Venom - Chapter Two
“They have Sway! Those traitors have Sway!” Kickback danced from one foot to the other in his frustration. He could handle almost any situation… except helplessness. Being locked up did not make the grasshopper happy. Being repaired by his captors would have made him wary, but he was too angry to think about it. “If those lunatics have hurt her…”
“Calm down, Kickback, kickback. Hopping isn’t going to help her.”
Kickback stopped hopping and instead paced the cell, kicking the walls when he reached them, before turning sharply on his heel and starting the other way. For reasons that Shrapnel and Kickback couldn’t guess, but that Bombshell had a good idea of, Venom had thrown the three Insecticons into the same cell.
Eventually, Shrapnel looked up. “Stop that too, that too. We need to think. What do we know of these traitors, traitors?”
“The beetle, the scarab, and the locust are mine, of the warrior caste,” said Kickback, stopping sharply. “Chopshop, Barrage, and Ransack. All three are obsessive: Chopshop’s a kleptomaniac, Barrage will shoot a target until it’s dust, and Ransack will level a forest to catch one coleop.”
The weevil mulled that over. “The cicada is Venom, also an obsessive personality. He’s programmed for psychological warfare. Paranoiac - thinks everyone’s after his job. Gets his kicks setting people against each other.
“We knew him back on Cybertron. He wasn’t our leader, more like our contact with the army. But he liked to think he led us. He kept trying to control us, and hated us because he couldn’t. He hated Shrapnel because he led the Sabocons - that’s what we used to be called. He hated Kickback because Venom couldn’t read him. He hated me the most because while we were both trained for psychological warfare, I was the one who was better at it. Problem is, he might be better than me by now.” Bombshell spread his hands in a shrug.
“Could he be staging all this, this?” asked Shrapnel, waving a hand at the cell walls. “Planning to set us against his warriors, warriors?”
“Maybe,” said Bombshell. “But probably not. This is too physical to be just manipulation. I think it’s exactly what it looks like - a takeover. If we’re lucky, all he wants is the Hive.”
The beetle squirmed. “And if we’re unlucky, lucky?”
“He’s going to try to break us.”
Kickback walked over to the ‘door’ of the cell - really a force-field - and ran his fingers along it. Little sparks crackled around his claws. “Solid sheet - no lock to pick.”
Shrapnel ran a hand over the wall. “A field behind the panels as well, as well,” he added. “No eating our way out, out.”
Bombshell nodded. “It looks like we’re actually stuck.”
“Woe is us, is us…”
Venom let them stew for a while. He was too smart to start celebrating yet, but he did want to give his captives time to appreciate the sheer hopelessness of their situation - while holding out a glimmer of hope by not posting a guard. And while he wanted nothing more than to slowly break the former Sabocons, he knew that the longer they were alive, the more time they had to think of an escape plan.
He gave them one hour, then sent Ransack and Chopshop to bring Bombshell to him. The weevil was duly collected, and flung to the ground at Venom’s feet. Barrage stood slightly to one side. Bombshell merely stood and dusted himself off. “The cicada-transform suits you, Venom.”
“You remember me. Good. I would have hated that you didn’t know who destroyed you.”
“I know you’re trying to take over the Hive because you couldn’t lead the Sabocons,” said Bombshell conversationally. “The Queen will never do as you ask, and without her, the Hive is useless.”
“She will. I have Shrapnel.”
“And if you kill him, you won’t have Shrapnel, and you certainly won’t have Coronapis.”
“You tire me, Bombshell,” said Venom. At a signal, Ransack took the weevil by the arm and shoved him against a wall. “And with your skills and cerebro-shells, you’re too dangerous to me to let you live.”
Bombshell took a step back, but there was nowhere to go. “Wouldn’t you rather put me into some kind of fiendish death-trap and conveniently leave the room while it deals with me?”
The cicada’s featureless face somehow managed an expression of disapproval. “I know better than that. Barrage…”
“Wait!” The longer Venom let Bombshell talk, the better chance Bombshell had of escaping. He was a psychological warfare expert, after all.
Unfortunately, so was Venom. “… Fire.”
Coronapis looked down from her dais, a Queen looking down on her subjects. While ordinarily a warm creature, this day she had no reason to be friendly. “What do you want of me?”
