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"Warped", Chapter 20

Title (chapter): Warped (20)
Series: Transformers, G1-based (“Blue” AU)
Rating: PG-13
Summary: In which Footloose doesn't get it, Skywarp gets drunk, and Thundercracker struggles with his conscience.




Warped
Chapter Twenty

In the direct aftermath of Pulsar’s inadvertent sonic assault on his audios, Skywarp spent a good few breems just wandering, in a haze of startled alarm, trying to work out what in Primus’ sweet name was going on.

Looking back, he recognised easily how naïve he’d been, thinking he could just amble in and say hi (and maybe sneak a hug and promise vengeance when no-one was watching). He’d known they’d have done more than just bump her around a bit, especially after receiving Siphon’s morbid ‘gift’ an orn or two before, so he really should have expected she wouldn’t have been all sunshine and sparkles at seeing him.

But to have her scream in unashamed terror like that, just at the very first glimpse of him? Primus, had that ever been like a kick to somewhere sensitive! By the time he recovered his senses, he’d found himself right the way outside, staggering confused in the dirt, trying to straighten the whirl of conflicting, spiking processors back out. Her words – don’t let him hurt me – had been like a physical pain between his audios.

Well if he wanted my attention, he’s got it, he vowed, dragging his thrusters over the dust and nursing the hurt that was baying for the screws holding a certain machine’s spark-casing closed. Fragging-… how fragging dare he. This is my territory he’s leaving his slagging heel-prints all over and I’m gonna rip his power converter out for it. Through his vents.

Once he’d got over the immediacy of the unfamiliar shock of having his “squeaky little Policebot” screaming loud enough to shake sparks out of the Matrix at the sight of him – and once he’d recalibrated his ringing audios – Skywarp had (morosely) gone to join Starscream in the medical lab. And not out of any particular desire to boredly needle him into a blazing temper, for a change, it was just because he didn’t know what else to do, and… well, sort-of kinda… wanted his wingmate close. Just to make sure he didn’t spontaneously combust, or anything.

And as an added bonus, the lab Starscream had ‘adopted’ (or rather, misappropriated) to work in was kinda nearby, too. So he would be close at hand just in case Sepp should say “…actually, Warp, let’s just try that once more before we write it off as a bad job.” Not that that looked likely, either, every time he peeked hopefully through the doorway she’d give him a sad look and shake her head, and he’d retreat back, disappointed.

To the untrained eye, Skywarp looked bored, sitting there on the sideboard next to where Starscream was valiantly struggling to ignore him and keep working. He was drumming the backs of his thrusters against the cupboard built in underneath, and had already streaked the orange alloy with a furore of purple lines before Starscream irritably told him to cut it out. Now he’d been foiled on that account, he very quickly turned to fiddling with Starscream’s supplies, helping himself to a focussing crystal and trying (and failing) to get the sullen overhead lighting to focus down into a spot bright enough to set fire to a shred of paper in his finger.

For once, Starscream was almost forgiving of his wingmate’s aftery, and didn’t instantly snatch the thieved component back. Better versed in Skywarp’s little foibles and well able to recognise what was going on, the teleport was clearly making a royal pain in the aft of himself to avoid having to admit that yeah, he was kinda worried, actually. Sorta hurt and angry and upset, too.

After several breems of unbelievable silence, Skywarp finally spoke up. “’S’weird, you know, Screamer?” he said, with a strange offhand tone, carefully managing to balance the crystal on its smallest side on top of a precarious heap of databoards. “She’s scared of me. She let me take her waaaay up into the air, before, but now she’s scared of me. How fragging stupid is that?”

He pointed it out in such an inconsequential, oh-by-the-way tone of voice that his wingmate actually glanced up at him, puzzled; seeing the over-exaggerated who-gives-a-slag expression on the teleport’s face left no doubt in Starscream’s mind that it was preying on his thoughts.

“That’s never bothered you before,” the fallen Air Commander observed, returning his attention to his work. “You always used to like the idea you could cause shock and awe by name alone.”

“It’s never mattered before,” Skywarp corrected, grimly, and admitted; “I kinda liked having someone that wasn’t scared of me that wasn’t one of you guys.” Beat. “Fighting with you two is getting kinda predictable.”

“The fact it was a femme was just an added bonus, of course? You could, eh, ‘fight’ without raising aaany suspicion at all. Or at least that was your theory.”

Skywarp pouted, hurt. “It was nice, having someone who didn’t run screaming at the very sight of me,” he complained, softly.

“No, Warp, you’re confusing your being a Decepticon with you just being an ugly little Pit-spawn,” Starscream joked, and thankfully Skywarp took it in the humour it was intended.

“Takes one to know one, Beautiful,” the teleport countered, thumbing his nose at him. “Well I’m gonna go try talk to her again. Frag it, Screamer, I want to know what they did to her! And then blamed on me! I swear, when I find out? I’m gonna go and frickin’… mince someone for it!” He shoved himself down off the shelf and thumped his feet hard against the floor-

Starscream caught his arm before he could vanish, and gave him a very long, serious stare. “Before you go and try shaking an answer out of her, just think what she’s been through,” he counselled, unnaturally gently, although his concern was more for his wingmate’s state of mind. “You’ll probably only make things worse, and Primus! If you’re bad now? You’re going to be totally unbearable if you manage to work the pair of you even deeper into stress because you’ve gone in too heavy-handedly and made her genuinely scared of you.”

Skywarp looked deflated; he’d already stopped struggling to free himself, and now his shoulders were sagging, wings drooping lower on his back.

“Right now, it’s like she’s just been dragged out of the smelting pools by her antennae alone,” Starscream went on. “She’s probably very stressed, and everything that’s happened – whatever the Pit that might turn out to be – will be fresh and very clear in her mind. Demanding that she tells you every minute detail, and making her relive every painful second, won’t help her recover.”

