Chapter 20: Do You Want to Tell Her No?
Aria was out of breath by the time she made it to the main level of the Hall of Records. Understandable, seeing as she had practically flown through the maze of hallways and interlocking bridges that connected the different buildings of Iacon together. But even though her lungs were burning fiercely, she somehow made it to the main hall.
She could see the towering frames of her friends on the other side, near the door. "W-wait!" She yelled waving at them frantically, afraid they would leave without even seeing her, "wait a minute!"
Of course they heard her, however Optimus still felt slightly surprised to see her up and running about so soon. He had thought that Ratchet would have wanted to keep an optic on her, at least for a little while, but unless Ariah had escaped his observation (which seemed highly doubtful since there was very little that the CMO did not miss) then Ratchet must have cleared her to leave his hospital.
When the little organic was close enough, the great red and blue mech knelt so he could speak with her easier.
"What is it Ariah?" He asked when she had stopped a few feet from his head. "Is something the matter?"
She was still slightly winded from her dash across the alien sized complex and it took her a moment a regain enough breath to answer him coherently.
"I," she drew in one last gasp before her heart rate settled into a smooth enough rhythm that she didn't feel like it was about to beat out of her throat. "I'm going with you." She told him directly.
Optimus noticed she had not in fact asked him a question. She had made a declaration; something she was going to do no matter what he said or thought on the matter.
He had just opened his mouth to try and reason with her anyway when a contemptuous snort cut him off. He turned his head so that Sunstreaker came into view, arms crossed stubbornly over his gold painted armor. With growing unease, Optimus noticed too the look on Ariah's face when she saw the mech leaning against the wall to her right.
"You've humored your little friend too much Prime. She's actually begun to think that she can hold her own against a mech like Megatron." Sunstreaker shot, going for offhanded, but coming off as more irritated and impatient instead.
There was a moment of silence where all the optic ridges of the other bots in the room rose at once. "Excuse me?" Ariah finally demanded when Sunstreaker didn't say anything more.
The warrior mech defiantly met the little femme's outraged optics. "You heard me pipsqueak. You're hardly even half the size of those younglings you watch so much and you want to come on a raid with us? Yeah right." He drawled scathingly.
Aria's outrage immediately burned brighter into all out fury. Even Optimus, who had known her the longest, was taken aback by the fire blazing in her blue optics.
Aria drew in a deep breath, preparing herself for what the others knew was going to be a nasty verbal conflict. "Now listen here you yellow painted brat," she hissed as she threw out an accusing finger that held the somewhat surprised Sunstreaker firmly in place, "I don't care who you are, or why you're such a blockhead, but you don't get to talk to me like that. Contrary to what you seem to think, I am not some child you can just push around." She shot back at the irritable mech.
Sunstreaker stared at her a moment, completely thrown by the femme's argument, and from such a small little being too.
But Aria was just getting started.
"Now how about you stop your whiny little tantrum so that we can go and save the others already? Unless you'd prefer to leave them there so you can keep harping on my small size?" She asked, almost as if she could read his processors right then.
But she had crossed a line. She knew it the moment Sunstreaker's eyes started to boil red near the bottom, creating an angry violet around the center of his narrowed optics. "Mute it organic!" He suddenly thundered, advancing slightly as his one hand balled into a threatening fist. "My brother sacrificed his chance at freedom so I could get out of there. And now that I've got the chance to go and get him out, I'm not going to let some stupid little creature that's acting too big for her armor come and ruin our chances of getting in. What in the Pit do you know about leaving someone like that behind?"
Aria's eyes suddenly boiled over with a fierce rage tempered by a deep set loneliness and guilt that made Optimus feel sad for his little friend all over again. Then before anyone could act, Aria had her rope in hand and the grapple was flying out the end. It landed with an angry clank in the gap between the mech's thigh and knee armor, entangling itself in the nest of sensitive wires that were just under the surface.
Sunstreaker gave an infuriated shout that was somehow surprised in the same instant. But he didn't have time to do anything else because Aria gave a vicious pull on the rope, pulling it taut.
Sunstreaker instantly went down on one knee as Aria's grapple threatened to rip several primary motor conduits right out of his leg.
For a moment the mech just stared in complete shock at the hook he could just barely see from where it was buried in the sensitive pressure point that all Cybertronians had.
From off to the side, Wheeljack opened his mouth to say something to try and defuse the loaded situation, but stopped when Chromia held out a hand. "No, no," she quietly murmured, "best to let them finish this."
