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Chores day; the least appealing of daily tasks and duties now given a designated calendar spot – a necessary evil, as it were. Heavy pede-falls echoed at a brisk pace within the large hangar, thudding forwards before dissipating into the rising murmur of busy bots.

The newly reappointed SIC glanced up from her data pad, watching as the rest of Team Prime carried on with their own jobs: Wheeljack and Bulkhead moving Energon cubes under the supervision of Ultra Magnus, Smokescreen and Bumblebee assisting Arcee with the inventory stockade, and Ratchet… where was Ratchet? Cerulean hues darted about as her pace slowed, only to then come to a halt and pivot on the heel of her pede. The CMO was nowhere in sight…

Strange… he wasn't out on scouting duty with Prime today, was he?

Slender digits flicked across the data pad, briefly reviewing the schedule, and tinted lips gave an immediate purse. Just as she thought, he was supposed to be here. Hm. Now, her pede tapped the floor impatiently, sending a ping to determine the Medic's location.

"Something wrong, Elita?" a cool femme voice pulled the SIC from her thoughts, gaze falling to the Stealth expert a few yards away.

"I have yet to see Ratchet report in today… have you seen him, Arcee?"

The blue femme shrugged, peeking over to both Bumblebee and Smokescreen who each shook their helms. Elita gave a quiet ex-vent, pede still tapping idly against the cement floor. With a wave of her servo Arcee silently motioned for the mechs to continue on, as slender arms crossed in front of her chassis.

"He's probably still recharging," she hummed nonchalantly, to which elicited a snort from the fuchsia Commander.

"Or hiding…" Elita shifted her weight from one pede to the other, hips giving a small swing in the process. "Either way, I need his latest reports for the docket," a single digit tapped on her data pad, adding further articulation to the words.

Arcee chuckled, rolling her optics with a smirk, "Yeah, well, if you do find him, tell him we could use some more-" her words were cut short as Smokescreen suddenly piped up.

"Hate to ruin the mid-grade break but, we could sure use some servos right now…" Nearly tripping over the snaking cables overflowing from his hold the yellow Scout chimed in as well.

>> Where did you want these to go again, 'Cee? <<

Arcee shrugged, giving an apologetic glance to her superior, "Duty calls…"

Elita nodded her helm in silent dismissal, glancing back down to the data pad in hopes to find a location ping from Ratchet, only to be disappointed. Starting forwards once more a digit tapped at her comm-link, resulting in only an offline chime from the CMO's personal channel. A frequency change, maybe he tagged along with Optimus after all…

No sooner had the comm pinged did an immediate answer fill her audials.

:: 'Lita, is something wrong? ::

Optics rolled, assuring she was out of earshot of the others before answering.

:: With me in charge? Of course not… ::

A low rumbling chuckle filled the comm, and an amused vent of her own hummed from her vocoder. Primus, she had missed that sound. The moment passed after a brief second, and she leaned just outside the hangar door, safe from nosey bots and humans alike.

:: Yet, somehow, I sense you are not calling only to check-in… :: the Prime sighed, and she could practically hear him smiling on the other side, matching her own small grin now curving over smooth lip plates.

:: Only because you never gave a status update first. :: she quipped, continuing before he could retaliate, :: Ratchet isn't with you by chance, is he? ::

:: No… ::

:: Slag. ::

:: Why? :: the smooth baritone now gave a brief rumbling, as if asking whether or not he should worry.

:: There is no need to be concerned, Prime, :: Reading his thoughts she answered the unvoiced question, :: I'm sure he is just recharging late this morning… ::

:: Or has hidden himself somewhere to escape your gruelling tasks, :: Optimus chided. A wicked smirk flashed over her features.

:: The gruelling tasks will be nothing compared to what will follow when I find him... :: she threatened loosely, but there was a tinge of apprehension in her tone. :: Thanks anyways, Prime. I will not keep you any longer. ::

:: If you insist… :: Optimus didn't bother masking his disappointment, he'd half-hoped they could talk a while longer still. Elita had only just reunited with them on Earth, and he sought to lengthen the time spent in her company whenever possible. They both did.

:: The others will start to grow suspicious, best to find Ratchet and get on with things. :: Just as she went to sign-off, the baritone quickly cut in, quieter this time.

:: Have you… given any further thought to- ::

:: Optimus- :: Elita glanced around, assuring not a soul were in sight as her own voice lowered to a barely audible level. :: Now is not the best time. We can discuss this in person when you return. I really have to go now, lest be labelled as a hypocrite. ::

Audials flicked as the deflating sigh filled the other side of the comm, and cerulean optics couldn't help but scan the area, making extra sure she was truly alone. That's all they needed were old rumours resurfacing; gossip and hushed whispers amongst such a small group would completely demolish the synergy of the team. For now, it was best to keep private life under-wraps.

:: But… :: she started, another wicked grin flashing across tinted lip plates, :: If you return at a timely hour… we can see about venturing off base this evening…? ::

Now there was an idea. Optimus rumbled again, and just as before made no effort in masking his reaction; only this time, it was intrigue.

:: Then I will move this Earth myself, if I must. ::

Clanking and banging echoed from inside the hangar, followed by immediate yells from the team inside, cutting the tender moment short. Jolted back to the present, Elita let her helm dip back, clunking against the wall with a dull thud. Really? The last Prime rumbled in amusement, having caught the distant chaos on the other side of the comm.

:: Duty calls? ::

Elita groaned, :: As always… I will see you later. ::

:: Sooner rather than later, I promise. ::

:: I will hold you to that, Prime. ::

A pause.

