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Screaming Blue Murder, chapter 19

Screaming Blue Murder
Chapter 19

What’s the time?

How long have I been in here for now?

Can’t feel my arms any more. Is that just a fault because I’m so damn tired, or have they fallen off altogether?

How long have I been in here now? Oh Primus, just let me see the sky once more.

Are the walls still closing in? No, mustn’t look, mustn’t check, in case they are. If I don’t look, it’ll be fine. What you can’t see can’t hurt you. It’ll all go away if I ignore it. The walls can’t be moving, anyway, that’s just an overactive imagination. Still, I better just ch- no don’t check.

Suffocating. It’s so hot and constricting and stuffy. Can’t even tell if my vents are working, nothing seems to be cooling properly. Maybe I’ve already burnt half my relays out, that’s why it feels so stifling.

What’s the time now? How much longer are they going to keep me in here?

How far underground am I, anyway? I wasn’t awake when they brought me in, I could be miles deep. All those miles and miles and tonnes and tonnes of ancient rocks and dirt and… oh Primus, what if I dislodge something? Make it all fall in? Didn’t ought to move. Not even a tiny bit. Just in case.

How long have I been down here now? Have they forgotten I’m here? What if they’ve forgotten about me? What if this was all just a big elaborate burial ritual for meddlesome Seekers? Primus, oh Primus let me out-! They’ll dig out a frozen corpse, all grey and dark and spark-less, flattened into nothing by all that constricting dirt-

Are my arms still there? I still can’t feel them. Primus. I’ll be in bits when they finally get me out…

How long have I been in here? It’s so dark. My chronometer can’t be working right, I must have been in here longer than that. Alone with these nasty tight walls.

Stop shaking, now, there’s a good little Seeker. That’s it, there. No need for that sort of nonsense. Call yourself a Decepticon? Nothing to be scared of. It’s just a little bit of dark. Dark, and a tiny, itty-bitty little room, all tight walls, all closing in around me, suffocating, stifling-

…let me out. Oh Primus, please let me out. Let me out let me out letmeout letmeoutletmeOUT-

0o0o0o0

Pretending to be an addict was harder than Jazz had at first figured. He’d taken over from Prowl in the Hunt for Clean Blue, after pointing out that pretending to be an addict while you had “Police” written all over you was probably inviting disaster, and after taking advice from Starscream about the best place to find addicts who might know about getting supplies (that alone boggled his mind – advice from Starscream), he’d headed down the Accident and Emergency department. Getting permission to make discreet enquiries to the addicts was easy – the harassed little doctor in charge of the department had barely even heard the question, it seemed, gave a distracted agreement then waved his arms and hustled Jazz out of his office.

It was the addicts themselves that were causing the problem. They seemed to instinctively know that something was up, because the first couple wouldn’t even speak to him – kept their tired optics averted, arms around themselves, quivering silently on their berths, withdrawing hard. And inexperience with how addicts behaved meant that he sabotaged himself with the first patient he found that’d actually talk to him.

“Hey, uh… can you help? I need a new supplier,” Jazz ‘admitted’, quietly, sidling up to the addict. “Mine, ah… ran into some trouble.”

The shaky machine glanced up at him, and his optics glittered feverishly. “H-how come y-you’re not withdrawin’?” he demanded, quietly.

Aw, slag, Jazz cursed himself. “Oh, I made sure I had some spares, stockpiled,” he tried, but already knew he’d lost this one.

“R-rich mechs like y-you shouldn’t be on the B-Blue program,” the addict groused, bitterly. “Y-you’re what we was g-gonna make a stand ag-against.”

Jazz’s second attempt was similarly foiled by one tiny mistake – Blue withdrawal made a machine shake bodily before the stutter came through in the vocaliser. Third attempt, though, and he had the routine down perfect. He wrapped his arms around himself, as if to keep himself from shaking to pieces, vibrated his motors on just the right frequency, and affected a pathetic stutter in his voice as he sidles sneakily up to an addict in a corner berth, mostly hidden behind pale green curtains.

“They’re gonna k-kick me out of here,” he whispered, to the sick-looking machine curled on the berth, fighting his own shakes. “An’ I d-don’ know wh-where to go, any m-more. My sup-supplier ran up against the Fuh-Fuzz, g-got arrested.”

“Same hap-happened to me,” the addict replied, quietly, and Jazz was about to kick himself and give up when the broken machine went on; “you have-… have to go h-higher up.”

“What do you m-mean?”

“Y-you want to go to The S-Source,” the addict supplied, shakily, surreptitiously handing over a well-loved, well-worn data-wafer.

“The Source?”

