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"Warped", Chapter 26

Title (chapter): Warped (26)
Series: Transformers, G1-based (“Blue” AU)
Rating: PG-13
Notes: I have no notes. Just hugs!

Edit: Oops typo. *fixes!*




Warped
Chapter Twenty-Six

Having had a significant hand in helping Siphon dig them, Deuce was familiar with almost every inch of the maze of tunnels that wound deep into the bedrock beneath the little Amarna outpost. He knew how deep they ran, how wide they were, how many twists and turns and junctions they formed, and was hoping he could lead the pursuing Decepticon into the narrower sections where his bulkier, more angular frame couldn’t follow.

…unfortunately, and before he could put the plan into action, the “almost every inch” part of the sentence proved to be the critical part.

Relying on his memory to navigate, and not by watching where he was going, Deuce tripped over an unseen ridge in the rocky floor and went sprawling on his front. Armour crunched and his windscreen broke with a sharp, high crack, but he didn’t allow himself the luxury of tending the injuries – he was immediately tottering back to his feet-

Before the truck could fully recover his footing and set back off, Dirge – not having been making any effort to watch where they were going – tripped on the exact same ridge in the rough hewn tunnel, and landed hard on top of his quarry, crushing him straight back into the sandstone. “Got you now!” he crowed, triumphantly, as if it had been planned all along. “You little blot of purge, you better start squeaking-!”

“Don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me!” Deuce bleated, lacing his hands over the back of his head. “Please don’t hurt me!”

“I won’t hurt you – much – if you hand that little bastard over,” the Conehead snarled into his audio, morbidly satisfied as the smaller machine cringed away from him. “You thought you could outsmart me, huh? Well I’m no Skywarp, I can see your plan. Get that little mobile heap of spares out of here, leave us without a bargaining chip, is that it? What do you get in exchange?”

Deuce continued to just babble incoherently into the sandy floor, and Dirge’s patience was ebbing swiftly. He caught a hand under the truck’s shoulder and rolled him over, prompting another rapidly curtained squeal and flinch.

“All right, last chance,” Dirge snarled, quietly, pinning his quarry with a knee on his chest. “Hand him over, and I won’t feel like I gotta take you apart bit by bit to get to him.”

Deuce stared silently up at him, optics wide, frozen in alarm.

“Wait, waait-…” The pennies were beginning to drop, and Dirge’s expression quickly went from snarling threat to veiled dismay. “Where is the sparkling?”

Deuce’s lips moved, wordlessly, and he shook his head.

“Where is the little blob of smelt?!” Dirge yanked him up off the floor and gave him a shake, cracking his head against the wall. “I swear, if you don’t tell me-!”

The blow to the head broke the dam holding the words back. “I don’t know where he is!” Deuce choked out. “I don’t know I don’t know I swear I haven’t seen him all orn I guess he must be hiding from you cuz you’re a Decepticon and you’re scary and he’s little and he can get in places to hide from you and-”

Dirge dropped him, disgustedly. “He never normally hides from me. Fragging wish he would, stop the little creep staring at me all… the… time…” Veiled dismay abruptly turned into stunned horror as he belatedly realised what must have been going on. “Aw fuck! It’s TC, isn’t it? The little fragger’s gone after him…” He was off up the corridor like a bolt of startled lightning, abandoning his prey in the dirt, hoping he wasn’t going to be too late.

Deuce lay where he’d been abandoned, vented hot air in relief, and thanked Primus that the Decepticon had better things to worry about than Siphon’s little psychiatrically-challenged hanger-on…

0o0o0o0o0

Right from the start, Surefire hadn’t been the most comfortable with the whole pretending-to-be-her-roommate business – seemed to be way too much like tempting the Pit (or at very least Siphon) to come crashing down around her audios – so when she happened to glance up at the right time and noticed them all looking at her… It wasn’t too surprising that she chose to shrink back against the closest Aerialbot, trying (without much success) to blend in and vanish against his armour.

Watching from a nearby clifftop, Siphon wrinkled his lip and tried not to look disappointed, interpreting the deception exactly as Starscream had intended. “Should have known that stupid little bike would just brush everything off as if it never happened,” he sniffed, disparagingly. “Three-orn memories, the lot of them. Good job I had a second subject to devote more energy to-”

“That stupid little bike is my stupid little bike,” Skywarp snapped, wings bristling, and it was only Starscream getting in the way stopped him going for the tanker then and there; Siphon all but dove behind Megatron for safety. “You better watch whose territory you’re stomping all over, you stupid little truck!” He stabbed a finger in a point.

Siphon laughed, nervously. “Anyone would think you had a soft spot for the jumble of old spares.”

“The only reason I haven’t shot you – yet,” Skywarp explained, softly, “is because I want Thundercracker back more than I want you dead. But right now? I’m on the point of saying slag it and shooting a hole through your spark chamber.”

