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Baby Girl

Chapter Text

Cal Banes was no fool. He knew he'd done wrong and had to pay for it. He knew that if he kept his nose clean in prison, he'd be able to get out on parole and see his Baby Girl sooner. Her biweekly letters and monthly visits kept him going, but he wanted to be able to talk to his daughter without his fellow inmates and the prison guards standing around.

So when he was granted parole, Cal couldn't be happier. He took the bus from prison to his garage, which was now being managed by his best friend Marty. Marty and his wife had been looking out for Mikaela since his incarceration. He would be there to meet Cal today, along with Mikaela's boyfriend. Cal was looking forward to seeing his old friend after all these years. This boyfriend, Sam Wickity (Witicky?), however... Like any good father, Cal didn't believe that there was any boy deserving of his Baby Girl, although Mikaela had told him in her letters that she was very happy with Sam. Still, he had to see the boy for himself and make his own judgements.

The garage was a small business, with employees coming and going all the time, so there wasn't anyone he recognized when he entered. When he mentioned his name to the young man at the desk, however, the kid's eyes brightened, and he eagerly showed Cal the back area. The man hadn't even gotten halfway through the door when he heard a squeal and was practically tackled by a black-haired beauty of twenty. "Daddy!" Mikaela gasped, "I'm so glad you're home!"

Cal grinned and hugged his daughter back. "I missed you, Baby Girl," he murmured. Over her head he saw Marty and a brown-haired boy Mikaela's age smiling at the pair. He grinned at his friend, but fixed the boy with a suspicious glare.

Mikaela pulled away. "Dad, there's someone I want you to meet," she stated, darting over to the boy and dragging him over. The young man nearly tripped, straightened up and ran his fingers through his hair. "This is my boyfriend of four years, Sam Witwicky."

Witwicky gave Cal a nervous smile and stuck out his hand. "Pleased to meet you, sir," he said, at least managing to keep a stutter out of his voice, "Mikaela's told me a lot about you. Said you taught her pretty much everything she knows about cars."

Cal nodded, still keeping a cool look on his face. "She's mentioned you, too." He didn't add anything more.

Mikaela gave him a sharp glance of her own. "Dad, don't you dare start. If you scare him away, I will never forgive you."

Marty snorted. "If Joey and I can't scare Sam away from her, I doubt you can, Cal."

"Who?" Cal asked.

Mikaela rolled her eyes. "Dr. Joey Landsdown, a friend and sort of co-worker of mine. He's appointed himself as my unofficial big brother figure after I started working at the base." Cal recalled one of her letters about a year and a half ago, telling about how she'd gotten a job as a mechanic at a new army base about an hour away from Tranquility. It'd thrown him a bit, since military bases didn't usually hire civilians, but apparently there was some top-secret stuff they needed experts working on, so special clearance was given to those who qualified, based more on their skills than actual on-paper qualifications. Mikaela had some sort of contact with one of the soldiers and had gotten an interview.

In fact, she'd mentioned a 'Joey' a couple times, along with a 'Doc Hatchett' and some pair of twins named Matty and Scotty, who were always fooling around. Mikaela had complained about having to buff dents and scratches out of their cars every other day.

Anyway, even if Marty and this Joey guy didn't scare Witwicky, they weren't Mikaela's dad. And only a Mama Bear could compare to a father looking out for his Baby Girl.

About a week after Cal was released, he'd gotten into a fairly simple routine. Every morning, he'd wake up, eat breakfast, and head to the garage with Mikaela and Sam in the boy's tricked-out yellow and black '08 Chevrolet Camaro. He'd work until lunchtime, at which point the famous Dr. Joey Landsdown would sometimes join them.

Cal took an instant liking to the guy. He was quiet and clearly cared for Mikaela, but not like he was interested in her, and nobody dared upset her for fear of incurring his wrath (which was apparently a rare sight, according to Sam, but still terrifying when it did happen). He was a little odd, though. He spoke rather formally, and sometimes he'd stare at Cal like he had no clue what he'd just said. He jumped slightly at loud noises and sometimes could tell what someone was doing without even looking. He said he was both a medical doctor and a mechanic (Cal was impressed at how he could do both, and he was still in his late twenties), one of Mikaela's sort-of bosses at the base, but couldn't tell Cal more than that – classified stuff, and all.

Cal had to wonder exactly how Mikaela had gotten such a job right out of high school. Even though she was a damn good mechanic, why give her the job instead of one of the military's leading experts? Unfortunately, the reason for her acceptance was also classified, but apparently Sam's parents knew about it, and Joey was trying to appeal to get Cal clearance.

It was at the end of a particularly late shift when it happened. Cal had gone under an old Mazda to fix a hole in its undercarriage. Then Bones had come wandering in – the dog had free reign of the place – and there had been a strange whirring sound, along with some muttering. The weird thing was that Cal had been the only person in the room last he checked.

"Stupid mutt! Get off me! I dunno why Warrior Goddess keeps you around, you sonuvabitch! Oh wait, that ain't an insult to ya. Hey! That's my arm!"

Cal wheeled out from under the car, wondering who the hell was talking and how they'd gotten in without his notice.

He sure as hell wasn't expecting the sight that met his eyes.

Bones had clambered up onto a short stool and was balancing with his front paws on the table, his jaws clenched around something long and made of metal. That something was attached to a small metal... robot... thing, with red eyes.

Cal did the first thing that came to mind.

He yelled and threw a heavy wrench at it.

The robot flew off the table, and Cal took the opportunity to grab Bones and run out of the room. He slammed the door behind him just as Mikaela came running over. "Dad?" she asked, frantic.

Cal started hurrying her in the other direction. "Something's in the shop, Baby Girl. It looks like some kind of robot, or I don't know what. But we need to get out of here and call the cops, or the FBI..."

"A robot?" Mikaela asked, suddenly suspicious. She stopped running, and Cal kept trying to push her along. "About knee-height, with a really foul attitude?" She cursed. "I'm going to weld his aft to the ceiling!" And with that, she moved around him and stormed back into the shop area.

Cal set Bones down and chased after her. "Mikaela, wait! It could be dangerous!"

But she ignored him and pushed the door open angrily. "WHEELIE!" She yelled. She went behind the desk and bent down, and emerged seconds later, holding the robot by its neck. "What the Pit, Wheelie?! How could you be so fragging stupid?! You nearly gave him a heart attack!"

"Hey, it's not my fault!" The robot, 'Wheelie', argued in a whiny voice, "Your big slobbery mutt tried to eat me again! Was I supposed to just sit there and do nothing?!"

