and she scrubbed at them angrily. Girl, you're cracked.
She hadn't had a dream like that in months, and she wasn't sure what had triggered it. Fear, perhaps; fear of leaving, fear of abandonment. It was stupid, but it kind of made sense.
The memory of dread was strong, and goose bumps rose on Mikaela's flesh. The Captain really had fallen, and spent nearly four months in a coma as a result. If Optimus hadn't been there – her stomach twisted, and abruptly she stood. With a quiet huff, she shook off the remaining peanuts, and retied her hair. It wouldn't do her any good to sit there and remember; that time was long gone, and she had things to do.
Glancing around, she was not completely shocked to find that the room had been stripped totally bare. It looked more like an empty warehouse than it probably had before the Autobots had taken over.
She was, however, appalled to see that the tank was gone, and the resulting jolt of alarm woke her right up. She swept her gaze past the empty space where the protoform had once been, tamping stubbornly down on the panic that seized her. Ratchet wouldn't let anything happen to him, she was sure. All the same, it would have made her feel worlds better if she had been awake to supervise the move. Sneaky bastard, he had to have done that on purpose.
Mikaela eventually left the now-defunct Med bay, wandering down the echoing, empty corridors. Finally she came to what had passed for a courtyard, and saw Optimus. He stood alone in the open space, face raised up to the night sky. She knew without asking that he was scanning every wavelength, scouring every scrap of white noise and unfiltered sound that passed through the frequencies. For a minute she wavered, hesitant to interrupt him.
He made the decision for her, pulling himself reluctantly away from the spread of stars to turn to her. With an apologetic shrug, she stuffed her hands into her pockets. "Still nothing, huh?"
Pistons hissing quietly, he knelt before her, offering his hand. She pulled her own from their hiding places to hang onto his thumb. He rose smoothly back to his feet, and then she was being held up at a more comfortable level. As one they turned their faces back to the sky, both searching the heavens for a sign that they weren't sure would ever come.
Mikaela curled an arm around his digit as she settled herself into his palm, and stretched her feet across the width of it, just brushing his armor. She wriggled her toes in their worn sneakers idly, letting Optimus gather his thoughts. He was silent for another few moments, his fingers flexing unconsciously around her, cupping her to his chest. With a low sigh she leaned into the crease between his thumb and palm, feeling the subtle thrum of energy reverberate through her.
After a time, he spoke. "Time passes differently for us. If you were to compare the life cycle of a butterfly to that of a human, then you would come close to a Cybertronian's time span."
It wasn't what she was expecting. But neither was it news to her, so she kept her silence. He continued.
"It is strange to think that you have seen so much, accomplished so many things, all in the time it would take for a sparkling to reach his first upgrade. Perhaps it is this lifespan that is the cause of so much war and strife here."
Mikaela shifted a little, leaning back to get a better look at him. "What do you mean, Optimus?"
"It takes us Cybertronians many times longer to achieve a goal, to realize a thought. While our processors run that much faster than your brains, all it takes for a human to make a choice is a hundredth of a nanosecond to us. How much living you must press into a few cycles of your sun is astonishing. You must live, grow, learn , love, hate and die – all of these and so many more - in such an infinitesimal amount of time. No wonder your species is such a passionate one."
The speech was of a length that soon her whole body was resonating with the echo of his words. Her feet, pressed as they were into his chest, tingled as his voice thrummed through them. It was a giddy feeling, and she wound both arms around his thumb to keep from fidgeting. From his vantage point he watched her, waiting patiently for her to settle.
Eventually she looked back up at him, brows tilted in contemplation. "You're probably right. Maybe that's why we kill each other, too. I mean," she let go briefly to wave an arm in emphasis, "look at how many people are born and how many die every single day – every single turn of the world. It's a breakneck pace, and I guess we're all just trying to keep up."
She could see him taking that and turning it over in his head. He nodded after a moment. "The human race is a fleeting one. Perhaps, realizing the restraints of time, it has formed its own sort of evolution. You realize that my own people have hardly changed in millions of years. We have been at war since before the human race was, in fact, a race."
"That would make Bumblebee about as old as this planet, right?"
"Technically, yes. Not entirely, but close enough."
Mikaela had to laugh at that.
He went on. "But the course of human evolution runs so much more quickly than ours. It is a wonder that you have not burned yourself out of existence by now."
"Oh, believe me, we've tried." She snorted.
Optimus made a musing sound. "But I believe that is the crux of your situation. You have tried so hard to reach beyond your limitations, past your own mortality. All of your history is on one long, endless loop, yet you survive, and more so, thrive. It is amazing to behold."
She smiled at the awe in his voice.
Some time passed without either speaking, then. It was not an uncomfortable silence; rather, their thoughts stretched between them, not quite touching, at peace with the other.
Eventually he shifted Mikaela so that she could crawl up onto a pauldron, and she nestled there between a smokestack and the crook of his neck. Idly she studied the seams that marched up the column of his throat, up to the network of gears that held his jaw in place. Mandible, she recited to herself, zygomatic, temporal…It really was fascinating how similar the species were. What made a race propel itself up onto bipedals, to swing only two arms at its sides, to have its heart located in the region of its chest?
Maybe, she thought, maybe there really is something out there creating us in its own image.
