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Screaming Blue Murder, chapter 21

Playing catch-up...

Screaming Blue Murder
Chapter 21

The shattering boom and raucous shiver of broken glass seemed to have woken everyone in the whole neighbourhood up, which didn’t go down well with those constables who’d just come back off a double-shift. The medical unit had rapidly set up in the walled training yard out at the back of the station, but thankfully seemed to have anticipated having far more injuries than they actually got. Superficial burns and impact fractures seemed to be the order of the day.

Automatically, Boxer looked for the most senior member of staff present at the accident, and was given a choice between Starscream and Calibrator – and the spindly analyst wasn’t looking particularly forthcoming with information, bundled up as she was in blanket and shivering convulsively.

Calibrator had apparently been paying more attention to Starscream than what was going on, because she was the only one out of the six machines that had been working in the lab to have any significant injuries. Flying debris from the shattering workscreen had torn a chunk out of her right shoulder, and her arm now hung limp and pathetic at her side. The brief conflagration that had followed the percussion had all but disintegrated her lab-wrap right off her, left her dark body streaked with bright trails where solvent had spilled then burned off. It had left her high-pitched and shaky, and so far she’d not allowed anyone else close enough to remove the last few shreds of fabric that clung around her torso. The station doctor had given her a foil blanket to help her maintain her core temperature, and she’d wrapped herself up in it like the prey of a silver spider.

For someone who’d been so close to the blast, Starscream was looking remarkably healthy – he was a little scorched, but all the damage was very superficial. His dark features had a large plaque of brilliant green polymer all the way from the right brow to the left corner of his mouth, where a bottle of DisposaGlove had exploded at him, and the enamel was spiderwebbed with silvery lines where solvent had taken the topcoat off, but he was arguing animatedly with the medic attempting to help clean him up so it obviously wasn’t too big a hindrance. The worst injury looked like it had been to his pride; the electric green ‘eyepatch’ the medic was attempting to peel off him gave him an unintentionally comedic look, and judging by the way he was being given a wide berth and some very dirty looks by everyone else he’d already illustrated just why they shouldn’t laugh at him.

“So. What happened?” Boxer demanded, arms folded.

Starscream glanced sidelong at him, scarcely moving but still earning a distracted scolding from the medic attempting to remove the last pieces of glass and green polymer from his left optic. “Someone sabotaged the lab, that’s what happened,” he hissed, painfully, and gave the medic an aggravated shove. “Ow! Be careful with that.”

Boxer watched as the medic set the tweezers aside and picked up a wash-bottle. “And what leads you to think it was sabotage?” he wondered.

Starscream made a face and squinted as the medic sprayed the rinse into his optics, flushing out the last tiny bits of glass. “Well what else could it have been? Are spontaneously combusting laboratories a common prob-ow! I didn’t ask you to do that, cut it out! – a common problem, around here?”

“Accidents do happen sometimes.”

Starscream glowered and endured his rinsing with a fidgety bad grace. “I hope you aren’t trying to insinuate that any of your forensics team are unskilled manual workers,” he growled, quietly. “Because if that is the case, I will not work in the same lab as incompetents.”

“What about yourself? You’ve been a warrior for almost as long as I can recall.”

The red Seeker smiled dangerously. “I would hope that even you are clever enough not to be calling me incompetent.”

“Not necessarily incompetent. You said something about sabotage.”

The smile turned into a sneer of distaste. “If you are attempting to imply I blew my own lab up, while I was still in it, you aren’t improving my opinion of your intellect,” he added, pithily, and chased the medic away with a glare. “Just because that’s the sort of thing Megatron does, it doesn’t mean we’re all morons.”

Boxer’s lip twitched irritably, but he refused to rise to the bait. “I just wanted to hear you confirm it. There will be others who ask the same question, after all.”

“Psh. I think the people who ask will be the same people who will refuse to believe it, regardless of who it comes from.” Starscream mopped his dark face dry with a shred of old rag. “Have you considered looking at your own organisation, Superintendent?” he wondered, pithily. “As I’m pretty sure it was one of the new exemplars that blew up.”

