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"Warped", Chapter Eight

A/N: Aaaarghulumph. NaNoWriMo is kicking my aft this year. I have 6000 words to catch up on. :dies: Anyway!

I have nothing else witty to say here, except for a quick explanation: gamma-camera = robot x-ray. :)

Warped
Chapter Eight

“So. Here w all are. Quite the happy little gathering,” Siphon crooned, darkly, his thin lips pulled back off his teeth in a snarling smirk, and gave Deuce a quick boot in the skidplate. “Except you. Get out, for Pit’s sake. Quite sure I can do without your cowardly whimpering along with everything I say.”

The truck scuttled out, obediently, arms protectively over his head, looking more like a beaten animal than the menace who’d provided a lot of the muscle behind the whole Blue regime only a few hundred orns ago. It was a little unnerving – the olive-coloured tanker was significantly smaller than both the truck and the jet, and Deuce would probably have easily defeated him in a straight fight, and yet the navy mech looked quite openly afraid of his employer.

“Useless little nonentity,” Siphon muttered to himself, quietly. “Quite how they ever discovered he’d be useful as an addict, I have no idea, because that’s the only time he ever has been useful…”

The spidery little machine advanced into the room, holding the unconscious sparkling in front of him like some sort of shield – and it was an effective tactic, because Thundercracker actually kept his distance.

“You have no idea how relieved I am he got you, of all of them,” Siphon purred, sweetly. “The only one with a modicum of sanity about him.”

“I hope you realise that no amount of careful reasoning, or bribery, will get me onto your side,” Thundercracker argued, his fingers flexing impotently into fists at his sides, so angry he was shaking. He wanted to just… reach out, and ram his fist through the tanker’s spark, but the smaller mech had his fingers twisted around Slipstream’s narrow throat, and was holding the tiny machine right in the wrong place, square in the way of a blow.

“Of course I realise. I may be many things, but I am not an idiot,” the tanker sneered. “No, I don’t need your permission or your agreement for what I have planned. I just need two things – your likeness, and for you to be out of the way.” His lips pulled back in a sneering grin. “You are your trine’s voice of sanity. You are the stabilising influence, the spark of clarity, and the brake on your wing-mates’ idiocy. Without you to keep that moronic Skywarp on an even keel, it doubles my chances at catching him.”

“You know they won’t just stand by and let you do this. They’ll track me down, and when they do-”

“I’ll be sorry, I know,” Siphon finished the sentence, melodramatically, touching his long fingertips to his chest. “The raging psychopath will sob and plead forgiveness at the feet of the mighty Decepticon warriors, seeking justice for the way their brother was treated.”

“You should have just stayed dead,” Thundercracker whispered, infuriated.

“No, you should have checked I was dead,” Siphon snapped, for once showing his anger, stabbing a long finger in his captive’s direction, like a spear; Slipstream made a soft, slurring noise of discomfort as the hand tensed around his little throat. “Not just… throw me down the rift, leave me too broken to drag myself out, and abandon me there! If you were going to kill me, you should have damn well killed me. Not done half the job, and crossed your fingers!”

“Is that what this is all about?”

“Never you mind what this is about! I am not going to explain my actions to you!” Siphon glared, and at last thrust out a hand, offering the sedated infant to the trembling Seeker. “All you need to know is that unless you behave yourself,” he instructed, darkly, “the little one will die. It’s that simple.”

“And how do you imagine that will work, given that I have the little one, now?” Thundercracker challenged, closing his arms protectively around Slipstream.

The tanker’s lips drew back into that self-satisfied smirk that had driven Skywarp so close to bludgeoning him to pieces so many times back on Cybertron. “You’ll notice that little piece of jewellery he wears?”

Thundercracker inspected the small body, and easily found the bulky collar, hidden until now by the tanker’s spidery fingers.

“It’s keyed to my voiceprint,” the tanker went on. “And full of high-grade tricobalt residues. You slag me off? I recite the key sequence, and whoops! No more sparkling.”

“You’re bluffing,” Thundercracker asserted, lifting his chin and unconsciously trying to move further away. “You kill him, and you won’t have anything to keep me under control.”

Siphon spread his hands, offhand. “Perhaps. But then I’m inclined to think you won’t want to test the hypothesis, correct?” He allowed himself a smug laugh. “Besides. It’ll just be another little bit of ammunition for me. Not only will his stupid policebike be too scared and broken – and I’m not just talking physically – to want to ever go anywhere near him again, I’ll be able to tell Skywarp that his beloved wingmate killed his sparkling. The little one has no worth to me except as a bargaining chip. Do as you’re told? And the little one is fine. Frag me about?” He spread his hands, and smiled, genially. “Boom.”

