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Screaming Blue Murder, chapter 25

A/N: OMG, shock coming. Or not! ;)

Screaming Blue Murder
Chapter 25

In the isolation wing, Skywarp and Pulsar sat together on one of the bunks, swinging feet and trying not to fidget. They’d obviously been discussing something in a fair amount of depth, as their murmured words hung fading and distracted on the air when their visitors arrived, but they hastily went silent at seeing the superintendent standing at the front of the little party.

“All right, the pair of you. On your feet,” Boxer boomed, sternly, and they leaped alarmedly to attention, coming to stand just behind the glass.

Skywarp half-smiled nervously at his commander, who he could see standing just behind the Superintendent’s shoulder; Starscream’s arms were folded across his cockpit, and he had that grim set to his jaw that usually indicated he’d been quarrelling pretty vehemently with someone. Being at loggerheads with the red Seeker was usually a painful experience on the audios. He remained silent and glaring, for now, though – gave no indication of how angry he might have been.

“Your commander has argued your case,” Boxer explained, darkly. “Primus alone knows why he’s bothering, I’d happily keep you pair of idiots locked away until this whole thing has blown over.”

Skywarp all but flattened himself against the glass and did his best beaten-puppy expression, wings quivering. “So we can come back out? We’re still on the case?”

“Until such a time as you foul the works up again, yes. But you will be shadowed every step of the way by an officer who has been proven clean, and your Blue usage-” Boxer visibly winced. “-will be strictly monitored. You two idiots have jeopardised the entire operation. Fact of the matter is, if we didn’t need agents so close to the wire, we’d have kept you in there.” He glared, darkly, and even Skywarp had enough good grace to cringe.

In the very periphery of his vision, Starscream could see Thundercracker had pressed a fist to his lips and was biting his knuckles in an effort not to snicker inappropriately. He was having the same problem himself – seeing Skywarp getting a thorough dressing-down by an Autobot Police chief, and having the manners to look guilty and not to backchat him in the process, was absurdly amusing. If only he wasn't quite so thoroughly peeved...

“In spite of your damnable idiocy, the two of you have the connections we need. You’re in contact with the primary dealership, and you might be all that makes the difference between partial victory and complete success,” Boxer went on, tiredly, and pinched the bridge of his nose, squinted his optics. “I can’t believe it’s come down to this, but we’re getting desperate. You have to use this privileged position to get close to the Boss. And I don’t mean his lackeys, I mean the ringleader, the designer, the instigator. Whoever it was that triggered this whole cascade of problems. If we can get him out of the equation, the rest should just collapse.”

Skywarp sneaked hesitantly past the glass once Boxer had finally left, grumbling to Nightsun; Pulsar was a little more hesitant, as if not daring to believe they were actually being let out.

“That hurt my audios less than I thought it was going to-” Skywarp started, but his commander wasn’t about to let Boxer have all the fun.

Starscream jabbed a blue finger so viciously towards Skywarp’s face that he almost took out his optic, making the teleport leap backwards out of the way, startled. “If I find,” the air commander snarled, “that at any point you’ve been your usual idiot self and done something that’ll make me regret speaking up for you… then I will personally put you back in here. And you know what I mean when I say ‘put’.”

You will be null-rayed and bodily dragged, Skywarp intuited, and nodded, with a bared-teeth wincing grin of anxious dismay. “Gotcha.”

“Same goes for you, Autobot.” The blue finger swung about to prod sharply against Pulsar’s upper arm. “Don’t think that because you’ve got chummy with my wingmate that I won’t put the boot in, if I think you need it.”

“Yes, sir.” She’d already backed into Skywarp’s wings. “Absolutely!”

The red Seeker looked strangely miffed at the alacrity of the positive response – probably annoyed that he’d not been given more excuses to yell at them. He muttered something poisonous, span on one thrustered heel and stormed off. “Primus-damned fragging idiots…” A string of barely-audible mutterings followed him out of the room.

“I’m not going to say anything,” Thundercracker lifted his hands to shoulder level, when Skywarp's optics met with his own. “Apart from steer well clear of him for a cycle or two. After everything he said he was personally going to do to the pair of you, I’m surprised you’re both still standing.” Pause. “Still as two separate machines.”

“Meaning what, exactly?” Skywarp pouted, disgruntled.

“Well, I think the opinion was that since you seemed to be joined at the hip through all your sneaking about, maybe making it permanent for an orn or two would teach you a lesson…”

0o0o0o0o0

The main laboratory had been cleaned up and made operational again, when Pulsar peeked around the doorframe, although it hardly could be said to look tidy and efficient – all the workbenches had been stacked and pushed back into the walls, the analytical equipment was still in its boxes, and yards of cabling scrambled across the floor like oversized spaghetti dropped from a great height. Starscream was directing the team about, waving arms and referring to the near-indecipherable blueprint hastily scribbled in thick black marker on the cleanest of the walls, gradually adding more notes around the edges as he went on. Well, he looked like he was in a better mood, but she didn’t fancy testing his patience just yet, and ducked back out into the corridor before he noticed her and turned her into a large ornamental paperweight.

