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Screaming Blue Murder, chapter 16

You won’t believe how long I’ve had this bit essentially written – since I started writing the thing, pretty much - it was just getting up to it that was taking the time. ;)

…unfortunately, things are about to get a whooole lot more difficult.


Screaming Blue Murder
Chapter 16

“Primus!” a voice yelped, and Scarlet had only managed to turn halfway in the direction of the voice when a body collided violently with him, and knocked the pair of them clean off the berth and onto the floor in a tangle of arms and wings. “Where in the Pit were you hiding, you dirty fragger?!”

“What in the-” He found another Seeker – this one black and purple – apparently attempting to semi-permanently attach itself around his torso.

“You’re not dead! I didn’t kill you!” the fracturing voice keened, excitedly. “I thought we thought I mean that is everyone said we thought you were dead.” Words spilled in a disjointed flurry from his assailant’s vocaliser, and excited purple fingers smeared out across his chassis, on down his wings, as if checking it was all real and genuinely repaired. “And you’re not dead oh Primus above you’re not dead you’re not even a little bit dinged up you’re all fixed and beautiful and you’re not dead-!”

For her part, Forceps was comprehensibly molesting the blue Seeker in the doorway, turning him through a variety of angles and skilfully dodging the flailing arms, demanding “are you the same model? Why have you been so hard to get in contact with! Stand still! Are you the same model as him, do you have the same cortical circuitry? Stand still!”

“What in the Pit is going on?” Scarlet demanded, seizing his attacker by the audio vents and forcing his head up to look him in the optic. “Who in Primus name are you, and what do you think you’re playing at? Get off me, right this instant!”

His dark assailant’s crimson gaze flushed briefly brighter in embarrassment, but he quickly recovered his dignity and peeled himself off Scarlet’s chassis, straightened up. “Ooh, er, I mean-… I should say… Um.” A purple hand outstretched. “Can I help you up?”

“Just. Get. Off.” Scarlet lowered his voice to a growl.

“Right… right!” The dark Seeker leaped up as if stung, then yeep!ed as Forceps grabbed him around the shoulders, and steered him out of the way.

Forceps cast her gaze heavenwards, and silently hauled Scarlet up off the floor. “Maybe one of you two could get around to telling me exactly what’s going on, here?” she pondered, out loud.

The two fliers promptly ignored her, talking over each other and making none of their questions intelligible, crowding closer to the red Seeker, who instinctually backed off.

He looked between the two faces and frowned. “…um…” Their optics were glowing, and they were clearly both pleased to see him, but-… who were they? “…do I know you?”

The excitement of finding him actually alive and functioning and almost fully repaired, apparently in spite of all the odds and expectations, rapidly dwindled at the realisation that the clueless expression on the puzzled face was genuine.

“Is this some sort of joke, Screamer?” the blue one asked, darkly. “Because it’s not funny, if it is. After we ran ourselves ragged looking for you-”

“I bet this is some stupid Autobot plot,” the darker Seeker interrupted, rounding on the Policebot lurking in the doorway, glaring hotly at her. “After all the help we’ve been giving you, you still want to do away with us? What have you done to him?!”

“Actually, your guide had little to do with this,” Forceps corrected, genially. “I’ve been trying to get in contact with you for some time, but you’ve made yourselves hard to find. We almost met up a while ago,” she nodded towards the blue flier, “but, ah… you were quicker in the air that I was on the ground.”

The dark Seeker gave his blue twin a reproachful look.

0o0o0o0

“Why didn’t you tell us?!” Skywarp rounded on her. “You watched us despair after the supposed ‘death’ of our wingmate, and all this time you knew he was fine and you didn’t even breathe a word-!”

“Because it’d have been different if it had been you?” Pulsar folded her arms defensively, and scowled back at him. “You wouldn’t have told us if our places had been reversed.”

“What’s wrong with him?” Thundercracker ignored the pair squabbling, gave his scarlet friend a sad look, and waved a hand in front of his face. “Don’t you recognise us, Screamer?”

