A/N: Thank you to my beta, redfox_12, and to _wilderness_ and Bittereloquence for looking this over for me at various points. The nickname 'Stumpy' is cheerily stolen from dunmurderin, (kepulver here on FFnet,) who is awesome. If you haven't read their Combaticon stuff, go do so!

x-xxx-x

"So. You're Swindle."

Swindle looked up sharply, optics hardening at the tone. "Yeah?"

The missile truck watched him from behind his visor and facemask. "Hardly an auspicious name," he noted.

Something in his manner made Swindle bristle. "Hey, I ain't done nothing to be suspicious about!" he protested, deliberately misunderstanding. So this jumped-up slag-hauler wanted to lord it over him? Fine! He was so incredibly sick of getting sneered at and brushed off by arrogant slag-heaps who couldn't tell their aft from their engine block. Ever since he'd joined the Decepticons, it had been one commander after another, all ignoring his skills and experience out of contempt for his background and lack of size. No matter how many times he tried to show that his skills were an asset, he was ignored, kicked around, and dumped off on another commander the first time an opportunity presented itself.

They thought he was a two-bit con mech. Fine. They'd get a two-bit con mech. It wasn't like he could get dumped much further; from what he'd seen, this entire unit was made up of the screw-ups no one else wanted. So he'd play along, and when the chance came up, he'd screw this half-witted glitch over so bad that he'd be left wondering what the frag happened.

His new commander looked him up and down – mostly down – critically, clearly just about as happy to be assigned here as Swindle was. "I'm sure," he said finally. "I am Onslaught. Come with me." And with that, he turned sharply on his heel and stalked back into the run-down barracks his team had been assigned.

Swindle grumbled to himself and followed, stepping around the mech sprawled just inside.

"That's Offset," Onslaught said boredly, indicating the armored mech. "And the jet over there," he nodded to a bunk occupied by another lounging mech, "Is Vertigo. Everyone, this is Swindle." Introductions made, Onslaught walked over to the computer console and sat down, bringing up the files he'd been reading when he'd been interrupted by Swindle's arrival.

Swindle looked around. Offset sneered back at him, and the jet ignored him entirely.

Yeah. This'll be just tons of fun.

With nothing better to do, Swindle wandered over to Onslaught, peering around his shoulder. Personnel files? Swindle frowned, not recognizing the name. "So, boss, what do we do now?"

Onslaught spared him an annoyed look. "Nothing, for the moment." He relented when Swindle crossed his arms and glared. "We're picking up our fifth after second shift. After that, we should be receiving our orders for deployment."

"Yeah?" Swindle edged closer. "That him?" he asked, nodding to the screen.

"Yes, it is." To Swindle's surprise, Onslaught shifted over to let him read. "His name is Vortex. Interrogation specialist."

"Huh. So what'd he do to end up with this group of screw ups?" Swindle ignored the irritated look Onslaught shot him and the low growl coming from the jet. "Got to be something big. They only let the smart ones go in for interrogation."

His new commander bristled. "You'll have plenty of opportunity to ask him yourself. You're accompanying me to retrieve him."

"Retrieve?" Swindle repeated dubiously. "Why can't he fly himself over?"

Onslaught paused, obviously trying to muster patience. When he spoke, his voice was deliberately calm. "Because he's in the brig. We're going to go get him, and bring him back here."

The condescending tone made Swindle's fists clench. It doesn't do any good to get angry, he reminded himself. Calm down. Use your processor and wait for the opportunity to bury his arrogant aft.

x-x-x

"So you're the poor slaggers who get the nutjob," the soldier manning the desk in the detention block said with more sadistic amusement than sympathy.

Onslaught glared at him coldly. "I presume the documents are in order?" he prompted, tone warning the mech to drop it.

While he wasn't the brightest mech to roll off the assembly line, the soldier wasn't suicidal, either. "Er... yeah. Follow me." He led the way into the brig, stopping at the guard station. "Sir, they're here to pick up the prisoner in 12b."

