Author's Note – This takes from the G1 cartoon about midway through Season 2. There are also hints of reference to my headcanon background for Wheeljack (my "Designation 24601" series). Cybertronian time measurements: vorn = 83 Earth years, stellar cycle = 1 Earth year, deca-cycle = about 3 Earth weeks, solar cycle = 1 Earth day, joor = about two Earth hours, breem = 8.3 Earth minutes, astro-second = .498 Earth second.
Also, THANK YOU THANK YOU to my betas, MyAibou and Ariel D, both of whom are amazing writers, to Lunnaei my first ear and sounding board, and to Elycat for helping me keep the Decepticons IC. ILU guys!
Disclaimer – "Transformers" and all related characters, events, and concepts belong to Hasbro, Takara, and any other related owners/distributors/producers. I get no monetary benefit from this. My benefit is the enjoyment of dealing with beloved characters.
"Paid in Full"
Chapter 1 – A Slight Miscalculation
Decepticon Base, bottom of the Pacific Ocean
How did he get himself into these messes?
Actually . . . okay, yeah, that was kind of a dumb question, he decided.
Wheeljack levered himself up from the narrow berth, propped awkwardly on one elbow due to the shackles binding his wrists. He focused for a moment on the orange and green racing colors adorning his shins where they formed the hood in his Lancia Stratos alternate mode as he waited for his equilibrium circuits to finish recalibrating. Once he felt a bit more stable, he sat up the rest of the way and took in the small room in which he found himself. Three walls were solid metal, the fourth largely consisting of a wide doorway blocked with a barrier of vertical, energized bars. He'd only just regained consciousness – and the pulsing circuits in his processor told him he'd likely been out for some time – but he could guess well enough where he was.
Two hundred meters below sea level, in a cell in the brig of the Victory, the sunken spaceship that served as the Decepticons' home and base of operations.
Oh, Primus . . . n-not again . . .
The Autobot engineer groaned in quickly-mounting horror, curling as memory suddenly washed back to him of the last time he'd been captured many, many vorns ago. This wasn't the black dungeon cell he'd been held in before, though – buried deep underground conveniently close to-! N-no . . . no, don't think about that. He made himself look up and take in the comparatively bright openness of his present cell, reminding himself that this wouldn't – couldn't – be like last time. For one, his previous captors weren't here, the Victory almost certainly did not have a dedicated torture chamber as such, and he thought he knew well enough the Decepticons who were here to know that, whatever they might try, it couldn't possibly compare to the nightmare he'd once survived.
That thought calmed him. He'd weathered things once . . . he could do it again. Just like last time, for his friends. He would be strong.
He sat back up, assessing his situation. His shoulder canon was tucked away in subspace, as were his blaster pistol and his whole small arsenal of grenades and sundry gadgets that he normally carried on him. The shackles locked on his wrists – stasis cuffs – ensured that he couldn't access any of it, dampening the subspace energies in addition to restricting his physical movements. Frag. Not that he was surprised but . . . frag.
He struggled to his feet, leaning heavily on the wall, only then realizing that something else inhibited his movement as well, making him stiff and slow. A painful leftover from those last attacks that had landed him in this predicament in the first place, he guessed.
Me an' my brilliant ideas…
It had all started a few solar cycles ago when some of the guys had expressed concern for Optimus Prime. After all, their valiant commander was always on guard, always on call. He was always the quickest to respond when Teletraan I alerted the group to trouble, always at the very head of any attack – had been for . . . well, for as long as Wheeljack could remember, and he could remember a good long time! That had to be draining, right? Everyone needed some downtime, a chance to not have to deal with things. It wasn't that anyone would advocate that their commander shirk duties, just that . . . well, he deserved an occasional break from them, just like anyone. Wheeljack, for one, had been determined to find a way to help ensure Prime could take one.
He actually succeeded, and none too soon for a rather handy test run, courtesy of that slagheap Starscream and two of his Seeker buddies, Skywarp and Ramjet, who had broken into a nearby Air Force base to filch F-15 Eagle parts for repairs. Most of the Autobot forces, Optimus Prime included, were either out on patrols or axles-deep in projects with various human outfits helping develop defenses and offenses that would stand up to the Decepticons. When Bumblebee, who had been stationed to monitor Teletraan I, had moved to call Optimus Prime, Wheeljack had stopped him. "No need to bother Prime with this one, Bumblebee! It's just three of them, and Megatron's not even one of them! Let's let the others sit this one out."
Understandably, Bumblebee had gazed back at him as though he had a few gaskets loose. "Whaddya mean, don't bother Prime! He's got to-!" The Minibot had cut off as though a thought occurred to him, then settled back with arms folded across his chest and peered up at the inventor, who stood about double his height. "Wheeljack, this doesn't have anything to do with that thingamabob you've been working on for the past few days, does it?"
"Funny you should ask!" Wheeljack had enthused. In the end, he managed to convince Bumblebee to go with him to the humans' military base, just the two of them, where he'd been pleased to find that his new device worked wonders . . . for what it had been designed to do. As this had only meant to be a small test run, what he'd not planned on was the fact that the trio of Seeker Decepticons had been decoys for an ambush, and he was the booby who sprang the trap!
Megatron had indeed been on hand. Wheeljack didn't see the weapon that temporarily shorted his equilibrium stabilizers, but just as a looming Soundwave had stepped up to him where he lay on the ground, he heard Megatron's hated voice from somewhere to his left. "Remember . . . do not damage him. I need him intact." Soundwave hit him with a sonic blast at just the right frequency to knock him temporarily into stasis lock.
He looked around his cell now and hoped that Bumblebee had escaped. If the Minibot field agent had been smart, he'd have burned rubber out of there. Then again, Wheeljack knew the kind-hearted, gutsy little scrapper too well to expect that he would have simply let Wheeljack be taken without a fight.