Mikaela sighed heavily, dropping the robot on the table. "I suppose not. But that's not gonna stop Prowl from having your helm when he finds out."

Cal found his voice, which had abandoned him when his daughter had started yelling at the robot. "Mikaela?" he asked, his tone a whole lot calmer than he felt, "You know that thing?"

She pulled up a stool. "Better sit down, Dad," she sighed, pointing to another, "This is going to be hard to explain."

He stayed in the doorway, not wanting to go anywhere near the robot. "I'll stay here, thanks."

Mikaela gave him a look. "He's not going to bite. He knows I'll torch his optic again if he does anything." The robot shuddered. "And he'll be quiet during the entire explanation, too."

Cal hesitantly sat down. "I'm guessing this has something to do with your job at the army base?"

She nodded. "Four years ago, I was at a party at Tranquility Lake, and I got into an argument with Trent, my boyfriend at the time. I decided to walk home, but Sam offered me a ride. His car was acting really weird; it drove itself into a lover's lane and wouldn't start back up until I started walking away again."

Cal raised his eyebrows. "Did... you just say it drove itself?"

"Yep." She nodded casually. "The next day, I saw Sam chasing the car on his mom's bike. I followed on my scooter, thinking he'd had some kind of mental breakdown, and then he crashed into me coming the other direction because he was being chased by a killer alien robot that turned into an evil police car."

She paused, clearly expecting a reaction from him.

She was correct. "An alien robot?" Cal looked over to the one on the table just a foot away. "Like this one?"

Mikaela nodded again. "Yes, Dad, an alien robot. By the way, you should close the door. Sam's the only other human around here who knows." Cal did as she suggested. "The robots, called Cybertronians, are divided into two factions, have been for thousands of years. One faction is called the Decepticons; they just want to destroy everything that stands in their way to power and domination. But the others, the Autobots, all have respect for sentient life, so they're trying to stop the Decepticons. They were both looking for this very powerful object called the All-Spark, which was on Earth. Sam's great-great-grandfather discovered the leader of the Decepticons frozen in the Arctic after he crash-landed, and one of his old belongings wound up containing information on the location of the All-Spark. That's what Barricade – the police car Decepticon – was after Sam for, because it now belonged to him. There was a whole lot of robot smackdown when Sam's car – who was actually an Autobot named Bumblebee – came to our rescue, and we met four other Autobots. Then we were taken by some government group who were researching the Cybertronians. They had the All-Spark and the Decepticon leader, Megatron, on ice in their base, but some of his minions attacked and set him free. We went with some soldiers who'd survived an attack overseas into Mission City to air-lift the All-Spark out."

"Mission City?" Cal interrupted, "The city that got torn up by terrorists?!"

"Alien terrorists, Dad. There was a huge battle between the Autobots and Decepticons, though one 'Con was taken down solely by humans – he was one of the pair that attacked in Quatar, so it was a bit of a revenge killing. Sam and I were in the middle of the whole thing; Sam actually killed Megatron by shoving the All-Spark into his Spark – like his heart – and causing a serious power overload."

Cal blinked. Scrawny Sam had killed an evil alien robot?

"Yeah, I know. It's hard to believe, but it's true. After that, the Autobots made an alliance with the UN. Now there's a special top-secret military division that fights alongside them, since the remaining Decepticons are still out there, and they even managed to bring Megatron back to life."

Cal was a little unnerved about the whole bringing-the-evil-overlord-back-to-life thing, but he remembered something else Mikaela said. "A military division? As in the one you work for?"

"After another incident in Egypt, which is a whole other long story, I helped the Autobot medic Ratchet repair some of his comrades, and he decided it would be a good idea to have a team of humans to help him out, since we could get into places he and Jolt can't. Since I already had a familiarity with the workings of a Cybertronian, and I knew all about the Autobots, and I had long since earned their trust, I was one of the first picked. They let me lead all the civilians they've hired, which would be only four at this point. But in the Med Bay, I have the same authority as my military counterpart, Sgt. Knight – as in I get to order his guys around when he's not there." She smirked.

Cal was about to ask another question, but Mikaela's cell phone rang as he opened his mouth. "Wo-oh! Wo-oh! I'm always gonna be the last one stand-"

"What's up, Sides?" She looked up at Cal and mouthed 'Autobot'. "How goes the Vegas assignment?" Then she paled at something this 'Sides' guys said. "How bad? ... Okay, I can be at the base in... oh, dammit, Sam and Bee are out of town! ... You sure? ... Yeah, I can do that. I'll have everything ready by the time you get here. ... Yeah, I know, I've got a couple spares. Hurry." Mikaela hung up without saying goodbye.

"What's he want?" Wheelie asked, "Is he comin' here? I don't like that guy, those blades of his make me nervous. He's always threatening to turn me into scrap metal."

Mikaela disregarded the small robot’s worries completely. "He was with Mirage and Jolt on a scouting mission outside Las Vegas. They tangled with a Decepticon Seeker and had to retreat when Jolt got hurt." She got up and started for the door, now all serious and business-like. "An extra hour of travel might kill him, and Ratchet's still on Diego Garcia, so they're bringing him here. I need to clear the place and call Bruce and Knight and the others, and get all my equipment together." She looked over at Cal. "You're about to meet some Autobots, Dad. And maybe helping me save one."

Chapter Text

Cal had been given the rest of the basics on the Autobots as he, Mikaela, and Marty sent the rest of the employees home early. Marty was allowed to know that there was something top-secret going on, but nothing more, so he left minutes later. It was one of the reasons Cal trusted the guy so much; he knew when to keep secrets and when not to pry.

As for Cal and Mikaela, they were outfitted in special radiation-protective jumpsuits that she'd pulled out of a large safe hidden in a back room. Apparently the garage had been renovated and outfitted as an emergency medical stop for the Autobots, so she had extra copies of some rather... unique tools stored there as well.

"So who exactly are these guys?" Cal asked as they waited.

"Mirage is one of the newer arrivals on Earth, specializes in stealth and camouflage, which makes sense, since he can turn invisible. Sideswipe was one of the first to land after Mission City, and he's a frontline soldier. Jolt is Ratchet's aide, another medic, which is why we started working so closely that he became my Guardian."

"Your what?"

"Some of the Autobots have formed tight bonds with specific humans, they become this person's Guardian – their partner, protector, best friend, whatever. That's why you see Jolt around so often."

"I do?"

