Title (chapter): Future Tense (chapter 10)
Series: Transformers, G1-based (“Blue” AU)
Summary: Sometimes, figuring out where you are involves a little more than just updating your maps. Skywarp finds himself swimming against the tide, somewhat.
- Chapter Ten
…is that a tree above my head?
Rousing out of dormancy to the unexpected overhead vista of blue sky and leaves, Skywarp floundered through the confused murk in his head for only a few moments before deciding that going in search of the answers to the latest question could wait until he was properly awake.
Thinking too hard while he slowly worked his way through that still-unfamiliar bootup sequence would be more likely to result in his blowing a fuse at the effort, anyway. First time he’d not had hospital staff on hand to help if he loused anything up, and he didn’t precisely want to wind up straight back in the emergency department and the arms of the very staff he thought he’d escaped from.
Right. Awake now. He continued staring. Why is there a tree above my head?
Flowers, a little voice reminded. The accompanying flicker of humour was just enough to kick-start his memory. Of course. He’d finally succeeded in leaving his least favourite place in all Deixar, and come home – whatever that meant, any more. Could a mech really call somewhere ‘home’ if he’d never seen the place before?
He straightened a little in his chair, and flexed stiff shoulders and wings with a grunt of discomfort. His autorepair reported back that it had adjusted cable tensions overnight again, still seeking the optimum balance of strength versus flexibility, leaving him somewhat over-wound. Maybe TC’s right and I should lay off going dormant in silly positions.
He directed his attention down to his lap, which was still occupied by a foil-wrapped bundle of limbs that a moment or two of tweaking revealed to be a very-offline policebot. “Nice to see you’re glad I’m back, too,” he griped, flicking her antennae. “So glad, you couldn’t even stay awake.”
Pulsar gave an automatic-sounding little questioning little chirp of feedback, but didn’t actually manage to rouse far enough out of dormancy to even flicker her optics.
Someone had been along while they’d been offline, at least. A tall silver flask stood just past his thrusters on the low table in front, where he couldn’t kick it over by mistake, with a datapad covered in glowing gold text propped against it. He reached out a hand, but the little collection only proved itself way out of reach without him getting up. He zoomed in on the writing instead, deciding to evict Pulsar from his lap when he was a tiny bit more awake.
Although unsigned, the note was clearly from Thundercracker. I’ve let Pulse have the first and second quarter off work, Skywarp read. In case the pair of you want to go and get your maps updated. Figured you’d appreciate someone holding your hand in case you get lost.
Skywarp snorted a sour laugh. “Yeah. Thanks, TC.”
Assuming either of you actually make it to the land of the living before noon, that is. I have a battle with Waveguide until the middle of the orn, but I’ll be in my office afterwards. Did I say battle? I meant budget meeting. Come find me after? Otherwise I’ll be forced to hunt you down.
There was a strange, subtle element of teasing threat about the last statement, and Skywarp had no doubt at all that he meant it. He just wasn’t sure if being hunted down by a battle-fatigued new-official-Thundercracker was going to be fun.
Certainly wouldn’t be fun if he hadn’t got his fuel-tanks topped up – how did a mech expend so much energy, doing… nothing? His hyperactive autorepair had been busy all night, making little tweaks here and there to his wings, his thrusters, his gate, his flight protocols, as though even it didn’t trust him not to spectacularly nosedive into a junkheap again.
His depleted tanks won the battle for his attention. Sensing that she wasn’t going to be moving under her own power any time yet, Skywarp finally bundled Pulsar up in the foil and heaved her bodily onto the neighbouring couch; she gave a barely-intelligible mutter that sounded suspiciously like not time to go to work yet and rolled tighter into her wrappings, but otherwise remained miraculously offline. Obviously had been a heavy night, after all. He couldn’t quite restrain the little smirk.
“Guess you won’t be wanting any of this, then,” he said to the room, uncapping the flask. He sniffed warily at the vapours; his diagnostics confirmed it was just plain boring standard-grade fuel. They can’t give you all their high-grade, Warp, he chastised the little disappointed flicker. Not yet, at least, and the challenge of finding it for yourself will be more entertaining anyway.
He rocked himself forwards and let momentum carry him to his thrusters. He wobbled a little while his gyros caught up, but at least he didn’t go straight back onto his aft, this time.
“TC? Staar-screeam? Yo-oo, where are you guys?” He broadcast a ping around the property, but didn’t get a response. “Have you guys all gone and left me on my own again? Pit.” His wings drooped a little, with a sigh of hydraulics and shifted air. “You know there’s a difference between giving a guy space to think, and completely abandoning him, right?”
