June Darby couldn't believe her eyes. It wasn't too long ago that she'd last experienced that feeling of being utterly overwhelmed by the sight in front of her: only last night had she witnessed her son's motorcycle leap into the form of a gigantic alien robot and promptly wipe the floor with another of its kind – an evil one that had taken her hostage and threatened to kill her. But that feeling – terrifying as it was – was pretty insignificant compared to how she felt now in the Autobots' base.
She and her son dismounted the motorcycle in question, and an awkward grin creased Jack's face as the bike – Arcee – abruptly began to shift into her bipedal form. The transition was smooth and almost instantaneous; June felt slightly relieved to see that her son's otherworldly friend was smiling when the astounding process was complete. Four more ridiculously tall robots were approaching from various points across the command centre, each simply too big to be allowed, and she saw that they did not look especially happy to see her. The red and blue one in particular, the tallest of them all, was wearing an expression of something close to disappointment as he gazed down at the unfamiliar human.
"Guys," Jack said clearly, placing both hands on his mother's shoulders as he flicked his somewhat cautious stare from Autobot to Autobot. As she gawped up at the mechanical strangers, June noticed two humans among their number. She recognised them as her son's schoolmates; the foreign girl with pink streaks in her hair was perched fearlessly on the shoulder of the burly green alien, while the young spectacled boy was standing uncertainly next to the yellow one's heel. "This is my mother – say hi."
"June Darby," she introduced herself weakly, giving a tiny wave of the hand. The yellow robot mimicked the gesture, a strange buzzing sound escaping its throat, but his greeting was cut short when the white and amber one gave a short-tempered breath of disapproval.
"What is the meaning of this?" he asked impatiently. June faltered, feeling her son's grip of her shoulders tense as he flinched. The speaker raised his narrow optics to stare accusingly at Arcee, who folded her arms behind the Darby family and assumed a defensive posture. "Is your hard-drive fragmented? What could possibly possess you to bring another human here?"
Arcee shot him a stern look. "I had no choice, Ratchet," was her sharp reply. "Airachnid captured her; used her as bait to get to me. There didn't really seem like much point in hiding myself any longer after she'd already seen a Decepticon."
"Decepticon?" June repeated, confused, but her question went seemingly ignored.
"Arcee," the tallest robot began, looking crestfallen. His tone was sincere with quiet authority, but far from the voice of a dictator. June noticed that the others all paused in unison as he spoke; the respectful silence of friends rather than that of fearful underlings. "If you were in need of assistance, why did you not contact us and request for backup?"
"I tried," Arcee shrugged, uncomfortable for the first time since arriving back at base. A scowl then overcame her faceplates, and she shuddered. "But MECH saw to it that we were on our own."
"MECH again?" growled the green Autobot, as the stylish girl on his shoulder furrowed her brow. "I thought me and Breakdown already taught those fleshies a lesson."
Jack gave his mother's shoulders a quick squeeze, before stepping forward to stand between her and the strangers. "Look – what's done is done," he said, apologetic. "Arcee had no choice but to transform in front of my mom; that spider-bot would've torn us both to pieces if she hadn't stepped in to save us. But now that mom knows about you guys, I figured the 'Cons might come after her – and that you'd probably want to know about that."
Intentionally or not, the latter part of his statement seemed to have been directed toward the group's apparent leader. The cavernous room in which the nine of them were gathered fell to guarded silence for a moment, as the red and blue Transformer appeared to consider something in careful thought. His crystalline optics found June's dark eyes and locked there; his stare was piercing, as though he could see directly into her soul – but she didn't feel afraid. There was nothing malevolent in his gaze – only concern and a subtle kindness that was eerily human for a giant mechanical being.
