Chapter 9: Falling

Autobase Earth
Mt. St. Hillary, Oregon, United States
February 7, 2014

The interview had gone down without a hitch. The ratings had been phenomenal. Most of the world now knew who Marissa Fairborn was, how she had met the Cybertronians, and the chain of events (in broad terms, at least) that had brought the Cybertronian Civil War to Earth.

Which led to the second-worst of all possible outcomes Marissa had predicted. The worst would have been that everybody hated and blamed her for bringing this war to Earth. Well, there were inevitably some who did, quite vocally so, but they were a distinct minority. No, the largest part of humanity had the second-worst reaction to hearing about Marissa Fairborn and what she had been doing these last eight years and change.

They... well, it appeared that they... loved her.

Ever since the interview aired the name Marissa Fairborn had become the number one search term on Google. Hundreds of Facebook pages had sprung up, created by self-proclaimed adoring fans. Fan clubs had been formed. Feminist movements across the globe pointed to her as a shining symbol of female empowerment. People she couldn't remember ever having met gave interviews about her time in school or basic training and what a great friend and/or fellow soldier she had been. Even veteran military personnel newly appointed to the EDC now didn't simply look at her as their superior officer, they looked at her as if she was... a hero.

Marissa shook her head. She was no hero, far from it. A hero would have stopped Shockwave from ever finding Earth. They still didn't know how he had done it, but considering that she had been the only human being in that sector of space, where else but from her could he have gotten the information? Somehow, someway she had led this monster to Earth. It was her fault. And humanity... adored her for it? This was wrong on so many levels.

Besides, she didn't know how to handle... this. The stares. The awe. The mere idea that people who saw her stopped, pointed and whispered excitedly. Her parents weren't exactly helpful here. Her father had simply laughed and told her something along the lines of "now you know why we always operated covertly", while her mother was somewhat more sympathetic, but didn't really have any advice to offer, either. Neither of them had ever been in a situation such as this before.

Marissa had never been a particularly outgoing person. She wasn't a reclusive wall-flower, mind you, but neither had she ever been the prom queen type of girl. She had no problems with the respect she received as a superior officer or the easy friendship she had developed with many of the Autobot warriors, but Special Forces veterans looking at her as if she'd single-handedly toppled the Decepticon fortress of Darkmount? She didn't know how to deal with that.

"Still being stared at?"

She turned around to see Ian, Rewind and Bumblebee walking up to them. Rewind had already made lots of friends amongst the humans (Marissa suspected it was partially due to the fact that he was the only Autobot who didn't tower over them) and Ian had quickly become one of them. And Bumblebee was just a naturally friendly guy (unless he was fighting Cons), so they, too, had bonded somewhat.

"This is all your fault, you know?" Marissa accused him. "You talked me into that damn interview."

"I did nothing of the sort. I only thought it would be a good idea politically and from a PR perspective. I believe it was General Abernathy who ordered you to show up."

"Believe me, Uncle Clay will get his," she whispered under her breath.

"I'm not sure why you are so glum about it, Marissa," Rewind remarked. "I've been monitoring Internet traffic and TV signals and it seems you are currently the most popular human being alive. The EDC PR department is being swamped with requests from all sorts of companies who'd like to put your name on their products, requests for follow-up interviews, several book deals, and..."

"That's exactly why I'm glum, Rewind," she interrupted him, knowing he could easily go on for hours. "I'm a soldier. I'm here to fight a war to save my world from the Decepticons. I'm not some... some poster girl for female empowerment or... or some new perfume. That's not me!"

Bumblebee shrugged. "No one's forcing you to do anything, Marissa. Besides, I remember when Optimus first became Prime. People were ecstatic then, too, and he feared that he'd never get anything done because he was being waylaid by admirers at all corners. It tapered off after a few thousand years."

She glared at him. "Do we need to go into that whole 'humans don't have that kind of time' thing again, Bee?"

"If it helps, you're not alone," Rewind said. "Breaker advised me to set up Facebook pages and Twitter accounts for all members of the Autobot Earthforce, just so no one else would do it and create a false image of us. Jazz is loving it, though, because people keep sending him new musical tracks to sample."

Bumblebee grumbled. "Sunstreaker's got the most followers, though. He keeps posting pics and videos of this greatest battles and people are just eating that up."

Marissa shook her head. Had humans been this insane before she left Earth for Cybertron? She really needed a break from all this.

"I need some fresh air," she merely said and walked out. To her annoyance, though, Ian followed her out.

"There is something I wanted to ask you," he said, coming up beside her.

"I'm not doing a follow-up interview or anything. Not even if you get every leader of every country that has undersigned the EDC in on it."

Ian laughed, shaking his head. "Nothing of the sort. No, I wanted to ask you something different."

"So ask!"

"Would you go out on a date with me?"

Apartment of Ian Chesterton
London, Great Britain
February 9, 2014

Marissa had agreed to the date without really thinking about it and fretted for hours afterwards. She hadn't been on a date in nearly a decade, after all. Her mother had taken her shopping for a dress then, while Ian had picked out a restaurant in his home city of London (one of the perks of being a member of an international organization with its own aircraft, you had a lot of options where to go out).

