The large, dangerous animals avoided the Axalon, but the local rodents moved right in. It was warm, sheltered, full of wires to chew, and there were no predators.
Well, not many.
Airazor's hand darted out and caught the mouse before it could duck under a pipe. The rodents really liked the engineering section. There were all sorts of nooks and crannies to hide in.
She held it up by the base of its tail and inspected it critically. There wasn't much eating on a mouse. A few of them could make a decent snack, though catching them burned more fuel than they were worth. They couldn't just be eaten whole any more either, upping their nuisance value. On the other hand, she was fed up with crocodile. Rattrap complained about it sometimes but it was his own fault for choosing a tasty alt-mode.
She looked up. "Hey, Dinobot."
He had a scanner in one hand. The warrior tilted his head, not quite a nod. "I require access to your quarters."
"What for?" asked Airazor. "Part of your investigation?"
"Yes. Your quarters were originally assigned to Crossbolt."
"Don't tell me my room is haunted." Dinobot said nothing. The glare was enough to chastise her for making light of the situation. "Sorry," said Airazor. "What do you need?"
"I wish to see if the assassin left anything behind. I may need to remove some floor panels."
Airazor let the mouse go and stood. "Whatever will help. I never noticed anything unusual but I'm only ever in there to sleep. How's Optimus holding up?"
"Not ... well," said Dinobot reluctantly, falling into step beside her. "He needs to be strong now - if Megatron senses any weakness in him, he will exploit it. If you are concerned, check in on him yourself."
"I'm concerned, it's just ... I don't know what to say," Airazor admitted. "I'm always out scouting, flying patrols - I don't know Optimus that well. Not personally."
Dinobot huffed quietly. "You say that to me."
"I didn't know the crew before I woke up here. You've been around longer and spend more time with him than I do," said Airazor with a shrug.
"Give sorrow words. He will appreciate your concern, even inelegantly phrased." Dinobot said it like an order, a tone that allowed no further comment. Airazor hid a grin. Play 'I am the brooding Predacon outsider' all you want, Dinobot - you're worried about him. Admittedly, things had to be pretty bad if Dinobot was worried but it was always nice to see him care.
They reached her quarters. Airazor stood back and let Dinobot prowl around with the scanner. There wasn't much for him to trip over - despite the fact that both Airazor and Tigatron lived there, neither owned much. The wall racks held a few spare weapons and Tigatron's wet clothes. There was a star chart of Cybertron's system on one wall and a fist-sized rock sitting on the table. Airazor had searched hard for the most typical-looking rock she could find.
Dinobot found what he was looking for in the wall between Airazor and Cheetor's quarters, just a bit that was solid where it should have been hollow. Tools were fetched and it took both of them to lift down the wall panel.
Airazor peered around Dinobot. "Is that all?"
There was a rifle and a couple of small boxes. Dinobot glanced at her, eyebrow raised. "You ask that?"
"The Axalon was a colonising mission. They didn't know if they would ever see Cybertron again," said Airazor. "I'd have thought he'd want to take more of it with him. Why didn't he pack for the trip?" She frowned. "Why didn't I pack for the trip?"
"Perhaps those in protoform stasis do not get to bring their own cargo," said Dinobot. "A way to start a new life on a new world."
"Poetic, except it doesn't happen like that. I asked when I first arrived, hoping to find some clue as to why I was here. I ... well, you'll think it's silly," said Airazor. "I used to fly space patrols - mostly just being a mobile signal relay, sometimes chasing pirates away from our traders, usually a whole lot of nothing. Every time I docked somewhere for refuelling or maintenance or whatever, I'd pick up a souvenir. Just cheap little things as a way of remembering where I'd been. I'm sure I'd have brought those with me, but I checked the crate that the manifest said went with my pod and it was just some generic spare parts." She shrugged. "But I don't remember signing up for the mission either. Maybe I changed."
"The crate may have been mislabelled."
She shook her head. "We checked Tigatron's, too. Same thing."
"Hm." Dinobot had opened the boxes while they were talking. "Nothing but entertainment datadiscs."
"I guess some people just pack light." Airazor reached past him and took the rifle out of the hole. "I'll take Crossbolt's things to Optimus. Don't worry about the wall. I'll fix it later."
