A/N: I've decided to provide what I think are appropriately cool themes for certain scenes.
So, humor me. Go to YouTube and look up "Revenge of the fallen: Forest Battle" and have it ready to start playing for when Sam and Bumblebee finally part ways with Henry in this chapter. You can even look for the Abbreviated version (49 seconds) and put it on repeat (www dot listenonrepeat dot com).
I hope you'll tell me if I put enough foreshadowing previously in regards to who Henry is.
Chapter 6: Baptism by Water
My back made a thud against the thick mat, but I didn't hear it over the sound of my undignified gasp. This had to be the fourth time in a row that I got thrown off my feet. Why was I doing this again?
The neon light on the ceiling above provided no answer, but I got one anyway. After all, I had perfect memory now: after the event than I'm pretty sure will henceforth be known as "The Horseshoe Epiphany," (Robert Epps thought he was funny, the ass), Henry left to "deal with something" and left me in the "care" of Will Lennox and his Rangers. And he made sure not to disappear without throwing an off-hand remark about how I'd probably learn to fight really fast if I got to observe and experience combat in a controlled environment.
The Rangers clearly didn't know what to think of Henry, and I half-expected them to refuse, to say they don't have time, or that they didn't come here to babysit a kid. But Lennox gave me that strange, calculating look of before, and there was something else in it too, but I don't know what. Then he asked me, completely seriously, if I'd try to see if I could get the hang of things if they provided some demonstrations.
I remember being honestly surprised. "Wait, you mean you'll do it? Just like that?" I blame Simmons for making me believe the worst of people.
"Well, the night has to pass somehow," Lennox said, completely unperturbed by the yellow mech standing behind me and scrutinizing him. "We're not keen on sleeping anyway, may as well do something with the time. Besides, you're an asset, and if his behavior is any indication," the soldier nodded in Bumblebee's direction "a really important one. So any opportunity to increase your chances of not dying is good." He stretched and cracked his neck, rising from the chair he'd been nursing a beer from. He smirked. "Just don't let it get to your head."
"I'm sure you'll be quick to pop my ego if that happens," I said dryly.
The first half an hour wasn't so bad. I got to see Lennox and his men, but especially Epps, spar in turns against one another. They used military hand-to-hand with Judo mixed in, although Epps also seemed to know some sort of street fighting.
Then they demonstrated the moves more slowly, and had me replicate them. I got them all on the first try, much to their (and my) collective amazement. And much to their envy too, which they had no trouble expressing, probably because there was no spite or malice in it. These guys really were something else.
Sparring, however, was a different story. I held my own well enough when they went easy, but afterwards I kept getting my ass kicked. Well, not exactly, I did manage to hold my own against Epps, more or less. For a minute or so anyway. But while I did have a physical constitution on par with the best of them, I was still pretty slim and short – I still had a growth spurt to go through, hopefully – and there were two things I didn't seem to just gain from the onset: reflexes and battle instincts.
So yeah, I'd just gotten thrown off my feet again.
As I lay there, catching my breath, I couldn't get it out of my head that this was all Henry's fault.
After I lifted myself from the ground, we started again, with kicks, punches, attempted grabs, the works. Eventually I managed to pull something off. I side-kicked. It was a feint, but it worked. It let me go in close and grapple with Will, so now I just had to twist my hips, bend forward and pull –
The throw worked, and Lennox flew over my shoulder, but instead of him landing on his back he managed to twist too, in mid-air, landing on his feet and reversing my grip, basically doing to me what I'd just tried to do to him.
I gasped, falling on my back for the fifth time.
Bloody scrapping hell.
Lennox was standing over me, eyes narrowed. "Kid, what did I tell you?"
I sighed and climbed to my feet. "Don't try to think too much about how to move, just let it happen naturally?"
"Yeah, well, I'm trying!" I snapped. Maybe it was childish to react that way, but I was becoming frustrated.
"I can see that."
I stopped before I could start ranting and took a good look at him. The guy was being serious.
Lennox kept looking at me and frowning, then he asked me, completely out of the blue. "What's the square root of 67 multiplied by four divided by 29?"
I blinked, completely thrown off by the non sequitur. I exchanged a glance with Epps, who looked just as baffled as me. Looking to my right, I saw Bumblebee gazing curiously at us. He shrugged, doorwings twitching slightly. Seeing that I wasn't going to get any help, I turned to behold the captain again. "Erm… square root of just 67 or of the whole thing?"
"The whole thing. Actually, forget it. Give me the square root of this: 78 multiplied by four divided by 66."
"4.48447999." I didn't even take a second. "Assuming I only take into account the first four decimals of the result of the division."
"…. Damn." I should have known Epps would drawl that. Really.
Will looked at Bumblebee. "Is that right?"
Bumblebee blinked (er, shuttered his optics?) and nodded. "We have a winner!" The radio cheered.
"Hmm," Lennox scratched his cheek. "Okay. Let's try this a different way." He turned around and led the way to the middle of the area laid down with soft mats. "Feel free to think about what to do as much as you want." He turned to face me properly and got ready, fists up in a standard boxing stance. "Actually, think as much as possible. Ready?"
I hesitantly loosened some knots in my back and mirrored his pose. "Well, I guess we'll know when we start."
"Okay. Here we go. Think fast!"
"What th-!" I barely dodged a right hook, then leaned out of the way of a left punch and brought my arm down to block a kick to my side. Will pulled it back but kicked again without even catching his footing, almost hitting me in the face. I blocked again, guard stiff but firm.
Will drew back, spun on his heel and sent a spin kick straight at my chest, quick as a snake-
The world slowed down, and I thought. Observed. Studied. Analyzed. All the observations I'd done of their spars, and all the fights I was ever involved in, all of them came together and I processed it all in less than an instant. My eyes took in my surroundings, my ears, smell and touch making up for the rest. The consistency of the mat was gauged: worn but serviceable, impact on balance minimal. The speed of will's leg, calculated. The distance to the walls, measured. The time the foot would contact my chest: 0.06 seconds. Variables scrolled through my head, assumptions were made and discarded.
I leaned back and to the left, right hand strafing up, and caught the foot, fingers aimed inwards and twisted.
Will's eyes widened, but he rolled with the move, jumping, spinning horizontally in the air. He landed on his arms and managed to send a kick to my head as he cartwheeled. Capoiera I recognized. That Fig guy they'd been talking about must have taught him. I ducked, blocked an oncoming punch, then another, then struck a front kick aside. All the while I noted the increase in the rate of hits. Soon enough he'd stop holding back and-
I had to cross my forearms to stop a punch to my sternum. Then came another – left cheek, blocked – kidney –averted – Will reached forward, grabbing my wrist and spinning to press his back against me, one arm reaching back over my shoulder, grabbing the back of my shirt, the other hand on my arm -
Suddenly, I was airborne.
Then I was facing upwards, air rushing by my ears. I knew the ground was approaching from behind and below, and my brain instantly calculated the speed, sending signals to my limbs as needed.
I didn't gasp this time, because my back never hit the mat. Looking up, I was gratified to see Lennox's astonishment at how I stopped my fall with my feet, legs bent at a right angle the knees. But I didn't give him time to do more than that. I'd already estimated how much strength I'd need to put in my kick, how to turn my spine, how to pull on his oh-so-helpful hold on my forearm, how tight to hold onto Will's own when he inevitably tried to drop me – there!
I was in the air, and this time it was all me. I'd never done even the slightest cartwheel before, but now I did a spinning side-flip like I'd done it all my life, almost flying over Lennox and pulling his arm along. I landed gingerly, Will's arm twisted overhead as I went, and now I was behind him, and all I had to do was pull on his arm hard enough to make him arch his back, then reach back and throw him up with my only free hand against the small of his back.
For the first time in that entire night, the gasp that came was not mine. Will Lennox met the mat face-first after being flipped backwards head over heels. Air came out of his lungs in a sudden, painful gust.
"… Holy mother of god." Epps breathed from the side.
I let go and scrambled away from the downed soldier. I was pretty sure he still hadn't been putting everything he had into it, so if he decided to up the ante I wanted it to be on my terms, not his. I didn't think he'd try and cheap shots, but better safe than sorry.