Megatron sighed, elaborately, struggling to ignore the quarrelling pair, and instead gave his former second a long, serious look. “You and I need to talk-”

Starscream cut in bullishly with a nigh-immediate; “there’s nothing for us to talk about.” He folded his arms, trying to look more fearsome than he felt. “You need to bring my wingmate and the little one out, you need to hand them over, then you need to leave us the slag alone.”

As though the red Seeker had never spoken, Megatron inclined his head very slightly, and said, more clearly; “We need. To talk.”

A beat of silence passed. “All right. I’ll indulge you,” Starscream offered, genially, even though his dark chin came up in an arrogant perk. “Talk.”

“As magnanimous as ever, I see,” Megatron growled back. “Push your luck much further and I will shoot you.”

Starscream smirked, but remained silent.

“I am willing to make an… exception,” Megatron allowed, grimly. “As it stands right now, you are destined to join the Autobots as a convenient target to shoot at.” He gave Skydive a very pointed look, at which the Aerialbot shrank back – just a fraction, but enough to be noticed. There was a beat of silence, and then the grudging addition of; “But. You’re good warriors, and I don’t really want to have you written off as lost to the cause.”

“…you’re inviting us back?” The emotion in the scarlet jet’s tones was mostly uninterpretable – he sounded like he was torn between incredulous laughter, sneering disdain, and being almost honoured by the unexpected compliment.

“After a fashion?” Megatron inclined his head. “Yes.”

“What in Primus name do you think you could possibly use to persuade us back alongside you after everything you’ve done to us-?”

“Don’t listen to him, Screamer, he just wants the sparklings,” Skywarp argued, in a stage whisper beside his wingmate’s audios.

Megatron glared at the interruption. “If it means so much to you? Your, ah… ‘friends’… can remove them back to Cybertron.” He made a face. “Much as it pains me to inform you, the pair of you are worth more to me than the little ones are-”

“Megatron!” Dirge’s voice blared out of nowhere, making no effort to check who was in hearing distance. “Megatron! Thundercracker’s out, he’s escaped! Come quick, come quick and we can still catch him-!”

Skywarp was off like a streak of black lightning before most mechs present had even finished processing the thought. -comeoncomeoncomeon!- he pinged urgently across his and Starscream’s private waveband. -gotta get to him first!-

Megatron gave a roar of anger and backhanded Siphon hard enough across the face to send him flying. “You… stupid, worthless lump of smelter waste!” he bellowed, infuriated, stomping towards him, cannon raised. “I thought you swore to me that he had no possible way of escaping?!”

Siphon was already scuttling away backwards on all fours. “He can’t have got out alone, he must have had help!” he yelped, clawing gouges into the rocks beneath his scrabbling fingers in his haste to get up and away. “He must have had help!”

“Enough!” Vicious purple fire stabbed the ground next to the cowering machine, shocking him into a whimpery mostly-silence. “I’ll deal with you later. Ramjet! Thrust! If you two don’t stop gawping at me like half-sparked scrapheaps-!”

The rest of the threat could be happily left unspoken – the two were in the air and scrambling into action so fast, it was as though he’d lit firecrackers under them.

“So sorry we couldn’t finish our discussion, Megatron,” Starscream sniped, darkly. “And it had been so nice to watch you take the humble road, and admit you need me.”

A flash of cannon fire strafed past his shoulder vent closely enough to sizzle black marks into the enamel and startle him into the air. “This is your last chance, Starscream,” the tyrant boomed, his expression thunderous. “If you go now, the offer goes with it.”

“I’m sure I’ll find a way to survive,” Starscream retorted, hovering. “I’m sure I can undermine your command a lot more easily from a distance. I bet there’s plenty of disillusioned machines out there who’d take kindly to a new leader. One who doesn’t keep them grounded.”

Megatron’s fists had closed into hard black knots of anger, but before he could speak, Calibrator seized her chance.

“Mighty Megatron!” her voice rang out like a clarion call above the low engine sounds. “If you head to the flood plain right now, I think you’ll find the other sparkling fairly poorly defended! Recoup your losses while you ca-”

He voice died in a gurgle of static; Starscream had twisted around and shot out her voicebox with a single, surgical-precise blast from his null rays.

“Get her out of here!” he shrieked at Skydive, his own voice high and loud enough to be painful. It was particularly infuriating to see her still smirking at him around the pain.

The Aerialbot needed no second bidding, he was off like a shot, hot on Skywarp’s departing thrusters.

“Don’t think this ends here, Megatron,” Starscream promised, thrusters purring just hard enough to keep him hanging motionless in the sky. “It ends when that blob of smelt-waste not fit for scrap,” he stabbed a finger in a point at Siphon, “is greyed out, melted down and buried under half the desert.”

