For all those of you who decided that "The Rules, by Starscream" was the hotsy-totsy because Starscream got laid (repeatedly) in it, that doesn't happen here, not to anybody. This is an adventure story. That's all. Not even any cuddles happen until almost the very end. (Although, as the twins are involved, there may be more than cuddles. But we don't get to watch.)
The situations and characters established in "The Transformers" are not mine, and this is not for profit.
It was not going well for the Autobots.
Not at all. They fought on level ground in front of one of the Decepticons' fuel stations, a fine fat prize to take and hold … but the first part of that strategy was falling apart.
"Level ground" was also deceptive. The 'cons outnumbered them two to one, at minimum.
The Intel must have been fragged for this mission, Sunstreaker thought, as he struggled against Motormaster. He could see his brother, surrounded by Insecticons, to his left, and Siders didn't seem to be having any better a time than he was; the smaller robots were steadily climbing his tall frame, their sheer numbers making his greater strength a mockery.
As for his own battle, while Sunny was built and programmed for combat, Motormaster was much larger and stronger. Sunny could bring his famous personality to the mix, but Motormaster had the edge in simple viciousness. Sunstreaker had more speed and more skill, but at close quarters (Motormaster had him grasped to his own chestplate) they weren't going to be enough.
Motormaster landed another damaging blow. Sunstreaker felt an arm strut give. Motormaster plucked him up by the damaged arm, and proceeded to pound the snot out of him.
Autobots don't produce snot. Sunny, flailing (which did the broken strut no good at all) and aiming kicks that didn't do more than dent Motormaster's chestplate, was in trouble.
He was, through the thunder of blows and the miasma of pain, a little surprised that his brother wasn't coming to his aid. But Air Raid, in fact all of the Aerialbots, came down out of the sky, and saved his skidplate: the Aerialbot's torque rifle sheared Motormaster's left leg at the hip, and the other mech released Sunny, who plummeted to the ground and shattered the broken arm strut, before falling himself.
Air Raid was off again, taking down another 'con. Fireflight, Slingshot, and Silverbolt targeted Starscream, who quit the battle with a comm full of swears, while Skydive lived up to his name by stooping on Barrage, and leaving him in a limp and crumpled heap.
Sunstreaker put two rounds into Motormaster, who crawled away dragging his own leg behind him, and then the darkness came to get the yellow twin.
Sunstreaker woke up in med bay, hurting a bit from new welds here and there. Fine; he'd been in this place, both physical and psychological, often enough before.
The twin bond was … odd. Not silent, but it was as if Siders was … not himself, somehow.
Ratchet loomed into view. "Sunstreaker! How do you feel?"
"Like slag. Do you need to ask?"
"No." The big medic did some rapid checks of things Sunstreaker was used to, and then, annoyingly, flicked lights into each eye, out, then back again. "So are you dizzy, or hearing voices?"
"Slag, no. What the Pit happened to me? I was fighting Motormaster, last I remember." He shifted on the berth, and turned over, or tried to. "And why do you have me tied down?"
Ratchet put a hand on his arm. "Sunny … we lost Sides."
Sunstreaker went immediately to the twin bond for reassurance, and it was there: but Sideswipe was still not quite Sideswipe. "No, he's still in the bond! What the Pit do you mean, 'lost him'? I can feel him!"
Ratchet went very still. "You can still feel him?"
"Yes! Unless you've smelted the body, he's still alive!"
Ratchet got that faraway look in his eyes that said he was comming, and Sunstreaker fell silent, fuming.
Sunny was sitting on his berth, his legs dangling over and the recently-fractured arm strut still aching a bit in a sling, when Ratchet and Prowl approached.
"Glad you're recovering," Prowl said to him, but Sunny only nodded in return. That wasn't important. "So you can still perceive Sideswipe through your bond?" the 2IC said. That was.
"Yes. He's still there, but it's like he's in pain, or distracted, or something. He won't answer me. He doesn't try to shut me out, but he … winces away from contact."
The two senior officers exchanged a glance. "You're absolutely certain it's Sideswipe?" Prowl asked.
