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Future Tense, Chapter 13

Title (chapter): Future Tense (13)
Series: Transformers, G1-based “Blue” AU
Rating: PG-13
Notes: Unlucky for some? In which Skywarp gets proof that researching stuff really isn’t his forte, gets into a shouting match with Thundercracker, and runs away flies out to New Vos, hoping to find his fellow abductee.

Look, I posted a chapter less than a year since the last time I posted something! I’ve really not got a very visible online presence these days, bah. I would have posted this at lunchtime except a) Dreamwidth has suddenly been blocked as a "social media" site at work (but LJ is apparently fine!) and b) I ran out of lunchtime anyway.

This chapter was going to be a little longer but I am still taking SO LONG writing anything right now, I decided to stop shorter than I originally planned so I could have something to finally share with folk. Thank you so much everyone still following this, I am so sorry it’s taking me so long and thank you all so much for sticking with me!




Future Tense
Chapter Thirteen

     Even with the librarian’s help getting started, Skywarp spent the bulk of his time chewing the purloined stylus and glaring at the screen. History had really done a number on the archives – corrupted file, data lost. Fragmented document. Abnormal file termination. It was hard to friggin’ well find stuff in the first place without it being all, whoops! Nothing to see here, buddy! as well.


     Skywarp filled several pages of his board with squiggled notes and badly-drawn diagrams before his brain hurt too much to continue. He leaned back in his chair and covered his face with his hands. “Ugh.”


     Why would anyone want a job doing this, he wondered. Looking and looking for information that might not even exist in the first place. How did you know when to stop? He glared down at his collection of disjointed, disconnected facts, and worried at the end of the stylus, annoyed and frustrated.


     Good luck getting Screamer interested with this junk. Still say you shoulda gone home and lied.


     On the next bite, the stylus decided he’d asked that tiny bit too much of it, and explosively shorted out across his denta.


     “-aiegh!”


     Startled, Skywarp recoiled from the pain… and felt his weight pass the point of no return. “…frag.” He grabbed for the input panel, but his arms were a fingertip-length too short. The chair’s legs scooted out from under him in the opposite direction.


     After a microsecond where everything felt like it was in high-definition slow motion… he landed on the floor with a crunch, flat on his wings. The impact echoed around the big open space like a gunshot, almost drowning out the string of expletives it jerked from his vocaliser.


     It was a moment or two before he could regain control over his voice. “Owww. Primus.”


     Staring at the ceiling and waiting for his wings to stop hurting, he decided that maybe he was done with the library. The place was even more hazardous to his health than he’d joked. He muttered something ugly and plucked the offending pieces of plastic from his mouth.


     It took several additional seconds to untangle himself from the treacherous chair. The librarian had evidently got spooked and was pretending not to have noticed, busy in a distant corner – never one to overlook an opportunity, Skywarp seized his chance and hid the broken pen down the back of the Vinculum’s interface.


     “Going now,” he called out, to the room. From the distance came a little noise that might have been an acknowledgement. “Thanks for the help, I guess?”


     Skywarp emerged into unexpectedly strong midday sunshine that forced him to temporarily dial down the sensitivity on his optics. He’d been sat working for a lot longer than he’d realised; no wonder his poor processors felt so taxed. He flared his wings and tried to stretch out the tight connectors. Going to find TC and energon might have sounded like a good idea, if not for the prospect of giving a statement still hanging over his head like the proverbial anvil.


     He made his way up the new High Street on foot, deciding that ground-pounding would give him the chance to get a closer look. The last time he’d been this way, most of the derelict buildings had been outright falling down, and the few that weren’t had been boarded up. Now, a whole plethora of small shops had moved into almost every building on either side of the wide central avenue – shabby and mostly-recycled, granted, but well-tended and actually fairly busy.


     …walking got him more attention than he wanted. His wings stuck out like an oversized advertising board – not to mention, there weren’t precisely a whole lot of other famous ex-’Cons around. He could feel the weight of everyone staring at him, like a physical pressure on his plating.


     They’re just curious. You’re a ghost. It doesn’t mean anything. Except the words didn’t feel all that reassuring – or less like someone had painted a target on his back. He clenched his fists, puffed out his chassis and squared his wings, and tried to glare hard enough to get everyone to look elsewhere, which got varying degrees of success. Some machines hastily looked away – others just looked more suspicious.