The duty officer looked up, distracted. "Right. Almost forgot he was being transferred today."

"Good riddance, if you ask me," the soldier muttered.

"I didn't." With that, the officer motioned down the corridor. "12b is this way."

Swindle lagged behind as Onslaught followed the officer. "So, what did you mean by 'nutjob' earlier?"

The soldier looked down at him, sneering slightly. "The fragging chopper's wired backwards is what I meant, pipsqueak."

It took every ounce of self-control to not pull his gun and shoot the arrogant idiot right there. "How is he crazy," Swindle clarified. "If I'm going to be stuck in a barracks with him, I wanna know before I get there."

The other mech snorted, but relented. "Fragger's got a screw loose around his processor or something. Always pulling the stupidest slag, and he doesn't even bother to pretend it wasn't him pulling it."

Swindle frowned. "What's he in here for?"

"Being the most annoying fragger on Cybertron? I still haven't figured out why they haven't shot the cross-wired freak."

"What do you mean?" Swindle prompted. He'd found that most people needed just a little encouragement before they'd gleefully tell you all about how stupid or wrong someone else was. And he'd been telling the truth – if he had to be in close quarters with a lunatic, he wanted to know ahead of time.

"Stupid slag. Constant stupid slag. I swear, if there's something disruptive and idiotic that he hasn't pulled, it's because he hasn't gotten to it yet. Sodium capsules in the wash racks, unscrewing the brushes on the cleaning drones, slag like that. Stupid stuff. Once, he somehow managed to get into one of the instructors accounts and rearranged every single trainee score, and then deleted and burned the backups. And the fragger never even bothers to try to hide that it's him doing it."

It was quickly becoming clear why Onslaught's merry band of screw-ups was getting the helicopter. "So, what did they do about it?"

The guard snorted. "Do? Work details, menial labor, frag, we beat the slag out of the guy. He just gets up, sorts himself out, does the work, and on the way back to the barracks, dumps caltrops across the road for the trucks to run over. So they dumped him in here until they could find someone to foist him off on." His smile was nasty. "Your lucky day. Personally, I think they're getting soft. They should have just put a shot through his central processor, and if you ask my advice, you'll do it before you get out of the cell block."

"Thankfully, I did not." Onslaught glared at the soldier from the doorway. "Stop lagging," he told Swindle flatly, leading him back to where the officer was waiting in front of a cell.

The cell's occupant seemed content to ignore them, sprawled on the floor next to the berth, staring up at the ceiling. The helicopter didn't even look over when the officer deactivated the bars.

Onslaught regarded him in silence for a long moment. "I am Onslaught, your new commanding officer. You will come with me, and you will behave yourself, or I will shoot you. Understood?"

"Oh, drat. And here I thought you were a delivery drone, here to bring me my order of model paints," Vortex said flippantly, still not bothering to take his optics off the ceiling.

The slight change in Onslaught's posture was enough to set off alarms in Swindle's processor. He fought the urge to sidle away from the suddenly volatile truck.

"You will either get up and come quietly, or I will haul you out by your rotors, Vortex," Onslaught told him, voice low and tightly controlled, showing only the slightest hint of a growl.

"... So, this means no welcoming party, then?" Vortex made no effort to move. "I was hoping for streamers."

Onslaught's engine growled.

x-x-x

"You always this suicidally nuts?" Swindle muttered to his newest teammate, leaning against the side of the transport. Onslaught had shoved Vortex into a seat and stalked off, leaving Swindle to fend for himself.

"You always this short?" Vortex shot back, crossing his arms.

"Well excuse me for trying to make fragging small talk," Swindle snarled, sitting as far away from the helicopter as he could and pulling out a datapad.

For what felt like a long time, the only sound was the growl of the transport's engines and the skriiiitch of Vortex's rotor blades as he shifted, trying to find a comfortable position.

"You know, I didn't think he'd actually do it," Vortex commented finally.

"Do what?" Swindle asked grudgingly.

