[Author's Note: For the April '07 Allspark Fic Challenge. This is an AU contribution to The Life And Times of The Cassettobots, including my trio of fanchara tape heads.
Disclaimers: (1) Oilslick grabbed from the TFBlogs RPG (as are the FC Cassettes). Any relation to any other TF character is purely coincidental. (2) I know Blaster's dialect fluctuates throughout this. It's how he came out sounding to me for each given line. ]
Seven small forms weaved through a field of debris, passing smoking husks of transport bins and twisted rails. A pyramid jet shot by overhead but they avoided detection; one heard its approach and warned the others, the lot taking up positions as close to any still-hot surface to blend in on the jet's infrared scanner. When the danger passed they scurried onward.
Their goal was what parts still stood of a storage facility that had been nearly razed a few hours ago. The Autobots had had no choice but to abandon it as they pushed the Deceptions away from the area. Later, the diminutive unit had been dispatched to do recon on the battleground in the hopes something might have gone unscathed.
The captain doubted anything would be salvaged. She studied the blackened walls then slowly walked closer, scanning the ground and air at the same time. One of the quadrupeds in the group came over and gave her a questioning look. She nodded to the yellow beast. It leaped silently over a rail and disappeared. She caught a glimpse of its tail further along the way to the building. Soon a signal came over their private frequency to let the others know nothing smelled amiss.
The green-and-gray leader signaled one of two other quadrupeds, who lifted his orange head, apparatus on either side extending upward and unfolding. He turned his head slowly from side to side, processing every millihertz of noise in the area.
Next she signaled their flyer, who hovered upward and began scans of his own. In moments the aqua mech proclaimed all visual ranges showed clear. The captain waved the remaining three forward. Blue and black robots similar in design to herself came out from their respective cover followed by the third, brown quadruped who snorted impatiently. He received a warning tap from the blue fellow.
They proceeded carefully. Even lacking enemies the grounds were treacherous for mechs their size. But they reached their target area without incident. The yellow mech was milling around by an intact console. He nodded, and the four beasts took up guard around the perimeter while the other three began to sift through the open-sided room. The blue one went to a computer station and tested the power. Miraculously it still functioned, but the screen was shattered. He opened a secure comm line to the captain. "There's intact data here. What should I do with it?"
"Affirmative." He opened a panel in his side, drew out a cable, and located the coordinating I/O port to download the data into his own memory banks. Meanwhile, the other two uncovered a container of disks which they put aside to be hauled out.
"This would be easier if just one of these consoles was in one piece," the black-and-gray one commented.
"If only," the captain agreed, eying a nearby fried disk slot.
They had recovered eight containers total after being joined by the blue mech. Anything else was just more debris. They arranged a way to transport the containers. However, as they left the facility's outer perimeter the orange mech warned of an approaching trio of jets. Taking cover with their cargo was out of the question. They waited. Seconds later the jets arrived, transforming and landing intentionally hard to rattle the ground. The beasts growled but their captain held them back. The larger mechs reached down.
The black mech stepped forward and threw open his torso panels, releasing a blinding flash of light. The jets staggered back, errors plaguing their optic sensors. The small troopers made their escape.
"There is someone I would like you to meet." Prowl's face belied that he wasn't actually giving them a choice in the matter. The seven had been resting in their recharge quarters since returning from their mission.
The captain answered his gaze with a stern one of her own. She hadn't received any notice of new recruits -- and they certainly wouldn't be replacing her without warning. "Who?"
Knowing none of them would budge without information, Prowl explained, "Command has a proposal that could forge your team even stronger. It requires an additional member -- although the technical aspects are better left described by someone else. First, however, I think you should be introduced to that additional member. His name is Blaster." Prowl stepped aside and a red-and-gray mech of rectangular build filled the doorway, a smile on his face. He had a yellow containment door in the center of his chest. The captain wondered what his alt mode was.
Blaster looked around, his broad smile never faltering. "How's it hangin'?"
Optic ridges quirked on the three bipeds while the brown beast growled something.
"We are well," the captain presumed to translate what she considered a proper answer. "What is your function?" she asked bluntly.
Blaster chuckled. "So all the leader-types around here are stiffs, ain't they?" His smile was all humor. "I'm communications."
The captain glared at Prowl. "No. I can't work with someone so disrespectful."
Prowl, however, had a hint of amusement on his face. "You'll have to give him more time than that. He's young but he's good at what he does and he is our best candidate."
The red mech clapped Prowl on the shoulder. "If he can get used t' me, you all can, too. So how's about some further introductions?"
