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"Warped", Chapter Eighteen

Title (chapter): Warped (18)
Series: Transformers, G1-based (“Blue” AU)
Rating: PG-13
Summary: In which Siphon's prisoners get disobedient.




Warped
Chapter Eighteen

Forceps had already returned to the medical suite by the time the two Seekers finally managed to make their way down the corridor to get Skywarp’s new suite of injuries looked at; she’d taken the box with her, but hadn’t yet reopened it, leaving the flaps interleaved across the top. She was instead amusing herself by working on Starscream’s new thruster complex; the fusion core was in place, and the rest of it was slowly beginning to take shape around it. She watched as they came in, visibly casting her gaze skywards at how filthy all three had got, but began to clear things away.

Starscream gave his wingmate a tired look; Skywarp had gone immediately to his usual spot on the worktop, and was swinging his thrusters and trying to look his usual chirpy, impertinent self… but his shoulders were sagging and his wings were low and under the fake devil-may-care smile he just generally looked glum. The poor mech probably hadn’t got so emotionally involved in something in a very long time, the red Seeker considered; probably hadn’t been forced to think quite so hard about things, either-

“Unnol Sta’zim?” There was a little tug at his fingers, and he glanced down to find Footloose by his feet, gazing up at him out of appealingly large greenish optics. “I make help?”

He smiled, although it looked very forced. “I’m not sure there’s a lot you can do, Button,” he explained, carefully. How did you explain to a child that you didn’t want her to see that someone had very obviously hurt her dam, and was now taunting them by sending parts of her back in the post? “Maybe you should go and see if Teletraan has any games installed.”

The sparkling shook her head; it was a predictable response from her, but that didn’t make it any less annoying. “Can make help if to look for Ama,” she explained.

The bigger mech rumbled a sigh out of his vents. “We’re not going to be doing anything you can help with,” he repeated. “Trust me. You’ll get bored, and then you’ll make a nuisance of yourself. Go amuse yourself for a cycle or two. All right?”

Her lips had already pulled together in a pout. “But not fair. Want to help!”

He gritted his teeth and crouched so he was closer to her eye level. “I know you do, and I appreciate it,” he confirmed, giving her a gentle pat on the helm; she ducked back away from him, grumpily, folding her arms huffily. “But I promise this is not going to be fun, and it’s not going to be good for sparklings. All right?”

“But want Ama!” Footloose protested. “Make more help to find, and find her quicker!”

“Lucy-… I don’t think this-… rrgh.” Starscream rubbed his temples, and gave her a long, critical look before finally glancing up at the small clustering of machines in the medbay. “Could someone come take charge of the little one, please?”

She squeaked her annoyance. “Not say ‘get out’ again! Am not go!”

“You should listen to your elders,” he growled, losing patience, standing and moving away. “Trust me, you are not going to stay in here while we work, getting under our thrusters.”

Footloose looked like she was on the point of degenerating into a raging little ball of temper; her little arms were stiff and her fists were tensed at her sides, and she peeped her siren, just the once. “Not fair! Want to help!”

“Hey, Button…” Jazz swooped to the rescue; he crouched beside her and caught her little arms, pulling her against him in a half-hug half-restraint. “How about we go find something more fun for you to do?”

She squirmed and stamped a foot. “Not want fun, want to stay here and make help!”

“Oh, I don’t think they’ll be doing anything little sparks can join in with,” Jazz argued, gently. “You’ll have to sit and watch and that’ll be no fun – right, Sepp?”

The surgeon gave him a glance, and nodded just once. “Definitely boring,” she confirmed. “You know when you and Seem have to come sit in my office because there’s no-one else that can look after you? Just like that.”

Footloose pouted in disgust and nodded. “Aunnie Ausep office full of long words and borings,” she confirmed, glumly, fingers sneaking into her mouth. Having a negative come from Jas – who wasn’t a stuck-in-the-mud like Sta’zim, who always said ‘get out’ irrespective of what she was asking – put a dampener on her determination.

“Let’s go find you some paint,” Jazz suggested, scooping her up off the floor; she didn’t protest, this time. “I’m sure we’ve got some bright colours and big bits of paper somewhere. We can do some art, or something.”

“Present for Ama?” she wondered, around her fingers. “For when gets home?”

“Yeah, if you like! Good idea…”

Forceps waited until the voices had faded down the corridor before returning her attention to the morbid present Skywarp had been sent. “Okay,” she suggested, carefully. “Now I know it’s going to be a bit of a stretch, but. The suggestion has been made that whoever sent the box might have inadvertently left some… clues, for want of a better description… in it. Who sent it, where they sent it from, and what exactly their motivation is.”

“Yeah, because they’re going to totally have left all that written down in there,” Skywarp griped, from his perch. “There was a load of fluffy papery slag, and her foot, and that was it.”

