A/N- Written as a birthday present for BitterEloquence. WARNING: Psychological torture, violence, Vortex being Vortex.
First Aid's optics flickered online without his remembering how they'd been shut off in the first place. A dull pain throbbed through the back of his head and down the length of his arms.
Trauma-induced memory file corruption, came the automatic thought. He cycled his optics, trying to clear the blurry spots from his vision. What...? Where am I? He remembered driving down the interstate, intending to meet up with Hot Spot. Then... Everything after that was a blur.
It took him a moment to realize that he wasn't lying on the floor as he'd first thought. He could just make out the outline of a door in the far wall, but he couldn't move his arms. Turning his head, a sick feeling settled in his spark.
His arms had been bolted to the wall.
Decepticons. Who else could have a mind twisted enough to do something like this?
The door slid open with a metallic screech, snow swirling in. A glowing red optic band regarded him from the doorway for a moment. "Well well,what do we have here? Is our widdle medic awake?"
First Aid flinched, recognizing the almost sing-song voice. "Vortex," he growled.
"He remembers me!" Vortex stepped all the way into the room, sliding the door shut behind him. "I feel so warm and fuzzy all of a sudden!"
"What do you want with me?" First Aid demanded. "I won't tell you anything. I won't betray the Autobots!"
"You know, I've been interrogating Autobots for a long time." Vortex snickered. "And they always say that. Funny. I still have a job, so obviously they were lying, weren't they?" He crossed the room, reaching out to brush his fingers down First Aid's battle mask.
First Aid tried to pull away. He'd never realized how much larger the Decepticon really was – he'd always thought of Vortex as being an evil, crazy version of Blades. But the Combaticon easily massed twice of what his brother did. "I won't betray the Autobots," he repeated with conviction.
"Oh, you don't have to," Vortex assured him. "You have the honor of being the core of a new device that will harness your living energy into a weapon that will bring the end of the Autobots once and for all, and usher in a new era of Decepticon rule!" he finished, waving his hands expansively.
First Aid stared at him in horror. "You can't be serious!"
"...No, you're right, I'm not," Vortex agreed cheerfully. "I'm really just doing this for the fun of it." His laugh held an undertone that made First Aid shudder against the wall.
He's insane, First Aid thought, fuel pump racing.
"And best of all, we won't have any pesky Autobots about ruining our fun. Or pesky Decepticons, either," he added as an afterthought. "Your Autobot friends won't find us until it's too late, and well, the Decepticons think I'm out in the Caribbean perpetuating the myth of the Bermuda triangle."
"They'll find me," First Aid said confidently.
"Uh-huh. Sure," Vortex snickered. "In the meantime, I've got a few errands to run, but don't worry, I'll be right back." His rotors wagged jauntily as he walked out with a dismissive wave. "Don't go anywhere, now!"
The hours crawled by, punctuated by the howl of wind and the incessant clang of something banging against the side of the building in the wind.
Did he forget about me? Somehow, First Aid didn't think he was that lucky. Then, with a mech as 'screwed in the head' as Blades put it, it was hard to guess what the helicopter would or wouldn't do.
The sound of rotors interrupted his thoughts. What is it the humans say? 'Speak of the devil and he shall appear?' There was a heavy thump and the sound of transformation, then... voices?
"Please, don't hurt us!"
Human voices. First Aid lifted his head. What...?
"We'll do anything you want," the voice continued, sounding young and desperate even through the wall. "Please, just don't kill us..."
Vortex shoved the door open, stepping through and dragging what looked like a hastily-welded cage in behind him. A pair of humans huddled as far away from him as they could get.
"I thought you might be lonely, so I brought you some friends!" Vortex told him brightly. "I picked them out special for you."
"You... you didn't..." First Aid stammered, a cold feeling settling in his spark.
"Oh, fine, so I just grabbed the first ones I came to, I admit it." Vortex flexed his rotors. "Figured you weren't the particular type." He hummed to himself, an off-key electronic sound that had First Aid flinching back. The movement pulled at the bolts drilled through his armor, and he hissed in pain.
