dracoqueen22: (doctorisin)
[personal profile] dracoqueen22
a/n: In honor of finishing this, I decided to update! Yay!

Title: Critical Mass
Universe: Transformers: Prime Season Two AU, Event Horizon 'verse
Characters: Autobot and Decepticon Ensemble with focuses on Ratchet, Sunstreaker, Knock Out, Megatron, Optimus/Orion Pax
Rating: M
Warnings: canon-typical violence, character death, elements of dubious consent, some may consider this mpreg, tactile/spark smut
Description: Sequel to Event Horizon. New allies have come to assist, but Optimus is still missing, and other matters have complicated the fight against the Decepticons. Time draws ever short as the war races toward an inevitable conclusion.

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Chapter Four

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“Slagging Autobots!” Knock Out snarls as he storms into the Nemesis' medbay, frame aching from helm to pede and his finish in even worse condition. “Soft-sparked, cheating, useless, fraggers!”

He lashes out, knocking over a magnifying lamp and watching it crash to the floor with an air of mild satisfaction.

Bad enough that he let the Autobots defeat him. Bad enough that he failed Megatron and let the Autobots get away with the artifact. Worse that he's now in this terrible state and there's not a fragged thing he can do about it because Breakdown's unconscious. Mech made the mistake of stepping on the third rail, which Knock Out warned him about three times, the clumsy oaf!

Frag it all to the Pit!

“Are you all right?”

Knock Out whirls, spark pounding behind his chestplate at the unexpected vocals. No mech ever comes to the medbay. At least, not any that are conscious!

“Orion,” he greets, optics spiraling outward, betraying his surprise. “You... what are you doing here? Are you damaged?”

He snaps into action, bringing a scanner to bear. His own wrecked paint job aside, Primus forbid Orion should be so much as scratched. Megatron would have Knock Out's plating, tear his helm from his shoulders, and sell the rest of him for scrap!

Orion waves him off with an amused sort of patience. “I should ask you the same question. You look...”

“Scratched all to Pit,” Knock Out grumbles as his scanner beeps a negative at him. Orion is the picture of health. “Blame the Autobots. They got lucky.” He puts away his equipment and plants his hands on his hips, looking up at the taller mech. “Shouldn't you be working?”

At this, Orion's optics shift away in telltale embarrassment. “I intend to return to my duties shortly. I am in need of... filler.”

Understanding dawns and Knock Out takes another look at the mech. Sure enough, there are streaks of silver compromising the usual red and blue plating.

Knock Out rolls his optics. Megatron might as well have stamped the glyphs for possession on Orion's helm. Subtle, thy Lord is not. Apparently, one can take the mech out of the ring but not the gladiator out of the mech. Classy, thy Lord is not.

Foregoing his own awful state for the moment, Knock Out turns, gesturing for Orion to follow him. “Lucky for you, we have plenty in our stocks.” True most of it is Knock Out's personal store. He wouldn't waste it on the nameless, faceless drones but he can spare some for poor Orion. The once-Prime has no idea how in over his helm he really is.

“If it's not too much trouble,” Orion says, though he does follow Knock Out, managing to loom without trying.

Knock Out supposes the once-upon-a-Prime can't help the fact that he towers over nearly everyone on this ship except for Lord Megatron himself. Though it's a curious fact that a supposed data clerk is so very large in the first place.

“I can't do much for my own state until my clumsy assistant wakes his aft up anyway,” Knock Out replies though the moment he shoves the filler into Orion's hand, he's making a beeline for the washracks. The least he can do is wash off the grit and grime.

Besides, helping Orion look fresh as new and too-shiny-to-resist might be a point in Knock Out's favor. Help him avoid the infamous wrath of Megatron due to the failed mission.

“This mission... was it related to the coordinates I deciphered from Project Iacon?” Orion asks.

Knock Out pauses in the doorway to the storage room, casting the data clerk an askance look. “Didn't Lord Megatron tell you?”