“What if I kill you, before you get the chance to recite anything?” Thundercracker advanced a single step, and the tanker backed away three.

“I am not the idiot you take me for,” Siphon hissed, softly, irritable at having been startled into showing his fright. “I have taken precautions against such an eventuality. Your own collar is keyed as a stasis mantle; a low resonance ping and I take all your co-ordination away. In the event you somehow counter that, well… Kill me, and all three of you go the same way. The instant my spark destabilises, your own collars detonate. Now I don’t know about you, but I personally wouldn’t want to experiment with how long my spark will remain harmonic without my cortex to broadcast the appropriate stabilising signals.” His lips drew back into a smirk. “You can’t escape me, and you can’t kill me. You are utterly dependent on me and my good nature to stay alive. So how about just, I don’t know… be a good little mech, and do as you’re told, hmm?”

Thundercracker glared at him, his optics all but sizzling in his infuriation, but backed down. Slipstream grumbled drowsily and nuzzled his cheek closer against his guardian’s throat; his sedation was obviously starting to wear off.

“Enough talk. You haven’t refuelled in orns, if I recall. Here.” Siphon flicked his wrist. “I don’t want you collapsing this early in the game.”

Thundercracker put out a hand and easily snagged the muddy brown cube that sailed gracelessly through the air in his direction; energon of such a low grade it was barely even lilac, and going to be next to worthless, in the event it wasn't full of sedatives anyway. “This isn’t going to go very far, I hope you realise,” he pointed out, grimly.

“It’s not supposed to,” Siphon argued. “Make sure you leave enough for the little ankle-biter. I checked his tanks, and they’re just as empty as yours.”

“…and Pulsar?”

“Ah, don’t you worry about her. Since I don’t trust her to actually fuel up properly, the femme gets my own special blend.” The tanker advanced on the tired-faced machine huddled in the corner. “Time for supper, Beautiful,” he said, softly, crouching in front of her.

She turned her face away from him, but didn’t seem capable of much fight, any more. “Don’t want it. Got enough in my tanks to last a few days,” she replied, stubbornly.

“I’m not interested in what you want,” he corrected, softly. “You going to behave yourself or am I going to have to remove your options, again?”

“You never give me any options,” she corrected, bitterly.

“I give you two very good options,” he argued, standing over her. “I can be gentle, or not. Those are excellent options. But since you seem more inclined to argue than just take your medicine, it’s obviously going to have to be the hard way. Again.”

She shied back from him, but he was in better condition and heavier; caught her arm and dragged her away from the wall. She protested her alarm, scrabbling her heels across the ground in an effort to act as brakes, but the tanker remained unimpressed, not even pretending to make an effort to be gentle. He dropped his weight squarely down on her, straddling her broken chest, and rammed his funnel down her intakes. She bucked energetically under his hands, obviously hurt, but he leaned harder, pushing downwards until he couldn’t get his nozzle any further, and used his weight to keep the back of her head against the rough floor. She scrabbled her broken feet across the floor for a second or two longer, but even that finally slowed.

“Just because he’s here, now, it doesn’t entitle you to cause a fuss,” Siphon hissed, quietly, keeping his weight pressed down on her intakes. “You’ve been such a good little femme the past few Terran orns, don’t go and spoil all that lovely training I gave you…”

The low hiss of equalising pressure gave her just enough warning to close off her air vents, and a millisecond later a blast of icy ultra-low-grade hit her pumps. She made a funny little gurgling noise of pain around his funnel, and scraped her battered fingers over him, trying to get him to take the hint and get off her.

He pinched his fingers down around her lips, ensuring they made a tight seal against his funnel. “Either you swallow, or you choke,” he whispered, softly. “Your choice if you want it in your tanks or your vents, but it’s going in one way or another. And with all the sand that’s already in your temperature regulator? I’m no doctor, but I’m guessing you’ll jam up completely with all the crystallites. Won’t be a very comfy way to grey out, I can tell you that right off the bat.”

After another second or two of weighing her options, at last her optics dimmed out and she slackened her fight.

“There’s a good little femme,” Siphon cooed, petting her antennae and making her shudder. “I knew you’d see sense again.”

Eventually, the tanker decided she’d had enough, and got back off her. Pulsar remained in her corner; curled herself up, protectively, and wheezed quietly for a while, struggling to clear fluid off her vents.

