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"Warped", Chapter Five

This chapter’s a teeny bit OC-centric while we move the action around, so I hope that’s not too annoying… I'm wondering if anyone has picked up on my little clues I've been scattering about through the story, the past few chapters... because yes, most people will quite possibly know "the Collector". ;)
For what it’s worth, I hate hate HATE timezones. :bitchy: Why oh WHY did I have to choose to set this in places that aren’t even in DAYLIGHT at the same time, most of the time?
“Okay, so if it’s lunchtime in California, then in Tunisia TC will be – crap, it’s dark. Oh well, dark is cool and good for walking in…”
qlock dot com is my new favourite website. I’ve screenshotted it to death and now have a full 24 hour shadow diagram. :P :grrs:

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Warped
Chapter Five

Thundercracker didn’t think he’d ever been so glad for darkness to fall. Daytime temperatures had been particularly unfriendly, hovering close to forty Celsius, and they’d ‘landed’ (he refused to say ‘crashed’) only a cycle or two before sunset. Primus only knew what degree of unbearable the temperature would get up to around midday. Gave him the surges just thinking about it.

Finding shelter was his first priority, right now. He could tolerate the intense daytime heat (just about), but the sparkling in his arms would very quickly start to suffer. The best solution would be to travel by night, when the air was pleasantly cool, and find somewhere to hide up – if there was anywhere – before dawn, so they could sit out the scorching heat of the day. Easier said than done, on what felt like the flattest bit of the whole damn planet. Why in Primus couldn’t those morons have attacked them when they got to Switzerland, or something? Somewhere the environment wasn’t quite so fragging hostile.

Thundercracker was currently aiming for one of the Squishy villages he’d seen from the air, but it was heavy going on this barren land – the unstable crust of old salt broke under his thrusters and forced him to continually adjust his balance, and all this ground-pounding was just… argh. It was exhausting work. It was taking him a whole cycle to walk the sort of distance he could fly in a hundredth of a breem.

Slipstream was curled against him, currently offline, conserving what little energon he had left in his small body. Which threw up another problem – where were they going to get fuel of any sort from, out here? It wasn’t even as if they could camp out by a power station and draw off the grid, because there was… just… nothing. Nothing here at all.

Might have to swallow my pride and call on the Autobots, he reminded himself, trudging along under the moonlight and listening to the salt crust crunch beneath his feet. If I don’t have a solution to this by this time tomorrow, they might end up being the only option.

0o0o0o0o0
In the soggy undergrowth of her Californian National Park, Footloose waited until the sound of heavy footsteps faded right away, even on the very upper limit of her hearing sensitivity, before sneaking cautiously out of her hiding place. If their assailants came back, she reasoned, she’d hear them. Such big machines were physically incapable of sneaking, they rattled and clunked and had thudding squelchy footsteps on the wet ground, and (so far as she knew) they couldn’t teleport, either, so she would be able to escape them easily enough. Besides, her guardian needed to give her instructions, because she didn’t know what to do, and he couldn't tell her while she was still hiding.

The rain had grown heavier, leaving the grass slippery and puddled with murky water. She made her careful way across the clearing, navigating around the biggest pools, but she was already so filthy it wouldn’t have made much difference if she had fallen.

“Sta’zim?” she whispered, crawling closer and inspecting the dark, silent face. Her own moisture seals were all intact, but it looked like there were several places across Starscream’s poor dented armour that water had got in through. “Wake up?” She patted his nose, and jumped back when a corona of blue electrical discharge stung her hand.

Still, it had the desired effect. His optics flickered, once, twice, and finally stayed online – but not with their usual crimson brilliance. They were a low, dark maroon, barely lit. “Footloose,” he creaked, quietly, vocaliser unsteady. “You should be… be getting… away… from here. They might… might come back.”

“Get away where?” She sat back on her heels, glumly. “You come with? Show me?”

He forced a smile, although it was more of a bared-denta grimace. He already felt half-flooded, several dozen surface components shorting out as rain got under his armour, and the idea of getting up and walking was… just… well, it wasn’t going to happen. It pained him to admit it, but he was pretty helpless, right now. Increasing core destability, his diagnostics reported. Five-point-two percent water seals failed. Use of desiccant advised. Remove from current environment and take corrective measures. “You’ll have to manage… without me, for… khnn… for a while,” he rasped, feeling the low staticky sizzle of electrical discharge across his shoulders. “I’m not going to beeee… be going anywh-… anywhere.”

She fidgeted, and gazed around herself. “Where I should go, Sta’zim?” she wondered, quietly. “How I get home?”

“Find-… find Thundercracker-…” he explained, trying to prop himself on his one functioning arm so he could give her his sternest glare. A vivid blue electrical discharge simmered and snapped like an obscene halo around his dark head as the rain battered them from across the clearing. “He’ll-… get you to saf-… safety.”

I fine Dacker?” she wondered, anxiously, trying to crawl closer, but not so close the crackling discharge disabled her as well. “But not here!”

