The first thing I actually noticed about Optimus was that he seemed a lot… bulkier. Like he’d packed on some metal muscle. But I was happy to see that he still knew me, even if our reunion was soured by the fact that I was a Decepticon prisoner.
“Optimus…,” I breathed as I put my hand on the glass, and I saw his eyes flicker to look at me before he scowled and looked back up at Megatron. Then he reached up and pulled what appeared to be some sort of gun from his back, aiming it at Megatron as the warlord held my prison aloft. I stumbled in the tube, falling on my butt, and then I noticed the other Autobots – minus Ratchet – standing behind Optimus. I saw the humans too, although I was a little confused to see an unfamiliar white bot and Miko wearing a giant armour suit that put her nearly at the same height as Arcee.
“Optimus Prime,” Megatron said slowly. “I would have thought you’d constantly stay with your little pet.” He lowered my tube, setting it on the ground in a brusque manner. I stumbled again, this time hitting my head on the glass (which certainly didn’t feel like glass), before I managed to get to my feet and look at everyone. They all seemed battle-ready, except for Optimus, who looked like he was in pain. Doubtlessly, he looked that way because I was a prisoner, and a Decepticon bargaining chip. “And if you don’t give me what I want, then I’m afraid you’ll never see her again.”
He aimed his Fusion Cannon directly down at my tube, and I whimpered, cringing away from the barrel of the weapon and pressing my back against the back of the tube. I heard Miko growl, and Wheeljack and Bulkhead held her back as everyone took up defensive stances. It was then and only then did I realise that Bumblebee was carrying something reminiscent of a dinosaur bone, and I began to wonder if it was that bone that Megatron sought. However, I said nothing, too frightened to even begin thinking of something to say.
Optimus looked down at me, frowning sadly. I knew what he wanted to do – give the bone up so that I would live – and I was damned if I was allowing him to do that. So I shook my head at him, hoping that he’d get the message that he was not to allow that bone to fall into Megatron’s hands. I didn’t care if I died, so long as Megatron didn’t get what he wanted… even though I had absolutely no freaking clue why he’d want a bone so damn desperately.
“Give me the Predacon bone,” Megatron suddenly snarled, and Optimus swiftly looked back at him as he tapped the side of the tube I was in again, “Or your pet dies.”
“Don’t do it!” I yelled, and everyone – from Autobots to humans to Decepticons that had just shown up – looked down at me. “Don’t give it to him!” I leaned forward and beat my fists on the front of the tube, looking straight at Optimus as I said, “Don’t worry about me; just keep that bone from him!”
Megatron growled, and his Fusion Cannon started to glow. Knowing that I’d pissed him off, I whimpered and cowered fearfully, although I held no regret for what I’d said. I didn’t want Megatron to get a hold of that bone, even though I had absolutely no idea what a Predacon was, because it would potentially be disastrous for the Autobots. “Shut up,” Megatron snarled, and I whimpered again before trying to make myself as small as possible.
“Don’t hurt her!” Optimus said, his voice laced with worry and anger as he took a step forward, still pointing his gun at the warlord. “If you do, we’ll never surrender the bone.” His grip tightened on the gun’s handle, and he bared his teeth as he spoke.
Megatron smiled, but it wasn’t a nice smile. Instead, it made me shiver, like a huntsman was crawling up my spine or something. I felt horrendously unnerved by his smile, and the fact that he said, “If you don’t surrender the bone, then I will kill her,” a few seconds later didn’t really help.
“Sir,” I heard my rescuer from the night before say, and Optimus looked back at him as he said, “What should we do?”
Optimus was silent for a few minutes, looking between myself, Megatron and my rescuer from yesterday, before saying, “We have to get Mackenzie back. We cannot allow even one human life to be lost.”
I slammed my fists on the glass again, forgetting the fact that Megatron was pointing his cannon at me. “Optimus, no! Don’t let him have it!” Tears welled up in my eyes. “Don’t give him any sort of advantage! Please, I’m begging you!” I shook my head rapidly, the tears beginning to stream down my cheeks. “Please…”
“Well, well,” Megatron mused, seemingly amused by my pleas to Optimus. “It seems that she’s willing to give her life for your cause… How sickening.” He picked the tube up, and I gasped as he held it aloft, causing me to stumble and fall to my hands and knees. Then I looked over at him as he said, “Humans are so pathetically weak. Piteous creatures they are.” He wasn’t looking at me as he spoke; he was looking straight at Optimus. “And you would give your very spark to protect these creatures? You’re just as weak as they are!”
