A Year in the Life of Optimus Prime: One
By Buckeye Belle, with Vivienne Grainger
(A.N. Transformers belongs to Hasbro and whoever they have allowed the rights to it, which certainly doesn't include me. No money has been made from this fanfic and no copyright infringement is intended. All I own are my OCs.
This story contains religious and spiritual discussion. Those who wish not to be exposed to religions other than their own should turn back now.
This is the third story in The Sidhe Chronicles series. Previous stories are "Swords and Jewels" and "The Sidhe Chronicles 2: Dark of the Moon." This is a separate AU from the "Come on up for the Rising" verse.
::Silent speech (Internal radio or through a bond)::
Scene Break: -Sidhe Chronicles-
Thanks to my beta, Vivienne Grainger. In the process of beta-reading this story, she pointed out some amazing similarities to her story, "When This Cruel War Is Over." I had not read it previously so technically I can't even credit her for the idea, but it was published first so I feel I have to say something. Go read it for yourself. Her work is archived at FanFiction dot net. The same character is even involved, and it's a great story. Any remaining mistakes are mine. /A.N.)
A little order was beginning to establish itself half an hour after the Battle of Chicago, as NEST commandeered the lobby of a hotel and the gravel lot of a construction site next door.
Diarwen watched Will and Betony's reunion for a moment. At a distance, Sam and Carly laughed for joy and kidded around with Bumblebee about whether they were really engaged.
Elsewhere the mood was more somber. She saw wounded everywhere, bots and humans alike. Of all the NEST team, only six besides Lennox had survived, and the remaining SEALS were with them in a hotel lobby. Epps had seven left, four of them those who had gone to the stadium with her.
Betony's trucker friend Jaime was there with her and Jordan, their bandmate.
The Sidhe walked to the river's edge, aching in every muscle and joint. She looked over the railing and realized there were two stories of hotel rooms below street level, looking out over the river. A sidewalk shaded by a row of landscaped trees ran in front of the ground floor rooms, which had patio doors opening onto the walkway. This sidewalk was only a few feet above the water.
Diarwen found a narrow stairway leading down, littered with debris, and carefully followed it to the water's edge.
She stopped at the railing and looked into the slowly swirling current. It reminded her of images from the tsunamis in Indonesia and Japan, albeit on a much smaller scale. The water was thick with flotsam and jetsam from the collapsed buildings. Cardboard boxes, chair cushions, plastic jugs, and reams of paper floated by. In the distance, the hull of a crashed Decepticon carrier broke the surface. She wondered about the wisdom of leaving that there—but what they were going to do about it was beyond her at the moment. If a Decepticon came out of it right now, may his god help him.
There was a splash, and a gleam of reflected light just below the surface. She scowled, and looked closer. That was no fish, but a Cybertronian!
She drew her sword; if it was a 'Con he was in for the surprise of his life. But then she recognized the colors of the little mech struggling to swim while towing another small bot. "Ay, someone! Help, down here!" she shouted, sheathing the weapon. "Wheelie! This way!"
With feverish haste, she pulled off her jacket, chain shirt and gambeson, and yanked off her boots. Then she vaulted the railing and splashed into the filthy water.
Like all Cybertronians without a water-going alt, Wheelie stayed afloat and maneuvered in water by transforming water jets. He was laboring under his brother's weight, and Diarwen was afraid at first that Brains was offline, but she could still see an aura. She swam to them, and took from Wheelie his unconscious brother.
It looked a lot further up to the sidewalk from the water's surface than it had when she jumped in, and the riverbank here was a blank concrete wall. Were she alone, she would have swum to a boat access, but clearly that effort was beyond Wheelie.
"Can you not just walk along the bottom?"
"Could, but they'll never find Brains down there—and if I go into stasis lock they'll never find me either, not before the water gets to somethin' important!"
She snagged a large plastic water cooler jug. "Up you go, Wheelie."
She kicked hard to stay afloat with the little mech. "Can't!" Wheelie gasped, fumbling with it. "Keeps rollin'!"
But he could cling to it as if it were a life preserver, and with the bottle anchored between them, they got Brains on top of it. Once they were stable, Wheelie had to use his jets only to keep them from floating downstream with the slow current. Both Diarwen and Wheelie once again started yelling for help.
Chromia and Arcee came first, but the stairway slowed them—their monopedal wheeled forms were not suited for navigating steps. They shouted for more help, though.
