Let The Ants Try

One of the problems with Cybertron was that it was an unnatural world, and as such, had no natural resources. Coleop, on the other hand, had little but natural resources. It was one of the reasons why the Insecticons were tolerated. The main reason was that if the Insecticons were on Coleop, they weren’t on Cybertron, annoying the Decepticons.

The Insecticons knew this, but as long as the Decepticons weren’t actively trying to squash them, they also didn’t care. So there was the general arrangement: The Insecticons would send raw materials to Cybertron and stay out from underfoot, in exchange for tools they couldn’t themselves manufacture, processed materials, and continued existence. It wasn’t the nicest agreement, but both sides were reasonably happy with it.

Kickback was overseeing the latest shipment. He kept track of them, of course, being the Official Insecticon Who Dealt With The Decepticons When They Had To. He rarely had the same title two days in a row, but the job was the same. This time he was going to go along himself; Bombshell wanted the old Sabocon records, and while there were a few Insecticons on Cybertron, they wouldn’t be able to get into the Sabocon headquarters. Kickback wasn’t sure if he himself could get in. While Shrapnel, Bombshell, and himself used to be three of the five Sabocons, the alterations to his mind and body might have changed him too much to be able to get past the defences.

He half-hoped that the base wouldn’t accept his signature. That might be fun.

And Sway was going to come along, which added to it. It wasn’t any macho urge to show off Cybertron; Sway had been there a few times before, and hadn’t found it very interesting. It was just that annoying the Decepticons wasn’t nearly as much fun when one was alone.

The larger the insect, the smaller the swarm. Venom’s copper ants were over three metres long, and their numbers rarely reached more than a few hundred per colony.

This was more than enough.

The technicians at the Hive barely had a chance to detect the minor seismic vibrations before the ants erupted from the ground in a copper swarm, Venom’s Insecticons spearheading the attack.

Within seconds, Kickback found himself in charge with no time to organize a defence. “Stay in the air as much as you can! These things can’t fly!”

“Very few of us have ranged weapons, Kickback!” Sway’s spear flashed in a gold arc, decapitating an ant. “Hrmm, a clone army would be very useful right now.”

“Which leaves just one question,” said Kickback. “Where the blazes is Shrapnel!?

“I’ve never heard of ants migrating underground before,” said Coronapis. “Maybe it’s a new species.”

“More work for Frostbite, frostbite,” agreed Shrapnel. “We really should have more than one entomologist.”

Coronapis chuckled. “I just spark them, I don’t program them. Typical of the Insecticon mindset to have everything but the obvious.”

“Well, while we’re here, we should see what species of ant made these tunnels, tunnels,” said Shrapnel, starting down the passageway towards the nest.

“We’re barely making a dent in the ants, Kickback! Hrmm, there’s too many of them!”

“I know, baby.” Kickback fired off a couple of shots, then turned and slashed his claws across the plating of an ant that got too close. “Some ants swarm, but with Venom and his friends leading the charge, I’ve got the sneaking feeling that this isn’t normal behaviour.”

“Then Venom is probably controlling them somehow,” agreed Sway. “And if we, hmm, take him out, the ants may scatter.” She sheathed her weapons and shifted to her dragonfly-mode. “It’s worth a try.”

“He’ll be guarded, you lunatic!” shouted Kickback, about to chase after her, but was distracted by something taking a bite out of his foot and trying to pull him down. Exasperated with the universe in general, Kickback gave himself up to his current battle. Sway could take care of herself.

If he was nothing else, Ransack was persistent.

This wasn’t always a positive quality. While he would track any target with single-minded determination, this wasn’t a useful trait in the middle of, say, a large-scale ground battle. Because when Ransack caught sight of a familiar green form, he tossed both friend and foe aside as he stalked towards his target.

The target, while sometimes striking out with deadly precision, for the most part was just trying to figure out how best to retreat. Then something caught him from behind and hissed, “Hello, again.”