She smacked herself in the forehead. "Right, I didn't tell you. Since one of their inventors came, the Autobots have the ability to create holoforms, like holograms, only solid. Pretty much their own human bodies. And with those come human names, some of which were picked out of a phone book, but most are derived from their own names. You know Jolt as Joey Landsdown."

Joey? He was an Autobot? Cal couldn't imagine the quiet young man as an alien robot warrior. But this explained why Cal had found him odd – he wasn't even human.

Wait a minute, he was the one who was injured? Strange though he was, Cal had rather liked him, and couldn't help but worry about how badly he might be hurt.

"Anyone else I know an Autobot?"

Mikaela kept her eyes on the road, as if trying to will them closer with her gaze. "No, you haven't met them. I've told you about Ratchet in my letters, though, as Dr. Hatchett. And Matty and Scotty Wilson – their last name was among those taken from a phone book* – are the twins Mudflap and Skids. They're always getting into fights with each other and getting hurt, just being reckless idiots. Then there's Bumblebee, Sam's Guardian, who pretends to be his cousin Brady Witwicky AND poses as his Camaro." A small smile appeared on her face. "You should've seen his mother's reaction. Judy's sweet if she likes you, but she can be a little territorial, and she didn't like the idea of a 'psychotic alien' intruding on her family at first. She's gotten used to the Autobots now, though. I think the holoforms helped; she can talk to their human faces now, and she's stopped carrying the baseball bat around when they visit."

A pair of headlights speeding towards them alerted them to the Autobots' arrival. A silver Corvette Stingray and a black and dark silver Ferrari 458 Italia came out of the night and screeched into the open garage door. A beat-up dark blue Chevrolet Volt was tied to the back of the Stingray.

As soon as Mikaela closed the door behind them, the Ferrari shifted, and transformed into a giant humanoid robot. Cal instinctively took a couple steps back. It was one thing to be told about how big they were; it was another to actually see it. The Ferrari fixed him a glare with his intense blue eyes. "What's this guy doin' here? I don't recognize him." Cal was surprised to realize he had an Italian accent. Did he spend too much time on duty in Italy, or something?

"This is my dad," Mikaela explained, "Wheelie got careless and exposed himself."

"No surprise there." A tall black man got out of the Stingray's driver's seat, and a wiry redheaded man came from the passenger's side. Cal wondered which one was the holo-whatever thingy. "Little robo-rat never does know when to shut up." Said robo-rat had been banished from the garage. Apparently he had a habit of getting underfoot.

The black man strode towards Cal and offered his hand, which he took. "Master Sergeant Robert Epps, US Air Force. This is Agent Graham of the British Special Air Service. Your girl here has been trying to get you clearance for weeks. I think this'll speed the process up a bit."

"Okay, we've met and greeted, now let's get to work, ladies," Mikaela growled, walking over to the Volt, "Jolt, can you transform?"

The Stingray detached from the Volt and turned into a robot. So neither man was the hologram. "He slipped into stasis on the way here. Hope you know where the chestplate goes in his alt mode. And his left arm. And his right."

"Get him up on the rack, I can get under him from there." Mikaela spoke in a tone that left no questioning of her orders. It stunned Cal for a minute, seeing his Baby Girl take charge and give orders to military men and giant alien robots. "Sideswipe, I take it the other 'Bots have been notified?"

"Right before you were," the Stingray replied. So that made the Ferrari Mirage. "And we received an update that Prowl and Sergeant Knight's team are on their way. Bumblebee and Sam are also en-route."

"Good. Now get him up there." Sideswipe did as she said, gently pushing the Volt up on the rails with Mirage's help. "Dad, give me a hand."

Cal joined her. "Okay, so what do I do?" He never thought he'd be staring at a piece of machinery and asking his daughter how to fix it.

"We need to get this piece of shrapnel out, but as soon as it's removed, that Energon line's gonna leak. Energon is their fuel source and blood, but it's seriously dangerous to humans. Like, one drop will give you third-degree chemical burns. These suits will protect us, but we still need to be extremely careful. If we didn't need to get this out ASAP, I'd wait for the rest of the team. But we can't afford to wait. I need you to pull it out slowly while I weld the line shut. As soon as it's out, drop it in that tray over – Epps, bring that tray over here! – and get out of the way. Look for anything else that looks wrong or damaged in some way. We need to get this 'Bot back online now."

It had taken another half-hour for the NEST mechanics to arrive in a military Humvee and a Chevy Impala police cruiser. The cruiser, of course, turned out to be an Autobot named Prowl. Cal didn't particularly like this one; he was super-strict and had given him a dark look that reminded him of too many condescending cops. Agent Graham assured him that it was just a part of Prowl's personality, and to not take it personally. He also assured Cal that the Humvee was just a Humvee.

The mechanics immediately took over once they arrived, and Cal decided it would be best to just stay out of their way. The five of them plus Mikaela moved like a well-oiled machine, calling out one-word phrases that seemed to communicate a whole sentence and handing each other tools without even looking. All the guys were tall and muscular, with military-issue buzz cuts, yet they took orders from this young woman barely out of high school. The only one who didn't was the stacked blond man in his early thirties, Sergeant Marcus Knight, who was her military equivalent in the workshop.

Sam showed up ten minutes later in his Camaro, which turned out to be the Autobot Mikaela had told him about before, Bumblebee. Cal took another look at the young man again and just couldn't reconcile the image with the story of the hero who killed Megatron. Sam hadn't been surprised when he found out how Cal had discovered Wheelie. Apparently the littler robot had a reputation for not being the sharpest tool in the shed.

By the time they'd finished, Jolt had awoken and been able to slowly change into his true form. Sideswipe had reported that Ratchet expected him to stay the night and head back to base in the morning, while the rest of them were to return right away. Soon the garage was empty save for the Banes', Wheelie, Sam, Bumblebee, and Jolt.

Cal opted at first to stay on the far side of the garage, away from the robots. But his curiosity eventually won out, and he wandered over. The others were setting up a pair of cots for Sam and Mikaela to stay with Jolt in case any other problems showed up.

Jolt was lying on the floor hooked up to some sort of pump that fed the glowing blue stuff – Energon, Mikaela had called it – into him. Bumblebee was in his Camaro form next to him, but he was also helping Sam deal with the rusted hinges of his cot. His human form – holoform – was of a man in his late teens with blond hair and blue eyes, wearing a jeans and bright yellow t-shirt with thin black stripes. From what Cal had seen of him, he had an almost childlike personality, and some sort of voice problem. He was at least friendly, compared to the others.