Venom looked up, Barrage by his side. “The Hive is mine. You will serve me.”
“The Hive belongs to no one. And I will do no such thing.”
“I have Shrapnel.”
“I have no reason to serve you. I have less reason if you destroy him.”
The cicada considered that. “But I can hurt him, Coronapis. I can twist his mind and his soul into knots. I can cause him more pain than even you can heal.”
“And I,” said the Queen, “will continue to refuse you.”
Sway struggled, but the guards - a green grasshopper and a black bee - were too strong for her, and she was unceremoniously dropped at Ransack’s feet. The dragonfly stood, but still had to look up, and her yellow eyes blazed with hatred: “What do you want?”
“You’ve lasted this long because you were a worthy opponent,” the locust informed her. “But even after I defeated you, you refused to acknowledge my superiority.”
“You, hmm, beat me. Big deal. Mm, besides, what was I supposed to do? You knocked me out, remember?”
“I had you repaired,” Ransack reminded her.
Lacking the ability to arch an eyebrow, Sway tilted her head in an equivalent expression. “Which was nice of you, I suppose. You did, hmm, destroy the others.”
“I bested you, but spared you. You’re mine.”
“You will break,” Ransack promised. Then, turning, called, “Cutter! Darkside! Bring the grasshopper spy!”
Within minutes, the guards dragged in the struggling Insecticon. He stopped fighting abruptly: “Sway! Baby! You’re all right!”
“Hmm, I’ll be better once we’re out of here.” She aimed a kick at Ransack, but he was expecting it, and backhanded her.
The casual brutality set Kickback to struggling again. When Ransack got close enough, Kickback lashed out. Impossibly, the locust took the hit and caught his foot… then brought his other elbow down on the knee-joint, shattering it. “Leave us,” Ransack instructed the guards, who dropped their prisoner and left.
The grasshopper sank to the ground, his left leg useless, dripping a mix of hydraulic fluid and energon, and glared up at Ransack. Ransack suddenly turned and caught Sway’s wrist where she was about to tear into his back with her claws. “Kickback has nothing to do with this,” Sway hissed. “Leave him alone.”
Ransack looked over, and casually snapped Kickback’s left wing off. He dropped it, then turned back to Sway. “Beg me.”
“Never.” Sway slashed at the arm holding her with her free hand, but Ransack caught her, easily trapping both her wrists in one massive fist. When she tried to kick him, he flung her across the room and into the wall, hard enough to stun her.
The locust grabbed Kickback by the arm, hauling him to his feet with enough violence to cause stress-fractures in his armour. There was a grinding noise as the grasshopper’s arm was twisted behind his back. “I don’t see… what good… this will do you,” Kickback managed. “You know we don’t feel pain.”
“I can tear you apart, and you won’t feel it,” agreed Ransack in a whisper. “Intellectually, we know that. But Sway and I aren’t factory-built machines; we used to be organic. We used to know pain. All I need is one scream from you to make her forget that you’re a robot.”
“She’s stronger than you think. So am I.”
“You take my power rectifier chip, you take my weapons, and then you, hmm, take a hostage?” Sway had regained her feet and was poised to spring. “Hrmm, if I didn’t know better, I would think you were afraid of me, Ransack.”
Ransack looked over, but didn’t drop Kickback. “Nice try, but it was Venom’s idea to remove your power rectifier chip - your sonic abilities don’t work on me, anyway. And I took your weapons away myself. As for Kickback…” Ransack gave his arm another twist, to the sound of shearing metal. “I’ll hurt him just for fun.”
Sway wanted nothing more than to attack, tear into the locust with her own claws, but stayed back. She had no weapons, and hand-to-hand she was no match for Ransack… though maybe if she could get behind him… Which wouldn’t help Kickback any, not in the grip of that bronze monster who could snap him in half without a thought…
As she hesitated, Kickback caught her gaze and mouthed two words - Distract him. She couldn’t guess what Kickback in his broken condition could possibly have in mind, but sneaky plans were his job, so she went along with it. Sway shifted to insect-mode, took to the air, then dove at Ransack. Too slow to get out of the way, Ransack found his antennae caught in her claws, and yanked backwards. One antenna pulled off.