Ironhide was right behind them. "What in the Pit?"
"Diarwen found the minibots!"
Ironhide jumped from the street down to the sidewalk. He reached over the railing for Brains and handed him up to Sideswipe, who sped away on his wheels to get Brains to Ratchet.
Ironhide reached down again, taking Wheelie into one servo, Diarwen into the other.
Wheelie, set down, shook water off himself, and once Ironhide lifted him to street level, transformed to race off after his brother.
Diarwen carefully avoided the broken glass. By then, Chromia had navigated the stairs. "Why are you walking so slowly?"
"There is glass everywhere," Diarwen answered with a quick smile, "and my feet are not made of metal."
"Oh! Stay put, I'll get your things for you."
That done, the Sidhe winced as she wrung water from her hair and clothing. She was even more pale than usual; Chromia's sensors showed that injuries and exhaustion were finally catching up with her.
Ironhide lifted both of them up top as well, then climbed the stairs. His mate stayed close enough to catch Diarwen if she fell, as the Autobot feared she might.
Diarwen sat on a chunk of concrete to put her boots back on. There was less glass up here, but still there were enough makeshift caltrops waiting for the unwary to make barefoot navigation dangerous.
One of the NEST medics brought a green blanket, which Chromia wrapped around her friend's shoulders. "Diarwen? What do you need to take care of your injuries?"
"Soap and clean water, if nothing else. I have learned the hard way not to use human medicines," she said, with an apologetic look at the medic. He only grinned and nodded, being used to special medical needs, and thinking nothing of it. He stayed close, though, as he too did not like the Sidhe's color.
Chromia said, "Let's see what we can find. Primus knows what you might get out of that river. You need dry clothes, too. Is there some sort of procedure for taking things from a store and paying for it later?"
The Sidhe drew the blanket more closely around herself. "Oh, my, no, they can shoot people for looting. I know, it is an emergency, but that's just how humans are. It is of no consequence, Chromia, though I thank you for the thought. I have worn wet clothes before."
The medic, realizing that Diarwen had support, went back to his station. Ironhide went that way as well, to check on the brave little mechs whose quick thinking had saved Wheeljack and Bumblebee from Soundwave earlier. Chromia and Diarwen crossed ruined pavement and gravel at the Sidhe's slow pace before they joined the others in the lobby.
Graham, Lennox' 2iC, had managed to reach the owner of the hotel over a very dodgy satellite uplink, and gotten permission for them to use what they needed. Once they were inside, Chromia discovered a lost and found closet. She compared what she found to her scans of Diarwen. The first pair of jeans was a size 18; the slender Sidhe could have fit in one leg of those. Behind them she found a pair of black slacks closer to the right size. She also picked up a Chicago Cubs shirt that looked like it was meant for a boy—anyway, it was the sort of thing that she had seen Sam wearing. But it was clean, and roughly the right size, and that was really all that mattered right now.
From the kitchen, they got bottled water, and salt and lemon juice to treat Diarwen's injuries. Both would both sting, but disinfect the wounds. While Diarwen raided the pantry, in a nearby maid's closet Chromia found some hotel soap bars.
Just the chance to wash up a little helped the pain immensely. Diarwen took extra care over areas of broken skin; Chromia had a good point about that river water. She wasn't sure she wanted to know what could have been swimming around in it with her, much less what kind of chemicals it held.
Chromia handed her a towel. "Are you sure there isn't more we should be doing?"
Diarwen shook her head. "I will set some healing charms. That is all I can do apart from soap and water and a little kitchen medicine. I fear the iron burn must fend for itself until I get home, or until someone can bring my herb box from Betony's house. There is nothing to be concerned about, though; everything is healing well."
In spite of herself, Diarwen gave a jaw-cracking yawn.
Chromia smiled at that, and said, "Well, good night then. I'm going back out to the lot with the others."
"Good night, Chromia. I thank you for your help."
Diarwen went into the maids' closet for blankets, then lay down on one of the lobby sofas.
Lennox walked by, checking in with the soldiers on guard duty in the lobby. She overheard some tired discussion about clearing the upper floors. There was some concern about smaller 'Cons like symbionts or pretenders hiding up there, and while it would have been nice to use the hotel rooms, the men were all exhausted.
Lennox looked around at everyone already more or less comfortably bivouacked in the spacious but secure front lobby, near the main doors if they needed to get out in a hurry, and he decided that any such undertaking could wait until morning. "Fig, your squad has first watch. Cadogan, you take second."
