Staying Alive: A How-To

If anyone had bothered to notice, Sideswipe hadn't meant to stab the CO in the back. In fact, according to him and several questionably involved bystanders, he had in fact been aiming for his brother. But considering that the game of catch-the-throwing-knife had been firmly and indefinitely banned, and considering that the mech who had banned this game was in fact the mech who had now wandered so haplessly into the direct line of fire of its players, it was looking rather grim for the warrior's defense. Because while many of the nefarious activities that went on in and around the Ark were at least eventually forgivable, there was a short list of sins that would land the sinner into a kind of unholy purgatory from which only the grace of Primus himself could save him. And stabbing Optimus Prime in the back was one of those sins.

And now Sideswipe was quite squarely in the slag.

To make matters worse, the projectile blade had managed to hit a particularly dense relay cluster, among which had been Prime's primary motor relay, primary reflex array, and a host of other fairly important functions which, when punched through with an enthusiastically thrown energy blade pretty much caused the great Autobot Commander to drop like a stone and commence with doing what could only be accurately described (thanks, Jazz) as the 'kickin' chicken'. Of course, (to bang just one more nail into Sideswipe's coffin), this had created in all onlookers that dreadful kind of morbid fascination that always comes with seeing your mighty leader jerking about the floor in epileptic spasms, and very sadly for Sideswipe, not everyone gave the tragic scene quite the dignity it deserved. In fact, there was a rather long chorus of 'OoooOOOooooooh' – the kind that nearly always means that someone's really done it now – and instead of leaping into action straight away, everyone sort of stood transfixed, with those sort of sickly, half-horrified, half-hilarious smiles plastered across their faces. In the end, if it hadn't been for Sunstreaker (of all people) having sense enough to run for Ratchet, Prime could have kicked that chicken for a good while longer.

So, good thing for Sideswipe that his brother had the sense to run for Ratchet. But, too bad for Sideswipe that his brother had run for Ratchet. The dim-watt couldn't have gone for First Aid?


So, if Sideswipe had been in the slag before, (and believe-you-me, he was), it would be fair to say that now his doom was sure. Frighteningly enough, for the first time in as long as anyone could remember, the Chief Medical Officer had been without speech. Sideswipe didn't even try to run. He'd just stood there while the medic charged in, blinked for a good solid three seconds, and then leaped forward to stabilize the commander. That done, he commenced with repairs, which did not take long. It was a delicate operation, but not an arduous one, and no one so much as moved while Ratchet put Prime back in good order again. In fact, you could have heard a pin drop right up to the point where Prime's optics clicked back online, and Ratchet ordered him in a low, clipped voice to report back to med bay for the final welding.

Probably, Prime had been a little disoriented at that time. But it would also be a safe bet to say that there was some small part of him which was just cruel enough to abandon Sideswipe to his fate. Because, without a word to anyone, Prime left the room, and Ratchet immediately commenced with killing the Lamborghini. The medic did not bother with full sentences, or even full words. He just lunged for Sideswipe's throat, and the warrior barely had time to throw up has hands and emit a little half-screech of (very un-mechly) panic before Ratchet closed both hands like a vise around the warriors neck, backed him across the room, and plowed him into a wall, where he simply leaned in and – emitting unintelligible grunts and snarled half-curses – began to choke the life out of the warrior.

The power of action and speech seemed to flood back into the room just then, and a wave of Autobots surged forward to poor Sideswipe's rescue. Only Sunstreaker stood dumbly by, as though figuring he'd had just about enough of being associated with his brother for one day, and would rather have nothing more to do with him, thank-you-very-much. So it was a good thing that Sideswipe had spent some years cultivating friends, because in the end, it took the combined efforts of Wheeljack, Ironhide, Tracks, Jazz, Air Raid, and Prowl to prise the medic off of poor Sideswipe. Still snarling and lurching, the medic was dragged out into the hall, where a few of the Dinobots were summoned to 'escort' him (read: drag kicking and screaming) back to medical, where he was kept until Prowl deemed him rational again. Or so Prowl decreed.

As for Sideswipe, he was quite done in, but fortunately for him, Hot Spot took pity and dispatched First Aid to see to the warrior's injuries. It was actually pretty surprising just how much damage Ratchet had been able to do, but the Protectobot soon had the warrior right, and before anyone could even think of starting a 'Save the Lamborghini' campaign, Sideswipe and Sunstreaker had found themselves uncomfortably installed in Prowl's office.

"So," the tactician began, as he laced his fingers on his desk before him. As usual, his face betrayed nothing, but Sideswipe thought he detected the slightest glimmer of amusement somewhere in the mild depths of the tactician's optics. Because for once, it wasn't Prowl who was pissed, and it seemed that the tactician was going to have the enjoyment of seeing Sideswipe most creatively punished without ever having to get worked up about anything.

"It was an accident," Sunstreaker spoke up from the chair to Sideswipe's right. They'd both been allowed to sit, owing to Sideswipe's still slightly shaky condition. A whoop-assing from Ratchet was no trivial thing.

Prowl raised an optic ridge. "So you were accidentally playing the knife-tossing game that you'd been expressly forbidden from playing?"

Sunstreaker opened his mouth, then closed it, clearly skunked on that point. Sideswipe slid further into his chair.

Prowl stared at the brothers, optics sliding from one to the other. There were no arguments this time, no sly side-stepping, no brandished loopholes. There was only silence, and from the corner of his miserable view, Sideswipe could see that Prowl was enjoying himself thoroughly.

"Your list of transgressions has always been impressive," he began, then leaned forward slightly, his normally placid countenance stretching into something that looked horribly like a leer, "but never, in all my time serving under Optimus Prime, has anyone ever, ever stabbed the commanding officer in the back."

Sideswipe let out a long sigh, making sure to keep his optics well averted. Prowl wasn't angry; in fact, he was in one of his most rare moods of hilarity, and Sideswipe knew from long experience that when Prowl was feeling giddy, the punishments were always at their most excruciating.

"I could let Ratchet have you," Prowl suggested, and at that Sideswipe met the tactician's optics, and saw to his slight horror that Prowl was being quite serious. "But," he added, and Sideswipe was honest enough to admit that he felt a slide of relief at this, "I actually find you more useful alive, so we'll just dispense with that idea for now. I could," he went on, working his jaw around as he pontificated, "feed you to the Dinobots for their next training exercise. But unless you were both extremely lucky, I would imagine that your injuries would be more than First Aid could handle, and we all know just what your chances would be with Ratchet."

Prowl paused a moment, presumably to let his creativity programming simmer a bit, and Sideswipe spoke up. "Is Prime…ok?" he asked wretchedly.

"Oh yes," Prowl nodded briskly. "He's just fine. In fact, I had to dissuade him from coming in to administer your punishment himself. Something about having enough of Megatron to deal with, much less you two 'Primus-forsaken monkey-ass clowns', or so he put it."

"So Prime…" Sunstreaker put in with a grimace, "…is mad."

Prowl tipped the yellow warrior a nice smile. "Yes, that would be correct."

Now, Sideswipe was usually a brave mech; in fact, so great was his sense of bravery that it was often mistaken for sheer, blind stupidity. (Or maybe it was the other way around; who knew?) But there was a line to be drawn, and when faced with the combined wrath of both Optimus Prime and Ratchet, Sideswipe was beginning to think that he might just have to sacrifice his honor, tuck his spoiler between his legs, and hide behind the only Autobot who had half a chance of saving them.

"Prowl," Sideswipe spoke up, and surprised even himself with the edge of desperation to his voice, "doesn't Prime usually – you know, when he's this mad at us – just want rid of us for a while?"

"Yeah," Sunstreaker backed him, straightening a little in his chair. "You could send us away."

"For a long time."

"I hear Siberia's nice this time of year."

"Or Antarctica."

"The moon."

"Yeah, the moon," Sideswipe nodded. "We could build you a nice comm tower up there, or a jacuzzi, or whatever you want."

"And we could live there," Sunstreaker offered an ingratiating smile, "for a while."

"Yeah, a while."

Both brothers were sitting up quite straight now, regarding Prowl with mute appeal. Not even bothering to hide his smile, Prowl sat back to consider. For a long moment, the tactician watched them both squirm a bit, the smile on his face widening by degrees, and by the time he'd completely transformed from sane, practical Prowl into what could only be described as a madly ebullient time bomb of bad news, they realized they'd been had. Prowl had known all along what they'd intended to do with them, and as his grin stretched to its most grotesque, and his door panels widened until they all but radiated glee, the time bomb hit zero.

"I am sending you," he announced with the flair of ten thousand Bob Barkers, "with Trailbreaker, Mirage, Swoop, Blaster, and Hound on a six-week, all-expenses, bugs-included trip to the beautiful hills of West Virginia."

"What's—" Sunstreaker began, voice cracking a little, "—what's in West Virginia?"

"Oh, no doubt you'll read all about that here," Prowl replied as he passed out their orders via datapad. "Now shoo," he dismissed them with a flick of his hand. "I'll alert Trailbreaker that I've procured the additional support he requested, and ask him to hold up departure long enough for you to be painted."

"Paint-painted?" Sunstreaker actually stuttered, and both brothers paused, halfway out of their chairs.

"But of course," Prowl replied mildly, "you don't think you can go sneaking around the woods looking like that?"

"Woods?" Sideswipe all but groaned, while Sunstreaker quietly wilted beside him.

"Yes, woods," Prowl replied, looking brisk now as he shuffled through the datapads littering his inbox. "Lots and lots of woods. And I suggest you get to it before Prime gets here and overrides my decision. We're due for a meeting…ah, now."

The sound of heavy tread coming down the hall was all it took. "On our way," both brothers barked at once, and stumbling over the chairs and each other in their scramble for the door, fled like the chickens they were.

FIELD OPERATOR: 117-BBX-Windjammer [Blaster]

ARK OPERATOR: 392-CST-Pinch-Hitter [Eject]

ENCODER: 710-LEO-Thundercat [Steeljaw]

DATE/TIME STAMP: 30 MAY / 0736 hrs

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: Arrived at Alpha LZ on schedule, and reporting as directed by Team Leader Slim-Jim. Combination networking a go. Routing and listening points a go. Perimeter secured, base camp secured. Awaiting further orders.

Addendum: It was an accident, I swear. Don't shoot me. Goldenrocket either.

001-BFT-Big-Eighteen [Optimus Prime]: Inform Team Leader, go-ahead on my command. Goldenrocket assigned full-time to support onsite medic, Redrocket assigned full-time communiqué. Check-in on the hour, update every twelve hours. That is all.

In response to addendum: I will kill you next time I see you. Enjoy your vacation while you can.

FIELD OPERATOR: 117-BBX-Windjammer [Blaster]

ARK OPERATOR: 392-CST-Pinch-Hitter [Eject]

ENCODER: 710-LEO-Thundercat [Steeljaw]

DATE/TIME STAMP: 30 MAY / 1930 hrs

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: All check-ins successful. Have encountered no resistance, and no sign of enemy activity. Will report activity/presence upon confirmation.

Injuries sustained: Suspensory damage to Elvis after landslide incident. Bigbird has made successful repairs. Goldenrocket sending adjusted medical inventory.

Addendum: Honest, I didn't mean to do it.

011-CMO-Redrum [Ratchet]: What the [beep]ing [beep] do you mean Elvis damaged his suspensory? Tell that son of a [beep] to keep his [beep]ing [beep] off those [beep]ing back trails, because I am not flying my [beep]ing [beep] out there to dig him out if he gets in over his head. What the [beep] does he mean, using up [beep]ing medical inventory this [beep]ing early in the [beep]ing mission? Does he want me to come out there and [beep] up his [beep]ing feng sui?

