1. Higher Ground by Ivy_Bohnlein
Based on characters created by Hasbro and the Admin/Players of the Transformers 2k5 MUSH.
* * *
"What on Cybertron is going on out here?" A deep voice demanded gruffly, arresting the attention of my bemused guard.
As Hot Rod turned to face the newcomer, I peered over to take a look for myself. He was huge! He reminded me a little of Optimus Prime - he had the same kind of red and blue color scheme, after all, and the same stocky body shape in a much larger model. His expression was severe and professional, but despite his cautious bearing, there was a warmth and kindness shining through behind his blue optics.
"Here's our intruder," Hot Rod said, still a bit uncertain. "She says her name is Whiz."
I nodded, smiling despite my apprehension. "And I wasn't lying. My name really is Whiz, and I'm one of Elita-I's Femmes Fatales."
Ultra Magnus merely nodded, but Hot Rod looked back at me in disbelief. "But... they're all..."
"Optimus told me of your continued existence," Ultra Magnus said solemnly, ignoring our companion's confusion. "I didn't expect one of you to walk right up to the gates, however."
"I didn't have much choice," I replied. "I had Shockwave and a seeker-tracker on my tail, and I couldn't lead them back to our base. I figured they already knew where Iacon was, so I headed here. Little did I know that your gate guard would try to kill me. Good thing he has lousy aim."
Hot Rod grumbled. "It was just a warning shot."
The larger Autobot formed a trace of a smile. "This 'gate-guard' is Hot Rod, but I see you've already met. I'm Ultra Magnus, the City Commander here in Iacon. Welcome back to the Autobot fold, Whiz."
Back? I never had a chance to leave. "Yeah, uhm, thanks," I said, a little overwhelmed.
He looked me over once more, his optics narrowing slightly. "You look like you could use a trip to the medbay. We don't have much in the way of supplies..."
"That's okay," I said quickly, waving my hand dismissively and noticing the way his optics followed the stump of my missing finger. "I'm used to making do with the bare minimum."
"Yes. Well, I suppose you would be. You're a medic then?" Ultra Magnus asked.
"More or less. I'm sort of a Whiz-of-all-trades," I offered, "But I'd be happy to help in whatever way I can."
Hot Rod, just starting to recover from the embarrassment of the 'warning shot', looked surprised again. "You mean, you're staying?"
I hadn't really thought about it. Yeah, I had to go home and everything, but I didn't want to leave just yet. I hadn't even been *inside*, after all. There were so many new things to see, and so many *people*...
Ultra Magnus noticed my look and nodded slightly. "At least until she's well again, Hot Rod. And we have to make sure she's not followed once she leaves."
"I really should contact the others, though, to let them know I'm safe. If I could use one of your terminals..." I allowed my voice to raise at the end in hopeful questioning.
"Of course. Hot Rod will show you to our communications room and then over to the medical center," Ultra Magnus said.
"But..." Hot Rod protested. "The gates..."
Ultra Magnus opened a panel on his wrist and tapped a few buttons. "Your shift was nearly ended. I'll just call Blurr out to the gates early."
Hot Rod gestured to the large armored doors of the entrance. "All right then, let's get moving."
I looked between him and Ultra Magnus. "Shouldn't we wait for this Blurr to get here first?"
Hot Rod chuckled at me, while Ultra Magnus smiled slightly and shook his head almost indulgently as he replied, "No one has to wait for Blurr."
I couldn't hide my puzzled expression, but the answer became clear soon enough. A blue flash of motion burst from the armored doors and zipped up to Ultra Magnus, stopping abruptly to give me a glimpse at the slender, young blue Autobot at its center. I had no doubt that this had to be Blurr.
I grimaced at Blurr's rapid speech and got a commiserating nod from Hot Rod. I guess we all have our social handicaps, and some are just a little bit more debilitating than others.
Ultra Magnus bore Blurr's excitement stoically, then pointed him in my direction. "Blurr, meet Whiz. She's an unexpected ambassador from Elita-I's band of Femmes. I called you over early so Hot Rod can escort her to the medbay."
Blurr stared at me in disbelief. To be helpful, I raised a hand and waved.
Hot Rod snickered and whispered to me in a low voice, "Whaddya know, you've managed to leave him speechless."
