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The Enemy Within

By sphinx01

Adventure / Humor

Chapter 1

After about two Earth weeks of this new assignment, Bluestreak decided that he loved the North American countryside.
It was the time of the terran stellar cycle the humans called ‘fall’, and their rural communities were buzzing with excitement. All across the country, farmers were busy gathering in their harvest, and Bluestreak had yet to stop marveling at the wide variety of crops this planet was capable of producing.

Of course, it hadn’t taken long until this overabundance of available food had brought the Insecticons to the scene.

To better respond to the flood of distress calls reaching the Ark, Prime had put both Hound and Bumblebee on the enemy’s trail and then divided his crew into several small squads which now traveled the country, basing their routing on the two scouts’ intel and defending the humans’ grain fields and orchards wherever Shrapnel, Bombshell and Kickback decided to show up.

At first, it hadn’t been anything special. Find the bad guys, fight them, drive them off. Same old story.

But eventually, the people’s friendliness, their down-to-earth attitude and the organic, but undeniable beauty of the landscape had warmed Bluestreak’s spark to the point where he was glad to be here. True peace of the mind was something that came hard to him ever since Praxus had been destroyed. But right now, as he stood under a light-blue evening sky and watched the setting sun tinge the fields and meadows golden, it suddenly felt surprisingly close again.

“Are you coming inside, Bluestreak?” Ratchet asked, stepping up behind him.

Bluestreak turned to look at him and shook his head with a smile. “Ah, no, Ratchet, I think I’ll stay here; the sunset’s beautiful, and it’s not that cold yet, and somebody has to keep an optic open for those Insecticreeps anyway, so I may just take the night watch. You and Smokey get some recharge; I’ll let you know if something’s wrong, but I don’t think there’ll be, we gave them quite a pounding today...”

The reminder of today’s victorious battle brought a smirk to Ratchet’s faceplates, but he didn’t comment on it. “Alright,” he said instead. “Suit yourself. Good night.”

“Good night, Ratchet, don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”

He watched as his companion transformed into vehicle mode and then backed into the makeshift tool shed at the end of the road. One of the local farmers normally used it to park his tractor in, but he’d been more than happy to offer it to the Autobots as shelter for the night. Bluestreak smiled again when he noticed that Ratchet left the wooden doors ajar.

One by one, the first stars appeared in the darkening sky. Bluestreak stretched slowly as he watched the glimmering dots, feeling gears loosen and hydraulics depressurize before he transformed as well to settle at the side of the road. He adjusted the settings of his long-range sensors to pick up any Cybertronian energy signatures within a radius of sixty Earth miles, and after a moment of hesitation, he decided to power down his secondary systems. Initiating a full recharge cycle was clearly not an option while on sentry duty, but surely it could be deemed safe to make use of his peaceful surroundings as much as possible. Should those filthy bugs really dare to show their ugly faceplates again, his sensors would tell him so more quickly than old Hatchet could throw a wrench.

With a soft chuckle, he cycled his vents in a deep, slow sigh and offlined his optics.

What roused him from stand-by mode several joors later were not the Insecticons.

A sub-system kicked in and sent a proximity warning to his main processor.

Bluestreak jerked out of his light doze and instantly checked his sensor readings for the approaching enemy.

To his great surprise, the data came up clear. He scanned twice, just to make sure, but got the same result. Not the slightest bleep of an Insecticon.

Relieved, though slightly bemused, he was going to settle down again when another warning message popped up in his HUD, drawing his attention to his engine compartment. And only an astrosecond later, he felt the first, gentle movement.

It was a strange, warm and tickling sensation, caused by a slight, but clearly tangible weight pressing against his internal components. Bluestreak twitched and gasped in shocked surprise at this unexpected turn of events and instinctively ran a self-diagnostic scan to find out what a funny kind of glitch this might be.

Once again, the check brought no results. What he got instead was a message alert from his thermal sensors, and when he pulled the new data onto his HUD, he found himself staring at the infra-red image of a small, warm and quite nimble something that scrambled around inside of him and that clearly wasn’t a part of his body.

Bluestreak’s first reaction was panic. A dozen different explanations raced through his processor, and most of them had to do with the Decepticons and some kind of new weapon they might be testing. Every wire and cable in his frame tensed with agitation as he bounced on all four wheels, frantically trying to dislodge the foreign object from his body.

But instead of letting go, the whatever-it-was only attached itself more firmly to his engine. His audio receptors picked up a soft, hissing sound, and faint pricks like from miniature needles traveled along his sensors as tiny claws dented the metal.

Bluestreak shuddered at the alien sensation, but at the same time, his panic dropped to a bearable level. The hissing suggested that this was an organic creature rather than a cybernetic organism, and therefore it was unlikely to be a Decepticon weapon. He scanned his engine block again, less hastily this time, and his HUD promptly provided him with the contours of a beating heart inside the something’s body.

