Venom - Chapter One
“So, you finally decided to come hopping back, eh?”
Kickback gave Bombshell a playful shove as he stepped out of the Cybertron-Coleop space-bridge. Sway simply shifted to dragonfly-mode and took off towards the Hive. “I got Ripsaw’s crew settled in, got caught in Megatron’s biggest scheme-backfire to date, and babysat a human’s offspring for a time. More than you ever do.”
While Bombshell did have many jobs around the Hive, for the moment he had little to do. The Hive had enough people, so he wasn’t required to rework coleop shells. He and Shrapnel used to do most of the maintenance, but there were others to do it now. Currently, Bombshell spent most of his time giving the Insecticon Queen Coronapis lessons in psychology.
Despite her title, Coronapis didn’t actually lead the Insecticons. Instead, she was their Vector Sigma, giving life and personalities to the reworked coleop shells. She was also effectively immobile; her great termite-like tail tied her to the Hive itself. Not that she lacked for company; Shrapnel and Bombshell spent time teaching her things that the Hive’s computers couldn’t tell her, things that required experience rather than simple book-learning, and other Insecticons would go to her if they just wanted someone to talk to.
The weevil shoved him back. “I’m putting up with you, and that’s a job in itself. What’s all this?”
“Stuff,” Kickback shrugged. “Assorted equipment from Cybertron. I made sure to get a personal subspace generator for you to play with. Maybe you can figure out how to duplicate it, instead of having to weasel them away from the Decepticons.”
Kickback shifted to grasshopper mode in preparation to fly away. Bombshell stepped in front of him. “Where are you off to?”
“Relax. I got the report written; Sway’s dropping it off.” The dragonfly was faster than he was. “Then we’re going morphobot hunting.”
“And what am I supposed to do with this stuff?”
“Not my problem,” said Kickback cheerfully. “Bye.”
“Opening boxes is not warrior’s work.”
“Neither is sitting around doing nothing,” Blight reminded her, cheerfully ripping open another container. The inventory work was Kickback’s fault; having abandoned Bombshell to deal with the shipment, Bombshell decided to declare all the techs busy and get a couple of the grasshopper’s warriors to do it for him. “This one’s got spanners. Phooey; I was hoping for something edible.”
The bee gave the locust a disapproving glance, more at her carelessness than at her words. Darkside located the proper lock mechanism on the box and opened it. “That one has dust,” said Blight happily when a puff of black powder got Darkside in the face.
“Looks more like computer chips,” Darkside said, closing the box and setting it carefully aside.
“Ooh, a big one! I claim the big one!” sang the locust, already digging her claws into the metal hinges and setting a foot against it for leverage.
Darkside smacked Blight’s hands. “Oh, go away. The way you’re ripping into things, you’re liable to damage them.”
“Picky-picky,” Blight taunted once her hands were safe, though her grin never left her face. “I’ll go see if Fracas or Devourer want to do some training exercises or something and leave you to your inventory work. I know when I’m not wanted.” At the door, she turned and paused dramatically. “And if one of those boxes happens to contain something edible, I shant forgive you!”
The locust giggled and ducked out when Darkside threw an empty box at her.
“After all that, hmm, strangeness on Earth, I’m surprised we stay with the Decepticons.”
“We like them,” said Kickback. “Entertainment value, mostly.” It was four days later. He and Sway were sitting back to back on a low hill, arms loosely intertwined, looking out over the expanse of forest.
Sway sighed. “Kickback, they’re all crazy.”
“Crazy,” said Kickback agreeably, not really paying attention to the conversation. He settled himself a bit more comfortably against Sway and realised, with a feeling too serene to be surprise, that he was happy. The day was bright, the breeze was warm, and, strangely, he wasn’t doing anything. He couldn’t stand idleness, but here he was, wasting the day, lounging around with his best friend, and enjoying every minute of it.
Feeling him relax, Sway asked, “Mm, what are you thinking about?”
He disentangled his arms, but only so he could turn and wrap them around her midsection. He rested his chin on her shoulder and asked, playfully, “Do you really want to know?”
Sway twisted so she could look him in the visor: “Yes.”