“Uh-huh. He n-never gets caught,” the addict glanced around himself, and added, in a lower whisper; “c-contact him on the f-frequency on the wafer. He’ll give you date and time, and a muh-meeting place, and he’ll t-tell you who he’s sending to muh-meet you. G-go alone, and d-don’t be late.”

“Wh-what happens if I d-don’t?”

The addict smiled, painfully. “Let’s just s-say you don’t wuh-want to find out first-hand.”
0o0o0o0

Jazz had retreated to the small, untidy break room behind the gamma camera department, where he sat with a half mug of stale energon and contemplated his unexpected windfall. This could be a lead, or it could be disaster by another name. After all, if he did meet up with ‘The Source’, what’d happen? Muddled addicts were probably a whole lot easier to fool than whoever it was pushing the stuff into the market in the first place. If there was so much as a whisper of trickery, they’d probably not only be gone, but change all their frequencies too.

A shockingly-orange EMT ducked through the door and ambled tiredly over to the over-used and abused energon dispenser, then collapsed into a chair that creaked dangerously under his weight. “Oh, hello?” he greeted, at last seeing Jazz opposite him, with a little smile. “Are you visiting, or the new security detail?”

Jazz palmed the wafer into his subspace. “Just visiting, I’m afraid,” he replied, taking in the rash of small dents across the top of the EMT’s torso. “Is that all just from the addicts?”

“Pretty much?” the giant nodded. “Some of them can be violent, especially if they’re withdrawing from something like Ruin?” He took a long draught from his mug, and almost emptied it in one. “So, ah, you got what you’re after, or can I help?”

“I think I’m pretty much sorted,” Jazz acknowledged. “I didn’t think it’d be so hard to get information out of the addicts.”

“Ah, so it’s police business? Heh, say hi to Scarlet from me, would you?” the giant suggested, unexpectedly, with a smile.

“…What?”

The grin widened. “Red, with wings, blue eyes? He not working with you?”

“You don’t mean-… I’m not sure I understand you.”

“Don’t worry, you’ve got the idea. Best not to discuss ghosts too openly, if you know what I mean? Just tell him ‘hi’ from Spots, he should get it.”
0o0o0o0

The sounds from behind Skywarp’s door had stopped some time ago. Pulsar had maintained her guilty vigil outside his room long after he finally went silent, only ducking out of sight when she heard Fatigue’s heavy steps in the long, narrow corridor, but Deuce was not in the mood to be denied, and easily found and extracted her from her hiding place. She guessed that must mean they needed her for something, and she wasn’t looking forwards to finding out what.

The Boss had elected to pay a visit, today, to examine the prize – albeit “in-absentia”. The video feed was active, but dark – all Fatigue’s side were party to was the Boss’s voice. Pulsar guessed she must be the reason why – didn’t want the risk of her sneaking off to tell Boxer who the criminal mastermind was, after all. Typical. Without even trying, she’d put herself in the way of progress, again. If she’d not been here, Skywarp may have glimpsed something useful. Well, if he’d been conscious, perhaps.

“Deuce, out of the way. Let me see,” came the unfriendly instruction, and the truck scuttled hastily out of the field of view of the camera.

Skywarp was a flicker away from descending into stasis lock altogether. His optics were offline, his hands limp, and his back hung in a slumped curl. Only the stuttering hum of his fans proved he was still online, just about. Exhaustion was keeping the withdrawal tremors at bay, at least.

There was a low critical hmm of thought. “Not my first choice by a long shot,” the Boss pointed out, grimly, “but perhaps his stupidity can be used to our advantage. If we can exercise a little psychological persuasion on him, we will earn the sort of loyalty he has in the past shown towards Megatron.” There was a pause and a cluck of irritation. “Someone go and rouse him. We will discuss things further when he is lucid again.”

“Right, Skinny, that’s your call. How about you go get him back on his feet?” Fatigue ‘suggested’, giving Pulsar a little shove.

“Me?!” She backed straight back into him.

“Yeah, you, Policebot. Can you see any of us lot babying him back to functionality?” He snorted, fluttered his hands and coaxed her back towards the inert flier. “‘Sides, if he’s gonna snap at anyone, better it be someone expendable. Why’d you think we used you to get him in the first place? Now go on.” The tractor lifted a foot and gave her a gentle shove to the aft. “We haven’t got all orn to wait for you to quit messing about.”

“But he’s already tried to kill me once-!”