Orion's gaze is not on him, but distant, as though his processor is elsewhere. “He is a busy mech. Often there is little time left for conversation.”

This speaks way more of what goes on behind the closed doors of Megatron's quarters than Knock Out wants to know. Granted, the mental image of Megatron and Orion Pax entwined is enough to heat the systems of any mech with a working interface drive. But sometimes knowing the particulars about one's superior can be... disorientating.

Aside from all that, Orion's starting to get inquisitive. Or rather, he has been curious but is only now starting to vocalize that curiosity.

How much longer will the ruse stand under Orion's scrutiny, Knock Out wonders. And what will happen when Megatron is forced to either let Orion go or terminate his berth-warmer. It just might snap what is left of his leader's sanity.

Knock Out steps back into the storage room, scanning the shelves for a generic filler that Orion's paint nanites can adapt into the perfect shade.

“I see,” he replies, a perfectly bland answer that doesn't confirm or deny Orion's curiosity and plants a broad smile on his lipplate. “Ah, here's what you're looking for.”

He snatches up the small tube and presents it to Orion with a flourish. “Sure to fill in and fix all those pesky scratches and scrapes.”

“Thank you. But--”

“No need to thank me. I'm just doing my duty. Anything for the Decepticon cause.” Knock Out doesn't give Orion a chance to ask more questions, shooing the former Prime out of the storage room and giving him a push toward the exit. “Now it's back to work for both of us. The war won't win itself.”

Orion is too mild-mannered to dig in his pedes to protest, so he submits to Knock Out's ushering and heads right for the door. “If you insist.”

“I do.”

Knock Out gives Orion one last push and then closes the door to the medbay behind the former Autobot. He utters a sigh of relief. Rude, yes? But safer in the long run. Knock Out doesn't want to be the one fool on the whole ship who says the wrong thing.

Running a hand down his faceplate, Knock Out catches a glimpse of his finish in the mirror. He scowls.

To the washracks it is.

o0o0o

Perceptor frowns as he examines the object Arcee and Bumblebee had brought him. It is a small cylinder with Cybertronian markings on the outside. The language is old, but not so that Prowl is unfamiliar with it. The origins are Iacon, from the Archives as a matter of fact.

Optimus, as Orion Pax, had worked in the Archives. Is there a connection?

What was it?” Sideswipe asks, perching on a nearby crate and idly fiddling with one of Ratchet's tools. He ought to know better but frankly, so long as he is over there and not over here interfering, Perceptor isn't about to chastise him.

Perceptor must admit curiosity of his own. “I do not know.” He sets the cylinder aside and reaches for the weapon it had contained.

This needs no explanation. He had recognized the phase shifter on sight. It is an Autobot artifact, once stolen by the Decepticons but then recovered and locked away for safekeeping. The risk of it being taken again had far outweighed its value in the field.

What is such a weapon doing here?” Perceptor murmurs.

The phase shifter is in perfect condition. It functions as well though Perceptor finds a reluctance to suggest using it for the same reason it had been locked away in the first place. The greater question is how it arrived on Earth and how the Decepticons knew to look for it.

Blue says Knock Out was drilling there and only there,” Sideswipe says, tossing a mini-welder from one hand to the other. “They knew they were looking for something. They knew where to look.”

Perceptor inclines his helm and sets the phase shifter back down. Perhaps the cylinder holds more clues. It had been stored in Iacon. The cylinder is from Iacon. Somehow, an artifact from Iacon had been buried on Earth.

Curious.

Perhaps Megatron has more reason to be pleased with Optimus' memory loss than the obvious,” he suggests, and picks up a sheet, wiping more dirt away from the cylinder's casing.

You think there are more?”

Perceptor's targeting lens flips up and out of the way, replacing itself with his microscope lens so that he might examine the cylinder's construction. “I think that we must all be very, very careful in monitoring the Decepticons. Because we prevented them from obtaining this, but there were far more dangerous items stored in the Archives. It is a good thing you convinced your brother to return.”

