Chapter 7: Frantic Ruminations

"-. .-"

My tires screeched against the asphalt as I practically rocketed past the human forces. I would have pushed my mad dash even faster if I didn't have two human passengers to worry about. As it was, we barely made it off the road running atop Hoover Dam before the whole thing broke under the weight of thousands of tons of water. A literal earthquake bit at my mudflaps and I couldn't tell if those were really explosion aftershocks I was still hearing, or if I was just imagining them. Either was possible, after being either a target or witness of so many of them over the past hour.

Crisis protocols refused to disengage on their own, so I had to issue an override before I succeeded in interrupting my acceleration. It wouldn't do to make it impossible for the humans to catch up. Sub-par their weaponry may be, but they were the only backup I had until the rest of my unit rendezvoused with us. Backup we may actually end up needing by the end of the day.

I felt my spark simmer with worry and frustration at the thought. The humans had been given a basic lowdown of the conflict, but I doubt they realized just how precarious the current situation was. And I didn't mean just the fact that we had no clue how many Decepticons were on Earth. That would have been bad enough on its own, but there was more, namely our state of battle readiness.

Or lack thereof, I admitted with an internal twinge.

I couldn't decide if I should feel elated or disapproving of how even the surprisingly level-headed Major William Lennox failed to ask us about it. Maybe he knew what answer he'd get and didn't want to ruin morale.

Battles against Decepticons were never easy, but we gave at least as good as we got most of the time, even when we were outnumbered, which was often. The odds were really stacked against us now, though. My own questionable status aside, the others not only expended resources surviving atmospheric entry (after traveling for many days through space from the edge of the Sol System, where our ship, the Xantium, was located), but they also had to reconfigure their frames to fit Earth disguises, and spend every moment in motion since then.

Normally, our kind can go for about an Earth week or so before having to enter stasis (the normal cycle being of around six or seven hours). And it's not just about power. Recharging is the least of our worries as long as our spark chambers stay intact and we don't lose Energon (not that there's been a lot of that to go around without the Allspark). The real problem comes from our data banks getting clogged and fragmented, and from our primary memory modules getting bogged down with stray processing threads. Going into stasis (or recharge, even if it's ultimately incorrect to call it that) allows everything to be integrated in the Spark, and for any hacks or manipulation attempts to be purged. After that, every data bank is wiped clean. Only the sections of our processors that hold the firewalls are left alone, though even those are updated every third stasis cycle or so, or upon discovery of an attempt at cybernetic manipulation.

It was a small blessing that only short-term memory could be hacked because of that, or that no long-term brainwashing could be achieved. Unless someone could somehow infect the spark, which was a frankly terrifying thing to consider, so I deliberately didn't dwell on it much. None of it soothed my worries about the current predicament though.

Optimus and the others have had to go without a stasis cycle for over two weeks now. They couldn't afford to make the meteoric trip through the Sol System in stasis, not with Soundave in orbit around Earth, or with probable Decepticon presence on Mars and Jupiter's moons. Granted, over the millennia we've gotten used to staying online for longer stretches of time, but even with combat and crisis protocols our performance takes a hit the more we put off rest. And there's the alt-mode scanning and associated resource expenditure to consider, not to mention the ongoing adjustment to the atmosphere, gravity and human presence.

Based on that and past experience, I'd put us at 80% combat effectiveness overall, with Optimus maybe managing 85%.

Five of us against (I'm being naively optimistic here) probably five or six enemies. Foes that haven't done anything over the past few years but rest and/or sharpen their edge while waiting around for clues. Clues gathered by yours truly, because why should they do anything when us goody two-shoes can do it for them? Perish the thought process! What's more, two of them are fliers. And did I mention that one of those fliers is Optimus' nemesis? Who has been taking a nice, long nap almost right next to the Allspark for the past hundred years?

Humans have a saying that sarcasm is the natural defense against stupid. I'd add "hopeless" to the end of that adage if not for everything I witnessed since the last sunset.

