Transformers Prime: The Ties That Bind- Part Eight
Standing just off to the side, Arcee watched as Optimus accepted the call from the White House. On the screen before him, the strong face of the President of the United States appeared, the fatigue and regret in his eyes mirroring the Prime's.
"Optimus. Please, allow me to extend to you and all your people, on behalf of the United States, my sincerest apologies. This had been the most egregious of misunderstandings."
"I thank you, Mr. President. Indeed, too many have suffered for the sake of words spoken without the thought of reason or consequence. I am only thankful this disagreement did not end in tragedy."
"As am I, Optimus." Leaning forward in his chair, the President gave the Prime a somber look. "The General of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as well as my National Security Advisor have briefed me on everything we know up to this point. We have followed the information Agent William Fowler dispatched to us concerning the presence of the Decepticon vessel within the Challenger Deeps, and we have dispatched deep sea reconnaissance to confirm. I have no doubt they will find evidence of the Nemesis there."
Taking a slow, patient breath, the President continued.
"However, there is still the matter of sensitive and classified research which was stolen from our facility in the Nevada desert. I was informed that, from the start, you denied your involvement despite evidence which placed you there. I've since been informed that you have proof of the existence of what you've indicated is a Decepticon shape shifter?"
"Indeed, Mr. President." Optimus confirmed, stepping aside and motioning to Ratchet. "If you would, old friend."
Coming forward, Ratchet displayed the mangled remains of the former Makeshift's limb. Attached to the arm's underside was an Energon power cell.
"Mr. President. This arm is all that could be salvaged from the battle aboard the Nemesis. Though it was heavily damaged, clearly, I was able to reinitialize the holographic emitters which permit the change of appearance using…"
"Ratchet." Optimus interceded gently. "If you could."
"Oh, of course. No need to bore anyone," Ratchet responded bitterly. "Here we are." He finished, triggering the small emitters along the arm.
With an appearance like haze in the air, the severed limb slowly changed from one appearance to another, first replicating Bulkhead's massive limb, then, after quite a few others, eventually morphing into one which resembled completely the arm Optimus displayed from his own person for emphasis.
Studying the display closely, the President waited as unseen advisors and officials off screen likewise observed the evidence. After a few moments, the President appeared to frown.
"What you've shown me is enough to convince me of what the Decepticons are capable of. Though this clears you of suspicion, you must realize this will only cause a greater degree of caution, even mistrust among the senior military at the Pentagon. If these enemy Cybertronians can impersonate any of you…"
"Thankfully, we need not be concerned of that. At least for the moment. My second in Command, as is evidenced here, brought the threat posed by Makeshift to an end. Given how rare his kind are, it is unlikely Starscream will have service of one such as him again."
Contemplating this in silence, seemingly listening to the whispers and observations made by his advisors off screen, the President concluded. "Let's hope you are correct, Optimus. Given what has occurred over the last few days, it will be difficult enough restoring trust between this Government and the Autobots. To that end, there is one last matter to address. That being the stolen research. Was your strike team able to retrieve it?"
Before Arcee could come forward, Optimus stepped forward to speak, his tone now somewhat more stern then before.
"Regretfully, they were unable to. However, they did witness your secret research first hand. It pained me greatly to learn that, despite the trust I had believed existed between our peoples, your scientists were developing weapons to be used against us. And, even more concerning, that this research was based on Cybertronian technology."
Optimus's voice grew weary and grim.
"I had assumed with all the requests made by your government that you were not in possession of our technology, and I wished that to remain so for the time being. For your safety, above all else. With respect, Humanity is not yet ready for the advances our science represents." Optimus voice became gentler as he continued.
"Were we capable of curing your diseases, or famines, we would be eager to do so. But, our science has been, for far too long, the science of War. This planet, I feel, needs nothing more to encourage such a terrible thing."
"However, it would appear you have already used some fragment of our technology and have set down this path. While we will do nothing to stop you, we must implore you to reconsider this course of action. If you are yet in possession of Cybertronian technology, please return it to us. If indeed you feel yourselves ill prepared to combat the Decepticon threat, we will do what we can to better prepare your people. However, you need not resort to such weapons to protect yourselves."
