Series: Transformers, G1-based (“Blue” AU)
Notes: Pretty much have one more chapter to go on this one. I hoped to get it finished before November, because my juggling two stories just isn't going to be pretty - at least, it wasn't last year. Oh well! Roll on NaNo. :P
The first thing that flashed through Skywarp’s restabilising cortex was fraggit why did I have to go and die now?
What rapidly followed was the second thing, and that ran along the lines of wait… “thinking” means not dead, right?
Reassured by his little self-revelation, he coughed detritus out of his vents with a low thrum of his turbines, and briefly went blind again from all the whirling dust. Ow ow ow, wingies hurting. Where was I before the world blew up?
…the fourth thing which immediately sprang up in place of the relief was underground buried in rocks holy slag get out now-!
He lurched back to his feet with a sort of half-wail of dismay, flapping his hands frantically over his fuselage, as if trying to dislodge a thousand biting insects, spluttering half-angry half-frightened words. “Stupid-… stupid fragging-… undergr-… tunnels!” he scolded, not sure if he was scolding himself or Siphon or the walls themselves, or a combination of all of it.
Come on, quit all that fraggery, he scolded himself, standing with his fists clenched and his arms rigid at his sides, hopping from foot to foot and trying to soothe his shakes and calm down. It’s no big deal. You might have just got blown up at, but you’re still in one piece, and you’re still mobile. Autobots have done worse to you in the past, right? His pessimistic side added yeah but not normally underground, but he (for once) succeeded at ignoring it.
Not so bad, huh. He stared down at the piled stones, finally managing to unclench his fingers and have them not instantly begin to shake. The blast had been powerful enough to knock him backwards off his feet and into the wall, which had helpfully obliged by collapsing under the combined weight of Seeker and a few tonnes of rock, but far from powerful enough to significantly damage him.
Which left him thinking… was that it? Primus. The explosion had barely even scorched his exterior, had he not been underground? He’d have brushed it off and been none the worse for it. Screamer was right, it was so low-yield it was next to useless! Unless that wasn’t it, that had been some… some stupid… forerunner, a trick. The idea immediately made him uneasy; he turned full circle on the spot, giving the place a quick visual scrutiny, but no big device marked “bomb” was immediately obvious. In any case, getting out right now would be the best idea he’d had all week.
…but he couldn’t just leave, not if Lucy was still down here, buried and helpless under one of these heaps. He pinged for a location off her, unhappily – nothing came back. Which either meant she was out of range, or-… no he wasn’t going to let himself contemplate the “or” part. That was all kinds of deep that he didn’t want to think about just yet. He’d only think about “or” if he’d looked real hard and not found her, and as he was going to find her, “or” didn’t matter, right?
Have to see if there was anyone else about, he decided, once his fans had finally slowed back to a normal pitch. See if they’d seen her, knew where she was. Skywarp gave himself one last desultory pat down, just checking for any last bits of damage, then resumed awkwardly edging his way down the ruined corridor – so what if it was strewn with boulders and he had to resort to climbing, half the time, at least the lighting had mostly survived the explosions, and all the dredges of fallen sand cushioned his echoing footsteps! See, there was a- a… what did the squishies call it? Silver lining.
He was reassured to find he hadn’t been the only one to take a hit. Megatron was conspicuous in his absence, but the Coneheads were certainly still stuck down here, with Ramjet and Dirge occupied with digging their wingmate out of the rubble. Thrust had apparently taken the brunt of the explosion, because he was looking pretty well slagged, a long, thin shard of the purple alloy that had lined the walls now jutting like a spear out of the upper left of his chassis; the components that spilled unhealthily out around it suggested the shard had gone in through his back.
Thrust garbled something accusatory at Skywarp as he passed, but his vocaliser had apparently taken a whack and nothing that came out actually made sense, just a clattery bubble of mis-formed whistles and static. Dirge glanced up, following his wingmate’s stare, but instead of going on the offensive he offered only a disparaging sneer, and went back to digging. Ramjet had already cleared the bulk of the detritus away from Thrust’s left side, and didn’t even bother looking up.
Neither asked for help, and Skywarp didn’t feel obliged to offer it; Dirge had quite obviously passed him in the corridor to have got here, and hadn’t lifted a finger to help get him out of the rubble. The teleport happily left them to it; they’d be out in a breem or two, and good riddance.
