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Screaming Blue Murder, chapter 27

A/N: Oh noes, I have no witty comments this time!

Screaming Blue Murder
Chapter 27

“Where the slag is that endoscope!” Starscream howled over his shoulder. “If I wanted it in an orn’s time, I’d have fetched it myself!”

“I’ll get it,” Thundercracker offered, urgently, and lurching straight into a run from his sitting position, very nearly running on all fours out of the main door.

Starscream bent to examine Skywarp, trying not to let himself jitter too much. They were already cutting it far, far too fine, if they left it much longer he’d be beyond help, like the landlord… The teleport was burbling very quietly to himself, twitching as more of that accursed Crisis seeped into his system. It was almost like watching him melt, this long, slow, frightening overdose-… He’d gone very rapidly from that sort of jovial drunkenness to confusion, and now was descending his way through a staticky delirium – laying down was apparently minimising how much he was absorbing, but he’d continue to absorb it until they managed to get his tanks emptied…

Starscream realised that there were actual words in the mess of static and chirps of broken Decepticon slang, and leaned down closer to his delirious wingmate. “What’s in the walls?” he coaxed, trying to keep his voice even when he really wanted to give the teleport a good shake for being so damn stupid, and demand an explanation of what he meant. “Come on, Warp, you can tell me. We can fix it.”

Skywarp just rolled his head and groaned, and the words dissolved back into unintelligible fizzing.

There was the clatter of thrustered heels and Thundercracker crashed through the doorway, clipping his wings hard on the way in, clutching a spool of piping in one black hand. “Got it, I got it,” he staggered over. “Fraggers were taking the long way back. What did you want it for?”

“We’re going to have to manually evacuate his tanks,” Starscream snapped. “If we’re lucky he won’t have absorbed too much into his system.”

“Sorry, Screamer-… do what to him?” Thundercracker looked shaken.

“Just give me the damn instrument!” Starscream snatched it out of his wingmate’s hands before the blue Seeker had even fully processed the words.

Thundercracker sat back on his thrusters and watched silently as Starscream fed the tube down through his wingmate’s fuel intake, guiding it past the assorted pumps and analytical plates by the tiny camera at the tip. “What can I do?”

“You can be quiet, I’m concentrating.”

Starscream’s snap was probably unnecessarily harsh, but Thundercracker didn’t argue it. Skywarp’s features had lost that drunken joviality – now they were flat, strained, and his ruddy optics were clearly unfocussed. His jaw hung slack around the endoscope his wingmate was wielding.

“Okay… okay, got it…” Starscream kicked a cube into place, sucked very briefly on the trailing end of the endoscope to get the fluid moving, then dropped the open end into the cube before he could swallow any himself. Fine purple liquid swirled briefly around the bottom of the lattice, and the cube rapidly began to fill. “I just hope I caught him in time.”

Thundercracker touched a finger briefly to the sensitive components around Skywarp’s optic, and was rewarded by a sluggish flinch. “Well, he’s still got some of his reactions,” he confirmed, quietly. “I guess that’s a start.”

“We’ll know better once the stuff starts to wear off,” Starscream sighed, watching as Skywarp whined wordless discomfort and waved his hands uselessly at the endoscope, trying to palm it out of his mouth; Thundercracker caught his hands, trapped them carefully out of the way and murmured quiet reassurances to him. “I’m hoping he’ll get more lucid and more awake as he starts to come down.”

“You think he will?”

“Extrapolating from what we already know about it, I hope he will.” Starscream nodded. “Psychological effects – or at least, Blue induced psychological effects – have resolved each time he comes down off his high, remember?”

Thundercracker nodded, silently, but his features were creased in dubious concern.

“My guess is the same will be true in this case. Although knowing Warp and his predilection for doing the opposite of anything anyone expects of him… hm, you could be right, TC.” Starscream sighed, tightly. “He’s got to be almost empty now, surely,” he grumbled, leaning down closer-

Something bright silver shot up the outside of the endoscope and lunged for his face. He gave an inarticulate yelp of alarm and fell backwards onto his aft, flung out an arm and backhanded it smartly across the room.

“Whoa!” Thundercracker leaped back out of the way as it sailed through the air towards his chest.

There was a crack of precise lilac energy from one null-ray and the silver thing dropped to the floor, stunned. Thundercracker hastily dropped a toughened glass bell-jar down over it.