Sideswipe rolls his shoulders. “Yeah, well, convincing Sunstreaker is part of my job.” His tone holds an edge of bitterness.

Perceptor briefly looks up, sparing his travel-mate a commiserating look. “You have both suffered these millennia. I have faith that you will reunite with First Aid. I was right about Ratchet, was I not?”

Sideswipe cracks a grin at him, a much better look for the frontliner. “You're right about everything, Perceptor.”

Well, perhaps not everything.” He hums a noncommittal tune and returns his attention to the cylinder. “Now let's see what else I can discover. Can you hand me a spectrograph?”

Sideswipe hops down from the crate and stretches his arms over his helm. “Good thing I wasted so much time at Ratchet's. There's one right over here.”

Perceptor smiles.

Distraction found.


0o0o0


“You ever thought about sparklings?”

Jazz stirs from a half-doze, onlining his optics. “Hmm?”

Bluestreak lifts his helm from where it's been resting on Jazz's chassis, his finger trailing a nonsense rhythm down Jazz's side panels. “Sparklings. You ever wanted any? Ratchet and Sunny trying again's made me think about it and I know the All Spark is gone so we can't really go that route anymore. But I still wonder...”

“Well,” Jazz replies, reaching down to brush a hand over Bluestreak's helm, caressing the sensor-laden chevron. “I can't say I've ever considered it, sweetspark.”

Bluestreak props his chin on his palm, giving Jazz a doe-opticked look. “But you're thinking about it now, right?”

“I suppose I am.” Jazz shifts his attention to Bluestreak's doorwing, exploring the strangeness of it and the new Earth kibble not present beforehand. Such as the handle and the locks. “I don't really think I'm the nurturin' type.”

The All Spark is gone. Not that it really matters because Jazz knows they wouldn't have been approved for a sparkling anyway. Though Jazz is old enough that he has the same reproductive system installed that Ratchet does. He's never been interested in testing it out though. Having a bond is one thing. Splitting his devotion to include a youngling is a whole different ballpark.

Bluestreak chuckles even as a shiver races across his plating, energy field swelling with interest. “And you think Sunny is? Or Ratchet for that matter? The Hatchet himself?”

Jazz's lipplates pull into a grin. “Doc's got a spark of gold under all that bluster. And ya'd be surprised how much of a motherhen Sunstreaker can be. Never saw a prouder genitor, I swear ta Primus.”

Bluestreak's engine rumbles, sending vibrations over their shared berth. “Hnn. Doesn't really answer my question though.” He peers up at Jazz, all curious optics that refuse to be distracted by Jazz's nimble fingers.

“Ya want sparklings, Blue? Is that it?”

His mate shrugs his shoulders, pressing his doorwing against Jazz's hand. “No. Not right now, of course. But maybe some orn. If we survive this war.” Bluestreak's shoulder lifts and drops again. “I don't know. Maybe I'll change my mind. Maybe you will. Who knows? It doesn't matter though.”

Jazz's free hand cups Bluestreak's helm and he gently pulls Bluestreak up, until their forehelms come into contact. “Ask me again when the war's over.”

“You actually believe it's going to end?”

“I'd better.” Jazz's lipplates pull into a tight smile. “Else what th' frag am I doin' here?”

Bluestreak smirks, resting his weight on Jazz's chassis with a creak of metal. “We don't have anywhere else to go. Cybertron's scrap. Velocitron's on it's last cycles. Junkion's junk. No one wants us. Not even the humans.”

Hmm. He does have a point.

Jazz rests a hand on the lower curve of Bluestreak's backstrut. “You make it sound like its hopeless no matter what we do.”

“Not hopeless,” Bluestreak corrects. “But I stopped thinking we'd all make it a long time ago.”

“When did I turn into the optimistic one?” Jazz asks, a bitter laugh escaping his vocalizer. “Primus, Blue.”

