Transformers Prime: Dangerous Liaisons

Chapter One

As conference rooms went the space was almost bare save for a table and chairs, at best reflecting a Spartan like quality. The long row of LCD screens set against the far wall, however, belied the rest of the room's utilitarian design. As several sets of eyes watched in silence, various screens showcased footage taken from first hand or third party sources, each depicting similar subject matter. On the largest monitor a recording taken from an AR-Drone featured several Bi-Pedal robotic beings assaulting a small fleet of modified H-60 Blackhawk helicopters, easily deflecting the weaponry aboard the gunships and destroying them quickly.

Before the AR-Drone's video ceased, the only figure in the room not presently seated paused the recording, the screen frozen on a close up of the largest of the Cybernetic targets, it's armor adorned in hues of blue and red. Moving around the circumference of the conference table the tall, broad shouldered figure took stock of the other men and women presently seated, ensuring the screen capture had their undivided attention.

"We know the face of our enemy." Silas's gravelly tone observed. "But, what do we really know about them?" He paused for emphasis, the silence telling. "Anyone?"

"Sir. We know they are of Extraterrestrial, perhaps even Extragalactic origins." One young platinum haired Lieutenant answered, the name across the left breast of her MECH jumpsuit identifying her as Strickland.

"Evident enough." Silas agreed stoically. "What else?"

"We have confirmed sightings of them across the planet," Yet another Lieutenant, Vasquez, answered. "Though the descriptions often differ in size and intent from those in the AR-Feed. Best guess is there are two, perhaps three separate groups of these Techno-Morphs on Earth. Some working against the others."

"That is certainly worth noting." MECH's Director acknowledged. "And what other Intel have we gathered?"

"Sir, our contacts in Washington believe one particular group may be working in direct conjunction and with the full authority of a Top Secret branch of the U.S. Department of Defense. Perhaps as a Special Operations contingent."

"Do we have any names to go with this Black Ops group?" Silas inquired.

"I may have something, sir." Strickland indicated. "Six months ago we intercepted an encrypted eyes only report to the brass at the Pentagon. Something about a botched operation in the Nevada desert, spearheaded by William North, now a retired General with ties to Black Ops missions in South America and the Middle East."

"How is that relevant, Lieutenant?" Silas asked coolly.

"Sir, Intel has confirmation that one of these Techno-Morph groups appear to have focused activities across the Nevada State, branching recently into California, Utah, and as far as Colorado. However, Nevada does appear to be their central region of activity."

"That would explain our encounter with them during the D.N.G.S. operation. The convoy was running just outside of Boulder City." Silas gave the information pause. "Could they be working out of that area?"

"It's not likely, sir. They would want to keep as low a profile as possible. Close Circuit security cameras would pick up on patterns of movement in a larger city. They'd likely want to remain in a much smaller population center. A town or smaller county."

"Any likely prospects?" The Director asked pointedly.

"Not as of yet, sir."

"Then we press on." Silas answered. "What other information do we have on this William North?"

"Presently he appears to have moved onto the political stage, sir. Running for a Congressional position. Unorthodox for someone with his service record. At least what we know of it. But he appears to have enough pull in Washington and in the Military Industrial Complex to see it through."

"Do we know if he was working for or against these Aliens?"

"What little we were able to decipher concerning the operation indicates it was a search and seize mission." Strickland shrugged. "What, exactly, they were attempting to recover is unknown. But we tracked the disposition of men and armaments out of Nellis Air Force Base around that time. They were geared for a fight."

"Against then. Interesting, considering these visitors might have allies in the Government." Silas mused. "Perhaps not everyone agrees with this state of cooperation."

"Should we broker a meeting with North, sir?" Vasquez asked. "See if he might be someone who's views coincide with the Initiative?"

"Having another loyalist in Congress would certainly be to our benefit. Especially one with close ties to the Military." Silas agreed. "But, let's not be so quick to extend our hand. Let's keep digging, see if we strike gold in regards to our possible friend. I want to know who, exactly, I'm dealing with before we invite him in."

The Director turned his attention back to the screen. "Speaking of which, what more do we know about the Techno-Morphs?"

"Intel gathering is ongoing, sir. At present we don't have anything new or…substantial." Strickland explained.

