Transformers Prime: Lost, But Found
The silence seemed to go on forever as Jack lay in the damp confines of the defunct pipe. It was difficult, between the haze of pain fogging his head and the still pervasive presence of night outside, to know how long he had been lying there in the wake of the attempt on his life within the makeshift area beyond.
His attacker, clearly not the Decepticon Airachnid, had left him to the mercy of the aerial killer device Arcee had called a Hack. That miniature death dealer had long since seemingly come to a stop somewhere among the makeshift walls and debris outside, likely lodging itself within some think piece of steel or stone even it could not sheer through.
Or so Jack hoped.
Body protesting, fiercely so, against movement, Jack at last managed to pull himself around enough to peer out of the small breach in the pipe's length. His captor had witnessed Jack's escape from death by evisceration, but had opted to leave the teen where he lay for the sake of another agenda. One which, Jack knew beyond doubt, involved Arcee.
Who this being was Jack could not begin to deduce. Though it was clear he was of Cybertronian origin, given his use of the Hack drones and metal shards taken from alien materials, it was yet unclear as to whether or not they were allied with the Decepticons or were working at this themselves. Airachnid had once served the Decepticons before going into business, as it were, for herself. It would figure that she would not be the only one of her kind to take that route.
Whoever it was appeared determined to make Jack pay with his life for some unknown slight. In the interim, Arcee was being held to await some unknown fate of her own. Jack did not intend to lie idle while that occurred. Jack wasn't arrogant enough to believe he stood a chance against this new Cybertronian terror anymore then he did against Airachnid. However, even without their Cybernetic strength or even intellect, Jack was not to be underestimated. Though he hoped, for both his and Arcee's sake, whoever their enemy was had, in fact, done so.
Taking a breath, steeling himself for anymore waiting perils, Jack pulled himself from the pipe's interior. As far as he could tell, he was alone. The spotlight which had set it's sites on him remained locked on his former hiding place as he made his way, carefully, and painfully, across the open ground, ears strained for any indication of the telltale whine of the drone.
Even after several moments, there was nothing. Jack mulled over whether or not to attempt to verbally coax his hunter out from possible hiding, but just as quickly decided against it. If his captor had truly left him, confident that the human had no where to go with the mine entrance blasted closed and a wall of welded cars and other materials on all sides, Jack had a window of opportunity he knew was closing fast. Despite the physical agony he was in, Jack was determined not to waste anymore time. Things were coming to a head. He could feel it. He had to find Arcee.
Taking further stock of his surroundings, Jack quickly began to search for anything that might be of use, perhaps something the Cybertronian had seen as useless from his perspective, but something that was, in fact, quite the opposite for Jack. Scattered around the arena were the same woodpiles and other stacks of abandoned materials as before. Closer inspections revealed nothing new. Trying to keep his growing frustration from getting the better of him, Jack, after a thought, moved to the wall of welded metal. Though it had been assembled makeshift from steel and iron scraps, sheeting, beams and even stripped vehicles, the wall proved studier then one might wager at first glance. Whoever his enemy was, they had taken their time assembling their murder ground.
Jack was neck deep in the wheel housing of a former pick-up when a new sound broke the silence. Something was coming, something with heavy footfalls, overland beyond the confines of the wall. From the rapid, if uneven, pace, it was coming fast. Jack wasn't in need of a blaring announcement to know his captor was returning, and with purpose.
"Scrap." He breathed. "Come on, Jack. Think."
The footfalls growing ever louder, Jack could feel his heart rate skyrocket, his emotions somewhere between fear and anger over his inability to deliver himself from his confinement for both his and Arcee's sake. Teeth clenched, Jack began pulling at the welding before him in desperation.
"We thought you were made of stronger stuff then that…" Came a voice from above. The footfalls had ceased, and now his enemy was revealed.
Stepping from the wall's top most tier, the Cybertronian dropped with a earth rattling impact to the arena floor. Seen fully in the glare from the still active spotlight, Jack beheld the thing which had come to kill him. Though it had clearly once been of the same species as Arcee, Prime and all the others, the Cybernetic being was barely recognizable as either Autobot or Decepticon. In point of fact, the creature looked like a twisted simulacrum of both.
With a face cut through with jagged lines, it's metal plates and alloyed limbs nearly broken or crudely mended, the Cybertronian was a veritable Frankenstein. Had Jack not been faced with the looming prospect of his imminent death, he none the less would have been terrified by the site.
Knowing that terror would do him little good, Jack tried to bury the fear welling up in him. Trying to spot a means of escape in his peripheral vision, Jack appeared to keep his focus on the twisted hulk.
"What have you done with Arcee?" Jack demanded. "If this is about me, then settle it. But let her go."
For a moment the monstrosity just seemed to peer down at him, even into him, trying to discern something Jack could only guess at. Then it laughed, a sound as retched as it's appearance.
"We see why she loves you as she did us. So similar. So much alike." The creature's face seemed, for a moment, almost sad. "Another time, another place, we think…we would have liked you, boy. But…too much lost. Too much taken from us. Time to…balance it all out…" Then the monster's eyes seemed to change, and it was something else altogether gazing down at him. Then it roared, a sound like a thousand tormented souls, and the broken creature was charging, twisted hands reaching out for him.
Jack did the only thing he could. He ran.
Had Arcee been human, she knew her tears would have flown freely as she struggled at her shackles, beating the magnetic restraints and their bindings against the stone of the chamber floor and walls, screaming her anguish and frustration at the near empty space.
Only a short time has passed since Cliff, or, rather, the monster that had once been Cliffjumper, had left her to seek out an imprisoned Jack. To kill him. Arcee could not recall any other time she had felt so powerless save for when she had watched Airachnid murder a partner and brother in arms during the early days of the War.