Thundercracker had kept up a gentle harmonic the whole time, trying to keep the stirring infant lulled into just the right side of recharge so he wouldn’t see what Siphon was doing to his dam. It was an unpleasant, almost sexual sort of abuse; he’d always known from talking to Skywarp that the tanker was something of a sociopath, but hadn’t had the joy of seeing it quite so up close and personal... Now Siphon had apparently got bored, he guessed it was safe to make a move - no risk of small mechs waking up to see nasty things. The blue Seeker set his jaw, and let Slipstream gently back to the sandy floor; Decepticon or not, he wasn’t going to stand for having to watch this re-enacted every day.

“Next time,” he said, softly, in that tone of voice that permitted no nonsense, blocking Siphon’s way as he headed for the door, “I will be feeding her. You will be giving me her ration in a cube, like any normal machine should be entitled to, and you will keep your nozzles away.”

“Oh, is that so?” Siphon challenged, staring boldly up at him. “And who is going to make me?”

“You’re not so smart as you like to think you are.” Thundercracker let his voice descend into a soft hum of threat. “I could kick your face in before you got the chance to activate any of your little devices. So long as your spark is stable, we’re safe, right? All I have to do is stop you thinking…”

“Ha. You’re not so smart, either,” the smaller machine snapped, waving a threatening finger under the flier’s nose. “Watch your manners or you’ll be getting the same treatment.”

Thundercracker stared him down, trying to ignore the tingle in the back of his neck. His limbs had already grown sluggish, poorly responsive, but he was damned if he was going to let this little slagger know that… “I have to confess that I would love to see you just try it,” he replied, with a lazy smile. “I’m inclined to think that’s a little beyond your capabilities, though. Because if you were anything more than just a big tank of hot air? You’d have already done it.”

Siphon gave him a shove, bravely. “You don’t know what you are dealing with!” he snapped.

“So enlighten me,” Thundercracker shoved back. “Because I’m really looking forwards to finding out why such an abstract pile of reject parts thinks he can go up against one of the most feared warriors from the last age, and get away with his plating intact.”

In something like a testament to his bravery – or perhaps just to his lack of sanity – the tanker barely flinched from the implied threat. “You are here, oh mighty warrior,” Siphon snarled, shakily, “because you are the bait. I will get my hands on that worthless little blob of tin that left me in this condition, and when I do…

This was all just about some petty sort of revenge? “You do realise,” Thundercracker countered, warily, “that it was Megatron ordered me shot down, don’t you? Which probably means Skywarp is in no place to respond to ‘the bait’?”

“Oh, I’m patient. I’ve had to learn to be,” Siphon countered, slipping past. “Stuck in the District Rift with no easy way out, slowly going insane as I withdrew off the product that had kept me going for orns? Do you know how long it took me to crawl out of there?” He slapped a palm down on the controls, and there was a brief lilac fizz as the field came back up. “And Cali’s never going to be the same. Not even after rehab.” He laughed, angrily. “And that concept is a joke. Rehab! They don’t mean rehabilitation, they mean they’re going to brutalise her mind until she’s docile and stupid, tear out everything-” He caught himself, and swallowed the rest of his tirade. “I don’t have to explain myself to you. The heap of spares is waking up.”

Curious. Thundercracker saved those little gems of information carefully away, as he returned to the uncoordinated little dark figure attempting to work out where it was at the side of the room. Never know when he might be able to make use of them… He scooped Slipstream carefully up off the sand before he sat on him, and listened to the reassuring little chirps and clicks as the sparkling slowly returned to his full processor speed. “You all right in there, Pulse?” he coaxed, watching the femme draw herself up into a sitting position, apparently satisfied her vents were clear. “What was that all about?”

“Just our little ritual.” Pulsar forced a smile. “He’s, ah… been ‘feeding’ me like that ever since I woke up here,” she husked, quietly, curling her knees up to her chest. “Even when I still had enough dexterity – and enough limbs – to fuel myself. Just enough low-grade, and a heavy shot of sedatives if I'm lucky, to keep me functioning. Seems to think that if he left me to do it myself, I just wouldn’t fuel up, and let myself go into stasis.”

“I figure he’s not too far off the mark, is he?” Thundercracker wondered, gently.

She forced a smile. “No, he isn’t. If it was a choice between enduring this and going into stasis lock, I’d choose the latter any day.” She stared at the sleepy sparkling in the big mech’s hands, and shifted her shoulders, uncomfortably. “I’m glad Seem’s found a friend, if nothing else,” she said, softly. “I was worried Siphon would have-” She bottled out before finishing the sentence, unwilling to even contemplate what the tanker might do, let alone vocalise it. “Promise me you’ll look after him, TC?”