Skywarp managed a halfway sneering expression to hide his dismay. “Been sucking up to your favourite Neutral again, Doctor Screamer?”

Starscream gave him a swat around the audios, but it wasn’t as hard a blow as normal. More for effect. “Nice to see none of what I say is retained in your processors, as usual,” he scolded. “Just… I know it’s not in your normal programming, but try make an effort, all right? At least give her a few more cycles to calm down, and if you’re going to bully Sepp to let you see her, go gently if she agrees.”

0o0o0o0o0

It had taken Forceps several breems of continual reassurance to get Pulsar to calm down and detach from where she was clutching against her, but at last the broken Policebot was back on her berth, surrounded by monitors and plugged into a supportive recharging mainframe… and Forceps was exhausted. She’d already been running herself ragged trying to get the two Seekers back up to combat readiness and now to have to look after the mutilated remains of one of her friends-… She wasn’t getting a whole lot of time to snatch the occasional flask of energon, let alone perform mental housekeeping, and her buffers were all full of needless sensory data she just hadn’t had time to sort through and erase.

“Ama home!” a little voice chirped, and there was the sound of a small pair of feet pattering over the medical suite’s durable polycomposite floor-

Lucy! It was like a heatlance into a delicate piece of anatomy; the last thing she wanted was for a certain overexcited sparkling to attempt their usual Greeting Maul when the target of their affection wasn’t likely to interpret it correctly… Tired though she was, in one long smooth move, Forceps was out of her chair, skilfully intercepted the sparkling, and scooped her up before she’d covered even half the distance. “Whoo, there! What are you doing, mischief?” she scolded, affectionately.

“See Ama!” Footloose explained, sounding peeved at having been foiled, and squirmed, trying to worm out of the restraining hug. “Say hellos!” She pointed at the door, for illustration.

“Not right now.” Vexingly, Forceps turned around and carried her away from the private little sideroom. “Ama’s not very well, she needs to get some rest. You can see her later.”

“But miss her! Just want to say hellos.” The sparkling offered up her very best most appealing expression. “Please? I be good. Only see, then come help Ausep?”

The surgeon gave her a half-hearted glare. “No, because I know you too well – and I know you won’t just say hello, you’ll go climbing all over her-”

“But want see her!” Footloose insisted, wriggling in earnest and trying to pry her aunt’s large fingers away from her torso. “Just want to see!”

“And I said no, you’re going to have to be patient. You know what that word means, right, Button?” Forceps gritted out; apparently ‘no’ was not computing, any more, and Footloose was not so much squirming as actively fighting to free herself.

Footloose was also getting more strident the longer Forceps kept hold of her. “No! Ama! Amaa!” she wailed, miserably, ineffectually clawing her little hands over her aunt’s strong arms and kicking in a futile attempt to free herself. “Want Ama!”

“I only said ‘not right now’, Button, not ‘never’…” Forceps was trying to soothe the rankled little temper, but the sparkling was working herself into a ball of stress and ignoring the gentle harmonic, and the surgeon herself had an ill-disguised scowl on her face. “Ama’s sick.”

“But want see her!” Footloose squealed, thrashing; it was like trying to keep hold of an agitated little metal crane fly. “See her now, now!”

“Footloose? No,” Forceps growled, at last, and the complaints fizzled out into little mewling sobs of static. It had been that tone of voice – the one both sparklings had learned to recognise instantly. The velvet glove had come down, and no amount of ruction would be shifting it. “You can see Ama when she’s feeling better,” she added, in a gentler tone, gathering the suddenly-floppy sparkling closer to her chest. “She’s not going to go anywhere. You just need to be a good girl and be patient.”

“Want see her,” the little femme wept, rubbing cheeks. “Please, I be good now, just want say hellos.”

“Ama is very sick, right now. She can’t have you climbing all over her.” Argh. Why did sparklings have that in-built capacity for making you feel really bad for refusing them, sometimes?

“Won’t climb, promise! Just to say hello. Please? Please?”

Forceps cast a despairing glance over the top of the infant’s head, and finally met Skywarp’s semi-curious look around the doorway. “Now, look,” she half-scolded, gently, taking advantage of the opportunity that had presented itself. “You’ve upset Day. He’s come to see what you’re making all that racket about.”

Footloose looked up over her shoulder and gave him her best wide-optic’ed, wobbly-lipped look, and after a bit of wiggling stuck her arms out in a hug please gesture.

“Come on, you noisy little pest,” Skywarp took her gently out of Forceps’ arms; the tiny femme was sufficiently stressed as to be vibrating. “Ama’s tired. She needs to get some rest.”

“But want see her,” Footloose mewed, pathetically, jamming her head up under his chin and trying to mould against the upper part of his chassis. “Want see now. Miss her!”

“Eh, come on. Be fair. She’s only been in out of the muck for a little while, she’s all dirty and fragile. Let her get over that first, yeah? I’m sure she wants to see you as well, but you’ve gotta be good, like Ausep tells you. She’s not gonna go anywhere,” he counselled, pinging her antennae. “You can see her later. All right?”

“Why not now?”

The voices were fading as they moved further away down the corridor. “Because your grumpy auntie said so. You don’t want her to turn you into an alarm clock, do you? ‘Cause she will, if you’re not careful!”

“Clock not make fly.”

“Well, then…”

The surgeon waited until they’d faded completely from her audio range before sighing and sagging to her aft on the nearest stool. Primus this was going to be hard work; not just the repairs to the physical problems, but the repairs to all the damaged psyches around here, because there were going to be plenty of them by the end…! She rubbed her temples, and cycled cold air, and wished she was a part-time psychiatrist. This was far outside her field of expertise; she was going to just have to move cautiously, and keep her fingers very firmly crossed that no-one worsened the problems Siphon had caused.

Something dropped onto her shoulder; she glanced sideways to find it was a scarlet hand with long, dexterous fingers. She glanced up to meet its owner’s muted azure gaze.

