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"Warped", Chapter Four

A/N: I deny any responsibility for the dodginess of some of the science in this! Technobabble ftw. Thank you all for your kind words thus far. I hope to continue to keep all your attention. ;)
Bit of a longer one, this. :)

Chapter Four

The element of surprise gave Skywarp just the edge he needed to barge the larger silver mech clean out of the way and into a wall. “Belay that order, he’s gone crazy!” he yelped into the pickup. “He’s crazy!”

Megatron sighed, irritatedly, and landed a fist square between Skywarp’s optics. The teleport tripped backwards over his own feet and landed on his aft by the wall, clutching his abused face. “Ignore that little interruption, if you would. Proceed as planned, and make sure you retrieve the cargo.”

“Yes, Mighty Megatron!” Blitzwing saluted, amusedly.

“We hear and obey,” Astrotrain confirmed.

Ow. Sitting whining quietly to himself by the wall, only half-listening as Megatron gave out instructions, Skywarp tried not to clutch too hard at his wounded face; his nose was skewed at a funny, unfamiliar angle. I think he actually broke my nose for real. A ruptured coolant line around his optic had fogged the crystal all over the inside, and vapours were sizzling irritatingly over broken circuitry. Oh, ow ow ow.

“Where did I go wrong, Skywarp?” Megatron wondered, melodramatically, at last turning away from his radio and advancing slowly on the fallen flier in a way that implied a desire not to spook him, but just made Skywarp scoot further away backwards. “What did I do to turn you into this… this traitorous little waste of good armour? You were always my most dependable. I could always count on you to give me your all in a campaign. So what did I do,” he placed a palm on his broad chest, as if wounded right in the spark, “to lose your loyalty?”

“Never betrayed you, Megatron,” Skywarp replied around his fingers, miserably. “Never even lied to you.”

“No, you probably didn’t lie to me,” Megatron accepted. “But you sneaked around behind my back, and hid things from me, and I am forced to wonder exactly what else you’re hiding…”

“N-nothing, nothing-…” Skywarp shook his head, urgently. “I was just- I didn’t know what to do, I-…”

Megatron leaned down closer to him, and spoke very quietly. “In all the time we have languished on this mud-ball world, I have given you and your wingmates more and more opportunities to develop yourself, more freedom to act on your own initiative,” he reminded, grimly. “I never asked that you gave much in return except your loyalty, but how do you choose to repay me? With just more of the same tired old treachery and deceit I’ve come to expect from your commander. You use my generosity to further your own aims, sneaking around behind my back and plotting your own advancement. Seems I taught you all the Decepticon way a little too well, hmm?” He crouched, casually resting his gun arm across his knees, and couldn’t quite hide the smile that draw his lips into a sneering smirk as Skywarp whimpered in alarm and flopped further away backwards.

“I gave you the free rein to do what you liked,” he said, softly. “I even tolerated it when you got in my face about my treatment of your commander, because I was stupid enough to think defending each other made you stronger as a team. Only goes to show it’s not only the Autobots that have ridiculous over-optimism in things, hm?” He lowered his voice to a hiss. “If the only way to reinforce the fact I am your leader is to tighten the rules, then so be it. The rules will be tightened, and you will do well to heed them.” He straightened, and turned to face the doorway, where Soundwave’s cassette twins now lurked, waiting.

“You called us, Boss?” Rumble prompted.

“Yes. Once this worthless heap of spare parts has finished in the repair bay, remove him to the brig,” Skywarp heard Megatron snap. “A Terran year or two in solitary may remind him where his allegiances lie – and by that time he gets out, the two small creatures he has been protecting will be well beyond his grasp.”

“Boss? Repair bay?” The cassettes swapped looks.

Megatron stared down at the prone Seeker, wrinkled his lip in a sneer, and Skywarp’s last vision was of the nimbus of purple swirling at the mouth of the tyrant’s fusion cannon before the flash of white-hot pain shot all the way through him, and the world went out.


…Starscream was beginning to regret coming up with this plan. One more question, he promised himself. Just One. More. Question… and I am going to completely kick off.

