Rodimus Prime, resplendent in his signature reds and golds, leaped down from the last ledge leading to the central walkway. It had yet to be patched up from the Battle of Bridgeway, as the news broadcasts were calling it, since the Vosians were currently between governments. Hopefully, Rodimus could help change that today. But the streets were deserted, he still didn’t have antigravs, and Starscream had buzzed off somewhere, leaving Rodimus without so much as a guide to get him to the spot where Vos’s destiny was going to be decided. Time was running out.
“Hey!” he called up to a Vosian he caught watching him from hir balcony. “How do you get to Solus Dance Hall?”
The Vosian grinned. “Practice!”
“Hey.” Rodimus shook a reproving finger. “Snarky answers are my thing.”
“Typical Iaconian, always have to claim whatever metal you’re standing on.”
Rodimus turned. “Skyquake!”
Skyquake, impeccably polished and detailed, grinned at him from the doorway he’d just emerged from. “Hello, Highway - sorry, Rodimus Prime.” Rodimus shrugged apologetically. “Suddenly a lot of missing pieces about you are falling into place. I saw the stunt-jumps you were pulling on Zeta Tau Platform. I didn’t teach you that.”
“What are you talking about? I was tarting it up!” Rodimus huffed, mock-offended, until Skyquake laughed. “Hey, Skyquake? Would you have authorized my coming here if you’d known who I was?”
“Honestly?” Skyquake tipped his head back, burgundy optics thoughtful. “All that matters is how you dance. That’s what I’ve always said. I’d like to think I would have given Rodimus Prime the same chance I gave Highway, but… I think I would have hesitated.”
“Thank you,” Rodimus offered shyly, “for your honesty. And for giving me this chance. I’m sorry I had to lie to you to get it.”
Skyquake shrugged uncomfortably. “I’ve been forcibly reminded that I don’t always know who people are the way I think I do. And if our situations were reversed - if I had to repaint myself in order to get on a pole again - I’d do it without a second thought.”
Rodimus grinned, relieved. “Let’s go build a world where no one has to lie in order to dance.”
Skyquake laughed. “Ambitious, aren’t we? Come on, up you get.” He held out an arm and Rodimus took it trustingly, letting the big Vosian pull him close and take off with him.
The Solus Dance Hall had been beautifully restored to its prewar glory since Snowstorm had taken power. Unfortunately, being awkwardly sandwiched between two dead weapons platforms rather diminished the effect, but if Rodimus blocked the sight of them out the exquisitely-decorated arch that led into the hall was still quite lovely, with swirling cloudlike designs worked in gold and copper. Beyond, a circular dance stage with two shiny black poles already installed, close enough that a dancer on one pole could reach out and brush the fingertips of the dancer on the other; wing-friendly chairs set around the stage; and a wide, high ceiling glittering with crystals like stars.
“Very glamorous,” he commented, pausing to take it all in.
“Flamestep danced here, you know,” Skyquake told him quietly. “Often. Before the war, before Vos closed its borders. She was magnificent with steelsilk in her hands.”
“You knew her?”
Skyquake’s optics creased in a faint, faraway smile. “She was the one who made me want to be a dancer. Just this little slip of an Iaconian, and me, this big bulky thing, wanting to follow in her every footstep. My creator thought I was crazy.”
Rodimus smiled. “Well, from one big bulky thing to another, you proved them wrong.”
Skyquake snorted, but he was smiling. The two of them approached the stage, Rodimus already going over his routine in his head, when their approach was noticed and two sleek figures launched from the spectators’ benches to land hard on the stage, blatantly staking their claim. So much for Iaconians being the claim-staking ones, Rodimus thought, weathering twin scarlet glares with an unimpressed look of his own.
“Etherjewel, Firejewel.” Skyquake sounded equally unimpressed. “You’ll have your chance. Quit being such afts.”
“You don’t have the right to command us anymore,” Firejewel hissed. “You might be content to let the Autobot Prime clip your wings, but we haven’t forgotten our pride!”
