Disclaimer: Nope, Still don't own any of these characters, nor will we make anything off of this either.
Summary: Practice, practice, practice, training, practice... Prep for Diego Garcia.
Next Segment 6a. Practice makes perfect
It was a hectic string of days for Sam, spending time with the oddest assortment of people he could have imagined. Ratchet had been strangely welcoming to him, though that may have been because of his willingness to learn, and acceptance of the immense pressure of this new situation. Bumblebee had been in his company whenever Ratchet himself wasn't, and Mikaela choose to be down with the bots rather than being up on deck with the snobbish military men. If his time with Ratchet had been considered strange, then the time spent in the company of Major Lennox had been outright shocking.
Lennox had sought him out some time ago, and it was at Ratchet's request that Sam joined the Major in his resistance running. Sam spent most of his time down in the cargo hold learning Cybertronian customs and how to shift from bipedal to alt mode. Mikaela was there as a spotter, she was also there working on Arcee with Ratchet's instructions. The poor fem would have to remain in stasis lock for the duration of the trip and possibly into the next month given the nature of her injuries.
While initially Sam had been worried about Mikaela's reaction to the news, he began to worry himself more over remembering the different terms and things Ratchet brought to his attention. As they had worried, the mannerisms were so… Sam used the words 'regal', 'elegant', and 'sure'. Ratchet summed it up as, 'he moved like a Prime,' something about that observation didn't ring entirely true to Sam. However, it was pointless to argue with the Medic about such things. Just like no sane Mech would argue with a Femme, it was just the natural pecking order of things.
Speaking of the natural pecking order of things, resistance training wasn't nearly as strict as he had feared. There wasn't a required speed or posture during said event, the idea was to build lung capacity, Ratchet had mumbled at some point during Sam's mentioning of the day's events one afternoon. The Mech had been amused at the description offered up by his unlikely student.
The fact was that Sam felt like he was back in High School again, only this time with an extended session of PE and much more incentive to participate in the grueling physical exercises. Of course… nearly being killed by Decepticons on frequent occasions over the past week had also been a good motivator. Sam was not even the least bit surprised that he was unable to keep pace with the NEST soldiers at first.
They ran across the flight deck, dodging the wingtips of the jets that were heading for storage below, (Sam had checked. every. Single. Last. One. for a Decepticon marker). Then they were led at a sprint up exceedingly narrow and scarily steep flights of stairs (in Sam's case this included tripping up said stairs.) The NEST soldiers dodged people as they ran through the lower level of the communications tower, then bounded down another set of devilishly steep stairs (he had barely managed to stick the landing), and then to finish off the lap they ran through the hanger deck of the carrier. It took them past the hold where Ratchet was tinkering with Arcee's malfunctioning sections, because that was all Ratchet had to do besides teach him.
The first day had nearly killed the boy, he hadn't realized they did more than one of these. He refused to count the laps for they were only the warm up, much to his utter dread. The second set included a rucksack containing anywhere from a third to half of their body weight to run with. Mikaela watched in morbid fascination as he about died when they announced it was time for pushups.
Lennox had allowed him to do sit ups instead, for Sam knew for a fact he would have disgraced himself with girly pushups while the Major and the rest of this unit did them standard style with the rucksack added. Then with a nice quick sprint around the flight deck, and after a second more leisurely one, the men stopped, looking rather perplexed. It was interesting to see the group stand there awkwardly for a moment, the major later explained that normally he and the others would go shooting with Ironhide at the range to finish up a long grueling session. Unfortunately for the good Major, there was not a safe place on the carrier to discharge a weapon. In spite of everything though, Sam agreed to keep coming back for punishment.
He decided however that he would set a pace he could handle to do the laps. He found himself joined by the Major every morning, and after the man completed his own grueling workout he and a few men would join Sam to encourage him to finish his. Not one of them complained, and the conversations around him made Sam feel a lot less out of place. During the third or was it the fourth day, Leo joined him in the grueling workout, Lennox was pleased. Mikaela was the only one of them (the non-military personnel) without blisters for the remainder of the trip.
