A/N: Oooookay. So this one really needed an edit, too, partly because I took a lot of inspiration from other authors and I think it's pushing the line of too much, and partly because it's developing a little differently than planned and some characters now look OOC. So far I've finished chapters 1-3 and haven't changed any major plot points, just the way they played out.

The prologue bit here is new, though. Hope people like it.

To first-time readers, yes, this Riella shares a name with my movieverse OC, but not much else. I liked the fact that different Transformers continuities allow for very different versions of the same character, and ran with it.

She is a first-frame. Still a sparkling. A child.

And she is sentenced to execution for a crime she hasn't committed yet.

Her spark burns and freezes and pulses too fast, fluttering and catching and jolting pain through every part of her. Oil runs down her chest and arms, staining her plating, dripping onto the ground. Bleed any more and she will die.

She has a choice. She can stay and face the authorities. Judge, jury, and executioner all in one. Or she can leave. Go on the run and never stop running, no matter what.

It's an easy decision. One means life. One means death.

She runs.

She is an undersized third-frame. She looks like a second-frame on a good day and a first-frame on a bad one, but she is almost full-grown now.

But compared to the mechs standing in front of her, she might as well be a sparkling for all the good fighting or running will do.

Frantic pulses and jolts run through her spark. She fights the pain. She can't afford to be weak now. Her life depends on it.

The Cyber-Ninja master looks at her and holds out a hand. He looks kind. He looks sympathetic. He looks trustworthy. Everything feels safe.

She doesn't believe a word of it. "Safe" has no meaning for her. There is no such thing as safe. There hasn't been since she was a first-frame.

He asks her a simple question. Yes or no.

She has a choice. She can tell the truth. Face reality. Or she can keep up the pretense. Hold on to whatever shred of protection it will give her.

It's an easy decision. One has always worked before. One has an unknown outcome.

She lies.

She is a third-frame, and now she looks it. She'll never be tall or heavily plated or curved like the average fembot frame, but she doesn't look like a sparkling anymore.

The mech kneeling beside her is small for his frame type, lightly armored with no mods. She is still outmatched in size, strength, and speed.

But she knows him. He is her best friend. Her only friend.

Her spark twitches and jerks, and she curls into a ball from the pain, shaking, biting her lip to stay quiet.

She can feel his hand on her shoulder, trying to comfort her. He is worried. He wants to help.

He knows.

She has a choice. She can accept his help. For once in her life, trust someone. Or she can insist that it's nothing. That it's not a glitch. Not a problem.

It's not an easy decision. One will save her. One will destroy her. She doesn't know which.

She takes a risk.

She takes his hand.

She's a fourth-frame adult. Nearly a fully trained Cyber-Ninja, like the mech at her side. She's a match for any one 'bot.

They've been traveling for millennia. She doesn't know how long it's been since she saw another Cybertronian.

But there they are. Strangers. Space bridge repair 'bots. The Elite Guard washout, the medic who's older than the two of them put together, the energon-farm giant with very little processing power, and the barely third-frame loudmouth.

They are still dangerous. They could still kill her. One word to the wrong 'bot and she is dead.

She may have told the truth – once – but she never stopped running.

So when their leader, the former Elite Guard, asks what their abilities are, she's not surprised by her thoughts.

She has a choice. She can earn their trust. Tell the truth. Or she can risk their hatred. Protect herself.

It's not an easy decision. The mech beside her is watching. He knows the truth. He will know if she lies. And they asked him for an answer. He can answer for both of them. She knows he rarely lies.

She doesn't know what to say. How to ask. Whether he will listen if she does.

She doesn't have to.

He tells only half the truth.

He hides her.

Chapter One

::Optimus to Riella.::

On the computer screen, the sleek blue motorcycle and its helmeted rider continued cruising down one of Detroit's side streets, slightly over the speed limit. Almost a full minute passed before a terse female voice snapped, ::Riella. What?::

::Professor Princess is causing trouble for Bumblebee and Sari at a store near Sumdac Tower.:: Optimus Prime waited for a moment, realized that Riella wasn't going to respond, and continued, ::There's too many civilians for them to deal with her. I need you to go help..::

Another few seconds passed before the motorcycle finally changed course, screeching through a tight turn into a narrow alley and disappearing out of traffic-camera range. The disappearance was almost immediately followed by a heavy sigh. ::Fine, I've got it.::

::Good. I'm sending Bulkhead to back you up.::

An irritated hiss of feedback crackled over the comm system, making Optimus wince. ::It's a human child. I don't need backup, and frankly I'm surprised Bumblebee does.::

Optimus rolled his optics and decided to avoid that argument. ::Maybe not, but better safe than sorry. The three of you can make sure there's no collateral damage.::

::Yes, sir.::The hiss of feedback rose into a sharp screech before being cut off.

Grimacing, Optimus rubbed at his ringing audio and glared at the computer screen. "I really wish she wouldn't do that."

Ratchet shrugged. "Kid does it just to get to you. Don't let her know it's working, and she'll stop."

"Huh." Optimus fiddled with the computer controls. "And find some other way to make me regret giving her orders. Cyber-Ninja training must not involve people skills."

"Give the kid a break." Ratchet took the remote away and shut off the screen. "Yeah, she has the personality of a feral cyber-cat, takes everything personally, and doesn't care who she offends, but you know she'd never turn her back on a 'bot who was really in trouble. When she wants to be, she's not a bad teammate."

