Author's Note: I apologize for the long delay. Things have been hectic here. Last August, on the 29th (my 27th birthday of all days) I was sent on an errand. I'd just gotten onto the main road when a diabetic idiot driving a pickup truck, who had obviously neglected to check his blood sugar, passed out behind the wheel, blew through a turn, and slammed into the car I was driving. I was cut pretty badly by glass from the shattered driver's-side windows and ended up spending three hours in the hospital. This January I underwent day surgery to remove shards of glass from inside my lower lip, which was split wide open in the crash. My lip is badly scarred inside and permanently swollen, and still aches all the way through.

We have FINALLY sold my grandfather's house. Now it's someone else's problem. My sister Kate sold her pickup truck, which mom had been driving since that moron slammed into me. Literally 20 minutes after the truck was sold, one of the electric baseboard heaters in our living room died, shorting the thermostat and lighting it on fire. The flames were shooting out a foot from the thermostat. Mom cut the power, which seemed to kill the fire, then we bolted outside and waited for the fire department.

I've gotten my hands on three games I have been absolutely DYING to get: Transformers Fall of Cybertron, Darksiders II, and Silent Hill: Downpour. I'm also into Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2. Between all of those games I've got enough to keep me occupied for the next year and a half. Back at the start of December I made the mistake of starting Pokemon Diamond on my DS, and it's proven fragging addictive. I now have Diamond and Platinum, and wheedled my sister into lending me her DS and her copy of Pearl so I can trade evolve pokemon as well as catching and trading Pearl-version exclusives. Oy...

On the fic side of things, I have been doing some tweaks to my characters...

Ultra Rodimus' scorpion and snake modes have been pruned and no longer exist. His jet and starfighter alts have been merged into one space-capable jet alt. He now has standard green Transformer optics rather than human-type eyes. I'm contemplating further tweaks, once he stops growling at me.

I co-write with Omicron the Ice Queen here at on her Level Workers fic saga (I write as Drift and as Metroplex), and I also have my own account at Archive Of Our Own. You can find me there under the screen name Cyberra. Listed there are all the stories I've written in collaboration with other authors, as well as a fic that is not available here. Yet.

That said, on to the story.

~...~ -hardline communication

Disclaimer: See chapter 1

Awakening

Chapter 7: Learning

Ultimus sat on a ledge on one of Autobase's towers, elbow on knee and chin in palm, watching the activity in the courtyard below. His optics tracked on other Autobots moving around, as well as the humans and other alien ambassadors who were fairly regular visitors to the metal planet. The big mech had a lot on his mind and had escaped to the tower heights to think. It was no secret that he went up there when he needed time to himself, and no one seemed very inclined to bother him.

It had been several Earth months since he had been rescued from stasis in the Badlands. For weeks he had existed in a state of near-perpetual culture shock, trying to absorb how much everything had changed since he had last walked the planet. What had shocked him most was how the other Autobots regarded him. When he had gone into stasis, gladiators like Ultimus had been hated, cut down at every opportunity and hounded relentlessly across the planet. Here, in this time, once word of his past had gotten out, most of the Autobots looked at him with relief and wary respect. The big mech was still not sure what to think of that. He was used to the hatred, to hiding what he was, not being able to openly walk among the descendants of those who'd destroyed his comrades without fear of attack. It was unnatural in his opinion.

Another thing he needed to get used to was the presence of organic life-forms. Back when he had been a slave to the Quintessons, the only organics he had ever seen had been spectators in the arenas or potential buyers for the domestic goods line of Cybertronians. They had looked down on the Transformer races as property, not as living beings. To see organics treating Cybertronians as equals had taken Ultimus quite a while to get his processor around. He was still getting used to maneuvering around them. There had been some close calls when he'd forgotten to watch his sensors, one of which had resulted in broken bones on the part of the organic who'd chosen to cut across Ultimus' path without looking up, but that had been a learning experience for both. The big redhead had improved greatly since. The Prime had commented that Ultimus was almost ready for his first trip off Cybertron. Ultimus was of two minds about that. On one hand, it would be an interesting experience to visit a strange world. On the other hand, he had never been off Cybertron before, and the thought made him more than a little nervous.

