"Do I look like Volkswagen Beetle?"
Not words that Agent Fowler would normally have found alarming. But then he didn't usually hear them from a towering robot with glowing red eyes and five foot long claws, either. This warehouse had been designed to account for the size difference when he met with Ratchet or visiting bots—a desk, chair, and filing cabinet had been set on a wide, elevated platform, looking incongruous. Now, with Knock Out leaning over the railing, almost face-to-face with him, he wondered if it had been such a good idea.
"Do I look like a station wagon? A minivan?" Knock Out persisted with that sarcastic tilt to his mouth. "A Pontiac Aztek?"
"Not really. Try gluing some feathers on your head and ask me again," Agent Fowler said. "Look, if you don't like what we gave you—"
The former Decepticon turned around, a hand on his hip. "Smokescreen, how would you describe the automotive models our human friends at Unit E have so generously offered us?"
Smokescreen looked up from the handheld game he was playing. "They pretty much suck. Sorry, Agent Fowler."
"Don't apologize to him," Knock Out instructed his fellow Cybertronian, glaring at the human. "He's the one who insulted us with that scrap. Practically an act of war, if you ask me."
"Are you serious?! Do you know how many strings I had to pull to get you—" Agent Fowler grabbed a piece of paper off his desk and read: "Two motorcycles, ten cars, ten jet planes, three helicopters, six flash drives—okay, the flash drives actually weren't a problem—two unmanned drones, three tanks, a Segway, a hot air balloon, an ambulance, a bus, and on and on and on! Including a space shuttle! Do you know how much a space shuttle costs? We're talking billions of dollars! With a capital B that rhymes with P that stands for pleading! Pleading with everyone from General Bryce to the Pentagon to authorize the funds!"
Knock Out half closed his optics, entirely unsympathetic. "What good would your billions of little green slips of paper be if your planet had been destroyed? You owe us. You owe us everything."
"Really. 'Cause if I recall correctly you were on the side trying to snuff us. I owe you? For what, getting tossed in your trunk that one time?"
"You owe my team," Knock Out said grandly, gesturing at Smokescreen, the only Autobot in the vicinity.
"You tell 'em, K.O.," Smokescreen said without looking up from his game.
"Anyway, this isn't about me, this is about future generations of Cybertronians. Future generations who deserve an alt mode better than your hilariously misguided offerings. A Hummer? Really?"
"Look, we just grabbed what we found on sale at second-hand lots—and what's wrong with the Hummer? I thought you'd like it."
"First, please refrain from using foul language like 'second-hand lots' in my presence. Second, a Hummer is not a proper automobile, it's a box with wheels on the corners. Third, I am amazed that you thought it was appropriate to dump a gas-guzzler on us after an energy shortage nearly wiped out our race. Very sensitive."
"It takes a hell of a lot less energy than the space shuttle!"
Knock Out closed his eyes and sighed in exasperation. "Shuttle protoforms need a shuttle to model their alternate mode off of. Smaller aerials need planes or helicopters. Grounders need cars or tanks. We're still trying to come up with something for our beast protoforms now that our native fauna is extinct—but that's not the point. The point is . . . Smokescreen, tell our human friend the point."
"That Pontiac Aztek is fraggin' hideous. Like, seriously, it hurt my optics."
"Exactly. As a medic, I can tell you that the first Aztek-based Cybertronian I see is getting put out of its misery."
"C'mooon Knock Out, don't say stuff like that. You're gonna get in trouble."
"Ohhhh, very well," the former Decepticon conceded with a wave of his hand. "I wouldn't really.” After a pause he added, "Because they would off themselves before I had the chance."
"What exactly," Agent Fowler ground out over the headache now pounding in his skull, "do you want from me?"
This was apparently the opening Knock Out had been waiting for; he drew himself up and smiled.
"Better automobiles for our impressionable youth, of course. We've compiled a list. Smokescreen. The list." Knock Out held out his hand, gesturing with slight movements of his fingers. Smokescreen set something small and rectangular in his palm, which the shiny red medic then picked up by the corner, pinched between two claws, and dropped in front of Fowler.
"A car dealer's catalogue," the special agent said, opening it.