“Well, certainly on the face of it, it looks that way,” Starscream agreed, examining the box. “It think it seems, I don’t know… unlikely? That whoever sent this wouldn’t have included some way of giving him proof of delivery. Some sort of transmitter, maybe… hey, Autobot?” He looked up at Ratchet. “Do you have a scanner?”

“Yes, in storage over there,” the doctor agreed, waving an arm at a cupboard but making no effort to go and get it. “You know? As well as a scanner, I have a name, Decepticon.”

Starscream ignored the jibe, already on his way to fetch the device; his route took him past Perceptor, who until now had gone unnoticed in the corner, and brushed past the quiet scientist closely enough to knock him reeling with his wing.

Perceptor had actually only bothered coming down to check on his uulus – they looked buoyant and remarkably healthy, even if they had been grossly overfed by a certain overenthusiastic sparkling – but had been attracted over by the drama that had arrived a breem or two after he’d set the scanner running. Although he’d initially seemed a little leery of getting too close to the pair of Decepticons, the continued lack of raised voices had been reassuring and he’d finally given in to curiosity, moving hesitantly along the sideboard until coming closer to where Skywarp sat.

“May I?” the microscope wondered, gesturing to the box.

“Yeah, knock yourself out,” Skywarp sighed, grimly, watching as the microscope picked up the discarded box and gave it a brief scrutiny. “Not like I’m gonna be able to do much with it.”

“Look,” Perceptor commented, tilting the box and giving it a little shake. “Sand.”

“Oh yeah, sand, ’cause that answers all of life’s problems,” Skywarp scoffed, miserably, glaring at him. “It’s not like half of this mud-ball’s surface is covered in it, or anything.”

“Ha, yes, I see your point. Seriously, however? This might work in our favour. If we can narrow down the exact chemical and geological makeup of it,” Perceptor explained, ignoring the Seeker’s sarcasm, carefully brushing the precious grains into a convenient Petri dish, “we stand a chance of isolating its origin.”

“You mean we might find out where it came from?” The teleport cocked his head, marginally more interested.

“We may indeed!” Perceptor inclined his head. “If you’d excuse me…?”

Skywarp watched him vanish off; funny how keen everyone was to help now there was definitely Autobot involvement, he considered, sourly, but kept his thoughts to himself. The fact was, they were helping, and in the process that was maybe (hopefully) helping find TC. Griping about it would only frag them off, and he had no desire to be right back at the beginning and told where he could go stick it.

Forceps had finally cleared her workspace enough to examine the foot; Skywarp winced, and watched her poke at it, for a while, before sliding to the floor and going to her side.

“Ignoring the fact that someone’s ripped Squeaky’s slagging foot off,” Skywarp wondered, awkwardly, pacing about in a fidgety sort of way next to the table, “would you say it’s, ah… healthy?”

The surgeon gave him a glance, and she knew he was actually asking is she still alive? “Well, there’s still small quantities of joint fluid around the hydraulics, and the smallest trace of liquid energon in the motor relay,” Forceps confirmed, quietly, using a stylus to carefully manipulate pieces of plating out of the way. “It’s a vaguely reassuring sign. It would have dried up within a dozen or so orns if she were… ah, non-functioning. It means she might still be operational.”

“…only… ‘might’?”

“I won’t lead you on,” she said, softly. “Someone out there is playing a game with you – to what end, I have no idea – and it looks like she’s become one of the playing pieces. This?” She ran her fingers almost tenderly over the scuffed top curve of the amputated foot. “Was probably done purely to get at you, not to punish her for some perceived infraction.”

Skywarp averted his gaze, angrily, and folded his arms tighter across his chest. “Well it worked,” he grumbled, darkly. “They sure got at me. Is it too much to ask I be allowed to get at them?”

“Soon as we find them, Warp,” Starscream promised, rummaging in the cupboards. “You can have first dibs, so long as you leave some for me.”

Not even Ratchet quibbled the violent sentiment being espoused. It actually seemed more distasteful to argue it – because it felt far too close to the idea of forgiving the psychopath that had done this.

“Someone’s clearly been watching far too much television,” Ratchet commented, quietly.

“What do you mean?” Forceps gave him a look.

“Well, it’s probably more cliché than anything these days, but, ah… it was said that kidnappers would send parts of their victims back in the post. Bits that wouldn’t kill the victim, like an ear or a finger, to scare the victim’s family into paying a ransom more easily.”

What ransom?” Skywarp despaired, throwing his arms up. “Nobody’s asked us for anything! And what could they want from me, I don’t have anything worth-

“Don’t speak too soon,” Forceps interrupted, softly. She was extracting something from underneath the brutalised armour.

…A piece of crisply-folded white paper.

“I think this is for you,” she invited, holding it out to him.

“I don’t want it,” Skywarp argued, folding his arms, self-protectively. “It must be a mistake.”

“It’s got your name on it,” the surgeon pointed out, still holding it out for him, angling it very slightly so he could see the heavy black handwriting more clearly.