Diarwen heard a couple of "Yes, sirs" before exhaustion claimed her.
The next thing Diarwen knew, it was pitch dark and there was a noise of helicopters landing, so she went out to see what was happening. It proved to be the National Guard, arriving to secure the area and establish a command post to carry out rescue work.
Optimus and Will were talking to the Guard unit's commanding officer. In no way could they assure the commander that there were not more 'Cons out there hiding among the thousands of wrecked and abandoned vehicles, and neither NEST nor the bots were in any shape to go looking for more trouble. The Sisters were the only ones not beaten half to death, and all of them were very low on energon.
Veterans of Baghdad, the Guard decided to establish a green zone, clearing an LZ big enough for the Ospreys to bring in more troops and equipment as well as whatever NEST wanted from their base in Washington DC. Ratchet commed Optimus with a long list, with energon at the top.
Optimus Prime lost track of how many of the Guard troops stopped to say thanks or to express their shame at the actions of their government. He was able to assure them that the highest levels of government, at least, had been in on the ruse. Apparently "making deals with terrorists" was near the top of the Guards' taboo list—as far as these soldiers were concerned, terrorists were to be killed at any opportunity, and that was that.
The Prime saw Diarwen and came over. "Brains and Wheelie will be fine, thanks to you."
Diarwen said quietly, "That is good news. What will you do now?"
Optimus looked out over the dark ruins. Now that the gas main fire across the river on Wacker Drive was out, Chicago looked like Iacon or Beirut or even Troy: any city over whose body a war had been fought. "Primus knows. I wonder if that has ever been less in our own servos; I suppose I will have to wait to speak to Director Mearing. What about you?"
"I had not thought ahead," she replied. "Of a certainty, I can make myself useful here for a while. There will be much to do before this city will rise up again."
"But they will rebuild?" He sounded as tired as she felt, and had more bare metal than paint. The areas of his armor that made up his windows in alt mode were cracked.
The worst of his injuries, though, was his missing arm. Ratchet had done what he could: the Prime was no longer leaking energon, at least. But Diarwen could see from his aura that the wound was still painful even with his sensors turned down. He belonged on a berth in a nice clean medbay somewhere, but the exigencies of war made that impossible.
"In time," she assured him, touched that, with his own injuries, he spared a thought for the plight of others. "Perhaps, for many, in another place. But they will resume their lives, and move on. I have seen them do that over and over again." She sighed as she followed his gaze across the river. "Over and over...some gods-cursed fool starts these things, and thousands die, and hundreds of thousands must rebuild. Ten years later someone else starts it all up again. They learn nothing."
Optimus answered her quietly. "When peaceful people are attacked, they must fight back or be enslaved. Hear me, Diarwen, because of what our warriors did here, all of us together, the damage was confined to a dead planet and a relatively small area of a living one. I am not in any way trying to minimize the cost, but remember that most of the people of Earth can go on with their lives as usual."
She nodded. "That is truth," she replied softly. "I thank you for it."
Ratchet joined them. "They've brought what I needed from the base, Optimus."
Prime nodded. "Please excuse us, Lady."
Diarwen smiled. "Of course." She watched them go, then went over to Lennox, who had also grabbed a catnap but still looked like he was about to drop.
He said, "Diarwen. I never got a chance to thank you for what you did for my sister. If there's ever anything I can do—"
"You owe me no debt, Will. Betony is my dearest friend."
"Then welcome to the family. You looked after her just as I would have."
The Sidhe nodded in acknowledgment, then paused before she said, "Will, I have a deep concern. I asked Optimus just now what the Autobots will do now that their war is over. His answer indicated that their fate is in your government's hands. I mislike—I fear—what that could mean for them."
The intense hazel eyes fastened on her. "Mearing is in Washington now. She's on our side, Diarwen."
"What else can we do? They need a contingency plan, else they will end up slaves to the whim of a government that flies like leaves on the wind with any change in public opinion!"
Will said, "I know, but they need resources that only the government can provide. They don't have anywhere to run."
Diarwen felt tears pricking her eyes as the reality of the situation faced by her new friends crashed in on her. In light of that, Optimus' perspective on the battle and its results was even more extraordinary. For this world, they had given up their hope of future generations, and now she had sacrificed their last hope of ever returning home, of at least living out their lives in familiar lands. They truly were as time-lost as she herself was. "Oh, Goddess."
