Come Back Down to Earth

a fic by lint. zzzz

Summary: Sideswipe has an argument with gravity. Sunstreaker loses his cool. Roughly G1ish.

Length: 5842

Warnings: lengthy first-person exposition, some robot swearing, extreme geekiness, and oh, the angst!

Notes: Italics used to indicate non-spoken communication; one idea swiped from the Bay-verse, and one sentence thoroughly inspired by Stephen King. Geek Glossary at end, along with more specific notes. Also, apologies for Sideswipe's horrible netspeak-grammar and the fact that he likes to talk directly to the camera while narrating (I tried to stop him, but failed miserably).

Disclaimer: I own no copyrighted characters contained herein. (As if I'd want responsibility for these guys. Shyeah, right.)

00oo0o0o0o0o000o0o0o000o0o0o0

I hate Starscream.

I hate null rays.

I hate the giant hole someone shot in my parachute when I was rebooting.

But most of all, more than anything else in the world, I hate gravity.

My math subprocessing unit comes back online and cheerfully informs me that I'm falling at just north of sixty meters per second, and that at my current altitude and rate of acceleration, I'll reach terminal velocity well before time of impact. I'm up far enough that I can see the curvature of the planet, and the battle below looks like nothing so much as a patch of glitter in the mottled brown of the desert—sunlight reflecting off armor, the flash of laser fire, the ambient glow of active energy blades.

My audios reonline, and I immediately set them to standby, because there's nothing to hear—barely even the shriek of wind, this far up. It's just me up here in this little corner of the upper atmosphere, since Starscream and his buddies apparently didn't want to hang around long enough to watch me pull the universe's most spectacular faceplant ever.

At least that means there's nobody shooting at me. My battle protocols are hanging on boot, which means I can't shoot back, even if I wanted to. Can't shoot, can't prioritize tactical programs, can't log into the encrypted comm network, can't utilize my inbuilt flight assist.

Let's repeat that last one, kiddies—no jetpack. I'm free-falling without a parachute, and I've got eighty-nine point four seconds in my current state before I become really close friends with the ground, according to the oh-so-helpful countdown that's appeared on my headsup.

And to think today started out so well...

Sunny bursts into my mind, reflecting panic back at me. I have no idea where he's getting that from, because I'm not freaking out. No, not at all; I'm cool as a cucumber. It's not like I tried climbing my way out of the sky the instant my motor functions onlined. Who, me, panic?

Eighty-two seconds. My vocalizer comes back to life, and I dump that back into standby, too, because all I'm doing is screaming.

Focus, dammit!

I love my brother; he's got such a way with words. I can tell he's going after some huge brute of a 'Con hand-to-hand, and that the 'Con doesn't stand a chance. Sunny's got his attention all on the fight, so pure and razor-sharp it feels like my processor's bleeding, and I let myself get pulled into his state of mind in the desperate hope that maybe I can figure some way out of becoming street pizza. But I can't think like that, I never could, and all I end up doing is fueling his fight.

Seventy-seven seconds. I'm watching from a spark-deep perspective as Sunny claws his way through whoever the Pit he's fighting; I don't even get visuals, just a primal emotional play-by-play—the defensive growl as he avoids a shot, the needle-like pride of a strike hitting home. And then it's over, and suddenly I'm ejected back into my own mind, alone and falling spread-eagled to the wind.

Sixty-four seconds, and my basic transformation systems are back, finally. Alt mode isn't going to do me a speck of good right now, but...hello, attitude surfaces! Normally they're there to help me be a bit more aerodynamic than the average bipedal ground-bound bot when I'm using the jetpack, but at the moment, I can use them to steer, and to slow down.

Slightly. The speed readout on my headsup drops by about a half-dozen meters per second, not enough to really make a difference in the size of the crater I'm going to make in about a minute. And then the pressure overspec warning for the hydraulics starts singing, joining in the chorus of all the other alerts that are trying to take over my headsup.

A series of mental images flash across the link, rapid-fire: the Aerialbots as Superion, wrestling midair with Menasor; the dusty, dry valley the Dinobots have claimed as their own, timestamped earlier this morning; Skyfire, in the medbay for maintenance issues; Tracks, defending the human habitations and drawing a bead on one of the Coneheads; Blades winging back to the Ark, carrying an unconscious Cliffjumper; Powerglide circling down to the ground, smoke pouring from one engine.

