AN: Take out some characters, add some characters, and it's like a whole new story! Oh wait, it already is.
Chapter Two: The Walking Dead
For what seemed like hours, all he could feel was a helluva lot of pain and smell smoke. All right, pain. Cool. Smoke not so much, but pain? Good, he liked that. Something had to prove he was still alive and Sergeant Epps figured being alive was at least better than being dead. Problem was, pain also made it hard to move and the addition of smoke got in the way of breathing.
After slipping in and out of consciousness a half million times, eventually he woke back up to the sunlight in his eyes, breaching the gap in the ceiling like some crazy child come to look at the aftermath of a war between ants. Epps was on his back in the middle of a puddle. Fire. On fire; his entire body was roasting, scorching pain from his hands to his chest, up to his check and face and all over his legs. He tried to flex his fingers and gurgled in agony as that proved to be a bad idea. His skin was like a roasted potato and wasn't going to move without breaking clean open.
Next he did a thing that could have been stupid by the rules books; he should just wait for medical attention, but if there were some to give he'd have gotten it by now. As slowly as he could, he started to pull his limbs into his body. Ignoring slicing hot pain of the splitting and bleeding of his skin, where his uniform had melded with his flesh, he somehow got to his elbows and knees. God graciously spared his ass and most of his other back areas from burns. Hallelujah.
Through grime-smeared eyes, he tried to look around, hobbling up and down to stretch his torso out. The burns split some more. Maybe he would have cared, maybe it wouldn't have hurt so damned bad if he hadn't seen Sergeant Aikens lying in a curled-up letter C on his left, only identifiable by the weapon he'd been carrying. Everything from his face to his groin was burnt clear though, leaving nothing more than charred black soldier.
Then he saw Pentley, Crowe and Richardson. There was no need to describe how they looked, dead was good enough description and whatever had killed them before the flames caught up had probably been sharp. The cuts were so clean.
The former CAR building was like Swiss cheese, splintered into chunks of concrete, twisted metal, burnt plaster, glowing red embers and ash. Finally, through the spinning images in his brain and amongst the piles of rubble, he spotted a heap of black armour.
"Ironhaah—" Dry dust, soot and saliva rushed down his throat and Epps coughed, spit it out. No way in nine ways to hell and back, 'cause if he lost his team it was bad. So bad he didn't want to think about how bad, but it was real bad if he lost his whole team.
His lesser injured hand grappled the barrel of an M-16, squeezing it and leaving a bloody smear. Still, he used it as a crutch to dig in ad lurch forward. Gravity and momentum propelled him towards the broken concrete and rebar; he dodged and almost crashed into the Ironhide's's extended arm. The butt of the gun he was carrying pinged against the armour a few times, and he finally got a good look at the whole picture.
The spear stuck in the black 'bots neck and chest plating still sparked at the end where it had been torn from the missing 'Con's arm. But on his face, there weren't no life in those eyes. Those always-moving, creepy ass antagonistic, know-it-all, stuck up blue eyes were still and dead.
Epps huffed, and for some reason reacted to this last revelation, the swelling urge vomit by batting his nose with his right hand, which was still crispy and bunched up. He almost reeled backwards, catching the edge of a metal plate before he could fall. The M-16 felt like a load of lead-plated shit, but he swung it around anyway. He didn't really know why he bothered.
Bash, clang. The broad side of the automatic hit part of the Autobot's torso. Bash, clang, bash, clang. After the third time the dull metallic sound reverberated across the hangar, the gun just clattered to the ground.
Not like he could feel the blood or pain anymore, not like he could feel the earth around him start to hum and shift, kind of. His grip loosened and he sank to a knee and started to fall.
When a hand bigger than life caught him and stopped him from hitting the ground in its cold, metal grip.
Suddenly, he was rising and so was the Autobot, a giant of whirring servos and self-correcting shifting parts as Ironhide slowly stood upright. With a distinctive pissed off but puzzled robotic expression all his own, the weapons' specialist looked down at the human in his hand, intense glowing eyes spinning slightly. "It is true, then," said Ironhide's booming voice. "You humans can look like slag and still somehow survive."
"Now that ain't nice," wheezed Epps so faintly that no human could hear. His eyes rolled back and then sealed shut.
Ironhide 'hmphed' in mild surprise and held the limp body in front of his face, trying to determine if the soldier's spark had gone out or if he simply went into stasis lock. Unconsciousness, they called it,a state worse than a recharge cycle but not quite death. The red organic fluid was still oozing onto the Autobot's fingers but this time he wasn't concerned about the rust it would surely cause. Sergeant Epps' body temperature had not changed, which was a good enough reason to assume the human was alive.