It took a second for it to sink in that she was serious. And, with a not-unpleasant shock, Kickback realised that he was, too. He let her go, then moved around to sit in front of her, taking up one of her hands. “You do realise how big a step this is?”
“Mm-hmm, of course,” chided Sway, catching his chin in her free hand and drawing him forward so their foreheads touched. She smirked then, mischief behind her yellow optics: “Aren’t you, hmm, worried I might bite your head off?”
“I probably won’t even notice,” he teased quietly. Kickback wondered idly why he wasn’t nervous; he was by nature very private, and here he was, about to let his mental walls down and allow another person to share his thoughts and memories, let someone into his soul, and not worried about it at all. But then, why should I be worried? he questioned. This was Sway; he didn’t need to shield himself from her. It was the most natural thing in the world to be with her, relaxed, open to her and to himself…
Something twisted inside Kickback, and he drew back with an incoherent cry, feeling his mental barriers snap back into place like they were physical things. Sway reeled, hurt and angry, but gathered herself and softened a bit when she saw Kickback curled on the ground, hands over his head: “No, no, no, no…”
She touched one of his wings to get his attention: “Kickback?”
“S-sorry…” he managed after a minute, forcibly stopping the tremors that wracked his form. He looked up at her, face open but mind closed. “I… can’t go through with it. Sorry.”
“Shh. Your secrets are your own. I’m just as happy to be your friend as your, hmm, companion.”
“Thanks. Thanks, Sway.”
Time passed, silently, uncomfortably, but neither left for fear of offending the other, or hurting them worse. This was how Bombshell found them twenty minutes later: Kickback, resting his arms on his knees and his chin on his arms; Sway, looking in the opposite direction, one knee jack-knifed, her tail curled over her toes; neither saying a word, but obviously wanting to. Obvious, at least, if you were Bombshell.
He unfolded to robot-mode, startling Kickback. “What do you want?”
Choosing to ignore the obvious situation, Bombshell simply stated his business: “Have you noticed people acting strangely lately?”
“I’ve been busy since I got back from Earth,” retorted Kickback. “Why? What’s happening?”
Bombshell shrugged. “I can’t explain it - it’s just a… feeling.” He paused, then said, “I was heading to the space-bridge. I think there’s a problem with it.”
Grateful for the distraction, Kickback agreed to go with him. Sway nodded a curt good-bye, and headed back to the Hive. The two Insecticons shifted to their insect-modes, and flew the rest of the way to the space-bridge.
Kickback landed and shifted, looking around. “There’s supposed to be a guard here, just to monitor the bridge.”
“So that’s why I wasn’t getting an answer.” Bombshell went to the control panel and started tapping keys. “I wanted the shipping manifesto. A couple of boxes vanished and no one knows what happened to them.”
“Maybe you miscounted.”
“Didn’t. There were twenty-three, and I helped carry them. Blight and Darkside did the inventory, and you know how conscientious Darkside is…” Bombshell trailed off, then hit the control panel. “The console isn’t working. Why wasn’t this reported?”
The grasshopper crouched on the ring of the space-bridge and peered down. “Because no one was here to report it?”
“That’s not helpful, Kickback.” He took off the front panel. “Ugh. It’s been corroded… Wait… No, everything’s intact.” The weevil withdrew his hand and scowled at the black dust on it. “Looks like someone poured iron filings into the works. Hmph, I’ll have to call Cybertron directly and ask what they sent… Who’s our contact again?”
“Lightray, Monitor of the Second Sector. Don’t worry; he’s not as stuck-up as some of the Decepticons.” Kickback grinned: “Actually, he thinks Insecticons are the cutest little things.”
Bombshell chuckled. “So much for the Decepticons ever taking us seriously. Nuts - The space-bridge radio is non-functional and ours aren’t strong enough to reach. We’ll have to go back to the Hive to call Cybertron.”
Shrapnel had no idea that anyone had any plans to ruin his day until he found himself face-first against the wall of a corridor. He tried to twist to see his attacker, but the only response was a cruel tightening on his arms, enough to make the metal creak.
There were footsteps, and Shrapnel was yanked around to face three Insecticons - a cicada and two beetles. The beetles he had seen around before, but the cicada…
The cicada spoke: “Shrapnel. I am Venom.” He paused, then: “Yes, that Venom.”
