Reflections In A Broken Mirror
"I never wanted to be this way, you know. If I could, if Primus granted me a wish tomorrow, I'd change in a sparkbeat..."
Alone, cold, and starting to feel the gnawing effects of his returning hunger, Slipstream looked over at his captive audience. He shared a slow, thin smile with his victim, before taking a look at his current surroundings. He had stopped here, in a cramped crawlspace cross-junction, to rest; he had been on the run for more than twenty-four hours, and was starting to feel tired.
After escaping from his cell, Slipstream had used the air ducts and maintenance tunnels that laced the Ark, and made it to his quarters to pick up a few items. Now, he was reduced to moving every so often, in an effort to stay ahead of Teletran-One's security scans. He was tired, covered in dust, and angry at being in his current predicament. He wasn't sure why, but it had all added up in an odd desire to... well, chat. To his mind, it was the oddest sensation.
"I wonder if it hurts?" he mused, half asking his audience, half just speaking aloud. "Being drained, I mean. Hmm... more to the point, do I even care any more? I don't know. All I know for certain is that I must survive. If that means killing, then so be it. For all my desire to change, I know now that I may be stuck like this forever. So I guess I'm left with a choice: accept my new destiny, or give in to my better half and spend the remainder of my life pining for mundane normality.
"I don't even recognise myself any more, you know. I look at what I've become, look at what I used to be, and... I can't quite equate one with the other. It's like seeing a reflection of yourself in a broken mirror. It's all there, if you look, but none of the pieces match up. Does that make sense? I don't know. I do know that I'm not the original Slipstream, and I never will be. In a way, I suppose, I'm doing all of this to prove that point...
"I'm sorry," he said, looking straight into the optics of his silent victim, offering another half-smile. "I'm rambling. And there's no need to look at me like that; I know that, sooner or later, I'm going to have to go out there and face Prime. You know, it really is all his fault that I'm in this state. I'll have to make him pay, just like all the others, for trying to hunt me down like some animal. Yes, they will pay." He reached forward then, and gently stroked his victim's cheek.
"Thank you, Waverider," he whispered, before picking up the severed head and placing a tender kiss just above its brow. "You really are a very good listener..."
O o O o O
"Jazz, Mirage, take cargo bay two. Gears and Huffer, take three. Prowl, you're with me, cargo bay one. Move out people."
Almost two days had passed since Slipstream's escape from the brig. Teletran-One's sensors had identified that the vampire was using the air ducts to remain concealed, and had finally identified that he was heading for the Ark's complex of cargo bays. Optimus Prime had mustered as many Autobots as he could, directing most to seal off the entry points to the area, both in the ducts and the corridors, and organizing the rest into search parties to flush the creature out of hiding. Optimus wasn't taking any chances with Slipstream's capture this time, and was leading the search himself.
"Remember," the massive blue and red mech told his soldiers, "only aim to kill if you have no other choice. Slipstream has demonstrated the ability to heal grievous wounds, and it's going to take a lot to take him down. But if you can take him alive, do so. Underneath that killer, our friend may still be in there. We have to save him if we can." The incredulous looks on the faces of his team mates said it all. It was going to be far easier said than done.
O o O o O
"I don't like this," Gears complained. "I really don't like this. How are we supposed to see anything past all of these crates?"
He and Huffer walked slowly down one of the many aisles layed out in the cargo bay, trying to be as stealthy as possible. The stacks of storage crates and containers rose up toward the ceiling, blocking lines of sight and breaking up the bay like a giant, model cityscape. The two mechs had their weapons drawn, and were slowly circling around each other as they moved, watching each other's backs.
"Would you just listen to yourself?" Huffer retorted. "Would you rather we tried clearing the bay out first? Yeah, I can just see that conversation right now. 'Excuse me, mister monster, would you mind not attacking us or leaving the room while we clear all of these crates? Its just, it would make it so much easier to spot you and shoot you through the head...' Yeah, right. Like that's gonna happen."
"There's no need to be sarcastic," Gears whined, then stopped in his tracks. "Did you hear that?"