Some brave new world THIS was, where his bros were more interested in work, he thought to himself, sourly, ambling slowly around the building and cataloguing where everything was. At least as Cons, he and TC had few responsibilities off the battlefield. Mainly, scrape Starscream up off the wall/floors after another spat with Megatron, and get him to Hook, pronto.
He snorted at the irony. Just got OUT of the cons, and he was already reminiscing about the ‘good old days’?
You were the one that wanted out, remember? At least the guys made something of themselves. Skywarp pursed his lips and tried to ignore the pang of discontent. You and your bad choices might have dragged ’em along, but they made it work. If you hadn’t fell off the planet, what would you be doing now?
His conscience chimed in, quietly – probably still mooching off them – he ignored it with difficulty, concentrating on mapping. Pretty big property, for two singletons (and a tree), what else was here? Most inner doors remained open, maximising the light streaming through the property – as if the giant skylight wasn’t enough. On the ground floor right-hand side, a machine could step down into the bathing facility – nice rough floor and solvent-resist tiles, big wall-mounted felt buffing wheels, plenty of soaps and brushes and other sundries. Skywarp wrinkled his nose and decided the room probably wouldn’t pop up on his radar that often.
The top-floor rooms with their full-length skylights looked like personal recharging stations; the two slightly more private rooms in the rear had already been claimed by his wingmates, if the glyphs etched subtly into the door controls were anything to go by. Skywarp smiled into his energon; he liked a challenge.
The room at the front left appeared to be where Pulsar was staying, if all the little bits of police detritus scattered around – databoards, replacement decals, official briefings – were anything to go by… but it wasn’t her room. He ran his thumb over the little glyphs on the door controls. Skywarp, they said. He bit his lip and looked away, guiltily.
At last, right in the rear left downstairs corner of the property Skywarp found the room he’d been looking for. The sign on the door looked like someone had “liberated” it from an old laboratory. It dictated, in heavy red lettering, “Caution; incendiary materials. No entry to unauthorised personnel”. Underneath it, someone with familiar neat handwriting had added, in black marker that time had faded into a dingy grey; “this INCLUDES YOU, Footloose” – and an “AND YOU, SKYWARP” in fresh black pen in the very bottom corner.
Skywarp managed to find a small smile, poked briefly at the room with his teleport and felt the disorienting tingle of a subspace baffle – no surprise there. He peeked around the door; he wasn’t sure what the incendiary materials were, but guessed it probably referred more to the scientist in residence than anything he was tinkering with.
Or rather, the scientist not in residence – the room was empty.
“Screamer?” Skywarp prompted, hopeful that the baffle’s frequency had maybe just messed up his earlier transmissions, and inched carefully onto the hallowed grounds, careful not to dislodge anything delicate with a stray wingtip. “You about?”
A reconditioned Vinculum supercomputer sat clinking quietly to itself in the corner as it worked on some challenge its owner had set it. Another small plant sat under a fume hood at the centre of a tangle of mismatched equipment and energon refiners, illuminated by a daylamp that seemed to suck all the rest of the light out of the room. Otherwise, the place was empty.
Skywarp huffed air through his vents. The one person he particularly wanted to see appeared to be the one person that didn’t want to see him back. He hadn’t seen Starscream at all, since successfully escaping the clutches of the physios – it looked like he was going to continue not-seeing-him for a while longer. Way to make a guy feel wanted, Screamer.
He sensed his scarlet wingmate was avoiding him for the same reason he himself was looking for him. Explain it better to me precisely why I can’t go home? Obviously didn’t feel up to explaining it in sufficiently short words.
Intentionally dragging his thrusters, Skywarp departed the unoccupied laboratory, abandoning the empty flask on a shelf of clean glassware as a sort of calling card. Even with the big expanse of sound-muffling leaves in the rear of the atrium, his footsteps sounded awfully solitary as their echoes followed him out.
He headed down to the front of the property, and leaned his entire body against the front window to watch with his arms dangling as the occasional machine passed by on the road just past the perimeter fence. Now what are you going to do, huh? He let his head bonk down against the glass, the impact making the entire skylight ring softly.
Almost forty vorns, gone. Wrapping his processors around it wasn’t getting any easier, the longer he spent thinking about it. All that time, spent in limbo while the world changed around him. They could tell him he was home for the next forty vorns, and he wasn’t entirely sure he’d ever come to accept it.
He barely knew his brats. Had rejected Footloose out of hand, and hadn’t seen Slipstream at all. Almost like the pair were avoiding him. Not that he could really blame them. Not even quarter of a vorn old, when he lost his grip on time and space. A moment of idiocy, a single bad decision, and he’d vanished for pretty much their entire lives.
Couldn’t hack it as a Con, and now you made a hash of things out of the Cons, too.