Okay, now I'm panicking. Fifty-one seconds, I've got no flight-capable backup whatsoever, and everything's booting slow as frozen tar. My local comm array pops up with an error, showing damage to both long- and close-range antennas. Great. Wonderful. Can't even shout for help over open frequencies, not that it would do anything other than give the 'Cons a better target.

Forty-eight seconds, and the hydraulics for the attitude surfaces show imminent failure alerts. I power down the systems to avoid having them overheat completely, because who knows? I might end up needing them in the next...forty-five seconds. I'm back to falling at the speed I was before, and my primary optics are on the verge of fritzing out, due to the sheer amount of interference from air friction. Also, I might have gotten hit on the head at some point; I'm not quite sure. It's all kind of hazy.

By the way, did I mention I hate Starscream?

I can just barely distinguish individual bots on the ground now; beats me if I can tell who is who, though. Secondary optical sensors have come back online, but they don't have nearly the resolution of the primaries. Forty seconds, and Sunny is suddenly there in my head, angry and possessive, as if that would somehow be enough to keep me from damage. He's running somewhere, I can tell, but not fighting. Not sure what good that's going to do; what's he thinking—trying to catch me? We'll both end up pancakes. Thirty-eight seconds.

Love you, Rust-bucket.

Aww, bro. I'll bounce. Maybe. Ash-pile, you big sap.

Thirty-four seconds. Primary optics are pretty much useless; they've lost color alignment, and all I'm getting is an overlapping series of staticky red-blue-green images. I put them into standby and set the secondaries as default, and squint like a human who needs glasses as I study the battlefield below. There's a gathering of 'Cons in the area I'm falling into, all clustered around some boxy thing, and if I were to guess, I'd say it was Megatron's newest Plot Device. I activate the attitude surfaces for a couple seconds, just to see if I can get myself positioned above them, because nobody's looking up, and I might as well do some good when I splat. Crash the party, so to speak.

Sunny slams back into my mind with one single visual, strong enough that it feels like it should leave an afterimage: watching from above as some bot deorbits, heat from friction a nova-like halo around their pod form. And a command, as if the visual cue weren't enough: Ratchet says do this.

Orbital reentry mode. It'll totally save my bacon. I'd be gushing about how brilliant the idea was, if I weren't watching the boot progress bars for all the necessary systems stalling out, one by one. I send the image of the mass chaos on my headsup back to Sunny, along with the countdown.

Thirty point five-one seconds. I'm not panicking. My math subprocessing unit is busily churning away, all of its own accord, informing me just how many joules of kinetic energy a falling me-in-protoform contains, plus the potential energy of the fuel in my systems, and how that translates to megatons, and what that's going to do to the aforementioned me-in-protoform in short order. It's not pretty. I don't want to think about it. I've got a whole half-minute left.

Sunny?

He's distracted. He's not listening to me. Twenty eight point eight-oh-three seconds. I'm falling, and I'm going to end up as a bunch of scattered exploded bits in this fragging alien desert, and my Primus-forsaken spark-same brother can't be bothered to even—

Write-compile-execute! The image of a text-input script comes barreling into my mind, and by reflex I start the procedure before I can even ask what it is. Sunny's not that good with programming; the elegant coding isn't his, I can tell. It takes a couple seconds to convert image-text into actual text, and I pause for an astrosecond before I actually run the script.

I don't know what it'll do. But I trust Sunny, and... Pit, what can it do that's worse, at this point?

Twenty-six point oh-oh-four-five seconds. Execute.

Every single program other than basic vital processes goes into emergency shutdown, and my advanced transformation systems service force-restarts, at the highest priority possible. I watch as it boots in text-only mode, still achingly slow, even though it's hijacked all available processor power. And when it's finally finished, the script initiates the shift to orbital reentry mode.

In orbit, in vacuum and with negligible gravity, it took me twenty four point one-four-seven seconds. I timed it; I was point zero two two seconds faster than Sunny, and he got all huffy about it. Getting out of pod form is pretty quick, but getting into it is probably one of the most difficult transformations I've ever done. And now, factoring in Earth-standard gravity and friction due to air resistance...

I've lost my countdown, lost every single speck of sensory input, but I know I'm not going to finish in time. This is a big, giant, useless Fact. I'm falling, deaf and blind and mute, and I know that when I stop falling, no matter how hard my systems are trying to force the change, I'm probably going to die.

