Drone 2.0: Drone Harder
One Step Forward (Two Steps Back)
I think being around Autobots is detrimental to my health.
Hear me out—before I went soft for a human I was constantly being shot at by these guys. I started a new chapter in my life, moved to a new place, and now I’ve been knocked unconscious at least three times since running back into Autobots: once from a punch to the face, another after being poisoned, and the most recent being from Megatron…which totally counted because it was because of the Autobots that I even attacked him. Clearly, the Autobots were a bad influence.
At least waking up wasn’t that big of an issue this time. From what I remembered about being totally outmatched by Megatron, I wasn’t really expecting to wake up. Since I did, I was equally surprised that I wasn’t immediately bombarded by notifications about my injuries or low Energon levels. In fact, my tank felt fuller than it had ever been, before or after the ‘Cons.
Okay, so maybe being with the Autobots wasn’t a completely bad thing.
I lifted the arm that had been injured, admiring the fact that it not only lifted without a problem or pain but also because I saw only one. I flopped it out perpendicular to the berth and slowly rotated my shoulder. “I think my arm might actually be better than before.”
I heard a huff and immediately jerked my arm back to my side. “That’s not surprising considering you were a complete mess before we met.”
My head snapped to the side where Grumble-bot stood literally inches away from my head. He didn’t seem at all agitated by the short distance between us, but I couldn’t help but shift my entire frame to hug the edge of the berth. I hadn’t seen or heard him when I woke up; that was a little disconcerting.
Grumble-bot hummed at his scanner before glancing at me, optics flickering up and down my frame. He reached out and grabbed the same arm I had been admiring without warning, and I automatically flinched. He grumbled at that. “Please, you act as if you’ve never had a medic examine you before.”
“Everyone made it a habit out of avoiding the medics.”
Grumble-bot frowned, but he still twisted my arm this way and that. Just when I thought his goal was to twist me into submission, he dropped my arm and leaned in close to my face. My head banged against the berth in an attempt to distance myself. “Hmm. It appears as if the material I used to temporarily replace your visor has implemented well enough. Are there any new messages on your HUD?”
I winked and tried to focus on the corners of my visor where my HUD usually sent new alerts. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be when Grumble-bot’s optics were boring down on me. “No?”
He hummed again. “Hummer”—that would have been a good nickname for Grumble-bot too. “That’s to be expected, I suppose. I’ll have your real visor fixed in a few days. Until then, this fiberglass will keep your optics properly protected.”
…I had optics beneath my visor? I always thought my optic band was my optics. I’m learning so many new things lately.
Grumble-bot either didn’t notice or didn’t care about my surprise because he was already moving on to the next thing. I tensed when his blunt fingers poked the side of my head, and he turned to his scanner to poke it a few times too. “Audials are now fully functioning again. Are you hearing any odd noises? Whistling, buzzing, noises that sound like they’re coming through a tunnel?”
I slowly shook my head and sat up while he moved to the foot of the berth. He poked the knee that was on the same side as my previously injured arm, and I took pride in the fact that I didn’t flinch this time. He him frowned and reached for a needle-like tool on the small table positioned by my head.
Okay, I was a little concerned too when I didn’t feel any pain from him jabbing the tool into my joint. “What’s going on?”
“The pain inhibitors I gave you seem to be dissolving slower than usual.” Warmth began to spread from the point where the needle was inserted to encompass my entire knee. A sharp sting began to emit from my knee shortly after, and I released a pathetic groan. Grumble-bot nodded and retracted the needle. “It’s a common side-effect in some mechs; no need to worry.”
I bent my knee as he moved on, taking the time to admire how fluidly it bent now. Grumble-bot had already moved on to my other side by the time I got over my awe, poking and prodding my joints with the same clinical attention. “No, I meant why are you acting so weird? Medic or not, you weren’t nearly this attentive the first time I ended up here.”
“You were also offline for the majority of the examination.” He paused and bent my elbow up and down until whatever had caused him to paused seemed to right itself. He moved on to my head. “And though she packs a powerful punch, Arcee is not nearly as brutal as Megatron.”
“We might have to agree to disagree there.” When Grumble-bot finished his head examination, I lifted a hand to swipe it across my face. I paused when I passed over my visor, feeling the strange piece there now. It wasn’t nearly as smooth as the material my real visor was made of. “After all, I’m pretty sure she’s never punched you.”
“You’d be surprised.” I waited for him to continue, curious as to when that potential punch may have happened, but Grumble-bot’s attention was now on his scanner. He hummed and tapped and didn’t pay me any attention at all until he spoke again. “Everything seems to be in order again…except that chronometer of yours.”
He looked up long enough for me to vehemently shake my head. “Like I said before, until I’ve fixed your visor, you’ll have to make due with this replacement. You’ll be placed on a strict schedule of Energon rations until then to prevent you from potentially falling below operating levels. I’ll also be scanning you more often to detect if there are any other problems. Without your visor, your processor has no means of warning you of problems through your HUD since you won’t let me in to change those settings.”
I tilted my head and watched Grumble-bot grumble at his scanner until he was satisfied with what he read. He gave me a long look, and I tried to match it before realizing the futility of my attempts. Autobots just had the right mixture of stare and glare.