“I can see you just fine,” Starscream corrected, irritably pushing the hand away, then shook his head. “The only Policebot I know is the whiney little one over there.”

“Well, technically we’re not police,” Skywarp countered, turning away from his semi-argument with the grav-cycle. “We’re just… freelancing, I guess.” He made a face at his Autobot sparring partner and added; “It was a good idea at the time.”

“You said you’d been looking for us?” Thundercracker reminded. “What for?”

Forceps smiled grimly. “I’m not familiar enough with Seeker anatomy to know how to fix him, and haven’t been able to find any references.”

“Because they broke the mould when they made us,” Skywarp guessed, modestly.

Thundercracker snorted a half-hearted laugh. “Well, they certainly broke something when they made you, right, Warp?” he quipped, tiredly. “So what do you need us for, doctor? We can’t very well instruct you.”

“Well, no,” Forceps agreed, bluntly. “I need to get a look at how your cortical circuitry connects up.”

Skywarp leaped away in alarm. “Whoa whoa, just wait a second! You want to look in our brains?!” he positioned the table strategically between them. “No, no! I’m not having any Autobot sympathiser poking around in my primary cortex, TC!” he exclaimed, sounding unnaturally horrified. “Can’t we just get her some pictures?!”

“Didn’t you hear her? She couldn’t find any pictures.”

“She says. Come on, TC, have the police stolen your sense of self-preservation? We’re not the only race of machines that can lie!” Skywarp waved his arms, irritably. “What she’s asking us to do is like… like baring our sparks to Megatron when he’s having a bad day and we’ve screwed up,” he elaborated, folding his arms. “Sure, maybe nothing’ll happen, but maybe he’ll yank your spark casing right out and grind it into the floor beneath his heel! Ergo, she is not looking in my brain.”

“I have to agree you’re probably not a shining example of Seeker psychological anatomy, anyway,” Thundercracker noted, with a grin. “For all we know, your stupid paranoia is all down to a physical fault.”

“Hey, hey. I’m not stupid, I’m unconventional, remember?”

“I guess I could stand letting you take a peek in my head,” Thundercracker offered, reluctantly. “If it means we get Screamer back on his feet.”

“Whoa, TC, did you just ignore everything I said?” Unseen hands grabbed him and almost jerked him off his feet in their haste to bundle him out of reach behind the table. “You don’t even trust Hook to go poking about in your brain, and he’s one of us! There’s got to be some other way of doing this.”

“The only reason Hook would have for needing to go ‘poking about’ in my cortex would be for some dastardly plot to do away with all of us,” Thundercracker tugged his arms free. “You heard the doctor – she has to work out what bit goes where before she knows how to fix him.”

“I only need to look for a little while,” Forceps added, reassuringly.

“Well I need to talk to my friend before you get started,” Skywarp announced, and hustled Thundercracker away into the far corner before the blue Seeker had the chance to argue.

Thundercracker gave him an exasperated glare. “What?”

“You can’t trust them,” Skywarp insisted, in a stage whisper. “Not with something like this! Not to look in your brain! Actually in your brain!”

“What’s the worst that can happen, Warp?” Thundercracker gestured. “They put Starscream back together-”

“They didn’t know who he was!”

“Not for definite, but I bet they suspected it, and they went ahead and fixed him up anyway.”

“Exactly!” Skywarp threw up his hands, unable to understand why his friend couldn’t see where he was leading. “It’s a trap, he’s the bait to draw us in! They’ll open up your braincase and reprogram you, then get the pair of you to get me. Primus help me, I know I’m not the smartest but I don’t need brainwashing!”

“You’ll forgive me for interrupting, I hope,” a scratchy voice drawled from behind, “but just in case you’d forgotten, it’s me that has no memory, and I would like to have my brain back, sometime soon.”

Skywarp shot a guilty look backwards over his shoulder, and looked torn between defending his healthy wingmate, and helping the ill one. “TC, I can’t let you put your health on the line. What if I lose you, too?”

“Look, we’ve been watching each others’ backs for longer than I can remember,” Thundercracker suggested, softly. “So you just stay here and watch while she works.”

