Series: Transformers, G1-based (“Blue” AU)
Summary: And we're off to Egypt!
Notes: Thank you again to my reviewers. :) Sorry I'm making you wait so long between these things, I seem to end up doing about nine things at once these days and keep going off-track. :hrms: I did have a smidge more for this chapter (and I wanted to give TC some more airtime) but I found a good place to stop it. Hopefully that means it won't take so long to get the next chapter up.
Anyway. Hope this chapter is a bit better, even if it is another "talker". :shifty eyes:
Look at you.
Look at you. You filthy nonentity, squandering all the power and glory Primus gave you by chasing worthless chips of starshine. Nobody wants you back, you filthy monstrosity.
Why? It’s not already obvious? You are the perfect example of everything that is wrong with your kind. Everything that is wrong with fliers, everything that is wrong with Seekers, especially everything that is wrong with the Screamer’s power-addled trine. And you are the perfect example of everything that is wrong with Cybertron. Constantly reaching for things you cannot ever have, grubbing around like vermin for the last dregs of power instead of taking the hint Primus provided and working together to repair all the damage you caused while you were raping the planet for everything it had.
You’re disgusting. You’re worthless. Your long-suffering brothers are glad to be rid of you, the sparklings are scared of you, and nobody else would even consider accepting such a pathetic waste of spare parts into their faction.
You are here because it is the only place you have ever belonged. Megatron is the only one who would ever spare you a second thought, the only one who could ever give you purpose. The only one to ignore all your abundant flaws, and focus instead on what you could become. Because there’s still greatness inside you, deep down under all those layers of self-doubt, self-loathing. Just need a skilled hand to flay off the cloying layers of tarry over-emotion, and bring your true, powerful self out, bright as a new coin.
Just think about it, Thundercracker. I hate to see you languishing here, so abandoned and alone, when all you have to do is swallow that bolus of pride and accept the offer Megatron is kindly holding out to you. You know he won’t be so patient for much longer.
…Just think about it.
In recent orns, the Ark had grown somewhat uncomfortable.
The small Cybertron police team looked quite out-of-their-depth, as newcomers to the dirt-ball, and rather in awe of the highly notorious group of machines they were briefly lodging with. For their part, the Ark residents were more than a little uneasy about having the Cybertron team staying aboard, given the notoriety they had earned after the whole Blue drama and their obvious links to the Seekers.
In spite of the fact the two groups of machines were (or at least, had been) Autobots, it was not a particularly comfortable co-habitation. The ex-Decepticons themselves had grown… well, better tolerated, if not precisely liked, and they had come to an unspoken consensus with the Ark’s residents of how to respond to each other (mostly ‘leave us the Pit alone, and we’ll leave you alone back’).
The newcomers were harder to know how to react to. Had they just been “normal, traditional” Autobots, solid and predictable, anti-Decepticon and belligerent towards their unwelcome visitors, all would have been fine… But the mix of Neutral and moderate – and openly amiable relations with the Seekers – meant things were more political. And the Aerialbots – who clearly wanted to have some sort of normal, friendly relationship with the fliers they admired, but were stuck in their position as ‘the enemy’ and expected to hold the faction line – were rather trapped in the middle of it all, not sure which way they ought to turn.
As should probably have been anticipated, Vector and Sunstreaker in particular had made enemies out of each other quite quickly – partly because the big Policebot was one of the few that still wore her Autobot badge, and didn’t seem inclined to back down and renounce her heritage just because some “overbearing little thug” had a problem with it. She was unfortunately also bigger than him, built specifically for “subduing” unruly mechs, and lacked a certain… subtlety. So when Sunstreaker got too close for comfort - “I didn’t know Neutral was a synonym for Decepticon Sympathiser, now…” - she saw nothing at all wrong with a swift punch in the faceplates.
…Cue another all-in riot.
Prowl lost patience and sternly threatened everyone with a period of enforced curfew, stating that if they didn’t ignore each other, in the event they really couldn’t just try and get along, he had no qualms about restricting the areas the respective groups were allowed to access.
After a little more verbal jostling, and some more ‘integration’ issues, an… uneasy sort of peace had settled back on the Ark, with each of the two groups keeping themselves mostly to themselves.
