Chapter 8: The Space Bridge
The room was silent when Aria finished explaining what had happened to her. She waited somewhat patiently on the countertop as the only other creature in the room that could understand her processed all of what she had just said.
"I see," Ariel finally said, breaking the silence. Then she turned to Orion Pax to ask a question. Throughout Aria's story, she had alternated between listening and translating for Orion Pax and Jazz, who stood on either side of her.
"I'm afraid that neither has seen another creature like you, young Aria. Are you sure that your sister is here with you?" Ariel asked after the two males had replied to her query.
Aria nodded firmly even as a little niggling doubt crept into her mind. "Yes," she said anyway, "I saw her after we had gone through the light. The car was gone, but she was still there."
"Car?" Ariel asked, confusion laced through the single word. She had learned the word from Aria's music device and had perceived its purpose from cross referencing it with other words and their implied meanings contained within the pink device however she was still unsure of its precise definition.
Aria either guessed as much or just couldn't imagine a non-human being able to learn the meaning of every word in the English language from her Ipod (which held considerably less words than the dictionary and did not have that nice little 'word' = 'this' format) because she nodded. "Yeah car, automobile, personal transportation device, a protective, sometimes stylish frame with four wheels and driven by a human, hopefully one that actually knows how to drive." Aria listed off what she hoped where understandable synonyms.
Ariel nodded. A good sign, Aria felt, so she decided that now was as good a time as any to start asking her own questions. "So, uh, do any of you know what that light might have been? Or maybe just how I got here in general?" She asked feeling anxiously hopeful.
Ariel consulted with Orion Pax and Jazz. The taller mech just shrugged, but Jazz said something, pointing beyond the wall on Aria's left in roughly the same direction she had come from that first night.
"He says that it sounds like you came through the space bridge, however unlikely it seems." Ariel translated.
"What's a space bridge?" Aria asked, ready for her own definition.
"A method of crossing space in short amounts of time. The device itself is made up of pillars that can transport solid objects between aligned sets." Ariel told her methodically. "The light it produces is intensely bright and would fit your description. That and I cannot imagine that a small organic body like yours would do well when unassembled and reassembled at the atomic level."
Aria felt slightly queasy just at the thought. "No, no not really."
"It is strange though," Ariel went on after a moment of thought, "there is only one space bridge left functioning and no one has used it for vorns too numerous to count." She explained.
Aria ignored the word that had escaped translation since the meaning was perfectly comprehensible. "So why me then? Why now? Did it just randomly decide to lock on to me and Sera and sling us here for no reason?" She asked.
Ariel shook her head. "I find that very doubtful."
Orion Pax spoke up for the first time since the two females had started talking. He sounded uncertain now, which surprised Aria a bit. True, he didn't talk much, but she had never heard so much self-doubt in his voice before.
"I suppose it makes some amount of sense," she thought slowly as the aliens spoke, "if they really do have a caste system like I know from back home, then some people, er, Cybertronians, are thought to be higher than others. I guess that, maybe, those in the lower castes would think twice about speaking their minds around the higher ups,"
Aria resisted the urge to roll her eyes, "Figures, Earth isn't the only one with stupid people," she thought, angry at whoever had first came up with the idea that they were better than the kind hearted group of beings that had taken her in.
"Orion Pax has suggested that perhaps your travels through the space bridge were not an accident or a simple random occurrence," Ariel said to Aria after a moment.
Aria felt her eyebrows furrow. "You mean someone actually planned for this to happen? Sera and I were abducted?" She asked in disbelief. Who on E-er, Cybertron, would want to abduct her? It just sounded ludicrous.
"Possibly, yes," Ariel answered calmly, "however we cannot think of anyone who could use the space bridge like this, or why they would in the first place."
"Great," Aria muttered. Then a more apprehensive thought struck her brain. "Wait, if you don't know who did this, or how they managed to control the space bridge, then how can Sera and I get home?" She asked anxiously.
Ariel voiced the little organic's concern to the others. Jazz said something, his body language easy and carefree, which reassured Aria immensely.
"What is it?" She asked curiously.
"He says that returning you to your planet should be as simple as placing you within the pillars and sending you back through the space bridge."
Aria exhaled a large sigh of relief. "Thank you God," she murmured to the air around her, than so the others could hear, "so all we have to do is find Sera and she and I can be on our merry way, yeah?"
Ariel did not look so sure. "In theory, yes," she answered cautiously, "however if someone has switched the ending coordinates to a different set of pillars, it will be considerably more difficult to change them back without more knowledgeable assistance."
Aria swallowed hard at the very idea. "Great," she said again, even more dejectedly, "well if worse comes to worse maybe you can loan me a space ship or something," she joked with a frightened laugh.