“Here’s his-… last co-ordinates…”

A weak chit of inaudible data pinged faintly against her firewalls. She made sure it was saved in her primary core, where she wouldn’t risk overwriting it with useless sensory readings.

“…find him,” he insisted, elbow buckling. “Or put out a signnzz-…” His voice briefly fizzed out to static, but he struggled on. “A homing signal he can-… can pick up.”

“Long way away,” she reminded, quietly, triangulating the data against her current position, and watching as the discharge finally began to weaken and peter out, shimmering away down his wings and off the back of his thrusters. Her little homing beacon was good enough to tease Slipstream with, in their noisy games of hide-and-seek across the district back home, but not good enough to get all the way to Thundercracker. “How I find?”

“Get help if you need-…” His words shivered back into static for a moment; his brow furrowed in concentration and he struggled on. “…if you need it. You mussnnn… mustn’t stay… alone…” His last words faded out in a long, thin, staticky groan, and his ruddy maroon optics finally flickered over to grey. He slumped with a low crunch of broken vegetation back into the undergrowth, and this time stayed there.

“Sta’zim?” she whined, softly, climbing across his broken wings. Experience dictated that would usually get a response from him – usually a very loud one – like when she elected to go and wake him up of a morning, but he didn’t even grumble. “Wake up,” she pleaded, rubbing her cheek against his audio vent. “Wake up!”

She lurked close to him for a very long hour and seven minutes, hoping for a response, but he remained completely inert, no matter what she did, and eventually she gave up trying, sitting sadly on her little aft in the mud, tucking herself close to his shoulder vent. She didn’t like this world very much. It was all dirt and wet and danger, and when she looked up, all she could see was a load of grey nothing, and falling droplets of water that blurred her vision. No lovely stars, no big beautiful skies.

Have to go, she told herself. Need to go,and not only because she’d been told she had to. If she stayed, Pointy and Silver might come back, and she didn’t want to get caught. She didn’t want Sta’zim getting smashed up any more, either, and she already had the vague sense it was all something to do with her. She carefully arranged a few bits of broken vegetation over her guardian’s fallen form, using some of the branches he himself had torn down in his rough landing, trying to hide the dull red and scuffed silver of his external plating. It wasn’t a great solution, but maybe it’d keep the Suishies from finding him until she found Dacker. Dacker would know what to do, because he was smart, like Sta’zim. He’d be able to get him made better. Then they could go back to Day, and find Ama, and everything would be all right again. She hummed consolingly to herself.

Reviewing her memory record, she located a number of potentials places to go first of all. There were a lot of places that Suishies had built things, which she wanted to avoid, but there were roads, as well. Roads full of Autobots! She brightened. That could work. She knew Autobots and Decepticons didn’t usually get on, but she wasn’t either, she was both! And Sta’zim had said to get help if she needed it, and she didn’t have to say what she was looking for…

“I come back,” she promised, rubbing cheeks with him, then after satisfying herself he was suitably well hidden, she checked her bearings, and set off in the vaguely south-easterly direction that corresponded with Thundercracker’s distant location.

0o0o0o0o0
Even as night drew in and forced Footloose to halt her own journey, away on the west coast of the United States, the sun had come up in Tunisia, and was dealing out an unfriendly greeting to the two machines still trapped in the salt desert.

Never ever thought I’d wish I was Skywarp.

The absurdity of the thought almost made Thundercracker laugh out loud, but it was the third time since the sun had risen that he’d caught himself wishing he had Skywarp’s spatial awareness. Fact of the matter was, this sort of thing was Skywarp’s speciality, and not just by merit of his teleport, it was very rare that he didn’t know where he was in relation to everything else, right down to the very fraction of a degree of latitude and longitude. Thundercracker knew his wingmate sometimes loathed the fact his head was full of maps and not much else, but if Skywarp were here, there was no way he’d have got this… lost. He’d have been all, well, there’s a power station, telecommunications mast, shelter, all avoiding human contact as much as possible, join the dots and there’s your route, what are you complaining for? Easy.

The blue Seeker’s own maps weren’t bad, but they were very basic, stripped-down almost to the point of being useless. The village he’d glimpsed from the air – which he’d hoped would be a good place to shelter from the sun – turned out to mostly be flat, all low roofs and confined spaces, and full of frightened humans that either fled from his approach, or else pelted him with rocks in an effort to scare him off. Nowhere for injured Seekers to hide from the heat. Nowhere for tired sparklings to charge their depleted systems. Unwilling to waste energy fighting them to stay somewhere so inappropriate anyway, he’d left the humans alone, and turned away to find somewhere better.

They set out along the desert, parallel to the human-built causeway, heading away across the salt flat at something of an angle to their original flight-path. The blue Seeker knew there were more small desert towns around, and he was fairly sure that they weren’t too far away to get to, but his inability to escape the unrelenting heat was putting a dampener on his confidence.