“No, Starscream.” Megatron spoke quietly to the departing thrusters, never intending him to hear. “It’ll only end when your trine is out of the picture.”

0o0o0o0o0

It had been surprisingly easy to get off the ground, Thundercracker had found – fling yourself over the cliff edge and fire your thrusters and there was just enough momentum there to get a bit of lift under your wings. The moment of alarm when he skimmed low enough to almost scuff his chassis over the desert floor passed quickly in the exhausted sort of euphoria that they were out and he was flying. Flying! Still shedding tiny chips of armour in his wake, but Primus, the soft caress of even the scorching desert air under his wings was bliss.

Sadly, and exactly as anticipated, it was a different story when his meagre stash of fuel ran out.

“Okay, hang on tight-!” he instructed, needlessly. Slipstream was all but moulded against him, his tiny fingers wound like painful crampons into the cabling around his neck, optics offline and face pressed into him; the big Seeker endured the spots of pain in the same silent way the sparkling endured being airborne.

Thundercracker managed a few hundred yards before the ground rushed up towards them, leaving him only a few astro-seconds to pull up to try and break his fall. He stretched his thrusters out in front of him and hit the ground hard, already running… but had far too much momentum behind him, and he was going too fast to maintain his balance for very far. He managed a few unsteady lurching steps before tripping over his own thrusters, crashing through a stand of juvenile date palms and digging a spectacular face-first trench with his shoulders. He just managed to fling Slipstream away before his uncontrolled landing had the chance to go even more spectacularly wrong and he ended up crushing the little one him underneath himself.

Slipstream squeaked in alarm and tumbled away through the weeds, but didn’t seem particularly badly damaged, as he bounced straight back with only a few scrapes in his paintwork and stray bits of vegetation clinging around him. “Dack hurt? Hurt bad? I see, make better?” The youngster squirmed up into his arms and hummed comfortingly, attempting to remove the broken chunks of palm trunk from his venting.

“It’s ok, it’s ok,” the broken jet wheezed, trying to get him to stop; much as he appreciated the little one’s concern, it hurt having him poke around in his injuries. “I’m all right, I’ll be ok…”

Their escape clearly hadn’t gone unnoticed – Dirge bore down on them like a fury, engines wailing discordance, determined to pay them back for making him look stupid. Badly-targeted laser-fire spattered around them like stinging raindrops, igniting the tinder-dry undergrowth, but that wasn’t what had Thundercracker’s shattered attention. The trail of exhaust from the incoming missile that splodged bruise-coloured smoke across the azure sky was far more concerning-

He offlined his optics and curled down over Slipstream, hitching his one good wing just a little; Primus, if the crash had been painful, this was going to be agony… “Stay here, spark, stay here,” he instructed, feebly; Slipstream burrowed obediently into his arms, shaking violently with fear, sizzling with static. “That’s it, good lad…”

There was a breath of air and the scuffing noise of something moving over sand-

The air tore violently apart with the hideous, thundering boom of the detonation, very very close at hand, so loud it made his audios buzz with distortions, and yet… the wave of debris and the excruciating heat and pain he’d been expecting never came. He onlined an optic, and peeked warily out from under his arm. A big blue-and white blob had appeared in the space in front of him.

“I’ve got the commander,” a familiar voice reported, grimly. “But we’re pinned down, and I’m not sure how long my shield will hold up for.”

“Celerity?” he wheezed, feebly, managing to unfold himself. Her ping responded with the right ident and the voice was right, even if it sure didn’t look like her.

The big policebot cast a concerned look over her blue shoulder, and gave him a grim smile. “Easy up, there, sir,” she soothed. “We’ve got you now.” She was on one knee in a defensive position in front of him, her arm up in front of her, using her in-built riot-shield as an impromptu bomb-shelter. The edges of the forcefield still fizzed and crackled with purplish electrical discharge in the aftermath of the explosion.

“We? Who’s we?” he wondered, trying to sit up but unable to get the coordination into his limbs. Maybe they’re here for the sparklings, and I’m just in a convenient place for a rescue. He didn’t dare hope it might be his brothers, but… Primus, please let them be friendly, whoever they are-

“Steady, steady-…” She caught him as he slumped over in the opposite direction. “You all right there?”

“Just… sleepy,” he lied, managing to prop himself upright between his arms. “Damn Siphon and his knockout drops. I’ll be all right in a moment or two…”

“Good, ’cuz Megatron didn’t say you could go, yet,” an obnoxious voice supplied, and – belatedly – the trio realised that Thrust had landed in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, using their volume-destabilised hearing to sneak up on them unnoticed. The Conehead was now approaching, weapons primed and filling the air with a high, angry mosquito-noise.

