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"Warped", Chapter Nineteen

Title (chapter): Warped (19)
Series: Transformers, G1-based (“Blue” AU)
Rating: PG-13
Summary: In which Pulsar is "rescued", and Siphon puts Plan B into action.
Notes: OK, should I deny any responsibility for this one? ¬_¬

FYI, Pulsar and Forceps' home district has a name now. ;) "Deixar" - it's Catalan/Portuguese for "to leave, to abandon". I also considered "Rustig" (Dutch for "quiet", I think?) - I liked it because it has "rust" in it ;) - but it wasn't quite what I was after. Maybe Rustig can be the next town over?

Anyway, enough rattling! On with it.




Warped
Chapter Nineteen

Kendrick sat in this apartment, and listened as the telephone rang. And rang. And rang. Hum. It seemed to be ringing for a very long time!… of course, it was probably night time over there – but then did that matter to robots? Did they sleep? He guessed they could be dreaming about electric sheep, or something-

“Hello? What?” The surly voice that finally answered made absolutely no attempt to be polite, and made him jump.

Contact! Kendrick almost fell off his chair in relief. “He-hello? Are-… are you an Autobot?”

“No, I’m the Easter Rabbit.” There was a pause and the barely-intelligible ripple of what sounded like a very brief argument – you’re an idiot/I know what they call it! – in the background. “Anyway, yeah, what do you want, human? We don’t have time to do tours, sign autographs, talk to schoolkids or whatever other silly nonsense you think would be fun to arrange.” There was a break in the words, and before he could gather his wits and catch his breath long enough to reassure that he was none of those things, the voice changed tactics. “Okay, look, Sides? If this is a prank? I’m gonna hang up now, ‘kay?”

“Wait, wait! Please, don’t hang-… don’t hang up!” Kendrick grabbed at the telephone, as if physical contact would somehow keep them on the line. “Listen, there’s one of your guys here. I think it-… he’s hurt. And I don’t know what-… I can’t help him, he doesn’t understand me, and I don’t know what to do! Please, you might be able to help him.”

There was such a long pause at the other end of the line that he wondered if they had just hung up on him, and he was beginning to despairingly consider where else he was going to be able to get help from when a new voice spoke; deeper, but softer, more mature. “Describe him,” it suggested, gently.

“Uh, well… they’re so smashed up it’s hard to tell! But-… uhm. Tall, skinny. I think he was probably blue and white, once. Funny sort of… well, they’re like shoulder-guards, I suppose. Dark face with little blue ‘darts’ on the cheeks. A-and I think he’s pretty badly hurt, it was hard to tell in the sandstorm but he looks like he only has one arm and his feet are all broken up.” He waited, and listened while voices murmured in the background. “Can you send help?” he chased, anxiously.

“Well, it doesn’t sound like one of our allies,” the voice mused, softly. “But we’ll send someone. If they’re hurt, they’ll probably need specialist help.”

0o0o0o0

Forceps had stood to one side, watching silently as the Autobots spoke with the human. Uneasy alarm bells had begun to sound in the back of her mind. The description was clearly of Pulsar, but that wasn’t what was worrying her so much – rather, it was why the little gravity-bike had been released in the first place. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense when taken in the context of Siphon’s insanity, and she was concerned it was just another elaborate set-up.

Prowl had already noticed the warily concerned expression the green femme wore on her face; her lips were pursed and a subtle frown darkened her brow. “Well, surgeon?” he coaxed, quietly, once the human had finally hung up. “Is this making any relevant connections?”

“Unfortunately, yes. I’m fairly confident that’s my friend,” she confirmed, softly. “The one who went missing. Who has the, ah… injury.”

Prowl gave her a look. “Am I not correct in thinking she was supposed to be some sort of bargaining chip?” he wondered. “That was what Ratchet implied, anyway.”

Forceps nodded a silent confirmation.

“Which begs the question, why is she out now? What part of his, ah, ‘master plan’ could this possibly serve?”

“I’m not sure. It was what I was trying to work out.” Forceps sighed. “Whatever the reason, if Siphon is involved we should be fairly confident that there’s an ulterior motive to it. If the rumours are correct, he was almost as influential over events as Cali was – and almost as smart – when Codustral was still a power to be reckoned with. So… he’s playing a complicated game with us, here, and I doubt he’d let her go without, ah… leaving some sort of trap in her, somewhere.”

“You mean like a bomb in her tanks, or something?” Sunstreaker piped up, from his seat at the computer. “Why would someone want to do that?”

“Probably two reasons; to punish her, and to get back at Skywarp, as those two were pivotal to finally catching him and Cali and stopping Codustral.”

“How’d they manage that?” The yellow twin’s face creased in disbelief.

“Essentially? Pulsar ‘baited’ Siphon out, then kept Cali busy while Warp took care of the tanker.” She grimaced. “We thought that had been the end of it.”

“This might be a silly question, but… isn’t this kinda like overkill?” Sunstreaker challenged, giving Forceps a hard, suspicious look. “Sure, I can understand the guy wanting to get back at the big turkey, but he’s going to huuge lengths to do it.”

Forceps shook her head, careful not to rise to the bait. “Don’t underestimate the size of the score Siphon believes he has to settle. To start with, Skywarp’s means of dealing with him was a little, ah… unconventional-”

“What you mean is, he dropped him from a great height into the Deixar district rift,” Prowl reminded.

Forceps winced. “Uh, yes. Which would have meant he was probably left very badly injured after the impact; it’s a seismic fracture, so it’s pretty jagged at the bottom. Secondly – and this would have compounded the problem significantly – he was addicted to Blue, so not only would he have been badly injured, he would also have been withdrawing very shortly after. And there was nobody around to help him – Fatigue was dead, and Deuce and Cali had both been arrested. So he would essentially have been trapped, in a Pit of his own making, going slowly out of his mind. It must have taken him hundreds of orns to drag himself out of there.”