Sunny's back, and we instinctively burrow into each other. There's no protocols for how we communicate, no data transfer; it's all semantics and spark rhythm patterns, and this deep, we can't tell who initiates and who echoes. It doesn't matter, anyway. In the end, there's really no difference.

The gladiator pits, and coming online knowing a lot more about death than about life. Better than that.

Learning to trust, and when Praxus fell, learning to cope with loss. Stronger than that.

Never being able to be considered programmatically or psychologically sound. Don't need it.

Not understanding the unity of thought, of self, that comes with being singular. Don't want it.

We know that before we came online, we were one, and when we fall into the Well, we'll be one again, and we can't help but wonder what this will feel like.

Will it hurt?

Will we know who we were?

Will we know we were we? Or will we just be?

We panic, and we cling to each other, close as thought, because we can't imagine a state of not-being, of I, or of anything other than we.

We are almost out of time.

Doesn't matter.

We are we, and we are greater than the sum of all possible I. This is more important than anything else in the universe.

We love. We are content.

PROXIMITY WARNING

We have no regrets.

Hey Decepticreeps! Eat terminal velocit—

o0o0000o00000o0oo0o0ooo0o0

boot init_rc
parse filesystem...done
kernel boot version 1_14_8 kernelname 'ssw_test4'
start event syslog...done
set disk parameters...done
populate /devlist...done
start chronometer...unable to connect to timeserver, defaulting to previous setting, done
set kernel variables...found variables ssw2_conf, restrict_lock_conf, done
configure networked communications...unable to locate hardware, done
set sensor limits...done

Huh. Somehow I thought the Well would be more exciting than a text-mode boot.

configure intermech communications...found stdin, found stdout, done
start enhanced syslog...done
start system message bus...done
start HAL...begin standard function y/n?

Yes, yes, yes. Dammit, this is boring. Maybe Sunny's found something interesting to do here.

Sunny?

Sunny!

SUNNY!

I can't find him. There's nothing but a blank echoless hollow where he should be, and it suddenly hits me that we would be I here, and it's the most horrible feeling ever, because Primus, I don't want to be alone—

Suddenly, I'm not alone, and it's even worse. There's someone in my operating system. They're climbing down my filetree, and I can't do a thing to stop them because my firewalls are all gone, there's nothing where my defenses should be. I can feel things downloading into some of my most vital directories, and all I want to do is fight it off, because seriously, am I not glitched enough already? Is there something that says I have to get every single virus that comes along, too? I start pulling up the processes for a hard shutdown, because you can't infect an operating system that's not running, but the invader kills the processes as soon as I bring them up, like swatting scrap-gnats, and all I can do is watch helplessly as the downloaded data compiles and links into my kernel, and programs begin to execute.

Please, Primus, I'll try and be good, just get it out! Get out, get out, get—

Orange?

I've got visual. The Well of All Sparks is orange.

Well, you learn something new every day, I guess.

My field of view spins nauseatingly, and it suddenly strikes me that I have no motor sensation, and no physical place to feel nausea. Weird. Something red waggles at me, and I realize I've got audio, too, as I hear the tak-tak of metal tapping on glass. But I can't get the visual to focus, it doesn't work like my optics, and all I can see is orange, and red and white moving. Red, fading to shadow, covering nearly all my view, and suddenly the visual comes into something slightly resembling focus.

Oh, damn. I'm in trouble.

"There's a text-mode output program in your standard-out directory. If you can understand me right now, see if you can get it going, because I'm really fragging tired of fighting you every step of the way."

I'm not in the Well. I've got disembodied audio-visual with a text output, and Sunny's not here, but Ratchet is.

I'm in the Pit.

Just for kicks, I look in my stdout, and lo and behold, there's the raw binaries for a basic text editor. Nothing else, though; no vocal or gestural subroutines, no network hotlinks, no ports list, nothing. I find a compiler at the top level of my kernel coreutils directory, and set it to integrating the text program. The blurry Ratchet-ghost crosses out of my field of view, and there's the noise of something metallic being shifted around. I open up my spiffy new text editor and start typing.

wht r u doin in my afterlif?

"Very funny." He sets a datapad down with enough force that the vibration makes my visual image shake. "I've been working my aft off under the assumption that you're still in the land of the functional."

thn whrz sunny?1?/?