"That's certainly disappointing, Lieutenant." Silas replied, his tone hard. "So am I to assume then that, after a year since our first contact with these hostiles, we don't really know anything about them? Who they are exactly? What they are doing on Earth, or, most importantly, how their technology works?"

"We've yet to capture any materials to work with, sir. If any world Governments are in possession of the alien tech attributed to these visitors we haven't been able to confirm it."

"This world stands on the Technological precipice of a New Order, one which MECH stood ready to control. The arrival of these beings could tip the scales against us if we are not prepared to meet them on even ground." Silas leaned over the conference table, bending enough to rest clenched fists upon it's black lacquered surface. "I will not have so many decades of careful preparation brought to ruin due to incompetence on the part of any of MECH's personnel." Silas returned to circling the room's outer edge.

"Beginning today, I want all resources dedicated to acquiring every last shred of information. Search through every record, news report, blog post, idle gossip, or internet rumor. Nothing escapes the net or so help me I'll have everyone tasked with this manning a listening post in the Artic. Am I clear?"

Those assembled around the table voiced their understanding.

"Good. I want new reports submitted from your departments by 08:00 tomorrow. We'll review all findings at the close of the week. Dismissed."

The various officers began to rise and vacate, reserving any muttered observations or complaints until out of the Director's earshot. Before half had left, Silas addressed the lead Intelligence Officer.

"Lieutenant Strickland?" He called. "Remain behind a moment." The young woman nodded, stepping away from the table and remaining at attention. The room finally emptied, with none of the other officers sparing their fellow Department Head a second glance. While fervent in the ideals of the Newer World Order, those who served among MECH's command staff knew better then to concern themselves with the Director's private matters, especially when those matters involved anyone other then them.

Once the conference room's door had sealed, Silas addressed the young woman, his back to her as he resumed studying the various recordings on the wall monitors. "You understand what's expected of you in this matter?"

"Yes, sir." Strickland answered steadily.

"There is no favoritism in this Initiative. If MECH's goals are to succeed we must never falter, and we must always be willing to cull those who can not perform to the level of dedication and perfection our agenda requires."

"Yes sir."

"You were appointed as head of our Intel group on merits alone. Your work in our espionage projects were nothing short of excellence. You've more then earned your position." Silas observed. "However, should I doubt if you can continue to perform to my satisfaction?"

"No sir." Strickland assured.

"We must gain the upper hand on these Techno-Morphs. Learn every facet of their technology and how it operates. I believe just a small portion of it will give us every advantage in reshaping the world. And you will deliver it, Lieutenant." Silas turned to her. "I expect nothing less."

"I'll see it done, sir."

"Good." MECH's Director stepped away from the monitor, moving up to stand in front of her. After a moment he allowed some of the tension to ease from his face. "Your mother wants us for dinner this evening. She's made reservations in town and I expect you to be on time. Understood?"

"Yes sir." She answered sharply.

"Dismissed, Ms. Strickland." The young Lieutenant offered a crisp salute before turning on her heel to leave. She was almost to the door when Silas called out once more.

"Jessica? Try to keep the 'sirs' out of the dinner conversation tonight for once. Your mother wants things casual."

"Yes…" Strickland caught herself at the end. "Dad."

. . .

"So?" Miko asked as they worked their way down another isle of the clothing store. While he hadn't planned on the company, Jack had discovered the young Asian girl trying on jackets and had been spotted before he could avoid her. While most days found them both at the Silo with their Autobot partners, the occasional everyday activity was called for, in this case the purchase of clothing that, more often then not, were required to replace those damaged or worn out in the line of duty.

Although, Jack concluded, Miko would have been happy enough to purchase something new regardless of the circumstances. While it seemed as though she wore the same thing whenever he saw her, he knew better then to assume they weren't new, even if they were identical to other articles in her wardrobe.

"So…what?" He asked her, despite knowing full well where the conversation was headed.

"Don't play dumb, you know what I mean." Miko huffed, waving a small shirt at him. "Hello. You're dating one of the 'bots. You think you'd tell one of your best friends. I mean, we work in the same place everyday…"

"Miko, to be fair, you don't really work. I work. Even Raf works. You blunder. There's a difference."

"Jerk-off." She shot back, throwing the shirt at him. "Don't change the subject."

"Ugh, what do what me to say?" Jack answered irritably.

