Author's Note: Sorry about the absence, all. I had to crochet a penguin . . . don't ask. Okay, well, that AND Sideswipe and I are having WORDS. I was having a hard time reasoning him out for this chapter. And I'm not sure why.
Hey, Foxbear! I put something in here for ya! A little reference that will hopefully make you laugh. Sideswipe needed a call sign- nuff said :-P
Yes, I has 'a silly' tonight.
"Get the civilians clear!" Will yelled into his com. "Once the area is evacuated, Epps, vector those fighters in. Tell 'em to just drive them back unless they pose an immediate threat to human life."
There were affirmative responses from both Davies and Epps before the battle controller started relaying instructions to the fighter pilots that were in-bound. He felt his heart beat faster as he checked his weapon and readied himself to hit the ground running.
Sideswipe's tires sprayed dirt as the frontliner veered around the final turn, moving to evaluate the situation before throwing himself into the fray. Ironhide cleared the curve, hot on his taillights.
Dust and dirt filled the air as the workers ran in all directions, trying to get out of the path of the Insecticons. Through the grit, Will caught sight off all three of the Insecticons. As before, they seemed to be completely out of control, destroying everything in their path as they advanced.
Before Ironhide even stopped, Davies had launched himself over the side of the bed and crouched, drawing a bead on the closest creature. It was the beetle and it was tearing up a truck full of logs, rooting underneath the thing to try and roll it over. Men were fleeing in all directions, but many were making for the truck parked down the slope and would be crushed by the huge logs.
Davies's shots covered Sideswipe as the mech transformed, throwing himself into his root mode and propelling his frame over the workers. The humans yelled in fear, unsure if the newest 'monster' was an attacker or an ally. The silver mech caught the beetle under the head, pushing it back and away from the vehicle.
Ironhide threw open his door and began transforming even as Will jumped from the cab. Epps was right behind him and the two men took up positions of supporting cover fire while the two mechs pushed the Insecticons back.
The panic was rising in the civilians, causing them to run blindly, pushing and running into each other in their fervor to escape. Will had to bring them back to their senses quickly before they killed each other. His tone was still urgent as he called to them, but he hoped it was assuring and confident.
It worked. Will's authoritative voice cut through the mire of their fear and brought them back to their senses. They changed direction, almost as one and sprinted towards where Davies, Epps, and Will were laying down cover fire.
Will took a few seconds to watch Ironhide. With an almighty battle yell the mech tossed two of the creatures aside, handling them easily, now that he had seen them in action, using his knowledge of their tactics and frames to exploit their weaknesses.. Sideswipe was doing likewise with the third creature. Both of the larger mechs were pulling their punches though, trying to subdue rather than do actual damage.
Giving a shout to Epps and Davies to keep the Cybertronians covered, Will turned. An older man had skidded to a stop near him. He had no idea if this was the site foreman or not, but he had to ask someone. "Is everyone clear?"
The man gasped for air, hunkering down behind a stack of logs. "I dunno. Everyone scattered."
Chilton had said twenty, but Will had only counted up about twelve workers. There was still no way to call in an airstrike unless he was absolutely sure all civilians were clear. He ground his teeth in frustration, but spoke calmly to the man. "Get your guys back to base camp. We'll cover you."
The ground shook beneath their feet as Ironhide threw the weevil down and turned for the beetle. The weevil was slow to get up and Will knew it was only a matter of time before the outmatched Insecticons took off again. He turned to the old man. "Go!"
Looking around, he caught sight of Epps, still covering Sideswipe. "Vector those fighters in and tell them to visually track these things for as long as possible if they take off."
Epps nodded, tapping his com to establish the connection. Will knelt down, preparing to return cover fire if it was warranted. The grit and dirt filled the air as the aliens thrashed around. He squinted his eyes, catching glimpses of silver and black armor, hearing the crashing of metal on metal as the Insecticons came back viciously.
The roar of jet engines in his ears made Will look up, catching sight of the F-15's that screamed overhead. Epps was yelling into his com again, but Will didn't have time for his brain to try and make sense of the words. There was the grating noise, the clicking again, before the grasshopper leapt straight up into the air.
Epps was yelling a warning to the pilots, but he was too late. The creature had latched on to the undercarriage of the jet before the pilot could react, plastering itself to the plane's skin and making a shot by another member of the squad utterly impossible. They were already well out weapons-range of the soldiers on the ground. Lennox, Davies, and Epps could only watch helplessly as the plane was gutted, lurching hard to port before the canopy popped and the pilot was ejected. The grasshopper took the shell of the plane to the ground and Will ordered everyone down as it hit the ground, sending up explosions and dirt.
