Chapter one - How the Mighty Have Fallen

A raven haired boy peeked between the wooden slats of the barn. He watched as twin purple jets disappeared from view. A little worry lifted from his chest but he remained cautious. Jumping lightly from his perch, the boy called softly to his companions, "They're gone. For now."

The slim blue robot nodded. "We shall move while we can. It'll be dark soon, so that should help." She addressed the humans huddled around her, "Eat while you can, everyone will need their strength. We leave in five."

Jack motioned to his partner and she extracted herself from the frightened group. They made their way to the opposite edge of the barn so they could speak in private.

The teen ran a hand through his hair, not looking at the Autobot. "I don't like it, Cee."

She knelt down to look him in the eye, resting a comforting hand on his shoulder. He seemed to bear the weight of the world on his shoulders. "Neither do I."

"Still no word from the base?" his eyes practically begged her for news. She only wished she could give it.

Instead, the femme shook her helm.

The boy began to pace. "Another thing to add to my growing list of 'things I don't like.' We should have heard back from them by now."

"Jack," Arcee said firmly, causing the boy to stop, "We'll get through this. For now, we follow protocol."

"Get the rescued human civilians to the nearest point of refuge. I know," he resumed his pacing. "It just doesn't make it any easier not hearing from anyone."

"I know…" the femme fought back the tumult of feelings rising up in her spark. Thoughts from the past flashed through her processor. That was until a small hand over hers drew her attention.

"I'm sorry, Arcee. I know this must be hard for you too," he attempted a comforting smile, "Come on. It's time to roll out."

….

A short whine followed the whirring of gears.

"I needed that!"

"He didn't mean to, Ratchet."

This was backed up with some whistles and furious nodding.

The medic huffed snatching back the now broken tool from the young scout. "I don't have time to keep an optic on you. I already have enough to do. Like getting the communications grid back up and running."

Bumblebee whistled an apology.

"Why didn't you ask me for help?" asked Rafael, the boy climbing onto the platform where the computers were situated.

Ratchet sighed, rubbing the space between his optics. "Because you were already engaged with the other humans setting up the proximity sensors."

The boy frowned, tapping at the keyboard. "And how long have they been down?"

Walking over, the orange and white mech checked his internal chronometer. "Four point five hours."

"Ratchet!" the boy spun around to face him, eyes wide with fear. "Jack and Miko are out there! What if they ran into trouble and tried to call in?!"

"I'm well aware of that, Rafael," he growled, leaning closer to the eye level with the human. "Why do you think this has been my top priority?"

"If it was your top priority, you would have asked for help sooner!" he shouted back.

The pair suddenly found Bumblebee between them, pushing the medic back. He warbled and whirred, asking that they stay calm. They were already in a stressful enough situation without getting into fights with one another.

Ratchet glared at the younger bot for a few tense seconds. Finally he relented with a sigh. "Rafael, check the subroutines, there may be a malfunction causing our current communications blackout."

"I'm on it, Ratchet," he said, scooting back to the computer.

"Bumblebee," the medic turned to the young mech, "check on our towers. Make sure they are still concealed and undamaged. It wouldn't do us any good if the Decepticons were to find them."

The scout beeped an affirmative, happy to have something to do, and waved goodbye to his human partner. A moment later he transformed and rolled out of Ratchet's station.

….

Agent Fowler rocked back and forth on this heels as he waited outside the room they had converted into a medical ward—though it could hardly be called that. The whole facility was made from old mining tunnels dug years before and abandoned once the iron had run out. They barely had the resources to make sure the roof wouldn't come down on their heads, let alone properly fix the place up. But they did their best with what little they had.

Their meagre medical supplies had been gathered into one of the old storage tunnels. Add two floor beds and you had the extent of their medical facilities. Not much, but thanks to a qualified nurse they did quite well.

June was currently seeing to a patient, forcing Fowler to wait.

"That wasn't so bad now, was it?" she asked the young girl as she put the finishing touches on a crude cast.

The little girl shook her head, pressing herself further into her mother's embrace.