Skywarp dithered for another few long moments before taking it very gingerly from the outstretched hand. Skywarp; the handwriting seemed to mock him. This here? Is all for you. Is all because of you. Because you’re such a brainless moron and couldn’t keep your hands to yourself, out of everyone else’s business and off the first pretty bit of kibble to show an interest in you for howevermanythousand vorns-

He lost his nerve. “You open it,” he forced it into Starscream’s hands the instant he was close enough. “I don’t want to know what it says.”

Starscream barely flickered an optic. “Coward,” he grumbled, unfolding and scrutinising the sheet.

Skywarp watched as his wingmate’s expression gradually went from irritable to genuinely concerned. “What, what? What does it say?” he chivvied.

“I thought you didn’t want to know?” Starscream reminded, dryly, then gave him a wary look. “It’s from an old ‘friend’ of yours,” he observed, softly. “Siphon.”

Skywarp’s shoulders sagged in startled disbelief. “What? No-… no, that can’t be right! He’s dead!” he protested. “I killed him!”

“Apparently not well enough,” Starscream disagreed, softly, using his thumb to smooth the folds out of the paper. “Did you check him after you threw him off the edge of the rift?”

“There was no way he could have survived a fall like that,” Skywarp argued, but there was no weight behind his convictions, and his voice was almost pleading. “It must be from someone else, Screamer-! It’s got to be! Another of Cali’s loyalists, or something. An old Codustral employee who’s sour that he lost his job because of us. Not that… that stupid crackpot pipeline-… he must be dead.”

“Well whoever he is,” Starscream held out the scrap, and at last Skywarp took it, tentatively, “he doesn’t seem interested in coming to an amicable agreement.”

“No kidding,” the teleport murmured, and his wings pitched even lower.

“May I?” Forceps wondered, quietly, holding out her hand.

Skywarp only relinquished the scrap to her large fingers when he was sure there were definitely no more details it could possibly give up. He looked… well, the closest term would have been nauseated. And Forceps understood his dismay very easily. My dearest Skywarp. I have your wingmate, your sparkling and your femme, she read. If you want any of them back, I want Cali. In good health and functioning normally, without any attached tricks or monitoring devices, hand-delivered to my base of operations by yourself. I suspect you know the frequency to contact me on. Siphon.

She gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder. “We’ll find him. If he could find Thundercracker, we can find him. All right?”

Skywarp just sighed and studied his fingers, morosely.

“Okay, well, first things first. Let’s see if we can find a transmitter in there anywhere,” Starscream suggested, at last. He lifted the scanner and consulted the readout as it booted up, checking it was tuned to the appropriate frequencies.

…Unexpectedly, the device said cheeeeip as he went past Skywarp with it. “What in the-?” Starscream backed up and waved the sensor more closely over him.

“What’s it doing?” Skywarp craned his neck back to get a look at his wingmate.

“Sensing,” Starscream replied, distractedly; his lips were pursed into a grimace of concern. The low chirring got gradually louder and higher and finally became a fine shrilling as he placed the reader down over a spot on the midpoint in Skywarp’s repaired right wing.

“Uh. Is that a bad sign?” Skywarp wondered, although he had the sort of look on his face that said oops.

“No wonder they’ve been so quick at working out where you were!” Starscream snapped, and gave him a swat around the back of the head with the reader. “Who was it reattached your wing, the first time?”

Skywarp pouted and rubbed his helm. “Well, Soundwave’s cassettes got Hook to do-”

“You let Hook put you back together, with him in the knowledge you were going to escape, and you didn’t question it?!” Starscream only just resisted the urge to shove his wingmate off his perch and bury his own face in his hands. “You’ve got a frigging… homing beacon in here, Skywarp! They know exactly where you are, every astro-second of every orn.”

“Well that’s not my fault,” Skywarp argued, optics glittering a fraction hotter. “What did you expect me to do, ask if they were playing tricks on me before they reattached my wing to me?” He gave his wingmate a shove. “I was running depleted, my side hurt where Megs had yanked my wing off, and our Bucketheaded so-called-leader had threatened to leave me in solitary for a whole Terran year, so please forgive me for taking an opportunity when it presented itself!”

Starscream wrinkled his lip, but backed down rather than labour the point. “Well, we could play this to our advantage,” he accepted, grudgingly. “So long as we can make it look like you’re still wearing the beacon? It’ll be easier for us to sneak around unnoticed. If it looks like you’re still skulking around Autobot HQ, they won’t be looking so hard for you outside.”

Skywarp muttered something dirty in his wingmate’s direction, and sat and fidgeted his thrusters while Forceps began to peel apart the top layers of plating on the back of his wing.

“I’m going to put an idea out there,” Starscream mused, unexpectedly worriedly, watching as the surgeon extracted the little disc of circuitry and filamentous array of antennae from the black wing. “Because I want to just see if anyone else agrees with me. All right?”