     You promised TC that you wouldn’t punch anyone else, he reminded himself, jaw tight, directing his attention back to the direction he was walking. Can’t you try stick to it for at least one orn?


     After passing a handful of small units selling everything from basic energon to enamel resprays to tools for minor self-surgery, he took a detour into a confectioner’s – in part to escape some of the stares, but also to see if he actually still had any credits to his designation, and was pleased to find that he did. With a self-satisfied little flourish, he bought a small clear plastic box full of vivid lilac-pink subtly-fulminating candies. (They might not make good weapons, but he figured if he wasn’t allowed to use his fists, he could always pelt folk with explosive sweets instead.)


     He emerged to the scream of sirens – distant at the moment, but getting steadily louder. He tucked his box into his subspace, and turned expectantly to watch as the sounds of pursuit approached down the street, wondering what the fuss was about.


     The first shape was almost silent, and small enough that Skywarp would have missed it entirely if not for machines on the other side of the street stepping back out of the way, allowing it to pass without collision. It turned out to be a grungy orange mech – larger than a bike, but not by a huge margin, who ‘skated’ on small antigravity lifts built right into the soles of his feet. He wore a determined frown, pushing his generator hard enough to make it sing in a high, discordant ultrasound.


     An instant later, the origin of the bulk of the noise – and the reason for Amber’s high-speed passage down the centre of the plaza – appeared at the head of the street, sirens screaming for space. One of them was Slipstream.


     Curious, Skywarp took to the air to watch the pursuit unfold.


     The chase didn’t stay on the high street for very long. The orange mech remained in his root mode, using his hands to grab convenient street furniture to pull himself into tight corners, trying to shake the pursuing police. He quickly disappeared down a side-street.


     The pair of policebots on his tail were both in their altmodes – rugged, powerful little pursuit frames, faster but perhaps not as agile as the fleeing criminal, unable to skate as he did. Amber was actually beginning to increase his lead, able to take unexpected turns much more tightly than the policemechs on his tail. A dozen more of those jinks down alleyways and he might actually manage to escape. Skywarp briefly pondered the idea that he should step in and grab the runaway, but decided that it wouldn’t endear him to his angry little sparkling.


     When the chase got onto a long, straight thoroughfare, with no convenient turnings to sneak away down, Slipstream made his move, and winked out of existence. The orange mech cast a look behind him, as though trying to work out why one of the sirens had vanished, but didn’t allow himself the luxury of studying it for long. He returned his attention to the street in front-


     To find Slipstream square in his way, arms up, legs bent, already braced for impact.


     The thought barely had time to process, let alone give him time to take evasive action. The fleeing criminal gave an alarmed squeak and crashed into Slipstream with an almighty crunch, the pair going down in a tangle of limbs and scattered chips of armour plate. A microsecond later, Slipstream’s silver companion piled in from the opposite direction.


     Unsurprisingly, the orange mech gave up without any more fuss.


     Skywarp couldn’t help the grin that split his features. -nicely done- he pinged.


     Slipstream glanced up to see him and actually smiled, for a whole astro-second or two before remembering he was supposed to be Still Angry and the glare fell back into place.


     Skywarp smiled to himself and flew onwards. Small victories.

0o0o0o0o0


     When Skywarp finally chased his wingmate down, Thundercracker was in the station galley, fetching energon. The blue jet held out a flask and wiggled it at him. “Have fun at the library?”


     “Oh, oodles. Almost as much fun as giving you a statement is gonna be.” Skywarp accepted the flask, then gave him a suspicious look. “Have you been waiting down here this whole time?”


     “Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous.” Thundercracker waved the suggestion away. “Some of us have work to do?”


     From somewhere in the distance there came a little noise like a polite cough. Skywarp glanced in its direction to find Nightsun perched on a stool, shaking his head and mouthing he’s lying at him. The teleport glared at his wingmate, but Thundercracker just smiled back, guileless.


     “Come on.” The blue jet spread his arms and ushered Skywarp into the corridor. “Let’s find somewhere more comfortable. Preferably with a smaller audience.”