“Blue withdrawal is that bad?” Optimus wondered; he’d remained silent until now, looking torn between sympathy for the enemy’s plight, and disgust at what he’d apparently done to a fellow Autobot.

Prowl nodded, grimly. “And not something a mech can just get over on his own, so he’d have had to go for treatment,” he mused. “I wonder why no-one arrested him?”

“I’m sure Codustral had medics on their ‘payroll’,” Forceps observed, dryly. “And Siphon would have known who they were. He could have bribed a temporary refit off any of them until his cortex was back in good working order…”

Conversation dribbled away to nothing at the realisation that the two lost Seekers had apparently cottoned on to the fact that something was up; Skywarp was in the doorway, looking unnaturally hopeful, with Starscream close behind him, looking ambivalent over whether he was just here to try and keep Skywarp out of trouble, or servicing his own curiosity.

While Skywarp (and his reluctant chaperone) went to pester information out of Sunstreaker, Optimus headed in Skyfire’s direction; the big shuttle was at the back of the room, quietly using a terminal to download satellite data, and trying (and failing) to look like he hadn’t noticed anything was going on.

“Skyfire…? Would you be able to see if you can find her?” Optimus wondered, quietly, knowing his friend had probably listened in to everything that had been said. “I hate to impose on you yet again, but I don’t want such a vulnerable machine stuck in that sort of hostile environment, especially if she might well be recaptured from it. If Siphon is even half as insane as Forceps suggests, I can’t imagine he’ll be particularly gentle when he gets his hands back on her.”

“You don’t need to convince me why I need to go, Optimus,” the behemoth reassured, gently. “I would be happy to help. Just give me the co-ordinates and I’ll be on my way.”

Optimus nodded, relieved. “I’ll ask if Silverbolt and his team will go with you,” he added. “The fact Megatron has lost three of his fighters doesn’t mean he’s now unarmed.”

“Ah, yes-… that would be a good idea.” Although Skyfire was certainly armed, he was also bulky, and the nimble Coneheads would fly rings around him easily.

Forceps caught his wrist as he passed. “Take care,” she counselled. “If he’s playing true to form and there is Decepticon involvement…” She left the implications hanging.

The shuttle nodded. “Trust me, I will have all my senses on their very highest alert from the instant I get into Egyptian airspace,” he reassured. “If anyone even thinks about trying to sneak up on me, I’ll see them. The Aerialbots will be accompanying me, anyway.”

“See you later, Taxi,” came the scathing snipe, from somewhere behind.

It hurt, but Skyfire allowed it to roll off him. “I hope so, Starscream.”

There was a miffed snort of half-disappointment at failing to needle him into a reaction, but nothing more.

0o0o0o0

Deep beneath the Amarna cliffs, new plans were being put into motion.

Slipstream was already missing from Thundercracker’s cell – Siphon had waited until both the sparkling and his guardian were drowsy enough from the tainted fuel to be unable to come to a suitable defence before scooping the little mech up out of the sand and vanishing away down the corridors with him.

Instead of Slipstream, Thundercracker had the ‘company’ of Deuce (after a fashion). Siphon hadn’t forgiven his reluctant lackey, yet – but then the truck didn’t look too unhappy to be forced to share a cell with an ex-Decepticon. He’d actually seemed almost relieved, under his hurt distress; Thundercracker had the strong suspicion it was because it meant he could just sit, didn’t have to take responsibility for his actions, and didn’t feel obliged to sneak about behind Siphon any more. Deuce had finally managed to coax himself into an uncomfortable dormancy, in the corner, although the sedative-laced energon had doubtless helped. He still had his arm hugged protectively across his chassis, and there was sand crystallised into the dried fluids on the ragged stump, but at least the shredded fluid lines had crimped off and he wasn’t bleeding all over himself any more.

A shadow appeared in the long streamer of light spilling from the doorway, attracting Thundercracker’s attention; Siphon, back again, and smiling broadly in a way that made him deeply uneasy. “What do you want?” he wondered, gruffly, treating him to his best suspicious look as the tanker released the field and stepped through. His optics were drawn to the device in his captor’s hands; the loose circles looked like the loops of elastomeric cuffs. “What are those for?”

“Hmm?” Siphon looked down at his hands, as if surprised to see what he was holding, then lifted the cuffs so Thundercracker could get a better view. “What do you think they’re for?”

“I think they’re unnecessary,” the Seeker challenged.

“Oh, no; I think they’re very necessary. I mean, I thought it was only fair you got a little change of scenery, now you’ve been here so long. Somewhere to take stock of your situation. Evaluate your life choices, think about how you see yourself… developing in our care. That sort of thing. And I need you to behave on the way,” Siphon oiled, sweetly, petting his captive’s shoulder vent with a tender affection that made the Seeker fight to restrain a shudder. “We don’t want you causing trouble on the way. I’d hate to have to break you!”

“Ohh I doubt you will break me,” Thundercracker demurred, grimly.

“Ha! Well, we’ll see.” Siphon spread his hands, amusedly. “I suppose it’ll depend on your definition of ‘break’, won’t it?”

Thundercracker remained silent. Rising to the bait was exactly what Siphon wanted him to do.

“Anyway. Put your arms up,” the tanker instructed, evenly, twirling the cuffs on one outstretched finger.

“I’d rather not,” Thundercracker demurred, warily, eyeing the restraint and keeping his limbs deliberately down at his sides.