I had a dozen different processing threads hard at work all the time. As I left streaks of black on the freeway, one was scanning for enemies, one was monitoring the status of my backup, and one was composing the holoreport Optimus would expect to receive once I rejoined them. The others were split among various different things, from self-diagnosis to constant Internet searches and hacks that would get a human arrested. My primary thread, however, hadn't strayed from the sensor array surveying the happenings inside my cabin ever since I switched to my car mode, back when the final explosions shook Hoover Dam to its foundation.

I should have probably been using that primary processing thread to watch over the Allspark, the cube nestled at the back. Instead, it was locked on the small human sitting almost bonelessly in the driver's seat. I didn't feel even the slightest urge to shift the focus away from him. Even after clearing the disaster zone and a further ten minutes of driving, Sam still hadn't lifted his head from my steering wheel. His heart rate, blood pressure and endorphin levels were a mess of numbers that could mean he was either experiencing shock or a very intense period of introspection. I couldn't tell for sure, given how clearly different from normal humans his physiology had become literally overnight.

The female, Mikaela Banes, seemed to share my worry, but also my reluctance to try and gain his attention. But it was getting really hard to keep quiet with each second that passed. I'd already zoomed in on the file folder resting haphazardly in his lap and failed to make helm or skidplate of it. Whatever language it was written in, not a hint of it was found on the Internet. I wasn't even sure it was a human language, given the geometry evoked by the characters. It looked mystical, if the word even applied. Sacred even.

And so I was inevitably forced to contemplate the topic I'd been deliberately trying to avoid ever since the female literally dragged Sam into my cabin: the other human. I had half a processor to think he may not even have been an actual human, but the rapidly growing data package stitched together from a myriad of web-based encyclopedias and myths begged to differ.

Henry Matthews. Proof that, even with the majority of humans themselves sharing the same opinion as us, we spoke far, far too soon when we labeled humanity's vast theology, mythology and folklore as "overactive imagination." From the moment of my unexpected release, the previous night, I put a fair bit of effort into maintaining my skepticism. I was even worried that the man was subtly brainwashing or infecting Sam with his insanity. Then came the game of horseshoes. After that, for hours on end my reservations were stomped on with such an off-handed degree of unintended brutality that I would have been rendered speechless if my broken vocalizer hadn't already left me that way. Throughout the night, I could only stare at Sam as he absorbed data at a rate that was damn close to our own, and gained new skills in minutes rather than years.

The cincher was what happened before the climb. No, it was earlier, when Megatron showed up. Just under an hour had passed since then, but it seemed so long ago already. My spark flared as shame threatened to overcome my processes at the memory. I'd frozen. And not from hitting the wall. That didn't even leave a scratch. No, it was Megatron's appearance, looming and terrible like the last time I'd seen him, so long ago. Even though it happened thousands of years ago, it was like I was transported back to Tyger Pax, with Megatron looming over me, reaching down for my throat, laughing-

I terminated the thought process before it could go further and made me experience another flashback. It took a human burying the tyrant under a ton of rubble to get me out of it last time, although that wasn't all of it. It was the way his presence – unfamiliar but confident and comforting – flooded the whole place when he appeared and shot Megatron in the face with that rocket launcher. I felt it enshroud the area, like I always felt in the presence of Sentinel Prime, and like I always feel the presence of Optimus Prime. The nuance was distinct from theirs, it was always unique, but…

Long ago, during my first vorns as initiate at the Allspark Temple of Al Simfur, I came forward about my odd perception ability, but no explanation was found for it, and I ultimately decided to keep it to myself when every medic assumed I was glitched from overexposure to the Cube's energy. Same for the priests. Some even started to say I should have my time with the Cube cut back, maybe my training as priest terminated since I didn't seem to be "handling" it well if it was rendering my processor addled. I guess they took offense to the idea of a mere temple guard possessing an apparently supernatural trait when Sentinel Prime himself showed no evidence of such a thing.

It never went away though. Even now I knew that Optimus was near. I could tell where he was so long as he wasn't more than a couple dozen miles away. Just a few more minutes and my fellows would meet up with us at last. "Prime-dar" I sometimes called it in the privacy of my processor, but I had to rename it now. Not just because the human Henry Matthews had set it off, but because a fourth person registered on it too, now.

