NOTE: This was a very tough chapter to write and it kinda ended a bit differently than I intended it, but somehow Optimus Prime started writing his own lines there at the end. I hope you like it.
Chapter 16: All Quiet on the Cybertronian Front
Journal of Captain Marissa Fairborn, United States Air Force
Earth Date October 18, 2007 (approx.)
Final entry: It's over. I'm never going home. I don't know what possessed me to think that one little crippled human like myself could ever make a difference in a war that has lasted longer than my race even existed. I'll live out my life here on this metal world and when I die, my home world will be safe. It's the best I can hope for.
Iacon, Planet Cybertron
Earth Date October 25, 2007 (approx.)
"No change?" Jazz asked.
Bumblebee shook his head, his optics glued to the monitor that showed the interior of Marissa's quarters. Their human friend was sitting near the window, just gazing out at the cityscape of Iacon. She hadn't moved from that position all day except to eat and clean up.
Jazz, who had finally been briefed about Marissa and Maverick being one and the same – not surprising considering that the secret was well and truly out of the bag ever since they had transported Maverick's broken chassis back to Iacon – paced the length of the conference room.
"There has to be something we can do," he muttered.
"We can probably be thankful that she kept it together as long as she did," Ratchet said from his place at the conference table. "Considering all that she has gone through – being exiled to another world, dragged into a war between beings so much larger and more powerful than herself – she has held up remarkably. If the circumstances were reversed, I'm not sure any of us could have done half as well."
"So you just want to let her give up?" Bumblebee asked incensed.
Ratchet made a soothing motion. "I didn't say that. I'm just saying she will need some time to recover her equilibrium. She has been subjected to both physical and psychological trauma at the hands of one of the most powerful and ruthless Decepticons of them all, don't forget that. Expecting her to bounce back from that within a matter of days is completely unrealistic."
Bumblebee deflated. "I guess you're right. It's just... Marissa has been so... forceful and strong all this time... I guess I forgot how difficult all this must be for her."
"I just wish we knew more about her race's methods of psychological counselling," Rewind added. "If she were an Autobot, I have no doubt Rung or one of his team could get her processor ticking again in no time flat. But given how little we still know about her species..."
"Bah, useless fancy talk," Grimlock interrupted him. "Meat puppet strong, will bounce back from this. You'll see!"
"I hope you are right, Grimlock," Bumblebee said, turning his optics back to the screen showing Marissa. "I really do."
Iacon, Planet Cybertron
Earth Date November 8, 2007 (approx.)
"Went a little overboard, didn't you?" Bumblebee asked.
"What makes you say that?" Wheeljack replied.
Bumblebee pointedly looked at the hulking figure in front of him. There was no more trace of the catastrophic damage the combination of the neutron storm, crash, and brief fight with Shockwave had done to Thrymir's form. The former chassis of Skywarp gleamed like new and Bumblebee could easily make out the additional layers of armor, as well as the vastly increased arsenal.
"I'm not sure that thing can even move with all that added weight," Bumblebee finally said.
"Look, which of us here is the engineer?" Wheeljack said, sounding a bit angry. "I know what I'm doing, okay? These upgrades will work just fine and the next time Marissa faces any Decepticon, even the one-eyed freak himself, she will demolish them. I guarantee you that."
Taken aback by Wheeljack's outburst, Bumblebee studied the frantic-looking engineer.
"Wheeljack... what happened to Marissa wasn't your fault. You know that, right?"
For a moment Wheeljack seemed ready to protest, but then visibly deflated.
"I know that, little buddy. But I can't help thinking that if I'd just tuned that system a bit more or added a few more armour plates here..."
"It wouldn't have mattered, Wheeljack," Bumblebee interrupted him, putting a hand on his arm. "You know just as well as I do that war is unpredictable. You never know what might have made a difference or not. We can only prepare as best as we can and try to do better next time if it wasn't enough."
Wheeljack nodded. "Which is exactly why I'll make sure that Maverick 2.0 here will be the best bot he can possibly be, little buddy. If... when Marissa gets back in the cockpit, she'll be ready to take on all comers."
Bumblebee nodded. It was all they could do for now. Still, he really could use some Decepticons to pound right now.
Tagan Heights, Planet Cybertron
Earth Date November 23, 2007 (approx.)
