| title= Change of Pace

| characters= Hot Rod, Arcee, Imager, Smokescreen

| location= Tarn (City)

| tp=I Slept Through The Apocalypse

| summary= A drive towards Tarn turns into a high speed chase away to Iacon. This in turn becomes a no speed conversation. Finally, and eventually, it turns into talking about feelings. It was either that or let Arcee overtake Hot Rod.


Without Autobots or Decepticons, the silent planet of Cybertron is doing....well! Perhaps there's something to be said for that if one looked deep enough for a meaning. But an empty planet still had secrets to tell. Energon to collect. Which is why the Autobots, in force, were in motion to the city of Tarn. Long held as the start of the war, the city sits empty, its tall spires, and twisting drill-like castles stand as only a haunting reminder of everything and everyone that came before. Even as the bots are in transit to the city, its purple steel construction gleams in the distance. It should only be another cyberhour before the group reaches the destination.

<Autobot> Imager says, "uhhh yeah"

<Autobot> Imager says, "so thanks for know...abandoning me here and lettin me go out on my lonesome"

<Autobot> Imager says, "but i figure that Tarn's ole comm-ray...that's a communication array for you all not in Operations.  anyway it might have something to help us figure out things"

Arcee darts ahead to gracefully transform into her pink Cybertronian Tech Car, engine purring, ready to go!

Pink Saturn Sky <Arcee> has been accustomed to taking the initiative in recent searches, out of strong-willed stubbornness to thrive if nothing else. She's been wanting to investigate Tarn a little closer for a while now. She's invited a small posse to head out into the area. "<< Okay, obviously, we're here to get the comm-ray, >>" she tells the others. "<< But don't assume we're alone. There could very well be hideouts here. This place was once swarming with insurgent-types, and it might be dangerous to assume we've got the place to ourselves. So keep an optic on the scanners. >>" Imager kneels, then splits as she lays flat, then outer casing of her hovercraft mode sealing into position around her.

Datsun 280ZX Turbo Rally Car #38 <Smokescreen> is driving alongside Arcee but slightly back a bit. <<Don't worry about anyne left around here, Arcee. If we do run across any we might be able to find out a bit more of whats going on -- at least I will try.>>

So much distance traveled already, so much scenery passed by and so many opportunities for some real driving ignored... Hot Rod's engine's barely reaching tickover. Not a sound comes from his housing. Uncharacteristically quiet. Not just because of where he's going or when it takes him back to either. For such prominent paintwork and bold bodywork Hot Rod's mid way through the convoy trying, for once, not to draw the optic of anyone else. In fact, like his engine... he's been rather quiet. In fact... throughout the whole long journey... he's said nothing at all.

"ehhh, maybe? I mean hey, we come across some of those Con sympathizers, maybe they can at least tell us stuff while we shoot at em!" Dust picks up as the heavy hovercraft lags a little behind, "Oh hey! You guys, you remember when the power went put, and those guys in Megatron Masks showed up with sledgehammers, and they started attacking everyone?....Course you'd know, 'Cee, you were sorta leadin the troops in Tarn back in that time. Always did wonder how that was gonna play out, but I guess that's a plotline that got left unresolved."

More road, more silence, "Erm, case report, not plotline. I don't know why I said that other thing..."

"Wow you mechs are all sorts-a quiet today. Sorta like being alone."

Pink Saturn Sky <Arcee> slows slightly, then turns down another avenue which brings them on a more direct course to their main destination. "<< Yesss...I remember them...very annoying, those masked maniacs. >>" She adjusts her speed so that she's fairly even with Smokescreen, then she directs a question back at Hot Rod, "<< Hey, Rod, you alright? Is something bothering you? >>"

<<Don't remember it.>> Smokescreen says as he drives along. <<Megs in Megatron masks? Do tell.>>

