"And so it came to pass that as the stars aligned, charge of the Chronicles of the Saga of Beasts passed from the Brave Child to Aspen the Ardent, daughter of the War Wolf and Recorder of the Order of the Quill. May she strive to be worthy of the task." – From the annals of Brother Apollo, Scribe of Eden in the Autumn of the Sighing Spirit
From Brave Kid to DuskMoon15 to DJ R3M1X this tale has passed to me, and I can only hope I do it justice. I shall start at the beginning of the story so that I can preserve a feeling of continuity in the style of writing. I'm not changing the plot at all, but I may tweak a few details here and there...
"Prime!" The bellow echoed about the base, instantly halting Miko's impromptu guitar solo. Not again, she thought. In her opinion, Fowler could stand to lighten up a fair bit. The aforementioned agent stormed to the railing, clearly upset about something. Miko hoped it wasn't the Autobots that his ire was directed at. "Agent Fowler," Optimus Prime calmly answered, "What seems to be the problem?" The human clenched his fists as he answered. "The 'Cons are storming a relay station in Kansas and my men are getting slaughtered!" So. Miko needn't have worried about something her friends had done after all. Bulkhead paused as he was about to lob a ball to Bumblebee. "Relay station? What's that?" he asked.
Without even looking up from his work, Ratchet answered, "It's a transmitter that repeats a signal to another station." He waved one hand inarticulately at Fowler. "If you want us to interfere, I need an exact location." "Coordinates, Ratchet," Fowler sighed, "I think you mean coordinates." "Up-bup-bup! I'm working!" the grumpy medic snapped. Miko snickered and went back to her music, scribbling notes down on the sheet music in front of her. She watched out of the corner of her eye as Ratchet calibrated the Ground Bridge. A familiar tingle of excitement rushed to her brain, and that little voice that she just knew she was supposed to ignore, but listened to anyway, began to whisper of adventure and battle.
Miko smiled as a plan began to form in her mind. "Hey Bulk!" she shouted as her partner prepared for departure. "Yeah?" "Bash some helms in for me!" Bulkhead laughed and ruffled her pigtails with one servo. "That's my girl!" he said proudly. Ratchet glared suspiciously at the girl, remembering another occasion when she had pretended to stay and had ended up instigating a parallel-dimension incident. "You are not going along." It was certainly not a question. "Way to stereotype, Doc!" Miko snapped, "As it happens, I've got work to do!" She made a disdainful noise and pulled a worksheet from her backpack. That seemed to satisfy him, she thought. He's distracted, and the boys are bound to notice me working in 3...2...1...
"Miko? Are you ok?" Jack leaned over from the couch. "You're...doing homework!" "You never do homework!" Raf chipped in. Miko had begun her lie, there was no way she could extract herself now. She faked a concerned look and turned wide brown eyes on her friends. "My parents are going to pull me out of the program if I don't ace the finals!" she said. This had the desired effect on the boys. "Oh! Oh, man that's awful Miko!" Jack rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. "Let me know if there's anything I can do to help, alright?" Miko smiled sweetly. "Thanks Jack, I will." It was time for phase 2 of the Miko-Goes-On-An-Adventure plan.
She tapped the pen against her chin for a moment then widened her eyes comically. "Hey...Docbot? Were there supposed to be grenades in the Energon Storage Bay?" With a squawk of dismay, the medic fled the room, cursing all Wreckers to the Pit. He forgot to lock down the Ground Bridge control panels. Rubbing her hands together gleefully, the small Japanese teen hurried up the stairs to the panel and deftly reprogrammed the previous coordinates. For once, all of Ratchet's lecturing had come in handy. She pulled down the lever, starting the swirling vortex up in a whirr. "Miko, where did you see the grenades?" Ratchet's voice called faintly from across the base. "Near the back corner, I think!" she shouted back, "And the little blinking red light is bad, right?" The three children clearly heard Ratchet's panicked gasp as he redoubled his searching efforts.
