Abi Scott (keaalu) wrote,
Abi Scott

"Future Tense", chapter 2

Title (chapter): Future Tense (02)
Series: Transformers, G1-based (“Blue” AU)
Rating: PG-13
Notes: DON'T. FREAKING. OVERREACT. Skywarp. Please?

Future Tense
Chapter Two

Slipstream wasn't difficult to find – a glittering chip of cobalt excitement, easily matching speeds with the policebike cruising leisurely alongside him, down one of Deixar's quieter side streets. He might not have Whitesides' practiced elegance, just yet, and often wobbled fairly dramatically, particularly when recovering from a corner, but he was certainly the older mech's equal when it came to the level of power in his fusion core.

Thundercracker caught them up, amused, and buzzed overhead; Footloose leaned down over his shoulder and shrieked with laughter at her twin, making the blue jet grimace amusedly.

"We'll race you, Slowmo!" she howled down at her brother, pinging him a location. "Bet we beat you to Screamer!"

Slipstream didn't bother to verbally acknowledge the challenge – being a groundling didn't mean he didn't have his father's harmonics or a powerful little engine core, capable of handling jet speeds. He simply gunned his engines and accelerated dramatically away in front, leaving Whitesides half-amused and half-annoyed (and spluttering grit out of his intakes) behind him.

Slipstream beat them all to the rift by a few body-lengths, with Thundercracker deliberately holding back just enough that it wouldn't be completely obvious he was letting the youngling win. The new little bike bounced on his toes and laughed exuberantly as his uncle glided in with his sister, thrusters pointed for a landing. "I win, I win," he squeaked, gleefully, doing big triumphant circles around them.

Still draped over Thundercracker's wings, Footloose pursed her lips, sulkily, and muttered something sour-tempered.

Her mood didn't go unnoticed by the big Seeker. "Come on, Lou." He nudged her under the chin with a knuckle. "You sure we can't persuade you to do like your brother for just a little while? You know from Auntie Lars that first alt mode doesn't mean only alt mode. It doesn't mean you're never going to fly, it just means you won't always have to hitch a ride when Seem leaves you eating his dust."

Slipstream nodded sagely, and she was already pouting and preparing to hit him, dropping back to the floor in the most threatening stance she could manage, anticipating a rude reply, when he spoke; "Come on, Lou. It won't be the same without you." He grinned. "Besides. Teasing you gets boring when you're an easy target."

She hunched her shoulders, somewhat humbled, and shot him a halfhearted glare. "I'll think about it," she mumbled, at last.

"Atta girl!" Thundercracker grinned and gave her an affectionate cuff around the audios. "Trust me, as soon as you get into that alt-mode, time will just speed past. You'll barely even notice that you're still on the ground."

At last, Whitesides pulled up, forcing a smile, trying not to look like his core was overheating from trying to catch up. "I'll have to get Ama to find some speed limiters for you, next time we go out," he grumbled. "Barely into your new alt and you're already faster than me."

Slipstream smiled sheepishly, and bumped heads. "Sorry, Whites."

Conveniently, the little group found Skywarp still lurking close to the Rift, as they approached; apparently still smarting from his squabble, and far too stubborn to take steps to apologise, but not willing to give up and go home quite yet.

"Day? Day!" Fotloose launched herself bodily at him. "Day, I changed my mind!"

Skywarp put up his hands and backed off, startled by the vehemence of the greeting. "You-... what? Changed your mind? Slow down, I don't-"

"I changed my mind, I want to be like Seem!" She attached herself around his chassis. "Can you talk to Sepp for me? Please?"

Skywarp arched a brow and gave Thundercracker a look. "What exactly did you say to her?" he wondered, amusedly, struggling to get a word in edgeways.

Thundercracker smiled, and spread his hands. "Just proved the power of the green-optic'ed monster, I guess? Can't bear for Seem to be having fun when she isn't." He glanced at the seismograph and sighed hot air from his vents at seeing a familiar wingtip protruding around one end. "Guess I'll go try and bully Screamer into going home. Again."

Skywarp gave him a dark look. "Yeah, good luck with that. Can you yank that stick out of his exhaust while you're at it?"

Thundercracker gave him a slap on the shoulder and a lopsided smile, and slipped past.

Starscream barely even glanced up at seeing his fellow Seeker approaching. "If you're here to heckle me, you can give up and go away now."

"I'm not here to heckle. I'm here because I've got an idea for you, and you never know, it might even not kill you. Just… come here a second..." Thundercracker set his fingers on his wingmate's wings, and pulled him carefully backwards away from his seismograph.

Starscream yerp!ed and flailed his arms, but rapidly realised his choices were limited to 'follow' or 'fall on your aft'. He elected to save his dignity.