Sam Witwicky. Small, fragile, pale and motionless in my front seat. If I hadn't been there for it, I would have had trouble believing he's the same person as the one who destroyed a century-old organization's world view just by holding a speech.

He actually became a blip on my "magic" radar right after the S7 convoy was gassed to a stop last night, but with everything going on at the time (especially his panic attack which I will ensure Simmons pays dearly for) my odd-dar just didn't register as a priority. Once we reached Hoover Dam, though, and what happened in the ruined hangar so many hours later…

I still had no idea what it had been, even after scouring the whole Internet for references. Right now, I probably knew more about mysticism, mythology and things pertaining to reincarnation than any human alive, except those ascetic monks that supposedly live in this or that mountain range. But that episode between Sam and whoever Henry was to him, whoever he'd been in his alleged past life… I couldn't find real matches for it. I was left with my personal impression, which I was having trouble including in my holoreport.

Normally I wouldn't even have to wonder about this dilemma, since my report should be annotated but complete visual and audio recordings of the events in question. But I was reluctant to do that in this case. It felt like I would be committing an unforgiveable betrayal of privacy. I didn't need a long explanation to know it had been a privilege to witness something so sacred. There was no other way to describe a union that ignited with the power of the sun. The older human's unconditional love had poured out in torrents. It had made my spark swell in its chamber, left it feeling lighter than it ever did.

How did you go about explaining to your commanding officer that you bore witness to an event that felt holier than the Allspark did? More than that, the light had registered on every electromagnetic wavelength we Autobots could perceive, and then some. Considering that our optics can see far beyond the mere rainbow distinguishable to human eyes…

It sounded only slightly less absurd than saying a small, fragile human could fight Megatron one-on-one to a standstill. But wait, that had just happened too! Having finally come to terms with the stupefaction of it all, I felt a large rush of relief and gratitude wash over me as it finally sank in: between all the successful hits and bringing the entire dam down on his head, Henry had probably eliminated Megatron's battle readiness advantage completely.

But my thought process switched to the metaphysical communion again soon enough. I mentally cursed my vocalizer's sorry state. I wanted to get Sam's input, or at least let him know, maybe give him the chance to place conditions on my sharing of the experience, but I couldn't. I'll just have to send everything to Optimus with an addendum to please not spread around what had occurred there. Then again, Prime would probably keep it under a lid anyway, mindful as he always is of everyone else's feelings, often at the cost of his own. Sam would likely have no qualms about the big boss knowing either.

Not the best consolation, but it would have to do.

My sensors picked up a change in Sam's vital signs just as he finally took a deep breath and pulled his head away, leaning back in the car seat. I saved the holoreport (after adding a second addendum to keep the supernatural details secret from the humans as well) and paid attention as he closed the file and slipped it back in the outer pocket of the Bag of Tricks. With visible effort, and after knitting his fingers with those of his provisional mate, the human was able to regain some of his composure.

Mikaela broke the tense silence. "Finally back with us, stud?"

Sam closed his eyes and smiled tiredly, before opening them again and glancing sideways at her. "Yeah. I'll hold for now."

"… So," the female hedged, trying to sound like she didn't care either way (and failing). "Any chance you'll tell us what that was back there?"

"…Not what," Sam finally replied after a minute. "Who." I read it in his eyes, the way his mind finally snapped back into that sharpened state that had cut down Simmons' entire system of beliefs. Sam reached forward to lay his free, left hand on my steering wheel, brushing the Autobot insignia in the middle with his thumb. It was an unexpected, affectionate gesture I wished I could return somehow. "Henry Matthews…" The boy murmured. "Sector Seven agent, part-time hermit, Seeker on the Road to Enlightenment and deep level undercover operative for The Ascended Brotherhood. Qualification: Adept…"

All of which told me absolutely nothing.

His hand fell to rest on his thigh as he sunk deeper into the back of the seat, inflexion leaving his voice completely, save for the tiniest trace of wry humor. "Archibald Amundsen Witwicky. My great-great grandfather reincarnated."

