Mikaela spent most of the two hour drive from Random Forest, Delaware to Washington, DC white-knuckling the edge of her seat and trying not to worry. It had been a long time since she'd seen Sam that pale and stressed, probably not since the last time they'd been targeted by Megatron. Her boyfriend tended to run off at the mouth even when he was frustrated or under pressure; maybe especially when he was frustrated and under pressure. It took a lot to make him actually show how upset he was, and something about their encounter with the resurrected Decepticon had shaken him badly.
She hadn't been close enough to see the details of what went down after the Autobots arrived-- Bumblebee had scooped her up while Optimus tried to cover Sam's escape-- and by the time the others had driven the Decepticons away it had pretty much all been over. But she believed Sam when he said Optimus had been killed, and that he'd somehow used the Allspark energy to bring him back. Between that and what had happened with Agent Hobbs, the whole 'Samuel Prime' thing had to be bothering him worse than usual... and neither she nor Bee were there to talk it out with him. Optimus was great and all, but he was a millennia-old robot who'd been a leader longer than Western civilization had even existed; could he really understand why an eighteen-year-old human might balk at the idea of having this immense legacy already laid out for him?
As much as it bothered her, though, Mikaela did get why Optimus might want to talk to him alone... and for all that they were still teenagers, she and Sam had never really had the luxury of being able to wrap their whole worlds up in each other. She would just have to have faith that they'd get through these new developments the way they had everything else so far. And in the meantime, they did have a more urgent situation on their hands.
"Exactly how long do you think this Seeker's been on Earth?" she wondered aloud, a frown developing as she thought about everything the Autobots had said about energon, the Allspark, and what could happen to a Cybertronian deprived of sufficient energy long-term.
Sharing with Sam and Mikaela for the last couple of years had done for Bumblebee's vocal circuits what Ratchet's skill alone had been unable to manage; he could speak now when he wanted, though he still tended to default to soundbytes as a first response out of long habit. "A long, long time ago," Don McLean's voice crooned from the speakers, "I can still remember how that music used to make me smile…."
The music cut out, and Bee made a throat-clearing sound before continuing. "Long enough that they've only been spoken of as legends since I was sparked; like Primus, or the Dynasty of Primes. I've never met one, or even heard of any mech who's met one."
Mikaela had heard the Autobots mention Primus before; they swore by him like humans would Jesus, with about the same debate over whether or not he'd ever really existed, and if so, if he'd really been the incarnation of their Creator. But the reference to the Dynasty of Primes was new. "You mean there used to be more Primes than just Optimus? What happened to them?"
"The legends say the Dynasty were the first Cybertronians that Primus made using the Allspark," Bee replied, pensively. "They didn't transform, but they had powers beyond any mech today. After many vorns of building and exploring Cybertron alone, they went back to the Allspark to make newer, more specialized mechs to help care for what they'd made. Seekers were supposed to have been some of their earliest creations. But there've been so many wars since they vanished, almost all of the generations before Optimus and Megatron's have been lost. Sentinel Prime, Optimus' mentor, might have been old enough to know more, but he was killed before we left Cybertron."
Given how long the average 'bot was capable of living, the thought of entire generations having been wiped out was kind of horrifying. No wonder Optimus was so obsessed with the idea of peace… and no wonder Megatron cared so little about individual lives. Two very different lessons learned from the same major trauma.
"So a really, really long time, then," she mused. "Whoever we find's likely to need a lot of help just to wake up, and Sam's already worn himself out healing Optimus-- better warn the others."
"Roger, roger," Bumblebee replied, in the voice of one of those Star Wars battlebots.
Mikaela rolled her eyes, giving the dash a rueful smile. He was trying to cheer her up; pity she wasn't in the mood for it to work. But the conversation had reminded her of something she could do to keep busy for the rest of the drive. She took a deep breath, then closed her eyes to meditate on her focusing her Allspark energy. She wasn't as skilled as Brian with it-- no one was as skilled as Brian, though Sam was getting there-- but she had a feeling every little bit was going to count.
One good thing about the whole mess with Agent Hobbs: having a couple of DSS agents along made searching the museum a whole lot easier. They didn't have to wait until business hours were over, or risk sending up a NEST flag if any bystanders recognized the rest of the team. Because it turned out that while they'd been traveling, the Decepticons had taken over all the TV and radio channels, demanding that the 'human authorities' surrender Sam Witwicky and Brian O'Conner; someone must have finally filled Megatron in on what had happened while he'd been rusting at the bottom of the ocean.
