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Understanding

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Blast Off had never been to a prison before. Thank Sigma he wasn’t a prisoner; he’d only been dragged along with the annoying ‘copter to question some person for some annoying unknown reason.

Onslaught had said, but he hadn’t been listening. Blast Off was only responsible for logistics, and sometimes flying errands; he didn’t need to know about things the former military commander ordered his employees to do. All he’d had to do was bring Vortex to Protihex. If he’d known he’d have to enter the high security complex as well, he’d have said he had a lot to do and the ‘copter needed to fly by himself.

Blast Off took out his datapad and started reading. The chair was uncomfortable, but considering where he was, it was probably meant to be.

He never liked flying with passengers. The fact that he had to be close to Vortex shortly after their intimate encounter didn’t make it any better.

At the memory, Blast Off shifted uncomfortably on the chair, and flicked his optics to glance at the heliformer over his datapad.

The other hadn’t shown any sign of discomfort around Blast Off, but he’d made it very clear that he wasn’t going to pretend it had never happened.

”You’ll have time to explain mass shifting to me now,” Vortex had said on their flight to Protihex, staring up at one of the cockpit cameras with a grin.

It had made Blast Off tense, and still did.

Fortunately, the ‘copter hadn’t asked again once they’d landed.

Blast Off sighed quietly, and looked for the line where he’d left off reading. Hopefully they could go home soon. He didn’t even know why he had to sit with the stranger and Vortex in this bleak excuse for a room. He had nothing to do, and definitely didn’t want to see what the ‘copter was doing.

Frowning, Blast Off raised his head slightly once again, optics focusing on the two mechs a few tables away.

What was the ‘copter doing?

* * *

Vortex sat on a desk, swinging his legs. At his feet, a grounder snarled. He was half-transformed, with his legs stuck under him and his arms seized at his sides. Rust dotted his joints, and a crust of acrid residue marked a line from the corner of his mouth to his pocked and dirty hood.

"Oh, Undercarriage," Vortex said. "If only you knew when to cooperate. All I want is for you to tell me what Flame is doing for Solarstorm.”

"Get fragged." Undercarriage's voice buzzed, echo of the strip lights hissing overhead. He strained up with his shoulder, not for the first time, and his cogs gave a grinding screech. "You ain’t the law. You got no leverage."

"Really?" Vortex tapped the mech's chin with the oil-slimed tip of his foot. "The law let me in, didn’t they? I don't have to leave you here. See that guy in the corner? See what he is?"

The grounder hissed his derision, cogs spinning again in a futile attempt to transform around the crowbar wedged in his back. "Shuttle," he spat. "So what?"

“So we could take you anywhere.” Vortex smirked. “We could do anything. Like you said, we ain’t the law. And you’re in our hands now.”

“You wouldn’t.” Undercarriage froze. “I’m not one of hers, you know that!”

Vortex studied Blast Off’s reflection in his subject’s grubby optics. “So you keep telling me,” he said, watching the shuttle watching them. “You’re just a messenger. And yet, they sent you here to rust.” He gave the room a cursory glance: desks and chairs stood in rows all welded to the floor; a projector hung down from the ceiling in a sad wire cage. It was a standard rehab room, for the treatment of violent, dangerous, or politically sensitive felons.

Ignoring Undercarriage seemed to have the desired effect. “It was a mistake!” he cried. “I keep tryin’a tell ‘em!” He rocked on his exposed axles. “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I don’t know nothing about Flame!”

“Your file says different,” Vortex commented, noting the slight widening of his subject’s optics, and the un-subtle flare of his vent covers. “You worked for Solarstorm, you-”

“I worked for Onslaught too!” the grounder wailed. “I’m freelance! I go where the money is, you can’t do me for that!”

“The frag I can’t.” Vortex leaned forward. “I can do you for whatever I like. You think the authorities care what happens to you? You’ve got four counts of murder on your tab, sixteen counts of supplying corrupted circuit speeders, a boot-load of minor infractions, and one big nasty count of conspiracy to treason. They don’t give a frag what I do. What was Flame doing for Solarstorm?”

