What The Mind Forgets
Four of us wait for the fifth to return. I settle in to watch my fellow Sabocons. Rebound, as always, has some new invention open before him, wires and stray bits spilling out of its casing. Tumult paces, sits down for a few seconds, then gets up again. He hates to wait. Kickback is Tumult’s opposite, standing silently, one foot on the arm of a chair, arms folded and resting on his knee. He takes in everything at once, or seems to. He might just be watching Rebound.
Rebound looks up from his eternal tinkering as Shrapnel enters the main room. “Who hired us this time? Megatron again?”
“No, one of the Monitors, a fellow called Seaquake, quake,” replies Shrapnel, skim-reading the message on the compad. “There are Autobots in his Sector, and he wants us to find them, find them.”
Kickback nods slightly. “Search, but not destroy?”
“We’ll be paid more if we destroy, destroy.”
Tumult’s round form bounces in his excitement. “I’m for ‘destroy’!”
“Not until we know what we’re up against,” I say, suddenly feeling that something else is happening, something important …
… Wait, this isn’t a memory …
Bombshell snapped back to full awareness, and realised he was looking at three metal rings that dangled from the cannon-turret mounted on his head. He shouted before he even saw who was in the room: “SKITTER! ”
The tech was standing in front and slightly to one side of him, about ten metres away. She had another metal ring ready to toss, but refrained. “I tried to get your attention, but you wouldn’t snap out of it. I had to keep myself occupied somehow.”
“I might have been busy,” muttered Bombshell, taking the rings from his head.
“Might have been, but you were just playing with your memory-box again,” Skitter teased. The device actually had a proper, scientific name, but no one used it. “You don’t see me worried about my former life … though it’s a good guess it wasn’t much more than digging and eating. What are you looking for in all that, anyway?”
Skitter stopped twirling the circlet in her hands, instead placing her hands on her hips. “I think you’re obsessive, Bombshell, you know that?”
“I,” said Bombshell, “am seeking information on a potentially dangerous enemy.”
“Who is out in the forests somewhere with his little goon-squad. There’s not a lot they can do.”
“‘Not a lot’. Not ‘nothing’. If there’s any possible way he can strike back, he’ll find it, and I want to know what his most likely attack would be.”
The ant leaned past him to collect her rings, storing them on one of the insect legs protruding from her shoulder. “I don’t get why your memory-box is so important. You want to find stuff on Venom, check Cybertron’s archives.”
“The archives only say so much; technical information, résumés, records … Personal experience is better, especially from a psychological viewpoint.” Bombshell thought about that for a minute. “Though he might have old contacts still living up there … and maybe the computer at the Sabocon Base computer still works … I’ll have to check that later.”
He made to plug himself back into the computer, but Skitter snatched the wires away from him. “Venom is hoping you’ll go nuts looking for him, and once you’ve burned your silly self out, he’ll strike. C’mon, let’s go snack, then you can help me with my project. I hit a snag and decided after an hour of staring at it that I should look for assistance.”
Bombshell didn’t bother to ask which project – Skitter always had at least six running. It also didn’t occur to him to tell her to ask for help from someone else. “Oh, no, you’re not pulling me off-track again.” Bombshell tried to grab the wires back, but missed.
“I’ll carry you if you don’t come quietly.”
“I’m bigger than you are.”
Skitter grinned and shifted to her insect-mode. “Do you have any idea what the strength of a giant cyborg ant is?”
When Barrage finally returned to the camp, he wasn’t quite as damaged as Chopshop feared he would be. The scarab was limping though he didn’t seem to notice, and had assorted gashes and some crushing damage to his exoskeleton. Chopshop stood, folding his arms. “You were caught by surprise by a morphobot.”
“Not by the first one,” said Barrage, sitting in his usual place, stretching his damaged leg in front of himself. “Two teamed up. I don’t think they’re sentient, but they are intelligent.”
Which is more than I can say for you sometimes, Chopshop added to himself. “Why do you keep doing this to yourself? What were you thinking?”
“He isn’t an Insecticon.”