Celerity placed herself carefully between them, making sure her pose let their attacker knew she meant business, her riot-shielding still glittering sporadic purple as she moved. “You want him, you’ll have to get through me first,” she cautioned, softly.

Thrust gave her a measuring look; she was about his height, maybe a fraction shorter, but certainly massed a lot more. Femme she may have been, but small and defenceless she most certainly wasn’t. “You challenging me, femme?” he chuckled.

“Not challenging,” she argued. “Telling.”

“Well, OK, I can work with that, I like ‘em a bit feisty. And I always did like a femme with a nice bit of kibble on her!” Thrust jeered, with a lascivious smile and a lewd, clutching gesture. “Tell you what. I’ll go easy on you,” he offered, sweetly. “You just… lay back, relax, and do what I tell you, and maybe I won’t feel like I’ve gotta kill all three of you.”

“I’m not planning on making anything easy for you,” she demurred. “And my spark is not freely accessible to any old interface-starved mech who wants it.”

Thrust sneered. “We’ll see about that.”

Celerity frowned and opened her mouth to challenge him further… The only noise that escaped her vocaliser was an involuntary yerp! as a pair of strong hands seized her arms and dragged them behind her, staggering her off-balance. “What in the-”

“Hold her still, RJ,” Thrust jeered, knowingly, rubbing his hands. “I think I earned this-”

“Yeah, well, save some for me,” Ramjet cautioned, struggling to keep Celerity’s arms pinned. “And hurry it up, will you?!” The femme was at an awkward angle and couldn’t quite get her arms free, but she had the edge of strength over him and was already working herself loose.

“Ohh no, I plan on savouring this-”

That was as far as the red jet got, because he was now just close enough. Celerity dumped her weight squarely back onto Ramjet and swung both feet up, and even as he oof!-ed and staggered under her bulk, she kicked out. Her heels connected solidly with Thrust’s jaw a microsecond or two before Ramjet finally lost his footing and collapsed, groaning as she landed squarely on top of him.

Thrust made a most satisfying noise of hurt and lurched backwards. “Ow! Oh damn, ow! Ohh fuck am I ever going to get you for that,” he swore, unsteadily, his jaw hanging at a strange, apparently-disconnected angle on one side. “No more Nice Thrust.” He directed his attention at Ramjet. “Gonna try keep a hold of her this time, purge-for-brains?”

“Just-… get her off me,” Ramjet moaned, struggling to push her off. “She needs to shed a bit of tonnage, cuz she’s fragging heavy-”

“Yeah, well, better get used to it, because so’s her sister!” a loud voice added, and before Thrust could react, Vector piled in from behind.

Leaving the two riot-bots to deal with the coneheads, Thundercracker seized his chance to put a bit of distance between them, and crawled deeper into his little clump of vegetation. Most of the little fires had gone out, but he wouldn’t have cared if it had been an inferno, and away from what and where he was going, he had no idea. So long as it was away. Slipstream followed him, anxiously, fingers gripping at the rear edge of his good wing.

Voices were approaching, and quickly. He couldn’t quite make out who they were, with distortions still plaguing his hearing – just that they were sharp, harsh-edged. Staccato. Urgent.

“…Thundercracker!”

“Primus, TC-!”

He wasn’t sure why, but he flinched back nevertheless, ended up cowering on his aft. Don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me.

The bodily impacts felt like half the Autobot army had all simultaneously assaulted him; he flinched, trembling, waited for the pain to start. They’d wrestle the youngling away, steal him away to somewhere ‘safe’ where they could securely indoctrinate him as an Autobot, and leave the stupid broken jet to grey out in the middle of nowhere, dusty and dirty and already falling to pieces-

Familiar static envelopes merged and harmonised. This wasn’t the disaffected touch of the enemy trying to bundle him out of the way. Not the sharp violence of overprotective Autobots trying to ‘rescue’ the sparkling. Felt like – Primus above – felt like his wingmates, but-… they were angry. Of course they were angry. He didn’t blame them. Probably going to teach him a lesson for being such a-a sparkless, useless idiot. He cringed, anyway, trying to pull back, pull out of reach. Please don’t hurt me, I didn’t mean to do it.

Hands had fastened around him – hands, arms, unyielding as steel bands in this weakened state. He could only sit, and listen, and wait, and…

At last, it finally sank through all the cloying layers of fear and exhausted sorrow to the core of his consciousness that all the anger and hate that was broadcasting so thick and hot across their nonverbal communications relays… wasn’t directed at him. It was directed at some outside influence. The only unspoken thoughts being directed at him were ones of comfort and concern and… love. They didn’t hate him. They still cared.