"How about," the blue Seeker went on, using his lack of balance to steer Starscream around in a tottery half-circle, to face in the opposite direction, "you go home, get yourself a flask of high-grade, sit down, relax, and actually defragment for a change."

His wingmate's protests were strangely determined; he leaned hard back into the dark hands and dug his heels in. "I can't. I've got to work."

"Right, because the rift is suddenly going to open up to twice the size of normal and cause death and destruction all round in the process the very instant you take your optics off it." Thundercracker resisted the urge to cast his gaze skywards. "Remind me, how deep did you say you were saving, at the moment? Are you up to your senary storage, or are you already deeper?"

"I don't believe I said, and it's only quinary, thank you." Starscream elevated his nose, sniffily. "I can last another orn or two without needing to defragment."

"Without crashing and going into stasis, you mean?" Thundercracker sighed and fumbled with his subspace. "Well, I'm not dragging your aft home if you fall over, so... here. At least have this if you won't go home. You need it more than I do." He brought out a tall silver flask.

The red jet gave the container a suspicious look and tucked his hands away, up to his chest, as though at any moment it might jump up and bite him, and glanced up to meet his wingmate's gaze. "You're supposed to have intook that already."

"I know. Turns out I didn't need it."

Starscream narrowed his optics to a glare. "You better not be refusing fuel again," he threatened. "Because I'm not above sitting on you and pouring it down your intakes. I did it before, and I'll do it again in an instant-"

"No-o. I just got some from somewhere else." Thundercracker smiled in that gently chastising way he'd developed, and gave the flask an encouraging little wiggle. "Pan and I shared a glass or two of high grade. To celebrate me not being her patient any more."

Starscream's manner abruptly changed; his wings perked, he straightened up and his optics brightened. "What?" he demanded, a startled look knocking the scowl off his face. "When did that happen?!"

"Earlier today." Thundercracker gave him a wry smile, using his wingmate's surprise to slot the flask of energon into his hands. "You'd have found out sooner if you hadn't turned your pinger off, and were willing to you know, talk to Skywarp without getting into a screaming match over nothing with him?"

Starscream pursed his lips and backed off a step, muttering something that sounded like an apology. "Well I can't help it if he's a moron."

"And he can't help it if you're being a cantankerous old glitch who acts like he's got a spanner permanently jammed up his vent. Come on, it's not all his fault. Sure he winds you up, but if you actually defragmented for a change, you might remember you don't have to take it personally?"

Tired crimson optics narrowed down into a hot beam of irritation, but – miraculously – Starscream kept his vocaliser offline, for once, concentrating on uncapping the energon.

Thundercracker set his hand against his friend's wing and gave him a soothing pat. "You just need to find something to satisfy your ambition, so you don't feel the need to work yourself to an early termination just to keep your mind occupied," he consoled, gently. "Something worth your time to fight for, eh?" He grinned, wryly. "Something more than just us two losers hanging onto your thrusters."

Starscream gave him a reproachful look. "Don't force me to say I care about you." He waved a finger, threateningly. "Because I will not be blackmailed."

"Yeah yeah." The blue Seeker chuckled. "We know, and we'd never beg a confession of affection off you. Poor Warp would probably melt out something critical at hearing it, anyway." He patted his friend's wing, affectionately. "If it means that much to you, I'll keep an optic on this silly thing for a while. Just go home for a bit, Star."

"Please. Don't call me that?" The irritable sentiment was a little more genuine, this time.

"Why not? It is your name."

"My name is Starscream." The red Seeker glared tiredly for emphasis, and waved his hands. "Don't go... lopping bits off just because you've suddenly got the idea it's unattractive."

"You never object to being 'Screamer', and it's only since we came home you've started to object to 'Star'." Thundercracker observed, ignoring his friend's bad mood. "Ahh wait, I get it. It's what Skyfire used to call you."

"Stupid maladjusted concretion of spare parts." Starscream's voice descended into disgusted mutterings.

"He only wants to be able to talk with you again, without you threatening to shoot out his main power regulator," Thundercracker soothed. "I think that secretly, you want to be comfortable talking to him, too."

Starscream promptly sucked energon down the wrong intake and was reduced to spluttering for several seconds. "After he showed me up, in public?!"

"No, he tried to apologise to you before you could slope off without saying goodbye and he lost his chance altogether for the next few hundred vorns."

"In front of everyone! As if that wasn't a calculated exercise in humiliation…"

"I think even you know he's not quite that shallow-"

"…And he should have thought about the consequences before he kicked me to the kerb!"


"I know I know. Stop rocking the boat." Starscream glared down into the flask, sullen. "You're turning into Pan, I hope you realise." He gave it an irritable swirl, and took the most sparing of mouthfuls. "That's the only reason she signed you off, because she's happy you've swallowed all her ideals and now you're ready to go out and spread her teachings."