There was a murmuring of agreement from the assembled machines, and an array of differently-coloured optics had fixed upon him.

“Hook put the positioning beacon into Skywarp’s wing, right?”

Nods of agreement greeted the statement.

“And yet, this,” he lifted the ‘ransom note’, “came from Siphon. Is anyone else seeing a very unwanted connection forming, here?”

Skywarp flickered his gaze between the nodding heads, and grimaced. “Am I the only one not getting it?”

Starscream levelled a serious look at him. “Siphon knows where you are because he has access to the code the positioning signal is broadcasting on. He would only know to look for a signal if he knew there was a beacon, and he would only know there was a beacon by being told. And he would only be told if he’d made the appropriate… connections.”

“So what you’re saying,” Ratchet hazarded, softly, “is that Siphon would appear to have joined the Decepticons.”

Starscream didn’t dither with his confirmation. “Exactly. Which means we’re not just trying to find and outwit him, any more, but Megatron as well.”

0o0o0o0

“Thundercracker? Are you awake?”

Siphon’s captive Seeker onlined one optic and studied the silhouette in the doorway. “I wasn’t, but I am now,” he confirmed, buzzily. He rebooted his vocaliser with a little khuff-noise, annoyedly, and thankfully the buzz vanished. “What’s wrong?”

There was the familiar zzt of the field powering down, and Deuce slipped through, clutching a tool case. “Siphon’s gone out,” he explained, continually shooting glances over his shoulder as if expecting the tanker to appear out of the ether any second and catch him in the act. “Megatron too. Pit, the place is abandoned, pretty much, ’cept two groundlings who are too busy surfing the Earth inter-net to keep an eye on me.”

Made sense, Thundercracker mused. Since Megatron had arrived, Deuce had seemed very much cowed back into line. Reassuringly, he’d remained his plain old neutral self, though, and it was starting to look rather like it was a careful act.

“Toolbox,” Thundercracker pointed out, sitting forwards; the small movement disturbed Slipstream, who mumbled confusedly and tumbled away from his perch on his arm, into the sand. “What are you up to?” A thought struck him. “Have you actually managed to get a look at how the collars work?”

Deuce – for once – didn’t back away and ramble about irrelevancies. He nodded, just once. “I’ve studied the plans,” he husked, softly, opening the case and shuffling through the untidy assortment of tools. “It’s effective, but a pretty simple design. I should be able to hotwire one and get it off in the time he’s gone.”

“Good.” Thundercracker cast a glance sidelong, and met Pulsar’s gaze for a fraction of an astro-second. “Can you get started? I want to give her the best head start that we can.”

Deuce wavered, a microscopic heat-lance clutched in his hand. “Don’t you think we should try and get the sparkling out?” he wondered, looking down at Slipstream, who had woken up enough to be curiously investigating the contents of the case.

“Yes, I do,” Thundercracker agreed, tiredly. “but that would require that we took off two collars – the little one, and a guardian – and we’re not going to have time. Besides.” He glanced sidelong at the dim blue optic that watched them discuss its owner’s fate. “That’d mean we had to leave her behind. And I’m not going to be responsible for that… that crackpot pipeline pulling any more parts off her. It’s the most vulnerable that have to get out, and that’s her. Seem and I are in pretty good health right now, we can hold out a little longer.”

The truck dithered for a moment, not sure how happy he was allowed to be with the decision – the fact he personally wanted to get the femme out notwithstanding, it just didn’t seem logical to get the most smashed-up and least-able-to-survive prisoner out – but nodded

Ok. Ok. Deuce cycled cold air to try and keep his internal temperature down, and offlined as many non-vital systems as he could get away with. It didn’t help that he was running a high resistance, stressed and hot, and his spark felt like a drop of molten tin in his chassis, the last thing he wanted was to have to devote essential processing power to stopping non-essential systems from shaking!

It was microscopic-level work; he was forced to pull her right up against him just to get close enough to see what he was doing. For her part, Pulsar was stiff as a board, optic offlined; she might be terrified, but at least she wasn’t moving about, Deuce consoled himself, miserably.

“Deuce? What doing?”

The truck glanced down to find Slipstream watching attentively from by his elbow as he worked on Pulsar’s collar. “Getting this off Ama,” he replied, softly. “So she can get out.”

“I help?”

“Not this time. Delicate work.” Deuce smiled, anxiously, and gave him a friendly pat on the head; it was already taking every last ounce of self-control not to shake, add a sparkling to the mix and he might end up blowing all three of them up.

Slipstream backed down, amicably. “…I watch?” he suggested, instead.

“So long as you’re quiet,” Deuce allowed, gently.

There was a moment of heavy tension when Deuce unclicked the clasp holding the collar shut, and an unpleasant high signal that jarred off everyone’s communications receivers, but that was it. The collar loosened up, easily; the navy mech hooked a pair of wires in place to extend the control circuitry, opened the loop as far as it would go, and gingerly passed it up over Pulsar’s head. Done. No explosions, no damage. He let himself vent all the stale air that had built up in a long, shaky sigh of relief.