His mate's engine revs, the vibrations traveling through Jazz's frame. “Well, one of us has to keep a level helm. Be realistic.” Despite the serious nature of his words, Jazz doesn't miss the teasing tone to Bluestreak's vocals.

He shakes his helm, dragging fingers further down, investigating a gap in Bluestreak's plating, one that's still new and unfamiliar to him. “Is that so? I'm an idealist, is that it?”

“The worst kind there is,” Bluestreak teases, doorwings perking above him, energy field flaring his interest.

--Jazz! We've got Decepticons incoming!--

The near-yell across Jazz's internal comm makes him jerk on the berth, springing upright and almost tossing Bluestreak to the floor. His mate makes an uncoordinated flail, a surprised urk escaping his vocalizer.

--I thought the Nemesis was cloaked?-- Jazz demands as Bluestreak scrambles off of him, leaving him free to slide from the berth. He tosses his mate an apologetic grin but Blue's already waving him off.

--This isn't the Nemesis,-- Arcee says, currently the 'Bot on monitor duty, a task split amongst the Autobots as Ratchet's on medleave. --This is a new arrival.--

New Decepticons? Fraggit. The last thing they need right now is for Megatron to get reinforcements. Primus must have it out for the Autobots. Just when they have the slightest edge...

Jazz shakes his helm and hurries out of the tiny room he's sharing with Bluestreak, pelting down the corridor toward the main room. If there's an attack, Fowler's going to be demanding answers. Innocent lives could be lost.

--ETA?--

--That's just it,-- Arcee replies. --I'd expect hard and fast, but instead, they're coming in slow and cautious. I almost didn't find the signal either. It was buried in some Earth noise.--

Jazz bursts into the command hub and skids to a halt as the last of Arcee's words travels over the line. Caution? Signals buried in Earth chatter?

His optics flick up to the main screen, which is tracking the vector of the incoming shuttle. “Those aren't Decepticons!” Jazz exclaims, picking up his pedes again and racing to the console, shouldering Arcee aside. Behind him, he can hear the other Autobots on base making their appearance, no doubt summoned by Arcee. “That's Prowl!”

“What the frag is he doing broadcasting as a Decepticon?”

Jazz's fingers fly over the keyboard, cursing over his ventilations as the stupid human tech moves too slow. “He must've hijacked some Decepticon's ride.” He grins, chuckling to himself. “That's Prowl for ya.”

“It still doesn't make any sense,” Sideswipe blurts out, approaching from Jazz's left side, anxiety swirling in his field. “He should be trying to hide.”

“He is and he isn't.” Jazz shakes his helm, unable to quell the rising excitement as it crashes into understanding and Prowl's intentions start to unfold in his helm. “He wants Megatron's attention.”

He can feel the startled stares on his backplate. Well, none of them have known Prowl as long as he has, save for Bluestreak.

Jazz doesn't bother to fight his grin. There's a reason Prowl is Prime's favorite tactician, even if he had fallen out of favor with the rest of Autobot High Command. Megatron's never going to see this coming.

“This doesn't make any sense!” Bulkhead bellows, throwing his arms into the air. “He's going to get himself killed.”

“No, he's not.” Jazz whirls around, searching the crowd for a specific faceplate. “Perceptor, can you lock the ground bridge onto the shuttle?”

The scientist takes a step back. “So you can bring it here?”

“Nope.” Jazz grins wolfishly, optics brightening. “So you can send me there.”

“Jazz,” Bluestreak says, worry infecting his tone. “You're not doing what I think you're doing, are you? That's the quick way to a sure offlining.”

“He's right,” Arcee agrees, folding her arms across her chestplate with a frown. “Soundwave's on the Nemesis. No way you can sneak around there without being caught.”

Jazz ignores both of them. “Can ya do it or not, Perce? I need to know.”

Perceptor clicks his fingers together, a telltale sign of his disapproval. “I can but--”

“Good. Get it set up then.” Jazz whirls away from the console. “Bee. Bulk. We got anythin' around here I can use? Paint? Spare platin'? Somethin'?”

