Abi Scott (keaalu) wrote,
Abi Scott

"Future Tense", chapter 7

Title (chapter): Future Tense (07)
Series: Transformers, G1-based (“Blue” AU)
Rating: PG-13
Notes: Whoa, two updates in under a month? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, WOMAN.

Future Tense
Chapter Seven

Thundercracker waited until the last of Pulsar's sharp little footsteps had faded from audio range before sighing and shaking his head at the dark wings sprawled untidily out in front. Some things never change, huh Skywarp?

"Wake up, Sleeping Beauty." He picked a swab out of the trolley of equipment, and used the soft end to flick at Skywarp's remaining thruster, where he knew he was ticklish. "It's time for your closeup."

The response consisted of a mostly unintelligible mutter and a small shift in position, and not much else.

"Come on, Warpy. Wakey wakey." He delivered another swat to his thruster, then switched the swab around and used the hard end to ping him instead. "Or I'll just roll you off the berth."

Skywarp finally grunted and lifted his head. "...huh?" He stared at the wall for several seconds, before craning his neck to look for his assailant. "Oh, it's you." Seeing it was only Thundercracker, he promptly let his head drop back to the berth. "What now?"

"Good morning to you too, you lazy aft," Thundercracker agreed, dryly. "Come on, rise and shine." Flick. "I'm not waiting all day for you."

Skywarp flopped his arms and grunted. "...wanna help me up, here?"

Thundercracker tch!-ed, and caught one of the flailing limbs. "You useless article," he scolded, amusedly. "You're not that badly injured."

"And you're gulli-… I mean, nice enough to help me." Skywarp peered around himself, curiously. "Where's Squeaks gone?"

Thundercracker helped him sit, carefully. "Probably to talk to her superior, seeing as she was snuggling with you in preference to actually, you know, doing her shift."

Skywarp couldn't quite hide the little smile that split his features. "Um, that is... I mean, oops?"

"Yeah, 'oops' I'm sure."

"Ha." Skywarp got comfortable on the edge of the berth and swung his thruster, then added, unexpectedly; "She said she missed me, TC."

He sounded so genuinely confused by it; Thundercracker gave him a funny look. "Well of course she did. You sound surprised…?"

"I am, kinda." Skywarp shrugged, and wrinkled his nose. "I mean-... if it wasn't for the bitlets, she prolly wouldn't even remember me." After another of those awkward pauses, he added; "I'm surprised they remember me."

"Oh, pssh!" Thundercracker laughed and gave him a friendly shove. "Lay off the melodrama, eh? Of course they remember you. Besides, your little minions used to worship the ground you walked on, remember?"

"Yeah – used to, until I vanished."

"You know that's not what I meant, glitchy."

"Yeah but come on, TC. It's like asking a squishy human to remember someone they knew for like, a breem or two, a whole lifetime ago. After all those thooousands of vorns we've been alive, I was like..." Skywarp hunched his shoulders, and folded his arms – although it looked a lot more like a sort of protective self-hug than he intended, "some tiny, insignificant blip in their lives. Little Stupid who just spends all his time in the way and messes stuff up."

"Skywarp," Thundercracker scolded, gently. "You know Screamer calls you a nuisance because that's just how he is, not because you actually were in the way. I'd be the first one to get suspicious and check him in with Pan if he suddenly began to gush with outpourings of troo wuv."

Thankfully, Skywarp snorted an involuntary burst of laughter. "You telling me I didn't always get in the way?"

"Not always, no. Occasionally, at most. Besides, you really think we cared about that?" The smaller jet rested his hand on his bulkier wingmate's shoulder. "You're our brother," he reminded, soberly. "Family. We missed you, they missed you. And yes, we missed you getting in the way, too." He waited until he was sure he had the teleport's full attention before adding; "kinda hard to get over losing your best friend, you know?"

Skywarp looked away, guiltily, unable to think what to say in response – what did you say to that? He studied the privacy screen, instead, but it didn't help make him feel less awkward. "Uh-... Does Lucy come in very often?"