Wheeljack lowered his arm uncertainly, but remained quiet all the same. On his left, Prowl looked over at the organic femme with a growing sense of pride. It was nice to see that his lessons in the weakness of Cybertronian anatomy had taken root somewhere, even if it hadn't been to the audience he had first intended.
Sunstreaker had other things on his processor then the frailties in his frame as Aria stalked toward him, always making sure to keep her rope from going slack. She stopped when she had reached the shadow that stretched from under his kneeling frame. Then with surprising strength for one so small, she reached up and yanked the gold mech's head down nearly even with his knees, closer to hers.
"Now listen here you scrap for brains beast," she snarled at him once they were as close to eye to optic as physically possible, "My sister has been missing for years with no sign or word or anything to let me know she is even alive. So don't you dare tell me I don't know how it feels! Now I don't care if you think I'm nothing but a nuisance, but now that I finally know something about where she is, I'm going to save her whether you like it or not!"
If Sunstreaker had been human, his jaw would've dropped wide open. But as it was he looked over at Optimus Prime where he was standing a few yards away, disbelief etched into every one of his faceplates.
"Is she serious?" He demanded hotly in Cybertronian. Inwardly, he decided to overlook the fact that he still couldn't stand up without removing some extremely crucial wiring to normal movement in the process.
Under any other kind of circumstances, Optimus probably would have argued. He wanted to expose the little femme to the kinds of danger that only lived in the battlefield as much as anyone else did and over these last few stellar cycles he had been immensely relieved to hear that she wanted more to look after the sparklings than to venture out of Iacon city and the limited safety it offered. But after seeing the look on Ariah's face (and possibly, at least in part, the incredulous one on Sunstreaker's) he said nothing against her wishes and just shrugged instead.
"You heard her." He told the other mech. "Unless you want to find out what'll happen when you try and tell her no twice." He offered.
Sunstreaker gave the still glaring organic a wary look. No one ever knew if his silence was a rare show of compassion for the little femme's plight, which was so similar to his own, or if he was just plain scared of her, but either way he shot his leader a look that clearly said he was out of his processors.
"Just tell her to get her pit slaggin' hook out of my wires!" He hissed instead.
With a murmured word to his small friend, Optimus did. Aria stepped towards the break in Sunstreaker's armor and with an efficient twist, freed her grapple from the mech's internal circuitry.
Sunstreaker winced at the twang of pain in his knee, but otherwise wasn't harmed from the little exchange.
The mech stood quickly and glared down at the little femme, who gave him one last lingering glare before turning away and tending to her strange weapon instead. Sunstreaker vented a brief burst of angry air, but then ignored the strange femme in return.
He went very still when he saw that everyone else was staring at him now.
"What?" He demanded angrily.
For the most part, the other bots shrugged or looked the other way, not wanting to start another fight, but Jazz met the other Autobot's irate glare. "Nothing," he answered, completely serious, "aside for the fact that you just got your aft handed to you by an organic that can't even jump as high as my leg."
Ironhide snorted from where he stood next to Chromia and Wheeljack. "Yeah, nice goin' there Sunny. Which of you is the soldier again?" He asked with his usual blunt humor.
Sunstreaker glared at the nickname but didn't dare argue against the weapons specialist. Even with his hair trigger he knew not to mess with the tough old Praxian.
Optimus overlooked their verbal play, his mind largely focused on what was ahead of them. "If we're done here," he eventually said cutting through the mechs' back and forth. They all went quiet and looked over at him, waiting for him to give the order.
He tried to. "Autobots, let's r-"
But he was cut off by a little shout of, "No!"
"Oh for Primus' sake, we're never getting out of here," Ironhide muttered as they all turned to see little Bumblebee dashing from the far hallway where he had been watching ever since Aria had started arguing with Sunstreaker.
"Wait, you can't go!" The youngling said forcefully.
Optimus held back a sigh. He didn't need Bumblebee thinking he didn't have enough time to at least try and explain things to him. The little mech was going to have enough troubles growing up in war time, without even having a slim chance at the semi-normalcy that most bots had had.
Instead, the large mech knelt down to be closer to optic level with the youngling. "What is it Bumblebee?" He asked him.
Bumblebee hesitated, digits fidgeting nervously as he glanced between his guardian and the floor. Optimus felt his optic ridges furrow together. He had never seen his youngling look so nervous about asking someone anything. He was usually so outgoing.