“You’ll have your chance to display that pride on the pole,” Skyquake told them evenly, ignoring the clipped-wings comment. “But so will Rodimus Prime. It’s thanks to him Bridgeway is still standing. He’s earned the right to dance for Vos’s future.”
Etherjewel’s expression crumbled. “How could you say such a thing?”
“Enough.” Skyquake waved his words away. The hall was filling up, spectators jockeying for position. “Get off the stage, the beginners are about to come on. Rodimus, go let the attendants fuss over you a bit, it’ll do you good. You know the dance schedule?” Rodimus nodded. “Good. I need to go find Darkwing. He’s ringleading this mess.”
“He’s not dancing?” Rodimus asked.
Skyquake shrugged. “You’ll have to ask him about that.”
Rodimus frowned, but let it go as Skyquake turned to see to his work. He could see Firejewel and Etherjewel disappearing through an alcove at the back of the room, and followed them; the gatekeeper program beeped in acknowledgement as he passed.
Wonder where that information’s going - to the server in the security room, I guess. ...Wonder if it would’ve gone to Virtuoso-5 once.
He could feel the tension crackle over his plating as the dancers’ optics turned to him, Firejewel and Etherjewel among them. He put his hands on his hips and gave them his best rogueish grin. “Greetings, natives. I come in peace.”
He got about equal parts outrage-noises to guffaws at that; a silver flash charged forward to fling himself on Rodimus in a hug. “Hi, Comet,” Rodimus laughed. “Are you dancing today too?”
Comet beamed up at him, more excitement and life than Roddy had ever seen in him - it must have felt good being out of Snowstorm’s shadow. “We’re doing a traditional display dance with the other beginner’s class. We get to dance with steelsilk!”
“No kidding?” Rodimus grinned. “Can’t wait to see.”
“What about you, are you dancing for the debate?”
“I’m not really sure how I’m fitting in,” Rodimus admitted. “I get it’s all about stirring up important feelings before the vote happens, so I guess I’m dancing for the anti-Separatists. I don’t know if I’m dancing for Darkwing in particular though.”
Comet shook his head. “Darkwing isn’t in the running.”
“Said he’d rather be a policymaker than the Emirate. I heard Sterling was going to offer him the Minister of Culture post if she won.”
Rodimus pictured it: stern, no-nonsense Sterling, whipping a gaggle of Vosian politicians into shape the way she had her students, and Darkwing elbows-deep in resurrecting Vosian cultural traditions with her backing. Steelsilk dancing was just the start. “Is there a Minister of Culture post?”
“Not yet.” Comet grinned. “What about in Iacon?”
“Nope. Maybe I should see about appointing someone. Maybe Starscream,” he added, nudging Comet’s shoulder, and Comet laughed.
“If you appoint him to anything, I won’t come to Iacon to visit you,” he threatened, and Rodimus lifted both hands in mock-surrender. “I have to go, I can see everyone’s getting into formation.”
“Good luck,” Rodimus told him, and let him go. Seconds later, Comet ran back to him, flung his arms around him in a tight hug, then let go and dashed off again.
“Huh,” he muttered, watching Comet slip into formation with the rest of his classmates. One of them, a dancer whose blue optics and pinky-red paint looked familiar, caught his optic and waved excitedly. Rodimus made a shooing motion, chuckling, and the dancer made a show of going ‘oops’ and snapping back into formation as the instructors passed around the steelsilk drapes.
As the beginner classes filed past, Rodimus stepped back to allow them room and bumped into someone who squeaked breathlessly against his spoiler. “Oh, sorry,” he murmured, stepping back, and found himself looking into Boomer’s optics. She was clutching a drape nervously in her hands.
“You’re dancing?” he blurted.
Boomer nodded. “Last-minute cancellation, so I’m filling in. Wish me luck.”