“Hot,” Slipstream commented, quietly, for the umpteenth time, looking uncomfortable and floppy. His small body contained a lot less coolant than the big Seeker, and venting excess heat was getting difficult.

“I know,” Thundercracker agreed, already directing refrigerated air downwards out of his vents and trying to keep his small charge in the shade of his own chassis, and added, hoping to reassure the infant; “But we’ve had half the day. It’ll start to get cool again soon.”

It was a bit of a useless lie – the air temperature alone was already hovering close to fifty Celsius, and it was not even noon quite yet – and the mech sensed the sparkling knew it, but Slipstream hummed a quiet appreciation in response anyway. He knew Thundercracker was doing his best, even if it didn’t feel like it. Pouring cold air out of his vents in an effort to keep the little one from burning any of his relays right out didn’t seem to be helping a whole lot, because Slipstream was still sorely heatsick and unable to do anything except just lay there, but Thundercracker kept it up just in case. It might be all that made the difference between keeping him functioning, and melting out a cortical relay.

Running his refrigerant loop in reverse was increasing Thundercracker’s core temperature, as well, so he too was suffering, running a high resistance and feeling sluggish in the heat, unable to keep up the impressive pace he’d managed during the night. He had increased coolant flow to his cortex, keeping his neural pathways optimally chilled, but his black helm was soaking up the sun’s unfriendly heat like a solar sponge and the rest of his body was so hot it was responding only very slowly to neural commands. Even his spark was hot, and it felt like molten lead in his chest, each tiny shift in harmonic sending a thudding wave of pressure through its casing. He wondered abstractly if it was what it felt like to be with sparkling, and reaffirmed his desire never to go experimenting to confirm/deny it. What in the Pit must it have been like with two of them in there…?

Ahead of them there was a pool of pinkish liquid in a depression in the sand, ringed around with a crumbling white crust of sand. At first Thundercracker was happily convinced it was just another mirage – one didn’t have to be biological to have the shimmering, twisting air play tricks on you – until the sand creaked beneath his thrusters and his foot slumped away underneath him, and he found himself ankle-deep in it.

“Pink,” Slipstream observed, drowsily, gazing down at his broken reflection. He was slumped across Thundercracker’s arm, limbs dangling as though belonging to a puppet with broken strings, heat shimmering up off him. “Energon? I have?”

“I think that’s just water,” Thundercracker demurred, softly. It was a murky, browny sort of pink, and he felt inclined to say he’d eat his one remaining wing if it was fuel… but the way things were going right now… In his long life, he’d seen stranger things than pools of rarified fuel in the middle of the desert.

Keeping the sparkling carefully trapped against his chest, Thundercracker stooped to dabble his dark fingers into the pinkish liquid, and mouthed one of the droplets, running the fluid carefully across the analytical plates in the roof of his mouth. “Yeah, it’s just salty water,” he confirmed, tiredly, feeling tiny grains forming across the dry roof of his main intakes. “Very salty! You’ll crystallise up your pumps, if you go trying to drink this.”

Slipstream grumbled quietly in disappointment. “It cold?”

“No. Not cold at all.” Thundercracker lifted his foot back onto the flat, and wobbled precariously as the salt shifted under his bulk. “We’ll find somewhere, Seem. Even if I have to bury us in a sand-dune.”

Turning parallel to the causeway once again, the two lost, overheating machines put the pool of faux-energon behind them, and headed deeper into the unknown.

0o0o0o0o0
“Boss? Hey, boss? Mitch? I think I got something!”

Mitch – Darren Mitchell – cast a single depreciating glance at the speaker before rearranging his feet more comfortably on the table and releasing his cigarette briefly from his lips. “This better be good,” he threatened, flicking ash into the playful wind that scudded down off the mountainside. “I’m not going on no more of your stupid wild goose chases across the desert.”

“Promise you, this is good,” the radio operator reassured, grinning up at him from the old crystal set, twiddling tuning dials and pressing the headphone harder into his ear. “I think this is what we’ve been waitin’ for.”

“Praise the lord,” Mitchell drawled, unimpressed, and threw up his hands in a parody of rejoicing, but didn’t actually bother getting up. “Let’s hear it, then. I was beginning to think we was never gonna get out of this dustbowl.”

‘Dustbowl’ was a bit of an unfair description – Chebika was a lush little oasis close to Tunisia’s border with Algeria. It was a nice enough place to spend a few hours, sure – it was quiet, rich with fruiting palms, and there was a spring up in the mountains so there was plenty of fresh water – but they’d been lurking here for over a week now, and the general consensus of opinion was that if they had to eat just one more stinking date, Mitchell would have a mutiny on his hands.