"Hear what?" Huffer asked. A moment later, he heard a peal of deep, rich laughter echoing around the cargo bay. The sound made Huffer want to run. "Oh," he gasped. "That."
The two mechs moved on in silence, trying not to let their quarry know where they were. Every so often, they would hear the laughter again, and the pair had to fight the urge to call for reinforcements. Before long, more sounds filled the darkened bay at random intervals; sounds of metal pipes being dragged along the ground, or being tapped together rhythmically; footsteps that sounded close one moment and distant the next; and once, the long, high pitched wail that had preceded all of Slipstream's other attacks. The monster was doing his best to unnerve the two Autobots, and it was starting to work.
"Huffer," whispered Gears.
"What?" whispered Huffer.
"Are you scared?"
"Gears, are you determined to give away our position or something? Shut the frak up!"
"Oh good, me neither," came Gears' sarcastic reply. He was about to make another snide remark, when a movement on the edge of his vision grabbed his attention. He looked up just in time to see a silver-grey blur crossing one of the junctions in the crate-corridor they were in.
"Huffer, I hate to say this, but we've got company. Heads up, okay?."
"Got it," came the terse reply.
The two Autobots progressed carefully toward where Gears had spotted Slipstream, each of them jumping at the slightest sound and spinning around sharply to find the source. To avoid friendly fire, which would be a killer in such close conditions, the pair split up slightly, alert and ready to face any danger. Gears reached the junction first, and with Huffer covering him, he stepped out into the crossroads, looking left and right, searching for any sign of their quarry.
"Huffer, do you see any..." Gears began to ask. Before he had finished speaking, Gears heard a dull thud and a muffled gasp, followed by a single gunshot. The energy blast ripped through Gears' right shoulder, from front to back, spinning him on the spot and forcing him to fall backward. The shot had come from Huffer's rifle, which now hung loosely from its owner's grip. When Gears saw why, he froze with fear.
Huffer was hanging in mid air, suspended in Slipstream's abnormally powerful grip. The vampire was holding onto the side of one of the crates with his left hand, suspended some ten metres above the floor. His legs were almost doubled up beneath him, his feet somehow finding purchase in the sheer surface of the crate-valley wall. In his right hand, he held Huffer like he was nothing more than a rag doll, Slipstream's fist embedded firmly in the other mech's chest plate.
Most of Slipstream's face was hidden, save for his optics, which glared a bright red at Gears over Huffer's left shoulder. It was obvious that he had his fangs buried deeply into Huffer's throat, draining the life from him with every passing moment. In just a few seconds, it was all over. With a savage flick of his wrist, Slipstream sent his impromptu meal crashing into the opposite wall, leaving the corpse to fall to the floor without a second thought.
The vampire let go of his vantage point and dropped to the floor, landing lightly. He smiled viciously at Gears, who was still sitting, slack jawed, a few metres away. Gears' gun had been knocked out of his hand by the shot he had taken, and was now sitting several metres behind him. Slipstream began walking toward his next victim, intent on a second kill. Gears, to his credit, didn't freeze up, or start begging for mercy. Instead, he defiantly began scrabbling backward, trying to reach his gun. But before he could get there, the vampire struck.
O o O o O
After disposing of Gears and Huffer, Slipstream announced his presence to everyone in the vicinity. His now trademark scream echoed around the halls of the Ark, far louder than any before, sending a thrill of pure terror through almost every Autobot that heard it. Optimus Prime ordered a complete lock down of cargo bay three, sealing every way out of the chamber with a set of forcefields. The remaining two search teams rallied outside the bay, each member looking to Prime for a decision on what to do next. Prime stared at the bay's main entrance for long moments, before speaking.
"We go in together," he said, "and we stay as a group. It's obvious that Slipstream has taken out Huffer and Gears. We've seen how much of a pounding he can take, not to mention how much damage he can do when he gets up close. Take no chances. I had hoped to take him alive, but that course has proven too dangerous, and hence is no longer open to us. I will NOT risk any further lives being lost for the sake of this monster. We end this. And we end it now."