The room that had formerly been the main control centre had presumably been the focus of the blast. It was mostly deserted, and thoroughly ruined; equipment was blackened, melted and smoking, the walls had crumbled, and the ceiling had given way entirely on one side, revealing shards of sunlight.
Mostly deserted, that is, except for… Siphon. Skywarp’s dreary mood took a sudden turn for the better. The tanker was well and truly trapped; a selection of rough boulders covered his left arm and both legs, and more of that surly purple metal had dropped like a skewer down through his remaining free limb, impaling his elbow.
The teleport smiled, and quietly admired the scene. “Wow. So Primus did catch up with you at last, huh?”
The tanker’s murky amber gaze flickered on, and he groaned pathetically. “It was that stupid fleshling, you idiot,” he creaked. “Not some… some divine retribution.”
“Oh, come on, from where I’m standing? It looks like a pretty nice bit of poetic justice-”
The tanker let his head drop back to the rubble, with a sigh of pain. “What do you want?”
“Well, I’ll be generous, and give you a chance to guess. You’re a smart li’l collection of parts, I’m sure you’ll get it.” Skywarp folded his arms and lounged against the wall, examining his fingertips.
Siphon didn’t bother to look up. “I don’t know where the little brat is.”
“Oh, so now you’ve worked out you can’t get what you wanted, she’s just a little brat?” Skywarp bristled. “Ok, fine. I’ll do you a deal.” He advanced a few steps. “You tell me where she is, and maybe I’ll leave you here a bit longer. You might just manage to wiggle your way out of trouble.” He leaned closer. “That’s what you’re good at, right? Even if it’s pretty much the only thing.”
Siphon met his gaze, boldly. “What assurance do I have that you’ll keep your end of the bargain?”
“I don’t think you’re in any position to be trying to make deals, do you?” Skywarp curled his lip in a sneer. “You should be glad I’m not taking advantage of that beautifully unprotected spark.” Purple fingers closed almost lovingly on a piece of raw, shattered alloy, plucked it up out of the detritus, and traced the jagged tip down the tanker’s chassis, just hard enough to fill the air with the scream of metal against metal.
Siphon winced at the sound, turned his face away.
“How easy it’d be,” Skywarp went on, tucking the end of his makeshift skewer into the hollow of the tanker’s throat, “to just lean on this, and… snip…”
Siphon tensed and tried to pulled back, away from the biting pain. “I don’t know where she is. I don’t know where she is!” he blurted out; the Seeker only had his weight propped lightly against his weapon, but it still felt like the slightest little movement – the slightest little “accidental slip” – and it’d punch right through his main motor complex.
“Better try harder than that.” Skywarp smiled, sweetly, and added his weight to the spar through the tanker’s right elbow as well. “Where. Is she?” he asked, softly, putting just enough pressure on the skewer to make it hurt, while the smaller mech whined and jerked under him, trying futilely to pull his arm away.
“I don’t know, I don’t know! Honest…! The human must have took her,” Siphon sputtered the words out, at last, gritting his denta in pain. “The verminous little glitch had been sneaking about all orn, I was about to ask him what he was up to when the world blew up.”
“Oh he must have, must he?” Skywarp curled his lip. “It’s nothing to do with where you might have snuck her away to, or anything?”
“Don’t you think I’d be in a better position to bargain with you if I did?” The tanker put on his very best, most pathetic face. “Please, I promise.”
“Puh.” Skywarp straightened, and speared the broken shard of wall covering into the sand alongside Siphon’s head, missing him by microns. “I’ll deal with you later,” he sneered, scrambling up over boulders towards the glint of sunlight he could see. “Not like you’re gonna go anywhere, and my wee one is more important than kicking you where you deserve to hurt. And hey, I’ll soon come back to visit if you’re lying!”
Siphon flopped back into the rubble, and groaned.
“…seriously, I can’t see anything,” Calibrator observed, pleadingly, for the umpteenth time, and Starscream had begun to strongly suspect that what she actually meant was ‘I’m not even looking now put me down please?’ “I don’t even know what I’m looking for. You don’t even know it exists. Wouldn’t it be better to just get out of here? Just in case? Please?”
“Why, Calibrator, you’re almost sounding – dare I say it? Afraid,” Starscream commented, in her audio. “You’re the one that bullied the little idiot into coming here, so you can stay until we find her.”
