“Does he do anything except lounge around in the tub?” asked Blackarachnia, peering over Tarantulas’ shoulder. “And why did you put a camera in his quarters, anyway?”
“Because I don’t trust Megatron to have our best interests at heart and I want to keep an eye on him,” said Tarantulas. The camera had been installed while Megatron had been out the day before, and what with one distraction and another, this was its trial run. The tiny lens was planted in the wall, camouflaged, a few centimetres above the edge of Megatron’s bathtub. It afforded a reasonably clear shot of the room, and, more importantly, a clear shot of the bank of computers on the far wall. Currently, it had a clear shot of Megatron’s right arm, almost up to the shoulder, resting on the opposite rim of the tub.
Blackarachnia looked from the screen to Tarantulas, raising her eyebrow. “Are you sure that’s why? You seem to be rather … fixated on him lately.”
“I’ve always spied on him. You just weren’t aware of it before,” snapped Tarantulas, a bit more harshly than Blackarachnia thought necessary. “Now, I’ve rigged an audio circuit into the camera, just in case he wants to talk to himself or one of his trusted subordinates about anything interesting. Let’s see if that works …”
Instead of the expected faint splashing, a rich baritone filtered through the small speaker. There were no words to it – Cybertronian music never had words – just a melody. Blackarachnia burst into laughter, and had to hold on to the back of Tarantulas’ chair when she saw her roommate’s pained expression. “So much for secret plots,” Blackarachnia eventually managed.
“He sings in the bath,” said Tarantulas incredulously.
The arm reached off-screen, followed by a faint squeak. Megatron retrieved his rubber duck and set it down on the edge of the tub, directly in front of Tarantulas’ camera. Tarantulas shrieked. “Slaggit, he did that on purpose!”
“Oh, pipe down, Legs. It could have been random.”
“He knows I hate that stupid duck of his!” Tarantulas scowled at the screen for a moment, then groaned. “He stopped singing and there’s more splashing. I think he’s finally getting out of the tub. Not that it will do me any good because there is a duck in my way!”
Blackarachnia shook her head. “You should have put the camera higher up.”
He was trapped, pinned, and loving every second of it.
He had no idea where he was or how he arrived there. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered but the woman in his arms, so warm and sweet and needing … needing him. It was wonderful.
He reached up, taking her face in his hands. So beautiful … Why hadn’t he realised how beautiful she was before? How soft her skin, how delicate her fingers, how deep her eyes …
He drew her back to him, felt her mouth recapture his own. He was drowning; drowning in sensation, drowning in her. Her hands were on his shoulders, gently kneading his flesh …
“Terrorsaur?” The question was reinforced by a mild shake.
Reality grudgingly slotted back into place. Terrorsaur opened his eyes, but let his head fall to the side so he wouldn’t have to meet Waspinator’s gaze. “It’s morning already?”
“Almost.” Waspinator made a worried little sound. “That must have been a bad one – you cried out for me. Which one was it?”
Terrorsaur almost laughed at the familiar question; most of his dreams were bad ones that tended to follow a fairly set structure. What he had just been awakened from had been the opposite of a nightmare, but he wasn’t going to tell Waspinator about it. Not when she had been such an … active part of the dream. Certainly not when her hands were still on his shoulders. All that currently separated her hands from his skin was the thin fabric of his shirt. Terrorsaur had the sudden urge to grab his friend, pull her to him, and find out if she felt as good in his arms as the dream promised.
He didn’t do it, of course. He was still Terrorsaur and Waspinator was still Waspinator, and now, fully awake, the thought of being anything more than her friend was just strange. They had discussed this, days after the aliens had turned them human.
So why is my mind playing tricks with me now? Beast-modes may have had their quirks – as a pterodactyl, he found he had developed a craving for fish – but those were minor annoyances compared to these fully organic bodies. A Transformer’s robot form was something that he controlled. More and more often, Terrorsaur felt that he was working for his body, instead of the other way around. It rather annoyed him.
“Huh? Oh.” He pushed her away – gently, though – and sat up. “Nothing. It was nothing. I’m fine.”
Terrorsaur still couldn’t bring himself to look at her, but could practically see her nod and the faintly hurt expression on her face. “All right.”
He listened to her try to get back to her feet, cursed himself, then stood to help her. It was hard to gracefully lift someone who couldn’t bend one leg, so Terrorsaur didn’t, simply catching Waspinator under the arms and pulling her to her feet. For a moment, she leaned back against him, regaining her balance, leaving Terrorsaur to find his arms full of pretty girl. He managed to turn his face so her head didn’t bop into his nose, which had the even less-desired effect that every time he breathed, he breathed in the scent of her hair. Terrorsaur did admit that Waspinator smelled better human; as a robot, she always had the lingering, oily-sweet odour of CR-fluid clinging to her. Here she smelled clean and warm with traces of fresh laundry and sleep.
