At the moment, Sam thought they were in Nebraska, though he wasn't sure. It was somewhat green and mostly flat but he'd been sleeping for the last few hours and didn't want to ask Bumblebee just yet. Though the radio was on and softly playing classic rock, Sam knew 'Bee was working on something. He kept his eyes closed, pretending to sleep for a few minutes as Journey became the Rolling Stones before a segue into a commercial for Johnny Bob's Muffler Hut.
Sam stretched and yawned. He'd fallen asleep as the sun was setting and now it was pitch black other than the tail lights ahead of him and the headlights behind. Sitting up, he blinked a couple of times before turning around and glancing back to where Ironhide was following closely.
He didn't ask where they were. Probably Nebraska. Somehow his parents had agreed to let him go - it had involved replanting the flowerbeds, cleaning the gutters and quite a few other chores as well as excellent grades on his final exams. Mikaela wasn't with him - her father had just been released and the last thing Sam wanted to do was pull her away. There would be other trips, after all. And they weren't together as much as they had been... not in that sense, at least. Really, he was going to let everything play out however it was going to play out.
As he settled back into the passenger seat, Sam accidentally swung his hand through the holographic driver that Bumblebee had created to fill the gap while Sam slept. All of the Autobots had them, created from composites of images from the world wide web, apparently. When Sam really thought about it, he hoped that his friends hadn't been trawling porn sites while looking for forms to emulate.
When Bumblebee had first shown Sam, Sam had winced and suggested a few improvements, none of which Bumblebee had bothered with. He hadn't seen fault with being a blond pretty-boy and truth be told, the look had grown on Sam. He just wouldn't admit it.
Actually, he'd really only suggested 'Bee go with a female avatar until he'd realized that maybe he was being a little selfish and two boys would look better on a road trip than his playing passenger to a girl.
"Shit, sorry," Sam mumbled. The hologram glanced at him and smiled.
"Sam, I cannot feel whatever you do to the hologram," Bumblebee said a second later. "You were sleeping mostly inside of it. But I can feel you grabbing at the seat."
Sam winced - he hadn't even noticed that in his half-awake shock that he was holding on so tightly. He loosened his grip and smoothed at the material frantically.
"We there yet?"
"About fifteen minutes," 'Bee replied after a pause. Sam had come to recognize the pauses as inaudible transmissions to the other Autobots.
He looked out the window. They had to be the only vehicles on the road. A quick glance at his watch told him that it was well after two in the morning.
Midway though a Pink Floyd song he didn't know the name of, he decided it would be a good idea to fix his hair. Towards the end of it, he realized that 'Bee's hologram had mouthed the words that had gone along with what he'd said.
Between watching endless fields of dark-shrouded corn, Sam would glance over at the seemingly perfect driver who was now drumming weightless fingers on the steering wheel to Aerosmith's 'Sweet Emotion'.
For just a few minutes he was able to pretend he was on a real road trip and not on his way to round up the latest batch of Autobot arrivals.
Midway through Sweet's 'Ballroom Blitz', one by one turn signals began to appear ahead of them. Sam noticed that Bumblebee forgot to reach for his - he just flicked it on.
So much for realism.
They exited the interstate in a smooth line, Optimus in front and followed by a repainted and happily whole Jazz. Ratchet was next, just in front of a pair of Lamborghinis who apparently were lumped into the middle of the caravan in order to maintain proper speeds. And then came himself and Bumblebee. And Ironhide, of course, keeping a careful watch on them both. Two more of the recent arrivals brought up the rear - a blue Mazda RX-8 named Camshaft and Prowl who was currently masquerading as a police car - a Dodge Charger though, thankfully not a Saleen else Sam was sure he'd have already been having nightmares.
Camshaft's license plate was from Rhode Island - where he'd initially landed. Sam didn't know much about him other than that he'd become an instant fan of Mapquest. If he hadn't already had it well-ingrained that the Autobots were warriors, he would have wondered if it was scary to drive cross-country on an alien planet, relying solely on the primitive communication systems of your unknowing hosts.
One by one they stopped for a proper three seconds before making another right from the exit ramp.
Led Zeppelin seemed wholly appropriate. The hologram kept tapping long, slim fingers on the wheel as if the radio was a heartbeat. Sam looked away and out the window. He didn't want to speak just yet. 'Bee wasn't saying anything either - had to just be one of those moments where really, words weren't necessary.
A few miles down the road, the convoy made a left into what seemed to be a large, abandoned dirt lot.
"Don't forget your bag," Bumblebee said as he pulled to a stop between the yellow Lamborghini (Sunstreaker, Sam reminded himself - do not get it wrong and do not call him 'Sunny') and Ironhide. Sam nodded, not wanting to know what would happen to his belongings if they were caught in 'Bee's transformation. He really only had a couple changes of clothing in the bag but so far some of his favourite shirts and at least one pair of pants had been sacrificed for the noble cause.
The hologram forgot to reach to shift and Sam just shook his head and opened the door, bag in hand. The radio switched off.
"What?" Bumblebee asked.
Sam waited for Bumblebee to finish transforming before elbowing him in the ankle. "You forgot to reach for the turn signal earlier. And you didn't shift into park."
Beside him, Sideswipe (the red one - Sam knew he really needed to ask about their names because he had the vague idea that they were rough translations of Cybertronian names forced into English but really, who would name anyone 'Sideswipe' unless... it had been Sunstreaker?) let out an equivalent to a snicker and Bee turned to him, flipping his battle mask down in a playful threat.
