Knight in Borrowed Armor 11
A Transformers Prime Fanfiction
Ratchet was beginning to rethink his opinion of Nitor. In the past few days the mech had made himself indispensible around the base. In between long training sessions and extensive program downloads the white mech willingly did whatever menial tasks needed to be done. His movements were graceful enough that the old medic had no reservations about leaving even the most delicate of his equipment in his care. The warrior had also shown a budding knack for repairing damaged equipment. By shifting most of the mundane repairs to his new helper Ratchet found himself with far more free time to spend in his less urgent tasks such as developing the synthetic energon and researching human medicine.
Both Raf and Miko quickly bonded with the newcomer. Nitor would tell Raf stories of ancient Britannica while they worked on some project. Miko watched in fascination as he honed his fighting skills with the Autobots. In turn the white mech adored the children. He never seemed as happy as he was when one or the other was perched on his broad shoulders.
Once Optimus was satisfied Nitor was ready the white sedan began staying with the Darbys; serving in place of June's car. Arcee found it awkward at first. Even if he no longer resembled Cliffjumper it felt like there was an intruder in the family. It was a surprise to her as much as anyone how possessive she'd become over 'her' garage. But she found herself warming to the quiet mech. Civil greetings soon turned to long talks during the quiet moonlit nights. There was something inherently healing in the strange being's presence. Every night after work June would come out of the house with rags and warm water. She and Jack would spend half an hour washing down the two bots; talking and laughing the entire time.
Optimus quietly noted the improvement in his soldiers' moral and felt his own spirits lifted. Bulkhead and Bumblebee had essentially accepted the new mech without reservations from the start, but even the perennial cheerful Bee seemed more relaxed in the mech's presence. The Prime quietly watched his team and found himself almost sorry that Nitor's training was progressing so swiftly; bringing the day he planned to leave ever closer.
June Darby was not a superstitious woman. Years before she had refused to play the usual games girls did involving Ouija boards and their ilk seeing it as a massive waste of time. But a dark moonless night on the open desert with the coyotes howling and wind blowing can sometimes make even the most hardened cynic see shadows move when they shouldn't. She shivered and blamed the cold as she pulled her jacket tightly around her shoulders.
Optimus had brought Nitor out behind the base for practice tracing energon signatures. Bumblebee and Arcee were hidden in the branching canyons. The white mech wouldn't have an easy time finding them. The leader of the Autobots sent the warrior off and strolled over to where June was waiting.
He observed that the woman's heart rate was elevated and her muscle structure was experiencing small sustained spasms. Shivering; the Cybertronian identified the behavior, usually indicative of exposure to excessive cold. He was somewhat surprised. Mrs. Darby was usually prepared for such minor inconveniences as local weather. However the red and blue mech simply transformed when he reached her side and opened a door.
"Mrs. Darby the temperature appears to be dropping. Would you prefer to observe the rest of the training session from my cab?" He asked politely.
June gave a quick longing look at the brightly lit interior of the Autobot; warm, comforting, protected. She was about to accept but some innate stubborn streak stopped her. For anyone else she would have simply offered an excuse, but even in his alt mode she could feel the Prime's optics looking into her. Somehow she couldn't lie to Optimus.
"It's not the cold," she ruefully admitted. "I'm just a little jumpy."
"I see," the Prime said thoughtfully. Those same symptoms indicated fear as well as cold. "I can assure you there is no need for concern. If there were Decepticons in the area Ratchet would have detected them immediately."
"Yes, I sure he would have," June smiled up at him. "This is just human nerves; some combination of an overactive imagination, vestigial instincts, and lack of sleep working me up. Thank you for the offer but I'll just stay out here and face my irrational fears like a grown up."
Optimus nodded. He had observed many times soldiers on the battle field working thus to overcome their weaknesses. However he proceeded to perform a through scan of the immediate area. Mrs. Darby was not a naturally skittish individual. He trusted her judgment. The situation did not warrant the fear she was still displaying despite her attempts to hide it. The warrior thought over what she had said; vestigial instincts. He had little faith in such a concept. In all his time and experience with many species he had yet to find a truly useless instinct.
