Transformers from 1995 to 2003 (pen-name was Gryph) and attended three
BotCons, then the muse left me and only returned with a vengeance when
movie came out. I couldn’t resist. The Knight Rider Fire&Ice
‘verse is almost as old, but equally the muse went dormant.
Then Barricade happened. Hell, the whole movie happened! *sighs dramatically* Couldn’t resist. Just couldn’t.
If you read this, bear in mind that I haven’t been in these particular ‘verses/fandoms for a while. My latest scribblings have been along the lines of House, CSI, FAKE, Yami no Matsuei, DN Angel, Good Omens and Stargate Atlantis.
If you’re interested in the Fire&Ice ‘verse and want to know more about it, the whole assembly of stories is here: http://home.arcor.de/macx/index.htm
Scroll a bit further down and you can find my TF page, too ;)
Crossover with the Knight Rider Fire&Ice ‘verse
DISCLAIMER: None of the canon characters belong to me, sadly. They are owned by people with a lot more money. But Nick's mine :P
WARNING: experimental fic. Wouldn’t let me go. The bunny was too insistent. Gah!
Author’s Voice of Warning (aka Author’s Note):
English is not my first language; it’s German. This is the best I can do. Any mistakes you find in here, collect them and you might win a prize
// is mind-to-mind communication between Karr and Nick, using the neuro link
More explanations about that follows. If by chance anyone ever read my AU, you know what to expect ;)
It had been fast. It had been painful.
It still was. Painful. Very, very much so.
His sensors had come online only spastically, sputtering and fizzing until Karr had nearly screamed in rage at his malfunctioning systems.
The whole case had been a stupid idea. He had told his driver as much, but Nick hadn’t been inclined to listen to him. He was still dealing with personal issues, with things Karr understood, even empathized with, but to lose himself on a mission just shortly after such a painful event had been stupid.
Of course, it had to come down to a final confrontation between Nick’s old controller and mentor, General Jackson Nash, the man who had created him, and Nick himself. Nash was dead now and Nick had been nearly killed. The moment he had been able to leave the hospital, he had gotten into Karr and they had disappeared. He had cut all ties with the Foundation and Michael Knight. He had gone off, without a specific aim or target, and Karr had come along.
He would always be there for Nick.
Kitt had tried to contact him several times, but he had told his younger brother that they needed time away, that they would be fine, not to worry. Of course Kitt would worry. Even after such a long time, he wouldn’t stop it.
After days of driving, they had ended up in
It had been because Karr had picked up curious radio signals and reports that they had stayed instead of passing through. Because of this curiosity they had ended up in the middle of a fight of apocalyptic proportions.
Explosions, shape-changing machines, giant robots, the military, people running screaming from the scene… and casualties. Too many to count. Karr had been too busy staying alive, keeping Nick alive, and whatever their case had been before, it had paled and disappeared in the light of these developments. Whole buildings had been destroyed, people had been buried underneath falling debris or killed by stray shots and missiles.
Suddenly the strange readings had made sense. Suddenly the weird transmissions and the curious sightings took on form. But it had been too late and Nick and Karr had been right in the middle of it. Swerving through debris-laden streets, impacts left and right, nearly getting hit by a missile from a transforming F-22… and all around them
Their flight had ended when another of the giant robots had blocked their way and tossed the Stealth aside with a swipe of massive, clawed hands. They were flung through the air and Karr had felt the impact of hitting first a building, then the street, coming to rest on his side. The passive restraint system had kept Nick from breaking his neck, but his driver and partner had ended up unconscious, head bouncing against the side window, and bleeding.
What had happened to them afterwards was still unclear to Karr. He knew he was damaged – not even a molecular bonded shield could prevent that when confronted with alien weaponry -- but he also didn’t feel right. His whole body, the Stealth, was like a twisted version of himself now. He was aware of Nick, both through the implant and his still working inner sensors, and his partner was unconscious, though regaining consciousness fast.
Karr tried to scan his surroundings, but again he came up with contradicting readings. He was just too damaged.
Time passed. There were sirens, there were people running around, there was the sound of military vehicles, but no one found them in the collapsed building. Too many injured or dead were on the streets. Karr was keeping all senses trained on Nick.
In that time his body seemed to twitch and shift without Karr doing anything at all. There were ripples running across his skin and when his scanners suddenly went online again, the AI was stumped. More started to work, as if it had been miraculously repaired. Karr almost gasped in shock when he did a complete check and found his damaged exterior was suddenly smooth and almost perfect again.
What the hell was going on?
* * *
Nick knew that he might never understand it all, but the few files of information he and Karr had been able to hack into had been enough to turn his world upside down. With the networks still vulnerable to outside forces, it had been ridiculously easy to enter the highly restricted areas and nose around. The US Defense system would be up and running again soon, but Nick had what he wanted anyway.
It sounded so ridiculous. An alien robot crashing to Earth, landing in the ice, found by the
Wilton Knight must have accessed government files to create the neuro link, the implant, even the advanced AIs Karr and Kitt were. So in a way, they were Earth relatives to these alien life forms.
//I’m not like them!// Karr growled, shifting a little.
Nick smiled slightly. //No, you’re not// he agreed.
But in so many ways he was. Now more than ever.
Another growl, this time full of annoyance.
Nick gazed at his partner, took in the changes to his shape, and the smile grew even more.
The Allspark. Because of some weird alien gizmo Karr had been hit with, this had happened. Nick had spent hours in the still rather unprotected datafiles of the US Defense system, following leads as to what the Allspark had been, and it had been amazing. An energy source that had provided life to a whole race of autonomous robotic life forms. Alien life. It was a device of such magnitude, of such incredible design, and the government had had it locked under the
Nothing in the world could have prepared either of them for the changes the contact with the Allspark had started. Nick thought he remembered something touching them, Karr directly and him indirectly through the link, then an explosion just outside had let Karr tumble and crash, followed by the alien robot tossing them aside like a toy.
Faint memories from after waking combined with the knowledge gleaned from the hacked files and things had unfolded. Alien robots, the Autobots and the Decepticons, fighting over a device called Allspark that could give life to mechanical things.
Karr was already a life form, but now…
Nick scrubbed a hand over his tired features. Metal had come to life, changing, becoming more.
“How do you feel?” Nick asked softly.
He gazed into a dark face, golden-amber eyes looking back at him. Karr’s face was strange but not really unfamiliar. Dark but handsome, Nick thought, even from a human point of view. His black color had stayed in robot form, the exposed ‘skin’ that peaked out from beneath the black armor anthracite or dark gray. His size was enormous in Nick’s eyes, though sixteen feet and three inches wasn’t spectacularly tall for the Cybertronians they had already seen. There were larger, taller ones. There were no obvious weapons, but Karr had demonstrated his familiarity with his new body by transforming one forearm into a gun.
“Not like myself,” came the rumble.
Nick chuckled. “You and me both, pal.”
He felt Karr scan him and he knew his partner saw the changes in him, too. His only mechanical addition was the neuro link in his skull and whatever this Allspark had done, it had affected the implant as well. And whatever it had ‘sparked’, it was developing. Growing inside his body.
“Your body shows no averse changes. Your biological functions are normal.”
He could feel that. He knew he was fine, but the apparently growing device in his head might change that.
Nick had never been prone to feeling alone. He had always been alone, aside from the machine linked to him. Returning home, facing Michael and Kitt, wasn’t even an option any more. Not before they had figured out what to do with this latest development.
Karr transformed and opened his door.
It was time to get on the road again.
* * *
Barricade had lain low. Very low. The first weeks after the battle that had destroyed Megatron and so many of his comrades had been spent trying to repair damage inflicted on him. It had been slow, energy-consuming, and always with the warranted fear that an Autobot might pick up his signal. Or a fellow Decepticon who would see a chance at taking out a rival. With Starscream still out there, probably waiting to strike back at the humans, the best Barricade could do was keep a low profile anyway. His and Starscream’s history was rather… bad.
Nothing the like had happened though. Starscream was gone, not to be heard of since, and all channels were quiet. No Decepticon activity anywhere.
Low on energy from the extensive repairs, Barricade had cruised around mostly at night, blending in. He got his energon from gas stations that closed at night and were badly secured, always making sure he wasn’t seen. The Autobots would be on his trail in no time if he left a path of destruction, though Barricade was tempted to leave nothing but debris behind to teach those insolent humans a lesson.
Now, two months after the battle, he was in a more or less repaired state and he was cruising the streets at daylight, still trying to pick up signals that told him of a Cybertronian near-by.
He was greeted by silence.
Calling for Frenzy had been just as unsuccessful. Wherever his partner was, if he was even still alive, he couldn’t be found.
So he did his own computer hacking, though a lot less sophisticated than Frenzy had been. This had never been his job. Through the net he discovered that the humans had tried to keep the existence of alien robots under wraps, had come up with rather ingenious cover stories, and Barricade had to give them credit for managing something big scale as Megatron’s return and the destruction of the Allspark, as well as almost the whole center of Mission City as they had done. Many of them had died, but explanations had been found that didn’t involve an alien battle.
Barricade patrolled the streets of
He was a strong fighter. He had defeated Barricade, left him at the scrap yard, and he had survived the final battle. Resilient bastard.
The Decepticon didn’t want to risk a confrontation. Bumblebee would have back-up in form of three other Autobots while Barricade was on his own. His survival came first, revenge would have to wait, if executed at all. He wouldn’t put his existence on the line for petty feelings.
It was outside Tranquility, heading toward the dam that had hidden the research facilities of Sector Seven that Barricade caught a blip of something interesting. It wasn’t Cybertronian, not really, but it echoed of the touch of the Allspark. Like a faint glow, it surrounded a vehicle he passed by on the highway, and he slowed down a little, scanning. He was surprised to discover rather advanced technology, driven by a human with even stranger readings.
Intrigued, Barricade decided to follow.
driven deep into the desert mountains, away from popular or even
publicly accessible places, and set up camp. It was a rather primitive
but it was a necessary one for a while.
They needed to learn what they could and couldn’t do. It was trying, it was hard, it was sometimes frustrating and painful, but Karr was learning to handle the bipedal form that had been forced onto him, and Nick was learning to adapt to the shifts he felt through the implant. It was amazing to see his partner this way, to touch a mind that now marveled at the novelty, too.
Hands were new to the AI. As were feet or the fact that he walked and no longer drove. Add to that the increased height and the morphing abilities, and it was a whole lot to master. It helped that Karr had been linked to Nick for the past two decades. Taking his lead from what was instinctive for Nick – walk, run, grasp things – he learned fast. Transformations were smooth and his motor control was increasingly more fluid and fine-tuned, but sometimes there were set-backs, mounting frustration, and even spikes of anger.
But there were also the quiet moments, like this evening, when nothing disturbed what the two had shared for years.
The presence in Nick’s mind was the same he had always felt, silently keeping him company. He was grateful for it. He couldn’t imagine what it would be like to lose this, to have the intimate connection change, morph into something different. Whatever the Allspark had done to Karr, it had not transformed the neuro implant. They had been too close to losing each other too many times before. Back then, it had never mattered that much; now it was a fear neither wanted to think about too closely.
Nick’s thoughts were echoed. He felt a silky, cool touch to his mind, and he smiled. It questioned wordlessly, he answered the same way. Sometimes, there was no need for words, just opening his mind, showing his partner what he couldn’t say. This was beautiful, this was perfection. No one could ever feel it like he did, not even Michael Knight. For him, Kitt was his own perfection. They were all different, like fire and water, like black and white, but they shared something so incredible, that they were the same.
Amber eyes glowed softly in the approaching dark. Karr had opted to stay bipedal, sitting with Nick as his driver relaxed in the fading sunlight.
The link couldn’t be perfection; never had been intended that way. Despite the beauty is transmitted, it also channeled pain, despair and everything else a human mind was capable of -- into the AI linked to it. Like the pain of a bullet harming the body of the more vulnerable human part. A long time ago, when Nick had been harmed, he hadn’t felt his partner react any more than with a brief shifting of his mind. That had gradually changed when Karr had found out that his own prime directive of self-preservation was intimately linked to the preservation of the life of the human he was bonded to. Since then, it had grown from reluctant acceptance to an incredible care.
Almost warmth. Warmth in a way that wasn’t radiating an increased temperature, but that was defined by presence. Nick reached for the silky blackness, felt the tangles of his partner’s outer tendrils wrap playfully around his hand.
After a while in the desert Karr remarked on picking up signals from something or other, much like the signals from the alien robots that had caused all of this. Nick kept an eye out and discovered a police cruiser in the distance. It simply sat there, without anyone ever getting out or in, and now and then it drove off. Karr tried to scan it, but those scans were blocked, quickly followed by the car disappearing.
“Maybe one of them is watching,” Nick murmured.
And waiting. Taunting. Almost wanting them to come closer each time, only to disappear. Nick didn’t feel inclined to give in to the chase. If Nick was any judge of symbols, this one was what the Army had registered as a Decepticon, the enemy.
Great. Just great.
They changed locations after that. Frequently. He drove all the way to
The police cruiser followed.
So Nick made the decision to take this back to where it had started. The Autobots were still here, on Earth, probably not far from their original last stand. Karr was, by and large, one of those Transformers, though he vehemently denied it. If he had to face down a Decepticon, he wanted to do so in the back yard of the Autobots.
* * *
Human brains were slow. Inadequate when compared to the mind of a Cybertronian. Even the lower order robots were faster in computing and executing a thought than a highly intelligent human. Barricade, being of a higher order, looked down on humanity with disdain and disgust. So far, for the past months, he had kept a low profile and not attracted undue attention. He was outnumbered and the Autobots were scanning for Decepticon frequencies, looking for survivors. Devastator, Blackout, Frenzy and Megatron had been terminated and sunk in the oceans. Starscream had fled this planet and Scorponok was nowhere to be heard of. Barricade suspected he had buried himself in a safe place, repairing damage received from human weapons, waiting.
Barricade himself couldn’t just sit and wait. The distraction of this new, intriguing signal had been a nice change to routine. Without Frenzy, part of his systems felt abandoned and derelict. The little bot had interfaced with him whenever he accessed the world wide web of the humans, had recharged in a special component inside Barricade, and while he had been a pain in the electrodes, he had been company.
Following the signals, following the black car that was surrounded by the electronic signatures of an Allspark creation, Barricade didn’t notice the first whispers right away. He was too busy trying to figure out who this car was.
Checking the license plate had left him with no clue. Running visual comparisons with known car models had come equally empty. It had to be a custom made car, with no true basic model, and Barricade’s interest grew.
He began to check on the human. What he got after hours of serious hacking – something Frenzy would have been able to find for him in a matter of minutes – had really caught his attention.
DATA RETURN ON SUBJECT: _
SUBJECT NAME: UNKNOWN
CURRENT NAME: Nicholas MacKenzie
GOVERNMENT I.D.: UNKNOWN
CURRENT MILITARY: NONE
SOCIAL SECURITY #: NONE
FIRE ARMS REGISTRATION: NONE
I.R.S. CURRENT: NOT AVAILABLE
Barricade watched the words 'unknown', 'none' or 'not available' fill the screen as nothing what he had requested was delivered to him. Still, there was no disappointment or anger. It was another clue.
A few days after meeting up with the strange signal, the Decepticon started to notice the growing whispers in his system. It was like a background murmur, something he couldn’t quite pinpoint, nor understand. With Frenzy, there had been chatter when the hacker had been actively linked to his main systems. In recharge mode, there had been a hum of static, interspersed with little buzzing and fizzing noises.
But not like this. This wasn’t another Cybertronian trying to get into his systems. This was different, but it originated from the interface area that now lay dormant and abandoned until Barricade might acquire a new partner.
This was a human. The most interesting human Barricade had ever met. And the machine he was driving was a hybrid, for lack of a better word, created by the Allspark, a first generation Earth Transformer.
Barricade was aware that the human and the car had seen him. He had counted on it, taunting them, trying to get a reaction. So far it was a wary distance, a watching and waiting, and he wondered if they would ever make the first step. If not, if they kept their distance, he might just make those steps for them. Before the Autobots got their grubby little do-gooder hands on this intriguing partnership.
He was a Decepticon. Trying to find the best possible option for himself was in his programming.
It was only
too bad that the moment the human attempted this kind of contact
facing him, that the Autobots caught up on his signal and descended on
* * *
hissed, cornered, aware that if he now raised his gun it would not only
hostile act, it would also provoke the much more massive Autobot to
//Karr, get out of there!// Nick shouted in his head. //Now! Don’t engage!//
It had been a mistake to come to this place. It had been an even bigger mistake to show themselves so openly. Too many mistakes and now a trigger-happy Autobot was trying to turn him into scrap metal.
Well, the idea had been sound. Nick had wanted to confront their silent shadow, the police cruiser that never interfered but always watched, but by leading it here, he had also alerted the Autobot now trying to terminate him. The Decepticon had high-tailed it out of there at an incredible speed, but the Autobot hadn’t followed. He had taken on the next best target: Karr. Why he believed Karr was a Decepticon was beyond Nick, but it seemed a matter of proximity to the actual enemy that made others the enemy, too.
//How? By shooting him?// his partner replied sarcastically. He had no illusions that his current state of armament was inferior to that of the Autobot.
//I’ll distract them. You go//
There was an explosion outside and the Autobot turned his head as if scanning for the source, which was Karr’s clue to get going. His much more slender and lither form enabled him to easily clear the wall behind him and then he transformed. Nick was just outside, looking a bit soot-streaked, and hopped inside.
Karr shot off, but not without his pursuer behind him. The much heavier GMC truck plowed after him with relentless speed. They whisked through the abandoned warehouses, taking apart walls and windows, scraping along pillars and piles of debris. Karr was trying to lose the other robot, but it wasn’t possible.
"Damnit, he's right behind us!"
"His speed surpasses that of a normal vehicle his size," Karr answered levelly, trying to increase speed.
Something struck them and Nick winced. Karr gave a hiss of anger and pain. Laser couldn't really damage them, but concentrated, high energy lasers could hurt. Karr had refused to transform at first to fight back, only changing shape long enough to ward off the more massive Autobot, and Nick had accepted it. They were a team and had gone through enough missions before Karr had received a transformation. They could do this...
Karr spun down the highway, the truck in close pursuit.
"Damn!" Karr suddenly snarled.
The highway was coming to an end, a concrete block ahead.
"Can you break through it?" Nick demanded, voice relaying the stress he was under.
He swerved to avoid a beam of laser fire. Nick saw only one chance. He turned Karr 180 degrees around and floored the accelerator.
"What are you planning to do?"
"Nick, do I have to remind you that we are currently traversing with an increasing speed of 60 mph toward a several tons heavy, truck? I do not think he will 'chicken out'."
Nick smiled grimly. "I know.”
“And he can transform.”
“So can you.”
“I have you inside me.”
Nick laughed wryly. “We can change that.”
Karr growled darkly, but he didn’t try to take control.
Something slammed into him.
Karr screeched in pain and anger as he was pushed off the road and overturned. The transformation came without a second thought, almost like an instinct he had always had. Nick was safely deposited on the ground, looking stunned and a bit worse for wear.
His driver scrambled for safety, getting away from the fight that was about to start, and Karr faced the much larger opponent with a furious hiss.
“So you want to play?” the Autobot laughed. “Gladly!”
The hybrid robot turned to face his attacker and blocked a blow, only to receive a massive jolt that left his mind scrambling for a hold. Karr shrieked, the links to his driver alive with pain as his sensory feelers exploded into agony. He knew he was yelling and something was racing through his very soul, scorching a path through his mind and back.
Nick echoed his scream of pain and Karr reached out through the link to grab the flailing presence. His own pain vanished at the sight.
Fury coursed through him at the sight of the weak, blue light that represented his driver through the connection and he lashed at the Autobot, surprising him with his renewed attack. Karr might not have any experience at hand-to-hand combat – seeing he had had no hands to begin with just a few months ago – but desperation was a quick teacher. That and his connection to a human that had been trained in lethal combat techniques. For Karr, linking to Nick was natural.
What he encountered was a jumble of signals.
Pain. Just pain. All the pain Karr had felt and more. All in Nick’s mind, rebounding off his mental walls, making him delirious and disoriented.
They had shared pain before, worse pain than this, but Nick’s implant had changed and it was no longer the familiar link between them. Whatever had coursed through Karr, it had, without buffer, hit Nick as well.
Nick cried out in agony as his head seemed to explode. Blinding white lights flared up in front of his eyes and he grabbed his head, willing the pain to subside. But the more he fought against it, the stronger it got. With a sob he fell to his knees. Like through layers of thick wool he heard shouts, then even that was gone. There was only pain. He was tumbling deeper and deeper into the pain and it seemed to be all in his head.
This wasn’t just a reflection of the hit Karr ha taken.
This was more. This was different. It seemed to amplify with every second, eating into his very mind.
His body hit the ground and he curled into a ball, still clutching his head. It was unbearable and he wished he would just fall into the merciful blackness of unconsciousness, but it seemed that something was keeping relief from him.
The scream echoed through his mind and the pain increased.
Go away, he yelled, but it was only a faint whisper.
//Nick, no!// the voice cried in agony.
He pushed it away, starting to associate it with the pain.
Karr’s world turned white hot.
Karr was running, not caring about the Autobot, heading toward his driver. Nick was lying in a crumbled heap, eyes screwed shut, hands clutching his head, and a tiny whimper escaped the downed man.
“No!” Karr roared and fell to his knees, scooping the smaller form into his hands, cradling his driver close.
At the sound of heavy footsteps he looked up and the fury turned into hatred. He had no idea how, but he suddenly had a gun in his hand… on his forearm… and it was pointing at the enemy. He felt the energy collect in that specific body part, ready to be released and to destroy the enemy.
“Put down that pea shooter,” the Autobot demanded, two huge canons pointing at Karr. “I’ll blast you to pieces.”
“Ironhide, no!” a new voice commanded over the sound of the massive Autobot charging his weapons.
Karr looked up sharply, snarling, growling deeply. Blue eyes burned in the grim face of the other robot. Just to the left stood a larger mechanoid, not as bulky, colored in blue, silver and blue. He had no gun pointed at him, but somehow he didn’t look unarmed either.
He knew their designations. He knew the larger one was the leader, Optimus Prime. He knew he was in really serious trouble. He knew he was outgunned. He knew he was no match at all.
But he also knew that he had to protect Nick.
//Partner?// he inquired.
//Head… hurts… happened?//
//Backlash. He hit me with something. It went to you, without shields or buffers between us//
Nick was twitching faintly, fighting for a semblance of control. Being a man always in iron control of his body and mind, the backlash had severely disrupted his mind. It was a lot worse than anything he had ever gone through before an Karr felt the ripples and echoes. The neuro implant was a lot more sensitive, a lot more fine-tuned, and whatever was still happening inside Nick because of the Allspark, it was handicapping them.
“Who are you?” his thoughts were interrupted by Optimus Prime.
“He’s no Autobot, all right,” Ironhide snapped. “That only leaves Decepticon scum! He kidnapped a human!”
“Ironhide…” There was a warning there.
Karr still didn’t rise from his crouched position, ready to spring into action, even with Nick cradled to him. He had no clue how strong the gun on his forearm was, but comparing it in size to Ironhide’s weapons, it was like a child’s toy. Still, even small calibers might pack a punch.
“I’m no Deception,” he hissed.
“And no Autobot. But you’re like us.”
He glared at Prime. “I’m not like you!”
“If you are neither, who are you?”
