Lennox wasn't aware the Autobot team was incomplete, until an unexpected arrival reveals an equally unexpected threat.
This is a fan-fiction based on the Transformers franchise, created by Hasbro, and recently developed as a series of motion pictures by Hasbro and Dreamworks and directed by Michael Bay. Characters and situations are used without permission. I'm just doing this for fun, not profit.
I'm kind of new to the Transformers multiverse, so this is a movie-verse story (set post-Revenge of the Fallen) since that's the version I'm most familiar with. I couldn't resist playing on the G1 relationship between Sunstreaker and Sideswipe though, so this is the story of Sunstreaker's arrival on Earth, from a NEST perspective.
Any reviews, comments or suggestions you may have would be very welcome!
The cab of an articulated lorry was hardly the perfect place to do paperwork. Admittedly, Lennox had more space to lay out spreadsheets, authorisation forms and balance tables than he might in the front seat of, say, a Chevy or even a Corvette. He just couldn't shake the instinct that told him he ought to be watching the road, gripping the wheel between firm hands rather than covering it in drifts of paper.
An experienced special forces officer didn't get that way by being careless.
But nor did any officer reach Lennox' rank without learning to take their ease when they got the chance, or when he could place an implicit trust in the companions fighting at his sides. If any man could consider himself safe on the crowded roads of the Eastern seaboard, it was one hitching a ride with the leader of the Autobots, Optimus Prime.
"You appear tired, Major Lennox."
The deep rumble came from the dashboard radio, only a little muted by the wad of receipts Lennox had left resting across it. He reached out, pulling the papers aside with a grimace of apology. Prime's voice seemed to speak directly to his muscles.
Today's skirmish hadn't been a difficult one by NEST standards. The Decepticon they'd routed from a small town just outside the city had been small fry, easily dispatched by a thrust of Sideswipe's blade and hardly worth a full turn out by the Earth-based Autobot contingent, let alone their human allies. What got Lennox down was the fact that this was just one meaningless skirmish amongst many. Since the destruction of the Fallen, and Megatron's withdrawal, the remaining Decepticons had kept well clear of confronting NEST forces – and then sent small-fry like today's to die as lambs to the slaughter on NEST's very doorstep. It was as if they were fighting a guerrilla war, with minor troublemakers tossed ruthlessly into the line of fire as probes designed to test Earth's readiness and gauge the strength of their forces.
Lennox knew he was playing a game, but he didn't dare not turn out. As much as the soldier in him was craving an open battle and, hopefully, decisive victory, he was realistic enough to know that luck had played a large part in their two real confrontations to date. The thought of a pitched battle against a full-blown Decepticon army kept him awake at nights, shivering in a cold sweat. If NEST could back Megatron off long enough for the humans to build up their resources and the Autobot contingent to grow in size, he wasn't going to throw away the opportunity.
Looked at that way, the policy of confronting each Decepticon with overwhelming firepower made sound tactical sense, even if, like today, that meant seven Autobots and three assault 'copters taking on a malevolent cement mixer. That didn't make explaining it to a Senate appropriations committee any easier.
"Guess I'm not cut out for red-tape. General Morshower wanted these accounts signed off yesterday."
There was silence for a few moments as they left the last city suburbs behind them and headed out on the open road that led towards NEST's air-force base. Lennox smiled to himself, waiting for the next question. It wasn't often he had the impression he'd perplexed Optimus Prime. As a giant, superintelligent alien robot, Prime could get to grips with most concepts before they'd even registered on the major's organically-slow thought processes. But if there was one aspect of human culture that could reduce any Autobot to helpless frustration, it was government bureaucracy.
"Do you not have others qualified to compile such information as your government requires?" Prime inquired cautiously.
"Uh-huh," Lennox agreed, shuffling half the papers onto the passenger seat and focussing on the one column of numbers he just couldn't reconcile however he tried. "But the buck stops with me, and that means accounting for damages, checking the base supply roster and knowing what I'm signing before I sign."
"Ah." The rumble from the speakers took on a satisfied air. "Then it is a matter of pride and responsibility to ensure the numbers are correct?"
