Their mission had been a success, but Motormaster felt as though he had left something undone.
He had just left the commissary, where his team had collected their rations for the day, along with a little extra as a reward. The other Stunticons got their energon first and made for the door, where Breakdown said he had to see the Constructicons about a leaky fuel pump.
"Okay, get down to the common-room when you're done," Drag Strip said, but when Wildrider offered to go along to keep Breakdown company (and annoy Hook), he shoved into the head of the procession, with Dead End trailing in the rear. Motormaster snorted under his breath, retrieved his own energon and headed back to his quarters, which was when he had the impression something was incomplete.
He stopped in the corridor leading to the Stunticons' section of the ship, near their common-room, which was small but usually noisy when his teammates were around. With them gone, though, the place was quiet and gave him some time to think.
He had done everything he was supposed to do on the mission, and the energon shipment had been successfully hijacked. Megatron had told him they had done well. Motormaster checked his self-diagnostics but saw nothing out of the ordinary. Had he lost something he normally carried on him? No, his weapons were still in his subspace storage. He had been reading a datapad before the mission, but that materialized at once in his free hand.
Nothing missing there either, so what the frag is wrong?
Motormaster wasn't given to indulging anyone's worries, mostly because he had none. He didn't accommodate vague niggling suspicions or impressions, and if he felt any fear he would have put that down to Dirge being in the vicinity and would have radioed the little pointyhead to get out before someone decided to find out whether his nosecone could poke holes through his wings.
But he didn't feel any such thing now. He just thought something was missing – which didn't make sense after a successful mission. Frowning, he looked down at his hands: energon in one, datapad in the other.
Nothing's wrong. He could go back to his quarters, relax on his berth with the satisfaction of a job well done, have his energon and finish the account of the First Cybertronian War. Motormaster read a lot about Decepticon history and military tactics, mostly because he was so much younger than other section heads and team leaders. He had no intention of reminding anyone of that fact.
Though my team certainly might. Sometimes they act like they were created yesterday. The other Stunticons would have run riot through the ship if not for his presence, and even though his quarters were at the other end of the corridor he sometimes heard disgustingly human music played at top volume, or clanks and yells as his subordinates brawled happily.
I should get back to my room before they drive back here. I could be there now, enjoying the quiet, doing something productive… being alone.
He felt his optic ridges smooth themselves out in faint surprise. Was that it? He could order any of the other Stunticons into his berth at any time. And while he knew he sometimes gave them cause to… dislike… what happened there, this time it wouldn't be a punishment. It would be what he deserved for the success of their mission.
It would also be a lot easier to do if he felt at all turned on, which he didn't. He glared down at the datapad.
What was it, then? The fact that he was alone while his team went to the repair bay together, and planned to do something together in the common-room? Ridiculous. He didn't want to be a part of that. It was easier to command, control and intimidate mechs when he kept some distance from them, when they saw him as their boss rather than their drinking buddy.
No, he realized reluctantly, what bothered him was that they didn't want him around and never even entertained the possibility of his joining them. It was one thing to coolly and disdainfully refuse an offer to lower himself to their level. It was another thing never to be asked. Motormaster liked his solitude and privacy. What he didn't enjoy was feeling excluded, being reminded that he was a stranger within his own gestalt, not even wanted around after they had gone on a mission and won a skirmish together.
The perennial outsider, he thought and felt his faceplates tighten into a scowl. It was the kind of ten-credit phrase Dead End might have used.
Well, why should it be that way? he thought suddenly. I'm the head of this team, aren't I? I can do anything I like with my subordinates. Which was as it should be, but he wasn't quite sure what to do about that. He couldn't just demand to be included in whatever they were doing; that would be too revealing.
Plus, he had no idea what his teammates did in their spare time anyway, other than racing around the ship (which he couldn't do, being their leader), racing around on the surface (which he didn't do, being slower than they were in alt-mode) and watching television (which was a waste of time if he ever saw one).
The distant roar of high-performance engines reached his audials. Motormaster started, then spun on his heel and strode into the common room. He didn't quite know what he would do there, but it was better than standing in the corridor looking irresolute.
Inside the room, he paused and looked around. There was a table surrounded by chairs on one side of the room and a couch on the other, drawn up to a large-screen TV. The couch was huge, so Motormaster headed towards it as the growl of engines grew louder. He set his cube on the floor and sat down at one end of the couch, which sagged beneath his weight and creaked alarmingly.
Nice fragging start. He decided to stretch out on it instead; at least that would distribute his weight over the surface. Closer by now, he heard the screech of tires even over blaring music. He shifted, resting his head against the other end of the couch and lifting his legs up. That was actually comfortable, and he remembered to activate the datapad and held it up before his face as if reading.
He realized in the next moment that since he was lying on the couch, no one entering the room at high speed would see him until it was too late. Drag Strip all but catapulted through the door, transforming as he did so to land on the couch, which was evidently the finish line of their race. Motormaster had one glimpse of huge tires and yellow pedes coming down at his face.