The beasts growled amongst themselves. The captain stood, pointing to each member in turn, starting with the blue and black fellows. "Stator, Facter, Steeljaw, Ramhorn, Snapback, Flightpath."
Blaster held up six fingers. "Don't think I miscounted." He kept up the good-natured smile as he looked at her expectantly.
"You don't get to know my name until you prove yourself."
"Jump back! All right, so, do I call ya 'hey you' in the meantime?"
"No. You will call me Ma'am." Her expression left no room for jokes.
Blaster obliged by nodding and snapping to attention. "Ma'am."
"Well," Prowl said, "I think this is going to work out. Blaster, I trust you can handle moving your things on your own?"
"No probs, Prowl. Catch ya around!" The red mech turned his smile back toward his new teammates as Prowl walked away.
The captain jabbed a finger toward him before he could speak. "We're on downtime from our last mission, so don't ask for help."
"Wasn't gonna. Just wanted to say I'll catch ya later, too, neighbors." He chuckled then headed off to the left.
It took a moment before Stator and Facter traded glances. "Neighbors?"
Their captain's face scrunched in consternation. "So he's been assigned quarters next to ours." She sighed and went back to her recharger. "It figures."
"So do you fight as well as you make noise?" The diminutive captain stood in Blaster's doorway, arms crossed, tone disapproving.
Blaster pulled his feet down off the desk he had been lounging on. "Sorry, ma'am, didn't hear you knock." He was smiling again. The expression was starting to annoy her.
"Well, I can hear you through the wall. Cap that volume before I do. That's an order!"
Blaster offered a sheepish look and reached over to adjust the device spewing out the mishmash of sounds he called 'music'. There was silence, then he began bopping his head back and forth. "I'll keep it to myself from now on, howszat?"
She continued to frown, not moving. "What if there's an alert?"
"I'm part of the communications hub! Every signal goes right through me. I'm groovin' ta the tunes of that verbalizin' information too!"
She blinked. There was a tempo to the way he spoke that sounded like music, itself. She hadn't noticed that before in the seven days she had been enduring his daily noise. Yet it was inconsequential to how she was yet to be convinced of his dedication. He was a friendly mech but that wouldn't save him on the field. She was anxiously awaiting a mission order from Prowl. So far her unit had done a dozen things yet none had included Blaster. He was either in the comm center pulling double shifts or off duty in his room listening to and producing that...noise.
"What do you plan to do with all those files?" The question popped out before she could stop herself.
"Mix n'match, reverse and play back!" Blaster beamed, excited that someone was taking interest. Yet that slipped when she only stared at him blankly. "Tell me, Boss-lady, what d'you do in your off duty time?"
"Recharge, prepare for the next mission."
"Is that all? No leisurely stuff? No readin', creatin', or something' at all fun?"
She scowled. "War is not fun, Blaster."
He put up a hand defensively. "I ain't sayin' it is. But ya gotta try t' have some to remember why you're fightin' t' stay alive." She made a doubtful face in response. His tone became a little serious. "How much time do you spend on recharge?"
"Too much, in my opinion. The disadvantage of being small. Smaller power cells means holding less of a charge."
Blaster nodded. "Well, then, I'll try to keep the volume down. Guess I got used t' no one payin' me any mind before." He quirked a smile. "Sorry for keepin' ya. Drop me a line sometime. I know we been on opposite ends but we're still gonna work out as a team."
This time her doubt was accompanied by a raised optic ridge. "What makes you so sure?"
"Just a feelin' it'll be good for both of us to have an influence on each other."
"I'm not interested in noise.
"That doesn't mean ya can't learn to dance."
She was pondering the meaning of his words as the unit went out that evening -- and finally included Blaster. It was a trial exercise of their communication capabilities. She still didn't know Blaster's role since data collection was already covered perfectly amongst them without any boost in comm power -- what could Blaster provide that didn't already exist with secure frequencies? Prowl hadn't mentioned anything specific, only to follow the instructions by the tall, dark blue mech named Oilslick who was overseeing things.
The hovertransport reached the debris-strewn area -- strategically placed debris for a change. Blaster hopped down from the back then turned to offer the others a hand -- which each ignored, leaping down on their own. Blaster shrugged and went over to Oilslick, who glanced around at the troop. "All right, you bunch ready? For now you're to head out in different directions and bounce secure signals off each other, and make sure the security keeps its integrity no matter how many bounces. Block all other traffic except my frequency. I'll tell you when to go into the next stage."
"Roger," the captain acknowledged for the team, while Blaster threw in his own, "Gotcha."