Bumblebee and Bulkhead trade glances. Arcee's energy field whirls with a hotbed of dissension and irritation. And Jazz can feel Bluestreak across their link, frazzled with worry and seeking answers.

Jazz waves his hands through the air. “C'mon, mechs. We don't have a lot of time. Soundwave's gonna latch on to Prowl's signal soon enough and once they start investigatin', that's our cue.”

Sideswipe groans, holding his helm. “You're not making any sense, Jazz.”

“It's not going to work!” Arcee shouts, optics flashing with anger. “Slag it, Jazz. We can't lose you and Prime both.”

“Yer not goin' to,” Jazz says, plating starting to vibrate from both excitement and the urgency of the situation. “I can't sneak around the Nemesis, sure enough, but I won't have to. I'm going to be invited.”

“Oh, that makes even less sense,” Sideswipe drawls.

“No. I understand.” Bluestreak's calm tones slice through the increasingly irate atmosphere.

Jazz looks to his mate, who is slowly nodding his helm. “You're using Ricochet, aren't you?” Bluestreak asks.

“Got it in one, sweetspark,” Jazz replies and whirls back toward the Autobots. “No time to explain. Seriously. If we want to figure out where exactly Prime is and what's going on we have to take this chance. Now. Bee?”

The yellow scout tosses off a human salute and races from the room, used to, at least, taking orders from Jazz. Bulkhead mutters something but stalks after his teammate, hopefully to procure everything Jazz needs. This isn't going to be perfect but Jazz'll have to make do.

It's what he's good at, after all. It's the reason he accepted the position as Prime's third-in-command and head of special ops.

“Perce?”

The scientist's fingers fly over the keyboard, the targeting lens over his right optic flicking up and out of the way. “At my current calculations, you have ten minutes. Maybe less.”

“Better than I could've hoped. Thanks,” Jazz says and turns, only to come faceplate to near-chestplate with his taller mate. “Blue--”

A hand hooks in his chassis, dragging him close. “I hate it when you do this,” Bluestreak says, subvocally so that only Jazz can hear. “And I hate Ricochet even more.”

“Ya know I gotta do this,” Jazz replies, keeping his vocals low as well.

“I wasn't trying to stop you,” Bluestreak retorts with an exasperated huff of his vents. “Just be careful.”

Jazz grins cheekily. “Aren't I always?”

“You better make this worth it, too.” Bluestreak ignores his good humor, doorwings hiked and rigid behind him. “Bring back Prime.”

Jazz swamps their bond with reassurance, love, and determination. He's coming back with Prime if he has to throw the mech over his shoulders and jump out the cargo bay mid-air. The Autobots need Optimus.

And he's pretty sure it's the other way around, too.

Bulkhead and Bumblebee choose that moment to clamber back into main ops, loaded down with bits and pieces of scrap plating, odds and ends, and a half-empty can of paint. Unfortunately, they also bring Ratchet with them.

Jazz steps away from Bluestreak with a pat to his mate's shoulder, trying to get Bluestreak out of the blast zone. Ratchet, on a good day, is blustery and short-tempered and snappish. Ratchet heavy-full with energy as his sparks spins and spins toward splitting, is practically a dragon with smoke coming out of its ears.

“Jazz, what the frag are you thinking?” Ratchet demands as he storms into ops, Sunstreaker on his heelstruts and not looking inclined to restrain his rampaging mate in the slightest. “This is the stupidest idea I've seen out of you yet!”

Jazz cycles a ventilation just to keep himself calm as he stuffs the bits and pieces Bee gives him into every nook and cranny. “Ya don't have a better one and I'm not gonna sit around and wait. We aren't gonna get a chance like this again.”

Ratchet's hands fly into the air, his energy field a raging torrent that slams against Jazz with the force of a physical blow. “You have no plan or any clue what Megatron's going to do. You're going to get yourself killed. You--”

Ratchet suddenly breaks off, slumping a little as one hand clutches at his chestplates, a huff of pain escaping his vocalizer.

