Title: The Traps
Disclaimer: Transformers and all related characters therein do not belong to me. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: A wild hunt for energon, a strange anomaly detected deep under the Siberian tundra, a storm of the century, a lightning strike on experimental technology, and being sucked into an parallel universe? Sam Witwicky figures that he can count this as one of his worser days. Too bad it's only the beginning. Takes place post-DotM and pre-season one finale.
Universe: Prime/Movieverse crossover, with most of the story occurring in Primeverse.
At nearly four thirty in the morning, Special Agent William Fowler was on his fifth cup of coffee. It was a pitiful piece of comfort—the last bit of brew to be scraped from the bottom of the pot that would have otherwise been left until the morning shift arrived—but it was all he had against a blossoming migraine and one very displeased Optimus Prime whose unexpected call had resulted in the Secretary of Defense himself ordering Fowler to find out exactly "what the hell" Prime wanted.
The fact that Prime had called the Secretary first, had woken him up out of a sound sleep for something that wasn't even a Decepticon attack, would do little to mitigate his dread of the memo that Fowler knew he would inevitably receive later in the day.
And it was all because the Autobots had found another kid, only this one was lost in the middle of Russia, claimed to know the Autobots, work for the United States government, and for the love of Betsy Ross, weren't parents even watching their kids anymore these days? It was enough for Fowler to wish he could forget the coffee and that he had just brought his whiskey instead.
"There is no such thing as Sector Seven," Fowler said, voice kept low even though this particular office was deep inside the fortified underbelly of the Nellis Air Force base. From across the video conference screen, Optimus Prime stared back at him.
"He implicated an organization of some secrecy," was the reply. It might have sounded mild, but Fowler could hear the tightness around the sentence's edges. Optimus was unhappy, and he was letting Fowler know it.
"No. There is no such thing as Sector Seven." Fowler knew of every Agency on and off official U.S. documents, knew their Secretaries, knew the secrets and backgrounds of those Secretaries, knew each and every U.S. spy, knew who the spies were of every other country. Intelligence was his job, his specialty, and Sector Seven did not exist because he had never heard of it.
"Do you have a picture?" Fowler asked. The screen shifted, filling with the downwards-angled image of a young man, no older than twenty-five, standing in over-sized pajamas that did nothing to distract from the streaks of dirt and blood around his face and neck.
Despite his sorry state, he looked healthy enough, well fed, and missing the gaunt roughness that would speak of homelessness.
"If he's an American citizen, he shouldn't be that hard to trace," Fowler said as he copied the file to some of his more specialized coworkers. "Facial recognition software. Tax forms, employment and credit history…if the kid even has so much as a Facebook or Twitter, we'll find out who he is. What did you say his name was?"
The screen shifted again, and Fowler almost missed the slight hesitation before Optimus spoke. "Sam Witwicky."
"We should have him under protective custody. From what you've told me, the kid knows an awful lot that he shouldn't. I can have a team ready in—"
"I have already made accommodations for his guardianship," Optimus interrupted. "Whether an agent of MECH or the Decepticons or if he is instead in danger from them, it would be best if he remained with us."
Frowning, Fowler placed his hands on the desk in a slow, deliberate movement. "Careful, Prime. Should the wrong people hear of that, I don't know if even I could make your detention of an American citizen look like anything less than a hostage situation."
"I have always maintained that freedom is the right of all sentient beings," Optimus countered. "And I have no desire to interfere with your laws. But the Decepticons will make no such distinction, and should they wish to have Sam in their custody, we will be able to offer the best protection. In addition, you have yourself admitted that you do not know yet if Sam is under your jurisdiction."
Fowler leaned back in his chair, working his tongue between his teeth as he did so. As cooperative as Optimus was with the government, Fowler had learned early on in his assignment that argument was useless when Optimus had convinced himself of something.
"I'll have an answer by the end of the day," Fowler conceded, and Optimus nodded in acknowledgement.
"I place my trust in your judgment, Agent Fowler, as I hope you will place your trust in mine. I intend that neither of us should ever have cause to regret that trust."
With that, Optimus closed the connection between them, leaving Fowler alone in the conference room.
"That makes two of us," he said.
As he stood on the threshold of the entrance to the central silo of their base, Ratchet took a few precious moments to compose himself before assuming his newly assigned role of guardian. Whatever Optimus had to say on the matter, Ratchet was not as equally prepared to trust Sam Witwicky, and from what he had seen so far, Sam did not seem to trust them much in return.