Once she regained her balance, he let her get back onto the bed herself – normally she slept on the floor like him, but with her leg braced she found it easier to climb onto the berth – before he picked up his commlink from the floor beside his pallet. He checked the time and found it was almost twenty minutes before he usually woke up. He stood up to begin his morning routine.
Waspinator rolled over and blinked at him. “You’re getting up?”
“I might as well. I don’t think I’ll be able to get back to sleep.” He could talk to her – they had even promised one another to be more open – but not about this. At best she would laugh, and at worst she would think he was some kind of deviant.
Quickstrike wasn’t a morning person so much as someone who could sleep whenever he needed to. He knew he had the morning shift that day, so he had simply gone to bed earlier the night before. He wasn’t fond of first-shift monitor duty though; it meant he was stuck with checking the weather and other mundane tasks. Out of boredom, he had popped a random datadisc into the computer. It had turned out to be a history of Cybertronian spacecraft. The history didn’t hold his interest, so he just looked at the pictures, waiting for his shift to end.
Cool fingers touched his ear. On instinct, Quickstrike whirled and caught the other’s wrist, and found Tarantulas smirking down at him. “Well, good morning to you, too.”
He released her, then turned back to his console. “Don’t you even try it.”
“Try what?” asked Tarantulas, blinking innocently.
“You’re plain bad news, spider-lady.”
Tarantulas purred. “You’re afraid of me.”
Quickstrike narrowed his eyes. “Nothing scares me, least of all you. I just don’t appreciate getting chewed on is all.”
“And here I thought you would like the element of danger,” she teased. “What if I promised not to bite you this time?”
“I don’t trust you.”
“How about,” said Tarantulas, draping herself around his shoulders, “if I just happen to find something for Blackarachnia to do during third shift, and I just happen to leave my door unlocked …”
“How about ya’ll just happen to get them pretty lips of yours away from my neck?”
The door to the control room opened, and Quickstrike gratefully seized on the distraction. “Red, hey! You’re up early.”
Tarantulas let her lips brush his ear before he could protest. “Think it over,” she whispered, then stood, barely nodded to Terrorsaur, and left.
“Why is it only the ones I don’t want are interested in me?” Quickstrike lamented once Tarantulas was out of earshot. “This includes you too, Terry.”
“Just lucky, I guess,” said Terrorsaur in a distracted way, looking past him. “Mm, I could fall in love with someone who was built from that.”
Quickstrike glanced at the screen – which showed a gray-purple, needle-nosed ship with four forward-sweeping wings and the label ‘Decepticon Strikeship, AF-17 Class’ – then back to Terrorsaur. “You got problems, Red.”
“From my angle, you’re the one with a twisted aesthetic sense,” Terrorsaur reminded him. “Here, move over …”
With that, the Predacon nudged him out of the way, then began typing at the console. Within seconds, the AF-17 had been reduced to a wireframe diagram. Quickstrike sat back with folded arms. “What are you up to?”
“Just a quick CGI restructure,” said Terrorsaur. He sighed, “If no one used this craft for their alt-mode, the universe is poorer for it. It’s a gorgeous ship.”
“I suppose it’s a nice enough design,” Quickstrike admitted. “For a spaceship. But for Primus’ sake, if you have to lust after something, why can’t it be a woman? You worry me.”
Terrorsaur just chuckled, still caught up in his programming. Quickstrike elbowed him in the side. “C’mon, what about Waspy? She’s a pretty little thing and no mistake.”
“She’s pretty,” Terrorsaur agreed, a bit reluctantly.
“What about that word you always use – aesthetic? And how’s that different from beautiful?”
The Predacon shrugged. “‘Beautiful’ has emotional connotations. ‘Aesthetic’ is tidier. But, no. I like edges and angles and wings. Human forms are too soft, too curved, and they all look the same. I can’t … appreciate them.” He fell silent for a few minutes before adding, almost to himself, “But sometimes she’s beautiful.”
The wireframe had been twisted around, reconfigured into a humanoid shape, then given texture and colour. It looked female, mostly because Quickstrike had been expecting a female figure. For an angular figure, she gave the illusion of curves. She had four wings, point-upwards, and her body was mostly slender, except her rather large feet. The colours had been changed; the robot was jewel-green with gold detailing, with her face and fingers in silver and her wings in blue. Her eyes – optics – glowed a startling violet, and her mouth was curved in a faint, inviting smile. Above these curled a pair of golden horns. Terrorsaur had gone so far as to pose the figure, seating her and leaning her forward in such a way that best displayed her hands, face, and wings.