As though coming to some sort of conclusion, he removed himself from the throng of strangers and began a slow approach toward Arcee and the Darbys. The floor trembled with each steady step he took, prompting June to instinctively reach for her son. The towering humanoid machine lowered himself onto one knee before them, doubling over so that the sincere plains of his face were almost on level with her own. She could see countless scratches and nicks in the metal guards that framed it; the helmet of a soldier who had fought more battles than he'd care to recount. His eyes, too – if she could call them that – were those of a soul weary of fighting.
"My name is Optimus Prime – and I believe we owe you an explanation," he said. "We five are Autobots; autonomous robotic organisms from the planet Cybertron. For the last three years, we have disguised ourselves among your world with the intent of protecting humankind from the Decepticon threat – defending against Decepticons such as the one who meant harm to you and your son. Several months ago; Jack, Miko and Rafael discovered us. The Decepticons began to target them, as Airachnid did with you. For that reason, I ordered Arcee to act as your son's guardian. In order to ensure the safety of both you humans and ourselves, we maintained an air of secrecy and remained anonymous in vehicular mode. I apologise for having concealed our identities from you for so long."
Unsure of how to respond, June watched in stunned silence as the green Autobot raised a hand so that it was on level with his shoulder. The girl – Miko – clambered onto his palm, securing herself as he stooped and lowered her carefully toward the ground. She hopped down onto the panelled floor next to Rafael, spinning lithely on her heel to face the Darbys with a beaming grin on her face. Raf nudged his glasses, smiling sheepishly at the adult human like a child caught cheating in a math test.
"Guardian…?" June repeated, raising her stare to re-establish eye contact with Optimus. She stepped out from behind her son, confidence slowly returning. "My son – Jack – was in danger, and you didn't feel it necessary to warn me about it? What about their parents – do they know that their children are in danger?"
"Anonymity amongst humans is imperative for we Autobots," Optimus explained gravely. "I did not intend for these three to become involved in our war, and wish that no humans were put at risk for our sakes. However; your son and his friends have proved to be valuable assets in the war against the Decepticons. I assure you; their safety takes priority over all else in the heat of battle. I would risk my very spark to keep them safe from harm."
Despite the gravity of the situation, a breath of bemused laughter escaped June's lips before she could catch herself. "Forgive me – Optimus Prime, was it?" she said. "But I'm not sure I see how three human children could be 'valuable assets' to you."
Arcee shifted her weight to one leg and shrugged. "They've saved our motherboards on more than one occasion," she smirked. "There's still a lot we don't know about this world, but they help us get around that. Raf knows Earth tech like the back of his hand, Miko makes more team spirit than we know what to do with, and Jack's pretty good at coming up with plans in a pinch. You'd be surprised by how big a role they played in keeping the 'Cons from flooding Earth with undead warriors."
June raised an eyebrow at that, but chose not to challenge her. Instead, she returned her gaze to the Autobot commander as he rose slowly from his hunched crouch. He half-turned to face the other three, careful not to step on Miko as she skipped across the floor to stand by Jack's other side.
"Whadda we do, Optimus?" asked the green robot. Beside him, the yellow one nodded his head in silence and eagerly awaited their commander's response. Ratchet, meanwhile, gave a disapproving sigh and turned toward the advanced-looking computer monitors nearby.
Optimus opened his mouth to speak, but a sudden tug on June's sleeve diverted her attention from his reply. She dropped her gaze to see Miko grinning back at her, Raf already present by her side.
"Hiya," she began brightly. June made to politely greet her as Arcee stepped around them, but the bubbly teenager had already launched into an animated stream of speech before she could say anything. "I'm Miko – and that big green dude is my partner and best buddy, Bulkhead. He's the toughest 'Bot in this side of the solar system, way stronger than that bully Breakdown. So, you're Jack's mom? That's totally sweet! Do you have any embarrassing stories about him? How about baby pictures? I bet you've got a bunch of those! I recently transferred here from Japan – have you ever been there? You look like the type who likes to travel; I bet you've seen loads of places. Bulkhead took me to Greece once to stop the 'Cons from swiping an energon harvester, and-"
"Miko!" Jack hissed, crossing his arms. She faltered, interrupted mid-flow, and stared at him in surprise. He made a zipping motion across his lips with one hand, scowling.
