Awareness returned slowly for Ratchet, as if he were swimming up from the blackest depths of the ocean. He felt disconnected, as if his very spark were free of his body and was floating through the emptiness of space itself. It was so tempting to just let himself drift, to simply immerse himself in the most basic sensation of all – that of merely being alive, of sheer existence – but he forced himself to fight for total consciousness. Instinct warned him that if he quit fighting, he would lose his fragile grip on life itself.

Alive… he was alive. As he slowly made his way to total awareness he could feel his memory returning. He was alive… and hopefully the others were too. There was only one way to find out for sure, though.

His vision was still dark, but he didn't worry about that too much at the moment. For now he simply worked on trying to bring his vital systems online. Once he was sure he wasn't going to deactivate at any moment, he would worry about his sensory systems.

Funny… he couldn't seem to access his damage readout. All efforts to bring it online were failing. That was frustrating, but if that was the worst of his problems he would take it for now. He could always do a physical assessment of his damages.

Before long, however, he realized he had a lot more to worry about than a glitchy readout. His internal systems felt all wrong – out of synch and erratic, the air intakes slower than normal, the fuel pump rate too fast. And everything felt weird… squishy, for lack of a better term, as if his internals were filled with mud. Had they crashed into the lake near Autobot City? That was the only reason he could think of that he could be feeling this way.

Finally he tried to bring his sensors online. The results were rather mixed – colors swam before him, and muddled voices filled his audials. His tactile sensors weren't working at all, and that disturbed him the most. Damaged optics or audials could be a result of damaged sensors, but a widespread tactile-sensor failure generally meant CPU damage…

"…are the Autobots gonna do about this?"

That voice, the first clear sound to reach his CPU, wasn't at all familiar. It was female, and sounded human rather than Cybertronian. Carly? No, too young…

"I dunno." That voice was closer, male, but still human and unfamiliar. "Think they'll call on the military for help?"

"Are you kidding?" a third voice demanded. "The military can't do shit about Decepticons – sorry, Pratt. Not without getting pasted."

"This is just like 9/11," a fourth voice murmured… and despite being softer in volume, it seemed to be coming from very close by… almost from his own body…

All right, what the frag is going on here? Ratchet thought irritably, and forced his vision to focus.

This wasn't the shuttle. This wasn't even Autobot City. He was surrounded by humans – two young men, a young woman, and an older bald man with a bushy mustache. All were staring at a television screen with varying expressions of horror and shock, completely ignoring the Autobot in their midst. And most weirdly of all, the four of them were his size or at least fairly close to it.

What in the… This didn't make sense. He'd never seen these humans before. His surroundings were completely unfamiliar – some sort of store, it looked like, though what it sold he couldn't tell at the moment. If Primus or the Allspark or whatever had allowed him to continue living had fulfilled its end of the bargain, why had it brought him to life in such a bizarre locale? Were the powers that be actively trying to make his life more difficult? Did Primus have Sideswipe's sense of humor or something?

His vision lurched, and he felt himself moving closer to the screen. With a jolt, he realized what he was looking at – Autobot City, under attack. Laser fire and missiles rained down on the city, punching holes in the buildings and felling mechs right and left. Even as he watched, a Seeker's missile caught Wheeljack in the chest. The scientist reeled back, dropping the cannon he had been holding, his optics bright with horror before going dark. It seemed to take an eternity for him to crumple to the ground, his armor dimming to gray, smoke and fluids pouring from his chest.

NO!

The terrible events on the screen continued to play out, oblivious to his cry of horror. More shots punched into Wheeljack's body, as if whoever had shot him down was determined to ensure he stayed dead. When the hail of laser fire finally ended Springer dashed out, grabbing the deactivated scientist and dragging him away. A human voice was rambling over the events, some sort of news announcer, but the words ceased to make sense to Ratchet as he grappled to comprehend what he had just seen. His best friend, his comrade, cut down by the Decepticons…

No! No, this can't be happening! No!