Skywarp pursed his lips and considered it. “I won’t know what she’s doing,” he reminded him. “Brain surgery is far, faaar beyond my league.”

“Well, if she’s telling the truth, she’s just going to be looking – no clipping, snipping, tweaking, removing, nothing. You can cope with that, right? Besides,” Thundercracker jerked his head at Pulsar, who was sitting sulkily on the table. “Busybody over there can keep an eye out, too.”

“If she’s not in on it as well,” Skywarp muttered, but backed reluctantly down.

Thundercracker stepped forwards. “Before I agree to this, I have two questions,” he said, softly, and watched as the surgeon gave a curt nod. “Question one, will there be any lasting damage to me, and question two… will it hurt?”

“There’ll be no damage at all, and no pain,” Forceps reassured. “May be a bit uncomfortable, but I’ll be as quick as I can. I just need to have a look at how it all connects up. You’ll barely know I’m there.”

In the background, Skywarp muttered something barely intelligible about it being a plot to destroy two powerful Decepticon officers in one swoop, then added, more clearly; “and I’ll make sure you do only what you said you’d do, quickly and painlessly. Any funny business, Autobot, and you won’t live long enough to gloat about it.”

“Paranoid little sparkling, aren’t you?” Forceps pointed out, irritably. “Why would I have spent so long fixing him up, only to kill him the second you pair turn up? And for the last time, I’m not an Autobot.”

Skywarp matched glares. “That doesn’t mean I have to trust you.”

Thundercracker settled stiffly at the table and offlined his optics. “Let’s get this over with,” he grumbled, softly, leaning forward onto folded arms and tensing his fingers into fists so tight that the motors whined very slightly. In spite of the willingness to help that he’d demonstrated to Skywarp, inwardly he was in turmoil. He was about to open up his central cortex – a part of him that was almost as vital as his spark – to a machine who he had only known for a breem or two, and who knew exactly who he was. One quick thrust from a sharp tool and bye-bye Thundercracker-

“All right,” a voice interrupted his introspection. “Little cold touch at your nape, all right?”

“…right…” Thundercracker tensed his fingers again and worked hard on fighting the pervasive desire to react. If he jumped while she had that stylus in his brain, anything could get irreparably broken – and there was no way in the Pit that Skywarp would tolerate sitting still enough for her to glance at his cerebral relays.

There was the touch of a superchilled stylus at the nape of his neck, and he felt automatic defences trying to kick in. His weaponry kept trying to online. Things weren’t supposed to get into one’s cranial housing without good cause, certainly not when awake. There was an odd sliding sensation – plates reconfiguring, sliding against each other-… Plates which shouldn’t move, shouldn’t slide against each other. He shuddered involuntarily.

“Sorry,” a voice apologised, and a hand touched reassuringly at his wing.

“Is it working?” he gritted out. It was a disquieting sensation to feel your own coolant vapours gust coldly around your faceplates. He deactivated his fuel pumps to still the sensation of creeping nausea, and kept his optics offlined to avoid having to look at the haze of twinkling ‘smoke’ rolling down his arms and across the table.

“Yes. Everything’s working just as it should.”

“Feels unpleasant.”

“I know. I’m sorry. Bear with me. I won’t be much longer.” There was a little puff of extra refrigerant vapour, and a little more prodding. It was an unpleasant and surreal feeling, tiny feather-light touches where feather-light touches shouldn’t even be able to get in the first place. At least she had the decency to use a cold instrument – the cortex was kept ultra-cool for maximum efficiency, and even a room-temperature stylus would have flared up a dozen painful alerts.

The reassuring hand on his wing moved to stroke its fingers gently downwards over the sensitive surface, clearly intending to try and reassure and relax him. A pleasant ribbon of feedback rippled through the sheer layer, and he focussed on that sensation instead of the fingers tickling his brain, forced his fingers to unclench.

The stylus tip lifted a memory plate gently out of the way. “Aha. Here we go.” She gave him another puff of extra coolant to keep him cool, then leaned closer, magnifying the tiny connectors. “Not much longer.”