A downshift in gear slots into place without a noise, and a silent and internal nod of approval at the rebuilt gearbox, Hot Rod whispers onward just following the pack. Breaking the silence to reply to the question directed his way Hot Rod transmits "<< ... I'm peachy. Just keeping my scanners on the road's all. >>"

<<Uhhhhhhh, I mean Cee can tell it better than me, 'course>> She continues before Arcee can do so, <<She and Prowl were workin together in Tarn, you know that afthole that 'huffs' all the time? Blast Off? Well that drunk was gettin his goon squad together to rile up everyone, and Prowl and Cee over here were tryin to keep things simple. 'use a gentle hand'...Hey Rod, that's what you said right?>> She veers over towards Hot Rod as if to wake him up in Arcee's words didn't <<Somethin like, 'treat em with a firm but gentle hand' Yeah...then those guys with the ole Slagmaker masks showed up, shut the power off, and they started doin riots and really started bustin up the joint. Sledgehammers to the inhabitants. Oh yeah, I remember now, remember that...that creepy talker Femme, the one with four arms? Forget her name, but was lookin like she was behind it all.>>

Datsun 280ZX Turbo Rally Car #38 <Smokescreen> has been listening to everyone as they drive and once Imager is done he says <<4 arms? That sounds... intriguing.>> he snickers slightly. <<So who was she? What happened in the end?>>

"<< Just like many of the...strange denizens of Tarn, that was one mystery we weren't able to solve, because they struck once, and then they vanished into the night, >>" Arcee explains to Smokescreen. "<< I'd like to think that would never happen again, but...hey, who knows. If we end up solving the mystery of where everyone went, then we may need to deal with them again. What comes around goes around. >>" She's silent for a moment, then she says to Rod, "<< That doesn't sound me. >>"

<<You know, we never really did talk about what we've figured out so far. I mean I know things are kinda weird...and quiet yah, but without Punch blahblahblahing about OPERATIONAL SECURITY, maybe we should actually you know...TALK about things. So whatcha all think happened? I mean, that is, I hadn't really said word two to ya over there Rodder.>> She coughs antagonizingly, <<But seems like you're just as 'not knowing what happened' as much as the rest of us, right?>>

<Autobot> Imager says, "you're not peach, you're pink"

<Autobot> Imager says, "okay the road is long, game time.   If you HAD to have one Decepticon return back, who is it you'd want to pick?  I'm talkin named guy, not some twerp I generally step on"

<Autobot> Arcee says, "Hm. Let me think about this one..."

The veer in his direction is responded to with a sharp drop in speed and a sharper dropping back, the self proclaimed racer giving up place and position. Now at the tail end of the pack Hot Rod replies to the second question as cool and unenthused as he was with the first. He transmits "<< Yeah? Really? I'll take your word for it. >>"

At this point Hot Rod's engine's that little bit quieter as he's coasting to stay in place as a back marker for the group Hot Rod repeats to Arcee, "<< Just. Peachy. >>" Imager's next question is met withanother flat transmission, "<< Probably tripped and fell. Not like I'm wise enough to know what's going on... >>"

Pink Saturn Sky <Arcee> ponders Imager's question. "<< I think that a race more advanced than our own has staged a mass abduction, either as a scientific experiement, or a psychological one to see how the remaining population reacts, >>" she admits. As Rod spits some more sarcastic comments, the pink femme sighs. "<< You're not dumb, and I don't know why you're acting like this, to be honest. So could you cut the slag-tastic commentary and just come out with whatever's really on your mind? >>"

Since group is going fairly slow, keeping their optics peeled. Imager takes to the front, and starts to brake...and brake...and brake. The big fat hovercraft does what she can, wordlessly, to bring the convoy to a halt.