The rec-room was one of the few places all three factions came together – not many quarters had private fuel dispensers, and a charging hookup would only do so much to a depleted system, so everyone was forced together to get to the energon. There wasn’t yet a rota in place for who was allowed in and when – Prowl was holding off having to do so just yet, in the hope that things would settle down – and thankfully a sort of cease-fire, albeit uneasy, was being maintained, the groups sticking to their respective sides of the room with a quasi-religious devotion.
When Skywarp finally poked his head around the door, the rec-room was quiet – although it was a heavy quiet, a bit like a storm was hanging at ceiling level, and about to break over the inhabitants. Starscream was already sitting at their usual table in the corner, chin propped in blue hands, a scowl further darkening his features. Forceps had settled between the former air commander and Hardline, although she was closer to the tank, and apparently updating him on the situation; Hardline in turn looked content just to have found her safe and sound, his large hand covering hers where it rested on the tabletop.
Whitesides and Surefire were sort-of kinda not-really almost sharing the couch – one at each end, trying not to look like they’d argued about something. Longbeam was nestled comfortably into Vector’s arms, her head resting against her friend’s shoulder; the two femmes were sharing one of the slouch cushions in the corner of the room, talking in soft, murmury voices and looking… cosier than “just sharing because there’s not enough chairs”.
Skywarp gave them a curious look, but didn’t push it. He gave Starscream a flick around the back of the head with a news wafer he’d “acquired” (probably stolen from Red Alert), and dropped it into his hands once he’d got the anticipated snap of don’t-be-stupid, before heading off in search of energon. Sideswipe was sat at a computer terminal beside the dispenser, but each mostly acted like the other wasn’t there. (There were one or two wolf-whistles in the background, and a twitter of “uh-oh lover’s tiff ignoring each other,” which were also studiously ignored.)
There was a low thud in the background, and Celerity met the amused/confused stares that followed with an embarrassed smile and a shrug. “My basal protocols rejected the dimensional primers that came with the refit,” she explained, ruefully, rubbing her temple as she crossed the room.. “So I had to do it the long way. Still a bit clumsy.” She settled on the low couch between the two cycles; the cushions sagged under her weight and slumped them into her. She oops!-ed and gave a nervy laugh as they righted themselves. “Suddenly being half as tall again as you used to be, and twice the mass, isn’t easy to get used to.”
There were snickers in the background – maybe that’s what the Decepticons do to you – at which Vector threw an empty energon cube, defensive on her twin’s behalf. Seemed she had a good aim, if the yerp! of surprise was anything to go by. “Takes more than just a hundred orns to get used to living in a new root mode when you’d had your last one a few million,” she scolded.
There were resentful mutters but nothing more, and she let it drop.
“I still can’t believe you’re actually not all that bothered Cali has free reign of the medical suite,” Vector commented, now she had peoples’ attention on her – although she had a sort of suspicious tone of voice, as if sensing there were a little more to what Starscream was planning than just that. “All the trouble we went to just getting Panacea to sign her off as ok to leave under guard for a few days, you’re just letting her waltz about unchecked…”
Starscream gave her a grim look. “Trust me, it doesn’t please me one bit, because I know she’s got a game she’s playing. I’d have her in full stasis in the brig, or something, if it was down to choice. But…” He rumbled his turbines, irritably, and muttered thanks at Skywarp, who’d thrust a flask of energon under his nose. “I need to get information out of her somehow, and to quote the Ark’s over-reactive chief of security? If she thinks our optics are directed elsewhere, she might be a little more inclined to be careless. If we’re watching her every move, she’ll be a lot more… cautious… about how she acts.”
Vector nodded, thoughtfully. “I get that, but… You don’t think maybe she’ll sense something’s up with you accepting her promise of good behaviour so readily, and modulate her behaviour accordingly?”
Starscream spread his hands, frustratedly. “What choice do I have?” he snapped. “If I watch her closely, she’ll not let anything slip; if I don’t watch her, she’ll sense a trick and not let anything slip; and I sure as Primus can’t just go data-mining like I would have back on Nemesis.”
No one felt inclined to grill too deeply on what he meant by the last one.