Thundercracker could hear Skywarp jittering and pacing in the background. The dark Seeker clearly wanted to leap in and wrestle the Neutral away, but knew he couldn’t because she had a long, sharp stick in his friend’s brain, and who knew what would happen it he made her jump. If the noises he was making were anything to go by, he was engaged in a roiling internal fight to keep his hands to himself. Thundercracker almost smiled at the idea. Poor Warp.

“Get on with it, Autobot,” came Skywarp’s instruction, muffled in the background.

“Shut up, Warp,” he snapped, grimly. “Don’t distract her.” His own voice came through muffled – plating must have shifted into the way of his audios.

“Okay,” she said, at last, and there was another of those sensations of extra cool as she jetted coolant vapours at his cortex, and then that shifting sensation of unfamiliar movement. “I think I’m done. Everything still good and functional in there?”

That last had clearly been for Skywarp’s benefit. “Everything seems fine,” Thundercracker confirmed.

At long last, all the flashing red lights in his brain settled back to green; Skywarp was an instant presence, all jostling wings and unintelligible questions. He fought him off, somewhat ineffectually. “Warp, I’m fine. Skywarp-… cut it out! Get off! I’m fine.”

“You ready?” Forceps turned to give Starscream a considering look.

The dark head nodded, just once. “As I’ll ever be.”

Thundercracker watched, morbidly fascinated, as the black plating at the back of his friend’s head cracked with a little hiss of vapour, then slid up and aside, a flurry of supplementary dull chrome plating underneath irising open at a further few touches. Starscream looked like he was tolerating the procedure about as well as he himself had, his legs so tense they were grinding his feet against the floor and throwing up tiny showers of sparks, thrusters whining impotently, his fingers first splaying open and then convulsing back into fists.

“That feeling never gets any better, Sepp,” he commented, breathily. “Could you hurry up a little?”

“I thought you said you didn’t know how to fix him?” Skywarp challenged, finally electing to stop molesting the long-suffering Thundercracker. “So what were you doing looking in his brain?”

Forceps smiled, apologetically. “I’m a surgeon. Thinking you know everything goes with the territory,” she confessed, glancing up. “Had I not been worried about connecting up the wrong components, I’d have had a damn good try at fixing him up regardless of not being a hundred percent sure of what went where.”

“You could have messed him up-!”

“Why do you think I just looked, in the end?”

“What did they do to him, anyway?” Thundercracker asked, softly, approaching quietly and peering over Forceps’ broad shoulders. It looked like a silver arachnid had taken up residence in his friend’s dark helm, and he silently thanked Primus that he hadn’t been asked to attempt to repair it.

“I haven’t quite worked out,” Forceps admitted, delicately manipulating the tiny lines of broken circuitry back into place, untangling some of the spiderweb of broken filaments. “Looks like some kind of… of sharp implement was forced under his cranial armour. Didn’t do much actual damage, per se, but obviously snipped juuust the right connections…” She sprayed a little more coolant in, then extended a surgical lance from her fingertip. “You lot better be very, very quiet now,” she observed, addressing everyone in the room but glancing pointedly back at Skywarp.

Skywarp made a face and poked out his tongue, but kept miraculously quiet.

It took every last ounce of Starscream’s self-control not to squirm; unlike Thundercracker, who had endured the comparative luxury of a cold stylus delicately examining his hardware, this time the surgeon was forced to use a filamentous welding lance, which was hot. Even all the extra coolant Forceps was using didn’t completely negate the spots and scratches of fierce pain as she dabbed the microscopic welds in place, and every now and then he’d twitch and fidget his feet.

“How much longer?” Starscream asked, at last, and he sounded distant, almost delirious. His optics gazed unfocused down at his blue fingers, which were flexing involuntarily, and a slight vibration had set up in one thruster, buzzing where his heel met the floor.

Forceps gave his hands a hard look, and pursed her lips. “Nearly there.” It was just underused circuits reintegrating, that was all. Primus, that better be all it was. “Still feeling okay?”