“You proved to us how easily we underestimated you.” I tilted my head again and wondered how I was supposed to respond. Apparently I wasn’t because Grumble-bot didn’t pause. “Even the stasis cuff we placed on you did little when you were able to activate the Ground Bridge and leave the base.”
I tried to think of an excuse that would validate my actions, but I couldn’t think of anything. I had taken advantage of the leeway they gave me as a prisoner; I had shown that the stasis cuff only worked if I wasn’t forcing myself through a Ground Bridge. What would they do now? Clearly, they were going to treat me like a proper prisoner now: lock me up and throw away the key. No more roaming the base; no more towers of empty Energon cubes; no more visits from Riley. The thought of not seeing Riley again hurt the most.
My frame jerked, and Grumble-bot gave me a hard stare when my jerking sent me tumbling off the berth. I groaned when my head heavily connected with the floor, but I stayed there and just stared at the Autobot. He didn’t seem all too pleased to see me on the floor, but he certainly made no move to help me back up. “What?”
“Thank you.” I think my processor glitched again. “Thank you”? That wasn’t the proper response you gave your prisoner when they proved they could escape! “If you hadn’t done what you did…we may not have been able to save Optimus.”
I would have found Grumble-bot’s obvious displeasure to be funny if I wasn’t so shocked. I sat and stared at him long enough for him to huff and turn away. I don’t know what made me activate my vocalizer; I should have just accepted my easy break with at least one of the Autobots.
But I just couldn’t stop myself from saying, “I didn’t save your Prime.”
Grumble-bot turned back to face me, obvious surprise flitting across his face. I angled my head down to stare at my feet bent awkwardly beneath me. “I didn’t do anything but get flung around like a ragdoll by Megatron. If anything, you Autobots are the ones who saved me. Your kid is who really helped save the Prime—I just got in the way.”
I could feel Grumble-bot’s stare on me. It was like two little holes were being burned into the top of my head. I picked at the little rocks stuck in the groves on the bottom of my foot. Grumble-bot moved, and I glanced up just in time to see his optics roll towards the ceiling. “I’m starting to see why that girl makes it a point to defend you. There’s a fine line between humbleness and stupidity.”
“I’m not trying to be humble…or stupid!” Grumble-bot ignored me and walked towards the monitor. I huffed and flung the rock I had picked out of my foot towards him. It landed by his foot. “I’m just stating facts.”
“As am I.” Grumble-bots fingers swept across the keyboard, and the monitor above him flashed with numbers that I didn’t understand. We passed the time in silence until I had the urge to climb back onto the berth. He turned his head when he heard my movements before focusing back on the monitor. “To answer your earlier question, Optimus wanted you fully repaired before he spoke to you.”
I froze, and I probably looked like a bigger idiot than I already did with one leg in the act of stretching across the berth while the other was still on the floor. “Huh?”
“He’ll be here momentarily.” Grumble-bot didn’t glance away from his work again. I slowly dragged my leg up onto the berth and sat staring at the wall. The noise from Grumble-bot’s typing suddenly stopped, and I only had a brief second to register it before something smacked against the side of my head. I slowly turned my head to find a cloth hanging over the edge of the berth as Grumble-bot’s typing resumed. “The least you can do is clean yourself up a little before he arrives.”
I picked up the cloth, noting how similar it looked to the one that Grumble-bot had made me clean the berths with before, but I didn’t use it to clean myself. Instead, I slowly folded it into a tiny square and rested it on my thigh. My tank churned a little, and I honestly wished that Tank or Femme Fatale were there to glare at me. That would make things feel a lot more normal than the forced kindness Grumble-bot gave me on behalf of his Prime, who I was apparently moments away from speaking with face-to-face.
That seemed a lot scarier than imminent death at the hands of Megatron.
Apparently, “momentarily” meant about three hours later. During that time, I gave myself pep talk after pep talk until I was at least able to move from the spot on the berth I had become practically glued to. I looked everywhere for my Rubik’s Cube to help calm my nerves even more, but apparently it had become lost during whatever happened after I had blacked out.
Speaking of which, it took only a day for Grumble-bot to get me all repaired. A day! It would take weeks just for a Vehicon to limp around enough for Starscream to hiss that something be done about it. Even then, Knock Out would take one look at us, knock us out for “surgery,” and then forget that he stashed us away in the corner of the med-bay. A Vehicon never wanted to get that injured.
I was still a little surprised that the Prime had ordered me to be fixed. It didn’t really make much of a difference if I could see or walk straight for him to reiterate my sentence. Megatron certainly wouldn’t have afforded the same courtesy; I’m pretty sure I had actually heard a rumor that he often ordered Starscream to “greet” prisoners before he even laid optics on them.
What was the Prime going to say? Now that he was back, was I just going to get an official verdict on my prisoner status? Would he demand a processor hack to ensure my sincerity? That all my ties to Riley be cut off? That I be forced to become the Autobots’ official punching bag/cleaning drone to live another day?
I didn’t even like cleaning out my own garage!
“Will you stop it.”
