"Okay...let's go through this again. I am at the desk. You have lost my luggage, and I've filled out every last bit of paperwork available to me. In triplicate, even, and I've been standing here for the last hour debating if I now have indebted myself into slavery, sold off my first born Volkswagen, or now am the proud owner of a flightless mammal!"

The young, bouncy female behind the counter inclined her head at the large, lanky grey robot towering over the counter. Deuce leaned over, his fingers resting on the edge of the smooth marble substance, scowling as only a twenty-six foot robot could as he spread his hands out to brace his weight. His wings flicked forward and back a little like the tail of a fluffy cat who had just spied a three year old carrying a lollypop heading its way.

"Sir, I'm afraid you'll have to fill out the forms I gave you."

"I did fill out the forms," Deuce snapped in frustration. "I filled them out already. Three- hello in there, the plastic surgery they did on you obviously didn't enlarge your brain-times, just like you asked me to do, four friggin hours ago, and you still can't tell me what the hell happened to my goddamned case."

"Well, sir...it's probably on the ship, still, sir..." she said, in that patient way that hired counter help had when facing down an angry customer. "I'm sure they'll find it soon."

"Soon as in...gee, I get it back in fifteen clicks, or soon as in, soon I will be dead and recycled?" he remarked dryly.

"Soon, sir," she replied with a smile that was altogether too bright and chirpy to be any expression that wasn't hyped up by stimulants.

Deuce restrained every urge to pick up the nearby stylus holder and crunch it in his fingers as she pushed another form at him. "Let me guess," he muttered. "I have to fill this out, too, don't I. Oh joy, oh rapture. I am living in the moment, right here and right now. Okay, let me explain something to you. For the final time. I want my case back. I checked it only because they informed me it was oversized by half a blasted touch and wouldn't fit under my seat. Then again, my feet barely fit under the seat in front of me, and I sat crunched up- yes, these are wings on my back, really truly, and sometimes I'm even a plane- and the in-flight vid absolutely sucked rocks. I mean, sucked them through a teeny little straw. Not to mention...oh, and this is the best part, really it is, you'll love it. See her?"

He jerked his thumb a little, pointing out the slim form of the other robot nearby. The femme was doing her best part to read some sort of message board for departing craft, her grey and black form larger than most of the spaceport occupants as she shifted from foot to foot.

"Yes," the customer service representative replied cheerfully.

"Wow, I found a question you could answer without a form! Fantastic!" He spread his hands on the counter and leaned over her with a grin that was more of a grimace. "Okay, here we go. See, she doesn't like flying. As a matter of fact, I had to talk her into it. See the universe, I said...don't worry, I'll pay for it, you'll have fun! And you know, I found out some things completely new to me when we lifted off. One, that I shouldn't have given her the damn window seat. Two, that yes, even though my luggage didn't fit under the seat, a Trans-Am, can and does. I don't know how she did it either," he reiterated, throwing his hands in the air. "So, don't bother asking. Oh, right, and the third thing...you guys might really want to think about revamping those airsickness containers. You ever have an incident like that again, and that lady with that fluffy little animal in the seat in front of us that she kept referring to as Snookum Wookums is going to sue your ass and own the whole damn spaceliner port, and I bet Snookum will be firing people left and right in a hostile takeover. That's just a friendly, helpful suggestion."

Deuce grinned like a shark, leaning across the counter on one elbow and managing to look completely guileless. It took a lot of effort on his part. "I'm full of them today."

There was a long pause. He could almost hear the gears grinding in the female brain in front of him. Okay, they were small gears, and probably could use some serious time with a can of lube, but...hey...it was a start.

"Would you like the slips for our suggestion box, then, sir?"

"Only if I can stuff them up your— well, hello Dart, back so soon?"

Leaning quietly over his shoulder with a patient expression in her slanted cobalt optics, the courier nodded.

"Yeah. Um...I can't make heads or tails of the information board. Are you done here, or did they give you another form?"

Deuce turned his a head a little to the side to regard her out of his good optic, and a long suffering sigh escaped him, echoing around his chest with a hollow noise before it escaped his vocalizer like the hiss of a teakettle left on the back burner. "Yes, yes they did. This one's on a soothing pink datapad, though, to calm my frazzled relays, I'm sure."

Dart shook her head. "Ugh. That pink reminds me of that stuff in the bottle...back on Earth. Er...Pepto-Bismol pink. I don't know how it's supposed to help some human's stomach, the smell about sends me into overload. It's like someone mixed sidewalk chalk with peppermint."

"Sidewalk chalk and peppermint? Huh. Reminds me of a drink I had in this bar once," he chuckled, resigning himself to picking up the stylus and writing in his scratchy scrawl once again on the tablet. Behind him, the other patron who had managed to get his luggage lost as well cleared his throats with a cough. Deuce finished off the pink form with a flourish of the stylus, and debated for a moment on adding a few more little sketches in the margin. Preferably of him kicking the counter to splinters.

He finally decided not to, on the grounds that as rushed as he was, the person reading this form would probably mistake it for an illustration of someone doing something illegal to a sheep. With a casual flick of his wrist, he tossed the data pad and stylus down on the desk and turned to the black and grey femme beside him.

"Well, that's all I can do for the next hour. I'm sure they'll yank me back to fill out another painful form soon. But until then, I'm going to practice my spaceport-sitting." The lanky mech slouched his way over to a chair and practically fell into it. That was also a mistake, he decided, as the chair had obviously been designed originally to be a Cybertronian torture device and had been accidently mis-shipped to this spaceport. He squirmed, twitched, and finally settled for half hanging off the edge, legs outstretched in front of him and crossed at the ankles, casually.

The spaceport vid was happily going on that news loop, and Deuce sighed, attempting to focus his attention on it just for something to do, anything to do. Dart sat down a few chairs over and put her elbows on her knees, chin in her hands as she watched the multicolored travelers stream by. Four legs, two, okay...whatever that thing was that slithered by, carrying what looked like an attache case in its mouth. A few of them glanced back over at the two Cybertronians in the chairs, and she politely averted her gaze, realizing it wasn't nice to stare. Well, if nothing else, Star Wars had taught her a lot about acceptable manners in spaceports and bars. Well, that and how to deal with cranky muppets, if it ever came up.

So far, however, Dart had observed a few things she hadn't expected. In general, Cybertronians tended to tower over the other creatures she'd seen. And, just like the humans back on Earth, those said denizens of the universe also tended to keep a wide berth between them and anything a Transformer could trip on and fall. She couldn't blame them, really. Something about being smashed under a few tons of alloy made anything without an exoskeleton nervous.

Deuce had watched the loop of vid twice through, and now was waiting for the fifty second sequence on some intersystem planetary pet show. His hand came up, and he made the shape of a gun with his finger and thumb. Squinting, he practiced hunting yapping balls of fluff. Small favor that he only had his left optic, the other was covered with a black-painted patch. Silver rivets fastened it into the curve of his dark cheek; it may have played heck with his depth perception at times, but it did offer him less effort to aim. Pow. Another Snookum Wookum became mulch.

There was only so much poodle-popping that could keep his attention, though, and as the galaxy-trading index scrolled across the screen, he glanced over at Dart, shifted his weight in his chair. He crossed his ankles, uncrossed them, crossed them again, and then let a blue jet of flame wisp out of one of his jet-thrusters on his heels. She didn't seem to notice him fidgeting, so he slumped his wings and loudly let a bored sigh bubble out of his intakes. Immediately, she turned her head to glance at him, and he smiled. Ah, that got her attention. "Hey, you got my datapad with you?" he asked her finally.

Dart nodded, and reached to one of the panels on the side of her hip, flicked it open with the top hinge. She fished around for a few moments with two fingers; a kid hunting for that last sticky, lint-covered lemon drop in a pocket.

"Need me to get that for you?" Deuce offered, with a breezy, casual smile.

"Nah...I got it. It's just stuck on something. Ah, there we go," she said, drawing out the slim black case between her fingers as she palmed the panel shut. She handed the case to him carefully. "I did finish that article on that band you were talking about."

Deuce's fingers closed around the datapad as he thumbed on the power button with practiced ease. "Oh, the Dancing Hamsters?"

"Yeah...did they really do that? I mean, throw the furniture out the window?"

"Oh yeah. From forty stories."

"Um, is that stories in human measurements or ours?"

Deuce pondered that thought for a moment as the screen hummed to life. "Ours." With a lopsided grin, he glanced back at her and nodded. "Terrible tragedy, that night. Bits of fangirl everywhere. Although," he mused for a moment, rubbing his chin, "I heard it was much easier to sleep that night from the rest of the hotel patrons without the girls out there waving signs and screaming every time they thought they could catch a glimpse of the band."

Dart frowned thoughtfully. "I bet that a sofa does achieve terminal velocity from that height," she remarked.

"Yeah. And the floral patterns don't hold up too well either."

The familiar strains of Tetris piped up, tinny through the small set of speakers on the datapad. Deuce fiddled with the controls for a while before adjusting them to his satisfaction. He grinned, waggled a finger at the screen, copper-orange optic intent and full of blood-lust. Well, pixel-lust, anyway. "All right, saved game. We dance. You, me, and a bathtub full of vodka."

He was so engrossed in his game he barely felt the tap at his knee and it took Dart going, "Yes, ma'am?" to get his attention. Deuce turned his head and put down his hand, glancing down at the cheery counter female, who barely came up to his knee. She rapped lightly on his metal again, and he frowned and turned in the chair, catching his wing on it. For not the last time, he cursed his F-16's alt-mode's sticky out bits as he leaned over the clerk. Wings? Great for flying. Bad for narrow doorways and airport chairs.

"Sorry, I didn't have time to install a doorbell before I left. Whadda need now? My fingers are all nice and loose now, so I should be able to longhand Great Expectations for you. Not that I really have any of my own expectations at the moment that should be considered great by any means. I better get upgraded to first class for this on the way back home, let me tell you."

"We've found your luggage, sir." she offered.

"Well, someone throw their hands up and praise the Almighty," Deuce replied, doing just that. Well, the throwing up his hands bit he did. He didn't offer any deity anything unless he felt he was truly about to die. Which wasn't as often as people assumed, but it did happen a fair bit, sadly enough. Not having passed on yet, he assumed that his system of checks and balances was working perfectly fine.

Slowly, he pushed himself off of the chair and stretched. Servos in his back made a popping noise as he worked out all the kinks and pinched cables caused by the torture device masked as place to sit; then he flipped the datapad in one hand and turned it off with a flourish, handing it back to Dart. She took it, put it back into her hip panel, then got up and followed him back to the counter, carefully threading her way through the smaller citizens. The tiny offspring of something that looked it had escaped a yarn shop ran under her foot and she teetered a moment on one leg before it glanced up with wide, shiny button eyes, gurbled a noise that sounded like "yub nub" and scooted off, leaving a yellow tinged puddle behind it. She managed to avoid that too with a little hop, and immediately a few boxlike cleaner drones buzzed out from underneath some chairs where they were picking off gum (for recycling, of course) and mopped up the mess.

Deuce sauntered his way easily through the corridor, and came over to the desk. He leaned a wing casually along the edge, looked down. His case was nowhere to be seen, and he glared suspiciously at the desk clerk, and then took a step back, expecting the next pile of forms to be shot at him from a concealed cannon in the ceiling.

"We'll have it up here in a moment, sir," the counter help informed him, as bubbly as ever.

"I thought you said you found it," he observed, shifting his weight from foot to foot and pinching the bridge of his nose in a universal gesture of exasperation. Well, fairly universal. Half of the things trotting by in the spaceport had their olfactory sensors somewhere else, not in their face. The gesture lost something by having to stop to grab at your toes.

"They're bringing it up from cargo," she replied, that too bright smile still on her face.

"Whatever they have you on, I want some," Deuce muttered, as Dart managed to sidestep another small alien who was too busy considering his hand held map of the spaceport. The grey mech glanced back, chuckled, then tipped his chin, gesturing down at the smaller denizens with a sardonic smile.

"Just stand still. They'll bounce off."

Dart raised a browplate, her cobalt optics revealing her obvious concern. "Um, I can try, but I guess I've spent too long trying not to bounce things off of my plating to feel comfortable standing still and letting it happen."

After a moment of pondering her answer, Deuce gave a little oh of understanding. His wings flicked once, and he shifted so he was leaning against the edge of the counter.

"Okay, I can see where that could be a problem running mach two," he agreed, with a grimace.

The femme nodded, her solid grey ponytail nearly brushing her neck guard. "I don't think it would be pleasant for anyone involved. Besides, I'm sure no car wash would let me in without calling the police about a hit and run."

"Hmm. You could probably stay in robot mode."

"I'm sure they'd refuse me even more," she chuckled.

"Well, that wouldn't be neighborly of them," Deuce sniffed, with a wave of his hand. Then his copper optic gleamed for a moment, and the corner of his mouth rose in a rakish, charming smile. It was one of those things he most likely had practiced so many times in front of a mirror that it bordered on instinct. "I mean, if you came to a car wash I owned? You would always be first in line."

"Aw, thanks," she smiled.

"No problem," he replied, and thought about checking into buying a gas station. Those had pretty decent car washes, and he was sure there had to be a need for video security cameras inside of them. Robbers and all that. Huh, on second thought, no... wouldn't work to fit both him and —

There was a clicking thump that caught both Deuce's and Dart's attention, and then another counter creature came up, dragging Deuce's suitcase behind him. It wasn't much more than a duffle bag, as far as Transformers luggage went, but to the poor sap pulling it after him on a splay-wheeled luggage cart, it was a damn heavy box with a handle.

"About time!" Deuce crowed, and scrambled eagerly, leaning across the counter, his long arm reaching over the counter to grab the strap.

"Sir! We have to make sure it's your luggage, sir! Could I please have your check in card?" the counter girl told him with a flick of her blue hair.

Deuce's fingers stopped in mid-grab, and he looked down at her.