Sunstreaker instantly appears at his side, reaching for his arm but Ratchet smacks it away. “I'm fine,” he snarls.

“Hardly,” Jazz says, not missing the look Sunstreaker shoots his mate but wisely backing off. Dear Primus but all that they need right now is for Sunny and Ratch to have another of their infamous spats.

“Jazz!”

He turns his attention to Perceptor, whose gesturing to the screen in frantic bursts of energy. “You've got a minute.”

Frag. He's out of time.

“I'm doin' this, Ratch,” Jazz says, not sparing the medic a look, his focus saved for the monitors and the ground bridge that Perceptor has summoned to existence. “Ya can thank me later.”

Ratchet splutters, but despite the energy streaking through his spark, he doesn't have it to spare for the effort of arguing. He all but deflates, slagging against Sunstreaker, and from a lateral sensor, Jazz can see the despaired hope in Ratchet's optics.

“It's time,” Perceptor announces over the thin tension in the air, the sound of the ground bridge powering into existence a loud roar to Jazz's audials.

Jazz inclines his helm, feeling the weight of the Autobots' stare on his plating. He sends a pulse of affection and promise to his bonded, and then heads for the ground bridge at a run, knowing that space on the shuttle will be too confined for him to appear in vehicle mode.

--See you soon,-- Bluestreak says across a private comm.

Jazz smiles and hurries through the ground bridge, the eerie sensation of distance warping around him attacking his systems. There's light and sound and color, all at once, and then he's stepping into a dark, confined space, coming faceplate to faceplate with one of the few mechs he's ever considered family.

“Prowl,” Jazz greets with a half-afted wave, glancing past the tactician to see First Aid, the medic's faceplates pinched with a mix of worry and anticipation. “Fancy meeting you here.”

Prowl's lipplates quirk with his version of a grin, the sort of look that used to make Autobot miscreants shake in their pedes. “I see you received my message.”

Jazz arches his orbital ride. “Yer broadcasting a Decepticon signal. What else was I supposed ta think?” He props his hands on his hips, looking around at the dusty, battered innards of the spaceship. “Nice ride ya got here. Cozy. Who was nice enough to give it to ya?”

“Prowl?” Mirage's vocals echo around them, staticked and tinny through the craft's ancient speakers. “We've got company.”

Prowl steps back, giving Jazz further leave to enter the shuttle. “Take evasive action,” the tactician announces. “Broadcast an emergency situation on all Autobot channels.”

“Yes sir,” Mirage replies and the speakers cut off with an audible burst of static.

Jazz grins. “Does he call you that in the berth, too?”

First Aid makes a stifled noise that may or may not be amusement. Prowl simply gives Jazz a flat look, a very familiar look that Jazz cherishes.

“Whom did you select?” Prowl asks, gesturing for Jazz to follow him and completely ignoring Jazz's query.

“Ricochet.”

Prowl's doorwings arch into a high configuration, his pace slow and measured. “Would not Razorwire better suit? Or even Slipstrike?”

“Knock Out doesn't know Ricochet.”

Prowl half-turns before he reaches a doorway, optics bright with confusion. “Knock Out?”

The shuttle around them suddenly gives a terrible shudder, and Jazz reaches out a hand to steady himself, noting that Prowl and First Aid do as well. Apparently, their “company” is on the unfriendly side, and since they are still shielding, Jazz doesn't think it's the humans. Time, once again, is against him.

“Ask Ratch,” Jazz replies as he feels the craft yaw sharply to the left, Mirage attempting to dodge the weapons fire. “It's a long story.”

Another harsh rumble wracks the shuttle. The consoles flicker and then emergency lights burst on, flashing orange and red, as alarms blare an annoying caution.

Jazz winces, pushing past Prowl to step into a corridor, where a porthole gives him a view of blue sky, clouds, and Decepticon Eradicons streaking past. A Decepticon ship broadcasting Autobot emergencies? It's too tantalizing for Megatron to ignore.

