Author's notes: This . . . .was supposed to be a one-shot. I got carried away.

Standard Disclaimer: I do not own these characters. I'm just playing with them. No infringement intended.

Set between ROTF and DOTM

Restrained snickering through Ironhide's com acted the prelude to Sideswipe's voice. "You guys have gotta hear this."

There was an audible click in Ironhide's cab as Sideswipe patched them through to the conversation that was going on between his own two passengers. Will shook his head when he heard Sgt. Jon Davies's distinct English accent, a bit too cheerfully exclaim, "Look, Epps! Another deer processing establishment. What's that make? Twelve in the last hour?

However Epps replied, Will missed it. Whatever it was sounded pissed, though. Will looked up into Ironhide's rearview. Sideswipe was close enough to the Topkick's tailgate that he could see Epps seated behind the Corvette's steering wheel, hands gripping it as though he had some control over the vehicle in which he was riding. From the look on his friend's face, Will mused that if Epps really did have any ability to steer, he might very well send Sideswipe careening into any one of the pine trees that lined the highway. Maybe then he would be able to end his suffering.

"And how many X-rated shops have we passed?" Davies was talking again.

"I don't know." Epps sounded like he was grinding his teeth.

"That's how the game is played!" Davies exclaimed. "I count the deer processing establishments, you count the X-rated shops."

"I am not playing games with you." Will had been watching them the whole time, just to make sure Epps didn't pommel the Brit. Epps wasn't watching the road, not that he needed to in the first place. He was instead, giving Davies a death glare so intense, Will was convinced that the other man would simply burst into flames . . . and subsequently scorch Sideswipe's leather seats.

Davies did not burst into flame though. He sat back in the passenger's seat. Instead of a look of remorse, or maybe even fear, there was a gleam of accomplishment on his features, as though proud of the reaction he had gotten from his friend and comrade. And now, he seemed to be waiting for the perfect moment, smirking all the while.

Will was getting a crick in his neck from watching the pair and faced forward to watch the highway. He had just settled himself back into Ironhide's seat when Davies spoke up again. "If you were playing, you'd be winning. Don't you Americans have anything better to do then shoot things and masturbate?"

"What's that mean, 'you Americans'?"

There was a sound like Davies trying hard not to laugh. "Aren't these your people, my friend? Your freedom lovin', flag wavin', banjo pickin' Rocky Mountain brethern?"

Davies was fully aware that Epps hailed from Brooklyn. He loved New York or cities in general, preferring to spend his leave-time frequenting nightspots and staying out most of the night. All humans and Autobots currently present were also fully aware that unless there was a greater than 60% chance of getting to shoot something, blow something up, or order something blown up, Epps really didn't do the Great Outdoors thing. He had made that abundantly clear when Will had announced the assignment.

It only made Davies laugh harder when Epps began to passionately, and with the use of several colorful expletives, illustrate to him that these were not his people.

The odds weren't in Epps favor about seeing some action. This little endeavor was reconnaissance. And while they were searching for signs of Decepticons, even Will had to admit that the odds were going to be slim of actually making contact.

Epps had ended his rant at Davies, but seemed to have more rant to burn. "Damned Old Iron-Ass anyway-"

The com was abruptly cut as Sideswipe astutely shut it down before Epps dug himself a hole he was unaware that he was digging. Will sighed, knowing that the silver Autobot was still on the line. "Sideswipe, make sure they don't kill each other."

There was a hint of laughter in the other's voice as he responded. "Sure thing, Boss. Sideswipe out."

It had been almost five hours from Malmstrom Air Force Base and apparently those three couldn't resist winding each other up. Will had considered hard letting Davies and Epps travel with Sideswipe, seeing as how the Corvette and the 'Limey' were conspiring to make Epps nuts before they had even left Diego Garcia. But, after they put down stateside, Lennox refused to play 'Mom' and separate the squabbling kids. On some level, Epps must have been enjoying the torture. If he wasn't, he would have told Davies to shut the hell up, and Davies would undoubtedly comply.

