"Introductions: Part 1"
Note: This…is a little different than my other stories. I started to work on what will be the sequel to this, where it has a main plotline and such. This story is going to be a series of one-shots based around various writing challenges/themes. It tells the story of how a group of Autobots, Decepticons and humans have banded together to survive on Earth after Galvatron has essentially decimated any resistance. Humanity and the Transformers both face extinction and in the settling dust on a destroyed world, eleven survivors attempt to carve out of a life worth living with each other. The story is set (generally) fifty years after Mission City, in a what-if universe where the Autobots and humanity have lost the war.
Some of this will be happy fluff and others will be depressing as hell. You've been warned. The following six chapters will be the introductory story, telling of how the eleven survivors met. Not all of the chapters after this will be in chronological order, but you will be told in the Author's Notes when what is happening so PLEASE READ EACH CHAPTER'S AUTHOR'S NOTE. Thanks.
Disclaimer: Transformers © Hasbro/Dreamworks. The original characters in this story are mine, however.
Warnings: character death, violence, foul language, disturbing imagery
Southern United States
Well, Earth was fucked.
He wasn't a pessimist by nature, but as the sun set on yet another lonely day, Jazz could not help dwell on that sentiment. He had only the shortest amount of time to grow attached to the planet before they had fallen, but it took such a short amount of time to find reasons to want to stay.
The humans had been one reason. They had been a good reason; their culture had inspired him to get up and move. He hadn't felt that sort of frivolity and just plain living since before he joined the Autobots hundreds of thousands of years previous. Humans had made him relive, for even such a short amount of time, the moments before this slagging war even began.
But that was before they made their first mistakes on Earth. That was before Megatron's supporters found the Laurentian Abyss. That was all before a mech called the Fallen arrived, and suddenly, things weren't simple anymore.
Prime was dead. The initial team they had come with was long gone. He had stuck around long enough to watch Mikaela Banes die along with William Lennox and then Jazz found himself running.
He had seen battle after battle for vorns upon vorns, but nearly thirty years on Earth had taught Jazz that there was always something unexpected in warfare. None of them had expected Megatron to be resurrected, not like that. No one knew how it was possible, but the Decepticon Lord had returned with a vengeance. It wasn't just Megatron though; Jazz recalled his initial suspicions of the warlord, who seemed stranger and more out of control than he had before.
He called himself Galvatron. And that's when the problems really began.
When the Autobots fell, so did the United States and its allies' armies. America had been targeted initially and so much was lost. People fled as quickly as they could, but Jazz never got an accurate number on refugees. Galvatron, aided by a mech they only knew was named the Fallen, moved out across the planet in his genocide. He turned survivors into slaves and obliterated the unwilling.
Any Autobots who had answered Prime's last message fell harshly to Galvatron's defenses. If there were any survivors of the Autobot units, Jazz didn't know. When the United States resistance fell, he had to run for his own safety. He had expected to be fighting Decepticons, as he always had. For the briefest of times, Jazz felt a darkness in his spark as he realized, perhaps, he had chosen the losing side.
But as he dodged fire from fast moving Decepticons, Jazz began to notice something more unsettling than the sheer numbers of enemies.
None of his attackers bore the Decepticon sigil. When he had finally managed to take out one, he realized it had no sigil at all. It was a drone.
He began to wonder after that if he was actually running away from Galvatron, or his legacy. He never saw another Decepticon after that. They, along with the Autobots and humans, seemed to disappear from the face of the earth, either into hiding or having met an untimely death at the hands of the drones.
Life had become a countdown. From ruined city to ruined city, Jazz saw only the barest signs of the living. He had no purpose, with no one to protect. He could only run from the swarms of drones that scoured the land in search of opposition or refugees to slaughter.
When the axe had first fallen, Jazz had mused of how they would make their comeback. He had expected to run into the Opposition, a rebel group, a group of survivors who would overthrow Galvatron and reclaim Earth.