He twisted aside just as Drag Strip yelled in shock and activated his thrusters. Scorching hot air washed over Motormaster but Drag Strip was airborne again at once, sailing over him to land just beyond the couch. There was a shriek of brakes at the door and the slide and clank of rapid transformation.
Motormaster sat up to see the rest of the team wedged in the doorway, staring in silent horror at the scenario. He turned slowly to look behind him.
Drag Strip straightened up, mouth half open. "I – I didn't see you," he said.
Motormaster waited a moment to scare him a little more. "Obviously," he said coldly. "You'd better not have blistered my paint."
Drag Strip swallowed visibly but didn't move otherwise; he looked as though he had been welded to the floor. There was a soft shuffling movement from the door and Motormaster glanced in that direction reflexively, but all he saw was Breakdown trying to hide behind Wildrider. The silence stretched out.
"Did you need something, Motormaster?" Dead End said finally.
Motormaster had no idea how to reply. He could always point out that it was his common-room too, and as their leader he had every right to be there, but that didn't really address the question. They all knew the only reason he had ever entered that room before was to find them, so they assumed that he was looking for them again. Well, that was all right, as long as they never thought he wanted their company. He swung his legs down to the floor, picked up his cube and finished half of it, taking his time.
"What do the lot of you usually do in here?" he said as he set the cube down again.
Drag Strip had been edging around the periphery of the room to rejoin the other Stunticons, but he turned into a statue again as Motormaster spoke. Everyone looked at Dead End.
He twitched one shoulder-wheel in a shrug. "Not that it makes any difference in the long drive, or even the short one, but we engage in pointless recreational activities."
Motormaster felt like asking if Dead End wanted to know what his idea of a recreational activity would be, but managed to restrain himself. Not only would that terrify the others further into silence, but Dead End would probably tell him to go ahead and do his worst, they were all going to die anyway.
"Breakdown!" he snapped. "What sort of recreational activities?"
"Um…" Breakdown peered out from around Wildrider. "We played polka once."
"It's a card game," Dead End said, and leaned against the doorframe as if he just couldn't muster up the energy to remain standing straight.
"I won," Drag Strip said, establishing the most important fact.
"Only 'cause you cheated," Wildrider told him. "That was a novelty deck 'cause it was big enough for Cybertronians, not 'cause it had two aces of clubs."
This is ridiculous, Motormaster thought, controlling an urge to shake his helm in frustration. Or better yet, to shake all his subordinates until their useless processors fell out of their heads. "And that's all you do?"
"Well, no." Breakdown seemed to be a little braver now that the rest of them were speaking too. "We watch movies too."
"You wanna see one?" Wildrider said brightly.
"No!" Motormaster rose, drawing himself up to his full height and making them all flinch back. He hadn't really expected better of his team, but what was he supposed to do now? They might be suspicious if he just walked out. "You just sit here staring at some kind of human entertainment? What a stupid waste of time."
Dead End nodded. "Now you know how I feel about… well, everything."
Wildrider gave him a little push. "Hey, c'mon! You said you liked our last gaming session!"
"You mean the one that ended in five minutes because there was an escaped prisoner alert?"
"Gaming session?" Motormaster searched his databanks to find out what that was and came up with nothing, though he had a feeling he would regret asking.
Wildrider nodded. "D&D. Decepticons and Deserters. We choose sides and play different parts."
That actually sounded less idiotic than he had expected, but Motormaster was careful not to show his relief. He folded his arms across his chest and let his optics narrow.
"So some of you pretend to be deserters?" he said softly.
"That would be Drag Strip," Dead End said, not without a touch of malice in his voice.
Drag Strip glared at him, and Motormaster thought that if looks could deactivate, there would have been some very shiny spare parts in the room. "It's just a game," he said defensively. "I play Starscream."
"Breakdown plays Megatron," Wildrider said, optics brightening. "Hey, boss, you could play Motormaster!"
Motormaster gave him a look that made him try to duck behind Breakdown, who promptly vanished around the corner of the doorframe. Though he thought this might actually be something in which he could participate as well. It didn't sound completely moronic, and if Megatron was ever to inquire into it – out of concern for the "Deserters" part – he could always explain it as a productive assignment for the team, a drill of sorts. Honing their skills for battle.
He certainly didn't mind his team getting more training in that regard, even if they felt some odd need to pretend to be other Decepticons. After all, when they practised in the training rooms, one of them sometimes played at being an Autobot and charged at the others. This seemed to be just a variation of that exercise.
And it'd be a change to see Breakdown do something other than cringe and squeal that someone's looking at him, he thought. Though Drag Strip as Starscream would be just as insufferable as always.
"Which training room do you use?" he said.
"Training room?" Drag Strip said.
"Something wrong with your audials? Yes, training room!"
