Pain. Blinding pain. That's all Optimus Prime felt as his tired screeched and swerved on the asphalt. He could hear the roaring engines of his pursuers and the sound of their weapons discharging, the sound of their bullets ripping through his armour and all his onboard systems warning the Autobot leader of the damage and of the imminent stasis lock that he kept delaying out of the faintest glimmer of hope that he'd escape them. Swerving around a corner and narrowly avoiding a missile exploding just behind him (were they enjoying this?!), Optimus' mind began to race- he needed a way to escape, and quickly, but he was running out of options, not to mention time. Wait- there! Just a little further up the road, some human had left an abandoned truck that looked dilapidated enough to be seen as broken. It was a long shot, but Optimus was willing to take it. He scanned the vehicle as he drove past it, his entire being beginning to shift and change just as gunshots rang out behind him. Optimus had a good headstart, but the distance was closing quickly and he willed himself to move faster. He'd outrun seekers faster than them on Cybertron, and he wasn't about to let Starscream laugh at him from within the Well of Allsparks by letting them catch up now. Quickly rounding another corner then breaking off from the road, Optimus took to the forest, transformed, and took into a run. He couldn't see or hear his pursuers and was starting to think he had outrun them at last.
Then, suddenly, a shot rang out and pain exploded anew in the Prime's chest and he collapsed to the ground, gripping the wound in his shaking hand, but Optimus willed himself to keep going, to get up and keep moving- the others were depending on him, dammit! Narrowly escaping the next shot that came, Optimus transformed and sped off through the trees and back onto the nearest road he could find, then followed it into the night to wherever it would lead, not even knowing if he was still being pursued or not and still refusing stasis lock, as much as he felt he wanted it right now. His entire chassi was shot straight to the Pit, literally, his pedes couldn't even carry him anymore- it was starting to look like the best option at that moment in time. Willing himself just a little further, Optimus veered to the right and up a dirt road until he came to a human farm and hid in a tall, wide structure just as his systems flashed their final warning. In his weakened state, Optimus finally accepted stasis lock and let it take him over.
He wondered as he slowly began to shut down, were the other Autobots safe? What if they were being hunted, too? But Optimus could no longer think on these things, and with the heavy weight of sorrow and regret in his spark, Optimus Prime shut down and went silent.
Emma woke to the sound of a truck coming up their driveway and scrambled to her window to see what was happening, only to see the truck reverse into the barn and shut off. She checked the time- it was four in the morning, what was a truck doing on the property and why wasn't Jason out there investigating? Oh, wait, she told herself, Jason could sleep through an eathquake. With a sigh, Emma dragged herself out of bed, pulled on her favourite jacket and her sneakers, then hurried out to the barn with a flashlight in hand. She didn't need it half of the way, since the moon was enough light for her to see by, but the barn was pitch black inside, save for a skylight that let in the silvery glow in a shaft that briefly caught on the truck's grill and the huge hole in the middle of it. Emma turned on the flashlight and stepped over to the truck, her hand hovering not that far away from the grill. It was still hot, but cooling quickly for some strange reason. She moved around to the cab and opened the door to find shells from missiles and bullets inside. What happened, she wondered tiredly. She climbed into the cab and looked for anything that could indicate the truck had a driver, but she couldn't find any keys or even a license tucked away anywhere.
Then, Emma noticed the symbol on the steering wheel- she'd only seen it once before on the news- and the shock was enough to wake her up entirely. No wonder the truck didn't have a driver- it was an Autobot.