Will groaned and slowly began to climb to his feet, wincing as he moved his shoulder. Daring to look around, I took in the varying reactions of my audience, ranging from understated astonishment to perplexed stupefaction. Bumblebee gave me a thumbs up in the background, We Are the Champions playing at a volume low enough to add to the mood without snapping everyone else out of their various states.
Once again standing, Lennox looked around and nodded at the less-than-aware states of his men as though he both expected and approved of the situation. "Right. Snap out of it!" He snapped his fingers a few time, prompting his men to blink and regain their wits. "Go on, back to the table with you. Get." With a last glance in my direction, they all left. Then Lennox faced me again and smirked. "Improvising?"
I laughed nervously. "Ah ha ha... Whatever works?"
The captain of the rangers nodded grimly. "Good." He turned around and headed back to the table he'd been sitting in when I first came in with Bumblebee. But he did look back to say one last thing. "You've got a good head, kid. Don't lose it."
"What he said."
"Gaaah!" I jumped a foot in the air, and I thanked the stars for my now perfect sense of balance because without it I doubt I'd have managed to avoid falling on my ass. I ignored the snickers of the soldiers. They must have thought I wouldn't hear, but I did. My hearing had gotten better, like everything else about me. Whirling around, I glared at the all too innocent looking man that had somehow snuck up behind me. "Don't do that!"
"What? Don't speak?"
I opened my mouth to tell Henry exactly how I felt about that reply, but Bumblebee beat me to it. "Don't speak. I know what you're thinking, I don't need your reasons, Don't tell me 'cause it hurts…"
I turned my glare on the yellow mech. "Not. Helping!"
'Bee ducked his head bashfully, but I had the sneaking suspicion he was still laughing at me. The way his doorwings quivered made me think he was tittering, but I couldn't know for sure, and I had a feeling 'Bee knew that too.
Damn cultural barrier.
All of a sudden, I got the strong urge to enunciate something snippy in his own language. That would shut him up nicely. The only thing that stopped me was the fact that I didn't know where to even begin to make those electronic noises and rumbles with my human vocal cords. A shame, too, since Ironhide had provided me with such a wonderful set of swearwords and curses.
Wryly, I noted that it figured it would happen that way. That my first exposure to an alien language, the exposure which also happened to reveal to me that I actually understood it, would consist of what was probably the most refined instance of cussing in the language's history.
Thirteen multi-phrase curses hurled at Jazz. All of them transmitted in a single, nine-second burst.
Releasing an exasperated but also resigned breath of air, I faced Henry again. "Back from whatever errand you were on?"
The crazy hermit made for one of the free tables and I decided I may as well walk with him. Bumblebee followed us, naturally. "I would have been back faster, but I got a message from one of my colleagues that Tom wasn't being himself."
"Tom?" Tom who… oh. "Tom Banachek?" Why did I not like the sound of that?
Henry kept his eyes forward. "Simmons may be in charge of apprehending so-called 'NBEs' and such, and the head Sector Seven's field agents as a whole, but Banachek is the one actually leading this organization. He also happens to, as you might say, not be an asshole." He eyed me askance, and when I didn't snort or anything, he continued. "And he's just learned that the robot he's been conducting live dissection and experiments on is not, in fact, just a mindless space exploration drone. Even without knowing it was an evil doombringer, it would be bad enough on its own, but it also made him rethink what the other experiments might have been about."
I blinked, and my blood chilled as the realization steadily descended over me. "Oh hell…"
Henry nodded. "Yes. Recall your own reaction to seeing those experiments. Now imagine that you've suddenly been given a pretty good reason to think those really were cybernetic babies. Imagine that you've been there for the many dozens of experiments/executions/deaths-by-torture that were conducted in the past. And imagine knowing that you're the one that ordered each and every one of them for the past three decades."
I said nothing. Not just because I had no idea what, but because my throat had closed up.
We reached the table, and Henry put his briefcase on it. "He's in the observation deck, just staring at Megatron." He unfastened the two clasps, but didn't open it yet. "I'm one of the oldest operatives here, so he and I go way back really. I tried to assure him that he hadn't been murdering newborns, but he didn't really believe me." Opening the case, he revealed a laptop. "After all, I can't know things for certain, since I have no more facts available than him. He pointed out that Sector Seven had also been absolutely sure the robot wasn't really sentient, but we were oh so wrong about that, so who's to say we aren't wrong about everything else?"
I stared at him, forgetting all about the laptop and accessories he was laying out. The sadness in that tone couldn't be fake. Henry did know, but he couldn't really go to Tom and say 'Hey, I'm an emissary of All-Powerful Superplanar Energy Beings so believe me when I say something.'
"And that's not even factoring the liberties and rights of others he ignored over the years." Henry connected the wireless mouse to the laptop. "Including you and your family."
I looked at him, hard. "So there really was surveillance in Tranquility."
"Not just there. Wherever anyone in your bloodline went. Not a permanent watch, though. Only for a while during the forming childhood years of every new Witwicky, and then on and off, to see if anything 'peculiar' arose." Henry finished setting up the laptop and inputted the login info. "In your case, it was fortunate you were totally ordinary, so I didn't have to jump through hoops to falsify reports and secure more spying shifts for myself. It was nice not to have to deal with the potential extra suspicion."
I stared at him. The way he talked made it sound as if he'd always had a personal interest in me. Or, well, my family line.
"Ah, but enough about that," the man finally finished setting up the laptop and initiated the boot-up sequence. It was the most rugged-looking, high-tech piece of machinery I'd ever seen in that size. Well, human-made machinery.
"Okay, so what's this for?" I moved closer to look at the screen.
"Something to pass the time." He opened an Internet browser but turned the screen away from me, throwing me a sly grin. "Sorry kid, secret info here. Wait like that a bit." I didn't see what he typed, but soon enough it was over and he turned the laptop for me to see again. I noticed that the website address was all in "********" if that was even possible. I didn't recognize the web page by look either. It was pretty plain really, with a basic design in black, white and grey. Metallic grey. Or silver.
It looked like a database of useful links. Huh. For all I knew, it might even be an offline website stored on the laptop's own hard drive. "So what's this?" Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the rangers observing us, but I was pretty sure our conversation didn't reach their ears, even though theirs reached mine.
"Hmm." He unceremoniously pulled me into the chair in front of the laptop. I yelped and glared at him, and he just smirked unrepentantly. "See, kid, your ability to understand and replicate actions might be at least partly psychic, so if the one performing an action isn't within your range, whatever it is…" he waved a hand a few times, clearly saying he didn't know or intend to tell me what my range was. At least at the moment. "… then you might not, in fact, be able to replicate it just from seeing it. This website will help us figure out if you can do it. So go on, open a link. Actually, just click that 'Random' button."
Still peering at him suspiciously, I nonetheless did as he said. I clicked "Random" and the page opened to an identical one, but which also happened to have an embedded video.
A video of some dude putting together a gun and demonstrating its use. Specifically, an ICS-190 GLM Grenade Launcher.
Next to the screen there were a couple of paragraphs describing the weapon and its capabilities. I assimilated the information instantly, and at this point I didn't have it in me to be surprised. After all, I'd basically memorized, at a glance, the personal details of all the agents that had been involved in our abduction. Well, the personal info of those moronic enough to actually carry revealing identification of that sort with them.
For a clandestine secret organization, Sector Seven seemed to suffer from some pretty embarrassing lapses in discretion.
Glancing to the bottom right corner, I saw the clock indicating that it was 02:45. Still some time to go until dawn.
Well, nothing to it I supposed.
Settling in for a long wait, I clicked play, and watched.
It was hours later that my almost trance-like state met an abrupt end. My 'Random' clicks, which never seemed to turn up any link I'd already visited, had opened an e-book on human anatomy and I was going through it at a rate of three pages per second. Once I was done, I reached out to pick up a glass of water I'd gotten myself some time earlier.
I felt the vibration in my chair a nanosecond before ripples disturbed the surface of the water, and I didn't even have enough time to wonder if I was developing telekinesis before the entire Rec Hall trembled as if hit by an earthquake.
Bumblebee, who'd sat down with his back against the wall to my right, suddenly jumped to his feet. "Alert! Alert!" The radio blared as his optics zeroed on me. "Code red Admiral!"
"Fuck!" Lennox cursed, jumping from his chair and grabbing his rifle. "We're under attack, aren't we?" His half a dozen soldiers went on alert immediately, even before I had a chance to get out of my seat.