"Drag me out of there by my rotors." He gave up on finding a comfortable position and just leaned forward, leaning his forearms on his legs. "Also, whoever designed these seats did not take into account the possibility of helicopters needing to sit in them."

"That'd be because it's a retrofitted Autobot transport," Swindle pointed out, going back to his datapad. "You can tell by the seat configurations."

"Actually, I could tell because it runs on a turbine-based propulsion system, instead of anti-grav. Turbines whine more." With that observation made, the helicopter propped his chin in his hand and stared off into space.

"What, no jokes about how I'm short enough to be comfortable in an Autobot seat?" Swindle demanded after a moment of silence.

Vortex's visor blinked in what could either be laughter or surprise, Swindle couldn't tell. He was having trouble reading the chopper, and it irritated him. "I already made a crack about your size. Repeating myself is boring. And repetitive. Now I'm on cracks about your paintjob, then we'll probably move on to cracks about your intelligence." Vortex paused. "Or I might have to dwell on your paintjob for a while. Really, purple and gold?"

Swindle stared at him, getting the feeling that the helicopter was grinning at him behind the mask.

Vortex waggled his rotors.

He couldn't help it – Swindle snorted and laughed. "You're a nutcase, you know that?"

"Am not," Vortex protested mildly. "I merely rearrange reality to suit my needs, Stumpy."

"Call me that again, and I'll gut you," Swindle responded with his most charming smile. "And that's kinda the definition of being a nutjob."

"Maybe you should start at the knee joints instead. They're a little more in your height range, and have the added bonus of bringing people down to your level."

Swindle glared. "You said you were done with the short jokes."

"I was, but if you're going to keep calling me crazy, I'm going to keep calling you short, Stumpy." Swindle could practically see the smirk, battlemask or no.

"Fragger." Swindle slouched in his seat and stewed.

Vortex snickered.

It was going to be a long flight back to base.

x-x-x

"Fragging Pit-damned SLAGGER!" Vertigo stormed out of the barracks, wings twitching in fury. "You!" he snarled, spotting Swindle lounging in the shade of the building with a datapad. "Where did that fragger go?!"

"Target range," he answered, jerking his thumb in that direction, not even having to ask who Vertigo was yelling about.

Soon as the jet was out of sight, stomping towards the unsuspecting range, something scraped against the metal of the barracks roof. Vortex hopped to the ground, looking down at Swindle thoughtfully.

"What?" Swindle demanded finally, glaring up at him.

"Why did you tell him that I'm on the range?"

Swindle shrugged, going back to his datapad. "I always tell him you're on the range. Gets him to go shriek somewhere other than where I'm trying to work. Why do you always insist on harassing him into trying to kill you?"

Vortex shrugged, mimicking Swindle. "I was bored and it sounded like fun." He sidled closer, leaning over Swindle to try to read the datapad. "What are you doing?"

"You're still nuts."

"You're still short. Answer the question."

"No." Swindle shoved the looming mech away.

Vortex leaned back over him. "What is that, your social calendar?"

Glaring up at him, Swindle shut off the datapad. "Something like that."

"Anything interesting?" Vortex didn't seem inclined to take the hint to go away.

Frustrated, Swindle scowled. "Why don't you go bother Offset?"

"He threatened to shoot me if I woke him up again."

"I'm going to shoot you if you don't leave me alone," Swindle growled

Vortex paused, considering it. "No, it just doesn't have the same threat to it."

"That's it." Swindle subspaced the datapad and got up, stalking away. To is irritation, Vortex trailed along behind.

"Where are we going?"

"Do you ever shut up and go away?" Swindle demanded.

"No, not usually," Vortex responded cheerfully. "So you might as well give up and tell me where we're going."

"I'd like to know the same thing," a smooth voice interrupted.

"Ons!" Swindle pasted on a smile.

"Don't call me that, Swindle. Where are you going?" Onslaught wasn't in the mood to play games with his subordinates.

"We're going to town for party supplies, Ons," Vortex chirped.

"Party supplies," Onslaught repeated, disbelieving.