“You’re trying to place the blame with Jazz?”

“Why not?” The Seeker dropped lightly back to the floor, in search of a mirror to peel the last remnants of green out of his audio vents. “An opportunity is an opportunity, and getting rid of me now, with an ‘accident’, would save them a lot of effort when we return to Earth when this is over.”

“Hm,” Boxer pursed his lips and looked contemplative. “I’ll make some discreet enquiries.”

“You better, because if you don’t, I will, and you can be sure that I won’t be ‘discreet’ about it.”

“And that I can believe. All right. I’ll go see what he has to say for himself,” Boxer confirmed, excusing himself.

There was a familiar pale green shape over to one side; Starscream homed in on it. “Sepp?”

Forceps straightened from examining Calibrator’s injured shoulder. “Scarlet?” she greeted, automatically, then corrected herself, dryly. “Um, that is, commander Starscream. Good to see you again.”

“You too,” he actually managed a half-smile. “I didn’t think our paths would have much cause to cross again.”

“Well, no-one’s that lucky,” she quipped. “You can blame Hardline for that. He called me in.”

“So it’s just ‘Hardline’, is it, not ‘Chief Inspector’?” Starscream sneered, amusedly, and cocked his head. “Anyone would think you two had a thing going.”

“Who says we don’t?” She tapped her nose, knowingly, then narrowed her eyes, then reached out a hand to cup his chin, roughly, and examined his face more closely. “You were caught in this too?”

He’d already jerked himself backwards out of reach, irritably. “Yes, if it wasn’t too obvious.”

“Must have been pretty close, something’s taken the enamel off.”

“Close enough.” He folded his arms, defensively. “The percussive front knocked me over, so most of the debris – apart from a gallon or two of solvent – went past me.” He paused, glanced down at Calibrator, and added; “The workscreen wasn’t tough enough to keep her out of it, though.”

“Mm, I figured that was why I got the call, otherwise the station medic could probably have patched things quite nicely on his own.” Forceps nodded. “All right, Cali. You sit still, and I’ll see what we can do for you,” the big female instructed, and eased the shredded fabric away from the battered shoulder.

“H-how bad is it?” the analyst stuttered, faintly.

“Hm,” Forceps mused, out loud, examining the wound. “Probably looks a lot worse than it is. Clean cut, just bisected an actuator. I can replace that, easy. Just need to find the parts. Will you be all right for a day or two while I source the components?”

“So long as it’s f-fixable.”

“Oh, eminently. I’ll get hold of the parts I need, then give you a buzz.” Forceps gave the blanket a shake, then tore a long strip off one side. “You’ll probably need to come to the district general. Conditions in theatre will probably be a bit better controlled than on my spare berth back home.”

“Somebody is trying to kill me,” Cali squeaked to her lab partner, as the surgeon carefully fashioned a sling to keep the injured arm tidy and out of the way.

Starscream shook his head, watching as the analyst burrowed back into her torn blanket. “I think someone’s just trying to make a point,” he suggested. “I don’t know what the chemical was they used, but it didn’t seem powerful enough to kill anyone, even if it hadn’t been under a fume hood.”

“Well, it nearly killed me-! A handspan to the left and I could be dead!” She had gone shrill in something akin to frightened outrage. “That glass could have gone right through my spark!”

“But it didn’t,” he said, calmly, lifting a finger. “You were just unlucky. There’s no point in stressing yourself too highly over it.”

“But I-”

“That’s a sound philosophy to have, Cali,” Forceps added, gently. “It won’t help you recover if you overheat yourself over things that didn’t actually happen.”

Calibrator mumbled something unintelligible, averted her gaze and huddled deeper into her blanket.

“Things still bad at work?” Starscream wondered, as they moved away to give Calibrator some space to calm herself down.

“From a surgical perspective, nothing’s really changed, but I know things have got pretty dire in the emergency department,” she confirmed. “Spots is running himself ragged, trying to be everywhere at once. The hospital is actually having to resort to giving confiscated supplies back to the addicts because there’s nothing else we can do for them yet.” She paused and gave him a glance. “How close to a cure are you?” she insisted, grimly. “We need one. We’ve had two deaths from Screaming Blue already, and it’s only going to go up.”