On the actual night of the date she'd been a nervous wreck at the start, but quickly warmed up due to the combination of excellent food (far from a given in a British restaurant) and the charming company. The fact that they had a bodyguard along (though few people would be able to tell that the yellow Camaro outside was anything but a normal car) had bothered her at first, but considering her fame and the possibility of a Decepticon sneak attack, she had acquiesced.

The nervousness returned, though, when the dinner was winding down and they found themselves heading to Ian's apartment. Given that they had but the one car and Ian was the only one with a place in town, they naturally drove there. Marissa fully intended to just say her goodbyes and leave, but somehow he coaxed her into coming in for a nightcap.

Lightly buzzed, Marissa finally gathered what remained of her resolve and rose to leave.

"Thank you for this wonderful evening," she said, „but I must go now."

"Must you?" Ian asked.

Marissa hesitated, conflicting feelings surging up inside her. God, how long had it been since a situation like this one had come up? She was attracted to Ian, there was no denying that. Who wouldn't be, considering that he looked like a young James Bond? The fact that he was nearly a decade her junior wasn't really an issue as far as she was concerned, but all things considered...

His hand came to rest on her shoulder and she could feel the heat of his body against her back.

"You can go if you want to, of course," he said, "but I'd much rather you stay."

She closed her eyes, swallowing. "Why?"

"Do I really need to answer that question?" he asked and she could hear his smile in the words.

Turning around, she looked into his eyes, looking for... she didn't know. She'd been so long without simple human intimacy. The innumerable hugs she'd gotten from her parents upon her return had soothed that need somewhat, but only somewhat. Still, considering everything that happened...

"What do you want from me, Ian?" she asked, hating the way her voice trembled. "Look at me! I'm a cripple! A freak with robotic limbs. Is this some kind of sick turn-on for you?"

The moment she said the words, she wanted to take them back, shocked at the pent-up venom in them. Ian didn't step back, though. Instead his hand came up to brush her cheek.

"What you are, Marissa Fairborn, is an incredible woman. And a very beautiful one, too. "

She wanted to believe him. Oh, how she wanted to, but everything inside her recoiled. Taking a step back, she used her cybernetic arm's enhanced strength to violently tear the expensive dress off her own body, leaving her standing in front of him with nothing on except her underwear. Her three replacement limbs gleamed in the light of the fireplace.

"IS THIS BEAUTIFUL?" she yelled at him, gesturing with her metal arm. "I know guys are turned on by sleek chrome, but this is ridiculous. I'm almost half-way a machine, Ian!"

He shook his head and came closer, his hands lightly grasping her shoulders.

"You are a survivor, Marissa! What you went through would have broken most other people. Not you, though. You endured. You stayed strong."

Looking down, she felt treacherous tears come to her eyes. "Yes! Strong! Always strong! Captain... no, sorry, … Colonel Fairborn, yes, sir! Keeping her chin up, going back in the saddle, always!"

She looked up at him, her eyes shining with eight years of pent-up frustration and loneliness.

"You can't imagine how it was, Ian! I was so... alone. The only one of my kind on an alien world. The Autobots did everything they could to help me, but there was only so much they could do. I... I didn't get to touch another human being for eight years. No hugs, no kisses, not even a handshake, nothing! It was bad enough when I was just stranded there, but after Shockwave gave us the slip, when I knew he got to Earth ahead of us and we couldn't immediately follow him... God, I spent every single day for eight months imagining my home in flames, never to see another human being again, being the only human left in the entire galaxy.

"And now... now I'm back here and I still have to be strong and can't let my guard down because I brought the threat here as well and... and everyone looks at me as if I'm some... some hero, some outer space science fiction superhero that can leap tall buildings in a single bound, while I would like nothing better than to just crawl into a corner and... and… but I can't! I have to stay strong, because I'll fall apart if I don't, and…"

Suddenly his lips were upon hers, silencing the torrent of words. For a long moment she was completely lost in the sensation. How long ago was her last kiss? She couldn't remember, truth be told. Some guy she'd briefly dated before her assignment to Norway, she couldn't even recall the name. When Ian finally drew back she almost whimpered at the lack of contact.

"How about this, Marissa? Worry about being strong and everything else tomorrow. Tonight, you're not the big heap science fiction hero. Tonight, you're just Marissa. Here with me."

She opened her mouth, some words on her lips about duty, about the need to never let your guard down, but nothing came out. She just looked at him, completely at a loss what to do next.

"And if you do fall apart," he whispered. "I'm here to catch you!"

She hesitated another moment, but then something inside her just broke. Tears ran down her face as she collapsed in Ian's arms, walls built up over eight years crumbling down as she simply let herself fall into the sensation of being in the warm arms of another human being. Basic human needs suppressed for so long came pouring out as she tried to climb into him and wrap him around herself, never to let go again.

"I've got you," he whispered between kisses. "Everything will be okay."

With his hands on her body, their collective clothing lost somewhere in the shuffle, Marissa Fairborn finally managed to stop thinking about alien robots, interstellar wars, and all the many responsibilities heaped upon her shoulders. At least for a little while.

And outside Ian's home a yellow Camaro silently stood vigil, but turned his sensors away from the interior of the house to give the two humans some much-deserved privacy.

End Chapter 9