Ariel translated out of habit and Jazz laughed loud enough to make Aria slap her hands over her ears. He quickly apologized and reduced his volume, but couldn't make himself stop laughing altogether.
"What?" Aria asked when she dared to uncover her ears. "You have a space bridge but no ships?"
"While we are familiar with ships for flight, there are few craft left that are able to travel far beyond our planet and even fewer of us who remember how to pilot them." Ariel explained, sounding sad.
Aria felt…confused. "So, you have ships, but no one can fly them?" Aria asked, just to be sure.
Ariel nodded once.
"That seems kind of," backwards, bizarre, crazy, "weird." Aria finally managed.
Ariel conceded that with a tilt of her head. "However, it is still the truth. Aside from the Seekers, who can fly under their own power, there are only a handful of elders still functioning that know how to fly large ships."
"Huh," was all Aria could think to say. Her Grandpa George had taught her to fly in his Cessna when she had turned fifteen as a birthday present. She had even flown enough hours in the old bird to go for her pilot's license. All she needed was the money and she had over half already. Granted, it might take her a bit longer to save up now that she was on a different planet, but still, only a hundred or so to go. It just felt so weird to know how to do something that highly advanced aliens didn't.
"Well, I guess I had better hope that the space bridge is still aimed at Earth then." Aria eventually said.
"That would be the easiest course of action." Ariel told her.
"Is this bridge very far from here?" Aria asked a few moments later, planning ahead helping to override her panic at everything that would probably go wrong.
"Roughly fifty of what you call miles." Ariel told her.
Aria swallowed down her fear as she looked anxiously up at the female robot. "Do," she tried, "do you think Sera still might be somewhere around there?"
Ariel blinked slowly at the little organic's clear hesitation before consulting with the two mechs standing next to her. The femme highly doubted that their uncertain answers would do much to reassure the little organic standing nervously, switching her weight from one foot to the other, in front of her, so when she turned back towards the uneasy Aria, she smiled peacefully instead. "It cannot hurt to go and check." She told her.
Aria took in her surroundings with giddy feeling as she watched the city of Iacon roll past the clear windows of Orion Pax's alt-form. Aria had nearly fallen off the counter when she first saw her host transform from a thirty foot tall robot into something not much bigger than a very large Earth truck.
It had taken her a moment to get over the pointing and squeaking nonsensically.
And then, as if that hadn't been enough of a surprise, they had told her she was supposed to get in, just like he was a car. Aria had refused out of an automatic sense of shock, and then again when she realized that Orion Pax was pretty much offering to carry her. It just seemed so…so rude to accept. Not to mention more than a little weird to go crawling into another being's insides.
Ariel smiled at her when she warily explained as much, but Aria thought there was an edge of relief to the gesture. It struck her as kind of strange, but she didn't have time to ask.
"Thank you, for the thought, young Aria, but it is not a burden. Orion Pax offered because he thinks it wise to keep you out of immediate public sight, which seems a wise idea." Ariel explained. "Do others on your planet not sometimes offer rides to friends or acquaintances?" She asked with a curious tilt of her head, honestly eager to know more.
"Well, yeah, sometimes," Aria admitted. "Although usually that doesn't mean they carry us!" She thought in shock.
Ariel nodded, unaware of the inner workings of the little organic's head. "This is the same thing. Now come, we only have so much time before we must resume our different works." She said, holding out a small hand for Aria to climb on to.
She had, carefully, and then with even more care, climbed into Orion Pax's alt form. It had been very strange at first, was still very strange actually, but soon the view of the city had wiped away most of Aria's misgivings. Aside from a few instances where she needed to duck down to avoid a stranger's curious eyes, she spent the trip gawking at the city. Of course she had seen it from the window before, but this was different. There was something grander about looking up at it from street level so that the honey colored buildings stretched so far over her head that Aria felt like a mouse looking up in a ripe grain field. The architecture was nothing like anything she had ever seen before. Even the illustrated space operas she had found last summer were dull, boring, and impossibly human compared to the city she now found herself in.
But it was all practically normal compared to their destination.
"Wow," Aria breathed when they had finally stopped. Roughly a hundred yards away, a circular, metallic structure grew out of the ground. Along its edge what looked like sticks about as tall as Aria stood out of the ring every few yards, the pillars that made this bridge work she guessed. In the center, a pillar almost exactly like the others, only glowing red instead of white, hovered several feet above the ground. Although she could barely make it out amid the familiar bright light that filled the ring and stretched off into the immeasurable distance above her head.
"That's it," Aria said once she had taken in most of the details, "that's got to be the thing I saw when I got here." Just to be sure, she shaded her eyes with one hand and squinted at the circular base the pillars were placed in. She nodded. "Yeah, I'm sure of it. Only I don't remember the light staying on when Sera and I landed."
