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Future Tense - Chapter Twelve

Disclaimer: As ever, author neither claims nor intentionally implies ownership of the 'Transformers' brand, or any canon character or concept herein, who are copyright 1984-present Hasbro/etc and used with much love and respect to their creators.

A/N: Gosh, has it really been 2 years? I’m so sorry. (In my defence, I haven’t been concentrating on other projects, work has been busy and I pretty much haven’t written anything. Getting out of the drought is tricky!)

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     …it is FAR too early to be doing this.

     With an annoying ache already building in his overpressurised cortex, Thundercracker made his way to central station, gliding quietly over Deixar’s empty early-morning streets, wondering exactly what awaited him at his destination. He’d had all night to think about it, granted, but it had only made his processors hurt more.

     To be fair, he had always been anticipating this would happen eventually, because Skywarp was that kind of mech. Just… he’d not expected it quite so soon.

     A palpable sense of relief went through him at seeing Skyshout behind the desk at the entrance to the custody suite – she might be loud, but he knew he could count on her not to subject him to twenty questions. The helicopter crossed one arm in front of her chassis in a politely distracted salute, but otherwise kept her attention on the databoard she was discussing with her command group, barely even looking up.

     Appreciating the discretion, Thundercracker slipped past her into the cell block, struggling to keep his heels from echoing too loudly against the tiles. Someone hollered something profane at him as he passed, but (for a change) no-one else joined in – most of the inmates were dormant, quietly integrating the overcharge that had put them in here in the first place.

     “I always figured I’d have to spring you from lockup sometime,” the blue jet growled, coming to a halt outside the seventh cell along, next to the big window at the far end of the long corridor. “I just didn’t count on it being less than an orn after you got out of hospital.”

     Separated from him by a single sheet of high-tensile polymer, Skywarp grinned sheepishly back. “…hi, TC.” He lifted his cuffed wrists and wiggled his fingers in greeting. “Did you bring me any breakfast?”

     Thundercracker allowed himself a few moments to quietly take in the liberal covering of silver and blue scuffmarks on the dark chassis. “That’s all you can think about; filling your tanks?”

     Skywarp made a show of considering it. “…pretty much.”

     “Not the fact you put Waveguide in hospital, and I now have to deal with the fallout? Not to mention, somehow find a way to pay for that café the two of you destroyed?”

     “Pff.” Skywarp looked away with an exaggerated roll of the optics. “Glitch deserved it. Make him pay for it.”

     “Oh really? Since you landed me with sorting it all out, what did I do wrong?”

     Skywarp gave him a funny look, that seemed to say don’t make me answer that, and carefully manoeuvred away from the question. “It wasn’t that big a riot, anyway.” He rolled one shoulder in an offhand shrug. “Squeaky said she wouldn’t come visit me in hospital if I got myself slagged.”

     “Now I’m no expert in bikespeak, but even I’m fairly sure she didn’t mean ‘get yourself locked up instead’.”

     “All right, so that wasn’t really an official part of the plan,” Skywarp perked his wings, just a little, “but I’m being optimistic! They know where I am; they said I had to cool my afterburners, and this was probably the safest place to do it. If we pretended I’d been arrested-”

     “Funny. You look like you have been arrested, to me.”

     “-…then maybe Waveguide would stop saying they had to. And no, I haven’t.”

     “That’s not what at all the paperwork I now have to sign off says.”

     “They’re just being thorough. He’s gotta be convinced.”

     Thundercracker allowed himself to smile. “That must be it.” He vented a long, melodramatic sigh and covered his face with both hands. “Ohh, Skywarp. Why, of all the people, in all the world, that you could have picked to punch, did it have to be him?”

     “Agh. So I was torqued, all right?” Skywarp finally let his façade slip, bristling defensively. “I was still trying to figure out what I should do about Seem. Last thing I needed was that half-clocked barge spending the whole time insulting me, and giving my bikes a hard time. I wasn’t gonna sit there all meek and submissive and pretend I couldn’t friggin hear him.” He shrugged. “If they’re all too scared to tell him where he could stick it? Fine, lemme do it for them. I’ve got the better right hook, anyway.”

