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Spider Web Infestations and Other Oddities on the Ark

Chapter Text

1984, The Ark, Mount Saint Hilary, Oregon

Spike strolled into the command center of the Ark, grinning and waving at Optimus and Ironhide as he walked in between where they were working (Optimus sitting and reading a datapad, Ironhide leaning against the wall next to the door and performing maintenance on one of his guns). "Oh, gross! Spider web!" he suddenly exclaimed, shuddering as he brushed the offending cobweb off of himself. Even as he made sure all of the sticky silk was out of his hair and checked himself for errant arachnids, Ironhide suddenly stood up with a muttered Cybertronian curse, subspacing the gun and stomping over him and out of the room.

"What's his problem?" Spike asked Bumblebee who was on monitor duty.

"Ironhide? Oh, nothing you need to worry about. He's always got ants in his alternators about something," Bumblebee said.

"Speaking of bugs, you all need to do something about the spiders around here. I'm always walking into cobwebs. It's probably Daddy Longlegs...what? Why are laughing?"

~`~`~`~`~`~`~`
Several Weeks Earlier

"So we have agreement on the regulations regarding the sharing of technology with our human allies - yes, I know you are noting your objection for the record, Ratchet, but if we give cybernetic implants to Chip or correct Sparkplug's coronary condition through nanite technology, we will have an ethical duty to do so for more than just the humans who consider us their friends, and will be interfering in this species' development."

"Our being here is doing that," Ratchet grumbled.

"The compromise position," Prowl interjected, "that Chip and the others can, if they wish, pursue their own research with our support, assists in the prevention of scenarios that in 68.93 percent of the simulations lead to the militaries of this species attempting to enslave us, dissect us or both. It is better for them to believe our technologies are far more incompatible than they are. We still are at greater risk from the humans on this world than the Decepticons, by every scenario I can account for."

"I still say there is more to gained by sharing our technology than withholding it," Ratchet stated stubbornly.

"And we will do so, but in a limited fashion that will not make us targets, and will not give humanity tools by which they could exploit us, changing our position only as it becomes clear doing so will not cause us or them harm. Do not forget that our kind were once slaves to a species that started out organic," Prime cautioned. It was a fact the Matrix would never allow him to forget, even with the fondness he felt for Earth's dominant sentient species. "Teletran-1, please note our decision for the logs, and the objection of the Chief Medical Officer. Are there any other topics we need to address regarding policies for interactions with the humans?"

"There is one further regulation I propose," Prowl stated calmly. "Namely, that we do not reveal to the humans any information about our bonding and sharing protocols. Furthermore, I propose that exposing humans to such activities or knowledge of those protocols be punishable by time in the brig, a minimum of four orns for minor infractions, increasing upwards and not excluding time in involuntary stasis depending on the severity of the offense, as detailed on your datapads."

The conference room exploded in protests until Prime had to raise his voice and order calm. "Your reasoning?" he asked his SIC when the yelling had died down to a murmur.

"Even the humans who regard us as friends still express surprise to one another that we think and feel like they do--"

"--All the more reason t' show 'em that you don't have t' procreate t' have love be a part of your functionin', mech," Jazz interrupted.

"If you will allow me to explain," Prowl continued, a single flick of his sensor wing expressing his frustration with his fellow officer. "We have opted to present ourselves as the dominant gender on this planet, to avoid certain prejudices and presuppositions that might arise should we present as non-gendered or as female. However, there exists extreme prejudice among many human cultures toward members of the same gender who share intimate relations with one another. In this country, they are subject to legal discrimination as well as various forms of harassment, including many documented cases of violent attack and even murder."

"Aw you've gotta be slaggin' kidding me," Ironhide protested. "And these primitives are supposed to be allies?"

"Considering their background, it is quite possible even our primary human contacts harbor such attitudes," Prowl responded evenly.

"But we ain't biological critters with a reproductive imperative. We don't even have sex!" Blaster interjected.

"The differences would be lost on them, and don't forget that humans regularly engage in non-procreative sexual intercourse," Prowl countered. "But the prejudice we would be subject to is not the sole reason. We are the first official alien contact for a decidedly primitive species. There are enough surface similarities covering deeper differences that will challenge our alliance with them without the complications this particular issue will cause. The culture of our host nation is simultaneously obsessed with and highly repressed regarding intimate expression, especially when it comes to aspects they deem as outside their given norms."