I couldn't resist a smile. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Blurr. Thank you for coming out here early."
By then, Blurr had plenty of time to recover and had done so with a vengeance.
It took a moment before I caught up. "Of course we can," I assured him, "I just have a few stops to make first."
Blurr nodded vigorously, his face disappearing into a smear of motion. "GreatI'mSureWe'llSeeEachOtherAgain
Tower!" And with that, he sped up into the guard tower and disappeared.
Ultra Magnus was next to speak, as he turned to head back into the base. "Whiz, I'll have some temporary quarters prepared for you just in case you're with us for a while. By the time Hot Rod finishes showing you around, they should be ready. And once again, welcome." He turned and disappeared inside. Hot Rod shrugged a bit, then followed, with me tagging along in his wake.
I was impressed by the size and openness of their base. Even though the surrounding city had been trashed by the constant warfare, the fortress itself still managed to convey a sense of hope. I probably made a fool of myself by staring around, but I couldn't help it. This was so different from our cramped little command center in the tunnels.
Hot Rod watched me with a wry smile. "It doesn't take long to lose its charm."
I looked down at my feet, suddenly embarrassed. "Uhm, it's just my first time here," I mumbled as we passed into the main hallway.
"Ah, don't take that the wrong way. I was just joking with you."
I nodded, still a little self-conscious. "It's not what I'm used to."
"Yeah, I can imagine," he agreed, then switched the topic to indulge his curiosity. "You know, if you're one of Elita's Femmes, why haven't I seen your name in the history files?"
"I was created and added to the team after the split already happened. That's why I've never lived anywhere but underground."
"Really?" he asked in a slow, sarcastic voice. "I never could have guessed."
I was pretty sure he was just kidding again, but it was so hard to be certain.
With the Femmes, it was always so easy to tell, but I didn't know him well enough
yet. Plus, I couldn't afford to mess things up
here. They'd just send me home to the Femmes and tell me not to come back - or worse, they might tell *all* of the Femmes to stay away. All because Whiz blew it again.
"That was a joke too," Hot Rod supplied. "You really need to lighten up."
I couldn't suppress a short burst of laughter. Imagine! Someone telling *me* to lighten up. I wished I could record it and play it for my sisters the next time they lectured me on buckling down and being serious.
He stopped in his tracks to regard me curiously. "Oh great, now I'm only funny by accident..."
I halted and grinned at him. "It's just that 'lighten up' is usually my line."
He chuckled. "Yeah, that's right. Well, you promised to make my life more interesting, didn't you? This place could sure use it, so stop being so nervous. We don't bite."
I agreed solemnly, "Right. You just shoot cannons."
"Come on, it was an honest mistake. Besides, I didn't hit you," he protested.
"Not for lack of trying," I said slyly.
He looked about ready to reply when a large grey and silver Autobot clanked over to us. I recognized the form from my studies of Earth culture. It was a dinosaur - and from the small arms and oversized jaws, I'd say a Tyrannosaurus rex. "Who dat?" the tyrannosaurus demanded, pointing at me with one of his silver claws.
"This is Whiz, Grimlock. She came here to escape from Shockwave and his trained goons," Hot Rod explained.
I grinned and waved. "Hi Grimlock."
Grimlock laughed, a growly laugh that came from deep in his chest. "Now Shockwave pick on puny, skinny little Autobots. No able to come after Grimlock. He know that Grimlock stomp his one eye flat!" Then he stomped about and thrashed his tail in a demonstration of his ferocity.
Hot Rod groaned. "She's not puny, Grimlock, she's built differently because she's a Femme. A girl."
"Ho ho ho! Shockwave pick on little girls. And lose! No match for me, Grimlock."
I grinned. "The hard part is catching me. Care to dance, Grimlock?"
Hot Rod looked at me in half a panic. "I don't know if that's such a good idea..."
"You little and you still injured. Me Grimlock go easy on you," the big dinosaur grinned toothily as he took up a more alert stance.
I studied the reach of his front paws, then swept my optics calculatingly along his back. Bingo. "Well, come on then, big guy."
