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Screaming Blue Murder, chapter 13

Thought I'd start to upload this to ElJay as well as FF.net, as I'm actually kinda pleased with how it's progressing - AND the fact that I didn't give up after about chapter five, like I usually do. But then, my lovely reviewers are probably helping me keep up my momentum. :)

Anyway! On to Chapter 13. Chapter 14 might be up later. I won't put 1-12 onto ElJay unless people actually ask, because doing all the italic hutmuls is a pain in the aft.

Do not read if you don't like detective stories involving Giant Killer Robots from Outer Space. *nods*


Screaming Blue Murder
Chapter 13

Well?”

Deuce had been by the window staring out over the docks for at least a breem, which felt like far too long. He was halfway convinced to call Half-Hitch back from wherever he’d sloped off to, and put him back on sentry duty, but he didn’t trust the layabout not to just goof about. “No sign of ’em, Fatigue,” he sighed. “Maybe something spooked ’em.

Maybe they saw you,” Fatigue growled, and he had that tone of voice on. Deuce was relieved he was too far away to physically bludgeon him. “Primus knows you’re either too hyperactive or too stupid to keep out of sight, half the time-”

“I hear engines,” Deuce interrupted. “Airborne ones.”

Fatigue’s irritable tirade stopped as quickly as it had started. “Can you see anything?

“Nothing as yet,” the truck gazed out of the window, briefly probed the heavens. “Might have been mistaken. Wait-… yes. Yeah, it’s definitely coming this way. How long you going to be?”

Eh, few breems, minimum. Keep me posted.”

“Righto.”

0o0o0o0

Primus, it was good to be back in the air again. Even just doing something as mundane as a little aerial survey had a peculiar wonder to it, purely because it was done on the wing, in these endless skies. It took Scarlet a good few breems to calm down enough to just concentrate on the task in hand, and even then it was still mostly playtime. The temptation to roll with the crosswinds was too great to ignore all the time.

Where would a pair of machines camp out, if they didn’t want to be found easily? (He presumed that to be the case, at least, since they’d made it so impossible for even a local like Forceps to get in contact with them.) Somewhere quiet, away from the population centre, but with ready access to amenities should they be needed, and plenty of space to hide away if unwanted visitors came to call.

It took him three leisurely sweeps across the district before he found a likely candidate. The warehouse was isolated and quiet – in a relatively good state of repair, for such a derelict area, on a silent quayside with a good open space out the front for easy take off and landings. The roof was open to the sky in a corner – so the inhabitants could see the sky, but prying eyes might be less likely to see them – all the walls were good and solid for defence, and the interior would probably be nicely roomy, soothing on large wings and claustrophobia. Looked like the ideal place for a pair of down-on-their-luck flying machines to adopt as a temporary base.

He touched lightly down on his tiptoes on the quayside, and took a moment just to feel the reassuring heat that rose from his heels, the soft little clicks and ticks as the alloys cooled. The phoenix had not yet grown in all his flight feathers, but the fire was back, at least.

The place looked deserted, though. If it was where they were staying, they weren’t here now. Scarlet peeked warily in through the window, and surveyed the heaps of junk dotted about the empty space, but none of the heaps coalesced into either a hiding or a recharging body. They were genuinely just heaps of junk.

He picked his way gingerly through the door – who knew what sort of booby traps might have been left lurking for unsuspecting intruders? He knew that announcing his presence would probably have been the most sensible thing to do – if all Seekers were as wired-for-action as he always felt, and as heavily armed, startling them wouldn’t be advisable – but he was fairly content they weren’t here. They’d have heard his descent, if nothing else.

The place did look sort-of lived-in, with a little imagination. There was a rickety table and a couple of old crates in the corner closest to the window, and a disused old recharge berth with rusting pickup cables stood perpendicular to the wall, surrounded by a somewhat unsettling grey circle of smeared old lubricant. There were one or two discarded empty energon cubes on the floor, the crystal lattices tucked away almost out of sight behind an old crate, and a couple of comparatively clean insulated cables with shiny, well-used hookups curled alongside a jerry-rigged connection into a city gridline. So someone had been here, and recently.

There was a news wafer on the table; it had been scuffed about and one crushed corner wouldn’t hold an image any more, but the story currently open was familiar enough that he didn’t need to read it to know what it was about. Decepticons cleared of involvement in Blue threat, with its accompanying grisly video. Luckily the wafer had been in the low lighting for so long that its battery had run down, and the video had greyed out to a static image.

He picked it up, gingerly – didn’t really want to have to read this. But it did throw up some questions. What was it that was so important about this story that the mysterious pair of Seekers had a copy? He knew there’d been a fairly dire threat left at the Sphere from two angry Decepticons – was this connected? Were they the ones responsible? It seemed too convenient for it not to be connected. Which meant… could it be that they weren’t staying for very long in one place because they had been looking for him?

“Hey,” a voice greeted, and he turned to find a delivery vehicle in an inner doorway, watching him. “Lost something, Seeker?”