Listening to both Optimus's words, and subsequently the response of the men and women out of sight, the President heaved a sigh of clear regret.
"I am afraid I can not confirm that any such technology is being researched at this time. The projects being undertaken at our Groom Lake facility were highly experimental in nature, but, to my knowledge, were not connected to any Cybertronian data of any kind."
Still out of sight, Arcee held up the remains of the disabling device which has nearly doomed Bumblebee. Optimus observed the weapon solemnly, then returned his gaze to the screen.
"For the time being, Mr. President, I can only hope your words have been spoken in truth. As I have asked you to once more trust in us, so shall we trust in you."
From her position, Arcee could feel her ire rise at the obvious deceit being practiced right to their faces, her mouth wanting to voice an argument. But those words were halted by the comforting presence at her side. Looking down into Jack's understanding eyes, Arcee buried her resentment. She needed to trust in Optimus's decision, as Jack had so recently reminded her.
"Well, I believe this brings to a close these unfortunate circumstances, Optimus. It would seem we both have much to consider in the days ahead, and much to do to strengthen the bonds of trust between our two races."
"Indeed, Mr. President. Before we have concluded, may I ask. What has become of the man sent here to see me and my people imprisoned? Where is General North?" Optimus inquired with no small measure of concern.
"Yes. Though we agree that the General's conduct towards you was deplorable, I have been assured that he was merely acting based on the intelligence that was available to him at the time." Before Optimus could counter that observation, the President pressed ahead.
"You must understand that General North held the security of this nation as his highest priority. If he was genuinely under the impression that you and your people were a threat to this Country I can not fault him for taking the measures he thought best."
As though to placate the Autobots, he added. "Rest assured, General North no longer holds a position on the Autobot Task Force nor it's oversight committee. In point of fact, the General has resigned from active duty. If there were any concerns involving him, I trust they can now be set aside."
The revelation concerning the now former General brought both Optimus and the others up short. Standing beside Jack and Raphael, Miko whispered, "Thanks for small miracles, I guess."
Exchanging a look of concern with Arcee, Jack shook his head. "I wouldn't be so sure of that."
For his part, Optimus merely bowed his head at the word leader.
"Then, let us hope wiser, and cooler, heads will prevail should any future concerns arise."
"Something I will work tirelessly to ensure, Optimus. You have my word." Having said that, the President leaned away slightly, his mannerism a clear enough signal that other matters now required his attention.
"Thank you for being so patient and understanding with us, Optimus. As always, I am thankful that you are the true example of your people. I'm certain that were I speaking to…Starscream, is it? That the conversation would not have concluded quite so peacefully."
"Indeed, Mr. President. Where it left to the Decepticons, there would have been no conversation." Taking that as his cue, Optimus gave the world leader a final nod of farewell. The connection to the White House went dark, leaving the Autobots and their human friends to mill about anxiously in the aftermath.
Having listened to the entire exchanged from the upper level, Fowler leaned on the railing as Optimus turned to regard him.
"I'm sorry, Prime. There was a lot there that went unsaid. I'm glad they're not gunning for you anymore, but it's obvious North has more then a few sympathizers near the President."
"So it would seem, Agent Fowler. Regrettable." The Prime stood silently for a moment.
"Optimus?" Arcee asked gently. "You alright?"
"Yes, Arcee. It seems I must have even greater patience with those we now share this planet with. And, we will need to be far more cautious then before. Our enemies are no longer so clearly defined."
The statement left everyone in quiet and sobering contemplation.
"But, I take great joy, and pride, in knowing that among us, as friends, reside the best of what humanity represents." Looking one at a time to Jack, Miko, then Raf, the Prime smiled. "In the three of you I see as much courage, compassion, and wisdom as any ancient Hero of Cybertron. It is my great honor to have you stand with us."
Under the Prime's paternal smile, the three teens looked to one another proudly.
"Well, you can always count on us, Optimus." Jack told the Autobot leader. "We'll never let you down."
