Ellie screamed wordlessly in frustration.
The car limped meekly to the side of the road before coming to a jerky stop. She leaned her forehead against the steering wheel and took a deep breath. She was used to this, but it didn’t mean she’d have to like it.
After composing herself, she climbed out through the heavy door and turned to face her precious car; hands on her hips and a scowl on her face. The car before her was a sad sight. It must have been beautiful once, all sleek black and silver with a dark leather interior. But that beauty was gone long before she spent the last of her savings on it. At first, none of it’s age and distress bothered her. It was her first car; freedom, love at first sight, not having to walk for hours to get to school and work. It wasn’t until after she began driving it did she realize how close to death her car really was.
A year had passed, and that romantic idea of freedom was long gone. She lost count of how many times she had been stranded on the side of the road just like this, though usually she was in town. Ellie looked around. She was on the side of a narrow, one lane road which seemed to stretch endlessly in either direction. All around her were trees whose shadows blocked out the warming rays of the sun. Shivering, she leaned back into the open car to pull out her fuzzy green sweat jacket (her absolute favorite).
Tugging her sleeves down over her palms, she checked her phone only to realize she had no reception. “Why me?” she sighed, laying face first across cold car hood dramatically. She shut her eyes for just a moment, thinking hard about how it seemed that whenever she did nice things for people, like driving a co-worker to the airport two hours away at the asscrack of dawn, something bad usually happened. Oh well she thought.
Prowl wondered for the millionth time over this solar cycle if this is what the pit was like.
He observed Elouise. Her fragile human body was spread out over his hood in despair, which he was very much used to by now. When he had received word that the Autobots had something to do with a human female under the surname “Banes”, his overheating processor had used that information, along with previous information of which land mass and general location he had received the message from, to bring him to her.
He wondered now how he could have gotten it so wrong. She was a female, yes, but she went by the name “Brooks”, not “Banes” as it appeared on her birth certification record. It had become quickly obvious that she had no contact with the Autobots. He tried once again to move, even a twitch, and nothing happened, just like he knew it wouldn’t. When he had crash landed his survival override system kicked in, transforming him automatically to his newly scanned form. Unfortunately, when he regained consciousness about two orns later, he was completely paralyzed. He could tell that the human, Elouise, or “Ellie”, was tired of him “breaking down”, but he would not blow his cover to reassure her it wasn’t his doing.
Not that he could even if he wanted to, as his vocalizer seemed to be paralyzed too.
He watched as a car began to pull over, likely to help. It slowed to a stop behind him and a young male emerged from inside. He approached and Elouise looked up. His scanners picked up her increased heart rate, likely in excitement at the rescue.
Equal parts curious and bored, Prowl analyzed them. The boy was approximately 5 foot 7 inches in height and easily loomed over her 5 foot frame. He waved with a smile. Prowl had become, unwillingly, aware of her. She was the only contact he had, and she was with him for many hours each day. It was becoming easier for him to read her body language and mannerisms, which is why he could tell she seemed nervous. That wasn’t so strange, she often became more flustered around those she did not know, but, Primus knows why, it set Prowl on edge this time.
The boy, who introduced himself as Kyle, was all smiles. Elouise seemed unable to meet his eyes as she unlocked and lifted Prowl’s hood, thanking him profusely. Kyle whistled, “Woah, must be foreign.” Elouise nodded, “I’ve heard that before. Usually we just charge the battery and it starts up again. No idea why.” Kyle nodded with a humming sound, looking over the engine. Prowl noticed that his eyes darted continuously back to Elouise, who was staring obliviously into his chassis. Years as a soldier trained him on how to judge character, and he decided he didn’t trust Kyle.
“Here, let me get my jumper cables for you,” Ellie said, turning quickly on her heels and heading for the trunk. Exhausted and embarrassed, all she wanted was for this to be over. She had just lifted open the trunk when she heard a noise behind her, where found Kyle standing much too close behind her. “How are you going to pay me for fixing your car?” He purred with a smooth smile and hardened eyes. Ellie, afraid and unprepared, squeaked “You didn’t fix it yet.” Stupid , she scolded herself. She was shaking as she tried to inch to the side, hoping to move around Kyle.