Chopshop was about to complain that the answer didn’t make any sense, then realised that in Barrage’s usual, literal way, it did. And since the scarab was being unusually talkative, Chopshop decided to push the point. “Who isn’t?”
Which was true. Venom had a Decepticon mind that was transferred into an Insecticon body. But that was a generally-known fact. “So?”
The warrior didn’t answer, lost again to his own thoughts. Chopshop wasn’t sure if Barrage was stupid, or if he was actually intelligent and just thought slowly. Every time he made up his mind one way, Barrage would say something that made Chopshop change his opinion. He wasn’t sure quite what to make of the scarab’s latest bit of dialogue.
There was no drawing Barrage out when he was lost in himself. Chopshop sat on the ground beside him and settled in to repair his leg.
Kickback looks back over his shoulder. We can see the smoke rising from the factory from here. He shakes his head. “Well, that was certainly one of the less-subtle jobs we’ve done.”
The rest of us burst out laughing. Not that the situation is funny. What should have been some routine factory sabotage turned out to be a set-up, and we barely managed to escape. We’re laughing because we’re alive.
Shrapnel regains control over his vocaliser first: “Megatron won’t be happy. This was supposed to be a stealth mission, mission.”
“We got it done, didn’t we?” asks Tumult. “And we took out a bunch ‘o the enemy all by our little selves. That oughtta be worth something.”
“We may even be allowed to keep our heads attached to our bodies,” Rebound murmurs, sending us into fresh fits of giggles.
Leaning heavily on Rebound and Shrapnel, Kickback sobers. “Really – What should we do?”
The other Sabocons look to me. Shrapnel is our leader, but if we’re going to be facing down angry Megatron, I’m the one who’s most likely to come up with the best way to deal with him. I look at the smoke still spiralling into the sky, then back to the others. “Let’s go back to base for repairs. Megatron won’t come find us himself; he’ll send someone. We’ll look that someone straight in the eye and tell him we got the job done. If he complains, we add that there must be extreme holes in the intelligence network if the Decepticons didn’t know the factory was a trap.”
We start back to our headquarters, walking. After a while, Rebound asks, “What if Megatron does come himself?”
“Then we run like maniacs.”
Bombshell chuckled a bit as he drew back from the memory. As it turned out, Megatron had sent Dirge, and the Sabocons had a great deal of fun with him … not that the feeling was mutual.
“You sound happy. Don’t move.”
Skitter, again. Against his better judgement, Bombshell obligingly held still. There were a few unusual noises behind him, and after a minute Skitter said, “Okay, you can move now.”
Bombshell turned around. Skitter was behind a small scaffold, holding a bucket of water. After an inquisitive silence, she shrugged. “I had everything set up so nice, but couldn’t bear to ruin your mood. Find what you were looking for?”
“No.” He put the memory-box wires away, then set about helping Skitter dismantle the scaffold. “What I need is a way to direct the memory retrieval. Each time I plug in I get something completely random.”
“So you need a search engine for your brain,” agreed Skitter. “You’d need a fairly high-level phase detector – Class Eight or Nine at least – or it either won’t work or it’ll fry your circuits and not work. Do we even have anything that delicate?”
She flopped down into his chair, hooking a leg over one side, setting her elbow on the other, and resting her chin in her hand. “And it will take a lot of convincing to get a toy that snappy away from the Decepticons. Can we build something like one?”
“Maybe. It should be easy enough to get the specs out of Cybertron’s archives,” agreed Bombshell.
Skitter looked disbelieving. “Since when do you use blueprints for anything?”
“When it’s my mind I’m going to be probing,” said Bombshell. “Now get out of my chair.”
“Ransack! Get down here!”
The locust peered down from his perch in the tree. “So’s you can drain my life-force into your pet? Make me.” Venom had spent the last two days with his hands buried in the unconscious form of the large copper ant he had dragged into camp. Ransack didn’t claim he had the faintest idea what alterations his leader made to the creature, but he did know that Venom intended to spark it. He also knew that Venom would give a lot to have him, Ransack, terminated. He was the only one who rebelled openly, after all …
“Ransack …” Venom began warningly, signalling Barrage.