Quickstrike looked at her a long minute. “Why’s she wearing Waspy’s colours?”
Terrorsaur swore under his breath, then changed the figure to black and purple with green optics. Quickstrike shook his head. “I wasn’t complaining, I was just asking. But I still don’t see …”
A low whistle cut him off. “Hel-lo. Who is this, and is she busy tonight?”
“Rattrap!” Quickstrike wailed.
“She doesn’t exist,” said Terrorsaur. “Unfortunately.”
Rattrap whistled again. “She’s even got scrollwork on her fingers! If I had known you were a pin-up artist this good, I would never have blown your head off that one time. Now, if you could do one in earth-tones, maybe a motorcycle alt-mode …”
“You’re both crazy!” Quickstrike stabbed an accusing finger at the screen. “How the blazes can you be honest-to-Primus physically attracted to a robot?”
“I guess you’re right,” said Rattrap, then grinned wickedly. “Now, just program her with a love of bar-hopping, and we’re in business. I mean, who wants to cuddle up to someone boring?”
“I think she’s more of a sophisticated, artistic type,” said Terrorsaur.
Quickstrike buried his face in his arms. “I’m just gonna pretend I don’t know either of you …”
Terrorsaur had vanished without any real explanation, leaving Waspinator alone and bored. She didn’t bother trying to raise him on her commlink; if he didn’t want to talk, he wouldn’t, and there was nothing she could do about it. Waspinator didn’t want to be stuck in her quarters or hang around the command centre all day, but she didn’t want to be outside by herself, either – she was a Predacon warrior, but a Predacon warrior with a broken leg.
So she hung around in the control room, listening to the assignments being handed out, and had eventually chosen to tag along with Cheetor – Waspinator didn’t mind his company, and all he was doing that morning was collecting edible plants. Walking might have been currently difficult, but she could stand on a hoverpad easily enough.
Once in the air, she began to regret her choice.
Waspinator shrieked and clung to Cheetor. “I think you’re flying like a maniac just so I have to hold on to you tightly!”
Cheetor snickered. “Why not? You’re pretty cute.”
“Hmm, Wazzzzpinator thinkzz that cat-bot should remember who cat-bot izz talking to.”
“Yuck! All right, all right, I’ll slow down!”
When even Waspinator had taken a glazed, almost-lustful look in her eyes when shown Terrorsaur’s spacecraft pin-up girl, Quickstrike had given up. He was never going to understand the older Transformers with their robotic thoughts, and they were never going to understand him. At the end of his shift, he deleted the robot girl from the Axalon’s computer and went back to his quarters.
He was rather annoyed to find that someone had printed out a copy of the pin-up girl and hung it on the wall of his quarters. This one, however, was signed: To Quickstrike, with love. The handwriting was Terrorsaur’s. Quickstrike decided to deal with him later. Right now, there was someone else he wanted to talk to.
Despite not-so-subtle hints from almost everyone that Inferno was not and would never be interested in him, Quickstrike was undeterred. Certainly Inferno herself had never told him to go away, unlike almost every other woman in the group. Sure she was a bit odd and she had the strangest way of talking, but merely watching her breathe was practically a religious experience …
She was perfection, Quickstrike had decided. He was liberated enough that it didn’t matter to him that the object of his affections was taller than him, broader, stronger … in fact, he found the idea thrilling. Didn’t hurt that she had a figure to kill for and wore that fitted-yet-not-constraining red leather jumpsuit. She was strong, gorgeous, and passionate, even if that passion was for her duty. Quickstrike felt certain he could redirect it to a mutually satisfactory conclusion.
Except that she didn’t understand him. She knew the words, but his propositions were consistently met with looks of confusion and her mantra about soldiers and serving the Royalty. She knew what he asked, but she didn’t think it could possibly apply to her. Quickstrike was determined to prove otherwise.
He had caught up to her as she left to hunt, and had tagged along for some distance. Quickstrike was also the one doing all of the talking. Inferno answered him when he asked direct questions, so she wasn’t ignoring him. The words just weren’t sinking in.
Suddenly, Quickstrike stepped in front of the Amazon to stop her. Inferno simply looked down at the Maximal and waited for him to get out of her way. “Listen to your heart, ‘Ferny,” pleaded Quickstrike. “Look deep within yourself. Don’t you have any wants of your own, any desires?”