He roared and ran toward me with all of the subtlety of a steamroller. Hot
Rod covered his optics with his hands in horror as Grimlock plowed closer, but
I could swear he was peeking. At the last moment, I
sidestepped the charge, then leaped onto Grimlock's back as he rushed past. Locking my legs around him and holding onto his neck for dear life with my left arm, I reached up with my right and began to scratch at the base of his head, where he couldn't possibly reach.
"No fair! You come down and fight!" Grimlock roared.
I grinned. "And get stomped by the Terrible Lizard? I don't think so."
His little arms reached up to swat me, but fell short. "Stop that! Me can no reach there! Hey... ah... wait..." He stopped flailing and started rumbling contentedly. "That not so bad."
I glanced up to see Hot Rod staring at me in absolute disbelief. I flashed him a superior look and turned back to Grimlock. "You're not so mean. You're just a big friendly dino."
"Not friendly dino," Grimlock said petulantly. "King Dino. Me squash 'Cons into scrap metal."
"Of course you do, but I'm not a 'Con," I said cheerily, hopping down from my perch with a few last scratches. "So will you be a friendly dino for me?"
Grimlock thought it over for a minute. "Me be your friend. Maybe more Decepticons try to attack puny Femme, and me Grimlock can bash them to pieces."
I chuckled. "I'm going to take that in the best possible way."
"You need help, you call Grimlock. Me go." And he stomped onto a people mover that whisked him down a long hallway.
Hot Rod shook his head. "Ultra Magnus smiling, Blurr speechless, and now Grimlock the big friendly dino? You're almost scary. I hope I'm not your next target - you might actually make me start acting *responsible*."
I grinned. "What would you be doing if you weren't giving me this tour?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. Probably goofing off with one of the practice drones in the training room."
I looked at him slyly. "And what are you doing instead of goofing off?"
"Showing you around, like Magnus..." He stopped short and his optics narrowed. His mouth opened to reply, then snapped shut with a frustrated-sounding growl.
I made a mock bow. "The prosecution rests."
He gave me another appraising look. "You really are spooky."
Laughing out loud, I pulled at his elbow. "C'mon, I need to call the others."
"I'm surprised you can't convince the comm terminal to come to you," he chuckled, leading me through a pair of doors into the quiet hush of their communications center. There were a few other Autobots stationed inside, but they were glued to their sensors and monitors, and didn't even spare a glance for us.
My optics practically popped out of my head as I saw the dazzling array of consoles, monitors, readouts, and blinking lights that stretched before me. So many toys, so little time...
"You can use this terminal here," Hot Rod said in a low whisper, gesturing to an unoccupied chair.
I sat down and appraised the system. Not so different from the setup back home, except more compact. This was obviously a much newer model, with extra style. I tried out the controls and found that I could operate it on my own with no trouble, so I patched through to the Femmes' encrypted frequency.
"Whiz!" Arcee shrieked as soon as she appeared on the screen. The irritated faces of Iacon's sensor squad turned to regard me coldly from all around, chastising me for interrupting their work. On the other end of the connection, the reaction was much different. Chromia and Sunrunner dashed up behind the seated Arcee, staring over her shoulders at me.
"Whiz? What happened to you? We've been searching and searching..." Sunrunner said excitedly.
Chromia turned to Arcee first, telling her, "Call Elita and Firestar back to base. Tell them Whiz has finally checked in."
Arcee nodded to Chromia and turned to the side to hold a hushed conversation over her personal comlink.
Turning back to regard me carefully, Chromia said dispassionately, "Whiz, I'm happy to see that you're all right. You had us all worried. But now that we know you're alive... where *are* you, Whiz?"
"Uhhh," I stammered. This wasn't going to be pretty. "I'm in Iacon."
"Iacon?!" the three of them demanded in chorus.
"Are you out of your mind, Whiz?" Arcee continued.
Chromia grimaced at Arcee. "Hasn't she always been?"
"Hey!" I protested.
"You know the rules, Whiz," Sunrunner said with uncharacteristic seriousness. "Silent and unseen. Even by the other Autobots."
"Whiz, after all of the times we've *told* you not to go to Iacon -- how could you do this to us?" Chromia asked, her optics flat with anger and her voice clearly showing her disappointment.