"Are you proposing the prohibition of all public forms of interfacing, or just those that humans would be inclined to view through their biological lens?" Perceptor asked.

Prowl's optics briefly flickered as he ran additional calculations. "The humans have little or no sensitivity to fields. Field-sharing would be permissible so long responses remain unvocalized and otherwise non-obvious to their senses."

"Unvocalized isn't even necessary," Wheeljack jumped in enthusiastically. "Only vocalized above or below their sensory threshold."

"Better be careful if they got canines around," Jazz added with a smirk. "Don't want the dogs howlin' every time you overload, Prowler. Ah've heard you whistle pretty high."

"It would be best if vocalizations were kept to lower frequencies, then," Prowl said flatly, refusing to take the bait, though a rather pronounced twitch of his sensor panels promised some form of retribution. Smokescreen silently began collecting wagers as to what form it would take.

"What about the nano-filament interfacing upgrades developed for Special Operations?" Perceptor asked. "Those connections do not even require physical contact, and are near-invisible to the human eye. If humans perchance came into tactile contact with an established connection, they would simply believe they had brushed up against the protein fibers excreted by arachnids."

"But that ain't fair. Most of us don't even have that upgrade," Ironhide jumped in.

"Hoist, do we have the resources to fit every mech currently out of stasis with the nano-filament interface upgrade?" Optimus asked, sounding intrigued by the prospect.

"If I understand the upgrade correctly, it is only a matter of a code patch to existing nanites, and then having enough energon to support the minor structural changes," Hoist explained. "Since energon does not appear to be a limiting issue for us here, there is no obstacle."

::Prime, you realize we can't go givin' every mech the exact form of these that we use for operations?:: Jazz commed nonchalantly.

::Make whatever changes to the coding you need to in order to prevent nonconsensual nano-filament penetration, and then turn it over to Medical. I agree with Prowl's concerns, but we both know how important bonding and sharing is to Autobot morale and cohesiveness.::

::Not t' mention the morale of our Prime. Gotcha, boss.::

~`~`~`~`~`~`~`

Five Minutes Prior to Spike's Arrival in Command

Optimus strolled into the command center, casually transmitting an informal greeting glyph both to Bumblebee on comms and Ironhide, who was sitting with his back to the wall and his solvent cannon taken apart for cleaning. The methodical, firm way in which the mech he had once known as Dion was moving his hands over the weapon's components called up a multitude of memory files from prior to their reformat. Of course things had changed, but the spark signature Optimus could clearly sense, so resolute and loyal, was the same one Orion Pax had come fresh out of the factory bonded with when he and his cadre had been built. Though no longer dock-workers, the function-specific coding that had connected Orion to those who did hands-on labor had never been overwritten. While Prime's bonds with all Sigma-sparked mecha took priority over Orion Pax's connections, his core coding could not help but to respond to the view of his former cadre's equipment specialist 'tinkering' with something.

Activate Interfacing Systems, Y/N, scrolled across his HUD, just as it had so often since coming back online.

Optimus had been unusually affectionate in many ways since surviving the long stasis. Whether it was new vigor that came with having energon available, the hope engendered by new allies and resources, or simple thankfulness that most of the Ark's crew had survived what by all rights should have been a tragedy, the Matrix was eagerly encouraging its bearer to strengthen the bonds that connected him with his Autobots. At least, that is how he justified it to himself.

If an extra measure of that affection went toward Ironhide, no one could blame him. They all knew what was said about mecha who were built together. He observed those well-armored, capable hands cleaning the cannon for a nano-klik longer and heard Bumblebee chuckle from the monitors when Prime's cooling fans kicked in.

Yes, activate interface protocols, and engage inhibitive protocol 39284 to prevent discovery by organic sentients.

Acknowledged. Interfacing Systems engaged. Disabling shielding nanites now. Have a nice breem.

Thanks for your vote of confidence. Optimus grumbled at his AI. He certainly planned on lasting longer than that.

