The summer heat had peaked a little over 99 degrees that morning, spiking to 115 by one in the afternoon. Nevada residents took shelter in their cool homes, resting before fans and their air conditioners, while others enjoyed hours in private pools or nearby lakes. The public pool had been so full, they had to turn people down from entering by 2PM. An unlucky few were forced out into the heat for work, miserable and sweating.
In the middle of nowhere's land, down a natural old road, two vehicles cut through the scarce desert, dust and clouds of dirt billowing into the dry air beneath their wheels. They passed very few spots of civilization, save a gas station and a chain of fast food restaurants some distance away. For the most part, the Hummer H2 and GMC Topkick truck were all alone out in the vacant desert, sun beating relentlessly against their chassis.
"Enlighten me here if you will. So what - exactly - are we looking for again?"
"Hot springs. Specifically, the Consuelo hot springs."
Ironhide's engines rumbled beneath his black hood as he drove alongside his comrade. "I wasn't really paying attention in the briefing," he noted. The only reason he was on this mission with the CMO was because Bumblebee had prior engagements with Sam and Mikaela; according to the humans, their mission involved watching something dangerous known as "boat racing" somewhere down the Salt Lake. Optimus, of course, opted to stay back at base and keep an optic on things. Besides, he figured, it was better than spending the entire day doing jack.
Ratchet would have happily gone alone, but considering they were still relatively new to Earth and its many vast cities and territories, Optimus figured it best Ironhide took a ride with him.
The Hummer H2 beside him released a purr of a chuckle. "According to human sources, hot springs are pools of what are called 'water', as you know, geothermally heated by active or inactive volcanic activity from this planet's crust. Some of these hot springs can reach heat up to 212°F, known as a 'boiling point', where as some retain levels low as 70°F, generally classified as 'warm springs'," Ratchet explained simply.
Ironhide was quiet a minute or two, letting all this information slowly soak into his cerebral processor. Water was still a new concept to him and the others, considering they did not have it back on Cybertron; but after being on this planet for nearly a month now, Ironhide pretty much got the gist of it and what it was. Necessity for this planet, in fact; very, very important. Not to mention, he landed in a pool of it on his arrival to Earth.
"So why are we visiting pools of water when there's water nearly everywhere back at the base?" he inquired finally.
"These hot springs are much different from the chlorine pool water back in the city," Ratchet answered. "They contain natural chemicals, untouched by human hands. That is, if Sam's information is correct."
"The lakes do not count."
Ironhide huffed a little. "We're driving out into a wasteland of nothingness so you can look at pretty water some human child hasn't possibly peed in."
Ratchet couldn't help but laugh at that. "No, not exactly," he disagreed. "It's for medicinal purposes."
Ratchet drove a few centimeters ahead of him. "On Earth, Balneology is a somewhat underlying practice of physical therapy using the effects and chemicals found in natural hot spring waters. According to various studies, the properties in these volcanic pools have been known to help relax, decrease or even aide in curing certain inflictions, though I believe aforementioned 'cures' only apply to minor disabilities, where as long term illnesses, such as the one known as 'cancer', is used as an alternative treatment," he said. "This scientific study varies around the planet and its many cultures and continents, sited as an age old practice amongst the ancient ancestors of the human race."
All of this was going through one audio sensor and out the other to Ironhide. This medical mumbo-jumbo never really applied to his interests. Just as long as it could be applied to his injuries, that was all he really cared about. It was not to say he disrespected the medical and scientific fields. Just wasn't part of his programming, he supposed. So it was a little hard being on the same wavelength with Ratchet at times.
But still, while Ironhide could care less about even the colors of natural water, he admired Ratchet's compassion for his field. Ultimately that was what kept him from offlining and driving under auto pilot until they reached the site.
"Can this... balneo-whatever be used in aiding our own species?"
"I'm not sure," Ratchet retorted, "my desire to study these hot springs not only come from curiosity, but also research to see if they can benefit our people as well."
That had been enough information to crunch for now. "What's our location anyway?" Ironhide asked with a snort, revving his engines. "We've been driving for a little over nine cycles now."
Ratchet replied in a series of barely audible beeps from his GPS installed in his front seat. A second later, he replied, "Latitude and longitude have - according to the coordinates--"
"Layingman terms, the humans say."