"Who else could it be? We have a spark-split bond! I haven't bonded to anyone else!" Sunstreaker calmed a bit, and added, "And he still feels like Sideswipe, although he won't let me close."
Prowl nodded thoughtfully, and said, "This is the situation: we got handed our afts in that battle. Only the last-minute arrival of a bunch of fresh troops got our wounded out. The last time anyone saw Sideswipe, he was buried under a swarm of Insecticons, and he didn't come up again. We couldn't recover the body."
"There is no body to recover!"
"We know that now, Sunny. But you've been out for a decaorn."
"He's been in Decepticon hands for a decaorn," Sunstreaker said flatly. "No wonder he doesn't feel like himself. He's probably being tortured. That's why he keeps sending me away."
The next orn's senior staff meeting was very troubled.
"I don't want to leave Sideswipe in Decepticon hands, particularly with what Sunstreaker told us," Optimus Prime said. "They've flatly declined to trade for him, in fact deny having him, but intel" - he nodded at Mirage - "says otherwise."
"So he has value for them," Prowl murmured.
"Of what kind? They won't be able to turn him. There's never been any doubt as to Sideswipe's loyalty."
"There was vorn ago, but at this point, I'm inclined to dismiss it. He's never acted on those early reservations," the tactician said.
"What were they?" said Optimus.
"Only that he could have as much fun, in his own words, as a Decepticon as he would with us."
"Hunh," Ironhide said. "Silly little fragger's never talked about that since. I have no doubt about his loyalty, and mechs, I'm a suspicious old Pit-spawn."
"Perhaps," Ratchet said, not seeing fit to contradict Ironhide's view of himself, "his value lies not in the possibility of turning him, but in his link to Sunny. If they are taking steps to drive Sideswipe insane, Sunny will be sucked down too."
Prowl shrugged. "It would be less costly, and more effective, to simply kill him."
"Unless their plan is to drive Sunny over the edge, and have him harm his colleagues."
Optimus frowned. Not the scowl that marred Ironhide's faceplates; a frown of concern. "Is that possible?"
"Not at present," Ratchet said. "I'm keeping him in the med bay. He could be on light duty, but I want to be there if he loses it, or if Sideswipe dies."
No one was much in favor of Ratchet not being there when Sunny lost it. "What precautions have you taken?" Optimus asked, frown still in place.
"He wears an energon-line access stylet taped to the strut that Motormaster fractured. I've used it for simple pain relief a time or two; I can use it for a heavy-duty trank just as easily. It was a comminuted fracture; the strut was shattered, so there's a lot of pain," he said, as Ironhide opened his mouth to ask for a definition of the big word. "It'll be a while before he's up to fighting again."
"I think," Optimus said, "that we must stage a rescue for our friend. If we lose him, we lose his brother as well, and I don't want to be down our two best combat troops. If we do not attempt to rescue him, damage to morale among the troops will be incalcluable."
The "troops" at the meeting nodded somberly.
The plan was threefold. One group of Autobots, which included Optimus, would stage a raid on the Decepticons' energon processing facility. A second group would, fifteen kliks later, attack the fueling station near it that gave them so much trouble the first time. When that second group was fully engaged, after doing as much damage to the station as possible, they were to pull out, and go to assist the first group.
And while all this was going on, Mirage, Sunstreaker, Ironhide, and Ratchet would use an unguarded entrance to gain access to the Nemesis.
When the time came, intel had both Soundwave and Skywarp engaged on the surface. Those were the 'cons the raiding party feared most; their engagement elsewhere didn't mean they weren't taking extraordinary precautions, though.
Ratchet's EMP-pulse generator had been copied by Wheeljack, and all four of them wore one.
Sunstreaker had the putative weapon but was there only to establish communications with Sideswipe. "Because, if he's in the bad shape you say he is," Ratchet said, "none of us will be able to talk to him. You can, so you're going. But if you ask that strut of yours to take the punishment of weapons recoil, I can't guarantee that it won't shatter again. Got it?"
"Yes," Sunstreaker said shortly. He knew he'd do what he had to for Siders, and deal with whatever that handed him as a result. End of story. But he also knew it saved argument if he refrained from saying so.