I see the fuzzy blue points of Ratchet's optics glance off to the left. "Fragger shut himself down," he grumbles after a moment, and my visual field spins again, until I see a vaguely protoform-shaped yellow blur prone on a berth. That doesn't mean anything; it could be any yellow bot, it could be an empty shell, for all I can tell. There's no significance in a simple visual, there's nothing of we about it.

hez not thr!

"He's shut down. You won't get a spark rhythm echo."

thn turn him back on!

My visual field swivels away from the yellow not-Sunny blur, and back to Ratchet. "No."

plz?

"Not yet."

plzzzz?

"Print out your designation, serial number, current time and date, and running kernel version."

why?

The ghost-Ratchet crosses his arms, frowns. "Just do it."

giv me sunny 1st.

A comically foreshortened red finger threatens my field of view. I'd be laughing if I weren't completely at the edge of flipping out. "You do not give orders in my medbay, you little pile of scrap. I need to know which of your kernel modules are working correctly."

u cud b a con tht jst looks lk hatchet, afaik. h4xd me alredy. u wnt confidential info, u turn sunny back on.

Hah. Stick that in your exhaust!

I could swear the ghost-Ratchet is smirking at me, although it's hard to tell, with the lack of focus. "If I hacked you, then why in the Pit would I need you to tell me anything at all?"

Damn.

dno. u r a bad h4xxor?

A snort. "I'd like to see a Decepticon who could rebuild a kernel with your permissions invalidations, much less break into it and leave you anywhere near functional." He steps to the side of my field of view, fiddles with something, and suddenly there's an external drive automounted in my filesystem. I try to scan it for malware, but I can't find an installed antivirus program in any of the usual places. "There's a file named cc_ctrls in the top-level directory of that drive. Install it to your standard-in directory."

why?

"You're hooked up to a security camera for sensory input. I've tried to rewrite the controller program to be compatible with your legacy drivers, but there's only so much I can test in a virtual system. And apparently you don't like it when I install it for you."

lookz lk a h4x, feelz lk a h4x, smellz lk a h4x.

The sound of an exasperated vent. "If I wanted to hack you, you'd be one well-hacked bot by now." He's frowning at me again, waiting, but I'm not going to hack myself just because he looks like Ratchet and tells me to, even semi-nicely. "Ask me if I give a frag," he growls. "Get your aft in gear."

do u giv a frag? rly?

Okay, didn't think about that one first. If this Ratchet-ghost were the real deal—and I'm actually pretty sure he is, by now—there's absolutely no quicker way to piss him off than to assume he doesn't care. Sure, he can be grumpy at times, and he's got a temper that's just shy of thermonuclear, but he cares. I've been on the pointy end of the laser scalpel with medics who didn't care, and there's definitely a difference. You tend to trust that you're fixed when all is said and done, that's a big one. He also makes sure me and Sunny stay together. Always.

He gets this pinched, angry look, and he enters something onto the datapad without even glancing down. The program starts downloading automatically, and I'm completely helpless to do anything about it as it starts installing to my stdin. I try to initiate a shutdown again, but one quick command and I'm locked out of those processes. "Don't even think about it," he snaps at me, and a half-dozen other files start downloading alongside the first. He steps back out of my field of view, and when he speaks again, it's with a hard, blank tone that's even scarier than when he sounds angry. "You managed to get about halfway into orbital reentry mode before you hit the ground, which protected most of your vital systems. Most, but not all. Your non-vital systems ended up spread out over a square mile and a half." There's a quiet sound of cables rattling against one another. "Your operating system didn't make it; the physical storage medium ended up in half a dozen pieces. I tried recreating it from a backup, but the massive hardware loss caused it to hang on boot. Any other bot, I'd be able to rebuild the hardware, and update the drivers as needed, but not you. Oh, no. You, I have to rewrite every single slagging line of every single slagging program to play nice with your invalidated permissions, and then patch it into the binaries of the originals and recompile back into your native code."

Words, words, words. But Sunny's back; I could tell the instant he booted. He's quiet, which means he's probably in stasis, but at least I can tell he's there.

thxthxthx! *dancies*

Not that I think Ratchet's looking at my text output at the moment, but whatever.

"The first rewrite of your operating system failed at the initial systems check. The second worked, but lack of sensory input eventually caused you to self-crash, and you pulled your brother down with you. Him, I could just restore from backup, but you, I had to write a third version. I disabled your root privileges so you couldn't crash yourself, but that caused you to get stuck in an infinite logic loop and I had to shut you down manually. After that, your brother decided he really didn't want to watch any more, and shut himself down. I don't blame him one bit."