Most Decepticons, at least those who had any amount of common sense, had always tried to avoid any sort of confrontation with Grimlock and his Dynobots, the Autobots' heavy ground units. Grimlock had a kill count in the thousands, was known to collect pieces of the Cons he destroyed for display, and seemed determined to never give any of his enemies an easy death. Decepticons knew that, while facing the likes of Optimus Prime or Ultra Magnus in battle usually meant certain death, facing Grimlock usually meant certain, long, and agonizing death.
Recently, though, things had changed. Not for the better, as far as the Decepticon side of the argument went. If anything, Grimlock seemed grouchier, more aggressive, and more determined than ever to make it hurt. None among the rank and file knew why and most didn't really care. Unfortunately for the Decepticons, the fact that his mere appearance on the perpetual battle field the Tagan Heights had turned into sufficed to send most of his enemies running for cover, did nothing to improve Grimlock's mood. If anything, it made him even madder.
No one among the Decepticons knew the significance of the word "meat puppet", which Grimlock occasionally muttered in the middle of combat. Most who heard it never got the chance to tell anyone about it, either.
Iacon, Planet Cybertron
Earth Date December 21, 2007 (approx.)
The small Autobot froze, looking down the corridor to see the giant form of Optimus Prime coming toward him.
"I was talking to Blaster and he has told me something about a certain recording you made. Something you intended to distribute to the troops."
Rewind fidgeted nervously.
"Ah, yes... that. I... I know I should have talked to you first, but... the secret was out anyway... and there was all this talk I overheard and..."
A gesture from Optimus made him fall silent.
"I just wanted to tell you: good job!"
Rewind was not human, otherwise he would have blinked and gaped like a fish.
"Blaster showed me. Good job. See to it that it's broadcast to all the troops with the next round of regular updates. Oh, and add this little bit here before you do."
With those words and after handing over a small datapad, Optimus walked off, leaving a thoroughly gobsmacked Rewind behind. Moments later the small Autobot shook himself and scrambled to carry out his orders.
Tagan Heights, Planet Cybertron
Earth Date December 23, 2007 (approx.)
"Did you see this?"
Sideswipe looked up, seeing his team leader Hound studying a small datapad. Shaking his head, he took the pad and watched the brief transmission on it.
"Now isn't that something," he muttered as the recording ended.
A Decepticon shell impacted nearby, wrenching the Autobots away from their study. They quickly grabbed their arms and formed up to meet the new offensive. Sideswipe quickly found himself in the thick of things and brought his pathblaster to bear on a Decepticon who popped up right in front of him.
"One for the fleshling," he grinned, pulling the trigger and blasting the Con to pieces.
Iacon, Planet Cybertron
Earth Date December 31, 2007 (approx.)
"I'm not in the mood, Bumblebee," Marissa said without turning around as she heard the doors to her quarters opening up. Lately her yellow friends had made almost daily visits to try and get her out of her funk.
"I am aware of that, Captain Fairborn," a different voice answered her instead.
Marissa turned around to see Optimus Prime walking in. The Autobot leader was a busy bot, she had only met him maybe a dozen times since coming to Cybertron. He had visited her in the infirmary, though, and had made regular inquiries to her rate of recovery. This was their first meeting, though, since she had... since she had given up.
"I am hoping that you can give me a moment of your time, though," Optimus said, crouching down beside her. He was still many times larger than her, but not towering above her quite as badly.
"Would it make a difference if I said no?" she asked bitterly. It's not like there was anything she could do anyway. She was just a tiny little broken human. If not for the pity of the Autobots, she'd be long dead. Which might have been better for all involved.
"Normally, yes. Today, though, there is something I need to talk to you about."
Marissa just shrugged. "Feel free, then."
"Do you remember our conversation during your first visit to Autobot headquarters? When you asked me to let you help us win this war?"
"Sure," she scoffed. "Looking back, I'm surprised you indulged me."
"To be fully honest, Captain, there might well have been an element of indulgence on my part. I did not see how you could help us. How any one being, be it Cybertronian, human, or anything else, could do anything to break the eternal stalemate our war has degenerated into."
"Well, you were right then," Marissa simply said.
"On the contrary, Captain. I was very wrong."