Mirage led, sometimes visible, sometimes not, Sunstreaker was behind Ratchet, and Ironhide had their afts. Outside, Slingshot was circling overhead; he would take the twins home.
The other three were rather hoping that they would be discovered leaving after the twins were gone. They really, really wanted to kick some Decepticon skidplate.
Ratchet used his EMP on the two guards posted at the brig. Mirage stepped up to the camera bank controls, and said, "All of you, get over here! This is the only area that's not covered by the cameras!"
They filed into place behind him, as his digits flew over the keyboard. "What're ya doin'?" Ironhide said.
"Programming the cameras to run the fifteen minutes before we showed up twice, as a tape loop. That's enough time for us to get done here and get out. After that, the cameras go back live," Mirage said, punching one last button with an air of triumph, "and they won't be able to find the loop, so we can use this trick again."
"Didn't think any of the 'cons were that smart."
"It's not wise to underestimate Soundwave. Sunny, go find Sides."
They all went, except Mirage, who stayed long enough to be assured that his trick was working, then joined them.
As he passed that cell, Ratchet zapped Motormaster, but not his leg, still unattached. Knowing Megatron, the poor Pit-spawn had been denied medical help until his sentence was served, Ratchet thought.
Sideswipe was in the cell beyond him, curled up in a corner facing the wall, in what a human would have called a fetal ball.
Mirage did whatever he did to the door of the cell, and it swung open. Sunstreaker rushed to his twin, and put a tentative hand on his shoulder. "Siders?"
Sideswipe put both hands over his head, and screamed, and screamed, and screamed.
"I don't see why you had to do that," Sunstreaker grumbled, carrying his twin.
"There is some urgency to getting out of here," Ratchet, who had used the EMP generator on the red warrior, snapped. "Also, whatever he's going through, he doesn't need to suffer until I can find the antidote! Now, do you have any more questions!"
"Shut up, you two!"
They were scuttling back the way they came, through the dirty, unkempt corridors of the Nemesis. That is, they were scuttling between cross-corridors. At cross-corridors, Mirage held up a hand, they all stopped, Mirage invisibilized himself, scouted the area, and motioned them all to come with him. Scuttling then resumed.
Scuttle complete, they broke into the open air through the long dirt-floored tunnel which, from the smell, Ratchet assumed was a dump area. Mirage commed Slingshot, and as a result the VTOL Aerialbot was waiting for them a short distance from the unguarded entrance. With Ironhide standing guard, and Ratchet providing lift, Sunstreaker got his limp brother into the pilot's seat, then vaulted into the co-pilot's,and Slingshot yelled, "Clear!" above the noise of his own engines. The Aerialbot lifted up and took off, his brothers surrounding him, and the others were left to get back home as best they might.
"Well, well, well, look at you two."
Mirage and Ratchet looked at each other, then at Starscream.
"The Pit did you come from?" Ratchet said.
"Not your business, Autodolt," the Seeker said. "But you can say hi to all the Aerialbots when you meet them in that Pit." He raised his null-ray cannon, and Ironhide stepped into the clearing from his lookout post and put an EMP right through Starscream's helm.
"You wanna bring him with?" Ironhide said, turning over the unconscious Decepticon with one pede.
"I don't need two Sunstreakers in my med bay at once, so no." Ratchet was digging something out of his subspace. "But we can keep him from flying for about three hours. Here – put these on and rub this stuff all over his hands." The medic himself pulled on his own isolator gloves, and rubbed a liberal batch of the reeking stuff he'd proffered Ironhide on the Seeker's ailerons, elevators, trim tabs, and rudder. For good measure, he applied it to the inside and outside of the flyer's tailpipe, as well. "There, that'll keep him out of the skies for about three hours."
"I understand why we put it on his flight-control surfaces," Ironhide said, wiping stinky stuff on the Seeker's face under his olfactory receptors, "but why his hands and tailpipe?"
"It doesn't just numb, it paralyzes," Ratchet said happily. "This way, he won't be able to find his aft with both hands."