Ironhide rolled on in silence for a few moments before the mech's gravelly voice resounded in the cab. "Do you believe I am wasting your time, Will?"

The human was silent for a few seconds, truly trying to come up with an answer that would be supportive of Ironhide's suspicions and instincts, but not being overly gung-ho, either. "We're between missions, 'Hide, with nothing coming down the pike in the near future. If you want to check it out, I'm willing to check it out."

"That response did not adequately answer the question."

So much for being diplomatic. Will sighed again, deciding to come clean. "I think it's a longshot."

It was Ironhide's turn to be quiet again. When he did speak, it was with a resigned, but still determined and mulish tone. "Perhaps you are right."

The silence stretched on again, but it was a familiar, understood one. Both the man and the mech knew that there was no more to say at the current time and saw no reason to fill the stillness with unnecessary small talk.

Will watched the mountainous Montana terrain zip past the window as he settled comfortably in the seat, one hand slung over Ironhide's steering wheel for the sake of appearances. Things had changed since Egypt. Before the Fallen had announced the existence of the Cybertronian species to the citizens of Planet Earth, secrecy was always of the highest priority. Operations involving Autobots were conducted under the cover of darkness. Lennox and his superiors had gone to great pains to concoct plausible cover stories when Decepticon incursions had to be dealt with. And when something went wrong, like in Shanghai . . . well, needless to say, Will was happy that for the most part, that was over.

That didn't mean their new situation was any less complicated. Discretion was still necessary for the Autobots to continue to be effective in their new undertakings. Megatron was still out there, and a good many Decepticons, like Barricade, remained unaccounted for. While it was understood that the main role of the Autobots was to continue to defend the planet from them, the Decepticons still seemed to be licking their wounds after the defeat of the Fallen. NEST remained vigilant, but it had been very quiet on that particular front.

If governments of the world were to continue to tolerate their presence, the Autobots knew they were going to have to 'earn their keep', as it were. These days found NEST assisting in rooting out terrorist cells or bringing down corrupt governments. As a Colonel of the United States Rangers and basically an ambassador to the Autobots, it put Lennox in a tricky place. He was using powers of diplomacy he never even knew he possessed.

Optimus Prime refused to undertake any mission that he didn't feel was justifiable. Getting bogged down in human politics and pettiness wasn't going to happen and getting caught up in squabbles over oil fields and other such nonsense was not an option. As much as the leader of the Autobots wanted to help, he knew better than to be swayed by politicians with a grudge. Since Will had been involved from the beginning and "proved himself worthy" as Ironhide had put it, it often fell to him to try and explain to members of Congress, politicians from around the world, and even the President of the United States, that their Cybertronian allies weren't pawns to be used in human bids for power over other humans. Lennox had also spent a good amount of time assuring those same people that the Autobots weren't here to rule over the human race like some group of metal deities. They would help where they could, but they would ultimately decide how and when they would assist.

Lennox had actually trotted out the old joke about 900 pound gorillas and where they sat. After all, the principle was the same.

It wasn't just politicians to deal with either. There were also those select civilians that the NEST team had affectionately termed, 'The Crazies'. It seemed every alien buff and conspiracy theorist in the known universe felt some sort of vindication about being proven right about life on other planets. The Pentagon, that Holy Shrine to All Things Conspiracy, was inundated with thousands of calls, letters, and emails daily. Some were from religious groups proclaiming that the Cybertronians were the harbingers of the apocalypse. Others came from special-interest groups berating the government for not allowing full disclosure where the Autobots were concerned. Some of it was just fan mail. A lot of it was just paranoid citizens trying to convince officials about various conspiracy theories that were too varied and numerous to name.

