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"Warped", Chapter Tennn

Reaaally gotta get around to updating this on devART, sometime... ¬_¬

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Warped
Chapter Ten

“Now, then,” Jazz said, letting Footloose carefully down onto Teletraan’s control console. “Let’s have a look for him together, shall we? Are you sure you looked in the right place?” It was a stupid question, sure, she’d been looking in the exact same place every morning since she arrived, but it needed asking.

She sucked her fingers, and nodded. “Same place. Same triangulations,” she confirmed, voice still full of static, pointing with her other hand. “See? Green plants and dirt.”

These were the right co-ordinates, as well. He wished he could be suspicious that Forceps had gone out to fetch him, but he could hear her voice in the background, apparently taking issue over something with Ratchet. Probably discussing one of the Seekers, again. The two medics got on relatively well, but only provided the conversation could be steered away from certain polarising elements.

Which left only two feasible options. One was that one of his wingmates – most likely Skywarp – had found him and fetched him (although judging by how poor Skywarp had looked, it seemed unlikely), or alternatively – far less appetising an idea – or the humans had found him. He’d have to have a word with Optimus, see if any of their contacts had heard anything…

“Star dead, Jas?” Footloose wondered, looking back over her shoulder at him, lip wobbling. “Suishies find, make dead?”

“Nah, I bet one of his friends has found him,” he reassured, but it didn’t seem to make her happy. “Found him and took him back home.”

Meg’tron find and make dead?” she wondered, shrinking down on herself.

“Oh, I doubt that,” he reassured, picking her up off the desk and setting her into his lap; she clung to his fingers as though they were a safety blanket. “We’d know if old Buckethead had been in the area. Now, let’s have a think.” He looked up at the screen and wondered, in a louder voice; “Teletraan-1, is a visual feed available for these co-ordinates for the past Terran orn?”

“Negative, Jazz,” the computer answered, evenly. “A record of visual data was not requested for these co-ordinates.”

“All right, errm… Do you have any records at all for the preceding orn?”

“Negative for this level of magnification.”

“What do you have?”

“A wider field of view is available, but minor details may not be discernible.”

“Well, let’s have it, then…”

As the computer had said, it was a wider field of view, quite significantly so. What had once been good enough to make out individual leaves had become a view from far enough back that the trees themselves were only just discernible.

“Can’t see,” Footloose said, quietly. “Is made too big.”

“Yeah,” Jazz agreed, glumly. “I can’t see anything there, either. Teletraan? Check for records in Sky Spy’s memory stacks, please. I want to be certain we’ve checked everywhere before we start to think of alternatives.”

Footloose whimpered softly as the images flickered up; all were either more distant, or the wrong location. “Is lost, is lost…” she said, curling up a little tighter around his fingers. “Dacker lost, now Star lost also!”

“Hey, hey.” He gathered her against his chest, and listened as the soft chirruping noises of distress began to ease. “Don’t be upset, Button. We’re not beaten yet, we’ll find them! We just need to look a little longer, all right?”

“Have looked long time for Dacker. Not find yet,” she reminded, softly.

“But you’re just one little sparkling, right? If I get some of the guys to help out, we’ll find him…”

“Yo, Jazzman. Stop scaring the sparkling, already!” a loud voice teased, from behind, and the pair looked up to find a grinning Sideswipe in the doorway.

“Nah, that wasn’t Jazz did that, she just saw Gears. The guy scares the bolts out of me, half the time,” Sunstreaker corrected, idly, pushing past. “You done looking at trees with Teletraan-1, Jazz? I need to look something up.”

Jazz vacated his seat, with an easy smile; he didn’t feel like trying to explain to these two just why he and Footloose would like to keep looking at trees. “Yeah, I figure we’re done for now. Right, Lucy?”

Footloose already had her fingers back in her mouth when she nodded.

“Before you go, Jazz, I wanted to ask you something.” Sunstreaker stepped sidelongto intercept him.

“Ask away,” Jazz invited; he still wore an amenable smile, but the illusion was spoiled by the way he was attempting to navigate his way around the yellow twin.

“There’s something about that little one,” Sunstreaker challenged, quietly, moving back into Jazz’s way. “And I think you know what it is.”

Jazz cocked his head, curiously; he could feel Footloose shrinking back against him, her little fingers tightening around his thumb, made anxious by the other mech’s belligerent tone of voice. He patted her arm, reassuringly. “Well, nice though it is to hear you express such faith in my detective abilities,” he replied, amusedly, “I’m not sure what you think I’m hiding.”

“Well, see, I think you know where she came from,” Sunstreaker elaborated. “Or at least I think you suspect something.” He lifted his chin a fraction. “Look. We all know there’s something… off… about the little one. We know she’s not from here, which means she’s either a mini Decepticon, or she’s come from Cybertron. And neither is particularly appealing.”

“I told you where I found her,” Jazz reminded, evenly. “She sprang from a scrap heap, all of her own.”

“Please, Jazz. Sideswipe might like to play the fool, but we’re not idiots. Please don’t treat us like them,” Sunstreaker warned, softly, with Sideswipe stood nodding just behind him.

“Are the pair of you looking for nonexistent conspiracies again?” Jazz stared them down. Crunch time. “What do you want me to tell the two of you, huh? That one of her parents is Skywarp?”

Footloose’s response was so beautifully on-cue, it was as if he’d coached her. The instant she heard Skywarp’s name, she gave a strangled little noise of alarm and burrowed up against Jazz’s shoulder, making frightened little sob! noises. The reaction even left Jazz a little startled – had he actually been mistaken about the little one? – but it had the desired response.