She looked up at him, confused. Optimus handed her a datapad, so small that he could barely hold it between his massive fingers, which made it just small enough for Marissa to handle it without being squashed by it. Being familiar with Cybertronian tech by now, she saw a recording waiting to be played. Shrugging, she pressed the Cybertronian symbol for "Play".
A series of images floated across the screen, accompanied by – of all things – the Top Gun Anthem. The images, partly computer generated, partially actual recordings, showed Marissa. There was a brief summary of her arrival, including her pushing Optimus out of harm's way and being shot by Shockwave. There was her learning to walk with her new limbs, getting into the Headmaster suit for the first time, linking up with Thrymir again. And then there were battle field recordings. Maverick on Animatros, shooting down Decepticon flyers. Maverick on Gigantion, in a dogfight above the towering forms of Devastator and Omega Supreme. And finally the push into the Tagan Heights, right up to her confrontation with Shockwave. It showed the broken carcass of Maverick being brought back to Iacon.
"Why are you showing me this?" Marissa asked. "I was there for all of that, remember?"
"The recording wasn't made for you, Captain. There is more, though."
The images had faded to black, the Top Gun Anthem ended, to be replaced by a short question written in Cybertronix. It read "why does an alien fight in our war?" The letters faded, to be replaced by a recording Marissa realized must have come directly from Optimus Prime.
"Optimus," she heard herself saying in the recording, "we have an old saying back home. It goes something like this: 'Grant me the courage to change the things I can, the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, and the wisdom to tell the difference.' I do know this: I want to go back home. I want to see the Earth again before I die and I know that it can only happen if and when your war is over. Now wisdom tells me that one little human like myself won't be able to help change the course of this war, but seeing as I lack the serenity to just sit here and wait until I die of old age, the only thing left to me is..."
"The path of courage?" Optimus voice, sounding once again slightly amused.
"As pompous as it may sound, yes," the image from her past continued. "Optimus, if there is even the slightest hope that something I might do or say could help end this war of yours within my lifetime..."
The recording faded to black, once again to be replaced by letters. A single word, written in Cybertronix.
"What do you mean this isn't for me," Marissa asked, getting slightly angry. "Who is it for then?"
"This recording went out as part of the regular update sent to all Autobot troops on Cybertron and the other planets in the Space Bridge Grid. Everyone who is part of our armed forces saw it these last few Earth days."
Marissa was dumbfounded. "You... you're using me... for what? Is this the Autobot equivalent of the funny pages?"
Optimus shook his head.
"Captain Fairborn, I am not sure you realize this, but you have contributed something incredibly valuable to our war effort. Something that we had been missing for so long, no one – including myself – had even noticed it wasn't there anymore. At some point we all had... resigned, I think, that this was the way it always would be. Autobots against Decepticons, locked in combat forever. No gain for either side. No changes. Just endless warfare and death."
He looked at her. "Ever since you came here, though, things have changed. Little things, so little I didn't notice them at first, either."
"Things?" she asked, getting more and more confused.
"Little things, yes. Things like Wheeljack being his most productive in many, many Vorns. Blaster being more motivated than ever. Jazz coming up with many new ideas on how to sow trouble among the Decepticons. Grimlock being more of a team player than he's ever been.
"When we had our talk back then, Captain Fairborn, I was wrong. Wrong in thinking that you were the one who needed that tiny little ember of hope that taking the path of courage would give you. In fact, it was we who needed it. We who had lost it so long ago. Until you came."
Marissa just stared at him, unable to comprehend what he was saying.
"Blaster tells me troop morale is the highest it's been since he took over as our com officer," Optimus said, rising. "Since that recording went out, we have made small but noticeable gains along most of our active frontiers. Training scores are improving across the board. Again, slightly, but noticeably. And Rewind has recordings of at least six different altercations where Autobots rallied for battle to words like 'Path of Courage!' or 'For Hope!'.
"So don't think for a moment that you have not made a difference here on Cybertron, Captain Fairborn. You have given us hope for the first time in many, many Vorns. And that is the most precious gift anyone can give to another sentient."
Turning to leave, he looked back over his shoulder. "Of course I have little doubt that morale would improve even more, Captain, if Maverick were to be seen on the battlefield again."
The doors slid shut, the Autobot leader's massive foot falls vanished into the distance. Marissa still stared at the datapad in her hand, which still showed that final word on its screen.
End Chapter 16