"Screamer? Please. You need to go home, and get some rest." For the second time in as many breems, Thundercracker steered the red Seeker in a gentle half-circle to face in the vague direction of their home. "I know you've not defragmented in about ten orns. You're going to have a breakdown if you keep this up."

"Well someone has to earn enough credits to keep us in enough fuel to fly."

"I know. That's why I'm going to help out, now I'm back on my feet." Thundercracker smiled. "I already had my doctor's blessing, a while back, and now I don't have anything they can use as an excuse not to employ an ex-Con? Hardline's got some posts he needs to fill. Said that he'd take my history of command into account, I could apply for a post at inspector level."

"That's what you two were sneaking around discussing last night?" The tension visibly melted out of Starscream's wings.

"Yeah. We didn't want to get your hopes up in case our friendly local tyrant- I mean, in case commissioner Boxer put a nix on it." Thundercracker gave him a wry grin. "Thought we were talking about you again, huh?"

Starscream stared down at his thrusters, irritably. "Well I had just spent a breem shouting at Footloose for being careless and breaking one of my databoards, and losing an orn of valuable work."

"…And that only annoyed you because it meant you couldn't spend all evening working on it, and had to sit with us instead."


"Only if it's not true." Thundercracker gave him another gentle push. "Come on, Starscream. Please? It's not logical to help me back to full strength if you self-destruct from overwork the day after, right?"

"All right, all right." Starscream put his hands up, defeated. "I'm going." Her was clearly tireder than he wanted to let on, because he was quite happy to amble along on the ground with his arms drooping. "…how's Seem?"

Thundercracker walked alongside him, mostly to catch him if need be. "I wondered when you were going to get around to asking me about him."

Starscream gave him a reproachful look.

"Yeah, the refit went well. He's just back from a run with Whitesides," Thundercracker confirmed, with a nod. "Completely outpaced the poor guy. Whites only caught up because Seem had stopped, and judging by their route I bet he's sucked a ton of dust up his intakes."

"So long as that's all he's been sucking."

"Don't you start, as well," Thundercracker scolded, amusedly. "You're gonna give the poor guy a complex."

"He's already got one." The red jet waved a hand, airily. "But then, don't we all?" He looked askance at his wingmate and pointed a threatening finger.. "Except you, of course." Pointing finger turned into a scolding waggle. "Better not have one, after all those credits we spent getting your brain fixed."

"Hey, guys…? Guys?"

The pair turned to find Skywarp approaching from one side; behind him, the Twins had gathered strangely close to Whitesides, as if uneasy.

Thundercracker gave him a curious look; the dark Seeker actually looked vaguely concerned. "What's the matter, Warp?"

The teleport pointed behind them, above their heads. "What's that?"

They turned to follow his gaze; in the distant sky, too far away to see clearly, hung a small dark dot, with an odd 'tail' stretching out in a gentle curve behind it.

"That looks like… y'know. Something falling," Skywarp added, grimly. "Right?"

"Right." Starscream pursed his lips, irritably. "And if it's a meteorite, it's of a pretty decent size, too."

"…is that smoke?" Thundercracker wondered, warily.

"We can figure that out in a breem. All I know right now is that I don't want to be underneath it if it is a falling chunk of space-debris." Starscream gave the non-fliers a glare, and a snapped command. "All right, you gaggle of staring idiots. Get out of here. Now." When they just stared at him, he threw up his hands. "I'm not above nullraying you and dragging you away! Now get a move on!"

That got them moving; Whitesides shooed Slipstream away, then held out his hand for Footloose, who dithered for a moment but soon followed them.

"We better retreat to a safe distance, too," Starscream acknowledged, irritably. "Why now, of all the fragging times the fates could have picked-…? Argh. I don't need this to add to all my other problems! I swear, if that goes anywhere near the rift I'll, I'll…" His words ran out into outraged mutterings, to hide the fact that he couldn't think of a punishment suitably heinous for a rock.

"Uh, Screamer? I don't think that's a meteorite," Skywarp commented, attracting his attention back. "I think it's a ship."

"And I don't think it's one of ours," Thundercracker agreed, trying to boost his visual field enough to get a better look at it before it got too close. "I'm not getting a response to hails on any frequency. It's either damaged, or – Primus forbid – alien."

Skywarp's optics brightened, suddenly interested. "Aliens?"

"Grow up, Skywarp," Starscream scolded, irritably. "You're not living in a B movie."

"In a what?" the teleport challenged. His brows had drawn together again.

"After all the television you watched, while we were on Earth... You have a greater knowledge of bad human cinematography than any human alive, and you don't know what a B movie is?"