I jolted from the berth and dived headfirst towards what was becoming my immediate place of escape: the floor beneath the berth. I put my hands over my head, as if to hide from my future fate, and heard a familiar sigh. “I swear to Primus, you’re the jumpiest mech I have ever met.”
I didn’t respond to Grumble-bot. Instead, I moved my hands away from my head and hugged my knees to my chest. I had heard on one of the human talk shows that when you’re stressed, you should escape to your happy place…or something like that. I had only watched it for the brief second it took to change the channels.
Either way, Grumble-bot didn’t mess with me again, and I consider my happy place to be anywhere where Autobots left me alone.
I wasn’t there for long when I heard the somewhat familiar sound of an engine cruising through the tunnel that led to the outside world. I say “somewhat” because it was only an engine that didn’t sound the same as the Autobots I had become familiar with. Beeper’s always had a faster, higher pitch to it; Tank’s growled with the power of a Wrecker; and, of course, Femme Fatale’s was smooth and sometimes nearly silent.
This engine was odd. It had a growl like Tank’s, but it was also smooth, almost purring when it began to slow down. It distracted me to the point that I didn’t even realize Beeper was pulling in alongside it until I heard the sounds of two transformations. Beeper beeped and whirred faster than I had ever heard him make noise until a deep voice answered. “I also enjoyed our patrol. It is good to be back, though it does not feel as if I left.”
I ducked my head into my knees as Grumble-bot replied and began to gently rock back and forth. Happy place—gotta find a happy place. How do I find a happy place when my stress levels were through the roof?
“He’s currently sulking on the floor behind the medical berth.” I tensed and listened to Beeper buzz. “Bumblebee is correct. We’ve learned that this is normal behavior for him.”
The sound of heavy footfalls approached my hiding spot. The garage! Hate to say it, but that cramped, smelly place was probably the happiest place I’d ever been. Maybe more so the one at Riley’s old home though: less stinky and a little more elbow room.
The feet stopped on the other side of the berth, and I froze. There was only a brief second of silence before Grumble-bot spoke. “He’s been fully repaired, barring his visor, which will take a few more days to fully repair, and a chronometer he refuses to allow me to fix. Otherwise, he’s fully functional.”
Way to throw me under the proverbial bus Grumble-bot. You totally deserve my nickname, you…Grumble-bot.
Seeing how I wasn’t going to escape this inevitable fate, I slowly rose until my head crested the berth. I stopped when I saw red and carefully waved. “Hi…”
I didn’t have the courage to look up farther than the windshield on the Prime’s chest, but I could already imagine the look on his face. It could only be the look of someone who just realized the insanity of another.
So I just turned my gaze to whatever was behind the Prime and stared very intensely at Beeper, who clicked and beeped the longer I stared at him. Grumble-bot huffed. “Perhaps Bulkhead was correct; he does appear to be unnaturally attracted to you.”
Beeper and I both recoiled before Grumble-bot even finished his sentence. I jumped to my feet and cut off Beeper’s strained buzzes. “I am not attracted to Beeper! He’s just the only one that doesn’t threaten me with violence.”
Now Beeper turned on me with a few low beeps. I vehemently shook my head. “Don’t try to make this about you!”
The single word, said with a low, even voice, instantly ushered in a blanket of silence. Unlike me, who cowered once more behind the berth, Beeper and Grumble-bot were absolutely fine with the command. Grumble-bot gave the Prime a long look before he returned to whatever he had been doing while Beeper watched the Prime with bright optics, his door-wings fluttering non-stop behind him. It was clearly a sign of hero worship, if I ever saw one…which I never actually have. Unless TV shows count, but I’ve learned that they tend to exaggerate anything on TV.
“I have been informed that you prefer the designation Jeffrey.” There was a long pause, and it wasn’t until Beeper started cycling his optics at me that I realized the Prime was actually waiting for an answer. Not my fault—I can’t tell when a Prime asks a question. Sure enough, as soon I nodded, Prime continued. “I would like you to follow me, Jeffrey.”
His tone was pleasant and all, but there was no mistaking an order when I heard it. He had already taken a few steps towards one of the tunnels before I shuffled out from behind the berth. Beeper buzzed something as he passed, but the Prime only laid a hand on Beeper’s shoulder for a brief second before continuing. I followed and gave Beeper a tiny wave, earning an obviously threatening glare in return. I could feel both Beeper and Grumble-bot’s optics on me as I passed through the entrance to the tunnel, but I focused on Prime’s back in an attempt to keep myself from becoming even more nervous.
It didn’t work. My thoughts were fully focused on the possible things he could be leading me towards. A dungeon to rust in? A lab to be experimented on? Out back to be dismantled and used as spare parts? The storage room to sit in and wait to be called on like the poor little vacuum bots the humans advertised on TV?
Our trip was short—shorter than I expected at least. The Prime stopped at the first doorway on the right and turned to watch me catch up to him. My pace quickened, and I focused my optics on the ground. You know, to be sure that I didn’t trip over my own feet.
That didn’t work, and for the first time I could remember, I literally tripped over my own feet. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve tripped before, but not over my own feet. I fell to the floor in a heap and wanted so badly for a freakishly coincidental hole to open up beneath me and swallow me whole.