"'Bee?" Optimus asked again in a quieter voice.
The little mech's optics flickered uneasily one more time as if he was afraid of what Optimus would think of him.
"I don't want you to go." He finally whispered.
Optimus vented a large sigh and ran a hand over his helm. "Bumblebee-" he tried.
"No!" 'Bee cried suddenly, "No you can't go! Something's wrong. It's all wrong! Something bad is going to happen!" He said, his voice squeaking in his distress.
Optimus frowned slightly at Bumblebee's earnest words. "Bumblebee," he said patiently, "you know that there's always a chance that something bad will happen." He said using words he knew the boy would understand.
But the little yellow bot shook his head. "No, this is different. Nothing's right. Please don't go." He insisted, his optics starting to fill with fluid.
A wash of worry flooded Optimus' frame. For a brief klik Optimus considered the idea that there was something larger at work then just 'Bee afraid that something was going to happen to his family. He even thought of listening to the youngling and calling it off, but it was an extremely brief moment, just a flash of thought he immediately knew he couldn't follow.
"You know we can't do that 'Bee. There are other Autobots that need our help. We need to save them." Optimus told the yellow youngling as gently as he could.
Bumblebee gave a little hiccup of terror.
Optimus glanced up as he detected Ariel's soft footsteps around the far corner his youngling had appeared from earlier. They had to leave soon he knew, so he quickly turned back to Bumblebee. "I have to go now Bumblebee," Optimus told him, "I will see you when we return. Remember to be good for Ariel while we're gone." Then he leaned down and wrapped the youngling in what was supposed to be a comforting embrace.
'Bee knew there was nothing more he could say to change his guardian's mind so he wrapped his small arms around Optimus' neck and nodded slightly, young processor still frantically trying to think of a way to keep the others from leaving. Once they were away from Iacon, little Bumblebee knew the bad thing would get them.
"They don't understand. They'll never come back." He thought frantically. "It'll get them and they'll never come back!"
But he was too late. Already Optimus had straightened up again and was turning to leave. Dimly, Bumblebee heard him give the order to roll out. And then they were gone. Most of the mechs turning to give the youngling what were supposed to be reassuring smiles. Aria turned around from where she was sitting on Chromia's shoulder and grinned at him before blowing him a kiss. Usually he would have laughed at her strange organic ways, but he was still too wrapped up in the horrifyingly real feeling that something was going to go terribly, terribly wrong.
'Bee became suddenly aware that he was completely alone. This was his chance. Ariel wasn't here yet, but he could hear her in the near distance. Now was all he'd get to stop the bad thing he felt coming. For a split second, he stared at the door the others had disappeared through, and then made up his mind with a quick, little nod.
When Ariel arrived not two cycles later, the room was empty and, feeling slightly confused, she went to look for 'Bee somewhere else.
Iacon passed quickly on the other side of Optimus Prime's alt-form windows, but Aria hardly noticed. Her mind was caught up with her di di's strange outburst. Her Cybertronian wasn't good, exactly, but she had learned enough from Ariel and Hound to understand the general meaning of Bumblebee's words.
"What do you think he meant that something bad was going to happen?" Aria finally asked a few minutes after the outer city limits of Iacon had disappeared behind them.
There was a stretch of thoughtful silence before Optimus answered her. "He is still very young by our standards Ariah. Most likely he was simply afraid by the fact that both you and I are leaving. He's never had to deal with that before. You've always been there for him and the other younglings." He suggested.
But the human girl didn't buy it. "That's not what it sounded like he meant." She thought out loud.
There was a loud gust of air circling through the mech's cab that Aria recognized as a sigh. "No, no it did not." He agreed with her, sounding very much like he did not want to.
Aria waited a moment, sensing Optimus had more to say.
"It is a common belief among us," he finally went on, his voice sounding slightly strained as if he did not want to consider this option, "that the younger members of our species are more in tune with the Matrix, the guiding force of our race. Occasionally Primus, who created and uses the Matrix to speak with us, will give us messages through special younglings."
Aria raised an eyebrow at her oldest alien friend. "And sometimes he hands out warnings too yeah?"
"…yes." Optimus eventually answered her.
Aria thought about this for a moment. "But then, how do you know 'Bee's telling you something from this Primus guy? How can you tell the difference between the source of all your creation and what Bumblebee wants?" She asked, bringing up a question that Cybertronian philosophers had been trying to answer for light years.