"What are you doing in here?" Dinobot snarled.
"Why do I keep findin' Preds in here?" Rattrap demanded, swinging off the crate he'd been perching on to stomp over to Dinobot. "I already had to chase Terrorsaur outta here."
"Idiot vermin! Megatron wants to know what happened as much as we do - Terrorsaur was sent to spy on me, not interfere in my work. He wouldn't have caused a scene in the command centre if you'd minded your own business!"
"So is that why you're bringin' another in?" asked Rattrap, jabbing a finger at Scorponok, who had followed Dinobot. "Pred content of the cargo bay gettin' low?"
Scorponok gave the offending finger a look that said, I no longer have claws but I know where the shears are kept. Dinobot smacked Rattrap's hand aside. "Scorponok found the body, therefore I need to talk to Scorponok. Leave or I will remove you."
Muttering threats, Rattrap left. When the door slid closed, Scorponok snorted quietly. "So they don't treat you any better even when you wear their symbol."
Dinobot kept his back turned - these soft faces were too open and his former comrade would read him too easily. "He is ... on edge."
"You don't have to cover for them, Dinobot."
"There is nothing to cover for," Dinobot growled. "In time you will realise that these Maximals are not our enemies."
"Yeah, and if you live long enough you'll realise they're all the same. It doesn't matter what you do here. If we get back to Cybertron you'll just be another Predacon outlaw."
"Better a clean execution at the hands of the Maximals."
Scorponok understood and said nothing. Dinobot briefly shut his eyes. Oh, yes, Megatron may have friends in high places ... but I have enemies in higher. No matter the choices I make, all paths before me lead to destruction!
But this is not the time to think of that. Dinobot set his mind to the matter at hand and turned to Scorponok. "Why were you tearing up this bit of floor specifically?"
Scorponok shrugged. "The room with the pump is below here. I have to run a pipe to Megatron's quarters. Running it up to this level and across is easier than running it along the lower level and up."
"Did the deck plates seem loose?"
"Who could tell? They're too heavy now," said the technician, making a face.
"Did you see anything else? Touch anything else?"
"I burned that hole in the dead bot's finger to see if it'd react. I touched its shoulder. I called Megatron, the little cat showed up, then Optimus was shouting." Scorponok shot a contemptuous glance down the hole. "No Predacon did it, anyway. We don't hide bodies." He left.
Dinobot found a flashlight and crouched down by the hole in the deck plates. The technician had touched on the aspect of the act that most confused Dinobot. When a Predacon kills, they want others to know about it. They must tell, they must let everyone know that they were better than their enemy or else there's no point. Is it that the body wasn't supposed to be discovered immediately? Was Crossbolt supposed to simply vanish? Is there someone back on Cybertron gloating that no one will ever find the body? Is it merely that the killer couldn't sneak a dead body off the ship?
The light hit a patch of the floor of the crawlspace wrong and Dinobot found himself looking at a scuff mark. So what? The body was tied in place but not absolutely secure. The ship has been thrown around enough that ... No, these extend beyond the range of movement. There's a trail.
He climbed down into the hole. In his robot body, Dinobot would have never been able to navigate the crawlspace. Now, despite the pipes and cables, it wasn't even a tight fit.
A mouse ran over his hand. He grabbed at it but it scurried away into the darkness.
Dinobot followed the drag marks for several metres. Then there was a curved, sloping wall in front of him and before Dinobot could think what that meant, a force net materialised around him like a cage. "Intruder alert. Identify yourself."
"Sentinel, this is Dinobot - stand down!" Lacking energy signatures, unable to identify them individually, Rhinox had reprogrammed Sentinel to detect organic beings over forty kilograms and identify by voices. The obvious flaw in the system would be exposed as soon as a Predacon built a voice changer but it was what they had for now.
Why did Sentinel activate now? I've been down here for several cycles, thought Dinobot, annoyed, as he continued to follow the trail along the foot of the dome of the stasis hold, then realised, Of course. The stasis hold. It's good to know my comrades have enough sense to realise that a door isn't the only way a room may be entered.
But this is ... inefficient. Foolish. Why expend the extra effort to move the body? I'm still under the cargo bay.