The middle of the hovercraft stamps down some feet as it splits in half, folding upward into the stout Femme. She immediately turns to Hot Rod, a scowl on her face and a hand on her hip. "Okay I think we gotta talk about this, so fine, it'll be me." She tilts her head to the side, annoyed, then looks back. Trying to manage a certain drawl to her voice, she points a finger at Hot Rod. "Alright now there kid, you're gonna quit your sulkin right pronto. There's things afoot, people missin, and all sorts of weird-aft Insecticons crawlin around our good friends on Earth. Now I get it. Things aren't lookin good, you're not lookin good, and you're back to all sorts of doubtin whats real and what aint. But the only thing real out there is the good that you do, so stop your mopin about, altmode up, and put your manifolds into it, because we've got a mystery to do, and we've got some real folks still countin on us. And if you don't, Imma wrangle you up myself and throw ya to the Insecticons." She raises a fist to back up her words as she channels the words of her dear old CO, Ironhide. The hovercraft shudders, then folds in half. Imager stands up from around it, her ramplates becoming her pauldrons as the last step.

The pink Cybertronian tech car splits apart to reveal Autobot Warrior Arcee! She's ready to kick aft!

Fully repaired and operational, every part working perfectly, but that doesn't stop Hot Rod from still hurting. The setting, and reminder, of Megatron isn't helping either. A two pronged confrontation isn't making things sit any easier. Transforming and striding straight up to Imager Hot rod says, clear commanding and without doubt, "Yeah? You'll throw me where?"

His hand now replaced with the surgical multitool Hot Rod waves it in Imagers face and adds, "Not before you tak a nice long dihydrogen monoxide bath. I'm out here just trying to get on with the next thing like anyone else. While there are people who need attention back at Iacon General. Get off my case." The tool recedes to be replaced with his hand once more to wave Imager off as Hot Rod concludes, "Whatever." Hot Rod doesn't even look at Arcee. He's cut the commentary too so he says nothing.

Arcee transforms, and tries to insert herself between Imager and Rod. "Stop it! Just stop it. We can't make any progress as long as this is going on. We won't come any closer to solving this if we turn on each other!"

Imager looks a little dismayed as Hot Rod waves a weapon at her. She tilts her head at him in sheer disbelief and attitude, "First off, I think threatening me with water is considered a war crime, and secondly, I'm pretty sure that right now, I could put it to ya." Imager moved forward towards the shorter Hot Rod, when predictably, Arcee intervened. She peers over the pink one at Hot Rod, obviously incensed by the display. After a moment she says, "Mebbe I shoulda tried the Kup angle." She puts a hand to her chin, as she tries out her Kup impression, a gravelly tone that is a bit too deep to really fit the old codgerbot. "Kid, I seen a lotta things out here in the galaxy. And the only thing that surprises me is the way mechs cant see whats in front of their optics. Why I remember a time back on Blotto-Z when..."

 She grins, her mood brightening a bit, "Hey that was pretty good I think. Mebbe I'll try Magnus out next." She turns her back to Rod and Cee as she starts emphasizing words "I can't DEAL with that now...I CAN'T deal with that...I can't deal with that NOW...."

Datsun 280ZX Turbo Rally Car #38 <Smokescreen> has stayed out of all of this and simply transforms and keeps an optic on their surroundings while these two work this out. Datsun 280ZX Turbo Rally Car #38 <Smokescreen> transforms into his Smokescreen mode.

Hot Rod's already a few steps away from Arcee and Imager. It hurts alright. Hurts to think... that all he's good for is to be a matrix holder. That when it comes down to it they trust and respect it. Not him. Fine then. Doesn't mean he has to like it though. Hot Rod spins round and says, "Yeah? Matrix or no, it's my cpu ident that's the leader of the Autobots. Threatening to throw me to insecticons means yours is worse, can be dealt with first and I can pull rank on you."

His gaze blazes over to Arcee "Yeah. I get it. You think without the Matrix I'm good for nothing. Great. Think what you like. Doen't make you any less wrong than you already are." Transforming and tearing up the ground beneath his wheels, Hot Rod moves off letting the engine roar drown out everything else. Especially his thoughts.

(A short time later, somewhere outside of Iacon...)