…Calibrator was conspicuous by her absence, which was more worrying. Primus forbid that the Decepticon had taken out his frustrations on her as she was nearest and smallest, while Pulsar was indisposed! The Policebot moved hastily along the corridor to the analyst’s office, to find that it too was full of boxes (and a thankfully unharmed analyst) – the important difference being that things were getting put into the boxes, here. A lot had apparently happened since her brief spell in isolation. “What’s going on, Cali?”

“My contract has run to term.” Calibrator smiled, sadly, continuing to pack her equipment away. “Boxer’s had to tighten the purse strings a little, since I took the post, and, ah… well, put bluntly, the forensics lab can’t afford to keep me here any longer, at the moment.” She studied her fingers, briefly, and offered a humble little grin. “I guess this is his way of telling me I was asking for too much money!”

“They can’t be sacking you-?!”

“Nono, not in so many words. And I’m sure the job will go back out to tender, I just doubt they’ll be able to pay me enough to cover my costs!” She wrinkled her nose, and pouted, half-heartedly amused. “I’m heading back to Codustral, to see what new directions we can take the company in. I’ve neglected things a bit, lately, while I’ve been busy here. I’m sure I have plenty of options waiting back home.”

“But we need you here-!” Pulsar spread her arms over the top of the open crate, trying to physically stop Calibrator doing any more packing. “We need you to get to the bottom of this-…! Can’t you hang around for free for a few more orns…? It’ll all just go to the Pit in a crate without you-!”

“It pains me to admit it, but you don’t need me, any more,” Calibrator smiled, glumly, navigating around her friend and setting the analytical plates into another box. “You have someone just as competent – someone’s who’s made a lot more headway than I ever did! And someone who’s a whole lot cheaper to hire.”

“So they are paying him to be here?” Pulsar jerked her head slightly in the direction she’d just come from, referring to the Decepticon busily dismantling the laboratory mainframe.

“Well, a nominal amount, so far as I can tell. He said he’s doing it more out of principle than out of a need to pay the bills.” The analyst shrugged, ambivalently. “I guess he’s annoyed that there’s a group trying to usurp the Decepticon supremacy, and wants to teach them a lesson. I don’t mind leaving him to take up the investigation. He has the mental capacity to make a good headway.”

“Well, I mind-!” Pulsar snapped, indignant on her friend’s behalf. “He’s untrustworthy, to start with. How do we know he’s not got some hidden agenda, there?”

“My colleagues will keep an eye on him,” Calibrator continued her packing. “I doubt he’ll ‘try anything’ with so many eyes watching him… and you know, I trust him, in a way.” She smiled, shyly. “I was halfway considering trying to headhunt him for Codustral. I could do with some more competent scientists!” she admitted, keeping her gaze downcast. “But then, I know he has more important things to do than work for little me. After this, I expect he’ll go back to Megatron, or something.”

That idle comment left an unexpected twinge in Pulsar’s systems; Starscream leaves, so do the other two. She squashed it, irritably.

Calibrator must have noticed something in her face, because her expression became one of apology. “I’m sorry, Pulse; that was unthinking of me-”

“Don’t apologise,” the grav-cycle interrupted, waving her hands. “Just-… don’t. It’s not like it’s a big deal if they leave again.” Except it is a big deal, and for zero good reason. “We all expect it.”

0o0o0o0o0

“You.”

Starscream flicked the protective dark visor up out of his face and glanced up from soldering to find Pulsar stood next to him, arms folded across her chest, trying to look threatening in spite of the way she was clearly also trying not to lose her nerve and run. “What?” He sounded bored, dropped the mask back into place, and went back to his equipment.

“I hope you realise that Cali is leaving today. Because of you.”

“I hardly think that,” he waved a hand, dismissively. “She’s leaving because her contract expires. If she could tell a ‘lowly Decepticon’ like me, I’m sure she told you as much.”

“They could have extended her contract if you hadn’t stuck your nosecone into things that aren’t your business-!”

“Things became my business when Blue made it my business,” he corrected. “Trust me, I would not through choice have elected to work with squawky little femmes like those ones determined to bludgeon my audios into submission with their endless whining.”

“Well this is a police matter,” Pulsar snapped, bristling at the insult. “I have a mind to escort you off the premises altogether!”

“But you won’t, because I’m only doing what Cali was,” he gave her a sort of naughty, naughty! expression, waving the soldering torch. “Freelance work. You just don’t like the fact I’m not all rainbows and energon-sweeties like your labcoated friend was.”

