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Screaming Blue Murder, chapter 26

A/N: I’ve got a bit behind on my posting this, haven’t I? :P

Screaming Blue Murder
Chapter 26
Screaming Blue Murder - Chapter Twenty-Six
Disclaimer: As ever, author neither claims nor intentionally implies ownership of the ‘Transformers’ brand, or any character or concept herein, who are copyright 1984-present Hasbro/etc and used with much love and respect to their creators. (...Except where they're obviously OCs, which Hasbro would be silly to want to claim.)

A/N: I had most of this written a couple of days ago, then… came down with the sick again. Huurgh. Spent most of today in bed. One of the perils of working in a hospital? …okay, I’ll shush and get to the story.

Next update may be a wee while longer than normal coming, I’m going to my parents for the weekend (birthday, yay!) and won’t have access to my files.

Hope you weren't all too disappointed to find out who the ringleader was... ;)

-----

It took Skywarp and Pulsar several long seconds to get over their shock.

“Cali-! But how can you-… how can it be you?” Pulsar lurched across her words. It seemed incomprehensible. One of her closest friends and confidants at the station was orchestrating this whole thing? And she hadn’t even suspected-…? It was difficult to tell if she felt more disappointed at the revelation, or ashamed that she’d been so totally clueless.

Skywarp showed none of Pulsar’s vocal reticence. He literally flew at Calibrator, snarling, arms outstretched and fingers curling into claws… but Fatigue stepped forwards and intercepted him before he could reach her, stuck out a casual arm just in time to catch him hard across the chest and knock him to his back on the floor with a low crunch. Skywarp lay flat on his wings and oww!-ed breathlessly for a moment or two, fans frantically gusting cool air over the wrenched components, then glared up at the smirking Fatigue and went for the tractor’s ankles… Fatigue kicked out, lazily, caught him under the chin with a blow hard enough to leave scuffs of olive paint up his throat and landed him straight back on the floor, cracking the abused glass of his cockpit.

“Play nice, Seeker,” he instructed, amusedly, delivering a needless kick into the flier’s side.

Skywarp groaned, angrily, and clawed his fingers at the floor. “…so going to get you for that-”

“Okay, do I need to remind you where you are, again, and who I am? And why it’s not a good idea to go threatening the residents?” Fatigue wondered, leaning closer. “I’m going easy on you because Cali doesn’t want you too smashed up, but if I have to give you a walloping to make the point-…?”

Skywarp growled and kicked out sideways, sweeping Fatigue’s feet out from under him. The tractor gave a startled yelp and landed hard on his aft, in which time the teleport was back up on his thrusters and aiming a kick at his face-

Fatigue managed to throw himself backwards just in time, caught the flier’s heel as it passed his temple, and shoved upwards. Skywarp gave an erp! and lost his balance, toppling backwards. “You’re starting to frag me off, Airhead,” Fatigue growled, dropping a piledriver fist towards the dazed crimson optics-

Pulsar slipped herself between them, and the descending fist came to a gentle stop hovering just above her head.

“What do you want, Skinny?” the tractor rumbled. “Is Deuce no fun today, or something?”

“Leave him alone,” she said, quietly.

Fatigue’s heavy features broke into an amused leer. “Aw, how cute. Has to have his girl protect him,” he sneered, patting Pulsar on the head, then dropped his hand to her shoulder and used her to push himself to his feet. (Although it didn’t seem to be accidental that the sudden weight increase completely overwhelmed the servos in her hips and dropped her square down onto Skywarp’s wings, prompting a yelp! and an angry shove in the opposite direction.)

“I hardly think that,” she corrected, irritably, scooting herself across the floor, away from the angry wings that jerked meaningfully under her weight. “He’s my ride home. Smash him up, and I’ll have to walk.”

“Huh,” Fatigue snorted, in a tone of voice that suggested he didn’t believe her the slightest bit, but he wasn’t going to push it. “All right, Sweets, we’ll leave him be for now. Just you make sure you mind your manners in future. Acting cute won’t always save you from a kick in the aft, if you’ve earned it.”

She averted her gaze and pouted, irritable, offered her hand to the prone Seeker.

Skywarp took the proffered hand and let her drag him – with no small amount of difficulty – back upright. “If you have to try and be heroic, can you try and do it in such a way that it doesn’t make me look bad?” he grumbled, quietly, his vocaliser still buzzing very slightly where Fatigue’s kick had wrenched it out of alignment. “I was quite capable of kicking his aft on my own.”