To Footloose, absolutely everything she laid optics upon was sufficiently new and exciting as to require an encyclopaedic description and several dozen supplementary questions. And that was everything, all the way from the landscape to the trees to the human-built vehicles to the constructions to any small animals she spied. And nothing seemed to escape her notice – not even the tiny dot of a crow flying down to land on a fencepost, or the communications mast on the distant horizon. Starscream pandered to her curiosity for a few breems, until the novelty had worn off to sufficient degree that he felt like yelling at her to shut up. What’s that, what’s that do, why does that, how does that, argh. For someone deriving part of her psyche from Skywarp, she sure burned with an unnatural curiosity – had Warp ever been this bad? Hardly seemed likely. Starscream resolved to hunt down the teleport’s creator and challenge them, after bludgeoning them silly for not plastering him with warning labels. Do not allow this mech to procreate.

It wasn’t even as if he could grumble at that idiot wingmate of his, because whose idea was it to take the little pests out with them, anyway? Oh yeah, that’s right. His.

And of course, when it started to rain, that was yet another phenomenon she’d never encountered before, and sparked yet another barrage of questions – he groaned, inwardly, and wished he’d chosen to take the desert run instead of Thundercracker. Or- frag, just taken the quiet one. He increased his altitude a little, so the small things were less noticeable and she might just stop asking quite so many questions about inane things – not so high that everything turned into blurs of colour and there was still enough to keep her interest – and the questioning thankfully began to dwindle.

Clearly this counts as one of your better plans, oh mighty Air Commander, he scolded himself. We all know how patient you are with Skywarp, so how about take the small version of him with you, instead of the quiet little one who won’t question you to within a handbreadth of screaming? He tuned her chattering out to background white noise with the same long-practice that he’d learned to use on Skywarp himself, and ultimately the rampant questions stopped.

After a few breems of wonderful peace and quiet, his little passenger too busy watching the rainy landscape flash past below to grill him with too many questions, he realised she was talking to him again, patting her little hands down on his control panel to get his attention.

“…Sta’zim? Star? Who they?” she was asking. “Who they?”

“What?” He brought his attention back to the present. “Who is who?”

“Who they follow?”

Who they follow-… what?! He immediately directed his attention behind himself, to find two oh-so-familiar radar shapes looming closer in his sensor grid. Two shapes… wait, no, now three shapes, and the smallest one was closing the gap very very quickly.

Oh my holy everloving fu- “Hold on!”

Without even pausing to check if she was secure, he threw himself into an evasive manoeuvre, but not quickly enough, not quickly enough. Pain tore all the way up his left thruster and back into the fusion turbine as the well-aimed heat-seeking missile impacted violently on its margin, sending him spiralling into a nosedive, out of control. Footloose squealed in fright and jammed herself into a corner, her blunt fingers digging at his insides in an effort to maintain her purchase and not end up thrown around like a loose cog.

With a supernatural effort he managed to stifle his own bellow of raging hurt – how dare they shoot at him while his back was turned! How dare they have the nerve to actually hit him, in flight and moving, when most days they couldn’t land a successful strike even on someone as big as Optimus Prime when he was stationary!

Cursing them out would have to wait, the trees were looming up underneath him far too quickly and he had to pull himself out of this nosedive now. Far too many systems had already stalled, overloaded, offlined. Fluid lines ruptured, splattering the superheated insides of his engine core with coolant and energon, and acrid black smoke chased him down like an obscene festival banner even after his fire suppressers had put out the raging blue flames that briefly licked inside him.

Come on, restart, restart- Starscream gunned his engines, yelping involuntarily as a bolt of white-hot pain shot through his injured left side, but his right thruster finally kicked in and took up the strain. Wasn’t going to keep him airborne for long, but it might be enough to stop him driving his nosecone clean back through his cockpit and shattering every screened relay in his cortex…

Engines whining, the strain making his wings hurt, he’d pulled himself almost level when the topmost branches of the trees began to lash at his undercarriage.

He transformed midair, using his wings to disguise what he was doing and the instant he was close enough to the ground to drop her without damaging her too badly – and if she was anything like her sire, she had plenty of experience in falling off tall things – he ejected Footloose from his cockpit. She squealed noisily and landed with a muted crunch in the sodden undergrowth, which was at least somewhat reassuring, nothing capable of that much noise could be too badly hurt. No time to worry about her right now, though. He had far more important matters at hand – like not killing himself.

The trees made an effective (if painful) set of brakes. Although the lighter branches scraped and battered at his paintwork, shredding into splinters in front of his wings, the trunks were another matter. A dozen saplings had exploded into painful matchwood before the massive bore of an oak crunched down hard into the leading edge of his left wing, jerking him into a violent half-spin that almost wrapped him right around the treetrunk.