It was obviously supposed to mean something, but all Shrapnel had was a vague feeing of déjà vu. The name was familiar, and the voice, but the body was wrong. And how do I know that? Shrapnel demanded of himself. Unfortunately, his mind didn’t answer. Within himself, Shrapnel shrugged and asked: “Who are you, are you?”
Whoever was holding Shrapnel sniggered behind him. Venom’s visor darkened angrily. The two beetles remained impassive. “Venom!” shouted the cicada. “The true leader of the…” he trailed off with an angry sound, visibly clamping down on his emotions. “You honestly don’t remember.”
“Nope, nope,” agreed Shrapnel. He might have had no idea what was going on, but it obviously bothered Venom that he didn’t know who he was, so he pounced on it. Of course, his memories prior to being an Insecticon were patchy at best - Shrapnel, Bombshell, and Kickback’s memory circuits were all-but erased due to the heavy damage they suffered when their escape pod crashed on Earth, and their repair-protocols computer turned them into the first Insecticons, - and they were more complete than the memories of the other two.
Apparently, Shrapnel should have recognised Venom, which meant he probably knew him back on Cybertron, when he - when they both were Decepticons proper. It would have helped if Shrapnel could remember just who he was up against, but he didn’t, so he didn’t dwell on it. One thing he was absolutely certain of - a takeover would never succeed. Coleop was a world of Insecticons, and it was easier to herd cats than to lead Insecticons.
Shrapnel decided to ask the question he was most curious about: “Why would you want to lead the Insecticons, cons?”
“Because,” said Venom, “they are by rights mine. And, just to make sure you don’t try anything… Chopshop?”
The copper stag beetle stepped forward, opened a panel on Shrapnel’s torso, and removed his radio before he could so much as protest. Shrapnel wasn’t mute now - he still had his vocaliser - but he could only speak out loud, rather than use distance communication.
Venom nodded; Shrapnel’s thoughts were obvious. “And without your radio, you can’t control your clone armies.”
“Maybe I should snap his antennae… just to be on the safe side,” said the one holding Shrapnel.
“None of that, Ransack. We need him as a hostage,” Venom chastised. “Now throw him in the brig.”
Shrapnel squirmed a bit in a futile effort to get away from his captor. “Are you going to tell me your plan, plan?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
Ransack plodded back into the lab, where Venom had set up his office. “I put him away. Without damaging him,” he added, knowing Venom would ask.
“Excellent. There are some who are immune to the Swarm for one reason or another,” said Venom, handing Ransack a small compad. “Destroy these ones, but bring the last alive.”
The locust skimmed the eight names before tucking the compad away in a compartment in his gauntlet. “Not the other Cybertronian Insecticons?”
“No. They are true robots and thus immune, but I have other uses for them. Just those eight.” Venom turned as Ransack started out. “Be as messy as you please, but be quick about it.”
The two turned at the voice and waited for Blight to catch up. “Come quick! There’s something happening in the Hive - a rebellion or something. Darkside’s in there someplace… please, you have to help her!”
“Slow down, Blight,” Bombshell instructed. “What’s going on?”
The locust hopped back and forth impatiently. “I don’t know! I don’t know! I barely escaped myself, then I saw you two…”
“Sway went back to the Hive. Did you see her there?” asked Kickback. If there’s a fight, she’ll be in the middle of it… And if she’s in danger because I drove her away…
“Didn’t see her; wasn’t looking,” said Blight. “Come on - can’t we talk while we fly?”
“I can,” said Kickback, taking to the air. Bombshell followed.
The three skimmed low over the forest for a few minutes, then: “Hold up; I see something.” Despite Blight’s protests for speed and his own desire to get back, Kickback banked and landed next to what had caught his attention. Bombshell and Blight found him crouched down, robot-mode, in the middle of a mess that had been an Insecticon. “It’s Bluewing… I think. Concussion-blast wounds, then torn apart. Not many of our people are strong enough to do that… They might have teamed up, but I doubt it.”
“The trees around here aren’t damaged,” said Bombshell, twisting into robot-mode. “Sneak attack?”