And you…son...of a…[beep, beep, beep, beep]…//omit string//…will rip your [beep]ing [beep] out your [beep]ing throat next time I see you. You [beep]ing got that, Paco?

FIELD OPERATOR: 117-BBX-Windjammer [Blaster]

ARK OPERATOR: 392-CST-Pinch-Hitter [Eject]

ENCODER: 710-LEO-Thundercat [Steeljaw]

DATE/TIME STAMP: 30 May / 2036 hrs

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: Have relayed message to Elvis. Dog promises to stay on his leash from now on. Scout's honor.

And yes, I got that. But you'll have to get in line.

011-CMO-Redrum [Ratchet]: Don't [beep]ing [beep] with me, Paco.

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: Noted.

011-CMO-Redrum [Ratchet]: Oh, you did not just 'noted' me.

011-CMO-Redrum [Ratchet]: You did NOT just 'noted' me.

117-BBX-Windjammer [Blaster]: Primus almighty, did you just hear Redrocket 'noted' the CMO?

392-CST-Pinch-Hitter [Eject]: Hee, hee, hee…he's so dead.

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: I did not mean that kind of 'noted'. Honestly.

Slag me.

392-CST-Pinch-Hitter [Eject]: [snicker]

117-BBX-Windjammer [Blaster]: [snicker] It's gonna be a long six weeks.

FIELD OPERATOR: 117-BBX-Windjammer [Blaster]

ARK OPERATOR: 392-CST-Pinch-Hitter [Eject]

ENCODER: 710-LEO-Thundercat [Steeljaw]

DATE/TIME STAMP: 31 MAY / 0730 hrs

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: Routine update: All check-ins successful. No activity confirmed during the night, and all scouts have reported in safely. Possible activity in sector 8-12-2. Re-scouting area; will report when target confirmed.

Side note: If it makes you feel any better, a swarm of fire ants crawled up my aft, and I'm this close to shooting myself in the processor. Goldenrocket similarly thrilled to be taking orders from Bigbird.

001-BFT-Big-Eighteen [Optimus Prime]: Will await confirmation of negative or positive finding.

Stop sucking up. It gets on my [beep]ing nerves.

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: Yes, sir.

001-BFT-Big-Eighteen [Optimus Prime]: And don't you 'yes sir' me either. I am in no way done with you.

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: Understood, sir.

001-BFT-Big-Eighteen [Optimus Prime]: Redrocket, you 'sir' me one more time, and I'm going to [beep]ing catch a jet out there and rearrange your [beep]ing spoiler.

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: Uh…aye, aye?

001-BFT-Big-Eighteen [Optimus Prime]: Are you being a [beep]ing funny mech, Redrocket?

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: No! It's just, if I can't 'sir' you and I can't 'aye' you, what am I supposed to do?

001-BFT-Big-Eighteen [Optimus Prime]: Do you really want me to tell you what you can do?

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: Uhm…no thank you.

001-BFT-Big-Eighteen [Optimus Prime]: Then [beep] the [beep] off.

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: Noted.

117-BBX-Windjammer [Blaster]: BWUAHAHAHAHA!!!

392-CST-Pinch-Hitter [Eject]: He's so dead.

FIELD OPERATOR: 117-BBX-Windjammer [Blaster]

ARK OPERATOR: 392-CST-Pinch-Hitter [Eject]

ENCODER: 710-LEO-Thundercat [Steeljaw]

DATE/TIME STAMP: 31 MAY / 1147 hrs.

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: Status update: Suspected activity in sector 8-12-2 turned out to be local wildlife. Team Leader Slim-Jim attempted to inspect more closely, and flushed an elk. Elk angered at being flushed; charged and caused superficial damage to Goldenrocket. Bigbird overseeing repairs. Goldenrocket so pleased.

Fire ants worse. Ghostrider now plagued as well. Ghostrider so pleased. Invisibility apparently not effective against fire ants.

Will update again at 1930 hours.

001-BFT-Big-Eighteen [Optimus Prime]: Tell Slim-Jim to stop [beep]ing with the wildlife.

And quit your bitching.

392-CST-Pinch-Hitter [Eject]: So, is he basically planning on brow-beating you every twelve hours for the next six weeks?

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: Looks like.

392-CST-Pinch-Hitter [Eject]: Sucks to be you, amigo.

FIELD OPERATOR: 117-BBX-Windjammer [Blaster]

ARK OPERATOR: 392-CST-Pinch-Hitter [Eject]

ENCODER: 710-LEO-Thundercat [Steeljaw]

DATE/TIME STAMP: 04 JUN / 0730 hrs

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: Routine update: Fifth day, still no sign of enemy activity. Elvis recommends that we maintain position. Slim-Jim requests Bigbird to recon after dark. Please advise.

Fire ants worse. All members afflicted; Ghostrider rhapsodizes.

001-BFT-Big-Eighteen [Optimus Prime]: Recommendation accepted; maintain position. Request for Bigbird to fly denied due to unacceptable risk of discovery. All fliers remain grounded. Repeat, all fliers remain grounded.

And shut up about the fire ants already. Primus, you're one sad tale away from being a walking country song.

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: Attached .wav file: I've Been Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart (Johnny Cash)

001-BFT-Big-Eighteen [Optimus Prime]: Attached .wav file: Here's a Quarter, Call Someone Who Cares (Travis Tritt)

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: Attached .wav file: How Many Flowers Do I Have to Buy Before You'll Give This Love Another Try? (Brad Paisley)

001-BFT-Big-Eighteen [Optimus Prime]: Attached .wav file: You're Playing With Fire (Brad Paisley)

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: Attached .wav file: Roll On, Eighteen-Wheeler (Alabama)

001-BFT-Big-Eighteen [Optimus Prime]: You're still a dead mech.

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: Aye, aye, sir.

FIELD OPERATOR: 117-BBX-Windjammer [Blaster]

ARK OPERATOR: 392-CST-Pinch-Hitter [Eject]

ENCODER: 710-LEO-Thundercat [Steeljaw]

DATE/TIME STAMP: 09 JUN / 0730 hrs

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: Routine update: Tenth day, still no activity. Terrain is prohibitive, and all reports negative for enemy sign. Ghostrider and Elvis describe terrain as being capable of concealing enemy activity from even close-range scout. Slim-Jim describes enemy as 'needle in haystack', but still requests to maintain position. Please advise.

Note: As of this transmission, Ghostrider has not yet checked in. Slim-Jim suspects minor delay. Will update upon arrival.

001-BFT-Big-Eighteen [Optimus Prime]: Maintain position. Whitecastle re-confirms suspicions of enemy activity, and recommends that you continue search, starting again with sector 8-19-5.

I am holding you personally accountable for Ghostrider. Find him.

Sideswipe snapped his transmitter shut and snarled in disgust as he kicked a wet clump of sod, which went splattering into the trees. "Where the slag is Mirage, anyway?"

"Hey, cool thine jets, my good mech," Blaster replied as he stowed his various antennae and leaped into robot mode. Grinning, he patted Sideswipe on the shoulder. "Mirage'll show up, and by the time we get outta this joint, Prime'll be over his snit. You'll see."

"My slagging aft, he will," Sideswipe groused, picking yet another clot of moss out of his matte-brown-and-green paint job and flicking it savagely at the ground. "He's been bitching at me for a week and a half now for slag's sake, and now he's gonna hang my head on the wall if I don't squirt Mirage out of my back end for him. Hell am I, a babysitter now? Slagging Mirage!"

"Oh, chill out, good buddy," Blaster gave him another pat as they both made their way down the long hillside toward camp. "So Prime's really, really…well, really, really mad. But thanks to Prowl, he's a couple thousand miles away. And if he rants at you long enough, he'll get over it. You know how he is."

"Slagging better get the slag over it," Sideswipe grumped as he kicked a rotting log, and sent a gang of shelf mushrooms flying like missiles into the green canopy. It was slagging hot, and he'd gotten some sticky, hellish kind of sap on him somewhere, and the bugs were swarming him like jackals on a wildebeest. He'd tried in vain to scrub it away, but had pretty much just managed to smear it around further until it was all over his hands, arms, the back of his left leg, and half his chestplate.

And did he mention that it was hot? And that he was walking around in really ugly flat retch-colored paint? And that he was mighty damn pissed about it?

"Oh, he will," Blaster answered good-naturedly, shouldering close as they both ducked under a tall pine. "Prime's got a temper, but it fizzles eventually. Now," he rubbed his hands together, and slid gracelessly down the last several meters of the incline, "let's get some grub."

Arms flailing for balance, Sideswipe followed, and noted with a grim snort just exactly how the mud jammed into the crevices of his foot as he slid down the steep slope. Bits of grass and moss stuck out everywhere, not to mention an accumulation of sticks and gravel. Trudging the last distance, he let himself down through a cluster of scrubby pine, and flung himself with a grunt of disgust to the ground.

"And how's Prime this morning?" Sunstreaker asked mildly from across the dead fire. No smoke-causing flames by day; that was the rule, and the black ring of slurried ash looked about as cheerful as Sideswipe felt.

"Ever so pleasant," Sideswipe muttered, and accepted a cup of energon from Hound. Sipping, he glanced across the pit toward his brother, who was moodily twiddling a stick between his olive green forefinger and thumb. Streaked a flat green and brown, he looked not so much bizarre as just downright depressed. "Any word from 'Raj?"

"Nope," Sunstreaker muttered, without looking up from his twiddling. The poor stick looked sorry already, but Sideswipe supposed it would be in for a bit more mangling before Sunstreaker was done with it.

"Well, that's just wonderful," Sideswipe came back, and tossed back the rest of his breakfast in one swift gulp. "Because it seems that I'm going to be held personally accountable for our spy friend, so if he doesn't turn up before my next check-in, I'm guessing you can kiss your dear brother goodbye."

"Now, it ain't that bad," Trailbreaker chipped in, and offered a bit of a worried look as he leaned back on both arms. Crossing his legs at the ankles, he glanced between the two warriors.

"Oh yes," Sideswipe assured him, "it is that bad. And by the way, Prime says to stay put. Seems Prowl reaffirmed Sky Spy's earlier readings, and he wants us to keep looking, beginning with area 8-19-5, and ending, preferably, with my head on a pike."

"Still mad, huh?" Trailbreaker tossed a glance at Blaster, who nodded in commiseration.

"Prime's still breathin' fire all right," the communications officer replied. "And Ratchet still don't sound too pleased about life neither – talked to him yesterday. You'd think those two woulda cooled off a bit by now."

"Well, you know how it is," Trailbreaker offered a one-shouldered shrug, and that was that.

It was true – everyone did know how it was. The brothers were always playing with fire where the brass was concerned, so there was very little leeway when the slag truly hit the fan and they finally did something really horrendous (like stabbing the CO in the back). To be frank, 'leeway' was precisely what they were enjoying now, in the form of Prowl saving their collective spoilers from an even crueler fate at the hands of the CO – or worse – the CMO. It might be hard to believe, but there actually was a tiny spark of pity in the murky black depths of Prowl's soul, and Sideswipe knew without a doubt that right now, he and his brother were very lucky indeed to be sitting where they were, fire ants or no.

