Transformers Prime: The Ties that Bind
"Jack? Jack, wake up."
Only slightly aware of the voice that was calling him, Jack's thoughts drifted back to the dream which had just been abruptly cut short, much to his lamentation, involving a tropical beach and beautiful girl with raven colored hair…
"Arcee?" Jack asked, his voice muffled by the pillow he currently had in his arms.
"Who?" The voice asked.
That statement splashed cold water, figuratively speaking, on Jack's quickly subsiding fantasy. Suddenly far more conscious then he had been but a moment before, the teen at last exposed the greater part of his face, giving his eyes the chance to focus on the frowning countenance of June Darby, standing in the doorway to Jack's bedroom.
"Mom?" Jack asked, looking about the small room for the alarm clock he usually kept on his desk nearby. "What is it?"
"Phone for you." She replied, taking that as clearance to move past the invisible barrier she knew all teens erected at the door to their private sanctuaries. Jack had never been one to make a fuss about his room being off limits, but June had often made it a point to respect the silent rule none the less.
"Who's Arcee?" She asked.
"What? Oh, uh, nothing. Just something I was dreaming about…I guess." Noticing his mother's hand set over the receiver Jack inquired, "Who's calling?"
"She said her name was Sadie." June's face suddenly possessed all the air of an investigative journalist of the worst order. "She sounds a lot older then the girls from your school. Who is she?"
Head spinning as his brain continued to rouse itself completely from sleep, Jack fumbled for something to say that wouldn't invoke further interrogations.
"She's just a…co-worker. From the Diner." Letting his face assume a false semblance of annoyance, Jack followed with, "She's probably just calling to see if I can cover a shift."
Seemingly satisfied that her son's caller had no ulterior motives other then dropping work on another person, June handed the phone to Jack's waiting hand. Alone, Jack counted his mothers footsteps down the hall before putting the phone to his ear.
"Why didn't you call my cell?" Jack asked, sitting up quickly.
"You left it in here, with me." Her tone, though light, was underlined with some unspoken purpose. "Sorry for the wake up call. I would have posed as one of your teachers, but I didn't want to overplay that card too much. Besides, it's the weekend and your mother's not stupid. One of the reasons I like her. Anyway, we have to move. Now."
Heeding the serious tone of her voice, Jack was already up and digging about for something to put on over the simple T-Shirt and shorts currently on his person. "What's up?"
"Got a call from Ratchet. He thinks he might have been able to triangulate the position of Starscream's frequency jammer to within a few miles. Prime wants us out looking for the thing. That means I need to get you to the base. Miko and Raph should be there by the time we show up."
"Got it. Okay, be out in five." Shoes on, Jack was already moving for the door. Passing his mother, sipping at a cup of tea in the kitchen, Jack dug around in the back of his mind for an explanation in response to the unspoken inquiry currently plastering itself across her face.
"Wasn't a work thing, I just left my cell at the Diner. I'm going to go grab it." Jack set the house phone on the counter, placing a quick kiss on his mother's cheek. "I'll be back later. Might hang out with Raph and Miko at the mall for a few hours."
"Okay. But don't be out so late. Unless you're trying to save the world or something it's not good for you Jack."
Finding he was suddenly glad he hadn't been drinking something, least he find himself ejecting it, Jack only answered with an eye roll before slipping out of the kitchen and into the garage.
Pleased as he always was to see Arcee waiting for him, Jack slipped on his helmet, tossing a leg over the seat.
"Saving the world, huh?' Arcee asked sardonically.
"I know. Sometimes I'm worried she's psychic."
Sharing a laugh, the two were out and on the road, leaving the small town behind quickly.
"Glad the two of you could join us," Ratchet droned as Arcee, now in her bipedal form, and Jack entered the operations center. "Perhaps now we can try to get back to the matter of stopping the Decepticons before they compromise every communications channel on the planet."
"Easy, Ratchet, we got her as quickly as we could." Arcee shot back.
"Indeed, old friend." Came the rumbling and instantly commanding tone of Optimus Prime, the rest of the Autobots gathered about him with their human charges. "We can not have our human friends with us at all hours. Greetings Jack, you have been a missed presence among us."
"Thanks, Optimus. Sorry I've been so preoccupied. But," he finished, exchanging a look with Arcee. "everything's good now."
"I am pleased to hear that. Now, Ratchet, perhaps you could bring everyone up to speed."
"My pleasure." The Autobot Medic said, bringing up a series of data readouts and what appeared to be topographical maps of the Nevada desert. "As you are all aware, Starscream has set about raising some type of long range frequency dampening device and, much to our dismay, has been infuriatingly successful at keeping it concealed from our own scans and patrols."
In response to Ratchet's description, the data and images being projected onto the operations screen adjusted to show the various search grids which had revealed little to nothing of significance.
"Thankfully, I've had a bit of a breakthrough. I managed to…"
"Hey!" Came a small voice from near Ratchet's legs. Looking for all the world like an angry lab partner, Raphael gave the massive Autobot a withering glare. "You can't take all the credit for that."
Sighing audibly, Ratchet pretended to not have heard the small human, but none the less rephrased his next choice of words. "That is to say, 'we' had a breakthrough."
On the screens, a series of zeros and ones, interspersed with strange symbols, appeared, forming columns of numbers which appeared to be missing small segments. Those not gifted with a greater understanding of what they were seeing waited for Ratchet to elaborate further. The next phase of the briefing, however, came from the team's newest tech specialist.
"I'm kind of ashamed to admit I didn't think about it before," Raph said, using his own customized laptop to interface with the Autobot mainframe. "But, it's clear Starscream couldn't have done all of this on his own. From what Optimus has told me, he just doesn't have the know-how; but Soundwave does."
