An entire solar cycle had passed since the battle but the smoke still clogged the air and engulfed visibility beyond a few meters. The acrid smell clogged vents and burned olfactory sensors. But even the swirling mass of pollution could not hide all the horrific results of war. Corpses strewed the ground, many mangled and twisted into positions that seemed disturbingly aberrant even for a race of contortionists. No matter where he cast his spotlights, spiderweb patterns shimmered indications of dried streams of spilled energon; energon that had once pumped through the circuits of living 'Bots and 'Cons.
His tire treads crunched over the corpses. It was more than his suspension system could absorb and he felt his frame rocking back and forth, feeling every body he ran over and every helmet that collapsed sickly underneath. But it was preferable to walking. Tires were one thing… using his feet would be much, much more personal.
His passenger was obviously displeased but chose to keep his mind off the gore by complaining about something else. "Kup's going to bust us both down to Rank One for this," Ratchet grumbled while gripping tighter on the makeshift handbar on his roof. Two engines would be too noisy and there was enough risk of Decepticon detection already.
"You can say I ordered you to come with me," he answered.
Ratchet snorted. "It doesn't work that way. I'm not bound to any command of yours that violates the Prime's orders. Zeta ordered us to abandon this territory and that means staying out."
"You just made team commander too! And now you're throwing it all away!"
"By now they've already realized we're gone. Even if you come back empty-handed they're going to know we came back here."
"So why are we doing this again?"
"Because it's the right thing to do."
Ratchet smiled. "That's what I wanted to hear."
"The signal's getting stronger," he said, braking to a halt. Ratchet hopped off his backside and he transformed. "He's somewhere around here."
"Over there!" Ratchet called out.
He turned his head to see Ratchet pointing at one particular pile of carrion; a familiar yellow arm jutted out from it. He and Ratchet climbed their way to the arm and began digging with a balance of caution and speed. Soon enough they found the young 'Bot they had come back to rescue; offline, barely alive.
He lifted the small Autobot up and carried him down in his arms. "Load him up into my trailer," he told Ratchet. "Hook him up to my auxiliary energon supply. That should keep him alive til we get out of here."
While he watched Ratchet perform the procedure, he focused on the sole survivor in this valley of carnage and only him. One life. One life he could save, out of the thousands dead.
"What…" He paused, realizing his vocalizer had some static in it. Composing himself, he finished his question. "What's his name again?"
Ratchet looked up at him. "Bumblebee, I think. Why, Optimus?"
"I just needed to know," he answered. "I was in command of his unit and three others. And now they're all dead except him. I saw him get buried while we withdrew but there was nothing I could do."
"But you did do something," Ratchet reminded him as he closed Optimus' trailer around Bumblebee. "Now come on - we have a rescue to complete. And then a court martial to attend."