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Screaming Blue Murder, chapter 15


Screaming Blue Murder
Chapter 15

The instant she’d got back, Pulsar headed straight up to the monitor rooms – firstly to check for her video, and make sure the culprits were easily identifiable, secondly, to check how humiliated she was going to be when word got out, and thirdly to find out why in the Pit no-one had noticed and come to help!

By the time she’d got settled in front of the main computer, she knew she was withdrawing. She felt giddy, shaky, over-pressurised, and her pumps had purged her intakes twice already. Her left hand had picked up a spasm that was proving very difficult to control. Forceps’ sedatives were holding her for a little while, but not particularly well, and taking any more would probably just send her into a different sort of stupor. She sat on the offending limb as much as she could, the rest of the time. It wouldn’t do to get people asking questions. Questions she couldn’t answer without incriminating herself would only lead to being pulled off the investigation for safety’s sake.

“Eh, hey there, Pulse. Didn’t see you get back off patrol.” Nightsun’s friendly voice came from somewhere behind. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah, it’s fine.” She forced a smile. “Just stopped off to visit Sepp, see how things were looking in the emergency rooms.” Where in the Pit was her video?! “Not much has changed, ‘cept they have more patients.”

Nightsun peered over her head at the video feeds. “Checking the Flywheel, huh? Having it back on your route got you spooked?” He patted her shoulder, reassuringly. “You needn’t worry about it. We’re checking the feeds every day, and no-one’s gone back there in orns.”

“But…” That couldn’t be right, she knew first-hand that the bar still had plenty of activity! She stared in dismay at the screens. The feeds all showed the same silent street, the same silent buildings, the same total lack of activity – even the one in the Flywheel’s main lounge. Nothing at all came up. Not even last night, and she knew that she’d been in the feed range of at least half a dozen cameras. That same baffle that had blocked her comm must have induced a loop in the footage.

“It’s just… off-putting,” she lied. “Knowing what I’m going past. Imagining them behind the door.”

He must have seen her Blue-induced shaking, because the friendly pat became a more concerned continual touch. “Look, we can write it back out of your route,” the sergeant offered. “It’s not like we need you to go past there, we have more than enough stationary surveillance in the area.”

Which doesn’t seem to be working, she thought, but didn’t voice it out loud.

“It’ll just make the patrol a bit longer,” he went on. “Which won’t be too big a deal, right? You’ve been doing an alternative route for the past dozen or so orns anyway.”

“It’s okay.” I have to be able to get back there to contact the dealers. It’ll look suspicious if they take it out of my route because I’m ‘too scared to go there’, and then catch me going there anyway. “Seriously, it’s fine. Really.” She forced a smile, and covered his fingers with her own. “It’s just… I’ve not been past there since it all blew up. I’m just… just a little shaky. You know?”

“I know the feeling.” He gave her hand a squeeze. “You’ll get over it.”

0o0o0o0o0

Flying low over the buildings only on the other side of the district, Skywarp wiggled his wings, and sideslipped gracefully towards the ground. “Hey, TC, I’d begun to forget what it was like, flying without having to worry if I was gonna fall out of the sky,” he commented.

Thundercracker did a little aerial roll above him and bopped a wingtip off his wingmate’s canopy. “If that was a little jab aimed at me, it wasn’t funny,” he growled, but didn’t sound particularly angry. Being well-rested, clean and having full tanks had eased him into a far more genial frame of mind.

Come on, let’s go harry the Autobots,” Skywarp bounced his nosecone unexpectedly against the underside of his friend’s fuselage. “We’ve got the fuel to get there, now.”

“If you want to go nark our hosts off, be my guest,” Thundercracker tumbled gracefully sideways out of the way, and let himself transform, pointing the tips of his feet at the ground in a landing. “I was figuring we could use our newfound police powers to go snoop for Screamer, because now we don’t just have to look from a distance.”

Ooh,” Skywarp sounded genuinely impressed. “That’s actually a really good idea.

“I know,” Thundercracker stood and watched while Skywarp finally elected to join him on the ground outside the little chemicals plant they were there to inspect. “It was my idea, so you could have taken it for granted it’d be good.”

