Chapter Two: Shifting Perspectives

Hunter Mason stood against one of the Humvees nursing the blow he'd taken through his helmet to his admittedly fragile skull. He hadn't been knocked unconscious, but he had been catapulted through one of the dust-covered windows and onto the barren wasteland of a lot outside.

He was bleeding a little and most likely sported one hell of a bruise along his back from the impact with the rocky earth.

Two of the Russian scientists, who had been working at the reactor site for the past three months, had fared with far less superficial results. Their families would be informed in short order and their bodies would be brought home for a long, well-deserved rest.

"First Lieutenant Mason," the familiar voice of his commanding officer broke through the barrier of his radiation suit. He pivoted smartly, ignoring his head-wound, and saluted the Lieutenant Colonel. "At ease, Mason."

Just as quickly as he'd poised himself, Hunter allowed himself to settle his weight back into the vehicle. He was getting too old for this.

"Can you make it back to base or should I call a medic?" Lennox asked him, hands braced behind his back, legs spread. Hunter had rarely seen the man 'let loose' since he'd joined N.E.S.T four and a half years prior. The man was a genuinely good person with a strong will and sound character. It hadn't taken Hunter more than a month to realize that he would be proud to serve under this man for the rest of his career if need-be.

"I'll be just fine, Sir." He couldn't help but dart his eyes towards the two body-bags being carefully settled into the back of another Humvee. "All things considered, I got the better end of the deal."

Lennox looked too, his face dour under the murky film of the radiation suit.

"Damned Decepticons. They've been quiet for too long. The fact that they're here now…I don't trust this. What do they want?"

"Involves that hunk of junk down in the lower levels," Hunter grumbled, adjusted his weight against the Humvee. He didn't think he had a concussion, but his back certainly ached something fierce. "Any idea what it is?"

"None." His commander shook his head firmly in denial. "The Transformers have a lot of tech we don't have a clue about, anyway, so that's really no surprise. Optimus radioed in; said he'd gathered the item from that giant squid."

An apt term for it. Hunter had never seen anything like it. The mechanical beast had been bigger than Astrotrain – who stood roughly eighty-feet tall when in his bipedal form – and ten-times as mean. While Astrotrain, a defected Decepticon, had a stilted way of talking and most often gave off a vibe of unending peevishness, he was not a cruel bastard. He'd had rougher encounters with Ratchet, the Autobot medic, than he'd had with Astrotrain.

Maybe that's because Astrotrain doesn't socialize, he mused to himself.

The beast that had tunneled up from the bowels of Hell – where else could it have come from – had 'tentacles' that broke off over its entire tubular body. Each tip had a whirling maw of razor-like 'teeth' that shredded through dirt and metal like tissue paper. The two scientists had been taken from below and thrust upward into the reinforced ceiling with the effort of a toddler tossing around a rag-doll.

Whatever it was, its aim had been the derelict fractured orb of metal and wire sitting center-stage inside the reactor. Hunter knew it was as alien as their refugee comrades and admitted to himself that humans needed to learn to keep their noses out of business that was not their own.

Chernobyl had destructed in April 1986, the result of nuclear testing gone awry. That accident had shaped an entire generation of people. Without that orb, whatever it was, this place might still be livable. Cancer rates wouldn't have skyrocketed. Mothers might have been able to carry children to term and when they did carry to term have those precious babes be born without defect.

If humans had left well enough alone then there wouldn't be a piece of Earth left uninhabitable for the next twenty-thousand years, give or take a few centuries.

From what little they'd discovered, the Soviet space program had been involved. The case that had been beside the charred orb had proclaimed as much. He and his fellow soldiers hadn't had the time to study much of the room before that squid-worm thing had spiked the Energon readouts and erupted through the floor.

He jolted from his musings at seeing the big 'Bot, Autobot Leader Optimus Prime, walking their way. His hand was fisted around something, most likely the orb, and his battle mask was up. Jetfire, another ex-Decepticon-turned-Autobot, walked just behind and to the side of the sometimes-Mack truck. Jetfire was taller than Optimus by a good ten feet, but he stooped just a little and leaned into his cane.

He'd barely contained his disbelief to see an old Transformer. It didn't seem possible.