The trail ended. Then Dinobot looked up at a thick pipe banded by scuff marks and realised his mistake. "Crossbolt wasn't in the floor of the cargo bay," he said to himself, startled into speech. "He was in the ceiling of the stasis hold."
Terrorsaur debated the merits of leaving the shelter of the Axalon. On one hand, wide open sky. On the other, pouring rain. He was feeling better though, even with the front end of the Axalon looming over him. He was leaned against one of the ship's landing legs; good, solid metal at his back, but also unusual - there were no wings or beast head to mind.
He found he liked the look of the rain when the wind was still, like a beaded curtain hanging off the edge of the ship. The tidy cut-off pleased him. When the wind blew the rain just looked messy. Didn't someone do art with fountains once? I'm sure I read about that somewhere. I know no one was doing it when I was in Betacron.
The sound was ... well, it was noise. Terrorsaur had no appreciation for the audile arts. The rain and the waterfall under the Axalon just sounded like a whole lot of wet.
There was another sound behind him - a clatter of stone on stone - and he looked back over his shoulder. Waspinator was sitting near the edge of the chasm, occasionally tossing rocks down it. She hadn't so much as looked at him since Dinobot kicked them outside, let alone spoken to him. She kept herself curled up most of the time, shivering. Terrorsaur thought the rain made the air pleasantly cool, Waspinator apparently found it chilly.
One of us has to call a truce, thought Terrorsaur with a sigh. I suppose it's up to me to be the mature one, even though she started it. "Waspinator ..."
Another rock was sacrificed to the chasm. "Oh, is terror-bot talking to Waspinator now? Waspinator thought terror-bot didn't want to hear Waspinator talk."
"I just don't want to hear you talk about crocodiles. Come on."
"No. Terror-bot yelled at Waspinator."
Stubborn bug. "I can make it up to you."
"I can. I've seen you watching me when you think I'm not looking," said Terrorsaur, inspecting his nails. "I know what you want. Don't deny it."
The scout got to her feet and looked back at him, startled. "Waspinator never denied it!"
He closed the distance between them until they were close enough to touch. "I'm only letting you do this because I think it might feel good but ... you know this is weird, right?"
Waspinator set her jaw. "Waspinator doesn't care."
"All right." Terrorsaur reached back, removed the band that tied his hair, and shook out the long red strands. Then he turned away from Waspinator and sat on the ground. "Go ahead. Don't make me regret this."
Behind him, Waspinator squealed with delight, then her fingers were combing and twisting at his hair. It was shiny and brightly coloured and Terrorsaur thought it was one of his better features in this body but he didn't find long hair as endlessly fascinating as Waspinator did. She'd been wanting to play with his since the first day.
Quickstrike didn't like moving more than was absolutely necessary but he obediently followed Tarantulas when ordered to come up to the xenobiology lab. For one thing, there was a possible cure to his condition. For another, he found it hard to argue when Tarantulas and Tarantulas' cleavage asked him to do things.
Silverbolt was already there, trying to look alert and managing not to slump in his chair too badly. Rhinox was by the table nearest the door, fiddling with a scanner and some techie thing that looked like a dart gun. Tarantulas went and perched on the other table, leaning forward with her ankles crossed primly, or it would have been prim on anyone but Tarantulas. The woman was an innuendo in a purple jumpsuit.
Quickstrike collapsed into the second chair. "Well, what've you got for us, big guy?"
"You're infected with amoebas that are attacking your intestinal lining," said Rhinox. "If left unchecked they could spread to the rest of your body. We're going to try to counteract them with amoebicidal nanites. With the parasites removed, your bodies should just heal on their own."
Quickstrike blinked at him. "What?"
"Tiny bugs are eating your insides," Tarantulas translated. "We're going to stick itty-bitty drones in you to kill them."
"Ah," said Silverbolt. "Er ... how?"
"They'll be injected into your bloodstream. From there it should take a few minutes for the nanites to locate the infection," said Rhinox. "I'll be monitoring them. If there's any trouble with the nanites, I'll deactivate them."
Tarantulas beamed and rubbed her hands together. "Who gets to go first?"
"Shoot, I will," said Quickstrike immediately. He was fed up with being sick and willing to do anything to end it. That and there was no way he was going to look like a coward in front of Tarantulas.