But he was faster than her and struck out, grabbing her by the wrists and slamming her up against the open trunk. “S-stop” She stammered out, “Let go of me!” Her fear paralysis began to lift, and several things happened at once.
She kicked, hitting Kyle right where she meant to, and he doubled over with a cry. At the same time, she heard someone call her name from behind her. Her car shot into reverse. Kyle was sent flying to the ground and Ellie tumbled backwards into the trunk, which then slammed shut, locking her inside. As the car jerked back into drive she was knocked onto her side, further disorienting her. Through the floor she could hear her car’s tires speed over the curb and back onto the road.
“Who are you!” She tried to address her kidnapper with authority, but her voice shook and tears formed in her eyes.
“Are you ok?” The voice asked, it was male and sounded hesitant and concerned.
“Seriously?!” She yelled, rolling onto her knees and groping for the release lever that would open her back seats. As she reached for it the seat fell open on its own. Hesitantly, she crawled into the back of her car, only to see there was no driver.
Prowl had tried to deny his attachment to Elouise for many orns, but he couldn’t do that anymore.
Prowl knew what Kyle was planning before Elouise even turned around, and he tried to scream for Elouise, to maybe get her attention so she would have time to move, but it didn’t work. He had been paralyzed for over a solar cycle and yet never felt so helpless as he did then, desperate to do something, anything . Knowing it would never work, he kept trying to move, kept screaming in his head, until he heard his own voice call out her name. He felt an electric, vibrating sensation flow through him, and he moved.
He wasn’t surprised by her reaction to this. While he knew much about her, she knew nothing of him. She likely didn’t trust him. It hadn’t even occurred to Prowl until this moment that he trusted her. In the back of his processor, he knew it was a foolish idea. Her short, fragile life should have meant nothing to him. Yet still he wanted to protect her.
He watched Elouise as she crawled out of the trunk and plopped down in his back seats. Her heart was racing and her eyes were wide, every inch of her alert. She immediately noticed the empty driver’s seat, and the color drained from her face.
Prowl was unsure of what to do now.
He spoke slowly and cautiously, “I did not want you to find out this way, Elouise. Realistically I hoped you would never know of my existence, but there is not much I can do about it now.” Primus help me he thought, and launched into an explanation.
When her car - Prowl - was done speaking, Ellie was quiet for a long time, trying to decide how to respond. She had just found out that, yes, aliens were real, and took the form of cars but could also be giant robots, and that they were already on earth. That these aliens were calling for more of their kind. That they knew someone with her last time.
“So..you’ve been listening to me sing?” God damnit .
A pause, then “Yes, I have heard you sing.” He sounded confused.
“Oh I’m sorry about that,” she babbled, still rubbing at her damp eyes, “I only ever sing when I’m alone and I thought I was when I was driving but I guess I...wasn’t…” She trailed off. Ellie scolded herself mentally for sounding so air-headed, and was quiet yet again.
Prowl spoke up, and she didn’t jump this time which she counted as a victory, “I did not mind, it was pleasant. I wish to apologize for all the times I have seemed to, ah, “break down”. If I could have prevented that I would have. And I am sorry I put you in danger today.”
Ellie’s eyes widened, “No no, it’s ok. It wasn’t your fault, and today wasn’t either. Kyle was a jerk, but that’s not the first time boys have gotten a little handsy with me, so I could have handled it even if you didn’t step in.” Ellie thought ruefully of her body; she was rounder, a little jiggly, and short. She was far from a model, but that didn’t matter. A large chest is seen by many as an invitation. More than once she was told she should take it as a compliment since she wasn’t conventionally attractive.
“Besides, I expected a piece of junk for the price I paid. If you think about it, I got much more than I could have ever asked for. I mean, you know so much about me, I hope maybe you can let me get to know you. If it were ok, I’d like to be friends.”