“Well you’ll forgive me for knowing your kind too well,” she snapped. “Because I know that if there’s any trouble brewing, any at all, Decepticons don’t just having a hand in it, they’re running the show. I bet if I dug deep enough I’d find you linked all the way back to Blue-”

“How about I revoke my argument to your chief, hmm?” He smiled a gritted-teeth glare at her. “If you’re going to get straight back on my case, I’ll have you put back in confinement until we’re done. And that’s if you’re lucky and I’m still in a good mood.”

She swallowed the rest of her sentence. “You wouldn’t…” She backed off.

“Ah, so you’d like to revoke your statement calling me a sparkless dictator?” His optics glittered dangerously. “Maybe you’d like to get out of my face before this ‘accidentally slips’,” he waved his heat lance, meaningfully, “and you find you only have one functional arm.”

0o0o0o0o0

A breem later found Pulsar in a sullen mood, skulking in the abandoned corridors in the lowest levels of the station. She hadn’t so much left the lab in a dignified manner as scrambled for safety while she still had the chance, and her wounded pride had convinced her to hide herself away until she’d nursed her bruised ego back to health. There was no way she was even going to attempt to face Skywarp while she was still smarting after that little run-in with his wingmate.

The corridors were peaceful, at least. Not many machines had cause to come down this way, apart from the analytical team, and they were all tied up in rebuilding the lab to the Decepticon’s instructions. This stroppy hike around the ground floor was at least succeeding in working off her frustrations!

She paused at a junction-… and the sound of footsteps continued. That was odd. They were not the hesitant steps of one of the protoform techs coming down for equipment, either, but the solid flat stride of another police-bike. She focused on the sounds, turned her face in the direction they were coming from, and hesitantly set off in that direction…

The door to the lower basement stood open; that was opened so rarely that she could count the number of times she’d ever seen it open on one hand – although it wasn’t so much that which caught her attention. No, what did that was seeing the familiar figure down the hallway, fiddling with one of the Nexus at the head of the stairs to the basement. These big computers had been brought out of deep storage to be paired up with what Starscream already had in the lab – apparently he needed lots of memory capacity, in addition to the processing power of the Vinculums.

Her class were designed for action, not cerebral pursuits – they tended towards street smarts, not university smarts. (If she was honest, most of her class – herself included – probably weren’t that much brighter than Skywarp.) So seeing Whitesides doing… well, whatever it was he was doing with the Vinculum… set off alarm bells in her brain.

“What are you doing, Whitesides?” she challenged, sternly, trying to carry off a little of Boxer’s confidence in her manner.

He jumped so hard it was as if she’d jabbed him in the back with Starscream’s welding lance. “Pulse? What are-… what are you-… how did…?”

“Whites?” She approached, warily – station regulations said he should be unarmed, but if he was sneaking about where he shouldn’t be, there was nothing to say that was the only thing he was doing that he shouldn’t be. “What are you up to?”

“Nothing. Just-… er…” The other grav-cycle turned guiltily, data-wafer in one pale hand… half a cube of Prophet still clutched in the other. Caught.

For a moment or two, it felt like her vocaliser had frozen entirely. Then the invective spilled forth –outraged contempt so shrill she made her own audios hurt. “You-… Unicron-sparked, pit-spawn purge-worthless fragger! How dare you make all those insinuations about me when you’re just as addled!”

Whitesides flustered for a moment, as if to excuse himself, but the femme was having none of it. She surprised even herself with her next move – twisted into a scissor kick so athletic it was almost a somersault, and planted her heel into his throat.

Whitesides gave a gargle of surprise as his head snapped back, and something cracked ominously. He windmilled his arms for a second, but had already passed his centre of gravity and involuntarily stepped backwards in an attempt to save himself… forgetting he stood at the top of the stairs. He gave a yelp and after a moment there was a long hideous clatter like spilled tin plates, and a final crunch of splintering old polymer as he came to rest in a heap of old packing crates at the bottom.

“You can consider yourself,” Pulsar snapped, vaulting down the stairs after him, “under arrest.”

Whitesides just groaned pathetically into his nest of crates, and let her snap the cuffs closed about his wrists.

0o0o0o0o0

“Whoa, Screamer, someone took your lab apart. Is Cali really that sore at losing her love- sorry, lab-mate?”

Starscream glanced up to find Skywarp in the doorway. “I took my lab apart,” he corrected, levelling his best don’t-be-stupid glare at him. “I’m trying to build something to get you off the Blue. Chemical antidotes are out of the question, so we’re going to try program antidotes.” He let his voice descend to a mutter. “Primus knows why I’m bothering. Ingrate.”

“So…” Skywarp picked his way across the spider’s nest of cabling to where Starscream was working. “This is it?”

“Yes.”

