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Facelift



Facelift



The repair bay of Autobot City was usually chaotic to some degree, but never anything like this. Aside from the permanent deactivations, there were a lot of bots in stasis as well as the battle damaged, in various states of disrepair, who kept coming in after each battle. Scores of wounded and only the one medic – me – to repair them all.

Some of the deactivated, such as Wheeljack – another medic who I knew well – were awaiting burial and considering the urgency of other cases weren’t considered a priority, which I suppose gives some idea of the sheer number of the casualties I was dealing with. The highest priority task was to get the badly damaged operational again.

It had been a long time since I’d had so many colleagues in repair at once. While the damage list made for depressing reading, seeing another Autobot – another friend – walk out was uplifting, and that was the only thing keeping me motivated. For the most part these were bots I’d been living and fighting alongside for years. These were Autobots I knew well, not just random casualties, as was usually the case after massive battles on Cybertron. Not that random strangers made it any less important, but it’s easier on my central processor since emotional detachment is possible when you’re trying to save someone you’ve never met.

Now I found myself surrounded by friends. Row upon row of friends. But there was one who stood out, someone I didn’t know. At first I mistook him for Grapple but on further inspection I realised that this was a different yellow crane. Sure, there were quite a few deactivated Cybertron-based Autobots in the repair bay, but he clearly had an alternate mode adapted to Earth. My curiosity was piqued.

Who was this unknown Autobot? How was it that I’d spent so much time on Earth, repairing so many fellow Autobots, without ever coming across this particular bot. I walked over to the radio console and buzzed Blaster, hoping he was able to satisfy my curiosity.

“Blaster, this is First Aid… do you have a moment?”

“First Aid my man, what’s happenin’?”, came the upbeat reply from Metroplex’s command room. Blaster had a knack for sounding happy when things were bad – even if he wasn’t happy.

“I’ve got an unidentified Autobot here… and I’m confused. I thought I knew everyone based here on Earth, Blaster, but I’ve come across a yellow Autobot who appears to transform into an Earthen crane – and I have no idea who he is.”

“Yellow crane? You’re not talking about Hauler, are you?” asked Blaster.

“Er… I might be… kinda looks like Grapple, but…,“ I started to reply but was cut off.

“Ahh yeah that’d be Hauler! I didn’t realise he was even around during the battle. I don’t think I’ve seen him since... well just after we arrived here,” Blaster’s usual upbeat voice lowered, reflecting a sombre side of our local commander not often witnessed. “How is he?”

“Oh, he’s a little banged up, taken a nasty blow to the head, but he’ll be fine. I’ve already hooked him up to some diagnostics and I can see that most of the damage is superficial. So you know him then? You’ll get a chance to talk to him soon enough Blaster.”

“Righto First Aid. Thanks for checkin’ in with me. Buzz me when he’s operational. Blaster out.”

Blaster had answered my initial question, but as I got to work more questions arose in my mind. If this bot was on the Ark when it first arrived, where has he been all this time? Why did he come back now? Why is Blaster so sombre about it all? Stop wondering and start fixing, First Aid. The bot is in pain!.

It didn’t take me long to fix the damage to Hauler’s head, which was largely superficial armour damage. The only serious damage was a ruptured energon line behind his left audio receptor, and this rupture caused his current deactivation.

Since the rest was fairly minor, and wouldn’t require him remaining deactivated during repairs, I decided to reactivate Hauler. Of course, part of the reason was so he could satisfy my curiosity, but then I also figured that he would appreciate being online again.

I patched up the energon line fairly easily, and then plugged Hauler in to recharge, since the rupture had drained his reserves substantially. I then tripped the auto-stasis mechanism within his chest, which would slowly bring him back.

About ten seconds later light began to flicker in Hauler’s blue optics. He slowly sat up, looking around the room at the various casualties, his optics eventually coming to rest on me, “Who… who are you?”

“Hi, Hauler. I’m First Aid, one of the Protectobots. I’m in the middle of repairing you,” I extended a hand and shook his. I was also smiling, but usually only those who know my face can tell if I’m smiling underneath my mouthplate.

“Oh, yes, the Protectobots. I’ve heard about you guys. I think… Hot Spot… Hot Spot is the only member of the team I’ve ever met – and that was long before he became a Protectobot.”

“Well, he’s still out of service – at the moment it’s just myself, Groove and Blades. But Hot Spot and Streetwise will be okay – once I get to them. I’ve got quite a workload here, “ I replied.

“What about Ratchet? Wheeljack? Perceptor? Hoist? Surely they’re not expecting you to fix all this. ” Hauler waved a hand around the repair bay, which was littered with parts, bodies and tools. Amongst the bodies he spied Hoist’s badly damaged form. “OK, maybe not Hoist,” he said. His voice drifted off as his face suddenly looked distant.

“Perceptor’s on Cybertron at the moment. He’s got his own mess to deal with up there. The others… I’m afraid Ratchet and Wheeljack are offline,” I said.

Hauler’s attention returned, bringing with it a look of anguish on his face. I was about to tell him about Perceptor’s ‘mess’, namely the casualties of the battle with Unicron but decided it best to break that news to him later. I gathered that Hoist’s current state was enough for Hauler’s spark for the moment.