Blessings seemed to come in rare forms on the carrier, Simmons had been somehow unable to board the craft. Leo kept muttering some speech about 'one man, betrayed by the country he loves' whenever the agent was mentioned. Sam had to fight to keep the laughter away at the idea, Simmons was indeed a single minded bastard, and somehow Ironhide had hacked the call he made to Admiral… what was his name? No, it was Captain Wilder.
Sam had been laughing so hard that Ratchet had medically scanned him three times to ensure he could still breathe. Sure he was rolling across the hard steel floor holding his chest heavy, but Mikaela stood there snickering collectively just to make it look that much worse to the Medic. He eventually gave up trying to help the human, going back to his repair work.
It had been a much-needed laugh for the overstressed student, but he quietly surrendered himself over to the Medic for further instructions. In addition to all of the Cybertronian customs and mannerisms that he had been working on learning, he had also had to take a quick lesson in Cybertronian anatomy and the functions of their internal systems. The words 'Cybertronian Anatomy' had almost sent Sam running for the hills, if not for the quick reflexes of Mikaela, Ratchet might have had a runaway on his hands.
That had been an interesting misrepresentation of words, when Ratchet said anatomy, he had actually meant everything with the exception of what came to Sam's mind. Mikaela knew him well enough to fill the Medic in on his uneasiness about that, and that general area was left largely un-discussed for later. Sam had been more than grateful for that, he didn't think he could honestly sit through the 'birds and the bees' Cybertronian style with Ratchet.
Bumblebee? Maybe… Ironhide? He had other methods of persuasion that the Medic did not possess, and two very big reasons for that were introduced to Sam that first night. Sam would rather run resistance training with the NEST soldiers with his mother chasing them all with a baseball bat then sit through that awkward conversation with Ratchet.
As for the actually learning Cybertronian anatomy, Sam enjoyed those lessons. It was fascinating to actually know what cables and plates were what, Ratchet had numbed the protoform so that he could let them look through the systems first hand. Sam had at first questioned this decision, but when Ratchet reached the part of the discussion that stated point blank that some surface sensors more sensitive than human skin he had understood completely. It explained the sand notification he received on the way to the aircraft carrier.
Mikaela had been almost as enthusiastic as he was, even if it was going at a pace that made it difficult to keep up. She didn't have Prime's protoform to record every memory and store them for her though. Sam had been very appreciative of that, it almost made the thought of learning, what he assumed anyways, gigabytes of information at a time more bearable. The long end summary of anatomy was that like the human body, Cybertronian bodies required maintenance daily.
They required rest in the form of recharge for almost the same amount as their human counterparts. Energon, in its many flavors and grades, acted as their primary fuel source. It also turned out to have properties that affected the bots, like alcohol did humans, in the higher grades. Instead of sweating the bots were each equipped with a cooling system, which consisted of fans, vents, and something similar to a refrigerator's cooling system following their lines.
Ratchet had pulled up the line and explained that on planets similar to Hoth from the movie Star Wars (Ratchet had mentioned the movie was an interesting perspective on the universe, but largely inaccurate) the line would also act as a heater and keep the other important lines, like the Energon lines, from freezing up. It was amazing to see the systems up close, Ratchet removed parts of the armor so they could fully explore. Sam at one point had dove into a spot when he realized there was something lodged in what Ratchet had identified as foreign to the Mech's systems.
It wasn't the Matrix Sam had concluded, emerging from the hole he had worked his way into. The object in hand looked more like one of the pieces of Megatron he had ripped off during the fight, the faint traces of fluids and Energon supported this theory. The Medic had carefully taken the piece from him, he announced it was actually a part from Jetfire that had failed to fit correctly into its designated space. It had therefore been dropped there as a result, giving the Spark chamber more plating. Too much armor however wasn't good, it could accidently knick or create a problem if left alone.
