Retail Hell:

Swindle didn't so much land at the Combaticon base; it was more like he sank, like a balloon running low on helium.

"What happened to you?" Vortex asked, head tilting as he studied his brother's injuries with the optic of a connoisseur.

"I don't want to talk about it," Swindle snarled. "And put that thing away, it's creeping me out."

"Creeping people out is the idea, Swindle," Vortex said. "And not wanting to talk about it means that whatever happened is gonna be funny, so tell me what happened."

"It's not funny!" Swindle yelled, starting to limp toward the lean-to that served as their repair station.

"Oooh! You're defensive!" Vortex tossed the optic away as he did a happy hop and chased after Swindle, half-running, half-flying in circles around him. "Tell me what happened! Tell me! Tell me! Tell me! C'monnnnnn! Tell me!"

Swindle stopped dead in his tracks and glared up at Vortex, who hovered in front of him like a demented Tinkerbelle. "Behold, the fearsome interrogator. I'll bet Laserbeak is just i sick /i because he doesn't know that technique."

Vortex's optics shone, his voice switching from spastic chopperboy to consummate professional as easily as Swindle switched from one lie to the next. "We can always take this to a more...formal environment."

Swindle glared up at Vortex. "Fine!" he snarled. "I was out trying to get some of those PS3s that just came out and things didn't go so good."

"Some of those what that huh?" Vortex said, cheerful again now that he'd gotten his way.

"PS3. PlayStation Three?" Swindle said. "It's a game system. The humans use them to play video games."

"Ohh!" Vortex paused. "But, why do you want one?" A second pause. "Wait, is this like that Tickle-My-Elbow thing?"

Swindle nodded. "Exactly, except that I can sell PS3s for a whole lot more than those stupid fuzzy dolls," he said. "They're only releasing about two or three hundred thousand to the US market, about a hundred thousand less than they said they were so demand is gonna be crazy!"

Vortex's head cocked to one side. "...and you say I'm creepy...," he said. "Did you look like this when you sold us or what? 'Cause if you did, I'm not sure whether to be flattered or to start sleeping with a LoJack on."

"I can't help it!" Swindle said. "Besides, those are easy to remove if you know what you're doing."

"Okay!" Vortex said, rising up into the air so that Swindle was staring him in the feet. "So, you went after the human toys and what happened?"

"I got there, all ready to come home with a few hundred units that I could stick up on EBay and...," Swindle shook his head. "'Tex, you know me, right? Probably better than anybody else around here. You know I don't scare easy, right?"

"Oh, yeah, sure," Vortex said. "You're a lot of things, Swindle. A mercenary, conniving, thieving, greedy, self-serving, amoral little thug with no more sense of right and wrong than a tire iron, but you're not a coward. Often."

"Right," Swindle said, nodding. "So, I'm thinking, hey, what am I gonna have to worry about? A few humans waiting in line? No problem! Just give 'em a few warning shots from the old scatter-blaster and the PS3s are as good as in my trailer!"

"So, what happened?"

"I get there, I transform, I make my demands clear and they freakin' MOBBED me!" Swindle said, indignantly. "I mean, I barely got out 'Gimme the PS3s!' before all of a sudden it's a squishie stampede! They were pounding on me with their fists to start, but then some wise guy is like, 'Hey! I got pickaxes and stuff in my truck! Let's play piƱata!' And don't even get me started about the kinda sicko who brings a Tac 9 to a Wal-Mart! If the cops hadn't shown up, Primus knows if I'd have made it back alive or not!"

Vortex struggled between looking sympathetic and snickering and finally compromised by snickering in as sympathetic a fashion as he could manage. "Poor Swindle," he said. "So, you gonna try it again?"

"Nahh, no point," Swindle said. "Those units are sold out by now and by the time more are released, the furor will be over." He sighed, looking mournful over the lost opportunity. "I mean, I'd go after the new system from Nintendo but yelling 'I'm here for your Wiis!' just doesn't have that ring to it, y'know?"