Prowl and Mirage had barely talked to him, and Sideswipe had casually told him that if he breathed a word of the Cybertronians' existence, one of them would step on him. Mikaela had thrown a wrench at the robot, hitting him in the head, and told her father that 'Sides' wasn't being serious, that he just liked scaring the newbies. Graham had just shook his head and commented that Sideswipe was honestly better with Epps' kids.

Cal had taken a liking to the tall black soldier, who was apparently one of the ones who'd been with the Autobots since Mission City, and had learned about alien robots the hard way when a pair of Decepticons had attacked the Soccent base. Mikaela had spoken of those survivors as great guys, who had adapted quite well from fighting against Cybertronians one day and fighting alongside some the next. Epps and their leader even invited the Autobots to interact with their families (Epps had five children and the other man one) on a regular basis.

Agent Graham was also friendly, and had spent most of his visit answering Cal’s questions about what the mechanics were doing and about the other Autobots. Some of the answers were “Sorry, that’s classified”, but he seemed sincerely apologetic about it, and assured Cal that he was likely going to get clearance tow know about that stuff soon.

Sergeant Knight was okay, though Cal hadn't gotten a chance to really learn much about him. He seemed to be okay with Mikaela ordering his guys around when needed, and treated her like an equal.

Cal shook his head. Again his thoughts were coming back to how much his Baby Girl was growing up. He supposed every father went through this, but how many of them had to add secret military divisions and alien robots wars to the situation? Only him (for now, as Epps' eldest was in her teens). She was only twenty years old, and she had already been in two war zones, gotten a job in a top-secret military facility, and was in a serious relationship. The latter had Cal freaking out more than anything else.

"Dad?" Cal looked over at Mikaela. "We're going to run over to the house for toothbrushes and stuff. You mind staying and keeping an eye on Jolt?"

He hesitated. When he'd woken up this morning, babysitting his daughter's big robot guardian hadn't been how he'd planned to spend his night. Jolt himself lifted his head and opened his mouth, presumably to argue that he didn't need to be watched, but Mikaela cut him off.

"Wheelie needs to be supervised as well. And we'll only be gone for half an hour at most. Dad, do you need anything?" Cal shook his head. Mikaela dug her phone out of her pocket and handed it to him. "Ratchet will probably call, or Major Lennox. I've written down what needs to be reported to each of them. If anyone else in the know calls, just put it on speaker and let Jolt talk to them. See you later."

Then she and Sam climbed into the Camaro and Bumblebee drove off, leaving Cal standing in the middle of the room with a pink cell phone, a large alien robot in recovery, and a smaller foul-mouthed alien robot hiding somewhere around the place.

Chapter Text

There was an awkward silence between the two of them. Cal didn't know what to say to the big alien that had declared himself the guardian of his daughter. Jolt looked like he was about to say something at times, but apparently decided against it. It amazed Cal how... human he acted, even in robot mode. His facial expressions and mannerisms were exactly like what he'd seen in Joey Landsdown, whom he'd never suspected as anything other than human.

He jumped when the phone vibrated and started blaring a different song than before. "Citizen soldiers holding the light for the ones that we guide from-"

"Hello?" Cal answered.

"Mr. Banes, I presume?" A man's voice could be heard clearly through the speaker. "This is Major William Lennox." Right. The one said to be in charge of the entire military division, and another Mission City Survivor. "Sgt. Epps told me you had an incident with a certain... unusual little being." The man's tone suggested that he found it rather amusing, but was staying as professional as possible.

Cal snorted. "That would be correct."

"Well, you were already on the wait list for security clearance, so that takes care of some of the red tape, but we will need you to come in to sign some papers, and get a proper briefing. And it has to be as soon as possible, or some of the higher-ups will be upset." Cal figured he'd have to sign some sort of documents. "Can you come in with your daughter and the Autobot Jolt at ten-thirty tomorrow morning?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I can do that, Major. I'll be there." He glanced down at the paper Mikaela had left. "Uh, Mikaela left some information she said you needed. She reports that I was the only civilian exposed to the Autobots and that Wheelie will be brought to base as soon as he comes out hiding for... brig?"

There was a snort of suppressed laughter on the other end. "Wheelie will have to serve time in the brig on base as disciplinary action for his carelessness... again. Granted, this is the first time he's exposed himself to somebody not in the know. Anything else?"

He checked the sheet again. "No, the rest of the information she wants given to Ratchet."

"Alright, then. Thank you Mr. Banes. I'll see you in the morning. Good night."

"Good night." And Cal hung up. With a sigh, he sat down on the nearest cot.

"So you will be coming in with me and Mikaela," Jolt stated. Cal jumped a bit when the blue robot spoke up. Silently, he nodded. "Is it unnerving to speak to me in this form?" He awkwardly sat up and with a whir of a thousand moving parts, shifted into his car form. Seconds later, a tired-looking Joey Landsdown flickered into existence on the other cot. He smiled a bit. "Ratchet's going to throw a fit when he hears I transformed so soon after treatment. He'll strap his patients down if it means keeping them from doing anything he deems strenuous."

Cal didn't know how to reply to that, so he just nodded and continued with Jolt's original question. "Major Lennox said he wants me to come in to sign a bunch of paperwork, that sort of thing." He hesitated before voicing the question that had been on his mind for a long time now. "Mikaela said you were her... Guardian. What exactly does that mean?"

Joey blinked. Then he seemed to realize something. "Ah. Your culture often uses the term 'guardianship' to signify custody over a child, correct? I assure you, this is nothing like that." Cal actually hadn't thought of that, but he was glad to hear it. He was Mikaela's father, and he didn't want anyone stepping in on that. "Truthfully, the relationship depends on the pair. Sam and Bumblebee are best friends. Ironhide and Major Lennox are like brothers, and Chromia and Sarah – Major Lennox's mate, or wife – are like sisters. Skids, Mudflap, and Leo... well, I'm not sure what to make of them. The twins are always harassing him and he's always yelling at them in Spanish when they're being idiots. For Mikaela and myself, I view her like an older brother would his younger sister. I make sure that she is safe while doing my best to respect her boundaries. I help teach her Cybertronian biology – which, by the way, she excels at, despite her rather poor grades in human biology. Put simply, I'm there to be whatever she needs." He gave Cal a long look. "But that doesn't mean I'm trying to take over your job as her father."