Thirty years later, Jazz had stopped looking for rebels in the forests now overtaking the ghost-town-turned-cities he drove through aimlessly. He only looked for potential energy sources—and the potential enemy.
Which is why he was unpleasantly surprised when he missed seeing the Decepticon jet flying overhead and then promptly land in the center of the road he was cruising down.
Transforming faster than his abused systems probably would have allowed in normal circumstances, Jazz had his weapons trained on the clearly-Decepticon aircraft before him. The Decepticon had transformed in mid-descent and had his back to the smaller Autobot saboteur.
Ignoring Jazz completely, the Decepticon set to work picking up stray, abandoned cars, glancing them over, before chucking them haphazardly over his shoulder. They hit the decaying road and rolled off into the sidewalks of the random city Jazz had chosen to travel through. The Decepticon had not even turned around at the sound of cannons charging.
Jazz watched the sight in front of him very carefully and his optics followed every move the massive Decepticon made. The flier was in bad shape, perhaps worse off than Jazz himself was, with a tear in one wing, and armor hanging off in some places like bark off a tree.
"Decepticon," Jazz began, tensing even more when the Decepticon tensed up, "do not move."
Head turning, Jazz saw the red-colored optics of the jet meet his own blue ones. For a moment, Jazz expected a fight—because there was always another fight. He had not run into a single life form in the last five years that he had not had to fight and kill.
But the Decepticon froze, dropping the burnt car he was holding. It landed with a harsh crunch and clang, rolling off into the other piled-up cars. They stood still, watching each other.
"Autobot," the Decepticon said, as if questioning what he was seeing. He spoke in English, following in Jazz's example.
"Yup, we're still here," Jazz said, grinning despite feeling a sudden urge to run and hide. "Man, and here I was thinkin' y'all were handlin' this invasion behind the scenes. Haven't seen one of your ugly mugs in at least twenty years. Time sure flies, don't it?"
The Decepticon said nothing, but his optics narrowed. Slowly, he turned around to face Jazz. He was huge; Jazz had a feeling this was one of the Seekers, Megatron's flying task force. Briefly he wondered if ol' Starscream was still flying around. Jazz would take his friendly face over the blank ones of the drones any day.
"So…who are ya?" Jazz asked, continuing to grin.
The Decepticon just stared, arms at his sides.
"My name's Jazz," he offered politely.
"Thundercracker," the Decepticon said, so abruptly, Jazz almost didn't think he had actually heard it.
Optics shuttering, Jazz pondered over the decidedly un-Decepticon behavior he was observing.
"So, where have you 'Cons been? I've been gettin' awful lonely with just those drones dear ol' Galvy has been sendin' out," Jazz said, his voice mockingly casual. He kept his weapons pinned directly on Thundercracker's sparkchamber. "You guys even still stationed here?"
Thundercracker didn't say anything at first. He looked down at Jazz's weapons and then back up at the smaller mech's faceplate. Something changed in the Decepticon's posture; he suddenly seemed less tense.
"There are no Decepticons," Thundercracker said pointedly, interrupting Jazz's next line of questioning.
A silence fell over the street. Jazz watched the Decepticon carefully, his words sinking in further into his processor.
"I noticed," Jazz replied coolly, trying to recover his composure; he didn't want to give any 'Con the satisfaction of riling him up. "All you guys have been doin' is throwin' around those drones, an'—"
"No." The sudden, deep comment made Jazz physically pause. Thundercracker stared down at the Autobot with a controlled grim expression. "There are no…longer Decepticons. Only Galvatron."
"…Care to elaborate?" Jazz asked, finally able to get his voice back. He knew this was probably just a trick or some sort of confusion technique.
But for some odd reason, his spark was growing colder in apprehension.
Thundercracker's expression seemed to grow darker as he prepared an answer. "He killed off his commanders," he began, his voice chilled. "I was in the second landing party, but he kept killing off his own mechs."
Jazz hesitated internally, but kept his bravado. "What, they not cool with some old fashioned genocide?" he asked, sneering.
