At the half-murmured reply, Cartwheel looked slightly annoyed. "No, I don't remember your name all that well--Rebound or Recoil or Retrofit or somesuch. Remember what you like to drink, though--clear pink Libyan high-grade. You got expensive tastes, my friend--we don't get that in very often, but I just happened to have a bottle set aside. Figured somebody who'd really know to appreciate the stuff would be back. I always remember what people drink." He ducked behind the bar and came up with a metal drum.
"Yeah, I used to tend bar at Oiltown Down, back before we all got our tails chased to Charr. I remember you'd be in now and then. Yeah, this place is more of a hassle--the boys that liked to drink at Oiltown kept the place easy-going, you know? Ground Security troops, and they didn't let strangers get rowdy in their bar, you know?"
Cartwheel rubbed a non-existent smudge on the bar top. "Sometimes I miss those guys--Hammerbolt and his crew bought it in some Autobot raid, and a few years later Unicron got most everybody else that was working for Shockwave."
Cartwheel glanced up at the shelf behind him, in response to the customer's curious look and quiet question. "Yeah, that's exactly what it looks like--an offering bowl. Keeps the ghosts happy, which keeps this bar happy, which keeps me happy. And believe me, after Unicron, there's a lot of ghosts to keep happy."
"You don't believe me? I'm not asking you to. Just telling you it works for me. Yeah, you're right, I had one like it back at Oiltown. You remember a blue and purple jet that used to come by there? He comes by here now and then, same as he did then--nah, don't bother swivel-necking around, he's not here right now. Always sat at the back end of the bar, like he was slumming from officer country and didn't want to be seen. That energon was, and still is, for him."
"Am I saying that I actually saw a ghost? Well, I ain't saying yes and I ain't saying no, but when that particular jet was happy drinking, bad stuff didn't happen. Real troublemakers seemed to pass out over their energon afore getting real stirred up--or sometimes trip over imaginary invisible cleaning drones and break knee joints-- and things didn't catch on fire for no reason, and expensive drinks didn't accidentally fall off trays and spill, Motormaster didn't come stomping in looking for his drunk Stunticons, and so on."
The red and gray mech chuckled. "How do I know all that stuff didn't happen? 'Cause there was another bartender who didn't believe in appeasing ghosts, and he'd make a big deal about pouring the energon back in the cube and selling it. His nights never went well--in fact, all that stuff happened--to him." Cartwheel laughed heartily.
"Oh, you're wanting to know why I mentioned that particular jet, instead of just ghosts in general? 'Cause I know his name, and I know for a fact that he got himself killed about twenty years ago. Yeah, as in 'permanently deactivated, they ain't repairing you no how, no way because you is dead'. Not just dead, but freaking artwork."
"Okay, yeah, you're right, I admit I've seen a few ghosts. Yeah, makes me a bit nervous, but so far as I can tell, I don't hassle them, they don't hassle me. Yeah, that Libyan's good stuff, isn't it? You say you like Alaskan even better? Never heard of that-- from the same planet, you say? Eh, have to ask Swindle. Ever since Octane got exiled, been a real bitch to get any Earth energon."
"You just don't want to leave the ghost thing alone, do you? Yeah, I've seen others, and no, not all of them are good, or even okay to have around. That red and blue jet is a real nightmare--I mean, it's 'close the bar and go hide in your bunker' when he shows up, because you know the slag's going to hit the rotor."
"What do you mean, who am I talking about? You been living under a rock for the last few years? We don't mention his name, just in case it might attract his attention, but let's just say he used to be the Air Commander, and had himself a nice little coronation ceremony that was fatally interrupted a few years back--oh yeah, now you know who I'm talking about!"
"Yeah, he's been known to show up here. No, nothing bad actually happens here, but outside is a different story, you know? The first time he showed up, Cyclonus got toasted by Galvatron himself, the shuttle hangar got blowed up, and the whole Combaticon team was in the repair bays for weeks! No, I'm not going to tell Disaster-in-Red-and-Blue 'No payee, no drinkee!' So far, I've stayed out of the line of fire and I ain't going to be the one to piss him off. I've seen what happens to those who do."
Cartwheel picked up some empty cubes down the bar and rinsed them. "No, the others aren't always bad news. Or sometimes they are, but in a good kind of way, like a warning, you know? You're looking at me funny, like you don't know. Okay, it's not something I talk about often, even to a guy like you, but..." Cartwheel slowly wiped out an empty cube.
"My old friends Hammerbolt and Casque came by just a few hours before Unicron hit the planet, warned me to close the bar and get the hell out of town as fast as I could. Now, you're looking at me thinking you know how this story's going to go, and you'd be mostly right. See, I listened to what they told me real close, because I'd already said my goodbyes to them when an Autobot raid killed 'em just a couple years before. Good thing I did, because that whole district, Oiltown Down and everything was wiped out of existence by one blow from Unicron. Nice to know my friends are still watching out for me, you know?"
"Yeah, been nice chatting with you too, Rebound. Yeah, I finally remembered you used that name when you'd visit Oiltown Down. No, no charge. Why ain't I charging you now, when I did then?" Cartwheel leaned forward and looked intently at the other mech, a black and white Transformer with wheels and prominent door panels spread wing-like behind his back.
"'Cause you were alive back then, 'Rebound'. Even if you didn't have that same funny look to your eyes that Hammerbolt did--and you do--Rodimus Prime broadcast your funeral on every freaking channel out of Cybertron for a week. Kinda surprised me to find out that one of my former patrons had been an Autobot spy."
Cartwheel poured himself a glass of the Libyan high-grade; his arm was trembling as he did so, as he watched his customer fade away.
-- FIN --
Cartwheel has appeared in "Twenty Eight Dead Ends: Drinking Energon", aka "Dead and Drunk", where he's the bartender; and in "Dead Mech Escape", where he's the maintenance cart in the shuttle hangar. Hammerbolt and Casque were first seen (alive) in "Dead and Drunk", and Hammerbolt is also seen in "Twenty Eight Dead Ends: Daring", which will be finished and posted Real Soon Now. The blue and purple ghost jet mentioned by Cartwheel is, of course, Duskwing, who was last seen (dead) hanging out at the bar in "Dead and Drunk" and arguing philosophy with a drunken Dead End. You don't need me to tell you who "Disaster in Red and Blue" is--and yes, Cartwheel is referring back to the events of "Dead Mech Escape". "Rebound" was the cover name Jasmine St. Hillaire gave Prowl when he was playing undercover spy in her excellent story, "Flights of Angels". Finally, FandomWank readers will recognize the title phrase. grins