Bewildered, Bluestreak stared at the tiny Earth creature. It was slender, long-tailed and four-legged – and very agile, he thought in surprise as he watched the animal weasel its way through his engine compartment.

The wriggling movements tickled his sensitive inner components, and he squirmed at the sensation, unable to withhold a soft snicker. The creature was curled around his engine block now, nosing over the different parts and cables, and Bluestreak laughed again, not only in reaction to the tickling, but simply because the situation was so droll. What a funny thought, that there was this tiny living thing inside him that could make him giggle and twitch simply by moving around... The little guy had probably been cold, he mused, and had been attracted by the residual heat of his engine. That was fine; he didn’t mind sharing a little warmth, though he most likely wouldn’t get much rest tonight with this creature jumping around in his innards...

The next moment, he gasped in shock at the sharp pain flaring through one of his brake-hoses. Several warning messages instantly popped up in his HUD, together with an image of the damaged part.

The animal had sunk its small, but sharp teeth into the cable in question, simultaneously tugging at it with its tiny front paws. For a moment it removed its muzzle, sniffing around, and then bit down again, clearly trying to rip the cable in half.

“OW!!” Reacting on pure instinct, Bluestreak jumped and shook his body as hard as possible, but the results were just as fruitless as the first time. The creature stayed were it was, obviously unimpressed by his efforts.

“Ratchet!” Bluestreak hollered into an open comm. link. “Ratchet, help!”

The few astroseconds it took his companion to acknowledge the message felt like an unbearable eternity, but finally, Ratchet’s voice, static-laden from recharge and sudden tension, carried across the line: ‘What’s wrong? Decepticons?’

“No, no, but there’s this thing inside me, and it won’t let go, and it’s hurting me, Ratchet, please, I need you!”

‘As usual, Bluestreak, I have no idea what you’re babbling about,’ Ratchet said dryly. ‘But I’m coming.’

“Please hurry,” Bluestreak whispered. He could feel brake fluid leaking from the damaged cable, and already another one was being attacked by the ruthless little teeth. He didn’t dare to transform; who could tell what might happen if this creature was shifted around in his body by all the moving parts?

The familiar sounds of a Cybertronian engine and a transformation sequence being executed had seldom been so welcome. He almost sobbed in relief when Ratchet gracefully rose to his feet and joined him at the side of the road.

“All right, kid, what’s the problem?” he asked, sounding only mildly annoyed.

“It’s the Earth creature, Ratchet, it climbed into my engine, and now it’s biting through my cables, and it hurts, Ratchet, please, get it outta there!”

“Earth creature?” the medic repeated, sounding puzzled, but then he seemed to decide that questions could wait for later. “Okay, okay,” he said, kneeling and taking his med kit from subspace. “Just pop your hood for me, will you?”

Bluestreak was trembling by now, half in pain and half in shock, but did as requested. With a soft click, his engine compartment was revealed, and Ratchet leaned forward, pointing his headlights inside for a better look.

A fierce, snarling sound emitted from within. Ratchet, clearly not prepared for this turn of events, jumped so hard his headlights zigzagged frantically through the night. “What the Pit -”

It was obvious that the animal did not like to be disturbed. Bluestreak could of course not see anything, but his scanners and sensors told him the exact moment when the teeth detached themselves from his cables. The hissing grew louder, angrier.

Ratchet, however, wasn’t a mech to be trifled with.

He dove forward like a predator lunging at its prey, plunging both hands deep into Bluestreak’s inner workings. There was a lot of hectic movement, the hissing turned into screeching, Ratchet cursed violently, but then, finally, Bluestreak felt a sharp yank at his engine block, and Ratchet pulled his arm back and thrust his fist up into the air with a triumphant “Gotcha!”

In the light of his companion’s headlamps, Bluestreak could now for the first time actually see his assaulter as it dangled in Ratchet’s two-fingered grip. The creature had a long, slender snout and round ears which, in comparison to its head, almost seemed a little too big. The lithe body was covered in brown fur, except for the throat, where the hairs were a brilliant white. The bushy tail was almost longer than the whole body, and the tiny black optics stared at him with an expression that could only be called furious. The animal opened its jaws, showing its pointed teeth, and hissed again.

“Well, well, well,” Ratchet said smugly. “What have we here? A little cable-biter.”

The creature began to twist and squirm in his hand, so hard it almost ended up in an upside-down position. Tiny claws dug deep into the soft metal of Ratchet’s fingers, accompanied by angry, grunting sounds.

The medic jumped in what was clearly more surprise than hurt, but the outcome was the same. His grip loosened, and before any of them could react, the animal had wriggled out of his hand.

Luckily, and since Ratchet was still kneeling, the ground wasn’t too far down. The creature landed elegantly on all fours, and then it did something Bluestreak wouldn’t have expected in a million stellar cycles. Instead of fleeing immediately, it stood completely still for a moment before turning its head to them, giving them a very unnerving stare. A final, threatening, downright offended snarl came out of its muzzle, and the next moment, it soundlessly vanished into the dark.

