Ch 2: Assessments and Assignments, Part 5
Once the medicinal goop had been rubbed into his abused skin, Hank was released to go rejoin the other trainees, under strict orders to return that night for a check-up before he went to bed. Just as he stepped out of the bay, wondering where the heck he was supposed to go for the ‘tactical’ assessments, a cough from further down the hall caught his attention. He recognized the young man leaning against the wall as the one who’d been eating with Bluestreak a couple of orns before.
“Hi, um, Smokescreen?” Hank asked, approaching him.
“Yep, that’s me. I was told to come wait until you’d been released from the Hatchet’s lair.” The other guy grinned, tilting his helmet a bit as he stood up straight. “C’mon, your friends are working through the tactics test in one of Prowl’s briefing rooms.”
It took Hank a klik to run through the names Kup had mentioned in the mountains and pick out this one. “Uh, he’s the Second in Command around here, right?”
“Bingo, we’ve got a winner!” They left the building behind, heading for the command center and dodging various Autobots going about their business. Once the two hit the quieter staircase, Hank spoke up again.
“...Doesn’t he have more important things to do than test rookies?”
“Nah, Prowler always wants first crack at seeing who might make good officer material. It’s his way of making sure no more Jazzes slip into the chain of command.” Smokescreen smirked at Hank’s confused expression. “Don’t get me wrong, having those two work together on a battle strategy means it’ll be the best we’ve got, but back when they first had to start working together, those two hated each other. And Prowl has no inclination whatsoever to inflict someone with a similar personality type onto himself to try and order around.”
“So you say, but it’ll be easier to understand once you’ve been here a while.”
“How long do recruits usually stick around? Since this is the Headquarters base and all.”
“Eh, depends on what your talents are and how quickly groups finish their training. Usually, the first five orns are the basic assessments, after which you get assigned to a particular division, undergo another groon or two of specialized training, and then are either good enough to stay here or join up with one of our mobile units. I’ll go ahead and let you in on a little secret, Roddy - there aren’t nearly as many of us as the Cons and Neutrals think.”
He frowned. “What, you mean there aren’t armies of Autobots defending the northern city-states?”
“I don’t know the exact numbers - actually, I’m pretty sure only the top officers do - but at most? We have two dozen units of as many as ten or so operatives out in the field at all times, a couple bases half the size of this one, the various Wilds Dweller and Roamer agents, and the sixty or so people here.”
Hank felt his jaw dropping, but didn’t particularly care. “But that- that’s maybe four hundred Autobots! Against-”
“Against over two thousand Decepticon Imperials, yeah. Which is why we don’t have very many actual battles, compared to small skirmishes and guerilla warfare. It’s also why we place so much emphasis on training the few newcomers we get, especially with tactics.” By this point, the pair had come to a stop beside the closed door of a room labelled 207: Mission De/Briefs 3.
Smokescreen vented a quick sigh before offering Hank a smile. “It’s not so bad. As long as we’re careful not to take unnecessary risks, we don’t lose too many people. I think it’s worse for those folks that the Cons have suckered or forced into joining their ranks. Anyway, this is your stop, and just bear in mind all that I’ve said.” With that, the man turned and strode away, leaving Hank to enter the room alone.
The first thing he noticed were the looks of concentration each of his friends wore as they worked on computer screens at a row of desks. Then there was Ironhide standing at the back, as imposing as ever but appearing relieved that Hank was still in one piece. And beside the Weapons Specialist was a man dressed like both Smokescreen and Bluestreak, frowning first at Hank and then the remaining empty desk.
Taking the hint, he hurried over and activated the test waiting for him. Looking over the questions, Hank realized they were all combat scenarios, requiring written explanations from the recipient as to what they’d do with certain weaponry and teammates.
...Maybe four hundred Autobots... Against over two hundred Decepticon Imperials...
...Which is why we don’t have very many actual battles, compared to small skirmishes and guerilla warfare...
...Not so bad, as long as we’re careful not to take unnecessary risks...
Right then. Time to see how much damage he could do, risking as few lives as possible.
When everyone had finished the tactical assessments, Ironhide sent them off to lunch and said that they had the rest of the orn to relax. Still mulling over all the insights he’d had to the Autobots over the last few orns, Hank wasn’t much in the mood for conversation, so after finishing his meal he headed outside to wander around the base for a while.
All the vorns that he’d imagined the heroics, the glory and fame, he’d never much thought about what the actual reality of the War was. Hillitrex had been too far into the mountains to have its own Communications Hub like most towns, which was why most of their information came word of mouth from travellers passing through. Even so, when Hank was a kid and the War officially began, Sam Witwicky had come back one orn from Iacon with a recording of the message that the newly risen Autobot leader had sent out to every Hub across Cybertron.
“My name is Optimus Prime,and I would ask all citizens of our world to take heed of this message. We have been deceived as to the intentions of these Imperials...”
He’d sat and listened to every replay of that recording as townsfolk came and went from the Witwicky home, ignoring their whispered worries and concerns. All that had mattered at the time was the confidence, the surety in that voice as the man behind it swore that he and his people would fight with every weapon they had to remove the renamed Decepticons.