Even wearing the temporary new blue-and-yellow Police decals, they didn’t go unrecognised. “Oh Primus-” The small mech startled violently at recognising them, and backed away from his door. “Decepticons?!”

Thundercracker smiled, lazily. “I think you’ve mistaken us for some other machines,” he replied, lazily. “We’re here on behalf of the police.” He flashed a specially-designed badge in the mech’s face, and glided sleekly past even as the old creature goggled disbelievingly at the holographic plastic.

“If I knew what you were looking for, I could help you find it,” the smaller machine suggested, at last, thinly, looking unnerved at so unexpectedly having two heavily-armed Seekers in his living room.

“You were a small-time refiner, before the economy went belly up?” Thundercracker turned a probing crimson gaze onto him. “Where’d you keep your equipment? You’ve still got it all, I assume?”

“Oh… oh! Oh, that! Um, this way. Follow me!”

Skywarp followed at a more leisurely pace, inspecting all the containers that might have been big enough to get parts of a broken jet into. By the time he caught up with his wingmate, Thundercracker was alone again, standing by the open doors of the large building they’d seen from the air – the older machine had scuttled off to give them room to work.

Skywarp hesitated in the doorway, leaving Thundercracker to take the lead into the building. “So what are we looking for, again?”

Thundercracker had already flipped up a lid on a storage bin and was directing a high-beam torch at the interior. “Aside from red and white wings, anything suspicious.”

Skywarp scoffed. “Because not much on the entire damn planet is suspicious,” he groused, heading down the opposite side of the room and peeking inside the nearest bin. A tiny colony of lurking arachnoid xenoforms scuttled away from his torchlight, and lurked in the corner of the bin, blinking up at him; he pulled a face, distastefully, and closed the lid before they could get any ideas of setting up home in his fuselage. “How long have these Policebot geeks been out of the loop for? Have they forgotten we’re still technically at war?”

Thundercracker chuckled, quietly. “Dangerous ground you’re treading, there, making insinuations like that.”

They passed a set of double doors at the end of the large storage room, and came face to face with a very large piece of computing equipment.

“Does this count as suspicious?” Skywarp wondered, once he’d got his face to change from the little ooh! of interest at their discovery.

“We have a Nexus-model supercomputer here, Winnower,” Thundercracker spoke into his comm. “Serial NX-197904-alt-pipe-NVR2. What’s the schema?”

“That’s a negative,” came the analyst’s reply, after a few moments. “Underpowered.”

“It’s a damn big machine, you sure about that?” Thundercracker gazed up the worn sides at the offline relays and darkened monitors.

“Big, but underpowered,” Winnower confirmed. “It’s got the output capacity, but lacks the processor power to generate the fractal complexity of the narcotic. He’s not our culprit.”

“Doesn’t look like it’s been used in vorns anyway,” Skywarp commented, from behind the terminal, after Thundercracker had grumbled an affirmative and closed the link. “Half the components have seized up, back here.” There was a rattle of fingers over old terminals, then the low bang of shearing metal, and a half-apologetic snicker. “Whoops. I didn’t think that’d come right off.”

“Can’t you do anything without breaking it, Warp?” Thundercracker glanced down at the chunk of silver in his friend’s palm. “We’re going to have to arrange expenses with him to get it fixed, now.”

“Tsh.” Skywarp balanced the lever precariously back where it had come from, and backed slowly away from it, nodding satisfaction to himself when it failed to topple to the floor. “We don’t tell him. It’s not like he’s using this stupid machine a lot, he’ll never notice.” He glanced sidelong at his friend, and held his gaze in silence for a while. “This is a waste of our talents, you know,” he said, and waved his torch under his wingmate’s nose. “We need to be back out there, kicking some serious skidplate.”

“If only we could find the skidplate that most needed kicking,” Thundercracker reminded him. “I thought you were the one that enjoyed being a private investigator?”

“No, I’m the one who you said will voluntarily self-destruct out of boredom.”

0o0o0o0o0

“Um, Calibrator? Cali?”

