A/N: … Yeah, I'm alive. Woooo. Since last I updated, TFP ended. That happened. Sorry. Thanks to everyone who's still here, and to everyone who reads/reviews/follows/favourites.
Apologies for the wait, for the shortness of the chapter, for my rusty writing and in advance for the wait after this – I have two and a half months of schooling left and serious grades to raise. The good news is that after that I plan to get serious writing done.
Cobalt woke with alarm already throwing his systems into overdrive. He half expected to look down and see his internals hanging out, or straggling energon-stained wires where limbs should be. He was surprised he had woken up, in fact. He had been certain that when the world had darkened as his visor faded, he was seeing his last glimpses of life. To his utmost surprise, he was fully intact. No gaping rents, no shattered glass, not even a fresh scratch in his paint. For a moment he simply stared, disbelieving, and then abruptly rapped a curled fist against the glass panel in his chest as it hissed sealed. It was solid. Right then. Well. Had he imagined the nightmarish shadow dropping from the ceiling? It had seemed real at the time... No, no he hadn't imagined it. His imagination wouldn't have made it so small.
The Eradicon stepped out almost automatically. Nervous glances up and down the corridor revealed nothing out of the ordinary. The other upright berths either contained empty space or peacefully recharging drones. He checked a few, but none had been brutally decapitated. Right. The mystery of the scary shadow (it sounded so much less sinister now than it had actually felt at the time) could be solved later; for the moment he had places to go, things to - Something clattered behind him.
Cobalt froze. Imagination. Imagination or really ironic timing. Should he turn and face whatever it was? That would be a Blade thing to do. Turn and fight and probably win. Steel would, too. Even Dispatch would probably only run a few steps for some tactical sort of reason before hitting the weak points and impassively watching it fall.
Cobalt was unfortunately himself, and when the high-pitched clicking shrieks started he did not turn and fight. He ran, and ran faster when they started following him.
Blade. Was. Tired.
Her patrol had been long, and while it consistently lasted within sixty seconds of the same time, it still seemed like every day it wasted a little more of her life. Well, not wasted. She understood the purpose to endlessly circling the entrance to a mine in alt mode - cameras missed things and most couldn't shoot back if anything did happen, and humans were so stupidly curious that there was a chance they would turn up - but it was still mind-numbingly boring. Once again, nothing had happened except a stupid animal running beneath her tyres and making her swerve, skiting against a sign. The slightly crumpled armour of her shoulder still bore testament.
She'd have to get it fixed, but that was getting put off for as long as possible. She hated going to medics. It felt like admitting that she had failed, even though it was the suicidal flesh-creature's fault. Hope the next person has a worse reaction time and hits that thing.
She wasn't particularly fond of alt mode, either. Her mangled arm made transforming painful and driving made her vulnerable. More stability, admittedly, but it was much harder to recover if control was lost. And then there was the fact that vehicular combat was most certainly not her area of expertise. There was nothing to do but ram things, and considering the quality of her armour, that wasn't much. There were the side blasters too but she only had one and it was next to impossible to aim.
She finally reached the corridor holding her berth and glared at the Vehicon paused in front of another upright recharge pod. "I'm goin', don't panic." She was another Pit regular, a pretty good shot. Unfortunately the amount of time she spent in a locked stance had somehow stiffened up her knees and ankles. It didn't show while she was walking, but once she had to do anything else she either stopped moving or slowed dramatically. Or fell backwards in a very controlled way to drape herself over the spokes right. Blade walked past once she was done, wondering how on earth they managed so much wear and tear in their short lives. The officers had been going for millennia and they didn't so much as squeak when they moved. But then, they could shrug off damage that would kill a drone. Just what kind of shoddy material had they used for their cannon fodder?
A junction cracked the grey walls of the corridor just before her berth and Blade's shoulder wheels spun forwards in relief. Finally, the day was over. As soon as the rapidly approaching clattering shut off she could recharge.
Unfortunately the clattering seemed determined to collide with her first.
The tips of her claws tightened around the other drone's throat as the rest of her body followed her good arm. Her weapon clicked against the abdomen and a panicked burst of static escaped Cobalt's vocaliser among the gusts of air he was expelling to try and avoiding overheating.
"Blade, don't stab me, in fact just run – it's right behind me –"
She growled and didn't let go. Or lower her bladed arm. He was wasting precious seconds of shutdown and he would pay. Her voice was so flat that her words barely sounded like a question. "What's right behind you, airhead?" She already knew the answer because she could see it over his shoulder; an empty corridor.
"I – I'm, ah, not actually sure but it doesn't sound pretty and – and it must have stopped following me if neither of us are dead yet. Please let me go?" Cobalt tried to tilt his head and wobbled slightly in her chokehold. His optic band brightened in panic.
She tightened her grip. "That's honestly the best you can come up with."
He gave a frustrated burst of static, not seeming to realise that her talons were a few inches from major energon lines. "Look, I'm not lying! Something's following me! It has been for days, except I thought I'd imagined it, and I think it lives in the ceiling or something and this really isn't helping my case, is it?" His visor had faded as he spoke, as though so much energy was going into talking that he couldn't keep his vision online, but the last word had it flaring bright red as he glanced at her.
Lives in the ceiling? He's finally dropped the pretence of sanity… "Nope."
He wriggled uncomfortably and his wings twitched. "I'm guessing protesting my honesty won't do any good?"