Typing furiously, Raph paused long enough to produce a small flash drive from his shirt pocket, showing it to the new arrivals. "Remember this?"
"Yeah," Jack said. "You used it to download the schematics for the Space-Bridge."
"Right, and remember how Soundwave was at the Array complex, trying to stop us?"
"All too clearly." Jack said dryly, recalling the fight against the Decepticon and his metallic tentacles.
"Well, when I hacked the security and control systems at the Array, I remember seeing these weird lines of codes. Then, when we downloaded the schematics off the Decepticon ship, I remember seeing those codes when I was trying to decrypt the files."
"Are you going to wrap up anytime soon because you're melting my brain here." Miko said from somewhere atop Bulkhead's shoulder.
"Sorry. Anyway, when Ratchet was reviewing the jamming frequencies, I wondered if maybe Soundwave was using our own communication services, LAN lines, cell towers and stuff, to boost the range. And I was right. Might not have helped, but when I started digging I found small patches of the same code all over the place, hidden in redundant software and files. In a way, it's like Soundwave left his finger prints all over the scene of the crime."
"And how does that help us?" Arcee asked.
"Well, Soundwave might be a walking Spy Satellite with Cybertronian bells and whistles, but, like Ratchet, he thinks human tech is primitive and that it can't be used against him. Wrong."
This time it was Ratchet's turn to give the withering glare.
"I was able to follow his digital fingerprints all the way back through to a hub network which falls dead center in an area where our Coms have encountered the most interference. That has to be the area, and it's only a few miles wide!"
"Which is where we come in." Optimus said, drawing the group's attention. "Thus far, the Decepticons have only managed to blanket a relatively small area. However, given the opportunity, this device could compromise global communications completely, leaving not only us, but Humanity at risk as well."
Gesturing to the area now highlighted on the search grid, the Autobot leader continued. "If we combine our efforts in this sector, working our way in, I have no doubt we will find the frequency device, and perhaps the Decepticon ship as well. If we strike quickly enough, we could very well cripple our enemy and their efforts here on Earth."
From Ratchet's opposite side, Bulkhead brought his hand and fist together gleefully. "Now that's what I'm talking about. Two birds, one big stone."
"Indeed." Answered Prime. "You all know what needs to be done. Ratchet, power up the Land-Bridge. We'll go in just out of range of the search area, try to remain under their sensors. Autobots, Roll-Out!"
Setting Miko down, Bulkhead followed Optimus and Bumblebee to the launch tunnel, leaving only Ratchet and Arcee in the operations center, the later standing over Jack, both uncertain of what to say.
"Jack/Arcee," both said, in unison.
"Just…" Jack said quietly. "Be careful. Okay?"
"I will." Arcee replied.
With farewells exchanged, Arcee joined her comrades in the Bridge tunnel, just as the twisting shaft of incandescent light filled the passage. Within moments, the team was gone.
Eyes still focused on the tunnel, Jack wondered somberly if there was something more he should have said before letting Arcee go. Deciding he would just have to wait till she returned to tell her anything else he turned to see what Raph would be doing on their end to help with the mission, and came face to face with Miko, the girl wearing the smuggest of knowing expressions.
"What?" Jack asked defensively.
"Yeah right, scrub." Miko said, arms folded. "I'm 'that' blind. Jeez."
The Autobot strike team divided with only silent gestures of good fortune as the Land-Bridge deposited them in a small box canyon with in several kilometers of the jammer's central area. With a thumbs up to the others, Arcee was off and moving quickly along the route Optimus had designated was hers.
The rest of the team would attempt to remain at maximum range from one another to reduce the chance of being spotted in force, but would also attempt to stay close enough to provide back up should ambushes take place. With their communications abilities limited, time would be of the essence.
The majority of her sojourn proved to be, like so many other patrols the Autobots had undergone in search of the jamming device, uneventful and, after several hours, Arcee began to worry they might not find the hub, or that the Decepticons would detect their approach and relocate, forcing the team to start back at square one.
What was worse was that the silence and lack of contact permitted Arcee's mind to wander, something so unlike her in the face of a critical mission. Again and again, her thoughts brought up memories of the previous night, and the, for want of a better word, 'date' she had shared with Jack. Even the idea of the term brought equal amounts of confusion, yet joy, to the Cybertronian.
The simple notion that she could have feelings for someone not of her own race, and so very different in almost every way, seemed ridiculous, something one might expect to see in the kind of over the top film she had watch with Jack at the Drive In.
But the unavoidable fact that she had not only been willing, but had wanted, to share that experience with her human charge was evidence enough that the human had become important to her in a way that both pleased, yet frightened her somewhat. She had suffered deeply when Cliffjumper's life had been taken, and she still suffered terrible visions of her fallen partner reanimated by the twisted power of Dark Energon.
She felt almost tormented by the very thought that Jack, having filled the empty void at the center of the Spark in her chest, might suffer some equally horrid fate and how his loss would effect her. She wondered if her attachment was too much of a risk, if it would endanger the team and their mission to save not only Humanity but somehow their own people from the evil of Megatron's legacy.
But hadn't it been Prime himself, perhaps the greatest hope the Autobots had ever known, that had said on more then one occasion that the human race would play an important part in the future of the Cybertronian race, just as they themselves would play an equally important role in humanity's? Then, wouldn't it make sense that both races would find some kind of common ground, something to bring them together other then some galactic conflict?