His attempt at riling the Decepticon up—and giving himself an excuse to blow a hole through his chest—failed. "At first, it was only Starscream and his supports. The fools." Thundercracker paused and then turned his head, scowling. "But…Galvatron did not stop there. He started to kill everyone. I escaped, barely." His voice grew quieter, as did his expression. "…There were few survivors. I've been stuck here ever since."
That was not what he had expected to hear, at least the last part. "…You can fly," he countered, frowning minutely, suspicious. "You can get off the planet."
He was expecting for the Decepticon to get caught up in his own lies or at least laugh at him. He was not expecting the somewhat uneasy, almost pitying expression that played in Thundercracker's optics. "…How long have you been here, Autobot?" he asked in a gravely voice.
What a question. Jazz stumbled mentally, not expecting that sort of inquiry. Either Thundercracker was exceptionally good at lying, or…
Gathering his wits, Jazz tilted his head. "Since Megatron first died. Mission City."
He could not fully hide his silent question lurking in those words: "Why?"
Thundercracker suddenly scowled. "The land is plagued by the drones, but you cannot escape Earth by sky," he said ominously.
Jazz frowned. "…Why?"
"I don't know what or who…" Thundercracker began, pausing to look uncomfortable, "but those who try, die. There's some sort of remote sentry or…something up there."
Something. The way the 'Con said that made Jazz shiver, just slightly. "He's…trapped everyone down here?" Why? What was the purpose in that?
"I don't know or care what Galvatron is doing," Thundercracker replied darkly. "I don't even know if he's still functioning."
Ooh, somebody sounded bitter. Jazz couldn't help but share the sentiment. "Someone is controlling th' drones," he said, shifting on his feet.
Sneering, Thundercracker did not look that impressed. "As long as I can outrun them, I don't care who their master is."
There was something unnerving about how the Decepticon was behaving. Perhaps Jazz was just so used to fighting, it seemed odd to hold a conversation with one.
…Primus. Jazz tried not to laugh. He hadn't actually held a conversation with someone—anyone—in nearly five years.
Man. That was depressing.
"What were you lookin' for?" he asked, without thinking. He glanced down at the various cars the Decepticon had been throwing around.
Thundercracker followed his stare and gazed down at the mess he just made of the already disorderly street. "Energon. Energy."
Jazz smirked. "Ha. Aren't we all." Finding energon on Earth was like finding air on the moon. He had managed to get by this long by using gasoline. It was crude and undoubtedly unhealthy, but it was all he could find.
"There are more Autobots?" Thundercracker asked, looking up, mild surprise coloring his faceplate.
Jazz didn't hesitate that time. "Yeah." Somewhere. Hopefully.
Taking a moment to size the Autobot before him up, Thundercracker did not look convinced. "…They are not here," he said, not as a question.
Apprehensive, Jazz grinned, playing it casual again. "I like travelin' solo, what can I say?"
Thundercracker glared. "You are a terrible liar, Autobot."
"I guess I am when up against a Decepticon, eh?" Jazz replied shortly. He gave him a tight grin, weapons still poised. "As much as I've enjoyed meetin' new friends, we should probably be gettin' down t' business. Like what I'm gonna be doin' next."
Whatever he was expecting—and he honestly didn't know what—didn't happen. Thundercracker stood there, glaring steadfast, but didn't move. He was waiting to see what Jazz was going to do. With his weapons raised, Jazz couldn't believe the Decepticon thought he would do anything but shoot him.
But Jazz knew it was pointless. The 'Con was huge and had flight over him. He'd lose in a fight.
That was it, he decided, as he powered down his weapons protocols. The 'Con was too big of an opponent; that's why he wouldn't fire.
"I need t' save these for th' drones," he said, forcing another grin. Inwardly, he was trying to use the excuse to convince himself.
Thundercracker's intense stare didn't waver. "Indeed."
Jazz lowered his cannons. They stood there for a long moment, optic on optic, and Jazz wondered briefly if he had made a mistake.