He had never actually met his attacker, but he knew him, and he knew his voice. “Ransack! I’m not … I’m not …”

“Uh-uh, that ain’t gonna work again, ‘Cutter’,” hissed Ransack, tightening his grip just enough to make Cutter feel like his arms were going to be crushed in the bronze hands. “The little body-switch was clever the first time, but it’s not going to work if you just use the same one.”

Ransack howled as laserfire tore into his back, then turned to snarl at his attacker. “I’ll come play with you later, you … You?”

Kickback had his rifle aimed at the locust’s chest. “If it’s me you’re after, you should at least recognise me.”

The locust tossed Cutter aside, the medic already forgotten. “You and your little decoys. Are you a fake, too?”

“Not this time, Ransack. Come get me.”

Barrage landed beside Venom, all weapons blazing. Venom laughed. “This will show them! I should lead the Insecticons! This will …”

Venom would have been more surprised if he had seen the blast coming. As it was, he was cut-off in mid-rant. Barrage caught the cicada before he fell, then slung him over his shoulder and gestured to Chopshop to follow him.

It was easy for Barrage to catch Venom. Barrage shot him, after all.

Nihil ignored the fight around her, focussing on her objective.

It was extremely easy to get into the Hive; the Insecticons were busy fighting the ants, or in hiding. The result was the same as it always was, as it should be – she could continue her task unhindered.

She had done this once before, in hazy memories. There was the flight, and mating, and tearing off her own wings, and, helpless, being taken away by Others. But the Others loved her, fed her, groomed her, and in time took her to their Queen. All this was right. And she had climbed on the back of the Other’s Queen, and bit through her neck. The Others raised her brood as if they were of their kind, and in time were replaced entirely by her children.

Now she was Nihil, and it was the same. It didn’t matter that it was all according to Venom’s own plans; everything that was Nihil wanted to – had to – complete this task.

She had never been inside the Hive before. It might have been the Jade Fan’s programming that guided her steps, or it might have been instinct. Nihil knew where she was going, where she had to be …

Anticlimactically, the door opened automatically before her. One glance told her the impossible – the room was unoccupied. Coronapis’ ‘tail’ was there, of course, but the Queen herself was not.

Nihil threw back her head and howled her rage: “WHERE IS SHE!?

He had made a serious mistake, and he knew it.

There was no way outside of extreme luck that Kickback could take on Ransack by himself. He was faster than the locust, and trickier … but Ransack was too strong to get anywhere near, and too well-armoured for Kickback’s shots to do more than sting him. Cutter was no help; the medic had bolted at first opportunity.

Kickback waited for Ransack to take another shot at him, and blasted the gun out of the bronze warrior’s hand. Then, half-shifting, he lashed out with his insectoid feet, denting Ransack’s plating and sending him crashing to the ground.

Knowing his own weapon was next-to-useless on Ransack’s thick armour, Kickback tried to snatch up the locust’s own concussion-blaster from where it landed.


The instant his back was turned, Kickback found himself face-first on the ground, Ransack’s weight crushing him into the grass. Pinned, the grasshopper used the only attack left to him; he swivelled his head around and took a bite out of Ransack’s arm.

Startled, Ransack jerked back, giving Kickback enough room to scramble out from under him. Still, the locust gathered himself quickly enough to grab his opponent’s foot, dragging Kickback to him. Kickback shifted to grasshopper-mode and nailed Ransack in the chin with his free leg, but at the same time, Ransack twisted Kickback’s caught leg into uselessness.

Shreeeeee! Heads up, cutie!” Blight and Darkside flashed from the sky like dark lightning; Darkside knocked Ransack back, while Blight scooped Kickback up and took back to the air.

“I …”

The blue locust landed a distance away and set Kickback on the ground. “‘You’ nothing, cutie. You’re too damaged to fight that goon. Don’t worry – we won’t tell Sway we bailed you out.” With a grin and a pat on his shoulder, Blight took off again to aid her partner in the fight.