Mirage, invisible, laughed heartily. Which was kind of spooky, Ratchet realized.
"Great Primus, are you going to take it all?"
Ratchet glanced at the testy Sunny. It was true he had filled eight large vials with the contents of Sideswipe's energon lines, but he had a number of tests to run. A large number.
And, once Sideswipe woke up, he wasn't sure he would be able to get any more. Still, Ratchet carefully left the access stylet in place after filling two more vials, and taped it securely to Sideswipe's arm strut.
Sideswipe was bracketed to the recharge berth on which he lay, but Ratchet had known mechs to pull rivets right through their plating, if things were exactly right, or rather exactly wrong. Sideswipe's condition when they found him did not incline the medic to optimism.
"He should have some energon when he wakes up. In fact, he should have as much as he'll take. You make sure of that, will you? The store " - Ratchet jerked his helm - "is over there, in the green dispenser. You know his number?"
"Yeah. Just type it in?"
"Yes. Excuse me." Ratchet picked up the rack of vials, and went into the lab area, next to his office.
He set up four of the vials to test for common metabolites, and two of the others for the various things Decepticons had been proven to do to captured Autobots in the past. The other four he labeled "SAMPLE DO NOT DRINK," put Sideswipe's name on them, and put them into the lab refrigerator.
Anyone who drank or ate anything from the lab refrigerator was, in Ratchet's eyes, completely bonkers. Still, better safe than sorry.
He had entered the test results of the first four vials into the Ark's medical database search engine when a ruckus reached his audios.
Sideswipe had recovered consciousness, and was indeed doing his demented best to pull himself free of the rivets binding him to the table. Sunny was by his shoulders, holding them down, but the red 'bot had almost torn his left leg free. First Aid, sprawled across the legs he was clinging to for dear life, simply wasn't big enough to hold Sideswipe down.
Ratchet would have sighed if he had time. He didn't. He grabbed a complex set of restraints, and shouted to Sunstreaker and the other medic, "Get clear!"
When Ratchet resorted to the Command Voice, you jumped first and asked how high on your way up. Sunny and First Aid leaped back, Ratchet tossed what looked like a tangled mass of cable onto the traumatized Sideswipe, and the cables unraveled themselves and crawled all over him at lightning speed. The end result was that Sideswipe was tightly bound to the table.
And in tears, Ratchet realized abruptly. "Sides, what's the matter?" he said, and put a hand to the red mech's forehead.
Sideswipe twitched away. "No, don't … too many … don't touch me … get them all away ..."
The cleaning fluid poured from his optics, and he was obviously in dire straits emotionally.
Ratchet squatted to bring himself down to Sideswipe's level. "What's up, kiddo? What's wrong?" he said, calmly and gently.
"They're all here! They're all here, and so am I! I have to get away from them!" Sideswipe began to thrash his head back and forth, but Ratchet let him do that.
He took one of the warrior's hands into his own. "Sideswipe," he said, "do you know where you are?"
Sideswipe's bonds had just enough give to allow him to yank free the black hand. "Don't touch me! They're all here! It's so much harder when you touch me! Sunny, no, aiiiee ..."
What had been a rising wail of despair was cut short by Ratchet's injection of tranquilizer into the energon line he'd tapped for the samples.
Sunny, white around the optics, said, "They really did a number on him."
"Yes," Ratchet said. "They did. I'm running tests now, Sunny. We'll find out what it is, and get him back to you."
Three orn later, Ratchet was frowning over a datapad beside Sideswipe.
The mech had proven to be so combative that he was now in a straitjacket of Autobot design, which kept Sideswipe's arms strapped around himself, exactly like a human straitjacket, except for the flaps which allowed access to the chest ports, and the extension which restrained the legs.
Ratchet hated to do that to anybody, especially a fighter who had proven to be as spectacularly effective as Sideswipe. It was a very poor way to repay skill and courage. Problem was, he was as spectacularly effective at fighting his medics and his brother, and anyone else who got too close to his berth, as he was at taking on the 'cons.