Thundercracker followed his gaze; an abstract little paramedic-green shape was moving about in the bay, made fuzzily indistinct by the screen, far too short and square to be Footloose but apparently samey enough to remind Skywarp of her. "Occasionally. Usually when she's getting towards the tail end of her shift. Why?"

"Just-… hoping I've got longer to try and work out what to say. Y'know?" Skywarp gave his friend a woebegone look, and added, quietly; "I was kinda mean to her."

"...so just say sorry. She'll understand. She bounces back from things just as quickly as you do."

"Yeah? I guess. I just-..." Sigh, fidget. "...I mean, I don't want to go hurt her feelings again, but-... I don't even see her as her, you know...? Not my little brat. Not yet, anyway." Skywarp examined his hands, and the scuffmarks his sparkling had left on his fingers. "Lucy's supposed to be little and sending everyone crazy with her demands to fly, and the femme who jumped me was just some..." He waved a hand in an effort to conjure up the words he wanted. "...well, just some big, crazy femme who jumped on me."

"She's not so different to how you remember her, Warp. Just... bigger and slightly easier to understand. Just as enthusiastic as ever." A small smile tugged at the pale features. "Somehow, she's always managed to be first to get wind of 'your' arrival, and come to jump on you. We never have worked out how she does it. The medics here must be even better at gossip than Whisper."

At least that drew a small, pleased grin to Skywarp's face. "Better at gossip than Central's drama-hounds? Somehow I don't believe you."

The rattle of hollow heels sounded briefly outside, and a familiar face appeared around the screen. "Ah, good." Starscream's dark features split in a sort of half-relieved, half-reluctant smile. "You're awake. Ready to go?"

Already a little startled, Skywarp shrank back, involuntarily defensive. "Go where?" he challenged, suspiciously.

Starscream directed an accusatory glance at his blue wingmate. "You didn't tell him?"

"I only got here in the last couple of breems, myself," Thundercracker defended himself. "Forty vorns made you forget how hard it is to pry Warp from his beauty sleep, sometimes?"

"Much as I would like to agree that he needs plenty of it-..."

Skywarp made an irritable noise and flicked the discarded swab at Starscream; it sailed jauntily end over end and stuck like a flag in the target's left shoulder joint. "Go where?" he repeated, watching as his wingmate grimaced and plucked the offending implement out.

"To theatres." Starscream fixed him on a stare of sufficient seriousness that Skywarp got fidgety, and felt halfway inclined to snigger uncomfortably. "I've spoken with the head of surgery, and this is the last orn they're going to be able to squeeze you in between scheduled surgeries for the next ten, or so."

Skywarp wrinkled his lip, insulted. "Squeeze me in?" he echoed. "Thanks, that makes me feel real important. What are they gonna do, use cardboard and epoxy?"

"Well you can wait another nine orns if you like, you ungrateful little glitch, but I'm not going to let you camp out in here until then," Starscream snapped. "You'll have to come home, fixed or not."

For a second or two, they matched glares.

"All right, all right." Skywarp huffed and backed down. "Let's get it over and done with. I do kinda want my leg fixed..."

Seeing the big sterile white doors and humming HEPA vents in the theatres foyer put the fear of Primus into Skywarp. Doubts flared up into a mess of alerts in the back of his mind. It felt like the accusatory signs on the doors had been put there specially for him – This is a Class A clean suite. All staff MUST pass the sonic scrub and have Grade One exhaust particulates below 35 before entering!

So that means YOU keep out, you useless dirty ugly purple thing, Skywarp's subconscious added. You who couldn't even make it as a Con, now we're going to take you apart and rebuild you as something better.

"I don't think this is a good idea, guys," he argued, as last, as surgical staff began to accumulate in the little anteroom. His hands had clenched tight in the foam surface of the berth. "I-I mean… What's gonna happen when I go back? M-maybe I should stay like this."

Starscream hesitated in the clean suite doorway, accepting his overshoes from a masked little nurse, and looked back over his shoulder to find Skywarp's lips were pursed and his brow furrowed. "What do you mean?"