Wow. Sounds like I slagged myself pretty good.

cn I tlk 2 him?

Ratchet comes back over and checks the datapad jacked into my systems. "No. Can you parse the camera controller program?"

I can tell Sunny's there, but it's so disorienting to have him not respond that it almost feels like a processing error. All I want is to be able to tell him I'm here, and not to be scared, because he is, all the time, and it's never about anything that he needs to be afraid of.

cn I tlk 2 him, plz?

"No." Ratchet's not shouting and throwing things, and that's almost scarier than when he is. "I've left him in stasis, and he can pull himself out, if he wants to. He shut himself down voluntarily, and that's not a choice I'm going to deny him, under the circumstances."

:(

"Pout all you want. And if you don't open the camera controller, I'm going to go in and do it for you."

Urgh. Anything but that. I activate the program and a set of directional and range focus utilities spring to life. I play around with them for a moment, zooming out to view the entire room and then to a tiny piece of whatever Ratchet-part that's in front of the camera at the moment, before I notice the timestamp down in the corner.

wtf?

"You're going to have to be more specific than that."

cnt cnect 2 timeserver, whtz tha date?

"I had to replace your chronometer, too. The time and date should be accurate."

Ten orns. A full deca-orn. That's close to five Earth months. No wonder Sunny freaked out. He's never been good with things like that.

Ratchet's back in my field of view, and the camera focuses in on him automatically. "Move the camera for me," he says, and he's got crisp, cool efficiency in his voice, but nothing else. I obligingly spin the camera on its gimbal mount until I find Sunny, and stop there.

He's got a dent in his shoulder.

A dent, and he didn't do anything about it. The seriousness of the situation is suddenly a lead blanket.

I don't understand why he thinks the way he does, but I do understand the feeling behind it. All the obsessive-compulsive cleanliness, the need for perfection, that's just the way the world works for him. It's very brittle; there's no maybes or guesswork. And it'll wear at him, when something doesn't fit in with his worldview; it's like the sound of a motor with a stuck bearing, or the grind of a misaligned gear. Even the stupid, little things, like a paint-scratch too small to be seen, will set him off, and he's completely helpless to think about anything else until it's fixed. There's only one thing that overrides this—three guesses as to what it is, and you probably don't need any of them.

That's right! Yours truly, who is currently a stack of disembodied components hooked up to a camera and monochrome screen, and most recently nonfunctional. That's a guilt trip the size of Cybertron, right there. It's not like I asked to get null-rayed nine miles over the surface of the planet, but still...

I can't leave Sunny alone. He doesn't do well on his own. It's not that he doesn't want to get along with others; it's that he can't figure out how, as silly as that sounds. There's just some fundamental part of his thought processes that denies him the ability to empathize with a point of view other than his own, a flipped bit somewhere, and the only reason he's socially functional at all is because I help him out. Sure, he comes off as a completely self-centered afthead—and okay, yeah, he kinda is, anyway—but it's better than the alternative. There's a big difference between him holding a conversation with someone, even if it's only about things that are important to him, such as the state of his paintjob or how he totally KOed Motormaster in the last fight, and not having him recognize their existence. He'll just...retreat. There've been times when I've been in stasis for a while, and when I reonline he's slipped so far down into his own little world that he doesn't recognize where he is, or who he is, and he doesn't care. He's completely content to be that way, I can tell. But for me, it's frightening, because every time I think I'm not going to be able to pull him back out, that I'll never be able to talk to my brother again.

We keep watch over each other, and that's just how we work. We guide each other back to solid ground.

I'm getting all philosophical and slag. Gotta stop doing that. Next thing you know I'll be joining Sunny in wherever it is he goes.

My camera spins back to Ratchet, out of my control. "You still in there?"

hez got a dent.

Ratchet turns, glances at Sunny, frowns. "His self-repair can handle that."

hez not gona lk it.

"Well, that's just too bad. He'll live."

:(

"Don't you give me that sad-face emoticon. It'll probably pop itself out by the time he brings himself back around, anyway, and he'll never know the difference." He stands back, arms crossed, with a considering look at my camera. "Besides, have you looked at yourself recently? You've got a bit more wrong with you than just a dent."

And don't think I haven't been deliberately avoiding that.

dnt wana.