Prime led the group of Autobots in to the maze-like confines of the cargo bay. The commander took the lead, with Jazz and Prowl taking up flanking positions either side of him. At the rear of the formation, Mirage had activated his stealth field, becoming invisible to most normal means of detection. The group moved cautiously, watching every corner and shadow for the slightest hint of movement. Above them, high up in the rafters, Slipstream watched them intently.
It wasn't long before the group found Huffer and Gears. The two Autobots had literally been torn apart, displayed in one of the larger open spaces like a madman's idea of an anatomical schematic. Slipstream had been less than careful with his victims. Deep gouges were torn into their bodies, parts of their inner workings had been crushed entirely, and the sight made Prime boil. For his three comrades, icy tendrils of fear began to tighten around their sparks. Their friends had been left as a message, a warning to those that followed that Slipstream was not going to show any mercy.
"How in Primus' name are we supposed to fight this... this... thing?" Prowl asked, his voice trembling slightly. "I mean, we can't even find him, let alone stop him."
"Maybe we don't have to find him," Jazz offered quietly. "Odds are good that he'll find us. Especially if we provoke him, make him come to us, on our terms." Jazz raised his hands, cupping them around his mouth, and began calling out to their enemy.
"Slipstream," he called, as loudly as he could. "Slipstream, I know you can hear me, kid. Come on out." The only answer was silence, punctuated by a faint echo of the saboteur's voice.
"Come on, kid. You gotta face up to what you've done. You can't believe that you can get away with this. We are gonna hunt you down, Slipstream, and make you pay for what you've done. Give yourself up, and it'll go a lot easier for you." More silence. Jazz looked to Prime, shrugging. Prime simply gave Jazz a look that said he should keep trying. At the same time, Jazz became aware that Mirage's location transponder, which normally sent his position to his team mates, had been switched off. The hunter had just become the hunted. Now Jazz just had to get Slipstream's attention, and keep it on him.
"Come on , kid," he tried again, hoping to Primus that he was getting through to his former friend. "Huffer and Gears didn't deserve to die. Waverider didn't deserve to die. None of them did. You should have come to us at the start. We could have sorted out this problem of yours at the beginning, but instead you hid it, blaming the attacks on someone else like a spoilt child..."
Rich, deep laughter, soft and low, cut through the air like a knife, reverberating around the bay and making it hard to trace its source. All three Autobots turned on the spot, searching for any sign of an impending attack. Eventually, Slipstream's voice replaced the laughter.
"Help me?" he asked. "Tell me, friend, how precisely are you going to help me? Has Wheeljack found some miracle cure? Or were you going to offer me the simple peace of a plasma shell through the head? Tell me, Jazz, why I should give myself up to you? Or Prime? Or anyone else, for that matter?"
"Just show yourself, Slipstream," Prime called out.
"And if I refuse? You're going to kill me anyway, Prime. It's now just a matter of how and when. Besides, Jazz here says that I'm a 'spoilt child'. If child I am, sir, then I would much rather stay and play for a while. After all, I just found a new toy..." An instant later, a startled cry rent the air. The voice belonged to Mirage.
The next thing the Autobots knew, a large yet invisible object crashed into one of the cargo containers almost a hundred metres away, some fifteen metres up the artificial cliff face formed by the boxes. They heard, rather than saw the object hit the floor, then a shimmering form began to take shape. Seconds later, Mirage's stealth field gave out altogether, and the indistinct ripple in the air resolved itself into the counter-intelligence agent's prostrate form.
Before any of the remaining mech's could react, Slipstream struck for a second time. They were briefly aware of a low hum in the distance, which quickly rose in pitch to a piercing whine; the sound of jet engines engaging. Without warning, Slipstream rounded a corner behind the Autobots, flying at breakneck speed, directly at Prowl. Prowl tried bringing his weapon to bear, but was too late, and Slipstream barrelled into him, grabbing hold of his left arm and hoisting him into the air. Slipstream changed direction, flying straight upward. He let go of Prowl as he did so, throwing Prowl at Jazz, and smashing both mechs into another of the crates. The pair fell, unconscious, to the floor.