Then, as she was now, she had been bound, unable to strike back to save a friend. Now, it wasn't merely her partner that was in danger, but her love, her soul mate. Across a hundred lifetimes and across a thousand, thousand stars she knew she would never find another.
'And he might already be dead.'
The sheer notion of it was almost enough to plunge her into the same madness that has consumed Cliffjumper. Which, a part of her mind noted, was the point. Her former partner, cast into an abyss first by Dark Energon and then by empty revenge, wanted her to share in what he believed had been done to him by those he trusted most. Arcee knew, beyond doubt, that if he succeeded in killing Jack, she would very well become just as empty, just as monstrous.
'No…no. I won't…let that happen.'
As she continued to fight against her shackles, Arcee looked frantically about for something, anything, that might be of use. The chamber, however, was nearly bare save for the floodlights.
"Floodlights…" She said aloud. The lights were of human make, not Cybertronian. Which meant they had to have a power source. Shifting her body, Arcee looked for the cords running from the lights. Sure enough, she spotted them, running the length of the chamber. The cords ran the periphery of the stone room and out, beneath the steel door that would have kept her, possibly, locked in even without being bound. It was clear, even in his shattered state, Cliff had not been willing to take that chance.
'Cliff…it really isn't you anymore, is it." She thought. Her true former partner would have seen the opportunity, even if the current one did not. Going flat to the ground, Arcee worked her way, sliding and shimming as best she could, along the earthen floor towards the door and the cables. Coming, at last, to a rest beside both, Arcee knew the next part would be tricky.
The Magnetic restraints not only kept her limbs locked in place, but also locked out the use of her weapons. She needed her blades; however, without them, she would have to improvise. Thankfully, her blades were not the only sharp contours she had on her person. Something Jack had once pointed out, much to her chagrin, during one of the few quiet moments they had shared in recent months.
Shifting to her side, Arcee angled the sharp ending of her forearm's gauntlet plating. Believing she had the right position, Arcee smashed the sharp point against the cable. The housing on the massive bundle dented, but failed to split. She repeated the action, conscious of the noise the sound was making each time her attempt missed, striking the stone instead. Unperturbed, Arcee persisted. Again and again. Fearing that the cable would prove too resilient Arcee gave one last frantic stab down with a yell, and nearly rolled away instinctively when the cable split with a shower of sparks. Nearby, one of the lighting rigs went dark as it's power supply cut out. Thankfully, three more remained. Arcee would not have to attempt what she planed by Night Vision optics alone.
With the cabling cut, Arcee set to work on a second cord, knowing every second spent was another moment Jack was at the mercy of the twisted shade of Cliffjumper. It took less time to cut another cable, and at last Arcee had what she needed. Though it was an awkward attempt, to be sure, Arcee took hold of the two cables that, though cut, were still connected on one side to the generator outside the chamber. Each cord held a few hundred volts. Even combined they might not prove enough for what she was about to attempt. There was also the chance they would prove too much for what she intended. If it proved to be the later, as opposed to the former, then she could very well overload her Positronic systems, rendering her unconscious. Jack, however, could not afford for her not to take that risk.
'Hold on Jack. Please.' Arcee thought as a silent prayer.
Taking a beat, Arcee touched the magnetic cuffs to the exposed wiring of the cables, eyes shut against what might come next. After a moment nothing happened. Arcee felt a curse welling up in her throat when suddenly every light in the room blew with a pop and acrid smoke, followed by a small explosion out in the hall beyond. Arcee felt icy tendrils of electric current course thorough her. Then, just as quickly as it had come, it was over. Left in darkness, it took Arcee a moment to work through the disorientation and activate her NV-Mode.
Instantly the room's walls and steel door where visible. Smoke filled the chamber from the blown lights and a dim fire light was just barely visible from the under the door. Arcee's gaze drifted to her limbs and she was filled with the sudden desire to shout out. The Magnetic shackles were breached, their housing's blown by the feedback charge. With a pull of not even half her strength Arcee broke the restraints apart. Gathering herself together, Arcee stood to face the door.
"I'm coming, Jack."
"Where do you think you're going to go, human? There is no escaping us. We will have balance. Eye…for an eye…"
Somehow, despite his condition, Jack had managed to avoid the onslaught of destruction the twisted Cybertronian had wrought down on him in the ensuing melee after he had charged. It seemed the monstrous hulk was without energy weapons, perhaps a byproduct of his mangled limbs. The end result was a use of brute force and armored fists, smashing his way around the arena.
The only thing which has saved Jack thus far was the creature's inability to move quickly, his speed hindered by an uneven gait. Jack came to realize that his Frankenstein analogy was spot on. The demented Cybertronian was indeed composed of different parts, some of them Autobot, others Decepticon.
Jack wondered if this enemy wasn't some experiment set loose by Knockout. Arcee had spoken to Jack of the lab aboard the Decepticon flagship. It was possible the Cybertronian narcissistic Mengele might have created the thing as some mockery towards his enemies, Arcee being among them. However, that didn't quite explain the creature's obsession with seeing Jack dead.
'If I live through this, I'll be sure to send him an email asking for the details…' Jack mused sardonically, hunkered down behind the crumbled remains of several steel beams. Less then a yard away, the Auto-con mix match lumbered, searching for his target, speaking to whomever it was that appeared to be along for the ride in the creature's mind. It wouldn't take long for it to spot Jack, and there was no where left to fall back to.