But Thundercracker eventually broke the stare down and turned away. He transformed and flew in the air; not getting very high, Jazz mused. Perhaps he was afraid of the apparent sentinel of the sky. Or was just trying to avoid the drones.
Not that it mattered, he thought to himself, transforming. He believed that would be the last time they met.
They ran into each other two weeks later. Jazz would later joke that it was destined that they be united; coincidence was never an option in a world like this.
He had been traveling as fast as he could down the abandoned highways that looped outside another abandoned city. Parts of the road were gone, but it was quickest way out of the Southern swamps. There was no way Jazz could afford to get stuck in one of those organic mazes.
But roads were always the more dangerous route to take. The drones flew like swarms of insects; they looked like ordinary birds on the horizon. But there was a tell-tale buzz in the air. Jazz knew to screech to a halt and duck behind a pile of burnt and crushed human vehicles; within just a minute's time, they arrived.
Screeching and buzzing, they flew overhead and Jazz tried to be absolutely still among the twisted metal. They weren't sentient but they were skilled hunters, those drones. And there were many this time, at least ten. He wouldn't be able to get away easy if they spotted him.
He was extraordinarily lucky that day, he thought; the drones passed him completely and seemed focused on something else. It was then Jazz saw they were targeting something in the sky—a jet.
They collided with their prey fast—faster than Jazz thought was even natural. They clawed and slashed into the unprepared Decepticon, sending the pack as well as the mech spiraling downwards. Transforming in mid-air, the Decepticon jet ripped a drone off himself, tearing it down the middle. He flung it away from himself, but the others clung tight. They gracelessly fell to earth, the jet only picking himself up in the air soon enough to avoid a deadly crash. He was skidding into another line of cars, only a hundred yards from where Jazz was crouching.
The drones continued the assault. If anything, they were efficient and dedicated. Once they had something in their sights, they didn't stop until the thing was dead or destroyed. Jazz shivered involuntarily as the mindless robots waged their one-sided war on their victim.
He didn't even realize he was stepping out from behind his cover, canon raised, until one of the drones whipped around, its single red eye piercing right through his spark. A moment of hesitation passed in just a nano-click—
And the fight was on.
He nailed two of the drones in the faceplates right off the bat. He had never gotten such clean hits on the creatures before, but the victory was short-lived. Screeching not with rage, but pre-programmed defensive protocols, half of the remaining drones rose—and attacked. Birds of prey, they took to the air and began to fire on him with their own arsenal. Jazz dodged a laser and fired back with magnetic pulses, sending one smacking into two others, disrupting their flight pattern.
Briefly, Jazz entertained the idea of using the magnets to throw a car into the swarm, but someone took his idea, quite literally, when a four-door sedan abruptly flew into his line of sight and took down two of his attackers. Whirling around, Jazz saw Thundercracker standing, bleeding, wing bent, but launching his own assault on their attackers. He used another vehicle as a melee weapon, beating down another drone that got too close. With a feral snarl, the jet lashed out and grabbed a drone by the neck, ripping into it until it sparked and then fell limp.
Jazz had to hand it to the Decepticons; they knew how to pick the tough motherfuckers.
He had only fought the drones alone or with the army; most of the Autobots were scattered or just arriving when the drones first showed up. He never thought he'd be fighting against them with someone else backing him up.
It was strangely nostalgic. Except for the part where it was him and a Decepticon doing the whole ally-thing. That wasn't so nostalgic.
A drone flew at him and Jazz fired twice, missing once. The second blast hit the drone off course. Battle programming left no room for hesitation and Jazz found himself tearing into the drone, claws hooking on the internal wiring the squid-like robot held deep inside. He tore the wires as he flung the creature away into the car pile. He felt parts of his armor go with it, the tentacles trailing from the body catching onto his body with their serrated edges. The body landed with a satisfying crunch and breaking glass.