     If Thundercracker had one regret about the present mess, it was not getting the chance to see (in person) the damage said right hook had inflicted. In the aftermath of the riot, he’d sent Sergeant Nightsun down to the hospital in his stead, to take statements, document the evidence, and check the medics had everything in hand. Granted, it would probably have looked better – at least from a PR point of view – for a “concerned superintendent” to have gone personally… but it was midnight before he’d finally managed to swallow the inappropriate smirk on his faceplates. He didn’t want to (accidentally or otherwise) trigger anything else.

     Nightsun had dutifully reported back, of course, with pictures. Waveguide had cut a particularly pathetic figure, attempting to bark orders from his berth in Accident and Emergency, but not really succeeding at anything except getting in the way of the long-suffering technician vainly trying to stop the sludge of mixed fluids oozing from one very smashed nose.

     Thundercracker quietly contrasted that mental image with the leg-swinging teleport watching optimistically from his cell. The barge hadn’t really been a fair opponent; friendly tussles with Prime’s loyalists usually caused more damage. Skywarp had a fresh collection of little dents among the paint scrapings – seriously, Skywarp? That beautiful, slick, brand-new refit and you’ve got dents in it, already – but otherwise looked none the worse for it.

     “So, are you actually gonna let me out, or what?” Skywarp prompted, in the silence.

     Thundercracker let his hand hover near the cell’s door controls. “If I do, d’you think you could manage to not assault Waveguide, any more?”

     Skywarp grimaced, scooting carefully off the bunk and leaning close to the screen, watching closely. “How long would I have to keep this weird agreement for?”

     “At least an orn. Preferably the rest of your life.”

     “That’s just cruel and unusual.”

     Thundercracker flattened his palm against the lock and allowed it to cross-check and confirm his identity, opening the door. “Well, put it down to jealousy that you got to punch the fragger, where I never have.”

     Skywarp tried really hard not to look smug, but couldn’t quite carry it off, wings perked high as he stepped over the threshold.

     “Besides.” With one hand, Thundercracker firmly grasped the centre section of the cuffs, and they released automatically. “That’s one of the conditions he wants you to agree to, or he’s pressing charges.”

     Smug satisfaction immediately dissolved. “What?!” Skywarp winced at his unexpectedly high-pitched outburst, but his vocaliser didn’t want to be tamed. “He started it, the puffed-up old glitch! He was baiting me the whole time he was there!”

     “So you knew that, and you still rose to it? Thanks, Warp. Make my job easy, why don’t you.”

     “Oh come on!” Skywarp threw up his hands. “Seriously? You’re gonna actually lecture me about this?”

     “Warp-… we’re still this far off being Decepticons, so far as senate is concerned.” Thundercracker held up his hand, thumb and forefinger pinching so close, they might as well have been touching. “And they know what losing you did to us, and it didn’t make a speck of difference to them.”

     Skywarp snorted quietly, but didn’t say anything.

     “Waveguide’s convinced we’re accumulating funds to overthrow him, and he’s strangling my budget. Any tighter and I’m gonna have to start thinking about cutting staff. Until Starscream gets himself elected, I can’t do my job without the barge’s support.” He huffed a sigh. “I’m trying not to give him any more reasons to mistrust me. Can’t you at least try and work with me, here? Just this once?”

     “Fine.” Skywarp folded his arms, firmly, nose in the air. “I promise not to start anything. I’m not promising not to punch him if he goads me again.”

     “All right.” Thundercracker didn’t quite manage to fully restrain his sigh. He studied his thrusters for a second or two before finally looking up. “All right. I guess that’s as good as I could hope for.” He found a watery smile. “Come on. Let’s get out before this lot start waking up.”

     Skywarp turned on his heel and made a beeline for the door without another word.

     Thundercracker inwardly counted to five and pinched the bridge of his nose before following. “Whitesides said to tell you ‘thanks’, by the way. I’m not sure what for. He said you’d know.”