"Well, for starters, how long?" She asked, leaning across the rack to whisper. "Better yet…how?"

"How what?" Jack inquired, leaning away from her.

"How do you two…you know?" She asked, shaking her head a bit from side to side in an attempt to emphasize a point.

"What are you talking about?" Jack asked in turn, genuinely bewildered.

"Jeez, what are you, like, five?" Miko mimed a particular motion with her hands. "You know…"

"What?" The other teen balked, nearly dropping the jeans in his possession. "Miko, it's not even like that."

"Then what's it like?" She prodded.

"Personal" Jack answered, folding the jeans back up and returning them to their cubby hole.

"Yeah, I bet." Miko teased. "That kiss we saw looked really personal. To be honest, it kind of grossed me out."

"This coming from the girl asking me five seconds ago about…other things."

"Just because it's gross doesn't mean I don't want to know about it."

"Okay, you're officially mental. And I'm done." Jack relented, moving for the exit.

"Oh, come on. Don't be that way." Miko said, bounding after him to catch up. "Look, if I ask you something seriously, will you give me an answer?"

Jack rolled his eyes, sighing out his frustration. "No promises."

"Are you guys in love?" Miko asked him pointedly, her expression, for once, neutral. Jack studied her for a minute, apprehensive, as he always was, to tell her anything of importance knowing full well she would likely respond with something scathing or cynical. Aside from rocking bass with an amp by her side the girl loved pushing buttons. After a moment, with Miko still looking at him with as much genuine maturity as he'd ever seen her muster outside of a crisis, Jack relented.

"Yes." He told her. "We are."

Miko nodded, seemingly satisfied with the answer. Then she shook her head. "Ehew."

"I really hate you, you know that?" Jack growled, walking past her.

"Oh come on! I'm kidding!" Miko called, bounding after him once more. "So, come on, tell me. Are you, like, going to introduce her to your mom?"

"Shut up…"

"How many babies are you guys going to have?"

"I'm not listening…"

. . .

"You okay?" Arcee asked Jack as he slipped a leg over her rider's seat. "You look put out."

"Miko." Was all he said in response.

"Right. Bulkhead told me she was here. He's parked a row or two over. Guess I should have warned you." She chuckled a bit, despite her sympathies. "I take it she grilled you about us?"

"Interrogate is a better word." Jack told her. "In that special Miko way."

"Now I feel even more guilty. I really should have called you on the cell." She started up, knowing he would feel better once they were on the road. "You still feel up for tonight? We can cancel."

"What? No." Jack replied. "We're still on. After everything that happened, I think we could use a night out, don't you?"

"I do. Though I still feel a bit guilty for not pulling an extra patrol." Arcee admitted. "He doesn't show it, but I know Optimus is still grieving. I can only imagine how he must feel right now."

"I can kind of guess. I thought I was where he's is now at least twice over the last year. Loosing someone you love? That isn't something I'd wish on anyone."

"Agreed." Arcee replied. After a moment, feeling as though it was best to keep things off the topic of loss, she jumped on to the tail end of Jack's recent interrogation. "So what did you tell Miko, exactly?"

"Huh? Nothing she didn't already know. Or, at least, already guessed at." Jack looked down at her central display. "Why? What have you told the others?"

"The perks of being their commanding officer. I don't have to answer to anyone except Optimus. And he's known for awhile."

"Really? Since when? Not that I'm all that surprised."

"Since well before our ambush at the mining town, around the time Makeshift tried to frame him. Out of respect he didn't bring it up. Guess he was happy to wait until I did."

"Do you think I should have asked his permission or something before we started dating?" Jack inquired genuinely.

"He's our Prime, Jack. Not my father. Plus, in-case you forgot, we're not human. So no old fashioned customs."

"Right."

"Of course, there's always your mother to consider." Arcee observed coolly.

"Don't go there. Miko already brought that up and she was kidding."

"Well, I'm not. I know how much she cares about your future, Jack. And I'd like to think I'm part of that future now."

"Of course you are. I can't even imagine a future without you in it."

"Not to assume too much, but don't you think things will get a bit strange when you've turned thirty and you've yet to mention whom you're dating?"

"Cut me some slack, I'm not even technically old enough to drink yet."

"Your avoiding the question, Jack."