     They didn’t get very far before finding their way interrupted by a bike. The diminutive femme stood square in the middle of the corridor, hands on her hips, forcing other machines to sidestep around her.


     Thundercracker drew to a halt in front of her anyway. “Problem, Aurora?”


     “Yes.” The policebot stood closer, almost on tiptoe, as though spoiling for a fight. “Have either of you seen Edge?”


     “Edge of what?” Skywarp quirked his head to one side. “Pretty sure I saw the edge of the universe the last time I drank too much.”


     Aurora shot him the sort of dirty glare he was more used to seeing from Pulsar, and turned bodily away from him to face Thundercracker instead.


     “What? It was a serious question!” Skywarp folded his arms, indignant, pursing his lips.


     She ignored him. “Sir?” she chased.


     Thundercracker looked at her properly. “When did you see him last?”


     “I’ve not seen him since we last ran our beat around sector west-twelve. That was… just over six orns ago. He was going to meet a contact in Rustig straight after, but he should have been back here in two.” She pointed at the floor under her feet for emphasis. “He’s four orns late! I don’t know what he could even be doing for four orns!”


     “Sorry, Rory. I haven’t seen him recently. I assume you’ve reported it to your direct superior? Have you checked the registry, see if he’s still out of district?”


     “Yes, and yes. Of course I’ve checked the registry.” She cast her gaze to the sky. “He’s not checked across the border even once. No-one’s even seen him. It’s ridiculous, I shouldn’t be spending all my off-time chasing his lazy aft.”


     “No, you shouldn’t. Have you asked for help?”


     She waved the suggestion off with an annoyed flick of the wrist. “No. Everyone thinks I’m a clingy possessive at the best of times, I’m not going to give ‘em more ammunition.” She muttered something deprecatory about shouldn’t expect so much from a bunch of useless airheads, anyway and resumed her predatory stomp along the corridor, looking for some other poor unfortunate soul to grill about her missing colleague.


     Skywarp shot a glance at Thundercracker. “So. Who’s Edge?”


     The blue mech watched the femme vanish around a corner, and shook his head. “Straight-Edge is one of her roomies. Serious little mech – quiet, dependable, just gets things done. In other words, eminently invisible. I don’t think I retained a record of the last time I actually saw him.”


     Skywarp snorted. “Maybe he’s got his head screwed on in the right direction and is avoiding her.”


     “Maybe.” Thundercracker shook his head. “Something doesn’t ring quite right. Perhaps I’ll make a few discreet enquiries of my own…”


     Thundercracker’s office was (unsurprisingly) on the top floor. Getting there involved more walking, past more curious glances. Skywarp only just resisted the urge to teleport his way up.


     “What did you say about a smaller audience? I’m beginning to feel a little like a sideshow performance, here,” the dark seeker griped, quietly, as they passed through the open-plan area of desks, now cluttered with officers of every size and format. Dozens of pairs of optics watched them pass.


     Thundercracker spoke softly; “They’re just curious. They’ve had to deal with Screamer and me being short-tempered glitches for the last few dozen vorns, they probably want to see if we’re gonna finally calm down at all.” He patted the teleport’s wing. “Give them time.”


     Skywarp glared at the closest unfortunate until the other mech looked away. “Well they can find something else to be curious about, Primus.”


     Thundercracker watched as Skywarp moved briefly into the chaotic mass of desks, somehow managing to keep his dark wingtips from knocking down any of the precariously-perched equipment piled on the low dividing walls. The teleport didn’t say what he was looking for, and no-one appeared to want to ask; the blue seeker gave him an expectant look when he finally re-emerged from the maze.


     Skywarp shrugged, ambiguously. “Just looking for Squeaky’s desk. Needed to dump something off for her.”


     “Find it?” Thundercracker’s lips twitched in an attempt to restrain a smile. “I’m sure she’ll be delighted.” He jerked his head at the open door behind him. “C’mon.”


     The door to his wingmate’s personal office was behind a wall of frosted glass over the far side of the small room they’d stepped into, which looked like it was home to his deputies. One half was presently unoccupied – the components of a disassembled, high-powered lamp suggested it was probably Nightsun’s workspace. It was ridiculously tidy, every individual element lined up square with its neighbour. Skywarp was instantly suspicious of whether the absent mech actually did any work.