Cal gave him a weak smile. "I actually hadn't thought about that, but it would worry me." He sighed. "I've been out of her life for so long. She's been growing up without me. I shouldn't be surprised that she's found other people to rely on, and let's face it, I'm an ex-con. I'm the reason she has a juvie record. Not exactly the best role model."

Joey cocked his head to the side, a gesture Cal had often seen when he was thinking. "Well, her record's gone, has been for the past three and a half years. It was part of the deal Sam made with your government after Mission City, although he'd demanded it earlier as part of his agreement to help the military... about an hour before the battle itself, if what Simmons says actually holds water." He frowned. "Did I get that phrase right?"

It took Cal a second to realise what he meant. "Oh, yeah. So Sam actually did that for her?"

Joey nodded. "They weren't even dating, then. She was technically still with that loser DeMarco." He snorted. "Bumblebee had to hack that glitch’s e-mail remotely and blackmail him with some embarrassing photos to get him to stop harassing her and Sam. Anyway, yes, he did. Without her even suggesting it, in fact. That was all Sam."

Cal smiled. "He does seem to honestly care for her. More than the other boys she's brought home, or at least the ones she brought home before I went to jail."

"He's a good kid. Respects her boundaries, always apologizes when he messes up – I understand that's a quality many males his age lack – and he knows her better than anyone, including me. And she knows him just as well."

They spent the next ten minutes or so talking about what Cal might expect at NEST, and then Mikaela and Sam returned with Bumblebee and everything they needed to sleep over. Cal watched as the younger pair settled on their cots next to their respective Guardians (after, of course, Mikaela chewed out Jolt for transforming mere hours after a major surgery), as they said goodnight but continued to gaze at each other.

After hearing about what Sam did for her, and seeing how much he clearly respected and cared for her, Cal decided that he might just approve of this boy.

Getting to the NEST base had taken much longer than planned. Wheelie had been located 'recharging' under the front desk, thankfully before any employees had arrived, but had required some convincing to climb into Bumblebee's interior, as he was not looking forward to a lecture from Prowl. Then they'd had to drive incredibly slowly, due to Jolt's recent injuries. Cal had counted six cyclists that had passed them before they'd even gotten to the highway.

When they'd actually arrived, just getting in had been hectic. Mikaela and Sam had readily flashed their access identification badges at the guard, but then had had to fill out a bunch of paperwork to allow Cal entry. As it was, by the time they pulled into a large hangar, it was 11:21am, fifty-one minutes after they'd promised to be there.

A group of men and one woman were waiting on them. While Jolt was immediately sent off with one of their number – whom Cal recognized from the previous evening as Sgt. Knight – to see a newly-arrived Ratchet, and Bumblebee went to take Wheelie to the brig, wherever that was, the humans were escorted into an office.

It looked like the standard office of a military officer. Files and paperwork set in perfectly neat piles, awards on the walls. There was also a framed photograph of a dark-haired man, a blonde woman, and a little mousey-haired girl sitting in the bed of a black pickup truck, and another one of a group of men in army wear in front of a tent somewhere sandy. A desert, maybe?

The people with them included a balding, bespectacled man in a grey business suit, the blonde woman dressed in navy-blue business casual, a tanned man with curly dark hair going grey, and a younger man (in his late twenties or early thirties) from the family photo, in some sort of military wear (Cal guessed it was his on-base uniform, or something).

Mikaela and Sam greeted the soldier, 'Will', warmly, and the curly-haired man just a bit less so. The woman was apparently unfamiliar to them, and the businessman received a chilly, polite 'hello' and a short handshake from them both.

"Let's get straight to business," Will said, moving to stand behind the desk but not sitting down, "Mr. Banes, my name is Major William Lennox. We spoke on the phone last night."

"I remember." Cal gladly accepted the man's firm handshake, getting the feeling that this guy was on their side, for whatever was going on.

"This Director Theodore Galloway, our Presidential Liaison, and his newly appointed partner, Director Charlotte Mearing." Mearing gave Cal a somewhat cold greeting, while Galloway all but sneered at him. "And, our public relations liaison, Seymour Simmons." Simmons coughed, and Lennox rolled his eyes, though it was so quick that Cal almost missed it. "Sorry, Agent Seymour Simmons."

'Agent' Simmons smirked. "So, you're the famous Daddy Banes," he said, like it was almost a joke. Mikaela started giving him the stink eye, and he lifted his hands up as if surrendering. "It's fine. A pleasure to finally meet you." Cal shook his hand as well, though he was unsure of where this man stood in the matter.

"So, Mr. Banes," Mearing began, "Care to report the happenings of last night?" She already had a clipboard and pen out, ready to write.

Cal narrowed his eyes at her – she had a haughty air of authority that he didn't like – and recounted his story. He explained how he'd heard Wheelie talking and spotted him, how his daughter hadn't panicked when he'd told her, and had instead gone to start yelling at the small 'Bot, and how Sideswipe had called about Jolt's injuries. He explained how he helped out until Sgt. Knight's team had arrived, and the call he'd received from Lennox asking him to come in.

"And did your daughter reveal any other information regarding the non-biological extraterrestrials during the entire event?" Galloway asked, a greedy expression on his face, "Their names, their functions, anything about their technology?"

"I was told that their technology was to be kept from human hands, according to your agreement with them." Cal disliked this man even more than he did Mearing. "I was given the basic history of their war, and how Mikaela and Sam got involved. And she told me a little about the personalities of some of the Autobots, mainly the ones who were coming."

Lennox gave Galloway a look. "Director, Miss Banes, along with the rest of the repair personnel, is under strict orders not to share her knowledge of the Autobots' biology or basic weaponry with anyone outside her team and Knight's."

"Ah, but Knight clearly stated in his report that Mr. Banes here had been assisting her when he arrived!" Galloway looked triumphant, like he'd been looking for something to blame on them and had found it. "A clear violation of those same orders! I've said it before, we cannot trust civilians, much less a teenager, with highly classified information!"

Mikaela bristled at that. "All my directions were along the line of telling him what to pull out and what not to touch, Sir. And any other information I gave him was within the clearance I have spent the past month appealing for you to give him." She even took a half-step towards him, but Sam gently touched her arm, and she drew back, still glaring. "And I haven't been a teenager since before my last birthday."

Lennox cleared his throat. "I will personally vouch for the Banes'. I don't believe Mikaela ever gave out more information than necessary, and trust her word on it."