"Thank you, June," said the girl's mother.

After securing the cast so it wouldn't easily come off, the nurse straightened, giving the woman a tired smile. "It's what I'm here for. If she has any trouble with it, or it comes loose, bring her right back and I'll fix it up."

She walked the pair to the door and waved after them as they left. Noticing Fowler standing nearby her stomach did a small flip, hoping it wasn't bad news. Greeting the man with a nod, she headed down the hall, "Agent Fowler."

He fell into step beside her. "Nurse Darby."

They walked together for a few metres in silence before he asked, "So how are the new lot coping?"

"As well as can be expected," she told him. "They've only been here a week. They should hopefully adjust soon, although that'll only mean they'll start to want to go outside…"

"Which of course, they can't," the man grumbled. It was far to dangerous to allow civilians out of the caves for any reason except moving them to another location.

They walked for a little longer in silence again. Finally June looked at him. "What did you really want to talk about?"

He let out a snort and a half smile. "Never could get anything by you, Nurse Darby."

"It's called being a mother," she said with a smile, although there was no real humour behind it.

They walked a few seconds more in silence and entered the main room. Here they paused. This was where the rescued humans hung out. Many hung in groups to comfort one another of all they'd lost. Some huddled around a TV watching whatever movies had been salvaged. But those that had been there since the beginning had somewhat adjusted to life in the tunnels. They laughed and joked with one another, making the best of a bad situation. It was these that helped the newcomers to deal with their new lives.

Most of the humans stayed away from the bots section of the tunnels, the few areas large enough for them to stand. It would be foolish to think that they trusted the giant robots after others of their kind had destroyed so much. Instead, they stayed away, some coming to at least not hate their protectors. Many humans blamed them for coming to Earth and bringing the Decepticons with them, for it was easy to hate and blame than to forgive. Those that expressed too much dislike towards the bots were sent on to another underground settlement. For others did exist, though each one was small, and barely able to survive. They each did their best and would often trade between them whenever possible for parts or supplies the others needed. In tough times such as these, they did what they could to help one another.

Their abandoned mine, known as Dawn's Horizon, served as the main base. They were by no means larger than any other, that honour going to Base 9 a few states over and much further from the Decepticon citadel. But, because of the Autobots and Agent Fowler, they took on the leadership roles in the time of trouble.

The government had been disbanded when Megatron invaded their countries. Some had resisted and were met with a swift destruction. Others had quickly relinquished their leadership to the Decepticons, hoping to be spared. They weren't. Any form of leadership, law enforcement or military were destroyed and the citizens enslaved. A few were spared, only because Megatron saw no use for them. Most of Earth's population, or what was left of it, lived in slave camps, mining energon and other precious minerals.

The Autobots did what they could to rescue these humans and hide them away. Without any way to attack the heavily armed citadel, there was little else they could do. If they could get the ground bridge working, then they could at least further their reach and help more people. But they did what they could to help those they could reach, even if it was only on the North American continent.

Agent Fowler cleared his throat. "I was hoping for your help with something…"

The woman groaned internally. "If this is you trying to ask me out again, I don't-"

"Oh, no. It isn't that," his face flushed and he looked away to hide his embarrassment. "I heard you loud and clear last time." He flattened his tie, though he wasn't sure why he still wore the old thing. General Bryce, along with just about everyone else, was dead. Setting that thought aside, he turned back to June. "No, I was hoping for your knowledge of medicine. Base Maize is preparing for a raid on a nearby hospital. They don't have any medical professionals and wanted to know if there's anything in particular they should be looking out for or if they should take everything they can carry."

"Yes, of course," she replied, almost disappointed. "Give me some time and I'll create a list. Anything they can secure would be of great help."

He nodded.

An auburn haired teen walked up to the pair and nodded politely. "Agent Fowler. Nurse Darby."

"What can we do for you?" asked June with a smile. Being a nurse had prepared her well, putting on a smile for the sake of your patient was often the best way to make them feel comfortable and cared about. She often used this to help those rescued from the camps.

