Consular - part four of the tale...

Pt 1 - Introduction
Pt 2 - Officialdom
Pt 3 - Intrigues
Pt 4 - Intrigues 2
Pt 5 - Affaires
Pt 6 - Disquiet
Pt 7 - Beginnings
Pt 8 - Intrigues 3
Pt 9 - Revelations
Pt 10 - Afterwards

Part 1 - Introduction

"Poppy, are you distracted?"
     "Mm?" Poppy gazed up at 'Beat - her tutor at the moment - and sighed, her half-grin a touch embarrassed.
     "Sorry... It's just - we move in tomorrow and I can't wait to see what they've done..."

It was almost the end of March, and the building of the house - the consulate, she reminded herself - was finally complete. It was amazing how quickly work could be moved along when spurred by urgency, diplomacy and, of course, plenty of cash. Poppy had been closely involved in the early stages of the build, but half-way through January Vault and Sinewave had somehow sort of taken over, and Poppy found herself more or less excluded. She'd been worried about that at first - Ramp had shown her images of Cybertronian buildings, and while she couldn't disagree that they were impressive and beautiful, they certainly were not geared to humans - but 'Beat, and, strangely, Stronghold, had reassured her. Her frame-type, organic nature and the needs they had come to understand from living with her were being properly catered for. They were both of the opinion that she would love her new home.
     Poppy was waiting to see what it was like before volunteering any sort of opinion.
     In the meantime she'd formally accepted her new post and given up her job with her old company, and was learning both Cybertronian history and, because 'Beat insisted she would need to be able to compare and contrast the two cultures to be truly effective in her new role, much more about her own world's past. At first she felt like she was back at school, which was mortifying, but 'Beat (who was proving more and more sensitive to his human's moods and feelings) had changed the format of the 'lessons' so that they took on the nature of debate and discussion instead, and made a point of taking Poppy out to important historical sites, museums and universities where they could explore the details. That these educational excursions also allowed other humans to grow accustomed to seeing a smaller, weaponless transformer acting cooperatively with a human, showing interest and courtesy and interacting with other humans, certainly did no harm to their plans. That Cable, instead of remaining in his mobile phone form and staying hidden, had opted to switch to his root form and sat on Poppy's shoulder like a big-eyed metal bird, also helped. Even Poppy had to admit he looked cute.
     After only a week Poppy found that wherever they went, there also were the press, both local and national, and they regularly made the evening news. She'd been thoroughly embarrassed at first, but to her relief the reporters were restrained (she thought 'Beat might have had something to do with that: memories of what the warrior transformers were capable of were still in the forefront of the general consciousness, and even though 'Beat acted small and harmless, he was still a large, essentially invulnerable, sentient metal being...) She talked to Phil, and to Graham, who suggested she just be herself with the press, and she found that seemed to work.
     So far no-one had actually requested a proper interview, though she'd been warned that would come. The reporters snapped photographs and politely asked what they were currently researching, and how Poppy felt about working with aliens, and how 'Beat and Cable felt about working with humans, and how much contact they had with the (implied: big, scary) other transformers, and what their plans were. All things both could talk about, Poppy with great enthusiasm and 'Beat with scholarly gravity. Cable tended to sit quietly and act shy, which went down very well with the children. And their mothers.
     It didn't take long before they were the darlings of the national popular press. (And the populace as a whole. The first time Poppy found fanfic depicting her and 'Beat as a couple had her flushing bright red, closing the site down immediately and resolving never to go there again... Ramp had chuckled. Poppy had managed to ignore him.) Everywhere they went a small crowd gathered, to say hello and ask for photographs, and in the case of the children to ask for rides, which 'Beat reluctantly had to refuse. It was all terribly good-natured, and reassured everyone that the aliens here in Britain, at least, seemed very nice. Oh, of course there was the odd conspiracy theorist, insisting that the 'charm offensive' was just a way to make it easier for them to take over in the future, but in the main the natives were happy to have their own alien celebrities.
     The museums were happy, too, to have so many extra visitors...
     'Beat had wanted to take Poppy to other historically significant places around the world, but there Graham had had to draw the line.
     "We can protect you here. In other countries, the situation is not as stable. Maybe in the future, but not right now."
     "And it's not like we don't have more than enough here," Poppy added. "It's a very ancient country. Loads of history."
     'Beat nodded sombrely. "I understand. I know. It's a pity, though. There are a number of places I would like to see, myself."
     Graham patted his arm.
     "Give it time. We need to get the consulate established first."

And now it was nearly time to move and Poppy just couldn't concentrate. 'Beat gave up on the session and suggested they go for a drive instead. Poppy considered the idea for a moment, then decided it was probably a good idea...
     They ended up at the coast, not the most comfortable place for 'Beat, but the promise of a thorough wash and oiling later tempted the MGC onto the beach, despite the sand blowing on the chilly gusts of sea-breeze. Poppy, knitted hat, scarf and gloves on under her duffel coat, nevertheless kicked off her shoes and socks, rolled up her jeans, and jumped in and out of the wavelets rolling onto the shore, laughing happily. 'Beat watched her warily for a few minutes before filing away the strange, not to mention inappropriate for the time of year, behaviour as yet another human-general and Poppy-specific eccentricity. He plodded cautiously along the beach, keeping pace with his human, sensors on high alert, but the place was deserted. Unsurprisingly in his opinion, as this was not the sort of weather he'd come to associate with 'having fun at the beach'.
     But Poppy was enjoying herself, so that was all right.
     After a couple of hours, however, even she had had enough, and turned towards the coast road that ran along the shoreline. Lifting her up over the retaining wall, 'Beat hauled himself over and stood for a moment, armoured plating partially opened in an attempt to let the wind dislodge some of the sand that had built up everywhere. It didn't work, and he growled to himself at the prospect of a long drive back with sand and grit clogging all his joints.
     Eh well. He'd had worse, and there was Poppy's promise of a wash and oiling...

Poppy woke ridiculously early the following day - which meant that Phil woke early too, at the knocking on his door. He rubbed his eyes and grinned at the woman hovering outside his room, all bright-eyed and bouncing on the balls of her feet.
     "You're eager."
     "Can you blame me?"
     "No. But I can't cope with all this enthusiasm before coffee..."
     She waved a hand, turned and headed down the hall, casting back over her shoulder, "I'll get it. How soon can we go?"
     "Nine o'clock."
     She came to a halt and stared back at him in dismay.
     "We have to wait 'til then?"
     "You're getting an official escort, and Graham won't be on base 'til then."
     "No chance of sneaking away, I suppose?"
     "Nope." He chuckled at her grumpy expression. "You were getting coffee?"
     He'd dressed by the time she arrived back with two brimming mugs. One thing they all had to admit, the base coffee was excellent. He took a long swallow and smiled.
     "That's better." He seated himself on one armchair and gestured for Poppy to sit in the other. "We're keeping it all fairly low-key, though the local press will be there. Helps to make it official, and lets the natives know what's happening, if they haven't already heard the rumours. We're obviously not going for secrecy, but we also don't want to make too big a deal of it, attract too much of the wrong sort of attention. No, don't worry," he added, as Poppy paled. "You'll have me as a permanent guard, and a small squad of five others. They'll be inconspicuous." he hastened to reassure her. "And the house will have much better security than before."
     Poppy nodded. "It's horrible to think that you have to prepare for these things."
     Phil reached out and patted her hand. "You'll be fine. You have a couple of new battle-capable transformers on their way - well, they will be when they've finished induction at Diego Garcia - and until then Graham and Stronghold will be on site."
     "Oooh, more 'bots? Know who they are?"
     "Castle and Highdive. Alt forms are a Renault Kangoo van and a Robinson R22. A little two-seater helicopter," he added at her enquiring look.
     Poppy's eyes were huge. "OOH! I get a helicopter?"
     Phil laughed. "Yes. You get a helicopter. And you don't even need flying lessons to take it for a spin."
     "... wow..." She hugged herself. "I think I'm going to enjoy this!"

Nine a.m. eventually came and Poppy climbed into 'Beat with Phil, Cable and Livewire: the others had already been installed in the new house. With Graham in Stronghold leading the way and five squaddies in an army van following, they set off from the base at five minutes past nine.
     There was a new, higher wall, and large new, currently locked, gates at the entrance to the property - along with a sizable crowd of press and a few people Poppy recognised from the town, including the Mayor and the head butcher from Abbotson's Farm and Game. 'Beat drew to a halt and Poppy, grateful that she'd been briefed on what to say, slid out, to be greeted by a round of applause. She gazed briefly up at the high arch over the gates and grinned - Iacon House, named for the Autobot capital city on Cybertron. Highly appropriate - then stepped forward to take the Mayor's hand...

After the introductory address and the welcoming speeches everyone had wanted to see the new building and grounds, but Graham had - politely but firmly - advised them all that they still had to run security sweeps and make sure everything was in order. However, if they would all bear with the new Consul and her team, everyone would be invited back at the beginning of next week, when the consulate would be fully open and they could see the sort of work that would be taking place. That satisfied most of the media heads present, and the others seemed pleased to be included in the invitation. Graham typed a code into the remote he carried, and the gates swung serenely open, closing behind the small convoy as the group outside broke up and hurried back to their respective places of employment to make their reports.
     Phil grinned at Poppy.
     "Want to close your eyes?"
     "No. I've been looking forward to this, I want to see how it looks on the approach."
     He chuckled.
     "I don't think you'll be disappointed..."
     The drive had been planted up with young trees and large evergreen shrubs, and Poppy couldn't make anything out through the vegetation. Then 'Beat rounded a corner and rolled to a halt, and Poppy stared, mouth agape.
     "... oh..."
     It was beautiful. She would have refused to believe that Cybertronian and British architecture could possibly integrate, but somehow Vault and Sinewave had managed it. Elegant, the lower level built with careless, uneven grace of soft warm golden stone, the airy upper storeys of brushed coppery metal and what appeared to be golden glass, it looked ancient and futuristic at the same time.
     "That's..." Lost for words, she hurried toward Vault and Sinewave, who were standing at the open main door, and hugged them both.
     "It's... so beautiful..."
     Vault offered a quaint little bow.
     "We think you'll like the inside too."
     She turned, to find Phil and Graham and the two transformers behind her. Phil ushered her forwards.
     "Go on then!"
     As she passed through the wide, high door, Poppy could swear she heard music...

© JAT 05/01/12

Part 2 - Officialdom

The first of April dawned temperate and pink, the sunrise a charming shade of pale flamingo. Poppy was up as the sun rose, dressed and in a padded gilet against the coolness of the dawn, and sitting on the new bench by the front pool with a mug of coffee. Today was the official visitors' day at the consulate.
     She gazed at her pool pensively, absently noting that the gardeners had done very little to this part of the grounds. The water was edged with mossy rocks still, and the cherry and holly trees faced each other across the length of the pool as they had when the old house was still standing, but now someone had planted little native water-lilies and water hawthorn in the shallows. It was going to be very pretty in the summer.
     "Are you all right?"
     Poppy smiled up and over her shoulder, having heard 'Beat's approach even over the wild, joyous cacophony of Spring birdsong. The MGC crouched down beside her, and she nodded.
     "I'm fine. I just... it's peaceful here. Perfect for the first coffee of the day, before things get hectic."
     'Beat's engine revved lightly in what she had learned was his version of a chuckle.
     "A nice ritual."
     She laughed.
     "You can always bring your morning energon out here and join me!"
     "I might just do that tomorrow..."
     There were a few minutes of contented silence while Poppy finished her coffee, then she rose to her feet.
     "Right. Better get in and get ready."
     "Are you worried?"
     She shook her head.
     "Not really. They're coming to see you lot - I'm just there as tour guide."
     "You underestimate yourself."
     She chuckled as they headed back to the house.
     "Oh, hardly. But it should be interesting anyway."

Graham and Stronghold were in attendance, having arrived the previous afternoon and spent the night. Poppy was pleased to see that Stronghold and 'Beat seemed to get on very well, spending a lot of time together when they weren't with their humans. She assumed it must be because they were both cars in Earth alt mode, but made a mental note to try to find out what Stronghold had been back home, when she had a chance. Graham greeted her with a smile.
     She grinned and nodded.
     "Pretty much. And if I'm not, you can bet 'Spin is!"
     "Ah yes, our resident major domo..."