“Good luck,” Rodimus said, but Boomer was already moving, her motions quick and nervous. She settled in beside the pinky-red Vosian, who favored her with a chirpy greeting - “hi, I’m Redwing, nice to meet you-!” before they all filed out into the dance hall.
“Huh,” he murmured, peering out to watch them circle the hall, drapes trailing dramatically behind them. “The kids are all right.”
His plating prickled as Etherjewel joined him in peering through the door. “We’re going to win, you know,” he said conversationally.
“So you aren’t welded to your brother,” Rodimus answered lightly. “I wondered.”
He wasn’t looking, but he felt Etherjewel glare. “This is just a game to you, but it’s life and death to us. That’s why we’re going to win. Vos will have a leader who values her above all else, and you will no longer be welcome.”
“A leader like Snowstorm?” Rodimus affected boredom to cover his sudden anger. “You think I’m not willing to put my life on the line, but where were you when Snowstorm was pointing his blasters at his own people?” Overhead, the dancers whirled, the drapes fluttering open to reveal a constellation of star patterns. “That’s what people are going to go to the voting booths remembering. It’s hard to forget with the streets still scarred from his little tantrum with Virtuoso.”
Etherjewel sighed loudly, leaning against the opposite doorjamb. “Snowstorm’s ideals weren’t wrong,” he argued, though he didn’t sound like his spark was in it. “He just - became misguided.”
“Yeah,” Rodimus murmured. “Fear of outside ideas will do that to you.”
Etherjewel scoffed and pushed himself away. “Get slagged. We’re still going to win,” he informed the Prime, and stormed off like a grumpy cloud. Rodimus shrugged and went back to watching the dancers. They circled overhead, their drapes trailing behind them, then split like a kaleidoscope into trines. The trines linked hands and wheeled overhead, and in the patterns they created Rodimus began to see an echo of the repeated motifs in their steelsilk wraps.
The dance ended with a dramatic landing on the center stage. Across from his vantage point, Rodimus could see three young Vosians clutching each others’ hands tight in their glee: Redwing laughing, Comet smiling, and Boomer with her free hand over her mouth like she’d just been given such a wonderful gift she almost feared to let the full force of her joy break free.
Trine, Rodimus realized with a sudden shock.
He backed up as the beginner classes flooded out of the performance hall and into the back room, bringing a cacophony of excited chatter with them. Out of the small forest of wings Comet emerged, Redwing and Boomer’s hands clutched in his own, and charged straight to Rodimus for a group hug.
“Congratulations, you three,” Rodimus told them, and was rewarded with their bright smiles. “You were great out there.”
“Not as good as you,” Redwing breathed. “At least I know I wasn’t! I can’t wait to see your dance, are you dancing to more Earth music?”
“That’s the plan.” Rodimus let the three of them tow him to the back of the room, where the more advanced dancers were getting polished up and tuned up by a small fleet of attendants. Comet found Rodimus a chair while Redwing hunted down someone to do Rodimus’s detailing and Boomer asked for a copy of the music Rodimus was planning to dance to.
“What is this?” Boomer asked, optics flickering as she reviewed the file.
“It’s the opening song to a game.” Rodimus shrugged, greeting the attendant Redwing towed over with an apologetic wave. “My friend Jazz shared it with me back on Earth, before I became the Prime.”
“Jazz!” Redwing gasped. “I’ve heard of him! We’ve all heard of him. Is it true he filled the Decepticon base with sparkly bubbles once?”
“So he claims.” Rodimus grinned, gratified that his friend’s notoriety had spread even to the youth of Vos. “Blitzwing refuses to corroborate it, but that may just be out of spite.”
Redwing laughed, bright and incautious, and Rodimus marveled at what a good match hir boundless, open-sparked enthusiasm was for the other two - Comet’s dreamy insightfulness, Boomer’s quietly driven ambition. Suddenly he wanted to hug them, but if he moved the attendant fussing over the state of his paint - admittedly, pretty shabby after he’d stripped the Highway disguise - would lose her spot, and probably scold him. So he held still, and beamed like a goof at the new trine instead.