That meant they were in even more danger than they'd been in before... but it also meant that Optimus was probably right, and Megatron still thought he was dead. So if they could keep out of sight, and get Ironhide and his partners to uphold the charade with the NEST leadership, they might have a little breathing room.
Before she knew it, the Smithsonian complex had been temporarily evacuated, and Hobbs had used his authority to have the security cameras deactivated so the rest of them could sneak inside. Mikaela linked her arm through Sam's as they split up in small groups to search the main buildings, and spent a long moment gazing up at the Space Shuttle Discovery before moving on to likelier frames in the Boeing Aviation Hanger.
"Can you imagine?" she said, shaking her head. "The youngest official astronaut was a woman-- but she was thirty two years old, and she had a PhD. Even if I'd had the grades, I'd never have been able to afford that kind of college. But every day, we ride around in an alien born halfway across the universe. Weird, huh?"
"Kinda puts things in perspective, doesn't it?" Sam murmured, then gave her a wry smile and squeezed her hand. "Sorry I've been keeping my distance today. Every so often all the craziness just gets to me, you know? And this thing with Megatron definitely isn't helping. But I wouldn't take the last couple of years back for anything."
She knew; it was kind of hard to keep feelings a secret with their Allspark fields tangling between them along with their fingers. But it was still good to hear. "Apology accepted," she replied, then caught her breath as something tugged at her senses from deeper in the building. "Hey, do you feel…?"
Sam's expression went grim, and he nodded, turning to look deeper in the hanger. "Yeah, I feel it... Brian?" He raised his voice. "Do you think maybe that...?"
"Yeah, it's the Blackbird!" Brian called back before he could finish the sentence, somewhere ahead of them.
They picked up the pace, weaving between the exhibits-- then stopped at the sight of a long, fenced-off dark shape with a profile that looked sharp enough to cut. The famous stealth plane was kind of set off by itself in the middle of a big smooth patch of concrete floor; probably so they could host rich-people dinner parties in full sight of the exotic aircraft. It made it easy for their group to gather back up, congregating at the informational plaque to stare in dismay at one of the most advanced pieces of human technology ever made.
Or-- inhuman, Mikaela realized with a thrill, wondering exactly when the Seeker had scanned one of the planes as an altform. She ducked under the railing and took several cautious steps closer to the plane's nose, then held her hand up just shy of contact, feeling its energy tickle her fingertips. "Wow."
Another voice raised behind her, followed by a set of sneakers hopping over the railing to squeak over the concrete behind her. "No, stay here, Sam-- better not risk it. Keep an eye on him, Dom?"
"Remind me to shake hands with him before the next time; I'd rather be watching your back, Bri," a low, gravelly voice responded. But Dom didn't demur. And then Brian was there, holding a hand up next to hers.
The former Sector Seven agent and his family had become like uncles and aunts to her and Sam over the last several months; Mikaela had got used to seeing Brian work with Sam and the soldiers, and working with Brian herself on his experiments with Ratchet. But there was something a little spooky about him when his eyes lit up with that blue glow, and he always seemed to get more out of it than the rest of them did.
"You were right," he said after a long moment, frowning in concentration. "He's in pretty bad shape; I'm surprised he was even aware long enough to see an SR-71 in action. Hobbs? I think we're gonna need you on this, too."
"That thing's an alien?" the big DSS agent replied, arching a skeptical eyebrow as he stepped over the rail, leaving Fuentes with Sam and Dom. "You've got to be kidding me. And I thought the mess we made in Rio left a black mark on my record. I don't even want to know what the museum director's going to say to my boss when this thing vanishes under my supervision."
"Quit complaining and get your ass over here," Brian replied, unsympathetically. "I don't even want to know how much damage rust in the processors does to a mech's memory; the more energy we can feed him, the better this is gonna go."
"Seriously?" Hobbs groused. "I literally just got turned into a whatever-the-hell-it-is you all are. How do you expect me to help?"
"A little laying on of hands, a little prayer…." Brian shrugged, grinning obnoxiously. "Seriously, though, if you know any meditation or anything like that, just put your hand right there between Mikaela's and mine, and we'll take care of all the rest of it."
Hobbs still looked dubious, not that Mikaela really blamed him; he'd been shanghaied into this mess as abruptly as she had been two years ago, and so far had even less incentive to stick around. "C'mon," she added her two cents. "What can it hurt to try?"