*Optimus to all Autobots,* he called out over the comm. *Continue with you assigned task but please perform security scans of the surrounding area. Nitor, if you will as well.*
*Roger that Optimus,* Arcee responded.
*Scanning now,* Bumblebee said.
Nitor simply clicked the com twice to reply. The game was still on, he was still the hunter.
*What exactly are we looking for?* Ratchet queried from within the base.
*I'm not certain,* the Prime replied. *Some threat native to this world most likely; a predator capable of slaying a human or a dangerous weather pattern.*
*That's pretty vague search criteria,* Ratchet pointed out dryly.
*Something is disturbing Mrs. Darby,* Optimus explained, "but she is unable to determine the exact cause.*
*In that case I would suggest focusing on potential predators; animal or human,* Nitor offered. *A woman of my Lady's temperament is far more likely to respond to that than a meteorological issue.*
The Autobots acknowledged this and went about the original drill with slightly heightened senses. Seconds ticked by and then minuets as the game progressed and nothing appeared. Nevertheless the Prime was disturbed to note that Mrs. Darby's agitation was only increasing. She was visibly attempting to calm herself.
Despite his constant scanning it was pure chance that he was looking directly at the human and was close enough to intervene when it happened. Approximately five yards in front of June there were a series of raised rapidly raised dust clouds, the kind made by a quadruped predator about to spring. The Prime had seen this kind of thing before; usually it meant a cloaked turbofox about to attack. All this flashed through his processor faster than even a Cybertronian mind could follow. He lunged in front of June in the vector the predator would be most likely to take, sending out a distress signal as he did. Before his peds even found firm ground there was a sudden tearing pain across the sensitive joints where his legs met his torso. Optimus slashed down with his blade and felt a slight resistance, as if the atmosphere was slightly thicker where the thing should have been. There was an angry hiss, then nothing.
Arcee and Bulkhead signaled that they were inbound to his position without question. But they were far out into the intricate canyon system and would take several minutes to return.
*Optimus! What is happening?* Ratchet demanded.
*An invisible enemy is attacking Mrs. Darby,* the Prime replied shortly.
His optics rapidly searched the ground around the human for any further traces of raised dust. But the area was strewn with rocks of all shapes and sizes. If the creature was at all cunning it could avoid another such mistake. The leader of the Autobots began to cycle through every light and sound spectrum in his visual range.
"Optimus!" June suddenly called out in horror.
The Prime swung around to look at her. But instead of an attacker she was staring at his legs.
"You're bleeding! I mean leaking energon. What's going on?" the woman asked, flustered.
"There is an attacker nearby," Optimus replied never stopping his search. "It appears to be currently out of my range of perception and may be close."
"What do I need to do?" June asked calmly.
"Stand there," the Prime indicated the center of a large patch of loose soil. In that location he might have a chance to respond to any attack. The Autobot circled her as she moved. Scanning in every direction but never taking his optics off the fragile human. Glowing blue energon was sliding down his legs to drip on the ground.
The woman turned away from the sight and walked quickly towards the spot he'd indicated. Halfway there she felt the hairs on the back of her neck prickle. Suddenly a weight struck her shoulders, knocking her to the ground and pain ripped across her back. Some instinct mad her throw her arms around the back of her neck just before a set of jaws snapped shut. There wasn't even time to scream.
*You're energon blade!*
Optimus heard and understood Nitor's urgent communication. The Autobot triggered the glowing sword and sliced through the air over June's prone and bleeding form. This time there was definite resistance from something. A horrific screech filled the air around the Prime. The woman's struggling ceased and she began trying to get up as if some weight had released her. Optimus reached down and scooped her up tenderly with one hand and held the glowing blade in front of her like a shield. Her red blood dripped through his fingers.
"Don't," she hissed through clenched teeth. "No groundbridge!"
The leader of the Autobots murmured a reassurance. He understood the woman's meaning perfectly. With the invisible creature still possibly near, opening a bridge straight to the base's interior would only expose the others still at base to attack. Jack would be sitting in the human's area bent over his textbooks.
"No groundbridge," the Prime agreed. "Yet." She was still bleeding.