"Well I can't go back with my leg fixed, can I?" The dark Seeker gestured at his knee-brace. "Or you-… well, the in-the-past you, or whatever – are gonna yell at me, cuz I'll change the timeline or something – and that'll change the future, and if I change the future I might not be able to go back – but then how do I change the future? And-... "

"There we will have a temporal paradox," Starscream agreed. "Colour me impressed that you managed to think that up all on your own."

Skywarp made one of Those gestures, to illustrate what he thought about the scarlet mech's comment, and pouted, hurt that his concerns had been batted away so easily. "And I'm sure as Pit not gonna let you take my leg back off just so you can send me back, when you figured it all out!" he added.

"Well, if we work out a way to send you back," Starscream soothed, with a gritted-teeth kind of gentleness, "this future won't happen anyway. It only happened this way because you teleported yourself into the future – if it turns out that's what you actually did. If we manage to send you back-"

"When," Skywarp corrected, hopefully.

"All right, Warp. When we manage to send you back to 'your time'? To us, you won't have disappeared, and we won't spend nigh on forty vorns fruitlessly looking for you. This future, as you are experiencing it now, will never happen."

"But how does that-… if you fix my leg and I go back to my time with it fixed, then it won't be broken when I get to the future." Skywarp frowned. "So you won't need to fix it, but I'll be here in the future twice and what'll happen when I meet me? But-... how can I be here now and you don't know about the me that went back in time? Because if I went back you'd know about it, unless I went somewhere else, and-... Pit, Screamer, that means you're gonna mess it up and I don't know WHERE I'm gonna end up-"

"Skywarp?" Starscream rubbed his temples and sighed, dramatically. "Just… rein in your vocaliser for a minute, will you? I can only answer one impossible question at a time." He met the anxious crimson gaze with what he hoped was a calming expression. "Don't worry about it, right now. Regardless what you do, you've broken the future. Fretting about it is counterproductive."

"Yeah." Skywarp studied his fingers, laced in his lap, and added, faintly; "My brain does kinda hurt with thinking about it."

"Let's just get you fixed, eh?" Thundercracker gave him a tired smile. "Screamer can blind you with bad science afterwards."

"There's nothing bad about my science," Starscream grumbled, but obediently backed out of the way of the small medic that had appeared through the doors to the clean suite. "Is everything ready, Latent?"

"We're just waiting for our patient," the little protoform agreed, amiably, offering the injured teleport a small plastic container of clear fluid.

Skywarp gave it a suspicious look and held it at arm's reach. "What's this?"

"A little sedative," Latent replied, with a reassuring smile. "Just to nudge your system to engage its recharge protocols-"

"Whoa, hey, no, you're not knocking me out-!" Skywarp waved a threatening finger, shoving the cup back at the smaller mech, and the anaesthetist backed off a step, alarmed.

Thundercracker intercepted the cup before it could end up on the floor. "Well how did you anticipate they were going to do it, Warp? You can hardly stay awake."

"Wouldn't be the first time." Skywarp turned his belligerence onto his friend. "Living with Autodorks made you forget all that battlefield medicine we had to learn? Come on, reattaching a leg is like, nothing. Painting over a scratch. I can sit still, if I have to."

"Uh, sir? It's not that simple." Latent winced. "You have to go under. We need your spark to be absolutely stable. One little spike could destabilise the whole system."

"But they could do anything to me, while I'm in there!" Skywarp protested. "Primus! Has a couple of vorns out of the Cons removed everyone's sense of friggin' self-preservation?"

"Warp?" Thundercracker gave him a little prod in the shoulder.

Skywarp carried on, oblivious, his gesturing growing more emphatic. "Gimme the parts and a welding iron, and I'll do it myself!"


"Frag, it's not that hard-"

Thundercracker sighed, and added a little of his boom to his voice. "Skywarp!"

At last the teleport's babble ceased, and the startled crimson gaze landed back on him.

