Where the Heart Is 1
A Transformers Prime Fanfiction
Set During the Events of "Darkest Hour" "Darkmount NV" "Scattered" "Prey"
It was the howling of the dogs that woke him first, only to find the red lights of his alarm clock declaring it too be eight thirty-seven pm. The dark skinned man squinted his eyes tight closed and shoved the pillow over his head. The singing began to grow louder and more insistent. Long raven black hair spilled out from under the pillow as he struggled to hang onto the pleasant dream he had been in the middle of. A rough shout came from the carport directed at the dogs and an answering shout from the parents' bedroom. With a groan Zechariah Franklin gave up the fight and rolled onto his back. He placed his head exactly center on the cool side of his pillow, closed his eyes and determined to wait the noise out.
Then people began moving around. First there was the sound of little feet pitter-pattering down the stairs from the attic bedrooms. They bypassed his door and headed straight for their mother's. That was his first warning but he ignored it. If his sisters were going to give him the night off as primary defender against bad dreams the exhausted trucker wasn't going to question it. The sound of stirring came from his mother's room and he resolutely focused on nothing.
A faint noise attracted his attention out the window. Over the howling of his sister's sled teams came the familiar cawing of the corvids. For a moment he forgot his plan to get back to sleep as he sat up and tilted his head to the side curiously. Ravens, jays, crows, they were all putting up a racket loud enough to raise the dead. Still, all the noise outside was coming in a wave from the south. Something had stirred up in that direction but it wasn't a direct threat so he shrugged it off and made one more attempt to catch up to the sleep that was speeding away from him.
Then a phone rang, and the man knew he was getting no sleep tonight. With a groan he rolled out of bed and padded across the floor to a set of louvered doors. He dug through the laundry piled at the base of his closet and was mostly dressed when there was a knock at his door. He flared his energy welcomingly and the room brightened with the light from the hall. To his surprise his mother walked in and held out a shiny cell phone to him. Her dark grey sweats seemed to absorb the light making her chocolate skin a slightly darker contrast, neither obscured the worry lines on her face. With a frown he accepted the device. Before he could give a greeting a deadly calm voice spoke out of the speaker.
"Your friends are in danger and there is nothing more I can do for them. The Others know."
With a soft chime the call ended and dark eyes were left staring at the bubbly wall paper on the small screen.
"What did Cousin Sarah have to say?" Ma Franklin asked.
"You heard as much as I did," he replied.
"Don't sass me young man!"
"Sorry Ma," he flinched apologetically, "but seriously I have no idea what she meant."
"She needed to speak directly to you," Jasmine Franklin pressed urgently. "There is something big happening far south and she needed to speak to you, not any of the other truckers, you."
"Jack," Zech said softly, a flicker of understanding lighting his mind.
"This has to do with the voidwalkers," the matriarch replied softly.
"There has been a Full Counsel called."
"Thunder over Denali," Zech breathed. "There hasn't been one called in five hundred years."
"It gets better honey. It's being held in Kealkil."
The trucker stiffened in shock and dialed a number on the phone. The two stood tensely while the phone rang once and then and cheerful voice gave a standard message greeting. He tried several more numbers with identical results and was about to try again when a dark head poked into the room.
"Hey Aunt, Cuz," a sleep blurred voice said hurriedly. "Leave is cut short. I gotta be at Eielson an hour ago. Galina' driving us."
"What?" Ma snapped. "Us?"
"Yeah," the cousin yawned. "Bob's coming too. Wainwright and the Big E have both been put on full alert. All personnel to report immediately."
"Go with God little one," the woman murmured reaching over to brush her fingers across the young face.
"And you," he replied slipping out.
"Ma, I'm gone," Zech stated curtly pulling the last of his clothes on.
"South, something big is going on with Jack's family and someone is going to need to run interference."
"Zech baby," the mother crooned raw fear in her eyes.
"Don't worry Ma," he reassured her. "I'll be careful, and Sal will be with me. You will be needed here." He paused and a scowl crossed his face. "We haven't done anything wrong. Humanity is doing the job that was assigned us at the Erie Accord."
"That counts for the dragons and the wolves son, but not even they are going to like how we are doing it."
"They don't have to like it, and with the dragons and the wolves behind us, and I'm pretty sure we can count on Raven too, that should scare the Others into acceptance." As he spoke he continued dialing.
"You take care of that boy," the woman murmured worriedly. "His mother will be worried."
"Of course," Zech murmured as the phone pinged another dead line, "wait!" His head snapped up and he looked at her in confusion. "I never told you Jack came from a broken…"
Her eyebrow arched and he gave a snorting laugh.