“…hnh, not sure.”

“Well, we’ll soon see.” She focused on the tiny filamentous lines of delicate cortical circuitry, just replicating what she’d mapped out from Thundercracker’s internals. “One last connector, and then I think we’re done,” she explained, delicately. There was the pinpoint flicker of heat, a tiny curl of vaporised microsolder, and a last jet of coolant. “Okay, that’s it,” she patted his wing, and carefully tweaked the little microclamp to iris his cranial armour back up. “Wait until your helm has resealed, repressurised and fully re-chilled before you try accessing anything, I want you to have the best run at this as possible.”

“Yes, doctor…” That was clearly intended to be sarcastic, but the hesitant undertone spoiled the effect.

A fraction of a breem passed in silence.

“It that better?” Forceps prompted, quietly.

For another short while, there was nothing. Starscream straightened very slowly, hesitantly releasing the tension in his knuckles – there was the sound of joints popping softly back into place – and his turbines whined down and deactivated. He stared off into the distance, optics flickering involuntarily as he accessed his memory and checked everything was functioning as it should have been…

Then he turned, slowly, and looked his wingmates in the optics… and his lips quirked into a lopsided grin, and Skywarp gave a whoop! of unashamed delight and crashed into him. Thundercracker wasn’t far behind him. Starscream endured the joyous mauling far better than Scarlet had, although he still grumbled amusedly.

“Now explain to me what this fluff is all about?” he challenged, at last, prodding Skywarp in the wing.

Skywarp followed the stabbing finger, and found it pressed up against the electric yellow and blue piping that had been temporarily applied to his armour. “Oh, that,” he smiled, embarrassed. “We’ve been working for the police for a little bit. Partly so we could try find this… this Blue stuff, and partly so we could keep looking for you.”

“I’m touched,” Starscream observed, and smirked, lopsidedly. “But you’ll forgive me if I elect not to join you in the enemy’s colours, I hope.”

The door murmured quietly open again, and an exhausted Spotweld barely spared them a second glance. “Oh! You found your Seekers, then, Sepp?” he observed, by way of greeting, and sagged into a tangle of limbs into an easy chair in the corner, looking a little like a kicked spider. He was dusty, grimy with old joint-fluid, and sporting a flurry of new dents across his broad chest.

“They found me, actually,” she filled in.

“You’ll be wanting to move on again, then?” Spotweld glanced up at Starscream.

“Trying to get rid of me, Spots?” Starscream arched an amused brow, then frowned. “Did you get in a fight, or something?”

“Another riot at the hospital,” Spotweld confirmed. “Some of those addicts can be violent, when they’re particularly desperate? And they know we keep all the confiscated supplies in the neighbouring departments until the police can pick it up?” He pinched the bridge of his nose, flexed his dented toes. “Being big means I get elected to back-up Hospital Security, quite a lot? I’m not designed to stand up to violence very well, so I’m probably covered in dents again…”

Pulsar had remained uncharacteristically quiet in her chair at the end of the table, just watching proceedings. Given the little Autobot’s previous outspoken stance against the Decepticon Seekers, she just came across as unwell.

“You okay, Pulse?” Forceps prodded, gently.

The Policebot glanced up to find Forceps watching her, wearing one of her more probing stares. “I’m fine,” she replied, at last, and through some tremendous effort of will got her traitorous left hand to stop vibrating. “Just-…” She glanced sidelong at the reunited trine, and shivered. “Unnerved. It’s not every day you get the opportunity to share the same roof at Megatron’s Most Deadly, and survive the encounter.”

Thankfully, the surgeon looked vaguely satisfied at the answer – at least, she didn’t ask any more difficult questions.

“So what are we planning on doing now we’re reunited, at last?” Thundercracker wondered.

“We’ve got a point to prove, remember?” Skywarp growled. “They think they’re so fantastic, so wonderful as our replacements. They think they might actually be able to replace us as the ruling power! Well, we’re going to find them. All of them! We’re going to find the ringleaders, wipe this purge-fluid off the streets, and teach them why nobody messes with the Decepticons.”