“Do not allow yourself to be deluded into thinking you are anything other than disposable,” the Boss interrupted, in a grating hiss, and the camera stared down at her like an unfriendly, unblinking eye. “Scruffy, noisy, opinionated little bikes like you are ten a penny. Great steel warbirds like him are an increasingly rare breed that we must make every effort to win over, but I will not risk the safety of my most loyal devotees to do so. If he snaps, it will be at someone without value in the grand scheme of things.”

“But can’t I just-”

“I hope you remember our agreement, Sparky,” Fatigue said, softly, close to her audio. “If he doesn’t take it? Then neither do you. And I always wanted to find out just how long an addict can go without medication before going completely insane.”

She cringed away from him.

“Have fun, short-aft,” Deuce hooted, amusedly. “Give us a yell when you got him operational again!”

For an interminable time she hung in the doorway, paralysed with indecision. Part of her wanted to help, purely so she could selfishly feed her own addiction. Part of her wanted to help because he made her spark hurt, the way he looked so sad and broken. Part of her felt obliged to help, since she and she alone was responsible for dragging him into this whole mess. And of course, part of her wanted to run away and get herself lost in the deepest bowels of the city, where neither Fatigue nor the Police could find her, and eke out a living on whatever puny quantity of Blue she could beg, borrow or steal off her fellow addicts.

“Skywarp…?” she half-whispered, from a distance, as loudly as she dared, and he twitched his fingers. She wasn’t sure if that meant he was trying to regain consciousness, that she’d startled him, or he was planning to jump at her if she got close enough. Cue more dithering.

Finally she inched closer, patted one inert cheek. “…Skywarp?”

His optics flickered, but didn’t remain online. The air that puffed unsteadily from his vents was stressed and hot.

“Look, I’m, uh… I’m going to take this tape off you, all right?” she told him, shakily.

His optics flickered again, and this time managed to remain online – but not their usual fiery crimson, they were a dull wine-red. She figured that in the event that he could see her, she wouldn’t be much more than an indistinct pale blob in the static.

She peeled at the edges of the tape, and wasn’t altogether surprised when he lunged at her with a little snap when it finally came away. She managed to snatch her hand away just in time, before she could get his denta embedded in her fingers.

That flicker of fight was about all he could manage, though – his right leg skidded out from under him, unable to maintain the power to keep him standing, jerking to the limit of the chain and jolting his weight onto his already-damaged wrists. There was a brighter flicker in his optics and a soft noise of pain, but nothing more. His head sagged back so his chin rested on his chest.

“Uh… I brought you some fuel,” she offered, quietly, and waited while he processed the words.

His response was minimal, but effective. He turned his face away from her.

“Look, it… It’s as clean as I could find, I promise,” she pleaded, quietly. “There’s only a tiny bit of Basic in it… I don’t think you’ll be able to keep pure energon inside you just yet.”

He just kept his head turned away from her. Don’t want it.

“Please, Skywarp. If you don’t refuel even just a tiny bit, you’ll go into stasis lock.” And I’ll go completely insane from my own withdrawal.

“Better… unconscious…” He somehow found the energy to grind the words out, although they were mostly static. “…than… addicted…”

“I know, but that won’t help anyone,” she said, softly. “You can’t very well crush them if you’re in stasis somewhere.”

There was another little flicker, and he managed to pull his head up a tiny fraction. “…unconscious… means I don’… don’t have to… look where I am… little tiny box-” His optics flickered, searched briefly either side, feverishly.

“Will you have some of this if I promise to get you out?” she tried, clutching at straws, not knowing what else she could try if he still refused.

“…tricks.”

“I’m an Autobot, remember? An annoying, over-principled little Pain-in-the-Afterburners. Why would I trick you?” Please, please just agree. “If you just have some of this, I promise. Away from the tight walls.”

He was silent and still for a long time, and she thought maybe he’d passed out again when at last he gave a single feeble nod. Whether he saw any sense in her words or just didn’t have the strength left to struggle, she didn’t know, and didn’t care – it was an agreement, and that was all that mattered. She cupped his chin, gently supported his lolling head and managed to get a few mouthfuls into him. He made a weakly disgusted face and looked away.

“Any better…?” she prompted, quietly, after a moment or two of silence.

He waited while the tainted energon raced through his systems, and felt the brief flickery, twittery nauseous should-I/shouldn’t-I-purge sensation in his pumps as the noxious substance flushed and integrated. Strength and lucidity quickly returned, however – and even a little of that subsystem-deep fear/hatred of the dark and confined space eased. He wondered absently which way round it had been – was he always this claustrophobic, or had he just over-reacted? The Blue was messing with his perceptions again.

“If by ‘better’ you mean ‘are… khn… are you not dead’… then it’s better,” he confirmed, awkwardly.

She flinched from the anticipated snap of anger, but asked anyway. “Would you like more…?”

