| title= Not The Mech We Need Right Now
| summary= While following a very promising signal, Arcee locates Hot Rod injured but in functional condition, and she leads him back to Iacon with the full intention of reuniting him with the Matrix of Leadership so the Autobots can once again have Rodimus Prime back. But there's just one minor problem. Nothing is ever straightforward or simple when it needs to be!
Hillside - Limbranite Tundra
There are few places on Cybertron as idyllic as the tundra hillside. Copper, bronze and white metallic slopes grace the inner circle of the otherwise frigid flats. Intricate, fan-like dendrite patterns appear on the ground in some areas and elk-like mechanical beasts roam the landscape, nibbling on the short stalks of monocrystalline "whiskers" that cluster around the outcroppings. A chorus of softly grinding chirps emanates from unseen mecha-insectoid hives beneath the ground, and small pools of energon gather between hills.
It has often been remarked on about how peaceful the hillside of the Limbranite Tundra is. Today is no exception with the gentle chorus of insectoids chirping as an accompaniment to the slow relaxed pace of the residents grazing. Until they look up and, as one, flee. The chirp stops as, sensing danger, the insectoids retreat to the deepest depths of their hive.
It would be unwise to be looking around as up is more the direction, and source, of the sudden change. Over the roar of air being displaced an incomprehensible cry can be heard. A blurred streak is aimed groundward, trailing flame. When it meets the ground there's a single beat of impact and, aside from a crater, the peaceful setting returns to normal.
None of the beasts or insectoids pay particular attention to the crater. It can't be chirped at or chewed on so it's of no interest. If anyone did, however, they'd have heard the faintest murmur of, "Ow." and they'd have seen a hand move towards a flamed chest as it activated a distress beacon. Then they'd have seen that...
Hot Rod, already in the ground, falls unconscious.
Arcee darts ahead to gracefully transform into her pink Cybertronian Tech Car, engine purring, ready to go!
Pink Saturn Sky <Arcee> has spent the last few cycles investigating promising-looking 'blips' on the new-improved signal map. She's in vehicular mode to cover ground quicker, and each time she crests a hill, she gains ground on a particularly strong signal. But she isn't actually getting anything on visual, which confuses her.
Quite suddenly, she sees a very bright flaming streak, heading downward and impacting the ground with considerable force. Meteorites are not entirely uncommon on Cybertron, although Arcee notes that the arrival of this particular one has only made the signal stronger by leaps and bounds. ( That's weird. Maybe there's a flaw in the program, ) Arcee thinks as she drives toward the newly-formed crater to investigate. Then, the 'meteor' begins emitting a distress beacon.
"Wait a minute, that's no meteorite!" She exclaims as she races toward the crater and transforms, peering in toward the aperature in the ground. "Hello???"
The pink Cybertronian tech car splits apart to reveal Autobot Warrior Arcee! She's ready to kick aft!
Optics flicker from a powerless flat finish to an eventual dull blue glow. Hot Rod, barely regaining consciousness for a moment, makes some noises with his vocalizer too faint to count as speech. The optics flicker and go out. Some time passes, the chirping being the only sound, the grazing the only movement.
Hot Rod's optics flicker back into life, igniting brighter this time and the hand formerly on his chest moves, slowly, painfully slowly, to cover his optics. He finally says, "Five more minutes in the recharger. Then I'll get up. I promise." Although online it's fair to say he's not fully booted up yet.
Arcee gasps when she spots the all-too-familiar figure inside the crater. "Rod!!" she yells. "Rod, can you hear me??! Hang on, I'm going to get you out of there!" The pink warrior carefully climbs down into the crater and grabs ahold of one of Rod's arms and one of his legs -- the two limbs she's able to get the best grip on -- and she begins pulling him out. "Ngghh, you're a little bit stuck...!"
"...!" What Hot Rod was going to say is lost as, suddenly, he goes from taking a nap to being towed. Using what little purchase he has with his remaining limbs, combined with the help from Arcee, Hot Rod is freed from his self imposed incarceration. "Hi there Arcee. Thanks. Now I know what a tow cable feels like." Hot Rod rubs his head with his free hand before saying, "If you can tell the guy trying to drill into my head to stop, that'd be great."