“No-o.” Scarlet shook his head, warily, setting the wafer back on the table and unconsciously gauging the distance to the exit. The newcomer’s bearing was setting off alarm bells in his head – he had a… predatory look about him. Scarlet didn’t like the ideas of being anyone’s prey, let alone such a weaselly-looking groundling. “That is, I was looking for someone-”

“That pair of airhe-… er, Seekers?” the truck guessed, interrupting him and smiling that hungry smile. “I was waiting for ‘em too. Want to wait together?”

Scarlet smiled, lopsidedly. “Not especially,” he demurred, dryly. Didn’t want to give all his plans away, and particularly not to someone who clearly didn’t think too highly of flying mechs. Why was he so interested with his plans, anyway? Unless… perhaps the truck was the reason the Seekers were absent. Scared them off – or maybe killed them, and stowed the bodies under the heaps of scrap. He glanced surreptitiously around, but didn’t see any wings of thrusters poking out from under the chaos.

“We don’t mean you any harm,” the truck said, lazily.

Right, and I’m Primus incarnate. Scarlet edged warily back towards the doorway. If the truck was so harmless, why had he mentioned it, so unnecessarily and so out-of context? The second he was back under clear skies, he gunned his thrusters and was airborne, using just enough thrust to counterbalance his weight and hover just out of reach.

“Oh, hey, no need for that! We only wanna talk to you. No need to be scared!” The truck leered up at him, looking half-crazed.

“Psh. I’m not afraid of you,” Scarlet argued, and was reassured to realise he meant it.

“Says the mech who just ran away to where we can’t get at ’im.”

“You’re confusing fear with prudence,” Scarlet corrected. “I don’t want your dirty paintmarks all over my clean fuselage. Plus, I don’t want your partner to jump on me when I’m busy distracted by you.”

“Who says I even have a partner?” the truck challenged.

“You keep saying ‘we’. That implies there’s someone else here that you’re working with.”

The truck spread his hands. “Aw, okay, you caught me out,” he accepted. “Yeah, we’re working in pairs, right now. Didn’t want to miss you, y’see. We got an offer for you.”

“What could a dirty little ground-pounder like you have to say that I could be interested in?” Scarlet folded his arms over his chest and rumbled his thrusters, as if about to make his departure.

“Well, see, we’re in a position of power in this district, and we’re thinking of branching out. We got an opening for a flier. We’ve been trying to catch up with you guys for a few orns.” The groundling shrugged. “Factions are gonna be changing, soon, here,” he added, somewhat cryptically. “A new power is gonna replace the stagnating Decepticons. We’re gonna pull all sorts together, rejuvenate the place under one banner. The future’s gonna be bright, and we need powerful machines like yourself to carry the message.”

Blue, Scarlet realised, although it didn’t take a lot of thought to work it out. “So you’re one of the ones responsible for putting the Blue on the streets,” he mused, out loud, working hard at keeping his anger internalised. “Am I to assume you’re one of the ones from the video, as well?”

That I can neither confirm nor deny,” the truck replied, but the modest way he’d placed a hand on his chest confirmed Scarlet’s suspicion.

The only outward sign of Scarlet’s sudden fury was the way his optics flickered brighter. To have one of the brutes responsible for his near-death-experience right here at his thrusters… He wanted to land square on him, stamp a white-hot thruster through the underclocked fragger’s smirking face. That wouldn’t get a whole lot of information out of him, though, and torturing the slagger was out of the question, because he had no idea where or how large the other half of the pair was.

“Remind me why you think I’ll consider this a good deal,” Scarlet prompted, stiffly.

“Like I say, we got an opening in the hierarchy for a flier. Boss said to open the invitation to you.”

It took even more squashing to kill the sudden urge to let out a blood-curdling shriek of anger, scream about how dare they even suggest it after they left him for dead, and smash the truck where it stood.

“You’re a great candidate, after all. Your optics are just the right colour,” the truck went on, grinning. “A little lick of paint, and you could be our public relations officer.” He clucked amusedly at his own joke. “What do you say?”

“I say… I’m curious,” Scarlet lied. “It’s a tempting offer. What do I get out of it, aside from infamy?”

“Command. Power. A fleet of femmes to polish you to a mirror shine, if you wanted. Whatever. Think about it?”

“Oh, I’ll think about it, all right,” Scarlet let a disgusted smirk simmer to the surface. I’ll think how good it’ll be to squash you, bug. “How do I reach you?”

“Oh, we’ll find you, Snowdrop,” the truck gave him a mocking little salute. “Just keep visible.”

Scarlet ‘saluted’ back, and departed, seething inwardly. Snowdrop! For that alone, he’s going to die!

0o0o0o0


From the warehouse, Fatigue watched the flier whisk sleekly away in the stratosphere, a twinkling silver arrow under muted starshine. “Another one of Megatron’s loyalists come to see what we’re up to, Deuce?”

Deuce looked back, and shook his head, warily. “Nah. Not sure even he knew what he was up to,” he disagreed. “Not one of Megs’s. Looked like a Neutral. Autobot, at worst. Didn’t even try shoot me.”

“Neutral flier? Interesting. I thought fliers – ’specially Seekers – were far too polar to be able to sit on the fences, in this war. Still, we could do with a couple of Autobots in the ranks, and at least we have a backup plan if we need it. If we can’t get them other two, we can try snag that one. Being a ’Con wasn’t highest on the Boss’ list, after all, right? Flying and sharpshooting were, and that pretty little white scrap of wings had all the right attributes.”