Darkside had managed to shove one of her javelins through the hand Ransack held his concussion blaster in, but he simply transferred the weapon to his other hand. And despite her one hit on the locust, Darkside would have been in a great deal of trouble if Blight didn’t return and start tearing into Ransack’s back. He managed to shake her off, but now Ransack had two quick little targets to deal with.

Thirty seconds later, the odds changed again.

“She’s not there, Ransack! The Queen is not there!” Nihil’s sword flashed out as she ran, cutting deep into Darkside’s chest. Blight gathered up her partner and leapt away, leaving Ransack and Nihil alone on the low ridge.

“What are you doing out here, Nihil? You were supposed to secure the chamber!”

“It’s no good to me so long as the old Queen lives!” Nihil scowled. “I don’t expect a stupid creature like you to understand …”

With a snarl, Ransack caught the copper warrior by her neck. “I’m your soldier, Nihil, not your drone.”

I am your Queen, and you are whatever I want you to be.”

For a long moment, their gazes locked in a silent battle of wills. Then, very slowly, Ransack relaxed his grip. “You’re an Insecticon, not an insect. Try to remember that.”

Then, without another word, they charged back into the fray.

“Barrage, halt!”

Barrage found himself with Sway hovering before him, one of her spears almost touching his nose. Most people would have shouted for her to get out of their path or made some other threat. Barrage simply opened fire, two charges ripping through Sway’s side before exploding behind her, the shockwaves blasting her to the ground. Barrage didn’t even look at her. “Chopshop, hurry!”

“What about Ransack and Nihil?”

“They’re in their element,” Barrage shot back. “And we don’t need them. Now set the space-bridge, then come with us!”

They found themselves fighting back-to-back. “The ants are scattering,” said Nihil.

“I don’t know where Venom got to. I saw the space-bridge activate, so maybe he went that way, leavin’ us behind.” Ransack knocked an Insecticon from the sky with a concussion blast. “Can’t you control the colony?”

“I’ve been trying,” Nihil retorted. “Venom either did something to me or to the ants, so I can’t.” She blocked an attack, then, “We are going to be very outnumbered in a few minutes. We should retreat.”

“I hate running.”

“So do I.” Still, by unspoken agreement, both took to the air and fled. Survival always took precedence over anything else.

Too damaged to fight physically, his left leg still in grasshopper-mode and too mangled to fold up properly, Kickback had taken to the sky, sniping at the copper ants below. Dagger flew up to hover beside him. “I think the ants are retreating.”

“That’s what it looks like,” agreed Kickback. “Get back on the ground and help with the wounded. I’ll pick off the stragglers.”

Once he was satisfied that the copper ants were all either dead or gone, Kickback could turn his attention to other priorities. He landed, but gracelessly, his leg folding uselessly under him. He crashed to the grass with a curse.

“You’re damaged.”

“Brilliant observation, Cutter,” Kickback snarled from the ground. He squirmed away when Cutter tried to help him up. “Just because I can’t stand up doesn’t mean I’m dying. Go help someone who needs it. I have to find Sway; we got split up in the fight.”

Using his good leg, Kickback managed to regain his feet long enough to take to the air again. Cutter didn’t bother to watch him leave, instead searching the ground for fallen Insecticons in need of repair. I should have helped fight. I’ve got a warrior body, after all … But I probably would have been slaughtered if I tried, and I’m needed now The thought didn’t really assuage his guilt.

Then, before he quite realised what was happening, Cutter found himself pulled into the air by Kickback, and roughly dropped again a few hundred metres later. A second to get his bearings told him why he was there. “Oh …”

“All that matters right now is ‘operational’, not ‘pretty’,” said Kickback sharply, though his face didn’t match his voice. “Just save her. I don’t care how.”