But the trouble was that neither one could quite pull themselves out of their funk, and it was starting to take a toll on the whole group. Sideswipe was irritable, and Sunstreaker was not, and that combination had everyone good and truly worried. It wasn't like Sunstreaker to just submit to orders from Swoop with barely a mumble here and there. What was worse was that Swoop was unbearably nice about it, making sure to ask Sunstreaker for assistance with this or that, as opposed to telling him what to do, and normally, that would have made the once-yellow warrior completely irate. As it was, he simply sighed a bit deeper, and muttered a bit more incoherently, and dragged himself about in a deep, black mope.

Sideswipe wasn't any better. The only difference was that everything was an irritant to him, and he even found himself biting Swoop's head off, which was really a rotten slagging thing to do. But he couldn't help it. He knew that Sunstreaker had been purposely assigned to Swoop as a bit of a slap in the face, and he knew that he himself had been assigned to submit the reports so Prime could verbally smack him about the audios. And really, that he didn't mind. He knew he deserved it, and so did Sunstreaker, so neither one of them was really fussed about receiving a few knocks here and there. Even the bit with the paint wasn't so hard to digest when they considered the alternative, and both Sideswipe and Sunstreaker were entirely resigned to their fates.

What they did mind, however, and what made Sideswipe into a snarling, bitter little ball of hate, and what kept Sunstreaker in a rather fine sulk was that they really were mortified with themselves. And they wished Prime would just get it over with and either kill them or forgive them. Ratchet, too. Because they hadn't meant to do what they did, and truth be told, they were both a little horrified still. But there was nothing for it, for now at least, because neither Prime nor Ratchet seemed all that eager to let bygones be bygones. No, the commander and the chief medical officer were good and fed up with the Lamborghini twins, and if Sideswipe or Sunstreaker were to expect any forgiveness, they would have to earn it.

And they knew it. Which was why all this sitting around and scratching their afts was just making things worse.

But just as Sideswipe's self-pity party was really beginning to hit full stride, the perimeter signal sounded, and a minute later, Mirage un-melded from the trees.

"Morning, guys," he smiled, which for Mirage was something of a blessed rare thing, and said, "Sorry I'm late, but I bring news." His smile widened, and Sideswipe felt his fuel pump quicken. "Gentlemen," he said expansively, hands on his hips and looking thoroughly pleased, "we have finally struck gold."

FIELD OPERATOR: 117-BBX-Windjammer [Blaster]

ARK OPERATOR: 392-CST-Pinch-Hitter [Eject]

ENCODER: 710-LEO-Thundercat [Steeljaw]

DATE/TIME STAMP: 09 JUN / 0817 hrs

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: Non-routine update: Ghostrider has returned safely, and reports enemy sighting in sector 8-19-4, moving southwest and keeping below treeline. Probable scouting party. They are taking precautions against detection, but Ghostrider does not feel that they suspect our presence at this time.

Verified enemy: Lazorbeak and Dead End; not heavily armed, moving quietly but not on alert.

Suspected enemy: Menasor presence possible. Devastator presence probable, given suspected nature of enemy activity. Soundwave presence probable, though Windjammer has picked up no trace. Necessary precautions being taken with own communication; Windjammer expects no enemy discovery at this time.

Slim-Jim sending out scouting party to pinpoint enemy location. Will report findings on return.

001-BFT-Big-Eighteen [Optimus Prime]: Understood. Inform Slim-Jim that Albatross and Lowrider on standby in case of emergency. Possible ETA one hour.

Expect report on return. Good hunting.

FIELD OPERATOR: 117-BBX-Windjammer [Blaster]

ARK OPERATOR: 392-CST-Pinch-Hitter [Eject]

ENCODER: 710-LEO-Thundercat [Steeljaw]

DATE/TIME STAMP: 09 JUN / 1624 hrs

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: Scouting party has returned with no incidents. Suspicions have been confirmed; Constructicons have finished construction of energon processing plant. Site ideal for concealment from satellite and other unfriendly observation. Site far from human habitation and overhead air lanes clear. Slim-Jim estimates that enemy does not suspect our presence at this time.

Verified enemy sightings: Megatron, Thundercracker, Dirge, Soundwave, Ravage, Lasorbeak, Buzzsaw, entire Constructicon team, and partial Stunticon team, including Dead End, Breakdown, and Motormaster. Presence of rest of Stunticon team probable but not verified at this time.

Energon production under way as of 1900 hours last night (estimated). Ghostrider enacting phase one at the time of this transmission. Will report when phase one complete.

001-BFT-Big-Eighteen [Optimus Prime]: Understood. Standing by for update.

"Well, listen to that," Blaster smiled as he leaped into robot mode once more. "I think that's the first update you've gotten through without being barked at. You're making progress."

"Yeah," Sideswipe shrugged as the two of them made their way down the steep hillside for what seemed like the hundred thousandth time, "it's a start. But don't expect hugs and kisses anytime soon. He's just happy we finally struck gold."

"Yup," Blaster returned, catching a tree to stop himself from sliding, "and a happy Prime is a good first step."

It was a good first step, and it was nice to finally see some progress. It sucked to send Mirage out alone for this, and Sideswipe would rather have been able to be a bit more useful than he was being in his role as Random Backup Grunt, but at least it was a start. They'd finally found the 'Cons' camp, and now they could commence with bleeding them dry.

It was a very simple plan. Blaster caught wind of a transmission a few weeks back regarding an alternate site for Decepticon energon production and storage, one that would give them a land base where they could refuel in an emergency. It was also extremely well concealed by the labyrinth of hills, so they could not only process energon, but they could actually mine coal and produce energon, at least on a moderate scale. If kept moderate enough, and the stores kept at a reasonable level, the Autobots' scanners would never have noted the presence of any undue energy buildup. And actually, if Blaster hadn't managed to catch that stray transmission, it would have been a good chance that the site would have gone unnoticed by the Autobots for a good many years.

Instead of simply launching an offensive on the site, however, Prowl had other plans. He reasoned simply that if the Decepticons did not anticipate being discovered, the Autobots would have a better chance of taking advantage of the situation. First of all, the tactician had pointed out, a known enemy base was better than an unknown enemy base, and leaving the Decepticons with their site intact would mean that the Autobots would have intel on yet another of their locations. Secondly, allowing the Decepticons to operate a moderate energon production facility meant less chance that they would feel the need to attack the humans for fuel. And third, an enemy that doesn't think he's being watched is much more vulnerable – say, to having his energy supply tapped and slowly drained for the Autobots' own personal use.

So, the long and short of it was that Prowl was letting the Decepticons mine and process the coal for energon so the Autobots could skim a little off the back end on top of keeping an eye on the proceedings. Once in place, Megatron wouldn't be watching the site too closely, and if the Autobots were lucky, any stolen energon would either be attributed to poor site management, or to Swindle. Or both. Which would make everybody happy. (Except for Swindle.)

Therefore, the Autobot team's only objective was to oversee the final testing of the site, observe how it would be run, and set up an unobtrusive siphon to steal some energon for themselves. They also planned to set up surveillance, both audio and visual. That was where Mirage was now, setting up the surveillance taps and the energon siphon which, if emplaced early enough, would probably never be noticed. If there was never an energy drop, Prowl had explained reasonably, Megatron would probably never realize that there should have been more energy to begin with. The plan was nice and tidy and simple all around.

Except that it left Sideswipe with nothing to do. Which, naturally, was a bad thing. Especially considering that if his only job was to lurk around providing potential backup in case of discovery, he was not only bored out of his cranial unit, he was in serious jeopardy of never having the chance to earn his way back into Prime's good graces.

Or Ratchet's – and Primus, that was even worse. He hadn't talked to the medic in a good few days, and he couldn't help wondering if that was good or bad. Either Ratchet was moving on to terrorizing someone else, or he was working up a real good stew. Frankly, Sideswipe suspected the latter, and he was bracing himself for whatever was yet to come.

Which, sadly, came a little sooner than Sideswipe would have wished.

It was their third week there, (actually, 23rd day, thirteenth hour, and twenty-first minute there if a mech were being particular about it), and Sideswipe had been playing a game of stones with his brother when he heard a familiar voice through the trees just beyond the edge of camp.

"A little help," came Mirage's soft baritone, and Sideswipe looked up to see the blue and white spy leaning heavily on a tree.

"Primus," Sunstreaker muttered, and was up ahead of Sideswipe, and slinging Mirage's arm around his shoulder. Sideswipe took the spy's other arm, and together they carried him into camp.

"What happen?" Swoop leaped up from the sunny rock, where he'd been quietly reading to himself. Datapad immediately tossed away, he'd already summoned the med scanner granted to him by Ratchet, and began running it over Mirage's frame.

Carefully, the brothers set the spy down for Swoop to inspect, and the lanky Dinobot let out an unhappy 'tsk'. "Fuel lines punched, energon twenty-four percent, armor ripped…" Swoop looked up, face screwed into an unhappy mask. "How Mirage get tree in chest?" he asked in a baleful tone.

All optics turned to Mirage, who offered a rather chagrinned smile. "Well, I…slipped, and...steep terrain you know...and unfortunately, there was this fallen tree sticking up like a javelin. Heh," he gave a weak shrug, "I do believe the tree won that round."

Despite himself, Sideswipe felt his mouth curling into a half-smile, and he could see Sunstreaker grinning wolfishly from Mirage's other side.

"Oh yes," Mirage rolled his optics at the brothers, and gave a little cough, "do go ahead with the mockery. Better to get on with it now than keeping me in suspense."

But Sunstreaker only gave the spy a gentle pat and said, "Hey, I'm just jealous you got to see some action."

"Ah, so you're finally admitting that you're jealous of me." Mirage quipped with a little smile. "And I suppose I can write that down for posterity?"

"Oh, shut it, and let's get you fixed," Sunstreaker sniped back, sounding much more like his old self.

Immediately, the Dinobot moved in and, no longer needed, Sideswipe got to his feet. Dusting himself off, he watched the procedure for a moment, mostly out of a habitual surprise at seeing a Dinobot actually carry out a medical operation without somehow mangling, smashing, or blowing up his patient. But before too many minutes had gone by, Sunstreaker was giving him the shove-off.

"Better get on with it, Paco," he said without looking up from where he was rummaging in Swoop's med-kit, and Sideswipe knew just what he meant by that.

Hailing Blaster, he began his long trudge up the hill.

FIELD OPERATOR: 117-BBX-Windjammer [Blaster]

ARK OPERATOR: 392-CST-Pinch-Hitter [Eject]

ENCODER: 710-LEO-Thundercat [Steeljaw]

DATE/TIME STAMP: 23 JUN / 1345 hrs

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: Non-routine medical update: Ghostrider has sustained injuries due to accidental fall while on duty. No enemy involvement. Ghostrider stable, and Bigbird will transmit report upon completion of repairs. Will also transmit updated medical supply list upon completion of repairs.

Medical backup not necessary at this time.

011-CMO-Redrum [Ratchet]: You broke Ghostrider?

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: Well, I didn't break Ghostrider. He busted himself. Bigbird is fixing him now.

011-CMO-Redrum [Ratchet]: You broke Ghostrider.

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: I did not break Ghostrider!

011-CMO-Redrum [Ratchet]:I TOLD you not to break Ghostrider.

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: How the slag is this my fault??

011-CMO-Redrum [Ratchet]: Don't you [beep]ing lip back to me, you little [beep]. Just make sure he gets fixed.


"It's that gentle bedside tone," Blaster mused as he transformed.

"You could rock me to sleep with that voice," Sideswipe muttered as he began yet another descent from the dreaded communications hill.

Blaster snickered. "You know, it almost would have been better just to let him choke the crap out of you back at the Ark."