Relief crashed like something palpable around him. Thoroughly ashamed of himself but unable to stop it, his vocaliser hitched, and suddenly he was capable of nothing but soft static – unable to speak and unable to stop it. He wound his fingers as tight as he could around the closest set of arms, and listened as the frantic, excited clicks and chirps turned into soft murmurs and soothing hums. Even if it was just a hallucination (and the whole public-display-of-affection from Starscream was strongly suggesting it was), he decided he didn’t mind, so long as he didn’t have to leave it. Because it was a good hallucination, a reassuring hallucination, and gave him the teeniest tiniest bit of confidence that maybe they could actually fix this mess. And the trine was complete again. He hadn’t broken it. He might have messed up bigtime, but he hadn’t broken the trine.

“…m’sorry.” The broken words just dripped their own way out of his vocaliser, with no particular conscious control. “…didn’-… didn’t mean… so weak…”

“Shh,” a voice soothed. “Don’t apologise. It wasn’t your fault.”

“…but-…”

Don’t apologise. Please. Don’t.”

A set of excruciatingly gentle fingers brushed along the margins of his wings, soothingly, and he relaxed into the touch, letting the apologies fizzle back to nothing.

Over the top of their wingmate’s poor battered helm, Skywarp swapped a grim look with Starscream. -Not gonna let this slide, Screamer- he pinged, needlessly, as though the red Seeker could possibly be of some other opinion. -gonna get him a million times over-

Starscream nodded, keeping up his comforting touches along Thundercracker’s wings. -Don’t be impulsive- he counselled, -get him back together-

-Sure, sure-

Starscream gave him That Look, the one that said he knew what the teleport was planning on – doing the exact opposite of what was sensible – but didn’t push it. He knew that if the opportunity presented itself, he himself would probably take on all Thundercracker’s tormentors singlehanded.

-Skywarp, Starscream? Better come- A new voice came over their (not-very-)private(-any-more) waveband; Forceps, and she sounded stressed. -Coneheads here for Lucy. Can’t hold them off-

“Aw, frag. Did you hear that?” the teleport wondered, grimly, straightening up a little.

Starscream nodded, darkly. “Just a breem of peace and quiet, to get us back together,” he growled, sighing hot air from his vents. “Is that really too much to ask?” He rose to his feet, irritably, nonetheless maintaining a comforting hand on his wingmate’s shoulder vet. “Come on. Sooner we gather everyone together the sooner we can get out of this dust-bowl.”

Skywarp nodded his agreement, clambering to his feet and trying not to trample his injured wingmate in the process, and a pair of dark hands clutched feebly at him – don’t leave me, don’t go…! Stay with me.

Skywarp peeled Thundercracker off his arm, gently, then laced their fingers together. “We’ll be back, I promise. Okay? I promise.”

Hazy maroon optics gazed beseechingly up at him. Don’t leave me here.

“We’re not gonna abandon you,” Skywarp promised, softly, squeezing his fingers. “And we’ll make sure there’s someone to stay with you. Just gotta make sure everyone’s out of Megatron’s grip before we get out of here. All right?”

Thundercracker gazed at him for a few seconds longer before allowing his fingers to slacken, reluctantly. “…all right,” he croaked, hoarsely, letting his hand slip away. Now he’d found them, he really didn’t want his brothers to go running off again… but deep down his broken psyche knew there was more at stake than denying his need to be close to them. At least they’d shown him they weren’t angry with him. He could be patient.

“Look after him, Verity,” Skywarp instructed, and was pushing on into the hunt before Celerity had even had the chance to voice her agreement.

Verity?” the big femme echoed, confusedly, watching him rapidly dwindle out of sight, but he was already out of audio range.

A little set of fingers threaded through her own, and when Celerity glanced down she found Slipstream attempting to hide by her legs, fingers of his free hand up in his mouth. “Hello, Slipstream,” she greeted, gently. “How are you?”

“Suishies,” he observed, quietly, instead of answering the question.

“Hmm?” She followed his gaze, and found a number of those strange, soft-bodied natives had clustered closer, curiously. “They won’t hurt you when I’m around,” she promised, squeezing his fingers.

“Suishies want to take,” he elaborated, shaking his head.

“Want to take… what?”

“Me.” He retreated a little further behind her, still clinging to her hand.

“They won’t take you anywhere,” the big femme promised, gently. “They’re just curious, and they’re more scared of you than you are of them.”

The sparkling hummed uneasily; they didn’t look like the Squishies that had stolen him and Thundercracker away in the first place, but he didn’t like them watching him, regardless of their intentions.

“Come on.” Celerity scooped him up into her arms. “Let’s go and sit with Thundercracker, shall we?”

“Unnol Dack hurt,” he observed, softly, as they settled in just the right place for Thundercracker to lean up against the policebot without making it too obvious how shattered he was.

“I know. But we’ve got him now, and we can make him better.”

Thundercracker listened, quietly appreciative of the gentle words, and just… hoped.