The Autobots could already claim to have human allies, and, more importantly, human friends as well. Would it be such a stretch to imagine that two members of each race could share something as wonderfully universal as…Love? Was that the word she was looking for? Is that what she felt?
The word had similar connotations with both races, with the most glaring differences being mostly…physiological. That was something she hadn't cared to think about too much, though she had wondered whether it was something Jack, as a male of his species, had thought about.
If she knew him as well as she felt she did, Arcee knew that wouldn't be something Jack would care about in the face of the bond they shared. What they had, what they were beginning to shape between each-other, was deeper then that.
Together at the Drive In, they had laughed, shared running commentary on the ridiculous nature of what was depicted in the film, though each had an admiration for the special effects rendered on the screen, and had not once ever felt that anything about their time with one another was something strange.
The only thing she had regretted was not being able to duplicate what she had observed with many of the other pairings enjoying the film or one another's company.
Most where huddled close, enjoying the cool night devoid of winter's usual chill. Arcee, whose metal alloy was unaffected by anything but the most extreme temperatures, could not savor the pleasant weather, but none the less wished she could genuinely mimic what she was seeing.
The Sadie projection with it's artificial appearance was as near as she could come.
Even had she been able to shift into her true form, her size would have made things…difficult. Regardless, the time she had spent with Jack was as dear to her as anything else, and she had been happy enough to just have something good to share with him.
Once the evening had come to a close, and she had driven them back to his home, the two had spent hours in the garage, catching up on what had been missed over the course of their week apart, and so many other little things.
At last, Jack had grown fatigued and she had been forced to send him off to rest, least June Darby find her son fast asleep beside his beloved motorcycle come mourning.
Arcee had not been able to recall the last time she had felt so free of everything that weighed heavily upon her; the War, the exile to Earth, and the uncertain future which lay before both her kind and Jack's.
Perhaps that, above everything else, was reason enough to allow herself to fall for someone again. The idea that, once the conflict was over and the Autobots had secured peace for both themselves and their Human allies, there would be something to share, something personal, with another. With the possibility that they might never see Cybertron again, it gave Arcee something special to hold onto.
When she returned from this mission, when Starscream and the threat he possessed had been, hopefully, crushed, she would have a great many things to talk about with her Jack.
That, however, would have to wait.
Situated before her, like a small gem in the desert, was a dome that could only have been of Decepticon make, almost entirely concealed under the lip of a massive stone overhang.
"Bingo." Arcee said, prepping the signal device Optimus had issued to every member of the strike team. It was time to go to work.
"Anything yet?" Asked Jack, hovering over Raph and his laptop.
"No. Not since you asked…five minutes ago." The small techno-wiz replied, his tone almost equal to the one Ratchet often employed when dealing with all the 'irritating humans.'
"Sorry. I'm just…well, I just want to make sure they're alright." Jack said, dropping down atop the abandoned storage container Raph was currently using as a makeshift work station.
Raph looked up at the older teen, trying to feel sympathetic to Jack's plight. Miko had told him about a…'thing' between Jack and Arcee, but she hadn't been specific and Raph had not really understood, despite his above normal intelligence.
He'd pressed for more information, but Miko had only patted him on the head and told him mockingly, "When you're older." Raph had been left, needless to say, even more confused.
Trying to instill some measure of comfort, Raph said reassuringly, "Don't worry. Optimus is leading them, so there's no way they can loose. Plus, BB's there, and he kicks all kinds of butt."
Smiling at the younger teen's erstwhile enthusiasm, Jack laughed, and gave the boy a light slap on the shoulder. "Yeah. You're probably right."
Raph only nodded, his attention already back on the fragments of the Soundwave code he had been studying for hours.
The small burst transmitter, something both Ratchet and Raph had developed for the mission, hummed to life as Arcee activated the controls on the casing, the device emitting small pings on the communication channel the Autobots had chosen for the operation.
Even well within the jamming field, the transmitter's modulating frequencies would permit the small signal bursts to get through to the other members of the team, who would then be able to home in utilizing the strength or weakness of the small transmissions.
Hopefully, to the Decepticons it would seem like simple feedback static.
The beacon set, Arcee dropped from her perch near the overlook, sprinting with silent grace across the open terrain, using the low visibility of evening, which had come mere moments before, to her advantage. She had only been able to spot four or five drones patrolling the perimeter around the circumference of the dome. She new there were more. There were always more.
Getting to the dome proved tense, but easy enough. She could have taken any number of the Eradicons on patrol out of commission with surprise on her side, but there was too much of a risk the drone would be able to signal others on the inside. Though the Decepticon ship was no where to be seen, there was still the chance that either Starscream or Soundwave could be within. Destroying or capturing either would go along way to gaining a permanent victory on Earth.
In the meantime, Optimus had given explicit instructions that whomever located the hub first would scout, attempt to ascertain what they were up against, and then wait for the rest of the team to arrive and launch the attack, covering all possible escape routes to prevent their quarry from slipping through their fingers once more.
Though somewhat impatient to see Starscream pay for his betrayals and for everything which had occurred since, Arcee knew she had to ere on the side of caution not just for the operation, but for the sake of keeping her promise to Jack. She simply hoped Prime and the others were getting the signal and were on their way.
"We're getting something from the grid." Ratchet announced to those assembled around the Ops center. Instantly, Jack was on his feet, trying to get as close to the display screen high above as possible. In the map overlay, a small blue dot was flashing at irregular intervals.
"Looks like my beacon is working as well as I'd hoped." Ratchet said proudly.
"Our beacon." Ratchet reluctantly corrected.
"Okay, so, how long till they're able to radio us?" Jack asked impatiently.
