Chapter 19: Welcome, Dreaded News
At first Aria wasn't sure what woke her later that night.
"I mean early in th'morning," she mentally slurred as she checked the clock Prowl had given her in a not so subtle attempt to help heal her chronic lateness. It had had slightly mixed results so far.
Her subconscious was putting up a very convincing argument for her to just go back to sleep, but as her head started to sink back onto the soft pillow she heard a sharp crash from the hallway.
Her head snapped up as her sleep numbed brain tried to race into full overdrive mode. The result was that she fell out of her cot-like bed with a thump onto the floor, her legs entangled in the blankets like a fish in a net.
A sleepy whir, like someone sighing in their sleep, reminded Aria that she was not the only person in the dark room. Aria lifted her head and blinked through the dark of the room to see Bumblebee's recharging form in his bed that was far too long for him that sat against the far wall. He was still sleeping, but if this absurd yelling didn't end soon that wouldn't last for long.
Suddenly feeling very angry, Aria wearily stormed out of the ground level cabinet that served as her room. She hopped down to the ground from the bottom of her cupboard and, after seeing that the door between Bumblebee and Optimus' sleeping quarters was cracked open like it usually was, stomped through the sliver of light that was coming through from Optimus' room, ready to give whoever was making this racket at this miserable hour a piece of her process-er, mind.
She slowed in mild surprise when she saw that Optimus' door was already open, letting more light from the hallway shine in to show that his bed was empty. Wondering now if maybe he was already dealing with the loud insomniac, Aria slowed her pace as she went to the open door and peered out into the well-lit corridor.
Aria blinked against the light that was too bright after the dimness of 'Bee's room. At first she didn't see anyone in the metal corridor, and then she realized that the noise was coming from around the next corner to her right. Sleepily, and more than slightly irritated, Aria stumbled over to the corner, wondering what all the fuss was about.
She stopped with a slight gasp as she rounded the sharp turn and found the brawl that was causing all the noise in the main hallway that ran through the building. The fighters were moving and twisting so much that at first all Aria could make out was a heap of crashing, snarling metal as the combatants swore as they grappled with each other. It took Ironhide and Prowl shouting for her to recognize them in the romp. Optimus was easier to see since he was behind the mass of twisting metal, holding the violently moving mech Aria didn't know from behind so that the other two could try and pin him down.
For a frightening moment, Aria watched from around the corner as the three mechs she knew struggled to hold the one she didn't recognize. The fact that she didn't recognize him didn't strike her as too strange since there were lots of mechs in Iacon, although even so, the city still wasn't even half as full as it had been before the war started.
But when the strange, gold painted mech looked up and saw her from where Prowl had wrestled him towards the floor, Aria gasped in sudden fright.
He glared at her the moment his eyes fixed on her small form. Then he abruptly rushed towards her, nearly breaking away from Prowl and Ironhide's strong grips.
Aria shrieked at the following crash as one of the mechs fumbled the stranger's feet and sent him heavily to the floor. The gold bot was screaming at her now, eyes never leaving her as he yelled in abrasive, ear piercing Cybertronian.
She couldn't tell exactly what he said, but it frightened her all the same and she took a step away, still too stunned to turn and run back to the relative safety of her cupboard. Instead she stood there, transfixed by the burning blue eyes, her hands shaking slightly near her mouth.
Optimus' eye's narrowed at the look of sheer terror on the small girl's face and, with a growl that sounded like a racecar driver gunning his engine, he spun the unknown mech around and slammed him against the wall.
"What in the Pit are you doing Sunstreaker?" He yelled at the gold painted mech that was still struggling violently against his firm hold. Roughly two orbits ago, Sunstreaker's six mech team, led by Hound, had been captured by Decepticons during a routine security trip along the conduit that powered most of Iacon. There had been little hope for their escape, but then just a cycle ago Sunstreaker had come back, nearly appearing out of nowhere, screaming with all of his considerable might. He had run through half the base, ignoring Prowl and Ironhide yelling at him to stop and explain himself, and had just started banging on Optimus' door before anyone could even try and figure out what was going on.
"Murderer! Slaggin' spy! Fraggin' organic bi-" Sunstreaker yelled at the organic femme standing just around the corner, completely ignoring the mechs holding him back.
But then he was distracted by Ironhide, who was at least a head and a half shorter than the other mech, yanking the taller bot down to his optic level.
"You have a nanoklik to start explaining yourself or," he pulled the scowling mech down another inch or so, "the organic will be the least of your problems."
Sunstreaker shot Aria another withering glare that made her shiver farther away from the corner, but with a rough shake from Ironhide, he looked back down at the mech in black armor.