One by one, the dancers left the room to perform for the future of Vos, singly or in pairs. The rest of the dancers talked quietly, and Rodimus could tell which side they were on by whether or not they were willing to involve him in conversation, even with a brief glance or a smile. A few of them clustered at the entryway to watch as Rodimus had done, and the sounds of applause and appreciative voices and complex Vosian music filtered past them to Rodimus’s audials.
“Sounds like they’re having a good time out there,” Rodimus murmured, and Boomer nodded.
“They’re basically alternating,” she said quietly. “The Separatists and the Anti-Separatists, I mean. I can’t tell who’s winning.”
“Snowstorm told me once that you can never tell until the votes are all in,” Comet murmured, optics dim. Redwing patted his back worriedly. “So maybe we won’t know until then.”
“Would a dance really change anybody’s mind?” Rodimus wondered.
“It has before,” Redwing said. “Or that’s what my history datatrack said, anyway. Vorn and vorn ago, there was this election between Farsight and - someone else, they didn’t win anyway.”
“There was a rumor that Vos’s gates were closed to groundframes so that Flamestep couldn’t dance for the elections when Starscream was a candidate,” Boomer put in. “I doubt it’s true, but it didn’t hurt Starscream’s chances.”
A disturbing thought occurred to Rodimus. “Did Starscream dance?”
The trine exchanged glances and burst into giggles, much to Rodimus’s chagrin. “Noo-ooo,” Redwing quavered. “I don’t think so.”
“I can’t picture it,” Boomer snickered.
“He didn’t seem like the dancing type, when we spoke,” Comet commented, tilting his head to one side, and his trinemates stared at him. “What?”
“You talked to him?” Redwing demanded, somewhere between scandalized and gleeful. “Spill! What was he like?”
Rodimus’s attendant patted him on the shoulder, letting him know she was done, and Rodimus realized he had a ping waiting in his queue. “Sorry, you three, but I need to talk to Darkwing. I’ll see you later.”
“Oh - sure,” Boomer said, leaving Redwing to poke Comet. She waved as Rodimus levered himself out of his chair and headed to the front of the room where Darkwing was doing what he did best: wrangling flighty performers.
“Hey, boss,” he greeted the flier, and Darkwing cocked an optic ridge at him.
“Feeling confident?” he asked.
“Well, I’m about to change that.” Darkwing spun the datapad he’d been tapping at around to show him. “You weren’t the only last-minute addition to the program, so I’ve had to make a few changes. You’re dancing last - right after Firejewel and Etherjewel.”
Rodimus tilted his head. “That’s supposed to make me unconfident?”
“Are you-” Darkwing flung his hands up. “You’re the encore! And you’re dancing right after the biggest show-stealers in the tower! People are going to expect something amazing from you - the kind of performance it takes a lunar cycle to put together.”
“Oh.” Rodimus’s head tilted the other way, mentally reviewing the routine he’d thrown together in the space of two rotations. “...um. Huh.” Darkwing gave him a pointed look. “I’ll just have to make it really, really sexy? ...or not,” he admitted when Darkwing facepalmed. “I’ll think about it.”
“I’ve given you all the help I can,” Darkwing said. “Since somehow I wound up organizing this cluster bomb. I’m not exactly a neutral party,” he added, sounding rather peevish.
Rodimus laughed. “Hey, people trust you. And after that skirmish I can see why.”
Darkwing was smiling, half-hidden under a ducked-down helm over his datapad; Rodimus quietly patted himself on the back, thinking he’d made today worthwhile no matter how the dance came out. “Yeah,” he confirmed, and Darkwing’s flaps wiggled. “Thanks for letting me know. I might have an idea, actually.”
“Oh yeah?” Darkwing gave him an interested glance.
“It might not work, but, I mean, I have one.” Rodimus gave him a rogueish grin. “If it doesn’t work, I’ll just play Don’t Stop Believing for my dance and dazzle ‘em with power chords.”