In response Miko and Raf voiced their agreement.
"Of that, I have never been in doubt." Optimus told them. From just behind the Prime, Arcee gave Jack a supportive wink.
"Well, I think I've had about enough tender moments to last a lifetime. I need to get back to the home office, anyway. Got some requisition and repairs paper work to fill out. Seems I'm back to being the go to guy for working with you Autobots." Fowler said with feigned lament. "Can't wait to find myself being attacked by killer robot birds again."
"Thought you'd be used to that by now, Fowler." Bulkhead called after him.
"Yeah. You're a riot." Fowler gave Optimus a quick two fingered salute. "See you tomorrow, Prime."
"Be safe, Agent Fowler." Optimus replied.
With the momentous events of recent days seeming to have come to a final and resolute conclusion, Ratchet nodded to the Autobot leader, motioning for the medical bay.
"Well, now that we're all done with the intrigue and politics for the evening, it's time we got that leg of yours looked at." Walking with Optimus towards the repair bed, the medic looked to where Bumblebee and Raf were locked in conversation, the boy having been especially attentive to the young Autobot since learning of his near deactivation.
"And I need you back here first thing tomorrow. I want to make sure everything's working the way it should."
Bumblebee gave the medic an unenthusiastic bleat, his shoulders sagging.
"I know, BB. I don't much like checkups either." Raf told his partner with an affectionate pat. "But, I want to make sure you're okay too."
Responding with a warm series of honks and whistles, the Autobot nodded.
"Whoa. Hold up. Morning? Yikes, what time is it?" Miko asked from atop Bulkhead's armored shoulder.
"Uh…almost midnight." Raf informed her.
"Think any of our parents are back yet?" The girl asked.
"Judging by the hundred or so furious messages that were left on my cell, I'm guessing mine possibly is." Jack observed, looking to Arcee. "Suppose my mother trying to murder me might prove complicated for your whole protector thing, right?"
"Not sure." Arcee mused playfully. "I mean, it would mean I'd have a lot more free time."
"Ouch. You wound me, right here." Jack countered, holding two hands over the fake chest injury.
"Oh Jeez. Would you two get a room." Miko catcalled from her perch. The remark brought both Jack and Arcee around simultaneously, both looking as though they had been caught at something scandalous.
"Miko." Bulkhead chided. "That's not funny. Try to show Arcee more respect."
"Oh, it's just a joke." Miko replied defensively. Suddenly, the girl almost perked up as something came to her. "Hey, that reminds me. Jack, when everyone was rolling out for the command ship, I could have sworn I head you…"
"Bulkhead!" Arcee jumped in ahead. "I think we need to get them home. Let's get moving."
"Right." Bulkhead answered. "Come on, Miko. You can sleep on the way."
"Huh? But I'm not even…" Miko yawned. "Tired."
"Come on. You can play whatever you want loudly on the radio."
"Seriously. Sweet." Miko said contently.
Needing no further encouragement of their own, Bumblebee and Raf were already shifting into their respective roles as vehicle and passenger. Raf, already settled into his seat, was quickly asleep as Bumblebee drove for the silo's hidden exit, Bulkhead and Miko not far behind.
Left alone in the control room, Jack and Arcee suddenly found themselves more ill at ease then they would have preferred. After nearly a minute of awkward silence, Arcee at last sighed.
"Come on. It's a long drive. We can talk on the way." She offered.
"Yeah." Jack said. "Mom. Murdering me. Can't keep putting that off."
With a slight smile, Arcee shifted to her vehicle form. Retrieving his helmet from nearby, Jack slipped on to the driver's seat and the two exited swiftly.
From his reclined position in the medical bay, Optimus watched the two depart. Once they had gone, the Autobot leader allowed himself to rest, a rather contented smile appearing on his face.
In the process of replacing a seared servo-motor, Ratchet caught sight of the Prime's expression as he dropped the damaged component into a pan.
"And what, exactly, are you smiling at?" Ratchet asked, already turning back to his work.