Lennox grinned. Those were concepts both he and the Autobot leader could get behind.
"You got it."
His grin faded, replaced by a familiar frown. Nope, these numbers still wouldn't balance.
"You seem troubled, Major Lennox. Perhaps I could assist you. We have a few minutes longer."
Lennox looked up, realising that he could see the base now, hunkered down under the grey sky a handful of miles ahead of them. Ironhide and Ratchet had moved up to flank their leader, the two big 4x4s forming a reassuringly solid core to the Autobot ranks. Jolt ambled along a little way in front of them. Sideswipe had raced ahead, the silver-grey Corvette dimly visible, glinting in the thin winter sunlight as he closed the distance to the Base.
If Sideswipe was ahead, that meant the twins were almost certainly taking shelter behind their leader. The senior Autobots were usually careful to keep some distance between the two small Chevys and the larger warrior, particularly given the strange mood Sideswipe seemed to sink into after a skirmish. Lennox still wasn't entirely sure whether the awkwardness he'd noticed between Sideswipe, Mudflap and Skids arose mainly from one side or the other, but he'd seen enough sparks fly between the melancholic soldier and the playful twins to take notice when assigning them to missions. The one time he'd tried to ask Optimus Prime what lay behind it, the giant machine had looked thoughtful for a moment, an indefinable sadness in his eyes as they picked out Sideswipe from halfway across the base. 'Memories' was all Prime said, and that one word was enough to make any soldier nod sympathetically and leave well alone.
Seven autobots in convoy, another thirteen all-told on base. Twenty living machines in total… so why was NEST regularly laying on fuel for twenty-one?
Optimus Prime was silent for a few moments after Lennox posed the question. The special forces major ran through the Autobot forces in his own mind, wondering if one of them had something akin to a drink problem, and whether any human understood the Cybertronian mind well enough to tell.
"I shall make enquiries," the Autobot leader promised in a long-suffering tone.
With a sigh, Lennox pressed a thumb to the heat-sensitive ink on the corner of the page, leaving his imprint. A one in twenty discrepancy wasn't worth his time or the hassle of tracking it down. And if the Senate appropriations committee thought otherwise, they could come and take his place while he sat nice and cosy in their Washington offices for a day or two.
They were approaching base now, the gates wide open and welcoming the weary soldiers home. Sideswipe was slowing down, letting Jolt come up alongside him and both moving to opposite sides of the road to let Prime take the lead. Optimus Prime sped up a little, ready to lead his troops back into NEST.
Lennox dropped the last wads of paper into the chair beside him and sat back, glad to abandon it and already looking forward to a long shower and an even longer nap. He wasn't expecting to be flung forward, a suddenly-inflated airbag knocking the breath from his lungs even as it protected his ribs from a painful collision with the steering wheel.
A chorus of protests rose over the squeal of brakes and the scraping of metal as half a dozen machines struggled to avoid the mother of all pile-ups. On Prime's dashboard screen, a series of messages echoed the vocalisations, the Autobots exchanging protests and howls of complaint as electronic text – all with a single target.
"Sideswipe!" Prime's roar of anger faded into confusion.
Lennox blinked, gasping to recover his wind, and trying to process what he'd seen. The silver-grey Corvette had slammed on his brakes without warning, painfully close to the front of the convoy. If that had been all, the other Autobots could have taken avoiding action. The handbrake turn, scream of wheel-spin and sudden acceleration right into his companions' path were another matter. Optimus Prime came to a halt skewed across the road, rocking slightly from side-to-side as he absorbed an impact from one of the unsighted twins. Lennox groped for the cab door, scrabbling it open and dropping to the ground beside the big semi. He stared back towards the city, startled to realise that Sideswipe was already no more than a glint in the distance and a slowly dissipating trail of dust.
He'd known the skirmisher was fast. He hadn't realised they were talking about race-car speed and nought to sixty in nothing flat.
All around him there was a mechanical ballet going on, curiously graceful but accompanied by the grinding of mechanical parts and the purr of motors rather than any more conventional music. The Autobots transformed en masse, all of them startled, at least half of them nursing scrapes and bruises on their tough shells.