They scattered without any actual consenting but easily avoided crossing paths with anyone else in the group once the signals started bouncing. Flightpath also worked to alert anyone getting too close to anyone else -- he was the exception since he was flying back and forth over the whole field.
The exercise went on for a breem before a signal didn't return from Flightpath. Stator looked up and saw three dark shapes overhead and readied a notice to Snapback. But something slammed into him from behind before he could complete it.
The captain was the next to realize something was wrong. She had spotted the three flyers above, and recognized one. "Everyone turn back! Soundwave's pack of cretins are loose!"
Blaster replied, "Where are--" His signal indicated he was somewhere to her right. She started in that direction to see what had happened to make his transmission cut off, but then something swooped down at her.
Blaster, meanwhile, was attempting to grab the scraplet clinging to the back of his head who was adeptly staying just out of reach -- and also cackling mockingly. "Eh, so this's the junkheap the Autobums think can go up against Soundwave? No challenge!!" Blaster heard the sound of shifting metal then pain reverberated through his cranial unit as two small pile drivers went to work on the back of his head.
Blaster groaned, ejecting a ventful of rust dust after lifting his face from the ground. His upper relays were throbbing. He reached around and felt the series of dents in his helm, grimacing when he noticed part of the armor had given way. He slowly got to his feet, wary of other damage, but that was it. He must have gone down right on his face and the small Decepticon hadn't bothered assaulting him further.
He staggered toward where he had last heard from the captain while also sending a comm to Oilslick. "Am I the only one out here with a poundin' cranial ache? What just happened?" Afterward he realized time might be relative if he had been knocked out for a while.
There was no response. With one hand held to his head he kept walking. The hand fell when he saw the ravaged form of the captain. He reestablished his connection with the main hub, patching directly into med bay as well as the general alert frequency. "Medics needed immediately to training area C35! Multiple mechs down! I repeat--" He spotted Flightpath, his wings torn off. "Medic to training area C35 immediately!!"
"Blaster?" Prowl's voice broke onto the line. "What happened?"
"A-Ambush..." Blaster opened the compartment in his chest and carefully placed the two small bodies within to leave his hands free as he searched for the others. "Oilslick's gone, so's the transport. I almost got my head split open...the rest of the unit, as far as I can tell, is all...down. Two -- three found, all offline. In pieces." He recovered Ramhorn from the site of a missile impact, three of his legs barely attached with the fourth missing altogether.
"We're on our way. Did you see who it was?"
"She said...somethin' about Soundwave's crew..." He found Stator and Facter together, a pile of limbs more than anything else. "Prowl," he spoke shakily, "You picked the wrong mech for this. I shoulda...I shoulda picked up on the threat..."
"Blaster, the team had the best in surveillance equipment. If none of you picked up on them, Soundwave must have some new tech. Keep those other thoughts to yourself. We'll get you all back in and plan for next time--"
"Prowl." Blaster interrupted as he found Steeljaw, shredded. "These guys ain't gonna have a next time."
There was silence over the line. Ratchet's voice tapped in. "Is there any way you can stabilize them, Blaster?"
"I...uh..." He found Snapback. The smaller mech's optics were still lit, albeit dimly. "Hold on, Ratch." He paused and gently set down the others he had been carrying. "Snapback, it's me, Blaster. Can ya hear me? Don't worry, I'm gonna find a way to help." He received a weak growl, which he took as encouragement.
The rescue team arrived on the scene and found Blaster only due to the weak-pulsed emergency signal he emitted from alt mode. Otherwise the compact transmission receiver's power was occupied sustaining seven small forms via a series of cables, including a tangled knot of one obviously taken from a debris pile.
Blaster awoke still in alt mode in the med bay. He threw out a quick scan to make sure no one was close by, then he transformed and immediately laid back as pain lanced through his head.
"Stay still," Ratchet admonished belatedly.
"They make it?" Blaster asked, figuring he didn't need to specify.
Ratchet's hand fell on his shoulder. "They're in stasis. You got them to that point...good work."
It seemed like it took longer than usual for Blaster to process his words. "Stasis? Are they gonna be okay?"
"Don't know right now," the medic replied quietly. "I need to give them time. Something big lurched into motion and we all have...graver concerns." He paused as if the topic was too uncomfortable to explain, then said, "Hold onto your gyro stabilizer, I'm going to look you over. I understand you have cranial damage."
"That's what my old instructor used to say." The red mech sat up very slowly, optics tightly shuttered.
Ratchet chuckled briefly. "Your humor's still intact, there's a sign. Here we go."