"They will be able to use open channels once the jamming device has been destroyed. We can't know how long that will take." Ratchet replied, double checking the current range and intensity of the burst transmissions, hoping they didn't draw too much attention from anyone other then the Autobots.
"Uh oh." Raph murmured audibly from his workstation.
"I hate it when someone says that." Miko responded, bounding over to see what it was that had gotten Raph's attention on the laptop.
"What's wrong?" Ratchet inquired.
"It's Soundwave. Well, his code. It just went active and it's being routed to multiple sources. But that's not the part the worries me."
"Then what is?" Asked Jack.
"All those sources? They just started transmitting back. On top of that, if I've decoded this right, they're responding to an order."
"What order?" Miko asked, trying to understand the lines of data on Raph's monitor.
"Seek and Destroy." Came his quiet response. "I think."
"Come on, guys…" Arcee whispered to herself. Having made her way around the perimeter of the dome, she had taken up a perch within a crevice on the rock wall which was helping conceal the dome from aerial view.
She had enough cover to go unnoticed by the patrolling Eradicons, for now, but the longer she roosted, the more likely her position could be compromised merely by chance. If that wasn't enough concern, something odd had occurred within the last few minutes to warrant closer scrutiny.
From within the hub, something had immerged, though from her distance she had been unable to make it out clearly in the low light. Whatever it was it had been small and fast judging by how quickly it had disappeared into the night. Possibly some type of tracker drone.
In the intervening period she had seen nothing further immerge, and had seen no further sign of the tiny machine.
Had she been human, she new the hairs on the back of her neck would have been standing on end. It was a sensation Jack had tried to describe to her once. He had explained, with some degree of humor, that most humans had a kind of "Spider Sense," whatever that meant, and that when something was off, it usually manifested in one of several ways. The hair thing apparently being one of them.
Though Arcee possessed nothing of the sort, not counting Sadie's digital tresses, something had her on edge, and it was something other then the impending operation within the hub.
Despite her trepidation, she could not detect anything other then the occasional Eradicon. She entertained the notion of relocating, perhaps finding a location on higher ground to better catch sight of her team's approach.
Suddenly, something flung itself from the darkness above her, latching on to the plates on her chest, small bladed stabbing for any vital point it could find. Arcee's hands instantly rose to shield her optics, the construct's razor like weapons already slicing small groves in the pliable silicon material which comprised her chin and mouth.
Struggling, Arcee managed to get a grip underneath her flailing attacker before tossing it away with a yell. The machine rolled perfectly, it's jointed frame easily coming back to it's multi-limbed feet before charging once more.
No longer taken unawares, Arcee assumed her fighter's stance, producing her long blade from it's sheath in her forearm.
"Bring it you little piece of Scrap…"
With a screech, the living Razor leapt.
Reaching down, Bulkhead retrieved the beacon, showing the device to Optimus who, in turn, scanned the surrounding area around the Decepticon's massive dome.
"It's the Commander's. She can't be far." The hulking Autobot said quietly.
"I hope you are correct. She would not be reckless enough to enter on her own." Prime observed. "However, it would seem she may have found another position from which to recon the Hub…"
Prime's words were cut off as Bumblebee's oscillating pitch alerted the two of them to something just off from their position. Following the mute Autobot's gestures, both Prime and Bulkhead could see a tall glimmering figure engaged in what appeared to be close combat with something they could not discern.
"Is that Arcee? What's that thing she's fighting?" Bulkhead asked, increasing his optical range to better make out whatever it was that had Arcee slicing at the air around her.
"I do not know. It is to dark to make out. But it does not matter, she is in danger. Bumblebee, get to her. Bulkhead and I will breach the dome and seek out the jamming device within."
Buzzing an affirmative, the yellow Autobot was off, charging across the open ground towards Arcee and her attacker.
"Bulkhead. Ready weapons. It's time to bring this to an end." Prime said, his own canon out and powered on.
"Ready when you are, Optimus."
"Agh!" Arcee screamed, catching the darting drone along it's side just as one of it's many sharpened limbs punctured her armor just above the shoulder. The penetration hit nothing vital, but the Razor's blade did catch a small cluster of circuits, the wound sparking slightly.
Now more wary of Arcee's combat prowess, the drone had taken to quick hit and run tactics as opposed to the full on assault it had at first attempted. For her part, Arcee had learned to keep the small menace at bay until she could back it into a corner where it's speed, clearly it's greatest advantage, was limited.
Sadly, and much to her frustration, the little assassin was incredibly adaptable. It repeatedly avoided the aforementioned scenario and was now slowly doing more damage then she could inflict in kind. The drone was also far too close to use her energy weapon.
"What are you waiting for? Huh? Take your best shot!" Arcee shouted, hoping to bait the Razor. The drone's only response was a low hiss.
Lunging forward with a feint, Arcee hoped to create an opening that would allow her to cleave the thing in half, but the drone proved too quick, dodging both attacks and countering with a sudden leap that took it up and over Arcee's head, bringing it down behind her. Before Arcee could turn completely the Razor was airborne, it's forward blades pointed for a killing strike.
With a sound like a thunder clap the drone went flying, an energy blast catching it in mid-air. The machine hit the wall of the outlook, limbs flailing as it's internal components melted. Seizing the opportunity, Arcee spun, coming down on the Razor, blade first. Impaled, the machine shuddered once, then went still.
With a satisfied exhale, Arcee pulled her blade loose, turning happily to her back up. "Thanks BB. You always have great timing." Arcee said with a smirk.
The Autobot gave an appreciative buzz, then pointed for the dome.
"I take it Prime's already inside? Well, come on. He can't have all the fun today."