“What in the Pit is that?” he wondered, out loud, hesitantly approaching to peer down at it.

The device looked like a tiny silver arachnid of some sort, small enough to sit comfortably on a Seeker’s thumb and still have room to wave its legs around. Its multiple legs were tipped with small suction cups, however, and instead of mandibles it bore on its front end a pair of wicked, diamond-tipped drills. It lay on its back for a while, legs waving slowly.

“No wonder his slagging tanks ruptured!” Starscream swore, angrily. “This little Pit-spawn drilled a hole in them!”

Pulsar stared down at the silver insect, dismayed. “He said something about a ‘lump’ in one of the cubes he had,” she said, softly, watching as it woozily righted itself and examined its temporary prison. “Cali said he was imagining things…”

“She must have already realised he was trying to trick her,” Thundercracker growled.

The spider climbed the walls of the bell jar and rattled itself against it, looking peeved at its temporary confinement, then revved its drills and applied them to the glass. The ringing squeal as the diamond-edged blades cut into it was painful on the audios.

The spider had ground its way halfway out of the jar before Starscream glowered and shot it again – this time he dispensed with the pleasantries, however, and used a standard cannon, full power. The thin beam of superheated ions drilled down through the robotic insect’s back, lighting it from inside with first an infernal red-hot then a white-hot glow, and after a second it seemed to implode slowly on itself, all its jerking, spasming legs folding upwards as its body dissolved into a puddle of whitish goop on the floor.

Now they’d managed to drain his tanks, Skywarp wasn’t any miraculously better, but at the same time thankfully didn’t look like he’d got any worse; little burbles of delirium occasionally escaped his vocaliser, but it was mostly static. His optics were crossing in his effort to see the endoscope, and he was making an uncoordinated and ineffectual effort at pulling it free of his intakes.

Starscream knelt next to him, and brushed his fingers away from the device. “Steady there, Warp,” he soothed, carefully drawing back on the scope. “Don’t pull on it, you’ll damage your pumps.”

“Okay, so now what are we going to do with him?” Thundercracker asked, softly, gathering Skywarp up off the floor and into a sitting position; the teleport snickered quietly and slumped against him. “Wait for you to perform miracles on his brain?”

“To be perfectly honest? I have no idea,” Starscream admitted, rubbing the back of his helm, tiredly. “He’ll still withdraw off Crisis like he did off Basic – and I didn’t design the Tank to fix overdoses, just get them over the addiction. Who knows what state his brain is in, any more…”

Skywarp presumably found something in the whole situation hilarious; he sat propped against Thundercracker and bubbled with laughter – although he could equally have been in the grip of a crushing despair, by the way his face was contorted into a grimace of effort and the laughter was so filled with static it could have been sobs.

“We’ll have to get him back into the isolation bay, for now,” Starscream sighed. “If it comes to the worst and he tries teleporting, at least he won’t get anywhere.”

“You think he might?” Thundercracker looked up.

“Oh, I’m sure he will, at some point,” Starscream confirmed, nodding tiredly. “Particularly if something alarms him. While he’s so… non-lucid, I doubt he’ll think to properly triangulate.”

Thundercracker glanced away. “Yeah, I’d rather he didn’t teleport himself – and anyone helping him – into a wall,” he agreed. He only remembered the dark Seeker doing that once or twice, and it was sufficiently early in their history that it could be chalked up to inexperience, but the quantum entanglement of atoms meant the only way to get him out of the wall was to dismantle him, and replace all the parts irretrievably bonded with the furniture (an arm the first time, all the way across his torso the second). Should he do it now, while so completely inebriated, he might end up with his primary processors (or, Primus forbid, his spark) lethally bonded with something immobile.

Starscream fixed him with a serious look. “And TC? Please. You need to go and sit with him.”

“What? With-… Screamer-…! Can’t you find me something better to do than spark-sit him?” Thundercracker folded his arms and glared, bitterly. “Like, I don’t know, go teach that stinking pile of smeltings why we’re not Autobots?”

“And what exactly do you think is going to happen when he starts to come down?” Starscream wondered, exasperated, and glared at his wingmate. “It’s not going to be a nice gentle ride! He’s not going to just get a little bit shaky. If we’re lucky, he’ll probably just sit there and hallucinate himself insane. I need him to stay balanced for as long as possible, and I don’t trust anyone else to stay with him!”