Poppy hadn't been too surprised that 'Spin had somehow taken over the general running of the consulate, although it had startled the human staff somewhat initially. Though they'd settled down fairly quickly - 'Spin, after all, was obviously devoted to Poppy, polite and courteous to the other humans, and, when it came down to it, a damned good organiser.
     The situation in the kitchen hadn't been so amiable, unfortunately. The kitchen was expansive, anticipating having to cater to a large number of humans eventually, and on occasion, like the opening events, even now just after opening. The staff - a cook and three assistants - had been recruited from a notable London agency used to handling posts of this nature. They weren't, however, used to handling transformers. Steamy had, understandably, assumed he would be in charge of the kitchen, continuing the role he'd taken on originally. The hired humans had other ideas...
     Two days after she'd moved in Poppy had been in the large, airy library-come-workspace-come-communications centre that took up more than half of the building, sitting between the purely human wing and the one dedicated to the transformers, when an agitated 'Spin had raced in, calling her name.
     "Poppy, pleathe come to the kitchen. We need you..."
     Excusing herself to Sinewave, who had been in the middle of explaining to her how the musical component of the consulate's structure operated, Poppy hastened down to the kitchen. Inside, to her horror, the cook was holding Steamy upside down, shaking him violently and cursing loudly.
     "What the HELL do you think you're DOING!" 'Spin eyed Poppy with a new level of respect - he hadn't expected the human to be able to produce that sort of volume just from an organic throat.
     The cook jerked in alarm - and dropped the transformer.
     Poppy dived forward, trying to catch him, but was far too slow. Steamy crunched to the ground and lay still for a couple of seconds before pulling himself to his paws and - in an oddly human gesture - shaking his head. Poppy picked him up, cradling his angular and oddly heavy form in her arms as she glared furiously at the cook then glanced down at the transformer.
     "Are you OK?"
     Steamy wriggled a little, checking all his limbs and systems, then gazed up at his human.
     "I'm fine. But..." he directed his gaze at the cook, who stood stonily silent, arms crossed over her chest. "Why?"
     "Yes." growled Poppy, glowering. "I'd like to know that too."
     "No-one tells me what to do in my kitchen."
     Poppy smiled mirthlessly.
     "It's not your kitchen. Get out. You're fired."
     The cook spluttered.
     "You can't do that! How can you.... that little mechanical freak..."
     Poppy pulled back her shoulders, scowling pugnaciously.
     "In case you haven't fully understood the situation, this is the Earth-Cybertronian Consulate for the UK. And you have just assaulted a Cybertronian Neutral resident."
     "But..." The cook still seemed to be unaware of the enormity of what she had done. Poppy ignored her objection.
     "We will not have xenophobes and bigots here. Be grateful I'm not bringing charges - and I'm only doing that because you are obviously not fully cognisant of the state of affairs. Now get your stuff and leave." She glared at the three assistants then looked down at Steamy. "Did any of them help or object?"
     Steamy blinked in thought. "Well, they didn't do either, but I think that was because they didn't know what to do. I don't think they're hostile. Just a bit... what's that term you use? Out of their depth?"
     Poppy sighed. "OK. Do you want to give them a second chance?"
     Ignoring the indignant, incoherent noises coming from the cook, Steamy nodded. Poppy glowered at the assistants.
     "Do you want to work here?"
     All three nodded silently.
     "Under Steamy?"
     Another chorus of nods, slightly less assured this time. Poppy carefully set the little transformer down on the main table then eyed them grimly.
     "Very well. We'll give it a go. Just remember, any problems and you are out of here immediately."
     A further round of nods, relieved this time, and Poppy turned to the cook, who was still fuming.
     "Why are you still here?"
     "You can't do this..."
     "Yes I can. Out. Unless you want to be held responsible for an interstellar incident."
     Angrily, the cook tore off her apron and stormed out of the kitchen.
     "Well handled, love."
     Poppy jumped as Phil and Graham entered the kitchen, then turned to regard them.
     "I didn't know you were there."
     Phil smiled. "Well, we thought about coming in, but you were handling it so well we decided we'd leave you to it."
     Poppy stared, then laughed with relief.
     "Good to know you have confidence in me!"
     Graham nodded. "Yes, Poppy. But we also have your back if you need us."
     "That is also good to know." She turned to the assistants. "Steamy here has been in charge of the kitchen for over two years. He knows what we all like, and is actually an incredibly good cook. However, he's too small and doesn't have the right... hands to do a lot of the work. He will direct and oversee, and I expect you to follow his orders. Can you do that?"
     "Yes ma'am." replied the senior of the three. Poppy smiled.
     "Then we should get along famously. Understand, though, that someone will alert me right away if there are any problems."
     At their nods she turned back to the small transformer.
     "Tell Cable if anyone gives you any stick. I'll be here as fast as I can."
     "Ta. But I'm sure everything will be fine, now."
     "In that case I'll leave you to it." Patting him gently, she nodded at the assistants and left the kitchen, Phil and Graham following. Phil glanced at his superior officer and grinned.
     "I think she'll do just fine..."

Everything had been peaceful in the kitchen since, and the food even better than before - probably because Steamy now had humans he could send on shopping trips for unusual ingredients. Poppy still kept an eye and ear out, via Ramp, who was now wired into the entire house via a detachable hub, and Cable, who was now an almost permanent fixture to her shoulder, at least while they were in the house or grounds.
     She had household staff too, which was just as well as Sucker had had to leave with his colleagues for the new energon facility in Africa, and as she'd freely admit she wasn't much cop with a vacuum cleaner. Not to mention that the place was too big for one person to keep it clean, or that things were now too hectic for her to have the time to try. TeeVee, Blue and Downbeat had also gone, seconded to the NEST R&D base several miles east of Rabbit Flat in Australia's Northern Territory. Poppy wasn't used to their absence yet, and kept asking her new TV to switch itself on...
     But getting used to the new building, the new job, and the new responsibilities had kept her too busy to really miss them, even if she hadn't been able to talk to any of them at a moment's notice.
     And now she had a whole load of important visitors coming for the official opening. Local and national press and TV, the Mayor and civil dignitaries, a couple of local MPs, a locally-born actor, and a handful of hangers-on. And the head butcher of Abbotson's Food and Game, of course. It should all be very polite and congenial, showing them around the consulate and the grounds, introducing them to the transformers and answering questions, but she had Graham and Phil just in case anything less pleasant should happen.

Ten am, and Graham and Stronghold opened the gates for the waiting visitors, waving them on towards the house and trying not to laugh (on Graham's part, anyway) at the open mouths and wide eyes of the vehicles' occupants as they stared at the Defender. They'd obviously never seen a transformer in root form before...
     Poppy stood at the door of the house with 'Beat and 'Spin, smiling and shaking hands with everyone as they piled out of cars and vans and trying not to blink in the barrage of camera flashes. After a few minutes of photographs and a variety of devices recording her welcoming speech, she gestured to the house.
     "I'm assuming you'd all like a tour?"
     A chorus of affirmatives answered her, with one of the TV reporters adding that they were all particularly interested in seeing the aliens' part of the consulate. Which was not at all surprising. Poppy nodded.
     "I have already cleared it with our resident transformers."
     Conversation stilled at the comment, then someone asked why. Poppy raised an eyebrow.
     "This is their home, of course! We're not barging in uninvited. I'm sure no-one here would appreciate strangers waltzing into their homes without permission."
     "Well, no," said the reporter - one from a local paper, Poppy thought. "But they're not human. I mean, they're basically machines, aren't they?"
     Poppy gazed at the woman for a long moment, expression neutral, then shook her head.
     "They are metal where we are organic tissue, but their bodies work pretty much the same as ours. They are intelligent. They have feelings, individuality, personality, wishes and needs, the same as we do. And their civilisation is ancient, millions of years ancient. They are people, as we are people. Please don't insult them by thinking they are anything else."
     It earned her a round of applause, which made her blush. 'Beat patted her very carefully on the shoulder, rumbling a "thank you" that had the audience chuckling a little nervously. Poppy smiled.
     "The circumstances that landed them here are tragic, but we should feel honoured to have them as friends and allies." She gestured to the door. "Please, come in."

Flanked by 'Beat and 'Spin, Poppy led the visitors from the spacious entrance hall to the transformers' wing, entering the vestibule and gesturing to the vents in the side walls.
     "These are fans. As you can see from 'Spin, many transformers have only minimal flexibility: they can't reach to dry themselves. I understand there wasn't much weather on Cybertron - nothing like we have here - and our friends feel pain, comfort and discomfort much as we do. The fans dry them when they come in from the rain, before they do anything else."
     "How do they wash, then?"
     Poppy grinned.
     "I'll show you."
     The whole of the side and the ceiling of the wing was made of the golden glass-like material, filling the entire space with subtle golden light. She led the visitors through the recreation room, a large area sparsely furnished with simple couches in a variety of sizes and with a massive screen against the side-wall, and then along a high, wide corridor with doors evenly spaced along the inner side. At the end was a row of three large rooms: 'Beat reached up to hit the switch that opened one of the doors and everyone peered in. It looked somewhat like a human wet room with a power shower, but much larger and with multiple jets in rows down the walls as well as overhead.
     "Everything can be programmed for personal preference, from the type of solvent to the solvent-water mix to the pressure to the temperature to the varying angle and speed of the jets. Standing in one of these a transformer can be showered clean of anything in a very short space of time. Then more fans dry them."
     "You said solvents...?"
     Poppy nodded. "They use solvents as cleansers. Very strong solvents, usually. Humans aren't allowed near here when the rooms are in use - too dangerous. Even the lightest solvents can cause blisters."
     One of the group was peering at the floor, where there were several drainage holes.
     "I hope they don't end up in our drains!"
     "No, of course not. They're collected, filtered and reused." She grinned. "You have no idea how strictly and thoroughly Cybertronians recycle everything!"
     "That's very good to know." The Mayor was nodding sagely. "So, they won't be a drain on our utilities then."
     "Absolutely not." Poppy turned and pointed to the transparent gold-coloured roof and wall of the corridor. "This stuff is basically millions of tiny solar panels. The power it generates makes us entirely self-sufficient - in fact, there's such a surplus we're negotiating with the authorities to provide power for some of the farms and businesses in the area."
     "That's amazing!"
     Poppy grinned. "We're hoping to make it available to the general public, in time."
     "Does it have to be gold-coloured?"
     "I understand it can be any colour you want. It's golden here because it reminds them of home."
     Smiling at the approving murmur she led them back along the corridor, stopping at one of the doors on the inner side.
     "These are individual transformer berths. They recharge here. It's the equivalent of our sleep," she added before anyone could ask. "They can go without resting for a very long time - weeks, if they have to - but eventually they have to rest. If nothing else, their processors - their brains - need to defrag, like our computers. Or like us dreaming." She slid open the door. Inside was a large, plain bed, wide and long and thickly padded, and a small desk with a large computer monitor. Golden light poured in from above through the same material as the outer wall and ceiling.
     "It's... a bit impersonal... "
     "This is a spare, no-one's using it at the moment. Most of them use the other rooms in the house when they aren't recharging, anyway."
     "It'th not like we collect many perthonal belongingth." 'Spin added. "Even if we'd had room to bring any with uth." He gestured to another door. "But thith ith my room, if you'd like to thee thomething a little more perthonal."
     Poppy was aware of a couple of the group chuckling at 'Spin's lisp, but it was affectionate rather than derisive, so she let it go.
     "Thank you, Sparkspinner. If you wouldn't mind..."
     He tapped his code into the pad and the door slid open.
     "Oh!" The national TV reporter was wide-eyed. "This is lovely!"
     It was the first time Poppy had seen 'Spin's room, and she had to agree. There were pictures on the walls - one of Victoria Falls side by side with a view of what had to be somewhere on Cybertron, another of Loch Ness beside an image of an unfamiliar night-sky. There were a couple of cushions on the berth, which was covered by a gold-coloured silky throw, and a large chunk of some kind of crystal sat below the monitor on the desk. Nothing ostentatious, but the room was serenely pretty. Poppy patted 'Spin's shoulder, murmuring "Thank you" quietly.
     The Mayor smiled at the transformer and bowed his head.
     "Thank you very much for allowing us to intrude on your privacy. Your room is delightful."
     "Oh, you're welcome. I plan to get a few more pictureth for the wallth thome time thoon. I'm hoping Thinewave might create thomething for me."
     The Mayor glanced enquiringly at Poppy, who nodded.
     "The artist Sinewave. We'll be meeting him in a bit." She clapped her hands for everyone's attention. "If we've seen enough here, we could make our way back to the main part of the house."
     "There's nothing more here? No deep dark secret rooms with all sorts of dangerous alien stuff in them?" The national press reporter grinned to show he wasn't - quite - as serious as he sounded. Poppy laughed.
     "'Fraid not. Sorry to disappoint you!"
     Everyone chuckled, and followed Poppy back to the main reception.

"Before we visit the most important part of the building, I'd like you to see the kitchen and meet our cook." Poppy twinkled at the group. "You can tell him if there's anything you can't eat or don't like, too, so he can get lunch organised."
     Muttering appreciatively, the group followed Poppy down a sloping corridor to the kitchen and through the door... and Poppy nearly joined the others in laughing. Steamy was sitting on the main table, three cookery books open in front of him - and a tiny chef's hat perched on his head!
     Trying hard not to giggle, Poppy gestured towards the little transformer.
     "This is Steamy. Don't let his size or species fool you - he is an absolutely brilliant cook."
     Steamy inclined his head, regarding the group with bright eyes, and waved a paw.
     "Hello! Nice to meet you all."
     "Oh, seriously now!" A local reporter frowned at Poppy. "You seriously trying to tell us that it cooks?"
     "Oh yes." answered one of the assistants before Poppy could get a word in. "He can't do everything - he's not built for it - but the meals he devises... food of the gods. And he helps where he can, with the smaller stuff." She grinned. "And he's great to work with!"
     Poppy stared, then chuckled as all three assistants grinned and nodded. So that had worked out well, then!
     While the group asked what was available and gave their requests for lunch, Poppy accepted the glass of water 'Spin handed her and took a moment to relax.
     "It theemth to be going well, tho far."
     She nodded.
     "Better than I expected." She rolled her eyes. "Though you can bet someone in this lot will get something wrong in their report. I'll have to ask Ramp to get copies of everything they say about us."
     'Spin sighed. "I thupothe tho."
     She grinned and stroked his arm. "But you were great! That was such a sweet thing to do."
     He shrugged. "It theemed like a good idea at the time..."