"Guys, please?" Thundercracker sighed. "Does everything have to degenerate into a squabble?"

Skywarp gave him one of those uninterpretable glances that could have been anywhere between cynical and amused. "TC. Come on. Would it be fun if it didn't?"

The blue jet finally put up his hands, and admitted defeat.

The stricken vessel they were tracking didn't seem to even be attempting to slow its headlong flight – the sound of engines the three jets had been anticipating as it got closer turned out to be almost entirely absent. It came down hard on its belly in the ruins of an old building, in a derelict area on the Deixar side of the Rift, scattering scraps of oxidised metal and chunks of artificial rock in its wake. It skidded noisily through the heaps of old detritus before catching against a more solid set of broken foundations which flipped its nose dramatically back into the air, forcing Skywarp into a hasty scramble out of the way.

It finally groaned to a difficult halt with its shattered front-end protruding over the cliff-edge. For several long moments, it just… hung there, creaking, fighting vainly against gravity… until with a final gasp of straining metal it lost its grip on the edge, and the broken depths of the Rift obediently swallowed it up.

"Whoa," Skywarp commented, gazing after the plume of dust and smoke now rising. "That was exciting."

Starscream gave him a withering look.

"What? It was!" Skywarp threw up his hands and emphasised, jokingly; "It is alien invaders!"

Starscream pinched the brow of his nose and sighed theatrically. "Of course that's what it is, Warp. In fact, it's probably Triffids, or the monster from the black lagoon or something."

"The monster from the black lagoon wasn't strictly an alien, you know..."

"Sarcasm is just wasted on you, isn't it?"

Thundercracker slipped himself between them before the argument could get too animated. "Come on, you two. It's probably just a shuttle with a damaged communications array. We better check it out, yeah? Whoever it is might need help."

"Or we might be better served by getting out of the way, in case it blows up," Starscream sniped.

…the vessel turned out to be a lot smaller than it had originally seemed, falling like a stone from the sky with a plume of acrid smoke billowing from a scorched hole in its flank; the three Seekers lurking warily at the edge of the rift and gazing down on it were a little smaller, but not by a large margin.

"OK, so, that's definitely not one of ours, right?" Skywarp pointed out, needlessly, as though the alien writing and tiny hatches covering it weren't enough of a clue. "Where'd you reckon it came from?"

Starscream met his look with a little glare. "...why do you always automatically assume I'll know?"

"I was just throwing the question out there, Screamer. Besides, you might have known. You are the world's greatest explorer, apparently. Overreacting, much?" Skywarp rolled his optics and directed his attention back into the rift. He frowned, curiously, then perked his wings. "…whoa! Hey, look at that-!" Before his trine-mates could move to catch him, he'd gathered his feet underneath himself and pushed off the edge.

"Skywarp!" Starscream snapped. "What in Pit are you doing?"

The teleport caught himself in an untidy hover, a body length or two beneath them. "There's something come out of it!" he retorted, irritably. "C'mon, guys, you can't have missed it, it was huge. Down there, look." He stabbed an arm down into the rift beneath his thrusters.

"Where?" Thundercracker followed his arm. "I don't see anything."

Skywarp looked for himself, again, and grunted annoyedly at realising the thing he'd seen had in fact vanished behind one of the broken piles of jagged rock below.

"What did it look like?" Starscream chased.

"It was brownish, and kinda fuzzy." Skywarp frowned, consideringly, thinking back to his time spent on Earth. "...maybe we've been invaded by dust bunnies. Humans had problems with them, remember?"

Even Starscream couldn't help cracking a smile at that. "I think you need to look up the term 'dust bunny', Skywarp," he suggested, dryly. "It's probably just litter, blown in from further up."

The teleport made a dismissive pfft-noise, killed his thrusters and promptly dropped out of sight again. "Well I'm gonna go try catch it. You can dissect it and tell us what it is."

"Why do you keep doing that?"

"Doing what?" Skywarp's voice had a strange sort of muffled echo to it.

"Assuming I'll know?"

" 'Cause you know everything. Duh."

Starscream sighed and commented, to no-one in particular; "Well I'm not scraping you off the walls when you get yourself blown up again."

Next second, and he found out his attempt to send the Twins home had been rather a failure, as well, when Footloose appeared out of nowhere and flung herself off the edge, determined not to miss out on whatever exciting thing her sire was up to. She vanished in a flicker of lilac; she might not be able to fly but she'd had plenty of experience in falling off tall things, and a series of short hops with her teleport would get her down before she picked up much speed. Landing without spreading herself over too many square yards of ground had become one of her specialities.

Slipstream wasn't very far behind her. He gathered himself to jump after her; a morbid fear of flying didn't mean he wasn't just as good at getting down off things, and had as good a grasp of 'cascade teleporting' as his sister.