0o0o0o0o0

Large and powerfully-built she may have been, but defending herself (and a sparkling) against three heavily armed Decepticon warriors was not what Forceps had been designed for.

The three jets had appeared a few astro-seconds after Starscream’s confirmatory ping that they’d found both Thundercracker and Slipstream, and they’d made it very clear they didn’t care who they had to go through to get to Footloose. The blue one appeared first, making some cryptic observation about recouping his losses any way he had to, and on his own he’d been hard enough to tackle, but when the other two showed up? It quickly went from trying to fend them off to just physically getting in the way long enough for Footloose to flee, and still the sparkling hadn’t taken the hint and gone!

“Why haven’t you got out of here yet?” Forceps exclaimed, infuriated, dodging a blow.

“Day said to stay with Ausep!” Footloose bleated, paralysed. She’d seen these three before, when they’d rescued Sta’zim out of the mud, and that time the Airlybots had come and rescued them! And she knew the Airlybots were about this time, but they hadn’t come to save them and what if everyone wanted her to get caught, really?!

“He told you to do what I tell you and I’m telling you to get out of here!” Forceps boomed, her expression black as thunder, and that finally convinced the sparkling to move.

Dirge had at last broken through the meagre defences and was advancing when a smudge of violet light advertised the little one’s vanishing act. “Aw, slag it.”

Ramjet was far from impressed. “Where did it go?” he demanded, watching as his wingmates finally took the initiative and claimed the femme as a prisoner. Maybe they could interrogate, or bribe their way to a success.

Forceps stared him out, boldly, not even attempting to struggle free from the pair that held her. “Away from you,” she replied, grimly, and got a punch in the face for her trouble.

“Where. Did it go?” Ramjet repeated, lowering his voice.

The blow had been hard enough to fracture her cheek, a thin streamer of energon outlining one of the seams between plates, but the surgeon still met his gaze, resolutely. “Away,” she repeated, using the same tone of voice that Ramjet had just used, “from you.”

Bad enough that he’d been sat on and half-crushed by that fat, stupid Autobot, but having this unarmed, Neutral femme mock him too? Ramjet saw red. “You glitching slag!” he swore, drawing back his fist-

A lance of brilliant purple drilled down out of nowhere and sliced a neat channel across the backs of all his fingers. He gave an unashamed yelp! of pain and promptly lost his balance, staggering into Thrust.

“Can’t the three of you do anything without it all going to the Pit in a handcart?” a familiar, scathing voice rang out from above. “No wonder even Skywarp outranked you!”

Ramjet gave a strangled howl of anger and threw himself at his former comrade, determined to pull his arms out of his sockets, like human children did to bugs.

Starscream smiled and gunned his thrusters, leading him away.

0o0o0o0o0

Siphon had followed the bulk of the Decepticon hunting pack down onto the flood-plain at a more sedate speed; self-preservation was (normally) one of his specialities, and getting his unarmed self stuck between the two factions here? Was not his idea of fun.

While the big guns were away in the distance, though, he could at least work on his own agenda! It didn’t take very long at all to track down the familiar face he’d seen earlier, and corner her between two of the low, whitewashed houses. “Well hello there, pretty,” he cooed, sweetly. “How nice – how unexpected – to see you again.”

“Y-you stay back,” Surefire told him, her pistol up and armed; she’d turned on the little targeting laser to let him know she meant business, but it jittered unsteadily across him.

“What if I don’t want to?” He stroked his fingers along her antennae, and she made a noise of distaste and jerked her head back.

“Don’t touch me,” she threatened, unsteadily, backing further away.

“Or you’ll do what?” Siphon’s lips pulled back in a smirk. “Scaredy little Deixar police, so used to everything being quiet and dull and predictable, you don’t have the first idea what to do when things get tough, do you?”

It was mostly accidental – but it had the desired effect. Surefire tensed up in alarm, squeezed the trigger, and shot the tanker in the thigh.

Siphon lurched backwards, swearing noisily, and the instant he made himself visible, Skywarp was onto him. The teleport exploded out of nowhere and crashed bodily into him.

“HA! Got you now, you stinking pipeline!” the dark Seeker crowed, triumphantly, pinning him with his weight. “You better be ready to meet the Unmaker, you filthy little blot of slag-”

“Don’t hurt me don’t hurt me it wasn’t my fault I was only following instructions!” Siphon squealed, instantly, putting his arms up in front of his face. “I was only doing what Cali told me!”

“Sure you were,” Skywarp sneered, unimpressed, closing his fingers almost tenderly around the cabling in his prey’s neck. “Cause you’re too stupid to think up a plan like that all by yourself, right?”

“I am not stupid-” Siphon bristled, then yelped as the probing fingers jerked quickly on a nonessential cable and tore it from its connectors.

“Say you’re sorry.”