The bronze form shifted to robot-mode, still sitting casually in the tree. And, just as casually, his concussion-blaster rested in his hands. “Come’n get me … ‘cept I ain’t much good to you damaged. You want your pet sparked, Venom, why don’t you do it? Or get Barrage to do it; I bet he would if you asked nice.”
Barrage set his jaw and drew a bead on Ransack with his sonic rifle … but his attention did flick for an instant to Venom. Venom seethed quietly, and Chopshop realised he had until the metaphoric ‘ten’ before his leader decided to give in to his rage anyway. “I could go to the Hive and bring a victim for your pet,” he said. “Then none of us will be weakened, or worse. It might take a few days, however …”
The fury drained from Venom – visibly, if one was looking for it. “Very well, Chopshop. Go.”
The stag beetle saluted, shifted, and took off through the forest, glad to be away from the others, and wondered vaguely why Venom didn’t think of the solution himself. The whole situation made him uncomfortable; Chopshop strongly suspected he was the only sane one of the four. Still, he felt a kinship with Ransack and Barrage, and hoped the two wouldn’t kill each other before he got back. If one decided to snap and kill Venom, on the other hand …
He wondered why he himself never terminated Venom. Certainly the cicada was wary, but he was also awkward, weak, and slow. Barrage wasn’t always guarding him, and Chopshop was sure that if he couldn’t talk Barrage out of killing him afterwards, he could at least escape from the scarab. Still, every time the opportunity presented itself, Chopshop just … let it pass.
And now Venom had his new pet; the creature he claimed would complete his revenge on the Insecticons, whatever that meant. Chopshop understood perfectly well why Shrapnel and the others didn’t want to serve Venom, but he couldn’t understand why Venom was so determined to lead the Insecticons when he could have easily stayed on Cybertron and found something to do up there … something more glamorous and important than leading a subgroup that the Decepticons didn’t even like …
He could just leave. But Venom had … holds on him, so Chopshop’s mind helpfully informed him whenever he tried to think about it. The stag beetle just had no idea what those holds were.
Besides, he didn’t have anywhere else to go.
“Cutter! Wait up a minute!”
The medic turned at the hail, and watched the dragonfly land on the silver grass outside the Hive. “Hello, Sway.”
“Hmm, how did you know my name is ‘Sway’?”
Cutter looked puzzled for a second. “I … It just had to be. I’ve never seen you before, but I … I know you, a little.”
“Hrmm, well that answers my first question,” muttered Sway. “You know who you are, I assume, hmm?”
Had he eyes instead of an optic visor, Cutter would have rolled them. “I know, I know – Kickback’s ‘clone’, even though I’m not. Bombshell already explained everything.”
Sway chuckled. “Kickback was worried that you might, hrmm, have some of his memories, but he refuses to talk to you himself, and Bombshell hasn’t decided that it’s possible yet. It seems you do. Hmm, anything else you shouldn’t know, names you remember before they’re said?” It might not have been the best approach, but ‘subtle’ and ‘tactful’ were not words commonly associated with Sway.
The grasshopper considered that. “It’s more feelings than proper memories, emotions and … tactile memories? Remembering the feel of things. I remembered Bombshell. I fear I wasn’t very cooperative with him because of that; something inside me kept telling me not to trust him. And there’s someone else I haven’t run into yet, and I think I’m glad of that.” He paused, then looked at Sway. “I don’t know his name. I just have this mental image of a large, dark shape and the feel of his claws tearing into my chest …”
“That would be Ransack. The one who thought he killed Kickback,” Sway snarled. “Kickback was wearing your form at the time, and, hrmm, got to watch as Ransack tore his real body apart.”
“That would explain why my memories of him are so … vivid, then,” said Cutter, sagging back against the wall of the Hive, crossing his hands protectively over his chest. “The emotions Kickback felt at the time were so strong …” The grasshopper sighed. “He’s going to hate this, isn’t he?”