“I …” Confronted, Inferno’s face took on a look of supreme concentration. “I … I desire only to serve the Royalty.”
She looked at him with confusion. “Why do you persist in your delusions? We are soldiers, not drones. Our pleasure is to defend the Colony, to battle and to die in the service of our Queen.”
“Now, I like fighting as much as the next warrior-type, but even I think there’s more to life than kicking keister.” Quickstrike reached up and caught her chin, gently pulling her down to his level. “Now, I’m wondering if you just don’t know what you can feel, if all you need is something to help you let it out …”
Inferno didn’t resist as he kissed her, but nor did she encourage. In fact, she simply looked curious when he drew back, and shook her head. “All this fuss over such a simple thing,” she said, bemused.
“Mm, I knew you would understand, sugar …”
“There is no shame in hunger, even if eating takes time away from our duties.”
“… You just had to … say what?”
The Amazon extracted herself from his loose grip and straightened into her usual rigid posture. “Go back to the nest and refuel. A short distraction, but it cannot be helped. The Colonies needs their warriors strong.”
She turned on her heel and matched away. Quickstrike sighed heavily, defeated again, and started back towards the Axalon.
“This looks like a good place.” Cheetor brought his hoverpad down to a gentle landing, helped Waspinator step down, and retrieved her crutches from where they were lashed to the transport.
Waspinator took them gratefully. “I’m afraid I’m not going to be much help.”
“With a boring job like this, having company is help enough,” grinned Cheetor. The smile faded and he looked down, poking at a small rock with the toe of his boot. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you … I mean, if you don’t mind …”
“You’ve always got along with Silverbolt and Quickstrike because they showed up after the change and were never your enemies,” said Cheetor slowly, almost as if reciting something he’d rehearsed. “I never see you and Dinobot together … okay, that’s a given. You still freeze out the others if they try to be friendly. But you’re not so bad to me anymore, even though all of us fought you.” He paused, then, “It’s because I had nothing to do with the Protoform X Project, isn’t it?”
“That’s most of it,” Waspinator agreed.
Cheetor fidgeted a bit. “So you’ve, um, forgiven all the times I shot you during the Beast Wars?”
“Sort of,” said the Predacon. “More that it doesn’t matter any more. Everyone here knows I’ve got an immortal spark or the next best thing now, so I don’t have to worry about anyone finding out due to one too many miraculous recoveries.”
“I thought it might be fun to be immortal,” said Cheetor. “Well, ‘fun’ is the wrong word, but how can it be bad?”
“You get tired of out-living everybody,” Waspinator told him. “Cybertronians have long lifespans, but not when you’re a front-line soldier.”
“But there hasn’t been a war for …” Light dawned in Cheetor’s eyes. “You were a Decepticon.”
“Yes. But I wasn’t anyone important, so after the Last War they gave me the choice of reformatting or rehabilitation. I took the reformat.”
Cheetor nodded. “So if you’ve been trying to avoid friendships, how did you end up with Terrorsaur?”
“Accident. It just … happened.” The Predacon looked down at her right hand, and flexed it with a sigh. “Sometimes I think I made a mistake, but if I had the chance, I’d do it again.”
“Why him? Seriously, I mean.”
Waspinator looked away. “I’ve had a long life, Cheetor. I’ve had friends and enemies. I’ve been loved and hated, disliked and desired … but he’s the only one who ever needed me. That’s all.”
For a moment, there was no sound but the wind in the trees. Then, “Thanks. Thanks for being honest, Waspy.” Cheetor retrieved his bag from the hoverpad, but paused. “Erm … When I said ‘yuck’ earlier, I meant, y’know …”
“I know. Buzz, buzz.”
Before he heard him, he sensed him, a messy tangle of apprehension and frustrated lust. Fairly close by if it was enough to wake him. A few minutes later came the sound of boots scrabbling on the rocks of the ridge that was shading him. Then, strangely, the noise stopped as the twisting emotions smoothed out into curiousity. He opened one eye. The Maximal had interrupted his nap, and he was rather annoyed about that. “What are you looking at?”
Quickstrike shrugged, which was a bit difficult the way he was perched on the rock above. “You.”
Rampage snorted and closed his eye again. He knew that was the answer, but anyone else would have lied. Quickstrike was unsubtle, tactless, and a bit dim, but there was a … potential to him that Rampage found intriguing. “Why?”
Another shrug, heard rather than seen. “Dunno. You’re interesting.”
“You’re not afraid of me?”
“I ain’t scared of nothing, partner.”