“Yeah, you’re welcome.” She glared back at him.

Calibrator had remained perched on her crate in the doorway, smiling her silent amusement at the little ruction. “Are you two quite finished?” she wondered, sweetly. “And can we get back to business?”

“I have zero desire for any form of business with you,” Skywarp said, and glared at her. “And I hope you realise there’s absolutely nothing you can say that’ll make me keep this a secret,” he added, folding his arms across his cockpit. “Nothing at all! And I don’t care how dosed up on Blue you get me, I’m still going to tell everyone.”

Calibrator actually laughed. “I hope you realise that I had planned for that eventuality all along,” she confirmed, and smiled at the downcast expression he didn’t quite succeed in hiding. “In fact, I am quite convinced that your commander will have worked it all out already. He’s a lot more astute than Autobot propaganda implies, isn’t he?”

“Well I’m still gonna tell him,” Skywarp grumbled, but seemed mostly petulant that she hadn’t pleaded with him to keep her secret. “I don’t get why you invited him to join you, if you’re so sure he’s worked out you’re the Boss. Surely even you can guess where he’d tell you to stick it once he found out.”

“To get him out of the way, my dear moron,” Calibrator scolded. “Had he ultimately elected to accompany me, for whatever reason – to work with me, to challenge me, to try and remove me, whatever – Fatigue could have very easily dealt with him.”

In the background, the tractor popped the actuators in his knuckles, meaningfully. “We’ve got plenty of cement here, after all,” he rumbled, amusedly, harking back to an earlier conversation he’d had with Skywarp.

The teleport shot him a dirty look, but managed to keep a rein on his vocaliser for once.

“While he remains at the station, he is a risk. But no matter!” Calibrator waved a hand, dismissively. “I shall just have to make sure my alternative steps to neutralise him are more successful.”

“What do you mean, your alternative steps…?” Skywarp gave her a probing look. “He said someone sabotaged his computers, but that’s hardly gonna ‘neutralise’ him. What else have you done?”

“My my, you’re being quite shrewd as well, today, aren’t you?” Calibrator smiled, warningly. “What I have done is not something you need to be party to just yet, little Skywarp. You will find out in due course.”

“Bet it’s something stupid,” he sniped, disgruntled, sitting heavily back down on one of the boxes and looking irritably off to one side. “Let’s face it, you blew up your own lab! While you were still in it! Can’t get much more stupid than that.”

That was a foolish oversight,” she snapped, letting the smile drop and her carefully-crafted sweet and inoffensive mask slip for just a second. “The fume cupboard was supposed to act like a concentrator, build the fumes up to lethal levels and kill everyone caught in the blast front, while the workscreen disturbed the shockfront and sheltered me from it for long enough to get out of the room. Of course, your wing commander figured out my error after the fact, when it was too late for me to counter it. The damn cupboard contained the blast. If only I’d left the stuff out on the bench and abandoned ship…” She gave herself a shake and cut herself off, mid-tirade. “No matter. What’s past is past, and I don’t plan on making the same mistake twice. I left plenty of distractions in the walls to keep everyone busy for a little while…”

“Want to explain exactly what you mean by that?”

“No.” She smiled, disdainfully. “Just that you will want to follow my instructions to the letter, when I let you go back-”

“What about Sepp?” Pulsar asked, softly. “Why did you send your underlings after her?”

“The surgeon? Just an unfortunate casualty of the ‘war’.” The analyst shrugged, loosely. “She was not a bad sort, either; I quite liked her. But she repaired your wingmate, and that meant she needed taking out of the equation – should Starscream happen to suffer any further ‘unfortunate accidents’, I should prefer it if he was not immediately back on his feet.” She made a face. “That is not to mention she required a much-needed lesson in why she should not stick her nose into other people’s business.”

“I don’t think she got involved through any particular choice in the matter,” the Policebot commented, quietly. “She just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“Something she will ensure she does not do again, one presumes,” Calibrator observed, amusedly. “Ah, Siphon. Just in time. Things were getting a little… deep.”

The tanker had returned with a handful of cubes, on a tray. He bent into a steep, mocking bow, and offered the cubes towards Skywarp.

The dark Seeker felt the momentary urge to plant a hand underneath the tray and flip it into the tanker’s face, but restrained himself. They’d only lock him up and let him withdraw, again, the way his luck was going right now. He took a cube, hesitantly, and examined it for a few quiet seconds before finally speaking. “This, ah… this isn’t Basic, is it?”