But still he didn't speak until Optimus asked in a strong, insistent voice, "Sunstreaker, what happened?"
There was a moment of stillness and Aria, from around the limited safety of her corner, tensed, thinking that the gold mech would start fighting again, slip the hold the others had on him and come after her, although she had no idea what for.
But then Sunstreaker vented a harsh, angry hiss and slumped slightly against the wall behind him, although Optimus noted the faint tension that still hummed through his frame.
"We met up with Decepticons about a decacycle out of the city," Sunstreaker muttered harshly as he stared at the floor, the events playing out again before his optics, "we fought but were quickly outgunned," he admitted bitterly. Optimus noticed the way the gold painted mech's hands balled into fists as he remembered the fight. "They offlined me so I don't remember what happened in between, but when I came too we were in some kind of underground room; no light, dank, dark, that kind of thing. I remember something dripping on the other side of the room and it was driving me nuts."
The mech fell silent and the others let him, ignoring his brief distraction, knowing how it felt to have something like that playing incessantly in your processor.
But eventually Sunstreaker drew himself out of his memories. "We were in some kind of cages. Sideswipe's was next to mine and I could see Hot Rod and Cliffjumper farther down, but the others were gone. Not long after I came to, Megatron appeared with Soundwave and that idiot Starscream. He gloated for awhile before that mad scientist of his came in."
"Shockwave." Optimus said gravely.
Sunstreaker nodded, his mind going back to that bleak place. "Yeah, a few cycles later Megatron left us with him, but not before I saw that thing standing behind him." He suddenly spit, turning to glare over at Aria again, who remained behind the corner of the T-section.
"Never mind her," Ironhide hissed again, giving Sunstreaker a little shake to get his attention. "How'd you get out?"
A brief wave of guilt overtook the vain mech, but it was quickly swamped by his usual anger. "I was watching Starscream so I don't know how it happened, but somehow Sideswipe got his guns back online. He got a distraction going by giving Starscream a handful of new scars. Then one of his shots went wide and he hit the control board that powered the cage and door locks. Always was the lucky one. Evened out his penchent for getting himself into trouble," Sunstreaker said with what might have been a smile on any other living being.
"Like you're one to talk," Prowl muttered, never taking his optics off of the other mech.
Sunstreaker glowered at the black and white officer before continuing. "With the power down I was able to bust out of my cage. Starscream tried to stop me, but Sideswipe pinned him down." The mech deflated another inch. "But I still wasn't fast enough to get to him in time to get him out. Still can't feel my hand either from going through the electric containment field on the main door." He admitted, experimentally trying to flex his right hand. It barely twitched. "But I can't see how that matters when you've got a Decepitcon pet living here!" He started shouting again.
Ironhide's optic ridges went up at Sunstreaker's admission. "You mean you left him there?" He asked, not meaning to sound accusatory.
Sunstreaker nodded. The guilt lingered longer this time.
"But that doesn't make any sense." Prowl muttered as he looked between Aria and Sunstreaker, who was glaring again of course.
"I saw her." Sunstreaker hissed through is vents. "She was just standing there, following him all meek-like, like some sort of pet. Never even spoke when Megatron handed her off to that slaggin' Shockwave too, as if she was nothing but a test tube. Just shivered once and went right over to this stasis cube so they could freeze her."
Optimus thought about this. "And this organic looked just like her?" He asked, pointing over at Aria. Or what they could see of her anyway. Most of her frame was still out of sight behind the corner, but from where they stood, Sunstreaker could see her face clearly enough, with her wide blue optics and pink mouth framed by waves of strange brown strands of spare proteins.
"Yes," Sunstreaker said, but even Aria could hear the smudge of uncertainty that had entered his voice, even if she wasn't sure what he was going on about.
"Are you sure?" Prowl asked, mainly to get the other mech to say 'no' just for the record.
Sunstreaker's frown deepened. "Let me see her arm."
Prowl looked between Sunstreaker, who was still glaring at the little creature behind the corner even if he wasn't actively struggling towards her, and Optimus, who nodded after a minute moment of hesitation.
With a nod of his own, Prowl turned and motioned for Aria to come closer.
"Are you nuts?" Aria demanded, her voice a nervous squeak.
Prowl tilted his head slightly at her odd question. "I hardly see what parts have to do with this, femme Aria. Now will you please come closer so Sunstreaker can see what you look like?"
"Why?" She demanded immediately. She sounded a bit childish maybe, but then she knew Prowl already thought of her as little more than an organic youngling so she didn't feel so bad giving into the assumption. That and she didn't want to get any closer to the glaring mech.