“Now you’re just being unreasonable. I wish I didn’t have to do this, but as you insist…” The tanker gave a melodramatic sigh and pinged an instruction to the Seeker’s bulky collar.

A familiar subprocessor-deep twinge rolled down his back, a dullish ache as if a hand had closed on his primary support complex, swiftly followed by a numbing series of noncorporeal tweaks as the inhibition field blocked commands from going down from his cortex. He struggled to remain upright but actuator groups were shutting down in a rolling cascade all the way up his main motor column, and he could feel himself slowly slumping backwards. Stay in control, he pleaded with himself, but to no avail. The ground came up to meet him with a low thump that made his wings hurt.

The tanker perched on his chest, like some oversized gargoyle. “Now, friend.” His features pulled up into a smirk. “Let’s get you fitted up for your little outing.”

0o0o0o0

Skyfire made excellent time to Egypt; he arrived just in time to make the most of the late-afternoon sunlight, leaving the Aerialbots to patrol the skies and keep their sensors tuned for unfriendlies. He didn’t bother attempting to hide what he was – not only did he need to ask for directions, which he couldn’t easily do as a shuttle, if rumours were to be believed there was already an injured Cybertronian in its root form here. So it seemed rather pointless.

A small clustering of humans had accumulated on the outskirts of town, and they watched out of wide, admiring eyes as he glided down and transformed.

“-Beg pardon-,” he wondered, in a strangely-accented but understandable Egyptian Arabic, approaching one of the youngsters; his friends had all retreated a respectable distance, leaving him isolated at the edge of the sand. “-Could you help me? I think one of my brethren is here, and injured?-

The human had looked startled at hearing his language coming fluently from the giant alien’s mouth, but quickly recovered. “-Yes, yes!-” he confirmed. “-I know. This way. It was found by the professor, he has stayed with it since the sandstorm blew itself out. Follow me, follow me!-

Skyfire followed behind with his usual unassuming manner, the slowly gathering crowds parting before him like ice before the prow of a ship. It could be a trick, he reasoned, thinking back to what he’d overheard between Prowl and Forceps, and what the surgeon herself had cautioned him on, but it didn’t seem likely that the enemy could have rallied this many devoted humans to their cause in such a short period of time.

His target didn’t prove to be very difficult to find; he could hear the crowd of humans from some distance away. The femme in question was up on her feet, apparently trying to walk, although where she thought she was trying to go eluded Skyfire. She was sorely unsteady, and had accumulated a chattering mass of humans around her legs, apparently trying to help her stay upright. The smaller organisms were all chattering urgently and apparently trying to relay comfort, attempting to calm the stricken creature down, but the jangling voices were all speaking a mixture of Earthly languages (mostly Arabic and bad English), and the stuttering responses from the femme’s vocaliser sounded like they were exclusively broken, frightened Cybertronian, so whether either understood anything at all of each others’ vocalisations was anyone’s guess.

Although they were presumably attempting to help, the little figures were being far from comforting – they were swarming around her like attacking insects, and if his guess was right her vision was so poor they’d be little more than a milling blur of bright shapes. As he watched, she managed a couple of staggering footsteps forwards, knocking two of her would-be helpers aside; they re-gathered urgently around her again, trying to stop her falling, but the gesture went mis-interpreted and she cowered away from them, using her one arm to try and shove them away.

Better move now, Skyfire thought to himself. Before she hurts someone – or herself.

“Hello there,” he greeted, in a gently accented Cybertronian, moving slowly, carefully into her field of view. “Can I help you?”

Her head jerked up at the voice, and her pale gaze met with his-…

She lurched back away from him, as if stung, and fell back against the wall, undoing the minimal progress she’d made under her own power. She garbled out such a twisted, rasping mess of staticky Cybertronian that it took him a second or two to work out she was saying please don’t hurt me. Fear broadcast involuntarily out of her in great heavy waves

“I’m not going to hurt you,” he reassured, advancing slowly, being sure to carry himself in such a way that it minimised his imposing bulk. “I’m a friend. I want to help you. Get you to safety. Do you understand me?”

She huddled down up in her corner, turning her face away and trying to curl her arm up over her head, continuing to plead miserably. She didn’t seem to be processing his words, if she could even hear them with her auditory venting so full of sand.

Skyfire crouched alongside her, and briefly studied the injuries marring the pale body; necessity meant he did have a fair knowledge of field repairs, but this was beyond him. At least the wounds didn’t look particularly life-threatening, he reassured himself, regardless how ugly they looked. She wasn’t leaking fluids, and wasn’t sparking with electrical discharge; he figured a lot of the superficial injuries must be little more than cosmetic damage.

Regardless of severity, wherever it was she’d been, it hadn’t been a nice experience. She was almost blind, to start with, one optic shattered in a spiderweb of cracks and completely greyed out and the other so dim and dull it could hardly be seeing much more than indistinct blurs. One arm was missing altogether, and she clutched her good arm to her chest – although the definition of ‘good’ seemed pretty tenuous, the fractures in the structure were visible even at this distance. For that matter, her dermal plating was cracked in a variety of places, and some of them looked like they would have been very hard to have been caused accidentally. Some looked like they had been carefully and deliberately inflicted, by a skilled and unkind hand... and was that graffiti, scrawled among the smeary paint-transfers in thick, hateful black ink across her broken chest?

The earlier sandstorm had compounded it. Her plating had been wind-scoured to murky ginger-browns and greys, and she probably had sand packed into every angle, every vent, every joint space. Her movement – and she was still attempting to move away – was sluggish, and heavy.

“Please. I only want to help you,” he repeated, softly. “I need to get you to safety, so we can repair you. You can’t stay here. Whoever did this to you? Might come back.”