Both teammates leapt from the stone ledge, leaving the broken assassin behind them.
Inside the dome, the Autobots, quickly reunited, found themselves in the middle of a hectic firefight, the dome proving to be manned by far more drones then they could have estimated.
Taking a step back for cover, Arcee shouted across the gap between generator housings to where Optimus prepared to take another shot. "This place is packed, Prime! They wouldn't have this many Eradicons just to guard the jammer." Ducking out, Arcee fired off a shot that found it's mark, taking a drone clean in the face plate. Nearly headless, the Eradicon toppled from it's place along a catwalk. "Starscream or Soundwave 'have' to be here."
"Agreed. But let us not get ahead of ourselves. We must remain focused if we are to take either of them."
Rolling out from cover, Optimus fired a series of quick shots, each one reducing the enemy numbers. "We're clear, move out!"
Leap frogging between generators the strike team worked it's way deeper into the hub, encountering thicker and thicker resistance the closer to the core they came. Whomever, or whatever, was at the heart of the Decepticon dome was not interested in coming face to face with Prime and his team.
Desperate to halt their advance, the Eradicons began charging, hoping to swarm the Autobots and buy time for whatever was being protected. Taking the lead, Bulkhead easily smashed his way through one drone after another, crushing heads and ripping body frames in half.
Prime wove in among the carnage, duel blades cleaving a swath through those drones not quick enough to fall back out of range.
Hanging back, Arcee and Bumblebee provided covering fire, pinning down the Decepticons who were trying to take shots at long range. It wasn't long before the team stood before the massive reinforced hatch of the hub's central control.
"Bulkhead," Arcee said, taking up a ready position. "Knock and see who's home, would you?"
"My pleasure." Taking a firm grip of each side of the steel portal, the massive Autobot pulled, ripping metal ringing loudly in the now mostly silent corridor. With a final groan of protest the hatch came free, Bulkhead casting it out of the way with a grunt.
Past the entry the Autobots found themselves with-in a massive curved chamber from floor to ceiling, a dome within the larger one. Bundles of cables circled the core, all of them carrying power to the massive pillar at the center of room. Sweeping out across the room, the team moved slowly forward, optics taking in every shadowed corner. For all intents and purposes, the room appeared empty.
"Well," Arcee thought aloud. "This doesn't smell right."
"Agreed." Optimus replied.
"I don't get it." Bulkhead added, edging closer to the central pillar. "Why would they put up a fight for an empty room? Does anything in here look like communications gear?"
"No. The pillar would appear to be funneling power and information. The question remains, to what?"
"Well, now that we know where this place is, we can figure out a way to signal Ratchet. Maybe he and Raph can makes heads and tails of this." Arcee said, gesturing to the bundles of cables around them.
"Well, that was a let down. I was looking forward to giving Starscream a fond greeting for old times sake. Still, let's find out how you turn this scrap off…gak!"
Without warning, the Autobot was up, feet off the ground, a thick tentacle of corded metal around his neck. Unable to see where his attacker was, Bulkhead fired into the darkness above him. Though nothing seemed to hit, the tentacle sent him flying, his massive frame landing atop a cooling pipe which billowed forth freezing clouds of vapor.
"What was that?" Arcee called, her line of sight quickly obscured by the rolling cloud.
Instantly, a strangely distorted voice, familiar yet artificial, filled the chamber.
"Prime. Prime. Prime…" the voice echoed about them.
"Is that…Megatron?" Arcee asked, optics darting about, her audio receptors trying to pinpoint the source.
"I would know if he was here. It is merely his voice. Which leaves only one possibility." Optimus observed slowly. "Soundwave."
"Wait…Soundwave was the jamming device?" Arcee asked.
"So it would seem. A logical conclusion. Remember what our young human friend revealed to us."
Arcee recalled Raph's explanation about the code embedded in the software of various communication networks. She realized quickly that the code bits were not just fragments of Soundwave, they 'were' the Decepticon himself.
"Soundwave. Surrender. You can not defeat us all, and you can not escape this place." Optimus called out to the darkness.
Cackling electronic laughter filled the air in response, and the sound of something large moving across the ceiling followed. Tracking the noise instantly, Arcee fired. The shot appeared to hit only the metal of the upper dome.
"This isn't getting us anywhere. And that coolant isn't dissipating." Keeping her gaze angled upward, Arcee called to the prone Autobot atop the crumpled pipe. "Bulkhead? You still with us?"
"Ugh…" came her teammate's initial response. "Yeah…I'm good. Nothing hurt but my pride." He said mirthlessly. "And my behind."
"BB, help Bulkhead. We'll cover you. The two of you try to shut off that pipe. Watch out for those arms." Arcee instructed.
With a nod, Bumblebee was moving across the chamber, optics darting to every corner. Reaching Bulkhead, the Autobot helped his teammate to his feet. "Thanks little buddie. Now to take care of this."
Raising a massive foot, Bulkhead brought his metal heel down on the edge of the breach, closing it. Following suit with a energy blast, Bumblebee sealed the pipe.
Without further vapor to fuel it, the cloud slowly began to settle, leaving the strike team in an empty chamber once more. However, with little to no illumination, the Decepticon Spymaster remained unseen.
"So, what's the plan Optimus. How do we flush this snake out?" Bulkhead asked, taking a more cautious position then before. "We can always just light this place up." In response, the Autobot's canon glowed.
"No." Arcee said quickly. "I think that's what he wants. He knows we might find something important in all this. But not if we destroy it trying to get to him."
"Arcee is correct. If he had the means to do so, he would have destroyed this place. Yet I detect no explosives of any kind. It would seem he wants us to accomplish that task for him."