The deep voice was soothing, calm, reasonable. Optimus didn’t move from his position between Karr and Ironhide, making it clear that he was here to protect Karr from the trigger-happy other Cybertronian as long as Karr didn’t turn more hostile than he already was.
“None of you business,” Karr answered coldly.
“It is if you hurt humans!” Ironhide said sharply.
“I did not hurt him. You did.”
The other robot frowned. “What?”
Nick’s hands clenched around Karr’s finger as he fought waves of echoes, then he slammed a mental shield between the pain and his hyper-sensitive implant.
//Getting there// was the breathy reply. //Shit, that hurt! Set me down, okay?//
And Karr did. Reluctantly he released his driver from his grasp.
“Karr, lower your weapon,” Nick said out loud.
//Are you sure?//
//We’re alone, Karr, no back up. I’m feeling far from fine and my head’s about to explode. You have no idea about the fighting capabilities of your body and that gun isn’t going to help much//
//You trust them?//
//No, but right now, being alive and not shot to pieces, I think they’re the better option//
Nick didn’t answer, just looked up the imposing robot called Optimus Prime. “I think you’re the very person we need to talk to,” he only said.
“Yes. Because what happened to us happened in
That had their attention. Completely. Nick would have smiled if his head wasn’t pounding so badly, if all his joints weren’t aching.
* * *
Captain Will Lennox, leader of a very special team consisting of Army Rangers, Airforce and Special Ops – the only team to work side by side with the Autobots on Earth – looked up from his laptop. Ironhide had contacted him, telling him that they were coming in with a special package. It had been cryptic and the weapons specialist had been unwilling to go into detail, aside from mentioning that it concerned them all.
That had been months ago. He hadn’t seen his wife or daughter and things were strained between them. Her happiness about his survival of
He pushed those thoughts aside and rose as Optimus Prime drove into the hangar, followed by an unfamiliar car, Ironhide bringing up the read.
The black car pulled up in front of the hangar, the finish giving the impression of sucking up the last rays of the sun as it set slowly on the horizon. It was of an unknown brand, a special construction, nothing you could buy anywhere. The door opened and a man got out. He had black hair, a sun-tanned face that didn't reveal his age and his eyes were hidden by sunglasses. The man was dressed in black jeans, a black jacket and a white shirt.
Ironhide transformed, looking rather grumpy – which was nothing new -- followed by Prime, whose expression was hard to read.
“I think it is time for introductions now,” Ironhide growled. “Who are you?”
The dark-haired man shrugged.
“My name is Nick MacKenzie, this is my partner Karr. And I know who you are.”
“How?” Will asked, still not relaxing.
“Just because you cover up the arrival of giant, transforming robots doesn’t mean a few well-placed hacks can’t reveal a thing or two.”
Ironhide’s optics flashed. “You’re a spy?”
“No. An interested party.”
“We were in
Optimus looked at the black sports car. “He is none of us.”
“No. Neither of you, nor the others. His core unit was constructed on Earth, his shell designed by me,” MacKenzie explained levelly. “Everything else, you added.”
“Holy shit,” he whispered.
“Quite,” was MacKenzie’s reply, smiling wryly.
He had taken off the glasses and Will was looking into ice blue eyes. There were deeper lines of pain around those eyes than a mere headache could create.
“The Allspark,” Optimus only said.
“You know about it?” Prime wanted to know.
“Like I said, I know my way around the net, and the
Will heard more sarcasm, but he also noticed a shiver running through the man. Karr was looking at the human, eyes brightening briefly, and MacKenzie had to reach out for the leg again as he swayed a little.
“Are you okay, Mr. MacKenzie?”
“Fine,” came the strained answer.
From the looks of it, this was far from the truth.
“Maybe we should take this somewhere else,”
Nick laughed wryly. “You and me both.”
Optimus nodded and
MacKenzie followed, though he looked wary and alert, confirming for
Optimus and the others took their places as
* * *
Prime had felt his own alarms ring when he had first encountered
Karr, and those alarms were still there. Like meeting a Decepticon, he
This small human radiated such danger, he understood Ironhide’s
itchiness. His weapons specialist was so wired, the tension was almost
palpable. Ironhide insisted that Karr was a Decepticon plant, but
had heard or seen so far suggested that.
Nick’s reluctance to really answer any of their questions didn’t help, though. The man was tight-lipped and, though not hostile, rather distant..
So he had employed the help of the world wide web, entering government files and poking around. What he had gotten had been chilly and terrible. Nick’s files read like a Decepticon’s past.
Looking down at the tired man, Optimus knew they had to help. What had happened to Nick and Karr was partially their fault. They had brought this war to Earth. They had risked the lives at
“I offer you our help,” he told the man, looking into a pair of cold, blue eyes.
Nick was tired and exhausted and mentally strained to the max. All his defenses had crumbled in the last hours. It had started after
Karr soothingly touched him, relayed his support, his strength, and his love. They would walk this road together as well, wherever it led.
Nick gave him a tired smile.
//Even if it means hiding this from Kitt?//
//As long as it takes him to find out about it//
Nick scrubbed a hand over his face. The headache was not getting better. The place where the implant sat was burning.
Optimus’ offer was tantalizing. Maybe it was because of the weakness that Nick agreed. There was only so much he could fight.
* * *
Barricade gnashed his teeth, his innate temper flaring brightly. The Autobots had taken the human and the changed machine with the designation Karr into their possession. Curse their worthless sparks!
The empty space inside him quivered with incoming signals and Barricade felt a reaction from deep inside him. It was like a shared pain and he was confused over the source. The signals were not Cybertronian. They were strange and alien and slightly sickening, but the empty interface was trying to accommodate, wanted input.
Sitting outside Autobot radar, keeping a perception filter around him, he tried to catch glimpses of the two, but aside from humans coming and going, all of them military, and the Autobots there was no sign of Karr or MacKenzie.
Until something skittered across his systems.
Barricade started to twitch a little.
The shivers returned. Turned into wild sparks. Shot fire through his mind.
And then Barricade felt a single explosion of agony numb his very spark. His tired twitched spasmodically, throwing up dust, and with a whine his engine came to live, crashing him rear fender first into a wall that promptly collapsed on top of the police cruiser.
Darkness descended and he cried out in panic as part of him was suffocated by alien signals that swamped every single relay and system.
Barricades high-pitched cry didn’t reach the outside world as everything failed abruptly, encasing him in a separate world of his own, drawing him deep into the unused interface compartment that had been Frenzy’s place to link with him.
A place now shared by whatever the Allspark had created inside the human.
* * *
Nick had not gotten any better after Ironhide’s attack on Karr, even after
They were among the enemy. Not hostile and lethal force enemy, but not friends either. Karr knew they were on their own and he was holding back, keeping himself in check, but Nick was aware of how tightly strung his partner was.
The question and answer session had been long and detailed. Nick had given the Army Ranger who had introduced himself as a kind of liaison officer to the Autobots only as much information as was safe. They could look up whatever they wanted and not find all the data they required – and no doubt the Autobots would. He had seen it from the way Optimus Prime had looked at him. Nick was a ghost, a shadow in the system, and not even Karr knew if there was even a file on his partner any more. Nash had been his mentor and trainer, but who knew where the general had kept all the information on his ‘creations’.
There was a sharp pain running through the implant. It hadn’t been the first time and each time Karr was more disturbed. Nick and Karr were left alone for now, but Karr suspected they were under tight watch. MacKenzie closed his eyes, sighing deeply.
//Deep shit// Karr rumbled.
And they had no clue how to get out of it. Run and hide, let the Autobots look for them until they gave up – which Karr doubted they would – or stay and reveal more about themselves. No other option. Nick wasn’t ready to compromise the safety of Michael and Kitt, or that of anyone associated with the Foundation. Kitt’s safety was high on Karr’s priority list as well. His younger brother had gone through too much to be sacrificed to alien curiosity now. It that meant breaking all ties, so be it. Aside from the private channel, which always pulsed gently with the existence of the other AI, he would cut everything and block it.
A small sacrifice for Kitt alone only.
Nick buried his head in his hands massaged his forehead. Karr scanned carefully, noting the strong pulses emitting from the implant. To his eyes it didn’t look like the original any more than he looked like the original KARR. The Allspark had changed it as well and by now the changes were affecting Nick.
Karr clicked his door open and Nick looked up, smiling tiredly at the wordless invitation. He took it, without question, and lay down on the cool leather seat as it reclined. Karr darkened the windows and sealed the door shut.
The Autobots be damned. His driver needed to rest.
* * *
Ratchet had been intrigued by the existence of the human-built, sentient machine, and what the Allspark had done to Karr. He had scanned him several times, noting the annoyance Karr radiated each and every time. And each and every time he had seen the silent communication between him and the human. Nick had a calming influence on the AI and Karr clearly showed his affection for the human in what he did and didn’t do.
How an implant could transmit electrical impulses from a human brain and make them comprehensible for an artificially created one, for a CPU, was beyond him. The electronic device that had been surgically implanted into Nick’s mind wasn’t in the middle of his brain mass. It sat at the brain’s base, closer to the spine than the brain as such, and it was so old, the human’s body had already enveloped it with tissue.
Nick had claimed he could even walk into Karr’s CPU, if he chose, and he saw Karr as a presence in his own mind. Amazing.
Karr himself had no spark. That was what had Ratchet running in circles. A fact that contradicted all he knew and believed in. The Allspark created life and gave it the spark, until the life died and the spark returned to its origin. Karr had been created by humans and the Allspark had given him the ability to transform and some other features. But no spark.
Talking to Nick, with a silent, non-communicative Karr present, was a new experience. Ratchet had been in contact with different kinds of humans, from military and civilian areas, with positions of command and respect, as well as no connection to any kind of military at all. Nick was unique. Either cold and distant, close-mouthed and mono-syllabic, or barely answering anything relevant about his past the implant. Still, there was a warmth, a human notion, whenever he seemed to touch Karr.
The problem was, aside from what Nick had already given them, he wasn’t ready to reveal more. Optimus had downloaded information from the human networks and Ratchet planned to work through the files of an organization called Foundation for Law and Government where everything must have started.
The implant as such was primitive to Ratchet’s optics, but the Allspark had jolted the device into growing into something else. Just what it was he didn’t know. It was by now several times the size it had been before and at the core still of Earth construction. It showed no power source, just an almost passive signal that was echoed by Karr’s systems.
Ratchet was truly fascinated.
When it happened, Nick was busy trying to not get annoyed at Ratchet for asking stupid questions that repeated itself. As much as he wanted to know about his own changes, he didn’t have to open his life up to prying eyes. The headache wasn’t helping and it was only growing worse. Even taking pain pills, of a strong variant, and some hours of rest hadn’t lessened the pressure and the angry pulses emitting from his brain.
From one moment to the next everything seemed to go up in a bright explosion of color, then streamed into darkness.
It was blinding, it was numbing, but it also brought agony with it. He doubled over, his head feeling like it would explode any second, his eyes blinded, his ears deaf except to the roar in his mind.
Nick didn’t even notice that he fell to the ground.
Karr almost literally fell flat on his face, unable to move. He was still in car mode and his attention was on Nick, who was in pain and annoyed. Never a good combination. Ratchet was walking a fine line by now, asking questions about Nick’s past and the medical side of the implant.
And then the pain hit.
The vagueness of sound came to him.
Voices followed that. Pulses of familiar energy. It felt strange and alien, but inside, he smiled, delirious with happiness at the little sensation.
Nick did not move.
He tried to press through Nick's shields and found they had broken. Shards lay everywhere, jagged and painful, blackened and paper-thin. The damage was done. Whatever had become of the implant, it had attacked the shields with vicious relentlessness, trying to forge a path between the two different minds like nothing had ever done before.
And it was taking Nick with it, tearing him apart, tearing him to pieces.
//Nick?// Karr called. Both their shields were down. Both were vulnerable. //Nick... don't go. Don't leave me. Fight. Please. We can win this. We have so before!//
Karr stared at the unmoving figure. His driver. His partner. The one chosen for him. One machine and another. A human assassin, trained and beyond humanity; and a machine that had only its self-interest in mind, that would protect itself before anyone else, would preserve only its own life. A match made in Hell.
A match that had worked, that had prospered, that had changed both partners. Karr knew he was a far cry from what he had been two decades before. And Nick had found humanity, too. Neither could live without the other, neither wanted. Now being able to morph his shape into a bipedal mode hadn’t changed their relationship one bit.
Nick was so small, but so fragile. Karr was physically stronger, but Nick had an inner strength and an iron will that far surpassed Karr’s. They were perfectly compatible. Wilton Knight had seen it. It had been his dream, one that had turned into a nightmare and had to be terminated.
//Nick?// he called weakly. //Nick? Please, please…// He fell quiet, cupping his hand over Nick's still form. //Not like this. Not because of some alien device…//
There was no reply. His partner was fading, felled by whatever was changing inside him.
Something, like a wispy darkness, slivered over his mind. Karr gazed at the unconscious human. The link was sputtering, trying to do something, but it resulted only in faint tendrils of pain. Whatever it was doing, it hurt. It transformed, morphed, warped what they had. It was insinuating itself between them, breaking Nick under the pressure, and Karr frantically held on to the life force he knew so well.
There were suddenly running footsteps. Karr’s attention was on them, his mind immediately classifying the approaching Autobots by danger factor. His systems came alive with an agonizing fire and his mind was trying to compensate random energy signals he received. He had no idea what kind of signals they were. All alien, but with a familiar tang. All from Nick, but nothing like his driver at all. It all mixed up in a torrent of energy heading his way. He gasped loudly as he received an almost physical blow.
Common sense left him.
Defense and protection instincts took over.
His transformation was without actual thought to do so.
And then the neuro link died completely, without a warning, one second to another. Karr’s optics flared brightly, the amber turning to flares of gold, and he stumbled away from Nick, energon pump beating wildly, all systems powering up to full defense mode.
His scream went unanswered as the darkness of the separation fell over him like a veil.
But his partner was gone. Instead he felt the alien pulses that weren’t Nick and he screamed in agony.
He was alone.
And the enemy was about to take him down.
* * *
Karr stood with his back pressed against the wall, his weapon aiming into the general direction of Optimus Prime and the others. Karr's hand was shaking like under stress and Optimus knew that if he lost a shot, everything would go up in chaos.
Ratchet raised his hands, his face a gentle mask, but his eyes full of anxiety. "Karr…" he began.
"Stay away from me!" Karr hissed and his voice was shaking. The optics flickered badly now and he was trembling even more.
“Ratchet, what happened?”
“I’m not sure. I was talking to our guest when he seemed to overload and collapse. The signals I’m getting from the implant all over the place and he’s breaking apart. As for Karr… he's sharing," the medic replied. “Whatever happened to MacKenzie, whatever binds them together, it must have been affected by the collapse. He’s not himself. His CPU is under immense distress.”
Ratchet took another step toward his friend. "You are sharing," he said calmly. “Your partner’s health is affecting you.”
Karr clenched his hand tightly around the gun. "Yeah, right,” he spat. “Liar! What have you done to me? What have you done to Nick?!"
"Karr, this not what it seems to be," Ratchet went on.
But Karr was in no mood to listen. He launched himself forward, transforming in one smooth move and shot toward Optimus. Ironhide didn’t hesitate. He leveled his guns and fired several rounds at the black streak. One impacted with Karr’s rear, having him fish-tail to the left and past Prime, crashing right into the wall - and through it.
The Stealth transformed and rolled onto his back, aiming at the much larger Autobot coming at him much faster than anyone would give him credit for. Optimus Prime’s hand closed around one black wrist and pushed the gun away.
“Karr, stop it!”
“No! You want to scrap me, right? You want to shut me down again!" His voice was rising with panic. "I won't ever be shut down again!"
Optimus was aware of Ironhide close by, guns ready, but he didn’t look away from the madly flickering optics.
“Your partner is sick,” he tried to get through to the insanely writhing robot. “You’re sharing his sickness. You need to control yourself!”
Karr screamed like an animal in pain and tried to rear up. Optimus took the only way out. He slammed a first into his face, stunning the AI, then called on his weapon and shocked the smaller figure with a low-level charge. Karr gave a whimper and slumped down.
“You think he’s out?” Ironhide asked, coming closer.
“Yes. He’s only partly like us, but his systems shut down.” Accessing his com, Optimus called on their medic. “Ratchet? We have him. He’s unconscious. How’s Nick?”
“Equally out. I need to run a full diagnostic on him. Bring Karr back, please.”
Optimus rose and picked up the smaller form. Ironhide followed, only partly standing down, but there wasn’t even a twitch from Karr.
* * *
never been so stumped, so puzzled and so fascinated. The strange
Cybertronian who wasn’t a Cybertronian at all, came from a culture that
shouldn’t have been able to create artificial life as advanced as this
one was. The transformation abilities had been given to it by the
the personality had been there to begin with.
And he wasn’t a newborn. He was old.
Even thinking reverse engineering couldn’t get humanity something this advanced. His creator had given birth to an incredible machine. A new life.
And more fascinating was the human partnered with the machine. Nicholas MacKenzie was far from ordinary what Ironhide had told him. The weapons specialist had hacked deep into US government files and retrieved some very interesting data. The man was as dangerous as he was interesting. Add to that partnership the neurological implant, now affected by the Allspark as well, and you had an unheard of before combination.
“Whatever the Allspark did to the implant, Optimus, it has changed,” Ratchet told his leader. “It’s growing, becoming more part of Nick than anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s like a cybernetic implant that is affecting every part of his body. It has split apart, moving into different body parts.”
“Doing what?” Prime asked.
“I don’t know. So far, the Allspark gave life to only four Earth machines and all four were incomplete or even when fully able to transform and move, mindless. It seems a brief brush of energy only changes the shape, but doesn’t bestow a mind.”
“Karr was an AI before that brush of power.”
Ratchet nodded. “Exactly. His core unit, the CPU, was Earth made. He developed his personality and then changed. He doesn’t even have a spark like we do.”
“Which makes him now neither a Cybertronian nor an Earth machine.”
“Yes. As for the implant, it was lifeless, mindless, not an entity. It hasn’t gained sentiency, but it’s no longer Earth technology. It’s doing something and if I had to compare it to something, it’s like an organic virus, reaching out for MacKenzie’s systems, his body, and interfacing with everything.” The medic looked unhappy. “We have to wait and see what happens, Prime, as much as it pains me to say so.”
Optimus shared the dark looks. They had a human on their hands who had been hurt by them, like so many before, but this time it wasn’t a simply physical injury. This was a lot deeper, a lot more complicated, and they knew that no hospital in the world could help this man.
“Do you require human medics?” he still asked.
“I’d prefer not to reveal Mr. MacKenzie to anyone in the government, Prime. We know his file. He’s no ordinary person.”
“Should his condition change for the worse…”
“Then I’ll have Captain Lennox on stand-by. He has been informed and will be able to assist in finding the correct facilities.”
Prime nodded. “All right. I don’t like risking a life like that, but I agree that revealing both Karr and MacKenzie to their government might hurt more than it would gain us right now.”
Ratchet nodded and walked off. Optimus remained behind, blue eyes dimmed with worry.
* * *
For Sam Witwicky, life had changed dramatically ever since his father had bought the old, beat-up Camaro as his first car. Who was to know that the car was actually an alien life form? Who was to know what would happen then, right down to a battle between enemy races over something called the Allspark right here?
The old Camaro was long gone. Bumblebee seemed to feel as self-conscious about outside appearance as the next person. He had changed his shape when Mikaela had remarked about the battered looks. Sam had been annoyed at her at the time, but the result had been very cool. He now had the latest model of a great car and the envy of many of his fellow male class mates. He also had a girl-friend who was even a jock’s dream and he had been the guy who had saved the world. There had been visits by important people from high up in the government, lots of hand-shaking, laudations and whatnot, and his parents had been stumped to find out their son was a true hero.
Much about the Autobots was kept a state secret. All hush-hush. His parents knew, by necessity. His mother had been shocked, his father speechless, and when the Secretary of Defense had given them the Top Secret Talk, both had been stunned.
After the big shots had left, Sam had found himself cross-examined by two worried parents and he had been hard pressed not to just snap at them to leave him alone. With an almost saintly patience he had told them everything, Mikaela at his side, and when they had met Bumblebee, he had stood back and waited for the next barrel of questions. A talking car was one thing. A transforming one a completely different one.
“So I bought you an alien robot?” had been his fathers first remark when Bumblebee had stood before them.
“Dad…!” Sam had groaned, mortified.
“Technically you bought half of me,” Bumblebee had corrected him, amusement in his voice.
“What happened to the old Camaro?”
“I exchanged my old looks for a better-suited new model.”
“Better suited for who?”
That had been the moment Sam had really wanted to sink into the ground because the look his father had given him had said enough. It had been knowing and accompanied by raised eyebrows.
Life had kind of turned back to normal after a while, but underneath all the normalcy was the knowledge.
No one else among his few friends knew, though. The Camaro was his car, nothing more. Miles was jealous of the sporty car with its gleaming yellow finish and the black racing stripes, but he had finally gotten his own car – a banged up old Beetle.
To Sam, the car was his best friend and a trusted ally. Bumblebee was still his guardian. He would always be, the Autobot had told him. His assignment was a permanent one and Sam had been stunned.
“You’re gonna get bored.”
“I doubt it.”
Sam was reclining on the warm hood, gazing at the evening sky. “You’re thousands of years old, you’re a warrior, you’re a spy, you are good at that. Sitting in a parking lot, waiting for me to finish classes, it must be boring. Don’t tell me it’s thrilling.”
Bumblebee chuckled. “My life has had enough thrill already, Sam. I like boring now and then.”
“What if it gets too boring?”
“With you? Never.”
He sat up and glanced through the windshield into the empty car. A frown creased the young man’s features. “What do you mean?”
“You saved us, Sam. You saved your planet. You defied Megatron. You’re more than meets the eyes,” Bumblebee told him firmly. “With you, I think there will be more than one adventure.”
Legs crossed underneath him, Sam pondered that. “I’m not some Indy Jones wannabe, Bee. I liked my life so far and could have done without spastic killer robots, bad ass police cars chasing me, and some evil bad guy trying to take me out. I don’t even know how I managed to survive.”
“You just did. Your race is very resourceful and resilient. We owe you everything, Sam.”
“Even losing your only hope to restore your world,” he murmured morosely.
The next moment Sam was flipped off the hood as Bumblebee transformed. The yellow Autobot went down on one knee, gazing intently at him. The blue optics were aglow.
“You saved us, Sam Witwicky. I’d rather lose the Allspark than know it in Megatron’s hands. We all do. Prime was right when he said he owes you, we owe you, and we can never repay that debt.”
Sam swallowed, then awkwardly dusted off his jeans.
“Yeah, well… we won and it still feels like losing.”
The smile wasn’t visible, but he could still read it in the so familiar face. “We lost a lot that day, but we won more. I’m proud to be your guardian, Sam Witwicky.”
Sam felt his throat constrict with emotions, then gave a weak smile. What could he say to acknowledge that he felt the same?
Sam still saw a lot of the Autobots. They were hiding out in plain sight, like Optimus had said, and their base was an old, abandoned Airforce testing site and off limits to the general public. There was a huge hangar that was connected to underground chambers that could house the robots easily, and they had reconstructed it to their needs.
Sam had felt like living a dream.
That dream had gotten a serious dent when Mikaela had told him that she felt they didn’t fit together any more. Maybe it was Sam’s tendency to spend a lot of his free time with the four Autobots, joining Captain Will Lennox and his team as one of the few allies allowed to enter the hangar. Maybe it was their differences.