Without any input from his conscious processors, his mind drifted back to the little fuzzy critter that had scampered over his foot, down in the bowels of the Rift. It had leaped from the downed shuttle, drawn him down into the Pit, and trapped him there, to do… what?
Skywarp leaned his weight back off the window and onto his feet. Had the things in the cave caused the fault in his teleport? Had they intercepted his jump, somehow? And instead of succeeding in… well, whatever they were trying to do, sent him careening through time instead?
If Screamer couldn’t work out how to send him back, maybe they knew the secret. All he had to do was find one, and interrogate it, right?
“Come on, Pulsar, time for work!” he boomed, startling her awake. While she was still floundering, alarmed and disoriented and struggling to get her gyroscopes to rebalance, he scooped her bodily off the chair and teleported them both up.
Whoa, bad idea Skywarp; you’re not exactly practiced at getting around in this outfit just yet-! Rematerialisation was followed in short order by fall. His directional thrusters spluttered in protest at being asked to carry his entire weight.
Not them, not them! Thrust in your wings! He hastily engaged his vanes before he built up too much downward momentum.
A second or two of wobbly freefall later, he found his balance and his flight evened out. “There we go. Nothing to it,” he said, out loud, mostly for his own benefit.
“…I really wish you’d warn me before you did that,” Pulsar scolded, shakily, face pressed against him so she didn’t have to watch the ground flash past below.
“Warning you gives you time to dig those little fingers into somewhere sensitive, and all of me is sensitive, right now. I don’t wanna fall out of the sky because you’re tickling me.”
“Doesn’t feel like you need any help with that.”
He managed a little snicker. “What are you so worried about? It’s not like I’m gonna drop you.” Pause. “Even if I did, I could still catch you. I think.”
She thumped a fist against his chassis. “Trust you to miss the point, as usual.”
The Rift wasn’t actually that far from ‘home’, and they covered the distance in less than a breem. Skywarp touched down on the flatter ground on the Deixar side of the chasm, and inched carefully closer, across the slumped, fractured stone that slipped and shifted under his weight. Hard to believe that before the war, this had been a busy manufacturing zone, all factories and warehouses and refineries – abruptly abandoned as the fighting swirled around either side, then slowly swallowed up by the widening seismic mouth that chewed its way through the middle. It created a hundred thousand tiny bolt-holes in which fuzzy gremlins could hide away.
For several seconds, he could only stare reluctantly down into the shadowy abscess in the rocks, involuntarily tensing his arms around Pulsar. He felt her fingers tighten subtly in response – she could probably sense his unease, rippling disharmonies through his static field
Come on, he chastised. It’s not like it’s gonna blow up again. It’s just rocks. He squared his shoulders, straightened his wings, and dipped down into the gloom, heading for the position burned forever onto his memory. The shadows intensified around him, as though he were slowly descending into a sea of ink. (Or back into the Pit. That’s not shadows, that’s the walls closing in on you.)
The ground loomed up in his radar, bringing with it a sense of spark-deep relief there wasn’t much further down to go. He stretched his feet out in front of himself for a landing, then skidded several yards on an unseen patch of rubble, teetering precariously forwards, but somehow managed not to go over on his aft.
“A’right, Squeaks. We’re down,” he murmured, awkwardly reluctant to raise his voice in case the echoes betrayed him, stooping forwards to let his passenger climb shakily down.
“Down where?” Pulsar glanced around herself, shifting uncomfortably from one foot to the other on the treacherous floor. “The Rift? What are we doing here? …Skywarp?”
Her voice fell on deaf audios; the teleport had far more important things to be paying attention to.
Time hadn’t diluted the painful black wounds on the shattered rocks, where the explosion had incinerated them. Even down here in the dark bowels of the Rift, the damage somehow looked a more intense black than the surrounding shadows – a lurking monster, all jagged, rotted teeth, waiting for another chance at swallowing him. In the very distance, past the shrieking mouth of the unblocked cave, Starscream’s borehole let a skein of perfectly-placed sunlight glitter down onto the rocks. It reminded him a little of the mysterious lights that had attracted his attention in the first place.
Come towards the light, little Seeker, and let us return you to the Pit you emerged from.
A phantom of remembered pain ran a hot knife up through his still-tight wing joints, and he had to concentrate hard on just not clenching his fists.
Pulsar hung back a couple of wingspans behind him. “I can’t believe you’re already thinking about going back in there,” she half-scolded, reluctantly. “You’re only just back with us, Skywarp.”
“I’m not going in,” he defended himself, with a patiently exasperated voice. “Just getting a look. All right?”
You said that last time, he reminded himself. Then the world blew up.
She muttered something uninterpretable and folded her arms, trying to puff herself up and look a little larger. “Well if I think you even smell like you’re thinking of going burrowing again, I’m going to drag you back out by your wingtips,” she threatened.