Enraged, Ransack shifted to match her, incidentally releasing Kickback. As the locust leapt after the dragonfly, Kickback drew his rifle from subspace. Most Insecticons didn’t have personal subspace generators, so none of Venom’s crew thought to remove them. His first shot burned a gash in the locust’s back.
Ransack shifted as he fell, and managed to land on his feet. Sway temporarily forgotten, his rage was focused solely on the grasshopper. Unable to get away, Kickback managed to scorch Ransack’s chest-armour before his rifle was caught and crushed, and he himself was pulled to what was left of his feet…
Kickback did scream then, as Ransack’s hand tore into his chest-plate, seized his primary fuel-line, and yanked. The line ruptured as it was torn from his body, splattering the two Insecticons with his energon. Kickback didn’t even get a chance to struggle - he was dead before he hit the floor.
Irrationally, Sway tried to gather up the broken form, to see if anything could be done, but Ransack snatched it away and signalled to his guards. Tossing Kickback’s shell to Darkside, he said, “Get rid of this. And leave the dragonfly here; let her think for a while.”
“You killed Kickback!?” screeched Venom. “You weren’t supposed to kill Kickback! You were supposed to kill Sway!”
Ransack shrugged. “He screamed at the end, didn’t he?”
“I wanted Kickback broken, not destroyed!”
“I wanted Sway broken.”
Venom might have had the psychological training, but he was the one who looked away first. Ransack frankly terrified him. The locust had a… blank look about him. He wasn’t stupid, but Venom had the irrational thought that no soul looked out from behind the red optic band.
Coronapis smirked when Venom entered the chamber. “You look despondent. Your little uprising not working out?”
“Good help is hard to find,” he agreed. “Ransack wasn’t supposed to terminate Kickback…” To his disappointment, the Queen merely looked grim rather than crumpling. “I had plans for the warrior. Needless to say, I’m not in a good mood. I’ve decided to take it out on Shrapnel. It’s been a while since I last performed an interrogation, and while I haven’t any questions today, there’s a few techniques I’ve been waiting to try…”
To her credit, the Queen didn’t flinch, even when Barrage and Chopshop dragged Shrapnel in and pinned him on the floor. Venom opened the panel on Shrapnel’s midsection, and moved aside lines and cables to find what he wanted - the beetle’s spark, now unprotected. Experimentally, he touched a micro-laser to it…
Shrapnel screamed, and with some surprise, Venom realised Coronapis echoed it. He turned to the Queen: “So, Insecticons bond like Transformers proper. I didn’t expect it. How… touching. How fortunate.”
“My people are free and will remain so!” shouted Coronapis before doubling over in pain again. It wasn’t a true physical agony, but there was no other way to express it, and if it wasn’t expressed, the sheer intensity could cause an overload.
When he tired of it, Venom left Shrapnel where he was. After severing the motor-relays in his legs, of course.
I’ll kill him, Sway thought. I don’t care how or how long it takes. I just need to get close enough, just a few seconds to tear through his armour… Ransack’s guards had come for her again, and were presumably taking her to him. I could pretend acquiescence, perhaps… No, I couldn’t…
“That’s far enough.”
Bombshell dropped from the shadows in front of Darkside. She took a surprised step back… and Cutter grabbed the bee, jabbing something into her neck. “Paralytic compound,” explained Bombshell quickly. “Slows the rate of energon absorption and knocks them out.”
“I’m trusting you on that,” said Cutter darkly.
Sway look another look at Cutter: He was a deep green coleop Insecticon, tall, with a yellow visor and copper highlights… but his voice… “Kickback! But you…”
He was a grasshopper, and the physical similarity ended there. Nevertheless, the quick smile he flashed to Sway was pure Kickback. “Explanations later, beautiful. Care to give us a hand, or would you rather wait to be rescued?”
Her hands were tied, and Sway half-shifted so her now-insectoid mouth could bite through the chain. Darkside’s weapons were a type of short spear Sway wasn’t proficient with, but she took them anyway. “Hrmm, for that crack I’ll come back to knock you around once we’ve dealt with Venom’s gang. What’s the plan?”
Bombshell’s optics flashed dangerously. “I don’t know where Shrapnel is, so we’re outnumbered by one. But we do have the element of surprise…”
“I don’t care if it’s my function; I’m tired of sneaking,” said Kickback.