A different pace for a different race is what Hot Rod's adopting right now. Jets of flame vent from his exposed engine, the roar of noise is only matched in impressivness by the cloud of dust he's kicking up in his wake. Finally. Freedom. Something they can't take from him and give to it. He can drive. Faster and better than anybody. Up to now he's had his radio off. However with the gates of Retoris coming into view he reactivates his comms to transmit "<< Retoris! I'm coming up fast. Faster than you think! Dust off the winners enclosure as I'll be there before you know it! >>"

As soon as Arcee picks up the comm signal, she radios Rod, "<< Why are you doing this?? You want leadership and you want respect, but you're acting like you're completely insane! If you were in my position, would *you* give Hot Rod any responsibility as he went tearing around like a wildmech through different polities, forcing his friends to chase him around?? Think about it. >>"

Hot Rod brakes hard. So much so he's lost in his own dustcloud. Once it clears enough it can be seen he's transformed and transmitting "<< I don't want leadership. I don't want respect. I don't get a choice in the matter! The Matrix needs me so it can do what it wants to do and all of you can hit a sleep cycle more soundly knowing it's got all the answers. Fine. I'm just sore that I was dumb enough to believe for a microsecond that I added up somewhere!" >>"

Dusting himself off and trying, but failing, to stay the thoughts in his head Hot Rod adds, "<< How do you think that feels... huh? All the time knowing that and having the constant reminder of who you killed in your chest! And I still do it! Because it's the right thing to do. So I won't let anyone down. Even him. But a whole tick passes without my Matrix bearing and everyone couldn't care less anymore. >>"

A sigh breaks up what he's saying and also signals the motor of his anger's burned out. He adds, head looking floorward, tone severely softened "<< So, yeah, all that hit hard and I failed at biting down on it. Also thought, at least, doing a few more shifts where I was actually helping might help clear some of this mess up... >>" The call goes silent as Hot Rod runs out of things to say.

Arcee's in the vicinity somewhere. Rod's extra burst of speed early-on has her still trailing a bit behind. In a softer tone, she radios, "<< I don't pretend to understand how you feel right now, but you're very wrong about no one caring. The truth is exactly the opposite. I want you to be reunited with the Matrix for more than one understand that, right? You fell from orbit, and landed on your processor. And we have //no experienced medics// available in Iacon to determine the extent of the interior damage you took. None. We have drones to do the simple stuff, but there could be some serious internal injuries. Far as I know, there's two recourses: hope to Vector Sigma that we find First Aid one of these cycles, OR, have the Matrix check you out. Does that sound unreasonable? >>"

"<< What about... >>" Hot Rod stops transmitting as he glances up and decides his voice'll carry far enough, "What about the scans I took? The repairs I already made? The recalibrations I gave the drones so they're working better? I'm no First Aid but I studied and got my qualifications all the same. I've done a residency."

Hot Rod goes back to looking at the floor, defeated, "I'm not the best at it but I'm a trained medic. Might be a little rusty but, since it was all before the Matrix, no one knows, or cares about that." Odd really. It's like racing. Things make sense for a change. Not another thing to screw up like... these days? Take your pick.

When Arcee gets close enough and is finally convinced that Rod is calm enough not to take off again, she transforms and walks over to him. "You do great repair work, why do you think when we got back to Iacon I said it was a great decision that you were headed down to Iacon Medical to help out? ...You do remember that, right? I don't know where you get this idea that no one cares. If I didn't care, I wouldn't have gone looking for you in the first place, Rod. Please...give me the benefit of the doubt, here. I'm doing the very best I can with what we have. It's very stressful. I apologize if I hurt your feelings, it's not at all what I was trying to do."

It's lucky Hot Rod's still looking at the floor. As it's the only way he can hide his facial expression. That twitchy trying to be a frown and smile at the same time which, if it could speak for itself, would say that Rod knows Arcee's right but he's not quite ready to admit it. That not being said he half says half mumbles, "Isn't like I wasn't going to load it anyway. Soon as Punch gets it safely back. Just, not great to wake up and find out you come in second place to yourself."

