Slow Burn

Chapter 6

Chapter 6

I couldn’t really tell you what type of animal Ravage was supposed to resemble. It looked somewhat like a cross between a panther and a German Shepherd with a whole lot of free interpretation mixed in. The best I could do to describe him was black, and four legged, and the ultimate stealth machine. He didn’t have cloaking abilities like I did, but his armor absorbed all radar and sonar scans and he gave off no designation or energy signatures, unlike the rest of us. Basically if you couldn’t see him with your own eyes, you couldn’t see him period. That’s why he was on point. Frenzy followed closely behind him, EMP cannon drawn and at the ready. I was next, my weapons stowed at the moment so that I could use my hands as we picked our way through mines and pitfalls surrounding the Autobot outpost. Rumble brought up the rear, walking backwards half the time to keep close watch on our six, his plasma cannons drawn and charged. The three tapes were also equipped with their respective jet packs for our egress. I had not yet been fitted for one.

We cautiously made our way around the back side of the outpost to a loading bay where we were to meet with a contact inside, an Autobot named Dealer. Why the Autobots kept him around I wasn’t sure, he was well known for playing either side of the war for the right price. Frenzy had made the deal and carried the required bounty with him. The bay doors were left unlocked for us and we crept inside, the tall turquoise mech with a dark gray helmet and red optics stood nearby keeping watch. He motioned toward a small office off the loading bay and all four of us scampered inside while he turned and casually strolled out of the bay.

As soon as the Autobot was gone, Rumble posted himself at the doorway in a defensive posture, one cannon up and the other leveled so that the tip was just inside the shadowy darkness of the doorway. Frenzy connected with the computer system from there, uploading a myriad of viruses to confuse the base’s defense systems and vast arrays of sensors. Ravage stopped just inside the darkness of the room, peering out for a moment, scanning the area before proceeding through the bay with me close behind completely cloaked and invisible to the naked eye—or, in this case, optic.

My wide-eyed gaze took in all around us, the tall broad corridors built for mechanical giants, the orangey bronze color of the metals that made up the base, the hum of the ventilation and lighting systems, the overlying quiet solitude of a sleeping outpost, the occasional faint clicking of far off footsteps. I followed Ravage through a maze of corridors quickly losing track of where we had come from as well as all sense of direction. Every corridor looked like the last one, bland, orangey, cheerful sameness. Bewildered by the puzzling monotony I kept right on Ravage’s tail.

At long last we arrived in an open meeting room. A long table sat in the middle of the darkened room faint glows coming from the key pads lining the edges. Above the table sat a wide round holographic emitter, currently in power save mode, it projected an enormous Autbot emblem that slowly rotated, the colors washing through varying shades of reds outlined in majestic white. Consoles surrounded the room embedded into the walls, black screens littering the walls above each swiveling chair connected to its respective console. Frenzy had disabled the motion sensors in the room, allowing Ravage and I to enter without tripping alarms. The black animal tape swiveled at the door keeping stealthy watch and radioing the brothers, “We’re in.”

Frenzy acknowledged, as I padded lightly over to the meeting table. The purple colored metal curved gracefully upward from the floor, a swiveling chair attached at each end. This was built for the behemoths of the base, and I found myself staring eye level with the bottom of one of the seats. I crouched for the spring, bouncing lightly into the flat of the chair and holding my hands out as it swiveled back and forth from the momentum of my landing. I glanced over my shoulder at Ravage, but he was still facing the corridors outside. One ear flicked in my direction, annoyance at the noise I had created, but otherwise he did not move. I stayed still, listening intently, straining to hear over the humming computers around me. The faintest wisp of clicking footsteps came and went so briefly that I wasn’t entirely sure I’d heard them.

“Rav?” I called silently over the comm.

“No. Nothing.”

Nodding as though the animal tape could see me through the back of his head, I searched the panel in front of me, finding a connecting jack and ramming the connector spear from my wrist into it. Information exploded into my head, filling my vision with an overload of Cybertronian symbols and long equations, schematics and reports, maps and schedules. I quickly sifted through them searching for the one thing I had been sent here for. A flight plan. To Earth. And the list of occupants. Suddenly the system hiccupped and bucked me out entirely.

“Zee!”

“Hold on. I’ve got it. There. Try again.”

I powered up the connection once more, finding my place and continuing my search, but something was nagging me. There was a slightly different feel to the information files this time. Like they were wide open intentionally so that I could be watched from a distance. I had the distinct impression of some presence slowly crawling through the maze of data, pulling pieces out of the way to corner me in a small section of the computer. It was tracking me. Stalking through the miles of files to find me. I pushed on searching faster, feeling a franticness niggling in the back of my mind as the presence drew closer.