“You and your power chords!” Darkwing flapped a hand at him. Rodimus laughed and sauntered back to the new trine, gears already spinning in his head about his plans to step up his dance - quite literally.
Boomer, Redwing, and Comet were over the moon when Rodimus explained his idea. While the rest of the dancers watched and critiqued the performances, Rodimus and the trine had their heads together modifying Rodimus’s routine. There was no time or space to rehearse, so the math had to be absolutely perfect - he and Boomer were the swiftest calculators, so they scribbled out their figures and diagrams between them while Redwing hovered curiously over their shoulders and Comet trotted back and forth between them, the doorway, and the refreshment table. Rodimus, conscious of his tendency to refuse fuel when stressed, made himself drink a few swallows of what Comet brought, trying not to grimace visibly at the intense taste of the high-octane fuel that physically active fliers needed.
The jet-grade did its work, though: Rodimus’s fluttery tank settled, his processor picked up the extra energy and sharpened its focus, and his body hummed with readiness to dance. He and Boomer finished fine-tuning their calculations just as Comet returned again with the report that Firejewel and Etherjewel were about to take the stage.
“This I have to see,” he confided. Redwing grinned and took his hand, tugging him toward the entryway. Most of the dancers, having given their performances, had filtered back to the hammocks and perches to flop down in happy exhaustion, leaving the way clear for Rodimus and his team to spectate. One of them called out as they peered through the doorway: “Good luck following that act, Prime!”
Rodimus scoffed over his shoulder. “In my experience, there’s no such thing as luck.” Nobody else got why he snickered as he watched the speaker introduce the twins.
Firejewel and Etherjewel bowed to opposite ends of the stage, to a scatter of applause. “We dance for the honor of Old Vos,” the former announced. “For the preservation of our beloved towers against all foreign threats.”
“For the preservation of our culture,” Etherjewel added, and though his optics didn’t even flicker toward the doorway, Rodimus was sure he knew they were watching. “This will be our finest performance. I hope your sparks are moved.”
Prerecorded Vosian music swelled through the hall, full of lancing notes like a coronation fanfare. The twins turned in unison, floated in lazy spirals up to the tops of their poles and latched on, leaning back to clasp their hands together. For a moment they formed a bridge between poles as though between towers, then the percussion hit the air like a hammer and they broke apart. Rodimus felt his own spark pulse with the music, watching the twins throw themselves into spins that came within a wire’s breadth of collision.
“Wow,” Redwing whispered.
The twins’ spins slowed as they kicked out into flag poses. Firejewel turned in the air and locked his ankles around Etherjewels’, arresting both of their movements. Rodimus hissed his vents in amazement as they lifted themselves into the air - legs braced against each other, shoulders braced against their respective poles, nothing else touching anything but air. The crowd whooped and cheered their approval, and for a moment Rodimus was tempted to join them.
The twins disengaged, grinning at the audience, and threw themselves into the next stage of the dance: frenetic and nakedly erotic, switching poles as often as they traded caresses in midair, making the crowd whistle hungrily at them. Rodimus was pulled in by the arch of Etherjewel’s back, the tilt of Firejewel’s hips; Firejewel’s flashed smile and Etherjewel’s graceful hands. The two of them didn’t mirror each other, but complemented each other, like two wings on a jet as it threw itself into a spiral, and with their shining thighs wrapped around the poles, Firejewel and Etherjewel soared.
Watching them, Rodimus felt simultaneously light as gossamer and very, very heavy - the way an amazing, challenging dance always made him feel. He quietly made a resolution to tell the twins so, at the earliest opportunity, as the music faded away.
Shining with triumph, the twins chorused, “The cities bow to Primus’s Crown!”
All Rodimus’s intentions of extending his olive branch died a swift, ugly death. Beside him, Boomer rumbled her engine. “Rude.”