'Come on, Jack. Can't end this way.' Jack could feel the cold hands of death closing in around him. However, it wasn't dread he felt in that moment, instead it was anger. Not for his enemy, but rather at himself. If he died, it meant he had failed everyone, Arcee most of all.
Somewhere, she might have still been at the mercy of the twisted monster now bearing down upon him. With the Autobots unaware of what had befallen them that night, no one would be there to help her, and Jack did not want to dwell on whatever fate awaited her once he was deposed of.
Though fury filled him at the thought, there was some measure of sadness. He loved Arcee, of that there was no question in his mind or his heart. It was painfully ironic that he had spent so much time obsessing over the affection of girls like Sierra, trying so hard to be the kind of popular guy she would want. Never once had he imagined that the girl, or, rather, the woman, meant for him was, literally, a million light-years away. And was from an entirely different race of beings. Then, against all cosmic odds, they had found each other.
And now, seemingly thanks to those same odds, he was about to be separated from her forever by a Cybernetic walking jigsaw puzzle. Less then 24 hours ago, Jack mused, he had planned for him and Arcee to be alone, laying out under the stars and the moonlight of the desert…
"Moonlight?" Jack said suddenly aloud. Somehow the thought turned his attention towards the nearest rim of the ramshackle wall. Much like the lumbering psychotic, less then a yard from his cover was the cab of a truck, smashed and pressed into the gap between a series of massive welded plates. What drew Jack's eye wasn't the truck itself, but that the glare from the moon, now low in the sky as the morning fast approached, was coming through it.
"No way…" Jack observed, his hope almost desperate. Feeling the broken hulk almost upon him, Jack took in one last deep breath through the fire in his chest before stumbling forward towards the truck and the small shaft of light.
"There you are. Time to finish this…"
"Don't think so, freak-show." Jack responded through gritted teeth, uncaring of whether or not the words reached the monstrosity. Coming up to the truck cab, Jack could see that the light was coming down through what had once been the engine block housing, now devoid of anything…and also horribly warped from the crush it has endured to fit the wall. The gap through the housing, however, was almost Miko sized.
"Figures…" Jack muttered bitterly. However, if the hole was his only escape, Jack would add dislocation to his list of injuries if he had to. Without hesitation, Jack clamored up into the remnants of the cab.
"What are you…?" The deformed Cybertronian called out. "No…No!"
Then the thing was moving, faster then it seemed possible, spurned on by whatever hatred had brought it this far. Jack, for his part, now had all the encouragement he needed to push his way through. Already wedged, he wondered if the task was impossible, but did not relent.
With his ribs screaming, the fractures and break growing only worse, Jack fought and struggled through the blinding pain, a cry forming on his lips as he inched through the gap. Suddenly the world was tearing metal and a crash of steel on steel as the patchwork thing smashed into the makeshift wall, twisted fingers trying to rip at it's own construct to reach him, bellowing it's tormented scream as it did so.
"Can't…escape…have to…have balance!" Again and again the creature smashed against the wall, lost to it's rage. "Jaaack! Jaaack!"
Pushed to the edge of consciousness by the pain in his chest, Jack's fingers at last found purchase on the opposite side of the gap. Jack pulled himself up and through, tipping over the edge of the hole and down to the desert floor only a few feet below. The fall might as well have been two stories up. The moment Jack's body hit earth, the second of his fractured ribs gave with an audible crack. This time, it was Jack's turn to scream.
Even through the heavy veil of agony, Jack was still keenly aware that he was not out of danger, not even remotely. Though the thing still in the arena was temporarily lost to blinding rage, it wouldn't take long for it to realize that it was hardly trapped. He had to get moving.
Jack pushed himself up, taking in the area beyond the arena for the first time. Amazingly, he had not been taken as far as he had feared from where both he and Arcee had been mere hours before. In the near distance was the mining town, and closer then that was…
"The power station." Jack croaked aloud. He and Arcee had planned to make for the structure before they had been ambushed and separated, hoping to use it as cover to get beyond the town and back out into the desert. If he was able to make it, there might have been the chance that the station had a Land-Line of some kind, perhaps for emergencies. It was a long shot, but the night had been survived by one long shot after another. At this point, Jack figured he was damn near an expert.
Struggling to remain conscious, Jack stumbled for the station, the abomination's screams of rage still at his back.
Arcee, after several wrong turns and one dead end, had finally emerged from the abandoned mines and into the late night, soon to be pre-dawn morning judging by the color of the horizon. Only a few yards away was the outskirts of the mining town. Almost instantly, she was on the move. Though her damaged systems prevented her from shifting into vehicle-mode, she was still quick footed. It didn't take long to make her way back through the town, weapons drawn.
Though her energy levels were still low, she had stored enough in the time since she had come to after Jack's removal of the sliver in her chest for one or two good shots. After that, she was stuck using her blades. Though a part of her felt tormented over the idea of cutting down what was left of Cliffjumper, for what her former partner had wrought thus far Arcee would do what was required to see things come to an end, once and for all.
Clearing the town, Arcee scanned for any sign of Jack. She reminded herself that if both she and her love survived the next hour or so, and they were able to return home, she would insist Ratchet find a non-painful means of inserting com devices into their human charges.
Coming out onto the spot where Cliff had blown out the desert floor from under them, Arcee cleared the breach and began making a beeline for the power station when she spotted a small silhouette moving along open ground beyond the far side of the structure. It took her optics a moment to convince her of what she was seeing.
"Jack?" Arcee cried out. At her call the figure stopped, looking towards her. Even from this distance, she could see the teen was in a bad way, barely able to stand. "Jack! Stay there!" She called to him, setting out towards him in a sprint. She had cleared several yards before she realized that Jack was waving his arms, trying to warn her of something. It was only then that she noticed the walled construct not far from where Jack continued to stumble forward. It was also then that she could hear the smash of metal and the screams of something completely soulless.
