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Deepest Cuts Chapter Four


Crouching in the small crawlway behind the main computers in our control room was never comfortable, but it was an excellent place to listen in.  I’ve only used it a couple of times.  A while back, there was a ‘Bot who turned out to be a Decepticon spy.  Once he was discovered, everyone started panicking about eavesdroppers.  It came down hardest on us younger ‘Bots.  The older ones never tell us _anything_, so we tended to fend for ourselves with our own network of news gathering.  Hey, I knew the choice listening spots better than anyone else!  But during that unsettled, panicked time, it honestly wasn’t worth getting caught.  The older ‘Bots seemed a bit frustrated that we didn’t seem to be as sharp on the uptake as we used to be, since we had usually overheard news long before we were officially told, but if they knew the reason why, they never said it.  Not in front of us, anyway.

But I figured this conference would be worth the risk.

When the news spread that Tarla had released the ‘Con human, all sorts of cross-rumors cropped up.  Tarla had betrayed us.  She had gone Decepticon again.  She had always been a ‘Con, and Prime was too blind to notice -- that one had set off a few fist-fights.  Tarla had been the one doing the sabotage all along.  Tarla had killed the ‘Con human.  The ‘Con human had killed Tarla.  All humans were really ‘Cons, and so on.

But I _liked_ Tarla, and so did Arcee, which I trusted better than my own feelings.  In all the time I’ve known Arcee, she’s never missed a judgment call.

There was a sharp pang inside me, whenever I thought of Arcee leaving.  I know she’s always been fascinated by Earth, but... she’d be _gone_.  No one to talk to, to back me up in fights, to fight with, to tease, to dream with...

Aw, heck.  I didn’t want her to go.

Then I realized I had tuned out the conversation in the room and pushed my thoughts of Arcee away for a while.

There had been a lot of yelling a few minutes ago.  Most of the Autobots who had gone to pick up Tarla had been Prime’s troops, but the group had picked up several Cybertron ‘Bots along the way back, and they were angry.  I could hardly blame them, really.  The cause of all the trouble had been in our hands, and had been released by another human.

Ultra Magnus had calmed them down and sent them away.  Jazz and Bumblebee had been the last to go, staunchly standing between Tarla and the other ‘Bots, until Prime himself had told them to leave.  Magnus had escorted them out with Kup.  He paused at the door for a moment, gazing at Prime thoughtfully, then the door slid shut behind him, leaving Tarla and Prime alone in the control room.

This was what I had wanted to hear.

Prime had said very little.  He had been sitting in the back corner, almost as if he was brooding, which didn’t really match the legend of Optimus Prime.  I could see the blue glow from his optics, but that was about it.  Then he stood and moved forward until his back was to me.  “Why?” he asked.

Tarla threw her hands in the air and walked a few steps away.

“What were you thinking of when you opened that door?”

She spun around.  “What would it have gotten you?” she asked sharply.  “You would have cornered a scared and angry Decepticon, who would have been thinking of nothing except the Decepticon way, and that Autobots are enemies.  She thinks the Autobots are the killers, not the other way around.  You would have nothing but a pure Decepticon, and in doing so, you would have killed any chance of her being anything _but_ a Decepticon.  Just like Megatron wants.”

“What you _did_ was release a Decepticon who has injured two Autobots.”

“No!” she insisted.  “What I released was a human who has had her brain wiped clean of all memories and rebuilt in Megatron’s way.  A human who just today began to have her own thoughts instead of being ordered how to think.”  The anger seemed to drain from her suddenly, and she stretched out one hand to Prime in an appeal.  “What’s happened to you, Optimus?  What happened to your vows that a human shall not be injured?  Is it that child’s fault that Megatron raised her like this?  Do we just abandon her, without trying to save her?”

“And what happens,” Prime said just as gently, “if she goes back, and Megatron, or Shockwave, or whoever is in charge of her wipes out that instant of individual thought again and sends her back out against us.  What happens if she kills one of us next time?  What if it’s Jazz or Bumblebee?  Whose fault is it then, Tarla?”