“What about Squawky? She sure seems to have ingratiated her way into his favourites!” Thundercracker glared back, shooting a look at Pulsar, who tried to pretend she wasn’t there at all, really.. “She’d probably enjoy it, the dopey Autobot.”

“That’s as maybe, but in the short term? I want someone I trust to stay with him. Just in case.” Starscream repeated, more slowly. “Given that it was that wretched Auto-moron got him in this mess in the first place, you might understand my reluctance to have her alone with him.”

Thundercracker backed down, quietly. “All right,” he relented, quietly. “All right. I guess it wouldn’t hurt for a while…” He put his hands under Skywarp’s arms and helped him to his unstable feet. “Come on, Warpy. We’ll go find you somewhere comfortable to cool your afterburners for a while.”

Skywarp made a valiant effort at standing, but his knees kept sagging and Thundercracker had to resort to mostly dragging him.

“You.” Starscream caught Pulsar’s upper arm, before she could make good her escape, and gave her a tug towards the workbench. “Over here.”

“Um, y-yes sir-…” She scuttled after him, trying not to get too close.

“I want a volume assessment,” he instructed, sternly, setting the cube of Crisis down on the bench. “You were with him. How much did he have, and how much would you estimate is left?”

Pulsar gave the large, part-filled cube a critical look. “He had three cubes,” she recalled, then revised, upon seeing Starscream’s horrified expression, “but they were small! Much smaller than this. Smaller than even the normal Blue cubes.”

Starscream relaxed, marginally. “So a significant volume would have gone unabsorbed?”

The Policebot nodded. “I’d guess you have… mayybe just under two cubes worth in there.”

“And how much did you have?” He narrowed his optics, suspiciously. “Given your pre-treatment with Ruin, and resulting ability to tolerate a bigger dose, I want an estimate of exactly how big a degree Warp has overdosed himself by.”

Her features pinched in concern. “I didn’t have a lot,” she replied, softly, glancing back at the door Thundercracker had helped Skywarp through. “Certainly nowhere near a whole cube. Probably only a quarter, maximum.”

Starscream sighed. “Damnit, Warp, you don’t ever do things by halves, do you?” he cursed his absentee wingmate, irritably, then glanced back up at Pulsar. “All right, you can go,” he groused, then added; “if you have nothing better to do, TC could probably do with a hand.”

“…what?”

“That was a hint, Autobot,” Starscream’s voice became a growl. “With a sentiment I will not be espousing on a regular basis. You want to go sit with him? You better get a fragging move on, before I change my mind.”

0o0o0o0o0

Forceps was back home, supposedly “convalescing” (but getting twitchy with inactivity), when her communications pinger in the corner of the lounge went off, flickering briefly with blue light, which she knew was Spotweld’s way of saying “it’s the station calling, again?” She smiled, vaguely – it had hardly been half an orn since Hardline checked she was okay (again), and his mother hen act was wearing even her patience a little thin. She almost ignored it, but… no. That was just rude.

“Look, I told you already, you don’t have to keep checking up on me-” she started, thumbing the receive button.

Starscream smirked half-heartedly back at her. “So sorry to disappoint,” he snerked, not sounding in the slightest bit apologetic. “But I wasn’t checking up on you.”

“Ach, sorry. I was expecting someone else.” She settled into the seat, with a wry smile.

“Well, that much was obvious,” Starscream rolled his optics. “Listen, Sepp?” She began to notice just how tired he looked. “Are you properly back on your feet, yet? Because I need to ask a favour off you.”

“I’m not as steady as I’d like to be, but I’m getting there,” she confirmed, nodding, and added; “I can probably cope with minor surgery, if that was what you were going to ask, just not the heavy stuff.” It was a bit of a lie – Resector had made her swear off surgery altogether for at least another dozen orns, but she figured Starscream wasn’t likely to go tattling to one of his least favourite Autobots. “What’s the problem?”

“Warp has a ruptured fuel tank,” Starscream explained, carefully. “It’s in just the right place to stop him partitioning his fuel properly, and he’ll keep on overdosing on Blue unless we give him a mouthful at a time, which really isn’t very workable in the long-term.”