The anatomy lessons lasted a grand total of three days, Sam also learned during that time the proper amount of Energon that he should have the protoform consume. After anatomy came the transforming, and subsequently came pulling weapons out of the protoform frame. The blaster was harder to pull out than the Energon swords tucked in his forearms. The hooks and swords however were a lot harder to control than the blaster, according to Ratchet anyways. Prime had come in with the blades stuck out a couple of times because of excessive force, and the hooks would come in a strange sort of usefulness the Medic mentioned checking over the weapons.
Sam wondered just how strong the blaster was, but he then recalled hearing the clank of shells as the weapon was discharged. Meaning it had ammo, Ratchet found the subspace pocket containing spare ammo and even he raised his optic ridges at the amount tucked away. When Ratchet discovered his lack of knowledge on that, and finding it interesting, he spent the rest of the afternoon checking the subspace pockets and asking Ratchet what each device was.
After two weeks Sam was now moderately sure he wouldn't blow his cover through movement alone. He had smoothly transitioned between Alt mode and Bipedal mode that he could do such while holding himself. It didn't matter that it took longer when he was working while holding something, the idea was that he would need to be able to use the ability under duress and/or threat. Ratchet holding a wrench was a very real threat, and being squished under his own metallic feet was now very high up on Sam's ways he did not want to die list. Right there next to being dissected on a table by Decepticons and suffocating in outer space.
Ratchet was correct again… The poise of a certain Autobot leader was what granted him a lot of his presence, and that was what Sam had failed to take into account. Being able to move effortlessly at 30 feet tall and several tons of Cybertronian parts was not something one became proficient at overnight. Driving Sam could handle, walking silently or awe-inspiring was something that even as a human he had yet to master. Shifting in a confined space where he had to crouch however was not a place he could practice said talent.
As a human however he could make the effort, and the brain's muscle memory would transfer to the processor. At least this was the Medic's working theory. Sam wished he could argue the fact, because he was a human (at roughly 1/6th of Optimus Prime's full height) he was also one of the most clumsy, uncoordinated beings the Medic had probably ever encountered in his long lifetime. It had taken every ounce of concentration the boy had to become aware of where all 30 feet of the Mech was at all times. The reason this became necessary was in fact because of the hold they were in.
With the landing of the aircraft carrier in Diego Garcia only an hour or two away, Sam was on his last moments of practice. It had taken him almost three weeks, but the effort had been paying off in a most rewarding sense. Lennox had wandered in to announce they would be landing in scant hours, he was unsurprised to find the Medic drilling Sam in shifting between alt mode and bipedal mode. The Major had never actually seen the shift however since Egypt, which was what Ratchet had intended. It must have seemed so off to him at that moment that the Peterbilt has became visible in the dust working its way towards the Autobot CMO.
Lennox stood watching them at Ratchet's request, the Major had a distinctly uncomfortable look but obliged anyways.
When Ratchet signaled him to start the shift from alt to bipedal mode, he kept his human eyes trained on watching Lennox. His concentration however was mostly in keeping his head from hitting the ceiling of the cargo hold. He could shift seamlessly now, but preventing the protoform from whacking its head against the top was something that he had yet to master. It was about being aware of everything everywhere at once, which was surprisingly easier to do as Optimus Prime's protoform than as his scrawny human self.
This was Ratchet's test for him, could he shift in a way that Lennox could not tell the difference between himself and Optimus? There was a high likelihood he would fail the task, but he suspected the Mech was not cruel enough to give him a test he could not pass. As he transitioned into bipedal mode he wasn't sure what to make of the Major's expression. It was somewhere between shock and awe, but there was a profound amount of respect there as well.
"Are you sure that Optimus didn't come back?" he asked quietly. Sam smiled, Ratchet displayed a soft expression his direction briefly, Sam could have cried. He passed with flying colors it would appear, but the trial would continue well into the next few hours. As the protoform he crouched and shifted almost on the Mech's knees to speak to the Major.