“And we don't have the time,” Jazz says, turning back toward Prowl and First Aid, the latter of which whose visor has gone flat with worry and alarm.

“First Aid, assist Mirage in the bridge,” Prowl commands, though his gaze does not wander from Jazz's.

“Yes sir.”

The Protectobot leaves, carefully however, considering that Mirage's piloting skills leave much to be desired. That at least, Jazz notices, hasn't changed. Mirage may be a crack shooter, but he never has been able to steer worth a frag.

“Are you certain you wish to do this?” Prowl asks, his energy field lightly flexing outward, brushing against Jazz's with a light pulse of relieved happiness at finally laying optics on one another again.

Jazz nods, his gaze flickering to the window. Somewhere, in the wide yonder, is Prime. And he's going to get Optimus back. “I wouldn't be here if I wasn't.”

“Very well.” Prowl lifts his helm, expression set with determination. “Then I wish you good luck.”

Jazz grins, visor flashing. “Don't need luck when ya got skills like mine.” He straightens, already activating several subroutines, preparing himself for the shift. “We're gonna have to do this the hard way. Quick and dirty. Try not to have too much fun.”

“Do I ever?” Prowl's lipplates quirk in the closest thing he has to a grin, and that's when he punches Jazz in the faceplate.

Ah, good times.

o0o0o


“Well, that was fun,” Breakdown gripes as he picks up a piece of charred metal and tosses it over his shoulder.

“I don't think fun is what Lord Megatron had in mind,” Airachnid retorts, her vocals a low purr probably intended to entice.

Knock Out rolls his optics, a shiver of disgust crawling up his backstrut. There's not enough creds in the universe for him to take that creature to berth...

“He can't really think we're going to find anything useful in this scrap, does he?” Breakdown continues, ignoring Airachnid as he shoves aside a chunk of something with his pede. Mangled berth perhaps.

Knock Out ignores his partner's griping, taking a pointed step back to avoid the dust and debris both Decepticons are stirring. This is ruining his paint job, and he'd just gotten it fixed, frag it!

Still, Breakdown has a point. The ramshackle little shuttle that the Autobots had somehow stolen and then crashed doesn't seem like it could possibly contain anything of value. And the Autobots had quickly fled when Megatron had arrived on scene, vanishing into their ground bridge with only a few parting shots of both the blaster fire and insult kind. The femme had screamed some demand about Prime's location, until the large green one hauled her back through the bridge.

Cowards. The entire lot of them. And their numbers are growing. Knock Out had recognized Prowl and First Aid, but the third wasn't as familiar to him. There is a hint of something, a nudge to his memory core, but he still can't place the near-solid white mech. Corruption to his databanks perhaps. He'll have to do a defrag and scan later.

“Knock Out!”

Something pings off the side of his helm.

Knock Out whirls, a snarl on his vocalizer, tracking the trajectory of the projectile, talons gleaming in the sunlight. “Glitch! What the frag do you want?”

Breakdown gives him a bland look, flicking another piece of debris at his chestplate and forcing Knock Out to twist to avoid it. “I know you're afraid of dirt and all but I'm not doing all the dirty work this time.”

“Why not? I hear it's what you're good at,” Knock Out retorts, a smirk pulling his lipplates, even as he reaches up, lightly searching for a mark or dirt left on his helm.

A loud crashing noise interrupts the verbal banter and Knock Out shifts, spotting Megatron as he emerges from the wreckage of the Decepticon shuttle, dragging somemech behind him. The stranger looks to be in terrible condition, his frame dented and energon streaked, his visor cracked and sputtering. Some of his plating is missing, even, and one leg refuses to cooperate, which explains why Megatron is more or less hauling the mech.

“Knock Out,” Lord Megatron barks as he tosses the damaged mech ahead of him, the poor scrap falling to the ground with a vocalized oomph. “Get to work.”