"Come on, Arcee. I don't even know how I would begin to tell her. Not to mention the fact it wouldn't just be you. I'd have to open up about Optimus and the others, what I've really been doing while working for Fowler's department." Jack avoided what he knew was her unseen gaze. "That's just…a lot to deal with at once."

"I know." Arcee said after a few moments. "But you can't put it off forever."

"I know." Jack agreed quietly, his attention still elsewhere.

"Look, why don't we shelve this for now." She offered, not wanting to ruin the evening. "We'll get back to the house, you can pretty yourself up for me, then we'll catch a movie. Tonight it's just you and me."

"Sounds like a plan." Jack agreed, trying to inject some levity into his voice. "Sometimes it's tough being the pretty one."

"You do realize I have weapons built in to me, right?"

"Have I told you how beautiful you are lately?

. . .

"Evening, Agent Fowler." Ratchet said warily as the slightly rotund human stepped from the elevator. "Might I ask what was so pressing it had to be discussed in person?"

"Where's Prime?" Fowler asked, moving down the steps from the platform. "We've got some things to talk about."

"Such as?" Ratchet inquired, intercepting the man at the bottom.

"There any special reason you're trying to run interference, doc?" Fowler asked heatedly.

"Even Optimus requires rest, Agent Fowler. He has been through a great deal of late. As acting Medical Officer I advised him to enter a rest cycle for the duration of the evening before resuming patrols."

"Look, I get things have been rough. I'm sorry for his loss, but I've been in meetings all day with my superiors at the Pentagon, and they're not exactly feeling chipper after reading your latest report." Fowler began to pace, counting off points on his fingers.

"Viruses that can turn good 'bots bad, Humans having contact with ancient beings, and, on top of that last doozy, the possibility of an all out invasion by new aliens that even make the 'cons seem tame?" The agent crossed his arm. "To say they're concerned wouldn't even begin to cover the reaming I had to sit through. The President wants to begin planning contingencies, but the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs need all the Intel your people have." Fowler paused, adding almost hesitantly, "And something else."

"I can appreciate the need for further planning, and I can assure you we are already formulating…"

"If it doesn't come from Prime, no one's going to buy whatever it is your…"

"What is the cause of your distress, Agent Fowler?" Optimus asked, stepping into the central command hub from an adjacent corridor. "And how may I be of assistance?"

"At last." Fowler muttered, slightly exasperated. "Doctor McCoy here was trying to send me packing, but we need to talk."

"I was attempting to ensure you got some rest, Optimus." Ratchet clarified, eyeing the federal agent disapprovingly. "Keeping everyone at their best is part of my responsibilities after all."

"And I am grateful for your diligence, old friend." The Prime replied sincerely. "However, I agree with Agent Fowler that there are many things which must be discussed."

"The report made things sound pretty bad, Prime." Agent Fowler observed. "If these Quintessons really are on their way here, are there any means of stopping them before then?"

"That is unknown, Agent Fowler." Optimus admitted somberly. "The knowledge I possess concerning Cybertron's ancient enemy provides no great details other then the forces brought against us in the attempt to conquer and enslave us millennia ago. While they were eventually defeated, the cost was high on both sides." Optimus shook his head slowly.

"We can not accurately predict how they have changed in that time. While the virus used against Coatzin was a by-product of ancient technology, it's intelligence and sophistication would indicate a considerable evolution of their science. What Jack witnessed within Coatzin's memories provides only a miniscule portent of what may come."

"Have to say, Prime. You're not exactly painting a rosy picture." Fowler replied dejectedly.

"My apologies, Agent Fowler." Optimus answered. "It is my greatest wish to be of aid to your government, but there are limits to what even I am privy to."

"Even if we can't get details, we might still be able to prepare to fight 'em off. But you know as well as I do that our hardware likely won't be enough. The President wants to meet with you to discuss your granting access to Cybertronian technology to bolster earth's defenses."

From over the agent's shoulder, Ratchet offered Optimus a look which spoke volumes. 'You knew this was coming,' It said.

Perhaps sensing the sudden trepidation in the room, Fowler pressed ahead, albeit cautiously. "Optimus you said it yourself. We don't even know how strong these invaders are going to be. I know you're not crazy about the idea of giving us lowly humans advanced tech, but if the Quintessons come you and your team won't be enough to hold 'em back. It took your entire world to beat them before and they still almost wiped you out." Fowler shrugged. "What hope would we have?"

