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"Warped", Chapter Six

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Warped
Chapter Six

Footloose didn’t much like this. She was no stranger to being ignored – Auntie Sepp used it as a ‘punishment’ to calm her down when she was being particularly excitable – but something about this made her… uneasy. They were talking, but quietly, just like her family did when they didn’t want her to hear, when she was in trouble or they were in trouble or… She increased the sensitivity on her hearing, and listened in. Was she in trouble? Why were they speaking so quietly? Were they scared of her? She tightened her fingers in the blanket, uneasily. Shouldn’t be scared of her, she was really little and harmless. Maybe they just didn’t want to disturb her, she consoled herself. Perhaps they thought she needed to recharge and defrag some more.

“So where are we going, again?” the femme wondered, quietly.

“There’s a science park up in Oregon, an hour or two out from Portland, right?” a gruff voice replied, which Footloose assumed to belong to the mech. “I know some folk at a technology institute up there. They weren’t too happy with the short notice, but they’ve agreed to keep ahold of it until we’ve sorted out what we’re gonna do with it.”

“Hm.” The femme sounded dubious. “Wouldn’t it be better to go back to the university where your cousin works? I trust him better than some of your ‘contacts’, some of ’em would screw you over soon as look at you.”

“Ach, that’s right on the east coast, it’ll take us forever to get there if we try and drive it. I don’t want to risk it escaping before we get there.”

“You think it might?”

“If we’re not careful, sure. And will you shush about it? I don’t want you spooking it!”

“Ah, come off it, it’s in the trunk, it’s not going to go anywhere.”

Were they talking about her? Footloose wound the blanket more tightly down on herself, quivering. Her pumps were jittery. She trusted that they weren’t, because they kept saying ‘it’ and she wasn’t a thing, but then they may be trying to mislead her. It had been a bad idea to go with these Suishies, they didn’t seem so friendly any more. They didn’t seem to know where they were going, either. They said they knew where Dacker was, and how to get to him, but they were going the wrong way. So unless they had misunderstood, and thought she was looking for someone else, they were making untruths. Why would they lie to her? That wasn’t a nice thing to do, and she hadn’t been bad, didn’t need telling off or punishing or anything! Why would they do that?

She needed to think logically about it, like Ausep was always telling Uncle Hack to do. There was always an alternative explanation that needn’t necessarily be bad. These Suishies were adults, they were cleverer than her, and it was… possible, she reasoned, trying to keep her insides cool but feeling her core temperature rising, frightened… that they were going somewhere like to an airport. Because if her very basic knowledge of Erth geography was right, there was a big bit of wet in between her and TC, and this Autobot didn’t seem to have wings, and they’d have to get across it somehow.

She’d wait, she decided. When they next stopped, she’d ask them where they were going, and if it wasn’t to an airport, she’d escape. She could work out where she was later.

0o0o0o0o0

Although he didn’t know it, Thundercracker was already somewhere in Libya when he finally began to come round. He gave a soft, electronic moan of pain, and lay as still as possible, hoping the hurts would just go away all on their own. There was pain all down his arms, and his diagnostics reported damage and missing components – of course, they’d took his weapons. Minimised the level of threat he posed. He could still smash them up pretty well, given the chance – frag it, squishies were so delicate, just one good kick would probably take a dozen of them out at once – but it looked like they weren’t about to give him the option of that, either.

If he’d been unsure of his location before, now he was totally lost. It was dark, to start with, and he seemed to be on a truck, of some sort – the pervasive rumbling around him sounded like the groan of wheels on poor-quality asphalt, and the low vibrations seemed to agree, buzzing through his wings with the right frequency. He lay on his front, staring at the scuffed metal plate he lay on, anchored in such a way that his wings trapped his arms, and some sort of metallic bands encircled his ankles, waist and shoulders and held him immobile. He figured they weren’t particularly sturdy, but with his energy depleted, and still suffering after-effects from the heat and electrical disturbance, he couldn’t get enough strength or weight behind them to break them. Even if he’d been able to lift his head very far, he doubted he’d have been able to see much – there was an odd rustling under the roar of engines and tyres, and he figured he must have some sort of covering over him, to disguise his outline and hide him from prying eyes.

Rerouting pathways was going to take time; they’d yanked hard on subdermal circuitry and a number of semi-critical systems had been severed, in their efforts to remove his weaponry. It was going to take a fair while to regain the full range of mobility in his arms and hands, but if he concentrated on it, with luck he’d be done before they got to wherever it was they were going, and may stand a fraction of a chance of defending himself.

…if, of course, they gave him the chance to do so, which felt… unlikely. They had been well organised, for a change, so this must have been in the works for some time. And where in Primus’ name had they got a Cybertronian EM-cannon? Because there was no way they’d have just… invented it, all by themselves.