The fingers were already plucking at another connector, connecting his positioning array to his core processor. “S-sorry for what?”

Say,” Skywarp narrowed his optics and gave the cable a tug, “you’re sorry.”

“I-I think you’re operating under a delusion-!”

There was another of those deep, painful yanks, jerking at components right across his chest, and his positional awareness flickered out.

“Last chance, Tubes.” Skywarp whispered, closing his fingers on another cable. “Next thing to go is your voice, and then what are you gonna do, hmm?” His hands sorted carefully through the assortment of wires and found the main energon supply line. “Or perhaps I should just let you see what it feels like to have your spark fizzle out in there…?”

Footloose’s alarm call made him jump, and distracted him before he could deal the killer blow – and her little siren seemed quieter than normal. Frag it. She must be getting tired, low on energon – which would mean she would be skipping shorter and shorter distances with her teleport. It was only a matter of time before someone nabbed her, and he better make damn sure it was someone friendly-

Siphon seized his chance and in the split-second that Skywarp’s attention wasn’t solely on him, thrust his nozzle hand upwards, like a weapon. He was badly positioned to catch the teleport’s throat, but scored a beautiful, vicious blow to his face, clean in his left eye.

Skywarp howled in pain and fell backwards, hands up over his face. Siphon bucked underneath him, disturbing his precarious balance, and the second the Seeker had slumped backwards, the tanker was gone.

“Are you all right? Skywarp? Sir? Are you ok?”

Skywarp stared up into Surefire’s blurry features for a moment or two, then nodded. “I will be,” he confirmed, grimly, using his fingers to examine the chip the tanker had gouged out of his optic. “Primus. Ow.”

0o0o0o0o0

This was not a nice place, Footloose decided, cowering just out of sight behind a plant and watching through the leaves as the pointy-headed silver mech prowled along the edge of the river, looking for her. No, not a nice place at all. It was dusty and dirty and full of Suishies, and the sand was getting in all her joints and vents, and the heat was making her fans huff with effort. And she’d got too close to the water for comfort, she couldn’t swim, and the mud was thick and sucked at her feet, and she was too tired to teleport very far. It was only a matter of time before they spotted her here.

She watched until the big silver mech vanished just out of sight, then took her chance, heading in the opposite direction – ughh, the mud was horrible. She’d never say no bath ever again, she resolved, wallowing through the knee-deep black murk. Not even if Ausep made her use soap. Had to find somewhere to hide. Had to find somewhere safe to sit until all the scary big mechs went away. There had to be plenty of little places that only she could get to, around here-!

“There you are! Thank goodness. We thought they’d caught you!”

The unexpected voice made her jump, landing on her aft in the mud; she’d been so busy watching for Pointy-Head to come back, she’d not seen the smaller, dirty-greenish mech approach from the opposite direction. She scooted away backwards, urgently. “Who you? Go way!” she squeaked, anxiously.

“It’s all right. I’m a friend. Your auntie sent me to find you,” the strange green mech reassured, with a peculiar lopsided smile. “Let me take you to her.”

Footloose stood, but dithered, anxiously. The stranger was holding out his hand to her, and he looked friendly enough, but... she wasn't sure about it. In one way, she felt like she should be scared of him, because he might be a bad mech and Cally had proved that some machines acted nice when they were actually not nice, but in another way she just wanted to be rescued out of the mud, and if he could do that for her, then...

“Come on, Button, quickly!” He leaned a little further, not wanting to get much closer in case he himself sank in the mud. “He’s coming back.”

She gave him an indecisive look. She didn’t recognise him, and he hadn’t come here with the Airlybots. But he said he knew Ausep, and had called her ‘Button’. Only her friends knew that name.

“Come on,” he insisted, in a growl, and there was a flicker of something frustrated and nasty and dark in his expression.

Footloose made up her mind. He was not a nice mech, and she should get out of his reach. She twisted to run-... but the thick, sucking mud refused to let go of her foot quickly enough, toppling her immediately into a fall. “Aih!” She put out her arms to catch herself, but had already thoroughly churned up the mud and her hands skidded away beneath her, landing her face-first in it.

The stranger’s hand flashed forwards, and long, spindly fingers closed around her neck-

0o0o0o0o0

Skywarp was seething. He and Surefire were hunting down between the low houses for that wretched half-fragged underclocked pipeline – the marksbot was tagging along behind to make up for the teleport’s visual deficits – but so far they’d found nothing. And Skywarp was mostly distracted, anyway, most of his fury directed inward, squarely at himself.

Just howstupid do you have to be, Skywarp? he wondered, grimly. You know you failed (spectacularly) at killing him properly last time, so what do you go and do? Oh yeah, that’s right. Gloat over him and let him escape again! And to cap it all, you yank out the little bastard’s positioning array, so you can’t even find him. See, you can bitch all you like but there was always a very good reason that you were just the grunt, and that’s cause you’re too slagging stupid to do anything on your own initiative without fragging it all the way to the Pit!