“Cool down a moment, will you?” He leaned forwards as far as he dared, poised on tiptoe to increase his reach a little, as though those few inches might make all the difference. “There was things in here,” he reminded, straining to peer into the dark. “Warm, fuzzy little alien bug things, looked like. Not machines.”
“It was a very long time ago. They’re probably all dead.”
“You think?” Skywarp glanced back at her for a suspicious second or two. “You’re just saying that.”
“Well, true, I don’t want you going in there – but that’s not why I’m saying it. Squishy creatures don’t live very long, do they?”
“I’m not going in. I just wanna figure out what happened-”
“I can tell you what happened,” she said, softly, and he actually turned to look at her. Her white plating and pale blue optics made her look like a disjointed ghost in the shadows. “You disappeared out of everyone’s lives, and almost broke all of us.” She closed the gap to his side and claimed his hand, firmly. “Don’t make us all go through that again.”
“Pulse-…” Skywarp’s lips compressed down to a frustrated line. “It’s just rocks, down here. Nothing’s gonna happen. I just…” He threw his arms into the air, struggling to find the words he wanted. “Want to get some context. From my perspective, it only happened a few orns ago. I’m flailing around in the dark, right now, and I can’t keep on being so lost.”
She glared back, hurt. “And what do you think being down here will do to help you get un-lost? Apart from to, to… worry everyone? You vanished for a lifetime, Warp! And less than ten orns after we finally get you back… you’re back down here, where everything went to the smelter.”
For a moment or two, they just glared at each other, optics blazing, as though trying to intimidate the other into backing down.
Skywarp broke the staring match, turning away with an irritable flick of his wings. “That’s exactly the problem. I’ve lost a whole lifetime, and I don’t know why! This is the only connection I have with everything that got left behind. My only proper link to me.” He waved his hands in midair, trying to conjure up the words he couldn’t find. “I need to understand it. I need to figure out how this finished up with me… here.” He shuddered at a memory of those soft feet running over his wings, way down in the dark, overheating guts of the planet. “I know those fuzzy things had something to do with it. I need to find them, and ask.”
“We didn’t see anything living when we were digging for you.”
Skywarp shook his head, lips pursed. “TC’s already said you weren’t looking for them. You all kinda had more important things to do than look for gremlins you guys don’t even believe existed.” He fidgeted half a step closer, bracing one hand against the heat-smoothed rocks and leaning a tiny bit closer into the darkness before losing his nerve and backing away again. “I know they were there.”
Pulsar vented a tiny sigh. “Can’t believe I’m saying this,” she muttered to herself. “All right. What can I do to help you find context, so we can get out of here?”
Skywarp quirked his head to one side. “What?”
“I know where we archived all the scans, all the data we accumulated while we dug. I don’t mind helping you go through it all, so long as you tell me what you’re trying to find.” She gestured towards the sky. “Can we go now?”
He turned his biggest, soppiest, most appealing crimson optics on her. “See, don’t think I don’t appreciate it, and all, but… if you were still the noble little Autodork you used to be, you’d offer to just go in there and have a little snout around for me.”
Damn. Trapped by my own offer. “That wasn’t what I said.” She glared up at him, struggling to maintain her wavering resolve. “I’m not going burrowing around in the dark because you’re obsessed with those clumps of windblown dust.”
“But you have little lights.” He groped at her chassis until she growled and swatted his hands away. “You’re better adapted for it, you can see where you’re going. And you’re little. You don’t get claustrophobic. And if you don’t go, I’ll have to and Pit only knows what’ll hap-”
“Fine.” She closed her mouth with a snap and lit her headlights. “But if the ceiling falls in on me, you have to come get me. And I mean it!”
He put on his best, most inoffensive smile, and clasped his palms together. “I promise.”
“Yeah yeah, sure you do.” Warily, she edged her way into the tunnel. The bright pinpoints of her lights only emphasised how dark and ruined everything else was – thick black carbonised plaques on the walls, and reluctantly shiny specks of metal where the shuttle had vaporised in the fireball and splashed molten plating up the rocks. “…I don’t even know what I’m looking for, you realise.”
“Anything strange,” Skywarp suggested, optimistically.
“Funnily enough, I’d made that connection all by myself.”
Skywarp watched the little lights get steadily more distant, unable to keep from fidgeting, or to shake the awkward, surging sensation in his pumps. Desperate times called for desperate measures, and all that, but for all his bluster, he really wasn’t enjoying being down here, among the shattered rocks and crumbling spires of stone. Any second now – he had to keep stopping to get a good look at them – the walls might just fall down on his head.
If the ceiling does fall in, there’s no way you’re going to be able to dredge up the courage to go rescue her – you know that, right? He shushed his conscience, continuing his restless back-and-forth pacing. Quit doing that. Ceiling’s not gonna fall in unless you make it fall in.
