Bothriomyrmex decapitans

“Ants are kind of dumb,” said Frostbite. “Well, hard-wired for specific reactions,” she amended when Skitter pouted. “Basically, as long as we smell like the colony, they should leave us alone.” The wasp held up a small bottle. “I think this is the chemical the ants use to identify their nestmates. If I had more time to study …”

Bombshell disagreed: “We don’t know if we have time.”

The wasp shook the bottle once, then spritzed the solution over Bombshell, Skitter, and herself. Skitter made a face and started preening her antennae before thinking better of it and tucking her hands behind her back. Insecticons tended to have messy living spaces, but they kept themselves clean.

Bombshell folded into his weevil-form. “The ants should be fairly easy to find. They left plenty of holes around, so we’ll just follow their tunnels until we find one, then we’ll paralyse it and drag it back.”

I’ll paralyse it,” Frostbite reminded him, retrieving a container from the counter and pouring its contents into a small port on her midsection. “Hopefully. I’m not sure if the poison will work, either, given my lack of test subjects.” Then she and Skitter shifted to their insect-modes as well, and followed Bombshell outside.

Within minutes, the three Insecticons found an opening, and were into the system of tunnels. After a little while, they realised that their small access connected to a sizeable corridor. “An ant highway,” mused Frostbite. “The nest isn’t actually anywhere near the Hive, so Venom had the ants carve out this underground road.”

“I don’t get how the Swarm can work on the ants,” Skitter said. “They aren’t robots.”

“My cerebro-shells work on humans, I’ve found,” said Bombshell. “A bit differently than how they work on Transformers, but still sufficient. As long as there’s something to tap into, they can. I suspect the Swarm works by the same rules. That, and a coleop mind is closer in construction to a Transformer mind than a human’s would be – coleop are based on silicon, rather than carbon.”

“But we have carbon alloy in our shells.”

“Amongst other things,” agreed Bombshell. “Stop quibbling, Skitter – in this case, it’s what’s inside that counts.”

“Pardon a poor, confused stag beetle, but what the slag are we trying to accomplish here?” hissed Chopshop. “You shot and kidnapped Venom, convinced me to help you drag him up here, had me break into this workshop … What are you doing?”

Without taking his attention from Styleline’s work, Barrage said, “Venom’s Decepticon mind is incompatible with his Insecticon body. He isn’t designed to handle organic input like the rest of us can. It would have been too risky to alter Venom’s mind, so I had to find him a fully robot form.”

“I think I’m beginning to understand why you like Venom so much. You’re both insane,” muttered Chopshop.

If Barrage heard, he didn’t seem to care. “Venom couldn’t have known that the unusual input would result in the deterioration of his logic circuits. Fortunately, I realised what was happening and devised a plan to repair him.”

All together, Barrage’s explanation nearly doubled the amount of words Chopshop had ever heard from him, and the beetle said so. The gunner shrugged. “I didn’t have anything to say to you before.”

There wasn’t any good way to reply to that, so Chopshop didn’t, and instead just settled back to keep a watch on the entry monitors. The last thing they needed was for someone to walk in on the operation.

The return to consciousness was sudden, and her senses practically hummed with new energy. “Hrmm, how long was I out this time?”

“A few hours,” said Cutter. Then, because he knew she’d want the exact number, “Four-point-three-seven, actually. You were the most damaged of the survivors.”

Sway swung her legs over the edge of the table and sat up. “And Kickback?”

“Weaver took care of him. He’s been haunting the corridor for the last hour now.” If only because he knew that if he tried to wait in the actual repair bay, Cutter would have Weaver web him to the wall. The medic nodded to Sway: “All systems functional?”

The dragonfly stood and tried her limbs. “Everything seems to be, though the real test will be a sparring match or a few practice manoeuvres. Hmm, good work.”

Cutter smiled. “Thank you. Back on the battlefield, I was afraid we’d lose you.”

“Because Kickback would tear you apart if you didn’t, hmm?”