Relationships formed under great duress and stress never lasted. Or so Sam had read.
Still, it had hurt. A lot.
Mikaela had been in senior year with him, but aside from friendly smiles and the occasional chat, they had gone their own ways. Her father had been released from prison and, as promised, their records had been erased. He had opted to move and Mikaela hadn’t argued at all. She was in LA now and her father was looking for a job even up in
To compensate for the loss, Sam had poured even more time into learning about Bumblebee and his kind. By now he considered himself quite knowledgeable about their home world and their history. It was fun to be around them, listen to Ratchet explain to him about how they functioned, what the spark in their chests really was, and to have Ironhide lecture him about battle techniques and weapons. He was starting to pick up on how to repair damage, to assist in more serious stuff, and whatever else was connected to Cybertronian bodies. Bumblebee was a willing test subject, though he had once blown the transformation circuits and Ratchet had given him a stern look.
Well, Bumblebee had taken it with good humor.
If all worked out, Sam would attend
When Sam came over for a visit after finals, he didn’t expect more than a few hours of hanging around and trying to explain to Ironhide he didn’t want to have a go at target practice while the Autobot insisted he had to know how to handle a gun in case something happened. Like the Decepticons. Barricade was still MIA and while he had kept a very low profile, Optimus suspected he was only biding his time. Starscream had been equally absent, but unlike Barricade he wasn’t one for staying still. He had either fled Earth or had been so severely damaged that he hadn’t been able to repair himself.
The news about the Allspark affecting an AI and a human being with an implant in his head had Sam’s mind reeling.
“How?” he blurted.
“The Allspark is powerful,” Optimus only said. “The one spurt of power it released in
Sam blinked. “He’s like you then?”
“In a way,” Ratchet chimed in. “He is self-aware, he exhibits traits that go beyond mere programmed responses to a situation, and considering his age, he is unique in many ways. He has been functioning for almost twenty years and developing far beyond his basic programs.”
Sam gaped. “Wow…”
“Apparently there is a second AI like him, a younger version, the model 2.0.” Ratchet looked extremely interested in those discoveries. “We have accessed files containing data of the two and while some of it was well hidden, we broke the protection after a while.”
At that, Ironhide grinned, pleased with what had apparently been his work.
“Now what?” Sam wanted to know. “Are they okay?”
“Karr has retained his personality and memories throughout the alterations,” Ratchet told him. “For Mr. MacKenzie things have turned out less pleasant. The neuro implant in his head absorbed the Allspark’s energy and started to change. Unlike Karr, the implant didn’t start to morph abruptly. I suspect it scanned his body, took in all the information needed, took into account the connection to the AI, and then launched the reprogramming and transformation. Right now, Mr. MacKenzie is unconscious and that’s for the best. His body is stable and in fair condition. We want to wait and see.”
“Oh. And Karr?”
“Unresponsive. We have him under guard in a separate area of the hangar.”
“What will you do now?”
“Wait and see,” was the only answer.
* * *
Barricade’s return to consciousness was slow and like dragging himself out of a swamp of molten lava. Everything ached, his systems were sputtering and backfiring, and visual as well as audio were almost inaccessible. It took him long to get self-repair up and running, and even longer to bring secondary systems fully on line.
The damage had been caused from the inside, not a fusion canon or other kind of weapons fire. Everything was sensitive and aching, and he groaned softly as the pain skittered across his circuits.
He was still buried under tons of brick. He was still close to where the Autobots had taken Karr and MacKenzie. And the interface link was burning.
Whispers escaped the altered link, wrapping around his muddled mind, and he turned to them, listening. It was all he could do in his confused state, the only source of actual input.
After some time, Barricade started to carefully explore the link. It was something he had never touched. He had received, but never sent anything, too cautious to reveal himself. He didn’t even know if it was a two-way connection. All it had ever done for him was alleviate the loneliness, the ache of losing a connection to another sentient mind, his partner. The whispers hadn’t replaced Frenzy, but they had calmed his frenetic mind as he had looked for some semblance of what had been before. Barricade had never told Frenzy that the partnership was appreciated in a way that the Decepticon couldn’t express. As much as he had fought the little bot’s uplinks in the beginning, it had become routine and his circuits had grown used to the ‘intruder’.
It took him hours to actually feel along the flimsy threads and more hours passed as he wove them together into a stronger bond. He could feel something at the other end of this growing thread, but he didn't dare close in.
Soon, he was getting better. Barricade allowed himself a brief moment of pride when he managed to immediately access the link and move along the now stronger line. It was also the first time he actually brushed over the weakly pulsing light at the end of his lifeline. A spark of life, MacKenzie's spark.
Barricade identified the influence of the Allspark, saw the damage done, discovered the likeness of a Cybertronian nervous system inside the human, and he tried to contain his disgust at the limit the flesh gave this new life. Whatever the implant was doing it was struggling between two worlds – the Allspark’s commands to become life and the human body that contained it. It was fighting to survive without killing its host, and it was lacking the correct input.
The Decepticon was torn. On one side he couldn’t care less that a human was dying because of Cybertronian technology. On the other the death of the human meant loneliness again. This time he would be acutely aware of the loss, unlike with Frenzy. The little bot’s demise had been unlucky, but his circuits hadn’t been open when it had happened. Whatever the Allspark had done, it had made Barricade receptive to the new hybrid system about to develop. Its death would severely damage his own mind.
So he reached out and started to alter what was going wrong.
For his own survival and sanity.
* * *
hadn’t transformed ever since he had regained consciousness after
Prime had knocked him out. He sat in his vehicle mode on the hangar
to communicate. Optimus had decided to give him the space he so
craved, while Ironhide argued he was a Decepticon spy and just waiting
Karr sat silently in a silent world. No noise penetrated from the real world into that of his CPU and no noise was audible in the CPU itself. Normally there would be a soft, pulsing throb, something warm and... alive. It would sometimes fluctuate, reach out, brush near him or even touch him. Not now. Now there was nothing but silence. Dark, cold silence.
Nick was gone.
Karr shivered and briefly turned to look at the place where the other end of the link usually was. It was like staring down a long tunnel where the lights had been knocked out and the emergency lighting was flickering, dying..... partly already dead. As he gazed down that tunnel, he became aware of the wall between them. Something had separated the link and it had nothing to do with Nick being dead. Nick was alive. He had seen him. He had been told so by Optimus Prime.
Running a smooth touch over the featureless wall, Karr shivered. The obstacle was cold as ice, freezing him as he brushed over it, and it hurt. Somewhere behind this was his driver, his partner, the person eternally bound to him, and he couldn't reach that special person. It severely disturbed him, the madness hanging over him like a Damocles Sword, but it wasn't reaching for him yet. Nick was alive. That meant there was something worth living for.
But Nick was not getting better. The implant was changing him, just like the Allspark had changed Karr, and it wasn’t a swift and almost painless change either. It was tearing the human mind apart, and with it Karr.
The Stealth didn’t care about anyone; only about Nick. If he died because of the alien device, Karr didn’t know how he would react. Separation had happened before and each time he had fallen into a dark, cold abyss. He had reverted to the creature he had been before the connection, KARR. This time, with the ability to change shape, he suspected the loss of control would result in the Autobots having their hands full. He would die. Plain and simple.
Optimus Prime had defeated him because Karr had been uncoordinated, caught in Nick’s backwash, but if the human mind shut down completely, forever, there would be no backwash, no flashbacks. It would be the insanity of KARR.
It was preferable to surviving but insane, without Nick, and no hope of ever regaining what he had lost. Yes, death sounded good, preferable to becoming what had instilled terror in many in the far past.
Without Nick MacKenzie he would have ended up forever locked in the confines of his cold, hatred-filled mind, searching for new ways to destroy the one who had succeeded in becoming what he should have been. He had nearly been completely obliterated because of his rage and hatred, but he had found an escape, thanks to a single human being. It had been a miracle, one he cherished. That he had tried to wipe out the human mind at the other end of the link was a horrible part of his past, but it was forgotten, buried and dealt with. Nick was his driver, his partner alone, and he fiercely protected him.
Something trickled through the link, like a strange, distorted echo to Nick’s presence. Karr regarded it with faint detachment, like he would a novelty scanner or headlight. He had noticed it before, sometimes far, far in the background of Nick’s mind, but it had done nothing to their frequencies and nothing to the link. Right now, it seemed to pulse with Nick’s own life and Karr found no menace in its presence.
For now Nick was alive. And so was Karr.
He swam in a gray sea of nothingness. There was no light, no shadow, no pain, no nothing.
A faint memory of pain stole itself upon him and he looked down his body -- only to stop in surprise. He had no body. But the memory of pain remained.
Pain and the voice of a friend.
Puzzled he tried to drag more of the memories to the surface of this strange state of consciousness.
A shadow, passing through a dark tunnel.
A shadow and the immediate sense of danger.
Pain. Incredible, unbelievable pain.
The pain sliced through his skull like a hot knife through butter. Nick couldn't suppress the anguished cry it brought with it. He grabbed his head in his hands and squeezed his eyes tightly shut. The shields that had come with the resistance against Karr's repeated, past attacks were nothing against it, weakening and threatening to break under the onslaught.
Someone called his name.
Then he was lost in darkness for a while.
Light washed over him and he groaned. The pain shot through him, consumed him, burned itself unto his waking thoughts.
Someone begged him to hold on. Someone was out there, somewhere in the grayness, still begging, still calling. The voice changed, became darker and more sinister, telling him to fight. With an effort he tried to move from where he was and get to the voice. He wanted to know the one who called him, though he faintly thought he knew him. But he couldn't move. Every time he tried the pain increased. It was like a living barrier between him and the voice.
The grayness around him was oppressive. He fought against the ever tightening walls of gray against gray, but it was a fight he was losing. He was too weak, too tired. The pain was omnipresent. He slipped back into nothingness, his awareness fading.
Someone shrieked, cursing, yanking at him to stay, but he couldn't hear the sound anymore. He just wanted to go, but something held him back. It was gentle, warm, covering him in a blanket, and he stayed.
Sam regarded the unfamiliar car with curiosity and slight wariness. Bumblebee was at his side, his ever-watchful guardian, and Sam knew that should Karr try anything, Bumblebee wouldn’t hesitate to defend him. It was humbling in so many ways and it made him incredibly proud to be the Autobot’s friend, worthy of his protection. Optimus had told Bumblebee to guard Sam before the whole Allspark disaster and his job had ended there, but the friendship forged in those few days had turned into something wonderful for the young man.
Karr made no move, though. He was a black, custom designed sports car, sitting in a corner of the hangar, guarded but inactive.
“This is just unbelievable,” Sam murmured. “Someone created an artificial intelligence, much like you are, and no one ever knew. I mean, I wasn’t even born when he came on line, and my computer is just two years old, a relic by computer standards, and it can’t think for itself. And he… wow…”
“His files are amazing,” Bumblebee agreed. “He is the first of his kind, followed only by a slightly varied version.”
“And it was a guy from my own planet who thought him up.” Sam was still thunderstruck. “So cool.”
“He was ahead of his time,” the yellow Autobot agreed. “Karr’s mind might be primitive compared with our systems, but he is far from primitive himself.”
“And now he can transform, too.”
Sam wondered about the machine’s past, about his creation, about what Optimus had mentioned concerning a driver and partner.
“I hope his driver survives.”
“We all do,” Bumblebee said softly. “Because what Ratchet told me already, Karr will lose control if he does.”
Sam shivered. Bumblebee stepped closer, his leg now right next to the smaller human, and Sam absent-mindedly patted it. It was for his own reassurance mostly. Bumblebee’s presence had a calming effect on him.
“Let’s get out of here,” he muttered, suddenly more disturbed by the car than even by Barricade -- and him he had seen transformed and looming over him, terrifying and deadly. Barricade had tried to kill him, Karr was just being there.
Bumblebee transformed and opened the driver side door. Sam hopped inside, trying to shake off the goose bumps. The Camaro’s engine came to life with a soft rumbling purr, then they rolled out of the base and into the desert.
“He hasn’t so much as blipped,”
Ironhide hadn’t left the hangar ever since the hybrid had been brought back and had transformed to sit quietly in the corner.
“If he does, he’s toast,” the weapons specialist growled.
“As I understand it, it would be preferable if he showed some sign of life.”
Blue optics narrowed at the human.
“I read the file, Ironhide. I know what this thing is, but he’s also going through hell if you ask me.”
Ironhide huffed. “Connected to a human mind that’s dying.”
Will sighed. “He’s not dead yet.”
“Ratchet’s not happy about his unchanging condition either.”
“I hope MacKenzie survives,” the Captain murmured. “It’s better than the alternative.”
Ironhide flexed one arm, the weapon mounted there whirring softly. “We can deal with the fall out easily.”
Barricade’s status was deteriorating, far enough to be unaware of his surroundings, his attention only on the weakly pulsing interface connection. It was almost painful to be so close to the human mind with its Cybertronian additions, but to Barricade the pain was like pleasure. He craved it because it gave him this sense of being among his kind. MacKenzie was no Decepticon, but the implant was a creation of the Allspark and it called, and Barricade answered. The other entity bound to MacKenzie by the old version of the implant, Karr, was unaware of Barricade’s presence, either using a different frequency or unable to identify the intrusion. Not that Barricade cared.
Immersed so deeply in the newly-born hybrid’s cybernetics he didn’t feel the Autobot’s sensors touch the buried Saleen Mustang that was his Earth shape. He didn’t react to their scans, nor their presence. Like a dead shell, he sat silently as they secured him, bound him down, guns trained for the slightest twitch.
Aside from the growing consciousness of the interface.
“Found him ten miles from here, in an old yard,” Ironhide reported, disgust and loathing in his voice, dripping from each word like venom. “Looks like he crashed into a wall and the whole building came down on him. Doesn’t explain why he remained there, like a sitting duck.”
Optimus regarded the lifeless seeming Mustang with narrowed eyes.
“It also doesn’t explain his low readings, as well as the pulses I pick up from his core,” Ratchet added. “If I have to compare it to anything, I’d say Barricade cut off all outward sensors, built shields around his innermost unit, and is using an interface link.”
“What for?” Prime wanted to know.
“I have no idea.”
There was no outside damage visible. Barricade was tough. Hard to damage, even harder to kill. He had been one of Megatron’s most trusted and valued shock troopers, but he was also single-minded enough to be even a danger to Decepticons who got in his way. His loyalty was only with the strongest faction, never to a cause. Barricade always came out on top, whatever side he worked for.
“He had this little pest with him,” Ironhide threw in.
“Frenzy was terminated,” Optimus reminded them. “He was sunk with Megatron and the others. Nothing of him remains.”
And with Megatron’s death, Barricade had lost as well. Starscream would rather terminate the other Decepticon than employ him.
“Nothing but an open interface link he used when joining with Barricade.” Ratchet regarded the silent Decepticon curiously. “I wonder what happened to him.”
The whine of a weapon charging had Optimus scowl at Ironhide, who glowered, then shrugged sheepishly. “Just making a suggestion as to what could happen to him.”
“I want to know why he is like he is first,” Optimus decided. “It might be a virus. If it is, we might be susceptible, too.”
“I’ll run an outside diagnostic,” Ratchet offered.
Prime only nodded, then left. Ironhide and Ratchet remained with the captain’s team. Bumblebee shot the silent Decepticon a last look, then followed his leader.
“It’s too much coincidence,” he said when they were out of earshot.
Prime’s optics narrowed a little. “Barricade being here with Nick and Karr?”
“What would Barricade gain from them?”
“He would never ally himself with a human. Decepticons despise the inhabitants of this planet.”
“But Karr would seem like a good ally to him, Prime.”
“Karr doesn’t come without Nick.”
“Maybe he doesn’t know that.”
The Autobot leader was silent, thoughts whirring. “It doesn’t explain his state.”
Bumblebee had no answer to that because frankly, it didn’t explain Barricade’s state. He was vulnerable, had apparently been unaware of the enemy approaching, and if they had wanted to, the Autobots could have destroyed him.
So what was going on?
* * *
slowly, as if he had been deeply asleep. He felt slightly strange,
from the world, floating in a vast ocean. His body flowed with the
waves, almost flying. He tried to recall how he had come to be here,
happened, but there was nothing at all. It didn’t even alarm him that
much. It was a nice feeling to be so at ease, to feel so peaceful.
while he felt someone with him. It was a presence, strong but gentle,
him, guiding him. He felt his lungs expand as he drew a deep breath and
Nick blinked, still not knowing where he was. He lay flat on his back, looking up at a gray, metal ceiling. Dimmed artificial light cast over him. The presence was still there, still strong and gentle, but probing more now.
He didn’t know where he knew the name from, but with the name memories came.
//I am here// Karr’s deep voice sounded in his head.
Nick turned sleepily, almost lazily, toward his partner's presence and was surprised by the image he saw in his mind. It was as if Karr was physically present. He couldn't really grasp the image, but it was there. Nick felt like in a virtual reality where his partner had taken shape, where the robot had shed its shell and turned into something more... more... warm, real, just there. He experimentally reached out and his virtual fingers encountered a substance. Soft.... flexible... and then gone.
So weird. Not like their past encounters through the link. Not just an inky black mass of cool warmth. Not just a presence without a shape. This had been Karr. The new Karr. The altered version.
Someone talked to him, outside the link, and he tried to concentrate on the voice. It sounded a little familiar and he blinked, trying to focus.
A huge face loomed over him, but Nick couldn’t muster the energy to be shocked.
He knew this one. An Autobot. One of the aliens.
“Nick MacKenzie?” Ratchet tried again.
“How do you feel?”
And he did. Strange, but fine. So aware and yet so different. It was as if his whole body had been changed, as if he felt every impulse, every sensation, much sharper than before.
Ratchet was scanning him and Nick let him. He turned to Karr again.
//What happened to me?//
Karr rumbled uneasily. //The Allspark affected the neuro implant. It changed it, expanded it, gave it… life.//
Nick frowned. //Life?//
Now Nick felt the same unease. //Grew how?//
//It possessed your whole body// was the quiet, level answer.
Nick felt the shock settle in despite the former feeling of relaxation. Something beeped somewhere and Ratchet straightened with what sounded an expletive in a foreign language.
“Mr. MacKenzie? Please calm down.”
Nick sat up, feeling slightly dizzy. “What happened to me?” he demanded.
Those alien blue optics met intense cold blue, human eyes. “I’m afraid that I’m not sure,” the medic answered. “You and your partner were touched by the Allspark and while it affected Karr more directly, giving him transforming abilities – among other things – your implant reacted differently.
“How differently?” Nick asked, voice colder now.
“Our metal skin is no ordinary metal, Mr. MacKenzie. It is a molecular structure not unlike your own skin, able to grow and repair itself from damage, even large damage if given time. The Allspark endowed the implant with this ability. It’s no longer just metal encased by your flesh. It has grown along your own nervous system, into your muscles and bones, without triggering your natural defense systems. It altered your body.”
Nick felt something cold and hard settle inside him at the words. Panic and fear warred with fury and desperation, and finally there was absolute terror. He had encountered a lot in his life, early on from his childhood to now. He had been raised to be an emotionless killer, he had been bonded to another cold mind by the name of KARR, and he had broken through all of it, coming out more human than anyone had ever intended. The government assassin had gone freelance.
But this… this was so much more than his still very human mind could handle.
“How long was I out?”
“Twenty-four of your hours.”
Nick blinked, taking stock, then stared at Ratchet – hard. “You want to tell me all that happened in twenty-four hours?”
He felt Karr’s presence increase, surround him like a soothing blanket. His partner was here. Karr was still there and linked.
//I’d never leave you// the dark voice whispered.
“How am I altered?” Nick heard himself ask.
“I’m not sure. I’m afraid you will find out along the way.”
Nick’s hands clenched around the edge of the mattress. Yes, he felt different. More alive. More aware. So much more… everything.
“Your partner has parked himself outside in the hangar and hasn’t moved since,” Ratchet informed him. “You are free to go and see him, Mr. MacKenzie, after I ran a complete check. You’re not a prisoner, only a patient.”
Sometimes there was no difference between those, Nick thought darkly, but he slid off the bed. His knees felt like jelly, but he locked them, refusing to show weakness. Not that a giant robot equipped with all kinds of medical scanners couldn’t tell how bad off he was. Still, years of conditioning didn’t leave him now.
“Take it easy,” Ratchet advised. “Your body has gone through a lot.”
He had noticed that too. And it wasn’t new to him either. Nick closed his eyes and tried to ignore the headache, the weakness, the general exhaustion.
//Don’t// Karr’s dark voice could be heard and he looked up.
A black prow had nosed into the med bay area and Ratchet gave it a scowl. “I told you to wait outside. Either transform or park your chassis beyond those doors.”
Karr didn’t look pleased as he morphed into bipedal mode, but Nick only smiled. It was good to see his partner.
“Now, if you please…” Ratchet could be heard, an edge to his normally more gentle voice.
//Let him check you// Karr added.
//No. My medical scans are inferior to his. He is specialized// Karr didn’t sound too thrilled about that.
//Specialized in not knowing what happened// Nick muttered darkly.
Ratchet gave him a curious look, probably well aware of their communication, though not the words. Then he started to run Nick through a complex program of scans and requests.
“Sounds like a cyborg,” Sam remarked when Bumblebee told him about what Ratchet had found in their guest. “Half man, half machine.”
“Nick is not a machine,” his friend contradicted. “The implant isn’t mechanical. It’s the electronics that grew, if I understood Ratchet correctly.”
Sam shrugged. He and Bumblebee had driven to the old look-out, a place he chose to come sometimes to spend some time thinking. Mostly right after the battle. It was a nice spot, something remote but not too far away, and once in a while he had seen a car parked there, probably with a couple making out. That was when he had driven past. Today he was alone, but with Bumblebee, as always.
“What’s it do?” Sam asked.
“No one knows.”
“Peaceful so far. He is adapting, like Nick.”
Sam stuffed his hands in his pockets, gazing out over the dusky landscape below. “I wonder what it’s like, to have something like Karr talking to you in your head.”
Bumblebee tilted his head.
“I mean, it sounded horrible when he told you. And now it’s grown and taken over parts of his body.”
He shivered, thinking back on the moment he had stumbled and crashed to the ground with the Allspark bouncing onto the pavement. Sam hadn’t given it too much thought, just started to run again, for his life, for everyone’s lives.
“Bee? Do you think the Allspark might influence normal people as well?”
“Like you?” came the gentle tease. “Sam, there is nothing of the Allspark’s radiation inside you. I checked before.”
“Yes. I’m your guardian. I care for you. You were already covered in our radiation, a radiation quite harmless for humans, I might add. You’re in no danger of morphing.”
“Oh. Okay.” Sam felt relief swamp through him. “Thanks, Bee. For caring.”
“I always cared, Sam.”
It gave him a warm feeling and he smiled at the much larger Autobot. Bumblebee had no mouth, but his optics were brightening now and a soft song trickled through the radio.
A drop of water hit him in the face and he looked up, noting the dark clouds coming in. The forecast had been for rain and there it was, in thick clouds that promised torrential downpours.
“I think we better go,” he sighed.
Bumblebee transformed and he hopped inside. By the time they were back on the road it was raining and getting stronger. Sam leaned back and let the sound of fat rain drops hitting the car’s skin lull him into a sense of utter security. The radio came on, soft music playing, and he smiled.