I didn’t stay any longer.   There was a sick feeling somewhere inside me, and I didn’t want to hear any more.

They were both right.  And they were both wrong.  And they were blinding themselves to each other, not because of causes and right versus wrong, but because of the hurt and bitterness between them.

I suddenly needed to find Arcee.  I wanted to hold her, and tell her how special she was, and how brave I thought she was in leaving her world for a new one... there was so much I wanted to tell her, and I had to tell her now, or I’d turn around someday, and she’d be gone, without me having told her.

And if Springer was hanging around her, I’d take him apart, bolt by --

I nearly ran into Arcee as I charged around the corner.  She was leaning against the wall, arms crossed, and with a glint in her optics that said she knew _exactly_ where I had been and what I had been doing.  “So what’s going on in there?  Who won?”

I blinked for a second.  I had been so frantic to find her, that I had forgotten what had set me off.  “I don’t know.  They were arguing about morals when I left.”  I caught her hands, not quite believing we were alone.  She looked from our hands to my face, startled.  “Look, ‘Cee, I gotta talk to you --”

“They caught you,” she gasped.  “Primus, how are we going to get you out of this one?”

I stared at her blankly again, then impatiently shook my head.  “_No_, I’m not in trouble.  I just wanted to talk to you for a moment, alone, and you’re _never_ alone, and I was wondering how I was going to get you alone --”

She laughed softly.  “Roddi, you’re babbling.  Ease off your throttle a bit.  We’re alone now.”

“Trust me, it won’t last.  Arcee, I --”

And Kup walked around the corner.  “There you are, lad.  I’ve been looking for you.”

“See!”  I snarled under my breath and spun away, throwing my hands into the air helplessly.

“Prime wants to see you,” Kup finished.

I stopped just short of slamming my fist into the wall.  Arcee’s optics were frightened, mirroring mine, I supposed.  I had been caught.

“Prime?” I squeaked.

“Hurry up, lad.  It’s not good to keep him waiting.”

“Umm...”  I turned to Arcee.  I didn’t know how much trouble I was in, or when I’d see her again.  “Gimme a moment, Kup.”

I didn’t wait for him to answer, but caught Arcee’s hand and dragged her away a few paces.  “What are we going to do?” she asked in a horrified whisper.

“Never mind that,” I said, but I had warmed at the “we”.  “Look, Arcee, I --”  I looked down at her hands in mine.  I never noticed how perfectly our hands fit together.  “Umm...”  I looked at her face again, reached out to touch her cheek gently.  “Listen.  You... you’re real special to me.  You’ve backed me up a lot.”  Her optics were still wide, but not with fear, and I hurried on, afraid that if I hesitated again, I’d lose courage, or Kup would drag me away, or _something_.  “And... and if you want to go to Earth, I think no one deserves it more than you, and if there’s anything I can do to get you there, well...”  I took a deep breath.  “I... I will.  Anything.”

She suddenly looked scared again, with her own fear, not for me, and she bit her lip.  She looked terribly like a lost child, and then it really hit me that I was in love with her.  “Roddi, I --”  she started.

I quickly pulled her to me in a hug, kissed her forehead, then hurried over to Kup.  I glanced once over my shoulder, and she was standing in the middle of the corridor, forlornly watching me walk away.

Kup gave me a strange look, but shrugged.  “Come on, lad.”

We walked for a few corridors in silence, and I mentally begged for Kup not to say anything, while at the same time, I desperately wanted him to throw his arm around my shoulders in the fatherly concern that both annoyed and comforted me.

“What was that all about?” he finally asked, just as I blurted out, “She wants a transfer.”

His optics widened a bit.

“To Earth,” I finished miserably.

He nodded.  “I see.  And you’re going with her?”

My head shot up, and I stared at him in surprise.  “I... I...”  I had never considered it.  Cybertron was my home.  I loved and fought for it.  But... leave it?