“And niice big cannons,” Deuce agreed, with a dirty grin, measuring an air-gap with his hands to demonstrate an exaggerated size. “Did you see ‘em? So sweet. Maybe the Boss can get me a couple.”

Fatigue gave him a tired swat around the back of the helm. “Irrepressible letch.”

0o0o0o0

The trip back to the police station was… unexpectedly uneventful. Neither Seeker put up much more than a flicker of resistance, and even then it looked like it was only because it was expected of them. Skywarp at least had the energy to spare on insults, calling their captors every foul name he could think of; he walked a pace or two behind his wingmate, one dark wing placed between Thundercracker and the Autobots, as it trying to make some kind of protective mantle.

As for Thundercracker, he looked barely able to remain standing on his own – it was something of a miracle he’d stayed aloft as long as he had. Jazz shooting him down probably saved him from the far more humiliating fall from the sky when his energy ran too low to keep him airborne. He walked with a slow half-shuffle, head down, optics dimmed.

There was a clustering of white in the cell-block, just inside the double doors – a crowding mass of officers all around one cell, and nervous, excited chattering. Hardline stood blocking the corridor, big white arms folded across his broad chest, and pointed silently with a thumb down the adjacent corridor. Prowl agreed with the sentiment – whatever was going on in that cell, it wouldn’t be good to get Decepticons tangled up in it as well – and directed the little party down the opposite corridor.

They put the two Decepticons into the cells – giving them adjoining units, under the façade of Autobot kindness, but actually to encourage them to talk and let their plans slip – removed the cuffs, and then left them in peace. No strafing laser-fire followed in their wake, but whether that was out of a grudging respect for the rules of fair play or just plain old we’re-too-tired-to-shoot, neither Autobot could really tell.

The commotion in the adjoining cell block was more of a cause for concern than anomalous Seekers. While Jazz headed up to the monitor room for a spot of Decepticon-sitting, Prowl hung back, to find out what had gone on in their absence.

“Chief Inspector? What’s happened?” he moved alongside the riot tank, and peered into the cell. There was a forensics team in there, and a couple of smaller constables, helping with recording and moving things around, but no landlord. “Did he escape?”

“If only.” Hardline shook his head, grimly, and didn’t look at him. “Attacked. We’ve got him stable at the District General but we’re not holding out much hope for a recovery,” he replied, and his voice was harsh, stilted. “Trying to work out how in the Pit they got in, whoever did it.” Well, that explained why he was being so short – he was angry, and particularly frustrated that they’d done it right under his nose.

0o0o0o0

Up in the monitor room, Jazz settled by the monitors with a cube of energon, hooked his feet up on the desk, and watched their new prisoners, hopefully. That they’d never talk openly about whatever diabolical plan they were carrying out, he had no doubt – and certainly not in a building swarming with Autobots – but then, they weren’t renowned for being the brightest of machines, Skywarp in particular. They might just… let things slip, if he was lucky, and patient.

Each flier made a cursory examination of their new accommodation, which revealed no hidden passageways, no movable walls, no sufficiently-large vents through which a determined Seeker could make egress, and a subspace baffle to keep a certain teleporter from teleporting. The only escape route was the same way they’d got in, and that point of exit was blocked by the softly humming energy bars.

…not that either looked inclined to do more than just discuss how to attempt an escape, now they’d satisfied themselves there was no easy way out. Survey completed, they just sat in their respective doorways, as close as they could physically get to each other, wingtips deliberately touching where they protruded out through the bars and into the corridor. In spite of a comprehensive knowledge of their history, it was hard not to feel sorry for them – they hardly seemed motivated to do anything apart from sit and talk, in quiet, exhausted voices. Two more scruffy, dirty, tired Decepticons would have been hard to find.

“Well, at least they solved the problem of where we’re gonna stay, for us,” Thundercracker’s voice came over the surveillance feed. He had his legs outstretched across his cell, hands laced in his lap,

In the adjoining cell, Skywarp jostled his wings impatiently and tucked his knees up, sulkily. “Just let me out of here. I’ll show ‘em. I could kick all of their afts, anyday.”

“That fight you were losing filled you with a whole new confidence, didn’t it?” the blue Seeker creaked, amusedly. His vocaliser was spitting out occasional badly-tuned chips of sound – must already be running on vapours.

“I will have you know I was not losing, I was dealing out a serious aft-kicking.” Skywarp gave a tired snort. “Everyone’s a critic.”

Jazz glanced down at the cube of energon in his hand, and felt a tiny unexpected pang of sympathy for the ravenous pair down in the cellblock. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to rustle up a little low-grade for them.

“Okay, how about we wait until they’ve gone to get some shutdown, then we break out of here, and-…” Sounded like a stifled yawn, a little fritz of static. “…then we’ll steal allll their energon.” Pause. “And some soap.”

“Great plan, Warp. How do you plan on us getting out of here to actually accomplish it?”

“Oh, I was going to leave that bit to you. You’re the brains of the outfit.”