There was a ping on the laptop. All applications suddenly closed and a black command prompt window launched on its own. The cursor blinked twice before words started writing themselves. 'A flier's EMP took out communications. Main Power generators under fire. I'm initiating full evac protocols for civilians, full military mobilizations for the agents. Be there in five to coordinate.' Did he even have clearance for that? Alarms started to blare as soon as the last word appeared. "Comms down! Shit!" I hurried around the table, throwing all the hardware back into the briefcase haphazardly. "Shit shit shit!" I looked at Lennox who was almost upon me. "Decepticons are attacking the power generators!"
"Dammit!" Lennox rubbed a hand over his tired face, but that was all the tension he let be seen. Right after, he was all business. "You! Bumblebee right?"
"Your fellows. What's their ETA?"
'Bee clicked and whirred, trying to find some radio clip that would help answer. His optics dimmed, and I think he was checking with the others, then they brightened, but instead of amusement or hope they showed worry. "In my darkest hour, I could not foresee / That the tide could turn, so fast to this degree."
"On hour?" Lennox asked in disbelief. "We might not have an hour! The thing that took out Soccent didn't even take fifteen minutes to do it!"
Bumblebee shook his helm. "Not that long now, baby!" Contrary to the glib sound clip, I could feel his frustration with his inability to actually communicate properly.
"'Bee!" I shouted, pausing in my packing. Information from five different technical manuals swam through my head. Almost all of it useless. Almost. "Your voice boxes can transmit sound bytes over radio, right?"
The yellow Autobot nodded, but he also voiced his confusion the only way he could "I've got nothing.'"
I pointed at him in realization. "I know yours is broken, but you can obviously receive!" I really hoped my idea would work.
The bot straightened. Even his doorwings perked up.
I was operating fully on intuition at this point. "Can you project holograms like the others too? And can you relay exactly what we speak?"
"Aye aye, sir!"
My mind finally caught up with what my intuition was trying to tell me. "Can you use all that to patch Optimus through?"
A pause, then Bumblebee palmed his face, and despite that I could see clearly it was a crude imitation of the ever so heartfelt human gesture, I knew his embarrassment was real. Not wasting another second, Bumblebee faced away from us, brought a servo to the side of his head and flipped a switch that hadn't been there a second ago. His optics spilled out light, light that solidified into the figure of Optimus Prime in all his 38-foot-tall glory.
He barely fit in the hall. "Bumblebee," I called out. "Scale it down." I looked up to meet Optimus' optics. "Unless he minds?"
After an instant, Bumblebee cut off the projection and then started it again.
The red and blue mech stood face-to-face with us now, at the same height as the soldier next to me. I wondered how he could so easily split his attention when I knew he was probably driving down the road somewhere in Peterbilt truck form. "Greetings." It was Lennox he spoke to. "I am Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots."
Shaking himself out of the stupor of seeing the robot at full size, even if so briefly, Lennox pulled himself together surprisingly fast. "William Lennox. Captain. Army rangers." The response was crisp, as I'd expected from military. "Good to finally meet you Optimus Prime, sir." Nothing like seeing the Bot in his full, gigantic glory to instill respect.
"Likewise. What is your status?"
Lennox had a firm grip on the rifle hanging on his front. "Enemy attack in progress as of 2 minutes ago. No information on how they knew where to come. They're targeting the power generators. Number of enemies is unknown, but at least one flier confirmed. Reinforcements needed badly. What's your ETA?"
"Approximately 40 minutes, but we can-" he was cut off when a muffled explosion reached our ears and the place shook again. It wasn't strong enough to make us lose balance, but no one seemed to care about that any more than I did. Not when everything suddenly went dark.
"Oh crap," I said.
Other than Bee's two blue optics, Optimus was the only source of light left, a glimmering figure in our midst. He opened his mouth piece to say something, but didn't get the chance.
The pitch black around us was replaced by the returning light, but before anyone could say anything the laptop on the table behind me pinged again, making me whirl around in surprise. How on Earth could it even get notifications if the communications were knocked out? "Main power down." I read. "Backup generators on." I felt cold when I saw what the last words were. "You have 20 minutes." I didn't voice the last bit. 'I'll try to meet up with you after I get your parents safely away.'
No mention of Mikaela, but that was expected. There was no way she would stay out of whatever came next.
"Right!" Lennox snapped, sounding pissed. He looked from Optimus to Bumblebee. "I don't give a damn what that moron Simmons thinks. You're going after the Cube and leaving with it."
The hologram cut off and 'Bee only needed a second to transform into the yellow 2006 Camaro. Both doors opened as soon as he was on four wheels.
I closed and grabbed the briefcase, then shut the laptop and pulled it under my arm, sprinting for the driver door.
"Okay, listen up!" Lennox barked at his men. "Epps, you're with us! The rest of you, on foot! Get to the Cube room on the double! Michaels, you and Jones get the others and meet us there! Move it people!"
The soldiers saluted and ran off, disappearing into the human-sized access corridor.
Lennox sprinted over and got into the passenger seat, wisely fastening the seatbelt. Epps climbed in the back. As soon as that was done, the doors shut and Bumblebee careened forward, knocking aside a table and a couple of chairs as he went. In 4.2 seconds, we were back in the tunnel, and the car was moving forward at a speed significantly higher than the one he'd used to get Henry and me there.
And the speed kept increasing. I was dimly aware of Epps' increasingly frantic mutterings as I kept sinking more and more into the back of my chair from the inertia that the yellow Camaro never allowed to truly run its course.
There was a single turn that had to be taken, the one that would get us out of the tunnel and into the AllSpark chamber. Going forward the rest of the way would mean reaching the hangar where Megatron was being kept (now thawing), and that was the last thing anyone wanted.
Bumblebee swerved sharply, and despite my faith in him I felt, for one moment, that I was about to die. Killed in a car crash and reduced to a bunch of smears on the wall and shattered gears.
The bot cleared the turn with just an inch to spare, and while our seatbelts kept me and Lennox in place, Epps didn't have that luxury, so he ended up face-planting into the window. The groan of pain was very telling, but the lack of slurring implied he hadn't hit it nose-first, so at least there was that.
'Bee blared the horn as loudly as he could when we finally drove into the AllSpark hangar, barely one minute after leaving the rec room. It made a couple of scientists jump aside in fright, even though the bot wouldn't have hit them regardless. Bumblebee stopped several meters shy of the Cube and snapped the doors open. I hurried to get out, still carrying the laptop and briefcase, and Lennox was quick to exit too.
Not as fast as Epps though. "That does it! I'm not doing that again unless I get a seatbelt or I'm driving!"
My Autobot guardian didn't pay him any mind. He swiftly went bipedal and, after a cursory glance around the room, he made a beeline for the AllSpark.
"Hey!" I grimaced in distaste. So Simmons was there. Lovely. Weren't we supposed to be allies now? Even if this was all just the worst ever case of 'enemy mine?'
Bumblebee ignored him, striding uninterrupted, with optics set on the cube. "Hey!" Simmons yelled again from the right, taking off at a fast walk. "Oh thank God-" I blinked in surprise. "Right! Kid!" I turned to him. "Our generators are being picked off! The power to the NBE1 room is failing. If those robot friends of yours are coming, now would be a good time to say it."
"Yes!" Lennox stepped up. "Yes, they're coming, but they won't be here for 40 minutes."
"40 minutes! We don't have forty minutes!"
"We know," Lennox cut him off, pointing at Bumblebee. "That's why he's here."
"Simmons!" I turned my head to behold the source of the voice. Secretary Keller looked harried as he hurried to our position, trailed by his bodyguard, a subdued Tom Banachek and pretty much everyone else working in Hoover Dam right now. "What's going on! Crap's hitting the vents I take it?
I didn't pay attention. I was too busy getting an armful of Mikaela when she finally reached me and hugged me. Mikeala hugged me! Hugged. Mikaela! Me!
Even if I got killed in the next 24 hours, life was good.
Lennox answered Keller instead. "I'm afraid so, sir."
"God save us all," Keller rubbed his eyes, then glanced between me and the mech, and when he saw me seemingly oblivious to anyone other than Mikaela Banes, he returned his attention to Lennox. "Well, for what it's worth the president agreed to cooperate with the Autobots before communications fell. They can do as they see fit and we are to offer any and all assistance we can provide."
