"You'll regret this, Decepticreep!" Spike yelled as he picked himself up painfully from the cold metal floor of the compartment. Beside him, his father Sparkplug groaned.

Starscream, who had just roughly tossed the two humans into the bare compartment, smirked. "I doubt it! It is you who will regret having involved yourselves with the Autobots--either they will humble themselves to Megatron's demands if they ever want to see their fleshling pets again, or I will have the pleasure of seeing you little pests die like the vermin you are."

"You wouldn't dare, you rusty pile of bolts!" Spike clenched his fists. Beside him, Sparkplug got to his feet. "The Autobots will get you for this!"

The red and silver Decepticon jet bowed down to look more closely at Spike's scowling face. "I'd rather kill you here and now--the effect on the Autobot's morale would be devastating--but Megatron wants you alive... for now. He thinks we can get more out of the Autobots if they think they can get you back alive. I think he's... concerned about Prime's overreaction when he finds out you're dead."

He straightened up and grinned evilly. "Of course, I have only to suggest to Megatron that he's holding back because he's afraid of Optimus Prime and that little yellow runt Bumblebee--" Starscream broke off in a cruel laugh as he drew one finger across his throat in an unmistakable threat.

Spike's eyes blazed; with clenched fists, he stepped forward and opened his mouth to shout--

Sparkplug laid a heavy hand on his shoulder. "Easy, son." He looked up at Starscream, his face set.

"We get your message loud and clear, Starscream."

Starscream tilted his head slightly and smirked. "Well, well. You humans might be sentient after all."

The Decepticon turned on one thruster-heel and left, the metal door sliding shut and latching with a click of electro-mechanical relays behind him.

Spike looked at his father. At the age of nineteen, he no longer looked up at Sparkplug, but rather saw eye-to-eye with him--physically, at least.

"Dad? Why did you--?"

"Son, a lesson I learned when I was a prisoner in Korea: when a complete bastard holds your life in his hands, it's wiser not to deliberately piss him off. It's not surrendering or humbling yourself to stay civil."

Spike regarded his father thoughtfully, then he smiled. "Dad, I didn't know you were the diplomatic type!"

"Spike, how do you think I kept Mr. Marconi's business all these years? Every other mechanic in town lost his temper with him sooner or later--and lost his business. Me, I just keep polite and tack on a little compensation for the grief he gives me," Sparkplug grinned.

"I always wondered what that 'general labor surcharge' was for!" Spike grinned back.

"Son, didn't they teach you about the 'asshole tax' in college?"

# # #

Thundercracker looked up as Starscream sauntered into the command center of the Underwater Base looking pleased with himself. The sky blue and black Decepticon jet was not pleased; he didn't like having human prisoners at the base again. Things always went wrong when they kept squishies around.

"So where'd you stash the squishies, boss?" Thundercracker asked. "Not where someone's going to blow a hole in the wall and grab them from outside, I hope."

Starscream's optics seemed to narrow, and he scowled at Thundercracker. Skywarp snickered from across the room.

"I put them in that berthing compartment no one seems to like," Starscream said. "C-134. We might as well get some use out of it!"

"C-134?" Skywarp said in a curious tone. He and Thundercracker glanced at each other.

Starscream eyed them both suspiciously. "Why? Don't tell me it has something to do with one of your stupid pranks!"

"No," Skywarp said quickly, "nothing like that. It's just that..."

"Just what?" Starscream said, very suspicious now.

"No one likes that compartment," Thundercracker added. "It's too cold."

"And damp," Skywarp added.

"And gloomy," Thundercracker said, nodding in agreement.

Starscream stared at them like both Seekers had lost their minds. "I'm so worried that the fleshlings will find their accommodations less than perfect! Too bad they'll just have to put up with it for the short time they'll be there!"

Starscream stalked out of the command center, muttering something about the grade of idiot he was forced to command. Skywarp and Thundercracker continued to stare at each other.

Thundercracker finally radioed Skywarp privately. "You didn't tell him whose compartment that used to be," he said.