"They're not going to do anything bad with us two here, are they? Wouldn't dare. Besides, look." Thundercracker gestured at Starscream, who was busy snapping at the nurses for trying to fit the wrong set of filters over his venting. "Screamer's coming in. He'll keep an eye on them. All right?"

"Puh." Skywarp folded his arms and pouted. "You'll forgive me for not being very reassured by the idea. He's not exactly been a bundle of joy at me being back."

Starscream shot him a reproachful look. "Once we've got concrete proof of you being you, I promise to become more simpering and happy," he snapped. "Just take the virals, already."

"So it's all right for you to be suspicious of me, but how dare I be suspicious of you bunch of skinny intruders?" Skywarp sat forwards, hiking his wings confrontationally. "I've only got your word this is the future! Why are you so keen to get me in there anyway, huh? Want to pull all my secrets out, is that it? Load me up with spyware, follow me around?"

"Oh for Pity's sake, Skywarp-!"

"We just want you back on your feet." Thundercracker attempted to lay oil. "Back in one piece and in the air with us."

The purple hands flexed, again, and curled into uneasy fists. "So why does he have to knock me out? What's the catch you're not telling me about?"

Starscream seemed more than a little piqued at having been seen through, if the pouting glare was anything to go by. "We've not been able to find the right parts. So you either get the refit, or you have to make do with temporary parts until they can source the right bits."

"By 'temporary' you mean…?"

"Groundling components, yes."

"…but I can't fly with them!"

Starscream met his horrified gaze, steadily. "Fuel rationing means you probably won't be able to fly until we've got you fitted with vanes anyway," he corrected, lifting a finger for emphasis. "And I have no idea how long it'll take to make the appropriate adjustments to take into account your missing directional thrusters. So you're going to be grounded until we can refit your propulsion systems anyway."

"This is blackmail," Skywarp grumbled, indignantly, folding his arms across his chassis. "You could make one little dispensation for one mech, surely? I don't need that much energon, and I can't go back looking all skinny and stupid like that."

Thundercracker cut in before Starscream could ramp up the volume. "Wouldn't it make sense to just get it out of the way?" he wondered, gently, offering the cup of drugged fuel and a sympathetic look. "I mean, you're going to need to get refitted in the long run, so you may as well get it over and done with. The quicker you're fixed, the quicker you'll be back in the air with us. Right?"

Skywarp eyed his wingmate's narrower, lighter build, warily; his suspicion couldn't quite hide his dismay. "But I don't want to. Because I'm going to go home, and I won't need it. Right? I'll get Screamer to develop some new fuel source so we don't need to have all our mass stolen. Stupid... twig-legged refit."

"You don't think he didn't check all those avenues to start with, did you?" Thundercracker smiled, and gave his arm a comforting pat. "Come on. It's not so bad. So we're a bit lighter, so what. These alloys are almost as tough as what you're wearing. Plus, you can go further and faster for less payload. You won't understand why you wanted to keep that boxy old getup at all, once you're back in the air."

"Yeah, thanks for making me feel like a friggin' heifer." Skywarp hunched his shoulder and accepted the cup from the dark fingers that held it back out to him. "Why not just go all out and say I'm fat?"

Thundercracker snorted, amusedly. "Yeah Warp, sure. In fact? You look like some of those humans we used to see waddling about." He gave him a friendly punch in the arm, reassured to see Skywarp lifting the cup. "You're not fat. You're just... product of a different age. Gotta get with the times, mech! We'll get you up to date and up in the air in no time."

Skywarp muttered something unintelligible, and glanced at the small cluster of staff waiting patiently for him to finally down the sedative. He hesitated, cup halfway to his mouth, and bristled. "What's he doing here?"

Thundercracker followed his gaze. "Resector will be doing your surgery."

"What? Like Pit he will be!" The teleport glared as hotly as he could manage at the dark blue Autobot, who even now still wore the red emblem proudly on his chest. "You hear me, you sneery old glitch? You're not coming anywhere near me with that cutlery set."