"Well if Mirage kicks it," Sideswipe caught himself mid-slide, and balanced himself against a pine, "you can bet on an instant replay once I get home."

"And if you get any more popular, and they'll be voting you prom queen," Blaster grinned, and Sideswipe couldn't help grinning back.

"You know," he said with a touch of his old cheerfulness, "I always did look good in rhinestones and tulle."

"Ah, yes," Blaster mused, nodding wistfully. "I still have the pictures."

FIELD OPERATOR: 117-BBX-Windjammer [Blaster]

ARK OPERATOR: 392-CST-Pinch-Hitter [Eject]

ENCODER: 710-LEO-Thundercat [Steeljaw]

DATE/TIME STAMP: 23 JUN / 1820 hrs

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: Requested medical update: Ghostrider has been successfully repaired. All systems checked; Bigbird confident of 100 percent recovery by morning. Bigbird will submit medical inventory when Slim-Jim makes final request for re-supply.

Will update Ghostrider's progress at routine morning check-in.

011-CMO-Redrum [Ratchet]: Good. Break him again and I'll break your face.


Now, Sideswipe was a firm believer in the purgatory program. To put it simply, he was well aware that he was a blight on the sanity of nearly everyone around him, and that at some point, there would be some kind of hell to pay for his transgressions. But he also had a firm sense of when he'd suffered enough, there came a time when he felt that his time in the proverbial penalty box had been quite enough, thank-you-very-much.

Too often, his superiors didn't quite share his views on exactly when he should be done suffering. But to hell with that, because he'd had just about more than he could stand, and it was time to take some action.

"So," he said to Sunstreaker that evening, as everyone was relaxing around the fire, "Should we attempt Prime first, or Ratchet?"

His brother was teaching poker to Swoop, an abnormal activity on any occasion, but he'd at least started snarling at the poor Dinobot with some real gusto over the last day or so, and everyone – Sideswipe included – took it as a sign that he was getting back to normal. And oddly enough, everyone seemed to be relieved. There was something a little depressing about seeing Sunstreaker so downtrodden, and Sideswipe almost got the impression that everyone was really rather more content with being snapped at by the warrior.

"Well," Sunstreaker mused, then broke off as he peered coldly at Swoop. "No…no, no, no, no. You can't discard this round. You have to raise or call."

"But," Swoop stuck out his lip in concentration, brow furrowed at his cards, "Swoop not like his cards."

Rolling his optics, Sunstreaker uttered an exasperated sigh. "And for the ten billionth time, you're not supposed to tell me that. Primus! Sideswipe," he demanded, turning to his brother and gesturing in exasperation at the Dinobot, "do something with this."

"Bro, focus." Sideswipe snapped his fingers and pointed to his own face..

Snarling, Sunstreaker threw down his cards. "What?"

"I asked you a question."

"What question?"

Sideswipe uttered a short, sharp sigh. "Primus, it's like talking to a goldfish sometimes."

Sunstreaker narrowed his optics. "You wanna spit it out then, before you get fish-slapped?"

"I asked," Sideswipe repeated, with an exaggerated roll of his optics, "whether you think we should attempt Prime first, or Ratchet. In our attempts to, you know, escape death upon return to the Ark."

Sunstreaker hitched his shoulders in an irritated shrug, and screwed up his face for extra effect. "Hell if I know. Ratchet likes you better than me. Start with him for all I care."

"What the slag--?" Sideswipe sputtered. "Why's it gotta be me to think up a plan?"

"Uh..." Sunstreaker leaned forward, face contorted in his very best 'duh' expression, "could it be because you're the one who actually did the stabbing? Besides," he sat back, a smirk lighting his face as he picked his cards back up, "I've got a goldfish brain, remember? You do the thinking."

With that, he shoo'd Sideswipe away and went back to playing cards with (or, well, persecuting) Swoop. But before Sideswipe could offer any retort, Hound spoke up from the other side of the fire, where he'd been watching the stars overhead. "Aw, no worries Side. You'll think of something."

"Yes, well thank you very much for that," Sideswipe groused, and tossed another stick on the fire. "You've been 'you'll-think-of-something'-ing me for weeks now, and a slagging lot of good it's done so far."

"Well," Mirage spoke up, "at least don't start bickering with your brother again, as my audios at least can't stand the strain. You've been at each other all day."

"Fixing you, Sir Lancelot, in case you've forgotten," Sideswipe snapped back, and earned an elaborate optic-roll from Mirage.

"Oh, touche," he intoned with no small amount of sarcasm, and went back to lounging like a cat by the fire, chin propped in one hand, optics half closed against the light. He'd been ordered to rest until morning, and though he'd complained bitterly about the quality of Swoop's makeshift recuperation area, he at least seemed intent on complying. His injuries hadn't been anywhere near fatal, but they'd been bad enough that he needed to give his internal repairs a chance to catch up a bit.

"Ok, show 'em," Sunstreaker spoke up from the other side of the fire.

"Show cards now?"

"Yes, yes, show cards now," Sunstreaker sniped, "you article-challenged forty-watt bat."

But Swoop seemed immune to Sunstreaker's abuse, and simply smiled in his good-natured way and said, "Least Swoop not goldfish brain, rawk!" He punctuated his joke with one of his bird-like screeches, and the circle of Autobots erupted in a chorus of snorts and snickers.

"Well," Trailbreaker put in, while Sunstreaker told Swoop just how and where to shove it, "look at it this way: you two been in this unit for how long? And they ain't killed you off yet, so I doubt they plan to start now."

But Sideswipe was not to be deterred. "Oh, you watch -- if I don't come back having saved the world, or puppies, or something, I'm gonna be the first Autobot Marie Antoinette. Eject says Ratchet's got a space cleared on his trophy shelf and everything."

"That's true," Blaster confirmed with a frown. "I don't think he was kiddin' either."

Sideswipe threw his hands up. "See? I'm screwed. Or chopped, or a pinata, take your pick."

"Oh, Swoop likes pinatas," Swoop put in, quite earnestly.

"See?" Sideswipe blurted. "Swoop likes pinatas. Slag probably likes pinatas too. I'm so dead."

"Better you than me, bro," Sunsreaker quipped as he dealt the Dinobot five new cards.

"Gee thanks, bro," Sideswipe scowled.

To which Sunstreaker replied with an angelic smile. "Anytime, buddy boy."

"And there you go with the buddy boy again --"

"Well," Mirage changed the subject, before the bickering could escalate to the use of piledrivers, "I suppose I'll have another look about tomorrow morning. I might find out what the Decepticons have been so busy about."

"Yeah," Blaster mused, "they do have a lotta guys workin' on one mine. Been at it a while, too."

"Yes, and it irks me," Mirage replied. "I get the feeling there's more going on inside the mine than we realize." He paused, thoughtful, but whatever it was went unsaid. With a shrug, he said simply, "Well, here's hoping I can solve the riddle, and then we can all go home, and Sideswipe can get on with having his head chopped off."

"Gee thanks, Mirage." Sideswipe pulled a sour face.

"Well, it's not as though you haven't been moping about it for weeks," Mirage replied reasonably. "Better to have it over and done with."

"Easy for you to say."

"Yes, well I tend to refrain from stabbing our CO in the back, thus the lower anxiety levels in my life as compared to yours."

At that, Sideswipe shot Mirage a withering stare, but having just spent the majority of the day helping to fix the spy, he felt it would be better for all involved if he didn't beat the crap out of him just now.

A moment of silence descended around the fire, Hound and Trailbreaker enjoying a bit of stargazing, Blaster humming tunelessly to himself, Mirage cat-napping while Sunstreaker and Swoop bickered over their game. At length, Swoop looked up and shot a rather pitying look in Sideswipe's direction. "You, Sideswipe, want to play? Sunstreaker -- rawk -- give you deal of cards."

"It's deal a hand of cards, you twit," Sunstreaker groused, and discarded, ignoring Sideswipe completely. The slagger.

But Sideswipe only hunkered down further into himself. "No," he grumbled, "I'm busy."

A soft snort came from Mirage's quarter. "Doing what, pray tell?"


"Ah. A noble pursuit."

"You would know."

"And once again," came the silky, sardonic tone, "touche."

Sensing a losing battle, Sideswipe wisely shut the slag up, and settled in to sulk till morning.

FIELD OPERATOR: 117-BBX-Windjammer [Blaster]

ARK OPERATOR: 392-CST-Pinch-Hitter [Eject]

ENCODER: 710-LEO-Thundercat [Steeljaw]


274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: Non-routine update. Ghostrider has confirmed suspicions regarding extra enemy activities. Enemy has finished mine, but has also added decoy mine. Ghostrider has scouted the area, and confirms that this is the reason for all extra construction. There is no further threat at this time.

001-BFT-Big-Eighteen [Optimus Prime]: Understood. Whitecastle thought as much. This confirms his suspicions as well. Tell Ghostrider to complete Phase Two, and report back to field base for evacuation procedures.

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: Affirmative. Phase Two complete already; all systems in place. Evacuation procedures nearly completed. Only standing by for Ghostrider to return before extraction from the area.

001-BFT-Big-Eighteen [Optimus Prime]: Understood. On Ghostrider's return, complete evacuation.

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: Understood.

001-BFT-Big-Eighteen [Optimus Prime]: Oh, and Redrocket?

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: Yes?

001-BFT-Big-Eighteen [Optimus Prime]: I'll be seeing you soon.

274-LMG-Redrocket [Sideswipe]: Uh...yes, um...


"Beautiful. Lovely. Perfect. Sublime." Sideswipe kicked at an oak, and then swore viciously as it failed to give way. Hopping about on one foot, he glared at Blaster as the communications officer stowed his gear. "Got any other adjectives?"

"Rosy?" Blaster put in, most unhelpfully, then shrugged in a helpless sort of way. They both knew deep down Sideswipe was screwed. Really, actually, fabulously screwed. "He's gonna kill you."

"Yes." Sideswipe stopped hopping. "He's going to murder me, and then Ratchet is going to perform one of his miracles of resuscitation, so he can murder me. They've both gone completely insane."

"Yeah," Blaster allowed, as he scrubbed a hand over his helmet, "they're pretty riled this time, no joke. Suppose you an' Sunny ought to go AWOL a while?"

"Oh, no, not this time," Sideswipe shook his head, then uttered a deep sigh. "I think Mirage is right this time. Better to just get it over with."

Blaster offered a bit of a sorrowful look. "Yeah, you know I think you're --"

But whatever Blaster thought, Sideswipe didn't let him finish. Something registered with him, something wrong, and at once he wrenched Blaster's arm around, forcing him into silence. Frozen amid the trees, the pair stared at one another, while one, then two seconds passed. And then at once a screech tore through the air, and all hell broke loose.

"Missiles!" Sideswipe snarled, and hurled Blaster with him down the hill, rolling into a ravine just below the crown, and cowering there as a rain of sod and branches came pelting down after them.

"Wh--?" Blaster fumbled, then grunted as Sideswipe forced him down again. Overhead, three jets streaked by, and unleashed another volley of missiles. With a terrible sound, the ground below them heaved and lurched as a missile hit home, loosening part of the hillside. But the ravine held fast, and after another volley of near-misses, Sideswipe realized that the jets weren't aiming for him and Blaster at all. They were aiming for the camp. And for his brother.

Sadly for him, it seemed that Blaster had followed Sideswipe's train of thought almost as quickly as Sideswipe himself had, and even as the warrior shoved himself to his feet, Blaster lunged and tackled him to the ground. There, they fought an almost soundless battle, Blaster's hand over Sideswipe's mouth, Sideswipe struggling for all he was worth to join the battle, to get to Sunstreaker.

