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Hunted

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With a flourish, Knock Out vaults over a row of jagged boulders and rolls into a crevice, pulling his energon prod after him and holding it poised at the ready.  Ugh.  The fine dust cakes his frame revoltingly, and is even starting to invade his vents.  Bidding a silent farewell to his freshly polished finish, he lies as still as possible, dimming the blue glow of his optics and idling his engines to listen.

For a long moment, there is no sound.

You’d think that should be reassuring, but Knock Out knows better.  Every one of his nonessential systems shuts down, leaving him with little more than life support and his wits; his vents grow shallow and rare, each one held for as long as he can stand.  And yet, he’s still running too loud.  His pursuer could be anywhere – even right outside the mouth of his tiny cave, close enough to pick up his sparkbeat.

Then again, maybe he’s already been found.  Maybe he’s being toyed with.

The footfall, when it comes, is an inexpressible relief.  Knock Out zeroes in on it immediately.  His enemy is perhaps a dozen yards away.  Still far too close for comfort, but… hmmm.  One of the interesting characteristics of this canyon is the way it plays with sound.  Maybe he can use that to his advantage.

Cupping his hands close to his mouth, he calls out, “Oh, come on, Prime!  Don’t tell me one little Decepticon medic is too much for you these days!”

Just as he hoped, the sound bounces wildly, seeming to come from everywhere at once.  The footsteps halt.  “Knock Out,” the Prime purrs, that rich voice sending shivers down Knock Out’s back strut… for more reasons than he’d like to admit.  “Come out now, and I promise you, your death will be…”  Knock Out can hear the smile in his voice.  “Swifter than I could make it, if you force me to drag you out.”

“Oh, I doubt very much that anything about you is swift.”  Knock Out examines his clawtips, feeling rather pleased with himself.  He did manage to outrace the tyrant of the Autobots, after all.  And it’s not as though he’s going to be stuck here indefinitely, waiting for the Prime to find him.  Soundwave is undoubtedly tracking him this very moment.  It’s only a matter of time before the Nemesis shows up on a rescue mission.  All he has to do is keep the Autobot distracted and away from his hiding spot until then.  Satisfied that he’s in no danger of being traced by sound, he vents deeply –

– and a sudden pain in his side makes his engine sputter and choke.  Knock Out frowns.  Sure, there was a brief exchange of blaster fire before the chase started, but he didn’t think…  Reaching down, he prods the offending area, wincing.  His hand comes up wet with energon.

Scrap.  Maybe he doesn’t have as long as he thought.

Trying to keep the panic out of his voice, he shouts down, “Although I must give you credit, Prime.  Slow as you are, at least you’re persistent.”  He starts to take an inventory as he speaks.  Energon prod, still in working order.  Blaster with the charge running low.  Two grenades.  “Your so-called speedsters put on a pretty pitiful show trying to chase after me.  You’d have better luck recruiting those little carts the humans use to take them around golf courses.”

The footsteps have started up again.  Are they…?  No, thank Primus, they’re not coming towards him; but then, they’re not exactly moving away, either.  Stalking, rather, parallel to the canyon wall where his cave is tucked away.  Ignoring the pain, Knock Out wriggles deeper into the crevice, his feet pushing against the stone wall at the back.

“I will admit, some of my troops proved… disappointing today.  It will not happen again,” the Prime growls.  Then, just like that, his voice softens into pure silk.  “And speaking of recruitment, Knock Out…”

It isn’t the first time he’s heard the offer, but Knock Out responds as he always does.  “You can’t be serious.”

 Abruptly, something shifts beneath his feet, and instead of bracing against the wall of the cave, he’s kicking empty air.  Glancing back in shock, he sees that an uneven fissure has opened in the stone.  And while it’s too dark to make out much, Knock Out can feel a sudden puff of air against his plating.  Fresh air.

“Oh, I’m always serious.  Another medic would be a welcome addition to our ranks.”

“Why, Sweet Rims,” Knock Out replies lightly, “I never knew you cared.”  Meanwhile, he’s edging towards the opening, gingerly prodding with his foot to see how far back it goes.

Typically, the Prime doesn’t rise to the bait.  “Better than an inglorious death on this contemptible fleshling world, wouldn’t you say?”

“That depends.  Why are you so eager for new medics, anyway?  Is the dear old mad doctor still going through assistants like cleaning rags?  You really shouldn’t let him use them in his experiments, you know.”  Although it’s better than using us.  Knock Out pulls one of the smooth, cylindrical objects from subspace and readies it.  “Or – wait.  Is it Ratchet himself you’re planning to replace?  Well, now, that is interesting.”

“Indeed.  It is a pity that you’ll never get to share it with anyone.”

Knock Out freezes.  The voice is suddenly much, much closer than it should be.

“Nor will you have the chance to tell them of my new stealth capabilities.”  A face –red optics glinting above a gunmetal-grey mask – rises into view, seeming to fill the mouth of the cave.  “Hello, Doctor.”

Knock Out’s fingers tighten on the object he’s holding.  “Goodbye, Autobot.”

And he hurls the grenade directly into the Prime’s face, throwing himself backwards into the fissure as he does.  The explosion is small, but it’s more than enough:  rubble rains down, filling the outer cave where Knock Out took refuge.  It will take hours to dig him out now.  The Prime’s roar of pain and frustration makes Knock Out snicker, which sends another spasm through him; the leap has opened the wound in his side even further.

Gritting his teeth and hoping that Soundwave lives up to his reputation for tracking people down, Knock Out turns and begins to make his way into the wider cave, in pursuit of the draft that promises another way out.

He’s staggering and half-delirious with energon loss when the Nemesis finds him; Megatron himself, brimming with concern, swoops down to carry their wayward doctor to safety.  As he does, Knock Out blearily lifts his head.

“My liege?”

“Yes, Doctor, I’m here.  You’re safe now.”

Knock Out considers this for a long moment.

“Well, for a given value of safe,” he says, looking ruefully at the state of his finish, before passing out in his leader’s arms.