Optimus settled in a chair about twenty feet from where Ironhide sat on the floor, and unsubspaced a datapad, setting aside a small portion of his processing capacity to reading it and interacting normally with any humans who might enter. With his shielding nanites disabled, the former heavy-lifter for the cadre could extend his field just far enough to brush comfortably against Ironhide's own.

::Now don't go startin' something ya ain't gonna finish,:: Ironhide commed, though his field pushed back, creating an envelope of interactive space between them.

::Oh, I intend to finish it,:: Optimus responded, his spark sending a wave of charged particles into the co-mingled fields, ions combining and electron clouds completing one another. It was but an allegory for the mingling of the far more complex energies of their sparks, but highly arousing nonetheless. The strength of Prime's unique sparkfield could fully dictate the direction the charge ran, so he pushed at his former cadre-mate until he was rewarded with a deep, fog-horn like rumble, something the whole Ark likely felt and heard.

Well, all except the new organic inhabitants, one of whom was approaching, according to Teletran-1's automatic silent alert that flashed on his HUD. Optimus was pleased. It would be an opportunity to test the inhibiting protocols the research team had developed for this very purpose. Not to mention there was something ridiculously attractive about overloading Ironhide without the armory master being able to move or give any hint of what was going on.

Optimus signaled his new spinnerets to extend thousands of nano-filaments, which shot across the distance, easily slipping into Ironhide's access ports to make connections with his neural net. A tingle in his own access ports let him know that Ironhide had done the same. When their firewalls lowered to accept the connection, the thousands of strands crisscrossing the space between lit with a warm ultraviolet glow. Prime let out his own whistle, followed by deep clicks of appreciation as Ironhide sent an impatient pulse along the sensor nodes that lined the living protoform beneath his red and blue armor. It was not surprising that his longtime lover immediately sought out the hotspots along the myriad of connections to his laser core.

Ironhide was never one for subtlety, and preferred direct action regardless of the circumstance. Optimus, knowing it would both annoy and inflame his self appointed body guard further, sent a surge of affection and affirmation of the bond they shared rather than the direct neural stimulation Ironhide preferred. He rumbled in humor at the simultaneous pleasure and impatience that raced through Ironhide's systems, knowing that if they had the luxury of being physical, the armory master would be attempting wrestle and provoke him into the more direct assault on his systems he craved.

Ironhide had just slammed him with his response, accompanied by Optimus's low frequency drone when Spike walked in, and unfortunately, straight through the majority of the nano-filaments.

"Pit spawn slagging sacks of protoplasm, Ah hate this planet!" Ironhide managed to mutter rather than yell only by turning his own vocalizer to the lowest setting. Optimus, for his part, decided that it was best to give the armory master a chance to calm down before cornering him somewhere more private. However, he did have a charge to take care of, and there was a sweet little Buzzer chatting with Spike at the monitors.

His query ping and glyph was met with an immediate enthusiastic response. ::Anytime, Daddy Longlegs!:: This time, when Optimus shot off his bundle of nano-filaments in the scout's direction, he took care to make the connection above Spike's height.

Chapter Text

Wheeljack and Ratchet have been interfacing for years.

Well, yes, you might say, of course. More than years. Vorns. Thousands of vorns. Bonded mecha do that sort of thing.

But in this case, dear reader, the description is literal. They have been interfacing, continuously, going on three years.

Oh, it isn't obvious. Well, not at least to the humans who regularly interact with them as they go about their normal activities. The mechs in question started going at it nearly the moment they came out of stasis, all behind a partition in their processors that allows for long-term interfacing, or longfacing as it is known, in the midst of every day activities.

But for those in the know, Ratchet's fabled fits of temper have taken on new meaning. As do the occasional incidents in Wheeljack's lab. When the whole idea is to build things up for as long as possible, sometimes the pressure gets released in other ways.

They can, and do, interface in other ways, both with one another and others. Those smaller overloads distract them from the slowly building burn behind the partition, at least for a short time. Plenty of the 'cobwebs' that are the source of Spike's more colorful language and high pitched noises are their own, and don't even get me stared on the things that happen behind closed doors. You know what they say about medics and engineers.