Skids was looking a little the worse for wear, hands raised to the head that had collided with Prime's rear bumper. Mudflap supported his twin with one hand, his body and other arm twisted so he could inspect the tire tracks that ran over his wings.
"Man, did you see that? He went straight over me! That dude seriously owes me for a new paintjob."
Ratchet, the team medic, stopped beside the small Autobots for long enough to check there was no serious damage, before stepping up beside Ironhide and Prime. The senior machines were gazing back towards the city and the settling dust cloud, frowns on their faces.
"What made him take off like that?" Ironhide rumbled.
"Typical of the 'bot not to think of the consequences." Ratchet's comment came as more of a surprise. Lennox had been on enough missions with the warrior to have a healthy respect for Sideswipe's battle skills, and a lack of planning wasn't one of them.
Optimus Prime didn't comment one way or the other. His lieutenants were frustrated and angry, but Prime's voice held a note of concern. "Sideswipe is not responding."
That was certainly a worry. Lennox hadn't heard the Corvette say a word, but he'd assumed that Sideswipe had at least informed his leader of his destination.
"Could be some sort of malfunction?" the major suggested, glancing back towards Ratchet as he spoke. "The speed he was going… He could be in trouble."
The medic frowned, his initial anger fading.
"I could go after him, but it'll be some time before these old wheels catch up to a hot-rod like that."
"Ah…?" Jolt's interjection attracted eyes from all around. The junior Autobot looked decidedly nervous, and extremely unwilling to take the rap for his friend's actions. "We were talking just before he took off. He sent a data burst. Said 'Sorry. Later.'"
There was a short silence as they all absorbed that. Ironhide's irritation was obvious as he adjusted the barrels of his primary weapon and stamped out a circle ten-foot-wide in a handful of paces.
"If he's not in trouble now, he will be when he gets back."
Ratchet chuckled in a not entirely happy way. "Won't be the first time for that Corvette." He threw a sideways glance at the still-unsteady Skids. "I'd better get this one back to base, Prime. I'm not convinced that there's a brain in there to rattle, but I probably ought to check to be sure."
Prime nodded thoughtfully. There was a low metallic clang and then the giant robot was transforming, folding back into his vehicular alt-mode. "Major Lennox, if you would climb aboard? Skids, you may ride in my trailer. We will all return to base. Sideswipe will contact us if he needs us, of that I am certain."
"Major! Hear you had a bit of a pile up out there?" There was amusement as well as curiosity in Epps' voice. Lennox rolled his eyes at his second in command as he topped the stairs and stepped out onto NEST's main communications and command gantry. He had to admit that the thought of an Autobot pile-up had its entertaining side, but there was something about the whole affair that was still bothering him.
He concealed his concern behind a wryly-amused exterior. "Sideswipe had places to go, people to see. I think that's one 'bot we're going to have to put on the remedial 'rules of the road' refresher."
"If Optimus doesn't beat us to it," Epps suggested. Prime was once again in his bipedal mode, handing off a much-improved Skids to Ratchet's care. There was a brusqueness to his movements that suggested the Autobot leader was no happier than Lennox felt. Epps eyed the giant robot warily for a few moments before turning back to his own superior, the amusement fading entirely from his military demeanour. "There might not be time for lessons, not anytime soon at any rate. NORAD tracked three meteors into the upper atmosphere not ten minutes ago. Lost them halfway down."
It was the classic pattern. Whatever technology the Cybertronians used to mask their presence, Earth forces had never yet managed to track one of them all the way to the surface. Lennox felt his heart, and his hopes for a nap, falling.
"Yeah." Epps gave him a sombre look. He didn't need to expand any further on his comment, or give voice to the thought that troubled them both. They hadn't had anything but single 'con incursions since the big showdown in Egypt.
Prime was paying attention now too. The Autobot stepped up to the gantry, shoulders level with the computer monitors Lennox was studying.
"Predicted touchdown?" Optimus rumbled.
"Not too far from here, as it happens." Epps' sardonic tone left no doubt how he rated that as a coincidence. "Hundred miles due west, give or take thirty or so. Assuming they're not air-bursters, of course."