Utter shock ran through my spark. The man who had saved Sam, and through him me, was his actual family. The same person who'd discovered Megatron in the first place, over a century ago. If I'd been in bipedal mode, I would have slapped myself. Henry had basically handed us his identity on a silver platter during his fight with Megatron, but I still needed it to be spelled out to me? At least it was clear that he had turned Sam into the expression of human perfection he was now. And he proceeded to save both of us a second time, then shared himself with his descendant in a way that only the greatest of Spark Bonds could achieve, only for his life to be terminated minutes later while he was buying time for our escape.

Mikaela Banes didn't rein in her gasp of surprise, but she stayed otherwise silent. Appeared to understand the emotional implications almost as soon as I did. Horror and sympathy mixed in her expression as she made the connection. A family member and loving mentor gained and lost in the span of a single day.

Oh Sam…

It was then that my fellow Autobots finally caught up with us, or rather drove down the opposite lane and made turns that the vehicles they were disguised as would have had more than a bit of trouble pulling off under normal circumstances. Seeing a Peterbilt truck make a perfect U-turn left more than a few humans gaping. I could see them clearly with my long-range camera sensors before the large shape of my commanding officer cut into my line of sight. I easily fell into formation behind Jazz, who wheeled to position and let Ironhide take point. Ratchet, disguised as an ambulance, slid into place behind Optimus, right in front of the van Lennox was driving.

The comm link opened exactly when I expected it would. :Bumblebee, report!:

After a single nanosecond's worth of pondering, I edited out Henry's most relevant lines, tagged the holofile as "Prime's Optics Only" and sent the data burst using the best form of encryption we Autobots had at their disposal. Then I made a separate file containing the most recent five minutes and encrypted it just as tightly, before sending it to Optimus via a private channel instead of the command cloud.

I could feel Optimus' surprise at the unusual level of secrecy, the same way I knew he could feel my lingering stupefaction at what Sam had just disclosed.

That done, I returned the bulk of my attention to my passengers, knowing that Jazz would have long-range scans well in hand from here. I mentally cursed my defective voice box for the umpteenth time, but I couldn't let the heavy silence go on. "You alright there, partner?" A horrible choice of a clip, but the best I could do under the circumstances.

Sam smiled sadly at my dashboard. "No, not really Bumblebee."

I felt the nearly overwhelming urge to track down Megatron personally and punch his lights out for what he'd done.

:Are any of the humans in need of medical aid?:

I almost strained my vocalizer trying to curse when Ratchet's voice chimed in my commlink. I had completely forgotten to bar command cloud access to the feed from my cabin sensors. Not caring what the others' reactions might be, I instantly terminated it. :No.:

:Whoa, lil'buddy, tha' was abrupt!: Jazz chimed in.

I didn't reply.

The next five minutes were spent fielding questions from everyone other than Prime. Fortunately, none of the others had met or even gotten wind of Henry Matthews, or about there being anything supernatural about the human race, so I didn't have to actively avoid any topics. Except to tell Ratchet that I still had no more clue than he did about how Sam's physiology had changed overnight. It wasn't even a lie. I suspected Henry had done something, but I knew no more about the "how" than I did last night.

Tough. It was their own fault for dismissing Sam's answer of "divine Intervention" as a joke.

Given how Optimus didn't chide me for lying, neither openly or privately, I could only assume he could deduce my reasoning, or at least decided to play it safe with the information, for now.

"Archibald Amundsen Witwicky…" Sam murmured, oblivious to our radio exchange. Tilting his head as he gazed down at the brown bag between the front car seats. "And this is his Bag of Tricks." He blinked, and narrowed his eyes. "Or mine now." Losing the last traces of emotional upheaval, he pulled the bag in his lap and began to rifle through it. I couldn't get very accurate readings of the insides for some reason, but I did catch a glimpse of some sort of gadgetry, the grapple gun Henry had mentioned, and at least one of those rod-shaped double rockets that worked against Megatron so well.

I probably should have expected the relative "peace" to be disturbed just then, as we reached the highway. An alarm sounded and brought with it a flashing red light in my virtual HUD. It was followed by the whistling sounds of rockets flying through the air. Jazz' countermeasures, always engaged, sent out scrambling signals, causing the AI-guided missiles to veer off course. The road around us exploded upwards in showers of dust and bitumen, thankfully hitting no one.

