There had been an argument. Aviator had felt guilty about listening, but he couldn’t help but listen. He had only been a Constructicon – a real, fully gestalt-incorporated Constructicon – for a little over a week, and wasn’t able to properly block the other six out of his head yet. They could usually shield from him, but emotions had been high during the argument, and they had been broadcasting strongly. Aviator blocked them as best he could, but still picked up more than he wanted to know.
They had been arguing about him again. He hadn’t done something, or they hadn’t done something, something had been avoided or forgotten, and it couldn’t be ignored forever. Bonecrusher was the strongest, almost overwhelming the other signals with a tangle of emotion. There was anger, but Aviator wasn’t sure if Bonecrusher himself was angry; it felt like those odd second-hand feelings Aviator found he had after the gestalt, like looking at a lawn flamingo and feeling Scavenger’s love of the things while being indifferent to them himself. It was more like Bonecrusher felt that one of the others was angry, and it became part of his emotions.
There had been a decision. Bonecrusher had won the argument, but also lost it. Aviator frowned slightly. Bonecrusher was the hardest Constructicon to read, even more than Mixmaster. Mixmaster’s mind was a maze, but at least there was some sort of pattern, even an illogical one. Bonecrusher always seemed to be thinking two things at once, and the thoughts tended to contradict. Like if one of the Constructicons was seriously injured, he’d shout at him and call him an idiot, but he’d be radiating relief that his gestaltmate would be fine. The problem was he was like that all the time.
There was still so much he didn’t know about the others. There was a bit of spark-knowledge from his creation, but that was only vague impressions. They had merged three times since his joining, and while he was open to them then, there was too much information to process. There was nine million years of history between the six and their memories had all blended together. It would take centuries to sort through it all.
The argument had been hours ago. Aviator was still trying to work up the courage to leave his room and ask one of the others about it when someone pounded on his door. There were two Constructicons who preferred battering doors over simply using the chime, but Aviator would have recognised the other’s mind in any case. He steeled himself and turned in his chair. “It’s open, Bonecrusher.”
Bonecrusher stomped in. He stomped everywhere, so that wasn’t a bad sign. “C’mon, we got a day off.”
Aviator stood automatically, but managed to stop long enough to look puzzled. “Where are we going?”
Aviator’s electromagnetic sensors picked up on something else and he found himself staring. Bonecrusher’s field was radiating worry and nothing else. “What’s wrong? Why are we going there?”
The demolitionist shrugged, and almost made it look nonchalant. “You gotta meet someone.”
He recognised the worry radiation. It almost exactly matched the feeling the Constructicons had when they had told Aviator how he would have to pass Devastator’s judgement before becoming part of the gestalt. Except he was already a part of Devastator now, so what else could there be? Aviator drew himself up. “I will try to be a credit to the team.”
Bonecrusher laughed. Aviator, more puzzled than ever, gave up and followed.
Aviator looked up at a sign he couldn’t read – it was too damaged and covered in grime. Bonecrusher had led him to an oil house in one of Polyhex’s major industrial sectors. Aviator balked slightly. He’d been in bars with the others before, but never one this disreputable-looking. “Why here?”
“Because if she gets mad, I’d rather she beat someone else up, and there’s always a willing target in a bar,” said Bonecrusher.
“If there’s going to be trouble, I can …”
“Hurt her and I flatten you. I’m not kidding.”
He was dead serious. Mentally, Aviator cringed. His response had been automatic – protection was his function, after all – but now he focused on the gestalt bond and Bonecrusher’s double-thoughts. His mouth had said, I’d rather she beat someone else up, while his mind said, I’d have to hurt her to stop her, and I can’t do that. It was a rare thought for the demolitionist. It was …
… It was the way he thought about his fellow Constructicons. More intrigued than nervous now, Aviator followed Bonecrusher into the bar.
He led Aviator to a table near the back, which was quite thoroughly occupied by a large Decepticon tech. Some kind of crucible-hauler alt-mode, if he read her lines right, mostly in purple with orange detailing. Despite being seated, she still managed to look large. It took a moment for Aviator to realise she would only be about his height if she stood up – she seemed bigger than she was. Probably outweighed him by at least half again, though. Or more; industrial-grade thermal plating was heavy. She seemed familiar to him, in that drifted, gestalt-memory way, but so did everyone the Constructicons knew.
She had looked up almost the instant they entered, and her expression grew less friendly as they approached. There were only two cubes sitting on the table. Apparently she hadn’t expected Bonecrusher to bring company.
Bonecrusher sighed, at least in his mind, and waved a hand at the seated Decepticon. “Kid, this is Steelcast, design technician at large. ‘Cast, this is Aviator. He’s our seventh.”
She looked from Aviator to Bonecrusher. “Him, too?” Somehow it wasn’t related to the previous statement, not directly.