“Why? What does that mean?” Comet wondered.
“It’s a slogan the old Emiracy used to promote Vosian exceptionalism before everything went to slag in the war,” Boomer explained. “Basically they’re being afts.”
“It was also used in Decepticon propaganda,” Rodimus added. “I saw the posters sometimes when we ran missions aboveground.” He fielded a trio of intrigued glances with a wan smile. “War stories later. We need to stay focused on our performance.”
“Do you really think we can follow them?” Redwing asked, hir face pinched in worry. “That was an amazing dance right up until the slogan thing.”
Rodimus sighed. “As a dancer, I admire their skill. As Prime, I respect their views even if I can’t share them.” He paused just long enough to let their anticipation build. “On a personal level, they’re a pair of skidmarks and we are gonna dance so much better than them their heads’ll spin. Come on.”
Laughing, the trine followed him out of the door and down to the stage. They passed Firejewel and Etherjewel, heading the opposite direction; the dirty looks the twins gave them just made the trine laugh harder.
“We welcome Rodimus Prime of Iacon to the stage,” the announcer intoned, eliciting a roughly equal mixture of cheers and hisses from the spectators. “Prime, forgive me, but you’re listed as a solo dance.”
Comet answered before Rodimus could, his face blank and innocent as a wall. “We’re props.”
“I see.” The announcer waved them on; Rodimus nodded thanks. Up onto the stage they went, the trine via repulsors and Rodimus by climbing and a hand-up from Boomer.
“How’s he going to dance?” The whisper hissed across the stage, so incautious it might as well have been shouted. “He can’t even repulsor-hop.”
“Is this some kind of joke?”
“Shut up, he can dance-”
“-discriminating against the flightless by letting him try-”
Rodimus couldn’t even parse the logic in that one. “O-kay!” he shouted, lifting both hands and letting his voice carry. “Clearly a quick demo is in order before I start. Everyone okay with that?” There was a scattered roil of voices and a brief rain of applause. “Good. Guys, sorry, but could you hop off the stage again so there’s no confusion?”
The trine gracefully cleared the stage, but lingered at its edge as Rodimus peered up the near pole. It was higher than the ones in the dance tower, but he’d been warned about that. No big deal unless he lost his grip.
Do not lose your grip, Hot Rod.
Rodimus shuttered his optics briefly, then took a leap and swarmed up the pole.
Mutters became exclamations as he climbed, hand over hand and thigh over knee, until the ceiling came close enough to touch. Rodimus christened it with a brush of fingers, then hooked his ankles together and fell back, dangling with an upside-down grin for the audience. “Convinced yet?” he called, turning his vision upside-down to better see their expressions.
Yes! reached him in a delighted roar. Rodimus grinned and turned his vision right-side up, then himself right-side up and sliding down halfway. “Good. Then let’s not waste any more time. Boomer?”
Boomer laughed and waved acknowledgement, hopping back up onto the stage with her new trine. The three of them lay down on their backs around the two poles, equidistant from each other, and Boomer’s optics dimmed as she communicated with the hall’s music mixer. Redwing beamed at him, and Comet smiled, small and confident. Rodimus nodded to them and swung out into his starting pose, one hand and one knee clinging tightly to keep from rotating.
Vosian tech really didn’t know what to do with Earthen music, but Boomer’s preprogrammed settings made the human voice ring in the wide space under the dome. Rodimus spread his arm, trailing it like a veil - Polaris entered his mind then, and he hid a smile - and leaned into a spin, blissfully surrendering to the music.
It started slow. The echoes of the singer’s voice built in layers like dancer’s silks and Rodimus bent and swayed with them, hand sliding down and then releasing, trusting his weight to his crossed legs, and reached out into nothingness. The beats counted down in his HUD, but he hardly needed the indicator to tell him when to pause, silence like a held vent - then it returned, Boomer and her trine extended their legs and engaged their antigravs and launched him up again with the first roll of drums.