Optimus' silence took on a decidedly grim feeling. "You can't." he finally told her, voice bleak.
Aria was silent again. "Oh."
They small Autobot force came to a halt a little over a decacycle later, remaining just outside scanning distance of what remained of Kaon city. Like Iacon, the Decepticon headquarters had held its ground throughout the long war. Now it stood, smoke filled and blast riddled, looming in the distance like a storm front ahead of them.
"It's like it hasn't even changed." Treads said after he had transformed back into his bipedal form. He, Prowl, and Optimus were standing behind a large heap of scrap metal, just out of sight of the city. Jazz, Wheeljack, Bluestreak, Chromia, Ironhide, Sunstreaker, and Aria stood behind them, the bots double and triple checking their weapons as the little human looked rather nervously about her. It had been a long time since she had been out of Iacon after all. Although Bluestreak looked even less pleased to be here as he talked nonstop at Aria, who nodded occasionally, Wheeljack cutting in every now and then with the distraction of his new rocket launcher. Optimus had to remind himself that this was the closest Bluestreak had ever been to Megatron's nest of operations.
"We should keep a special optic on him." Prowl murmured to his left, his optics never leaving the city.
Treads made a disbelieving snort. "Blue?" He asked with some incredulity. "He's the last mech that would let'cha down, no matter how green he is."
Prowl gave the rougher mech a sidelong look. He had known Treads before the war - them both living in the Pit that was the conjoined cities of Kaon and Slaughter city - but it wasn't until war had broken out between the Decepticons and the Autobots that they had been on the same side of things. "I don't doubt his mettle, but this is hardly the place to let a mech as young as him get away from us." He pointed out.
Treads shrugged one massive shoulder, deciding not to argue with the tactician's words. "So how you wanna get in?" He asked Optimus instead. "If the 'cons haven't blocked 'em off, I remember a path through the under city up to the industrial sector. Nice way to sneak in unnoticed." He offered.
"No, it's too risky not knowing if that maze is open or not," Prowl interjected before Optimus could answer Treads, "and besides that will take us more towards Slaughter city. Shockwave's lab is in Kaon, closer to the center of Decepticon activity. It'll be more to our advantage to cut through at ground level from the west where their defenses are weaker." He said pointing to show where he meant.
Treads snorted somewhat rudely. "Yeah, because there'll be so much cover from those Seeker fly bys Starscream's known for."
"Enough," Optimus said firmly before Prowl could retort. "Prowl, you take Jazz, Ironhide, Chromia, and Bluestreak and make sure that our exit is clear. Treads, you, Ariah, Sunstreaker, and Wheeljack are coming with me."
A lopsided grin appeared on Treads' scarred faceplates. "We going to pay a visit to Shockwave, Prime?" He asked, anticipating a good brawl getting inside to where the prisoners were being held.
Optimus nodded. "Yes, and I have a feeling that even you'll be tired by the end of this Treads." He said before turning over his shoulder and called out, "Sunstreaker!" in a semi quiet voice.
"How did you get out of the city before?" He asked when the gold painted mech looked up at him.
Sunstreaker joined the other mechs on the hill, careful to keep his brightly painted form out of sight as he pointed off toward the lower right corner of the city spread out before them. "I followed the coolant pipes out of the city, through what used to be the waste removal sector. The blasted up buildings provided lots of cover, and I must have had some luck stored up somewhere." He explained, his optics sharp as he looked between the wasted city and his leader. "If you backtrack that, there's an abandoned waste plant that connects to Shockwave's lab at the other end. It leads straight to his," he sneered in disgust, "experiment rooms where he keeps his projects." He spat, his anger hiding a growing sense of horror at the memory of what he had glimpsed lurking in Shockwave's care.
Optimus nodded and looked at the city and the surrounding land thoughtfully. "Right," he muttered, "you lead the way. We'll approach from the southeast to avoid the empty land around the city. Prowl, you take your team and we'll meet up later."
Prowl nodded sharply before turning and dividing up the bots that hadn't heard the plan already. A burst of weapons cocking and ammo locking into place answered him.
"Don't get lost down there Sunny!" Ironhide quietly shouted out before following Prowl's example and shifting into his alt mode.
Sunstreaker growled but didn't respond as he did the same, his sleek alt mode appearing where his taller form had been moments before.
"Autobots," Optimus Prime's voice cut through the air as he tested their comm. connections and generally made sure everyone was locked and loaded, "roll out!"