“Dear Primus, Warp just said something that I didn’t need a translator to understand.” Starscream clapped a hand to his brow in exaggerated astonishment. “What have you done to him while I was away, TC?”

“I don’t know, I was beginning to wonder if the police hadn’t accidentally replaced him with a clone,” Thundercracker replied, and chuckled at the tonguepoke he got in response.

“Maybe I can help,” Forceps offered, giving Skywarp a pointed look. “Didn’t I hear you hypothesise something about his mental deficit being due to a physical problem?”

“Ack! No! Don’t you come near me with that torture-stick!” Skywarp fled.

0o0o0o0

It was getting late, and the police had begun to worry that their temporary Decepticon allies had flown the coop and gone off to cause more trouble when the absentee pair of Seekers finally elected to return – although now there were three of them. Blue, black, and… red. Looking like he’d never been away, Starscream touched down and ambled up the front ramp quite happily between his wing-mates.

“Didn’t I say he was tenacious?” Jazz pointed out, noticing the helicopter’s jaw drop and rotors quiver in shock.

“But-… dead!” Nightsun spluttered. “He was dead!”

“Well, apparently not,” Prowl smiled, patiently. “Someone must have scraped him up off the streets before he finally offlined for good.”

“So now what?” Jazz asked, quietly, not letting his smile slip. “Get ready to defend ourselves?”

“Defend, yes,” Prowl gave a nod. “But let’s avoid taking offensive action – if we don’t start shooting, for once maybe they won’t either.”

“What makes you think that?”

“If you look closely,” Prowl gestured as the trio approached. “They’ve not taken off the police decals. I do have one question, though,” he met the strange blue gaze of the Decepticon Air Commander, as they drew to a halt in front of him. “Does this mean our agreement is terminated?”

“What agreement was this?” Starscream looked at each of his wingmates in turn. “Another thing you two have forgotten to tell me?”

“We thought they’d killed you,” Thundercracker supplied, moving very slightly ahead and blocking Prowl’s aim. “So we called a truce, for now. While we got to the bottom of this mess.”

“We wanted to avenge your name, somehow,” Skywarp added. “They might have been the only way to find out who it was fragged you up that night.”

“If there was a point you were just making, I think I missed it. How exactly is allying with the Autobots ‘avenging my name’?”

“There’s only two of us, if you remember,” Skywarp gave him a friendly elbow. “And we weren’t exactly in great shape when we lost you. Flew ourselves to the point of stasis, looking for you. Why’d you have to go run off, you dirty slagger?”

“Well, you’re both idiots,” Starscream pointed out, but he was smiling in a way that was almost affectionate, and there was a little more friendly jostling of wings.

“So, does this mean you’re joining the party?” Jazz offered.

A wry smile softened Starscream’s face. “Well, they killed me. I have to avenge my name somehow.”

0o0o0o0

A few breems later found the Aerospace Commander sitting sulking between his wingmates in the break room, trying to hide his discomfort at being completely surrounded by Autobots. It was almost as if they were trying to convert him an Autobot by proxy – if they added enough of their stickers, he’d just be forced to change his entire mindset to match.

Starscream had sullenly allowed them to apply the temporary decals to the margins of his wings; Hardline had laid down the law to him, and said if he wanted to stay out of the cells, he had to comply with regulations, even as a freelance worker. Skywarp and Thundercracker had found it unrealistically amusing, adding their own rude commentary from the sidelines as their commander only just resisted the urge to flatten the frightened little constable assigned to apply the blue-and-yellow chequered piping.

“…so that was you this whole time?” Jazz challenged, sitting across from the red Seeker with a flask of energon and a teasing grin. “ ‘Angel’ and you are one and the same machine?”

Starscream smirked, and his blue optics twinkled wickedly. “What, disappointed that a Decepticon was better at noble self-sacrifice than the Autobots?”

“Oh hardly. You’re just… not going to be able to use that noble disguise any more, which is kind of a shame,” Jazz chuckled. “Makes it all the more amusing, knowing it was you squirming under the white paint and trying not to wallop Optimus.”