"Jack!" Arcee shouted, pushing herself forward. She had managed another few yards before the walled construct gave it's last long shriek, the makeshift barrier giving way under the onslaught it was enduring. From the wreckage emerged Cliff and the twisted thing he had become. Even from her distance, Arcee could see that whatever control the monster had was gone completely. As if to confirm this, Cliff let loose a wail so devoid of anything sentient it was almost enough to still the spark in Arcee's chest. Then he was barreling forward, straight for the crumbled form that was Jack.
"No!" Arcee screamed. "Don't touch him!" Moving fast, Arcee was past the power station, then Jack, her canon's firing the few shots she had remaining. Three blasts arched out towards the twisted husk that had been Cliffjumper. Two shots screamed overhead, but one caught the former Autobot across what remained of his face. Cliff's shrieks of rage were replaced by those of pain as he grabbed for his now burning visage. Following through Arcee brought out her blades, leaping forward, angling her swords for a killing blow that would separate Cliff's head from his shoulders.
Though Cliff's soul might have been lost, his broken mind, however, still retained some measure of the warrior he had once been. Recovering from Arcee's energy blasts, Cliff pulled back from the strike, bringing a warped fist around to catch Arcee across the chin. The strength behind the hit was more then even Cliff had once possessed. The strength of more then one Cybertronian in a single shell. Arcee was spun about by the blow, her cranial components rattled.
Trying to focus, Arcee brought her blades and arms up to a guard position, trying to protect vital systems still damaged from the ambush hours before. Her guard caught Cliff's follow up strike, but her fallen comrade easily countered, anticipating her stances. It was only then that a part of Arcee's mind realized her great disadvantage. Across hundreds of battles, Cliff had seen Arcee grow as a fighter, seen her strengths and her weaknesses. Even if the Autobot she had once loved was gone, those memories were still there. It was clear he planned to put them to use.
Despite the odds against her, Arcee fought, keeping herself as a barrier between what remained of Cliff and Jack's semi-conscious form. All the while, Cliff continued to reign blows, trying to beat her into submission. Arcee knew she would not be able to stand against him for too much longer.
"Jack! Jack, listen to…me! You have to get up!" Arcee called out to her charge. "Jack! Get on your feet!"
Hearing her calling out to him, Jack groaned, his one eye fluttering open, trying to shake off the agony that threatened to pull him back down into unconsciousness.
"Jack!" Arcee cried out once more.
"Arcee?" Jack called back, turning to find her engaged in battle against the abomination that wanted to kill him.
"Jack…get to the…station!" Arcee yelled, trying to deflect the powerful blows coming at her. "Go!"
Fighting to get to his feet, Jack staggered once more towards the dilapidated structure, hoping to find something within to aide them. At his back, the creature roared his fury at seeing his quarry on his feet and on the move yet again.
"You'll watch me…kill him…then you'll…know…then you'll know!" It screamed.
"You won't hurt him…Cliff! Ever again!" Arcee cried, the ferocity of her attacks renewed.
That brought Jack up short. "Cliff?" He asked aloud. Turning about, Jack beheld the monstrous form, trying to see it, to really see it, for the first time. "No…it can't be…" Jack's mind conjured up the image Arcee had once shown him, of an Autobot who had once been special to her, almost as much as he now was, one she had lost before they had met. "Cliffjumper?"
"Jack! Go!" Arcee screamed.
Her command enough to snap him out of his startling realization, Jack turned his back to the fight, making for the chain link fence which was meant to keep out unauthorized personnel. Though Jack was as unauthorized as they got, the teen figured the state's power company would make the exception, given the circumstances. Finding a break in the fence, Jack was through, silently praying that the building's doors weren't impossibly locked. Coming up to the main double doors, Jack was rewarded as they gave way with a loud screech of long rusted hinges.
Stepping inside, Jack was greeted by the dark interior. Barely able to see, he stumbled inside, knowing that if there was a Landline still connected it would be in some kind of office space. Not more then a few feet from the doors Jack could make out a rusted stairwell, one which led up to a room on the second level above the inactive generator turbines.
Head swimming, Jack stumbled for the stairs. He had made it less then half way up before a sound like a wrecking ball filled the space, just before two massive figures crashed through the concrete walls at the base of the stairs, tearing the first section away and nearly knocking Jack over the rail.
Catching himself, Jack remained on his feet, watching as the two figures threw themselves away from one another, only to merge once more in a hail of blades and fists. Jack couldn't tell who was winning, but knew he still had to find the Landline. Jack ascended what now remained of the stairway, getting to the top as the fight down below only seemed to grow ever more frantic.
The structure at the top of the stairway proved to not be an office, but the power station's control room. Jack looked about the dark space for anything that resembled a phone or radio. There was nothing, save for the dials, switches, and levers on the control board in front of him.
Jack suddenly had an idea, one that likely wouldn't work, but it was all he could think to do.
In the time he had been with the Autobots he had watched Ratchet work the controls for the various consoles and stations in the silo's man hub, and though Raf had a better understanding of all of it then he did, Jack none the less had a fairly decent memory.
Jack began flipping switches and turning dials, watching for any telltale sigh of life.
Turning a dial, Jack was rewarded with the sudden glow of a red light, beneath which was stenciled 'Generator Start.' Fingers crossed, Jack depressed the decayed rubber button beneath the faded letters. At once a low rumble filled the space, followed by the screeching whine of the massive turbines coming to long absent life in the main room beyond. Before him, various status lights glowed, readouts showing which turbines where now pouring power back into the mining town's grid.