But at the same time, I saw Arcee again, watching me walk away with that lost expression, and I wasn’t sure I could bear being the one to watch her leave me.

Kup glanced at me again, then threw his arm around my shoulders.  “you’ll do what feels right t’ya, lad.  You always do.”

And while I was still mulling that over, he steered me into the control room and kind of gave me a push to stand in front of Prime.

Matrix, he’s BIG.

I intently studied my foot drawing a circle on the floor.  “Umm... how much trouble am I in?  Sir?”

“Trouble?” Prime rumbled with amusement.  “What kind of trouble _should_ you be in?”

He didn’t know?  He _did_ know.  Didn’t he?

Maybe he didn’t.

“Never mind,” I squeaked.  I thought I heard a chuckle from Kup, but I didn’t dare look back at him.

“Kup says you’ve always been discrete.”

Great Cybertron, he _does_ know.

“Ease off, Hot Rod.  I’m not planning on eating you.”  Prime was openly chuckling.

Great.  I really am dead, now.

“I have an assignment for you,” he continued.

“Yeah.  The waste channels need cleaning, right?”  It was a threat Kup used often enough, and carried out on a fairly frequent basis.  I was real familiar with more than a few of those pipeways.

Kup made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a smothered laugh.  I wished I was brave enough to glare at him.

Prime let out a very patient sigh, and I guess he was used to young warriors blurting out stupid things to him, because his optics crinkled in a way that was very close to a grin.  “Hot Rod, I was very impressed on your initiative in finding this human saboteur.”

“That was Arcee’s initiative,” I said quickly.

Prime’s optics crinkled again.  “I am aware of that.  But I must say, I am pleased with your honesty.  I will be having my own conversation with Arcee later, but I wanted to speak with you first.”

I felt that sinking feeling again.  He’d talk with Arcee, and she’d ask for that transfer, and if he was as pleased as he _should_ be with her, Prime would grant it.

“What do you think of Tarla?”

Oh, Primus, is this a trick question, or what?  “I just met her,” I stammered, trying to find a safe answer.  “There’s a lot of ‘Bots who don’t like her, but Arcee has one of her good feelings about her, and Bumblebee likes her, too, and that’s good enough for me.”  Then I added quickly, “And  you’re vouching for her too... I mean...”

I could swear Prime was enjoying this.  No one ever warned me the great Optimus Prime had a sadistic streak.  “Yes,” he said.  “I’m rather aware of the rumors.”

I caught myself just before I could make the situation even worse by asking which rumors he meant.

“I’m afraid she may be in as much danger from some of the Autobots as from Decepticons.  I didn’t realize to what extent until we arrived here, and in any case, I still believe my reasons for bringing her are valid.  But she didn’t help matters any by releasing that human.”  He sighed.  “Tarla means well, but her reasoning is governed mostly by emotion, and she doesn’t think about future consequences to her actions.  And so, I have to worry about the consequences for her.  I’d like you to keep an eye on her for me.”

“Me?” I squeaked, then coughed.  “But sir... wouldn’t one of the Autobots who knows her be a better choice?  Like Bumblebee, maybe?”

“Bumblebee’s fondness for Tarla is the reason why I don’t want him in charge of her.”  Prime held up a hand when I silently bristled as what sounded like a slight against my friend.  “Bumblebee is a valiant warrior, and I mean to say nothing against him.  And indeed, he and a few others will be helping you.  But Tarla’s lack of foresight tends to be contagious, and if she were to draw a weapon and yell ‘Charge!’, most of my Autobots would jump up and follow her.  Fortunately,” and his optics crinkled again, “she has yet to feel the urge to do so.  The other reason why I am asking you, is that she would know why any of my Autobots suddenly began watching her.  I’m afraid she will resent it, and she has a habit of slipping away to handle things in her own fashion.  And again, although she means well, her ways of going about it have a history of getting my warriors injured.  But I’m hoping your enthusiasm for Earth will explain your presence around her.”

