Whichever way you sliced it, watching over sparklings sucked almighty slag.
Ramjet half-suspected this was a punishment of some sort, perhaps for not being proactive enough? Or for some perceived infraction by his trine, so thanks to you two obnoxious afts for getting him punished for something he wasn’t even involved in.
But he was also the only one he halfway trusted not to screw things up, so he only had himself to blame, really. Both his wingbros had the tendency to be unrelenting morons, and he knew for absolute certainty that if he left the scraplet under their watch, it’d get broken. Bye bye any hope of ever going home to Cybertron.
His diminutive charge sat on the terminal he was working at, close enough for him to keep a good watch over. Skydash wasn’t strictly facing in his direction, but Ramjet could tell she had her attention fixed on him. The big blue optics felt rather like the targeting scanner of some dangerous new weapon. It was… weirdly disconcerting. He was starting to see why Dirge had found it so destabilising to have the infant Slipstream staring at him.
He glanced briefly in her direction, and watched as her gaze hastily flicked away into a corner. He knew it wouldn’t stay there for long. She’d got into a routine that was aggravating his already-sore helm.
Sucked being the only halfway responsible mech left serving aboard this fragging deep-sea tin can. He vented a sigh and mantled his fingers against his temples.
“If you’re getting bored, I know the Constructicons wouldn’t mind looking after the li’l blob of tin for a while,” an unfriendly voice drawled from somewhere close behind him. “I heard they were wanting a closer look.”
Ramjet didn’t bother turning around. “Sure thing, Dirge. I’ll get right on it. I mean, I was only just now thinking I needed yet another reason to get Screamer’s trine to slag all three of us the next time we bump into them.”
Dirge muttered something that sounded like a deprecatory assessment of his wingmate’s courage, but Ramjet didn’t feel like asking him to clarify. Even punching him in the helm seemed less attractive than getting him to just go away, for once.
The thought had barely finished processing when Skydash summoned enough courage to creep closer again, shuffling forwards on her small aft, and put her hand on his arm. “Want home,” she said, softly. “Arrgie take?”
He turned to glare down at her and she snatched her hand away, startled. “For the millionth time, no. And it’s Ramjet, not… Arrgie.”
She thought about it for a few seconds. “Mean blue say.”
“Hear that, Dirge? You’re Mean Blue, now. The scraplet knows you better than half your shipmates do.”
Dirge gave a dismissive snort.
Ramjet returned his attention to the sparkling. “And that doesn’t give you permission to call me it, either. Just… sit there and be quiet.”
She sat and stared at him for several dissatisfied seconds. “Want Ama.”
Ramjet tightened his jaw, lips compressing to a thin, annoyed line. That sore helm wasn’t going away any time soon. “I know. You said that a breem ago. My answer hasn’t changed.”
She thought about it for a moment. “When see?”
“When?” He sighed and covered his face. “Uh. Never, I guess?”
A flash of alarm passed clearly through the small face. She silently scrutinised his features, attempting to gauge whether she believed him. “See soon?” she repeated, in a funny wavery little voice.
“Look; in case no-one told you this? You’re not here for fun, Tiny. You’re our prisoner. You don’t get to make demands. You just do what we tell you to do.”
Skydash thought about it for a few wibbly seconds longer. “See soon,” she repeated, firmly, as though trying to reassure herself that he wasn’t being truthful.
Ramjet could hear Dirge snickering softly in the background. “Ugh. Sure, fine, whatever.” He sagged back in his chair, letting his arms dangle. “If she somehow manages to rock up at our doorstep demanding to have you back, she can have you. Now be quiet.”
Temporarily mollified, Skydash returned her attention to her small pedes, clicking quietly and self-comfortingly to herself.
Dirge made an ugly snrk noise. “Good going there, mighty wingleader. Defeated by a sparkling – again.”