Skywarp replied, "If I did, I'd have to remind him of a name we've all agreed to forget, particularly after that little incident with Monstructor and Cobra. And then he'd have to move the squishies, and come up with a reason why, and it'd all be your fault and my fault somehow if we had to explain our collective amnesia to Megatron."

Thundercracker radioed, "We can't explain it!"

"Exactly! Just like we can't explain why everybody who gets assigned that compartment wants a transfer somewhere else--usually back to Cybertron." Skywarp gave Thundercracker a wry, 'nothing we can do about it' smile.

Thundercracker groaned quietly. "I wish he'd just go away. Dead mechs should stay dead!"

"As far as I can tell, Duskwing is still very dead. He just hasn't gotten it through his processor that he doesn't live in C-134 anymore."

# # #

Spike and Sparkplug sat in one corner of the unheated, barren compartment discussing their lack of options. They'd already been all over the compartment, checking it out--without tools, they couldn't access the various sealed power and data ports, and the door was quite firmly locked. Sparkplug had even boosted Spike up onto the two recharging berths--nothing useful there, either.

Spike shivered. "Looks like they stashed us in someone's unused quarters, this time, instead of a storage compartment. Wish I had some tools, or Chip Chase and a computer--might be able to to something with those data ports if we did."

Sparkplug also shivered. He nodded and said, "I wish they'd turned on the heat. Feels like a Korean winter in here."

He looked up, and a large dark blue and purple Decepticon jet was just there, near the door, scowling at them as if it had just entered the room to find them there. Sparkplug hadn't heard the door open. Spike just gaped at the newcomer.

"HEY!" The Decepticon scowled down at them. "What are youse guys doin' in my quarters?" The Seeker's voice was heavy with the nasal tones of the Bronx.

Sparkplug stood up and looked at the immense jet-robot. There was something odd about the dark blue and purple Seeker; it seemed to loom hazily out of a fog, though there was no fog in the room.

"They put us here," Sparkplug said cautiously.

Spike's eyes widened; something he saw from where he stood turned him pale.

The Seeker scowled again. "Slag it, they keep doin' that! Puttin' people in my quarters what make a mess of the place, and I gotta toss 'em out again! I wouldn't mind someone wit' a little respect for a roommate, but they always stick me wit' the slobs!" He leaned down and peered at Spike and Sparkplug.

"Now they stickin' squishies in my fraggin' room! Listen, you!" He pointed a pale gray finger at Sparkplug. "The name is Duskwing, not Zookeeper, and youse guys don't belong in my quarters!"

Sparkplug backed up a step, while Spike just stared, still paralyzed with shock. "Hey, hey, I agree with you!" Sparkplug said, hold his hands up in a conciliatory gesture. "I'd be glad to leave, but we accidentally locked ourselves in." He shrugged.

Duskwing frowned. "That's stupid!" He tapped the keypad and scowled when nothing happened. "Stupids changed the keycode again! They keep doin' that to me, idiots."

One gray hand dipped into the wall and there was a click of relays as the door slid open. "Now get the slag out!"

Sparkplug grabbed an unresisting Spike by one arm and dragged him out into the corridor. "We're gone, and we'll try not to ever bother you again, Duskwing!"

"You do that," Duskwing growled as the door slid shut behind them.

Spike turned to his father wide-eyed. "Dad, I could see right through him!"

"Yeah, I noticed that," Sparkplug said. "I think I can guess why our big blue and purple friend keeps getting rude new roommates, but I didn't have the heart to tell him."

"Dad! You're not telling me you believe that he's-- that that was a-- that..." Spike said.

"Son, I didn't have to hang out with giant robots half my life to know that weird things happen, and opportunity pops up in the oddest places. We're out of that lock-up, loose in the Decepticon base, and no one except him knows we're free. And five will get you ten, he's not telling."

"'Don't look a gift horse in the mouth', eh, Dad?" Spike said, finally smiling.

"You got it, Spike. Let's go extract our own 'asshole tax' from these creeps!"

-- FIN --

This story inspired by events in online roleplay, where Duskwing got a little possessive about someone moving their junk into his former berth at the underwater base. Duskwing usually remembers he's dead, but he sometimes forgets that being dead means he neither has nor needs assigned quarters anymore.