The continuing silence from Pulsar’s side wasn’t helping. “Well?” he prompted, voice echoing back at him off the rocks. “Found anything yet?”
“Can you stop yelling?” Little blue and white lights turned to glare back at him. “It’s destabilising my audios.”
Skywarp cupped his hands around his mouth and increased his volume a little. “I need to be sure you can hear me!”
Pulsar’s swearing could only just be heard under the echoes. “So use your comm., you useless fragger! Or I’m coming back right now.”
After a second or two tussling with his conscience – woolly-sparked though she was, his friend might eventually act on the threat, if he kept winding her up – Skywarp resumed quietly pacing, albeit with a slightly lighter step.
Eventually, he noticed Pulsar’s lights dip lower. -found something?- he chivvied.
-pinger does work, then- she shot back.
He ignored the jibe, reassured that she was still operating under her own power and hadn’t been jumped by the fuzzy aliens. -what found?-
Skywarp frowned. -fluff?- he challenged. -define-
-little short bits of fibre. just fluff!-
-bring some for me?-
-want to see?-
The pause was so long, he could almost see Pulsar casting her gaze despairingly skywards. -all right. better appreciate-
-always. much love!-
-that’s not what… never mind-
“Remind me why I’m feeding your conspiracy theories with this nonsense?” Pulsar challenged, at last emerging from the cavern with her hand held as far away from her body as possible, a matted ball of brown hair held gingerly in her fingertips. Backlit by her headlamps, it looked rather like a malevolent toupee.
Skywarp huffed a patient sigh. “It’s not a conspiracy theory.” He held out his hands. “There was definitely something down there, I remember it walking on my wings. This might help me figure out what, if I can get Screamer interested enough to figure out what it is.”
“But it’s just fluff, Skywarp.” She relinquished the handful of fibres into his curious hand, wiping her palm across her plating in a futile attempt to get the sticky strands to detach. “More of the same nasty biological rubbish that blows down here off Starscream’s plants on the streets up top. It’s like sand, but worse – it gets into fragging everywhere, then! Decomposes.”
Good to know he wasn’t alone in his dislike of the stupid green things. Skywarp brought the ball of fluff up very close to his face and inspected it closely, but it refused to give up its secrets.
She watched him for a moment or two. “What if Starscream can’t work out what it came off, either?”
The dark Seeker’s features spread in a grin. Combined with the crimson highlights cast by his optics, it lent just a hint of madness to his pale face. “Then I’ve definitely got him interested. Either way serves me juust fine.”
Pulsar had to swallow the sudden inexplicable urge to back off a step. “All right. You’ve got what you wanted,” she asserted, more bravely than she felt. “Can we go now?”
The expression that replaced the infernal grin clearly said I thought you’d never ask. “Didn’t think you’d be the one getting fidgety for being down on the dirt, Squeaks.” He offered an arm and gave her a step up off his knee, and waited until she’d tucked close and latched her fingers into convenient air-vents on his torso before finally taking off.
“There’s down and then there’s under,” she pointed out, indulging in a very close-up study of his dark enamel. “I’d rather not be the latter.”
“…you and me both.”
Finally alone in his office after a particularly long, draining discussion with local government officials, Thundercracker dropped his helm to rest in his hands, and groaned at nothing. His jokey reference to doing battle in his note to Skywarp had turned out to be annoyingly prophetic.
If Waveguide could be counted on for just one single, solitary thing, it was to be as stubbornly inflexible as possible. Normally, Thundercracker could deal with stubborn and inflexible quite easily, by being just as stubborn and inflexible back, but he felt so stretched-thin and fractious, right now, what with Skywarp’s surprise arrival and the frantic scramble for how to deal with it, it was all he could do to sit quietly and agree to things and not punch the fragger.
Waveguide knew it, knew why, and capitalised mercilessly on it, knowing exactly which buttons to press to maximise the response he got. Thundercracker still wasn’t precisely sure how much of his life he’d signed away just to get the barge out of his office, but it couldn’t have been good.
He knew it wasn’t him that Waveguide didn’t trust, precisely, so much as his connections, namely Starscream. He knew the councillor was happily convinced that the only way to stop the red jet from turning the local constabulary into a replacement army was to not give them any money. That if he strangled the budget tight enough, kept everyone running on the very barest minimum, they couldn’t skim funds off the top to finance a coup.
It was a good job Starscream had been off doing whatever Starscreams did when trying not to lose their tempers, because this meeting would have ended with attempted murder as the apex piece.
The blue Seeker rubbed his temples and tried to encourage his cortex to depressurise a little. The day was going to end with him shooting something, the way it was going right now. He only hoped it would be something inanimate, when his temper finally found the chink in his armour it needed to get out.