There it was, the flight plans and crew lists I was searching for. I snatched it up quickly, writing it to a small dataplate stored inside my arm, and began pulling out of the system, but not before that presence, alerted to the download, gave chase. Panicked, I shut off the connection abruptly, jolting myself back into the real world with a crash of sensation overload. Lightheaded, I leaned against the panel for a moment. That presence had a face and I had almost seen it, just as it had almost glimpsed my own. It had reached it’s steely grasp out and closed in on me, but I evaporated through its fingers like an Earth mist in the morning sun when I had severed the connection.

Turning my head, still leaning against the console, I whispered to Ravage, “Our position’s compromised.”

Both ears flicked back at me as he radioed, “Use the comm.”

I rolled my eyes, queueing my radio, “We’ve been compromised. There was something in the system. Tracking me down.”

Frenzy called back, “Did it find you?”

“No. Almost.”

“Almost isn’t yes. But still, time to go. You have the files?”

“Yes,” I answered, hopping down as quietly as possible and freezing when I heard the faintest clicking echoing through the halls. “Rav?”

“Night patrol, I think,” he turned his head toward me, red optics glowing narrowly at me through the darkness of the room. “Let’s go.”

I nodded and trotted up to him, peering around the doorway and pulling my electro-shock gun from subspace. I didn’t want to charge it just yet. I could still hear that faint clicking as it randomly grew louder and then faded away, seeming to come from each corridor in every direction. I didn’t want the gun’s soft whine to drown out the footfalls. Ravage ran a careful scan before darting down one corridor and back tracking through several more. The clicking ever following us. I began to wonder if the presence in the computer systems and the following footsteps were the same chasing phantasm.

“Rav, wait!” I stopped, leaning my back against a wall right at the corner we had just rounded, pulling the datachip out of its socket in my right arm. “Take this and go. You’re faster than me, you can get the data file out of here. I’ll keep our follower busy chasing ghosts in the mean time.”

The dog/cat mech turned around, facing me, shaking his head. “You don’t know the way out. You’ll be lost in here until they catch you.”

I stashed the chip in a small storage compartment on Ravage’s side and threw up my cloak. “They have to find me first. Zee, you can guide me out, can’t you?”

“Yeah, but I can’t stay connected here for much longer, so this better be a quick diversion.”

I pointed down the corridor, “Go!” The clicking was drawing nearer, beginning to take on a more directional definition. The animal tape whirled and took off at a loping full speed, and I slipped back around the corner we had come from. Creeping along the wall, butterfly sparklings twinging in my chest, the clicking coming closer, a specter stalking the corridors hunting for me. Coming to the next intersection, I slid to the right, leaping to the opposite wall, catching a shadowy glimpse of the phantom hunter as I did so. The clicking halted.

A deep, jovial voice called out as though questing for children in a game of hide and seek, “Come out, come out where ever you are!” The enjoyment the Autobot was having in his search brought a fresh round of terrified shivers through my body. I edged close to the corner dropping down to the floor and slowly peeking around. Several intersections down from me a bright red mech stood roughly sixteen feet tall, leaning with the careful skill of a well practiced warrior to see around the edge of the wall to his left. His gray face held a narrow opticed, wicked grin, as he toted a massive white plasma cannon in one hand braced by the other. He quickly turned to see the opposite direction and my breath caught, eyes widened as the fear of being seen crawled over me. He showed no sign of catching sight of me, and I pulled back around the wall as he click-clicked forward to inspect the next intersection.

“I know you’re here. You might as well come out now. It’ll go easier on you if you give up right away.” I closed my eyes, swallowing hard. He couldn’t see me, but he may have special scanners that could detect things like my organic pulse or my Decepticon energy signature. “Of course, I’d prefer it if you keep playing hide and let me seek!” The joviality had dropped out of his voice replaced with a villainous sneer. My blood ran cold and the energon seem to thicken within my pumps. I drew a deep shuddering breath, blowing it out slowly, listening to all of my systems’ soft whirs and whooshes that seemed so unreasonably loud at the moment.

Suddenly my comm sputtered to life, “Natty, report!” I hadn’t called in to Frenzy for a while. They would have to pull out soon and I was trapped. Thankfully we had all set our comms to internal only, so the hunter hadn’t heard, but the sudden burst of sound had made me jump, and that may have given a clue to my whereabouts.

“I’m stuck. But I’m cloaked so he should pass by in a minute and I can make a break for it.”

“We’ve run out of time, Natty. We have to go NOW!”