"Pull up your sleeve a bit," Rhinox ordered. When that was done, Rhinox pressed the tip of the dart gun to a vein in Quickstrike's forearm and pulled the trigger. It stung like a nasty insect bite and a few drops of blood leaked out but it wasn't anything he couldn't handle.
After several minutes, Rhinox glanced up from his scanner. "The nanites look to be in the right area. How do you feel?"
"Just as lousy as I've been all day," Quickstrike griped. "Your metal bugs ain't - nngh!" He doubled over as the pain hit, twisting up and burning his insides. There was shouting above him and hands helping him to the floor but they were somehow unreal. Nothing existed but the pain. He curled around it tightly.
He didn't know how long the agony lasted, but it vanished as suddenly as it struck, leaving him a bit dazed. Quickstrike became aware that he was leaning against something soft and warm and holding something tightly. He uncurled slightly. Tarantulas. She must have been the one to help him down, and he'd just ended up in her lap and clung to her arm without thinking. He tilted his head to rest against Tarantulas' ample bosom and peered at her out of the corner of his eye. "How long've I been here?"
The Predacon chuckled. "About twenty cycles."
"I miss all the good stuff."
Tarantulas gave him a shove. "Teheheh - off, you. Your facial fur is scratchy and you badly need to bathe."
Quickstrike grudgingly disentangled himself from the Predacon but it felt more like a 'not now' than a 'never', so that was all right. And, he thought, rubbing at his short beard, I can admit she's right on both counts. He stood and helped Tarantulas back to her feet.
Rhinox waved a scanner at him. "How do you feel?"
Quickstrike ran a hand back through his hair. "Better," he said, surprised. He'd only been alive for seven days and the last four had been awful. "Not great but better. Real hungry, though. Was it supposed to hurt like that?"
"The nanites were only attacking the amoebas. They caused you no damage," said Tarantulas. "Rhinox wanted to stop when it hit you. I thought it plain that it just meant the experiment was working."
"The nanites have disintegrated," Rhinox informed him. "In theory you shouldn't suffer any ill effects from them. You can go, but if you feel that anything is wrong, tell me immediately."
"All right, your turn," Tarantulas told Silverbolt.
His fellow neophyte looked awful and it was just going to get worse for him. Quickstrike smirked. "I think I'm gonna stick around to watch 'Bolt recover. Moral support, like."
Tigatron and Airazor looked up from the weather map on the navigation screen when Dinobot entered the control room. "How does it go?" asked Tigatron. Apparently her clothes were still drying. Why she didn't fabricate a second set was beyond him. She was seated at the station with Airazor leaning over her shoulder.
"Answers are unlikely and justice unlikelier," said Dinobot, taking a seat at the tactical console. He typed in a few codes to access the security grid.
Knowing what he was looking for now, Dinobot had checked the cables that had secured the body down. They were new, as expected on a new ship being loaded, but with a bit of wear along one side. Looped around a strong pipe, the cable was a pulley - Crossbolt had been killed in the stasis hold and hidden in the ceiling. Then the body was moved so that its residual energy signature wouldn't set off the alarms around the stasis hold and tied down so as not to activate the motion sensors if the ship pitched. He cursed himself for not thinking of it before - the murder occurred when the Axalon was being loaded. The cargo bay would have been full of people. Of course Crossbolt wasn't killed there. Someone with training in this task would have thought of that immediately. I've been doing everything in the wrong order.
Beyond the motion and energy sensors, there were four cameras in the stasis hold, hidden in the vents. Dinobot had checked all the vents out of thoroughness and four cameras seemed a bit excessive, even to him. Two would have been adequate, three was overdoing it. Three were positioned equidistant around the perimeter to show as much of the room as possible. The fourth simply pointed uselessly at one of the stasis pod drop chutes. Not that he minded - more cameras meant he had more chances to see Crossbolt's murderer. Dinobot chose to review the footage from the camera that most directly faced the door. Perhaps the assassin was foolish enough to walk right in.