Emma remembered hearing that the Autobots had been responsible for the invasion that decimated Chicago. She and Jason lost their parents in Chicago, she remembered seeing the Autobots as they shot down the alien aircraft chasing them as they ran for their lives from the city, but she couldn't bring herself to blame the Autobots for any of it. It wasn't their fault- at least, that's what she and her brother believed. There were so few Pro-Autobot supporters that she knew of who thought the same- most had been shouted down and bullied by those who disagreed. Why was this one so badly damaged, though, she asked herself. Weren't the Autobots given sanctuary? With a sigh, she decided to let it go for the night. "We'll have a look at you in the morning," She said tiredly as she gently ran a hand over the symbol on the steering wheel. "You've been through a lot. Just take it easy." Even though no response came, Emma bade it goodnight, climbed out of the cab and went back inside the house to sleep.
Morning came with the usual duty of waking up her brother for work. Emma already had a glass of ice-cold water at the ready in case words didn't work.
"Jay, get up." No response. "Jay. Jason. JJ. Bro." She went through the whole list of nicknames she had for her brother, but still, no response came. Emma shrugged and pulled up his shirt, then dumped the glass of ice water all over his back and watched as Jason shrieked and squirmed before he looked up at his little sister with comtempt.
"You missed your alarm again." Emma set down the glass. "Come on, get up. I wanna show you something."
Jason sat up in bed, rubbing his eyes. "Now?" He groaned.
"Yes, now!" Said Emma, her voice rising with urgency. "Bring your toolbox, you're not gonna believe it!" With that, she raced out of the room to get dressed.
Jason just stared after her with a sigh. "I already don't believe it." He got up and made himself decent, then collected his toolbox and walked downstairs to find Emma pacing about impatiently in the living room.
"What took you so long?!" She snapped up at him. "Come on!" She raced out the door to the barn and Jason just rolled his eyes and followed. His sister had an unlikely knack for being eccentric and strange when she wanted to be, much like her weird friends from school- exactly why he never let her hang out with them or go to their bonfire parties or their ghost hunts. It was better that she stayed somewhere where he could keep an eye on her. San Antonio was quiet enough and far enough away from Chicago. As much as Jason would gladly take a bullet for his little sister, there were days like this when he half-considered how well she'd act as a meat shield, days when she'd drag him out of bed for no reason, which he was pretty sure was going to be today. Jason ran a hand through his auburn hair and pushed the barn door open to find his sister standing near a semi-trailer that hadn't been there the day before.
"Emma, what are you doing?" He asked.
Emma was practically bouncing on her toes with anxiety. "It's an Autobot," She exclaimed. "I saw him drive into the barn last night, Jay, he's really hurt, we have to help...!"
But Jason just set down his toolbox and shook his head. "Em, this can wait until I get back from work."
"No, it can't!"
"Yes, it can!" Snapped the elder of the two. "I'm not doing it, Emma. Not now."
"Please, just help me wake him up!"
"What if he's hurt, Jay?" Emma pleaded. "I'm sure Peter will understand!"
Jason just sighed. "Peter's a nice guy, Em, but he's not going to be okay with me continuously being late."
"You don't have work for ages, though!" Emma hurried over to her brother and grappled onto his arm. "PleasepleasepleasepleasePleeeeeaaaase?" She looked up at him with those big blue eyes for good measure, but Jason just took his arm out of his sister's grip and picked up his toolbox.
"No. And remember; Fenrir and his stupid little friends are NOT allowed on the property!" The elder of the two stuck a finger in his sister's face. "And don't do anything stupid while I'm gone."
"And what would qualify as 'stupid'?" Emma asked, crossing her arms.
"Emma Valerie Craven, do not play this game with me."
"What game?" Emma smiled innocently. "I don't know what you're talking about. You're just not being specific enough."
"If I was," Growled Jason, "You'd find a loophole and play fucking hula-hoop with it. Your lies don't work on me."
"If I recall correctly, I'm the one who sweet-talked the realtor into giving us this place." Emma crossed her arms and glared up at her brother. "I think I deserve a little bit of slack here."
And this was where Jason had finally had it. "I'm the main beneficiary in the will. I bought the place, I put you in school, I'm the one bringing home the money- you do what I say until you're eighteen. So cut the shit and don't give me any more of your fucking smart mouth." And with that, Jason stalked out of the old barn, leaving Emma alone.