“Hoist... will he be okay?” Hauler seemed to be awfully worried about the maintenance director, considering there were over one hundred Autobots in the surrounding repair bay.

“Oh, he’ll be fine,” I assured, “There’s a lot of work to be done – In truth I began work on you because I mistook you for Grapple, and what we really need right now is bodies who can work on repairing Metroplex. Hoist is next bot off the line though, since with his help I can clear this place a lot quicker and get more troops up and running”.

Hauler seemed relieved by this news, and it was rewarding to see the smile on his face. Of course, there was still a lot of exoskin work to be done on Hauler. In fact there was a lot more to be done that the initial diagnostic scans revealed – Hauler’s exoskeleton needed a major overhaul, which would require deactivation.

How do I break this to someone I hardly know? I’ve reactivated you, but I’m going to deactivate you again. Nice almost meeting you. Ugh. It’s moments like this where I hate my function.

“I’ve… it seems the diagnostic scans have understated the damage to your exoskeleton, so before I can patch up your exoskin I’m going to have to shut you down and do some work underneath,” I said, apologetically.

Hauler took it surprisingly well, “OK, then. It’s not the first time I’ve had a facelift, and probably wont be the last. In a way I kind of like having myself updated – it keeps me fresh.”

“Updated?” I asked.

“Yeah, cosmetic changes are always fun,” Hauler said with a smile on his face. With that he laid back and put himself into stasis.

****

The control room of the Ark was unusually tense. Sure, there were dramas, emergencies and even heated arguments – but those situations either never last long or result in a sortie of some kind. There were only six Autobots present, yet I felt crowded by the mood in the air. The vast cavern that centred on Teletran One felt small for the first time I could remember. One of our own, my brother Hauler, had announced to the leadership – Prowl and Optimus Prime – that he was leaving. It seemed like hours that we stood there in silence, though I’m sure it was only a few Earth seconds. Unusually, Smokescreen didn’t have a counter-argument forthcoming, and no doubt Prowl’s logic didn’t understand Hauler’s desertion. For my part, I was simply too stunned to think of anything I could say to dissuade my brother.

Eventually Ironhide broke the silence, “I know you find this war savage, Hauler, but to walk out on us now won’t help. We need you here because we have to keep the Decepticreeps from wreaking more havoc. You feel guilty because we’ve imposed our war on the inhabitants of Earth. How do you think Prime feels? It’s not like any of us wanted to drag them into this.” Ironhide saw a wince on his old friend’s face, “Sorry Prime.”

“No, Ironhide, you’re right. I do feel guilty, and that guilt motivates me to keep up our defence of Earth. I don’t like this war anymore than you, and I’m uncomfortable with our current situation. Remember, Hauler, it was my decision to leave Cybertron, so I’m just as culpable as you - if not more. I’m sorry but I agree with Ironhide – your leaving is a mistake, and goes against your reason for leaving,” Prime said. He laid a hand on Hauler’s shoulder, “But we can only ask you to stay, we can’t make you. If you do go, you’ll always be welcome back.”

“Maybe when this is all over, I’ll come back. I just can’t bear the damage we’re doing to this planet and I can’t be a part of it anymore,” Hauler’s voice box was quivering. More than anyone else, I knew he didn’t really want to leave us behind, that we meant everything to him. But I knew that like me, Hauler is a builder at core and that watching things being destroyed is tougher on him than most Autobots.

“I’d like you to stay, but I understand why you’re leaving. Just promise me you’ll keep in touch. I’m not ready to lose my little brother to this war,” my voice box was quivering this time. Part of me wanted to go with him, and I came very close to taking to the road as well.

Hauler smiled, “Of course I will, Grapple. I’ll always help the Autobots. No,” he paused for emphasis, “I’ll always _be_ an Autobot. Anything I discover in my travels, I’ll transmit back to the Ark. We know this planet is full of resources. If I find anything that could be of use – or needs to be kept hidden from Megatron’s hungry optics – I’ll make sure you guys know about it.”

Hauler turned and transformed into his Earthen crane mode, not dissimilar to my own crane mode, then he drove out of the Ark. Less than a month on this strange new world and we’d lost the first of our ranks. The mood in the control room was heavy – and it wasn’t just me. Prime, Ironhide, Smokescreen, Prowl and myself all stood there in silence, meeting each others’ optics with the same despondent expression. There have been a lot of lowpoints in our war with the Decepticons, but I’ve never felt deeper sadness before or since that moment.

Granted, things could have been worse, and we still had a significant numerical advantage over Megatron’s small band of Decepticons. But losing a soldier through desertion was hardly a morale boost. No one blamed him, of course – that’s not the way we Autobots do things – but it made our containment of the Decepticons all the more difficult.

I took the loss harder than most Autobots, for obvious reasons. Hauler did radio back from time to time, as promised, reporting significant resource finds. But we rarely heard from him otherwise, the next time I actually saw him was when he visited me while I was recovering form injuries I sustained when Constructicons sabotaged my plans for a solar energy tower.

After that… well I’m yet to hear anything more from him.