“Uh, yes, Lord Megatron.” Knock Out hurries to the mech's side, though he's curious as to why he needs to fix this mech.

Isn't he an Autobot? Though if he were, Knock Out is quite surprised that the Autobots would leave one of their own behind. Usually, at any rate. Certainly his genitors had no compunction about abandoning him after the fall of Uraya.

Or... no. There is a Decepticon sigil on both thighs, though one is raked through as if by talons, the other melted near to slag. A consequence of the crash or a result of being in Autobot custody?

“But, if I might ask, who is this?”

Lord Megatron sneers, his red optics cold as they stare at the collapsed mech, whose vents are struggling to draw in cooling bursts of air. “One of our own, returned to us from Autobot clutches.”

Hmm.

Knock Out scans the mech, ident codes pinging back the designation Ricochet. Not a mech he's heard mention before. Then again, the Decepticons have been scattered all over the universe, just like the Autobots.

“I assume this vessel was his?”

“Fraggin' Autobots,” Ricochet snarls, vocalizer glitching with static as he attempts to sit up, but only succeeds in flopping around. “Can't a mech recharge without being stabbed in the backplate anymore?”

Lord Megatron's stare remains unwavering. “So you say,” he replies, but it's clear that the Decepticon leader is not wholly convinced of Ricochet's story, whatever it might be.

Knock Out's scan completes with a tell-tale beep. “Lord Megatron,” he says, fingers tapping over the device. “He's battered and low on energon, but in no immediate danger of offlining.”

“Curious,” Lord Megatron replies. “And how fortunate for you, Ricochet, that the Autobots aren't inclined to torture.”

“Oh yeah. It was practically a vacation, chained up in my own hold while the Praxian interrogated me at all joors of the orn.” Ricochet's lipplates droop in a lazy, insubordinate grin.

Lord Megatron's optics flash with irritation, talons curling into a fist. Knock Out knows that look, knows it all too well, and it doesn't take a tactician to guess what's coming next.

“Perhaps, Lord Megatron,” he hastily inserts before they all have to stand here and watch Megatron add more dents to the new mech's pathetic plating, “Ricochet will have more information once he's refueled.”

Ricochet lolls against the ground, a mad look to his cracked visor that speaks of a mech with a wish to offline. Perhaps he's provoking Lord Megatron on purpose? Though what that might accomplish Knock Out can't guess. Masochistic? Hah. He and Starscream would have gotten along well then.

Megatron makes a noise of disdain. “Time is being wasted here anyway. Decepticons, return to the Nemesis. Soundwave, send the bridge.”

Ricochet neither looks relieved nor grateful, despite the fact Knock Out's managed to spare him a brutal beatdown. He starts to laugh, subvocally, an arrhythmic rasp of his vocalizer that sounds less sane and more deranged. What on Cyberton had the Autobots done to him?

Knock Out reaches for the mech's arm, hauling him up as the ground bridge swirls into view. Ricochet is of a height with him, though weighing significantly less with great portions of his plating missing.

“Mmm,” Ricochet purrs, pressing closer to Knock Out's side. “Aren't you a pretty one. Gonna be my new best friend?”

Torn between feeling flattered and outraged, Knock Out jerks on Ricochet, perhaps a little harsher than he ought, and tows the new mech toward the ground bridge.

“Breakdown,” Megatron commands, as always preferring to be the last to enter the ground bridge in a near-peaceful situation. “Salvage what is useful of the shuttle. Destroy the rest.”

Knock Out throws a smirk over his shoulder. Stuck with the dirty work again, Breakdown. Sucks to be you.

He can feel Breakdown's glower follow him all the way into the ground bridge.

***

a/n: So I'm thinking this story will be close to twenty chapters over all. Which is a lot longer than I thought it would be. And then there's still the third and final piece to write in the series. Phew. For a self-indulgent piece, this has gotten long. :)

Hope you enjoyed! As always, feedback is welcome and appreciated.


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