The last was an afterthought, but one to make Lennox shudder. He suppressed the movement pretty well, but Prime must have noticed.
"Very few Cybertronians have flight capability. It is a trait more common amongst Decepticons than Autobots, true, but it is likely these newcomers must land where they fall." He paused to look at Lennox. "You will obtain satellite-imaging of the target area?"
"On its way." Lennox had already authorised the request. "If these things left so much as a dent where they landed, we'll find it."
"Then, I fear, we can only wait." Optimus Prime gave Lennox a sidelong glance. "A chance to refresh ourselves perhaps?"
"I ought to stay…" Lennox trailed off, giving his second-in-command an irritated look. "What?"
"I wasn't going to say anything, Major… but, man, you could use a shower right now."
Lennox' shoulders rose and fell in a silent sigh. He headed for his quarters and the chance to relieve himself of the morning's sweat and exertion without another word. Life was unfair, he couldn't help feeling, when your second in command and a giant alien robot could team up against you.
Lennox was halfway across the floor of the main hangar, flushed but fresh, dark brown hair still curling damply behind his ears, when he noticed the Autobot huddle a short way from the control gantry. Prime's expression was unreadable, but both Ironhide and Ratchet looked serious, the latter's glance straying occasionally to where the Chevy twins were playing a rough-and-tumble game near the main doors.
"I've been monitoring the human law enforcement broadcasts, Prime," Ironhide's voice was low enough that Lennox had to strain to hear it, deliberately detouring to pass behind the backs of his companions. "He's been sighted to the west of the city, still travelling at reckless speed."
"Are we sure it was Sideswipe?" Prime rumbled, the whisper vibrating through the soles of Lennox' feet. "Human technology is poor at identifying individual vehicles."
"Silver Corvette travelling at two hundred miles an hour in the outer suburbs?" Ironhide asked wryly.
"Are the human police close to apprehending him?"
The weapons specialist snorted. "They'd have to get far enough ahead of him first."
Lennox nodded to himself, agreeing with Prime's assessment even as he processed the implications. The 'bots had a police scanner? Well, that was sort of… cool, and it wasn't as if Lennox couldn't have guessed it. The last thing Sides, or any of the Autobots, needed was police entanglements. But Sideswipe still hadn't been in touch? It had been almost forty minutes since the warrior took off: an eternity and more by Cybertronian standards. Lennox didn't blame Prime for being concerned.
He was still frowning as he mounted the control gantry, nodding briefly to Epps and glancing first of all at the screen that scrolled Autobot-chatter on their shared broadcast channels. He ignored his second's report for a few moments, paging back up through the electronic messages. Twice in the last ten minutes, Optimus Prime had sent out a public request for his front-liner to check in. No doubt those were just two of the many private pings Sideswipe's Autobot friends had sent in his direction.
Epps sat back in his chair, the tall African-American raising an eyebrow as Lennox turned to face him.
"Yeah, they're getting a touch nervous."
"We heard anything on Sides ourselves?"
"Corvette headed due west. Damn fast." Epps shrugged. "Wherever he's going, he's sure in a hurry to get there. FBI are scrambling to pull a men-in-black act on the sheriffs along the way – 'nothing to see here folks'." The sergeant's chuckle faded into a serious look. "Nothing for the last fifteen minutes or so though. Reckon he's taken to the back roads."
"West." Lennox rubbed a hand back through his hair. "And those meteors NORAD tracked?"
"West," Epps confirmed. "Yeah, Optimus sent a couple of scouts to check it out, but they're a long way behind. We've still got techs going over the photos to pinpoint the touchdown zone. Could take a while – the area's pretty heavily wooded."
"If Sideswipe tries to take on three Decepticons on his own…"
"Why would he?" The master sergeant frowned, tilting his head to one side. "Okay, Sides kind of keeps himself to himself, and he talks a good fight, sure, but he's a team player. Why not just tell Prime what's going on?"
"That is a very good question." The rumble of Optimus Prime startled both men. They turned to find the Autobot leaning forward, head level with theirs and blue eyes focussed on them. "I would like to take some of my team and…"
Prime's voice cut off, his eyes widening. The console in front of the airmen chimed a familiar discordant alarm, and text scrolled up the screen, just as it would be scrolling past the optics of every Autobot within range.