Cutter wasn’t entirely certain if Sway could be saved, not nearly ripped in half, not the way the energon was leaking out of her. At least she’s in stasis, Cutter thought. With her systems shut down, her body wouldn’t be wasting power on any unnecessary things – as long as her mind lived, Sway could recover. Also in his favour was that Insecticons had very simple systems; he only had to try to fix one fuel line, rather than several. Still, I have no idea how much fuel she has left, if that’s even enough for the most basic …

He shot a quick look at Kickback; the warrior was kneeling, folded almost to the ground, hands on the sides of Sway’s face, their foreheads touching. If sheer force of will could keep the dragonfly alive, Kickback had that well in hand. Cutter set to work.

Dying. Oh, Cybertron, she’s dying and there’s nothing I can do about it! Kickback bit back a scream of frustration. Anything he did would just distract Cutter … And what are you feeling, Cutter? How much of you is me? How badly are you hurting right now?

Irrationally, Kickback pressed his forehead against Sway’s, trying to get closer. I should have bonded with you, if only to have something to hold on to. Come back to me, baby. Please. Sway, I love you …


Reluctantly, the warrior dragged himself back to reality. For a mad instant he had hoped the voice was Sway’s, but it was too soft, too sibilant. He didn’t look up. “What do you want, Cutter?”

“I … I patched her fuel line, but …” Resting on his thighs, Cutter’s hands clenched. “She’s still dying, Kickback.”

Kickback had Cutter by the throat before the medic even realised he’d moved. Cutter wasn’t even sure how Kickback even managed to close the distance so fast with only one functional leg. “No! Sway is a warrior. She doesn’t give up. Never.”

“That’s the problem!” Cutter squirmed a bit, but couldn’t break the smaller Insecticon’s grasp. “I thought she was in stasis, but her mind’s still active, and it’s trying to patch in her internal repair protocols when she should be conserving her energy. She’s still fighting even though she doesn’t need to, and it’s using up what little power she has left! She has to stop, but I don’t know how to get through to her!”

“Maybe I can. She’ll be in a receptive state; no power for her mental shields.” And given the state I’m in, I’m probably broadcasting like crazy. Wouldn’t Bombshell love that? Kickback settled himself by the dragonfly, half-reclining, and carefully cupped her face with his hand. Sway … Baby, can you hear me? It’s me – Kickback.

Long seconds passed before there was a response: Kickback?

Uh-huh. Stop fighting, baby. You’re safe. I’ll keep you safe. I promise.

There was a flicker of contrariness, an automatic rebellion at the thought of needing to be sheltered. Kickback caught the edge of it and laughed silently. You’ll do the same for me some day, I’m sure. Don’t worry; I won’t tell anyone. Now relax. Let me take care of you. Trust me.

Says the Great Spy Kickback, countered Sway with a chuckle. Then, serious, I will. I do.

She did. Kickback knew she trusted him, but to suddenly find himself enveloped in that perfect confidence was … overwhelming. And, he decided, quite wonderful. He sighed, wrapping himself in the feeling. It wasn’t bonding, not this – this was only the touch of mental contact. Soul-to-soul was more, so much more …

“Kickback! Kickback, snap out of it!”

Sorry, baby – have to deal with reality. Rest, okay? He waited for her silent assent before letting his senses drift outward. “Get your hand off of my shoulder, Cutter.”

The medic complied. “I hated to interrupt what was obviously a personal moment, but the last thing she needs right now is outside stimulation. You two can work things out later, but right now I need to get her to the repair bay.”

“I’ll do that. I can’t walk, but I can fly, and you’re needed out here.”

Cutter nodded, then gently gathered up the dragonfly and placed her in Kickback’s outstretched arms. The grasshopper took a second to adjust to his burden, then took off towards the Hive, leaving Cutter to his tasks.