Blaster braced himself as Ratchet helped him shift around. His sensors protested and several relays issued shutdown warnings, and for several moments he wasn't sure if Ratchet's conversation was still in chronological order. All he knew was the next thing he found himself saying was, "Ratch, you ever just...react with somethin' like it's a reflex?" He sensed the lack of response meant he had said something completely out of context with whatever the medic had previously been saying. He continued on anyway. " 'Cause that's what that joke just was. A reflex. I...I gotta get serious, man. I gotta...learn to fight better so this don't ever happen again."
"It's war, Blaster," Ratchet replied softly. "It always happens."
"Can I see 'em when we're done?"
Ratchet hesitated. "Their shells aren't in much of salvageable shape. At least the majority of their datatracks were recovered, but it could be their sparks will be put in containment until something more can be done." He switched to a slightly sterner tone. "Blaster, I need to remove this back section of your helm."
"I just wish I'd gotten to know them better." With that last lamenting comment, Blaster shut himself down so Ratchet could work.
Earth was new, exciting, full of so many things, and those wondrous inventions of humans, like musical instruments that created sounds the likes of which he had never heard before. They combined it all into something called "rock and roll", aptly seeming to be named for the way it made a body want to groove along in time.
Earth was also full of the same things that Cybertron had, like Soundwave and his company of miscreants.
Blaster stormed into engineering muttering angrily. Wheeljack and Ratchet traded glances, both startled by the unannounced arrival of the communications officer as well as his exacerbated mood. They knew he could have a temper but when it struck he immediately blew off the steam with some pounding heavy metal music limited to his own audio receptors.
He looked directly at them, enraged and despairing at the same time. "I need a crew! We been on this planet for ten years an' I've yet to give Soundwave the beatdown he deserves. I think short of one occasion he always resorts to unleashin' that scraplet pack! I dunno if we've got the resources, but somehow..." Blaster collapsed onto a nearby workbench, putting his head in his hands, the anger draining out. "Somehow, like it was supposed to have been..."
It took a moment for Ratchet to recall what he was referring to. "Wait, wait, you mean the unit from--"
Blaster jerked his head up. "Yeah...Yeah! Ratch, do you think it's possible? That their datatracks could be restored now, if we can put together the resources? I know we ain't got a facility like back on Cybertron, but after all this time...we can still give 'em their chance?"
Ratchet looked to Wheeljack, who clasped his chin in thought. "I heard about that project. It was supposed to augment what we'd learned about Soundwave."
The medic frowned. "But we got disrupted by betrayal when one of our supposed own ratted us out to Soundwave."
Blaster went over to them, planting his hands on the table between them and looking at Ratchet expectantly. "Can we do it?"
Ratchet glanced around as if to take a quick inventory of needed supplies. He then met Blaster's gaze with a serious one of his own. "The second part could be a little risky and I don't want to do it without consent. It would make everything take longer, but we could restore them first and then try from there."
"You got my consent." Blaster gave a hard smile. "You do the set up, I'll take care of anythin' else you need done."
Ratchet nodded. "Then you get to tell Prime his comms officer is going to be down for a day or two. And, of course, we need those sparks."
Blaster nodded and just short of ran out of the bay, heading for his quarters. Once there he tapped a panel in the far wall and a small section slid back, presenting a keypad. He typed in the password and another, larger panel opened. He reached inside and drew out a containment unit divided into seven sections, a glowing green bar taking up the top half of each one. He studied it for a long moment, then made his way back to engineering. Ratchet was off in med bay when he got there so he handed the container to Wheeljack. He met and held the other mech's optics before letting go. "This is it. Take good care of it for me, 'Jack. I've been guardin' them for a long time."
Wheeljack nodded. "With my own life, Blaster-man."
The red mech grinned at the familiarity in his preferred lingo. "Thanks, 'Jackster. I'll be back soon."
"Naptime is over, Blaster. Time to meet your new team."
Blaster slowly powered up his optics, struggling against a wave of disorientation; he contributed it to feeling like his spark had been rearranged several times over. He sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the table he was on. Another table was across the way with seven multi-colored figures arrayed across it. "It worked? The sparks all held up?"
"And then some," Wheeljack chuckled. "A couple of them woke up fighting, but a quick if short explanation cleared things up. They're all getting an extra charge right now."
Blaster frowned. "Is the other plan going to work?"
"Yeah," Ratchet said with a smirk. He leaned against a side counter. "Just make sure you pull your punches until you adjust to the increased power output. It should even out once they start recharging while in storage."