There was another pause, and the two Seekers put on their best glares of death as a small hovercar scuttled past the feed. Jazz smiled.

“How about you teleport out of your cell, then disengage the bars so I can get out?” Thundercracker suggested, once they were alone again.

“Too tired. Besides, I can’t see where I’m going, they’ve got some sort of gadget running that’s mucking about with my triangulation.”

“One little teleport can’t be that hard? You only need to go the distance of a single stride past the bars.”

“Oh, because you’re the expert now, of course. If I can’t sense where I’m going, I’ll end up in the bars, or something, and I know without even having to try it that that will hurt.” Another of those grumpy noises. “Tell you what, if you’re so clever, how about you give me the boom, and I’ll give you the teleport for a few orns. Fair?”

“…you don’t need a sonic boom, you’re noisy enough without it.”

“Actually, that’s a good idea,” Skywarp sat forwards a little and leaned closer to the bars, as if it would be a little less likely for the Autobots to overhear. “When they come down here to feed us, boom at ‘em! We can skip out when they’re distracted.”

“Oh come on, since when would they waste good energon on us?”

“They’re Autobots, stupid. Come on, it’s got to be worth a try. Just warn me when you’re gonna do it this time.”

“…shut up, Skywarp.”

A breem or two passed in dozy silence. Thundercracker was first to retire to his berth – he had drifted away from full consciousness and gradually slumped down in his doorway, until the lower margin of his protruding right wing brushed against the bars. The shock of contact startled him back awake with a yip of alarm, but he soon recognised where he was.

“I’m going to recharge,” he grunted, standing stiffly.

“…uh?” Sounded like Skywarp was just as muggy.

“You know. Shut down for a bit. Build up my energy. That.”

“Uh.”

With no-one to talk to – not that they’d been talking a whole lot in the first place – Skywarp soon followed suit. The berths were far too small for them to comfortably lay full-length on – their wings would have jammed against the wall, and getting close enough to connect to the hookups would have been impossible. Instead, Thundercracker had settled in a funny half-seated diagonal, and hardly looked comfortable. Skywarp was an untidy sprawl perpendicular to his berth, canopy on the foam surface, legs trailing on the floor. His head was cricked at a funny angle that looked like it’d probably be painful when he roused, actuators freezing up from the awkward posture. They’d barely moved since then. The only sounds that came from their cells were the soft cycle of coolant fans.

“So how many times have they tried to escape so far?” Prowl asked, startling a sleepy Jazz back awake.

“Remarkably, none.” Jazz gestured a hand to the screens. “I don’t know what’s wrong with ’em! They’ve been like that the past few breems. Just… recharging.”

“So far as you can tell, while you were busy recharging, yourself?” Prowl smiled, wryly. “I was going to pay the hospital a visit, get the lowdown from the landlord’s doctor. Are you coming?”

Jazz nodded, and hastily finished his energon. “Yeah, sounds good. I don’t think they’ll be going anywhere for a while.”

0o0o0o0

The landlord had been taken up to the Intensive Monitoring Unit, and settled into a quiet room on his own. His doctor, who introduced himself as Doctor Debug, Consultant Overhaul’s registrar, was a protoform almost as scrawny as his patient, pristine white with a mint-green trim on his arms, almost like surgical gloves.

“I wouldn’t hold out much hope for a recovery,” Debug explained, softly, as they arrived. “Whatever he was given was a fairly potent viral. First it interlaced with his psyche, then overwrote large chunks of it. There’s too much disruption to his cognitive functions for him to regain consciousness.”

Jazz stared grimly in through the open doorway, at the silent body laying on the berth, and all the diagnostics terminals peeping softly as they monitored for changes. Cooling fans dutifully hummed, pumps clicked softly and moved energy to where it was needed, but the optics were offline and every single voluntary mechanism was still. He was alive, granted, but it could hardly be described as living.

“For now, we’re calling it a persistent vegetative state.” Debug spoke softly, as if to avoid waking his patient. “It’s technically inaccurate, because he doesn’t even respond to painful stimuli, but it sums up the total lack of cognitive activity. His processors are basically running autonomous functions, and nothing else.”

“Would it be possible to cure him?”

“Possible? Well, maybe. If we can purge the fractals and repair the deletions, maybe he’ll wake up. But will he be the same machine? Unlikely. There’s just… too much of him gone. It’s not just memories that have been overwritten, but protocols, algorithms, you name it and the fractals have gone through it. The only things it didn’t touch are his lower functions – energy handling, basic maintenance, that sort of thing.” He smiled, apologetically. “Mind you, we, ah… still haven’t worked out how to fix the damage,” he admitted. “The fractals regrow, just… not down the same pathways. We’re thinking that if you don’t delete them correctly, they regrow over completely different neuronal tracts.” Debug hesitated. “Although that’s just a hypothesis. Every time we’ve attempted to delete them, they’ve come back. We’re being optimistic when we say ‘if you delete them correctly’, because we don’t even know if you really can.”

“I don’t understand how this ever got into use as a narcotic if it’s so dangerous,” Jazz objected. “If what you’re saying is anything to go by, it’s a poison.