The ant was bigger than he was, dark copper, and lying dead on the work table. Bombshell had dragged it in off the battlefield after the wounded were patched or brought in to the repair bay in hopes of figuring out how Venom got them to attack. Skitter had tagged along, and Bombshell, who tended to prefer working alone, found he was still a bit rattled by the whole surprise attack, and was glad of the company. Skitter would be useless for fixing people, anyway, with her unusual squeamishness.

Not that she’s going to be a great deal of help here, either, thought Bombshell, noticing that Skitter was looking at – but carefully not touching – the copper ant. Still, if nothing else, she might have a few ideas about the situation.

For her part, Skitter, seated primly on a countertop, watched him pace for a while before saying, “Okay, Bombshell. Out with it.”

If all Venom wanted to do was use the space-bridge, why did he send an entire ant colony after us!?

The space-bridge rarely had more than two guards. Venom’s crew could have easily overpowered them on any other day, and given some excuse to the Decepticons on Cybertron why they were there. ‘Just visiting,’ was as much a reason as most Insecticons gave. Skitter didn’t flinch at Bombshell’s shout – he wasn’t angry at her, after all. “And why did he leave?” demanded Bombshell at closer to ordinary volume. “Venom’s made his desires abundantly clear – he wants to lead the Insecticons. He can’t do that from Cybertron!”

“According to you, he’s been getting loopier by the day,” said Skitter. “Maybe he’s just doing things randomly now.”

“Maybe. A couple of the warriors reported that Ransack and that other one didn’t leave with him – they ran off, so they’re still on Coleop someplace.” Bombshell found a chair and slumped into it. “I want to know where Shrapnel was during all this. A clone army would have saved a lot of casualties. And neither Shrapnel nor Coronapis have answered their radio for hours.”

The technician giggled, but nervously. “Well, you know how distracted those two can get around each other.”

Bombshell glared. “Never this bad. They always keep contact available, at least. And besides, it isn’t that their communicators are off, it’s that they’re … blocked somehow. Several things can block our radios; jamming fields, certain types of radiation …”

“Or being underground,” finished Skitter obediently, knowing what Bombshell was driving at. Coleop had a few unusual elements in its crust.

“Exactly. And since Venom’s latest foray into Insecticon domination seems to centre on ants …”

“I get it, I get it.” Skitter jumped down from the counter to face him, waving her hands helplessly. “But what can we do? We barely made a dent in the ant colony! And if Shrapnel and Coronapis are captured somewhere, we’ll never find them!”

The weevil decided not to point out that capture was only one option of many, and instead sulked for a few minutes. “How do ants communicate?”

Skitter shrugged. “I don’t know. Pheromones, I think.”

“Think you could take control of the colony?” asked Bombshell.

“Are you kidding? One, I don’t know if that’s how it works; two, I don’t have pheromone glands since I became an Insecticon; and three, these big copper things aren’t even my species,” she replied. “We could probably duplicate the chemicals needed … if we had any idea what they were.”

Bombshell tapped his fingers on the table, then activated his communicator: “Frostbite, report to Science Lab Two.”

Despite being Insecticon scientists, neither Bombshell nor Skitter was an entomologist. Fortunately, Bombshell had one on staff. Frostbite cut a delicate line into the exoskeleton on the ant’s head, then opened the two halves. “This species has a bigger brain than other Coleop ants I’ve seen.”

“Oh, thanks.” Well back from the operation, obviously queasy, Skitter tried to sound like she wasn’t.

“You’ve got an Insecticon processor anyway, dearie,” said Frostbite. “Maybe it means this species is more intelligent, or it might just be different… What the?..” The wasp took her hand from the ant’s cranial chamber, and her ice-blue fingers were black. “Bombshell?..”

Bombshell peered at the dust. “Nanomachines. It’s the Swarm, all right. Don’t worry; when Shrapnel and I cleared it out of everyone the first time, we made everyone immune, and Venom hasn’t got the equipment to modify them.” He settled back against the next table. “At least we know how Venom was controlling them.”