Lost in memory, it took a flash of yellow darting across his field of vision to bring Hank back to the present. He watched as Bumblebee ran to where a brown haired man was leaving the command center. The man grinned and knelt, opening his arms so the kid could throw himself into them. Laughing, the brunette stood, allowing Bee to scramble around until he was perched on the guy’s broad shoulders, eagerly pulling out his datapad and holding it down to be read. Hank found himself smiling as he watched, wondering who the guy was. He knew it couldn’t actually be Bumblebee’s dad, since Kup said the kid had been found and brought to the Autobots vorns ago...
The man that Bee was sitting on looked up, caught his eye, and waved Hank over. Embarrassed to have been caught staring, he jogged forward, smiling as Bumblebee waved to him.
“Is it just me, or have you gotten taller?” He joked, getting the kid to silently snicker. The man also smiled, handing the datapad back up.
“So, you’re this Hot Rod I’ve heard so much about.” Face reddening, Hank wondered exactly who he’d been hearing from.
“Yeah, that’s me. And you are?” Perched above him, Bee looked down at the man expectantly.
“Oh, just call me Op, that’s what this rascal uses.” Even without turning his head, the guy was able to reach up and poke Bee in the side. Startled, the kid batted his hand away with an annoyed scowl, but Hank could see the glee in his bright blue eyes.
“Okay, Op, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but who exactly has been saying what about me?”
“Well, to start, Bumblebee here is quite happy to finally have someone to teach combat skills too. I should say, though, had he not already offered, Ironhide’s report on the sparring assessments would have gotten you immediate instruction anyway.” Tall and muscular as he may have been, Op didn’t seem imposing in the slightest with a small twelve vorn old perched on his shoulders and making faces at what he was saying. Hank was hard pressed not to laugh out loud.
“Guess I shouldn’t be too surprised by that,” he said instead.
Op merely nodded, dislodging Bee’s folded arms, and started to turn away before pausing. “Would you care to join us? Bumblebee and I were just about to take our usual stroll around the base.”
“Oh! Uh, sure, if you don’t mind.” The kid was nodding enthusiastically, while Op just gave him a gentle smile. “Okay then.”
As they walked along the dirt path that circled the valley’s perimeter, Hank was further surprised by the banter that went back and forth between the two. They made an effort to include him in the conversation (where he came from, his family, what he liked to do in his spare time, that sort of thing), but it was clear that the pair were used to this time just being for them.
“How long have you two been doing this?” Hank found himself asking at one point.
“Oh, almost for as long as we’ve both been here.” Op smiled. “I was one of the soldiers who found Bee when he was a toddler, and more often than not in those early days my wife and I found ourselves being the ones to take care of him. “Little rascal was always trying to slip out from under our noses...”
Bee bopped him on top of the head.
“...And succeeded more often than not! We’d find him in the strangest places, especially after he started using the vents as a path of travel. Anyway, I started bringing him out here for an afternoon walk in order to wear out some of his energy before naptime.”
Huffing, Bee dropped his head down to bury his face in Op’s hair, getting the other two to chuckle at his embarrassment.
“I bet he was a lot smaller then.” Hank mentioned, getting Op to hum in agreement. “So... Are you guys planning on letting him fight when he turns eighteen?”
Bee raised his head cautiously as Op’s good cheer turned to something darker. “I... Am sincerely hoping to War is over by then. We all do. It is a hard enough thing to send others’ children into battle...” He trailed off, but Hank easily could imagine what the man would have said next: But to send one’s own is another matter entirely.
Yet another thing he hadn’t thought about when contemplating the War.
“I always thought, growing up, that wars and battles were about winning for the greater good, earning glory to go with your name, and that the good guys always won over the bad.” Hank said slowly, hardly believing he was bringing it up. “But, it’s not that simple, is it?”
“Very rarely.” Op rumbled, tightening slightly the grip he had on Bee’s ankles where they dangled by his chest. “The greater good is indeed what we strive for, but not at the cost of lives that the Decepticons are continually willing to sacrifice. Glory, I have found, only serves to make you target on the battlefield, hence why we try to work quietly as much as possible, up until battle breaks out. And as for good triumphing over evil... In the end, that is what we hope for. Until then, losses have to be dealt with as much as victories.” As he spoke, the man’s voice had gotten deeper, causing Hank to frown as he noted something familiar about it.
They completed the rest of the walk in silence after that, until Op bid the young recruit a good night cycle, and headed off to the officers’ barracks with Bee still perched atop him. It wasn’t until the two were out of sight that Hank realized he’d never gotten the man’s actual designation, or found out who he was in the Autobot ranks.
None of his friends recognized the description of the guy when Hank brought him up at dinner, though they all listened rather intently when he passed on the man’s words about the War. Later, when he returned to the medical bay so Ratchet could satisfy himself that the bruises were all healing, Hank asked the old doctor if he knew who Op was. The startled look was enough to give him an affirmative, but then Ratchet started laughing and saying that the rookie would get to officially meet him the next orn. Disappointed, Hank was forced to go to sleep that night wondering about the mystery of it.