At one level—at many levels—Perceptor knew that simply saying, simply thinking the word did nothing. Some sort of primitive attempt at magic, using sound and thought to attempt to deny the real. And it surprised him that even he himself was susceptible to such a wild impulse.
But, staring at the energon pulsing over, through his fingers, studying the caved in, rent metal from the hole punched in him, through him, by Turmoil’s weapon, flat denial, however nonsensical, was all he had to fall back on.
He’d known the danger. You didn’t take a mission that involved boarding a Decepticon ship and not expect some danger. But this…? It stunned him.
No: what stunned him was not the fact that he’d been hit. It was that he was so weak. Kup hadn’t wanted him along, told him he wasn’t ready for it.
And he wasn’t. And he didn’t know why. He’d commanded troops before, and had admitted that he was, yes, perhaps a bit rusty in the practice of it, but…he had miscalculated.
Worse than that—he had made a beginner’s mistake—Turmoil’s taunt rang through his damaged audio, seeming to echo with each purple-pink flare of pulse-rifles around him. He’d given away his position, by talking. By trying to prove that he was pulling his weight, that he belonged here. That he was more than just…Kup’s minder.
And his slip had endangered them all. No wonder they’d all left, the battle surging deeper into the crippled ship. He could feel random bursts resonate through the floor under his back, hear the distant sounds of weapons fire. He could see and feel everything…except himself. He felt no pain, and that, to Perceptor, was the worst sin of all—not that he was dying, nor even that he was dying alone, but that he wasn’t suffering as he deserved.
They’re better off without me, he thought. Dead weight that they deservedly dropped. A traitor, all unknowing, unleashing the enemy upon them through his foolish need to prove that he was useful, that he was pulling his weight. That he was a soldier.
He wasn’t a soldier. He was a wrecked frame, a scientific mind without a killer’s spark. Not a pacifist so much as lacking the instincts of the others, instincts like Kup’s that had kept him alive, cagey, and still strong, after all he’d been through.
Under his back, he felt a high frequency vibration, like an engine whining, rising, wailing into some sort of system crash. The ship would explode. It was already airborne, just a matter of time before it burst, white and red, into raining shards of metal, showering death down upon the city below. Were they winning? Did that mean the Autobots were victorious, or did it mean that the Decepticons were so inured to death that they would destroy themselves rather than allow an Autobot victory?
He didn’t know—and he knew that a real warrior would know. Kup would know. Springer would know. For all their brashness, all their attitude, they knew—a science that defied Perceptor’s grasp.
Perceptor looked at his energon-stained fingers, turning them over under his damaged gaze, with a kind of dark wonder. It made sense some knowledge eluded him—his task had always been on the micro-scale, studying fine differences, infinitesimal variations. He wasn’t designed to look for the macro, the big picture, the infinite stabilities of combat that wove through the vagaries of circumstance.
He did not know.
He did not know.
And he would die not knowing. That was the worst of all—to have an insight, a flash of epiphany, only to have it wasted, any chance of application seeping from him with his leaking life-fluids.
His hands shook, half in terror, half in anger at the waste of it all.
And the floor seemed to hum again, something racing toward him, as darkness reached to close over his one working optic like a hood. And Perceptor felt his frustration surge, even as his energy waned, even as his hands dropped, limply, unpowered, down by his sides. He could feel his optic fading, blue going grey, could feel his energy draining, actuators losing charge. And there was nothing—NOTHING—he could do. Perceptor felt a rage, like a dragon of black flame, rise up through him, pushing against the cool fade of his dying light, hatred at his own weakness, hatred at his failing body, the weak systems clouding, clogging his thoughts.
A shape moved into his narrowing field of vision, a face, armored in white, optics glowing Autobot blue, flat, one dimensional in Perceptor's damaged sight. The new mech. The one who was…neither of them. Not Autobot, not Decepticon, but some other.
“Let’s get you out of here,” the other mech said, his voice buzzing into static on Perceptor’s damaged audio. White arms grabbed him, Perceptor too weak to protest, his traitorous hands flopping numb and weak.
“Leave…me,” he managed to whisper.
The other mech’s laugh rumbled against his back as he hauled Perceptor upright. “Doesn’t work like that, Autobot,” he said. “I came here to save lives.”
“Not…worth…,” Perceptor’s words faded, his head dropping back against Drift’s shoulder.
“Every life is worth it,” Drift said, a thread of anger in his voice, penetrating through Perceptor’s numb haze.
And then the darkness of the ship burst in to light and the scream of white air filled Perceptor’s audio and there was nothing stable in this world except Drift’s arms around him.