Chapter 14: Separated
"Ambush!" One of Ironhide's mechs roared above the sudden scream of Seeker missiles and ground troop cannon blasts. Already crumbling buildings exploded into blunt edged projectiles that pelted the Autobot party from all directions.
Aria shrieked as one of those blunt edged killers landed with a mighty thud where she had been standing not a second ago. Chromia and the others were firing back with the force only those who know they are fighting for something truly worthy can and didn't notice her diving for cover from the stones raining down around them.
Just like they didn't notice the minicon sneaking up on them from a deep chasm off to their right.
"On no you don't," Aria muttered as she shoved herself back to her feet. Not relying on her limited battle experience so much as her fear-turned-to-fury, Aria rushed forward behind her friends' feet, whipping out her rope and grapple as she did. She swung it as she ran, building up momentum until it was nothing but a silver edged blur whistling at her side. She ran past the line of broken buildings that hid the minicon from her friends' sight.
She slowed her approach when she reached the corner of the last building. Staying far enough away from the corroded surface behind her so that it didn't interfere with the arc of her grapple, the little human peered around the corner of the building.
The minicon, only a few feet away now, spotted her brown haired head as soon as it appeared.
"Oh shoot!" Aria shouted as a bolt of plasma hit the side of the building instead of her head. More bright blue bolts shot past her, either screaming past her shoulder or blasting into the building she was hiding behind.
"I didn't mean that literally!" She screamed above the high pitched noise.
Aria waited, pressing so close to the ragged wall behind her as if she wanted to dissolve into it. Unfortunately, the minicon's attack was taking its toll on the already brutalized structure. Peeking through her eyelashes, Aria saw that if something didn't change, the wall's hole filled fate would only be a prelude to hers.
Not daring to think unless her rational mind ended up getting someone killed, mainly herself, Aria waited for a lull in the attack before dashing away from the building into the open area before the minicon. Then before it had the chance to think, "What is wrong with this crazy, funny looking, femme?" Aria struck, her rope whipping out of her hand to rip the minicon's feet out from under it.
The bot went down heavily, limbs flailing as it tried to stop its fall. Before the dust had even settled, it lifted its square head and growled at Aria, dark red eyes glaring at her like lasers.
Not giving the minicon a chance to get back to its feet so it could demolish her, Aria pulled back her rope and with a mighty swing, hurled the grapple up, high above the minicon's angry form.
With a clank that was barely heard over the other sounds of battle, Aria's rope hooked onto the exposed steel girder she had spotted earlier.
The minicon was getting to its feet again, growling something vile at her, Aria had no doubt.
Only giving the surly mech a quick glance, Aria hooked Wheeljack's invention on her belt so that she could haul on the rope with both hands.
The hunk of wreckage the girder extended from was only the first of the debris that came falling down on the advancing minicon. Heart thundering in her ears, Aria watched as what must have been an entire story of metal and rubble followed it to land on the bot that was barely bigger than she was.
She thought she heard the minicon shriek once before the stones crushed his small frame. Hardly hearing the other sounds of weapons fire and battle cries behind her, Aria stared in horror at the rocky grave she had just created.
She had never killed anything before. Not intentionally. Not like that.
Frightened of herself now more than the battle surrounding her, Aria backed away, forgetting even to retract her rope and grapple.
It was a sore mistake.
A slight motion underneath the fallen grit caught her eye. Horrified, the organic girl watched as a hand, and then a head, appeared out of the rubble. The minicon was barely alive, but probably not for that much longer.
The little Decepticon knew this just as much as Aria did, but that didn't stop him from giving one last smirk as he shoved one large rock over the edge of the fiery chasm he had crawled up through.
He watched as the strange femme's optics went wide as she realized that her black whip was still attached to the rock that was now tumbling down towards the lava flows that surrounded the heart of Cybertron. The only pity the little mech felt was that he wouldn't get to watch as the rock pulled the little femme into the river of superheated rock.