"Might be worth it just to take that thorn out of the equation. You know Starscream wouldn't be half as effective without his little pet!" Bulkhead let the last word ring out, hoping to prod the hidden Decepticon. If the potshot had been effective in anyway, Soundwave did not manifest any reaction.
"Perhaps. But I will not take the risk. If he wishes to hide like a coward, so be it." Lowering his weapon, Optimus moved slowly for the breached hatchway. "I will signal Ratchet. He can dismantle this place and learn what is it our enemy does not wish for us to find."
Before the Autobot leader could take another step the air before him was parted by two massive tentacles, each tipped by a blade. Before either could finish their sweeps Optimus had seized each one. With a growl the Prime pulled, eliciting a warbling cry from the dark recesses over head.
Crashing down almost atop the Autobot leader came the violet hued frame of the Decepticon Spy, the Cybertronian barely avoiding Optimus' blades as they flashed around him. Rolling to avoid the attack, the Decepticon leapt and spun with acrobatic grace, his myriad of arms flashing out to deflect both Arcee and Bumblebee who tried to join the fray.
Though he had put some ground between him and the strike team, the Decepticon was cornered.
"You are beaten, Soundwave. Surrender. And you may live to see us restore peace to our race." Prime said slowly.
Optimus's sincere and calm countenance was only met with a silent, burning menace from the spymaster.
"Something tells me he's not willing to take you up on that offer." Arcee observed.
"A pity. So be it. For your crimes against Cybertron and the people of Earth, Soundwave, your spark is forfeit." Raising his arms, Prime prepared to carry out the sentence himself, blades ready. At his back, the rest of the team stood with their canons armed.
Arms at his side, the data interface lines that served as his various secondary appendages at rest, Soundwave simply stood, apparently awaiting for his own demise.
Preparing to move forward in a strike, Optimus paused as a slow vibration filled the metal plates underfoot. As the rest the Autobots took notice, the vibration grew, until it filled the chamber, causing cable housing to come loose, crashing down one after another. At the center of the core, the massive central pillar shifted and groaned loudly.
"What the? I though he didn't have a self destruct!" Bulkhead called out.
"I don't think that's a self destruct." Arcee replied, trying to steady her feet.
From his position, Soundwave began to emit his strange warbling laugh, seemingly at ease with the complex coming down around him.
"It is not a self destruct! Autobots, fall back!" Optimus ordered.
Without awaiting anything further, the strike team charged out of the core chamber, moving as quickly as the shifting ground would permit towards their point of entry. At last coming to the entry portal, the Autobots were greeted with a sight they had not expected to see.
"Oh perfect…." Arcee thought aloud.
Hovering over the structure was the Decepticon command ship, it's massive antigravity field pressing down upon the shell of the dome. To add to the devastation, the ship's gun turrets rotated to track the Autobots where they stood.
"Evasive, now!" Instantly, Optimus was shifting his form, plates, circuits and gears morphing into the vehicle form he had adopted after arriving on Earth.
Splitting off in different directions, the rest of the team followed suit, each one assuming their wheeled modes and driving fast and wildly to avoid the heavy rain of destructive weapons fire from the hovering ship.
Minutes later, relatively unscathed, the Autobots regrouped above the canyon where the dome had been hidden away. It's task completed, the Decepticon ship was already departing, Starscream likely at it's helm. The crater it had left behind held little to nothing but superheated glass.
"Well, at least they lost Soundwave. That has to count for something." Bulkhead observed.
"I wouldn't bet on that just yet." Arcee replied.
"Agreed." Optimus added. "This was a trap set for us in light of our uncovering the location of this hub. For all we know, it's very purpose could have been to lure us in. The ease in which Raph discovered Soundwave's code would attest to that possibility."
"We almost fell for one of Starscream's traps?" Bulkhead asked, his tone incredulous. "Man, that just makes me kind of sad."
"You and me both." Arcee agreed. "Looks like we underestimated the sniveling traitor. Again."
"Yes. And it is not a mistake we will make again." Optimus said with a deep determination. "None the less, this mission is over. With what we have learned, perhaps we can keep our communications free of interference from this point forward. For now, it is time to head home."
The Land-Bridge closing down behind them, the Autobot team entered the ops center with a less then celebratory procession. Instantly the team was pelted with questions from Miko, Raph, and even Ratchet. Optimus began to provide an abbreviated mission report, giving the rest of the team time to settle. Jack, instantly noticing Arcee's cuts along her chin and the small puncture at her shoulder was quickly at her side. "Are you alright? Ratchet should look at that." The concern etched on his features gave him a look which belied his youth.
Arcee, moved as she always was by his concern, knelt to give him a better look as she explained, "They look worse then they are. Really. The Decepticons, or more to the point Soundwave, appear to have some new toys. Nasty little things. But, I'll live."
"I saw your beacon on the display. I wish I could have been there to help. Being here…" The frustration in his eyes was clearly evident, and Arcee could understand the feeling all to well. When she had been injured, it had taken everything she had to not rush out every time Optimus or one of the others had encountered a small pocket of drones.
In the case of Jack, things were made even more infuriating by the fact that one of those in possible danger was someone he cared deeply about. Again, it was something Arcee could relate to. Whenever she thought of something happening to her charge, and that she was somehow unable to protect him, it was enough to fill anyone with a maddening sense of helplessness.
"I've told you before. You being here, safe, makes it easy for me to do what I need to do out there. You staying out of the hands of the enemy is all the help I could ask of you."