Ramjet tightened his jaw, biting down on an insult. He could feel his patience straining thinner with every passing second. “So did you finish mopping? Or do you need me to get Thrust to come down here and remind you how to do it?”
“I’m the Boss’s favourite, dude. How about you finish the chores.”
The wet end of the mop slapped him tauntingly on the back of the head.
It didn’t hurt, but Ramjet’s tolerance was well and truly done. He was up on his feet in a flash, yanked the mop out of his wingmate’s hands, and slammed it down on Dirge’s helm, hard enough to snap it into two.
Startled, Dirge actually gave a squeak of alarm, fell off his chair and scrambled on all fours out the door before any additional blows could be forthcoming. “Primus frag, you psycho, what the slag was that for-?!” He cowered behind the wall, engines pitched at just the right level to keep his wingmate from pursuing him.
Ramjet clutched the broken end of the mop in his fist, willing Dirge to get back within striking range. “What do you think it was for, you fragheaded pitglitch?” he snapped. “Or were you under the impression you were actually being helpful?”
“Hey, you’re the one whining about being stuck on sparkling-duty.” Insulted, Dirge bravely peeked around the doorframe, and dropped his engine pitch a little. “I gave you a suggestion for what to do instead, didn’t I? Don’t blame me if you’re getting too soft and wibbly, and don’t like the idea of being mean.”
Ramjet felt his fists tighten, finding it difficult to resist the compulsion to back off, away from the hideous pitscreech that made his entire core vibrate. “Why don’t you take your attempt at ‘suggestions’…” He forced himself to step closer, gesturing meaningfully with the broken mop. “…and shove ‘em somewhere?”
Dirge picked up the other half of the mop; the soggy end meant it lacked a certain menace in comparison to Ramjet’s jagged cosh, but the blue jet didn’t seem bothered. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean. How about you bend over, and I’ll get some practice in?”
By now, their noses were almost touching. “Go find something better to do.”
Ramjet gave him a shove back towards the door.
But shoves rapidly escalated to punches, and suddenly it had all degenerated into a ridiculous and undignified brawl in a spilled puddle of dirty soapy water in the middle of the monitoring room and it felt rather like Dirge was actually getting the upper hand-
Until the horrendous, ultrasonic distress signal of a frightened sparkling cut like a sonic laser through the scuffle, slicing across sensitive audio receptors like something physical.
Dirge lurched away in alarm, hands flying up to his audios and inadvertently smacking himself in the face with his mop. “Primus frag-! The slag is that all about-?! Get it to shut up, already!”
Ramjet was already scrambling for the infant, as if he’d be able to find an ‘off’ switch. “You shut her up, if you’re so clever. And quit making that stupid engine screech, you’re making it worse.”
To Ramjet’s endless relief, for a change Dirge actually just complied and turned off his destabilising sonics. “Shake it, or something!”
“Don’t be stupid, that’ll break her.” Ramjet held the wailing sparkling at arm’s length; her legs pedalled frantically in midair, as though scared she was about to be dropped, and her volume actually seemed to increase. He flinched and hastily put her back down on the terminal.
“Nobody said we had to keep from breaking it.” Dirge made a grab for her. “I’m sure Hook has a nice soldering iron we could use to weld its lips closed.”
“I said, Dirge.” Ramjet hastily put himself in the way. “I said we have to keep from breaking her. I’m actually trying to look at the long picture, and what might happen to us if we do.”
“Who even cares?” Dirge put his hands up. “Apart from you, slag even knows why. It’s like you’ve written this whole thing off as a failure already!”
“If you’d forgotten, we’re ’Cons? We don’t exactly have the greatest track record of things going in our favour. It’d be nice to increase our odds of surviving in the long term.”
“Well, if you don’t somehow get it to quit making that hideous pitsquall, Megatron will come smash us. I figure it’s a fair tradeoff.”
“Hnng.” Ramjet covered his face with both hands and counted to five thousand. “If you hadn’t almost killed the other kid, we could have just left her with him, but no, you couldn’t slagging leave things alone, could you?”