“Yes?” She looked up at the unfamiliar voice, and found one of the Seekers – Skywarp, was it? – framed in her doorway. “Can I help you?”

He fidgeted, briefly. “I hope so. I need someone with a bit of a science brain on them,” he explained. “Since most of this is just going woosh,” he waved an arm above his head, “and I want to try and get it. Can I ask you some questions?”

“If you like,” she nodded, patiently. “I’ll see if I can help, but I make no guarantees!”

He made a little sniffy wrinkled-lip look and shrugged, one-shoulderedly. “You probably been asked it all already anyway,” he accepted, then added, cautiously; “If you were a guy making illegal narcotics, where would you hide ’em?”

She gave him a thoughtful look. “Somewhere nobody would think of looking,” she half-joked, tiredly. “Perhaps… oh, I don’t know. In plain sight has always been the best place to hide things, but then the police have covered most of the obvious places.” She set a sensor probe carefully down, and pondered for a moment. “I suppose… maybe an old supply depot? A power station that went out of use during the war. A recycling plant. A disused warehouse. Anywhere that not many have cause to visit. And of course, I’d have enough places at my disposal that I could move things around, if needed.”

The words disused warehouse worried him, a little. What if they’d been sitting on top of the origin the whole time, and that was the real reason Starscream had met his painful end? He squelched his concerns, for now. “How big would it have to be?” he chased. “The equipment to make the stuff? I mean, we’ve seen some pretty big instruments while we’ve been out, me and TC, and they’re all too small, apparently. Are we looking for something like planet-sized, here? Are they making it offworld and shipping it in?”

“It’s not really a question of size, it’s more to do with processor power. The outfit itself is pretty small, from what we can gather.” She set her optics back to the microscope, twiddled the dials. “Which suggests that their production facility is pretty small, too.”

“Define ‘small’? Are we talking, like, two or three machines total? Or does fifty count as little, for things like this?”

“Well, yes, you might well be looking at just one or two individuals responsible,” Calibrator confirmed. “I’d hedge my bets and say I think it’d be closer to ten, maybe fifteen, though. Some to get supplies, some to manufacture, some to take the product into the market, and so on. All depends on whether or not you have a powerful enough computer setup.”

Skywarp folded his arms and lounged back against the table. “We found an old Nexus today, but apparently that’s not big enough,” he grumbled. “Do we need to be looking for Vector Sigma’s long-lost cousin, or something?”

She laughed, politely. “A Nexus is a big machine for processing large volumes,” she explained. “But mostly it’s large volumes of simple chemicals. Virathesis is probably as complex as it can cope with, fractal-wise. You’d be better off looking for a machine like this,” she gestured to the little analytical machine on the end of the bench. “Vinculum-class have the computing power to rack up high-quality fractals very quickly. This one’s too small, output wise, but it’s the sort of machine you should be looking for.”

Skywarp inspected the computer, tiredly, crouching with his chin on the worktop. “Haven’t seen any of this class of computer. Where would we find ’em?”

“They tend to be specialist use,” she acknowledged. “Chemicals companies, forensics laboratories, and so on. Places that need to process for trace impurities, like here, or tailor things to individual’s own technical schema, that sort of thing.”

“So we’re looking for somewhere big?”

“We-ell, not necessarily. Provided they have the machinery and the raw energon, even a… well, I don’t know, even a hospital laboratory could be big enough, at a push,” she spread her hands.

“Whoa, Warp, what are you doing in here?”

Skywarp glanced up to find Thundercracker in the doorway.

The blue Seeker grinned, and teased; “got a cortex transplant?”

“Yeah, I thought I’d make a brilliant forensics scientist,” Skywarp agreed, poking his tongue out. “I was just trying to get a bit of information off Calibrator, so I could make an attempt to understand things. As you’re being so helpful and explaining things so well, to me.”

Thundercracker made a pfft noise. “Why are you suddenly so worried about knowing the science, anyway?”

“Well, we’re not going to manage to work anything out while we’re running round like headless fleshies, just chasing useless leads, right?”

