"Can't push 'em much further, Ons," Vortex said over the encrypted short-range comm. "Figure you've got about ten clicks before he starts balkin' for real."

Onslaught gave Vortex a short nod of acknowledgment, keeping his optics focused on the Autobot in front of him. The now-former warden of the Freemark prison was still attempting to secure some sort of guarantee of safety from Onslaught, even after surrendering his weaponry and watching his guards being roughly disarmed by Onslaught's troops. Two of the warden's officials flanked the Autobot leader, one wringing his hands nervously and muttering into the warden's audio while the other stared at Onslaught with a studiously blank expression. None of the Autobots were paying attention to the grey helicopter lounging against the wall, but Vortex was certainly paying attention to them.

"Guy on the left's dangerous. Gonna have to kill him, or he's gonna be leadin' a prison riot inside a cycle. Pretty sure he's got a holdout weapon that slipped past your... ahem, soldiers."

Onslaught spared his interrogator a sharp look of irritation that the helicopter ignored.

"One on the right, he's my vote for stickin' in charge of the Autobot prisoners. Weak-willed as hot slag, but he's got a rank and listenin' to him'll at least slow down any ideas the 'Bots get. Want me to take care of the other two?" Always helpful when it came to mayhem or murder, that was Vortex.

"I think I have it covered," Onslaught said calmly out loud. The Autobots stared at him in confusion, then shock as he unspaced his rifle and leveled it.

"Wait-" was all the former warden had time to say, before a pulse blast caught him in the chest. The officer to his left followed him to the floor, sparking from a shot to the head, holdout pistol clattering to the floor.

"Congratulations on your promotion," Onslaught told the surviving officer, voice as dry as the Rust Sea. Over the short-range, Vortex cackled. "As you are now the highest-ranking Autobot officer in the prison, you are the Senior Prisoner of War. I have a few instructions for you to pass on to your subordinates..."

x-x-x

"Still think this plan's slag," Vortex said cheerfully, following Onslaught out onto the catwalk. Below them, Decepticon troops were herding the former guards into cells, crowding them in with the current occupants. "No more'n two guards per cell," he said sharply, switching over to the general encryption. The troopers glanced up at the officers on the catwalk, and shifted the extra guards to a different cell. "I swear, gotta babysit 'em all the time. See, this is why I don't command people. 'Cause they're stupid."

"You will do fine," Onslaught told him, scrolling down his datapad.

"Sure, I will, but I can't say that about them," Vortex shot back.

"They will be sufficient for our purposes in this matter."

Vortex waggled a rotor at him. "Translation: 'They'll do.' See? Two words. See how much shorter 'n quicker that was? Or could go wild and go for three words: 'They're good enough.' Give your vocalizer a break, Onsies! Why won't you think of the vocalizers?!"

Onslaught spared him a look, then continued. "You will have additional interrogators in ten cycles. Until then, make do with what you have. I trust that you will begin sorting through the prison population for prisoners with useful qualities as soon as possible. Or do you need a translation for that, as well?"

Vortex's rotors flicked. "Nope, I got it. 'Get your aft to work, Vortex.'"

x-x-x

Told them they shouldn't believe in that whole Decepticon "Liberation" slag, Swindle thought bitterly. The massive Decepticon shocktrooper escorting him down the hall gave him a shove, a silent but very clear message to hurry the frag up. Six cycles since the Decepticon takeover, and the only thing that'd changed was the cells getting more crowded. And now this; the new "Warden" the Decepticons had left in charge seemed to be ordering prisoners taken out for interrogation at random, and only about half were coming back. Personally, Swindle didn't think it was random at all. The Decepticons were looking for something, but frag if he knew what. 'Bout to find out, he thought with grim humor.

The soldier stopped in front of a door and entered a code into the security pad, shifting to keep Swindle from seeing what he typed. Not far enough, Clunky. Wonder what I can get for that code? Of course, the code would only help him if he survived. Frag it.

The door hissed open, but not to an interrogation room. The space was small and cramped, filled mostly by a desk and console. The gray mech at the desk glanced up at them, making a motion toward the lone chair facing the desk, and then went back to his datapad. Swindle sidled over to the chair, giving the big Decepticon escort a glare as the mech prodded him to go faster. Geez, I'm goin', I'm goin'. Wonder what he's in such a hurry about...