He was quiet for a moment. “No,” he confirmed. “I wouldn’t like more.” He hesitated, glanced up to meet her gaze. “But… I do need more. I can’t run for long on what I’ve just had. So I figure my options are pretty limited.”

Strength returned rapidly, as he finished off his ration, and his core temperature began to drop at last. He gave her a look, and pleaded, quietly; “now would you please get me out of here…?” He gave his chains a little jangle, for emphasis.

“I’ll have to find something to cut them with. There’s no key.”

“Just… I don’t care how you do it. Just hurry up about it?”

The Policebot was gone for some breems – he began to think she may have been waylaid when at last there was the distant, low grinding sound of something heavy being dragged, and she finally reappeared in the doorway with a huge, rusty pair of bolt-cutters that must have easily weighed half as much as she herself did. Her vents were puffing furiously with effort, and a heat-haze shimmered up off her shoulders.

“You’re going to strain something,” Skywarp pointed out, watching as she used the wall as a support to work the oversized shears up into the air.

She paused fighting with the cutters, leaning her weight against them and trapping them at the point she’d wrestled them to against the wall, and somehow summoned the energy to operate her vocaliser. “If this goes some way towards making us even, again, you bet I’ll strain something helping you,” she shivered the staticky words out, then added; “I’m not doing it out of sympathy.”

He snorted faintly, but didn’t challenge the lie.

Finally, she’d got the cutters the appropriate way up and up to chest level, even if her back looked like it was about to snap in two and she was puffing like a steam engine. She tottered unsteadily over to him, back bowed and swaying beneath the weight, supporting the shears against her chest. She used him in turn to prop herself up as she fought to get the jaws of the bolt-nippers up to the links. “Okay, if-… if this… doesn’t work…” she panted. “I’m all out… of solutions. I’ll have… to go get Deuce. …I’m sure… I can bribe him, some-… somehow.”

She was close enough that he could feel the air that jetted from her coolant vents, and it was scorchingly hot. Spindly little thing obviously wasn’t designed with heavy lifting in mind. “I was right, you did strain something,” he pointed out, grimly.

“It’ll… recover…” she puffed. “Damned if… if I’m gonna plead… with Deuce… without a shining-… hah, shining fantastic reason.” Her motors whined pathetically, but with a snarl of effort she got the shears close enough to the chain and wrestled them closed on the links. “…gah!” she exclaimed, frustratedly. “Can’t… can’t do it. …Don’t have the-… the hydraulic power… and they’re so fragging rusty…”

“How about divert a little of that energy that’s going to your vocaliser into your arms instead?” Skywarp wondered, pithily. “Shut up and get me out!”

“Yeah, thank you for that gem of assistance-!” Anger gave Pulsar a tiny burst of energy, and with a mosquito whine of effort she got the handles to close. “…hauuugh, damnit-” Determination only went so far, and her arms sagged. She braced herself for a flash of hurt as the tip of the falling shears impacted her toes-

There was a pink as the broken link bounced off a wall, and a powerful arm closed around her chest, before she could drop the shears all the way to the floor. It trapped the cutters against her, and her against him.

“I’m not waiting while you spend the next six breems picking them back up,” Skywarp explained, shakily, as she glanced up at him, startled. “After the effort it took you when you weren’t depleted, I’ll be waiting forever if you drop them now, and I can tell you for free that there is no way in the Pit I am going to spend one more breem in this tiny little hole in the ground…”

Now the first chain had been snipped, things were comparatively easy – to free his other wrist, he held one arm of the cutters while she closed the other arm, and when she finally sagged exhaustedly to the floor he took over to free his ankles, movements made jerky in his hurriedness. He literally fell over her in his haste to get out; she lurched to get out of his way, but failed to correctly anticipate which direction he was going to go and he went sprawling on top of her, both tumbling out into the narrow access corridor.

She gave a strangulated yelp! of pain as his weight slammed hard against her, wrenching her chest fracture deeper. “Aigh, get off getoff-!”

He didn’t get up; braced the bulk of his weight on one arm, but kept her pinned. His optics were thin chips of heightened emotion. “Wouldn’t it be easy for me to just kill you now,” he whispered, voice fracturing, fingers crawling down her torso to dig softly over her spark chamber. “After you got me tangled up in this, after you put me in this Primus-forsaken place…”

Her pumps had gone completely still. “…right,” she managed, faintly. His face was so close to her that she could see every last tiny delicate metal leaf that made up the irises in his fever-bright scarlet optics, and it was a little like staring up into insanity personified. She figured she could probably bite his nose if she had to get him off her in a hurry, but that felt far too risky, right now, with his fingers already in the line of the fracture he’d caused earlier.