:: I love you. ::

:: I love you, too. ::

The signal was cut, and the frazzled voices of the subordinates echoed from behind, blending with the muted scuffles and clanks of Energon cubes.

"Really, Smokescreen?" Wheeljack hissed, "You have any idea how long it took to stack those?!"

"Hey, it was an accident! I didn't see them behind me! Besides, it was Bee's fault-"

>> Was not! <<

"He should've been paying attention! I don't have optics on the back of my helm!"

>> Told you to watch out…<<

"Enough! The three of you," Ultra Magnus interjected, keeping the regular monosyllabic tone he had become renowned for. "Instead of squabbling like sparklings, it would be best to focus your attentions to cleaning this mess, before Commander Elita returns…"

The loose mention of her name brought an immediate end to the bickering, and she couldn't help but smirk behind the wall. After all these years, it was nice to know her designation alone could strike fear into the sparks of her subordinates. For now, they were off the hook; there was a bigger fish in need of frying, a white and orange one at that.

Taking the longer route around the building, she continued to the back towards Hangar C: a large supply vault and makeshift recharge bay. With the newfound alliance between the human military on site and the Autobots, construction of the vault and hangar had been completed seamlessly, rivalling the Decepticon engineering even.

The private hab-suites themselves were small by military standards, proportioned to the assigned bots along with the berths, but it was better than resting in an alt-mode, or propped against a wall, so no one complained; especially Elita. Spending so many years on dead Cybertron, the privilege of proper housing had long since been lost; to her, these crude hab-suites were the epitome of luxury. At least here the locks worked, and the berths were comfortable… mostly.

Digits punched the access code into the keypad, and with a hum the heavy doors retracted, granting her access. PING! Cerulean glanced back down to the data pad, expecting a message from Ratchet, but instead finding the sender to be Optimus.

[ Since tonight is your suggestion, the decision of where we venture falls on your capable shoulders. ]

Tinted lip plates curved into a soft smile as digits locked the screen, returning it back to black. The Prime would have to wait for her answer, and actually focus on the scouting mission. Determined pede-falls brought her to Ratchet's assigned suite, and a fist pounded on the door in quick successions.

"Ratchet? Are you in there, old friend?" Elita leaned closer, audials flicking as her receptors focused their attentions, listening intently for any stirrings or sounds. Hearing none, she knocked again.

"Ratchet?"

Still nothing.

Lips pursed and optical ridges furrowed. Where in the Pit could he be?

CLUNK!

"Arghhhh! Son of a scraplet!" the distant voice erupted from the other side of the hangar, echoing down the dimly lit hall before again returning to the eerie quiet.

Found you.

It took little time at all for her to navigate the halls and arrive at the supply vault. Within there were multiple chambers, each organized in accordance to purpose and cache. Denta bit at her lower lip component, listening again for the CMO in the darkness. Then, a flash of bright blue light came from the last vault through a sliver in the wall, and without hesitation she barrelled down the pathway to the partially closed doorway.

Peeking inside, the light almost blinded her and she called out gently, "Ratchet?"

"BY THE PRIMES!" the CMO shouted, obviously startled as unknown instruments clanked against the ground, prickling her sensitive audials. "Elita, how did you-?"

"I followed a hunch, and the dulcet sounds of expletives," she quipped, stepping inside as her vision finally came to focus, though what her gaze found was anything but explanative.

Large cables dangled around the ceiling and walls, glowing from the electric currency coursing through them, like black-light spider webs. At the center of the vault the hanging cables connected to a stasis pod, and multiple consoles. Ratchet stood at the side, scrambling to gather the dropped tools off the ground, before glancing up.

"This is not what it looks like."

"Then you better begin explaining," the words came almost coldly. Concern didn't even begin to describe all the emotions she felt. "What is going on here?" Torture chamber, was her immediate guess.

The Medic rose back to his pedes, setting the instruments on a workstation alongside other strange and worrisome objects. "I know what you are assuming, but I can explain."

Elita stepped closer, inspecting the dubious stasis pod as sparks flew from one end, and smoke hissed from the other. "I am waiting..."

"With Shockwave having returned, and previous experience in the past with the Cortical Psychic Patch, I thought that maybe-"

"By the All-Spark, Ratchet…" Elita hissed through gritted denta. He seriously wasn't trying to rebuild one of those abominations, was he?

Ratchet threw his servos up protectively in protest, "I know. I know how it sounds. But, let me finish…" he paused, gauging her reaction. Elita glared down to him, optics boring into his own as her pede tapped expectantly against the ground. It was obvious her patience was wearing thin.

"Right," he continued, clearing his vocoder, "While I would never condone the use of one, I thought that perhaps there was a more… humane way in which to extract the necessary data, should a similar circumstance present itself."

Servos rested on her hip joints now, her fascia still scowling, "And?"

"And… I have been attempting to create a Cortical Chamber or sorts, rather than a patch. By taking the technology that originally monitors the encased bot's subconscious, we can use these consoles to isolate the internal projections, without having to meld neuro-nets…"

The Commander eased at the explanation, if only slightly, as cerulean glanced back over to the smoking stasis pod and cabling contraption. Elita now approached it, studying the threatening conglomeration of cables, metal, and electricity with a certain wariness brought on by war instincts. Ratchet let an ex-vent escape his frame in small relief. At least she was listening to him, rather than dragging his aft back to the main centre for chastising.

"And the implications?" she finally asked, gaze never wavering from the stasis pod.

"Numerous. For starters, I suspect Megatron may be trying to perfect the Synthetic Energon code… what if he did? That information could prove paramount in saving Cybertron-"

"And Earth potentially, as I have come to understand," she finished, now turning back to face the Medic with softened features.

"Precisely."