“He wasn’t paying me any attention,” Cutter retorted. Then, quieter, “When Kickback brought me to you, I was terrified it was too late. You’re so … alive. The thought that you might be terminated was unbearable.”

“Cutter, you’re sweet, but you’re not my type.”

The medic smiled slightly at that. “Always to the point. No, I know – Kickback is your type, and I can never be Kickback, despite what everyone expects of me.”

“I like you as Cutter. Mmm, even I’m not crazy enough to want more than one Kickback around.” Then with a grin and a comradely slap on the shoulder, Sway left him.

The hours passed slowly to Chopshop, between watching the doors, watching Styleline, watching Barrage … Barrage, who so often seemed like nothing more than an obedient worker. I suspected there was a sharp mind ticking away under there … he just thinks slowly. And now that he’s worked everything through to his satisfaction … now he can act … Barrage had a purpose, at least for a little while, and he wouldn’t let it go until his objective was completed.

Which brought a new thought to Chopshop: I’ve been assuming Venom’s repair was Barrage’s goal. What if it isn’t? There’s no way to predict what he’s decided.

Luck was on the side of the gunner, and Styleline’s steady work went uninterrupted. Eventually the freelance engineer took a step back from his creation. “It’s done. His body is complete, and his mind attached. All readings show normal. The transfer is successful.”

Venom’s optic visor glowed as power flowed into his form – still insect-like, still recognisable, but purely robotic. Barrage showed the first emotion he had since he arrived – the scarab smiled.

“Perfect,” he said.

And shot Styleline.

“I think I see a light, light. We must be near the surface.”

Coronapis trailed her claws along the cavern wall. “These walls are different. This corridor wasn’t made by the ants, but it isn’t a natural carved-by-the-elements tunnel, either.”

“Insecticon work, work,” said Shrapnel. “I can sense their residual energy patterns, patterns. Venom’s crew, maybe.”

The tunnel opened up into a natural cavern, sunlight streaming in from the mouth of it. “They were here. At least, someone was here,” Coronapis amended. “I can sense five separate energy signatures, and the place looks lived-in.”

“I wonder if the Jade Fan vanished because she joined Venom, venom,” mused Shrapnel. Then, “Five traces? I can feel six, but one is very faint, faint.”

“Faint?.. Oh – yes. There is a sixth, but I can barely feel it.”

“I can …” Shrapnel trailed off, then looked around as if sniffing the air, and followed the signature.

“Anyway, there was a fight here; that much is obvious,” said Coronapis. “There are blast-marks all around, and traces of energon soaked into the dirt.” A sudden twisting sensation caught her by surprise and made her forget about her investigation; not an attack, but a sudden, startled surge of emotion from her bondmate. Coronapis ran out of the cavern to find him. “Shrapnel! Shrapnel, what happened?”

He caught her before she could run past him. “I’ve … found the Jade Fan, fan …”

Leaving Devourer vaguely in charge with shoot-to-kill orders if Ransack and the ants returned, Kickback and Sway took the last of the shipment to Cybertron. Kickback’s original mission was to find the Sabocon base and transfer its files to the Hive, but his objectives had changed somewhat. While the initial assignment remained priority, he also intended to see if they could track down Venom, Barrage, and Chopshop, who had fled through the bridge in the confusion of the ant attack. Reports said that Venom was wounded, which was likely why his followers had taken off through the closest escape route.

The Coleop space-bridge deposited Kickback and Sway in the watchtower of the Second Sector. The monitor looked over when the door opened. “Hello, Kickback.”

“Hi, Lightwave.” While the Decepticon didn’t particularly respect the Insecticons, he did like them, and that was enough for Kickback. “Three Insecticons came through here a few hours ago with the rest of the stuff – a cicada, a stag beetle, and a scarab. Do you have any idea where they are now?”

“No idea.” While the Insecticons liked Lightwave, he was still a Decepticon, and admitting to dissention in their ranks could be seen as weakness. Thus Kickback intended to keep Lightwave in the dark to his motives. “One of ‘em was being carried, but then, some people just can’t handle the space-bridge.”