At least not directly. Two civilian transports lost control and crashed along the edge of the suspended road we were on, much to our dismay. Three more followed in their wake, as the crashes caused a chain reaction.

:Blackout!: Ironhide snarled, identifying the helicopter taking potshots at us.

:How nice of'im ta drop by," Jazz snarked. :I got a virus with 'is name on it sittin' right'ere!:

At Prime's order, we allowed the military vans accompanying us to take the lead, escorting me and the precious cargo ahead, while Ironhide and Jazz took position on our flanks, with Ratchet bringing up the rear. Optimus slowed down even further, and I didn't know whether or not to hope all three of our ground-based pursuers would stop to engage him. It was like choosing whether or not to consider Optimus' survival or the Allspark's safety as more important than the other.

Damned war.

When he was about thirty meters behind us, Optimus sharply swerved to the right, knocking Barricade (a police car? To Punish and Enslave? Really?) off kilter and sliding almost perpendicular to the road, only to transform mid-turn and meet Bonecrusher head on. The tan Decepticon lost the momentum and balance he'd gained on his roller blades and tumbled off the highway along with Optimus himself. They were a tangle of brown, red and blue plates as they fell out of sight, throwing sparks everywhere as they did.

Unfortunately, Blackout was still on us, following us by air. His second volley of missiles caused another string of accidents and forced me to take a sharp curve to the left to avoid a head-on collision with an out of control trailer. I ignored Mikaela's yell of alarm, and forcefully turned my mind away from the humans and the vehicles that went up in flames on every side of our bedraggled convoy.

An overhead bridge gave us some breathing space. The two human-manned vans had taken some superficial damage, and I and the others were mostly fine. Inside my cabin, the female slumped in momentary relief, while Sam intently studied the view shown through my rear-view side mirror. "Mikaela," he said lowly. "Hand me the Cube."

With some surprise, I realized the Allspark had tumbled off my backseat. I suppose the seatbelt wasn't enough after all. With some relief, I noticed that it hadn't given off any energy flares from the impact it must have suffered. The female quickly did as Sam asked her.

I had to divert my primary processes back to the situation outside though. Blackout peppered us with yet another volley of missiles, although this time he aimed for the civilians ahead of us. I could hear Ironhide snarl in rage through the command cloud. We had no choice but to evade the tumbling, flaming and falling vehicles as best we could. Later would be the time for mourning, assuming any of us lived through this. We had come out of things more or less intact so far, but that wouldn't last once Starscream and Megatron caught up with us.

I wasn't, for even a second, going to entertain the hope that Megatron would be unable to escape the water tides. The dam destruction had bought us time, but it had been years since I could trust a hope that we would just "get lucky" for once. If Jazz could hear me think, he'd probably say I almost sound like Optimus. But I often do, in my own head, regardless of how happy-go-lucky I am during quiet times.

We were just five minutes from the city when it happened. My sensors registered an Allspark emission in my cabin. A signal that was steadily rising. With more urgency than I'm used to, I pulled the background surveillance process to the foreground, and I almost didn't dodge a streak of rapid gunfire because of it.

Sam was rigid, holding the cube right in front of his face. Staring at it with such an intensity that I couldn't suppress a flash of concern. Concern that turned into alarm when the energy came to the fore, flowing through every etching in the artefact in flashes of blue intersped with white. A familiar chime thrummed through the air, and light started to flow out like mist, flowing around the boy's fingertips like strands of silk.

"Sam!" Mikaela yelled at the same time as me. My vocalizer sparked at my shout but I refused to hiss in pain.

The boy snapped out of his trance, jerking his head, wide-eyed as if waking up from a nightmare. The energy readings from the Allspark went out even more suddenly, leaving Sam gasping. I could feel his lungs struggling to take in air as his chest pressed against the seatbelt I held in place over him. But his grip on the cube only hardened, even as he strove to get himself under control once more.

"My God…" Sam breathed, sounding as if he was somewhere else. "Oh my God…"

What the Pit was going on!?

