by Ironraven, with their permission and beta reading of the Botosphere team.
It takes time to build a military unit. Time to find the men. Time to find a home base. Time to train the men to be a single, functional unit. Sometimes it can even take years just to find a name for that unit.
Lennox might only have days- he has a few men, no equipment, and his nameless unit is homeless. But he does have an enemy.
"At ease, Captain."
Will Lennox relaxed his shoulders, bringing his feet to their width, while clasping his right wrist with his left hand behind his back. He looked at a point of space one foot above the General's head. He'd had orders to report to this man only hours after the last Decepticon had fled Mission City, screaming like a scared little bitch.
At least that was how Ironhide had phrased it.
He'd had time to check on his men, Army, Air Force and Sector Seven. The Witwicky kid had refused to go to the hospital for observation. He'd said that there were too many who were too badly hurt, he'd be ok- acted like a normal scared, selfish, witless kid most of the time, but there was a streak of something in there. Mister Witwicky would either be monumental waste of potential, or he'd be someone important by the time he was fifty. He and the girl were with the robots, hunkered down in a Air Guard hanger along with the body of their dead comrade. Some guy with a beard had grabbed that Simmons clown and dragged him away, leaving the S7 guys without a chain of command, so Will had shanghaied them and stuffed them in with his team around that hanger. Add in a couple of Gaurdsmen that had run towards the shooting- unarmed, unarmoured, out of uniform, they'd gotten civilians out of the way or at least under cover, then started treating the injured. Will didn't want to leave them where the media could find them, so he'd brought them along. Since then they'd been rotating an hour of down time each: fast shower in the pilot's locker room, gulp some food or grab a catnap. That was when he'd received his order to meet with the officer on the Lear after Secretary Keller had concluded his session with the aircraft's secure communications suite.
The jet was a business model in military colors- Lennox knew that Marine Aviation actually did have some business jets, but this was the first time he'd ever seen one. It must have been redlining the engines across the country to get here this fast, but it was comfortable: almost an office with wings.
"How are your men doing Captain?"
"We are alive, most of us." Donnelly wasn't. Fig probably wouldn't make it either. Two good men, his men. Will wasn't sure how he was going to write the letters for them; it would depend on how deep this got classified. "I transmitted a list of the casualties; I have them here, if you didn't get them." Will's hand reached into his pocket, pulling out the note pad he'd carried since Qatar. Had that really been less than a hundred hours ago? He felt his wedding ring brush on the binding as he pulled the pad out.
"I got it. It... isn't good. Your team, Sgt. Epps, and two others were the only survivors of SOCCENT."
Will glanced down. He knew the story about General Morehower and Colonel Sharp. This close, it was easy to tell them apart if you knew them well- Will didn't, and he couldn't. "Your brother, sir?"
The General closed his eyes, shaking his head. He'd known about his half brother most of his life, and they'd been closer than most brothers, despite living in different states. That they'd both joined the Corp was of no surprise to anyone who knew them. The first units to respond to the ruin of SOCCENT had found him with a fire axe at his side, fighting to the last.
Then why are you here? Will thought to himself. Something was very odd about this. And after today, 'odd' was a word that had a whole new meaning. Will flashed back to skidding between that robot's legs and throwing a thermo-kinetic round into its, his... junk? But it had been the bastard that had destroyed SOCCENT. "We got the one who killed him, sir."
"So I've been told. But I've also been told there are others?"
"Yes, Sir. One got away; the Autobot's leader says there are more out there." Will nodded vaguely at the coming dawn.
Morshower nodded. "And that, Captain, is why I'm here." At the lifted eyebrow, he continued. "The President ordered me to come out here and debrief you and your men, and to ask for volunteers."
"I haven't even said what you are volunteering for."
Captain Willam Lennox committed a breach of military etiquette- he made alpha male eye contact with a superior officer. "The Decepticons, the bad robots, they aren't done. They will be back."
Morehower grunted.. "Your file said you were smart. You're up for a promotion, aren't you?"
"Yes sir." And with it, Will had been planning on trying for the next level of soldier above Special Forces, Delta, or getting out after the next tour. He'd seen enough that he didn't want his daughter to not have a father, but with everything in the world he couldn't not keep bad things away from her. Both ideas made his brain shy away like a finger from a hot stove. Either would have stopped him from going up in rank any time soon. And as a Major, he'd be going back to the regular Army or to B-team, rather than being with an A-detachment where he liked.
He'd talked it over with Sarah while packing, he to go to war for a year and she to go to the ranch; she was willing to support him either way. That was why he loved her; she was willing to put up with the organized craziness that was his professional life, so long as he came home alive. And he'd made a decision in the past few hours, one as profound as the day he asked her father for permission to ask her to marry him. He wasn't getting out, and if there was an offer like this he wasn't trying out for Delta. "And you are asking for volunteers."
"Yes. Probably a Major to command the strike team in the field. There will also be a support component: your own medical staff, armourers, mechanics, that kind of thing. You will be hunting hostile extraterrestrials, nonbiological or otherwise."