Footfalls rang in the corridor, an alarm began to blare. Blast Off straightened up, and it was pleasing for Vortex to see his subject wince.

“Time’s running out,” Vortex said. “You were there, you saw it. They got out of Kaon real quick, they left you to take the rap. What were they planning?”

Undercarriage looked at Blast Off, then the door. He rocked onto his back axle, his gears whirring so hard Vortex could hear the threads shear.

“You think you’re getting away?” Vortex said. “You hear the guards running down the hall? They’re not here for you. There’s a riot on, they’ve got enough to deal with. No-one cares about you. Look at you.” He kicked his subject in the shoulder, spinning him round. “You’re disgusting.”

Blast Off vented softly, and Vortex’s audios immediately flagged it as significant. Odd how he’d become used to the shuttle, to his arrogance and his silence, and his passive aggressive mannerisms. Vortex glanced his way.

“Is this going to take much longer?” Blast Off said, and it was impossible to tell whether he was intrigued or repulsed.

“I doubt it,” Vortex responded. After a moment he brought his attention back to the foul and poorly-maintained frame of his subject. “Undercarriage here was about to tell me everything.”

“I don’t know!” Undercarriage howled, and Vortex gave him another kick. “I only did the supply run, I wasn’t there at the meetings, I swear!”

“But you saw things,” Vortex said.

“Sure, I saw things, everyone sees things, I didn’t see nothing you’d want to know about, I didn’t!”

“But you saw something,” Vortex pressed, ignoring Blast Off’s mutterings about a double negative being no negative at all. “Tell me.”

Undercarriage squirmed. “He had plans, OK? He kept them in a tube thing all on that holographic plastic film.”

“What were they?” Vortex pressed.

“Plans!” Undercarriage snapped. “I told you, I don’t know! I only got a glance at them the once. They had all symbols on, like chemicals and engineering symbols. I can’t read that scrap!”

“Can you draw them?” Vortex said.

“Can you get this fraggin rod outta my back!”

Blast Off coughed. “I believe the security shields have activated,” he said, slotting his data pad back into his arm. “I hope you have an alternative route of egress in mind.”

Undercarriage gave Vortex a look of vicious joy, as though the tables had turned. Vortex leaned forward and cupped the mech’s face in his hands.

“When did you see these plans?” he asked, his voice only as loud as it needed to be to carry above the alarm. Outside, more feet clattered; a gun discharged.

“I, uh...” Undercarriage strained his head up, away from Vortex’s hands. “The day I got arrested,” he said. “Don’t squeeze so tight! Arg, what are you-”

Vortex slid off the desk, bracing himself on the worn and pitted floor. With a brutal wrench, he tore Undercarriage’s head from his shoulders.

Blast Off gave Vortex one of those intriguingly inscrutable looks. “I’m not sure I want to know,” he said.

Vortex inspected the head; the lips snarled, and the optics stayed bright, alert. “I want a look at those plans,” he said. “I know this femme does mnemonic retrieval, all I needed was a timestamp.”

Blast Off stood. “Find a container for it, I won’t have you dripping on my seats.”

“Yeah, ‘cause I’m gonna carry a severed head in plain view.” He pulled a mesh bag from a compartment on his hip, and dumped the head inside. Judging by the pathetic flicker of his energy field, Undercarriage wasn’t particularly happy about it. “We’re done here,” Vortex said. “Let’s go.”

“You mean we could have decapitated him in the first place, with no waiting around?” Blast Off sighed. “Never mind. Which way?”

“Same way we came in,” Vortex said. He cracked open the door and did a quick sweep of the corridor. “Clear, c’mon.”

Blast Off followed, heavy footfalls audible even over the howl of the alarm. He walked like the civilian he was, two steps further from Vortex than he should have been, his weapon held loosely in his hand, aimed at random bits of the floor.

Vortex performed a scan at each corner. He wasn’t expecting company - the guards should be busy with the riot - but that was no reason not to be careful.