“I’ve only begun to scratch the surface,” he admitted. “I’m not entirely sure how it works. We’re trying to find clues to the designer, as well – tracing signatures, trying to reverse engineer it.”

“We need an antivirus,” she repeated, folding her arms for emphasis. “You can play private detective all you like, later. The antidote is the important bit, so we can actually do something for the people we have to turn away.”

“If we don’t cut the supply chain,” Starscream argued, “then you’ll just have an endless, pitiful stream of idiots crawling to your doors needing the antidote. Stopping the production of Blue is more important than antidotes for the idiots who get themselves addicted.”

They matched glares for a while, neither willing to back down.

“What’s going on here?”

Both glanced up to find Boxer approaching; there was an unspoken communication, and both backed down. “Nothing,” the red Seeker waved a hand, airily. “Just getting a small update from the situation on the streets.”

“And your friend is…?” Boxer wondered.

“Consultant Forceps,” Hardline supplied, from behind, and received a little nod of acknowledgement. “One of my officers had expressed concerns over your welfare. Good to see you’re still functioning. Are we to assume you’re the magnanimous spark responsible for returning a certain Air Commander to the fold?”

She nodded, silently.

“Guess I should have suspected it.” His broad face broke into a grin. “You always were a sap.”

0o0o0o0o0


Skywarp had arrived back with Pulsar somewhat belatedly – both had heard the explosion, as they sat away in the safe zone they’d used to get their Blue-deprivation back under control, and had been making their inappropriately leisurely way back until their pingers went off simultaneously and they realised it had been the station. They fled homeward infected with a new urgency, not daring voice the half-dread at what they might find.

The scene of utter devastation both had expected was conspicuous in its absence. The cleanup crew was starting to sweep the scorched glass up out of the yard below, and the over-patched sides of the battered old police station had some new carbon scars outside the laboratory windows, but all the important residents were gathered outside and still functional.

Calibrator looked fairly shaken, Pulsar noticed, glass crunching underfoot as she trotted across the yard, and she quietly invoked Primus’ name in a curse. That was typical of how their luck was going so far – the one person most important to solving this whole mess was the one to have come off worst.

Whitesides had already drifted closer to the little analyst, who had in turn actually allowed him to get within touching distance, and he was murmuring quiet comfort to her. Figured that he would have some sort of input, Pulsar thought, uncharitably. He’d probably use this “friendship” to bribe her onto his side, get that mandatory testing brought in. At least her roommate had apparently forgotten their quarrel earlier – he gave her an anxious little nod in greeting, apparently having more important things on his mind than challenging her about what she’d just been up to.

For his part, Skywarp was intensely relieved to see Starscream still in one functional undamaged piece… but not quite so relieved to see the splash of mint-green armour nearby. He narrowed his eyes, suspiciously. “What’s she doing here?”

Starscream followed his stare, and sighed. Of course, his favourite suspect, Forceps. “You’re not going to start that again, are you?”

Skywarp lifted his chin, belligerently. “Well, isn’t it just a tiny bit convenient that she just happened to show up after the explosion?” he challenged.

Starscream scowled at him. “Lay off, Warp. Hardline called her in because he knew Cali was too serious for the station medic to fix, and that is the sole reason she’s here.”

“Not just checking up on her handiwork, then?” Skywarp sniped, poisonously.

“Oh for goodness-… When was it that you got so stubborn that you can’t listen to reason and let go of an idea that is clearly incorrect?”

“When did you forget all your precious scientific principles, and become so unwilling to even contemplate something all the evidence is pointing at?!”

Sensing things might come to an impasse, and not willing to let the two come to blows (especially in full view of the Autobots), Thundercracker slipped neatly between them. “You two want to cool down and discuss things like rational adults?” he wondered, holding each at arms’ length. “Yelling is only going to make you even less inclined to listen to each others’ ideas.”

Starscream folded his arms and huffed, quietly. “I’d be more than happy to listen to Warp’s ideas if they made half a smidgen of sense,” he sniped, grimly. “What he’s suggesting just isn’t rational.”