"I could say a lot of things right now. But I just want to get my luggage and get out of here, so I'll content myself with this." He turned his head, squinting with his one optic to peruse up the hall, down, then all around the area in an exaggerated motion as he wagged his wings. "Nope, don't see another giant robot that way...nope, not that way either! So, I'd figure, mind you, this is just a hunch, that this luggage is mine. Because it's big and shiny and none of you can frelling lift it up! That and the big ass holo-identification tag on there that gives you my name might be a hint too." He leaned over the counter and glowered down at the female clerk. "Maybe you should look into a set of contacts instead of spending your hard earned paycheck on flotation devices...wow, I'm full of such good advice today, I should write a self help book, shouldn't I?"

"Sir, it's policy," she told him, reaching up to tap him on the knuckle with a giggle.

Deuce sighed, looking down at his hand. "No, policy says you don't open the box on a collector's Barbie, so I'm really dying to know how you escaped Mattel. However, I know it's always safer not to ask."

With that same plastic smile, the clerk held out her hand. Deuce gave another theatrical sigh, gazed over at Dart. The courier merely shook her head and looked up at the ceiling, then reached back into her hip panel to pull out the data card that had their flight information on it. Politely, she handed it over, coming automatically to attention and straightening up. He chuckled, softly, copper optic warm as he accepted it and turned it over in his fingertips and then dropped it onto the counter for the girl. She grabbed it in both hands, carted it off to swipe it through a reader.

"You've really got to stop doing that," Deuce told Dart gently. She blinked, then made a silent 'oh!' of understanding.

"Bad habits," she admitted to the reporter with a sheepish grin. Then she shuttered only one optic in a quick wink. "Better pen a chapter for me into that self-help book you're planning."

He laughed, settled his hands onto his hips. "Nah, besides, you'd only need the one chapter. Ace, now, I'd dedicate it all to him, ha ha. Really, I'm more concerned about the fact that the data card you handed over might hold some grandiose Megatron plan to put Optimus Prime's arm at the top of a tower and shoot into the screaming Autobots below."

Dart frowned as her spoiler twitched and peeked over one shoulder. "That wasn't one of his more brilliant plans, no..."

"It was a plan?!" he gaped, aghast. "An actual plan?"

"Yes, it was," she winced. "There was also the one where he used a disco dance club to test out his mind control device. I still can't hear that song "Le Freak" without thinking of some of my commanding officers."

Deuce nodded empathetically as he absentmindedly watching the clerk push buttons and read her screen. The azure-haired counter help was moving her lips, a habit he always found incredibly annoying. The reporter snorted out a puff of air past his intakes and resisted the urge to lean over again and tell her to stop it. Dart's comment made him chuckle, though. He shifted his weight and leaned back against the counter edge, crossing his arms as he gave her a gleaming grin.

"You know," he told the lean black and grey femme, "every day that I hear more about the Decepticon attempts at domination, the more I give you infinite credit for surviving this far."

A laugh escaped the courier, and she started to reply.

Right then the clerk interrupted. "Sir, your luggage ticket matches up."

The lanky grey mech grinned and pumped a fist into the air in victory. "Whoo! That means we're free to go!" He leaned again across the counter, one black hand reaching out to snatch up the case off of the poor luggage holder, which straightened up with a groan of metal. "Well, about damn time. Now, Darto, now we go have a decent meal - I heard about this place on Avenue Four, supposed to be fantastic - then we go catch a transport up to the hotel. A short recharge, and then what say we check out the convention center, scout it out, find the quickest way to get to our seats. See, I told you this was the way to go, a smidge of reporting, and I can write it all off as a business trip." Deuce threw the strap over his shoulder, and straightened up with a jaunty hop, his wings flaring out in his relief.

"Have a nice day, sir!" the clerk interjected.

"Oh, you bet I will," he said snatching up his travel card and stuffing it into the side pouch of his case. "And you say hi to your surgeon for me, okay, honey? Buh-bye!"

Deuce spun on his heel, and sauntered happily down the hall, Dart trotting lightly after him. The reporter wandered to the main map, having to bend his knees and slouch to look at it until he punched up the holographic extension. He ran a finger over empty air, tracing a path through the display. The light rippled and danced under his touch, broke apart and swirled around his fingers as if it were a shimmer of oil on the surface of a puddle. He dropped his hand and glanced around quickly, then started following the tiny blue lights on the floor that led to the transport bays. The mech's feet made a hollow, heavy thud, and behind him, even over the bustle of the port, the femme's echoed on the polymer walkway in a lighter click click click, like she was wearing metallic tap shoes.

"Can you really write this off as business?" she asked, craning her head this way and that to admire the spaceport's huge, vaulted ceiling and this mass of multicolored metal hung from thin wires that passed as art. It was actually quite pretty, she decided, and then her second thought was in case of an earthquake, she wanted to be nowhere underneath it. Instantly, she skittered a half hop to the side and startled a porter, who had to make a desperate grab for the luggage cart it was hauling to keep it from overturning. There was a sharp pop as the porter's sucker pads came completely off the floor, but the cart resettled with a heavy metallic thunk. The courier apologized profusely; the thing burbled sharply and jerked an appendage upwards, waddled off with a snorting gurgle that sounded as if someone was drinking a glass of Jell-O.

Deuce spun and tossed the porter a rude gesture of his own without missing a beat, yelling out something in a language that she couldn't translate. Which was a good thing, it involved the suspicious combination of kneepads and large broomsticks.

"Oh, business writeoffs? Sure. I'm good at it. Well, except your part. I mean, I tried to think of a way to do it, but I couldn't, unfortunately. Usually I'm pretty good at finding the loopholes. I had the one that I always used for Ace that seemed to work okay."

"What was that?" she asked.

"Pet expenses," he replied with a shrug that rattled his servos.

"Pet expenses? Ace is a pet expense?" she said, her cobalt eyes meeting his with surprise.

"He was an absolute horror to housebreak," Deuce quipped, throwing her a careless grin over one shoulder. Then he frowned, his mouth tightening up into a thin line of memory. "Besides, the bastard actually took me up on a dare one night and ate my alarm clock. Of course, we were both sort of overenergized at the time, so I can't really fault him, but I will say that it took about two weeks for him to stop beeping at five thirty in the morning."

She smothered a laugh with the back of her grey hand. "Poor Ace."

"Poor Ace? I was late to work a week because he wouldn't stand in the corner until I could buy a new clock. I nearly got fired because of that son of a retrorat, and he wanted me to pay for the medic to get the thing out of his intakes. Can you believe the nerve?" He rolled a copper optic and threw out a hand for emphasis into the air, swinging his bag around. The case nearly took out two poor lost travelers who were debating which washroom was the appropriate one to use for their species; Deuce didn't even seem to notice as he continued to talk. "So, oh, getting back to work related issues, the public transport is cheaper, but you have to watch out for the metal cutters."

"Metal cutters?"

"Yeah, sometimes you hear 'em referred to as carvers. Organic downtrodden living in the dregs of society, yadda yadda, all that. Depends on the planet you're on, really. This place isn't so bad as some of the other spaceports I've been at. There was this one on Barion - damn, that place was a pit- I thought for sure I'd have to go and sit in a cleaning solution for half a cycle to get the grunge out, plus I was afraid that I'd lost my portable illuminator when some idiot swung down from the transport roof and tried to whack it off with a crowbar. Oh, back to the carvers- they tend to work in packs, and snatch off bits you don't need- well mostly bits you don't need and sell them for scrap. It's an old hit and run tactic, one of them chats you up for directions, the rest of them saw off a tailfin in a blink of an optic and bolt off with it; poof, part of your plating is patching up a starhopper."

Dart glanced down at her ankle and rotated it slightly, then turned her gaze back to him with a worried look. "Is there an option other than public transport?"

"Well, I'd say fly it and run it, but the restrictions here are probably higher than Earth. Let me check my downloaded guide though. I know I have it stored somewhere..." he trailed off, searching through his databases. The black and grey femme walked quietly next to him, then briefly allowed herself to be distracted by the vid-advertisements on the walls. She was puzzling over one that obviously was for some sort of food product, and hesitated to watch it for a moment as it blasted out a jingle of music, then showed a happy oozing blob putting what looked to be a cross between pudding and a live mole into one of its many mouths. The courier gave a quiet snort of distaste, backed up a step, and turned to go after Deuce, who had wandered on up ahead. It was easy to pick out the lanky grey jetmech in the rush, he towered over most of the other travelers, so she wasn't worried about losing sight of him. Carefully, to avoid accidently stepping on anyone, the lean femme started to break into a trot to catch up.

Something gave a sharp tap on her calf.

Deuce jerked around at the first loud yelp that echoed around the wide corridor. He craned his head, noticed suddenly that Dart was no longer following him; instead she was perched precariously on one of the slender ledges under the curving transparasteel windows.

A sinking feeling crept in, the one he usually reserved for when he was strolling near clock towers.

What made him brace for the bullet was the eight uniformed spaceport security officers standing below the femme, craning their necks up with expressions that ran the gambit of amused to needing to be excused to go to the nearest bathroom. Even over the din of the crowds, he could make out her automatic, nervous growl, a classic, coffee percolating rumble.

"Whoa, whoa!!" Deuce called out. "Hold on a sec! No shooting!" He swung the bag over his shoulder and looked for the fastest way through the crowd that was already pointing and gawping at the confrontation. It wasn't every day the spaceport was this exciting (it was more like every other week) so those watching took good notes to impress their friends when they got home. Someone's travel holo-grabber flashed, and Deuce gave them an indignant, one eyed glare as he tried to find a way over a small stim-caf cart.

What the frell idiot takes pictures of some girl on a ledge with rent-a-security-goons surrounding her? All it now takes to make this a perfect moment is –

"Jump!" someone in the crowd yelled.

Deuce decided enough was enough and vaulted the cart with a flare of thrusters that left little burn marks on the polished polymer floor, landing with a clatter of metal and flailing arms as he managed to not step on an infant stroller, two elderly whatevers, and something that appeared to be a bipedal goat. The crowd, fearing his gangly stride, parted as if imitating a watery religious moment, and he skidded forward on the well polished floor, his wings twitching back and forth.

"No, don't jump!" he hollered, holding up a hand, visions of smashed low budget security dancing in his mind. That was just one of those moments he didn't want splashed all over the news. The news was far better when he was not directly involved in it, he decided. "Er...Dart, stay up there a second, will you?"

The nervous look the black and grey femme shot him was one that said she wasn't planning on coming down, thank you very much. Relieved, he blew a puff of air out of his intakes and looked down at the security guards. With a smile that was more smarm, Deuce made a motion like he was hooking his thumb through an invisible belt, and sauntered over to the officers.

"Excuse me, boys, what seems to be the problem? Look, I have our data cards, and I assure you, they're in order if you want to see them and all that," he said, swinging the strap off of his shoulder to catch the case handle in his left hand and veer it jauntily around to where he could open the magnetic clasp. "I'm a reporter, you know, for a highly vaunted publication, and well, this charming miss is my data courier for the trip. And before you wonder about the purple sigil, I swear, she's not at all that sort of Decepticon. It's merely a left over ru– eh... political statement, and that splash of lavender so makes her ensemble come together, don't you agree?"

There was a frown that crossed both mouths of the lead security officer as he stepped back to crane his head back to get all of Deuce fully in his sights. His eyes lit on the case Deuce had so casually unslung over his shoulder, and then all eight of them narrowed into violet slits.

"Is that your luggage?" he asked the lanky grey mech.

Deuce was reaching into the side-pocket, his fingers fishing for the card, his elbow jutting out at an angle that might have been painful to a less mechanical soul. Of course, that wasn't the question he'd been expecting or prepared for, and it took him a moment to switch his thoughts to 'just hand them the card' to 'what luggage?'

He answered it the only way he could. "Er, this luggage? Yar, it's mine, promise it's been in my possession the whole time, haven't let crazy religious groups touch it, and it hasn't left my sight. Well, except when the lovely four hours spent filling out paperwork and watching the pet show. That contest was rigged. Froo Froo took out a mafia hit, I'm sure, after the results were filed..." he trailed off as he noticed the security all shifting, each looking at each other.

"Who won the pet show?" Dart called down from her perch, filling the abrupt silence.

"Er...some mop thing named Symins' Dancing Furbaby." Deuce replied. "I couldn't tell what end it ate out of. I think the judge just gave up and awarded something to go home and drink himself into a stupor for getting paid to touch little animals in unclean places."

Someone in the crowd laughed. Deuce gave a rakish grin and turned his head, flicking his wings out as if to attract attention to himself and off of Dart, still perched above the crowd as if she was a long-legged gargoyle. She still offered no indication she was hopping down any time soon, and he hated that wary, nervous look she had in her optics. It always meant running, which seemed to be Dart's first solution to any major issue. Beaten up by Autobots? Run. Being the bearer of bad news to the Decepticons? Run. Scared to commit to a to a serious relationship? Run. Oh, wait, maybe that was him.

"Sir, I repeat again, is that your luggage?"

Deuce gave a rather exasperated sigh, and rolled one copper optic. "Yes. It is, as I stated, mine. All mine. Even down to the little travel tube of toothpaste they gave me as a freebee down at the Shady Pines Motel. That place was a dive, but the toothpaste was so minty it ate the paint off a double parked Ford in front of my door. Never know when you need that sort of refreshment."

The officer frowned.

"You'll need to come with us, sir." he said sharply.

"I'm telling you, she's not a Decepticon... in fact, she really never really was one worth being worried about," Deuce argued.

"Well, that's, er... honest, but..." came from the ledge.

"Now is not the time to debate semantics, Dart," Deuce muttered as he spread his hands wide. "I assure you, her data-card is order and all that. I made sure of it, myself, just because I didn't want someone to claim that she was an escaped replicant from Belori Sixteen."

"I'm not," Dart called down helpfully, shifting herself on the narrow ledge. Well, narrow for a twenty plus foot robot. Pigeons could have built whole civilizations up on that ledge. There was probably even enough room for a Colosseum and a chariot drive through.

"Well, I know that, and you know that, but these nice gentlemen don't know that," he explained dryly, raising one optic ridge.