"SAM!" Mikalea shook the boy by the shoulder and finally got him to return to us fully.

High-rate bullet fire clipped Ironhide's hood. Fed up with being on the defensive, the Thetacon decided to capitalize on the lead we'd gained on the ground-based 'Cons. He transformed, threw himself in a twisting, flipping dive and sent two cannon shots up and behind. The ion flare clipped Blackout's helicopter rotor, but the plasma bolt caught him right in the cockpit.

The troublesome enemy literally went down in flames.

"Eat that, fragging Deceptichump!" My mentor shouted before retaking his alt mode and catching up to the rest of us. I didn't show it, but I shared his enthusiasm. It probably wasn't a lethal hit, or even a severely crippling one, but it should let us lose him for now. And with Barricade having been knocked around by Optimus earlier, it should let us lose them in Mission City. Well, that would be the case if the human transport vans weren't such a big giveaway. Those miniguns on top weren't exactly subtle.

For the first thirty minutes, it seemed to go well. Our eclectic convoy of racecars and military pickup trucks raised a few eyebrows, but nothing major. The human soldiers were able to procure some short-range radios that would at least allow them to coordinate with the F22 Raptor Jet Fighters called by Keller to assist us. Sam and Mikaela had exited my cabin and I was trying to figure out the best route they could take the get themselves out of danger while we waited for Optimus to catch up to us.

I should have known better than to hope for the best.

It came out of nowhere. One moment we had regrouped on a street that was neither too wide nor too exposed, flanked by tall buildings on both sides, 20 stories tall or more. Then it was raining flame and metal. We only too late recognized the jet passing overhead as Starscream rather than the air support Keller had promised us. Ironhide and I transformed to our real selves, causing passersby to panic and start running away even without our shouted warnings. By the time the weapons specialist bellowed the identity of the Decepticon, the first volley of projectiles had made our human allies scatter, and the too many civilians around us panic. My audials did what they could to filter the blasts noises, to preserve my awareness of my surroundings and allow me to prioritize. But the humans behind me were screaming, and so many of them had died already on the way here. All the while we'd done nothing but run away, and diverted enemy fire which only ended up causing collateral damage and human casualties instead. However tactically sound it had all been, it left a wretched feeling in my spark chamber.

Starscream was just completing his aerial turn. I could see him in the distance. I knew what he was going to do, and what it would likely mean for the ones behind me if I dodged, so I jumped at an old, decrepit truck that happened to be nearby. With my whole strength, I began to lift it up by the rear, to turn it into a makeshift barricade between myself and the missiles that were already screaming through the air towards our position. I was staring death in the face, literally, but there wasn't much cover to be had anyway, and there was no way in the Pit I'd let Sam precede me in death.

I was expecting Ironhide to radio some sort of reprimand or order to get to safety. I'd even considered pulling out of the shared encrypted comm channel just to avoid it.

Instead, he appeared at my side and helped me hoist the vehicle properly. I'm glad he had such firm servos and physical strength so far above mine, because I almost dropped the truck from the shock.

Two missiles missed – Jazz was well at work hacking their homing systems even then – but the third hit its mark. It exploded violently at point blank range, turning the whole trailer into thunderous, fiery shrapnel. The shockwave sent both me and Ironhide hurtling helm over skid. I barely heard him grunt and growl in pained anger as he smashed into a store front. An even smaller part of my processor was amazed I had even a shred of attention left to devote to him in my own condition.

My lower body felt like it had fallen into a volcano. Fuel lines hissed as they leaked. Valves clamped on them to stem the flow, to prevent further fuel from being lost. But I didn't really register them engaging through the haze of the sensory overload, or my blue Energon splattered across the entire block. Pain receptors deactivated in droves as my battle software went nuclear on them, but that did little besides finally allow me to take stock of how badly I'd been damaged. Left arm weapon systems thrashed beyond use, my transformation cog had been dislodged, one doorwing had been torn right off, and there was even a bent backstrut somewhere, screaming at me in binary.

I pulled my main processing threads together and bullheadedly smashed through the pain, trying to push myself to stand using my still functional right arm, but that only made me roll over. Through the flare of agony, my hiss of frustration came out as a long, warbling groan instead. I tried to stand again, only to finally realize what the real issue was. From the knee and ankle both my legs were gone.