“Pfft.” The red Seeker waved a hand, airily. “The project had already run to its natural conclusion.”

“You mean, Megatron got tired of you showing him up?” Jazz intuited.

Starscream winced. “That’s the basic gist of it, yes.”

“So what are you going to do now?”

“Well, Megatron already thinks we’ve defected to the Autobots,” Starscream reminded them, with a dismissive wave and a little smirk. “So why don’t we give him something real to think about, for a little while?”

0o0o0o0

“Mister Thundercracker? Sir?” Pulsar put her head around their doorway, and pulled a face at the recharging fliers. How galling. Outranked by the enemy. “You’re wanted.”

Thundercracker grunted softly and flickered his optics at her, then sat and swung his legs around off his berth. “Could have just paged me.”

“Um, we did,” she pointed. “You weren’t responding.”

Thundercracker glanced down at his page alert. “Oh,” he commented, and rubbed the back of his helm, tiredly. “I thought that was an alarm clock.”

“No, sir, it’s a communications relay.”

“Hnh.” He picked up the last remaining cube of energon off the desk at the end of the room, and slouched his way to the door. “Say what they wanted?”

“No, sir. I think Commander Starscream wanted you.” It felt awkward, referring to him like that. “I think he wants to pool information so he can arrange investigative work to better take your skill mix into account.”

Thundercracker snorted, and slid past her. “You mean he’s trying to reinvent the wheel…” he commented, dryly, heading his way up the corridor towards the forensics department.

Pulsar went to follow him, but… hesitated… in the doorway.

The purple Seeker hadn’t even stirred – he was still a slumped tangle of limbs sprawling across his berth, wings protruding halfway across the room. Well, Thundercracker had said it’d take a percussion grenade to wake him up if he wasn’t already good and ready to wake up, and it looked like it wasn’t too far off the mark after all.

She smiled in spite of herself – his haughty, sneery features had relaxed into an open-mouthed, peaceful little smile, and-… Primus above, didn’t he just look a total dear, now he wasn’t snarling outrage at the world? Such a sweet, innocent little spark, an overgrown sparkling with an overblown opinion of himself. She grinned, strongly tempted to take a few stills to put up (anonymously, of course) around the station. See how he manages to keep up the whole “fearsome aerial warrior” aura with that sparkling-sweet mug splashed up all over the building. She resisted the urge to give him a condescending little pat on the head.

The brief amusement had distracted her from the darkness eating away at her insides. We want one of your fliers, the Sleeper’s words repeated in her mind. It had been an orn or so since she’d seen them, and she’d been trying frantically to put off making an actual decision about what to do. What little logic remained at her disposal had twisted up into a horrible conflicted mess of I’ve got to/I can’t/if I do, they’ll kill me/if I don’t, they’ll kill me/I need help/Primus, I’m scared.

Her conscience was weakening. She knew she ought to tell someone, but that idea alone left her paralysed with fear – they’d find out, she knew. They’d already proved they had eyes and ears everywhere, they’d find out her treachery and catch her on her patrol route, or shoot her from a distance, or even just slip poison into her energon.

She’d not spent a single night resting, so far – fighting her conscience, which insisted that she shouldn’t, it was a bad thing, and her instinct for self-preservation, which insisted she should just do it, and she could wing an answer if challenged.

She was just too damn scared. Scared of the loyalists, scared of their resident Seekers, scared of her own commanders and what they’d do it they found out – trapped between a rock and a very hard place, running out of supplies, and running out of time. If she dithered for much longer, she’d end up backing herself right into a corner – she’d have run out of options, and then they would come and kill her.

Getting Starscream had been her original plan, and the sole reason she’d taken his wingmates to find him – not only would it get him out from under Forceps’ overprotective gaze, it’d also mean the surgeon herself wasn’t at risk from accidentally taking the Blue. (She’d never, ever forgive herself if her friend got saddled with the same problem.) And poor brainless ‘Scarlet’ had been a minimal threat, without all those vorns of Decepticon training in lethality… but he’d been worthless as a trade, because he knew so little, and she couldn’t possibly have expected to take the Seekers to Forceps without her jumping at the chance of repairing him. If she managed to get someone so impressively important, maybe they’d let her in on more loyalist secrets, which she could pass on to Hardline and soften the punishment she’d doubtless get for letting herself get intoxicated.