Prowl gave an exasperated sigh, but Ironhide cut off the growing argument he and Optimus felt coming on. "To clear up a case of mistaken identity, now just get over here so I can get back to recharge." He came close to shouting. He had just gotten off his shift when this whole mess started and he hadn't gotten a lick of rest in what felt like orbits. He wanted to sleep.
With a look full of mistrust at the now still Sunstreaker, Aria slowly came out from behind the wall she had been peering around and stepped closer to the four mechs. She stopped a good five yards away from them though. Then at Prowl's request, she held out her arms and turned them over so that the white skin of her forearms was illuminated by the bright overhead lights.
Sunstreaker swore softly into the late lunar cycle silence as most of his angry tension just slid right out of his frame. "It's not her." He muttered sourly.
Seeing that he wasn't about to rush the fragile and much smaller Ariah again, Optimus experimentally loosened his grip on Sunstreaker. Then when the other mech didn't move, he stepped back, Ironhide following his example.
"But I still saw one," Sunstreaker insisted, determined not to be wrong and somehow lose face (although it would only be in his own mind), "it was small and skinny and it was definitely following Megatron around like a lost cyber-hound. It had blue optics and the same shaped face just like that one, only it had a cut running down the length of its arm and its follicles had more yellow in them and it might have been smaller." He admitted grudgingly, only now seeing the physical differences between the organic he had seen in Shockwave's lab and the one standing warily in front of him, watching him with the same carefulness of a turbo-fox watching a hunting hound.
Pieces Optimus had already sensed now clicked together with a sad finality. "I believe you Sunstreaker. And," he said with a sad look over at Ariah, "I think I know who the other organic is."
The other mechs were looking at him now, obviously waiting for an explanation.
Feeling slightly uncomfortable, Optimus told the other three about Sera, knowing he was only putting off the inevitable of telling Ariah the bad news of where her sister was.
"You mean there's another one of these funny lil' things running around?" Ironhide demanded incredulously, pointing a broad finger over at Aria's small, staring frame.
"A sister?" Prowl asked instead, optics narrowing in thought. "Why weren't we told of this?"
Optimus vented a sigh as he rubbed at his temple where he felt a headache coming on. "Probably for the same reasons most of us don't talk about what family we had before the war broke out." He replied, sounding tired.
That silenced the others. Sunstreaker especially was quiet as Optimus walked over to where the organic still stood, unsure of what was going on. Carefully he knelt to be closer to her face before he broke the news to her as gently as he could.
Aria listened in stunned amazement as Optimus shared what he had just learned. It didn't take much time and after a long moment she realized he was still staring at her, watching her reaction to the news she had waited so long to hear.
"You've," she finally heard herself stammer, "you've found her?"
Optimus nodded slowly.
Aria distantly felt herself smile weakly as all the blood suddenly rushed to her head. She couldn't help it. It was all too much. She couldn't take in the sudden news without her brain overloading.
For the first time since Aria had arrived on Cybertron, since she had met and befriended alien robots and become embroiled in their war millions upon millions of light years from her home, Aria closed her eyes and fainted clean away.
Aria wasn't sure how long she lay wrapped in the dark. At first it had frightened her as she wondered where she was and what had happened and how she had gotten here. But then she realized how nice it was just to lay there in the velvet darkness. It was so soothing after so many days of worry and strife and bad news.
A small pin pricked at Aria's brain at that thought as memory tried to surface. Something about news, bad news that had frightened and thrilled her at the same time…
At first the squeaky, concerned voice sounded small and very far away. But the more it called, the louder it got until eventually Aria recognized the voice of her di di.
"'Bee?" Aria asked, her voice muffled by the soft blanket of darkness, "I'm right here 'Bee. What's wrong?"
But Bumblebee must not have heard her because she heard him say, "Oh please wake up Aria!"
Before she could tell him that she was right here, Optimus' voice cut through the black. "Calm down Bumblebee. Ratchet said that Ariah will be fine. She is just sleeping."
But 'Bee wasn't convinced. "Then why won't she wake up?" He asked, his voice threading out in an electronic version of crying.
A dot of gray light appeared in the darkness and Aria made her way towards it, eager to show 'Bee she was just fine even if it meant leaving this soothing sanctuary where she couldn't remember anything of importance and was glad of it.
A new voice appeared as Aria fought her way towards wakefulness.
"Now don't cry Bumblebee, Optimus is right. She's going to be just fine. Look, I think she might be waking up already."