"What are you doing?!" Jack hissed as he and Raf charged after their friend. "You said your parents were going to pull you out of the program!" Raf accused. "I lied!" Miko cackled, dashing through the strangely bluish white Bridge. In an instant, all three humans had vanished into the golden light at the end of the tunnel.
The first thing Miko noticed when she stepped out of the Ground Bridge was the heat. Red dust covered her boots, as well as most of the landscape, and the sun beat down on the trio. "Aw, man! We're still in Jasper!" she muttered. So much for the Miko-Goes-On-An-Adventure plan. "That's a good thing, isn't it?" Raf asked, shoving his hands into his pockets. Jack shaded his eyes and looked around. "Well, I guess it depends on whether we're close enough to be bridged back to the base, or if we're going to have to walk home from here." He crossed his arms and leveled an irritated glare at Miko. "Alright, alright!" she grumbled, "I'll call Ratchet." As the boys watched, she paced back and forth holding her cell phone to her ear. "Hey, Doc?" she asked nervously, "We kinda, sorta...hello? Hello?" She jerked the phone away from her head irritably. "Scrap!" she hissed.
At Raf's questioning glance, she explained, "Nothin' but static. I think the Bridge fried my cell. Try yours!" Jack and Rafael met with similar results. Miko let out a long string of words in two languages. The Japanese was unfamiliar to Jack, but he certainly did recognize a few of the Cybertronian words, and swiftly covered Raf's ears. The younger boy was amused. "Jack, Ratchet swears all the time. I'm used to it." he said flatly. Miko chuckled at Jack's scandalized expression and slipped her phone back into her pocket. "Well, I guess we'd better start walking!" she sighed. With no better solution in sight, the three friends set out in the direction of town.
They split up when they reached Jasper, none of them prepared for what awaited at their homes. When Jack slipped into the garage, he found his mother's car waiting. Mom's already home? He thought, confused. "Mom? You home?" he called warily. June poked her head out the door leading from the house. "Yeah, honey. You're home early! I thought your shift didn't end for another hour?" She was still dressed in her lab coat, although her normally clean teal scrubs were looking somewhat the worse for wear. "Uh...I...clocked out early!" Jack stammered, caught off guard. In the kitchen, Jack found several cages huddled together with a pungent odor emanating from them. His suspicions regarding their contents were confirmed when he bent down to examine them. Rabbits.
As Jack and June rounded the corner, a flurry of barking greeted them as a large German Shepherd bounded up and nosed at them affectionately. "Down, Ray!" June laughed, patting the dog on the head. "Mom? Since when do we have pets?!" Jack was beyond confused by this point. His mother looked at him strangely. "What kind of vet doesn't have animals around?"
Raf fished around in his pocket for his house key, grumbling under his breath. The door was suddenly yanked open from the other side, sending him sprawling to the floor. The sister closest in age to him, Pilar, stared down at him, unimpressed. "You're late, hermanito," she reproved gently, "We were about to start dinner without you!" She ran around the corner, calling, "Mama, Papa, Rafael es el hogar!" Mr. Esquivel's voice rang out from the dining room. "Venir aquí. Tu hermanos estan dando hambre!" Raf sighed and pushed his glasses up on his nose. "Si, Papa," he answered, shuffling after his sister to the table. He glanced in surprise at the wholly organic meal. What ever happened to pizza? He lamented silently.
Miko threw open the door and took the stairs at a run, hoping to avoid her host parents. "Mikoto Nakadai!" a familiar voice cried out, "Since when are you allowed to run in the house?" Miko skidded to a halt and whirled around in shock. "Dad? You're...ah...home?" The older gentleman crossed his arms over his neatly pressed business suit and fixed a stern gaze on her. "You had better not be skipping a detention again, young lady!" he scolded. "What? I mean...um, no sir," Miko stammered, sitting down on the stairs. "I was hanging out with my friends, is all." A smile tugged at Hideo Nakadai's lips as he was joined by his wife, who was holding an enormously fat ginger cat. "Well, I'm glad you're spending time with other kids," he said. "Sweetheart, you are working on bringing your grades up, aren't you?" her mother added, "After all, final exams are this week!"