The rumble of engines from below shook Ultimus out of his thoughts before he could make himself even more nervous than he already was. His yellow gaze dropped to the courtyard, watching as one of the other Autobots leaped into the thin air and transformed into an aircraft. Autobase's protective dome opened just enough to allow the flier to escape, then closed behind him. Ultimus tracked on the glow of the other mech's running lights until he vanished into the distance.

That was a trick Ultimus had yet to learn. Apparently he did have a transformation cog, all the necessary hardware, and the software for transformation, unusual for a mech from his era, but it had never been used. He hadn't even known it was there. Since waking from stasis he'd been through upgrades and repairs and tests, making sure his frame was in peak condition. The long stasis sleep had caused joints to seize and parts to corrode. He'd spent a lot of time in the medical bay even after that first long stint. While he'd finally been cleared and declared to be in fine health, he had yet to figure out how to transform.

It was about time he learned how, he thought to himself. With that in mind, he rose from his perch and reentered the base, making his way to the level where the officers had their office spaces.

Ultra Rodimus Prime was right where Ultimus had thought he would be. The gray mech was sitting behind his desk, optics tracking on the screen of his monitor, tapping a stylus absently against his lower lip. Datapads were arranged in neat stacks on the desk surface, far more of them in the "in" pile than the "out" pile. It was no wonder the young Prime spent so much of his time in there, trying to get through as much of it as possible. Off to one side his aide, Sandstorm, was sorting datapads and making notes on one of his own.

The Prime's head came up as the door opened, green optics flickering in a blink as he saw who had entered his domain. Leaning back in his chair with a soft groan, Ultra Rodimus stretched, dropping his stylus onto the desk surface.

"You just saved me from drowning in a sea of paperwork," he commented wryly. Tilting his head slightly, he gazed up at Ultimus for a moment, then gestured to the chair across his desk, pushing a stack of datapads out of the way. "What can I do for you?"

"Medic Alert has cleared me as being as completely healthy as possible, yes?" Ultimus took the offered seat, shifting slightly and leaning forward.

"He has, yes." The younger mech nodded, one optic rim lifting curiously.

"He has also stated that I am transform-capable, correct?"

"Yes, you are. From all indications, and from the amount of kibble you manage to fold inside your armor, you're a quad-changer." Ultra Rodimus nodded again.

"Then might I inquire as to when I am going to be taught to change form? It seems everyone has forgotten that I have no idea how." Ultimus' yellow optics narrowed slightly.

There was a brief, blank expression on the Prime's face. Then green optics flickered and widened slightly in comprehension. "Oh. Right. My apologies, Ultimus. Transformation is so much a part of us now that it completely slipped our minds you're from a time before it existed or was at all known. Until you woke up I've never actually met a mech who didn't instinctively know how it works."

The redheaded mech waited as Ultra Rodimus absently chewed his lip thoughtfully, tapping one finger on the desk surface. Striped armor ruffled as the young mech apparently came to a decision.

"I think the easiest way to help would be to walk you through the coding and equipment, then let you experiment with it a bit until you feel ready to take the next step," Ultra Rodimus said finally. "If you'll permit me to hardlink with you..."

Sulfur-yellow optics narrowed to glowing slits. "Which 'next step' are you referring to?" the larger mech asked suspiciously.

One corner of Ultra Rodimus' mouth twitched into a faint smile. "You've said yourself that you've never been off Cybertron's surface, never not in contact with the ground in some manner. One of your alt modes is an aircraft. So the next step will be learning to fly."

There was a long silence as Ultimus contemplated that. The thought of leaving the ground sent a skitter of nervousness down his spinal support column, but the big ex-gladiator had never been the type to back down from a challenge of any type. He would not back down from this. Squashing down his nervousness, he nodded firmly, extending his arm. Sharp claws extended, flexing on air in instinctive warning before withdrawing back into the big mech's fingertips. Ultra Rodimus said nothing about the threat, simply waiting for the claws to retract, then lifting his own arm and opening a hatch on his forearm to unspool the cable inside. Light fingertips brushed over Ultimus' armor to locate the older mech's dataport, smoothly plugging in and pinging for access.