The Prime made a small noise, and from my pile of shame on the floor, I watched his weight shift from one foot to the other. “Is there something wrong?”
“No!” I scrambled to my feet, losing my balance once or twice and stepping on my fingers in my rush to stand. I nervously tapped my fingers together and refused to look the Prime in the optics. “I…uh…yeah. Lead the way…please.”
He didn’t say another word, and I didn’t catch any gestures he may have made as I focused intently on my fingers now. He entered the door we had stopped in front of, and I followed without a word. The room we entered was empty, save for a narrow berth shoved against the wall on the far side of the room.
This didn’t look like any interrogation room I had ever encountered. Maybe the Autobots had a different sense of décor than Megatron and Starscream; after all, Starscream’s favorite interrogation room had been the one on the Nemesis where he could string up his victim in the middle of the room and poke them with an electric rod.
…I shouldn’t be complaining about how the Autobots decorated their interrogation rooms.
I was too busy examining the room (and admittedly trying to ignore the Prime) that I didn’t notice that Prime had stopped in the middle of the room and turned to face me. It wasn’t until the door slid closed behind me that I tensed and decided that it was in my best interest to pay attention to the Prime. He was frowning and staring intently at me, as if to scrutinize my worth before the interrogation even began.
Let’s be serious: that probably was what he was doing. Was a lone Vehicon really worth wasting resources on to keep as a prisoner? The answer was a resounding “no.” Even I knew that.
“I have been informed that you assisted my retrieval from the Decepticons.”
I couldn’t meet the Prime’s optics. I lifted a hand to rub the back of my head. “Uh, yeah. Sorta.”
“And that a young human has advocated on your behalf multiple times.”
“Riley can be pretty vocal.” I tried to chuckle, but the Prime’s flat expression made it come out as more of a squeak. “I’m sure your Autobots must’ve skimmed over her threats…”
“I was also informed of those.”
“Oh…” I tapped my fingers together again and focused on the berth behind him. “Um…”
“While I may not yet have been witness to your actions, I have been briefed in great detail about your imprisonment for the past few weeks.” I finally lifted my gaze and instantly regretted it. His stare pinned me down in some ways that were similar to Megatron’s but also radically different. They both had this sense of power to them, but while Megatron’s optics had always radiated anger or revulsion, Prime’s were almost…encouraging. Not as wholly trusting or innocent like our first official meeting at the Space Bridge, but still full of hope.
It made me way more nervous than Megatron ever did. Like I was expected to live up to some hidden expectation that was realistically impossible for anyone to live up to. What that expectation was, I don’t know. But if he looked at me like that for long enough, I’d be begging for an electric rod to poke me. Pain would easier to understand right now.
“Ratchet has also informed me of your insistence of your defection,” Prime continued, wholly unaware of the effect his gaze had, “and it is because of these positive reports that I have made the decision to grant you more freedom around the base.”
His words took me completely by surprise. “R-really?”
“Yes. While this is a rare decision that I do not make lightly, I consider the manner of your defection and previously observed behavior to be just as unique. However, there are conditions to this arrangement.” I instantly deflated, my shoulders slumping and a vent escaping me. Prime obviously noticed, but his only act of acknowledgement was a blink. “You will be placed on a probation period of three orbital cycles—”
“Three months.” I shook my head at the severe frown he gave me. “Sorry, I’m just so used to human terms now that I needed to clarify for myself.”
His frown stayed, but his hard expression seemed to soften around the edges. “Yes, three months. During that time you will be under constant surveillance inside and outside of our base. You will still be restricted from the majority of the base, and you must be accompanied by one Autobot at all times. When not inside the base, you will remain within the town limits of Jasper and have all long distance communications disabled, save for an encrypted channel that will connect you to Ratchet.”
Prime paused, as if expecting some protest. I didn’t have any. It was understandable that I would be under constant surveillance and have no communications; I may not have been planning to take off back to the ‘Cons, but I certainly had enough information on the Autobots to be welcomed back with a small promotion. I wonder if Megatron would even forgive me for kicking him if I told him the Autobots’ base was definitely somewhere near Jasper, Nevada.
All of that was pretty much moot point though because I had more important questions. “Can I move back in with Riley? One of your humans lives right across the street from her, so I would always be under surveillance. And Riley and I wouldn’t leave Jasper; her dad has this rule that she can’t leave without him knowing.”
Prime blinked, and I know for a fact that this time I had surprised him. I got the feeling that like Grumble-bot, our conversation wasn’t panning out the way he had planned. “I…must have more time to observe your behavior before I make such a decision. Until then, your human companion may visit the base when the other children do.”
I nodded and once more accepted the condition without protest. “Are those all the conditions of my probation?”
“Your weapons will remain offline as will your T-cog unless certain circumstances require otherwise.” The Prime straightened, and his mood shifted. Whereas before he had still had a small sense of approachability, he now gave off the air of a severe commander who wouldn’t take any nonsense.
I instantly shifted my frame to accommodate the change: snapping my feet together, straightening my spine, and making my arms rest tensely at my sides. It was the stance of a good foot soldier prepared to perform any order, no matter the personal risk.