As if waiting for the acknowledgement, the data from the pain receptors and diagnostic systems slammed into my processor so suddenly that I almost went into stasis lock. I barely plowed through it through sheer desperation. My mind had been reduced to a one-lane thing that alternated from one thought to another. That I couldn't offline when the Allspark was still in my care, and that I had to make sure Sam was still alive out there somewhere. "Sam…" I didn't even realize I was calling out his name, or trying. But if I could make sure he was still alive, then at least I could go knowing my last act had made a difference. "Sam… where are you?" And still my voice box produced an inarticulate amalgam of buzzing crackles instead of anything intelligible.

Relief came in the form of my every single internal diagnostic system and pain receptor shutting down all at once, brought to heel by the medical overrides Ratchet had programmed into all of our subroutines. My whole body, or what was left of it, shuddered, and my processor had to take a moment to confirm that it really wasn't being pulled in every direction anymore. With some difficulty, I reassigned whatever resources I still had access to. Comm channels came online first, bringing me Ironhide's almost frantic voice, calling my name again and again. I tiredly pinged him back, not coherent enough to compose a message. Sound, smell and hearing sensors came back online next, and my once again functional optics settled on Sam's form, kneeling right in front of me, wide-eyed and horrified.

My voice box crackled, as usual, but dammit! "Sam…" For once, I managed to say his name properly.

He reached out, laying his hand on my helm as I lay broken and defeated. It made my spark swell with a rush of affection I never really expected to feel for anyone besides my fellow Autobots.

Starscream had disappeared off somewhere, but a tank rolled out of nowhere, squishing whole cars and sending humans fleeing everywhere. The human soldiers hunkered down behind the debris the seeker bot had left behind, and not every piece of upturned street was thick enough to stop the cannon blasts that Brawl kept sending our way.

Sam glared in the tank's direction and kept urging me to crawl to safety, always backing up and pleading for me to follow. Ratchet had yet again broken his medic's oath to preserve all life by taking cover next to the remains of the truck and shooting back at the 'con, buying me time.

"Come on, 'Bee! Move it!" By Primus, the boy was ordering me around, the little sneak. "I'm not gonna leave you until Mikaela's ready to tow you out of here!" I suddenly had to smother the absurd urge to laugh. They had it all figured out already, didn't they? I diverted the impulse towards my lower hydraulics and pulled off one, good heave, finally getting me behind the largest pile of wreckage covering what used to be an urban intersection.

The boy all but collapsed against my helm, laying a hand on my face plate. It was such a shame my sense of touch had been disengaged, as I couldn't really bask in the gesture like I would have wanted. Maybe it was for the best. The boy would probably want no more to do with us after this was over, if he survived intact where I couldn't.

I couldn't see much of anything anymore, but I was still connected to the command cloud, so I could access the live feeds of everyone else's optics. Jazz had disappeared somewhere earlier, but now he came screeching from around the bend across the neighborhood from the Decepti-tank. He dodged around every bit of relevant debris with expert precision, transformed mid-turn, catapulting himself over the large steel, concrete-covered girder lying sideways across the street. He twisted in mid-jump, used a servo to add to his momentum and brought his ion pistol out of subspace just in time to shoot Brawl's next cannon shot right as it blasted out of the barrel. This time, the bastard on the other side of the fence was treated to a point-blank explosion. By the time the fire and smoke cleared, Jazz had jumped on top of the enemy and began to harass him as only he knew.

It was the opening that Ratchet and Ironhide needed. They entered their altmodes and shot down the street, such as it was. Several erratic gun blasts were easily enough avoided. I was torn between awe and exasperation when Ironhide decided to try and top Jazz' feat of agility, flipping overhead three times, once even shooting both cannons at the street to give himself extra momentum. Finally, Brawl transformed and managed to throw Jazz aside, but by then he'd already been engaged by the other two. His servo fell to Ratchet's razor saw, and it just went downhill for him from there, especially when the human soldiers finally closed in and began to pepper him with concentrated sabot rounds and grenade launchers.