"Yeah, I get that. Still…" Perhaps realizing that he might have been further souring what had already proven to be a disappointing day, Jack let the rest of his words blow out in a hush of air. Running hands through his hair, he simply looked up into Arcee's gaze. "I'm just glad you're back. And that you're, well, mostly okay."
"Thanks." Noting the time on her personal chronometer, Arcee saw it was almost well past twelve in the evening. "Scrap. We need to get you all back to town. Your mother might try to kill you, and that would be kind of awkward for me." She said with a laugh.
Happy to have some levity added to the moment, Jack point to the small hole in Arcee's shoulder. "Can you transform with that?"
"We had to go to tires to get away from the ship, so it wasn't a problem. Once you're home, I can go into repair mode. It'll be healed by mourning." She said reassuringly.
Despite showing some disappointment at not being able to gather more data on Soundwave and the codes he had left within the local networks, coupled with Miko wanting more grisly details about the number of Eradicons they had decimated, the humans were given a final goodnight by Optimus before being taken back to their respective residences.
On the return trip, Arcee spoke in greater detail about the Razor drone she had encountered, commenting on the hope that Soundwave didn't have too many more of what she aptly dubbed Minicons. Before long, the pair pulled onto the driveway and into the garage. June Darby, still apparently at work, was no where to be found, though the single mother had left dinner to be reheated.
Throwing the Lasagna into the microwave to be nuked, Jack proceeded to consume the meal seated the entire time with Arcee, who took the opportunity of being alone with her charge in the house to assume her normal form.
The garage, though small, was not too much of a hindrance, and she enjoyed being able to carry a conversation with Jack face to face as opposed to face to headlamp. As Jack grew obviously fatigued, something he tried to conceal with little success, Arcee had a sudden thought which she voiced before suggesting the human get some rest.
"Let's go for a drive in the mourning. Early. Sometime before five. Think you can manage?" She asked.
"Yeah, sure. Where too?" Jack asked in kind.
"It's a surprise. And no, I'm not going to give you a hint. Just get some sleep. The sooner you're out like a light, the sooner it'll be mourning and the sooner you'll find out."
Jack gave an exaggerated sigh, but relented.
"Sounds like a plan. Okay, I guess I'm off to bed. Goodnight, Arcee."
"Sleep well, Jack."
With a final lopsided grin, Jack was gone, leaving Arcee to enter her repair cycle, and look forward to tomorrow.
True to her word, Arcee was waiting as Jack entered the garage, the time on the wall clock showing it was only a few minutes before five in the mourning. Though still somewhat bleary eyed, Jack had slept well enough, which he mentioned in turn after Arcee made the inquiry.
"So, I kept my end. I was patient and everything. What the surprise?" Jack asked, reaching for his helmet on the workbench.
"Sorry, it doesn't work like that. I said I'd show you, but that doesn't mean right away. Come on, though. We need to hurry." Waiting for her human charge to set himself firmly on the rider's seat, Arcee added, "Did you check in on your mother?"
"Yeah, she was out cold. I know she saw me when she came in late last night, so at least she knows I was here. I left her a note. Told her I'd be back."
"We will. This shouldn't take all that long, but it's important. So, you ready?"
"When you are." Jack answered, hands tight over the handle bars.
Saying nothing more, Arcee waited for the garage door to rise and was off at a blur before it was even closed. The chill of mourning wiping about them, the pair took the fastest route of town, the open desert seemingly their destination.
Arcee spoke little enough, but to Jack her excitement was tangible. Though cautious of being spotted by a enemy patrol, Arcee made good time as she broke off the main road and onto back-routes. After perhaps another twenty minutes of driving Arcee road the crest of a rise onto a small bluff and then came to a stop.
"We're here." She said, her voice gleeful, though slightly tinged by an air of anxiety. 'What if he finds this all a bit foolish?' Part of her knew it was unlikely, especially once he saw it for himself. Still, she hoped for the best reaction.
"We're out on the mesa, so what am I looking for?" Jack asked, slipping off the back to get a better look at the surround. Almost immediately Arcee was shifting, taking her bipedal form. "I mean, it's nice out here, even when it's kind of dark," He added quickly. "And freezing."
Nearby, Arcee assumed a spot along the rim of a slight drop off. "Come over here, and just wait."
Somewhat baffled, though trusting, Jack followed suit and set himself next to her. Though still unaware of what was supposed to occur next, he was none the less pleased with the fact that both he and Arcee were about alone as they'd ever been. Not that he was sure what to do with this particular revelation.
After a few minutes, Jack couldn't help put inquire again. "Arcee? What's this all about?"
"Shush," she said, head pointed eastward. "Just watch."
Not wanting to spoil anything further, Jack remained silent, taking comfort at least in Arcee's close proximity.
Suddenly, the space around them was filled with a warm, radiant light, a sea of yellows and orange hues splaying rainbow patterns across Arcee's metallic blue surface. In the dawn light, her eyes shown like a mixture of aqua and turquoise stones. To Jack, he had never seen something so beautiful. For her part, Arcee's attention was fixed on the sunrise, her face as calm and serene as Jack had ever seen it.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" She asked, her voice as warming as the sunrise.
"Yeah," Jack answered, eyes still fixed on his shimmering companion. "Beautiful."
Turning slightly to look down on her charge, Arcee at last noticed where Jack's attention had been focused. Giving him an exasperated smile, Arcee used the tip of her finger to turn Jack's head, and subsequently his gaze, towards the sunrise.
"That way, smooth operator." Arcee said with mock admonishment.
"Sorry." Jack replied, clearly not.
'He does make it hard not to like him, doesn't he…' Arcee mused.