But then just as quickly as the madness had started, it was done. The thundering of jets and artillery died down, and the yelling started. There came the sound of a brief hand-to-hand fight, the sound of Swoop screeching terribly -- whether or in pain or rage, Sideswipe didn't know -- and then it all quickly died away. A deep silence followed, and a thick feeling in the air, like something sinister had been left behind.

"Wh --" Sideswipe tried to say, but Blaster clamped his hand down even harder over Sideswipe's mouth, glaring with intent. Finally, his battle instincts subsiding into reason, Sideswipe offered a tiny nod, and Blaster withdrew his hand.

Holding a finger to his mouth, he gestured again for quiet, his optics fervent, and Sideswipe nodded again. Soundwave, Blaster signed, using the Autobots' unique form of sign language.

Again Sideswipe nodded, and slowly, noiselessly sat up to face the other Autobot. Looking around, he could that see the ravine they were in was had all but caved in under an avalanche of uprooted trees. There was a way out toward the east, a tight squeeze, but it was something, and at least they'd been protected within their earthy cocoon. Sitting still a moment, he waited for the birds to begin chattering again, but they remained strangely silent. Turning back to Blaster, he splayed his hands. Well? What now?

Blaster frowned, optics narrowed lightly as he turned his attention inward, scanning the airwaves. At length, he nodded to himself, as if some suspicion had been confirmed.

Yup. Soundwave. And I'm being jammed, of course.


Well, that is kinda the problem with having Sunstreaker captured. They're looking for you now.

Oh, come on, we're not always together. Blaster gave Sideswipe a flat look, and Sideswipe rolled his optics. Fine, have it your way. They've got Sunstreaker, and they know I'm out here. Suppose they know about you and your tapes?

Probably. Blaster smiled. But not about Steeljaw and Eject.

Sideswipe raised a metal brow. What do you mean, Steeljaw and Eject? They've been running the comms Arkside this whole time.

Blaster grinned. No, they haven't. Trick of the airwaves, my fine red friend. Something Jazz and I cooked up. It's been him on the comms this whole time. Jaw and 'Ject have been here, laying low in case we need backup.

Sideswipe smirked. These special ops guys were handy from time to time, it seemed. So, he signed, the plan?

Blaster shrugged. Easy. But...unfortunate. It's what you'd definitely call a Plan B. Prowl gave me instructions in case we were discovered. Which we were definitely not supposed to do.

Sideswipe frowned, and figured he knew what was coming. We blow the mine then?

Sky high.

Damn. So this whole camp-out was for nothing.


So what now?

Well, Blaster took another look around, checking for movement, then signed, Here's the deal. They captured the guys, but because they got Sunstreaker, they've got a pretty good notion you're around too, so they'll have left Soundwave here in case you come back, not to mention a few scouts out looking for you. They also know we've been doing a fine job of encoding our transmissions (and here, he paused to bask in his own delusions of grandeur for a moment, which only made Sideswipe scowl afresh) so they probably know I'm around too, plus or minus a few of my guys.

So you and I slip out of here, all quiet-like, Sideswipe signed, set some charges, and while the mine's going boom, rescue our pals.

Exactly. Ject and Jaw already have a cache of explosives, and have been lying low in case of Plan B.

And how will they know?

Oh, by now, they know, Blaster replied.

And who's gonna give them setup instructions for blowing the mine? Sideswipe asked. Without knowing the terrain, I haven't been able to plot a demo scheme.

Well, in case we're captured, we can't meet up with them, Blaster answered reasonably. Easier for them to stay hidden than us, and they'll just have to wing it with setting up the charges.

Wing it? Sideswipe signed back, all shades of aggravated. You can't just 'wing' a demo setup, slaggit. Set the charges wrong, and you frag the whole...

He trailed off, hands paused mid-air, as the lightbulb came on. Frag the demo setup. Frag...the demo setup. That was it. That was...genius. Pure, slagging genius. In a flurry of hand movements, he began signing again, optics alight.

I've got it! I know how to get back in Prime's good graces! I know! I know! I finally figured it out! I --

Blaster cut him off with a wave of irritation. You think this is really the time for that?

No! I mean, yes! Listen to me, I'm a slagging genius.

Blaster gave him a flat look, but with a gesture, consented to hear him out.

Listen, if Plan B was to blow the mine, we go ahead with it. But instead of doing it right, we frag the job just enough to leave the mine intact.

Blaster stared. And this is going to get you out of hot

No, hear me out. Mirage just found out about the decoy mine, right?

Yes, and...? But then Blaster saw it, and his optics lit up as a smile spread across his face. Frag...the job.

Yes! Exactly. Sideswipe signed even more quickly now. We blow the decoy mine, leaving the real mine intact. But we do just a good enough job to make the Cons think that WE think we blew the real mine.

So the Cons will think that the Autobots think that the mine is destroyed. And they'll continue processing energon as if nothing happened.

And if Mirage's surveillance and siphon systems are in place...

Which they are...

Then the Autobots will go ahead with drawing off a percentage just like Prowl planned. Sideswipe sat back, triumphant. And Prime will have to thank me instead of killing me.

Except...that doesn't explain how we rescue the guys.

Right. Hadn't gotten that far yet.

Blaster frowned. Well, you better get there soon, because Soundwave is looking for us as we speak. We can't sit here all day, and soon as we move, he'll know where we are. If we want to blow the mine, we'll have to set it up on the quick.

Damn. Soon as we move, we're busted, right?

Right. Blaster nodded a bit ruefully. He's nearby. I can tell. Which means...Now Blaster trailed off thoughtfully, before saying, I think Eject and Steeljaw are going to have to blow the thing themselves. The more I think about it...we're going to get captured as soon as we move.

Speak for yourself.

No, we are, pal. Trust me. I don't think we're gonna make it to the demo site. Ject and Jaw are gonna have to do this on their own. And you and I, here he really frowned, are gonna have to get ourselves captured. In fact, we're gonna have to make a nice little circus of it if we want to buy them enough time to set up the explosives.

Well...damn. Sideswipe couldn't think of much else to say. He hated getting captured. Messy interrogations and all that. But the more he thought about it, the more he knew Blaster was right. They were not only going to have to get captured, they were somehow going to have to buy enough time for Eject and Steeljaw to set the charges, and on top of that, they were going to have to think of a way to get everyone the hell out of there once the thing blew.

Sighing, he sat a minute, listening to the eerie silence. Walking into capture willingly was definitely not high on his list of Fun Things to Do. But he couldn't really see any other way, and at last resigning himself, signed, So how do we get instructions to your guys? They might do too good a job. Or hell, they might blow the real mine instead of the decoy.

Blaster smirked. You under-estimate my Jedi-like powers of communication.

Sideswipe rolled his optics. Fine then, Master Blaster, what's your plan?

Simple. I leave a datachip with instructions here for Steeljaw to find. At that, he dropped something, so small it looked like a dust mote. Wafting down on the breeze, it fell among the dead leaves, where it disappeared into the ravine floor. Sideswipe didn't even have to ask; he knew Steeljaw could easily smell out their position and find the chip. The lion could sniff out a needle in a haystack.

So that leaves us... get captured, and buy time, Blaster finished.

Sideswipe sighed. Well, I guess it's the best we can hope for. Wish I could come up with a better get-everyone-out-before-the-mine-blows plan.

Oh well. Blaster shrugged. Guess we'll have to wing it.

Wing it, indeed.

Blaster turned out to be right about the Decepticons taking Sideswipe's probable presence fairly seriously. He supposed, upon reflection later, that they must have been concerned about the possibility of Sideswipe blowing the mine, and considering Sideswipe's rather appreciable expertise in demolitions (piledriving wasn't his only destructive skill after all), he didn't exactly blame them.

He did, however, wish he'd put up a rather better fight before going down like a big a ponce. But you can't have everything in life, or so he mused as he was being dragged away by his jeering captors.

They'd barely made it out of the ravine and halfway down the hillside when they'd been ambushed by Soundwave and his merry band of philistines. Transforming from what seemed like nowhere, Soundwave unleashed Ravage, Lasorbeak, Buzzsaw, Rumble, and Frenzy at once, and though Blaster ejected Rewind and Ramhorn in response, it was pretty much over before it started. They'd been caught by surprise, plain and simple, and no matter how Sideswipe would have liked to say he'd given them what for before the end, it was pretty safe to say he and Blaster just plain got their asses kicked.

So much for buying time.

But at least the Decepticons seemed intent on keeping up pretenses, and as Sideswipe, Blaster, and the tapes were shepherded down a narrow, wooded track, it was toward what Mirage said was the decoy site, and not toward the real mine. Of course, any optimism Sideswipe felt was quickly squashed when the Decepticon camp came into view, and as they caught sight of what lay before them, he and Blaster shared a brief look of misery.

It looked like a Decepticon party was in full swing, and the Autobots had been the punching bags of honor. It was obvious the enemy had been having a bit of fun at the Autobots' expense, and as Blaster and Sideswipe were shoved into the clearing, he could see that the interrogations had been under way for some time. Mirage looked like hell, energon oozing out of at least two gashes, and was being propped up more than detained by one of the Constructicons. Swoop was struggling against a group of jets, who were busy baiting and hitting him, three holding him down while the others smashed their fists over and over into the poor Dinobot's face. Hound and Trailbreaker weren't faring much better, but worst of all, Sunstreaker had been forced by Motormaster to his knees in front of Megatron's fusion canon, where he glared as he waited for the inevitable.

Upon seeing Sideswipe, however, Sunstreaker's face fell, even as Megatron's bloomed with delight. "Ah," the Decepticon commander drew back slightly, at the sight of the newcomers a smile lighting his features in a way that made Sideswipe's systems run cold, "it seems that the incentive has decided to arrive. Bring him here."

It didn't take a genius to figure out who the 'incentive' was, and as Sideswipe was dragged roughly to Megatron, he knew they were pretty well sunk. All it took was a fusion cannon jammed up against Sideswipe's head, and Sunstreaker would tell them anything.

"Come here, incentive," Megatron jerked Sideswipe over to him, and forced him rather painfully to his knees, so he knelt facing his brother. "Now," Megatron said, and rather sounding like he was enjoying this sport, "it seems to me that you said your dear brother was back at the Ark. Isn't that right?"

The other Decepticons gathered around, dragging their Autobot captives with them. Kneeling just a few feet away, Sunstreaker was staring at Sideswipe in a horrified kind of way that told Sideswipe and everyone else that whatever information he gave next would be the absolute truth. Sunstreaker would say anything to keep Megatron from pulling that trigger, and everyone knew it.

But Sideswipe wasn't done in just yet, and as Megatron waited (with some apparent relish) for Sunstreaker's reply, Sideswipe blurted in a rush, "Tell 'em we meant to blow the mine."

Sunstreaker didn't blink, or even indicate that he'd registered what Sideswipe said, though his optics were fixed on his brother now.

"What was that?" Megatron gave Sideswipe a violent shake, jarring him, and when Sideswipe didn't immediately answer, he looked to Soundwave.

For a moment, Soundwave stood still, faceplate impassive. Then he said (with the tiniest note of annoyance in his tone), "Unknown. Unable to translate."

To their credit, Sideswipe and Sunstreaker both kept straight a straight face. In fact, none of the Autobots so much as shifted an optic to indicate that they'd heard anything amiss, though every one of them knew exactly what Sideswipe had done. He and Sunstreaker had invented a language between them eons ago, and no one had ever been able to crack it, mostly since they constantly changed the structure. Over the centuries, even Soundwave had had a go on several occasions, but to this day he still couldn't translate, a fact which obviously damaged the Decepticon linguist's professional pride.