“We’ve still got Venom’s old control box, I think,” said Skitter, already on her feet. “He’s probably changed the control frequency, but it’s worth a peek.”

The technician ran off. Bombshell poked at the copper ant again. “It’ll be one thing to figure out the Swarm’s control frequency. It’ll be quite another to figure out how to use it. What we need is a live specimen of this species.”

“Preferably two,” added Frostbite, methodically removing the ant’s exoskeletal plating. “One for you to play with and one for me to run tests on. I’m curious about these oversized brains. Their nervous systems don’t seem to be anything special.”

“We haven’t got anyone to spare for a hunt,” Bombshell sighed. “Most of our people suffered massive damage in the attack, and those that didn’t are busy fixing them.” In fact, we should be helping with repairs … except that we might be able to do more good here by learning how to prevent a second attack.

“What about us?”

“What about us? We are a psychological warfare expert, a mechanical scientist, and an entomologist. Of us three, I’m the only one with any combat training. None of us are hunters.” Bombshell settled back against the table. “A few of our warriors should be nearly repaired. Once we have them …”

“Ransack might try again, and we can’t hold the colony off a second time. Ants are pretty stupid, in their way – they’re easily controlled. Ransack and his friend might be able to get them to attack, even without the help of the Swarm. We can’t risk it and we can’t wait. Besides, between the three of us, we’re more than suited to tracking ants.” The wasp cocked her head slightly. “Since when are you the cautious type?”

“He’s always cautious. And stodgy. And boring.” Skitter stood at the door, refusing to come closer to the table and what lay on it. “I found the box.”

The term ‘control box’ was misleading. The device was actually a small cube of circuitry, removed from Venom when he first tried to take over. Skitter dropped it into Bombshell’s hand when he walked over for it. She asked, “One thing I don’t get – if we’ve got the controller, how come Venom can still use the Swarm? From what it sounded like from when they first were causing trouble a few months ago, him and his goons ran off too quickly to have taken any manufacturing equipment with them.”

“Venom is – unfortunately – highly intelligent,” said Bombshell, peering at the control box. “Most of us carry tools, and one thing Coleop doesn’t lack is natural resources. Or he had a back-up, for all we know. Shrapnel didn’t get a chance to search Venom thoroughly.” He handed the cube back to Skitter, collected a vial from a sideboard, then returned to the table to carefully sweep some of the Swarm into the container. “Frostbite, see if you can come up with some kind of non-damaging paralytic compound for this species. Skitter, come with me. We’ll try to find the Swarm’s control frequency.”

Yellow light like a wavering candle flickered in Sway’s optics as her systems allowed her to regain consciousness. Proper sight returned slowly, bringing into focus a familiar shadow. “Ki … Kickback?..”

He had one of her hands between both of his. “I’m here, baby. I’m always here.” They weren’t alone in the waiting area, but no one was really nearby. Not that he cared. For once in his long life, Kickback decided that privacy could go take a walk.

She smiled, squeezing his hand weakly. “Mm, what happened? I assume we won if I’m still, hrmm, functional …”

Kickback laughed quietly, bringing Sway’s hand against his face and holding it there. “We drove off the colony, at least for now. As to your personal survival … let’s say that Cutter’s earned his form.”

“Good for him. So, hmm, what now? Do we finally get to track down Venom and exterminate him?”

“Not in your condition, beautiful.”

She tried to sit up, and found she couldn’t. “How bad is it?”

“Half the exoskeleton from your midsection is still missing, a lot of your wiring is fried, and your motor cables haven’t been reattached, though your fuel line has been repaired. You’re also missing half a wing and have assorted bites out of your armour all over,” said Kickback. “The techs finally have everyone stabilised … at least, everyone who survived. I’m still waiting around for repairs, too.”

“Hmm, you don’t look too bad.”