No-one seriously thought this plan was gonna work, anyway. It was some stupid half-assed idea in the first place, what the hell they were still sat here hoping for a feeking miracle for was anyone’s guess. The gist of it was that if they sat here long enough, broadcasting a juicy enough signal and cooking up some cock-and-bull story about an exciting new energy source, one of those parasitic Decepticons would eventually buzz past to check it out. And when they were close enough, wham! The butterfly would be in the net, and on its way to the Collector down in Egypt. Which one they happened to actually get in this first strike didn’t matter, so long as they got one. The Collector was ultimately after one of them in particular, but had explained that whether they got that one or one he could use as bait, he didn’t mind.

On Mitchell’s side, no-one really cared so long as they got paid. No-one apart from Mitchell had actually met their employer – he was just a severe voice on the radio, with tones as hoarse and irritable as if someone had taken a piece of sharkskin to his vocal cords – and Mitchell himself had the idea that it was for the best they didn't know. Not like anyone would believe him if he told them who he was, anyway.

“Gonna spill it any time soon, Faulkner? Another rusted old wartime aircraft in an abandoned airport?” Mitchell challenged, sitting forwards, when the radio operator failed to be forthcoming with his report.

Faulkner didn’t rise to the bait – concentrating deeply. “No, no, listen, Boss…” He beckoned with one hand and twiddled the tuning dial on his antique receiver on the other, using his shoulder to keep an oversized headphone pressed snug against his ear. That was just typical of their luck; it was the only bit of kit they had still working, outside of the device in the second truck. All the modern radio receivers had packed in within the space of a week. “Some guy in Cedada’s found something. Sounds significant.”

“Define ‘significant’.” Mitchell glared down on him.

By way of answer, the radio operator silently handed over the headphone.

The babble of his crew’s voices drowned out anything coming over the weak headphone. “Shut up, you lot,” he scolded, jamming a finger into his other ear and frowning in concentration. The thin voices over the radio narrowed down to just two, barely audible; Mitchell twiddled irritably at the dial and lost them altogether, briefly, before finally getting something almost coherent.

“…it has come here from the depths of the Chott El Djerid itself!” a frightened male voice quailed out of the static. “Here to kill us all- Minister, you must save us!”

“Has it attacked you?” a calmer voice challenged, sternly.

“No, not yet, not yet. It is sitting on the outskirts, by my cousin’s water pump – waiting for its friends, no doubt! Please, minister, send someone! Destroy this blue monster before it can attack us!”

“Be calm, councillor. We will assess the level of threat, and we will send someone. Do not provoke it.”

“Easily said, and not easily achieved! What if it should choose to attack us, what chance do we stand against a giant machine like this?”

“Do not. Provoke it,” the minister repeated, firmly. “And we will send someone…”

“Hey, Vallory? How far away would you say Cedada is?” Mitchell wondered, grimly, setting the headphone to one side.

“Ehh, ’bout 30, 40 miles, along the P16.” The weaselly-looking man looked up from his map, and shrugged. “We could get there in under an hour.”

“Good, good. All right, you lot, listen up! This could be the chance we’re looking for.” Mitchell straightened and gave his ragtag crew a stern look. “Everyone pack up your gear and check these old crates are fuelled up. I’ll call in with the Collector, check how close his operative is, and we’ll get moving in-…” He checked his watch. “-an hour and twenty. We’ll meet up with ’em in Cedada, and should be done before we lose the light. Now let’s get to it!”

0o0o0o0o0
“I don’t like this, Hack. Something’s gone wrong. They should be here by now!”

Hiding just out of range of Shockwave’s monitoring devices, Hardline gave Forceps a sidelong look. “Give them a bit longer,” he soothed. “They’re probably just late.”

If Hardline could be said to be at position south, Celerity and Vector had taken station at east and west, respectively, and Spotweld was in the distant north. They’d settled a cycle or two before the intended delivery time, but it was now a good half-orn after, and still nothing. Everyone had a good field of view, and absolutely nothing had happened. No sparklings, no Seekers, no nothing. The space bridge had only operated twice, and their readings suggested they were low-level, low density transits – empty energon cubes, energy bracers, old chemical drums.

“Now, there’s late, and there’s late,” Forceps corrected, darkly. “What could possibly have held them up this long? Does Nightsun have anything?”

Hardline shook his head, distractedly. The helicopter had reported in only a breem or two ago; his team had decrypted the communication over the secure channels Shockwave was using, and there had been no report of captured younglings, or anything else of note.

“I hope this doesn’t mean we have to take matters into our own hands,” the tank commented, dryly.

Forceps bit her lip. “I don’t like the sound of that,” she murmured, honestly. “We’ve lost enough of our number already, I don’t want you vanishing off to Primus-knows-where as well.”

0o0o0o0o0
As promised, the Collector’s operative met them in Cedada. He was a skittish little man, with wild, sandy hair and nervous eyes, and drove a beat-up navy-coloured delivery truck that looked like it had seen far better days. Frankly, Mitchell was impressed he’d made it here in time, but he wasn’t going to argue with him right now. They had bigger things in mind. Much bigger things...

“Is that it?”