Will pointed towards the hanger as he felt something in his stomach drop. "These guys, they aren't hostile to us. I think they like us. Not like make us pets like us, but like us like the Brits like us. And they are the only ones who know how to fight the Decepticons."
"Yes, about the Brits. They are asking what exactly happened." Along with the Central Command Special Operations teams and their support, SOCCENT had tenant units, a depot for the Marines and for Airlift Command, and served as a joint operations center with British and Australian special forces units. It had only been a few weeks since the Bulgarians and Danes had left. And of course, the Canadians had never been there, although there were guys with not quite American accents who depending on the day of the week wore US or British uniforms and smuggled Molson and Labbatt beer into the country. And a couple of observers from Japan. One from South Korea. "A lot of people want to know just what the hell happened there. And you big metal friends over there can tell us? They've been talking to the Secretary, he's got a notion about including them in this."
"Let me introduce you, Sir."
"Before you do that Captain, would you like to let your wife know you are alive?"
Will's knees almost buckled. "Yes sir. My men will need to call their families to- would it be possible for them start while we talk to the Autobots? We really need them on the team, and it's not like they can go anywhere."
Morshower leaned back his chair, studying the young captain before him. He nodded- this was a good officer.
- Two weeks later
"So what are we going to call this thing?" Epps looked up from the laptop.
"I don't know? What can we hide in plain sight?"
There was a grunt. "Not much- what are we going to do, turn into fire hydrants and mailboxes?"
They were temporarily encamped at Kirkland Air Force Base. It was big enough to hide the Autobots, and less visible than most of the ways into Nellis. Sure, there was a lot of backyard there, places where one could hide, but Area 51 was part of Nellis and it was right next to Vegas. If the Decepticons came back, it wouldn't be subtle. Albuquerque was the nearest city to Kirkland but there were parts of the base that were screened from the city by mountains, and it was also home to energy physics labs and Department of Energy units. Transporting a truck under guard and marked with radioactive symbols wasn't that unusual here. The 'Bots could blend in better and there weren't nuts camped out with cameras looking for UFOs or spy planes or little green men.
The downside is that they were hidden in a remote corner in a couple of hangers that hadn't been used for years. The lights still worked, but only a few of them, and the sanitation facilities were primitive enough to have freaked out the few civilians on the team. The military members had been at forward operating bases that were much worse, and the Autobots were indifferent.
A god-like voice gently rumbled above them. "If you can not change your shape, change what people think you are." Optimus was sitting like a giant, red and blue Budda in the hanger. "There must be some unit of your military that people know of, but whose true nature is unclear."
Epps grinned, his teeth bright in the dim lights. "NEST. The Nuclear Emergency Search Teams."
Will snapped his fingers. There was even one here at Kirkland. "That might work."
Nuclear Emergency Search Teams weren't military, they were civilians. And they didn't even carry guns. Instead, their job was search an area where nuclear material was lost, or worse, a nuclear device or radiologically enhanced bomb was thought to be. If they were called in, the FBI had their special missions teams go along or if they couldn't get there in time, military special operations would go in, and "secure" the package if it was found. That was a nice way of saying shoot every terrorist in the head. Twice. Then the NEST team would try to disable the physics package if it was a completed device. Scientists liked clean terms; A-bomb was a little messy for them.
But in Hollyweird, NEST teams were like super duper troopers in silver moon suits with their white or silver or black helicopters. Anyone who didn't know what NEST did just assumed they were some kind of law enforcement or intelligence or military unit. And because they weren't, they often went overseas, either supporting the security of America's allies or exercising with them where it would be diplomatically insensitive to have military personnel. And for the few who did know what it meant, they'd have the sense to run away. "That might just work."
Optimus' optics dimmed for a moment as he went still. Will had come to recognize it as the big guy going online to research something. "Yes, very much so."
"I'll run it past the General and SecDef." Will stretched in the folding chair. They were looking for likely candidates for the team beyond just the few who had already seen the Autobots. Officers, NCOs, warrants and enlisted with technical and scientific backgrounds along with anthropology and several other of the soft sciences was what Morshower had suggested, along with those with combat experince; it had been Maggie's idea that they add people who read, or better, wrote science fiction. So far it was looking like an amazing mix of fifty-one flavors of geek, all of them.
The three continued in silence for several minutes before Will spoke again. "So... she's going to do it?"
Epps sighed. "Yeah." His wife had been happy he was alive after Mission City. She hadn't been so happy that he'd requested to be assigned to this taskforce. That hadn't been the plan she'd worked out- he was going to leave the Air Force and get a nice, safe civilian job. He was a Combat Controller, he could set up an airstrip anywhere flat, level and long enough, and manage the air traffic around it, along with reconnaissance and spotting for air strikes. Get out, get a job with the FAA, and in three years he'd be making more the Air Force would ever pay him. Air traffic controllers burned out pretty fast, but he could do it while getting shot at, so he hadn't thought he had anything to worry about. She liked that plan. But after what he'd seen in the past month, he had to stay. He could say it was to protect the nation, to protect the world, but mostly it was to protect the other guys. That was why most special ops troopers and officers were single or divorced; you were married not to the uniform, but to the team, at least as much as you were to the little lady. They usually couldn't handle sharing you with a dozen sweaty, hairy guys. "Yeah."