Skywarp subjected the device to a few seconds of intense scrutiny before coming up with a succinct critical appraisal. “It’s a box.”

“Very good, Skywarp,” Starscream praised, resisting the urge to roll his optics. “What’s attached to it?”

Skywarp examined the six Vinculums very briefly. “Okay, so it’s a box with a fairly impressive computing power,” he revised his opinion. “I still don’t see how it’s supposed to help.”

“In order to safely remove the Blue fractal, we need to be able to isolate it without losing what makes you different to, say, TC,” Starscream explained, daringly turning his back on his wingmate and crawling halfway under the control terminal. “Ergo, the supercomputers will provide a temporary ‘psyche backup’ so if the worst comes to the worst and the fractals redevelop and overwrite more of your basal protocols, we can put all your little faults and idiocies back in afterwards.”

“So in idiot speak, it’s gonna fix my brain?” Skywarp eyed his wingmate’s derriere, considered planting a foot against it and giving him a helpful shove into his computer, but thought better of it. His desire to get off the Blue was greater than his desire to wind up his friend.

“I hope so, yes.” Starscream re-emerged draped in cables, looking like the prey of a predatory vine; he brushed them off, irritably.

“Hurrah and hallelujah, I’m going to be a genius as well, at last!”

“I said fix, not work miracles,” Starscream deadpanned, holding a clutch of tangled wires in one hand, and crooked a finger at him, gestured to the low stool. “Now come sit here.”

“What? Why?” Skywarp backed off a step, eyeing the wires suspiciously.

“I need to see what sort of condition your brain is in, now come here.”

“I don’t like the look of that bundle of wire you’re holding.”

Starscream gave him a chilly look. “Just… get over here, Skywarp. Don’t make me nullify you.”

“Like to see you try,” Skywarp sneered, but did reluctantly as told. “If you’re not finished, what do you need me for now?”

Starscream set the loose ‘hood’ of wires down around his friend’s head and shoulders, plugging loose ends into the ports on the lower rim of the back of his helm. “I need something for the program to practice on,” he explained. “So I’m doing my preliminary reads now, while I wait for those damned slow technicians to get back with those Nexus.”

“Practice?” Skywarp gave him a look. “If this means you’re going to frag my brain up even more before you’re even sorted with building your silly device, I’m gonna leave now.”

“I’m not going to change your brain at all, I just want a look at how the Blue is affecting it. Much as it pains me to admit it, your brain is the best one to teach the engrams how to work,” Starscream explained, reluctantly, tapping commands into one of the paired supercomputers to one side. “You’re addicted, but to very low-grade materials, and you’ve got so many maps in your head there’s not so much room for everything else.”

“Are you implying I’m a good model for your horrible experiments because I have a little brain?” Skywarp growled.

“In a word?” Starscream half-smiled. “Yes.”

“Charming,” Skywarp folded his arms, huffily. “So what happens once this has finished looking at my little brain?”

“Well, it’s copying it, actually-”

“It’s doing what?!” Skywarp jerked his head back out from under the hood.

“What the-… put that back on!” Starscream scolded, waving an irritable hand. The Vinculum had flashed up a dozen error messages, and he was going to have to set the program running again. “Now!”

Skywarp pouted, pathetically, clutching the hood between both hands. “But I don’t want your computer to be sentient with my brain. I don’t want to have an evil twin!”

“Primus, Skywarp, don’t you think I’d pick a better brain if I wanted my computer sentient?” Starscream despaired, throwing his hands up. “I want it to be useful, to start with!”

As Starscream had predicted, the pout turned into a very slightly vindictive glare, and Skywarp jammed the hood down hard over his helm. “Fine, then. See if I care if I mess your precious computers up.”

The teleport was silent for only a blissful few astro-seconds. He glanced up from under his mullet of tangling wires, trying to look nonchalant, but the guilt fairly dripped off him. “Listen, Screamer, uh-… I just wondered, um… your friend at the hospital? She gonna be okay?”

Starscream’s frosty demeanour visibly melted, and his hitched wings relaxed a little. “Got a way to go,” he replied, gruffly, “but she’s in good hands. She’ll be all right.”

0o0o0o0o0

It was taking longer than Forceps had anticipated for all the new components to finally integrate properly. It had been so long since she’d had a replacement part installed that she’d forgotten how long it could take, and she’d ended up spending a good few cycles in a torpor – not quite in full stasis, but not really awake, either, reacting to the tiny commands from her diagnostics as her body recalibrated according to the slight differences in resistivity, dimension, fitting…

She finally roused herself out of recharge to find she had a surprise visitor; sitting with his back slumped, leaning elbows on knees, hands draping in his lap, studying his fingers, was Skywarp. “Good afternoon,” she croaked, sleepily. “Didn’t think I’d ever see you here.”