"The future, old friend. And everything I'd hoped for." The Prime answered, permitting himself at last to rest.
"I couldn't believe Fowlers face when you told him about how you guys got off the ship." Jack said with a laugh, still shaking his head. "Heck, even I have a hard time believing it."
"Oh ye of little faith." Arcee said, feigning wounded pride.
"No. Faith in you I have in spades. Believing you were insane is something else." Jack clarified humorously. "First, you nearly get crushed a million miles below the ocean, then you blow yourself a hole in the ship, fight through a hundred drones, have a smack down brawl with Makeshift which leads to you blowing him up, which is rather awesome to be honest." Jack conceded.
"On top of all that you have to rescue BB, then get yourselves out of a locked room with explosives. So, what's a girl to do after all that? Use the same hole she used to get into the massive enemy warship to jump out of the massive enemy warship. From a thousand feet in the air!"
Arcee remained smugly silent, leaving Jack to stare incredulously into her readout screen.
"You three were lucky whatever drone was manning the guns was such a lousy shot."
"It wasn't luck, Jack. We got the impossible done as a team. If not for you, we never would have gotten back."
"I wasn't about to leave you out there." Jack told her. "What I told Prime back there, it was the truth. You can always depend on me."
"I know, Jack." Arcee responded gently. "It's the one thing in this world I'm sure of.
Not sure where to go from there, the pair continued on in silence for the remainder of the drive. En route, Jack tried several times to reach his mother. However, the home phone went to voicemail repeatedly.
At last, Jack voiced his confusion. "Figured she'd be back by now. Her messages made it sound like she was coming back like a rocket."
"Could she have decided to stay with your aunt for a bit longer?" Arcee inquired.
"Maybe. With all that North insanity, I've been afraid to call Barstow." Jack admitted. Checking the screen on the phone, Jack could see it was almost after midnight.
"Well, hope this doesn't make it worse." Jack said, dialing his aunt's number. The number rang several times before a male's sleepy voice answered.
"Hello?" It inquired hesitantly.
"Uncle Mike? Hey, sorry, it's Jack."
"Jack? Where have you been?" His uncle asked sternly. "Your mom's been pretty steamed at you, pal."
"I know. Trust me, I've got good reason…"
"We saw on the news all these stories about the military out in force, looking for terrorists or something. We told your mother everything was fine, but it's been almost a day since she heard from you."
"I know. Look, I'm sorry. Is she there?"
"Yeah." Mike answered. "She was going to leave earlier, but your aunt and I convinced her to wait until at least tomorrow. With everything that was going on out there, we figured maybe it was just phone or cell trouble."
"Yeah, it was…pretty crazy." Was the only response Jack could think of.
One the other end of the phone there were hushed voices. Then one particularly loud voice.
"Jackson Darby!" Came June Darby's none to subtle pronouncement.
"Hey…mom. Look, I know you're mad, but, trust me, it was…"
"Trust you? You tell me to take a trip out here, then you never show and in the meantime I'm here watching the news about some kind of terrorist threat out there and here I'm…"
"Mrs. Darby?" Arcee's voiced suddenly interjected over the line.
"Who is this?" June inquired aggressively.
Nearly falling from her, Jack's was barely able to keep his mouth shut as surprise practically screamed from him as he gazed in shock at Arcee's display.
"This is Special Agent Rebecca Cera with the Department of Homeland Security. I'm sorry for interrupting your conversation, but from the sound of it Mr. Darby wasn't doing the best job of explaining things. If I may?"
There was a moment of tense silence from the opposite end of the connection before Jack's mother asked hesitantly, "Is Jack in trouble?"
"No, Ma'am." Arcee assured the woman, her voice calm and comforting. "Quite the contrary. As you've no doubt seen on the news, we had a fairly major security concern in the area, with the State and Federal agencies working to resolve the issue. Thankfully, it proved to be a false alarm, and your son was a part of helping us come to that conclusion."
As Jack listened, dumbfounded, June Darby's voice took on just a twinge of amazement, and open relief.
"Helpful in what way?" June asked. "He didn't put himself in harm's way, did he?"