Which lined up with reports – they knew Venom had been damaged in the fight. “Who helped unload the delivery?”

The gold Decepticon shrugged. “Two of my maintenance crew, a few mindless drones. None of your Insecticons were around, if you’re wondering.”

No Insecticons to recognise Venom and trail him, thought Kickback irritably, but his face remained blank. Thanking Lightwave for his help, Kickback and Sway left the watchtower.

“No leads,” grumbled Kickback once they were out in the open Cybertronian street. “No energy signatures, even; they must have flown, wherever they went.”

“We could ask Lightwave to check the security records, in case they were caught on camera,” suggested Sway. “Except that would raise a bit of suspicion, if we seemed so eager to find them, hmm?”

“‘Hmm’, indeed.” The grasshopper switched his radio on. “Mimic, this is Kickback.”

“What do you need, leader?”

There were many Insecticons on Cybertron … and the Decepticons were completely unaware of at least three-quarters of that number. Mimic was one of these. “Venom, Barrage, and Chopshop arrived on Cybertron a few hours ago. Begin search patterns.”

“Acknowledged. Mimic out.”

Kickback turned his radio off and shifted to his grasshopper form. “He’ll set the search in motion. Let’s see if I can remember where the Sabocon base is.”

“Shrapnel! Coronapis!”

“Bombshell, shell!” Shrapnel called back, waving to include Skitter and Frostbite. “What are you three doing out here, out here?”

“Looking for ants,” said Bombshell, then briefly outlined the attack.

Shrapnel scowled. “I should have been there.”

“Should have, weren’t, too late now,” agreed Bombshell. “We picked up your energy signatures on the underground road and followed them here. Where are we?”

“We’re fairly certain this is Venom’s camp,” said Coronapis. “Strange that none of them returned to it, though.”

“Not really. Ransack is a hunter-tracker; he’d know that we could easily find the underground road and backtrace energy signatures,” said Bombshell. “Venom escaped. He, Chopshop, and Barrage took the space-bridge. They could be anywhere by now.”

“Kickback and Sway have gone as well,” added Frostbite. “Officially they’re supposed to be looking for your old records, but knowing those two, they’ll be hunting as well.”

The beetle nodded. “Good for them, for them. Bombshell, you mentioned a fifth Insecticon in Venom’s group, group?”

“Yes. We didn’t recognise her. Venom must have built her, but that’s impossible.”

“Not for Venom, venom.” Shrapnel gestured for Bombshell to follow him, and lead him to the remains of the Jade Fan. “There’s two mysteries solved, solved.”

Bombshell knelt by the torn shell of the butterfly. “Her mechanical parts have been removed. There’s nothing left but insect.” And there wasn’t much of that, either. “I see what you mean. There’s no way Venom could have made the equipment to create a new Insecticon, but he could have taken the Jade Fan’s parts and installed them in another coleop.”

“That’s … that’s horrible!” Skitter peered out from where she was hiding behind Frostbite, then ducked back before she could actually see anything. “How could anyone do something like that?”

“Very carefully, I’d say, probably starting with the conversion tank and fuel system,” said Bombshell absently, ignoring Skitter’s squeak of disgust.

The ant squeaked again when Frostbite left her to check on the body herself. “It’s feasible. We tend to have very simple transforms, so the same systems could work on another insect … You realise we’re all assuming that Venom’s warrior is a new being, rather than just the Jade Fan in a new body?”

“She was antisocial and unpleasant, but she wouldn’t have sided with Venom. Besides, there’s no reason to do something as risky as make a new form from old parts just as a disguise,” said Bombshell.

After an hour of flight, Kickback was getting worried. “I know the way. I should know the way. I’m sure we’re headed in the right direction, but it doesn’t feel right …”

“Where are we headed, generally?” asked Sway.

“Fourth Sector, Tetracon City. The clean-up crews haven’t reached it yet, so unless the Sabocon base was destroyed in the last four million years, it should still be there … Ah-ha! I know why this seems wrong!” exclaimed Kickback suddenly. “It’s the speed! I used to be much faster.”