"Mm-hm." Vortex didn't elaborate, rotors spinning lazily.

Onslaught was no stranger to soldiers, or to what sort of trouble they got themselves into when allowed to roam loose. "I think not. Both of you are staying on base."

"Alright." Vortex ignored Swindle's glare. "So, what we doing, Ons?"

"Do not call me that," Onslaught ground out, starting for the barracks again. "Go find something productive to do. Spend a few cycles on the shooting range or something."

"Mm, not such a good idea, Ons," Vortex said with fake regret. "I have it on good authority that Vertigo's already there, and seeing as he's really unhappy with me, it'd be kinda stupid for me to go over there right now."

Onslaught stopped, turning back to face Vortex. "Explain."

"I replaced his hydraulic fluid with used motor oil, and he's less than appreciative," Vortex told him cheerfully without a hint of remorse.

Covering his face with his hand, Onslaught just sighed. "Very well. Swindle!"

Swindle jumped. He'd been slowly sidling away, hoping that Vortex would keep Onslaught's attention long enough for him to get out of the gate. "Yeah, Boss?"

"You two may leave. But I'm holding you responsible for any trouble that you or Vortex get into, Swindle."

Swindle stared. "But… You can't saddle me with this lunatic!"

"I can, and I have. Enjoy your trip." The smirk was evident in his voice as he turned and headed back toward the barracks, leaving Swindle to sputter.

"You're still not coming," Swindle growled when Onslaught was out of hearing range.

Vortex cocked his head in that particular way that Swindle was coming to associate with a grin. "That's alright, I can just go see if Vertigo's up to a nice chase through the command center, since you're being kind enough to be taking all the blame today."

Swindle growled. "Fine! You can come. Keep your mouth shut and your hands to yourself, alright?"

"Sure. Where we going?"

"Not here." Swindle started for the gates. "Just follow me, and don't do anything stupid."

They moved quickly out of the base, winding through the twisted back alleys of the city's underbelly. For the most part, Vortex seemed content to trail along behind Swindle, looking around at the scenery and people as they passed. Finally, with a quick glance up and down the street, Swindle ducked into a warehouse.

"You're late," growled a voice. A heavily armored figure detached itself from a stack of shipping crates, stalking across the warehouse floor with surprising grace. "Who's this?" he demanded, jerking his head at Vortex.

"I'm not, and none of your business, Mortar," Swindle said flatly. "You wanna deal, or not?"

Mortar glared at Vortex for a long moment. Vortex cocked his head and looked right back.

Turning away from the helicopter with one last suspicious look, Mortar nodded. "Fine. You bring the money?"

"You bring the goods?" Swindle shot back.

Mortor sneered. "Of course." He set small case on a crate, flipping it open for Swindle.

Swindle took his time examining the goods. Behind him, Vortex's rotors twitched boredly.

"Not up to your usual high standards, Mortor." Swindle snorted dismissively. "But since you're such a valued contact, I'll cut you some slack. Fifteen thousand."

It was Mortor's turn to snort. "They're worth three times that, and you know it. But since we have history, I'll cut you some slack. Twenty five."

Something about his voice raised alarms in the back of Swindle's mind. "How 'bout you meet me half-way, eh? Twenty."

Mortor hesitated, and the feeling of something out of place increased. "Fine," Mortor growled. "Twenty."

"Vortex, get ready. I hope you remembered your gun, because I don't think he intends on letting us walk out," Swindle radioed silently. Outwardly, he smiled, pulling out the credits. "Pleasure doing business with you, as always," he lied smoothly, picking up the box and replacing it with the credits. He casually switched the merchandise to his left arm, leaving his gun free. The sound of a quiet scuff of metal-on-floor confirmed his suspicions.

"Oh, believe me, the pleasure's all mine," Mortor gloated. He raised his voice. "Get them!"

Swindle spun even as the words were leaving Mortor's vocalizer. His first shot missed the lunging hireling, but it was enough to send the two behind them scrambling for cover. He heard the snap of Vortex's arm-mounted lasers as he dove behind a stack of crates.

