The Road Trip To Recovery
Two days had passed. Alone on a small outcrop of rock at the base of Mount St. Helens, Buffy Summers watched the morning sun breaking out over the distant horizon. Her glowing green optical sensors measured temperatures, distances and energy spikes in the gleaming solar disc. For the first time in her life she could stare at the sun without fear of damaging her sight, but it wasn’t how she’d expected. It lacked something real.
On the night of the big fight they’d arrived back expecting a less than enthusiastic welcome but had instead been rushed to the Ark’s Med-Lab for repairs. She would never forget the sensation of having her fender hammered and magnetised back into shape or the sight of the sparking and bubbling as her knee had been welded. Ratchet had spent most of his time working on Bumblebee who, it turned out, had the equivalent of a severed artery. They were told he was only alive because his fluid leak had been stopped quickly by Giles and Dawn.
Yet, after one of the freakiest nights of her life, Buffy had been witness to something far freakier than being a robot. As Xander and Bumblebee underwent robo-surgery, Buffy had been shown to another lab where surgery was taking place on her own human body. And she’d watched. Just before their return to the Ark, the Autobot’s human friend had returned with a military medical team who had begun operating on the Scoob’s broken bodies. Almost 10 hours later they were done. Technically brain-dead, their bodies were on life-support severely injured yet stable. The military doctor advised them to wait a few days until the most painful part of the healing process was over before trying the return body-swap. The fear of great pain and being bed-ridden had given her and Xander enough reason to reluctantly agree. And there was another body – the demon from the mine – whose mind would never have the chance to return. So his corpse was thankfully incinerated. Giles and Dawn had been invited by Optimus Prime and Sam to stay with them at the Ark and they’d packed up their belongings and left the motel with Willow.
Buffy again found herself examining the shell of the robot she was held within. For two days she and Xander had been living, confined to the volcano, trapped in bot form. They’d talked a lot together and had both agreed that pain, no matter how severe, would almost be a welcome effect of being human again. Mostly they were concerned, afraid, that the process may in fact not work a second time. Their nerves and patience were beginning to fray as they became more desperate to know if they would ever be themselves again.
Optimus Prime came out into the dawn from the tunnel in the mount and watched the girl for a while. She was examining herself again as he had seen many times over the two days. He chose not to disturb her and waited until she finally turned and spotted him there. She seemed low as she came down to the dusty ground and met him.
“I find your planet’s star a constant source of interest,” Prime said conversationally, “Cybertron was a dark world, not without great beauty, but nothing compared to the beauty of a burning star rising in the morning sky.” Buffy didn’t look so enthused. “You don’t find it so?”
“Not today,” she replied apologetically. “It doesn’t have the same radiance. It doesn’t have the life through these eyes.” And then she told him their decision. They didn’t want to wait anymore. They wanted to be flesh.
Prime nodded slowly. He expected so. “Ratchet is ready for you.”* * *
Buffy went first to test it out. She sprawled her mechanical frame on the huge metal slab beside the gurney where her true body lay. She was linked to herself through cybernetic head attachments and Ratchet initiated the transfer of mental impulses. Moments later, she was taken off life-support and they waited. Xander was there. Behind him stood an anxious Dawn with Giles and Willow. The military Med-team were on hand.
Buffy didn’t breathe. Seconds passed. Ratchet leaned over her and raised an optic shield thoughtfully.
Xanderbot approached Buffy’s body slowly with deep concern. If it didn’t work, she was dead. If it didn’t work, he was a robot! He looked down at her fragile figure and reached out a hand big enough to crush her and pulled it back.
Buffy gasped suddenly, opened her eyes… and screamed her lungs out.
Ratchet spun to the human doctor. “More drugs, Doc!”
“Put me back!” Buffy cried out. “Put me back! Put me back!”
The medical team wheeled her out quickly to the temporary infirmary to load her with morphine.
As she disappeared screaming out the room with Dawn racing after, Xander saw his own gurney coming in.
“You’re up next,” said Ratchet with renewed confidence.