There was one big final sideways crunch across his knees from an old maple, completing the damage the missile had done and shearing off the back armour of one thruster altogether, and his momentum finally ran out, leaving him skewed and half-propped in wet vegetation at the base of the tree. I guess this means I’ve landed, then, he considered, dazedly, and let his head drop to the ground between his outstretched arms. …ow.


A good few hundred metres back, Footloose had landed safely – if a little dazed, and making soft, frightened little whoop-s to herself – in a patch of old-growth brambles. The intertwined stems had acted like springs, cushioning her from the worst of the impact, although she’d still made a fair sized dent in the soft earth and had mud packed into every joint space down her back. She watched as two large shapes flashed noisily overhead, not noticing her mostly-dark armour far below them, chasing poor hurt Sta’zim, then flailed her way out of her broad nest of thorns and scuttled into the comparative safety of the thick vegetation.

She chased after them, hidden under the thick canopy of leaves. She might not have a very big brain, just yet, but (like Skywarp) directions were one of her specialities, and she knew how to follow a straight line. Plus, she could home in on the engine noise – more muted, under the trees, and fading, but not quite gone, yet – and the scattered bits and pieces of broken vegetation were easy enough to spot. She hesitated at a break in the treeline, where the sheltering vegetation thinned out to nothing but long grass.

On the other side of the small open patch, just past the scattered bits and pieces of broken tree, was an immobile patch of red and silver, shimmering faintly with blue sparks as falling water got under damaged plating. Oh no. Hurt! She was about to go and check on him when she noticed the sound of engines hadn’t died away completely – was in fact coming back. She scurried hastily back under the shelter of the trees, before they could spot her, and only just made it in time.

She watched as the two big machines – one big and mostly silver, the other mostly white with a tall pointy head – came in for a landing, and flattened herself down deeper in the undergrowth, pumps jittering, dermal plates vibrating fast enough to be humming. She sternly told it to stop, and the shakes did lessen a little. At least the heavy patter of water droplets – rain, she corrected herself – on the foliage was rattling more noisily than she was.

Why had they shot at them, were they Autobots? She knew they didn’t get on with Sta’zim’s people, but it was a bit mean to just shoot at-… no, wait. Not Autobots. They wore the same angry purple faces on their exterior plating. Decepticons? That couldn’t be right, what were they hurting each other for? Weren’t they supposed to be friends?

“He’s not got anything with him, Boss,” Pointy-head said, watching as Big Silver closed his giant fingers around Sta’zim’s shoulder vent and lifted him halfway out of the broken plants. “You sure he’s got it? Wouldn’t be the first time one or another of Screamer’s trine have led you on.”

“Unfortunately, no, it wouldn’t,” a heavy gravely voice agreed over Pointy’s communicator, and Footloose shrank down further into the vegetation, involuntarily, recognising its owner as Meg’tron. “Keep looking. Search the immediate area, and wider if you have to. Come back without it… Well, I don’t need to explain what will happen, do I?”

“N-no, Boss! We’ll find it!”

“Want us to bring him back with us?” Big Silver wondered, gruffly, still examining the inert Seeker.

“Don’t bother,” Meg’tron drawled. “If he survives, I’m sure he’ll make his own way home, like always. Just find the little one, and bring it back. That is what is important, right now.”


“Come on then, Starscream. It's question time, for you.” Astrotrain kept his large fingers wrapped carefully around the dazed Seeker’s helm, holding him up out of the soggy vegetation; the blue arms dangled lifelessly at either side, the backs of his knuckles resting on the ground.

“Where is it?” Ramjet asked, quietly, hunkering down in front of Starscream; the Seeker’s crimson optics struggled to focus on his face. “Tell us, and we might be nice enough to take you back anyway.”

“…where’s wha…?” Starscream slurred back, vocaliser fizzing softly.

“You know what we’re looking for. You stole it away from Nemesis, and Megatron wants it back. Where did you hide it?”

Maintaining this destabilised incoherence could work in his favour, Starscream realised. If he just acted stupid, they may lose interest in questioning him – because just telling them wouldn’t buy him any favours. He managed a dopey smile for them. “…think I’d… drop it… somewhere…”

“Okay, so where’d you drop it?”

He paused for a long time before finally answering. “…drop what…?”

“That… little one.” Although Ramjet sounded unsure of himself. Maybe Megatron had been too cryptic about what he wanted them to do?

“Little what…?”

“That little machine.” Ramjet leaned closer and tried to culture his best aura of threat. “The one you stole. You know, even I didn’t think you were this stupid, Screamer. That bonk on the head break your brain, or something?”