“Eh, wait up, had you forgotten? Headless fleshies don’t run, Warp, they fall down dead.”

“Just… gr. Work with me a minute, will you? They say you have to ‘know thy enemy’,” Skywarp grumbled. “They know us, and we don’t have a fragging clue about them. I figure the only way we’ll catch them is to try to think like them.” He pouted. “You could try to be a little more understanding. This isn’t easy, for me.”

“Sorry, Warp,” Thundercracker tried (and failed) to look contrite. “I was just so… shocked… by how deep you were being.”

Skywarp gave him a dirty look. “Oh, why don’t you just go get smelted, you pain in the afterburners.”

0o0o0o0o0

Skated too close to the edge for the last time. Primus, how did you get to be so damn stupid? In it up to your spark-casing, and this time there is no way out.

She’d lain awake and listening to the quiet cycling of her room-mates fans the entire way up to her shift, when she should have been resting. She was the only one still awake – even Whitesides, who always seemed to have difficulty engaging his dormancy protocols, was humming quietly in recharge in the top bunk opposite. She’d never had problems going dormant before. She wasn’t sure if it was Blue withdrawal itself that was keeping her from doing so, or if it was just the worry doing it.

What was she going to do? What could she do? Give up Scarlet, and the other two would be baying for her energon, because she couldn’t possibly hope it’d go unnoticed. Probably bad enough that she’d held out on telling them he was still alive, she’d probably end up in lots of itty bitty pieces if she didn’t tell them and tried to bargain her way out of a mess of her own making by using him.

Wasn’t as if it’d help, anyway. Even if she did somehow win their favour by giving up the flier, it wasn’t going to cure her. She’d still be reliant on the foul stuff. Trying to go without the processor-curling chemicals was almost as bad as the half-sparked muddle that had gone with them – right now, everything had whirled up in a jumble of half-processed thoughts and bad ideas.

She’d researched the drug, something she’d not cared to do properly until now, and felt wretched. Everything Forceps had said about it looked true – once you had the viral damage, that was it. A continual supply of drug was needed just to be able to function properly. Strength of character counted for nothing – not that her character was particularly strong in the first place. You couldn’t just will the side-effects away.

She’d made it through the day, somehow, without anyone asking any worrying questions, but nothing had cleared. The side effects were all still there, twisting at her insides, although thankfully they weren’t getting any worse. Her pumps – which she still couldn’t seem to offline properly – kept on jittering, contracting and trying to purge tanks that were already empty. Her head throbbed from the pressure. Even complete, total prone inactivity wasn’t settling her gyroscopes down; they were still skipping like sprites in her brainpan, and the room swayed and rotated in front of her optics. Even the subdued lights by the door were painful to look at, overloading optical receptors and throwing up so many jaggy, blurry rainbow haloes that any details were hard to work out.

There was only one thing for it – she was going to have to go back, and plead her case. Find something they’d accept as a bargain. Something that didn’t involve her (metaphorically, at least) baring her spark casing to angry fliers, who’d probably not even hesitate to put a fist through it if they knew what she was contemplating using them for.

When time for her patrol rolled around, she headed out as normal… until she was out of sight, and then headed straight across to the Flywheel, hoping hoping they’d be there oh Primus let them be there. Maybe she could barter. Was there something else they wanted? Maybe she could just run them information, be a go-between. Sabotage the investigation in small ways – that could even be worked in her favour. If she could be a double-agent, secretly passing information on to Hardline. The Chief Inspector would never forgive her for weakening the investigation by putting herself into this sort of position, but if she could soften the blow a little by getting valuable information off the big thugs who got her into the position in the first place.

…Primus, who was she trying to kid? She just wanted the Blue. Needed the Blue. If she had to endure much more of this she knew she’d do anything for it, just to get her brain back.