"Layman, actually. And, right yonder those mountains 4.5 megamiles away," Ratchet replied, adding tauntingly, "calm down; we won't be much longer."
Ironhide's exhaust pipe gave a cough of smoke. "Calm down my aft," he scowled, "we've been roasting our hides off out here under this big gas ball for cycles. My coolant systems are overworking themselves to the Pit!"
Ratchet's engines made a low hum, reminiscent of a sigh. "If you're in that much need of a rest," he offered, "we can take a small detour to a gas station two megamiles from here."
Ironhide made an offended hiss. "What makes you think I'm tired, medic?" he grunted. To prove his compatriot he was dead wrong in his assumption, Ironhide's engines howled fiercely as he picked up his speed, closing the space between him and the Hummer. A second later, he was side by side with Ratchet; he gave the medic a playful nudge. But being Ironhide, his lighthearted nudges tended to send one tumbling on their side and rolling away for perhaps a good twenty yards.
"Hey!" Ratchet exclaimed, shoved nearly off the old road. "Knock it off!"
Ironhide just greeted his demand with laughter and drove to his side again; another shove, and Ratchet jerked to the side. The latter pressed down on his brakes to make sure he didn't get too far and lose his balance.
"Oh, this is very mature of you!" Ratchet snapped. He dodged the truck from giving him another bump. "If you're going to play dirty..." the medic smirked, engines flaring. With a rush forward, Ratchet drove up and ahead of Ironhide until there was at least a yard of empty space between them. He then pulled abruptly in front of the weapon's specialist, sending waves of dust and dirt into his window and grill.
"Slag you!" Ironhide shouted over the roaring of Ratchet's engines. His window wipers activated instantly, feverishly shoveling aside the dirt.
The CMO just laughed, spitting more dirt and pebbles at him. "Consider the trip now worthwhile," Ratchet sniggered, "you're going to need that water to clean yourself!"
"Don't make me gun down yer tires!"
"We're undercover, remember?"
"We're in the middle of nowhere!"
"You're leaking a vast amount of your bodily fluid. Are you sure you shouldn't consult one of your local medics about your condition?" Ratchet had asked Sam when the teenager had slipped out of his alt mode front seat.
Sam ran a hand over his head, wiping off a film of perspiration. "It's called sweating," he informed with a chuckle, face glossy, "humans do it when they're really hot, you see. Except animals, animals don't sweat. Like dogs, for example, they--" The boy stopped when he realized he was rambling and shook a hand at the disguised Autobot. "N-Never mind, I'll tell you later when you get back. I've programmed the destination to Consuelo Springs in your GPS."
"Are you sure this place is void of human activity?" Ironhide asked grumpily, suddenly appearing behind the human. Sam jumped, nearly falling on his rear. Even though Ironhide was a 26 foot tall giant robot, he could still manage to sneak up and scare the shit out of him. Then again, Sam supposed it was all attributed to him being a stealthy soldier.
"Y-Yeah," Sam assured, his heart calming back to a normal beat. "It's way out there in the desert, see, 'bout a hundred or so miles from Arizona and Utah's borders. The hike is said to be killer; lots of people were seriously injured climbing it because it isn't mapped and no trails were made. Some couple almost died 'cause they were stranded out in the middle of nowhere before help arrived, like, four days later. The Arizona and Nevada governments have sorta kinda placed the spring off limits, citing it as a 'natural monument to be admired from afar' or something. And the snakes - let's not even go there..."
Ratchet smirked. "So no need to worry."
"I just don't want to deal with any of curious, nose-pokin' humans today," Ironhide growled, transforming, "or any other day for that matter." His engines switched on with a disapproving noise similar to the one he had just made.
"Well, if there are no humans," Ratchet added playfully, "then you might want to consider it a vacation. Primus knows we haven't had one of those in megacycles."
"Huh!" Ironhide grunted, taking the lead out into the street. "We'll see when we get there."
"See? We're here."
Ironhide flexed all his joints and limbs when he finally transformed back into bipedal mode. The first thing he did was give the surroundings a good look, to make sure they didn't have any company. Though he knew he had nothing to worry about, since there wasn't a human soul for miles. Slightly relieved, he approached his partner staring up the side of the mountain, jagged and disjointed, covered in small desert shrubs and snake holes.