Xander examined his bruised and broken human shell and shrunk into himself. “Um… I think I’ll wait for the morphine.”* * *
The next day and the day after were a hazy dream for the two crushed Scoobies. Bed-ridden and between bouts of painful sleep and drug induced delirium, they recalled a visit from some kind of presidential representative. A man named Tom Banachek, always in black with a dark hairy upper lip – Xander called him the Mystery Moustache. (He was from a secret section of the U.S. government – a liaison officer between the President, Department of Defence and the NBE’s – the Autobots).
“It seems your employers have a lot of influence,” he had said to them. “We’ve been told to extend you the best medical treatment available.” He’d said other things that had become a blur. It was clear he didn’t quite know who they were or why they were important enough to receive such special attention, nor how they were involved with the secret aliens. The main aim of his visit had been to pass on a message. “It’s my understanding that you were involved in an operation here in Washington State. That operation, I am to inform you, is now concluded satisfactorily.” He read from a sheet without knowing the meaning of his words. “The hazardous cargo and enemy target is neutralised. The ‘code’ is now green.”
They never saw him again after that.
As they healed, Dawn spent her time mostly drag racing with Bumblebee and a huge weapon of a robot named Ironhide. Willow worked with Ratchet in his lab, learning amazing things about the spark matrix that gave them life. Giles spent his time working – writing up his report, wondering how the stuffy Head of X, Quentin Travers, would take it. Another explosive climax to a simple mission. With giant alien robots.
On the third day, still sore and bruised and broken in places, Buffy and Xander decided to hell with it
and discharged themselves. With the pain now manageable without being doped up, Xander was fitted with a flattering neck brace and supporting bandages for his joints and Buffy, already healing well, had a clean pot for her broken left arm.
On the fourth day, the sun rose again to bring its light to the arrowhead of Mount St. Helens, and Buffy watched. She held her hands over her green human eyes as the burning orange orb raised lazily over the line of the far away horizon.
Prime tried to approach quietly but his weight gave him away.
“The sunrise… it looks different through these eyes,” she said, continuing their previous conversation.
Prime sat on the rock mound with his arms hanging over his knees. “I have often wondered how humans experience everyday sensations.”
“You should try a body-swap sometime.”
“I’m sure that would be interesting. But perhaps not entirely wise.”
She smiled and regarded him. In his casual resting pose he looked remarkably human. In a way, she felt, having experienced their world, he was
human. Just in a metal skin.
Optimus dropped his glowing gaze on her. “We are indebted to you and your team, Buffy. You saved Bumblebee’s life.”
“Don’t mention it.”
“I only mention it now,” he added, “because last time I tried to thank you…you were a little delirious. You told me to ‘stick it up my tail pipe’.”
“Oh…sorry. The drugs. Drugs are bad…” She blushed and quickly moved on. “Anyway, I guess we’re even. You saved ours first.”
“I’m glad the experiment worked.”
She nodded agreeably and they watched the sun a while.
“Being a robot was… interesting,” Buffy said. “For a day. It’s not for me. I prefer being human. Something about the feelings and sensations is just… more real somehow. More rewarding. You know… I died a while back. My friends brought me back but, for a long while, I just wanted to be dead again. Now I’m realising how much of a gift it is to be alive.”
“You are a very unique species,” Prime said soulfully. “The thing that amazes me about the human race is your ability to learn. To take in incredible amounts of information and recall it so vividly with such flavour…and without even having a five million gigabyte processor.”
“You have a five million gigabyte processor?”
“I don’t like to brag.”
She smiled. Then it faded. “I’ve never been very studious. Maybe my processor is faulty. Learning, school I mean, didn’t really teach me anything to help me in my slay-heavy life.”
“I was referring to your daily learning ability; as you were saying with your death experience.” Buffy frowned and he explained, “Every encounter and experience in our lives has a purpose, Buffy. Every episode provides lessons that we can take forward into our future. Your memory gives you a uniquely rich and vivid teaching guide for your future. Also I think I’m beginning to babble. The others usually cut me off about here. Come, I believe your friends are almost ready to leave.”* * *
The Autobots were gathered outside the entrance to the mountain and Prime joined them there. Buffy met Giles at the base of the rock. Their rented car was waiting with Willow and Xander and all their luggage piled around it.
“We should make California by evening with stops,” said Giles. He looked to the car and bags. “Well, it looks like I’ll be the fetch-and-carry man now.”
“It’s good to know that, when your friends are disabled, you’re always keen to lend a hand,” Buffy replied.
