“Skyquake!” A Citizen called out, waving his arm.
The large Seeker turned from his report at the console and glanced over the Citizen for his Tell. The Citizen saved him some trouble and held up his arm pointing at the bands of black paint when it took Skyquake a little too long to find it.
“Hey, Spool,” Skyquake said, perhaps a second to fast. “What’d you need?”
“Was wondering if you could do me a favor,” Spool said, almost wryly as he turned his head to the side. “If you don’t mind.”
“I guess,” Skyquake said.
“Can you take Bumblebee out on patrol today?” Spool asked, blunt and to the point.
“Bumblebee?” Skyquake asked. He narrowed his brows together and scrunched his face in confusion. “I thought he wanted to learn engineering.”
Spool took a few careful steps closer and looked both ways. He cleared his vocalizer and leaned in. “Look, between you and me, that kid couldn’t do engineering if his life depended on it. He’s in way over his head with material he doesn’t understand, and from what I can tell, doesn’t even like.
“I think he got it in his head that working on ground bridges would be cool, but now that he’s realizing how hard it actually is, he’s too embarrassed to admit he can’t do it,” Spool said. “Kid’s miserable trying to read those study books, and he’s too stubborn to ask if he can try and transfer somewhere else. Every time we hint at maybe trying his servos at something else, he gets super defensive and insists that ‘Ground bridges and engineering are what I want to do!’ but I can tell he’s lying through his face plate.”
“Huh,” Skyquake said, not sure how else to respond. He still sort of avoided the little clone, but that didn’t sound too off. If he’d picked up little things from Yellowjacket the way Knock Out had from Knockdown, it wouldn’t be too surprising one of those things was the inability to admit when you couldn’t do something. “And you want me to take him on patrol, because?”
“Look, he won’t transfer out, but if you happened to say you needed an extra hand today and ask if you could borrow Bumblebee, he’d probably jump at the chance to get out of the engineering block,” Spool said. “And then maybe if you said something like ‘Oh, Bumblebee! You did such a great job. Man, I wish you could help out all the time.’ maybe the youngling will switch over because someone asked for his help and it won’t feel as much like he failed.”
“But why me?” Skyquake asked. He scratched at his plating and winced. “Why not Airachnid? She has a security detail.”
“I asked her,” Spool said, huffing through his vents. “She said ‘Not a chance in the pit’ and told me to get lost. Not sure what was eating at her, but she was pretty adamant. You’re my last chance, man, because there’s not much elsewhere he can go.”
“You could give him something easier to do in Engineering,” Skyquake argued. “That’s where he was interested.”
Spool tapped his fingers on his thigh and shook his head. “Okay, everything on the table it is: He made a bad first impression with the engineering bots. Aside from maybe Backfire, the rest of them don’t really like him around.”
“Why?” Skyquake asked. “Kid’s a little rough around the edges, but he’s okay.”
“The first day he came to work he was shocked to find out Citizens have sparks,” Spool said. Skyquake grimaced, knowing that definitely couldn’t have gone over well (and boy, how, did those Autobots keep those kids in the dark—it was almost astounding the things they didn’t know!). Spool held his hands up. “He had absolutely no idea we were Cybertronians, which has everyone divided into two camps concerning him. The first half pity the heck out of him for being a helpless clone, which he hates by the way, and the other half sees too much Autobot in him to want him around.
“I know I asked Airachnid first, but truth be told, if anyone on this ship has reason to hate him because of what emblem he’s wearing and what he looks like, it’s you,” Spool said. “Maybe if they all see you hanging out and accepting him, they might start coming around, too.”
Spool paused for a second longer before blurting, “That and he’s absolutely awful at engineering. I can not stress this enough. He breaks more than he fixes and I really need him somewhere else before I clock him over the head with a wrench so we can get actual work done.”
“Okay!” Skyquake said, holding his hands up. “I get it, I get it! I’ll take the little bit out on patrol with me.”
“Thanks,” Spool said. “Glad to hear it.”
As the Citizen walked away, Skyquake covered his eyes and groaned. What had he been swindled into?
Bee’s suspicions about why on earth Skyquake would want to bring Bumblebee on patrol with him were shoved into the corner of “I do not care” the second the space bridge opened onto an open road with pristine asphalt and newly painted white lines.
He may have left a skid mark.
“For Primus’ sake!” Skyquake shouted, flying above Bee’s head as the young Bot raced along the road. “Slow down! The Citizens can’t keep up with you.”