Prime watched with a critical optic but made comment on my shift in posture as he continued. “I may be allowing you a chance to fully prove your sincerity, but let me be clear that I will not allow my benevolence to be taken advantage of. You will have no second chances—at the first sign that you prove insincere, I will personally ensure that you do not return to the Decepticons.”
I shuddered a bit; for all the fear Megatron’s biting voice instilled, it was nothing compared to the icy, precise tone of the Prime. Coupled with the hard blue optics that stared me down, and he could have anyone quaking in fear if he really wanted to. I’m positive he knew the fear he could instill in a lonely foot soldier like me too. “I will not allow harm to befall any of my Autobots or our human allies. Not anymore.”
I was nodding before he even finished. “Yes. I mean, of course. I understand.” I paused and forced myself to meet his optics. If I wanted to prove my sincerity, it all started here: with the Prime. I had to make this count. “I have no plans of that happening. I might not ever be an Autobot, or even gain your full trust, but I’m certainly not a Decepticon. Riley has shown me that.”
Prime was silent, watching me with the intensity of, well, a Prime. I tried to keep his gaze, but eventually it just became too much, and I had to look away. My gaze landed on the tip of my foot, and I actually wished that my HUD still worked so the messages could distract me at least a little. Prime shifted, and my head snapped up.
“We shall see.”
I don’t know why, but it stung a little to hear the doubt in the Prime’s voice. I mean, I never really expected him to fully believe me; actually, I think I would have thought less of him if he did, too gullible for my tastes. But…a part of my spark still sank at the knowledge that no Autobot, not even their “Freedom for everyone” spouting leader, believed in my sincerity.
I was given a rare opportunity to prove myself, but could I really do this? Or would they begin to invent little lies—imperfections that they thought they saw in me—just to prove their own suspicions? Even with Prime’s word, did I stand a chance?
“…this will be your room.”
I snapped back to attention just in time to hear the end of Prime’s statement. I glanced around the tiny space—the bare, concrete walls and lone berth—and blinked at the Prime. “What?”
“Ratchet has expressed his…preference that you do not remain in the medical bay area.” Was that a nice way to say that Grumble-bot had gotten tired of seeing my face? If that’s the case, I’ll have to tell him that I’m hurt later. “And I agree with his assessment. This room will serve as your personal quarters during probation as this section of the base will be accessible to you because it contains all of our personal quarters.”
In other words, try to sneak out of my room after curfew, and I’ll surely have a ‘Bot on me the moment I step outside. How reassuring. “But if I can move back with Riley?”
The Prime remained unmoved by my tentative question. “This room will serve as your personal quarters for the time being.” He paused, as if mulling over his next words, before he stepped towards me. I stiffened but tried to relax the second I realized it. I’m starting to think that he chose to ignore anytime I flinch because there’s no way he could have missed it when he held a hand towards me. “While I remain skeptical of the outcome of this, I sincerely hope that you prove yourself to be a mech of your word, Jeffrey.”
I stared at the hand and slowly reached out. It felt odd holding the Prime’s hand, but it served to solidify everything he just said. I felt my spark lighten at the hearty shake he gave my hand, only to immediately feel a new weight that nearly smothered my spark. I had transitioned from outright prisoner to prisoner on probation.
Wouldn’t Riley be so proud of me?
Prime left me to get settled down in my new room soon after, leaving with a final order to visit Grumble-bot to get connected with our encrypted channel. I took my precious time investigating every empty corner of my new room. Avoiding medics had just become too ingrained a habit for me to kick so easily.
After poking at one particularly suspicious corner for long enough and checking beneath the berth for any surprises (I was a little disappointed at not finding any listening devices; did the Autobots not think I had important things to chat with myself about?), I finally vented and dragged my feet to the door. It opened without any problem and had no problem sliding closed as soon I walked across the threshold. I glared at the annoyingly compliant door—noting that there was no apparent way to lock it—before venturing forth to what had not that long ago been my spacy cage.
As I got closer to the big room, my audials picked up the sound of voices. I picked up speed when I instantly recognized one of the loudest voices. “I know how to completely strip a car of any part I want in a minute flat. And I have a potato that I carry everywhere in my backpack now; I’ve already shown Beeper there how dangerous a potato can be.”
I froze the instant I reached the end of the tunnel. Riley was just whipping out a small potato from her backpack for the blinking, frowning Prime to behold, and for a second time that day, I wanted the ground to open beneath me and just suck me right in. From somewhere on the other side of the room, I heard the familiar rumbling chuckles of Tank, but that did nothing to sway the sudden embarrassment I felt.
“I assure you that Jeffrey is in no danger of being unjustly attacked again.” Riley frowned and narrowed her eyes, potato still lifted in threat. Prime didn’t cower for a second, which was to be expected considering he had been glared down by people a lot scarier than Riley. “While he may be on probation for us to fully observe him, Jeffrey will be treated with the same respect as a fellow Autobot. We cannot promote peace without practicing it ourselves whenever we are able to.”
Riley’s frown slightly fell, and she finally lowered that awful potato. She happened to spot me after a quick glance behind the Prime, and her expression hardened once more. I shook my head as she glared at the Prime once more before stashing her “weapon” away. “Well, I’m warning you just like everybody else. Jeffrey won’t stand up for himself, so someone has to.”