The Flywheel was silent, and dark, tonight. Were they even here? She concentrated on quieting the way her pumps were jittering, nauseatingly. They had to be here. Had to be. She needed-… she needed… She clutched at her sidelights and moaned, softly, curling down on herself. How could things have gone so horribly wrong? It wasn’t even as if it was her fault she was addicted! Well, maybe it was, a little bit – if she’d not stopped, if she’d just headed straight back and called in the heavy hitters. No way would Hardline have been wrestled into accepting that horrible stuff. But then she’d barely stopped for half a breem! Just long enough to decide she needed to call in backup-

She lowered her gaze and licked her lips, silently. It felt like there were a hundred white-hot sprites flickering along her wiring. She imagined the strong, exotic fuel bathing her jittery insides, the heady calm and perfect stillness that would come after. Her left hand contracted tightly and painfully at her side. Need it. Need it. Plotting and planning faded in the face of this mind-cramping need.

“Well, hello there, Autobot,” an unpleasantly familiar voice greeted, and she turned slowly to come face-to-face with Fatigue. “What could you possibly be here for? Come to arrest me?” He smirked, and offered his wrists, palms up.

“You know what I’m here for,” she ground out, shakily. “Give me some.”

“Oh, no no no, that’s not how it works at all,” Fatigue cooed, and patted her helm until she ducked backwards, out of reach. “My dear little Policebot, Blue is an essential commodity, to be appropriately traded for goods or services!”

“But I need it-” She hugged her arms around herself, protectively, trying to stop her arms shaking.

“I know that, my pretty, why else would you be here?” He smiled, smugly. “So, like most normal machines do for things they need, we’ll make an exchange. You have essential commodities that we want, just as much as you want our lovely Blue, and once we’ve done the trade, both of us will be satisfied.”

“What could I possibly have that you want?” She stared at him with an increasingly unnerved expression in her optics. Deuce leered meaningfully at her from behind Fatigue, and she backed off, pulling a face.

“First of all, have this,” the tractor held out a tiny royal-blue cube, and she snatched it out of his fingers, hungrily. He chuckled. They were all so malleable when they were desperate. “Calm your mood and get yourself under control first, then we’ll do business.”

The Blue Ruin kicked just as hard as it did that first time – it was like getting an elbow square in the power regulator. But sweet Primus it felt good – blasted the sprites out of her brain, settled the swaying gyroscopes, bled off the painful pressure in her coolant. Her pumps hummed obediently, processed the toxic fuel instead of causing the giddying nauseating urge to purge everything from them.

“Now, contrary to what my excitable co-conspirator would have you believe,” Fatigue oiled, sweetly, “sexual favours are not on the bartering list for tonight.”

Deuce glared and gave him a shove.

“We want something more valuable,” Fatigue went on, more seriously, watching as she sucked frantically at the cube, and the spasms in her hands first increased, momentarily, then faded to nothing. “We want one of your Seekers.”

“Seek-…?” she glanced up, optics bleary, traces of blue fluid at the corner of her mouth. Ruin had a powerful kick as it reintegrated, left her briefly muggy-headed. Primus, no. The one thing she’d hoped – naively, she later realised – they’d not ask for. “Seek what-… I don’t-…”

“Those oh-so-pretty Decepticon fliers that have broken the mould to work with the police?” he explained, petting her smooth brow. “It’s only fair. You have one, we want one as well.”

She pulled back away from him, unnerved. “No, I can’t. I can’t get close to them, and they’ll kill me if they find out-!” she stammered. “There must be something else I can get you.”

“There’s nothing else we want.” Fatigue smiled, genially. “And to be honest, if they do kill you? It’s no big deal to us. You’re the lowest of the low, constable, a squeaky, noisy nonentity with an overblown opinion of her abilities. You exist to serve us, now.”

“But I can’t do it,” she shook her head, shrinking down on herself. Now it had come to the crunch, the idea of turning herself willingly into just another supplier was almost unbearable. “I can’t. Not even to them. I can’t be responsible for adding more individuals to the problem. Isn’t there some other agreement we can come to?”

“Oh, I think you’ll find all those noble ideals of yours evaporate off soon enough,” Fatigue comforted, amusedly. “Blue deprivation has that effect on folk. A few orns enduring the side effects, and you’ll convince yourself it’s all worth it, just to keep your mind working straight. And let’s face it, you’re quite the weak-willed little spark.” He gave her a prod in the chest. “You could barely endure one orn. You’ll be climbing the walls after two.”