Already tired of the game, Starscream vented a very long, slow siiigh of air, and let his optics finally go all the way offline. He was well practised in shamming unconsciousness, so fooling them should be easy enough, and once they’d fragged off, he could try and get his bearings on where he was and decide what to do about the mess he’d landed in.

Predictably, after a second or two of worthless examination, Astrotrain decided he wasn’t going to wake up in the near future, and unceremoniously let go of him. It took every ounce of effort not to jerk his hands up to save himself, or groan when he got a mouthful of dirt, but they thankfully ignored him anyway.

“Okay, so now what?” Ramjet demanded, sourly, irritably wiping rain from his optics. “How are we supposed to get the information out of him now?”

“Well, we could wait for him to wake up,” Astrotrain replied, dryly, “or we could just, I don’t know, maybe get on with looking for it?”

Ramjet leaned up closer to him and hissed; “If he has dropped it somewhere, we are so not gonna be able to check his whole patrol route, all the way from Nemesis to here.” He stabbed a pointing finger at the dirt, angrily, to add a little more weight to his sentiment.

“Well, we’re just going to have to, aren’t we?” Astrotrain stared him down. “Unless perhaps you’d like to explain to Megatron why we didn’t find it.”

“Huh. Maybe we should dismantle him, and check he’s not hidden it away inside himself.”

“Don’t be stupid. You know how long it’d take to get him to bits?” Astrotrain gave him a scornful look. “Besides, it won’t be that small. It’ll be big enough to be self-motile, and the only room he’d have to store it would be in his cockpit – and that is empty.”

Starscream smiled secretly at Ramjet’s next retort of come on, we don’t even properly know what we’re looking for!

“So the sooner we get looking, the less time it’ll have to run off completely, right?” Astrotrain was already backtracking along Starscream’s flight path, completely unaware that he’d passed within an arm’s length of their target, hiding in the thick ferns at the base of a squat tree. “I tell you what, how about I shoot you now and save Megatron the job later?”

Ramjet groused darkly, and joined him in the search.


At the same time as Starscream was winging his way over an American National Park and trying not to yell at Footloose to be quiet, Thundercracker was flying smoothly over Northern Africa with a calm little Slipstream tucked quietly away watching images on the display screen in his cockpit. Being able to pretend they were just travelling at ground level and not having to watch where they were going had turned the youngster into a remarkably calm little acrophobe, and their entire journey thus far had been peaceful.

This was to be a longer sweep than his wingmate’s, but he had the airspeed to do it with plenty of time to spare. He was to cut a diagonal across the northern margin of Africa, passing over Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, then low over the Mediterranean and up the side of Italy, sweep down over Switzerland and briefly menace the scientists at CERN (well, he had to have some proof he’d been there, right?), then emerge over the ocean out of the top corner of France and head in as straight a line as he could manage to the space bridge.

At least, that was the idea. Thundercracker had just crossed the invisible border from Algeria and into Tunisian airspace when he picked up the signal; excited, enthusiastic, emanating from a small scientific emplacement in the middle of the desert that had – apparently – got their first success in some important project. A functioning, efficient solar collector, able to extract a nearly limitless power supply from sunlight alone.

Drat. Thundercracker circled for a breem or two, indecisive. This had jammed a fairly hefty spanner into the works. If this signal was strong enough that Megatron picked it up, back on Nemesis, he’d want to know why the blue Seeker – who was closer and had far better reception in the first place, so couldn’t deny having heard it – hadn’t gone to investigate. Limitless electrical power! The sort of thing that Megatron was always, always hunting for.

Part of him wanted to investigate purely so he could tell them that he had, and that it was nothing (even in the unlikely event it was important). The other part of him – the larger part of him – wanted to steer as far clear of it as he could. The signal had made him instantly suspicious. Not only could he think of no valid reason for a likely-expensive science experiment to be done way out in the middle of the desert – there were equally good places to collect solar radiation, after all, and a lot of them with better local amenities than the Tunisian desert – but why would they be broadcasting about it? Who were they broadcasting to, and why were they using such a primitive form of radio transmission? And if it was so expensive and important, it was like an open invitation for anyone to come along and take it… Like… it made him think of bait in a trap. But bait for what?

“What do you say about us taking a quick peek, so we can say we’ve looked?” he suggested, at last.

Slipstream nodded, examining his guardian’s controls so that he didn’t have to look too hard out of the window at the ground far below. “Then we go to space bridge?”