Resector sneered down at him, as though a source of noxious fumes had sprouted up under his main intake. "Trust me, nothing would please me more than booting the likes of you back out onto the street, repaired or not."

Skywarp pfft-ed his opinion of the Autobot's feelings, and shot his wingmate a glance. "What's wrong with getting Sepp to do it?"

"Uh-…" Thundercracker pulled a face and scratched the back of his neck. "Forceps is a lecturer at the little college in the centre of the district, now. She doesn't do surgery any more."

Skywarp gave him a more serious, frowny look, as if trying to gauge his honesty. "Couldn't she just, uh... make an exception? Just this once?" He put on his best hurt, poutily-inoffensive face.

Starscream sighed, dramatically. "You don't get exceptions with ingenogenesis imperfecta."

"An imperfect what?"

The red jet's wings had hiked and his expression was grim. "It's a motor disease, and it's incurable. Which means," he elevated his voice before Skywarp could ask any more questions and snapped, "that she can't do surgery, any more."

-Will explain later. Sore spot- Thundercracker's voice brushed inaudibly across Skywarp's sensory processors.

Skywarp pouted, hurt, but obediently let it drop. "How much more is there you've not told me and I'm gonna have to find out by accident, guys?" He gestured with one arm and gave Thundercracker a glare. "Next you're gonna tell me Screamer and that dorky shuttle have finally got over their tiff."

A snort that could have indicated anything from disgust to sarcastic amusement came from his scarlet wingmate's corner. "Yes, how dare we try and get on with our lives, with you probably dead in the rocks somewhere?" the red jet muttered. "Just take the fragging sedative, already."

Skywarp pouted and hunched his wings. "I don't want to."

"For Primus sake, Skywarp!" Resector loomed impressively over him; outside his operating room, the imperious surgeon had never been very generously endowed with patience, especially when ex-Decepticons were involved. "This is a favour, you damnable winged nuisance! I've only agreed to help out so I can remove the police from my operating room."

"You just want to cut me up, you big sneery old blot of purge," Skywarp shot back, stabbing a finger in an emphatic point.

Resector batted the hand away. "Don't push your luck."

"Or what, fatty? You'll sit on me? I'm still armed, in case you forgot." The teleport let his cannons hum softly, just for effect.

"Not for long, if I have my way-"

Skywarp was halfway off his berth in an instant, missing leg be damned.

Thundercracker snagged a trailing wingtip before Skywarp could go flat on his face, and dumped him unceremoniously back on his aft. "Primus. Guys? Guys." He elevated his voice just enough to be heard over the hubbub, and waited until everyone's gaze was on him before continuing. "Look, just gimme a breem of privacy, all right? Please?"

Latent swapped a look with one of the nurses, but nodded obediently and headed out, followed – surprisingly – by Resector, still glaring but departing without fuss.

Predictably, Starscream was in no mood for 'sentiment and stupidity'. "To do what, precisely?" he challenged, standing to one side so the staff could get past.

"To talk to Skywarp." Thundercracker matched stares. "In private."

Starscream folded his arms and glared, making no effort to move. "Anything you need to say to him-"

"Will be private, between him and me. Just once, Star, can't you just do what I ask without kicking off? I know you don't like it when I pull rank on you, so please don't make me do it."

TC outranks him? Skywarp filed the curious tidbit away to grill his friend about later.

Crimson optics narrowed down to hot little slits of temper. "Fine. Let's just waste even more time." Starscream paused by Thundercracker's wing, and hissed, softly, waving a threatening blue finger; "You need. To get him. To take it."

The threat boiling off the red jet had as much effect on his blue wingmate as it would have had on a wall. "No, I need to discuss with him why he won't. I'm not forcing it into his tanks."

"If he doesn't take it-"

"...-then he doesn't take it. He can come home with us, until he's ready to do it. Just... clear off and let me talk to him, all right?"

Starscream shot the dark jet a glare, over his wingmate's slender shoulder, but at last obediently flounced, muttering invective in a dialect so old even Skywarp didn't quite catch it.