"You're insane," First Aid told him, voice flat.
Vortex stopped short, looking up from where he'd been moving the cage to the center of the room. "...Insane?" he repeated, rotors drawing back in puzzlement. "How so?"
"'How so?' You're kidnapping and torturing and you're asking why I think you're insane?" First Aid clenched his fists. "You're an evil, murdering psychopath!"
The Combaticon crouched over the cage, rotors twitching. "...I'm not evil," he protested finally, sounding almost hurt.
"You're a Decepticon!"
His visor blinked. "And?"
"And?" First Aid sputtered. "And you're a psychotic murdering nutcase who tortures innocent people!"
"Well, I wouldn't call Autobots innocent, exactly," Vortex protested mildly. "And really, you shouldn't be so quick to judge," he continued, turning his attention back to the cage. The young woman flinched away when Vortex poked at her through the bars. "For all you know, I'm only doing this because I have to."
"No one has to kill," First Aid broke in angrily.
"Guess again," Vortex said cheerfully, wagging a finger at First Aid. "After all, if I was as nuts as you seem to think I am, then it's not really my fault, now is it? Can't help being crazy, and all that."
"You know that this is wrong, Vortex."
"Is it?" Vortex asked with deliberate innocence. "Or, since I'm not crazy," he continued pointedly, "There's always the possibility that someone, like say... Megatron... decided to go and reprogram someone like me in punishment for some minor crime." His visor brightened merrily. "Like trying to drag Earth into the sun while he was still planet-side, as a random example. And being reprogrammed, I wouldn't exactly be able to help myself if he told me to go kill Autobots, now would I?" He cocked his head thoughtfully. "Really, in that case, you should be grateful that I was going against my reprogramming enough to have spared your life this long."
Dragging Earth into the sun? Hadn't he heard that before...? Streetwise and Blades had been bothering the older Autobots for stories, and Ironhide had finally broken down and told them a few. First Aid hadn't really been listening, but hadn't Ironhide been telling them about having to band together with Megatron to take down Bruticus? He cursed himself for not paying enough attention. Could Vortex be telling the truth?
"Then take me and let the humans go," First Aid demanded. "Megatron doesn't care about them; his fight is with us Autobots. He won't care if you spare them-"
Vortex snorted, straightening. "Who cares? It's not like they're actually people or anything like that."
"You can fight the programming, Vortex," First Aid insisted, ignoring Vortex's matter-of-fact comment.
"Hypothetically, sure I could." His rotors spun lazily. "Problem is, I really am just doing this for the fun of it." He eyed the humans huddled in the cage. "Hey, I wonder what would happen if I just left them in there for a week or so. I heard that humans will eat each other if they get hungry enough."
First Aid swore with a vehemence that would have made Blades proud. "You're a sick freak," he snapped, losing his patience.
"Well, I thought it was funny," Vortex grumbled, rotors twitching. "I swear, you people have no sense of humor. You're as bad as Onslaught."
"I'm not going to play your games, Vortex."
"Sure ya are," Vortex told him cheerfully. "Everyone does, eventually. Just a matter of finding out what they care about... and you Autobots are so easy it's laughable."
First Aid looked away, refusing to give Vortex the satisfaction of a reaction.
Making a displeased noise, Vortex grabbed First Aid's chin, turning his face back to the helicopter. "I'll make you a deal, eh? I'll let the humans go-"
It was too good to be true. First Aid clenched his fists and waited for the other shoe to drop.
"But someone's going to die in their place," Vortex finished, voice light.
"Then kill me and let them go," First Aid said flatly.
"Oh, no, that's not an option. That'd be boring and predictable." Vortex patted him on the side of the face. "There's a human settlement a few miles from here. They'll make a nice replacement, don't you think?"
"You can't be serious..."
"Oh, this time I am, actually." His rotors spun idly, stirring up the snow that had drifted in with Vortex. "These two, or the town. I'll even be nice and let you pick."
"No," First Aid growled.