“Screamer’s idea,” Skywarp lied, glancing up at her then getting to his feet and pacing. “As I’d been a bit of a glitch, keep on hounding you.”

The green surgeon was quiet for a moment or two. “I see,” she confirmed, at last. “So… did you want something? Or was that all you wanted to tell me?”

“I, uh…” The teleport scratched the back of his head, and fidgeted, uncomfortably, making one or two cropped strides in each direction. “Listen, I just wanted to, uh-… you know. I formally retract my accusation.”

For a moment she just stared, then laughed. “Apology accepted,” she said, gently.

“Only because even a criminal mastermind wouldn’t bludgeon herself silly, then send someone to try to kill her while on the operating table,” he defended himself, sulkily, folding his arms.

“That’s all right,” she tried to keep her face serious. “I quite understand. And at least it was a logical accusation. I won’t hold it against you.”

“What?” He brightened, and plonked himself back down on the chair, straddling it and leaning against the backrest so he didn’t have to worry about where his wings had to go. “You think so? Screamer told me I was just being an aft and ignored me.”

“Well, you know that you have spies in the station,” she explained, warily. “And – unless you’re playing a very clever game and keeping accusation off yourself by being too obvious about it – it makes sense to consider the unsavoury idea that it might be someone close.”

“So what about your friend, Hardline?” Skywarp wondered, acting innocent but giving her a sly look.

Damn. Forceps winced, inwardly. The sneaky little flier had trapped her into a corner with her own words. “I don’t believe he’s responsible,” she demurred, warily. “But equally I don’t have any evidence to confirm it. We’ve been apart for a very long time, he could have changed in any number of ways since I knew him.” She managed a faint smile. “Additionally – and you dare breathe a word of this to him, and I will dismantle you – he’d never be a criminal mastermind.”

“All right.” A sneaky grin had already lit the pale features. “I promise on my honour to never tell him that his beloved bondmate just called him stupid.”

“You are quite the pain in the aft, aren’t you?”

He placed a modest hand onto his cockpit, and inclined his head. “Well, I do try…”

0o0o0o0o0

“How long?”

Whitesides cut a particularly pathetic figure, sitting cross-legged on the floor of his cell. “Would you believe I’ve been on Prophet since before it even became a rumour on the streets?” he confessed, quietly, not looking up at his room-mate just the opposite side of the bars. “I was one of their first. I don’t even have a good excuse for it.” He forced a tortured smile, and shrugged. “It was one night, after we’d bust that energon trafficking ring open, made dozens of arrests? Remember we went down that club in the city centre, to celebrate?”

Pulsar remembered it – Whitesides had been somewhat stratospheric off high-grade, and making inappropriate advances on pretty much all the femmes he could find. She, Calibrator and Celerity had made their escape early and gone back to share gossip in the dorms.

“I was already over-energised when someone – I think it was Siphon – approached me with a new product, asked if I wanted to try it,” Whitesides went on, quietly. “By the time I thought to ask if there was a catch, it was too late.”

“But... everything you said. Mandatory testing, immediate arrests if found using… And you hounded me about Skywarp! And all this time you were-”

“Well, it kept you lot off the scent, didn’t it?” he interrupted, with a painful grin. “Who’d have thought that the biggest proponent of mandatory testing would be the one in it over his head?” He sighed, tiredly, and rubbed his optics. “Must have been nice to have someone powerful arguing your case for you when you got caught,” he sniped, but there was no heat in his voice – just a tired resignation.

“Whites, you actively sabotaged the investigation!” Pulsar spread her hands, helplessly. “It’s nothing to do with knowing Skywarp, it’s the fact that neither of us actually did any damage!”

“Yeah, but I bet it still helps.” He gave her a forlorn little smile. “Could I bribe you for a good reference, when this is all over? I’m fast, I’m diligent, I know the area well… I could make a good courier.”

She stared at him for a minute. “…you want to just fetch and carry for the rest of your days?”

“No, not particularly, but let’s face it,” he studied his fingers, sadly. “I’m not going to be in the force for much longer, am I?”

Pulsar watched him, sadly. It’d be unfair to resign him to the scrapheap because of one mistake that had landed him in a mess. “If we got you clean?” she wondered, warily, releasing the bars so she could go in. The impeder around his ankle would pull him up short if he tried to leave the block, but he didn’t look inclined to run now they’d caught him. “Once Starscream’s built his cure? Is there any part of you that feels any loyalty to Blue?”

Whitesides was silent for several long moments. “I don’t know,” he admitted, glancing up, and his optics were dull with shame. “I want to say yes, but something holds me back, and I can’t even define what that something is!”

“Even after everything they did to you?” She sat down next to him.