Once again, that honesty of mine kicked me in the mouth.  “Arcee’s really the one with the interest in Earth.”

“Yes, but I know you have your own interests... or you wouldn’t be having Bumblebee recording and sending you television programs.”

Great Matrix, was there _anything_ he missed?

“Besides, I was going to ask the same of Arcee.  You two work together well.”

I scowled to the floor.  Well, at least he wasn’t pairing Arcee with Springer.  

“Go on, now.  Thank you for your help.  Oh, and Hot Rod?”

I stopped at the door and turned to him again.  “Yes, sir?”

“If you ever listen in on one of my private conversations again, you _will_ be cleaning waste tunnels for the rest of this war.”

“Yessir,” I squeaked.  “Never again, sir.”  And I fled.


“Bumblebee, you can stop hovering.”

“I’m not hovering.  I’m just... helping you settle in.”  Bumblebee looked around the room.  “We really need to set up some human-sized rooms.  I can’t imagine you’ll be the last human on Cybertron, and we should be able to provide something better than some blankets thrown in a corner of a storage room.”  He blew on the top of a supply case and frowned at the dust that flew.

“I imagine fighting is a higher priority than cleaning,” Tarla said with a wry grin.

Bumblebee plopped himself on the floor.  “So what do you think of Cybertron?”

Tarla glanced around the room as if it represented the rest of the planet.  ‘It’s... um... very shiny,” she offered.  “Of course, I haven’t seen much of it, yet.”

“No, you’re right,” Bumblebee said.  “It’s all metal. That’s why I think Earth is so fascinating.  It’s so different.   It’s so... alive.”  His face was lit with enthusiasm.  “I mean, you go outside here, and the ground is metal.  But the ground of Earth _lives_.  I can pick up a fistful of it and see life and bugs and stuff.  I can _feel_ the life in my hands.  That’s just so...” He grinned.  “So neat!”  Then he shrugged.  “Not that I don’t miss Cybertron a lot.  This is my home.”

Privately, Tarla was already claustrophobic in the sterile metallic world, despite the way everything in it towered over her.  She already missed Earth, for the same reasons Bumblebee had just mentioned.  But she couldn’t tell Bumblebee that she felt trapped in the metal of his home.  “I imagine there are areas that are much nicer than this store room,” she said.  “This isn’t really much to judge a world by.”

“No, it isn’t.”  Bumblebee looked rather dreamy for a moment, and Tarla could tell he was running through a mental list.  “Maybe Prime’ll let me take you to a few places,” he said.

There was a polite tap on the door frame, and the two young Autobots, Hot Rod and Arcee, came in.  Arcee looked around the storage room in dismay.  “Oh, Bumblebee, you’re not quartering her _here_, are you?”

“Um...” Bumblebee looked around, in case the room had changed in the past few minutes.  “I’m not?”

Arcee gave him a glare of pure disgust, her hands planted firmly on her hips.  “Tarla, I would be honored if you would stay with me,” she said, with every inch of proper formality.

“Oh, don’t go to any trouble,” Tarla protested.

“You _can’t_ stay in a storage room,” Arcee insisted.  “They don’t put you in one back at the Ark, do they?”

“Well, actually....” Bumblebee withered under another of her glares.

“_Males_,” she said in disgust.  “I really don’t understand you.  One of the first humans to visit Cybertron, and you just dump her in a box like she was some cyber pet that followed you home.”

“In the beginning, that was rather accurate,” Tarla said thoughtfully.  “But really, I don’t want to inconvenience you or anything.”

“You aren’t an inconvenience.”  Then Arcee’s optics widened and she suddenly looked like an eager teenager.  “Oh, please!  I’ve got so many questions about Earth.  I --”  and she hesitated shyly.   “I want to work there, you see.  And there are so many things I want to know.  And you really wouldn’t be any trouble.  It’s not like you’ll take up much space, and I’d love the company.  It would be like a... a slumber party.  Is that the right term?”