Kickback shook his head. “The blast-marks are on the front of the body. Still, none of us really expect to be attacked by a fellow Insecticon. The attacker got close enough not to miss, disabled Bluewing with the blaster - only his limbs show blast-marks - then got in close to terminate him physically.” He stood, carefully stepping away from the body, still regarding it regretfully. “We’re dealing with a sicko here. Once we deal with whatever’s happening at the Hive, Bombshell, I’ll get you a list of those who had the ability to do this, and you can do your voodoo to figure out which one did it.”
“Got it. Let’s get…” Bombshell stopped, feeling the rifle pressed into his back. “Blight?”
“Among others,” agreed Blight as five more Insecticons stepped from the forest. “Come along quietly; we don’t want to damage you, but we will if you resist.”
“That sounds fair,” said Bombshell. His cannon-turret suddenly swivelled around and fired, leaving the locust reeling at the impact of the cerebro-shell embedding itself in her forehead.
Kickback used the distraction to knock the nearest Insecticon away and pull his rifle out of subspace to cover the others. “What is going on here? Blast it, I know all of you! Why are you doing this?”
“Our leader wants your capture,” said one - Scattershot, a dragonfly.
“Shrapnel has already been incarcerated,” said Scattershot, inclining his head slightly.
The grasshopper caught the movement, and managed to dodge one of Lash’s whips. He rolled to his feet as Bombshell fired his own rifle at the ichneumon fly, singeing her armour, knocking her back… and hopefully not causing any lasting damage, Kickback added. These were his warriors, his people, and he was certain that this little rebellion wasn’t their doing.
Bombshell drew his own rifle and fired at Scattershot, but missed when his aim was thrown off by Blight tackling him from behind. The other still-standing Insecticons saw this as their opportunity to attack - though fortunately for Kickback, they were trying to capture rather than destroy.
The weevil managed to free his hands and rifle from Blight, and hit the switch that would overload the weapon. He calculated the distance, then threw it into the air - close enough for a blinding flash, but too far to cause appreciable damage. In the confusion, he scooped up Blight under one arm, and dragged Kickback into the air.
Ten minutes later, Bombshell decided they weren’t being followed, and landed. By now, Kickback and Blight’s vision had cleared. Blight was struggling, but Bombshell was stronger than her. He sat the locust on the ground, and under her protests, yanked her radio wires. “There. You can’t summon any reinforcements.”
Kickback crouched by their captive: “Now then, Blight, I know you. You’re not the uprising type. You’re not the ‘our leader wants your capture’ type, either. If we got back to the Hive, we’d have been ambushed, wouldn’t we? What’s really going on?”
The locust sullenly looked away. Kickback sighed. “Bombshell?..”
“She’s somehow resisting my control,” said Bombshell. “She’d never have tackled me otherwise. I’ve got a bit of a link, though very weak…”
“Do what you have to short of hurting her,” said Kickback. Blight was a bit of a bubblehead, but she was also completely incapable of mutiny. It wasn’t her.
Bombshell didn’t want to damage any innocent Insecticon either, but answers were needed. He turned up the power in the link - it felt like most of it was being absorbed by something, or piling against a dam, and only the slightest trickle actually reached the locust. She reeled under the mental pressure, even if it was blunted. “What happened to the Insecticons, Blight?”
“Box…” said Blight, though whether she was fighting to tell him or fighting to stay silent, Bombshell couldn’t tell. “Darkside… Not computer chips… Personality component…”
“From Cybertron… Had to make a new body… Had to…”
The mental pressure was getting too high. Bombshell would have to stop the interrogation soon or break her. “Why did you have to?”
“The Swarm,” whispered Blight. “Venom…”
Sway found the torn shell in the practice arena. It was Fracas - Sway had spoken to her not five minutes ago; the mantis was the one who suggested the sparring match. At least, Sway thought, it was fast. Fracas’ face still held a look of indignant surprise, though one shoulder was slightly crushed and most of her chest was spread on the floor behind her… She was grabbed, then shot point-blank. By someone rather large… and whom she wasn’t fond of, her mind added ghoulishly, taking in the mantis’ expression.