“As long as this doesn’t mean I have to carry all your shopping.”
Buffy looked across the Park to see the sun crawling into the sky. When she turned to Giles her tone was more serious. “Giles, you think every situation we go through teaches us something?”
“I suppose so. We can learn how to avoid mistakes or deal with their consequences for instance.”
“What about beyond that? Did our mission here teach you anything for the future?”
“Um… next time I slink away from a pair of demons, do it backwards.” Giles’ joke was ill-timed, he noticed, and he asked the obvious next question, “What have you taken from the mission? Your lesson?”
“I learned I need to be a better spy,” she answered flatly.
“What happened in Vancouver was bad luck.”
“No, Giles. It was more than that. We let those demons get the better of us. It should have got us killed. I’m used to walking right up to trouble about a minute after my reputation gets there and beating down the bad. The spy game’s got a whole new rulebook. I don’t think any of us took it seriously enough. We thought we were the Slay Team…but we’ve been Maxwell Smart all along.”
Giles opened his mouth to say something but couldn’t think of anything appropriate. He’d make it his job to work out a way of fixing the problem. Nothing needed to be said.
Buffy saw Dawn approaching the minivan with Sam Witwicky and she remembered she had a life to live. “C’mon, Giles. The open road awaits. Let the fun times roll.”* * *
“Hey, thanks for convincing them to help my sister that night,” Dawn said to Sam as they came up to the rental car. “She’s a pain but…I’m glad she’s alive.”
“No worries,” he replied happily. “I’ll bill you later.”
Giles and Will loaded their gear and he got into the driving seat as the others clambered in. Xander took shotgun position and the girls filled the back.
“Have a good road trip,” Sam called out as he joined the Autobots. “Send us a postcard.”
“What’s your address here?” shouted Dawn.
Sam gave it a second’s thought. “Maybe you should e-mail. Yeah. Don’t send a card. If you do, don’t start it ‘Dear alien robots from Cybertron’.”
Ironhide was watching with a pang of jealousy. He gave the Autobot next to him a nudge with his cannon. “A road trip sounds like fun, eh Bumblebee?”
“Everyone ready?” asked Giles. They all showed him the thumbs of victory and he gave the van a good starting. The starter ticked over… click click click. He gave it another go. Click click click click. Then it went silent. “This is unbelievable.”
“I wonder how much a cab is to California,” Xander pondered.
“About a gazillion dollars.” Willow opened the door and got out.
Bumblebee shared a conspiratorial look with Ironhide. He stepped over to his leader like a soldier stepping forward for a mission. “Permission to take leave, sir.”
Prime gave the car a sideways look as he considered. “Permission granted,” he said at last.
Bumblebee ran to Ironhide with a high-five.
Ratchet was next to approach him. “Why don’t you go along?”
Optimus shook his head. “There’s work to be done here, my friend–”
“Humbug. You’ve been worried about the Decepticons showing up again and I keep telling you to unwind a little and explore. Now, as Chief Medical Officer, I prescribe a vacation, Prime.”
“You’re pulling rank on me, Ratchet?”
“You better believe it.”
“Well, in that case…” Prime joined Bumblebee, Sam and Ironhide. “Autobots, transform and roll out!”
Ironhide threw a tiny object into Ratchet’s hand, gave him a quick blink of his left optical sensor and performed a handstand spinning reconfiguration until the hulking form of a GMC Topkick rested in his place.
Ratchet glanced into his lime green and chrome hand. There, like a minute silver-white speck in his massive paw, was a spark plug from the rented Windstar. He shook his head.
Sam waved the Scoobs on as he jumped into the yellow Bumblebee Camaro. They quickly loaded the huge Topkick pick-up with their luggage and climbed up inside until Ironhide was full. The boys took the front.
Engines fired up and the flaming big-rig led the way out through the National Park toward the 503 and Interstate and off into the glowing sunrise.
Dawn, in the middle of the back 3 seats of the GMC, opened up a big sack of nachos and dug in heartily.
The radio suddenly came to life with Ironhide’s deep strong voice. “Try not to get any crumbs on the upholstery, kid.”
layer will return… in: You Only Die Twice
(This story is partially based on the cartoon Episode ‘Autobot Spike’. The method of body swapping comes from this show.)