“And you’d like me to replace it?” Forceps intuited. “I’m not sure I even have any appropriate tanks. Do you have any schematics so I can source some?”

“Ah, well, just a patch job would be fine for now,” Starscream demurred. “I’m not sure how well he’d stand up to full surgery at the moment.”

“He’s got that bad?”

Starscream sighed, tiredly, and rubbed his temples. “Cali poisoned him, essentially. He’s massively overdosed on Crisis Blue and he’s spending all his time hallucinating, right now. I don’t want him to overdose all over again.”

“Wait, wait… Cali poisoned him? As in Calibrator?” Forceps skewered him with a horrified stare. “Please tell me it was in some sort of laboratory accident.”

Starscream grimaced and shook his head. “She’s been controlling things all along. Laying a trail of false starts, sabotaging the evidence, keeping us all one step behind.”

Forceps sagged back in her chair. “So you mean to say all this time-… after everything…”

“After you patched her up so nicely...”

She glared, hotly. “I knew I should have charged her for the work,” she grumbled, and pouted at the inappropriate snicker she got in response. “All right, I’ll get there as quick as I can. The sooner you three are back to peak operating capacity, the better.”

0o0o0o0o0

Skywarp had begun to return to lucidity as the acute high wore off, supporting himself without having to cling to Thundercracker, but he’d also slowly transitioned from just hallucinating to hallucinating and withdrawing. Just sitting talking quietly to him was keeping him somewhat grounded, but his burbling, staticky incoherence had turned into coherent delusions, and he’d already worked his shakiness (and the way he couldn’t stop convulsing) into a full-blown conspiracy against him.

Exactly what he was seeing, no-one had quite worked out, and he seemed reluctant to elaborate, although if some of his lines of questioning were anything to go by, they seemed to be visual rather than auditory hallucinations. He’d already asked Thundercracker what the point to him having feathers was, weren’t his thrusters good enough? And was ambivalent about whether he thought Pulsar was a living entity, or just a strangely animated doll.

The mottled floor tiles were the current target of his confused attention, particularly when Thundercracker got up to go to the communications hub. “N-no, no, stay there, TC,” Skywarp pleaded, pathetically. “Don’t st-stand on the floor. Don’t, don’t…!”

“It’s all right, I’m staying here,” Thundercracker soothed, sitting back onto the berth. “Why mustn’t I walk on the floor?”

“You c-can’t see it?” Skywarp gazed down at the tiles, apparently hallucinating something nasty, clinging shakily to his crossed ankles and rocking slightly. “You’ll sink in, and b-burn up.” He glanced up, feverishly. “You have to stay here.”

“Okay, okay, I have no plans to walk on the floor until you tell me it’s safe. All right?”

Mollified but suspicious, Skywarp just nodded, jerkily, gazing down on the tiles as if they were moving.

“Listen, Screamer? When are you going to be done with the Crisis we took off him?” Thundercracker asked, quietly, opening a private channel to the laboratory. “We’ve going to have to give him some, before he shakes himself to bits.”

I’m very, very reluctant to give him any more, TC,” Starscream warned, softly. “We don’t know what sort of dose he’s going to need to control the withdrawal, since he’s already overdosed, and it might use up the very last of this exemplar – which I’m going to need to program the Tank.

“Well we’re going to have to give him something! He’s still going downhill, and I’m not sure he’s going to be able to take much more of this.” Thundercracker glanced over his shoulder to where Skywarp sat; the teleport was clinging like grim death to Pulsar, who was in turn struggling to keep him steady, but all both had succeeded at was making them both shake.

Starscream made a funny little non-committal noise, and Thundercracker ran out of patience. “Argh! Look, no offence, Screamer, but you’re not the one trying to keep him grounded, here!” he exclaimed, frustratedly. “I need to do something before he goes right off the rails.”

Starscream had already put his best hassle-me-at-your-own-peril voice on. “All right, all right. So long as you don’t use all of it, I don’t care what you elect to do,” he snapped. “The longer I’m talking to you, the longer it’ll take me to get the Tank into operational order.”

By the time Thundercracker finally got back with a tiny dose of Crisis, Skywarp’s attention had come up off the floor, but he looked no more relaxed.

