Ch 1: Prologue to Adventure, Part 5
Kup frowned thoughtfully as he watched the dark clouds that gathered in the distance. “I’d hoped we’d have a little longer.” He murmured, eyes taking a moment to check over his latest batch of youngling recruits. The young hot rod and younger Hepley boy were trying to compare past exploits to see who was the biggest idiot again, while the other boys listened in and the girl pretended to be ignoring the lot of them. Out of all the prospective Autobots Kup had brought to Ark Valley over the vorns, these didn’t seem like they’d be anything special - but his instincts were saying otherwise.
If nothing else, the old Wilds Dweller certainly didn’t want to lose any of them to the fierce storm headed their way.
“Listen up!” He barked, capturing all of their gazes immediately. “As I’m sure you all are aware, Cybertron is about to enter another of her periodic rainy seasons. I had hoped we’d be able to make it to Autobot Headquarters before the first of the storms set in, but it would seem we aren’t that lucky. So, I’m going to put us on a little detour, to take shelter with a friend of mine until a break in the weather presents us with better timing for the last leg of the journey.” And with that, he started down the game trail that clung to the edge of the mountainside they’d camped on the night before.
In the four days they’d been travelling in the same group, Hank hadn’t had reason yet to distrust Kup (aside from that first morning’s pot banging incident). He surprised both himself and the others by being the first one to hurry after the old man.
“Sooo, where are we detouring too?” Hank asked when he was a couple of steps behind Kup. The grey haired Wilds Dweller arched an eyebrow at his presence.
“Expected you t’ be at the back again.” He muttered, before speaking up. “A crash site that’s been in these mountains fer about fourteen vorns at this point. I was present when it was made, and spent a nerve-wracking groon fixing up the poor slagger who’d been shot down by the Cons. He’s been in that place every since.”
“He’s an Autobot, then?”
“No- not exactly. He sympathizes with our cause, but has family on the other side of the War. So, rather than actively joining our ranks, he just gives me a convenient place to take shelter from time to time, and occasionally other Wilds Dwellers as well.”
Hank was silent for a little while as they continued down the path, the others stretched out in a line behind them. “How many of you guys are there, anyway? Wilds Dwellers and the like who work for the Autobot cause.”
“Plenty. When the Decepticons started targeting us, there weren’t very many who weren’t willing to do something about it.” Kup paused for a moment, seeming to mull something over in his mind. “I was one of ‘em, fer the first vorn or two - and then Cons attacked my family’s dwelling in the Forestlands.” Hank felt his heart freeze at the words. “After I buried my wife and children, it was an old friend of mine who got me out of my depression and back to doing something practical. He’s one of the oldest Autobots, both in terms of actual age and with how long he’s been in the ranks; goes by the designation Ironhide.”
“I heard you mention his name when you were yelling at the cousins.”
“Heh, yeah, he’s one tough fragger, and the poor man in charge of making sure all you young hot shots know one end of a blaster from the other. Do yourself a favor, kid, and try to avoid getting on his bad side when we reach Ark Valley.” At Hank’s ‘who, me?’ face, Kup revised his advice. “Actually, it might be more practical t’ say just stay out of his way - I have a feeling yer exactly the type of troublemaker old ‘Hide especially hates.”
His deadpan look got a laugh out of the oldtimer, at least.
Half a joor later, just as the howling winds started to hurl fat raindrops down at the group, Kup lead them into a narrow valley and towards the massive air shuttle husk that dominated the upper half of it. Despite a fair amount of vegetation growing in the sheltered area, the scrubby bushes and long grasses couldn’t do anything to hide the massive scores in the earth and along the cliffs that made the valley - remnants of the terrific crash that must have taken place vorns before.
“‘Fire!” Kup shouted as he and the youths got closer. “Skyfire, ya in there!” A tall, lanky figure dressed in a stained and worn pilot’s uniform appeared in the rear hatch of the shuttle’s ruins.
“And here I didn’t expect to see you for another groon, Kyle!” The scruffy man grinned, eyes twinkling as his gaze swept over the recruits. “Well, get in here before you all get soaked.”