A lone warden stood at the guard post. Vortex shot him in the back, then in the back of the head, and let himself into the control room.

Blast Off gave the dead guard a disgusted look, and stepped over his corpse. “You have the codes for the shields?” he said.

“Nope.” Vortex looked over the controls. “Doesn’t need a code. Here.” He flicked a switch, and the alarm faded to nothing. He pressed a button, and flashed Blast Off a smile. “Done,” he said.

Fifty astroseconds and two corners later, Vortex realised his mistake. The entrance was blocked; a shatter-proof slab of thick plasglass plugged the corridor.

“I thought you said you disabled the shields,” Blast Off commented. He sounded bored, but that was nothing new. “Can we go around?”

Vortex shook his head. “This is a prison, they don’t tend to have back doors. And don’t think about trying to fly us out. If the energon grid doesn’t shred you, the missiles will. We’ll have to go back.”

Blast Off huffed. As far as Vortex could tell from their quarter vorn of acquaintance, it was his exasperated huff. He holstered his weapon, and Vortex was about to ask him what in the name of Cybertron he thought he was doing when a distant boom sounded, followed by shouts and the roar of engines and gunfire.

Vortex went back to the last junction, both guns aimed, and the mesh bag swinging from his arm. Judging by the rise in volume, he had ten astroseconds until contact.

Behind him, Blast Off snarled. Vortex glanced over his shoulder, swinging his rotors down out of the way. He was in time to see the shuttle raise his fist and bring it crashing into the centre of the barricade.

The plasglass cracked.

It wasn’t meant to do that.

Vortex backed up, abandoning the junction. Blast Off threw another punch, and Vortex gaped. The plasglass was reinforced, shatterproof, bombproof. Escape proof. Vortex was a military build, he could punch a tank’s face out the back of his head, and he couldn’t have hoped to have made a dent in this.

Blast Off hit it again, and the cracks spread. A new alarm picked up, covering the clamour of footsteps, the shouts. Five astroseconds to contact.

Vortex stood at the shuttle’s back, guns raised. Blast Off was the priority now, and frag but they built them well wherever he came from.

With a roar, Blast Off threw one final punch, and the shield crumbled. He shook his fist, his knuckles torn. “Now,” he growled. “We fly.”

* * *

Flying in this case meant passing through a gap in the energon grid in root-mode, then transforming around the 'copter and outflying the two missiles on their tail.

Vortex was forced against the rear wall of Blast Off's cargo hold, but his discomfort didn't matter. What mattered was accelerating to at least Mach 6, after which Blast Off lost the missiles and settled to a less hurried velocity.

The 'copter slid down the wall, the bag with the head still hanging from his wrist. Hopefully it wasn't broken, or all this effort would have been for nothing.

A part beneath the metal of Blast Off’s alt-mode nose - a part that served as his hand in root mode - hurt, but he ignored it just like he ignored the stare of the red visor at one of his cargo hold cameras.

Why was the ‘copter staring now? Was he disappointed? Was he annoyed that Blast Off had got them out before he’d had a chance to rampage through the prison? Perhaps Blast Off grabbing Vortex by the upper arm and dragging him along with him in the air had damaged the severed head?

Blast Off heaved a sigh against the wind. Why did he bother about the ‘copter anyway? They needed to call HQ and give Onslaught an update.

“I’m going to call Onslaught,” Blast Off announced over speakers, and gained a nod in return. “Patching him through.”

“This is Onslaught,” a stern voice echoed, weirdly loud, through the space of the cargo hold. “I want a status report.”

“Vortex here.” The ‘copter waved at one of the cameras. It was stupid, their boss couldn’t see them.

Before Blast Off or Vortex could say more, Onslaught spoke. “Why do you sound so hollow?”

“I’m in the cargo hold. Voices kinda bounce off the walls,” the ‘copter replied in which what Blast Off thought was an oddly happy voice.

An exaggerated sigh could be heard from the other side of the line, and Blast Off would have shaken his head about it had he been in root mode. He tensed slightly at the words that followed.