Tarla glanced at Bumblebee, as if asking permission, which in a way, he supposed she was.  She couldn’t possibly know for certain who would be on Prime’s “approved” list, and she also knew Prime would have to be notified of her new location.  He shrugged.  “I’m sure it’d be ok.”  And with that, he knew Tarla would understand that Arcee and Hot Rod were to be trusted.

“Great!  Get her stuff, Roddi.”  Arcee transformed.  “Hop in, Tarla.”

Hot Rod gave Bumblebee a femmes-what-can-I-do? shrug and picked up Tarla’s back pack.  It dangled from his fingertips, tiny and insignificant.  He tossed it in the air, transformed, and popped his canopy, catching the pack as it fell.

Bumblebee transformed.  “Still think you’re the Matrix’s gift to speed?”  He sped out the door, taking the curve on two wheels.

“Crash and burn, Bee,” Hot Rod sneered good-naturedly and roared after him.


What was Earth like, Arcee had asked as soon as they had left “the guys”, and for a few seconds, Tarla had pulled a blank because she didn’t know where to start.  Then, because her conversation with Bumblebee was still fresh in her mind, she launched into the seasons, how each one made her feel different.  She was still maintaining a free-association monologue when Arcee turned a corner and a door a short distance down the corridor whisked open.  Arcee paused a minute for Tarla to climb out, then transformed and rather shyly invited her in.

She suddenly reminded Tarla of any of the freshmen in her dorm, inviting someone newly met into their room.  A dorm room held the most individuality that students had ever owned.  A room at home still held parents; influences, but a dorm room was purely the student’s.  They were always excited to show off, for it was the first step towards getting to know one’s dorm mates.  But at the same time, it was releasing a lot of information about the person who lived there.

Arcee had that same expression of eagerness mixed with trepidation, and Tarla realized her own reaction would be just as important to the young Autobot as it had been to any of her dorm mates.

By Transformers standards, the apartment was very small.  There was a living-type room, and a room with a recharging bed, and that was about it.  However, the rooms were decorated in soft, muted colors, instead of the bright metallic that seems to be a constant in Transformer decor... or lack thereof.  Tarla hadn’t realized how much her eyes were aching against the constant glare of light against steel, until they relaxed in the comparative difference.  There was a throw-rug on the floor, pictures of Earth nature scenes, and on a small table, a maple tree sapling serving as a house plant.

Tarla smiled up at Arcee.  “This is beautiful.”

Arcee’s face lit up.  “You think so?”  She gently touched one of the leafs on the tree.  “Bumblebee brought this for me.  It’s one of my favorites, of all my things.  I didn’t know if it would even survive here, but I guess I’ve been lucky.”

“Plants respond to care and attention, like anything else,” Tarla said.  “Some people swear that talking to plants or playing music for them really helps them grow.”

“Really?  Maybe Jazz would know of some plant-growing music.”

“If he doesn’t, I certainly can find something for you.”

Arcee ran through an obviously automatic check for dead leaves and the moisture content of the soil.  “And you’ve seen whole forests of these?  Like in my pictures?”

“I go to school near a nature preserve.  More trees than people.”  _Went to school anyway.  Doubt they’ll let me back in, now, not after Starscream wrecked the landscaping.  No, not a time to think about it now._

Arcee sighed wistfully.  “This one doesn’t turn red, though, like you were saying.”

“You don’t have an autumn season here.”

“No,” she said with the same wistful tone.  “We don’t even have a sun.”  She stretched, as if she was imagining the warmth of Earth’s sun on her skin.

The door shot open and Hot Rod shouldered his way in just ahead of Bumblebee.  “Ha!  Still the fastest ‘Bot on two planets!”

“Only because you hadn’t told me she had moved to a different wing, you cheater,” Bumblebee snorted.

“’A good warrior is always prepared for the unexpected’,” Hot Rod sang out in a quoting voice.

Bumblebee obviously recognized the quote and snorted again.  “Hey, Arcee, the tree’s looking good!”