“Aw, come on, Jazz, was that necessary?” Sideswipe scolded, uneasily, and beside him Sunstreaker visibly backed down. “No need to terrify the poor thing with the threat of those psycho fliers. Come on, Sunny…” He caught his twin’s arm, and backed off, allowing Jazz to pass, at last. “We’ve got more important things to do, we can find things out later-…”

“What’s got you so upset, hey, Button?” Jazz soothed, anxiously, once they were out of earshot down the corridor. Please don’t tell me she is scared of Skywarp, after all…!

“Tol’ them,” she sniffled, head still tucked up against his shoulder. “Jas say not to tell, not safe! And Jas tol’ them!”

Jazz could have kicked himself – not for telling, as such, but for doing so while she was in earshot. The one thing he’d expressly told her not to do, and he’d gone and done it! That probably had terrified her – she was probably even now waiting for some sort of dire consequences. “I know, I’ve been a bad Jazz,” he agreed, gently. “But you don’t need to be scared of those two.” Still being a bad Jazz, now you’re lying to her. “They’re just a bit over-enthusiastic about things.”

Footloose seemed a little more reassured, though. “Suneaker and Sighswipe not be angry with?” she wondered, faintly, finally relaxing her hold a little bit and settling where she could see his face.

He managed a smile. “No, not with you.”

“…be angry with Jas?”

“Eehh, well… Maybe a little, when they find out I’ve been helping you hide your secret, but not right now.”

“Because am Autobots?” she guessed. “But have already tol’ them…!”

Explaining what it meant to call someone’s bluff was probably beyond the little one’s comprehension, right now, but there were always other ways to explain it. “They think I’m pretending,” Jazz reassured. “Because you’re little and cute, and, well… Skywarp isn’t.”

Her brow furrowed in thought. “They think Jas make joke?” she interpreted.

“That’s right. And let’s try keep it that way until we find Starscream, right?”

0o0o0o0o0

With an exhausted Slipstream curled up and offline in his lap, Thundercracker had been dozing, mostly dormant but with one audio online for trouble, when the low zzt of the security field de-energising attracted his attention. He kept his optics low, so muted that against the harsh corridor lighting the dim glow would be all but invisible, and watched as Deuce’s silhouette slunk through the doorway with a mysterious square-ish case clutched in one hand. What was he up to now? The past few days, the truck had been actively avoiding everyone, Siphon included, and the tanker had thrown a fit when he’d realised the truck was missing. The fact Deuce was back and in fair condition now, Thundercracker guessed Siphon had either threatened or bribed him back into line.

Deuce made his way over to the corner, where a heavily-drugged and very confused Pulsar was still sprawled untidily out, vents buzzing quietly, looking like Siphon had dropped her there from a great height. The tanker had hauled the Policebot off fairly early on, before anyone had even had their rations for the day. He’d then collected the other two some time later, and by the time they got back, Pulsar was already a heap of dirty plating in the corner, mostly incoherent when Thundercracker attempted to ask her what had happened. A quick visual examination revealed a new injury on her right side, a long hairline fracture that raced from the topmost point of her hip down to the midpoint where her inner thigh connected, but nothing else particularly major.

The Seeker watched, suspiciously, as the truck settled on the floor, and gathered the broken machine carefully against himself so she lay across his lap. He snapped the case open, and withdrew a long, fine pair of what looked like bolt-cutters… Thundercracker tensed, preparing himself in case he needed to move to fend the truck off, but Deuce looked like dealing out violence was furthest from his mind. He examined her damaged shoulder, briefly, folded her shoulder-guard up out of the way, then carefully ran his fingers up one of the long wires that trailed untidily out of the wound and clipped it off, neatly, close to the socket.

Pulsar grunted softly in pain and tried to shove him away, but looked like she was still so drowsy she probably didn’t even know who he was. Her feeble shove missed his shoulder altogether, flailed briefly in midair.

“I’m sorry,” Thundercracker heard the faint little murmur from the mech’s vocaliser. “I’m trying to be gentle, but it’s hard when you won’t sit still.”

“You decided to come back, then,” Thundercracker observed, softly.

Deuce jumped, but didn’t look up from what he was doing. “I was only gone to talk to the humans,” he replied, stiffly. “Nothing you need concern yourself with.”

“Talk to them about what? What sort of price you could get for us?”

There was a flicker of brighter green in Deuce’s optics. “I was trying to get them to leave us alone,” he corrected, quietly, tracing the next cable back. “If they kill you, they’ll still say I’m an accessory. I might not like you, Decepticon, but I don’t want you dead from any activity I’m involved in.”

Thundercracker was quiet, for a while; it was not the answer he’d been expecting. “So tell me, Blue,” he suggested, at last. “Is it fear or guilt that drives you on? Because I can’t imagine it’s any sense of duty to your employer.”

“Don’t delude yourself into thinking you know anything, Airhead.” Deuce’s optics glittered angrily, but he kept his head down, carefully snipping the last pieces of trailing wire away from the damaged shoulder. “She was mine long before your stupid brother came along.” His voice descended into a poisonous hiss. “And before that stupid Fatigue decided he could use her.”

Jealousy? That was a new one, and something Thundercracker had again not anticipated. Deuce was such an eccentric, unstable creature, he was impossible to second-guess and often did something completely opposite what was expected of him. “Huh. You are quite the little green-eyed monster, aren’t you,” the blue jet observed, drolly.

“And what is that supposed to mean?” Deuce challenged, at last breaking his concentration and glaring up.

“Something humans say,” Thundercracker kept his optics fixed on the green ones that attempted to get him to look away. “It refers to jealousy.”

“What makes you think I’m jealous?” Deuce hunched his shoulders and contracted himself down, defensively. “The fact I have green optics?”

“Noo. More to do with what you just said. And there’s the fact you seem to be going out of your way to keep her functioning.” Thundercracker didn’t let his gaze waver. “In spite of the fact your boss seems determined to break her into pieces.”