"No steps anywhere?" asked the local TV reporter as they ascended the shallow slope from the reception hall to the entrance to the library-workspace. Poppy shook her head.
     "Our transformers come in all shapes and sizes, from the very tiny to larger than 'Beat here. It's much easier to avoid the issue of steps altogether and just have ramps everywhere."
     "We do try!" Poppy pressed lightly on the doors, which slid open soundlessly. "Please, enter."
     The big room was quiet, though there was a low hum of activity coming from the main workstation in the centre. Vault and Sinewave, with Ramp sitting silently to one side, were deep in conversation over a holographic image floating above the surface. Poppy led the group over, gesturing them to keep their voices low.
     As everyone spread out at the station, Vault looked up and inclined his head.
     "Greetings, Consul and honoured guests. I am Vault, architect, and this is my colleague Sinewave, the artist."
     Sinewave smirked at them, waving a hand.
     "Please note, that's The Artist."
     Poppy chuckled. "They were both very famous on Cybertron, and are both very, very talented. We are so lucky to have them with us." She grinned at Sinewave. "Even if The Artist can be a bit of a pillock at times."
     "Pillock..." Sinewave pretended to think for a moment. "This is some kind of fish? Alas, I cannot swim." He eyed the Mayor and lowered his voice. "Too heavy, you see. I sink." He blinked, then added, "Perhaps a lobster would be more appropriate..."
     The Mayor burst out laughing, then tried to cover it with a cough. Poppy giggled and flapped a hand at the transformer.
     "Behave, please." She turned to the visitors, who were grinning broadly with delighted surprise. "These two are responsible for the design of the house."
     Vault nodded.
     "Integrating our own specifications into terrestrial materials and forms is proving to be fascinating. We hope to be able to employ similar designs in other projects." He gestured to the hologram. "This is the initial draft for a hospital. The aim is to produce a building that is as self-sustaining as possible. Your world has numerous sources of energy - solar, wind, geothermal, tidal - but at present you lack the technology to harness it fully or efficiently. There we can help."
     "But efficiency must be balanced by beauty," Sinewave added. "A solar-powered prison cell would be efficient, but who would want to live there?"
     All the cameras, and everyone's attention, were trained on the transformers, and Poppy stepped back to let them answer questions and explain the features of the hologram. The conversation flowed quite naturally onto their other works, which led to them showing the group images of Cybertron and the projects they had been involved with there, which in turn led to questions about their homeworld...
     "Is this wise?" she asked Ramp quietly as the pair began to talk about the Cybertron they had known.
     Ramp nodded. "They are in communication - Vault won't let Sinewave say anything he shouldn't. And this is a good way to introduce the subject of Cybertron and its culture to humans. Our pair are... approachable and friendly, which can do only good."
     An hour later and the conversation was still going strong, but Vault had caught Poppy's eye and tilted his head the tiniest bit, and Ramp quietly told her they wanted to end the session now but didn't want to be rude. She nodded and stepped forward.
     "Excuse my interrupting, but we really should let Vault and Sinewave get back to work now. And it's lunchtime - Steamy will have everything ready for us."
     The Mayor nodded, attention still on the transformers. "Oh, of course. I'm sorry we've taken up so much of your time - it's been fascinating and I hope we can learn more about your world."
     Sinewave nodded. "We'd be happy to. Might be fun to put together a documentary for the networks." He glanced at 'Beat. "We'd need your help with that."
     "Upbeat is a historian." Poppy told the puzzled-looking humans. "Also quite famous on Cybertron."
     'Beat had nodded slowly, then inclined his head. "We'd have to check with the Prime first, though."
     "Naturally. But I'm sure he would be agreeable."
     The TV reporters glanced at Poppy.
     "The Prime?"
     "Optimus Prime. The transformer leader."
     "Ah, yes... He's like their king?"
     "It's... a bit more complicated than that... But he takes the ultimate responsibility for the actions of his people on earth, so it's only sensible to make sure he doesn't object."
     "He's really that interested in what the little people do? I thought he was heading up the defence of the planet."
     "Well yes, but..." Poppy frowned, wondering how to explain. "The Prime cares for all his people, especially now there are so few of them left. They love him, and would never do anything to hurt him or make his job more difficult."
     The reporter glanced back at the transformers, who were gazing at him. They all nodded affirmation, and the reporter chuckled weakly.
     "He must be quite a guy."
     Poppy smiled. "Oh, he is. Are we ready for lunch?"

The visit started to wind down after Steamy's excellent lunch, and as a finale Poppy ushered everyone outside to take a peek at the grounds and meet Muncher and the new gardeners - three very carefully vetted civilians, Tom Potter and the brothers Richard and Harold Smith. At four thirty they assembled back at the house.
     "Well, Ms Moss," said the Mayor, "This has been a most marvellous day. You have our full support in what you are attempting here, and I'm very happy to extend our welcome to our alien visitors."
     The sentiments were echoed by everyone else in the group - and the national TV crew were already asking for a follow-up visit in a few months, to see what progress had been made - when the noise of a revving engine sounded from the drive. At the same time, the distinctive sound of a helicopter was heard above them. The Mayor looked a little concerned, but at a murmured word from 'Beat Poppy laughed delightedly.
     "Oh, I'm glad you were all here for this." She gestured upwards as the small helicopter descended, transforming to land gracefully on the front lawn, rotors settling elegantly behind his back as he saluted Poppy. At the same time a large blue van pulled up, also transforming and waving. "This is Castle and Highdive, who will be living here too."
     "... I don't suppose we could stay a bit longer, could we...?"
     But Graham and Stronghold had joined the group, the officer shaking his head.
     "I'm sorry. These two need to be debriefed before they can speak to anyone."
     "Ah. OK. Maybe next time?" The reporter smiled hopefully, and Poppy laughed.
     "I'm sure we can accommodate you on your next visit..."

"Phew!" Poppy flopped onto the sofa and covered her eyes with her arm. "That was a long, long day."
     Phil leaned down and smacked a kiss on her cheek. "And you handled it like a real professional! Well done, love."
     She grinned up at him as he handed her a mug of cider.
     "Thanks. How are Castle and Highdive?"
     "Fine. Looking forward to meeting you properly tomorrow. Graham's with them at the moment, making sure they know what they can and cannot do."
     "Good..." She yawned. "I think an early dinner is in order, then an early night. I'm knackered."
     "Good plan." He smirked evilly. "Lots to do tomorrow..."

© JAT 9/1/12

Part 3 - Intrigues

"AAAAARRGGHHH!!!" Poppy hung on for dear life as Highdive lived up to his name, performing manoeuvres that no earthly helicopter could do without breaking into pieces (or featuring in an action or s-f film). "STOP!"
     Had she not been wearing a seat belt she would have been flung through the cabin window as the transformer did just that, halting abruptly several hundred feet above the consulate.
     "What's wrong?"
     Too rattled to reply, Poppy gasped with relief when Cable chirped and beeped angrily at the 'chopper for a few seconds. Poppy felt the Robinson shift infinitesimally around her (she interpreted it as his shoulders dropping in mortification) and after a moment he said,
     "Sorry. I didn't realise you were so fragile. Just wanted you to see what I can do."
     "And he's been watching too many films of funfair rides too!" Cable piped up from her shoulder. Poppy took several deep breaths to calm herself then patted the chopper's fuselage.
     "You don't need to show off, Highdive. Phil told me what you can do, and I'm very grateful that you're so skilled, but when it's just me, could we go a little more steadily?"
     "Of course, Ms Moss."
     Oh great, now he sounded pissed off.
     "I'm not asking you to dawdle. Just... perhaps skip the acrobatics when I'm onboard. I love flying, and I'd really like to enjoy flying with you, but I can't do that if I'm scared or nauseous. And it's Poppy, not Ms Moss."
     There was a minute's silence underscored by the faint electronic thrum that meant he was in internal communication with another - probably Ramp, 'Beat or 'Spin, she thought - then Highdive sighed.
     "Sorry Poppy. I'll behave."
     "I'd appreciate it."

Highdive was very young, she was sure, and very eager. In root form he was tall and thin, twin rotors neatly folded together and hanging down his back: he was a little clumsy in the house, but oddly endearing and earnest. In the air he was a completely different being, cocksure, fast, manoeuvrable and aggressive - she was sure he'd have chosen a jet alt mode if he'd had more mass. It was a little scary. It would take a little while for things to settle down and for him to get used to humans, Poppy thought, but she was sure they'd get there in the end.
     Castle was quite different - taciturn and... not exactly unfriendly, but definitely not chummy. He was significantly older than the others at the house, had been a warrior for all of his existence, and Poppy was a little worried he'd find it horribly dull and boring, but to her relief he and 'Beat seemed to get on well. Though it was probably because 'Beat was interested in hearing and recording Castle's memories for his own research. Not that the van minded, apparently. He swapped war stories with Stronghold when Graham visited, as well - at least, Poppy assumed that's what they were doing. Where Stronghold was a sniper, Castle was more hands-on and immensely heavily armoured, which Graham had thought might come in useful in the event of another incursion. Though he was sure it wouldn't come to that, he hastily reassured Poppy. After all, the house itself was now pretty much bomb-proof...

This morning's flight was the first of what would become the standard early security overflight - more, Poppy thought, to give the chopper something useful to do than for any real concern - with Highdive's sensors fully operational. It was the first time Poppy had flown with him, and for all the scare of the first part of the flight, once he'd settled down she was really enjoying it. The house and grounds looked so serene from up here, the consulate glowing in the spring sunshine. Behind the house the gardeners were planning out the kitchen garden and greenhouse produce for the year: Steamy had asked if it were possible for them to grow some of their own vegetables and fruit, and the gardeners were happy to comply.
     On the rise at the far end of the grounds where they backed onto woodland the copse of trees was just coming into bud, and... there was movement there... Deer! Poppy grinned happily, then gasped at the distinctive chickchak of Highdive readying his guns...
     "Nononono! Local wildlife. Harmless." She flailed her hands helplessly. "You mustn't harm them, Highdive."
     She bit back a laugh as the chopper grumbled something in Cybertronian and reintegrated his armaments, then patted his throttle.
     "We'll have to find something for you for target practise. But for now, unless you know it's dangerous, it's probably best to check with me before shooting anything."
     "Very well." It was muttered grumpily, and Poppy decided she'd need to speak with Phil as soon as they got back.
     Which was only a few minutes later: Highdive landed on the front lawn, barely waiting for Poppy to climb out before transforming and stalking to the house. He moved rather like a bird, his legs digitigrade, his upper frame bobbing slightly as he walked. It was very cute, though she thought it might be better not to mention that in his hearing.

Phil was in the kitchen when she wandered in in search of coffee. He grinned and switched the kettle on.
     "How'd it go?"
     "Oh, well, apart from him scaring me half to death with his aerobatics, and wanting to shoot everything that moved, I suppose we could call it a success."
     Phil chuckled. "Ah. Yes, well, he may have spent a little bit too much time with Sideswipe when he first arrived. I'll have a word with him."
     "It would be good to organise some kind of target practise for him."
     "Good thinking." Phil frowned. "I'll check with Graham - it may be possible to... borrow some time and space on Salisbury Plain. Though what the regular army will make of him I hate to think."
     "I'd rather he didn't try to shoot up the grounds."
     "Me too. Leave it with me." He took his mug to the sink, asking back over his shoulder, "What do you have planned for the rest of the day?"
     "I've had a load of applications from all sorts of people wanting to come here to study with Vault and Sinewave."
     "That was quick!"
     Poppy shrugged. "That's what media exposure does for you. Anyway, I have to do a first go through, filter out any obvious idiots or fakes, then take the serious contenders to our lot to get their thoughts." She smiled. "It's actually quite fun. Though I suppose once I'm used to it that'll change."
     "We'll have to try to think up things to keep you interested!"
     She eyed him dryly. "Thanks, but I think I have quite enough here to keep me going."
     He laughed, patted her shoulder, and headed off to the transformer wing to have a word with Highdive.

It was a perfectly average British pub, the sort you could find in any town or city. A little run down, perhaps, a little old-fashioned, popular enough to be able to keep going but not so popular you couldn't find a seat on a Friday night. Three perfectly average people sat at a table at the back, away from the noise of the TV, and nursed three perfectly average drinks - two pints of insipid lager and a glass of generic red wine. This was their first time here - last week they'd met at a local café, the week before that at one of their homes.
     "It's a bit public, isn't it?" the first average person asked. The second shook his head.
     "Not really. Well, not for our purposes anyway. We're just three colleagues having an after work drink. Nothing at all suspicious. Hiding in plain sight - isn't that what the enemy does, after all?"
     "A nice irony." The third person wiped her glasses and took another sip of wine. "So. Where are we?"
     Second frowned. "Well, the fire was a failure - more than a failure, in fact, because now they've got a bloody fortress to hide in. And extra security, and two new robots. And no eyes inside anymore."
     "No joy turning any of the staff?"
     First shook his head. "Security's too tight to tackle them onsite. No joy offsite either. They're all well-paid and happy with their jobs - and they seem to love that blasted woman."
     "Hm." Third drummed her fingers lightly on the table. "Loyalty - that's a hard one to break. Rare too. So. What do we want to do next, and how are we to arrange it?"
     "Well..." First leaned forward very slightly. "It might be a bit of a long-shot, but what about the disgraced Lt's erstwhile fiancée? Junior doctors' pay is usually pretty poor, and she has no real contact with anyone inside. And the situation cost her her future husband."
     "Yes - he shot her! I doubt she'd have any sympathy towards the cause."
     "So we don't tell her the details."
     Third was shaking her head.
     "We aren't big or powerful enough to make that work, not yet. And the woman isn't stupid. But it's an interesting idea. I'll try to sound her out, see where her sympathies lie."
     "And in the meantime, our tame metallurgist has applied to spend time at the consulate, learning from that Sparkspinner creature."
     Second and third stared at first.
     "What good will that do?"
     "It gives us an in, assuming he gets accepted. And at this stage, anything is better than nothing."
     Third pulled a notepad and pen out of her bag. The group's decision to keep everything low-key and low-tech, at least to start with, had been unpopular but accepted. After all, the enemy was supremely technologically sophisticated, and would anticipate any hostile force to be the same. It wasn't expected that they'd have a clue about an enemy employing pen and paper and Royal Mail and sliderules.
     "Right then. Allocations and tasks for the coming week. I want us to consider if there's any way of replacing the solvents they use with some sort of powerful acid. From what I understand it won't kill them - well, not the big ones anyway - but it will certainly hurt..."