Behind Jack, dust covered windows he had not taken notice of before were filled with dull illumination. Lurching towards them, Jack cleared the dust and grim away and beheld the brilliant lights of the abandoned town shining in the pre-dawn darkness. If the other Autobots or the Task Force where out searching for him and Arcee, Jack prayed he had just lit a significant torch for them to spot in the Nevada desert.
An echoing crash, and Arcee's painful cry, drew Jack about. Staggering towards the door, the teen could see Arcee now sprawled out on the concrete floor of the turbine room, hand clenched firmly to her chest, the armor there visibly bend inward. Jack recalled Arcee's wound, and the Spark Chamber which had almost been punctured by shrapnel laden explosives Cliff had set in place to kill him.
Looming above her was the twisted former Autobot, fists raised for a killing blow.
"Didn't want…to hurt you. Forced us…you've forced…us. But we'll…bring you back…make you like us. He'll die and we'll…have you."
"No you won't you cross-wired son of bitch!" Jack screamed from the stairway. The warped Cliffjumper spun on him.
"Kill you…first!" He roared, stomping forward towards the cornered teen.
Watching her fallen comrade tear towards her love, Arcee tried to get to her feet, desperate to stop him. Cliff's final blow, however, had breached the already damaged conduits leading to her Spark-Chamber. Already she could feel her Energon levels draining. If she did not act soon, both she, and most importantly, her Jack, would be lost to the monster. She had to fight. One last desperate act to save the most precious thing she had in this Universe.
Hand clenched to her chest, Arcee pulled herself along the ground, the ragged grind of the turbines masking her anguished, frustrated cries as she tried to reach Cliff before he fell upon Jack.
'Wait…the Turbines…' Arcee thought with a start. And suddenly she remembered the Magnetic Shackles, and what she had done to free herself from them. "Come on. On…your feet, Solider!" She screamed.
Scrambling upright, Arcee leapt, one last desperate gamble, towards Cliff. Seizing her lost friend about his neck, Arcee held on with all the remaining strength she had remaining.
"What… are you doing? We…must have…balance!" The monster roared.
"This time, partner, we go together!" Arcee screamed. "It's you and me, remember? Till the wheels come off!"
"Arcee?" Cried Jack, reaching for her.
Their eyes locked, and Arcee smiled at him. "I love you." Then she pulled with everything she had.
The two Cybertronians spun and fell, smashing down upon the still spinning turbines. All at once, thousands upon thousands of volts of electricity coursed through them, both wailing as their internal systems overloaded.
Enveloped by the current, the twisted form that had once been Cliffjumper spammed and shrieked, eyes locked on the focus of his torment and rage, hand outstretched towards Jack, even as the mockery of life that dwelled within him dimmed and, finally, was extinguished.
The lights of the power station blew with a shower of sparks, and then all was darkness.
"Control, this is search team Sigma-Charlie, we have arrived at location," The Blackhawk pilot reported into the audio pick-up just at his lips. "Orders? Over."
"Maintain cordon, Sigma. Papa Bear and convoy are en-route." Came the response over the Task-Force's secure frequency.
"Copy control. Sigma entering holding pattern, awaiting further instructions." Following suit, the Pilot banked, continuously circling high above the buildings down below. In the near distance, the Pilot could see, silhouetted against the sunrise, the small plume of dust which heralded the small convoy of vehicles making their ways towards the mining town. With-in moments, the lead vehicle, a red and blue Semi-Truck, was clearly visible, followed closely by what appeared to be an EMV, and an armored SUV.
"Control." The Pilot reported. "Papa Bear is on site."
"Confirmed, Sigma." Came the prompt response.
Turning to his co-pilot, the aviator made sure the audio pick up was off before he asked aloud, "Wonder what happened down there?"
The other pilot only shrugged. "What ever it is, they called the big guns."
Without anything more to add, the two returned their focus to watching the skies for any other helicopters that might try to investigate the electrical explosion that had lit up the night sky for miles around less then an hour before. Down below, the convoy pulled into the town, speeding for the remnants of the Power Station complex.
"Ratchet?" Optimus inquired, the Autobot leader having shifted from his vehicle form the moment they had come upon the ruined building.
"It's here, Optimus." The red and white Medic replied, the device in his hand still chiming. "The Energon flare originated on this spot."
"Bulkhead? Have you established contact with Arcee or Jack?" Prime asked the massive Autobot trailing behind them.
"No. Still nothing." Bulkhead answered. "Miko's been trying Jack's cell. Nothing on that end either."
At Bulkhead's side, the small pigtailed girl could only mirror her partner's almost defeated expression.
"Then," Optimus said slowly. "We must be prepared for the worst."
With that, the Prime stepped forward into the charred remnants of the structure before them.
What they found within left them all staggered.
Amongst the remnants of charred, twisted metal turbines was Jack Darby, huddled against Arcee's still form, much of the Cybertronian woman's armor mirroring the blackened wreckage about her. If Jack was aware of their presence, he gave no indication of it as he ran his hand slowly across Arcee's cold polymer cheek, repeating the motion as he quietly whispered to her.
Standing at Bulkhead's side, Miko raised her hands to her mouth, tears already forming as she took in the site in front of them. The girl began to cry softly.
Moving past his own shock, Ratchet strode into the midst of the debris, running his scanner across Arcee's body, Prime quickly coming up beside him, his gaze taking in first Jack, then his fallen Second in Command.
"Ratchet?" Optimus asked, his deep, ancient tone holding back the unvoiced question.