And the damn' numbers were no help at all. The 'cons hadn't poisoned him with anything, Ratchet thought, judging from test results. They had not given him energon unfit to ingest; they had not applied anything to his plating; they had not droppered substances into his optics or audio receptors. Apart from a few minor battle injuries which self-healed, they'd done nothing to him at all that Ratchet could account for with these numbers.
He sighed, and put the datapad down beside Sideswipe's berth, staring at the recumbent warrior.
While he wasn't the beauty Sunstreaker was, at rest Sideswipe's good looks struck Ratchet. Humans had "movie stars," and Sideswipe could have been one of them; his faceplates were pleasingly designed.
At least, when he wasn't conscious and screaming, "Get them away! Get them away!" Even now, kept in recharge, he was twitching and fighting.
He was also low on power. It was apparent the 'cons hadn't fed him; medical energon could only go so far, was not meant to be a substitute for ingestion for more than three orn. But Sideswipe couldn't bear to be handed a cube, couldn't focus on a cube left within his reach; the numbers said that he might have been starved for twelve, going on thirteen, orn now.
So after the first orn in captivity, Sideswipe had not been fed. Why? Why one orn, and not the next nine? Had they done something to him that very first orn that left him like this?
Done something to Sideswipe, the Autobot who returned from Decepticon captivity and laughed about the torture techniques he'd been subjected to. Sideswipe, who was at least as well-balanced as the Ark itself. Like the torture techniques, when applied to Sideswipe, the idea of insanity was laughable.
Metabolites seldom lasted more than three orn in the energon stream … new tests could tell him nothing, and he'd already run the tests that would pick up heavy-metal poisoning, which could linger for years. But Sideswipe had none of those elements in his system either.
Ratchet picked up the data pad just as Sunny walked into med bay.
"How is he?" the yellow twin said, sitting down beside his brother. They had all learned not to touch Sideswipe; if he was not drugged deeply unconscious it roused him, and once roused, he fought and screamed.
"I've seen no change, but I'm going to run some more numbers." Ratchet looked at the yellow Autobot. "Are you feeling okay? Able to sleep, to eat, to train?"
Sunny gave him a quick glance, then transferred his attention back to his twin. "I can sleep, but I dream of him. Or that's the only time he can talk to me. He begs me to get him away from everyone. He just needs to be alone, he says."
Ratchet said slowly, "I don't see why we can't do that for him. I have a berth in a room by itself that's shielded, in case we get Decepticon prisoners."
"Medical?" said Optimus Prime.
The daily senior-staff meeting was beginning to be torture for Ratchet. "No one is currently unavailable for full duty except Sideswipe and Sunstreaker. Yesterorn, after talking to Sunny, I found that Sideswipe was in contact with him during Sunny's recharge cycle, and begging him to get Sides away from the Ark. None of his energon work has given me any idea at all what's going on with him, so I figured we had nothing to lose if I transferred him into med bay's shielded room and let him wake up. He wasn't quite lucid." Ratchet gave them all a half-smile. "He's eaten for the first time in ten orn. He's much more comfortable, but if I need an energon sample I still have to trank him with a gun. He won't let anyone, even Sunny, near him; and having someone touch him sends him into shrieking convulsions." The ancient medic paused. "I have no idea what to do for him. If I can't figure this out in another decaorn or so, I'm going to see if I can get Sunny to agree to put him into stasis. His suffering is … extreme."
"Sunny is enduring this how?"
"Better than you might give him credit for, or at least that's what I see in the med bay."
Ironhide rumbled into speech. "The others are beginning to avoid him in the halls and the rec room."
Prowl said, "I saw him spar against you, 'Hide, and I was afraid for you."
"Hah. No need. He gave me a pretty good run for my money, but I'm bigger'n he is, and I have experience he don't. He can really cut loose with me." The old mech looked at the rest of them – Prime, Ratchet, Prowl, Jazz, Mirage, Wheeljack, Perceptor – and said, "If you're askin' me if he's more vicious than usual, yes he is. But I came across him in th' racks once, and he was cryin'. He ain't holdin' up well."
Ratchet sighed. "I'm tempted to put them both into stasis until I figure this out."