© JAT 15.01.12

Part 4 - Intrigues 2

"He really gets very... grumpy after he's landed and transformed." Poppy frowned at Phil. "It's not my fault he's not a jet. And I really don't see what the problem is. He can fly, after all."
     'Beat nodded before Phil could reply. "But only in his alternative mode."
     Poppy inclined her head. "So?"
     "The larger flyers - the Seekers, the ones who can handle a terrestrial jet mode - have thrusters they can employ even in root mode, so they don't have to transform to fly. On Cybertron, all flyers had them. Highdive feels... hard done by that he can only fly in alt mode here."
     Poppy drummed her fingers on the table. "So why doesn't he keep his original alt mode, like 'Spin and Sinewave? After all, people are getting used to you. You don't have to hide so much any more."
     'Beat glanced at Phil, who chuckled. "He's been ordered - by Ironhide and Sideswipe - to maintain his terrestrial alt mode. For the time being, anyway."
     "He would not be able to carry you in his Cybertronian form, and it has been impressed upon him that you take priority." 'Beat rumbled gently. "He'll learn."
     "You got bigger when you had upgrades. Couldn't he?"
     "He could, but it's not considered desirable at the moment."
     "Hm. OK." She pursed her lips. "And he prefers staying outside because he's claustrophobic?"
     "Yes." 'Beat raised both hands. "Flyers belong in the air. None of them much like being indoors."
     Poppy nodded thoughtfully. "It must be wonderful... Humans have dreamt of flying for... well, probably as long as we've been humans. Under our own power, I mean. Aircraft are all well and good, but imagine being able to take off and soar like a bird..." She sighed. "Eh well. It's a lovely dream."
     Phil handed her a mug of tea. "It's a pity, but there you go. We didn't need to fly, so we evolved as land-lubbers." He glanced at the stack of papers by her hand. "All sorted for the next month?"
     Poppy smiled.
     "Pretty much. We're starting small at this stage. We have two architects, a town planner, three public works maintenance professionals, and a metallurgist booked in for the next two weeks. We've also had interest from a couple of local artists - Sinewave is considering them. I'm not sure he particularly likes their current work, so it could go either way." She took a swallow of tea. "We have several groups of local schoolkids coming to visit too. Which reminds me, did you manage to persuade Highdive not to shoot anything?"
     He chuckled. "I think so. I had to play the 'all life is sacred' card though. And agree that if he finds anything Decepticon he can deal with it how he likes - as long as it doesn't cause major destruction. I think we'll cope."
     "That's a relief." Poppy frowned thoughtfully. "I assume he'll need more energon than the rest - how are we handling supplies?"
     "Personally. I'll take Castle and we'll deliver it ourselves." He grinned. "Only way to be sure!"
     "Excellent!" Poppy finished her tea and smiled at Steamy, who had been hovering for the last couple of minutes. "I think it's time for lunch, don't you?"

::How much should we tell her?::
     'Beat and 'Spin exchanged glances, then turned back to Ramp.
     ::As much as she needs to know at this point. This is supposed to be an institute of learning, primarily, not a military outpost. I know we can't keep everything from her, but there's no need to worry her unduly:: 'Beat eyed Ramp. ::I'm not going to suggest we censor the newsfeeds, don't worry::
     The transformer bristled. ::Good. Because I won't::
     'Beat 'smiled' mirthlessly. ::I know. So, where are we?::
     ::Operational bases on each continent, with several subsidiary units in America, Russia, Australia and Africa. Another energon production facility is being constructed in Arizona as backup to the Egyptian one. There are now consulates in Japan, India, Switzerland, Peru, and here of course. We're still spread thin, but the new arrivals are coping. The consulates are aiming to use ours as a template for their own operations, but finding appropriate human staff is proving... irksome::
     ::How so?::
     Ramp's 'voice' was dry. ::They aren't Poppy::
     'Beat revved amusedly. ::It's strange how often one small person - of any species - can make history::
     Ramp flickered agreement. ::For the moment I've set up a continuous feed of information, sound bytes, video clips, anything I think might help our colleagues cope without a Poppy. I've made myself available to them 24/7, as the humans say:: He 'smiled' ::It's rather nice to have something challenging to do again::
     ::As long as you remember your first priority:: 'Spin gazed at him solemnly, and Ramp flashed agreement.
     ::Of course:: He turned to 'Beat. ::If you have the capacity, a few studies on the history of the regions in which the consulates are to operate would be very useful, I think. I can databurst them with my hourly news updates::
     ::Certainly. I would be very happy to help. I'll be sure to include what I can glean of the inhabitants' temperaments, relationships with neighbours, and current concerns - it may help when dealing with the local humans::
     ::Thank you. Start tomorrow?::
     ::Later today, if that would help::
     ::Even better::
     ::Very well. Is there anything new we should be aware of?::
     ::It's been confirmed that Decepticons have been providing samples of our weaponry to the humans::
     There was a horrified pause as 'Beat and 'Spin stared at Ramp.
     ::How... who?::
     'Spin rumbled angrily.
     ::And a few of his compatriots. Prime is furious::
     ::That goes without saying. They're organising some sort of counter-measures?::
     ::Yes, but it's difficult. NEST is doing what they can but their forces are spread thinly too. And naturally the humans buying the weaponry aren't going to let their involvement be known::
     ::Is there anything we can do?::
     ::Not at present. We are too far out of the main arena. I must stress though that this information must remain between us for now. Castle can know, but none of the others:: Ramp paused for a nanosecond. ::Of course, should any of us become party to any information, we are duty bound to share it::
     ::Naturally:: 'Spin's field flared anxiously. ::How many 'Cons are here already?::
     ::Jolt won't give me numbers, but from what I've heard I have to deduce at least forty, and possibly many more. Including Soundwave::
     'Beat cursed in several different languages, only three of them human.
     ::Then keeping anything secret is going to be difficult::
     ::Indeed. Every time Wheeljack develops a way to shield our comms the 'Cons break it in a matter of hours. It's not just Soundwave - they must have another comms expert working with them::
     ::I doubt it. He gave up science when he developed a taste for killing::
     ::Stockholm Syndrome::
     Ramp and 'Beat both directed their attentions to 'Spin. He nodded.
     ::I've never been able to work out why he stays with Megatron, given the way he's treated. Humans call it Stockholm Syndrome::
     Both transformers quickly accessed the internet. 'Beat 'frowned'.
     ::Capture-bonding... Hm. Apart from the fact that as far as I know he joined the 'Cons of his own accord, I wouldn't have thought our processors worked that way. Then again I'm neither a Seeker nor a 'Con::
     'Spin shrugged.
     ::There has to be some reason he still supports his master::
     ::Don't know, don't care enough to find out:: Ramp curbed the discussion abruptly. ::Unless it helps us, it's not our concern, and at the moment I don't see how it could help us. Nor are we qualified to deal with such matters. For now our job is to protect what we have here, especially Poppy, and stay alert. Should there be any Decepticon activity in this country, we have to report it at once and take no action - unless the Consul is threatened::

"Sir, someone has entered a general enquiry about how best to acquire a large amount of concentrated sulphuric acid."
     Two very different people made this announcement. There were two very different reactions to it. The first - closely connected to UK National Security forces - involved a fast but thorough check of the source of the enquiry and the context, and on finding it came from a child researching fertilisers for a school project, noted it and moved on.
     The second, from a far more sinister force, asked why.

Third was not happy. "I thought we'd agreed we weren't going to use the internet for anything!"
     First raised his hands as if to ward off third's anger.
     "It was one query. One. Do you know how long it would have taken me to get the info manually? If that was even possible?"
     Third snarled, but settled back.
     "At least you used a decent cover."
     "I'm not that stupid."
     Second nodded and leaned forward. "So what was the answer?"
     First rubbed at tired eyes. "It's not that easy. You need all sorts of permissions and documentation and proofs of legitimacy. I just don't think we can do it."
     Third huffed her irritation. "Damn."
     Second grinned. "Well, if you're determined, you can always buy tiny amounts at a time until we have enough. Though how we then get them into the system is a whole other can of worms."
     "Dammit, there must be something we can do!"
     "Find others who agree with us, support the cause. We're too small to have any influence right now."
     Third nodded. "Fair enough. At least our metallurgist got in. He should report in at the end of the week."
     "Any information we can get may be useful. And at the moment, it's all we have." Second regarded third sombrely. "Did you have any success with Alison?"
     Third frowned. "She's... vanished. No-one seems to know where she is."
     "Oh, I don't think so. No doubt she'll turn up sooner or later." He shifted in his seat and folded his hands together. "So - assignments for the coming week?"

The organisation referred to themselves by letters - the idea taken from the Men in Black films, the head joked genially. He called himself Zee. At the moment he was more focused than amiable, but his lieutenant, Aitch, was used to that.
     "They are insignificant. A little group of would-be troublemakers playing at being terrorists. The only thing we have to be worried about is them accidentally getting in our way." He frowned. "On the other hand... It's always useful to have incompetent scapegoats. They divert attention away from what's really happening and diminish the gravity of the situation."
     "True sir. So you want to track them."
     "Yes. See if we can use them. I assume our eye in the sky will be willing to help?"
     Aitch smiled grimly.
     "If it serves the cause, Soundwave will comply."

© JAT 22/01/12

Part 5 - Affaires

There was one perk to being Consul, Poppy decided: if she didn't want to interact with any of the visitors, she could always claim to be too busy.
     Not that she wanted to be rude, but most of the first wave of attendees were... how could she put this politely...? She couldn't, not really... They were just plain boring.
     Though fortunately not to Vault and Sinewave, who were fascinated to hear first hand accounts of the way UK humans planned their cities and managed their utilities infrastructures. It was with some relief that Poppy was able to leave transformers and humans to their own devices in the work space, and only see them for dinner.
     The metallurgist had arrived late, while Poppy was out on her morning spin with Highdive: she'd hurried into the kitchen to find a young man with a shock of copper-coloured hair sitting at the long wooden table drinking coffee and talking very companionably to 'Spin. He turned as she arrived and grinned widely, blue eyes crinkling at the corners.
     "Hullo! You must be Ms Moss. I'm Aaron."
     His grin was infectious, and she smiled back, extending her hand to shake his.
     "Mr Aaronson, yes - welcome... Has 'Spin been looking after you?"
     "Oh yes... Please, call me Aaron. Or triple A if you want - I got used to it at uni."
     Yes, she could imagine that. Aaron Andrew Aaronson. Did his parents want him to be first in the telephone directory or something?
     "I know. My parents joked about me being first in the phone book."
     She blinked, then frowned. He chuckled.
     "It's OK - it's what everyone asks. Or thinks, if they're too polite to ask."
     Poppy nodded, smiling again. "I think we'll just stick with Aaron." She glanced at 'Spin. "Is Aaron all settled?"
     The transformer nodded. "I've thown him hith room, and we've organithed our thedule."
     Aaron rubbed his hands together, beaming at 'Spin. "I can't wait! This is a dream come true."
     The transformer tilted his head. "We can thtart right away, if you are ready."
     "Sure am!" He rose to his feet and followed the transformer, waving over his shoulder to Poppy.
     "'Spin seems to quite like him."
     Poppy jumped, then smiled at Phil, who had been standing very still in the shadow of the door to the garden.
     "He's looking forward to sharing knowledge. They all are. It's lovely to see them all so eager to learn and teach."
     Phil made his way to the table, snagging a mug of coffee on the way. He looked tired, Poppy thought.
     "He seems like a nice lad, too. Freshly graduated, yes?"
     Poppy nodded. "Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy at Cambridge. A First in Materials Science. He wants to spend time here before going on to his PhD. Apparently he's very good, and very dedicated."
     "So a worthy disciple then!"
     Poppy laughed. "Yes, quite! I just hope 'Spin doesn't drive him too hard."
     "Eh, it'll do him good. You can always step in if need be." He paused a moment, then raised an eyebrow. "Do you know what he wants to specialise in?"
     "'Spin did say, but it was all Greek to me, so I just nodded and left him to it."
     "Probably for the best." He glanced at his watch. "I have to report back to base for a few hours, pick up the next energon consignment - are you sure you'll be OK? I can have one of the squaddies go instead if you need me to stay."
     She gazed at him in exasperation.
     "I'm surrounded by transformers in probably the most secure house in England - who do you think could possibly get close enough to do me any harm?"
     "We thought you were safe before..."
     "Yes, and that was one of yours. But it doesn't matter, everything turned out splendidly."
     "And next time it might not."
     "Phil, please don't be so overprotective."
     He saluted, a little stiffly, expression hardening.
     "Just doing my job, ma'am."
     She sighed. "I'm sorry. I know you are. I just... I'm not some fragile little flower prone to a fit of the vapours without a strong manly man to look after me."
     He frowned. "Is that how I make you feel?"
     She grinned. "No. Just asking you not to start, please."
     He managed a smile. "OK. Anything you want me to pick up while I'm out?"

Poppy finished her correspondence quickly and wandered out to the vegetable garden. It was a little too early for much to be showing above ground yet, but the greenhouse was well stocked with pots of burgeoning shoots. Muncher was inside, watching as Tom potted on some early tomatoes.
     "Close the door - don't want the cold getting in."
     Poppy obediently entered the warmth, slid shut the greenhouse door and smiled up at Muncher.
     "How's it going?"
     The transformer indicated the staging. " Should be a good crop. Steamy'll be happy."
     "And you're all getting on OK?"
     Tom grinned widely. "Well, s'not what I thought I'd be doin', but's interestin'." He gestured at Muncher. "'E's great! Still can't get used to seein' 'im transform though."
     Poppy chuckled. "I know what you mean. Even now it still thrills me."
     Tom held out a peat pot. "Like to have a go?"
     "Oh god no! I'm the finger of death to growing things. If I put my mind to it I can even kill off plastic plants!"
     Muncher stared at her with his equivalent of a frown, and she shook her head before he could speak.
     "I'm joking. But seriously, I can't grow a thing. Couple of weeks and even a cactus dies."
     "Pity, that. Never mind. We'll just have to do it for you."
     "I'd appreciate it..."
     Muncher held up a hand, head inclined for a moment, then nodded. "Steamy wants you in the kitchen."
     "Thanks. Better go and see what he wants..."

Aaron was sitting at the kitchen table when she got back, 'Spin beside him. He smiled as she seated herself opposite.
     "Hope I didn't interrupt anything. I just wondered if I could join you for lunch."
     Poppy eyed him, surprised. Most of the visitors ate in the work space to avoid wasting any of the precious time they had at the Consulate. However, it was now one p.m., and she was feeling hungry. She nodded.
     "Of course. What do you fancy?"
     "What's on offer?"
     Poppy turned to Steamy, who waved his paws.
     "We can do omelette, baked potato, grilled tuna steak with avocado salad, vegetarian chilli..."
     "Baked spud would be perfect. With cheese?"
     "Cheddar, Cheshire, Red Leicester, Double Gloucester, Wensleydale, Blue Stilton, Lancashire, Stinking Bishop?"
     Aaron looked a little flustered. "Um, just plain Cheddar?"
     "Mild, medium, mature, extra mature?"
     "Side salad?"
     "Just the spud, please."
     Steamy's eyes twinkled. "Fifteen minutes!"
     He scuttled off, the youngest of his assistants in tow, and Aaron gazed at Poppy, eyes wide.
     "Wow. Is he always like that?"
     "Usually. He takes pride in keeping us well fed."
     Aaron laughed. It was an attractive laugh.
     "I must remember that..." He smiled. "So, what does it take to become a Cybertronian liaison, then?"
     Poppy regarded him mock-gravely. "Dumb luck. And a talking washing machine."
     Aaron stared, then leaned forwards. "Do tell..."