Optimus stopped several feet before them, his eyes shining with emotion. He may have been a space-faring robot, but Hunter knew tension when he saw it. Optimus was not happy.

"What was it after, Optimus?" The Lt. Colonel asked of the larger being and, if he was honest, commanding officer. Optimus held rank over William Lennox if they were to group the Autobot faction in with the human faction entirely. Optimus was like a 5-Star Brigadier General as far as Hunter was concerned.

"It, as you so phrase it, was after this." Optimus opened his hand to reveal the orb. It didn't look like anything special to Hunter, but what did he know? He was just a grunt in the grand scheme of things. Besides that, there was often more than met the eye when it came to anything involving the Transformers. "The being is what we call a Driller. They were primarily a work-force designed in the earlier times of Cybertron. They are remotely sentient and are fiercely loyal to their Masters. This one's Master was Shockwave."

"Shockwave? Isn't he one of Megatron's remaining Generals?" Lennox inquired, scratching at his shoulder nervously. Megatron only had two Generals left, unless he'd promoted another since Astrotrain defected to the Autobots six year ago, and they were Shockwave and Soundwave.

"He is." Jetfire grumbled from beside his leader. He stomped his cane into the ground once, an unsettling show of anger since his cane presently sported two jagged blades at the tip. "That slaggin' glitch is as bright as they come. A brilliant tactician and scientist, but that one had a couple of screws loose. He is one that has always had difficulty differentiating between what is right and wrong when it comes to his…studies."

"Why would he want that hunk of junk?" Hunter found himself asking, berating himself instantly when the two monoliths and his commander turned their attentions to him. He gulped down his trepidation as best he could. "I mean, it's nothing important, is it?"

"It is entirely important," Optimus seemed to snap at him. Hunter fought not to cower in the face of the big brute's ire. He wasn't a small man and was in peak physical condition, but even the biggest and strongest human alive would shy away from the automaton when he was in a mood. "This is an engine part from a long-lost ship."

"How long lost?" Lennox interrupted Hunter before he could stuff his foot back into his mouth. There was a very good reason why he hadn't advanced any father in rank in his twenty years of service. At thirty-eight years old he still had trouble controlling his wayward tongue.

"Hundreds of your years. That ship left Cybertron near the end of our War on our planet before we were forced to retreat into the stars and wage War there." Optimus was quiet for only a moment before continuing. "I would put the time of its departure from Cybertron at around the time that Buddha was born here on Earth."

"Buddha?" Hunter's eyes boggled. He wasn't bound by one religion, though he was not an atheist, either, but he had studied many religions while in college. He had found it enlightening. "Buddha was born in 486BC. Exactly how old are you guys?"

Him and his big mouth went ignored.

He was thankful for that.

"Come. There is much that must be done." Optimus turned his focus onto Jetfire. His fingers closed back over the orb, his whole frame once again overcome by rigidity. "Contact the General and have Samantha come in when we return. There is much that must be discussed."

"Shall I also invite the Director?" Hunter was never very good at reading the Transformers despite how much he worked with them, but he couldn't miss the revulsion in the Blackbird's tone. For as obscenely gentle and carefree as he'd seen them with Samantha, a girl no man of thirty-eight should admire as he did, there was a distinctly different way to which they treated the rest of the human race.

He and his human comrades had earned a modicum of trust and respect with the Autobots. It had taken about a year's worth of time, but he'd managed to get on friendly terms with the alien robots. Their interactions with each other were far from smooth, but he'd played Call of Duty with Sideswipe while his twin brother Sunstreaker, having arrived planetside in the first year he'd come to N.E.S.T, sneered nearby and traded war-stories with the gun-toting Ironhide.

Four years and he still didn't know how Samantha Witwicky managed to ensnare them as she did.

The girl, and that was what she had been when he'd first met her at his debriefing, was a definite bombshell. She was brutally scarred across her face, but even with that physical imperfection she possessed poise and dignity rare for someone her age. He hadn't discovered until he'd been initiated into the select organization that she had the final say on who did and did not join the team. He hadn't believed it at first.