“I would like that Elouise.” She couldn’t help thinking that it sounded as if he was smiling. Do alien robots smile? she wondered, the thought make her smile a bit, and she realized she wasn’t afraid anymore.
Ellie shifted awkwardly in her seat, uncomfortably aware that it was part of a living creature. Like riding a horse , she mused, remembering the one time she had tried horseback riding. It had not gone well. “So, wait. You said you found me. You were the one who sent me for the add for the car?”
Prowl sounded amused, “Yes, that was me. It was one of the last things I remember doing before I lost consciousness. I was pleased to awake and find out that little trick worked, though I admit I was disappointed that you were not the female ‘Banes’ I was looking for.”
Ellie turned to stare out the window, hearing herself referred to as “Banes” felt more alien than, well, a talking car. “Yeah, sorry about that. That was my father’s name. I didn’t know him, so I don’t use it. “Brooks” is my mom’s last name, and they were never married, so..” She punctuated the sentence with a shrug.
After a moment she turned to look at the steering wheel (where else could she?). “My dad had a brother, though. He lived in the south somewhere, and he had a daughter. Mikaela.” She smiled at the memory, “I knew her for a while when we were little. Maybe the message referred to her? Maybe we can find your friends that way.”
She was enthusiastic at the thought. Prowl had been nothing but kind to her, and she had heard that longing sadness in his voice when he talked about the other “Autobots”, though he tried to hide it. Ellie had always loved helping people. “I would like that very much, Elouise.” Prowl sounded happy as well.
“You keep calling me Elouise.” She commented. “Well, yes,” He responded, thoroughly confused, “That is your name, correct?”
“Yeah it is, but people always call me Ellie. You called me Ellie when you kidnapped me, remember?” He made a noise she recognized quickly as laughter. “That is true, though a kidnapping wasn’t my intention so much as rescuing.” Ellie grinned, “Well, call me Ellie from now on. Elouise is so formal and old sounding, I don’t think it really fits me.”
Prowl agreed, and she looked out at the road. He was taking her home, and they were already very near. It was still early in the morning, the sunlight bouncing off the dilapidated buildings on the outskirts of town. Steadily, the buildings became more numerous and closer together. They began to see other cars.
“Maybe I should get in the front seat? If that’s okay I mean,” She added quickly, unsure of the etiquette in this situation.
“Excellent idea, I’m assuming the residents would notice a driverless car.” The armrest lifted and Ellie contorted herself into the driver’s seat. The seat belt wrapped around her with a secure ‘click’.
Prowl slowed as they approached Ellie’s apartment, one of many above a family-run convenience store. He pulled into the small parking lot behind the building and into a spot. She looked out the window at her home. All it’s residents were still asleep with the curtains drawn (except for Ms. Olmstead, who was standing on her rickety little porch watering her garden, which was mostly weeds, in her bathrobe).
Ellie was glad for her neighbors’ disinterest; had any of them been watching her they would have seen her talking to the air. She looked down at her watch.
“Oh god, I have to get ready for work now.” She looked apologetically at the steering wheel again. “I’m really sorry you have to drive me around. I could take the bus or walk, I don’t mind.
“Don’t be ridiculous Ellie,” Prowl said, sounding a bit taken aback, “Why would you do that?”
“Well, I mean, you can move and talk and stuff again now you probably don’t want to waste your time chauffeuring me around.”
“I don’t mind. I will have plenty of time to stretch my legs when I find the other Autobots, which we can work on after you finish your work. You did mention to your co-worker this morning that you had finished your semester of college, correct?”
“Yeah,” Ellie agreed tentatively, “I wouldn’t even have to go in this early if it wasn’t for her. I’m covering her shift in addition to my own. I get off at 8, though, and we can start discussing our options then. Let me just run inside and change and I’ll be right out.”
Ellie reached for the door handle and was only mildly surprised that the door opened on it’s own, then close itself behind her when she was outside. She turned around and smiled at Prowl. “See you in a minute,” She said before heading inside.