The room was silent as Optimus mulled over the valid points presented. While limited, his expression denoted the conflict within. After a moment, the Prime finally nodded slowly.

"At this time, I will consider it." Optimus offered. "However, I will make no promises. I ask that your President and your Military leaders give us time to gather more information before we choose a set course. Perhaps there is still time, as we both hope, to stay this invasion."

"I'll pass on your request, but I can promise you they won't be happy." Fowler seemed to contemplate something for a moment, brow furrowed.

"What else troubles you?" Optimus asked curiously.

"It's actually the other reason I came." Fowler admitted. "The other part of the report that concerned the President and the Task Force's oversight committee was, well, Jack."

"Why would Jack give your leaders need for concern?" Optimus inquired.

"Jack managed to hook his brain up to two Cybertronian minds, and on top of that had some kind of contact with a being you all think is the higher power or whatever that created you." Fowler gestured emphatically. "You can bet your metal backsides that's got some people wondering what that might have done to the kid. For all we know, this Primus being might have given Jack more information then he can remember."

"I can assure you, Agent Fowler, that is not the case." Ratchet interjected. "I ran several tests on Jack's cognitive functions in the aftermath of his connection to the patch. While Biological entities are not my primary base of knowledge, when compared to previous tests I have made to insure health, there are no discernible differences. Jack's mind, while mature for his age, is relatively normal by human standards."

"But how can you know for sure?" Fowler asked pointedly. "You just admitted human brains are not your area of expertise. Maybe you missed something."

"I beg your pardon." Ratchet rebuked. "There are no medical or scientific instruments on Earth that can compare to what I have at my disposal. As your leaders are so found of pointing out, our level of technology is light years ahead of anything you possess. If my equipment found nothing, then there was nothing to be found. Period."

"Well, my superiors don't agree. They want to check for themselves."

"What do you mean, Agent Fowler?" Optimus asked, his concern evident.

"They want Jack. Alone, with no tag along or Autobot bodyguard. Because he's human and not one of you, he doesn't fall under the guidelines of the cooperation treaty agreed to when we made first contact. He's outside your jurisdiction."

"Jack Darby is as much a part of this family as any one of us. He, as well as the other young ones, are under our protection. This is a vow we have made."

"Vow or not, Uncle Sam wants to know if Jack might have something they can use against these invaders." Fowler held his hand up, placating. "But I told them you'd likely have a problem with it, especially if Jack wasn't keen on the idea. But, if you and Jack go along with this, it will give them something to work with while the rest of you try to figure out just what, exactly, is coming our way."

"I will not see Jack used as a bargaining chip." Optimus answered firmly.

"Optimus, I'm trying to find something to work with here. Earth is under a very real threat, one even bigger then the Decepticons. You and your people are always enough to keep them back, but this time it's different. The Quintessons, by your own admission, want to wipe out anything that isn't them and enslave the rest, 'bot or human. The President has been advised that we have to take every step we can to prevent that. If there is even the smallest chance Ratchet didn't find everything, they need to know for sure."

"I have seen the lengths your Government will go to preserve what they see as National Security. If Jack is taken, I fear he will never be permitted to return. I can not allow that."

"You're jumping the shark here, Prime. No one's going to hurt Jack. But my superiors aren't willing to take everything you say at face value, especially when you don't seem to have much to say at all despite what was in that report, which still left more questions then answers."

"I will discuss this matter with Jack when he and Arcee arrive for their patrol in the morning. We will address this then." Optimus declared, attempting to close the issue.

"It's not that simple." Fowler interjected.

"What does that mean?" Ratchet asked.

"Like I said, The President and the Joint Chiefs have been advised by the new head of the oversight committee to take every step they can to prepare. One of those recommendations was securing Jack before he might be harmed in the field. I was asked to make this go as smoothly as possible. But…"Fowler shook his head in disapproval. "Like it or not, Jack will be taken into custody, for his protection."

"New head? Who would be foolish enough to think Jack could be safer anywhere other then with us?"

"The appointment went through this morning, and he didn't waste time lighting fuses under the President and the Pentagon. It's the reason there were meetings all day."

"Whom?" Optimus asked.