“Oh come on.” Dirge folded his arms and looked away. “It was just a little nick.”
“Little enough that we had to dump him on Hook before he bled out all over the brig?”
“He coulda crystallised that off for himself, no problem.” Dirge huffed, defensively. “Not like it’s my fault the cops are using substandard parts to keep costs down.”
Ramjet applied a hand to each of Dirge’s shoulders, and hustled him firmly out of the doorway. “OK, Dirge, I give up, you win, you’re the best, I suck, I’ll get back to nursemaid duty seeing as that’s what I’m best at, you go celebrate with Thrust or something, I don’t care, just go the frag away.”
He caught only the slimmest glimpse of startled crimson optics before the door hushed closed between them. Dirge voiced a profanity, thankfully muffled, and punched the door, then stomped away down the corridor, heels echoing like gunshots.
“And as for you…” Ramjet turned to the still-screechy sparkling. The ultrasonic wail might have stopped the instant Dirge left the room, but she was still well and truly caught up in her tantrum.
“Want ama!” she squeaked, half-alarmed, half-angry. “Want home! Arrgie take!”
“Arrgie knows for a fact that he already told you no, so how about you pipe down?” He waved a threatening finger in her direction. “You’re making my helm hurt.”
Skydash took the opportunity, and bit the proffered body part.
That was the last straw. “All right, bratlet; time you had a timeout.” Ramjet snagged Dirge’s overturned bucket and dropped the sparkling inside, then covered the opening with a databoard. He propped one thruster against the top. “Now be quiet.”
A little hollow clattering ensued, and he could feel something small rattling against the board under his foot. A muffled squeak of alarm echoed up from the pail.
“Be quiet!” He rapped his thrustered heel against the board, and the rattling stopped, startled.
“…want out?” a thin, staticky voice asked.
“No. You shoulda thought about that before you got naughty.”
A pause. “…not like in?”
“That’s the point. Quit being a brat and maybe I’ll let you out.”
Another few seconds of anxious chirping passed. “Out now?” she squeaked quietly, tapping at the board. “Am a good?”
He ignored her. She’d actually left chips in his enamel. Great. Like he had nothing better to do than get those filled. (And become a laughing stock – again – when it transpired they were courtesy of a sparkling.)
The squeaks of protest finally turned into the soft murmur of static; after a while, even that faded out.
Letting his arms dangle at his sides, Ramjet counted to ten thousand and finally allowed himself the luxury of a long cooling draught of air, trying to get rid of a little of the stale exhaust from his vents. Really didn’t say much about his commitment to the Decepticon cause if he could be made to feel bad by a bot that could have fitted in the palm of his hand.
Joking aside, it still took Pulsar a breem or two to regain the confidence to return to her family in the atrium. Long vorns of habituation meant she wasn’t specifically scared of Winglord Irascible, but getting on his bad side tended to be painful on the audios, and for a protracted period. She still didn’t really have the first idea what she was going to actually say to anyone, either, except probably that she wanted to be first in line to wallop Skywarp when (and if) he finally returned.
And yes, okay, fine; she wanted the sparklings back, in one piece and as soon as possible. Warp’s plan might be the dictionary definition of idiocy, but it was better than no plan at all. Drawing it out like he’d asked her to do maybe gave him a whisper of a halfway remote chance of actually achieving a miracle.
When she arrived back on the ground floor, Starscream was pacing back and forth in front of the window, throwing ideas into the air. He didn’t look particularly interested in getting anyone’s input, so long as he got the occasional noise that made it sound like he had an audience. Being interrupted to inform him of the reckless teleport’s actions probably wouldn’t go down so well.
Pulsar slunk out of the lift and around the maple, and cleared her vents with a little khuff. “Skyfire?”
The shuttle turned to look at her.
“Can I talk to you for a moment?” she asked.