“I know. It’s stupid, isn’t it?” he laughed, painfully. “All through everything, they treated me pretty well, and kept everyone off my trail. It’s… some sort of Blue-influenced misplaced loyalty, I guess.” He studied the new scuff-marks on the backs of his fingers he’d acquired in his short trip down the stairs. “If I don’t trust myself,” he mused, slowly, rubbing the soft pad of his thumb over the scratches, “why should I ask everyone else to?”

“Whites, we’ve got Decepticons working with us, and we trust them! Mostly, anyway. You’ve been a pure-sparked Autobot your entire working life, vorn after vorn of loyal, unflinching service… what’s one little indiscretion?”

He gave her a lopsided grin. “Biased.”

“Remind me why I’m bothering?” she groused, giving him a shove. “Look, maybe if I talk to Hardline… He and Starscream persuaded Boxer to let us out, maybe he can think of something... Is there anything you know that we could use? Do you know who the Boss is?” She gave him a pleading look. “If you know, Whites, we need that information…”

He shook his head, glumly. “I did try to get close to them, but they only ever let me meet one of the three you already know. I think they knew I’d use it against them.”

“Was it you?” a loud voice interrupted from the corridor, and both startled, glancing up to find a very angry jet storming through the offline bars from the corridor.

Whitesides leaped out of the way, darting for the safety of the doorway, but not quickly enough. The larger mech was faster and stronger, and had him trapped against the wall in the blink of an optic, one powerful arm pressed up under his chin, nullrays conveniently coming to rest juuust either side of his head.

“Was it you?” Starscream demanded, again, leaning his weight hard forwards.

Whitesides gargled helplessly and scrabbled at the arm in his throat, leaving a trail of paler blue marks from his frantic fingers. “….didn’-… ach!… didn’touch-…” he choked, vocaliser freezing and spitting out static until the Decepticon switched his hold to across the front of his chest. “Didn’t do anything!” he gasped the words out.

Did you sabotage my results?!” the incensed Decepticon howled, full volume, and gave him another shove. There was a low squealing crak! as something inside the Policebot’s chest sheared off.

It was like being trapped between rock ablators, the grinding shrieking voice and the terrible pressure across his torso; Whitesides cringed his face away from his assailant and ducked his head, optics offlined. “I didn’t touch-” he wailed.

I didn’t ask if you touched it, I asked if you sabotaged it!” Starscream gave him another shove and there was another snap noise. “All my data is corrupted! Every last Primus-damn result has been changed! And I found one of these in my Vinculum.” He waved a data wafer in the Policebot’s face with his free hand. “You know all about these, don’t you, seeing as you had about a dozen when you were dragged in here!”

“I didn’t do anything to your data-” Whitesides pleaded, shaking enough that he might as well have been withdrawing. “I swear, they asked me to but I didn’t-”

A likely story.” Starscream’s voice descended from its infuriated volume into a grating snarl of anger. “You’re all excuses, Police, you worthless, Pit-spawned little excuse for sentience. I’ve seen the contents of your datachits, I’ve matched them with rogue programs on my computers, and I’ve matched them with the program that’s been influencing the testing results. So don’t you dare try and say you’re innocent…”

“But I-”

Silence!” Starscream clamped his fingers around the line of the cycle’s jaw, jammed one nullray clean into his mouth. “If I ever, ever find out you have touched anything in my laboratory ever again,” he hissed, leaning so close into Whitesides’ audios that he alone could hear the seething anger that simmered up off the maddened Seeker, “not even Boxer will be able to stop me tearing all your limbs off. Got that?”

The Policebot nodded frantically around the weapon, and thankfully Starscream sneered and stepped back. Whitesides sank into his corner, whimpering quietly, scorching air huffing from his vents.

“Get off me,” Starscream snapped, shoving past Thundercracker and the two medics who’d just arrived, called down by a frightened Pulsar. A heat haze shimmered up from his shoulder vents, and his wings were vibrating with a high, angry hum. “Lying little piece of smelt should be glad I didn’t kill him…” His words trailed in from the corridor, but eventually the sharp footsteps faded out.

Thundercracker looked back into the cell, and found the station medic blocking the doorway.

“He be okay?” Thundercracker wondered, gruffly, glancing over the small medical vehicle’s shoulder at where Starscream’s temporary punching bag sat and whimpered about his hurts to the nurse.

“There’s just a couple of fractures. We’ll get him fixed up easily enough,” the station medic confirmed, quietly, and his blue optics glittered dangerously. “Just please, if your commander wants to throw his weight around, get him to throw it at someone who’ll stand up to it a bit better? We’ve got enough work on our plates without having to patch up injuries inflicted by our allies.”