Deuce averted his gaze, and brushed his fingers reluctantly down the long, miraculously unbent antennae that spread from behind her left blinker. “I’m just... I’m worried Siphon’s going to get rid of her, soon,” he admitted. “Now he’s got you two, he doesn’t need her so much any more. Been saying he needs to take the final steps with his project.”

“The, ah… final steps?” Thundercracker narrowed his optics. “Indulge me. Define what you mean, exactly.”

Deuce let his stare wander off sideways, reluctantly. “Probably shouldn’t tell you.”

“That hasn’t stopped you before,” Thundercracker reminded, and kept his harsh gaze fixed on him. “I’d like to know if he’s planning on killing anyone.”

Deuce gazed down at the semi-conscious femme in his lap, and the dim blue optic that stared without seeing at the distant wall. When he finally spoke, it was so faintly that Thundercracker barely heard him. “No. No, he’s not going to kill her. Not on purpose, anyway,” he whispered, reluctantly. “He’s going to try to break her psyche before he lets her go. She’s already leery of close contact with anyone, but he wants her scared of him. He wants to use her as bait, to make Skywarp angry, to get him to come here.”

Thundercracker felt an invisible fist close down on his primary pump. Siphon’s words echoed to him from the recent past; you’re a surrogate. Suddenly it became clear exactly what the tanker was planning. You’re going to take his place, Thundercracker. You’re going to be what I use to brutalise her psyche.

Deuce looked genuinely upset. “I don’t want to be part of this,” he complained. “I never wanted to be part of this…! I was happy at the hospital. I was making progress, I was even thinking about trying to make a fresh start. My psychiatrist even said I could try applying for a courier’s post! Then Siphon came along.” He wrinkled his lip, bitterly. “The stupid vengeful half-smelted purge-for-processors.”

“You could have gone back,” Thundercracker reminded him, trying not to dwell too hard on his realisation. “If you’d made the effort, they might have looked even more favourably on you.”

“Probably, but that’s not the sort of thing that immediately crosses you mind when you have a voice whispering in your ear.” Deuce shook his head, bitterly. “Telling you you’re already past the point of no return and wouldn’t it be good to get your own back for all the things done to you by your enemies. By the time we got here and I realised what he was doing to me, Siphon had already added about half a dozen extra criminal charges to my record. Absconding, kidnap, assault, actual bodily harm, criminal damage…” His optics flared a fiery green, and he added, glaring, unconsciously drawing his ‘patient’ closer; “Who’d have ever believed that the known addict, the known psycho, had wanted nothing to do with it?”

Pulsar shifted uneasily in his lap. “…put me… put me down, warp…” she slurred, softly, apparently mistaking the truck’s navy armour for the teleport’s black fuselage.

That seemed to be the poke Deuce required to recover his senses. He leaned closer to her audios and murmured something that Thundercracker couldn’t catch, and finally tucked his tools away in his case, gently letting her back down to the sand and arranging her more tidily along the wall than she had previously been, cheek pillowed against her arm.

Thundercracker watched the truck make his sullen departure, and wondered if he could develop this into a proper (albeit wary) alliance. If he was careful, and planed his words well, he could coax Deuce over to their side. Maybe use the truck as an ‘insider’, the same way Skywarp had briefly been for Blue. Because it was probably the only way they were going to make any headway – it was only a matter of time before Siphon got tired of posturing and taunting, and just flat drugged all three of his captives. The sooner they had a ‘friend’ on the inside, however tenuous that description might be, the better…

0o0o0o0o0

Okay, so… maybe ground-pounding… wasn’t… khnn… wasn’t so bad… as he remembered it being… Starscream mused, leaning his weight hard on the branch he’d found to use as a crutch, half-hobbling half-lurching awkwardly through the undergrowth and trying to keep himself from going flat on his face for the ninth time in as many breems. Since he’d woken up, still at the base of that damned tree, he’d made pretty good progress, in spite of the fact his injured leg was damaged enough to be almost incapable of supporting his weight. Dragging his unsteady bulk over the ground would be almost bearable if it wasn’t so slow… and painful… and irritating… and degrading… and dirty…

Argh, all right, so ground-pounding was every bit as utterly intolerable as he remembered it being.

…With that decision out of the way, he promptly caught the trailing thruster on his bad leg in the undergrowth and went flat on his face in the mud again.

Under that thin veneer of patient determination, the red Seeker was seething. Absolutely fragged right the Pit off. Next time I won’t cure you, you bag of purge-poor smeltings not even fit for scrap, he cursed Megatron, in absentia. Slagging him after a failed coup was fair play, but slagging him for this – and right out in the middle of frigging nowhere, left flightless and slap bang in the middle of Squishy territory –was soooo below the ejector valve. Once he’d thought up something suitably humiliating, he’d get his own back for this, for definite!

Grumbling barely-articulate Decepticon curses through his vents, Starscream peeled himself out of his puddle and examined the traitorous leg. Yuck. He wrinkled his features up in that look of pure unadulterated disgust that only he was truly capable of conveying. The rear armour had sheared right off some time ago, leaving the inner mechanism of his turbine and his cold fusion core completely exposed to the environment, and now it was absolutely caked in mud. So not only was there no way the limb was going to be standing up to carrying his weight, not with half the main structural components missing, it was now filthy, too!

Thinking about slagging Ramjet did give him a small measure of malicious pleasure and a flush of determined energy, steadying himself against a tree and levering himself back to his feet. His ‘crutch’ had skittered out of his hands and was several big strides away across the forest floor, but he was damn sure that he wasn’t going to drag himself on his belly to get to it. Balancing himself carefully, he managed an unsteady hop-skip to fetch it, and once it was finally secure in his hands again, he felt he was back to optimum hobbling efficiency.