Ratchet cycled his vents. Optimus would have done better to delegate this job to any of the other three Autobots, who already had plenty of experience in dealing with the particular idiosyncracies of the human species. It would have especially done him better, as he could have devoted his time and focus on finding out how Sam traveled through the groundbridge—a feat that was scientifically impossible, despite Arcee's reports and obvious evidence to the contrary.
Ratchet stepped back into the control center, and for a nanoklik, he expected chaos. He knew that Sam was armed, as well as knowledgeable about the basics of Autobot operations, and Ratchet was ready to berate himself for stupidly leaving an unknown agent alone in the most technologically sensitive area of their base.
But Sam surprised him, remaining instead where Ratchet had left him: sitting small and a little huddled on the sofa that the children favored for watching television and playing video games.
They stared at each other; one second, and then another, before Ratchet made the decision to ignore him. If Sam was not going to do or say anything to him, then there was no reason to initiate any sort of dialogue, and he could take the opportunity to get some work done.
Ratchet took his place at his console, turning his back on Sam while still taking a moment to determine which of his sensors to keep trained on the human. Arcee, Bulkhead, and Bumblebee devoted a small but significant portion of their processing power to keeping watch over their own human charges, but Ratchet was not entirely sure how much of that was by choice, fulfilling the necessities of guardianship, or a preemptive measure against the children's seeming disregard for their personal safety, like Miko's tendency to poke at anything and everything she happened to find around base.
With a scowl, Ratchet chose to simply monitor the boy's movements and vital signs That would be enough to make sure that Sam did not start wreaking havoc or drop dead on the spot, which ought to fulfill whatever requirements Optimus had for guardianship.
Though Ratchet had not completed as much research on human physiology that he would have liked after his initial failure in helping Rafael against the infection of dark energon, his foundation was solid enough, and the first few scans of Sam's vitals returned results that were within the ranges accepted as normal for a young adult male. The only thing that could maybe make Ratchet hesitate were the slightly elevated heart rate and the blood that had run along Sam's left eyebrow and down his cheekbone. The wound was minor, the blood already drying, but Ratchet nevertheless turned his head to look back over his shoulder at Sam.
"You are injured," he said.
Sam, who had been examining the rest of the room from his spot on the couch, blinked in incomprehension.
"Your eye," Ratchet clarified. "And there would appear to be some inflammation around your lower lumbar."
Sam reached up to wipe a hand across his forehead. The blood beneath his fingers flaked and smeared across the tips of his fingers, but he did not seem to be outwardly alarmed by it.
"It's fine," he replied. "Don't worry about it."
Satisfied that he had gone above and beyond what was ordered of him, Ratchet turned back to the monitors. He pulled up the data on the last groundbridge, but aside from the 'bridge's unexpected malfunction, there was no immediate sign of damage or structural flaw.
Ratchet shuttered his optics. This meant he would have to go line by line in the code and search for the error. It was a job that would take several megacycles to complete and one that, until completed, would prevent him from allowing anyone to use the bridge until he found the problem.
Sam spoke up from behind him.
"I have to go to the bathroom."
Biting back a growl, Ratchet turned and narrowed his optics. "Can't you hold it?" he asked.
Sam visibly considered the question.
It was with a great strength of will that Ratchet refrained from some fairly colorful expletives; instead, he groaned and rubbed at the space between his optics. He had not yet even begun his work on the groundbridge, and if this was only the beginning of a near future faced with regular, inane interruptions, then Optimus was going to be due for a particularly invasive checkup during his next physical examination.
Ratchet could not exactly send Sam off on his own, either. Even if there was really nothing especially sensitive for Sam to stumble upon, Arcee had made it clear enough that she was tolerating Sam's presence only at Optimus's discretion. Her discovery of him wandering around the base alone offered no favorable outcome, no matter how many scenarios Ratchet calculated.
"Fine, then. Come on," he finally said. Sam reached for his pack, but aborted the motion at the last second before heading down the stairs. Ratchet approved. The boy had enough sense to avoid an argument about carrying strange equipment and weaponry around their base. It was bad enough that they were letting him keep it to begin with.
Sam went with him as Ratchet led the way down one of the adjacent hallways, but he stayed well out from under Ratchet's feet in a way that the other three children sometimes forgot to do, and there was no hint of intimidation of the size difference between them. Perhaps Sam had not lied when he said that he had been around Cybertronians before. Whether or not those Cybertronians were Autobots had yet to be determined, though Ratchet had to admit that the idea of the Decepticons, of Megatron, cooperating with humans to the point of familiarity was stretching the limits of believable imagination.
