Better to Light a Candle
Author's Note: This takes place in the very early Golden Age, well before the Constructicons are even a team, much less a team of six.
"Scrapper?" Hook called out worriedly, peering over the edge of the perfect semi-circle in the floor. From what he could see by his optic-lights, the next few floors down were much the same as the space he stood in. It was an otherwise featureless, rectangular hallway, blocked off at one end with carefully arranged debris and on the other by the hole of the drop-shaft.
"I'm two levels down, opposite side," the payloader called back up, badly-restrained agony in his voice. "Smelt Clampdown, I told him we needed newer maps!"
Ah, there was his visor-light. Hook dialed up the light-sensitivity on his optics and dimly made out Scrapper's outline. Given that they had already been four levels underground and working in dim lighting before they found the abandoned drop-shaft the hard way, he supposed he should be happy he was getting any light at all.
From how Scrapper sounded... The payloader had most likely jerked an arm out of the socket, Hook decided; the crane had done so himself when he caught hold of the floor-edge to stop his fall. He, however, had taken the time to pop his shoulder back in before he worried about Scrapper.
Given his lack of flight-capability as a crane, he was quite glad he'd only pulled his arm out of the socket. The light from his optics wasn't enough to pierce the darkness more than three levels down the shaft, but he could guess what would have happened if he kept falling. Winding up a smear of broken parts did not appeal to him. "Given how old his maps were, I would have expected something like this to actually be marked on them. Are you all right?"
Metal rustled, Scrapper's visor-light turned downwards momentarily, and then there was the peculiar sound of someone putting his shoulder back into the socket.
I could have done that for him, Hook thought, then frowned. While that was certainly true, as soon as a joint was back in the proper socket, it would stop hurting. There was no need to prolong Scrapper's pain just to let the crane show off.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Except for being down a hole that we can't climb out of."
"About that..." Hook backed up and transformed, then swung his crane-arm out over the hole. "If I lower my line, could you grab onto it? I can at least pull you up to where I am."
There was a long silence.
"Are you sure you can lift me?"
Hook flashed his headlights in irritation. Construction-types should know better than this, he thought. It happened every time; people seemed to think that because he had a perfectionist streak and little interest in the normal entertainments that occupied his fellows, then he was a light-lifter. Well, he was, compared to other cranes, but he was certainly strong enough to lift Scrapper. "You must be a rather heavy payloader to weigh over twenty tons."
Another silence, though Hook liked to think this one was more embarrassed than the last.
"Lower your line."
Hook lowered his line, making sure to let the end drop to midway below the level Scrapper stood on. Giving the other person room to make errors wasn't too terrible a thing in this sort of situation. Other people had a such nasty habit of making mistakes in emergencies. "There."
"Can you bring it a little closer?"
"Yes." Hook extended his arm further out. "If you think that you will still miss, do not worry. I can move the line to you when you leap."
Scrapper's visor-lights turned upwards again. "How-?" A pause. "You have optical sensors on your crane-arm, don't you?"
It was hardly a secret, even if most people never paid attention enough to notice it. "Yes."
Another rustle of metal as Scrapper presumably backed up, the quick pounding as he ran, and then Scrapper leapt into the void. His strong hands wrapped around Hook's line and then his legs did so as well. The weight pleased Hook. It was satisfying to lift something heavier than five tons - Clampdown seemed to want to confine him solely to electronics salvaging and trouble-shooting on this job.
Hauling Scrapper up to him was simple, and he set the payloader down neatly beside him, precisely two meters from his side. "There."
"Yeah," Scrapper agreed, looking at something past the crane. "This hallway is blocked off, too. Odd."
Hook transformed back to robot-mode and glanced at the pile of masonry. "Hm."
The payloader took out his toolkit and pulled out a long stick of synthetic wax. He reached into his 'kit for something without looking, then pawed around for a few moments, before turning back to seriously rummage through his tools. "Do you have a fine laser-cutter with you? Mixmaster has been borrowing things again."
"Will this do?" Hook drew out one of his heavier laser-scalpels. It would do as he well knew from experience, but Clampdown had drilled it into him that he should at least ask if his medical tools would do the same job before letting someone borrow them. Given that he wouldn't allow someone whose judgement he didn't trust touch them in the first place, Hook thought it was rather silly.