When the door crashed open with no knock, no buzz, not even the smallest advance warning, he knew it could only be someone with familiar red wings, come to pay him a visit. His deputies knew when it was a bad time to disturb him, but Starscream rarely cared for such politeness when he had a burr working its way under his plating.
Thundercracker forced a smile that felt more like a tired grimace, and lifted a hand in a little wave of greeting. “Starscream.”
No matter how hard the blue jet was having it, the red one always seemed to be having it worse – or at least, he always made it seem that way. Starscream managed to grunt something that with a little imagination could possibly have been a greeting, but otherwise acted as though Thundercracker hadn’t spoken, and went straight to the fuel store.
“Nice to see you too,” Thundercracker went on. “Oh, you’re just here to drink all my energon? Help yourself, friend, it’s not like my day could have been anywhere close to as bad as yours.”
At last, Starscream looked up at him, straightening with half a cube of high-grade. “What?”
“Never mind.” Thundercracker let his chin rest in his hands. “You gonna share that, or what?”
Starscream looked genuinely surprised, and arched a brow. “I hadn’t been planning on it?”
Thundercracker finally found a snort of humour, and held out his flask. “Come on, fragger. Share.”
Starscream pursed his lips, but complied. “You could have got your own if you were that desperate.”
“Star-… do not underestimate how much I need to punch someone, right now.” Thundercracker watched as captured starlight poured from the ephemeral lattice and swirled into the tall crystal flask, all shimmering opalescent colours and crisp, heady vapours. “And you’re conveniently close.”
His wingmate curled his lip in a small sneer. “Oh, I can tell. In fact, I’d wager Nightsun can feel how prickly your field is, and he’s two rooms over.” He dropped with a heavy whump into the easy chair in the corner and flicked his wings comfortable.
Thundercracker took a long draught from his flask, and leaned back in his chair, waiting while it slowly integrated. The pleasantly volatile fuel did feel like it cleared his head, a little, encouraging over-wound servos to relax and coolant pressure to ease.
“So. How did it go at senate?” he prompted, not entirely sure he wanted to know; Starscream shot him such a hideously black look in reply that he immediately put his hands up in surrender. “Right. Forget I asked.”
Starscream retreated into his cube, muttering soft invective. “I just wish they’d listen to me, the mech, not me, the propaganda ghost from the war. I’m am genuinely trying to advise them, not… trick them into doing things, for a change. Funny though it may seem, I do actually want my home to prosper.”
“It can’t have been that bad if you’re not throwing things-…”
“Apparently, mentioning how I was considering standing for election is worse than a full declaration of outright war. I was apparently only tolerable when I was still the attaché for Central Station, and couldn’t cause trouble,” Starscream griped, gesturing with his cube, then elevated his voice and boomed, dramatically, in a passable mimic of Waveguide’s voice: “You’re considering letting an ex-Decepticon stand for government? What are you, suicidal? Let him in, and the world as we know it will end in an angry fireball.”
“You know they’re just scared of you, Starscream,” Thundercracker soothed. “They’re all thinking about what happened when you wanted to be ‘elected’ to take over from Megatron. Another leader in whom you showed very little faith?”
“That was different.” Starscream folded his arms, sniffily, and stuck his nose in the air. “And it was a long time ago.”
“He didn’t pay attention to your ideas, you always thought you could do better, you plotted political takeovers behind his back…” Thundercracker ticked the points off on his fingers.
“This situation is nothing alike! That… that floating bus… is out of touch with reality, and spreading unfounded rumours.” Starscream waved a finger for emphasis. “If he seriously thinks I have the time or resources to devote to building an army in our back rooms? He has more faith in my ability than I do.”
“Maybe. Probably? I don’t know. Elements of his paranoia are fairly justified.”
Starscream narrowed his optics, suspiciously. “Go on.”
“He’s not a great councillor, and certainly not very popular. He was elected during the war, when no-one else wanted to step up, and he’s scared people will like you better. Let’s face it, you might be a whiny, supercilious glitch half the time, but you do tend to get things done, as well. He’s probably clinging on to control by his fingertips.”
Mollified, Starscream directed his attention back into his energon, swirling it back and forth and watching oily rainbows coil across the surface. “How close did you come to slagging him today?”
Thundercracker held up thumb and forefinger a couple of microns apart, squinted for effect, then mimed the gap getting smaller.
Starscream arched a brow. “Oh, so. Better than usual then.”
At last, Starscream cast his gaze around the office, realising something was missing. “Where’s that useless layabout got to, anyway. I thought he was supposed to be meeting you.”