Ratchet checked his surveillance data, looking from it to the mountain. "The mountain's summit reaches about 3,721 feet. The Consuelo Springs are located in a valley about 52.8 feet within," he informed, putting his device away.
Ironhide's immediate response was activating his cannons. "All right," he sniffed, readying his weapons, "we'll just blow our way thro--"
"No!" Ratchet scowled, pushing down one of the cannons. Only one of a rare few who could do this without Ironhide turning and setting fire to them. "This is part of the ecosystem, not a target. You want to attract attention?" the medic snapped.
"Middle. Of. Nowhere," Ironhide ground out, irritated. Nonetheless, he turned off his guns. "So are we going to climb this thing then or what?"
Ratchet nodded. "Precisely," he replied. "The humans may not have been able to, but surely we can."
"Primus," Ironhide sighed, hand against his face, "I'm getting too slagging old for this."
It didn't take very long to both ascend then descend the mountainsides; their feet hit the ground with a small tremor. Ironhide brushed the shrubs and mud from his hands while Ratchet once more took out his mapping device, surveying the ravine. It was mostly just more rough terrain with scattered clusters of cacti and skeletal plants.
"This place is absolutely 'breathtaking', as the humans say," Ironhide grumbled. It reminded him too much of home, seeing nothing but miles of nothing but dirt. Except back on Cybertron, it wasn't always just fields of desolate space, but homes and buildings and civilization. All laid to ruin. He bristled. "Let's hurry and find these pools so we can get back to base. I'm ten nanoseconds away from launching a missile into the sun."
"Steady now, don't lose your cool," Ratchet said softly. He could feel the negativity circulating inside Ironhide's energy field. He knew immediately this empty place, so quiet and superficially lacking any sign of life beyond plants that looked like they were dead only brought back painful memories.
Thankfully, the medic spotted the springs a short distance away. He pointed forward in their direction. "All right, let's get moving."
The walk was much shorter than the climb, and in three minutes, Ironhide and Ratchet stood side by side before the largest hot spring in the area. It was nearly twenty feet in length and fifteen feet wide, with six smaller pools of water barely the width of a grown man dotting alongside it. Steam rose in thick clouds from the water's dark blue bubbling surface, the sun reflected in each of its seven faces.
"Looks like the water's burnin'," Ironhide mused, arms akimbo. He shot Ratchet a look of disapproval. "Perfect for swimmin' on a hot orn."
Ratchet just knelt beside the pool, using his x-ray vision to scan the depth. The weapon's specialist watched the medic silently, looking back and forth, as if waiting for something to happen. At least with driving he was constantly on the move. Before he could say anything, Ratchet sat back and lectured, almost as if to himself, "The depth is approximately 17.3 feet deep, with a temperature of 105°F."
Ironhide tilted his head. "That it?" That better not be all they came here for.
"Of course not!" Ratchet scowled. From a spare compartment along his hip he removed a set of common test tubes. "I want to get samples of the water and test the levels of the chemicals in this spring," he informed. The CMO scooped hot liquid to the brim of every tube, each marked specifically marked.
Naturally this was all quite boring for the poor old soldier. He paced back and forth along the shore of the steaming pool, eying his quivering, dark reflection in its surface. A thought crossed his processor and before he knew it, he had his cannon ready to fire. "I wonder what would happen if I fired a missile into it," he humored aloud, "if it's volcanic, maybe the impact will cause a catastrophic explosion?"
"It's inactive, and no, how about you don't!" Ratchet chided, glaring fierce blue eyes at his partner. "Seriously, you don't need to shoot everything you see just to get a reaction!"
Ironhide just chortled to himself, deactivating his cannons. "You test your way, I test mine," he gibed. Ratchet shook his head and went back to filling the tubes. The old mech was pretty positive Ratchet, all and all, knew he was only joking. Though truth be told, it was always hard to tell when Ironhide was kidding around, especially when it came to blowing shit up.
Silence passed between the two.
"But seriously, maybe just one little shot--"
Ironhide snickered at poor Ratchet's expense. With nothing better to do, he gazed up at the sky. On the horizon there was a dark quilt of black clouds, slowly pouring like molasses over the valley. Ironhide smirked, smile lopsided. There was no way on this hot a day that there'd be a sudden downpour.