“Oh, because ignoring the evidence is so much better, of course-” Skywarp shot back.

Thundercracker gave a beleaguered sigh and caught his dark wingmate’s arm. “Come on, Warpy, time for a time-out,” he suggested, and glanced back over his shoulder at Starscream. “You could at least swallow some of that pride and just ask her, too. Acting all peevish because Warp’s having ideas when you’re stuck isn’t going to help the investigation.”

Starscream glared at the departing wings, but his blue optics lacked their usual heat. It was true, after a fashion – ridiculous though the idea he’d fixated on might be, at least Skywarp had been trying to make suggestions, which was more than the rest of the team were doing. He glanced sidelong at the surgeon; she and Hardline were standing discussing something over by the temporary energon dispenser. (Sure didn’t look like they “had something going on”; two more duty-conscious workaholic machines would have been hard to find.) Still. Better at least show willing.

“Just confirm something for me, Sepp,” he suggested, tiredly, ambling over. “Naming no names, of course, a certain ‘police attaché’ to the Decepticon Air Force thinks you may have had something to do with all this. As in, you work in a hospital, have access to raw materials, and could theoretically have masterminded it all.” He gave her a wry look. “So. Did you? Are you really the criminal mastermind who’s been eluding us this whole time?”

“Why, yes, and you have found me out. Better arrest me now,” Forceps deadpanned, and cast her gaze skywards. “He’s never trusted me, has he?” she mused, knowing exactly who Starscream had been referring to, and matched stares with the glowering dark Seeker across the other side of the yard. “I think it’s a bit of a compliment that he thinks I’m smart enough! Fact of the matter is, most of this is beyond me. I’m no psychiatrist, the intricacies of neurological programming are completely beyond my capacity.”

“You fixed me pretty well.”

She smiled, absently. “But yours was down to physical damage. If it had been program errors, or if you’d actually had the Blue? I’d have had to have got one of Overhaul’s team on the case.”

“Speaking of him, has anyone checked he hasn’t had a hand in this?”

“Ha! A more holier-than-thou pure-sparked Autobot would be very hard to find,” Hardline cut in. “I can drop a few questions with the Director of Medicine, though. Panacea tends to be pretty clued up with her staff. If Overhaul’s been spending strange amounts of time or money anywhere lately, she’ll know.”

0o0o0o0o0


Once the bomb disposal team had confirmed that there was no more combustible material in the ruined laboratory, they let the forensics team back in, to try and determine exactly what happened. Even Calibrator had recovered enough to want to venture back in; she stuck close to Starscream at first, before finally deciding that the place was inert again and there were no more secret explosives hidden away anywhere the bomb team had missed.

Wounded arm still bandaged against her torso, Calibrator one-handedly followed the Electronose, tracing residual chemicals as they wove their wiggly line across the ruins of the laboratory and trying to work out what it was that had caused such a conflagration.

“Hm,” she mused, out loud, as the device peeped a result at her. “The explosives were organic in nature. Interesting.”

“Organic?” Skywarp cut in, confused. “What, you mean humans blew the place up?”

“No, no, organic refers to the chemical makeup, rather than implying any biological derivatives, in this case,” Calibrator explained, gently, before Starscream could make any sort of scathing comment. “Looks like it has a kind of petrochemical base. Specialised joint fluid, so it’d already be highly combustible, and later treated to increase its volatility. The labile compounds would have readily ignited and triggered a cascade response-”

“She means someone took a flammable oil, and added chemicals to make it more unstable,” Starscream added, before Skywarp could ask exactly what the analyst meant. “It evaporated to make a highly combustible vapour. All it needed was a spark.”

“But it was under a fume hood!”

“Which wasn’t turned on,” Starscream made a face and indicated the dial, melted forever into the ‘off’ position. “Fumes would have probably collected to saturation point, under here. No wonder the stuff pretty much spontaneously combusted. One little spark, and it all went off.”

“B-but I turned it on!” Calibrator stammered, trembling. “We could all hear it!”