Hydraulics hissing in protest, Jazz turned, surveying the street for remaining threats. Thundercracker threw the last drone off himself; it slammed into the pavement, and before it could get up into the air, he finished it with a blast from his own cannons. A startling silence fell over the street. Jazz turned around once more, overheating, but alive.
Huh. He wasn't expecting that.
Thundercracker hissed lowly, removing one of the drone's limbs from his chestplates. The serrated edges would hook into their bodies to ensure the rest of the body could attack the victim without being removed. The Decepticon had succeeded in deflecting most of the attacks, but he was looking much shabbier than he had two weeks previous.
"Wheeew," Jazz exclaimed, shakily walking forward. He grinned openly at the 'Con, who was still removing limbs. "Nice moves there, TC."
Thundercracker paused and looked up at the nickname, scowling. He didn't say anything and continued to try to fix himself up. Jazz winced in sympathy as one tentacle ripped off part of his armor as he tore it off. With no medics, they had to use scraps they found and hope their self-repairs would keep up. Thirty years was a long time without a proper medical check up. To think, he used to give Ratchet a hassle whenever those came around.
Jazz dared to walk over, stopping just a few yards away from the Decepticon jet, who turned to face him. Both stood, sizing each other up. Jazz was dwarfed by the flier, and even if they had just worked together to defeat a common enemy, he could not help feel incredibly nervous.
But, surprising him for a third time in just a few weeks time, Thundercracker did not attack. He moved away and then, with a shuddering slam, collapsed onto the highway. He leaned against a stack of cars and began to assess the damages he just received.
Jazz watched and was unsure of what to do. He glanced down at his body and saw he hadn't received any real damages. He looked back up and saw Thundercracker was watching him with an intense stare.
They stood there in silence until Jazz couldn't take it anymore.
"Thanks. Fer savin' my aft back there," Jazz said, meaning it and feeling confused over why he did. "Never was able to fend off more than two of those suckers at a time."
"You saved me first, Autobot," Thundercracker replied. His voice was strong and deep.
Jazz hesitated. "I…"
Then, he laughed. Thundercracker tilted his head, listening. Jazz gripped his helm, feeling as though the world were slipping out from under him.
"Ah, man, this is all messed up. All of this…" Jazz laughed again. He grinned down at the Decepticon, trying to force his hysteria away like he always did. "Me savin' a 'Con. You savin' a 'Bot. What th' frag is up with that?"
Thundercracker looked away, weary. "I was never a real Decepticon. I only joined because of Skywarp and Starscream," he said, optics turning off. "With them gone…I don't believe you could call me that."
Everyone lost somebody. Jazz had never expected to lose everyone, though. He had no idea if Prowl were still alive. He had too many friends offline in his hands—it was only a few decades ago he had held a dying Mikaela in his claws, watching, drip by drip, a life he once cherished end.
He was alone in the center of a dying planet, with no way off and no way to go back to the way things were before.
A hysterical laughter begged escape, but Jazz had enough restraint to move backwards and fall to the ground in a similar manner the jet had just done. Thundercracker watched him with mild interest as the Autobot sat back and looked back over at him.
"Th' name's Jazz. Not Autobot," he said, his optics meeting Thundercracker's with brutal honesty. "I was once. But th' name's Jazz."
Thundercracker stared and then nodded slowly.
Because only a mech could save a mech—because an Autobot would never save a Decepticon.
"Keepin' it sane," Jazz muttered, a weary feeling creeping up into his hydraulics and limbs. He ignored the curious look Thundercracker sent him.
They sat in a comfortable silence. Far away, he heard a rare sound; a bird crying. Jazz glanced over at Thundercracker, a stray and dangerous thought crossing his processor.
"Two is a far better number than one," he said conversationally.
Thundercracker started and gave Jazz a deep frown. Jazz grinned back, both challenging and welcoming.
"…So it is," Thundercracker replied slowly. He didn't look suspicious as much as unsure of what he was hearing.
Stretching, Jazz looked up at the sky. It was tinted the same brown it generally was as of late. Too many fires.
Another thought came to him abruptly.