Once Arcee's able to physically lug Rod out of the crater, she holds him steady in a standing position. When she releases him, she takes hold of his hands in case he pitches over. "You were falling. Can you remember where you were falling /from/??"
As Arcee gets him to stand and stay standing something occurs to Hot Rod. Or it would if everything didn't hurt so much. As Arcee takes his hands to stop him falling he looks at her hands then to her optics. There it is again. If he could just think something that isn't 'pain. just everywhere.' "Who was falling for who?" Hot Rod asks, confused and dazed. Then it hits him with more impact than the ground. "Hey, when'd you get taller? That an upgrade or something?"
Arcee doesn't look amused at all. In fact, she looks worried, bordering on frightened. "Don't worry about that now, I'll explain everything when we return to base. Right now, I want to see if you're in any shape to get back there from this point, as we have no way to call for any type of medical evac. Can you transform?"
"Woah, woah-woah." Hot Rod says, seeing the concern, "What's wrong?" He takes a quick look at himself and, as he twists to look over his shoulder, he sees the snapped off half of his spoiler. Turning back to Arcee he says, "Hey, c'mon now. It's nothing that a few parts won't fix. It's not that bad. Is it the spoiler? What is it?" Even if he'd had the Matrix his own stubbornness would have overridden it. He's not moving or transforming yet.
"A lot of things are really, really wrong, and it's way too much to explain because you've just landed on your processor from an orbital height, so...you might not even be in a position to fully understand," Arcee explains. "By the way, we don't have the medical staff to fix you. And we probably won't have the parts on hand. So I'm hoping that the Matrix will do its thing and get you back into working order, because I've seen it do that before. Do you feel like you can transform?"
"Matrix?!" Hot Rod exclaims, "I got that right here!" Taking his hands from Arcee's he opens up his chestplate and sees... nothing. Closing it up quickly he says, "Wait. I'm..." Hot Rod tries to transform. The first effort results in him springing back to root mode. Not even taking a tick to wait before trying again Hot Rod slowly moves, folds down, subspaces and transforms. "All right! Party time!"
Starting his engine Hot Rod does an experimental donut or two, engine revving loudly, tire smoke rising from his flamed bodywork. Transforming back he says, "So... how'd this happen? Medical can wait. They get busy, stores run low, no problem. I can do it myself if it takes too long." Hot Rod grins brightly. He's forgotten about the pain for now as, whatever happened, it's got some upsides so far.
"No, medical CAN'T wait," Arcee says sternly, watching to see if Rod has much of a problem with transforming. It doesn't seem that there's too much glitching with the transformation sequence, which is an encouraging sign. "That's why I want to get you back to the base, so the Matrix can patch you up. There IS no medical staff right now anyway, like I said before. Everyone's missing in action. And when I say everyone, I mean...the majority of the Cybertronian population...is gone. What happened? We don't know. Signs point to a mass kidnapping."
Enthusiasm stalled, Hot Rod's face falls, "Hey. That's not funny." he says, a little hurt sounding, "I know I took a bit of a crash but it's not like the whole of Cybertron'd become a ghost town just 'cause I've been away for..." Hot Rod pauses, realises he doesn't know how long he's been away for and continues, "... whatever. I don't know what happened but to say I'd lose the Matrix and the Autobots all in one day? Not cool." Transforming Hot Rod starts his engine and says, "Come on. Once we're back and I'm fixed up I can find out what's really going on."
Arcee follows suit, but she smiles a bit in relief that the reality of the situation is FINALLY beginning to get through. She honestly thought Rod wouldn't get it until he saw the nearly-empty city of Iacon for himself. "Alright. And don't worry, you didn't lose the Matrix, it got 'moved' but we're not sure how. It's been in safekeeping."
Hot Rod has left.
(A short time later...)
