Author's Note: In addition to my usual gratitude for my collaborators and betas Darthishtar and kateydidnt, a special thanks goes out to Anodythe and IronRaven for their help as this civilian author makes a foray into the mind of a quintessential soldier. (For IronRaven's sanity, I shall here point out that a "sabot" is not in fact a projectile but rather a specialized method of firing one. We lay the blame for this technical error at Bay's feet, knowing it is not the first nor likely to be the last of his AU on reality. *sigh*) :)
Hope you enjoy!
The lights flickered – not a good sign. We were in the Hoover Dam vault where the Sector Seven nutjobs in lab coats experimented with the freaky-machine cell phones.
"Gentlemen," Defense Secretary Keller announced. "They know the Cube is here."
Of course they did – they could hack anything, learn any secret. The 'how' of the situation evaporated and 'what' became the operative question. What were our assets?
"Banachek," the man identified himself as he punched an intercom button. "What's going on?"
The voice on the other end trembled with panic. "The NBE-1 hangar has lost power and the back-up generator is just not going to cut it."
No help there – most of the men here were civilians. Stepping closer to the intercom so they could both hear me, I asked Banachek, "Do you have an arms room?"
They did. We followed Simmons and Banachek at a run, and I analyzed the situation. We were surrounded by liabilities – civilians – in close-quarter combat with I didn't know how many thousands of tons of concrete above us. One NBE on the roof and another melting down the hall – and that monster was the one the boy had called the 'harbinger of death.' Not encouraging.
I briefly wondered about the boy as we rounded a corner and I had to steady the brunette in high heels to keep her from crashing into me. Why was he here? Why this girl and the blonde and the geek? Civilians, I decided, but not liabilities. They were here because Simmons at least considered them useful somehow. I doubted any of them could handle a gun much less shoot straight, but they knew stuff the rest of us didn't. I pigeonholed them as assets, too.
Considering we had Megatron breaking free next door, the arms room wasn't much, but it could have been worse. They had sabot rounds and a couple of Chenoworths with TOW carriers – at least I hadsomething I could work with. Defending the Cube, driving off Megatron seemed an impossible task, but I'd survived years of active combat duty before escaping Soccent. Ever present, in the back of my mind, I knew a soft, gentle woman and the biggest miracle of my entire life were waiting for me. I would get home to Sarah and Annabelle, even if it meant going over Megatron's dead body. Somehow.
I was proud of my team – we prepped as smoothly and efficiently as ever, even though the Secretary of Defense was pacing and sweating bullets in the corner. The lights flickered again, and this time the crash was an echoing clang instead of distant heavy-weapons fire. Closer. We all froze with dread, listening to see if Megatron was loose yet.
Sam broke out of the shock first, striding over to Simmons. "You gotta take me to my car," he babbled, saying something about knowing what to do with the Cube.
"Your car?" Simmons snarkily answered, "It's confiscated."
"Then unconfiscate it."
Simmons started freaking out and arguing with the kid, and sudden fury hit me. Sam was an asset and Simmons was throwing that advantage away! Didn't the idiot see we needed every edge we could get? Give the kid his car back if it meant he'd help us! Give him the whole damn dealership!
When Simmons started ranting about lives being on the line, I lost it. I knew what it was like to have lives riding on your decisions – Simmons didn't have a clue. "Give the kid his car," I growled, stepping in and breaking up the argument.
Guns were drawn, and my mind was sharp and cold as a knife, slicing the world into two halves: enemy and ally. My sidearm was aimed at the man pointing his rifle at me without me consciously drawing it. "Drop it!" I ordered him.
In the back of my mind, I registered the sounds of my team subduing the rest of the enemies. A mental all-clear sounded when I realized my allies were the only ones with weapons still drawn, the only exception being the wide-eyed and terrified kid on the other end of a SIG he'd probably never pointed at another human being. He wouldn't pull the trigger on me. Probably.
"There's an alien war out there and you're going to shoot me?" Simmons demanded.
"No, we didn't ask to be here!" I snarled back. Sarah. Annabelle.
"I'm ordering you under S-7 executive jurisdiction –"
"S-7 don't exist," Epps snapped.
He had my back – always did. "Right, and we don't take orders from people who don't exist."
"I'm going to count to five," Simmons warned.
"I'm going to count to three," I countered, feeling just how stupid this whole thing was. Putting the barrel of my sidearm against his chest, I called his bluff. He didn't have the guts to do what needed doing. I did.
"Simmons," Secretary Keller piped up then.
"I'd do what he says. Losing's really not an option for these guys."
His gaze bounced from me to the Secretary and back a couple of times before he finally said, "Alright. Okay. Hey, you want to lay the fate of the world on the kid's Camaro? That's cool."
I let him go and then gestured at Banachek. "Do it."