Wheeljack was right. He had barely spoken the words when Aria scrambled through the growing light and slowly blinked open her eyes. She quickly closed them again when she saw the blinding light of the med bay hanging over her.
"See?" Wheeljack said triumphantly.
Aria just groaned.
"Jie Mei!" Bumblebee yelled as he pulled himself up over the edge of the tall hospital bed as far as he could. "You're alright!"
Ratchet must have heard the yellow youngling, because he appeared on the other side of the bed, materializing so fast that Aria felt her head spin a little.
"Nice to see you online again," he said, sounding relieved, "now would you mind telling me what happened?" He demanded, his usual cantankerous attitude reappearing.
Aria couldn't help but smile up at him. "It's nice to see you too Ratchet." She murmured. Then with a held in breath and a groan, she managed to curl up into a sitting position on the bed.
"Well?" Ratchet pressed when she was up. Aria was somewhat surprised he hadn't started tapping his foot at her already.
Aria frowned slightly in confusion as she thought about what had happened before she had woken up here. It didn't take her very long.
"Ariah, I have just heard news of your sister. She is being held by Megatron."
She swallowed as she remembered Optimus' careful words from before. But an irritated fidget reminded her that Ratchet was still waiting for an answer.
"I," she tried to think of an appropriate comparison for fainting, "I think I glitched."
Off to her right someone snickered. She looked over to see Jazz standing there along with Prowl, who was not nearly as amused as the smaller mech was.
"It's not funny." Prowl muttered tightly to Jazz.
Jazz sniggered to himself again. "Oh come on, it's kind of funny."
Aria was sure that if Prowl hadn't been so bent on protocol and order he would have reached up and smacked Jazz upside the head like the straight man in a comedy duo.
"Glitched?" Ratchet said in surprise. "Do you have a faulty connection somewhere?" He asked, scanning her quickly to check on the state of her internal systems.
Aria didn't object since she already knew what had happened. "No, I'm alright Ratchet. I was just…overwhelmed by something." She told him softly.
The medic paused, peering at her with narrowed optics that hid most of his generous concern for her. Then he turned to the others standing around in the room. "Give us a cycle." He told them in a normal voice.
"But-" Prowl tried to argue.
"Out!" Ratchet shouted, making almost everyone jump.
"Come on 'Bee," Optimus said gently as he lifted the youngling off the stark metal bed frame, "let's let Ariah rest."
The youngling's wide blue optics made Aria feel bad about Ratchet kicking everyone out, but at the same time she did want a space of quiet. So instead she smiled at Bumblebee. "I'll see you in a little bit okay 'Bee?" She said as reassuringly as she could still manage.
Bumblebee nodded slowly. "Alright," he said, his little voice subdued.
Aria made sure to smile until 'Bee had left, Optimus closing the door behind them. Then the expression evaporated from her face, leaving her looking tired and gaunt.
Without a word, Ratchet grabbed a nearby chair and dragged it closer to Aria's bedside. Then he sat and settled his arms across his broad frame and waited.
"So," he finally said, his voice calm and reassuring, when Aria didn't speak, "what happened?"
Aria swallowed hard, feeling tears pricking behind her eyes as she stared down at the human sized blanket someone had covered her with.
Finally she managed to look up at the large, emergency-yellow mech, although the contact was brief. "Did you hear that Sunstreaker made it back from that group that was taken by Decepticons?" She asked, her voice small.
Ratchet nodded once. "Yes, I have him in the next aisle. Hoist is looking after him now."
Aria didn't move. "Did you know he saw a creature that looked just like me when he was captured and handed over to Shockwave?"
Ratchet froze in his chair. Then, slowly, he managed to relax enough to answer, "No, I hadn't."
Aria nodded. From where he sat, Ratchet could make out the drops of wetness as they started falling from Aria's optics.
"All this time," she finally said through her constricted throat muscles, "all this time she's been here and she's been trapped with them." She sobbed, the wetness falling faster down her face.
Ratchet didn't speak. He didn't want to admit to his organic friend, but he had suspected as much when the orbits had passed and nothing was ever heard about another organic creature. The only other possibility he had thought likely was that the little creature had been extinguished, and he had wanted to tell Aria that even less.
Aria cried for what felt like forever to her grieving mind, but Ratchet knew it was only a cycle or two.
Eventually he vented a heavy sigh and leaned forward. "Aria, this is not your fault." He told her, keeping his voice soft.
She sniffed and sobbed another moment. "H-how c-c-an you s-say that?" She managed to say through her crying. "I-I'm her o-oh-older sister. I'm supposed to-o look a-after her. I sh-should've found her before they did!" She hiccupped, refusing to lift her face from her hands.