Mitchell glanced sidelong at Vallory, his flatbed-driver. “What do you think? Know many giant aeroplane-robots, do you?” he replied, witheringly.

“Just wanted to be sure.” Vallory brushed the insult away with barely a batted eyelash. “It’s a pretty big dude, ain’t it? I hope we can get it on the flatbed.”

The pair of them lurked just out of direct sight behind a wall, sheltered by palm branches, inspecting the target. They’d been welcomed with open arms by the people of Cedada, after a bit of quick-wittedness implied they were the government officials sent to remove the robot problem, and it felt like quite literally half the town showed them where the invader had settled.

As they’d heard over the radio, the blue robot sat next to a water pump, partially shaded by a stand of date palms and a rickety old warehouse, but it didn’t look like it was the water it was after. A fine cable ran from a port on its side, just at the rim of the blue torso, and hooked into the purring generator which should instead have been pumping water.

Guess it’s hungry, Mitchell thought, approaching warily. It looked fairly placid, right now, but that was no guarantee it’d stay placid. Those purple smudges on its wings were Decepticon emblems, after all, and the cannons on its arms were as long as he was tall.

The robot gave them a long, slow stare, but didn’t react to their presence in any other way; it looked either bored, or hot, or tired, or all three. Its eyes were dull damson lights in its pale face, and the air shimmered above it, the low growl of straining air-con fans poisoning the air. Plus, Mitchell noticed, one wing stopped abruptly at about half the length of the one on the opposite side, and there were great gouges and fractures in the scuffed paintwork. Someone had done half the job for them, he considered. Stroke of luck!

“Okay, guys,” he called back over his shoulder, quietly. “Bring the truck.”

“What do you want, human?” a heavy bass voice rumbled out, and Mitchell looked back up to find the robot had stirred, straightened its back and flexed its arms, bringing its cannons up into a defensive position.

“Only to talk,” Mitchell promised, lying through his back teeth and hoping the robot wouldn’t understand what his crossed fingers meant as he lifted his hands, palms out, trying to maintain a placatory appearance. “Our employer asked us to bring you a message.”

The robot lifted its chin, belligerently, and directed its weapons more closely at its visitor. “I have no interest in anything you have to tell me, human. Leave me be, and I might spare you.”

Mitchell listened as one of his drivers backed their truck into the clear spot just past the gates behind him. “I don’t think you should threaten me, Decepticon,” he instructed, amiably. “We don’t take kindly to your sort around here, and I’d hate for things to go that much worse for you.”

“I hope that wasn't intended as a threat, human, because I think you'll find I'm quite capable of defending myself against your primitive technology.” The robot was already looking up and away at the truck, and watching as the men shed the sides of it away to reveal something pointy and covered in tarpaulins.

“Who says we've only brought our own technology with us?”

The robot had already lost interest in Mitchell’s words; it had lurched unsteadily to its feet, apparently recognising exactly what it was the men had yanked the tarpaulins off – a great big gleaming fuckoff EM-cannon, kindly donated by their employer and more than powerful enough to incapacitate half a city block - and was going into the offensive, arms coming up, weapons filling the air with a teeth-grinding whine of static electricity as they charged-

Mitchell span to see Vallory dithering on the back of the truck, taking his sweet time about targeting the EM-cannon. “Just fire the fucking thing, Vallory!” he howled, frustratedly. One more second and the robot would have beaten off the heat-sluggishness, and got its own shots in-

Vallory’s shot went a little wide, slamming down not in the dead-centre of the robot's chest but on the front of its shoulder, just underneath one of those pylon-vents, but it had the desired effect. The blue giant’s eyes flashed briefly blue as the charge coursed through its skull and onwards down its body, then it toppled very slowly backwards, landing on the roof of the rickety warehouse with an almighty crash of splintering glass and twisting metal.

“Ha!” Mitchell resisted the urge to crow, watching out of the corner of his eye as Vallory punched the air. “Right! It’s down, we’ve got maybe… thirty minutes before it’s back up! Let’s get it secured, and quick…”

“What’s the rush, Mitch?” Faulkner wondered, watching as Mitchell clambered up the wreckage, angle-grinder in hand. “We’ve killed it, right?”

Killed it? Ha! Have you ever seen what effect an EMP has on one of these guys?” Mitchell challenged, applying the cutting blade to the tough blue alloys and gritting his teeth at the earsplitting squeal that ensued. Sparks flew up around him from the butchered metal as he hacked the cannons away from their mountings on the powerful arms.

“No, boss, I ain’t,” Faulkner replied, yelling to be heard over the ruckus. "I figured it'd just... wipe its brain, like what happens to everything else computerly."