The gray mech waited for the door to close behind the trooper's rather hasty exit before speaking. "So. You're Swindle. Gotta nice list of misbehaviors here on file, don'tcha?"

"Yeah? What's it to you?" Swindle shifted in the chair, giving the other mech a sullen glare.

"And a fellow Kaon native, too," the mech commented, rather than answering. "Can't miss that twang. I'm Vortex, and the new base commander's put me in charge of findin' out some stuff on who's who in this big ol' mess of prisoners we inherited."

Swindle just scowled, not at all taken in by the display of fellowship. He'd never been sentimental about his home region, and he wasn't about to start now, especially not with a mech painted corpse-gray and his face hidden behind a battlemask. "And?"

"Says here you got collared in racketeerin'. Suspected of armsdealin' to 'Cons." Vortex cocked his head. "But you ain't declared a faction. Wanna elaborate on that?"

"Why the frag would I cut my prospective client base in half?" Swindle snorted. Fear made him angry, and anger made him blunt. "More'n half, since there's more 'Bots than Decepticons, and they're usually in more desperate need of guns anyway."

"Desperation makes people pay stupidly high costs," Vortex agreed. He leaned back in the chair, rotors stretching then relaxing. "'Course, declarin' the right allegiance might be the only way you're gonna get out of this prison alive," he said, voice bland.

Swindle considered that for only a moment. "Where do I sign up?"

x-x-x

"Y'wanted to see me, Boss?" Vortex meandered into the command center

Onslaught acknowledged him with a deep rumble of his engine, but kept his optics on the simulations playing out on the screen in front of him. "I have reviewed your reports. While I appreciate the alacrity in which they were delivered, I could have done without the commentary you chose to include."

"Eh, figured you could use some humor, since you didn't get any installed on creation," Vortex said, leaning on the console to casually scan over the simulations.

"Hm." Onslaught didn't miss the dig or Vortex's "idle" examination, but didn't comment. He handed the helicopter a data crystal. "The transfer orders for our new recruits," he said. "And Shockwave requires a selection of prisoners. His specifications are included. I expect you will find suitable candidates for him."

"Yeah, not a problem. We're still overcrowded, even with takin' out these ones."

"I did not expect you to be so concerned with prisoner comfort," Onslaught said dryly, turning back to his computer.

"I ain't. Like 'em crowded." Vortex hitched his rotors up, splaying them across the console, partially obscuring the simulations. Amused, Onslaught obligingly gave the interrogator his full attention. "In fact, thinkin' we're gettin' too much energon," Vortex continued, once Onslaught was looking at him.

Onslaught cocked his head, surprised. "Too much energon?"

"Wanna cut back rations by half," Vortex confirmed. "Guards by 'bout a quarter. Prisoners don't need it, and don't need the guards havin' extra to spare."

Onslaught's first reaction was to dismiss the suggestion out of hand – the Decepticons' prisoners had no legal rights, but he was disinclined to starve or unduly mistreat them, and the prisoners were already being given minimal rations. Under-fueling guards made the facility more vulnerable to attack - admittedly a minor concern, as the facility was well-fortified, and the Autobots wouldn't risk having their people executed as hostages, not when an exchange may still be possible. But the helicopter was obviously scheming something. "You've never expressed an interest in fuel conservation before. What are you planning, Vortex?"

"Increasin' the pressure on this little smeltin' pot," Vortex said, twitching a rotor in a shrug as he loaded the data crystal. "I want everyone not runnin' an interrogation desperate as frag."

"You would increase the risk of a prisoner uprising," Onslaught observed.

Even behind the visor and battlemask, the look Vortex gave him was disgusted. "Think I can't handle them? I know how to keep 'em in line."

Onslaught conceded that with a nod. "I will make the changes in the requisitions," he said. "Anything else?"

Vortex started to make a negative flick of his rotors, then paused mid-gesture, something in the transfer orders catching his attention. "You ain't sendin' the armsdealer out?" he asked curiously. "Pretty sure they could use him back in Kaon."

"No," Onslaught said, pleased that Vortex had picked that particular mech out of those he'd ordered sent back to the general population. "I have plans for him. I need you to befriend him and gain his trust," Onslaught continued brusquely.

"Could be difficult. Mech ain't the trusting type."

"I have every confidence in your abilities of persuasion," Onslaught said dryly.