City Center - Iacon
Amidst the sea of dome-like buildings stands the tall spiraling Tower of Pion in the center of the Iacon city-state. The rest of the buildings in the sector seem to be built entirely around the tower itself in a well arranged circular pattern that sets the theme for the rest of the city-state's layout. This region of Iacon houses the majority of the city-state's entertainment and high classed residential districts.
Thousands of multi-leveled collapsible floating highway networks extend all across the region, occupying the spaces in between the sea of domed buildings. Noteworthy areas of interest from here are the High Council Pavilions towards the north, the Autobots' stronghold of Decagon over to the west, the Central Spaceport that towers over all of Iacon to the east, and the the Forum of Enlightenment leading to the south.
Defense Base <Omega Supreme>
Tower of Pion
Hot Rod has arrived.
This is getting beyond a joke... Hot Rod thinks as he reaches the city center. He just stops, transforms and sits down on the ground. His face says it all. Utter despair, with a little self loathing mixed in for good measure. He knew he was never good enough to really be worthy of all the responsibilities that kept getting dumped on him but... seeing this... he never thought he'd fail. Not like this. Not again. Hot Rod's head just drops into his hands hoping his systems will just shut down.
Arcee follows Rod along until he transforms and stops in the typically busy but now nearly vacant city center. "Rod, don't blame yourself, please," Arcee says in a gentler tone, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Listen. The Decepticons are in the same predicament. Punch and I established a temporary cease-fire with them, and we're going to try and work together to get some answers. This isn't your fault. Obviously, we're encountering a situation like none we've ever had to deal with. We just need to make it work. And you're not alone, either, you definitely have the support of your friends."
He sits and listens. Even over the noise of his silent nightmare playing out all around. He sighs. As much as he wants to give in, give up, just accept defeat and finally concede that he isn't good enough... could never be... he can't. He can't even blame the Matrix for that either. Through the shock, pain, doubt and fear... it always feels the same.
There's a choice... he just wouldn't be who he is if ever chose to give up. Gotta get up. Gotta fight back. Gotta... "... get it back." Hot Rod takes the hand on his shoulder, takes it in his own and holds on to it as he stands. Looking at Arcee Hot Rod says, with nothing but determination, "The Matrix. Where is it? There's a lot to do and we're gonna need to give it all we've got. Lets do this."
"It's been kept very safe," Arcee promises gently. "As a matter of fact, let me give them a call."
<Autobot> Arcee says, "*Ahem* Punch?"
<Autobot> Punch says, "Punch here. Go ahead Arcee."
<Autobot> Arcee says, "Could you come to the city center in Iacon, please? Oh, and bring along the 'cargo'; it's very important."
<Autobot> Punch says, "The..." there's a sound of a vocalizer being cleared, "... It? Now? May I ask why?"
<Autobot> Arcee says, "I found Rod. He's here and he'd like to have it back."
<Autobot> Punch says, "Ahh. There's no other way to put this. For security reasons... it... is currently unavailable. Even I can't override the measures I took. It'll take some time to get it back."
<Autobot> Arcee says, "What! Punch. *sighs heavily* ...Alright, I'll let him know. He's not going to be happy, you know that, right?"
Arcee puts on her best neutral expression, and she turns toward Rod. "...Apparently, Punch has...put the Matrix someplace extremely secure, and he's told me that it is 'currently unavailable', he's unable to override the security measures, and it will take 'some time' to get it back. His words, not mine."
<Autobot> Punch says, "He's not the first Prime I've had a discussion with. I'll be fine. I'll see if there's anything I can do to speed things up but... the measures were the best I could do. Everything I could think of."
<Autobot> Punch says, "Oh, and send my regards to Rodimus. Hot Rod. Whatever title he's currently going by."
<Autobot> Arcee says, "I can't believe you did this!"
<Autobot> Punch says, "I did what I had to. It is safe. Essential balance of security. The safer something is... the harder it is to get to. If you wish to discuss it further then I'll happily do so. In person. Not here. I'm sorry. Punch out."
Hot Rod's face twitches a little. Unlike the doublespy Hot Rod's no good at hiding facial expressions. So the smile he's trying to hide can plainly be seen. "Aweso-" He then, poorly, fakes a coughing fit.