Thundercracker listened as the hollow stomp of angry thrusters faded down the hallway, then turned to his wingmate. "Skywarp?"

"I don't want 'em to do it, TC," Skywarp admitted, the instant the last voice faded away. He seemed torn between traditional Decepticon belligerence and unhappy honesty. "What happens if it goes wrong? I'll be stuck here, I-... I'd rather be broken, if it means I can go home, than fixed and stuck here forever."

"You are home, Warp," Thundercracker reassured, gently, with a tired smile. "Is staying here really that bad?"

"Puh." Skywarp refused to meet his gaze. "Some home. You don't even believe I am who I say I am."

Hurt, it took the other mech a moment or two to think up an appropriate response. When the words failed to come, the blue jet reached out, and took his brother's hand; black fingers squeezed purple, reassuringly. "I'm starting to," he said, earnestly. He could feel the stilted defensiveness in his friend's static field – the physical tension through his whole frame made it feel almost like he was buzzing. "I want to. You have no idea how hard I'm clinging to the hope you're the real thing."

The next words remained unspoken, but both mechs knew what he was thinking; Even though bitter experience tells me Skywarp is dead, and you're just another copy sent here to spy on us.

"Listen, I know this whole thing is messed up. You're lost, you're hurting, and there's nothing wrong with being sca-"

"I'm not scared." The interruption was sufficiently hasty that it did nothing but prove the opposite. "Pit sake, I'm a Con. Don't get scared of smelt like this." Pause. "Was a Con." Another awkward pause. "Doesn't mean I'm scared now."

Thundercracker watched his wingmate flex his hands and fidget. His wingtips were vibrating just enough to be rattling, very softly.

"If it's any consolation?" The deep voice had softened until it was little above a whisper. "I am."

"What have you got to be scared about." Skywarp gave him a sidelong glance – just long enough to meet the sad, honest expression on his friend's face. "You're not the one they wanna mutilate. You're not stuck a billion miles away from home in a place you don't even recognise, using a million vorn old maps that don't match anything any more, totally frickin'… lost."

"I know. I'm still scared. Scared we're going to find out where you've been, and... find out someone's... done something to you." Thundercracker dropped his gaze and concentrated on drawing cool air over stressed components, before adding; "Find out that you're not you. Again. I-… I don't think I could handle that."

The dark Seeker met his friend's gaze, silently. The haunted tone of voice was difficult to listen to.

"Last time we were so convinced. You know? So sure it was you. It looked like you. Sounded like you. Behaved like you, mostly! It just… had a funny static field. That was what clued us in, to start with. Once we looked harder? We figure someone had scanned you, and captured just enough top-level programming to get it to react like you would. It was so obvious that it wasn't you, it was… painful." He laughed, despairingly. "Felt like idiots, grabbing at straws."

Skywarp nudged the smaller hand with his own, let their fingers interleave. "What if I promise I'm me?"

Thundercracker managed a feeble, genuine smile, and didn't bother explaining that that was what the copy had said, too, almost verbatim. "I know." He swallowed down the static sticking in his vocaliser and forced the words out, even though he wasn't sure how true they were, precisely; "I trust you." I want to trust you. I want my brother back, my trine back in one piece.

"TC-...? I, uh-... lied a bit," Skywarp admitted, quietly. "I am scared, a little." He stared down into the little cup of clear fuel in his hand. "There's so much about it all that can get fragged six ways from Vos... I don't want-..." His words petered away into nothing, briefly. "It's not fair, TC."

"I know. But it'll be over soon, and you can come home." Thundercracker watched him, silently willing him to just take the medicine. "Mobile on your own two legs, right? Screamer'll eventually work things out, then we can send you back to your time."

Skywarp lifted the cup to his lips. "You better fix it, because I'm not staying here forever," he threatened, feebly, and finally swallowed the mouthful of tainted fuel. "Uuugh that's nasty. They better not make me take any more." He let his hand flop to his side, fingers slack.