“Freedom is the right of all sentient beings,” Optimus said slowly, his eyes narrowed. “And I am dedicated to protecting that.” His grip tightened on the gun’s handle, but then he straightened and returned the gun to his back. “Bumblebee, the bone, please.”
“What?! No!” I yelled, pounding on the glass. “Optimus, stop! Don’t give him the bone!” I pressed the palms of my hands against the tube as Bumblebee strode over and gave the Autobot leader the bone in question. “Stop! One human life isn’t worth all the lives of the Autobots!”
But my pleas fell on deaf ears as Optimus said, “If I give you the bone, you are to give me Mackenzie. No tricks.” The Autobots and the other humans seemed to agree with this, as they all looked at their leader with confidence in their eyes, and I slumped in the tube, squeezing my eyes shut as I heard Megatron agree with the proffered deal. Then I felt the tube move, and I looked up to notice that I was no longer in Megatron’s hand, but Optimus’. The Prime wasn’t smiling, but a little bit of the tension he’d obviously possessed had ebbed, and I could tell that he was relieved that I was safe.
The moment Megatron had the bone in his possession, however, he grinned maliciously and began to fire at the Autobots. I squeaked in alarm as Optimus pulled the tube close to his chest, and then he turned and ran. The other Autobots followed suit, fleeing alongside their leader, and they all entered a Ground Bridge as it opened. Optimus was the last to enter, and he just barely dodged a shot from Megatron as the bridge closed.
I looked around as Optimus set the tube down, and noticed that we were in a different place. It wasn’t the missile silo I’d thought they’d be based in; it was more like a military place now. I noticed Ratchet standing nearby, a frown on his face, as well as a woman wearing scrubs and a slightly podgy, dark-skinned man wearing a suit.
As Optimus opened the top of the tube and plucked me out, Miko pressed the centre of the armour suit. It immediately folded back into this… disc-thing, and Miko caught it in both of her hands as Optimus set me on the ground. Then she said, “Welcome to Autobot Outpost Omega Two,” and grinned at me. I did not grin back. Instead, I averted my eyes and lowered my head. “Mackenzie?”
“I can’t believe this is how we meet again,” I said softly. I was going to ignore the fact that Optimus had given the bone up for me; he had to have done it for a reason, and while I wasn’t too happy with the fact he’d surrendered it, I was happy to see them all again. “Heh, reminds me of how I first met most of you guys. Kidnapped by Decepticons.”
“Huh. She’s right,” Arcee said, grinning as she put her hands on her hips. “The first time most of us met her, she was a Decepticon prisoner, and we rescued her.” She looked at the two bots I didn’t know the name of. “The only ones who’ve probably never met her are these two.”
“I’ve actually met him,” I said, pointing at the tall, blue, stoic one. “I just don’t know his name.” I looked up at Optimus as I spoke. “I just call him ‘sir’.” I shrugged nonchalantly. “He saved my butt from Decepticons.”
Optimus looked up at him, but the ‘Bot didn’t smile. “I was simply following standing orders to protect humankind.”
“I see,” Optimus said slowly, and I frowned. “Well. I thank you for defending this one… in particular.” He stood to his full height. “Although I was certain that Ratchet sent you there to investigate mobile energon?”
“And I found it,” the bot said calmly. “Her necklace.” He pointed at it, then frowned as he realised that it was dim. “What happened to it? Energon is supposed to glow slightly.”
Everyone turned to look at it as I took the crystal off and held it in front of my face, clasping the bottom of it between my thumb and forefinger. I was extremely concerned that it wasn’t glowing, and the fact that it was supposed to, apparently, just made my concerns grow. “I don’t know. It stopped emitting light just before I was captured by the Decepticons, after a particularly large burst of light.”
“It’s not broken, is it?” Ratchet asked, concerned, as Optimus got to his feet. “Or… does it mean something else?” He strode over to his medical lab and frowned, gripping his chin between his thumb and forefinger.