“Oops,” Bee said, checking his rear mirror. Far in the background, the gaggle of chattering Citizens were a way behind him, in a slower group. Bee let off the gas and Dreadwing coasted above him as he slowed down. “Sorry. Just excited to really drive, you know?”
“Sure,” Skyquake said. “But it’s important to stay with the group. We’re doing a short drive to check out the mines and the area around it, then we’re turning back. Quick trip, so don’t get too far ahead.”
Bee lowered on his wheels but tried to remain grateful he got off the ship at all (Knock Out was so jealous when he found out Bee got to go driving, it was amazing—the ‘con snapped a stylus in half) and slowed down. “I won’t break formation.”
“Glad to hear it,” Skyquake said.
He stopped talking, going back into a somewhat companionable silence. Bee watched him from his mirrors as the rest of the Citizens caught up, counting four of them in the patrol unit. Bee suspected the Seeker had been politely asked to take Bumblebee out on patrol to replace the fifth member of the team who was out sick the same way Skyquake had been politely asked to take him on a tour of the ship.
That was fair. Bee wouldn’t deny there was still a level of awkwardness between the two that wasn’t going to go away any time soon.
“Wow! You can really move,” the nearest Citizen said, driving up alongside Bee. He had a large white line on his door, and Bee tried to remember which Tell that was and to which Citizen it belonged to. He failed, but at least he didn’t need to use names right now. The Citizen chuckled. “You’d leave us in the dust with that alt mode. What is it again?”
“Urbana 500,” Bee answered. He revved his engine in place. “Human muscle cars are built for speed.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” the Citizen said.
“Alright guys,” Skyquake said, doing a small sweep over the group. “Let’s cut the chatter. We’re coming up on the patrol zone.”
“Roger,” the rest of them chorused.
Bee settled into a spot on the side of the line, driving in formation, but not in the way. Patrols were always the most boring part of missions, but he supposed they had their purpose (even if this large group sort of defeated it by being anything but inconspicuous with four identical orange cars driving together under a large jet, but that was beside the point).
However, Bee’s luck held up the way it always did, and about twenty yards from the mine they were checking in on, a barrage of laser fire cut their path on the road.
“Scrap!” Skyquake yelled, crashing into the dirt. He transformed into a roll, and growled as he inspected the large hole in his wing. The others had transformed and gotten into a defensive position on the road, guns pointed toward the group of Vehicons coming from the south. “Perfect.”
His first priority was to locate the clone. The youngling was the least experienced, and Knockdown would kill him if that bug got blasted on his first patrol. Skyquake made to stand, ignoring the injured wing when another blast smacked his shoulder.
“Primus, you Decepticons are dumb,” Smokescreen said, making a running dash and leaping to kick Skyquake in the face. The Seeker caught his ped and spun, throwing the younger ‘Bot away. Smokescreen landed on his feet and laughed. “Don’t you know you should be paying attention for the big threats?”
“Yeah, let me know when one shows up,” Skyquake returned, eyes darting over the field, looking for one of the little scrap’s buddies. Yellowjacket 2.0 was even more annoying than the Bot he replaced (which was a feat), and the little scrap was fast. Skyquake dodged pot shots as he tried to make sure the Autobot was alone while also trying to find his charge. “You all alone today, tough guy?”
“I don’t need anyone to take you down!” Smokescreen yelled, blasters up again. Skyquake decided to end this quick and made a run for him, tackling Smokescreen into the side. They tumbled, and the brat got a luck shot, shooting another blast into the wounded wing. Smokescreen punched his face. “What part of you’ve got no chance did you miss?”
Rolling out from under Skyquake, Smokescreen moved to fire again, but was stopped by a black and yellow blur.
Skyquake rushed up and stared. He should have activated his call for back up. He should have moved to the little clone’s aid. Skyquake should have done a lot of things.
But he could only stare as the kid fought Smokescreen, and looked like he was winning.
Smokescreen was still weak on his left side in this universe.
It made sense. The Autobots were all selfish and out for themselves here. Why would they have had training sessions together to work out weaknesses? This Smokescreen had never had his aft handed to him over and over by Wheeljack and Bulkhead until he learned how to dodge a hit. He’d never done speed training with Bumblebee. He’d never had to go one on one sparring with Arcee. And he’d never had Ultra Magnus give him technical pointers with Ratchet.
It made AutoCon Smokescreen sloppy.
“Yellowjacket!” Smokescreen shouted, guarding his wounded left side as Bee moved in for an uppercut to his left side. He made contact, shoving the mech back and scraping metal. “You fragger!”