Although the forest floor was muddy, the rest of the environment was pleasantly dry. In a way, it was the let-up in the weather that had been his salvation – it had let him dry out, and once the water was finally, finally all gone, his brutalised circuitry stopped shorting itself out. He had zero concept of how long he’d lay inert in the mud for – it could have been days, it could have been months. All he knew was that regardless how long exactly it was, even just a single Terran orn was far too long. He had to get a ping for help out to Skywarp, which was going to be easier said than done because his transmitter was mostly non-functional – he had a range of a hundred yards or so, and that was it.

Now he was dry, he wanted to stay dry, at least until he’d got Skywarp’s attention. The last thing he wanted was to get water back into sensitive circuits and short out again before he could be rescued, if that accursed rain should start up for the umpteenth time. He needed to find something to seal off the fractures – again, easier said than done, out here. Mud, sticks and leaves would be about as much good as a paper blast-shield, and even something as primitive as a welding torch would be nonexistent…

The trees up ahead attracted his scientific curiosity – they were spindly-looking things, not those bright green ones with flat leaves, but dark green, bristly ones with heavy arrays of thin needles at the tips of their branches. It wasn’t the trees themselves he was interested in, but rather the yellowish substance on their trunks – a sticky, resinous sap. He crouched and poked at it, scooped a little on one scuffed blue fingertip.

Ugh. He rubbed it between thumb and forefinger and pulled a face – thick, sticky, and wiping his hand against the grass didn’t seem very effective at getting it off. Which – annoyingly – made it an ideal temporary sealant.

He managed to harvest just enough of the disgusting stuff to layer over the fractures in his armour that had allowed water into his system. To keep the water out, it was no way near as good as a proper silicone sealer, but for the short term – oh, Primus, it better just be for the short term! – it’d serve. If only it didn’t have to mean he’d get even more caked-on dirt on his poor abused fuselage.

Had to find a road, he decided, slithering (mostly on his aft) down a grassy embankment. Not going to get anywhere like this. First find a road with human vehicles, and then find himself a truck, and preferably bribe a human to drive it for him. How very galling, to have to plead his case to the humans, beg them for help…! It left him curled up and cringing inside. But what else could he do? For once, pride was forced to take a backseat to self-preservation. He had to find his wing-mates, and grounded, injured and low on fuel, he wasn’t going to manage it alone.

0o0o0o0o0

Funny how easy it was for things to become routine, Thundercracker mused. Following their new little morning ritual, he had ensured the other two had got a little fuel into them before taking the dregs for himself. One cube was invariably more than enough - Slipstream only needed a tiny fraction of a cube to fill up completely, and Pulsar was never active enough to need more than a few mouthfuls to rectify her deficit, so there was usually plenty left. They’d even managed to get used to the poor-quality dross Siphon provided them with – although it occasionally made Slipstream’s infant fuel-handling-system go into spasm, making him look for all the world like he had hiccups.

Once breakfast was done with, there wasn’t really a whole lot to do except sit and talk. When Pulsar was lucid enough to hold a conversation, she and Thundercracker would discuss things that had happened since the Seekers had returned to Earth. When she was back lost in her foggy interior world, Thundercracker indulged Slipstream’s quiet curiosity about the world. Never thought I’d end up being a teacher, he’d mused the day before, tiredly, using a handful of shards of armour and two pieces of wire stripped from his own broken wing to demonstrate an electrical phenomena.

…Today was going to be different. Usually alert and interested in what his ‘uncle’ was teaching him, Slipstream was already slumped against him only a breem or two after finishing refuelling, looking wobbly, unable to keep his little head up. That was very uncharacteristic – it usually took the little one a long time to relax enough to allow himself to go dormant, but he’d gone very quiet very quickly.

“Slipstream?” Thundercracker picked him up, carefully, both hands around his small torso, and gave him a little shake. “Wakey wakey, Seem…”

The sparkling made a slurring, incoherent noise and his head lolled uselessly. His optics were a dim violet, almost completely offline. Worried, Thundercracker turned his glance towards Pulsar, to find her sprawled out along the wall; her fans were humming softly, so she was presumably in recharge, not anything more sinister… but she’d lost consciousness pretty damn quickly.

Drugged, Thundercracker thought, the realisation hitting him like a bolt of silver clarity. Which means-… slag it all, that means I am too.

He rolled himself to hands and knees and purged his tanks, violently, wondering if he’d caught it in time. Damn. Damn damn damn! He’d got complacent, not religiously checking each and every cube for adulterants, and it had come back to bite him. Too late. Too late. Even though his tanks were empty enough to feel hollow, he’d left it too late – enough tainted fuel had passed into his main relays for the nanites to access his analytical plates and offload their narcotic viruses into his mainframe. He could feel himself drifting. His optics had gone unfocussed, and his limbs were responding sluggishly.

He was still on his hands and knees, struggling to support his firewalls, when Siphon glided up to the security field, like some sort of smiling, sinister wraith, and let himself inside.

“So. You discovered my little gift,” the tanker oiled, sweetly, catching his fingers under one of his captive’s shoulder vents and rocking him lightly backwards. “I’m so glad. I’d have hated to have had to take drastic measures.”

“I won’t-… won’t do… anything… you tell me to do,” Thundercracker slurred, landing with a whump on his aft in the sand, dredging the words out of his vocabulary with a painful difficulty. Primus, even stringing a simple sentence together was tortuous!

“That’s all right. I’m not going to tell you to do anything,” Siphon reassured him, gently, and coaxed him right over onto his back. “I just need you to go night-night for a little while.”

“I ww-… wwwon’t help… you…” Thundercracker insisted, his deep voice sinking even lower into grumbling incoherence.