Wheeljack and Perceptor looked at one another, and then Perceptor said, "We're at your disposal, Ratchet, if we can do anything at all."
"Thanks. Right now I'm at the point where I don't even know what questions to ask. If you've got any ideas, I'm open to them."
There was a pause, and then Optimus said, "It is my opinion that if one is placed into stasis, the other twin should be as well."
Ratchet looked at the others, and not one of them was dissenting. They watched him gravely: him, the one who should know what to do, and didn't. He said heavily, "I think the least we can do is see how Sunny fares. Give him the benefit of the doubt. If things go bad for him, we will, after all, have some warning."
Prowl shifted in his seat. "He is a dangerous combatant, and he is already on edge. I can't recommend that we wait."
"No," said Optimus. "I wish another course were open to us, but it is not. If Sideswipe goes into stasis, Sunny must accompany him."
Ratchet suddenly felt very, very old indeed. "Very well. If I can't find out what's wrong with Sideswipe in three days, I will put both twins into stasis lock."
"I'm not at the end of what I can do, Sunny. But I will say that I don't know what to do for him next."
Sunny stood on the other side of the shielded glass from Sideswipe, his palm flat to the glass. On the other side, Sideswipe's palm pressed against the glass from his side.
Ratchet realized that the brothers' hands weren't the same shape. Sunny's fingers tapered slightly; Sideswipe's were blunter and shorter than his twin's. His palm was wider; Sunny's was longer.
Two pairs of blue optics locked onto each other. Ratchet didn't speak; whatever they were saying to one another across the twin bond was for them alone.
Then Sideswipe dropped his hand, and sat down on the floor in the corner, curling up into himself. Sunny's hand dropped, and he turned to Ratchet without any anger at all.
That frightened Ratchet almost as much as Sideswipe's condition. The red mech was eating, but he couldn't exercise; his previous level of fitness drove him to pace, and pace, and pace when he wasn't curled in a ball.
And while he paced, he wrung his hands together, and his optics were wild. Ratchet couldn't watch him without having cleaning fluid pool in his own optics.
"I think," Sunstreaker said very quietly, "that if you can't help him, we need to put him into stasis."
Some small part of Ratchet's spark rejoiced that the yellow twin had come to this conclusion on his own. It was nine times harder when a relative protested. "Let's save that for our last resort, Sunny. I won't argue with you that it may be the best thing we can do for him. But please, give me three more orn."
"Three more orn of hell for him."
"I can keep him more comfortable than he is right now."
"By tranking him until he barely knows his own name?"
"It's all I've got."
"I know, I know. I just … I need to think. I guess I'll give you your three orn. If you have no answers in that time, he goes into stasis."
"I think he might thank you for that," said Ratchet, his heart heavy.
The next day, Ratchet had no change to report to the senior officers. It was beginning Orn Two of what had begun to feel like a deathwatch; he had this orn and the next to figure this out, or Sideswipe, who had done nothing, nothing but his duty as an Autobot, would be consigned to stasis.
No one could say what stasis was like. Would Sideswipe's consciousness continue to skate the edge of madness, no drug-fueled respite allowed? Or would he simply cease to be for a time?
And with his twin in stasis, probably unavailable through the twin bond … what would become of Sunny? Would he, Ratchet, even have time to put the yellow twin into lock before the absence of his twin drove him over the edge?
Ratchet wasn't sleeping well, with questions like that to trouble him.
Standing beside Sideswipe's cell, for so he had begun to think of it, Ratchet went through his datapad, which held Sideswipe's results for every test known to the medical database of Teletraan-1.
With the exception of stress indicators all of Sideswipe's energon work was normal, and other tests showed that his internal systems and components were functioning perfectly.
Ratchet had also consulted the psychiatric database, which so far as he was concerned lay behind a door marked "Here There Be Dragons." Wisdom, Ratchet was convinced, lay in knowing what you could and should not do, and he could and should not mess with a mech's mind. Bodies were his field.