Cutter burst into the laboratory where Venom was working, with Barrage and Chopshop engaged in their own tasks. “Quickly! Call Ransack! The prisoner has escaped!”
“I will track the…” started Barrage.
“You won’t; you cause too much property damage,” countered Venom, activating his communicator. “Which prisoner? Sway, I assume?”
A section of the ceiling crumbled, eaten away from the floor above. “Her, too,” agreed Bombshell, as both weevil and dragonfly landed in the room.
“I had you executed!” yelled Venom. “Your pieces weren’t big enough for scrap!”
“I got better.”
Barrage brought his weapons in-line with Bombshell, but was tackled by Cutter. “I’m supposed to be dead, too,” he added helpfully, in his proper voice. Barrage used Kickback’s brief inattention to club him with the butt of his sonic-rifle.
Sway and Chopshop were engaged in a lightning-swift pattern of attack and dodge, a complicated dance of flashing blades. Neither had scored a hit yet; they were too evenly-matched and too agile for hand-weapons.
Kickback tried to stab Barrage to inject him with the paralytic compound, but the beetle was too heavily-armoured for the hollow blade, which shattered. Barrage had already lost his rifle in the fight, but he was far from unarmed. And since the grasshopper was right in front of him, it left him wide open to the turrets mounted on his chest…
The sound of the door opening caught Kickback’s attention, and he swivelled quickly to face the newcomer… Which incidentally saved him from the round of Barrage’s explosive charges. They impacted the door, the force of the explosion knocking Ransack off his feet. Unmindful of the distinctions between friend and foe, the locust’s first act was to pull Barrage away from Kickback, and slam him into the floor.
The grasshopper quickly rolled to his feet. “That was convenient. I’ve got a little score to settle with you, Ransack.”
“Cutter?” It took him a second to recognise the voice, but when he did, Ransack looked unimpressed. “I get it: ‘Kickback.’ ‘Bribe.’ ‘Cut.’ ‘Cutter.’ Real cute.”
“I’m not the nicest guy in the world. I’ve got a reputation for using people.” Kickback shrugged. “And I do it - I’m a spy; it’s my function. That being said, I don’t have a lot of friends. Not real ones. So I get a bit protective of the ones I do have.”
Ransack settled into a battle-ready stance. “You got a point to this?”
“You hurt Sway. And I don’t like bullies.”
The locust charged. Kickback managed to dodge the first few attacks, but he couldn’t keep it up forever. Unarmed, he didn’t stand a chance against the other warrior. It was just a matter of time before he slipped or Ransack got lucky…
Ransack’s arm lashed out, and sent the grasshopper sprawling. Ransack put a knee on Kickback’s chest, and settled his hands around his throat. It wouldn’t suffocate him, but it would crush some delicate machinery. Still, Kickback smiled. “You’ve forgotten something, Ransack.”
“Lemme guess - ‘Look out behind you’?”
The locust bellowed as something sank into his back. “Hmm, no, you don’t have to look…”
Ransack reared back, lashing out at Sway, who had already stepped out of range. Kickback used the warrior’s confusion to kick him away.
Chopshop limped over to where Ransack had thrown Barrage. The scarab was slowly picking himself up. “Who cares what Venom says? We should grab Ransack and retreat.”
The scarab looked unimpressed. “I haven’t finished with Bombshell. I destroyed him. He should have stayed destroyed!”
Automatically, Barrage caught the heavy metal ball. A second later, it exploded into hundreds of shards, lodging in his exoskeleton and cutting his hands to ribbons. It wasn’t fatal, but it did take him out of the fight, and he would be picking metal bits out of his armour for weeks. Chopshop dragged him out into the hall, then went back for Ransack.
Not that the others were paying any attention. Hearing the familiar sound of the grenade, Kickback looked over. “Shrapnel!”
“Me!” announced Shrapnel happily. “Not that it looks like you three need much help, help.”
Sway used the chance Venom’s surprise gave him to knock him to the floor, pinning one of his arms. Bombshell sat on the other. The cicada didn’t seem to notice. “And you I left broken in Coronapis’ chamber! Why can’t you insects stay dead!?”
“Oh, phoo, I was just damaged,” said Shrapnel. “And Coronapis has actual mechanical skills along with her powers, powers.”
“I didn’t die,” said Kickback. “You remember dying, Bombshell?”
