Chapter Four: Men in the machines

Their first night as humans, the Stunticons didn't sleep.

By the time they'd made it back to Esther's apartment, it was around four in the morning. The human had found them some sleeping bags, laid it out on the floor of the living room for them, and groggily retreated into her own bedroom, locking the door. This last action raised her slightly in Breakdown's estimation: at least she wasn't stupid or suicidal, although her obvious sentimentality was a little worrying.

The carpet was thin and the floor was bloody hard. This suited the Stunticons just fine.

What did not sit well with them was their new biology.

After the sixth time Wildrider got up to use the bathroom, Motormaster tripped him coming back and declared a moratorium on waste expulsion for the rest of the night, or so help him he would remove the fuel tank of any mech who violated said edict.

Dead End opened his mouth to point out that they didn't have fuel tanks as such any longer, and was nearly smothered by Breakdown for his troubles.

Besides this, while their new bodies were telling them that a lot of sleep was now a necessity, their Decepticon minds were assuring them that only two or three hours of recharge was needed, and could perhaps be put off until tomorrow in a pinch. Drag Strip was the first to stop pretending towards rest; he snarled and struggled out of his bag, pushing to his feet and stepping carefully over a twitching Wildrider, only to have his ankle caught in Motormaster's gigantic vice grip.

"Did you somehow miss what I just said about the waste expulsion, low-watt?" The ex-truck growled up and over at him.

Drag Strip's lip curled. "'S not that, spinout artist. Aren't you wonderin' just who that fancy guy was who bailed us out of human holding? It wasn't our human's doing; ours is too poor. You have to be loaded with credits to get a human lawyer, I've seen it on TV."

Motormaster's grip tightened momentarily, and then released. "Could've been someone from the base...fine. This human has a computer. Make the contact."

Drag Strip smirked and ambled into the tiny chamber next to the washroom that must have served as Esther's office. No sooner had he stepped inside when Wildrider scrambled out of his bag, eyes bright even in the dim light from the streetlamp outside. "I'm gonna go watch, it beats lying around here like a fragged neutral."

"Make a racket and evenScavenger won't want what's leftof you," Motormaster rumbled ominously, turned over on his side. Wildrider took that in the sense it was meant, jumping over Dead End and scrambling into the tiny office to shove in behind Drag Strip, who was hunched over the keyboard tapping furiously; the motion crushed the former racer's ribs directly into the desk. Drag Strip muffled a yell and punched upwards, hitting Wildrider in the jaw.

"You slag-sucker, you nearly bisected me!"

Wildrider growled in return, grinding his jaw back and forth until it responded to his satisfaction; Drag Strip turned back to the computer, muttering about pathetically primitive technology as he opened the non-pass-protected guest account and accessed the human internet, going through a number of seemingly unrelated websites before finding the one he sought, one heavily encrypted and designed not to draw the attention of human or Autobot users. As he set about authorizing decryption, Breakdown sidled in and hung off the doorway, watching intently as the numbers on the screen melted into rolling code before finally resolving themselves into a face...

Drag Strip made a relieved noise through his nose. "Gotcha! Hey, comm, this is the Stunticons checking in, how--YOU?"

The man with the blank face and the thick, colourless beard stared back at him. "Yes, I."

"What the smelt are you doing running the comm lines, Onslaught?" Drag Strip hissed with ill-contained fury. Wildrider, still hanging on to the back of the computer chair, leaned over until his chin was practically touching the top of Drag Strip's head, baring his teeth.

"The rest of the army are engaged in diverse operations."

"Divers' operations?" Wildrider repeated, bemused. "Somebody got rebuilt as a Seacon or what?"

Onslaught made a derisive noise through his nose. "Some days I despair for the survival of the faction. You have contacted us, no doubt, to apologize for your earlier idiocy and enquire as to whom, exactly, freed you from the humans' brig?"

"We aren't gonna apologize to you, On-slag," Drag Strip snarled at him. "We were just wondering if Megatron had figured out yet that he lost his more valuable gestalt after that last fight."

Onslaught smiled. It was a new sight to the three watching Stunticons, and not a nice one at that. "Curious that you should ask, as I have a message for you from Megatron. What was it now--ah yes. 'Tell the Stunticons that they may do as they please: I have no more use for them at this time.' That was the gist of it, I believe."

"WHAT? But he--"

"Have fun in Los Angeles, I hear it's quite the place for traffic jams," Onslaught said smoothly, before terminating the connection. The computer screen went dark, plunging the three Stunticons into the darkness preceding the dim light of morning.

Breakdown let go of the doorframe and stood up shakily. "Well...that didn't go very well, did it?"

For once, neither Drag Strip nor Wildrider answered, and thus all three of them were able to hear the heavy tread from just outside the office door as Motormaster stepped away from where he had been listening, unnoticed, to the transmission, and began making his way to the washroom.

"And what happened to 'no more waste disposal on pain of disembowelment', hm?" Dead End asked bitterly from his position on the floor as Motormaster passed him. The bigger man did not answer; he just closed the door.