“So, Kup said that you weren’t an Autobot - but you’ve still got one of their codenames?” Hank was a bit confused by this detail, hence why he took a chance in asking the old pilot while the other recruits made themselves comfortable in the surprisingly well-equipped ruins. All around what had been the main hold, Skyfire had set up dozens of low tables and cushion seats, lengths of wool and leather lining the walls to help hold in the warmth.
Ignoring the warning glare Kup sent at him, Hank remained where he was as their host started pulling out foodstuffs for lunch. “You’re right, on both counts. My real name is Skylar Dawning. But I’ll explain fully after we all have something in our bellies.”
Sure enough, after he’d passed around toasted bread and cured ham, Skyfire sat himself down between Kup and Barry, and told them his tale.
“I was born in Vos, but moved to Cybertropolis at a young age to enroll in the flight program there. I’d always wanted to help those in the far reaches of Cybertron’s wild places, by bringing them connections to the rest of the world, along with other supplies needed to survive the cold and rainy seasons. Every vorn, though, I’d always spend my vacation time back home, visiting my siblings and their wealth of children. When the early days of the Imperials got started, I was taken in along with many other by their oaths of bettering Cybertron by ensuring everyone was on equal footing, with opportunities to make something of themselves. I admit to being exceptionally proud when all six of my brother and sister’s children grew up to join the ranks of the Seeker squadrons Vos was turning out... And then everything went wrong.
“After the Senate was disbanded, Morgan Triumphal, or Megatron as I hear he’s been calling himself as of late, ordered all shuttle flights bringing material goods to Cybertron’s outer reaches stopped. Many of my comrades did so, but I’d made an attachment with the people I delivered hope to - I refused to stop. On what turned out to be my final flight, a group of Vosian Seekers chased after me, all the way into these mountains. They... They were led by my eldest nephew, Steven Dawning. He ordered, pleaded with me to turn around, but when I continued to ignore his hails, he and the others opened fire on me.”
“I was standing below ‘em when it happened.” Kup said quietly when Skyfire had a hard time continuing. “Saw the shots, watched as the shuttle dropped and the jets turned back. Dropped what I was doing and made a beeline for the crash site. This place was a mess, then - metal plating and crates strewn all about, fires dotting the valley. Somehow,” he clapped Skyfire on the shoulder, getting a small smile out of the man. “This moron managed to survive all that. Granted, he was a right mess when I found him, what with the blood and burns and what not. Took me almost half a vorn to get him back on his feet.”
Trenton looked back and forth between them, incredulous. “Wait, you mean you actually nursed someone back to health?”
“And just what is so surprising about that?” Kup eyed him.
“Anyway,” Skyfire regained control of the conversation. “While he was keeping me from, as Kup likes to put it, ‘croaking and keeling over,’ I had a hard time thinking straight and was unable to give him a name. So, the old man started calling me ‘Skyfire’ in honor of my dramatic landing, and it was similar enough to my own name that I started answering to it in my delirious state - afterward we were both used to it, so the designation stuck.”
“You are barely a decade younger than me, you slagger. That does not give you the right to call me an old man.”
Rhea smirked at the Wilds Dweller’s grumbled complaint. “So, does that mean us ‘younglings’ get to call you an old man? Seems only fair, after all.” Skyfire and the boys started to laugh as Kup merely scowled into his sandwich.
“Interesting batch of recruits you’ve managed to gather this time around, Kyle.” The other man finally said. “Dare I ask where you found them all?”
“Those two-” He pointed an accusatory finger at Warren and Trenton. “Tried t’ follow me after I left the Coldhorn Slopes. Their stealth skills leave a lot to be desired. The rest, found ‘em by accident about four and a half orns southwest of here.”
“All at once, or...?”
“Yeah, we’d been travelling together for about an orn at that point, and in pairs before hand...” Spencer and Barry started to explain, while the others kept on eating. By the time they’d all finished, Skyfire had heard the full story. As the storm outside had only increased in strength over the joor, he led them all to some of the smaller storage bays, which had been converted into berth rooms. Rhea got her own, the boys another, while Skyfire and Kup retreated to the more private rooms up near the cockpit.