Mearing tipped her head towards him slightly in acknowledgement. She appeared to be on the fence in their little 'who can be trusted' battle. Simmons hadn't said anything, though he'd unashamedly rolled his eyes and scoffed during Galloway's little speech. "I believe the question is not whether Miss Banes broke protocol, as she has an excellent track record in that respect, and she has been sticking to procedure in terms of her appeal." She flipped her paper up to glance at another one underneath. "No, the question is whether or not an ex-convict can be trusted with national secrets." She gave him a hard look. "You do realize, Mr. Banes, that repeating these secrets will be considered treason, and that you will be shipped off to a remote prison, never to be heard from again."

Cal swallowed. He'd only just gotten out of prison. He couldn't go back in, and from the sounds of it, this would be much, much worse. "I do realize this," he stated, unsure of how else he could possibly answer.

Clearing his throat, Sam spoke up. "Ms. Mearing, as I recall, Mr. Banes' imprisonment was for auto theft, and that his actions were done out of necessity to keep him and his daughter from losing their home. I see no reason not to allow him clearance. The only alternative would be incarceration, as you just mentioned, and I understand that is in fact a longer process, especially when his appeal has already been favored by Major Lennox, General Morshower, the JCS, myself, and Optimus Prime himself. I'd also like to remind you that clearance can still be granted even without your approval."

Cal hadn't expected the usually nervous, awkward Sam to suddenly reveal a knowledge of political workings, or to have any pull in the matter. Because he apparently did, as Mearing didn't simply brush him off, or bluster at his reminder of how her power was limited. He allowed himself a small smirk, especially as Galloway gaped like a landed fish behind her.

Major Lennox smiled himself, and nodded to Simmons, who produced a bunch of papers from his briefcase. "Well then, since all the proper authorities have apparently given their consent, we might as well make it official. Please sign here."

The next couple minutes were spent signing non-disclosure agreements and other legal documents. Cal didn't understand most of it, but Lennox and Sam translated everything he needed to know. If he were to break the agreements and tell anyone about the Autobots or their war, not only would he be on the hook, but so would Mikaela and, surprisingly, Lennox. Galloway had reluctantly signed, muttering under his breath about idiots and giving clearance to toddlers. Cal hadn't understood that one until he'd remembered that Lennox and Sgt. Epps had gotten clearance for their families, including their young children. Lennox had replied rather amiably, with a smug glint in his eyes, something about parachutes and airplanes, which had Mearing raising her eyebrows in confusion, her partner leaving rather abruptly and red-faced, and Mikaela and Sam snickering while Simmons outright laughed.

"Inside joke," Sam had explained, "One that we'll be able to explain as soon as we finish signing these."

Once all the paperwork was done, and Mearing and Simmons had left to complete their other duties, Cal and the others began a tour of the base. He was treated to the 'official' version of the story of Galloway and the plane over Egypt, which increased his respect for Lennox astronomically.

Upon entering a second, larger hanger than the one they'd came in, Cal recognized a few of the vehicles parked there. Sideswipe, the silver Stingray, and the Ferrari Mirage were next to a trio of motorcycles, powered down and motionless, so you'd think they were regular cars.

A pair of smaller cars, a green Chevy Beat and a maroon Trax, squealed to a stop in front of them and abruptly transformed into two dumpy-looking Autobots. They were about only half Bumblebee's height, but still much taller than Cal.

"Yo, 'Kaela!" the green one greeted her, "Dis yo' dad, then, huh?"

"Ya finally got 'im in, girl?" Maroon added. His voice was a bit higher than his companion’s.

Mikaela rolled her eyes. "Obviously. Dad, these two are Skids and Mudflap, the twins. I've mentioned them before, as Scotty and Matty Wilson."

Cal nodded. "The ones you have to repair almost every day. Accident-prone?"

Skids leaned in, trying to be menacing. For a being almost twice Cal's height, he wasn't very good at it. "Watch yo' mouth, squishy." What, were these guys trying to be gangsters, or something?

Mikaela reached for a wrench conveniently located on a nearby table, but a thundering bellow interrupted her.


A black pickup truck roared in, and Cal tried his very best not to laugh as he realised it was covered in sparkly red and green glitter that seemed to stay stuck despite the high speeds it was traveling. Skids and Mudflap promptly forgot about their conversation and took off, transforming back into cars and pealing out with the truck in hot pursuit.

Sam burst out laughing as soon as they were gone, and Cal soon joined him. Mikaela rolled her eyes in amusement, and Lennox had a grin on his face.

"Pfft. Amateurs." Cal turned to see Sideswipe and Mirage transforming. While the latter was smirking, the former looked more bored than impressed. "Like that hasn't been done a dozen times before. I should know, we- I was involved in most of 'em." A dark look seemed to appear on his face, but it vanished so quickly that Cal wasn't even sure it had been there.

"For the record, that was Ironhide," Lennox explained, "The Autobot's Weapon's Specialist. I think the twins are going to regret messing with him this time."

Sam snorted. "If they haven't learned the past hundred times, they won't learn now. I mean, they've been pranking him and getting their afts handed to them for how long now?"

"Fifty years." Sideswipe's response was quiet. Mirage sobered up pretty quickly, and Cal had a feeling there was some background information required to understand what was going on.

"I thought it was way longer than that," Mikaela commented, "I mean, they're the twins, isn't it what they do?"

"Yeah, it's what twins do. I'll be out on the firing range." And without another word, he transformed and sped off, some angry-sounding music blaring from his speakers.

Cal turned to Mirage. "What was that about?"

The Autobot sighed. "It's not my story to tell. Leave 'im be."

Knowing a touchy subject when they saw one, the humans left it alone. "How about we see Ratchet?" Mikaela suggested, "I still have to give him my report, and I want to check on Jolt."

"Yeah," Sam agreed, "If The Hatchet has finished yelling at him yet."

Chapter Text

Ratchet had not, in fact, finished admonishing Jolt for his 'reckless disregard of just-repaired injuries' by the time they'd arrived in the Med Bay. The wrenches, at least, hadn't started flying yet, though Sgt. Knight, who was watching amusedly by the door, assured Cal that it was just because Jolt was already hurt. Otherwise, 'The Hatchet' would be chucking tools at him, since Jolt of all 'Bots should know better than to attempt transformation so soon after treatment. The original plan had actually been for Ratchet to come to him, though the officer that had delivered the message to Lennox had gotten it mixed up, which was why the Major had asked them to come in so soon. That, and the fact that the bureaucrats hadn't been too concerned; they’ just wanted to deal with Cal's clearance ASAP.