Venom’s light veneer of control was developing wide cracks. “I still control the Swarm! The Insecticons are still mine, as the Sabocons should have been!”
“I’m not the psychology expert, but he sounds paranoid to me, to me.”
“You misunderstand, Shrapnel.” If Bombshell had a mouth, he would have been grinning madly. “He’s not paranoid; I really was out to get him.” He settled his attention back on the cicada: “Now then, how is the Swarm controlled?”
“He controls it,” said Kickback with a vicious smile. “There might be a relay somewhere else, or whatever machine produces them, but I’m sure he’ll have some kind of mental control. Shrapnel?..”
Shrapnel knelt by Venom, letting his senses flow over the other Insecticon. After a few minutes, he removed a small component from somewhere in the cicada’s chest. “It’s this, this. At least I think it is; it’s not part of typical Insecticon machinery…”
His words cut off in a shriek when Venom drove a spike in his knee into the beetle’s midsection. Bombshell automatically moved to help Shrapnel, and Venom used to opportunity to throw Sway off and make good his own escape. The grasshopper made to follow, but was stopped by Bombshell: “Let him go!”
“They’re all getting away!”
“Shrapnel needs help now,” snapped the weevil, hand covered with the energon that was flowing freely from Shrapnel’s wound. “Venom poisoned him; some kind of toxin in his energon stream. He needs a full transfusion now.”
Kickback stopped for an instant, his desire for revenge warring with his instinct to protect his friend. “I’ll bring the transfer equipment - I know what it… Oh, slag! Bombshell, we eat! The Hive runs on solar power! We don’t use energon! We haven’t got any!”
“We do - inside ourselves! Remember?” Bombshell said. “Get the equipment and meet us in Coronapis’ chamber. Sway, help me with Shrapnel!”
As Kickback took off towards the repair bay, Bombshell and Sway managed to carry Shrapnel down the passageway to the Queen’s hall. Coronapis gathered Shrapnel into her arms as soon as she could reach him. Bombshell stepped back. “He’s been poisoned. I have to completely drain his fuel. Can you keep him functioning in those circumstances?”
By the time Kickback returned, the chamber was awash with colour: The air was golden with the Queen’s power, and the floor was stained with Shrapnel’s energon. Bombshell waved him over. “Don’t slip. There was no time to be tidy; I had to get the poison out of his system immediately.” If he didn’t know what it was, Kickback wouldn’t have recognised it. Ordinarily a glowing pink, the energon drained from Shrapnel was a flat colour, veined with greenish-blue streaks.
Carefully avoiding the mess, Kickback brought the transfer equipment up the dais. Bombshell immediately hooked it up to Shrapnel, forcing a cleaning solution through his fuel-line. The fluid came out faintly coloured, then clear as the last of the poison was flushed from the beetle’s system. Once he was satisfied that the line was clean, Bombshell nodded to Sway and Kickback, who in turn allowed him to drain part of their energon into Shrapnel.
Finally Bombshell said, “That’s enough, Coronapis. Let’s see if this takes.”
The golden shimmer faded, and the four Insecticons waited a few tense minutes for the fifth to reactivate. Finally, Shrapnel twitched a bit and tried to look around, but his system hadn’t yet absorbed enough energy for more than that. From somewhere he couldn’t see, he heard Kickback say tiredly, “The traditional thing to say upon regaining consciousness is, ‘Where am I?’” Then, with a bit of mischief in his voice, “Or, ‘Do it again.’”
“I’d rather not, not,” muttered Shrapnel, allowing Bombshell and Coronapis to pull him into a sitting position. “I feel yucky. You don’t look so hot yourself, self.”
Kickback - in his slightly torn-up ‘Cutter’ form, leaning against Sway for support ( though it might have been the other way around ) - managed a grin. “If you’re just going to waste it on insults, I want my energon back.”
“If you’re fine then, Shrapnel, hmm, I’m hungry,” said Sway. “Come on, Kickback.” Still leaning on each other, they left.
“I just noticed… I’m taller than you in this form.”
“Mm, the bigger they are, cutie…”
Bombshell watched them leave and shook his head. Shrapnel smirked. “Let them have their fun, fun. We’ll keep them busy enough once they’ve recharged - it is just us five who aren’t infected by the Swarm, swarm.”