“That’s right.”

“You come with?”

“What?” Thundercracker diverted his visual attention briefly inwards, and observed the sad, pursed lips of the little sparkling. “We can’t come with you just yet, Seem, but we’ll follow you sometime. All right?”

Slipstream didn’t look impressed, or like he really believed him, but nodded, dropping his gaze back down to the Seeker’s controls.

A blip appeared on Thundercracker’s sensor grid, taking his attention – it was some way behind him, but advancing quickly. He pinged a non-verbal request for schematics at it, and got an involuntary return ping of familiar data; it was Thrust. Hm. What does he want? And why’s he not talking to me? Thundercracker sent a brief, friendly hail over the air, just in case it was just... mistaken identity, or something...

-Warp, Conehead with me- he sent to Skywarp. -What’s up?-

He knew his wingmate’s response was never going to be fast, given the distance, but this time it was nonexistent. And Thrust was still advancing, still not responding to any friendly hails.

Slag. Something’s gone very wrong here.

“Hang on tight!” Thundercracker instructed, hurling himself into a dramatic, rolling evasive manoeuvre, and the crackling lilac beams of destruction that had been intended for his engines strafed past, close enough to singe but missing vital components.

Slipstream bleeped his fright, voicing a brief and involuntary cacophonous wail from his siren, before freezing up altogether, optics offlined, and going utterly silent. He jammed himself as tightly into the pilot’s footwell as he could.

“What in Primus name are you playing at?!” Thundercracker demanded, diving briefly out of range, although he sensed he knew exactly what the Conehead had turned into his enemy for. “Cut it out, Thrust!”

“So hand it over!” Thrust pursued him downwards, matching him manoeuvre for manoeuvre, just a fraction of a second too slowly to get any of his shots to score a significant strike. “And I’ll go easy on you!”

“Hand what over?” Thundercracker twisted into a steep climb, but Thrust was hot on his tailfins. Damn, he’s too close for me to get behind him. I’ll have to put some distance between us.

“We know you’ve got it, TC. Megatron told me to fetch it back. So hand it over and I might not shoot you out of the sky!”

He’s bluffing, the blue Seeker realised, putting on a just enough of a turn of speed to start to open a gap between them. He doesn’t even know what ‘it’ is. “I’m running my normal patrol, you moron!” he retorted, calling the red jet’s bluff. “Checking out these weird signals – if you looked, you’d have picked them up on your radio grid as well!”

Thrust strafed another shot across his opponent and missing his cockpit by a hair, and sing-songed; “Don’t say I didn’t waarn youu.”

A shadow blotted out the sun, and Thundercracker belatedly realised Thrust wasn’t as alone as he’d thought. Keeping himself mostly in line with the blinding sun above, Blitzwing had lurked until he was sure the blue Seeker’s attention was fully taken by the scarlet Conehead… then twisted gracefully into a straight-down descent, and drilled a long, clean shot down all the way through Thundercracker’s right wing as the Seeker passed below him, shearing a great chunk off it.

Pain jangled a warning all down Thundercracker’s side, and he could feel himself losing control of his path, unbalanced drag forces creating a shearing sensation across him.

“Okay, Seem, hang on,” he instructed, calmly, trying to keep his nose level. There was a jagged cluster of mountains looming in front but just past that was a beautifully flat bit of desert. If he could just manipulate his path well enough to get that far, he could use the sand as a soft, yielding crash-mat.

His altitude ran out just short of that lovely flat patch. He cursed, inwardly, and braced himself-

Components crunched as he slammed hard on his belly onto the rocks, bouncing once like a skipped stone before coming down just as hard a second time. There was a sharp pain as something broke, and he could feel the rocks scouring and stripping chunks of blue and silver away from his underside. He skidded almost all the way to the desert foothills, before finally coming to a skewed, dusty halt with the haphazard edge of his damaged wing pointing skywards.

Slipstream was virtually paralysed, his little fingers clenched tight on inner components. The air that huffed out of his vents was scorching hot and over-stressed, and his optics were right offline. Don’t make me look, don’t make me look.

“Come on, Seem, out!” Thundercracker instructed, tightly, popping his canopy open. He could hear Thrust already coming around for another strafing flyby – the noisy idiot was throttling his engines back and making them howl a lot more noisily than they ought to have done, but the Seeker was no cowering Autobot put off by a little bit of noise. He had to get a shot or two of his own in, startle his opponent into a retreat-…

But Slipstream hadn’t moved – still shocked by the rough landing, still making little frightened squeak noises – and while he was still jammed tight in there, too scared to budge, Thundercracker was still helpless on his belly on the rocks.