As if to prove her point, the light of the space bridge abruptly flickered, then died, leaving behind an empty ring and sunspots in Aria's vision that refused to fade no matter how many times she blinked.
Frowning slightly, the girl turned around to see the three Cybertronians standing behind her, Ariel translating for the others. Aria waited for her to finish before pointing at the now lightless bridge.
"What happened to it?" She asked.
"No one is sure why, but from time to time the space bridge disengages. Most think that because the device is so old, and with no one around who knows how to repair it, that the space bridge is simply malfunctioning from age and lack of care. But given your sudden appearance I can't help but wonder if maybe this is not as random as all that." Ariel told her.
Aria nodded, "Yeah, maybe not so much," she muttered as she turned back to look at the offline bridge. "Is it safe to go near it?" She asked in a louder voice. It didn't seem very bright to her to just go search through something that could possibly transport her to an even weirder planet than the one she was already on all willy nilly, malfunctioning or not.
At Ariel's nod, Aria started walking closer to the bridge's base, keeping a careful eye out for her little sister's blonde head as she did. The surrounding area was fairly clear of debris or equipment so Aria had a pretty good view. Sadly, it did not include her nine year old sister.
"Sera!" Aria shouted as she looked around, "Sera are you here?"
No one answered.
Carefully, Aria walked around the bridge base, checking every single angle, just in case one would show her her missing sister. When that yielded nothing, she hopped over the base and looked inside, just to be sure.
It was as empty from the inside as it had looked on the outside. As a cold despair began to crush the hope out of her heart, Aria leapt back over the wall and rejoined Ariel, Orion Pax, and Jazz where they stood a few yards away.
"I," Aria swallowed hard past the lump in her throat, "I don't see her. I don't think she's here anymore." Her voice was soft and sad and for once Orion Pax thought he didn't need help understanding why.
Without any warning, a flicker of light caught their attention. The four turned to look as the space bridge suddenly came online again, looking for all the world as if it had never shut down in the first place.
Aria felt a familiar sting in her eyes and she quickly rubbed it away before full fledged tears could present themselves. She had hoped – but it didn't matter now. Sera obviously wasn't here. Maybe she hadn't even been here.
Aria's head snapped up at the thought. "Do you think," she asked hesitantly, "maybe she was still in the ring when the space bridge came on again? Maybe she came with me, but then didn't get out in time and it just sent her home? A round trip maybe?" She asked, afraid of the hope that was struggling to set her heart on edge again.
"It is possible…" Ariel said slowly, not wanting to get Aria's hopes up either.
Jazz suddenly spoke up. The two femmes looked over at him and he pointed at something to their left lying on the ground. Curious, Aria jogged over, the others following her. Aria saw it now too. It was something purple and kind of sparkly.
Her eyebrows shot up when Aria finally recognized the bracelet laying abandoned on the ground. Not wanting to think about what its presence meant, Aria picked it up. Its weight felt familiar in her hand.
"It's Sera's," she said in disbelief, "I gave it to her for her last birthday. She was wearing it when we got in the car."
No one said anything for a long moment as Aria stared at her sister's bracelet. Preoccupied as she was, Aria missed the worried look that passed between Orion Pax and Jazz.
"Do you think it's safe to let her stay?" Orion Pax asked his friend quietly.
Jazz shrugged. "Beats me," he answered, his tone too causal for comfort, "but this Megatron and his gladiators have been railing against the caste system for stellar cycles and so far nothing too drastic has happened." The other mech pointed out calmly, but there was still an undercurrent to his words that set Orion Pax on edge. It made him wonder just how long this uneasy peace would go on.
But he was soon distracted by Aria's bewildering action. She appeared to be leaking somehow. She kept wiping at her optics with the back of her hand and sniffing into her sleeve as if it could prevent the others from noticing her.
"What's she doing?" Jazz asked, seeing Aria's leaking optics.
Orion Pax could only shrug in confusion, but Ariel replied evenly, "She is upset. Her sister is missing. I can only imagine what she must feel."
Orion Pax looked over at the femme, curiosity piqued, but quickly decided that now was not the time to be asking personal questions. Carefully, he bent down towards the leaking Aria. It took her a cycle, but eventually after much rubbing at her optics, she looked up at him. Orion Pax saw that the whites around her blue lenses had turned red and she kept biting at her lips, trying to hold back whatever expression of grief her race had.
"I am sorry your sister is not here," he told her in what he hoped was an apologetic and reassuring tone, "but please know that I will do all that I can to help you find her and send the both of you home."
A small smile broke onto Aria's sad face when Ariel finished translating Orion Pax's words. He waited patiently as she wiped away the last of the fluid leaking from her optics before speaking.
"She says that you are sweet," Ariel told him, sounding a bit unsure of her translation.