****

Three seconds. Three slaggin’ seconds of footage is all there is. Even then, it’s three seconds of him simply standing there, shooting. He was standing alongside the scientist Perceptor, and there’s a brief moment where the Dinobot Swoop is caught running through Raindance’s field of view. After that, Raindance flew on, and the next piece of footage in the archive is of Ultra Magnus barking orders.

You ain’t never gonna find him, Clampdown. I really wanted to think positive, but the archives weren’t encouraging.

There’s actually quite a lot of footage in the Autobot archives of the great battle of 2005, and a large portion of that is the Battle for Autobot City. But only three seconds of that footage is of Hauler, out of almost a week of footage. My quest to find out what happened to my old friend wasn’t going so well.

Most of the Ark’s crew had been accounted for, including some who had been tracked down in the archival footage. A few were still listed as missing, and I’d heard rumours that there were unidentified bots awaiting repair on Earth. There were unidentified casualties on the moonbases that had been destroyed by... consumed by Unicron. Many of those would probably never be properly accounted for.

I realised that the answer I was seeking might not be one I’d enjoy hearing, but I wanted to know what had become of my friend. Not knowing was worse, since as long as that spark of hope existed the nagging thought of his demise also persisted. The problem was that I’d exhausted the archives’ footage. Granted, the archives were far from comprehensive since the confusion of the events of 2005 made for a period of poor records. But they were still the most thorough record of the great battle.

I turned around to face the small droid-like Autobot hovering over my right shoulder.

“Thanks anyway, Raindance, at least I got to see him again.”

“As I said, it wasn’t much,” Raindance replied sullenly. “The amount of laser fire around meant I couldn’t spend much time in the open. This was one of the rare occasions I was able to venture outside the city walls that day. There were Decepticons all around, and just after I shot that I was spotted by an Insecticon and had to move on.”

“Yeah… the chaos is well captured in your footage,” I acknowledged.

“Thanks!” Raindance replied, clearly thrilled by the compliment. Realising his reflex response was inappropriate, he paused and lowered his voice before continuing, “Good luck with it, Clampdown.”

The blue Autobot slowly flew off, and while my optics remained focused on the freeze-frame of Hauler on the viewer I listened to the hum of Raindance’s engines move off and fade to nothing. I stood for some time in silence, alone with my thoughts.

My musings were interrupted by a hand on my left shoulder. I knew it was Deep Cover without having to turn around, “Hmmm?”

“Earth? Whose that with Perceptor?” Deep Cover asked.

I didn’t say anything, leaving my brother to fill in the gaps.

“Oh sorry… it’s someone you know… heavy.”

There was silence for a few minutes, until I was able to gather my thoughts and give my brother something resembling an answer, “His name is Hauler. I first met him while I was stationed at Crystal City. He was part of the team that helped build the city, and became part of the ongoing maintenance team there. Since we both spent most of our time stationed there sitting on our skidplates, waiting for somethin’ to happen, we became good friends.”

“So what happened?”

“The war happened,” I replied. “Megatron attacked Crystal City, and we both joined the Autobots. You know my story from then on.”

Deep Cover nodded, which I knew without having to turn around to face him.

I continued, “I stayed here, with you, while Hauler joined the Ark’s mission and went to Earth. Once there he detached himself from the main force, spent most of his time scouting for resources. He didn’t rejoin the main force until this battle.” I waved a hand at the screen. “And this was the last time he was seen.”

“So, in the year since then, he hasn’t shown up?” Deep Cover asked.

“Nope. As far as I can tell, he’s simply vanished, beyond the reach of the archive. And beyond the reach of Rewind’s recollection. Rewind was in the middle of this battle, actually…” My could hear my voice trail off, yet found myself unable to continue. I wanted to say more, but I had no more information to offer.

“Well, we’ll just have to keep our optics trained and audio receptors to the ground, wont we?”

I turned and faced the black and blue Autobot behind me. Deep Cover wore a sympathetic smile on his silver face.

“We will”.

****

I not understand First Aid. He enjoy fixing others but not enjoy fighting. Me I like fighting, not want to be stuck in repair bay all day. Snarl much rather be fighting. But battle is over. Autobots won battle but now we weak. So Snarl using strength to help weak Autobots like First Aid for repair.

I already used strength to help commander Blaster fix city, now have to help First Aid. Snarl not hate First Aid, but not friends either. Me I want to be back on Cybertron with Dinobot friends, but instead stuck here with sappy medic. All Snarl do is lift and pass instruments.

“Snarl, do you think I should stick with yellow? Hauler said he likes updating his appearance now and then,” First Aid ask. His big blue optics stare at me. He have much enthusiasm. Not like Snarl.

“Snarl think yellow boring. Snarl think pink good,” I not really think that, but Snarl sooo bored.

“I was thinking yellow could stay. I suppose we could combine the two,” say First Aid.

“Pink and yellow then,” me say.

“Yeah, that could work. Good idea Snarl,” First Aid say. He still cheery and not notice me try make trouble. I laugh inside, not so bored now.

****

Most of the hard repair work on Autobot City was done, the main task remaining was First Aid’s backlog of reactivations. Poor dude had been working pretty much non stop for three weeks. Hoist was helping him now, so bots were coming online a lot quicker, both of them were working non stop. First Aid was doing a great job, and I know he takes his work personally. I would have loved to relieve him of his duties earlier, but the job had to be done.