Suddenly, there was a downpour.
The clouds had been moving gradually closer over the hour, but Ironhide honestly thought the chances of rain were zero. Though he did remember hearing something about scattered showers in some transmission on his radio prior to their arrival at the ravine. Scattered showers to him being not in the middle of the damn desert. But here it was, full storm and all.
The evening sky, once bare and blue, was crowded with black rain clouds, thunder grumbling from their cores and lightning flashing every few seconds. It would pour down hard for a few minutes, then lighten up for another two, before hitting hard again, cycle repeating itself in ad nausem.
Ratchet was lucky to have retrieved all his samples and set up his equipment before the rain got too heavy. Ironhide made a makeshift tent with a large blue tarp sheet, perfect shelter for both him, his partner and his instruments.
The medic tied the last corner of the tent to a large saguaro cactus. Luckily the winds were not as harsh as the rain. "Funny," the chartreuse Autobot chuckled, "I always see you as the type who stood out in the rain like some statue, hardly concerned about the storm around you. Ever and always vigilant. And here you are, all prepared as if going camping."
Ironhide snorted. "I am, actually," he agreed with the former accusation, "but I bring the tarp just in case I need to shelter wounded or weaker soldiers." A large grin played along his dark face.
Ratchet just made a little huff and nothing more, returning to his work while the rain beat mercilessly above their sheltered heads.
Another hour passed, but the rain had not let up. Ironhide sat himself by the mouth of the tent, staring out into the black and wet skies. He was offlining every few minutes, bored out of his cranial chamber. Usually he would go out and find something to do, anything to do, despite the storm, but he was in an unknown place, with nothing he could do. God knows Ratchet wouldn't let him have a little fun and blow up a couple boulders here or there. Such a buzzkill.
Aforementioned buzzkill, three seconds later, stood back from cowering over his lab equipment. Ironhide couldn't help but be reminded of that mad scientist Wheeljack back at home; only he tended to blow all his stuff up.
Ratchet turned, looking over a transparent datapad. "Calcium levels read 19.2 percent, montmorillonite and bentonite at 62.4 and 20 percent, respectively and 1270 mg/l of various minerals. Scarce traces of radium at 2.3 and lithium at 9 were also found. Reaching a core temperature of near 107-109°F, these hot springs are classified as 'primary hot springs' with neutral waters at 7.3 PH, which I've rounded to 7.0 for the sake of specific classification. No serious trace of extremely harmful bacteria, though there was a small reading that could attribute to the common--"
"Don't make me switch off my audio receivers, Ratch'," Ironhide muttered, annoyed. He turned in his seat and glanced up at his friend, optic to optic. "So what does this tell us?"
Ratchet smiled and shook his head lightly. "The water appears to be just fine," he answered. He placed the 'pad back on the makeshift table and moved over to the older mech. "It may or may not be perfectly suitable for humans; I must collect more data on their organic immune systems before I jump to raw conclusions," Ratchet conversed, folding his arms over his chest. "For such tiny primitive organisms with pathetically short lifespans, their inner workings and designs are quite intriguing and complex."
"That's probably the only thing about 'em that is," Ironhide grumbled. "Everythin' else... They're just like drones who panic at the first sight of danger."
"I'm sure in time your misanthropy for the human species will subside," Ratchet said, taking a seat beside his comrade. "You've certainly warmed up to Sam and Mikaela. Lennox especially."
Ironhide raised three digits. "Three of 'em I can handle - without destroying anything," he insisted.
Ratchet laughed, dropping his hands in his lap. It had been hard for Ironhide to adjust to Earth and its cultures, with all its vast differences. Not to mention, he was a mech built for combat, and ever since the destruction of Megatron, little to no contact with any Decepticons had been made. Rather they were scheming their next attack or honestly backing out of the war, no one knew. The arrival of other Autobots had remained elusive. Of course this made Ironhide restless; not to mention, sometimes he'd mope that by doing nothing, he felt others were actually beginning to realize he was, indeed, an "old geezer".