"What does sugar have to do with this?" Jazz asked, just as confused by the organic's words as Ariel and Orion Pax were. "Is she getting sick again?"
"I do not believe so. Perhaps it is a colloquialism of her planet," Ariel supposed.
Orion Pax thought he understood the general meaning even if he did not know the exact definition of Aria's words. He returned her small grin and reached out a careful finger to tousle her hair. He ended up shaking Aria's whole body, nearly sending her toppling to the ground, but she laughed at him, so he assumed he hadn't hurt her.
Her smile was a little truer once she had regained her balance. She said a single, grateful sounding word, but in a curious gesture, she also touched her fingers to her chin and lowered her hand so that it stopped palm up in front of her chest.
"She thanks you," Ariel told him, her voice soft and lovely, "and adds that the sign is from a language spoken with hands for people on her world with malfunctioning auditory receptors. It also means 'thank you'."
Orion Pax gave Aria a somewhat lopsided smile and nodded. He wasn't doing anything special. In all honestly he felt like it was the very least he could do. She was lost and alone and quite literally stuck with them. What else could he do but help her find her way home?
Not feeling too comfortable saying that out loud, Orion Pax chose not to say anything else. Instead he stood up and gestured towards the city in the near distance. "Shall we return?" He asked the little creature.
Aria nodded and began walking slowly back towards town. However reassured she might have felt though, she walked slowly with her head down, shoulders slumped, and arms crossed over her torso, the purple bracelet held tight in her hand, undoubtedly deep in thought over her sister's continued absence.
Orion Pax gave her space, feeling certain there was nothing more he could say or do that would make her feel better at the moment. He didn't notice his companion until she spoke.
"That was very kind of you," Ariel said to him in a soft voice.
Orion Pax looked over at her, caught off guard by her sudden appearance as well as her interest in speaking with him.
"It was all I could think to say," he told her truthfully.
He caught a hint of a smile on her face. "Well it was kind anyway."
They walked in silence again, slowing their pace to keep a steady distance behind the still thoughtful Aria and the unusually quiet Jazz, who had caught up with the organic and was matching her slow but steady pace.
Finally Orion Pax couldn't stand the heavy silence any longer. "So, ah," he tried to think of something to say that wouldn't sound as awkward as he felt, "do you have any sisters then?" He finally managed, remembering her earlier sympathy for Aria's plight.
The linguist nodded once. "One, yes. Chromia and I have been friends since we received our first frames. And then our guardians turned out to be bonded sisters despite the differences in their classes, so in the end we followed suite. She is my dearest friend." She told him. Despite her soft voice, Orion Pax could still hear the strength of her emotion behind her words.
"She must be very lucky," he said, but when she looked confused by his words he added, "to have you as her sister." The thought of another awkward silence must have been too much for him because he quickly added, "I have a brother myself, an earlier charge of my guardian called Ultra Magnus, but we don't speak much."
"Oh," Ariel murmured in understanding, then looked almost shyly away from him.
Orion Pax did the same, embarrassed by his own boldness. He didn't know what was wrong with him. It wasn't like he had never met a femme before. It was just that he had never met one that made him feel so self-conscious. He actually felt flustered, a word he did not use lightly.
And given Ariel's continued silence, he was pretty sure he was actively destroying whatever chance he had of finding out why she had this effect on him at all.
His spark was still sinking when Ariel turned towards him.
"I am afraid that I must return to my work soon, but would it be alright if I visited again later?" She must have found some fault with her words because her hands gave a nervous twitch. "I mean, your organic friend's language is simple, but interesting. I would like the chance to be able to comprehend it better." She added very quickly.
Caught off guard by the question, it took Orion Pax a moment to realize he should answer. "What? Er, yes. Yes! Of, of course. That would be," he tried to think of a less embarrassing word than 'wonderful', but could only think of the too plain, "nice."
Ariel smiled at him, genuinely happy at his stammered answer. "Wonderful." She murmured.
A few yards ahead of them, Jazz and Aria walked on, now unnoticed by the two following them. Curious at the muted conversation, Jazz glanced behind him. He grinned at what he saw.
Keeping a low profile, Jazz reached out and nudged the organic girl walking next to him, catching her attention. Aria looked up, dragging herself away from her heavy thoughts. Her eyebrows came together as Jazz nodded silently over his shoulder at the two walking a little ways behind them.
Surreptitiously, Aria looked behind her. She felt her eyebrows shoot up when she saw how close Orion Pax and Ariel were walking together and the matching self-conscious smiles they had on their faces.
She quickly turned back around before they could spot her. She clapped a hand over her mouth to keep her amused giggles inside as she shot Jazz a meaningful look.
The mech just shrugged, smirking all the same. For once he didn't need a translation to understand Aria.
Which was good, because their interpreter was a bit tied up at the moment.