To my surprise, I thought I saw a small smile flit across the Prime’s face. It was too quick to be certain though, and his grave nod made me think I had imagined it. “I understand.”
Riley nodded and made a beeline towards me, leaving Prime to watch her. I tensed when he nodded towards me, but he turned away when Riley reached me and walked towards where Grumble-bot was working at his station. I bent down to pick up Riley and quickly glanced around the room. Tank and Beeper stood in front of the TV, watching their kids play some game. Femme Fatale seemed to be pointedly ignoring me as she sat in a corner with her kid, who looked like he was studying.
Riley sat down cross-legged in the palm of my hand and leaned back against my chest to look up at me. I tilted my head when she frowned. “What happened to your visor? It’s…orangey-yellow now.”
I used my other hand to scratch the side of my face. “Oh, I got my head slammed into the ground, and it cracked on impact.”
“What!” I jumped at the sudden outburst, but Riley was already on her feet and leaning precariously over the edge of my hand. While I scrambled to keep her from falling, she glared fiercely at Prime and pointed an accusing finger at him when he turned like all the others to see what her shriek was about. “You just said no one would hurt Jeffrey! I’m done with all you Autobots saying one thing and then doing the complete opposite.”
There was no doubt that the Prime was surprised now. He legitimately looked as if he didn’t know how to respond to Riley’s accusation. I cupped my hand around Riley and spun around to deflate the sudden tension in the room. “No, no! It wasn’t their fault Riley. It was the Decepticons.”
Riley instantly went quiet, and her face lost a bit of its usual color. She clung to my middle finger while her eyes flittered up and down my frame, as if in search of more injuries. She must have been remembering her own encounter with the Vehicon plus the very few horror stories I had told her. “What happened? How did they find you? Are they coming to take you back?”
“I just did something that was stupid, and the outcome was almost having my head cracked open.” Riley’s eyes widened even more, and I instantly began to backtrack. “I mean, it wasn’t that bad. Doc-bot had me totally repaired in less than a day; he’s just gotta do a little more work on my visor. How long have you been here?”
Riley’s expression changed just as quickly as it had when she had been handling the Prime. Her eyes narrowed, and her lips pressed together in a flat line. “Jeffrey…”
“I’m serious! I almost feel like a brand new mech! Did I tell you that I have my own room now?”
She finally let it go with a little huff, but at the same time she seemed to perk up a little. “You have your own room? Does that mean the big, new guy wasn’t lying when he said you weren’t a prisoner anymore?”
“Well…” I trailed off and glanced around. I didn’t bother checking on any of the Autobots and instead made a beeline towards my—I mean, Grumble-bot’s medical berth and sat down. I placed Riley on the surface beside me where she sat down on the edge, her legs dangling far above the ground. “I’m still on probation, so I can’t go wandering off on my own. But yeah, I guess I’m not so much a prisoner now as a… forced guest.”
“That just sounds like a nice way to say prisoner.”
“Meh, as long I get a daily ration of Energon, I’m good.”
Riley laughed a little before she went on to describe her day at school and how she had forced Beeper to bring her to the base when none of the other kids had shown up for school yesterday. I listened with half an audial, humming and nodding at the right places with practiced ease, while I tried to subtly check everyone else in the room.
My careful glances didn’t work, at least not with Femme Fatale, who had her narrow optics trained on me. I instantly turned my attention to Beeper and Tank, who were cheering on their humans in an apparently vigorous video game war, and I brought a hand up to check my visor. I hadn’t been able to see what it looked like now, but Riley’s notice of it and Femme Fatale’s unwavering gaze made me more self-conscious than usual. I was ready to have my actual visor fixed and was almost tempted to bug Grumble-bot to see when he would have it repaired.
As my optics flickered away from Bunny’s and Tank’s victory dances, I happened to catch Prime staring at me as well. My tank did a little flip when I inadvertently caught his optic, but something was different. His optics weren’t as hard as they had been, and they were brighter as he unashamedly watched Riley and me from across the room.
“…so I told Raf we could totally team up since Jack and Miko were pairing up. With my background in cars and his knowledge of computers, we can totally put together a project that will blow theirs out of the park. Oh! I found your Rubik’s Cube over by the TV. Don’t know how it got there, but I thought you’d be missing it soon if you weren’t already.”
My head snapped towards Riley, and an embarrassing squeal escaped me before I could help it. Riley laughed as I carefully pinched the Rubik’s Cube between my fingers. “I thought I had lost it forever!”
“I knew it.” Riley laughed some more when I immediately began to flip the layers around, using the quickest strategy to make the colors match. She twisted and turned to check the area before scooting closer to my thigh as she pulled her phone out of her pocket. “I figured if we’re really sneaky, I can time you so you can beat your personal record before anyone catches on and pulls the whole ‘he can’t be within twenty feet of technology’ excuse.”
I snickered but felt my spark swell with more than just humor. I hummed, fiddling with the cube in my hand, and glanced back over at the Prime. He was still staring, and while there was still the familiar look of suspicion, there was also more of that glint of expectation I had seen in his optics earlier. My fingers froze when he nodded and fully turned his back on us, speaking to Grumble-bot in a voice too low for anyone else to hear.