Thundercracker smiled, privately. The scarlet jet might grouse about their dark wingmate, but he couldn’t quite hide the lightness about him. Waveguide-induced tantrums aside, he’d not looked so relaxed in... vorns, definitely. “You mean Skywarp?”
“Well, unless you know any other useless layabouts.”
“Probably gone out with Pulse. I gave her the morning off, and the pair of them had disappeared when I went home after my meeting to check on them. I threatened to hunt him down if he didn’t come find me, but I’m giving him a bit of room to manoeuvre. I know he said he wanted to reacquaint himself with the district, get his maps up to date.” Thundercracker allowed himself a small wince. “Hopefully, that’s what he’s up to.”
Starscream snorted. “You mean he’s gone to reacquaint himself with Squeaky.”
Thundercracker smiled. “You are late to the party. He’s already done that.”
“He’s only been out of hospital for all of half a breem.” Starscream gave his friend a serious glare, and something apparently clicked. “You mean-... when she stayed with him that first evening-” Thundercracker’s carefully guile-less shrug seemed to act as confirmation, and the red jet rested his face in his hands with an exaggerated sigh. “Primus. Give me strength. Nice to see that in spite of everything else, Skywarp’s incorrigible libido hasn’t suffered for its little jaunt through time…”
“So what are you going to do now?”
“Eh?” Skywarp put his flask back down on the roof next to him, and glanced sidelong at his friend. “What do you mean, ‘do’?”
“Well, instead of following me around like a little lost sparkling.” Pulsar had resignedly realised that sitting on rooftops was something she was going to have to get used to again. At least they weren’t so high up that it set off her vertigo – just high enough to get a good view over Deixar’s quiet main shopping precinct – and so long as she didn’t actively look down, she actually felt reasonably comfortable. “Get some practice with your refit, maybe? So you don’t fall halfway out of the sky after a teleport, again?”
He smirked, smugly. “Oh, you noticed that?”
She elbowed him in the midriff. “I just mean… it’s maybe going to be a while before Starscream works it all out and figures out a way to send you back. You know?” She swung her legs, nudging the tip of her pedes at his thrusters.
He kicked back, playfully. “Pssh. I have great faith in my wingmate’s incredible braininess.”
“Well, sure, me too – but you might still be waiting a while. Aren’t you scared you’re going to get bored?”
“Oh, please. I can always find someone worth my, ah, undivided attention.”
“Yeah, that’s what worries me. You only just got out of hospital, Warp, I’m not coming to visit if you go straight back in. Can’t you find something, I don’t know. Productive? You need to do something that’s not going to get you slagged.”
“Hrm. To be honest?” Skywarp watched the crowds moving around on the streets below. “I kind of figured, once I’d seen Screamer, maybe I’d go to the library or something.”
“…the library?” Pulsar couldn’t quite hide her genuine surprise – or slight suspicion.
“Hey, I didn’t say I was doing it for fun.” He pouted, disgusted. “It’s for a reason. I don’t know if Screamer’s gonna be interested in believing me about the creatures down there, so I’m gonna root around until I find enough evidence to make him interested. If I have to be kinda imaginative-”
“…completely fabricate something…”
“-then that’s what I’m gonna do.” He waved a hand. “I just wanna have some real facts that he can’t say ‘don’t be stupid, Warp, slaggoff’ about. I want him to pay proper attention to what I’m saying, for a change – not just brush it all off like I hallucinated it while I was hot and stressed out.”
Maybe you did hallucinate it; Pulsar thought, knowing his tendency to overthink when confined, but didn’t bother voicing it. “All that revolting fluff we gathered up isn’t enough?”
He shrugged, helpless. “You might be right and it’s just stuff that’s fell off the trees. That’s guaranteed to get me told to slaggoff, ’specially if it makes a mess.”
“So explain your master plan to me. Two brains have got to be better than one, especially when neither of them is particularly smart,” she offered. “I may be able to help.”
He shot her a suspicious look of his own. “Not because you wanna persuade me to drop it?”
A little headshake. “I want to know why the fuzzy things are so important. It can’t all just be so you can say I told you so.”
“Hmf.” He didn’t sound convinced, but didn’t immediately clam up. “Well, I figured, those fuzzy things? Maybe they can send me back to where I belong, right? I know I won’t be able to find them on my own, I need Starscream’s help, and I need him to be curious so he’ll help me.”
Pulsar remained quiet, for a moment or two – long enough for Skywarp to figure out her reasons without her needing to say anything.
“See? You’re doing it again.”
“…doing what again?”
“None of you guys get it.” He hunched his shoulders, protectively. “You’re all saying you’re soo happy to have me back, you’re ignoring the fact I just lost a massive chunk of my life. A massive, important chunk. Probably even the important-est chunk!” He sighed the stuffy air from his core. “It’s like, the guys are so glad the trine is full again, they’re hoping I just… forget about it. If they tell me I can’t enough times, I’ll give up, sit back, relax into this weird new life, and act like nothing ever happened.”