And… damn. A quick close-range ping revealed Slipstream was gone – of course. He must have been what the humans were after. An ideal specimen. Small, portable, easy to study. Maybe the little one was all they were after, and they were just shipping him away somewhere to keep him out of the way, like a foundry. By the time he’d normally have recovered, he’d have already been smelted down and turned into girders, or something. He shuddered in spite of himself. Stay positive, stay positive. If they were going to kill him, they’d have done it already – they obviously wanted him alive. For what reason, he didn’t want to even try and imagine, but at least it gave him some room to think…

0o0o0o0o0

Their convoy was the most mismatched clustering of vehicles conceivable, Mitchell considered, feet up on the dash of the Collector’s truck, flicking ash out into the cool night-time air. At the front of the long crocodile of vehicles was his own beloved little sporty red number, being driven by one of his most trusted aides (ha, right), then came four heavy trucks and a low-loader – to which their precious cargo had been secured – and after them were a dozen or so smaller trucks and tankers, the actual number remaining fluid to keep law-enforcement attention to a minimum. And somewhere – somewhere in this mess… was another of those robot-vehicles. He knew which it was, of course, but kept the specifics to himself. (It was easier to keep his staff in line if they were in continual fear of their vehicle listening in to their plotting.) He himself was with the Collector’s aide, the small truck following closely behind the low-loader.

The little one had been an unexpected windfall. If the Collector didn’t want it – which was actually kinda likely, he’d not once even mentioned it – then they could sell it, and damn, was that ever some impressive stuff it could do! That’d hike the price up by more than double, for sure. Catching the little bugger had been a nightmare; it had run circles around them, disappearing and reappearing as if by magic in different locations before they could get close enough to grab it. The instant they realised it wasn’t actually running away, just in big circles, it got easier to track – Vallory reckoned the two machines must be connected somehow, and it didn’t want to leave it, and in spite of the rude snickers at the idea the little one was somehow the big one’s kid, it did seem likely they had some point of commonality. Finally catching it did require use of the EM-cannon, on as low a power as they could get it to go; it woke up very quickly, but they’d already got a loop of spare chain around its neck and that seemed to be enough to stop it teleporting.

The little one was incredibly obedient, once they’d shown it the fallen, pinioned form of its giant ‘cousin’ and explained in no uncertain terms that it’d be joining it if it kicked up a ruckus. The loop of chain around its neck seemed to be sufficient to prevent it from teleporting, as well – it didn’t seem able to teleport itself out of it, and restricting its mobility meant that even if it could teleport, it couldn’t go very far without coming to a grinding halt.

It sat next to him in the cab of the scuffed little navy delivery truck, watching the moonlit tarpaulins fluttering on the low-loader in front, its little face creased up in dismay. It was a very quiet thing – whether that was because it didn’t know much English, or was just too scared to talk, Mitchell didn’t know, and didn’t much care, either. So long as it was well-behaved and quiet.

0o0o0o0o0

The sun had just passed its zenith when they finally stopped. Footloose was about to ask what was going on, to reassure herself everything was fine, but the two Suishies got out of the Autobot as soon as they halted, and didn’t give her the chance.

Instead, she peeked up over the bottom frame of the rear window and watched the two Suishies; the mech was pacing, snarling into a little square chunk of plastic held up to his face, and the femme was waving her hands and complaining at him. Neither looked happy. What were they shouting about?

“What do you mean, we can’t make the delivery? We’re almost there, Cutler, we can’t just-… what do you mean? What sort of problem?”

“What’s the hold-up? Let me talk to them-”

“Aw, shut up, Lucille. Cutler, I don’t care if-… oh come off it, you’re talking rubbish, now. What do they want with your worthless little research institute? Look, if you’re gonna lie to me, at least make it believable-…”

Footloose shrank down in her little nest of blanket. She was starting to feel scared. They were still going the wrong way. They should be going south, and east, not north! And they looked angry. Why were they angry? Were they angry with her? She didn’t think she’d been bad, but maybe she was wrong. They must be lying to her, she concluded. Day had said Suishies were tricky, not to be trusted. But they’d seemed nice! Hrf. She should have believed him.

A thought struck her. Maybe that was why the Autobot was silent! It was scared of them also. Or they’d done something to it, broke it, hurt it. Maybe they were going to break her too! Turn her into… into mints.

Get out of here, her sense of self-preservation said, at last. Scary Suishies, get out. Find where you are later.

She shed the blanket, carefully, keeping her small, carefully-dimmed optics glued on her kidnappers – they’d not noticed her watching them, yet – and examined the ground outside. She didn’t know exactly where she was, but at the very least she could calculate a good enough triangulation to get out of this funny silent Autobot.

I come back for you, she promised it, clicking quietly, then got up into a crouch and engaged her gate-

…They heard the low slap of deforming air, and turned to find her already getting to her feet, safely outside.