There was no way he was going into early retirement - none of them were - but for now, he'd have to wait for the trouble to find him. To look for it here would endanger both the planet and its occupants. They'd wait for their people searching for them out in the stars, and they'd be ready for those who came with ill intent.
Silence passed between the two, something that once put Ironhide off but now seemed to have grown on him. They watched the rain and lightning, listened to the thunder. It wasn't out of discomfort or awkwardness when Ratchet next spoke, but rather simply to state an opinion and observation. Sitting with Ironhide in complete silence, to the medic, was not as terrifying as it was to, say, Bumblebee. It was actually rather soothing.
"When the rain water hits the hot springs," Ratchet noted, pointing outside, "the higher the content of the steam rises."
Ironhide hadn't been paying much mind to the springs, but he widened his optics when he saw the large waves of white steam pour off the surface of the pools. Ratchet was right; the amount had increased. It was an interesting sight, almost beautiful, something that you wouldn't see on Cybertron. But all that smoke rising gave way to memories of fire, memories of cities and fellow Autobots burning and fleeing, engulfed in flames. He had to look away when the memories started to actually hurt.
Ratchet easily picked up his pain again and smiled sadly. "It's something unlike anything else on our planet," he said quietly, placing a hand on Ironhide's back, "take the beauty in and program a new memory."
Ironhide looked over to the neon green and yellow mech, blinked then laughed. "Oh, don't go gettin' sentimental on me," he chortled, brushing off Ratchet's hand. "I'm fine. I'm just ready to get back on the road!"
Ratchet frowned. "Given the current condition of the rain..."
"Oh no," Ironhide quickly interjected, knowing exactly what the CMO was going to say next. He angrily pointed a finger at him. "We are not staying the night here!"
"Who said anything about the night?" Ratchet inquired, stiffening his shoulders. "I was going to suggest until the rain let up. I mean, it might just be another cycle or two--"
Ironhide bristled a little. "Radio transmissions say it's gonna last another ten cycles. At least, most of the humans who can read the weather say that," he informed. During his time alone while Ratchet was working, he had been listening to various radio stations provided with his alt mode, just to pass the time.
"Ten cycles, huh?" Ratchet echoed. He tapped a finger to his chin and glanced at the ground. "Did they say anything else?" he inquired.
Temperatures would drop into the low 70's around six, possibly reaching 74°F around midnight, with a 24 percent chance of hail and wind velocity at 35 MPH. "Not much," he lied in a quiet voice. If Ratchet knew, there was no way they'd be getting out of there before the night was over.
But Ratchet pretty much saw through his lie. "We'll wait it out here, see if the storm dies down any time soon," he insisted, standing and moving to the back of the tent, the tarp violently thrashing above his head. "If the wind decreases, I think we can pull it off."
Ironhide growled and drew to his feet, not one ounce pleased. "It's a small risk to take. The least amount of damage we'd sustain would be a knock over on our sides. We've faced worse storms than this, you know; we just gotta pick ourselves back up if we fall," he argued. His words darkened as he finished, "At least, that's what soldiers do. Weather in any condition, especially a simple storm like this, is no excuse to sit huddled between trees beneath a big sheet of plastic!"
"Your sarcasm is duly noted," Ratchet riposted, hunched back over his equipment. "It's just that sometimes, field medics like myself get very tired of going out in this weather and having to drag soldiers back to shelter after being thrown around like pebbles in the wind and struck by lightning in electric storms, all due to their reckless, stubborn pride."
"This is not Cybertron, the rain here isn't acidic or harmful," Ironhide seethed, frustration growing within his spark chamber. "We'll get wet, we might get roughed up a little, but we won't deactivate!"
Ratchet turned and faced Ironhide with a cold look in his optics. "Again, I didn't say anyone would 'deactivate'," he countered, "and if you feel you're obligated to go soldiering off into gales, hail and dust storms, please - be my guest." He swished a hand at the exit then started back to his table. "I'd rather not take my chances; I'll stay until everything settles down. So, go on ahead without me. I'll catch up with you later tonight or possibly tomorrow morning."
Ironhide's faceplates twisted with frustration. "I'm not gonna leave you, you glitch!" he barked. "As a soldier, as your comrade and your bondmate!"
"I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself," Ratchet insisted. "I am, after all, trained in that field."