“Exactly, and you're wrong. The correct answer, if you were wondering, is that it does sweet fuck all, in the long run.” The ringleader paused, and wiped his brow, grimly. “I saw them take out one of these flying bastards back in the US, when I was still in the whole spying game – zapped it with some sort of EMP thingamajigger, and thought it was permanently incapacitated, and fuck me if the bastard didn’t get up half an hour later like a bear with a sore head, shot the installation to hell and flew off like all they’d done was trip it over!” He kicked at the top margin of the cannon, and after a few seconds swearing and stomping and jumping his entire weight up and down on it, the last connective cables tore free with a low shrrrp and splatter of eerie lilac fluid, and the weapon fell away to the ground. “I don’t feel like sitting waiting round for it to get up again…”

In the background, Vallory had already parked their flatbed, and now he was kicking his heels, sitting on a wall by the well and chewing on a date, irritably. He wanted to get his own kicks in, but there were already too many pairs of hands around the robot, and he’d suffered a good enough wallop to his left hand to bring it up in a bruise already. He was just flicking his lighter and trying to get his rollup to light when the rapidly departing sun glinted off something glossy black.

“What’s that, then?” he asked himself, tucking the cigarette behind his ear and examining the wreckage that had spilled away from the ruined warehouse. Looked too well-made to be some of the antique crap the owner had kept in the tumbledown old building… He applied his good hand under the twisted sheet of corrugated steel, and hauled it out of the way… and gawped silently at what he’d found for a full five seconds. “Whoa,” he stammered, excitedly. “Holy shit, there’s two of them? Hey! Hey, Mitch? Mitch! I found something!”

0o0o0o0o0
On the other side of the world, morning had just begun to break over a soggy, dirty Footloose. The little femme had kept on in as straight a line as she could manage, the previous day, until it got too dark to be safe to go any further. Even her keen night vision wasn’t good enough to discern between all the different cold objects, and after falling over things hidden under the vegetation twice and into a river once, she elected to halt for the night. She’d scrambled through a rickety fence and into an electricity substation, hunkered down next to the big voltage transformers where it was dry and cosy, and allowed herself to lapse into recharge with her pickups snugged into one of the low-voltage sets. Her last conscious thoughts were of how she didn’t like this world. It was damp and dirty and full of obstacles and dangerous Suishies.

“Hey, Goldie, wait! Wait! Here, girl!”

The little high voice roused her hastily from recharge. Drat! Found? She had intended to keep her consciousness from ebbing to too low a state of dormancy, so she could be awake and slipping away to safety before anyone found her, but something had obviously not worked the way she wanted. She remained frozen where she was, and watched as a medium-sized four-legged yellow animal bounded past the fence, hotly pursued by a small Suishie. It was a small one, even shorter than she was; her uneducated optic considered it must be very juvenile. She remained as still as possible, hoping it would pass by without seeing her, but the freckles of purple visible under her layer of mud caught its eye and it came right up to the fence.

“Oh! Hi. What you doing in there?” it called out to her. “You should come out of there! Mommy says people shouldn’t go through the fence, they’ll get hurt! Lectrics can kill you!”

Ooh, she didn’t like the sound of that. Whatever ‘lectrics’ were, they must be a pretty dangerous species if they killed Suishies. Maybe that was why the fence was around them, to keep them inside? She hastily orped herself to the correct side of the bars, more worried about being caught by them than this small biological.

“Hi!” The little Suishie approached her, all smiles. She felt a flicker of reassurance; maybe it wasn’t big enough to be dangerous yet. “I’m Eric. I’m six! Who are you?”

She gave him a critical look. This was a puzzling species. “Six of what? Only see single.”

“Six years old, silly,” Eric giggled. “What are you? Are you a robot?”

“I Seeker,” Footloose replied, earnestly, and was pleased to realise that for the first time it was actually an accurate description. She was seeking help. “Name Button. Look for Dacker!”

“Eric? Where are ya? If you’ve let Goldie run off again Mom will kill me...” In the middle distance, she could hear a slightly rougher version of the same voice calling, and after a moment another Suishie appeared out of the vegetation. “What are you do- whoa!” He jumped back at seeing Footloose, and she in turn had to work hard on not making a run for it, alarmed. “Where did you find that?!”

“This is Button,” Eric introduced. “She was in the lectric place. I saved her!”

“Safe from lectrics,” Footloose agreed, warily, watching the new Suishie. He was bigger, ergo (she guessed) he was probably older. Maybe he could help her? It was beginning to look like a reasonable assumption that since not all Decepticons were bad, maybe not all Suishies were bad either. “Help me fine Dacker?” she wondered, gazing hopefully up at him.

“Help you do what what?” he responded, incomprehensibly.

“Dacker far away. Is lost! Must get to. Help me?” she repeated, wishing Seem was here to help out; he’d contextualised the Suishie language better and would be able to get the point across. Language had always been what he was better at.

What have you lost?” The big sparkling frowned at her.

“Dacker! Big Blue.” She waved her arms to imply bigness. “Is Seeker!”

“Erf. I don’t know what a dacker is,” he apologised, scratching his head. “Er. Um, look, okay, maybe my parents will know what to do with you. You’re an Autobot, right? Always figured you’d be bigger.”