By this stage the critical medical stuff had been taken care of, thankfully. First Aid and Hoist were finishing off – minor jobs like nicks, glitches and that kinda stuff. The last cat still inoperative was Hauler, since he needed an overhaul to fix extensive cosmetic damage. I’d enlisted Snarl to help, and while he bounces to a different groove, he was willing to run with it when I told him he’d be on the next shuttle to Cybertron once the job was done.

“I help since Blaster helps me,” was his response. Typical Snarl – concise and to the point.

First Aid had paged me and asked me to join him in the repair bay. As I approached the repair bay I could hear the sounds of Aerosmith’s Janie’s Got a Gun.

“Good old First Aid, dude knows my tastes,” I said to myself as I approached the doorway.

“Oh Blaster. I’m glad you’re here,” First Aid said to me as I walked through the door. “I’m ready to reactivate Hauler.”

“Sweet dude. Let’s bring him around,” I said whilst looking at Snarl, who clearly didn’t share my appreciation of the rock song. “We should turn the sounds down though. Do you mind, Snarl?”

“Snarl not mind,” the Dinobot instantly replied. He reached past First Aid to the computer and turned the music off.

Snarl and First Aid were standing on one side of the large operating table Hauler was laid out on. The console was behind First Aid, towards the head of the table. The table stood between them and the door, so I was on the other side of the table from the other two. Hoist was at the far end of the room working on Tailgate, and they were involved in a conversation about Tailgate’s knee.

“OK then, let’s do it,” First Aid said as he pressed a button underneath the table. Motors began to detach the various support and monitoring attachments and Hauler’s blue optics flickered to life. First Aid then turned to the console where he brought up a video feed of Hauler, no doubt so the bot could see his new threads.

“Am.. is it complete?” Hauler asked, looking at First Aid.

“We’re all done. Your upgrade is complete. New armour, stronger axles, better tyres, fluffy dice. I’ve even raised your wheelbase. We’ve concentrated our efforts on road modifications. I thought they’d come in handy.”

“Plus they’ve made some cosmetic changes dude,” I added, pointing Hauler to the monitor behind the table. He turned around to see himself.

First Aid had replaced his yellow armour with a light pink, while his chrome was yellow. His armour was noticeably thicker although his body shape was otherwise identical.

“What in the Transformers Universe?” Hauler exclaimed, looking at First Aid. Hoist and Tailgate looked up as one.

“You don’t like it?” First Aid asked.

“It’s a little… bright,” Hauler said uneasily.

“Well, the pink was Snarl’s idea, he thought pink would be a nice change. I wanted to retain yellow, so we’ve mixed and matched.”

Hauler shot a disapproving look at Snarl, who had a smirk on his face. I suppose one of the advantages of being a Dinobot is no one’s going to mess with you, no matter what stunt you’ve pulled.

“Dude, I remember when I used to visit Crystal City back in the day, you were like the hippest cat in town. Maybe we could bring back the green and purple again,” I said to Hauler. “I’ll even help First Aid and Snarl out, if you like.”

“Yeah, that’d be appreciated,” Hauler said, his voice a little calmer.

First Aid and I set to it, with some pointers from Hauler as we worked. Snarl helped here and there. I got the distinct feeling he was annoyed with having to do more medic work, but he didn’t say anything – I don’t think he wanted to jeopardise his trip back to Cybertron.

It took us about two and half hours to get rid of the light pink, which was mostly replaced by a palish light green. The chrome changed back to silver at Hauler’s insistence. He wasn’t quite so keen on adopting large amounts of purple, Hauler wanted to dissociate himself from his former colleagues the Constructicons. We gave his windows a purple tinge but most of his exoskin ended up green.

While Hauler was glancing at the video monitor from time to time, it wasn’t until we’d finished that he could freely view his revised colours.

“That’s much better. Thanks guys,” he said as he took his first good look at the monitor.

“Reminds me of the Hauler of old, dude. Less purple than before but it definitely suits,” I said.

“And you’ve still got all the physical upgrades,” First Aid added. “You’re built for the open road.”

“Road Hauler,” said Snarl. The tone of his voice showed the Dinobot’s pride in his work. It’s not often Snarl gets to create anything, and he seemed happy Hauler finally liked his work. He was almost smiling.

“Yes, yes I am,” Hauler replied.

He transformed into crane mode – still on the operating table, and then back to robot mode, “In fact, that’s a good name for this new truck mode you guys have given me.”

Snarl’s almost-smile turned into a wide grin.

“Well then Roadhauler, shall we introduce you to the other Autobots in A-bot city?” I asked.

“Let’s do that,” Roadhauler said as he climbed off the table. “Is my brother here?”

“He on Cybertron. I take Roadhauler to Cybertron to find Grapple,” Snarl said as he started to follow my lead out of the repair bay.

“I’d like that,” Roadhauler said as he followed First Aid towards the door.