“We talked about this, Blast Off. No more banning people to the cargo hold for no good reason.”

Vortex chuckled.

“I have a reason,” Blast Off countered in a blank tone. “I don’t need anything dripping on my console. Also, Vortex hasn’t asked permission to enter it yet.”

For a moment, no one said anything, and the ‘copter’s rotors stopped quivering.

“Dripping?” Onslaught asked, warily.

Great, apparently now Blast Off had done something else to frag the ‘copter off. Blast Off tried to avoid answering without fully lying. “This is not a secure line, Onslaught,” he began. “I can only say that we, since leaving the prison, we have one more intellect present than what we had when we arrived.”

Another sigh. “The line's secure. Vortex, what did we say about taking people apart?”

At least the ‘copter got some criticism as well.

Vortex shrugged as if Onslaught could see him, and repeated words that had apparently been addressed to him before. “Dismemberment, disembowelment and beheading are actions of last resort, to be undertaken in public or semi-public spaces only when absolutely necessary. In my defence: it was necessary. And I took all the required precautions, I know what I’m doing. I needed to end this before we were interrupted. We just have to extract the information now.” The last word was a gleeful giggle that almost made Blast Off shudder in disgust.

After a moment of silence, Onslaught responded with a short, “Fine.”

It seemed beheading people and dissecting their memory banks was less frowned upon than telling passengers to stay in the cargo hold. Maybe one day Blast Off would understand the difference.

“I’ll send someone to fetch the package,” Onslaught continued. “For now I have another task for you.”

Vortex perked up. Blast Off resisted asking if the said task involved more dismantling, and quietly listened.

“Blast Off,” - he tensed once more as his name was mentioned - “as far as I know you’ve been invited to attend a reunion of your colleagues from a certain science project-”

“How do you know?” Blast Off cut in. He knew he’d deleted the message he’d got from the Institute. He wasn’t interested in seeing the majority of the attendees, particularly not when most of them were still scientists. There was nothing he could talk about with them.

“A mutual friend of ours, Sigma Orionis, contacted me and asked if I know where you live since she knows you’re in Kaon now.”

In Blast Off’s cargo hold, the ‘copter shifted, still sitting with his back against the wall. He looked as though he wanted to say something, but fortunately he kept quiet.

“Does this new task have anything to do with me attending this work reunion?” Blast Off asked, but he already knew the answer.

“It does, yes. I want you to take Vortex with you.”

The shuttle’s ailerons wilted mid-air, and he lost altitude.

“You’ll meet up with Sigma,” Onslaught continued. “She has information regarding your current investigations, and possibly other related issues. Your work reunion offers the best chance for you to meet without raising suspicions.”

This time, Blast Off’s heave of air was intentionally audible, though his voice was flat as ever. “Understood.”

Vortex nodded. Idiot, he still hadn’t got that there wasn’t a visual.

With a soft click, Blast Off cut the comm-line, and took a sharp left. It caused the ‘copter to slide to one side, flailing and giggling. “Where are we going?” he asked.

“Altihex.” Blast Off accelerated. “I need permission for planetary take-off.“

***

Blast Off stuck to official procedure, and landed at the Altihex public airport for on-planet travel. He had to call in a favour to avoid customs and security, but with a severed head as luggage it was unavoidable.

He was just glad he still had contacts and connections to some of the people he’d worked with.

If only they’d stop looking at him weirdly.

He ignored them. He was above their questioning glances and knowing smirks; he went on with his business.

He also ignored the ‘copter walking next to him. He’d told Vortex to go get his own things done, by which Blast Off meant getting rid of the body part that didn’t belong to him. He himself wanted to find a place to stay and to make a few calls – alone.

Vortex hadn’t taken the hint. Instead, he’d followed him without asking, without even making any comment or query. As long as he stayed quiet, he would be tolerable.

They headed to downtown Altihex where the buildings were smaller with fewer floors and the streets a little dirtier. There was still lots of air traffic, loud over their heads as engines and thrusters roared and fired up.