In nearly five years he'd come to see quite easily that she pulled the strings in N.E.S.T.. There were others with official ranks in the N.E.S.T. division that were higher on the pedestal than her, technically speaking, but the Autobots didn't listen to them. Not really. He'd seen it for himself. If she spoke, they listened. If she asked for anything, it was made ready and available immediately. If she ordered, they fell in line like ants at a picnic.

She was more than just a Liaison and Ambassador for their kind. She was…something else. Something other. Something more.

He didn't have the rank himself to find out how much more.

"Immediately," Optimus intoned to his soldier, the rumbling bass of his voice sending chills down Hunter's spine. He never wanted to be on the receiving end of the leader's anger.

It was only a couple of minutes later that shots were heard fired near the courtyard they'd entered in on. He and several others, tailed by Wheeljack and Longarm acting as escorts, hurried to where the commotion had come.

Lennox took point as they approached the government-issued sedan that Voskhod, their contact, had been driving. The man's vehicle was utterly destroyed. Hunter held back with the others as they circled, not daring to approach any closer. The frame was littered with bullet-holes, some larger than the others and charred around the edges. Plasma blasts. There was a thick odor in the air. It smelled like lighter-fluid. The sedan was on the precipice of a catastrophic explosion.

Inside, seated behind the driver's side wheel, sat Voskhod. The heavy-set male with a salt-and-pepper beard and black trench coat, a man with enough joviality to be called Santa Claus under the right circumstances, was sprawled across his seat haphazardly. Blood stained the shattered windows. The man's body was riddled with as many shots as his vehicle was. His chest was struck the worst. It took no more than a cursory glance to know that the man was dead.

"Who would do this, Sir?" One of the First Private's, Reynolds, called out in a shaken voice. The kid was new. As disgusted as he was to say such a thing, the youth would eventually grow accustomed to seeing death in his present line of work. While one might not like it, it was also unavoidable.

"I don't know," the Colonel mumbled, waving for everyone to back up.

They ducked behind already cracked and decaying walls as the sedan ignited in a blaze of destructive glory.

Its lone occupant, Voskhod, might have been smiling in the end.

Well, this is awkward, Samantha thought to herself as she sat with her ankles crossed in front of Bruce Brazo's desk.

The man had her surrounded.

He was sitting behind a white metal and glass desk, his hands steepled. He wore a gaudy grey suit – much too matchy-matchy – with a pretty blue handkerchief in the breast pocket. His hair was almost all white with a brush-over. Not for lack of hair, but more for added volume. He was smirking as though he were on the winning side of a chess match and she was his opponent about to be put in check.

He didn't intimidate her in the slightest. The pictures, though, were unsettling.

The man had at least half a dozen framed pictures of himself in his office. They were all looking at her. In each he seemed to be gloating in some way, shape, or form. Most of them were too staged to be real. She could imagine him going into a photographer's studio, donning a pair of martial artist's training gear, and setting himself up for imagined glory.

It was sad, really.

He continued to stare at her over his fingertips, pointedly ignoring her resume and portfolio in front of him. Was he trying to intimidate her? If he was he had no idea of what true intimidation was. He hadn't sat in front of the World's Leaders or stared down the end of Megatron's blaster. So instead of flinching, as she imagined others would in her situation under such scrutiny, she just smiled serenely.

It was several minutes before his composure broke first. She could see it in his eyes first. The wrinkled edges began to twitch and his smirk faltered a hair. His obviously bonded teeth hid behind disappointed lips when she didn't so much as flinch.

With a controlled sigh he began to thumb through her resume. There was much she left out of it due to the sensitivity of it, but what was there was impressive. Inside the folder she knew he would find her school grades, both high-school and college, as well as her degrees. He would also see an impressive list of charities and volunteer events she actively took part in. She removed her own entrepreneurship off the books simply because she did not wish to be denied this position because he was going to have a testosterone-inspired ego-trip.

She watched his ill-manicured eyebrows pitch into his hairline before he cleared his throat, schooled his features, and turned his attention back onto her.

"What brings you here, Miss Witwicky?"

"The open job position, Sir," she grinned back at him, adding a little sweetness to the gesture to keep it from being too sassy. He wasn't amused.

"Obviously," he murmured with distaste. He cleared his throat before gesturing to her file. "You come with high recommendations. Your resume is quite…impressive. I have to wonder why you chose here of all places to start your career."