“I’ll tell him to leave you alone.” Sway paused and smirked. “Hmm, though I doubt I’ll be able to stop Bombshell. He’ll, hmm, find out, and he’ll use you as a project to study memory retention in coleop shells. Good-bye.” She took to the air.
Cutter waved. “Thank you for the warning.”
It occurred to Chopshop that he was days away from Venom. He could betray him, easily; just warn the Insecticons, gather a small strike-force …
… Except that he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t. He belonged to Venom, though he couldn’t remember why …
There was a quick clinking sound emanating from a nearby clearing, so he crept closer, and realised he was in luck. One of the Insecticon warriors was there, dancing a kata alone, occasionally whirling to slice a tree with her blades. Chopshop recognised this one; a butterfly named Jade Fan who insisted she be called the Jade Fan, as if her name was a title. It suited her; the green blades of her wings did look like fans when she held them.
Chopshop wasn’t an honourable creature. He never had been. If the odds were against him, he would cheat. He was probably as fast as the Jade Fan, and stronger, but she was a much more skilled fighter, and she would be trying to kill him.
Two shots stunned her long enough for Chopshop to make a few alterations to ensure she’d stay in stasis.
Kickback sits, head cocked to one side, as if listening. In a way, he is; a wire trails from his gauntlet, jacked into our computer. Suddenly he unplugs himself, and looks over at me. “We’ve just received a very strange offer.”
“This prospective client wants to hire us to sabotage a starship.”
There aren’t that many starships left on Cybertron. The war has drained our resources too deeply for them. Still … “That sounds like an ordinary job for us.”
He shakes his head. “Oh, the job certainly sounds ordinary, Bombshell …” Kickback pauses just long enough that I’m about to ask again before he says, “The ship they want us to sabotage is Megatron’s.”
It takes a minute for that to sink in. “Megatron’s,” I repeat stupidly, then get up to pace the room. “Who is the client? Someone who just wants him out of the way or an Autobot?”
“Like I could tell from an audio-only communication,” snaps Kickback. “My guess would be an Autobot. Intelligence says they have a ship too, and intend to scout more energy with it. A Decepticon wouldn’t be able to pay us, not with this power shortage.”
He leans back against the console and taps his fingers against the insignia on his chest. “The question, I fear, is just how loyal are we to the Decepticons?”
“The question, Kickback, is which side do we support to ensure our continued survival?” I stop, staring at the wall. “We need to decide which faction will find a new energy source first, and stay on their good side … By helping the Autobots or by warning the Decepticons, in this case.”
“Or we can escape this dying planet and strike out on our own.”
“We don’t have a ship, Kickback. Even if we did, we couldn’t power it.”
“Try this: We sneak aboard the Decepticon ship. If the ship passes a likely planet, we borrow one of the escape pods.” Kickback grins. “That’s at least one advantage to being small …”
He shook his head to clear it, and was startled by a sudden clatter behind him. He turned to find Skitter with a pile of junk at her feet and a guilty expression on her face. Bombshell folded his arms. “Well?”
The ant pouted. “I was going to pile stuff around your chair like a cocoon, but you came out of it before I could even begin! I was running late this morning.”
“Score one for the weevil, then,” said Bombshell. Sometimes his timer would go off and pull him back to awareness, and sometimes it would happen randomly. This time was random, but he didn’t bother to say that. “What do you want?”
She thought that over. “I came in here to pull a prank on you, but you interrupted me, so I guess I’ve got no reason to be in here now.”
“What, no obviously fake reason like ‘I forgot my left-handed wrench’? Shrapnel will be disappointed I won’t have any new Skitter Excuses for him.” Bombshell sighed. “How did you get in here, anyway? I locked that door.”
Skitter looked innocent. “You did?”
“I, hmm, talked to Cutter yesterday.”
Surprised, Kickback flipped into robot-mode, dropping the branch he was chewing on. “What? Why?”
Sway shifted as well, and stifled the urge to shake him. That’s the problem with the smart ones, like him and Bombshell, she decided. They come up with their ideas and theories and it never occurs to them that they might be wrong. And, of course, they can’t possibly ask Cutter what he thinks of all this. Instead she said, “Hrmm, because no one else will.” She settled a hand on Kickback’s arm. “He remembers, a little.”