“The Insecticons won’t know what to do without Venom to guide them,” said Bombshell. “We should start clearing it out of the workers first, so they can help with the clean-up. You up to it, Shrapnel?”
“If we stop for a snack along the way, the way.”
The two said their good-byes to Coronapis, and started down the stairs, when Bombshell remembered what he was stepping in. “Nuts. We should clean up this mess…”
“Later,” said Coronapis. “First help our people.”
Kickback shifted back to his robot-mode and sat on the stump of the tree he had been eating. “Feeling better now?”
“Mm, physically.” The dragonfly dropped from the next tree over, shifted, and landed as Sway. Her tail swished behind her as she walked over to her friend. “Mentally I’m not so pleased. Hrmm, you let me think you were dead, you ingrate!”
Kickback grinned. “You kicked up quite a fuss, too. I’m flattered.”
Sway shoved him. “Going to be, hmm, flattened in a minute…”
The grasshopper got up and danced out of range. “We couldn’t let you know; Venom would have known you were faking your grief.”
“But if you were destroyed…”
“I was, sort of,” said Kickback. “Ransack did destroy my body. See, Venom and his cohorts knew about Shrapnel’s powers, but didn’t count on how adept he was at using them. He zapped the video camera to show a loop of us not doing anything interesting, and while that was happening, Shrapnel made a clone of Bombshell. Bombshell put a cerebro-shell in his clone so he could control it to act like him, and we all donated some of our own energon so it would bleed. We knew Venom was going to execute him, and we knew he’d probably get Barrage to do it to make sure he was really dead. Given the condition of Barrage’s victims, there wouldn’t be enough left of the clone to prove it was a clone at all.”
Kickback paused, gathering his thoughts. “We knew Venom couldn’t kill Shrapnel. If he did, Coronapis would never help him. But I was expendable; if they were going to make an example out of anyone, it would be me. Since torture can be a long, messy business, a clone would be revealed as such. So Bombshell removed my mind from my body and replaced it with a cerebro-shell. Then Shrapnel lowered the force-field, let Bombshell escape, then set all the equipment back to normal. Later Bombshell snuck down to the lab and put me in this body - Venom and crew thought we were dead, so we were able to sneak around easily… especially since I looked like just another coleop. I didn’t find it enjoyable watching Ransack tear into my shell, I assure you.”
The dragonfly hummed a bit, considering. “Why did Shrapnel stay behind?”
“Three fakes would have been easy to spot; Bombshell can only do his direct-control trick on one target at a time, and someone had to do the talking. And, remember, Venom couldn’t kill him.” Kickback looked down at himself and smiled slightly. “I’m having Bombshell remake my proper body as soon as he gets a chance. Green isn’t really my colour.”
His smile faded as he paused, caught her shoulder, then let his hand fall back. “I am sorry. I didn’t want to use you against Venom like that… I didn’t want to hurt you, but they would have known if…”
“You’re alive, Kickback. That’s what matters.”
“It doesn’t balance out.” Suddenly, Kickback’s face twisted, and he collapsed into Sway’s arms. “I don’t know who I am any more! I was Kickback the Insecticon, but now I have these… memories of being something else!”
Sway held him, but made no other move. “Do you, hmm, want to know?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know,” muttered Kickback. “Bombshell thinks I’m deliberately blocking, because I used to have a companion and he’s dead. He thinks I block so I won’t be hurt… Idiot. I get hurt anyway. I just don’t let him see it.”
He allowed himself to be held for a few minutes, vulnerable but protected, then stepped back and shifted to insect-mode. “Come on. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Bombshell tossed the compad on the table with an overly-dramatic sigh. “There is no rest for the weevil.”
“Pfah, pfah. You’ve got me hopping around so much cleaning out what’s left of the Swarm that I’m feeling like Kickback, kickback,” teased Shrapnel, lounging in a chair with one leg draped over the arm. It was six days since Venom and his cohorts escaped, and most of the mess was finally cleaned up.
Shrapnel felt a hand settle on one of his spines as a voice teased, “And with all this work, you’ve still found time to hang about complaining.”
Had the chair not been bolted down, Shrapnel probably would have fallen out of it. Instead, he reached back and grabbed the speaker’s arm to pull her into view. Coronapis tumbled into Shrapnel’s lap with a laugh and a clatter. “Even Bombshell found time to help me, beloved,” she said happily. “You just don’t know how to manage your time.”