Please, Primus . . . just let him be okay.
Wheeljack jumped when he heard approaching footsteps, pressing back into a corner even as he knew it was futile, fear mounting in spite of his best efforts to the contrary. Then, Soundwave stepped into view, his broad-shouldered bulk filling the doorframe. Even considering the Cybertronian ability to mass-shift, it was sometimes hard for Wheeljack to reconcile the other's much smaller tape deck alt-mode with this form. As a mech, he was over head-and-shoulders taller than Wheeljack, a fact of which the engineer was suddenly all too aware in that moment.
"GOOD," the Decepticon intoned in that unmodulated, monotone boom of his. "YOU ARE AWAKE. MEGATRON WILL SEE YOU NOW."
"Sorry," Wheeljack rejoined with a shrug, hoping the sarcasm would cover his nervousness. "Afraid my schedule's full, Soundwave. Have him call my agent – I'm sure I can work him in for sometime next week."
In response, the dark-blue mech pulled his heavy blaster, leveling it at Wheeljack's chest. "CLEAR YOUR SCHEDULE."
Wheeljack flinched and raised his manacled hands in surrender, mentally preparing for what was to come. "C-cleared." Soundwave deactivated the energy coursing through the bars, opened the door, and motioned for Wheeljack to come out. The engineer obeyed, his movements stiff but improving.
They were joined by Dirge and Blitzwing, both ready to help guard the prisoner. Wheeljack kept his optics engaged for any chance to escape, but none presented itself. Too soon, he was led into a large, half-lit workshop space. Megatron and Starscream stood gazing up at an enormous tarp draped over what must have been a huge vehicle or weapon platform of some kind, with Rumble and Thundercracker loitering in shared boredom off to one side as though waiting for something. Wheeljack backed into Soundwave with a gulp. Assuming he had the right weapons on him, he could take on one or two, maybe even three, Decepticons by himself, but not seven . . . and not if one of them was Megatron. The Autobot engineer had yet to come up with anything that could truly harm the powerful Decepticon leader nor incapacitate him for any real length of time. Only Optimus Prime could take on Megatron. And Prime wasn't here. None of the other Autobots were.
You're really in it deep this time, aren't ya? he asked himself as Megatron and Starscream turned to him. He buried his quailing diodes and shored up his backstruts to face them. "Nice place you guys got here. Sorry I haven't come to visit sooner, but . . . well, you know how it goes."
He decided he didn't like the wicked smirk Megatron gave him, the massive, silver-grey mech's tone a false mimic of a host welcoming a treasured friend. "Oh, not to worry, my dear Wheeljack. No offense taken, I assure you. I'm glad you like the place. This is, after all, going to be your new workshop."
Wheeljack scowled at him despite the further foreboding that dropped like a lead slag weight into his manifold. "If you think I'm ever gonna work for Decepticons, pal, you got another think comin'! I never agreed the last time ya tried, an' I'm slaggin' well not gonna this time either!"
"Pshyeah, right," Blitzwing scoffed. "You'll change your tune once yo-"
"Enough, Blitzwing." Megatron stepped up to Wheeljack, towering well over the Autobot engineer. He put a hand on Wheeljack's shoulder and squeezed hard enough to make the sensors threaded through the superstructure begin to protest. Wheeljack started to buckle in pain but caught himself and met the Decepticon's bright ruby gaze with steady defiance.
"You are the one who is mistaken," Megatron purred in a tone of utter confidence, the one Wheeljack knew meant he thought he had a foolproof plan.
A foolproof plan that seemed to center squarely on him this time. Oh boy…
Wheeljack reached up, hand closing over Megatron's in a vain attempt to loosen that vise-grip before the plates of his shoulder began to warp, voice stressed with pain. "You can threaten an' torture me all ya want, Megatron, but you should already know that no amount of punishment's gonna get me to cooperate!" Of course, the thought of it scared the transistors out of him – he couldn't deny that – but the thought of betraying his teammates, his friends . . . no, he couldn't let Megatron intimidate him. For them, he'd be strong. Just like last time. Primus, give me strength.
Starscream chuckled malevolently, aiming an arm-rifle at Wheeljack's legs. "Tough talk, Autobot. Let's see you put your money where your mouthplate is!"
"Shove it up your afterburners, Starscream!" Wheeljack retorted, backing away as much as Megatron's grip allowed. He shifted to put Megatron between them, but then powerful hands grabbed him from behind to hold him in place. Soundwave. O-oh, yeah, almost forgot about him.
Megatron, for his part, merely laughed, waving somewhat absently for Starscream to stand down. "Oh, I remember, Wheeljack. You proved far more stubborn than I had given you credit for. I could try to break you, but I need your body and mind intact. You'll work better that way. I have, however, arranged a little . . . incentive . . . to ensure that you will cooperate this time."
Set into one wall was a large, dark . . . looked to Wheeljack like a powered-off monitor of some kind. Megatron let go of Wheeljack's shoulder and motioned at Thundercracker and Rumble, then crossed to a small control panel below the monitor.
Rumble chuckled as he rubbed his hands together. "All right! Now the real fun begins." Thundercracker didn't say anything, just turned to carry out his duty. The little blue mech followed the Seeker through a door that looked to Wheeljack like it led behind the monitor.
At the same time, Megatron activated a control on the panel, and Wheeljack watched the monitor lighten and clear as if it had been fogged over, even as the lights in the room dimmed further. The slag lump in Wheeljack's manifold melted into a hot pool of horror and dismay as he realized the monitor was not a monitor but a window into what appeared to be some kind of observation/holding cell.
He wasn't alone here after all.