"Forget the helicopter! Get the fragger with my merchandise!" Mortor bellowed at the cowering thugs.

"Boss, he's got a fragging artillery piece strapped to his arm!" one of them howled back.

Swindle couldn't see Vortex from where he was, but from the lack of shooting, the chopper had either fled the warehouse or taken cover himself. Fragger probably ran like a turbo-rabbit, he thought in disgust. He eased over to the edge of the crates. He could just make out the drums the hireling farthest from him was hiding behind... and the 'Caution' label on the side. Carefully, he lined up his cannon and fired.

The shot hit one of the drums dead center, and the group exploded with a deafening roar and a shriek of pain from the hireling behind, sending shrapnel flying and shaking the entire warehouse.

"Slag!" someone yelled. "Longview? Longview!"

Sorry, I don't think Longview's gonna be answering, Swindle thought with a smirk. Now, before they get themselves together...

He lunged out from behind his cover, opening fire on the speaker as he leaned out of his hiding spot to check on his friend. Swindle's shot burned a massive hole in his chest plate and neck, and he flopped, limp, to the ground.

Swindle didn't slow, diving for cover again. Where is Mortor? He'd killed the two who'd come up behind him, and he'd caught a glimpse of another body marked with laser-burns, but he couldn't see a thing of Mortor or Vortex.

"Got you!" crowed a voice from behind, and Swindle knew that his luck had run out. He twisted desperately, trying to roll out of the way of the blast he knew was coming...

There was a crack of a rifle, and Swindle flinched scrambling around a crate. It took him a second to realize that he had not, in fact, been shot.

He peered around the edge in time to see Vortex plant his foot on Mortor's gun-arm, and casually shoot the smuggler in the face.

It took all of Swindle's considerable willpower to not collapse in relief right there on the floor. Appearance is everything, he reminded himself, forcing himself to his feet. And whatever you do, don't act grateful. "Did you have to fragging shoot him in the face?" he snapped at Vortex, stalking over to the nearest body.

"Uh..." Vortex started.

The first body was definitely dead, but the second twitched. He didn't look like he'd be alive for long; most of his face and side were melted and the rest of his body was badly gashed from the shrapnel. Swindle shot him again, just to be sure.

"Do you have any idea how much information we could have got from him?" Swindle continued, fighting to keep the near hysterical after-battle giddiness out of his voice.

"Uh, Swindle?"

Ignoring the helicopter, Swindle gave the last body a kick. "Contacts, access codes, intel.... do you have any idea how much that stuff is worth?"

Vortex planted a fist on one hip and glared at Swindle's back. "Yo, Stumpy!"

The hated nickname did the trick. Swindle turned to glare at him. "What?"

"It's glue." Vortex pointed down at the immobilized but very much alive Mortor.

Swindle blinked. "...Oh."

Vortex snickered at him, turning his attention back to his prisoner. "What do you say we have a little talk, hm?" He crouched down, unspacing a scalpel. "Just you and me and maybe a few little toys..."

x-x-x

Onslaught took in the sight of his two subordinates and their assorted burns and scratches. They both beamed back at him innocently.

At least, Swindle beamed back at him. It was hard to read the helicopter's ever-present battlemask.

"Where have you two been?" Onslaught growled. "You were supposed to check in-"

"Oops," Vortex said, totally unrepentant.

"But don't worry, we're here now!" Swindle broke in cheerfully.

Patience, Onslaught reminded himself. Getting angry wouldn't help matters. "For the last time, where were you?"

"We told you. Party supplies." Vortex's rotors waved.

Onslaught growled. "I don't believe you."

Swindle and Vortex exchanged looks. "Alright," Swindle said finally in mock defeat. "We give up. We were really out looking for something that could cover that hideous paintjob of yours." He held up his hands. "Don't worry, we don't blame you for being colorblind... but teal just doesn't strike fear into the sparks of Autobots, y'know?"