“I think – and again I’m hypothesising – it’s a question of quantity,” the doctor replied. “Small quantities, and you’re… well, not safe, per se, because you’ll still be addicted, but still capable of cognitive thought. What happened to this poor fellow was down to the volume he was given – essentially, he massively overdosed, and I can’t imagine he took it willingly.”

“You’re implying,” Prowl said, slowly, “that someone force-fed him?”

“In a word? Yes. With the intention of killing him.”

Prowl swapped a look with Jazz. “It looks like we’ve just added a murder investigation to the list.”

0o0o0o0

The station labs were the usual blur of quiet activity, when they got back – everyone was working busily and quietly, little blots of labcoat and protective safety-wear.

The helicopter met them by the door. “Thought you probably ought to be introduced, if you’re going to be with us for a while,” Nightsun explained, with a half smile. “In particular, to the current source of all knowledge on all things Blue. This,” he gestured with an arm to one of the hurrying blots of lab-jacket, which ducked under his arm and scuttled to the closest bench to put down an armful of reagents, “is Calibrator. We’ve been, ah, ‘borrowing her’ from Codustral for a little while.” He smiled, half-heartedly. “Contract chemist, runs the labs. I’ll leave you in her more than capable hands for a while, she can fill you in.”

Calibrator was a small dark femme, swamped by her oversized white protective gown, with large green magnifying optics and a dozen inbuilt connectors to port into analytical equipment. She thrust out one hand, which was protected by a luridly-coloured spray-on polymer glove and covered in analytical reagents, thought better of it and offered her other hand, which was equally covered, then smiled awkwardly and took both hands back. “I hope you won’t be too offended if I don’t shake your hands, sirs,” she apologised. “No telling what these chemicals will do if you get it on you… yes, er, well. From the top, yes? Do you know a lot about the narcotic?” She moved back to the bench, wiping reagents off her hands on an old rag in her bulging pockets. “Appearance, properties, that sort of thing?”

“We know a little.” Jazz followed her to her workstation. “The very, very basics!”

“In that case, you don’t know an awful lot less than we do!” the chemist admitted, with a lopsided half-smile. “We’re not sure of the chemical makeup or even exactly what it’s supposed to do, just that on the whole it’s addictive, and as a consequence of that, destructive. The one I’m working on is Basic Blue,” she gestured to the cube in her workstation – it looked almost identical to normal energon, except for the vague, indistinct blue facets in it. “Most of the supply chain consists of this one.”

“It doesn’t look like I expected it to,” Jazz confessed. It looked misleadingly normal. “I was kind of expecting it to look, you know… actually blue.”

“And that is exactly how most machines are getting sucked in,” Calibrator agreed. “It’s usually a case of ‘Oh it’s not too bad, I’ll be safe having just one, to see what the fuss is about, then I can stop if I don’t like it, because I’m not so weak-willed as all those other addicted machines.’ By which time, they’re hooked.” She set the reagent probe into the cube, and flicked a button, set a program running. “To be honest, Basic is pretty mild stuff. It’s addictive, but fairly harmless. Easily gets slipped in with normal supplies. We were figuring that some individuals might not even realise they’ve had it until it’s too late.”

The two Autobots exchanged looks.

“How frequently do you think the latter happens?” Prowl wondered, out loud.

“Not too often, from what we can tell,” Calibrator admitted. “For all their bluster, the Blue outfit seems pretty small-scale. They don’t have the output to push supplies onto people who don’t actually want to try it. Anyway. There’s another couple of variants we’ve managed to get samples of – Blue Ruin is one, Blue Prophet another. Both mess with your perceptions, make you see things that aren’t there, that sort of thing. We’re not sure exactly what makes them different, just yet. Probably just more mutant viral types.” Calibrator spread her hands. “They’re supposedly more potent, which agrees with what the streets are saying. Blue Ruin is most popular.” She pulled a face. “Ruin and Prophet both are blue in colour!”

She ducked down to a cupboard for a moment. “And this last,” she gingerly brought out a tiny cube of violent cobalt, sizzling in the tongs as if it were boiling, “and by far the most potent… is the infamous ‘Screaming Blue’. Supposedly they named it after the Second in Command of the Decepticons, ‘cause rumour has it this is what killed him. Nasty stuff.”

“Now that looks like I expected,” Jazz commented, dryly, watching as the cube fizzed and sparked like an electrical version of those unholy carbonated beverages humans liked.

“I didn’t realise there’d been any narcotics involvement in his death,” Prowl added, softly. “He just ran into three groundling thugs, who broke him up just like Megatron used to. He was too inebriated to find his way home and bled out in an alleyway.”

Calibrator spread her hands, in a shrug. “Maybe. That’s the official line, at least. The scuttlebutt has it that he was high on Blue, hence the aberrant behaviour. It could just be a rumour, sure, but, ah… our ‘supplier’ is pretty confident of his facts.”

“Speaking of which, where do you get your samples from?”

“Most of the test samples come from the hospitals,” she explained. “They confiscate any they find, and it gets sent to the police department. We’ve got plenty to experiment on. But the exemplars?” She gestured to the cupboard holding the selection of cubes, and averted her gaze, sadly. “There’s no other way of keeping up to date than going to the streets to get them. We buy direct from the dealers.”