A howl of rage suddenly split the night. Optimus spun around but couldn't get a clear fix on the sound. He spotted Nitor charging across the Nevada landscape. The white mech's attention was focused on a spot several yards from the injured Prime. Optimus turned his attention in that direction. There was a faint disturbance there. It might have just been a layer of warm air hovering over a sun warmed boulder. Nitor transformed his hands and fired several times at the spot. Optimus saw the rapid recoil motion of the shots with no visible discharge. There was a scattering of golden light where each blast struck true on, something.
The Prime focused all his sensors on the spot. He could detect air currents swirling around the creature. The ambient temperature appeared to be several degrees cooler in the area as well. Optimus trained his charged cannon on the area just in case Nitor needed assistance. The white mech leapt up into the air and came down swinging his fists. His jump was interrupted about two yards off the ground; not as if he'd landed on something solid but rather had sunk into something viscous. Nitor began to attack the invisible creature with his fists. The night air was soon filled with screams of rage and pain. The warrior was clearly in control of the situation.
Optimus felt his mind begin to fog over. He shook his helm and made certain his grip on Mrs. Darby was secure. The woman was clearly in pain but she seemed to be ignoring it while she applied self first aid. She had torn the lining out of her jacket and bound most of the deep cuts. The Prime carefully extended an articulator and tied the last several strips around her back where she wasn't able to reach.
"What about you?" she asked when he was finished. "That thing cut up your joints pretty bad."
"I am not leaking energon fast enough for it to be a problem," he assured her. "I will be fine until Ratchet can repair the damage."
Arcee and loped up behind him and surveyed the situation quickly.
"Is there any way I can help?" she asked.
"The tale tales for this creature appear to be a drop in the ambient temperature," Optimus said. "Other than that there appears to be no way to identify it."
"Roger that," the blue fembot immediately began scanning the local thermoclines. Once she filtered out the ambient temperature differences there was a vague track.
"It came from the east," she said, "wandering a lot, like it was searching for something. A quadruped, with about a four yard stride. Primus," she let out softly.
"What is it?" Optimus asked not taking his eyes of the battle. From what he could tell of Nitor's position he had the thing in a headlock of some sort.
"It climbed all over you. Didn't you feel it?" Arcee asked in horror.
"No, I felt nothing," he replied grimly.
The ground shook as Bulkhead approached at a dead run.
"What gives bossbot?" he asked.
Suddenly Nitor heaved his arms up in a powerful wrenching motion and staggered back. The white mech's body was covered in scratches. He flexed his shoulders and looked up at Optimus grimly.
"It is no longer a threat and there will be no others for some time. It is safe to return to base," the white mech said.
*Ratchet groundbridge now,* the Prime ordered.
The green portal appeared instantly and the bots strode through it.
"Mom! How badly are you hurt?" Jack demanded as they stepped into the silo.
"Pretty bad," the nurse admitted truthfully, "I need to get to the hospital quickly."
"I don't think so," said Ratchet with a frown as he gently took the human from Optimus's hands. "I am quite capable of tending to your needs here."
"No Doctor," June looked the red and white mech firmly in the optics, "you will not; for three reasons. One you need to tend to Optimus and Nitor, something no one else is capable of. Two, I will no doubt need blood transfusions, something you can't provide. Three I really don't want to have to explain who patched me up to my fellow nurses."
At the end of this speech the woman sagged down into the medibot's hands. He saw the red stain slowly spreading across his palm. His shoulders tightened as he acknowledged the human's logic.
"Bulkhead!" he roared out. "Take Nurse Darby and Jack to the hospital immediately. Jack call ahead."
The medic gently placed the woman in Bulkhead's cab and gruffly turned to tend to the Prime. Jack jumped in beside her and Arcee triggered the groundbridge. Bulkhead gently rolled through the vortex. Nitor stared after them.
Though extensive the damage from the individual wounds to the Prime was minor; shallow lacerations consistent with the rest of the scant information they had on the creature that attacked them. Nitor had offered to describe it in detail but was so woozy on his feet Ratchet ordered him to rest quietly after determining that the mystery creature didn't possess poison claws. It was somewhat difficult to stop the leaking fluids. The claws were clearly designed to do as much damage as possible and had left thing but ragged scars. The medic however had far too much experience with such wounds and before long released Optimus from the medibay to rest.