“Doesn’t mean our little saboteur didn’t later turn it off,” Starscream growled. “We already know we have a spy in the station, and plenty of folk unconnected to the forensics department had been in and out of the lab, lately. Any one of them could have been connected to Blue.”

“The Chief Inspector has been in and out a lot lately, too, if memory serves,” Skywarp added, pointedly.

Starscream glared at him, knowing what he was getting at. “Don’t you say it, Warp,” he threatened. “Don’t even think it! I’m not going to go through all that again.”

Skywarp lifted his chin, belligerently, and said it anyway. “Just because she’s your favourite Neutral doesn’t mean she’s innocent,” he reminded, wrinkling his nose in a sneer, and turned to Calibrator. “What’s the possibility that butch surgeon that helped Starscream could have done it?”

The analyst squirmed under the unfriendly stare. “Well, it’s… yes, possible,” she accepted. “But I would be forced to say improbable-”

“Why, because you’ve been talking to him?” Skywarp interrupted, jerking a thumb in Starscream’s direction.

“No, well-… it’s that-… they’re different disciplines.”

“Huh, figures that he’s not getting it. Warp’s never been so good with discipline,” Thundercracker teased, gently, in an attempt to lighten the mood, and Starscream smiled even if Skywarp looked unimpressed and told him to shut up.

“So what exactly does that mean?” Skywarp wondered, and added, pithily, before either wingmate could make the same snipe at him; “and please, explain it in little, idiot-friendly words, so my kind and understanding wingmates don’t have to expend their precious energy re-explaining it to Little Stupid, here?”

“Er, all right, well, what I mean is… erm, well, they’re completely different fields,” she explained, and rubbed the back of her neck. “Surgery is basically advanced engineering, but whoever designed Blue would have needed to be chemically-minded. If you’d suggested Doctor Overhaul had done it, that would have made more sense, as his speciality is neurochemical and psych.”

Skywarp directed a pleading glanced at her.

“Er, he knows how our brains work,” she corrected herself.

Skywarp huffed quietly and folded his arms across his cockpit. “I still think we should be looking at her. Do a big single sweep of her property and see what we pick up. Everything points at her.” He elevated his voice to be heard over Starscream’s protests. “She has all the connections! She can get the raw materials, she’s got access to Vinculums, she’s at the hub of where all the addicts are ending up, she’s strong enough to keep that stupid tractor in line, and she has the police contacts to stay one step ahead of us. We all saw her and Hardline canoodling earlier.”

“I saw them discussing something like two normal machines while they were stood by the energon dispenser,” Starscream corrected, irritably.

“Yeah yeah, whatever. Point I’m making is, the evidence points at her. There’s nothing to say she’s doing it alone, her and this ‘Overhaul’ guy could be working together!” Skywarp waved his arms. “At the hospital! With all the supplies!”

“Do you seriously think that the more often and the louder you repeat it, and the more likely I am to be convinced?” Starscream leaned across the table towards him, and matched him glare for glare.

“All right, this is me intervening,” Thundercracker said, and for the second time that cycle put himself between them. “Come on, Warp, don’t get yourself all worked up again. We can go find some energon, or something.”

“I already refuelled,” Skywarp replied, sulkily. “It’s all right, TC, I know when I’m not wanted. Guess I’ll just go stand in a corner and keep out of the way, or something. It’s obviously all I’m good at.”

“Skywarp doesn’t want to over-energise? Screamer, there’s something wrong with him!”

Thundercracker had meant it in jest, but Starscream’s optics had a funny look in them anyway. “Clearly,” he agreed, almost managing to look like he was just playing along.

Skywarp felt his insides contract down, defensively. Trust Screamer to suspect something.

There was a tap-tap at the broken door, and the small group glanced up to find Hardline tightly framed in the doorway, his heavy head brushing against the lintel. “All right,” the riot tank made a face at the ruined lab. “You lot figured out what happened?”

“You’re not trying to get rid of us, by any chance, are you, Hardline?” Thundercracker asked.

Hardline shook his heavy head, ponderously. “The sooner you’re out of the lab, the sooner we can get the cleanup crew in and the sooner we can fix the place up and let you all get back to work. Think much of this mess is salvageable?”