Onslaught glared up at the sky and counted to ten. Twice.

When he trusted himself to look at them without trying to remove their heads with his bare hands, he turned back. "Get your afts over to the barracks and help ready our gear for deployment. We're shipping out in the morning."

Swindle and Vortex scrambled for the barracks, waiting just long enough to get out of Onslaught's hearing range before breaking out into slightly-hysterical laughter.

When he could talk again, Swindle grinned up at Vortex. "You know, you're not half-bad, for a total nutcase."

"Neither are you, for a half-sized smuggler," Vortex returned, mimicking Swindle's tone.

The mimicry earned him an almost-playful punch in the side.

"A little higher would be more efficient." Vortex pretended to consider. "Would you like me to get you a step ladder?"

"Oh, frag off," Swindle grumbled good-naturedly, still too giddy from the close call to take offense.

"Think they'll find Mortar before we skip planet?" Vortex asked after a moment, not sounding too concerned about the prospect.

"Nah." Swindle grinned. "Not with him scattered liberally around like that." He nudged Vortex. "You're pretty scary with a blade."

"Of course I am. It's my job." He looked up as one of the massive scrap-metal haulers lifted off, turning ponderously and heading for the recycling plant. "Have a nice ride, Mortar!"

"Or what's left of him, anyway," Swindle added with a grin, shading his optics. "Come on," he said, swatting Vortex. "We gotta get the gear packed up before Onslaught comes back and turns us to scrap."

x-x-x

"Forward units, hold position and wait for withdraw signal. Secondary units, begin fall back to..."

"Hold position?" Swindle yelped, ducking another barrage of Autobot laser fire. "Are they fraggin' insane?"

Vortex shoved the mangled corpse of Offset out of his way and scrambled over to Swindle on his hands and knees. "Never liked him anyway." He cocked his head at Swindle. "Guess there's at least one good thing about being short, eh?" he commented, giving their cover a significant look.

"Oh, frag off," Swindle grumbled back. "Hey, Ons! We're getting murdered here! What the frag are they doin' back there, touching up their paint?"

Onslaught didn't answer, quickly going back over the troop deployments and their new orders, suspicion cutting through his processor. It didn't make sense to leave the forward-most units in place while the relief moved back; it left open the possibility of the Autobots breaking through the line and cutting the forward units off from their reinforcements. Standard procedure was to have the forward troops fall back, then both they and the relief troops would retreat together. The sudden change made no sense... unless they didn't intend on the forward troops making it out at all.

"They're running," Onslaught growled. "We're just cannon fodder to slow the Autobots down enough that they can pack into the shuttles and flee."

"Frag that! I'm not getting killed for them!" Swindle glared over his shoulder in the direction of the Decepticon outpost. "I'm for us makin' a break for it early!"

"No," Onslaught said immediately. "A disorganized rout will just make us easy targets without the relief troops covering us. And that's if we aren't shot for disobeying orders soon as we arrive at the launch pad."

"So you want us to just sit here and let ourselves get killed?" Swindle demanded incredulously. "If you hadn't noticed, Ons, the Autobots ain't exactly friendly, and none of us are capable of breaking atmosphere!"

"I had noticed, actually," Onslaught said dryly. "Now quiet, I'm trying to think."

A shell exploded nearby, sending dirt raining down on them.

"Think faster!" Swindle squawked.

Onslaught didn't answer, frowning to himself. "Vortex!"

The helicopter lifted his head. "Yeah?" He ducked again as another shot went streaking over his head.

"The prisoners you saw! Who were they?"

"...What the frag does that matter?" Vortex demanded.

"Answer the question! Who did the Autobots take?" Onslaught snapped.

"Uh... Catchweight's team, couple others." Vortex squirmed down, trying to keep his rotors clear of incoming fire. "Why?"

"Didn't Catchweight have a shuttle with him?" Swindle asked. Realization dawned. "You're nuts, Ons."

"Big guy, even worse paint job than Ons? Yeah, he was with them," Vortex confirmed.