Ratchet harrumphs at me and swivels my camera down. "I think you need to see this." I try to pull the camera back, but his hand is stronger than the puny positional motors.

I didn't want to see. Really, really didn't. I recognize my spark chamber, an icosahedral enclosure with an ugly weld-scar down the center, now sporting a rather large patch of char along one side. Next to that there's a half-dozen boards arranged in a small rack-mount, all loaded with various chips and circuits and drives, more than I could begin to name. It's all wired together with five different monitors and hooked up to a uninterrupted power supply sitting on the ground. I don't even get a berth; there's barely enough of me left to merit a berthside cart.

Wow.

I can't decide whether to be appalled or amazed, that so little of my body is necessary to make the entity-that-is-me, that all the rest is technically kibble, and just end up laughing. It must have translated to some sort of gibberish on the text output though, because Ratchet swivels the camera back up and taps on the lens again. "Repeat that, if you were trying to say something," he says, suddenly all professional.

ROTFL

"I'm glad you find it amusing." He certainly doesn't look amused. I'm not really either, but that's just what came out. I don't make sense all the time, even to myself. "Do you even realize how much work it is to refabricate an entire protoform? How much physical material is involved? That's material that we don't have, by the way. You think a deca-orn's a long time? Just wait."

Oh slag. He's gone into full wrath-mode. And I can't even begin to escape.

I try to tune out the lecture-slash-rant, and focus instead on finding exactly what programs Ratchet installed along with the camera controller. I can't find a search utility, so I set my filesystem to display by creation date, and find four program groups and three associated libraries with recent timestamps. One I recognize as a top-of-the-line, souped-up virus scanner, and a relatively small connected signature library. The rest of the files correspond to standard runstate programs, and a basic self-diagnostic. I set the diagnostic to run in the background and check to see if Ratchet's gotten to the most interesting portion of his rant, the part where he starts threatening me with various medical implements.

"—and reforge your worthless cranial unit as a Primus-damned cocktail shaker—"

Nope. We're still on grievous bodily harm. The diagnostic takes all of eleven point seven one seconds to complete, which is pretty speedy. Then again, it's not like I've got a whole lot of stuff for it to check over at the moment. Everything's green across the board, with the lone exception of networked communications; it looks like the protocols are installed, but the hardware isn't, and that's throwing the diagnostic for a loop. Just for kicks, and because Ratchet has yet to start gesticulating with some device of medical horror, I pull up a process list.

Normally I'd have about three hundred processes running, just as a matter of course. Right now, it's about thirty. I wonder what all I'm missing—

Needlenose pliers, jabbed directly at the camera. Here we go. I bring the audio back into the foreground.

"—not listening, are you? You ungrateful little bastard spawn of a waste-sorting drone, I should turn you into—"

Damn, did I miss it completely? Usually there's a set order to a Ratchet-rant: specific grievances, threats of bodily harm, and then the dastardly deeds themselves. I haven't known him to deviate from it much, and trust me, I've been on the receiving end of more rants than I can count. I think he's come up with more creative ways of causing damage than the entire Decepticon army combined, and knowing what I know, that's saying a lot. Although I don't think I've ever heard of him following through on a single threat, not really.

Okay, maybe once. Twice, now that I think about it. But that's it. Like I said, he cares. He's not about to do anything deliberately malicious, especially when he knows he'll have to fix it later.

"Sideswipe."

The sudden lack of anger in Ratchet's tone slices through my musings like an iceberg through an ocean liner.

"I can't fix you right now. Do you understand this?"

Ratchet can fix anything. If there's even a flicker of a living spark left, he can pull you from the brink of the Pit. That's just how it is. He has an elemental understanding of how everything on a bot works, and it's just a matter of how long he's going to swear at you before you're back up and functional again.

u cn fix evryting.

"Not without the raw materials. Not without the necessary components."

u r the hatchet. u cn fix.

He vents a sigh and frowns, although it's not his usual disgruntled frown. "Not always. You should know that."

Whatever. I know what he's thinking, and there's no need. Yeah, me and Sunny have problems, we always have, but it's nothing to lose recharge time over. It's just who we are, glitches and psychoses and all. Besides, name me a bot who doesn't have issues, after this long at war. Go ahead. Do it. I dare you.

See? Knew you couldn't.

we trust u.