He nodded and left the room at a run, Sam on his heels. My team and I were right behind them. They burst into another vault where clouds of steam were rising off of some yellow device. Banachek and the kid shouted for everyone to stop, and I realized two things simultaneously – that was cold, not hot, air and that device was another NBE.
"You okay?" Sam asked the machine. His Camaro.
My stomach fell to my shoes. That's what Simmons meant!
It turned its head to look at him and the boy added, "They didn't hurt you, right?"
The Camaro rolled to his side, and something about the tone of his voice made me think that Banachek's mad scientists had done just that. It transformed something in its arm, warming up some kind of energy weapon, and pointed it randomly around the room. Sam stood point blank – close enough to feel the heat pouring from that weapon – and didn't even flinch.
I knew squat about aliens, but I knew defensive maneuvers when I saw them. This machine felt threatened by us.
"Listen," Sam went on, "the Cube is here and the Decepticons are coming."
He sat up the rest of the way, still defensively covering us, and Sam waved us back, completely calm and in control. An asset. "No, no, don't worry about them. They're okay, right?" He glanced back at me, anxiously reading my face, before telling the machine, "They're not going to hurt you."
To Simmons and Banachek, he said, "Back up a little bit. He's friendly. He's fine." Because he didn't trust Simmons to not do something stupid.
Tensing a little, the boy told his Camaro "Okay, put the guns down. They're not going to hurt you. Come on, I'm going to take you to the All Spark."
And this alien who'd been tortured by us puny humans put away his weapons and followed the boy.
We made way for them both, and Sam didn't even have to lead the way for his Camaro to find the Cube. As I followed, I tried to figure out how to pidgeonhole the yellow NBE. Asset? Yes. After seeing his cannon, I'd definitely classify him as an asset. Sam trusted him without question, and Sam knew more about these aliens than anyone else. If the kid asked his Camaro to fight, he would.
Ally? Did I trust him enough to turn my back – to let an NBE have my back? The Camaro wanted to keep the Cube out of Decepticon hands, which was my first objective as well. The proverb had often proved true: the enemy of my enemy is my brother. The NBE trusted Sam and even seemed at ease here among us humans who were loaded for bear (or for aliens) and had hurt him. Besides, I didn't really have thatmuch of a choice. As the yellow Camaro placed his hands on either side of the corner of the Cube, I tentatively categorized him as an ally.
The monumental cube began transforming, and fierce hope quickly chased out my awe at the sight. We could hide it from Megatron. We could take it away from here. We had a fighting chance again! A plan began forming in my head.
"Message from Starfleet, captain…let's get to it!" the NBE quoted.
Definitely an ally. "He's right. We stay here we're screwed with Megatron in the other hangar. Mission City is 22 miles away. We're going to sneak that cube out of here and we're going to hide it there in the city."
"Good!" Secretary Keller exclaimed. "Right!"
I could see the scenario playing out as I spoke, and the pieces continued to fall into place. "But we cannot make a stand without the Air Force." We'd never be able to stay a step ahead of the Decepticons if we were limited to ground transport.
Secretary Keller was all over that, and I handed off that part of the mission to him, only vaguely wondering when the hellI started giving orders to the Secretary of Defense. How screwed up was that!
But the strategy continued to unfold in my mind, and my feet carried me toward the Chenoworths even as I kept calling out orders. "Alright, Sam, get in the car. Mr. Secretary, get our birds in the air and when we get to the city, I'll have Epps vector them in, okay?" From there, once Sam and the Cube were airborne and whisked away to safety, someone higher up could take responsibility for their safety. I just needed to get them there.
The kid who'd pointed the SIG at me called back, "Affirmative!"
I was in full battle mode, then, running for the Chenoworths. "Set up a perimeter around the yellow vehicle. Epps, McCombs, you're with me. Salani, you take Drake and Jacobsen. Everybody else, take a sabot launcher and follow in that pickup." The rest we'd have to figure out as we went.
As soon as we were on the open road, though, the Camaro pulled ahead, refusing to let us provide a defensive escort. At first I thought he was ditching us – that he didn't trust a bunch of humans with TOW missiles and sabots. But he drove slowly enough that we could keep pace with him, and I realized he wanted to take point. He was in charge here, he was saying almost as clearly as if we were talking face-to-face, and we were just there as back up.
"Alright, then," I muttered under my breath to him. "You know best how to fight your own kind."
The furious thrumming of the Chenoworth's engine and the rush of the wind beat on me, and I anxiously watched both the road and the sky. There was no telling when the enemy might find us or what form they might take.
When a fiery semi with no driver crested the hill in front of us, my heart leaped to my throat. Three more vehicles followed – four enemies!
But the Camaro slowed slightly, not stopping to fight and not racing ahead to evade them like I expected. Why not?
The semi did a cookie, with the other three vehicles following suit, and fell in behind us. The lightest one, a small silver sports car, flew past us and took point in front of the Camaro. Boxing in the yellow one or protecting him? A monster of a black pickup muscled in between me and the Camaro, and I gritted my teeth. Ally or enemy?