“But-… but there’s got to be some other way. I-I can still pass information to you.” Her insides twisted painfully at the idea. “Just don’t make me go after the fliers, please.”

“Oh, yes, there is another way, little one,” Fatigue confirmed, and smiled. “Basic retails at sixteen credits for a cube, Ruin is twenty-two, Prophet thirty. If you speak nicely to Deuce, too, he might cut you a deal in exchange for other ‘favours’.”

She stared at him for several long moments. “…I can’t afford that!”

“Don’t you worry, I’ll make you a reeeally good deal,” Deuce murmured, and gave her a lascivious smile. “I know plenty of mechs who’ve gone without servicing their potency for a long time, they’ll make sure you don’t go unmedicated.”

“But I can’t-”

“All right. Look. This has gone far enough. I’m tired of playing along with you, so let me spell it out, because you seem to be having problems with the finer details.” Fatigue lowered his heavy head, and spoke very softly, close to her audio pickups. “You seem to think this is all some silly game we’re playing,” he said, in a murmur. “Allow me to disillusion you. It is not. You will not catch us out. You will not get us to slip up. If you try to play us false in any way, things will get very difficult for you. Simply put, you will. Not. Win. Do you understand me so far?”

She nodded, once, tightly.

“Good. When we next meet, you will have a Seeker with you. Of his own conscious volition. Ready to take his next set of orders from us. Is that also understood?”

“But I-”

He lowered his voice to a whisper, and she felt the gust of his fans against her cortical housing. “I said, is that understood?”

She nodded, jerkily.

“Good,” he straightened. “With that in mind, I’m gonna give you one last opportunity to do things the easy way. Primus only knows why I’m giving you such a cosy ride, maybe I just like your face.” He gently placed a cluster of small cubes into Pulsar’s shaking fingers. “I’m giving you just enough to get the job done and keep your mind in working order. If you don’t do the job, I’ll send the debt collector after you, and if you remember what happened to the good landlord of the Flywheel, you’ll be a good little femme and not waste the product.”

Siphon waved his spindly fingers, and offered a sinister little smile, and she knew what was being implied.

“Do a good job, on the other hand, and you’ll get enough product to keep you going until we need you again. We might be big nasty drug pushers, but we do have a sense of fair play.”

She stared down at the cluster of glowing blue shapes in her hands, and managed, hollowly; “where do I find you once I’ve done it? Will you still be here?”

Fatigue smiled. “Ah ah, can’t tell you yet. Don’t want you playing us false, and sending in a SWAT team instead of behaving yourself.”

“But how will I find you-”

“Don’t you worry, Skinny,” he gave her a condescending pat on the head. “We’ll give you all the details on where we’ll make the drop, once you’ve been a good little Policebot and done what you’ve been told. Remember – we have eyes and ears everywhere. We’ll know.”

She sat and watched them vanish into the shadows, and groaned, softly.

…Being close to the action wasn’t much fun, any more.

0o0o0o0o0

The corridor where the two Seekers were lodging was a quiet one – and not just because there weren’t the heavy troops in barracks at the moments, but because nobody seemed to want to bunk quite so closely to the Decepticons, just in case. Temporary Neutrality didn’t erase thousands of Vorns of animosity. Snoozing next door to two of the most feared enemy fliers ever to slice through Cybertron’s aerospace seemed too much like tempting fate.

Pulsar hesitated outside their doorway. She could hear voices inside, so they were clearly both there – there was no doubt that getting two of them would do wonders for her standing with the Blue loyalists, but even the idea of attempting it made her cringe inwardly. The giant had been right – morals were so easily put to one side when Blue was the subject of conversation.

But maybe they’d overstepped their own abilities as well, the Sleeper and his nasty associates. They were so happily convinced that getting a Seeker on board would be advantageous to them, they probably had no concept of just how destructive a slighted Decepticon could be. Perhaps adding a flier to the mix would be the edge the Police needed!

She tapped hesitantly on the door, and the voices paused.