"Did you say something, Zack?" That was the closest voice again, the one that seemed to be coming from his own mouth.

"Huh?" A skinny young man with hair the color of cardboard and a bad case of post-adolescent acne turned to regard him. "No, why?"

"I thought I heard… no, never mind." His vision jostled as if he were shaking his head in a nugatory gesture. "Guess this is just getting to me is all."

"I shouldn't be so worried about this," a young woman with long red hair and glasses said softly. "I mean, it's not even our own race that's being affected, let alone our state. So why do I feel so… scared?"

"'Cause you're a decent human being is why," the older man noted, sounding as if he were trying to keep a gruff demeanor to mask his own emotions. "And 'cause it could very well be us next if they blow Autobot City up. They wipe out the Autobots, what's to stop them from moving in on Washington DC or the Pentagon?"

"Shit, it really is 9/11 all over again," the one called Zack muttered. "Sorry, Fielding."

Another young man with blond hair and dark-framed glasses waved him off. "It's fine. Mr. Jakobson… should we even keep the store open? I don't think we're going to get many people today."

The older man snorted. "We stay open. Whether or not people come in. This is a bad thing, but life goes on regardless." His expression softened slightly. "If you don't think you're able to keep working, though, go ahead and go home. I won't dock your pay."

No one seemed willing to take him up on the offer, however – they just continued to stare at the screen. Ratchet wanted to look away, to tear his gaze from the horrible events, but he couldn't seem to move his head… if it was even his head anymore. He couldn't control this body at all, couldn't even twitch a servo…

Muscle, he corrected himself. Twitch a muscle. The realization of where he'd ended up was finally sinking in – he was stuck in a human body. Not even his own human body, but someone else's. Another spark or soul or whatever humans had in place of it inhabited this body, and somehow he doubted this body's owner would be at all willing to give it up to him.

Primus! he raged. You've got the sickest sense of humor, I swear!

His vision rocked violently as his "host," for lack of a better term, shook his head. "Am I the only one hearing things?"

"I'm hearing the TV," Zack pointed out. "Why, you hearing something else?"

"No, just… just imagining things, I guess."

"Maybe you need to go home, 'Rad," the girl advised him. "Sounds like this is really getting to you."

"I'm fine," his host assured her. "Really. This is bad, yeah, but it's not like I've got family in Autobot City. I'll be okay."

"Go home, Hawkins," Mr. Jakobson barked. "Won't have you working here if you're not feeling sharp. I'll put you down as having worked a whole day."

"You're sure?"

"Positive. Don't think we're going to be too busy anyhow. Everyone's at home glued to their TVs right now, I'll bet."

"Thank you, sir." Ratchet felt his body turn, and a sudden warmth and pressure registered in his tactile sensors – no, nerves, he corrected himself – as the girl hugged his host.

"Be careful," she urged him. "Ride safe."

"I will, Angie," he promised.

Somehow, with great effort, Ratchet managed to black out his own vision, disconnecting himself from his host's eyes. Evidently that didn't affect the human's own sight, seeing as he hadn't suddenly crashed into anything. But it gave Ratchet a much-needed opportunity to think without distraction, and to come to terms with what had just happened… and more importantly, what to do about it.

He had absolutely no idea how this could have happened. There was no precedent for this kind of situation – when a mech's spark snuffed out, it was generally believed to be gone for good, or one with the Well of All Sparks if one believed in that. There had never been a reported case of a mech's body dying but their spark living on in another creature. Not before now, at any rate… though it seemed he wasn't exactly in a position to report this case.

If this was Primus' way of fulfilling his bargain with him, it was a sorry way to fill it as far as he was concerned. He'd wanted to continue living so he could contribute to the Autobot cause, not languish as a bundle of synapses in the brain of a human! Now he was trapped in a flesh carcass far from Autobot City, powerless to fight or repair or do anything to aid his comrades…

His comrades… Primus had vowed that the others would live on as well. But if so, did that mean they were stuck in this situation as well? Or was he the one that would suffer from trying to avoid fate, and the others would continue their lives while he was stuck as some kind of brain parasite?