“Oh, I think you will.” The voice floated to him as if coming down a long, hollow pipe filled with damping foam. Fingers touched his brow, tilted his head back, and something cold dabbed against the inside of his lips; he felt like biting down on it, but couldn’t get the hydraulics in his jaw hinge to respond. “Goodnight, Skywarp,” the voice mocked; the murky orange glow of optics dimmed out, and Thundercracker finally lost his grip on consciousness.

0o0o0o0o0

“All right, Sepp. Try that. Any better?”

Ratchet was acting rather like a concerned parent, Forceps considered, measuring her stride, carefully. A transmission cable in her thigh had been wound too tight, locking her knee, and it had taken a whole orn to access the tension gear to be able to relax it. “Better,” she confirmed, flexing the joints. There was still a long way to go before she was running (well, lumbering) about normally, because they were having to built all the parts from the ground up, but at least she was back on her own feet again, moving about under her own steam.

The door banged back on its hinges, admitting first a fuming Sunstreaker, then a clustering of concerned, anxious and just plain nosy mechs in his wake.

Ratchet gave him that look. “Can I help you, Sunny?”

Sunstreaker didn’t beat about the bush. “You do realise what it is that you’re helping there, don’t you?” he challenged, stabbing an accusatory finger at them.

“No, Sunstreaker, I have absolutely no idea,” Ratchet deadpanned back. “My optics have suddenly become non-functional. Why don’t you tell me?”

The sarcastic tone of voice was completely lost on the yellow mech. “Well, I guess it should have been obvious, seeing the way you’re so merrily patching up that Decepticon spy,so she can happily wreak whatever damage she likes!”

“Aside from the fact I don’t believe for one minute that any Decepticon could wreak quite so much havoc as you and your brother, I don’t really think-”

“I’ve got proof right here in vivid technicolour,” Sunstreaker cut in, and waved a large sheet of card bearing a colour printout, as if it were a weapon. “Great plan, wasn’t it?” he directed his anger at Forceps. “Play the inoffensive, injured femme, so you could sneak your way right into the heart of our home. What’s next, wait until you’re mobile again then sneak away to sabotage the generator core? Blow us all sky high?”

Her hands had already flexed into fists, tight and furious at her sides; she took one step forwards before Ratchet caught her shoulder. “How about I indulge you, then, Autobot? Sanctimonious little glitch like you could do with a good punch in the faceplates!”

“Oh yeah? So why don’t you just bring it on, femme-!?”

“Get out of here, Sunstreaker,” Ratchet barked, pitching a wrench at him. “I can do quite without you causing a riot!”

“Only if you agree to put her in the brig when you’re done, where she belongs!” Sunstreaker countered, neatly sidestepping the flying equipment; there was a yelp from behind as it impacted Cliffjumper instead. “Otherwise I think I’ll stay here, to keep an eye on things.”

“That isn’t for you to decide. Take your concerns to Optimus, if you’re so worried.” Ratchet gestured threateningly with a stylus. “If he decides to agree to your paranoia? Fair enough. Otherwise? Get the Pit out and let me work!” He directed his attention briefly over Sunstreaker’s shoulder. “Sideswipe! Get your twin out of here before I advise Prowl that both of you deserve a month of menial chores.”

“That’s hardly fair!” Sideswipe exclaimed, but hastily bundled Sunstreaker – still cursing – out of the doorway.

The stillness that descended back on the medical bay was an uneasy one. Ratchet stooped and picked up the piece of paper Sunstreaker had dropped on his way out; it was a bad-quality photograph, and very old if the datestamp was anything to go by. A few of the blurred figures were recognisable as high-ranking, long-deceased Decepticons, but there was a pale greenish smudge just on the very border, outlined by Sunstreaker in thick black marker. Damn. He rubbed the back of his neck, stiffly. This only threw up questions, not answers. What was she doing, standing there with them? A hostage? A coincidental bystander? Surely not actually pledging her allegiance to them…

When he turned back to face her, Forceps was on her berth, with her shoulders rounded and her head hanging, legs crossed beneath her, hands in her lap. She found a wan smile from somewhere, but it faded rapidly. “That was exciting,” she drawled, tiredly. “Now what happens?”

“I know it’s not the way you do things, but you’re going to have to explain yourself, Forceps,” Ratchet suggested, softly, carefully laying the photograph down just where she could see it, on the opposing berth. “An accusation like that isn’t something people here will just stand back and forget about, and as it stands right now? You are the outsider. You have the mysterious past, you are the one people don’t know if they can trust, and I’m sure they’ll all be more inclined to listen to Sunny and Sides’ points of view, however disjointed it might sound.”

“Comes to a bit when a machine doesn’t even have the right to her own privacy,” the green femme groused, half-heartedly, studying her fingers.

“Perhaps so,” Ratchet allowed, quietly, watching as Jazz edged through the door with a very quiet Footloose. “Perhaps you could try and see it from our point of view. We’re all Autobots.” He spread his hands. “And in that photograph is a machine that looks rather like you. Which begs the question. Were you ever a Decepticon?”

At last, she looked up, and met his gaze; her optics had only a dim, tired glow. “Hardly any point to denying it when he has his proof there in living colour, is it? Yes, I was,” she confirmed, bluntly, and curled her lips into a gloomy smile.

“That wasn’t what I wanted to hear,” Ratchet sighed.

She lifted a finger. “In my defence, it was for a grand total of five whole orns.” Her smile became tired, cynical. “I’m amazed your two dug that out, to be honest. I didn’t think my name even got onto their register.”

“Why, Sepp?” Jazz wondered, coming around the end of the berth and letting Footloose settle at the foot of it; the sparkling remained very quiet, hands wrapped around her ankles, apparently sensing the gravity of the situation. “After getting to know you on Cybertron? Hardly seems to be your style, Megatron’s whole ‘destroy and pillage’ regime.”

