Stasis was not exactly like sleep. It was more than sleep. Deeper. A bot who was severely injured or close to starvation would fall into stasis automatically. But it could also be induced manually. During an extended bout of space travel, for example.
Or when a former Decepticon asked you to trust him.
In order to uphold the Autobot Code, in order to fulfill his duty as Second-in-Command, Ultra Magnus had trusted.
To a point.
Half a day was too long.
He had timed his reboot for half that.
There was pain. What felt like needles driving into his shoulder. Little shocks of electricity made his joints seize up, again and again as his systems booted—
His optics snapped online. The shadow leaning over him stared down out of two pits of black lit by rings of red. Dangerous. Decepticon.
No words as Ultra Magnus lurched upright. His balance was all wrong and sharp claws dug into his face, pushing him down, but he threw himself sideways and fell on top of his assailant and they rolled.
More pain. He punched and connected, kicked and didn't. (And something was strange, something was wrong.)
Sand in his eyes and then his vision cleared and there was Knock Out (Decepticon medical officer, see File 239-D) scrambling backwards. Ultra Magnus caught him by the throat with his claw-hand and bore him down, pinned him, but the medic's crossed arms traded defense for offense tactic as his buzzsaws flipped out.
Neither moved. Knock Out was not even venting as the claw pressed against his throat. Ultra Magnus did not react to the serrated teeth digging into either side of his arm, ready to shear through metal.
"You lied, Ultra Magnus," Knock Out whispered. "How very Decepticon of you."
"Where is my arm?" Because the other one was missing, and one leg as well.
Knock Out gestured a tiny bit with a sawblade. Ultra Magnus looked. His upper arm lay in the sand, next to an overturned cot. The rest of the limb was spread out on a tarp, and parts of his leg spilled out of the large backpack next to it.
Ultra Magnus released Knock Out. Pushed himself back. Almost fell over.
Knock Out pulled in his saws and leaned back on his arms and just sat there. Watching.
A bit awkward.
"Better get away from that pit, soldier," Ultra Magnus said finally. The pit was really not very close. Knock Out's staff was still speared into the ground beside it, with a rope looped around it, dangling down. "You don't want to fall in."
"No, indeed I don't." Knock Out brushed himself off as he stood. He moved past Magnus—keeping out of reach, the blue and white bot noticed—picked the arm off the ground, and righted the cot. Sitting down on it, he started dusting and blowing sand out of the arm's cabling.
The Second-in-Command wondered how to reach him with one arm and one leg without crawling. Because he was not going to crawl.
But letting him sit helplessly in the sand for a few minutes seemed to satisfy Knock Out. The medic finally dragged the cot over to him and helped the larger bot onto it, grunting as his claw gripped his already dented shoulder.
"I apologize," Ultra Magnus said, laying back, "for the . . . altercation. I was disoriented."
Knock Out just gave him a wry look and rubbed at his throat.
"It could have been avoided," Ultra Magnus said—and whether it was fair or not, he was annoyed, "had you told me your innovative plan."
"Really." Knock Out snorted, leaning down to examine the open circuitry on his shoulder. "As simple as that."
"So you would have agreed to being diced up, then. Sir."
Ultra Magnus opened his mouth, then pressed it into a tight line. "How much longer?"
"You have very clean joints. They might have been made for this. Sooo an hour or two."
"Less than your earlier estimate."
"Ah, Commander." Knock Out tapped the side of his noseguard knowingly. "I lied too."
Ultra Magnus came out of stasis for the second time that day. All limbs present and accounted for. They ached a little at the joints, that was all.
Would he ever have known, if . . . ?
It didn't matter anyway.
"So, Commander." Knock Out was sitting on his backpack. "Think we'll build a road through here?"
"Over my dead body," Ultra Magnus said drily.
Knock Out chuckled. "Almost."
Perhaps former Decepticons could not help being slightly macabre.
Their progression out of the Heatsinks was slow. They still had to use the scanner to check the stability of the ground, more aware than ever of the danger. The sun was setting by the time they reached the foothills. Ultra Magnus pushed the pace to get them to the top, pulling Knock Out upright whenever he lost his footing. A reprieve was not an option. They were still working off a limited supply of energon, much of it high grade.
The moon was up by time they reached the crest.
"Maybe it won't rain," Knock Out said. But he was already unfolding a tarp as he said it.
It rained, but the lean-tos were up by then.
The rain streamed off the overhang of the tarps in little rivulets, gathering in the dips and hollows of the hilltop. Two red optics gazed at the raindrops dimpling a puddle. Two blue optics were cast sideways, watching. Glancing away when the red optics shifted to look back.
"Do they hurt?" Knock Out asked cautiously when Magnus began rubbing loose flakes of metal off his pedes.
"The residue from the rain, that's what does it."
"Yes, I know."
". . . I could look at them."
"Yes. This is your area of expertise after all, Doctor." When Knock Out didn't immediately move, Ultra Magnus said, "You are our medic, are you not?"
"Yes, sir." Knock Out began digging in his backpack, fishing out a jar of ointment and a rag. "I'm your medic."
The acid rain poured down, veiling the world outside. It didn't matter. They'd learned their lesson. Tonight their shelters were side by side.