She beamed at the attention her tree was receiving.  She patted the pot affectionately, then fell into the role of the hostess. “Can I get you anything?  Energon goodies, perhaps?”  Her expression froze.  “Oh, dear.  Tarla, I don’t think I have anything you _can_ eat.”

“Anticipated.”  Tarla patted her pack.  “We brought enough food to last me a while.”

“Even more reason why we should set up a human area,” Bumblebee said, sitting comfortably on the floor, completing the feeling of a dormitory get-together.  _All we need is a pizza to top it off._  Tarla grinned to herself.

“Hmph.  _You_ were going to leave her in a storage room,” Arcee sniffed.  She pointed at the granola bar Tarla was eating.  “Is that chocolate?”

Tarla looked at the bar.  “This?  Oh, no, it’s a granola bar.  Um... seeds and nuts and grains.  Some kinds have chocolate too, but not this one.”

“I’ve heard about chocolate,” Arcee said.  “It seems to be a vital part of human nutrition.”

Tarla grinned again.  “There are an awful lot of people who would agree with you.”

“What does chocolate taste like?”

Tarla looked blankly at her.  “Um... like chocolate.”

Arcee cocked her head.  “That’s not very helpful.”

“What does energon taste like?” she countered.

“Like energ-- oh, I see what you mean.  No frame of reference, right?  What, Roddi?”

Tarla turned to look at Hot Rod, who was leaning against a wall, arms folded across his chest.  “Huh?  Oh, nothing, ‘Cee.”

Arcee frowned at him in concern, then decided not to press in front of the others.  She’d corner him on it later.

Tarla folded the granola bar wrapper and stuffed it in her pocket.  “So I’m gathering this is the official changing-of-the-guard?”

Bumblebee was the expert at innocent expressions.  “What do you mean?”

Tarla leveled a sarcastic glare at him.  He guessed that meant the innocent routine had failed.  “Aw, Tarla, ya can’t blame Prime for worrying.”

She blinked in surprise.  “You mean you really were trying to keep it from me?”

“Prime was afraid you’d resent it and take off.”

“To where?” she demanded, flinging her arm to indicate Cybertron.

“To the Decepticons, perhaps,” Hot Rod said evenly.

“Hot Rod!” Arcee gasped.

Tarla’s face had closed off to the same locked-down expression Bumblebee had seen on her at her college.  “That’s what everyone is thinking, isn’t it?”

“No...” Hot Rod said under Arcee’s glare, then shrugged.  “Yes.”

“Not quite everyone,” Bumblebee said loyally.

“Just mostly,” Hot Rod said.

“Say that in front of Prime,” Bumblebee hissed.

“Stop it, both of you.  Hot Rod, what’s gotten into you?” Arcee cried.

Hot Rod’s expression went sheepish, and he shrugged again.  “Just thought it would be best to get it out in the open.  Everyone keeps revving around it.  So there.  It’s out.  Let’s deal with it.”

“You could have been a little less blunt about it,” Arcee grumbled.

Hot Rod’s innocent gaze rivaled one of Bumblebee’s.  “Would you have listened?”  He grinned at Arcee, who surprised him by glancing away.  “Occasionally, I know what I’m doing, Arcee.”

“Too bad your mouth usually ruins it,” she said smoothly.  Then she glanced at him, as if trying not to.  His grin grew broader, and she gave a short laugh, shaking her head.  “You are impossible, Roddi.”

“If you two would stop flirting, we can get back on track, here,” Bumblebee said.

“We are not flirt--”  Arcee began, but there was a knock at the door.  “It’s me, Springer,” came through the tiny speaker on the door frame.

“Oh, who invited him?” Hot Rod said, but in a friendly sort of way.

Arcee still kicked him as she went by.  She let Springer in, and he sauntered by to sit in one of the chairs.  “Hey, Bee.”  He grinned at Hot Rod.  “I guess our little party is complete, huh?”