"We play here." Dead End made a laconic gesture at the room in general.
Motormaster felt his optic ridges pull together until there seemed to be a knot between his optics. "What do you mean, you play here? There's no space."
"Sure there is!" Wildrider seemed to have recovered from his momentary nervousness. "The table's big enough."
"The table?" For a moment Motormaster thought there was something wrong with his audials. Was that Wildrider's usual craziness or had he misunderstood something?
Dead End finally bothered to straighten up. "Yes," he said, watching Motormaster closely, as they all did. "That's our gaming table. It's more or less adequate for our needs."
"See?" Wildrider bounced over to the table and fished out a box from under it. Motormaster watched with a sinking sensation, the same way he'd felt after he had first been activated and had sworn his loyalty to Megatron, only to be forced to listen as his teammates made various declarations of indifference, nervousness, vainglory and lunacy. Sand in his gas tank would have felt better.
Wildrider tipped the box over, letting out a cascade of junk. Motormaster saw toy cars, bits of colored tinfoil, polyhedrons with little spots on them and brightly patterned discs. He had a sudden fierce urge to smash the lot, and controlled it only with an effort. While he would be well within his rights to slag his subordinates for their stupidity, it wouldn't solve his other problem.
"Here's the floor plan." Wildrider unfolded a large piece of cardboard. "See, there's enough space on the table."
So it really was a game. Suddenly Motormaster felt infuriated – both at them and at himself, for being stupidly hopeful enough to think that his team actually spent their spare time in a training session of sorts. Oh no, that would be too productive for them, wouldn't it? Too much like work. No, they sit around playing with toys – and having the struts to pretend they're being higher-ranking Decepticons!
Does one of them pretend to be me as well?
"Um, boss?" Wildrider seemed to realize he had gone too far, because he started to scoop the junk back into the box while trying to keep both optics fixed on Motormaster. "Everything OK?"
Motormaster realized that his internal fans had switched on – little wonder, since he was fuming – and started to speak, when something fell out of Wildrider's hand and landed on the floor. He stared at it. It was a small toy cab, painted red and attached to a long grey trailer with a blue and white stripe along its side.
He didn't need to use the zoom function on his optics to see the red emblem on that trailer.
"What…" He barely recognized his own voice, it was so quiet. "What is that for?"
"I… uh, we…" Wildrider looked at the other Stunticons.
One of Breakdown's optics appeared around the edge of the doorframe. "It's a plop."
"Prop," Dead End corrected. "We were planning to use that in our next session."
Drag Strip had stepped back as far as he could and seemed to be trying to become one with the wall – which Motormaster would have been more than happy to help him out with – but he said, "Yeah, Prime's going to ally with me – I mean, with Starscream. Anything for the deserters, you know? Throw a wrench into Megatron's plans."
"Oh, is he?" Motormaster's engine growled as he looked back at Wildrider. "D'you have one that looks like me?"
"Uh…" Wildrider glanced at the others and there was a moment of tense silence.
Motormaster didn't need to tap into any of the Stunticon channels to know that they were jabbering about his question, and he also guessed what the answer would be. The toy had most likely been made by humans, who all adored the Autobots, so they didn't have a miniature of himself.
"Get one," he said grimly, engine rumbling. "Or make one. I don't care what you have to do, but when I join your next tactical practise session I want to see it. Understood?" He sneered down at the red cab. "I'll run that over like the piece of slag it is."
"Tactical practise." Drag Strip tilted his head to one side. "I like the sound of that."
"Gotcha, boss," Wildrider said, so Motormaster fixed them all with a final cold stare before he stalked out and ordered Breakdown to send him a schedule of future sessions. Breakdown nodded and hurried back inside.
Motormaster stomped his pedes a few times on the floor outside the common-room and away from the door, just enough that they would think he was walking back to his quarters. Then, with his engine already dropping back to a quiet idle, he paused and listened.
"Well done, Wildrider." Dead End sounded even more morose than usual. "He'll slag us all if he loses."
"Nah, he'll be fine," Wildrider said. "And look, I'll put some energon crystals in little Prime's trailer. That way, when the boss rams him, he'll get a treat."
There was a quiet chuckle that Motormaster realized in a moment was Breakdown; he had never heard Breakdown laugh before. "Like that party thing," he said. "A peanut."
"Pinata," Dead End corrected.
"Sounds dumb to me," Drag Strip said. "Wasting energon on him."
Oh, I'm going to take a lot of pleasure in slagging you – I mean, slagging Starscream as well, Motormaster thought. He was contemplating going back in and starting the slagging right then, when he heard Wildrider say, "You ever noticed that your left ankle-tire is bigger than the right one?"
There was just enough of a pause for him to imagine Drag Strip looking down at his pedes. "No, it's not!"
Motormaster grinned to himself and went back to his quarters.
Author's note : Thanks to peacewish for contributing the title, and to everyone who read and enjoyed "Fun and Games". :)