For several long astro-seconds they just stared each other out, silent except for the low cycling of overstressed vents, the clicking of overheating relays. He was still volatile and destabilised by the integrating Basic, and she was close to the point where goading him into killing her seemed the only appropriate way to escape her addiction.

At last, he sat back onto his thrusters, and allowed her to scuttle away from him. “Look at both of us,” he rasped, shakily. “Look at what they’ve turned us into. And look at you, crawling after them like some wounded little creature, a performing animal they’ve beaten too hard. Haven’t you got even the tiniest smidgen of pride left?”

What could she possibly say to salvage a little dignity in response to that? “…no. None,” she agreed, softly. “I chase their ankles just so I can keep my thoughts straight. My life is suddenly utterly ruled by where my next supplies are coming from, and what I have to do to get it.” She hesitated, and gave him a guilty look. “And they won’t give me any Blue until you’re functioning again.”

He forced a sour smile, getting slowly back to his feet. “I should have known it wasn’t out of any sympathy for a filthy little Decepticon like me.”

“Look, we’re in the system, now,” she added, faintly, following him up the corridor. “Right inside. We could strike back at them. You could be the key to the whole thing succeeding.”

“Right, and when we beat them, how long before we go completely crazy from Blue deprivation?” He didn’t even glance back over his shoulder, but she knew what sort of humourless expression he’d be wearing.

“Commander Starscream is working on a cure, right? Don’t you think he’ll succeed?”

Whatever Skywarp had been going to retort was swallowed up when a shadow blocked the patch of light and actually made him flinch.

The shadow turned out only to be Siphon. “So, you’re up, then,” he observed, needlessly. “All right. First things first. We’ll only let you out,” he folded his arms, “if you’re gonna be more amenable to a civil discussion.”

“Your definition of discussion and my definition of it don’t look much like each other,” Skywarp pointed out quietly. “But yes. I’ll talk to you, provided we don’t have to resort to hitting each other to get our points across.”

“Tsh, if I remember right, you were pretty quick with your fists from the get-go, last time,” Siphon snorted, but got out of the way. “You might wanna do something about your jewellery, too, before you go home.”

Skywarp glanced down at the chains that still jangled at his wrists and ankles, and shared a meaningful look with Pulsar. She sighed, and resignedly went to fetch the bolt-cutters.
0o0o0o0

Thundercracker stirred out of recharge to find Skywarp’s berth still conspicuously empty. “Still no Warp, then? What do you suppose he’s up to?” he wondered, out loud.

Starscream was already awake, in the bunk above, and was laying flat on his front, poring over a medical text about psychological function and neurological relays. “Hm?” He looked up from his reading. “Knowing our little Skywarp, he’s probably up to his neckplates in a whole heap of trouble,” he commented, drolly. “But since he’s not pinged us for help, I guessed that he could handle whatever it was.”

“Do you think he’s all right?”

Starscream didn’t bother to look back down at him again. “Oh, probably. Knowing Warp, he’s probably found something far better to do and hasn’t bothered telling us.”

“You think?”

“Why so dubious? You and I have lived with him long enough to know how he is, and it wouldn’t be the first time he’s spent the night in a strange berth. You know, TC, I hate to worry you, but you’re starting to sound like an Autobot,” Starscream teased, gently. “Or – worse still – a squishy.”

Thundercracker managed a smile. “I just don’t think he should have been so quiet,” he explained, defensively. “If he’s found something better to do, he should be telling us he has, just to gloat about it. You know, his usual ‘you geeks are stuck working and I’m out here having a lark doing whatever’.”

“Hm, fair point,” Starscream acknowledged. “We’ll give him until tonight. If he’s not back, we’ll go looking. Fair?”
0o0o0o0

Skywarp sat cross-legged on an old square motor-housing in the centre of the recycling plant’s cavernous main vestibule, and examined his wrists, quietly, wings sagging dismally. Nipping the remainder of the chain away had been fiddly but thankfully not too difficult; thankfully they’d had the presence of mind to weld it to itself, not to him. The plating had been left slightly dented, but it was only noticeable if you were looking for it. With luck he could cook up a story to keep his wingmates from asking too many difficult questions, if they spotted it.

“I told you it’d be easier if you just went along with us,” Fatigue reminded, unable to quite wipe the triumphant smirk off his faceplates.

Skywarp glared up at him, tiredly. “I don’t know if you’re just too dumb to notice, but you didn’t give me a whole lot of options.”