The proper thing to do would be to alert Kickback - Fracas was one of the warrior caste, and Kickback was more-or-less in charge of them - but Sway didn’t really want to deal with him just yet. Besides, Fracas was her friend, Sway was a perfectly good investigator, and the thought of venting her frustrations on whoever destroyed the mantis was very appealing…
Still, she ought to inform Kickback, just for protocol…
The call was never made; Sway’s thoughts scattered at a sound behind her. Without thinking, she took the spear from one of her gauntlets, extending it and turning in the same motion. She didn’t care who it was - the sound was a chuckle.
Ransack stood by the door, concussion blaster at the ready, and conveying a predatory smile despite his lack of features. “You’re number eight.”
Sway jumped aside before the weapon could fire, and the blast tore harmlessly into the floor. Deep in her chest, she started humming - a low-level sonic vibration that she used to rattle her opponents - and settled back into an attack-ready stance. “You are the one who, hmm, killed Fracas?”
“Rush job, I know, but I had to get it done before you showed up. And humming doesn’t do anything to me,” said Ransack, twisting into his insect form. “I’m built for sonic vibrations.” The locust rubbed his back legs together, setting up a sound like shearing metal. It almost covered the fact that the wall behind Sway was crumbling. She noticed it and jumped aside as Ransack shifted back to his robot-mode.
“Monster. Hmm, you may have destroyed Fracas, but she was better than you.” Sway took flight, then dove, using her weight and momentum to drive her spear through Ransack’s wing, pinning him to the wall. He clubbed her aside with his blaster before she could attack again.
Ransack pulled the spear from his wing, snapped it in half with one hand, and the light of his optic band conveyed a grin. The others had been really too easy. He dropped his concussion blaster and took on a fighter’s stance - he wanted this battle to last.
In a practiced motion, Sway detached the other spear from her gauntlet, and slashed outwards as it extended, cutting a deep gash in Ransack’s leg. She rolled aside and to her feet before the locust could bring his fists down on her.
She was fast, but she wasn’t very strong… not that it would have mattered against Ransack. As Sway slashed at him again, the locust extended his arm as if to block the blade, letting it cut deep into his hand. It stuck just long enough to yank the dragonfly into his crushing embrace.
Sway struggled, but Ransack was too large and too strong. He broke her arms first, cracking the joints so the limbs hung useless. When she half-shifted and tried to bite him, the locust grabbed her head and forced it back around to its robot-mode.
He slammed her into the wall and let her collapse, and this time she didn’t get up; Sway’s internal repair system had kicked in and knocked her into stasis-mode.
Ransack lifted a foot to grind the life out of the dragonfly, but remembered his orders and picked her up instead.
“Good. Put her on the table so I can begin repairs.”
The locust did as he was asked, but didn’t leave. “What do you want her for?”
Venom selected a few tools from a case and began to patch up the worst of the damage on Sway. “I’ll be using her against the grasshopper. Once the repairs are complete, I’ll give her back into your tender mercies for you to destroy as slowly as you please - with Kickback right there, of course. If that doesn’t crack his calm exterior, nothing will.”
Ransack nodded absently. Not that Ransack cared, but Venom would be spitting mad if he found out that this fit nicely into the locust’s own plans.
“‘Venom’?” asked Kickback after Blight slipped into a repair-cycle. “Are the Insecticons being controlled through some type of poison?”
“It’s a name,” said Bombshell.
Kickback gave him a strange look. “What makes you so sure?”
“We knew a ‘Venom’ back on Cybertron. He… He was… Gahhh! I should remember this!” shouted Bombshell, slamming his fist into his palm. “I’ll think about it later. Move over; Blight resisted my cerebro-shell, and I want to know how.” With that, he crouched by the locust and opened up a panel on her helmet.
First he switched a few wires around so she would stay in stasis until sorted out. After a few minutes, he removed his cerebro-shell, but instead of silver, it looked almost black. “It got covered in this dusty stuff; it barely touched her circuitry,” said Bombshell. “Wait… This is the same stuff that was in the space-bridge control panel!”
“Black dust?” Kickback touched the cerebro-shell, then rubbed his fingers together. The stuff gritted like sand.