The headache Nick had woken up with didn’t really abate. It sometimes grew less, but it was always there, like a bad tooth ache, pulsing. He blamed the injuries, but they didn't get better. For twenty-four hours, Nick fought against the ever-rising ache, then it had developed into a migraine and he was almost completely out for the following hours. Ratchet turned down the light that hurt his sensitive eyes and gave him a pain relief that managed to kick his thought processes back into order. Still, the headaches came and went with almost regular clarity.
Sometime throughout the afternoon the next day it grew better. Another pain killer was given and Nick felt muscles relax as he was pain free for the first time in days.
Sitting outside, watching the sun set in a murky sky that promised a torrent of rain soon, accompanied by heavy winds that were already blowing in a milder version over the still hot ground, Nick let his mind drift. He had found that relaxation exercises worked best, especially when he let himself fall away from everything.
//Am I hurting you?//
//No// Nick answered, smiling at the inky darkness close by. //It’s not you. But it felt like you… in the beginning of it all//
Karr regarded the origin of the pain and sent confusion.
//I don’t know// Nick confessed. //Maybe the implant has to adjust to my awake mind. It’s better now//
Whatever was the trigger, it wasn’t coming in through the normal channels of the implant. Then again, the implant had transformed just like Karr had.
Heavy footsteps let the earth vibrate beneath him and Nick drew himself out of his relaxed place, gazing up at the massive form of Optimus Prime. Nick had a healthy dose of respect for the giant mechanoid and it wasn’t just because of their size difference. The few times they had talked, and they were truly few, he had looked into the ancient optics, had seen an even older pain, and he knew that this being had seen more than Nick could claim he ever would. It was like a dark aura around him, weighing him down. He was the leader of a desperate race, one at war with another faction of themselves, and he had no way back home – a home that was dying, maybe already dead.
“May I sit with you?” the Autobot leader asked.
Nick shrugged, pushing his glasses firmly back up his nose. “It’s a free country.”
That got him a chuckle and Optimus lowered himself down. “I wanted to apologize, Nick MacKenzie.”
“The Allspark changed you and your partner. It was never our intention to hurt any of the humans, to be the cause of their death, and in your case, become a hybrid of Cybertronian technology. Autobots respect sentient life. We would have done everything in our power to steer this war and all its pain away from your young world.”
Nick smiled wryly. “First of all, you guys saved the whole planet from destruction, and my race from extinction. Yes, people died. In my profession, I accept the loss of human life, even my own, and that of close friends. I was Death for a while.”
Blue optics regarded him steadily. “I am aware of that.”
“Your systems are easily broken when the right access is taken.”
Nick smirked. “Tell me about it.” He shrugged. “As for Karr and me, this is just one more change in our lives. Ask any of my past associates and they would swear every oath I’ve never been close to human. Karr was a machine to begin with.”
“We destroyed our own world, Nick,” Optimus told him seriously. “To see such destruction wrought here, people suffering because of our foolishness, pains me.”
“Karr and I are still alive and kicking. Aside from the lingering headache.”
There was a noise that was almost like an electronic sigh. “Your kind is very resilient and resourceful, Nick. Sam Witwicky saved my life, risked is own to keep the Allspark safe. He is a trusted friend. He is young, even for your kind, but he has shown an incredible greatness that I can’t comprehend. You survive against great odds and you evolve.”
“It’s a knack.”
The blue optics glowed with a brief smile.
“This is not a burden you bear, Prime,” Nick added, meeting those optics unflinchingly.
“I bear many.”
Yes, he did. Too many. And he always would. Death was a fact of life, in both their lives, and they had killed to survive as well. Alien lives were so similar to humans, Nick mused darkly.
“May I ask you another question?”
“What do you know of Barricade?”
“Who or what is Barricade?” Nick wanted to know, sending the same question to Karr.
//From the files we hacked, I take it he means the Decepticon who was following us//
Optimus slightly tilted his head. “We discovered a Decepticon nearby, unresponsive, buried under debris from a recent building collapse. His designation is Barricade. He is one of two Decepticons still believed on your planet.”
“And the other?”
“A drone called Scorponok.”
“And you captured this Barricade guy?”
“We found him.”
Nick rose, dusting off his pants. “Show me,” he only said.
Optimus’ features were unreadable, then he nodded, getting to his feet and the impressive height of twenty-eight feet, and accompanied Nick inside.
* * *
at the silent black and white police car, a frown on his pale features.
was next to him, in his Stealth mode, and the Autobots and the team
Captain Lennox were ready to intervene should something happen. It was
one he had seen over and over again in the past weeks and months. He
the unit number, the quite open but still deceptively hidden faction
and in a way he recognized the unique look.
“He’s been following me,” Nick murmured.
“We suspected as much,” Prime rumbled. “The question is why. Did you ever talk to him?”
There was a dull pulse in the back of his mind, something he was familiar with. It had begun right after the Allspark incident and it had never faded. Even now it was like an echo of something. Nick had thought it to be the change of the implant. Now he wasn’t so sure.
//It has been with us since we left
Nick approached the Saleen Mustang, feeling another pulse. There was a whispering sound, like a very distant voice, a language he didn’t understand. Gibberish.
Barricade, he thought. His designation was Barricade. A name translated into English from a Cybertronian one that he would probably never be able to pronounce.
“Nick,” Optimus warned.
More whispers. He had no idea what he was hearing. It was foreign. Like electronic interference.
“Your language,” Nick said, still looking at the Decepticon. “It’s unlike anything we speak, right?”
“That is correct.”
“What does it sound like?”
Optimus tilted his head, then a burst of what could only be described as noise could be heard. Nick frowned. The echo inside him was almost the same.
“Do Decepticons and Autobots use different… accents?”
“No. Why are you asking, Nick?”
He was silent, approaching the cruiser again. “Karr and I share a link. A connection brought on by a chip in my head and his ability to pick up impulses from my mind from there. Wilton Knight probably never intended it to work like it did with the two of us, but we have developed our own way of communication. Not verbal, not just emotional, not just energy bursts. It’s all of that and more. We can touch each other through the link, we can slide across it to the other mind.”
Ratchet was listening with visible fascination. Ironhide just scowled.
“That the link has now become what Ratchet calls a Cybertronian nervous system hasn’t changed that. But ever since
“Great Cybertron,” Ratchet whispered, sounding horrified.
“What’s going on?” Sam spoke up. “What’s wrong?”
“He kept following us. I knew he was there even when I couldn’t see him,” MacKenzie conitnued, voice so level, controlled and almost cool. “And now I hear it again. It’s there, underneath everything that is Karr and me, and it’s… pulsing and humming and… sometimes I hear sounds like what Optimus just said.”
“Impossible! It can’t be!” Ratchet exclaimed.
“Prime, he can’t be accessing the nervous system! It’s an impossibility! For that to happen…” The medic fell silent, optics bright. “Frenzy,” he then said.
“What about the little rat?” Ironhide demanded. “He was terminated!”
“Yes. And Barricade, like Blackout, has the ability to sustain a smaller bot with his systems. He has an interface link and a special compartment in each mode. Frenzy was lost to him, but the interface stayed open and active. He must have been looking for him and found… another signal.”
“Nick? You think he lodged onto Nick?” Sam blurted.
“In a way, yes.”
“Holy shit,” Sam whispered, looking horrified.
Nick was by now standing next to the chained down Decepticon, head tilted with curiosity, gazing at the enemy warrior.
//It’s like I can sense him, Karr. Not like you. It’s different//
A ripple of jealousy raced through him and Nick smiled, wrapping a part of himself around the dark representation of his partner in his mind.
//He took your Cybertronian frequencies as a substitute for what he has lost// Karr snarled, not amused. //I don’t like it//
//Neither do I// It was an intrusion and Nick didn’t want to think how much further Barricade might be able to infiltrate into the system the Allspark had created.
“So why’s the bastard all catatonic?” Nick heard Ironhide demand and he tuned back into the argument that had broken lose.
“He was caught in the backlash,” MacKenzie answered before anyone else. “The implant blew my mind, almost drove Karr into insanity, and it probably hit him, too, if your theory is correct.”
Blue eyes met blue optics. Captain Lennox, who had kept silent, shifted on his feet, looking wary.
“So he stays like this then?” he wanted to know.
“My implant is fully back online,” Nick replied with a shrug that was more casual than he really felt or let on. “He won’t be getting any negative feedback from there – if he is listening in.”
//He is// Karr sent darkly.
“So he might reboot just the same,” the captain concluded.
Ironhide looked mildly amused at the expletive, but he probably echoed it. “We should terminate his sorry existence.”
“What if his termination affects Nick?” Bumblebee threw in, shooting the man in question a look.
Nick kept his eyes locked on the silent car. Karr was with him, hovering protectively as his partner explored the other presence so far, far back in his mind. He felt no immediate danger, but he recognized the sharp-edged blades that were Barricade’s mind. He would be able to strike out and hurt whatever he touched, not unlike Karr had been so many years ago. But Barricade was alien, Nick reminded himself. He wasn’t based on human technology, human conditioning, human thinking. His reactions might be completely different from what he expected them to be.
“It could very well have negative consequences,” Ratchet agreed. “If Barricade logged the interface circuits onto the Cybertronian nervous system inside Nick, his termination would send shocks of his ceased existence into Nick. I don’t know what the hybrid system would make of it.”
“Unacceptable,” Prime decided.
Nick could only agree. He wasn’t inclined to get experimented on. Never again. Wilton Knight had been the last person to ever do that.
“But Prime! He’s a Decepticon!” Ironhide exclaimed. “We can’t let the scum bag sit here!”
“We do not harm humans,” Optimus said firmly.
Nick felt an echo inside him and for the first time he registered it as neither Karr nor a glitch from the implant. It also didn’t communicate in words or acknowledge him, but it was strong and rather… settled. Barricade was here to stay.
And then he discovered the thin stretch of something silvery leading from his mind plane to… somewhere else. Coldness raced through him. Another link, another bond, finely woven, deceptively luminescent, and… alien.
Karr grabbed his spark and safely drew him away. Nick let him.
//Shit// he whispered.
His partner readily agreed, eyeing the intruder warily. The connection was flimsy at best, consisting of a few very thin lines, like life-lines, attached to a remote part of the implant. At least it had once been the implant. Now it was a hybrid system that no one understood completely just yet.
Then, before Nick could stop him, Karr lashed out at the alien presence.
A shrill wailing sound emitted from Barricade and everyone in the hangar flinched, ducked or trained a weapon on the Decepticon. Nick staggered, hands coming into contact with the slick metal finish of the black and white car, and the shrieking intensified as Karr lashed out once more. Wheels started to spin crazily, fighting against the restraints. The acrid smell of burning rubber permeated the air and smoke rose in plumes from the rear wheels.
Nick felt himself grabbed by a large hand and lifted away from the police cruiser as it desperately spun its wheels. The red and blue lights began to flash, the headlights adding an eerie white light to that, then the sirens wailed.
Optimus Prime stepped back, Nick still in his gentle grasp, and MacKenzie looked at the huge robot in slight amazement.
“Are you all right?” Prime asked over the cacophony of sound and lights.
“Yeah, I think so.”
Barricade was crying, shrieking, wailing, inhuman and frenzied, trying to get away. The engine revved painfully, higher and higher, and the whole frame shook with the pressure.
Karr shot forward, nearly colliding with Bumblebee, and hissed.
“Stop it!” the AI snarled. “He’s mine. Leave him! He’s mine!”
“Karr!” Nick managed, gritting his teeth. “Set me down!” he demanded of Prime.
Optimus did, though reluctantly. Nick noticed out of the corner of his eyes that
Then his attention was back on his partner.
The last blow of Karr against the intruder had severed one of the fine lines of Barricade to the implant and the yell of the Decepticon had the Autobots shiver. It was like a wounded animal, twisting and turning, trying to get away from a tormentor, trying to escape torture. Metal crackled and cracked as Barricade tried to transform but couldn’t, the security measures keeping him immobile.
“He has no right!” Karr hissed furiously. “He linked to you! He intruded! He. Has. No. Right!”
Another blow and Barricade howled shrilly, his voice box almost breaking from the sound. Nick’s eyes flared with an unnatural light, just another indication that underneath the human skin was more than me the eye, then suddenly Karr rocked like he had received a blow himself.
//Stop it! Stop tearing him apart!//
//You are mine!// Karr yelled.
//Yes, I’m yours and you are mine, and nothing he can do will ever change that, Karr. Severing the link by brute force might destroy us!//
Karr snarled and growled, still in car mode, rocking on his shocks.
Everyone was watching the display, mouths open in case of the human side, various expression on the Autobots’ faces. Barricade had quieted down, but only as far as the cries were concerned. Soft whines echoed all around them, interspersed with fizzing and buzzing noises, as well as tremors throughout the body shell.
“Karr tried to cut the thin line from my implant to the interface unit,” Nick explained tiredly.
“His reaction was one of pain, Optimus,” Ratchet remarked. “His interface unit is fully focused on the human. I know of bots who, when linked to another unit, began to exhibit mimicry circuitry. Mimicry allowed the partner to merge with the main system of the dominant Cybertronian without intruding. Frenzy was a lower unit and he perished. I believe Barricade’s mimicry circuits went haywire and drove him to find a replacement. Since there are no other Decepticons, he couldn’t find anyone suitable.”
“So when he found Nick and Karr, he latched onto them?”
“I believe so. Nick’s almost fatal system crash drew him here and probably threw him into this catatonic state.”
Ironhide snorted. “The mighty hunter slagged by a mere human. Irony.”
Nick rubbed his head. “He’s not slagged. He’s probably working through the shock of what my mind flooded him with. I don’t think he’ll stay like this forever.”
“Neither do I,” Prime concurred, arms folded over a massive chest.
“So we can’t kill him, we can’t keep him, what do we do?” Ironhide asked darkly.
Barricade was hypersensitive to everything around him. His mind was in pain, pulsing in agony, with spikes of fire racing along his nervous system. Something had attacked him through the finely woven link running from the interface unit to the human mind, and he was still shivering with the echoes. Nothing, nothing at all in his past had ever been like this. No battle injury, no torture, had ever been this bad, had ever invaded so deep. He doubted that even the removal of his spark would ever be that agonizing.
Part of him was aware that he was chained down, surrounded by the enemy, but a much larger part was too busy trying to survive the pain. Survival was always primary. His own survival, of course.
The human’s presence was still there, but one of the tendrils had been hacked apart by the hybrid AI, Karr. Barricade snarled at the very thought of this attack, but he was too weak to retaliate. It also meant moving along the connection, into the hybrid nervous system, confronting the human on his own ground. As much as Barricade needed the reassuring pulses of something at the other end of the abandoned and aching interface unit, he wasn’t stupid enough to believe he could win anything.
Not on alien territory. And humans were as alien as they came. Their thought processes were chaotic, their behavior erratic, their actions unpredictable at time.
It was pathetic. He hated humans with a passion, but he needed this one because he had grown too attached to Frenzy.
Decepticons didn’t rely on anyone. Especially the higher level units. Frenzy had depended on him, not the other way around. In such partnerships there was always an inferior unit. There couldn’t be an equal partnership.
By becoming partner to the smaller ‘bot, Barricade’s circuits had adapted and now they needed input from the interface. Shutting them down had only resulted in him feeling partially deaf and blind. The partnership with the little hacker had weakened him through Frenzy’s demise. He had never thought about it before because Frenzy had given him an advantage or two. He had never believed that carrying a drone like Scorponok, whose intelligence level was just above the average home computer in Barricade’s eyes, was actually an advantage over having Frenzy. Blackout had never complained about his ‘passenger’.
Now the human was Frenzy’s replacement and it couldn’t have been worse. Barricade was connected to an alien mind, a human mind! And he had no idea how to get out of the situation without harming himself – which was not an option. But the decline of his functions also wasn’t one either. There was no best possible way out of this, just a kind of manageable compromise.
Barricade had never been big on compromises. He either killed, destroyed or disabled what got in his way. None of that was possible with the human. He needed MacKenzie and he hated him. He relied on him for his sanity and he despised his mortality and weakness.
Barricade knew he was totally screwed, one way or the other. His neural network had already incorporated the new alien input. He knew he would have to protect this human, come whatever, because MacKenzie was now part of him. Like he was part of Karr.
So utterly screwed, Barricade mused, still shivering. To survive he had to go against everything he had ever believed in. He couldn’t independently continue to exist.
There was no other way out of this situation.
* * *
Nick sat on
Karr’s hood, legs crossed, blue eyes on the Saleen Mustang. A police
cruiser. It was almost laughable. The Decepticon had chosen a vehicle
beings trusted in for aid and assistance, but Barricade was far from
Nick understood that this disguise gave the mechanoid unlimited access
kinds of areas, that with flashing lights and a siren he could use any
liked, at any speed. Whether he had chosen it consciously or just taken
next best form he had deigned useful, Nick had no idea.
According to the Autobots, especially Ironhide, Barricade was good at subterfuge, hiding, manipulation and terrorizing his victims, so it looked like the police disguise had been a conscious choice. How long he had been on Earth was anybody’s guess, but probably more than a year before the Autobots had arrived.
What hadn’t been conscious was his attachment to a human mind.
Barricade had fallen quiet again in the last hours, his energon pulses so low, Ratchet feared he was slipping again. Ironhide didn’t mind at all, but the medic was worried. As much as this was the enemy, he wouldn’t kill him in cold blood.
//Keep an eye on me, will ya?” Nick requested as he breathed slowly, going through relaxation exercises.
Karr was like a fiercely protective guardian, looming over him, his presence sharp and ready to strike should Barricade try something. The severed tendril had yet to be reattached and Barricade was fairly quiet in his deep background presence.
Nick slowly fell into his mind, something he had done so often, it came naturally. He slid along the new Cybertronian network, which was still so very new to him, and confronted the new addition to his mind. His security blanket was Karr and he hoped that if Barricade decided to attack him, Karr would be a match.
His partner sent a wave of confidence and reassurance. Then Nick slid into the deeper recesses and toward the only point of contact between him and Barricade.
Barricade’s mind screamed at him, telling him how much he hated fleshlings, how filthy and despicable they were. How his kind was far superior. And another hovered over the connection, projected the need to be with someone again, to feel an echo in the emptiness of his mind. He needed this, he craved it, and he was hopelessly addicted. He knew he would kill to keep this one safe, both of them. He knew he would hunt whoever hurt them. He would die to protect this human.
Revulsion mixed with desire and he cried in confusion and need. Contradicting impulses raced through him. Old programming collided with knew input and set off chain reactions.
Hate. Hate humans. Despise humans. Weak little insects. No comparison. Primitive… Destroy them!
No, no, no! Part of me. Need. Want. Need! Not alone. Never alone.
Hate, hate, hate!
Barricade whimpered and his mind surrendered to the need, awash with shame and embarrassment, memories of his glorious past wiped away. The great hunter, the killer, the feared warrior, now submitting to the need for a human mind.
::What do you want?:: the human asked.
Barricade’s systems almost stopped with nausea at the close presence of this alien mind. He hadn’t even noticed his approach. The Decepticon stared at the cold blue light, revolted. He still needed the one who now regarded him with just as much disdain and wariness.
_Need. Need you. Need the noise_ he projected before he could stop and think.
Bafflement greeted him.
Death. Ripped apart. Circuits empty. Frenzy. Gone. Need.
::I’m your partner’s replacement?::
::I am what you hate::
Barricade groaned at his ready answer, but he couldn’t hide himself. He took pride in his past, in what he was, what he could do. He was aware of the dark shadow behind the human’s presence, sharp and angry and ready to strike. He had taken what belonged to another, what was joined intimately. It was the Decepticon way. Take what he needed, no matter the consequences to others, always come out on top, always survive. Trust no one, not even a lower unit dependent on you. Everyone was ready to usurp your place if you showed weakness. Sacrifice what was necessary, but never himself.
Still, he would never have this, but he wanted at least a little.
::You want to control the weaker, dominate others:: Nick said matter-of-factly. ::You destroy what you cannot control. You kill those who oppose you::
Barricade was torn. _Need_, he projected.
The begging made him shiver in disgust. Decepticons didn’t beg. But he did.
::You cannot stay in a powered own, catatonic state. You also cannot return to what you were::
_I’m no Autobot!_ Barricade snarled.
Autobots ranked alongside humans in matters of despicableness and lower life forms. Compassionate and good and so magnanimous and… Barricade spat. Once they had been one race, but the factions were too different now. The war had torn a whole world apart, left it dead and derelict, but they would forever fight. The symbols on their bodies drove them apart, never to cooperate unless it was for the Decepticon cause.
::Neither am I. And I cannot release you:: the human told him levelly.
Barricade twitched a little, indecisive. He could forever remain chained down, fully online, feel the human and maybe never see him again until he went mad. Or… what? The Autobots would never trust him. They would rather shoot him and be done with him. Barricade also wouldn’t give up his weapons voluntarily or without a fight. It would be like suicide.
Nick pulled back and Barricade keened softly, trying not to follow. He wasn’t dependent! He was no one’s pet or slave!
Need for survival, in whatever form, coursed through him. Do whatever it takes to survive, something whispered. Even beg. Even… even enslave himself to the human mind… He howled in anger at himself, at his treacherous mind, at Frenzy for his manipulation of the interface circuits. And at those who had constructed him this way.
MacKenzie stopped. He gazed at Barricade, no emotions coming through, then slid smoothly back into his own mind, fiercely protected by Karr.
Barricade curled up close to the interface link, lost in his own darkness.
“We can’t release him, Nick,” Optimus said firmly. “He will kill again. He can’t change who he is.”
“Like a pit-bull on a leash,”
Nick sighed and pinched his nose. “I know, I know. I can feel what’s connected to me and it’s no fun. Karr was better in his early years than that guy is now. But there’s also the fact that these mimicry circuits Ratchet mentioned are overtaxed already. He’s pushing everything he is into the interface unit, trying to find what he has lost. What he encounters is me. He’s desperate and he’s confused.”
“He’s a Decepticon. He would do everything to survive, say whatever is necessary. If he promises you anything…”
“You can’t lie on that level. I went through the same twenty years ago. Karr tried to kill me back then. I know what it’s like and I know Barricade can’t lie.”
“He is not human-built machine.”
“I’m aware of that.”
“You would trust a Decepticon?”
“I would trust what is essentially the very soul of a Cybertronian with the designation Barricade. I don’t care about his affiliation.”
“You are foolish,” Bumblebee joined in. “He has killed many of our kind in cold blood, for the symbol they bear! In your terms it would have been civilians, like slaughtering your women and children! And he has injured your own.”
“I know. My kind’s history is full of such events, too. We had wars where the innocent suffered even more than the warriors, but a warrior is nothing but a drone dominated by a master. A warrior follows orders. Barricade wasn’t born a Decepticon. Like you weren’t born an Autobot.” Ice blue eyes met cool blue optics. “Like I said, he can’t hide anything.”
“We can’t release him, Nick.”
MacKenzie sighed, feeling headachy. Alongside Karr he now had an alien life form bonded to him, the enemy of the very ones who had saved this planet, and Barricade was desperate for his presence.
He might be called cold and unemotional, but watching Barricade die like this didn’t sit well with him. For Nick, this tasted too much like his own history with Karr. Barricade was reaching out for help and Nick was the one who could provide it.
The problem was, if Barricade ever healed and recovered, he would still be the enemy.
