At heart, the environmental protest was just like any other.

            A ragtag line of protesters had formed, placing themselves resolutely between the grove of ancient oaks and the bulldozers that threatened to destroy them in order to make room for yet another mini mall. The protesters came from all walks of life; long haired members of Greenpeace, a smattering of environmentally minded businessmen, the obligatory throng of idealistic college students, and a even kindergarten teacher who was calling in sick that day, to name a few. However, there was one particular member of this picket line that stood out from the rest- the fifteen foot tall green robot with a rocket launcher attached to one shoulder.

            Normally in this sort of situation, the environmentalists could be simply dispersed with a few well-placed canisters of tear gas. However, given the robotic nature of one particular picketer, it was doubtful that simple tear gas would affect him. Of course, the ominous silver rocket poking from over the robot's shoulder instilled a healthy fear of retaliation, as well.

            The olive drab robot made no threatening moves despite the weapon at his shoulder, merely opting to stand in place at the center of the picket line, holding a ridiculously small placard in one hand. Judging from the embarrassed expression across his faceplate, it didn't seem that he was nearly as zealous as the other protesters.

            Grinning, a flannel-clad activist slapped the metal of his robotic companion's leg. "Thanks for coming, Hound- this's probably one of the best protests we've had in years. No way they're gonna bulldoze these trees with you around!"

            Hound blinked, glancing down towards his fellow protester. "Well, that's good to hear. But just how long do you think we'll have to stand here?"

            "Depends. A day or two- maybe more. As long as it takes, my friend. As long as it takes. Shouldn't take that long now that they know we have the Autobots on our side."

            "Ah." Hound stifled a sigh, shifting his footing about in order to make sure his joints didn't lock up. To tell the truth, he had never planned on becoming a political activist- Spike had merely dropped the name of some environmental group, which Hound had investigated in a few moments of free time. It was a simple matter to establish a rapport through the wonders of the internet- and before he knew it, this organization had managed to rope him into one of their protests. Hound did indeed have a love of the great outdoors- but he wasn't nearly as fanatic as some of these humans. They were a confusing lot, really, continually bickering over this and that in any number of arenas. And here he was, drawn right into the heart of one such situation. Adjusting his footing once more, Hound hoped that the other Autobots wouldn't hear much about this. Well, it wasn't the entire faction he had to worry about- Beachcomber and Trailblazer would even applaud the action. Optimus and the command structure wouldn't be too concerned either- they did have a war to worry about, after all. But then there was some of the less . . . subtle of the faction. Cliffjumper, Sideswipe, Blaster, possibly even Jazz would be obligated to tease him if they heard of this. They meant well, of course- there was little room in the crew of the Ark for outright animosity. Even still, the little quips would come.

"Trying to impress a human female? Don't you remember what happened to Powerglide?"

"No no, Hound's just worried that he's going to become obsolete- you can't go off-road if everything's paved over, after all."

"Sometimes I wonder if you'd rather be a terran."

The last one stung the most. They just didn't understand. Every Autobot had his own assigned task that he was specifically designed and programmed for. The fighters on the front line were a very tightly knit group- they had to be, considering that they had to trust each other with their lives in nearly every skirmish. The scientists and medics were social creatures by default- they were constantly bouncing theories and designs off of each other- when they weren't patching up everybody else, that is. Hound, however, fell into neither of these two groups. He was a scout- and a good one, to boot. It was his job to be independent, to operate on his own for extended lengths of time, away from the camaraderie that the rest of the crew enjoyed every day. It gave him plenty of time to think- there isn't much else to do in some isolated areas. As a result, Hound found himself somewhat detached from the rest of the crew- he was by no means a loner, but he still managed to hold himself with a certain sense of aloofness, none the less.

All his time to think allowed Hound to reflect on the bitter irony of his situation. He loved the Earth- the raw, untamed wildernesses of the planet, the feel of dirt beneath his tires and wind through his grille, the amazing complexity of its organic denizens. But as much as he loved the gritty appeal of the planet, as often as he threw himself into the uncharted wilds, it was still the very opposite of his nature. He was still a Transformer, an unnatural alien presence in the wilderness. He could love the planet for all he was worth- but he could never be a part of it.

The familiar sound of tires crunching across gravel snapped the Autobot from his thoughtful reverie. Hound looked towards the sound, telescopic lenses behind his blue optics whizzing into motion. A small convoy approached- mostly made up of news vans, it looked like. Of course news vans would show up once they heard about the Autobot environmentalist- giant robots make for good news.

However, the possible embarrassment stemming from getting caught on camera and subsequently teased for it wasn't the worst part of it- for traveling along at the head of the convoy was a yellowish-orange military Jeep- similar to Hound's own alternate mode, complete with a small cannon protruding from the back. Hound intensified the magnification on his optics, only to immediately wish he hadn't.