Vortex had his head in the clouds. He looked up, curious, as though he hadn’t seen air roads before. Signs hovered, and lights directed the traffic and set the permitted paths.

Blast Off had to admit that it was more organised than other Cybertronian cities, but it was necessary. The roads were occupied as well, but hardly as crowded as the air space.

“Where are we going?” Vortex asked when they’d almost reached the destination.

Blast Off huffed. “I am going to find a place to stay overnight where I can organise the next stage of our journey. I recommend you meet with whomever Onslaught sends before take-off. I won’t smuggle the ‘package’ through customs a second time.”

“Sure, when Onslaught gives me the call.” Vortex sounded as though he was grinning, smirking maybe, because his voice had the same tone to it as he had in the empty office. The office where Blast Off had stood with his back against the wall, and where the intimate incident had happened that made Blast Off a little uncomfortable now working so closely with the ‘copter.

And that made Blast Off uncomfortable walking so closely to the other. Any closer and Blast Off would be able to feel Vortex’s energy signature. From his peripheral vision, he saw the rotor blades quivering, and didn’t want to try to figure out what the ‘copter was thinking.

“So,” the ‘copter continued when Blast Off kept quiet, “where do you intend to stay? And why’s your work reunion on Luna Two? Who is this ‘Sigma Orionis’?”

With a frown Blast Off glanced down next to him and met Vortex’s gleaming visor. He wasn’t sure if the questions were honest or were supposed to annoy him. It was probably a little of both.

“Horizon’s. Because we’re shuttles. Ask Onslaught.” Blast Off kept his reply short. He couldn’t make any mistakes that way, or give further reasons for annoyance, right? That was what he’d thought.

The ‘copter obviously thought differently.

“Horizon’s? That a hotel? Sounds pretty weird for a hotel.”

Blast Off turned a corner; Vortex walked slightly faster to catch up, and spoke anew after a neon sign flickered up that said ‘Ho--zon’s’, the glyph in the middle having burned out. “That doesn’t look like a fancy hotel? Being a shuttle and all I would never have guessed you’d be satisfied with a residence like that.”

There was something in the voice that Blast Off couldn’t read, and so he responded honestly. “It’s not a hotel. It’s a bar.”

Blast Off opened the door. It didn’t creak; apparently the bar’s owner had finally invested in at least thirty astroseconds of maintenance.

The room was dim lit, a few benches and bar stools could be made out; a smell of cleanser hung in the air.

If Blast Off hadn’t known better, he’d have said it was abandoned.

A door at the other end of the room opened with a rasping sound, and Blast Off huffed in light amusement. At least that was still the same.

A mech with wings at his back and a crate in his hand stepped through, gruffly kicking the door shut, and then froze the moment he saw Blast Off.

“Ha! I don’t believe it,” Horizon said in a thick old Altihexian accent that made Blast Off feel like home. “You ungrateful glitch, you dare show up here?” The tone made clear that he didn’t mean what he said. Even Blast Off could decipher it, and the broad grin on the other’s face made it just as evident.

“It’s been a while,” Blast Off said. He resisted the urge to fall back into his own dialect and kept his speech High Cybertronian. He took a few steps into the room, the ‘copter behind him.

“A while? Frag, feels like a whole vorn, youngtimer.” The mech put the crate on the counter, and turned the lights on. He was taller than Blast Off, but sleeker, the pointy wings standing out at his back. “You’re gonna introduce your friend to me, or is he afraid of strangers? I’ll get him some calming energix if he’s all jittery. C’mon, sit down, take a seat.”

Horizon leant against the counter, nodding towards a booth opposite him.

Blast Off vented quietly as he sat down, not caring if the ‘copter did the same. “He isn’t jittery. He has some business he needs to take care of.”

“Hey there,” the ‘copter said. “I’m Vortex.” He remained standing, his voice unreadable for Blast Off. Though the thin metal of his rotors was still shivering.