Will said, "Right now all anybody knows is, we survived the battle. Tomorrow we'll figure out what we got, what we need, and where we need to go from here." He put a strong hand on her shoulder for a moment, then went to rejoin his men.
Diarwen had to agree with the sense in that. She took a deep breath for what felt like the first time that day.
Overhead, the stars shone in unusual clarity, the battle-darkened city providing no competition to their brilliance. She sat on a block of concrete and watched them, seeking answers or perhaps just reassurance, and let tomorrow be soon enough to take on the new dawn's challenges.
In the darkness, she let silent tears for her battle-kin flow unchecked.
The next morning, the whole country mobilized for an all-out rescue effort. Right after the long, long train of National Guard trucks bringing in tents and supplies and willing hands came the Red Cross and the Salvation Army with still more of the same, and a caravan of news trucks bearing nothing but curiosity.
Betony Lennox and the friend that she'd driven up here with, Jaime Anderson, rose to the challenge of providing supplies, and started organizing a legion of independent long-haul truckers to bring in the flood of donated supplies from all over the US and Canada, so that they could be distributed to survivors.
Diarwen found Betony talking to Jaime in the lot. Sometime during the night, they had gone out to get his truck, and found the tractor undamaged, though there was no sign of the trailer.
She asked Betony, "What are you going to do now?"
"Look for a load," the younger woman said. "We heard the Red Cross needs drivers, so we thought we'd sign up, if they'll cover our expenses. Otherwise, we'll have to find something else to afford fuel, and pick up a load for them if we'd be driving bobtail otherwise."
Diarwen knew it cost hundreds of dollars to fill up a semi, and that wasn't counting all the other expenses of living on the road.
Jaime said, "That's an idea, Betony. If we could get a list together of who is going to be driving bobtail and where their next load is, maybe we could arrange for them to take a load of supplies there instead. Then somebody else could pick it up and take it further along. It would still cost diesel, but not as much."
"I'll tell you what, if some of the big companies would let us drop off trailers and pick them up there-" Betony said.
"Let's go see what the Red Cross needs, then we'll find a cell signal and see what we can get organized."
Jordan came running with his backpack. "Hey, can I get a lift with you guys?"
"Sure, where to?"
"Daytona, eventually. I need to get back to my mom before she ends up in the hospital again."
"If we're not going that way, we'll get you with someone who is," Jaime told him.
Will and Ironhide joined them. Will hugged his sister. "Safe trip, kid."
"Watch out for yourself."
"Always do," he assured her. "Jordan, thanks for everything."
He shook his head. "Betony and Diarwen would have done the same thing for me."
"I know your mom comes first, but if you ever need a job, give me a call," Will told him. "We nearly always have civilian positions available."
Jordan nodded gratefully. He had quit his last job to go back to Florida when his mother could no longer live alone, and taking care of her was a full time job right now. "That means a lot, Will."
Ironhide said, "We owe you one, Jordan. You, and all the guys who came in with Sam and Bobby."
Jordan reddened. "Yeah, well, we're Americans. It's what we do. Wrong house to bring trouble to."
Jaime and Will nodded.
The three of them climbed into the cab of Jaime's truck and headed out.
Epps' boys stayed with NEST for a while, but the dead he had commanded were not active duty military, so much of the responsibility for getting them home fell to Bobby. Not the money, Lennox and Mearing saw to that, but it was Epps who took those long walks from curb to front door that every commanding officer dreads.
Ratchet had worked a minor miracle to recover and reattach the Prime's severed arm, a temporary fix as that limb would have to be completely rebuilt if Optimus were to regain full use of it. However, its presence would prevent his self-repair systems from accepting his amputee status as "normal." If that happened the Prime might never be able to integrate a new arm.
He poked Optimus in the windshield and told him, "Do. Not. Leave. The. Green. Zone. Or. Transform! Got it?"
Optimus gave the medic a long look, and saw an exhausted, frazzled mech who had been far too long without recharge. Ratchet had also been left responsible for many of the wounded human soldiers until their own medics had started to make their way into the war zone, and Optimus knew he had not been able to save all of them despite his best efforts. He said, "I understand, old friend. I'll do as you say. Now you need to turn things over to Jolt and recharge for a joor or two, before you drop in the middle of medbay."