"We've circled the cars that fit our needs," Knock Out informed him.
"Uh huh . . . uh huh . . . yep." Agent Fowler flipped through the pages. "Just like I thought. Every luxury sports car on the market."
"Except the Lamborghini Veneno," Knock Out said.
"Why not the—?"
He studied his claws. "Too pretentious."
"Look. Knock Out." Fowler massaged his temples. "By the time we got all the other stuff, our budget had dried up. We got what we did 'cause we found good deals. The cars you like? There's a reason they're called luxury sports cars. That's code for 'ridiculously expensive.' As much as I would love to help you Autobots . . . or whatever . . . out, I just don't have the money to—oh no."
General Bryce. Of course he would have to choose today.
"Well, this is a surprise." The general eyed the two bots as he climbed the stairs. "I didn't know you had company, Bill. And not Ratchet, either."
"Uh, yes. It's an impromptu meeting to . . . further human-Cybertronian relations, sir. This is Knock Out. That's Smokescreen. Bots, this is General Bryce."
"Hey." Smokescreen glanced up briefly.
"Charmed," Knock Out said without interest.
"Ah, yes. The reckless one and the turncoat."
"Hey!" Smokescreen finally wrenched free of the game's hold, staring indignantly from Bryce to Fowler. Knock Out now looked very interested, in a way that made Fowler supremely uncomfortable.
"And here I thought I was the reckless one," Knock Out smiled, the tips of his fingers pressing against his cherry red chassis. "How disappointing."
"Hmm." Bryce eyed him like he thought he was something, all right. "I've heard of you. You're the other medic, right?"
"They say you're good."
Knock Out's eyebrows rose a little; surprise and gratitude chased briefly across his face before his well-polished features before they settled into a more usual expression: arrogance with a side order of cocky.
"I'm the best."
"Good, good. We've been looking for a good source of information about Cybertronian biology."
" . . . oh?" Down went the optic ridges. "And Ratchet hasn't been of any help, hmm? Strange. He is a medic as well."
"Ratchet," Bryce said, rocking on his heels, "doesn't seem to appreciate how important this intel is for national security."
"Which nation's security, again?"
Bryce blinked. "The United States', naturally."
"Oh naturally, yes. Is that the one we're in, Smokescreen?" Knock Out turned to his companion. "I thought we were in Canada."
"Uh, no, it's America."
"The United States, he said."
"Well, they're kinda the same thing."
"How informative. How very, very, very informative. Do go on, human. I am simply agog to know what aspects of Cybertronian biology you're interested in."
"Everything. Basic physiology, nervous system, weaponry . . . " Bryce unconsciously rubbed his hands together.
Knock Out's eyes narrowed. "All fascinating topics. But I'm afraid I can't help. I thought this was Canada. But seeing as it's not—"
General Bryce's eyes narrowed. "Are you mocking me, robot?"
"Moi? Primus forbid."
The flippant response earned a scowl from Bryce. "I expect a degree of cooperation from you, soldier. Not to mention gratitude, considering your organization's recent requests."
"Ah, but I'm not a soldier, and I'm especially not your soldier. As for gratitude, weeeell, not to put too fine a point on it," Knock Out studied his claws before scything them apart with a faint shhinnk, "we could take what we need if we felt like it, couldn't we?"
Well, so much for furthering human-Cybertronian relations, Agent Fowler thought. It had been nice while it lasted.
"Uh, K.O. . . ." Smokescreen tentatively set a hand on Knock Out's arm. The red sports car shrugged it off without looking at him.
"However, I know that won't be necessary since you fleshies surely remember how we—the Autobots—saved you from—" He paused, perhaps trying to thinking of an incident that didn't implicate him as an ex-Decepticon. "Unicron. We saved you from Unicron."
"Again with the unicorn thing? Listen—"
Knock Out dropped his facade of cordiality with a sneer. "No, you listen, skinjob—"
"Maybe you'd both like to listen," Ratchet said from across the room, arms crossed, "to some sense."
Knock Out froze for just an instant before turning, smiling brightly. "Hellooo, esteemed colleague!"
"Can I have a word with you outside," Ratchet raised an eyebrow, "esteemed colleague?"