I seethed. "I had Shockwave, Guillotine, and Windfinder the seeker-tracker
on my tail, and I'd just gone through *torture* to keep them from finding our
base. Would you rather I'd just waltzed on home
with them right behind me?" I demanded hotly.
"It wouldn't have been a problem if you'd listened to us instead of running back to set that bomb," Chromia said calmly.
"I had to set it, or Shockwave would have nabbed us all! I can't believe you're blaming *me*!" I shot back. I hate it when she gets all cold and quiet. She just lets you get as mad as you want and it doesn't even touch her.
"What's happened is past. Just don't get too comfortable - as soon as
Elita and Firestar get back, we're coming to pull you out of there," Chromia
said firmly. "We'll be in touch by comlink once we reach the
surface. Chromia out." The screen went blank as Sunrunner cheerfully waved into it one last time.
I continued to stare at the dark monitor for a long moment, then sighed. That could have gone better.
"Um," Hot Rod said, looking a bit confused, "I guess that means you won't be staying long."
I nodded slowly. "Guess not."
"I'm sure Ultra Magnus could talk to them for you, if you wanted," Hot Rod suggested helpfully.
"No," I said, rising from my chair. "I belong with my sisters."
"They sure don't seem to appreciate you much. You went through a lot for them." He looked down at his feet. "Sounded like Kup and Ultra Magnus talking to me."
I shrugged. "They were just worried, that's all. Maybe they'll have cooled off by the time they get here."
"If you say so," he agreed doubtfully. "But it doesn't leave us with much time to get you fixed up. I'll take you to our repair bay."
I smiled. "Thanks. I appreciate all of your help."
"It's no problem, really," he said with a hint of a smirk. "All in a day's work."
"Maybe someday I'll be here long enough to return the favor somehow," I said hopefully as he guided me out the doors and around a corner.
"I hope so. Iacon needs more headstrong, responsibility-shirking young misfits for the old veterans to push around."
I looked up at him, startled and unsure if he was joking. His wide smile assured me that he was, and I chuckled. "How many of those do you know already?"
"Just the one," he replied mischievously. "But he's very good at it. A real Prince Charming, too -- or so they tell me."
"I think that 'they' have been exaggerating that last bit," I observed mildly, prompting him to laugh.
"You're probably right. Well, here we are." He opened the grey door and gestured me inside the Iacon MedCenter.
If the communications center was paradise, this was nirvana. I couldn't imagine anyone saying that this place was understocked. A bit on the disorganized side, yes, but just look - shiny medtables, all this new computer equipment, an automated assembler, and even little medical drones to collect and recycle old materials.
"Doesn't look like anybody is around right now - I'll call whoever's on duty..." Hot Rod volunteered, either not noticing the blatant way I was coveting those brand new circuit splicers or choosing to save me embarrassment by pretending not to see.
"No - no need," I said vaguely, fascinated by a bank of part replicators. So much stuff! What I wouldn't give for some of *these* to play with back home...
"You sure? How can you do repairs on *yourself*?" he asked skeptically.
"I guess I'm not used to having much help," I shrugged.
"Well, there's no sense in doing it on you own when we've got medics here to help you out." He looked at a computer terminal and punched up a display. "Looks like Slapdash is on duty."
Slapdash? Doesn't speak much for quality control. But then again, with gadgets like this, *anybody* could repair an injury. I picked up a laser scalpel and held the blade up to the light, admiring it, as Hot Rod spoke softly into a personal radio.
"He's on his way," Hot Rod announced, coming over to see what I was up to.
By that time, I'd moved on to investigate the control panels on the schematics terminal. "Great."
"You know what all these gizmos do?"
"Mostly. Yours are all so much newer than ours. After Alpha-Trion...left us... we didn't have access to the newest technology. I had to keep patching up the old stuff instead. I kept it functional, but it's not nearly as cool as what's in here," I explained.
"Riiiiight. Cool," he grinned. "You need to get out more."
I laughed. "Who am I to argue?"
"You're handling yourself all right so far. If you can win over Grimlock, you're going to be just fine. Plus, now you'll have a phalanx of Dinobot bodyguards following you around the base."
"Hmm? You mean there's more like him?"