A low-powered positional request impacted his firewalls; Starscream turned his head at a flicker of lilac, and watched as Skywarp emerged from the ether.
The teleport glided up, and matched his wingmate’s airspeed. “Anything?” he wondered, half-heartedly.
Starscream shook his head. “Nothing,” he demurred, grimly, with a frustrated shake of his head. “Although Calibrator is really not helping.”
She cringed in his arms, but didn’t comment; being so high in the air had put a dampener on her apparent earlier drive to get herself slagged.
“And you blowing up Siphon’s base of operations didn’t help, either,” Starscream went on, half-teasingly. “Half the search teams dropped what they were doing to check what was going on and see if you needed digging out.”
Skywarp wrinkled his nose. “It wasn’t me did it,” he retorted, sticking his tongue out. “That stupid fleshbag booby-trapped the place.” He shot his wingmate a dirty look. “Thank you so much for your usual concern.”
Starscream made a dismissive noise. “You’re made of rubber, you’ve bounced back from worse,” he disregarded the concern, airily, then gave him a more serious look before Skywarp could get too bristly. “…no Footloose?”
Skywarp shook his head. “Couldn’t find her. I think the human took her, and I’m not getting a reply off her location pinger,” he replied, quietly. “I hope it’s not too bad a sign. I mean… just… hoping she’s out of range, you know? Or-or blocked. Not…” He dropped his gaze. “…uhm, not… in the really bad sort of trouble. You know.”
Not dead, Starscream intuited. “If she’s anything like her sire, then she’s absolutely fine,” he reassured. “She’ll have just picked a silly place to hide.”
“My hiding places aren’t silly, they’re imaginative,” Skywarp argued, sniffily, and returned his gaze to the desert. There was so much sand down there. It was all yellow and brown and dusty and dull, and she was probably as dirty as the… well, dirt. How was he ever supposed to find the little blip of spares down there? He pinged a positional request anyway, not holding out much hope for an answer.
…a little underpowered return ping responded to the request – garbled with electric distortions and impossible to pin down to an exact triangulation, nothing more than a very rough idea of which direction to head in to find the source, but it was a response! He stalled dramatically.
“What?” Starscream glanced back at him. “Everything all right?”
“I think that might have been her!” Skywarp concentrated and sent another location request, stronger this time; the response came back the same, feeble and garbled with electrical distortions, but whatever the human was using to block her signals, it wasn’t working very well and at least he had something like a location! If he got close enough, she’d see him, and that’d solve the problem of where she was! “I’m gonna check it out!”
“Don’t go do anything stupid!” Starscream cautioned, but Skywarp was already out of earshot, homing excitedly in on the signal. He sighed, irritably, and broadcast a message over the combined frequencies of the whole team. -All right, you lot, better regroup and revise our strategy…-
“Mits…? Mits? We not go find Ama? Mits?”
Rrgh. The little brat’s continual questioning was getting on Mitchell’s nerves. First thing he advised the Boss to do when he got it back to base would be to excise its damn voicebox. He swallowed down the desire to snap, and looked up to find her pointing at the helicopter; its engines were already singing noisily, its rotors swinging. “Soon, Footloose. Just let me finish here.”
He’d long since decided that leaving things incomplete would be a very bad idea. Sure, he probably could make a dash for it, but he’d probably also end up with a pretty angry fleet of robot-aeroplane-whatevers on his tail long before he got to the safety of the US, especially if he still wanted to salvage the wee one. Now he’d got most of the damn machines out of their little rat run, including the ringleader, he wanted to complete the job!
“But said to go to Ama!” the little femme protested, disappointedly.
“And we will, all right, hon? You just need to let me finish this, and we’ll go.”
Footloose examined the device the hooming was working with. It was an ugly-looking thing, in that horrible mean Decepticon purple-grey, and under the big circular lid it was shaped a bit like the “dough nuts” she’d seen Spike refuelling on. It had bits and pieces of Suishie writing on it, but she’d only learned to read the little bits of writing Spike had showed her and didn’t understand what these long words meant. There was also some Cybertronian, which she could read; ‘Experimental explosive device recovered from crash site 9-1-A. Low yield. Maintain in controlled environment.’ Experiment! That meant this was for making science with! But Mits didn’t look like he enjoyed science.
“What this for, Mits?” she queried, applying an optic to the small window in the upper curve and watching the little blue lights all blinking inside.