Thundercracker nodded, warily. “Well… all right. Although I’m confused why you don’t want him any more.”

The grav-bike met his gaze only reluctantly. “It’s not that. I’m just… not sure how much more of this I can take. Or how much longer he’ll leave me alive, now he’s got you two.”

Unspoken words hung awkwardly on the air between them. Disposable. Just like always.

“Listen. We will get out of here, and I don’t mean in pieces. He’ll slip up, because everyone does. All right?” Thundercracker gave her a long, stern look, and watched as she nodded, reluctantly. “In the meantime, you just… get some rest, huh? And I mean some proper rest, not that worthless sedated… nothing they’ve been keeping you in. Defragment your stacks a bit. Sort your mind out. I’ll keep an eye on things.”

She dimmed out her optics, obediently, and let her chin down to rest on her knees, curling her arm around her legs. His words were somewhat comforting, but she knew deep down that they were hollow – the only way she was going to get out of here was in pieces, scattered across this whole mud-ball world like a macabre scavenger hunt. But some proper down-time did feel like a good idea; she let her mind adrift, and listened absently as Slipstream finally roused all the way to alertness.

“Ama?” The little mech sounded frightened, shaky. “What happen? Ama!”

“Ama’s sick, right now,” she heard Thundercracker’s deep voice rumble, softly. “She needs a little space so she can get better. You stay here with me, for now.”

“But I want see-” The little one’s voice was a pathetic little mew, and there was the rustle of plating as he tried to get free. “Ama…!”

“Not right now,” Thundercracker repeated, sternly. “When she’s feeling a bit better, you can say hello, but not just yet. All right?”

Slipstream whined softly to himself for a moment, harsh staticky little noises fizzing up from his vocaliser. “…’kay?” he agreed, reluctantly. “This why Ama lost? She sick?”

“That’s right.” A little lie, but it was probably easier than trying to explain the intricacies of the sociopath’s mind to someone so young. “But now we’ve found her, we can get her made better. We’ll get word to Day and Auntie Sepp, and they can come rescue us.”

Another pause, filled only by the sparkling’s soft, staticky noises of distress. “Why not now?”

Thundercracker’s turn to pause. “Day’s a very busy mech, and Sepp’s a very long way away, all the way back home on Cybertron. It’ll take a long time to get the message to them. So you let me worry about calling them, all right?” More sounds of movement. “In the meantime, you need to get some fuel into your tanks. Take this-… there’s a good boy.”

This energon?” Slipstream challenged, apparently accepting what remained of the murky brown cube. “But it not pink!”

“Yeah, I know. It’s not good energon. But you need to have some. Keep your strength up until Day comes to rescue us, huh?”

She listened to the funny little spluttery coughs her sparkling made as he inhaled energon down the wrong intake in shock at how purge-poor the fuel was, and could imagine his little optics leaking excess cleanser. “…this bad energon!” he wheezed, although he sounded more startled than upset. “There not different, Dacker?”

“No, there’s no other fuel. We just get that.”

“But it am yuck! Even Lucy not like this.”

Thundercracker chuckled softly at the insinuation Footloose was the sort to try and utilise anything as fuel. “Yeah, I know. I’ve had my own share of it. Tell you what…” He lowered his voice and finished speaking in a whisper. “If you be a good little mech and get a little bit in your tanks, we’ll pretend you had more of it if anyone asks. You don’t have to intake the whole thing…”

0o0o0o0o0

Morning had just broken on the Ark when Perceptor arrived in the medical bay to feed his fish, nodding a greeting to the already-busy Ratchet – the scientist's small collection of xenobiotics had outgrown his laboratory already, and begun to spill over into common areas. So far, the Chief Medic had only permitted the fish in the medical bay, as they were clean and didn’t shed hair and dander into delicate machinery, but the microscope was busy trying to persuade him to take one of the ‘lizards’ as well. (Perceptor kept on tripping over its tank, at the moment, it was only a matter of time before they had an escaped predator on their hands.)

Footloose was instantly at his side and all around his legs, excitedly. “I feed, I feed!” What it was that she liked about these colourful but rather inactive little blobs, Perceptor had yet to work out, because he had far more interesting creatures in his collection, but it kept her amused and distracted, which was the important bit.

