The building shook again. Swindle ducked his head, hunching back into the corner of the cell. Fragging pit, how long was this going to last?

He'd overheard a few guards muttering - and bribed a few more - so he knew more about what was going on outside the prison walls than the rest of the poor slaggers stuck in the rest of the cells. He knew that the bombs shaking the building weren't near misses from the attack on the city, because the city had already fallen. The bombs were systematically destroying the fuel pipelines and supply routes to the prison, and blowing out siege trenches in the controlled zone surrounding the fortified facility. The Decepticons had surrounded the prison, and were settling in for a siege.

The other prisoners and even some of the guards thought the fact that the Decepticons hadn't simply bombed the facility out of existence was a good sign, but Swindle wasn't so sure. There was a reason the Decepticons wanted the prison intact, and until he knew why, he wasn't going to count on them for a rescue. He'd heard the rumors running through the prisoners that Megatron was recruiting from the jails down in Kaon and every state they'd taken over, but he'd been around enough that he wasn't putting his money on the mysterious hero-figure.

More likely they'd gun everyone down in their cells and use the bodies for spare parts.

A particularly close impact rattled the bunk against the floor. Frag it, he thought, engine giving a gurgling whine that he would never admit to. He didn't deserve to die in here! What'd he do, anyway? Scam a few suckers who couldn't tell their aft from actuators? Alright, so he'd done a lot morethan that, but nothing anyone had ever been able to prove.

Another hit, even closer. Frag it, frag it, frag it! He curled up against the wall, legs tucked tightly against his chest, and waited for the world to end.

x-x-x

"-to discus terms," the prison warden was saying as Vortex sauntered into the command post, the crackle of the comm system not quite hiding the tremor in his voice.

"That won't be necessary," Onslaught said, standing at an easy parade-rest.

Caught off guard, the warden pulled away from the vidscreen, expression uncertain. "...Excuse me?" he said uncertainly.

"There is no need," Onslaught repeated calmly, "To discuss any terms, because I am not accepting any. You will surrender, or you will die."

"But-"

"I will give you one cycle to consider the matter," Onslaught continued, cutting the warden off. "Onslaught out."

Vortex laughed as Onslaught cut the feed. "Don't think he coulda looked more surprised if'n you'd whacked him upside the head," he said cheerfully. "Think he'll give up?"

Onslaught turned, leaning his hip against the mobile command post's comm unit. "He will. He doesn't have any alternative."

"That he knows of, at least," Vortex said, sauntering closer. "'Course, he could hold out and force us to bomb out the whole buildin' and ruin your whole plan."

Onslaught folded his arms. "One of my plans, Vortex. Just one." He watched the helicopter approach until Vortex's plating just brushed his folded arms. "But he will surrender, and before the cycle's out."

"Me, I think he's gonna dawdle till the very last second," Vortex said, leaning forward, deliberately invading Onslaught's personal space. "Ain't gonna do anything until you tell him his time's up. Wanna bet on it?" The last part was purred, his facemask brushing against the bottom edge of Onslaught's helm.

"Tempting," Onslaught rumbled, brushing his knuckles down the flat of a rotor. "But we have work to do, Vortex."

Vortex pulled back and snorted. "You maybe. I'm just coolin' my rotors until we crack open Freemark."

"If your bored, I'm sure I can find you something to do. Reports, for instance."

"I'm bored, not dead," Vortex responded flatly.

Onslaught flicked the tip of the rotor. "Go instill a sense of fear in the ground troops. Catch a nap. You will have plenty to keep you occupied as soon as we're inside."

Vortex made a noncommittal noise, meandering for the exit.

"And Vortex?" Onslaught said, already turning back to his maps.

Vortex paused. "Yeah, boss?"

"Try not to kill anyone important."

Vortex laughed. "You got it, boss."

x-x-x

The chronometer ticked down to the once cycle time limit, and Onslaught was glad he'd had the foresight to refuse Vortex's little offer of a bet. It wasn't wise to put himself in a position that Vortex could take advantage of, because the helicopter would, without the slightest qualm.

The helicopter was sharp and observant, and better at reading people than Onslaught could ever be, but still, it irked him to be shown up, even if Vortex wasn't here to see it.

Part of him wondered what Vortex had found to entertain himself, but he forced himself to shove the thought aside and to not check up on his subordinate. Vortex was a force unto himself, and tightening the reins would not get a favorable response. Vortex worked best given a steady hand and plenty of room to work, and not at all when put under too much constraint. The trick was finding the balance between steady and too much.

And considering how well he would need Vortex to perform once inside the prison, it was best to let the helicopter loose now, where the damage would be minor and easily hidden.

Time was up. Onslaught activated the comm. "Patch me through to the warden," he told the tech, shrugging his shoulders and settling his weight more comfortably.

The image materialized on the screen, a nervous twitching in the warden's fingers betraying his agitation. "Warden," Onslaught greeted. "I trust you have had enough time to properly consider my proposal."

"I want assurances that my people will not be harmed," the warden said, desperation obvious in his voice.

"Your cooperation will be factored into any decision," Onslaught responded calmly, a deliberately misleading non-answer. None of the contempt he felt showed in his stance or voice. Weak-willed coward. "Now, will you surrender, or shall I order my troops to recommence the bombardment?"

The Autobot fidgeted, clearly not happy with that, but just as clearly not seeing another way out. "I... we agree to your terms," the warden said unhappily. "I am ordering my mechs to stand down and open the gates."

"A wise decision," Onslaught said coolly, then cut off the transmission. "Onslaught to squad leaders, the Autobots have surrendered. Prepare to move in and relieve the Autobots of their weaponry. Use minimal force, but do not allow any to escape." He switched channels. "Onslaught to Vortex - report to me immediately. It's time to get to work."