****

I hate ambushes. That might sound like an obvious statement, but for someone who spends a lot of time on covert missions, there’s nothing more annoying than an ambush. Being taken by surprise is only half the problem for me, since the ambush usually means my operation has been exposed. I’ve been told that I’m not only Deep Cover by name, but also by nature, and I’ll admit I don’t disagree with the statement.

Halfway back to Iacon from the badlands, our skimmer was attacked by a group of five Decepticons. Disguised as a waste removal vehicle, the skimmer was unarmed and vulnerable to attack. We’d spent a month quietly gathering intelligence on Decepticon refuelling missions and were on our way home with our finds when things got heavy.

The mission itself had gone quite well, considering. I’d spent almost a month in this tin can, splicing recordings, backing up data, enhancing audio and monitoring feeds. My partner for the mission was Tigertrack, a yellow and white Autobot, and I’ll admit we didn’t get on so well. Tigertrack is a straight shooter who’ll speak his mind, yet is a difficult bot to get to know. Like me, he’s accustomed to working alone. While I don’t mind working with a partner, Tigertrack made no secret of his displeasure at being paired with me.

While I was stuck in the skimmer, Tigertrack had been laying sensors, tailing Decepticons and the like. I would have liked his role, but he was far more capable of defending himself if caught – especially if he was outnumbered.

His ability to do just that was about to be tested by the five Decepticons that had ambushed our skimmer. Treadshot seemed to be leading the assault, along with Banzai-Tron, Krok, Axer and another Decepticon who I didn’t recognise – a green tank whom later learned was called Charger.

“Come out and meet your maker, Autobots!” yelled Axer, who was standing on top of a husk of a building on our left. Charger’s tank mode sat next to Axer, while Krok and Banzai-Tron stood on a ledge to our right. It was a classic ambush, we had Decepticons on both sides, while Treadshot had appeared on the road in front of us, blocking out path along this narrow section of road.

While we’d travelled quite a distance we were still in uninhabited territory, surrounded by decaying abandoned buildings and pockmarked roads. The landscape was grey and lifeless – even by modern Cybertronian standards, and we both knew there was no one around to help us.

Treadshot withdrew his musket and began firing demagnetiser shells at our skimmer’s window. While the silicate window wasn’t going to demagnetise, the impacts were putting giant cracks in it – it was only a matter of time before it shattered.

“Pain in the heatsink no good ‘Cons,” grumbled Tigertrack as he got out of his seat. “I’ll sort ‘em out. Back up the data, transmit whatever you can to Iacon. I’ll be back.”

Tigertrack’s order was very matter-of-fact and gruff, and belied the fact that I was theoretically in charge of the mission. For the most part, his decision making was sound – like me he’s effective when working alone. So in spite of rank I went along with his instructions.

“If you need help, don’t be afraid to comlink me,” I replied, fully aware that he’d only use me as a last resort. I began transmitting data to Hubcap’s communications centre in Iacon – along with an SOS.

Tigertrack closed the side door behind himself and began firing on Treadshot right away. Treadshot simply laughed and fired a slew of shells at Tigertrack, who found himself unable to control his right arm after a direct hit – the demagnetiser shell acted almost instantly. He dropped his gun, transformed and rolled straight into Treadshot, knocking him over. Tigertrack kept driving, and disappeared into the darkness behind Treadshot.

I was alone inside a defenceless surveillance skimmer, surrounded by five Decepticons. And I knew I was no match for Treadshot in a gunfight or Banzai-Tron in close combat.

Time to face the music, Deep Cover.

I stepped out of the shuttle, which was by now under heavy fire from Charger and Axer. Krok was circling above us in shuttle mode - looking for Tigertrack no doubt. While my erstwhile partner was nowhere to be seen, Banzai-Tron was standing just outside the shuttle hatch, wielding Treadshot in gun mode.

Banzai-Tron isn’t the type of Decepticon you can strike a bargain with – he’d prefer to sell your parts off once he’s done with you. So I was somewhat confused by his restraint when he didn’t instantly fire.

“You want to simply tell us what you were transmitting, or should I beat it out of you?” Banzai-Tron asked, with Treadshot trained on me.

“S.O.S.” I replied. It was partly true.

“S.O.S.?” asked Treadshot, from his position in Banzai-Tron’s right hand.

“Yeah, Save Our Sparks. Don’t you ‘cons come to each others’ aid?” I taunted. I had nothing to bargain with, so I decided I might as well try and delay them as long as I could. Of course I was assuming that Hubcap was actually paying attention to the receiver in his communications centre – which was far from certain. Hubcap’s not the most trustworthy Autobot, but I’d rather take my chances with him than simply give up here. Of course, the odds of Hubcap _being_ at his post in the communications centre weren’t great.

“We save the sparks worth saving,” replied Banzai-Tron coldly.

We were interrupted by a boom in the sky above – Krok had taken a hit. He came back down to Cybertron with a splutter from his jets, transformed and landed next to Charger. As he landed, Krok’s left knee gave way, and he stood there uneasily, trying his best to give off the impression that everything was fine.

My stalling was only partly effective. I was still in one piece - which was a plus - however while Banzai-Tron and I were bantering, Charger had switched on his flamethrower. Our surveillance skimmer was being reduced to a half molten pile of slag – I was glad I’d transmitted our recordings to Iacon. Nothing useful would come from the skimmer now, that was certain.