“All right, but not too much!” He lifted her to the sideboard and handed over the small pot of fresh garden peas, glad he’d had the foresight not to bring the whole bag from the refrigerator. He had a convenient number of uulu-fish right now, if the sparkling overfed them (which was entirely possible, watching the way she scattered food into the tank with a wilful abandon, squeaking excitedly as the fish chased after it) it would trigger a breeding frenzy and he’d end up with more than he could look after. The genial Cosmos could probably be relied on to ship the excess back home, as he’d brought them back in the first place, but it was a long trip…

Yesterday, Perceptor had – predictably – joined the small number of machines who knew Footloose’s secret. No-one had told him, specifically; he’d managed to work most of it out himself, just by being observant. There was the way a certain group of machines went involuntarily quiet for a moment when the little one asked about “Day”, there was her obsession with finding “Dacker” (which didn’t take much thinking about to work out it was a name, not a thing), her colours and her little winglets, and finally he’d caught her talking to Jazz about “Skawar”. After an anxious, heated discussion in one of the soundproof isolation rooms off the side of the medical bay, Jazz managed to swear Perceptor to a reluctant silence.

Reassuringly, Footloose didn’t seem to be taking after her sire (or at least, how everyone remembered him). She was small and cute and curious about everything – whether she should touch it or not. And she apparently liked fish. She sat heavily down on her small aft to watch the uulus lazily swim about and collect up the last fragments of vegetable, and amusedly mimicked the slow open/close of the tiny round mouths in the tank. “Ob ob ob,” she said, drawing a dark finger along the glass and getting them to chase it. “Nice Oolies.”

“Oo-loos,” Perceptor corrected, automatically, checking on the environment monitor on the side of the tank. Good, good, all conditionals still seemed optimal in there.

“Ooh!” Her exclamation attracted first his alarm, then his interest when he saw what she was asking about. “Why they do that, Septor?”

The fish had begun to sparkle, scintillating bright colours down and around their rotund little silver bodies; he cocked his head, curiously. “I have never seen them do that before,” he admired. “We shall have to document this. For science!”

Footloose flickered her optics back at them, amusedly. “They happy, Septor?”

“I’m not sure,” he admitted. “I think we could probably safely assume they are…” The little animals were crowding at the front of the tank, and didn’t seem to be attempting any aggression towards the infant.

“Hey, Ratch!” a voice interrupted the calm, from the corridor. “We’ve got a present for you!”

That sounded like Sideswipe. Ratchet straightened up, warily, wondering what minor disaster they’d turn out to be bringing him this time.

For once, he needn’t have worried; the twins looked like they’d been using each other to plough fields, they were that dirty, but they looked uninjured. No jet judo with unwilling and heavily-armed Seekers, this time, obviously.

Slung between them, however, an arm spread across each shoulder, grumbling halfheartedly and uselessly trying to draw its feet up so it could support itself, was an unfamiliar, pale green machine. Its – no, not it, her dirty paintwork was scored with a dozen or so fresh black scorchmarks, so she’d run afoul of someone, and quite recently.

By the time they’d helped her over to the closest berth, and she’d sagged down onto it, Footloose had lost interest in her fish and noticed them…

“Aunnie Ausep!” The sparkling hurled herself off the sideboard, and sprang all the way into their visitor’s startled arms, clicking so quickly she sounded like an excited football rattle. The strange ‘earmuffs’ at the sides of her head revealed themselves to be bright blue warning lights, flickering in an electric halo around her small head. She thrust the top of her helm up under the stranger’s chin and keened an excited, rattling purr. “Se-epp.”

“Ow, ow, steady-…! Button?” the green femme greeted, wincing, her thunderous voice strained out and thin with pain, peeling the squirming infant off her scuffed plating and holding her out at arms reach. “What are you doing here?”

“You must be Forceps,” Ratchet guessed, carefully, putting two and two together and coming up with something like four. He offered a hand. “My name is Ratchet, Chief Medical Officer here. Welcome to the Ark.”

“Ah, thank you. And you’re quite correct on my name.” The femme arched a brow at him, wondering how to juggle the sparkling in such a way as to accept the handshake, and pulled a face as Footloose’s squirming got more energetic. “I’m not sure if-… ow… I should be relieved I’m that famous.”

“I’m afraid infamous would be a better term,” Ratchet confirmed, dryly.

She wrinkled her nose. “I suspected as much,” she replied, grimly. “I imagine that’s going to come back to bite me again, very soon.”

“Well, I wouldn’t like to speak for my friends, here, but I think you should probably assume ‘yes it will’, once they work out who you are,” Ratchet deadpanned back. “You did put one of our most mortal enemies back together.”

“Trying to imply you wouldn’t have done the same, doctor? I’d like to think I’m not the only one in here with the ‘infamy’.”