//The war is millennia old and on-going// Karr told him with a rumble. //Changing the Foundation’s image of me would have been easier than getting the Autobots to accept him//
Not that Karr wanted this acceptance. He was annoyed, sometimes possessive, sometimes jealous, and very much inclined to let Barricade rot in hell.
//I’m no Samaritan, Karr// Nick only said, //but I refuse to stand back and let him perish//
//Might be better for him, and us, in the long run//
//When have I ever gone the way of the least resistance?//
That got him a dark laugh. //You really have a knack for the hopeless cases//
Nick smiled. //I do, don’t I?//
It became something of a routine. Nick would rise early, get himself a coffee, walk into the restricted area where Barricade was imprisoned, and spend the morning perched on Karr’s hood. He had never needed a lot of sleep, but it was growing less and less now. It was more like a recharge cycle, Karr had remarked. Maybe that was it. His whole body felt strange. More alive, stronger, but also like it wasn’t his any more.
In a way it wasn’t. The implant had spread throughout his skeleton and muscle tissue, had snaked microscopically thin, wire-like tendrils everywhere, connecting to nerves and tendons and inner organs. Ratchet was giving him daily scans, remarking on the progress, and Nick wondered if it would ever stop.
It did stop, but not before half his body was no longer his own. What that meant for his life expectancy or future was something no one had an answer to.
Barricade was hesitant to talk out loud throughout those meetings, his answers usually only audible for Nick and Karr through the connection they shared.
Karr was fiercely protective of Nick, showing his distrust and dislike of the alien robot openly. Nick didn’t stop him or scold him. He knew how deadly Barricade was, but the connection wasn’t even strong enough to let Barricade actively touch Nick’s mind. It was more of a one-sided dependency, that of Barricade needing Nick’s mental echo to remain sane.
And so much of Barricade resonated inside Nick. Despite their differences in origin and life, they weren’t so much apart. Maybe this similarity had helped along with the connection.
Over two decades ago Nick had started a life. Alone. Always alone. There was no one but him, no one else to take care of. Never leave a trace of your existence, he had been taught. He hadn’t existed, there had been no traceable presence. He had had a name, but still, he hadn’t lived. If he had died back then, no one would ever have known about him. He had been a ghost, a shadow.
Then Wilton Knight had stepped into his life, offering a way out of this cold world where he had to fend for himself, never knowing if the next day would be his last. He had grasped the straw offered to him. Still, he had been alone. He had been the only one selected, no one came too close to him, no one trusted him but the old man. What he had seen, it still eluded him today. He had been a human machine, programmed to kill, programmed to obey orders; he hadn’t known what humanity meant. But in the six months he had spent at the mansion, he had learned more than in the ten years of ruthless service and training. He had been the best Nash had ever trained, but he had failed the simple test of being human. Knight had not taught, but he had still learned.
Then he had been introduced to another machine. His new partner. The experiment had failed; he had left. Alone again, but for the first time, not completely. Not long after that he had been forced to make compromises, to let someone else in, a being that was so much like him it had frightened him at the time. They had made arrangements for a co-existence at first, but the process of acclimatization had started. First there had been grudging respect, then worry when the other was in danger, and finally something akin to a partnership.
Still, he wouldn’t have left any traces if he had left the world forever. He didn’t exist.
Nick drew his hand over the smooth finish of the Stealth. A ripple passed through his mind and he smiled. An intimacy that had taken him beyond the realms of human thinking. It hadn’t always been this way, but now it was. The past was buried, though it would always be remembered, and the future was wide open for them. He kept up the gentle massage of Karr’s hood, feeling the presence in his mind grow, like rising out of a dark ocean. He embraced it, smiled as it returned the gesture, and no words were exchanged. Just images, feelings, emotional waves.
This was him. Made up out of many parts that had finally fused together, forming something new. Something that should always have been. It had been a long time in the making. It was like a twisted kind of destiny. They had been made for each other, without either knowing the other existed. Both had been programmed, both had been alone, and now they formed a unit. And so much more. Beyond words, beyond everything.
Now Barricade had intruded into this world. He was an invader, demanding help, pleading but still threatening subtly, and Karr was on the defensive. Nick didn’t know what to make of the Decepticon, like he didn’t know what to make of his own changes. Optimus let him continue his daily routine, but not without a healthy dose of warning and worry.
Nick understood it all. Barricade was not human. He could never apply human terminology to him. Karr had been at least thought up by a human mind.
Closing his eyes, Nick trusted in Karr’s presence to keep him safe as he turned to Barricade once more, like every morning.
The reception couldn’t be called enthusiastic, more like a prisoner glad to have contact with the outside world. Nick caught on to the image of the Decepticon’s former partner.
::I’m not Frenzy:: he told him.
::Then why me?::
Nick sighed. Always the same answer. Never more, never less. Barricade clung to him like a leech, but without actually taking anything from him.
On top of these new developments and changes they had yet to contact Michael or Kitt and tell them what happened. Karr was reluctant to even give Kitt a vague idea where they were, aside from that they were okay, and Nick didn’t look forward to contact either.
Ratchet had locked down Barricade’s transformation circuits and the Decepticon hadn’t so much as twitched. His only fear at the moment was the loss of contact to Nick.
::You would kill my kind without hesitation::
Barricade remained silent. Nick had seen his past, like he knew Karr’s. To touch the alien mind was strange and sometimes terrifying, but Barricade was weirdly docile.
::You would have killed me months ago. Without remorse::
_Your kind is weak_
::Yet you persist in this connection::
They were turning in circles and Nick knew it. Getting to know Barricade was an impossibility, and aside from what the Autobots had supplied him with, he knew no more.
_I need you to survive_
::You survived just fine after Frenzy was terminated::
_There is a difference between existing and living_
He laughed coldly. ::Like there is a difference between domination and a partnership::
Barricade was silent, contemplative. _You propose a partnership?_
::Would you accept it?::
This time there was no answer and after a while, Nick just slid a block into place. No answer was an answer, too.
* * *
Will had never asked about Ironhide’s past, though he had an inkling as to what the Autobot had lived through. The amount of time was another thing altogether. As a human, the grasp of Ironhide’s, or therefore any of the Autobot’s age, was limited. Thousands of years were incredible already, but more? It boggled the mind and led only to short circuits,
“I’m surprised you came here,” he finally broke the silence.
The massive robot turned his head, blue optics looking at him. “Why?”
Ironhide snorted. “Ratchet locked his weapon and transformation circuits. The security measures are enough to hold even Megatron. He’s not going anywhere.”
“I don’t like his influence on MacKenzie, though.”
“I had the impression it was the other way ‘round.”
“Barricade’s a Decepticon. He’ll try and get Nick to conform to his ways,” Ironhide rumbled.
“Nick has Karr. I haven’t seen much of the guy, but he’s protective.”
“He’s no Cybertronian. He has no chance to fight Barricade when the scum bag recovers.”
Will was silent, watching clouds drift by. “I wouldn’t be so sure,” he finally said.
Ironhide huffed, flexing his fingers. “I’d rather dispose of him than keep him around.”
“I’m not feeling too hot about a Decepticon in our base either, but killing him might kill Nick. We all saw what Nick’s absence does to Karr.”
“Weren’t you going to see your wife?” the weapons specialist finally asked.
“But you’re here.”
Blue optics narrowed.
“Sarah and I have had some… problems lately. She has taken Annabelle and gone to her parents for a while.”
Ironhide seemed to contemplate that. “Are females of your species always this problematic?”
Will laughed, sitting up. “I don’t know. Sarah understood my job. She married an Army Ranger. I think she hoped that a baby would change something. It did. I love her, I love my baby, but I can’t just quit. I have a new assignment. It’s on my home ground, but it still keeps her away. Normally soldiers move from base to base with their families, but she can’t move here. She’s not happy,” he concluded.
Ironhide regarded him solemnly. “Warriors are not meant to be tied down.”
“Speaking from experience?”
“We do not have mates like you do.”
“Did you have a female?”
“I had a companion,” was the answer, Ironhide’s voice softening. “She died in the war.”
“Our existence is different than yours, Will. Our bonds are different. We do not mate to reproduce, but we share feelings.”
“For humans, the bond of marriage is filled with obligations and responsibilities. We vow to love and honor each other, till death do us part. I love Sarah, I honor her, but she cannot accept what comes with my life. We had long talks about it before Annabelle was born, but I cannot change who and what I am.”
“A fellow warrior would understand.”
He looked into the bright blue optics, saw exactly this understanding there. Ironhide was an alien robot with an alien mind and alien concepts, but now and then there was a common ground, the understanding as it was now. While he couldn’t follow the way of human bonding and mating, he had downloaded enough information on the subject to not outright tell
“Do you give up on her, Captain?” he now challenged.
“No. I can’t. Not just like this. I love her, Ironhide. I just don’t know how to make it work.”
Will flopped back with a sigh. His country, his duty, his obligation, his oath as a Ranger… and his wife, his baby and his oath as a husband. He knew many of his friends had gone through a lot of bad times. Some had managed to find a middle ground. Some had divorced. He had no idea where he would end up, but he would give his damned best for his wife and child.
With nothing much to do throughout the day but to try and hack the Net and see what interesting things were going on in the world, Nick had taken to exploring the Autobot base. Not that the Net held no interest for him. The Autobots had highly sophisticated machinery and access to areas that had taken Nick days to crack in the past. But there was only so much of ‘normalcy’ that could him occupied.
Sometimes he experimented with the implant, tested it like he had tested the original way back when… but that only got him so far. Talking to Barricade was mostly like talking to a brick wall, so explorations it was. Ratchet was reluctant to have him leave the base in case there was another malfunction and for the first time Nick actually did what the doctor ordered. This was far more than a broken bone or a shot wound.
Throughout his explorations Karr was, as usual, sitting parked in the hangar, much to the continuing bafflement of the Autobots. The times his partner was using his bipedal form were few and far between, though weapons training and maneuvers with Ironhide took up a large chunk of that.
“I’m not like them,” Karr argued again and again.
No, he wasn’t, but he now had a new ‘mode’ and he had to learn how to handle himself.
Nick walked into the depth of the cavernous base, curious as to what the military had left their new allies. The hangar was just the surface structure of a very imposing complex that had been used for tests in the last fifty years. It was in the middle of the desert, miles from any of the smaller towns and about one hundred fifty miles from
The Autobots used the hangar as their general area and it was also were the military team under Captain Lennox’s command usually had their bunks. There was a room on the first underground level for that purpose as well, mainly because it was too small for the Autobots to use. There were storage facilities, holding fuel and generators, food, water, and whatever else a military unit needed, even ammunition and special weaponry. The rest of the first level was used by the Autobots.
It was because of his explorations that Nick ended up in a room, hewn out of the rock, filled with all kinds of machines. Some looked human-built, but others had the distinct looks of Cybertronian. Nick had asked Ratchet about how they had gotten here and the medic had told him about the
What they had brought along was now in here, in this room, and Nick browsed around. At the far end was what looked like… a dead robot shell. He stopped and looked, part of him wincing in sympathy at the obvious battle wounds. Someone, probably Ratchet, had repaired the largest tears. But the robot seemed dead.
//He is// Karr whispered. //His name was Jazz//
Nick nodded to himself. Something skittered over his senses, using the new implant, and he turned to look at the new-arrival. Bumblebee’s blue optics glowed faintly in the twilight, his body, despite the yellow coloring, almost invisible. Somehow he had sensed him.
“You’re keeping your dead here?” Nick asked.
“The Decepticons were sunk, buried under your oceans. Jazz didn’t deserve that fate.”
No, he didn’t.
“He lost his life defending your kind against Megatron. Just one of many.”
“Ratchet put him back together?”
It was like a doctor sewing shut wounds on a dead person. There was no sense.
“His spark was destroyed when Megatron tore him apart,” Bumblebee said, voice soft. “Our sparks come from the Allspark and they return to the Allspark after death.”
“The Allspark was destroyed.”
Again Nick felt something skitter over his senses, like a bad reception on an old radio station before it logged into a clear signal. He frowned and looked at a storage cabinet.
“Optimus managed to retrieve a shard of the Allspark,” the Autobot told him. “I don’t know what Ratchet hopes to gain from it. It’s a tiny, tiny fragment of the whole. There is no power there.”
Nick walked over to the cabinet and looked at something deep inside. It was jagged, slightly triangular, and there was something carved into the fragment. Like glyphs. It was suspended in some kind of force field, floating, looking like junk.
“So that’s the source of it all,” he murmured.
Bumblebee joined him, looming over the smaller human. “Yes. The Allspark. At least what’s left of it. It’s what gave us life.”
“Where did it come from?”
“No one knows,” the mechanoid confessed. “Our best scientists have puzzled over it for as long as we have known about it. The Allspark regulated the vast currents beneath our planet. It created us, but it’s power is so immense, in the wrong hand it could create chaos.”
Nick studied the shard. It seemed to ‘ping’ on his radar. The shard was probably reacting to the changed implant inside him.
“With its loss, our world lost its power as well,” Bumblebee continued, voice heavy. “Megatron was Lord High Protector of our planet. He abused his power and gathered a large following. They became the Decepticons. The war brought our planet to its knees, plunging it into a chaos far greater than anything before.”
“What happens to the dead sparks now?”
“We don’t know. Our history shows nothing like this ever happened before. The Allspark was never destroyed. We didn’t think it could be destroyed.”
“You hope you can restore your friend Jazz?” Nick wanted to know.
The blue optics dimmed a soft noise emerged form the Autobot. It was a pained sigh.
“Ratchet and Optimus do. They believe with the absence of a vessel to contain the spark of life there might be a way to retrieve it.”
“If it hasn’t disappeared.”
Another pained noise. “Yes.”
Nick’s eyes were on the dead body shell. Karr sent a shiver through him and from the sudden presence, Nick became aware of Karr approaching. In his robot mode. Amber eyes glowed, the dark body almost hidden in the twilight. Jazz’s fate was too much of a reminder of his own so many years ago. First deactivation, then near-death because of the final confrontation between him and Kitt.
“How do you want to fix something that is dead?” he asked roughly.
Bumblebee looked sadly at him. “There is no way, but Ratchet has hope.”
“A false hope.”
The small antennae on top of the Autobot’s head rose briefly, then fell again. “Maybe.”
“If you can find his spark, your enemies might find their leader’s, too.”
“Megatron’s spark was obliterated.”
“Can you be sure?”
Bumblebee gave him a hard to interpret look. “No,” he finally said softly with another twitch of the antennae.
Nick pushed his hands into his pockets, gazing up at the fragment. He felt his implant twitch, as if trying to log onto something, and deep inside, Barricade moved further back. As if he didn’t like what the hybrid systems were doing.
This could be him, Nick thought. That’s why. He survived the last battle and right now he’s at the mercy of the Autobots. He might die. He might become a dead body shell and his spark torn apart by his enemies.
They walked back outside, Bumblebee as silent as Karr as they accompanied the human in their midst. It had grown dark while Nick had explored and he felt Karr’s wish to go for a drive, to expend some energy.
“See you,” he told Bumblebee when Karr transformed and opened his door in an invitation he was sure Nick would take.
They tore through the desert, Karr sending exhilaration through the link at the speed and the freedom he felt when racing. Nick let him drive, enjoying his partner’s happiness, chasing away the sight of the dead husk. Karr wasn’t like the Cybertronians. The Allspark had given him transformation, but not life. He had been alive before.
And deep inside him, Barricade shared the free spirits, letting himself get pulled along.
* * *
Nick didn’t look much different on the outside than before his fateful encounter with the Allspark’s radiation in
His body and mind had healed, according to Ratchet, and the implant had shown no sign of expanding any further. What it could now do, it was a mystery. His body wasn’t rejecting the changes. It seemed like whatever the Allspark had altered, it had made the implant like a natural part of his body. Ratchet had no other explanation for it.
Nick leaned against the warm Stealth, eyes hidden behind glasses. He was gazing at nothing in particular, probably because there was also nothing really to see out here.
He had a decision to make.
Leave or stay.
Leave and continue his life like he had done before. Leave and forget this ever really happened. Leave Barricade behind.
Or stay. Karr and him were now hybrids, part of the Cybertronians, whatever the faction was. They could learn a lot more. He might discover more about himself. And there was Barricade.
As much as the Decepticon was an intruder into the neuro link, he as also dependent. He didn’t want to hear it, but Nick knew that without him around, Barricade would either fall catatonic again or try and find a way out of his imprisonment, going after Nick and Karr.
Karr had remained in the back of his partner’s mind, letting Nick think. He wasn’t spying on him. It was an unspoken rule.
Feeling the fluctuating emotions he moved forward.
The presence of his driver shifted. He was still the cool, blue light when Karr looked at him through the neuro link, and still so much was different. There was more power there, more strength. There were the old pain, the old scars, the familiar control and resolution. There was the love between them, the trust, the absolute knowledge of the other. And still, the implant was no longer of Earth origin. It was now partly Cybertronian and it tasted wrong in Nick.
Karr touched the blue light with a tendril of his essence, initiating the contact. It rarely happened, but sometimes, like now, it was needed. Nick leaned into the touch, closing his eyes, muscles relaxing minutely.
//Is Kitt aware of the situation yet?//
//No. He has been trying to contact me, but I haven’t answered him. He and Michael Knight know nothing of what happened either here, nor to us//
But one day the would. Because Kitt and Karr shared a bond and Kitt would always hunt for his older brother should Karr shut down the active connection. And Nick was sure Michael would do the same when it came to Karr’s driver, himself. Years of working side by side, years of building a trust that Nick had never given anyone else before in his life, had left their marks.
“How do you handle it?” Nick asked out loud.
“Being able to change my shape hasn’t changed me,” Karr rumbled. “I still prefer this form, though.”
Nick smiled humorlessly. “At least you had a choice.”
A sliver of pain sparked through their connection and Karr wrapped this extension of his own mind more firmly around Nick.
//You are not different, Nick//
//I am. I just don’t know what it will do to me in the future. When I look at things, it’s like there is something lurking at the edge, waiting for me to find the right trigger or button//
Karr’s presence swam around his driver, probing gently. Nick smiled slightly.
“What doesn’t kill us…” he murmured softly.
“Lots has. No one ever succeeded,” came the cool reply.
Karr suddenly shifted his whole shape, transforming, and went down on one knee. Nick met the alien optics, set in a strange face, and when the much larger hand touched him, he felt no different than always with Karr. It was a warm contact, gentle and caring, and he smiled at the quizzical expression in that face. Karr had never been expressive. As a car he had no facial features and through their shared link he was just a dark, inky mass. Emotions were shared, but he had never looked into his partner’s eyes in a physical sense of the word.
Nick felt something inside of him shift and ripple and he clamped down on it. Karr tilted his head, curious.
//This is still strange// Nick only murmured.
He smiled wryly.
Barricade was still a presence inside his mind, passive, never interfering, and incommunicado except when spoken to. Nick had no idea how to deal with that part of their change. None at all.
Ratchet watched as Karr transformed smoothly, going down on one knee to touch the man who was closer to him than any human could ever be to a machine. Gentle fingers touched Nick MacKenzie, ever so careful, ever so tender. Whatever Karr was or had been, he was no more a Decepticon spy or a threat than any of them. He cared a lot for this human and he would die for him. That much was for certain.
“Will they be okay?”
The medic looked at Optimus, frowning a little. “Physically yes. It’s hard to determine their psychological state. I have read Nick’s files and he is an impressive human, but still only human. His reaction to the alterations to his physical structure were strangely calm and composed.”
“It might be his long contact to Karr.”
Twenty years bound to an Artificial Intelligence like MacKenzie had been were a long time. Not for a Cybertronian, but for a human. Karr hadn’t always been this friendly around his driver and from what Ratchet understood, he had tried to kill the man in the early days. Nick had survived. Both had. And it had cemented a partnership no one could ever really come to understand.
“What about Barricade, Optimus?”
“I don’t know, old friend. We cannot release, but we cannot keep him prisoner here either. For now he is docile, but he will regain his old confidence. It’s in his core programming. Before Barricade joined Megatron he was just as confident and powerful and single-minded. He was one of the best. He needs Nick’s mental echoes, but the rest of humanity is not protected that way.”
“Taking the ability to transform from him is all I can do. His weapon systems are off line. But he could still run over a person if we allow him mobility. I was hoping for Nick to be able to exert some control over him,” Ratchet confessed.
“He’ll never submit to a human.”
Ratchet was drawn out of his thoughts by the approach of the two people he was thinking about. Karr was still wary around them, rarely talking to anyone, aside from Ratchet himself when he asked medical questions, and Nick looked extremely guarded, too.
Looking at Optimus Prime, the human’s face gave nothing away.
“What now?” he wanted to know.
“You are free to leave,” Prime answered, understanding the two worded question perfectly.
“Nothing. We offer both of you our help in any way you need it. While neither of you are of my people, I would like to understand you as our allies,” Optimus said calmly.
“You do know who we are, right? You didn’t erase that from your data banks,” Nick asked levelly.
“Yes.” Optimus didn’t even look guilty. “Information was needed to make decisions.”
“Like whether to keep us alive or not?” Karr growled, eyes narrowing.
“No. Whether to contact your government on behalf of yourself. You were affected by our technology. It was our fault.”
Karr snorted. Nick just reached out and rested a hand against one black leg. Optimus was still intrigued by the fact that the implant in the human’s head gave them the ability to communicate the same way Cybertronians could. Mind to mind. No barriers. But the neuro link was even deeper, allowing access to the other mind, to the other’s emotions. It was a great asset and a terrible liability.
Now Barricade was connected to this bond as well and it was what gave Optimus a headache, figuratively speaking. Ironhide was having daily conniptions about the Decepticon remaining in the base, and he argued that Barricade would try and take over the human when he felt strong enough.
Optimus wasn’t so sure.
“Then you know who I am,” Nick simply said. “You know my record. You know my work. And you the baggage I come with, namely Barricade.”
“We also know about your affiliation with the Foundation for Law and Government after you contacted Michael Knight.”
“What I did later doesn’t change my programming of before,” the human said, voice level. “It doesn’t change Barricade.”
Programming. Yes, in a way the man had been programmed. Taken as a child from an orphanage and molded to become a soldier for a secret government branch. Not unlike Sector Seven, only a lot more deadly, Optimus mused. He had been selected, hand-picked, by Wilton Knight to be the first partner to Karr and while the experiment had failed, it hadn’t been a complete failure. Both units had survived and become what Knight had dreamed of – only a lot later.
“It also doesn’t change what Karr is. You would let us go free, knowing our past?” There was a hint of sarcasm in the level voice.
“You were never prisoners, Nick;” Optimus replied softly. “We are not your government’s police force. We only helped.”
Blue eyes as intense as any Cybertronians regarded him. Karr stood beside his human, wary, tense, but not showing any tendency to transform a weapon and attack.
“What about Barricade? He is part of this deal as well.”
“He is a Decepticon,” Ratchet reminded them.
“And he wove a connection to me, using his interface unit. If we stay, he’ll be there, too.”
“You think that if you leave we would let him go?” Optimus wanted to know.
“Sooner or later he would break free,” Nick answered reasonably.
“Could you stop him from harming another human?”
A shrug. “I don’t know.”
“That is why we can never let our guard down.”
“I’m the one forever linked to him, guys.”
Optimus looked slightly pained. “And I feel responsible, Nick. Without the Allspark your lives would be normal.”
MacKenzie laughed. “My life never was, never has been, never will be normal. This is just another notch higher up on the scale of strange things. Believe me.”