…unfortunately, before he could jump, Starscream's attention landed squarely on him. "Slipstream!" he barked, startling the youngster into a wide-eyed retreat from the edge. "You even think about following them, and I'll deactivate your transformation subroutines for at least ten orns. While you're in your alt mode. Got that?"

"But Lucy-"

"-is an idiot like her sire, and we're not talking about her. I said, got it?"

Slipstream nodded hastily; being trapped in that hostile crimson glare had a bigger effect on him than it did on Footloose. "Got it!"


Even if a mech ignored the unfamiliar writing on it, the vessel was clearly of alien origin, Skywarp mused, doing a cautious half-circuit around it. Its lines were sleek, albeit sort of bulbous in places, each plate smoothly welded together, lacking any hint of transformational ability. The gash that had brought it down ran almost full length up one engine pod, level with his face, revealing unfamiliar circuits and fuel lines and the heavy mass of a graviton core. Screamer would love to see it – maybe he ought to try salvage it first, then look for the hairball? He ran his fingers along the shredded metal, thoughtfully; the jagged edges reminded him of collision damage, rather than the intense heat of weapons damage. Maybe it had just took a wrong turn, out there?

He cupped his hands around his mouth to yell up at his wingmates – pinging them would be easier, but yelling was so much more satisfying – when something small, pale brown and fuzzy-looking darted between two rocks, diving for cover close to the wall of the ravine. He swallowed the words and lunged towards it, hastily, clipping a wing on the sheer walls of the ravine in his haste to try and see what it was. Definitely a creature, not just windblown debris!

As he rounded the little corner, however... the hole in the cliff became visible, and his enthusiasm deflated. Whatever it was... had gone underground. Skywarp fidgeted his thrusters, and glanced back over his shoulder, to check no-one had seen his wince. Good; no-one was watching.

The soft slap of shifting air as one of his sparklings appeared attracted his attention; he turned just in time to watch Footloose rematerialise a foot shy of the ground, and land with a thump and a squeak on the broken rock.

"Lucy," he sighed, watching her pick herself up. "What are you doing down here?"

She brushed grit off her knees. "I wanted to help."

"You mean, you don't want to miss out." He managed a glare, and pointed up. "It's not safe down here. You need to get back up on solid ground, and stay with the guys."

She gave him her most inoffensive, honest face. "Can't fly," she reminded. "And it's not so bad down here. Just... jaggy."

"You know I meant this isn't safe," he gestured to the alien spacecraft, "and I know for a fact that you've teleported up onto higher things than the top of the Rift."

"Maybe I just wanna stay with you," Footloose asserted, clinging to his arm. "Screamer just... yells about nothing too much."

Her expression was aggressive and her manner determinedly forwards, but Skywarp could feel her trembling and knew it was mostly a front. His mood softened, a fraction. "Well you better not be a brat, or I'll take you up there myself."

"I'm never a 'brat'," she argued. "I'm always good. It's just Seem makes me look bad, the little goodie-goodie."

"Yeah, Button. Funny how we never believe you any other time you say that, huh?" He patted her head, just hard enough to be gently chastising. "All right, for now you can stay with me. You'll probably raise Pit if you go back topside anyway. Let's just…" A quick glance at the jagged mouth in the cliff face put an awkwardness back into his manner. "…let's see what we can, uh, figure out. Might not be here for so long ourselves."

Footloose shrank back into his wings. "…what's down there?"

Skywarp gave her a glance. "You do know why I'm down here, right, Button?" He could hear strange, muted little clicks and squeaks filtering up from somewhere in the distance, and the gleam of tiny lights occasionally flashed in the gloom, but he baulked at the idea of actually approaching them. It was very dark, down there. Very... undergroundy. "I'm chasing aliens, right?" He steeled his nerve, and got the words out with only the smallest of winces. "Underground aliens."

"I know." Footloose bumped harder up against him, shivering. "I just... don't wanna go in there, Day. We don't have to." Her voice shrank to a murmur, and Skywarp could hear the soft sizzle of static in her voice. "Let's get Seem down here, little ground-hugger doesn't mind being underground."

"Hey, hey." Skywarp poked her nose, gently. "Be nice to your brother. You're the one who insisted on not-missing-out."

"I am nice. He doesn't deserve it," she grumbled, putting herself just out of reach.

Skywarp made an uninterpretable noise. "Not touching that one, spark." He advanced a step or two into the mouth of the chasm; it was juust wide enough to walk down without clipping his wings on either side. Okay, Skywarp, he reassured himself. The roof hasn't fallen in yet. It's all ok.

"Da-ayy," Footloose whined, shifting from foot to foot.