Rampage decided not to quibble about the double-negative and instead simply took the statement for what it meant. It even seemed accurate – even now, in a lonely place with death only two metres away, Quickstrike radiated only a mild curiousity. He wasn’t afraid.
But fear was only one game, and Rampage had many he liked to play.
He stretched out, making himself more comfortable on the grass. “I don’t see you sparring too often.”
Quickstrike chuckled, a bit self-consciously. “I don’t want to show everyone up is all.”
“You know you’re not that good,” said Rampage. “You can fight, but you have no polish. You could learn a lot from Dinobot and Inferno and the others.”
“Maybe I just feel bad afterwards about hurting my friends.”
“Maybe you feel bad that you enjoy it.”
The blond was instantly wary, with a sharp edge of stifled panic. Rampage chuckled. “You like fighting. You like causing pain. And you deny yourself these things because you think it’s wrong to like them.”
“But it … it is wrong …”
“I don’t believe that and neither do you,” Rampage said. “You’re a fighter, Quickstrike. That’s the only time you really feel alive. But it’s not enough, is it?”
“I don’t have to listen to you.”
“Leave, then. But you won’t.” Rampage opened his eyes and looked up at the Maximal, smiling as much as the spines through his cheeks allowed without tearing the skin. “What you need is a real fight, where death is on the line and the only thing keeping you alive is your strength and skill. But you can’t get that here.”
It wasn’t a temper. Certainly Quickstrike got angry easily, but he came down from it just as fast. What Rampage sensed was something else – a capacity for violence that Quickstrike knew he had, but could never truly let loose. Not for any acceptable reason. “But you want to,” said Rampage. “Oh, you want to.”
“I …” Quickstrike trailed off. “No. I mean, yeah, sure, I’m a warrior; it’s what I’m trained for. But I got nothing to fight here. I got other things to do, keep m’self occupied … I can’t just go lashing out because I want to. That wouldn’t be right. I’d be a … I’d be …”
“Like me,” Rampage finished, helpfully.
Rampage sighed and shook his head. “You’ve been too well-heeled by the Maximals. You have such potential, Quickstrike. If you just had the strength to use it …”
Cheetor had dropped Waspinator off at the Axalon, took a few minutes to check the commlink locators, then had gone back out. He tapped at the hoverpad’s small computer, wondering if the tracer was broken, when his limited organic vision finally caught sight of his target. ‘Close’ was a relative term. He wheeled the hoverpad down to pace the Predacon. “Hi.”
Terrorsaur glanced over, then returned his attention to walking. “Hi, yourself.”
“I’m glad I caught up to you, Terry. There’s something I want to know.”
A long, weary sigh from the redhead. “What?”
Cheetor grinned. “You were the fastest of the Predacons, right?”
As the question set in, Terrorsaur’s lips twitched into a smirk. “Maybe. What’s it to you?” To be fair, Inferno had been faster in the air, but Inferno also had rocket turbines.
“Race you to that big tree at the edge of the forest.”
“You’re on, freckles.” With no more warning than that, the Predacon bolted. Cheetor leapt down from his hoverpad, leaving it hanging in the air, and chased after him.
Forty seconds later, Cheetor had time to turn around and drop to sit with his back to the tree before Terrorsaur caught up. “Well, maybe you were fast in the air,” teased the Maximal.
“Yeah, well, if this race really mattered, I’d have just shot you in the back,” Terrorsaur retorted once he caught his breath. But he smiled back, which was more than he did for most.
“It was just a sprint, so I might have had the advantage anyway,” Cheetor mused. “I mean, if I’m still kind of a cheetah. Want to try a longer distance?”
Terrorsaur seemed to consider that. “Maybe later. Are you being friendly to me because you hope that I’ll be friendly back, or are you doing it to impress Waspy?”
Cheetor blinked a couple of times. “What? No, I …”
The Predacon narrowed his eyes at him, back to his usual, unpleasant self. “Everyone wants something, freckles. Why me?”
“I figured that if Waspy sees something in you, you couldn’t be a complete twit.”
To Cheetor’s surprise, Terrorsaur laughed. “Good answer. But, no, really. You want to find out more about her, isn’t it? That’s why most of you Maximals talk to me.” He shook his head. “I might want something from you as well. You’re the youngest Maximal, right? At least, the youngest of your original crew. How old are you?”
“Hmm. You’ve got nearly a decade on me,” said Terrorsaur. “Still, you’re the closest. Tell me, what does Optimus smell like?”
Cheetor raised an eyebrow. “How should I know? What kind of dumb …”
“What about Waspy?”
“Clean and slightly sweet, kind of like a warm breeze. What does …”
Terrorsaur crossed his arms. “How come you know what my best friend smells like, but not your own?”