Axer looked down at Krok from his perch and chuckled, “Did you hit a bird or something?”

Krok shot a look at his companion. “No, something shot me,” he said, grumpily.

“Wasn’t me, honest!” Axer raised his hands to proclaim his innocence.

“Do you two mind? I’m trying to interrogate this Autobot. Your static doesn’t help,” said Banzai-Tron.

“Actually I’d like to hear this,” I teased, with a grin on my face.

“Shut up!” Banzai-Tron yelled as he fired at my feet, his blast glancing off my foot harmlessly.

Out of seemingly nowhere, Tigertrack rushed Banzai-Tron, wrested Treadshot from his grasp and fired a volley of shots at Charger – one lodged itself in a barrel of his gatling gun. Charger’s response was to fire the gatling gun, which backfired and blew a hole in his green turret, leaving the gatling gun a mess and his flamethrower badly bent.

Charger transformed gingerly, the misshapen turret now formed his waist, which I figured was also out of shape – although having never encountered him before I wasn’t certain just how bad the damage was.

Axer transformed into his motorcycle mode, Charger mounted the bike and they jumped off the building, Axer transforming in mid air. The two airborne Decepticons landed on either side of Tigertrack, who was grappling with Treadshot – now in robot mode. Treadshot and Axer restrained Tigertrack with ease.

Banzai-Tron had kept his handgun on me all the while, leaving Treadshot to deal with abduction himself. While Banzai-Tron was distracted, I wasn’t silly enough to try overpower him. I’d last about a minute against a martial arts expert, and didn’t really fancy getting too close to the ‘con. Instead I stayed quiet, trying to figure out possible escape routes. Even with Krok and Charger hurt, we were still outgunned and outnumbered.

It didn’t take long for the Decepticons to bring Tigertrack under control, allowing Treadshot to free himself from the melee. “What are you doing? Get out of here, Deep Cover!” Tigertrack yelled as he struggled in vain against the grip of Axer and Krok.

“What and leave you here? Where’s the Autobot in that?” I asked.

“Better one of us gets back than none,” Tigertrack replied.

“Shut up, both of you,” said Banzai-Tron, who was paying attention to me again. “You’re both prisoners.”

“Slag that, let’s waste ‘em. I owe the yellow one,” said Charger, who was heading towards me and not the subject of his speech.

“Galvatron will want to know what they were up to, Charger. We’ll have to beat it out of them when we get back. De-activated Autobots don’t talk,” Treadshot said flatly.

Charger and Treadshot grabbed me. I didn’t bother putting up a struggle, since I was still outnumbered three to one.

“Banzai-Tron, ‘talk’ to our foolish yellow prisoner a little. Make him see the error of his ways. Keep him online though,” Treadshot commanded.

“Gladly,” said Banzai-Tron as he lowered his gun. He then walked over to Tigertrack and began kicking him.

I should point out that a kick from Banzai-Tron hurts a lot more than a kick from most other Decepticons. He doesn’t just kick you, he strikes fracture points with uncanny accuracy. It’s part of his whole martial arts thing, and it hurts like The Pit.

Tigertrack yelled out in pain as Banzai-Tron kicked him. The Decepticon paused between strikes to let the pain of each kick register. One… two… three… I counted eight kicks in total. All the while, Tigertrack was unable to move, restrained by Krok and Axer.

By the end of it, Tigertrack was being held up rather than restrained. His face wore a pained expression and his optics were unfocused. Dazed but conscious, Tigertrack had given up struggling after three strikes.

Banzai-Tron turned his attention to me again. Slowly and deliberately he walked towards me, no doubt to prolong the expectation and to instil fear in me. It worked too – by the time he was within range I was absolutely terrified. I could feel my internal struts shaking, although I managed to maintain an outward calmness.

“Any last words, Autobot?” Banzai-Tron said. I knew he was mocking me, but I felt the need to reply, to somehow get my own back for the pain he was about to inflict.

“You know, one of the great things about my job is that I discover all sorts of things about Transformers. Including stuff that individuals tend to keep hidden from their colleagues. For example, Banzai-Tron is a big fan of the character Hello Kitty. Did you know that, Treadshot?”

The other Decepticons chuckled, and even Tigertrack managed a weak cough.

“Actually, I did know that… it’s been useful blackmail material for me,” Treadshot said, grinning.

“Scrap you, Autobot!” Banzai-Tron yelled, as the other Decepticons laughed, this time out loud.

BANG. I didn’t see the strike coming, but I sure felt it. Unbelievable, intense pain throughout my right leg. I could feel the pain through my entire leg, I had no idea where the point of impact was, all I was aware of was the sensory overload.

Just as the situation got heavy, The Pit broke loose. Banzai-Tron was knocked off balance as he swung his leg back for his second strike, and ended up face down on the road. Charger took four shots to his torso and was thrown to the ground, letting go of me as he fell.

Treadshot let go of me and turned around, facing the direction from which our skimmer had come. Without looking that way myself, I grabbed Treadshot and held him still, his front exposed to whoever was firing.