"I…I don't know, Optimus. There's so much damage…" The medic answered slowly.
Shifting his attention solely to the human teen, the Prime knelt close to Jack.
"Jack?" Optimus said gently. "Are you injured?" After a moment, with no response from the teen, Prime added, "She would want us to see you to safety."
That last seemed to shake something in Jack's lost eyes. Leaning in close, so as to press his cheek to hers, Jack answered quietly, "I was supposed to keep her safe. We kept each other safe. We…made that promise to each other." Though he had thought them spent, Jack could feel new tears fill his eyes before they began to fall. "I…couldn't…couldn't save her."
Optimus tried to find the right words, recalling so many moments when he had done the same to assuage the souls of those of his people who had, likewise, been left behind by fallen comrades. Both friends, and those bound together in the deepest of ways.
"By the All-Spark!" Bulkhead bellowed suddenly. "It…it can't be."
Turning to see what Bulkhead had discovered, it was then that Prime truly saw the other form sprawled amidst the wreckage.
There, visible in the twisted visage of a mangled Cybertronian, where features Optimus recognized all too well.
"Cliffjumper." Optimus breathed. "What new horror is this?"
"No…" Jack growled under his breath, none the less loud enough for those assembled to hear. "Not Cliff. Not Arcee's Cliff. A monster, wearing his face. What was left of it…"
Prime looked between the two fallen figures, slowly putting the pieces together.
"Jack? Did he do this?" Optimus asked. "Is he the reason you and Arcee vanished?"
Jack only nodded, his face still pressed to Arcee.
After a moment Optimus turned to Bulkhead as Miko broke away, moving to sit quietly next to Jack, the girl putting a comforting hand across his back.
"Bulkhead, contact Agent Fowler. Have him summon a suitable transport. We must see Arcee and…what remains of Cliffjumper back to base." The Autobot leader then looked to Ratchet. "Are they both truly lost, old friend?"
"There is nothing from Cliffjumper. Less then nothing. There's not even an residual Energon signature. It's like…he's empty." Trying to conceal how such an observation disturbed him deeply, Ratchet moved the medical scanner back to Arcee's still form. "She, however, isn't lost yet…"
At that, Jack's head snapped up to stare fiercely into the medic's focused countenance.
"What?" The teen asked, almost trembling. "She's still alive?"
"I…I can't be sure. Not here. We need to get her back to the Silo. I need the proper equipment…" Ratchet said, placing a hand over Arcee's chest as though trying to read her Spark through his very fingers.
"Then we have to get out of here! We need…we need to…Arcee…" And then Jack was falling, Miko stepping in to catch her friend before he could collapse to the floor.
"Jack!" The girl cried in alarm.
"Bulkhead?" Optimus asked, looking to the massive warrior.
"Fowlers on the way, boss. That 'copter's coming down too. It'll take Jack to the Hospital at Nellis Air Force Base. No questions."
"Very well. Then let us see this longest of nights to an end. And may the All-Spark be merciful."
Two days later…
Jack knew he was dreaming, but he didn't care. In that place, there wasn't any pain, nor any sadness. And, most important, he wasn't alone.
The sunrise was a beautiful thing, perfect, bright, and warming. They sat side by side atop the hill on the mesa where they had spent so much time, even before they had opened their hearts fully to one another. Jack had once asked his mother how someone knew when they were in Love. June had answered her son, a look of both surprise, and, perhaps, even a bit of melancholy on her face.
"Silence." She had told him.
"Say what now?" Jack had replied in turn.
"When you can sit, side by side, and say everything you need to without saying anything at all." June told him. "That's when you know it's love." Then she had laughed. "So? Who is she?"
Jack, knowing how strange that explanation would have been, deflected his mother's question, chalking the whole thing up to a report on philosophical questions and nothing else.
But, he had never forgotten what his mother had said. Now, seated besides Arcee, the two having been comfortably silent for hours, Jack had a better understanding of what he had been told. It was a moment of clarity he didn't want to end. Something somewhere in his mind wanted desperately to hold on to what they had in that place, though he couldn't know for sure why.
"You're dreaming, Darby." Arcee told him, crystal blue eyes, lit like aqua gemstones, looking down at him. "You have to wake up sometime."
"Why? I have everything I want right here." Jack answered, turning in place so he could lean back, head resting on the soft black polymer along her thigh. "I'm not in any rush."
Arcee laughed. It was a sound different from the one others heard in lighter hearted moments while on missions or back in the HQ. This was the laugh she shared with him, the one free of her rank and responsibility. It was more beautiful then a thousand perfect sunrises.
"So," she teased softly, using the tip of her alloyed finger to play with the bangs of his hair. "You're saying you'd rather have the dream version of me then the real thing?"
That brought Jack up short. "What? I…no. I just don't…" He tried to say.
"Don't what?" Arcee asked him, her face growing concerned.
"I don't know. I just have…this feeling." He told her. "Like, if I wake up, you…you won't be there."
Arcee's face softened, the Cybertronian woman caressing the side of Jack's face gently.
"Oh, Jack. Whether you're sleeping or awake, I'm always with you." She whispered. "Just like you're with me."
Suddenly, Jack could feel the dream fading, the glare of their perfect sunrise fading, their private world growing distant.
"No. Not yet." Jack said, getting to his feet, both hands wrapped around her single one. "I want to stay, like this, just a little longer."
"Nothing perfect lasts forever, Jack. And we all have to face what lays ahead, sooner or later."
"Why? Who wrote that stupid rule?" Jack snapped. "They can't take this. They've already taken too much!" He raged, eyes filled with bitter tears.