"On the way back, I'll remember," Bumblebee said as he straightened up and watched Optimus Prime transform and stretch. Jazz was next, moving in such a manner that Sam knew never to doubt Ratchet's amazing skill. Glancing up at the sky, Sam momentarily was entranced by the stars. The night was cool enough for him to have a sweatshirt on and he could see everything. The universe was laid out above him like the unending sea it was. And there were still plenty of Cybertronians unaccounted for. He'd gotten a cryptic e-mail from the remnants of Sector Seven not more than a few days ago - 'more than a hundred' was all it had said.
Good guys, Sam hoped. He'd only mentioned the e-mail to Optimus in passing - he was fairly sure the government was already in constant contact with the entire group anyway. Looking away from the sky, he wondered if they were currently being watched.
All he saw amongst the stars was one lone airplane, lights blinking just enough to distinguish it from the stars, so far up that it probably couldn't see anything more than the faintest of traces of dimming headlights.
Sam was the last to hear the car approaching, low and green and kicking up dust as it raced into the lot and came to a crazy sideways stop just in front of Optimus Prime.
"Sir," the Autobot said as he scrambled from vehicle to robot with the same breakneck speed. "Very happy to see you again."
Optimus nodded as he reached out to rest a hand on the smaller 'bot's shoulder. "I feel the same. Now what do you have to report, Clocker?"
"There's activity," Clocker said. "But the Decepticons are after resources right now. That's all out here where there's room to race. They'll come to steal power and speaking of that, I might need a charge..."
"Perhaps a Tesla Roadster was not a wise choice," Ratchet commented as he circled around. "Though you look to be in adequate repair."
"I'm a scout, not a fighter," Clocker replied. "I rather like my paint where it is."
"So does Jazz, but that never stops him," Sideswipe commented, earning a glare from the subject of the statement.
"Continue, Clocker," Optimus said, wisely ignoring his subordinates. Sam couldn't help but wonder how they managed not to dent one another up during long days putting together a base in the desert.
"There's an interesting movement amongst the fleshlings," Clocker said as he glanced over at Sam. "No doubt you know that recordings from Mission City have circulated on the world wide web..."
The Autobots all nodded agreement before Clocker continued.
"There seems to be a growing sympathy for the Decepticons," Clocker stated. "One company has gone so far as to create bumper stickers with their insignia so that any fleshling can show support. And apparently, fourteen year-old fleshling females desire to be slaves."
"Is that true?" Sunstreaker asked, shooting a sharp gaze at Sam.
Sam quickly tried to think of freshmen girls without really thinking about them. He'd been a freshman just a couple of years before and yeah, girls had been weird. He'd only had his eyes on Mikaela, though.
"Some, probably," he stammered. "Not all of them. Um, I don't really know any, I mean, but..."
"It's something to keep watch on," Camshaft said, which was the first time in quite awhile that Sam could remember Camshaft saying anything. For the most part, Camshaft was the not-seen, not-heard type. He was quite good at being somewhere without anyone knowing it. He was a robot ninja, lacking mostly in the part that actually involved attacking things.
The other Autobots all nodded again before each turning and glancing towards the road. Sam saw one headlight a moment later, making him inwardly snicker at the thought of someone burning out a part of their body. But no, it was a motorcycle, though that wasn't the part Sam noticed.
He saw her hair first, long and wavy brown beneath her helmet, which was painted to match both her bodysuit and the large purple motorcycle between her legs. Each of her curves was obvious and the bodysuit was unzipped far enough to show full, plump breasts.
Sam swallowed hard as she brought the motorcycle's engine down to a low idle and pulled off her helmet and shook out her hair, revealing a face as beautiful as the rest of her. Swinging a leg over she landed on the dirt and marched over to Ironhide.
"Do you have any idea where the Charii System is?" she asked, hands on her hips. Sam's gaze traveled the length of her body down to the bottoms of what looked like six-inch heeled boots.
"Not an ideal vacation spot?" Ironhide questioned as he leaned down to stare at her.
"No. But mission mostly accomplished. One got away," she said. "Wasn't my fault, either."
"Who?" Ironhide asked, his tone suddenly taking on a deadly seriousness.
"Big dumb jet," she said. "Don't know his name, but he can teleport."
"Big dumb jet," Sideswipe repeated with a snicker. "We know plenty of those."
"I can only think of one who can teleport," Prowl commented. "What was he doing out that far?"
"Picking up the pieces of everything we broke," the woman said with a smug grin. "Better than just hanging out here, anyway. Though Bumblebee seems to have had fun and made new friends."
"Um, hi," Sam managed, raising a hand in greeting as his eyes met hers. And she flickered.
A second later the woman was gone and her motorcycle was looming over him, transformed into a pink-purple robot with the aesthetics of... not quite a woman but instead something that would most likely kick his ass and not call him the next day.
"You must be Sam Witwicky," she said as she leaned down close enough that Sam could see the scratches in her paint. "I was a student of Ironhide's and a subordinate of Bumblebee's. My name is Arcee."
He was going to have words with Bumblebee on the way to the next town. Many words. Strange words. Words that would form questions that would likely not get the sorts of answers that were necessary.
"Nice to meet you," Sam said as best he could for feeling like his voice was going crack and splinter.
The first thing he muttered once safely inside the pseudo-Camaro, however, was only one word: "...girl?"