Bombshell looked closely at the dust on his hand. “I’d need a microscope to be sure, but I think these things are nano-machines - the ‘Swarm’ that Blight mentioned. Nano-machines that get into your circuitry and make you do Venom’s bidding. Obviously you and I are immune, but it’s not going to do us a lot of good.” He sat back on his heels, considering. “I wonder if others are immune… Bluewing, maybe…”
“And they killed him for it?” The grasshopper laughed shortly. “Itty-bitty machines. No wonder they made sure to capture Shrapnel first - he might have destroyed them with his electronic-control powers, if he knew about them before they spread too far. I hope he’s all right…” Then, “Could we duplicate his power?”
“Maybe, if I could get the equipment - which I can’t because it’s in the Hive and we’re out here,” said Bombshell.
“We need a way to sneak in…”
“He’ll be expecting that. I don’t know why I know that… But I should know!” yelled Bombshell, almost hopping with fury. “My Decepticon past can’t be completely erased if I remember Venom! It’s there, but I can’t access it!”
Kickback absently closed the panel in Blight’s head. “You’re the psychology expert, Bombshell. How would you pull this type of thing out of someone else?”
“Depends on if I’m doing it the nice way or not,” said Bombshell. “Nice way involves a lot of talking and can take months, even if you were qualified. Not-nice way involves cerebro-shells or plugging my victim into a mind-scanning machine - which we don’t have access to.”
The Insecticons fell silent, each lost in his own thoughts. Eventually the grasshopper looked up. “Could a cerebro-shell be used both ways? I know you get feedback if they’re destroyed.”
Bombshell managed to look insulted. “The actual control part is one way, of course. Why would I allow the chance for my victim to control me?” Then, thoughtful: “Are Shrapnel and Coronapis bonded?”
“How should I know?” snapped Kickback. “And why would it matter?”
“Touchy-touchy. I thought maybe Coronapis might have access to parts of Shrapnel’s mind that Shrapnel himself didn’t, memories he couldn’t remember,” said Bombshell. But then, they wouldn’t be able to reach the Queen or Shrapnel in any case. Still, it was an intriguing idea… Bonding opened the mind completely, allowing the other complete access to every thought, every memory, every emotion, tying the souls permanently together. Bombshell had never been close enough to anyone to want that kind of connection, and it was a safe bet that close-mouthed Kickback wouldn’t be either, no matter what he and Sway had between them… Still, it gave him another idea…
“What if we linked minds, Kickback? I can look for your latent Decepticon memories in an attempt to get mine to resurface. It’s dangerous if you’re not gestalt, but with my psychological training, I should be able to keep us separate.”
The grasshopper stood and assumed a warrior’s stance. “I don’t want you running around in my head!”
“Good. That will help keep our personalities separate. Besides, I don’t see you coming up with any bright ideas,” snapped Bombshell as he stood to match Kickback.
“Venom’s real power comes from the Swarm. If we could take control of it…”
“We can’t - not without Shrapnel. Neither of us have his electrical control powers. And we don’t know enough about the Swarm to attack its weak points, nor can I find any without the use of my lab,” finished Bombshell. “The Swarm-possessed are immune to cerebro-shells. Venom probably is, too. A physical fight would be us two and whoever else is immune - if they haven’t been exterminated - against the rest of the Insecticons - most of whom we’d rather not harm.” Kickback scowled at him. Bombshell gave him an inquiring look. “Don’t you trust me?”
“I don’t want you in my mind.” It wasn’t that Kickback had any dark secrets - at least, none he remembered, - it was simply that despite his outward openness, he was an intensely private person. Certainly he could pal around with pretty much anyone, and there were even a few whom he considered friends - Bombshell was reasonably certain that he himself fell in the latter category - but Kickback wasn’t actually close to anyone.
And, he realised, despite working with the grasshopper for years, sharing food and danger, he really didn’t know all that much about him. Bombshell wondered if he ever did, even before they became Insecticons. Probably not. The next question was if Sway had ever managed to get through to him. Again, thought Bombshell, recalling the uncomfortable silence he walked in on, probably not. The two were alike in many ways, but the dragonfly expressed her true emotions, instead of covering them with an outward cheer.
“Kickback, this is no time to get prudish…” started Bombshell, exasperated.