But that was nothing compared with Megatron's annoyance. He gave Sideswipe another violent shake, and once more jammed the cannon painfully up against the warrior's head. Leaning rather menacingly toward Sunstreaker, he asked again, voice low and threatening, "What. Did. He. Say?"

"He said," Sunstreaker answered quickly, still fixed on Sideswipe, obviously believing that Megatron would shoot, "don't tell them anything."

"Don't tell them anything."


"That's...all." Megatron sounded highly dubious, which even under the best of circumstances was never a good thing.

"Yes, yes," Sunstreaker hurried to say, "that's all. He just said not to tell you anything."

"Then why," Megatron asked, clearly far from buying it, "didn't he say it in plain English?"

"Becau--" Sunstreaker blinked, looked from Sideswipe to Megatron, and met the Decepticon Commander's optics for the first time, his own face rather honestly mystified. "I -- well -- why do any of us bother to speak English?"

"Because --" Megatron started, then stopped, then let off an exasperated snarl, rather like a tiger being baited. Once again he shook Sideswipe, this time just to vent his frustration, and Sideswipe thought he felt something jiggle loose inside. Megatron had a mean grip. At last, the Decepicon snarled, "What aren't you supposed to tell me?"

"He --" Sunstreaker hesitated, staring at Sideswipe again, face unreadable, "We..." He uttered a sharp sigh, then said in a rush, "We're here to blow the mine. Took us till yesterday to find you, and Sideswipe and Blaster were up on the hill when you found us, transmitting a report to Prime."

"And what, exactly, was in this report to Prime?" Megatron's fingers dug in, and Sideswipe winced as he felt his metal armor buckle just a bit.

"Just that we were all gonna set the charges," Sunstreaker replied, "soon as Prime gave us the green light."

"And exactly who," Megatron asked, his tone cooling again, "is 'us'?"

Sunstreaker hesitated. He'd obviously been asked this once before, and upon Sideswipe's and Blaster's arrival, been proved to be lying. He obviously didn't expect Megatron to believe him now that he'd been caught out, but he answered quickly, rattling off the list of names, "Just us. Me, Sideswipe, Mirage, Swoop, Trailbreaker, Hound, and Blaster. Dunno," he tacked on, probably because Megatron still had his fusion cannon still jammed against the side of Sideswipe's head, "dunno if Blaster has any of his guys."

At that, Megatron looked to Soundwave, who nodded. "Two Autobot tapes confirmed and taken prisoner."

"And the others?" Megatron demanded.

By way of reply, Soundwave, who had been keeping a wrenching grip on Blaster all this time, produced a probe, and stuck it into one of Blaster's shoulder ports. Immediately Blaster went into a sort of freeze, his face contorted in what looked like pain, though he didn't make a sound. His tape port opened, but it revealed nothing more than the two tapes already being held down by Rumble and Frenzy.

"Nothing," Soundwave confirmed, though he didn't withdraw the probe.

"Then they're around here somewhere." Turning back to Sunstreaker, Megatron loomed over Sideswipe's shoulder, all but cramming the business end of his fusion cannon into Sidewipe's cranial unit. He demanded, "Where are they?"

Sunstreaker rapidly shook his head. "Not here. They've been at the Ark, no, really." His optics flew wide as Megatron made a move to shoot. "Check the logs. They've been operating the comms back at headquarters."

"They have," Sideswipe confirmed, speaking up for the first time, this time in perfectly plain English.

Megatron jerked his chin in Soundwave's direction, and once more the Decepticon communications officer accessed Blaster's systems. This time, Blaster's head jerked in spasms, as though he were resisting something, but at length, there came a garbled sound, and Soundwave raised his head, nodding. "Location confirmed. Autobots Steeljaw and Eject last broadcasted from the Ark this morning. Playback of last transmission commencing."

There came another garbled noise, then a static-filled hiss, and then the sound of Prime's voice spilled out of Blaster's speakers

Oh, and Redrocket?


I'll be seeing you soon.

There was a click, and Soundwave said, "The rest will take more time to decode."

But Megatron seemed slightly mollified, or at least the pressure against Sideswipe's helmet eased up a bit. "So this is all of you then."

"Yes," Sunstreaker answered, nodding for emphasis.

"And you were going to blow up my nicely hidden mine."

Sunstreaker sighed. "Yes. Those were our orders."

"And have the charges been placed?"

At that, Sideswipe offered an elaborate sigh, effectively cutting Sunstreaker off. "No -- " he paused for effect, and he could tell Megatron was buying it, " -- we were all captured before we could set the charges."

Something in Megatron seemed to relax a little -- if only a very little -- and Sideswipe hoped he was buying Eject and Rewind enough time. It was a big job, setting up that much explosive, and he figured that even doing a rush job, they'd only be about halfway done by now. But outside of getting his head blown off, there wasn't much else he could think to do, other than what he'd already accomplished. It wasn't much, but it seemed at least he'd managed to convince Megatron that there were no more Autobots in the area. And, he'd managed to stop Sunstreaker from divulging that they knew about the true mine. So as far as the Decepticons knew, the Autobots thought they were all grouped around the real entrance.

Which would be great, if they could just figure out how to get out of this fix alive. Too bad Sideswipe hadn't had time to think up the 'get rescued' part of his plan.

Sadly for all Autobots involved, Megatron seemed to quickly come to a conclusion about what to do next. "Well, at least I get to keep my mine," he mused, with heavy tones of mock-relief. "But on the other hand, the secrecy of the location is out, as I assume Prime knows right where we are." No one answered, since the question was rather rhetorical. "Which I find...irritating."

The last word ended in a dangerous tone, and Sideswipe shared a look with Sunstreaker. Around them, some of the Decepticons started snickering among themselves, sensing that their leader's mood had changed from anger to retribution. And retribution was always such fun to watch.

"Well," Starscream spoke up from the other side of the crowd, apparently sensing that it was safe now to put in his two bits, "I say we just blow the lot of them to the Inferno. They've caused us enough trouble."

"And as usual, Starscream," Megatron sneered, "you display a complete lack of panache. Of course we won't blow them up. We're going to decapitate them one by one, and send their heads to Prime as a gift for wrecking my good mood. And we'll start," he took a good grip of Sideswipe's' head, "with you."

Sunstreaker made a convulsive movement, but Motormaster held him fast, and it was just as well, because Sideswipe had just enough time to blurt out, "Well, you'll make Prime's day, you know."

Mid-wrench, Megatron paused. He seemed to consider whether Sideswipe was just buying time, or telling the truth, but something about the overheard transmission seemed to click, and he relaxed his grip. "Yes," he said at last, letting the word roll out like pipe smoke, "he did sound rather put out in that last transmission of yours. Tell me," he said, canting his head so he looked directly down into Sideswipe's face, "are you, by any chance, 'Redrocket'?"

"Uh, yeah, that's me" Sideswipe answered. His neck bent awkwardly back, he explained, "Prime's actually threatened to have my head off soon as I get back to the Ark, so you'd really just be doing him a favor."

Megatron narrowed his optics. "Is that so."

"Yeah, actually...that's -- that's true," Trailbreaker spoke up, from where Bonecrusher held him in a painful grip. "He, uh, and his brother were sorta...banished from the Ark. Prowl's just sent 'em out on this mission know, save 'em. From Prime."

"And Ratchet," Swoop put in with a soft whistle. "Not forget him Ratchet. Him real mad."

"Oh really," Megatron looked back down between Sideswipe and Sunstreaker, gauging them with narrowed optics. "And why, pray tell, were you banished from your commander's presence?"

"Oh, well, because, uh..." Sideswipe looked at Sunstreaker, who shrugged slightly, his expression a wary mixture of embarrassment and chagrin. Neither he nor Sideswipe were particularly proud of what they'd done, after all.

"Because he stabbed Optimus Prime in the back," Mirage finished almost boredly, and Megatron reacted with such surprise that he actually lowered his weapon.

"What?" he barked, pulling Sideswipe around to face him. Still on his knees, Sideswipe looked up at the Decepticon commander, brows knitted at the stunned look on Megatron's face. "You did what?"

Well, he'd wanted to buy time, right? A little reluctant, he answered, "I, uh...stabbed...Optimus Prime. In the back."

"In the back, no less." Megatron seemed almost impressed.

"At, uh, high velocity," Sideswipe confirmed, though he grimaced a little at having to. "I threw a knife. Hit him in the back."

"On purpose?"

"No," Sideswipe shook his head, then amended, "Well, not on purpose at Prime. I was aiming at Sunstreaker."

"At Sunstreaker." Megatron flicked a glance toward Sideswipe's brother, who shrugged again, seemingly helpless to contribute.

"Yeah," Sideswipe nodded, "it's a game we play."

Megatron offered a smirk, apparently amused. "You play a game, with the intent of killing your brother."

"No," Sideswipe answered. "It's hard to explain. It's like a game of reflexes."


"We each throw a knife, and the other one catches it," Sideswipe tried to explain. "At the same time. It's...well, sometimes we miss."

"And hit Prime. In the back." Very slowly, Megatron's smirk spread into something of a beatific smile. "You know, I always wondered why you two weren't Decepticons."

Now it was Sideswipe's turn to smirk and shrug, though ruefully. "Yeah, well, if Prime's still looking for blood, we may be looking for new jobs."

At that, Megatron laughed, but whatever he was about to say was drown out by Starscream's sneer. "Oh, likely story," the jet spoke up. "You really think he'd stab his sainted leader in the back?"

"Quiet, Starscream," Megatron snarled, "this Autobot's just done more for the Decepticon cause than you've done in the last hundred cycles." Sideswipe wasn't sure whether or not to take offense at that. But as his head was still attached to his body, he wasn't given to being picky.

Starscream wasn't so easily put down. "Oh, right, like you believe his story. Like anyone can catch and throw a knife at the same time."

"Well, just because you're incompetent doesn't mean everyone else is," Megatron snapped.

"Fine," Starscream huffed, and though Sideswipe couldn't see him from where he knelt, he was sure the jet was posturing like mad, "think what you want. Only an idiot would buy a story like that."

"Starscream..." Megatron warned.

"Like he'd stab his precious Prime in the back," Starscream rolled on, apparently in his usual tetchy mood. "Kissed his feet, more like. I bet that bag of scrap couldn't hit a target at five paces, much less catch and throw a knife at the same time."

"Is that so?" Megatron retorted, thoroughly piqued, and rising predictably to Starscream's bait. With a jerk, Sideswipe found himself hauled to his feet, his shackles wrenched off of his wrists, and a knife pressed into his hand. "I guess we'll find out, won't we?"

The same was done for Sunstreaker, and a circle cleared, as everyone drew back to watch. Bizarrely, everyone holding Autobot captives shoved them in front, so while the Autobots had the best view, they also acted as shields should the brothers miss. Sideswipe stood dumbly for a moment, a little boggled at this turn of events, but before he could even think to take advantage of the situation, Megatron took up a position directly behind Hound, and the cannon pressed to the back of Hound's head was message enough. One wrong move, and Hound was finished.

"Well?" Megatron prompted them, when neither he nor Sunstreaker had moved. "Show us how this game is played."

Standing opposite one another, Sideswipe and Sunstreaker still shared a rather stunned look at being suddenly free and armed. But there was no mistaking the fact that both of them liked Hound's head better when still actually attached to his body, so with a silent look, they both came to a swift agreement: they'd be best to just give the demonstration, and hope for some other way out of this mess.