The brief spell of uncomfortable silence was broken by Whitesides; “Hey, Pulsar.”
The police-bike was in the doorway, Footloose chirping and squeaking around her legs; she offered a little wave in his direction. She had her scarf tied back around her head, and was navigating her way around mostly by touch, instead of sight, keeping her fingertips in contact with the walls – or Footloose, although the sparkling wasn’t being entirely useful. Pulsar’s stride was still hesitant – like a frightened creature on the point of giving up and bolting for safety – and judging by the way people were turning to look at her she was broadcasting a low-level broad-band ping to see where everyone was, but she hadn’t yet lost her nerve, in spite of the dozens of signals she must have been getting in response. She slid herself into the last remaining seat at the table, once Footloose had steered her towards it.
“When are you gonna let Sepp fix you up, Squeaky?” Skywarp asked, once she was settled, giving her a look. “Looks like I’ve been knocking you about.”
She forced a smile. “I’m trying to work out which is more bruising to your ego,” she joked, tightly, as Footloose burrowed up into her lap and chirped greetings. “Having to suffer the indignity of having an Autobot femme on your arm, or the fact you only managed to land a broken one.”
“Pfft. You weren’t broken when I first met you. Just a noisy, over-principled little-”
“All right, all right, that’s enough of that!”
Silence held sway for a moment or two, broken only by Footloose’s barely-intelligible squeaking about going to ‘make energon’, before he spoke again. “Seriously, Pulse,” he wondered, more quietly. “When are you going to let her get you back into one piece?”
Pulsar stared blindly down at her fingers and weighed the words in her mind. “I’m not sure,” she admitted. “She has to, ah… she has to knock me out to do it. And-” She ejected the words in a rush, before she lost her nerve and swallowed them again. “I don’t want to be unconscious again. Not yet. Not when all I see is Siphon.”
He was quiet, for a moment. “She couldn’t… you know… do it while you’re awake?”
Pulsar shook her head, then corrected herself; “Well, maybe. I’ve not asked. Sepp?”
“Theoretically, yes,” the surgeon confirmed, grimly. “Logistically? I don’t know that it’ll be any easier. Replacing an entire limb isn’t as simple as just clicking it into place at the shoulder; there’s anchor points spread right across the upper chassis, and they all come very close to the spark chamber. Even if I don’t use full sedation, I’ll need to use some sort of stasis mantle, and I imagine that’ll probably go down worse.”
Pulsar shrank back little at the idea, and nodded agreement. “Conscious and paralysed?” she wondered, feebly.
“Point taken.” Skywarp slumped in his chair and pursed his lips, disappointed that his master stroke was apparently not that good, after all.
Over by the energon dispenser, Footloose had run into an unanticipated problem. The dispenser was waay up above her head, and she couldn’t see what might be on the shelf in front of it. Now, high places were no barrier to her gate, she had an effective range of a good few hundred metres, but unseen objects that she might end up tangling her feet up in when she got to her destination were. Forceps would be extremely unlikely to have any spare sets of sparkling feet in her subspace if Footloose blended herself with a flask and had to get replacements! To be on the safe side, she teleported herself up into the clear space above the shelf, and dropped the couple of feet to the surface below, landing among the unattended flasks with a clatter like falling pans.
The noise made Sideswipe jump. “Whoa, hey, hey, what are you doing up there?”
Footloose startled at the exclamation, then gave him her best cute-and-inoffensive look. “Sighswipe help make energon?”
“What?” he paused the display and looked more seriously at her.
“Energon,” she repeated, pointing at the dispenser. “Sighswipe help to make? How it work?”
“It’s Sideswipe,” he corrected. “And remind me why you think I ought to go helping a little Mini-con like you?”
“Not Decepticon,” she argued. “Am a nothing.”
He couldn’t help smiling at that. “You’re a what?”
“A nothing! Decepticon is plus, Autobot is minus.” She held up her hands to explain. “Plus and minus together makes nothing. Am a nothing!”
“You mean a Neutral,” Sideswipe corrected, amusedly.
“Is same,” Footloose challenged, grumpily, as he picked up a flask and slotted it into the outlet.