Onslaught nodded. "Pass the word. Get ready to move."

"We're retreating?" Vertigo asked hopefully. He would have already made a break for it if a lucky shot hadn't taken out his thrusters early on and grounded him.

"No," Onslaught corrected grimly. "We're attacking."

x-x-x

This is nuts, Swindle grumbled to himself. I can't believe we're actually going along with this.

Onslaught's prediction proved correct. The front ranks never had a chance – the roar of shuttles lifting off was first sign that they had of what Onslaught had suspected all along. Radian, the Decepticon commander, had never planned to even try to extract them. He'd used them as cover, and abandoned them to death or capture.

The line broke at the sight of the first shuttle lifting off, as the front-liners realized they'd been betrayed. The entire front dissolved into chaos, every mech trying to save himself, and hang everyone else.

Onslaught's team took advantage of the confusion, avoiding the Autobot squads and slipping through the cracks in their line as they chased after the fleeing Decepticons. Now they were crouched in the darkness outside the makeshift compound holding the captured Decepticon prisoners.

Swindle peered out of his hiding spot, searching the compound for any sign of the shuttle-former, hoping that he wasn't one of the prisoners being held inside for medical treatment. The entire plan counted on his being flight-capable. If he was badly injured, none of them would make it out. The compound was crowded – after the last of the shuttles broke atmosphere, many of the demoralized Decepticon foot troops had thrown down their weapons and surrendered. The Decepticon survivors had been rounded up and tossed in with the captives taken earlier in the fighting. When the sheer number of prisoners had outstripped the Autobot's number of restraints, the Autobots had merely disabled weaponry and anti-gravs and herded them into the compound.

Finally, Swindle spotted the mech he was looking for, hunched in the shadow of the makeshift guard tower. Heaving a sigh of relief, he startled slithering backwards, away from the Autobot compound.

"Found him," he told Onslaught as he slipped into the hollow. "They've got him cuffed, and inhibitors strapped on tight. Looks intact. Least, I couldn't see anything major, or any patches."

Onslaught grunted in acknowledgment. "Vertigo and I will provide the distraction. They'll be expecting someone to go after their ships, but not the prisoners. Soon as they come after us, Vortex, Swindle, you'll go after the shuttle. I assume that both of you have had plenty of experience with restraints and inhibitors?" His tone was wry.

"Me?" Swindle asked innocently. Vortex jabbed him in the side. Swindle shoved him back. "Yeah, yeah, we'll take care of it."

"Good. Let's move out." Onslaught turned away, leading Vertigo out of the hidden meeting spot and around the side of compound, moving with surprising stealth for a mech his size and bulk.

Swindle half-heartedly hoped he'd trip and land flat on his face.

"Come on already," he muttered to Vortex. "Let's get this suicidal slag over with."

Vortex snickered, following Swindle back to his lookout and flattening down next to him.

"Watch where you're sticking those rotors!" Swindle hissed, shoving a blade out of his face.

Vortex just waggled the rotors at him and settled in to wait.

They didn't have to wait long. Shouts rose from the other side of the base, Autobots running towards the commotion. Below them, prisoners looked up as the guards conferred, but no one moved. They outnumbered the guards, but no one was willing to be the first one to make a move, not when the guards were heavily armed and the prisoner who attacked first would most likely be shot down before he could reach his target.

Swindle frowned. The guards were paying more attention to the commotion than the surrounding area, but there was little chance of being able to slip a helicopter as large as Vortex past them unnoticed. He grimaced. Vortex was hardly what he'd call stealthy to begin with, and while Swindle's tan armor blended in, Vortex's gray wouldn't.

They needed a distraction. Motioning to Vortex to stay still, Swindle slipped up to the makeshift fence, checking to make sure that the guards were out of sight. "Psst!"

One of the prisoners lifted his head.

"Over here!" Swindle hissed. "No, don't look. Stay there and listen. You wanna get out of here?"

"Yeah." The prisoner shifted, trying to resist the urge to turn and look at Swindle. Around him, other prisoners were lifting their heads and listening.