It made Clampdown happy, though, and a happy Clampdown paid him.
Scrapper looked at it oddly, then at the filament on his wax-stick. "It might. How hot does it run?"
"It makes an adequate fine 'cutter when I do not have access to my own."
Scrapper's shovel twitched, then he activated the scalpel and pressed the blade near the filament until it caught on fire. "Turn off your headlights. You might need the energy later."
A candle! Hook absently went along with Scrapper's suggestion, distracted with marveling over the candle. He hadn't seen one since before Sinker had abandoned him. Plenty of flares, yes, but flares burned differently than candles did. This one burned very bright and near-smokeless - Scrapper's chemist partner must have made it specifically for him.
The payloader rolled the active scalpel between his fingers. "When we took this job, Clampdown bragged about how he had an Iacon-licensed medic on staff. That's you, isn't it?"
"Yes," Hook admitted reluctantly, trying very hard not to drop a yard of line. It wouldn't do, wouldn't do at all.
"Iacon-licensed," Scrapper repeated wonderingly. "What's someone that good doing on a job like this?"
"This job and the two lined up after it will pay for me to attend the medical university on Hydrus Four." Hook glanced over to the side where the floor met the wall.
The red light brightened briefly; Scrapper's visor must have flashed. "I thought the Autobot elders sponsored anyone with an Iacon license who wanted to go."
"Not," Hook found himself saying with some bitterness, "if you are war-build."
Scrapper's visor flashed again. "You? War-build?" He asked incredulously.
"Yes," Hook hissed, and he did drop a foot of line when Scrapper took a step back from him. Another one! Another one who couldn't look past the fact that he was designed as a combat engineer! "It doesn't matter that I want to be a surgeon and not just a medic, it doesn't matter that I've graduated from the Michanikos Polytechnic Academy- my creator fought on the wrong side of the War, and he built me to fight!"
"Michanikos? Isn't that an engineering school?" The payloader asked, raising the candle to be a bit more obviously between him and Hook.
The crane also noted how Scrapper's grip changed on the scalpel. That was a knife-fighter's grip, not someone who realized he had something sharp in his hands and a vague idea of how to use it. That was... fascinating. Sinker's partner Spool had taught him a very similar grip, a long time ago.
But Scrapper wasn't war-build. Hook had gotten a look at his plans.
The fascinating knowledge of how to hold a blade didn't off-set the payloader asking an inane question, though. Of course Michanikos was an engineering school. It's name meant 'engineer' in Old Cybertronian. "Yes, yes it is."
The bite in his voice made Scrapper's shovel twitch. "So, you're an engineer and a medic? That's pretty impressive."
"Combining the two disciplines is the path of the future," Hook replied, trying to keep his voice calm despite the payloader's sudden descent into idiocy. Honestly, he expected questions like that from the army goons that tried to badger him into enlisting. "Medics repair what is already there, engineers design new systems for people. Someone who is both a medic and an engineer can develop, design, install, trouble-shoot, and repair new systems without needing anyone else."
Scrapper's visor dimmed. "Not need anyone else, huh?" He said almost kindly, the nervousness fading from his voice. "And you're war-build. Let me guess, your creator used the 'they forced me to build more soldiers and enslave them into the army!' defense to get out of being shot through the lasercore for war-crimes."
Hook's line spilled all over the floor.
Clampdown lowered the crate of salvage and flashed his headlights at the robot-mode cement-mixer standing in his way. The little nut didn't do something useful like move so he could walk with the forklift while he worked or anything, no. It had taken him two vorn to train Hook to walk with him when he needed to talk, and now it looked like he'd have to start all over again with the new guys. "Whaddaya mean 'where is he', Mixmaster? He's working in delta-quad-four with Hook."
"Hook? Which one's Hook?" Mixmaster pursed his lips. "I don't remember a Hook."
"Little crane with the hands." Clampdown was scaled-down from his original mode, so he still thought of everyone else as smaller than him. And Hook had nice hands. Real nice ones. Too bad he was such a priss.
Mixmaster's drum rolled. "Oh. Him. What kind of person names a crane 'Hook'? That's almost worse than 'Grapple'."