“When was the last time you defragmented?” Ratchet wondered, quietly.

She avoided the question. “I’m all right.” She went to get to her feet, but Ratchet kept his hand on her shoulder and held her in her seat. “I’ve had energon, my energy levels are fine.”

“That wasn’t what I asked. Primus, why are doctors always the worst patients?” he scolded. “Look at you. You’ve not defragmented in orns, you must be down to your last memory stacks and I don’t really want to be forced to say ‘I told you so’ when you overflow them and crash.”

She didn’t answer vocally, but her pouting silence was all the answer he needed.

His features eased into a faint, reassuring smile. “Just a few cycles is all I’m asking you to take. I can keep an optic on things just as easy as you. The Troublesome Twosome can’t get through the subspace baffle – the only way they’ll be able to get in to disturb Pulsar is the conventional way, through the door, and I’m more than capable of stopping them managing that.”

Forceps studied her fingers, for a moment or two, weighing the options up in her mind, then nodded. She did feel sluggish; the breem or two she’d snagged here and there to delete meaningless sensory data off her memory and give her a few more cycles of wakefulness had just made things all the more fragmented. “All right. But just a cycle or two,” she agreed, gruffly. “And you wake me the instant anything changes?”

The second half of the statement had been more of a plea than an instruction; Ratchet smiled, and nodded. “Of course. But that’s only if you get your aft into that hibernation chamber in the next few astro-seconds and clear some of that clutter out of your mind!”

0o0o0o0o0

Concerned though he was for his trine-mate, it had been nice to finally get a little peace and quiet to work, and Starscream was almost finished with Skywarp’s armaments. A few little tweaks, some diagnostics and rigorous testing, and he’d get them fitted. He kept his fingers crossed that maybe it’d make Skywarp a little less sullen in the process.

The red Seeker emerged from his adopted “workshop”, and almost bumped square into Prowl.

“Ah! Starscream. I was just coming to find you,” the head of security explained, as if it was the most normal thing in the world for the head of Autobot security to be going looking for their former nemesis for a polite chat.

“What? Why?” Interesting though it was to have the Autobot looking for him and not planning also on shooting him, it left the jet suspicious. He backed up a step.

“Well, Perceptor and I have been analysing recent data from Sky Spy, and… well, we’re pretty confident that we know where they are.”

“‘They’? You don’t mean Thundercracker-?” Starscream had to restrain the sudden urge to try and shake a clear answer out of him.

“We think so. We’re certainly confident it’s where Pulsar came from, and extrapolating from that we’re guessing Siphon and his allies are there also…”

“How? How do you know?”

“The wafer Forceps took from Pulsar?” Prowl offered the databoard, and didn’t flicker an optic when the former Decepticon snatched it urgently from his fingers. “Wasn’t strong enough to get a whole message out, but was strong enough to send a regular signal to Sky Spy. Once we knew where we were looking – Perceptor’s analysis of the sand gave us the first clue, and once we got Skyfire’s report and the wafer? We think we’ve found them. We certainly have the location where the signal first emerged.” He watched carefully as Starscream studied Sky Spy’s recorded video surveillance. “We couldn’t get a visual confirmation of an entryway, or anyone going in and out, but if you look? There’s a variety of tracks, and they all go straight into a rockface.”

“It’s not a trick?” Starscream gave them a serious look. “I’m not going to get anyone’s hopes up unnecessarily.”

“We’re keeping a very close optic on it, and Sky Spy has been programmed to notify one of us – yourself included – if it observes any activity at all. Once you and Skywarp are back up to capacity, we’ll see about getting you some backup.”

A crimson gaze met a blue one, suspiciously. “Why would you do that?”

Prowl managed a vague smile. “The sooner you have your wingmate back, the sooner you’re out from under our feet.”

0o0o0o0o0

A few breems later found Skywarp sat at a table in the corner of the rec-room; he had his head propped on one hand, and was using the other to twirl a small empty energon cube on its point against the table, dispiritedly. This sucked. Sucked bigtime. Sucked more than being hooked on Blue had. Stupid Siphon. He was so totally gonna rip him to pieces – with his denta, given half a chance.

At least Footloose had finally exhausted all her surplus energy and gone dormant, on the table and curled into the corner formed by his arm and chassis. She stirred every now and then, if people were particularly noisy, but rarely did more than flicker her optics and snuggle her cheek closer to Day’s arm. He let his cube rock back to the table and used finger and thumb to straighten her antennae, absently; she’d inadvertently bent them into funny shapes during her earlier tantrum.

Poor li’l spark, it wasn’t fair on her, either; probably didn’t even understand why she couldn’t go and see Ama. Somebody beat the bolts out of her and we don’t want to mess you up as well by having her screaming at you, Button. He felt like he wanted to reassure her it’d be okay, but at the same time he didn’t know what to say. Wasn’t as if he’d had a whole lot of experience in reassuring frightened sparklings! It was an unfamiliar sensation, and he wasn’t entirely sure he liked it. Left him feeling… well, vulnerable, actually. Like he had a big flashing neon sign over his head that read ‘HEY MEGATRON, see the sparkling? You just nab her, and I’ll do whatever you tell me, no questions asked!’

Fraggit, this was such a load of old slag. If only they could find a way to rewind time, and just… tell themselves not to go to Cybertron. Make sure everything stayed absolutely the same as it had always been. No sparklings, no femmes, no Siphon, and no hurt-homeless-Seekers-relying-on-Autobot-handouts. That’d be best. And the best thing about that plan would be there’d be no-one to miss, because they wouldn’t exist.

He wasn’t sure exactly what he hated most about the current situation – what Siphon had done, or the pitying, sympathetic way the Autobots had all apparently collectively decided to treat him as a result. Like he himself was some delicate little Autobot who needed to talk about it, to pour out all those mushy stupid feelings. In the event that anyone did get close enough to talk to him, a smouldering scarlet glare soon sent them packing again.