"Can you tell them faster, by any chance? My leg is starting to lock up like this," Dart grumbled, as she settled back on her precarious perch. "Just give them the datacard, maybe?"

"Well, I'm trying, but I can't get them out of this side pocket. I've got too much stuff in here, I think."

"Sir!!" the security officer bellowed, cupping his hands around his mouths as if increasing his volume might get the point across to the lanky mech. Deuce glanced down and drew in an annoyed sniff through his intakes.

"I'm not deaf, thank you. Audios work just fine, although if you really want to shout into my knee, do it on the left one. I get better conductivity on that side."

With a frustrated motion of his hands, the security guard stepped forward. "Sir, if you don't come with us immediately, we will be forced to take appropriate action."

Deuce didn't like the sound of that one bit. Appropriate had so many shades of meaning. The pale grey jet mech froze in mid tug on the data cards, glanced down at the spaceport security officers that were slowly ringing him. The crowd took a few steps back. This would be the time that the super ninja death robot turned into a gun or something equally clever in the ways of mass destruction and went on a psychotic killing rampage through the spaceport, demanding the surrender of three worlds as he took an hour to power up to his final nuclear style blast that destroyed some large metropolis.

Instead, the non-ninja stood, rubbing the back of his neck and glancing around with a grin that was more nervous grimace. "Er...well, I guess I could do that..."

Someone from the crowd booed, expecting death and destruction, and getting none, wandered off to get a cup from the stim-caf cart.

The security guards ringed him, taking great care to keep out of foot or arm range as they stared up at the mech. Deuce, for his part, attempted to look utterly casual. "Mind if I ask what this is all about?"

"Sir, just come with us..."

They didn't add on the "now, or we'll taser you into a writhing heap," but Deuce was able to draw his own conclusion to many trailing sentences. It came from long practice, unfortunately. He groaned and shifted his weight from one foot to another, a faint glow coming from his heel thrusters as he rocked back and forth. "Look, let me talk her down before you up and shoot her off the ledge. I mean, I don't want her getting hurt," he said, stretching out his wings to add to the dramatic nobility of that statement. He hoped Dart appreciated it.

He glanced up at her...

No, she was looking out the window at some docking transport, fascinated at the blaze of the massive thrusters as they maneuvered it into place where the point locks could grip it.

"Sir!" the guard barked, before he could facepalm and try again.

Deuce seemed to blink as he looked down. "Oh, right. Come with you, got it," he mumbled. The crowd started to disperse, having transports to catch, greasy food to eat, and in general, lives to continue. Besides, the imminent menace of the giant robot battle in the spaceport was over, and there was nothing more boring than watching someone surrender to security without even one nicely colored explosion. The lanky grey mech took a step forward, settled the luggage strap over his shoulder. Immediately, the guards stiffened; Deuce uncurled his fingers from the strap and opened them in a gesture that was a universal one for "I'm harmless, please don't shoot me..." Well, except on that one little backwater planet. There, it had been the gesture for "I spent the afternoon teaching your mother what her knees were for." Damn that Ace. He'd known it all along, and Deuce had never quite bought the reason that he'd forgotten to tell him. Oh well, it was probably equal to Deuce's failure to mention to the red mech about that habit of the natives on Cerulion; who divined the future by tearing apart machinery and reading the scattered internal wiring they tossed into a pond of slow dissolving acid. Hmm. Come to think of it, he hadn't heard from Ace for a while. It was probably time to drop him a postcard.

The guard looked up, then back at the black and grey femme still crouched on the window ledge. His mouths seemed to pull one way, then the other as he observed her.

Finally, he glanced back at Deuce. "She's with you, yes?"

Deuce caught himself before he could utter the first comment that popped into his mind about inbreeding and how dangerous it could be to those with an actual genetic code. Instead, he merely nodded. "She's with me, yes. I think I said that earlier, but trust me, I'm no Decepticon. Never had the desire to be on any side of a war in which the main arguments are "Conquer!" and 'No, don't, or we'll ask nicely for you to stop again.""

"Does she have any connection to your luggage?"

Deuce raised a brow plate, scratched his chin thoughtfully. "To my luggage? Well, it's a nice case, I admit, but I don't think so. I'm assuming that they've got a purely platonic relationship. For my own sanity, of course."

The guard plodded his mule train of thought along. Obviously, working security at a spaceport was not something that required large amounts of imagination or free thinking.

"Sir, I meant, does she have any item in that case of yours?"

Deuce nodded, unsure of where this conversation was headed, but willing to humor the guard. All he really wanted was to get to his hotel, flop down on a comfortable chair by the side of a pool, and have someone keep his glass full for a few hours while he lounged. Instead, he was playing a game of twenty questions in a hot stuffy spaceport, and he was getting rather tired of it. "Item in my case. Let me think. Yes, her data card. Oh, and maybe a few download disks from those gal-zine subscriptions that she asked me for..."

"So, she does have items."

"A few things, sure. I mean, she travels light and all that. I think it's instinctive in couriers."

The guard turned around. "Miss, we'll need you to come with us."

Dart nodded instantly. There was something to be said for Decepticons, even ex-ones, in that respect. Authority made them for the most part snap to and scramble to obey, and Dart was no exception. Immediately, the Courier hopped down from her ledge and stood, waiting for the next orders from the security guard. "Follow you, sir?" she asked, with a quick salute.

"Yes," the guard said, tapping the end of his baton against Deuce's shin like he was goading on a reluctant elephant at Barnum and Bailey. Deuce resisted the urge to accidently on purpose step on the badge bloated-with-power monger. Instead, he swung his leg slightly over to the side, and nearly kicked a garbage compactor down the hall. Dart caught up to him, her slanted cobalt optics concerned.

"What's going on?" she asked quietly.

"Probably nothing," he replied, hoping to cut off her nervous jittering at the pass. "Maybe I didn't make that illustration on the paperwork quite as clear as I should have..."

"You were illustrating the paperwork?" Dart wondered. Funny, she sounded worried.

"Don't worry, I didn't draw anything with sheep again," he informed her with a half-grin.

"Oh good. That might be illegal here."

"Trust me, it's illegal everywhere. Even if the sheep walk upright, speak and say yes."

Dart gave him a sideways look. Deuce merely spread his hands in a gesture of defense. "I did a story on it once, swear, that's the only reason I know the answer to that question. I'm not a fan of sheep myself. If they needed to genetically engineer a lawnmower, why create one that smelly and greasy? But on the sheep front -seriously, you know that there's some way out religious whackos on Earth, that thought that their god was a sheep? It wasn't humans he created in his own image. That was a mistranslation, they insist. He made man to serve sheep."

Dart regarded him, frowning.

"Oh, not in that way."

"Er...I was just going to say that it explains some things about New Zealand industries. What way did you mean?"

"Mm. I was going to agree with you, that's all," the grey mech hastily replied. The hollow sound of their footsteps echoed in the spaceport hall, and the low murmur of voices rose and fell as they passed little groups of organics, all seemingly wondering exactly what the Cybertronians had done to call the usually non-apparent spaceport security down on them like grey-suited magpies.

They were escorted down a series of hallways, each one looking a little more grime spattered and less used than the other, and finally came to a halt at the open, grated doors of a large lift. Dart shot a wary glance at the doors as they slid aside, having obvious memories of a big grey tower in the middle of the Pacific Ocean as she sidled behind Deuce.

"What's this?" Deuce asked, inclining his head with a frown, shifting the woven metal of his luggage strap over his shoulder. It had settled uncomfortably into his rotator cuff, and was pinching like the devil. Well, not that devils went around and normally pinched large robots that transformed into fighter jets. The grey mech reached up and hooked a thumb underneath, lifting the strap up and out of the area, and rubbed the spot with a rueful grimace. Hmm. Maybe he should have packed less after all. The guards took a step back, and then the main guard pulled both sets of lips back in a strained smile.

"It's to the lower floors. Don't have a staircase down there big enough to get mechanicals like you two downstairs to where they want to talk to you."

"Huh. You know, as much as I've enjoyed this tour of the area of the spaceport that's probably been voted most likely place to hide a body, I really think I'd like to know what's going on. I mean," his copper optic slanted into thoughtful slits, "Listen, you have no idea who I am, do you?"

"Someone who they want to see downstairs," the guard supplied, reaching for his swipe card to start the lift. It clanked, hummed and only half of the lights indicating what floors it went to came on.

"No. I'm a journalist. I work for a pretty prominent publication, if you get my drift, and I'm really itching to write a story on how this spaceport is one to avoid like the Pyrlian Plague." Deuce canted his head again, his optic glowing a little more, the amber light shining across the curve of his cheek. For a moment, the reporter resembled nothing more than a young human child in a pup-tent who was using a flashlight to terrorize his kid brother with Mr.-Specter-Face.

The guard punched a few buttons, glanced up at Deuce and shrugged. Obviously, he'd been a single child, spawn, or bud, whatever way he'd been reproduced. "What publication?"

"Plastic Fantastic," Deuce replied casually, twitching a wing.

The lift rattled to a complete stop, a bit of steam rolling out from its strained cables and inner workings.

"Never heard of it," the guard said, blinking all of his rheumy purple eyes at once.

"What?!" Deuce burst out, jaw dropping with shock as he reared back, affronted. The case banged hard into his hip, and he had to reach around and catch it before the strap slipped back into his poor abused shoulder rotor. "You've never heard of it?! Where have you been, man, under a rock?"

"No. I just don't read much, sorry," the guard grunted, obviously not at all impressed with Deuce's credentials. One of the other guards, a tall, skinny, spotted furry thing with ears like small radar dishes cleared his throat and bobbed his chin up and down.

"I read it," he offered.

"Well, then there's one less rock with someone under it," Deuce flippantly tossed off. "So," he asked, zeroing in on the spotted guard, "you've read it? I'm one of their freelancers, Deuce. Did that series of stories about Earth and the Autobot and Decepticon war that won that White Star Journalist's award," he explained, his chest throwing out a little. The award had been a fairly large coup for him, and something he'd happily displayed to Ace over and over again. Now he kept it back in Montana on the rickety barn door he'd propped up on tree trunks for a desk. However, it was placed exactly at the right angle to show up on every vid-call he made back to Manny.

"Oh," the guard said, with that sort of tone that showed he really didn't know what Deuce was talking about but didn't want to appear not to. "Uh...You know the Dancing Hamsters?" he asked hopefully, after a moment. "Their lead singer is a babe."

"No, I do not know the Dancing Hamsters," Deuce replied, a faint drip of acid creeping into his voice. "That's not the sort of pieces I do. That is what we in the business refer to as driv- owch, Dart, that's my foot... oh, right, that's my foot." It suddenly clicked in to the reporter's main processor that she was using what Ace so often referred to as the "Deuce Shut Up" pedal.

"Sorry," she apologized quickly, shifting her weight back. "I think the nice gentleman wants us to board the lift now."

Deuce looked over at the rickety lift, then back at her. The bad feeling he'd been ignoring came back and kicked him in a very personal space, then ran off laughing. He settled the case across his shoulder and frowned, looking down at the head security officer. "Will that hold us? I mean, without falling straight down to our doom?"

"It used to be a luggage transport. Should do just fine," the guard grunted, motioning for the two to board. Dart whined nervously, low in her chest; Deuce frowned, then grinned reassuringly at her. The mech took a jaunty step forward into the lift. It rattled and dropped an inch as he put his weight on his foot, and instantly, his heel thruster gave a little flare of pale blue in response, his wings flicking out to steady himself. The lift reeked of old mechanical smells; a year of dripping lubricant had puddled a dark stain in the middle of the floor, and the supporting cables creaked under the jetmech's influence. Deuce stood for a moment, disgust curling his lip. Oh well, he'd survived the tipping of the portable restrooms at that concert on Zeltrosk, he'd survive this, and he could take a nice, long shower once they got to the hotel.

Dart followed and slipped quietly behind him, starting to lean on the handrail. Then Deuce saw her pick up her hand and make a face as some gummy substance leeched itself to her fingertips. The courier shook her pale grey fingers, once, twice, and then casually attempted to wipe it off on the nearby wall just as the front grate slammed shut. The guard flipped the outside lock into place, and then the lift shuddered downwards in fits and starts.

Deuce looked out of the grate at the dingy metal wall of the lift shaft, and then his one copper optic slid back to meet Dart's cobalt ones.

"Maybe they need to check something out through the customs department," the courier offered hopefully after a long moment.

"Well, let's hope it's not Canadian customs," he replied with a groan. "We'll never get out of here. Trust me on that one. Last time I actually had to stop up there, they tried to figure out how to tax me for software. Said I was carrying too much across the border for it to be considered under personal items."

"How much did you end up paying?"

"Paying? Oh, no no... no," the photojournalist said, optic seeming to widen innocently as he held out his hands, fingers spread like a small child showing he had nothing in them. "I told them the software they were trying to charge me for was the one that kept me from killing customs agents, and I just didn't have enough to cover it, so they'd have to take the module out and keep it at the counter until I could scrape up the cash. I even got a lovely escort down to the American border. They're really quite polite up there." He rubbed his chin, and then grinned like a shark with a mouthful of mackerel. "So, here's the deal. Anything I'm carrying, I guess we nod and tell them it was a gift for someone. Hmm," he paused, rocking back on his heels, "Okay, you know the look to give 'em, right?"

"Er... this one?" She tilted her head to the side, her expression shifting to one of complete confusion, concern and perfect obedience. "The one that I got good at due to Megatron's random rants, right?"

"Beautiful, beautiful. I'm nominating you for an Oscar."

"I don't put much faith in the Oscars. They gave Best Picture to Braveheart over Babe," Dart sighed, her shoulders slumping.

"Oh come on. It was a flailing, naked Scotsman versus a pig. You knew where that was going," Deuce consoled her, swinging the luggage strap off his arm and letting the case's weight rest on the floor. He flexed his fingers, rotated his arm a little, trying to work the stiffness out in his servos.

"I knew. But it made me lose my faith in the voting abilities of the Academy."