"Sir?" McCombs anxiously demanded from his post behind the TOW launcher.
"Hold your fire," I answered, scrutinizing the NBEs that now surrounded us. They pretty much ignored us, taking up protective positions around the yellow one. And he was letting them. These were hissuperiors. "Allies," I announced. "THESE GUYS ARE FRIENDLIES! DON'T SHOOT!"
"What are ya thinking?" Epps asked, his voice barely louder than the wind.
"Trying to peg these new assets," I answered glancing in the rear-view mirror. "The semi was in the lead and now he's bringing up the rear. The danger is chasing us, and he's putting himself between us and it."
"He's the biggest, too," Epps agreed. "Their heaviest hitter."
"The little one was second in line when they were coming up on us, and now he's up front with the yellow one."
"Commanding officer?" Epps guessed.
"That's what I'm thinking."
"The Search and Rescue is a no brainer," Epps continued. "Though I would have expected a medic to be closer to the middle – more outta harm's way."
I glanced back at the Hummer in my mirror. "Maybe he's a fighter – do robots even need medics? Medics would probably be tow-trucks with these guys."
Epps shrugged. "They're aliens. For all we know, the yellow one is the guy in charge."
And I snorted because he was absolutely right. Still, the positions they took up, the roles they seemed to be taking, made a lot of sense to me. Biggest guy between the precious cargo and danger. Fastest one clearing a path. Whatever the Hummer was – medic or part of the brute squad – hanging back to help fend off whatever might come up from behind, and the truck…
"Ten bucks says the truck is a discipline problem," Epps said.
"Or a good NCO."
"Or both," Epps smirked.
The pickup was an in-your-face design for a human to be driving, much less an alien robot, and then I imagined the kind of firepower that could be concealed under those enormous black panels. "One way or the other, he's going to be their second-heaviest hitter. If the enemy comes at us from behind, I'm betting the little one, Yellow, and the truck will go on ahead. And they won't know how to signal the Air Force without us." We needed to stay with the precious cargo, though in terms of allocating assets, it would probably make more sense for us to make a stand with the semi and Hummer. Again, I just had to trust that these guys knew best how to fight their own kind.
The two-lane road we were on merged onto the interstate and we flew down the highway, tearing over the blacktop. I idly wondered what most people would think of our unconventional convoy passing them.
The wail of sirens had me shaking my head in disbelief. Was the highway patrol reallystupid enough to pull over a military vehicle with a missile launcher? But when I glanced back in the mirror, I cussed out loud. "What's a Buffalo doing on the interstate?"
Epps twisted in his seat to see the MVP and let fly a few choice words of his own. "The claw on that thing – it's like five times bigger than it should be!"
"Decepticon," I concluded.
The semi slowed down, and the Hummer and truck closed rank.
"They're leaving the big guy to fight on his own," Epps said in surprise. "A civilian against military?"
"They know their own team's strengths," I pointed out, still driving hard. An explosion flashed behind me, and I caught sight of something reflecting the sun as it tumbled off the highway bridge.
There went our biggest asset. One way or another, the semi was out of this mission.
Looking from the Camaro and the silver sports car in front to the Hummer and the pickup behind, I muttered, "Alright guys, what else ya got for me?" Unless they had some massive firepower I didn't know about, all four of them together wouldn't be enough to take on Megatron.
I narrowed my eyes at the silver one. He was the one in command now, if I was reading them right. He was the linchpin. If they were going to work with me, provide support, help us accomplish our objective of evacuating the Cube, it would be because of him. I briefly wished it was the Camaro in charge. He and Sam had an understanding of some kind, but I had no idea what the silver one would do.
We passed the first couple of exits for Mission City when the Camaro and the silver one suddenly broke rank and slowed down, falling in behind us. Epps shifted in his seat, searching the sky, and I nervously checked the rear-view mirror. All four of the NBEs were in a single lane behind us now – the silver one, the Camaro, the Hummer and the pickup. I marginally relaxed when I didn't see anything out of the ordinary (or more out of the ordinary than four alien robots following us like little ducks in a row).
"Why are we point now?" Epps demanded.
"Because the city is our territory," I realized. The silver one had got us safely here and was putting the operation in my hands again, letting me take the lead. He would work with me – we were going to pull this off! To Epps, I said, "First order of business is communication." Putting on my blinker, I led myteam – both humans and robots – downtown.
Jazz. I didn't find out until after he was dead that his name was Jazz. I'd known him for half an hour, and he died for me. One of my men (because you could call 'em NBEs or aliens or Autobots or whatever, but when they followed me into Mission City, they became my men) was dead, and we honored him the way we honored any of my men who fell on the field of battle.
Once the dust started to settle, I'd learned the rest of their names, too – Ratchet, Bumblebee, Ironhide, and Optimus Prime. Really, it was just a formality, though. I knew them all before we left the interstate. We'd already made our introductions.