“Quite correct. In your hand you hold Crisis Blue. Basic has become, how can I put it… unavailable.”

“You mean, it’s not strong enough, and you’re not going to give me any more.” He glanced up, unimpressed.

“Essentially? Yes. Crisis is your only option, because I don’t trust you.”

“Huh.” He wrinkled his nose. “I can’t help thinking I’d rather be lectured on trust by someone better versed in it.”

Pulsar gave the analyst a reproachful look, taking her own cube but not attempting to try it. “I thought we were supposed to be friends, Cali,” she said, flatly. “I told you some of my darkest secrets because I trusted you, and all this time you were lying to me-”

“Something I do regret, Pulse,” Calibrator soothed, sadly. “You always were a good friend to me, regardless of my own faults, and I never betrayed your confidence, passed your secrets on to anyone-”

“You constantly disparaged me-!” Pulsar argued. “All the time you were hiding under that vocal modifier, you insulted me, insulted my abilities, made insinuations about my allegiances-” She waved the hand not clutching the Crisis. “You called me a worthless bike, Cali…!”

Fatigue swatted her around the back of the helm, tiredly. “Just take your damn medicine and stop giving the Boss a hard time, Skinny.”

“Stop giving her a hard time-?!”

“Look. You both have two choices,” Calibrator said, softly, her voice at last dropping the friendly pretence. “You can either take your medicine, like good little addicts, or you can go back into confinement.” She gave Skywarp a pointed look. “And I don’t mean until you’ve changed your mind, I mean to get you out of the way. I have no qualms about permanently removing you if it means I don’t have to worry what games you’re playing.”

“Is that a threat?” the Decepticon challenged, chin up, belligerently.

“Interpret it however you like,” she stared him down. “Keep on pushing, and I may just permit Fatigue to be imaginative with you. I am quite sure he has plenty of things in his subspace he’d be inclined to try.”

Skywarp grumbled wordlessly and glared at the tractor, who did his best to look innocent.

Pulsar stared down into her cube, half-watching Skywarp’s visual investigation of his own. It was even smaller than normal, just a few mouthfuls, and had none of the shimmering, effervescent violence of Ruin. She didn’t care what Cali said, this must be a trick – she wouldn’t be able to tolerate it, would end up completely purging her system, and they’d give her Screaming Blue instead, as a punishment, and she’d end up at the bottom of the docks somewhere, all greyed out and spark-less. She glanced up and watched as Skywarp took an investigative sip, his pale brow furrowed briefly in thought.

“-Well-?” She mouthed the words at him.

He shrugged, and took another mouthful – although less warily, this time. Seems okay.

She stared down into the calm lilac depths of the Crisis, steeled her nerve, and took her own hesitant sip. Passing the dose back to her pumps took surprising effort – it felt as if she were trying to swallow without actually committing herself to it… And although it was only a little mouthful, that was usually no barrier to the firm, no-nonsense kick in the spark she usually got from Ruin. She waited for the low grinding spark-deep hurt as the Blue integrated, the desire to purge everything and…

There was nothing. The Crisis interlaced through her programming as smoothly as silk, and her pumps didn’t so much as whisper in complaint. It was almost like taking untainted energon. She glanced up to meet Skywarp’s puzzled stare across the top of the cube’s crystal lattice.

“You look surprised,” Cali observed, watching carefully.

“A little,” Pulsar admitted, reluctantly. “You said it’s stronger than Ruin, but it’s… gentler. I expected something hard. Ruin always gave me such a kick in the power-regulator, I guess I expected something worse…”

“Crisis is as perfected as the product has ever been,” Calibrator explained, carefully. “It integrates smoothly, it takes longer to withdraw from, and is easier to hide – not that it matters particularly about the latter, in your cases, any more.” You just have to be a lot more careful about your dose, she added, to herself.

Pulsar turned the cube between her fingertips, and confirmed the distinct absence of visible fractals in it. She vented stale air, tiredly. Much as she hated to admit it, this wasn’t bad. Ruin often had an intense, disorienting high after the kick of a violent integration, but Crisis was… smooth. Had a long, heady calm… actually felt kinda relaxing. She cupped the cube between her palms and took a longer draught-

“Easy does it. I think that’s about enough,” Calibrator gently pushed the cube away from her. “You don’t want to overdose.”