“Oh, hey, HEY!” the mech yelled, alarmed, dropping his bit of plastic. “Hey, come back here!”

“I’ll get it-” The femme was already moving towards her, with a strange stride that suggested she wasn’t sure if she should approach carefully and try not to spook the little one, or just outright run for her.


Footloose made her decision. These Suishies wanted to hurt her, and she had to put as much distance between them as possible. Luckily, she was well named – she might still be a groundling (to her unending frustration), but she could put on a pretty good turn of speed if she had to…

Without bothering to try and cross-reference her location, she bolted.

0o0o0o0o0

“Hey, hey, Mirage, did you see that?”

“See what?” Mirage replied, distractedly, watching Megatron and his assembled Decepticons through his pair of high-field binoculars. “Hm, odd. No Seekers there. I wonder what’s up with them? Maybe Megatron’s finally scrapped all three. Is that what you meant?”

Bumblebee sighed, patiently. “Nothing to do with Megatron, Raj. It was much closer to us. Over there. Looked like a very small Cybertronian.”

“Over where?” Mirage turned with his binoculars at first still over his optics, before lowering them and squinting into the dark, following the line of Bumblebee’s pointing finger. “I can’t see anything.”

“Over-…” The yellow minibot turned to look closer, but the little shape in his peripheral vision had vanished. “Oh. Uh… never mind, I guess.” His shoulders sagged. “It’s gone.”

“Probably just one of those Rack Oons,” Mirage reassured, returning to his surveillance. “Hound tells me they’re indigenous to these parts.”

“I don’t think it was a raccoon,” Bumblebee demurred, quietly, but didn’t force the point. He didn’t have a better explanation for it, anyway. Probably just another small human, he consoled himself, and settled back to watching the Decepticons.

0o0o0o0o0

Ramjet was in a bad mood. Not only had all four of the fliers sent out to fetch back the “cargo” got a proper verbal slagging from Megatron when they got back empty-handed, now his trine was temporarily depopulated by one as well. Being alone on patrol with Dirge was not Ramjet’s idea of fun. (It wasn’t Dirge’s either, but that was no shocker, the blue blob of smelter-waste was never damn happy.)

One of these days, Thrust would learn to keep his big flappy mouth shut. The stupid loudmouth coward had groused it’d have helped if they knew what they were slagging well looking for just a little too loudly, while Megatron was still in earshot. Thrust had been forced to stay behind for this patrol, as he was still in the repair bay having his leg reattached – after getting his nose mashed into a console monitor while the tyrant finally played the rudimentary snip of film Laserbeak had snagged of the tiny machines. Is THAT good enough for you? they’d heard the tyrant yelling, but hadn’t hung around to watch the aftermath.

The idiot was worse than Skywarp, at times, Ramjet cursed – at least the teleport had enough gumption to know when to keep his thoughts to himself.

To top it all, Megatron had given them the stupidest, most menial task to do while he and those reckless Stunticons raided the science park. It was totally unfair! They should be there, in the thick of it, showing those Squishy flightless humans who was the superior species, but ohh no, Megatron couldn’t forget one teensy infraction long enough to make a logical assignment of his warriors. It’d be good if he got himself slagged by the Autodorks again; Ramjet could just claim he’d been too far away to help out, because he was just being a good little fighter jet and following orders. (He’d have to be careful, though. The lack of Starscream-shaped bullet sponge meant he himself might get shot at.)

He was coming up for another efficient sweep of the suburbs when a small dark shape caught his optic, completely by coincidence. A small dark shape that was human shaped but definitely not human, scrambling its way over a crash barrier and scampering across a busy highway, forcing human drivers to swerve out of its way, horns blaring.

There was only one answer. He had no idea how in the Pit it had got all this way, but it had to be the missing sparkling.

“Hey, Dirge, feel like getting back into Megatron’s good books?” he suggested, wheeling about for another pass. “I see something really useful down there, right now.”

Autobots!” Dirge wailed, excitedly.

What?! Aw, damn! Autobots, here already?! Trust those goodie-goodie freaks to get in the way! “Not them, not them!” Ramjet howled, annoyedly, but Dirge had already gone on the offensive. “The little one, you slagging idiot! Primus alive, do you think you could actually listen to me one day?! Get the little one!”

“I’m getting the little one,” Dirge yelled back, already hailing laser fire down around the yellow Autobot in his sights.

“Not that little one…!” Ramjet despaired, but the return fire had started in earnest and he had to take some hasty evasive measures, and when he finally got the chance to try and return to the sparkling… it had vanished back into the rest of the junk.

0o0o0o0o0

The sun was low in the sky and the shadows were beginning to lengthen when the space bridge unexpectedly came to life and disgorged a large, disoriented green female.