It is all about who can get the other's longface partition to come crashing down first, sending systems and spark into an overload that can, and often will, require the complete replacement of melted circuits. If Ratchet were not a master longfacer, he'd probably outlaw the practice because of the injuries that sometimes result. But Wheeljack and Ratchet make the longface an art form, or perhaps even better, an Olympic sport, and Ratchet feels the occasional repairs he must conduct are well worth it.

Smokescreen doesn't even bother taking wagers if multiple pairs or groupings are simultaneously longfacing. The only way those two slaggers would lose would be for someone to cheat and upload one of them with a virus. No, the only wager worth making is which master longfacer's partition will come down first, pulling both of them, along with any others in the proximity of their fields (or who happen to share a bond) into an overload that is one to tag for the memory files (provided said memory file hasn't been corrupted by said overload, that is).

With as smugly as Wheeljack's vocal indicators have been flashing recently, and the increasing degree of snarling rants coming from the medic, most of the wagers are on Ratchet to tip first. Smokescreen knows better. He's a strategist, after all, and can run all the previous scenarios through his tactical computer. Just to keep other mecha guessing, he has been subtly, but obviously, spending more time in Ratchet's vicinity. Only a fool wouldn't want to be there when that partition comes down. While being with either one means shorting out some circuits in a rather glorious way, it is tradition to try to be with the one who tips first. And to goad the process along, of course.

Smokescreen is 85.204% certain that Wheeljack will be the first to tip, but he doesn't want anyone else knowing that. Odds are already 3:1 in Ratchet's favor, so if Wheeljack tips first, Smokescreen will come out like a bandit.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Behind his longface partition, a virtual reality has been growing since Ratchet first came out of stasis. It all started with a singular glyph, upon which others were added over time. The first year was largely a more technologically advanced version of what you humans call phone sex. Suggestions, promises, lavish and lewd descriptions layered one upon the other, many of which would have been enough to overload less stubborn mechs. The glyphs grew in complexity until the space behind the partition took on a life of its own and became a full-fledged program. At this point in the game, the longface-partitioned space is like a 6-D holovid, complete with the full range of sensation.

The part of the medic that exists behind that partition feels every brush of EM, every plate removed from his armor, every deep, probing touch into his internals with their rippling sea of sensor cilia waving in the EM breezes. The Wheeljack who exists behind that partition spent a good part of the second year removing every scrap of plating on Ratchet's virtual form in the most ridiculously erotic manner possible. The entire third year was spent moving slowly from virtual Ratchet's immobilized pede toward his spark. The engineer's digits, with their fine-tuning extenders and manipulators, seemed intent on tormenting each micron of wire with pleasure.

VR Ratchet's laser core has long since moved helpfully aside on its own accord, and the coronal tendrils of his spark are twisting and writhing around themselves in desperation for the first brush of real contact. But the glitch of an engineer has not yet sent the code packet that will allow his virtual self to do so. All attention, instead, is given to the cables and wires that connect Ratchet's chamber to the rest of his systems. To the unschooled observer, it would appear to be the most boring of examinations. To Ratchet, it is an agonized study in denial.

The real Wheeljack saunters into Medical, his indicators and field freely relating the epic tale his own torment behind his longface partition as well as his smug confidence that Ratchet is in far worse shape.

"What?!" Ratchet demands, noting that Sparkplug glances up from his own work and quickly looks back down. Humans have been avoiding his temper lately. The others are willing to risk it, because they know what it means.

"Look at this for me?" Wheeljack asks, innocently handing him a datapad.

The instant their hands touch, nano-filaments connect and the new code packs are traded. Ratchet has spent the better part of his last ten rest periods writing the one destined for Wheeljack's partition. Glyphs are no longer enough, and have not been for some time, though Ratchet makes sure to transmit some choice ones along with his latest update.

Ratchet makes a show of looking over the datapad even as the new pack initializes. Through the quantum resonance of their bond, he can feel Wheeljack's internal moan as his own pack starts to run. Behind Ratchet's own longface partition, VR Wheeljack has suddenly moved away from his spark cabling altogether, and has started in on the medic's servo (tiny armor plates long since removed). Of course, servos happen hold the greatest concentration of sensor cilia of any single portion of Ratchet's frame. VR Wheeljack's extenders and manipulators slowly wrap around the wires and cables of the medic's most precious tools.