Oh, if only you knew what I've done already.

If she had meant to speak, which she hadn't, she would have been interrupted. Mister Brazo took up his own mantel immediately, glee and self-righteousness ringing in every syllable. "You are here because we are the best. Accuretta Systems, the leader in telecom, aerospace. Grossed seventeen billion in profit last year. When you work here, doors open for you everywhere! We've had interns go on to be Congressmen and CEOs of their own companies!" He pointed to where she was seated dramatically. "I sat where you were once and look at me now!"

Yeah, a pompous windbag with poor fashion sense and in need of a reality-check.

"Tell me why I should hire you. Impress me."

"What would you have me say?" She brushed her fingers along her right temple. She could feel a headache coming on. It was a mixture of the overabundance of cologne she could smell on Brazo and distress coming from Optimus and a few of the others that were on mission with him. She was tempted to comm them, but that tended to give her migraines when used at such distances. He would still be in the Ukraine right now so she would wait.

She was also having stomach pains. She had been since morning. It was why she'd woken up so early. She hadn't gotten sick with any type of virus or bacterial infection since Mission City when she'd begun fusing with the Allspark, but with her nanites constantly fighting off the deterioration of her eye since Egypt she knew she was more susceptible to getting sick. There'd been a bad stomach flu going through the neighborhood and she supposed it was finally her turn to spend a little quality time hovering over the toilet.

"Are you a go-getter? Do you go above and beyond? Are you a take-charge kind of gal?" He shook his head at her, answering his own questions. "I don't want that here. We don't need it. No brownnosers and no upstarts. I just need someone who can get the job done."

"And you don't think I'm that kind of girl?" She quirked a brow.

He was on the cusp of answering her when something behind her caught his full attention. He leaned precariously off to the side, squinting to see through the ultra-clean glass of his office wall. His lips pulled down into a fierce frown. He was immediately at his phone.

"Who allowed Susan to use the red cup when we are so obviously on the yellow floor? This is anarchy, Curtis. I will not stand for this blatant display of incongruity. Fix. It." He slammed the phone down, ignoring its rattle on the glass top. Samantha gave her own scowl to see Brazo's assistant hustling to the poor woman's desk, berating her in front of everyone, and then rudely snatching the offending cup from her desk. "Now where were we? Ah, yes, are you…"

"I think we are finished here," Sam snapped, rising to her feet. Her heels gave her the height advantage over Brazo as he hastened to his own feet.

"What happened?" Did he look worried? She thought he did.

"With all due respect, Sir, I do not intend to work for anyone that disrespects his employees like you just did." She shook her head sadly. "I would suggest hiring instead for a human resources consultant. It is obvious that you need some coaching on how to work with your employees as well as a welcoming face for incoming prospects. Good day, Sir."

She turned to leave, setting her hand on the doorknob. Just as it began to swing open Brazo slammed his own hand against it from behind her. It shut with a loud bang that had the floor associates looking up with wide eyes.

He looked her over carefully.

"You'd turn down this job. I respect your honor. It's a rare quality to have nowadays." He gestured back towards the chair she'd just vacated. "Please, take a seat. We'll continue."

"You misunderstand my sincerity," she chided him with a bland look. His eyes widened. "Your business may be earning, but it will only go so far with the attitude you have. Great businesses have been ruined by poor leadership. Again, Sir, I wish you a good day."

"Please," he breathed out pleadingly, all but going to his knees before her. It was her turn to stumble back in shock. "Don't go. All of my other interviewees checked out. You're my only option left. I need you to take this position; now if at all possible."

"Now?" She fell into the door. Her hand hit her chest over her heart in shock. "You can't be serious."

"Look, you're right. I'm horrible with the public. I've been through three secretaries and four human resources personnel this year alone. I'm working on it." He backed away from her and rushed to his desk. He pulled a large file from one of the top drawers. "I need this delivered. Typically if you worked in the mail room I wouldn't have you do this, but my last courier…uh…left us. Your credentials are outstanding and you look the part. Please, I'm trusting you to do this for me. I'll hire you at double the salary of the other mail room clerks and have a benefits package you won't find anywhere else."

She didn't know what it was that made her do it. She'd had the feeling the other day that she had to be here, yes, but she'd been serious when she told him that he wasn't worth her time. She didn't take kindly to people treating others as though they were inferior.