Ironhide felt like punching something. No, blowing something up. Maybe the entire mountain surrounding them. Even then, that'd do very little for his temper tantrum. "You're such a stubborn afthole," he fumed.
"The same goes for you," Ratchet crooned, unfazed.
"Frag you," Ironhide cursed. He knew Ratchet could do fine without him, alone or in battle. But he didn't drive nearly nine hours out here to return by his lonesome, leaving his comrade by himself. Especially when he didn't know the directions to get back to base; that had been programed into Ratchet's databanks, not his.
With no other choice but to accept his partner's terms, Ironhide gave the ground one large, heavy kick, sending a giant chunk of earth flying outside, landing perfectly in the simmering hot spring ten yards away. To show he was still angry, he gave the hole he made a blast with his cannon, though this only succeeded in making him look childish. Ratchet didn't say anything, just silently accepted his rage and kept quiet as the other Autobot finally settled to cursing and mumbling, huddled off in a corner.
Ratchet waited until Ironhide quieted before he said, softly and sincerely, "Thank you."
The medic smiled.
"The sudden climate drop could be attributed to what the humans are calling 'global warming'," Ratchet had told Ironhide shortly after the mech shed his fury.
No matter what it was, the storm continued to rage, with no sign of moving on any time soon. It had been an hour since then, and Ironhide was still upset he wasn't on the road back to base. Though the sky had darkened from the rain clouds, it was pitch black now that the sun was gone.
With rain and winds like the ones roaring above and around them, headlights would do nothing driving out in this condition, especially with it being so dark and no help within miles but a small town of people who would shit themselves upon seeing injured alien robots instead of calling for proper help instead. The frequent lightning would help illuminate things, but that wasn't exactly something they would consider counting on.
Ironhide looked aside, watching as Ratchet packed up his equipment, data and spring water collection, placing each bit in spare compartments on his body. As he finished tidying up, the weapon's specialist noticed a slight quiver rush down Ratchet's backbone infrastructure and a small wobble in his left heel. He narrowed his optics, voice stern, "You're low on energy, aren't you?"
Ratchet cast him a surprised look. "Ah, slightly. Not enough for me to worry about, though," he agreed, twisting his foot around. "All that driving today did a little number on me. Again, nothing to concern yourself with."
"Who said I was concerned?" Ironhide smirked.
"My bad," Ratchet bantered.
The dark mech stood, his systems giving a soft whirr with the motion. "The temperature outside has decreased. It's not too cold, but I've activated my temperature core on a low setting to keep a steady flow of energy," he informed. With a smarmy grin, he purred, "I take it with the lack of energy, you're having a difficult time jump-starting your own heating system, aren't you?"
Ratchet scowled. "I could activate it if I wished," he disagreed quickly, "but it would only waste more valuable energy."
"I'll agree with you there, for once," Ironhide chuckled. He approached the medic, standing beside him. "Why don't you go into recharge? It'll conserve more energy for you to gab with later on, right?"
"Yes, but not to everything you said," Ratchet retorted, half-risible half-annoyed. A moment later, he had transformed into his Hummer H2 mode, much smaller beneath the tarp tent. "And you should consider heeding your own advice as well."
Ironhide gave the rescue vehicle a light nudge (even to Ratchet's standards) with his foot. "Don't worry about me," he joked, "I'm the toughest."
Ratchet gave his engine one little growl before going silent.
"I'll keep you warm, doc," Ironhide continued to taunt, before gently spreading his arms over the Hummer and resting a comfortable amount of weight against him. Enough for both of them to be content.
Ratchet felt a shiver run through his chassis; not one of cold, but of pleasure. In his bipedal mode, Ironhide radiated more heat externally, that which was cocooning the medic along with his arms and chest pressed against his top. He could practically hear Ironhide's spark pulse in his audiols. This had to be the most warmest feeling in the world, listening to Ironhide's spark beat softly in its chamber so close.
For a crass, bold and ruthless soldier, Ironhide could also be one of the most gentle mechs in all of Cybertron.
Before Ratchet's systems shut down, he murmured words to Ironhide in a language the dark mech had almost forgot was their own. It made him smile despite everything, and just as Ratchet went completely offline, he returned the "I love you" in Cybertronian as well.