The human cursed, and a flash of pain shot through their shared nerves as something nipped his ankle. Ratchet managed to connect himself back to the human's sight in time to see a mallard duck at his host's feet, flapping its single wing and making a weird rasping noise. Funny, he thought ducks quacked instead of rasping or growling… but what did he know, Hound was the big nature expert…

"Back off, Howard," his host ordered. "I got enough problems without you going psycho on me."

The duck rasped again and made to bite his foot, but the human danced out of the way. Grabbing at a bike chained to the side of the building, he moved to put it between himself and his feathered attacker while he fumbled with the chain.

If only I could get in touch with him, Ratchet thought. Talk to him. At the very least, he deserves to know he has someone sharing mind space with him.

The human paused, and for a moment Ratchet wondered if he'd somehow made contact. But he just shook his head and went back to undoing the bike lock. Discouraged, he pulled himself away from the young man's sight so he could think. At least that was easier to do this time… and at least it gave him some sort of control over his current situation.

I'm trapped, he thought darkly. Trapped in an organic body, and with no control over it… and it doesn't even seem like I can communicate with its owner. I don't even know how far I am from Autobot City, though judging by what these humans say it's nowhere close to here. And the Autobots are dying… Wheeljack's gone, and I don't know who else has already fallen… and there's nothing I can do about it.

He felt his host's body lurch into motion – he must have gotten his bike unchained and was setting off for home, wherever that was. At least someone here knew what to do next. He was completely adrift in more ways than one – without a body, without a plan, without any way to get out of this nightmare scenario and back to where he was needed the most.

I have no mouth, and I must scream. It was a human turn of phrase, one that Wheeljack had picked up from one of those science fiction books he was always browsing in his spare time. Human phrase or not, Ratchet couldn't think of a more appropriate way to sum up his situation. He needed to do something, anything, to save the Autobot cause… and he was powerless to do more than watch as all they had fought so hard to build crumbled apart around him.


Conrad braked the bike just enough to coast to a stop in front of the house. Even from outside, he could hear Gandalf raising a racket, pawing at the front window and howling his joy at one of his "pack" coming home. Despite being old and lazy, he still went into near hysterics of ecstasy whenever he or Mom came home from work, as if he thought they'd left him forever.

"I'm coming in, ya big Wookie reject!" Conrad shouted, digging in his pocket for his house key. "Hold your shorts…"

Gandalf had no intention of holding anything – the moment Conrad got the door open he was pushing his way through, pawing at his owner's chest, licking every inch of exposed skin he could reach.

"Ugh! Get down! Sit! What have you been into, your breath reeks."

Gandalf gave him a final swipe of the tongue over his chin, the dropped back down to all fours and plodded into the living room, flopping onto the rug and settling in as if nothing had happened.

"Glad to see you too." Conrad sighed and hauled the bike into the house. The garage door was still stuck shut, so until they could get it fixed he had to get his bike in and out of the garage by taking it through the house. It was frustrating, but he supposed it beat having his bike stolen again.

Once his bike was squared away he changed out of his work clothes, then went to flop on the couch with a sigh. What a day. The Angry Duck crew had been watching the news for a few hours before he'd been sent home, unable to look away as newscasters reported on the battle at Autobot City. And part of him wanted to turn on the news now and keep getting updates, but another part of him recoiled at the thought, not wanting to take any more bad news today.

It wasn't as if he'd never known there was an alien war going on. Heck, the Autobots had been on Earth all his life, and reports of their misadventures and fights with the Decepticons popped up on the news all the time. But their war had become pretty much a fact of life by the time he was old enough to understand what was going on, and it remained an interesting but vague fact in the back of his mind for most of his life. Any mention of Decepticons popping up in New York City or launching some kind of electrical attack in Japan were just interesting enough to warrant a brief "Oh, cool" moment before his attention drifted off to something else.