"If that's all that made you lose your faith, I know someone who's looking for a vid-critic," he teased her with a wink and a gentle nudge of his elbow.

Dart offered the reporter a mournful look. "No, poor Harrison Ford losing to William Hurt in eighty-five was the moment my faith in the intelligence of the Hollywood community packed up and moved out into a commune to started growing organic carrots."

"Owch. Okay, I agree with that one. Hurt had all the expression of a flesh eating zombie in a first person shooter," Deuce laughed, tipping his thumb and forefinger into a gun and pretending to fire. Underneath them, the lift lurched one final time; settling into place with a drawn out sough that sounded like some large sunken ship shifting on the sea floor. "Whelp, let's go see what they want, shall we?" he asked, starting to reach for the doors before he realized they were locked from the outside. He glanced over at Dart, knowing she hated being confined in any enclosed space. However, the courier seemed willing to wait behind him as the sounds of squelching footsteps echoed through what appeared to be a small lobby.

The guards that came into view looked remarkably like squat crosses between mushrooms and rolls of triple-ply, beige toilet paper. He started to rub his optic, hoping it wasn't something wrong with the Porous again...

"The hell..." the mech muttered under his vocalizer, trailing off as the four guards waddled their way to the front of the lift and used a digital pass key to open the front of the rusty, streaked grating. It folded back like an accordion, creaking and hissing as it was forced aside by ancient cogs in serious need of a few quarts of ten-forty weight oil.

Dart peered over Deuce's shoulder, having to come up on her toes to see what was going on. He shifted his weight, turning his head to look back at her, and reached down to pick up the case. A slight flick of his left hand, a twitch of his little finger that was meant for her and her alone. The squared off knuckles caught the dim yellow illumination of the overhead lighting. Dart reacted instantly to the gesture, lifting her head and pulling air past her olfactory sensors.

"Weapons?" the photojournalist asked her softly, his voice barely audible. Scanning for them, he'd learned, was often a good way to attract attention from the wrong places. He'd attracted enough in his lifetime to want to keep that down to a minimum. It usually resulted in high repair bills and dammit, he'd spent enough on the tickets just to get out here that he couldn't afford one more expense draw. Money was the bane of his relationship with Manny. You'd think they were frelling married or something. Nah, his boss was already married- nice lady, Deuce liked her and the kids - not to mention the mere thought of an affair with Manny just made him want to poke out his main processor with a sharp, pointy stick... why was he going on this particular train of thought, anyway? The journalist immediately pulled his mental emergency brake and hopped back into the reality station.

Of course, the reality station right now reminded him of the subways of New York. Even right down to the fact that someone had obviously at one point some organic hadn't been quite able to make it to the restroom and had found the corner of the lift quite convenient.

The courier sniffed at the air again. He knew she was dragging in a thousand scents or more, running them past memory; her olfactory systems were highly specialized, and very suited for this sort of work. If she picked up a trace of cordite, electricity - heck, once she'd even whiffed out that idiot about to gulp down a bottle of nitroglycerine back on the Post..

If there was anything she could place to a working weapons system, she'd lift her foot and drag her toe-tip across the floor, give back her own signal, and he could figure out where to go from there...

Dart gave a slight shake of her head and he frowned. No weapons, then. That was a good thing. One good thing in what was shaping up to be a lousy day. He should have really taken that offer of the server on board the flight for an extra drink. No, he should have just paid for the entire bottle of high-processed energon and smashed it into his still-functioning optic. Same difference, really.

The mushrooms did what passed for a "follow us" gesture to the two mechanisms, and turned to jiggle back the way they'd come from. Deuce looked over at Dart, raised a browplate, and took a step out of the lift. Two long strides and he'd caught up to the guards, his lanky grey form towering above them in the passageway.

"Once more, for the record," he asked, even though his politeness was rapidly taking a backseat to the more time tested method of wanting to just transform to a jet fighter and escape the area at a high rate of speed. "What's going on?"

The mushroom gurgled a reply that sounded like someone was sipping milk through a bendy straw.

"Oookay..." Deuce muttered with a scowl, unable to even guess at that translation. "So, no one here speaks English. German, maybe? French? Oh, I know! Spangeleze? Darvan melod dislar..."

He trailed off as he heard Dart's footsteps catch up to him.

"Huh... that sounds so familiar for some reason..." she mused. "The phrase, I mean."

The jetmech waved a hand as he continued to stride after the guards. Oddly enough, for short waddling fungus, they were fast enough to easily keep pace with the mechanicals, and they moved down the hall at a good clip. "Er, just something I picked up around," Deuce replied casually. His wings lifted and lowered, a shrug that didn't extend to the rest of his lanky grey body. "When you're as well traveled as I am... well, not that I expect you to get to that point, really, but... hey, it's probably only one transport they're about to ban us from, there's plenty more- oh, you get to worlds, and pick up a smattering of the local language. Where's the shower, that's my wing, and no, I taste terrible. Just the basics." He shifted the case to his other shoulder with a grunt, rubbing ruefully at the metal. He really hoped he wasn't going to get a stress fracture in that housing again. Last time, he'd ended up in a sling for two weeks, because he couldn't afford the repairs until then. He loathed typing one handed.

The black and grey femme started to open her mouth as if to defend herself. Then she decided there was really no justification for a Trans-Am shoving herself into a space between Deuce's ankles that had originally been designed with carry on luggage in mind. Instead, she decided to keep an optic on the waddling mushrooms, which were almost at a large, thick door. As they arrived, three of the guards slid aside and left a shimmery trail of ooze behind on the polymer bond floor as they slipped around the two mechanisms and stood behind them. The fourth reached up a pseudopod to press a panel next to the door; as it slid open to the left, it motioned to them to go inside.

Deuce sighed, flicked his wings back, then threw out his chest slightly, as he strode inside the room.

"Well, someone needs to have a damned good explanation for all this, and I better get a free pass to the waterslides, let me tell - "

His words were swallowed up in the loud click of a battalion training their weapons on him, everything from what looked like rocket launchers, to something that could have passed for a submachine gun out of a bad slasher science fiction movie. Instantly, the reporter froze in place and held out his hands protectively, shifted his wings slightly forward to cover his vital internal workings from an instant and fatal case of large, gaping holes.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa... I didn't mean to make the stewardess cry," he managed to sputter. "I mean, the in flight service wasn't that bad. I got my headphones after the eighth time I asked. That was good enough for me. Love your spacelines, actually. Was planning on doing an article when I got back home, about how much leg room you had... just so comfortable for the average guy who just happens to turn into a jet! And, wonder of wonders, you can fit a whole car under the seat in front of you!"

Dart's low growl behind him made the words rush from him in a torrent. She was now nervously up on her toes and was sniffing the air sharply. He didn't dare make a motion to settle her down, afraid that if he did, he'd be the next target on the shooty shooty bang bang list. As he shifted from one foot to the other, his heel-thrusters offered to fire and get him the hell out of this room. With or without the rest of him following.

Instead, he slowly, carefully turned around and regarded Dart, then shifted his gaze to the surrounding weapon-wielding squad, noting to himself in a sort of detached moment that these were no longer the average, "I'm not paid enough," spaceport security. This was serious security, this was the sort of security that shot first and asked questions later. Usually after they'd hid your body in a cavernous hole and sent a sympathetic note to your next of kin about how despondent you'd been lately.

One of the guards walked forward. The amount of decorations on his clean, crisp, black uniform would have made most metal detectors swoon and die a happy piece of equipment. "Sir, place the case on the table."

Deuce frowned, and his copper-orange optic narrowed a bit in his trepidation. Gingerly, he eased himself a nice, even step forward to the indicated table, sliding the strap off of his shoulder. The woven metal caught the edge of his joint, biting into the delicate rotor cuff; a groan escaped him as he tugged sharply, trying to free it. Immediately, a volley of clicks bounced off the walls, and both he and Dart took an instinctive step back. Obviously, the threat of instant air conditioning had gotten through to her as well, and she was making a valiant attempt to choke off her rolling growl. Now she just sounded like someone was throttling an enraged Chihuahua.

"Slowly!" the guard ordered.

Any slower, and Deuce would have locked his elbow joint. The journalist freed the strap, then placed the case down like it was made of Rylian crystal.

"Open it!"

Deuce's hands hovered over the case lock and fumbled over the latch in his worry, horrible thoughts running through his processors. One of them was that he'd only left the case for a moment while he had gone to check out the latest vid-feed, and the second - if those religious nuts had slipped a handbook or something into his luggage when he wasn't looking, and that happened to be the cause of all of this trouble, the next time he saw one of those orange-robed zealots, he was going to give them a real reason to find their way home to the Church of the Universal Adaptor, or whatever they were calling it this week.

His fingers flicked open the clasp. The level of tension in the room rose to where he could feel it, as if it was a weight settling between his shoulders. "You want me to open it all the way?" the grey mech soothed in a voice he usually used when facing down moose back in Montana. Dart had been spot on that time, moose in rutting season were rather temperamental beasties. Plus, they could move awfully fast for something that big and ugly perched on shaggy, pipe cleaner legs.

A waved gun made Deuce openly offer his hands up where they could see them; he backed off until he was standing in front of Dart again. Immediately, two new figures slipped heavily out of a side door, swathed head to toe in thick orange suits. Completely enclosed face-masks hissed and burbled with each draw from the respirator tanks that were strapped on their bowed backs. Both of them stepped towards the case, one withdrawing a tube of metal out of the belted loops hanging around his mid-section. The tube clicked, and then with a whir, it telescoped out into about a three-meter pole of metal with what appeared to be a tri-pronged grasping unit on the back. With a exhaled hiss of air, it was thrust forward into the depths of Deuce's luggage; a skewer searching for a chunk of prime veal.

"Hey!" Deuce cried as he lunged forward. Okay, enough was absolutely enough. Dammit, his camera was in there, his blasted laptop system, and all his storage disks for the pictures he'd taken of Earth. Last thing he needed was that ruined right before he got a chance to show it off to Manny and discuss that option for novelization. Immediately, half a dozen rifles and pistols were on him. His optic narrowed, and the grin that crossed the grey mech's face was anything but one that could be considered friendly, even though his tone was level and light. Instead, it resembled nothing more than a glint of teeth from a circling shark.

"Suggestion for you... be careful. You break anything in there, my lawyer will be buying himself a really nice skiff car to add to the collection in his garage. He's been coveting that Ridgerunner twenty nine hundred forever. Just last week, he told me I needed to get off my shiny metal ass and get to work on an illegal search and seizure."

The orange suit poked his grappling stick into the suitcase again, swept things aside. Deuce's wings twitched every time something dropped out of the case and fell onto the table. A pack of magazines, carefully bound together slithered to the floor and the covers bent back; next to be tossed out was what looked like a palm-held box, wires trailing in haphazard directions, then one item after another, a pack of folded up polishing cloths, movie cassettes, a wooden picture frame with a photo of the Seattle waterfront market. A small glass-like carving of a wolf hit the floor and bounced with only minimal damage, breaking off an ear tip. Deuce's optic narrowed significantly, until it was a mere glowing slit of copper affront.

"Look, if you're just getting your jollies out of ripping through my luggage, I guarantee that I've got no underclothes worth bothering about. And, no, before you even ask, she doesn't either."

His laptop system was the next thing hauled out by the corner of the metal casing, and deposited with a bang onto the table. Deuce's hands clenched into fists, his fingertips digging into his palms so hard they left a small dent in the metal. "Okay, that'll be about fifteen thousand credits..." he muttered, and then the orange suited thing poked the pole warily once again and let out a shout. Immediately, the guns all clicked again, and there was an intake of breath from every non mechanical being in the room as the grappling claws hooked onto the edge of a colorful box and started to drag it out of the carefully padded pocket Deuce had tucked it in.

Realizing what it was, Deuce's optic went wide.

"Be careful with that!!" he yelped. "You have no idea how long that took me to find!"

The fully outfitted figure nodded excitedly, burbled a stream of vocalizations that sounded like a Mexican radio channel set on fast forward. The box tipped slowly to the side, nearly falling out of the claws, and there was a collective shriek of organic panic that shot through the room. Immediately, the other geared up alien lunged forward and grabbed the edge of the container, tilted it back upright as he set it gingerly on the table.

Dart's face was a study in abject confusion as she looked from the box to the officers.

"You're under arrest," The head officer snapped with a threatening chop of one hand.

"What- What? What's the charge?!" Deuce gaped, rearing back, his wings sweeping forward with a rasping burr of metal on metal.

"For starters?" the guard snarled back, stabbing a finger at the brightly colored box, "Biological Terrorism!"

Deuce's mouth fell open. "Biological Terrorism?!" he sputtered, his hands opening and closing in a spasmodic expression of sheer disbelief. "What? That?"

"Get them out of here. The transport is waiting."

"You have to be kidding!" Deuce yowled, as the guards converged on him and Dart, pushing the two Cybertronians out of the room with jabs of their weapons. "What back water microscopic planet are you goons from? Since when do biological weapons come in glitter decorated cardboard boxes?! It's a goddamn Lava Lamp!"


"This isn't good, is it?"

Deuce frowned as he stared out of the bars. "Hmm? Oh, what part isn't good? The fact that we're incarcerated? No, not good. The fact that they've got something set up in here to interfere with our subspace pockets, so not only can we not transform, we can't access a blasted thing we've got stored in it? No... that's not good either," he grumbled, ruefully rubbing his numb elbow. "It may take me a moment to think of one good thing, right now, so I'll get back to you on that question."

Dart twitched nervously, the thin spoiler across her shoulders rattling as she paced slowly behind him. At the wall, she pivoted on one foot and started heading back the way she had come towards the other side of the cell. "Er...so, now isn't the time to remind you that I do about as well in cells as I do when I'm flying, right?"