“All right, Pulsar, listen. I know you can hear me,” Deuce coaxed, backing up. “I don’t know when Siphon will be back, but I know it’ll be soon. You have to be gone before he gets back. All right?”

She kept her gaze fixed on the floor; he resisted the urge to shake her.

“Please, Pulse. I can’t get the collar back on you and if you don’t go-… we’re both dead,” he pleaded, and at last her head moved a tiny fraction and her gaze lit upon his knees. “He’s already going to be blazing mad at me, but he’ll get Th-… he’ll keep pulling bits off you until there’s nothing left, and he’ll probably do it quicker to stop you escaping.”

He pinged her some data on the route she needed to follow, and got a very weak but confirmatory ping in reply.

“I know you can do this,” he reassured, softly. “You’re stronger than you look – you’ve survived this far! And you’ve got plenty of time.” Although that was something of a lie – she hadn’t got plenty of time, they’d catch her if she left it even just a breem longer. “Just follow my instructions, and you’ll be out. You’ll be out, you’ll be away from Siphon and Megatron, and you’ll be on your way to safety. All right?”

“Right,” she confirmed; her faint voice was brittle as old plastic. It took several attempts to stand, and she was tottery as a sparkling testing a new protoform when she finally managed to stay upright, but her gyroscopes rapidly caught up with her.

Navigating her limping way along the corridors was a living nightmare, and without Deuce’s map she’d have been completely and hopelessly lost. Her vision was bad enough in good light, but trying to make her way in the dim cave system, with one optic completely blind and the other so blurry it might as well have been offline as well, was almost impossible. She had to resort to navigating her way by touch, running her fingers along the wall and trying not to trip over any obstacles.

Doing all that hastily, before Siphon came along and found her – because Primus only knew what he’d do as a punishment, even the very worst things she was capable of imagining seemed pale by comparison to the things she sensed lurking in the depths of his depravity – just made everything worse. By the time she found the exit, tripped over her one broken foot and tumbled down a sand dune to what felt like the floor of a dry riverbed, her core temperature had already skyrocketed from stress.

It was light but dull,outside; it was hot, but the terrible heat of direct sunlight was absent. There must be some sort of storm, she realised, struggling to stand, buffeted by vicious gusts that scoured down her plating. Deuce’s map directed a little further, though, and maybe – hopefully – there’d be shelter. A way home. It was a vain hope, but combined with the continued lack of Siphon and his hated fingers and his hated chemical bribery gave her just enough impetus to keep going. She oriented herself in the right direction, and staggered onwards.

0o0o0o0

“What chance do you think she stands?”

Deuce had already put his tools away, and returned instead with energon. “I’m trying to be hopeful,” he said, offering Thundercracker a torn look. “I-I mean… there’s a sandstorm outside, and it’s near impenetrable to vision. The shroud of dust should hide her from Siphon… but it’ll probably clog her vents.” He looked miserable. “I’ve probably killed her, haven’t I?”

Thundercracker remained silent; empty reassurances that she was probably fine and would make it to safety weren’t his way of doing things, and yet it seemed unfair to confirm that yeah, she probably was dead while Slipstream was still in audio range. “When’s Siphon due back?”

Deuce was about to answer when a startled voice interrupted from behind. “Where is she?!”

Ah, well that answered that question. Siphon stood framed in the doorway, looking torn between shocked and furious.

Deuce met him in the doorway. “What? Where is who?”

Now was not a good time to feign innocence, it seemed. There was a sharp bang! and suddenly Deuce was lurching away backwards, clutching his arm against himself and trailing vibrantly-coloured fluids.

“You dare try and play me for a fool?” the tanker spat, hate dripping from his words, chasing the wailing mech across the sandy floor. “You dare sneak around behind my back, and think you can get away with it?!”

Deuce scuttled away from him, fizzing out static-filled near-incoherent apologies; I’m sorry I didn’t mean to make you angry please don’t hurt me-

Siphon glared down at him, ignoring the sobs that bubbled from his vocaliser. “You are not so important to me that I have to keep you in one piece,” he snapped. “After everything I’ve done for you, at possible cost to my own life and liberty, this is how you repay me? With… with this treachery, sneaking around behind my back?!” He delivered a swift, unnecessary kick to his side.

Deuce mantled his arms protectively up over his head, sobbing.

“If you’d wanted that worthless jumble of reject parts, you only had to say so,” Siphon finally let his grating voice drop to a growl. “Now you can stay in here until I decide you’ve learned your lesson, you… filthy ingrate.”

The tanker turned to find Thundercracker on his feet and blocking the doorway, defensively. “If you’re going to take it out on anyone, take it out on someone who can defend himself,” the Seeker instructed, frostily. “You know he’s only ever brave enough to stick up for himself when he’s off his meds, and then it’s not so much brave as it is stupid.”