There was the stasis hold, empty. The protoforms had not yet been loaded - in fact, they were the last things to be loaded onto the ship. After a while, there was Crossbolt, alive, alone, carrying a crate. He walked towards the camera at an angle, set the crate on the floor, opened a hatch in the wall, then started taking small jars full of light out of the crate and stacking them in the cabinet. Embers, Dinobot realised. Not sparks, just pieces of them that could be combined into sparks. The Axalon's spark surgeon could use them to give life to a blank protoform.
We have a blank protoform, Dinobot thought, but forgot the idea entirely when the monitor flickered. The timestamp jumped forward fifteen cycles and the stasis hold was empty.
Dinobot checked the room's other cameras and found the same thing, almost. The three cameras that faced the room all suffered the same glitch. I should have known. Sentinel challenged me when I got too close to the stasis hold, Dinobot thought. Anyone who could bypass the security system could bypass the cameras, especially the pre-Sentinel system. There will be no record.
And where is the feed from the fourth camera? All it faced was the floor but his inability to access the footage bothered him. It's an active camera. It should be part of the grid.
He activated the comm circuit to the xenobiology lab. "Dinobot to Rhinox."
After a moment, the speaker activated. "Rhinox here. What do you need, Dinobot?" Somewhere behind Rhinox, Quickstrike was laughing.
"I cannot access one of the security cameras in the stasis hold. The one in the portside vent." When the only answer was silence, Dinobot spoke again: "It is one of ours?" If it was Predacon technology, he should have recognised it.
"I never put a spycam in the stasis hold!" huffed Tarantulas' voice.
"Yes, it's ours," said Rhinox slowly, before Dinobot could question the voices in the background. "I remember that one - one of the techs read the blueprints wrong and installed it before anyone noticed the error."
"It's wired into something. I need to access its records from four megacycles before the Axalon's scheduled launch." It probably suffered the same glitch as the others - if it worked at all - but Dinobot had to see.
"Could you get Rattrap to help you? I'm in the middle of something."
The connection cut. Dinobot growled at the console.
"You know he's been focused on trying to find a way to repair Quickstrike and Silverbolt," said Tigatron.
"Could you find the system the camera is wired into?"
"Before the change, I may have spent a total of two days inside the Axalon. Perhaps a megacycle of that was spent outside the CR chamber," Tigatron reminded him. "I'm still learning my way around. I have some skill with hacking but I feel off about hacking our own base."
Airazor held up her hands. "I leave the technical stuff to the techs."
I do not wish to bother Optimus, Cheetor is probably still with him ... no choice but the rat. Dinobot activated the comm system again, putting it on the intercom to the whole ship: "Vermin! Get up to the command centre immediately!" Airazor chuckled and Tigatron shook her head, then they got back to their atmospheric scans.
After a few minutes, Rattrap appeared, wearing a tool belt and brandishing a ratchet. "This had better be good, chopperface."
Dinobot walked over, plucked the tool out of Rattrap's hand, and stepped around him to prod him in the back with it, pushing him towards the console. "You weren't my first choice, rat without a tail, but you'll do."
"Seriously, that's the best you got?" asked Rattrap, looking back over his shoulder. "You finally ran out of insults so now you're just stating the obvious?"
"I was quoting."
"Quote something good, then. I ain't doin' all the work here, you overgrown, stinky iguana." Rattrap paused. "Er ... why did you call me up here?"
"The camera on the port side of the stasis hold cannot be accessed through the main grid. Rhinox said you could access it."
Rattrap spun and caught the ratchet, though he couldn't break Dinobot's grip. "What? Rhinox said that?"
Rattrap stopped pulling at the ratchet but didn't let go. "What timeframe?" he asked dubiously. Dinobot told him and Rattrap nodded, releasing the tool to go to the console. "All right. Should be doable."
The Maximal's hands flashed over the keyboard, then the footage appeared on the screen. "There. Happy?"
"Hnn." Unlike the other cameras, this one didn't glitch. Unfortunately it was still useless - it pointed in the wrong direction and the walls and floor of the empty hold were too rough for reflections. There was a nearly imperceptible spike in the light levels four cycles in, possibly the flash of a laser. That was all.
"Enough," said Dinobot, and Rattrap shut off the video. So I know when and where the murder occurred. Useful, but not the information I most want to know.