Pulsar whined softly and chased the cube, briefly, but let it go. The idea that Cali was just using it for its sedating effect flickered very briefly through her awareness, but was quickly dismissed. At least her friend was still looking out for her well being…! Anyone else would have happily let her overdose.

Calibrator settled to the floor next to her. “I would still like a confidant, Pulsar,” she suggested, quietly, as if it were some terrible admission, taking one pale hand into both of hers. “My boys are respectful and good workers, but, ah… not the most appropriate sort of people to just talk things through with. It would do me a great honour if you would just stay here as a friend. Someone to talk to.”

Pulsar stared down at the dark fingers that had wrapped around her own, and smiled, sadly. “I’m not sure I’d be good at that. I mean, I’m still a police officer. I’m still an Autobot. You’re still technically the enemy. I don’t know if I can just… forget my allegiance, just like that-…”

“Not even for an old friend?” Calibrator gave her an exaggeratedly downcast look. “I’m offering you a privileged position, here, Pulse. Please?”

“Can I think about it?”

Calibrator smiled. “Of course! How long do you need?”

“Hey, Boss? I think you’ve given me a duff one,” Skywarp piped up, glumly, looking contemplative but crestfallen. “Can I have another?”

Calibrator narrowed her optics at him. She’d been doing quite well, indoctrinating her old friend, and the Seeker’s interruption might have negated that bit of work. “Define exactly what you mean by ‘duff’,” she challenged, suspiciously.

He spread his hands, and waved the empty cube. “It’s not doing anything! I still feel all twitchy.” He gazed down into the empty lattice, as if he’d be able to see the part he hypothesised was missing. “Maybe you forgot to put the actual Blue in it.”

“If that had been pure energon, you would have purged it,” she corrected. “Crisis may integrate more smoothly, but it is still Blue.”

“Well, whatever. It still didn’t work!” He threw the cube at her, and she managed to catch it just before one of the sharp corners caught her nose. “So I figure, either you get your idiots-” He paused very briefly to shoot a snide glance at Siphon. “-to bring the proper stuff, or you quit nagging me, and let me go.”

Calibrator pursed her lips in displeasure, but flicked a hand at Siphon, who nodded and vanished briefly off to fetch more supplies. “I know you’re playing games,” she warned, softly, watching Skywarp snatch his second cube off the tanker. “And these are not good times to do such a thing.”

“Games?” He curved a brow, archly. “You’re just being paranoid, now.”

“You have already taken far more Crisis than you need,” she corrected, softly. “Even Pulsar should have needed more than you to satisfy her withdrawal, since she was primed with Ruin.”

“Well, it would help if you had consistency across your batches,” he replied, pithily, examining his third cube. “I mean, you’re the scientist, right? So surely you know that different machines tolerate things in different ways. Particularly if you’re as different as us two,” he waved a finger between himself and Pulsar. “She’s just a skinny little blip of nothing. I’m bigger and stronger, so it stands to reason I’d tolerate a bigger dose – or is that too hard a concept to grasp?”

Calibrator glared down her fine nose at him. “I do not like your type, Decepticon,” she told him, stiltedly. “I don’t care for the way you think you can somehow trick me – because yes, I can see your game – and I don’t like what you have been doing to my friend, with all your emotional blackmail and trickery.”

He promptly snorted Blue down the wrong intake, and spluttered for a moment or two. “You’re hardly one to talk, after what you’ve been doing to your ‘friend’!” he argued, not sure if he should be insulted or amused. “I don’t know, maybe lies, backstabbing and treachery are the way Neutrals have traditionally always treated each other!”

“Perhaps we’ve just been taking tips from the Decepticons,” she snapped back, folding her arms.

“Puh.” He sneered back at her, then shrugged, offhand, swigged at the cube-

-Something kicked against his pumps. He’d not quite managed to completely recover from his last half-drowning, but promptly sucked fuel down the wrong intakes and made himself splutter all over again. “What was-… uff… what was that?” he garbled.

Calibrator spread her hands. “Maybe just another ‘duff batch’,” she suggested, dryly. “You’re really not having very much luck with this, are you? Crisis is the best I have designed, but occasional imperfections do slip through. You must have had another of them.”

“Crisis is lumpy?”

Calibrator frowned at him. “What?” She waved her hands. “Actually, don’t bother explaining. Getting sense out of you is like trying to get energon out of a rock. Occasionally, higher grade Blue makes the pumps spasm. That must be what you just experienced.”