Having a wall of irritable Seeker in his way took the wind out of Siphon’s sails; he instinctively pinged the collar and watched as the bigger mech winced and wobbled… but remained in the way. “He’s a disobedient little wretch,” he argued, angrily. “Letting the femme go? I honestly never thought he had it in him, and-”

“Oh please,” Thundercracker scoffed, derisively, trying to ignore the way stasis prickled down his primary motor column and left his legs feeling like lumps of rubber. “Him? Look at him! Where do you think he’s going to suddenly have developed the cast-iron constitution to defy you from? The only thing he did to let her go was be too distracted to seal the field when he left.” He lifted his chin. “I took her collar off. I encouraged her to run. So if you’re going to punish anyone, make it me.”

Siphon dithered, angrily. He clearly didn’t believe him, but was having trouble putting his reasons into words, because – lies or not – what the Seeker said was making sense. It certainly made more sense then the idea Deuce had encouraged her to run! The Seeker was a known rule-breaker and had been resisting his incarceration every step of the way; the only times he’d not said no and rejected every command he’d been given was when he’d been drugged and insensible. Deuce, on the other hand, rarely found the spirit to say “no” to anything. “You’ll forgive me for failing to see the logic behind your words,” he snapped, giving the weakened flier a shove and finally managing to make his way past. “Why spring the most worthless from captivity? You’re not making sense.”

“Think about it. I couldn’t see to remove my own collar, and I can look after the little one better if he stays here with me – I mean, Primus! How is she gonna look after him when she’s incapable of looking after herself? She was the only viable choice.” Thundercracker stared the little tanker down. “Besides.” It took more effort than it should have to force the words from his vocaliser. “She’s just another noisy little policebike. Waste of good parts. Expendable. If she bites it, out there? Big deal. At least she’s still got our message out.” He leaned down closer to the field, so he and Siphon were only a handbreadth apart; the security field played static all up his chassis. “They’ll find her, regardless of whether she’s functional or not. They’ll find her and when they find her they’ll find us.”

Siphon huffed angry noises from his vents, but was in a corner that he wouldn’t get out of without losing face. “I’d planned on ‘letting her go’ soon, anyway,” he defended himself, sniffily. “It still plays to my agenda. It’ll still get the message to your airheaded wingmate, regardless of whether she’s in one piece or fifty.” He leaned up closer to the Seeker, and static crackled between them. “And trust me,” he murmured, very softly. “You have not heard the last of this, Decepticon.” A nasty smile played briefly across the thin lips. “Far from it. I still have work to do, and since she’s not here? You’ll have to stand in for her.”

Before Thundercracker you challenge him, the tanker had whirled about, and was gone. The Seeker remained in the doorway, listening to the departing footsteps and allowing his bulk to sag against the wall. It was a mark of how depleted he was, the way even that brief period of partial stasis had left him feeling… shaky.

Deuce was huddled in the corner, still hugging his injured arm to himself, but at least his sobs had eased to a soft, simmering kind of static. “Th-thank you,” he whooped, quietly.

“Yeah, well, don’t make a big deal of it,” Thundercracker settled opposite, trying hard to maintain the hostile tilt to his helm. “You got her out when I asked you, it’s only fair I should take any fallout for it. I only wish I’d got to him before he got the chance to kill your hand.”

“I can f-fix it. Since he gave me the bangle, I m-made sure I had some s-spares in easy reach.” The truck forced a smile. “One of the few benefits of n-not being able to slow d-down. Soon as he lets m-me out, I’ll get myself patched up.”

0o0o0o0

His efforts to hide his concern had led Skywarp into making a gross nuisance of himself, and an out-of-patience Starscream had bundled him rather violently out of the medical suite with the comment that if he even thought about coming back in the next cycle or two or six or – frag it if he came in without Screamer’s permission, Prime’s threats would be the least of his worries, Screamer would get him put into stasis himself. So now he was pacing the corridors, looking for something to do that would satisfy his boredom, but at the same time not get him into too much trouble. He pinged for a location off Footloose, and got a very very weak response, which suggested she was in recharge; he followed it anyway, all the way to the rec-room.

Skywarp hesitated in the doorway; it looked pretty empty, aside from a very quiet television in the corner turned to a 24-hour news channel. Surely Jazz hadn’t dumped her off here and done a runner? He really didn’t want to have to hike around the Ark asking where the two were! How shameful, the idiot Decepticon loses his own sparkling. The ping had definitely come from here, though, and after a moment or two of scrutiny the top of a dark head revealed itself, just visible over the back of the chair in front of the television.

Sure enough, Jazz was on the sofa, his heels resting on the shallow table in front, quietly watching the news. On the table there was a sheet or two of paper covered in scrawls of thick, bright paint, and a minuscule storybook – sized for a human child, so it was even small for Footloose, let alone Jazz’s large hands – and a little empty two-handled cup, and in Jazz’s arms a painty little silver-wrapped parcel lay and recharged quietly.