"Call 'em off!" Will shouted back to Epps. The man was already redirecting the fighters. Will kept one eye on the battle as the grasshopper returned, aiming for Sideswipe. The silver frontliner growled, accepting the challenge as the creature hissed at him.
The scream of the engines overhead caught Will's attention for a second time. The pilots were cutting a wide, cautious arc, but it was still too close for his liking.
There was a clacking from the grasshopper as it turned its attention heavenward once again, planning to try the same trick a second time.
"Concentrate fire!" Will yelled to Davies and Epps. The two soldiers complied immediately, but Will knew it was too little too late.
The ground shook hard under their feet and Will registered the heavy pede-falls of a Cybertronian. A flash of silver caught his eye as Sideswipe threw himself at the grasshopper just as it launched itself into the sky.
"Not happening, Ugly." Sideswipe punched the creature hard, wrapping his other arm around the creature's head.
The grasshopper bucked and squealed, panicking and taking flight to try to escape the crazy frontliner. The angry mech held tight, though, wrapping his legs around the Insecticon's thorax and locking the tip of one pede behind the heel of the other. Even with Sideswipe's added weight, the creature managed to take off, rolling and tumbling through the air as it gained altitude and headed south.
"Boss!" Epps's call brought his attention back to the battle at-hand. The weevil and the beetle were flailing wildly, unnerved by their brethren's hasty departure. With an eardrum-shattering roar, the beetle slammed hard into Ironhide's patellar struts, sending the mech flying, rolling across the red ground.
Epps, Davies and Will started firing again, but the Insecticons seemed more concerned with following their comrade then standing and fighting. Their wings deployed and they sprang into the air, heading in the direction the grasshopper had departed.
Will swore and keyed his com already running towards Ironhide. The mech was slow getting up and Will wondered if he was damaged by the Insecticon's lucky shot. "Sideswipe, come in!"
What came back over the device was a string of colorful curses, both Cybertronian and human. When he finally did respond, it was with an insubordinate, "I am busy here, Boss!"
Growling back at the now silent com, Will turned just as Ironhide got to a knee. The mech's mood seemed to mirror the human's. "Let's go find the stupid fragger."
The transformation process wasn't as smooth as it normally was. Will felt worry niggle at the back of his mind as he watched Ironhide complete the process, catching a swatch of Cybertronian that did not sound acceptable in polite company. The mech was sore, no doubt.
Will vaulted into the cab just as Davies and Epps entered. Before he could even ask, Epps keyed his com again. "Ground Team to Raider 1, come in."
"Raider 1, go ahead." The squadron leader came back quickly over the com. Will looked through Ironhide's windshield, catching sight of the fighter planes as the mech began to roll out.
"Requesting a visual on the bogies and the friendly hitching a ride. Codename: Tin Man."
The planes roared overhead as Ironhide's tires ground into the dirt, swinging his back end around. "Heading south-southeast at about 80 knots. Tin Man still holding tight."
"Tell them to maintain visual, but don't get too close."
Epps relayed the instructions as Ironhide flew back down the access road. Behind him, Davies shifted in his seat to lean forward so both Will and Ironhide could hear. "So what was the point of that attack? What were the Insecticons after?"
"Maybe a supply of fresh food." Will replied, grabbing for the 'chicken handle' above Ironhide's door as the mech rollicked along. "There were a lot of logs lying around that they didn't have to worry about taking down themselves."
"Or perhaps the humans wandered too close to their position and surprised them." Ironhide responded. "Either option is feasible."
Will knew that Ironhide was trying to defend the actions of the Insecticons in some small measure. Though the mech had expressed doubts about the Insecticons merely disoriented, a part of him still wanted Optimus to be right; they were not the threat everyone feared them to be.
"Raider 1 to Ground Team." The voice on the com cracked urgently. "Tin Man is down! Repeat: Tin Man is down!"
Epps' voice was strained as he responded. "Copy that Raider 1. Vector us in. Maintain visual on bogies."
Will only heard half of what the squadron leader was saying as Ironhide swung back out onto the highway. The mech had heard quite clearly what the pilot had reported and really, that was all that mattered. The three soldiers were jostled hard in their seats and Will heard Epps swear.
Ironhide was screaming down the road they had taken to get to the logging site. Will braced back in the seat as the Topkick tore across a bridge spanning the Hootah River and bore hard to the left, cutting off an old lady in a late-model gray Chrysler.