“Hmm, and here I thought we’d have to stop and ask for directions.”

“Like anyone but a Sabocon would know where the place is,” Kickback retorted. “I know the way; it’ll just take longer than I remember is all.”

“I don’t see why we have to walk back through the tunnels, tunnels.”

“Because some of us are still trying to catch an ant,” said Bombshell. “Finding you and Coronapis was just a distraction.”

Shrapnel made a face at him, but kept walking. He and Coronapis were still in robot-mode, partly because Coronapis’ mobile form didn’t have a transform, but mostly so they could hold hands. The other three were scuttling on ahead in insect-mode.

Suddenly Bombshell – who was in the lead – stopped, shifting back to his robot form. “Wait. I think I hear something up ahead …”

Half a second later, a bolt of energy slammed into him, singeing his chest plating and knocking him off of his feet. Following the blast were Ransack and Nihil, but only Ransack charged through the smaller Insecticons. Then, before the others could gather themselves for an attack, the locust grabbed Coronapis, and threw her back the way he came.

Ransack opened fire with his concussion-blaster again, but this time he wasn’t aiming at the Insecticons. The shots slammed into the tunnel ceiling, caving it in.

Frostbite flew out of the way of the cave-in, dragging Skitter with her, landing near Bombshell. Ransack staggered slightly as a cerebro-shell smacked into his forehead and dug in, sending slender silver tendrils into his cranial chamber. The bronze warrior let go of his weapon and dropped to his knees, tried to claw at the cerebro-shell, but his body stopped obeying him, and he fell on his face.

Ignoring the rest of them, Shrapnel ran to the cave-in. “Coronapis!” Then, thinking better of it, he switched on his radio: “Coronapis, are you there, there?”

“Still functional, love. I’m on the other side of the fallen debris.”

“All right. Was the other warrior caught by the collapse, collapse?”

“I think so. I don’t see her.”

“We’ll come find you, Coronapis.”

“Digging will take too long, Shrapnel. We’ll have to try to find her through the tunnels,” opined Skitter.

“Stand back, back.” Once everyone had ducked out of the way, Shrapnel fired a grenade at the blocked tunnel. Once the grenade exploded into shards, the beetle used his cloning powers on a few of the pieces. The instant workforce began chewing through the rock and sand.

“While they’re working, we’ve got time to deal with a few things,” said Bombshell. The locust groaned when Bombshell prodded him with his foot. “Get up, Ransack.”

He did, slowly. “He’s fighting it,” Bombshell reported. “I don’t know how, but he is.”

“Allow me, me,” hissed Shrapnel, whose spines glowed blue. The energy lashed Ransack, but left him undamaged. “While immune to the Swarm, he was still infused with the nanomachines, machines. I’ve deactivated them.”

Bombshell concentrated for a few seconds, then scowled. “It’s not helping.”

Skitter tapped Bombshell on the shoulder, and when he turned, gave him a questioning glance. The weevil shrugged his permission, so Skitter stepped forward and said, clearly, “Ransack, how can you resist Bombshell’s cerebro-shell?”

There was a pause. Frostbite started, “Skitter, that’s easily the silliest way …”

She was cut off by Ransack. “Don’t … know. Nihil … Nihil does something …”

“I don’t care what she does,” snapped Shrapnel. “I’m worried about what she’s going to do to Coronapis, napis!”

“Only one thing … she can do,” Ransack mumbled before collapsing again.

Coronapis shoved a slab of rock off of her leg. A minor damage warning flashed behind her optics, but she was only dented, so she stood up.

From her new position, she could see Ransack’s comrade. She wasn’t as lucky as Coronapis was. The ant was buried to her waist, one of her hands trapped as well, and struggling to free herself. Coronapis walked over, but stayed out of reach. “Looks like whatever you were planning didn’t work out.”

“So you say.” The warrior pulled her hand from the ground with enough violence to spray dirt in all directions. “We are here together, are we not?”

“Who are you? What do you want?”