"This is an old missile silo," Sam said, breaking the silence that Ratchet thought had not needed breaking.
"Acute observation," he replied. He could admit to that much, if Sam already guessed it, but despite his attempt to end the conversation, Sam furrowed his brows and ran a hand along a corroded patch of wall as they passed it.
"Why are you staying here?"
"We have been informed by your government, on numerous occasions, that your species is not ready to learn of our presence on your planet."
Sam stopped, and Ratchet went a few steps before he realized it. When he turned, Sam was staring up at him with a heavy frown pulling down on the corners of his mouth.
"But everyone knows," he said. Ratchet arched an optical ridge.
"While humans do have the inexplicable tendency to source tabloid journalism as undeniable evidence of UFOs, I do not think that counts as adequate cultural preparedness for learning of extraterrestrial life."
Sam shook his head as though he were trying to clear away a troublesome insect and shifted oddly in place, like he could not decide whether to move forwards or backwards.
"The Autobots saved Earth," he said. Ratchet might have taken issue with his strange use of the past tense, but Sam continued on. "With Megatron gone, there's no reason to—"
"Megatron is very much still on Earth," Ratchet corrected him. "And he remains a significant threat to your planet. We must remain in hiding if we are to keep from forcing him to reveal himself as well."
Sam completely and utterly stilled. He paled, to the point that Ratchet thought he might need to catch Sam if he fell.
Ratchet narrowed his optics. "Of course he is. You said yourself that you knew of him."
"No," Sam hissed. "No, Megatron's dead. Didn't you hear? Didn't they tell you?"
Ratchet twitched, his processor catching on that interesting piece of information.
"Who?" he asked, but to little avail. Sam was eyeing his surroundings as though he expected Megatron himself to appear out of the shadows, and the sensors Ratchet had trained on the boy were returning alarming spikes in blood pressure, heart rate, and adrenaline. His oxygen levels were increasing exponentially in the beginning stages of shock. "Sam," Ratchet said. "Where have you been?"
"I need the bathroom," Sam managed to respond, and Ratchet had seen that expression before, when the flu had been making its rounds through Jack's school a few weeks previous and June had requested that they pick him up while she tried to get off early from the hospital. Ratchet quickly stepped aside and gestured towards a nearby door; Sam took it in enough time for a rapid purge of his systems. It was a sad, ailing sound, and it prickled unpleasantly at the very base of Ratchet's medical programming.
Ratchet kneeled, bracing himself with one hand against the floor as he checked through the doorway that would otherwise be too small to admit him. Sam had not been sick for long, but he was still slumped miserably against the sink, the fingers of both hands massaging small circles into his temples.
For a few uncomfortable minutes, Ratchet was at a loss; with the Autobots, he knew how to handle illness, and millennia's worth of war had taught him to how to handle the less tangible effects of trauma, shellshock, and emotional distress. But with humans…his experience was not so broad. His teammates had forged close bonds with their respective human friends, and it was to them who the children went first if they were upset with anything. Moreso, none of them had ever reacted as badly to the idea of Decepticons, Megatron, or his continued functioning as Sam did.
For all of this, Ratchet was in new territory.
"Sam," he tried. "Are you all right?"
Weakly, Sam shook his head, but Ratchet could not be entirely sure if it was in response to his question or something else altogether.
"This is a dream," Sam whispered. His voice was soft and crumpled. "See, that's just what this is: a really bad dream. I know because I saw it, okay? I saw him die. He died." He stopped, his throat visibly working around his next words. "They all did."
"Let's go back to the main hangar," Ratchet said, offering a hand to help Sam up, but Sam neglected to take it as he pushed himself to his feet. "Maybe I should get Optimus."
"No," he said. "No, I think I just need to lie down for a bit."
Ratchet withdrew, letting Sam finish his original purpose for this little trip, though he noted that Sam took several deep drinks from the faucet; the children did have some water bottles stored away, but the base was not adequately set up for extended human inhabitation. Perhaps it would not hurt to have Agent Fowler or Mrs. Darby bring some more supplies.
Sam followed him back, but in a way much more subdued than before. Ratchet had not realized how conditioned he was to the noise of the children, nor how soundlessly a human could move to a Cybertronian's audials; he found himself checking every few feet to make sure Sam was still there.
When they returned, Sam climbed back to his spot on the sofa and curled up on his side, facing the back cushions, and he flung an arm over his eyes to block out the light, the picture of exhaustion.