“Hello?” Suspicious crimson optics and dark fingers appeared around the edge of the door.

“Mister Thundercracker?”

The Seeker nodded, narrowing his gaze. “We’ve finished for today,” he pointed out, opening the door a little more so Skywarp could see what was going on. “Can it wait?”

“It-it’s not work,” Pulsar stammered, hesitantly. He was even more intimidating, close up. “There’s, um… I have a friend. She’s been trying to get in contact with you, because she thinks you may be able to help one of her patients. Can you spare a breem or two?”

Two pairs of hostile optics had focussed on her – it was hard not to imagine two unseen pairs of crosshairs lining up on her midsection.

“How many more ways are there of saying this?” Skywarp wondered, out loud. “If there’s nothing in it of any worth for us, we Don’t. Help. Autobots.”

“My friend isn’t an Autobot, she’s Neutral. Please. It’ll only be for a breem or two,” she hesitated. “And it’s relevant to you!”

They swapped looks.

“Relevant how?” Skywarp challenged.

“I-… look, I can’t say, out loud. Please, just trust me?”

Thundercracker was the first to fold. “We got nothing better to do, Warp,” he commented, over his shoulder. “You never know. Might be a lead.”

“You want to go along with this silly little blip of nothing?”

“Not especially, but if it stops her whining, why not?”

0o0o0o0o0

“Remind me why we’re doing this?”

Thundercracker glanced sideways at Skywarp – both were coasting awkwardly low over buildings, following the grav-cycle at speeds far too low to maintain lift, forced to rely on their antigravs to stay in the air. “Well, it’s this or walk.”

“You know that’s not what I meant.”

The blue Seeker chuckled, and Skywarp huffed and revved, impatiently. Low airspeeds were frustrating because they led to stalling, and Skywarp was jittery enough without that compounding the issue. “We’re doing this because you’re bored.”

“I was not bored, I was quite happily getting ready for a nice long flask of cool energon, a bath and recharge-”

Down below, the Policebot had halted and transformed, and was waving them down.

“I’ve been here before,” Thundercracker observed, curiously, gliding down. “Back at the start, when we were looking for Starscream, I visited this street.” He made a face. “No-one was very helpful.”

“So where’s this friend of yours?” Skywarp folded his arms and stared down at their guide.

“Ah, um, o-over here-” She gestured to a neat little single-storey property, a few strides away. “She’s been trying to get hold of you for quite a few orns…”

There were voices, in the background, Skywarp noticed, and promptly lost all interest in what Pulsar was saying, focussing on the murmuring. One was gruff, deep, possibly female, but that wasn’t the one he was interested in – the interesting one was quiet, but had an eerily familiar nails-down-the-blackboard quality to it. Scratchy, like a badly-tuned vocal processor. Almost nasal, brittle as old plastic…

He felt his wings suddenly trembling as his body responded completely inappropriately to the surge of emotion.

“Warp?” Thundercracker noticed the high-pitched whine of his weapons coming online. “What are you playing at? Don’t you dare get all shooty on me-”

“Do you hear that?” Skywarp ignored the question, excitedly.

“Hear what?”

“Listen!”

Thundercracker frowned, thought… then jerked his head up to meet Skywarp’s own amazed crimson stare. “But that sounds like-”

“I know!”

“But it can’t be!”

“Why not?!”

“They said he was-”

“You’re not telling me you believed them?! Come on, it’s not like those Auto-butts haven’t been wrong before…!”

As one, the two Seekers bolted for the doorway, wings clashing and almost tripping each other in their haste to get where they wanted to be. Skywarp virtually trampled Thundercracker on the steps, threw his weight at the closed door.

The two speakers had gone silent, startled, as the door crashed back on its hinges. There was a female working there – a big, square-looking green female, big as Optimus Prime and probably just as strong, with the same silly battle-mask-… no, that was a surgical mask, you could just make out the HEPA filters at the sides.

And just to one side of her, looking peevish, blue fingers tight on the edges of the berth he was sat on but otherwise patient as the female worked on his wings, was a familiar flash of red and white.

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