But the Decepticons had never been this aggressive in their attacks before… and the fact that this attack was against not just an Autobot base, but a city that contained both Autobots and humans, made this all the more terrible. There were bound to be human fatalities in all this, and even if Conrad didn't have relatives there, he knew there would be people all over the country, possibly the world, whose lives would be affected by this. Didn't Fielding have a cousin or something that worked there? He could no longer remember…

Better not to think about it, he supposed. He pushed himself off the couch and headed for the kitchen. He'd fix himself a snack and then go find something to do so long as he was home. Maybe he'd try out that Arkham Asylum game Zack had loaned him, or actually do something constructive like mow the lawn so Mom wouldn't be too upset with him being home from work early.

The latter was probably a smarter idea, though the former was definitely more appealing at the moment. It would certainly help take his mind off all this…

Something nagged at him, though. He couldn't seem to get his mind off the attack. It felt almost as if he some part of his mind was talking to itself, replaying what he'd seen on the screen. He shook his head and opened the fridge, pushing those thoughts away.

Gone… can't believe he's gone…

He frowned. Who was gone? Where had that thought come from? Never mind, he was hungry. He pulled out the lunchmeat and gave it a good sniff, trying to see if it was still good…

I should have been there.

Should have been where? Well, technically he should be at work right now, but seeing as he had an unexpected half-day off he might as well enjoy it, right?

Should have been there… I could have stopped it. Wheeljack… Prowl… Ironhide… Brawn… failed them all…

Okay, this was getting ridiculous. He recognized a couple of those names – Prowl and Ironhide were among the more famous of the Autobots – but there was no reason for him to be thinking about them right now. The news certainly hadn't listed them among the fatalities… heck, it would probably be a few weeks before a casualty list was even made available to the public, so where were these names coming from?

Primus, this wasn't part of our deal… I thought we had a deal…

"Damn, I need therapy," he muttered, slamming the fridge shut. "All right, what's going on? Why the hell am I hearing voices?"

Silence. Conrad waited a moment, but when no other strange thoughts were forthcoming he finally shrugged and went to deposit his armload of sandwich-makings on the table. Maybe his blood sugar was just low. In all the sudden drama at work he'd forgotten to take his lunch break…

You can hear me after all! Thank Primus, there's a bright spot to this mess after all!

Conrad shrieked, and the food went flying in all directions as he jumped in shock. The pickle jar shattered on the floor, spraying a good portion of the kitchen and the nearby cupboards with green juice, and the lid popped off the mayonnaise and sent blobs of white goop splattering everywhere. He didn't even bother to try to pick up the mess, just stood there in shock, trying to control his breathing.

Well, you don't have to freak out over it. The voice sounded annoyed now, but with a faint undertone of amusement.

"Who are you?!" Conrad shouted. "What the hell's going on here?! Why are you in my head?!"

Primus, calm down, the voice ordered. You sound like Red Alert. I'm trying to establish some form of contact, not short your synapses.

"I'm hearing freaking voices and you're telling me to calm down?!" He scowled, realizing just how stupid he must look. "Why am I talking to a voice in my head?"

Because I'm not just a voice in your head! the voice snapped. Calm down and listen, all right? You're not hallucinating, you're not having a breakdown, and I'm not a figment of your imagination. I'm real, even if you can't see me.

The voice wasn't any he was familiar with – gruff and gravelly, sounding a bit like Papa Smurf if he'd been smoking a couple packs a day for a few years. It wasn't any voice he'd imagined having stuck in his head. Then again, Conrad doubted many people stopped to think what the voices in their head would sound like if they had them… why was he thinking about this again? Shouldn't he be calling a doctor or something right now?

So now that I've established what I'm not, would you sit down and listen while I explain what's going on?

"If I start listening to and obeying a voice in my head, I'm going to end up in a psych ward," Conrad grumbled.