His failure to kick Dead End in retribution suddenly made the other four very, very nervous. Even Wildrider quit fidgeting and turned his attention to the bathroom door, where a thin splinter of light spread out just under the jamb.

"Hey, what's he doing?"

Breakdown said nothing. "I don't know" could have been cured with a merge, when they were robots, when it was possible to let the pure fury in Motormaster's spark wash over them without allowing it to consume them all. But now they had no idea what he was thinking...

Or rather, they didn't until they all heard the distinctive crash and the sound of splintering glass.

x x x x x x x

Esther was awakened from deep sleep by the same sound.

She pulled on a housecoat and fished the handy golf club out from under her bed before unlocking her door and staggering into the living room.

Three of her five "guests" were crowded into the miserable closet that held her computer and files; Downey, Ryder, and Tripp looked at her with eyes that seemed almost red in the dimness. Endo was still on the floor, curled up in his sleeping bag.

Which left Masterson, and the noise that had come from the bathroom. Damn. She didn't want to deal with Masterson at six a.m. on an hour and a half's sleep.

Nevertheless, she thumped the bathroom door with her golf club. "Oi, was that you in there, Masterson? Everything alright?"

"Fine. Just peachy," came the reply iced with sneering sarcasm.

Oh joy. "Hope you've got your pants on and everything, 'cause I'm coming in, okay?"

"Suit yourself." She wasn't sure, but she could have sworn she'd heard him mutter "meat sack" just after that.

Now the other four men were all looking at her, or rather, at the bathroom door. She closed a hand gingerly around the knob, twisted, and pulled.

Masterson was, thankfully, decent, or as decent as a man who was too big for a two-bedroom apartment loo could be in only his grey overalls. But he had apparently wound up and put his bare fist through the washroom window. Smashed glass littered the tile floor like snow; what little that was left in the frame proper was laced with cracks and splintering, giving the reflection of Masterson's face an inhuman look. Esther had to look away from the mirror effect and at the man to remind herself that it wasn't a monster standing there.

Then common sense took over. "Jesus shit, Masterson! What the hell'd you do that for? Shit, you must have shredded your hand--take it out carefully, we'll get you to the hospital and..."

"Hospital?" Masterson echoed. She flinched away as he pulled his hand ferociously out of the razor-glass opening he'd made with it, and then glanced at the result against her will.

There was one shard shallowly embedded in between his index and middle knuckle, welling a thin trickle of red liquid. Red scrapes ran here and there, just short of bloodshed. She stared.



" lucked out. Most people who put their bare hand through a window end up slashing the hand all to hell and, uh, and sometimes bleeding to death if it's not treated." Everyone, Esther supplied mentally. Everyone who put their hands through a regular glass window likethe one in her bathroomended up slashing it all to hell.

Masterson looked at his hand, then at the window, flexing his fingers experimentally. His hate-black gaze was distant, and Esther found herself hoping to god that whatever had pissed him off had nothing to do with her. Behind her, she heard the dim sounds of someone, maybe Downey or Ryder, shuffling back into their sleeping bags. She looked at Masterson's hand again, as he turned it over and pulled out the sliver with thick, brutal fingers; no, he didn't need to go to the hospital.

" about I go get you a bandaid or that or something?" She offered.

He stared at her. "Why the hell would I need one? I'm not an invalid."

"I know. I just don't want you bleeding on my carpet. By the way, I'm going to have to pay out of my own pocket to get that window repaired."

"Poor you."

"Some house guest you are," Esther said coldly. She was tired, she was unnerved by Masterson--was he the Teflon Man or what?--and she turned a beady gaze on Tripp as he attempted to slide silently out of her computer room. "And I don't want to know what you were doing using my computer without asking me first." She turned away from them all and stalked out of the living room, shutting her bedroom door with a sharp click.

As soon as she hit the bed, she regretted her words (irrationally; for pete's sake, one of them had just broken her damn window!) and wondered offhand what had set Masterson off. He didn't seem like the type to attempt self-abuse, which was what putting your hand through glass constituted. He was the sort who would take his rage out on whoever had been the cause of it, and she couldn't think what the bathroom window had done to offend him.

She could kick them out later today, because it was already tomorrow morning. Perhaps. Or she could...

She could sleep. And then get them some breakfast. She'd be damned if she would throw them out without at least giving them breakfast. The souls of her Jewish grandmothers past would haunt her forever otherwise.

First, though, sleep.

x x x x x x x

Breakdown stared at the hulking shape of Motormaster, illuminated against the beginnings of dawn through the apartment's wide window. The Stunticons' leader had said nothing since the incident with the waste disposal room's broken window. Perhaps because there was nothing to be said; mostly because none of the others, not even Dead End or Wildrider, dared ask him a question.

Megatron didn't need them...but Megatron had always needed them.

If he didn't, then what in the Pit, in these helpless little organic pink bodies, were they going to do?

x x x x x x x


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