The storm didn’t show any signs of letting up the next morning, so their guide decided to take the opportunity to start teaching the youths a bit more about the life they were all signing up for. “Optimus Prime’s in charge. You try arguing with or going against his orders without a fraggin’ good reason, you can bet yer sorry afts it’s a one way ticket out of the Valley. Prowl is his 2nd in Command, a stickler fer the rules, but as long as you don’t start pulling pranks or participating in senseless brawls, he won’t be any harder on ya than anyone else. Jazz, on the other hand, is about as wild a partier as it gets. He’s the 3rd in Command and runs Special Operations, sometimes disappears for a few deca-orns at a time, but then reappears when yer least expectin’ him.
“Red Alert is the Security Director, and a more paranoid man you will never meet - not that he doesn’t have good reason for it, growing up with his Pit-spawn younger brothers. Remind me to tell you sometime about the fun time I had taking them t’ Ark Valley. Ratchet’s the Chief Medical Officer, and Primus help ya if you manage to infuriate the man into one of his rages. He’s always a grouch at any rate, but when some poor soul makes him really mad, the wrenches and other weapons start to fly at every head in the room. A bit more laid back is Blaster, the man in charge of Communications, who usually has his gaggle of nieces and nephews helping him-”
“Wait, kids? They actually let kids into the home base of the High Command of the Autobot Army?” Warren was shocked, to say the least.
“Bee was the first, and the rest followed. Granted, we usually only let younger family members in if they don’t have anywhere else t’ go. Now, the other man you really ought to know about is Ironhide...” Kup continued on for almost three joors, telling them about the soldiers and other specialty personnel stationed in the Valley, the chore rotations, basic training schedules, and other ins and outs of the base. Even after Warren’s exclamation about teens and kids being present, though, none of the recruits were ready for the last warning Kup gave them. “The absolute worse thing you could do is mess with Bumblebee. He’s around twelve vorns old - an estimate, on account of having been found as a toddler about a decade ago by the Command element themselves. In the vorns since then, the kid’s never said a word to anyone, but he’s as sharp as they come and holds a grudge even worse than old ‘Hide. Everyone in Ark Valley has done something to contribute to Bee’s growing up, from teaching him t’ read and write t’ throwing knives and worse. If you do something to bully him over his silence or fear of heights, I guarantee after yer stint in the brig is up that boy will do something downright awful to ya.”
The youths all exchanged wide eyed glances, which got Kup to grin evilly. “Don’t believe me? Just you wait then.”
They ended up staying with Skyfire for another two orns, until the storm clouds had a big enough break in them that Kup deemed it a good time to move on. As the youths gathered up their things, the old Wilds Dweller and shuttle pilot arranged plans for a supply run the following groon, which Hank caught the tail end of.
“Wait a klik - aren’t you staying at the Valley with us?” He asked, forehead creased in concern.
“I’m a guide, kid. I get people to Prime and Ironhide, and after that I head out again t’ see who else I can find.” Kup told him, feeling a bit uneasy at the dejected look on Hank’s face. “That’s not to say I don’t show up fer a meal and a night in a real bed every now and then, though. And an evening of cards with the older lot.” He added. Hank nodded, looking a little more cheerful as he stepped away to join the waiting group.
Skyfire smiled at his old friend, prompting the Wilds Dweller to scowl and ask what it was. “Nothing. I just haven’t seen you care so much about those you come through here with before.”
“What are ya talkin’ about, ‘Fire? I always care-”
“About getting them to their destination, but not so much about how they think of you. I suspect that boy and the others have all grown attached to you, regardless of how long you’ve been leading them through the mountains.”
Sighing, Kup glanced over his shoulder at the chatting recruits. “...They’re all about the age Kevin and Kayla were when the Cons killed them and Liesel. Just a bunch of kids... But I’ve got a feeling about this lot. They’re special, each in their own way.” Skyfire just smiled and gave his friend’s shoulder a gentle squeeze.
“Then may I suggest you step up the amount of times you visit Ark Valley, at least during the duration of their training?”
“...I might just do that.”