Deuce's wings slumped, and he brought up a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose, rubbing the rivets on the darkened eye-patch edge. Ugh, that small stress neuroache was going to become a full blown multi-synapse attempt at an electronic migraine. "If it's possible, could you remind me just a tad bit later?" the photojournalist asked, as he once again wrapped his fingers around the bar and gave a tiny, thoughtful test pull. It was just like all the test pulls he'd given in the past two hours. Nope, the cell was still there, bars from floor to ceiling on the front, and then another lovely grey set of shafts that looked to be about a bodylength away. A tingle shot through his fingers, and he instantly removed his hand before it turned into a full scale electrical assault. He'd learned his lesson earlier. Deuce was now sincerely of the opinion that dancing was better when it wasn't accompanied by arcs of pretty blue sparks shooting out of every uninsulated part of his body.

"Sure," Dart replied as she heard the warning pop-crackle of the bars setting up to play magic joy-buzzer on Deuce again. A faint frown crossed her face. "You know, you might not want to touch that any more. You left a pretty good dent in the wall earlier."

"Maybe if I hung on long enough it would short out," the grey jet mech mused. He really didn't understand this at all. Okay, being dragged down here by mushrooms in swat-team gear was bad enough, sure, and the entire time he'd been trying to explain to the sponge headed idiots exactly what a lava-lamp was. Then again, that probably hadn't helped, as he himself had to think desperately about the darn things were made of. All he'd been able to remember from the completely unhelpful website back on Earth was that it was a "Philosophy of Primordial Ooze." Dart managed to offer up something about paraffin and mineral oil and coloring dyes, which seemed to make the guards even more nervous, if that was possible.Not exactly a get out of jail free card moment. Heck, he'd be lucky if he passed go.

"Deuce, if you had hung on longer, you would have shorted out," Dart pointed out with a shake of her head. The courier stopped in mid pace, glancing down at the metal floor of the cell and scraping her toe nervously across the tile in a small half circle with her hands clasped behind her back. "Er... sorry about kicking you loose earlier."

The reporter waved a hand, the light catching the burnished orange bands of color on the ends of his forearms. He turned and sat down heavily on one of the slabs of metal that had obviously been designed in an attempt to furnish the room with two bunk-bed style resting platform for prisoners, as according to the Frinwinth Convention. "No problem, no problem. Thanks for aiming high."

Dart nodded and began to pace again. He could hear her feet like a dog's claws on a slick linoleum floor, a light tap-a-tap-a-click. At first it was just merely a background noise, and he leaned against the wall, staring out into the empty hallway beyond. Fifteen minutes, and he found himself humming along to the rhythm of Dart's footsteps. An hour later, the constant clatter of the courier's tread had invaded his audio systems as if he'd been drinking ethanol at a Michael Flatley performance. Deuce had already decided long ago that the only way he'd ever end up there in the first place was large amounts of bar-hopping. Too drunk to care - that was a good motto when one got dragged into "culture." Well, not always... he actually had enjoyed that stage version of Beauty and the Beast. Very pretty sets on that one.

Finally, unable to stand it any longer, Deuce sighed and got to his feet, shook out his wings with a rattle. "All right, that's it," he grumbled. As a sharp huff of air burst past his intakes, he cupped his hands around his mouth. "Okay, fun's fun, but I'm demanding my Miranda rights! I want to talk to my lawyer!"

A faint rustle from outside of the cell made Dart turn and listen intently, and Deuce smiled. A sharkish grin oozed over his features, as oily as a Valdez shorebird. "Ha, see, that's a threat on any planet," he told her, rubbing his hands together in eagerness. "We'll just wait here a moment and see what happens..."

Dart looked around at the cell, her gaze roving over the bars, the ceiling... and then back at the grey, lanky jet-mech. Before she could say anything, there was a slight squelching noise, and then one of the small mushroom guards waddled his way into view on the other side of the bars. Deuce put his hands on his hips, looking down at the small fungus-guard. The creature jiggled in place for a moment, and a faint waft of something that smelled like the inside of a rotting forest log rose up and poked Deuce's olfactory sensors. He gave a faint cough, and once again decided there was a reason the humans used pigs to dig up truffles and not giant robots.

The mushroom raised one pseudopod, pointing at the jet mech.

"Invoker!" it gurgled in a gravelly voice that was strangely reminiscent of Charlton Heston parting some sort of Red Sea.

Deuce had been called a lot of things in his lifetime. Mostly things starting with the letter f, but this was a first, even for him.

"Invoker?" he echoed.

"Yes. Invoker, of the name of the Master of Justice."

The photojournalist continued to look blankly down at the mushroom guarding the cell. "Er... Need a little more help, here, chief," he replied, his hand coming up to scratch at his chin. Dart had stopped pacing and seemed equally baffled.

The guard deflated a bit and gave a mucus-laden fungoid sigh. Then it began to speak slowly, as if it was lecturing to a child at a bizarre Sunday school. "Mi'Rahn'Dah... the ancient God-King of Justice? Those that stand accused of treachery and call his name must be given the chance to redeem themselves in his fourteen eyes! It is written!" The mushroom's sides bellowed, and flushed a pale blue with the scope of its zealotry.

"Right! That Miranda!" Deuce repeated with a slap of his hand to his forehead, nodding sagely. "That's exactly who I was invoking, and all. Yep. That's me. Invoker... so, since I invoke him, naturally, the next step would be...?"

The mushroom settled back with a squelching noise that left a small puddle of ooze. "Praying to his holy Kingship! Now you know the words, I assume..."

"Right, right, the words... Tell you what... It's been a while since I've invoked, so... um, if you'd start, I'm sure I'll pick it right back up. Lead on, good sir!"

The mushroom nodded. Well, more that it tipped its head forward in a series of squishy jerks and rocked back and forth. "O great Lord of Justice, this humble, cowering entity seeks redemption in your many eyes!" The mushroom rolled back, seeming to stare at Deuce expectantly.

"Absolutely, redemption!" Deuce agreed with a flick of his wings, as he cast a glance over his shoulder to Dart. The courier's utterly stymied expression seemed to echo exactly how the reporter himself was feeling at the moment, but right now he was willing to roll with anything if it got him out of this dank cell and into his hotel room. Not to mention the hotel was a far more pleasant place to roll, what with an actual bed and all, he was sure.

"Look on him with favor or disfavor, O Just and Righteous one!" the fungoid bellowed.

"Please be it favor, for a change," Deuce muttered.

"Sing it, brother!" the mushroom roared with a surprisingly loud boom of voice that made Dart step back a pace or two and lower her head with a wince as it rang around her audio sensors.

"Er... Sing what?"

"The Praises! Sing his praises!" the guard encouraged with a wet sounding slap of pseudopod against his mid-section.

Deuce looked over at Dart and shrugged with a quick lift and fall of his black shoulders. The femme immediately gave him a confused stare that let him know in no uncertain terms that he better not count on her for any help with this one, and shifted her weight from foot to foot. Deuce grinned back, then managed to toss her a quick, one eyed wink. He thought he heard her groan... nah, it was more likely some vent hissing open somewhere in the facility. "The Praises, right!" With that, the grey jet mech threw open his arms and tipped his head back, his voice lifting up in song.

"After the turn of the century, in the clear blue skies over Germany, came a roar and a thunder men had never heard, like the scream and the sound of a big war bird," he chanted, slurring the words so that they all ran together in a rush and lilt of sound, his copper optic completely and utterly serious. "Up in the sky, a man in a plane, Baron von Richtofin was his name. Eighty men tried, and eighty men died, now they're buried together in the countryside, Praise the Glorious Miranda!"

"Amen!" the Mushroom countered, and then looked up at the lanky jet mech. "That's a different Praise than I've heard. Is it native to your mechanical people?"

"Oh, the glorious teachings of Schultz, yeah... nah, not native to Cybertron, but the guy was a heck of a philosopher about humility and luck. So, now that we've uplifted in song, I bet that means we're free to go and redeem ourselves, thanks be to Miranda and all that?"

The mushroom shook its head as it turned around to push a small long-range communicator through the bars. It dropped with a thud at Deuce's feet, the red power light blinking off and on as he picked it up and cradled it in his hand. It whirred and immediately calibrated to his personal energy readings. The light turned green. A timer appeared on the display of the right hand corner as Deuce shifted it from one hand to the other.

"No. Now you each get your one call. Five minutes on the timer for each of you. I hope you retain a good lawyer," the guard replied, squelching quickly out of view.

A low, worried whine escaped Dart's throat as she glanced back at Deuce. After a moment, the grey jet mech offered up a small sigh. His fingers punched the flat buttons slowly, one at a time, in a number he knew better than his own, sadly enough. He'd called it more often, that was for sure. Almost as often as he'd called his lawyer. Unfortunately, this call was free, and his lawyer charged by the minute, so practicality once again won over prudence, something he'd be kicking himself for later.

The connection buzzed. Once, twice, and then a sleep-burred voice picked up. "Hello..."

"Um, heya Hands, hate to wake you up like this, but, got a moment?"

There was a silence so dead that for a moment, Deuce cursed the poor interstellar connections and shook the communicator once, twice. "Hey, Hands, can you hear me? This thing's in a snow zone or something down here."

"You goddamned bastard," howled the phone so suddenly that Deuce's left audio nearly shorted out, the comm letting out a noise more suitable to a strangled cat. It too seemed unable to deal with the sudden volume increase. From across the cell, Dart took a step back and covered her own audios with both hands, wincing also. "You goddamned rat bastard! Where the fuck do you get off sending me out to piss-ass Cerulion and forgetting to tell me important shit! Let me tell you, jackass, just how much it fucking cost me to get these acid burns off my chest, because you'll be the one coughing up the credits for it!"

"Cerulion?" Deuce asked, dumbfounded.

"Yes! Cerulion! Like oh, these assholes divine the future by tearing apart machines and reading the scattered internal wiring! Forgot to mention that, didn't you, Eights!"

"Ohhh... that Cerulion. Er, well, it sort of slipped my mind, you know, I really did mean to tell you, but you were packing in such a hurry to get out there that day, that I didn't think you needed me jabbering on the comm. You might have missed your flight out."

"Missed my flight? Missed my goddamn flight? Eights, I ended up missing half of my chest, thanks to you, and your I'm-sucking horse-whiz-through-a-straw memory!" the voice on the other end screeched, as Deuce held the comm away from his head, wincing. Then glancing at Dart, he steeled himself and clapped it back to his audios.

Dart, however, had found a small imperfection in the wall and was studying it like it was some new fine art painting at the Louvre, hands clasped behind her back like a schoolgirl.

"Er... maybe you could calm down a moment and hear me out," Deuce hissed into the comm. "I need some help here, Hands."

"Well, you should have thought of that before you send me out to happy-voodoo central," the voice snarled back. "Help you? You're about as useless as tits on a boar hog, Eights, and for once you can get yourself out of whatever mess that you're in all by your little lonesome self, like a big, grown up mech."

"Well, that's just it... I'm not here by myself. Dammit, Ace, they're holding us on conspiracy charges! For a lava lamp!"

Another flat silence.

"You're drunk again, aren't you."

"What? I wish. No, of course I'm not drunk!" Deuce wailed as he threw up his hands in a gesture of exasperation. The comm went flying, and without taking her optics off the wall, Dart half-turned and caught it from shattering against the edge of the bunk. She politely handed it back to him, he nodded a quick thank you, and immediately continued. "I'm dead serious. You know that convention I booked for a while ago? Well, I was just going to make a quick trip home after, drop off some stuff I'd collected back on Earth. So I threw everything I didn't want to lose in case we got hit with that radiation in the Myderias District again. Remember that, when it hosed our subspace and we lost all that data because we never found the laptop- well, I found parts of it, anyway, remind me to tell you where sometime - so I just threw it all in a case and dragged it on board. Whelp, then lo and behold, these lugnuts find the lamp I packed in there, because it's my favorite one, and I've got the best spot for it, right on that left display table... you still there?"

"Unfortunately for me, yes."

"Right, so they think it's some sort of biological weapon, and now I'm down here incarcerated, and well, I don't know about the fair trial thing. The only way I got to use the comm to even call was you to was to impress the guard with my stirring rendition of "Snoopy and The Red Baron," Deuce retorted.

"Well, I'm amazed that didn't send you straight to the chair for that," came the cold, dry reply.

"I'm a good singer," the grey jet mech replied, with a grin, his wings relaxing a bit as the fact that he was going to get a handle on the whole absurd situation, and he waved his fingers, nonchalantly. "So, to get back to the problem, er, can you just pop down to here, shouldn't be too much of a hop, we're not too far off the path, and maybe call my lawyer and let him know I might have that Ridgerunner as good as in his garage."

The burst of laughter that shot from the comm nearly broke the speaker.

"I've got one word for you."

Deuce inclined his head. "Oh, what's that?"

"Cerulion," the voice snapped and slammed down other end of the comm-link.

"Hands? Ace, come on... this is serious!" Deuce yelled back at the beeping tone that did in fact, mean that he'd been hung up on.

His fingers frantically stabbed at the buttons again, trying to reconnect to the line.

"We're sorry," a mechanical voice intoned, sweetly and lightly into his ear. At any other time, he might have thought she sounded rather pleasant. "You've used your allotment of calls for this comm. Please ask your service provider about other options available, or consider using your pre-paid comm card. Message forty seven."

"Wait! Hey! He hung up on me! I didn't get my full five minutes!" Deuce cursed, shaking the device vigorously up and down as if it was a salad carafe full of oil and vinegar.

"Please contact your service provider for more options," the machine replied cheerfully.

"I want my five minutes, you cheap piece of timed trash! Ace doesn't even wake up in the first four!" He redialed again, and again, jabbing angrily at the buttons. Nothing changed, and after a few more tries he gave up, his wings twitching in his frustration.

Dart eased over to stand next to him, her attention completely on the small device cradled in his fingers. "I don't think it will work anymore for you. It took a reading, right? Isn't that how those one-shots work? Didn't you use one back a planet or two ago, where Manny had you call collect?"

Deuce groaned and brought his free hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose. "Dammit. Yeah, you're right, it did... and well, that's just absolutely wonderful. Completely wasted the call, then. Even you pressing the buttons and handing it off to me won't work, it'll disconnect. That's how these things are designed, for the two-bit oppressive incarceration departments of the galaxy, and cheap bosses."