"Shit." Will had seen it before. He didn't know why Sarah hadn't left him, and he was afraid to try to figure it out. He was afraid if he tried, the spell would be over. The first time he'd come back from Afghanistan, one of his men had been met at the flight line by a process server with divorce papers while Sarah had been watching from the other side of the fence. Watching one of his guys, a man she'd met once, crumple like that had sucked as much for her as it did for Will. He knew that Epps had married his high school sweetheart and had a son and three daughters, with number four on the way. There was nothing he could say, nothing he could do. Because he was an officer and Epps was an NCO, rank made it hard to even go get a case of beer and talk about it someplace quiet. "Sorry."
Optimus watched his human counterpart and his second in command, wondering what that conversation was about. It was clearly personal but painful; as a Prime, if one of his troops had sorrow in his spark, Optimus would talk to him, or steer the Ratchet or Jazz mech towards if they needed to not look weak in front of their leader. Optimus hated watching one of his mechs suffer, even with a problem he didn't understand himself, but he didn't know where to begin. Optimus had become reluctantly accustomed to feeling helpless, but he did not like it.
-A week later
"Captain Redfern, Major."
"Thank you, Sergeant." Lennox nodded to Epps. They weren't normally this formal, but around Air Force officers or politicians they often were. Lennox poked fun at Air Force pilots, but he also respected most of them- it was the only branch where other than a few specialists like Epps it was the officers who went out to die in combat.
He returned Redfern's salute. "Sit." The Air Force Captain did so. "We've met before."
"You covered my team after SOCCENT." Will smiled as the Redfern's eyes widened a little.
"Sir, I can't talk about that. What's... " He read the paper the still grinning Lennox had handed him. Redfern had been ordered to never, ever think about whatever it was he'd shot at in the desert. In fact, the Air Force had rather suddenly returned his A-10 squadron to the States. And this paper was signed by the President of the United States, countermanding that silence order, at least as far as this man was concerned. "Oh. Okay. Sir, what was that thing?"
"It is called Scorpinok. It is an alien terrorist, a Decpticon."
"Okaaay." It wasn't the craziest thing Redfern had ever heard. And those hadn't been bullet holes in his Warthog- the Hog's hide was thick enough to ignore any bullet that small. It had to be either some kind of energy weapon or a hypervelocity projectile- he'd done the math, it must have been doing a large number of Mach to poke a 5mm hole through his wing and leave melted metal around the edges. He slumped a little in the chair. "So I'm not crazy, am I?" He'd been telling himself he couldn't have seen what he thought he'd seen.
"No crazier than I am. I'm putting together a team, including aviation sections. You, your wingmate and those other pilots are on my list of people to ask if they want in."
"As a heart attack. I have been authorized to go through the US military to set up a strike and support package. I am authorized for eight Warthogs, two Spookies or Specters, a dozen fighters, C-17s, -27s and -130s. Toss in ten, twelve Apaches, some Blackhawks, and a few Chinooks. I'm trying to get us drones- Predator, Reaper, maybe even Global Hawk."
"You aren't thinking small, are you."
"I am- we need to be able to do anything, any time, any where, against an enemy who thinks humans are vermin and the Earth is a big asteroid to be mined. We might only have a few hours to respond, so it's going to look like a lot but we have to respond to literally anything."
"Every pound is air to ground?" Redfern grinned- fighter pilots liked to say 'not a pound', but A-10s weren't fighters, and they were called Hogs because they were funny looking, slow, tough and liked to play in the mud. Most pilots wanted nothing to do with them; Warthog drivers were a different breed. "You know my squadron is getting broken up and our jets sent to the boneyard at the end of the year. We were supposed to get the Lightening." But the F-35 was behind schedule and over budget. The way things were going, it would be at least five years. Damnit! His A-10s had at least another ten left in them, and they were getting the budget ax from generals who thought air support means dropping things from angels-30 and then running away. The Captain couldn't keep the bitterness from his voice. "An hour ago, my choices were fly a trash hauler or get out."
"Or join NEST. And it sounds like you know where to get ground crews and pilots."
"Yeah. Oh yeah. How far can I recruit from?"
"If you say yes, that computer can pull up the record of every American serviceman and woman, active duty, Reserve, Guard, ready reserves or ROTC. Including the Coasties. About the only people we can't raid are Tier One JSOC units. We'll also be looking at the Brits."
"Chriiist... Sorry Sir. Is this by order of..." Redfern waved the paper, his thumb by the signature.
"Yeah, he's kinda serious about this. So?"
Captain Redfern rose to his feet, saluting. "Sir! I say Yes, Sir, when do I start?"
Major Lennox returned the salute. It had been twenty six days since he'd learned that humans were not alone in the universe. "Tomorrow. General Morshower will arrange to get your orders cut effective immediately, and then you can get started looking for my pilots. Sergeant Epps will be leaving to check out some enlisted men tomorrow, while I go to England to look for an XO. So you'll be in charge here until I get back; you answer to General Morshower, the Secretary of Defense and the President until then. If you really get stuck, ask Optimus for help."