He handed Rattrap his ratchet back, then pushed him out of the way to check the cameras in the cargo bay on the off-chance that the assassin had gone straight down. He came up empty and expected it - the assassin knew how to cover his tracks. No one would notice someone climbing into a vent on a ship that was being finished and loaded.
"I guess that's it then," said Rattrap.
The warrior glanced back, surprised that Rattrap was still there. "Not quite. There is more security footage I need to check. After that, I have one more idea."
It was easy to tell when Silverbolt had recovered. He uncurled, took three steps, and hoisted Quickstrike up by the front of his shirt. "Why did you insist on staying?"
"Misery loves company," said Quickstrike, trying to twist away. "Don't start somethin' you can't finish, 'Bolt."
"I thought the matter was finished!"
Rhinox sighed, caught Quickstrike under his arms, and took him from Silverbolt. "We just repaired you. Don't even think about damaging each other."
Grumbling and shooting angry looks at each other, the neophytes left. Tarantulas giggled. "Ah, Maximal camaraderie! I'm going to see how Blackarachnia's doing." With that, the Predacon left as well.
Rhinox contacted Tigatron to tell her the results of the experiment, spent a few minutes tidying up the xenobiology lab, then went up to Optimus' quarters and pressed the door chime. "Optimus? It's Rhinox."
Cheetor's voice answered quietly: "Come in."
He found Optimus lying on his side, head pillowed on Cheetor's thigh. Cheetor was sitting up, petting Optimus' hair and looking worried. The pilot shrugged. "I didn't know what else to do. He ... he does this for me sometimes when I'm upset."
"I'll look after him for a while," said Rhinox. "Go on."
Cheetor carefully eased Optimus onto the foam padding and retreated. "I wasn't asleep," said Optimus when the door closed.
"I can give you some good news at least," said Rhinox as Optimus sat up and rubbed at his eyes. The fact that his berth was scaled for a larger being only added to the effect of making the Maximal leader look small and miserable. "Tarantulas managed to pinpoint what was wrong with Quickstrike and Silverbolt. It was an amoebic infection. We used nanites to clean them out. They're not back to one hundred percent but they're doing better than they were. I don't think the nanites will hurt them in the long term but I'd rather not use them again just in case there are cumulative effects. I'll know more in a day or two."
"Good," said Optimus. Rhinox sat down beside him and waited. Then, after several minutes: "Has Dinobot ..."
Rhinox shook his head. "He's found that the ... attack ... happened in the stasis hold, not the cargo bay, about four megacycles before the scheduled launch. He also found the fourth camera. He thinks it was just installed incorrectly."
Optimus slumped forward and ran his hands through his hair. "I hate lying to them."
"So do I but it would just worry them if they knew," said Rhinox, resting a hand on Optimus' back. "Until we know there's a threat ..."
"And we don't want to give the Predacons any more leverage than they already have," Optimus finished. "I still hate it."
Rhinox considered telling Optimus what Dinobot had said - that the warship that was chasing the Predacons wasn't damaged, that they lied so that the Axalon would pursue the Predacons. I will, but not right now. Optimus has enough to think about.
"I don't see why everyone refuses to go out in the rain," said Tigatron with only a little accusation. "We're completely waterproof now."
"What good's waterproofing in these bodies?" asked Airazor, who had declined to go for a walk that morning. "Our insides are wet through."
There was nothing to look at outside and the Predacons were all holed up various places on the Axalon doing whatever it was Predacons did in their spare time. Monitor duty was feeling distinctly pointless and no one needed them for anything so Airazor and Tigatron moved two chairs to the central workstation and passed the time chatting. At least the chairs were padded now.
Tigatron shook her head. "Inferno's the worst. It baffles me how someone who showers twice a day can hate the rain so much."
Cheetor padded in, subdued and unhappy. "Hey, Airazor. Hey, big cat. I'll take over from here if you want."
"You hate monitor duty," said Airazor.
Cheetor shrugged. "Yeah but I gotta be doing something. I can't do anything to help Optimus but I can at least do my job, you know?"
"How is he?" asked Tigatron.
"Rhinox is with him now. He's just ... sad. He doesn't even want to talk or anything. Optimus already kind of blames himself for this," - Cheetor tugged at his shirt - "and there's Predacons all over and ..."