June chuckled, able to read her son's embarrassment easily. "It's nice to meet you, Miko," she smiled, offering a hand. Miko perked back up at once and shook it enthusiastically, beaming.
After a hesitant pause, the youngest human stepped forward and gripped the straps of his backpack with both hands. "I'm Raf," he said, seeming a little embarrassed as he introduced himself. June knelt down in front of him, relieved to see that she was still taller than someone around here. "Um…that's Bumblebee over there. He doesn't talk like the others do, but I can still understand what he says…don't know why, but I can. Nice to meet you, Mrs. Darby."
"Likewise – and please, call me June," she replied kindly. Raf gave a sweet smile, nodding. June then straightened up, raising an eyebrow in her son's direction. "You didn't tell me you had such wonderful friends, Jack. Why don't you invite them over for dinner sometime?"
"I'm not sure they like organic tofu, mom," muttered Jack.
A sudden surprised exclamation brought their polite chatter to an end; all four of them turned to see an expression of something close to horror splashed across Ratchet's faceplates. He was standing as though stunned, staring at the unnervingly-calm Optimus, as the other three Autobots attempted to hide their amused smiles. The humans exchanged confused glances, watching as the medic struggled for words.
"A-are you certain, Optimus?" he forced, attempting to regain his composure. "I mean… I'm more valuable to everyone where I am – why can't Arcee do it? After all, she's Jack's guardian."
"Precisely, Ratchet," the commander replied steadily. "Arcee is Jack's guardian. If the Decepticons are aware that Mrs. Darby knows of our existence, as I fear, she will require protection as well. Besides; Arcee informs me that your vehicular mode will raise fewer suspicions than ours would in her place of work."
"Oh, come now," the medic grimaced. "I am a scientist – not a babysitter."
June crossed her arms, suspicious, as the Autobot named Bumblebee let out a disapproving string of mechanical beeps and squawks.
"I know that, Bumblebee," Ratchet grumbled, casting the scout an exasperated look. "I can tell an adult human from a juvenile one, you know. I was merely using the word as a… generic term."
Bulkhead performed a double-take after glancing over at the humans. He seemed to falter upon seeing June's scowl, prompting Arcee to raise an eyebrow. "Uh…Ratch?" he began, pointing with one thick finger. "I think she heard you."
The medic didn't seem particularly concerned by the prospect of offending a human, but was spared the trouble of further explaining himself by Optimus Prime. "Ratchet; for the time being, I am assigning you with the protection of June Darby," the Autobot commander began, his voice laced with quiet authority. The medic fell into sulky silence at once, dropping his gaze to the floor. "However… since you raise such strong objections with regard to the matter, the post will only be temporary until an alternate method of protection can be arranged. In the meantime, I will contact Agent Fowler and investigate into a more permanent means of human security."
Bulkhead let out a good-natured laugh, clapping Ratchet on the back. "Hang in there, buddy," he said, watching the medic stagger slightly from the impact. Arcee averted her gaze as Ratchet brushed him off irritably; wandering toward the humans as though she would rather observe his suffering from afar. Feeling rather insulted, June remained motionless and silent as the other Autobots began to disperse throughout the command centre. Miko pranced away after Bulkhead, while Raf gave an apologetic shrug before following Bumblebee toward the humans' living area.
"It's nothing personal, mom," Jack assured her, looking awkward as Arcee dropped into her motorcycle form and prepared to go out on patrol. June gave him an interrogatory look, wordlessly questioning how she seemed to already be on her guardian's bad side. "He just… doesn't really like humans a whole lot."
"So I've noticed," June commented. She thought for a second, gave a small laugh, and then stared after the Japanese girl and her giant green partner. "That Miko seems like a nice girl, at least."