“Will you stay?”
There was a moment of silence, then Karr suddenly transformed. Nick shrugged. “We will. Sooner or later we have to tell Karr’s brother and his driver, and things will get definitely interesting from there.”
As for Barricade, Optimus thought, things were already interesting. They would keep the Decepticon under tight guard, watch the development, see what was going to happen. Karr had been a killer machine, too. Nick had tamed him. Barricade was not from this planet, was not human made. His mind was alien and his motivation, his core programming, influenced by Megatron, but now he had a connection to a human and that, Optimus mused, would be highly interesting to witness.
* * *
passed. Ironhide, when he wasn’t staring at the silent Barricade with
open hostility or spending a huge amount of time with Captain Lennox,
to teaching Karr how to handle the weapon systems of his robot form, as
defend himself the Cybertronian way. Nick watched the two robots with
amusement when they butted heads, sometimes joined by either Bumblebee
Karr’s temper was easily matched by Ironhide’s trigger-happy responses, and the two actually got along quite fine. His partner was now eager to learn about his new form, to employ all he could to protect his human partner and defend them. The change of mind had been brought on by Barricade and his threat to Nick and with it to Karr himself. Nick in turn tried out the new implant to log himself into Karr’s evolving CPU.
He felt little impulses come back, felt them tingle along his spine or nervous system. It was like learning about himself anew. Actually, he was just doing that.
Nick knew that the Autobots would never trust Barricade. Not that he ever would be able to either. As far as trust went, he could count on the Decepticon not killing him, but that was about it.
Barricade was a cold-blooded killer. A merciless hunter. A creature only driven by self-preservation and no regard for other life. Barricade was not Karr and had never been, and he was an alien mind with alien concepts.
… which had logged itself onto Nick.
The history between Autobots and Decepticons had been too violent, filled with pain and death for Prime to give the thought of Barricade’s freedom even a second of his time. That Barricade was now latching onto a human mind to make up for the missing interface to Frenzy was puzzling for them, but no reason to let their guard down. So while Nick was with them, learning about himself and Karr’s new form, he also spent whatever time he had with Barricade – either in person or in his mind.
Karr was viciously jealous, always hovering, always close, always making sure that Barricade understood that one wrong step would have him terminated.
In a way they were alike, Nick mused, Both dark and angry artificial intelligences, both ready to kill to survive, both sharp-edged representations in his mind. But where Karr had been angry at his successor, and at Wilton Knight for terminating him before he even had a chance to live, Barricade saw others beneath him. He was convinced of Decepticon superiority. Karr’s anger had been tamed, though his temper had remained, and the fury had dissipated enough for him to exist with those he had hated so fiercely. Hatred had been revealed as jealously and fear, and Nick’s influence had quieted him down.
Barricade… Barricade was…
//Brainwashed// Karr muttered. //By their leader. He needs a reprogramming//
//He changed his alliance, he thought he was following the stronger of the two parties// Nick argued, watching the tiny, silver light at the end of the still unrepaired connection. //Now he was defeated, is probably the last of his faction on this planet, and while he hates humans, he also needs to rely on them//
//On you// Karr sounded rather pissed-off.
Nick still heard the possessive echo of ‘mine!’. Karr growled, tightening his hold on the link.
//He’s not replacing you// he soothed.
//He never will// was the confident reply.
Nothing could. Karr and Nick were one, made for each other, part of the same whole.
//But you won’t cut the connection// the AI added, sounding miffed.
//That would be cruel, Karr//
The AI huffed, loosening his hold, glaring at the silver spark. He could live with such cruelty because Barricade was threatening his driver, and through Nick Karr. He made that clear to his partner and Nick just smiled.
Barricade himself was more or less reluctant to talk. He sometimes twitched in his hold when Nick got too close, when something hit home, and Nick took note of each and every reaction. He had Ratchet give him whatever the Autobots had on the Decepticon, then used the interface connection to link up and see what else he could glean from the dark mind.
“This is too dangerous, Nick,” Ratchet worried.
“No more than linking with Karr in the beginning. Now I have the defenses and the experience, Ratchet. Your minds are different, granted, but the implant has changed and I know how to move on a cyberspace level.”
“Nick, your mind is primitive compared to our brains.”
“Before it might have been. Now I’ve got enhancements.”
“Neither you nor I know what these enhancements allow you to do. They might make you even more vulnerable. You now have hybrid Cybertronian technology inside you.”
“Only one way to find out.”
Ratchet looked very unhappy, but he couldn’t stop the human. No one could. Nick had made it clear that he would work it his way, no one else’s.
Barricade didn’t know why he was trying so hard to be on good terms with the human. He didn’t understand the need to be connected to the cool, almost cold mind of a man who should be nothing but an unimportant insect, a worm. A man who he should have no problem destroying with a single thought.
But he didn’t.
He wanted this, he needed this, and his mimicry circuits were burning with desire each time the human initiated a contact. He didn’t care about Karr, about the harsh presence that fiercely guarded what belonged to the AI: Barricade needed the soft pulses of the other mind.
Trying to contact the AI had been met with icy silence, barriers, shields and blocks. Barricade hadn’t given up and after an eternity in electronic terms, Karr finally deigned him worthy talking to.
“What do you want?” he asked.
Barricade noted the cold, cruel voice, how inflectionless it was, how utterly flat.
“What is it that binds you to the human?” Barricade asked.
Karr rumbled darkly. “None of your business.”
“The human connects us,” the Decepticon added quickly.
“I am not connected to you, Decepticon. You are an intruder.”
“I need him.”
“He is not yours!” Karr hissed furiously.
“I need him,” Barricade repeated.
“And I could remove your presence from him in a moment!”
“That would hurt him,” he pointed out.
The darkness that represented Karr swelled and crackled dangerously.
“You love him,“ Barricade suddenly said.
Karr gave the other entity a sharp look, full of warning.
“But not like a human would love another human,“ Barricade went on.
“I’m not human.“
“But you were constructed by them.“
“It doesn’t make me human.“
Barricade was silent for a moment. “You would die for him.“ He sounded like this was a new concept.
“He is my driver and partner.“
“There is no honor in dying for a weaker race.”
Karr bristled, hissing. “Nick is not weaker, machine!”
“He is easily killed.”
The AI laughed darkly. “Not so easily.”
Barricade contemplated this. “Still, you would die for someone who is not your equal.”
Karr snarled. “And you attached yourself to my driver for the same reason. You are fixated on what you call inferior and weak!”
Barricade shivered. “I need the echo.”
“You need a human,” the AI taunted.
Silence greeted that statement.
“Nick is mine to protect,” Karr warned. “Keep away from him. Hurt him and I’ll kill you.”
“I wouldn’t harm him.”
“Your true colors are emblazoned on your skin, Decepticon!”
To punish and enslave. Karr felt a dark hatred rise. As much as there were parallels between them, Barricade was an alien mind, not made by humans, and his thought processes were dominated by power and destruction. Karr would do everything to keep Nick from falling for the trap he knew the Decepticon was laying with his neediness.
“No trap,” Barricade rumbled. “I won’t ever hurt him. He is strong. I need him.”
“Something you know only too well. You didn’t kill him because it would have killed you,” the Cybertronian snapped.
“He is my partner. We were chosen for one another,” Karr argued.
“And you despised and hated him.”
“Like you do.”
Barricade hissed. “Humans are insects. As a race, they are inferior.”
“They kicked your asses. They destroyed your leader.”
That got Karr a low rumble. He grinned maliciously.
“They are stronger, some of them, than they appear,” Barricade finally said.
At least something they agreed upon.
“I do need him,” the Decepticon went on. “I need the link to quiet the interface. If I had had a choice, I would not have chosen him.”
Fleshling. Weak. Despicable. Worm.
Karr bristled again, his presence darkening, a glint of danger around its edges.
“You want our cooperation, but you insult my partner,” the AI growled. “Either you clean up your act and behave with respect or you cut those ties and learn to suffer, before I do it for you!”
Barricade growled. Millennia of believes and behavior weren’t easily shed. “I can’t be who you want. I’m not some trained, docile pet!”
Karr laughed cruelly. “You’re also the last of your kind on this planet, dependent on good will and a human being. The Autobots would have no trouble killing you.”
“It might hurt the human. They would never risk it.”
“It won’t hurt him, trust me. I’ll make sure of the separation before your death myself!”
Barricade shivered a little at the thought. Just severing one tendril had been excruciatingly painful. It was what he had gotten for interfacing with a human. With a fellow Cybertronian separation was a matter of closing down circuits. Nick’s mind was a mesh of both organic matter and an implant. The hybrid system had made Barricade vulnerable.
“Cooperate,” Karr said coldly. “Interfere and I’ll deal with you before I let Ironhide terminate your existence.”
“I’m a prisoner. Cooperation only goes so far.”
“What would freedom give you? Run all you want. You can never escape the interface. You’re broken, Barricade. You are faulty,” Karr icily drove his point across. “None of your old buddies will ever accept you with a human interface. And you can’t cut your ties to Nick, you said so.”
Barricade fell silent, only too much aware of it. Even if Frenzy or another possible candidate for a new link ever came to him, the organic mind was forever with him. Smooth and rocky in one, an interface both craved and despised, and something that had him marvel at the strength of these humans. Karr was right. He knew that deep down in his processors. He would never be able to return to Cybertron and to the Decepticons as he was, and Nick’s death would drive him insane – something he and Karr shared.
He was trapped.
Karr retreated, sliding a shield into place, and Barricade turned to contemplate his link to MacKenzie.
Ironhide had insisted on reviewing base security and it had all ended in a huge change to Barricade’s little corner of the old hangar. By now the Decepticon was under such heavy guard, his com channels permanently scrambled, wheels clamped down and his chassis more or less bolted to the floor, that Nick wondered what Ironhide expected of the shock trooper. Barricade was far from the most powerful Decepticon. He was enduring and fast, but not strong enough to make it out of this prison, but Ironhide was still paranoid about him being here.
Prime’s arguments with his weapons specialist were a daily routine by now and Nick listened in, shook his head, and then strolled over to the enemy in question.
::We seem to have reached an impasse::
Barricade was silent.
::You are the enemy. You hate them, they hate you. I’m one of those you hate, but you need me. You won’t be released, you won’t be destroyed::
Still silence. Nick waited.
_You trust the Autobots_ the cold, cruel voice finally stated.
_You let them teach you. You let them tell you lies_
::About you? I doubt they made all of this up, Barricade. Your file reads like mine:: Nick smirked. ::What do you think would they tell me that could possibly change my opinion in any way?::
Barricade snorted, the silver spark shifting a little. _They lie to protect their own_
::Like you would::
_You trust them to help you with the changed implant_
::I trust no one. I take what I can get. Things have changed. I need to know all there is about what Karr and I have become::
Barricade pulsed softly. _You know nothing about your hybrid nervous system, human_
::But you do?::
_Unlike their medic, I am connected to you on a different level. I can see and feel the changes_
Karr flowed closer, sending a warning rumble. Barricade gave him an amused look.
_Don’t worry, hybrid. I wouldn’t harm him. But he is right that to survive, one needs to know all his strengths and weaknesses. You know little about what you can do_
Nick regarded him warily. ::How would you know more about me?::
_You are part Cybertronian now. That part of you is familiar. The Allspark gave you life. The way we talk, it’s like communicating with my own kind. You are like us, human. And you are dangerous. You are developing powers that aren’t for your kind_ Barricade’s presence was chilling, but it wasn’t attacking.
Nick drew back, sliding a block into place, and Karr readily pulled him out of the connection. Inhaling deeply, MacKenzie reentered the real world, feeling a bit shaky. Barricade was growing stronger and each contact was showing that. His spark was stabilizing and while Nick knew the Decepticon wouldn’t kill him, touching the cold mind was freaking him out a little.
//He’s trying to manipulate you// Karr muttered, fury rising. //Stop touching him like this, Nick//
A sound advice. But Barricade wouldn’t talk to him any other way and Nick still refused to just keep the block there forever. Barricade could be an advantage as well as a menace to him, but he had to handle both sides. And to handle them, he needed exposure.
//Not like this!// Karr insisted.
And maybe he had to get out of here. Maybe he had to turn closeness to distance. Maybe he had to start facing something he and Karr had avoided for a long time now.
Michael and Kitt.
Karr sent reluctance to initiate contact with his younger brother. He wasn’t ready to reveal what had happened to them.
//I know// Nick murmured. //Neither am I, but we have to one day//
And that day was coming.
* * *
contact with Kitt had been as intense as Karr had suspected it. His
brother had flooded him with concern, worry, happiness and a ton of
He had let the white light that represented Kitt through the private
they shared wash over him, enjoying the softness. Kitt flowed all
fine tendrils seeking the inky darkness that was a total contrast to
Finally they locked onto Karr, intent not to let go.
/_What happened to you? his brother asked. /_Why did you go silent? Are you okay? Is Nick okay?
Karr smiled at the flood of questions and the accompanying emotions. /_It is a long story.
Kitt moved closer, a brilliant spark of life compared to Karr’s darkness, but still they were so much the same.
/_Karr? he queried.
The darker AI hesitated. Nick was currently in a small coffee house, sitting across from Michael Knight, and the two were talking. Karr sighed and sent a burst of data, all the information Kitt would need in one file, and waited for his brother’s reaction.
There was stunned silence. Disbelief, Curiosity. Fear… for Karr. And then Kitt gave a little whisper of compassion. Karr let it wash over him, unclear how to react himself. He had never been too good at dealing with his younger brother’s more emotional, a lot more human side. Not even the past years of close contact had enabled him to feel more in that regard, or handle it better.
/_Michael and I picked up reports on something happening out here in
/_Like alien robots, Karr muttered darkly.
Kitt flowed closer again. /_Are you okay?
Leave it to Kitt to ignore the implications and ask the simple questions, Karr mused.
/_As well as we can be like this. Things have changed.
/_Kitt, I’m able to become a sixteen feet robot, Karr said in exasperation.
/_You’re still yourself.
Stunned, the other AI gazed at the softly glowing light close to him.
/_I’d like to see your other mode one day, Kitt added, sounding curious.
He shifted, uneasy.
/_One day, he answered evasively.
/_You have no intention to come back?
Karr sighed. /_Not yet, Kitt. There is too much about us we need to learn again.
The lighter AI shivered a little and huddled closer. /_I don’t want to lose you.
/_You won’t. Our connection is still there. I won’t allow it to be taken away.
Karr needed Kitt’s presence, though never as much as Nick’s. Still, Kitt was part of him and they had gone through too much to easily lose this connection.
/_You’re still the same, Kitt stated softly, repeating an earlier notion.
/_With a few changes.
/_No. Your soul is still the same.
Karr sat speechless, aware how close the other car was. Kitt had inched forward, pushing their fenders together. It was an old ritual, one both took comfort from. The physical connection had never faltered ever since that fateful first time when Karr had tried to reassure a frightened, terrified and tortured Kitt that he was safe. That had been so many years ago and so much had changed after that moment of complete openness.
/_Don’t shut me out, Kitt requested.
/_I won’t, was the solemn promise.
Michael looked at him like Nick had grown a second head. Maybe he had. At least something inside of him had grown.
“You are serious,” Knight stated.
Michael shook his head. “Damn.”
Nick smiled. It was brief but appropriate, a reaction he had expected.
“And you expect me, after telling me all of this, to turn around and drive home, no questions asked?”
“Actually, no. You’d surprise me if you did.”
“So what now?”
“So now you share something few people actually know about. It’s a secret.”
Michael grimaced. “I’m no longer five, Nick. Secrets or not. This is Top Secret government stuff, right?”
“And you work for them again?”
Nick’s face darkened. “No. I’m staying with the Autobots out of necessity. Karr needs to learn more about his new abilities, as do I.”
“What about the implant?”
“It’s no longer what it was. It still has the same function, but with a few extras. I’ve yet to find out what else it might be able to do.”
Michael regarded him solemnly. “How long?” he only wanted to know.
“I don’t know. Things happened. They are still happening. There are changes I can’t tell you about right now.”
“So there’s more,” Knight sighed. “Figures.”
Nick smiled slightly. “There’s always more. Optimus Prime has extended an invitation to you too. They would love to meet Kitt, seeing he is version 2.0.”
“Ratchet, their medical officer, is fascinated by the concept of human-built AIs of such sophistication.” Nick shrugged. “Karr has given Kitt the coordinates. Should you feel like dropping in, do so.”
“I’m not sure I want to present Kitt on a silver platter to an advanced robotic race.”
“Neither do I,” Nick told him honestly.
He had always protected them, had gone out of his way to insure their safety and survival.
Conversation changed from the latest changes to Foundation matters, to cases, to those who supported them. Nick had contacted Bear earlier this month and told him that he would be incommunicado for a while; extent of time unknown. Michael and Kitt would have Bear’s full support. They also had full access to Nick’s rather impressive fund. Michael had only once peeked at the numbers and he had been floored. He doubted the Foundation had this much spending money for Kitt.
“Nick,” Michael stopped him from leaving. “Be careful, okay?”
“I always am. Give the others my best.”
“Duck will miss Karr,” Knight teased.
Nick laughed. “Yeah. Like a sore thumb.”
The drive back to the Autobot base felt like he was leaving something very important behind. It was the first time he felt this way. Michael and Kitt had become a huge part of his life, in their lives, and Karr was quiet and brooding the whole way.
Karr kept in contact with Kitt and Nick suspected his partner was giving them updates on Nick’s condition and health. Karr was evasive with answers and Nick sometimes wanted to strangle him, but part of him was glad. Michael and Kitt were friends. The only ones he had and which he trusted.
The implant lay more or less dormant. Having spread far out into his body it didn’t so much as blip or misbehave in any way that had Nick alert toward any changes. A large part of him doubted that the only alteration of the Allspark had been the size and mass of the implant. A very small part prayed nothing would come of the changes anymore.
Throughout his time with the Autobots and
By now he was outside the military chain of command. His immediate superior and only commanding officer was, aside from the president, of course, the Secretary of Defense. Out here, in the desert, with the Autobots,
It was a rather mixed group, but it fit the whole rag-tag group of Autobots, civilians, military and one lone Decepticon quasi-prisoner who was attached to a hybrid human, who in turn was linked to an artificial intelligence touched by the Allspark as well.
It was after his meeting with Michael that Nick made a decision that was monumental for him.
Secretary of Defense John Keller had never met Nick MacKenzie before, but he had met the man now calling himself by this name. He recognized the sharp-cut features, the pale blue eyes and the dark hair, as well as the tall, lithe figure. Back then Keller had been younger, hadn’t been SecDef, and the presence of the mysterious stranger had unnerved him. That hadn’t changed. MacKenzie was unnerving.
“I take it it’s not your real name,” Keller said casually as he looked at the visitor.
MacKenzie smiled humorlessly, standing at ease in front of the heavy desk. “Probably not.”
The Stealth had been in Nick’s possession back then, too. It had been ten years since then and things had changed. Even Nick had. Keller saw more in the cool blue eyes than MacKenzie probably wanted him to know.
“I won’t ask what you did in the last decade,” Keller stated. “I don’t even want to know what you did in
“Actually, I have no real plans. I never do.”
Keller had been surprised when Optimus Prime had contacted him about something that concerned everyone involved in the first contact between Autobots and humans. Since Sector Seven no longer existed, Keller had taken over :
Revealing what had truly happened at the Hoover Dam and in
Sector Seven had been disbanded, the Hoover Dam facility had been locked down, and all evidence had been removed. Those involved in the fight against the alien robots had been sworn to secrecy, and some, like the team of Captain Lennox, had been reassigned permanently to the Autobots.
Now there was Nick MacKenzie, another well-kept secret of the
MacKenzie had agreed to make his presence known to Keller, but John had no idea why. It was what he asked now.
“Because I think it would be mutually beneficial,” Nick answered.
“You’re the most secretive man I know, Nick.” And he hadn’t known him for long that time ten years ago. “It’s not like you to come out in the open, to the government, and tell us what happened.”
It got him a smile. “Maybe you’re right, John. But things have changed, even before
Keller refrained from snorting. The man was now a Cybertronian hybrid. He had technology in his brain that had been put there by Wilton Knight and had later been expanded by contact with the Allspark. His survival of the primary surgery, the years later, and now of the changes was a miracle.
“I know how everything works, John. I was in the system. Long enough to know my way around. I can be an asset, I can be a pain in the system.”
Oh yes, he could.
“I know I owe the Autobots and I know that going back to my life before
He wasn’t the type.
“I don’t know what will still happen because of the changes, but I know whatever it is, the Autobots are my best chance to survive it.”
“So it’s self-preservation?”
“In a way.” MacKenzie shrugged. “I’m linked to not only an artificial intelligence constructed by using reverse engineering from an alien machine, but I’m also connected to such an alien entity.”
Keller had heard about that from Prime, too. It had shocked him, mildly put. “How’s that working out?” he wanted to know.
He studied the almost inscrutable face. “I have no idea why I trusted you back then, Nick. I have no idea why I should trust you now.”
“Even if you don’t trust me, you can’t change what happened. My connection to Karr is ancient. It has nothing to do with the here and now. The accident in
“I understand. Optimus reassured me that everything is under control.”
It didn’t really sound like it, though.
“What are you now?” Keller asked openly.
“What I always was.”
Nick smirked a little. “Yes.”
“Will Captain Lennox have any trouble with you there?”
That got him a laugh. “John, I’m easy maintenance. Let me be and I let you be. It’s the Autobots’ base. I accept Optimus Prime as its commander. Karr isn’t an Autobot, but he won’t oppose any of them either.”
“Good to hear. What about your involvement with the Foundation for Law and Government?”
Nick’s face was blank.
Keller sighed. “All right. No questions.”
That got him a humorless smile. “You learned.”
“Rumors persist,” Keller joked. “Rest assured, Nick. Whatever concerns the Autobots and now you, too, it stays with me and the select few who know about them.”
“I hope so.”
There was no threat in the words, not even a veiled one. It was a simple statement and Keller knew how to take it.
Meeting Optimus Prime in person always was fascinating and humbling in one. Keller had spoken to the Autobot leader dozens of times before and he was always astounded by the calmness, the quiet humor, and the weight of responsibility this mechanoid showed. He was a true leader and he had been for a time span that boggled a human mind. They had had personal talks as well and Keller knew about Optimus’ past, where he came from, that he had been a commander who had ruled Cybertron together with Megatron, who had then been Lord Protector of Cybertron. The whole civil war, which had turned into an all-out destruction of their home planet, had torn the mechanoid race apart and had scattered them throughout the universe. Prime was still hoping for some of his kind to find their way here.
Keller was prepared. As was everyone else involved. Even if he wouldn’t be around any longer should more Autobots arrive, the SecDef had made preparations. He knew he wasn’t immortal; no one was. Not even the Autobots.
“I believe he has great potential,” Optimus now said, voice soft and quiet.
“He always had. Nick is a dangerous man, but he is the best ally you could wish for.”
Prime nodded. “We appreciate that he will stay.”
“What about Barricade?”
That got him the electronic equivalent of a sigh. “He poses an unknown factor. His connection to Nick makes him both controllable and dangerous. We don’t know if he can influence the implant. Karr is fiercely protective and he won’t let Barricade touch the human mind, but he is a Decepticon. He is dangerous.”
“But you won’t kill him.”
Blue optics regarded him evenly. “No. It’s not what we stand for.”
“Sometimes decisions are not easy to make, especially in regard to one’s principles.”