She shot a glance at him, sidelong, as if not daring to actually lift her blurry optics to look directly at him. Stay away. Stay away. Please stay away.

“All right,” he soothed, deciding to take matters into his own giant hands. “I know you probably can’t hear me well enough to understand, right now, but I only have your best interest in mind. You can’t stay here, you’ll probably run yourself grey. I’m going to get you back to safety, and find someone who can help get you fixed up. All right?”

Her gaze flickered brighter at seeing him approach, and she shrank back into the wall, a flood of stay away don’t hurt me please don’t come near me don’t hurt me bubbling up from the shattered throat.

“I won’t hurt you,” he promised, gently. “But if we don’t get you out of here, we might attract the attention of other machines that will intend you harm.”

Boldly, he scooped her up out of the sand; it was unsettling to notice just how fragile she felt – like a glass doll in his arms. Apparent fragility didn’t stop her reacting, though! She struggled violently for a moment or two, leaving vibrant yellow streaks across his face from her fingertips, before freezing up altogether; he resisted the urge to recoil in surprise. She was only scared, he consoled himself. He could sense the broken blue gaze was fixated on him, regardless of how well it could actually see, and she was trembling hard enough to make her whole body vibrate, but at least she’d calmed down. Or maybe that should read “given up”? He hummed a long, soothing harmonic to her, like one would a frightened sparkling, not sure what else to do, and thankfully she did seem to understand that. The frequency of her vibrations began very subtly to decrease.

“You found her, then?”

Skyfire turned to watch Silverbolt alight nearby, nimbly. “Yes,” he confirmed, quietly, trying not to startle her again. “Just in time, it looks like. Would you help her aboard? I don’t think she’ll do it under her own power.”

Silverbolt nodded, concernedly, carefully taking the femme from Skyfire’s large arms; more faint pleading issued from her vocaliser, but she seemed too depleted to put up much more of a fight.

Skyfire was a lot less threatening to her as a shuttle than a mech; once Silverbolt had steered her in the right direction, she actually got aboard partially under her own steam, hiding away in the giant’s cargo hold. In the meantime Silverbolt had found her a foil blanket; he offered it to her and she curled herself tightly into it, turning herself into a silver cocoon.

“All right, she looks secure. Let’s head home. I don’t want to dally here any longer than I have to,” Silverbolt counselled, already taking off.

Skyfire directed his attention inward for a second and confirmed the Aerialbot’s assessment, then joined him in the air.

The Ark responded very quickly to his communication, for a change. “Everything gone to plan?” Prowl suggested, hopefully.

“Yes, we have her,” Skyfire confirmed, softly. “…what’s left of her.”

“…Is she still alive?”

“Yes, but it looks like only just. Tell Ratchet he might want to get the medical suite ready for us. We’ll be back in a cycle or two.”

0o0o0o0

When everything was considered, things were not looking good, Thundercracker mused, grimly, trying not to maintain his balance as Siphon prodded him down the corridor. The tanker had devoted strangely little time to gloating, once the Seeker’s wrists were securely cuffed in front of him, and – judging by how things had gone thus far – that seemed to be a bad sign.

The rough stone-walled corridors looked different from the last time Thundercracker had been encouraged down them; now they had begun to turn a familiar dullish purple as they accumulated new, clean, supportive alloy plating. Any doubts a machine might have had about Siphon’s new allegiance were swiftly dashed in the increasingly Decepticon look to the place.

…plus, of course, the fact that there were familiar faces where they shouldn’t have been; the Coneheads lurked menacingly next to a small energon dispenser in a wider portion of the corridor, and Soundwave just observed, inscrutable as ever, from behind a computer terminal. This was supposed to be the stronghold of just one small resentful blob of tin with a very large chip on his shoulder – not an outlying base for the whole Decepticon campaign! It was not a pleasant reminder that only a short while ago, he’d fought alongside these mechs, and relied on them to watch his back while he watched theirs. Now they were just as keen to see him flattened as they would be any Autobot.

Thundercracker cycled a quick steadying pulse of cold air across stressed, hot internals, and kept his chin up and his shoulders squared, determined to look his confident old self even if there was a mass of niggly little doubts lurking at the back of his processors, insidiously growing like a slow emotional tumour. He matched stares with Ramjet for a moment or two, but the pale jet must have seen something he found suspicious in his manner because the sneer turned into an amused, unkind smirk.

It was frustrating and somewhat disquieting to have to walk past his former comrades-in-arms and know he was suddenly the enemy. He’d never felt quite so much like prey, either. Living on borrowed time. The Coneheads had clustered together next to the narrow doorway, and were just enough in the way that he had to push to get past them, He caught the sneering mutters about weakling Autobot sympathiser, finally showing his true colours the instant he’d passed. Thundercracker squared his jaw and pretended to have not heard, following Siphon down the corridor. There was a pool of light up the end of the corridor – another room, this time lined with a brighter, less threatening pewter-silver metal. Must be where they were headed-

Siphon stopped before he got to the end room, halting abruptly enough that Thundercracker almost ploughed square into him. “Here we are! You might as well get comfortable,” he counselled, smiling, and gestured to the narrow door he’d stopped level with while the Seeker regained his balance. “You’re going to be in here a bit of a while.”

Thundercracker peered in, and backed off an involuntary step or two.

The cell was smaller even than his previous accommodation – only a little larger than he’d need to be able to turn around in, and lined with more of that familiar, unpleasant purple alloy. He shuddered very subtly, the tremor making his truncated wing ache, and felt an unfamiliar tingle of something like stifling claustrophobia caress at his insides. In spite of the fact that he was the most devoted, obligate flier of the three of them, he’d never been quite so claustrophobic as his wingmates – not so much as Screamer and certainly nowhere near as bad as Skywarp. Perhaps it was his viewpoint – calmer, less prone to jump to conclusions, and he’d always been better able to make the distinction between reality and the sort of nightmarish fantasies Skywarp always dreamed up.