Ratchet's servos dropped to his sides as he processed the common sense in that. He couldn't ignore a warning on his HUD that his reserves were in fact approaching critical. He found a good spot to transform to his alt mode, handed off to his apprentice, and went into recharge: followed his Prime's orders for a change, in fact.
That was how Optimus came to be coordinating things from the Green Zone, working with Charlotte Mearing once she returned from Washington a few hours later.
His troops always knew where to find him after a battle: managing the trillion and four things that needed to get done. Particularly after Prowl's deactivation, Optimus had proven to be one of the Autobots' biggest organizational assets.
The rest of the Autobots were out in the city, doing whatever was needed, working side by side with humans and one Sidhe. Their sensors could locate living victims trapped in wreckage as well as anything humans had invented. Some of the Autobots had sensors which rivaled even the noses of those specially trained rescue dogs being brought in from all over the world.
The search that really hit the news was that which resulted in freeing several hundred survivors from the lowest underground level of a collapsed parking garage. The day after the battle, Ironhide, Chromia, Sideswipe and Diarwen were a few blocks from the hotel, returning from seeking survivors in a tangle of wrecked cars. The Cybertronians had next cleared the automotive carcasses, stacking them neatly by the side of the road, so that emergency vehicles could get into the area.
Job done, the trio were returning to base when they came past a large group of rescue workers outside the heavily-damaged structure.
On the sidewalk across the street from the front of the building, a fire chief, a police captain with his badge hanging on a chain around his neck, and a city engineer were arguing with each other and several of the next rank of first responders. The fire chief was saying, "Look, we need to get that damn equipment in here now! I'm not sending people in there blind. We'd just create more victims. And if we make it settle, we could kill everyone who's down there now!"
Diarwen said, "Are they going to talk, or actually do something before the building collapses?"
The three Cybertronians and the Sidhe watched the whole circus for a few minutes, then Sides said, agreeing, "They're going to argue for hours. Those people haven't got hours."
"There must be five hundred of 'em down there," Ironhide agreed, after a sensor sweep of the parking garage.
Sideswipe scanned the wreckage again. "The stress is on those front piers. The back ones will hold until the whole thing gives. If we can move some of this slag and clear out just one of those ramps, they could get out that way."
Ironhide looked at him for a long moment, then shrugged. Sometimes this fragger really had good ideas that did not involve practical jokes. "Easier to get forgiveness than permission," he replied, being more like the silver menace than either would care to admit.
They worked together, Diarwen at the ready behind them, to move some chunks of concrete out of the way. All the time they were very aware that moving the wrong chunk could bring the rest of the building down on them, and those they were attempting to rescue, as well. It slowed the work: move a chunk a millimeter, see if disaster resulted; if not move it another.
The humans were still arguing when, broken concrete out of the way, Sides crawled down the ramp to cut up and remove a mass of tangled, twisted girders, creating an escape route.
At first, nothing happened, though both mechs could hear hushed whispers and people rustling around in the darkness. Eyes wide and bright with fear, the survivors halted far down the ramp at first sight of Ironhide and Sideswipe. The last time they saw Cybertronians, those beings had made a very good attempt to kill them.
The Autobots shifted their vision to IR and saw a woman shielding her children with her body. A man stepped in front of another woman, but then the two of them took a few hesitant steps forward. One big guy pushed another fellow, a total stranger, behind him, and craned his neck to get a better view.
Sides called down the ramp, "Coming out? Or do you want us to get you some change of address forms?"
A man carrying a briefcase was startled into a grin at finding a kindred spirit here of all places. He walked up the ramp like he owned the place, brass personified, so caked with dust that his hair, skin and once-expensive suit were uniformly gray from head to foot, with rusty spots and patches of his own dried blood.
He took a good look around half-way up, taking in the state of the building, then turned and yelled down the ramp, "Come on! If they wanted us dead, we'd be dead!"
One woman said, "Let's go! We can't stay down here!"
The fellow saw someone having trouble and went back down to assist an older man up the ramp. At the top, a teenager in a baseball cap, tears running down his face, took over with the old man. Apparently it was his grandfather; they had been separated in the darkness and confusion, and each had thought the other dead.
While the Powers That Be were still arguing about the safest way to conduct their rescue, first two or three, then a dozen, then scores of refugees began to stream out of the wrecked building and mill around on the blacktop outside. The man who had taken the lead stayed for a while, leading people up the ramp until the line started moving in earnest. Then he asked Ironhide, "Is there a plan?"