Starscream pfft-ed. “Everything is backed up to the last individual bit of data. We just need a mainframe and we can upload it. Plus, we have plenty of spare samples in the cold store down the corridor. We can keep working in the meantime, so long as there’s a room with enough places to plug in the equipment.”

“Fair enough. Guess you could use the conference suite, that’d just gathering dust right now.” Hardline stepped to one side and allowed the small group to file out into the corridor, trailing blackened footprints. “You two ought to get a bit of rest,” he suggested, directing his attention at Starscream and Calibrator. “You’ve not got your heads down and defragged since it all went off.”

“Resting is almost at the top of my agenda,” Calibrator agreed, faintly, as she and the red Seeker separated from the rest of the group and headed towards the galley. “After refuelling. If I can keep anything down. I never do well with stress.”

Starscream glanced at Calibrator. “Are you still scared, Cali?” he asked, half-smiling.

She examined her fingers, and managed – with a supreme effort of will – to get them to stop shaking. “A little,” she confessed.

“Well you should be,” he agreed. “Because if my guess is correct, someone wasn’t just trying to make a point, they were trying to kill us.”

“You said you thought the explosive was underpowered for that…!” She looked up at him, optics wide.

“If the fume cupboard hadn’t been closed, the explosion could have been a whole lot worse. It allowed the fumes to collect, certainly, but it helped contain the blast, as well as stopping more fumes evaporating off when the air became saturated,” he shrugged, loosely. “If the cupboard had been open, the fumes would have spread right through the lab, and probably to a dangerously high concentration as there was nothing to stop them reaching their saturation point early. The percussion we’d have endured if we’d been right in the blast cloud could have stopped sparks altogether.”

Her fingers resumed trembling.

0o0o0o0o0


Pulsar had returned off shift when Skywarp gusted past in the corridor with thunder in his expression, clipping her shoulder with a wingtip. Not sure why she felt obliged to do so, she followed him anyway – something was obviously not right, because he looked thoroughly peeved. “Skywarp? What’s the matter?”

He was stubbornly silent for a moment or two, striding stiffly along, until it became clear she wasn’t going to just frag off. “They suspect something,” he muttered, at last.

She had to trot to match his blistering pace. “Well-… what exactly did you say to them?”

“Nothing. That’s just it. Screamer’s just got all psychic, lately.” He hitched his wings, almost buzzing with irritation. “I bet that green femme implanted something in his brain when she was ‘fixing’ him, something that lets him go all Soundwave and spy on our thoughts.”

“You’re not talking about Forceps, are you-?”

“Don’t you dare start on me as well. It’s a valid concern,” he snarled.

“I didn’t mean-… that is… look, if they’re onto you, you must have said someth-”

He stopped and turned so abruptly that she walked clean into him. “I said. Nothing,” he ground out, waving a threatening arm as she staggered hastily back out of the way, holding her fractured side. He gave her a half-sneer. “And you should get that seen to before anyone starts asking you questions.”

“And tell them what, exactly?” she challenged. “That I fell down stairs?”

“Pfft. They’d probably buy that, too.” He folded his arms and stared down his nose at her. “What exactly are you still following me for, anyway?”

She opened her mouth to fire off a retort, but nothing suitable would come to mind.

“Yeah, the gormless look suits you,” he agreed, pithily, and resumed his way down the corridor. “Leave me alone.”

“To do what?”

She would have lost him if not for the fact he was almost back at his dorm. He took three attempts to get the door open, stabbing at the keypad hard enough to snap one of the keys down the middle, and cracked a wing against the frame on his way in.

“Primus damn-… argh. This is so damn stupid…” His words faded into an irritable incoherence. There was a low semi-destructive-sounding rattle from his berth, and a plate from the wall clattered to the floor. A very dim blue glow mingled with the crimson from his optics.

“What are you doing?” Alarmed, she caught his wrist. “You can’t be withdrawing already-!”

