Author's Note – For "tf_speedwriting" on LiveJournal. The prompt was "freedom". This is part of my "Designation 24601" series, my version of Wheeljack's background. Please see my profile page for reading order.
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.
He woke with a start, curling and scrambling up on one arm as the other raised to protect his head . . . from . . . nothing.
W-wait . . .
He onlined his optics and looked around. The overseer who'd been about to swing at him with the electro-whip – again – was nowhere to be seen. For that matter, he realized he didn't feel any pain from the lashes he'd already taken.
He vented an irritated – and relieved – huff of air through his intakes. Just a dream. Only a dream. He wasn't there anymore. Nor was he ever going back.
He sat up the rest of the way, looking around the grimy alley he'd collapsed in last night – more like earlier this morning – once he'd been sure he'd lost the bounty hunters. Primus, that'd been a close one, the closest yet. He'd have to be more careful.
His HUD flashed a warning at the edge of his vision. His fuel was low. Yes, yes, that was nothing new. He was always half-hollow these days, but . . . it was all right. More than fair trade for what he'd gained, as far as he was concerned. He knew a mech who'd let him swab the floor of his bar and do some other menial chores for a little fuel . . . and even a few chips if he was feeling magnanimous. Just a few more would buy a nice spanner.
The kind needed to fix the holes in his neck where he'd finally managed to pry off his control collar.
One hand reached up to rub gingerly at the raw spots around his throat. The missing weight and tightness were things he was still getting used to. He'd been built with it, so he didn't remember a time when he'd not worn the damnable thing, the one thing that marked – at a mere glance – the overseers from the slaves. Well, that and the proliferation of whipdents on a slave's structure, but those healed given time. His were almost gone now but for the scars where damage had been done that exceeded the ability of his auto-repair system to heal. Those were many, but once he had saved up enough money for a reformat, they would be gone too, and he'd truly be free of any visual clue that tied him at a glance back to the mines.
He crept along the near wall out to the corner, peeking down the street each way before daring to expose himself. No signs of bounty hunters, just average citizens going about their daily, average, boring, uneventful lives. The kind of life, actually, that he hoped to earn someday. He wasn't there yet, but he'd get there.
One hand still scratching softly at his bare throat, he took a moment to just gaze upward. He'd heard of the sky, but until recently had never seen it for himself. It was amazing – bright hues anywhere from orange to blue during the day depending on the time and atmospheric conditions, and peppered with countless tiny lights (stars! they were called stars) at night. It was more beautiful than he'd ever imagined, and he could stand here and admire it all for as long as he wanted, with no whip at his back, no one to tell him to quit dallying and get his head back down and back to work.
Oh, he still worked whenever he could – swabbing at the bar or whatever other odd jobs he could find – but it was for his own benefit and on his own time now, not for someone else's gain on their arbitrary schedule. Aside from needing money – or direct labor barter – for fuel, supplies, and the like, he could merely do nothing all day if he wanted, and had done just that more than once, spending his time exploring whatever town he was in and enjoying the sensation of passing mechs on the street without fear. He didn't have to worry if he'd be beaten because he looked at one "wrong" or didn't get out of the way fast enough. Well . . . there'd been the occasional bully, but . . . oh, and there'd been that one time, he'd not been punished for trying to defend himself when a peace officer noticed what was going on and broke things up. Someone had actually helped him. He doubted he'd ever forget that.
The mech's name was Prowl. He'd been sure to ask and made a point of remembering.
Speaking of names, he needed one. He couldn't very well go around with the one Master had given him. Besides the bounty hunters to worry about, people just didn't put much confidence in someone with a designation like "Slipgear". Not that he blamed them – that'd been the whole point of the degrading name in the first place.
He'd stumbled across one yesterday that he thought might work. In fact, the more he mulled it over, the more he liked it.
He stepped out from the shadow of the alley into the rosy light of dawn, softly trying out the words as he squared his shoulders, lifted his head, and strode without fear down the street.
"My name's Wheeljack . . . an' I'm free."