“Can you blame him for being angry?” Thundercracker challenged. “There’s orns- no, dozens of orns of work that we can’t use any more. And if it wasn’t him…” He pointed at the shaky Whitesides, who flinched involuntarily from the gesture. “Then it was someone else in the station. And we have no way of getting to the bottom of who, right now…”

0o0o0o0o0

Skywarp was sat at a computer in the main lounge, when Pulsar finally tracked him down. He had one of Fatigue’s communications wafers in his fingers, and was studying it, puzzledly.

“What’s wrong?” she wondered, only just resisting the urge to lambaste him for his commander’s violence.

“Oh, hey, Pulse,” he greeted, distractedly. “Message from Fatigue. It’s a weird one – no passwords or anything on it! Just a location and a time, and a message. They say they want us in half a cycle, because there’s some news they need to give us.” He glanced up. “Think they know we’re busted?”

“Must do,” she agreed, glumly. “They know everything else that goes on, here…” She took the wafer from his fingers, delicately, and turned it over. “Look, it’s got a logo on it as well,” she pointed out. “They’re usually blank, right?”

Skywarp nodded. “It’s where they want us to meet them,” he confirmed, gesturing to the computer terminal, which was online on a search engine image result page. The same logo was splashed across a variety of results on the screen. “Here, see?”

Pulsar frowned. “But that’s a Codustral depot…”

0o0o0o0o0

Calibrator didn’t like these dark streets. She’d packed all her equipment back home in a delivery truck, but there’d not been room for her on board, so she was walking it. It wasn’t too far – a few blocks, that was all – but she was only a small robot, small and lightweight and unarmed, relying on her dark colouration and hugging the walls to remain fairly hidden. So far, she’d been lucky – no-one had ever approached her, and since most attacks were on individuals who looked like they had a few credits to their name, she’d got the knack of looking like a small, inoffensive, valueless Empty. No-one would have suspected that the poor, penniless little Pit-scraping was in fact the managing director of Codustral, the largest chemical company in this district.

She turned a corner into her home district, and passed by another of the darkened alleyways-

An arm shot out of nowhere and clamped over her mouth, and then jerked her out of sight into darkness before she could make even the slightest squeak of alarm.

0o0o0o0o0

The Boss had arrived back in good time, safe and sound; Siphon was relieved to be able to pass over his mantle of duty, at last. He didn’t like having to be in charge in the Boss’ absence, he was more of a follower than a leader.

“Everything is going to plan,” the tanker confirmed, bowing steeply, as Fatigue took his leave. “Production is up. Supplies are running well. And we have more, eh… ‘suppliers’… signing up to carry it into the mass market.”

“Good, good,” the Boss nodded, distractedly. “What about the sensor blind?”

“Production of the basic elements was completed yesterday. The forcefield’s already working perfectly with the blind, Fatigue was overseeing the final integration into the main grid today, until he came to fetch you. It should all be up and running within the orn.”

The Boss harrumphed, grumpily. “Speaking of whom, I shall have to remind him to be a little more discreet. ‘Abducting’ police scientists in full view of Autobot police officers is not the way to get their attention elsewhere. Is that everything?”

“Oh, no – that dopey jet and his girl are here again, right on time.” He led the way down the corridor. “They said they wanted to see you before we got down to the business of giving them the news, and making the drop.”

“Hm, I can imagine why. They’re playing games.” The Boss made a disgusted noise. “We need to hit them a smidgen harder, remind them where their allegiances lay.”

“You mean we’re going to get the chance to break out the really good stuff…?”

A chuckle greeted the comment. “Yes. They’re going to be the first to take Crisis into the market.”

Siphon clucked, amusedly. “You think they’ll be all right with it? It’s killed everyone so far.”

“So we go gently, and we keep Deuce as far away as possible. Ruin has never had the calming effect of Prophet, I don’t want him ‘helping’ and overdosing them. This batch has been perfected, and I have utmost confidence in its efficacy, but only provided we titrate it appropriately.”

“Well, I guess if we kill one of ‘em at least we have a spare, right?” Siphon smirked. “Unless they’re so terribly sparkbound, one’ll pine away without the other.”

“I’m not sure who would be more upset at the insinuation they are somehow a pair.”

“No offence, Boss, but you don’t pay me enough to worry about the feelings of our ‘customers’,” Siphon snorted. “Anyways. We left ‘em here to wait for you to arrive.”

The Boss smiled; the experiment was proving to have strange results. Nothing that had been desired, but some unusual successes regardless. The strange pair were sitting together in an old supply room, among the boxes, chattering inanely and looking so completely… at peace with the world. At peace with each other. Deadly enemies, warring factions, sitting so close together they were physically touching, smiling and discussing some irrelevant subject in hushed, serious voices.

If Blue could induce enemies to work and to cohabit happily together, then perhaps it was what was needed to induce the warring factions to forget their prior arguments and animosity, and work together for Codustral.

Siphon stuck his head around the doorway, and spoiled the image. “Hey, lovers. Boss is here to see you!”