Come on, at least give me the benefit of the doubt. I'm not here to hurt you. Slag, if it really bothers you to do what I say, don't sit down. But at least hear me out.

"Fine," he muttered, and he stooped to pick up the sandwich fixings. "But this had better be good." If the voice or hallucination or alien or whatever it was wanted to explain why it was there, who was he to stop it? At least his sudden bout of insanity was polite about it, it seemed.

My name is Ratchet, the voice explained. I'm the Autobots' Chief Medical Officer.

"Wait, you're an Autobot?"

Didn't I just get through saying that?

"Right," Conrad muttered. "And I'm Justin Beiber."

Har har. I'm serious, kid. I'm Optimus Prime's chief medic, the one in charge of keeping his troops patched up whenever they're stupid enough to get themselves shot, stabbed, blown up, or stepped on. It's a rough job, but it's a living, even if it's tempting to wring their necks instead of fix them at times.

Funny, his mom often said that about her patients at the doctor's office. "No offense, Mr. Ratchet… but I thought you'd be bigger. Being a giant robot and all."

A feeling of exasperation oozed from the voice, what Conrad guessed was the mental equivalent of a sigh. I was shot. Decepticons ambushed our shuttle and gunned us down. I blacked out… and woke up inside your head.

"You… woke up… inside my head."

You have an excellent perception of the obvious, Ratchet muttered. That's precisely what happened. Somehow, when my spark went out in my own body, it re-ignited in yours.

Conrad dumped his armload of food on the table and sat down, trying to process what the voice had just told him. He wasn't just hallucinating – he actually had someone stuck in his head. Not just an alien or a ghost, but a giant alien robot ghost of all things. Unless he really was going crazy, which was starting to sound like the more appealing option at this point… somehow he doubted a seventy-two hour lockdown and a Thorazine drip would get rid of a ghost in his head.

He chose that moment to remember that cheesy Invasion of the Body Snatchers film Zack had made him watch a few months back. "You're not going to kill me and hijack my body, are you?"

If Ratchet had a nose, he might have snorted at that. What do you take me for, a parasite? Or one of Bombshell's mind-control implants? Even if I wanted your body – and trust me, I have no intention of taking it from you – I can't do squat in here. You still control all the motor functions and sensory systems. I can shut myself off from your senses, but that's it.

He couldn't help feeling a surge of relief at that. "How'd you get in there anyhow?"

Frag if I know. This has never happened before. Not in our recorded history.

"Great," he groaned. "So you don't even know how to get out of there?"

If I did, do you think I'd still be in here?

Conrad swore and kicked a pickle across the kitchen. "So I'm stuck like this?! Talking to a freaking voice in my head for the rest of my life?"

Do you think I like this any more than you do? Trust me, the last thing I want is to be here. I should be back at Autobot City, helping with the battle there, not stuck here trying to talk sense into a hysterical human!

"I'm not hysterical!"

Could have fooled me.

"Oh great, you're not only a voice in my head, you're a smartass. Wonderful." He got up and stalked toward the broom closet for a mop. "My mom's going to freak when she hears about this."

You make it sound like you're the only one not happy with this situation, Ratchet grumbled. It's not like I chose this. Sure, I didn't want to deactivate, but if I was going to live through that attack, I wanted to be in my own body. Not mooching off of yours like a virus or Trojan horse.

Conrad finished the cleanup of the kitchen and stalked back into the living room. "So neither of us is happy about this. I think we've established that. What am I supposed to do about it?"

Ratchet seemed to ponder that for a moment. For now? There's not a lot I can do on my own. I'll stay out of your way as best I can, but eventually I'd like your help for a few things.

"Is this the point where you ask me to sacrifice kittens or go stomp crop circles in a field?"

You still don't believe I'm more than a figment of your imagination, do you?

"Well, if you suddenly started hearing a voice claiming to be an alien ghost in your head, would you believe it was telling the truth?"

Ratchet had to think about that. To be honest, I'd probably subject myself to a virus scan first thing. You're right… and I'm sorry. This is all just a shock for me.