Emblazoned across that jeep's hood was no less than the purple Decepticon insignia. It took only a nanosecond for Hound to analyze what he knew and identify the Decepticon; Swindle. Under other circumstances, Hound would have simply transformed to his vehicular mode then and there in order to make a break for it. However, with the large gathering of humans, such a sudden departure would surely be noticed. Starting a fight was out of the question as well- there were too many humans about that could be hurt in the crossfire. Hound considered calling for help- but before he could get the signal off, the convoy pulled up in front of the picket line. Swindle transformed, earning more than a few gasps of surprise from those gathered. The Decepticon waved affably towards all present, making sure to get the image on camera.

"Why, hello!" Said Swindle in a far too friendly voice. Hound tensed, remaining silent. Swindle grinned to all present, as if the mere facial expression was enough to make the humans present forget that he was a giant robot with a large cannon attached to one arm.

The humans- protester, developer, and newsman alike, remained surprisingly calm; in Hound's own opinion, at the least. The usual response when two or more Cybertonians of opposite factions got together in close proximity was to run screaming as fast as their carbon based musculature could carry them. Of course, such encounters nearly always came with prerequisite amounts of massive property damage and exchanges of gunfire; two key elements that the unfolding situation had yet to include.

Sensing attention on himself (more attention than the monolithic green robot had been getting before) Hound felt compelled to speak; albeit hesitantly.

"What're you doing here?"

"I could ask the same of you, Autobot."

"I asked first." Hound's grip tightened on the grip of his sign in anxiety, sensors silently reaching out in effort to locate any other Decepticons in the vicinity. After all, it would have been far too easy for Reflector or Soundwave to slip in through the hands of some reporter. Or for the Constructicons to pass themselves off as the equipment needed to clear the forest. Megatron himself could have been waiting in his smaller mode for the right opportunity to strike. Yet, Hound found no traces of decepticon activity for a three mile radius- outside of the glaringly obvious Combaticon before him, of course. Apparently, Swindle was the only other Decepticon in the area.

Either that, or the Decepticons had perfected a new type of stealth technology.

"Point. And I suppose I might as well be…" Swindle gestured idly in the air with one black hand, as if attempting to pluck the proper word out of the air. "-civil about things. Seeing as of how this is a perfectly legal business venture of mine- one which you're of course trespassing on."

"Since when do the Decepticons need lumber?" Hound raised one optic ridge, fear giving way to wary confusion.

Swindle laughed, reminding Hound of a defining characteristic of most Decepticons; a cruel sense of humor. "You poor, foolish thing. It's not a matter of these flimsy organic constructs-" he waved dismissively at the forest. "But of their…strategic location."

"We're in the bottom of a valley, hemmed in- not even a whole platoon of your kind could hold this territory for long if they tried. I thought you a better tactician than that."

"Just like an Autobot to misunderstand." Swindle noted, shaking his head. "I was just trying to put it in terms that your uncultured central processor could comprehend, that's all. Of course this little patch of dirt is worthless in a military sense. But economically is a different story entirely."

"Oh?"

"It's quite the concept, really. You see, while we've been hammering away at each other for eons now, most Cybertonians- myself excluded, of course," Pride seeped into Swindle's tone. "-Have forgotten about the art of commerce. You may be surprised to hear this from a Decepticon, but there are other ways to acquire resources other than mining them personally- or stealing it from those who do. It's a practice that earthlings are surprisingly good at- you know, for a bunch of squishy carbon based life forms. No offense, of course." He offered to a dumbstruck protester standing next to Hound.

"None taken." The protester managed.

 Swindle continued, ignoring the humans once again. "Anyway, to make a long story short, by plowing over this bit of fauna, the humans can set up a little building where they make these civilized exchanges as they pass on by on their daily work. Perfectly legal, too. Or would you like me to get a lawyer?"

Hound blinked his blue optics, glancing around at the motley assembly of humans present. "Just what do you have to do with this?" Wisely, he ignored the offered lawyer.

"Oh, that's simple. I'm an investor- I've put in some money to see this thing built, and as a result, a good percentage of the profits will go to me."

"They don't pay in Energon, do they?"

"Oh no, of course not- but there are quite a few uses for their currency, once you obtain enough of it,"

Hound continued to stare at the Combaticon, struggling to see through Swindle's plot. "And just where did you get the currency to invest in the first place?"

"Oh, nowhere in particular- just sold a few blueprints here, a couple of formulae there- primitive technology, by our standards…But don't be surprised if you see some Humans running around with mild antigravity technology sometime soon."

"Wasn't antigravity supposed to be some sort of 'Decepticon Secret?'"

"Oh, it still is." Swindle leaned in closer, conspiratorially murmuring to the Autobot "But even the stuff I sold off is far beyond current technology here; the humans won't be able to TRULY understand the stuff for years."  He grinned, then rocked back on his massive heels, whispering ended. "But enough about me." Swindle folded his arms across his rectangular chest. "Now, if you'd be so kind, explain yourself- and leave, so that progress moves on, the terrans get happy, and I make a little money."