That goddamn Autobot melting-spark mentality; all those fragging… pitying looks they kept giving him. Look at the poor stupid Decepticon. His poor stupid little femme is all scared of him, we’ll have to sympathise endlessly but not actually make any effort to help find and smash the fraggers that did it. He wished someone would give him an excuse to hit them. Pit, a fight might help him work off a little of his frustration-

“Yo, Skywarp.”

He glanced up to find a bright-optic’ed and probably-over-energised Sideswipe peering up over the back of the sofa, beckoning. “What d’you want?” the teleport grumbled.

“We have high grade, over here!” The red twin lifted a cube of bright liquid, by way of explanation.

“Big deal.” Skywarp went back to twirling his cube. “Goodie for you.”

“Eh? What?? That wasn’t what I meant-! It was meant to be a hint!”

Skywarp let the cube drop flat against the table, and glared. “Just… leave me alone, Autobot,” he snapped, stabbing a threatening finger for emphasis. “Go suck the sump out of someone else, ’cause I am so not in the mood for it right now.”

“Huh. Fine. Either we can take that as an insult, in that you’re somehow above partaking of our high-grade, or else we’ll assume you’re just a lightweight that couldn’t handle it and is too much of a wuss to say no,” Sideswipe snarked, good-naturedly.

“…what?” Skywarp’s glare slipped askew and left him looking baffled.

“Primus sake, already!” A dark head with yellow cheek-fins appeared from behind the sofa and glared. “Does he have to slagging well write it on a bit of metal and hit you with it before you get the hint? Do. You. Want. To. Come. Share. It. With. Us?”

Skywarp sat up a little straighter. “Why would you do that?” he wondered, suspiciously, and narrowed his optics to little slots. “What have you put in it, glue?”

“Pssh. We don’t dislike you enough to want to risk the Hatchet’s wrath when he has to clean you out again.” Sunstreaker jerked a thumb at Sideswipe. “The resident idiot thinks it’d be a nice thing to do, because it might stop you picking a fight with him.” His voice descended into mutterings. “Pit only knows why, between the two of us we could trounce you into the floor easily if you started anything.”

“Wait-wait, Sunny… Isn’t he the resident idiot?” Sideswipe wondered, amiably.

“No, he’s the visiting idiot. Primus, I really am surrounded by morons today…”

Skywarp pursed his lips, irritably. He didn’t trust the pair of them any further than he could throw them, and they’d probably choked that “high-grade” full of all kinds of nasty rubbish… but Pit, if he joined them? It would annoy Sunstreaker, and that was good enough for now. He gathered Footloose carefully against him, and levered himself to his feet.

“Where we go, Day?” Footloose wondered, sleepily, holding on with one hand and sucking the fingers of the other. “Back to see Ama?”

“Not yet, Button. We’re gonna go sit with the twins,” he replied, gently, making sure she wasn’t going to fall off his arm.

“Sighswipe and Sneaker?”

Skywarp grinned in spite of himself at Sunstreaker’s peevish expression. “That’s right.”

“Then to see Ama later?”

“…mayybe. If Sepp says we can.”

Although Sideswipe looked like he’d had more than enough to make him oblivious to the concept of factions, Sunstreaker looked pretty unimpressed at the idea of sharing with a Decepticon, and the small cluster of humans all moved instinctually to the distant side of the circle as the jet approached. Skywarp settled uneasily in the large gap that had formed, and helped Footloose get herself comfortable in his lap.

“I’m surprised you’re not with your femme, catchin’ up on lost time-… sorry, ‘helping out’ with her,” Sideswipe commented, holding out a tall flask of shimmering opalescence. He’d either not heard the drama that had followed Pulsar’s arrival, or was just too drunk to successfully compute the ramifications of it right now.

Skywarp rubbed his temples and accepted the tall brushed-aluminium flask of high-grade with a quiet mutter of thanks; Footloose was obviously tired, because she didn’t even ask if it was for her. “I would if she wasn’t scared of me,” he grumbled, softly, setting it down in the loose circle formed by his legs. “Like that’s not the stupidest thing ever.

“Isn’t that what Decepticons are meant to do?” one of the humans piped up, daringly; she was flushed weirdly pink, and Skywarp guessed the selection of empty brown bottles around them meant they were probably just as over-energised as Sideswipe. “Scare folks?”

“She wasn’t scared of me before,” Skywarp corrected, darkly. “Frag it, I mean, she let me get close enough for us to spark up Lucy and Seem – and way waay up in the air!” He pointed for emphasis, just in case they didn’t get it. “And she’s such a scaredy little groundling, she usually blows her master fuse just at the idea of being off the ground. And now?” He threw up his hands. “She’s scared of me, and I haven’t even done anything. So fragging… stupid.” He glared down into his flask for a moment or two, and watched as light danced across the surface of the opalescent fluid it contained. “Fuck it. Bottoms up, eh?” He sighed, annoyedly, upped the flask, and drained it in a long, single swallow…

0o0o0o0o0

It was not a good thing, Starscream considered, that he could hear the elevated voices from the rec-room from all the way down the corridor, and one of them was obviously Skywarp – and an over-energised Skywarp, to boot; he certainly didn’t hang about when he wanted to get inebriated, did he? The others sounded like… ohh fantastic, sounded like the Autobot Twins. At least – he silently thanked Primus for the small blessing – they weren’t shooting at each other yet. Sounded relatively jovial, in fact. He followed the noises, slightly anxious of what he might find...

The lack of riot was reassuring. Skywarp was parked on the floor, part of the circle of Squishies and Autobots, looking like he was actually fairly comfortable in spite of the fact he was sitting right next to Sunstreaker. Footloose was tucked drowsily up against him, sitting on his thigh and resting her cheek against his chassis, looking like she’d far rather be recharging but kept awake by all the noises around her.