Time was running out. “Slipstream, I need to be able to transform-…! Dammit, get out!” He bucked up and down once or twice on his injured landing gear, shaking yet more pieces of broken detritus off his undercarriage, and finally the sparkling got the hint, and was gone in a flicker of violet.

Thrust was almost on top of him when Thundercracker finally unfolded himself. “Dodge this, you traitorous slagger!” the blue Seeker boomed, swept his good arm up in a long, elegant curve and blistered purple laser fire across his assailant’s fuselage, scorching the vulnerable surfaces of his wings and painfully obliterating a good few dozen individual sensory modules in his nosecone.

The shot was too woefully underpowered to do much more than superficial damage, but Thrust gave an audible yelp of pain and almost stalled right out of the air, skidded his own fuselage over the rocks at the crest of the ridge as he struggled to pull up, and just managed to wheel himself out of range.

“Hey, hey, where are you going?” Thundercracker heard Blitzwing demand, listening in to their insecure channel.

“Not staying here so as he can shoot at me again, that’s for sure!” the Conehead retorted. “It’s not like he’s gonna go far, he’s grounded! We can come back with reinforcements at our own leisure!” Never the sort to go above and beyond the call of duty when his own personal health was at stake, Thrust was already beating a hasty retreat even as Blitzwing cursed his cowardice and followed him.

Thundercracker waited until the sound of their engines had faded completely from the desert air before turning his attention back to his little passenger. And-… Dammit, where had that mobile little heap of spares gone and hidden himself? The blue Seeker shielded his optics, and scanned the landscape. “Slipstream? Where are you?” he called, his deep voice making a sonorous, far-carrying rumble in the parched air. “See-eem?”

A weak little ping bounced off his firewalls from somewhere in the middle distance, higher up the mountainside. He turned himself towards it, wincing as he scuffed an injury against an outcrop, and began to climb.

This whole new development had made him anxious. The continued lack of response from Skywarp couldn’t be accidental, and if they’d attacked one of the three, it stood to reason he wouldn’t be the only one on the receiving end. -Screamer, you OK?- he pinged, worriedly.

-Shot- came the reply, at last. The return ping was full of distortions, and sorely low powered.

Damn. -Badly damaged?-

-Bad enough. You?-

-Grounded, but mobile. Lucy?-

-Escaped, I think. Astrotrain, Ramjet chasing- Beat. -Seem?-

-Looking for-

There was a pause, while Starscream processed the information. -Attackers…?-

-Not chasing. Saw them off-

-Ha. Smug-

-Can’t find Seem either, though. Still looking-


The responses were getting slower, and at last Thundercracker realised it wasn’t because his wingmate was thinking hard about things, it was because thinking itself was growing difficult. -Screamer, you all right?-

There was another of those pauses. -No. Losing stability- Another pause, but this time it seemed like it was because he was having trouble swallowing his pride long enough to ask the question. -Help me?-

-Will find someone- Thundercracker promised, although he hadn’t the first idea who he thought he was going to call on. -Keep calm-

There was another of those protracted silences, and -help me- repeated itself, although it was so distorted it was hard to make out.

-Screamer, stay with me- Thundercracker coaxed, gently, but there was no reply. -Star?- He cursed, quietly. Losing communication with Starscream suggested he was unconscious, or worse, which in turn would mean Footloose was alone, if they hadn’t already found her. He hoped she had the brains to stay hidden.

Finally, he reached the origin of Slipstream's ping, and after a moment or two found a pair of large, lilac optics watching him from a little crevice in the rocks.

“Ah, hey, Seem, there you are!” Thundercracker greeted, gently. “That’s a good den, but you can’t stay up there any longer. Coming down?” He held out his hands.

“No fly?” Slipstream whispered, very quietly, peering warily down off his rock but making no move to actually get down. He looked like even the slightest suggestion of going airborne again would spook him back into hiding for another few cycles.

“No, no fly,” Thundercracker agreed, tired but managing to smile at the absurdity of it all, and winced at the slow hurt in his injured wing. “Ow, damn. Most definitely no fly, right now. Looks like we’re gonna be ground-pounders together, for a while.” He lifted his hands closer to the rock, encouragingly.

Slipstream finally edged his way down off his perch, settling quietly into the large black hands. “Where we now?” he wondered, peering out across the broken landscape.