The giant cast his gaze briefly back to Starscream, who offered a sort of pouty shrug and spread his hands, confused by why Skyfire was asking for his permission.
Skyfire found a small smile. “Of course. You don’t need to ask.”
Pulsar flicked a hand and gestured for them to retire a little further back into the big room. A little more out of hearing range.
Skyfire had to kneel just to get anywhere near her level. “How are you both holding up?” he wondered, quietly, brushing comforting fingertips delicately against her arm.
Pulsar studied the floor under her feet for a few seconds before forcing out something that tried to be a smile. “Yeah. We’re, uh.” She folded her arms around herself. “Keeping it together, I guess. Trying not to imagine what’s happening to our little sparks when we’re not there. I hope Seem’s got enough common sense to not goad any of them into a fight.”
“He’s had good teachers. If anyone knows how to stay alive-”
“Normally? I’d agree. But they’ve been taken by Cons, with a grudge, who don’t need much baiting. And I’ve been in the role of bargaining chip before. That wasn’t all Siphon’s work.”
Skyfire remained quiet. He remembered the chaos of Egypt, and all the broken, barely-alive machines that had come away from the desert.
“As for Skywarp, well. He’s, uh.” Pulsar shrugged and looked off into the distance, avoiding meeting his gaze. “Skywarp.”
Skyfire’s optics narrowed, very slightly. “…is everything all right, Pulsar?”
She rearranged her folded arms around her chassis and drew cold air through her core. Still glaring fixedly at the giant’s knees, she found the words she’d been searching for; “Skywarp, uh. Might have decided he was done procrastinating, and flown off to Earth to rescue the bits himself.”
Skyfire couldn’t help the startled exclamation; “He’s done what?!”
Pulsar leaped forwards, covering the giant’s mouth with both hands. “Shh!” she squeaked, alarmed.
Skyfire hastily seized her in a hug, in a clumsy attempt to cover the outburst.
In the sunlit main area of the atrium, Starscream merely clicked his annoyance at having his train of thought briefly derailed, and didn’t challenge it.
“What in Primus was he trying to achieve?” Skyfire asked, in a whisper, so close to her helm that she could feel the air moving.
Pulsar mantled her fingers on the shuttle’s enormous shoulder. “You know Skywarp. Never one to let little things like fear and common sense hold him back.” His static field felt nice. Reassuring. Anxious and alarmed, granted, but it didn’t leave her feeling like a walking storm of fireflies; her head felt a tiny bit clearer already. “He thinks he stands a better chance of succeeding and surviving if Starscream doesn’t go with him.” After a beat, she added; “I mostly agree with him. We all know it’s Screamer who Megatron really wants. Everyone else is just an extra bonus.”
“…that Megatron probably won’t kill him just yet doesn’t sound like the most optimistic way of looking at this whole mess.”
“I know. But I’m not sure if there’s many other ways that don’t involve collapsing into a heap of static on the floor.”
Skyfire considered the situation for a few moments longer. “I’m assuming Star doesn’t know yet…?”
“No. Warp asked me to cover for him, because I’m apparently a sucker.” Pulsar vented a frustrated little snort. “Honestly? I’m not sure how to broach the subject. Not without making an enemy of Starscream for the next half a vorn.”
“…which is why you wanted to talk to me? I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to keep him off the warpath, either.” A small, reluctant smile traced the shuttle’s lips. “Especially if Skywarp’s gone and stolen his thunder like this.”
Pulsar groaned softly and let her head bonk down against him. “Why do I always end up sucked into the idiotic parts of everyone’s schemes, where all I can do is try and keep disasters from getting worse, and never anything useful and heroic.”
“I ask myself the same thing on a regular basis. Just because Star’s plans are a little more polished, it doesn’t make them less idiotic, sometimes.”
She sighed against him, and let him relax his grip so she could slide back to the floor. “Well. Thanks anyway. Guess I’ll have to just think of something.”