"One of the children has become sick. He keeps throwing up. His father wants you right away," she told the nurse.

"I'll leave you to it then. I'll need that list by tomorrow. Maize is eager to move in." Agent Fowler gave a single nod and left.

June's gaze lingered on him a moment longer than necessary, before turning back to Sierra. "Show me to them."

….

"Get down!"

Not a second after the shout, there was a loud bang and an explosion knocked two vehicons to the ground.

Wheeljack slid around the building for cover. His left hand shifted into a blaster and he peered around the corner while he spoke. "Ya got everybody out yet?"

"We're still working on it," replied Miko, watching the last few humans escape through the fence and follow Smokescreen. The mech shot down at vehicon plane and hurried the group of roughly a hundred and fifty people along.

"Well, ya better hurry it up. We can't hold 'em much longer."

At the other corner Bulkhead grimaced. "We can't carry that many people."

"Then we leave some behind. What's the point in saving them all," spat a teenaged boy, arming his modified shotgun.

"Perhaps we should leave you behind, Vince," growled Miko.

"Hey! At least I'm doing something unlike those pathetic people. They'll just sit around eating all our supplies."

"And why did we bring him along?" grumbled Miko, addressing the bots.

"Because Agent Fowler ordered us to," replied Bulkhead.

Wheeljack smirked. "Probably did it just to get rid of the kid."

"Hey, I'm standing right here," Vincent glared up at the mech.

"Oh are ya? Then maybe you should stop yapping and start shooting," said Wheeljack.

The boy grumbled an unintelligible reply and slid against the wall near Bulkhead to peer around it as the mech was doing.

Standing between Wheeljack's legs, Miko took out her modified pistol and aimed it at the approaching vehicons. She pulled the trigger and a small explosive bullet hit one in the knee, making him stumble. The bullets weren't strong enough to pierce a Cybertronian's armour but aimed at the right spot it could cause a small injury. She found that it was most effective aimed at the face and optics but the weak spots at the joints worked quite well too.

Ratchet had said that if their human allies insisted on going into battle with them they would need to be armed and had modified some weapons to use against the Decepticons. Miko's pistol was the weakest of the lot but it had gotten her out a few jams. She was just waiting until Ratchet and Wheeljack finished making her a more powerful hand weapon.

Vincent's shotgun was a semiautomatic, firing slugs that also contained explosive charges. They would do more damage that Miko's pistol but it could still only wound rather than kill. Even then, it was better than nothing.

Bulkhead glanced back at Smokescreen and the humans. Some vehicons had made it past them and were pressing in on the mech. The rookie was doing his best to hold them back while the humans ran for the forest but he was only one bot.

"Jackie!" Bulkhead yelled.

The mech glanced at him and then to Smokescreen. He nodded in understanding. "No point staying now. Let's go."

He picked up Miko and transformed around her, Bulkhead doing the same with Vincent. They sped towards the four vehicons. Wheeljack entered a tailspin and swept one's legs right out from under it, while Bulkhead rammed right into another. He returned to robot mode, Vincent in one hand as the other shifted into a wrecking ball. He slammed it into the chest of the Decepticon, knocking him flat before crushing his head.

Smokescreen shot down the last vehicon and paused to grin at the pair. "What took you so long?"

"Us?" scoffed Bulkhead as they raced for the trees after the humans.

"You were the one taking your time Smokey," smirked Miko, leaning out Wheeljack's window.

"Would have been easier if I'd had the phase shifter," the young mech replied. While he had stolen the phase shifter back on Cybertron, it had unfortunately been damaged a few weeks ago. And, as Ratchet kept reminding him each time he asked, it's repair was on his very long to-do list.

A few blaster shots flew past them and they ducked into the trees, Wheeljack transforming to carry Miko. The vehicons didn't follow, but they kept running. After a few minutes the humans and bots came to a stop amongst the trees. Bulkhead and Wheeljack set down their respective humans in front of the group.

The escapees panted as they huddled together, giving wary glances to the giant robots despite having just been rescued by them. Parents clung to their children, trying to calm those frightened and in tears. Couples held hands and stuck together. The others huddled close to those they'd made friends with.

