Author's Note: this chapter is rated M for torture and mild gore. Please do not read if this bothers you.
p.s: I butched El Presidente's accent. I apologize.
"What do you mean he is not on the ship?" Onslaught's voice was mild. To an outsider it sounded as though he was perfectly calm. His team however, knew that he was absolutely livid. They all were. They had returned to their quarters expecting to find their youngest cowering in his room, but clearly the little coward had fled. Vortex looked forward to hunting his brother down. They still had yet to pay the fragger back for his betrayal.
Reflector looked up at the gestalt, bored.
"Just what we said. He left."
"Bring up the footage. I want to see when he left and where he was going." Something in the commander's tone convinced the camera mechs to do so without argument. The Combaticons watched the recording in silence. They watched as Swindle slinked into the room and raised the tower. Blast Off snorted with disdain at his brother's broken expression. Vortex imagined ways to inflict further punishment on the coward. Onslaught and Brawl said nothing, burning optics trained on the video feed. But what happened next gave them pause. Swindle convulsed, dropping to his knees. There was no audio feed, but they could see from his expression that he was trying not to scream.
"What the frag?" Brawl burst out.
"Ah, the brat's probably just doing it for attention," Vortex said. Doing a slagging good job of faking it too. The interrogator in him said that the pain on Swindle's face was too real to be a gimmick – never mind the fact that there had been no one around to see him – but the 'copter was too angry to listen. Whatever it was didn't last look before the smallest Combaticon shook it off and stood up. He launched into the air and headed east, towards the United States.
"Blast Off, Vortex, go after him. Bring him back in one piece." Vortex frowned at the stipulation. Ah well, Onslaught was going to tear Swindle a new one anyway. He'd get to play with the leftovers. Blast Off just looked irritated.
"Sure thing Ons."
"Get going. I want him back here within the joor." The Combaticon Commander watched his mechs until they disappeared into the lift before leaving the tower room. Brawl followed his leader out, wishing he was going hunting too. Unfortunately, they both had shifts and it wouldn't do for Megatron's anger to be turned on them as well.
Swindle returned to the battlefield. He didn't know what he was looking for and figured that starting at the beginning would be best. He retraced the battle – where he was, which Protectobots he fought, his brothers' positions – looking for anything that might suggest they were being watched. The insect must have been spying on them. He knew that Swindle was alone and that he had been enroute to acquire the parts needed to bring Vortex online. The human had also developed technology capable of disabling and killing Cybertronians. So who was he?
Despite spending nearly two human hours reviewing the battle, the Combaticon couldn't find any hint as to how Zeus had been keeping track of him. Frustrated, he left and headed towards the site where he was ambushed. Similarly, there was nothing but months old tire tracks. Even the human's footsteps had been removed.
Swindle screamed in frustration. How was this possible? Zeus was just a human! Swindle was one of the best conmechs in the universe. He had been ensnaring and cheating mechanisms since before this miserable little plant had been created! So why was the little insect getting the best of him? He needed to calm down and think clearly. The jeepformer took a couple of deep intakes. He was going to beat this. He was going to… ohfragohfragohfrag!
A wave of excruciating pain ripped through him, stealing his voice and driving him to his knees. All thoughts of revenge fled in favor of trying to alleviate the agony. He slumped to the ground, body curling into a fetal position as his optics flickering dimly. The last thing he saw before stasis took him was a pair of human shoes.
Blast Off was furious. His idiot little brother not only was a traitor but a coward as well. And now he was stuck with Vortex – who would not stop muttering threats under his breath – on a mission to retrieve the little ingrate.
"…and then I am going to squeeze and see just how much pressure those tubes can take–"
"Vortex," the shuttle's voice was cold, "stop talking or I am going to remove your rotary assembly and shove it up your tailpipe."
"Ooo, big brother's mad. Whatsa matter, Blasty? Am I pissing you off? Or is Swindle getting to you?" Blast Off growled. 'Onslaught will be angry with me if I kill him.' He thought it might be worth it.
Any further contemplation of coptercide was put on hold as their target came into view. El Presidente's ship. Swindle had wasted no time in selling their parts to this fragger. Perhaps the little insect had provided Swindle with a safe place to hide. He watched with detached amusement as the humans screamed, scrambling for their weapons. Vortex fixed that by strafing the deck, causing the fleshbags to dive for cover. The Combaticons touched down, and shifted to bipedal mode. Vortex's insane grin caused more than a few men to leap off the ship into the churning waters.
"Get me El Presidente. Now." Blast Off fought back a sigh when none of the men moved. "They're all yours Vortex. Make sure you don't get covered in blood. I am not helping you get clean."
"Aw," the helicopter pouted. "Oh well. Can always ask Brawlie to help." The high pitched giggle grated on the shuttle's sensitive audios, but it was effective in spurring the humans into action.
"No, wait!" A human called. "I will get El Presidente for you." He took off running. Moments later a tall man in a green uniform emerged from the depth of the ship. Blast Off supposed that his silver hair and eye patch made him seem intimidating to humans, but he was less than impressed. From the way Vortex smothered a giggle, he could tell his brother thought the same.
"Who are you?" The arrogance in the man's voice was grating, but they would play nice for now.