Warning: Decepticon contact…
Autobot requests urgent backup…
Distress… Sideswipe… Sunstreaker…
Distress… Sideswipe… Sunstreaker…
Lennox stared at the screen in bemusement. There was a grinding of gears behind him, and a metallic clang as Ironhide dropped a huge fist into the open palm of his other hand.
"Sunny's here?" Mudflaps asked, skidding to a half under the gantry and transforming to look up, wide-eyed, at Prime.
"He finally made it!" Skids laughed. "Oh, this is going to be fun."
Ratchet seemed less amused. "Well," he observed. "That explains a lot."
"It does?" Lennox couldn't keep the frustration from his voice. "Who the hell is Sunstreaker?" He glanced over at the screen. "And why does our system already have him tagged as friendly?"
It wasn't often Ironhide looked embarrassed. The big weapons specialist shuffled his feet, not quite catching anyone's eyes.
"Sideswipe persuaded me to add him to the official list of friendlies a while back." A huge metal hand rose to rub the back of Ironhide's stubby neck. "The youngster was pining and it didn't do any harm to assign the extra ID code."
Optimus Prime regarded his usually-stoic lieutenant with a hint of amusement before turning back towards the gantry. "I believe, Major Lennox, that an inspection of Sideswipe's quarters will reveal a solution to the supply mystery we were discussing earlier." The humour faded, Prime turning slightly, as if he could see through the western wall of the hangar and across the hundred miles beyond.
"Just like Sunny to find trouble as soon as he arrives," Ratchet grumbled, shifting a little uneasily.
"Or to bring it with him." Ironhide agreed. "To be fair, he's never yet got Sideswipe into trouble so bad the pair of them couldn't get out of it."
"Yet," Prime echoed. The single word fell into silence. The alert signals had stopped scrolling up the screen several seconds earlier, leaving an eerie stillness in their wake. "I'd remind you that not only Sideswipe but Sunstreaker is requesting assistance."
Ratchet and Ironhide transformed without another word, the twins following their example. Optimus was still folding himself down as the familiar order rang out across the hangar.
"So," Epps raised an eyebrow. "Any idea yet who this Sunny guy is?"
Lennox shrugged, settling his assault rifle more comfortably across his lap. "A friend of the 'bots? That's good enough for me."
The Chinook helicopter throbbed around them, its engines roaring as it raced to catch up with their Autobot allies. It had taken nearly thirty minutes for Lennox to get his NEST team primed, equipped and loaded on the 'copter. Even so, without the city traffic to navigate, they'd most likely arrive at the distress call's coordinates before the bulk of the Autobot team. Lennox couldn't help but feel a certain trepidation at the thought. There was nothing like having a fifty-foot robot as back-up to lend strength to your arm.
Even so… He looked around at his team.
"We might not know Sunstreaker, but we know Sideswipe is in trouble. Anyone Sides is fighting is an enemy. Anyone he isn't fighting is an enemy as soon as it fires on you."
"And if he's not up to fighting anyone?" Epps glanced down at the smartphone he held in one hand. The Autobot text channel pinged occasionally with a message from Prime, marshalling his forces, or a scout team reporting its ETA. There was no sign of a response either from Sideswipe or the mysterious Sunstreaker.
Lennox set his lips in a firm line. "If you can't see an Autobot symbol, you fire on it."
There was a grim movement amongst his men, a shifting of weight as each man braced himself for the battle ahead.
It was an anticlimax when the helicopter swept in across a ridge of hills to reveal a wooden valley almost entirely stripped of standing trees. Tall trunks were splayed out in a radial pattern that guided the eye back towards three impact craters. All around that churned ground, there was evidence for more deliberate disturbance too. The felled trees were splintered and fire-blackened. Lennox's battle-trained eyes picked out waves of destruction, one crossing another as the fight had ebbed and flowed. Leaving four, hulking grey-metal forms behind it.