"Uh-huh." Clampdown lifted the crate again and rolled forward, but the cement-mixer didn't back up. Smelt it.
"'Grapple' at least can sort of claim that it has nothing to do with him being a crane. Actually, no, he can't-"
"Mixmaster, I don't care. You're blocking the hall."
The cement-mixer glanced up at the ceiling. "You should. Scrapper was supposed to report in fifteen minutes ago."
... Smelt it. Smelt it, smelt it, smelt it. The union was watching this job real close and if one of Clampdown's workers got pushed past what the union allowed, he'd be out of business. "Smelt and forgefire... Where the frag is he?"
"Out of the way!"
Hook concentrated on reeling in his line, one hand reaching back to just feel it run over his fingers. He didn't care how awkward it looked; it reassured him. There was nothing wrong with his line, nothing wrong with his crane-arm. He could get work anywhere as long as he was whole and sound. Maybe not the kind he wanted, but he got what he needed.
"I'm willing to bet I know what happened when he didn't need you anymore," Scrapper muttered as he turned off the laser-scalpel. "Here."
Hook snatched it out of his hand, barely resisting the urge to flick it on and cut the payloader's hands up. "Shut up."
Scrapper turned to the masonry blocking the hallway and raised his candle. Silently, he examined the block-off as Hook continued to reel in his line.
Watching Scrapper's back was boring but better than some of the other possibilities. Some people wouldn't dare turn their back to him after they found out he was a war-build, much less after he almost lost his temper with them.
"Hnh," the payloader grunted at last. "It's designed to fall inwards if it's disturbed. Odd."
Hook looked over his shoulder at the dark hole in the middle of the floor, then edged closer to Scrapper and his candle. Spool had all sorts of stories about what lurked in the depths of Cybertron. Sinker hadn't thought much of them, but he'd never denied that they could be true. "I see. How many levels down are we, Scrapper?"
The payloader glanced at him. "A dozen, maybe sixteen from the surface. Eight to a dozen from where we were working. Why?"
"Ah." That wasn't so bad. Still, he'd prefer to be farther away from that black hole.
"Why?" Scrapper repeated.
Hook edged a little closer to the payloader as something else occurred to him. "They usually leave the drop-disk midway up a dropshaft when they close one up, do they not?"
"Yes." Scrapper glanced at the candle in his hand. "... Are you claustrophobic?"
"No!" Hook folded his arms across his chest. "I simply find it rather disturbing to find out that the blocks are designed to fall towards us and that the drop-shaft is evidently missing its bottom. We're not that far from the center of Galaktobouriko."
Scrapper looked at him levelly then at the drop-shaft. "I think we'll have more problems with conserving energy until someone gets us out than with anything coming up from below."
Hook frowned. "Is that why you used the candle?"
Scrapper's visor brightened. "Most people call these things flares."
"It is not a flare," the crane said testily. "It has a different make-up than a flare, and it burns differently."
"So it does." Scrapper sounded like he would have been smiling if he had a mouth.
The only way to keep this from turning into a huge mess, Clampdown thought, was to find them and do some creative book-keeping. And maybe some yelling about whatever the slag they were getting up to.
Mixmaster rolled along behind him, talking cheerfully about various jet-boys he'd known and defiled. At least someone was having a good day.
Delta-quad was the fourth quadrant of the lowest level they'd been hired to salvage. At least Hook was easy to track down. You just had to follow the strip-mined corridors until you found him. The little prig had great instincts for eking every ounce of money out of a salvage-site - he'd sell the flooring if it was worth the effort to tear up.
Finding the corridor Hook had started on wasn't hard, nor was finding the crates that someone (Scrapper, probably, since they weren't equidistant from each other) had arranged at the collection point. Some of the boys were already getting them hauled out, too. But none of them had seen Hook or Scrapper for hours.
Clampdown wondered if he could weld Mixmaster to one of the walls as the cement-mixer followed him down the stripped corridor, still talking.
A mile from the collection point, they found the massive perfect circle of the top of an abandoned drop-shaft.
"Slaggitall," Clampdown growled and transformed to robot-mode. He pulled out a roll of lithium that oxidized as he held it and lit one end on fire, before putting the other end in his mouth. "Hook! You down there?"