Skywarp pouted, hurt, and took refuge in the rest of the cube. “I know what I felt, and it wasn’t a spasm,” he grumbled, although he seemed… unsure of himself. Or perhaps just more disinclined to argue? Whatever the reason, he finished the rest of the cube in silence, and had visibly relaxed by the time he was finished. “So what are we to do?” he asked, features placid.

“You both work for us, now,” Calibrator said, softly. “Do as you are told, and you will be rewarded. Follow your instructions, and life will be comfortable. Life will become a lot more difficult if you are disobedient.”

“They know we’ve been here,” Skywarp reminded her, softly. “They’ll know if we’ve even just thought about changing where our alliance lies. And they’ll suspect us, anyway! What do you think we’ll be able to achieve?”

“If things go to plan, this will be the final time you need to return,” she informed him. “If by some quirk of fate you actually achieve your objective, you will have no need to go back.”

“But my friends-” Both Seeker and Policebot argued, in unison.

“-Are no longer your friends!” Calibrator interrupted. “Your allegiance is here. With us. Your ‘friends’ already have no time for you – they see you as the weak link, the break point. Recall how they had no qualms about attacking you to prove you tested positive for Blue?” She gave Skywarp a pointed look, and watched him flinch. “What do you think they will do when they find out you have been back here? This is your only option!”

Pulsar nodded, quietly. “It’s a… tempting offer,” she agreed, softly. “Back home, I’m one of the lowest-ranking officers. Here, you offer me respect…”

Skywarp was still dithering, but did seem to be slowly succumbing to the Blue. “But… I’ve been with my wingmates for so long-…” he wavered. “I can’t just-”

“You can just and you will just,” Calibrator cut in, grimly, giving him a long hard look. “You will remain our agents, or you will be removed altogether. I have no time for irresolution, and I have no time for those I can’t trust. If you are going to have any doubts about your allegiance, I will get to know, one way or another, so you had better speak up now, before things get… how should I put it so there can be no misunderstandings? Painful.”

“The threats aren’t necessary,” Skywarp pointed out. “You don’t need to bully me over to your side-”

“I know. Anyone can be bribed, if the appropriate persuasions are applied,” she agreed, with a little smile. “I’m quite sure we can find something to your liking.”

Skywarp sank to one knee so his head was lower than hers, respectfully, and he looked… well, almost dazed. He had a placid, absent expression on his face, and his lips were curved in a slight smile. He’d have been deep under the influence of Crisis, if everything had worked properly. Calmed to such a degree he was almost sedated. His mind just right for gently shaping into something new – but there was something about him that made Calibrator suspicious. He was looking a little too vacant. She had the strong suspicion he was still playing his games, but-… no matter. She already had counter-measures in place.

“I will want proof of your loyalty, Skywarp, before I dare bring you any closer to the epicentre,” she explained, softly, tracing her fingers over his pale brow. “As you in particular have the potential to be a troublemaker. I need to know you are trustworthy.”

“What do you want me to do?” he asked, softly, bowing his head and remaining on one knee.

“Bring me one of Starscream’s null-rays,” she instructed, softly. “And I don’t care what you have to do to get it. Kill him, if needs be.”

He didn’t even argue it. “Your wish is my command, oh gracious leader,” he lifted his gaze to meet hers, placidly, and brushed his lips across the back of her hand, respectfully.

A breem or two later, all instructions appropriately passed on and supplies provided, Calibrator stood out on the landing stage and watched the unnatural pair gradually vanish into the inky sky.

“Do you think he’ll do it?” Siphon wondered, coming up behind her and placing his hands affectionately on her shoulders. “That’d deal with two problems in just one blow! The main threat gets neutralised, and you get those nonlethal weapons you wanted for us.”

“It would be nice to think he could be trusted, but my instinct says no,” she demurred, sadly. “He has his own agenda, and his own game that he is playing. He might be acting co-operative, but I have no doubt that he is already trying to twist this to his advantage.”

“Even on Crisis? I thought you said most machines were susceptible to the forced loyalty-”

“Most are,” she agreed, darkly, “if they actually take it. The amount of Crisis he took far exceeded the amount he’d need to kill himself with an overdose, so he’s clearly playing games with us. He probably diverted it into a standby tank.” She glared up at the dwindling pinpoints of Skywarp’s thrusters in the sky above. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he barely integrated enough to get rid of his withdrawal for a few breems.”