“I don’t know if you hadn’t noticed, but that was the idea.” Fatigue leaned down close to the sitting flier, and growled, softly; “now are you going to behave, and keep a civil tone on your vocaliser, or do we have to give you time to cool down again?”

Skywarp stiffened and hitched his wings a fraction, irritable. “Is that a threat, Fatty?”

“Interpret it how you will, Airhead. If you need to see it as a threat so it has meaning to you, rather than just a ‘friendly suggestion’, then sure, it’s a threat-”

“Fatigue?” Pulsar interrupted, clutching frustratedly at her own sidelights. She’d been getting increasingly jittery as time had gone on, and was now almost vibrating. “Please. I need my Blue.”

“You’ll get it when I’m ready to give it to you,” he growled, darkly. “I’m bus-”

“No, not later, I need it now!” she whimpered, ignoring the warning signs. “You keep telling me to do things, and telling me I’ll get my Blue once I’ve done it, and you keep telling me I’ve not done enough or I’ve not done it properly and that I can’t have any and I need it and it’s not fair, give me my medicine!” She clutched at him, and received a kick under the chin for her trouble – just a weak little blow, from the giant mech, but it flipped her to her back anyway. She jerked back into a ball, closed her arms protectively over the back of her helm and tucked her knees up to her chest, and made garbled little noises of distress.

“I told you to quit asking,” Fatigue snapped. “If you stop testing my damn patience, I’ll get you your Ruin. Now shut the Pit up!” He backed down, grumbling, and turned away to a small storage container, expertly designed to blend in with the rest of the rusting junk. “I told Siphon we should have used Prophet on her…”

Skywarp glanced down at the little blue and white shape on the floor, and wrinkled his nose. Pulsar had curled down on herself, as if compressing herself into the tightest twisted bundle of arms and legs would somehow stop the withdrawal shudders that threatened to vibrate her to pieces. Primus, did she ever look pathetic. What had they done to her? Such an obnoxious, noisy little holier-than-thou bundle of ridiculous Autobot self-righteous nobility, reduced to this wretched heap of loosely-connected wires and neuroses, lacking even the smallest smidgen of dignity.

Won’t catch ME performing tricks for them, he consoled himself, somewhat anxiously. I don’t care HOW desperate I get, I will keep my dignity.

“All right, all right, already,” Fatigue sighed, and flicked his wrist, and the Policebot had unfolded and was lunging for the sparkling cube of blue light before Skywarp fully realised what was going on.

She caught it before it hit the ground, and had it up to her mouth before she’d recovered from her lunge; skidded on her aft into the wall and barely even noticed as the impact bent one of her antennae behind her alarm lights. She inhaled it so fast she must have overloaded at least three analytical relays in the process, and the cube was empty in bare astro-seconds. Desperate need didn’t negate the side-effects, though – she sat and retched, heaving and groaning and trying to keep her reflexes from purging her system as the Ruin settled into her fuel lines. Apparently her analysis pumps could recognise poison even if she couldn’t (or wouldn’t).

“Don’t worry, Seeker,” Fatigue sneered, following Skywarp’s half-disgusted/half-dismayed gaze to the huddled Policebot. “You ain’t gonna turn into her. You only need Basic to keep functioning, at the moment, but she’s on Blue Ruin.”

“Why the difference?”

Assuming he meant difference in choice of products, Fatigue shrugged his huge shoulders. “We figured the less strain we put on your intellect, the better,” he snickered. “You ought to consider it a blessing you’re not the smartest, else you might have ended up on it yourself. Ruin’s particularly good at keeping the more unruly machines loyal.”

“That wasn’t actually what I meant,” Skywarp observed, quietly, but didn’t pursue it.

“Speaking of which… Here,” the tractor held out a cube of more intense blue.

“What is it?” Skywarp challenged, tiredly, holding out his hand to accept it off him.

“Blue Prophet. A small step up the potency ladder from Basic, but not so strong as Ruin. A little more… how can I put it… tailored.” Fatigue set the cube into the outstretched hand. “Basic doesn’t really do an awful lot, ’cept have a sorta calming effect.” He shrugged. “I don’t know if you noticed.”

Skywarp nodded, thoughtfully. In a roundabout sort of way, he had noticed, when the blind must-get-out-must-get-out-must-get-out from earlier had eased into something comparatively more sedate. “So why are you giving me this?”

“You are I are both in the unenviable position of not being the brightest of machines,” Fatigue admitted, gruffly. “We lag behind when everyone else has worked out the answer. We need complex theorems explained in greater detail to see the minutiae. Prophet helps a machine maintain clarity and focus, to see past the irrelevant details and grasp the larger picture more quickly.”