     Skywarp made a small dismissive noise and pretended not to have noticed the questioning note in his wingmate’s voice. “Mech seriously needs to install some struts,” he muttered. “He’ll fall down if he’s any woollier.”

     Thundercracker followed him out of the cell block, nodding an acknowledgement to Skyshout as he passed. The desk sergeant had gone from polite discretion to wary watchfulness, her gaze fixed like bright blue lasers on the teleport’s oblivious wings.

     -will do the paperwork for you later- he pinged.

     In reply, she flashed him the briefest of unimpressed glares and rattled her folded rotors. He could see the challenge in her optics – should he really have been let out yet? – but she didn’t verbalise it. Instead, she gave a curt nod, and got back to work.

     Thundercracker followed his wingmate out into the morning’s strengthening sunshine. He drew a thoughtful fingertip gently down one of the irregular white scuffs on the back of the dark wings. “I thought when Celerity said she had to sit on you before you’d calm down, she was joking.”

     It might have taken both Quayside’s riotbots to get him under control, but the instant he’d sated his need for retribution, Skywarp had turned back into a smiling wing-kitten, even standing quietly and letting them change his cuffs to something more comfortable without attempting to escape. At least it had proved Screamer’s plastic redesigns were tougher than they looked – his wings had easily stood up to having several tonnes of kibble sat on them.

     Skywarp vibrated his vents in a raspberry, and cast an arch look back at him. “Jealous?”

     “Oh, hardly-

     “Besides, I’m not sure your femme has a sense of humour.”

     “She’s not ‘my femme’, Skywarp, Primus. Or my secretary.”

     “See, you must have thought about it, because I never even brought that up…” Skywarp smirked and perked his wings, amused, ducked the swat aiming for his audios… then did a partial double-take. “By the way. Just run that one by me again?”

     Thundercracker frowned at him. “Which one?”

     “Screamer trying to get elected. Are you positive I’m not in a parallel universe?” Skywarp flattened a melodramatic palm to his brow, as though taking his temperature. “Since when has that ever been the way he does things?”

     “Ehh, that was sort of mostly my idea.” Thundercracker hitched a shoulder, as though almost embarrassed. “He’s not really over-fond of it either, says it’s a waste of time he could be spending just doing it. Buut, we’re not totally hideously unpopular ex-Cons, right now. I was hoping we could, you know. Stay not-unpopular if he didn’t immediately swoop in and try and wrestle for full control of the local senate.”

     “Right, and this is supposed to convince me you’re not a bunch of pod-seekers how?”

     With a thin laugh, Thundercracker clapped him on the shoulder and stepped past, ambling down the stairs. “Come on. You said something about wanting breakfast.”

     “Try not to make it too obvious you wanna change the subject,” Skywarp groused, following him across the yard. “You could just say it’s a sore point.”

     “I want to get off detention’s back step, Warp. You can grill me all you like about Screamer’s election campaign once we get back to somewhere more civilised.” Thundercracker crossed the street towards the station’s main entrance. “I figured if I have to fill in paperwork on you? The least thing you can do is pretend you’re giving a statement or something.”

     “In your office, with energon? I bet that goes against regulations.”

     “Probably. Since when do you care about them?”

     “Iii didn’t precisely say that?” Skywarp hesitated in the gateway. “Look, uh. Could we do this later?”

     One foot already on the steps, Thundercracker looked back at him, warily. “…why?”

     “Well, I was gonna go to the library, but uh.” Skywarp shrugged and glanced away. “Brats and boats conspired against me.”

     One brow came up in a slow arch. “The library.”

     “Sure, why not?” Skywarp found an optimistic grin for him. “I was gonna go yesterday, buut, you know. Slag happened.”

     Thrown for a second or two, Thundercracker could only stand with his mouth open. “I… guess it wouldn’t be a problem, this once. Just don’t make a habit of it?”