He nodded with an exaggerated groan. "There's a whole team of them on Earth. Wheeljack created them there from scratch. Grimlock's their leader - he's just up here temporarily because he was guarding the latest energon shipment."
I sighed wistfully. "I've read so much about Earth. I wish I could see it."
"I haven't been there, actually. The trip's pretty long, and the Decepticons have this nasty habit of attacking the shuttles. Plus, you'd have to wait for the next shipment before you could get back. But once they start construction of the new Earth-base, maybe you could help out," he suggested.
I frowned. "I couldn't leave the others for that long."
"You never know," he said. "Maybe someday they'll want to see it too."
Just then, the doors slid open and another Autobot came in to join us. "Where's my patient?" he asked cheerfully.
"She's right here," Hot Rod said, indicating me with a sweep of his hand. "Slapdash, this is Whiz."
I smiled and waved a little, hopping up to sit on one of the med tables. "Nice to meet you."
Slapdash's optics opened wider, startled, and he turned to Hot Rod with an unspoken question on his face. Hot Rod just nodded sagely, as if his short acquaintance with me had suddenly made him the authority on Femmes.
"Yes," I said cheerfully, "I am."
Slapdash laughed heartily. "You've seen that reaction before, have you?" He was tall and stocky, looking more like a warrior of the field than a resident of the medbay. His silver shoulders were broad and square, with a triangle of midnight blue pointing downward over his chest. The same blue circled his waist, traced a line down his arms and legs, and was reflected in his cheerful blue optics. "Well, I apologize."
"That's okay, I don't blame you for being surprised. At least you didn't shoot at me," I said lightly, sliding my gaze over to Hot Rod.
"Hey!" he protested.
Slapdash looked between our faces, confused. "Who shot at you?"
"You were an unknown careening toward the front gates. How many times do I have to apologize?" Hot Rod groaned.
"You haven't yet, as I recall," I grinned.
"You shot at her?" Slapdash asked in disbelief.
"I thought she was an intruder. And I'm *sorry*!"
I smiled sweetly. "Apology accepted. Thank you."
"Arrrgh," Hot Rod said, slapping his forehead with the heel of his hand.
"Sounds like I missed the best of the excitement. Ah well, let's see what
we can do for you," Slapdash rumbled, scanning me with a compact
Hot Rod harumphed and wandered over to check out the contents of a few supply cabinets. "So, what do you do for the Femmes? Aside from heap on personal abuse?"
I chuckled. "Mostly repair and maintenance stuff. But I'm also the demolitions expert of the group. And I study Earth culture, keep up on current events, stuff like that. They keep me busy."
Slapdash checked over his readings. "Too busy to take proper care of yourself?"
"Well, the Decepticons worked me over pretty well, and the others just have to do the best they can with me," I explained.
"Nevermind that. Well, ol' Slapdash is going to fix you up right. New
parts, installed by someone who knows what he's doing. How's that sound?"
Slapdash smiled at me, then headed over to retrieve some parts
from a supply cabinet.
I'd never been embarrassed about the state of my parts before - it never really crossed my mind. It seemed natural to live with patches on patches, especially when that's all that surrounds you. But here, it was like a sign of being an outsider. I was the little country mouse, come to visit her city cousins. I frowned and looked at the floor between my feet, wishing I had just done my own repairs after all.
Slapdash must've misinterpreted my silence as fear. "I assure you, you're in good hands. I'll have you feeling as good as on your creation day in no time at all."
"Yeah," I said hollowly, lying back and letting him get to work on
my slashes, bites, burns, and scars. One cheerful thought led to another and
I was soon wondering what Chromia and Elita were going to do to me
once they arrived. Sure, they'd be happy to see me for about a minute, but then -- pow! How could you do it, Whiz? Silent and unseen.
Plausible deniability. Security in secrecy. And *you* screwed it all up.
I *still* didn't see what choice I had. Okay, maybe I shouldn't have run back to set the explosive, but if I hadn't... and besides, all the wishing in the world wouldn't have changed that once Shockwave was on my trail. I did what I could, right?
Hot Rod finished his tour of the supply cabinets and meandered back over to
grin down at me as Slapdash whipped up a replacement for my finger. "See,"
the younger Autobot asked, "Much easier than trying to
"I guess," I agreed with a chuckle. "And this time I have someone else to blame if anything goes wrong."