He chuckled, dryly, gesturing to the relevant buttons to press. “Well, much as I’d love to agree with you, I don’t value that particular opinion enough to want to take a pounding for it…”
Pulsar and Skywarp had been discussing the logistics of repairs quietly with Forceps when a little voice questioned from by their feet; “Ama?”
Glancing down, Skywarp found Footloose between their chairs, carrying a flask of energon almost as tall as she was; she had both arms wrapped all the way around it just to hold it, and was gazing up at them with a big, hopeful smile.
“A whole flask? I hope you’re gonna drink all that, now you poured it out, Shorty,” Skywarp snerked, amusedly, well aware that it would be a physical impossibility.
“Is for Ama,” Footloose explained, quietly.
Pulsar was quiet, for a few moments. “I don’t think I can drink that much, little one,” she said, gently, but she was at least smiling. “But I’m sure there’s people around who’ll help if I get full.” If she was perfectly honest, she didn’t think she’d manage much more than a mouthful or two, let alone fill her depleted systems. All that murky, muddy brown rubbish Siphon had been keeping her alive on had left her system very unstable, and even just basic grade gave off enough vapours to upset her diagnostics.
Skywarp picked the small femme up off the floor, flask and all, and set her down on the table; she squeaked amusedly. “It’s a good job we’ve got someone to look after us, isn’t it, Ama?” he wondered, dryly, emphasising the look after part.
Footloose picked up on the hint. “Look after Ama when Day go find Dack and Seem,” she agreed, seriously, settling nearby so she could (try to) help Pulsar lift things. “Am important job.”
“Speaking of which,” a deep voice rumbled, from nearby; they looked round to find Hardline watching them, finger raised for emphasis. “How are we going to get to this place in a free car? You two going to do it in shifts, or have you roped in some help?”
“It’s Africa,” Skywarp corrected, with a snerk. “And even though I know Screamer isn’t gonna like it, I’ve been having some ideas about that…”
Skyfire was pottering about in his laboratory, busy trying to isolate compounds from the selection of plant materials growing in humorously-coloured pots on the table in the corner, and trying not to act like he was too disappointed at the way Starscream was still avoiding talking to him. The door stood open, as always; he hoped it’d encourage some of the more reluctant sparks to see science – and him! – as less threatening, if it wasn’t all being conducted in secrecy behind closed doors. Just one big friendly mech looking for interesting things to make all their lives easier.
He heard the clatter of Seeker feet approaching down the hallway long before he heard the voices – they were making a half-sparked attempt at muting the noise by placing their thrusters more carefully on the floor, but were still unmistakable simply by the low, hollow thoks each step made. He busied himself with his ion exchange resins and tried not to listen – it was very doubtful they were here to actually talk to him, so there was no point in getting his hopes up. Starscream had probably roped Skywarp into stealing something for him. The teleport could be in and out of places almost unseen, catching him before he stole whatever he was after was an exercise in futil-
“…he’s your friend, he'll listen to you, so you go ask him!”
Skyfire straightened, surprised, and added half a beaker of solute to the column instead of a few drops, overloading the resin. Darn, that meant he’d have to re-run this batch. Oh well. The noises outside had become more important, anyway; Skywarp’s hissed comment was obviously not intended for Skyfire’s audios, so in spite of his surprise he politely pretended to have not heard.
Starscream’s protest shot back very quickly. Hmm. Maybe he was the one that had been roped into coming, for once? “I told you already, we don’t need his help-”
“Oh right, so you’re gonna carry Hardline, are you?”
“…just go ask him already, you big wuss-”
“-don’t you tell me what to do!”
“So don’t make me need to! The Pit are you afraid of, anyway, you still all moony for him or something-?”
“Skywarp-!” Scuffling noises. “Frag this for a game of soldiers, we’ll just get the Aerialbots to help, they’re desperate enough to look useful-”
“And we’ll still be down one to carry. Fine, Hardline will have to stay back because none of us are big enough to lift him, so we’ll fail bigtime and it’ll all be your fault because you were too much of an aft to just ask for help.”
“I will slag you in a br-… hey, wait, what are-… Warp…!”