"Blast Off, and my comrade Vortex. We are looking for an associate of ours. You know Swindle?"
"Ah yes. Is a good customer. Is shame what happened to him."
"I know not much. Perhaps a deal gone bad. Swindle was very nervous." Blast Off kept his face blank.
"So you have seen him."
"Not recently no. Not since I bought parts from him. Was unlike him. Looking over his shoulder, very skittish. Maybe he crossed the wrong man?" Blast Off doubted it. What could a human do against a Cybertronian.
"But you are still friends with him?" Vortex asked skeptically.
"Yes. Is good partner. You need help finding him, you come to me."
"I want a list of every other human he deals with," the 'copter's tone light, like it was a request. He was disappointed when the arms dealer nodded agreeably.
"I do not know them all, but I will compile a list. Tell Swindle to come see me when you find him. We have a contract to settle." El Presidente quickly wrote out five names that he knew Swindle interacted with on a fairly regular basis. He hoped that his business partner was alive; he was a great arms dealer and the president always benefited richly from working with the mech. He gave the names to the shuttle, who said nothing, while the helicopter grinned creepily. He would be glad to see these two off his ship. He had a business to run after all. The pair departed without a word, and he watched until they were specks in the sky before ordering his men back to work. Those orders wouldn't fill themselves after all.
Swindle onlined in darkness. His arms were suspended above his head, shackled to the wall he was resting against. He tugged at his bindings, testing them, but they held fast. When he pulled harder they sent a jolt of electricity through his damaged frame. Yelping, the smallest Combaticon decided against struggling. At least until he figured out some way to disable his bonds. He was given no time to work out how to escape however, as the wall opposite to him slid aside, revealing a human. Swindle studied the man, trying to place him. The human was tall, close to seven feet, with onyx hair and eyes. His pale skin was a stark contrast to his coloring, giving him a demonic appearance. Swindle remembered him. He remembered him all too well.
"Zeus! What do you want with me?"
"Swindle, Swindle, Swindle," Zeus cooed, ignoring the question, "what am I going to do with you? You disobeyed me."
"No I didn't! I did what you said! I sold my disassembled brothers to El Presidente!"
"And then you went and put them back together again." To be perfectly honest, the King of Gods would have been rather put out if he hadn't. Then he would have had to find some way to reassemble them. Dead Combaticons weren't part of the plan. Not yet. But Swindle didn't need to know that.
"I had no choice!"
"Of course you did. You wanted to save them. You could have found a way around the bomb, smart mech that you are." Zeus smirked at the surprised look on Swindle's face. "Yes, I know about the bomb. It was intelligent of you not to mention my little gift during the implantation and extraction surgeries. Otherwise things would have gotten…messy. But that is beside the point. What matters, Decepticon, is that you chose to disobey me." Zeus activated the tag, causing several million kilowatts of electricity to tear through the Combaticon. Zeus watched with pleasure as the mechanical form screamed and thrashed, writhing in agony. He cut the power after only a moment, not wanting to fry his toy.
"You messed up Swindle. I had plans, and you ruined them. Had you done your job you could be safe and sound on your little ship, tag free. But now we will have to do things the hard way." Swindle tried to glare at the man, but the tremors wracking his frame and his heaving intakes made it wholly ineffective.
"Oh don't look at me like that. It's your own fault for being so disobedient." The self-proclaimed God turned away from his victim to study the steel table tucked in the corner. More specifically, he studied the array of tools spread across its surface. Deciding on a laser scalpel, he lifted the tool to show his captive. "Since you were so eager to derive my business associates of your brothers' parts I will simply have to replace them with yours. We shall start one piece at a time." The smile on Zeus' face was perhaps the most terrifying thing the conmech had ever seen. "Brace yourself, dear Swindle. This is going to hurt."
Vortex and Blast Off stood in their Commander's office. Brawl was off to the side, slumped against a wall as he watched his brothers.
"You failed." Even Vortex knew not to make a smartaft remark when Onslaught's voice was that cold. Blast Off shivered, but met his older brother's optics square on.
"Yes. None of Swindle's associates have seen him recently. Most were willing to talk with the right incentives, but their information was useless."
"And you have no other leads?" Vortex snorted.
"Swindle's good, but not that good. I know all of his usual haunts. The fragger's not dumb, he knows to avoid going to any of those, but he's not smart enough to come up with somewhere fortified on the spot. It takes him ages to develop his little hidey-holes. I should be able to find him within the cycle."
"Get on it. I want him found. Blast Off, you stay for your shift. Brawl, go with Vortex. If you haven't found him by the time I get off I will join you. And boys, bring him back in one piece."
"Yo Onslaught," Rumble's voice came over his office intercom. "Ya got a package. The Coneheads found it sitting on the beach. Come get it if ya want it. I ain't bringin' it to ya." Onslaught frowned. It was probably Swindle's peace offering.
"Brawl will be there in a moment." The tank grumbled, but set off to retrieve the package. He returned a klik later carrying a small box wrapped in brown tape. The word Combaticons was scrawled in Swindle's handwriting across the top. The four mechs noted the shakiness of the letters, but they were more focused on what was inside the package. Opening it, Onslaught fought the urge to recoil.
Fresh energon still dripped from the dark gray hand nestled inside the box.