Kickback turned on him, poking a clawed finger at his chest. “You listen…”
The mini-cannon on Bombshell’s head fired once, embedding a cerebro-shell in the grasshopper’s forehead. Kickback was almost as good as he was at summing up people and their intentions, so Bombshell simply didn’t give him a chance to.
After a quick look around, Bombshell let himself sink into Kickback’s memories.
Flight was glorious!
He dodged, he zipped, he wove through the towering spires of Cybertron. There was pursuit, but it only made the flight more thrilling. Besides, none could follow him, not if he didn’t want them to. He was far too quick, far too clever, for he was Kickback, and none were his equal…
Something behind Kickback’s optics cringed at every near-collision with the cityscape, tried to slow down the frantic pace, then mentally cursed itself for a novice. For he was Bombshell, and he was living one of Kickback’s Decepticon memories.
Now that his own identity was established, Bombshell found he could distance himself, like watching a dream. However, it was a dream he had little control over; Bombshell could skip forward and backward, but had no idea how much there was of it or how useful it could be. What he wanted to find were Kickback’s memories of him - Bombshell that is, - which would hopefully trigger his own circuits.
Kickback banked suddenly to come to a graceful landing in front of a ruin of a building. As it turned out, the ruin was only a front; once inside, the building was modern. Bombshell paused the memory in curiousity as his host turned to preen in front of a reflective wall - The face that looked back was different from the Insecticon he knew. On the whole, Kickback-the-Decepticon was a creature akin to the war-jets, all sharp lines and angles. And, thought Bombshell with a chuckle, it seems he never lost his vain streak.
The weevil let the memory resume, watching through his friend’s eyes as he walked the too-large corridors. Soon the black Decepticon came to a conference room of sorts. Two others were there - Shrapnel, and - here Bombshell had to think for a minute, curious at the sudden swell of emotion from Kickback - Rebound.
Decepticon subgroups tended to be threes or fives, and the Insecticons ( No, not ‘Insecticons’, thought Bombshell. But what? What? ) were no exception. They were five, but two - Tumult and Rebound - were destroyed when their escape pod crashed on Earth.
“I come bearing information.”
Within himself, Bombshell jumped, but settled when he remembered the voice was Kickback’s. It was a strange feeling to be reliving another’s life, and even stranger when the body that you feel is yours begins speaking of its own accord.
Rebound looked up from where he was fiddling with a smallish device. “I’d rather you came bearing a heat-sink coil.” Bombshell felt Kickback’s mouth twitch into a grin, and he took in Rebound with a clinical gaze. He knew the Decepticon’s name and form, but Bombshell realised he might as well have been looking at a stranger. Rebound was thin and angular; a different make than Kickback, but obviously possessed of a flight-form. His voice was quiet, almost soft, with a faint accent on the sibilants.
As for the other, it was hard to ignore the spines that arched from his back. There were four of them rather than two, but the similarity was there. He looked up from where he was leaning over Rebound’s shoulder. “Wait for the others to arrive, arrive.” If Bombshell didn’t know him before, he did now. Shrapnel made a face, and added, “You know how Venom likes to be the first to hear anything, thing.”
Kickback matched the expression of distaste. “Bit late for that; I already know it.” There was a sudden clatter in the hallway and Kickback whirled to meet it, but relaxed as another small, purple robot bounced in. “Must you be so noisy?”
“Indeedy-do,” agreed Tumult happily. Where Rebound was thin, Tumult was a stocky creature with rounded wings like a beetle’s shell. Unlike a beetle, there were spines or turrets bristling from them. He would probably look like a flying pincushion when he transformed. “What’s the party? Don’t tell me I beat the headshrinker here.”
“Just because I’m not in the room doesn’t mean I’m not in the base.”
To Bombshell’s annoyance, Kickback barely wasted a glance on the last speaker, being more interested in watching Rebound’s work. The weevil backed up the memory so he could take a look at himself.
He didn’t seem much different. Cannon on the shoulder rather than mounted on his head, something that looked like treads on his legs, but Bombshell instantly recognised himself. Still, it was… eerie. He tried desperately to place himself in the situation, to trigger his own memories, but nothing came, not even Tumult’s silly nickname for him. Perhaps his recollection of this particular meeting was destroyed in the crash.