"William North. He was given a Congressional appointment under national security measures this morning. He has the most experience dealing with non-terrestrial threats." Fowler's disgust was clear. "At least, that was the main argument in support of his appointment. Coupled with all the friends he has in high places, it was enough."

"The man who held a gun to our heads, and Jack's, has been authorized to advise your leaders on how to cooperate with us? Incredulous!"

"This is a most disturbing course of events, Agent Fowler." Optimus warned. "Again, I am given reason to doubt the intentions of those who are meant to be our allies."

"I never said I liked it either, Prime. But the wheels are turning fast. They know they need you, but they're going to cover their own asses to. I can't fault them for trying to protect this country. Sometimes, to do that, you have to play hard ball. And they're putting Jack in this game, even if it's a bad call."

"And if I do not permit them to simply take Jack?" Optimus inquired coldly.

"Then there's a very real chance we'll be too busy fighting each other to see the Quintessons when they get here."

"I can not imagine they would be so foolhardy when we face so grave a threat." Ratchet observed.

"Look, I'll try to see if I can stall for time. Tell them that Jack might have remembered something and that you're trying to dig it out. If we're lucky then…" The ringing from Fowler's suit pocket stilled the rest of his sentence. Hastily, he dug the device out, bringing it to his ear.

"Fowler." He answered. "Yes, I'm here now. I need you to…" The voice on the other end began to speak quickly, the words making Fowler's eye go wide. "What? When did they authorize that? They told me I could…No, they can't just…damn it. Well where are they now?" The agent listened intently, his feet shifting in earnest. "Listen to me, I need you to stall them…I don't care how, just think of something. Try to buy me half an hour, at least." Fowler stabbed at the phone's screen, killing the call.

"What has happened?" Optimus inquired.

"The Task Force was issued an executive order five minutes ago. They want Jack taken into protective custody. Now. They're going to take him to Nellis then from there God knows where."

"It would appear they knew we wouldn't go along with North's recommendations." Ratchet observed.

"Indeed. But I will not permit them to make this mistake regardless. When they sought to wrongly imprison me Jack stood with us to unravel the truth behind false accusations. Ever has he shown courage in the face of our adversaries, and I will not allow him to be robbed of his freedom as a consequence for wishing only to protect the one he loves."

"Figured you'd say something like that." Fowler agreed. "If he can stay out of their hands for just a few hours I can speak directly with the President. There's a reason I'm still on this Task Force, I won't let them forget that."

"Very well." Optimus replied. "Ratchet, contact Arcee, inform her of what has happened. Advise her to see Jack to the secondary HQ until further ordered."

Ratchet nodded, already moving for the com-terminal.

"When you speak to your President, I will have words with him as well." Optimus added. "While I can not see the logic in appointing someone of General North's disposition, I must strive to maintain the peace between us. If we are to devise a means of preventing an invasion, we can not be divided now."

"You know you've got my support. Same for the rest of my people. They'll do they're part in this, have no worries." Fowler suddenly frowned, belatedly picking up on something previously mentioned. "Wait. What was that about Jack protecting someone he loves?"

"It is not my place to say, Agent Fowler. For now, know only that I have been shown more reason then most to believe our two races have a future. Together."

"Huh. Well, something tells me that's going to be an interesting story…"

. . .

"So, tell me dear." Veronica Strickland asked her daughter from across their table, pushing platinum hair, streaked with grey, from her eyes. "How are things in your new position?"

"Fine, mom." Jessica answered, keenly aware of her father's presence, and attentive ear, at the same table. "I'm working with the best people. It's a privilege."

"Well. That's certainly wonderful to hear." Veronica observed. "When your father informed me the two of you would be working more closely, I was concerned it might be too much of a change. Your father can be so demanding."

"You know perfectly well I only expect what I know can be delivered, Veronica." Leland Bishop, as Silas was known beyond the confines of his duties, insisted. "If our daughter wasn't up for her responsibilities, I would not have given her the opportunity to advance."

"You say that, but you did always expect too much, Leland." Veronica added heatedly. "Jessica isn't a machine. She's our daughter."

"And here I assumed I was in danger of forgetting that." Leland replied sardonically.

"Remembering your family was never your strongest suit." She retorted.

"Mom." Jessica interceded. "Dad. I thought this was supposed to be a family dinner. You wanted to catch up, Mother. I was hoping we could do that civilly."