The others he perceived on the ground, were most definitely not.
A grunt, or the equivalent of one, followed his discovery of the spear still embedded in his chest. It was scraping against some very delicate internal components; Ironhide grabbed the scrap of junk and pulled. A second or two of resistance and terrible screeching sound later, the broken arm piece flew through the air and landed far away.
Where was that wretched slag heap responsible for this?
The spear was the only trace that remained of his enemy, aside from the unfortunate aftermath of bodies and wreckage. Surely, Sergeant Epps would soon need medical attention in order to escape the fate of his comrades. A very sour mood (not helped at all by the oil and coolant staining his damaged spark chamber) overcame him. Decepticons did not simply get back up and flee when their spark went out. Foul play was at at hand here, but worse, foul play even he could not predict from the cretins.
Conscious of the bodies at his feet, Ironhide stepped lightly over the rubble of the CAR hangar and out through the door. As he did so, he passed by two mangled turrets; the third had been torn out of its mount and tossed out into the paved lot outside. With Epps lying prone on his arm—which he kept still—the weapons specialist felt cool liquids rush from his head into his chest as he saw the remains of the Compound.
Perhaps 'remains' was incorrect.
The entire Compound had been reduced to a crater.
War and Peace slipped off of Sheppard's chest and thumped to the floor when he jolted awake. He'd fallen asleep on the couch in the outdoor lounge, and though he was pretty sure it had been empty just a few minutes ago, it didn't feel that way anymore. For one, someone or something had just poked him really hard in the ribs.
"Ow," he grunted as he rolled over, his eyes gleaming towards the railing that overlooked the ocean. Just the sound of the waves. All right, maybe he'd fallen asleep with the book in his hands, and it slipped...?
"Well, it's about time, fuzz-top! You're in my spot!"
This time it was the colonel who slipped off the couch, but ended up springing to his feet and reaching for his M9-which obviously wasn't in his jeans back pocket. The only thing he had to point at the small intruder was his stupefied gaze.
A little mechanical...something hopped down into the spot where he'd been laying down, its beady red eyes ogling him suspiciously. The first thing that jumped to Sheppard's mind was very, very tiny Decepticon. Action figure size.
"Who...what? And how?" he finally managed.
"Wheelie, former Decepticon salvage-scrap drone, and through the freakin' roof, flesh-lips," the 'drone' replied defensively, rolling off the cushions and onto the floor. He jabbed a finger at him. "All right, I take that last part back. Old habits die hard everyt'ing. Even a dumb Autobot could figure out how to get in he—" He paused. "Do me a favor an' don't tell Ratchet I let that one slip, 'kay?"
"Okay, fine, so let's go with 'why?'," Sheppard said, relaxing by a fraction. After all, Decepticons weren't named that way because they were cute and friendly.
"Eh, some of the big heads figured I'd be useful on those off-world missions you guys do in your free time," Wheelie said casually, as though he could care less. "And why not? I'm the one who got the Shard from the Warrior Goddess. Or I woulda, if it hadn't been for the jaws of death an' a blowtorch. Geez, I'm gonna miss those long legs..."
Even dressed in his civilian's clothes (of which had two sets, and only two), the colonel wore his radio and was beginning to wonder why. He touched the radio on his ear and responded, "Yes, Rodney? By the way, amazing timing."
"What? Never mind, we need you back at the Jumper bay. You haven't been responding to your radio for twenty minutes. And have you seen Wheelie by any chance?"
"Oh, I don't know. Possibly. Would he happen to be two feet tall, made of metal, have these beady red eyes and a badly overdone Brooklyn accent?"
"Good. Bring him along, we need him to decipher something. McKay out."
Subconsciously rolling his eyes and silently reminding himself that he still needed the scientist—alive, not strangled—Sheppard cast one final cautious glance at 'Wheelie'. "So now I don't have to toss you over the railing over there. In fact, McKay wants to see you."
"Aw, please don' make me go back to him," Wheelie begged, moving closer. "No, really, I'm all for provin' to the Autobots that I'm one of them, but I didn' sign up to be some squeaky lab rat! C'mon!"
"All right. I'll just let Optimus know you're safe and sound, hiding up here, no doubt pulling your weight."
Wheelie took off after the colonel, speeding like a cat with a burning tail as he snapped,"You really are one of the most sadistic meatsacs I ever met, ya know that?"
People didn't seem to recognize the sight of the colonel and the salvage-scrap drone together; at least, not the usual Atlantis personnel. They moved to the edge of the corridors as they passed, as though afraid the little metal creature would suddenly leap out and attack for no apparent reason. After a while, Wheelie folded up into a toy monster truck and sped ahead of him and around a corner.