“What!? I’ll …” Kickback attempted to start away, but Sway yanked him back.
“Hrmm, leave him alone, Kickback.”
“I was going to, but … but he … he remembers! Sway …”
Sway sighed and ran her fingers along Kickback’s gauntlet. “What are you afraid of? It sounds like he’s only retained, hmm, emotional impressions. All he got from you was a mistrust of Bombshell and a fear of, hrmm, Ransack.”
“And you.” Kickback looked down, trailing the front edge of his foot through the gray sand. “I … thought about you a lot, during that time …”
“Kickback,” said the dragonfly firmly, “I’m not going to run away with Cutter. I said I’d wait for you and I, hmm, will.”
If Kickback had an answer to that, it was interrupted by Dagger’s arrival, the assassin bug skidding to a stop in a cloud of sand. “Kickback, Jade’s missing.”
“The Jade Fan?” asked the grasshopper. “She vanishes every so often. She likes to be alone.”
“I know that, but she’s been gone for five days, and no one can contact her. Her radio doesn’t even activate, and I think she would have told someone if she was going to leave permanently,” said Dagger. While social creatures as a rule, a few Insecticons had split from the Hive to make their own ways on Coleop or Cybertron.
Sway snorted. “I know her. She, hmm, claims to hate people, but she’d never leave. She, hrmm, wants an audience.”
It was an uncharitable view, but one Kickback knew was accurate. “Does anyone have any idea of where she went? Who saw her last?”
Dagger considered that. “Devourer … no, probably one of the techs. Dev beat Jade in a fight, so she went into one of her snits. But she must have stopped in at the repair bay first – she was torn up pretty bad.”
“Hmm, I’m not surprised. Those two can’t stand each other … Mm, come to think of it, I don’t know of anyone who likes the Jade Fan,” Sway amended. “Of course, she might be doing this just to see if we get, hrmm, worked up about it …”
“Not her style. If she wants attention, she’s going to make sure she’s there to bask in it.” Kickback hopped into the air, hovering. “I’m going to ask around at the repair bay, in case they know anything.”
Light and voices … There are things I know, and I don’t question them. Instead, I stand – a complicated series of twists – and find myself in a large room with five others. Four are like me and one is not. Already I am wary of the outsider.
He says: “My name is Venom. Declare yourselves.”
One of mine says: “I am Shrapnel, master of electronic warfare, warfare.”
Another: “I am Rebound, a saboteur.”
Another: “Kickback. Espionage.”
Me: “I am Bombshell. My function is psychological warfare.”
And: “I’m Tumult. I’m also bored. When do we get to do something?”
“Soon,” says Venom. “You are my Sabocons, and …”
Shrapnel cocks his head to the side. “‘Yours’, yours? You created us, created us?”
“Your shells were given to me on the authority of Commander Megatron,” Venom informs us patiently. “I gave you life by bringing you here.”
Kickback’s mouth twists slowly into a smirk. “Any drone could have done the same.”
Venom is quickly losing control of the situation, but it doesn’t show on his face. “You are programmed with skills and training, but you haven’t any experience yet. First I will teach you, and once you are ready, I will take you to Megatron for his approval.”
As one, we Sabocons all step back and exchange glances. Something in us rebels at the thought of belonging to anyone. Suddenly Shrapnel laughs. “Maybe we’ll go find Megatron ourselves, selves.” He shifts to his other form and the rest of us follow suit, flying past Venom and into the corridor, laughing with the sheer joy of new existence. Venom calls after us to come back, but we don’t listen.
Some time later, Bombshell pulled himself back to awareness … an awareness that included the quiet sounds of someone absorbed in their work. He peered over his desk to find Skitter kneeling in the floor, messing with one of his inventions. “Hey, stop that.”
“Like you ever got this thing to work,” she retorted. “You’re lucky I got interested in it – I was going to paint everything on your desk purple. You were out of it for a long time. The search-thingy work?”