It took another five minutes for the ranting to stop, and another two before Mikaela, Sam, Knight, and Lennox felt safe letting anyone near Ratchet. Cal found him to be rather grouchy, but the medic greeted him civilly enough, though he was more focused on checking over Mikaela and the others' work. The humans soon left, as it was best not to disturb the mech. They did say hi to a shorter silver mech named Jazz, whom Michaela said had recently been brought back to life with a powerful Cybertronian artifact, after dying in Mission City. It had taken Cal a few minutes to process that.

Next was the shooting range. It was divided into three sections: human, Cybertronian, and tag-team. The latter was for practicing combat teamwork between the soldiers and the Autobots. Sgt. Knight waved to one soldier instructing a group in marksmanship on the first section, and Sideswipe and Ironhide were busy on the second, blasting away at targets. The twins were nowhere to be seen, but a watching soldier had commented that they were still trying to put themselves back together in an effort to avoid going to Ratchet. Knight had taken his leave at that point, muttering that they would probably make their situation worse if they went about it unsupervised.

Cal had to agree with him there.

The next 'Bots he met took him by surprise. Three helmetless young ladies showed up at the range, each riding a brightly-coloured motorcycle. It took him a second to realise that they were the same bikes from the hangar, the ones painted bright pink, blue, and purple. The blue one split off from the others to join Ironhide, the woman vanishing into thin air before the bike transformed and started shooting as well. The other two came to a stop by Cal and the others. As both women (holoforms, evidently) came closer, he had to raise his eyebrow at how beautiful they were. Both had long, flowing black hair, pale, flawless complexions, and startlingly blue eyes, the latter just like Bumblebee's and Jolt's. With their blue 'optics' in their real forms, Cal guessed that was standard for all holoforms.

"Dad, this is Arcee and Flare-Up," Mikaela introduced them, "And that's their sister Chromia over there. They're the triplets, and currently the only femmes, female Cybertronians, on Earth."

One of the pair smiled and extended her hand. Her hair was up in a high ponytail, and she wore a black leather zippered vest, a hot pink shirt with the sleeves cut off at the elbows, dark wash skinny jeans, a dark pink belt with a circular silver buckle, brown knee-height stiletto boots, black biker gloves, and silver hoop earrings. "Nice to finally meet you, Mr. Banes. I'm Arcee." Cal accepted her handshake. She had a surprisingly strong grip.

Her sister Flare-Up grinned and waved. "Mikaela's been waiting for the higher-ups to give their approval for months. I think General Morshower was the holdout. I mean, he's the cool one out of all the brass, but he's still stubborn." She had her hair in a pair of low pigtails, and was wearing a black t-shirt with a big pink-and-blue-checked heart that showed her midriff, a purple short-sleeved jacket, purple-and-lighter-purple striped wristbands, faded jeans, and black converse sneakers.

"True," Mikaela agreed, "But most of the others are worse."

Sam snorted. "Like that pain-in-the-aft Galloway. He just wants the Autobots' weapons tech, and keeps pushing to have them sent off-world when he doesn't get what he wants. Trust me; I'm always locking horns with him."

Cal raised an eyebrow at that. Why would Sam have to deal with politicians?

The young man seemed to read his mind. "Since I was one of the first humans to befriend the Autobots, I'm sort of their ambassador in the political realm. A lot of the politicians are only interested in Cybertronian tech, though, so half my job consists of telling them 'no', repeatedly and as nicely as is possible when dealing with those people. The rest is mostly spent convincing them that the Autobots aren't weapons to be used for the government's whims and that they are sentient beings. You have no idea how many times I have to correct them for saying 'it' instead of 'him' or 'her'." He rolled his eyes with disgust. "It's annoying at times, but someone's gotta speak up for the 'Bots, since only certain people outside of NEST are allowed to interact directly with them."

"By the way, 'NEST'? How'd you come up with that name?"

"NEST stands for 'Network Elements: Soldiers and Transformers'," Arcee supplied, "And not 'Need to Eliminate Stinking Terrorists', as Sideswipe and a couple other jokers on base will have you believe."

At this point, Ironhide and Chromia had stopped shooting and come over to say hello, while Sideswipe stayed put. Both transformed back into their vehicle modes, and both their holoforms appeared. Cal had the feeling they'd all been given some sort of memo telling them to try and stick with the holoforms when being introduced to him. He honestly appreciated it, as no matter how friendly they might be, their true forms were still quite intimidating.

Cal also noticed that Ironhide’s truck-mode still had traces of glitter on it.

Chromia looked a lot like her sisters, with her long black hair, flowing freely down her shoulders, and bright blue eyes. She wore a blue camouflage-pattern fitted t-shirt, a grey jacket, army-green cargo pants, and black combat boots. Silver stud earrings glinted in the noontime sun, as did the gold wedding band on her finger. Cal blinked at that. She was married? How did that work?

Ironhide's holoform was that of a tough-looking guy in green camo pants, a black wife beater, and black combat boots. He had dark hair shaved into a buzz cut, a couple scars on his face, and again bright blue eyes. He also had a wedding ring. So he and Chromia were husband and wife, or something like that? He could see the similarities in their personalities. The pair of them both had a distinctive air of 'don't mess with me', but they smiled nicely enough as they approached the group.

"Mr. Banes, right?" Chromia introduced herself, "Nice to finally meet you. I'm Chromia, this is my mate Ironhide." Mate? So they were married.

Ironhide smirked and shook Cal's hand. "We wanted to see who raised such a brave – and somewhat crazy – daughter."

Mikaela frowned. "Excuse me? Crazy? I'm not the one who thought snow was a new Decepticon weapon!"

"And I'm not the one who drove a beat-up tow truck into a warzone... backwards."

Cal snapped his head around to look at his daughter. "Backwards?! What warzone?!"

Mikaela bit her lip. "Mission City. Bumblebee got his legs blown off, so I hotwired an abandoned tow-truck to hook him up and evacuate him. Then, I decided I didn't want to just run and hide, and I knew 'Bee felt the same way, so I drove back into the fight."


"He was hooked up to the back, and he was the one shooting! Would you rather I drove in without the alien robot warrior and his plasma cannons between me and the bad guys? Besides, Will's the one who rode a motorcycle underneath a Decepticon to get a better shot."

"You and I are going to talk about this later, young lady."

"You ready for this?" Lennox asked.

"You can never be ready for this," Sam interjected.

"It's not bad," Mikaela assured her father, "It's just... a bit overwhelming at first."