“Isn’t that just a smidgen dangerous?!”

“These are pretty desperate times. We have to get it from somewhere.”

Prowl tapped his chin, thoughtfully. “Correct me if I’ve got the wrong idea, but if you’re actually in contact with the dealers, why have arrests proved so difficult to make?”

“We’ve never been able to make contact with the primary dealership,” Calibrator replied, ruefully. “Only ever the minor suppliers, no matter how hard we try.” She pulled a face. “Unlike your pair of Decepticons. If the rumour mill is anything to go by, they were streets ahead of us before you arrested them.”

0o0o0o0

“You know, I don’t think he’s gonna tell us much,” Jazz commented, watching the recharging flier while Prowl deactivated the bars. “Even when he’s awake again.”

“Well, it’s only fair to give him benefit of the doubt,” Prowl glanced up, and gave a little shrug, following his friend through the open bars. “Bribery has been known to work on them in the past.”

Skywarp was still an untidy heap, but at least he’d turned into an untidy heap all the way on his berth, by now – they didn’t have to pick their way over his sprawling legs.

“Hey, you.” Prowl prodded a finger into his neck, then jabbed at a wing. “Wake up. We have questions.”

“Uh?” Skywarp flickered his optics sleepily up at his wardens, but soon grunted and offlined them again at recognising the pair. “I’m still slagged out. Come back tomorrow.” It was an instruction, not a request.

“You’re also in no position to be making demands. We only have a few questions.”

“What part of ‘slag off’ did you not get, Autobot? I’m not answering any of your stupid questions.”

“We also have energon, but I guess you don’t want that either.”

Skywarp onlined his optics again, and focused on the cube of purple that was being held in his direction. He tried (without a lot of success) to ignore the way his pumps skipped in his chassis. “Where’s the catch?”

“No catch. You refuel, we ask a few questions. Seems like a fair deal, to me.”

Skywarp sat and accepted the cube, warily. “What have you put in it?” he grumbled, taking the tiniest sip possible and subjecting it to a barrage of tests for intoxicants.

“Nothing, as I’m sure your own body just confirmed. Just good quality, clean energon. Primus only knows why we’re wasting it on scum like you.”

That little sip reminded Skywarp of the way his pumps were all whining at him to refuel them. Much to his chagrin, the calm, in-control way he’d planned on slowly consuming the rest of the cube, between insults and half-answers – just to remind the Autobots who they were dealing with, a proud officer in the deadliest squadron in the Decepticon fleet, who didn’t need Autobot sympathy or generosity or pity-handouts – turned into big relieved gulps of the precious violet nectar. The two Autobots swapped looks.

“Better?” Prowl asked, once Skywarp had finally emptied the cube, and for once he didn’t sound condescending.

The Seeker swallowed his pride and nodded, not meeting either Autobot’s gaze. He didn’t say thank you, but then they hadn’t expected him to.

“Now. Questions!” Jazz reminded him.

“I don’t know,” Skywarp interrupted, before they got the chance to ask anything.

“What?”

“Whatever you’re going to ask me. I don’t know.”

“But we haven’t asked you anything, yet.”

“I know,” Skywarp smiled, and tried very hard to look like he was being duplicitous, but only succeeded in looking as clueless as he was making out. “I’ve completely lost any kind of grasp of what’s going on. All I know is that you’re here, we’re here, and everything’s gone crazy.”

“All right. On your feet,” Prowl waved his gun.

“What? Why?” Skywarp folded his arms and stayed sitting, but an undeniable flicker of anxiety went through his optics. It was as if he imagined they were about to march him outside and shoot him in the back of the head.

“We’re going to pay your neighbour a visit, now come on,” Jazz smiled. “Up!”

Anxiety turned back into suspicion. “Why are we going to see Thundercracker?”

“Well, if you don’t know anything, maybe he will.”

“So… why am I coming with you? Threatening me to bribe him won’t work.”

“Just get on your feet, Skywarp,” Prowl instructed, tiredly. “We don’t have all vorn to spend playing mind games with you.”

In the adjoining cell, Thundercracker was deep in recharge, half off his berth, arm trailing out across his wing and his head dangling precariously back, vocaliser buzzing softly.

Skywarp leaned down very close to his audio vent and said, loudly, “TC?”

Thundercracker gave a little start and blinked up at him, wincing and managing to get his head back on the berth, then apparently decided there was no way Skywarp could actually be in his cell with him, and groaned and pushed him away. “You’re just a figment of my burned-out central processor,” he groused, bitterly. “Come back when I’ve had time to get my energy levels back out of the Pit.”

Skywarp was unimpressed – grabbed his wingmate’s thrustered feet and hauled him bodily halfway off his berth. Thundercracker gave an involuntary erp! and flailed his arms, managed to catch himself on the edge of his bunk, leaning awkwardly on his wings and a foot or two shy of landing hard on his aft.

“Still think I’m a figment?” Skywarp challenged, grouchily, when the startled crimson optics finally focused on him, then plonked himself down hard on the end of the long, flat pallet to stop his friend laying back down. “We’ve got visitors, and I’m no way dealing with these two on my own, so you better freaking wake up properly.”