“I shared a few of their ideals,” she explained, quietly, although something about her manner seemed evasive. “Just a few, but enough. To remove the stagnating aristocracy. To remove the way that only those who could buy it could have safety, security, health and freedom from fear. But…” She spread her hands. “I disagreed with Megatron’s methods of regime change, and what he wanted to replace society with. I backed out and said I didn’t want to be part of it when I realised they didn’t want democracy, they wanted totalitarian rule. They were disorganised enough not to miss me when I slipped away, back then.”

“You could have joined the Autobots, if you felt so strongly,” Ratchet reminded. “You’ve heard Optimus’ thoughts on the matter. Freedom is the right of all sentient beings.”

She wrinkled her nose in a cynical pout. “You’ll forgive me for pointing out that I saw little difference between factions, back then. You were both content to impose your rules by force. If it wasn’t oligarchy and nepotism, then it was dictatorship and violence, and only the privileged few had anything.” She shook her head, and vented hot air in a sigh. “More than anything, I was angry,” she admitted, touching her fingers absently to her chest. “And I couldn’t join the ones who’d forced me to approach the Decepticons in the first place.”

The silence seemed to physically press down on the audios of all the machines present.

“You’re saying it was the Autobots that drove you to join Megatron?” Ratchet all but blurted the words out. “What in Primus name did we do to you?”

“As a faction? Nothing. As individuals, nothing.” She averted her gaze, reluctantly. “It’s… complicated.”

“Complicated enough to make you want to throw your hand in with Megatron, then blame us?!”

“I was angry. Anger does strange things to the way a machine thinks!” she snapped back, tensing her fingers into a fist against her chest. “At the time, seemed to be a good idea. I didn’t think it would come back to haunt me all these hundreds of thousands of vorns later…!”

Footloose had warily edged her way up the berth while the adults argued, and was now pressed up against Forceps’ hip. “Ausep feelings hurt?” she wondered, quietly, placing both palms down on her thigh.

Forceps glanced down at the sparkling, and sighed and picked her up. “Don’t you worry, Button, Auntie’s just in a grumpy mood again,” she said, gruffly, as the small femme wriggled herself comfortable in the crook of her elbow.

“Atchet make Ausep sad?” Footloose decided to try Slipstream’s trick, and hummed a little harmonic against her aunt’s chest.

“No, it’s not Ratchet’s fault,” Forceps accepted, with a vague smile, and pinged the sparkling’s short antennae. “Just an old mistake of mine, come back to haunt me.”

“Ausep not make mistakes,” Footloose pointed out, maintaining her harmonic undertone.

“Ha! If only that were true…” Forceps hummed along with her, for a little while. “So. What were you and Jazz up to, this morning? Causing trouble, no doubt!”

Footloose glanced up, and explained, quietly; “We try look for Star with Sky Spy. Not on Tel’tran to see.”

“He’s gone?” A flicker of dismay crossed the surgeon’s features. “I suppose it’s too much to ask that Jazz might have sent someone out to help him.”

Jazz met the challenging tilt to the golden optics with his own steady blue gaze, and shook his head, apologetically. “I’d figured he was safe enough where he was,” he admitted. “It’s not a place well-travelled by many humans, and we could keep an easy eye out for Megatron, so we’re working on the premise Skywarp might have found him.”

“Hrf.” Forceps sounded unconvinced. “Having seen those pictures you snapped of Skywarp, I’m reserving my judgement for now…”

“Suishies find,” Footloose suggested. “Jas say Optimus to ask hoomings if they have. Maybe fix?” She glanced up. “But not make into candies. Not edible.”

“You and your mints!” Forceps clucked, amusedly, then gave her a poke in the winglet. “Hey, Lucy. Look down,” she said, conspiratorially, and swung her legs when the sparkling’s attention was in the right direction.

“Aunnie Ausep feet working?” she asked, cheerfully, then added, more quietly, leaning up right next to her audio; “We go find Unnol Sta’zim now? Jas says not make dead, but is lost.”

“We better wait for Ratchet to give me the okay,” Forceps demurred, gently. “It’s probably not a good idea, right now.”

“But we must find!” Footloose insisted, earnestly.

“And we will! Just… not right now. Once it’s a bit safer.”

0o0o0o0o0

Skywarp had rapidly found that high octane aircraft fuel wasn’t that much better than automobile petroleum. It was riskier to get to, as well, because he had to raid airports to get it, but he could handle it better and it didn’t make him feel like purging his tanks for the rest of the day, so he was willing to make the sacrifice.

Stealing fuel while he was unarmed was an increasingly risky business. The marginally safer option (because they had previously been unarmed) was to hit the international airports – sneaky hit-and-run attacks, grab a tanker and swipe its contents, and scarper before they could mount a defence. It was hard to do the whole “shock and awe” thing, because let’s face it, big lumbering jetliners were too heavy for him to fling about, and yelling and stamping was only getting him so far, but so long as he had a quiet breem or two to refuel he didn’t need the Squishies to run away too far.

The other, more dangerous option was to target army bases – at least, it was more dangerous, but the fuel was better, which was all that made it worthwhile. He’d sneak in under their radar while it was dark, crash about so noisily they’d think there were at least six of him, and shock them into a brief retreat, throw a few jet fighters about before the humans could get into them and attack him, and while they were trying to come to a good defence he’d raid the fuel store. Hot thrusters were usually good for igniting the leftover and giving him enough of a distraction to get away. They did often have surface-to-air missiles, annoyingly, and escaping those usually meant he had to rely on his teleport, and that sucked energy out of him like nobody’s business, right now.