Still grinning Hot Rod says, "Well, he was just probably trying to do what's best, spilt drinks and whatever. We'll just have to get it back later." Maybe this won't be so bad after all. Even the Matrix is giving him a break. "So, how many of us are left? I'm racing to catch up."
"There's myself, Punch, Smokescreen...well, I mean, the entire list is in the Decagon's Security Room. Provided you have any interest at all." Arcee couldn't be more annoyed at Punch right now. Looks like someone would need to continue to be the 'adult in the room', and by Primus, it was going to be her. "Are you still in some pain? You can probably get some rudimentary repair at Iacon Medical, but nothing major."
Hot Rod, after clenching the hand on his outstretched arm a few times, replaces the hand for a tool, like a very refined welding gun, and says, "You said there's no one at medical... there is now. I'm no First Aid but I can do most things." Hot Rod brings his hand back and adds, "Now, Cee, don't get sore. Of course I care. I'm more than just the Matrix. I'll... read the paperwork." Grin burning more fiercely Hot Rod adds, "Later. First thing's to get down to Iacon General and see what I got to work with, arrange a triage and see what I can do to help those already hurting."
Arcee manages a slight smile. "Oh, you're going to go help them out? Fantastic! OK, I'll tell you what, when you're done, come back to the Decagon and we'll meet at the 2nd floor lounge later on." In the meantime, she had questions for Punch. Oh, did she have questions for him.
(A short time later...)
Security Room - Decagon
A multitude of monitors cover most of the walls that make up the security room. It is here that the Autobots' elaborate web of sensor network grids is vigilantly monitored by Autobot military personnel. This includes key tactical locations underground, on the surface, near city perimeters, and even the region of space around Cybertron.
Red Alert's Desk
Sensor Station <Decagon>
Punch has arrived.
<Autobot> Arcee says, "Punch, please report to the Security Room in the Decagon. I want to talk to you."
<Autobot> Punch says, "Understood."
Arcee is angry, but she's trying hard to channel her inner Prowl. She knows that Punch did what he did with the best of intentions, and she tries to keep that in mind as she paces around the security room, awaiting the spy's arrival.
Punch walks into the security room, a nearly empty bottle of coolant in one hand and nothing in the other. "I'm here. As requested." Punch says, concentrating on his stance. Open. Poorly defended. Offering no resistance. His face is a mask of unreadable expression. Some days he wishes he was just a nobody. In many ways it'd be easier to live his cover as his real life.
Arcee walks over to Punch, looking dismayed. "Okay, please explain to me what happened. No 'mistakes were made' type-shortcuts. Please just explain what happened, and if possible, approximate how long it will take to resolve this situation. Because Rod's a nice mech, but he's not the mech we need right now."
Punch takes a deep vent of air in. He then says, "As concerns were raised regarding the current security measures... I made new ones. No longer keeping the Matrix on me required coming up with a security protocol that couldn't be bypassed or otherwise overcome."
taking a sip of the coolant Punch continues, "As a result the Matrix is in transit on a specially designed craft with a course and heading unknown even to me. The flightplan will, eventually, do a pass by via a Cybertronian orbit and, at that point, command codes can be issued to make the craft land at a pre determined destination."
Punch shrugs "To avoid interception there isn't a fixed timescale on the runs. It could vary. The best I can do is make contact with some interplanetary assets I have and get them to relay the return command if the craft comes into range of them." Punch pauses, looks briefly at the floor, then adds, "It's a tradeoff. Speed of recovery versus safety. I chose as much of the latter at the cost of the former."
Arcee has to steady herself against a chair as Punch explains to her the long, strange trip he's sent the Matrix on, because it's enough to give her feelings that can best be described as 'woozy'. Robots don't get woozy -- or so she thought, up until this moment. This news is enough to make her processor spin. "Gghhk. OK, well...just...tell it to come back ASAP," she stresses.