Giving his blade an expert flip, Sideswipe began to slowly circle opposite Sunstreaker. Testing the heft of the weapon, he asked, "You ready?"

Sunstreaker looked a bit shaky on his feet, what with having been likely given a thorough thrashing by Motormaster. But he wasn't Sunstreaker for nothing, and he looked game enough. "Any time you are."

But before they could start, Starscream's jeering voice spoke up from somewhere safety behind Swoop, "Oh, this is ridiculous," he moaned. "Those two couldn't hit the broad side of a Constucticon, much less actually catch a throwing knife. They have the finesse of a Sharkticon."

"Shut your guzzler, Starscream," Megatron snarled, to which Starscream replied with the beginnings of what would have been a lengthy whine if the twins hadn't chosen just that moment to throw.

In a flash of electric gold, it was over. Sunstreaker's toss was off, but Sideswipe managed to just catch it at the edge of his fingers. For a moment, the brilliant afterglow of the blades' trajectory hung like a fragment of lightening suspended, and then the ring around them let out a collective breath.

"Woah," Rumble spoke up from behind Rewind, "how'd you do that? Do it again."

"Yeah, do that again," Thundercracker chimed in.

With another silent glance between them, the Autobot brother's shrugged, readied, and threw. This time Sunstreaker's throw was true, and each caught his blade with a movement almost too quick to see.

This time, there was a bizarre chorus of "Ooooooohs" from around the Decepticon circle, and if the situation hadn't been so dire, Sideswipe might have laughed. But considering that Megatron's cannon was still aimed at Hound's head, he thought better of it and kept a straight face.

Now even Megatron seemed interested. "Do that again."

Still circling slowly, the brothers simply set, and threw. Lightening arced again as the energy blades passed in mid-air, and with luck, each made his catch for the third time. As much as Sideswipe hated to admit it, they didn't always catch the blade (as evidenced by that rather unfortunate incident with Prime), but any miss now would probably mean hitting an Autobot, and he doubted the Decepticons would be as obliging as Ratchet had been about repairs.


They set, threw, and caught, this time to a fairly enthusiastic round of applause. Even Starscream sounded stymied. "How are you doing that?" he asked, sounding interested despite himself.

"Yes, how indeed?" Megatron's optics were narrowed with intent. He'd even lowered his cannon a bit -- not much, but now it hovered somewhere near Hound's shoulder, instead of his head.

"Well," Sideswipe explained, quickly taking the lead in case Sunstreaker decided to say something surly (not much of a diplomat, that one), "we've sort of practiced at this a while. A long while, actually. It's just sort of a wrist flick. Like this." He demonstrated a phantom throw, slowly. "Except, instead of following through, you wait a fraction, like this," again he demonstrated, "and catch."

Megatron frowned, clearly intrigued. "Autobot, you impress me. I have half a mind to make a Decepticon out of the both of you."

Sideswipe considered the extreme unlikeliness of that ever happening, but he didn't feel that this was exactly the right time to say so.

Clearly entertained now, optics narrowed and a small smile starting to creep into his features, Megatron ordered, "Do it again."

Setting himself opposite Sunstreaker again, and wondering just how much longer Eject and Steeljaw would need to set off the explosives, Sideswipe prepared to throw. And then three things happened at once.

There came a brilliant flash, followed by a deep KABOOM from the mine. Almost simultaneously, and probably warned by the flash before the shock wave came through, Trailbreaker threw up his forcefield, covering only the inner ring of Autobots and Megatron, who he happened to catch by accident. Forgetting Hound, Megatron whirled in the same instant to look at the blast, exposing his back to Sideswipe, and at just that moment, in that one, shimmering chance, inspiration struck.

Sideswipe threw. And the results were spectacular.

Outside the forcefield, the Decepticons rolled on the ground, some damaged, some getting shakily to their feet after the blast. Decoy mine half-caved in, rubble strewn about the area, the place looked like a war zone. But it was nothing compared to Megatron.

Jerking in spasms and jamming Sideswipe's energy blade further into his back with every tremor, he writhed on the ground, optics fritzing as he performed an uncanny and sadly quite hilarious impression of Prime's fit six weeks prior. Now wheezing with laughter, it was all Sideswipe could do to haul himself over to the enraged, incapacitated Decepticon commander and wrest his fusion cannon away from his arm. Affixing it to his own arm, he took stock of the situation.

"I think that's our cue, boys," he grinned at the other Autobots, who grinned back as Sunstreaker cut their bonds.

"Y-y-you...kk-kil-ll y-yyou-uu," Megatron stuttered, as he thrashed uncontrollably near Sideswipe's feet.

To which Sideswipe answered nicely, "And now you know how Prime feels about me."

Of course, the Decepticons were recovering rapidly on the other side of Trailbreaker's field, and it was unquestionably time to go.

"Cut the chat, Side," Sunstreaker snapped, as he wrenched pried off Trailbreaker's shackles with his knife, "and cut Swoop loose."

"What, with this?" Sideswipe gestured with Megatron's cannon. "Or maybe you'd like me to take the knife out of his back and use that."

"Oh, Primus, more bickering," Mirage moaned to himself as he rubbed his wrists.

"Think you can dive, Mirage?" Hound asked, as Sunstreaker cut him free. On the ground, Megatron still snarled unintelligibly.

"I think so," Mirage nodded, and transformed to prove the point.

"Good," Trailbreaker transformed as well, at once taking command. "All of you except Sideswipe and Swoop, stay under the forcefield and we'll drive outta here. Sideswipe, Swoop --"

"Oh, us know what to do," Swoop grinned with relish. Sunstreaker finished cutting him loose, and the Dinobot didn't even bother to rub his wrists before transforming into pterodactyl mode.

Sideswipe grinned and hefted the cannon. "I shoot, you fly?"

Turning so Sideswipe could climb onto his back, Swoop whistled, and said, "Just hang on tight. Us do fancy flying stuff."

"Fine," Trailbreaker said, in all sorts of a hurry to be gone. "We drive, you cover us. Got it, Swoop?"

To which Swoop replied with an audio-shattering screech. "RAWK, us plow the way!"

As far as 'winging it' went, their impromptu escape plan worked out startlingly well. They swiftly left Megatron behind, frothing and screaming in rage, a fact which Sideswipe was sure had put him considerably higher on Megatron's 'To Kill With Death' list. Cute knife tricks notwithstanding, it was a pretty safe bet that Megatron wasn't so impressed with Sideswipe now.

Or, well, maybe he was. But he sure as hell wasn't laughing about it.

Eject and Steeljaw had done their job well. They'd done enough damage to make it look like they'd blown up the mine, but they'd reserved about half of the explosives for the purpose of aiming at the gathering of Decepticons, most of whom now lay groaning in the rubble. There were a few, of course who weren't hit so hard, but the sight of Swoop rocketing about like an angry, screeching, cannon-fire-spouting dragon was enough to keep them from following the Autobots as they raced down the service road, and made like hell's bells for the state line. It was fun, actually, whipping about like some kind of prehistoric space cowboy, firing madly away while Swoop screamed with that special Dinobot brand of joy, and though he probably wouldn't ever admit it openly, Sideswipe privately held that ride on Swoop's back as the best fun he'd had in as long as he could remember.

After a rendezvous with Eject and Steeljaw, and looking happily worse for wear, the Autobot troupe finally arrived in Ohio, where they caught a ride with Skyfire back to base. Once there, Sideswipe and Sunstreaker both became a bit anxious, wondering if perhaps it was best that they so blithely waltz back into the Ark. But Sideswipe did come bearing a gift, and he was hoping that if Megatron's captured cannon wouldn't pacify Prime, that at least the brothers could use it to cover their escape.

Prime, upon seeing the lot of them, regarded them rather beadily. "Well?" he asked as they gathered around Teletran, and by his tone, Sideswipe knew that Prime's 'well' really meant, 'And just how deep am I going to have to bury Sideswipe for fragging this up?"

For his part, Sideswipe chose to remain safely hidden behind the cannon.

"No, it's all right, Prime," Trailbreaker explained. "We worked it out. Original plan's still a go."

"How is that possible?" Beside Prime, Prowl frowned and crossed his arms. "You were discovered."

Trailbreaker grimaced. "Yeah, uh..."

"...sorry about that," Mirage piped up with a rueful half-smile. "That was my fault. I had just covered up the last of the surveillance lines, and got careless. Soundwave spotted me."

A look of concern bloomed over Prowl's features. "Do they know about --"

"No," Mirage cut him off with a shake of his head. "The fuel taps and surveillance systems were all successfully hidden. Even Soundwave won't find those -- I had instructions from Blaster."

Prime crossed his arms. "So they captured you..."

"...and tracked down our camp, yes," Mirage nodded.

"Which they carpet-bombed," Hound finished. "We were done-for before they'd come around for the second pass. If it hadn't been for Blaster and Sideswipe being on the hilltop sending a report to you, they'd have captured us all. Well, except for Eject and Steeljaw."

Prime waited for more, still far from looking amused.

"So," Blaster picked up the thread, "Side an' I knew we had to get these dudes rescued, fast, on top of taking care of Plan B. 'Cept Side had an idea --"

"Oh. Do. Tell." Optics flat, Prime looked as though he just couldn't wait to hear what Sideswipe's idea had been.

Blaster held up both hands. "No, no, it was good, Prime, trust me. Way he figured it, we needed to keep Plan A, mostly on account of all the work we'd put in, not to mention the luck we'd had in findin' the Cons' site an' all..."

Prime looked as though his patience was wearing thin. "Yes, I'm aware of the merits of the original plan, versus blowing the place up. Get to the point."

"Yes, well, Sideswipe thought," Blaster explained, and here Sideswipe began to wish that everyone would stop mentioning his name, since the glances he was getting from Optimus Prime weren't exactly friendly, "instead of blowing the place, we'd just make it look like we blew the place. You know the decoy mine they had? We blew that mostly to bits, and so now the Cons think that we think the place is scrapped. You dig?"

"Wait," Prowl put in, optics lighting up a bit, "so you're saying you somehow managed to convince the Decepticons that we believe the site to be destroyed?"

"Yeah, man," Blaster replied, handing a datapad to Prowl. "But see for yourself. Surveillance is workin' like a charm, and they already been processing energon. We're drawin' off a good fourteen percent without them even knowin' it. 'Fact, they think they're in the clear now."

Looking a little bewildered, Prowl stared down at the datapad for a moment as he scrolled through the report. "This the real mine is still intact."

"Yeah, man," Blaster shrugged. "Mine's still intact, and even though we were discovered, the Cons think we ain't comin' back. Why would we, when we blew it up?"

"So somehow," Prime narrowed his optics, staring at Sideswipe now, "you managed to fake blowing up the mine, while at the same time rescuing the other Autobots."

"Well, no," Sideswipe corrected his leader, and shrank even further behind the fusion cannon. He wasn't out of the woods yet, not by a long shot (no pun intended). "Eject and Steeljaw did that."

A metallic purr sounded from near Blaster's feet, while Eject and Steeljaw looked decidedly pleased with themselves. Sideswipe made a mental note to do something nice for them later -- maybe slip them some high-grade, or some freebies on the Autobot black market. They'd certainly earned it.

Prime offered Sideswipe a slow blink. "So...if Eject and Steeljaw did all the work, what exactly did you do?"

"Well..." he glanced at Blaster.

"We sorta got captured," Blaster finished. "Like, right away."

"And then what happened?"