Skywarp abruptly solved the problem for her.
Something subtle changed in the atmosphere. A sudden brief, intangible sense of a hole opening up – of something suddenly not there any more.
Skywarp’s signal had gone off the registry. He’d obviously got through the space bridge.
And Pulsar found herself suddenly trapped at the focus of everyone’s attention. She puffed herself up, standing as tall as she could in an effort to look bigger. Less vulnerable.
Starscream put himself a scant arm’s length from her, arms folded, looming in the way that got most folk dashing for cover lest a nullray was forthcoming. “I have the feeling you know more about this than you’re telling us.”
Pulsar backed off half a step. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Oh really.” He lifted his chin, unimpressed. “Has he gone to get Autobot help, is that it? He’s being his usual impatient self, and can’t give me even half a slagging orn to figure out what in Pit we can do to fix this?”
Pulsar ran through her options, but came up with nothing she felt would satisfy Starscream’s temper. The silence stretched out between them.
“…that’s not it, is it.” Starscream’s optics thinned, suspiciously, and he unfolded his arms. He looked suspiciously like he was preparing to make a sprint after his errant wingmate “What has he gone to do?”
The bike swallowed a quick intake of cold air and braced herself, before ejecting the words in a breathless rush. “He’s gone to try and break into Nemesis, to get the sparklings back by himself. He asked me to run interference because he knew if you went with him, you’d get them all killed. Or try to stop him. And for the record I think he’s right.”
For a second, Starscream just… stared. Then choked out a noise that sounded like it might have been an incredulous laugh, threw his hands up, and resumed pacing out those tight, agitated circles.
Pulsar hastily backed off and bumped into Skyfire.
After several seconds of inability to make anything other than incoherent sounds of outraged disbelief, Starscream finally regained control of his voice. “Did you not think to try and stop him, maybe?!”
She stood and faced him, arms slightly spread as though preparing herself for a fight. “All right, you’re the scientist. How. He’s four times my size! He’d have flown me up to a roof somewhere and dumped me there.”
“You didn’t think of, I don’t know, shouting for attention? You can shake sparks out of the Matrix with that siren, since when have you ever needed an excuse to use it?!”
“Did you miss the part where it would be a roof somewhere in the distance?”
He stopped pacing briefly to wave an arm in a threatening point. “And that would hardly have stopped your comms antenna working. Or is that something else the pair of you have broken and not bothered to get fixed yet?”
She folded her arms and slumped back against Skyfire. “My antennae are fine.” She glared off to one side. “And-… that’s-… not a very fair evaluation.”
Once again, Starscream could only find noises that didn’t really match any known words. “Excuse me?!” he finally spluttered. “You stood back and watched as my wingmate flew off to his likely doom, and I’m the one being unfair?! Now I expect that sort of idiocy from Skywarp, but I was under the illusion you saw him as a little more than a convenient way to get from A to B!”
Pulsar visibly bristled. “I know it’s a big ask for you to understand this, but we want our family back, all right? In as few pieces as possible. And Skywarp’s the only one who’s had anything even like a workable plan, so far. We can’t be waiting on you forever.”
“A single suicidal badly-thought-out headlong rush into total disaster doesn’t strike me as anything remotely near workable!”
“At least he’s doing something-!”
Skyfire set his fingers lightly onto Pulsar’s shoulder, reassuringly, before facing his smaller partner. “To be fair, he is the only one to have come up with something, Star. You’ve not really given us anything to work with, yet.”
Starscream stabbed a finger at him. “Don’t you take their side, traitor!”
The hyperbole might have been obvious, but it didn’t take out any of the sting. Skyfire’s brows tightened at the remark, hurt. “If you think of something, you know you have my support in making it work,” he said, curtly, “but until you do, I’d suggest that we stop sniping at each other, and try to work out how to take advantage of Skywarp’s bravery. Don’t you?”