“I don’t want to be so fragged off any more, all right?” he challenged, his optics glittering a dangerous crimson, and she let go of his wrist so fast he might as well have been hot, stumbled backwards, tripping on the wall-plate and ending up on her aft on Thundercracker’s berth. “Any other time, fair enough, but when I’m teetering between keeping my own counsel and just blurting it all out? That might be all I need to crack and spill out both our secrets. So don’t you lecture me on what is and is not a good idea.”

“But we agreed that we’d only use enough to keep from withdrawing…!”

“I know what we agreed,” he sneered, nonetheless taking a gulp from the cube. “That was before I knew how antsy the stuff makes you. If it’s a choice between snapping at everything, and merry, I’ll take the latter.”

“But what if they find out?”

The Basic had already eased his mood. “Oh, pfft. They’re gonna find out sometime, anyway. If I look like I’m just over-energised, it might take them a while to catch on.”

“Um, still. I think you’ve had enough,” she counselled, gently, trying unsuccessfully to peel his fingers away from the cube. Over-energised was one thing, but being so stratospheric you couldn’t walk in a straight line or do anything except giggle wouldn’t be too inconspicuous either.

“I’ll be the judge of that,” he disagreed, savouring each mouthful that scorched its way through his system. “Might as well enjoy it, if I’ve got to take it. Here, want some?” He held the Basic out in her direction.

“I’m fine, thank you,” she put up her hands. “I only topped up a little while ago.”

“I didn’t ask if you needed any, I asked if you wanted some.” The cube was still being held in her direction. “Need and want are not mutually inclusive.”

For a moment she just stared at him, then laughed.

“What’s so funny?” For once, he sounded confused, not indignant.

“Nothing, you’re just-… just…” She waved her hands, and gave him a genuine smile. “You’re smarter than you let on, sometimes.”

He made a little pleased sound, and shrugged-… then took her by surprise. “Come on, I’m not going to over-energise on my own,” he instructed, and almost forced the cube onto her. “Just have some, already.”

“But what if your wingmates come in-?” She closed her fingers over where his were wrapped around the cube, held him away. The cube was a handsbreadth from her nose.

“Tch, they won’t. Screamer’s busy being geeky, TC is out on patrol.” He coaxed it closer. “If that’s all you’re worried about…”

“Well, not all…” She stared down into the shifting violet suspension in the cube, it looked almost murky, against the bright fingers wrapped around the outside, under her palms-… She tore her gaze away and only succeeded in meeting his amused stare across the top of the cube, which was worse than gazing down on his fingers. “Uh, that is-”

He arched his optic ridges, amusedly, and guided the cube up to her lips.

“That’s-…” She licked her lips, thoughtfully, and considered the subtler feel of the integrating Basic. “That’s, um… nicer than Ruin.” It had the same kick to it, but it wasn’t quite so vehement as Ruin – Ruin let you know how potent it was, kicking right in the midriff and making the pumps jerk hard, but Basic was… softer. Smoother. It integrated like a whisper of silk. Actually wasn’t all that bad.

“More?” he wondered, with a half-smirk.

“Please!”

0o0o0o0o0


“And where did you and the constable slink off to, earlier?” Prowl asked, darkly, when Skywarp finally appeared in the small galley. “We saw you arrive back together. What were you up to?”

“Just went for a walk.” Skywarp lifted his chin, defensively. “What business is it of yours, anyway?”

“I think you’ll find everything is my business when it comes to Security.”

“Oh, blow it out your afterburners, you overinflated paper-pusher,” Skywarp waved a hand, airily, and glided past, towards the energon dispensers. “If Hardline’s not bothered, why should you be, on his behalf?”

“The Chief Inspector probably has more important things on his mind, like exploding laboratories. I can’t possibly imagine you’d know much about that?”

Skywarp snorted, and waved a mug in Prowl’s face. “If you think I’m smart enough to design a spontaneously combusting explosive, then I’d say you have a smidgen of a problem.”

Sitting in the corner of the galley, two machines were watching the exchange with increasing dismay. Thundercracker caught his wingmate’s eye, and they exchanged a brief but meaningful glance. “You thinking what I’m thinking?” he wondered, over their private channel.

I hope not,” Starscream replied, grimly. “Because I think Warp is high.”

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