Thundercracker intercepted the little pot before it could escape the cage of purple fingers and vanish somewhere to get broken on the floor, and slotted his own hand into the bright palm. Skywarp already looked distinctly woozy, as the nanite-laced fuel dumped unfamiliar programming into his mainframe. "It'll be fine, I promise."

"Just don't let them hurt my parts," the teleport mumbled, his grip loosening as he slowly succumbed to the virals, fighting them every step of the way. "I'll-... I'll need 'em to ghhh-... go home."

"It's okay. We're not going to let anyone damage them."

"...I mean it, TC. ...it'll change the timeline... if I go back lookin' all skinny like that-..." His optics flickered out, briefly, like a guttering candle. "...then Screamer'll get mmm-... mad at me... for breakin' time again."

"I know." Thundercracker managed a smile. "We'll make sure they take good care of you. I'll even arrange for them to hand your old body over to Screamer for safekeeping, all right?

"…right." After another of those long pauses, where it was only the low, damson flickering of Skywarp's optics that proved he was awake, the dark mech finally added; "…don' wanna-… do this."

"I know."


"Don't be. We've got you. You'll wake up and won't know what you could have possibly been worried about."

At last, Skywarp's fingers went slack and his optics dimmed right out. Reassuringly, the uneasy stutter of his fans evened back out to a relaxed hum.

-ok. He's offline- the blue Seeker pinged.

Starscream was first to barge back into the foyer, and for several long seconds could only stare down at the peacefully sedated Skywarp, before finally glancing up and meeting his friend's carefully-not-smug expression. "All right, I give in. What did you use to bribe him?"

"Uhh... Honesty?" Thundercracker smiled, meaningfully. "You should try it, occasionally."

"Honesty is overrated." Starscream flapped a hand.

"Evidently." Thundercracker took a step back so Latent could get to Skywarp's insensate form, and watched the anaesthetist plug a fingertip sensor into a little subsurface diagnostic port on his chest.

"Ok, ok, good," Latent said, nodding mostly to himself, once the report had come back. "We're green across the board. Let's get him onto the generator..."

"Makes a change from it being you wheeled in, eh, Screamer?" Thundercracker teased, trying to relax a little of the tension out of the air, standing next to the doorway and watching as the team carefully wheeled the berth with their reluctant patient through the doors.

"Oh hush. The last time it wasn't my fault. I can't help it if half my lab techs are incompetents." Starscream retorted, prissily. "And you! Make sure no-one gets rid of the washings from the scrub, I need them!" he shouted, at Latent's departing back. "If I find out they've been flushed, I will have the culprit's head for a paperweight!"

"What's this – concern for our little brother at last, Screamer?"

The glare deepened. "Pah. Reasonable concern, I'd say. I'm not getting tricked again. Besides." Starscream drew himself to his full height, although the effect of his flaring wingspan was rather lost on someone used to rolling his optics at it every day. "You're hardly one to take the moral high ground, seeing as you've quite clearly made your mind up."

"Yeah. Mostly." Thundercracker finally let his gaze wander, finding himself an interesting tile on the floor and studying its edges. "...you know how badly I want it to be him?"

Starscream glanced away with a sigh. "Me too," he confessed, quietly. "And I know I'm going to regret saying this, but-"

"Yeah," Thundercracker agreed, before Starscream had even finished, and spoke in unison with him; "-it's too good to just be a copy."

"Primus, I hope we're right."

"And you haven't even plucked up the courage to talk to him, you big wuss." Thundercracker gave his wingmate a sidelong glance; he hadn't even risen to the bait, for once, too busy quietly fussing while the nursing staff fitted his filters. He clearly had a lot on his mind. "What are you thinking about?"

The scarlet jet offered a cynical look in return, leaving dirty thruster-circles on the sticky mat as he stepped across it into his pair of sturdy, custom-built overshoes. "You want the full list, or am I all right to abbreviate it?"

"Abbreviated is fine."

Starscream snorted, humourlessly. "Mostly? I'm thinking how best to tell him I can't send him 'home'."