“If Screamer’s right with this old smelt about quantum limbo, I just spent close to forty vorns offline. Forty vorns, Pulse. I… Frag.” He covered his face with his hand, briefly. “Having trouble wrapping my brain around that. It’s like when we crashed on Earth, all over again – except you guys all moved on without me. All the important things happened while I was asleep.” Another of those awkward sighs of hot air. “Feels like Primus finally got up off his aft, found a nice sharp rusty bit of iron, and rammed it up my exhaust, sideways.”
Pulsar winced, and covered his fingers with her own.
“I’m not gonna sit back and accept my slagging gracefully, Squeaky. Those… those things, they dumped me here in the future and I’m gonna figure it out and get them to send me home if it kills me.”
“That’s the bit everyone’s worried about, Warp.” She squeezed his hand tightly enough to get him to look her in the optic. “We don’t know what those things are. They might have been trying to kill you.”
He didn’t answer.
“And we don’t want you to ‘accept your slagging gracefully’, either. We just… don’t want you to self-destruct in your first few orns back with us. It’d be hard enough without you running in ever decreasing single-minded circles, trying to go back. Can’t you just take a few orns to get settled?”
“ ‘Settled’,” he echoed, poisonously, and looked away, refusing to be drawn further. “You got Lucy’s frequency?”
“Of course. You want to talk to her?”
A little chit of data brushed over his firewalls; he saved it carefully to his central memory. “…I was kinda mean to her, Pulse. She jumped me as soon as I got to the hospital, and I shoved her away.” After a beat of silence, he added, more softly; “Haven’t seen her since.”
“She knows you were scared.”
“You mean, she’s scared of me.”
“Of you jumping at her? Maybe. She’d been thinking about what would happen when you came back for a long time; I guess the reality of it was a bit of a spanner in her turbines.”
“…what about Seem? He’s, uh. Not seen him either. He’s still around?”
“Seem is… yeah.” Pulsar nodded, slowly, choosing her words carefully. “Little workaholic. Very dedicated, spends most of his time either at work or in dorms.”
Skywarp watched her, carefully, reading the tension in the corners of her optics and the way her lips pursed. “He doesn’t wanna see me either, huh.”
“It’s not that. He’s just-… He has some… issues.” She forced a smile, and squeezed his hand.
“Don’t we all.”
“I mean it. He found me when the Triplechangers were done trying to get me to tell them where you were.” Pulsar’s static field flared, briefly, spiking at a remembered pain. “He’s not really been right ever since. Go gently with him?” Her blinkers flashed, just the once. “Ugh. Oh well. Guess that means end of breaktime.” She drained her flask. “See you later.”
“Oh hey, what about me?” Skywarp pouted. “Telling me you’re gonna just run off and abandon me, in my hour of need in this strange new world?”
“Well, some of us have work to do.”
“Looking after me is work.”
“Yeah, and it’s very hard work, which I don’t get paid halfway enough for.” She offered a cheeky grin in response to his exaggerated disgust. “Come on, give me a hand down.”
“After those insults? Not a chance.” He folded his arms and lifted his chin, and gave her a smug look.
“Fine. I’ll get myself down.” She swatted him in the arm.
“Oh yeah? Scaredy little bot like you, who blows a fuse just from being upstairs?”
“You gave me plenty of practice at being unnaturally brave.” She peered over the edge and visibly winced, before rolling onto her abdomen and slithering backwards over the lip of the roof.
“Watch you don’t purge a tank, there, Squeaks,” Skywarp called after her, making no effort to unfold his arms.
“You better hope I don’t, because it’ll be on you.” She passed the point of no return and a look of transient alarm flickered through her optics before they too vanished over the ledge. “Oof!”
Skywarp leaned forwards to watch her get up and brush grit off her aft.
“Nice try, flyboy,” she called back up at him, and thumbed her nose before transforming back to her sleek pursuit mode and speeding away down the street.
Skywarp huffed amusedly and swung his feet, enjoying the breeze that tickled over his wings and revising the rest of the orn’s plans. Pulsar had an annoyingly good point; Screamer might be infinitely brainy, but science could be sooo sloooow. By the time he’d discovered all the things he needed to engineer a time machine, Skywarp himself could have changed impossibly much, and far too much to go home safely. And I’m not going back to sleep until he’s got it figured out!
So, the best plan of attack on the rest of the orn? First Lucy, then TC, then Seem.
Then the library. Pit. It was going to be a painful afternoon.
(Edit: D'oh, forgot my tags.)
Crossposted. This entry was originally posted at http://keaalu.dreamwidth.org/19457.html.