"Right, don't ask. Love you, bye."
With that he darted out the window into the darkness. The ground crunched under his boots and a full moon shone down on the scrubby pines surrounding the ranch.
"What has got the dogs in a snit," grumbled a deep voice as he slipped through the door of the car port.
The gunmetal grey big rig was nearly invisible in the darkness.
"It's their wolf blood Bro," the man answered as he swung up to begin the pre-check.
"We leaving now?" Salcha asked in surprise.
"An hour ago."
"So what's got the dogs worked up?"
Zech stared to answer but the door swung open and as small dark form darted in.
"Sal! Zech!" the small girl called out eagerly holding up a sheaf of paper. "Galena told me to give this to you!"
Zech ran his eyes over the paper and a deep frown creased his face.
"Dee, thank you. Now go inside and tell everyone goodbye for us."
She paused for a quick kiss from each of her brothers and darted away.
"Well?" Sal demanded as they rolled out of the carport and down the road.
"It is an official safety announcement from the Nevada Department of Transportation. It says Jasper, Nevada was hit with a meteor shower an hour ago," the human stated softly. "The town has been evacuated. No loss of life but they are detouring all trucking around. Three-sixty-one is cut off entirely."
"That's bad! And good," Sal rumbled in concern. "But why am I leaving my nice warm barn to go check on our friends if everything is okay?"
"It's a cover story Sal. Something big happened with the voidwalkers and now the Others know."
There was a cough as the engine stalled, a moment of dead silence, and then the mighty diesel accelerated with a roar.
"Oh Denali! They are going to go after Optimus! And that cute little Arcee! And the others! And Jack and Miko and Raf and Ma Darby and Fowler are going to get caught in the middle! This is bad! This is very bad! What happened? How? They were so careful! We were so careful! Was it something I said? Was-"
"Salcha Franklin!" Zech roared out as they took a corner with half of their wheels off the ground. "Calm down! Speeding like this won't get us there any faster! We need to head to the Air Force base. Johnson is there. We need some question answered first."
"Like just what happened. Whatever it was it was big and a lot of the Others saw it and it was so blatant that they were able to recognize it immediately."
"Forget Johnson then! Call Fowler! You have his number!"
"The chain of command-"
"Forget the chain of command! What does some stupid US tradition have to do with us?"
"A lot Sal," Zech stated with a frown as the rig turned and began to head back towards the air force base. "Remember the movie See Bees? You don't want to endanger our friends because we were rash do you?"
There was a long pause and then the semi snarled.
"And there is another thing. The most powerful of the Others; the ones we have the most to fear from if they turn on us, it is the Law that binds them. If we want them to play by the rules we have to ."
The miles rolled out under the semi's tires and soon they were pulling into the check point. There was a long line at the main entrance but the gunmetal grey civilian truck was well know and entered through the delivery easily. Franklin often did runs for the local bases and the trucker had a pass ready. The brothers pulled into a hanger and Zech requested an audience with Agent Johnson then sat down to wait on Sal's running board.
"What is Johnson doing here? He should be in Fairbanks with the rest of the penguins."
"I told you something big is going down. Everyone is running around like crazy."
Whatever response Sal would had given was preempted by the arrival of a stressed looking middle aged white male in a rumpled black suit.
"Agent Johnson," Zech began standing to meet the FBI agent.
"Unless you have important information for me you need to get out of here now," snapped the other man curtly. "And I am all too aware that the Others are aware of the voidwalkers."
"We need to know what's going on down in Jasper," Zech stated flatly.
"There's been a meteorite shower approaching and the town is being evacuated," the agent replied without pause.
"He's lying," Sal stated sniffing the air. "But he feels no guilt so it's probably the official line."
"Look Johnson," Zech said stepping forward. "We need to-"
"There is nothing more I can tell you. Have a nice day."
With that the human spun on his heel and stalked away. The gunmetal grey semi snarled and thin black tie straps lashed out and coiled around the dark three piece suit.
"Listen here you arrogant piece of Federal scum! We are going to help our friends and you are going to tell us how or else!" the deep dangerous voice trailed off meaningfully and the overweight agent paled at the forceful reminder of how powerful and unpredictable the strange being was.
"Sal enough," Zech stated calmly.
Agent Johnson was dropped to the concrete floor gasping. He eyed the two brothers warily. There had been neither command nor reprimand in the human's voice and it was driven home to the city dweller how far from "normal" the family was. Steeling his courage the man glared up at them.
"Classified," he snarled.
"Very well," Zech replied turning away to inspect the gunmetal grey semi as a resounding snarl came from the engine compartment.
The agent blinked at the sudden capitulation but decided to take his breaks where he found them and left hurriedly.