Dart nodded, then glanced back at the comm, gave a thoughtful, low noise. After a moment, she reached out her arm, waiting patiently for him to give her the apparatus. "Well, I could call someone and you could tell me what to say, or... hmm. Er, could I see that, please?"

He dropped the comm absentmindedly into her outstretched hand. "Yeah, that might work, tell you what, I'll give you my lawyer's number, then coordinates, and then you just tell him the situation and that you have five minutes, and he'll get to work, I'm sure, and we'll be out of here- wait, what are you doing?"

The courier stood with the device up to the side of her head. "Making a call."

"Huh?"

Dart quietly held out her hand, fingers spread to coax him into silence. "Shh... it's beeping. Er... hello?" She winced, seemingly because of the sharp, hissing grumble escaping the speaker. Deuce couldn't make out a word, though. Obviously, she'd turned the volume down- her enhanced audios were terribly sensitive and having the phone so close to them wasn't likely pleasant. "No wait, wait a moment, please? No, it's Dart." There was a long pause where she merely nodded her head a few times. "Really, it is, honest. Oh gosh, where else would I be, of course I'm... er, no, that was unfortunately the truth. Yeah. Well, look... no, I know, I know... yes. Uh huh. Well, maybe not quite that, I think. I mean, no no. Oh no! No no, I'm not arguing, because you're right. Okay... fair enough. Uh uh, it doesn't seem like a good situation, but I'm not the best judge of those things. Yeah, exactly like the moose, right. No... yes, I know that too. Um, hang on, let me ask, okay?"

One hand politely over the mouthpiece, Dart glanced up at Deuce, her cobalt gaze resting on his copper one. "What planet are we on, anyway?"

"Here? Oh, Verilain, why?"

She turned back to the phone. "Verilain... oh, gosh, sure, I bet if you ask airport security, they can tell you where we're being held. I mean, they picked us up and all... but maybe even the guarding force here or whatever it's called could too." Another long pause, and then she nodded again. "I know... got it, I'll tell him that. No, no, I don't think it's a matter of my lack of taste... oh, gosh, no, no, of course I'm not contradicting you, oh no, sorry. Er... thank you. I really appreciate this, I know it's out of your way. See you soon. Safe trip, and all that. Thank you, thank you. Bye. Aww, you too."

With that, she lifted the comm away from her head, clicked her thumb over the off button, and stepped up to the bars, sliding the comm carefully back through so she didn't touch a single bar. The comm gently dropped to the floor as the lean grey and black femme turned back. Deuce had been trailing along after her, and thus nearly ended up with her nose finding the space between his shoulder joint and chest. She rocked back on her heels, regarded the taller jet-mech.

"He's on his way."

Deuce brought his hand up to scratch at his head in a gesture of confusion that sort of faded to one where his optic seemed to lid a little, narrowing in his dark face. "He, who? I mean, is this a he I know, or is this a he I don't know about?" He paused, and managed to not say what surged to the forefront of his mind and parked on the doorstep like an Amway salesman selling dish soap; something along the lines of - "he, some guy conquering worlds for the Decepticon Empire, forgot to mention him, but he's got bail money?"

Dart gave him an odd look, inclining her head. "Ace, of course."

"Ace?" Deuce goggled, his wings flicking back so sharply they sent him off balance and stumbling back a few feet. "Here? When?" he asked, his mind working so fast that all his mouth could get out was single, stuttered words. Then he managed to get a grip on his brain.

Dart nodded a few times, her solid sweep of ponytail brushing her neck guard with a light scraping noise. "Here, and he said he'd be here as soon as it was possible. I don't know how long it takes to get from his place to here, you know me, I'm really not familiar with distances that I can't run." Her slim shoulders rose and fell in a shrug. "But I think he mentioned that he'd hop a bolt-skipper or something. I kind of had to pick through the conversation, you know how it is with him when he's slightly upset about things... " Politely, she chose not to end the sentence with the words, "you do."

"Oh, he did? Well, that would get him here..." Deuce pondered for a moment, tapping his finger against his chin, "pretty quickly. A day or two Earth time, not bad, at all."

Dart cast a nervous look around the cell, took a small, rattling sidestep. "Day or two?"

Quickly, Deuce held up a hand to calm her. He remembered a few times before - hmm. Note to himself, once again. Dart, starcraft, and cells. Things that didn't mix well, period. Sort of like him and that one creature that had been deemed harmless, back on that one planet. Yeah, harmless to organics. It seemed to have a quite a good digestive system for chowing down on metal. Thank goodness he'd already decided on a new altmode a few months before... He made a noise like he was clearing his throat, his voice dropping to a low, soothing timbre.

"Might even be faster if he can catch one out tonight, so don't worry. Watch, we'll be out of here lickety split. Dammit, they better not give my hotel reservations away. You probably have no idea how hard it is to find a room for mechanicals, sometimes. Frankly, the next counter clerk that even hints that he's got room in the garage, I'm not only hanging up on, but I'm calling the better business bureau right then and there and requesting an investigation."

"I'm okay. A day or two I can handle. I may not like it, but I can handle it. Oh... before I forget, he did say said to tell you something, though."

"What's that?"

"That he knew the pin numbers to your cred-voucher, and he'd be flying first class, too."

Deuce threw back his head and laughed, the sound rolling up from somewhere in his mid-section to bounce gleefully off the solid walls. He whirled and rubbed his hands together, his smile incredibly smug. "Ha! Well, he can punch that card in all he wants, because he won't be sucking those expensive spaceline mini-bottles of alcohol out of my pocket. I'm overlimit with this trip already, so he can take that and shove it up his - Wait a minute, back up, back up!" Suspicion radiated out of his one narrowed optic. "When did Ace give you his number?"

"He didn'tI don't know his number, er... I hit the redial button."

"Redial button?"

"On the comm," Dart explained patiently, pointing to the small device laying outside of the bars. She fidgeted, then glanced back up at him, becoming rather hesitant as she clasped her hands behind her back. He raised a browplate, realizing that her stance was one that usually preceded a message of bad tidings. "Er... oh, and he said something else, too."

"Well, I'm all audios," Deuce said, rolling his one optic slightly as he flicked his wings back and forth for a moment, lost in thought. Okay, he didn't know what bothered him more, the fact that she had hit redial and could have (if things had gone badly ) wasted their only recourse at getting out of this situation... or that Ace had just dropped all of his silly snotty petty grudges for her and not him... Okay, Ace. Ace bothered him more, but what else was new? "What else did he have to say? Oh, I know, that he needed to replace his vocalizer's four letter filter? Don't worry, I plan on swiping the soap from the motel for him."

"No. That he already knew you that you were overdrafted on that card, and so he was borrowing the other one that you keep on hand for emergencies. Something about it being free, since you just finished paying it off and all."

Deuce's mouth opened and closed like a goldfish at the top of a shallow bowl. Then he found himself stuttering out the only words that came to mind that didn't start with the letter f. "That... son of a..."

Dart nodded, cobalt optics expressing her empathy. "You know, it's sort of funny... he said you'd say that, too."


The grey jet-mech let his foot kick against the wall for the hundredth time that night. It echoed with a sharp, metallic bang that sounded like someone beating a pipe an empty oil drum. From above him, Dart shifted, sighed, and finally poked her head over the edge of the top bunk, fingers curled around the edge to support the weight of her chest as she glanced down at him. Deuce managed to smile as he leaned his head back on his hands and regarded her. Okay, upside down wasn't a way he'd really seen her very often - well, until these last few days. Besides, that glance at her transmission plate in car mode as she'd made a valiant effort to cram herself into the overhead luggage compartment just didn't have the same enjoyment factor.

"Don't worry," he offered, one optic sliding closed in a gentle wink. "Ace is no doubt on his way, thanks to your amazing public relation skills."

"I'm not worried," she replied with a shake of her head, tipping forward slightly. "I just was wondering when you were going to stop kicking the wall."

"Kicking the... oh, this wall? Sorry, you know how I am, have to do something when I'm bored, and let me tell you, this has gone past boredom into where I make up ditties in my head."

Dart's browplate raised as she gave a slight chuckle. "Oh no. No no... when you've slipped into the ditties, I know something is really wrong." Her chest scraped softly against the metal edge of the platform as she leaned farther over, eyeing him from her upside-down perch like a possum clinging to a tree branch. "It's even worse when you put rhythm to them," she told him, turning her head to point her nose in gentle accusation at his leg.

Deuce widely yawned, then stretched back and let his hand trail to the floor, his fingers scraping along the cold metal. "I have a new one. Want to hear it?"

"Is it one that doesn't belong on a restroom wall?"

The photojournalist seemed to ponder that, but then he just laughed openly up at her and gave her another wink. "My mind has rated this one PG-Thirteen. Safe for most teenagers and will not stun fish on impact."

"Okay," Dart relented as she tipped her head to one side. "Go ahead."

"There once was a mech from Kentucky..."

"Stop right there," Dart ordered, letting go of the edge of the bunk with one hand so she could thrust it out in front of his face, silver-grey palm half a meter from his nose. "I thought you said this was PG-Thirteen."

"All of it?" he asked, with an injured expression.

Dart bobbed her head, and almost ended up slithering over the edge. Wavering, she managed to grab the edge of the bunk and hold herself steady, still peering at him from her upside-down position. "Deuce, that's usually the assumption you make when you go see a movie, that all of it's going to follow the ratings. I mean that's the whole point of the system, honest. So you're not surprised by the contents."

"Mmm," Deuce agreed, sagely nodding his head. He lifted his hand back up, studied it for a moment, and then let it fall comfortably to his chest as he scratched at a spot on his right flank. Suddenly, he raised a brow plate, copper optic widening slightly. Oh oh. He hoped that they'd fumigated this place recently for metal mites, otherwise, both him and Dart would be in drastic need of a serious electrolyte solution bath. Now, while that could prove fun in one respect, sitting here scratching and corroding due to the minuscule pest's caustic excretions would be anything but. A faint wince crossed his dark features as he remembered back when he'd run into the itchy opportunists once before, covering that political recall on Triolant.

Instantly, his mind reached out and poked him to protest once more. Yes, yes, he recollected that anything that put him in the same washroom with Ace turning a high-pressure hose on him full of liquid that smelled suspiciously like Gardar urine was on his list of Things Never to Have Happen Again. How could he forget? He periodically found it odd that so many things involving Ace popped up on that record. Lazily, he slid his hand back and comfortably laced it with the other, resting both on his mid-section, trying not to scratch. Maybe if he ignored it, the itch would go away. Shuttering his optic, he focused on a mental image of himself stretched idly in a hammock on the smooth white sand beaches of Island. There, much better. "I heard they were trying to get that passed as an internet law, back on Earth. Ratings for sites. Not a bad idea, considering that even I admit that the amount of off color Pokemon pictures overwhelms even my definition of good taste," he consented after a few minutes had passed.

Dart agreed, and disappeared back onto the overhead bunk with a rasp of metal on metal. He heard her scraping around, and it was obvious she was trying to make herself comfortable as possible. The courier made a soft sound that was a cross between a whine and a sigh, and he heard her spoiler click restlessly above him as she settled onto her back, staring at the ceiling. Wow. Rivets. Lots of rivets. That didn't even count the ones holding his patch over his eyes.

"You okay?" he asked her, bringing his hand up to rub at his chin.

"Sure. But it's tight up here. This bunk's smaller than that one, I think."

"Well, there's enough room for both of us down here, if I crunch over. Really, we can share," he offered, gallantly.

"No, it's okay. If it's this tight up here, I'd worry about kicking you by accident or something awful," she politely replied, scuffling around a bit more before she was silent.

"Dammit."

"What?"

"Oh, nothing. Just cursing the whole situation," Deuce sighed as he flopped back, shifting his hand behind his head, wings rattling as he sighed out a long rattle of air past his intakes.

"Understood," she agreed. He had a feeling she really didn't. Ah well. Humming, he began to tap his foot on the wall again. Ooh, the things one could rhyme with Kentucky.


"You piece of trashy paparazzi! Wake up!"

Blearily, the grey reporter registered the second thunk on his forehead before he sat straight up on the bunk. This added a third painful slam to the mix that set his audios ringing. Groping blindly for a moment, he managed to get full power back to his optic as he rubbed his hand against his head, hoping that he hadn't put another dent in his helmet. Cosmetic damage always seemed to cost so much more than actual damage it wasn't funny. His left antenna slowly uncrumpled from where he'd been lying on it. Ugh.

"Wha–?" he grumbled as he rolled over. His wings almost caught on the edges of the platform above him, and he groaned softly as something rapped him right on the brim of his helmet. "Knock it off, I'm awake, I'm awake, and I swear, I didn't have anything to do with the..."

"Wakey wakey, sunshine," came the wry response, and Deuce's clearing gaze took in the red blur standing a few feet away from his bunk, that slowly coalesced into the barrel-chested form of Ace. The carbot's blue optics were looking down at him with a balance of bemusement and ire, not unlike the expression Deuce remembered seeing once on Martha Stewart's face: she might be glad to see you walk in, but one wrong move towards her centerpiece and she'd take you down faster than a professional chef could wield a spice weasel.

"Oh, it's you," Deuce replied, bringing up his hand to rub under his still functioning optic, pressing the ball of his thumb right above the bridge of his nose. His fingers touched the silver rivets fastening the black metal patch over his right eye, fumbled with them for a moment, then he rubbed his knuckles across his brow, giving a slight yawn. "Hey, did you bring coffee?"

"Yeah, stopped by Starbucks on the way out here, grabbed two double short mochas, but I drank both of them... What the fuck, Deuce, you think I dropped in for goddamn coffee on the way out to pull your sorry ass out of a jail cell once again?"

"Well, it would have been nice, how silly of me to think you would do something like that."

"I can leave and take my nice with me," Ace threatened, crossing his stocky arms. His head canted, his chin jutting out like a block of granite as he glared at the long legged reporter. "I'm not doing this out of the goodness of my heart, trust me. Personally, I think you deserve to get violated in a prison cell in more ways than I can count, right now. Let me tell you, I can count pretty damn high."