“Heh,” Horizon grunted amused, “a rotary name for a rotary build.” For a single astrosecond, his blue optics flashed and the smile morphed into a grin. Vortex tipped his head to the side, but didn’t comment. Blast Off was glad of it.

“Let me guess.” Horizon took an energon cube out of the crate, and threw it towards Blast Off, who caught it. “You’re here because you need a place to stay?”

“And to get some free energon,” Blast Off said, not quite as serious or blank as usual as he cracked the cube open.

Horizon snorted a dry laugh, and turned to Vortex. “You want something? Don’t have anything planet-bound here right now, but I can get something from my storage. Unless you’ve no problem with being knocked out by a single cube.”

The red visor brightening for a moment. “I’m good, thanks.” A brief nod towards Blast Off, and he continued. “Like he said, I still have business to take care of. I’ll be going now. See you later.” Vortex waved with the hand holding the bag, and made his exit without a word.

Slowly sipping, Blast Off hoped Vortex would find himself somewhere else to stay, and wouldn’t get in trouble. They needed to leave tomorrow for Luna Two; Blast Off wouldn’t have time to deal with the authorities should the ‘copter be captured with a head around his wrist.

Though, if that happened, at least he’d have an excuse not to attend the reunion.

“Blast Off?” He was addressed and looked up, blocking out his current musing. He met Horizon’s worried gaze as the other shuttle heaved air deeply. “A heliformer? Really?”

A frown built on Blast Off’s faceplates, optics flicking to the door through which Vortex had left, then back to the other mech. “What do you mean?”

“He’s a military-“

“Ex-military,” Blast Off interrupted, because he could guess what followed.

“Doesn’t matter.” Horizon waved a hand. “You know how those are.”

Blast Off’s frown deepened. “We’re working together. I don’t have much to do with him.”

“Sure.” Another huff from shuttle vents that weren’t Blast Off’s. “Whatever you say. Just be careful. You know what I think about Kaon and you working there. I don’t like seeing one of our kind getting used and wasted in a place like that.”

“It’s not that bad,” Blast Off countered, defending more his current line of work than the city-state. He wasn’t very fond of Kaon itself. It was dirty, the sky was dusty, and the citizens questionable. But it was where the work was.

“What happened to your hand?” Horizon asked, fetching himself a cube.

Blast Off knew he was trying to say something else with his question, probably a hidden criticism, though he couldn’t be sure. He ignored it. “Nothing. At least nothing I can mention without endangering you.”

The disapproving huff was something Blast Off recognised. “Seriously, I know you’re old enough to know what you’re doing, youngtimer, but I’m saying this just in case: if you need a place to go to get out of there, comm me.”

Blast Off merely stared.

Horizon stared back.

“Anyway.” The older shuttle knocked his cube down in one go. “Change of topic! You chose a weird time to come back.”

“Why’s that?”

Horizon pushed himself off the counter, and walked behind itto arrange the energon cubes on the shelves. “A few cycles ago two grounders crash landed in the middle of a road. Fortunately no one else got hurt, but it was some event. And despite that, there was nothing in the news about it.”

“What’s so weird about that?” Blast Off shrugged. “We all know grounders can’t fly very well.” It was a prejudice, but Blast Off couldn’t understand the idea of people whose purpose was ground based managing to navigate flying vehicles.

“Yeah, true. Truer than you might guess. They didn’t crash a plane or anything. They just crashed down. As in, they were dropped. They were dead before they hit the ground.”

Well, while that wasn’t exactly odd in Blast Off’s opinion, although it wasn’t good for Altihex’s reputation. “Was it typophobically motivated?”

“We guess that’s what they wanted to make us think.” Horizon put his forearms on the counter, expression serious and concerned. “Like I said, there was nothing in the media, but I hear things in this bar. Seems that they could recover enough from the mechs’ energy signatures to link them to a burglary in the lower floors of the Xenological Institute a few orns ago. Seems like someone was tying up some loose ends.”

Blast Off tensed. “What was stolen?”