Aria didn't notice the moment the minicon's spark extinguished. She was too busy frantically yanking at her makeshift weapon, but she couldn't get the clip off of her belt.
"Get off! Get off! Get off!" She muttered madly. The slack was almost gone.
Then with a vicious yank, Aria was pulled over the edge of the chasm, screaming in panic all the while.
But her little cry was lost in the noise of battle.
Things weren't going so well for the other Autobots either. They weren't going badly yet, but things still weren't exactly good.
The problem was that they were so close to Praxus that it was easy for the Decepticons to send in reinforcements while Iacon, along with the Autobot headquarters, was several joors away.
"No help for it then," Chromia thought grimly as she fired off another shot at one particularly stubborn Decepticon. She had already put several massive dents in him that she knew had to hurt, but the slag head just wouldn't stay down.
"Autobots!" She yelled over the roar of the fight. "Fallback!"
She did not need to repeat herself.
Most of the Praxian survivors turned and made a break for the city limits and the empty plains that lay beyond while Ironhide, Chromia, Firestar, and the by now fully awakened Inferno laid down heavy cover fire. Fortunately, the green femme Moonracer had already taken down the two Seekers that had first opened fire on them, showing an eagle eye Chromia hadn't first expected from the slightly fumbling femme.
"Firestar, get him out of here!" Chromia yelled, jerking her chin at the red mech they had first pulled from the rubble.
The other femme looked a bit frazzled. "I'm trying! He just won't leave!" She shouted back.
Over the din of his duel cannons, Chromia heard Ironhide laugh sharply. "You were offline not two kliks ago Inferno. This is no time to be playing hero! Now git! We'll be right behind you!" He hollered at the other mech before throwing a grin at Chromia.
Chromia felt her spark burn hot at that grin. Showing off a little, she fire off two successive shots, hitting the stubborn Decepticon in the chest, just above his spark. The big idiot finally went down.
"Bulls eye." She murmured.
An unexpected silence fell onto the battlefield as the only remaining Decepticon turned and fled, in a much more fearful manner than Chromia and Ironhide's friends had a klik ago.
"Nice shot," Ironhide complimented her, somewhat gruffly.
Chromia grinned mischievously at him. "Glad you approve," she answered him in a smooth, low voice.
Before they could say anything else, the ominous tread of heavy artillery appeared in the near distance, and coming closer.
"Uh-oh," Ironhide said, not sounding at all sorry, "looks like we've ticked them off."
Chromia's answered grin was positively wicked. "I guess that means the party's over."
A shot exploding above their heads confirmed that it was.
With a gleeful shout, Chromia turned and ran, changing into her sleek alt-form on the fly, giving their pursuers a smaller target. She made sure Ironhide was still with her before she gunned her engine and flew off across the dusty plains, kicking up dirt and dust in her wake.
There was a slight chase, but nothing newsworthy, and soon the Decepticon's fell back, choosing rather to regroup at Primahex rather than go chasing after a couple of annoying Autobots.
It wasn't long before Chromia rounded a cliff to find Firestar and the rest of the escaped Praxians waiting near the base.
"About time you got here," the one Ironhide had called Inferno griped when Chromia and the black mech came to a halt near the group. "If you'd been any longer we would've left you out here."
"Yeah right," Ironhide said, not bothering to change out of his alt-form.
Chromia ignored the two mechs and glanced over the small group before her. "How're things looking Firestar?" She asked. Despite the calm and relief that had pervaded the rescued bots, Chromia couldn't shake the feeling something had gone wrong. It didn't look like anyone was severely wounded so that was good, but still…
"All present and accounted for," Firestar reported, the joy of success heavy in her voice.
It finally struck Chromia what, or rather who, was missing. Grimly, Chromia answered her friend. "No, not everybody."
"You lost her?"
Optimus Prime's voice echoed throughout the empty Hall of Records, chasing loose objects off of shelves and scattering dust from the ceiling.