There were half-hearted annoyed noises at their description, but Siphon thumbed his nose and waggled his fingers at them.

“Thank you, Siphon. I can take things from here. If you would be so kind as to fetch the Crisis, we can get to work,” the Boss instructed, quietly, and stepped to one side as the tanker bowed steeply and scuttled away.

…then pushed the door open, and stepped through-

“You!” Skywarp was on his feet in a flash, startled, weapons whining softly.

“What in Primus name-?!” Pulsar leaped backwards and fell square over the box she’d previously been sitting on, landing hard on her aft among packing crates. “But this is-… it can’t-!”

0o0o0o0o0

“So. Now her contract’s run to term, where has she gone?” Starscream wondered, out loud, standing in the galley with a mug of energon held lightly in one hand. “If I wanted to get back in contact, for instance, and ask if she had a backup for all the work we’ve lost…?”

“Back to Codustral, I guess,” Hardline replied, thoughtfully, resting forwards on his elbows. “She’s been the owner and managing director since the company formed, vorns ago. I’m sure she has plenty of taps into plenty of schemes.”

“And-…” Starscream paused, and backtracked. “What? Who did you say?” Very quiet bells were ringing in some distant part of his mind. “Co-dustral? What the Pit kind of name is that? Got to be shorthand for something.”

“Hm, yes, I think it is… it’s short for ‘Something Industrial’, I think,” Hardline mused. “Was it Collaborative? Coaxial? They’ve not used their original name in aeons. Nightsun?”

The helicopter was already at the computer, prompting it for an answer. “Cobalt,” he replied, glancing up. “They changed their trading name to Codustral twenty-four vorns ago.”

“Codustral is Cobalt Industrial?” Starscream groaned out loud and covered his optics. “Oh for the love of-… did nobody think to check that out right at the start?!”

“What’s the big deal?” Hardline asked, sharing a glance with Nightsun, who shrugged. “We checked her out twice, didn’t find anything.”

“I bet you warned her you were going, though. Let me spell it out for you.” The red Seeker pinched the bridge of his nose and rubbed his optics with one hand, irritably. “What is cobalt?”

“A metallic element.”

“Right, but more than that. What’s it a synonym for?”

“It’s a colour, right? Cobalt is-… aw, slag.” Hardline’s shoulders slumped. “Cobalt is blue.”

“Exactly. Cobalt is blue. Codustral is Cobalt Industrial. Cobalt Industrial equals Blue Manufacturing!” Starscream gave a snarl of wordless anger and hurled the mug to the floor, furiously, and there was an echoing crash as a startled sleepy officer in the background dropped his own energon. “No wonder we couldn’t find the ringleader. They were perfectly hidden, right in plain sight – she was here, working ‘with’ us, the whole time!”

-------

A/N: Liek, OMG, shock shock etc!
…All right, you can all get to telling me I made it too obvious, now. :)
I think I need to art more for this. *nods to self* Ideas?

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
_silverfox
Aug. 11th, 2008 04:57 pm (UTC)
You did NOT make it too obvious. At least not to me. I did suspect her - slightly more than Forceps and definitely less than Shockwave, but my main suspicion was always that it'd turn out to be someone from the hospital.
keaalu
Aug. 12th, 2008 07:54 am (UTC)
Ah, good, good...

I wanted to leave MORE clues, but then I didn't want to give the whole game away too early. ;) And I didn't want it to be someone no-one had encountered before, so...
_silverfox
Aug. 12th, 2008 07:02 pm (UTC)
I think it was just right like this. More clues and the police might have looked really stupid.

I'm left wondering what's up with Shockwave, though. He seems to me obeying only part of Megatron's orders.
keaalu
Aug. 13th, 2008 11:37 am (UTC)
Hm, I hadn't realised people would place the blame quite so heavily on Shockwave, as there's been a couple of folk say they suspected him - which is odd, as he's technically supposed to be more of a "bit part", in this. :\ Just to stop them going straight back to Earth and getting reinforcements. I just always worked on the premise that Megatron would be keeping half an eye on the troublesome threesome, and having Shockwave shoot them the instant they arrived on the scene would probably be unhelpful. ;)
_silverfox
Aug. 15th, 2008 08:50 pm (UTC)
It's just that I remember Megatron telling him to chase them off, if they try to return, keep an eye on the seekers and kill them, if they go to the Decepticons. And he did chase Thundercracker and Skywarp off, but I got the impression that he didn't know what had happened to Starscream (and all it would have taken was to read the paper) and he hasn't reacted to their working for the Autobot police at all. Looks like he's too busy to care what's going on with the seekers or Blue, so I wonder what he's been up to besides stealing energon. (Hm, maybe he's involved in whatever trouble there'll be in the sequel. ;) )
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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