"What do you think?" the real Wheeljack asks, cheery as always.

"I think you are a slagging glitch not fit for the pit who needs to get out of my medbay," Ratchet growls, shoving the datapad, with its luridly cheerful suggestions, back into the engineers servos.

"I guess it needs a bit more refinement, then," Wheeljack says optimistically as he departs.

"What was that about?" Sparkplug asks carefully from where he is sorting and cleaning human sized tools.

"Just a glitch who is going to end up reformatted into a slagging set of human sex toys and sent to Swindle to sell to the highest bidder if he doesn't watch it," Ratchet snarls. Then the sub harmonics of Ratchet's vocalizer emit a low groan that makes humpback whales sound as high as canaries. VR Wheeljack has just brought VR Ratchet's naked servo to the engineer's exposed spark and is letting his own coronal tendrils play with the medic's sensor cilia. Ratchet brutally slams his firewalls shut, ignoring, as best he can, what is happening behind that partition. He has work to do.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

You would think Smokescreen would learn to pay more attention to Prowl. Prowl, who knows Ratchet is going to tip first. There are certain factors Smokescreen is overlooking about this current round. Prowl is normally not a wagering mech, but if he were, Smokescreen would not have nearly so many favors owed to him. And Prowl? Well lets just say that Prowl would probably own the Ark and most of the mecha who live therein.

Prowl knows Ratchet will tip first, and further, that there is a 64.294% likelihood that a human will be present with at least one of those directly or indirectly affected by the event. He knows, too, that the overload, when it comes, will not be one the humans will be able to overlook. Overloads are an electrical event, after all. This time, circuits will fry and smoke will rise. Mecha within the range of their fields or bonds will go down with a clash of metal plating colliding to the floor. Even overlooking the questions it will raise, the experience will frighten their allies.

Prowl needs to find a way to send the humans away without giving away how soon he calculates the tipping point to be. He is not normally a wagering mech, but this time, he does have wagers, not upon who will tip first, but when the tip will occur. Figuring it out had been an interesting exercise for his tactical processors, and he did so enjoy using them for something other than battle strategy and calculating acceptable losses. The fact that the data he input and the scenarios he ran are continuing to make his circuits tingle is an extra benefit.

Thankfully, certain activities in New York need a human touch. With Spike now in college and Carly immersed in her postdoc, he can send Sparkplug to New York with Bumblebee and Blaster to check in on Raoul and Tracks without raising suspicions. The only remaining human is Chip. Prowl has managed to conceal many an overload from this particular ally, and wonders for a moment whether the directive he originally proposed is truly still necessary, considering all he has learned of the human he is on the friendliest terms with. But such processing is sentimental, and Prowl is not one to allow that particular luxury.

Kinky processing is one thing. Sentimentality is a whole different matter.

Prowl finds a Cybernetics symposium and calls in some favors to make sure Chip receives an invitation to speak. Chip is a potential Decepticon target, so he opts to send the twins with him, along with a few choice glyphs asking forgiveness from Primus for foisting those kinks in his cables on his human friend. However, he knows Chip can deal with them, and not getting to be present when the medic tips and the engineer and the rest of the Ark follow will be punishment enough for a multitude of their infractions.

Tracks, Bumblebee and Blaster might wonder what their punishment is for. Prowl is certain he can find something in their files, though he is not so cruel as to not make sure they receive a very detailed copy of several memory files after the event takes place. Maybe he will win enough on the wager to get a copy of either Ratchet or Wheeljack's own.

With those details complete, Prowl begins strategizing just how to manage to be in Ratchet's presence when the tipping point comes.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Wheeljack knows he is in trouble. Oh, he can put up a good front, and knows the odds right now are favoring him to prevail, but Ratchet's latest code pack, in the words of another engineer, is packing a wallop. It always comes to this point, when what is happening behind the partition is far too agonizingly good to pay attention to much else, and more and more of his processing power is spent maintaining the partition itself. Already, parts of it are eroding away, error messages are piling up, and stray jolts of charge are racing through his actual neural net rather than just the virtual one.