“Hmm?” Mitchell glanced up at her, closing the access panel he’d been tinkering about with as he did so. It was a clumsy silver box welded onto the side of the smooth, dull purplish torus, apparently having been added by the human scientists that had ‘found’/liberated/stolen the device, but it worked, and that was all that mattered. There was a low, sweet thrum as a generator started up, deep inside. “This is something some very clever scientists designed. It’s going to make this world safe!”
“How it do that?” she wondered, backing up so he could replace the lid and turn the ‘dough nut’ back into a sort of flattened sphere. “Is just hummy ball.”
“Oh, it’s a lot more than that.” He clasped her hand gently in his own and began to lead her away to the waiting helicopter. “It’s going to help us get rid of that mean old Megatron once and for all.”
She gave him a frown. “How we to do that? Megatron very big!” she reminded, glancing back over her shoulder at the giant silver mech in the distance, on the clifftop. As she watched, he waved a fist at one of the Airlybots, but his irritable shot went wide. Did that mean Day was still here somewhere?
“That’s right,” Mitchell agreed, attracting her attention back. “But this is going to be bigger! And get rid of him forever.”
She thought about the writing on the ball. Explosive – that meant it was a bomb, didn’t it? “It make a splosion?” she wondered, perking her head to one side.
“That’s right,” he confirmed, although he seemed a bit… reluctant? “Come on, Footloose. We can talk about it in the helicopter, while I’m taking you home to Mommy. Okay?”
Footloose didn’t like his tone of voice, but her desire to get back to Ama (because Ama would make the bad things go, and everything would be ok) was making it hard to think properly. Her little face pinched into a moue of concern and confusion. She was trying very hard to remember what little she’d learned from reading things at home and the telly visions here.
If the hummy ball was here… and it was going to make an explosion… explosions were… circles? And if it was going to destroy Megatron, who was quite far away… it would get to her family first because they were closer! Before it got to Megatron, it would kill Ama, and Day, and Dack, and Sta’zim, and nice Ska’fie, and Sepp and Hack, and Larry and Vecks and the Airlybots and everyone-!
Had to move the thing, she decided, hurriedly. Silly Mits had made a mistake! She had to fix it. Her little teleport gate wasn’t very powerful, but then this didn’t look too big and heavy… She could take it to the limit of her gate in the opposite direction to her family, and it could make its explosion where it wouldn’t hurt anyone it wasn’t meant to! She unexpectedly pulled free of his fingers and scampered back towards the device.
“Whoa, hey, wait-… wait! What are you doing, you little rat-?!” Mitchell chased after her, alarmed – Lordy, not now, not now! He grabbed for her, but too late – she had already engaged her gate. Robot, human and explosive all vanished from spacetime.
Footloose! At last-… The tiny femme had just appeared in his vision… when she unexpectedly flickered out of view.
“Aw, for frag’s sake-!” Skywarp had to fight the urge to kick something, landing gracelessly in the spot the little wretch had just teleported away from.
Okay. Okay, calm. He forced his fists to unclench. She won’t have gone far. Just… re-scan, work out where she’s gone, and go pick her up.
“Stupid hooming!” Footloose rounded on Mitchell the instant they rematerialised, up on the plateau behind the cliffs. “What do that for?”
“I’m stupid?!” he snapped. “What are you doing, playing with this? Don’t you get the concept of explosion?!”
“Know what explosions am. I move the ball!” Her little optics glittered angrily. “Stupid Mits put where will hurt everyone, not just Megatron!”
“Goddamnit-…” Good going, genius. Smooth move there, pandering to its curiosity – just because it acts like a toddler doesn’t mean it has the brains of a toddler. Now you’re going to have to just get out of here and hope those stupid giant robotic aliens think it’s dead. “Okay, we’ll leave it here, all right?” He tried to recover his lost advantage, gritting his teeth and forcing a gentle, reassuring tone of voice, trying to steer her away. “Let’s go, shall we? Come on, hon, let’s just do that clever teleporting thing you do and get us out of here.”
“Can’t,” she replied, sullenly.
“What do you mean, you can’t?” They were stood next to some kind of alien thermonuclear device and the stupid machine was having a tantrum?! “Listen, kid, you have to teleport us out of here,” he insisted, grasping her shoulders and giving her a shake. “You have to get us out of the blast radius, or we’re both dead, okay?”