Forceps hadn’t wanted to come in the first place, but circumstance had put her into a corner. Hardline had been about to make a dash for the bridge when Shockwave himself emerged from hiding and engaged the tank in a firefight. The Quayside twins had already got embroiled in argument with the guardian robots, and no-one else was close enough. Which left just her, with a clear opening to the space bridge, a futile wish to have never let Hardline drag her along, and the beginnings of a very sour mood.

The silver guard on the alien side of the bridge gave her a look, unhooking his feet off the console and standing. She backed off a step and settled into a defensive position. “I don’t want any trouble, Decepticon,” she started, gruffly.

“No worries, femme, I’m not gonna give you any. I was gonna say, I hope you’re not here for the sparklings, because things have gone Pitwise, as usual,” he drawled, unimpressed.

“Elaborate,” she instructed, brusquely. This must be Vantage; Hardline had vaguely hinted he may be in on the plan, but hadn’t given her much in the way of details, including what he actually looked like. The fact he knew about the sparklings gave her a glimmer of confidence that he was trustworthy.

“Megatron caught wind of it all,” he explained, grimly. “I’m not sure he knew what he’d heard, to start with, but he’s certainly took steps to stomp Skywarp and co down; I know he’s grounded Screamer and TC, and I figure Warp’s not in a good place either. All three of ’em have been off the air for more than a terran orn.”

“Damn,” she cursed, quietly. “The little ones?”

“I don’t know.” Vantage spread his hands, helplessly. “Megatron doesn’t have them, that’s for sure, but that’s all that is sure. I think the little mech is still with Thundercracker, down in the desert somewhere – he managed to get word to me before we lost contact – but I’ve not got any word off Screamer. I’m not even entirely sure where he came down. The other little spark could be… anywhere.”

“Is anyone looking for them?”

“Iii… don’t know. I guess the Coneheads probably are, but I’ve not heard any favourable reports from them. As in, they’re looking, but not finding, if that makes sense? Which is probably a good thing, in the long run, but, ehh, you know.”

“Have you tried to contact anyone else for help?” She gave him a careful look. “The Autobots, perhaps?”

“Listen. Femme. I don’t know how things work your side of the bridge, but this side? If Megatron catches me chatting to Autobutts?” Vantage drew a line across his chest with one finger, and made a schhk noise. “No more space bridge duty, because no more Vanner. And I’d kinda like to still be functioning, after all this!”

“All right, all right,” she raised her hands in a surrendering gesture, and waved him irritably into silence. “I get the idea. I just didn’t want to duplicate work you might already have done-”

The angry voice that blared like an alarm call through the control panel and made both machines jump didn’t need any introduction. “So help me Vantage, if you’re recharging when you should be guarding again-!”

Vantage gave the console a look, and winced. “Aw, damn. He’ll completely slag me if he thinks I’ve let you through here unchallenged-”

“So we’ll make it look like we’ve been engaged in combat.” She cracked her knuckles, meaningfully.

“…uhhh, thanks, but maybe I’ll just do it audibly,” Vantage argued, warily, eyeing the broad shoulders and guessing they probably contained pretty big power converters. He waited until Megatron had snarled through the communications speaker a third time before thumbing the receive button, and firing a couple of random shots into the air. “Yes, Mighty Megatron?” he greeted, doing a good job at faking a stressed tone of voice.

“What in Primus’ name is going on, there?” the warlord snapped, although the going-to-kill-you-if-you-don’t-answer-NOW tone had gone from his voice.

“Intruder through the space bridge!” Vantage reported, firing another random shot. “I’ve disarmed ’em but I think they’re gonna make a run for it-… I need backup, here!”

Megatron grumbled something unintelligible, apparently disappointed that he had no obvious excuse to finally get rid of Vantage. “In that case, I need not pass on Shockwave’s message,” he growled. “It seems you are already dealing with it.”

“That’s as- ow! That’s as maybe, but I need-” Gunshot. “Need backup!”

There was another grumble. “All right. I’ll send someone,” the tyrant sighed, tiredly. “Try not to let the intruder get too far away before they get there.”

“You best make a sharp exit,” Vantage instructed, curtly, the instant the line closed. “I’ll bet Megatron sends the Coneheads. You won’t get much quarter from them.”

“Keep me posted,” she instructed, jamming a communications wafer into his hand. “Anything new, any updates on either the little ones or the big ones, and you let me know.”

“You’re not my leader, femme, I don’t have to do what you tell me to,” Vantage groused, but pocketed the wafer anyway, and gave her a funny look. “Buut… if I can keep Megatron from eavesdropping, I figure I could drop you a line and update you every so often. Good enough?”

She gave him a laconic smile, and touched a hand to her chest in a fake salute. “Your assistance is most appreciated, of course.”

“Yeah yeah. You best get a move on, femme, they’ll be here any moment.”