Cal was already feeling overwhelmed. He was about to meet Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots. Everyone who'd gotten on the subject had spoken so highly of him. If what they all said was true, this was the most gentle and benevolent and good Cybertronian anyone had ever met. Yet his presence was also said to be the most... well, overwhelming.

"You'll be fine," Lennox assured him, before patting him on the shoulder.

Cal took a deep breath and followed them into the main hangar, which was apparently command central. They entered through a huge set of doors, into a large, clear area lined with catwalks, atop which numerous technicians worked at computers, officers going back and forth with clipboards or tablets. The spaces directly below the catwalks seemed to be reserved for storage, so there was pretty much no activity within twenty feet above the floor.

In the centre of the room sat a HUGE red-and-blue Peterbilt semi truck. Cal felt his breath catch in his throat. Mikaela walked right up to it. "Optimus, there's someone I'd like you to meet."

There was a pause, and then the semi transformed, parts and panels and gears moving and rearranging themselves into a VERY tall Autobot whose head almost reached the ceiling. Cal blinked up at him, craning his head back to see his face. "Cal Banes, it is an honor to finally meet you. Your daughter has spoken highly of you." His voice held a wisdom and power that had Cal in awe.

It took him a second to respond. "Uh, likewise. I've heard, well... I've heard a lot of great things about you."

Optimus Prime smiled down at him. "Thank you. I understand you have already been shown around the base. May I ask of your impression?"

Cal laughed breathlessly. "When I woke up yesterday morning, believe me, I wasn't expecting any of this. But I understand you've all been great friends to my daughter when she needed it, and I'm very grateful. As for being introduced to alien robots... it's been interesting, to say the least."

A deep, baritone chuckle came from high above. "I take it you have met Mudflap and Skids, then."

At this, Cal grinned. "Yes, I did."

"I assure you, they are not examples of the abilities or professionalism of the rest of my Autobots." He said it with a completely straight face.

Sam scoffed. "We'd be dead already if they were," he muttered under his breath.

Mikaela elbowed him. "They held their own against Devastator."

"They survived long enough for Simmons to call the US Navy and get them to fire a highly-classified weapon on the bastard. They didn't come anywhere close to actually beating that creep."

Cal decided he didn't want to know.

Mikaela looked over at her father with mild concern. "You dealing okay, Dad?" she asked gently. They'd finished their talk with Optimus and were now on their way to the Lennoxes' for dinner, per the Major's invitation, in Bumblebee. Sam was looking forward to it, waxing poetic about Sarah Lennox and Monique Epps's cooking (the Lennox and Epps families lived next door). Sideswipe, Ironhide, and Jazz, the latter two being the Lennox and Epps family Guardians, respectively, would be coming as well.

Cal let out a shaky breath. "This is a lot to take in." Less than twenty-four hours ago, he'd been thoroughly unaware of the fact that there were aliens in his garage on a daily basis. Now he was going to sit down to dinner with a bunch of them. It was a lot to process. Not the least of which was the ease with which Mikaela and Sam handled it. This was normal for them.

Maybe that was what had him so disoriented. He'd been gone long enough that his daughter had grown into a strong young woman without him. She'd found a place in a strange world that he hadn't known existed. Cal just hoped he'd still be able to fit into her new life just as well.

The house sat among many others just like it on a normal suburban street, the kind Cal had never really grown up around. He'd expected all the houses in the area, owned by the base and rented to the families of NEST soldiers, to be identical, but each had its own unique colour scheme and little touches added by the residents. Flower gardens out front showed the individual preferences of the people tending to them, some put out little front-yard decorations, and there were a few lawns littered with toys. One unique feature of the Lennox and Epps houses was that the fence that separated their backyards had been taken down. A group of children ran around, and came charging when Bumblebee pulled in.

"Bee! Bee!" one little black girl cheered, "Come look at my painting! I did it in school today!" And she grabbed Bumblebee's holoform by the hand and pulled him inside.

Sam shook his head. "I think Cindy has a crush on him," he said in a low voice, "Anyway, guys this is Mr. Banes, 'Kaela's dad. Mr. Banes, these are Sgt. Epps' kids Aisha, Ashlee, Kerry, and Fred - that was their sister Cindy - and Lennox's daughter Annabelle."

Aisha was clearly the eldest at around thirteen. Ashlee, Kerry, Fred, and Annabelle were about nine, eight, four, and three, respectively. Cindy had looked like she was five or six years old.

"Where's Wheelie?" Kerry asked impatiently. Wheelie was still hiding in Bumblebee's backseat, but then the seat tilted rather suddenly so that the drone was ejected onto the driveway. Kerry immediately rushed up and picked him up and hugged him like a big metal toy.

"Ack! Kerry, put me down, please!"

Two silver sports cars and the big, black pickup pulled in behind them. Annabelle squealed and ran up to her dad before he'd even finished climbing out of Ironhide's cab. The younger three Epps kids swarmed their father and Jazz, while Aisha hung back to avoid the crowd.

Sideswipe’s holoform sauntered up to them, in a better mood than he'd been in since Cal had seen him last. "How you doing, Aisha?" he greeted her, winking.

She rolled her eyes. "I'm up to my eyeballs in crazy little kids. I could use your help with distracting them from time to time."

He clapped his hands together. "Okay, guys, story time! Out in the back!" He nodded to Cal and the others before jogging to the backyard, all the young children trailing along in his wake. Kerry still hadn't dropped Wheelie, who was still protesting loudly.

Aisha sighed. "Finally. I was running out of things to keep them occupied. It's nice to meet you Mr. Banes." Then she turned and followed them.

Mikaela grinned. "Sides likes telling them stories about Cybertron before the war. Ashlee's a novelist in the making, and I wouldn't be surprised if she goes into sci-fi when she gets older, using his tales for inspiration."

The front door of the Lennox house opened, and a pretty blonde woman exited, smiling warmly. "Hi, guys," she greeted them all, "Dinner's almost ready. We're eating out back since we have so many people." She then turned to Cal. "Sarah Lennox, you must be Mr. Banes."

He shook the offered hand. "Call me Cal. This is a beautiful home."

She smiled more broadly. "I try. Come on in, we've got spaghetti tonight."

Cal was led through the house to the back door, meeting Monique Epps, a tall woman with an air of authority in her own right. A few barked orders once Sideswipe's first story was finished had her children scrambling in an ordered chaos to set the table and wash up.

As they sat down, Cal soon found himself engrossed in the flurry of conversation and arguments while enjoying some of the best spaghetti he'd ever tasted. If this was the new world that Mikaela had found her place in, he would do his best to do the same, aliens and all.