Primus alone knows why that was the wrong thing to say—or type—but it was, and suddenly Ratchet gets this completely offended look, like I've just suggested that he go interface with a food processor set on 'puree'. He glances up at the ceiling, down at the pliers in his hand, and then glares at me. "Well, maybe you fragging shouldn't!" he growls, and flings the pliers at the wall. I'm distracted enough by the ping-skitter of the pliers rebounding off into a corner that I don't see him storm out of the room.

Dammit. Sometimes I really do try to piss him off, but this wasn't one of those times. I wish I know what I did wrong.

And now I'm alone. Sunny's still quiet, and I don't want to break in my recharge subroutine just yet—I'm usually a pretty hard-core insomniac, and it's not like there's actually anything there to recharge right now, anyway. I sweep my camera around the room, looking desperately for something, anything to fill the silence. And then I happen to glance upwards.

Sunny's gone all Sistine Chapel on me.

It's the same thing he draws as always; he's done this ever since we were those slagged children in the pits, on everything from walls to datapads to torn-off bits of scrap armor. It has a name, though I can never remember what it is; the original was destroyed shortly after we came online, and I know for a fact he's never seen so much as a reproduction. It doesn't matter. It's not like he's drawing on his own memory of it, anyway. To him, it's home base, it's safety, it's calm and comfort and somewhere to hide when things get rough. To me, it's just a pretty picture, and it's only important because I know what it means to him.

It's carved into the ceiling, in painstaking, minute detail. It must have taken orns.

Usually Ratchet stops him, claiming he doesn't want the graffiti in his medbay. He didn't, this time. And that's when the enormity of the situation finally hits me, the fact that I'm not going to be able to waltz out of here in a orn or two, good as new. I'm stuck here, in this Primus-forsaken orange room, immobile and incommunicado with the outside world, for the foreseeable future. I'm not confined to quarters, I'm not stuck in the brig, I'm not limited to light duty; I literally have no body. Sure, I'm still alive, still in the land of the functional, but I can't imagine the Pit being much worse.

Suddenly I need Sunny there. I can't deal with this alone; I can't detach myself from reality like he does. I flare our spark as far as I can, in the desperate hope that he'll notice, that it'll be enough to pull him from stasis. I'm vaguely aware of the harsh buzz of some sort of alarm going off, but I ignore it and keep pushing. If I try hard enough, he'll have to listen, no matter what state he's in; it's his spark too, after all.

Flare.

Flare.

The pounding of feet running outside the door.

Flare.

A harsh squeal as the door is shoved aside, nearly off its tracks.

Flare.

"Don't you dare fail on me now, you slag-eating little moron—"

Echo.

It's just the faintest hint of a response, but it's enough.

:)

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Notes: I've done the unthinkable, and written a long, boring, and highly technical Sideswipe fic. In my defense, however, I think it would be completely natural for robotic organisms to have a familiarity with their inner workings (programming, mechanisms, and the like) in much in the same way that we humans do with our own biology, and have written this accordingly. Also, I don't think Sideswipe's quite as clueless as some would think he is; for whatever reason, he just doesn't use his brain all the time. (If you think about it, the best practical jokes are usually done by those who are both creative and intelligent, and our little red demon is quite the successful prankster.)

This was written because Sideswipe demanded that he get his own little character-development oneshot; he was getting all whiny about my general slackitude and lack of inspiration, so I dropped him from 50,000 feet. The main inspiration for the geek stuff was the fact that I wrote this on the everything-old-is-new-again machine, which I've fiendishly coerced into running Debian, just for the lulz.

This is set some unspecified time after Sisyphus, and is also spawned off the same undisclosed, half-finished origin fic. Yes, there's quite a few references to things that happen in that continuity. And yes, I've pretty much irreparably fractured canon therein. (Explaining all that mess…well, I'll burn that bridge when I come to it.)

Hopefully you've made it this far, hopefully you're not completely confused, and hopefully I haven't wasted your time. Thank you for reading!

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Geek Glossary:

root: the superuser on a system.

permissions: the specification of who gets to do what with files.

protocol: a set of standards or instructions for interpreting data.

process: an instance of a running program.

stdin/stdout: standard input and standard output. On the typical computer, standard-in is the keyboard, and standard-out the screen. (I've taken a few liberties with this one.)

compile: to translate from programming language to machine language.

service: a function or capability of a program or group of programs.

kernel: the core part of an operating system which determines how resources are allocated.

HAL: hardware abstraction layer. Has nothing to do with pod bay doors.

parse: to interpret (correctly) a set of data.