Chromia refused to flinch. She was already kicking herself for not noticing Aria's disappearance earlier. Compared to what she had said to herself on the way back, nothing Optimus Prime had to say could make her feel any worse.
And yet, somehow her spark kept sinking.
"Yes," Chromia admitted sadly, hanging her head, "She got away from me during the fight. I don't know what happened to her."
Ironhide watched as the new Prime started pacing across the small room. He didn't understand. So what if Chromia had lost Prime's little organic pet? It had done its duty and ran during the fight, probably terrified out of its little mind. Why couldn't they just breed another one or whatever?
Prime continued to pace, thinking or worrying more Ironhide was unsure. Soon he stopped to face the green and white mech standing near the corner. "What about the device you gave her Wheeljack," Optimus asked anxiously.
The inventor looked more than a little confused. "What about it?"
"Well didn't you put some kind of tracking device in it?" Optimus asked a little too loudly.
"I'm still working on it!" Wheeljack answered, instantly defensive. "This stuff takes time Optimus."
One of the small mech's laughed without humor. Ironhide thought his name was Jazz. What he did remember was that he was one of the new Prime's lieutenants.
"Yeah, especially when you keep needing to build new prototypes when the last one blows itself into tiny little pieces." Jazz prodded.
Ironhide nodded slightly with realization. "So he's that Wheeljack," he thought.
With a frustrated noise, Prime started pacing again. He would wear a rut in the floor before much longer, Ironhide thought with a slight roll of his optics. Really, all this worry over a little pet was admirable – just think of how he would act when one of his actual forces was harmed, much less extinguished – but this was bordering on ridiculous.
Finally the rose red femme, Chromia's sister Ariel, the mech remembered, stepped in front of Optimus Prime, forcing him to stop.
"Optimus control yourself," Ariel murmured firmly, but gently, "I'm sure she is alright. You know how smart Aria is, I'm sure she's on her way back as we speak." She said, gently laying a hand on Optimus Prime's arm by way of comfort.
Ironhide was getting tired of this nonsense. "Yes, yes, may robo-lassie find her way home soon, but right now we have a few more important things to discuss. Like how Megatron and his slaggin' minions are trashing Praxus."
He knew he had said something wrong when every head in the room snapped up to stare at him, even Chromia's.
"What?" Ironhide demanded, feeling irritated that this new Prime couldn't bring himself to focus on the fact that his enemy was about to rampage across an entire nation.
"Ariah is not a pet!" Optimus said, sounding slightly offended. "She is a sentient being. Why does everyone keep thinking that?" He grumbled that last bit more to himself then anyone else.
That threw Ironhide's processors for a loop. "What?" He asked again.
"She's an alien." Chromia told him straightforwardly, her optics clearly saying, "I know, I can't believe it either."
Ironhide waited for the other anvil to fall. "Are you serious?" He asked incredulously.
"Perfectly," Ariel said calmly, "she came through the space bridge by accident and has not yet had the chance to leave." She explained, skipping over most of the details.
"She is also a very good friend of mine, of all us," the new Prime spoke up, his voice strong as he gestured at all of the room's inhabitants, "and I would appreciate it if you refrained from speaking of her as if she was nothing but an animal."
Ironhide suddenly thought it was better if he didn't say anything for a little while until he knew exactly what was going on. As an experienced warrior he knew that sometimes it was a good idea to back down until the situation became crystal clear. Besides, he was starting to feel the smallest bit sorry for calling the alien that had found his friends a robo-lassie.
A long thoughtful moment passed before Prime spoke again. "However you are both right. There are other things we need to focus on at the moment. And," he hesitated, "and if Ariah is still functioning properly then I'm sure that she will make her way back as quickly as she can. But for now, how shall we help Praxus?"
A quiet relief crept up on Ironhide, loosening several tight bolts in his frame. "Alien lover or not, at least we finally have a Prime that does something." He thought before telling the assembled Autobots just exactly how dire Praxus' situation was.