"We are positive Major Lennox," Sam spoke smoothly, the Major appeared to jump, his eyes locking on the optics focused on him. "you said that we will be landing in less than two hours, has there been any updates about the situation in Egypt?" Major Lennox seemed unphased by this questioning.
"Epps has sent me messages, Ironhide's getting a bit antsy because he keeps having to respond to the redirected com hails. The twins are being a pain in the ass, but what's new about that?" Lennox started in the small banter, "my team is a bit antsy as well, but after the treatment you guys received at Diego Garcia they refused to take a plane ride back." Sam had to look to Ratchet, he didn't fully understand that comment.
"You'll have to cue up the memory of Galloway meeting Optimus, that should explain a good portion," the Medic offered, "as for the treatment at Diego Garcia… You understand us better than most Major, while it was irritating and rude, there was nothing you could do about it. For your unit to ride back with our comrades, we understand the significance of it, and we appreciate that you all are willing to show your disapproval of the situation." Lennox had never looked so ashamed as he had in that moment.
"I am glad that you understand Ratchet, I can only imagine what would have happened if you all had left like you wanted to. We would have been a screwed pooch," Lennox growled lowly, "I'm glad this new liaison has a bit more common sense. What did you think Optimus?"
Whether the Major was doing it as a compliment or to keep his cover Sam was grateful. He had next gathered to no respect as a human college student, but to be asked questions, and actually have his opinion matter? Sam was overjoyed at the thought, he actually mattered. Then he remembered that he had mattered to at least five people, and all of them had nearly died for him. One actually had, and that was how he was in this situation now.
"I think it is too early to make assumptions about the man," Sam answered, it was his honest opinion anyways, "he seems nice enough now, but we will not know his true colors until he comes under a significant amount of stress."
"That is perhaps one of the most insightful statements I have ever heard you make. I agree," the Medic was smirking, "the man will show what he is truly made of in the face of pressure." Sam smiled fondly recalling his own defining moments, and almost cringing at the almost extreme difference between then and now. Ratchet and Lennox trailed off into their own conversation as Sam recalled the events leading to Mission City.
At the time he had been so uncertain of the world, and his place in it. He had barely managed to talk to Mikaela, he had suffered through the bullying of people like Trent, and he still found it difficult to deal with figures of authority. Still the day he bought Satan's Camaro was the day his life was turned on its head. That was the day he got arrested for following his car, accused of using Mojo's pain pills, and then later arrested by Sector Seven. At that time you could have told him the world was actually flat and on an infinite loop and he would have believed it.
He was gullible then, not that he wasn't now, he just had a better sense of how to play the game. He had also learned the hard way that assumptions in any situation are not always true. Just like he had assumed that Cybertronians topped out at 16 feet tall. Now that had been a grave error on his part, but still… Who could blame him?
Both Bumblebee and Barricade had been 16 feet tall! The first two bots he had ever met, and they both had the same height. Yes, there had also been Frenzy, but he was closer about 4 feet tall. In those first few minutes, even hours he hadn't quite known how to react. What was there to say when you realized, 'hey we're not alone in the universe.' It's a strange feeling and vaguely claustrophobic when that reality hits home, but all the more unnerving to realize that, no we are not alone. With the very real downside that we are not the superpower or dominate race of the universe like our military and government offices would like us to believe.
Getting back to his own bad assumptions, Sam recalled his assumption that Bumblebee and Barricade having been the relatively normal size for Cybertronians. Given they were roughly the same height (varying antennas included) it had appeared to be a perfectly sound theory at the time. Sam should have realized (sooner or later) that anything that involved Robots, Aliens, and Government secrets was never what it seemed. Sam had asked Ratchet at one point how tall each of the Mech's were.