In less than ten seconds, Optimus Prime found himself alone. Slipstream was laughing again, and the sound made Prime want to scream in frustration, as much at himself as his tormentor. It was all his fault. He should never have led his friends into this trap; he just should have locked Slipstream in the cargo bay and left him to starve to death. That thought in itself stung Prime, going against everything he had ever believed in. He could feel it all flooding back, all of the guilt, the pain, the anger. Only this time, instead of aiming it at himself, Prime found that he had a new target.
"This is fun," said a child-like voice, high and taunting; Slipstream evidently wasn't done with playing mind games. "Do you wanna play a game? Or maybe sing a song?" Slipstream laughed again, taunting his former idol. Prime answered with a howl of fury.
"Leave. Me. ALONE!" Prime roared, his voice echoing back at him almost mockingly.
"But I want to play," came the petulant reply. "Hey, I know, lets sing a song. Human protoform's like this one, I'm told." Prime began to walk in the direction he thought the voice was coming from, as Slipstream broke into a bad rendition of a human nursery rhyme. The sound echoed from the walls of the cargo bay at odd angles, eerily haunting, and making it difficult to tell where their source was hiding.
Ring a ring of roses... A pocket full of posies...
Prime rounded a corner, bringing his blaster up sharply. Nothing was there.
Prime span on his heel, fighting a surge of panic as he turned to chase yet another shadow.
"All fall down..."
The final line of the rhyme was whispered directly into Prime's audio sensor. The Autobot commander turned again, coming almost face-to-face with his attacker. Slipstream was in the process of jumping into the air, rolling his body backward as he did so. As Prime began to bring his weapon around, the vampire lashed out with both of his legs. The power of the impact took Prime by surprise, sending him crashing backwards and onto the floor. His gun flew from his hand, landing a few feet away.
Slipstream finished his backward flip, then landed with preternatural grace, lithely shifting to a crouching position, and glaring at Prime as though ready to pounce. He opened his jaws, brandishing his fangs and releasing a snarling hiss. Prime's optics widened in an instant of fear.
"Enough games, I think," Slipstream whispered, just loud enough for Prime to hear. His voice had returned to its deep, menacing tones. With jarring suddenness he sprang forward, lunging for Prime with animal ferocity. Prime reached for his blaster, but could only reach the barrel, not the trigger. Not having time to turn the weapon around, he compromised, and swung the heavy gun around and up. It connected with the side of Slipstream's head just in time, sending the monster sprawling across the corridor.
"Why are you doing this?" Prime managed to ask, rising unsteadily to his feet and taking aim at his foe. "I know the real Slipstream is in there, fighting to get out. Why won't you let us help you? Why are you so hell-bent on destroying everyone around you?"
"Not everyone, Prime," came the snarling reply, as the vampire quickly regained his footing. "You. I've been punishing you, Optimus Prime, the greatest hypocrite of our time."
"Yes, hypocrite! Don't you remember what you told me, my first day here? Freedom is the right of all sentient beings, you said. We must uphold life and justice, you said. And yet, as soon as I realised what I had become, I knew that my life would be forfeit."
"That's not true," Prime tried to reply.
"Isn't it?" Slipstream snapped. "Isn't it? You were right about me, Prime. I'm not the original Slipstream personality. If it pleases you, he is still alive, trapped in here, in my head. I was born within him, after the accident. A new personality. Irrevocably bonded to the vampiric changes that had been wrought upon my body. You cannot remove one without destroying the other. And so, I am fighting for that which is rightfully mine, by your own admission."
"But by allowing you freedom, I would be jeopardising the lives of every other transformer. I can't allow that..."
"And so, I brand you 'hypocrite'. I have as much right as anyone else to life. Maybe more so."
"And how do you figure that?" Prime asked, his voice low.
"Because I'm not only self aware, Prime," Slipstream growled back, "I'm also willing to take what I need. I know what I want, and I take it, simple as that. Most so-called sentient beings never rise to such an enlightened level."