It would be so much easier if the Squishies just stayed gone when he scared them off – they might be a plague of annoying, stupid little noisy biologicals, but they’d proved they had a pretty darn good capacity for learning. The last two airbases he’d hit had actually been waiting for him to show up, SAMs ready and waiting, and he barely got out with his armour intact, certainly no fuel.

After spending a pointless day huddled next to a soggy power relay station in the most remote, rain-soaked location he could find, Skywarp elected to try a new tactic. Instead of flying in when it got dark, he landed a short distance away before the sun had even set, and sneaked his way closer at ground level. He edged his way all the way up to the crest of the cliff, tortuously slowly, and peered down onto the airbase, twinkling quietly in the distance. The humans were milling about busily, and he could see a frigging tank rolling slowly along in the distance, but they didn’t seem to be paying a whole lot of attention to the ground – their little wet optics were all directed up into the sky, where their aeroplanes slowly patrolled, engines droning. That was kiind of a good sign – he might just stand a chance of avoiding detection, a dark jet on dark, shadowy ground, and sneaking in when it got dark – but also kind of a bad sign, because there were no fuel tankers visible anywhere. Drat. Stupid humans must have parked them out of reach. He pouted, irritably. That meant he’d have to encroach pretty far on their territory just to find something worth stealing, let alone manage to actually steal it-

“There he is!”

The hostile voice jangled into his awareness like a physical blow, and he jumped, startled. It was pure dumb luck that he shoved himself up from his prone position on the ground to look over his shoulder, because a fraction of a millisecond later a beam of crackling orange destruction stabbed into the ground where his shoulder vent had just been.

Aerialbots! He cursed, alarmed, and threw himself further out of the way, laser fire smattering the ground and sizzling close enough to his fuselage to leave silvery scorchmarks. Damn, damn damn damn! Couldn’t fight back, couldn’t outfly them, and he probably didn’t have enough power left in him to teleport. Just get moving. Think about it once you’re up!

He could hear someone yelling in the background – “guys, guys, cut it out! We’re just supposed to talk to him!” – but the enemy fliers fairly comprehensively ignored the speaker.

“I’m unarmed, I’m unarmed!” Skywarp bleated, not bothering to try and find out what the Aerialbot had meant and just plain fleeing on foot, but the Aerialbots didn’t take much notice, raining a maelstrom of gingery laser-fire around him and over his wings until he managed to get enough ergs together to engage his teleport, and skipped just far enough away to be out of reach. He could still hear them, way away in the distance, but the noise of engines wasn’t getting any closer, and it was dark enough and he was cool enough that the trees would be just enough of a screen to hide him from any patrols…

That last jump had pretty much finished him off. He’d not refuelled properly in days, and was all the way down to the last vapours in his last backup reserve. He didn’t so much sit down as just plain fall onto his aft with a thump in the grass.

Out of options, his subconscious said, with that desperate crashing finality it had got so good at lately, as he sagged his head into his hands, exhaustedly. Out of options. No home, no fuel, no friends, no family, nothing. What in frag’s name am I going to do?

Can’t go back to Nemesis. Well, I could, but I’d be lucky if Megatron just took both my wings and lengthened my spell in isolation by a vorn or two. And I’d have to crawl and grovel and beg and it’d probably hurt, too, so that’s out. And how am I gonna find the guys if I’m back in that horrible little cell? No, no Nemesis.

Cybertron? No. How would I get there, in the first place? Can’t just fly all that way! Vantage might be willing to be bribed to let me onto the bridge, but I bet Megs has increased the number of guards there by now. Besides, even if I got onto the bridge this side, there’s no way that aft-kisser Shockwave would let me off at the other end. He’d completely own my unarmed aft in a firefight.

Where would I go even if I got there? Boxer said we’d be welcome back, but I’ll bet he changes his mind when he finds out what fraggery went on, here. Hardline will trounce me if he finds out those slagging coneheaded idiots killed Sepp, and what in Primus would I tell Squeaky, when we find her?! Sorry, Pulse, I know I only had the kids for a couple of weeks but Megatron killed both of ‘em because I was too damn stupid to keep them safe and away from him…

He sighed, tucked his knees up against his chest and slumped so his chin rested on them. He’d have to find some sort of power relay somewhere, recharge his batteries. Funny how it only became apparent how much a machine took that grotty low-grade energon for granted when he couldn’t even get that any more. And Hook, too – might be a supercilious old snob, but at least he tried to do a good job when he was playing doctor!

My pumps are all getting glued up with residue from that disgusting petroleum energon. My wing is barely hanging on. I’m slow and sluggish and so damn tired. Screamer and TC must both be dead by now. That means by definition so are the little ones. Sepp is dead, too. Squeaky is probably still missing. And if you’d only kept your damn vocaliser offline, we’d all be back on Cybertron, sorting this stupid mess out. He rubbed the bridge of his nose, miserably.

If I can’t find them, bring them back, the least I can do is try and avenge their names, even if it means I die trying.

There was only one option left. An option that left him feeling like someone’s hands were around his primary relays, slowly cutting off his energon and choking the life out of him, but it was the only option he had, because he couldn’t struggle on the way he had been for any longer.

Autobots.

Comments

( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
muffins_of_god
Nov. 28th, 2008 07:32 pm (UTC)
This is Exie, from ff.net!
Presenting: Zachariah, the Squeaky! (XD I told you I would do it!)



Once again, LOVE the story. Poorpoor Seekers!
_silverfox
Nov. 29th, 2008 12:23 am (UTC)
Aaawwwww, a kitty! And an adorable one at that.
muffins_of_god
Nov. 29th, 2008 12:35 am (UTC)
XD Don't let the cute demeanor fool you...
keaalu
Dec. 1st, 2008 01:23 am (UTC)
*squeak*
Aaahahaha, awesome. :D And he IS a cute kitty. Needs moar lolcats, though. *tries to think of a caption...* ;)

S'funny, I've actually noticed that those few times I've tried drawing my noisy little bikes, they've kinda leaned towards slightly feline facial structure - around the eyes, if nothing else.