There was actually a department now, completely relegated to dealing with fielding these inquiries and reports, and Will, thankfully didn't have to be bothered with 98% of it. Occasionally, someone down at the good ole 'Department for Alien Affairs' would pass along something particularly creative or amusing. And, sometimes, even something that might just be plausible.

When this one had popped up in his email, Lennox noted the subject line, "Marginally Plausible- Take a Look". He had, and while he highly doubted this was a matter for NEST, he did have to admit it had more merit than the guy who thought the squirrels in his yard were Decepticon spies.

The message was short and to the point, and on the 'Crazy Scale', the wording rated well into the 'sane' levels. It was from a wildlife biologist in Montana who had noticed a section of the park she was conducting research in had been violently and inexplicably deforested, seemingly overnight. They had gone through all of the other channels including the local police, the United States Forestry Service, and the US Geological Survey. No one had been able to offer an explanation.

I know this probably sounds insane, the author had written, but I have spent my entire life in these woods and I have never seen anything like this. To paraphrase the old saying, I have eliminated all of the impossible. I am left with the improbable. I am just asking for verification if alien involvement is a possibility at all. If not, than I will look for the next improbable scenario.

It was signed by an Allison Brody of Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.

Though Will couldn't for the life of him come up with a reason for why Decepticons would be interested in stripping trees from Montana mountains, he had learned rather suddenly about four years earlier, that there were a great many things that he didn't understand. Obeying the little voice in his head that had yet to steer him wrong, Lennox had rounded up the Autobots from around the base and presented the information to them.

The debate had gone on for some time. Ratchet couldn't see how Decepticons might gain anything by destroying a forest. But Ironhide had argued vehemently that they couldn't completely discount Decepticon involvement. Ratchet had thrown out question after question to the Weapon's Specialist in an effort to illustrate that there was clearly no basis for the suspicions. Ironhide had only responded that he knew. For whatever reason, he knew that whatever had done this was not of the Planet Earth.

After they had gone back and forth for a time, Optimus finally spoke, "Colonel Lennox, what is your take on this situation?"

Will had taken a moment to study Ironhide's hard set faceplates before looking back to the printout of the email in his hand. "This lady sounds like a rational person. I'm not a psychiatrist, but she doesn't sound like a lunatic."

"So, there is a possibility for concern?"

Will had grinned wryly at that, "Anything's possible, right?"

He probably could have sent someone else. The US government, in conjunction with several other world governments, was in the process of retrofitting four bases around the world for Autobot use. Diego Garcia, being as remote as it was, was no longer a suitable base of operations for NEST's new role in the military. Will, as base commander, had been in the midst of stowing and squaring away all of the transports, computers, and gear that needed to be shipped to the new bases. He was also on the coms half the day, coordinating efforts with on-site base commanders, insuring that each of them had a working understanding of what was required to comfortably house Cybertronians. He'd been going day and night for months.

Of course, the reasons he should have been staying were the exact reasons he needed to be going. What it came right down to was, Will Lennox needed a break.

Optimus had agreed to send Ironhide and Will had asked for Sideswipe, just in case. There were some newer 'Bots earthside now, a spastic engineer named Wheeljack, and a slightly uppity Spec Ops mech designated 'Mirage' (though for whatever reason, Sideswipe had started calling him 'Dino'). Optimus had suggested sending one of them along as part of indoctrination into Earth-culture, but Will preferred to stick with a devil he knew. While Sideswipe could be a pain in the ass, especially in Ironhide's ass, Will knew he could rely on the 'bot to get the job done. Aside from which, he genuinely seemed to like interacting with humans and took to it a bit more naturally than some of his comrades.

For the sake of his own sanity, Will had decided to take Epps and Davies along, too. NEST was in the midst of a complete reorganization, rotating in new staff and re-designating a lot of the old staff. Once again, Will found himself trying to break in new subordinates and get them acclimated to their working environment in addition to the base shifts. After months of dealing with it, Will had decided that this 'road trip' offered an opportunity to leave all of that crap behind. Epps and Davies would provide the necessary backup without all of the questions.