I shifted on the berth and glanced down at Riley, who was waiting for me to begin. My fingers shook even as I nodded for her to begin the timer, and I wasn’t nearly as focused on the game as I usually was. Something inside me wanted me to believe that I had just somehow passed one of the many hidden tests the Prime would give me in the next three months without even realizing it. I glanced back up at Femme Fatale and immediately looked away from her glare.
Now if I only I could magically make the same the impression on some of the other Autobots…
“C’mon, Raf! You can beat him!”
I tapped my fingers together as I stood far behind Tank and Beeper and watched the kids race on the screen of the TV. After a few timed sessions of Rubik’s Cube-ing, even I had gotten a little bored and ready to do something else. Prime and Grumble-bot had left some time ago, saying something about a quick patrol around the area before Grumble-bot connected me with our special channel. By then, Neighbor Kid had finished his studying and had Glasses ask Riley if she wanted to participate in a gaming tournament.
I feel like she would have said no if it was anyone but Glasses who had asked her. By the way she refused to sit by Neighbor Kid on the couch and how Bunny pointedly scooted away from her, there was still some tension between my little human and Autobots’ humans. Fortunately, she seemed to be getting along a lot better with Glasses, and I was happy to see her have a real human friend for the first time since I met her.
She sucked at video games though. Glasses had her beat before her pixelated magenta car could even finish the first lap. I tried to cheer her on, but after a short glare from Tank, I decided to silently pray for her success from a distance. Not even prayers could save her from defeat.
Unlike me, she took the defeat in stride and went straight to cheering on Glasses as he and Neighbor Kid duked it out after Bunny’s elimination. Not to be outdone, Bunny took her spot behind Neighbor Kid to be his cheerleading squad with Tank. “C’mon, Jack! Just a little more…you’re taking the turn too sharp!”
“Miko!” Neighbor Kid swatted at her hands when she leaned over his shoulder. “Stop it! You’re going to make me lose.”
“No, you’re gonna make yourself lose with those horrible turns.”
“Don’t be a backseat gamer!”
“Don’t be so bad, and I wouldn’t be a backseat gamer.”
“Says the one who lost.”
Bunny must’ve bumped something on the controller because the blue car on the screen suddenly shot out the rockets it had picked up along the track. They hit Glasses’ green car dead on, and he spun off the track. While he respawned, Neighbor Kid snatched the controller away from Bunny and sped down the last bit of the track to hit the finish line.
Glasses sighed when he finished a few seconds later, but he smiled as the other two forget their previous argument with a congratulatory high-five. Riley slumped against the couch. “Dang it. We almost had them.”
“It’s okay.” Glasses leaned in closer to her, and Beeper whirred when I stepped a little too close to him to hear what was being said. “I let him win. He gets a little upset when everyone beats him too much.”
“I do not.” Laughter followed Neighbor Kid’s outburst. Even Tank chuckled a bit before he turned a glare on me, as if to tell me my chuckles weren’t allowed. My armor clamped down, and I shuffled back to a safe distance. “Where did Arcee go? I know she doesn’t like games as much, but she usually tells me where she’s going.”
“Probably checking something out on the other side of the base.” Tank gave me a long look, and I immediately caught on that what she was doing was something my probation didn’t allow me to know. “Or just avoiding the ‘Con. It’s not often one tells her she’s pretty.”
I tensed and ignored Riley when she whipped around on the couch to face us. “Wha—I didn’t—“
“Oh yeah!” Bunny hopped around to lean on the railing. I hadn’t interacted with her much, but I could spot the mischievous glint in her eyes from a mile away. “You practically fell on her too when you flopped off ‘Bee’s back after he carried you through the Ground Bridge.”
Beeper buzzed, and Glasses was kind enough to at least give some context. “At least she caught him…or at least kept his head from hitting from the floor. Ratchet said his visor might’ve been beyond fixing if it had cracked a little more.”
My armor was clamping down so hard that I actually felt it pinch a little. Tank and Bunny were laughing at her impression of me (“Ooh, she’s so much prettier!”) while Neighbor Kid and Beeper chuckled a bit. Riley scowled at all of them, and Glasses had a strained grin, as if he couldn’t decide whether to find it all funny or actually have some pity for me.
Pity was just as bad as the teasing, and I decided that the only way to save face was a hasty retreat. “I just remembered I forgot something in my room, so…yeah. Brb.”
I wasn’t halfway across the room when Riley started ripping the Autobots a new one. I wanted to be happy that she immediately jumped to my defense—telling them that they were bullying me while Neighbor Kid insisted it was just teasing—but I didn’t. In fact, I felt kinda…pathetic. I don’t remember exactly what happened right before I blacked, so I could have very well said something along those lines. Maybe that’s why Femme Fatale had been glaring at me, not that she hadn’t glared before. She had just been…glaring more than usual, I guess.
