"Someone's been screwing with the security system," Red Alert said without preamble as soon as the door closed behind him.
Optimus Prime looked up, unsurprised by the security director's sudden entrance and lack of greeting. "Sit," he rumbled, nodding to a chair. "Tell me what happened."
Red Alert threw himself down in the chair. "Someone has been installing kill switches in our perimeter alarms. I was out repairing one – the one Sideswipe ran over – and found it. I've spent the last two shifts going through every single sensor, and Optimus, there's holes in the grid big enough to fly Astrotrain through." He tossed a small device on Optimus' desk.
"Can you tell when the switches were installed?" Optimus leaned forward, picking the device up and turning it over in his hands.
Red Alert shook his head. "Not with any accuracy. They would have had to been in place before the sensors were taken out of the storage room. Once the sensors were set up and turned on, the only time someone would have an opportunity would be during maintenance, and there's no correlation in personnel assignments there."
Optimus sighed, rubbing his forehead tiredly. "How long has this been going on?"
"The first of the compromised sensors went out about half a vorn ago." Red Alert gave him an intense look. "Not long after a certain batch of recruits joined us."
Understanding what the security director was suggesting, Optimus shook his head. "It isn't Smokescreen, Red."
"I don't understand why you insist on trusting him," Red Alert snapped. "He's a thief and a con artist. I couldn't make up a more perfect suspect."
Setting the device down, Optimus sighed. "I trust Smokescreen with my life, Red."
"With all our lives, obviously." Red Alert's expression was hard. "But kill switches don't install themselves, and there's at least one person on this base who doesn't deserve your trust."
"So it would seem," Optimus conceded tiredly. "Keep me informed."
Optimus might have been willing to dismiss the idea of Smokescreen being a Decepticon plant, but Red Alert wasn't going to take the risk. He couldn't afford to take the risk.
But nearly an orn of careful watching later, and Red Alert was no closer to finding the culprit. He'd replaced the sabotaged sensors, and while the incident hadn't been repeated, he was sure it was simply a matter of time before the agent struck again, perhaps with deadly results this time.
A knock at the open door startled him out of his thoughts. He spun around, chagrined to find Smokescreen leaning against the open door jam. Slag it, Red Alert, pay attention! He could have shot you right then, and you never would have noticed anything was wrong until you were on the floor!
"Got a moment, Red?" Smokescreen asked.
Red Alert's optics narrowed. "...Very well. Come in."
Smokescreen palmed the door control as he came in. "I have reason to believe that we have a traitor in our ranks," he said, voice low.
That... wasn't what he was expecting. "Have you brought this up with Optimus?" Red asked, recovering quickly.
Smokescreen shook his head. "All I have are suspicions right now. That's why I need your help, Red."
Red Alert twitched at the use of the familiar nickname. I'll bet you do. Well, I have suspicions, too. "What sort of 'help?'" he asked guardedly.
Pacing, Smokescreen took a moment to reply. "I've been noticing several mechs not being where they say there were, missing supplies, and the like. Most of it's probably the run of the mill bored soldier mischief, but some of the things that've gone missing worry me. I need you to keep an optic on them."
Taking the datapad that Smokescreen offered, Red Alert kept his expression carefully neutral. "I see."
"Honestly, I'm surprised that they haven't made a move against the security system yet." He stopped, eying Red Alert's posture. "They have, haven't they? I assume you're investigating – do you have a suspect?"
Red Alert didn't answer, watching Smokescreen through narrowed optics.
"You do." Smokescreen's expression turned grim. "But you're not going to tell me... because you suspect me." He sighed. "I suppose that protesting my innocence won't help my case, will it?"
The door opened behind him, one of the base's techs sticking his head in. "Hey, Red, got a- Oh, sorry, am I interrupting something?" Skipshot asked.
"No," Smokescreen said, fixing him with an easy-going smile. "I was just leaving. Red." He nodded to the security director and slipped out past Skipshot.
Red Alert tucked Smokescreen's datapad in his desk. "What is it you need?"
Skipshot watched Smokescreen walk down the hallway before answering. "Pivot wants to know if there's been any power-flow fluctuations to the outer sensors. Looks like a batch of wiring had some impurities, and it's degrading left and right."
Distracted, Red Alert nodded, logging onto the system. "I'm not seeing-"
The whine of a blaster powering up stopped him short, and he dove to the side with a curse. One of the monitor screens exploded, spraying sparks and and glass across the room.
The second shot nailed him in the back as he tried to scramble for cover.
Skipshot kicked the security director's body out of the way, not caring if he was dead or merely unconscious. With the system already logged on with the director's passcodes, he started shutting down the perimeter alarms. He had to work quickly; Red Alert had undoubtedly installed a safety precaution to notify the command center when the system went down, and soon as the realized that they couldn't reach the security director, he'd have armed Autobots on his tail.