Deuce sighed and rolled his optic to stare at the ceiling. "If you came down here on my personal credits just to wish me ill-use, go get me my frickin' coffee first, cabana boy."

"Cabana boy?!"

"Oh, I'm sorry. Cabana girl? No, cabana wench."

"Shut your talk-hole, you exhaust pipe sucking roto-rat!" Ace roared back, his voice resounding off the walls of the cell. Underneath his words rumbled a low growl, reminiscent of the engine noise of his Camaro alt mode.

Deuce flung himself up to the challenge; he lurched off the bunk and flung himself up to stand inches from Ace's face. He snapped out his hand, waggling his finger back and forth at the shorter mech as if he was addressing an extremely naughty human child. "Shut my talk-hole? My talk hole?! I'll have you know that my - as you so intelligently put it -and let me tell you, Ace, that is sarcasm - sar-casm, go look it up in Deuce's big book of important words for Ace to learn- this talk hole of mine has gotten us both out of more bad situations than you obviously remember!"

Ace shot a death-glare at the finger as if he was debating just how much of it he could bite off in one swift snap. "Trust me, I remember a lot," he muttered dourly, shifting his weight onto his left leg, just in case he needed to follow up his words with a roundhouse kick to Deuce's skidplate. "Because your slagging mouth got us into those situations in the first place."

"My mouth?!" Deuce sputtered, drawing himself up to his full height and scowling ferociously down at the other Cybertronian.

Ace's dry chuckle echoed and drowned out the sputter of the taller mech.

"Well, I'd say that or your—"

"Don't EVEN go there!"

The slight rustle of metal on metal made next Ace's retort stop short... which was probably good, because the next thing out of his mouth was going to be a comment on how Deuce's love life had been the sole support for half the anti-virus software industry. Perched quietly on the higher bunk, Dart was looking down at both of them with the calm intensity of a spectator at a particularly vigorous tennis match, her chin resting on the back of her hand.

"Heya, Dart," Ace chuckled without missing a beat. Slowly, the red mech's own hands shifted down to rest comfortably on his hips as he inclined his head and gave her an easy, crooked smile, his sky-blue optics half shuttering. "How are things going, kiddo?"

"Oh, not bad, honest. Er... yourself?"

"Same old, same old," Ace answered with a blithe wave of his hand as she slid over the edge and landed lightly on the floor. The femme stretched, shrugged and stood, clasping her hands behind her back as she regarded each of them. Deuce's grey finish was soft and muted, almost like the reporter was wearing a comfortable flannel jacket, threadbare and short at the sleeves. Ace's candy apple red paint contrasted sharply with his glossy white stripes; the two wide lines across his chest made the carmech seem even broader. They shouldn't have, vertical bands were considered by most fashion designers as slimming. Obviously that didn't pertain to Ace, pool awnings, or even circus tents.

If that thought ever crossed Deuce's mind, it would have been immediately followed by a crack about how that explained all of Ace's attitude - a cluster of angry midgets could be tight packed into a muscle car, with room left over for a tiny monkey in loose fitting diapers. Right now, if Deuce could have had his way, the simian would have been squatting in Ace's glovebox with said garments around his ankles, catching up on his reading skills with Ace's well used Thomas Guide to Montana.

Ace, however, merely smiled again and shook his head. "You know... he gets you off of Earth, and what, it's less than a year before you two go right into incarceration. Smooth as ever, Deuce."

"Now, this was not my fault!" Deuce railed, throwing up his hands.

"He's right, it wasn't his fault," Dart agreed, coming quickly to Deuce's defense. "I mean, they started out by losing his luggage, and then we finally get it back and thought, hey, we'd get to the hotel after all; and then they throw us in here because he's got an odd light fixture in his bag for a souvenir." Ace sighed as he listened, then made a slight open and close motion with the fingers of his hand, imitating a yapping dog behind her back. Dart didn't notice his gesture as she continued on. "I guess the sixties never made it out to here.. You know, peace, love, the Beatles..."

"Inhaling made it out here." Ace replied wryly. Then he gave them both a short, deep frown. "Okay, guys, what really happened? I'm not buying your cocked up story about the damn lamp. They don't stick you in a maximum security incarceration over an electrical appliance. Well, except those that you buy in the Kawari Sector, and I know why those are illegal. You'd never bother with a real femme again, and... well, no matter." He wandered over past them and sat down on the edge of the bottom bunk, hands braced on his thighs as he looked up at them both. Then his gaze focused sharply on Deuce. "So, what were you smuggling in this time, Eights? Energon shooters? Shady vids?"

Deuce held up a hand, his good eye wide with surprise. "Whoa, whoa whoa... me, smuggle? No way," he reaffirmed. "I don't care if the pirate patch says otherwise, sorry, it was a cosmetic justification, for having my sightball smashed out with a sword, and not much else. Trust me, wasn't really fun when it happened, but, I don't know, it tends to get me good discounts at bars along the way. A tale for a pitcher of grog, or some such thing. But seriously, come on, you know the closest thing I've ever come to smuggling was the Canopy, and come hell or high water, I wasn't going to lose that to those Ascardian idiots, no matter what they gibbered and whined about oh, boo hoo, it's going to ruin the economy. Fricking desert shysters are only out to make a fast buck on the unprepared, I tell you. Besides, I've got a deep attachment that damn thing after all these years. It saves my life, I kick it, it saves my equipment, I jiggle the green wires a few times." Deuce's smile grew a little wistful.

He wasn't exaggerating. Deuce loved the Canopy, even with all of the device's myriad quirks. Where else could you find something that could make an nearly invisible, perfectly camouflaged, weather-proof barrier to keep out all sorts of environmental bad things? Acid rain, sandstorms, mechs that you'd made a pass at their femme earlier in some seedy bar - ah, the basic unpleasantries of a journalistic life on the road.

"Damn, Deuce, marry it already," Ace grumbled sourly. "You've had your hands in the poor thing enough to insure its silence."

"Oh, shut up. You don't appreciate it enough."

"The Canopy? Sure I do. It wouldn't drag me out of my nice, comfortable rental to go get its skidplate out of some jail cell. It wouldn't call me out of a wonderful recharge with the fact that it wants me once again to drop everything I'm doing at the moment and hurry on over to its beck and call."

Dart shifted uneasily from foot to foot, and a soft worried whine rolled out of her throat. "Well, that was sort of my fault for calling you back. I really didn't think I could say what needed to be said in five minutes to a lawyer."

"Deuce's lawyer?" Ace put his hands on his hips and threw back his head with a deep rolling laugh. Deuce snorted and crossed his arms, his wings flicking back and forth on the hinges, turning his back on the red mech. This only served in making Ace laugh harder, and Dart to take a step back from him with a look of concern. Ace held up a hand, chuckling softly as he crooked a his index finger at the femme as if to call her over to him as he lowered his voice into a stage whisper. "I'll let you in on a little secret. That damn guy is so jaded now all you'd have to do was say... Deuce, jail, skiff, and that wise fellow would come running like you offered a turbo-hound a slab of prime energon treat."

"Very funny, Hands," Deuce replied, swiveling his head to glare over his shoulder. Hmm. Maybe if he pushed Ace into the bars, it would short it out enough to get them all out of here... well, not Ace, but right now, he'd live with that. Too bad, so sad, sniff. Although, yeah, Ace did show up, and, well... he brightened a little. "Hey, now... enough joking aside, but listen, I'd really love to get out of here soon. This place is giving me the creeps, and I really don't want to end up buried six feet under in whatever these mushroom-things use for fertilizer."

"Deuce, you're always up to your neck in shit, you should be used to it by now," Ace said dryly.

"Well, that's metaphorical. I'm talking literal, here. Have you seen what the hell passes for guards here? It looks like someone got the unholy sequel to end all sequels idea. Whee, let's mix Fantasia with Apocalypse Now."

"Oh, we've gone literal, now? Let me point you back to Cerulion? Literal, my ass."

"Ace," Deuce snapped, spinning fully around to face the other mech. "I know you have an utter fascination with your bits that should only be looked at with full optic protection through the large end of a telescope, but keep your mind on the fact that I'm guessing that they'll want to charge me with interplanetary terrorism, and that usually involves some sort of pain, in the end."

Ace rolled an optic and let a sigh trickle past him, only half listening to the grey mech. Primus, someone's been all sorts of emotional lately, haven't they? You'd think he's having a mid-life crisis or something after four million years. Yeah, that's probably it, come to think of it. Damn, Deuce, why can't you be like most normal guys and go buy a sports car, drive the thing around, crank up some Steve Miller... Wait a second...

Ace's skeptical gaze flicked back to where Dart was listening to Deuce's every word, concern written on her features.

Whoo boy. Yeah, mid-life crisis all right.

Hiding a malevolently amused grin with a rub of his chin, Ace shrugged and allowed Deuce's words to wash right over him. "Mmm. Yeah, it's all over the news, actually, I caught it on the on board vids for the planet when I came in."

"On the news?" Deuce questioned, tilting his head as if to perk invisible ears, instantly reverting to the news-hound he instinctively was. "What did they have to say?"

"Oh, fly by night reporting? Eh, you know how it is, they don't have the facts straight. Unless you're a rogue Decepticon, charging through on a swath of destruction in an attempt to overthrow the government here for the glory of whatever Tron he's calling himself this week, Mega, Super, Hyper, you name it, he's probably called himself that."

"See, they've already got it wrong. Do I look like a rogue Decepticon to you, Hands?" Deuce made a clicking sound of shame. "That's just poor reporting. I am so writing a formal complaint, What happened to research, what happened to good journalism, what happened to–?"

Ace held up a hand, pointed at Dart's sigil. "You always think it's all about you, don't you, all the time, Eights? Usually, if it's something major, like, oh, getting caught up in a coup, you're right. But hell, even you seem to get a break sometime. Heh, some amateur photographer, and I do mean amateur, horrible lighting - seems to have caught the bit where she," he jerked his thumb again at the obviously confused Dart, "was playing Spidergirl and climbing up the side of the terminal. You know, kiddo, you do look fairly ominous and threatening when they're shooting camera angles from the ground up at you," he teased the femme, curling his fingers into imitation claws as he pulled back his lips to offer a ferocious mock-snarl in her direction. "Rar."

Dart seemed to blink. With an embarrassed noise, she ducked her head, hands clasping behind her back again as she lowered her sheepish gaze to the floor. Actually, sheep couldn't look quite as guilty - unless of course, they were planning to take over a small farm and tar and feather the farmer's dog. Viva la revolution and all that. With a shift of her weight from one foot to the other, the lean black and grey femme shook her head, holding up her hands in protest. "Well, we needed a way to get out of that Decepticon blockade, and telling them Deuce was my prisoner worked. I should have scraped it off a while ago, but we didn't have time before we bolted to the shuttleport. Ace, honest, it wasn't what it looked like. I promise, I swear. I mean, Deuce was talking about the metal cutters... and then someone tapped my calf, and I sort of got spooked."

Deuce's gaze became distracted, as his wings flicked in time with a small shudder that seemed to trail delicate fingertips down the relay network in his back. Mmm, that had been fun. Oh, not the hoping to goodness they weren't going to get their little ruse discovered as they were sidling warily through a station full of Decepticon warriors with anxiety driven triggers on their weapons. No, frankly, that had been downright unpleasant. However, getting to instruct Dart to 'tie him up a little tighter' had more than made up for it.

Ace brought his hand up to his mouth and rubbed his chin, throwing Deuce a narrowed glance. "Uh huh. Prisoner. It's a good thing the Decepticons are stupid on the whole, because you two sure couldn't fool me with that one, Eights. Huh, right... the Carvers. Oh, hey, don't worry... they only jump mechs with obvious things that look like mods they can sell fast, or idiots who get overenergized and stagger down onto the wrong transports. You, kiddo, don't strike me as someone who falls into those categories, unlike some things in this jail cell."

Deuce let out another snort of air, his wings lifting and falling in a offended shrug. "Let me guess, that was a thinly veiled insult in my general direction."

"Was it veiled? I thought it was pretty obvious."

"Obvious as the fat stripes on your hood. Hey though, funny, you're leaving out the most important part of the story. You know, where you were the one flat on your back and cursing about your mirrors being used as tacky disco decorations back on Barion." the journalist commented sharply. "Wasn't it you who swore it was just one drink, Hands?"

"It was one damn drink," Ace retorted gruffly. "One drink, that I let myself be talked into by you, remember? You said easily processed."

"And I was right, it was. I just can hold my energon better than you can, obviously," Deuce laughed, lacing his hands behind his head and rocking back on his heels. Ace made a noise like his carburetor needed some serious time benched in the nearest repair shop. Deuce's expression changed to one of complete innocence, which actually was quite impressive. Well, not really, he spent a lot of time perfecting the look in the mirror, for just these occasions. "I told you to sip it slow."

"You monkey-loving, piece of..." Ace started to reply, and Deuce managed to widen his optic until he resembled nothing more than a sad-eyed ceramic puppy that an elderly grandmother would eagerly decorate her house with.

"But I did... you can't blame me for your tolerance level."

"Goddammit, Deuce, I can blame you for a lot of my low tolerance levels. Speaking of which, we've probably only got about five minutes left chatting before they come down here and demand that I get out. I already had to pay two hundred farking credits just to come in and talk to you, and so far, I think I would have been better off buying myself a sock puppet and drawing your face on it."

Deuce drew himself up and crossed his arms, his wings flicking back and forth for a moment, and then he gave Ace a relaxed grin, the corners of his mouth rising. "Make sure it's one of those nice flannel socks. They keep your fingers warmer."

Ace shifted his weight back on his heels, tipping his head back a little to regard the taller jet-mech. "I'll sock you, Eights," he muttered, but it rolled off his vocalizer with an attempt at a friendly growl. "Now, back to the problem that we're dealing with right now. Seems as not only are you a rogue Decepticon faction, out to take over this peaceful planet of organic people for the sole purpose of sucking up every bit of energy, but you've got your hands on the ultimate weapon, designed to kill all off the living organism on this planet down to the common cold virus."