“And you best take a nap, before anyone thinks you’re playing games,” she confirmed, cryptically.

Vantage had time to glance very briefly up at her and say the first syllable or two of “and what’s that supposed to mean?” before one hand pressed gently down against his shoulder, and there was the bite of a hypodermic into a fuel line and a sharp pain, and the world greyed into stasis.

0o0o0o0o0

Even seeing Megatron get ungrateful his aft whomped by the Autobots hadn’t improved Ramjet’s mood. In fact, in its most basic terms, he was fragged right the slagging slaggity slag off. His one chance, his one freaking chance to get back into Megatron’s good books, and what does he do? He only goes and pulls a Starscream and frags it up completely beyond rescue. At least he could blame it on his idiot wingmate, because if Dirge had bothered to listen before he went after the Autobots, they might have snagged the little one at last. And just to top it all off nicely, the blue blob was in that fragging creepy mood of his again, grousing about extinction and death and… argh. Ramjet was halfway inclined to just wallop him out of the air, just to get him to shut up, because yelling at him sure as Pit wasn’t working-

“Ramjet?” Megatron’s curt voice distracted him out of his churlish temper. “What is your current proximity to the space bridge?”

“Um, not far away. I guess we could get there in a few breems,” Ramjet confirmed. “Was there something you wanted us to do?”

“You have your chance to redeem yourself, at least partially,” the tyrant explained, dryly. “Shockwave reports an intruder through the bridge. Liaise with Vantage, and deal with it.”

When the two jets touched down, warily, it appeared that the space bridge was unattended. The place was silent, and there were dull, blackened scorchmarks on the control panel, though, and across the cliffs, and it did actually look like the little layabout had been forced to defend himself for a change.

“…urrgh-”

They turned to find Vantage had emerged woozily from behind his controls, one hand pressed to his brow and the other propping him up against the terminal.

“What happened to you?” Ramjet demanded, not bothering to try and help him up.

“…attacker… through the… khnn… through the space bridge,” Vantage managed to get the words out, feigning terrible hurt. “Nearly had her… nearly had her! Lucky shot-…”

“You were felled by a femme? Dear Primus, we’re really delving at the bottom of the scrap heap for guards for this thing, aren’t we?” Ramjet scoffed. “All right. Dirge? Figure we better go deal with it.”

“Need my help…?” Vantage wondered, clinging to the control panel.

Your help? You’re the one who let her escape,” the white jet sneered. “Nah. You just sit on your incompetent aft and let the professionals take care of it.”

0o0o0o0o0

In the orns since his incarceration, Skywarp hadn’t even so much as moved out of his corner. There didn’t seem to be much point to moving, to start with – wasn’t as if he was going to be able to go anywhere. And not moving meant he could conserve what little energon remained in his systems – he’d been due to refuel when Megatron had hauled him away for interrogation, and no-one had sent him any energon since he’d woken up.

At least, he consoled himself, there’d been no gloating that he’d failed and Megatron had the sparklings and whatever, which Skywarp took to mean they hadn’t caught them. Primus forbid it meant things had gone aft-up and the triple changers had accidentally killed them. He swallowed down the unfamiliar anxiety.

That was the other thing he found worst about solitary confinement, almost as bad as the way the walls closed in on him. He couldn’t distract himself. Thoughts were just… there. Like a dirtied injury that compelled a mech to worry at it, to pick at it. There was nothing to distract his attention away from the bleak thoughts that circled like scavengers around him.

One of these days, he promised himself, resting his cheek better on his knees and slipping into an uneasy doze, I’ll ditch the teleport, and get myself some proper brains. I hate being stupid. And I hate it when it’s MY stupidity that gets the other guys all smashed to bits. Stupid Skywarp, who always ends up sending things to the smelter.

There was an enthusiastic banging on his cell door that alarmed him out of his doze, but it didn’t take much brain power to work out that it was just someone banging, not an attack. Besides, wouldn’t be any big deal if we were under attack, he thought to himself, sulkily. Not like I can do anything about it in here. It’d serve Megaprat right, anyway, putting all three of his best warriors out of the frame.

“Warp? Skywarp? Yo, Warp, wake up!”

That sounded like Rumble; a quick glance into the periphery of his vision confirmed it. The cassette was peering down through the small window high in the cell door. Skywarp ignored him.

“I told you not to bother,” Frenzy’s slightly more distant voice added, grumpily. “He ain’t gonna talk to us while he’s too busy sulking-”

Ha! Sulking! Because that’s totally all it is. Skywarp almost turned his audio sensors right off so he didn’t have to listen any more, at that point.

“-and we’ve got way better things to do than hang around down here.” Frenzy finished.

“Look, he doesn’t know we’ve got it, does he?” Rumble directed his scolding down at his unseen brother. “Just gimme a minute, willya?”