“Okay, okay. Just let me—“ the sudden burst of interference ripped through my head painfully, I dropped forward gripping at my ears stifling a scream, holding my breath to keep from making noise. I writhed against the wall struggling to gain control of my thoughts long enough to kill the comm link. With the shrieking inside my head squelched, I stood, hands on my thighs, hunched forward, eyes closed, panting.

“Like that trick?” the jovial voice mocked. “There’s a lot more where that came from.” He was very close now. One or two intersections away. I straightened against the wall, my electro-shock gun pointing upwards, gripped tightly in both hands, finger on the trigger. “I can hear you breathing.” I froze. I couldn’t take another breath if I’d wanted to. “Does that scare you? How long can you hold your breath? I’m betting not very long.” I began shivering with fear, slowly letting my breath out as quietly as I possibly could, my eyes closed again. “Ah, see, I was right.”

Oh shit, I thought, he can detect my biometrics.

The red mech continued his taunt, “So what are you exactly? You’re not really Cybertronian… but you have a Decepticon energy signature.”

I’m completely naked here.

“And there’s something… organic? Are you partially organic?”

I sank to a crouch, dropping my head forward, letting my gun fall to the floor. I sat there for a few seconds before the click-click stopped right next to the corner behind which I was hiding. I didn’t bother to move, dropping the cloak altogether. There was no point in it now.

“Gotcha!” The massive white plasma cannon was shoved mere inches from my side, the open end of the gun large enough for me to crawl into, a coalescing pool of pale bluish white light seeping down from the back of the barrel. I sighed, flinching, and turned my face to the red mech, staying in my defeated crouch. He cocked his head at me, blue optics studying all that he saw.

“I’m supposed to meet an Autobot named Jazz. You aren’t…”

He shook his head. “No. I’m much worse than that.”

“I’m here to hand over information to the Autobot Jazz.”

“Looks to me like you’re an intruder that’s been caught and trying to talk their way out of it.”

“I need to see Jazz. Please.”

“Oh, well since you said ‘please.’” I looked up at him hopefully, but his smirk was laced with cruelty, “No.”

“If you would just radio him. He’ll tell you. He’s expecting me.”

“You were the one in the Meeting Room stealing data files weren’t you?”

I dropped my gaze to the floor.

“Thought so,” he said. Settling into a more comfortable crouch next to me, the massive gun still inches from my body, he offered, “I’m in a good mood tonight, and I’m gonna give you a choice. Surrender, or suicide by Autobot. You see, one way or another, I’m gonna get back what you stole.”

Turning my head to stare at my hands hanging off my own knees, “I can’t.”

“Can’t what? Which one?”

“Either. I’ll surrender to Jazz.”

“I don’t think you’ve fully grasped the situation you’re in here. You only have two options. Surrender to me, or I kill ya. It’s really that simple!”

“No,” I insisted. “It’s actually not. You see we’re trying to defect. We’re trying to save my planet. I need to speak to the Autobot Jazz.”

He tensed at the word “we,” glancing around quickly before focusing on me again. “Who’s this ‘we?’”

“Me and Skyfire.”

“The Seeker?”

“Yes.”

“Huh. You don’t say.”

“Will you take me to Jazz?”

“No,” He frowned.

Jumping up suddenly, I turned, leaning against the wide open barrel of the plasma gun, “The Decepticons are planning to take over my planet. More than five billion innocent people that have no idea what’s coming for them! I have to give this information to the Autobot Jazz! Please!”

His optics widened at my sudden lunge, hands holding the massive weapon steady with the practiced skill of a long lived warrior. After mulling it over for a second, he tapped the side of his head, opening a comm link. “Jazz, you expecting company tonight?”

I stood on the table in the Meeting Room, pacing as I explained the deal. The red Autobot, Cliffjumper, sat in a swivel seat at one end, feet dangling above the floor, chin cradled in one hand, gun in the other, resting on the table top and pointed generally in my direction. The silver mech, Jazz and a taller black and white mech, Prowl stood side by side, hardened blue optics and silvery visor band following me as I walked, both frowning.

“You get half now, and the other half when we defect on Earth. That’s what he said. To ensure our safe passage when we meet again on Earth.”

“That’s not enough,” Prowl said.

“I’m just the messenger,” I countered throwing my hands in the air.

“We’ll need more assurances if this is going to work.”

“Such as?” I asked.

“All the information. Up front. The whole attack plan. Everything they have.”

“I don’t think even he has all of it.”

“Well. This isn’t enough.”

Jazz shifted uneasily at Prowl’s side. “Why wouldn’t he give us the whole thing right away. We can’t formulate a strategy based on half the information. That’s suicide. You understand our dilemma?”