"Get us down there!" Lennox's shouted instruction was accompanied by a vigorous hand gesture. The pilot waved an acknowledgement, dropping the Chinook groundwards and speaking into his microphone as he passed on the instruction to a second helicopter following behind.
Lennox braced, first out of the 'copter and first to sweep the near-silent valley with his weapon. Winter had closed in hard and firm up here in the mountain foothills. The cold made itself felt even through his combat gear, his breath frosting in the air and dry pine-leaves crunching under his feet.
"Spread out," he ordered, almost choking on the words as a neon-bright motorcycle roared into sight, spraying him with gravel as she skidded to a halt.
"Chromia?" It was a relief to have an Autobot here, even if it was the lightly-armed and fast-moving scout. Lennox's eyes kept straying back to the four still forms scattered around him. He was pretty sure he'd be able to pick out Sideswipe's sleek silver armour amidst the Deception greys and blacks, but he'd been in enough battles, and seen enough machinery slagged beyond recognition, to realise he couldn't be one hundred percent sure. "Report?"
"Four Decepticons." The femme's clipped report eased the tension in Lennox's chest. "Two of them new arrivals. All offline."
The motorcycle swept off before Lennox could ask anything more. He looked around him with a sense of helpless frustration. He'd come nerved for a battle, but arrived too late. His banked-up adrenalin was looking for an outlet. And now he, or rather Optimus Prime, had a soldier not just AWOL but MIA.
The thought of the quietly-humorous Sideswipe reduced to a pile of melted wreckage had hurt, but so did the uncertainty of not knowing what had happened to the Autobot warrior and his mysterious ally. Sighing, Lennox lowered his rifle to hang on its strap, his eyes dropping to the ground. Frowning, he sank into a crouch, fingers extended to touch the oily fluid that coated the soil and debris under his feet. It formed a shallow pool, trapped by the frozen ground surface and already freezing into sparkling crystals around its edges. Raising his hand to his face, he sniffed his fingers, not quite sure what he expected to smell. The tight feeling in his chest returned. He wouldn't be able to swear to it, but he was pretty sure that this was the fluid that ran through Cybertronian machinery, lubricating and energising it, in much the same was as iron-red blood ran through his own veins. And much as he wanted to attribute it to one of the offlined Decepticons, he couldn't quite see how such quantities of it would get over here when they were over there.
He tensed, reaching for his rifle and waving his men to covered positions behind fallen tree-trunks, as a deeper engine note throbbed through the air. He braced himself against a trunk, squatting low behind it and not relaxing until his gun-sights showed him the Autobot symbol on Ironhide's radiator grill. Lowering the rifle with a sigh, he watched the black 4x4 transform, the yellow-clad form of Ratchet unfolding behind him.
"Prime's coming," Ironhide announced after sweeping the valley with both eyes and weapons. "These roads aren't meant for someone of his size."
Lennox nodded, not really surprised that the huge semi would struggle to find a path through the dense woodland. He opened his mouth and closed it again, eyes dropping back to the pool on the ground all around him as he tried to voice the question. He didn't need to. Ratchet's eyes followed his and the medic dropped to one knee, carrying out the same crude examination that Lennox had, tasting a sample of the fluid before spitting it out with a scowl.
The Autobot medic looked up at Ironhide, face blank.
"Autobot. Not Decepticon. At least one of them is hurt."
Ironhide nodded grimly, looking around him. "Four. Not a bad showing. Sunstreaker must have made himself quite the target to have a welcome party like this laid on for him."
Frustration simmered. Lennox had long since learnt that punching an Autobot's armour clad legs got him nothing but a sore hand. He kept a hold of his rifle and put all his anger into his voice instead.
"Ironhide, what the Hell is going on around here? You're not telling me that Sideswipe slagged four Decepticons with just this Sunstreaker for backup?"
Ironhide raised an eyebrow, unimpressed by the human's fury. Ratchet sighed.
"They always did make a formidable team."
"But your Sunny was one of the meteors, right? He'd still have been confused by the descent… adjusting."
Ironhide nodded. He retracted his bulky, multi-chambered weapon back out of sight and folded his arms.
"That's probably why they got caught."