     “The library, or getting arrested?” Skywarp charged his vanes and launched himself into the brightening sky. “Because I wasn’t planning on making a habit of either!”

o0o0o0o0o0o

     The previous orn had not been a good one, for Slipstream. The unwanted, unprepared meeting with his sire had upset his equilibrium for his entire shift. He’d run his beat with stressed disharmonies simmering in his chassis, got into a serious scuffle with a shoplifter instead of making a simple arrest, and to cap it all, managed to get himself written up for backchatting sergeant Darkwater again. He got out of disciplinary procedures far too late to make it worth following his team down their favourite off-duty establishment in central Deixar, and slunk off to his dorm instead. So, failure all around, really.

     Getting any rest was out of the question. Unsatisfied anger simmered around his spark and left him feeling overheated and constricted. Unable to get his dormancy protocols to trigger, and unwilling to just lay awake listening jealously to the hum of his recharging roommates, Slipstream skulked back out in the middle of the dark cycle and headed off to the Rustig’s open, derelict spaces, away in the east.

     When he was frustrated, he usually went and found himself a good empty piece of ground on which to race his shadow, until he felt better, or ran out of fuel, or ran into something. On a normal day, any of these results was a good one, because it got him thinking about something other than whatever was troubling him.

     The return of his missing parent was unfortunately far too big for running into a wall to dislodge from his mind. Through the dark, he pushed his engines until they were screaming hot, until he was running on nothing more than fumes, until he’d added another flurry of silvery dents to his paintwork, and the constriction in his chassis actually felt worse. He crawled back just after light began to creep into the horizon, trailing a cloud of dust and toxic thoughts, and spent the rest of his time pacing, up and down his shared room.

     They’d only been awake for a breem or two, and it was already wearing thin on his roommates.

     “Will you quit pacing, already?”

     A small blue candy bounced off his helm, and rolled into the corner near the door.

     “What?” Slipstream finally glanced up at the top bunk, to meet his doppelganger’s unimpressed blue glare.

     “I said, quit pacing.” The mech repeated. “You’re getting Sharp all wound up.”

     Sitting cross-legged on the bunk underneath, the scruffy silver mech with mismatched optics realised they were talking about him and glanced up from his reading. “Huh?” He didn’t look especially wound up.

     “Ignore him.” Slipstream folded his arms. “Just Greenbolt being a massive insensitive valve again.”

     “Hey, you’re the one who can’t fraggin’ sit still like any normal mech,” Greenbolt challenged. “Park your damn aft, already, or I might feel the need to come down there and plant a kick up it.”

     “Yeah? Well, come on, then,” Slipstream snapped, beckoning with both hands. “I need to punch someone, and you’ll do nicely.”

     Greenbolt arched a brow in a look that practically shouted seriously? then shook his head and lit a flashstick.

     Recognising that he wasn’t going to get any further on that front, Slipstream huffed and resumed pacing. “I thought I could handle it, all right? It’s not like I haven’t thought about it a million times already. Maybe I just convinced myself I’d be able to cope.” He lowered his voice. “Maybe if it was on my terms…”

     “Ey, Seemo?”

     He glanced around to see Sharp watching him. “What?”

     “You look pretty rough.” The mech gave him a half smile. “Shift’s up soon. You want me to call the Sarge and tell him you’re gonna actually take a sick day for once in your life?”

     At last, Slipstream sat, thumping down on his bunk and resting his brow against his laced hands. “No. Work might be exactly what I need. Something to distract me. I don’t want to be angry all the time.”

     “Sure, ’cuz look how well it distracted you yesterday,” Greenbolt drawled. “Angry is your default emotion. Your disciplinary record is gonna look worse than mine, soon.”

     Unable to think of a clever rebuttal, Slipstream just snorted, at first. “I wasn’t expecting him to jump me immediately before we went on-shift, all right? I was frustrated and I didn’t get the chance to run it off.” He leaned down and finally picked the candy up off the floor, holding it out to Greenbolt. “Here. You dropped this.”