“I’ve got him pinned. Fire!” I yelled. The shooter obliged, landing two hits before Treadshot transformed into gun mode, downsizing and landing on the ground. I grabbed the somewhat damaged gun and fired straight at Krok’s damaged knee. Two shots and he fell to the ground. Treadshot transformed and jumped out of my hands.

“Slag this, we’re outnumbered, Axer. Retreat!”

Axer picked up the fully conscious Krok, who was lying next to him on the ground. Treadshot, Axer and Krok flew away leaving the badly damaged Charger and damaged but conscious Banzai-Tron behind. Banzai-Tron swore at his colleagues before transforming into scorpion mode and limping away. In the meantime, Tigertrack had wandered away, although only fifty metres or so, while Charger lay deactivated in a heap on the road.

By this stage the shooter had revealed himself. Walking towards me was a green Autobot who looked vaguely familiar. His square torso suggested he transformed into an Earthen crane. He bore a strong resemblance to Grapple, without the rounded chest of the architect. It would seem Treadshot was outnumbered by a posse of one.

“Phew, thanks for that. We were in a heavy spot there for a while,” I said with a smile on my face as the newcomer came into earshot. Now that he was close enough for me to see his face, I recognised his blue optics and realised that I _had_ seen him, although never met him. I seemed to remember him as yellow, not green, but I was certain of his identity. “It’s great to see you, Hauler.” Hauler had extended a hand to mine, but I was so glad to see him that I threw my arms around his shoulders.

“Uh thanks,” said a confused Hauler. “The name’s Roadhauler now – it came with the paint job. And you are?”

“Oh… yeah… sorry,” I said, scratching my cranial case. “Name’s Deep Cover. I’m Clampdown’s brother. He was trying to track you down… trying to find out what had happened to you after 2005… just before…” my voiced trailed off as it usually did when I tried to broach the subject of my brother’s death.

“Before what?” Roadhauler asked.

“Before stasis lock,” said Tigertrack, who had evidently wandered to the spot where Roadhauler and I were.

“Oh. I seem to be hearing that term a lot lately.”, said Roadhauler glumly. “2005 was obviously a bigger battle than what I saw – mind you I ended up out off action pretty quickly, from what I understand.” Roadhauler looked at my unsteady yellow partner, who was rocking from side to side as he stood, “And who might this be?”

“This is Tigertrack,” I replied. “He’s a little worse for wear at the moment, thanks to Banzai-Tron – the Decepticon you saved me from. Thanks again for that.”

“Don’t mention it Deep Cover,” Roadhauler said flatly.

“I don’t mean to break up the reunion guys, but we’re sitting drones out here and I’m in no shape to fight. I don’t think you’ll fare too well either with that gash in your knee, Deep Cover,” Tigertrack said, pointing to what was no doubt the wound from Banzai-Tron’s strike. “We better head back to Iacon.”

Roadhauler shook his head, “Not me. I’m not here to fight a war. I’ve come back to Cybertron to find my brother…”

“Grapple?” I interrupted.

“Yes… you know a lot about me for someone who I’ve never met before,” Roadhauler replied.

“Well, Clampdown told me quite a lot before he died. I got the impression you were good friends.”

“We were. Until we signed up, and then we more or less lost touch,” explained Roadhauler. “What happened?”

“He was behind enemy lines, on a covert sabotage mission, when his accomplice Rollout picked a needless fight and blew their cover. Rollout got away…” my voice again trailed off, despite my best efforts to finish the sentence.

“I’m sorry to hear it. It’s a great loss for the Autobot cause,” said Roadhauler. I could hear the sadness in his voice.

After a few seconds of awkward silence, Hauler continued. “Anyway, I’m gonna continue searching these parts for Grapple. Apparently he’s around here somewhere.”

“The sonic canyons actually,” I replied. “I believe he’s part of a crew building a medical outpost there.”

“Oh… ok, thanks. I’ll head that way. You better get your pal back to Iacon,” Hauler said as Tigertrack started to sway. Roadhauler was right - my partner was dangerously close to keeling over sideways.

“Yes I think you’re right. It was great to finally meet you, Clampdown would have been happy to see you,” I transformed into my Lamborghini mode. “Climb on, Tigertrack.” He did so, with Roadhauler’s help, holding on as tight as his shattered mechanics would allow him. Roadhauler then transformed into his crane mode and we drove off in opposite directions.

****

Will he still be angry with me?

It’s the same question, running over and over through my core consciousness.

Twenty years have passed, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. The look of disappointment on Grapple’s face still haunts me.

Not that I blame him. How could I? I was the one who deserted the Autobots. I felt guilty then and I still feel guilty now.

If anything, time has only added to the guilt, allowed me to replay that moment over and over in my processor, rather than allowing it to fade.

No. Despite my misgivings, I want to re-unite with Grapple, to be close to him again and share experiences with him. I just hope this guilty feeling finally disappears.

Will he even recognise me? The yellow Autobot known as Hauler is now the green Autobot called Roadhauler. Of course, I’m still the same bot, but will it seem the same to Grapple?

But then Deep Cover was able to recognise me having never met me. Maybe Grapple will too. I just hope he can forgive me.