Of course Poppy couldn't tell him everything, but he was fascinated by the story, listening intently as he ate his baked potato inattentively (to Steamy's annoyance).
     "I'm jealous. That sort of thing just never happens to me."
     Poppy chuckled. "I can't imagine it happens to very many people, really."
     "Well, no, true, but all the same..." He grinned at 'Spin, who had listened to Poppy's side of the tale in silence. "You were lucky."
     'Spin inclined his head. "Well, there wath a little more to it than that. We knew that Poppy would be a good choithe."
     Poppy finished her omelette and eyed him curiously. "You know, I never thought to ask how you ended up with me in the first place."
     "We needed thomewhere thafe. We knew you were temperamentally ideal."
     "We thtudied you for a few weekth. You lived alone, had no friendth vithiting, have a thweet, thtable dithpothithion, and are adaptable. While you were at work I athumed the form of your old wathing mathine."
     "You... broke into my flat? You mean this was all deliberate, planned?"
     He lowered his head. "We were dethperate, Poppy. We were alone on an alien planet, we didn't know who to trutht, and we couldn't contact the otherth. Too dangerouth with the 'Conth already here."
     "And you couldn't just ask me? No of course you couldn't." She sighed, then smiled. "Well, it's not exactly nice hearing it, but I can understand now why you did it."
     "I'm thorry..."
     She reached out to gently touch his face.
     "It's OK. I mean, look how things ended up. And I do understand. I've heard your stories now, and I understand."
     "We thould have told you thooner..."
     "It's OK, Sparkspinner. Really."
     "Thank you."
     "You are more than welcome."
     Aaron coughed discreetly, and Poppy turned to him. He grimaced apologetically. "Sorry. Didn't mean to intrude."
     "You weren't." 'Spin gestured towards the door. "But if you are refrethed now, perhapth we thould continue?"
     "Sure!" He rose to his feet and grinned at Poppy. "That was great. See you at dinner?"
     She chuckled and nodded, realising she'd really enjoyed the lunch...

Phil arrived as dinner was starting, backing Castle up to the garage and helping 'Beat and Muncher offload the energon supplies. 'Beat nodded his satisfaction.
     "That'll keep us all going for a while." He glanced at the human: Phil looked very tired. "You should go refuel. They're all sat down for dinner."
     Smiling gratefully Phil made his way into the kitchen, where everyone was seated around the table: Poppy had decided that informal meals were best for the working parties. The fact that she wasn't overly fond of the small formal dining room informed the decision, of course.
     Tonight's dinner was a rather splendid hotpot with assorted steamed vegetables. Phil's mouth watered as he hastened to wash his hands and sit himself down - not in his usual place beside Poppy, he saw with considerable irritation. Aaron had claimed the seat on her right, and one of the architects the one on the left. She smiled and waved as he seated himself at the other end of the table, and heard her say, over the general chatter, "Everything OK?"
     He nodded. "Tell you later."
     She nodded in response, and turned her attention back to the young man at her side.

It was several hours later when he was finally able to speak to her, after the visitors had gone to their rooms, and by then he was exhausted. She frowned at him and gestured to the kitchen.
     He shook his head. "Thanks, but I need to sleep, not wake up."
     She nodded and poured him a glass of whiskey instead, handing it to him with a smile.
     "That should help..."
     He managed a tired grin. "Thanks..."
     "So what's the news? Just in brief, I don't want to keep you up any later than need be."
     "There was a major Decepticon incursion in Chernobyl. I can't go into too much detail right now, but it has Optimus very concerned."
     "How will it affect us?"
     "I'm hoping it won't..." He rubbed a hand over his eyes. "I'm sorry, Poppy. It's nothing for you to worry about at the moment. I'll explain a bit more in the morning, when I've reported in and got the latest."
     She nodded understandingly and patted his shoulder. "Of course. Get some sleep. Do you want breakfast in bed?"
     He blinked, startled, then realised it would be one of the kitchen staff taking it up to him, and shook his head.
     "Better if I come down here. Nice as the idea is, I'm still on duty."
     "If you're sure..."
     "I'm sure." He bit back a yawn and drank the last of the whiskey. "I'm off. I'll see you in the morning. Sleep tight, love."
     She kissed his cheek. "You too. Sweet dreams..."

Phil's lips tightened, eyes narrowing as he entered the kitchen. That blasted kid was monopolising Poppy again!
     Aaron looked up from his seat beside Poppy and waved cheerily.
     "Hello! You must be Phil."
     Phil nodded tightly and seated himself at the other end of the table. Laura - the second youngest member of the kitchen staff - smiled at him as she poured a mug of coffee.
     "Your usual, sir?"
     He dragged his attention away from Poppy and her hanger on and nodded. Laura darted away, and was back moments later with his plate of fried egg, sausage, bacon, mushrooms and baked beans. He ate quickly, eyes not leaving the other end of the table.
     Poppy was animated, obviously enjoying her conversation with Aaron, though to Phil's relief she wasn't flirting. In fact, her body language was pretty much the same as when she was speaking to everyone. The boy's, though... Phil gritted his teeth as Aaron leaned forward, echoing Poppy's movements, smiling cheekily at some murmured comment...
     Phil took a deep breath, held it for a moment, then exhaled slowly, consciously making himself relax. He was not Poppy's keeper. She had made it quite clear she did not like anyone interfering in what little personal life she had left. If she enjoyed the kid's company, well, that was good, really. He'd only be here a few weeks, then he'd be gone.
     Wouldn't he?

Everyone had gone off to their day's activities, and Poppy was enjoying a few moments of peace before starting on today's business. She closed her eyes and took a sip of her tea, then glanced sideways at Steamy as he chittered briefly.
     "He's jealous, you know."
     Poppy swivelled her head to stare at the little transformer, who was idling through the latest selection of cookery magazines Poppy had picked up on her last shopping trip.
     "What? Who is?"
     "Mr Phil."
     "Jealous of who?"
     "Mr Aaron."
     "Wha...? Steamy, don't be silly. They've only just met, and why on earth would he be jealous?"
     The little transformer gazed up at her and waved his paws.
     "I don't know. I just know that his pump gets faster when Mr Aaron is around. And he runs hotter, and his... scent changes." Steamy tilted his head to one side. "I interpret it as jealousy - but perhaps I'm wrong. Maybe it's anger? I still don't know enough about your world or the way you operate to be certain."
     Poppy frowned. Phil had been a little... stand-offish last night while they were all together, but she'd put that down to him being exhausted.
     She shook her head. No. There's no way Steamy could be right. Aaron was frighteningly intelligent, boyishly attractive, and fun to be with, but that was all. No doubt he'd make someone a fine partner at some point, but he did nothing for her. Not to mention he was a good ten years younger than she was.
     She sighed. Men...

© JAT 29/01/12

Aaron A Aaronson courtesy of the film Hot Fuzz!

Part 6 - Disquiet

Graham was sitting in the kitchen, drinking coffee and talking in quiet tones to Phil when a tired and grumpy Poppy arrived after an uncomfortable and disturbed night's sleep. Both men's faces were grave, and Poppy frowned, pouring a mug of the coffee and settling herself at the table.
     Phil hesitated, then shook his head. "Nothing for you to worry about."
     Poppy glanced at Graham, who eyed her impassively. "Why do I not believe you?"
     Phil sighed. "Seriously, it's nothing for you to worry about. Not yet, anyway. It doesn't affect you, any of you."
     But there was an odd tension through the house, almost a vibration, like an invisible silent thunderstorm right overheard. It made her feel twitchy. She turned to 'Spin, who folded his hands together and avoided her eyes. Annoyed, Poppy thumped her mug down on the table.
     "OK. There obviously is something wrong, I can feel it. I want to know what." As Graham and Phil exchanged a look, she glowered at them. "If I don't know, I can't make contingency plans. And do you think it's fair to keep important matters from me, if it concerns my friends? I'm supposed to be looking after them, after all."
     "This has nothing to do with fairness. It's on a need to know basis..."
     "And I don't need to know. I really hate that cliché." She folded her arms. "OK. Don't tell me. I'll find out from Ramp, or 'Spin, later."
     "It's official Autobot business..."
     "And they aren't Autobots." She smirked grimly.
     Phil raised an eyebrow and grimaced at Graham. "Doesn't give up, does she?"
     "And DON'T talk about me as though I'm not here!"
     Both men recoiled, blinking in surprise, and Steamy made an amused-sounding chirring. Phil managed a small smile.
     She nodded angrily, lips tight, and stared at Graham. "So?"
     He frowned, drumming his fingers on the table, then huffed. "This is not to be repeated to anyone. We'd prefer it if you didn't even talk about it with your own 'bots, but I can't see that happening. Just make sure no humans can hear you. We aren't even supposed to know yet - we've only found out because Jolt is such a chatterbox."
     "You remember what you were told about Chernobyl?"
     Poppy glanced at Phil and nodded. "That there was some sort of transformer spaceship part being kept there that probably caused the meltdown?"
     "Right. Well, it was part of a ship called the Ark, which crashed on the moon in 1961.That ship is still there, and Optimus plans to go up there and check it out."
     Poppy shrugged. "OK, so why is that such a big secret?"
     "Because of what the ship was carrying." He laid his hands on the table. "It's a technology that can... warp space. As best we can understand it, it opens a wormhole." He frowned. "You know what that is?"
     "Of course. I watch as much sci-fi as the next nerd."
     He chuckled. "Right. Of course. Silly me. Anyway... Something that can allow transport between here and anywhere in the galaxy, or maybe further - I'm sure you can see the implications, especially if the 'Cons ever got hold of it."
     She stared at him, the idea slowly sinking in. "Ouch."
     "Bit of an understatement."
     "But do they know it's here?"
     Graham rubbed at his face. "They do now. And we've known for a while that some of them have been supplying Cybertronian weaponry to insurgent human groups, though how that would tie in we don't yet know."
     "But..." Poppy frowned to herself. "So, do you think they'd use it to transport weapons, or more 'Cons, or what? And from where?"
     "Cybertron itself, perhaps. According to our 'bots the planet's a wasteland, but not completely destroyed, yet. Other colonies, maybe, or offensive installations on moons, asteroids - we don't know. We know transformers don't need to breathe, and can travel some distance through space under their own power - the larger forms, anyway, the warriors. And for all intents and purposes they're immortal, and very very hard to kill."
     "Why earth?"
     "Energy. We have it in ridiculous abundance. They can't survive without it."
     "And 'Cons don't share."
     Poppy took a deep breath. "OK. Thank you for letting me know. How does it affect us?"
     "As I said, at the moment it doesn't. It's being handled by Washington NEST." He scowled. "And that blasted woman."
     Phil laughed mirthlessly. "She does have an unfortunate manner."
     Graham glowered darkly. "Not what I'd call it..." He shook himself and eyed Poppy. "We will keep you apprised. Don't tell anyone."
     "I won't." Poppy only had a couple of hundred questions she wanted to ask, but Graham's voice had that note of finality she knew all too well. She'd try asking Ramp, later, see if he had more information he'd be willing to divulge. He might be agreeable, knowing she was already privy to the basics...
     She finished her coffee and leaned back. "I'd better get ready for the morning fly over."
     "Ah." Phil inclined his head. "Highdive is at Salisbury Plain. For target practice."
     Poppy pursed her lips, quietly disappointed. She had come to thoroughly enjoy the daily flight.
     "And Stronghold and Upbeat are with him." Graham added. She stared at him, bewildered.
     "Stronghold thinks 'Beat could do with a little more hands-on training."
     "So, your Defender is beating up my MGC?"
     "Um, something like that..."
     Poppy scowled. "He'd better not hurt him! I'll spike his energon with washing up liquid if he does!"
     The two officers stared at her for a second then both burst out laughing.
     "Oh what an image that conjures up!" Phil grinned at her. "I'm sure they'll be fine. Stronghold knows how important 'Beat is to the set up here and won't incapacitate him. The aim, I gather, is to give him some practise in basic hand-to-hand and defensive tactics."
     "Well, OK then." Poppy was still dubious. "I suppose that's OK."
     Phil checked his watch. "They should be back by three."
     "I could always have Ramp or Cable contact 'Beat to check he's all right..."
     "You could, but comms silence is usually part of the exercise. You'd probably not get any response. And that might be a little worrying for you."
     "I suppose so." She sighed in exasperation. "Very well, then. I'd better go and get on with some work. See you at lunch?"
     They both saluted.
     "Will do, Poppy."