     At the other side of the office, talking quietly with a twitchy little green mech, was a very familiar blue and white heavyweight. Celerity glanced up and noticed Skywarp watching her, and her expression narrowed in a glare.


     He grinned back, seeing the bright streak of his trademark purple still underlining one hostile blue optic. The last time he’d seen her – and okay, so ‘seen’ might not be especially accurate – the riotbot had been sat on his back, kneeling carefully on his wings and using her impressive bulk to keep him quiet while her twin struggled to fit an awkward set of cuffs around his flailing wrists.


     He’d known how it was going to turn out, the instant Vector snagged a trailing wingtip – him, in cells, while the barge gloated from hospital. One-on-one, it might have been a fair fight, but both twins together were just too strong – not to mention, heavy. But! Making it easy for them hadn’t been on the cards and he’d left plenty of purple streaks on their pale paintwork.


     “Hey, Lara. TC said he wanted you to sit on him.” Skywarp flickered his optics in a blatant wink.


     Alarm shot through her expression. Celerity’s optics brightened to a near-white blush and she hastily looked away.


     Thundercracker gave Skywarp a shove on the wing. “Celerity, you have my permission to punch him, any time you like.”


     The femme sputtered something completely unintelligible, and hastily diverted her attention back to her increasingly-bemused visitor in front of her desk.


     The far door opened, revealing an ominously familiar pair of wings silhouetted against the sky. “Oh, finally! Where have you been all morning?!”


     Startled, Skywarp backed into Thundercracker. “…at the library?”


     With a static field bristly enough to be felt from several paces away, Starscream closed the gap between them and waved a threatening finger right under his nose. “Well next time you decide to punch that useless malfunction, at least have the common decency to do it where we can watch.”


     Wings askew, confused, Skywarp watched him stomp through the offices towards the main corridor, officers hastily scattering to get out of his way. “…did I just get actually genuinely told off?”


     Thundercracker smiled and gave him a nudge, to get him moving again. “You have no idea how long he’s been willing someone to punch Waveguide. When he finally gets his wish granted, it’s someone in his own trine that does it, and he doesn’t even get to live vicariously.”


     “I’ll punch him again, if you wanna watch?” Skywarp called after the departing wings, and cackled rudely at the obscene image pinged at him in response.


     “Hey. You hit him again, however well deserved it might be, and I’m disowning you,” Thundercracker growled, although there was a subtle smirk on his lips and Skywarp sensed it was mostly for effect. “Come on. I thought you were tired of being the entertainment?”


     Skywarp wrinkled his nose, but followed him into his office. “I’m not tired of thinking about punching the barge. That’s pretty entertaining.”


     “I’m sure Waveguide’s secretary would have something to say about that.” Thundercracker nodded subtly towards the strange green mech, who shot them an uneasy glance just before the door closed. The blue jet vented warm air in a pleased sigh and settled at his desk, enjoying the feel of noon sunshine streaming through his huge window onto on his wings. “How’d the library go?”


     “Huh.” Purple fingers helped themselves to a stylus from next to the main computer terminal, before their owner crashed out in the comfortable chair in the corner, hooking one leg up to provide a surface to lean his datapad against. “Made my brain hurt. How are you supposed to know when to stop looking because there’s just nothing there?”


     “A question I have asked our illustrious wingleader many a time, and he’s never been able to give me a good answer to it.”


     “Yeah, but that’s because he’s not normal.”


     Thundercracker smiled, and sat quietly for a moment or two, his chin resting atop laced fingers, watching his wingmate squint and frown and add more incomprehensible doodles to his board. “Why don’t you ask him for help?”


     “Help feeling like even more of an idiot? Sure. I’ll get right on it. Like he needs any more excuses to dismiss this as a fever dream.” Skywarp didn’t even look up. He tapped the stylus on the pad, thoughtfully, and sipped his energon. “Did you guys ever figure out where that spaceship actually came from?”


     “Didn’t get much opportunity. You were the only one that ever got a good look at it before it, ah. Vaporised.” Thundercracker smiled sadly. “If we’d had a better visual record of it, we might have stood a better chance at finding you, too.”