He glanced back over his shoulder; she was stuck at the threshold, as though there were a sheet of glass stopping her advancing. "I'm not gonna go far, ok?" he explained, holding out his hand to her. "Just gonna see how far it goes, whether Screamer'll want to get some remote scopes down. You can come if you want, but I'm not forcing you."

"What's the other option?" She dithered in the entrance.

"Same as before. You go back up to the top, and stay with TC."

The what, and miss out? in her expression was almost audible, it was so clear; she skittered forwards and wrapped around his hand, optics wide, uneasy. "Ok I'm going to stay with you."

"All right." He gave her little hand a squeeze, and advanced another few steps into the increasing gloom, boosting the sensitivity of his visual circuitry in an effort to see anything. Never thought I'd ever wanna be an Autobot, but a set of headlights would be reeeaally useful, right now.

-How going, Warp?- Thundercracker's nonvoice came over his silent inner communications channel. -Find the thing?-

-Gone down tunnel,- Skywarp pinged back. -Gonna follow for a bit, 'kay?-


-Yeah TC, tunnels generally are-

-Not coming to get you if you freak out- Starscream griped. -Can get yourself out.-

-Psh. Whatever. Not going far-

The uneven, jagged ground creaked and broke under two sets of heavy feet, as the two machines slowly advanced. The tunnel struck Skywarp as distinctly seismically-generated, not mech-built, which was more than a teensy bit worrying, especially after seeing Screamer's obsession over his seismographs earlier. If the Rift was active and they were stuck in here when it decided to all kick off…? I know he's fragged off at me, but he'll tell us if anything's going wrong, the teleport consoled himself. Besides, we'll probably hear it, down here in the bowels of the planet. He had to work hard to resist a shudder. Just a little further. Just far enough that Screamer doesn't have the chance to snipe at me for 'cowardice', or chasing shadows.

"Okay we can't find it, can we go back now?" Footloose whined, softly.

Skywarp glanced down at her; the glow from her greenish optics gave her face a strange nauseated look. "Just a bit longer, all right? I see little lights, up ahead."

Footloose peered into the gloom in front; she'd seen them too, but hadn't wanted to say so. "They're probably some natural thing," she suggested, hopefully. "You know. Swamp gas."

Skywarp managed a little snerk of amusement. "That explanation didn't work on that TV show, either, squirt," he reminded. "All right. We're not gonna get any closer to whatever they are anyway, are we?" The tunnel was narrowing a bit anyway, if he wanted to go any further he'd have to edge sideways through the gap ahead, and clamber over an uneven ridge of rock. Sure, the tunnel widened back out after the "squeeze", but he wasn't sure he wanted to go that far just yet…

Starscream's voice intruded onto his thoughts. -Warp? Get out of there.-

The teleport sighed to himself. One or two little panic-attacks underground, and Screamer automatically assumed the worst. -Not gonna freak out, Screamer. All ok. Found something. Relax, 'kay?- he shot back.

-Nothing to do with that! Ship's core unstable, might be about to blow, just get out of there!-

Skywarp froze, horrified. -What?!-

Footloose squeaked in alarm as her sire's fingers tightened around her own, and attempted to jerk her hand free, but Skywarp's grip was tighter., and when she later considered it, she recognised it probably saved both their lives. It stopped her running, which would have forced him to chase, right into the onrushing danger.

In the distance behind them, away in the open air of the Rift, a cough and a rumble marked the start of the chain reaction that was to obliterate what remained of the downed alien ship. Skywarp scooped Footloose up against him and leaped for the gap in front, unthinking; it was a tiny fraction too narrow to get through without the aid of his teleport, but the pillars of rock would shield them from the blast, and they could triangulate their way out later.

He'd barely rematerialised before something grabbed his left leg, and yanked him out of the air. He landed with a yelp, hard enough on his front to shatter the tough crystal copolymer 'glass' of his cockpit; it was a little miracle that he managed not to land square on top of Footloose. The little femme tumbled out of his arms and gave an unashamed sob of fright, skidding on her stomach across the rocks.

Skywarp seized her ankle and yanked her back under his wings; she squealed in pain as the rocks scoured off a layer of surface enamel, but he ignored it, tucking her right up close to his chassis and curling down over her.

A distant roar made the air shiver, and after an astro-second the firestorm swept overhead, condensed into a plume of intense heat by the narrow tunnel. The subsequent rockfall echoed up the tunnel, seeming to go on forever, a deluge of shattering rocks, closing off the mouth of the tunnel in the direction from which the two idiots that had dared to advance into its domain had come.

Only when the dust had settled and the sounds of falling debris had faded into a painful silence did Skywarp let himself uncurl from his ball; he thrummed his fans and coughed grit from his venting, and peered into the crimson-tinged dust-filled dark, looking for the green glitter of his little girl's optics. "Lucy? Button, are you there?" he croaked. "Are you all right?"