Optimus rolled his optics. "The key to that sentence is 'when she wants to be'. Between her and Prowl – for Primus's sake, it's not that hard to work with the team once in a while!"

"Okay, I'll give you that."

"At least Prowl pretends to listen. Riella doesn't even bother. You'd think she'd try at some point, if only out of self-preservation!" Optimus was working himself up into a rant. "Worse yet, it's rubbing off on Bumblebee, and now I have to deal with two of them. Is obeying at least one order really too much to ask for?"

"Whoa, now." Ratchet shook his head. "She obeys, just not without comment. I know you Academy 'bots were taught to do what you were told right off without questioning orders until you got a rank, but you've got to remember. Riella's not an Academy 'bot. Really, the kid could be a lot worse. Her attitude needs a lot of work, no question there, but you're overreacting."

Optimus slumped onto the 'bot-sized couch. "Okay, then what am I supposed to do? This has to stop, Ratchet."

Ratchet turned toward the medbay. "I'll talk to her when she gets back. Might be she's upset about something and just needs to get it out."

On the far side of Detroit, Riella raced down the street, swerving around other vehicles without ever touching them. The disturbance was obvious from blocks away; the occasional explosion was resulting in debris and smoke thrown into the air. Oddly pink-colored smoke.

Skidding around one last corner, she transformed in one rapid movement, coming up on one knee and crouching for a second to assess the situation. Pale blue optics flicked from building to building, hunting for a glimpse of the source of the explosions.


She pushed herself up, forward, and into a front flip, vaulting over a crashed (non-sentient) car and tumbling sideways at the last second to avoid a razor-edged flower. Concrete scraped her knee plating as she rolled upright, glancing rapidly left to right and trying to spot either Bumblebee or Professor Princess through the smoke. "Bumblebee! Sari! Where are you?"

An energy blast from the left answered her question. She dived that direction, somersaulting to avoid another flower and landing on one knee next to the smaller yellow 'bot. "I suppose there isn't much point in asking for an explanation."

"All I know is this girl really needs some help!" Sari poked her head out from behind Bumblebee's leg, red ponytails disheveled.

Riella shook her head impatiently. "Right. I know. Any damage?"

"None to us." Bumblebee ducked back behind the corner of the building as another pink explosion shook the ground. "Just the building. There's still people inside, and I couldn't -"

"Kay." She cut him off with an impatient hand gesture. "You two get the civilians, I've got this." She started to move, only to stop when Bumblebee followed. "What in the Pit d'you think you're doing, kid?"

"You're gonna get slagged!" Bumblebee reached for her arm, saw the look she gave him, and backed off without touching her. "We already tried that, and Sari almost got killed!"

"I'm not a human child," Riella snapped, pointing to the building. "I'll be fine! Get going."

The yellow Autobot opened his mouth, probably to argue, but she ignored him. She'd spotted Professor Princess, still clinging to her robot unicorn, about thirty feet up. I can jump that far. No problem. A quick glance back and to the left gave her the location of the building she would need to use as a step up. Without waiting to see if Bumblebee was going to do as she said, she took off, sprinting across the parking lot at an angle. Three – two –

She wasn't quite fast enough. A cat-shaped projectile slammed into her shoulder and exploded, sending her flying backward into the store window with a crash and a grunt of pain. Smoke swirled around her, covering the air in a thick pink haze that made it difficult to see Professor Princess above her.

The child didn't seem to have any trouble seeing Riella, though, pointing a small wand at her. "Come on, Powdered Sugar! We'll save everyone from this big naughty robot!"

"Powdered Sugar?" Riella groaned and rolled over, pushing herself upright with a wince. Melted plating sparked and crackled along her shoulder and side. "Really? Isn't it your nap time?"

The outraged squeak from the girl drew a rare smirk from the Autobot, who ejected her battle blades and dropped into an attack stance. "Okay. Let's get this over with."

Another cat-shaped explosive ripped through the concrete, barely missing Riella's left leg. She ignored it, diving forward and rolling out of the way of several more razor flowers. The movement put her almost directly under Professor Princess, exactly where she wanted to be. Perfect.

She backflipped onto a fallen car, kicked off, and launched herself into a flying strike with her left battle blade out. The car gave her just enough extra height, and the blade slammed through the robot unicorn's underside, ripping out the propulsion system. Professor Princess hit the ground seconds later, and immediately started wailing.

Riella brushed a few remaining shards of glass off her shoulders and turned to look at Bumblebee, Sari, and the half-dozen humans behind her. "See, that's how you do it."

An engine rumble and a ground-shaking thud indicated Bulkhead's arrival. The biggest of the Autobots looked down at the child on the ground, then at Riella. "I thought you were going to wait for backup."

"Why would I wait for you?" Riella shrugged, ignoring the pain from her wounded shoulder. "I had it covered."

"Covered?" Bulkhead pointed to the injury. "You could've been offlined!"

"Ha. Nothing a moment with the Key won't fix. Speaking of which…" Riella stared pointedly at Sari until the girl pulled out the Key. "I'd kind of like my range of motion back."

"Yeah, sure. No problem." Sari reached up for Riella's arm, but instead of picking her up, the Autobot crouched low enough for her to reach the key slot. Sari rolled her eyes, stood on tiptoe, and turned the Key.

As usual, it hurt. Riella ignored the off-beat pulsing from her spark; the Key wouldn't fix it. It never had. Flexing her shoulder slightly, she straightened up and gestured to the other two. "Okay, we're done here. I've got patrol." Without waiting for a response, she transformed and took off, back to her self-assigned patrol route.