The first time Bee had fought Smokescreen in this world, he’d been at a disadvantage. He’d been too in shock seeing his friend and teammate with red eyes and evil.
Now, though—there were two injured Citizens behind him, and Skyquake was grounded. Bumblebee didn’t have time to play nice with lives on the lines, and he had a feeling deep in his tank that this Smokescreen would go straight for killing blows.
Pretending he was in an early training session helped lesson the guilt as he dropped his elbow into Smokescreen’s knee when he ducked down to avoid a punch.
Bee channeled the tough love and blocked out the curses that sounded so wrong coming from Smokescreen’s voice.
The Autobot was losing. Skyquake hovered to the sideline, half in awe when Bumblebee caught a thrown punch at his face and used the momentum to throw Smokescreen over his shoulder. He slammed the other car into the ground, and spun to throw a few blaster hits.
“Wow,” Sprocket said, standing next to Skyquake. He held his arm close to his body, a few wires sparking, but otherwise in tact. “That kid’s a little scary, ain’t he?”
Skyquake jerked and looked down. He turned and saw the other Citizens gathering closer. “What happened to the Vehicons?”
“He did,” Matchbox said, pointing at Bumblebee. He turned and pointed over his shoulder; his arm trembled a bit. “Take a look.”
Skyquake took his eyes away from Bumblebee and Smokescreen’s brawl long enough to suck in an intake as he saw the carnage behind him on the road. Vehicon corpses were spread out everywhere, a few ripped apart, but most of them with giant holes in their chest from a fully charged blaster. At least twenty or thirty of them were down for the count and unmoving. Skyquake had only been fighting Smokescreen for a few clicks, there was no way that Bumblebee had taken down that many in that short of—
“The kid lowered his blaster charge,” Skyquake muttered to himself looking back at the main fight. He’d hit Smokescreen dead on three or four times now, but the damage wasn’t near enough to be the same intensity setting that the kid had used on the Vehicons who were now barely recognizable with their scorched plating and melted frames.
Bumblebee had set his blaster to nonlethal settings when he switched to fight Smokescreen.
“Should we call for backup?” Sprocket asked, voice quiet as if he didn’t want to draw Bumblebee and Smokescreen’s attention. “Sir?”
“Yeah,” Skyquake said. He shook his head. “Yes. Call Airachnid.”
“I don’t see what’s so special about you,” Smokescreen hissed, ducking Bee’s second punch. The kid was learning Bee’s patterns, and those weaknesses Bee had been taking advantage of were growing smaller by the second. Smokescreen always was a quick study. “But hey, if I bring you back defeated, that’ll prove once and for all I’m the better one!”
Bee didn’t answer, concentrating on where to hit the kid next. This Smokescreen had the same weaknesses as Bee’s but he was much better at taking a hit, and his pain tolerance was through the roof.
The scout tried not to think about why that would be.
“You know what it’s like being compared to a dead guy all the time? It sucks!” Smokescreen screamed, charging Bee’s chest. He tackled him around the waist, pushing them both into a rock, and then a roll. “I finally figured out why I’ve never been good enough for Optimus. It’s ‘cause he’s still longing after you, and you’re not even dead!”
Smokescreen thought Bee was Yellowjacket.
That didn’t complicate things at all.
The temper tantrum and rage that had flared up from losing the fight so far, on the other hand, that was a bit of a complication.
Bee had to throw his arms up to block the next hit. The force that Smokescreen put behind it pushed him down and to the side. Bee wheezed at the kick that followed, scrambling out of the way as Smokescreen broke down into incoherency.
“Gonna’ rip that voice box right out and then I’m gonna parade your dead corpse back at the base,” Smokescreen hissed. He straddled Bee’s waist and punched him in the face plate. “You’re supposed to be dead, and maybe all they’ve been missing is the body to grieve! You’re not the special one. I am! I’m the chosen one! They should have forgotten about you already!”
The crack in Smokescreen’s voice was too familiar. The frustration and the grief was too much. Even the look in his wild eyes ways the same, even if it was the wrong color. Bee needed to end this fight already; he was losing his ability to separate the two versions of his teammate.
Smokescreen was Smokescreen, even when he was evil.
“Sorry,” Bee muttered under his breath.
“Ouch,” Matchbox said as Bee shot a full power blast into Smokescreen’s side, ripping a hole through the side of his plating. “You think the Autobot would have been more worried being that close to the clone’s blasters.”
“Bumblebee’s been fighting with the setting lowered. Smokescreen’s been taking hits like they were nothing the entire time,” Skyquake said. He watched with narrowed eyes as Bee kicked up, tossing Smokescreen off him. The other mech hit the dirt, screaming at the hole in his side. “The Autobot forgot they were even a threat.”