There was a can of purple paint sitting by the door. Bombshell chose to ignore it. “Quite well. I know why Venom thinks he owns us – Megatron gave him our programmed shells, and Venom took us to Vector Sigma to be sparked.”
“Yuck. How long before you guys rebelled?”
“About a minute,” admitted Bombshell. “We decided we didn’t want to be owned, and ran away. We were lost in Cybertron for days before we made it to the surface. After that, we found the main Decepticon base and broke in, just to show off.” He sighed. “We were caught, of course, but Megatron was in a good mood and thought the attempt was cute – not that he said it that way. We were granted autonomy, more or less, much to Venom’s displeasure. He still acted as our liaison, though he’d still try to convince us to let him lead every so often.”
Skitter giggled. “Stories like that make me proud to be an Insecticon – heir to the Sabocon tradition of mischief, non-compliance, and general troublemaking.”
The blue creature on the table had far too many legs for Kickback’s liking. It was also very thoroughly dead, its underbelly slit from head to tail, and assorted parts removed and stored on a nearby shelf. One of the techs was up to her elbows in the centipede, with every sign of enjoyment. Kickback knocked twice on the doorframe to get her attention. “Hey. I’m told you were the one who repaired the Jade Fan five days ago.”
“Yep,” agreed Frostbite without looking up. After a minute, the tool in her hand stopped humming, and she straightened, dusting metal powder from her hands. “Why?”
“She’s gone missing,” said Kickback. “Did she say anything to you about where she intended to go?”
The wasp shook her head. “No. She didn’t say anything at all.” Which was perfectly in keeping with the Jade Fan’s personality. Then, “What do you think of this one?” Frostbite asked, tapping one of the centipede’s inert legs. “Lovely creature, isn’t it? It took three of our warriors to bring it down. One of these would make an excellent hunter Insecticon, I’d think. Want one?”
“It might be a bit big,” said Kickback.
Chopshop set the Jade Fan on the ground before shifting back to robot-mode. “I got one, Venom,” he said, unnecessarily. “She still functions; I disconnected her mind from her body, leaving only the connections required to keep her form alive.” He also made sure she would remain in stasis-mode, unaware. Even Chopshop had limits.
“Excellent work. Bring her.”
With a stifled sigh, Chopshop slung the warrior over his shoulder and followed Venom into the cave. The cicada waved him over. “Set her next to my creation and stay. I might still need your skills.”
He did, then stepped back. Venom cracked the Jade Fan’s exoskeleton open, exposing her circuitry. “It occurs to me … I may have use for more than this one’s lifeforce …”
The guided search device worked well, as long as there was anything to find.
Huge sections of Bombshell’s memory were missing entirely, in one part for a run of several centuries. There was nothing to be done for it; it was a miracle that he and the others were alive at all after the crash on Earth four million years ago. Still, he might be able to convince Shrapnel to come down for a few sessions to see if the missing sections could be filled in. Kickback wouldn’t do it.
However, there was enough for a pattern to emerge: Where Venom the Decepticon was a patient, careful, sophisticated being, Venom the Insecticon was a monomaniacal lunatic. Something had happened to him … In the last four million years, thought Bombshell, disgusted. That’s not really helpful.
An internal alarm went off, and Bombshell mentally detached himself from his memory-box. It wasn’t any sort of outside threat that set off the warning; more like an alarm clock telling him he’d been at it for two hours now. He took a quick look around the room, and was almost disappointed that everything on his desk hadn’t been turned upside down, or that he hadn’t been tied to his chair, or something equally strange. He found he rather missed the weirdness.
Bombshell unplugged the wire from himself, and was rolling it up to put away when he noticed the note on his desk: If you want to see your phase callipers ever again, leave fifty kilos of lithium-copper alloy in vent N-34 before second shift. You cannot find me! You cannot trace me! – Sincerely, Skitter.
He managed to crumple the note before succumbing to a laughing fit.
Chopshop came skidding out of the cave, on his back, and crashed to a stop at the base of a tree. Ransack looked over from where he was chewing on a coleop leg. “What did he do now?”