“He’s not gonna thank you, and if Megs finds us down here we’re gonna be for the high jump! Just… lets dump his wing by the door, and come on. When he’s done being a grouch, we can try again-”

Wing? “W-wait…!” Skywarp jerked his head up off his knees, urgently, and stretched out one hand in a plea for them not to go.

Both small cassette faces crowded back into the little window in the door. Skywarp wondered briefly what they were standing on, then decided it was best not to know.

“So you are awake, then,” Frenzy challenged.

Rumble planted a hand down on his brother’s faceplate and shoved him out of the way, and there was a clatter as the red cassette ended up sprawled out on the deck. “Shut up, Frenz. Listen, Warp?” A surprisingly earnest crimson gaze met Skywarp’s exhausted maroon one. “We found your wing, in an old store room close to the repair bay.” He pointed down at the tiny triangular wingtip that had appeared at the margin of the window; Frenzy must be holding it up. “It’s a bit dinged up, sure, but it looks like it’s still okay to keep you in the air.”

“I hate to break it to you, but it has to be attached to me, to work,” Skywarp corrected, grimly, setting his chin back onto his knees, sulkily. “And it won’t get me very far while I’m still in this little box, either.”

“Some people are just never pleased, are they? If you’d give us a second to finish telling you, we’d have said how we’ve got a fix for that, too,” Frenzy explained, reappearing in the window in place of the wing. “We bribed Hook to reattach it, if you want – just a quick repair so we can get you out of here.”

“…get me out?” A tiny kindling of hope flickered up inside the disconsolate Seeker.

“Yeah, we were gonna spring you from the joint while Megatron is still out getting his aft handed to him by the Autobutts. Soundwave’s with him, says he’ll ping us when they’re on the way back.”

“Why would you want to do that?” Skywarp wondered, suspiciously. Those little cassette twerps must be up to something. There was no way they should be this helpful.

“Well, with you three out of the way, we’re next in line as prime cannon-fodder.” Rumble grinned, lopsidedly. “Besides, Soundwave says he wants to repay the error that got you three all messed up like this.”

“What?” Skywarp straightened up fully. “What do you mean?”

“Come on, how do you think Megs found out about your pair of little ones? The Boss may be big and good at tactics, but he’s purge-poor at spying. Got us to do it for him.”

Skywarp covered his face with both hands. “Primus,” he groaned. “So how many of you know, now, exactly?”

“Ah, not that many. Us and Soundwave, Megatron, you three obviously…” Frenzy ticked them off on his fingers.

“Don’t forget the Coneheads, they were supposed to be retrieving ’em, right?” Rumble added.

“Oh, and the triple changers,” Frenzy agreed, pointing at Rumble in agreement. “And I figure Hook’s got it sussed as well-”

“Only ’cause you let it slip, cogs-for-brains!”

Skywarp vented exhaust in a sigh. “So… half the base, then?”

“Well… kinda, I guess, yeah.” Rumble smiled, apologetically. “Sorry, Warpster. We did try to keep it hidden, but you know the Boss.”

Skywarp watched glumly as they opened the cell door, and debated making a run for it, just in case they were winding him up – it was only the knowledge that he wouldn’t get anywhere that stopped him. “…what about Screamer, and TC?” He didn’t want to ask, but he had to know.

“Er, well…” Rumble dithered, pausing in the doorway to watch the corridor.

“We lost contact with both of ‘em just after they were shot down,” Frenzy replied, bluntly, and shrugged, apologetically. “Screamer’s in a forest in the United States somewhere. We figure he’s, ah… alive but unconscious… from what Astrotrain says.”

“…and TC?”

“Well, he was still pretty functional, from what we heard from Blitzwing,” Rumble answered. “Got down in one piece in some desert somewhere.”

“We’ve not been able to raise him since the guys got back and gave us their report, though, so we figure the heat’s mucking up his communications relays,” Frenzy argued. “Not that they hung about to check he was okay, either. They made a run for it after he fired back and almost took Thrust out.”

“Serve him right,” Skywarp grumbled, softly. “Stupid traitors.”

“Megatron gave Thrust a hard time for wimping out, too,” Rumble added, with an unwholesome grin. “Kicked his aft good and proper for backchatting him.”

“Which I now have the endless joy of repairing,” a voice sniped, from the corridor, and Rumble jumped. “Out of my way, cassette. Skywarp? Here.” Hook stopped in the middle of the room and stabbed a finger at the floor in front of himself, irritably. “I can’t do anything while you’re squashed up in the corner like that.”

Skywarp scooted himself over the floor to the required spot, not bothering to actually get up. “So I should just work on the principle they’re all dead,” he mumbled, grimly, and let his chin drift back down onto his knees while Hook fetched out a laser scalpel to tidy up the ragged edge where his right wing had been removed. “Fan-freaking-tastic.” It was a funny sensation, the idea of suddenly being alone after all these millennia sharing everything with his trine.

