Glancing up at the sound of his name, Smokescreen frowned. "Red? What's up?" The Security Director rarely stirred from the base unless he had to.
Red Alert's expression was serious. "We need to talk."
Well, that's not a good sign... Smokescreen straightened warily. "Sure. No one out here but us, Red."
"I know that," Red Alert snapped, but his optics scanned the area anyway.
This is really not a good sign. He's really wound up about something... A trickle of foreboding found its way through Smokescreen's insides. He doesn't know, he told himself sternly. Besides, why would he care? He ignored the little voice that answered back because he's an Autobot.
He didn't let his anxiety show, though, standing calmly and waiting for Red Alert to speak.
Glancing back over his shoulder, Red Alert pulled out a disk. "I don't think I have to tell you what's on this, Smokescreen."
He didn't. Smokescreen stared at the disk in dawning horror. That little fragger! He duped me! He was watching the entire time! "What is it?" he asked, playing dumb and stalling for time.
Red Alert's posture became more tense, if it was possible. "It's the video from your interrogations," he told him flatly. "Every breem of it."
Ice ran through Smokescreen's fuel lines. "What do you want?" he asked, managing to keep his voice steady.
"An explanation! Just..." Red Alert made a frustrated gesture. "Just tell me why."
Because I could, because he doesn't deserve any better. But he couldn't tell Red Alert that. "I... I don't know," he answered instead.
Red Alert rubbed a hand over his face. "Then give me a reason to not take this directly to Optimus." It was more plea than demand.
Smokescreen's mind churned, trying desperately to come up with an excuse, any excuse... somehow, he didn't think bribery would work here, but he couldn't let Red Alert go to Optimus. Faced with that sort of evidence, Prime would have to lock him away.
And deep down, Smokescreen knew he'd gone too far. In Prime's place, he'd lock himself away, too.
Red Alert waited in silence. Finally, he shook his head. "Fine," he said quietly, turning away. "I'm sorry, Smokescreen, but I can't just look the other way. You've stepped too far over the line."
I won't be caged! I won't! He had to act now, stop Red Alert, or...
There was an opening, and Smokescreen took it.
He stared down at Red Alert's unconscious form, circuit-scrambler in hand. What have I done?
And more importantly, what do I do now?
"Hey, y'all seen Red?" Inferno stuck his head into the security center.
Cliffjumper glanced up. "Haven't seen him. Tried his room?"
Inferno shook his head. "He ain't there, and I've already tried the radio. He's not answerin'."
Shrugging, the minibot went back to watching the monitors. "Probably stomped off somewhere. You know Red, he's just like that. No one's going to find that bot until he wants to be found."
"Slaggit," Inferno growled.
"Go ask Hound. Maybe he'll have some luck tracking him."
Distracted and worried, Inferno nodded. "I think I will."
"Prime, we have a problem," Ratchet said over the radio.
Optimus Prime stifled a sigh. "What is it?"
"Inferno and Hound just dragged Red Alert in here unconscious." Ratchet paused. "Prime, it looks like someone hit him with a scrambler and knocked him out."
"A scrambler?" Optimus sat up, concern growing. "Is he alright?"
"Red'll be fine, once I manage to get Inferno to stop hovering long enough for me to work on him," Ratchet growled, the last part undoubtedly directed at Inferno.
"Did Inferno or Hound tell you anything about what happened?"
"They don't know; Hound says he was on the ground when they found him. But Prime," Ratchet hesitated. "Prime, it looks like Smokescreen's weaponry. And Smokescreen's not responding to radio calls."
"Understood," Optimus answered heavily. "Optimus out."
Prowl looked at him gravely. "Do you want me to organize a search for Smokescreen?" he asked. "And are will they be looking for another victim or a suspect?"
"I wish I knew," Optimus said quietly. "Send everyone we can spare – and tell them to be careful."
Frightening Thrust and Dirge into abandoning their post hadn't been hard – neither were noted for their dedication to duty in the face of a surprise attack, especially when they couldn't tell who or what was attacking them.
Smokescreen stepped out of the rocks, watching the two disappear into the distance. Shaking his head, he moved to the space-bridge controls. He didn't have much time; the seekers would be back with reinforcements, and the Autobots were undoubtedly looking for him by now.
Footsteps crunched behind him.
"I actually hoped that I would find you hurt or captured," Mirage said quietly, phasing back to visibility. "Inferno says that you betrayed us. I didn't want to believe it, but an innocent bot wouldn't be trying to flee the planet."
Smokescreen smiled tightly. "I've never been innocent, Mirage."
"Fair enough. Optimus ordered us to find you and bring you back," Mirage told him. "He would like an explanation."
"I'm not going back," he said, voice flat. "I won't be thrown in a cage."
"Red Alert should recover, Smokescreen. I don't know what happened, but I'm sure-"
"Red'll be fine. I.. I didn't..." Smokescreen looked away. "He may be a spastic high-strung glitch, but he's a good person. I didn't want to hurt him."
"What went wrong?" Mirage asked gently, stepping forward.
"I'm not sorry for what I did," Smokescreen said, almost to himself, ignoring Mirage. "But I should have known he was watching. He never just gives up like that..."
Mirage eased closer. "Smokescreen, whatever happened, we can work something out-"
Smokescreen's weapon snapped up, stopping Mirage short. "Somethings can't be forgiven. Don't come any closer."
"Running away isn't going to help," Mirage cautioned, raising empty hands. "You should know that."
"Yeah, well, stayin' ain't gonna help, either." Smokescreen kept his gun on Mirage as he worked the space bridge controls.
Mirage pulled his own gun. "I can't let you do that."
Hand hovering over the controls, Smokescreen turned back to Mirage. "You're going to have to shoot me, 'Raj. I won't go back."
"Don't do this, Smokescreen." Mirage's voice was soft, almost begging his friend to reconsider.
"I have to. Either shoot me, or let me go." Smokescreen stared back at him, utterly determined. He hit the button, and the space bridge started to power up behind him. He backed towards the opening."I never wanted to hurt Red. Tell Inferno that for me, alright? Tell him that I-"
Mirage vanished. Cursing, Smokescreen dove for the space bridge, but not fast enough. A hit from Mirage sent him crashing to the ground, gun skittering out of reach.
"You'll have plenty of opportunity to tell him yourself," Mirage said grimly, cuffing him.
"Smokescreen secured?" Optimus asked, not looking up from the computer screen.
Prowl nodded, settling in the chair in front of his desk. "He is. And I asked Ironhide to move Drag Strip back in with the other Stunticons."
"I saw," Optimus rumbled tiredly, nodding to the computer. On-screen was a security feed from the brig, showing the two cells holding the Stunticons. Drag Strip could barely be seen sandwiched between Dead End and a snoozing Wildrider, curled up against Breakdown.
Leaning back in his chair, Optimus sighed. "I'm not sure what to do," he admitted. "I can't just ignore what happened, but telling everyone..."
"Would be blow to morale," Prowl finished. Optimus nodded. "But punishing Smokescreen without telling them something could conceivably cause just as much damage."
"Caught between a bad choice and a worse one," Optimus said darkly. "And no matter what way we choose, nothing good can come of it."
There wasn't much Prowl could say to that. "Whatever you choose, I'm behind you, Optimus," Prowl told him finally.
"Thank you, Prowl." Optimus rubbed a hand over his face. "Call a meeting for the officers; I'll speak to them first. We might as well get this over with."