OH NOES, now I'm thinking of Kitty Skywarp (or at least a variant thereof) again. *flails around on floor*
muffins_of_god
Dec. 1st, 2008 06:51 am (UTC)
Re: *squeak*
XD Oh man. If you want more lolcats, try this on for size.

That thing he's gnawing on? My kneecap.

Zach, as I predicted, was PISSED that I left him in the vet. He's spent the entire day gravitating between nuzzlenuzzlepurrpurr...and mauling my arm.

I...have never actually tried to draw transformers!

XDDD KITTY SKYWARP *DIE* *rolls around on the floor giggling* Aww damn. Now I got Seekers on the brain again. *fumbles around for her iPod...has a playlist for Seeker!brain!*
keaalu
Dec. 1st, 2008 08:23 am (UTC)
Re: *squeak*
"UR kneecaps... tastez liek chikn"

OKAY that's as good as I can do after 4 hours sleep. *ded*

"I...have never actually tried to draw transformers!"
Do it, doooo eeeet.
muffins_of_god
Dec. 2nd, 2008 03:03 am (UTC)
Re: *squeak*
XD *points above* Exie est a photographer...not a drawer! I don't think I COULD draw transformers...unless they were stick figures. ....which, damn. I think I might have to do now. *rolls around on the floor in stitches*

Why the 4 hours of sleep?
jill_dragon
Dec. 2nd, 2008 03:39 am (UTC)
Re: *squeak*
Heh, I don't think I could even draw stick transformers - or at least draw them and have them look recognizable. My only real claim to artistic talent is a bit of dabbling in fanfiction. So I always admire (and feel a little envious of) people who can produce visual art.
muffins_of_god
Dec. 2nd, 2008 06:50 am (UTC)
Re: *squeak*
Eh, my technical skills are par at best. I feel that I have to really spend time and effort to get a traditional piece of art to look the way I want it to. I'm actually a graphic designer/photographer by trade. ONE of these days I'll get to updating my stupid dA account...

I'm actually envious of people who can spit out fiction like its nothing. I have so many ideas...and an almost terminal case of writer's block.
keaalu
Dec. 2nd, 2008 02:35 pm (UTC)
Re: *squeak*
4 hours of sleep because I function better at night and forget to go to bed early. Then I remember I have to be up early next morning for work. ¬_¬

Stick-figure-formers would be awesome. I will have to attempt it. :)
muffins_of_god
Dec. 2nd, 2008 05:39 pm (UTC)
Re: *squeak*
XD We're peas in a pod then. ALL POWER TO NIGHT OWLS! MORNINGS SUCK! and so on and so forth. I HATE it when I do that....so I know the feeling.

Ugh...speaking of work...*has to go now.*

DOOEET.
jill_dragon
Dec. 3rd, 2008 07:18 am (UTC)
Re: *squeak*
Yes mornings are EVIL! All the assignments I've been working on have completely skewed my internal clock, so a day for me is from about 11am to about 2am.
_silverfox
Nov. 29th, 2008 12:29 am (UTC)
*hugs poor Skywarp* At least Starscream is doing a little better now, but I knew they should have fetched him earlier. Now they might get Skywarp, but the other two are both lost again. ... On the other hand I'd like to see Megatron's face when instead of leading him to two helpless sparklings his transmitter leads him into Autobot headquarters.
keaalu
Dec. 1st, 2008 01:28 am (UTC)
Planning on returning to old Buckethead in the next chapter. ;) Thinking up some nice little twists, as well.

And el Screaming One is resourceful, I'm sure he'll prod Warp (and chew on his audios for not fetching him in sooner) in good time. ;)
_silverfox
Dec. 1st, 2008 09:09 pm (UTC)
*imagines Starscream hobbling all the way to Africa to singlehandedly rescue Thundercracker, Squeaky and Slipstream* Or maybe not. ;)
jill_dragon
Nov. 30th, 2008 05:35 am (UTC)
'Uncle Starscream'??? *dies* I wish I could see his face when he hears that. It's going to do _wonders_ for his big, bad Decepticon image! XD
keaalu
Dec. 1st, 2008 01:24 am (UTC)
Bwahaha, next time I shall have to make sure someone else (like, I don't know, one of the twins, maybe) overhears. ;) *rubs hands evilly*
_silverfox
Dec. 1st, 2008 09:12 pm (UTC)
like, I don't know, one of the twins, maybe

Or Prime ... and Megatron? ... Of course Megatron probably shouldn't be allowed close enough to Footloose to hear her say anything.
muffins_of_god
Dec. 2nd, 2008 02:12 am (UTC)
XD I think Ratchet would be best. He would totally just blow Starscream's image out of the water...and he's gotta fix him anyway. XD I could see Screamer gettin' really pissed, then totally diffused by Footloose, which would only perpetuate the 'unnol sta'zim' thing. *snickers*
keaalu
Dec. 2nd, 2008 02:32 pm (UTC)
"Of course Megatron probably shouldn't be allowed close enough to Footloose to hear her say anything."
Oh. Um... Oops?

*models halo and looks guileless*
muffins_of_god
Dec. 2nd, 2008 05:37 pm (UTC)
Nooooooo! BAD!
_silverfox
Dec. 2nd, 2008 08:55 pm (UTC)
Much as having all the Autobots see him as a little sparklings beloved uncle would probably embarrass Starscream I can't help thinking Megatron would be even worse ... but I'm still worried about the safety of innocent bystanding sparklings ... *torn*
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )

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