“Oh, the urge to misinterpret …” Kickback grinned, then wiggled the stump of his right wing. “I got bits missing all over the place and one of my legs doesn’t work. I’m just not as badly off as you.”

Experimentally, Sway flexed her fingers. With the wires connecting to her lower body torn, she couldn’t feel anything below her chest. With her motor cables severed, her torso, wings, and tail were paralysed; her limbs had their own systems, but she couldn’t sense her legs. She could still control her arms, she found, to a minor degree. Still, Kickback placed his hands on her shoulders. “Don’t move around too much. Just because everything vital works doesn’t mean you should try to damage the nonessentials.”

A bit reluctantly, Sway settled herself back. She didn’t like lying around helpless. “Hmm, Kickback …”

“Yeah, baby?”

“What happened to me? No, no, I know Barrage shot me, I mean … after.” Sway paused, annoyed at being unable to phrase the question. “Hrmm … Between then and now. I … remember you, asking me to trust you, and there was something else …”

“Internal radio,” Kickback glossed. “You were wasting energy trying to pull yourself back to consciousness, so I told you to relax.”

Sway squeezed his hand again. “There was something else, mm, right at the end. Something sweet and sad and … painful.” She clenched her free hand, needing to move, but her actions were limited. “It was … It was … Just remembering it makes me want to hold you until the hurt goes away.” She looked away and finished softly, “I, hmm, can’t describe it better. It was just … that kind of feeling. I wish I was better with words …”

“Sorry I gave you that. I was just … thinking. And remembering.” He let her hand go so her could stroke the sides of her face. “Sway, I … I may not be ready to bond for a long time, but that doesn’t take away from it. I love you. You’ve been … You’ve been so much to me; I don’t even know where to begin …”

“Shh. I love you, too. You don’t, mm, need to explain. Not immediately, anyway.” He was close enough that even in her weakened condition, Sway could reach a hand up to rest on his waist. “You can, however, tell me again.”

Kickback chuckled at that, a quiet sound of self-depreciation. “I owe you that much, do I?” He settled a hand on her undamaged side, then buried his face in the curve of her neck. “All right, baby, you asked for it: I love you. Love you, love you, love you …”

“And how long do you intend to keep that up, hmm?”

“As long as it takes,” he said, propping himself up on his elbows to grin at her. “The rest of my life, probably.”

“Excuse me.” While soft, Cutter’s voice carried well.

Kickback didn’t look up. For Sway’s audios only he hissed, “That’s it; I’m going to kill him.”

“Be nice, hmm?”

This time, for you. Next time he interrupts us, I’m going to kill him.” Kickback reluctantly let go of Sway to glare at the tech. “What do you want, Cutter?”

This is a repair bay, I am a medic, and you two are damaged. What do you think I want?” Cutter paused, passing a hand over his optic visor. “Sorry. It’s been a long day and it’s barely afternoon.”

Transformers, as a whole, weren’t particularly impressed with the Insecticons. Some thought they were at most useful, or at least cute. Respect never entered into it.

It was amazing how much respect one could get from someone by holding a charged rifle to his nose, even if one had to stand on a table to do it.

In the past, most Decepticons had been built in factories, but with the loss of Vector Sigma, mass-production was no longer a viable option. Private workshops were the wave of the future, and technicians who once built unique creations for picky customers now found themselves in high demand… or with an Insecticon standing on his worktable, holding a gun to his face, in one case.

Styleline, who prided himself on complete neutrality, had never before had problems with either the Autobots or Decepticons, and thus wasn’t used to having his life threatened. There were, in fact, three Insecticons who had broken into his lab, but only one had his immediate interest. Styleline found his attention wavering between the rifle touching his nose, and the optics of the one who held it – burning a dull red, except for two searing pinpoints of light that bored into his own.

“Our master is … damaged,” said Barrage flatly. “He needs a new body. You will build it.”

It didn’t occur to Styleline to even try to say ‘no’ …

To be continued ...

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