As usual, most of the humans had their lunches at their workspaces, but Phil was at the table when Poppy arrived in the kitchen. He grinned and indicated the seat beside him as Steamy scampered over to his assistants to have them serve the meal.
     "Everything going OK?"
     Poppy smiled. "Yes. It's just as well I don't mind doing correspondence though."
     Phil frowned. "You don't have a secretary?"
     Poppy chuckled. "Never really occurred to me. I suppose I'm too used to doing everything for myself. If it gets too much I'll hire one, but at the moment I'm fine."
     "Good." He nodded as Laura, at Steamy's direction, set a plate of veal in shitake sauce, rosti potatoes and steamed broccoli and cauliflower florets in front of him. Poppy giggled at his expression of vague distaste, and he sighed. "Think I'll ever persuade Steamy I'm a steak and chips sort of man?"
     "You could try!" Poppy accepted her own plate of veal with a nod of thanks. "I don't think you'll get very far though. And he did say we'd be back to healthy diets after Yule."
     "I'd hoped he'd forget after January..."
     She gestured at the little transformer with her fork. "'Bot, remember? Processor the size of a planet?"
     "... and we ask him to open doors. Well, do the culinary equivalent."
     Poppy laughed delightedly and dived into her own lunch, which was very good even by Steamy's standards. Half way through she was subliminally aware of Phil tensing minutely - and a few seconds later Aaron seated himself on her other side.
     "Aw, you started without me."
     Poppy smiled at him. "Consulate to run, Aaron. My time isn't always my own."
     He nodded, a little crestfallen. "Of course. Sorry, Ms Moss."
     "Maybe tomorrow."
     Phil noticed, with a sense of relief that he immediately found embarrassing, that she didn't ask him to call her Poppy...
     They ate in silence for a few minutes, until Cable transformed and squirmed out of her shirt pocket, jumping onto the table and gazing up at her with worried eyes.
     "Sorry to interrupt, but you should get outside. Now."
     Phil and Poppy exchanged glances then rose as one and headed for the main entrance. As they stepped outside Graham joined them, looking anxious.
     Moments later Poppy found out why.

The whining whirr of the small helicopter was the first noise they heard. That was followed by the distinctive steady thrumming growl of Stronghold. The third sound, however...
     Wheezing, stuttering, an engine obviously in pain, one door open and crumpled... Poppy ran forwards, closely followed by the officers, as 'Beat, Stronghold trailing him, practically limped along the drive.
     "'Beat!" Poppy raced towards him, prevented from getting too close by the Defender transforming and holding out an arm to keep her at a distance. "What have you done to him!?"
     She ignored the sound of Highdive transforming behind her until the helicopter laid a hand very gingerly on her shoulder.
     "It wasn't Stronghold, Poppy - it was me."
     Poppy spared him a brief glare before her gaze returned to the MGC. 'Beat was struggling to transform, she could feel it, Stronghold at his side urging him on. The MGC finally managed to assume his root form and promptly collapsed on his backside, head lowered, engine spluttering. Stronghold knelt and wormed an arm under one shoulder, bodily hauling the smaller transformer to his feet.
     "We need to... cleanse, Poppy. Don't worry, the damage isn't critical, and I have enough medical training to ensure he won't be in pain for long."
     Poppy stared, aghast. Both of them were smothered in mud, which perhaps fortunately hid a lot of the damage, but 'Beat looked dreadful, plating dented, a large energon-leaking hole in his thigh and left doorwing ragged and drooping. Her hands fluttered helplessly: Phil caught them in his own, forcing her to look at him.
     "You can't help them. You know that."
     "We don't have a medic!" Poppy was fighting back tears, watching as Stronghold practically carried 'Beat into the transformer wing. "What if he's really badly hurt?"
     "Then we get Ratchet. But Stronghold really does know what he's doing, Poppy, and 'Spin will help. And it always looks worse than it is."
     She bit her lip, then, remembering Highdive, swivelled to glare at the Robinson.
     "What did you do?!"
     The helicopter crouched down to be closer to the human, wincing as she slapped at him.
     "I'm sorry. It was... He got in my way as I was aiming at a target."
     Graham frowned. "Stronghold knows better than to expose trainees to any risk."
     Highdive crouched lower, hunching in mortification and shame.
     "It was my fault. I'd strayed from my designated range."
     "This is not going to look good on your record."
     "I know, sir..." Highdive looked as miserable as any transformer could. "I was reckless. I'm sorry."
     Lips a thin line, Graham pointed towards the house.
     "Rec room. Now!"
     "Yes sir." The Robinson straightened up and turned towards the consulate, then his head swivelled back to Poppy.
     "I really am sorry. I'll never do anything like that again..."

Poppy and Phil had entered the house in time to catch 'Spin pulling Ratchet's container of medical nanites out of the cooler in the transformers' vestibule and hastening after Stronghold and the limping 'Beat as they headed for the wash rooms at the end of their wing. As Poppy gazed worriedly after them Phil wrapped an arm around her shoulders and nudged her gently in the direction of the kitchen. Settling her at the table he turned to the kettle and quickly made a mug of tea.
     "Here you go." He placed the mug in her hands. She took it, sipping absently, then turned to him, fighting back tears.
     "He looks so awful..."
     "Trust Stronghold. If he's confident that we can deal with the damage here, then we can. Between him and 'Spin, they'll have 'Beat functioning normally in no time."
     Poppy frowned. "'Spin?"
     "He's been downloading info from Ratchet."
     She stared at him, bewildered. "What?"
     "Remember 'Spin's original function? Metallurgist, processing the rare metals that go towards making transformer bodies?" She nodded. "Well, while it may not seem logical to us, for them it's an easy crossover from metal worker to medic. Paramedic, rather - it takes millennia to acquire Ratchet's level of skill. But he decided we needed someone with at least basic medical abilities, so he's been remote-training 'Spin for the last year."
     "And nobody thought to tell me?"
     Phil sighed. "Apparently not. I thought he'd at least have mentioned it himself."
     She pouted. "Nobody tells me nuffin..."
     Phil chuckled. "Well, now you know. It's good in a way. He doesn't want to leave you, but there's not much call for his original skillset here, so this gives him added purpose. None of them like feeling useless."
     "He was never that!"
     "No - but now he can be more useful. That's fulfilling for him."
     Poppy frowned. "I really am going to have to ask them to tell me what they're up to. They all seem to assume I know without being told."
     He laughed. "That's flattering. Means they see you as one of them. Well, as an honorary Cybertronian, anyway!"
     "I suppose..." She finished her tea and rose to her feet. "I'd better get some work done. See you later."
     He nodded. As she left the kitchen she could faintly hear Graham's raised voice emanating from the rec room, and winced. If she could hear it out here, through the soundproofing, he must really be giving Highdive a bollocking...

© JAT 3/2/12


For readers not that familiar with the films, "That blasted woman" is Charlotte Mearing, Head of Intelligence (or whatever) for the US intelligence services in Dark of the Moon. She's obnoxious. Really. As in, want to slap her around the head with a lead-stuffed dead fish obnoxious.

The Decepticon Shockwave was at Chernobyl, with his pet driller. Nasty beast. The driller ain't too nice either.

Part 7 - Beginnings

Deep in thought, Poppy made her way to her office and sat at her desk. Ramp formed a glowing blue question mark in the middle of his screen, and Poppy chuckled.
     "Could you transform, please? I'd rather talk to a person than a machine right now."
     Ramp obliged, his disparate components pulling together until his black spiky root mode sat cross-legged on the desk, regarding her inquisitively.
     "Something I can help you with?"
     "Mm. No doubt you were earwigging on the conversation in the kitchen?"
     A second or so while he looked up the reference, then a nod.
     "I hear everything that goes on in the house and grounds. I assume you want further details?"
     "The answers to a few questions would be nice, if your protocols allow."
     "I'll do my best."
     "OK. Quick one to start with. 'Beat's armour is supposed to be missile proof. How did Highdive manage to hurt him?"
     "Highdive's armaments include anti-Decepticon ammunition. It's powerful, more than 'Beat's armour can take. Almost certainly more powerful than anything he's likely to come up against in the normal course of events."
     "Is it necessary?"
     "Ironhide believes so."
     "Oh. Ok then." She was not going to argue with the Weapons Specialist. "What about Stronghold?"
     "His plating is stronger. Although it would still hurt him, it would not result in such damage."
     Poppy made a mental note to talk to the MGC about maybe increasing his armour's durability.
     "OK. When they say there's no reason to worry, are they being honest?"
     Ramp hesitated, and Poppy nodded grimly. "Thought so."
     "Strictly speaking, at the moment there is no reason to worry. We are a low-key, non-military installation, of no interest to the Decepticons - certainly not while they still have Autobots to hunt. And at present most of the activity is taking place in America, half the world away. We are quite safe. From 'Cons, anyway."
     Poppy filed the qualification away for later consideration. "So why does everyone feel so worried?"
     Ramp stared at her.
     "What do you mean?"
     "I mean... I feel like the house is filled with static electricity - which to me means your lot's fields are more active than usual. That only happens when emotions are running high, as they say. It feels... edgy to me. Anxious."
     Ramp kept his expression and frame motionless despite his surprise and alarm - although thinking about it it made sense. After all, all humans had their own electromagnetic field - an appallingly weak one, admittedly, but it had some sensitivity. A human living with beings who used their fields to communicate would most likely become more sensitive. He commed a quick query to Ratchet, and got an affirmative response: both Bumbleee and Ironhide had reported that their humans had become responsive to their fields remarkably quickly.
     Ramp wasn't sure whether that was a good or bad thing. And it didn't help him with the immediate query. How much would it be wise to tell her?
     "It... it's partly because of the discovery of the Ark. Everyone is a little concerned about what the Prime will find there." He paused, then inclined his head. "The technology the Ark was carrying is very powerful. It could be catastrophic if it got into the wrong hands."
     "Or humans."
     "Oh." She was silent for a moment. "It's new then?"
     Ramp considered the question, quickly cross-referencing with what 'Beat had included in the history of Cybertron that he had given Poppy for Yule. "Actually, no. It was used for travel between planets, colonies, in Cybertron's Golden Age. But it fell into disuse during the first Great War until Sentinel Prime re-invented it towards the end of the war."
     "Sentinel Prime?"
     "The Prime before Optimus. It was under his rule that the war ended. He and Wheeljack brought a sun to Cybertron."
     Poppy blinked. "They what?!"
     "They called a sun to our world. With light and solar energy once again freely available the Allspark restored Cybertron and the war ended."
     "... wow..."
      He churred his amusement. "You really must make time to read 'Beat's history. It's rather more... lyrical than my version."
     "Oh, I will!" She thought for a moment. "OK, so, we're what? Hoping the tech is still there?"
     "The Ark was fired on as it attempted to leave Cybertron and severely damaged. Whether any of the technology's components survived we don't yet know, thought there's a good chance they have. It was all extremely well protected. But it may have been damaged in the crash - or, worse yet, the 'Cons may have discovered it."
     "But does anyone know how to use it?"
     "Sentinel Prime. And Starscream."
     Poppy shuddered. "But he's here, isn't he?"
     "Oh god..."
     "How soon will we know?"
     Poppy swallowed. "That explains the tension in the house."
     "You'll let me know what happens?"
     He eyed her for a moment, then nodded. "But I would appreciate it if you downplay the amount you have learned for our resident NEST officers. I believe I have told you rather more than they would approve of."
     "Oh, that's no problem." She patted his shoulder. "I really appreciate you telling me. I don't like being kept in the dark."
     "You are welcome."
     She glanced at the clock and sighed. "I'd better get some work done."
     Ramp obligingly transformed back into his computer mode and logged his human into her intranet...

When Poppy finally resurfaced dinner was half over, but she didn't feel that hungry anyway: the last few hours had been stressful. Steamy suggested she settle in the lounge and he'd bring her something small but tasty while she relaxed: nodding her agreement she wandered into the spacious, comfortable room, to find 'Beat and Stronghold already there.
     Stronghold was resting against the wall with 'Beat sitting in front of him, between the Defender's legs and leaning his back against the larger transformer's chest: one of Stronghold's arms was draped around 'Beat's neck. It was a surprisingly human posture and Poppy blinked in surprise, but realising that 'Beat looked much better - his doorwing straightened out and the gashes closed if not yet fully healed, and the hole in his leg patched - she didn't comment. In fact, the MGC looked half asleep, eyes dimmed, and his field, what she could feel of it, she interpreted as calm, even contented. She smiled at the Defender.
     "He's OK?"
     "Yes. Not fully healed - that'll take a few days - but out of pain and the essentials are done. 'Spin is turning into a fine medic. He'll check on Upbeat later."
     "That's a relief." She laid a hand on 'Beat undamaged leg. "How are you feeling?"
     'Beat's eyes brightened a little and he offered a small, lopsided smile. "M'fine, Poppy. Be good as new in few days."
     "Try not to get in Highdive's way again?"
     "Do me best..."
     Poppy glanced up as Graham appeared in the doorway, and beckoned him over. Graham eyed Stronghold then patted 'Beat's shoulder.
     "Much better." He smiled mirthlessly at Poppy. "I'm restricting Highdive to internal duties only for three days. That ought to force him to think next time."
     Poppy winced for the Robinson. Being kept indoors would be one of the worst punishments ever for him. Graham nodded grimly.
     "He has to learn."
     "I know, but... it's harsh. But fair." she added hurriedly as Graham scowled. His expression softened and he nodded.
     "Three days, and only indoors, not confined to a berthroom. He's getting off lightly really."
     If you say so, Poppy thought to herself.

It was a relatively quiet evening. Most of their working guests were still working, Cable reported, either in the library workspace or in the quiet of their own rooms. 'Spin joined them in the lounge and settled down beside 'Beat and Stronghold to watch a little television and run a few scans on the MGC: Phil arrived at nine and seated himself on the couch beside Poppy to catch the last half an hour of a crime drama (which had him snorting derisively at its conclusion), while Graham excused himself early. At ten thirty Poppy sighed and pushed herself to her feet, Phil following her.
     She smiled at him. "That would be nice."
     "What do you fancy?"

A short while later Poppy was curled up in bed, a large mug of hot chocolate on the beside table, a decent shot of coffee liqueur swirling in its depths, and Livewire nestled beside her as she opened the hard copy of 'Beat's history of Cybertron. On the first page was an illustration of a golden, intricately patterned cube: she studied it for a moment before turning the page.

     In the beginning was the Allspark.

     We know not where it came from, only that it contains the power to create worlds and fill them with life. Our world was one such, spinning through space, a world of metals and crystals and rare elements, beautiful but bleak.

     Then the Allspark called forth the Dynasty of Primes, vast beings who walked the voids between the dimensions of the multiverse, and for a time all was serene. But then the knowledge came, little by little, that although the Allspark gave life and sustenance, it also needed energy to continue, the energy from the hearts of stars. And so were called forth the Transformers, beings who could seek out and harvest the power of stars to feed the Allspark, that all might continue in peace and prosperity...