There was a scuffling sound of something sliding over a rough floor, and more quiet protests, and Skyfire finally gave into temptation and turned to look at the door just as Skywarp succeeded in forcing his wingmate over the threshold. The teleport met his gaze for all of an astro-second before snerking rudely and vanishing in a flicker of ions.
Starscream looked fairly well peeved; he glared down at his feet for a moment or two, lips pursed, clearly rehearsing his words silently in his processors. “Um,” he said, awkwardly, shifted his weight onto the other thruster, then clarified what he meant. “Uh, that is… well.”
Skyfire gave him a patient look, and tried not to look like he’d been listening in to their quarrel.
“I, uh. I… could do with your help.” The red Seeker managed to get the words out.
“You know you only have to ask,” Skyfire reassured.
“Not for me, it’s for Skywarp,” Starscream defended himself. “We, uh. Need to get to Egypt.”
Skyfire made a point of looking at the red Seeker’s repaired thrusters.
“That is, not just us,” Starscream corrected. “We’ll need backup, and since not many Autobots here want to help us…”
“…your friends from Cybertron are going to fill the gap?”
Starscream folded his arms and pouted. “Like Skywarp so kindly reminded me, I’m not best placed to carry Hardline,” he agreed, sourly. “And even if I was, there’s only two of us, and eight of them including Cali.”
Skyfire smiled and gave his shoulder a squeeze. “I would be honoured to help you.”
Starscream tolerated the hand for all of an astro-second before irritably shoving him off, but it was a start. “We’re leaving in three cycles. Don’t be late.”
Skyfire watched him stomp away, and sagged onto a stool. Granted it hadn’t been the most amicable or even polite of conversations, but at least it hadn’t involved Starscream trying to tear chunks off him. Maybe there was hope for them yet.
The medical suite was usually fairly quiet, but in the last few breems it had got quite busy. Atchet grumbled about it, but Footloose liked it busy! Lots of interesting things to look at, and it made her feel like she was helping with something important.
Shoefie was sat on a stool to one side, her face turned up while Sunny carefully painted over her yellow cheek flashes, turning them blue, like Ama’s. (Footloose was miffed that even though Jas had said she was a good painter, Sunny wouldn’t let her help.) They were going to go trick Megatron, she’d heard. Shoefie was going to pretend to be Ama, although the exact reasons for it had escaped the sparkling. They were almost identical though, so it should be quite easy. Even their voices were nearly the same – a little tweak here and there and when Ama was fixed, not even Ausep would be able to tell them apart without a ping!
Ama was with Ausep right now, having medicine done, so Footloose was out in the main medical suite, under Atchet’s watchful optic, doing a “scientific study” of Septor’s oolies – well, drawing them for Ama, so she could see what they looked like when they went home and her broken face got mended. For bolologics, the oolies were pretty and shiny and she thought Ama would like them-
Footloose startled, and glanced up from her piece of paper to find that strange femme Screamer had dunked in the tank earlier peering down at her. She shrank back a little, quietly, and wiggled her fingers in an uncertain greeting; the fingers of the other hand had already crept into her mouth.
“You’re Skywarp’s offspring, are you?” The strange femme braced her cuffed hands against the sideboard, and leaned her weight onto her elbows.
Footloose nodded. The bigger femme had green optics a bit like her own, but they were a lot larger, and made her uneasy. Like they were looking right into her, seeing everything important that made her function.
“I’m surprised he managed to find anyone who tolerated him long enough to want to procreate with him,” she observed, dryly.
“Am a accident,” Footloose explained, shyly.
The femme smiled, unkindly. “Why doesn’t that surprise me,” she wondered, dryly, and after a moment the smile evened into something more genial, friendly. “So. What’s your name, Spark?”
“Am Button,” Footloose answered, softly, round her fingers. “Who am?”
“Me?” The femme touched one of her long, spidery hands against her chest. “My name is Calibrator – or just Cali. I used to work with Ama.”
Footloose brightened a fraction. “Friends with Ama?”
“We were, yes,” Calibrator agreed, quietly. “Although…” She lifted her cuffed hands. “I don’t know if she likes me very much any more.”
“…Cally made bad things?” Footloose wondered, shrinking back.
“Cali made mistakes,” Calibrator replied, sadly. “I’m staying at a brain hospital for them to try and fix me.”