“She said she put it in the walls,” Skywarp stuttered, optics wide. A frightened heat fairly blazed off him. “In the walls to kill all of us. TC, you’ve got to stop it, you’ve got to get it all out.”

“Get what all out, Warp?” Thundercracker set the cube to one side, and held his arms, gently. “Skywarp, you still grounded? Get what out?”

But Skywarp either couldn’t or wouldn’t elaborate. He clutched at his wingmate and shook his head, beseechingly, gazing around himself at all four walls in turn and repeating the same little request over and over. “You’ve got to get it out, TC. It’s all in the walls!”

“Well, we’ll sort that out in a minute, all right? We got you something nice to drink, first,” Thundercracker explained, carefully, and after a few moments watching the unfocussed, questing gaze flicker across his face finally his wingmate’s optics found his own.

“…something nice…?” Skywarp held out his shaky hands, and took the cube, obediently. He spent a few moments examining the thin layer of purple in the bottom – if they’d put much more in, he’d have vibrated it all over the place – before offering it back. “I don’t like this stuff, TC,” he whined, quietly. “You’re trying to poison me again.”

“Just have a little,” Thundercracker coaxed, gently, folding his hands over his friend’s and guiding the cube back to him. “It’ll stop you shaking.”

Skywarp stared down at it for another few long minutes. “Will it make me sick again?”

“No. There’s just enough to make you feel better,” Thundercracker reassured, inwardly hoping he’d brought enough – Starscream had given him the silent treatment and he had to resort to guesswork – and watched as Skywarp finally took the cube’s contents. Reassuringly, his shaking rapidly began to ease. “Good?”

“Not good, but a bit better,” Skywarp accepted, quietly, hunching his shoulders. “Are you going to get it out, now?”

“Out of the walls? Well, it would help if you told me what it is…”

“I don’t know. I don’t know.” Skywarp hugged his arms around himself. “You just have to get it all out…”

“All right, okay, I’ll get something sorted,” Thundercracker nodded, backing off to the comms terminal. “Superintendent Boxer?”

Thundercracker.” Boxer sounded surprised to get a call. “Is something wrong?

“I don’t know. Maybe. I wonder if you could spare an officer or two, for a while?”

There was a pause. “What do you need them for?

“Skywarp says Cali ‘put something in the walls’,” the blue jet explained, warily. “I need to go and take a look.”

What leads you to believe this is something other than just another of your friend’s hallucinations?

“I don’t know! I just-… I need to go look, just in case it isn’t. Can I borrow some staff?”

I’m not sure I can spare anyone to help you chase after Skywarp’s wandering mind-

“Superintendent – I don’t have enough hands to do it myself!” Thundercracker sighed, exasperatedly. “This could well be important! And I only want two or three officers. Just enough to check it out. I mean, if Warp’s wrong, the worst that can happen is that we’ve wasted a little time. If he’s right, we might not get the chance to acknowledge it, because we might all be dead!”

Boxer huffed quietly. “All right, I’ll send two constables your way,” he acceded, at last. “And if you do find anything, at all, you will let myself or Hardline know.

“Of course, Superintendent. If there is something wrong, we’ll probably need as many hands as possible to counter the threat!”

0o0o0o0o0

Skywarp didn’t like it when Thundercracker left. He watched him slip quietly out past the glass door and away, and whined softly into his captive Policebot’s audio. “All going to die,” he whimpered, faintly. “We have to get out. Have to get out now.”

“It’s all right,” Pulsar soothed, trying to coax him to loosen his deathgrip a little so she could vent off a little of the build-up of stifling heat between them. “Thundercracker is sorting things out. You’re safe.”

“How can we be safe when it’s all still in the walls?” he challenged, against her neck. “We’ve got to get out of here, Pulse. We’ve got to get out of here! Everyone has to get out before we all die-”

“TC is going to fix the problem with the walls, all right?” she promised, not knowing what exactly he thought was in the walls in the first place. “Don’t you trust him?”

There was silence for a moment or two. Then he replied, but seemed quite… what? Maybe reluctant? “…yes?”

“You don’t trust him?” She looked him in the optic. “But he’s one of your brothers…”

“You don’t understand. He’s working for them!” he whispered, as if imparting a deep, dark secret.

“…what in Primus’ name makes you think that?!”