“Not Autobot,” she corrected, letting him take her hand. “Ama is.” She studied the fingers of her free hand, glumly. “Ama lost.”

“Hrf. Sounds like you’re not having a great time of it,” the Suishie said, as they slithered down the gravel slope and past a board covered in incomprehensible writing. “Well, this is our neighbourhood park, I figure we might have a map at the car-park. We were here so as we could walk Goldie now the rain’s stopped, but Eric always lets her run off.”

“Do not,” Eric argued, sullenly, slithering past them on the muddy grass, and the pale yellow animal bounded past him, a long bit of wet stick poking sideways out of its mouth and its fans making great huffing noises as it ran. “See, she’s already back!”

Footloose studied the animal, briefly. “Is not gold, is yellow,” she corrected, earnestly, watching as Eric tugged the stick out of its mouth and threw it.

“Hey, Dad? Uncle Jeff?” the big Suishie sparkling called out, and two larger Suishies - adults? - looked up at them from across the gravel parking area. “Do you know what a dacker is?”

The smaller of the two jumped up, and banged its head on the roof of the Autobot it was sitting in. “Holy crap! Where did you get that, Liam?!”

“Eric found her,” Liam argued, defensively. “Just up the hill, by the substation. I think she’s lost. Says she’s looking for something.”

“Wow,” the larger of the two adults said, softly, carefully walking once around Footloose and examining her from a distance. “Look at the technology on that thing...” He glanced up, and gave the bigger of the Suishie sparklings a hard look. “Where’d you find it, Liam? Did you steal it?”

“Not stole,” Footloose explained. “Say to help fine Dacker.” More Suishies were approaching now, she could see them out of the periphery of her vision. She didn’t much like it, and removed her hand from Liam’s. “Should go,” she said, quietly, backing away.

“No need to be scared, kid,” one of the newcomers reassured, but she didn’t like the way they were crowding her in. There was murmuring between the distant Suishies; she perked her head and elevated the sensitivity on her hearing. (Politely pretending to have not noticed was never going to be an option.)

We could sell it to Microsoft, she heard one say to the other. Or a laboratory or something. I bet they’d pay a fortune for access to that sort of technology. We could make a mint!

She didn’t know what all of that meant, but knew selling her couldn’t be good – after a quick review of the rudimentary Suishie dictionary Dacker had showed her, she discovered that ‘mints’ were items of confectionary, eaten by Suishies. They wanted to sell her to turn her into food?!

She backed off, hastily, wanting a clear spot to triangulate a safe place to orp herself to, not watching where she was going, and bumped into something soft that made a quiet oof! of surprise. She glanced behind herself to find she’d walked into another Suishie – this one was more brightly coloured, with long tendrils hanging off its head and paint on its face. A quick cross-reference suggested this was a femme.

“Well, hey there, sweetheart,” the femme greeted, with a smile. “What’s got you so anxious?”

Footloose jumped, alarmed, and backed away from the newcomer as well. “Not make into candy-sweets!” she instructed, trying to be firm, but her voice wobbled a little and she kept backing away.

“What?” the femme frowned. “Why would we do that, little one?”

“They sake make of mint.” She pointed at the other Suishies. “And you say have ‘sweet heart’. Spark not sweet, not edible!”

The femme smiled. “Aw, they’re just colloquialisms. Analogies.” She looked up at the little crowd. “It’s okay, guys,” she elevated her voice to be heard over the hubbub. “We know where she’s trying to get to. We'll take it from here, okay?”

There was a murmur of irritation from the other Suishies, but they filtered away, slowly, and Footloose felt her little alarm shields gradually dropping back down to a nonalert status. They weren't crowing her in, any more, and the femme was being friendly, had saved her! “Know how to get to Dacker?” she asked, curiously. This was the sort of thing she’d been looking for! New friends, and a way to get to her missing relative.

“Of course we do!” The femme smiled. “But it’s a long way away, we’re going to have to drive. Okay?” The femme led her to a scuffed red Autobot in the corner of the car-park, its rear door standing open, and next to which a scruffy, blue Suishie mech with sandy-coloured head-fuzz stood

“Come on, hon,” the female Suishie said, encouragingly. “Jump in.”

“What ‘hon’?” Footloose asked, peering down into the vehicle’s boot. “Am Button, not hon.”

“Ah, um… well, it’s a term of endearment. A colloquialism.”

“Like… sweet heart?” Footloose looked up at her, and the femme patted her head, amusedly.

“Exactly like it,” she agreed, smiling.

Footloose settled down in the boot and let them arrange a blanket over her. She peeked over the hem at her new friends. “Why cover?”

“We don’t want any of those other nasty people finding you, do we?” the female reassured, with a smile, petting the stubby aerials on either side of her head, comfortingly. “They may try to steal you away and make you into candies!”