Finally noticing the Autobots, Thundercracker affected a half-hearted glower, and planted his aft onto his bunk next to Skywarp, but in spite of his valiant efforts at looking dangerous and belligerent he looked too tired to do much else. “Should have known they’d be down eventually,” he growled to Skywarp, as if they weren’t there. “What do they want?”

“Breakfast,” Jazz said, brightly, offering a cube.

“What?-… Oh!” Thundercracker showed none of Skywarp’s initial reticence – his scowl fell off, his optics brightened, and he accepted the energon as though it were the most precious thing on the planet. He all but inhaled the whole cube without even pausing to purge the vapours that hung around in his system, which made him splutter, feebly.

“Haven’t actually refuelled in orns,” he admitted, once he’d got control back over his vocaliser, at Skywarp’s dirty look.

“What about all that energon you said we had-” Skywarp challenged.

“You were doing all the fetching and carrying and getting-beaten-to-slag, I figured you needed it more.”

“Of all the Primus-damned stupid-” In spite of his words, Skywarp sounded a tiny bit touched by the thought. “So much for ‘rationing’!”

“It was rationing!” Thundercracker argued, indignantly. “It was going to the mech who needed it most.”

“All right, all right,” Prowl interrupted. “We didn’t drag your carcass in here for you to just chatter, Skywarp.” He folded his arms. “We want to know everything you know.”

“That shouldn’t take long,” Thundercracker snorted. “We pretty much know slag all.”

Prowl decided to call their bluff, if he could. “We particularly need to know about Screaming Blue,” he said, grimly. “What is it, where did you get it from, and what purpose could it possibly serve the Decepticons?”

The two Seekers gave him a collectively blank stare.

“A blue what? And why is it screaming?” Skywarp asked, and sounded genuinely clueless. He’d slumped forwards, and had his chin propped in his hands, elbows on knees. “Oh, hang on, wait. Are you talking about that… that drug stuff? I thought it was just ‘Blue’. What does sound have to do with it?”

“Screaming Blue,” Prowl elaborated, quietly, “was so named, if you believe the rumours, because it was what your illustrious leader was high on when he was killed. So I repeat. What, if anything, does it have to do with you two?”

The two Decepticons swapped dirty looks. “I hadn’t heard that story,” Thundercracker admitted, darkly. “I knew they were using his murder to sell their product, but that was about it.”

“We did kinda suspect they’d drugged him,” Skywarp added, moodily, not sitting up. “We just didn’t have anything conclusive to go on.” His voice became a little softer. “Kinda moot, now, anyway.”

“So let me get this straight. You’re telling us that all this…” Jazz waved a hand as if to encompass the whole district. “All the blue, the riots, the attempted murders… You’re trying to tell us you just happen to be here completely coincidentally?”

Thundercracker smiled exhaustedly. “Yeah. I know you’re never going to believe us, but we are genuinely here completely coincidentally.”

“We didn’t have anything to do with it – didn’t even know it existed – until they got Screamer involved,” Skywarp confirmed, with a weary headshake. “You, uh…” he winced, “probably saw the footage of what happened to him.”

Prowl nodded, solemnly. “We saw,” he accepted, quietly, without making them go into too much depth. “So why are you still here? Your leader is out of the picture, why not just go back to Megatron?”

“I don’t know what Optimus Prime thinks about it, but Megatron doesn’t look too kindly on mutineers,” Thundercracker snorted. “We came here in the first place because Starscream fell out with him, again.” He glared, softly. “Turns out the slagger was just framing all three of us.”

“We’d not been here very long when things just… blew up on us. We stayed mostly just to look for Starscream,” Skywarp added. “To start with, anyway. Now we’ve got matters to take up with the Blue pushers.”

Jazz gave a genuinely sympathetic look. “You did know he was, ah… that is-” He stumbled over the words. Do they not know he’s dead?

“Oh, we knew he wasn’t in best shape,” Thundercracker agreed, dryly, then added, more seriously; “we’ve been trying to find his body, if you must know. Maybe it’s just one of those morbid quirks of Decepticon programming. We just…” He shrugged, awkwardly. “We wanted to know we could finally stop looking for him.”

“They never actually found the body, you know,” Jazz reminded them, lifting a finger. “There was just a puddle of crystallised fluids in the alleyway. So there, ah… might still be hope. For you.” What in Primus name am I saying? Hope that Starscream didn’t finally bite the big one?

“They wouldn’t have found him there,” a flicker of something indefinable brightened Skywarp’s crimson gaze, and he sat up and folded his arms, awkwardly. “They weren’t looking in the right place.”

“You know something we don’t, Skywarp?”

“I know he’s dead,” Skywarp made a face, refused to meet their gaze. “Because I killed him.”

The two Autobots exchanged worried glances, and Thundercracker gave Skywarp a friendly elbow.

“Let’s not get bogged down in that again, eh, Warp?” the blue Seeker suggested, quietly.

“What do you mean, you killed him?” Jazz cut in, worriedly.