Blaster nodded and stood, moving closer to the other table for a better look. Three bipedal robots and four animal types rested in apparently no particular order. Wheeljack offered a response to his curious look. "I used some of the animal forms you suggested, Blaster. Lion, rhinoceros, bear, and eagle." He gestured in turn to the yellow, brown, orange, and aqua forms. "There was a little damage to the personal datatracks so I had to program in new names on most of them. Used some I thought were fitting, your alt mode considered. Eject, Rewind, Fastforward--"
"Wheeljack," Blaster interrupted with an amused smile, "Gimme a break."
Ratchet snorted. "You're talking to the guy who named a batch of mechs Sludge, Slag, Snarl, Swoop, and Grimlock."
"Good point. Continue." Blaster waved a hand.
Wheeljack laughed self-consciously. "Hey, I tried other ideas: Vinyl, Eighttrack. Then there's Steeljaw and Ramhorn."
Blaster straightened up. "You kept their old names."
"They seemed attached to them."
Blaster nodded. "Those two did seem particularly stubborn. Aside from...uh...the Boss-lady."
Wheeljack tilted his head. "That would be a strange name."
"I never learned her name. And no one ever told me." Blaster shrugged. "It just, ah..."
Wheeljack's headfins flickered and he was about to say something when a female voice piped up, "Well, I'm Vinyl now, even though I have no idea what that means." Blaster looked past Wheeljack to the table. The green-and-gray 'bot was sitting up. She glanced around and said rather than asked, "We're really not in Iacon anymore, are we."
"Nope." Blaster couldn't help giving her an apologetic look.
She scowled. "Don't you start. I remember what happened. We were no match being blinded as we were -- I blame the traitor, no one else."
"Silence. That's an order. We have a lot to learn about this place and it's your job to show us...Boss." Blaster drew back. "Hmph." She smirked. "Of course I realized I would have to relegate command since I can't very well give orders from inside our personal transport. And you knew what you were getting into in order to tote around your personal army."
"So do I have to follow that last order to be silent?" An easy smile appeared on his face.
"Yes. That was my last one." She twisted around to look at Wheeljack. "However, as far as favors go, can we get the rest of these guys awake and then give us some information on our new abilities?"
Ratchet and Wheeljack roused the others from their recharge. Once he had their attention, Wheeljack began to explain. "I haven't modified your overall group functions but I did make some adjusts to strengthen things. There are two important changes. Eject, I added your files to Rewind to make his database more well-rounded and in place of that I boosted your ability to access media, including the new types we have encountered here on Earth. Fastforward, Eighttrack, you have been given additional modes that can combine into another robot, Fasttrack. This increases your fighting ability as well as your processing ability. Now let me go over your individual weaponry..."
Blaster stretched his legs, setting his feet on the top of the desk and folding his arms behind his head. The sound of "Black Moon" by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer filled his audio receptors and he hummed along quietly. Eject was sitting on the floor in front of a viewing screen watching Philly versus Boston with rapt attention. Rewind was thumbing through an encyclopedia in the opposite corner. Ramhorn and Steeljaw were having what was probably a practice fight in the corner opposite that, and up on the recharge berth Vinyl and Fasttrack were reviewing something on a portable database, a holographic projector adding visuals on the wall to their left. He smiled to himself and made a mental note to ask someone about enlarging his quarters. He didn't mind the crowd, though. It was like a rock song where all the disparate instruments added to the harmony. Regardless of how much louder some were than others.
Another song filtered through the one he was listening too and he paused his own entertainment, glancing toward the source of the second. Vinyl and Fasttrack were staring at the image of a phonograph displayed on the wall. It was accompanied by the tinny, crackling recording of a 45, some woman singing to a piano. Vinyl noticed Blaster was looking their way and grinned, pointing to the image. "Vinyl."
He chuckled. "There's some actual classics on those, too, y'know."
"Oh, and this doesn't qualify as classical?" She stood, pulling Fasttrack with her. She then pretended to curtsy while he bowed, then he took her hand and they waltzed in time to the tinny music. Blaster had the urge to re-record it and run it through a filter to clean it up, but decided to leave them to it. They were absorbing Earth's history as it had been created, and also while it was still being made.
(c) 2007 Autumn L. (aka Shiri) This work may not be copied, distributed, or reprinted without the author's permission. Vinyl, Fastforward, and Eighttrack belong to the author. Blaster, Prowl, Ratchet, Wheeljack, Rewind, Ejeact, Steeljaw, and Ramhorn belong to Hasbro and Takara.