“I think the humans call this bit of their planet ‘Tunisia’,” Thundercracker explained, surveying the bleak, rocky desert landscape with an increasing sense of dismay. “Middle of effing nowhere would seem appropriate, too.”

“Lot of nothing,” Slipstream agreed, shrinking back against him. “Cybertron not this empty.”

“No. It’s not this damn flat, either,” Thundercracker agreed, drolly, setting off down the slope, having to work hard at maintaining his footing on the unstable substrate. “Maybe I will come home to Cybertron with you, after all! Once we've got ourselves out of this little rough patch...”

Slipstream nestled himself down alongside the big Seeker’s cockpit, tucking into the curve of his elbow. “Where we going?”

“Well, I figure if I walk in a straight line, we’ll come across some sort of human activity, right? We flew over some towns on our way in, so we’re guaranteed to come across a road, or a pipeline, or something, which we can follow back to civilisation. Once we’ve got our bearings, we can start to think about getting help.”

Slipstream hummed dubiously. “Squishies,” he pointed out, quietly.

“Yeah, I know.” Thundercracker sighed his agreement. “I don’t want to get too near them either, but they’re gonna be pretty unavoidable. At least their technology isn’t going to be good enough to be a threat, and it shouldn’t be too tricky to hack into their communications grid, get a message out to…” Frag, who exactly were they going to call? “…uhh, someone. But we can think about that later. Besides, I don’t want to still be hanging around here if Thrust actually changes the habit of a lifetime and comes back with reinforcements…”


It was still hot. Oh, damn, still so hot. So sluggish. It was like trying to think through old motor oil. She lay inert, half-listening to an angry tirade in Cybertronian, struggling to get enough coolant to circulate in her cortex to get her mind straight, but everything was so difficult. Maybe it was better to just lay quiet and let the world rotate around her.

“I don’t pay them to just give me excuses!” the angry voice in the distance snarled – a voice as harsh and cutting as if its owner was speaking through a vocaliser packed with gravel, and with a familiarity that ran painful heat up her back. “I paid them to get it for me, not lounge on their afts eating dates in Chebika! Get out of my way, you worthless heap of spares. I should have left you to rot in that prison! I see I’m going to have to have words with them…”

The voice faded, and the dark blur faded out of her straining vision, leaving nothing but a sea of ginger smudges. She sighed, disappointedly. If only she could just-… just find out… Who was that? It was a voice she felt she ought to recognise, but everything felt so… so blunt, still. Blunted, blurred. Wrapped in layers of sleep and fog and copious doses of heavy sedatives.

It was still uncomfortably hot, but at least her diagnostics had finally managed to narrow it down to an external, environmental problem, not an internal systems one. Oh, Primus. It felt like all her intakes were jammed hard with some sort of crystalline substance, and why did everything hurt? All so slow, and dull, and painful. So hard to work out where she was. Who she was.

“…nnh,” she groaned, softly, trying to squirm her knees under herself, and push herself back into a sitting position, and this time careful fingers caught under her aching shoulders and helped her upright. She felt her head loll sideways, as if every actuator in her neck had snapped, and bump against something that made its own noise of pain, but move to support her.

Something felt wrong – something she couldn’t place. What was-… what had-… ow. A white-hot pain dabbed down into her shoulder; she shifted her back and grunted tightly in pain, tried to force the world into focus to see what was wrong.

“Shh, shh-hh,” an anxious voice soothed – another of those familiar-unfamiliar voices. “It’s okay, it’s only me… I need to get these patches finished.”

“Who… who are…” She slurred the words out with difficulty, vocaliser spitting distortions. So hot. There was another of those spots of intense, burning heat just above her right shoulder, and she jolted away from it with a low noise of pain.

“Please, sit still,” the voice murmured, grimly. “If you jog about I’ll only end up welding the wrong things. Primus knows you’ve had enough of that the past few orns. I only have a few more open ends to patch-… I have to patch them or you’ll leak all your essential fluids onto the floor again.”

The voice was gentle, and reassuring, and yet she felt disinclined to trust it. Something about it… something that lurked in her mind, under all those layers of sleep and sedation. She dug for it, but another spot of white heat jerked it away from her grasping brain.