Ratchet stood there, not quite sure what to do. He had work that needed to be completed, but this was getting strange. An hour earlier, he might have believed any of the proposed explanations for Sam's inexplicable knowledge of the Autobots: an agent of MECH, a governmental affiliate of Agent Fowler, or even a skilled hacker who had somehow been in the wrong place at the wrong time. But now, none of them seemed right.
Sam had refused Ratchet's offer to contact Optimus, but Ratchet pinged him anyway. If Sam was so willing to speak with Optimus earlier, then perhaps he would be so again. Optimus confirmed, but indicated a wait. Since Ratchet could not reasonably claim an emergency, he would have to accept it. At any rate, he could begin his work on the groundbridge, and Sam seemed to have already fallen asleep.
When Sam woke, he did so slowly, managing only a sluggish climb out of a restless sleep and dreams of cold and fire and blizzards. He felt slow, maybe even more tired than when he first lied down, and even without the benefit of a clock, he knew he hadn't slept for long. Perhaps because his muscles felt too heavy to move, Optimus and Ratchet hadn't realized that he was awake yet. Sam was in no hurry to correct them, because once his senses began to catch up, he realized they were talking about him.
"It's not what he knows, Optimus. It's what he doesn't. He knows about us, our names and even the names of Autobots who have been dead for centuries, but he doesn't recognize us. He knows Cybertronian history, and yet he was surprised when I told him that Megatron was still alive."
"I am hoping that Agent Fowler will be able to provide us with the answers we need," Optimus said. "As I am hoping so will your research into the groundbridge failure."
"Well, that's another nest of scraplets," Ratchet replied. "I can't find the problem. Well, not exactly," he corrected.
"What do you mean?"
"It's the math. There's a mismatch between what equations are in the coding and those that are in my diagnostic on the 'bridge itself. But, Optimus, it's not that they're wrong. They're slightly wrong. I might be able to say it is within the acceptable range of error…on any other diagnostic on any other 'bridge."
"And the source of the error?" Optimus asked.
There was a hard, metallic sound, and without being able to check for himself, Sam thought maybe Ratchet had brought a fist down against his work station. His own Ratchet did that often enough whenever he was frustrated about something.
"I've been trying to answer that for almost two hours," Ratchet said. "And it's complicated. 'Bridges manipulate space on a quantum level and, slag it, Optimus, I'm a medic, not a physicist. I can operate a 'bridge and even troubleshoot it, but this is getting beyond my level of expertise."
"What would you need to perform a better analysis?"
"Perceptor," Ratchet replied in the way that he might have asked for Primus himself. "Or Operon. Or anyone of the Science Consulate who knew what the Pit they were talking about. The only one who might know anything at this point is Sam, and he hasn't exactly been eager to talk. We can only imagine why not."
Sam kept still, wanting to hear what Optimus said next.
"I…do not think Sam means any harm."
"Oh? And What makes you say that?"
But whatever Optimus was going to answer, or whether he was going to respond at all, Sam didn't get to find out. There was a loud crack, and a sound so much like an explosion that Sam rolled to his feet, his hand instinctively reaching for his gun, and he faltered when he didn't find it holstered around his waist. Optimus and Ratchet had jumped, startled, but they were distracted enough by Sam's sudden movement that they had not pulled their own weapons.
In less than a second, the lights of the base flickered and went briefly dark before there was a deep thrum as the power kicked over to the emergency generators. Though Ratchet's computer station remained active and running, the overhead lights changed to the much lower-powered standby lamps.
So, not an explosion, then.
"Thunder," Sam murmured to himself before he realized that both Autobots were staring at him. "That was…loud," he added lamely.
"Was there any damage to the base?" Optimus asked as Ratchet turned to his monitors.
"All equipment powered by energon remains unaffected," Ratchet said. "But all utilities that draw from the local energy grid are now on backup power sources."
The end of Ratchet's statement was followed by a distant, thrumming sound—and from all his time spent around Sideswipe and Bumblebee as they raced each other around their base, Sam recognized the sound as the straining purr of an engine running high and hot. Ratchet and Optimus heard it too, and they looked up just as Bumblebee came tearing into the main hangar.
He was transforming before he even began to come to a stop, shaking a heavy spray of water off his plating like a dog after a bath. Ratchet sputtered at him, trying to shove him away even as Bumblebee trilled and tried to duck behind him.
Arcee came in behind Bumblebee, already in bipedal form and walking more sedately, but she too was soaked, and she flared her plating to loosen the little bits of hail that had gotten stuck in the seams.