He stated plainly that he was 23' from the top of his helm to the heels of his peds, Bumblebee was 16', and Ironhide was 26' tall. He hadn't originally answered how tall Optimus was, but to be fair, the Mech had been standing nearby when he asked the Medic. It was own fault if he couldn't ask the Mech himself. Numbers didn't really mean much to Sam at that point, so he had to think of another way to think about it. Ratchet was 23' tall, and he himself was about 5' 6". If he imagined four of himself standing on top of each other's shoulders they might reach the medic's height.
The reason he was thinking about heights was because Ratchet had no problem standing in the cargo hold, while it was obvious that he (as Optimus) did. The difference was a basketball player, seven feet… The result for not heeding his surroundings resulted in a very real headache for the boy. He remembered meeting Ratchet for the first time better than Optimus. How could he ever forget the several minutes of awkward honest to god embarrassment that the Medic had caused? Yes, Optimus had been mighty tall, regal and impressive with a voice that commanded the attention of all who heard it. Ratchet however was a blunt bastard of a Mech when he wanted to be.
'The boy's pheromone levels suggest that he wants to mate with the female,' the first words out of the CMO's face plates. Mikaela had been less than surprised, but the fact remained it was the very first thing he had decided to say without prompting. Optimus had even looked slightly embarrassed at his behavior, turning his head away with a very human expression of it, at least Sam wanted to think so. He looked over at said Medic, who was patiently discussing the matters they would need to cover when they were finally back on base with Lennox. Ratchet was one of the few people to whom he had a healthy dose of fear of, besides his own mother and Mikaela. Neither Optimus nor Ironhide could top the fear that the Medic could instill in someone.
Even with their cannons, and impressive displays of courage and bravery, none could surpass the fear that Ratchet could make instantly appear with only a look and a simple wrench. Fears that only a doctor could inspire, but he was the one able to make good on all of his threats. When there was nothing you could say or do about it… He had the bedside manners of a cactus to boot!
Undoubtedly, Ratchet would be the one being in the universe (not Megatron or alternately Optimus), that had the ability to make you question whatever deity you believed in without hesitation. Be it Primus, God, Kami, or your own inner will, was crossing the surly Medic truly a wise option? Judging by the fact that even fellow Autobots would back away slowly from him (including both Prime and Ironhide), Sam was not willing to test the bot.
He had hoped this effect would also transfer over to the human population that had met the surly CMO. Unfortunately, this was not so… As best shown by the attitudes of that sorry lot of morons, and their former liaison Galloway. Lennox and the NEST soldiers had gotten the message quickly enough, they followed the other Autobots example and stood clear. His mind was so focused on wishing that the others were afraid of Ratchet, that he failed to avoid the wrench thrown in his direction.
"Sam, focus your attention on the task at hand!" Ratchet grumbled. Sam rubbed the back of his head, it was already beginning to have a lump, even if it was the protoform that was hit. He winced as he probed the injury.
"That hurt…" Sam mumbled. Lennox let out a sympathetic 'ow', and Ratchet just snickered at him. He focused on the protoform, the HUD was flashing brightly at him. It was trying to inform him of a 'newly sustained head injury,' Sam deactivated the alert with a soft glare in the Medic's direction.
He moved the protoform closer to them, minding the protoform's helm and headfins. He had already an ear splitting headache in his organic body, there was no need to give himself a telepathic concussion. It was like going through puberty all over again, and it was no more enjoyable this time than the first time.
30 feet tall, all lanky but not heavy. It was so awkward, because at times he simply did not know how much space he had to work with. Things were so much bigger as Sam, that he simply took the extra space for granted. It was both frustrating and painful to misjudge the distance so easily. Ratchet had tuned his pain receptors up on the Protoform for this lesson in judging space, and had said that until he stopped showing such difficulty with judging the spaces accurately, the sensors would not be reset to their default sensitivity settings.