Of course, when he had announced this to the pair, he got two completely different reactions.

"You can't be serious." Had been Epps response, raising an eyebrow as he read the orders. "We're dragging ourselves to the middle of nowhere to look at trees?"

Davies had grinned, obviously not really taking this seriously, either. "I've always wanted to see America! We can camp out, cook food over an open fire, sing songs-"

"There is something seriously wrong with you, dude." Epps had shot back before turning to his CO, "Why are we even bothering with this?"

Will shrugged. "Ironhide was pretty insistent that we check it out."

Epps snorted. "Figures."

"Hey, it's either this or hang around here packing gear," Will had pointed out.

Admittedly, he hadn't expected Epps, Davies, and Sideswipe to be quite this cavalier about the whole affair. Epps was just surly about his situation. Davies was occupying himself by plucking Epps nerves as much as possible, and Sideswipe was unconcernedly amused by the whole thing. Lennox supposed that he should come down on the whole bunch of them, but decided it really wasn't worth the effort. He knew them all well enough to know that when the time came, he could rely on them all to do their jobs admirably.

Even if they had managed to make each other nuts in the meantime.

"Sideswipe to Ironhide," the com came to life again.

"Ironhide: go ahead"

"We are almost there, right?"

"Two miles. Why?"

"Cause I don't want Epps to break one of my windows when he throws Davies out."

Will snorted. "Just help him out and roll the window down, Sides."

As he spoke, Will could see the sign announcing the main entrance for the Chayton State Park. Parked near the sign was a black and white police cruiser, the blue and red lights spinning lazily. The words 'County Sheriff' were emblazoned on the side.

Upon their approach, the driver's side door opened and an older man in a uniform stepped out, reaching back into the interior to grab a well-worn Stetson and settle it over thinning, gray hair. He hooked his thumbs through his belt loops, framing his slight paunch and with lazy strides he crossed in front of Ironhide. As they got closer, he finally raised hand, signaling for them to stop. The mech complied, rolling down his driver's side window so Will could talk to the officer.

"Park's closed." The man said before Will could identify himself. " 'Fraid you'll have to turn around."

"I'm Col. Lennox." Will wrested the wallet from his pants pocket and flipped it open to flash his military ID. "I'm looking for an Allison Brody."

The cop was silent for a moment, his eyes flicking over Ironhide's frame before looking to the Corvette idling behind them. "Huh, you boys spending the entire military budget on fleet vehicles?"

Will had expected the question. "Slim pickings at the rental place."

The cop made the "Huh" sound again before speaking, "Thought maybe had signed a deal with Chevy or something."

As much as protocols had relaxed over the last few months, it was imperative that Will only involve as many people as necessary. The more he talked with this cop, the greater the chance something would slip. The last thing he needed was for the general populace to find out that Autobots were in the area. It would be huge news in such a rural place. And Will just knew if this cop put together the pieces, the entire county would be in the know in under an hour.

"Officer," Will took a second to read the nameplate on his jacket, "Thompson. We're on a schedule. Where can I find Ms. Brody?"

The older man gave him a slightly irritated look, but reached for the two-way radio hanging from his belt. Depressing the button he spoke into it. "Hey, Ben."

After a few seconds, there was a static-laden reply. "Yeah Dave?"

"Them boys from the Army are here," Thompson replied, "you should see what they're drivin-"

"Send 'em on up to the visitor center." Apparently, this 'Ben' person had dealt with Officer Thompson and his suspicious curiosity on more than one occasion. The voice snapped through the radio decisively, indicating that he was not interested in debating the matter.

Thompson looked distinctly unhappy as he stepped back. "You heard him. Follow the road on up."

The words "Thank you" were barely out of Will's mouth before Ironhide lurched forward, his tires squealing a bit on the asphalt as he tried to leave the nosy man behind him as quickly as possible. Behind them, Will noticed that Sideswipe let Ironhide get a fair distance from him before peeling out himself, speeding madly past the cop just to be spiteful. Ironhide growled in the com, "Careful."