“Are we going to have to go after him?” Siphon wondered, dismayed. “I don’t think we stand much of a chance at getting inside the station, any more, now we’ve got no operatives in there.”

“Oh no, I have already taken steps to ensure he won’t play his games for much longer. By the time he gets back to the police station, he’ll be past the point of caring about telling his friends about our little surprises.” Calibrator smiled, dangerously. “He will just have to be taught the hard was that even though we do not share his faction, we are just as capable of duplicity and damage. If it means we lose him as an operative, so be it.”

“Bit of a waste of resources.”

“Regretfully, yes, but they are the sort of dangerous resources we don’t need.” Calibrator touched her fingers to one of the hands on her shoulders. “I would rather lose a flier and keep my inner circle, than attempt to trust the Decepticon and lose everything.”

Siphon hummed, pleased. “You know we’d do anything for you.”

“I know you would.” She gave him a smile. “Take Deuce, and go and round up as many, ah… as many loyalists from the city as you can find,” she instructed, at last, softly, shivering under the way his fingers danced a playful tattoo down her arms and he vented warm air across the back of her neck. “We will have to, ah… mmh-… that is-… we will have to, ah-… step up operations.” Siphon was being most distracting! “We can’t hope the Police will remain at ah!- at a distance for much longer.”

“Your wish is my command, oh gracious leader,” he confirmed, amusedly, echoing Skywarp’s words. “We’ll do you proud.”
0o0o0o0o0


Once out of sight and out of earshot, heading back towards the station, the two addicts had finally deemed it safe to let their masks slip.

“What are you doing?” Pulsar demanded, staring up into Skywarp’s placid features. “The volume of Crisis you took – how in Primus are you not overdosing?!”

He smiled, genially. “Oh, you just let me worry about that. I’m just engaging in a very old and very famous human practice.”

“What exactly is that?!”

He finally looked down at her. “Faking it!” He grinned, wickedly. “I diverted most of the Crisis into a backup tank,” he explained, as the station came into view in the middle distance. “Starscream will want some of the pure stuff to test, right? And to put in his weirdo cure-device-box-whatever-thing? So… how better to get him a sample than from the source?”

“But what if you leak?!” Was he being stupidly brave, or just stupid, she wondered?

“Pulse, it’s a fuel tank,” he scolded. “It’s designed solely for the holding of liquid fuel. It’s not gonna suddenly start leaking just because it has Blue in it instead of energon.”

She vented air in a huff, and rearranged her grip a little more comfortably. Looking at him was infinitely preferable to watching the ground flash past below. “I still think you’re taking a needless risk.”

“Oh, psh. You’re just worrying needlessly. Besides, it’s not bad, is it, this one? Smooth, calming, doesn’t make you want to just purge…” Skywarp commented, sleepily, and she noticed he was getting gradually more and more sluggish and lower in the air. “Almost makes you want to go join forces with ‘em.

“Primus help us, what’s a ‘skinny blip of nothing’ like me going to do if a dedicated, devoted Decepticon like you is having second thoughts about his allegiance?” In spite of her fear of heights, Pulsar wished he’d go a little faster, a little higher – just so she’d know he was all right. Much slower and he’d stall himself out of the sky altogether.

Skywarp made a pfft noise, either not noticing or not caring about his decreasing airspeed. “Yeah, but I’m a Decepticon,” he reminded her, unnecessarily. “I’m supposed to be fickle, right?”

“Not so fickle that you abandon your faction altogether…!” She chanced a glance down over her shoulder and was relieved to find he was making the final run to the station, pulling his feet up and pointing his toes into a landing. She hoped – without a whole lot of conviction – that was the reason he’d got so unnaturally torpid in the air.

Skywarp touched down lightly, and had carried her halfway up the steps to the main entrance before she managed to prod her way into his attention and get him to put her down. “Oh, right, yeah. Sorry. I forgot you ground-pounders like to have your feet on the floor all the time,” he apologized, distractedly amused, and patted her head. “Better?”

Nice though it was to have this fluff-brained semi-affectionate mech around instead of the sneery oaf she’d endured before, it was worrying her. It was almost as if he was still integrating the Crisis and slowly getting more intoxicated, which he shouldn’t have been doing if his tanks were patent-

“Warp, how are your tanks holding up?” she wondered, cautiously, following him through the front doors.