One of the humans in the circle looked like she was completely drunk out of her pink Squishy processors and was in the teleport’s lap, using him somewhat as a hard sentient armchair. She was mauling his paintwork, investigatively, probing fingers between plating and caressing the smooth curve of his cockpit, never having been able to get quite so close to quite such an infamous living weapon before, and yet finding him strangely similar to the Autobots she knew so well. For his part, the over-energised and not-entirely-with-it teleport was examining the femme’s hair, grasping strands and pulling then straight, and watching as they pinged back into ringlets; his large fingers weren’t that much smaller than her entire head, but he was being oddly delicate about his investigations.

Starscream winced, subtly, wondering what devilry they were plotting. The twins were bad enough on their own; add Skywarp’s puerile sense of humour into the mix and who knew what sort of smeltery might ensue?

…thankfully, Skywarp looked like he had nothing more wicked in mind than drinking himself into a stupor. He glanced up, and smiled at his wingmate’s approach, wonkily. “Hey Screamer. Come to join the fun?”

“What are you doing?” The red Seeker treated him to a suspicious glare.

“These humans just called it getting plastered,” Skywarp explained, dazedly, and lifted a half-cube of scintillating energon, then added, just in case the way he was swaying wasn’t a good enough explanation, “they mean getting over-energised.”

There was a distracted ripple of amusement from the rest of the circle, and the clink of flasks and glasses being knocked together.

“Getting? I’d say that looked more like got, and some time ago, too,” Starscream half-scolded, and folded his arms. “Autobot hospitality is obviously good for you.”

“Well I’ve got to do somethin’, right? Since you said ‘keep out of trouble’. And drinking all that spare energon they’ve got lying about the place seems like a very good idea.”

By now, a drowsy Footloose had climbed to Skywarp’s shoulder and stuck out her arms, waiting for Starscream to notice her; he made a face, but obliged by picking her up, and she tucked herself instantly into her usual spot alongside his cockpit. “Noisy here,” she commented. “We go back to Ausep?”

“That sounds like a good idea, since Day looks like he’s more interested in pickling his processors than looking after you.”

Skywarp shot him a dirty look. “Well, it’s not like there’s anything else worth doing in this fragging hole, is it?” he grumbled, morosely. “Sepp won’t let me go see Squeaky, and you won’t let me go look for TC, so what else is there to do?”

“I suppose the idea of actually looking after your little one is nowhere near your radar?”

“She’s depleted, and wants Ama. What exactly do you think I can do for her?”

They matched stares for a moment or two, and for once Starscream was first to back down. “All right. All right, I suppose that’s a fair point. Sensitivity is none of our forte, especially with too much energy flying around.” His stern features softened a fraction. “Well, I’m not coming to break things up if you get into another fight with anyone,” he ruled, but it sounded more like a friendly warning than the snap of an irritable senior officer. “And I won’t spring you from the brig, either. But… you’re more than big enough and ugly enough to look after yourself otherwise, so…” He boosted Footloose up a fraction. “I’ll make sure Lou gets to bed.”

“I tell you,” one of the femmes observed, sagely, watching the unlikely pair leave, just loudly enough to be heard over the ripple of amusement that followed, “that kid won’t stay that cute for long.”

“Jack still causing you problems?” Spike wondered.

“Terrible twos,” the femme confirmed, dryly. “Little pest’s learned where I keep the cookies, I’ve had to hide them waay up on top of the fridge where he can’t get to.”

“I didn’t know robots could have babies,” the femme in Skywarp’s lap commented – called herself Carly, Skywarp recalled. Or Curly, maybe. Curly made more sense, with all the curly fuzz she had on her head.

Skywarp vented hot air from his exhausts in a snort of amusement, rustling her hair. “That makes two of us,” he agreed, dryly. “Especially when they just… appeared. Like, bam, and there they were.”

“She’s kinda tiny, isn’t she, your missus,” Spike observed, frowning in an effort to recall what he’d briefly glimpsed of the new arrival. “I’m surprised she didn’t snap in half under the weight of carrying those two.”

“My what? What would she have done that for?”

“Well come on, if your kids are the same size? She’d have been huge…” Spike held his hands near his abdomen, and mimed a very pregnant belly. “Like, enormous.”

Skywarp stared at him with his lips parted in confusion for a few astro-seconds before casting his gaze at Sideswipe. “You’re familiar with humans, right? Because I get the feeling that one’s trying to tell me something,” he joked, trying to hide a genuine confusion. “There’s all these noises coming off its vocaliser, but I don’t understand none of ’em.”

Spike made a huffy, exasperated noise before Sideswipe could say anything. “Babies don’t just pop out of the ether, you big dumb turkey,” he groused, pinging a bottlecap at the teleport. “They’ve got to be made somewhere.”

“Well, duh,” Skywarp agreed. “I don’t get-… what do you-…” He frowned as a penny apparently dropped. “You don’t think we make ‘em inside here, surely?” He gestured to his own abdominal plating.

“Well, sure, why not? It’s what human women do, and you’re kinda similar, right?”

The dark Seeker snerked his amusement. “I know I’m not the brainiest, and I’m far from an expert on Squishy biology, but you’re gonna have to do better than that, human,” he said, giving him a prod. “Even stupid little me isn’t going to fall for that load of old smelt.”

“No, seriously,” Carly insisted, craning her neck to look up at him and sliding off his thigh in the process, to lay crosswise across this lap. “Women have a womb here.” She patted her abdomen. “It’s where babies grow, when we decide we want kids. It’s called pregnancy.”

“You humans grow squishlings in you?” The teleport sounded like he wasn’t sure if he should be astonished, disbelieving or disgusted. “Like some horrible little squishy pink parasite?”

“It’s not disgusting, it’s a little miracle,” Carly’s friend argued; she had a toddler at home and took immediate offence to the big robot calling it a ‘parasite’. “Besides, if it’s so disgusting how do you guys do it?”