“This isn’t a matter of principles, John. We don’t take a life in cold blood.”
Keller knew there was no arguing with Prime on that, no matter how dangerous the individual in question was. Nick himself hadn’t said much about Barricade and John knew the man was a survivor. Should Barricade be a danger, Nick would deal with him to ensure he would come of this alive.
“Well, good luck on that then.”
Optimus inclined his head. “I suppose we will need it.” Humor swung in his voice. “Thank you.”
* * *
A few weeks
after his meeting with John Keller, Nick accepted Lennox’s invitation
The topic of Barricade came up, of course. Will was interested and Nick was reluctant to talk.
“Ironhide’s blowing a fuse every time I mention him,”
“I’d rather not kill myself,” Nick only remarked.
“No different from Karr, and he was a pain in the ass in the beginning. Barricade is… distant. He has no influence on me. He can’t hurt me without going through several shields, and Karr.”
“Good to know.”
Nick smirked. “Yeah.”
It was when they walked through the casino toward the exit that Nick noticed something zinging through his mind, like a blip on his senses. He stopped and tried to chase the signal that had arrived directly in his mind, without bothering his eyes or ears when
“Hey, MacKenzie. You okay?”
“Yes, fine,” he replied automatically, puzzling over what had just happened.
“You zoned. I don’t call that fine. What happened?”
//I don’t know//
“I don’t know,” Nick said out loud. “It was like… a contact.”
Will frowned. “Contact? You mean Barricade?”
“No. Him I know. This was… different.”
Nick frowned, not happy with the explanation himself. Barricade’s contact was that of an aware mind to his. This one had been… like his mind logging on to a signal and warning him. The other hadn’t actually touched his mind and he hadn’t felt the resonance of a spark.
They were barely out the door when it happened again. This time Nick didn’t just feel something but was flying. High speed, across the clouds, the desert below him. He felt alien emotions crash down on him, familiar by sense but not like the ones he had touched before. Anger, fury, hatred and the need to kill. Homing in on an easy target. Homing in on…
“Shit!” he whispered, stumbling.
“I can’t explain,” Nick said, voice clipped, “but something coming here, aiming for us. It’s picking up on Ironhide’s energy signatures and it’s armed and hostile. We need to get out of here before this ends up another
Will’s eyes widened. “What…?”
A deep rumble alerted them to Ironhide pulling up at the curb. “Got a scrambled signal coming in. Decepticon. Get in. We need to leave.”
Karr had pulled up behind the much larger truck and Nick was already heading for him.
“ID on the signal?” he asked instead.
“Decepticon. No further clues. I’ve tried to get through to Optimus, but we’re being blocked.”
“Well, shit,” Will muttered.
They shot off the I-15 no five minutes later, faster than anything built on Earth should be able to drive. Above them, something flew past, fast and furious.
“Starscream!” Ironhide hissed.
Trailing dust, Ironhide raced for a safe location, safe to engage their enemy. When the first missile exploded next to them, the decision was taken out of his hand. He turned in a tight circle, simultaneously opening his door to eject his human passenger, and Will rolled head over heels across the desert floor with a yell of surprise and pain.
Ironhide would have to apologize later on, but as he now transformed and charged his weapons, that apology was far from important.
“Came back, huh?” he growled. “Big mistake.”
Starscream came in for another round and Ironhide raised his gun, firing away. Out of the corner of his optics he noticed Karr and part of him wondered why the hybrid hadn’t made a run for it. When Karr started firing, Ironhide added his own fire power.
More missiles exploded left and right, followed by the screech of Starscream’s pass overhead. One of Ironhide’s volleys hit a wing and the jet transformed, gun in hand, continuing his assault. Ironhide was aware of Will close by, staying behind cover since he hadn’t come to
The Captain grinned wildly and snatched it up, efficiently unsnapped the safety lock and started to lay fire onto the approaching figure.
Optimus witnessed in horror as Barricade tore himself nearly apart trying to get out of the restraints. Metal bent and broke under incredible power. There was a high-pitched whine, smoke rising from madly spinning wheels, and the shrill cry of a machine in pain echoed around the hangar.
“Great Cybertron, he’s actually breaking free!” Bumblebee whispered.
Epps and the team were already in position, weapons trained on the twisting Decepticon.
And then Barricade tore free, a shower of sparks and metal accompanying the violent move. Lubricant and energon spattered over the walls, indicating deep wounds. Swerving wildly, Barricade headed for the closed hangar doors.
Epps and his men started to shoot.
Bumblebee raised his own gun.
Barricade didn’t even slow down, though he swerved again, evading one of the Army Rangers.
Bumblebee’s rapid blasts hit the police cruiser and shattered the rear window.
Barricade crashed into the hangar and took the door with him.
One tire exploded.
Still he kept going.
Bumblebee prepared for another round, but Optimus’ hand stopped him. “Follow him,” the Autobot leader only said.
“Something triggered this. He tore himself to pieces to get free. Go after him.”
The Camaro only nodded and transformed, racing after the Decepticon fugitive. Epps looked angry and frustrated.
“What the hell is going on?” he demanded. “I can’t reach the captain and now this guy’s escaping after wrecking everything!”
Optimus looked down at the human. He tried to contact Ironhide, but only got interference. Swallowing a curse, a dark suspicion rising inside him, he transformed.
“Ready your team. We might need you.”
“Oh fuck,” Epps muttered, aware what this meant.
Prime accelerated out of the base.
Starscream swooped down for a new attack, guns blazing, and Ironhide cursed under his breath.
Karr was not far away, transformed into his bipedal mode. Starscream had sent three blasts his way and two had hit dead center. Ironhide had no clue as to how tough the hybrid robot was naturally. Karr was still conscious, losing blast after blast at the enemy, but even from his position the Autobot could see Karr’s injuries were leaking energon. His driver had taken cover and Ironhide was trying to provide cover fire, but things were getting hot. Starscream was fast, determined and aiming for Nick and Karr, for whatever reason. Ironhide felt that his presence was a mere nuisance.
Shots pelted around him and he jumped for cover, hoping Will could hold his own. He had the weapons, but he was vulnerable as a human.
Again, Starscream approached, incredibly fast, and transformed, sliding toward Karr and firing.
The hybrid went down with a cry of pain.
Nick staggered, dangerously open. There was blood on him, his clothes dusty, and he was favoring one arm.
Ironhide tried to get a fix on the rapidly moving Decepticon.
Starscream reached for Karr.
“Now you’re mine,” the Decepticon hissed.
The AI twisted around, slamming his feet into the larger robots chest, and Starscream staggered. He easily caught his balance and the next blow sliced open Karr’s chest and trailed more fluids.
“He’s after Karr!”
“Yeah. Damn. Just what we need!” was Ironhide’s reply.
The Autobot had no idea where the battered, barely car-shaped form came from, but it collided with Starscream and brought him down, tripping him over its roof.
“You!” Starscream hissed, raising his gun.
“Ah hell, Barricade,” Ironhide muttered and charged both gun to full power. “I knew we should have slagged him!”
“Man, he looks like caught in a shredder,”
Barricade revved his engine and in front of astounded and rather shocked eyes he transformed. Ironhide winced in mirrored pain at the sounds that came from the severely damaged Decepticon. How in the name of Primus he had managed to circumvent his disabled transformation circuits was only one question Ironhide wanted an answer for. The other was what the hell the Decepticon was doing.
“Leave him,” the shock trooper ground out, standing in front of Nick and Karr.
“You claim them? I am your leader, Barricade.”
“Megatron is dead!”
“It doesn’t make you his successor.”
Starscream sneered. “What is it that interests you in this hybrid fleshling?”
“I could ask you the same. He’s mine. Leave!”
Another cold laugh. “You want to fight me over them? Look at yourself, Barricade. How much lower can you fall? You are weak, like the Autobots. Despicable. I don’t know what Megatron saw in you, but I will terminate you existence, then take the human with me.”
Barricade shifted his weight, red optics glowing fiercely.
“You will not touch him.”
There was the rather tell-tale noise of rupturing fluid pumps and a loud screech, then Barricade launched several volleys at Starscream. Starscream only laughed and answered the shots.
Barricade screamed in agony as the bullets cut a flaming path through his systems, though not hitting any of the important ones just yet. But they did their share of damage and it hurt! He reacted out of a primal instinct as he surged forward, totally surprising Starscream who had thought him disabled. But he wasn’t a shock trooper for nothing. He had lived through worse and had survived. Whether he would survive this was questionable, but he wouldn’t let Nick fall into Starscream’s hands.
The interface unit was burning with an overwhelming pain. Barricade had a hard time quieting down and the pain spiraled out of proportion, stoking a temper that was feared throughout the ranks of the Decepticons. He channeled everything he had in his assault, letting the fury take a hold, block every rational thought.
“You are such a weak excuse for a Decepticon, Barricade. Megatron was mad to ever employ your services!”
The shot cut into his stomach and Barricade hissed in pain as something else tore up and energon gushed out of a cut. He went down on one knee, his optics dimming with the agony of ruptured circuits, but he managed to morph his gun and aimed it at the approaching Decepticon. It was a small gun. All his other weapons had been deconstructed by Ratchet. Curse the medic!
Shock troopers were hard to defeat, though enough damage would fell them. Coupled with his thirst for battle, the sheer exhilaration to destroy and maul and batter, Barricade had survived against even greater odds.
Starscream grinned madly.
Barricade squeezed the trigger, the gun locked on its highest setting and hitting his former commander right in the chest at close range. Barricade used projectiles, propelled by a burst of high energy, and the bolts went through the armor like a hot knife through butter. At least at this distance.
Still, the damage was not enough. Starscream was resilient, second only to Megatron, and his fingers closed over Barricade’s gun and tore it out of his grasp.
“You are despicably weak,” the larger Decepticon whispered maliciously. “You served Megatron. You will follow Megatron!”
Something slammed into Starscream’s back and he was thrown over Barricade, but was back on his feet in a flash. Another blast scorched a wing so badly, it nearly tore off. Through fading optics, Barricade saw Optimus Prime, gun aimed at the enemy, and he nearly laughed. It was nothing but a weak gurgle. Bumblebee was at his side, equally firing at the jet.
Turning away from the battle, the Decepticon looked for the one he had to protect. Pain radiated from his torn chest.
Where was the human hybrid?
Nick closed his eyes, trying to calm his partner, who was slowly getting out of control. Karr was frantic, unable to get to him because of his injuries, and Barricade was way too close.
//It's over// he whispered.
Karr whimpered and Nick entwined them in their minds, sinking to his knees. His body ached from the debris that had hit him, right before and after he had been flung aside by a shock wave from an exploding missile. One hand looked burned, but not too badly. He had had worse.
Suddenly he was grabbed -- gently. Large fingers closed around his body, big enough to crush him should the large robot choose to do so.
Karr’s cry of helpless anger echoed in his mind.
Nick looked up and into blazing red optics in a terrifying face. Part of that face was torn up, scratched, but the red optics were glowing brightly. Parts of Barricade were missing, torn of, and he was covered in sand and fluids.
Barricade cradled the injured human in sharp-clawed fingers, gazing at the pale, dirty face, meeting intense blue eyes. All his instincts screamed at him to dump the insect, squash the worm, and run. The Autobots were coming, he was badly damaged, completely at a disadvantage, but he was staying.
He could no longer transform, that was a fact. His body was depleted. What wasn’t used to shield his spark was just enough to keep him from falling flat on his face.
The painful echoes of Nick’s injuries rebounded in his mind, but at least he wasn’t dead. He had avoided feeling the loss of the interface again.
“Are you functional?” he asked, voice gravelly and rough.
“What do you care?”
Barricade tilted his head. He was shutting down, close to total failure, but all his reserves were now focused on his last moments.
“I don’t know.”
He wanted to dump the human in the dust because of the lubricants leaking from his cut skin, because he was filthy, but that reaction was overridden by the need to have him safe.
“Set me down,” Nick demanded, trying to push himself up in a sitting position.
Barricade couldn’t but obey. He remembered his reaction to Frenzy, knowing that the small, hyper-active machine would now be his partner, would share circuits and power, would be able to log into him. He had been disgusted and revolted.
The same had been true for Nick.
But he had accepted Frenzy and Nick was a necessity. Keep him safe and alive and whole… because he needed him.
Somewhere in his massive frame, Barricade felt something else give and he tried to compensate for it. He was already losing energon through the ugly and deep wound in his stomach, his exostructure was badly mangled, his vision was narrowing down and only keeping on Nick, and there were so many warnings flashing past his inner optic, it was dizzying.
“Set me down,” Nick repeated, voice softening, and it sounded strange.
This human was sometimes as cold and calculating as a machine, but he had this gentleness he only showed when talking to Karr. Now it was directed at him.
“You are breaking down, Barricade.”
“Set me down.”
And he did. Nick staggered a little and almost fell against Barricade’s hand.
“You are injured.”
“So are you,” Nick remarked, looking at the kneeling Decepticon.
But Nick was safe.
He didn’t care if he died now. He would cease to function and everything would be solved.
A gurgling noise emerged from his throat and Barricade felt his knees give way. He fell onto the ground, hard, vision swimming. His optics were fixed on the bright blue eyes of the human.
After that, there was only static and darkness as stasis lock set in to preserve his spark.
Nick had just enough coordination to fall out of the way as Barricade had a total system failure and crashed. The mangled form of the Decepticon lay on the desert ground, optics dark and lifeless. Karr was screaming in his mind and Nick wanted nothing more than to follow Barricade into unconsciousness, but he couldn’t.
Heavy steps announced the arrival of the Autobots and he looked up at Optimus Prime and Ironhide.
“Starscream has fled,” Ironhide muttered. He looked like he wanted to prod Barricade with a foot. “You okay?”
Nick looked over to where Karr lay. “Alive,” he only said.
“Which can’t be said about him,” the weapons specialist snorted, looking at Barricade.
“He tore himself out of the restraints,” Optimus murmured, amazed.
Bumblebee walked over to Karr and pulled him up. The AI barely managed to stay on his feet. Optimus bent down and rather easily picked up the limp Decepticon.
“We need to leave,” he stated.
Nick closed his eyes, so infinitely tired.
* * *
optics were flickering weakly and the stomach wound looked terrible. It
miracle he had lived to make it so far. Ratchet stared at the
shocked by the extent of the injuries. He had Barricade hooked up to a
and an energon feed, but the repairs would be extensive. So far he had
the body armor to get to the basic structure underneath, and there were
almost shredded to pieces even under armor that had shown just moderate
injuries. Using a forced access into Barricade’s core, he placed the
command to revert the body shell to its protoform completely.
It was a painful process, for patient and medic, and only because Barricade’s voice box had given out did no one hear him scream.
Barricade was a tough ‘bot to take down. His armor was remarkable, as was his survival instinct, and he was armed to the teeth. His weapons had long since been taken away or locked down. And the unarmored body looked vulnerable and weak in comparison.
“He’s in a very bad shape, Optimus,” the medic told his leader.
Prime nodded. He could see that. He had seen it the moment he had laid optics on the motionless form in the desert. Starscream had fled, but now they knew he was back on Earth and their vigil was doubled. He must have been come across Karr’s signal somehow and it had lured him back.
Ratchet had worked out a shield that would let the Stealth disappear from Starscream’s radar, so to speak, but Nick wasn’t so easily made invisible. Ratchet was reluctant to play surgeon on a human and test the implant, and Nick wouldn’t let him anyway.
For now MacKenzie had bigger problems anyway.
Lennox had contacted the
As for Karr, his superficial injuries were repairing themselves slowly. His molecularly enhanced skin behaved almost like Cybertronian skin, able to repair itself when given enough time and energy. Ratchet had patched up the worst parts. Nick had been with him, but now the human stood next to the repair table Barricade lay on. His face was pale, a slightly pinched look to it, and while his injuries had to be painful, he showed no sign of them. Sometimes Optimus wondered about his past once more. He had read enough about the man, but to see what a secret branch – one of many the US government apparently had – had turned a fellow human being into, someone who hid his injuries, who functioned even under great duress and pain, who suppressed emotions and became cold and unyielding… it was frightening. In many ways, Nick had the mentality of a Cybertronian warrior like Ironhide or even like Barricade.
“I have to take him off-line and I’m not sure he has the necessary will and power to survive,” Ratchet went on. “His spark is weak.”
“Try,” Prime only said.
He wouldn’t let anyone die, even Barricade. All life was sacred. The Decepticons were Cybertronians, too. Megatron had been his brother.
Meeting Nick’s cool gaze, he wondered what the human could feel of Barricade, but he would never ask, knowing he would never get an answer.
Ratchet nodded. He might not like working on a Decepticon, but this one had shown sides that were unlike the Barricade that had joined Megatron millennia ago and more like the one he had been before the war.
The pain was somewhere far away and nearly forgotten. Pain was an old companion. Sometimes he had greeted it as welcome and necessary, to remind him he was alive. Instead of the pain there was now a strange sense of loneliness. Wherever he was, he was alone. He couldn't see, but he could feel and he could hear.
He felt a cool surface.
He heard a voice talking to someone.
The voice blurred. The pain was still far away, but another voice rang through the confusion that was still inside of him. It was the familiar voice again. The voice told him something. Before he could will his body to respond to the voice, it faded. Tiredness washed over him. He felt so fatigued.
He drifted into nothingness again.
//I know// Nick murmured, watching the silver spark flicker.
//We could hold him//
He shot his partner a surprised look. Karr had so far not offered a single friendly remark toward Barricade, let alone propose they help the Decepticon.
//And then? If he survives, he’ll be a prisoner again//
Karr, weakened and exhausted from his injuries and the recovery, sighed softly. He was close to shutting down. Nick brushed over the inky darkness that was his partner.
They could ponder this later.
Karr sent another sigh, but he curled up and shut down, following Nick’s request.
Nick himself sat on the floor, legs pulled up, arms wrapped around his knees. His eyes were on the motionless, stripped-down Decepticon. Ratchet was still working, up to his elbows in lubricants, energon and other liquids.
Nick felt along the thin link to Barricade, saw the flickers more pronounced, noted the deep wounds and old scars.
Did he want to live? And if he survived, would he ever be free?
Closing his eyes, he let his head sink onto his knees. He was tired, hurt, and at the end of his emotional rope.
Two minds were bound to him. One by his implant and a trusted partner of twenty years. Karr was the closest thing he had. He was the only one who knew every dark little corner of his mind and his soul. They were one in so many ways.
Barricade was an intruder, grasping for a straw, needing Nick to replace a lost partner. He was an alien, completely different mind. He despised Nick’s kind, but still needed this one human.
::I could save you:: Nick sent, facing the weak light without Karr for protection hovering right behind him. ::The question is, do you want to be saved?::
_No difference_ came the garbled reply. _None_
::The Autobots are trying to keep you alive::
_A futile cause_
::No. I might die with you, Barricade. I’m not ready to give up::
There was rough, cold laughter, though it was so faint, Nick barely picked it up. _No_
::You connected yourself to me, Decepticon! Cutting these lines will affect the implant. I’m going to keep you in this world, no matter what!::
Another dark and throaty chuckle. _You have guts, human. The more we bond, the harder it will be for you to be free_
::This is already a badly tangled triangle. I no longer have a ‘get out of it free’ card:: Nick felt incredibly tired.
Barricade was silent and the silver spark sputtered noiselessly. Nick watched it, aware that if Barricade gave up, he would be facing a dark hole where he had been.
Not an option.
::Do you want to live?:: he asked again.
There was no answer, just the presence of the dying spark.
Nick scrubbed a hand over his face and lay back on the bunk. With Barricade incommunicado and Karr recharging, there was only one option for him, too.
Closing his eyes, MacKenzie slipped into a mixture of recharge and human sleep, the implant shutting down functions he wouldn’t need right now.
* * *
was jolted out of his aimless existence by the contact of another mind
his. Since the battle against Starscream he had roused himself briefly,
then he had slipped into a semi stasis-lock that allowed him to be
but not to feel or see. He knew his body was in a very bad shape,
terminal, and he didn’t really want to feel it die.
The Autobots were trying to save him, do-gooders that they were. But for what? He had broken through their restraints once already to help Nick, so they would use even more serious measures this time. He wouldn’t put it past Prime to have Ratchet disconnect his spark from his body.
Eternally in limbo.
Not something to look forward to.
Death was preferable.
The other mind was cool and blue and controlled, not unlike a Cybertronian, but not of his kind at all. It was human and fallible and weak and primitive. Still, it was so very attractive to soothe his aches and pains, to replace what he had lost. It was the mind he had grown used to in the past months.
Now it was close, closer than ever, and it didn’t seem to be adrift like him. It was like a resting place in the middle of the sea of pain that taunted the Decepticon. He knew that with consciousness, the pain would return. He and pain were old friends, but it didn’t mean he relished it.
I might die with you.
Do you want to live?
Nick’s words hit home, his spark jolting a little at the impact of what the human said and through it offered. Co-exist with him and Karr, an uneven triangle of co-dependence. He doubted Nick would suffer much if he was terminated, but a small, niggling doubt remained. While Barricade still viewed humans as a disgusting race of worms, Nick MacKenzie was a vital part of him.
Slipping under again, he mulled over that thought.
It was maybe an hour, maybe half a day, maybe too long for him to understand later that Barricade returned to conscious levels. Everythign around him was peaceful and dark.
Only the representation of Nick’s mind could be seen in the distance, like a beacon calling for him. He regarded the blue presence with interest. Nick was so different from every human he had ever encountered and it sparked a child-like curiosity. He carefully reached out and touched the connection they shared, even though it had been partially severed. Barricade hadn’t dared heal the wound because of Karr’s furious guard.
Nick wasn't cold; far from it. There was a human warmth there that Barricade had come to associate with weakness. Humans were so compassionate, so emotional, just like the Autobots. It was their weakness and he had exploited it in the past. Nick was human, of course, but he could be emotionally so cold that it came as a surprise that he wasn't when touching him on this level. He wondered what Karr saw when he touched Nick.
Barricade felt a sliver of jealously. Karr had what he craved: a partner. Karr had had Nick for two decades now and he would have him forever. Their minds were so close, so interwoven, and Barricade was the intruder. He would never become what Karr was for Nick, and while he craved it, he also felt disgust at the thought of such a bond.
He ran a tendril along the fragmented shields, noting the bad shape they were in, wondering from what incident these fragments had remained. Those were old shields, not new ones. Ancient, even. Protecting scars, he realized.
The recent attack had left Nick exhausted, but he had never shown weakness and that Barricade was now so close meant that the exhaustion had taken its toll. Karr was probably in repair stasis and Nick was resting.
Barricade shivered as he gazed at the battle scars, old and healed, signs of prior fights with another mind. The blue light was marred by them, but still beautiful in its own way. Nick's presence shifted. He moved in his sleep and Barricade risked a quick touch. The blue light shivered, feeling warm and soft to the touch. Suddenly there was a brief spike, then a flash that vanished so quickly, Barricade wasn’t sure it had been real. As he tried to move away, he became aware of where he was. Or wasn’t. He no longer saw the blue spark in the scarred environment. He stood in the middle of a deserted wasteland, sand underneath his feet. Feet? Barricade felt surprise rise in him, then his attention was drawn to the debris. Lots of debris. Small parts, large parts, scattered and burned. It had once been a car. The K.A.R.R., a tiny part of him whispered. He didn’t know why, but he was aware of the fact.