Vortex shrugged. "If that's the case, I'll just kill them all. How's that?"
"You're a monster."
"Nope. Just a Decepticon," Vortex denied cheerfully. "So which is it, gonna watch these two die nice and slow - and it will be, too – or a few hundred others?"
First Aid heard a muffled sob coming from the woman, but he couldn't look away from Vortex. "I can't..."
"Can't what?" Vortex asked. "Can't decide?" He turned, looking down at the humans. "What do you think? How many people are your lives worth, eh?"
"Please..." the woman whispered. "I don't want to die."
"Hey, I'm not the one deciding," Vortex told her gleefully. "Talk to the Autotrash, there." He nodded to First Aid.
First Aid flinched back from the pleading look she gave him. "Please..."
"The suspense is killing me," Vortex cackled. "Oh, wait, sorry. It's killing them, isn't it? Well, come on then," he prompted. "We haven't got all day." He nodded to the two huddled in the cage. "They certainly don't, at least. In fact, they've got until I get bored before I say 'Frag it' and kill everyone." He leaned back against the wall. "And I bore easy, I warn you."
"I- I..." First Aid stammered.
"Yessss?" Vortex drew the word out.
How could he decide? Were two people's lives worth hundreds? But how could he say that these two were worth less? How could he look at them and tell them they had to die?
The woman started sobbing.
"Just kill me," First Aid tried one last time, desperately. "You don't care if they live or die, just leave them out of it and kill me instead..."
"Now where would be the fun in that?" Vortex asked, snorting.
"Blah, blah, blah. Getting bored now." Vortex crossed his arms. "Pick one, or I'll pick 'em both."
"You bastard," the man growled, wrapping his arms tighter around the woman.
"Wait," First Aid said, trying desperately to think of something, anything, to stop this.
When First Aid didn't say anything else, Vortex shrugged. "Both it is, then."
"No-" First Aid protested.
"Too late." Vortex wagged his finger at him. "Too slow. Sorry squishies, First Aid doesn't like you enough to save you from the big bad Decepticons." He laughed, the off-kilter sound that had First Aid flinching back again.
"You are insane."
"Me?" Vortex managed to sound puzzled. "Hey, I'm not the one to blame for this. I was going to spare one or the other, you're the one who decided otherwise, y'know." He paused, considering. "But I'm feeling nice. How about I give you one last chance to save all of them?"
First Aid looked up, wary, as Vortex approached.
"But first... can't do anything bolted to the wall like that." Vortex grabbed one of his arms.
First Aid barely had time to process what was happening before Vortex ripped his arm away from the wall, the bolts tearing out of his armor. He cried out, optics shuttering against the pain.
"No passing out on me, now." Vortex shoved him back against the wall. "You want to stop me?"
"Yes!" First Aid snapped, holding his injured and unbound arm against his chest.
Vortex grabbed it. "I disconnected all of your weaponry and suchlike when I took out your radio, so you're going to need this." He pressed the grip of a laser rifle into his hand and curling his fingers around it. "You want to stop me? Then stop me."
First Aid looked down at the rifle, then up at Vortex.
His fuel pump missed a beat.
"If you're not going to do something, then I guess I better get going. Got lots of places to go and people to kill, after all." Vortex patted First Aid on the head and started for the door. "I'll just leave these two here- I give 'em a week before one of them starts eating the other."
He's not going to...
He is. But I can't... I can't kill...But if I don't...
His hand was shaking as he lifted the rifle, aiming it at Vortex's unprotected back. It's for the greater good, right? The line felt wrong, even in his head. The human woman was sobbing. The man looked up, daring to hope. I have to... He pulled the trigger.
The gun sputtered.
Vortex looked over his shoulder, rotors wagging in an approximation of a grin. "Come on, I'm crazy, not stupid."
The gun clattered to the ground, falling from numb fingers.
"Have fun," Vortex sing-songed, shutting the door behind himself, leaving First Aid and the two humans alone.
First Aid stared after him, slumping against the bolts still securing his other arm to the wall, the cold feeling of defeat settling in his spark.