The Maximal opened his mouth, realised he didn’t have any idea what he was going to say, and closed it again. Terrorsaur smirked. “Thanks. I think you just answered my question.”
He turned and started walking back in his original direction, leaving Cheetor confused. “What are you talking about?”
The redhead stopped and looked back. “Cheetor? One last thing.”
“Ack! Hey, leggo …”
The sound of Rattrap being marched into his office was nothing new, but Optimus was rather surprised that the one propelling the small man was Silverbolt. Before the Maximal leader could ask what was going on, Silverbolt released Rattrap, drew himself to his full height, and with as much dignity as he could muster, said, “Sir, I respectfully request that there be some sort of rules put in place concerning public nudity.”
“Sheesh, ‘Ferny complains when I don’t shower, ‘Bolt complains when I do …” Rattrap was dressed with obvious haste, and his hair still shone wet. “C’mon, it’s – what? – maybe fifty metres from the showers to my room. Besides, I was wearing a towel, so nyah.”
“He was wearing it around his neck!”
Optimus sighed. There were some things he couldn’t understand, and Silverbolt’s hang-ups were one of them. At the very least, trying to calm Silverbolt down was less dangerous than fighting Predacons.
“Well, well, if it isn’t the second-best-looking member of the Maxi-Pred Alliance.”
Between his disturbing conversation with Rampage and Tarantulas’ probably-dangerous offer hanging over him, Quickstrike didn’t really want to deal with any more strange people that day. Which meant that another round with Terrorsaur wasn’t high on his list of things he wanted to do. “Don’t you have robot girls to draw?”
Both were obviously headed to the same place; the Axalon was in sight. The Predacon jogged over so he wouldn’t have to yell. “I’d attempt a human female for you, but I haven’t the faintest idea what passes for aesthetics in this species. I know what I like, but we seem to have rather … different ideas.”
“Red, so far my day’s been bad and I ain’t in no mood for any more weird. ‘Sides, you’re gonna make poor Waspy jealous if’n you keep this up.”
“Nah, she’s not interested in you.”
Quickstrike blinked once, about to protest that he had been misunderstood, then frowned when he realised he was being baited. He decided to ignore it. “Look, I’m not trying to come between the two of you. I’m just sayin’ that …”
Terrorsaur cut him off. “Look, ‘Strike, no offence, but what Waspy wants, you can’t give her.”
“And you can, I suppose.”
Quickstrike snorted. Terrorsaur shook his head. “You just don’t get it, do you? Waspy may look like a pretty girl, but she’s a Transformer. She just can’t see the appeal of being physically close to someone she isn’t close to mentally, even if she does consider you a … a friend.” He spat the final word out.
“Oh, for … ‘Can’t see the appeal?’ You two touch all the time!” Quickstrike yelled. “She’ll take your arm when you’re walking, you lean against each other when you’re resting, you tend to keep a hand on her if she’s within reach! What in tarnation do you call that?”
“‘Close friends’,” said Terrorsaur with rather more irritation than was really called for. “Primus! Touching has nothing to do with it!”
“Yeah? What about Tarantulas?” asked Quickstrike.
Terrorsaur made a face. “Tarantulas is a pervert.”
“Mm-hmm. And you?”
“I was created to be … sensitive to tactile stimulation,” shrugged the Predacon. “Age is a factor, too. I’m young; I haven’t been a robot long so I’ve adjusted to this body quickly. Waspy … you wouldn’t believe me if I told you how old she is.”
“Then she’s old enough to make her own decisions, yeah?”
“I know her well enough to know that she won’t and can’t find you physically attractive.”
Quickstrike stopped, folding his arms across his chest. “You trying to warn me off?”
Terrorsaur considered that. “Yes.”
Silverbolt had drawn the late shift. He didn’t mind; he was just happy to be of use. It was a bit dull though – by now most of the others had retired to their rooms. He had been considering the possibilities of what to do to fill his time when the control centre’s door opened and Blackarachnia stomped in. The Predacon didn’t say anything to him, just slouched into the chair nearest the door, settling in like she was going to be there for a while.
She might have been perfectly content to sit there and sulk, but Silverbolt found the silence uncomfortable, even if it wasn’t directed at him. Deciding that pointing out that slouching was bad for her would not be the wisest thing to say, he instead asked, “Are you unable to sleep?”
“Huh?” Blackarachnia visibly pulled herself out of whatever inner space she had been in, giving her attention to the Maximal. “Tarantulas kicked me out for the shift. Claims she wants to spend some quality time with Quickstrike and she didn’t think I’d be interested in joining. She’s right.”