This little cell was just enough to unnerve even him – the walls had been screened with a poor quality thin metal, buckled in places and with bare wires and rock visible behind a light-fixture. A floor-to-ceiling window looked out on a largish control room; it took up the full central third of one of the longest sides of the cell and was the only part of the place that looked vaguely clean and fair quality, but that only seemed to emphasise how gloomy the rest of it was. It didn’t take an imagination like Skywarp’s to imagine the tonnes and tonnes of rock above his head straining to break through and flatten him-

He stepped boldly through the door, stamping down the little inner voice that jeered at him. Don’t give that crackpot pipeline the pleasure of seeing you off-balance. It was just a room. That was all. A hastily-constructed, dimly-lit little room, but it was doubtless structurally sound, especially if the Constructicons had been involved. Besides, crushing him flat under countless tonnes of unpleasant gingery rock wouldn’t help the tanker’s anti-Skywarp campaign.

“You know, I’m so terribly sorry,” the smaller mech soothed, tenderly, following the captive jet into the cell. “Really, I am. I wish you didn’t have to be here. I wish I could tell you they still wanted you! But…” He ran his fingers gently down the back of Thundercracker’s helm, and snickered softly as the Seeker jerked himself away. “Fact is, they’re not looking for you, any more. They’ve got just about everything they want. They don’t need you back.”

“They won’t abandon me here. Not with you,” Thundercracker asserted, bringing himself to his full height and glaring down on the tanker, sounding a lot more sure than he actually felt. “And they certainly won’t abandon Seem.”

“Oh, now that is a different matter altogether; we’ve already made the appropriate exchange arrangements regarding him.” The tanker stared him out, boldly, unimpressed by his looming, and flicked just enough of an instruction to Thundercracker’s collar to drop him to his knees on the floor. “All we have to do is make the exchange, and he’s free. You, on the other hand…” Siphon chuckled. “Well, I thought I set a very reasonable price, but they weren’t interested. I guess you’re not worth the exchange.”

Thundercracker gave him a long-suffering look, and rearranged himself a little more comfortably. “Exactly what sort of idiot do you take me for?”

Siphon wrinkled his lip in an unkind sneer. “Well, what could they possibly want such a vacillant, self-doubting waste of good spares like you back for?”

Thundercracker straightened, insulted, brow furrowing in a glare. “Say what you like, Tubes. I already know that half the words that spew from your vocaliser are lies, and the other half are twisted half truths to service your own agenda. And I know you’re trying the same psychology on me that you used to mess Pulsar’s mind up, and I can tell you for free that you’re not going to get a result.”

Siphon clucked amusedly. “Maybe, maybe,” he conceded. “Fact is, they’ve told us they don’t want you back. I can let you hear the communiqué, if you like! And I can understand their reasoning – I mean, look at you. All you are is weak. A weak willed, weak spirited, angst-ridden mech with zero self-worth.” He waved a dismissive hand. “All you do with all your doubting, your pessimistic doomsaying, is drag them down, destroy their spirit, and make them fail, over and over and over again. It’s not Starscream’s over-reaching, or Skywarp’s stupidity. It’s all your fault, for dithering so long that you lose any advantage you had.” He leaned closer and gave him a prod in the chassis. “Face it, Decepticon. Losing you was the best thing that could have happened to them.”

Thundercracker brought his hands up and shoved him away, hard, glaring. “Don’t act like you know us, pipeline,” he snapped, vaguely satisfied at seeing the black streak his fists had left up the olive chassis. “Whatever Megatron has been telling you, it’s all as much a load of slag as what you’ve been telling me.”

“All right, let’s think about it. You’re the only one still in danger, and you dropped the little one in it as well. What does that say about you?” Siphon challenged, nursing the new injury carefully with his fingertips, circling again. “Skywarp survived off petroleum before realising he had to ask for clemency, and not only swallowed his pride but accepted asylum off the Autobots. Even Starscream is back on his feet again. Pit, he lost his entire engine core on one side and could barely stand let alone walk, but still got up, made his way to transport, and made contact with Skywarp – and kept the kid safe. Not bad for someone who spent several days in stasis lock.”

Thundercracker kept his vocaliser offlined; he knew what the tanker was implying. The idiot who can usually barely find his aft with both hands managed to save himself with very little effort. Even the one renowned for being the whiny, ineffectual backstabber managed to save himself, and the precious infant. All you did was lumber around in the desert and get yourself and Seem captured. You put yourself right back in the hands of the people you least wanted to see, and you’re not even that badly injured!

“They’ve got the femme back as well, now, you know.” Siphon added, leaning so closely to the jet’s audios that he almost brushed his lips against him; Thundercracker involuntarily pulled away. “Come on, now. Seriously. Even if they forgive your ineptitude, how could they ever forgive everything you did to her?”

“For what you made me do to her.”

“So defensive!” Siphon chuckled, sweetly. “What distinction do you think she is going to make, when she recounts all the details of how you brutalised her?” he wondered. “All they’re going to hear is what you did to her.” He leaned down closer again, hands on his prisoner’s shoulder’s, and felt him trembling with anger. “And how you liked it.”

Thundercracker gave an inarticulate cry of anger and threw his head backwards, felt the satisfying crunch of plating as the unyielding back of his helm impacted the tanker’s softer features, crushed the delicate structure of his nares. While Siphon staggered and exclaimed about his pain, Thundercracker twisted about and lunged for him-

Siphon sidestepped him, casually, pinging a command at the collar; it pulsed stasis commands instantly down his motor trunk and left him unable even to pull himself up out of an impressive, uncontrolled nosedive. He hit the sand with a painful crunch, flat on his face, earning nothing but an intake full of sand for his trouble.