…But now he was back in the fold, it was increasingly difficult to catch him alone for long enough for her to slip him the narcotics, and she was running out of opportunities and supplies. If he wasn’t in the labs and surrounded by a cluster of police scientists, then he was with one or the other of his trine, as if they didn’t dare let him out of their sight any more, now they had him back. It was literally impossible to get close to him without a belligerent blue or black wing appearing in the space between him and whoever was approaching, an honour guard for the commander they thought was dead. It was so unnaturally cute, it was rather nauseating, even by Autobot standards.

So it was going to have to be one of the other two – and Thundercracker managed to rule himself out by spending most of his on-duty time up in the air, way out of reach. She’d missed her chance for today, she could hardly call him down ‘for refreshments’.

Which left Skywarp. Not her first choice by a long shot, unimpressively thick-headed and hardly party to that many important Decepticon secrets, but he was fast and powerful and maybe his teleport would make up for it. There was no saying that the Boss wanted sensitive information in the first place, after all!

She dithered in the doorway. This might be her last chance. Her last chance to get through this and stay alive, to skirt past the greater disaster by the gloss on her thrusters. Dithery, shaky – couldn’t do it/had to. Skywarp was easily the least stable of the three, and most likely to punch through her spark casing, but equally might be the most open to new ideas, to a little gentle persuasion. And – Pit, the Blue loyalists wouldn’t know what hit them if they had a furious Skywarp turn up on their doorstep.

The viral fractals in the cube she’d been given as her snare had such a low potency that they were almost invisible; the cube was a dingy violet, like most low-grade energon, not the infamous crackling hue of higher-potency Blue. He’d never notice, until it was too late.

She steeled her nerve, left the precious cube on the tabletop, and fled.

0o0o0o0

Yo, Cybertron to Skywarp. Wakey-wakey, buddy,” Jazz’s voice sliced through the silence like a klaxon. “You gonna actually join us this vorn, or what?

“All right all right, I’m up,” Skywarp attempted to silence the communications array with a flail of his arm, but missed and sent one of Starscream’s piles of neatly-stacked datapads slumping to the floor. “Can’t a mech get a little peace and quiet?”

You’ve had your share of peace and quiet, and everyone else’s share, so far,” the voice snerked. “Time to do a bit of work and actually earn your peace and quiet. Up and at ’em, Warpy!”

“Call me that again and I’ll pull your power regulator out through your exhaust pipe.”

My dearest Decepticon, might I remind you that you have to get up to do that, too. We’ll see you in the duty room in three breems, all right?

Skywarp sat up and huffed to himself about what he’d like to do to meddlesome Autobots, and finally saw the little cube on the table, among the cluster of larger but significantly emptier energon containers. He wrinkled his nose at it. Meagre rations from the Autobots today, I see. Well, he wasn’t about to turn down a free breakfast. Bet TC helped himself to the Prime’s share. Always thought he was starting to look fat.

He plucked the cube up from the desk, examined it for a moment or two – puny little mouthful of nothing. It’d hardly put a dent in his deficit. Maybe someone was playing games with him, giving him sparkling-sized portions to imply he was rather juvenile himself. He gave the cube a dirty look. He almost felt like throwing it in someone’s face, just to show how deeply insulted at the meagre offering he was, but then he’d not refuelled in a while, and didn’t feel like wasting his breakfast just to show how terribly offended at the bad joke he was.

Oh well. Bottoms up, I guess…

The tiny mouthful didn’t half have a kick to it.

Primus that stuff is strong,” he choked, venting fumes in a cough. Strong, but quite nice. He smiled, wonkily, and drifted away to find whoever had called him.

--------

Ha ha! Oh, er... oops? Now how do I convince him not to kill her just yet... *ponders*

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