“Well, you just…” Skywarp waved a hand, as if that would magically conjure up the explanation he was after. “You… well, you… I… don’t really know.” He pursed his lips and frowned. “I wasn’t there. I figure… I guess you’d suck the new harmonic into its own spark chamber, and then build a protoform around it. I don’t know how you’d do it, though.”

“You don’t have a little micro factory for making sparklings in there, then?” Carly gave him a daring poke in the abdomen. “You just said you weren’t there, so you never know, there might be!” She arched both eyebrows, curiously. “Can we have a look and check?”

“No.” He wrinkled his nose, but looked more amused than annoyed, and put a hand in the way of the curious set of fingers that was trying to pry between his plating. “You’re disgusting. Besides, where would it all fit? Where the frag does it all fit on you?” He gently prodded at Carly’s stomach, and made her snort and try to flail her way out of his lap. “If you’d not noticed, we’re not even as stretchy as you.”

“I could help you with that!” Sideswipe piped up, with a wicked grin. “I always wanted to see what would happen if you replaced all a mech’s connective fascia with sheet rubber!”

The circle dissolved into hoots of amusement when one of the humans suggested that if they gave Screamer enough helium, he wouldn’t have to worry about his missing thruster, he could just float off. (Skywarp added that it was a wonder he hadn’t already, given how much hot air he was full of.)

“I guess he was lucky it was the femme got sparked,” Sideswipe put in, amusedly. “Pit, can you imagine those three underclocked idiots running about and trying to keep it hid from Megs if Warp was the one landed with carrying ’em?”

All three mechs subsided back into laughter – Skywarp included – and conversation rippled back and forth about whether it would have been possible to hide it from Hook, and how much bribing him into silence would have cost, because it would certainly not have been possible to get the new sparks out without rousing suspicion.

“What do you mean, Sides?” Spike wondered, in the lull, and glanced at Skywarp. “You mean you could have kids, if you wanted?”

Skywarp arched a brow. “I’ve already got two, what more do you think I want? I’m not intentionally building my own army, here.”

“No, no, I mean… okay, imagine you wanted kids with someone else…” Spike was unconsciously copying Skywarp’s earlier hand-waving in his efforts to find the words he wanted to explain what he meant. “Say… if you wanted kids with Starscream.”

“Now you’re really being disgusting,” Skywarp asserted, and flicked him into Sunstreaker’s lap.

“Oww.” Spike remained where he’d landed until Sunstreaker ejected him onto the floor; the Seeker’s blow had been reasonably gentle, but would probably still leave a sizeable bruise. “That wasn’t what I meant, I just couldn’t think of-… all right, if Screamer and Skyfire got together, is that better?”

Skywarp snrk-ed, but didn’t argue the pairing. “Primus, their offspring would be so messed up, they’d tear ‘emselves to pieces-”

Spike glared. “Will you let me finish? I was trying to say…” He raised his voice and made throat-clearing noises until the dark Seeker finally quietened and returned his attention to him. “You’re a guy, right? Like them. If they got together, would they be able to have a kid? They wouldn’t have to, I don’t know, have some sort of refit to turn them into a fem-bot first? It’s not just something girl robots do?”

“Nah,” Sideswipe shook his head. “It’s more down to sem-… some-antie-… help me out here, Sunny.”

“Semantics?” his brother suggested, drolly.

“Yeah! What he said.”

“Are you still here, Skywarp?” a voice chided gently from somewhere behind, and the circle turned collectively to watch a frazzled green surgeon approaching with a half-cube of lilac.

Like a giant-sized version of Footloose, the dark Seeker butted his head up into her palm and purred his turbines, encouragingly. “Sepp, come join us,” he insisted, hauling down on her arm.

She sighed and petted his audio vents, allowing him to drag her down into a seated position in the circle. “All right, all right.” She wafted a hand in front of her face. “I hope none of you have any naked flames on you, because you reek of vapours, and I don’t want to be caught in it when you ignite yourselves.”

“No worries, I’m flameproof,” Skywarp reassured her, amusedly.

“Flame retard-ant,” Sideswipe corrected, and the pair of them snorted and jostled drunkenly. Well, at least it wasn’t violent

“…and the humans?”

“Barbecue,” Sideswipe offered, without missing a beat.

Forceps sipped at her cube and shook her head. “So remind me. What do you want?”

“Ooh! Yeah. You need to explain to them,” Skywarp waved an arm to encompass the humans, “about our genders.”

“What?” She first surveyed the circle of expectant faces, then gave him a look. “Explain what about them?”

“What makes you different,” Spike suggested.

“Yeah, why guy robots could get pregnant as well as girl robots,” Carly added.

Forceps stared at them for several long moments before rediscovering her vocaliser. “What have you flock of drunken idiots been discussing?”

“Just explain?” Skywarp wheedled.

“All right, all right. Let’s see. Among our kind, gender is a… societal construct, if you like,” she explained, carefully. “More of a mental and sociological difference than a physical one, like yours is. From the way I understand your biology? Ignoring chromosomal abnormalities, you humans are genetically one gender or another, regardless how you later come to regard yourself.” She surveyed the blank faces, briefly – too over-energised to take it in? “Um, all right, what I mean is, whatever your-” …what were those terms? “Whatever your gender identity, in terms of your genes, you’re either male or female. Correct?”

“I don’t know, Carly still hasn’t let me look in her jeans,” Spike bemoaned, and got an elbow in his ribs from Carly’s friend for his trouble. “Oww, what?! I’m only telling the truth.”

Point being,” Forceps elevated her voice just enough to be heard before the two inebriated humans generated a riot. “When it comes to physical attributes, there’s not a whole lot that distinguishes one gender from another, for us. Being male or female is mostly a state of mind.”

“So what you’re saying… is that if he wanted, Screamer could decide he wanted us all to call him a girl – not that we don’t anyway, but… – and it wouldn’t make a jot of difference?” Spike challenged.

“Essentially?” Forceps levelled her gaze at him. “And you didn’t hear it from me! But… Yes. Correct.”