"Yeah..." Miko got over her surprise and launched herself at her parents with a giggle. "I missed you guys!" she said, her voice muffled by her mother's blouse, "When did you come over from Japan?" Hideo caught Ayako's eye, who shrugged. "On second thought, perhaps you've been studying too hard!" Miko's father teased, "We haven't lived in Japan since your older brother was born!" "Speaking of which, Shirako should be home soon," Miko's mother piped up, "Are we eating at home tonight, or ordering out?" The words fell unheeded by her daughter, who somehow managed to stumble up to her room and grab the house phone. She dialed Jack, desperately hoping he would pick up the phone.
"Miko?" Well, that was a relief, at least. He still lived at the same address.
"Yeah," she sighed, "It's me. I think we've got a problem."
"You're telling me!-Ray, stop it—Something's wrong here!" Jack sounded a little out of breath.
"Wha? Who's Ray?" Miko asked. She snickered at her friend's response.
"Ray is a dog. I have a dog now, dogs are cool. So what's new at your house?"
Miko groaned and flopped back onto her bed, holding the phone to her ear. "My parents live here. Not the host parents, the real ones. Apparently we've lived here all our lives!" Jack sighed on the other end of the line. "I'll call Raf. We should meet up somewhere and talk—Ray! Get down!" Miko made a face. "Yeah, can we do the park tomorrow at 5? Should still be a Saturday, unless calendars don't work anymore. I gotta deal with my family right now." Through the phone, Jack sounded understanding. "Yeah, and I've got to deal with this dog. Oh my gosh NO! Ray! Get that out of your mouth this instant!"
Just as Miko was reaching for her sketchpad and pencils, the door slammed downstairs. "Hey Miko!" an unfamiliar voice shouted, "You ready for that spin in my sportscar I promised you?" Mentally, Miko cycled through the possibilities of who the speaker could be before deciding that it was probably her "brother", this Shirako character. "Uh, yeah! Just a sec!" she called, looking for her backpack. Then she remembered that she'd left it at the Autobot base. As she reached down to retrieve a fallen pencil, she noticed the very same backpack under her chair! That boded ill. "Siiiiis! C'maaaaaaan!" The voice sounded insistent. (a/n: that is how most of my older brothers used to tell me it was time to go.) "Coming!" Miko slid down the bannister to come face to face with what was apparently a younger clone of her father. Well, except for the part where Hideo Nakadai probably would never have spiked his hair or worn a white leather jacket with navy blue detailing.
Miko was somewhat lost for words. "Come on, kiddo," Shirako grinned and handed her a slim leather-bound volume. "Found those old pictures you were asking for. Now hurry up!" He led Miko outside to a sleek vehicle that matched his jacket. It was clearly meant for high speeds. "Sweet!" Miko gasped, admiring the car. "Hop in!" Shirako said proudly. Before long they had pulled out of the driveway and were cruising around the town. Miko idly flipped through the photo album, looking with interest at a photo of her grandparents standing in front of their house in Jasper, holding a young Shirako between them. "Hey...Shirako, why did Mom and Dad leave Tokyo?" she asked, tracing her grandmother's face with one finger.
"Again? You've asked me that question a million times!" her brother groaned. Miko fixed him with her best "kitten-stuck-in-the-rain" face until he relented. "Okay, okay! Turn it off, I'll talk!" Miko rolled her eyes as the older boy answered. "Grandma and Grandpa moved here after World War II. When I was born, Dad thought business would be better if he moved the company back to Japan." His sister looked at the photos and frowned. "This is you at what, three? I take it business in Japan wasn't as good as he thought it would be?" Shirako shook his head. "Nope. Too many companies in the same industry all in the same place. They stayed a year or two, then moved back here. And then you were born and I wasn't the baby anymore."
Miko closed the photo album and stared out the window, thoughts churning. There was only one explanation rising to the top of her mind. Only one reason that her world could have changed so drastically. The whole matter had seemingly begun when she had run through that stupid Ground Bridge, just like the Zombie-Skyquake fiasco! Zombie-Skyquake? Of course! The revelation hit Miko like a thunderbolt. We're in another Shadowzone!