“Have no fuel to get away any more!” she snapped back, shoving him off her. “Stupid hooming make too heavy! Fuel all gone.”
“What?!” All the colour drained out of his face.
“Must run,” she instructed, already heading back in the Amarna direction.
“We’ve only got a few minutes left-!” He chased her heels.
“So run fast, stupid hooming.” No wonder Megatron didn’t like them, she decided, listening to him complaining bitterly as he chased her. They always messed stuff up!
Footloose steadily increased her lead with every second; it helped that Mitchell was swearing at her and promising to do horrible things if he managed to catch her, which terrified her into a burst of extra speed. She’d covered a good three quarters of the distance, when there was a brilliant flash from somewhere behind them as the plasma percussive went off. She ignored the growing desire to squeal for help, and concentrated on running. She had just enough energon left that she could get over the cliff edge and to safety – but only if she was fast enough. If she stopped to cry out for Day, the explosion would get her – and so would Mitchell, she’d left him behind but he wasn’t slow and he’d catch her and do all those the nasty things to her!
But it was like trying to outpace a flash flood. The rippling shockwave bore down on them, taking Mitchell clean off his feet with a drowned scream of pain; Footloose just managed to keep herself upright, managed to clear another few dozen metres-
Seconds after the sonic shockfront slammed into them, the superheated compression front caught up; a pressurised bubble of angry yellow-white superheated gas. At the very margin of her overloaded hearing, Footloose caught the tail of an abstract, fracturing scream from behind, as every bone in Mitchell’s body turned to powder, just before his lungs imploded, but his remains vaporised before the charcoal that was left could even hit the ground. Then the front caught her, too; instantly crisped off her enamel and hurled her like a doll; bounced her across the sand and left her tangled in a little heap behind it.
The sparkling managed to regain her footing for three more automatic, tottering steps away from the crater of black glass behind her, before collapsing face-down on the glossy bubbles of what had once been sand. Half of her secondary and tertiary pumps had failed simultaneously, and her primary was sticking on every fifth or sixth revolution, the sensitive polymers warped and melted by the intense heat. Energon had vaporised and crystallised in her lines, and sand was sticking all over her overheated exterior.
Hurts, her stunned little brain said. Needs fixings. Find Ama. Find Day. Find fixing.
She let her blurry optics offline, and broadcast as broad-spectrum a ping for help as she could manage.
Skywarp had already been homing in on another of those semi-useless little directional pings when a blinding and worrisome flash of intense light from the same direction caught his interest. He put on a burst of speed, gunning his thrusters, alarmedly-
He crested the cliff only to be dealt a smart backhander by the blast front – far more powerful than those silly little devices in the tunnels – which sent him spinning out of control backwards. He’d caught himself and pulled out of his inverted nosedive just before he could destroy another stand of date palms – fraggit, second time today! Primus, if I deserve a slagging, could you, y’know, do it after I’ve rescued the Button? But Primus had other plans, it seemed, as the great bubble of plasma finally expended the last of its fury in the hostile, late-afternoon Egyptian sky, and a tiny, faint little wordless request for help please followed it off the cliff.
He chased the faint little ping, already feeling awkwardly wobbly – well, she was alive, because she’d managed to call out, right? But in what sort of condition was he gonna find her? Primus, please-… he crossed his fingers arrived at his destination to find… the person he least wanted to see with her, on the margins of the melted sand. Before his horrified gaze, Megatron stooped, and when he straightened… a slack little dark-coloured doll hung from his fingers. He landed with an awkward urgency, almost tripping over this own thrusters in his haste, not entirely sure what he planned on doing – bludgeoning Megatron seemed like a spectacularly bad idea, but what else was he gonna do? Bargain with him? Skywarp would have laughed at the idea, if it wasn’t such a bad time.
“Well well. Skywarp. You made it, albeit late as usual,” Megatron commented, dryly, and gave the Seeker’s outstretched hands a curious look. “Are you trying to bargain with me, or just plead forgiveness?”
Skywarp glanced down at his palms, not even remembering when he put his arms out. May as well leave ’em there, now. Not like I can look any more stupid. “I just-… I just want Lucy. That’s all.” He tripped over the words.
“And your new friends are here to ensure I do, is that it?”