Footloose traced her fingertips over the heavy cuffs at Calibrator’s wrists. “Am in hospital prison?”
Calibrator wrinkled her nose, sourly. “It’s called a secure psychiatric unit,” she agreed, dryly. “It’s where you go if you’re a bit crazy.”
Footloose gave a little squeak of alarm. “Day not go there?”
Calibrator laughed, which was a little bit reassuring. “No, no, he’s not crazy, he’s just not very clever. I’m very intelligent – smarter than Starscream! – but I’m still a little… wrong in the brainpan.” She tapped her forehead. “Probably too clever, Button, I have too many thoughts to keep track of! Best to stay stupid.”
Footloose stared up at her, for a moment or two, unsure if she was calling her stupid.
“May I see what you’re drawing?” Calibrator changed the subject, smoothly.
Footloose turned the paper a little and pushed it towards her; the analyst peered closer and tried to make something out of the mass of circles. There was a technical ability there, certainly – purely by merit of being computer-brained, the little one had something of a competence in replicating images. There was a childish incompetence there as well, though – a muddled sort of attempt at ‘cartoonishness.’ “Um… what are those?”
“Am oolies,” Footloose explained, pointing at the blobs of organic matter floating sedately in the water tank. “Making picture for Ama.”
“…oolies?” Calibrator looked harder and worked out they were some sort of biological life-form, covered in iridescent silvery scales and studded with translucent fins. Not very active, whatever they were.
“Septor’s oolie-fish.” Footloose pointed again, a little more closely. “They for making science.”
“Making science, huh?” Calibrator grinned. “That’s what my old job was, before I got sick. See?” She wiggled her long fingers, demonstrating the inbuilt probes. “That’s how I knew Ama, we worked for the police together.”
“Here to help police now?”
Calibrator offered a grimacing smile. “After a fashion, yes.”
“Want to help also,” Footloose commented, sulkily. “Day not let.”
“…Skywarp making you stay here, is he?”
The sparkling pouted, unimpressed, and nodded. “Can be useful, come and make help, find Seem.” She folded her arms, optics darkening to a sullen pond green. “Day says no, not safe.”
“Well, ‘Day’ isn’t the brightest of sparks, is he?” Calibrator soothed. “He’s probably just erring on the side of caution. Making sure you’re well looked after.” She laughed, as if at a private joke, and waved the sparkling’s unspoken question away without answering it. “He doesn’t want to get in trouble for letting you come, if you then get hurt.”
“Cally knowed Day?” Footloose wondered, quirking her head to one side.
“Oh yes, I certainly knew Skywarp. Worked with him for a little while, in fact…” she hesitated, and corrected herself; “well, that was the idea, at least. He’s… interesting, I suppose… to work with.” Beat, curious. “Maybe that’s why he doesn’t want you coming along.”
Footloose gave her a curious look. “What meaning?”
Calibrator gave her an exaggeratedly oops!-face, as though realising she’d made a terrible mistake, and turned away. “Oh, d-don’t you worry about that. Forget I said it.”
“What? What?” Footloose was up on her feet and tugging at the analyst’s shoulder. “Tell me, tell me!”
“Oh, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, Spark,” Calibrator soothed, petting the small helm, soothingly. “Or Day’s! It’s probably nothing.”
Footloose whined, huffily, and gave her a more wide-eyed and more appealing look. “Please?”
“No, no. I don’t want to hurt your feelings.” Calibrator lifted her hands.
“Feelings not be hurt.” Footloose gave her a pleading look.
Calibrator glanced over at the door, then leaned closer, sneakily. “Promise not to tell?”
“Promise.” Footloose placed a hand down on her little chest.
Calibrator gave her an exaggeratedly suspicious look, then leaned down closer to her little audios. “Well, see…” She picked up a pencil, and began to help colour in the fins, trying not to act too suspicious, just in case prying eyes might be watching. “He doesn’t want you to come because he doesn’t want you to mess it up, Button,” she murmured, softly. “Because you’re little. And stupid – like him.”
Footloose sat up straighter, and flashed the analyst an angry look. “Am not stupid.”