"Say…what do you think about France?"
Thundercracker paused and gave the smaller mech a strange look. "…What is that?" he asked.
So, the 'Con hadn't gotten all of the downloads on Earth, before the Internet collapsed, then. "A country, over th' ocean," Jazz explained cheerfully. "I hear it has th' prettiest scenery."
His description only increased Thundercracker's frown. "Galvatron has probably destroyed it," he warned darkly.
Jazz didn't doubt him for a second. But he couldn't help but try for this. It was all they had. "Your realism is gonna clash terribly with my optimism, TC. I bet we could find some green there." He personally hadn't seen green grass in almost a decade.
Falling silent again, the two sat there. Thundercracker was watching Jazz carefully and Jazz stared back openly. Jazz didn't know what he was waiting to hear, if anything. He didn't know why he was bothering to ask, or why it mattered.
Thundercracker's frown remained in place, but the dark gloom behind it lightened just slightly as the huge flier shifted back further into the cars. "…Why not?"
Because they had no other options. Because it was just the two of them. Because this land, at least for Jazz, held way too many memories he wished he could just purge from his systems.
"Great!" Jazz beamed. He paused, considering another thought that popped up in his processor. "…Huh. Can you fly more than just yourself in the air, buddy? 'Cause I wasn't really made t' swim."
The glare he received made Jazz laugh. To his own amusement, it was almost a real one.
So, they went to France.
When he had first landed on the planet, there had still been hope. Even without Optimus Prime, they had been sure they could secure victory over the Decepticons and the newly risen Galvatron.
But they had not been expecting the arrival of Galvatron's sudden reinforcements, the drones. There were rumors of another mech involved, who had brought the drones with him to give to Galvatron, but the information was never followed up. Wheeljack knew much about how a drone worked, but was caught completely by surprise by these drones. They moved quicker and functioned better than anything he had ever witnessed before. They did not fail in the missions they were sent on. And when their mission turned out to be a genocide, Wheeljack's theories were not proved wrong.
He and Perceptor had been assigned to finding a way to destroy the drones. They were like locusts; they never seemed to diminish and another would always arrive to replace one they had managed to bring down. Wheeljack knew that, if they had had just a little more time, he and his teammates would have found an answer.
But there was never enough time. Not any more.
Perceptor was dead. Ultra Magnus had tried to lead their unit in a defense of several human bases along the European coasts, but no one survived. Wheeljack escaped with only a handful of soldiers and civilians. They were all gone now.
What was worse than losing his companions, Wheeljack mused, was the fact he never got any answers. The drones shouldn't have been able to function so well, nor swarm in such large numbers. They were brought down by robots, not their Decepticon foes. Adding to the mystery were the Decepticons themselves. He never saw another one after Lisboa fell. They, much like the human race and the few remaining Autobot soldiers, disappeared.
Thirty-some years later, Wheeljack was left with only questions. Who made the drones? Why give them to Galvatron? Where was Galvatron and his army? Earth was abandoned; he had not seen one digging operation in progress or any sort of energy mining at all. And who was this Fallen? A Decepticon? Where were the Decepticons now?
Driving aimlessly across the abandoned European roads and fields, Wheeljack had no way of answering any of his lingering doubts and concerns. Human settlements had either gone underground or high in the mountains. He had lost contact with any Autobots and doubted that there were many left alive on the planet's surface. He was only alive because he avoided locations he knew the Drones were most active in. He never stayed in one location for long and did his best to drive around cities. He rarely met any survivors that way, but there was little he could do. He was utterly alone, condemned to die on an alien world.
So, when he was driving down a beaten dirt road in Western Germany, he did not immediately follow the dark cloud of smoke erupting over the side of the forest the road was approaching. He debated turning around or trying to find another route through the woods, but something prompted him to continue forward. The smoke was not overwhelming; it was an old fire. If a settlement had been attacked, the Drones had most likely moved on by that point.