"Jack. Look at me." Arcee told him softly, lifting his face with a gentle finger on his chin. "Everything happens, no matter how bad, for a reason. If we live to see what comes next, we either do so stronger then we were before, or we let it beat us, and leave us empty. We find the strength to push ahead, either in ourselves, or from something given to us by someone else."
Leaning down, Arcee pressed her brow to his, eyes closed against the haze that slowly enveloped them both. "Remember, how much I love you. Hold on to that."
"No…not yet. Please…" Jack whispered, putting his hands on Arcee's face, holding her close. "Please…
Then the dream was over.
"Jack?" Asked a familiar voice. "Jackie, can you hear me?"
Reluctantly, Jack slowly opened his eyes, the light of day stabbing into his pupils, making him wince slightly. Taking a moment, Jack tried to blink away the blurry world that followed, eyes trying to focus on the face in front of him. After a moment, his gaze took in the weary face of June Darby.
"Mom?" Jack asked, turning his head slightly for the first time to either side, taking in the room he currently occupied. From the white walls, tile floors, and the beeping equipment just past his head it didn't take Jack much deductive reasoning to figure out where he was. "What am I doing…?"
"You were in an accident, baby." June answered, reaching out to touch his face. "Don't you remember?"
Jack's mind, full of murky images, tried to piece together the events that had placed him in a hospital bed god knew where. After a moment, Jack began to recall bits and pieces. Explosions, a great deal of pain, fear, and…
"Arcee!" Jack shouted before he could stop himself.
"Who?" June asked him, her face confused and even more worried.
"His partner." Answered another familiar voice from the doorway to the room. Turning his head, Jack followed June's gaze towards the slightly rotund gentlemen coming in to stand at the foot of the bed. Agent William Fowler, always somewhat disheveled, nodded down at Jack, his eyes keenly knowing as he smiled at June, picking up from where he had started when he'd first appeared.
"Agent Rebecca Cera, Jack's partner in the Department I assigned him too at the bureau. I believe she spoke to you once or twice. Her friends in the department tend to use her initials. It's not something she let's just anyone do." Fowler said, trying to feign some measure of bemusement before shifting to a more serious expression.
"I'm afraid she was behind the wheel, riding with Jack, when the other car in the accident lost control. If it wasn't for her quick thinking, things might have been even worse."
"Oh my god. No one told me…" June stammered. "Where is she?"
That question froze the breath in Jack's chest, his heart racing as he looked to Fowler for the answer behind the answer.
"Still at Nellis. Her condition was critical. When they moved Jack here for observation the Medical Officer overseeing her kept her under intensive care."
"Will she recover?" June asked. Again Jack's silent gaze asked a similar, if slightly different, inquiry.
"The Medical Officer said it was touch and go…but that he expects her to recover."
Jack felt as though an impossible weight had been lifted from his chest. June, for her part, breathed a much different sigh of relief.
"Thank God." She said. "Please, when she recovers, tell her I'd like to thank her for saving my Jack's life."
Fowler nodded. "I'm sure she'd appreciate that." Clearing his throat, the Autobot's liaison gestured towards Jack. "Mrs. Darby, I understand this hasn't been a easy last few days, but I'd like the chance to speak to Jack for a moment, if that's alright. I'd just like to ask Jack what he can remember."
Looking unsure, June exchanged glances first with Jack, then with Fowler before finally nodding.
"Alright. You're aunt and uncle will want to know you're awake. Miko and Raphael as well. they've been waiting to see you. I'll bring them up in a bit." Rising from her chair, June leaned over to kiss her son on the forehead. "I'll be back, sweetheart." Turning to Fowler, June gave the Federal Agent a stern look that would have withered lesser men. "He needs his rest, Agent Fowler. He's not one of your regular people. Don't press him."
"I understand, Mrs. Darby. I won't be but a minute." Fowler answered, giving his best reassuring smile. On Fowler, such a thing did not come easy.
Giving the two of them a final look, June left the room. Following her only so far as the door, Fowler closed it behind her. After a second to ensure she wasn't standing on the other side, he turned to look at Jack.
"Good to see you awake, kid. Even after talking with Prime and seeing that thing for myself, I still can't believe…"
"Where's Arcee?" Jack asked intensely.
"Right. Sorry. She's back at the HQ. Still recovering. Ratchet says she was nearly gone when they got her hooked up to all that Cyber-Tech gear Prime has in the Silo." Fowler took a beat before continuing. "He told me she needed a lot of work. That electrical blast she took cooked her pretty good. Combined with all the other damage she sustained thanks to that…thing, it was almost enough to…well, you get the idea."
Taking the vacant seat June had left behind, Fowler folded his broad arms over his ample stomach before continuing.
"Call it some kind of poetic justice, fate, or whatever, but that walking corpse took the brunt of the voltage those old turbines where dishing out. Ratchet says whatever it was keeping Cliffjumper alive was cooked out of him. He's nothing but a pile of burned parts now." Fowler shook his head.
"I never really got the chance to know him when he was still alive. Before the 'cons turned him into…whatever the hell he was. Prime says he was a good solider. That he and Arcee had been through a lot. Must have been hard for her. Not only to see him become that thing, but to take him out." Fowler's gaze seemed to grow distant. "It's always harder to fight an enemy when they used to be a friend."
Shaking off whatever it was that had come to mind, Fowler turned his attention to Jack, who had remained mostly silent.
"Well, the doctors here say you'll pull through completely in a few days. You had some pretty nasty rib breaks and a hell of a concussion. How you were able to stay on your feet as long as you did is, well, pretty damn incredible. If I had a half dozen more agents built like you, kid, I might be able to take on that Starscream joker and his cronies even without the Prime and the rest."