"Good. We need you to go over to the other side of the yard and distract the guards so we can take them out."

"...A distraction?" the prisoner asked doubtfully.

Swindle tried not to sigh. Tanks. Slow on the ground, slower in the head. "Just go over there, and start yelling insults, alright?"

He stayed in place as the tank made his way through the crowd of prisoners, and waited until he could hear the booming voice of the tank.

"Hey! Hey you, Autotrash!"

Smirking to himself, Swindle leaned out enough to make sure the guards were looking the other way, then signaled to Vortex and moved along the fence.

"Sit down and shut up before I shoot you," one of the guards was threatening as they slipped into the guard tower's shadow.

Prisoners edged away from the tank, some spotting the two outside the fence and backing away from the coming firefight, and others just not wanting to get hit when the guards opened fire on the belligerent prisoner. The tank ignored all of them. "Why dontcha come down here and make me?"

A short anti-grav assisted hop, and the two Decepticons were in the guard tower.

"Look out!" One of the Autobots turned in time to lift his weapon, only to get Swindle's gyro-gun in the face. Disorientated, he stumbled back, falling over the railing to the compound below.

As a rule, Decepticons were concerned largely with their own well-being, but the prisoners knew opportunity when they saw it, making short work of the unfortunate Autobot. His two comrades joined him a second later, thoroughly glued and 'assisted' off the tower by Vortex.

"Anyone who wants a ride off this rock better be heading for the shuttles!" Swindle yelled, pointing in the direction of the commotion. The prisoners took the hint, everyone who wasn't cuffed and immobilized breaking and running for the other side of the compound. "Too easy," Swindle muttered to his partner, hopping over the railing.

"And what, exactly, are you supposed to be?" the shuttle demanded as Swindle approached.

"We're rescuing your aft, so I'd suggest bein' a bit more grateful," Swindle snapped back, getting to work removing the restraints.

"Hn." The shuttle looked unimpressed.

"So what's the plan now?" the tank rumbled behind Swindle.

Swindle blinked and turned, surprised that the prisoner had stuck around. "What the frag are you still doing here? You're supposed to be getting to the shuttles!"

"You're not," the tank pointed out. "I ain't a genius, but I ain't that stupid. The best way off this rock is gonna be right here with you lot, so that's where I'm stickin'."

"Well, looky there, a smart tank." Vortex laughed. "That's what I call novel."

"Shove it out your converters, both of you." Swindle unsnapped the inhibitors keeping the shuttle grounded. "Just shut up and move your afts!"

"I'm Brawl," the tank told them as they followed Swindle back out of the encampment.

"Blast Off," the shuttle said shortly.

"I'm Vortex, and this is my little friend, Stumpy," Vortex answered cheerfully.

"That's not my name, and if you call me that again, I'm going to shove my gyroblaster up your exhaust and pull the fraggin' trigger!" Swindle hissed. "The name is Swindle. Why is that so fraggin' hard to understand?"

"He's sensitive about his name," Vortex stage-whispered. "In denial, y'know?"

"And you're a fraggin' nutcase. Now shut it before you get us caught!"

"Why don't we just take off?" Brawl wondered. "We got the shuttle, they're distracted-"

"Because the Autobots have these little devices called guns," Swindle growled.

"Precisely," rumbled a voice. Onslaught stepped around an outcropping, looking the rag-tag group of Decepticons over. "Let's move."

"Hey, where's Vertigo?" Vortex asked, peering around the outcropping.

"Dead." Onslaught left it at that.

"Shame," Vortex said, not sounding all that upset about it. "So what's the plan now?"

"We get far enough from the base that the Autobots won't be able to scramble in time to shoot us out of the air when we take off. And then..."

"And then we teach Radian why he never should have crossed us," Swindle growled.

"Us?" Vortex asked curiously, mulling that over.

"Us," agreed Onslaught, a dangerous rumble that spoke of misfortune for anyone who dared get between them and their target.