He heard the crowd gasp as he flew, catching the pole overhead and swinging himself into a fast and graceful series of tricks - a spread-legged straddle around the pole transitioning to a straight-backed, one-leg-up pose with a fast backwards spin courtesy of Redwing’s antigrav-kick, then turning on his side to the upside-down one-armed, one-knee pose his first dance teacher had called the ‘hero.’ His outflung arm reached behind him and grasped the pole just above where the other hand was gripped and he turned again, spoiler to the pole, ankles crossed around it, until he let them go and braced his shoulder to the pole to ‘walk’ in the air until he was hanging almost perpendicular to the pole. He held the pose, arms and shoulder singing with the strain of it, until the singer’s cry of sanctuary, my sanctuary was drowned out by the crowd’s awed cheer, then all together the trine pushed him back up again.
He was flying. His hips barely kissed the pole as he spun, his splayed, reaching pose light as silk, as graceful as Hot Rod had ever been. His body floated on the antigrav pillow his trine provided, head down, one arm and both legs extended, perfect. He bent his leg and spiraled on the pole, abandoned entirely to bliss and to beauty and the glory of what his body was capable of. Rodimus broke his perpendicular full split and turned again, snapping into a crouch with his hip and elbow trapping the pole as the music and the antigravs dropped at once. Rodimus fell, spark thrilling with the gasps of the crowd, and arrested his fall just before hitting the stage.
With the trine’s pedes firmly planted on the floor, this was the time for Roddy to show what a grounder could do. He put his pedes on the stage and almost bowed to the pole, both hands on it and back arched, swaying slightly as he slid down into a back curl stretch. Someone whistled; he grinned at the ceiling overhead, spread his legs into a full split and then kicked up into a headstand with one leg coyly bent. The position let him see into the optics of a couple of spectators close to the stage, just past Comet’s leg - they were riveted, staring like they wanted to climb up there with him. Clearly he was tarting it up something fierce.
The music swelled back into being as they crossed the bridge. Rodimus disengaged in a quick cartwheel and remounted, a twisted grip pulling him upside down in a dead lift until he could hook one ankle around the pole and dangle in an inverted corkscrew. His arms spread, embracing the crowd as they spun by. Nothing is whole, the singer exulted as Rodimus went up the pole again, and nothing is broken.
The swell of the chorus was accompanied by a gravity-defying updraft, catching Rodimus under the spoiler and lifting him with enough force to let him leap the two-body-length distance to the second pole. The crowd went crazy as Rodimus caught the pole and swung around like a particularly sexy robot Tarzan, pedes flying, grinning wildly. Calculations streamed through his processor like ribbons as he spun, counting down the astroseconds until he drew his legs in, braced against the pole and leaped a second time. The trine caught him perfectly, which made it all the more a shock when the slickness of the pole betrayed him and he nearly missed his grip.
Clang, the pole rang under his hands, between his thighs, his smile a grimace as he fought to regain his balance. The straight, shiny pole bucked like a sea monster in his grip. //Status!// Boomer pinged, markers for panic wreathing the central glyph.
Instinct made him ping back //status green,// but he followed it with instruction. //Adjustments to the program incoming.// Mid-transition he pinged them a data packet, and all three sent him messages of acknowledgement and support. Rodimus leaned into his spin, side-on to the stage, and flung out his arm to the crowd’s acclaim. One more big jump now: Rodimus drew his knees in and prayed his last-minute adjustments were enough.
What’s left of me… now. Rodimus made the leap in near-silence, soaring on his borrowed antigrav field.
The pole took his weight without a hint of vibration. Rodimus locked one knee around it and leaned back in a graceful, triumphant rainbow arch, throwing all his class-six weight into his spin. The spectators whooped and applauded, drowning out the music until it crested again. Rodimus grinned wildly and pumped a fist, which wasn’t quite an approved dance move, but the cheers of his fans and the laughter of Boomer’s new trine were ringing in his audial receptors and he couldn’t have been flying any higher if he’d had wings of his own.