The vibrating little mound of dirty plating with a spiky, discordant electric field, tucked up close to his broken cockpit, proved to be Footloose. After a moment or two of gentle coaxing, she finally relit her optics and uncurled, and Skywarp was intensely relieved to find she was – miraculously – fine. His broad wings had sheltered her from the blistering heat and cascade of rocks. She was fizzing with concerned static, and all over him with careful little fingers, checking none of his extensive list of damages were going to prove fatal, but otherwise unhurt.

Content that Footloose was going to be just fine, Skywarp turned his attention inwards. Something felt very wrong. Not his wings, they just hurt where the heat had blistered the paint and crisped away a handful of sensors. Not his chest, either; so he'd smashed his cockpit, no big deal, there were no actual sensors there. No, the… wrongness… was limited to his left leg, and it didn't hurt, precisely… It just felt… cold. Heavy. Not even really like it was weighed down, it was just… like someone had snipped his actuators and left him with no motor control at all from the hip down.

…he didn't even have to look to know what the problem was, but he looked anyway. His right thruster was fine. His left thruster, on the other hand, just… stopped, abruptly, a third of the way down, where the rock started. He groaned, miserably, and let his head drop down between his arms; it was only the third time he'd ever done it – the first time had been bad enough that he'd never intentionally done it since – but he'd jumped without a good view of where he was going. And had quantum entangled his left leg with the rocks – literally mixed the two different sets of atoms of the two different objects together into the same place. The only way to get out? As there was no way of separating out the two sets of atoms? Would be to cut his leg off altogether. So until such a time as he could find a knife, he was trapped. Underground.

"Lucy?" He waited until Footloose had stopped checking his hurts and he'd secured her gaze before continuing. "You need to go to the surface and get help," he instructed, a lot more calmly than he actually felt. It took every ounce of self control just to keep the static from his voice. "And you need to do it the long way. This fissure should take you up, I can feel a breeze and you can follow it. No teleporting!"

"It would be quicker-" she protested, but he lifted a finger for quiet and she actually did as told for once.

"You've seen my leg, haven't you?"

She nodded.

"And you've got stuck in things yourself, before, right? Now imagine you misjudge things like I did and get yourself stuck too? Who's gonna find us? If you even survive it! So no teleporting until you're back on the surface and can see where you're going. Please?"

She whimpered and rubbed cheeks with him, nodding. "But I don't want to leave you alone, Day. Not hurt like this."

"I don't want you to go either, spark," he admitted. "But I want to get out of here, and if my transmitter's not broken? It's being blocked by all this rock, 'cause I can't raise the guys."

"If-… if I dug your leg out-"

"Lucy." He leaned his head against hers, felt her little arms go around his neck.

"Please, Day, there's got to be something-"

"The only thing you can do for me right now? Is go get help. Please. I'm not exactly gonna be going anywhere. Okay? Please?"

At last, she nodded, and scuttled away down the narrow corridor in the stone. At least, he consoled himself, there was very little likelihood of her getting lost; his little family might not be known for their brains, but their sense of direction was second to none.

As for you, you prize-winning idiot… you're all right, he scolded himself, watching as the green glow faded out and finally disappeared. You're fine. Aside from the thruster, you're not so badly injured. You're just stuck und- in the dark. No worse than a run-in with the Auto-dorks. So you don't need to overreact, right? Don't need to overreact. Come on, what would TC do in this sort of situation? He'd be calm and collected and remind you that you're not that far und-… undergr-… away from friends, all you have to do is wait for Lou to get back topside and they can track her positioning all the way back down here and get you out. Easy. Right?

…Could take Lucy a while to find her way up, though. And it could take 'em a while to triangulate where you are, though. And damn, it'll sure take 'em a while to dig all the way down here. All the way down here through all these-… all these rocks-…

He squelched his nerves, annoyedly, trying to stop his hands vibrating. Don't need to overreact, Skywarp.

And that's assuming Lou took your advice and kept her teleport offline! What if she went and blended herself with the rocks? Because damn, she's still got your impulsive streak and might still think she knows better than you!

Don't need to overreact. He closed his hands into tight little fists and offlined his optics, concentrated on trying to convince himself he was back on the surface. Come on, just 'cause you're out of the Cons doesn't mean you've suddenly gone soft. Right? You're gonna be a sensible, patient, reasonable mech, and not overreact or overthink or go crazy or anything. It's just dark, that's all. Dark and a wee bit und-... by some rocks.