She wished she had the guts to ask about girl Cybertronians. After hearing Bumblebee's side of things, however, she thought it might be best to wait until she had Ratchet's attention instead. Was there a female version of the Prime? Had they been warriors, as well, or did they leave the fighting to the mechs? Did you lose someone, too? There was still so much she didn't know, so much they kept hidden.
The girl tilted her head back, looking beyond Optimus into the velvety dark sky. A thin sliver of a moon hung there, and beyond that, the stars shone brightly. The arid atmosphere helped, and Mikaela was distantly grateful that she lived where she did. For a few moments she watched, letting her mind wander past Optimus and the moon, out to far-off places she had never seen. She thought on leaving, and being left behind.
Her dream came back to her, then. It's too late, she thought sadly, and suppressed a shiver.
Maybe she shouldn't say anything. But he was the only one who might answer kindly. Her voice was very small when she asked, "Are all of those stars dead now?"
One enormous hand came up, cupping around her, and for a brief moment stars both dead and living were blotted out as she was cradled to him. A hug, she thought, he's hugging me.
"Not all the stars, Mikaela. Not all. Some are just beginning their journey, and those that have passed...well, even dead stars burn bright."
The next day dawned bright and clear, and it stayed that way throughout her journey west. The California air felt good as she sped into it, feeling almost as if she was sailing on the high seas, cutting across waves that parted for the majestic bulk of her ship. It was a heady, fanciful sensation, and she welcomed it. She leaned back, feeling the pull of the road and the wind, and didn't think of Sam at all.
The other half of her time was spent in Ratchet's cab, dozing, chatting, or playing Tetris on her new computer tablet, a demo version that had yet to be released to the public. It was awesome, and she couldn't stop fiddling with it. Rumor had it Apple had one in the works, but that wouldn't be for another few years. She was very pleased with herself, as a result.
After a time Alexis pulled up in her Fiat, as usual disregarding any and all trafficking laws, and the two exchanged pleasantries over the roar of the wind. Ratchet finally pulled away, snapping at her to either use her phone or Sign Language, he was trying to cruise here, for Primus' sake. After that she went back to her nifty tablet, silently vowing to ignore him the next time he wanted a decent conversation.
After a good five hours or so, and a couple of seat swaps, their convoy began to meander south, skirting around San Francisco. They hit the coast around mid-afternoon. Mikaela had her visor up, and the salt air stung her eyes before it ever came into view. Then they crested a low hill, and there was the ocean sprawling grand and endless, fading into the sky. It was a sight she had been privy to many times, but this one was different. This time she wouldn't be stopping at the end of the shallows; she'd be going right over the edge of the horizon.
Leaning low over the bars she hit the throttle, letting the snarl of the Monster shred the air behind her as she sped to the front of the caravan. She could hear Ratchet hollering after her, but she was well-practiced at tuning him out, and soon she had left him in the dust. She passed a multitude of armored military trucks; the third of which she knew housed Barricade. Ahead she saw the Captain, studiously keeping to the right side of the road with a fierce scowl and white knuckles (apparently the Major had rung her up, warning her - repeatedly - that they didn't need any more attention than they were already going to be getting, and could you please not flip me off? I can see you in my rearview, and yes I know what that means.).
Then she was past Starling, who glared after her with what was surely a case of driving envy, and was up beside Optimus, heading up the convoy. He was practicing using his hologram, and the sight of it made her giggle. It looked like he had decided on the cowboy hat. There had been a debate not too long ago between the merits of such a hat, versus the much-venerated trucker's cap; he had said that the ball cap gave him hat hair. Mikaela wasn't sure if he even knew what that meant, but she thought the cowboy hat suited him better, anyway.
Mikaela cruised beside him for a bit, blatantly ignoring the Major's low-profile rule. She gave a jaunty wave, and to her delight he responded with a loud, sharp execution of his cab whistle. She burst out laughing.
Eventually she pulled ahead, pretending for a moment she was a scout, running ahead of the expedition to blaze a trail where no one had ever dared trek before. Mikaela leaned back and pulled off her helmet, letting the wind tear through her straggling braid. The air bit at her, making her eyes water again, but she kept them wide open. Still she didn't think of Sam, or her dad. She pretended she was utterly alone on this vast stretch of ancient highway, and was content.
They kept on for two, three more hours; she was the first to lay eyes on the small, shabby port that housed the ferries. The loading process took no time at all, and then they were at sea, the ferry's motors rumbling beneath her new sneakers.
Mikaela only watched the receding shore for a minute or two. Then she decided she'd had enough of that, and moved to the prow of the ferry, keeping to the top level. She met Alexis there, and the two women stood at the rail in silence, watching the sun sink into water turned blood-red. The fiery horizon marched onward, and they chased it, trailing a blanket of stars behind them.
The Captain and she were the first to spot it; a dim silhouette against the darkening sky. Her heart leapt in her chest, and beside her the Captain smiled, a rare occurrence. "Will you look at that," Alexis murmured.
Mikaela realized she was holding her breath, and made herself let it go. She looked, and felt awed. I'm here. I did it.
Her feet were the first to hit the sand.
The first draft of that last scene was about five sentences long. Go figure. Next up – what everyone and their elderly aunts have been waiting for. The chapter. And guess what? It's already halfway done. You're welcome.
As usual, concrit and/or general displays of enjoyment/dissatisfaction are welcome. Have at it.