His hands and feet were often numb from these lessons when he ran with Leo in the mornings, in addition to the blisters from the endurance activities themselves. He wanted to cry and go back to bed pretending it had never happened the first couple of mornings, despite the support he was getting from everyone, but he knew it wouldn't change anything. He dreamed of a foreign land called Cybertron, and of Mechs (and Fems) he had never met or encountered before during his own lifetime. Ratchet explained the sensation as the Protoform's version of dreaming, only it was memories trickling between using his soul.
Some of these 'dreams' were more like nightmares than anything else, memories of fallen comrades, such as Jazz… Others were of comrades falling in the line of service (the memory of Optimus doing so in front of Sam's eyes had mercifully been absent unless specifically recalled during his waking hours), comrades falling to protect Optimus from enemies, not unlike what he did to protect Sam from Megatron.
"Focus," the Medic warned. Sam pulled his attention back out of that deplorable hole it had wandered into. They were maybe an hour and a half at most from port now, he couldn't afford to keep spacing out. He had to pull this off, otherwise it would be trouble for Ratchet and the other Autobots.
"I'm trying…" Sam whispered. He was thinking too much, he needed to focus on the now. Lennox's eyes were trained on him with a surprised expression.
"Make sure you stick to phrases that Optimus would use," Lennox added, "you have to be sure of yourself, or at least sound like it. Otherwise…"
"It would be no different than when you were running from Decepticons. You need to give yourself presence, at least through the protoform, otherwise the humans will take advantage of this situation," Ratchet added, "after defeating the Fallen and blasting Megatron, this should be what you refer to as 'a walk in the park' would it not?"
"I have to get topside for a moment guys," Lennox excused himself, "I'll be back before everyone disembarks… You'll save me a seat right?" He was already heading for the door.
"Of course Major," Sam answered, managing to give the man a smile from the protoform, "do you think we'll even be able to get off this ship with—" Ratchet took another wrench from subspace and waved it around threateningly in one servo. That was another thing Sam was trying and failing to get used to, the strange terms that the protoform and Allspark were supplying his brain with endlessly.
"Get your indecisive aft into Alt mode before I disassemble you into scrap parts to fix Arcee's units!" Ratchet bellowed, causing the entirety of the hold to vibrate. Sam managed not to quiver where his biological self was standing, but only just barely, "We'll have no problems so long as you keep your mind centered on the present Samuel. Now hurry it up, I have things to pick up and you will only be in my way, out!" Sam found the protoform being ushered towards him hurriedly, and had the foresight to grab himself before he accidently ended up turning himself into a Sam-cake.
He could feel the pleased emotion coming from Ratchet as he shifted to Alt mode while holding his organic body. It wasn't difficult after so many practices, especially not with the way the processors and his human mind were so interlaced. He was actually better at driving the Peterbilt around in here, at least it didn't have the varying distances between servo and walls. He already was well aware of how to drive, it was just a whole lot bigger than Bumblebee.
He sat patiently waiting for Ratchet and Major Lennox to join him in the main cargo bay. Mikaela had offered to ride with Bumblebee, and Leo naturally decided to ride with Mikaela. Unfortunately Leo lacked a lot more clearance than Mikaela, and he was blindfolded and led to Bumblebee since he was not allowed to even see the alt modes of the other bots. He had been rather disappointed, but when Sam reminded him how much he already had for the real f'n deal he quieted right down. He was laying across the bench seat in the Peterbilt when there was knock on the passenger door. The Autobot CMO looked significantly decompressed from earlier. One window rolled down in response to the Medic's knock on the pane.
"Just follow my lead Samuel, and don't move until I do. I don't want to explain how my bumper was bent into a 'V' when you two glitch heads slammed into it. I have enough work to do without having to repair dents like that on myself," Ratchet instructed with his patented look, "and don't you even think about saying it*…" Sam looked at him in slight confusion. What on earth was he… Oh, that line! He decided to nod, he wasn't going to tempt the Medic into throw more wrenches in his direction.
A/N: *Ratchet doesn't want Sam to start up saying, "Autobots, Roll out!" We all know it's just something Optimus gets away with, but now isn't the time for the cutesy remarks.