Skywarp remained silent, but Pulsar could see the way his wings had perked a tiny fraction. He was obviously thinking seriously about it.

“All we want for now is a little information from you, in return.”

“That’s all?” Skywarp glanced up, suspiciously.

“For now, yes. Of course, in the future we’ll want your aerial skills most of all, or we wouldn’t have bothered approaching you, but to keep you ticking over and well supplied? That’s all,” Fatigue nodded. “We do reward loyalty, contrary to popular opinion.”

Skywarp gazed down at the cube in his hand, silently.

“Look, I’ll leave you to think about it. I need to check in with the Boss, so I’ll come back in a bit. Right?”

“Right.” Skywarp listened as the footsteps departed down the corridor, and contemplated the cube, quietly. It was… tempting. Not to be so smart as Screamer, because no amount of viral drug would do that, but to have just that little bit of clarity, that added ability to just concentrate. He set the cube down in front of his crossed legs, and turned it slowly between his palms, watched as the fractals danced through it.

By now, Pulsar had finally settled. She was still twitchy, her unfocused gaze bleary, but she didn’t look quite so unwell, and seemed content to just sit, climbing onto the ruined machinery next to Skywarp and parking her aft down beside him. “You don’t want that,” she suggested, quietly. “Seriously. However he’s been trying to sell it to you, you don’t want it.”

“What is this, the voice of experience?” he sniped.

“Look, if you hadn’t noticed, they’re trying to trick you into taking it!” she hissed. “They’re not doing it for your benefit, they’re doing it to ensure you’re on something strong enough you can’t get off it!”

“I’m already on Basic, and I can’t get off that either, so what difference will it make?” he challenged.

“You’re on low-grade Basic, and you can function,” she insisted, in a near-whisper. “If you get depleted, you can still operate mostly normally, you don’t spend every spare astro-second wondering where your next supply is coming from! If you go up to the higher potency, you’ll lose that ability.” She hesitated, then added, quietly, “and your wingmates will notice.”

“So… that’s why you got me with the Basic, not anything else?” Skywarp guessed, although his optics were narrowed suspiciously.

“No, I gave you Basic because I didn’t want you to suspect anything,” she husked, quietly, cycling her fans and trying to cool her overheated core. “It’s potent, it’s addictive, it’s just… it’s not Ruin. Low-potency Basic looks like normal energon, mostly. Even you would have seen the difference if I’d left Ruin in your room.” She stared down into the empty cube, and used her thumb to push a hole into the bottom, mouthed the last tiny sparkling cobalt droplets as they ran down the back of her hand. “Besides, I didn’t want to share it with you,” she added, glancing up, but there was a strange duplicity in her optics. “It was mine.”

“No Autobot morals getting in the way, then?” he challenged.

“Pff.” There was another of those uninterpretable semi-defensive flickers in her gaze. “I reserve my morals for those who deserve them.”

“You’re such a whiney little bundle of pathetic, you actually make me feel better about myself,” he observed, gazing back down into the scintillating Prophet by his ankles.

“At least I’m good for something, then,” she grumbled, quietly.

“You can’t be that desperate you’re gonna perform tricks for them whenever they snap their fingers.”

“You do know why they call it Blue Ruin, don’t you?” she objected, miserably. “It’s because that’s what it does, to everything it comes into contact with. They got me hooked on the Ruin from the outset. No choice in the matter. Not much chance I’m gonna get out with my spark intact.” She glanced dully up at him. “I don’t know, I figured… The lower the potency, the more likely you can get yourself out. I’m too deep in this to ever get out in one piece. I figured I might as well give you the best chance of escaping their clutches, so you can squash ‘em for both of us.”

“Well, you know, whining about it won’t fix it,” he reminded her. “I know from experience, I live with the past master at it. Frag, Screamer’s a championship-level whiner, but nothing ever spontaneously fixes itself. We’re going to have to be cleverer than they are, to get out.”

“…you think we can?” She cast a glance up at him, and hugged her knees.

Skywarp shrugged, offhand, and managed a lopsided smile. “It’s just a chemical. There’ll be a cure, and then we’ll be fine. And boy, am I gonna have words with that Fatigue, when we do.” Skywarp elevated his voice a fraction, to ensure the returning tractor heard him.

“Well?” Fatigue tried (and failed) to look hopeful. “Decided?”

“I’ll stick with what I’ve got, thank you,” Skywarp replied, dryly, handing the cube of Prophet back.

Fatigue’s optics narrowed, and he glanced hard down on Pulsar, who hunched her shoulders and tried to look guileless. “Anything to do with what poisoned words she was slipping you, while I was out of the room?”