“I’ll kill you!” Smokescreen screeched. His arm flew up, throwing a quick blast that caught Bumblebee off guard. Skyquake moved forward to intervene but stopped when he saw that the bug had dodged just enough to have the blast graze him on the neck instead of taking his head off. Smokescreen moved to fire again but Bumblebee grabbed his blaster arm and held it up. Bumblebee shoved the barrel of his blaster in Smokescreen’s face, the end heated and lit. Smokescreen hissed. “You’re a dead mech.”
“This fight is over,” Bumblebee said, his voice box sparking. He shook his head and growled out the next words through a few scratchy beeps. “Go home, Smokescreen.”
“Frag you,” Smokescreen said. “I ain’t no coward! I’m not going to run with my tail between my legs. You kill me or surrender, slagger.”
Skyquake wanted to move. He was the older one here and the one in charge. The superior officer. But there was something in the air and about the way that Bumblebee held himself, charged blaster still heating the air around Smokescreen’s face and the weight of his stance that screamed “Do not interfere.”
It seemed personal.
Skyquake swallowed; it probably was.
“I’m not going to say it again,” Bumblebee said. He flicked his wings hard, and his voice cracked again. Skyquake flinched from the sound of it. He knew that broken voice. It wasn’t Bumblebee’s. The little clone hissed, “Go home, Smokescreen. Don’t make me shoot you.”
“The second you lower that gun, I’m going to kill you,” Smokescreen said, chest heaving as his intakes wheezed and energon spilled from his side. “That’s the only thing that’s happening.”
Bumblebee’s form trembled. Then he screamed, the shattering screech of his broken vocoder could have cracked glass. “Leave!”
It was followed by a shot from his blaster, even louder and more deafening in the silence.
Smokescreen’s eyes were large; pupils at pinpoints. The scorched earth next to his helm hissed, the metal hot from where it had been too close. He whimpered, terrified as Bee loomed over him.
But he took the hint.
Smokescreen scrambled back and away from the blaster and rolled over, transforming into his sports car alt-mode, the “83” on his doors mocking Bumblebee. The Autobot shot off down the road as fast as he could go.
Bee lowered his gun to his side and flicked his optics off. He cooled his body with a deep breath through his intakes.
Battle over and calmed, Bee turned back to the others. He was pretty sure he’d taken out all the Vehicons before he went to help Skyquake, but he should check on them to make sure. He tapped back to the group and stopped a few feet from them.
All of them were staring.
Bee looked from Skyquake to the Citizens and their shocked faces. He dropped his wings close to his back and asked, “What?”
Skyquake continued to stare, gaze intense.
“Are you okay?” Bumblebee tried. He looked at the injured wing and pointed. “Doesn’t that need looked at?”
None of them had a chance to respond, because a space bridge opened a few feet from their location. Airachnid was the first to leave, blaster in her hand—armed and ready.
“Okay, where are those ‘Bots?” She asked. Skyquake gently raised a hand and pointed behind him, and she looked at the downed Vehicons. “Oh. What did you need back up for again?”
“Smokescreen was here, too,” Skyquake said. “But uh, Bumblebee took care of it.”
“Bumblebee.” Airachnid said. She looked at Bee and raised an eyebrow. “The clone youngling ‘took care’ of Smokescreen, the Autobots new Wonder Boy fighter that could have given Yellowjacket a run for his money?”
“I’m starting to think we didn’t give Yellowjacket enough credit,” Skyquake said softly. He shrugged and walked toward the space bridge as a few more Citizens poured out from Airachnid’s team. “I’m heading back. We’ve got injured and your team can handle clean up.”
Bee followed Skyquake into the space bridge. Under normal circumstances, he would have stayed to help clean up, but now he just wanted to think about anything else other than the fear in Smokescreen’s eyes.
Maybe he’d play Sudoku with Knock Out.
It was amazing how fast the tale of Bumblebee single handedly taking out twenty vehicons and Smokescreen had spread among the ranks of the Citizens from just his small Team’s tales.
Reactions to those stories ranged from “Ha ha, very funny,” to “I knew that guy was like Yellowjacket. We should kick him off the ship.”
Both were annoying.
Skyquake flexed his wings as he left the medical bay, newly patched and all fixed up after Smokescreen’s surprise attack. The other two injured members of his team were also good to go and ready for the next patrol when their shift arrived.
He wasn’t sure if he wanted to invite Bumblebee again or not.