The information he had accessed all pointed to the fact that something which manifested itself so profoundly in a decaorn, just a decaorn, wasn't psychological, but physical. And Sideswipe could, when he, Ratchet, got the dose of tranks exactly right, be somewhat lucid for a short period. Enough so, anyway, to make clear that he was in pain. But he couldn't, anymore than Ratchet could, pinpoint the source. He tended to say things like, "They're all here, too close to me."
So there must be a physical problem somewhere, and it was so severe that it impaired Sideswipe's ability to communicate.
And he couldn't find it.
Sighing, Ratchet subspaced the datapad, and went back to his office. He commed Ironhide, and asked to spar with him. Sometimes, you had to find ways to beat the information out of yourself.
Sunstreaker was not, on his best days, a very happy mech. He was incredibly unhappy at the moment.
Sideswipe had wakened him. He hadn't meant to, and it didn't matter to Sunny; he yearned for the touch of his twin. But this was the first time that Sunny had asked Sideswipe, "Who did this to you?"
The resultant answer drove him out of his berth, and through the halls, and out of the least-known entrance to the Ark. He hoped he'd be back before reveille, but you never could tell, and it wasn't of enough import to him to stop.
The long-gone-under auto lot was a pigweed-encrusted concrete slab along a deserted strip mall in Portland, Oregon. Sunstreaker made it there in an hour and a half, and had been waiting impatiently that long for his quarry to show up.
He felt the arrival, as much as anything. "Swindle."
The 'con scuttled out from his hiding place, predictably the only building in the lot. "What do you want, Yellow Death?"
"I want to know what Hook did to my brother."
Swindle smirked. "Cost you."
"Fifty-two barrels of high-grade."
"Don't love yer brother much, do ya?"
Despite the fact that Swindle had carefully kept half the deserted parking lot between them, Sunstreaker was on him, picking the 'con up with one strong hand around his throat. "Guess you're wrong, Swindle. Twenty, and you walk away alive. Otherwise, I have no use for you, and you won't."
Swindle, choking, thrashed in midair, much as Sunny himself had done in Motormaster's grip. He listened dispassionately to the 'con choking until Swindle's energetic flops became a little less so, then dropped him.
Swindle fell to his hands and knees, coughing.
"Primus, Sunny -"
"Don't call me that. Do you live, or die?"
"Sunstreaker. I can tell you right now."
"That would be your only way to live until tomorrow."
Swindle imparted the news, then, for meanness' sake, added, "Hook was laughing about what it did to your brother in the rec room."
Sunstreaker felt rage flow upward from his pedes to his head. "I'll tell Ratchet what you said. If it works, I'll deliver the high-grade. If you've wasted my time, I'll find you and kill you. And I will kill Hook, the first chance I get. You tell him that. Make sure he gets the message." Sunstreaker's smile was cruel, cruel; he grabbed Swindle and ruthlessly activated that mech's recorder. "On the battlefield or off it, Hook, you shouldn't ever let down your guard. Although it won't do you much good." He punched the "Save" button with a stiff digit, which hurt the 'con, and dropped him.
Swindle shook his head as he watched the yellow Autobot transform and plow through the dilapidated fence on his way out. Sometimes, it seemed to Swindle like Sunstreaker was a fellow Decepticon, not an Autobot at all.
What had they been thinking, to mess with his brother? Oh, right, Hook and Megatron thought they weren't the ones who would have to face Sunny.
"He's that way," Swindle said, pointing to Brawl's left. He rubbed his throat, still sore.
Vortex, Onslaught, Blast-Off, and Brawl had been searching for their teammate. They were not pleased at the shape they found him in.
They all snapped their heads in the way he pointed, and leapt into action.
Four against one? Should have been Sunstreaker's downfall. But the four Combaticons had picked the wrong mech at the wrong time in his life.
Sunstreaker made paste of all four, with some damage to himself, and limped his way home.
"Primus on a fragging pogo stick," Ratchet said, when Sunstreaker walked imperiously into his office, and delivered the news. "That's it? That's all?" He got out the trank gun, and went to Sideswipe's current cell.
Sideswipe had learned what that gun did, and cowered into the corner away from it. "Last time, Sides, I promise," Ratchet said, and shot him precisely in the skidplate.