Continuing to look down he holds up his right arm and says, "After I'd scanned myself but before the drones got to work on my internal repairs I had to fix the endostructure to this. I took it of and repaired it..." There's no noise. No one's trying not to laugh "... single..." Okay. Maybe a faint sound that could be muffled laughter "... handedly!" Now Hot Rod's looking at the floor in the vain hope it's not giving away his giggling.

Arcee smirks, placing her hands on her hips. "Ha-ha," she exclaims. "...Horrible joke, but honestly, not bad work. Look, please just try and talk to me next time? I don't want to torque you off so badly that you run away, especially at a time like this. All I was trying to do at the time was 'triage' the situation. It probably came across as bossy, but it's only been Punch and myself for a while, with Smokescreen mostly on Earth. That's more than a little stretched thin."

Trying to look up whilst keeping his neck bent is a tricky feat. Like small earth creatures that will try to eat something they've been told they're not allowed to have whilst simultaneously walking away from said forbidden food to minimise the amount of irritation their owners display. Hot Rod manages reasonably well and says, very quietly, "I'm sorry. I let talk of it just push too many buttons. I did that to myself. It's not anyone else's fault. Especially not yours." Looking up properly Hot Rod has the startings of a smile. "I'll talk to you. So there won't be a next time. Not apologising to Imager though." Hot Rod adds with the little defiance he can command at the end of speaking.

Arcee chuckles. "Imager is how Imager is," she says. "I don't prompt her to say anything she says; all of her opinions are strictly her own. But speaking for myself, I'm very glad that we can talk openly about these things. Leader-wise...we've all been 'in charge', because there's only been one objective: to find out where everyone's gone. That's just how it's operated. As you might have heard, we're currently on a cease-fire with the Decepticons. And we're /supposed/ to be sharing information with them. I'm not at all sure if they're going to hold their word on that, but so far, we've managed to keep a truce at least. We'll never get answers if we revert back to territorial wars when our own mechs are out there needing rescue."

Hot Rod shrugs, "They're Decepticons. All we can do is deal with it when they break the agreement." Stopping the Decepticons. Not like it's the first time that's on the agenda and certainly not the last that they'll have to do it with their hands tied in some way either. Hot Rod then brightens and says, "Yeah. Sharing information. Punch told me as he got me caught up. He tell you the plan he's got for that?" At this point he's grinning. "Yeah. I'll have to be there for that."

Arcee nods slowly. "I've heard it...what's that Earth saying, 'Be careful what you ask for because you just might get it?'" She stares up toward the sky, as if looking for answers. "I suppose Tarn can wait another day. Looks like you managed to outrun both Smokescreen and Imager! ...But not me."

"Yeah. I can out-race and outrun just about anybody. You though... another few megamiles and you'd have had me. Not that I'm ever gonna admit that I said it. Like ever." Hot Rod admits. After a pause he curiously asks, "How'd you manage to keep gaining ground on me? I had a good start on you and everything. Really cool."

"Because I /know/ you, Rod, I mean...I've known you for a really long time. You have predictable patterns," Arcee admits. "Sometimes I can just sense what you're going to do. It isn't about mind-reading, it's just knowing how you are." She pauses, then adds, "...Look, I'm going to head back to my hab. Maybe next cycle we can tackle Tarn, together. What do you think?"

"Predictable? Me? No way." Hot Rod practically squeaks. He usually doesn't know what he's going to do next until he's doing it. The idea that some else knows what he's thinking when he doesn't think it himself... that's too much to try and work out. Instead he says, "I think... Tarn, yeah, we should look around when we get a chance. So next cycle. You got it. I also think..." then Hot Rod mumbles something incomprehensible before saying "... Ha! Didn't predict that one!" Grinning proudly has says, as he motions towards the gates and takes a half step to indicate finishing the journey on foot insetad of on four wheels... "C'mon. Let's get back."

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