Ratchet huffed, defensively. “That’s rather beside the point, don’t you think? Besides, I get the third-degree every day from this bunch of hooligans, there’s not much new they can throw at me.”

“I assure you, being Cybertron-based doesn’t mean I’ve not seen my own fair share of accidental injuries. The surgery I do isn’t just cosmetic! To be honest, I’m surprised you’ve not have to dig the little one out of the furniture, yet.”

Ratchet gave her a look. “I’m not sure I understand the last part, but then part of be thinks it's best not to.”

“Ausep is good fixer,” Footloose agreed, kicking her little legs hard enough to dislodge Forceps’ grip and crawling back along her arm.

“All right, all right. Listen. Lucy?” Forceps skewered the little femme on a glare, but it didn’t really have the desired effect. “I’m pleased to see you as well, but if you’re going to wriggle, you can get down now.”

“Lucy?” Ratchet echoed, curiously. “She said her name was ‘Button’.”

Forceps shook her head. “Button’s just a nickname. Spotweld’s idea. Apparently she’s cute as a button, and it stuck.” She managed a half-shrug, amusedly. “Her real name is Footloose – or Lucy, depending on who you talk to. Will you just sit still, you little pest?”

Footloose had already squirmed her way out of Forceps’ big hands and wormed her way up under her chin again. Her wriggling had admittedly calmed a little, but only because she’d succeeded in jamming herself so tightly against the surgeon’s armour she was all but melded against her. “I be still,” she agreed, still clicking a happy little harmonic.

“All right, Forceps.” Ratchet flipped open a diagnostic tool. “We best get a look at what sort of damage you’ve sustained, then I can start seeing about getting it fixed. With your permission, of course?”

She pulled a face. “Yeah. Let’s get it over and done with…”

0o0o0o0o0

“Hey, Sides? Look. She’s so bashed up it took a while to click, but I thought I recognised her…”

“What?” Sideswipe backtracked down the corridor to see his twin unpinning something from the noticeboard in the main hallway, outside the recreation room. “Now this has gotta be urgent if you’re actually delaying the trip to the washracks for it.”

Silently, Sunstreaker held out what he’d taken down; a photograph. A well-handled, well-loved, very creased and scuffed photograph, but still good enough to make things out on. The femme in question was rather squashed up the end, but that wasn’t what Sunstreaker was pointing at; rather, it was the fact that at the other end of the photograph were three very familiar sets of wings, and the owner of the red set had his feet stretched out over the femme’s lap.

Sideswipe took it from his brother’s fingers, and his face crimped up in dismay. “Aw, slag. You think she’s here ’cause they called her over?”

“I dunno,” Sunstreaker folded his arms. “I think we ought to keep a veery close optic on her, regardless.”

0o0o0o0o0

“So… it’s just ‘Auntie’, is it?” Ratchet challenged, suspiciously, hooking the pickups on his diagnostic’s analytical mainframe over the raw wires visible under the blackened outer seam on the big female’s right thigh. “Not, um… Ama? Button-… ah, Footloose… has rather been obsessing over finding her.”

Forceps offered him one of her rare sarcastic grins. “Me, Lucy’s dam? Primus, no. As Spots is so fond of telling me, I have all the maternal instinct of a sack of old wrenches.”

Having already watched Footloose clamber unrestricted all over the big green surgeon, it was hard to consider her having no maternal urges. Anyone else would have lost patience and bounced the hyperactive sparkling straight back onto someone with a greater desire to look after them.

“To be honest,” the surgeon went on, softly, examining the scuffed back of her fingers, “I’d not been hugely fond of sparklings at all, until these two arrived. Brought back too many bad memories.”

“Um… two?” Ratchet paused rummaging in the cupboard, and glanced anxiously back over his shoulder.

Forceps looked up, at last, dislodging Footloose from her perch on her shoulders; the sparkling erp!-ed and there was the muted thump as she hit the padded deck. “Footloose, and Slipstream,” she explained, carefully. “I know Slipstream isn’t here, but… no-one told you he existed?”

“Seem los’, Aunnie Ausep,” Footloose explained, grunting and clambering her way back up to her friend’s lap. “Is with Dacker, but is los’ in Chewneesia.” She put a finger to her lips. “Jas help me look for with Tel’tran. Is secret!”

“So secret you feel obliged to tell everyone? I hope Ratchet’s in on it already!”

“Well, I’m party to most of the secrets in this place, I figure one more little one won’t make much difference. I know there’s been a fairly impressive hiccup in the Decepticon hierarchy, and Jazz made sure I was sworn to secrecy at the start,” the medic agreed, with a long-suffering grin, holding out a cup to Footloose. “And you still haven’t had your breakfast, trouble.”