The younger of the Craven siblings just huffed annoyedly. "He's such an asshole!" She kicked over an old milk-crate in her frustration and it went rattling a few feet away from her. She stormed back over to the Autobot, climbed into the cab and sat there for a while to sulk. "He's been like this ever since Chicago," She sighed sadly. "He thinks I'll disappear if I'm not somewhere where he knows I'm safe, but it's starting to get a bit suffocating, you know?" She draped her arms around the steering wheel and rested her head against it. "I want to hang out with my friends, go out and have fun, have an adventure, but Jason won't let me and he's got all the money. Sure his boss is nice and all, but I don't think even old Peter could get him to stop being so controlling." She talked to the dormant Autobot for a long time, even after her brother left. She felt happy having someone to talk to, even if it was probably a dead robot. "You know what?" She decided eventually. "I don't care what Jason thinks. I'm gonna turn you back on and we'll see if I can fix you by myself. I'll need some help, so just wait until I get back, okay?" No response came, but Emma jumped out of the cab and raced back inside to get her cellphone and shot a text to Fenrir. Fenrir was the Alpha of a local therian pack, and a good friend of Emma's. He and his pack were often seen as bad kids just because of how they dressed and acted, but they were nice to her and they were her friends and it wasn't like Emma could hang out with anyone else.
Within the next hour, Emma heard howling out in the field from where she stood in the barn, and she hurried outside to howl her response. A group of teenagers, dressed in punk-goth clothing and carrying toolboxes and car batteries, came over to her and greeted their friend with a hug. Fenrir was last and put his arm around Emma with a grin.
"So, what's the occasion?"
Emma returned the grin. "You guys remember how we ran that "Autobot-Friendly Zone" thing last year?
"The one we all got arrested for?" Asked one among them, a tall girl named Maya. "Man, your brother was so pissed."
"We're about to take it up a notch," Emma clapped her hands together. "There's something I need to do and I can't do it without you guys." She led her friends into the barn, telling them all to be careful.
Timaeus, another among the pack, gave Emma a questioning look. "Em, this is just a beat-up truck."
"Not just any truck!" Chirped Emma as she beckoned her friends to come closer and pointed out the symbol on the truck's grill. "It's an Autobot, and I think he's hurt."
"And Jason didn't help you?" Fenrir scoffed. "Typical."
"That explains why you need all these tools and stuff," Said Maya. "But how are we going to fix a Transformer? We don't know anything about them."
"No, but we can definitely try!" Emma just grinned at her and the rest of the pack. "But first, we must all swear to secrecy that no one will tell anyone else about this. Deal?"
They all agreed and took their oaths before getting to work, hooking up wires to the truck and connecting it to a couple of batteries. Emma and Fenrir went about carefully digging out bits of shrapnel and bullet shells and carefully putting them in a bucket nearby. After a bit of digging, Emma found what looked to be an unexploded missile that just grazed a softly-glowing orb of blue energy, almost like one of those plasma ball things that she supposed was the Autobot's power source, and she had Fenrir help her to very carefully extract it and take it outside. Emblazoned onto the casing of the shell were the initials 'M.E.C.H', and this rang all sorts of alarms for the two of them.
"So those cyber-terrorists are hunting the Autobots?" Fenrir wondered.
"If that's the case, why hasn't the government tried to help?" Emma added.
Fenrir just sighed as they carefully set down the missile. "We'll call the police to deal with that later."
"Yeah, I think so, too."
The two walked back inside just as the others had finally finished up and were ready to try and shock the Autobot back to life. On Emma's orders, Timaeus sent about a small amount of voltage through the wires, and the engine rumbled a few times, but faded out. "Again," Emma told him. "Up the voltage a little bit." Timaeus tried again and this time the engine roared once, but fell quiet again. One more time, Timaeus cranked up the voltage and added another battery to the circuit and flipped the switch. The engine roared, and metal began to shift and clank together as a mighty battle cry echoed through the barn and the ears of the children, who all ducked for cover as the Autobot transformed and stood. Fenrir quickly grabbed Emma and ducked behind a barrel, but the two of them ducked their heads out from behind their cover to watch.