"Arcee?" Optimus prompted, and there was a thread of discontent in his voice For whatever reason, Optimus had not expected to see her.
"We had to cut our patrol short," Arcee replied. "It's getting ugly out there. A thunderstorm just came out of nowhere, and some of the roads are flooded out."
There was another heavy crash of thunder, remarkably loud through the thick walls of the base, and Bumblebee keened from his spot behind Ratchet, the door panels on his back drooping lower.
"A storm?" Ratchet repeated, surprised. "I haven't been tracking any new systems."
Yet, even as he said it, Ratchet turned to his console and, with a few quick keystrokes, the center screen filled with the video feed from a local news station, with a looping doppler image in the upper right corner. The sky had gone violent, and black, and little could be seen against through the sheets of rain, with tree branches being tossed around by the wind. The few vehicles that passed by the camera's view looked small and fragile against the weather, and the screen itself was crowded with red, scrolling messages. Memories of the storm in Siberia flashed behind Sam's eyes like the lightning itself, and he shivered.
"—National Weather Service has issued a severe thunderstorm warning for Clark, Lincoln, and Nye counties, and there is a flashflood warning in effect for Clark and Nye counties," came the off-camera voice of the weatherman. "A sudden low pressure system has developed over northeast Arizona, and it is moving westward. This is a large, powerful storm cell and may be capable of producing heavy rain, strong winds, hail, and frequent lightning, with possible tornadoes. We will continue to monitor the system, and we encourage all viewers to take adequate and immediate shelter. Again, the National Weather—"
Ratchet muted the feed.
"Where is Bulkhead?" he asked.
"He went to pick up Jack and the others," Arcee answered. "He thought everyone should wait the storm out here."
"That may be for the best," Optimus said, still watching the video feed, though both his tone and his expression remained neutral. The back of Sam's neck prickled. He had always found Optimus to be at his most inscrutable whenever something took him off guard and he was displeased about it. "I did not think any such weather was being predicted, nor that it was common for this time of year."
"It wasn't, and it's not," Ratchet said as he clicked through the different news reports, almost faster than Sam could keep up. "It looks like the storm developed unexpectedly over the past hour. Power outages are being reported as far south as Laughlin, and there's flooding in Las Vegas. Jasper's right in the middle of its path, and so are we."
"Do you anticipate any immediate threat?"
"No," Ratchet answered, though he had to think about it first. Optimus hummed.
"Then yes," he said. "It would be wise to have the children remain here until it is otherwise safe for them to return to the city."
Straightening up a little in his spot, Bumblebee rose to peek over the railing at Sam and chirped at him. It didn't sound like the typical, meaningless sounds that Sam was used to hearing—those small bits of wordless expression used to supplement the Cybertronian language—it sounded like a sentence in and of itself.
"What?" he asked, a little stupidly.
"He asked if you wanted to play a game," Ratchet explained.
"Bumblebee's vocal processor was damaged in battle." Optimus had spoken this time, though he had not turned to look at Sam as he did. It was an odd elaboration to make, and a sudden apprehension made a cold slide down Sam's spine.
"Battle," Sam repeated.
It was wrong, of course. Or, rather, it was slightly wrong, to borrow Ratchet's earlier phrasing. Bumblebee had lost his vocal processor during an interrogation, an excessively violent one performed by Megatron himself, but Sam stopped short of correcting him. These Autobots may have taken the names, general apperance, and even the behavior of those he knew, but Sam had yet to figure out why. Ever since his arrival, his brain had entertained even the wilder possibilities, including Pretenders, Decepticon spies, even a covert group of Autobots who had taken the designations of higher ranking mechs for aliases.
Sam rejected them all.
He did believe they were Autobots. From this spot, he could see the emblem stamped into their armor, and it was even engraved into the floor. There were the other humans, and the connections to the U.S. government…all of it was the same, but it still wasn't right, and he couldn't trust them.
Ratchet and Arcee were silent, Optimus shifting minutely to look at Sam out of the corner of his optics.
Tell me how it really happened. Tell me what you know.
They were testing him. Interrogating him with classic Autobot methodology, and, despite whether or not he should, Sam instinctively rebelled against it. If they truly were Autobots, they would let him get away with it, though he would have to be vigilant for when they tried again and inevitably used a different, more subtle approach.
Sam purposefully relaxed, releasing the tension that had coiled through his muscles like a spring, and he smiled at Bumblebee.
"I'd love to play a game with you."