Calibrator spread her hands as best she could, apologetically. “That’s not what I heard him saying to Starscream,” she said, softly, as though imparting a big secret. “He said he wished you weren’t so small and useless, because then you might actually be able to help them a bit. Because they can’t trust you not to mess things up, they’ve got to leave you here while they go to rescue Thundercracker.”
Footloose gazed down at her paper, suddenly losing interest in continuing colouring. “Said was to stay and look after Ama,” she said, quietly, setting her coloured pencil down. And Day had made it sound like such a big deal, too! I need you to do a very important job for me, I need you to stay here and look after Ama, or she’ll be lonely! So… did that… but that… meant… he’d made untruths to her? Her shoulder sagged, disappointed. “Not important?”
“Oh it’s probably important,” Calibrator soothed, gently, stroking the slumped little shoulders. “It’s just more important that he keeps you out of the way.”
“Could help,” the sparkling insisted, faintly. “Am little, could get in places.”
“I know you could,” Calibrator agreed, awkwardly manoeuvring a green pencil with her cuffed, spindly hands to colour one of the fish tails. “I think you’re a lot smarter than they all say. And I’m sure you’ll be able to prove him wrong some day! You just need to get the chance, don’t you?”
Footloose nodded, glumly. She picked her pencil back up, and resumed colouring, but halfheartedly, just going over and over the same spot. “Miss Seem,” she said, quietly.
“I know you do, Spark. You’ll just have to trust Day is clever enough to rescue him…”
“Ex-cuse me, but what do you think you’re doing?” an unexpected voice demanded, softly, from behind.
Footloose peered around Calibrator to find Skywarp stood just behind her, his arms folded, a glower darkening his face. “Ooh. ’Lo, Day?” she greeted, awkwardly.
“What. Are you doing?” he repeated, softly, clearly directing the question at Calibrator, once he had both femmes looking at him.
Footloose answered on her behalf, lifting a pencil. “Making colourings?”
Calibrator gave him a sickly smile and a nod, which rubbed him completely the wrong way; his wings bristled and his glare intensified. “Lucy?” He released a finger and pointed at his shoulder. “Here now, please.”
“Now? But haven’t finished col-”
“Now, Lucy. You can finish later.”
Hmm, that was a bad sign if Day was being bossy like Starscream. “Bye, Cally.” Footloose bumped cheeks and blipped out of sight, reappearing immediately in just the right place to drop down on Skywarp’s shoulder. “Here!”
Skywarp patted one of her little feet, but kept his attention on Calibrator. “If you value your mobility, you’ll leave Footloose alone,” he threatened, softly, stabbing a finger for emphasis. “You don’t touch her, you don’t talk to her, you don’t even go near her. Got that?”
Calibrator bowed, mockingly. “Of course, oh mighty Skywarp,” she simpered.
Skywarp shot her a glare and mimed a punch, and she flinched back, involuntarily; she made a face at his retreating wings the instant he’d turned away.
“So. What were you two talking about, eh, Squirt?” Skywarp wondered, amiably, lounging back against the outside wall of the sideroom while he waited for Forceps to finish what she was doing.
Footloose hesitated very briefly before she answered – she sensed he might be unhappy with her for talking to the strange femme, and there was something that sounded like suspicion in his voice. “Science,” she chirped. “Cally helping colour oolies for Ama. Said likes science, worked at police with Ama before got sick!”
“That’s it, huh?” There was still that suspicion there, but it was less strong.
“Is all,” Footloose agreed, maintaining her cheery tone only with effort. She felt… awkward, making untruths. Fibs were bad, and the police came if you made really bad lies. But Day had not said the truth to her, either, had he? Made lies, to make her stay behind, because he thought she was stupid. “Cally not good at making colour, fingers too long,” she added, as if telling a big secret, and he laughed.
“I don’t think that’s just to do with her fingers, Button. Just cause she’s smart doesn’t mean she’s good at anything!” Skywarp chuckled, dryly, making faces across the lab at the watching Calibrator. She huffed and stuck out her tongue in response.
Footloose sighed hot air from her vents and leaned against Skywarp’s shoulder pylon. “When going?”
“As soon as Aunt Grumpy-”
“I heard that,” a low voice issued through the door.