“He wears their colours…! And he keeps giving me more medicine. He’s trying to keep my brain damped-down, so they can kill us! Because I’m the only one who knows…! I’m the only one who knows what they’re doing!” He tightened his grip on her, and she winced as he squeezed her torso, the deep old fracture aching. “He’s going to go and distract them, and then they’ll kill us…”

She hesitated, wondering if it was a good thing to remind him. “I’ve got blue on me, too, Warp,” she said, quietly. “So does Starscream. Are we working for Cali as well?”

He drew back a little, to examine her livery. “…no?” he wondered, hesitantly, drawing a finger down her blue shoulder. “But yours is… sort of… purple, I guess.”

Vision must still be playing up, she guessed; her livery was a deep royal blue. “And Siphon is green,” she added. “He’s not got any blue on him at all, but he’s one of the worst.”

Skywarp shuddered. “…just has Blue in him.”

0o0o0o0o0

They were a pretty ineffectual-looking pair, Thundercracker considered, with an inward sigh, giving the pair of officers a cursory visual examination as they approached up the corridor. Maybe Boxer was just trying to make a point. Both were small, no higher in rank than constable, and chatting to each other until they noticed him watching; at least they snapped to attention when they realised they’d been caught out.

“You here to give me a hand?” he wondered, folding his arms.

“Aye, sir!” the male confirmed, and the femme nodded her agreement. “Where do you need us to go?”

“All right, um, we can probably wing it. You, that end. You, take the other end,” Thundercracker instructed, waving his arms at his two loaned constables. “I’ll look under this middle bit.”

“What are we looking for?” the smaller one asked, trotting down to her end of the corridor.

“I don’t know. Just pull the plates off and give me a shout if you find anything suspicious.”

“By suspicious, you mean…?” She was already looking for the seam around the outside of the panel.

“Anything. Anything at all, I don’t care, it’s better to be over-paranoid and find harmless things than under-paranoid and miss something. So, if it doesn’t look like it belongs there…” There was a rattle of clips and the panelling came away easily in his dark fingers, revealing… an empty wall-space and a small bundle of wires for the lighting. All just things that were meant to be there. Thundercracker sighed, and lined the plate back up to load it back onto the fixing clips. “…then it counts as suspicious.”

0o0o0o0o0

Forceps still looked a little under the weather, as she made her way up the ramp to the front entrance – still leaning hard on a crutch on her weakened, unsteady right side, a smallish grey satchel slung over her shoulder on the other side – but at least she was up and independently mobile. “Still recalibrating,” she explained, dryly, seeing Starscream’s brows-raised suspicion. “I forgot how long it took after such a major piece of replacement work.”

Hardline immediately took Forceps’ arm and relieved her of her crutch, the instant she was close enough, and was pleased to hear her respond with quiet thanks, not try to remain independent and shove him off. Starscream made a noise of disgust and gave his optics an exaggerated roll before turning his back on them and muttering, leading the way inside.

“So what exactly was he playing at that led him to get a hole in such an inaccessible component?” Forceps wondered, watching the pale wings in front of her. “I was trying to work it out, and I realised I have no idea.”

“Playing the hero, again,” Starscream growled, irritably, and glared up at Hardline, who was trying (not entirely successfully) to swallow his quiet laughter. “I wish he’d just stay stupid and irresponsible! These damned Auto-dorks are rubbing off on him.”

“Why have you got him in here, is he that bad?” she wondered, limping into the medical bay.

“No, we just don’t trust him not to teleport,” Starscream replied, dryly. “You think he’s bad now, it’d be a whole new incalculable level of awful if he managed to quantum entangle himself with a solid wall.”

“Point taken,” Forceps accepted, grimly. “Probably make the addiction look like a walk in the park, as well…”

Skywarp didn’t look especially overjoyed to see Forceps arrive. “Are you a ghost?” he asked, shrinking down and attempting to hide behind Pulsar. “If I take it back, will you promise not to haunt me?”

“No, I’m not a ghost,” the surgeon promised. “I’m here to help.”

“You look like a ghost,” he argued, quietly. “All broken up, like that.”

Forceps glanced down on her neatly-repaired plating, and swapped a look with Starscream, who shrugged. “Just ran afoul of the same machines who got you in this mess.”

Skywarp’s tense features relaxed a little bit. “Did they kill you? We’re going to get them back for it,” he informed her. “Right, Screamer?”