Prowl glanced down at Jazz, blue optics impassive, folding his arms across his chest.

“He doesn’t trust you,” I said, “At all. To be honest, I’m too new to your war to know the difference between the factions. All I really know is that the Decepticons are brutal. And Autobots kill Decepticons.”

The red mech grinned broadly, “Yes, we do!”

Jazz shot him a silencing glare, but Prowl’s optics locked on me, cold and calculating. “No.”

I whirled around to face the black and white mech. “Five billion people! They’re all gonna die!”

Prowl shrugged. “We need more to go on.”

I tossed my hands out to the side in exasperation, “But I don’t have anything else!”

“Hm,” he grunted at me, “Then I guess we’re done here.”

“Don’t you have any compassion?” I cried out.

The red mech snorted, the silver one’s head dropped forward, a small upward curl in the edges of his mouth as he shot a sideways glance to the silently unmoved Prowl. I gazed at each in turn.

“Who will champion my people if not you?” I asked, my voice small and piteous, my eyes rounded sadly, my arms hanging limply at my sides. “You guys were my only hope.”

Prowl shook his head, fingertips at his mouth, other hand at his elbow. Flicking his fingers out away from his face, “We need more. Bring us all of it next time.” Dropping his arms to his sides, he left the room.

Jazz twisted from the waist watching the black and white mech leave. Turning back to me, resting both four fingered, grappling hook shaped hands on the table, he said, “You’re from Earth?” I nodded, my eyes focused on the large white plasma cannon and the red mech’s finger resting next to the trigger. “What… What happened?” The silvery bot tapped the right side of his face.

I shrugged, “Long story.”

“Decepticons happened,” the red mech spoke up, catching my eye and grinning wickedly, his fingers gripping the gun, shifting it more directly toward me. My eyes widened with alarm and I stepped backward, tempted to throw up my cloak in a defensive move, but knowing it wouldn’t do me any good.

Ignoring Cliffjumper’s interruption, Jazz continued, “You got somewhere pressing to be? You don’t have to go back, you know. We will give you asylum. You’re not Cybertronian—you’re a victim of our war.”

I shifted my eyes sideways to the silvery mech, still facing the assassin at the end of the table. Studying him for a second, I said, “I can’t stay. It would put him in grave danger. I have to return.” The red mech at the end of the table lifted his gun, his face growing serious, blue optics narrowing.

Jazz waved a hand dismissively at the other bot, keeping his gaze on me, “Did he do this to you?”

My mouth dropped open and I turned toward him. “No! Well, yes, but not on purpose. I mean it was really more my own fault.” I raised a hand between us, squeezing my eyes shut and giving my head a quick shake. “It’s complicated. I don’t have time to explain it all to you.” Squinting up at him, I asked, “Can I go now? Am I free to leave?”

Before the silver mech could answer, Cliffjumper sprang to his feet, gun trained on me, “No!” Turning to the other bot, “No, Jazz! She’s not with us, she’s against us. She’s a Decepticon. She’s even got the insignias!”

“That wasn’t really optional, you know!” I shot back. “They don’t really give you a choice! It’s not a get-an-insignia-or-die kinda thing, they just do it and laugh at your protests! Personally I would have chosen death. But I have to go back now. They’ll kill him if they find out what we’re up to!”

“Why are you so concerned about the Decepticreep that did this to you?” the red mech snapped.

“Because he saved my life. And he keeps me alive even still. And if he dies… so do I.” I tapped my chest, “His spark, is in here. He used a splinter to keep me alive when… the accident… happened.” My head dropped, eyes to the table beneath me.

Cliffumper edged around the table placing himself between me and the exit. “Which makes you a Decepticon. And my prisoner.”

“Let her go,” Jazz said.

“What?!”

Turning to the red bot, “Let her go. But make it look real.”

I didn’t wait to see the smaller mech grin at his commander hoisting his weapon and taking a tactically offensive posture. Leaping off the table, throwing up my cloak, I raced for the hope of safety the corridor held, skidding into a wide turn and sprinting down every passage way I could find, that awful click-clicking footfall chasing me as I ran.

Taking a chance, I tried opening my comm again and was greeted by a successful rush of static. Gleefully, I called, “Zee! Can you hear me?”

There was a pause and then, “Natty? Natty! Where are you? We can’t get a read on your location, there’s intentional ground interference.”

“I don’t know, but I’m being chased and I’ve got to find an exit! Zee, do you know anything about an Autobot named Cliffjumper? Anything I can use to slow him down?”

“Frag, Natty!” There was genuine fear in his voice. “Get out of there!”


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