“I worry about him,” Silverbolt admitted quietly.
Blackarachnia snorted. “Quickstrike can take care of himself.”
Silverbolt favoured her with a rare cynical smile and tapped the side of his neck. “All right, so he can’t,” Blackarachnia conceded. “Tarantulas won’t kill him, not if she can get some use out of him. Besides, I thought you’d be glad to be rid of him.”
“Sometimes,” Silverbolt admitted. “Sometimes there is too much of him, but I do not wish him harm.” Privately, Silverbolt tended to think of Quickstrike as a brother – not really affectionately, more as a person he had to put up with and take care of. They had been found at the same time after all, and their earliest memories were of each other. They had got into a fistfight within minutes of their awakening, granted, but the bond was still there.
“I can’t say I feel the same way about my roommate. Hnh, maybe I should just move in with Scorponok.”
Without thinking, Silverbolt spoke. “You are … jealous.”
“What!?” Blackarachnia stormed across the control room and jabbed the Maximal in the shoulder hard enough to turn him half around. “Either you’re implying that I want Quickstrike, or you’re implying that I wish I was a lunatic pervert, and neither is going to be healthy for you.”
“No! I mean …” Silverbolt stalled, trying to arrange what he did mean in an order that wouldn’t bring him physical injury. “I mean … You had been Tarantulas’ … creation, correct? And because of that, you used to be her favoured one. But now she has someone else to focus her attention on.”
To his surprise, Blackarachnia didn’t kill him. “One who’ll return the attention because he’s an idiot,” said Blackarachnia considering. “Hmm.”
Slightly emboldened by the agreement, Silverbolt ventured, “You are also no longer the only female in your group. That unique quality has been taken away from you.”
“Trust me, no one cared that I was the only ‘female’ Predacon,” Blackarachnia scoffed. “Still, using this body against anyone here wouldn’t work. They’ve all still got the Cybertronian aesthetic sense – we find Transformers attractive, not humans. Well, except for Quickstrike … and you, I guess. You’d both have organic tastes.”
The Maximal managed to stop his blush before it tinted his dark skin. “That, and Quickstrike is … susceptible to Tarantulas’ … interest.”
Blackarachnia laughed outright at that. “If I wanted him, Quickstrike would be mine. Pit, if Waspinator wanted him, she could have him. It’s just that Tarantulas is the only one warped enough to want to snuggle up to a flesh-creature.”
“What of Tigatron and Airazor? They are close.”
“They were together before the change hit. New bodies aren’t going to drive them away from each other.”
“I like that.” Silverbolt smiled slightly at the Predacon’s querying gaze. “The way you describe Cybertronian love. It sounds so … pure. A binding of minds and souls without a focus on the physical.”
“I said no such thing. Don’t think there was no physical component involved, ‘Bolt. It was a bit different from what Tarantulas and Quickstrike are into, but there was one. Besides, we’re not nearly as pure as you think – we all find each other ugly now.”
Silverbolt cocked his head slightly. “‘All’?”
“Tarantulas being the exception.”
The door hissed open. Quickstrike stepped in, looking almost embarrassed. “Erm, hi.”
Blackarachnia folded her arms. “I thought you had a date.”
“Tarantulas had a date. I never said I’d go,” said Quickstrike. Then, with a grin, “Now, maybe if’n you asked me …”
The Predacon just made a dismissive noise. “Dream on. I’d thank you for telling me I’m not exiled from my room any longer, but you’d take that the wrong way.” She stood and left the two Maximals to each other’s company.
Silverbolt blinked up at his comrade. “I must say, I am proud of you for standing by your principles and not giving in to Tarantulas.”
“Principles, nothin’. Tarantulas is plumb creepy,” Quickstrike informed him, walking back to the door. “I’m turning in, ‘Bolt; I only dropped in to let Blackie know she could have her room back.”
The door closed behind Blackarachnia just as Tarantulas screamed. “He’s doing it on purpose!”
“You scared Quickstrike off. Of course he stood you up,” said Blackarachnia.
“I’m not talking about the Maximal, I’m talking about Megatron. I put the new camera up higher, in a corner of the ceiling,” growled Tarantulas, ignoring the interruption. “Now look!”
Smiling out from the screen was the little yellow duck.
Blackarachnia walked over to her side of the room. “Give up and go to sleep, you idiot.”
Waspinator had been up reading when Terrorsaur walked in. She swivelled in her chair, placing her hands on her hips. “Oh, so you did decide to come home. You were avoiding me today.”