A scuffle of something dragging through the dust – maybe soft little feet? – and a curious chirp? from nearby attracted his attention. Those damn fuzzy… dustbunny-alien-whatevertheyweres. He shrank back, hunching his wings, defensively. It was their fault he was trapped down here. If he'd not followed- what if it was a trap? What if they'd wanted him to follow?

The crimson glitter from his optics wasn't quite enough to see by, but there were definitely shadows, darting about in the peripheries of his vision. Shadows, and freckles of glitter where the glow of his optics reflected off… something. Lots of tiny eyes.

…There was something indefinably horrible about all those little eyes, fixed on him, creeping closer. Without even realising he was doing it, Skywarp flushed charge to his weaponry, just in case. Go down fighting, if I have to.

Please hurry up, Lou, he thought at her, silently. There's things down here and they're freaking me out...

His fans hitched, a soft little stutter of gulping noise that he found himself focusing on.

Don't need to overreact, Skywarp, he scolded, firmly. Don't. Need. To overreact!

But she could be dead. Merged her little spark with the rocks and fizzled out. That's worth overreacting about.

Oh Primus please stay calm!

Melting down here. No air. No breeze. Stifling hot, oh damn.

His spark felt constricted, a hot, swollen drop of lead in his chassis, trying to spill free of its magnetic bottle. Thudding pain accompanied every not-so-subtle shift in harmonic.

Going to die down here; you know that, right? Your spark is already losing cohesion, harmonic uncoiling, flickering out. And your stupid hands-… is that just the dark playing tricks? Are you sure they're not less brightly coloured than they were just a breem ago?

Something skittered across his wings – to the raw, abused sensors, it felt like a dozen little sets of feet, each tipped with a needle. He gave an involuntary cry of alarm and bucked; something squeaked angrily, very close to his audio, but the weight vanished and there was a soft thump as it landed in the dust.

Just get out of here, you giant lumpen idiot! Get out!

The words formed a drumbeat in his mind – repeating over and over, inescapable, impossible to ignore, a thudding cyclical pulse of intangible noise that seemed to go with every tiny shift in his spark's harmonic. Get Out. Get Out. Get Out. Get Out.

"…get me out," he pleaded, not sure who he was talking to. "Oh damn oh sweet Primus get me out of here…!"

Skywarp's tortured semi-logic quailed before the weight of the fear that had boiled up out of nowhere. But your leg- it protested, feebly.

-is disposable! Logic didn't really stand a chance. Shedding one broken body part was an acceptable sacrifice. It'd have to go anyway. And he wasn't sitting down here with dust-bunnies for any longer than he absolutely had to! get out get out

No knife was no barrier to escape, for the desperate. The flaring pain all up his thigh and into his back as he tore into his own substructure? Barely noticed. Connectors tore away beneath his frantic, clawing fingers. Energon spat from ruptured lines, coating the rocks and fizzing a lilac fluorescence into the gloom.


The instant his leg was free – the instant he'd shredded his way through enough connectors to tear himself apart at the knee – he went against every instruction he'd ever given Footloose and teleported himself as far up as he could possibly manage.


Pain flashed all down his insides – hard, cold pain, like his spark had frozen hard in his chassis, and he was momentarily convinced that he'd misjudged his destination and rematerialised inside something solid and this was it, this was the end and serve you right for panicking you moron-

…the world that obediently reappeared beneath his broken thrusters was reassuringly cool and familiar. Unfortunately, so was the gravity. The relief that he was physically no worse off than he had been a second ago, no more body parts melded with the environment, turned immediately into ohshit falling!

Skywarp gave an unashamed yelp of alarm and felt gravity close its fingers around him. The one thing almost as bad as being trapped underground, and he'd succeeded in shoving himself right into it! He'd gone from one bad situation to another one comparable in awfulness. His one good thruster was far from strong enough to keep him in the air; the scramble to remain airborne and save himself from any more damage was over almost before it had begun. All he managed to do was to slow his fall a little.

Thankfully, he didn't have far to travel. A few seconds of freefall culminated in a good solid whunch in a heap of old recycling; scrap metal cascaded briefly across his flailing limbs and pain jangled all down his abused, blistered wings, but it was short-lived.

For a full breem, all he found he could do was lay on his back in the junkheap and wheeze blissfully cold air through his venting, letting it flow unhindered through his chassis, soothe the agonising heat out of his overtaxed spark. The stars formed a reassuring, relaxing vista overhead.

You're not underground any more, and you're not falling.

He pinged a positional signal at his wingmates, but it felt underpowered. Probably sorely limited range.

Oh well. The worst that could happen was that he endured Screamer chewing his audios for a bit longer for being a moron, and Footloose's woebegone look for making her crawl all the way up and getting out before she had. He figured he could handle that.

Tags: - sbm3: future tense, character: skywarp, character: starscream, character: thundercracker

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