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"Nothing Set in Stone" (snippet)

While Thundercracker skimmed low and slow over the ruins, methodically searching strip by strip for their missing comrade’s signal, Skywarp sat atop the tallest of the derelict buildings. He looked completely at peace with the world – features blank, legs tucked up and hands loose in his lap, the very model of zen patience.

The picture was misleading. If there was one thing Skywarp definitely was not, right now, it was serene. He simply didn’t have the energy to do anything else. Instead of physically looking, like Thundercracker had taken to doing, he was searching via the quantum universe, opening his mind just enough to pull on the strings of all the entangled atoms he could see. Interpreting the flood of data took almost every last scrap of processing power.

Remarkably, his brainwave was all his own. He reasoned that if he could see well enough to find a safe place to teleport himself into, he could flip the process around to look for a specific thing, right? Just had to reverse the procedure.

He’d not counted on doing it in reverse being so exhausting. To teleport, at least he had an idea of where he was going in the first place; he’d decide on a location, take a quick look at his maps to check there were no obstacles in the way, then dip into the quantum world to double check it was a good spot before engaging his gate. Took a few microseconds, if that.

Here, he not only had no idea where he was looking, he had no maps to guide him, either, which meant he had to slowly, methodically comb his way through every last cubic metre of the quantum universe, not knowing until he checked it whether he was looking at rocks, a building, a tree, or just more of the sense-blinding ginger sand. Even though two miles was the limit of his ability to see, and he could easily dismiss the open air or deep underground, a slice from a sphere with a two mile diameter was still enormous.

Combing through it all, ensuring he didn’t miss anything, was long, tedious, exhausting work. Not for the first time, he found himself regretting playing the idiot – why couldn’t he have just done what he’d been asked, for a change, huh? Screamer’s monster list of jobs would have been infinitely quicker, easier, and less emotionally taxing than this.

A stern ping against his firewalls roused him from his search in time to see a red and silver blur gliding towards him. It took several seconds for the world to come back into focus, and he felt too tired to do anything except watch his visitor approach.

Starscream alighted delicately on the dusty roof and sat down alongside him, and after a pursed-lips glance to the left and a little sigh, produced a flask out of his subspace and handed it over.

Skywarp murmured a reluctant thanks, and just stared down into it for a while.

“How are you getting on?” the scarlet jet prompted, after the silence had drawn out just a little too long for comfort.

The teleport shook his head. “…haven’t found anything, yet. Not sure if that’s like, bad or very bad.”

Starscream huffed his annoyance, and glared out over the city. “Why did you even bring her along? I only asked you and Thundercracker to help me because I trust the pair of you, and you’re both big enough and ugly enough to look after yourselves if we found anything dangerous.”

Skywarp sounded too tired to bother lying. “Because of your stupid list of jobs. I don’t wanna still be here in a vorn’s time, I was trying to get out of doing all of them. Squeaks was gonna give me a hand.”

“A hand doing what, I wonder.”

“Hey, you asked Skyfire to ‘help’, and I know you’re not gonna be spending all your time working.”

“…we’re both scientists, Skywarp. Who else was I going to bring – Hardline? And we actually are going to be doing that thing the pair of you spend all your time avoiding. You could at least have found someone who wouldn’t have spent all their time distracting you.”

“I just thought-…” Skywarp made a glum little noise, and wiped his face with one hand. “I know you don’t like her. I know you never have, since she found you hiding out in Forceps’ spare room that time.” He gave his wingmate a dim maroon glance. “But can’t you pretend, for me? Just until we find her?”

Starscream sighed just loudly enough to stir the dust around them into little clouds. “I never said I didn’t like her,” he corrected, quietly, watching his wingmate fiddle with the flask of energon, turning the lid back and forth. “I just said, she’s an abrasive, sarcastic, opinionated loudmouth. Which is probably why we clash so much.”

“Takes one to know one, huh.”

“Something like that.”

Away in the distance, they could both see that Thundercracker had paused on a roof; he’d apparently clocked Starscream’s arrival. A little nonverbal question came over the airwaves, asking if they were all right; Skywarp replied to it with a ping that didn’t really mean anything apart from to acknowledge the request. He wasn’t really sure how he felt.

Starscream nudged him with an elbow to get his attention. “What can I do to help you?”

“Keep me topped up. This is knackering me out.” Skywarp sighed into the flask before finally draining it in a single gulp. “I’m not sure how much longer I can keep this up for,” he admitted. “I don’t have a whole lot of brain in the first place, and I’m filling it up with glitching… file fragments. I’ll fall over, too, if we don’t find her soon.”

“Take ten breems. I’ll wake you up.”

“I can’t just stop-”

Take. Ten breems.” Starscream stared him out, until Skywarp found somewhere else to look. “I’ll wake you up. You’ll be no good to her or anyone if you collapse on the job. And I am not pleading with Sepp to fix you if you accidentally engage your gate and fall through a gap somewhere.”

I can’t, Screamer… this is too-”

I will nullray you, then you’ll be out for even longer.”

By the time Thundercracker made it to the derelict tower block, Skywarp had gone dormant, sagging sideways into his wingmate. He looked exhausted, optics offline, wings drooping.

Thundercracker perched anxiously on the edge of the building, tucking his toes into convenient windows. “Pit. Is he all right?”

“Housekeeping. I threatened to offline him by force if he didn’t take ten breems to declutter his stacks.”

This entry was originally posted at http://keaalu.dreamwidth.org/32278.html.

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