     Skywarp reviewed his memory record. He hadn’t precisely been paying attention to identifying marks, but he still had a few good views of the writing he’d seen. He carefully added it to his notepad, but how were you supposed to identify a language? It sounded even harder than identifying a critter, and look how much luck he’d had with that so far. He’d have to go back to the library. He pursed his lips. Great. Maybe he could steal a replacement stylus, as a peace offering.


     A comfortable silence took hold for a few minutes, broken only by the subtle rattle of stylus against pad.


     “Had you thought much about what you’re gonna do once you’ve got bored of researching those things?” Thundercracker finally prompted.


     “Nope. In case you forgot?” Skywarp tapped his pad. “This isn’t for fun. I was kinda hoping to not have to stay that long?”


     “Oh, of course-… Uh. Well-… I can always find you something to do around here, if you ever want. There’s always posts that need filling.”


     Skywarp glared out from beneath hooded brows, looking weirdly exasperated. “C’mon, TC. I’ve barely been back half a breem and you wanna get me in those stupid yellow squares already?”


     “They’re not-” Thundercracker swallowed the snap. “I guess you’re right. I’m sorry. I was just trying to think of a way to help you fit in-”


     “No, you want me parked someplace where you can keep a sensor or two turned my direction, so I can’t cause any more trouble.” Skywarp gave his pen a chastising waggle.


     “That… wasn’t what I said? I mean, all right, no, I don’t want you getting in trouble, but I don’t mean it’s because I think you’re gonna go causing it.” Thundercracker watched his wingmate’s expression turn from suspicion to confusion. “I’m not explaining myself very well, am I?” He sighed. “Maybe I just don’t want you disappearing again. I know you won’t, I just…” He waved his hands, trying to conjure up the explanation that was eluding him. “If you’re nearby, I know you haven’t. It’s… paranoid and clingy, and fairly stupid. I’m sorry. I know you’re feeling abandoned, I’m trying to figure out what to do to help.”


     Skywarp’s expression relaxed, just a little. “I’m not sure I’d cope with a real job, just yet. I’m not even sure I’ll cope with giving you a statement.”


     “I thought you’d forgotten about that.”


     One dark shoulder came up in an offhand shrug. “I was kinda hoping you had.”


     “…I don’t see why it can’t wait a little while longer. I’m not sure it’s a good idea with Highlighter still lurking at Celerity’s desk, anyway. This wall isn’t entirely soundproof.”


     Skywarp snorted. “Pff. I’m not gonna say anything you’ll need to apologise for – but I’m not gonna bawl about not having to do it either.” He tapped his board. “There was that femme, wasn’t there? Where does she live now?” The stylus was halfway to his mouth before he remembered what happened last time and hastily changed his mind about chewing it.


     “Uh-… yes?” The blue jet quirked a brow, thrown by the abrupt change of subject. “There’s been maybe one or two I’ve heard of, down the vorns.” When Skywarp gave him a funny look, he spread his hands and added; “You’re gonna have to give me a bit more to work with that ‘that femme’.”


     “The one that someone was trying to get to pretend to be me. They repainted her and sicced her on the Empties in Rustig.”


     “Oh, you mean Upswing? Why did you want to know?”


     “Is that her name? Squeaks didn’t tell me.” Skywarp added it to his scribbles. “I’m kinda stuck. I thought I could go talk to her. She might have seen something useful.”


     “She’s out in New Vos; Acid Storm is keeping an optic on her.” Thundercracker watched him, warily. “If you do go talk to her, try and be gentle? She’s still pretty sick and it was all kinda traumatic-”


     “Slaggit!” Glaring, Skywarp slapped his stylus down on his pad, making Thundercracker jump. “Do I have to remind you I’ve been through a pretty freaking traumatic experience as well?” he snapped, stabbing a finger at the air to underline the point. “Not that any of you guys have noticed, of course, because none of you lot seem to give a frag about it.”


     “I’m sorry. I’m sorry!” Thundercracker had actually leaned back in his chair, hands raised and palms out in a plea for calm. “Of course I care about-”


     “Don’t give me that old slag! All we’ve done since I woke up in this new refit is discuss me needing to behave myself and settle down like a good little pod-seeker, and pretend nothing ever happened!” Skywarp threw his hands into the air. “You’re more worried about some femme you probably barely even met than you’ve given me the time of day! We’re supposed to be trine and you can’t shove me away fast enough!”