As the breems wore on into a whole cycle, and more, it became obvious that Hook didn’t seem to have grasped the concept of a ‘quick repair’; he was being as fastidious and pernickety as ever. Anyone else would have done a very rough job of it, slap on a strip of emergency plate and weld down either side, and cross their fingers that it stayed on more than an orn, but not Hook. The Constructicon was carefully dabbing spots of weld all the way down the inner front margin, connecting up sensor mesh and motor relays, fine cabling, replacing lengths of fuel line and coolant mesh…

Skywarp curled his fingers into tight fists and concentrated on diverting signals anywhere but his right wing. It was nice – um, okay, maybe not the right term. Maybe charitable was better – of Hook to do the work without demanding payment, but he was also doing it without anaesthesia, and every new relay that reconnected was an additional bit of hurt.

“Come on, Hook,” Rumble chivvied, from the doorway. “Soundwave says they’re only a few breems away from base!”

“If you’re not silent, you little ingrate, I will make you do this,” the crane threatened, not looking up. “You have given me a handful of breems to do work that should take a full orn to complete properly, and I have no desire to help you go fishing when it falls off and Skywarp ends up in the ocean.”

“Well if you don’t get it done soon he won’t get the chance to go swimming-”

Hook glared, and bounced a wrench off the back of Rumble’s head. “If you would permit me the honour of finishing my sentence,” he snarked, irritably, “I was about to say, I think this is as good as I will manage in the time permitted. Skywarp? I wouldn’t suggest you try transforming,” he instructed, dryly, directing his attention back down on his patient. “My repairs on your wing are good, but not up to their usual standard. Perhaps if I’d had more time, I could have done a better job of it. You don’t want to have it drop off the instant you shapeshift.”

Skywarp craned his neck back and examined the repair, critically, and pursed his lips unhappily. The break was still visible as a stark silver gouge all the way through his dark enamel, and the patches of solder were like lumps of dull scar-tissue dotted haphazardly along the entire length of it. “Uhh, thanks,” he gave Hook a wary glance.

“Come on!” Rumble dragged Skywarp to his feet, Frenzy pushing him from behind. “You’re gonna really be flying close to the wire if you leave it any longer, they’re due back any time now.”

The instant the last clatter of feet on deck had vanished, Hook opened a comms channel.

“Well?” Megatron growled.

“He’s gone,” Hook confirmed. “The beacon is in place. You may track him at your leisure.”

“I hope Soundwave’s two little idiots didn’t let anything slip.”

“I elected not to tell them. After a little gentle suggestion, they seem to think they actually came up with the plan to rescue him.” Hook wrinkled his nose, unimpressed.

Megatron sighed, melodramatically. “Tell me something, Hook,” he said, wearily. “Are we the only ones on this entire base that wish their fellow Decepticons were not quite so naïve…?”

0o0o0o0o0

Mitchell called a halt to the convoy early next morning, and they parked up in the shade just as the temperature began to climb. They were only an hour or two’s drive away from the Egyptian border, but his men had been on the road all night and were already tired, and he didn’t want anyone crashing from heat exhaustion. Particularly not when they were so close to making their delivery.

While they set up the tents, he went over to the low-loader, to check on their cargo. Hostile crimson eyes glared down on him like coals, when he threw the edge of the tarpaulin back, burning so hot that he could very nearly feel the murderous desire for destruction crackling in the air between them. It was a good job the blue giant was pinioned, because the slightest fraction of an inch of manoeuvring room and it’d probably be doling out its own punishment for the way it had been treated.

“Good morning! Sleep well?” he greeted, cheerfully, and the robot’s glowing eyes narrowed even further.

“Where are you taking us?” it asked, at last, and there was a tired sort of resignation in its words.

“That, my friend, is something for me to know, and you to find out.”

“You are not my friend, human.”

“Ha! Well, yes, there is that. But the sentiment remains unchanged. You don’t need to know.” Mitchell gave it a shrug. “You’ll find out soon enough. We should be there by tomorrow morning.”

“Then at least satisfy my curiosity, human, and tell me you have the little one.”

Was that concern, in the gruff words? Curiouser and curiouser. Mitchell inclined his head. “That I cannot confirm or deny,” he lied.

The big face relaxed a little, anyway. “Good. I was anxious you had left him behind.”

“You’re not attempting to bluff me into giving you an answer, are you, robot?”

“That sounds like a pretty conclusive confirmation, if you ask me.”

“Maybe I just daren’t tell you we left it dead and buried in the rubble back in Cedada,” Mitchell challenged, folding his arms.

“You would do that to a sparkling…” The machine hesitated, apparently looking for the appropriate term. “-a child? An innocent? Someone outside the war?”