Skywarp followed the warlord’s gaze down to the sand below, where at least half a dozen others had gathered, and more were still arriving, gathering by a little stand of palms a hundred or so yards away. He could hear Starscream coming in to land behind him, too. Whether they’d all been attracted by the blast, or whether they’d seen Megatron, Skywarp found he didn’t really care. He consoled himself that they would be there to act as backup, not just nosey onlookers.
“Please. I don’t wanna fight you,” Skywarp said, quietly, trying not to let his outstretched, upturned hands shake. Any minute now, that enormous frickin’ cannon is gonna obliterate my midsection. “I just want my little one back.”
Megatron glanced briefly down and sideways at the sparkling in his large hand; his fingers were just tight enough around her neck to stop her falling to the floor, and she hung from her scruff like an unhappy marionette made of soot and old rubber, limbs slack where its strings had all burned through, whimpering very softly.
Before the teleport to jump to defend himself, the warlord stretched out his arm and took a step or two forwards… and deposited Footloose roughly against Skywarp’s chest. The Seeker startled, and jerked his arms up around her before she could slump to the floor. It was only now, finally safe in her sire’s arms, that she began to cry; soft little burbling staticky sobs of hurt and relief.
“She needs medical attention,” the warlord instructed, grimly. “Get it for her.”
“I will not tell you again, Skywarp. Go!”
Skywarp didn’t need telling a third time; he was gone like a streak of dark lightning, bawling for a medic as loudly as he could get his vocaliser to go.
Which left Starscream alone (and uneasy) with his former leader atop the cliff. The jet was just gearing up to make his insults and run for it when the silver giant broke the silence.
“This will be the only time I say this, Starscream,” Megatron said, unexpectedly quietly. “You and your brothers have two options. You may return to my ranks, and all will be… forgotten, to a certain degree, although never forgiven. Or…” He gave his former second a hard look. “You may go your own way.”
“What’s the catch?” Starscream challenged, softly, and folded his arms. Arguing over the familial epithet seemed pretty pointless, at this stage in the game.
Megatron matched his stare. “Simple. Never again will any of you be permitted back into the faction. You will be given no quarter, no forgiveness, no chance to plead your case – you will simply be shot dead. This time will be the only time you ever walk away from me as an enemy and unharmed.”
“How generous of you. The sparklings must have rubbed off on you,” Starscream sniped, daringly, at which Megatron shot him a glare, but all his weaponry remained offline; seemed he was serious enough about his offer, at least.
Wearily, the warlord glanced down at his feet, his one admission of something akin to sorrow, before speaking again. “The irony of this is not lost on me,” he admitted, quietly, and chuckled, bitterly. “I am very nearly pleading with you not to leave my side. All the times you crawled and begged for another chance, I never thought I would find myself in the same position. You must have knocked some bolts loose, the last time you stabbed me in the back.” He forced a bitter smile. “But – as I said to Thundercracker – you three were all valuable assets to my campaign. I would rather welcome your treachery back than lose you to a side where I have to destroy you, and I would rather have you return through choice than because your hand has been forced. If that requires, ah… certain agreements be made… I am willing to make them. To which end, Skywarp’s… offspring…” He paused, long enough to make a face that spoke volumes about his distaste at the idea of Skywarp procreating. “…may return home.” Beat. “I don’t want such unruly little specimens in the faction.”
Starscream just stared, for several long moments.
“Have I finally found the key to getting you to shut up, Starscream?”
The red Seeker didn’t qualify the jibe with an answer, glancing instead back down at the desert; in the middle distance, Skywarp had accosted Forceps and thrust Footloose into her care, and was now busy getting in the way under the pretence of “helping”. Thundercracker – still looking after and being looked after by Slipstream – had his chin up and his arms folded across his chassis; he looked back at them out of dim but defiant maroon optics. His one good wing was in just the right place to make a barrier between Megatron and the others; it was little more than a warning, because even the diminutive Surefire could probably have pushed the injured Seeker over, but the sentiment it espoused came through loud and clear. You want them, you’ll have to get through all of us.
At least someone knows what they want, Starscream mused, grimly. The idea of actually turning away from something he’d fought for so long was like a kick in his power regulator, or a slug of bad energon that rippled ugly feedback through his chassis. It was like accepting defeat, which was particularly distasteful after the vision of his former leader chewing out a request for him to stay. If he said “thanks, but no thanks”, Megatron had won. All those countless millennia of struggle, trying to prove he was as good as he said he was and genuinely better than their bucketheaded so-called leader, would have been for nothing. Just another long-term pretender to the Decepticon leadership, ultimately incapable of living up to his boasting, and defeated just like all the rest.