"Oh, sweetheart. You are right, of course." Veronica self-admonished. "So, what can you tell me about your new position. Other then working with the best, of course."

"Veronica…" Leland warned.

"Oh, relax. I'm not asking for every little detail. Sometimes I think you forget how important the Initiative is to me as well. We wouldn't have been married as long as we were otherwise."

Jessica took another long drink from her wine glass.

"I'm sure it took commendable effort, my dear." Leland replied. "As to Jessica's work, she's an asset to the agenda, and she has certainly proven her worth thus far."

"Thank you, dad." Jessica added.

"That's wonderful to hear." Veronica observed, placing her hand over her daughter's. "I never doubted. Although, a little birdie told me the two of you have been having difficulties tracking down some…concerns. I would hate to think the Initiative was being hindered by poor judgment."

Leland cleared his voice gently, aware of the other occupied tables in somewhat close proximity. "I will assume it would be pointless to inquire as to whom this birdie might be? I can't say I enjoy the idea of information being taken outside the chain of command. Even if it is to a former Director."

"Perhaps there are still some who feel the Initiative was once in more capable hands?"

"Certainly a small number then. Otherwise the previous Director would still hold her position, wouldn't she?"

"Excuse me." Jessica interjected suddenly, standing. "I need to get some air."

"Jessica…" Veronica tried to add before a beep sounded from beneath the table. Reaching into his pocket, Leland produced a small device. Set into it's side a LED display lit briefly with a series of numbers. Leland read them carefully, then rose from the table.

"Well, it would seem this lovely evening must be cut short. The duty of Director is never done." He turned to address his daughter, who stood waiting patiently, knowing full well what the alert could mean.

"Jessica, be so kind as to walk your mother out and wish her a good evening. Then return to the office." Leland didn't spare his ex-wife a second glance before he was gone.

"How quickly things change, don't they?" Veronica inquired. "I can so freshly remember when I was the one running out to The Office."

"It's not as if those days have exactly stopped for you, mother." Jessica answered pointedly.

"True enough, my dear." She acknowledged with a smile. "After all," Veronica added, sipping gently from her own glass. "How else could I have ensured you would be in the top spot for your new posting."

"I don't recall ever asking for your support, mother." Jessica shot back.

"And you never will." Veronica told her daughter. "Was else is a mother for?"

. . .

The return to MECH's secure facility was intentionally short, the former Director knowing full well of the importance of staying close to home. Quickly redressing in her Officer's jumpsuit, Jessica made her way to the facility's Command and Control. Silas was already there, redressed himself and waiting. The Director handed his lead Intel Officer a smart-pad filled with new data.

"This was intercepted by your department and decrypted." Silas explained. "The ears we have over at Nellis were alerted to another deployment order, similar to the one you pointed out this morning. Interestingly enough, there's an equally familiar name in the authorization order."

Jessica scrolled through the decryption, spotting it quickly. "William North, Special Executive Committee" She read aloud. "Looks as if that political appointment was railroaded through."

"Another reason to watch him closely." Silas indicated. "That's not the most interesting part though. The search and secure is being conducted in a small town just a few hundred miles from Boulder City. Jasper."

"That name's come up before. We wondered for a time if it was a center of operations for the Techno-Morphs. But it was discounted. Too small. No underground locations or warehouses large enough to use as a secure base."

"I don't believe that's changed. Regardless, they are looking for someone there."

"Jackson Darby." Lieutenant Strickland observed. "Age 17. Interesting. I seem to recall you mentioned the presence of civilian teens in the convoy during the D.N.G.S. operation. There was never a clear ID made of them."

"Perhaps we've just had one." Silas indicated.

"Understood. I'll have my department start pulling everything they can find on him if they haven't done so already."

"Continue monitoring this Snatch and Grab as well. If they get their hands on this Darby boy, I want to know where he'll be taken."

"Yes, sir." Jessica replied, snapping off a salute before moving for her own station.

"Lieutenant?" Silas asked over his shoulder as he accepted another report.

"Sir?" Strickland inquired.

"I find this a much more pleasant way to spend the evening, don't you?"

"Yes. Sir." Jessica agreed. With nothing more, she resumed her work.

. . .