“I made sure it was undamaged,” I said sadly, wrapping my hand around it and hugging it to my chest. “I don’t know what’s wrong with it, but I’m scared. It’s never done this before, not once in the eight months I wasn’t with you…”
Bumblebee suddenly chirped, and I looked over at him, as did the others. I hadn’t actually noticed that he’d reversed his colour scheme, but I didn’t comment on it as Raf said, “Bee’s right. It could mean bad things to come.” He looked over at me as he spoke, his eyes – still young and still innocent – filled with fear. “What do you think?”
“I don’t know what I think,” I said sadly, opening my palm and looking down at the crystal. “I feel… like I’m not safe anymore, and I think that this has something to do with that, but…” I curled my hand around it again. “Other than that, I have no idea what this could all mean.”
“Well, whatever it means, it’s not good,” Wheeljack said as he put his hands on his hips. “So maybe we should keep Mackenzie with us until we can make sure she’s protected.”
“You can’t!” I exclaimed, eyes widening. “My parents would look for me!” I shook my head rapidly. “And when they find me—”
“They shall not be searching for you anytime soon,” my rescuer from last night said, which caused me to give him a confused look. As much as they were on a business trip, they had people everywhere, and probably already knew about the destruction of their home. And that was already going to be difficult to explain to them. “I highly doubt they will, in any case.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, frowning, as Jack picked up a remote from nearby. The television flicked to life, and I saw that it was showing international news, so I frowned and walked over to get a closer look. My frown deepened as I saw something about a plane crash, then I heard that two of the confirmed dead were businessman Gregory Darnell and his wife Elizabeth Cooper. Shock coursed through my entire body, and I whispered, “They’re… dead?”
“That’s a good thing, right?” Optimus asked, walking over and standing near me. The platform where the television sat was elevated, so Optimus could stand next to me and we could almost be at eye level. “That means you’re free from them, unless I am mistaken?” He looked down at me, and then he noticed that I’d hung my head. “Mackenzie…?”
“I’m free,” I whispered softly. “I don’t have to live my life in fear anymore.” I looked up at him, smiling weakly and forcibly. “And I guess that I get everything they own… seeing as neither of them have a will…” Yet, even as I spoke, there was no way I was completely happy. I didn’t know why I wasn’t; I absolutely despised and feared my parents, and now they were gone, now I was free from them. Yet, somehow, I still felt mental pain. Perhaps it was the fact that my last two blood relatives were gone. I didn’t know. All I knew was that I was upset for a reason unknown to me.
“Hey,” Optimus said softly, nudging me with his fingertip. “Why are you sad? Don’t you… don’t you hate them?”
“Yeah, I do,” I whimpered, wrapping my arms around my torso and hugging myself. “But I still feel like… I don’t know… I still feel sad…”
I heard a sigh, then, “Maybe it’s because she’s got no more family,” from Ratchet. Everyone looked over at him, except me, but he still said, “As far as I am concerned, Mackenzie’s only family members were her mother and father, Alice, and her deceased older brother.” I suddenly felt someone scoop me up, and I looked up at him to notice a concerned frown. Something flashed in his eyes, but he said nothing on it, instead saying, “Now, she is alone.”
Optimus frowned, but said nothing more on the subject. Instead, he walked over and asked, “Should I take her home?”
“Are you intending on staying with her, sir?” my rescuer from last night asked, and after brief consideration, Optimus nodded.
“Yes, Ultra Magnus. You will be in command until then.” Optimus and my rescuer – Ultra Magnus, I now knew – nodded at each other, before Ratchet handed me to Optimus. However, as he took me in his hand, Optimus asked, “Is there something bothering you, old friend?”
“No,” Ratchet said stiffly, and I immediately knew that he was lying. From the frown Optimus gave the old medic, it was clear that he did too, but he inquired no more. Instead, holding me carefully in his hand, he walked over to the Ground Bridge – probably one of the few things that been moved from their first base to here, although the fate of the first base was still unknown to me – and typed in the coordinates to my house. Then he pulled the bridge’s lever down, before transforming into… some sort of vehicle that I’d never even thought existed. It looked heavily armed, more suited for battles than driving around the streets. However, the cab – even though it looked different – still made me feel safe, and I smiled as I clipped the seatbelt on. Then I waved goodbye to the others as we drove through the bridge, and soon enough we found ourselves just down the road from my utterly ruined house.