Nitor's injuries were far less severe; minor scratches to his mesh and joints. His system however showed the same levels of energy depletion from the last time he'd fired his guns. Ratchet commented on this.
"They are very impractical. I would like an energy blade now," Nitor responded.
"Yes I suppose that would be best. Whatever source of energy you use simply isn't capable of recharging fast enough. Perhaps if you could increase your draw on the source," Ratchet suggested.
"That is not an option," Nitor said harshly.
Ratchet shuttered his optics rapidly. He had never heard that level of intensity from the white mech.
"Very well," the medic replied. "I'll get on reformatting you a blade and shield first thing tomorrow."
"No," Nitor said catching the Autobot's shoulder in one hand. "I want it now."
Ratchet was about to protest, but thought over his other options. Mainly they involved spending the night worrying about June, unable to help her. Jack had called in that she was in surgery still.
"Let's get started," the medibot said briskly.
The next morning Jack rolled into the base looking about as bad as Ratchet had ever seen him. There were dark circles under his eyes and his face was puffy from lack of sleep. The young man staggered as he climbed off of Arcee.
"Easy there partner," the fembot said softly, reaching out a hand to steady him.
Jack smiled at her reassuringly.
"Well how is your mother?" The medic demanded.
Jack looked up at him and blinked sleepily.
"She's stable and in no serious danger," the human said fighting a yawn. "The surgeon says we still have to watch out for infections and she will need to take it easy for several weeks but the cuts didn't sever anything vital. Miko is with her now and Bulk is watching from the parking lot."
"I am glad to hear that," Ratchet felt some of the tension in his system dissipate. "Nitor will be too."
"Where is he?" Jack asked glancing around.
"In the lab. I'll go get him," the red and white mech said.
"He's probably hiding from Ratchet," Arcee murmured softly to Jack.
Jack looked up at her curiously.
"Every time Ratch would start to get too wound up over June Nitor came up with something for him to do. He had the Doc check every weld on his frame, reformat his guns into a sword and shield combination and detail a red dragon curling up one arm," she explained.
"A dragon?" Jack said surprised. "Isn't that a little ostentatious for Nitor?"
"Hey it kept the old mech from worrying, I'm pretty sure that was the point. But I suspect Nitor has gotten a little jumpy from all the attention," she replied. "I haven't seen him for a couple of hours."
Bumblebee whistled inquisitively from where he was monitoring the main consol.
"Raf is at home helping his mom cook up about a month's worth of food," Jack answered guessing what was on the mech's mind. "When he told his mom what had happened and that he wanted to help she decided that I needed to eat right while my mom is recovering. I'm going to meet them later at my place to put it all in the freezer."
"Bumblebee! Do you know where Nitor is?" Ratchet called out from the lab.
The yellow scout chirped a negative.
"That's odd, he's not answering his comm.," the medic frowned.
"Perhaps he went out to examine the site of the attack," Optimus suggested as he came into the silo.
Ratchet strode up to the main consol and unceremoniously shouldered Bumblebee out of the way.
"No," he said, "Except for Arcee leaving and returning neither the groundbridge nor the outer door has been activated. He must still be somewhere within the base."
"He's probably back in storage scrubbing the pipes until they shine," Arcee said with a smile. "Common Jack lets go find him."
Optimus quietly watched the two walk back into the base chatting with each other.
"Optimus, what's wrong?" Ratchet asked heavily. "I know that look."
"I fear they will not find our friend," Optimus said.
Ratchet opened his mouth to ask why but closed it again when he saw the sadness in his leader's optics. Optimus turned to the consol and began sifting carefully through the archived computer files.
"What are you looking for?" the medic asked.
"I will know when I find it," the Prime replied.
After awhile the searchers came back clearly concerned.
"He's not anywhere in the base," Arcee said.
"Yeah, and I never realized how many places there were for a bot to hide in this old place," Jack offered shaking his head. I think we searched everywhere."
They fell silent when they realized that neither of the older bots was responding. Bumblebee chirped a question and Optimus indicated the main screen.