His view shifted as he moved closer to the debris, without actually thinking about walking. It wasn’t him, he realized. He was simply seeing this. He saw the broken and burned wreckage, the barely recognizable form of a car. The person whose eyes he was looking through knelt in front of an array of microchips and a hand reached out, gently brushing sand from the surviving CPU.
“Too late again, right?” someone said and Barricade flinched.
“Like last time,” Nick’s voice continued, freeing the CPU. “I should let it end here and now, you know. It would be so much better for us. Easier. But I can’t. We were made, we are survivors, we have to live with this, and maybe there is a chance for both of us.”
A dry chuckle could be heard.
“I know you are still there. I know you want to live. So do I. We can only do it together.”
Hands grabbed the CPU and pulled it from the debris, sand cascading off the black, dented case.
“You do not own me!”
The harsh declaration snapped Barricade around and he stared at the darkness that now encroached upon him. Black, threatening, cutting into his mind like razor blades.
“No one owns me! No human ever did!”
It was Karr’s voice, but so different from now. It hurt to listen to it, it was agony to feel his touch, and like a spectator, Barricade saw Nick crumble down, yelling in pain.
“If I die, so do you.” The whisper was loud enough to be a scream.
“I’m not dependent on you!”
It was like a declaration of all-out war, but with each stab or slash Karr took at the human connected to him, he weakened as well. Barricade didn’t know long the battle took, but he saw the scars this had inflicted, he gazed on in silent terror as he saw the bleeding tears in Nick’s walls. And he saw Karr curl up into a dying, black spark, shivering and miserable. He wanted nothing more than to be accepted, to have an existence. But he had been cast away, shut down and abandoned, and the pain had multiplied over the years. He had let it all out, hurting the one who had helped, hurting himself in turn.
“We cannot live without the other,” Nick whispered, sounding hoarse. “Wilton Knight connected us, Karr.”
“I don’t want this,” Karr argued weakly.
“But you want to live.”
“Then accept what it means.”
The world swirled back into focus and Barricade finally managed to free himself from the cluster of memories, shocked. He knew he had seen more than he should have. He had had no right, but it had been an accident. He had touched an area no one had visited in a long time. He doubted Karr had ever ventured there and Nick would lock the experience up.
So many scars. So much pain.
He knew the pain.
And he suddenly understood what linked Karr and Nick. Just as he knew that he was going through the same. He was dying and he had to accept that to survive, he had to sacrifice part of himself. He could never be an Autobot, but he no longer was a Decepticon.
Neither was Karr.
The Autobots wouldn’t accept him, view him with distrust and hate, but if he learned to trust Karr and Nick, he might survive, whatever shape it would mean for him.
Nick had taken his place in the medical area again, looking at the motionless heap of metal. Barricade in his stripped down form. Ratchet had explained to him that forcing the Decepticon back into his protoform shape was all he could do to keep him from expending too much energy. Repairs had been made and the molecular reconstruction of the skin was on its way. There was nothing more Ratchet could do.
It was late already. While the Autobots didn’t live the twenty-four hour day humans did, they had adjusted lights to dim throughout the night time hours to suit the humans living with them. Nick sat in twilight, looking at the black protoform. It was more alien than anything else he had ever seen before. But still humanoid. The basic shape of a Cybertronian. Nick wondered why they had a humanoid form, whether their creators had been bipedal and humanoid.
He had read about Transscanning and protoforms in the files Ratchet had supplied him with. Cybertronians were a race of chameleons, able to take on all kinds of shapes after transscanning them. The basic form was ultra-dense, able to draw on energy reserves beyond Nick’s limited understanding to create the exo-structure that enabled them to blend in. Forcing a Cybertronian in such bad shape as Barricade was to reverse the process was almost torture.
_I want to live._
Nick was jolted out of his thoughts, his mind suddenly overwhelmed by the powerful presence of Barricade. He stumbled back on the mind-plane. Karr was in a powered done mode, recharging, and Nick carefully felt along the shield he had between himself and his partner.
_I have chosen, Nick MacKenzie. I will live_ Barricade’s deep voice could be heard. _And so will you_
Silver streaked through his mind and he gasped. With a strength born from countless years as a partner to an AI not so much different when it came to mind invasions from Barricade, he pushed the silver presence back.
Barricade hovered, smirking almost.
::Still dominant:: he spat.
The Decepticon regarded him silently.
_You cannot be dominated_
_Neither will I ever submit_
Nick smiled coldly. ::We’re back to the original question about the partnership::
Barricade drew back, but not to attack, just to create distance. _You would truly accept this? Karr is your partner_
::And he will always be. He and I are equals. He doesn’t want to control me. I’m not a lower level unit::
_No_ Barricade said quietly, coming closer again. _You are not. I give you my word as a warrior to not overwhelm you, attack you or dominate you in any form_
Silver tendrils flowed toward him and Nick stood his ground as they touched his shields.
_But I will be free_ Barricade added.
Nick gazed at the motionless protoform. Ratchet wasn’t around, Ironhide and
Without a word he rose and walked past the treatment table and into the dark hangar. Amber eyes glowed not far away and Nick smiled as he felt Karr’s protective caress. His partner had woken.
//It was stupid to confront him like that//
//I know// Nick smiled, still walking.
Karr joined him and when they were outside, the Stealth transformed, offering Nick a ride with an open door. Nick took it and they disappeared into the darkness.
Nick wasn’t surprised to discover the disappearance of Barricade when he returned from a night away from the base. The Decepticon, weak as he had been, had somehow managed to get out of the Autobot base and then into hiding.
“His protoform is extremely weak,” Ratchet said. “If he doesn’t find sustenance, he’ll die. As resistant as our protoforms are to heat and cold and damage, running so low on energon will kill him, Prime.”
“No loss there,” Ironhide could be heard, which got him a sharp look from Optimus.
The Autobot leader’s blue optics were on Nick, who met them with a cool gaze of his own. “Could you locate him?”
“I’m not a bloodhound and if you think the implant will help, no. I can only detect him as a faint silver light, a spark so to speak, but I can’t tell you where he is.”
Ironhide growled softly, gears grinding. “We should have terminated him. Let him perish. Now he’s lose and knows our base! I knew it was a mistake to leave him under such lax guard!”
Ratchet bristled. “I…”
Optimus raised one hand. “It happened. Barricade has disappeared. I don’t want to start a senseless hunt for him. We have a bigger problem in form of Starscream.”
“He shouldn’t have been able to even move!” Ratchet argued. “His power levels were almost nil.”
Ironhide gave Nick and Karr a narrow-eyed look. Nick returned it coolly.
“Don’t tell me you don’t know where he is!”
“I’m not telling you anything,” was the level reply. “And I don’t. I can’t sniff him out. I can only tell you that he’s alive.”
“Well, too bad.”
Optimus sighed. “We have bigger problems than Barricade. Starscream is back and somewhere on this planet. More Decepticons might be coming.”
“Barricade might join him,” Ironhide rumbled.
“I doubt it,” Ratchet threw in. “He saved Nick and attacked Starscream, and we know Barricade was loyal to Megatron, not Starscream. They were actually at each other’s throat.”
“So we let Starscream take care of that problem, then we take him out,” Ironhide concluded. “Easy.”
Nick decided not to point out where the problem lay with that idea. He left the Autobots to discuss their new old problems among themselves.
//Any cases?// he asked his partner.
//You want to go back?//
//I want to take my mind off things right now//
Karr chuckled and browsed through his partner’s mail accounts, then came up with a few promising jobs.
* * *
SecDef Keller pinched the bridge of his nose, then took a long swallow from his Bourbon.
Starscream was back. Barricade was MIA. Nick MacKenzie was alive and still with the Autobots. Optimus Prime had informed him of the situation of what had happened outside
Optimus had told them they were looking for him and Keller had placed his own commands, especially alerting Airbases. He couldn’t outright tell them he was looking for an alien robot in the disguise of an F-22, but he could have them looking for glitches and anomalies.
And that was hoping Starscream didn’t transscan another aerial machine and stop off their radar completely…
Michael had thought long and hard about actually going to the Autobot base to meet the extraterrestrial visitors in person. Kitt had been in regular contact with Karr and his partner was actually quite looking forward to it. Michael wasn’t so sure. And when he drove into the former Airforce Base, a strange nervousness settled in his stomach. He knew he wouldn’t be here if Nick had thought it to be dangerous. Still…
Michael inhaled deeply. He couldn’t squelch the feelings.
//I trust Nick. And I trust Karr// Kitt told him. //And he kind of trusts them//
//Kind of?// Michael teased.
Kitt chuckled. //You know Karr//
That he did. Karr placed his full trust only in two people: his driver and partner Nick, and Kitt.
Passing by abandoned buildings, they rolled slowly over the old concrete toward the main hangar that had once housed the Airforce fighters. It was a construction of concrete and steel, old but not in any state of disrepair, and the massive entrance doors were partially closed. The opening was wide enough for Kitt to easily pass through.
The welcome committee were two men in military outfit, unarmed, one of them smiling, and Nick himself. His friend was casually dressed and looked relaxed. Sunglasses perched on his nose and he was smiling at Michael.
Knight got out of the car.
“Hi,” one of the soldiers greeted him. “I’m Captain Will Lennox. I’m in charge of the human military team here.” He shook Michael’s hand. “Welcome to the Autobot base. This is my second, Sergeant Robert Epps.”
The other man nodded once.
Michael looked around the cavernous room. It didn’t look like much. It was mostly empty from what he could see, but there was another set of huge sliding doors that blocked his view into the very back.
Nick was smirking a little. “Don’t judge the outside before looking in,” he only said.
Michael grimaced. There was a soft rumbling noise, like a powerful engine, and Knight warily watched a large Peterbilt drive closer. It was quite colorful, red and blue, with flame designs, and the polished chrome glinted in the little sunlight filtering through the windows high above.
“Michael, meet Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots.”
What happened next was hard to describe and it involved a great deal of shifting parts and astonishing changes, but that paled in light of the gigantic robot gazing down at him.
Michael knew he was gaping. And he didn’t even feel embarrassed about it.
The mechanoid knelt down. Michael guessed he had to be over twenty-five feet tall, and while the face was alien, it had human characteristics. It helped, he thought faintly. But the rest was threatening to short-circuit his mind.
Strangely, Kitt wasn’t all that shocked at all. It was either the fact that he was a machine as well, or that he had assimilated the information from Karr a lot better. He was curious, fascinated, and slightly excited.
“I’m pleased to meet you, Michael Knight.”
“Uh, thanks,” he stuttered. “Likewise.”
Good gawd! Nothing, nothing at all in the world, could have prepared him for this.
“I extend my greetings to you, too, Kitt,” Prime added, looking at the black TransAm.
“Thank you,” Kitt replied calmly. “I was looking forward to meeting you.”
“As we were interested in getting to know you. These are my men,” Prime went on, gesturing at the approaching vehicles, which transformed in turn.
Michael tried to keep himself from stepping back as he looked at the assembled robots. It was mind-numbing. They were all incredibly huge.
“You’ll get used to it,”
Michael grimaced briefly.
The one introduced as Ratchet eyed Kitt curiously. “I read about the new model developed by Wilton Knight. I’m pleased to meet you.”
“Likewise,” Kitt answered. “Karr has told me about you.”
Optimus stepped aside in a clear gesture of an invitation and when Nick gave Michael an encouraging and reassuring nod, Knight followed the military commander deeper into the base. Kitt rolled after him.
//We’ll be fine// he sent, convinced.
Michael hoped so. Because this was clearly out of their league. Out of anyone’s league.
Kitt had rolled out of the hangar, following Karr, while their drivers remained inside. There was too much to talk about for the humans and the Autobots. While Ratchet wanted to know more about Kitt, that interview had been postponed. Mostly because Karr had intervened.
“He’s nosy,” Karr growled.
“He has the right to be. We are just as curious about them.”
The Stealth stopped and Kitt parked beside him.
“You don’t have to protect me, Karr.”
That got him icy silence.
“I can defend myself,” Kitt went on.
“Not against them. They are a much higher class and order of machine life. They could invade our minds and delete us, not to mention their physical strength.”
Kitt detected a shiver coming through the private channel and he moved closer to his older brother.
“They won’t,” he said softly but with conviction.
“They, maybe. But the Decepticons would. If they can’t use us, they will terminate us.”
“Is Barricade a danger to you and Nick?” the lighter AI queried.
Karr snorted. “No. By hurting Nick or me he would hurt himself. He won’t endanger himself.”
Silence descended between them and Kitt studied the darker form of his brother. Karr wasn’t happy about the Autobots knowing about Kitt, but he had bowed to Kitt’s decision.
Karr shifted uneasily. Kitt waited. Finally the Stealth transformed and Kitt recorded every second of the morphing process. It looked smooth and elegant and the result was amazing. Yellow-amber eyes looked down at the TransAm, then Karr lowered himself into a sitting position.
//Incredible// Kitt whispered through the link. //Just incredible//
Karr raised one hand and turned the wrist, looking at it. //You get used to it//
Kitt rolled forward, his prow touching the black-armored legs. //You are still the same// he said, picking up the tiny slivers of doubt that kept persisting in Karr. //Nothing will ever change that//
A barely perceptible smile played over Karr’s human features. //This only sets us even more apart//
//No! We are not what we appear on the outside, Karr. We are this…// And Kitt flowed closer. //We’re AIs. Our physical shape is of no consequence//
Karr didn’t reply, just touched the TransAm with one finger, drawing it gently over the MBS-protected skin.
//This makes a difference. For
//For now// Kitt corrected. //We just have to get used to it.//
Karr transformed and Kitt pushed his fender gently into his brothers. They sat silently together, physically as close as possible, in the world of their CPUs almost merging.
Things were different now. A lot different. But Kitt believed it was an obstacle they could work through.
Michael had taken the coffee offered by Epps outside and was watching the two black cars not far away. He hadn’t seen Karr in his bipedal mode, but he had felt Kitt’s amazement. His partner had sent him an image of what he had seen and Michael was both impressed and slightly awestruck. Who wouldn’t be? Karr wasn’t as big as Optimus or Ironhide, but he was… big.
Nick joined him, carrying his own mug. Michael shot his friend a look.
“You want to stay here,” he stated.
Nick nodded. It was the same he had told Michael weeks ago throughout their first meeting.
“Bonnie said to tell you she misses you.”
He smiled. “Thanks. It wasn’t an easy step, Michael, never doubt that. And I’ll be around. If you and Kitt need anything, let me know. The warehouse is yours, the back-up and support is yours.”
“FLAG never employed me and you are now free agents, too. Nothing binds you to the Foundation but your own sense of loyalty.”
Michael sipped at his coffee. John Landes had given him the ownership papers just two months before Nick had killed Nash. It had been a day to celebrate and it had been the best moment of his life. Kitt belonged to him now, legally, on paper, and was no longer bound to the Foundation.
“I’m not going to disappear,” Nick said softly, eyes intent.
Michael met the cool blue gaze. “I hope so.”
That got him a little laugh. “Michael, I’m bound to an AI that is linked to the one that is bound to you. Do you really think it’s possible for me to ever leave?”
He didn’t say it, but Michael thought it. If Nick set his mind to something, he could make it possible. But would he really leave them? Would he have Karr cut all ties to his younger brother? He doubted it. Nick had learned to be human in the past decades or more.
MacKenzie suddenly smiled. “You corrupted me. You and Kitt. Karr and I changed because of you.”
“In a good way,” Michael added quietly.
The blue eyes gazed at the horizon. “Yes. I didn’t believe it, but it was for the better. I wouldn’t be here today and neither would Karr.”
Michael didn’t say anything. Whatever he wanted to say, it would be wrong.
“My life was different. Now it has changed again. I can’t go back to either existence now. I never want to go back to being a ghost of the government, but I also can’t go back to working as I have before.”
“I understand. And I hope you know you’ll have friends, Nick. Always will.”
It got him an uncharacteristically soft smile. “Yes, I know. It took a while, but that fact has settled.”
“Good. What about Barricade?” Michael wanted to know after a while.
The thought of an alien robot linked to Nick had him slightly freaked. Especially since that particular robot was also the bad guy.
“He will always have the connection. I can feel he’s alive, but he won’t harm me.”
“As sure as I was of the fact that Karr would never harm Kitt through their private channel.”
Michael rubbed his tired eyes. His view of the world had changed profoundly and all the implications hadn’t really settled yet.
“I hope you’re right.”
“I hope so too.”
Barricade stayed lost. There wasn’t a blip of him and while Nick knew he was alive because of the connection he had to him, the Decepticon didn’t try to contact him, or even acknowledged his existence. There were no reports on a police cruiser endangering anyone or creating havoc somewhere, and while Ironhide and Bumblebee actively looked for the fugitive, they couldn’t pick up a single blip.
Sam started college in
More tests would follow. The medic was in test heaven.
Nick worked a few jobs here or there. Optimus never asked where he went when he left, but Nick was convinced Prime knew what he was doing. The cases helped him deal with what had happened and they brought some normalcy back into their lives.
Nick had left Karr in the side street. He needed to stretch his legs, let his thoughts wander. It was best done when aimlessly going through streets, across empty lots and through green parks. Nick never got lost, always aware where he was walking. So he wasn’t really that surprised to end up in the empty yard of an abandoned transport company.
And strangely enough he wasn’t even that much surprised to note a rather familiar shape between old container boxers and scrap metal. Black and white, police written on the doors, lights dark, the Saleen Mustang didn’t look any different than the last time he had seen Barricade.
The engine came to life and the Decepticon moved forward, faster than would have been recommended at such a short distance, considering braking distances.
Nick didn’t move.
“You look the same,” he remarked casually.
The black prow with its reinforced bumper was almost touching his shins when Barricade stopped and the empty driver’s seat should be unnerving, but Nick had faced down Karr too often to be freaked at this little tidbit. There wasn’t a spec of dirt on the Saleen and the soft rumble of the engine spoke of tamed power.
“You’re still around them,” Barricade growled. “Already the good little Autobot?” he taunted.
“I’m human,” Nick answered casually. “You should know by now.”
“I’m painfully aware of it.”
“What do you want?”
The Mustang rumbled.
“You followed me,” Nick stated.
“I have no reason to.”
“Neither have I a reason to look for you. Still, here you are. I don’t believe in coincidence.”
“Why are you still with them?” Barricade demanded.
“I have my reasons.”
“They can teach you nothing, human.”
“And you can?”
Barricade laughed darkly. “More than you’d believe.”
Nick gazed at the Saleen. “This doesn’t help me with Ironhide’s claim that you’ll try to sway me to the Decepticon side one day. Ironhide’s already convinced you can spy on them through me.”
The deep chuckle was malicious. “Now wouldn’t that be fun.”
“For the whole second it would take me to sever the link,” Nick said coldly.
The engine revved again, sounding nervous and angry in one.
“I see you still flash your colors brightly,” MacKenzie remarked.
The Decepticon symbol was hard to miss on the black flanks, as was ‘to punish and enslave’. Barricade rumbled uneasily.
“Starscream will kill you the next time he sees you. And I doubt any of your old friends want to be close to a Decepticon who has bonded with a human.”
Another rumble and the hard metal touched Nick’s shins now, not pushing but there.
“I will never join the Autobots!”
“I’m not asking you to. You live your life as you see fit. Just don’t go around getting yourself scrapped because it’s my head that’s on the line, too,” Nick said levelly. “I don’t care who you hate and how much. Do whatever you want, but don’t get killed.”
Chilling laughter could be heard. “I’m not suicidal, human.”
“You were when you logged on to me.”
The engine revved once more. Nick stood his ground.
“Not by choice!” Barricade hissed.
“Then I hope your future choices will consider this link.”
The next moment Barricade transformed. As complicated as the morphing process was, it was quick and smooth.
Nick stood transfixed in front of the large Decepticon, staring into the red optics. Barricade was massive, a lot broader than Karr, a lot more threatening in his bipedal mode. Claw-like fingers with taloned ends reached out and carefully touched the much smaller human, one finger tip resting against Nick’s chest.
“I will not hurt you,” Barricade said, voice as rough and dark as always. “Because I need you.”
“I’m not you tool.”
“A tool would be useful.”
Nick smiled coldly. “I’m useful to you.”
Optics flared and the frightening face leaned even closer. “You are,” came the rough whisper. “And you could be more. There is a lot inside you, changed and formed by the Allspark. You can feel it, can’t you? I can, and I’m just peripherally linked to the implant. The hybrid can feel it, too.”
Nick didn’t flinch, but he felt a shiver race through him. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The smile was terrible. “Don’t deceive yourself with lies, Nick MacKenzie. You detected Starscream, felt his presence.”
Nick tried to school his features. He had so far been lucky that the whole matter of how he had known to get out of the casino in time had apparently been ignored or forgotten.
“The implant is a weapon,” the Decepticon told him. “Your weapon. It changed you and it will so in the future.”
“What do you know?” Nick asked, voice rough.
Another smile. “Only what I felt. You’re no longer just any human.”
Nick smirked. “I’m the one you can’t kill.”
That got him dark laughter. “Yes. For now I will lay low, wait and see. I might never be able to serve the Decepticons again, but I won’t trust a single Autobot with my spark either.”
“You already did. Ratchet fixed you.”
“Because he is compassionate and weak.”
Nick chuckled without humor. “Preferable to cold-hearted and cruel.”
A chilling smile. “It takes a like-minded being to know what that means, doesn’t it, Nick MacKenzie?”
Barricade leaned over him, optics bright red. Nick felt Karr almost suffocating him through the link. He had told him to stay back, not interfere, and Karr was getting more frantic by the second.
“You are a very unique human, Nick. You have my respect and my loyalty, the only one of your kind.”
With that he straightened and transformed again.
“Keep out of trouble,” Nick only said.
He gazed at the black hood that was in front of him, his knees and shins against the fender.
“I’m a Decepticon. I don’t make promises.”
He smiled. Yeah. Right.
Reversing out of the alley, Barricade disappeared around the corner. Nick stayed where he was until Karr approached, probing carefully.
“I’m fine,” he answered automatically.
“The guts!” Karr growled, furious.
“Now we know he’s back to normal.”
Karr snorted, clicking his door open for Nick to get in. His driver sat down on the leather seats, looking thoughtful.
//Just thinking// He shrugged.
“He’s a Decepticon. He’s trying to manipulate you,” Karr insisted. “Nothing is changing for you. And even if there will be in the future, you don’t need him.”
He nodded. “I’m not going to look for him, Karr. This isn’t just about us, partner. Kitt and Michael are in danger should he ever discover them.“
Karr rumbled uneasily, protective instincts flaring. Barricade didn’t have the access to the implant that Karr had, and with it to Nick, and Karr would make sure there would be no change in that. His partner would be safe from the Decepticon, and so would his brother.
Not far away, Barricade was watching the human and the hybrid. His mind was tracking the reassuring pulses of the human. There was much to Nick that he yet didn’t know, but Barricade was nothing if not tenacious.
Things would change. For him, for Nick, for the hybrid machine he was bonded to. Barricade had no medical knowledge on humans and Cybertronians; he was a warrior. But he knew that Nick MacKenzie was no longer human in many regards. Mainly physical. His body had been altered, was still changing, and he was realizing powers he still denied.
He smiled to himself.
Their future would be an interesting one.
All stories must come to an end. Thank you to all who read the fic and commented, or just read and liked it. :) It was my first venture into the TF movie world after not writing TF (as well as the KR AU) for so many years. I can't promise a sequel. The Imperfections series is taking up a lot of time right now and still going very strong (serious Barricade problem here... really serious...)