“Optimus got to you, too?” Tarla asked with a brightness she really didn’t feel.

Springer lost some of his smooth demeanor.  “Huh?  Oh, I mean, um... no, I --”

“She knows.”  Hot Rod’s was threatening to split his face.

“She does?”

“She does,” Tarla said.  “I bet I can even paraphrase him.  Let’s see, it probably started off with protecting me, first from Decepticons, then from well-meaning Autobots, and then from myself.”

Springer’s jaw had dropped.

“Was I close?” Tarla beamed.

Springer closed his mouth.  “Yeah, well...”  His gaze fell on Hot Rod.  “You told her,” he accused.

“Nope,” said Hot Rod smugly.  “She guessed it all.”

“So, does this mean I have to take you to Prime so you can yell at him?” Bumblebee asked.

“No.  He’s probably right.”

Bumblebee stared at her in disbelief.

“No, really,” she insisted.  “He’s mostly right.  I mean, he’s Optimus.  He usually is right.  And I’m on the hate list of several Decepticons, and not just a few Autobots.  And this is not my world, so I’d just as soon have a few natives watching my back.”  She grinned.  “After all, I’m of a rather squishable size.”

“I think,” Hot Rod said, watching her carefully, “that Prime was more concerned with you taking off.”

“On this planet?” she squawked, then calmed.  “Earth might be another situation entirely.  But even so, what Optimus is remembering are the actions of a seventeen year old kid.  I think he hasn’t factored in how much more quickly humans mature than Transformers, because we have such a shorter life span.”

Hot Rod still had the mental image of her leading an army of Autobots on a charge, and had a feeling that Prime wasn’t very far off on that one at all.

“So what do we do next?” Springer asked.

They all turned and looked at Bumblebee.  “Why me?” he demanded.

“You’re the senior ranking ‘Bot here,” Springer said.

“You’re older,” Bumblebee shot back.

“You’re one of Prime’s elites.”

“Well, I don’t have any ideas.”

“OK,” Springer said, and they all turned to look at Tarla.

“Oh, great,” she muttered.  “Hey, I’m the whacked-out human you’re supposed to be protecting from her own self, remember?”

“Look, Tarla,” Bumblebee said, “the reason why Prime brought you was because you _are_ human.  You might be able to hit some common ground with this ‘Con human.”

“Who’s not going to come near me if I’m surrounded by Autobots,” Tarla pointed out.

There were all silent for a moment, thinking, then Tarla yawned.  “Sorry, guys, but I’m beat.  I only got a couple of hours sleep on the way here, and my inner clock’s a mess.”

“That means she’s kicking us out because she needs to sleep,” Bumblebee translated, smug in his years of experience around humans.

“I _know_ that,” Arcee said.  She made shoo-ing motions.  “Go on, now.”

“I dunno, ‘Cee,” Hot Rod said with a smirk.  “Maybe I should stay the night here, in case you need any help on guard.”

The energon cup she threw caught him right on the side of his head.

Springer punched Hot Rod’s shoulder lightly.  “Y’know, kid, there was probably a better way to have phrased that.”

“Like you weren’t thinking the same thing,” Hot Rod sneered.

“But _I_ wasn’t the one to say it.”

“Out!  Both of you.”  Arcee pointed at the door.  

Hot Rod and Springer looked at her, then at each other.  “Hey,” Springer said, “if we hurry, we can catch the last half of the cyberball game.”

“You buyin’ the energon drinks?” Hot Rod asked.

“We’ll split the cost.”  They left, but Tarla could hear the banter continue down the corridor.

“Males,” Arcee said in disgust.

“The same in every species,” Tarla agreed.

“And on that note, I think I’d better leave,” Bumblebee said with a resigned sigh.  “You’ll be all right, here,” he said to Tarla.

“Of course I will be.”  She smiled at him.  “Good night, Bee.”

“Not that _they’re_ gone,” he heard Arcee say as the door slid shut behind him, “tell me about snow again.”

Go on to Chapter Five

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