“Oh, Skyy-warp? I think I have something belonging to you!”

The amused, sing-song voice jerked him rudely out of his angry daydream. Skywarp skidded to a halt, alarmed, and turned… to come face to face with the very situation he’d been dreading.

Footloose was offline, probably sedated; her optics were dim, her limbs dangled slackly, and she was so filthy it looked like she must have put up quite a spirited fight, all through the mud at the side of the Nile. That wasn’t what made anger crash through his mind, however, obliterating almost all rational thought as it went.

No, what did that was seeing Siphon’s long fingers folded neatly around Footloose’s neck, and his nozzle hovering a fraction of a hairsbreadth from her slack lips.

Skywarp lurched forwards, expression as black as a thundercloud. “Now you’re going too far, Tubes,” he snarled. “If you don’t stop that right now-”

“Ah-ah-ah,” the tanker scolded, sweetly, finally setting his nozzle actually into the sparkling’s mouth. “If you value the health of your offspring… you’ll just stop right where you are. I’d hate to be forced to fill the little dear with poison… or whatever else I may have in my tanks. Cement, perhaps.”

Skywarp froze, instantly, hands curling into involuntary fists.

Siphon’s lips drew back in a satisfied smile. “There’s a good mech,” he cooed, sweetly, as though praising an animal. “Now get down on your knees, and put your hands behind your head, and I’ll let your dear little fluff-headed bondmate…” He paused, and cast a mocking look at Surefire. “…come and relieve me of the sparkling. We’ll discuss the antidote to the sedative once I’m happy you’re under my control.”

“Put her down first, and I’ll think about it.”

“No no no, that’s not how it works.” The tanker smiled, darkly. “Surely a Decepticon, of all mechs, knows the principles behind hostage taking? Either you do what I tell you, right down to the very letter, or your little one remains offline. Forever.”

“I knew I should have just killed you-!”

“But you didn’t, did you? Both times you had me, and both times you wasted the opportunity. Now get on your knees, or she stays permanently incapacitated.”

They faced each other silently for several long moments.

“What do you want?” Skywarp asked, at last, softly.

“What do I want? Simple.” Siphon quirked his head to one side. “You.”

“…me?” Skywarp felt the first needlings of genuine alarm prickling like static along his wings. “What for?”

“I have a score to settle. You left me for dead, at the bottom of the rift, so broken I could scarcely move, going slowly insane from the addiction I could not feed. It’s only fair I get to do the same to you.”

“I didn’t mean to leave you like that! You should have died-! Anyone else would have!”

“No, you should have made sure I was dead!” the sociopath snapped, jabbing his nozzle harder into the captive sparkling’s intakes; she twitched in spite of her sedation, apparently still able to feel pain. “Not abandon me to a fate that was worse! Now get on your knees!”

Skywarp clenched his jaw tight enough to damage the plating, but he did as instructed; settled onto his knees and put his hands behind his head. Good to his word, Siphon let Surefire dart in and claim Footloose; the sparkling remained floppy, like a badly-made cloth doll.

“Now open your mouth,” Siphon instructed, coldly.

Skywarp dithered, angrily. Couldn’t just do what-… but had to. Footloose sagged helplessly where Surefire held her to her chest; the Policebot shook her head. We’ll find some other way. Some other cure.

“I won’t give her the antidote unless you do as you’re told,” Siphon reminded, softly, attracting his attention back. “But then, I don’t know, maybe you’re glad to get rid of the little ankle-biter. Little Slipstream is so much more amenable to teaching.”

“Just-… get on with it,” the teleport growled, trying not to look as beaten as he felt, and remained still as the tanker advanced, smiling.

Siphon was about as gentle as ever – braced his fingers against Skywarp’s helm, and shoved hard on the other hand. Skywarp jerked backwards with a hiss as the tip of the nozzle scoured a layer of analytical filters off the back of his intakes, and voiced a muffled cry of pain as the toxic chemical shorted out a dozen more components.

His last view before the world went despairingly grey was of Thrust appearing out of nowhere and wrestling Footloose out of Surefire’s arms, giving the Autobot a good slug around the audios and sending her sprawling when she resisted. Smooth move, Skywarp. You knew he’d double cross you. Now he’s got both of you. You stupid fragging… underclocked brainless lump of old slag.

“…nnnn-…” he moaned, but too late. The sand jumped up to meet his face, and everything went out.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
gogglehead84
Jul. 13th, 2009 06:10 pm (UTC)
Oh no! D: Gah stupid Siphon.
_silverfox
Jul. 13th, 2009 09:24 pm (UTC)
You know, there are definitely too many coneheads ...
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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