So here I am, on my way to Cybertron’s sonic canyons, hoping to find my brother. I’m so nervous. I’m nearly at the Sonic Canyons, it can’t be long now. I’ve rejoined the team now, of course, so maybe that will count for something. I hope so.

****

“ARE YOU PART OF THE CONSTRUCTION CREW?!”

Lost in my thoughts, I didn’t even notice the blue and grey Autobot even though I was heading straight for him. I stopped about fifty metres short and transformed into robot mode.

“Uh… no. I’m trying to find a medical outpost. It’s under construction somewhere in the sonic canyons,” I replied.

“RIGHT. WELL, YOU’RE IN THE SONIC CANYONS. I’M SIREN, I’M ON GUARD DUTY RIGHT NOW, KEEPING AN EYE OUT FOR UNSAVOURY TYPES. WHAT ARE YOU HERE FOR?”

My audio receptors were starting to overload. It seemed that Siren had only one volume setting.

“I’m looking for my brother, Grapple,” I replied quietly.

“OH WELL YEAH YOU’RE IN THE RIGHT PLACE ALRIGHT. HE’S PART OF THE CREW, HEAD ABOUT 25 MILES WEST OF HERE. YOU CAN’T MISS IT, IT’S THE ONLY BUILDING AROUND FOR MILES THAT’S FLOODLIT!”

Siren raised his voice at the end for emphasis, not that it made any difference at his volume. I was starting to really dislike him.

“Thanks, Siren. You’ve been a great help.”

“NOT A PROBLEM!” Siren said, beaming.

At least he’s friendly, I thought to myself. Between Siren’s bellowing and the strange wind like ambient noise of the sonic canyons, my audio receptors were struggling. I could barely hear myself anymore.

I transformed back to crane mode and headed west. Sure enough, after about eighteen miles I could see the glow bouncing back off Cybertron’s thin atmosphere.

The aerial glow made me realise how absurd it was that Siren was posted at the entry to the maze of canyons when the thing was so obvious from the air anyway. I had a suspicion his posting had more to do with peace and quiet at the construction site that any strategic planning. The background noise was bad enough, Siren’s booming voice would make concentration pretty difficult. It wouldn’t surprise me if Siren’s voice was audible 25 miles away, but at least at that distance it’d be bearable.

It didn’t take me long to centre in on the glow, despite the maze of canyons. It helped that very few of the canyons were dead-ends, and the light made orientation easy since my point of reference was impossible to lose.

I turned left around a corner and was confronted by the small medical outpost. It looked close to completion and was underwhelmingly small compared to the light emitted by half a dozen large floodlights around the edges of the small clearing in which it was situated.

I could see a few Autobots milling around, working on the small dome shaped building. As I got closer I recognised Omega Supreme, Skids, Sludge and Swerve. I drove up to the closest Autobot, the theoretician Skids, and transformed.

“Skids,” I said extending my hand, “Is Grapple around?”

Skids looked at me uneasily as he extended his hand and shook mine, “He’s inside, working out some last minute internal layout issues with Pipes. And you are?”

“Hauler. Well, Roadhauler now.”

Skids looked at me blankly for a few seconds, until he remembered who I was. The moment of recognition was apparent from his facial expression.

“Oh, Hauler… good to see you! Yeah, go right in!”

“Thanks Skids. It’s good to see you too,” I said smiling.

I walked timidly once I had entered the doorway on the side of the dome. I was almost tip-toeing. I could feel my hands starting to quiver. Despite my best efforts I was nervous as The Pit. I kept telling myself to relax, but it wasn’t having any effect that I could see.

Get a grip, Roadhauler.

The hallways were lit here and there. Most of the fittings were in place but since only some were working there were temporary lamps along the walls now and then. The internal fittings were obviously very much a work in progress. Some doors were standing next to doorways and there were security cameras and microphones littering the halls and even an entire external siren on the floor in one spot.

Three doorways later and I was in the central ward of the building. Grapple and Pipes were pouring over a blueprint on an operating table in the centre of the room, one of the few such tables that had actually been installed – most lay semi-assembled around the room. Their heads moved in unison as they looked up at me. There was an awkward silence which felt like hours, although I’m pretty sure it was only a few seconds.

“Hi… can we help you?” Pipes asked, breaking the silence.

“Yeah… um… I’m actually here to visit Grapple,” I replied nervously.

Pipes looked around at Grapple, who seemed to be staring blankly.

“I don’t… I… Hauler?”

“It’s great to finally see you again, Grapple”, I said. I was smiling now and feeling a lot more relaxed.

“You look… different. Another upgrade?”

“Yeah, well after my exoskin was damaged in the Battle of Autobot City, I got an upgrade,” I said as I walked over to the operating table. I placed my hand on Grapple’s forearm. “I even got upgraded from Hauler to Roadhauler.”

Grapple smiled. “Hauler, Roadhauler… Road… still my brother. I’d already figured your spark had moved on. I’m thrilled it hasn’t!” Grapple warmly threw his arms around me.

“So you’re not still angry at me for leaving?” I asked, relieved.

Grapple laughed, “Angry? Why would I be angry? I wanted to go with you, Hauler! No, I was never angry. Only sad. So… are you back?”

“I’m back.”

****

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