     The mech waved him away. “Keep it. You need it more than I do.”

     “Thought we went through this ten orns ago? I don’t want to end up relying on this slag again, Bolt.”

     “It’s only quell, Primus. One ain’t gonna kill you, and it might even get you to relax.”

     Slipstream rolled the irregular little candy from one palm to the other, and back, watching iridescent fractals race over its lumpy facets. “I also told you I can’t afford any more, right now.”

     Greenbolt spread his hands, ambivalently, drawing squiggles of vapour with the lit flashstick. “If it stops you pacing and huffing, it’s on the house.”

     “Nothing’s ever free when it’s coming from you.” Slipstream put the crystal back on his berth and folded his arms away from temptation.

     “Fine, so owe me a favour or somethin’. I don’t want I back after it’s been on the floor.”

     Slipstream slumped back against his wall, and watched Greenbolt draw on his stick. His shoulders felt tight, as though someone had over-tightened his gears. “It was easier when Day was dead,” he said, flatly, to no-one in particular. “Now I have to go through being angry with him all over again.”

     Greenbolt studied the ceiling, his manner carefully offhand. “He could be again, if you wanted.”

     Slipstream sat up, alarmed. “What?”

     Greenbolt shrugged a casual shoulder, and vented a cloud of chilly vapour from his torso venting. “Just sayin’, was all. I know people. Wouldn’t be the first time I ‘disappeared’ someone.”

     “I can’t believe we’re even having this conversation-!” Slipstream despaired into his hands. “He’s a Con. One of Megatron’s best. What do you seriously think-”

     “An ex-Con.” Greenbolt gestured with his flashstick. “Lost, confused, with an unfamiliar new frame and an alt he ain’t even used yet. Strike while the iron’s hot, and all that.”

     “Primus. I’m angry with him, I don’t seriously want him dead!” Splistream flopped out on his bunk. “This isn’t one of your moronic ‘get rich quick’ schemes. This is my family we’re talking about.”

     Greenbolt smiled a syrupy smile. “Hey, just looking out for my bros. You guys do so much for me, sometimes I wanna repay the favour – right?”

     “Offering to kill someone’s sire isn’t the way most people repay a favour.”

     “Heh.” Greenbolt smirked and sucked on his flashstick. “Halfwit’s been pretty quiet this whole time.” He leaned out over the edge of his berth and peered into the bunk underneath. “What are you doing, anyway?”

     Sharpshins barely glanced up from his notepane. “Studying,” he replied. “There's a post come up over on Quayside that I thought looked pretty nice. It's got options for progression. I was gonna go for it.”

     Greenbolt snorted and rolled onto his back. “Aw, c’mon. Since when are you cut out for a post like that? You can’t do command. Your speciality is jumping when told. You’d be a liability if some crim told you where to go. You only got this job because we helped you.”

     Sharp pursed his lips, glaring faintly, and put the pad away. “…yeah, whatever. Guess that means everyone else is gonna think I only got the job because of special favours.”

     Slipstream glanced at his friend. -come round mine later? I’ll give you a hand-

     Sharp didn't look up. -don't bother. He's right. -

     Greenbolt pinched out the spent remains of his stick. “Besides, I don't want my two best buddies moving out on me, do I? We’re a top team. Nobody’s as good as us…”

     Tired of listening, Slipstream tuned him out, and picked up the innocuous blue candy laying unattended on his berth.

     I don’t want it.

     He licked his lips, uneasily, unable to escape the fractal blue depths.

     Might not want it. You need it, a familiar old demon purred into his ear. You’re never going to straighten yourself in time out for work without it. Remember how well the last orn went?

     He barely even noticed himself put it in his mouth. He dimmed his optics and waited while the candy dissolved, slowly; heavy, syrupy energon, thick with nanites and exotic virals.