Simmons gave my guardian a peculiar look. "Let's hope he knows what he's doing then."
There was a flash of blue light, energy washing over the Cube in a wave.
"Oh, he's doing somethin' alright," Epps muttered.
Before the discussion could continue, Bumblebee began manipulating the Cube, digits digging into indents and twisting previously unseen gears. A hum sent shivers down my spine and through my every fiber. The alien artefact began to rumble and rattle as its construction divided into dozens of smaller cubes, then millions upon millions of smaller ones that collapsed like swarming dominoes. Bumblebee kept sliding his servos over the underside of the AllSpark, slicking and pressing sockets as they appeared.
"Oh my God…" Mikaela murmured, and this time, unlike when the Autobots first met with us, I took her hand in mine.
I didn't need to look behind me to know everyone else was enraptured by how the gigantic object folded in on itself until it was barely larger than a football.
When the mech was finished, he gazed upon the object in his servo. "Message from Starfleet captain - Let's get to it!"
"He's right!" Lennox cut in, effectively taking over the whole situation. Thank God. "We won't last for long here with Megatron in the other hangar. Especially not unequipped." He faced Bumblebee. "Can you patch Prime through?"
Bumblebee reached up and activated his holo-projector again. Optimus appeared in full size, drawing gasps of surprise and awe, though he heeded none. Spotting the AllSpark in Bumblebee's servo, his optics stayed riveted on it for a long, somber moment. I saw so many emotions pass through him that even my enhanced mind couldn't distinguish between them.
But the moment passed, and Optimus turned to behold us, and despite that everyone knew he was just an insubstantial image the people except me, Mikaela and Will still backed off when the giant mech stepped forward and got to one knee. "Captain. Secretary Keller. You have our sincere gratitude."
"Right, don't count yourself lucky yet," Lennox ever so professionally burst his bubble. "Megatron's still thawing and he's just a few hundred meters away."
"Can you not buy yourselves time until we arrive?"
"Not with the power cut. But Mission City is 22 miles from here. We can go and hide the cube somewhere in the city."
"… We will attempt to engage the enemy forces outside the city limits if at all possible." The real message was that will put a significant number of civilians at risk but Optimus didn't say it.
I got it regardless.
I could guess what Lennox was thinking too. "We'll try to arrange for aerial pickup of the precious cargo. " If Megatron gets the Cube, he'll transform technology into drones and kill everyone so it won't matter unless we do this.
"Right! Okay!" Keller seemed glad to finally have a course of action to follow.
"But we can't make a stand without the air force," Will went on, speaking to the SecDef. "Sir, you'll have to find a way to send a message to authorize air support. And we'll need equipment and transports." Keller started brainstorming with Simmons about how that could be done. But it was Tom Banachek who led S7, so that's who Will addressed last. "Do you have an arms room?"
We almost made it.
Key word being almost.
Despite that I'd basically read instruction manuals and watched tutorials about every kind of gun in that extensive arms room, I didn't get to take any of them along with me. Partly because I wasn't military (and, thus, not authorized) and partly because there were already more people in need of guns than there were supplies. And even if I did get to take a gun, I doubt I'd have managed to get equipped with the speed and precision those soldiers exhibited.
The whole process took astonishingly little time, even though Bumblebee had been antsy the whole while, as he stood outside the arms depot in the access tunnel. Everyone really did give "on the double" a totally new meaning. When we were ready, I took Bumblebee's passenger seat, briefcase in front of my feet, while Mikaela went in the back, next to the AllSpark. And as everyone piled up in their badass black jeeps with miniguns on top, I actually dared think we might manage to make our getaway.
We were all geared and ready to roll out, and nearly everyone not involved in this mess was safely ensconced in bunkers located within the canyon wall. Only Simmons, the SecDef and his weird advisors Glen and Maggie were elsewhere, and the old army radio room they'd headed to was also in the cliff face, not the dam itself. Well out of the way.
Our one mistake was not taking point.
Once everyone was ready to go, Lennox ordered the seven vans to take position around us, to form a perimeter and escort us out of Hoover Dam and toward Mission City. It was a sound plan, and like all plans it didn't survive the enemy.
A hundred meters from the arms room, the entire tunnel seemed to shake under the fury of an impact, far below. Noises of explosions reached my ears, and despite the lighting in the tunnel the flashes of light from behind cast flickering shadows on the road and walls around us.
Then the guy manning the minigun on top of the van right in front of us turned to look back and gasped in shock.
I admit I screamed when a missile came out of nowhere and blew him up along with the transport in a nearly deafening blast of flame and molten metal. Bumblebee swerved wildly, barely avoiding a collision with the remains of the flaming vehicle, but not the concrete edge of the tunnel. It was fortunate we came to a stop, even if we did almost flip over, jolting in our seats and suffering bruises from the seatbelts.
A shadow passed overhead somehow, and I barely got a glimpse of the completely alien aircraft – how the hell could it fly in there?! It barely fit! – before the jet spun on its axis and folded on itself, wings giving way to arms and thrusters making room for legs. The sounds of folding plates were like those of scissors cutting through air, again and again.
Megatron landed on the asphalt about forty feet ahead of us and skidded a few meters, grating in my ears and throwing sparks of superheated rock everywhere. The van behind us tried to adjust course, but it failed and ended up slamming sideways into the giant mech's shin. Megatron barely stumbled, even though the hit had been fatal for the humans inside.
Tom Banachek had been in there… Our path would have led us past the passage leading to the bunkers. It would have taken less than half a minute to pull over, let him out and see him off…
The Decepticon kicked the van contemptuously and batted it aside with his gigantic, four-taloned claw, then focused on us. He didn't even seem to register the five armed vehicles trying to form some sort of perimeter behind him. Red optics pinned us with a manic intensity I wished I could have lived my whole life without ever seeing. "Ah… The AllSpark." It was a rumbling voice that held none of the majesty of Optimus'. Just a crazed fervor that spelled nothing good. He made one step. Just one step was enough to send my heart in my throat. "At last."
From within the car, I couldn't hear Lennox yell any command, but I assume he did, because three miniguns started firing sabot rounds at Megatron's back. The mech flinched, hunching forward in surprise, as if he didn't expect us humans to have weapons capable of harming him.
Nearly submerged in internal hysterics by that point, I wondered if he really thought we only knew how to deal with issues by flinging ice at them.
Megatron growled. "Damned insects!" Then turned around, meeting the streams of bullets head-on, transforming his claw into a plasma canon as he did. He took aim and his weapon charged-
The tunnel on both sides of him abruptly exploded.
Chunks of wall half his size slammed into the mech from both directions. Debris rattled against his chrome plating and his cannon arm was moved. The grunt of pain and surprise devolved into a howl of rage as his shot was deflected rightward. It blew apart the wall and ruined the rest of the supports holding up the tunnel roof. Steel beams that had once held everything in place no longer could be considered whole, and the entire tunnel caved in.
I saw it all in slow motion. My brain was processing each and every one of the frames picked up by my eyes. The concrete above cracked and splintered, chunks as large as half my room at home broke off, falling. Megatron saw what was happening and struggled to regain the balance he'd lost.
That was it, I thought as I watched the harbinger of death scramble away from the collapsing structure that had quite effectively cut him and us from the rest of the armed forces. We were toast. We were going to be trapped here with him.
But reality proved not to be such a bitch after all, and it made me realize that there was one thing I'd neglected to wonder about. Specifically, why in hell the walls had exploded on Megatron at all.
The giant mech turned around, one claw on the cracked road for support. He would only have to leap forward to avoid being buried.
A dark shadow jumped through dust and smoke from the hole now decorating the right tunnel wall. It leapt, rolled into the space between us and Megatron and regained its balance, foot sliding on the ground as the man settled into a wide crouch. I barely had time to notice the bazooka on his shoulder before a rocket was fired into Megatron's face at nearly point blank range.
The man tossed the rocket launcher aside and hurled himself backwards, rolling head over heels away from the blast. Smoke and dust was kicked up with a thundering roar, but the shockwave had done its part in delaying the mech enough for the debris to bury him. I doubted it would hold him for long, and the howl of rage confirmed it.