"That doesn't make you more worthy of life, Slipstream. It just makes you selfish and pitiable."
"Have it your way," the vampire hissed. "Now, if you don't mind, I would like to finish this little dance. Not to sound rude, Prime, but I'm getting a little tired of your endless piety."
"Please do," was the only reply that Optimus could muster.
Slipstream moved as though ready to launch another attack, then stopped abruptly. To Prime, he looked confused, then panicked. The creature suddenly threw his hands up, clutching the sides of his head as though trying to stop it from exploding. He began to mutter to himself, quietly at first, then louder.
"No... Stop it...You can't... Ngh... Take control... Get out of my... NO... you can't make me, I won't let you..." His ranting increased further in volume, nearing a scream, his body contorting as though in great pain. He dropped to his knees, alternately pleading or screaming in rage, then as abruptly as it had begun, it stopped. When Slipstream looked up at Prime again, his optics were blue.
"Prime... It's... It's me. Slipstream," he gasped, his body doubled over with pain, his fight against the monster easily visible. "The real Slipstream. I can't hold it back for long. It's taking all I have just to talk. Listen to me. You have to kill me, Prime. Please. It's the only way..."
"No," gasped Prime. "I can't, not while there's still a chance..."
"There isn't!" was Slipstream's plaintive reply. "It will kill you, and it will kill the others, and it will keep on killing until there is nothing left. You have to end it for me, Optimus. I can't do it by myself... Please!"
"I... I can't," Prime said desperately, while struggling to bring his blaster to bear, the knowledge of what he had to do warring with his need to save his friend. "I just can't do it..."
"You have to!" Slipstream begged him, coolant tears coursing down his young face. Prime was sure he felt his spark beginning to fracture. "It's the only way!"
"Do it NOW!" Slipstream roared, his eyes blazing red, rising to attack once more. He began to lurch forward, still not entirely in control, and as he did the old Slipstream pushed through one last time, for one last plea...
O o O o O
The other Autobots heard the gunshot, and instinctively knew that it was all over.
When they found Optimus Prime, he was cradling the broken form of Slipstream in his arms. The silver grey jet looked so small, so defenceless, that most found themselves immediately willing to forget that he had ever been the monster. After all he had done, all he had endured, it was finally over. In the end, they just tallied him as yet another victim. For a long time, Prime just sat there, refusing to let the youngster's body go. When he finally did, he refused to talk of the events in the cargo bay. For ages, he simply avoided the subject. When asked what had happened, he simply said that a true hero had given his life to save his own, and left it at that. He refused to be broached further on the subject.
In the months that followed the events of that fateful day, Prime slowly came to terms with what he had been forced to do. It wasn't easy, and it wasn't always quiet reflection that helped him through, but he got there. His fellow Autobots noticed a change in their leader as he resolved his personal issues; for better or for worse, Prime seemed more convinced than ever before that the war against the Decepticons was more important now than it had ever been, that Megatron had to be beaten for the good of all life, on every world.
No matter the cost...
Author's Notes: Deleted scene two.
This was a fun one to write, I'll freely admit that. The opening scene for Reflections, with Slipstream holding a one-way conversation with Waverider's head, was a great chance to take a look at just how psychotic Slipstream has become, and the relationship between the vampire and normal halves of his still-separating psyche (not to mention answering the question of just what happened to her head, of course. I can just imagine some poor soul finding it weeks later...).
I liked it, but felt that, for the original cut, it was perhaps a bit too scary/disturbing, in its own way. And so, with heavy heart, I dropped it. Doing this re-release, and starting work on Slipstream: Resurrection (due for release May 12, 2009), I suppose I've gotten a bit braver as a writer. So here it is, in all it's gory glory. Enjoy!
This story, in its entirety, is dedicated to Shockbox, one of my fanfic sisters. Thanks for keeping the dream (or should that be nightmare?) alive, kiddo.
Thanks again for reading Slipstream: Chronicles. Any and all feedback is more than welcome. Just to reiterate, I do not own Transformers, or anything here that you recognise as canon... I just like to play here.