"Hey," Slapdash protested good-naturedly. "Have a little faith."
"Yeah, we guy-bots have our uses too," Hot Rod concurred.
"At least I said 'if', and not 'when'," I said in the same joking tone.
Slapdash smiled. "If I could get you to turn over and transform, I'd get better access to your hoverjets."
I wiggled my new finger experimentally, then shifted into my airskimmer mode and puffed my jets lightly in the air. Slapdash took a look at my structure, then continued his work.
"So, you said you'd have somebody to blame *this* time. Do things often go wrong with your repairs?" Hot Rod pressed.
I made a noncommittal noise, remembering the mistake that had gotten me into all this in the first place. Stupid explosives. "I'm in your repair bay getting overhauled while I wait for the other Femmes to come lecture me about what got me here in the first place. What do you think?"
"I think it just goes to show you that sometimes mistakes turn out for the best," Hot Rod said wryly.
"Yes," Slapdash agreed. "Otherwise, we would never have met you."
A warm glow crept over me. They were right, after all. The day had its drawbacks, but it more than compensated for them. After all, look where I was! In Iacon! With all of the other Autobots, and their toys, and their spare parts...
"And more important," Hot Rod added, "You wouldn't have met *us*." He smiled widely.
I chuckled to myself. "How could I have gone on living?"
"You would have been pretty bored," Hot Rod suggested.
Slapdash grinned at us both. "At the very least, you wouldn't have gotten these repairs. All done, by the way."
I transformed back into my robot form and sat up on the table. I felt pretty good, actually. "Thanks much, Slapdash."
He beamed. "You're welcome. It's nice to have someone appreciate my work for once."
I started to reply, "I know how it feel..." but was interrupted by an insistent tone from my comlink. I frowned.
Hot Rod recognized immediately what it was, and he frowned as well. Slapdash just seemed puzzled. "Aren't you going to respond to that? Sounds urgent."
I smiled halfheartedly. "Yeah. Guess I'd better." I turned my attention inward to the comlink.
-Whiz, this is Elita-I. Chromia and I are on our way to Iacon. Meet us at the
gates and make sure nobody *else* sees you. Let's keep your exposure to the
other Autobots as low as possible. We'll discuss this
further back at the base.-
-That's enough, Whiz. Just keep your damage to a minimum.- She said firmly. -Elita out.-
I sighed deeply.
"Not good, huh?" Hot Rod asked with apparent concern.
"I have to leave. They want me to be at the front gates and not to let anyone else see me." I frowned. "I'm supposed to keep my damage to a minimum."
Hot Rod looked frustrated. "Damage? Why is it damage for me to know you? We could actually help each other out, after all. And it's not as if the Decepticons don't already *know* you exist."
Slapdash nodded. "I'm not sure I understand either."
I shrugged. "You guys have already seen me, no harm in you walking with me to the gates. If you'll clear the way, I'll explain the story to you while we walk."
"Ultra Magnus will probably want to be there too, Whiz. And since he's seen you, there's no more damage to do there, right?" Hot Rod suggested.
"There's *always* more damage to do. But sure, invite him too. Make it a party," I smiled. "As long as it's a quiet one."
Hot Rod nodded and Slapdash took a look out the door. "We're clear," the medic announced. "Whenever you're ready."
"Magnus is on his way," Hot Rod reported. "After you, Whiz." He made a reasonable facsimile of a sweeping noble bow, indicating that I should precede him.
I made an awkward imitation of the curtsies I'd seen in my videos about Earth, then headed out into the hallway. Slapdash and Hot Rod followed me, keeping their eyes out for unwelcome guests. We made it out to the courtyard without incident, then settled in to wait for Elita and Chromia to arrive.
"So, explain why you have to maintain this policy of secrecy, even to your allies," Hot Rod pressed.
"How are we a threat to your security, Whiz?" Slapdash queried, now that the subject had just become current again.
"That's a question I'd like answered as well," Ultra Magnus nodded as he joined us in the courtyard.
I grimaced. Well, no hope for it now. Just pass on the same story you've heard all your life, Whiz. No reason why they won't agree with it, after all. Even though it's never made sense to you, either...