“A little,” Terrorsaur admitted. Once he returned to the Axalon, he had spent a bit of time in the botany lab to kill time. He had hoped Waspinator would have given up and gone to sleep by now. “There were some things I wanted to think about.”
“And some people you wanted to torment. Cheetor and Quickstrike both called me to ask you to back off.” Waspinator frowned. “Look, just because you don’t like people doesn’t mean I have to hate them, too.”
Terrorsaur considered several responses, all of which, when he considered them, would make himself sound either petty or idiotic, and all of which would probably get Waspinator angry, so he kept them to himself. After a minute he said, “I’ll back off.”
“Good.” With that, Waspinator shut off the computer, then set about getting ready to sleep. Terrorsaur had no idea about the routines of the rest of the crew – and, really, he didn’t care – but both he and Waspinator tended to change their clothes the night before, then all they had to do the next morning was pull on their boots and other accessories. The idea of pyjamas didn’t occur to them, and they simply preferred to sleep clothed.
He sat on the floor to pull his boots off. Fact: Having an organic mind and body alters the way we think. Observation: The ones most affected were the ones who were created human, followed by those who had been built on this planet. However, Inferno and Tigatron had organic thought-patterns to begin with. Possible exception: Blackarachnia.
Terrorsaur removed one sock, wiggled his toes, and frowned at them. Corollary: The less time you’ve been a robot, the faster being organic affects you. Fact: I’m the youngest one of both original crews, with Cheetor second. He’s being affected as well, though he doesn’t seem to mind. Maximals are dumb.
Hypothesis: Maybe I should switch roommates before this gets worse. Problem: I can’t stand any of the others.
As a sort of test, Terrorsaur surreptitiously watched his roommate – not that Waspinator would be embarrassed, but he was, if only by his motives. And, he found, with a sort of triumph, that his thinking hadn’t changed. He could still stand back and appraise her as if she were a piece of artwork. His tastes were the same as they had always been – his idea of a physically attractive body still involved metal and paint. Humans were unappealing.
Slight variations of size and colour, a detail here and there, but otherwise as identical as Decepticon Seekers, and not half so attractive. But, then, it wasn’t the body that was important, not to a Transformer. It was the spark behind the optics … or, in this case, the soul behind a pair of purple eyes. Appearance, which could be easily altered, really meant nothing. It was the mind that mattered, and it wasn’t quite the same mind anymore. The glitches had been fixed; Waspinator now had full access to her memories, no longer had that aura of addled stupidity, didn’t need jokes explained to her, and could easily keep up her end of a conversation.
In short, in the eyes of a Cybertronian, Waspinator had rather suddenly gone from undesirable to fairly attractive. Add to that their organic bodies which reacted to some of the oddest stimuli … Scent, for one. Their room smelled like her, comfortable and familiar. To her, the room probably smelled like him. Terrorsaur had noticed that one never seemed to be aware of his own scent. It certainly would have explained Rattrap and Dinobot … at least before Inferno’s obsessive tidiness made bathing mandatory. Still, Waspinator didn’t seem to be affected by scent. Yet, added Terrorsaur. Waspinator had been a robot for a long time.
“I turned him down, you know.”
Distracted by his thoughts, Terrorsaur shook his head and returned to reality. “What? Quickstrike again?”
“Cheetor,” said Waspinator, letting the heel of her braced leg rest on the floor, jackknifing her other leg to rest her chin on her knee. “He’s fun to be around and easy to talk to, but we’re headed in different directions.” She smirked. “That and he can’t quite handle the idea of being more than friends with the one who wazz the Wazzpinator.”
“What do you mean, ‘different directions’? He’s an explorer, you want to get away from Cybertron,” Terrorsaur reminded her.
“He runs because he likes to. We run because we have to.” Waspinator sighed and looked away, up at the room’s one window. “Old colony worlds still exist, mostly because they stopped answering to Cybertron. If we ever manage to get our bodies back and escape this planet, we’ll make for one of those.”
“You like him, but you turned him down,” said Terrorsaur.
Waspinator rolled her eyes at him. “That’s what I said. Besides, we’ve only really been getting along for the past few weeks. I need more time than that to decide if I want to commit … Heh, even if I want to consider any kind of commitment.”
“Is three years enough?” Terrorsaur asked quietly.
Waspinator gave him a curious look. “Pardon?”
“Just talking to myself. Go to sleep.”
Waspinator instructed the computer to dim the lights to half-strength, then laid down on her berth, facing the wall away from her partner. “If you’re done being moody, we can play tomorrow.”
She sounded so prim when she was feeling petulant. Terrorsaur closed his eyes with a chuckle. “Sure.”
To be continued ...