There was some sort of twittering and buzzing. Sideswipe had just transmitted something to Ironhide in Cybertronian that he didn't want the humans to understand. Will felt the cab shudder around him in what he knew was a wave of annoyed rage. "That's one, punk."

The road changed to gravel shortly after then main gate and climbed steadily as they drove on. It twisted back on itself a couple of times before depositing them along a ridge that gave them a spectacular view of the Rockies. The mountains stretched on towards the horizon, sharp peaks of green that surrounded them on all sides. It was breathtaking.

"Your planet is very changeable." Ironhide's voice held a bit of awe as he spoke. "Some places are so flat and empty. Here, it is varied and full of life."

"That it is." Will inhaled deeply the scent of the thick pine woods through the still-open window. "I guess it's a lot different than Cybertron."

"Yes." For a moment, only the sound of gravel crunching under Ironhide's tires filled the cab. "But it is not displeasing. I believe I like these . . . mountains."

Will spared a half-smile for his friend. He never ceased to enjoy seeing his home world through the eyes of his new allies. It often gave him a new appreciation for things he had a habit of taking for granted.

A large, log cabin-like structure came into view around the next bend. It was a deep rich cedar color that seemed to meld seamlessly with the shadows of the tall, stately pines that surrounded it. The simple architecture was inviting, not in any way overbearing or ostentatious. A sign near empty parking area announced that they had arrived at the Chayton Visitor Center.

Standing on the wrap-around porch were two figures. One was a tall man with a receding line of salt-and-pepper hair. He was fit, and bright green eyes stared out sharply from his craggy features. He was clad in what Will assumed was the uniform for the Montana Park Service; khakis and a work shirt with the state's seal emblazoned on the shoulder.

Beside him was a woman, maybe about thirty. She was short and slender, but with an air of wiriness about her, as though she were a lot stronger than she looked. Reddish-brown hair was pulled back into a messy ponytail. There were sunglasses over her eyes, but unlike her companion she wore no uniform. She was wearing jeans and a vest over a dark red shirt.

Ironhide pulled into the parking space nearest the steps, popping the driver's side door for Will as the gear shift slid to 'Park' and the engine cut out. Sideswipe swung in on the other side of Ironhide as Will stepped out and stretched.

Cautiously, the pair had begun to descend the stairs. The woman led the way. "Colonel Lennox?"

"Hi." She had already extended her own hand and Will was surprised to find her grip firm and strong; a good indicator of a confident person, as far as he was concerned. "I'm Lennox."

"Allison Brody. Fish, Wildlife and Parks." She pushed up her glasses to reveal gray eyes before gesturing to the tall man. "Ben Maddox. He's the head of our law enforcement rangers for Chayton."

Will shook hands with Ben as well before introducing Davies and Epps. "It's only you two here, right?"

"I promise, Colonel." Allison raised her right hand as though swearing an oath. "We did exactly what you asked. All other park employees have been given leaves of absence for the rest of the week. The only rangers on duty are the ones at park entrances making sure that we receive no visitors. We are the only humans in the bounds of the park."

"And it's well over a thousand acres." Ben put in. "Dare I ask what you said to our superiors to make them so willing to comply?"

"Trade secret." Lennox had taken a direct, minimalist approach there. He had petitioned the highest ranking official he could, who happened to be General Morshower. Morshower had called the President who had turned right around and called the Governor of Montana and told him the situation, giving just enough details to make the man understand why the cloak-and-dagger spiel was necessary. Montana's governor had complied readily, recognizing that allowing a potential alien threat to run rampant through the state's pristine landscape probably wouldn't win him the popular vote in the next election. It hadn't actually taken much on Lennox's part at all.