Energon; the easy way to a sparkling’s heart. Footloose accepted the mug with her usual wide-optic’ed is-that-for-ME? look. By now, she’d calmed enough to just sit patiently in Forceps’ lap, wiggling her own feet and distractedly attempting to refuel, although a lot of her energon was getting sloshed anywhere but into her intakes. There was just too much going on around her for her attention to exclusively be on her two-handled mug.

“So what do you know of what’s happened, Forceps?” Ratchet coaxed, moving about and taking distracted readings of resistivities and electron flow. “We’re still trying to work off a sparkling’s account of things, it’d be nice to have things a bit clearer.”

“Not a lot, to be honest. I know two out of three have been shot down,” Forceps confirmed, quietly. “But Vantage couldn’t tell me exactly where.” She gave him a probing look. “I was hoping the fact you found Footloose meant you’d found her guardian, as well.”

“She sprang from a scrap pile all on her own, so far as I can tell,” Ratchet explained, grimly. “No guardian, and no idea where he is.”

“Ahh, well… that’s not entirely true,” a new voice explained, and they looked up to see Jazz in the doorway, rubbing the back of his head. “Is it, Button?”

“Me and Jas find Sta’zim on Tel’tran,” the sparkling confirmed, earnestly. “Check still hid, still safe.”

“So… you’re telling me…” Forceps said, slowly, “that not only do you know where he is, right down to the very second of latitude and longitude… you’ve even seen him?” Her features hardened. “And… did nothing?”

“…uhh, well… yeah, kinda.”

The big femme drew herself up straight, and her optics flickered dangerously. “You just left him out there? To the less-than-tender mercy of Primus-knows-what weather this mud-ball might fling at him?!”

Footloose squeaked and burrowed closer, splashing energon; Ratchet skilfully intercepted the cup and prised it carefully from the small hand before its contents could end up all over the floor. “Is secret, Ausep, is secret!” she insisted, urgently, flattening a tiny palm over Forceps’ mouth. “Not talk of! Here is Autobots! Will fight, be cross. Not want fight when hurt!”

“I did offer to go get him,” Jazz admitted. “Buut… we reasoned that bringing him here against his will would only cause a ruckus, and he certainly wouldn’t thank us for it. We’re keeping an eye on him, anyway, and, well… y’know, he looks okay… I figured we ought to wait until we’ve got more of an idea what’s happening on the grander scale before we go carrying out any programs of Seeker rescue.”

“So you’re quite happy to leave him out there to die, in the interim? What’s wrong with your brig, for Primus sake?!” The surgeon had swung her feet off the berth and attempted frustratedly to stand on limbs that were nowhere near capable of supporting her weight before anyone realised what was going on, and Ratchet only just caught her before she went flat on her face. “Damn these stupid legs-” she cursed, quietly, subsiding to the deck.

“Well, it’s a good job your body is rebelling against you, because I’d only be forced to have Prowl put you in the brig,” Ratchet scolded, trying to help her back to her unsteady feet.

“You can arrest me after I’ve fetched him in,” she snapped back. “He doesn’t deserve to be left out there to rust.”

“That’s a matter of opinion,” Jazz quipped, slipping himself under her other arm and helping Ratchet get her back onto the berth.

“I’ll have you know-”

“All right, all right, just-… everyone-… shut up, already!” Ratchet waved his hands for silence, irritably. “First of all? Jazz? I think I’m going to need you to take Button away and keep her amused while I’m working. And as for you, Sepp? You’re not going anywhere until I get you walking again. Blind, stubborn determination won’t get you very far, and I’m damned if I’m going to let you crawl all the way there. And no arguing! I’ll get it done as quickly as possible because I know doctors make the worst patients, and I don’t want you cooped up in here, telling me how to do my job, any longer than you have to be.” His voice softened, marginally, and he held out a cupful of some sort of clear fluid. “A quick gamma workup should show all the little faults from your first meeting with the dirt. Once you’re back on your feet, I figure we could, ah…” He winced. “Maybe see about having a word with Optimus about going to fetch the Screaming One out of the mud.”

Forceps actually backed down, for once, and knocked back the clear liquid in a single swallow. “It’s your operating room, doctor,” she agreed, softly. “I’ll abide by your decisions, even if I don’t much like them.”

Ratchet chuckled, dryly. “If only everyone espoused the same opinion, my life would be a whole lot easier,” he growled. “All right, get yourself settled. Lucy?” He glanced down at the end of the berth, where Footloose still sat, investigating her aunt’s feet; she looked up, obediently. “Down you hop. I need to get a little look at the damaged bits under Forceps’ armour, and that means you need to be out of the way.”