Thundercracker straightened, uneasily. "That's not what you were saying a few breems ago."

"A few breems ago I was trying to bribe him into consenting for surgery, I'd have said anything." Starscream's dark face curled into a particularly grim look. "Come on, TC. The truth can wait a couple of breems, until he can't back straight out of it."

Thundercracker sighed; he couldn't fault the scientist's logic. The way things had gone thus far, Skywarp would undoubtedly have assumed that it was just some shade of Starscream-coloured bloody-mindedness and dug his own thrusters in, and refused all and any form of surgery in favour of being the right shape to 'go home'.

"Well you can't just leave it there. What makes you think you can't send him home?"

"He said there was a... a sensation of cold, when he teleported, yes?" Starscream used an elbow to turn on the sprayer and apply a layer of dark blue protective glove to both arms.

Thundercracker nodded. "Like everything had stopped, briefly," he confirmed. "Does that mean something to you?"

"It didn't, at first. I've been thinking how that related to his teleporting, and the only solution I've been able to come up with is that that's literally what happened. Everything did just stop."

"…no offence, but that doesn't make much sense."

"Simply put? It sounds like he's not moved through time, but been stuck in some sort of, of... quantum limbo, I suppose, for all the time he's been gone. He dematerialised just fine, but something scrambled his energy and stopped him rematerialising after his jump – so time effectively stopped for him."

"So why isn't he still in limbo? What brought him out of it?"

Starscream glared and had to work hard not to huffily plant his still-damp hands on his hips. "Granted let me think about it for a few more breems before asking me the impossible?"

Thundercracker put his hands up, soothingly. "No need to chew my head off. I was just putting the ideas out there. Something we can look into. Could be that explosion which messed up his gate, right? I can pre-empt Winnower to pull the scans out of the archive."

Starscream nodded, consideringly. "Footloose didn't teleport until she was back on the surface, which was some orns after all those exotic particulates had faded, did she?"

"Well you best hurry up, or they'll be done in theatres before you've even got to the scrubber." Thundercracker managed a wan smile. "Keep me appraised, yeah?"

"Of course."

"Oh- just one more thing?"

Starscream waved his hands in a get-on-with-it gesture.

"…I think I ought to be the one to tell him he might not be going 'home' for a while, when he comes round."

Starscream winced and nodded, grimly, stepping back and triggering the doors to close. "I think that'd be a very good idea."

The still air and muted hum of the fans felt eerily stifling, once the doors had finally shut, slicing off the chilly outward breeze from the fans and reassuring chatter from the staff within. Thundercracker drew a long smooth pulse of cold air through his vents – he'd not really even been aware that he'd stilled his fans most of the time he'd been talking to his brothers, but now he noticed the stuffy warmth that had built up in his chassis. It didn't help the awkward, uneasy surges in his harmonic – Primus, this better be the real thing, this time! He sent a silent prayer to whichever friendly deity might be listening.

"Um, Superintendent?"

The voice jostled him gently out of his introspection, and he glanced back over his shoulder to find Celerity lurking just inside the corner, watching him. Of course, positioning requests had been pinging off his firewalls all orn – with better things to do right now than listen to Deixar's residents squabbling, he'd automatically blocked most, except those of his deputies. Clearly the big femme had finally taken it upon herself to follow his signal.

"Everything all right, chief inspector?" He forced a half-smile.

"Councillor Waveguide is still pushing for an update on what's going on along the quay," she reminded. "Nightsun and I have run out of excuses for him." Beat, sigh. "I know you've got bigger things to worry about, sir, but he's camping out in my office and I can't get rid of him, or work around him. Vector's at the point of bodily kicking him out, and I don't really want him to make another complaint about our division."

"Gah. I should have known he'd not care for my right to a little privacy for once. That cantankerous old glitch needs a better hobby," the blue jet grumbled. "Sorry for dumping him on you. Tell you what – I have plenty of unresolved stress building up, let's go boot him out together..."

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

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