Both of them were looking past Lennox now at the big black pickup and the sleek silver Corvette. She pointed and said softly, "Are they . . ."

Will took a deep breath. He might as well get the unpleasantness out of the way first. "Under the conditions of offering assistance, I am honor-bound to inform you once more that whatever goes on here today is top secret. If any information from this encounter is leaked to any source, you will be charged to the fullest extent of the law for charges of sedition and treason against the United States Government."

Ben looked slightly offended by this and Allison had cocked an eyebrow at him, regarding him with mild surprise. Feeling as though he should explain himself further, Lennox allowed his face to soften marginally. "We're sticking our necks out here. All of us. And after everything we've all been through together, I'm not risking any of the soldiers in my command to 'help' people who are just going to turn around and sell them out to a tabloid."

Ben exchanged a look with Allison before saying, "I think we understand that, Colonel."

"And you accept the terms?"

"We do."

"And your report of unexplainable damage to the area was true and accurate?"

"It was." Allison spoke up. She sighed. "Sir, Ben and I fully understand where you are coming from. We appreciate that you came all this way to try and help us."

Ben gave a half-smile at that. "I think we're still in shock, actually."

"We did think you would write us off as crazy." The woman looked at Lennox square. "We're just hoping you might be able to give us answers. It scares the hell out of us that you might be able to give us answers. But knowing for certain at least offers the possibility of coming up with a solution."

Will was pretty much convinced that the two were telling the truth. They were at the end of their rope and in need of help, from whatever quarter willing to offer it. As Allison had said in her letter, they had gone through every other scenario and discounted them as possible. They were simply looking for answers.

Still, protocol was protocol. Turning to Sideswipe, Lennox asked simply, "Well?"

"How many squishies are we supposed to have?"

"Manners, you fragger." Lennox repressed a smile at the use of the Cybertronian curse word from Ironhide. "We're supposed to have five."

"Then we're good." Sideswipe replied, indifferent to the larger mech's reprimand. "The only thing on my sensors is our three humans and the other two humans."

"We are not 'your humans'." Epps grouched at Sideswipe's hood. "How many times do I have to tell you that?"

Lennox pressed on as Sideswipe rocked back and forth on his wheels, his way of chuckling at Epps, he was sure. "No one else?"

"There are about a billion lesser-intelligent organisms running around out there . . . including the one guarding the front gate."


"That's enough." Will admonished. Ironhide was growling at his subordinate but Will got his attention quickly. " 'Hide?"

With a final grumble, the mech responded. "No fluctuations in heart rate or breathing. Electro-dermal response and blood pressure remained constant for both subjects."

Both Ben and Allison had been struck dumb as soon as Sideswipe had activated his vocalizer. They had watched the exchange between the soldiers and the pseudo-vehicles with increasing fascination and even slight alarm. It wasn't until Ironhide announced his findings that Allison gave a shiver as though an ice cube had slid down her spine and shook herself. She turned to Lennox with an incredulous look. "Did he just run a polygraph on us?"

Will hoped his smile was apologetic. "I can't take chances. I hope you understand."

Ben had recovered from his own stupor and flicked an eyebrow up at Allison. The woman shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. Will recognized the body language of two people who had known each other long enough to not need words to communicate. What he gleaned from the exchange was that each was wondering what they had gotten in to, but neither seemed to see any other viable options.

Will gave them the time to work it out on their own as to whether they wanted to keep going or not. After this point, there really was no turning back.

"Shall we get going then?" Allison finally said at length, her way of confirming she wished to maintain the course.

At her words, Ironhide opened all of his doors, an invitation for everyone to pile in. There was a tense few seconds while Ben and Allison looked back and forth between themselves as if each was daring the other to go first. Finally, Allison made a disgusted noise at the man and stalked forward, grumbling something about chivalry being completely and utterly dead. Ben smiled at her grousing and followed, climbing into the backseat as Allison hauled herself into the front passenger's seat.