Miko stepped towards the group, thinking that they were in better condition than some of those they'd rescued. They'd be taken back to Dawn's Horizon, cleaned up and fed. The base didn't have enough room for this many permanent residents but it worked well as a distribution point. For now though, they had to focus on getting back safely and without leading the Decepticons to its hidden location.

"Alright, you lot. Listen up," Miko yelled to get everyone's attention. "I know you're tired but we don't have time to stop for long. We have to get moving before the Cons start coming after us again. Bulkhead and I will be leading the way," she gestured towards the green mech, "with Smokescreen and Wheeljack covering the sides and rear. Keep together and stay close. And one of the Bots tells you to do something, you do it. No questions asked. They're here to keep you safe, unlike those other guys."

Smokescreen addressed the humans. "We're gonna get you to somewhere safe from the Cons but it's a long trip. We'll carry anyone who gets too tired, but we can only take so many, so you might have to take turns."

Nobody stepped forward for a ride, but he hadn't expected them to. At this stage they didn't trust the Bots enough to hold them. It was typical of new escapees to be afraid of them, since all they knew of their kind were the Decepticons. But as they grew weary, the humans would accept the help. Though they would be sure to keep an optic out for anyone stubborn enough to continue beyond their capability as there was always at least one.

"Let's get moving," Miko called out and glanced over at Bulkhead. He nodded and took the lead. She followed on foot behind him, keeping watch on the rescued humans, a hand absently resting on her pistol as it sat in the holster on her hip. She always hated this part of the rescue mission. The action was over and it was a long trudge home often with little conversation as the Bots were too busy looking for Cons and making sure the group was safe. None of the humans knew her and she definitely wasn't going to talk to Vince. So instead she had far too much time to think.

….

Optimus rested with his back against the wall, staring up at the single light in the ceiling. There was little else to do in the bare cell he was kept. Little to do but sit and think.

He wondered where the Nemesis was. Even if he did not have his daily trips to be forced to view a burning Jasper, he would have known he was not on the warship. When standing on the Decepticon vessel, if one was quite and still, it was possible to feel the gentle thrum of the engines beneath one's pedes. It reminded Optimus of his time on the Ark. Of the time where he commanded more bots than the small team on Earth. Some, he knew, had gone to join the AllSpark, but the others… He hoped they had found somewhere safe to hide away from the war. Away from any remaining Decepticons. Away from the death of war.

The large mech closed his optics and let out a slow vent of air. He pushed away the low energon warnings pinging in his processor. A vehicon would likely be around with a small cube of energon soon. They kept him fed, but only barely. It was only enough to kept his systems functioning and not enough to power his weapons, even if he were able to access them. Knock Out had disabled his T-cog under Megatron's orders. The Decepticon leader used it as a way to weaken his enemy. To demean him. And it did. Optimus felt restricted without his full capabilities. It was much more difficult to mount an escape without his transformative abilities. Without wheels or weapons. He now understood how useless Bumblebee must have felt when MECH stole his T-cog. It felt like a part of him was missing. A dull ache to add to as spark already hurting from his failure to protect humanity. To protect those he cared about.

But Optimus made sure to never let Megatron know this. He would remain stoic, showing nothing, even as he sat here alone. He chose to have faith in his team. That they would do everything in their power to keep their partners safe. And that was worth much more to him than his own well-being.

He did not look up as the cell door slide open, supposing it to be a vehicon being his energon ration for the day.

Yet instead of a cube being left behind, he was greeted by the soft clicks of heel like pedes and a whiny voice.

"My how the mighty have fallen…"


Author's Notes: So, I've decided to continue this story. I don't really know where it's going but I'll put up chapters whenever I finish them. This will, in all likelihood, mean there will be long waits between chapters and for that I apologise in advance. Because of this I'll do my best to not leave many with cliffhanger endings. Sorry about this one though, Optimus was musing and Starscream just decided to let himself in.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Hope ya have a good one!