“Frankly? Sure. It’s just another robot, ain’t it? For sale to the highest bidder.” Mitchell sighed, and planted his hands on his hips, briefly. “Look, in case you’d not got the hint, I’ve got no interest in you, your kid, your faction, your war, or the stupid way you squabble over fuel that you could share easy among yourselves and still have some left over.” He ticked the items off on his fingers, irritably. “To me, you’re just another job, and all I care about is getting paid for my services at the end of it.”

The robot actually smiled, at that. “You may not care, but you’re an admirable Decepticon on the inside, human,” he commented, dryly. “We’re not so unalike as you’d like to think.”

“Oh… go back to sleep,” Mitchell grumbled, and dropped the tarpaulin back down over it with a hard snap of his wrist. “You can sit and cook your processors, for all I care.”

The robot’s soft, rumbling laughter followed him all the way back to his tent, and he felt like EMP-ing it again, purely out of pique.

The Collector’s operative – who they still didn’t know the name of – was sitting on a folding chair just outside the tent, in the shade of his truck, which was in turn in the shade of the high-sided trailer of one of the lorries. “You will be well paid for your services, Darren Mitchell,” he replied to the unspoken question, earnestly.

Mitchell glared at him, matching stares, but the man’s weird green eyes never so much as flickered and ultimately he broke the staring match himself, unnerved. “I better be. You tell your boss, the big bastard is starting to get on my nerves. It’s frickin’ laughing at me!”

“You won’t have to put up with it for much longer,” the man assured, watching as Mitchell fetched a fresh bottle of water from the tent’s little portable chiller. “If all goes to plan, we will remove him from your presence very shortly. We will cross the Nile in Minya, and halt when we reach el-Hagg Qandil. Your men will remain in the village; you and one aide only will accompany me into the hills. If the Collector is satisfied, you will be paid, and the cargo removed.”

“You think he’s gonna be happy with this argumentative, hostile bag of bolts?” Mitchell demanded, gesturing with his bottle.

“I think you’ve done well,” the man agreed, and actually looked pretty genuine about it. “I hadn’t anticipated you’d catch this one. He has the appropriate connections to the target, we may well be able to bait him in a lot faster. The small one will be a huge bonus.”

“Huh.” Mitchell swigged on his water, unimpressed, and more than a little irritable at the idea they’d steal the little one as well. Better frigging well pay us for it. “Well, you better give us some more of those weird power cells for that snazzy gun you loaned us. One more shot, and it’ll be right out, and then we’ll never catch the other dude you’re after.”

“We have the appropriate energon relays at our base of operations. Fear not, Darren Mitchell, you will not be asked to operate without the appropriate supplies.”

Mitchell winced, openly. “Look, do you think you could lay off with using my full name, all the time?” he complained, halfheartedly. “It’s making you stick out as different, and you’re already making folk suspicious. I don’t want them figuring it out before we get to Minya.”

“But it is your name, correct?” the man inclined his head, very slightly.

“Well, yeah, but… look, we don’t use our full names in normal conversation. We just use one, or the other. Just… call me Mitchell, all right?” He watched the man nod, and narrowed his eyes, a little. “Speaking of which, am I ever gonna get some kinda name for you? ‘That Guy working for the Collector’ is getting unwieldy.”

The man’s gaze finally lost its bland curiosity, and he shot a wary look at the tarp-covered robot on the low-loader. “I don’t think it’s wise to tell you while he is in earshot.”

“Why? You got history together, or something?”

“You could say that.” The man fidgeted, briefly, then leaned forwards, very close to Mitchell’s ear, and said, very softly; “please remember it is very unwise to use my name in front of the cargo, but... you may call me Deuce.”

-----

Dun-dun-dun...

Yeah, okay, so it was kinda obvious. ;) Never mind.

I'll link to some more art later. :D

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
jill_dragon
Oct. 29th, 2008 03:42 am (UTC)
So Deuce figured out how to use holoforms, I guess that explains how he (and anyone else that might be working for the Collector) managed not to alert anyone that they're one Earth. It seems a bit too organized for there to be just one Cybertronian operative hiding on Earth, but meh.

I'm curious to see where Skywarp will go now that he's free (so he thinks), whether he'll go straight to the Spacebridge or try and find Starscream and Footloose (since they're closer than TC and Slipstream would be). It's interesting that Rumble and Frenzy felt sorry enough for Skywarp to help him, even if they were being manipulated by Hook. I wonder if Soundwave and the Casetticons have twiged to Skywarp's relationship to the kids?
_silverfox
Oct. 29th, 2008 06:30 pm (UTC)
Grrrrrrr, I'd actually forgotten what a bastard Hook is. I feel so foolish now.

And I hope Forceps flattens the coneheads at some point. (Hm ... getting protective of Vantage now. Next I'll start wondering why he isn't guarding the space bridge in other people's fics. ;) )
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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