Sunstreaker beat him to the fallen Autobot, picked his brother up, and laid him on the room's berth.
Ratchet popped Sideswipe's neck port, and there it was: the control that set an Autobot's field sensitivity had been left all the way open – to maximal sensitivity.
"Primus," Ratchet said again. "He could probably feel it when Cosmos had to fart."
Sunstreaker grabbed his twin's hand, and held on tight as Ratchet checked ol' Sider's other settings.
"You want to stay in here with him?"
"Does the sun rise in the east?"
Ratchet smiled for the first time in a vorn, it felt like. "Let me look you over first. You have a small energon leak over your left knee."
Sunstreaker looked down, more to check the condition of his finish than to see how bad the damage was. "I had to cream some Combaticons to get back here."
Ratchet, with a smile, popped Sunny's plating, and began clipping the damaged lines.
Beside his twin on the berth, Sideswipe relaxed into normal sleep.
"A very simple and elegant solution," Optimus said, relaxing on a small boulder some small distance from the Ark, glass of high-grade in hand. It was the evening of Sideswipe's recovery. The twins were piled on the berth in the shielded room, with a big fat "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door and the windows opaqued (the Autobots' version of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell").
Sunstreaker had taken a break while Sideswipe put himself through the washracks, and culled the twins' stock of the worst stuff they had ever made, some of it so bad it was used for cleaning rather than, say, an aid to meditation. In doing so, he had discovered a bottle that had been allowed to age for twelve stellar cycles.
That bottle he left on Ratchet's desk, without explanation.
"I suppose you could look at it that way," Ratchet said. "I tend to think of it as a very cruel and pointless method of torture. The next time I have words with Hook, I am going to have words with Hook."
"Will that do any good?"
Ratchet tossed back the beautiful old high-grade, and said, "It'll make me feel better. That's about all I ask of it. Really, a medic, and he pulls that stunt ..."
"Primum non nocere," said the Prime.
"First, do no harm. Sometimes these humans get it exactly right." Ratchet sighed, and watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean, which wasn't visible from Mt. Hilary; he knew it was there, nonetheless. "He came pretty close to doing harm with this one. Sideswipe suffered an unimaginable hell for almost two decaorn."
"I'm still somewhat unclear on how Hook did that," Optimus said.
Ratchet frowned at his blameless (but very tasty) high-grade. "You and I, every Autobot and every Decepticon, we all have our field-sensitivity units. They're usually calibrated to let us feel when another Autobot is within a reasonable personal space. - Mirage asked me to set his very high, and I did, but his has about half the sensitivity that Sideswipe's had."
"And Hook did that deliberately to Sideswipe?"
"If not Hook, Megatron himself, with Hook's direction, did that to Sideswipe. Sideswipe was witness to every whim, every thought, every idea, of me, of First Aid, of all my patients, of every mech passing down the corridor outside my med bay, and probably every mech inside the Ark." Ratchet snorted. "Having done that to him, the 'cons put him in a cell next to Motormaster's."
"Yeah. And after that I, great galumphing idiot that I am, couldn't find it."
Optimus slanted a smile at him. "You aren't a great galumphing idiot."
"Fine, ordinary garden-variety idiot then. I got so focused on the chemical possibilities that I didn't even think about the physical settings that could be tinkered with."
"If I recall correctly, it took some time to realize that Starscream's null-rays could do damage that would not manifest immediately."
Ratchet's eyes changed, and Optimus wished he, great galumphing idiot that he was, had kept his mouth shut. Two Autobots had died before that one had been run to earth.
"Still," the Prime said, activating the cooling unit in his glass by swirling the high-grade, "in the end, you got there, with Sunny's, ah, help. Sideswipe will be back among us in a few days, so his story so far has a happy ending."
"So far," Ratchet agreed. "And that's all any of us can hope for, isn't it?"
"A happy ending, so far? Yes, I think so."
Roughly a half-mile away, a red 'bot turned over in his twin's arms, and went back to sleep. So far, he was living out the happy ending.