“Your choice, ‘Cast.”
“You know full well it isn’t, not any more.” Steelcast gave Bonecrusher an accusatory look. “You might have told me.”
“I’m telling you now. Wouldn’t have changed anything if I told you earlier,” Bonecrusher retorted.
“I should’ve been consulted.”
“I’ve tried to give you a say. You never take it.”
“Ugh! I’d hit you if I could any more!”
It didn’t take a gestalt-link to know that only half the conversation was being said aloud. Even though Aviator could read the radiations from both his partner and the design technician, they were new radiations to him, and he wasn’t quite sure how to interpret them.
Steelcast was angry, or trying to be angry, but not quite managing it. Supremely annoyed, at least. For once, Bonecrusher was the easier one to read. Bonecrusher wasn’t angry, just defiant, with a strange touch of weariness as an undertone. Aviator tried to compare it to his internal records of what he’d felt from Bonecrusher before, and the best match he could come up with was ‘during a futile argument with Hook.’
He was suddenly aware that Steelcast was giving him a look that was part appraisal and part glare. “Aren’t you a bit skinny to be a Constructicon?”
A dozen retorts flicked through his mind, all with the unmistakeable taint of Longhaul or Bonecrusher. Aviator nodded slightly and made his own reply: “I’ve done all right so far.”
Her optics flashed once in a blink. “Polite. Ha. We’ll see how long that lasts.”
It was an acceptance. Not a gracious one, but an acceptance. Aviator sat down, and noted with surprise that Bonecrusher didn’t. “Um …”
“I’m gettin’ out of range,” Bonecrusher explained. “You two are gonna have to get along, and I’m not gonna be any help hanging around and messin’ you up.” He waved a finger at Steelcast. “Don’t damage him.”
Aviator watched helplessly as the elder Constructicon walked away. < But what should I do? >
Reassurance: < Just be your self, kid. She’ll be doing the same thing. > There was a slight pause, then a mix of fondness and regret: < She refuses to do anything else. > With that, Bonecrusher’s mental walls snapped into place. Aviator tried desperately to re-establish the contact, but Bonecrusher was closed.
Both waited for Bonecrusher to be out of the bar before speaking. When the demolitionist had disappeared, Aviator reluctantly turned back to Steelcast.
She snorted and pushed a cube at him. “Sounds like we’re even, eh? – they didn’t tell me about you and they didn’t tell you about me.”
“Who are you, then? They all think it’s important I meet you.” Aviator picked up his cube, then cautiously sampled it. Plain energon.
“I was almost the seventh Constructicon.”
Not built to perform a spit-take, Aviator instead bit down on his fuel siphon hard enough to dent it. He retracted it back into his throat quickly. “What?”
“You heard me, kid.”
“They built you, too?”
“Nah. Just fell in with ‘em.” She shrugged. “Me and Bonecrusher got pretty tight, so he introduced me to the crew. It went from there. I wasn’t ready to join a gestalt, though. Still ain’t. Now there’s you. You’re part of it, eh?”
“How’s Dev doing, then? Still got the same name?”
“Yes. He’s doing great. They rigged a processing relay into my systems, so he’s faster. I’m his wings.”
Her optics flickered, looking at the mental image, then she sniggered. “Send a video. I’m probably picturing it wrong.” Then, “You say they built you?”
“Yes – built and sparked. I am an amalgamation of their minds,” said Aviator.
“Oh, Primus – Devastator Lite.”
It should have been insulting, but somehow it wasn’t. She was radiating a type of fondness rather than insult. “Not Mixmaster, though,” he said.
“Too bad.” She looked at him a bit quizzically. “Never saw ‘em as the types to create a person. Maybe Scavvy, but not the others. What do you do, anyway? They gave you the most useless form for construction, unless that Seeker-variant you’re wearing magically turns into a backhoe.”
Aviator shrugged. “It’s a long story. I’m pretty good at fiddly-work, so I assist Hook sometimes. They’re hoping to train me to do aerial surveying – site-scouting. My official function is guardian of the Constructicons.”
“Why’d they think they needed a … nevermind. Long story. Right. I’ll drag it out of one of the guys later.”
She was still mad, though it was a diffuse thing, not aimed in any one direction. “So if you already said no,” said Aviator carefully, “why are you angry?”
Steelcast stared at him. “You gotta ask? ‘Cause now I can’t change my mind. You’ve filled the space.”
Aviator smiled faintly. “Always room for one more?”
She snorted. “Right. I do and Dev ends up looking even worse than he already does.”
Aviator started to bridle at the slight – he thought Devastator was a beautiful, glorious creature – but, well, she didn’t mean it. Sort of. It was bravado rather than malice. There was a fear there, but it couldn’t be a fear of Devastator, no, the Constructicons wouldn’t accept her as they did if she didn’t face him down …
It was the gestalt-bond. That was what she was afraid of. It had to be – she practically said so earlier. It was why she never joined them, even after repeated offers. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s wonderful.”