“Tried to make his own Queen, I think … and she’s not happy about it.”
“That’s loopy. Where’s he store all the information she’d need to be a Queen?” the locust demanded. “And how’s he expect to make new bodies for new people? Even his pet can only transform because he took the Jade Fan’s transform circuits.”
“It probably all hinges on taking over the Hive or something. And I think we both know that Venom has no idea what he’s doing,” sighed Chopshop.
Both Insecticons looked over at another shriek. Ransack flipped into his robot-mode and unslung his concussion-blaster from his hip with every sign of boredom. “I guess we gotta go to the rescue, hmm?”
“That last scream sounded like Barrage. I’d like to get him out, at least,” said Chopshop. “Venom and his pet can work out their differences in any way they choose.”
If Ransack noticed that Chopshop let him go first, the warrior didn’t care. He quickly took in the scene: Barrage was a heap by the wall, not quite unconscious, while Venom lay collapsed at the feet of his pet … or what had been his pet. Not that it mattered.
Not that Ransack got a second shot.
The first blast caught the copper Insecticon in the back, sending her sprawling forwards over Venom. She managed to roll to her feet and fire off a few shots at Ransack with Barrage’s sonic rifle. The shots were too wild to actually hit, but the shockwaves were enough to throw Ransack off-balance. The ant tried to make a break for it then, but Ransack lashed out with a foot and managed to bring his opponent to the ground.
To his surprise, Venom’s pet was as strong as he was, and managed to tumble him onto his back and gain the upper hand. She drew a sword from her strange ‘tail’ before Ransack recovered from his mistake and knocked it from her grasp. Automatically, she reached after her weapon, but a bronze fist caught her in the face and sent her to the ground.
Ransack grabbed the copper Insecticon by her antennae and pulled her to her knees. She caught the hand holding her, and gave the metal a sharp twist, leaving the locust’s left hand and gauntlet a crumpled mess. One of her feet stuck out, kicking the almost-forgotten concussion-blaster from Ransack’s other hand. Instead of worrying about the weapon, Ransack struck back, claws tearing ugly but non-serious gashes in the ant’s chest-plating.
Barrage was still struggling to remain conscious, but Venom had regained his feet and his attitude: “Ransack! I want her undamaged!”
“Go suck nectar, you noisemaker! I … unngh!” A fist to the jaw knocked the locust back. Before he could recover his footing, or even move, the copper Insecticon had snatched up her sword and driven it through his chest, pinning him to the ground. When no one moved to stop her, she withdrew the blade and vanished into the forest.
“Don’t just stand there, you fools – follow her!”
The aforementioned ‘fools’ ignored Venom; Barrage had finally slipped into stasis, while Chopshop was crouched over Ransack, trying to determine if the locust was even alive. Venom tried again to get their attention: “Well?”
“She’s your pet; you chase her,” snapped Chopshop without looking up from his work. The cicada simply turned on his heel and stalked back to the cavern to deal with his own damages.
The sword had missed Ransack’s main fuel line, but had damaged enough of his internal systems to knock him into stasis. Working quickly, Chopshop found the seals on the warrior’s outer plating, removing it to expose the chassis underneath. Ransack was still leaking energon from his mangled hand, so Chopshop sealed off the flow to his arm before settling in to work on his other systems. Barrage might have internal rupturing for all the beetle knew, but if he didn’t, Chopshop didn’t want to waste time on him when he knew Ransack was dying.
Once Chopshop decided that he’d stabilised Ransack, he went back to work on Barrage, and was pleased to find that the scarab’s internal repair system had already dealt with the worst of it. Barrage would be in stasis for a while longer, and he’d be starving when he awoke, but he would survive. Chopshop turned back to Ransack …
… And found the warrior had recovered his senses, sitting up, staring out into the forest and shaking his head. Chopshop folded his arms in exasperation. “You shouldn’t be up yet, you dolt. I haven’t finished repairing you.”
Ransack wasn’t paying him any attention, his visor lit in what would have been a wide, triumphant grin.
To be continued ...