"Not in any immediate capacity, but he did help us identify two locals who proved to be responsible for the confusion. They've been taken into custody and, again, we have Jack, and a few of his friends, to thank for that."
"Goodness…" June said, the voice of Jack's aunt audibly asking questions from the other end.
"I know this is all a bit much to take in, Mrs. Darby, and given how late it is I don't want to keep you. Rest assured I'll be having the head of my section contacting you tomorrow, Special Agent William Fowler. I'm sure he'll answer any questions we can answer, and the two of you can discuss the reward the Department would like to present Jack for his assistance."
"Oh, of course." June stammered. "You're really going to give Jack a reward. As in, money, or…?"
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Darby, though I can't give any specifics right now, I promise you I'm very much looking forward to…rewarding Jack for everything he did."
From his perch, Jack's eyes went slightly wide at the implication.
"Of course. Well, I…wow, I feel like I need to sit down. Oh," June said with a laugh. "I am sitting down."
"I'm sure you'd like to speak to Jack. I'll be sure to remind Agent Fowler to contact you first thing tomorrow."
"Yes. Thank you Agent…Cera, was it?"
"Rebecca, please. It was a pleasure to speak with you, Mrs. Darby. Jack's a very amazing person. You should be quite proud."
"Oh, I…I am." June replied quite pleasantly. "Take care, Rebecca."
For a second Jack remained in stunned silence before Arcee flashed her monitor to prod him to speak.
"Oh, uh, Mom?" Jack inquired.
"Jack. I don't know what to say. What to even think." June said slowly. "Sweetheart, why didn't you tell me?"
"I, uh…didn't know how?" Jack ventured. "Honestly, the whole thing still feels unreal to me."
"I can only imagine. Oh, I have so many questions. But, oh sweetie, you must be so tired."
"Yeah, I'm…pretty beat. I just wanted to, I mean, Arcee wanted me to tell you…"
"Arcee?" June asked suddenly.
"Yeah…" Jack answered, fumbling to recover. "Agent Cera. You know, her first name's Rebecca. I was working with her so much I just started calling her R.C. She thought it was funny."
"Jack, try to be more respectful. She sounds like quite a lady, you should act more mature." June said with a laugh.
"Mom." Jack warned.
"Sorry. Oh, Jack, I'm so proud of you. Okay, I'm going to let you get some rest. We'll talk in the morning after I speak with this Agent Fowler."
"Yeah, okay. Talk to you then."
"I love you sweetie." June said proudly.
"Yeah. I love you too, mom." Jack answered.
The line clicked off, and Jack was left with just Arcee and the evening around them as they continued on. Still trying to process what had just happened, he was almost startled to hear Arcee start to laugh.
"How can you think any of that was funny?" Jack asked her. "You really have gone nuts."
"Oh, come on, Jack. That could not have been more perfect. I can send Fowler a message, and he'll cover things on his end. Your mother will never suspect you went toe to toe with the Army."
"That's…" Jack tried to formulate some kind of outrage, but found he couldn't. He knew she was right. "I guess, technically, it's kind of the truth. I mean, I did help uncover a lie, right?"
"Yes. You did." Arcee agreed.
"Mom wouldn't need to know all the details. I'm sure she's just happy I wasn't out getting trashed."
"She sounded pretty happy to me."
"Yeah." Jack observed. Mulling over something, Jack regarded his partner. "So…am I really getting a reward, or was that all smoke and mirrors too?"
Arcee remained silent before see simply said, "We're here."
Looking up Jack belatedly realized that the pair had made it to his home, Arcee already having triggered the garage door. If General North's people had been anywhere near the house Jack, thankfully, could see no evidence of it.
Pulling slowly into the garage, Jack let Arcee settle before slipping off the driver's seat. Removing his helmet, Jack regarded his cell once more.
"Think I should call Miko and Raf? Make sure they got back okay?" He asked Arcee. "Hopefully they made out as well as me. Think Fowler would give them medals too or something?"