     For a second or two they just stared at each other.


     “…I’m sorry? I didn’t mean to offend-”


     “You think this is all about me being offended?!” Skywarp rocked up onto his thrusters, arms stiff and fingers tightening into fists at his sides. “I’m hurt, I’m lost, I’ve had half my life stolen, my own bros don’t want anything to do with me, and you think I’m just offended?!”


     “Of course I don’t think that.” Thundercracker straightened, wings twitching. “It wasn’t what I meant and it’s not fair to imply it, either. You’re not the only one having a hard time right now-”


     “Right.


     “Losing you in the first place was bad enough. Having someone then come in, pretending to be you? It damn near killed both of us! So please forgive me for struggling to come to terms with having you finally return from the dead.” Thundercracker emerged warily from behind his desk, hands out, not sure if his wingmate was about to try and slug him one. “Please, Warp. Give me a chance, here? I don’t really want to let you out of my sight, but I can’t be with you every astro-second of the orn.”


     Skywarp folded his arms and leaned subtly forwards. “Well you woulda done. Back when we were Cons. When I wasn’t less important than your slagging job. When we still remembered what trine actually meant.”


     Thundercracker’s wings prickled higher, very slightly. “Well please, forgive me for having a few actual responsibilities to worry about, now. I’m sorry I turned into a productive member of a society that values my input as something more than a hired thug. It’s not like I’m avoiding you out of choice!”


     “Avoiding me, yeah, thanks. Nice choice of words, there, not like it tells me what you really think or anything. So glad to have me back, you keep dumping me off on everyone else.”


     “Skywarp-”


     “And you can take your squares and stick a fork in ’em. I don’t want to be some freaking… Autobot. Maybe I wanna be a courier, or a mapmaker, or maybe I just wanna be a lazy unemployed aft until I figure out whether I even belong here any more.”


     Even the slap of air collapsing into the void Skywarp left when he teleported away sounded more aggressive than normal. He dropped to the roof hard enough to make the tough crystal ring alarmingly, but it miraculously held up under his weight.


     “Skywarp-… come on, don’t.” Thundercracker looked up at him through the skylight.


     The teleport glared down from his perch on the roof; to Thundercracker, his voice was muffled by the glass, but he could probably have been heard from miles away. “I’m going to Vos. Don’t bother following me.”


     Then he hurled himself off the roof, getting untidily airborne. The sonic boom as he gunned his thrusters and accelerated dramatically away towards the horizon was almost as loud as one of Thundercracker’s specials.


     Hand lingering near the controls for the air-gate built into the roof, Thundercracker watched silently as the pinpoints of light from Skywarp’s thrusters grew smaller and smaller, then vanished altogether into the distance. The sudden quiet felt oppressive, adding to the weight that seemed to have built up in his chassis. Everything felt over-tight, hot and defensive. He wished his fans weren’t running quite so noisily.


     He removed his hand from the controls and backed off, reluctantly. Chasing his wingmate would only prolong the argument.


     Behind him, the door clicked, softly – he glanced around to see a white blur moving away from the glass wall, and cursed softly under his breath. It would be ridiculous to have expected his deputy to have not heard him arguing with Skywarp, but he hoped Highlighter had finally gone when it had kicked off.


     In a way, he was glad Celerity had decided not to intrude. He wouldn’t have been able to explain without losing his precarious control of his temper.


     Thundercracker let his weight plop gracelessly back into his chair and rested his forehead against both palms.


     Now what, huh?


     He desperately needed to untangle his thoughts. If he was going to stand a chance at patching things up, at apologising and explaining, he needed to know what he was actually thinking. It had been so long since he’d thought about what would happen if a miracle did finally occur and they got their long-dead brother back… he’d stopped thinking about what he’d actually do when it happened.


     So now, he was just running scared and trying really hard to avoid looking at the problem, even though he knew from experience that had never worked for them in the past.


     Thundercracker swiped his diary open and in a single flick of the hand, deleted his afternoon schedule – his responsibilities didn’t feel all that important, all of a sudden. He picked up Skywarp’s discarded stylus, and began to write.

This entry was originally posted at http://keaalu.dreamwidth.org/31284.html.

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