On the one hand, the bug had prove he knew exactly what he was doing in a fight, to scary levels of competency. That made him an incredible asset to the team and he could help train the Citizens with car modes. On the other hand, he was so much like Yellowjacket on the field that it gave Skyquake chills. It was easier to split the little clone from his CNA donor when it he was an awkward, harmless, shy little thing that got teary eyed over humans.
A screeching monster on the field was too close of a comparison for comfort.
“You idiot!” Knock Out shouted. Skyquake stopped his walk and leaned closer to the door to Bumblebee’s room. He had been coming to see Bumblebee to talk about what happened, but he didn’t expect him to have company. “What part of the Decepticons are scared of you, and you should lay low did you not understand, Bug!? It was the first thing I told you when they tied you down like an animal when we got here!”
“I know!” Bumblebee answered, almost whining. “I know! I didn’t mean to. But it was a fight! And instinct just took over and I didn’t want Skyquake to fight with Smokescreen, so I just got involved.”
“Now everyone knows that you’re a little Vehicon killing machine,” Knock Out said. “Is that what you wanted? Because you got it! Do you know what rumors are circulating about you? It’s even reached the med bay!”
“It wasn’t that bad,” Bumblebee mumbled. “And Smokescreen got away, so that was good at least.”
“No! That’s the worst part!” Knock Out yelled again. Skyquake heard a smack through the wall and winced. “You’re making yourself look sympathetic to the Autobots by letting him get away! You should have captured him or killed him!”
“I couldn’t,” Bumblebee replied. His answer was soft. “And you know slagging well why, so lay off!”
“No! Not when you’re going to ruin everything!” Knock Out said. “I’m not going down with you. Do you hear me?”
Skyquake had heard enough. He knocked twice loudly before entering the code to the door. It whooshed open and both of the smaller mechs jumped up to turn and face him.
“Red,” Skyquake said. He threw a thumb over his shoulder and said, “Beat it. Go hang out with Knockdown and do us all a favor and start reminding the Citizens that gossip is wrong.”
Knock Out flinched, glared, and then huffed (in that order) before shooting Bumblebee “the look” that Knockdown himself had perfected long ago. He stomped out of the room without another word.
He entered Bumblebee’s room and shut the door. They stared at each other awkwardly before Skyquake took a seat on the edge of his berth. “So, uh. You were really good out there.”
“How much did you hear through the door?” Bumblebee asked. His chirps and beeps were back to normal, the small sparking area around his throat repaired. Knock Out must have done it, because Knockdown said the kid never reported to med bay after the fight. “We were kind of loud, weren’t we?”
“Enough to get the gist,” Skyquake said.
He put his hands on his knees and looked hard at Bumblebee. The kid looked terrified and ashamed. The kid was built for battle, but too much of a soft spark to kill a mech (a unique one, anyway—but considering he didn’t know Vehicons were people up until recently, it might be hard to fight built in programming that they were just drones). More importantly though, a lot of things Spool had said suddenly made a lot of sense.
“Is the reason you keep arguing to be in engineering because you don’t want anyone to know you can fight?” Skyquake asked, point blank. The kid’s door wings flicked and he knew he had called it. “You’re scared of everyone thinking you’re like Yellowjacket.”
Bumblebee said nothing, and the silence was enough of answer.
“I fought Yellowjacket a lot,” Skyquake said. “And the first thing I knew for sure when I saw your interrogation tape on that first day you woke up, is that you weren’t Yellowjacket.”
“And today?” Bumblebee asked. “When I was out in the field?”
Skyquake cracked a small smile. “I thought you were better. You’re a hundred times more efficient and scarier than that spoiled little maniac ever was.
“And I’d be proud if you joined my security team,” Skyquake said. He held his hand out and smiled. “How about it?”
“I’ll need to think about it,” Bumblebee said, wings flat against his back. He fidgeted, hands in front of his chest and played with his fingers. “But thank you. That, that means a lot.”
“I’ll see you around, kid,” Skyquake said. He patted Bumblebee on the head and left the room.
It felt like a weight was off his chest, and whether or not Bumblebee joined his team or not, he thought this was the beginning of a good friendship (and maybe, just maybe, the start of moving on).
A week later, Bee stood outside Skyquake’s door.
“Change your mind about joining the team?” Skyquake asked with a smile.
“Spool threatened to weld me to the outside of the ship if I didn’t ‘get the frag out of my engineering department’ and I think he was serious,” Bee said, wings down. “So uh, yes.”
Skyquake laughed, and Bee couldn’t help feeling a little chipper himself.