Man, if I really did say that…that’s so embarrassing. I bet it’s definitely not the best way to get on her good side. Like, what if she thinks I’m obsessing now? I mean, sure, I find her choice of alt-mode attractive, and it was pretty mind-blowing to watch her fight when I wasn’t constantly worried about ending up dead…but I wasn’t at a point where I was constantly obsessing over her. She didn’t know that though, and I’ve heard that a person’s most truthful when they’re completely out of their mind and on the brink of death…or something like. I learn so much from human television now that I can’t tell what’s fact and what’s not.
“What are you doing by yourself?”
I jumped and cringed when I realized I had nearly walked straight into the very Autobot I was thinking about (not obsessing, mind you; just…thinking about). She looked just as angry as always: arms crossed over her chest, a severe frown on her face, and the tinge of the magenta circle in the center of her optics more noticeable when she glared. I glanced away when I realized I had stared into her optics for too long. “Uh…”
“Optimus said you were to be under supervision at all times.” I became super interested in the tips of my middle fingers as I tapped them together. They looked duller than usual. Maybe Grumble-bot would give me a file to work on them if that wasn’t considered a weapon. “And you have no business snooping outside of the other hab-suites.”
“I wasn’t snooping!” Her optics narrowed even more, and I instantly regretted my outburst. “I mean…I was just going to my own room. I must’ve gotten lost in thought or something.”
I shifted from one leg to another when Femme Fatale remained silent. Her glare never strayed from me, and her hands slowly curled into fists with every nervous tick I performed. I was about to fall to me knees and beg for forgiveness when she spoke again. “Optimus may be lenient in his decision, but that doesn’t change anything. You may have some of us fooled, but I find it hard to believe that a Vehicon just woke up one day and decided to stop being a ‘Con.”
My embarrassment from earlier curled around my spark, and maybe it had something to do with the sudden anger I felt. I forced myself to stare Femme Fatale straight in the optics. “You act like I had a choice in being a Decepticon to begin with. I was a drone—created for the sole purpose of being cannon fodder for Megatron’s cause. So don’t act like you know me anymore than I know you.”
“I know that you’re coded to be a Decepticon.” Just like that, the anger was gone, and I was back to flinching under Femme Fatale’s glare. No wonder I had felt so pathetic from Tank’s and his human’s teasing; I wasn’t really the toughest mech around. “We had enough scientists examine drones back on Cybertron to know that as fact. I know that the only one advocating your change is a little girl whose home life you’ve taken advantage of. You joke and act like you don’t take any of this serious, always playing with your toy or complaining about missing some show. You cower every chance you get. You may have fought against Megatron, but that only proves your loyalties so much. After all, Starscream is constantly betraying Megatron, and he’s always welcomed back.”
Femme Fatale’s optics strayed behind me, and I turned around to face the hallway I had no memory of even walking down. Riley was sprinting down the tunnel, and she gasped for air and readjusted the tilted cap on her head when she reached me. “Jeff…I’ve gotta…I didn’t…I almost punched him again, but I held back!”
Her grin fell when she noticed the Autobot standing behind me, and her glare instantly resurfaced. I didn’t have to turn back to Femme Fatale to know that she was glaring at the back of my head now; the scorching heat from her glare was enough of a hint. I forced a chuckle. “Good. I was starting to worry I would have to send your dad an anonymous email about anger management classes.”
Riley barely acknowledged me and continued to glare at Femme Fatale. Her mouth curled into a scowl. “You better leave Jeffrey alone.”
“I don’t make any promises.” I quickly stepped aside when I heard Femme Fatale move behind me. She gave me one last glare for good measure as she walked pass, but she didn’t say another word to me. Instead she directed her words towards Riley. “Optimus has him on probation for observation. Until then, he better get used to all the added attention.”
I heard a low growl escape Riley and wanted to scoop her up and prevent her from saying anything she could possibly regret. To my surprise, Riley didn’t say anything and just watched Femme Fatale walk down the hallway. The Autobot stopped at the archway and turned back to face us, her stance making it obvious that she was going to stay there and watch. I ushered Riley towards my automatic bedroom door and waited until it closed behind us to breath a sigh of relief.
Riley continued to scowl at the door. “I don’t like her.”
“She’s…not all that bad.” I tried to shrug, but Riley had turned her scowl towards me. “It’s…understandable. Her suspicions…all of their suspicions.”
“Suspicions I get, but they act like they’re trying to find ways to make you mess up. Like Musclehead was trying to antagonize you by being all intimidating.”
“I think his name is Bulkhead.”
“Same difference.” I shook my head, but Riley seemed to be calming down a little as she twirled around to check my cool new room. She stopped after one full twirl and pursed her lips. “Your room is so dull.”
“Well, thanks. Really.”
“I’ll sneak in some posters, or paint, or something next time I visit. Maybe even bring Furball to keep you company.”
I chuckled again and let Riley rant about the excuses the Autobots had given her. My talk with Femme Fatale had made me realize though that I couldn’t let Riley continue to solely defend me. I had to make my own impression on the Autobots now that the Prime was back and giving me a chance to prove myself, whether it was just an act or not. I couldn’t just get upset because Tank teased me about something or let Femme Fatale rip my arguments to pieces when she didn’t even know me.
I had to prove myself to all of them before my three months came to an end; I had to make each moment count. I had to figure out how to stay alive or I might never have a chance to escape this stupid Autobot versus Decepticon slag again.