Hook looked up sharply at Clampdown's call, then darted towards the edge of the drop-shaft. Scrapper lunged after him and grabbed onto his crane-arm, and for one brief moment, Hook thought he would overbalance and fall.
"Careful!" The payloader snapped at him, gesturing with the candle. "Don't get so excited you misstep!"
Hook looked pointedly at the hand on his crane-arm until Scrapper let go. "Unlike some people, Scrapper, I do not fling myself willy-nilly about and have to be kept from running into doorframes or walls that are in the same place that they were ten minutes ago."
Scrapper's shovel flexed. He said stiffly, "Of course. My apologies."
Hook frowned, the faint brightening of his optics easily noticed in the gloom, then peered up the drop-shaft. "Yes! Clampdown, Scrapper and I are down here!"
There was a pause, and then the forklift's yell drifted down the shaft again, "All right, I'm sending Mixmaster to get Longneck! You two sit tight!"
"Why does this outfit use so many cranes?" Scrapper asked from behind him, sounding much closer than Hook actually appreciated him being.
Hook glanced over his shoulder to find the payloader barely a foot away from him. Something inside of him dropped precipitously, and Hook worried that the rest of him would follow suit with a little bit of help from Scrapper. "The right tool for the right job."
"Hnh." Scrapper turned away and went back to his toolkit. The payloader rummaged through his tools for a few moments, then pulled out a handsaw. "Can you hold the candle?"
"I suppose," Hook said mistrustfully, stepping back from the edge of the hole and turning to Scrapper. "But why?"
"I need to trim off what we're not going to use," the payloader explained, somehow managing to not make Hook want to hit him for explaining something that should have been obvious. Perhaps it was the way that Scrapper didn't seem to feel superior for knowing something Hook didn't. "It's hard to get Mixmaster to make these, and I don't want to do that any sooner than I have to."
Hook nodded and knelt down, reaching out to grip the candle halfway down. It felt soft and warm, neither of which was entirely unexpected. The texture was rather odd, though; in the back of his mind, Hook had expected it to be more... metallic. Silly of him.
"Higher," Scrapper said, wrapping his hands around Hook's and pulling them up higher. "This burns slowly."
What would be imperceptible vibrations in Scrapper's hands to anyone else sent sensations through Hook that made him want to jerk away and cringe in embarrassment. He had never reacted that way to someone grabbing his hands before, and there were quite a lot of people who seemed to think that grabbing his hands was their right and privilege.
"There, that's good." Scrapper let go of his hands and picked up the saw, setting it against the candle only an inch below the crane's hands. He barely seemed to saw at all before the lower half of the candle fell. Then he left Hook holding the burning end while he packed everything else away for travelling.
Hook stared into the flame for a long-long moment. Flicker-thoughts centered around Scrapper passed through his mind briefly, only to be replaced by Sinker and Spool and that unpleasant day in Perihex when his creator and his creator's partner just weren't there anymore. Scrapper already had Mixmaster.
Above, there came a great clatter of metal, and Hook instinctively snapped out, "Don't drop the transport cage all over the floor, Longneck!"
Scrapper chuckled. "He does that all the time?"
"Too much of the time." In Hook's estimation, anyway. It didn't seem to bother Clampdown overly much.
The crane stood slowly, still holding the candle in his hands, then walked to the edge of the drop-shaft to wait for the cage to come down. One rebellious part of him wanted to remain in the darkness with the payloader, but he stifled it before it could get much farther than that.
"Hm?" He glanced over his shoulder again.
Scrapper stared at him silently, mask and visor making his mood near-impossible for Hook to gauge, then glanced down at the ground. "Nothing. Not yet."
"Ah." Hook turned back to the 'shaft and waited for Longneck to lower the transportation cage already.
Slowly it came down out of the lighter darkness up-shaft, safety lights blazing along its frame. It was big enough to hold a half-a-dozen construction-workers in robot-mode, and it scraped the sides of the shaft as it was lowered. There were a few moments when Hook worried that it would get stuck.
It didn't, however, and when the two construction workers were safely inside of it, Hook pinched out the candle-flame.