"Well, we had to buy time for my guys, you know, give 'em a chance to set things up," Blaster explained. "So, we, uh..." He trailed off, looking helplessly around as though hoping someone else would take over from here. To his left, Swoop uttered a little squawk of amusement, but was otherwise silent.

"Well?" Prime was still staring at Sideswipe. In fact, everyone stared at Sideswipe. Sunstreaker even went so far as to take a half of a step away from ground zero. The jerk face.

Sensing no other option, Sideswipe simply launched into an explanation, mostly to just get it over with. "Well...see, the thing is, Prime, Megatron was pretty pissed. Real pissed. In fact, he was about to rip my head off -- literally, I mean actually, really rip my head off -- and I had to say something. I would have wanted him to..."

He trailed off at the sight of Prime's flat expression. Maybe he should have let Megatron rip his head off after all. "And...?" Prime asked, when Sideswipe didn't continue.

"Oh, yeah, so, uh, I kind of told him ripping my head off would make your day. Which I see by your face that it would have, so at least I wasn't lying, heh." He finished the last part with a weak grin, but thus far, it seemed that Prime wasn't amused. "So, he asked me why you wanted my head ripped off, and so I told him I, you know..."

Again, slowly, Prime blinked. "No. I don't know."

"Well," Sideswipe shrugged, all but hugging the cannon now, which seemed but a thin bit of flimsy metal between him and the bulky commander, "I sort of told him that I stabbed you in the back. Which he thought was, you know...funny."

"Indeed." Prime looked precisely as though he did not find this news to be funny. At all. In fact, the commander looked like he was thinking of sending Sideswipe's head to Megatron in a gift basket.

"So, um, he asked me how I stabbed you," Sideswipe explained further, "and so I told him about the knife-tossing game, and then he and Starscream started arguing, and...well, ultimately Megatron wanted to see the game for himself. So, they let me and Sunny loose, and gave us knives --"

"And you fought your way out of the situation?" Prowl looked seriously impressed.

"Well, no," Sideswipe admitted. "We just sort of showed him how to play the game." Prowl looked somewhat less impressed.

"Megatron did have his fusion cannon to my head at the time," Hound put in most helpfully. "If they'd made a move, I wouldn't be here."

"Fine," Prime growled, and turned back to Sideswipe. "So Megatron had a good laugh at my expense, and you played your sodding little game. How in Primus' name did you all get out of there, and how the hell did you get that cannon?"

"Well, see, that's the good part," Blaster spoke up, apparently willing to take over now that he'd chickened out of telling the bad news. "See, by then, Side and Sunny'd bought enough time for my guys to set up the explosives. When they went off, Trailbreaker here threw up his forcefield just in time, and got us Autobots under cover. Well, us 'an he accidentally shielded Megatron too. But Sideswipe took care of him." The last part, he said with a grin. "When Megatron wasn't lookin, ol' Side here stabbed him in the back."

At that, Swoop let off another whistling screech, and grinned from audio to audio. "Him Megatron, he real mad now, RAWK!"

"You..." Prime's optics took on a hint of a gleam. "...what?"

"I threw the knife," Sideswipe answered. "Hard as I could. Hit him square in the back."

Swoop snorted. "Him Megatron drop like rock. Kickin' chicken all over." The Dinobot added another snorting laugh, and even Sideswipe felt the corners of his mouth twitching.

"Wait, let me get this straight." Prime sat up straighter, mirth threatening to spill across his features. "You stabbed Megatron. In the back. And he went into convulsions."


"Sideswipe," Prime leaned forward, amusement slowly beginning to bloom, "you may have the makings of a new career."

"Yes, 'Backstabbing Bastard'," Mirage put in drily, "has a real ring to it."

Everyone sort of snorted at that, and even Prime looked as though he were starting to smile behind the mask. But as Sideswipe wasn't sure yet just how much of Prime's good graces he'd earned back, he decided to remain silent.

"Well," Prowl noted, when the snickering subsided, "that still doesn't explain how you got away, or how you got that cannon."

"Easy," Trailbreaker shrugged. "While Megs was floppin' around on the ground, Side saw fit to divest him of his cannon, and while the rest of us scatted on outta there under my forcefield, Side an' Swoop covered us from the air. Cons were too out of it to chase us much, and the ones that did..."

"...well," Blaster finished with a grin, "let's just say the term 'Cannon-Fire-Breathing Pterodactyl Terror' is now and forever lodged in the Cons' memory banks."

Even Prowl was half-smiling now, and uttered a sort of snorting laugh. "So you rode the Dinobot cowboy-style, and shot up the Decepticons while Megatron lay helpless to do anything about it."

"Like fish in barrel," Swoop grinned, and whistled, obviously pleased with himself. He'd had quite a bit of fun, himself.

A moment of silence descended, while Prowl and Prime digested the whole story. But before Prime could come to any conclusions just yet, Sideswipe darted forward with Megatron's cannon, and handed it gingerly (though admittedly with some reluctance) to his commander. "See? Got you a souvenir and everything, heh," he grinned, then stepped hastily back, not sure if this was overkill or not.

For another moment, Prime regarded him beadily, then said, "So this impromptu plan was your idea."


"And you stabbed Megatron in the back."


"And stole his cannon."

Sideswipe nodded.

"And used it against the Decepticons while covering the Autobot escape."

"Yes. Well, and Swoop helped." Sideswipe forced himself not to take a step backwards. Prime could be quick when he wanted to be, big guy or not.

Musing, Prime stared at him for a full minute. But then, beautifully, blessedly, a smile began to creep once more across his face. "You know, Sideswipe," he said at length, "I'm of half a mind not to kill you."

"Yeah, that would be my preference," Sideswipe said before he could help himself.

"Then if I were you," Prime said, considering the warrior before him as he absently turned Megatron's cannon over in his hands, "I'd go find First Aid, and get yourself patched up. You and Sunstreaker both. In fact, go now."

It was clear that Prime was in no way ready to suffer Sideswipe's or Sunstreaker's presence just yet, but it seemed that he was at least entertaining the notion of letting them live. For now. "Yes, sir," Sideswipe was quick comply, and grabbing Sunstreaker's arm, made a beeline for the exit. Once there, however, a horrifying thought occurred to him. "Uh, Prime?" he paused, while Sunstreaker edged past him and toward freedom.

"Yes?" Prime's tone, somewhat less than murderous, was not exactly filled yet with anything resembling fondness.

"What about, uh, Ratchet?" Sideswipe winced. "You know, is he...?"

"He's under no restraining order from me," Prime answered almost airily. "So if I were you?"


Behind the mask, Prime smiled. "I'd hide."

"Well, that should do it," First Aid patted his shoulder as he finished the last of Sideswipe's repairs. Both himself and his brother back to their original colors, not to mention back in perfect working order, and Sideswipe hopped off the med table to offer First Aid his thanks.

"Don't mention it," the Protectobot offered with a smile. "In fact, I'd say it's probably a safe bet you better come see me with any medical issues from now until...well, maybe from now on. That is, unless Ratchet has a change of heart."

"Oh, us change Ratchet heart," came a deep, growling voice from the entry to Protectobot Bay, and looking up, Sideswipe saw Grimlock leaning there, arms crossed, one leg propped over the other. "In fact, us maybe rearrange Ratchet heart."

"Uh, no, Grimlock," First Aid shook his head, "that won't really do, actually. He's the best medic we have, and --"

"Us Dinobots not care best medic," Grimlock put in ominously. "Swoop say," and here, he regarded Sideswipe and Sunstreaker, "you, Sunstreaker, and you, Sideswipe, nice to Swoop on camping trip. Play card game. Do cowboy thing."

Sure, if calling the poor Dinobot a forty-watt bat qualified as 'nice'. But hell, if Grimlock was going with it, Sideswipe was, too (besides, all the name-calling was Sunstreaker's doing). "Swoop did a great job out there," he said enthusiastically, half because it was true, and half because he had enough people trying to clobber him right now, and if Grimlock felt like being charitable, Sideswipe wasn't about to stop him.

"Hmm." Grimlock grunted, a noise which Sideswipe took to possibly mean 'thank you'. "Well, you nice to Swoop, then us, Dinobots, be nice to you."

"Well, gee thanks, Grimlock," Sideswipe answered a bit dubiously, and wondering what a Dinobots idea of being 'nice' was, exactly.

"Me, Grimlock, tell you what." Grimlock straightened, both hands on his hips now. "You, Sideswipe, have any problems with him, Ratchet, you come see us Dinobots. You understand?"

"Oh, perfectly, yes. That's nice of you, Grimlock." Sideswipe nodded, a small inkling of hope rising in his chest. Maybe some Dinobot backup wouldn't be so bad after all.

"In fact," Grimlock added, "me think me, Grimlock, go down to see Ratchet now. Explain new...arrangement to him."

"Oh, wow, thanks, Grimlock," Sideswipe's optics widened slightly, and he wondered whether explaining this 'arrangement' would have anything to do with rearranging any of Ratchet's anatomy.

"You not mention it," Grimlock waved him off, as he transformed into his Tyrannosaurus Rex mode. "Cuz when Grimlock done, Ratchet not mention it either. Ever. Again. A-heh...heh heh heh..." And with that, he lumbered on down the hall, his low, ominous laugh following him all the way down to Medical.

"Well, that would be my cue," First Aid sighed, as he packed up his medical kit.

"Where are you going?" Sunstreaker frowned.

"Need you ask?" First Aid waved them off, as he followed Grimlock's path (though going slowly enough to allow plenty of room between them). "You do want to actually keep Ratchet, right?" Then with a long suffering look, he too disappeared down the hall, presumably to pick up whatever pieces of Ratchet Grimlock felt like leaving.

And then, finally, it was just the two of them.

"Well, that went well," Sunstreaker finally commented with a shrug.

"Very," Sideswipe grinned, quite suddenly pleased with himself.

Down the hall, they could hear a distant crash, followed by a bellowing voice that could belong to no one but a Dinobot. In fact, there were a few bellowing voices, and Sideswipe wondered if Ratchet might not have bitten off more than he could chew this time. There was a loud, fiery whoosh, and a roar of anger, and both Sideswipe and Sunstreaker glanced at each other in no small amount of glee.

"Oooh, he brought Slag with him." Sideswipe's grin widened.

"Good ol' Grimlock," Sunstreaker matched his grin. "He might just sort this out for us."

"You know?" Sideswipe turned fully to face his brother, seized by inspiration. "We should go buy Swoop a present."

"Yes," Sunstreaker agreed. "And by 'go', you mean..."

"...somewhere that's not here," Sideswipe finished.

"Then let's get moving." Without hesitation, Sunstreaker transformed and revved his engines. "Wanna go to Portland?"

"Or maybe London. At this point," Sideswipe transformed, revving his engines to match, "I'm not picky."

"Me neither," Sunstreaker replied, and shooting out the door of the bay, they made their bid for freedom, fully alive, and loving every second of it.

A/N: The idea of Swoop as a medic came from someone else's fic, many years ago. I can't remember who originally wrote Swoop as having field medic skills, but the idea has been floating the fandom for a while, and it wasn't originally mine. I think it's a fun idea though. :) Added: Thanks to Jason M. Lee for pointing out that it was Nightwind's "Vigil" that had Swoop as a junior medic for the first time. I'd link her story here, but this site doesn't allow link dropping. You can find it on fanfiction dot net though -- just use the search function.

A/N 2: Thank you so much to the people who let me know about formatting issues!! I had a terrible time uploading this story, as the site kept messing things up as far as formatting. So it should be fixed now, and thanks again! :)