“Hardly,” Skywarp scoffed. “I may not be university-level clever but I’m not an idiot. If I suddenly go back to my wingmates having had some miraculous cortex-transplant that’s cured my less-intelligent ways, don’t you think they’ll see it as a teensy bit suspicious?”

“Hrf,” Fatigue straightened, irritably. “He must like you, Skinny. Anyone else would have happily let you get a kicking.” Seeing her open her mouth to protest, he added, more loudly; “I may be big and stupid but I’m not deaf.”

She averted her gaze. “No, sir. Sorry, sir,” she backed down, quietly.

“All right, get out of here, the pair of you,” Fatigue mimed a kick at them. “If you hang around much longer, people are gonna start asking questions.”

“Probably already asking questions,” Skywarp groused, but dropped obediently to the floor.

“So you cook up a story to tell them on the way back,” Fatigue shrugged, and smiled, lecherously. “Could always say you were more interested in researching each other’s functionality than in doing any work.”

Skywarp looked unashamedly disgusted at the idea, and Pulsar made an irritable gagging sound.

“I’m sure we could think of something far more convincing,” Skywarp argued, but obediently gathered the grav-cycle up off the ground and gunned his thrusters, sweeping gracefully skywards.

The Boss emerged silently from the shadows, and watched them depart. “We will have to keep a closer eye than I had anticipated on that one. Unless we can convince his hand or betray him onto a stronger product, he might prove uncontrollable.”

Fatigue nodded. “Yeah, I see great potential in him, and it’s all great potential for disaster,” he agreed, humourlessly. “How we gonna get him off Basic, though?”

“Oh, I have a few ideas in my subspace,” the Boss chuckled. “We wait until he is more comfortable and careless. After that, we can introduce him to Crisis Blue.” Pale optics glittered wickedly. “One step down from Screaming Blue, but barely distinguishable from normal energon.”

“Isn’t that still in the testing stages?” Fatigue even managed to look a little startled at the idea. “Hasn’t it killed everyone, so far?”

“Yes, but I have every confidence that I will have it perfected soon enough. Our little Seeker is the ideal candidate to spearhead taking it into the market…”
0o0o0o0

Skywarp put down a block from the station, gracefully, and let the grav-cycle hesitantly unfasten her deathgrip-tight arms from around his chassis. He almost grinned in amusement – the little Policebot was almost as afraid of flying as he himself was claustrophobic. She’d spent the entire journey back with her face buried in his side, optics offlined, trembling – and he knew for a fact that she couldn’t possibly be withdrawing, which he knew she’d blame it on. Oh well, they were even on that front, at least.

“We’re in a vulnerable position, here,” he reminded her, softly. “We could work it in our favour, but if anyone at the station finds out, we’ll be out of the loop permanently. So we have to keep quiet about it, for now at least. Right?”

“Right…” She finally looked up from testing her feet had a good grip on the ground. “And so long as we don’t let ourselves get depleted and shaky, we should be able to slip under the radar.”

“Exactly. And there’s just one last thing I want you to be absolutely crystal on before we go. If you so much as think of letting slip any of what you might have heard while we were in the company of Fatigue and his goons…” He waved a finger threateningly, as if it’d help magic up the sentiment he wanted to convey. “Primus help me, I will hand you over to your superior, consequences be damned. Got that?”

“Got it,” she confirmed, knowing what he meant without him having to elaborate. “You know what I want to do now?” she asked, quietly, as they set off along the quiet street towards the station.

“I’m quite sure I can’t possible imagine,” Skywarp replied, dripping melodrama. “Chase down a few Decepticons, disregard the rules, make a name for yourself as a maverick, or do something ridiculously noble, or maybe all four…?”

She shook her head. “I want to go back on street patrol, I want to do paperwork, I want to do all the stupid menial things I hated so much, and I want to pretend none of this ever happened,” she snivelled, quietly. “No more exciting Decepticons, no more dramatic important investigations, no more being close to the action, nothing. Just… I want things I can handle.”

Skywarp was quiet, for a while. Finally, he gave her a look, quirked his head to one side, and wondered, out loud:

“You think I’m exciting?”

-------

Annnnddd... up to date! Hurrah.

Now, to fight chapter 20. Cali is trying to get in on the act with the weird, bastard-twisted "fluff" scene. *hrms*

How did this thing ever get so LOOOONG? I'm wondering if I've dropped enough/too-many hints as to who the Boss is, because I think we're getting up to the point of the big reveal omg.

Whee. Now, to blow up a science lab. Or maybe I'll play with "wordle" first.

Edit: *kills the random o0-s that slipped in, there*

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