Ironhide replied, "If you go around to the front the building, the cops and firefighters are waiting on the other side of the street. They'll help you."
"Thanks." He followed Ironhide's directions and walked up to a reporter. "Hey, buddy! That big black robot who got us out of there said there are some cops and ambulances over here someplace. Do you know where we're supposed to go?"
The reporter yelled to his cameraman, then pointed past the crowd of police and firefighters. "The ambulance crews are right over there. How many are alive down there?"
The man shook his head. "I don't know. A lot. Hundreds. Whenever one of those damn ships flew over, more people ran in. Finally they shot up the garage and trapped us down there."
The news team raced to get footage of the rescue, and CNN put up the live feed, as a steady stream of survivors followed the man with the briefcase toward the crowd of first responders.
Ironhide and Sideswipe were oblivious to their fifteen minutes of fame as they hurried people up the ramp and out of danger. They kept glancing up at the ceiling, and at those weakened front piers, which were starting to groan with the strain.
One of the firemen looked, did a double take, and told the chiefs, "The Autobots got them out! Let us help!"
The fire chief said, "Go!"
A dozen police and firefighters went down into the basement, squeezing past the people coming up. Some fell by the wayside to help stragglers, usually the wounded, along. The rest continued on down, to get into the smallest parts of the void the bots could not reach, ensuring that no one unable to walk got left behind. Soon a few stretchers were carried out by the fire department paramedics, with the family and friends who had refused to leave their injured walking along close beside them.
A huge cheer went up when the long, straggling line of walking wounded and laden stretcher-bearers cleared the basement, and the last police officer returned to sunlight and air.
Ironhide and Sides were about to get out of there as well, when Sides picked up a faint electrical pattern from deep inside a void created by a fallen concrete slab. "Hide! Wait! I got some more people back in this hole!"
"Stop, Sides, we're too heavy! We'll bring it all down!"
Diarwen stripped off her armor and weapons belts, anything that might snag, taking only her dagger in case she needed to cut someone free of a seat belt. Sides subspaced the rest for her as she stuffed her braid into the back of her shirt and crawled into the hole.
A few minutes later, people started to crawl out—two kids, a woman holding a baby, a man.
Then the whole structure groaned and cracked, and the slab shifted. Ironhide shouted, "Diarwen!"
He grabbed the edge of the slab and lifted it up, just enough for Diarwen to wriggle one arm free and grab Sideswipe's digit. The silver Autobot pulled her free, and hunched over her to keep falling debris off her as he dived for daylight.
Ironhide was behind him when the overhead level caved in, and Chromia's shrill scream was drowned by the dreadful noise of rending steel and falling sheets of concrete.
Sides looked back, but all he could see was a cloud of dust and a huge slab leaning at a crazy angle against the already-weakened front columns. For a split second he stared, before processing that Ironhide was trapped under that. Then the wreckage settled, slipping another inch, and a cascade of crushed concrete flowed down the columns like flood water. Sides finally found his voice and shouted, "Hide! Primus, no!"
Like survivors of disasters everywhere, Sideswipe, Chromia, and Diarwen panicked when they realized that Ironhide was buried alive, shouting his name, tearing at the rubble with bare hands and servos. A crowd of rescuees and first responders surged forward, and within seconds they had an army of help.
Chromia yelled, "He's alive but he's trapped right under this slab! Don't put any more weight on it! Get back! Get back off it!"
The helpers retreated.
"We need a big crane to move it!" Sides shouted.
A firefighter in a chief's white helmet issued a series of orders into his radio, then ordered the crowd to get out of the building; everyone obeyed except Diarwen and the two bots.
"Not getting rid of you three, am I?" the man said, a crinkle at the corner of his eyes betraying the severity of his tone. "Okay, it's like this: I say 'jump,' you ask 'How high?' on the way up. Clear?"
He said, "You can jump, right?"
Sides snapped, "Higher than you can, fleshy!"
Chromia hissed, "Sideswipe!"
The chief snorted. "Fine. You can go out and clear a way for the crane if you want to help."
Chromia turned to the others and said, "Please, go ahead. I want to stay."
Leaving, Sides and Diarwen heard the chief say, "I say get out, you get out."
Chromia replied, "If it comes down, I'm staying. He's my mate. I won't survive him long in any case, and I want to be with him if he goes."
The man had not been made a fire chief because he was stupid. He nodded, eyes somber.