I noticed, as we pulled up in front of the ruins, that the neighbours were all hanging around, even though it was late evening in Melbourne. They all turned to look at Optimus and I as he turned his engines off, and I blushed as red as a beetroot before I stepped out.
One of my neighbours – a little old lady who was a horrible bitch to me – hobbled over and scrutinised me before saying, “Where’d you steal that from?”
I sighed. “Ma’am, I didn’t steal this,” I said, gesturing at Optimus. “My friend gave me a lift.” On cue, Optimus’ human holomatter form stepped out of the vehicle and walked over, coming to a stop right beside me.
He frowned at my elderly neighbour, a little confused on why she would accuse me of stealing. “The vehicle belongs to me.” He tried to smile, although he still looked a little uncertain. “Mackenzie hasn’t stolen anything.”
“Harumph!” my neighbour grunted, crossing her arms over her bosom. “Anyone who is friends with this delinquent,” she hissed, gesturing at me but looking right at Optimus, “Is just as bad.”
Optimus stiffened, then through gritted teeth, he said, “Mackenzie is no delinquent. You have been told a falsehood.” Then he looked past my neighbour, at the house. “What happened here?” he asked, feigning ignorance. He knew full well what had happened, but to maintain disguise, he sometimes had to hide the fact that he knew things.
“Oh, some sort of terrorist bomber or something.” The old lady waved her hands, and I whimpered, lowering my head at her cold, uncaring attitude. “We were all hoping that you would die in the blasts,” she said, directly staring at me, and I flinched before looking away.
Optimus tensed up, but at least he didn’t do anything. Instead, he walked past the old lady – taking my hand and dragging me along – and walked up the footpath to the front door of the house. It was hanging off its hinges, but he still pushed it open and said to me, “Get your things, please.”
“Sure,” I breathed, before heading into my room. I gathered my gear – which wasn’t much, and it all fit into the large suitcase I’d bought after at least twenty shifts at work – and then wheeled the case out.
Optimus took it and leaned it against the wall, then looked at the neighbours and angrily said, “It would be good of you all to return to your homes.” The neighbours needed very little convincing. Before Optimus even finished speaking they all departed, and I heard Optimus huff before he said, “They’re all very rude.”
“They’ve all been led to believe certain things about me,” I said quietly, walking into the kitchen, which was pretty much untouched. Then I sat down on a chair and sighed. “It doesn’t bother me so much anymore.”
Optimus stood at the kitchen door and crossed his arms. “Is it that… Is it that frequent that you just… put up with it?” He seemed depressed as he spoke, and I nodded, causing him to walk over to me, sit down and gently put his hand on my forearm. “Mackenzie…”
“Look,” I said softly. “I’ve grown up with this. It seems normal to me.” I shrugged. “I’ve just got to do some stuff now, to sort out the house and my parents’ funerals and stuff like that.” I sighed and put my arms on the table. “It’s going to take a number of days…”
“Are you old enough to do all of that, though?” Optimus asked quizzically.
I nodded. “Yep. Eighteen is the legal age to do everything over here in Australia.” I yawned suddenly, stretching before slumping. “Ugh… I’m tired…”
Optimus was immediately on his feet, and he scooped me up. Then he said, “Your room?”
I nodded. “Yep…,” I mumbled groggily, curling up in his arms. Optimus frowned down at me, then walked upstairs as I started to fall asleep. I hadn’t packed up my bedspread, thankfully, so Optimus soon tucked me into bed, but before he walked away, I reached out, grabbed his flannelette and said, “No… stay…”
“You want me to stay with you?” he asked quietly, and I looked up at him and nodded. I had a double bed – it was my brother’s, but my parents had given it to me just so they didn’t have to spend money on me – so there was plenty of room for Optimus’ human holoform.
“Please…?” I mumbled, gently tugging on his flannelette again. A frown appeared on his face as he considered my proposal, then he sighed and nodded. His human holoform kicked off his boots, then he got into the bed beside me as I snuggled up to him. “Thanks…”“Go to sleep,” he said, wrapping one of his arms around me tentatively. I could feel that he was nervous, but I didn’t care. I felt warm and safe for the first time in eight months, and as I snuggled closer, I heard Optimus say, “Goodnight, Mackenzie. Sleep well,” in a quiet voice, but I said nothing in return as I drifted off, my eyelids closing and a small smile appearing on my face…