“Stopped her leaking, at last,” the angry voice said, unexpectedly, and she felt the anxious voice jump, startled, tensing fingers on er shoulders. “Good, good. We still have plenty of work to do on her. Can’t have her dying before we’re done with making our little modifications, can we?” There was a sibilant chuckle, and the dark blur came closer. “She can save that for after we’ve posted her pieces back to that idiot of a lover…”

The glow of murky amber optics came briefly into view before their owner dipped closer, so close she could feel the stale, ionised heat of a malfunctioning temperature gauge venting hot air against her cheek. “I’m sure he’ll be delighted with the improvements he ordered…”


When Skywarp finally awoke, it was alone, in semi-darkness – at least they’d left him a light! – laying on his back, with pain jangling angry warnings all the way down his right side. Unnhh. So he did go ahead with it, after all. He groaned quietly to himself, and flopped himself into a sitting position.

His poor mutilated nose was at least back in one piece, but they’d took his cannons, to stop him shooting his way out, leaving smooth little rivets and painful holes in his sensor grid where the mountings had once been. That familiar uncomfortable old subspace field was in place to keep him from teleporting, as well – he might know exactly where he was, but the field would disrupt his triangulation and more than likely end up with him in a wall.

His right side was more worrisome. He touched a hand to the hurt, hesitantly, and whimpered faintly at his discovery. It wasn’t because the wound was particularly painful, because it wasn’t – it was a blunt sort of pain, like the sensors had been overloaded so many times they’d just burnt out and given up, leaving sensor ghosts tracking back along all the mesh to his central processors. The wound’s jagged edge half-explained why it had that strange numb ache to it – it wasn’t the rounded, melted edge of one of Megatron’s fusion burns, nor the neat slice-and-dice sort of wound that an irritated Hook could be counted on to deal out, but jagged, raw-edged, delicate circuitry fraying out into the air, like someone had planted a foot on his chest to hold him down and just yanked upwards-

What made him whimper was not the pain, but the fact that the wound ran all the way from the point of his shoulder down to his hip… and the wing that should have been attached to the broken circuitry was conspicuous in its absence. Winged. Winged.

Stupid, he cursed himself, miserably. Stupid, stupid, stupid. You knew Megatron would betray you, and you knew he’d go back on his word, and you knew he’d shoot them down no matter what you said, so why did you have to go open your big, stupid mouth? It’s not like it stopped it hurting. Now he knows everything. He’s got his proof they exist, and he’s got you neatly out of the way and locked up. Small stupid Skywarp, locked away where he doesn’t even have to acknowledge your presence any more.

At least they’d had the decency to leave him with a light, he noted, tucking himself into a corner to maximise the amount of room he could see, and make it look as big as possible. A small, dim, pathetic light, but more than adequate for what he wanted it for. It illuminated the entire room and reassured him that everything was stable and safe; it wasn’t all tightening down on him, wasn’t sucking all the air out of the place.

Fucked things up good and proper this time, Skywarp. Should have denied they existed and sent them back the instant you realised, but noo, had to be stupid and sentimental about it. And because of that, now you’ve lost everything – them, your wingmates, your freedom, even your damn wings.

He hugged his knees, and rested his chin down on them, trembling. A tense, hot feeling had caught in the back of his throat and left him feeling like there was no air in his vents, any more. What I’d give to swap places with Screamer. He’d know what to do. He offlined his optics, tightened his arms, and closed his fingers into fists tight enough to make the motors smoke. Primus. Please don’t let me die, down here


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 17th, 2008 01:48 pm (UTC)
Oh no! Now I don't know who I want to hug first! ... Just how are they going to ever get Slipstream out of Africa now? ... Well, I guess they could steal a ship. ;)
Oct. 22nd, 2008 05:50 pm (UTC)
Not that I'm planning on adding TOOOOOoo many spoilers... who says they're going to get out of Africa just yet? ;)
Oct. 22nd, 2008 07:42 pm (UTC)
Oh, I never expected them to leave Africa right away. At some point they'll have to. (Unless they build Slipstream his very own space bridge right there ... and Megatron obligingly looks the other way while they do ...)
Oct. 17th, 2008 05:39 pm (UTC)
"Starscream resolved to hunt down the teleport’s creator and challenge them, after bludgeoning them silly for not plastering him with warning labels. Do not allow this mech to procreate."

*dies* :D

Poor Skywarp - heck, poor just about everyone. Except Megatron, he deserves to have something painful and humiliating happen to him. TC and Slipstream are cute together by the way, and they've got a loooooong walk ahead of them.
Oct. 22nd, 2008 05:51 pm (UTC)
Bwahaha, yess. I enjoyed adding that bit. ;)
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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