Hook cleaned grease and fluids off one of his metal-bladed scalpels, irritated that Weldline had done something so stupid as to require him to use a metal one rather than risk igniting Weldline's fuel with a laser scalpel while repairing him. Foolish, foolish truck. On the last day of the salvage job, too, which had prompted Clampdown to beat his head against the wall.
Clampdown had already paid off the itinerant workers the day before, leaving the final part of the job to his core-team. For some reason that he couldn't fathom, Hook was annoyed that Scrapper had simply taken his and Mixmaster's pay and left.
There was a clatter of metal, the opening and closing of a door, and then a gaily shouted greeting in a voice that Hook wished he didn't recognize. He glanced over his shoulder to see Mixmaster dragging Scrapper along by the hand, grinning like a fiend.
"Hook, Scrapper wants to know where your next job is!" Mixmaster announced when he got within three meters of the crane.
Scrapper's shovel twitched violently.
Hook frowned slightly, rubbing the scalpel blade back and forth between his fingers to check for imperfections. He tried to pick his words carefully, not entirely certain why Scrapper would want to know such a thing at all or why Mixmaster seemed to think Hook would tell him. "Clampdown is the person to speak to about where we will go next."
The cement-mixer waved his hand dismissively. "He doesn't want to know about Clampdown, he wants to know about you."
"He can speak for himself," Scrapper muttered, trying to worm his hand out of Mixmaster's grasp.
"No, he has been drawing very, very tall skyscrapers being built instead of doing anything about it," the cement-mixer shot back. "Instead, I have to go and get the truck rolling all by myself! You had better be properly grateful!"
As was so often the case around Mixmaster, Hook felt as if he'd accidentally stepped into the Sea of Mercury and didn't have an aquatic-capable vehicle-mode. "I see."
"No, you don't," Mixmaster informed him. "But that's all right! Not everyone can be as good as me."
Hook flicked his scalpel between his fingers, creating a rustling hiss of metal-against-metal. "Is that so?"
Scrapper interrupted by shoving himself forward, optics bright and voice forcedly cheerful. "So where is your next job, Hook?"
Hook looked down at his scalpel. "Ah, Clampdown has a job lined up for us working on a theater in the central district..."
Scrapper nodded. "Yeah, I heard about that-"
"You know what I heard?" Mixmaster interrupted. "I heard that there's better pay to be had working on the new towers in Iacon! They're building three of them, and a good engineer on-site could triple how much he'd be getting if he went there instead of staying in a boring little city like Galaktobouriko."
A long time ago, Sinker had made very certain that Hook didn't fiddle with blades unless he was paying very close attention to what he was doing with them. Now, Hook was quite certain that his early training kept him from cutting a large gash in his hand. "... Ah."
Mixmaster looked annoyed when nothing followed that, drum starting to rumble-whirl. "We're heading up Iacon way, you know."
Hook stared at him, then dropped his gaze back to his scalpel. "Ah."
The cement-mixer threw up his hands melodramatically, finally letting go of Scrapper's. "Well?"
The payloader flexed his hand, then took a step closer to Hook. "It'd be nice to have someone else on the road besides him."
Hook glanced up, optics focusing on the payloader's visor. "I imagine he would get tiresome after a while."
"Just a little."
"Hey!" Mixmaster said indignantly, waving his hands wildly.
Hook ignored him. "I'd have to speak with Clampdown, you understand."
"It will take a few days."
Scrapper nodded. "We're staying at Mettle's Garage and can hang around for another week. It's a couple miles down the road, then left. Across from that Kaonic restaurant, if you've ever been there."
Hook put his scalpel away, smiling slightly. "I know where that is."
Scrapper nodded, his hands clasping together. "We'll be there."
"It would be rather pointless to come speak to me about this and then not be there," Hook pointed out.
Mixmaster's drum whirled, and the cement-truck stared at the crane as if he had never gotten a good look at him. Then he giggled and snatched up one of Hook's hands. "I was going to say that!"
Hook glanced in distaste at the green hand covering his own. The subtle vibrations in Mixmaster's hands were different from other mechs who had grabbed him, he noted, but the few chemists he had met had never felt the need to touch him. "I see."
"Mixmaster, stop annoying Hook."
Hook suspected that he would hear Scrapper saying that a lot in the future.