“I was born long ago, and fulfilled my purpose; I was taken by the Others and replaced their queen. Perhaps my daughters have done the same since. I do not know. Then I was reborn, but you were not with your colony. I could not make it mine.”

Her arms surged downwards, and with a twist, she tore herself out of the ground. “I am Nihil, the queen of the ants reborn.”

Shrapnel kicked Ransack in the side, but dented his foot more than the warrior’s hide. “What!? What is she going to do?

“What … what she has to do … She knows … she’s an Insecticon. She … just doesn’t care,” Ransack managed. “Acts like an ant.” Then, with a strange chuckle, “Don’t know … what I am to her …”

“Try to stay focussed, focussed,” Shrapnel snarled, crouching down to take Ransack’s face in his hands, forcing the warrior to look at him. “What. Does. Nihil. Want. With. Coronapis?”

Ransack looked at him as if explaining something obvious. “She’s going to cut off her head. And then she will be the Insecticon Queen.”

Coronapis ran. There wasn’t much else she could do, not against Nihil. Not by herself.

It didn’t cross her mind that Nihil might not follow, that Coronapis’ retreat would signal victory. The warrior had to follow.

There could only be one Queen.

But Coronapis had no advantages; Nihil was a warrior, larger, stronger, faster, and more deadly than her. Coronapis couldn’t even transform – most of her body was kept in her chamber. And where Coronapis could talk and negotiate, Nihil ran on instinct. There could be no compromise.

If I can find a way to the surface … Nihil can also fly, but I know the surface better than she does. And these tunnels are hers … It didn’t help that the nest was also occupied. The ants were slowly returning, and while the Insecticons put a dent in their numbers, Coronapis occasionally had to dodge one of the copper creatures. She was too quick for them, at least.

Nihil’s thinking like an insect. Maybe she won’t think to trace my energy signature. Coronapis stopped running, instead flying through the tunnels, to eliminate her footprints. Still, I need to get to the surface. I’ll be fine if I can just get out of these caves …

She didn’t entirely believe it – Coronapis just couldn’t shake the little voice at the back of her mind, the one that was reminding her that in the long struggle between termite and ant, the ants tended to win …

Shrapnel’s Insecticon clones finished chewing through the cave-in, then collapsed into piles of scrap as Shrapnel released control. Then, without so much as a second thought, he shifted to insect-mode and flew off into the darkness.

Shrapnel! You idiot, get back here! You don’t … Oh, forget it,” Bombshell finished. Coronapis was going to need all the help she could get against Nihil, and Shrapnel could track her easily. Instead, the weevil returned his attention to Ransack: “All right, you. Get up. You might as well come along, and we’re not going to carry you.”

The locust, very slowly, managed to get to his hands and knees. “Bombshell … Something … something you need to know …”


“Back when we first joined him, Venom made us immune to your cerebro-shells.”

Before the others could react, Ransack’s concussion-blaster was in his hand again. The first shot missed, but the next two slammed into Bombshell, and the force smashed him into the wall before he collapsed. “Shrapnel’s the only one of you who stands any chance against me, but since he’s not gonna be expecting me … Well, Nihil doesn’t want her hunt … interrupted.” With that, he began his chase.

Frostbite immediately knelt by Bombshell. “Skitter, radio Shrapnel and warn him. He’s got no chance against Ransack otherwise.” With that taken care of, she pulled off Bombshell’s damaged front panel for a better look. “Concussion blast – crushing damage, mostly … Ohhh, scrap … Skitter, I need your help with this!”

The ant had backed away a few steps. “H-help? Frosty, I can’t … I can’t work on people!..”

“And I don’t know how to fix robots!” said Frostbite desperately. “I’m an entomologist … and Bombshell isn’t an insect, not really – he’s a Cybertronian who just looks like a weevil! I can repair the Coleop Insecticons, but … Skittles, I can’t fix him myself!”

Desire to help warred with her innate squeamishness for several seconds, the emotions playing across her face as she twisted her hands together. Then, with an obvious effort, she set her shoulders. “Just a machine. I’m just fixing a machine. I know machines …”

Jaw set, still repeating her mantra to herself, Skitter knelt beside Bombshell, opposite to Frostbite, and began work.