Shifting from her vehicle form after shutting the garage door behind them, Arcee answered confidently, "I'm pretty sure. With everything he did to help us, a few…exaggerated phone calls won't be anything excessive."
Setting his helmet down upon the work bench, Jack was contemplative before he turned to Arcee, ready to speak openly about everything that had been weighing heavily upon him, all pretense at humor cast aside.
"Arcee? Look, about…"
Before he could say anything more Arcee had his chin set gently between two of her long, alloyed fingers, and suddenly her larger lips were over his, a sensation like an electric current racing through him. The connection lasted for one long blissful moment before Arcee parted, leaving only a few inches between them, her bright violet blue eyes gleaming into Jacks.
"I love you too." She whispered to him with a small smile.
After a moment, Jack's stunned expression turned. "See, this is why we work."
Alone in his sanctum, what was once the private chambers of Lord Megatron, Starscream gazed out at the large expanse of snow and ice, his mood just as chilly as the landscape. In the wake of the Autobot's assault on the Nemesis, Starscream had been forced to seek refuge in the cold and frigid Alaskan north, setting the ship down on an ice field in the isolated mountains.
With the Nemesis powered down, and it's Energon supply concealed, the command ship would be virtually undetectable even by the few spy satellites which had not been compromised by Soundwave.
Stalking back and forth within the confines of the chamber, Starscream mentally moved about the pieces of the mental chess game he was playing with the Autobots. Word had reached him of Optimus's retrieval, and the renewed relationship with the humans.
Despite the fact that the objective to completely discredit the Autobots had failed, it had none the less achieved the delightful smaller victory of sowing the seeds of doubt among various members of the human Military and it Government.
Far more then before saw Optimus and his team as being as much of a threat as the Decepticons. Slowly, with work, Starscream would continue to erode the strained alliance. Eventually, it would break, and Optimus would be forced to choose between preserving his heroic ideals, and keeping his few remaining Autobots safe.
Soon, Optimus will be so busy battling the humans to protect his flock that neither he nor those pathetic meat-sacks will see me descend upon them both. Lambs for the slaughter.
It had taken a great deal of patience, something to which Starscream had never been proficient at, but soon he would achieve greater heights of success then even Lord Megatron could have dreamed.
I'll wipe this world clean of the Autobots and the last Prime, then the humans. I'll reshape this pathetic backwater planet into a new Decepticon Homeworld, one built in my image. They'll all flock to me, and no one will remember the name Megatron.
Belatedly, Starscream reminded himself to continue persuading, subtly of course, the good Knock Out to discard the empty husk that was Megatron's body once it was prudent. He would have to exercise both patience and caution however. Patience in light of the good scientist's recent…maiming at the hands of the Autobot Arcee.
The caution would be for the sake of keeping the Decepticon Spy-Master, who was still infuriatingly loyal to Megatron, close and on his side. Starscream hoped Knock Out's various experiments bore further fruit. He was eager to no longer be in need of the stealthy saboteur.
In point of fact, one of Knock Outs more recent experiments had proven incredibly successful. It had, in fact, proven instrumental in nearly destroying the Autobot's alliance with the American Government, working in perfect tandem with Makeshift's attack on the research base, the location of which had been gleaned by it. Only one in a great many accomplishments in a relatively short time.
Almost as if his very thoughts had drawn Starscream's most valuable pawn to him, the doors to the sanctum opened, spilling light from the corridor beyond. Seeing his creation's visage in the glass of the observation window, Starscream felt what could almost be considered paternal pride.
"You've done well." Starscream told the figure. "What a pity you were forced to sacrifice your position with their pathetic military so soon. Perhaps you'll do better at politics."
Turning fully about, Starscream regarded William North as the man stepped fully into the chamber, his face as full of malice as it had been in the presence of the Autobots.
"What a disgusting face." Starscream observed.
Perhaps taking that as an order, the being that was, to so many, William North seemed to evaporate, his skin shifting and flowing like tiny panels until there was no longer a man standing there, but a mockery of humanity that was pure Decepticon.
"Ah. That's much better." Starscream crooned. "Now, tell me everything. Pretender."