Siphon smirked around the sparks that fizzed up from his damaged nose. “Dear me, whatever is the matter?” he cooed, leaning down closer to the groaning Seeker. “Have I touched a sore spot, Decepticon? There was me thinking wanton death, despair and destruction was what you all did best, and here you are, wibbling over a femme. My my. You almost make me ashamed to share a faction with you.”

Already scolding himself for rising to the bait the last time, Thundercracker didn’t respond, simply concentrated on sitting up the second he felt the stasis field cut out with an irritating tingle. He sat slowly back to his heels, thrumming his vents to ‘cough’ them clear of sand, and treated Siphon to his blackest glare.

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Siphon wondered, in a tone that bordered strongly on seductive, “exactly what it was you did to her?”

“I’m quite happy remaining ignorant,” Thundercracker argued, quietly, defensively hunching his shoulders. “You don’t need to make any special dispensation for me.”

“Ohh, it’s not a bother.” Siphon shook his head, deliberately feigning ignorance. “The viral that’s keeping your memories blocked? It’s easily reversed. A quick addition of the appropriate nanites and you can see every last juicy detail you’ve missed.”

“Perhaps you misunderstand; I’m not interested, whether they’re ‘juicy details’ or not.”

“Perhaps you misunderstand; I’m not actually asking what you want.”

Thundercracker watched – and tensed, knowing what was being implied – as the tanker studied his long fingers, and flexed them meaningfully.

“You’re a monster, deep down inside, Mister Thundercracker. You might tout all those noble ideals, and pretend you’re so much better than your peers, espousing all those self-righteous doubts about injuring innocent bystanders, but underneath it all you’re just as depraved as any of Megatron’s loyalists.”

Thundercracker’s optics narrowed to furious crimson slits, and he glared up at his warder from beneath hooded brows; the angry bull, just looking for an excuse. Siphon chuckled at the sight; his laugh was thin, sibilant, deliberately unpleasant.

“Your conscious mind might reject it, but your subconscious already knows where it belongs,” the small olive mech explained, softly, advancing. “All I did was give it the opportunity to show its true colours. It certainly explains why you always crawled back to Megatron. Wasn’t because you were scared of him. Wasn’t because of loyalty to your undeserving brothers. Wasn’t because of – hah! – friendship. It was because Megatron – and him alone – could give you the resources and the opportunity you needed to indulge your sadism. To feed the monstrosity that lurks in your spark.”

“You have no idea what you’re blethering on about,” Thundercracker snapped, leaning away from him.

“On the contrary, I’ve seen the very worst of it! The side of you that you blank out, ignore, pretend doesn’t exist, because it sickens you to think of.” Siphon halted a bare handbreadth from his prisoner, and grinned, broadly, bending forward at the waist so their faces were almost touching. His amber optics blazed their insanity hot enough to throw stark orange highlights across Thundercracker’s sloppy new black enamel. “And because I’m kind like that, I’m going to introduce you to him.”

Although he’d tensed in anticipation of an attack, Siphon still managed to catch Thundercracker unprepared – he lunged at the larger mech like an eel, and rammed his funnel clean down his primary intake. The Seeker gave a muffled cry of alarm and felt them both toppling backwards; the thump of impact was bad enough across his wings, but the pain that followed was as bright as a magnesium flare through his cortex, as the sharp margin to the tanker’s nozzle scoured an entire layer of analytical plating off the back of his intake and noxious, tainted fuel shorted something out. He gave a furious cry of pain and clenched his jaw, hard; Siphon’s counter-wail as plating buckled and twisted under the force of the bite was a disharmonious music to the jet’s audios. While his tormentor lurched away and clutched at his injured hand, Thundercracker kicked out, strongly, and caught the tanker a hefty enough blow across the midsection that he heard the sharp bang of something shearing off inside. He threw himself upright, determined to finally kill the slagger for once and for all, collar be damned...

The familiar clutching sensation of enforced partial stasis caught him just as he passed his centre of gravity, and sent him crashing back into the sand once again. For the second time in less than a breem, Thundercracker was left groaning around a mouthful of grit.

Siphon managed to smile through his pain, although his leer of sadistic amusement was rather more twisted than usual. “Very good, oh very good,” he hissed, brokenly, hugging his arm to himself, and delivering a kick to the defenceless mech’s damaged wing. “You’re already proving my point, but maybe…” He let his voice descend to a rumble barely louder than the throaty purr of his fans. “Maybe I’ll let you and your subconscious have a little chat. Come to some, ah… understanding… between yourselves. You’ll be so much happier for it.”

Thundercracker muttered painfully and managed to work his knees up underneath himself, slowly pushing himself upright; his shoulder pylons had drawn another trench in the dirt by the time he was sitting back on his heels, and Siphon was already moving away, content his prisoner was suitably chastised.

The tanker hesitated in the doorway, bowing very slightly and gesturing an arm in an exaggerated after you gesture… and in the pause, a tall silver figure strode past, a smaller, darker-coloured figure moving obediently beside him, forced to trot to keep up.

Primus, no…! “Seem-!” Thundercracker struggled to force the word out, but the fuel vapours had left his vocaliser destabilised and he couldn’t manage much more than a harsh, quiet croak of pain.

A door sliced closed hard enough to make him flinch, startled.

“No… no-…!” He’d not anticipated there’d be a door – a security field, maybe, but not something as old-fashioned as an actual door. He tottered to his feet and used his manacled hands to try and find a seam, a lock, a manual release-… anything. A full breem of searching didn’t uncover a way out, and by the time he turned away the mouthful of nanite-laden fuel had started to have an effect, the microscopic robots dumping their program fragments into his mainframe.