“This is it! I know it is!” Kickback banked and dove, shifting and landing on his two feet.

Sway landed beside him a second later. “This place is a junk pile.”

“Only on the outside,” said Kickback, who started tapping his claws on the burnt-looking wall. “Common enough ploy, I suppose, but no patrol wants to search every burnt-out building in case one is just a front.” After a minute, his fingers found a hidden latch, which led to another section of ruin. However, there was a small pad hidden under a disguised panel. Kickback opened the back of his hand, extracted a wire, and plugged it into a port, causing a section of wall to slide aside.

The two Insecticons stepped into the corridor beyond. It was clean, but faded. “Hmm, I note that the ceilings are too low for the average Decepticon to easily walk through.”

“One of the few advantages to being small,” agreed Kickback. “And our outer door was sealed with a neural lock – and it recognised my mental signature. That means the rest of this will be easy; the computer thinks I’m still a Sabocon and will let me access it.

“Of course, the question is: Does the computer still work?” Kickback opened a door into what had been the Sabocon’s conference room. “Hmph. Looks like someone’s been through here already. Not that I’m surprised – we have been gone for four million years, and someone might have made a back door.”

“Hmm, I hope the information in the computer is still intact, then.”

Kickback grinned slightly at that, then crossed the room to the console. “Most likely,” he said, opening the small panel on the back of his hand again to extract the lead-wire. “If the computer itself isn’t damaged, no one but a Sabocon can get into it. And since Shrapnel, Bombshell, and I didn’t even remember the name ‘Sabocon’ until recently, let alone know that that’s what we were before we got turned into Insecticons, no one could have possibly got into the system. Well, maybe Soundwave, but I don’t see him hacking it without good reason.”

As it turned out, the computer did work. Kickback quickly set up a link between the Sabocon computer and the one in the Hive, to send whatever information was stored, and to erase it as it was sent. It might have been out-of-date, but no point in leaving loose ends. Besides, Bombshell wanted the old records for his own obscure purposes, and who was Kickback to argue with him?

“Coronapis – here! It’s me, me!”

Coronapis threw her arms around his waist, holding him tightly. “Shrapnel …”

“Shh, shh. I’ll keep you safe,” Shrapnel promised, returning the embrace. “Still, we have to get of here, and fast. You seem to have lost Nihil, but I’ve got Ransack on my trail, trail. I’ve sent a few clones running through the tunnels, but they won’t confuse him for long, for long.”

They took off again. “Do you have any idea which way is out? And what happened to the others?”

“For both, I’m not sure, sure,” admitted Shrapnel. “Skitter said we should just concern ourselves with getting back to the Hive. She and Frostbite will help Bombshell back, back. He must have been hurt, but she didn’t explain, explain.”

They reached a chamber and paused. “Neither of those corridors leading in here look like they go upwards.”

“We can either keep running, or I can create a few Insecticon clones and try to dig out, dig out,” said Shrapnel. “Except that might take too long, depending on how deep we are.”

“Let’s chance it. At the very least, we’ll be able to make a stand against Nihil and Ransack, instead of getting cut down from behind.”

“There,” said Skitter. “Bombshell’s out of danger, I think. It should be safe to carry him now.” Then she sagged back against the wall, shaking all over.

Frostbite laid a hand on her arm. “You did good, hon. Come on – let’s shift to insect-mode and get out of here. I’ll carry him; I’m the stronger flyer of us two.”

“Okay. I … I think I know the way back to the underground road,” said Skitter. “Follow me.”

With the information transfer started, Kickback wanted to search the base to see if there was indeed a breach anywhere. Sway agreed readily, but wasn’t interested in security so much as curiousity. So while Kickback went to check on the perimeter walls, Sway went snooping. Not that she would call it that if she was asked. Luckily, the inner rooms weren’t neural-locked, and the one stubborn door she had come across was easily forced. It lead to a storage room. Sway was disappointed.