Hound's hydraulics tensed at Swindle's commanding tone, finally offering a single answer. "I'm here to stop you."

"Oh come on!" Swindle quipped. "That's so…Autobot-ish, of you. To define your own actions simply by opposing mine. I mean, you're not even defending the humans; just some other carbon-based junk that isn't even sentient. If I was going to bulldoze a hospital full of orphans or something, I wouldn't be surprised to see a few Autobots poking their noses in; hell, I'd EXPECT that sort of thing. But I assure-" Swindle paused. "-No, I PROMISE you that absolutely nothing sentient will be hurt by this little venture. The mini mall isn't a subliminal mind control facility, nor will it be a secret fortress, armory, communications outpost, or anything of the sort. I can show you the blueprints, if you'd like. However, if you insist on staying here, things may just get a little . . . messy. I wouldn't want to hurt the terrans of course- but I am legally permitted to protect my investments." Swindle chuckled once more, standard Decepticon maliciousness creeping into his tone.

"So now, I've got a bit of an ultimatum for you; leave now, or I (acting on behalf of the local law enforcement)-" Swindle gestured to a single police officer who was only there to write up a traffic ticket or two. "Will be forced to remove you physically. And even if you call in some of your Autobot buddies, or manage to drive me off today, there's nothing preventing me from coming back with a construction crew tomorrow, or the day after that, or the day after that. You and your friends may be persistent, but so am I. Ultimately, this whole interchange is a waste of our time. Progress is inevitable, my short sighted friend. Face the facts; sooner or later, I'm going to get things built, and there isn't a thing you can do about it."

            A tense silence filled the air after Swindle finished his monologue, in which the two transformers glared at each other. The crowd of humans kept quiet, with some of the wiser slinking towards cover, just in case rockets and lasers began to fly. Others looked on eagerly, waiting to see just what the big green robot was going to do to the big yellow one.

            Hound's action was, to tell the truth, completely, totally, and utterly unexpected.

            He smiled. Then Laughed. It began strong enough, only to grow even louder in volume as the apparent hilarity of the situation impacted further. The gesture rubbed off on those present, breaking easing the tension of the standoff considerably. Even Swindle laughed along, despite the fact that he didn't know of the apparent joke. As the laughter died down, the Autobot Scout leaned in close towards Swindle with a simple reply. "Actually, there is."

            "Oh?" said Swindle. "I don't suppose you're willing to make . . ." He rubbed his metal palms together in anticipation. "A deal?"

            "You could say that." Hound stepped back. "Here's the conditions; You and your cronies leave this forest alone, and you won't get vaporized."

            This time, it was Swindle's turn to laugh. "You're kidding, right? You don't have the firepower- much less the proper impulses in your circuits, to do such a thing."

            "Megatron does."

            At the mention of the Decepticon Tyrant, the Combaticon's laughter cut off. "…And just what does he have to do with this?"

            "Nothing. Yet." Hound grinned, "But I imagine once he finds out you've been selling Decepticon technology to the humans, he may be wanting to see you. Or at least, pieces of you."

            Swindle stared at the Autobot. "You're bluffing."

            "Am I, Swindle? I've been recording this entire conversation holographically. I've backed it up, too; relaying a radio signal off of one of the terran satellites back to the Ark, where it's all backed up on Teletran-1." Hound tapped at the side of his box-shaped head. "Not to mention the fact that I've got it all backed up here. I'm sure that it'd be child's play for Soundwave to break the encryption if the signal got, oh … mistransmitted."

            "…That…That's blackmail!" Flabbergasted, Swindle pointed an accusing finger at Hound.

            "No, that's freedom of communication. Perfectly legal. What happens to you should your friends find out said information just isn't any of my business. Now, do we have a deal?"

            Swindle continued to point at Hound as his mouth moved; but no coherent sound came out. Quite simply, the fast-talking Combaticon was struck at a loss for words. One vicious mental battle with himself later, the Decepticon's instinct for self-preservation won out over his lust for profit. Sullenly, he thrust his hand out, muttering. "Deal."

            "Deal." Hound shook the offered hand, then turned to receive no small deal of praise from his fellow protesters. No sooner had they parted hands, Swindle spun about on a metal heel and collapsed into his vehicular mode, speeding away from the botched deforestation attempt as fast as his four wheels could take him.

            Hound glanced off at the departing Decepticon, his abilities as a scout surfacing. "Y'know." He commented to nobody in particular "He shouldn't be going so fast down that road. The curves are too sharp; he'll probably flip-"

            CRASH! The sound of Cybertonian metal impacting against hard limestone echoed from a half-mile down the road, interrupting Hound. An irate "DAMMIT!" followed.

            "-over." The Autobot shook his head, then glanced down at the crowd of protesters, contractors, reporters, and the one police officer. Sensing the attention on himself once more, Hound blinked his optics a few times, unsure of what to do. With the Decepticon 'routed' and the forest 'saved', he could only think of one saying.

            "My work here is done."