By then, Sam had crawled to the edge of our cover. He was just in time to see the end of the bout.

Then Starscream flew overhead again, lower than the tallest city buildings, and a second flier, a distinctive cybertronian jet cut through the skies in his wake.

"Shit," Sam cursed, looking grimly at the smoke trails produced by the two figures. The eyes he turned on me afterwards were at once resigned and determined.

Unclipping the Cube from my hip plate, I all but pushed it into his arms, net and all, silently transmitting what I could of my shame just by looking at him. As much as we hated to admit it, we Autobots were too obvious as targets, and with fliers the enemy had the advantage. Our only chance was to draw their fire while a human ran or snuck past the Decepticons and delivered the Cube to the pre-arranged aerial pickup point several blocks away. I hated that I had to ask Sam to do it, but I also doubted anyone else would succeed in the endeavor. Lennox and his men might have what it takes, but their outfits were only slightly less obvious than our large frames, and their role was the same as ours.

Sam accepted it with only a moment's hesitation and manipulated the loose end of the cable with unexpected dexterity. In less than a minute had had put a brace together and hung the cube at his across the chest, with a second loop going around his waist for stability. The cable formed an asymmetrical X with the strap of the Bag of Tricks he wore on his back.

The tow truck Mikaela Banes had hotwired into submission earlier drove to a halt right next to me. The female hurried to get out and opened her mouth to say something but I never got to find out what.

Sam closed in and proceeded to kiss the living dailights out of her. My optic shutters were as wide as I'd ever had them as I stared at the unexpected but absolutely appropriate sight, soot and all. Several meters away, William Lennox had practically stumbled to a halt and was staring at the unexpected spectacle with an expression reminiscent of a fish out of water.

Sam broke away suddenly, but not abruptly enough to snap Mikaela out of the daze she had fallen into. Looking as if nothing unusual had occurred, the boy then made his way to Lennox as got right to the point. "So, aerial pickup point. That building, right?" He pointed in the appropriate direction.

The major stared at him. "Yeah…"

Sam nodded sagely and held out a hand. "Flare?"

Lennox blinked and passed him the requested object, which Sam quickly stuffed inside the Bag of Tricks. That done, he eyed the Major squarely and gave a two-fingered salute before charging off to perform the task I essentially forced upon him.

To his credit, Lennox started barking orders to his men immediately, and he even managed to reboot Mikaela's brain. "Get that tow truck out of here now!"

The female snapped out of it and quickly set about dragging my useless frame to relative safety, even as my battle brothers charged ahead, dodging when they could and taking the brunt of the enemy assault when they couldn't. Through it all, they fired their advanced energy guns at the enemy, wherever they found them. Human soldiers made their way through the chaos, pushing back at their planet's invaders with their ballistics. Optimus, finally back among us, latched onto Megatron's flying form, even as Starscram tangled with the airforce high overhead.

In the middle of the calamitous battleground, Sam ran.

Some guardian I turned out to be, towed away like a useless wreck. Primus above, what the Pit was I doing? What else could I do? There had to be something.

The answer came scant minutes later, and once again it was a human that delivered it. Mikaela brought the truck to a halt in a tight, dusty alley, well out of sight. I gazed down at her over my shoulder from behind the cabin. She was hunched over the steering wheel much like Sam had been over mine, not long ago. It was hard for her to rein in her tears, but she did it eventually. When she had composed herself, she turned to me, her eyes a chaotic mix of emotions. It was obvious that her thoughts mirrored my own.

I raised my right arm and powered the plasma gun, the single part of my weapons systems still operational.

Seconds later, her foot hit the acceleration, only instead of the forward the car charged back the way we'd come.

That would have been the end of it, one last glorious but foolhardy charge, if not for the message that Ironhide all but shouted all through the command cloud right as we burst out from our hiding place.

I allowed myself a moment of disbelief before I felt like my spark had been dumped in a vat of liquid nitrogen. For the first time in my life when holding any sort of serious conversation with Ironhide, I forgot all about protocol or simple politeness and all but yelled right back. :What the frag do you mean Sam's gone!?"