The circle fell about laughing. “Lady Starscream!”

“Well it sure explains some things, right?...”

0o0o0o0o0

As a Decepticon, fighting for the Decepticon cause, Thundercracker had always managed to find just enough excuses to assuage his conscience. You’re fighting for something you believe in. You’re fighting to end the war, to restore Cybertron to its former glory. You’re only actively fighting those who can fight back, you’re only defending yourself when the Autobots attack you. You’re a Decepticon, but you’re not that bad; better you’re here to at least try and moderate your wingmate’s excesses than cut your losses and run and have them totally lose it. Besides, if not for you, they’d probably have tried to kill each other a dozen times every single orn, so you’re staying for them, most of all. They were all cosy, familiar excuses that had served him well for countless vorns.

…he very quickly realised he could dredge up no good excuse for this. So Siphon had primed him, left him open to suggestion, seeded his subconscious with gentle hints and nudges… so what? He’d been in the driving seat. He’d agreed with the suggestions, and gone along with all the gentle pokes and prods that steered him into the appropriate direction. And at the time? He’d seen the stupid Autobot that needed punishing for daring to trespass on Decepticon territory – the stupid little thief that thought his faction owed it a favour. He’d seen the little assassin trying to get close enough to off Starscream, or Skywarp. He’d seen the sneaky, treacherous little femme that had flashed her curves and lured Skywarp away, tempted him with exciting narcotics, poisoned him and almost left him permanently crippled. He’d seen the manipulative harlot that got herself sparked purely to prey on Warp’s rudimentary conscience.

Clear headed and watching from the outside, he knew they were hallucinations, brought on by mind-altering virals. The sleek, hipthrusting creature that had blown a kiss from exaggerated lips, and flashed him aspects of her anatomy that no-one except Warp should have been party to? A hologram. The teasing chuckle of denial when Siphon asked if she had any regrets for what she’d done? A clever twitter of sound in all likelihood stolen off the humans’ internet. The husky, sweet voice that had spoken so beautifully to his starved audios? The helpless scratch of a ruined vocaliser, pleading for mercy.

But he was so… so heavy. So sluggish. So… incapable of making the distinction. Whatever Siphon told him it was, it was. No questions asked, no scenario to outlandish for his malfunctioning processors to discount. So when the tanker, dressed in a parody of a medic’s outfit, had told him he needed to salvage useable parts from the ‘dead’ Policebot? That’s just the stress in the metal, the sweet, persuasive voice had said, over the long, bubbling shriek of pain as he’d begun to remove a foot with sheer brute force. Just the pressure equalising in the fuel system.

It was difficult to keep himself steady, outwardly unaffected (won’t show the sociopath that he’s getting to me), but remarkably, exercising Skywarp’s philosophy on life – “just try not too hard to think about things” – was making it a little easier. It did mean that occasionally something would totally blindside him (and damn had he hit her hard on a few occasions…) but if he didn’t go out actively looking for what was in the gaps in his memory record, the files generally remained dormant.

You want to know why you’re here? a voice echoed up out of the recent past.This- (and he recalled a violent, sweeping gesture to accompany the exclamation) -is why you’re here. This filthy little whore landed you in this, chasing your wingmate’s thrusters, dragging him into a situation he didn’t deserve.

I don’t remem-… she did? The voice was barely recognisable as his own – the slow, sluggish responses of some lumbering idiot.

Ohh she most certainly did. Look at her, smirking there. How disgusting. All just to score an underhand point or two against Decepticon supremacy. To leave you weakened and hurting, to leave you vulnerable.

But we’re not-…

It’s all her fault you’re here now. If only she’d kept her hands to herself. If only she’d left your long-suffering brother in peace. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to show this worthless little blob of tin why people don’t mess with the Decepticons? This worthless little scrap of Autobot garbage.

But isn’t she-… she means… The words were excruciating to dredge up. Isn’t she-… she’s not… I thought… a friend?

A friend? An Autobot, a friend of one of the most feared and deadly Decepticon warriors ever to patrol the air? Primus, it’s worse than I thought. Not content with merely saddling your wingmate with those… those little blackmailing emotional tumours… Now she’s starting on you! And you’re buying it? My word.

What? I don’t… I don’t get… what…?

Looking back on it, it was painfully clear how overdramatic Siphon was being. Every last word that issued from his vocaliser was exaggeratedly persuasive, the honey-sweet tones of a machine who didn’t care how he did it, so long as he got what he wanted.

And yet-… and yet all he could remember thinking, as the voice murmured seductive encouragement into his audios, was wouldn’t it be nice to just do what it was telling him? To not have to think, through all this cloying heat and slowness. It obviously knew what it was talking about. It was smarter than him. He was so confused, so dull and stupid, how could he possibly be thinking straight? It must be right. The strange conflicts in his memory must be because he had a faulty record.

The sweet, husky voice dropped to a scratching growl. You need to teach this little whore some manners. And you need to ‘teach’ her them the Decepticon way.

The words spoken in the grating female voice got higher and more frantic the closer he got; Don’t TC don’t don’t you’re stronger than this you’re stronger than thiiiee-!

He flinched involuntarily from the dull whipcrack noise of stressed metal shearing off, but it was enough to bring him back to the present. He’d knelt almost motionless in the centre of the dirt floor for cycles, now – struggling to avoid looking, concentrating on memories he knew were safe, things he knew were just his wingmates’ usual half-clocked idiocy… And he’d clenched his fists hard enough to damage an actuator in one of his knuckles, and the snap in his memory had coincided with the dull pop of a shearing micro-component. He flexed his fingers and concentrated on the hurt – it offered a modicum of clarity, and let him banish the visions to the back of his cortex, where they belonged.