Resigned, Bombshell settled back to ride out the memory, and watched as he and the other… pre-Insecticons made small talk or bickered depending on their temperament ( Rebound. There was something important about Rebound… ) He was about to give up and start a more active search when a sixth Decepticon entered the room. Venom. “Are all the Sabocons present?”
“We are, are.”
Bombshell felt Kickback’s face click into a rigid mask, shutting away his emotions. However, behind his optics, Bombshell could feel his distaste for the green and orange Decepticon who had just entered. He filed the thought away to examine it later; was Kickback always like this, with a wall around himself, or was it a developed skill to defend against Venom?
He turned back to the immediate task of trying to find information on Venom. If Kickback’s feelings were any indication, Venom was not liked. He wasn’t even a proper Sabocon ( ‘Sabocon’? As in ‘sabotage’? Bombshell nodded to himself; they were certainly suited for it ) if his colours were any indication. He was their liaison with the army - Kickback’s mind knew this.
This was Venom, then. Perhaps fifteen feet tall, all green and orange over silver. He had wings and a roundish body. Unfortunately, he all-but lacked a face, and Kickback carefully avoided looking at even that, even when he was addressed directly: “Have you the information?”
“Of course,” said Kickback, his own optics fixed on the Decepticon insignia on Venom’s chest. Suddenly Bombshell felt a wave of disgust roll through him, then realised the feeling was Kickback’s. Forgot ‘not liked’; Kickback hated Venom. However, he wasn’t looking at any of the others, so Bombshell couldn’t read their expressions. As Kickback launched into a terse account of Autobot energy shipments, Bombshell tried to remember hearing the report. If he did, his own memory circuits might kick in and he could access his own, professional, appraisal on Venom.
Kickback crossed the room to the computer console and called up a map of the city. As the routes were filled in, Bombshell suddenly felt things click into place. Hanging onto the image of the map, Bombshell extracted himself from Kickback’s mind and started searching his own.
The weevil shook his head in a useless effort to clear the static. Bombshell then looked over at the grasshopper, and released the control.
Bombshell was suddenly glad that he all but lacked a neck, because Kickback’s fingers were at his throat and seeking purchase before the discharged cerebro-shell had hit the ground. Bombshell was the stronger of the two, however, and managed to break the warrior’s grip and pin him on his back.
He was the more skilled fighter, but Kickback wasn’t thinking, still trying to get his claws into Bombshell. “You… you back-stabbing, no-account… weevil!”
“I did what I had to, and I have the information I needed about Venom. Now settle down!”
Kickback had no interest in settling down, but he calmed himself with an effort, clamping down on his emotions. If the situation were less serious, Bombshell might have tried to stop him. Minutes later, he regarded the weevil through cold optics. “I’m going to remember this, Bombshell.”
“I’ve got a plan,” said Bombshell. “You’re going to hate it, too.”
“Thanks. What is it?”
“We have to get captured.”
The grasshopper scowled. “We just went though the bother of not getting captured,” he grumbled. “Still, it should be easy enough; Scattershot and the others have probably alerted Venom about our escape.”
“Even easier,” corrected Bombshell. “I’ve got Blight’s radio. I’ll set the homing beacon on it, to make it seem like she’s signalling for help.”
Within twenty minutes, a tree crashed down beside the two, a copper stag beetle by the severed stump. He twisted into his robot-mode. “Surrender,” he suggested.
“I don’t care what you want - I intend on putting up a fight first,” snarled Kickback, addressing them both. He sprang at Chopshop, but was hit mid-flight by a sonic blast, and crashed to a stop at Ransack’s feet.
“He wants them unharmed,” hissed Chopshop.
Barrage stepped out of the forest. “He still functions,” he said simply, rifle now aimed at Bombshell.
“You’re all being controlled by Venom’s nano-machines,” said Bombshell. Can’t hurt, might help…
“We aren’t,” Chopshop said. He slung Blight over his shoulder with a shrug. “Barrage, Ransack, bring them.”
“A pity,” Kickback heard Ransack whisper as his internal repair system pushed him into stasis. “Your dragonfly put up a better fight than you did.”
To be continued ...