After a few minutes of bliss-full and comfortable silence, Arcee decided it was about time to elaborate about her intentions; the hows and the whys.
"When I first came to this planet, I touched down with Cliffjumper. I found it so strange, so…alien. I never really let myself see it as Optimus did. Never really let myself enjoy it. For me, it was always just about our mission. Defeat our enemies, find a way home." Arcee's voice was distant, permitting herself to truly recall everything that had happened since the Autobot's exile to Earth.
"There was so much I wouldn't allow myself to see. I just…didn't want to get attached to anything again. I'd lost one home, and so many things there that I loved. I wanted to keep myself safe from that again." Across her mind's eye, her memory brought forth ghosts of a past she had tried hard to forget.
"I told Cliff that once, and instead of putting me down or teasing me for my fears, he just asked me to follow him one morning, and then he brought me here. We sat on this spot, and watched your sun rise up, and I just…froze. I let the light wash over me, and it was so beautiful. It was like I was seeing your planet, all it's treasures, for the first time." The feelings from that moment filled her up inside.
"I think I loved Cliff a little after that, for what he had given back to me."
Sitting quietly at her side, Jack listened intently, knowing that Arcee was allowing him to be closer to her, to see her, in a way she hadn't permitted anyone else to.
"When Cliff died, everything turned to gray. I didn't…wouldn't allow myself to cherish the gift my people, my family, had received in coming to this world. Cliff wasn't here to enjoy it, and none of it seemed fair to me."
Though tears were something her race could never produce, Arcee's voice was thick with emotion, and Jack's immediate instinct was to comfort her in some way.
"I was ready to accept that. To forever put the mission before anything else. To have 'nothing' else." Turning away from the sun, now somewhat higher in the early mourning sky, Arcee gazed down into the face of her partner.
"But then, I met you. And I was so…bewildered by you. But, at the same time, so…captivated. There was something in you that touched me, made me feel 'something' again. It wasn't something I had been expecting, and it scared me at first. When you left, for that little while, a part of me wanted to let you go, let you go back to your safe little life. I tried to convince myself it was better that way, so that I wouldn't put myself into a position to be hurt again." Reaching out slowly, Arcee ran the tip of an alloyed finger across the shaggy black hair hanging down slightly on Jack's forehead head, smiling slightly.
"But, I couldn't. I wanted you close by. I needed to know you were safe, not just send you off and hope for the best. Even if Optimus hadn't asked me to go back for you, I know I would have done it anyway." She admitted with certainty.
"When I drove into your garage that night, and saw you sitting there, I knew I always wanted to be with you, and it was just crazy, and strange, and I tried to think of all of the differences between us." Arcee finished in a huff.
"But I didn't care. And the more time we spent together, especially after stopping Megatron, I only grew more certain of it. Of how I felt."
Raising herself up slightly, Arcee motioned towards the now complete sunrise and the menagerie of colors it showed. "And that's why I wanted to bring you here, and share this with you. I know to you humans a sunrise is such a small thing. It's as expected as breathing. But, it's still precious to me, no matter how many times I see it. Just like you."
Suddenly feeling terribly exposed, and slightly embarrassed, Arcee found she could not look at Jack directly. "I don't know if…any if that made sense. Or, if you even feel the same way. But, with everything that 'could' happen in this war, I knew I'd never forgive myself if you never knew the truth. I know we might never have anything more between us then…this," she added, taking in the simple moment they currently shared. "But, it doesn't change how I feel."
Jack, milling about for something fitting to say, was silent. Arcee couldn't help but quickly feel mortified as she considered that her friend was completely overwhelmed by everything he had just heard.
"Jack, I'm sorry. If this just seems too weird we can forget it. We'll just head back and…"
"Arcee." Jack said quickly, brining her up short.
"Yes?" She asked tentatively.
"Is this the part where I try to kiss you, cause…something tells me that might not go over as well as it might on paper."
For a second, Arcee was caught completely off guard, trying to deduce whether she was being made fun of, or if Jack was simply teasing in an attempt to put her at ease. As the human slowly smiled, she got her answer.
"You are such an ass, you know that?" She asked.
"I know. But, in a good way. I mean, you still like me, right?" Jack inquired, his confidence infectious.
"All-Spark help me, but, yes, I do." Arcee replied.
"Alright then," Jack said, his voice suddenly assuming his best Ratchet impersonation. "Well, now that we've gotten that all sorted out."
Arcee gasped audibly. "You were awake?"
Hands raised in his defense, Jack explained quickly, "Not right away. It was kind of hard to ignore your blood, or whatnot, boiling though. For a second, I thought Ratchet might end up having to treat himself in the infirmary."
"Sometimes I'm tempted, believe me." Arcee observed, the two instantly laughing in tandem.
After a moment, the two were silent once more. Jack, feeling that a more serious tone was in order so as to not take lightly everything Arcee had revealed to him, spoke with as much honesty and sincerity as he had ever been able to muster.
"I wish I could explain what you mean to me too. I think I'd just hose it all up though. So, I'll just say that you don't ever have to worry about me going anywhere that's away from you. Unless I do something incredibly stupid and you never want to see me again." He added.
"Well, don't go doing something like that now." Arcee teased.
"Nope. Wouldn't dream of it." Jack replied, changing his position so he could sit with his back pressed to Arcee's side. Slowly, Arcee shifted her hand, letting her fingers rest gently beside him.
With seemingly every important thing said, the two sat once more in comfortable quiet, simply savoring each other and the perfect setting.
"Just so we're clear, making out is completely out of question. Right?"
"Shut up and watch the view, Romero."
"See, that's why we'll work."
Arcee, despite herself, smiled.