But-… he couldn’t drag his wingmates back into it, and they’d effectively just confirmed as much with their actions. If he re-challenged Megatron, this time it would be alone. The trine would be broken, and for no reason better than “Starscream’s bull-headedness” – and he sorely doubted Thundercracker would manage to pull through without all three of them staying together.
Swallowing down the pride that was making the words stick in his vocaliser, Starscream lifted his chin and affected his usual superior sneer. “We’ll take our chances,” he answered, at last. “We’ll do better out there and away from your so-called leadership than we will in this stagnating, decrepit old faction.”
“Very well,” Megatron inclined his head, and actually looked… disappointed. For all of a second before the glare and hooded brows came back. “Just stop pushing your luck!”
When the police chief finally tracked him down, Starscream was sitting perched on the remains of a wall in the human village, his head propped between his hands, his elbows on his knees. He looked… well, despondent didn’t look like it was too far off the mark.
The only thing that actually moved was the jet’s optics; his gaze came up off his feet to give his visitor the briefest of scrutiny before dropping back down to the sand. “Hardline.”
The Policebot didn’t bother asking are you all right, because the former Decepticon clearly wasn’t. Instead, he walked over, his ponderous steps making the ground shudder, and eased his bulk carefully down onto the wall beside him. “So. Given any thought to what you’re going to do now?” the tank wondered, amiably.
Starscream snorted a raspberry through his vents, then pursed his lips, and shook his head. “Plenty of thought, and for all my smarts, I honestly have no idea,” he sighed, tiredly, watching the humans scurry about and get things tidied up. “I don’t know there’s anywhere we can go. We couldn’t go home, even if we wanted; I think we’ve finally exhausted Megatron’s stock of second chances. And we can hardly go live with the Autobots!” He actually laughed at the idea, although the sound was the harsh creak of a metallic crow. “That would be the joke of the vorn.” He affected his most dramatic voice, and intoned; “Ultimately defeated by the better warrior, Starscream gives up trying to oust Megatron from the top spot, and decides to go for Optimus’ position instead.”
Hardline chuckled, although it had an offhandedness about it. “Well… we’re still looking for a forensics lead, you know,” he commented.
Crimson optics slid sideways to meet azure ones. “What?” The red jet’s tones were uninterpretable – not sure if he should be suspicious or surprised.
“Winnower’s been trying to maintain the post, but the fact is he’s just not got the expertise,” Hardline went on, feigning oblivious, lifting a foot out of the way so one of the humans could retrieve a sheet of corrugated iron from underneath. “And we’ve not been able to recruit anyone else, yet. Whether we don’t have enough specialists around, or the district is too quiet for anyone to want it, no-one’s worked out. The pile of unsolved cases on Boxer’s desk is pushing him towards a-… what’s the term? Nervous breakdown. And the senate – what’s left of it – is leaning harder on him for results.”
“Remind me why this is even worth the amount of my time I’m spending listening to you talk about it,” Starscream growled, although he didn’t sound quite so imperious and angry as he wanted.
“Well, it’s got all the things you need, at least in the short term,” the tank reminded, gently. “No-one says you have to stay, if you don’t want – it’s just a way of making a few credits to support yourselves while you’re recovering, and it’s better than living in a warehouse and scraping by on what you can steal. Pluuus… you’d have a command. Lots of little underlings to boss about. Power to influence society. Respect. Somewhere to play at being mad scientist. And we’re, well… I hate to say friends, as such, but we’re not quite all-out killing-each-other enemies just yet either. Right?”
Starscream returned his stare to his thrusters, and made a dismayed face, reluctantly forced into actually considering the offer.
“Besides.” Hardline gave him a more serious look. “There’s a portion of society believes you still owe them something – without getting into the semantics of which side is actually in the ‘wrong’, in a war like this… they want apologies for war crimes, and this could be the ideal way of making amends. At very least, it’d silence the naysayers, for a little while.”
“That’s assuming we feel obliged to work for the good of society.” The jet lifted his chin, challengingly. “What has society ever done for us, except mould us into the bad guys? Kick us to the bowels of Kaon, pinion our wings, force us to Megatron’s side because he was the only one who didn’t want us grounded?” He narrowed his gaze, crimson burning hotly out from under his brows.