Henry – because it could only be that crazy spy hermit – used a hand to push himself up, adjusted his long coat and the strap of the brown backpack he was wearing, then casually side-stepped one last falling piece of concrete before he hastily ran in our direction. I stared dumbly at the new crack in the pavement left by the debris that he had just avoided.
Bumblebee finally pulled away from the wall and, much to my surprise, opened the driver's seat door for Henry to get in without hesitating.
The duplicitous agent undid the diagonal strap holding his backpack and tossed it between the front row seats before getting in. "Drive back the way you came. Go go go!"
Bumblebee's tires screeched against the road as he did the tightest U-turn ever, then he hit the acceleration all the way down, rocketing back the way we came. That didn't last for long, though, because the tunnel ahead of us started to cave in as well, and we had to slow down and avoid each larger piece of concrete. What was going on? "Houston, we have a problem. – It's all coming down – He ain't done yet."
I paused for a moment. "Megatron's not staying down and the rest of the tunnel's collapsing too?"
"And the earth split and swallowed'im whole it did – 'twas nothing left, nothing!"
I didn't know what he… oh shit! "Are you saying the whole dam is about to come down on us?"
"What?" Mikaela gasped. "'Bee, are you sure? How do you know? Can you scan that deep?"
"He doesn't need to," Henry cut in, bending forward to unzip the bag he'd brought. "He can feel the vibrations and the way they change as we near the epicenter."
"Who are you?" She asked. "Where did you come from? How did you blow up the tunnel? Why did you do it? How did you even know?"
Henry tossed me an amused glance, then returned his attention to his bag. "To answer those questions in reverse, I knew where the commotion was because of the noise. I got there though a janitorial maintenance corridor. I could do what you just saw because I've been planting remote-controlled explosives of my own design into the concrete that this base is made of for the past seven decades. I came from-"
"What?!" Both me and Mikaela yelled, and I even heard 'Bee's radio produce a burst of static. "What do you mean you slipped explosives into the concrete?" Mikaela asked. Her composure had well and truly been shot.
"What do you mean for the past seven decades?" I asked at the same time.
Henry pulled out a pair of stick-like… things from the bag. "I'm a lot older than I look, lad." He handed me one of the… handheld lasers? What? "Be ready to point that behind you, okay?"
I stared at him, but Mikaela was still in the game. As if I didn't already have enough of a reason to be shocked, she reached behind the AllSpark and pulled out a gun, which she then pointed at Henry's head. "Let's try this again." The click of the safety going off was loud in the tense car. "Who are you? Where did you come from? How did you blow up the tunnel? How did you even know where and when?"
I could only gape, and didn't even register the sharp turn Bee had to take to avoid a falling piece of ceiling. Had she slipped the gun out of sight while everyone else was getting kitted? My intuition had failed to warn me of this.
Mikaela gazed at me rather sardonically. "Don't give me that look, Sam. It's not like you have a monopoly over stunts like this."
I think I corrupted her.
For his part, Henry peered down the barrel of the gun, looking amused and impressed. He addressed me first. "This one's a keeper." Then he grinned and turned in his seat as much as he could, giving my girlfriend a winning smile. "Hello, My Lady. I am Henry Matthews, Sector Seven agent, reincarnated hermit, deep level undercover operative for The Ascended Brotherhood, and Seeker on the Road to Enlightenment. Qualification: Adept."
If ever there were any words that could leave Mikaela Banes absolutely flabbergasted, those were the ones.
Henry only smiled wider, gesturing grandly at the backpack between our seats. "And this is my Bag of Tricks!"
She tossed me a helpless glance, begging me to tell her Henry was the crazy one, not her. Well, he was crazy, probably, but not like that. I could only smile helplessly. "I did say you'd get an explanation today…"
My girlfriend (to be?) stared at me, wide-eyed. "You're joking…"
Henry reached into his bag, stopped and looked forward. "Don't turn," he told my car. "Keep going on ahead."
Bumblebee drove past the side-path leading to the room where the AllSpark had been kept. And as he did, sounds of explosions and an enraged roar came from far back.
"Oh God, you're not joking are you?" Mikaela's hands dropped, and while she didn't let go of the gun, it was slack in her hands now.
"Put the safety back on," Henry told her, handing her a second laser. "May as well make yourself useful and take this."
"And do what?" I shrieked. It sounded as high-pitched as it did before my cognitive readjustment. Maybe the key was not panicking at all. Right.
"Point it behind us, at anything that moves. He's coming," Even as he reached into the bag and Henry never took his eyes off in the rear-view mirror. Whatever he saw, I couldn't tell. But I twisted to do as he said anyway, and after a second the green beam of my laser was joined by a red one as Mikaela did the same. "Window down please." He pulled out a two-foot-long, chrome and yellow rod from the bag and tapped a rune on the middle ring that meant "5." I had no idea how I knew that. The language wasn't part of anything I'd read or watched during the past 24 hours. And it wasn't Mechan either.
Bumblebee lowered the window as requested, just as I saw Megatron, in jet form, come from around the bend. God, he was so fast-
Just before the silent count of five, Henry tossed the rod out the window, and I heard more than saw it hiss, split into two halves, which turned out to be rockets. Both of them ignited and hurtled through the darkness, right at where our lasers were pointing. The first one blew up like a highly explosive grenade in the mech's cockpit (damn, but Mikaela's aim was good). It made Megatron lose trajectory and hit the wall, forcing him to transform unless he wanted to lose all speed from a collision and fall behind. And just as he did that, the second missile reached him, slipping through the momentary cracks of the transformation and ending up conveniently inside him when it detonated.
Megatron howled in surprise and shock when his internal circuitry and energon lines were filled with ice, like the one he'd become so intimately familiar with over the centuries.
Holy shit, that kind of luck was obscene.
"Whoa…" Mikaela breathed, still pointing her laser through Bumblebee's rearview window.
"Whoa is right…" I said. But wait. I narrowed my eyes, and I suppose this would be a good time to say my night vision was actually pretty good now too? "He's not down." The mech was getting up, and he was angry. "He's not staying down."
"I didn't expect him to," Henry said calmly from next to me.
Far behind us, Megatron bashed aside what was in his way. "What was it supposed to do then? Buy time for another shot?" I stared desperately at The Bag of Tricks like it was the Holy Grail. "Please tell me you have more of those things!"
"I think there's one left," Henry said blandly. "But that's not what the time we bought was for."
The crazy hermit spy pulled a remote activator from his pocket. A simple thing, a red thumb button on top of a bronze tube. "For us to pass through a certain section of this tunnel so I could use this short-throw signal projector and do… this." He pressed the button.
And a 20-meter section of the tunnel behind us exploded inwards from above and the sides, just as Megatron was passing underneath. I stared and listened at the howl of frustration as Megatron was buried yet again. His rage could be heard even over the racket of the blasts and stone impacts. Then another explosion came from above, then another, and another even higher, adding to the mountain of rocks and steel that the Decepticon would have to dig out of.
Just how many explosives had Henry planted?
As if guessing my thoughts, the man glanced at me sideways. "What did you think I meant when I told you I would have brought this entire dam down decades ago if I had to?"
Behind us, Mikaela shifted her weight, and when I looked in the rear-view mirror her wary suspicion was plain to see.
The tunnel ended, and we were finally at the entrance to the NBE-1 hangar where Megatron had been kept on ice. The scene was one of utter devastation, with fumes and steam hissing from broken pipes, supports and catwalks mangled nearly beyond recognition. Through Bumblebee's still open side window came the stench of death. I was thankful for the chill left behind by the LN2 lines. It made the smell bearable, at least enough that it didn't turn my stomach.
Bumblebee could drive no further in vehicle form, so he stopped and ushered us out. I exited, bringing the briefcase with the laptop along. Mikaela took the AllSpark and followed, and Henry, of course, took his bag with him. Once we were all on solid ground, Bumblebee began to transform, surprisingly slowly. Had the collision with the wall done damage to his internal parts?
I didn't have time to ask because Mikaela set the Cube down and, taking advantage of the fact that Henry had his back to her, pulled her gun again and pointed it at him. "Right." The click of the safety was heard again. "I think now we can continue. What's the deal with this blatant sabotage?"
With a sigh, Henry stood and faced her. "My lady, didn't we already go through this?"