It's one thing to self stimulate or interface accompanied by what is taking place behind the partition. It's quite another when what is behind the partition begins tampering with the rest of his systems on its own accord. His virtual self is in such dire need of an overload that nothing, not even the best firewalls Wheeljack can erect, will be able to deny it for much longer.

Slag it, he almost had Ratchet with the previous pack. It had been so good Wheeljack had overloaded several times just creating it. But then Ratchet had to hit him with this.

Wheeljack is drawn again to the partition space, immersing his conscious processing in the reality where he is sandwiched between not one, but two versions of his lover. Not one part of that sandwich has on a scrap of armor on any longer (it went by the wayside earlier in the third year). They are exposed in ways that war has not allowed in millions of Earth's years (except in cases of dire injury). Wires are crossed or even fused, manipulators are winding their way at will through each other's circuitry, and their mass of merged nano-filaments resemble some vastly complex mycelium beneath the forest floor. It is hard to know where one frame ends and the other begins, and the same goes with their shared sensations. Wheeljack's sensor cilia tremble and vibrate in direct contact with Ratchet's (both of them), sending hot flares of glorious charge racing through all three intertwined systems. Plasma flickers over and through their exposed systems in forked paths resembling the atmospheric event known on Earth as cloud lightning.

Wheeljack's exposed spark is writhing against the Ratchet who is before him, whose laser core remains firmly in place. His coronal tendrils are quite literally attempting to pry the offending crystal open, but the virtual Ratchet in front sadistically sends the input from that right back to him while the one behind him strokes those writhing, desperate tendrils with his fully extended manipulators.

Real manipulators, on his real spark? Wheeljack would have tipped in a nanoklik being this highly clocked. But longfacing is all about the build up, and until that partition falls, it just builds and builds. If he and Ratchet were not so slagging stubborn and competitive, the partition would likely have fallen after the first month. Three years? Well, it isn't their record, but it is awfully close.

Wheeljack fights for control, removing his conscious processing from the partitioned space with a keen that he doesn't bother to check. There are no humans on the Ark at the moment. He suspects Prowl arranged for that on purpose, because slag it, he is not going to last much longer, though few know just how close he really is. However, he is not one to go down without a fight. His crumbling resolve is still resolve, and he sets his renowned lateral processors to creating one final pack that might tip his lover first.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Hijole! What the hell is their problem?" Raoul exclaimed as Tracks, Bumblebee and Blaster suddenly left out without an explanation.

"Who knows?" Sparkplug shrugged, turning back to tinkering on his latest project, a worried look crossing his features. "All of them have been acting strange. Probably just worried about what the Decepticons are up to. Bumblebee said both Ratchet and Wheeljack are down with some sort of virus, too, so maybe they're worried."

"That ain't good. That leaves only Hoist and First Aid if those cabrones attack."

Sparkplug nodded sharply. He was concerned about that, too, and wished he were back at the Ark where he could help repair his friends or do something more useful than this fools errand he and Bumblebee had been sent on. Tracks, Bumblebee and Blaster had been on almost constant patrols, looking for the signals that had briefly flared up and then completely disappeared. They'd insisted Raoul and Sparkplug stay back at the garage until it was clear one or both of them were needed.

"Hey hombre, you ever wonder if they are... you know... getting it on when they go off alone like that?"

Sparkplug snorted. He'd learned a lot about their systems working with Ratchet and Wheeljack. He'd never seen anything that remotely resembled "getting it on", as the younger mechanic put it, and hadn't seen anything in their systems that would lend itself to it. Sure, they showed affection and obviously had emotional attachments. But sex, as far as Sparkplug could tell, was a distinctly biological activity that the Autobots likely either were baffled or disgusted by, or looked on indulgently as one of those things that squishy beings spent their ridiculously short life spans engaging in.

"You seen anything that makes you think so?" the older mechanic asked curiously.

"Just a vibe, hombre, just a vibe. What did you say them, anyhow? I had my headphones on."

"Nothing, really. Just asked why they had such long faces, and if it was 'cause of Ratchet and Wheeljack."