"I found this in the main drive," the Prime said as he opened a file.
An image of Nitor filled the screen. Jack saw the dragon on his arm just as Arcee had said; no two dragons he realized. The paint had been skillfully applied so that it depicted a red dragon and a white dragon entwined in battle. The mech seemed to be looking straight into their eyes.
"My friends," he said, "it is past time for me to depart. The time I have spent with you will always be precious to me and I pray to the creator that you will always find the strength to continue o your path. But here we part ways. The creature which harmed Optimus Prime and the Lady Darby last night was hunting me. It scented my energy on her and was curious. That is why it didn't immediately kill her," the Autobots could hear pain in his voice. "I have compiled a data file on the beast but it will do you little service. It contains everything I know and can express in English. But let me assure you it will not attack again, while that kind cannot be killed, I did end its threat to you. Others will however find me, and while there is little threat to myself you all would be in grave danger were I to remain with you," here the white mech paused.
"I would also like to apologize for any contention my presence has caused between the humans and the Autobots. It is not out of a desire to deceive you that they have hidden so much but rather the fulfillment of an older oath of loyalty than the one they share with you. "
"Optimus Prime it was truly an honor to know you. More so than anyone it has been my delight to meet, you have the heart of a true servant. Until we meet again."
There was dead silence in the base as the Autobots absorbed this. Finally Ratchet let out a huff in indignation.
"Servant? Optimus is the greatest leader I've ever seen!"
"I think," Jack said softly, "that Nitor would view those as one and the same."
"Indeed," Optimus smiled down at the human, "I count it a great compliment."
"This is why he had me do all those modifications last night," Ratchet growled. "He needed to be self sufficient. And how did he leave without triggering any of the systems?" Ratchet demanded searching the security records furiously.
Optimus smiled at his old friend. They would each mourn in their own way. Bumblebee was sadly relaying the news to Bulkhead. The Prime's optics flicked down to Jack. The human was staring out the main base door after the retreating figure of Arcee. The leader of the Autobots inclined his helm after her. Jack nodded and trotted after her. Optimus sent Primus a silent prayer of thanks, not for the first time, for the young human's presence.
A plain white sedan with odd red striping pulled up to a small stone cottage in Yorkshire. Three children were playing happily in the yard. The oldest looked intently at the driverless car and ran inside. A dark skinned woman came out on the arm of a graying man of perhaps fifty.
"So this is him?" the man asked his wife.
"Yes," she replied leaning into him.
The children were climbing all over the car laughing and joking. One finally came to rest on the hood and tilted her head to one side.
"You don't want to be here," she said sadly.
The rest of the children paused and looked at the car curiously. Their sister continued.
"You have friends and a family to take care of already. Why aren't you with them?"
The woman walked over and scooped up her daughter lovingly.
"His other family isn't protected from the others like we are," she explained to the girl. "Some of them couldn't even see a pooka if it was standing there kicking them, and they can't chase off the scary ones."
"Oh," the little girl mulled this over. "So he gets to stay with us instead."
"Yes dear, for the time being."
There was a happy cheer from the assembled children and they proceeded to thoroughly explore their new houseguest.
Mrs. Darby winced slightly as Jack and a nurse helped her out of the green SUV.
"Easy there June," Sandy said with a smile. "There's no need to rush. You're home now."
Jack ran ahead to open the door as the two women walked up the driveway.
"I still can't get over it," June's coworker said shaking her head, "attacked by a cougar in this day and age. I'm just glad the feds managed to kill it before it got anyone else."
The ward nurse helped June into the house and lingered for a cup of coffee. As soon as she lef Jack gently assisted his mother back to the garage. A green portal opened and they walked through it.
"Nurse Darby!" Ratchet called out eagerly. "Come along now we have much to do." The red and white mech tenderly scooped up the woman and carried her into his lab.
Jack felt a tiny stab of jealously but resolutely pushed it down before heading up to play with the others. The base was slowly returning to normal. But Nitor's departure left a distinct void in the silo. It hurt the most that they had no idea where he was or when he'd return. Jack paused a moment at the top of the stairs and looked out over the team. He sent up a silent prayer that they would never have to experience that kind of loss again.