For the next few minutes, Fowler asked Jack about whatever he could remember. The attack on the Highway, the mining town, and the drones Cliffjumper had used among other things. Whether for good or ill there were still bits and pieces Jack could not recall fully, and he wondered if that wasn't for the best. The image of Arcee, blackened from the electrical current and unmoving, had risen to the surface of his thoughts and it alone was almost more then he could bare. Soon after, June Darby returned, the others in tow. Taking a moment to exchange professional pleasantries, Fowler departed, leaving Jack, his family, and friends to better things.
Hours later, his mother, aunt, and, finally, Miko and Raf were convinced to return home to rest. Jack was alone in the semi-darkness of the hospital, pale moonlight streaming through the windows. Rain had begun to fall outside, and the steady beep of his monitor was his only company. When the phone adjacent to his bed rang, it was almost enough to make his heart skip a beat. Reaching out, Jack picked up the handset.
When at last he heard the voice on the other end, Jack tried, in vain, to hold back the tear that rolled down his cheek.
"I'm sorry…" He told her.
"For what?" She asked.
"I couldn't…I should have stopped him."
"I don't…I should have fought harder. Found a way."
She sighed. "It wasn't a fight you could win. He…it, knew that. That's why it separated us."
"Then I should have gotten to you. Found help. If…things had been different."
"I protect you, Jack. That's the promise I made."
"I thought we were supposed to protect each other. It goes both ways."
"And you do. You protect me when it matters most."
"When?" Jack asked her.
"When I start to loose hope. When I don't believe we can win. That we can keep this world safe, and make it a new home." She told him quietly. "All I have to do is look at you and all of that doubt is a million light years away."
Even with the distance separating them, Jack could almost feel her fingers wrapped about him, though all he could do in kind was to hold the phone all the more tightly.
"That's how you keep me safe, Jack." She breathed, her voice seeming to envelope him. "That's why, if I had to, I'd do it again."
In the silence that followed, everything else they wanted to say was said without a single word uttered. The two lay together, though physically apart, savoring the presence of the other. When at last sleep took Jack, he did not dream. There wasn't a need to. When he awoke, he'd have everything he needed.
The barren wastes of Antarctica was where Cliffjumper, or the twisted shell he had become, was put to rest. The Land-Bridge still ignited behind him, Optimus gazed down at the burial mound of snow and ice, the deformed corpse of his lost comrade far below.
The Prime stood alone. Arcee had told him, before departing to see Jack, that she had said her goodbyes to Cliff long ago. She did not believe there was a reason to do so again. Wanting her to dwell on happier things, Optimus had nodded his understanding.
With Ratchet's assistance, Optimus had placed the charred remnants of Cliffjumper's mangled body on a hover-sled, taking it through the Land-Bridge to the most isolated region on the Earth's most Southern mass he could find. Long ago, on Cybertron, Cliffjumper would have received a burial of honor, returned in body and spirit to the All-Spark. But, as Arcee had said, the Spark of their comrade had long since done so. What he now stood over was a shadow, a nightmarish one, best forgotten in the cold wastes.
"Ratchet. I am returning." Optimus relayed back through the Bridge.
"Copy that, Optimus. Standing by."
Wishing the true Cliffjumper a well deserved peace, Optimus turned from the mound and moved through the swirling tunnel of incandescent light, returning home. The Land-Bridge was gone and there was only the cold, and the wind, in it's wake.
That, however, soon changed. With a flash, the ground was illuminated by the light from a second Land-Bridge. After a moment, the burial mound of Cliffjumper was being looked over by another.
"There were only so many places that old Prime would drop you." The figure said. The tone, female, was mockingly somber. "What a waste. Dear Cliffjumper. Alas, I was never able to make your acquaintance. Oh, how I would have loved to see what it was about you that made her mourn your loss so deeply."
Then Airachnid smiled, colder then the frozen landscape about her.
"Let's amend that, shall we?"
Holding out her arm, Airachnid gazed down at the shard of Energon in her needle like talons. Unlike the pure azure light of the Energon so fiercely sought after by both sides, this piece glowed an eerie, almost ghostlike, hue.
Holding out the shard over the mound, Airachnid let the fragment drop. The Dark Energon crystal settled into the snow with a hollow thud. Then, as though pulled, or drawn, the shard descended first into the snow, then the ice, burrowing down for several meters before finding what it sought. The light which had suffused the shard grew brighter, seeming for a moment to envelope the entire area. Then, it was gone.
Waiting, Airachnid could feel her patience straining. She had done the science, seen the records of Megatron, then Knock Out's, experiments with the Blood of Unicron. If she understood it as well as she thought she did, there should have been…
Then the ground seemed to shift under her feet. Momentarily sent off balance, Airachnid quickly recovered, annoyed, but anxious, even eager, for what would come next. From somewhere down below, beneath the ice, there came a hollow, tormented cry. Then the ground before her exploded.
The twisted limb of a Decepticon, then an Autobot, clenched at the rim of the freshly made hole, pulling to the surface an even further deformed figure, it's armor still black and charred from it's third death.
After a moment, the empty optical sockets glowed to life. Though the burned visage seemed to stare at nothing, Airachnid knew it was looking directly at her. "Hello, Cliff." She crooned. "Rise and shine."
"No." The creature said, it's voice ever distorted.
"Hmm?" Airachnid inquired, freshly annoyed.
"Cliffjumper…was our name…in life. Not…in death."
"Oh, so what, pray-tell, should I call you then?" The Decepticon asked, coldly bemused.
"We are…" The reanimated monster seemed to look off, with hate, into memory. "Crosswire."