"I'LL KILL YOU!" The Autobot bellowed, his voice panicked, but furious. He tried to reach for something mounted on his back and managed to pull out something that looked like a triple-barrelled shotgun before he collapsed to the ground and cried out in pain. His fall sent the hiding places of some of the children flying and they raced out to the next that they could find with the Autobot swinging around his shotgun at them as he stood and backed himself into a corner. "I'll kill you! Stay back!" He accidentally knocked over Fenrir and Emma's hiding spot and Emma tripped over and wound up under the barrels of the gun. "Easy, human," The Autobot rumbled, glaring down at the red-haired girl.
Emma rolled onto her back and cautiously got to her feet, holding up her hands. "Please, don't hurt us…you drove into my barn last night, you were really badly hurt and my friends and I were trying to fix you." The barrels, easily the size of the tires on old Peter's truck, were slowly lifted away from her and Emma could almost hear her heart racing in her ears. The Autobot backed himself further away from her, into the shadows where his glowing blue optics, filled with fear and pain, flicked over himself and the cowering teenagers.
"Weapons system…d-damaged…" He coughed a few times and leaned against a support beam, looking confused.
"It must have been that missile we took out of you," Emma told him. "You're wounded, but it's going to be okay now. No one's going to hurt you here. You're safe and we're going to help you. My name's Emma Craven." The other members of the pack gathered around her with Fenrir not that far behind her.
"Emma…" The Autobot seemed to be trying out her name in that tired voice of his as he cautiously stepped closer to the group. He leaned against another support beam and turned his optics on her, and Emma could see sadness in them- it made her heart ache. "I am in your debt. My name is Optimus Prime." Then, he seemed to remember something. "M-my Autobots…! They are in danger!" He took one step forward, but wound up dropping his shotgun and collapsed to the floor, almost at Emma's feet, and a chunk of his helm just fell off maybe two feet away from her as if it had only been kept attached with just tape. Optimus held his head in pain as some strange liquid began to bleed out of where the metal had fallen. "I need to go, I need to go now…!"
Emma's heart ached again and she took a step towards him. "How far do you think you're going to get?" She asked. "You're in no condition to go anywhere, not like this!" She stopped when she saw Optimus cower away from her, optics meeting her bright blue eyes for a moment. "Who did this to you?" She asked, her tone more gentle. "What happened?"
"An ambush," Replied Optimus. "A trap…set by humans." He coughed again, and it looked like it hurt for the poor guy to breathe. "I escaped…and took this form…"
"You were granted sanctuary, weren't you?" Maya piped up. "You're on our side, why would humans hurt you?"
"I do not know…" Optimus tried again to rise to his feet. "But they were not alone…" He grasped his side and tried to steady himself. He looked so tired. "My Autobots…can…repair me…"
"Do you really think you can reach them?" Emma took a small step forward and held out her hand. "I know we're just kids, but…we can try to fix you. I'm just asking you to trust us. I'll let you stay here as long as you need to until you're ready to leave, no one will make you stay. I promise."
Optimus looked over the group, then to Emma's outstretched hand. Hesitantly, he knelt and extended his index finger to gently touch it against the human girl's hand in a sort-of handshake, but suddenly, he collapsed to the floor again in a painful and undignified heap, warranting Emma to rush to his side and lay her hands against his arm, calling out his name as his optics began to flicker.
“I beg you,” He croaked out weakly. “If the Autobots search for me here…grant them sanctuary.”
“O-of course,” Emma cried. “Of course I will, Optimus, just…just try to hang on.” She leaned her head against his arm with a sigh. “It’s all going to be okay.”