Approaching the source of the smoke, Wheeljack realized the Drones must have left several days ago. The fires were tame and only smoldering ashes really remained of what used to be a human caravan, it seemed. He had no doubts about the outcome; an unarmed human caravan had little chance against a swarm of Drones.
He still made a cursory glance over the wreckage. There were two military vehicles overturned, smoking. They had been the source of the flames. Wheeljack felt his spark twist at the sight of the human remains; the Drones were efficient but never clean.
There was little left to do other than send a prayer to Primus for these lost lives and then move on. He had started his engines to press on down the path, avoiding the cars—
When he heard it.
A faint, almost indiscernible noise in the middle of the abandoned road and drying bloodbath, rose up above the sound of his own motors. For a moment, Wheeljack wanted to flee, dreading an encounter with a lingering Drone swarm.
But inexplicably, he shut his engine down to listen. Yes, there was a sound. A human sound.
An infant crying.
Wheeljack transformed in the middle of the road. He had not been in his bipedal mode for several days, considering he stopped for little other than nourishment. He looked around, trying to pinpoint the origin of the crying. His sensors indicated a small heat signature emanating from a gully on the other side of the road. Sidestepping the carnage, Wheeljack made his way over, half-fearing, half-excited, for what he might find.
The child was not a newborn; she was perhaps nearly a year or two of age. Her biological signs indicated she was a female. Wrapped in the limp arms of her mother, the child seemed unharmed, but potentially under nourished and emotionally distraught.
Wheeljack winced behind his blast mask at the sight of the mother; eyes left open in a haunting mimicry of life, her last moments probably spent dragging her dying body to the ditch, her child clutched to her chest, in hopes of saving just that one life.
Without thinking, Wheeljack crouched. His shadow fell over the two forms and the child noticed. Sniffling, the youngling looked up and stared directly into his face. Wheeljack expected a negative reaction, but the child obviously knew little of his species. She didn't know the horrors the Decepticons had wrought on her home world, or the potential danger he himself could have posed to her.
Instead, she just stared at him quietly, taking in his massive form without pause or doubt.
Wheeljack didn't know what to do. He had never dealt with a human sparkling before; they were so fragile, even more so than the adults. But he couldn't leave the child to die. He had seen too many of her kind perish because of his own race's thoughtless greed. She deserved better than that.
Reaching down, Wheeljack contemplated how to move the child with the least amount of trauma. The child stared at his mechanical hand with unabashed awe, clearly never having seen a mech before, it seemed. Cupping his one hand, he gently ushered the child with the other. She slid onto his open palm and stared up at him with huge organic optics, now just slightly alarmed.
Wheeljack sat back, the tiny creature still in his hands. The child stared back, fear diminishing gradually. A silence fell over the road.
"Hello, little one," he finally said, his blast mask hiding his smile.
His sensory paneled earfins flashed instead, relaying his emotions. He doubted the child could decipher what each setting of flashing meant, considering her age and species—
Suddenly, a strange sound filtered by his audials. Wheeljack peered closer at the tiny organic in his palms. It was making a strangely familiar face, one that seemed to stretch further than a mech's could. But from the few files he had gathered on the native species of earth, he concluded the expression was a smile.
The sound…was laughter. The child giggled. Wheeljack felt something in his spark twist and he couldn't help but chuckle back. That only set the child off more and soon, both were laughing, Wheeljack on a much quieter level. The child clapped her hands and giggled uncontrollably at the bright lights emanating from Wheeljack's helm.
"I don't suppose you know your name. Perhaps you do. I wish I knew it to be able to call you by what your creators had intended," Wheeljack mused, pushing air through his vents, tired. The breeze made the girl laugh loudly, falling into giggles once again.
He remembered the few humans he had had the opportunity to befriend before they lost the fight. Several human scientists had been thrown together with him and Perceptor, in hopes of increasing their odds at discovering a suitable defense against their enemies. There had been no time to make friendships, but Wheeljack was always a friendly mech. He had been particularly close with a Dr. Danielle Friederich; he wondered if she had met her end as quietly as he hoped she had. She had not deserved the painful demise many of their colleagues had suffered.