     Yeah. All right. Quell was a good idea. He vented the hot, stale air from his core and felt the over-tightened actuators in his shoulders beginning to ease.

o0o0o0o0o0o

     Deixar Central Library wasn’t even remotely central, Skywarp considered, standing in the clear ground outside the building and staring up at the war-scorched stonework. A small building with delusions of grandeur, it stood right on the north border, close to both Tysta and Rustig – which probably explained why it looked like it was still in relatively good nick, slap bang in the middle of the least-desirable real estate on the planet.

     What am I even gonna look for. He sighed and folded his arms, protectively. Scratch that. Why am I even here? Is it just to avoid thinking what to do about Slipstream? I can’t avoid my own sparkling forever.

     No, I was gonna come here before Seem happened, he corrected himself. Come on, Warp. No more dithering. He drew in a stabilising pulse of cold air, squared his shoulders and puffed up his chassis, and strode purposefully through the door.

     The building had a huge empty entrance hall, and the echoing retort of his thrustered heels on stone tiles inside made both the librarian and Skywarp himself jump, which neither quite succeeded in hiding. Up above the librarian’s desk, one end of the first floor was visible through an enormous glass wall. As well as huge, humming banks of Vinculum supercomputers along the walls of both floors, the upper level of the library was full of carefully-displayed ancient artefacts – not to mention, books. Actual, genuine, honest-to-Primus ground up bits of tree.

     Don’t tell me I’m gonna have to look through all that slag as well. Skywarp swallowed his wince and made his way up to the desk.

     The librarian was a strange, gangrel mech, with a spindly, bug-eyed build that reminded Skywarp strongly of a silver version of Calibrator, and immediately set him on edge. (He doubted anyone would actually have let the analyst out, but uh, he hadn’t actually checked since waking up in the dump whether she was still in prison. He added it to his to do list.)

     The librarian shrank down a little as the black seeker approached, trying not to make it too obvious he was using the high-fronted desk as a shield. “Can I help you?” He was softly spoken and polite, but it didn’t hide the suspicion oozing from every vent, or the tiny, frightened hitch in his vocaliser.

     “Yeah, actually. I need to look some things up, but, uh.” Skywarp leaned casually against the desk, trying not to loom too much over the small mech, and shrugged one shoulder. “This kinda isn’t my normal territory, you know?”

     The suspicion in the blue optics softened, but turned into something more like a subtle sneer. “What did you want to research?”

     Skywarp wafted a hand, airily. “Just some stuff. Where’s the best place to go look? I kinda want to avoid the, uh. Artefacts.” He pointed up over his head at the books.

     “The computers are free for the public to use.” The librarian first extended a spidery finger in the direction of the Vinculums, then emerged uneasily from behind his desk. “Let-let me get you set up…”

     Skywarp helped himself to the librarian’s stylus, then followed the small mech across the ground floor to a heavily-used terminal that could be easily monitored from the front desk.

     “Let me know if you need assistance,” the librarian offered, before retiring to his own seat.

     “Thanks.” The teleport listened to him walk away, then rocked his chair back onto two legs and propped his knees against the desk, using his thighs as a surface to lean his pad against. “Okay, computer. Let’s see what you got.”

     What do I even search for? His fingers hovered over the controls for a moment or two, before cautiously selecting the archive search. You didn’t really think this out so well, huh.

     Skywarp worried at the purloined stylus with his denta while he waited, listening absently to the clicks and cracks as the plastic broke. The supercomputer reminded him a lot of the one in Screamer’s lab. Any second now, a pair of strong blue hands would plop down on his shoulders and yank him away before he could break anything.

     Sitting on his own in the custody cell (and trying really, really hard to behave) had afforded him plenty of time alone with his thoughts, but in spite of all the time to plan, he hadn’t really untangled much of what he needed to find out. Most of the confusing facts had knotted themselves even tighter together.

     What if the ship that crashed was the only one that’s ever come here? Okay, not possible, there was a whole bunch of critters in that cave already. So, what if that ship that crashed was coming to rescue them? What if they were the last? What if the guys are right and they all starved to death, trapped down there when the roof fell in on all of us? No, Footloose crawled her way out, if she could get out, so could the critters. Doesn’t mean they didn’t still starve or freeze or something…

     “Urrgh.” Skywarp dropped his face into both palms. “Come on, mech, at least try and research it first. Stress out about it when you can’t find slag.”