"Tough break." Wow, she was really pissed. I glanced pleadingly at Bumblebee, but the bot had as much of an idea of how to proceed as I did.
Which was none at all. "Mikaela-"
She cut me off. "No Sam. I don't know what he did to make him trust you and I won't care until he tells me exactly why he apparently spent his whole life setting up Hoover Dam to be blown up. I'm not a fan of Sector Seven, but no matter what you say that's not normal or sane."
"We don't have time for this!" I hissed, walking towards her. "The dam is crumbling down! All of it."
"That's the problem, Sam! Since I doubt the Decepticons would bomb this place while their leader was still inside, I'm betting the one who actually caused it is him. And I want to know why. The only reason I haven't done anything more drastic is because he at least bothered evacuating everyone first."
Hushed explosions could be heard from the way we came.
Henry raised an eyebrow, even gaze never failing. His silence was as blatant a hint as could be done in that situation. It made her bristle, but it did its job: called her bluff.
Which was why him actually answering was so shocking, though he spoke to me, not her. "Do you know why we can get charged with alien radiation from these robots or the Cube and not suffer any radiation poisoning? It's because the energy in that Cube, and them, follows a completely different set of existential laws."
Mikaela didn't like being ignored. "What does that have to do with anything?"
"If you want your answer, young lady, you'll let me give it before that alien catches up with us."
Mikaela glared but didn't say anything more.
Henry faced me fully, heedless of the firearm still aimed at his head. "In every advertisement about batteries, companies say how much energy they store, but that's not really a correct thing to say. Batteries don't store energy. They store substances and electrodes than can initiate hydrolysis and, thus, generate a sustained flow of electrons by maintaining a charge difference, called a current. They don't store energy per se. Capacitors are the ones that supposedly do that, but even then it's a crude definition. But that…" He waved in the direction of the Cube that sat innocently on the ground. "That cube can store energy in its pure form, and it's because that energy was created by a different being than the ones that made this solar system. The energy is different and exists under a different set of Rules. It can exist independently even outside of it. Within anything and anyone."
I could feel Mikaela holding back a 'Get to the point.'
"But lots of that energy has been discharged in this place since the 1930s. Some was used for those experiments, making mutations like the one you saw yesterday. But much of it dispersed and remained embedded in the walls, the floors, even the mechanical parts of this entire dam. But this place was not made to hold the energy. Anyone with the right tools could gather it in a matter of hours. Others that would use it for foolish ends. Sector Seven may have had the potential to do more good than harm, and it did, but there are other factions that we would never bother infiltrating because the same could not be said about them."
"… What are you saying?" The edge had well and truly disappeared from Mikaela's voice.
Henry was dead serious when he answered. "The amount of AllSpark energy in this place is enough to blow up the entire solar system if, say, humans or even Cybertronians decided to try and make their own AllSpark. So yes, I initiated the destruction of Hoover Dam, to make sure the bulk of that energy is washed away and dispersed by the river and, eventually, the ocean."
Another muffled blast echoed from the tunnel, but neither me nor Mikaela paid attention. What we'd just heard was just too chilling, and I could hear even Bumblebee whirr in concern at the words.
"You…" I swallowed. "You know of someone who would try that, don't you?"
Henry crossed his arms, ignoring how Mikaela slowly lowered her gun. "Do you know why the higher powers in legends and scriptures never really give us all the information we might ask for? Setting aside the fact that just because we have free will and think we deserve to know doesn't mean they lack the free will to disagree with our opinion."
I shook my head.
"It's because there's usually a way to find the information through normal channels. And if and when we find that information, it usually means we can handle knowing it, and can act on it wisely. Or we get killed or abducted for it I suppose, but then that's almost always karma at play."
Further wisdom imparting was interrupted by the sound of a particularly loud boom from whence we came.
"Right, we wasted enough time. Everyone stay within the mouth of the tunnel!" Henry ushered us there, including Bumblebee. Once done, he took the briefcase from me, opened it and pulled out the laptop and mouse. He packed the things into the smaller compartment of his backpack and tossed the briefcase away.
That done, he went over and picked up the cube, then walked and held it out for Bumblebee to take. "I'd put it in the bag, but the slightest bump would probably make it discharge enough energy to turn all the gear inside into living, insane robots. Get ready for a long, stiff climb."
Bumblebee tilted his head, then tapped his hip joint. Gears moved, blue-white light flashed and he pulled out some sort of cable from subspace. Taking the Cube in his servo, he began to wrap the cable around it, shaping it into a net with a degree of dexterity that left me bewildered. Second later, it was securely affixed. As if 'Bee had fastened the AllSpark to a utility belt that wasn't even there.
Henry turned and stood between us and the hangar, pulled a longer rod from his coat's inner pocket and touched the small emitter to the indent near the base.
An explosion destroyed the roof of the hangar.
Then Henry connected the small remote to a second port, and another explosion sounded, just as the first cascade of dust and debris crashed over the already huge pile of destruction there. Bumblebee moved to shield us just in case, and I put an arm around Mikaela and flinched along with her whenever another explosion came.
It took another three for the whole episode to be over, and at the last of it Henry turned around, away from the dust that finally spilled over into the tunnel and around him.
And when it settled, I looked forward and saw light.
Trading a look with my girlfriend(to-be), we both sprinted to see if we were really seeing what we thought we were seeing. I stared up, and up and up. Bumblebee came to stand next to me and did the same, and I completely agreed with Mikaela when she whistled.
Bloody hell, Henry had just blown a hole through the roof all the way to the road running on top of the dam itself.
The blast that was heard behind us was followed by a rush of air, and we knew our time was over. "Shit! Okay…" I looked around, trying to figure out what to do. "Okay. Grapple guns. We need grapple guns. Do you have grapple guns in that bag of yours?"
Henry quickly led the way through and over the results of the destruction he'd wrought. "Just one. But you'll do better without it. Unless you haven't noticed, there aren't any particularly solid ledges you can aim for."
"What? Then what are we going to do?"
Henry offered a hand and pulled me up on top of a large piece of collapsed ceiling, then did the same to Mikaela. "Your Autobot friend will carry you obviously."
"Oh." I stared at him, then at Bumblebee who'd easily climbed to stand next to us and was eyeing the broken steel beams and walls speculatively. "Right. Okay, so Bumblebee will take us and you'll use the grapple gun afterwards. Right. He should be able to catch it and pull it up."
"That's a wonderful idea I suppose…" Henry said, and something in his tone made me pause in my efforts to climb up through the wreckage. Ahead and above me, Mikaela also turned around, confused.
I wasn't. Something heavy seemed to settle over my shoulders as I slowly turned to look at him, hoping I'd heard wrong. "Oh no…" No way. "Oh no no no, you don't get to do this! Not after the past hour! Not after the past day!"
"Sam?" Mikaela called out, and even Bumblebee, who was already at the wall, inspecting the closest possible support, turned his helm to watch us.
Henry smiled warmly at me and reached to his chest. Then, in a smooth move, undid the strap of his bag, spun it around him and settled across my torso.
I felt a rock drop in my gut. I couldn't believe this was happening.
Henry tightened the strap until the surprisingly light bag sat comfortably. "Your girlfriend's reaction was tame compared to what's expected for me if people found out what I did here." No. No. "Besides, I told you, I'm older than I look." No no no, I rejected this situation. I refused. "Old enough to have lived a full life. Besides, Sector Seven will be disbanded after this. My mission is over now."
"Bullshit!" I exploded, slapping his hand away from me. "Bullshit, just like that bit about there being no way to use a grapple gun! I can't believe I actually believed that for a second!"
"No!" I could be damned stubborn when I wanted to, and I damn well was going to be now. "You're coming and I'm not stepping away from this spot until you agree with me." The loudest explosion yet made itself heard from the tunnel mouth. I smirked, despite what it meant for us. "So I guess you'd better change your mind quick, because oth-"
Henry closed in, knit the fingers of both hands with mine, pulled them apart, stepped forward and pressed our bodies and foreheads together.
I felt as if the power of an exploding sun passed through me all at once, and belatedly I realized that must have truly been the sensation of such an experience. When this had happened two nights before, I'd known myself and I'd known Them, but now it was different in a fundamental way. That communion of before had healed me of an ailment I didn't know I had, but now I realized that one thing had been missing from it.