Punch looks back up and swiftly is over by Arcee's side to offer some support. "Easy there. It's okay." Punch soothes, "Looks like you've got your gyro in a spin there. Everything's all right. I'm going to help you take a seat then we'll see if we can stop the spinning." Punch's now preoccupied with the disorientation Arcee's feeling. If he wasn't he would be feeling proud of himself. He didn't have to say classified once. "I'll do everything possible to make it happen as soon as possible. Meantime... let's get you feeling better. Okay?"
"It's okay, I'll be fine, you just...surprised me, that's all," Arcee insists, turning the chair she's leaning on and having a seat there with Punch's assistance. "It's been an interesting day. While all this was happening, Hot Rod fell out of the sky like a blazing meteor."
"I am sorry, for what it's worth." Punch says simply yet sincerely, "There's good reason that I think of this as an existence, rather than a life." he adds, careful to hide any tell tale not of feeling associated with that thought. "You won't mind doing a little exercise for me then. Just to put my mind at rest then." Punch then crouches in front of Arcee and lights the lighter.
It has a surprisingly dull glow considering its purpose. "Just follow the light. Don't turn your head." Then Punch moves the lit lighter very slowly in a somewhat random fashion, "Don't tell me he can fly too?" Punch chuckles, "I thought I knew all the members of that club."
Arcee begins watching the little light that Punch is moving around, and as he does so, she begins looking more perplexed by the moment. "No, Rod can't...fly...not intentionally, anyhow...umm...tell me what this is for?"
Deactivating the flame, Punch carefully puts his lighter back in his arm compartment and says, "Trying to judge if you're disorientated. Optics are connected to the core processors directly. So, if you're a little sluggish following the light then it could be something's a little out of phase. I do the same exercise after a crash landing. Once I find something reflective to use as a mirror, of course." After standing Punch says, "Hmm. Could be a little shock to your system. Again, I tuly am sorry for that. Anything I can get or do for you to help?"
It doesn't seem that Arcee's much worse for wear...her optics are responding normally, so Punch probably gave her something of a scare with his news and not much more. "I'll forgive you this time, but I think the toll might be to buy the next rounds at Maccaddam's," she says in a lighter tone. "In the meantime, I need to get the word out. We have Hot Rod back. Maybe when he's done in the Medical Center, he'll feel like giving me more details about his return, like...why was he in orbit, for one. Here's the thing, though...I was able to locate Rod because of your new-improved scanner. So I need to give you credit for that."
"Understood. Drinks are owed." Punch says with a small nod, "I'm sure Rod, in whichever guise he's in just now, will be putting the word out himself. After all. He's not the shy retiring type." Punch notes then says, "No need to credit me for that scanner. I'm just doing what I can. Which works out well sometimes, not so on others. All that matters is that they're coming back." Punch then looks over to the screen and back to Arcee "Orbit? Where'd you find him? Any more hits and we might be able so see a pattern to where people are showing up."
Arcee nods, then gestures toward one of the surveillance screens. "I was following a particularly strong signal near the Limbranite Tundra," she explains, "When Rod just...fell out of the sky and cratered on impact. No explanation from him, either, but I suspect he was too shaken up to recall immediately after it happened."
Punch stares at the screen, expression screwing up as he thinks, then he says, "Something. Still can't say for sure. It just feels like there's something I'm missing in the pattern." Punch then looks away from the screen and shakes his head to clear the afterimage of the map he's looked at too often lately, "Until we get more information I should take a break from it." Punch pauses, looks to Arcee then says, "Maybe you'd care to join me, that way I can start, at least, paying you back the drinks I owe you."
"...Alright, let's do that," Arcee decides. "When you first mentioned taking breaks I was pretty skeptical, but now the tactic is beginning to prove itself." She moves to stand up. "Sometimes we get the best leads right after a break. Not quite sure how that happens, but it's worked out that way several times now."
Punch offers an observation, "As strange as it may be... as long as it works. An old friend of mine, gone now, taught me that." Punch then stands a little away to allow Arcee to stand and move to the door freely. Not so far he's not able to do something should the toll that the shock took have further effect. "Please, after you." Punch says with a flourish towards the door.