"It all started when Optimus Prime originally left for Earth. You guys made your place in Iacon, while the Femmes sought solitude underground. They grew closer to each other over that time, especially once it was learned that Optimus Prime had disappeared. Eventually, they were so effective that they no longer needed Iacon. So, to protect their location and maintain secrecy about their existence, they allowed you guys to think they were dead. Pretty simple," I explained. "Even though the 'Cons know we exist again, half of them don't really believe it yet. Plus, they don't know where we are. As long as that's the case, we're safe."
"So? It's not like we're demanding the location of your base," Hot Rod cut in.
"I'm not quite finished. See, it's all the principle of plausible deniability. If you guys can swear honestly that there are no more female Autobots, and really believe it yourselves, the Decepticons might start doubting it too. Eventually, we fade back into Cybertronian myth and continue our fight without them finding out who we are and where we live." I looked around at them, hoping that was sufficient.
"I understand the strategy, Whiz," Ultra Magnus said carefully, "But nothing can stay the same forever. It's impossible to deny the inevitable need for change."
"I agree," Slapdash added. "Sometimes strategies may outlive their adaptiveness and actually become obstacles."
"The Femmes are never good about knowing when to quit," I told them, regret tingeing my words. My comlink got my attention with a tone and I turned my attention toward my sisters.
-Whiz, we're approaching the gate. Make sure their guards stand down,- Chromia's voice told me.
-I'll do it,- I promised. The connection severed, and I looked up at Ultra Magnus. "Don't forget to tell Blurr not to shoot them," I said, "We don't want him making the same mistake Hot Rod did."
"Hey!" Hot Rod protested. "I apologized!"
A smile crept over Ultra Magnus' face. "She has a point. I've notified Blurr."
"How can you take her side?" Hot Rod demanded.
Ultra Magnus said simply, "Because I *know* you, Hot Rod."
Hot Rod grumbled, and I smiled sweetly at him.
Soon the gates swung ponderously open, and Elita entered with Chromia at her right. Ultra Magnus saluted her crisply and said, "Welcome to Iacon. I'm Ultra Magnus, the City Commander here. It's an honor to have you with us for the first time in so many years."
Elita nodded curtly. Outwardly, Chromia couldn't have looked less interested, but I could see her optics taking in every detail of the courtyard and the base beyond. Elita shot an irritated glance at me, then said, "It's a pleasure. I apologize for whatever trouble Whiz has been into."
"Not at all. She's been a wonderful guest," Ultra Magnus assured her. "We hope she, and the rest of the Femmes, might visit again soon - and for a longer time."
Whoa! Ultra Magnus breaks out of the leader-type small talk first to hint about resuming relations. Bold move for the big guy.
"Perhaps someday," Elita said stiffly. "But we are quite comfortable with our present arrangements."
Ultra Magnus didn't falter. "Well, it has been a pleasure nevertheless. Do you wish an escort to your base? We understand that Whiz had some trouble with Decepticons in the tunnels."
"No. We can take care of ourselves," Chromia replied shortly, her tone inviting no argument.
"Come on Whiz, let's go home," Elita said to me, and I headed over to her side. With a final wave backward at Hot Rod, Slapdash, Ultra Magnus, and even Blurr, I headed out of Iacon and heard the heavy iron doors slam shut behind me.
I looked up at the impassive faces of my sisters and flinched. This homecoming wasn't going to be a picnic. I sighed. Well, it was fun while it lasted.
Elita turned to look down at me while we walked. "You had us all worried about you, Whiz. We thought you might have been killed."
I nodded miserably. "I know."
"What you did was brave. You risked your own life to save ours, just as we would have done for you. From what you've said, you obviously thought it was necessary and acted on that. So we all owe you a great deal," Elita continued.
I perked up. Hey, this was a lot different from Chromia's speech. I could get to like this one.
Chromia looked around a bit. "With all respect, Elita, we're too exposed here. You two should continue this back at the base."
"You're right, Chromia," Elita agreed. "Femmes, transform and roll for home. Remember, Shockwave may be waiting for Whiz to leave Iacon so he can follow us, so keep your sensors on full scan."
"Understood," Chromia said, folding down into a hovercar.
I transformed too and said, "Gotcha, Elita."