© JAT 4.2.12

Part 8 - Intrigues 3

     She pulled the duvet more closely around her and muttered something indistinct, but which could have been "ten more minutes..."
     "I'm sorry Poppy, but it's seven minutes past eleven and you have a lunch meeting at twelve."
     She forced her eyes open and gazed blearily at a very apologetic Livewire.
     "Lunch meeting in less than an hour."
     "... bugger..." She hauled herself into a sitting position and groped for the coffee she could smell on the bedside cabinet. "Don't suppose I can delay it?"
     "It will throw the rest of the week out if you do."
     Poppy took a long swallow of the coffee and sighed. "Serves me right for getting so engrossed."
     Livewire glanced at the Cybertronian history hardcopy lying beside the human on the bed and chirped with amusement.
     "Reading until nearly half past five was perhaps not such a good idea during the week..."
     "But it's fascinating. Your creation story - did that really happen?"
     "It was long before me, but I believe so. Bumblebee has held the Allspark, and the Prime defeated The Fallen, so we know that the Allspark and the Dynasty of Primes did exist, and if they did, it's likely that the rest of the stories are true as well."
     Poppy sighed and lay back on her pillows for a moment, smiling, then shook her head and dragged herself out of bed.
     "I'll read some more later..."

The atmosphere in the house was still tense, and the transformers were subdued. Poppy remembered that today they would find out what was on board the Ark, and whether it posed any sort of threat. Well, Optimus and Ratchet, the two travelling to the moon, would know at any rate. Poppy assumed they would inform the rest of the Autobots before they returned, and with luck Ramp would be able to listen in and report back. Assuming the Decepticons hadn't already cracked the latest comms code...
     The lunch meeting had dragged on, and it was three p.m. by the time Poppy was able to head back to her office. She frowned: Aaron was sitting outside, apparently waiting for her, looking a little anxious.
     "I hope you don't mind, Ms Moss..."
     Poppy paused, then forced a smile. "Not at all. Let's get some coffee, shall we, and you can tell me what's on your mind."
     The young man followed her down to the kitchen, then into the lounge. Poppy made herself comfortable in an armchair and gestured for Aaron to sit. He perched on the edge of a sofa and leaned forwards, gaze lowered.
     Poppy let him sit for a minute or two in silence, waiting. Aaron took a swallow of his coffee, then put it down on a side table and sat upright.
     "I was wondering..." he swallowed. "... if there might be a permanent position for me here."
     Poppy's eyebrows rose. "But I thought you were planning to apply for a research post with CERN or that nanotech company - what's their name, Nanosys Inc? What's made you change your mind?"
     "Well... it's the thought of working with transformers directly, full time. It's fascinating. 'Spin is great, and he knows so much. And Steamy is very interesting to talk to - once you get him talking about his original work rather than dinner, that is!" He grinned. "And there's a possibility I could spend some time at the energon refineries - that would be amazing. And you never know, I might be able to meet some of the other transformers - even the Autobots..."
     "Hmm." Poppy considered the idea for a moment. "What would you do here, if you stayed?"
     "I was thinking I could continue studying with 'Spin some of the time, and maybe do some teaching myself? Just at an elementary level - you know, taking classes of visiting schoolkids, maybe teaching them the basics of Cybertronian technology - well, what I've learned of it myself, anyway."
     "Do you actually have any teaching experience?"
     "Officially no, but I have taught basic science privately when I needed to make some money. I can give you references."
     She nodded. "Well, it's an interesting idea, and it would add to the services we can offer the community, but I will have to think about it, discuss it with our... sponsors. And the transformers themselves, of course."
     He beamed and clasped her hand between both of his, in his fervour ignoring her surprised instinctive twitch away. "That would be great! I won't count my chickens, but I'll keep my fingers crossed." He blushed and let go of her hand as he noticed her pointed frowning. "Sorry. I got carried away."
     She nodded and sat back a little. "Give me a week. I should have an initial response for you by then, enough to know whether it's a possibility or not."
     "Thank you so much - I really appreciate it!"
     "No promises."
     "I understand." His head turned as 'Spin appeared at the door. "I am summoned." He rose to his feet, then glanced back at Poppy. "Thanks again, Ms Moss."
     She almost forgot herself and told him to call her Poppy, but at the last second remembered what Steamy had said and stayed silent. Looking at the eager young man she couldn't see any reason to suspect him of anything more nefarious than sheer enthusiasm - but she'd learned to trust Steamy. And she didn't want to upset Phil.

Ramp called a meeting after dinner, in the transformer rec room, the place they used when the subject under discussion was not for outsiders' ears. Even Sinewave, Vault and Muncher attended, seating themselves in front of the screen on the wall. Phil glanced at Poppy and smiled, leaning towards her to murmur, "I guess Jolt was feeling talkative again..."
     "He won't get into trouble for blabbing, will he?"
     "I doubt it. I get the feeling that he thinks we should know about what's happening, so we can be prepared if necessary. And after all, he trained 'Beat. All the same, I don't think you should mention his involvement to anyone outside this group."
     Poppy closed her mouth with an imaginary zip, smiling as Phil chuckled - then both turned their attention to Ramp, who had plugged himself into the screen.
     An image appeared, of what Poppy assumed was a spacecraft, but battered and broken and half-embedded into the lunar surface.
     "This is the Ark." Ramp's lights flickered. "And Sentinel Prime was aboard and undamaged. And so were the components for a space bridge. They are on their way to earth."
     A second of stark silence, then everyone started talking at once - in Cybertronian. Poppy turned to Phil, who was frowning.
     "This is not good."
     Poppy nodded. "I agree."
     He stared at her for a moment then sighed. "Ramp told you."
     "Of course."
     "Can't keep anything from you, can we?"
     He shook his head, then grinned. "Ah well, saves explaining it..."
     Ramp buzzed loudly for attention, and everyone quietened.
     "Sentinel Prime is in stasis, but the Prime intends to try to revive him."
     "How's he going to do that?" Poppy whispered to Phil.
     "Matrix of Leadership. I'll explain later."
     'Spin had risen to his feet.
     "But where will that leave uth? We already have our Prime. We don't need another one. We don't want another one."
     "But it's Sentinel Prime. The greatest Prime in living history." Sinewave sounded angry. "It would be the greatest honour to have him lead us."
     "We don't know him and he won't know uth. He'th been in thtathith for, what? thouthandth of yearth?"
     "He was still Prime while we were home."
     "That's true." muttered 'Beat. "And he brought us the sun."
     Hearing him, Sinewave glowered. "And it was our Prime who caused that sun to be lost! And the Allspark!"
     Poppy and Phil stared at each other, horrified.
     "... what...?"
     'Beat laid his hands on their shoulders.
     "It's a grim story. He was responsible, but there was a very good reason for it." He stood, addressing the gathering. "You all know it was done to keep the Allspark out of Megatron's hands. Yes, it was a desperate thing to do, but think what would have happened if Megatron had gained possession."
     Poppy was struggling to make sense of the situation - she hadn't read that far yet in 'Beat's history - but this was perhaps not the best time or place to ask for details. Emotions were running high enough to raise the hairs all over her body, and the heated debate was now mostly in Cybertronian. Finally Phil rose to his feet and raised his hands high: slowly the noise muted until it was a low, grumbling electronic hum.
     "There's nothing we can do until we know if the attempt to revive him works, but you should all remember that you are neutrals now living on earth. We have granted you asylum. You will be safe here. If you still choose to follow your Prime, that will be acceptable. You won't be forced to do anything you don't want to do."
     We hope, Poppy added silently.

When troubled, Poppy usually climbed the rise at the far end of the grounds and watched the sky for a while. 'Beat found her there three hours after the meeting had broken up and an hour and half after she'd read the relevant sections in the history, and crouched down behind her. She leaned back against him and sighed.
     "You're disturbed."
     She nodded. "You all treat Optimus like some kind of god, and even though I've only seen him on a screen, I felt his presence. To find out he did that..."
     'Beat carefully wrapped his arms around the human, his warmth comforting even though the night was mild.
     "Even gods make mistakes. But you did not know Megatron. By the end he was insane, desiring only power and the rewards it could bring. And the Allspark - well, that was pure power. With it he could have shaped his universe exactly as he wanted it, given enough time. And time is something we have in abundance."
     "And now the Allspark is gone, and no one knows where Megatron is." She frowned and gazed at him over her shoulder. "Why didn't they go after him? Surely he's still dangerous."
     'Beat's engine growled a sigh. "Our Autobots were hurt - badly hurt in some cases - and the human soldiers were injured. The Prime had done what was needed, destroyed the star harvester that would have destroyed your sun, and extinguished The Fallen's spark, and... in the confusion Megatron made his escape. Now no-one knows where he is, and we still have 'Cons causing trouble and far too few Autobots to spare to hunt him down. It's not good, but we have no choice."
     Poppy smiled to herself: 'Beat was unconsciously aligning himself with the Autobots. While it worried her, it was also rather... cute, in a weird way.
     "So what now?"
     "As Phil said, we wait to see what happens."
     "History in the making."
     "Yes. It's quite exciting, in an alarmingly grim way."
     Poppy chuckled. "I'm glad you're here. I mean, I'm not glad you're a refugee, and of course I'm not glad Cybertron is a ruin, but... it's hard to imagine life without you now."
     "Thank you. We feel the same about you." 'Beat revved quietly, affectionately. "This is home."

Zee's usually amiable expression was long gone, transformed to a mask of tightly controlled anger.
     "What do you mean, he's gone?"
     "I mean, sir, that Soundwave is no longer in the sky. He's... vanished..."
     "Well, he is a transformer, sir. He may have come to earth, or he may have gone into space - we have no way of telling."
     Hellooo, Decepticon. The clue is the name, thought Aitch to himself. "Well, on the pro side, we do have enough intel to carry us over until we can make alternative arrangements."
     "What alternative arrangements? That... machine was our key player."
     "Ah, but, sir, that little group of troublemakers we were keeping an eye on? They have someone inside the UK Consulate now."
     Zee paused and stared at his second in command.
     "Really? How did they manage that?"
     Aitch shrugged. "He's a genuine applicant for study with the resident transformers."
     "Their security that lax?"
     "No sir. The young man has a clean record. Nothing to raise even a smidgeon of suspicion"
     "Hm. It may be time to bring our troublemakers into the fold."
     Aitch smiled. "I'll see what I can do."

Livewire watched curiously as one of their human guests let himself into the house, moving as silently and inconspicuously as he could. Obviously he didn't want to be noticed.
     It was rather late, and the young man was due to continue his research with 'Spin at eight the next morning. Maybe he had been out for some fresh air and was just being considerate, coming in quietly so as not to disturb anyone...
     Livewire metaphorically shook his head. He knew the young man had been thoroughly vetted, like everyone else who worked and studied here, and obviously no-one else was bothered. It was all most likely completely innocent.
     But the little transformer would keep an eye on the human anyway.
     Just in case.

© JAT 13.2.12

Part 9 - Revelations

Poppy woke to the sound of low voices below her window, recognising them before she was fully awake. 'Beat and Stronghold. That meant Graham was here...
     Suddenly alert, she scrambled into her clothes and hastened down to the kitchen, which to her surprise was empty. Steamy chirruped and pointed to the transformer wing: with a smile Poppy hurried through to the rec room. The two officers - and the rest of the resident transformers - were gazing intently at the wall screen, which at the moment was half full of Cybertronian glyphs: Poppy joined them, sliding into a seat beside Phil.
     "What are we watching?"
     "A recording of Sentinel's revival."
     "Which presumably we aren't supposed to have?"
     Phil chuckled. "Quite."
     The screen clearing cut off any reply Poppy was going to make, and they watched intently as Prime... released something from his chest, something that glowed brightly from within a silver cage...
     Poppy glanced briefly at Graham, who, without taking his eyes from the screen, murmured,
     "Matrix of Leadership. They haven't told us much about it, except it has immense power. Can bring the almost-dead back to life."
     Poppy nodded absently. 'Beat had mentioned the Matrix in his history, that it was passed from Prime to Prime, and was believed to contain the essence of all the Primes who had gone before, but he'd been sparing with his information. Poppy wasn't sure if that was because he didn't want to let too much on, wasn't entirely convinced it existed, simply didn't know very much about it, or believed it too sacred an artefact for public knowledge. It obviously had power though, because moments later the massive figure of Sentinel Prime erupted into life, pinning Optimus Prime to the floor with a gigantic blade that to the human looked something like a scalpel.
     Poppy hadn't expected to understand the subsequent conversation, but after the first exchange in their native tongue the two Primes suddenly switched to perfect English. She frowned as she took in what was being said, glancing quickly at Phil.
     "Hundreds of space bridge pillars? Where are they then?"
     Phil hushed her as they listened to the exchange between a blonde woman who seemed to be someone in authority and the two Primes - an exchange that had Poppy bristling.
     "Who the hell does she think she is?! He's older than our entire species! You don't talk to something like that... like that! Uncivilised old hag!"
     Phil patted her shoulder. "Charlotte Mearing, Director of National Intelligence."
     "HAH! She should show some bloody intelligence herself then! If I'd been that rude to my elders - to anyone - I'd have got a long lecture on courtesy and respect and been sent to my room for at least an afternoon." She growled. "I really hope he doesn't end up thinking all humans are like that..."
     "I must agree it's not exactly a good introduction to humanity, but Optimus will explain, I'm sure." He frowned. "She does have a point though. If the Decepticons can assemble the pillars into a working space bridge, they could transport more of their faction here. Many more. They could take over the planet in days."
     Poppy shivered as the recording ended - then raised a hand as a thought struck her. "Hang on. Sentinel said that he alone can operate it. But Ramp said Starscream could as well." She turned to the computer transformer perched behind and to her right. "Can't he?"
     She flinched as Ramp glowered at her, only then remembering she wasn't supposed to know that as Graham and Phil glared at her then at the transformer. Ramp whirred in irritation and nodded reluctantly. "But no one knows where he is. The assumption is he's probably with Megatron. It's debatable, though, whether he would help his colleagues operate the bridge. We know his loyalty to Megatron is questionable. He's always thought he would make a better leader, and bringing more of Megatron's troops to earth would not advance his own agenda."
     Poppy rubbed her face. "This could get complicated."
     It was probably just as well she wasn't privy to the silent internal communication being carried on amongst her transformers...