Movement on one of the screens caught his attention just as he finished locking up the system to slow down any attempts to bring the perimeter weaponry back online. He spun, pointing his weapon at Smokescreen.
"Easy!" Smokescreen raised his hands. "I'm not here to fight."
"Yeah? Then what?" Skipshot's finger tightened on the trigger.
Smokescreen smiled. "I'm here to deal." He waved one hand, careful to not make any hostile moves. "Unless I've missed my guess, we're about to have a whole lot of company, and it's about to get very dangerous to be an Autobot."
"And this is my problem how?" Skipshot's gun didn't waver.
"I could be very useful to you," Smokescreen told him. "And judging by that," he said, lifting one finger to point at a screen, "You're going to need all the help you can get. Looks like the Autobots are going to get here before your friends, after all."
Skipshot cursed, half-turning to see a group of armed Autobots go running past one of the cameras. His gun drifted a few inches out of line as he turned, reaching for the controls that would bring down the security center's blast doors.
It was enough of an opening for Smokescreen. Palming a holdout blaster, Smokescreen shot him twice. He stepped forward as Skipshot staggered, putting a third shot into the Decepticon's head.
He wasted no time in scrambling for the computer, trying to bring the systems back online.
"Smokescreen! What the frag-" Sideswipe started as he burst in the doorway.
"Not now! The automated guns are down, and we have Decepticons in-bound if they aren't here already!" Smokescreen snapped.
To his credit, Sideswipe didn't argue, merely giving a short nod and taking off for the exit, the other Autobots in tow.
Smokescreen snarled in frustration. "Fragging security lockdowns! Red!" He crouched down by the security director, rolling Red Alert on to his side and checking his injuries. "Come on, Red, wake up!"
The security director twitched, making a quiet noise of pain when Smokescreen moved him. His optics flickered on, and he jerked, staring up at Smokescreen, panic written all over his face.
"Easy, Red, easy..." Smokescreen caught his shoulders and held him in place. "The system's locked up, and I can't fix it."
"...Smokescreen?" Red Alert finally managed to focus on the mech above him.
"Yeah, it's me. Come on, we gotta get you up." Smokescreen wrapped an arm around Red Alert. He lifted the injured mech, wincing as Red Alert bit back a pained moan. Kicking Skipshot's body out of the way, he pulled Red Alert over to the computer console. He supported the security director's weight as Red Alert fumbled with the keyboard.
"I can't..." Red Alert whispered, agony clear in his voice.
"Yes, you can," Smokescreen said firmly. "With the defenses down, we're easy marks out here. We're counting on you, Red. Just concentrate."
Red Alert dragged air in through his intakes, reaching for the keyboard again.
Holding Red Alert up, Smokescreen watched the monitors grimly, seeing the flash of small-arms fire erupting along the perimeter.
Alarms started blaring throughout the base as Red Alert started pulling the systems back online one by one.
"The guns, Red!" Smokescreen reminded him, ignoring the energon and mech fluids running over his hands.
"I'm working on it," Red Alert snapped, some of his normal irritation showing through.
"There," he muttered after a moment, slumping back against Smokescreen. "Done. Put me down."
Smokescreen lowered them both to the floor, wincing at the energon smeared over his hands and Red Alert's abdomen. "Smokescreen to medbay – I need a medic in the security center."
Outside, the distance whumph of the automated plasma cannons could be heard, even through the reinforced walls.
"Skipshot was behind everything?" Optimus asked, leaning back in his chair.
"As near as we can tell," Red Alert agreed. "There's a possibility that he had an accomplice, but if he did, they're laying low. So far, there's been no more evidence of tampering."
Optimus nodded. "And Smokescreen?"
Red Alert blinked. "... What about him?"
"Are you still convinced he's a security risk?" Optimus asked wryly.
Red Alert paused, hearing familiar footsteps coming down the hallway. "He's a lying, backstabbing thief who can't be trusted with a box of half-fried diodes," he said loudly.
"Ha, ha, very funny." Smokescreen leaned against the doorframe, smirking.
Red Alert looked over in mock surprise. "Smokescreen! I didn't notice you there."
Optimus chuckled. "I'm glad to see you two have come to an understanding. Did you need something, Smokescreen?"
"Just to borrow Red for a while."
"I'll have the full report to you soon as I finish the last of the diagnostics," Red Alert said, turning back to Optimus.
"Keep me informed, Red." Optimus grinned behind his mask as Red Alert stood and took himself out.
Smokescreen grinned and followed the security director.
"Sorry," Red Alert said after a moment. "I shouldn't have-"
"Don't worry about it," Smokescreen cut him off. "I would've suspected me, too."
"Well, it doesn't help that you're such a dubious fragger," Red Alert told him with a sniff.
Smokescreen stumbled, door wings flicking back as he stared at Red Alert in shock. Red Alert gave him a lofty look, sauntering on down the hallway
Smokescreen started to laugh. "Probably not," he agreed, trotting to catch up.