Jazz watched as Skywarp thumped down on the next seat along; the durable foam creaked ominously under his bulk, but held up quite happily. “Kicked out?” he prompted.

Skywarp wrinkled his lip in a sneer. “Ah, shut up.”

The two watched the television in silence, for a while; at least, attempted it. Skywarp sat glaring at the set, his shoulders hunched, arms crossed defensively, and his optics burned a low, hostile damson. It was almost as if he was trying to force the TV to spontaneously combust.

“You know, I know it’s not what you Decepticons do,” Jazz invited, good-humouredly, as the human newsreader progressed onto financial news and Skywarp’s expression turned into a sort of disgusted pout at why-in-Primus-name-they-were-watching-this-load-of-old-smelt, “but if you wanted to talk abo-”

“No,” Skywarp interrupted, offering up a half-hearted scowl. “No talking.”

“Fair enough.” Jazz inclined his head, and smiled. “The offer’s there if you want it.” He glanced down at Footloose, and rose to his feet with her. “I think she’d rather be with Day, you know?” he commented, carefully rearranging her and passing her down to the dark Seeker.

Footloose stirred, very briefly, emerging just far enough out of her thermal foil to latch her little arms around Skywarp’s neck, but was soon humming peacefully in recharge again. Jazz had actually managed to get the little scrap to have a bath, Skywarp noticed, with an abstract sort of amusement, but paint had very rapidly replaced the mud.

“Screamer never actually met him,” he volunteered, at last, reluctantly. “Stupid… pipeline.”

“The one who has your family? Your brother, your little one?” Jazz prompted.

It spoke volumes about the teleport’s state of mind that for once he didn’t even quibble over the familial reference. “Yeah.” Skywarp ran his thumb over Footloose’s little antennae, absentmindedly smoothing the kinks out of them. “The mech’s a sociopath – and I mean it, he’s seriously unbalanced.”

“Even more than Megatron?”

Skywarp managed a half-smile; the Auto-dork had actually resisted the urge to say the ‘even more than you, Warp?’ that he’d been expecting. “Yeah,” he confirmed, softly. “I had the, uh… pleasure… of working with him when we were having issues with Blue. I swear, of all Cali’s heavies, he was the one I hated most. Fatigue might have been the muscle, and Deuce was hyperactive enough to make all the deliveries single-handed, but none of ‘em freaked me out as much as Siphon.”

0o0o0o0

Anthony Kendrick, a struggling professor of archaeology formerly of the University of Lampeter, was… frustrated. He’d been making good progress today, in the latest excavations in Amarna, but that had been before the weather turned inclement, and the incoming sandstorm had driven him away from the dig, and back to the sanctuary of his temporary base in El-Hawata. He just knew that by the time he got back? There’d be a whole new layer of sand across all his careful excavations, and he’d have to start over. Brilliant.

The scuffed apartment block they were leasing was hardly prime real estate, but at least it was comfortable, had an old but functional air-conditioner, and most importantly was pretty sandproof, so he was happy (well, in a manner of speaking) to sit surfing the internet until the storm had expended its fury and blown itself out. He could sit and sort his research – all two pages of it – in relative comfort. He muttered sourly under his breath and glared at the email he was trying to send, watching it keep timing out.

He just happened to glance up and out of his window – was the sandstorm beginning to lessen, yet? – at just the right time to see it-… see him? Whatever. The thing staggered past his first-floor window, just tall enough that he could see the top curve of its head; he lurched to his feet and hurled himself at the window to check he wasn’t seeing things, and stared out into the storm to watch as the creature – was that one of those spacefaring robots? – tripped over its own broken feet, collapsing into a wall. That seemed to kill any forward momentum it still had; as he watched, it slumped down in a corner just out of the way of the worst of the gale, and didn’t get back up.

Even through the whirling sand, he could see the poor thing looked pretty brutalised, colours that probably would once have been bright and clear now sandblasted to a dull grimy brown, hugging its one remaining arm to itself, eyes broken, antennae all shredded, trailing loose wiring from every joint-space, and probably packed tight with windblown detritus. It huddled down in the almost-shelter of its corner, tucking itself down into a ball, and began to accumulate its own little dune around its broken feet. It looked like pure dumb luck that it had decided to plant itself here and not keep going, because another couple of hundred feet would have taken it clean into the Nile.

Well, it sure couldn’t stay here, it’d probably die of exposure, or something. He almost laughed at the idea – it seemed nothing short of ludicrous, a giant goddamn robot dying of exposure… But it looked so completely pathetic, out there in the scouring wind, with its dim eyes, its broken plating. Sand stuck to the trails of lubricant that oozed slowly around its chest from an injury in its armless shoulder.