::This is bad. Very bad::
     Vault 'nodded' his agreement to 'Spin. ::Seven billion humans on this planet. They wouldn't stand a chance::
     ::Neither would we...:: Livewire was shuddering. ::What would we do?::
     ::Can we leave?::
     'Spin glared at Sinewave. ::How? We have no transport. And I won't leave Poppy::
     ::Could we use the space bridge ourselves?::
     ::You think they'd leave it unguarded? And in any case, where would we go?::
     ::Anywhere but here!:: Sinewave was beginning to panic. Vault wrapped long arms around his shoulders, field soothing.
     ::We represent the best of our generation of surviving Cybertronians. There must be something we can do to help the Autobots and humans::
     ::We aren't fighters!:: Sinewave was trembling, systems in turmoil. Vault hugged him more firmly, comforting field extending and strengthening.
     ::We're still neutrals. We are no real threat to the 'Cons::
     ::But we escaped. We've been living here safely, helping the humans. They'll see us as traitors, won't they?::
     Vault hesitated. ::Realists, maybe. I still think we may be beneath their notice::
     ::With our skills?:: 'Spin shook his head. ::We're more likely to be conscripted::
     ::I hate to be the bearer of bad news:: Ramp interrupted. ::But Shockwave's on earth::
     They all froze - then Sinewave turned to Vault in anguish.
     ::Promise you'll deactivate me before he gets his servos on me?::
     Vault shuddered, field abruptly terrified.
     ::Both of us, if it comes to that::

At the back of the rec room Highdive and Castle gazed at each other. Castle shrugged.
     ::Eh well. Shame really. Pretty little planet. Pity we won't get to see more of it before the end...::

"How bad is it, really?"
     The meeting had ended on a grim note, even with Phil trying to be optimistic. Graham took the mug of coffee Poppy handed him and frowned.
     "It depends. If the Autobots and NEST can keep Sentinel safe, we'll be OK. If they decide to destroy the pillars, especially the control pillar, we'll be OK - unless or until a new one is constructed, and we don't know if that's possible given our primitive tech. It would at least buy us some extra time."
     "Why not destroy it now, then?"
     "Well, for a start that blasted woman has everything locked away in an extremely secure vault and has no intention of letting anyone have access."
     "Oh. How secure?"
     "Decepticon secure."
     "Why? Why doesn't she just order its destruction?"
     He sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face.
     "I assume the usual. Let's find out how it works and turn it into a weapon..."
     Poppy huffed. "What are the other options?"
     "Worst comes to the worst, Sentinel dies. Without him they can't use it.
     "Oh, I'm sure he'd just love that."
     "He might be willing, to save what's left of his race..."
     "Unless they get Starscream to use it instead."
     "There is that... but it's unlikely he'd be willing to deploy it unless he can use it for his own purposes."
     "I get the impression what anyone wants really doesn't matter to Megatron if it gets in the way of his plans."
     "True. Though he was badly damaged in Egypt. We don't know how much of a threat he still is."
     "We don't bloody well know very much, do we." Poppy's tone was scathing. Graham shook his head.
     "No, we don't. With Soundwave monitoring global communications from above, the Cons here in hiding except when they attack, and our own limited resources, we're at a distinct disadvantage. The only thing working to your personal advantage at the moment is that this little island will most likely be overlooked, at least in the initial stages of a hostile takeover."
     "Oh, well that's reassuring..."
     He chuckled. "It could be worse. They can be killed. And if the space bridge does get built, and if our lot can gain control of it, the Autobots can call in their scattered forces."
     "Too many ifs. I don't like ifs."
     "Not too fond of them myself. But you know, it may all never happen. The other pillars may have been lost to space after the Ark left Cybertron. The ship was practically ripped open, after all. And with only five, as I understand it, any space bridge will be small, only powerful enough to transport a handful of transformers at a time. We can cope with that, even if the 'Cons do get hold of it."
     Poppy wasn't convinced, but allowed her natural optimism to take over for now. It was better than thinking about the alternative, at least until they had more information.
     Graham finished his coffee and smiled at Poppy.
     "OK if we stay the night?"
     "Of course. That'll make 'Beat happy."
     He inclined his head, curious. "It will?"
     "He gets on well with Stronghold. I think they're quite close friends now."
     Graham and Phil exchanged glances. "Really."
     Poppy nodded. "Since Stronghold looked after him when Highdive shot him. I think it's nice."
     "I... suppose so. I hadn't noticed."
     She grinned. "They don't make a big thing of it, but 'Beat is always more cheerful when he knows you're coming over. And they spend most of their time together."
     "I thought that was because they're both cars."
     Poppy giggled. "Well, that's probably part of it. And Stronghold does help 'Beat with his training. But I think there's more to it than that."
     Phil nodded. "Good for them! Everyone needs a friend." He raised a quizzical eyebrow at Graham. "Which is a thought. When do I get my own transformer?"
     "When we have someone suitable to spare. Which won't be before this latest crisis is over, I'm afraid."
     "Oh well. I'll keep my fingers crossed for a speedy resolution then."

And in the meantime, life carried on as usual, at least in the human side of the Consulate. Poppy tried to keep the administrative work under control, but was on the verge of giving up and organising a PA and secretary. Vault and Sinewave continued to teach, and their concepts had started to be assimilated into new purpose built structures slowly replacing old, inefficient buildings in key areas of the country. 'Spin, with Aaron and a new attendee, Roger Fairborn, looking on, had developed a new material that was perfect for replacement drainage systems and conduits, flexible, waterproof, practically indestructible. The patent for that alone meant they'd be self-supporting for a long time. And Muncher and the gardeners were looking into potential new hybrid fruits, something that came as a surprise to Poppy but which she happily encouraged.

And then came the news that Sentinel Prime had betrayed them all.

© JAT 17.2.12

Part 10 - Afterwards

To anyone who wasn't there to see it, the narrowly-averted end of the world was a bit of an anti-climax...

Poppy frowned at the image frozen on the screen, trying to make it make sense. She glanced at the transformer perched beside her.
     "So... that... thing is Cybertron...?"
     Ramp, gazing longingly at the massive intricately honeycombed image glinting through the light clouds above Chicago, was silent for a moment or two, and when he spoke his voice had an odd staticky buzz to it.
     "Home. It has been so long. Even sick as it is... it's still home..."
     "But... how?"
     "Sentinels' space bridge."
     "It transported the entire planet?"
     He twisted his head to regard her, eyes flickering.
     "The technology once transported a sun. Moving a planet was easy."
     "Why didn't we feel anything? I mean, something that big has gravity. Surely we should have felt... I don't know... earthquakes? Tidal waves? Heaviness?"
     "I believe the effect of our world's gravity was negated while it was held in the spatial warp. We wouldn't have felt anything until it was completely here. By which time it would be too late."
     "And Cybertron would have crashed into earth. Or earth been pulled into Cybertron. And one or both would have been destroyed?"
     "Earth, certainly. Cybertron is mostly comprised of extremely dense metals. It would most likely have survived. Gradually incorporated earth's minerals, its energy, into itself. Settled itself into earth's orbit around your sun and recovered."
     "But we'd all be dead. Us humans, I mean. Even if we survived the initial collision."
     Ramp bowed his head. "I am afraid so."
     "And now it's gone. Was it destroyed?"
     "We don't know. It would be best to assume that it was, I think. It would be better, for now, to believe that earth is our home, that we have nowhere else to go. That way lies... acceptance."
     Poppy nodded sadly and glanced around the lounge. The mood over the last few days, since Bumblebee had thrown himself against the control pillar and stopped the transportation of the devastated planet, had been sombre at best, depressed at worst. It was mostly the loss - again - of their home world, she knew that, but also... how much they must all be hurting to know that the ancient Prime they once revered had betrayed them, their civilisation, their ideals.
     She knew that the loss of Ironhide was hurting 'Beat and Stronghold. She thought that their Prime's reported.... savagery... had come as a shock to her transformers as well - well, maybe not to Castle and Highdive, but they were combat trained and had already seen action. For the rest - to know that their beloved leader had descended to the level of the 'Cons was... frightening. They understood why, that he'd had no choice, but knowing what he'd done, the vicious slaughter of both Megatron and Sentinel...
     She wondered what effect it had had on the Prime himself. The guilt he must be feeling!
     "So what happens how?"
     Ramp's head rolled back until he was looking at the ceiling.
     "We will do what we can to help with the cleanup. Try to repair the damage, physical, mental and... political." He tilted his head to eye Poppy, mouthplates managing a small, humourless smile. "The work we and our counterparts in the other consulates are doing will help. We all have a huge debt to repay. And we must make sure nothing like this can ever happen again."
     Poppy sighed and stroked his back.
     "It's so unfair."
     "The universe isn't fair, Poppy."
     "I know, really. I just keep wishing and hoping it would change its mind."

Zee had called a meeting.
     This was unusual, but necessary under the circumstances. All department heads attended, onscreen if not in person. With Aitch hovering behind him, Zee called everyone to order.
     "As should be obvious to every member of the Club, our priorities must change."
     Aitch resisted rolling his eyes. No, really?
     "With the Decepticons defeated and Soundwave dead, we need to refocus. Our ultimate aim is still control, but I believe that should change from military to commercial."
     As I've been saying for years. Aitch suppressed a sigh. Zee was old school, from a military background; it wasn't surprising that his initial focus would be the world's armed forces. In a way it echoed the organisation's name. A club was a blunt instrument as well as an association of people.
     "Without Soundwave, the possibility of controlling global communications has also gone. However, we know that the so-called neutral transformers have been devising new materials and processes. If we can gain control of them, we can still achieve our goals."
     A murmur of agreement, and Zee smiled mirthlessly.
     "It's time to bring our little band of troublemakers into the fold."

The information that Starscream wasn't - entirely - dead came as a most unwelcome shock. Poppy stared at Phil. She'd only ever seen pictures of the 'Con, but the stories had been enough to scare her rigid.
     "But I thought..."
     Phil shook his head grimly.
     "Hard to kill, these transformers. His spark chamber survived, and while his processor was badly damaged, enough survived that Ratchet believes he can be revived."
     "But why? He's just... surely he's far too dangerous?"
     Phil shrugged helplessly. "Personally I think Ratchet's insane to even think about it. But... from what Jolt has let slip, Starscream used to be a fine scientist, skilled in several disciplines, and Ratchet doesn't want to lose him unless it's absolutely necessary." He hesitated for a second, then frowned. "I'm wondering if there's some history between them too. Ratchet is being really really stubborn about making the attempt."
     "But how the hell would that work?"
     "Ah." Phil eyed her consideringly. "Starscream's in pieces at the moment, his remains on their way to Diego Garcia.... How much do you know about protoforms?"
     "Only what I've read in 'Beat's history."
     "Right. Well, as far as I can understand it, Ratchet plans to reconstruct Starscream's protoform but making it smaller than it was, and limiting the facility for weapons. He believes - though I think it's more a hope than a belief - that being given a second chance, free of the abuse he apparently suffered under Megatron, is worth the effort and risk."
     Poppy stared at him, open-mouthed. "That is completely mad."
     "Oh, I agree. But you do not argue with Ratchet once he's made up his mind."
     Poppy nodded slowly, then inclined her head.
     "It wouldn't half help make Prime feel better though."
     Phil stared at her, puzzled, and she managed a small smile. "I don't know the Prime, but from what everyone has said, I imagine he's feeling absolutely gutted about this whole situation. That it's all his fault. To be able to make any sort of reparation..." she shrugged. "I know I'm attributing human feelings and motivation to aliens, but..." she huffed helplessly. "Well, it kind of makes sense to me."
     Phil eyed her affectionately and smiled.
     "I love the way you think. And yes, I think you're right."
     She chuckled. "Just as long as I don't have to mother Starscream!"
     "Oh, I don't think you need worry. Even if it works he'll be under the closest scrutiny and tightest security for quite a while."

"But I don't want to go!"
     Poppy heard 'Spin's wail from her office, where she was running her daily check on the situation in Chicago - so far everything was going reasonably well, with all available Autobots, and quite a few neutrals, pitching in to repair the damage Sentinel had caused. Sighing, she pulled herself upright and made her way down to the lounge.
     Graham and Phil seemed to be arguing with 'Spin, who was hunkered down with his arms crossed over his front and what Poppy could only call a mulish expression on his face. She frowned.
     "What's going on?"
     "Poppy! Help! They want me to go and work on Thtarthcream!"
     She stumbled to a halt and stared at the officers.
     "You WHAT?!"
     Graham raised his hands placatingly.
     "'Spin has the skills needed to forge the new protoform and spark chamber. Prime has requested his help."
     Poppy frowned. "Oh, OK, I see. So what's all the fuss about?"
     "I don't want to go. I don't want to leave you. And I don't want to work on a Dethepticon!"
     Phil sighed irritatedly. "With respect, 'Spin, he's not a 'Con any longer. By the time he's been... reconfigured, he'll be almost an infant. A sparkling. Ratchet is convinced he won't remember anything about his life as a 'Con."
     Poppy frowned. "Will he remember anything? I mean, will he still be able to function as a scientist?"
     Graham threw his hands in the air and snorted. "I understand about one word in twenty of what Ratchet says, but I gather that that part of his processor is essentially undamaged. Which is a bloody miracle, if you ask me."
     "Thtill not going." 'Spin somehow managed to look like a petulant five year old, and Poppy had to bite back a giggle. She laid her hands on his shoulders, expression sombre.
     "'Spin, it's for the Prime. It's for us. And you're the only person qualified - isn't he?" she added, frowning at Graham, who nodded. "You really can't say no."
     "Yeth I can. I am NOT leaving you, Poppy."
     The humans exchanged glances - then Poppy inclined her head, a slow smile dawning on her face. She smirked at Graham, who looked suddenly wary.
     "You did say to keep my passport up to date." She grinned at 'Spin. "Well, why don't I come with you then?"

© JAT 25.02.12

Onto Renewal, the fifth part of the story (thanks, Lutra, for the title!)