"What do we do now?" Sal demanded. "We are not going to get anything out of the chain of command!"
"Not that one anyway."
"Wait? You mean there is more than one chain?" the semi asked confusion in his voice.
Zech chuckled and stepped away.
"Look, you just behave for a bit. I'm going to go talk to Cousin La'Roche and work my way up from there."
Sal settled on his shocks determined to wait patiently for his brother to return. He tried to remain focused on the danger that confronted his friends but the old hanger was full of the delightful scurrying of little paws. In fact he was fairly certain that there was a large rat in the north corner that would make a perfect snack. He was debating going over to investigate when a man door opened and two privates came scurrying in panting and carrying a heavy box each.
"They are saying it could be war," one was breathlessly saying to the other. "Aliens are preparing to carpet bomb the heartland and-"
"Shut it, Gomez," the other snapped. "It's probably just the North Koreans getting uppity."
"No way! They couldn't possibly get this much of a reaction out of the Pentagon. Missiles, yes, but the infantry units are mobilizing and deploying to the interior of the lower forty-eight. There-"
The voices cut off as the young men exited through the opposite door and the big rig shifted uneasily, all thoughts of tasty little snacks forgotten. Infantry they had said; men, boys, women, and girls, his cousins, the scent of sweat and fear, rubber of boots, leather, steel, burning oil and gas, rotting jungle vegetation and dry desert sand. Salcha gave a low whine and rolled nervously towards the hanger doors. Iraq, Afghanistan, the Gulf, Vietnam; each time he had watched them leave the safety of home; first with jealously, then uncertainty, then fear. Some had stayed over in the foreign countries to return their blood and flesh to the earth. Some had returned still and cold to the soil of their fathers. Some had abandoned the clan for lovers or jobs or the lure of the void. Those who walked back under their own power had carried the traces of war; the death, the fear, the tantalizing scent of battle fields strewn with decaying flesh. Those scents had been stored by the curious creature stuck at home and now his dark flesh began to release the remembered molecules. Another more urgent whine came from the engine and the semi began to rock back and forth on his wheels.
War. His cousins were going to war. The man door swung open suddenly and Zech stomped in shaking rain water off of his boots. Salcha had not even noticed the downpour begin.
"Okay," the dark haired human called out with a smirk waving a sheaf of still warm printer paper. "I got the basics from a distracted Colonel. Jasper was leveled by the purple ones but everyone was evacuated first. No word on Jack or the kids but according to this the area is going to be carpeted with US military. We'll roll out and-"
"We are flying."
"Sal," a deep frown creased the human's face, "you can't fly, not that distance. You know that. I know you are in a hurry but-"
"Zech! Get in and shut up!" the big rig snarled. "There's a Hurc on the runway now loaded to transport supplies to a base in the Lower 48. Dollars to doughnuts that's out flight. Get. Me. On. It."
"Sal, Bro," Zech's voice was confused now, almost pleading. "You can't. After last time-"
"Zech, they need us," growled the semi. "You do it or I'm going without you!"
That shut up his brother immediately. He stared at the semi in astonishment for a moment.
"What did you say?"
"I said I'd do it myself!"
"I need to be there! I need to help! Please Zech."
"Okay," the human said shaking his head. "There should be enough room for you on the transport. I guess we can lay down a tarp to keep your secretions from eating through the hull. Salcha-"
"You are not talking me out of this!"
"I know," Zechariah smiled and laid a hand on the gunmetal grey wheel well. "I just wanted to say I'm proud of you."
"Oh, well," his brother coughed in embarrassment as the man turned and jogged out of the hanger.
Within moments Zech returned with a supply sergeant in tow. The dusky skinned woman frowned up at the big rig calculatingly and made a few notes on a pad. With a jerk of her head she led them out to the windy runway and barked out orders to the crew scurrying around the cargo plane. Within minutes the semi was rolled up into the hold and secured in the center rear among crates and barrels. A thick tarp was laid over the deck plating and a ceramic catch basin was lashed under his engine.
Already he could feel the disconnect from the ground below with only the landing struts connecting him to the warmth of the planet. He tightened his mouths shut and focused on his brother. Long black tentacles coiled close to his core flesh mass. The roar of the engines filled the enclosed space and he rocked nervously against the restraints. The plane rolled down the runway and lifted into the air.
A low bone chilling groan came out of the engine compartment and the human shuddered in fear. Disconnected from his native environment the creature his family had adopted quickly reverted to a purely defensive posture. The first time he had flown he had screamed and flailed frantically; excretions eating straight through the hold of the cargo plane and forcing a landing. The only other time he had been suspended from a helicopter for a short flight and oddly the swinging and clear view of the ground had kept him relatively sane.