“So the others keep telling me.” Steelcast was definitely used to both the argument and the Constructicon conversation style if she was able to keep up with what anyone else would have seen as a random statement. “It’s too much. I’ve been me too long to want to give my self up. You wouldn’t understand. You’re new and you were built for it.”
He couldn’t keep a flicker of remembered sorrow out of his field. “No, I wasn’t.” He had been built to be a tool of pride and spite. Somewhere along the way he had become more, but the original reason for his creation still stung.
If she noticed, she didn’t mention it, and Aviator was grateful. She shrugged. “They sparked you. You’re them. You’re Dev-Lite. You couldn’t stop being gestalt any more than you could stop a nova.”
She was jealous of him, of his acceptance of the gestalt-bond and what he had gained through it. Aviator had never inspired jealousy before, and it made him uncomfortable. “You’ve got no reason to envy me.”
“Except that you’re number seven and I’m not.”
“But they chose you. I can’t … I’m here to see you! I have to pass your test, rather than the other way around! I’m part of the gestalt, but you’re the one who’s established with them!”
“They’re …” Aviator trailed off, then finished in a rush: “They’re more worried about what you think than what I think!”
“Shows what you know. They don’t play favourites, not in the group.” Steelcast shook her head. “Nah, if they’re worried, it’s only because I could still walk away if I got mad enough. Ha. Just because I’m not part of the gestalt they think I could just leave …”
“Who are you?”
She snorted. “Steelcast. Same as I’ve been my whole life, and it looks like it’s gonna stay that way.”
“But how did you do it?”
“I’m not sure. I tend to blame ‘Crusher. I might count as an extension of the team, but I still have no idea how they think, at least not together.” Her cube empty, she took her fuel siphon in one hand, then rapped it sharply on the table, causing the holding field to dissipate. The siphon snaked back into her side. “Scrapper wasn’t thrilled with me. He didn’t want a seventh, at least not when I first started hanging around. I guess you got by that by already being an insider. You wouldn’t be disruptive. Ha – even Dev still has his name.”
“You mentioned that already.”
“A new mind would change Devastator’s personality, and if he was changed enough, he’d probably have a new name. Since you’re distilled Constructicon, you didn’t really add much new, mind-wise. You might have made him faster, but he’s still Dev. I would have messed him over completely.”
Aviator shook his head. “What are you to them? Bonecrusher acts as if you’re his companion.”
To his surprise, the design tech laughed – the first real laugh he had heard from her. “You are new.”
“Date a Constructicon! Haven’t you been listening to me? You can’t do that, kid.”
“They’re all or nothing. Of course I’m gonna get mad if they haul in a new guy without so much as a warning.” She shrugged. “If they all like you, I guess you can’t be too bad.”
Aviator blinked. “Hey, wait a minute! I might have joined the gestalt, but they never said anything about taking on a companion as well. Don’t I get a say in this?”
“‘Course you do. You’re still an individual, even with the others in your head.” She waved a finger at him. “And don’t give me that stunned look. Think ‘Auxiliary Constructicon’ rather than ‘Constructicon Groupie’. I’m a friend and an honorary part of the crew, not some tag-along ornament. Besides, you’re one of them. Get used to sharing everything.”
“But you …”
“You love them, too. You wouldn’t be part of Dev if you didn’t. And don’t tell me it’s a different thing. It doesn’t matter. The end result is the same.”
“Oh, good, you didn’t eat him.” Bonecrusher reappeared from the crowd.
“With what mouth?” Steelcast asked. “Kid seems all right. Bring him back sometime.”
“You could come with us,” Bonecrusher pointed out.
Steelcast smirked at him, in her way. “No way. You know I’d look awful in your green.”
“You don’t have to use all the colours. Stick with purple and gray if you want.”
“Maroon’s not my colour.”
“Yeah? If I got used to yellowy green, you can get used to maroon.”
“You don’t need to fight about this,” said Aviator.
“Yeah, but we like to.” Bonecrusher turned back to Steelcast. “Obligatory Proposal.”
“Obligatory Rejection.” Steelcast patted Aviator’s hand. “Don’t look so horrified. It saves time.”
Aviator looked from Steelcast to Bonecrusher. “Is there anyone else I need to meet?”
“Lots, but for different reasons. C’mon, kid.” Bonecrusher turned and started shouldering his way out of the bar.
Purple fingers bit into the edge of Aviator’s wing as he stood. “You had better take care of them, Dev-Lite,” Steelcast hissed.
The voice said, you’d better, but the aura said, because I worry about them. Aviator took the statement for what it meant. “I will.”
Aviator is Vega Sailor’s baby. I just took him out to play. – Wayward