Epps and Davies took their cue to move out and headed back towards Sideswipe as he obligingly opened his doors as well. Ben watched them climb into the car's interior as Will slid in behind the steering wheel. "It's pretty rough country where we're going. I don't think you all want to take a Corvette up there."

Will snorted. "We don't 'take' him anywhere. He takes himself. Trust me when I tell you he'll be fine."

Allison watched in fascination as Will fastened his seatbelt, his hand nowhere near the ignition when it turned over. As soon as the gear shift slid into reverse and Ironhide began to ease back, the mech's voice resonated through the cab. "Seatbelts, please."

Fumbling for the belt, the woman looked around as though she was waiting for the source of the voice to materialize. "What do we call you?"

"I usually look at the radio when I'm talking to him." Will decided to help her out. "That's where his audio sensors in his alt mode are."

Allison looked like half of what he had just said didn't make sense, but she simply complied. Focusing on the impressive looking radio Ironhide sported, she asked again, "Do you have a name?"

"My designation is Ironhide." He answered, keeping his voice a little less gruff in an effort to not further traumatize their new acquaintances, "And the exhaust-sucking little hooligan behind me is Sideswipe."

"I can hear you." Sideswipe's more mellow tone came through the com.

"Of course you can hear me!" Ironhide snapped back. Allison turned around in her seat to look at Ben again as the mech continued. "I patched you in so I could make sure you could hear me!"

"You can do better than 'hooligan'."

Will raised his voice before Ironhide could retaliate. "You'll have to forgive them, it's been a long trip."

"Wow." Allison shook her head. "I can't believe . . . this is incredible. There are so many things to ask-"

"I'm afraid just about all of it is classified information, ma'am." Will told her with an almost apologetic smile. "It probably wouldn't do any good to ask."

The woman sighed, seemingly a little overwhelmed. "I know. But still . . ."

Ironhide had pulled to the end of the parking lot and eased down the service road that would take them further into the park. "One of you will have to give me directions."

"The closest site is over on the south slope Jack Mountain." Ben spoke over the sound of Ironhide's tires. "Keep going until the road forks and bear right."

"The closest site?" Will asked, looking at each of them in turn. "There's more than one?"

"I found it this morning before you arrived." Allison told him, reaching up to grab the handle above Ironhide's door. They were bouncing along pretty good now. "I was out trying to locate a malfunctioning tracking collar when I found it."

"What are you tracking?" Ironhide asked. Though gruff, Ironhide had a natural curiosity. And since Allison and Ben were complying with the 'don't ask questions' policy, he seemed to be taking advantage and quenching his own inquisitiveness.

"Wolves." The woman smiled a bit, still trying to get used to the concept of talking to a truck. "I've been keeping tabs on the local wolf packs in and around Chayton. Trying to convince the locals that the Big, Bad Wolf isn't going to eat their cows or run off with their babies."

"You've had a lot of backlash?" Will asked. Sarah was big into the environment and wildlife conservation. He recalled vaguely her mentioning something about wolf populations rebounding in the Rockies. The only reason that had stuck with him is because his wife had said something about how scientists were now tracking the animals with GPS devices.

"The biggest anti-wolf campaign comes from hunters." Ben spoke up from the back seat. "They're convinced the increase of the wolf population over the last ten years has contributed to the decline in elk and deer populations."

"They're just whining because all of the dumb animals that were so easy to hunt got killed first." Allison chuckled. "And the smart ones are more difficult to find."

There was a hum from Ironhide's radio. "So the introduction of a second, competitive predator has increased the degree of difficulty in the hunt?"

Allison canted her head to the side, bemused at the alien's assessment of the situation. "That's one way of putting it."

"Does that not increase the thrill of the hunt?"

A real and true smile bloomed across the biologist's face. "Oh, Ironhide. I think I like you already."

I put this up to get some feedback. Anyone interested in seeing where this goes? I'll give it to you if you want it.