"I don't blame you." He was pretty floored by this himself. This kind of thing happened in bad B-movies or lame Sci-Fi channel shows, not in some suburb of Blandsville, Utah. "I suppose you want me to keep this a secret, don't you?"

That'd probably be best for both of us. You're having a hard enough time believing this; anyone else would probably think you were having a psychotic break or something. A pause. One thing you can do for me right now is introduce yourself. In all this fuss, I can't remember if I've caught your name or not. Rad or something?

"Conrad. Conrad Hawkins. My friends call me 'Rad sometimes, though."

Conrad Hawkins… pleased to meet you. I just wish it could be under better circumstances.

"Yeah… me too. You're the first Autobot I've ever met, to be honest."

Hopefully not the last. Do you live here alone?

"Nope. This is really my mom's house, but she's not home right now. She's a nurse at a doctor's office here in Provo. It's just her, me, and the dog."

I see. Provo… that's a city in the Western United States, if I'm remembering right.

"Utah. Ever been there?"

I've passed through Utah once or twice, but never stayed long enough to visit.

"Not much to see here," Conrad confessed, going back to assembling his sandwich. "Though I remember seeing a Porsche once that I swore was an Autobot, but it was going too fast for me to be sure. That wasn't you, was it?"

Porsche? That'll be Jazz. I'm an ambulance. Or was, I suppose… His voice trailed off wistfully, then he quickly changed the subject. Once you're done there, turn the television back on.

"I thought you were going to stay out of the way."

Look, there's something terrible happening at Autobot City, Ratchet insisted. I've already seen too many friends die, but I have to know what's going on there. Even if I can't physically be there to help, I want to stay updated on what's going on. If it were your friends in danger, wouldn't you want the same thing?

He couldn't argue with that, he supposed. "Human news networks aren't exactly the most reliable source of info, just to warn you. They go more for shock value than anything else."

It's better than nothing.

Conrad picked up the sandwich and headed back to the living room, turning the TV on. "At least we won't have to channel surf to find it – every news network seems to be airing it."

It's a disaster, of course they would all be… oh Primus, no…

"What?" he asked, looking up at the screen… and promptly dropping his sandwich on the carpet. "Oh shit…"

The reporter currently on the screen had just cut off her report midsentence to scream in surprise as a bright red semi truck barreled past her – why she was so close to the action in the first place was anyone's guess, but that was the least of their worries at the moment. The picture jolted as the cameraman backpedaled to avoid a sudden explosion, then steadied again to show the semi unfolding into the familiar figure of Optimus Prime. A silver figure – Decepticon by the look of it – bellowed something rendered unintelligible by the microphone, answered by something about "one shall fall" from Optimus before the two mechs laid into each other, fists flying, metal thundering with each blow.

Under normal circumstances, Conrad might have thought this to be the coolest thing he'd ever seen. But sheer horror flooded his mind, doubtless from Ratchet's corner of his brain. He felt an overwhelming urge to rush in and help, even though thousands of miles separated him from the fighting, even though he didn't even have the physical means to do much more than watch…

Optimus, no! Ratchet screamed. Look out!

The figures onscreen had no way of hearing him. Conrad and Ratchet could only stare as Prime took a blade to the gut, as fists and blaster bolts found their marks. When the two combatants finally staggered apart, each looked as if they'd just been through a wrecking yard. The silver one was on his hands and knees, dripping oil or some other fluid from various gashes and cracks, and Prime could barely keep to his feet as he aimed a gun at the fallen Decepticon.

"Who's that?" Conrad asked, keeping his voice a whisper.

Megatron, Ratchet replied softly, a note of relief in his voice. Leader of the Decepticons. Is it over… is it finally over?