It took a klik for the two mechs to work through the connection protocols. Ultimus watched intently as Ultra Rodimus navigated through his systems, making sure to go slowly enough that the big redhead could see what he was doing. There was coding there Ultimus had never even knew he had, and he watched in fascination as his commander leafed through it. Sensing his interest, Ultra Rodimus sent across a data packet explaining what each bit of code was for.

~Here it is,~ the Prime told him, pointing out one particular code string. ~See? This is the initialization program for your transformation cog. Once activated and installed, you'll be able to transform. It will take some practice, as you've got three different alt modes, and trying not to try and change into all three at once can be a bit tricky for a rookie.~

Ultimus grunted his understanding, reaching for the code string. Ultra Rodimus' awareness moved aside and watched as Ultimus activated and integrated the new coding. New glyphs popped up on the ex-gladiator's HUD.

~I think I've got it,~ the big redhead announced after several minutes.

He got the distinct impression that the gray Prime was looking over his shoulder at the now-integrated coding. ~Looks like it. Now, you need to actually give it a try. The training rooms should be empty right now, if you'd like to head down there and experiment.~ He sent across another data packet, a crash course on how to handle wheels, multiple legs, and wings. But now on how to actually get off the ground. Not yet.

~This is going to be interesting,~ Ultimus observed with a snort. Ultra Rodimus chuckled, then withdrew and disconnected the hardline.

"Good luck," the Prime called after Ultimus as the redhead left his office.

It turned out that the transforming was the easy part. Learning to handle his new modes was another can of electro-worms entirely. Thankfully, there was no one in the training rooms to see Ultimus' awkwardness. Several hours later Ultra Rodimus joined him, having been evicted from his office for a while. The Prime chose to spend the time helping the elder mech learn to handle his alt modes.

Ultimus' ground alt turned out to be a massive armored cargo transport, like most of the bigger mechs seemed to be. His cab was enormous, based on one of the long-haul truck cabs that was as much miniature apartment on wheels as it was truck cab. The interesting part there was learning to maneuver his trailer without getting caught on something or jackknifing himself. Ultra Rodimus demonstrated with his own truck form, also setting up obstacle courses for Ultimus to make his way through. He could hear the growls of frustration coming from the redhead, but the big mech refused to back down.

"Just wait until you have to maneuver through traffic," the Prime advised, chuckling softly at the resulting growl. "That's a whole new level of difficulty."

The second alt, the beast mode, was a cyberwolf. Ultimus' ears twitched back and forth as he inspected himself, then attempted to move. He got tangled up in his own legs quite a bit until he got the hang of coordinating four legs. That mode was also quite agile, which took some getting used to.

When it came to the redhead's flight mode, a Cybertronian-style figher craft, Ultra Rodimus hardlinked with Ultimus to show him what shifts of his control surfaces would do what, and what the reactions would be. He shared some of his memories of flight, allowing Ultimus to experience what it was to race through the skies without having gotten off the ground yet. The Prime also introduced Ultimus to some flight simulator programs, letting him practice control surface adjustments.

"So when will I finally get off the ground?" Ultimus asked three months later, as the two big mechs wandered into Autobase's rec room for energon.

Ultra Rodimus vented air heavily, reaching up to run his fingers through his hair. "That I can't teach you here. Cybertron is not a safe place for a novice flier to learn. There are simply too many hazards and obstacles on this planet. Even experienced fliers run into trouble here."

Ultimus rumbled. "Will I ever get to learn to fly?"

"Of course. Just not here." Green optics met yellow. "You're going to learn on Earth. We're boarding the shuttle for Earth in two days."

There was a brief silence as Ultimus stared at him. "Earth?"

"You're ready to go offworld now. Earth has open spaces with few obstacles where you can learn to fly, and a greater variety of weather conditions to adapt to than Cybertron does. Plus, the ground is softer if you crash into it." The wry smile that appeared on Ultra Rodimus' lips clearly hinted that he'd done more than his share of crashing. He reached over to rest his hand on a blue forearm. "You'll do fine."

"I hope," the larger mech mumbled, taking a long drink of his energon.

Tbc...

*sighs* That took some major plot bunny wrangling to write... Hopefully the next chapter won't be so long in coming. Keep your fingers crossed that no new catastrophes happen between then and now.

As always, please read and review!