I'd know Them and myself, but not Henry who was acting as my healer.
But I knew him now, and I knew his name was not Henry. Or hadn't been once, before he was born as this.
His hands gripped mine tighter and then he opened himself to me the rest of the way. I saw him, then. Truly saw him and felt everything about him.
Samuel, Give me a couple of days before you tell anyone about me, alright?
It's not much time at all.
Christ, I was such a moron.
Brooding doesn't suit you, lad.
How did I miss all of those…?
The one life I still remember, the one right before this one, had a lot to do with them.
Was I fucking blind?
I'm a lot older than I look.
He'd dropped me so many hints!
I flinched under the intensity of his feelings, and the abundance of his utter love for me brought me to my knees.
Then it was over. My knees were digging into rocks and grime, and the only reason I hadn't collapsed the rest of the way was because he'd dropped with me and was holding me in a tight embrace. My misty eyes stared blankly ahead from where I was leaning into his chest, and the lingering brightness of our connection slowly faded until only the sunlight streaming in from above was left.
Dear God… Not a week ago I still thought he was lame and only wanted to sell his heirlooms on e-Bay to make some easy cash. Oh God. Oh my God. Oh my God.
I didn't even realize I was trembling until the embrace tightened around me.
Megatron was digging himself out, he was going to be there any minute but I couldn't find it in me to care. Not after…
"Set sadness aside, lad," he murmured in my hair. Then he tapped me on the back of the head twice and pushed away, grinning again that specific way of his. "You act like I'm going to get killed."
I looked away and sniffed. Man, I'd almost started crying. In the end, the lame one was me. "Aren't you?" I asked, voice thick.
"Hmm," He climbed to his feet and helped me to mine, but I still couldn't look at him. "I suppose you'll get to see either way. It's a pretty long climb after all." This time, I dared look at him. He was staring up, past the wreckage and into the sky above. I saw it, then, that explorer's spark that must have enchanted his fellow sailors during his previous life. For an instant, I imagined him with white hair, a rugged beard and mustache, and brown eyes like mine. The image was vividly interposed over the present.
Then it was gone and Henry looked at me again. "Don't feel bad. You'll get to keep your word too."
And for once, I was honestly surprised. "Wha-?" Reacted just like him too.
Then I yelped when a large, mechanical servo reached down and plucked me like a random piece of furniture. "Hey! Bumblebee, what-"
"You said you wouldn't step away from that spot until I did as you wanted, so this way you won't have to!"
I glared at Henry's flippancy in the face of doom, then at Bumblebee for his betrayal. Holding onto the plates of the shoulder opposite the one I'd been deposited on, Mikaela was staring at me half-way between awe and concern.
Right. So the communion had been visible. That explanation would have to be a long one.
Not baring to meet her gaze, I looked down at that... that man who was smiling back. "See? This way you don't have to sacrifice the worth of your word for this."
"No, let's just sacrifice you, right?" It came out bitter, but how else was I supposed to react now?
Henry narrowed his eyes and titled his head. "Come now, lad, it may have taken dying for me to learn the lesson you learned two nights ago, but I still learned it." He turned away, his coat flourishing like a cape, only keeping his head craned in our direction. "True victory sacrifices nothing!"
I flinched again when he spoke those words, and it wasn't because of the rattling that came from the tunnel, or the sound of engines as the destroyer flew towards us. Nor was it because of the shudders that the Dam kept giving, the shudders that had been getting stronger over the past five minutes.
Henry gave one last look at us, then pinned Bumblebee's gaze with his own. "I leave him to you. Understand?"
Bumblebee nodded solemnly and reached up to briefly lay his servo over me. Then he turned around, bent his legs at the knees and jumped.
He cleared a whole level by that alone, and managed to grab onto the edge of the floor above us. With surprisingly little effort, he heaved himself up to continue on. Higher. Always higher. Through it all, I only stared down, my eyes incapable of tearing themselves from the figure of my forefather until he put an end to the eye contact himself.
With a last glance in my direction, he turned his back on us and jumped down from the pile of wreckage he'd been standing on. With sure steps, he strode around roof pieces and bent railings, ducking under a downed catwalk and disappearing from sight just as Megatron burst into the former hangar in jet form.
My heart jumped when the destroyer shifted in mid-air and landed on top of the scene of destruction. Bumblebee never stopped climbing, even as Megatron looked around, frustration mounting with every second. "Where are you, fleshlings. Where are you hiding?"
I hoped against hope he'd fail to look up, but he finally noticed the presence of sunlight and craned his helm heavenwards.
Red optics met my eyes, and I stiffened. My grip on Bumblebee's shoulder plate got even tighter, knuckles turning white.
"Ah," the mech almost purred. "We meet again, youngling." Slowly, taunting, Megatron morphed his right claw into a plasma cannon, aimed it at us and fired-
I yelped as Mikaela screamed, but Bumblebee was not so weak to panic, and he was a scout, quick and agile. As soon as the destroyer released the plasma bolt, he threw himself up and to the side. Right servo grabbed precious support the same moment the wall exploded outward on our previous position. It had been nearly deafening, but Bumblebee was already leaning sideways, twisting his backstruts as he freed up his left hand, gun coming out of subspace and firing back.
The bolt hit Megatron in the left shoulder with an effect reminiscent of napalm, and sent him stumbling with a grunt.
But there was no time for joy. The angry, grey mech snarled, whirled around to glare at us. "Oh, so unwise!" Then he bent his knees like Bumblebee had done not much earlier and jumped up, form shifting as soon as he'd cleared the shambles-
Two rockets came from the far side of what was left of the NBE-1 hangar.
And this time, both missiles slipped through the cracks during the transformation.
Megatron cried out in pain when blazing hot and freezing ice erupted inside him all at once. The explosion rattled him, and the sudden change in temperature wreaked havoc on his internal systems. It forced the transformation to abort mid-process. Plates snapped back with a hiss and the mech crashed back-first into the disaster below with a gasp of pain and shock. Cranes and catwalks groaned and snapped under the weight in a shower of sparks.
If Lennox hadn't told me about Scorponok's ability to regenerate, I would have risked hoping we'd all get out of this alive.
I followed the trajectory of the rockets to the one section of a terrace that was still attached to the wall. I was just in time to spot my great-great-grandpa lifting a rocket launcher on his right shoulder and sending a missile out like a flame-covered comet.
It hit Megatron right in the face the same moment he saw who'd downed him.
As I stared down in stupefaction at the scene, from where I was on the shoulder of the once again climbing Bumblebee, I distantly wondered where on Earth the guy was getting all those guns. Did he have hidden stashes everywhere?
I reviewed the past two days.
… probably yeah.
Megatron howled, more in surprise than pain, and pushed himself to his feet. It was a surprisingly clumsy effort, made no better by how the gravel and debris kept shifting under his pedes, but he had time enough to glare and retaliate with a shot of his own.
Henry tossed the bazooka aside and hurled himself out of the way, somehow rolling and nimbly finishing the move in a crouch despite the huge, blocky backpack he was wearing, and the multi-barreled gun that was strapped over it. The plasma shot exploded meters away from him, taking part of the platform with it. It made his black coat flutter in the resulting wind, but he did not flinch in the least. "Megatron!" He called out brazenly, grabbing the grenade launcher that he must have tossed ahead before he sent out the first two rockets. "Is that the way you greet all your old acquaintances?" He fired five shots, and while two missed, two others hit and exploded against chest and shoulder plates, and a third blew away the debris Megatron's left foot was balanced on, making him slip.
With a growl of fury, the mech lifted himself in a crouching position and used his left claw to crush the pile in front of him into dust. I couldn't see his optics anymore, but I could almost sense the manic obsession with getting the cube being pushed aside. No longer would his single-mindedness render him so vulnerable to cheap shots from us.
God help us all.
Slowly, the grey mech rose to stand. "Very well human," his voice was surprisingly even now. Not wary, but still more focused than I'd heard it until then. "You have my undivided attention." Quick as lightning, his left servo grabbed a broken crane head and sent it smashing forward.
It almost had him, but Henry threw the grenade launcher over the railing and hoisted himself on it, then used his feet to give himself a boost. He cleared the area just as the crane smashed where he used to be, and his jump carried him past a follow-up volley of missiles. He flew far enough to reach out and grab onto a chain hanging from one of the catwalks that had not yet detached from the wall above him, but it loosened now.