“-has finished. And you were meant to hear it, ‘cause you’re being slow again, Sepp. You’re the only one we’re waiting on!”
The surgeon emerged wiping her hands clean on an old rag, which she shoved into Skywarp’s face in passing. “Ingrate.”
Skywarp vibrated air across his vents in a raspberry of displeasure and threw the cloth back at her, but it unfolded mid-flight and fell short. “Meet you in the hangar in a couple of breems.”
Pulsar flinched back and hastily dropped her gaze away when he and Footloose came through the doorway. “You on your way, then?” she wondered, quietly.
Skywarp nodded. “Yeah. We’ve roped in some help, so… should be enough of us. We’re heading out in a breem or two.” He smiled, grimly. “Wish us luck, huh?”
She glanced up and managed to meet his gaze for the smallest fraction of a second before tearing herself away again. “Take care.”
By the time Skyfire was finally preparing to leave, there weren’t many machines actually left in the hangar bay; the two Seekers and the Aerialbots had all already left with their own passengers, to help keep the weight down. Footloose had watched glumly from her perch on top of a pile of crates as Skywarp had left with Surefire, and Starscream had followed (rather more reluctantly) with Whitesides – that had been Hardline’s idea, to get the pair back on speaking terms, after the marksbot had suffered a rather ignominious aft-kicking at the Seeker’s angry hands last time they’d worked together. The Aerialbots had jostled about and effectively drawn straws as to who carried who, but finally worked out the best distribution of load and followed the other two.
Which – for now – left only Skyfire;
“Ska’fie?” With a little effort, she managed to stretch upwards far enough to tug at his fingers.
“Hello there, Footloose,” the giant greeted, scooping the tiny body up off the floor and bringing her closer to his eye-level. “You want to say goodbye, do you?”
She nodded, quietly. “Don’t like that going away,” she explained. “Want to help.”
“I know you do, but it’s better you stay here,” he soothed, gently. “Safer.”
“Wouldn’t mess up,” she promised.
“It’s not about you messing up, Lucy. It’s about keeping you safe!”
She clicked, softly, conflicted, and held his thumb. Skyfire was nice and she didn’t think he’d mislead her, but maybe they’d not explained things to him. (The idea it might be Cali lying to her hadn’t managed to sink through very many layers of consciousness; the hurt feelings that accompanied it always drowned it out.)
In spite of her agreement to help, Calibrator was not coming quietly, and it was taking both heavyweights to actually get her to the hangar bay – for such a small machine, she was as supple and slippery as an eel and even harder to keep hold of. An unholy racket – mostly generated by her – preceded her down the corridor. Skyfire hastily finished saying goodbye to Footloose, setting her back down on her crates before hurrying away and transforming to his alt mode, just as Hardline emerged through the doorway with a pinched expression on his face and his arms full of swearing, kicking analyst. Forceps – following behind – was already liberally covered in black streaks, including one that bisected her left cheek neatly in two and missed her optic by a millimetre. She was fiddling with something curved and metallic – looked like a broken stasis mantle.
Calibrator took one look at the patient shuttle waiting in the hangar, and immediately kicked off again, more noisily than before, startling Hardline and almost bucking her way out of his grip. Forceps muttered an unintelligibly curse and leapt in to help.
Footloose seized her chance. While everyone’s attention was elsewhere – Forceps and Hardline were struggling to calm the threshing analyst, and Skyfire was trying to move himself into a more useful position to help them scramble aboard – she scrunched her little nose, performed a quick triangulation, and teleported herself to a convenient little gap beside Skyfire’s ramp. The second the three bigger adults had passed her, she darted up the ramp and scuttled into the hiding place she’d seen from outside, dimming her optics. Now she could help out, and show Day she wasn’t stupid and he didn’t need to be disappointed with her. She clicked once to herself, comfortingly, before muting her vocaliser.
In the very periphery of her vision, Calibrator had seen the little dark shape flash past and vanish behind an internal bulkhead. She permitted herself a faint smile, even as that stupid lug of a doctor finally fixed the mantle and clipped it snug around her small neck; it might be partial enforced stasis, but she could relax, now. Everything was going to plan.