By the time Sheppard reached the transporter, and then the much larger warship hangar, the drone was nowhere to be found. At least, not until the doors opened on the immense hangar where the Autobots has set up their temporary home-away-from-home (away from home). McKay, having abandoned his crowded lab at the entrance to the Jumper bay, was standing amidst the crates of stored Energon with Ratchet and Skydive. Wheelie had also beaten him there somehow, and was on top of the large Ancient computer console that had been set up for the Autobots' monitoring benefits.
Atlantis had its perks.
"Rodney!" the colonel said loudly after descending a metal staircase towards them. Whatever McKay had been spouting at the robots was cut short. "You know what might be a good idea, just for future's sake? Letting me know about miniature Decepticons who may or may not be roaming around a city, especially when that city is armed with enough weapons to flatten the eastern seaboard."
"He's harmless," McKay replied dismissively. "Besides, he switched sides."
"As in 'Todd' switched sides, or 'switched sides' switched sides?"
"Hey, I'm right here! An' who are you callin' miniature, wise guy?" Wheelie interjected.
Todd, who had been a key player in the final moments of the Autobot vs. Wraith showdown weeks ago, was now in stasis. It was another thing Sheppard didn't want to think about right now. In any case, everyone ignored the drone's complaint.
"Ratchet and I were having a rather entertaining argument about Energon rations, so if there is something that needed sharing?" Skydive broke into the moment with his overbearing voice and crossed arms-even he was not immune to picking up gestures here and there. So far he had expressed no real opinion of humans, aside from remarking on their aerial technology. "We were just getting to the good part, even."
"Yes, and once again leaving it entirely up to me to keep an eye on certain things, like the transmission interceptors and the long-range scanners. It's a good thing I had them reroute everything to my lab!" McKay ranted, rapidly tapping a few things on his laptop, which was sitting on top of a console. The large screen next to them flared to life, displaying a computer's rendition of the planet's orbit. "Seeing as we don't have the luxury of time to wait for Major Lennox, I'll get to the point. Look. Here."
Three pairs of optics (two blue, one red) turned to the screen along with Sheppard's attention. A red blip appeared, and red was usually not a good colour for a blip. "Yes, that's a Wraith cruiser," Rodney informed them with a 'see? told you so' tone of voice. "It just jumped into orbit forty-five minutes ago, and ten minutes after that, it left. It didn't attack, it didn't even say hello."
"And?" Metaphorically, Sheppard's hackles were raised. "No one thought to call the Daedalus, or get a squad of F302's up in the air?"
"I'm not going to answer that on the grounds of how stupid you must think I am. On second thought, of course we did, but hello? Ten minutes? Not nearly enough time to take out a cruiser!"
Above their heads, Ratchet made a sound for the first time in a while by humming thoughtfully. Not at the situation, but rather at the handler. "Dr. McKay, how much caffeine you have ingested in the past twelve hours?"
"Not enough. And I'm not done yet; we also got this on the interceptors we planted around the same time." A few more taps later, and the screen changed to view a scrolling pattern of symbols and symbols overlapping symbols. "I've been trying to find Wheelie because he's the only one who can read through the Decepticon encryption. First sign of hybrid activty in weeks, first sign of Decepticon activity in weeks. Something tells me these two things are related."
Sheppard looked at Wheelie, who stood on the console with this vacant, transfixed look—proving that reading robotic expressions was getting either getting easier for him, or they were getting more expressive. The colonel asked, "Can you read it?"
"Oh, you betcha," came the distracted reply. "This ain't no weather forecast, I'll tell ya that. This is about Megatron, the big cheese, some kind grand scheme they're tryin' to pull off like dey wanna steal Christmas or somethin'."
"For those of us who speak English, if you don't mind," McKay reminded him sourly.
Wheelie turned around. "This is it. Megatron's leavin' planet Earth an' takin' a bunch of my ol' pals with him. That sourpuss Starscream's gonna be in charge while Boss's away. Says here dey got big plans, in some place far away. Coordinates are...alright, gotta dumb it down for you boneheads. Uh, sixty-eight point five, eight point nine three two, one hundred and twenty-five point one five nine."
The pale look that dawned on McKay's face then was too familiar and Sheppard already had a gut feeling he'd been trying to ignore since he came here. Now it felt like a stomach ache. "Let me guess," he said flatly. "The Pegasus Galaxy."
The scientist swallowed. "The Pegasus Galaxy."
Sheppard immediately thought of his uniform, and figured he had a pretty good reason to put it back on, now. "We're gonna have to call the Compound about this. I think the Galactic Defense Alliance's jurisdiction just doubled in size."