"I'll be reminding you of those words later." He gave her a long, assessing look, then glanced back at his girlfriend. "I guess if I'm gonna blow up the bridge anyway…."
"Might as well use all the C4," Fuentes replied with a wry grin.
Mikaela wasn't sure exactly what that meant, but she could guess, and it seemed to do the trick; she made a space between her and Brian as Hobbs stepped up and reached a hand out to the plane's nose. Just before he made contact, Mikaela laid her hand over the back of his, and Brian put his over them both. Then, all together, their skin touched the plane; she felt Brian's intense, orderly aura rise, and the gentle tug on the edges of her own spirit abruptly became a sharp, painful yank.
"Hey!" she gasped.
It was as though the sleeping Cybertronian in front of them had stuck a straw straight into her soul. Fortunately, she barely had time to register Hobbs' own energy wavering against the edges of hers before Brian disengaged with a shout and pulled them away, leaving her dizzy and reeling. "Enough! That's enough!"
Mikaela blinked, staggering backward several steps as the entire plane lit up with a burst of erratic energy. A flash of blue limned the cockpit and the edges of the wings-- and then ages-old transformation circuits engaged, and it began to shift in gradual, grinding stages.
"Was it enough?" she asked, panting as Sam rushed to her and slid a supporting arm around her waist. "We barely touched it!"
"It'll have to be," Brian replied grimly, looking gray around the edges as he helped Hobbs stagger away.
And maybe it was; the mech transformed like an old man cracking his back in an attempt to stand up straight, but when it was done, he was even bigger and bristlier than Optimus. Mikaela watched tensely as red eyes blinked open and the Seeker turned its head to take in its surroundings; he looked a little on the scary side, but if he predated the war, that might not mean anything.
"Hello?" she called up to him.
The Seeker refocused his attention down at ground level, facial features drawing together in a metallic frown. "Hello? What sort of greeting is that? And what sort of hideous mausoleum is this?" He waved a hand at the other exhibits.
Had he gone to sleep before the Internet existed? Mikaela gaped, unsure how to go about explaining the concept of a museum to an alien who didn't already have endless illustrations at his fingertips.
"We offer greetings in the name of Optimus Prime and the Autobots," Brian replied for her, holding up his hands and stepping between her and the strange mech. His partner didn't try to stop him, but Mikaela could see in Dom's expression that he wished he could; as grateful as she was for the intervention, she definitely understood that feeling. "What is your designation?"
"My designation?" the Seeker echoed again. "What about yours? Since when is the habit of a Prime to let a fleshling speak for him?"
Clearly Sam's self-preservation instincts were still on the fritz, because he chose that moment to chime in. "I don't know how long it's been since you got any news, but it's the habit of the current Primes to call the people of this planet allies," he said, stepping forward too. "He's Brian O'Conner; and my designation's Sam Witwicky. Or as Optimus calls me, Samuel Prime."
The irritable Blackbird stared at them, narrowing his optics as he glanced over the whole group, then he made a disbelieving noise. "A fleshling Prime? Ptah. Behold the eternal glory of Jetfire!" He reached up, extending his arms as if to strike a dramatic pose-- and just barely missed clobbering one of the other exhibits.
Hobbs took that as his cue to glance toward the hangar doors and detach some kind of control from his belt. "How about we move the rest of this meet and greet outside-- the museum's going to be angry enough as it is."
"I don't see why, when I'm the one who's been stuck on this planet for hundreds of vorns, looking for something I have no desire to actually find!" Jetfire did turn toward the sunlight as it began to flood in though, shaking his legs out like a human who'd been sitting in one place too long. "The Fallen can go rust!"
Sam shared an astonished glance with Mikaela, then began hurrying after the big 'bot as it started picking its way between the other exhibits.
"The Fallen?" he called as they ran. "You worked for the Fallen? Who's the Fallen?"
"You don't know? Is that civil war finally over, then?" Jetfire asked incredulously, stopping outside to give him a curious look.
"Uh… no?" Sam replied. "Why?"
"Then perhaps this is no Decepticon ploy, because he was the first," Jetfire scoffed, turning away again. "The original Decepticon, who turned on his brother Primes in the name of expediency. It was no wonder they hid the key from him with the last ebb of their sparks, even if the end of the harvesters meant the end of my kind's purpose as well. Such a demotion, to spend eternity hunting a mere tomb rather than Seeking new, barren suns to replenish the Allspark's energy." He made another disgruntled noise.