Thundercracker gave him a dirty look. “You keep your snout out of things that don’t concern you, Autobot-”

“What I mean is I was too stupid to stay online, he staggered off, and got abducted by some crazy giant psychopath with a penchant for broken-up mechs, all right?” Skywarp interrupted, angrily. “He’s probably in some basement somewhere, in lots of teeny tiny bits, and if I’d not let myself lapse into recharge, all three of us would still be together, and dealing out a little friendly Decepticon reminder of why no stupid narcotic is ever going to take our place!”

There was a startled lull in conversation – even Thundercracker hadn’t been quite prepared for his wingmate’s outburst.

“Sirs?” a voice asked, from the doorway. They turned to find Nightsun, who smiled, apologetically. “Sorry to interrupt; Cali said she thought you two were down here. Hardline wants to call a meeting, pool what we know so far.”

“I think we’re just about finished here, right, Jazz?” Prowl agreed.

“Almost,” Jazz nodded, and glanced down at the two Seekers, who were muttering unintelligibly to each other again. “Come on, you two,” he prodded. “We know you were involved in a street brawl a few orns ago, and we’re suspecting it was with some of the Blue pushers. Just confirm it for us, and we’ll leave you in peace.”

A little more hushed muttering passed between the two fliers.

“We got as far as finding one of the major dealers,” Thundercracker explained, at last, reluctantly. “We were going to interrogate him, but Warp got a bit overexcited and jumped him before I got there.”

“Whoa, whoa, wait a second-!” Nightsun cut in, waving his hands. “You actually found one of the major players? And… what, you killed him, or something…?!”

“Don’t be stupid,” Skywarp scoffed. “Your lot showed up and he escaped, long before we managed to get that far. I just,” he looked away, modestly, “kicked him around a bit.”

Nightsun smiled, enviously. “They’ve got further than we’ve managed to,” he admitted, and glanced at the two Seekers. “You’ve got a description of him, right?”

“I’ll describe all three of the slaggers, if you want,” Skywarp shrugged, tiredly. “Bring me the artist and you’ll have your wanted posters by the end of the orn.”

“We didn’t have a basic description. We weren’t even entirely sure how many of them there were,” Nightsun admitted to Prowl, once he was out of audio range, as the two headed up to Hardline’s debriefing, leaving Jazz to finish grilling the tired Seekers for any remaining information. “Those two somehow managed to ID all three of them.”

“You’re being far too helpful,” Jazz commented, thoughtfully, watching Skywarp. “Are you not feeling well?”

Skywarp pulled a face. “Well, it’s not as if we’re going to get first dibs at killing the fragger, is it, now you have us banged up in here,” he groused. “We might as well help you catch him. With any luck you’ll put him in the next-door cell and we can put the boot in that way.”

“It’s that important to you?”

“Wouldn’t you go on whatever the Autobot equivalent of a murderous rampage is if someone did Prowl in?” Thundercracker countered. “He owes us. Big time.”

“So, ah, what’s with the, er-…” Jazz wiggled a finger in an approximate point at where an insignia would be, if he had wings. “Don’t tell me you two have actually gone straight, after all these millennia.”

There were snerks of amusement that proved ‘no’.

“CSIs Skywarp and Thundercracker, at your service,” Thundercracker quipped, dryly, and elbowed his wingmate. “His idea. He somehow thought we – as in, the most notorious fliers to have ever patrolled Cybertron’s airspace – could actually successfully go incognito just by slapping a bit of paint over our insignia.”

“It worked for a while!” Skywarp argued.

“They didn’t need to know who we were to happily kick him out of the hospital, though.”

“Psh. It was only after you took things up with the Sphere’s editor that they stopped selling us energon, remember? I told you that you should have just threatened him verbally.”

There was a little more jostling of wings, but it seemed friendly rather than argumentative.

“Now… all right. Just hear me out before you swear, laugh, or shout rude things,” Jazz lifted his hands. “I know it’s… well, kinda beyond the pale, most of the time. But. I wondered if the pair of you had any immediate plans for the future.”

Thundercracker arched an optic ridge, and Skywarp failed at hiding a smirk.

“Let me guess. You’re asking us to join your raggedy bunch,” Thundercracker guessed.

“Because we’re just that damn good,” Skywarp added.

Jazz grinned, wryly. “Can’t hide much from you two brilliant detectives, huh?” he replied, amusedly, already retreating to the doorway. “Yeah. If you want to. Otherwise you get to enjoy each others’ company for a whoooole lot longer. We squared it up with the Superintendent, and he’s happy to make some allowances for you, provided you don’t go causing too much trouble. The more eyes are looking, the more likely we’ll be to catch ‘em. I’ll even let you have ‘first dibs’ on the ringleader, if you want it.”

“Do we have to answer now?” Skywarp made a face.

“Nah. Whenever you’re ready,” Jazz allowed, re-engaging the bars. “Just shout if you want to talk. There’s usually someone within yelling distance.”

“This is cosy,” Skywarp said, after Jazz’s footsteps had finally faded out, and slumped sideways, letting his head resting on the point of Thundercracker’s shoulder.

“Do you mind?” Thundercracker grumbled, quietly.

“Nope,” Skywarp shook his head. “I’m still tired.”

“So am I. Get your head off me.”

Skywarp grinned and snuggled closer, and a black hand planted square down on his faceplates and shoved him off backwards.

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