Monday, March 24, 2397
Classified location rimward of Jyurai, Enigma Sector
Why is it, wondered Maia Sterling rhetorically, that the simple jobs always turn into the giant pains in the ass?
What she said aloud was, "What's our situation?"
Major Dashiell "Flint" Faireborne, late of the United States Army and presently an operative for Section Nine of the Royal Salusian Ministry of Public Security, considered the question for a moment before replying.
"Bad, but not as bad as it could be," he replied. "On the down side, the bad guys know where we are, we can't get out, and our heaviest hitter is down. On the up side, this area's heavily secured, so they won't be digging us out of here in anything like short order, and we've got supplies enough to hold out for quite a while."
Maia sighed and kicked at a small piece of rubble near her foot. "It's never a good day when 'we're trapped like rats' is the good news."
Flint nodded with a rueful smile. "Copy that," he said. "Also on the up side, though, it looks like our medical crew's making some headway with Ironhide."
Maia followed him to the corner of the room - it looked like a foyer of some sort, built on the same grand scale as the rest of this ancient alien installation - where Makeshift and the labcoated figure of Salusian engineer Li Kohran were laboring over the wreckage that had been the team's Autobot escort.
"Talk to me," Maia said. "How bad is it?"
"You mean, aside from the obvious?" Kohran replied in accented-but-understandable Standard. "I've seen industrial trash compactors leave things more intact."
"I've managed to get him into stasis lock and stop the energy loss," Makeshift reported, pausing to take a swig from a field canteen of liquid energon. "But his drivetrain's totally fucked. He's not going anywhere under his own power without a major overhaul. His armor couldn't take the punishment when he took those rounds covering our flank; penetration damage and spalling tore up his internal mechanisms."
"Which made him a fairly easy mark for the one with the sword," said Maia, noting the Autobot's cleanly severed right arm. "What the hell was that thing, anyway?"
"His name is Bludgeon," said one of the survey team's other two Minicon members, a search-and-rescue specialist named Pacer. "He and his crew are Decepticon war criminals. Psychopaths, even by 'Con standards. Bludgeon's obsessed with some ancient Cybertronian martial art. Got a thing for taking the heads of his foes." Pacer shrugged. "Last I heard he was dead, so don't go by me."
Flint frowned. "Togusa and the Chief are going to want to hear about this when we get back."
"Your optimism is reassuring, but first we need to get back," Maia observed.
"So noted. So what have we got to work with?"
Firebot, the leader of the three-Minicon team attached to the mission, stood in front of the massive alloy door leading from the "foyer" in which they'd taken refuge into what they all believed was the facility's innermost chamber.
"Well," he said, "there's the six of us and our gear... whatever's behind Door Number Two here... and about three tons of stasis-locked Autobot." Turning to his team's medic, he asked, "Makeshift, can we extract Ironhide's spark core and leave the rest of him here?"
Makeshift shook his head. "I don't have the equipment to construct a working spark sustainer, and his own systems are too badly damaged to modify that way. If we try that, we'll finish him off for sure."
At the other end of the chamber, a resounding CLANG sounded from the door they'd sealed behind them in their headlong retreat. The heavily armored blast bulkhead gave no visible reaction, but a second report a moment later, followed by a third and fourth, indicated that those on the other side weren't going to give up trying to penetrate it.
"So even if we find another way out, we have to figure out how to take him with us," Maia mused. "Great. Be nice if we could call for help."
"My search sensors can't even get a reading through all this rock," Pacer remarked, thumping the wall. "I'm afraid comms are out of the question with the equipment we have. Sorry."
Kohran, who had stood gazing thoughtfully at the shattered Autobot throughout the discussion, suddenly said, "Hmm. On our way down here, we saw fairly convincing evidence that this facility is, as Headquarters thought, a weapons factory." She nodded toward the closed inner door. "The main foundry is probably right through those doors."
"Right, but what good's that going to do us?" Pacer asked. "It's not like we can just go switch on an Omega Sentinel and have it clear us a path through Bludgeon and his pals."
"No, of course not," Kohran replied, then qualified her agreement: "Well, probably not. But there will be materials. Tools." She gestured at Ironhide's wreckage. "I can fix almost anything with tools."
"Just fixing him won't help," said Firebot. "See... Ironhide is... was... hell, he'd kill me for saying this, but..." The Emergency Team leader glanced at the outer door, then went on, "Well, look, he used to be unique, right, and when he became 'just another Autobot' after coming back from Valhalla, he never really got over it. That's why he was such easy scrap for Bludgeon."
Maia tilted her head. "What do you mean? Unique how?"
Firebot looked again at the outer door, as if wondering whether this was really the right time and place for a history lesson, then shrugged and told her.
"Ironhide's original shell was built for mining raw energon crystals on Cybertron's moons," he said. "It was clad in a nearly indestructible alloy. That's why he survived for so long. But it was a really rare, expensive material, and by the time he came back from Valhalla and needed a new chassis, the secrets of its manufacture had been lost for millennia. There're only ancient fragments left, scattered across Cybertron - most of them scraps from Ironhide's own construction. Jewelers sometimes make trinkets out of those, but no one's ever been able to work out how to make more of the stuff."
Firebot paused, noticing that Maia's face had taken on a look of dawning wonder. "... What?" he said.
"This indestructible alloy," Maia said. "What's it called?"
"Trithyllium steel," Firebot replied. "Why?"
Rather than answer the question, Maia turned to Kohran and said, "Gryphon told me once that you reverse-engineered Omega-2 from a sample of his blood. True?"
Kohran blinked. "Yes," she said. "Years ago. To save the other Hanagumi from a biological weapon."