Ratchet listened. "How?" He asked sensibly when she had paused to breathe spastically, her shoulders shaking. "For all you know Megatron found your sister before Optimus even found you. There might not have been anything you could have done to prevent this." He told her softly.
A loud sob broke through Aria's chest that shook her with its force. She curled tighter in on herself, leaning her head down into her lap, still refusing to uncover her face.
Ratchet vented another sigh as he rubbed at his head. It was true. He knew it was true. And at the moment truth was the only comfort he could see to give.
He gave her another moment to try and control her sobs before asking as gently as he could, "So, what are you going to do?"
Aria sniffed and sobbed a moment more. "Wa-what do you mean?" She eventually found enough voice to ask.
"Well," Ratchet said as he watched the organic femme with perceptive optics, "are you just going to sit here leaking or are you going to do something to rescue her?" He asked, perfectly serious.
Aria finally looked over at the medic in surprise. "But what can I do? I'm not even the size of most minicons. How in the world can I go up against Megatron? I mean, you and Optimus are the only ones I've ever heard of that can even stand against him in a fight and I'm nothing compared to either of you." She said, showing a severe lack of self esteem that Ratchet hadn't even suspected.
The chief medical officer sighed and slowly blinked in thought. "You think too little of yourself Aria. Now, you are small, there's no getting over that, but you've survived battles just like the rest of us. You've gone against mechs more than twice your size and still come back. You've found mechs and femmes buried in gigatons of rubble without getting anything worse than a scratch on your frame and gotten out to get them help. You were even tossed into a lava river and survived to find seven sparks," he said as if the fact still continued to amaze him, "which is more then most mechs here can claim. And to top it all off, you are exceedingly clever." "Not to mention stubbornly persistent," he added to himself.
Aria was looking at him now with an expression that Ratchet wasn't sure meant she was trying to decide if she should believe him, or if she just thought he was malfunctioning in his processors.
"But," she tried again, "but that isn't the same. That stuff…just happened." She protested.
Ratchet nodded. "Yes and it happened to you. Now I may not be as wise as Alpha Trion or know what's written in that strange codex of his, but I am smart enough to know that you are exceedingly brave, sometimes a bit dense in the brain pan," he admitted with a small smile to show that he meant it kindly, "but brave all the same and just as protective and loving as any femme I've ever met. You would never let anything happen to your family if you could help it."
He gave her a minute to absorb this before he continued.
"So," he said once Aria started to look more like her normal self, "I'll ask you again; what are you going to do?"
There was a moment of silence as Ratchet watched her come to the decision he had always known she'd make. And when she looked up again, he saw that while her optics were still wet, there was a fire burning in them that would quickly dry her out.
"I'm going to get my sister back," she said, voice steady and firm, "even if I have to kick Megatron's aft to do it."
Ratchet felt his faceplates shift into a proud smile. "That's what I thought." He said. Then he stood. "Now, Hoist should be done with Sunstreaker by now, so the vain mech should be making his way down to the main level. Optimus is leading a small team to try and rescue the other mechs that were captured with Sunstreaker. If you're going with them you'd better hurry." He told her as he picked something up from the table behind him. "And you'll probably want these."
He turned back around and held out the specially made weapons Wheeljack had designed for her. It had taken him some time, but eventually the inventor had worked out the kinks. Well, most of them anyway.
Slowly, Aria reached out and picked up the modified electronic rope and grapple (with emergency release now included) Wheeljack had re-made for her. She clipped it to her belt before picking up the easier to use pistol he had presented to her later. Wheeljack had put the weapon's penchant for exploding to better use through the self destruct button on top of the muzzle where it was less likely to be touched accidentally, so that was one problem solved.
Pistol in hand, Aria looked up at the medic. "Thanks Ratchet." She murmured.
Ratchet grinned sideways at her. "Just try to come back in one piece. I'm going to have enough trouble with Sunstreaker and Sideswipe without needing to try and put you back together." He said, partially kidding. The twins were always in his med bay it seemed, even when they weren't on duty.
Aria nodded, giving him a grim little smile of her own. "Alright. I'll see you when we get back." She promised.
Ratchet nodded once. "Good, now hurry up or they'll leave you behind."
He helped her to the floor and she took off, running towards the main floor.
Ratchet watched her go, his acute sensors detecting her footsteps until they disappeared onto the elevator down the hall.
The medic sighed again, suddenly feeling very old. "Primus protect her. Just bring her back." He murmured before turning back to his work of preparing the med bay for their return. "Bring them all back."