Primus. Primus, frag it. Warp would never forgive him, when he found out. That his and Squeaky’s relationship was all kinds of fragged up? Sure. Even they wouldn’t deny that. They were both about as deep as puddles and had spent most of the short time they’d actually spent together arguing. But they couldn’t always hide the way they’d manage sneaky grins at fond memories – even in this living Pit, before Siphon had really picked up the pace with his morbid plans, Pulsar had seemed comforted and relieved to hear nonsensical tales of Skywarp’s latest idiocy. And much as they tried to deny it…? In the short time they’d known each other, Skywarp did seem to have developed a soft spot for her, and Pulsar clearly had more than just a soft spot for him.

He wished he knew what the future held. He wanted to get the yelling and shrieked accusations out of the way! Warp would never forgive him for just plain doing it. Screamer would never forgive him for being so fragging weak minded. Sepp would never forgive him for upsetting the rest of the family. And the little ones, who’d worked their way under his plating and right into his spark so easily? Would always be terrified of him. The big ugly monster in the shadows.

What could he possibly say in apology? Spouting off “it wasn’t my fault” wouldn’t cut it, he knew. He wasn’t some whiney little Autobot caught sneaking more than his fair share of energon. He was supposed to be the calm, moderate, thoughtful, conscientious one of the three! But that wasn’t saying much, not even Skywarp could have skated on “it wasn’t my fault” for something like this.

Thundercracker still had his head down and his optics dimmed – still kneeling silently in the centre of his floor, shoulders drooping, dispiritedly, pinioned wrists in his lap – when the door whispered softly across the dirt to one side, and admitted one familiar little figure. He didn’t look up – didn’t need to look up. Siphon was the usual grimy wraith flitting through the shadows – back to poke him into another reaction, to damage his psyche a little more.

“Good morning,” the tanker greeted, sweetly. “I trust you’re well rested?”

Thundercracker flickered his optics a little brighter in a glare, a little narrower, but didn’t answer the question otherwise. “Where’s Seem?” was all he said.

“Not that it matters to you any more, he’s completing his education – the Decepticon way.” Siphon smirked, and gestured a hand to the cell’s solitary glass window. “Take a look.”

He didn’t want to, but Thundercracker found himself following the arm anyway… Slipstream was almost out of sight, close to the entry doorway, and he had his back to him, a tiny machine dwarfed by almost everyone else in the room.

“A curious little creature, is the little one,” Siphon commented, pacing his usual circle around his prisoner. “So very easily taught. So keen to learn, too! Even more remarkable when you consider whose offspring he is. All you have to do is give them a few pointers, and they play right into your hands…”

Seem had follower Megatron across the room, by now, and was apparently asking him a question, although the words didn’t filter through the glass. He looked straight through the window, met Thundercracker’s gaze… and recoiled. Actually recoiled, away from his former guardian, staggered backwards and hid behind Megatron’s leg.

“Primus-!” Thundercracker boosted himself up to his knees, horrified, reached his cuffed wrists out for the glass, as if he could somehow reach through it- “What have you done to him-!?”

Slipstream had already taken shelter in the arms of the bigger mech, though, and through the glass the captive jet could just hear the quiet simmer of distressed static.

“What have you done to him?” he croaked, beaten, sagging with a thump back to the floor.

“Oh, just showed him some pictures,” Siphon replied, offhand. “Terribly impressionable at that age, aren’t they?”

“Pictures?” Thundercracker looked up at him. “Pictures of what?”

Siphon chuckled and patted his cheek. “Pictures of you! Among, ah, heh... other things. Pictures of you. Pictures of her. Pictures of both of you, doing... well, we won’t mention that. It’s just a good job you had baffles in place.”

“…wait-… what? …how can you think that is an acceptable thing to do to an infant? How could it even enter your processors in the first place?” Thundercracker stared up at the tanker, defeatedly. “What exactly were you trying to achieve?”

“Oh but he needs to know, Thundercracker. How is it fair to allow him to live under the misguided impression that you’re somehow a, eh, how can I put it? Noble but misguided?” Siphon pressed a hand to his chassis, melodramatically, and chuckled. “I’m quite sure you didn’t mince your words when telling him about Megatron and myself.”

“I only told him what was true,” the fallen jet retorted, although the strength of his conviction seemed to be fading. “I didn’t fabricate evidence to support a fallacy.”

“Neither did I,” Siphon purred, sweetly, at long last setting the murky half-cube of low-grade down by the door – making no effort to unbind his prisoner’s wrists so he could pick it up without struggling. “I simply took advantage of the opportunity that presented itself. I can't help it if your subconscious is a terrible creature that just needed to be unleashed. Now if you’ll excuse me? I have things to do.”

The tanker had opened the door and was almost out into the corridor when Thundercracker finally spoke up once more. “I swear,” he promised, so softly that the departing mech only just caught the words. “Even if I have to break every last component in my hands to get out, I will make sure this does not go unpunished.”

Siphon hesitated, and glanced back at him. “I am not a powerful machine, Mister Thundercracker,” he replied, equally softly. “Which is why hope is such a powerful tool in my armoury. So long as a machine has it? They’ll torture themselves quite happily without any input at all from me.”





Holy crap is it ever raining hard, and thundering reeeeally loudly, reaaally overhead. O_O Not sure I like the idea of doing a job requiring me to use a PC with all that going on...

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
cmdrtekk
Mar. 25th, 2009 02:42 pm (UTC)
The bad guys are certainly more twisted this time around.
_silverfox
Mar. 25th, 2009 05:05 pm (UTC)
boy-bot + boy-bot = baby-bot? ... Why haven't wee seen it in effect yet, then? ;)

You know, they really need some good psychologists on Earth with all the trauma and stress going on ...
jill_dragon
Mar. 26th, 2009 10:13 pm (UTC)
-… all right, if Screamer and Skyfire got together, is that better?”

Skywarp snrk-ed, but didn’t argue the pairing. “Primus, their offspring would be so messed up, they’d tear ‘emselves to pieces-”


What? No mention of evil, mutant flybabies? *innocent expression*
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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