Ellie was woken by a pressure on her face.
“ Merrrrrw ”
She sighed and rolled over, and her cat jumped gracefully to the floor, vocalizing his displeasure again. “ Okay , okay. I’m up.” He was no longer listening, but on his way to the kitchen.
She sat up and rubbed at her face, it felt tight and dry. She had cried herself to sleep again, and was familiar with the feeling. Clawing her way ungracefully out of bed, she padded to the bathroom, jumping slightly when her bare feet made the transition from dirty shag carpet to ice cold linoleum.
She stared at herself in the mirror. Since she had (officially) met Prowl a week ago and her life seemed to be moving faster than ever. At first she was thankful at all the overtime she was working; she needed the money and it was a great distraction from thinking about what happened with Kyle, which still gave her nightmares, and her inability to locate her cousin. But it very quickly became like torture; she would have to stack heavy boxes and carry them up and down ladders for hours at a time, and she wasn’t getting much sleep. Prowl even noticed a change in her.
Not that it mattered anymore, since they were laying her off.
Ellie emerged from the bathroom showered and made her way to the kitchen to feed herself and her very loud roommate. “You know, Beast,” She said to her cat between bites of milk-less cereal, “You better watch out or one day I’ll decide you’re too annoying and I’ll eat you.” He ignored her, and she pretended to bite his tail on the way to the sink.
She leaned back against the counter, running her hand through her wet hair, “What are we going to do, buddy?” He looked up and meowed at her, more then willing to act cute now that he was fed. Ellie couldn’t help but smile, but it didn’t last long.
Ellie wasn’t in debt; her job paid for her apartment and food and such, and her mom’s inheritance covered her first year of college, but she no longer had her job, and her first year was up. She had no degree, and would soon be homeless.
“Isn’t life grand.” She stroked Beast’s head as she passed him.
Prowl was parked amongst the other cars, but seemed to be the only one not covered in dead leaves. The door opened as she approached and she slipped inside. “Waaarm” She purred, nuzzling back into his seat. “Good morning, Ellie.” Prowl said, sounding amused. “I’m glad to see you are in a better mood today.” She looked at the steering wheel, thinking back on last night. She had been very lucky not to start crying until she was alone in bed, but Prowl had still noticed her distress.
“Yeah, I mean losing my job is a really big deal, but my mom always said ‘everything happens for a reason’, so I’m going to try and look at this positively. I will likely fail miserably.” She grinned.
“That’s a great way to look at things, though saying you will fail isn’t very positive.” Prowl remarked cautiously. He couldn’t always tell when she was joking.
“Maybe I will sell you. I could get maybe 10, 12 dollars.” Ellie joked.
Prowl laughed, something he didn’t do very much. She smiled, about to add more to the joke, but her face suddenly shifted into one of shock. “Ellie?” Prowl asked, suddenly serious, “What is it?”
“Wait here!” She yelled, stumbling out into the cold fall morning before she took off running, back into her apartment. She made it up the stairs in record time and threw open the door. “Where is it, where is it.” She chanted to herself, digging through the boxes she never got around to putting in storage.
It had been thinking about her mom that sparked her memory. Since she had died, Ellie tried not to dwell on the past as much, which was hard because she had always been very sentimental. It was that sentimentality that lead her to keep boxes full of crap she would likely never need; like the letters her cousin used to write her when they were in elementary school.
“Yes!” she cried as she pulled out a box, and quickly darted back down the stairs to Prowl. He let her in and remained silent, obviously startled and confused. Panting and shaking slightly, Ellie pulled the lid off the old shoe box, which was covered in stickers both inside and out. Inside was a very strange collection of things; two rocks, a long-dead flower, a purple shoe lace, and a small stack of letters held together by a rubber band. She pulled out the letters, and flipped them over. On the back of them was an address, scrawled messily in blue crayon. “Do you know what this means?” She whispered to Prowl, who said nothing. She looked up.
“I know where to find your friends.”