He settled himself next to the window, uneasily; the control room outside was deserted, but it was well lit, which was a small comfort. The silver reminded him of other places he’d been recently, though. Places with flickers and flashed of blue and white and yellow. Places that-… wait. What was that…?

No, no, I don’t want to look at that-

0o0o0o0

Down in the medical suite, Forceps was trying to think up a good way to get rid of Skywarp. Skyfire had notified them he was close, and she really didn’t want to have to fend off worried friends while she did her preliminary investigations.

“Jazz…?” She caught the saboteur’s arm as he appeared in the doorway. “Could I ask a favour?”

“Ask away!” Jazz smiled, reassuringly.

“If your friend Skyfire is bringing in who I think he might be bringing in, it’d be enormously useful if you could take Big Seeker and Little Seeker away for a while,” she murmured, cryptically. “I’ll need some space to work, without distressed sparklings – of either size – getting under my feet.”

Jazz nodded, silently; he understood the implications. “Hey, Button, let’s go for a walk, it’s getting kinda stuffy in here!” he scooped Footloose up off the sideboard and set off towards the exit with her, hoping Skywarp would take the invitation and follow.

Thankfully, Skywarp was absolutely a hundred percent true to form, and gave chase. “Hey… hey! Come back here, Auto-dork! That’s my little one, you come back here now, or I’ll kick your fragging dental plates in!”

“Gotta catch me first!” Jazz’s retort floated cheekily down the corridor, accompanied by Lucy’s squeaks of amusement.

“Oh I see… it’s like that, is it?” Skywarp’s voice dropped to a knowing growl, and there was the slap of displaced air as he teleported away somewhere in an attempt to head Jazz off.

Forceps waited silently for a few moments, until the voices had faded right away and she was content they weren’t about to suddenly reappear. -all right, all clear- she commed to Skyfire, and got a wordless confirmatory ping in response. A breem or two later and the shuttle emerged from the wide main corridor, followed by anxious chattering, a tiny silver bundle in his arms…

Pulsar was already most of the way offline; stressed, overheating, barely conscious. Forceps peeled her out of her blanket, and winced, feeling as though a noncorporeal hand was closing down around her vents, stiflingly; she brushed her fingers over her small friend’s antennae, and hummed a soft, deep harmonic to distract her while she looked for an appropriate hookup to push her right the way offline.

The second Pulsar was securely in stasis lock, Forceps went in with an endoscope; Ratchet was getting the gamma camera calibrated, but she wanted to get a good look at the standard visual spectrum first of all. Just to check for booby-traps. Bombs in tanks, and all that…

The little bike was almost as much of a mess inside as she was out; her primary intake was heavily scratched, with sporadic dingy scuffs of olive green, and her pumps were covered in a heavy, tarry grey-brown residue, perhaps from a very poor-grade, low-purity fuel. It actually reminded Forceps of how Skywarp had looked, when they’d started to get his systems clean, after all that subsisting off petroleum products…

Thankfully, she seemed bomb-less. Although… there was… something… what was that? Forceps twiddled the focusing dial a little, peered closer-

Something very flat was tucked down in one of the junctions between Pulsar’s interior plates; she grasped it gently in the very tip of the tweezers, and extricated it very, very slowly, careful not to drop it.

“Hm,” she mused, out loud. “What’s this?”

Ratchet took the unspoken invitation and came closer, peering over the broad green shoulders. “That looks like a comms wafer,” he observed, reaching forwards for it and carefully taking it from her. “I’ll get it to Prowl, see if he can get anything off it. Where did you find it?”

“Inside,” Forceps replied, carefully neglecting to explain how it had been tucked down close to the small femme’s spark casing. “I wonder what it means? It’s too broken up to be functional.”

“Maybe there’s a message coded onto it,” Ratchet suggested, carefully pocketing it. “Whatever it mean, I’m sure Prowl will work it out.” The camera pinged quietly in the distance, to illustrate it was ready, and he went to fetch it. “You know, she’s smaller than I’d anticipated from Jazz’s photograph.”

Forceps vented stale air in a quiet sigh, and watched as the gamma camera began its scan. “She’s smaller than I remember, too,” she said, softly. “I think it’s psychological. I’ve not seen her quite so smashed up, before.”

She dithered for a long while over whether she should or should not let her patient wake up just yet, but eventually reasoned that they needed to know what was going on, and getting a little energon back inside her would probably help. Besides, they were in a side-room, so they were away from the worst of the foot traffic, and with luck no-one would march in unannounced.

It was obvious when Pulsar began to come round; her shakes immediately resumed, and so hard that her substructure was buzzing.

“Hey, Squeaky,” Forceps greeted, softly, using the bizarre affectionate nickname the Policebot had got stuck with since meeting up with Skywarp, and gently cupped a palm over one of her blinkers. “It’s Sepp. You’re safe. You can calm down now, all right?”

Pulsar gave a little start, and visibly crumpled. “Sepp…? Oh Primus alive, I never thought-…” Her vocaliser fizzed with relieved static, and she shook with relief, clutching her fingers over her friend’s hand. “I thought I was going to die.”

“We were worried abut you too,” the big femme soothed. “But you’re safe now, all right? We’ll get you fixed up-”

“We have to go back,” Pulsar interrupted. “Seem and-… We have to get them out. We have to get them out, he’ll kill them-!”

“Kill who?”

“Seem, and TC and Deuce,” she croaked. “They all clubbed together… got me out.”