After a pregnant pause she closed her eyes and prayed to God, Primus, and every Deity that ever existed that she was doing the right thing.

"Where do I have to go?"

"I'm here to see Dylan Gould," she queried politely to the alluring receptionist not even an hour later.

The building she'd come to, the coordinates supplied to her by the Allspark, was a swanky deco-fabulous piece of artwork in and of itself. It was pleasing to the eye to view and was quite bright on the inside due to windows lining either side of the building. She left her 1967 Triumph, a happy purchase she'd made to replace her moped some years ago, parked out front on the sidewalk. The helmet she left dangling by the handlebars.

No one would steal it in this neighborhood.

She walked in the direction she was pointed, clutching the file Brazo had given her to her chest. She was glad to have dressed as smartly as she had. She would have been uncomfortable otherwise in such a posh setting.

Standing at the end of the hallway she'd been directed she saw the man she sought. At least she hoped it was him. He wore a beaten brown bomber's jacket, a black button-up, and a silken tie that he hadn't bothered to tie around his neck. He was talking on his cell-phone, outwardly flustered. He began to spout obscenities when he finally caught sight of her.

The lecherous grin that spread across his face instantly disheartened her to him.

He hurriedly ended his call, barely managing to drum up and excuse, before striding cockily towards her. She pictured him as a rooster preening in front of a gaggle of hens. The man was one of the most handsome she had ever seen outside of a GQ magazine and he knew it. He relished in it. Undoubtedly he was used to getting whatever or whoever he wanted.

"Hello. I'm Dylan Gould and you would be?" He held out a hand to shake. She noted immediately that it was a hand that hadn't seen much hard work. He got manicures and had almost no calluses.

She shook it anyway.

"Samantha Witwicky. I'm here to deliver a parcel from Bruce Brazo on behalf of Accuretta Systems." She handed him the file smoothly. He didn't even spare it a glance as he took it and threw the whole stack onto the nearby desk.

"You look familiar. I know that name as well." His head was cocked off to the side as he considered her. She stood tall before him; not in a bid to impress, but to show she wasn't affected by him. "Ah! You were the one on the news channels several years ago when the Lincoln was destroyed."

"I am."

"A shame that was. They never did make that movie after the publicity stunt, did they?" Dylan Gould, just like the rest of the human populace, had been made to believe that some hackers had taken advantage of the 'terrorist attack' on the U.S.S. Lincoln to promote an up-and-coming action film in which she was to star in. It had taken quite a bit of teamwork from N.E.S.T., the general governments, and a select crew of videographers and digital special effects artists to make the ruse believable.

She'd had a year worth of job requests from casting directors over the planet before the hype had finally died down.

"Your business is beautiful," she began by way of distraction. She glanced at both of the cars set on display. The Delahaye was particularly impressive. She reached out with a tendril of Allspark energy, touching gingerly for signs of sentient life. She found none.

"Thank you Samantha. May I call you Samantha?" She nodded in ascent, allowing the familiarity for now. He moved up beside the Delahaye and caressed it as though it were his lover. Slow, languid strokes that were meant to evoke provocation.

She wasn't moved.

"It's one of my favorite pieces. Designed by the French." She knew that, but she wasn't up to parlaying with him. She probably wasn't supposed to be dallying, either, but she figured it wouldn't hurt anything. Brazo needed her, badly, or else he wouldn't have been begging her earlier. He could work on her clock for the moment.


Sam didn't enjoy being spoken to as though she were a dog, but she followed the man anyway. Her heels clacked against the marble floor as he led her through his building. The many young women he employed followed him with their eyes covetously. They were all beautiful in their own rights.

Sure gets around, doesn't he? She snickered at this as she noted more than one woman turning baleful eyes her way. There was a great deal of unneeded jealousy circling around her like buzzards over fresh meat.

Dylan led her into his garage.

It wasn't a typical guy's garage, however. She didn't see leaking oil cans and dirtied rags lying about. There were no tools hanging from cork-boards. What she was led to could aptly be described as a mausoleum for cars. A showroom, perhaps. He had row upon row of classic and exotic cars. Some were a combination of both. This man was proud of his wealth. He luxuriated in it and she dared to guess that he flaunted it.