“I come see what happen?” Footloose asked, wobbling on tiptoes and trying to get a look at the giant gamma-camera’s control panel.

Ratchet glanced over to his patient, who just shrugged, sleepily, already succumbing to the sedatives. “Not right now, little one,” he decided. “I need to concentrate. You go talk to Jazz for a little while.”

“’Kay,” Footloose huffed, sulkily, but went away as told, slotting her tiny hand into Jazz’s. “We go look Tel’tran, Jas…?”

Ratchet waited until their voices had faded away down the corridor before getting to work. He wanted to be able to concentrate on this, without troublemaking little sparkling fingers altering settings on the control panel. At least it wasn’t malicious curiosity, he reasoned, watching the figures scroll up the screen. Just… wait, what was that?

Hmm. That was odd.

Ratchet gave the sedated femme a concerned look; her spark had a good strong harmonic, but there was an odd disharmony. Very, very faint, but definitely there. Didn’t look like new damage – certainly not from the landslide, it’d take a jolt harder than that to destabilise a spark… But what it actually was, he found himself stumped on. Something the Decepticons had done? Could that be the origin of this odd… affinity she seemed to have with the faction? Odd that they’d shot her, but how better to sneak into Autobot headquarters unseen? Have to get to the bottom of this, he decided, grimly, cross-referencing the disharmony against a series of old Medica Cybertronia charts he’d originally kept for posterity’s sake.

He read it a dozen times before allowing himself to believe it. Fission scar. The dedicatedly ‘un-maternal’ female had borne a sparkling?

A nasty thought hit him. What if Footloose was the surgeon’s, after all? The two femmes got on excellently, the little troublemaker actually doing what she was told for a change, and listening intently while Forceps explained things. Her little brain was a sponge, soaking up new inputs, which he really couldn’t reconcile easily with something Skywarp had had a hand in creating.

What if the three fliers had used their history with the surgeon to ‘liberate’ the little one, stolen her away – a gift for Megatron, to ingratiate their way back into his good books? And something had gone wrong, they’d lost her, which was why they’d all been so comprehensively slagged? And Forceps was here to get her back? It sounded a whole lot more likely than that load of old nonsense Jazz had trotted out. He sagged behind his desk, letting the scanner carry on the pre-programmed set of tests, and rested his head tiredly into his hands.

“You’re looking troubled, Ratch,” Jazz commented, when he returned some breems later, watching out of the periphery of his vision as Footloose went to say hello to the Oolies.

Ratchet had moved from behind his desk to examine the rest of the scan results, but hadn’t changed his expression. “I have been a very bad doctor, and done more than my patient gave her permission for,” he admitted, tiredly. “And now I wish I hadn’t. It’s thrown up questions that I’m not sure how to ask.”

“Want me to ask?”

Ratchet gave him a look. “Okay, so instead of me just being a bad doctor and overstepping boundaries I’ve agreed with my patient, you want me to be a terrible doctor and breach patient confidentiality as well?” he challenged, dryly.

Jazz grinned. “Wouldn’t be the first time,” he reminded, cheekily, and ducked out of the way of a swat from a strong red hand.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
caravanka
Nov. 9th, 2008 08:30 pm (UTC)
Oh, now I want it were Ratch to get a swat! The pace is slow, and it's all the more interesting, but I am getting as impatient as Forceps got!! ...Suspense makes me squirm!
keaalu
Nov. 12th, 2008 04:59 pm (UTC)
Bwahaha, yess, suspense... *does evil gleeful handrubs*
jill_dragon
Nov. 9th, 2008 09:55 pm (UTC)
Let me say the TC is freakin' awesome facing down Siphon. He always seems to get shoved into the background when he's with his wingmates so I'm curious to see how he does on his own.

You know, when Ratchet was coming up with his theory about Footloose's origin I'm surprised he didn't make the wrong assumption about Sepp and Starscream, especially given how insistant she was on rescuing him. ;)

One thing I'm curious about is how Skyfire is reacting to all of this. I've always found his relationship with Starscream facinating (and a little depressing).
_silverfox
Nov. 9th, 2008 10:37 pm (UTC)
Siphon gets scarier every time we see him. (And I thought he was the scariest of the group from the start.)

Footloose on the other hand keeps getting cuter and I'm very relieved to see Forceps' damage is a lot less severe than it seemed at first. Now if only she could pick up the rest of the family ...
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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