Not two seconds later, Henry's swing landed him on the ground, and he whirled around to face his enemy again. As he did, his hand reached behind him to grab the portable minigun. I finally realized that the huge pack on his back was the ammo case, just as his spin ended in a flourish of fluttering black and he opened fire.
A stream of bullets with a rate of 4000 shots per minute burst from the rapidly spinning barrel gun. It sounded like a dozen jackhammers beating into concrete at once. It looked almost like a constant assault of laser fire as it cut a swath across the entirety of the hangar, peppering the walls with holes, chipping the last supports from the pillars still trying to stay upright. The sustained attack sliced the air like a scythe, denting armor plates and almost taking out one of Megatron's optics if not for the servo that he used to shield himself.
"Remember me now, Megatron?" Henry's voice somehow carried even over the noise of the minigun. "I found you on ice! And for my trouble you burned my eyes!"
Once his momentum was gone, Henry dropped the gun, shrugged off the pack of ammo on his back and took cover behind a large piece of what used to be the roof of the dam, the one that held up the road.
Not a second too early, because a cannon shot almost blew it apart completely.
I barely even registered Bumblebee's movements as he climbed, and Mikaela was just as speechless by this point as I was.
There was a lull in the fight. Henry, my twice-great grandfather reincarnated, stayed crouched behind cover and waited. On the other side of the ruined hangar, Megatron slowly straightened, and his vents were blowing air through his systems rapidly. I could almost feel his rage, but there was something else in there.
Taking aim, Megatron fired and blasted apart what was left of my grandpa's makeshift cover. The crazy spy pushed away, slid backwards across the floor and finished it on one knee. I couldn't see his face from high up, but I could almost imagine his flat, challenging stare.
And, to my absolute shock, Megatron subspaced his cannon. "I think I will kill you with my bare servos instead." He menacingly advanced on the still crouched form of my ancestor. With a jolt of fear I realized that I wasn't sure if his assumption that Henry was out of tricks was true or not. "Be honored, fleshling, that I would choose to dirty my claws with your blood."
I almost didn't see it from that distance, but something slid from Henry's left sleeve into his hand and he pressed a button.
The floor beneath Megatron's right pede imploded.
Of course, I thought numbly. Henry had planted explosives everywhere.
The mech gasped in surprise as he lost balance, but with surprising nimbleness for something so large he slammed his servo on the ground to cut his fall, and used the other to across the space in front of him, almost slicing Henry to pieces if not for the fact that he knew it would happen –
I watched in shock as the man jumped and did a butterfly twist through the air, holding his arms close to his chest. He spun horizontally like a windmill and passed through the gap in between the mech's claws. He ended it with the right palm and foot on the floor, fell, rolled across gravel up to right next to the grenade launcher he'd tossed to the ground so much earlier. He took a hold of it when the momentum carried him back to his feet, and his left hand curled around the handle of the minigun nearby as he came to a stop.
The next-to-last grenade in the launcher hit Megatron's right ankle just as he managed to pull it out of the pit it had sunk into, and the ensuing loss of balance let his neck plating open to the concentrated fire of the minigun that came right after, guided to their target by the man who was wielding both high-caliber guns at the same time.
I didn't even realize we'd reached the top of our climb. I barely noticed when Bumblebee lowered us to the ground, or that he, himself, had crouched behind us and was staring in increasing amazement at the sight below. Staring and beeping in shock when the evil mech smashed the floor with his servo and pushed himself out of the way of the final grenade that left Henry's launcher. Away from the minigun that still peppered him with rounds.
Away from the human.
And instead of gloating or giving us any time to realize that Megatron had actually retreated in front of a puny organic, however briefly, Henry tossed his weapons away and pulled out a familiar rod. "I could have killed you. All these years I could have planted C4 inside your chassis and blown you to scrap. But instead, I used it for this." He ran the smaller rod across all the indents in it, top to bottom.
Hoover Dam shook in its entirety, as if level 10 earthquake had just hit it head-on. And half a second later, the sound of the explosions reached us, and they came from everywhere. "May day, May day!" Bumblebee's radio crackled. "She's going down!"
Mikaela called my name and grabbed my shoulder, but I refused to step away. To look away. This was important.
Megatron jerked and looked around in alarm, then glared at Henry. "What have you done, you fool!?"
I didn't know if Henry glared back, but his voice sure as hell didn't suggest he was smiling. "What do you think?"
The floor beneath Megatron cracked, and the mech suddenly had to grab a hold of whatever he could to prevent himself from stumbling as the water began to pool around him and the walls around him began to crumble inwards. But they suddenly exploded, covering him. A particularly large section fell on him, and I knew there was no way he could transform and escape now.
Megatron howled and lashed out with a backhand, sending debris flying all over the place. It was a jerking, primal reflex of rage.
Henry couldn't avoid it all this time. He got hit in the side by a large piece of splintered wall.
I felt my heart skip a beat. Then another, and another.
He sailed all across the hangar, somehow missing all the metal poles and pipes sticking out, and the jagged concrete slabs layering the once-hangar. He crashed face-first near the wall opposite the tunnel entrance. But he refused to let that be the end of it. Even as the wall behind and above him split and let water spray through, he pushed himself up.
Black eyes met red optics steadily.
I could almost feel the hatred pouring off the Decepticon as he glared at the man standing tall, his back to the concrete that was ever so slowly cracking further and further.
"Know this, mad creature. I am only paving the way for another. One who is greater than I." He had to be talking about Optimus. No one else even came close to fitting that description in my mind. "He will baptize you with fire." His voice was strained as he struggled to stay on his feet, but his moves were sure as he reached into his chest pocket and produced one final activator. "But for now, I baptize you with water!" The final set of explosives detonated, shattering the wall behind him, giving way to the thousands of tons of water accumulated over decades from the Colorado river.
The whole structure shook. I could feel it under my feet, but I could not tear my eye away from what was happening below.
I saw every instant clearly, as though replayed on slow motion in front of my eyes. The water and plaster had nearly crushed that man and overtaken him when Megatron's pride and insatiable desire for revenge got in the way. With a roar, the Decepticon brought out his plasma cannon and fired, aim perfect, disregarding his word that he would kill Henry with his bare hands.
The plasma bolt reached Henry's position half a nanosecond before the water did, and I would have thought that would be what ended him if not for the memory of what he'd told me, right before Bumblebee picked us up and climbed away with us.
Set sadness aside lad. You act as if I'm going to get killed.
Time seemed to slow to a stop to my eyes just as the shot and water were about to end him. My twice-great-grandfather showed utter serenity and was consumed entirely, disappeared in a flash of fire that had nothing to do either of the two.
It's hard to purify the physical body when everything you eat is 25% made of crap. The whole body ends up burning to nothing when Fusion occurs.
Spontaneous combustion? You mean that actually happens?
Alien plasma met tumultuous fresh water in a loud, searing, seething eruption of fire and steam, and I knew what everyone assumed had happened, and I didn't feel any urge to tell them otherwise.
My last glimpse of the chaos down under was of Megatron being washed away by the ensuing tide, Hoover Dam cracking and crumbling around him. And as I mechanically followed Mikaela's pull as she hurried me into Bumblebee's car mode, one random thought managed to push its way through the shock that had well and truly settled over my systems.
Apparently, spontaneous combustion was not so spontaneous after all.
Bumblebee shot down the road like the hounds of hell were after us, and I stared blankly ahead, unconcerned with the way the dam behind us steadily crumbled away like in a Hollywood movie about the end of the world. Even when we cleared the dam with barely a second to spare, Miakela's slumping sigh of relief barely reached me.
Only when we drove by the visibly relieved armed forces did I start to come out of it, and even that was only enough for me to notice the Bag of Tricks that had somehow ended up between the two front car seats.
Not even thinking about what I was doing, I unzipped the smallest outer pocket on the top and was strangely unsurprised to find a folder neatly tucked inside.
Pulling it out, I opened it and found a single, white sheet of paper, with a website address written in a language I didn't recognize but understood perfectly anyway. And below the web address were the login details.
I closed the folder with a snap and let my forehead drop to Bumblebee's steering wheel.
How in heavens was I supposed to feel now?