"That's supposed to be impossible."
Kohran nodded. "I know."
Maia took off one of her gloves, removed a ring from her finger, and tossed it to the surprised-looking Salusian engineer.
"Do it again," she said with a grin.
Kohran looked at the ring for a second, then at Maia, and a smile spread slowly across her face.
"Right!" she said, clenching a fist around the ring. "Firebot, Pacer - get us into the inner chamber, and let's hope we find everything in there I think we will. I've got a lot of work to do... " She glanced at the outer door, which was beginning to distort slightly under the constant pounding from the other side. "... and not a lot of time."
It is a matter of some debate among Cybertronians as to whether or not one is aware of anything while in stasis lock. With all systems shut down, including the cerebration circuits, and energy used solely for the preservation of the spark, there is simply no way a Transformer's consciousness can engage in any activity whatsoever, technologists argue - but others insist that the spark itself, suspended in the limbo of an utterly deactivated shell, dreams. Dreams of what? the technologists ask archly, pointing out that all datatracks, the Transformer equivalent of memories, are unavailable in such a state. From there, the debate usually disintegrates into ad hominem exchanges regarding the participants' status as soulless calculators and/or clueless daydreamers.
It was, at least, true that Transformers emerging from stasis lock could not remember whether they had experienced anything while under. Even the warriors aboard the crashed Autobot Ark, once reawoken on Earth, could not say how long they had been out of circulation, or what (if anything) they had experienced during their long quiescence. There were strange rumors that Optimus Prime remembered awakening and fighting a battle with Megatron, then lapsing once more into dormancy, at some point in the distant past, but this was regarded as apocryphal and Prime himself would never discuss the matter with anyone.
For his part, Ironhide had always been one of the pragmatists, the ones who believed that stasis lock was stasis lock and anyone who believed otherwise was a romantic fool. As such, he would have been a bit put out to learn that, while his colleagues dragged his wrecked shell into the deepest part of the ancient Mandalorian foundry asteroid, barricaded the innermost door, and set to work trying to fathom and reactivate engines of creation ancient even by his own people's standards, his spark did, indeed, dream of past times - datatracks or no datatracks.
Thursday, May 23, 2391
Optimus Prime looked up from the display on his office dataterminal, a puzzled look on his face.
"Ironhide... am I reading this right? You're asking to be posted off Cybertron?"
Ironhide, standing rigidly in parade-rest stance before Prime's desk, nodded. "Affirmative," he grunted.
Prime regarded him for a long moment, then got up and walked around the desk, putting a hand on Ironhide's shoulder.
"What's wrong, old friend?" he asked gently.
Ironhide did not drop his military stance. This would all have been easier if Prime would take the hint and handle it professionally, he grumbled to himself.
"I can't perform to acceptable standards in my present state, sir," he replied, still looking straight ahead. "I ain't fit for my old job, an' I don't want any other posting here at headquarters. Anyway, the last thing you need's a bodyguard. I'm sure I can be some use... somewhere else."
Prime withdrew his hand and went back around his desk in a thoughtful silence. He had been afraid of something like this since the first of Ironhide's poor acclimation reports had reached his inbox, and after Monday's incident he had feared it was only a matter of time. Now he saw that his fears were correct. He considered trying to talk his old bodyguard out of it, but he knew that once Ironhide's mind was made up, dissuading him from his course of action was difficult at best. The old Autobot had convinced himself he wasn't useful without his old body, and that was all there was to it. It would take time, and practical experience, to convince him he was wrong in that.
Seating himself at his console once more, Prime said, "All right, then. I won't bother trying to change your mind. If leaving Cybertron is truly what you want, then... Gryphon's new International Police Organization could use another Autobot liaison officer." Becoming brisk, since that seemed to be the way Ironhide wanted it, the Autobot commander went on, "You'll be seconded to the IPO and assigned to their New Avalon headquarters under his orders, effective immediately. See Bumper on the way out; he'll handle your travel arrangements."
Ironhide came to attention and saluted. "Sir!" he barked, then performed a perfect about-face and marched from the office.
Optimus Prime watched him go, then sagged slightly in his chair and sighed. I hope you find your way, old buddy, he thought.
And Ironhide had, after a fashion. Though he never quite regained his full confidence, he served well in his new capacity, helping the newly established galactic law enforcement agency establish its security protocols and developing the structure and operational policies of its Tactical Division. Under his tutelage, a young Autobot soldier named Hot Shot, also assigned to the IPO, grew from a headstrong idiot into something like a competent cop. With his guidance, a team of three Minicons recently recruited into the Autobot ranks became prime movers in the New Avalon public safety scene. Ironhide enjoyed the work, and it gave him purpose, but deep inside, he always knew - though rarely acknowledged - that something was still missing.
Then came the day the Chief assigned him to accompany an expedition to what was believed to be an ancient Mandalorian foundry, possibly the source of the ancient Guardians of Cybertron, the mighty Omega Sentinels. Should be a fairly routine mission, he was told. You, the Emergency Team, a guy from Section Nine, a Salusian engineer who specializes in lost and archaic technologies, and someone from the Mars Division survey that found the thing in the first place. You'll go there, check it out, and if it is what we think it is, Prime and I will send in a joint force to secure it.
Simple. Right up until the point where Bludgeon and his boys showed up and everything went to slag. Just like his last mission in 2005 had been simple - a milk run to Autobot City - until Megatron and his boys showed up and everything went to slag.
At least there was symmetry.
To be continued...
"Lost Technology" - Part 2 of a 3-part Future Imperfect Mini-Serial by Benjamin D. Hutchins and Philip J. Moyer
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