"If you don't mind, little one, I will give you a name to use instead," Wheeljack said, cradling the youngling close to his chest plates. The child gazed up, mesmerized by his glowing optics. The sight of her innocent expression warmed his hardened spark even more. "…Danielle."
He let the child reach up and grab at his free hand. Her warm fingers latched onto his cold exodermal plating, catching in the seams between joints. Danielle smiled, her optics full of trust and joy.
Blast mask retracting for the first time in years, Wheeljack could not help but smile back.
Lorraine was in better shape than Normandy had been, but Normandy would always be their home. Allete Rancourt had hoped her children's children could have grown up and played in the same yards she and her siblings had once played in many decades earlier, but life, as it turned out, had other plans for them. They were traveling through Southern Lorraine, and Allete had to admit, it had more green left there than the rocky North had.
Her husband, Armand, did his best to provide for their family, which now consisted of himself, Allete, and tiny Barnaby, who had just turned two that year. He had been the one to suggest they move South, hopefully to run into more settlements. The alien monsters had been moving too close for comfort in the ones situated along the coast.
Time had worn hard on both the elderly couple, but nothing could stop Armand from plucking the teetering toddler off the ground and swinging him up in the air just to hear a laugh on a usually gray and depressing day.
"Bonjour, mon petit," Armand exclaimed, making Barnaby shriek with laughter as they spun.
"Speak English, he'll never learn," Allete insisted, placing the last of their gear into her bag. Armand had already gotten his things together and was ready for their hike through the mountains. "His mother would 'ave insisted."
"Ahh, I know, I know," Armand replied, placing the squirming toddler on the ground. Barnaby took off down the path at a moderate pace, allowing his grandparents to walk behind him slower.
Allete had never dreamt they would be where they were. She had been just a young woman herself when the aliens first arrived. Her son Laurent had only known the war, and soon, the struggle to survive. He never got to play in the fields surrounding the family's main house. All he and his eventual wife—and their son Barnaby—ever knew was danger and fear. It broke Allete's heart whenever she looked at her grandson, who knew more of running than he did of things a child should be doing.
They were headed for what they had heard was another large settlement. This one had soldiers, they learned from the last settlement they had rested at. Soldiers attracted more violence, but violence was everywhere, Armand reasoned. They were generally better stocked, however, so they might be able to spare some supplies. It was less risky than trying to move unseen through any cities they came across. The small towns they passed through were often already ransacked or in too bad of ruin to give them much.
"Grand-mère!" Allete stopped when she heard the tiny voice shout through the quiet of the mountain trail. Barnaby rushed up to her, holding out something in his dirt-covered palm. "Je trouvé un roche—!"
"You mean, 'I found', Barnaby," his grandmother corrected, smiling kindly. "Zhat's English. Say it again, in English."
"I found a…" he trailed off, instead proudly holding up a small peddle in compensation for the missing word. The stone was a pretty purple color.
Allete withheld a sigh; the child was quick with languages, but had trouble switching them. She had promised the dying Emily Rancourt that she would teach her son her own mother tongue. English was one of the more popular languages in settlements, Allete had to reason. To survive, Barnaby would have to know it fluently.
Barnaby held the small rock up to the sky, totally in awe of the object's pointless but alluring nature. Allete smiled sadly, seeing her own son shining in the boy's innocent face. So much was lost, but they had not lost everything. She would not see her family again until she too left this world, and they had lost everything she had called home…but all it took were a few minutes with her grandson to make her realize that there were still pleasures to be found in this cold world they had to endure.
"It's beautiful, Barnaby," she said, meaning every word.
The brilliant glow the boy shone lit their drab path and, for just a moment, Allete forgot the world and all its dangers. All that mattered was her family—the three of them and the quiet forest path they were walking on.
The day was just so much more bearable after that.
Introductions: Part One end.
Part Two to follow.
Edited July 26, 2010