Hardline inclined his head. “For that, I’m sorry,” he accepted, quietly, and shrugged, apologetically. “I know it's not much, coming from one big idiot who managed to skip over most of the war by living where no-one really experienced it, but... Maybe we should ignore the semantics. Apologies for war crimes, puh. I suppose we're all criminals, just by merit of being at war. Maybe it's just... another chance, I suppose. I know Sepp wants the three of you to succeed,” he admitted. “She’d never openly say it without an aft-load of semantics to hide the sentiment, and she’ll probably chew my audios off for me telling you…” He smiled, lopsidedly. “…but she’s said a couple of times that she thinks you deserve a second chance. Frag, I do, too. You’re not so bad as Autobot scandalmongers say you are. Just… different principles, right? We were all still working for the good of Cybertron, even if we were squabbling over how we did it.”
Starscream made another of those non-committal sounds that could have meant anything, and lifted his head to watch Skywarp approaching, a small foil-wrapped cluster of what looked like bits of coal snuggled against the top of his cockpit, its scorched little head up under his chin. “What about you, Warp?” he challenged, glumly. “Any ideas where we go from here?”
“Eh?” Skywarp gave him a puzzled look. “You run out of smarts, or something?”
Starscream wrinkled his nose in a self-deprecatory sneer, and nodded. “Megatron’s given us – given me – an ultimatum. We’re targets to shoot at, as of now, unless I can put some sort of spin on all this that means he changes his mind.”
“Well, I guess you could try wiggle it so we’re back in the faction.” Skywarp parked his aft by his wingmate’s feet. “But y’know, I’m thinking it’s not so bad out here, anyway. We ain’t really done much as Decepticons in the last vorn or two, have we? Not made any ‘significant advances for the faction’,” he snorted humourlessly at the idea, “unless you count stealing a cube or two of energon from under Auto-dork noses. Back home, everyone’s kinda forgotten the war, it was so long ago that anything really happened, and…” He shrugged, with one shoulder. “The only ones still interested in fighting are Megs and Prime. Why should we get shot at on his behalf? Not like he gives a flying frag about us. Might as well just go home, you know?”
“ ‘Home’?” Starscream challenged, gently. “Where are you defining home as, Warp?”
“Cybertron, obviously. Duh. Where are you defining it as? ‘Autobot Central’? ” Skywarp poked out his tongue. “You only wanna stay there ’cause you want to get jiggy with Skyfire.”
Starscream’s expression grew more thunderous. “…if you’re seriously inviting a punch in the faceplates, there’s easier ways to do it.”
Skywarp thumbed his nose at him.
“Even if going home meant getting a ‘proper job’, and working for a living?” the former Air Commander challenged. “No slacking off, no pranks, no afting around when you should be working?”
Skywarp looked up and met his commander’s gaze. “You know what? Yeah. I want to do something, for a change,” he confirmed, unexpectedly. “You know. Actually do something, even if it’s some old official smelt back on Cybertron, because frag, it’s home. No squishies, no sand, and no mud. Primus, I have never had so many freaking baths as I have since waking up here.”
Even Starscream managed a smirk at the last sentiment. “You’re never going to be a model of cleanliness, are you, Warp?”
Skywarp snorted and deliberately leaned his weight back against their knees.
“How’s the wee one?” Hardline wondered, softly, changing the subject to something a little less controversial. He brushed a large finger over the stubby little antennae, melted short by the heat of the blast.
“Needs a lot of work doing, but she’ll be all right,” Skywarp replied, with a lopsided grin. “A lot of it’s jus’ cosmetic, anyway, the blast didn’t go on long enough to heat her core up too much. Now she’s cooled down a bit, her pumps are running better. Sepp says she must be made of rubber, ’cause she bounces back quick.”
Hardline chuckled. “Having seen some of her more spectacular falls, I’d agree with that.”
“She’s like her Day. Can’t keep a good machine down.”
“Well.” Starscream levered himself to his feet, deliberately leaning hard on Skywarp’s shoulder to push himself up; the teleport made semi-outraged noises and tried to jerk the blue hand off him. “Whatever we’re going to do, we better get out of this dust-bowl, so long as we have enough transports to carry everyone. This is not the place for getting fallen comrades back on their feet…”