The man gushed over his vehicles. She listened with a partial ear as he rambled on and on about the rarer pieces he owned and the eccentricities of another. All of these facts she already knew or didn't care to remember on her own. Inwardly she was plotting out her exit strategy. She didn't want to be overly rude, but he was a snob. Her company was better kept elsewhere.

"This must all sound so boring to you." His tone suggested he was put-out by her disinterest.

"It's not boring at all," she hurried to explain. "I just know cars and what you're telling me is, frankly, stuff that I already know."

"Oh? You are an aficionado, then. Tell me, what car do you drive, Samantha?" His grin was teasing. Had he not shown himself to be so haughty she would have thought him devilishly handsome.

"I drive a few different cars. My last companion was a 2011 Camaro." She slipped purposely by saying 'companion' instead of something less humanized, but people didn't often read too deeply into things spoken by others. There was a good chance that he would assume she gave character to her vehicles because she felt a connection to them borne of love. Again, not untrue.

"Outstanding ride. For being Chevrolet the Camaro has some unique features." You have no idea. "You have superb taste."

"Thank you." She looked to the wall and saw the time. Feigning surprise she hurried towards the door they'd come in through. "If you'll excuse me, Mister Gould. I have to be going back to Accuretta now."

"Call me Dylan. Please." The lecher was back and keeping step with her. Unlike Brazo, Dylan still stood taller than she. "Let me escort you outside. A beautiful woman shouldn't be left unattended."

"Believe me, Mister Gould," she kept with the formality purposely. His jaw twitched with anger, but he wisely kept silent. "I am never without attention."

She grabbed her sling bag from the reception desk, just exactly where she had been asked to leave it, and quickly slipped off her heels to switch out for the flats she kept in the main pouch of her bag. In her hurried movements the hem of her pant leg pulled up nearly to her knee before she unhooked the dainty buckle of her heel from the fabric.

"Of that I have no doubt." His eye darted down to the intricate pattern of silver on her leg. The 'tattoo' had been placed on her by Ratchet and Jolt seven years ago as a way for them to always know her whereabouts in the event of an accident. It also acted as an impromptu monitor for her heart rate, body temperature, and various other functions of her central nervous system. It tattled on her every time.

Her eyes narrowed on the man. Did he know? How could he?

"What an interesting tattoo. It looks like metal!" The wonderment in his tone disillusioned her to his possible knowledge of what the tattoo really was. Surely he couldn't know. She hadn't even known what it was until they had placed it onto her.

"Yes. I got it while I was still in high-school. My mother had a fit." Judy had had a tantrum that could have rivalled any two-year old crying over a spilled cone of ice-ream, but there was nothing that any of them could do about it. Unless she chopped her own leg off the tattoo was staying until her dying day.

As the saying goes, why chop off your nose to spite your face?

Just as she'd thought her bike remained untouched in front of the marble statue set before Dylan Gould's building. The man whistled appreciatively behind her as she pulled her helmet into her hands and set about strapping it on.

"I guess you really are an enthusiast. This bike has been very well maintained." She wanted to slap his hand away when he reached out and stroked a finger along the maroon and white tank. The seat she'd had reupholstered by a restorations expert, but the rest of the bike remained as it had been when she bought it. Its previous owner had gone to great lengths to keep it looking pristine.

"Thank you." She mounted the bike fluidly, revving the engine up as she did so. It hummed underneath her. The rumble of the engine settled any anxiety she might have had simply because it reminded her of her mechs and femme. It wasn't them, but the familiar sound warmed her down to the bone.

"It was a pleasure to meet you, Samantha. I hope that we will be seeing each other again in the future?" Dylan stepped back away from she and her bike, his hands slinking down into his pockets.

Sam snapped her visor down, tying her braid off into a loose bun just beneath the base of her helmet so that it wouldn't get caught in anything as she rode. Through the slightly tinted plastic she looked the male over a final time, pitying over the fact that such a fine specimen had to possess such a woeful personality.

"I don't think so," she spoke into the helmet softly, knowing that he wouldn't be able to hear her.

That being said she rode off towards Accuretta and then, hopefully, home.

She was ready for a slice of that pie.