The trine swarmed him with hugs as soon as he touched the ground again. Laughing, Rodimus clung to them, pressing his helm to theirs’. “We did it,” he chanted breathlessly, “we did it, we did it, you were amazing, thank you-”
“You were amazing!” Redwing insisted, gripping Rodimus’s arm in both hands and practically bouncing. “If I hadn’t been right under you I wouldn’t have believed it, you were flying!”
“Couldn’t have flown without you,” Rodimus assured hir, and Redwing laughed again and clung to him and hir trinemates all at once.
Eight legs, six wings and a spoiler all got in each other’s way as they shuffled off the stage to let the announcer make his closing remarks. None of them heard a word of it in any case, too swept away by the post-performance rush to do much more than grin at each other as Skyquake and Darkwing gently herded them into the back room and plied them with gelled energon and cooling blankets.
Rodimus did, however, notice the silent knowing looks they gave each other, and the hand Skyquake rested briefly on Darkwing’s shoulder.
They’ll be okay, he thought, and smiled, and shuttered his optics.
Starscream showed up while Rodimus was still glued to the broadcast screen in his suite - an upgrade from his quarters in the dance tower, though he’d insisted on bringing the hammock with him. “Congratulations,” he purred. “It seems everything worked out favorably for you after all.”
“I’m not celebrating until all the votes are counted,” Rodimus replied, though really Sterling was winning by a respectable margin. “It’s just asking to have the wind die under you.”
Starscream laughed. “Flier idiom? Vos truly has infected you.” Rodimus made a face at him and the ghost laughed again, only faintly derisive. “Come now, your predecessor couldn’t have done better. Your enemy is brought to justice! Freedom is restored! Vos and Iacon are allies for the first time in living memory! And may I say, that was an impressive dance, Prime. Technically cheating, but you seem to have gotten away with it on charisma alone.”
“You were watching?” Rodimus lifted an opticridge.
“It was being broadcast into the facility where Snowstorm’s being held.” Starscream chuckled. “He was mad enough to spit rivets but he couldn’t look away, poor thing.”
“I’ll bet.” Rodimus looked back at the screen. Sterling’s lead had increased another handful of percentage points, edging her over fifty percent. “So he’s, you know, okay after Virtuoso?”
“Primes and their soft sparks,” Starscream muttered despairingly. “He’s recovering. I doubt he’ll ever be quite the same again, but he can speak and fly and all, which frankly means he got off lightly. Even when it was sane, Virtuoso wasn’t kind to interlopers.”
Rodimus hummed acknowledgement, resting his chin on his folded hands. “...how is Virtuoso?” he asked. “Is it salvageable?”
Starscream was silent for a long moment. Finally, grudgingly, he admitted, “No. It’s beyond even my skills.”
“I’m sorry,” Rodimus offered without looking at him.
“Hmn.” Starscream leaned over the seat at Rodimus’s shoulder, watching as the votes ticked up and up inorexably. “Well. Just one more tie to cut, in the end. I’ll be content to return to Iacon with you, Rodimus.”
I’m sure the Vosians will be relieved to hear that, Rodimus thought dryly, but sharing that thought out loud wouldn’t lead to any productive conversations.
Rodimus’s shuttle back to the Iacon Highway was seen off by a crowd of fans and well-wishers, delaying Rodimus’s departure by a solid hour as the Prime insisted on greeting every one of them before he left, trading handclasps and kind words and, in the young dancers’ cases, hugs and ironclad promises to come and visit. Finally, though, the shuttle was in the air, the Iaconian Prime watching out the back window for his last glimpses of New Vos while Starscream found new things to complain about. He was so focused on the city, his ghostly companion’s voice just so much background noise, that he never noticed the shadow crossing his path from high above.
Cloudstreaker, exiled from his trine and his city, circled the Prime’s shuttle and then turned his thruster, flying away from Vos and Iacon alike.