Emails could wait – it had timed out again, anyway. Kendrick was suddenly burning with curiosity, and no small degree of sympathy. It’s a robot, he reminded himself. If it’s one of those shape-shifting ones that’s been using our home as a wargames simulator – yeah, as if it could be anything else, you idiot – it probably doesn’t deserve sympathy. But he felt it anyway. He emerged from his apartment without even bothering to secure the door, and bounded down the stairs three at a time.

“Shouldn’t go out, Tony,” one of the more permanent residents of the block cautioned, from where he sat on the threadbare old sofa in the foyer, reading one of the newspapers. “Bad weather!”

“Yeah, I know,” the scientist agreed, dryly, extracting a clear polythene bag from his work jacket and giving it a good shake; looked clear enough to see through properly. “I need to go check on something. Won’t be long, eh?”

“At least we agree on something!” The man returned to his newspaper. “You may be gone less time than you think.”

Kendrick peered out into the dust; it was thick as sea-fog, out there, and just as impenetrable. Ugh. He hesitated in the doorway just long enough to wrap handkerchiefs around his nose and mouth and pull the plastic bag down just enough to cover his eyes, before stepping out into the storm. And damn, he wished he hadn’t – it was like being assaulted by a boxer wrapped in sandpaper. He grunted in discomfort and leaned his shoulder into the wind.

The robot hadn’t moved; it was still in its corner, still accumulating sand.

“Um, hi? Hi!” He yelled, over the hissing, angry winds, and waved his arms. “Hello there! Are you okay?” Stupid question. “Er, can I call someone for you?”

The blue gaze angled very slightly down and to one side, and he felt a flicker of unease at being trapped in that alien stare. Was it about to attack him? Earthly animals were at their most dangerous when injured and boxed into a corner-

Then the dim blue eye flickered very briefly brighter, and a jangling shiver of sound emerged from the machine’s lips; whatever language it was speaking, it certainly wasn’t English, and he wasn’t sure if that meant it understood him. Judging by the way it was shrinking back away from him, he guessed it didn’t.

“Listen, I’m only here to help you,” he said, peeling the handkerchief briefly away from his mouth and forcing a smile through the painful sand. “Help you. Understand me?”

It turned its gaze away from him and shrank further into its corner, shoulder up defensively. Looked… scared? Now, that couldn’t be right! It was big, to start with; even though it was nowhere near as big as some that he’d seen on the news, it still massively outweighed him. For a scrawny metallic twig, it was still maybe eleven or twelve feet tall, from what he’d seen from his room, and could probably squash him with barely a flicker of effort even in this state. Well, he revised, that was if it didn’t spontaneously fall apart in front of him, because damn was it ever bashed-up.

Then he noticed the tiny little red patch on its chest, high up and close to the central part that looked like frosted glass. Well, that was a little more reassuring, if rumour was right these were meant to be the good guys. “You’re an Autobot, right?” he asked, and repeated, a little more slowly, just in case it was only the wind that was making him unintelligible; “Au-to-bot?”

It didn’t respond, though, and the howling wind was getting painful.

“Listen, you stay here, ok?” He pointed at the ground, and daringly patted its leg, hoping to relay a little comfort. “Stay here. I’ll see if I can get in contact with your friends.”

“See, I told you it was a bad idea,” a little voice commented from the foyer when Kendrick finally staggered back in through the door, but he ignored it.

The internet was dreadful, here, it came and went in fits and starts depending on how many people were trying to route calls through the prehistoric telephone exchange, but – thank the powers – his university work necessitated that he have a hard, physical connection, not wireless, so he still stood a damn good chance of getting it to work in this hideous weather. He settled himself in front of the computer, and opened up a search engine. There had to be some sort of contact details for the Autobots, somewhere…

0o0o0o0

In the security of a small, dirty work-van, another pair of eyes were watching the exchange, carefully.

“Yeah, Boss,” Mitchell confirmed. “It’s made contact with one of the humans. Still want us to finish it off?”

“No. You’ll only draw attention to yourself,” came Siphons’ irritable drawl. “This saves me a job. Watch her, and make sure you take note of any other machines that come along to ‘rescue’ her, but don’t reveal yourself – unless humans come along to take her away. I want the Autobots – and them only – to collect her.”

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
_silverfox
Mar. 2nd, 2009 09:53 am (UTC)
Hm ... I keep wondering why nobody seems to wonder just how or way Siphon got to Earth ...
muffins_of_god
Mar. 2nd, 2009 04:03 pm (UTC)
Basically I think if you throw anything shiney (or pr0nny) at Vanner, he'd miss a damn elephant going through the Gate. XD
_silverfox
Mar. 2nd, 2009 05:40 pm (UTC)
Yeah, but I was actually thinking about Shockwave's end.
keaalu
Mar. 2nd, 2009 06:38 pm (UTC)
...mayyybe ...Shocky likes pr0n?

*little halo* 0:)
_silverfox
Mar. 8th, 2009 06:39 pm (UTC)
So Syphon gave him a live show? *shudder*
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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