It took some time, but Sideswipe's sheer size was their best asset, Diarwen realized. He asked politely, and people moved. When the huge construction crane arrived a very few minutes later, it had a clear path to the garage.
Its operator climbed out to survey the site, and the city engineer ran up to him with a blueprint. The fire chief joined them, while the crane operator unrolled it; the three held it between them, their voices loud and urgent as they conferred with the engineer. Pointing fingers jabbed the air: at the slab, the ceiling, the creaking front piers.
From large cracks in the roof, bits of rubble showered down through shafts of sunlight. Sporadically the ruins creaked and groaned as they shifted in place.
Over the noise of the building and the crowd, Sideswipe and Diarwen heard the engineer say, "That roof is coming down. We have to get him free and get out of here. Every second this takes, it's getting more dangerous."
The fire chief grabbed one of the cables and ran to a corner of the slab, stabbing the grapple into an angle of exposed rebar. The much smaller engineer crawled up the steeply-tilted slab itself to attach a second.
A chunk of concrete came free of the ceiling with a roar. Sideswipe slapped it as it plummeted, knocking it aside so that it grazed the engineer's leg rather than crushing him.
The man cursed loudly, but kept his grip on the hook and set it firmly into the slab. Sides reached over to affix the last one, then carefully lifted the engineer from his precarious perch.
The fire chief told the crane operator, "OK, take it up!" With a roar of engines and a shriek of overworked metal, the crane reeled in the slack.
The concrete started to rise.
Sides leaned in under it as soon as he had a millimeter of clearance, but leapt back as something gave under his ped. From there, Ironhide was just out of reach; Sides stepped forward again, and tensed as the floor shifted once more—the concrete he was standing on was hanging on by the rebar it contained. He reached for Ironhide, grasped his servos, and cautiously took the other bot's weight.
When the concrete shifted no further, Sideswipe pulled the heavier Ironhide out, ignoring the stressed-metal groan of his own systems and the overweight warnings that began to flash on his HUD. More concrete cracked under his peds, and under Ironhide as well, exposing the web of rebar.
Ironhide yelled as that rebar snagged one of his back plates. He twisted, but left a stripe of blue energon on the wreckage.
Larger chunks of concrete were falling now, big enough to do the bots harm if they hit.
Once Sides had backed up far enough to pull Ironhide within reach, Chromia caught her bondmate's arm, and with Sideswipe's continued assistance, pulled her mate free of the wreckage and into the parking lot.
A shout of victory went up from the crowd, rescue workers, survivors, and reporters alike, when they realized he was moving.
There was a final, mighty "Keeerrrack!" from somewhere in the doomed structure, and it all came down in a rush of sound and displaced air, dust billowing out to cover them all, hiding the last moments of destruction within it.
The police and firefighters began to herd the crowd of refugees back across the street, where the paramedics were setting up a triage area. A fresh wave of ambulances waited to take the walking casualties to join friends and family already hospitalized.
By then a heavy military flatbed driven by one of the NEST troops had arrived to take Ironhide back to the Green Zone. Sideswipe knelt to pick him up and place him on it, but a brace of paramedics said, racing over, "Hey, don't do that! He could've hurt his back or neck in there!"
Ironhide himself said, "'S all right, Sides, I can walk."
Chromia snapped, "And exactly how long have you been practicing medicine? The humans are right."
Ironhide grumbled, sounding like chunks of lumber inside a cement mixer, but relaxed back onto the ground.
One of the paramedics said, "For a human, we'd use a back board. Do you have anything like that?"
Ironhide snapped, "If you hadn't realized, we ain't human!"
The paramedic squatted beside him, in view, and said, "True, you ain't, but you're built like us. Bet you've got control channels running up and down your back and neck. If you wrenched either one, you could do some pretty bad damage. Best to avoid it, yeah?"
Not even Ironhide could argue with that.
The crane operator volunteered a flat metal plate normally used to lift construction materials to upper floors. With Sideswipe's help, he hooked it up to the crane cables and they used that as an improvised backboard.
Ironhide had been stunned by the impact, and there were wounds that needed repair, but his self-diagnostics weren't returning anything critical. When a little kid who reminded him of Lennox' daughter yelled to ask if he was OK, he gave her a thumbs-up. The news cameras ate it up.
The whole drama put the Autobots in everyone's living room, saving people's lives and working together with first responders.
By the end of the day, everybody knew there had been two factions; and knew too who belonged to which one.
End Part 1