“Well, blow me down,” Ratchet murmured.

Bluestreak stared after the strange animal, processor reeling to comprehend what had just happened. “What was that, Ratchet?”

“That, my friend,” the medic answered as he rummaged around in his tool kit, “was a marten.”

“Who’s Martin?”

Ratchet snorted. “Not ‘Martin’. Marten. A beech marten, to be exact. Sparkplug told me about them.” He leaned over Bluestreak’s engine again and carefully pinched off both ends of the broken cable before he wiped up the spilled fluid with a clean cloth. “They’re extremely rare in this part of the planet. Congratulations on clashing with the one creature you were least likely to encounter here.”

Bluestreak was still far too agitated to pay much heed to the medic’s trademark sarcasm. “Why did it attack me? I didn’t do anything, Ratchet, I swear. I didn’t move so much as a screw.”

Ratchet applied some nanofluid to the brake hose to dampen the microsensors there. “If I understood Sparkplug correctly, these animals are partial to climbing into all sorts of engines. And apparently, they can get very aggressive when they do so, for reasons that have yet to be properly evaluated. I should think it’s some kind of territorial behavior, though, as defending their denning places is one of the dominant instincts in most species.”

“You mean... that thing was trying to... nest in there?”

“Possibly,” Ratchet replied as he patched up the damaged cable. “How come you didn’t notice it? Your scanners should have told you it was there long before it came close enough to touch you. Any problems with your sensor grid?”

“Uh, no,” Bluestreak said sheepishly. “I just... I set my scanning parameters on Cybertronian energy readings... ‘cause of the Insecticons and all... didn’t think I’d get into trouble with the local wildlife...”

Ratchet muttered something he couldn’t quite catch, but it sounded suspiciously like “...having to work with young numbskulls...” He flinched slightly as the disgruntled medic slammed his hood shut with just a bit more force than necessary.

“That should do it,” he stated. “But you’re coming inside with me now. I obviously can’t let you out of my sight.”

Apart from the fact that Bluestreak could and would not disobey a direct order from a senior officer, the idea of spending the rest of the night in the relative safety of the tool shed had suddenly very much gained in appeal. So, as soon as Ratchet had transformed again, he started his engine without protest and obediently went into a lane behind the grumbling medic, instinctively sticking close to his bumper as they slowly drove back to their wooden sleeping quarters.

At the open door, Smokescreen was waiting for them, his headlights on and his engine running, obviously ready to jump into action, should they need him. “What’s wrong?” he asked as soon as they came into view. “You guys alright? What happened?”

“Nothing,” Ratchet grunted in response as he ushered Bluestreak inside. “Just a marten.”

“Who’s Martin?”

The snarl that came out of Ratchet’s vocalizer bore a striking resemblance to the sounds the animal in question had made. Smokescreen’s energy field swirled with such obvious bewilderment that Bluestreak felt obliged to enlighten him.

“There was this Earth creature, Smokey, it slipped into my engine and bit through a cable, but Ratchet says it’s normal for a marten to do that, so he just shooed it off and patched me up again, and now everything’s fine.”

And it was. With the pain dwindled down to the occasional dull twinge and the initial shock wearing off, he was beginning to think just how comical the situation had ultimately been - especially Ratchet’s triumphant faceplates as he held the captured marten between two fingers was sure to gain him a good laugh or two in the Ark’s rec room once they returned to base. Had Bluestreak had his mouth right now, he’d have grinned as he attached the appropriate image capture to a message file and sent it over to his friend.

“Oh,” Smokescreen said after a moment, amusement clearly audible in his voice. “I see.”

“When you two are done discussing the local fauna, I’d suggest that we all try and get some decent rest now,” Ratchet cut in pointedly. “We’ll be off tomorrow, and Bluestreak’s ARS still has a bit of work to do until then.”

Finding a proper parking position necessitated a bit of fumbling around, since the shed was clearly not made for three vehicles. Eventually, Bluestreak found that he had somehow been maneuvered to the middle, but he couldn’t really bring himself to mind as he settled in comfortably between his two companions, securely enveloped in the warmth of their chassis and the soft humming of their fields. For a klik or two, he simply let the proximity of the familiar systems soothe him, and while he did so, he suddenly wondered if the little marten-creature had already returned to its den, and if it was as safe and cozy in there as he was now...

And all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, he was overcome by a silly and yet deeply felt pride that he, Bluestreak, was the first of the Autobots to encounter this rare and definitely remarkable kind of animal. The thought made him laugh softly.

Ratchet bounced slightly on his wheels as he leaned over to gently nudge Bluestreak’s side mirror. “Will you settle down now?” he grumbled, but it sounded more amused than angry.

Bluestreak pulled a deep draught of air into his vents. ‘You know what, guys?’ he commed.

‘What?’ Smokescreen asked.

‘I think I’ll call him ‘Martin’.’

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