Well, that explained some things. There was no ulterior motive to things because it hadn’t been Siphon that let her go. But that also increased Forceps’ concerns for the other prisoners – what if Siphon took it out on them? At least it was a good sign that Deuce was helping; all that hard work he’d put in to getting his life back on track hadn’t gone completely to waste.

All the worrying in the world wouldn’t help if they didn’t know where they were, though. “We found a comms disc inside you, Pulse. Do you know what it means?” Forceps coaxed, gently.

“A… friend… gave us the wafer,” Pulsar explained, hesitantly, in a voice so low it was almost inaudible. “We couldn’t boost the signal enough to get word out and couldn’t hack into the base’s primary relay. So… I took it with me. Had to hide-,” she faltered, but gathered herself enough to finish the sentence. “Had to hide it, just in case-… in case anyone found me.”

“Hide it? I found it pretty deep inside you, Spark. How did it get in there?” Forceps wondered, softly. “You couldn’t have reached to get it so tightly wedged between your plating by yourself.”

The smaller femme’s dim gaze slid away to one side. “Thundercracker,” she replied, softly.

“What about him? He put it there? Or… something else?”

The next silence was even longer. “Put-… put it there.” The broken blue gaze met and held the concerned golden one for a moment or two. “Siphon’s been using him to hurt me,” the small femme whispered. “Drugging him… coercing him to do things.”

Forceps offlined her vocaliser before the outraged question could escape – things that leave paint transfers all over your chassis? – and had to take a long draught of cold air to steady herself. Sunstreaker was right – this was overkill. Completely unnecessary-

“It’s not his fault,” Pulsar pleaded, in the silence. “He didn’t even know where he was. Siphon made him do it, made him think he was somewhere else, something else-”

“Shh-shh,” Forceps interrupted, softly. “Don’t think about it now. Get some rest. I’ll fetch you some fresh energon, and we can think about how we’re going to get you cleaned up. All right?”

“Don’t knock me out,” the cycle implored, pathetically. “Don’t knock me out.”

“All right, all right. Calm down. I’m not going to knock you out. I’m just going to get you some fresh, clean, pure energon. All right?”

She was only gone for a fraction of a breem, but she later wished she’d asked Ratchet to do it for her. There was the unexpected slap of displaced air, and Skywarp was through the door before Forceps could grab him. Oh Primus-! She dropped the flask and made an ungainly sprint for the door-

“Hey, Pulse, how you feeling-…?” Skywarp greeted, amiably; he wanted to say more, but didn’t get the chance to get any further.

Without Siphon’s chemicals keeping her brain damped-down and insensible, there was no barrier to Pulsar’s fear flaring right the way up into a firestorm. She gave an unashamed wail of fright, emitting a horrible strangling whine from her melted siren, and threw herself off the back edge of the berth, scattering thermal regulators and inadvertently yanking herself unplugged from most of the monitors; a whole series of alerts began to whoop in tandem.

“What the-… Pulse? It’s only me,” Skywarp went on, startled, resisting the urge to chase after her – but only just. He wanted to give her a shake, demand to know what was wrong with her, didn’t she know who he was, that he wasn’t going to do anything to her…?!

“…go away,” came the broken demand, barely discernible through the pouring static.

“But I-”

Go away!” she shrieked, loud enough to disturb his audio sensors and leave them buzzing.

He backed up, hastily, bumping against Forceps as she barged through, half-angry half-worried. “But it’s only me-! Pulse, it’s me-” he pleaded, knocked flying by the big femme.

“Shh-shh-shh,” Forceps soothed, humming that calming harmonic and cradling her to her chest. Over the top of the broken femme’s head, she shot Skywarp a glare and flapped a hand in a shooing gesture at him; Get out! “It’s okay, we’re here, you’re safe-”

Skywarp needed no second bidding, he was already backing hastily up towards the doorway, his optics like great startled crimson pools in his face.

“Don’t let him hurt me, don’t let him hurt me-!” he heard Pulsar’s frantic begging.

He lost his nerve, and fled.

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
zatnik
Mar. 9th, 2009 01:30 pm (UTC)
Re: Have I told you lately...
...how much I love you?

Probably not, since I was too lazy to log in to ff.net.

I spend the whole chapter in "POOR TC!" mode, and only when paint trasfers were mentioned did I realise the significance in this chapter (lets see if that italics code works on livejournal) for Skywarp.

Thus:
Poor Skywarp.

Thanks for another great chapter.
keaalu
Mar. 13th, 2009 02:46 pm (UTC)
Re: Have I told you lately...
Thanks. :D I'm glad I didn't make people *facepalm* too hard at it, I was scared of overdoing it. ;)

Now I've sooomehow got to rescue everyone without TOO much psychological trauma.
_silverfox
Mar. 9th, 2009 08:51 pm (UTC)
Oh dear, poor Thundercracker, poor Slipstreem, poor Skywarp ... At least Pulsar is actually doing better ... if you can call that better. :(
keaalu
Mar. 13th, 2009 03:33 pm (UTC)
Yeah, semi-better. Semi-coherent, at least!
_silverfox
Mar. 13th, 2009 04:30 pm (UTC)
And among friends and out of the weather. Looks like she actually has a chance at recovering from now on.
jill_dragon
Mar. 10th, 2009 05:09 am (UTC)
*FLAILS* Wow, this chapter left me just speechless. You've captured Siphon's sick, deranged mind in a way I never imagined and turned him into something undeniably creepy and worthy of fear. Poor TC. *hugs her blue jet*

Does it make me a sadist that I'm glad I encouraged you to write this chapter?
keaalu
Mar. 13th, 2009 03:34 pm (UTC)
BWAHAHA

See, I only need a little bit of prodding... ;) (...with a cattle prod, maybe, but only a little bit of it! ;) )
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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