Footloose clicked agreement, and huddled deeper into the vehicle. Didn’t want to be stolen! Particularly didn’t want to be turned into confectionary. The petting of her aerials was nice, though. She hummed an appreciative harmonic, and the femme smiled.

“All secure?”

The blanket nodded.

“I’m going to close the door now, all right?”

Another nod.

There was a low clunk and the Autobot bounced very softly on its suspension as the large door closed. Footloose listened as the Suishies got in as well, and the reassuring purr of engines as the Autobot ground its way over the gravel and out onto the smooth asphalt. The Autobot hadn’t answered any of her clicks of greeting, and she wondered if it was scared of her. Maybe it thought she was all Decepticon, not just half? Am Autobot also, she reassured, clicking quietly, but it stayed silent. Hm. Maybe she’d hurt its feelings, sitting in its transit compartment without saying hello first… She’d have to make it up to it later...

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
jill_dragon
Oct. 22nd, 2008 06:57 pm (UTC)
Oh no! The bad guys have TC and Slipstream!:O I can guess who the Collector person is - not good! I'm curious as to how he managed to by-pass Shockwave or maybe Shockwave is in on it, I can't wait to see.

Footloose's worry over Starscream was so cute, I guess I'm susceptible to baby-charm after all. ;)

One tiny little nit-pick, it doesn't get 'pleasantly cool' in the desert - more like 'break out the winter jacket because it's frickin' cold!'. I blame this on the book I just finished about the WWII North Africa campaigne. Tunisia was one of Rommel's playgrounds and one of the things the book mentioned repeated was how hard it was to adapt to temperatures that went from 45+ celcius in the day to below zero at night.

Yeah, I freely admit to being a total history geek. :p
keaalu
Oct. 23rd, 2008 06:13 am (UTC)
Yeah, I wasn't a hundred percent sure about the night-time temperature, I was sure it went below zero, but when I looked it up (because I look pretty much EVERYTHING up, when I'm writing. :\) it said 10C, so... Maybe they were referring to the coast, or something, the buggers.

Besides, I figured for a machine adapted to living in a fridge anyway (I always figured Cybertron would be fairly chilly as it doesn't seem to have a sun) below zero probably would only count as "cool". ;)
jill_dragon
Oct. 23rd, 2008 07:42 pm (UTC)
The coastal region would definetly have more temperate conditions and I think that's where most of the cities are located in Tunisia. Looking at the climatology maps as you get further inland it gets much drier, particularly in the south. It all depends on where your weather station is, right?

I was sort of thinking of the 2007 movie and how Sector Seven used cold to imobilize Megatron and Bumblebee, but you've got a great point about Cybertron too. I guess it's one of those fandom things that's down to your personal interpretation.

On a side note, the history geek in me was amused by the thought of TC and Slipstream randomly stumbling over some old tank wrecks from the Afrika Korp or the 8th Army while they were on their trek.
keaalu
Oct. 27th, 2008 01:07 am (UTC)
I guess that's what you get for using that wonderfully peer-reviewed and accurate information source of the intertubes. ;) I thought I'd checked enough sites to get a fairly accurate answer - I even added "chott el djerid" as a search term - but obviously not enough. *scribbles "must try harder" into the margin*

As regards the movie, I was kinda wibbling over the cold thing - given how Starscream also flies off quite happily into outer space at the end, and space is kinda cold... But then I figure energon has a freezing point, so... egh. I've usually worked on the principle that obviously-machine-based life will prefer to be cold, and not like "snuggling in the warm", because (if I can remember the physics I took at school about a million years ago *crosses fingers*) heat increases resistance, slows down electricity etc. And real supercomputers work better in cold rooms, so... if it's chilly, it's good. If that makes sense.

"On a side note, the history geek in me was amused by the thought of TC and Slipstream randomly stumbling over some old tank wrecks from the Afrika Korp or the 8th Army while they were on their trek."
Ha, I may have to attempt to put that in the doodle I'm working on. :)

Edit: *attempts to correct an ambiguity*

Edited at 2008-10-27 01:08 am (UTC)
jill_dragon
Oct. 27th, 2008 07:15 pm (UTC)
- "Ha, I may have to attempt to put that in the doodle I'm working on."

Oooh, pretty please? And you still need to do the Meerkat Manor one. ;)

I've been thinking about maybe writing a tf2007 story set during WWII which sadly enough was the result of one of my friends and I arguing about who was better, Patton or Rommel, and me saying something like: "What if Rommel's tank was a _transformer_? Then he'd kicked _everyone's_ asses!" then my brain goes "You know, that might make an interesting story...".

I'm caught between actually giving it a shot or having said plot bunny executed via firing squad. <_<
_silverfox
Oct. 23rd, 2008 05:39 pm (UTC)
Hm ... considering her language skills in her first language Footloose is doing surprisingly well communicating in English. Somebody probably should have explained cars to her, though and I'm beginning to suspect neither twin will grow up to particularly like humans ... ;)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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