And now he finds out that a friend of his was murdered a year ago and was hidden on the Axalon the whole time, thought Airazor, suppressing a shudder. She got up and patted Cheetor on the shoulder. "Do you want to talk?"
The pilot shook his head. "Nah, I'm ... well, not fine, I just want to work for a bit and feel useful."
Airazor gave him a quick hug - sometimes Cheetor complained when he was fussed over by the others but he always accepted it from her or Tigatron. "You want company?"
"No. Not right now. Sorry."
"If we just go below the Axalon we'll be available if you need us," said Tigatron, though it was a question directed at Airazor.
Airazor smiled slightly. "All right, but I'm not going out in the rain."
"As you wish," said Tigatron with a half-bow, not quite sarcasm, then straightened up and paused. "Actually, if you'll wait a moment ..." Tigatron vanished back into the ship. Cheetor sat down at a workstation and tapped a few keys.
"We've been running weather simulations all afternoon," said Airazor. "We've got rain for at least four more days."
The pilot sighed. "Is there any good news today?"
"Well, Rhinox called up a little while ago and said the neophytes were back on their feet, so there's more people around to be bored at."
Tigatron arrived a few minutes later with her commlink and a small box. "What is it?" asked Airazor.
The tracker chuckled quietly. "Not crocodile."
They took the lift down, stepped out, and were startled by a voice: "Oh, what now?"
The Maximals turned towards the chasm. "You're still out here?" asked Tigatron.
"Obviously," said Terrorsaur. He was sitting on the ground, knees drawn up, feet crossed at the ankles, arms loosely crossed over his knees. Waspinator was kneeling behind him, playing with his hair. She didn't even look up. "What do you want?"
Airazor had been feeling a little sorry for the air warrior earlier when Waspinator was teasing him, but Terrorsaur was back to his usual abrasive self, reminding Airazor that she couldn't stand him. "We want to be out here. Your little time-out's got to be over by now."
"We were kicked out and now you're kicking us back in?" Terrorsaur demanded.
"The lift for the cargo bay is large," said Tigatron before Airazor could get drawn into an argument, with far more reasonableness than the scout thought the Predacon deserved. "It's the closest you can get to being outside while still being inside."
Terrorsaur got to his feet, causing Waspinator to make an annoyed sound that wasn't quite a buzz. "Whatever. Come on, Waspinator."
The lift disappeared back into the Axalon. Tigatron frowned. "Did Terrorsaur's hair seem a bit ... odd?"
Terrorsaur with his hair down wasn't particularly unusual but half of it had been twisted into thin braids. Airazor chuckled. "Wasps happen, I guess. They must be on speaking terms again."
"You were out today so you missed it," said Airazor, gratefully latching on to the light topic. "Waspinator wasn't just bragging about how she saved Terrorsaur from that crocodile, she was making up little songs about it. Speaking of which, pass me some of that not-crocodile."
They went to sit near the edge of the chasm and Tigatron opened the small container. "I brought back a couple other kinds but I know you like these."
Tucked into the box were four marula fruit. Airazor laughed. "You went out in the rain just to pick fruit?"
"I wanted to go for a walk anyway. This gave me a destination." The tracker smiled. "Even I am getting tired of crocodile."
Airazor took one gratefully and bit into it. "Right," she said after she swallowed. "Waspinator singing."
Tigatron selected a fruit for herself and sighed dramatically. "I don't think I want to know."
"So she was doing this one where she'd take the letters of her name and come up with adjectives that started with that letter. Wonderful, amazing, stupendous, perfect ..." Airazor continued, knowing Tigatron's protest was a token one. "'Waspinator is wonderful, as everyone knows! She kept big lizard from biting terror-bot's toes! ...' I can't do the voice but you get the idea."
"Unfortunately," Tigatron smiled.
Airazor grinned. "Waspinator gets so caught up in coming up with verses that she forgets how to spell her name. So she asks Terrorsaur for help."
"And he's even more fed up with her bragging than we are."
"Mmhm. He got her to spell out WASPY IS A BUZZHEAD WHO NEVER SHUTS UP before she realised she'd been tricked."
On to This Most Bloody Piece Of Work - part four
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