     Searching the archive was harder than he expected. “Fuzzy alien bug thing” produced a grand total of zero results. Fuzzy alien bug thing produced several billion. He felt himself going cross-eyed. The empty notepane on his lap stared back at him, mocking. This was such a bad idea. He could feel his wings sag. I’ll leave with nothing except more excuses for the guys to laugh at me.

     Already debating going home and lying, Skywarp finally caught a glimpse of blue optics, reflected in his screen. The librarian had apparently sensed his difficulties, but hadn’t quite plucked up the courage to actually approach and offer assistance.

     “If you wanna help, be my guest.” The dark jet gestured an arm at the screen. “How do I find anything on here?”

     The little mech finally approached, warily. “What are you looking for?”

     “Aliens.” Skywarp shuffled his chair to the left, allowing the librarian to settle at the input controls.

     “Aliens.” The librarian repeated, flatly, and gave him one of those looks, like he usually got from Starscream. “You… don’t have maybe a bit more?”

     Skywarp pursed his lips and thought about it a little longer. There probably were hundreds of species of aliens, he recognised; there’d been thousands of different critters on that mud-ball Earth alone. “Well, they were fuzzy. Sort of bug-looking, I guess. About this size, or maybe a bit smaller.” He held his hands up in the air, palms about a handsbreadth apart. “Nasty little dark optic units.”

     “Insects, hmm? Any legs?”

     “Uh.” Skywarp interrogated his memory record; dozens of little round shiny eyes, glittering with the reflection of his own optics, but whatever body might have been attached to them remained hidden in the shadows. The sensation of tiny feet on his heat-blistered wings made him shudder, involuntarily. “Yes. I don’t know how many. It was dark, I didn’t get that good a look at them.” He carefully left out the part about trying not to overheat underground in the dark with my leg stuck in a rock.

     “Well, that may be enough to guide us a little. Let me try something.” The librarian entered a flurry of keywords, most of which Skywarp didn’t understand. Arthropod. Keratin filament. Chitin exoskeleton.

     After a second or two of plinking quietly, the Vinculum flashed its results up on the screen. Still a few thousand results to go through, but that was infinitely better than a billion.

     “Do you recognise any of these?”

     Skywarp watched the results scroll past. About halfway down the second page of results, something caught his attention; a poorly-focused motion-blur of a little brownish animal. “Hey.” He leaned in closer to the screen. “That’s kinda close, actually.” He tapped the blurry image. “D’you have any better pictures?”

     The librarian’s spindly fingers fluttered over the interface and pulled the full record up. “No. This is a field report of a previously unknown species. Unnamed, pre-war.”

     “How am I supposed to find anything out about them if they don’t even have a fragging name?” Skywarp glared at the computer. “Could I go ask the mech that spotted them?”

     The librarian frowned, considering the idea, then shook his head. “No. Globetrotter was killed early on in the war. His record is limited to what you see here, although you may be able to find more if you reference the planet he was researching.” He hesitated, uncomfortable with an idea he couldn’t back up with a fact. “Although the record suggests these animals may be extinct.”

     Skywarp’s wings sagged, just a little. “What?”

     “If this is genuinely what you saw, we can be reassured they are unlikely to be extinct. However, I strongly suspect there’s very little else to be found in the archives.” The librarian didn’t turn all the way, but gave him a brief askance look. “Why is a Decepticon so interested in finding these animals?”

     “Ex-’Con.” Skywarp had finally begun to note things down on his wafer. “And they may be the key to getting me back home. If I can’t find them, I can’t ask them, and if I can’t get home, I can’t fix this mess.”

     The librarian opened his mouth to say something else, but finally noticed the dismissive note in Skywarp’s voice, took the hint, and left him in peace.

This entry was originally posted at http://keaalu.dreamwidth.org/31202.html.

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