"What, the can of Lysol? That worked well to get rid of the smell when I sucked a bird into my intakes last time, but I don't think it could do a lot to the planet in general. Trust me, it doesn't seem to work on the washroom in this spaceport. Gallons of hand sanitizer later and I still feel unclean," Deuce said, looking down at his hands, and flexing his fingers as he eyed the gaps between his joints warily. That creature blowing his nose (at least the journalist figured it was his nose... and a him, for that matter) sounded like he was instead actually sucking blobs of rice pudding through his ears. "I'm thanking someone that I didn't actually have to use it for its intended purpose."

Dart's nose twitched, a little, as if she too was remembering a smell that would have been probably covered up by any sane cat if it found it in the litterbox. Of course, the cat would have been wearing a haz-mat suit and used a bulldozer just to be on the safe side.

Ace just raised a brow plate and put his hands on his hips again, regarding Deuce with a shake of his head. "No. Not that," the red mech said, his pale blue optics suddenly shifting into an expression that was so serious and stern it belonged on a episode of Law and Order, usually followed by the statement that the body was in an advanced state of decay. Deuce's wings flicked back and he rocked back on his heels again, a slight flicker of blue from his thrusters illuminating the floor and casting a long shadow off of the tip of his foot. He brought up his hand and rubbed a finger under his nose, a picture of pensive thought as Ace continued. "From what I've been able to dig up, besides the fact that you two are a rogue faction of planet-endangering mechanical terrorists, you two are also going to be formally charged tomorrow in the high court of Verilain."

"Formally charged with-?"

"Biological terrorism. Plus, you do know that this is one of the planets that joined the Rollins Convention."

"Rollins?" Deuce grimaced, his wings sweeping back. "That's familiar, for some reason. Where did I hear that, and why does it make me nervous?"

Ace nodded, his broad shoulders lifting with a rattle of plating, his doors clicking a little. "It came across the wire when you were cavorting down in Australia with the kangaroos. Rollins is that lovely set of conventions that came up after the mess on Foelran where the whole planet was genetically modified into large, grazing hooved mammals with a spore mister relay."

"Well, I guess there's worse things than to be turned into cows..." Deuce muttered.

Dart shifted her weight back on her heels. If there were worse things she couldn't quite place a finger on it right now.

"Nah, it wasn't so much the cows, they could have fixed that. Try having every bit of warm-blooded life on an entire planet being turned into something that has four stomachs and produces a lot of methane. A lot of methane... and well, Foelran was well known for an indigenous weed."

"A weed?" Deuce echoed, inclining his head and scratching his chin again.

"Yeah, spark-grass. When you break the leaves, a chemical reaction creates a tiny little electrical discharge. It came in all colors. Walking through a field of the stuff is pretty, at least for someone that's insulated against it, like us... but of course, even you can figure out what happens when you mix a planet full of gas-expelling mutated creatures now of the bovine persuasion and sparking vegetation?"

"Time to break out the Worcester sauce?"

"Exactly. One planet, well done. Thus the Rollins Convention, signed by half the planets in the sector to prevent that firestorm from happening to them. Unfortunately, one of the lines is that they have the right to execute anyone found bringing a biological threat down onto a planet in the sector. Unfortunately, they've pretty much decided that it's where you two are heading."

"Now wait a moment," Deuce replied, lifting his hands up and spreading his fingers as if he was warding off a vampire. "They can't do that... they have to give us a fair trial, first. Come on, this isn't some little backwater planet like that one you were on, this is Verilain. I mean, they even have non-smoking rooms at the hotel and a pool that isn't infested with man-eating sharks."

"Those are in the economy section," Ace replied with a chuckle.

"Wait..." Dart said all of a sudden, holding up her hand. "Er, Ace, can you rewind a moment, please?"

"Spark grass, cow, boom?"

"No, after that, I understood that series of events."

"Hmm. Rollins... Oh... execute you?"

"Yeah, that, that... er, sort of caught my attention, you know?" the lean femme answered, shifting her weight from foot to foot as she fidgeted, her spoiler clicking slightly.

"Ahhh. Can't say I blame you, would have caught mine too. Right. Well, I'd just say, based off of my non-scientific observation of the problem, kiddo, I'd say they're going to probably pretty much calling this a cut and dried case in the news-vids. Eights, you brought the biological naughtiness in, they caught it in customs, and well, it's going to kill the planet. Not good. So, now you and your partner in crime might just have a date with the Perspecticution chamber."

Deuce's wings came straight out as if he were a wooden puppet on a stick. "What is it with me and that phrase coming up every blasted time?!" he yelped, holding up his hands and shooting a wary glance around the cell as if all of a sudden the ceiling would give way and he'd be strapped to a chair with someone saying... "Lean back, this won't hurt much," before pumping a shot of Infinity into his brain. Ugh. In organic life forms, it just turned their frontal lobes into the equivalent of pureed vegetables. They'd live out their lives drooling a bit, but hey, he always figured a lot of them did that on a fairly regular basis anyway. However - in neural networks, like those of Transformers, it just fried every last shred of circuitry and lo and behold, your next life consisted of being recycled into small useless paperweights of playful kittens. In Deuce's case, that would be one-eyed kittens, who promptly would have been crushed into powder and reprocessed.

Dart, on receiving this little handy bit of information, processed it with a few quick swipes. One, anything that had the word persecution in it, hidden in any way, shape or form was a Bad Thing. Dart herself had accumulated a list of Bad Things over the years. Flying. Bad Thing. Jail Cells, on any planet. Bad Thing. Having Deuce stare at the ceiling and say the word came up every time he was in real trouble? Oh, really Bad Thing. Plus, thought number two came with the sudden realization that once again she would repeat a new word like a large metallic myna bird. "Perspecticution? Er... that sort of sounds like the Decepticon plot of the week come back to haunt us all," she offered with a weak chuckle. "World domination. Perspecticution. Kremzeek. See? Little words that hint of a lot of screaming and hoping you get dubbed correctly for the late night creature feature, right?"

"I wish," Deuce replied, rubbing his chin.

Dart sighed. "I hate it when you say that."

"I wish it was world domination, how's that? Better?"

"Worse," she offered. "Last time you wished it was world domination, it involved me, a rope, and you hanging from the end of it."

"Ugh. Let's not mention the word hanging, Darto, okay?"

"It was an accident, you know that. Besides, if it hadn't have caught your foot you might have been shopping for a new brain, not getting the ankle joint replaced. But, hey, you still haven't explained to me the word Perspecticution, so I think... er, hanging is the pretty mild choice, right?"

Ace chuckled, his voice rich with the sort of gallows humor that mostly found after someone realized they'd gotten an invitation to the to the Save the Penguin Foundation's All-You-Can-Eat-Fried-Chicken-Dinner! "Okay, kiddo... Lemme see if I can make the explanation simple. Dart, it involves the classic anti-drug wisdom of television - this is your brain, this is your brain on crack, any questions?" The red mech made a motion like he was breaking an invisible egg into a frying pan, then took his left hand and not only scrambled it, but dumped it on the floor and ground his heel into it.

Dart watched his motions with dawning understanding. When he was done, she eyed the red carmech, then glanced around the dingy room and the bars before she came to a conclusion. "No, I don't think I have any, now... um, thank you."

"Not a problem. Glad to help," Ace replied, crossing his arms as a small beeping noise came through the cell bay. Trailing a few seconds after the beep was one of the mushrooms, carrying a stick of some sort in one pseudopod. Well, if sticks glowed dangerous green at the tips. It made a gesture to Ace that specifically reminded Deuce of someone jerking a thumb in a get-outta-there indication. The journalist glanced over, and spoke in a hurried rush, the words quiet. "Okay, Ace, look, I... " a sound escaped him as if was swallowing a wheelbarrow full of gravel. "About Cerulion, I'll make it up to you later. We'll go out drinking or something, on me."

Ace crossed his arms, canting his head and then he looked at Deuce. "Uh huh," he offered slowly, looking the grey mech up and down. Deuce offered his most charming, lopsided grin, and raised his hands, fingers outspread. The red carmech just looked him straight in the eye and nodded once, and Deuce winced internally, knowing this was going to cost him not only the trip out here for Ace but a serious bender. Lovely. He had no doubt the transport tickets were going to leave less of a hangover on both himself and his credit-account.

"Well... I guess I did get a pack of travel snacks out of this," Ace admitted. "Fine. I'll see what I can cram down about Verilain's High Court arraignments, and I'll send a note over to your lawyer - maybe he can arrange to show by holo-net or he might know someone over here. I'll try getting a hold of Manford, too, he's got some contacts in this sector, according to Charlyn - I spoke to her last night and told her you were up to your ass in alligators again, and she told me Manny would be home today. Guess he was working on an all nighter with his red pen in hand down at the main. Someone quit the other day, left the whole editing floor in a lurch."

"Was it Jarol?"

"I didn't ask."

"Damn, I can always hope. He's such an idiot that I'm sure he got to be an editor through his skills at fetching coffee and saying yes, boss. I can't stand him. Did I tell you what he did to that one article I wrote? Chopped it and then tried to blame the bad sentence structure on yours truly."

"No kidding. I told you about the time he told me that I needed to go retake those shots in that war zone there to go with my piece. I'm like... you want better photos, you get a goddamned photographer down with me next time, thanks. I had my ass in a bunker and was being shot at. They didn't pay me enough to stand up there and poke the lens out for more than a second and hope it autofocused on something that wasn't a close up of a artillery casing."

"You really need to look into one of those remotes, sometime."

Ace's expression flattened like a road killed toad. "No. Been there, done that for you, have a loathing of them."

"Oh, it's not like you'd have to tie into the thing," Deuce reassured him with a wave of his hand, his wings sliding back a little with a jaunty shrug. "They've got those ones you can operate with a touchpad on the laptops. You can sit there all nice and snug in the hole, and boom, up they go. They're not going to get the best shots, but at least you won't get the ones to the head, either."

"Mmm. I'll think about it," Ace pondered, reaching up to itch the side panel of his chest for a moment. There was the deep, metallic rasp of fingers on plating and then the jabbering of the mushroom broke the comfortable scratching sound. The small fungoid pointed his stick at Ace, made a little shooing motion with the tip, like he was going to start chasing the much taller mech out of the cell if he had to. His free, slimy pseudopod pointed over and over at the chronometer on the wall.

Ace looked over and rolled an optic at Deuce as he was ushered out. On the other side of the containment field, he hesitated, looked back at the other two machines in the cell, offered up a small grin. "We'll figure out something, there's got to be a way to explain this all to someone and get you on your way. But for now, it looks like, sorry, time's up. I didn't even get to the lap dance," he chuckled. "For two hundred credits, you'd think I'd get one."

"Don't even think about me. I look horrible in sequins," Deuce replied morosely. "They make me look fat in all the wrong places," he gestured, hands on his hips as he thrust out his chest and flicked a wing slightly.

Ace grunted, but it sounded suspiciously like laughter as he was escorted from the room.

Deuce glanced over at Dart, who was standing and staring out the bars, an expression of concern on her face. Okay, it wasn't just an expression of concern, it was the countenance of someone who was trying to figure out to correctly divvy up her all of her possessions in her will. She'd just decided, personally, to make sure her ex-commanding officer Pyrotech got that sun-warped cassette tape she carried around in her glove box. A faint smile crossed her face as she found in her head a wonderfully pleasant daydream about him popping it in his cassette player and realizing he was now stuck with Duran Duran in an endless loop. There was a lot of screaming involved, but it was actually the nice sort of screaming that belonged to someone she didn't like much, not herself. Whew.

The journalist paced over to the courier's side, his heel- thrusters flickering blue once or twice as if they too were debating on getting out of this cell whether it was physically possible or not. Standing next to the lean femme for a moment, the grey mech chuckled, then looked down at her, his good optic gentling. Well, at least she was smiling. That couldn't be too bad, right?

She blinked, realizing he was right there.

Quickly, he slid his arm around her waist, gave a reassuring squeeze. The cell bars hummed out a quick threat, sensing the levels of electronics in close proximity as perhaps something about to unleash an attack. Immediately, he stepped back and let go, but stayed nearby. Good thing she hadn't decided to bunk with him, after all. Stupid over neurotic cell-bay designers.

"Hey, no worries, okay? Ace is on it, we're as good as out of here in the morning. They'll get us this all figured out, and then, wham-bam-thank-you, we'll be on a transport off planet," he informed her, winking his left optic and rolling his shoulders back, feeling the stiffness evaporate with the tension. With Ace here, and his lawyer no doubt getting called... well, things were looking up. Oh yeah, really up, he decided. Well, so they'd skip this planet - so he'd miss the article, oh well, he could fish one out of Manny or Ace, and he'd already planned on taking a few weeks to flop at his apartment; hopefully he'd be able to take some time to write in between showing Dart around the place. She glanced back up at him, cobalt optics thoughtful, and he grinned again, ran his calendar through his head. Sure, he'd be able to spare a few hours for the soon to be deprived, poor little keyboard. Maybe.

"Now, I don't know about you," he told her with a grin, walking back to his bunk and sitting on the edge. Slowly, he shifted his weight until he was leaning comfortably back, his arms behind him for balance. "But I think this place gets no stars in the guidebook. Later, when I get a chance, I'll connect with a friend of mine who works on the vacation periodicals and tell him they really better update this place with something other than, "Great views of mountains, nice service." Well, pardon my sarcasm, but I haven't seen a damn mountain yet unless it's been made out of datapads. Seriously, though. Don't worry about it, everything's going to be just dandy."

"Promise?" she asked automatically.

"Of course!"


(Once again, Deuce and his cohort in crime, Ace, are Lex's original characters, and well, I thank her for letting for allowing them over to play on my laptop. I think I'm going to owe them both a lot of coffee. In fact, I think I'm going to be their coffee cabana fetchin' critter for a very long time, after this. Yike. Or Lex's coffee cabana fetchin' critter. I'm okay with it. I brew a mean cup of java. grin)