"We'll be fine Bro," the human soothed, stroking the dark grey panels.
Another groan was his only response and then the form went disturbingly quiet as the craft leveled out at a low cruising altitude. Zechariah became increasingly worried as the flight progressed with no sound from his brother. The man continued to talk soothingly. By the time the plane dropped its landing gear his usually placid nerves were strung impossibly thin. When the flight crew undid the lashings he started the diesel engine and carefully rolled forward. He heard the flight crew cursing behind him and leaned out. The ceramic catch basin was full to the brim with a viscous brown substance.
"Don't touch that," the civilian offered helpfully.
The private agreed with a profanity as he watched the flashlight he had dropped dissolving in the ooze. The grey semi rumbled off the ramp and into the hot sun of a southern military base. They were directed to a tractor trailer that needed to be moved and Zech gratefully accepted the task. Nothing settled both of them down like work. But as soon as the trailer was unhitched the human felt the controls tighten.
"The eagle is this way," the semi groaned miserably.
"How are you feeling?"
"Very hungry. Finding Fowler."
"Ah, Agent Fowler is not on the edible list."
"Gotta find Fowler. Food later."
"I don't think that's such a good idea."
With a snarl the semi lurched around to a set of dumpsters behind the mess hall and without preamble emptied the entire contents of one into his engine compartment. A stunned corporal holding a tray of cold pastries watched open mouthed and frozen as the truck engulfed the mass with black tentacles. Sal closed his hood and rolled past the serviceman stopping to snag a bear claw from the tray before rolling away.
"Thanks!" Zech called out as they headed for the main office buildings. "I am not going to enjoy the smells of digestion of that stuff."
Bits of plastic flew out of the vents as the semi sorted the food from the not-food.
"Nasty processed stuff," Sal agreed. "Fowler's there," Sal pointed with a tie strap at a large hanger with an "E" emblazoned across the front. "Ma Darby too."
"Any others?" Zech asked hope surging for a moment.
The door opened for them and the Peterbuilt rolled onto the concrete. A harsh voice called out from an upper level.
"I don't care if it is the Secretary of Defense himself. No one interrupts me when I'm on the phone with Megatron! Oh, it's you," Fowler's ire seemed to falter and fade as his eyes fell on the duo.
The hapless assistant who had alerted him to their presence made himself scarce as the middle age man walked tiredly towards the truckers.
"You are a sight for sore eyes," he said with a grin. "Unless you are bringing me more bad news."
"Nah we just flew in from the Big E up north to see if we could help out," Sal responded a bit smugly.
"I thought you couldn't- You know what. Never mind." The agent sighed rubbing his forehead tiredly. "We are trying to get a shipment of medical supplies in. We can't let any unauthorized truckers on the base and we are too busy. Could you?"
"It'll be here yesterday," Zech responded.
"Salcha! Zechariah!" June called out joyfully as she darted down the stairs.
The trucker caught the woman in a warm embrace and held her for a long moment. The grey semi rolled over and nudged her with a whine until Mrs. Darby patted his bumper reassuringly.
"Have you seen Jack or the others?" the mother demanded once she pulled away.
"No," Zech replied with a worried frown.
"We flew straight from Fairbanks," Sal put in pointedly.
June smiled and patted the bumper again.
"That was very brave of you Salcha."
The big rig gave a pleased purr at the recognition of his sacrifice.
"So what happened?" his partner asked staying on subject.
"It's a long story," Fowler sighed.
"We need to hear it," Zech said flatly. "There were complications on our end and we can handle them but we need to be in the loop."
"Come into my office," Fowler consented.
June sat down on Salcha's bumper and started chatting with the semi while the men debriefed in the office. The nurse sensed that the big rig needed to talk. He got her up to date on the Franklin clan and had started in on the road conditions in Fairbanks when Zech strode out of the office.
"Come on Partner! We are headed for a Medical facility in Cali to pick up supplies for the base! We're also transporting one of the wounded soldiers there."
"About time," the woman snorted then her face turned a bit fearful. "Zech? You will keep your eyes open for Jack won't you?"
"Count on it Ma'am."
Zech climbed into the cab and they started out. They collected the private at the infirmary, a cheerful young thing with a broken arm, and also a distant cousin. The soldier politely didn't listen while Franklin explained what Agent Fowler had told him to the semi. He didn't know who Sal was but warmed quite quickly and when the tall, dark haired trucker jumped out of the cab several miles from base and started to hike cross country towards the restricted area he shifted to the driver's side without question and let Salcha take over driving.