“She wanted a mobile form,” said Bombshell by way of explanation, when it was obvious that Shrapnel was, for once in his life, speechless. “She doesn’t have her powers - she has to be plugged into the ship to use them - and she can’t transform, but… Oh, get a room.”
“This is a room, room,” said Shrapnel primly.
The door swished open, admitting Kickback. “My people just caught Thornsharp and Lash - that’s the last of the stragglers. They’ll get back here in another two hours or so.” He nodded slightly to Coronapis; he knew of her and Bombshell’s little project.
“Hmph. More work for me, for me,” said Shrapnel, who, in theory, should have sounded annoyed, but couldn’t manage it at the moment.
“Not much,” Coronapis reminded him. “Then you’ll be free to show me around Coleop.”
“I’m starting to regret your mobile form - now Shrapnel will never do anything,” teased Bombshell. Then: “Kickback, have your people found any sign of Venom or his cohorts?”
Kickback shook his head. “None. They could be anywhere on Coleop by now.”
Then, before anyone could react, Kickback’s fist lashed out and caught Bombshell in the jaw, knocking the smaller Insecticon sprawling. Shrapnel and Coronapis got up to restrain the grasshopper, but Kickback made no further move. The weevil ran his fingers along his jaw to check for dents and, in a maddeningly even tone, he inquired, “Better?”
“A bit,” snarled Kickback. He would have preferred to catch Bombshell alone, but the weevil was in the thick of things, and Kickback couldn’t hold back any longer. “We could have dealt with Venom another way, but you wanted to show him up. You couldn’t just defeat him, you had to humiliate him. And if that meant tagging me with a cerebro-shell, running around in my mind, letting me watch myself die, and… and… using…”
“Say it,” commanded Bombshell.
“Sway was almost killed! The only reason she wasn’t was because Ransack wanted her! If he had obeyed Venom’s orders…”
Long moments passed before the grasshopper slumped slightly, drained. “How much of this did you plan, Bombshell? All the memories you ran through… I can remember them now; Tumult and Venom and… and Rebound.” His voice sharpened abruptly: “How much of a prize was I, Bombshell? You went through me, turned me inside-out… something Venom never managed to do. He’ll never know, of course, but you do. Was it worth it?”
“I needed to get the information on Venom, you idiot!” snapped Bombshell. “Anything that happened to you… it wouldn’t have if you weren’t so blasted paranoid about your privacy! For goodness sakes, everyone knows you and Sway are close, even if you try to deny it for some stupid reason. And everything I picked up about your past I would have known even if I only had my own memories to work with!”
“It’s true, true,” said Shrapnel quietly. “I remembered…”
“I remembered,” Coronapis amended.
Bombshell allowed himself a brief sidetrack: “Ah, so you are bonded.”
The beetle drew himself up haughtily. “She tried to bite my head off. I had to make an honest being out of her, of her.” The proud stance couldn’t last, especially when Coronapis elbowed him. Shrapnel chuckled and brought the conversation back on track: “I’m surprised you didn’t recognise Rebound when you and Bombshell found his and Tumult’s shells in the old escape pod sixteen years ago, Kickback, kickback. I mean, he was your…”
The door swished shut on the end of Shrapnel’s sentence, leaving him watching it sadly. “… Your,” sighed Shrapnel out of habit. Then, “It’s only his past, and pleasant memories at that, at that,” he said sulkily.
“Rebound was crushed beyond recognition, to answer your first question,” said Bombshell. “The other one was Tumult, so the unidentifiable one must have been Rebound. It wasn’t enough to trigger his memory then.”
“But how did he forget in the first place, place?” wailed Shrapnel. “Rebound was his companion! Your soul doesn’t forget, forget!”
The weevil shook his head. “You’re a romantic sometimes, Shrapnel. You know him; Kickback always could shut his emotions off at will - even Venom or I couldn’t read him when he didn’t want us to. He locked the part of himself that was Rebound away so completely that he forgot him. And he was happier that way.” Bombshell sighed. “At least, he’ll tell you that if you ask him.”
“What now?” asked Coronapis. A creature of love and life, she hated her people to be in pain.
“I’m… going to leave him alone,” said Bombshell eventually.