"Good guess." She released his neck and stepped back, already turning. "Go away."
He didn't. The clicks of aligning internals as he rubbed at his neck faded off into silence and Blade waited. "Are your audios broken? Go."
"I'm not staying here for the express purpose of irritating you, I just… There really is something following me and I'd rather not die. Does the Pit have air vents?" She resisted the urge to turn and stare at him.
"Listen, idiot, there are no sparkeaters, no scraplets, not so much as a turbofox on this ship to haunt your nightmares. Nothing but officers and drones. If you're so scared of your own overactive imagination-"
"And insecticons." This time she did glare, and his hands went up in mock defence. Strange that he still wasn't taking her seriously. Even stranger that he seemed reassured. "Fine, I'm going. If I don't turn up to the next meeting, it's got me. Whatever it is."
"Then I hope it's real."
He splayed pointed digits over his chest emblem. "I'll haunt you forever, both literally and emotionally. You'll regret-"
"If you somehow manage that I will pull your ethereal wings off and stuff them down your throat."
"Ethereal?" He tilted his head and she could hear the faceless grin. "My, my, I'm going to have to up my verbiage. I didn't know you could do sophisticated banter. Though you need practice. That middle part was pretty petty-sounding. And please don't kill me I'm going bye!" His last words were punctuated by quick steps backwards as she rolled her shoulders, letting her blade glint in the light. Finally, she turned again and settled back into the berth, glaring up the junction at Cobalt's still-retreating back.
"He's late." It was unusual for Dispatch to allow that hint of uneasiness to enter her voice. Blade rolled her gaze towards her in the awkward silence – they were the only two to have made it so far. Dispatch quietly wished that someone, anyone else would show up so that the other femme could at least share out her glaring. Ignoring the animosity was tiring.
"Are you surprised?" Blade's voice was even more doused in sarcasm than usual. The administrator didn't bother meeting her optic band, opting to keep her own fixed on the entrance.
"Steel, not Cobalt."
Blade cracked the knuckle joints of her good hand and absently stropped her weapon on the nearby bulkhead. It was almost like she was apprehensive, except Blade didn't do apprehensive. She muttered something and Dispatch spoke without turning.
"Do you know where either one is?"
"What, you think I stabbed the idiot? And how would I know where Steel goes?" Dispatch almost shrugged but dipped her head instead, shoulder wheels rotating backwards ever so slightly with every rasssp. Did she have to do that? The shard was sharp enough already; more stropping would only wear it away.
"It was just a query." The silence stretched again, broken only by the stropping. Just as Dispatch began to count the minutes until she had to go back to her post, the grating of blade-edge on bulkhead stopped.
"Are there cameras in the air vents?"
Dispatch looked around before she could stop herself and barely held back a confused response. There was still a questioning note to her tone, unfortunately, and Blade seemed to start at it as much as what she herself had asked. "I don't think so?" She recovered quickly. "No, there aren't. Although there are some movement sensors." That had started malfunctioning a few weeks earlier and were currently down for maintenance. "Why? Is it relevant?"
Blade shifted her weight. "Nope, just wondering." Dispatch looked at her for a moment longer before giving up and returning to watching the door. Neither party particularly wanted to remember this conversation, fortunately. But why air vents? What did air vents have to do with anything?
The arch of an entrance opened suddenly, bouncing wings and swinging stride announcing Cobalt before he even got a chance to talk. Blade's shoulder wheels spun forward. Then both warrior and organiser froze.
"Hi, sorry I'm late." Cobalt looked from one to the other. "I appreciate the warm welcome..." Silence reigned absolute. He let out a burst of static and decided to forge onwards. "Dispatch, I found a hopeful – my shiftmate, my batch, ends in 34, Swift. And I need more information on your one. Dispatch?" He glanced around again. "Blade? Either of you?"
The door hissed open behind him to admit Steel. "Apologies, Soundwave showed up to-" He joined the silent staring with one silvered hand hovering over the control panel.
"Seriously, what?" Their resident recruiter's pretence of ignorance was fading now, mischief creeping into his tone. He snapped his claws. Dispatch hadn't been aware that this was physically possible with their three-digited hands. "Oh, right! And I made a friend!" He reached up to his shoulder. Purple wings twitched for balance as the small, rough-plated shape that seemed to have lodged itself there chittered and moved, pushing what might possibly be called a head into the palm.
"The slag." Blade recovered a fraction of a second before Dispatch.
"Is that…" The stars aligned and speech deserted both of them.
An oddly shaped yellow visor fixed on each drone in turn, jerking between them. A worried warble escaped the creature.
"They're usually friendlier. Well, Steel usually is. Sort of." The stage whisper rose into normal speech. "Steel, Dispatch, Blade, this is Bob. Bob, say hi." 'Bob' chittered obligingly.
"C-Hmm." Steel's voice was calm as he avoided using a name. "That is an Insecticon."
"Ahh, he's only little." Cobalt clasped his claws under his chin and tilted his head, said Insecticon nuzzling against his armoured neck. "I can keep him, right?"
A/N: All reviews/questions/opinions greedily accepted. Any mistakes, please point them out as I felt like I was constantly making them (and part of this was first-drafted while jetlagged, so .) I have been planning Bob for SO long. Also, more will be explained about him next Nemesis chapter. Hopefully it won't be six months in the writing. Ha.