"Though clearly," he added thoughtfully, locking optics on Sam again. "Some other method has been found in our absence. What happened to put the source of our race in the hands of fragile, spinal-cord based organisms? You say another Prime has come here? What is his aim?"
Optimus, Bumblebee, Ratchet, and the two Earthborn had all tucked themselves out of sight in the furthest parking lot when they'd arrived, but that was no distance at all to a Cybertronian. Optimus joined the conversation then, transforming on the other side of Jetfire. "My aim is the preservation of our race; and of the humans, who have been caught in the crossfire of our endless war. The Decepticons seek whatever lies buried on this planet; I fear that if we do not reach it first, all will be lost."
The others transformed behind him; Jetfire looked them over, gaze lingering on Bestia and Hobbs' Belle. "You're not wrong; the last harvester is buried on this world, and the Fallen knows where it is. The Allspark only created one key to activate them, the Matrix of Leadership, and when the Fallen's brothers discovered there was life on this world they attempted to deny it to him. They knew it would mean the waning of the Allspark to save the native species, but they could not bring themselves to kill him instead and begin anew. So they sacrificed themselves to hide the Matrix. But in the last few decavorns, clues to its location began to appear around the planet, carved in the language of the Primes. I did not understand until now, but I see sparklings with you, too young to have ever set foot on our homeworld, and I can feel the energy in these fleshlings as well. Why did you bring the Allspark here, of all planets?"
His tone wasn't exactly accusatory, but it did demand an answer. Optimus bristled at the tone and took a step closer, one massive metal finger pointing at Jetfire's chestplates. "Because anywhere was better than Cybertron, where the Decepticons would have used it to destroy all factions other than their own. We could not have known the Matrix was here as well; if Megatron knew, the Fallen must have told him. But when he confronted us today, he said he was searching for an energon source. Why would he seek such a thing if it would destroy this world only to fuel the Allspark, and he already knows the Cube is no more?"
"Wait, better question," Sam's eyes widened. "The Allspark's spread between a bunch of human hosts now-- which makes a lot more sense actually, if it's using us as batteries so it doesn't have to eat suns anymore. Will that affect how the machine works? Maybe it won't even turn on at all."
"You're asking me?" Jetfire gave a rusty snort. "Even if I believe you're telling the truth, and not trying to pull some kind of trick-- I'm not the Prime here. I'm just a messenger."
"Things ain't ever that simple, kid," Hobbs interjected, shaking his head. "Optimus? You said you recognized the symbols; and it sounds like you've heard of this Matrix before. Anything else you can share?"
The big red and blue 'bot shook his head grimly. "I know of it only by name, and that it was an artefact of the Primes. Perhaps Sentinel thought I would not need to know more; perhaps even he did not know."
"Great. Just great," Dom commented, resting a hand on Brian's shoulder. Behind them, Bestia loomed, uncharacteristically quiet; Belle was a scowling presence beside her, their animosity temporarily set aside. "Well, at least we know what the stakes are now. Anything else you can tell us, oldtimer?"
Jetfire tilted his head downward. "Only that even if the harvester does have a failsafe-- the Matrix possesses an energy like no other. If the Fallen is back and searching for it himself, we will only be safe when it beyond his grasp. A Prime may have a chance at defeating him," he tilted his head to Optimus, "but not if he controls its power. He despises organic lifeforms, and will not hesitate to kill or enslave you all and rip the Allspark from your bodies."
"Yeah, got the preview of that one already, thanks," Sam shuddered. "Okay then, what next? Where do the clues lead?"
"To the same desert where the harvester is buried, I believe," Jetfire replied. "If the Allspark provided the clues for your people, then you should be able to find it from there."
"But which desert?" Fuentes frowned. "If it's hundreds or even thousands of miles away, then we'll have to--"
"Stand still, of course!" Jetfire interrupted, tone rising in realization. "Right-- should have thought of that first!"
"Thought of what?" Sam blurted. "Wait--"
Alarm washed through Mikaela as a sudden wave of energy rose in Jetfire's frame. Then a crackling pain ripped through through her like a flashback of Mission City, tearing her hand away from her boyfriend's--
followed by hot air hitting her like a blow, sending her sprawling, gasping for air--
only to choke on grains of gritty sand.
She stared at the unfamiliar ground for a long moment in disbelief, then flipped over, coughing up at a vault of twilit blue sky. Had the old 'bot just teleported? Damn this day anyway!
Mikaela cleared her throat, then climbed shakily to her feet and took a deep breath. "SAM!"