"Maybe," Conrad murmured. He didn't have to be an expert in Autobot/Decepticon relations to know what the "it" was that Ratchet referred to – if Megatron was the leader of the opposing faction, then Prime holding him at gunpoint was the equivalent of capturing Saddam Hussein or the strike that killed Osama bin Laden. It might not end the war for the Autobots, but it would be a massive step in the right direction…

Something on the screen caught his eye, and he felt as if someone had punched him in the gut. "There's a gun on the ground! Right in front of him!"

Where… oh slag! Prime, shoot! Now!

Even if Prime could have heard him, it was too late. A red Autobot dashed onto the screen at that moment, grabbing for the gun as if to get it out of Megatron's reach. His lunge missed, and instead Megatron snatched the Autobot and dragged him close, using him as a living shield as he picked up the gun for himself. Prime hesitated, obviously not wanting to take a shot and risk the other Autobot's life… and that was all the opening Megatron needed.

Conrad gave a shout of his own as Prime rocked back, blast after blast slamming into his body. The cameraman lowered the camera at that moment and took off running, as if deciding he'd had enough and was out of there, but the image was seared in Conrad's memory. He squeezed his eyes shut, wanting to shut it out. It was no use – it kept replaying in his head, like a shock film stuck on repeat.

PRIME!

Ratchet's cry rang through his head, drowning out all other thought. Splitting pain rocked through his skull, making him reel back. Emotions roiled through him – fear, horror, shock, anger, and a black despair that threatened to consume him…

He was vaguely aware of Gandalf whining and barking worriedly, of the TV continuing to drone in the background… then blackness took over.


"…ner? Conner!"

"Mmph?" That wasn't Ratchet's voice… it sounded more like Mom. Morning already? He grunted and reached out to pull the covers over his head, but he couldn't seem to find them…

Then memory came rushing back, and he opened his eyes. He was sprawled out on the living room floor, his mom and Gandalf both hovering worriedly over him.

"Oh geez, I must have passed out," he groaned, and went to push himself upright. "Embarassing…"

"Hold still and let me check your pulse!" Mom ordered, picking his hand up and placing her fingers on his wrist. "How are you feeling? Dizzy? Light-headed? Think you might have a fever?"

"Mom!" he shouted, trying to pull his hand away. "Don't freak out, okay? I'm not having a stroke or a heart attack, I just… probably stood up too fast or something…"

"I just want to make sure it's nothing serious," she fretted. "What happened?"

"Mr. Jakobson sent me home early… wasn't feeling too well." He rubbed his temples, grimacing as his head throbbed from Ratchet's earlier scream. "I came home, turned on the news… saw Prime get shot."

"Oh dear… maybe the shock of seeing that make you pass out." She patted his shoulder. "Just sit tight and I'll get you some water."

"I'm fine!" he insisted. "I've seen a lot worse than a robot getting shot in video games. Why would it bother me so much now?"

"Because there's a big difference between pixels on a screen and the real thing," she insisted, hurrying into the kitchen. "Feeling light-headed at all?"

"Not really." His head was still killing him, but he elected not to mention it – the last thing he wanted at the moment was her fussing over him. He also decided it wouldn't be smart to tell her he had the ghost of a giant robot stuck in his head. Coming home to find him passed out on the floor was enough of a shock for her – he didn't want her thinking he belonged in a psych ward on top of that.

Come to think of it, Ratchet was being awfully quiet at the moment. Had this whole experienced chased him out of his body for good? Somehow he doubted it.

Mom handed him a glass of water before sitting on the couch to pull off her shoes. "Let me know if you feel dizzy or nauseous or anything, okay?"

"Geez, a guy can't pass out without his mom freaking out over it?" he groaned.

She only smiled at that. "I'm your mom. It's my job to worry about you. Did the news report anything else about… you know?"

"I dunno, I was unconscious for a lot of it." He chanced a glance at the TV.

What he saw made him wish he hadn't looked. The grim face of a news correspondent filled the screen, and as if he somehow sensed he now had Conrad's attention he began his announcement.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this just in from Autobot City, site of the recent Decepticon attack. Terrible news – Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots, was killed in action."