The first door in the next hallway opened easily, into what Sway at first thought was another storage area, then changed her mind. It was more like a workshop, but wasn’t that, either. After a minute, the term ‘personal quarters’ came to mind, and she settled on that. Most Insecticons didn’t have their own living space – they had no use for it. Certainly Sway didn’t; she owned nothing more than what she carried, and if she wanted solitude, she could easily find it – Coleop’s entire sentient population was only about sixty, after all.

The room she currently stood in was … Sway considered the word ‘messy’, and discarded it. Certainly things covered every surface, but somehow the overall effect was one of tidiness and organisation. “His room,” said Kickback quietly. Sway hadn’t even realised he was behind her until he spoke. “Rebound’s. He was always working on things, making little devices …” He smirked then, adding, “Sometimes he even completed them.”

The dragonfly stepped into the room, running her hand over – but not quite touching – various objects, until she saw a device she knew the function of. Sway picked up the small disk, and tapped a button on its side. A small hologram of a black Decepticon shimmered into existence. The body was too angular and the silver wings were attached strangely, but the figure wore a smile she could recognise anywhere. “This is you, hmm, isn’t it?”

Was me,” Kickback corrected, poking a claw into the image and watching it flicker. “I didn’t know he even had a picture of me.”

“Do you have any of him?”

He shook his head. “I don’t remember. Probably not. Not my type of thing. I’m sure there’ll be a few images in our files, if you’re curious.”

“I’m curious.”

Kickback grinned at her tone, then turned to lead the way back to the control room. Sway’s words were flat, faintly challenging … and meant she was absolutely itching to learn about Rebound. And, frankly, Kickback was just as eager to tell her. Not to brag about his former bondmate, and certainly not to compare him to Sway – it was simply that Rebound had, at one point, been the most important thing in Kickback’s life, and he wanted to share that with her.

To his irritation, Sway laughed when the picture came up on the screen. After a few seconds, she explained it: “He looks like me!”

Kickback’s annoyance switched to himself – Sway was right. Not exactly the same, and the colours were much different, but the general outline was there: Slender and angular with slanted eyes, short antennae, long wings, coloured noses, sigils on their shoulders … they both even had stripes down their chests. If Rebound had survived the crash on Earth, his Insecticon transform would very likely have been a dragonfly. “So I find a certain type of shape pleasing. So what?”

“Mm, I’m not complaining. He is visually appealing … mm, for a Decepticon.” Her tone changed abruptly from teasing to something more serious. She rapped her knuckles on the armour plating of Kickback’s midsection, still playfully enough to be non-threatening. “Hmm, what was it like, being bonded to him?”

“Good and bad,” said Kickback. “It was wonderful while it lasted, and as long as I exist, he’ll never truly die. But it hurts sometimes, and sometimes it hurts a lot. But I don’t regret being his bondmate, though. Despite everything, I’m glad we had that.”

“He must have been, hmm, wonderful.”

“The best,” agreed Kickback.

Sway couldn’t help herself: “What am I, then?”

“You’re the best, too, baby; just different,” he grinned. “You’re certainly pushier than he was.”

The dragonfly returned the smile. “And I thought I was, hmm, being remarkably patient with you.”

“You have been, Sway. And I appreciate that.” Then, “I looked through all the outside corridors and there’s no sign of a break-in. It was only a visual search, though, so there might be a hidden door someplace … Of course, it probably happened between four and two million years ago, before Cybertron was put into stasis.”

“Or someone hacked the neural-lock. Hmm, that wouldn’t leave a mark,” said Sway. “You already admitted that Soundwave could do it, so maybe another could if he had similar skills.”

“Maybe.” Kickback mulled that over. “I’m missing something here. And I have a nasty feeling it’s something extremely obvious …”

A shadow fell over the two Insecticons, who found themselves hoisted into the air by their wings before they could turn around to face the newcomer.

He looked different; his form Cybertronian, but still insectoid. Not that he wasn’t instantly recognisable. “Venom …”

To be continued ...

On to Anthill - Chapter Six
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