“My tanks are fine,” he waved a hand, airily, ambling along.

“Sure?”

He gave her a half-hearted reproachful look. “I might not be clever, but I know how my diagnostics work. All my seals are holding up just fine.”

“Right. Um… hadn’t you better go give Starscream that sample of Crisis, now?” she prodded, gently, worried about how absent-minded he was looking. The quicker his tanks were emptied, the better.

“You know, that is an excellent idea,” he agreed, dreamily, slinging an overly-friendly arm around her shoulders and dragging her along. “We’ll go visit el Screaming One.” He’d gone several strides in the wrong direction before she put the brakes on. “What?”

“The lab is this way,” she reminded him, managing to steer him into an about-face and down the correct branch of the corridor.

“It is?” He let himself be led. “I guess you know best. You’ve lived here longer than I have.”

It took every ounce of self-control not to break into a run. Maps and directions were Skywarp’s speciality, so if he’d forgotten where the lab was…

Both Starscream and Thundercracker were working in the lab, navigating their large wings skilfully around the rest of the scurrying technicians, when the two addicts finally arrived.

“Hey, Screamer! I got you a sample of her newest one!” Skywarp greeted, looking… wobbly, clinging lopsidedly to the smaller officer who was barely strong enough to hold him upright, her knees already bowing. Inappropriately jovial. “It’s a good one, I tell you! Integrates as smooth as you like. You’d almost not be able to tell it wasn’t energon.”

Starscream gave him a puzzled look. “Warp, are you high again? Because if you are-”

“No, no, I’m fine,” the teleport argued, waving his hands, smiling. “I just had to steal more than I needed! You got somewhere for me to put it?”

Starscream watched his hands. “If you’re going to actually get it out of your subspace, you can just put it on a table,” he confirmed, warily.

“What? Oh! No, no, it’s not in my subspace, I’ve got it in my tanks. Got any empties I could use?”

Thundercracker pulled a face. “Warp, that’s disgusting.”

Skywarp snickered, releasing Pulsar from under his arm and tottering into a table instead. “Just gimme a cube, and I won’t even make you watch.”

Thundercracker and Starscream swapped looks, but the blue Seeker held out the required empty. “Just hurry up about it, would you?” Thundercracker suggested. “The quicker you’re sorted, the quicker we can pack you off to the dorms to assimilate all that excess energy into your relays.”

“Huh!” Skywarp grabbed for the cube and missed it twice before finally getting his fingers to connect with it. “Look, guys, could you stop moving the walls, please?”

Thundercracker frowned at him. “Do what, Warp?”

Skywarp canted his head over to one side – he was looking increasingly wobbly. “Never mind.”

“Have you had any of what he’s on?” Starscream directed his attention at Pulsar, optics narrowed.

“A little,” she agreed, not managing to tear her own gaze from the drunken teleport. “I never got like this, though… You’ve got to get him emptied, as soon as possible.”

“Agreed,” Starscream growled, and turned to one of the technicians. “Can you go fetch me some things from storage? And be quick about it…?”

“Guys, stop fragging about. This isn’t funny,” Skywarp scolded, while Starscream relayed his list hastily to the tech. “If I wanted silly flashing lights, I’d go down a club somewhere.”

“Warp, we’re not doing anything.” Thundercracker argued, anxiously. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Well, you must be doing something, ‘cause now I can’t see-… oh, no, it’s okay, there you are. Hm, I didn’t take you for the pink sort of mech, Screamer. When’d you get the new paint job?” Skywarp tottered unsteadily, as if the floor was moving, and stood swaying with his feet spread apart for balance for a good few moments. “I don’t think it suits you, you know. Doesn’t go with the green.”

Starscream swapped a look with Thundercracker, who was already on an intercept course to grab Skywarp before he fell right over.

“And I… ooh” Skywarp went on. “Ooh, that’s not right.”

“Warp, define ‘ooh’,” Starscream instructed, sharply, worriedly, approaching from the opposite side.

Skywarp managed a funny, lopsided smile, although it was equal parts confusion and discomfort rather than amusement. “Ooh, I think one of my tanks has ruptured,” he said, dazedly, and collapsed on top of Thundercracker.

Somewhere in the distance, he could hear Starscream howling for an endoscope – whatever one of those was – but he didn’t have long to ponder over it. The strange, swirling colours all twisted in on themselves and the world turned off.

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