“Once you’re talking a little bit less nonsense, yes,” Starscream agreed. “I need to get back to work. You’re all big enough to look after yourselves, and the Tank won’t be ready for Warp if I’m sat here talking to you lot the whole time.”

“What, you’re leaving?!” Skywarp had followed Starscream halfway to the door before his knees buckled and he sagged sideways into Hardline. “Hey, wait, no! You can’t leave me here with the ghost-!”

Hardline cast his gaze skywards and carefully manoeuvred Skywarp back onto the bunk.

“What do ghosts need with bodyguards, anyway?” the teleport wondered, shakily, edging away from the riot tank (and his cannon) and trying to steer Pulsar between them without it looking too obvious that was what he was doing. “I’m being good, aren’t I? You don’t need him here. I don’t need to be shot, I promise!

Forceps gave him a speculative look. “They really did a number on your brain, didn’t they?” she observed, watching as he peeked around from behind Pulsar’s side-lights.

“Come on, you know ghosts can’t hurt you. They’re just ghosts!” Pulsar suggested, trying to get him to stop pulling backwards on her shoulders.

“Even if ghosts don’t, he might,” Skywarp reminded, giving Hardline a long, anxious look. “And what if they steal your brain? Possess you, make you do their bidding… Ghosts can do that, you know!”

“But you don’t have a whole lot of brain left to possess, after all that Blue you had.”

He gave her a reproachful look. “That was mean, Pulse,” he told her, softly.

She averted her gaze, actually feeling guilty. “I only meant-… never mind. Sorry.”

“Right, Skywarp. Let’s get this over with, shall we?” Forceps stepped forward. “Is your tank empty?”

He shrank back. “Why, what do you want to put in it?” he asked, warily, staring at the scope. “I don’t want to be inflated. I’m not a hot-air balloon, I’m a fighter jet!”

“No, this is just a camera,” Forceps explained, and showed him the screen. “Not an air-hose.”

He narrowed his optics, suspiciously, but nodded, watching as the image on the screen moved about, following the direction the tip of the cable pointed. “…all right. I believe you. Just,” he allowed.

“Okay, then. Let’s have a little look,” she said, unspooling the cable; it was narrower than the endoscope Starscream had used, but looked just as uncomfortable. “Open wide, Skywarp.”

He shied back from her, giving her a resentful look. “No, I don’t think so. I don’t like that thing.”

“Well, it’s going in one way or another. You can either behave yourself, or I’ll get Hardline to sit on you.” Her features relaxed into a half-smile. “I’ll be gentle, and it won’t take long, all right? If you wiggle about, it’ll be more uncomfortable.”

Skywarp hrf-ed quietly and gave her a wary look. “So long as you don’t hurt me,” he agreed, at last. He sat unnaturally quietly, still as a statue while Forceps fed the camera down his intakes and scoped the damaged tank, his crimson gaze clearly affixed on Hardline – or more accurately, the heavy cannon mounted on one of his shoulders.

“Well?” Pulsar wondered, softly, watching. “Is it fixable?”

“It’s a minuscule hole,” the surgeon confirmed. “A silicone patch should hold him pretty well, until I can source a replacement tank. Pass me my bag, Pulse, I put a few different sizes in there. We’ll get him fixed up in no time…”

0o0o0o0o0

Thundercracker’s team had covered three corridors already, and the Seeker in charge had begun to think their search was going to prove fruitless when one of his officers gave a yelp and dropped her wall panel in startled surprise.

“What, what is it?” he demanded, striding over, watching as the little vehicle backed into the wall on the opposite side of the corridor, optics wide in shock.

“I f-… I ff--… that!” she stammered, almost speechless, pointing with a shaky finger at the wall cavity.

Tucked inside, wired neatly and comprehensively into the electricity ring main, was a small, flattish grey disc, studded with small circuit components and a couple of diodes, and backed with a pat of something brownish and paste-like. The diodes glowed pleasantly green, but were flickering in careful binary sets that equated to a countdown. Right now, it was on two cycles and five breems.

“Oh my holy-…” On the margins of his hearing, Thundercracker heard the other officer breathe, sounding frightened. “Is that-… but that’s a-… that’s a-”

That…” Thundercracker agreed, carefully, “is a bomb. And a rather large bomb, at that.”

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