The voices were in they're ears again. Sometimes they were quiet, sometimes they were loud. So very, very loud. They screamed, and laughed, and tried to get them to remember things. Images of a life that was no longer their own flooded to the surface, sights and sounds and voices that didn't belong to the ones in their head. Sometimes they were good things, more often then not they enraged them and they would shout and roar and destroy things around them. Then the voices would get quiet again, satisfied with the mayhem and destruction they had wrought. Then they would get lonely until they heard the voices again. In fact, they were hearing a voice now, although it wasn't one of the ones they usually heard in their head. At least, they weren't quite sure.

"Crosswire." The female voice said, deep and sultry. "Crosswire?"

The voices in their head stated speaking again. Some of them liked the female that spoke to them. Others told them to rip the head from the femme's shoulders, and to peer down into her chest to see if it was as empty of a Spark as they thought. They laughed sometimes when they told them that.

"Crosswire?" The femme's voice insisted. She was yelling at them. She did that sometimes. They didn't much like it. They had been working on something, it was big and when it was finished they could point it at something and make it burn away to ash. It would be fueled by the same darkness that sustained them. Dark Energon.

The femme's voice was yelling again, so he grabbed the weapon and pointed it at her. But she wasn't there when they turned around. Then something struck them on the side of the head and they were falling. They hit the ground and the Femme was on top of them, pinning their mangled arms to their sides, her face close. She smiled down at them and they wondered how she seemed even more broken inside then they did.

"Oh," She tisked. "You shouldn't do that, lover. You'll hurt my feelings." She wrapped her long fingers about the twisted visage. "Then I'd have to hurt you. Not that you'd likely feel it. So boring."

"What do you want?" Crosswire asked her.

"Oh, you're back in there. Good. I'm never sure whom I'm speaking to." Airachnid rose to her full height, her spindly eight legs allowing her to tower even over the monstrous behemoth rising to his feet. "Keeps things fun, I suppose. But it can be a bit grating when there's work to be done."

"What…work?" They asked her.

"The best kind, handsome." She leered, clicking across the workspace. "The kind that involves revenge."

They liked to watch her move. But her words gave them pause. "Revenge?" They asked almost lustfully. They did enjoy revenge. There were so many reasons they had for it. "Against whom?"

"The one we both want the most. The one who robbed us of our fun."

The name that rose to the surface with the voices almost made them shake with fury. Instinctively their makeshift fists began to flex, the image of torn organic flesh in their mind. "Say it."

She came up close, running her finger down the side of his jagged chin. "Jack."

The world went red in front of their eyes. They roared, a sound that rattled the metal walls around them. Airachnid, ever cautious around her erratic companion, had already taken several steps away before the abomination that had once been Cliffjumper began to rip through the room, smashing fists into the walls and destroying the heaps of metal and circuitry she accumulated for it to keep her monster busy.

She waited, as patiently as she could, for the beast's rage to subside enough that it would even be able to understand her. That was sometimes hard for her to do. She found she had less patience now then she ever had in her life previously. The monster's steam subsided at last, and it glared at her with empty optical sockets aglow with deep purple light.

"Better?" She asked. "Good. Now I can tell you the details." Airachnid produced a holo-image over her forearm, showing a series of human lettering she knew Crosswire would not understand.

"I've had my hands in the humans data networks for sometime. Little tricks I learned from Soundwave back during the good old days." She mused. "After my…encounter with Arcee and her human pet, I've had my search programs scouring the net for any mention of his name. The Autobots must have some safeguards in place because whenever I pick up on something it leads nowhere. Government records, financial transactions, it all leads to dead ends." She tapped at her forearm, just next to the projection.

"But, this must have slipped past them." She told the monster with a cold smile. "It appears it was intended to be Top-Secret."

"What is it?" Crosswire asked her.

"An order. To locate and seize Jackson Darby." She laughed. "Sweet Jack may have gotten himself into some trouble. And, where he's in trouble, dear Arcee will be there to protect him."

"Find him. Kill him." They said, violet eyes afire.

"Ah. Not yet." She told him coyly. "Remember our deal, sweet thing. First I get to play with him. Then, when I'm bored, you get to have him. Then Arcee gets to watch as we hand him back to her, piece by piece."

Then she smiled at them. It was a twisted, evil thing. Just like they were.

To Be Continued…