"Take it easy, 'Hide." Will tried to be soothing, but it was hard through clenched teeth. He could already hear the ass-chewing coming from Command about this incident. Pushing that worry aside, he keyed his own com. "Lennox to Sideswipe, do you copy?"
"I hear you, Boss." The bot's tone was more reasonable than their last communication.
"Are you all right?"
"Affirmative." There was a static snort on the line. "Just taking a bath."
Ironhide had hit his patience limit and broke across Will. "Where the hell does that mean?"
"I lost my grip on the Insecticon right over the reservoir." Sideswipe came back. Will looked out the window. He could see the sun dancing on the surface of the water through the trees from the ridge that the road was following. It was right below them and if they continued along the highway, it would dump them out along the north shore.
Will continued to scan the area as he spoke. "We're on our way. Can you get a lock on 'Hide's signal."
"Heading towards you now." Came the reply.
Ironhide had just swung onto the road running near the reservoir when Epps's com sounded again. "Raider 1 to Ground Team. Bogies have gone to ground."
"Damn it." Will swore and Ironhide growled.
Epps was responding. "Can you maintain visual?"
"Negative." The squad leader responded. "Tree cover is too thick."
"Get the Insecticons last know position and put our birds on a search grid." Will sighed as Ironhide began to slow, picking up on Sideswipe's com signal. Epps nodded as Will activated his own com. "Lennox to Allison: do you copy?"
"I'm here, Colonel."
"Is the tracking collar still transmitting?"
"It seems to be. The next coordinate is do up in the next minute or so." The woman responded. "Where are you guys?"
"Picking up Sideswipe." Will replied. "As soon as that coordinate comes through get on the horn and tell me about it. Lennox out."
Ironhide pulled down on the rocky beach that lined the reservoir just as Sideswipe's helm became visible just beneath the surface of the water. In the distance, Will could see the large, square structure of the hydroelectric dam jutting out from the side of the mountain. The sharp lines of the structure cut a stark contrast with the wilderness around it. Faintly, he could make out the sound of rushing water falling over the wall.
Will jumped from Ironhide's cab just as Sideswipe's torso rose from the depths. The mech looked distinctly unhappy as water streamed from his transformation seams, splattering on the rocks along the shore. There was a ripple through his armor as he shook his plates, spraying the humans and Ironhide who warbled a warning in Cybertronian as he rolled back a length. Ignoring him, Sideswipe blew water from his vents, spraying Epps and Davies. The combat controller cursed violently, which was of course, exactly the reaction Sideswipe had been hoping for.
Knowing he was setting himself up, Will walked towards the silver alien. "Are you crazy?"
Sideswipe cocked his head, smirking down at Will. "What can I say? I want to be just like you when I grow up."
Will shook his head. "Let's go. The fighters spotted the Insecticons just east of here. Allison will be able to provide us with a coordinate any second now."
Suddenly, the blaring of alarms broke the stillness of the morning. Will spun around and looked in the direction of the dam. Even at this distance, he could see one of the tall towers falling and the power lines running from the facility sparking.
The Insecticons were attacking the power plant. It seemed the system reversion Ratchet had promised was happening more quickly than any of them had feared.
Sideswipe stepped over him, throwing himself down into his vehicle mode. Will's com crackled in his ear. "Don't think we're going to have to wait that long, Boss!"
Ironhide's engine revved as the humans raced back and climbed in. The high-pitched warbles of Cybertronian pricked Will's eardrums as he climbed up. Ironhide was already relaying this latest development to Ratchet. Will had likewise hit his own com, patching in to NEST command and filling Morshower in on the situation.
"I'm having the area evacuated and sending ground support!" Was Morshower's quick response before the com shut down.
As the Topkick tore off after the Corvette, Epps turned sideways in the seat to talk to Will. "We just went to a whole new level."
"Yeah, no kidding." Will replied as Ironhide closed the distance between his grille and Sideswipe's taillights.
Davies poked his head over the front seat between Will and Epps. "The coordinates the fighters gave us were well to the east."
"They must have doubled back." Epps put a hand on the dashboard to steady himself.
Davies was silent for a second before asking in a tentative voice, "Do you think they did it on purpose? To lose the fighters?"
Will looked back at the Brit. It was a plausible scenario. But it would be the first play the Insecticons had made that seemed to have any real thought or strategy behind. Will felt his stomach clench. If this were more of a tactical strike, it would lend credence to the theory that the Insecticons were not likely to cease their hostilities.
As the chatter began over the coms, Will spared a few seconds to pray he was wrong.