Elita nodded, then compacted down and drove off, leading the way back to our base. I kept my sensors scanning on a wide, intensive sweep in search of any unusual activity, but my mind was otherwise occupied. What did Elita's words to me mean? Had I been forgiven? But why was she so cold to Ultra Magnus? He at least deserves her respect, after all. Maybe she was just mad that she had to talk to anybody. Or maybe it's just been too long since they'd seen the other Autobots.
I heard Alpha-Trion's voice in my mind from a long, long time ago. "Elita and her followers have been in isolation for too long, Whiz. They've become experts at surviving, but they've forgotten how to live. You can remind them. You're new to life and new to this war, too new to have been jaded by disappointment and loss. You must change their old ways for their own good."
He'd been right then, and he was right now. It had been too long since they'd been forced to really interact with anyone other than themselves. Maybe going to Iacon was a reluctant step in the right direction.
We took the direct route this time, heading over to a particularly scrapped and scavenged area of Crystal City's wreckage.
"All scans show we're clear," Chromia reported.
"I haven't got a blip," I agreed.
"All right then. Femmes, transform." Once we were all in robot form, Elita punched in a coded sequence on her wrist and a chunk of rubble slid aside. A warm yellow light rose out of the ground as our entrance was revealed. Chromia was first to step into the golden glow of the suspension field, and once she had floated safely to the floor below, I followed. As I stepped out into the base, Elita came along behind and sealed off the entrance.
"Whiz! Thank the Matrix you're okay!" Arcee shouted, getting to her feet and racing over to me. Sunrunner quickly ran after her, with Firestar heading casually over behind Sunrunner.
"What happened to you? How did you make it out of there? What was Iacon
like? Did you meet any of the other Autobots?" Sunrunner and Arcee were
asking different questions at the same time, so I was lucky
just to decipher what they were asking, if not who was asking what.
"One thing at a time!" I laughed.
Elita nodded. "Indeed. Whiz, why don't you explain all of it from the beginning?"
So I told them my whole story of adventure and woe, beginning with my quick thinking in the cave-in and running through my experiences as a meal for turbo-rats, a pincushion for Guillotine, and a visitor in Iacon.
"I can't believe that guy *shot* at you," Sunrunner commented.
"Yeah, no wonder they felt like they had to patch you up," Arcee agreed.
"Oh, it was just an honest mistake. After all, if they don't know we exist, why wouldn't they automatically identify us as enemies?" As hard as I tried, I couldn't keep some bitterness out of my voice.
"You know the rules, Whiz," Firestar reiterated. "We have security through secrecy."
I was so tired of hearing that same line over and over, as if it explained everything. "No we don't. We have stagnation and isolation in the name of a false sense of security. The Decepticons *know* we exist and they're going to find us eventually. We won't be able to hold them off by ourselves if they hit us with a full scale assault! At least we could call on the others for help if we start maintaining contact," I argued.
"We don't need them for anything!" Firestar shouted heatedly.
"Whiz could be right, Firestar," Arcee said, surprising me. Usually she just agrees with whatever Elita-I says.
"Whiz, Arcee, I know what you're thinking," Elita said gently. "Don't think that we haven't had the same ideas. But you haven't been doing this as long as we have. We know what works, and we know what's best."
"What's best for the past isn't always best for the future," I said bitterly.
"Whiz, watch it. Elita is still your leader, even when you disagree with her," Chromia interjected in a warning tone.
I bit back my response and maintained a sullen silence.
"If Iacon is what you really want, Whiz, you're welcome to go back to them. But your access codes will be erased from our computers and you will no longer be one of us," Elita offered, her voice and face carefully controlled to betray no emotion.
I gasped. Throw me out? "I couldn't do that!" I blurted out immediately. "How could I leave you guys?"
Elita's face softened. "I'm glad to hear you say that, Whiz, though I never doubted that it would be your answer. Welcome home." Her voice held nothing but love and relief as she opened her arms to me.
Firestar grinned. "Yeah, welcome home, li'l sis." The others crowded around to echo the sentiment, and I felt an old, familiar warmth rekindle itself. This was home. As long as I was with the other Femmes, I was in the right place.
If only it had nifty gadgets, too....