“Fragged if I know. There wasn’t anything about that incident in the news, either. But you know better than me what kind of things are down on those lower levels. You were research staff, not me.”

There was a pause in which Blast Off absent-mindedly looked at his energon, and Horizon continued to pack cubes away.

“Considering all this,” Horizon broke the silence, “it’s probably a good thing you’re not here anymore. Something’s coming. The people on the streets walk differently, the chatter is different. Something’s in the air. I think society realises that there are some big changes ahead. I have no idea if I want to find out what they are.”

Blast Off didn’t say anything to that. He was probably deeper in all this than he ever wanted to be. And if it wasn’t related to Vortex’s and Blast Off’s current mission, then his situation still wasn’t much better.

Tiredly, he rubbed over his face, and exhaled air loudly.

“You look exhausted.” Horizon took the empty crate and rounded the counter. “You gonna tell me why you need to stay in Altihex overnight?”

“I have to attend a workplace reunion on Luna Two,” Blast Off replied shortly.

Horizon burst out laughing, a sound that made Blast Off wince. “Frag, sorry, youngtimer, you have my condolences.” He walked to the still creaking door, before he turned again and glanced back. “C’mon, help me with the crates, then I’ll call ground control for you. You look like you need some defrag time.”

With a grunt, Blast Off emptied his cube and stood up. He thanked the other shuttleformer with a nod.

It earned him a grin. “We want you to get some recharge before your rotary returns and keeps you awake for the rest of the night.”

Blast Off shook his head in annoyance, and would have liked to hit the other over the head. “Just mute it.”

* * *

If Vortex thought that a military grade heliformer carrying a heavy mesh bag through downtown Alithex in the early evening would have caused any comment, he’d have been wrong. Amid the shoppers and the couriers, the tourists and the commuters, he was effectively invisible. As was his luggage.

He swung the bag cheerfully as he walked. Undercarriage was likely in stasis; his wasn’t a frametype designed to withstand decapitation without the shock activating emergency preservation protocols. Still, Vortex was entertained by the idea that Undercarriage might still be awake, aware. It was nothing less than he deserved.

He turned off the broad main avenue into the hive of smaller shops clustered around the spaceport. His comm lit up, exactly on time, and he answered on his internal feed. //I’m here.//

//The courier is en route,// Onslaught said. //I want you to use Titanium Storage. It’s on grid reference fifty-eight by two-five-two, ground level.//

//Box number?// Vortex said.

//One-thirty-one,// Onslaught replied. //It should be by the exit to the main subway tunnel. The access code is the year you first attended the Vos Air Show.//

//Got it.// Vortex picked up a signal for the city’s public datanet, and downloaded a tourist map. //ETA three hundred astroseconds,// he said. //I’ve been thinking about your mystery femme, you gonna tell me how Blast Off knows her?//

//I am not,// Onslaught said. //And she is not my mystery femme. You know our history.//

//Is she safe?// Vortex asked.

//As safe as any politician.// There was a pause, and Vortex could imagine Onslaught re-arranging the datapads on his desk while he thought things through. //Make a good impression,// he said.

//Will do,// Vortex replied, turning a sharp corner and swinging the bag around so it didn’t crash against his thigh.

//I mean it,// Onslaught said. //I expect you back by the end of the orn.// He signed off, and Vortex smirked. A good impression? He could do that.

* * *

It was late when Vortex strolled into Horizon’s. The bar was open, although he wouldn’t have known it from the street. A hulking pair of grounders gambled in a corner, and a racer hunched over a cube of high grade so volatile it was steaming, making eyes at a rough-looking minibot in the seat beside her. Horizon was sitting by the door to the stairs, and stood when Vortex came in.

“You took your time,” he said, his tone friendly. “Got all your business cleared up, have you?”

Vortex gave him the usual assessment - weapons, any visible injuries, estimation of strength - and smiled. “Sure did,” he said. He glanced at the door to the stairs. “Which room?”

“Number three-o-two, top floor on the left.” Horizon grinned. “Don’t keep him up all night.”

Like there was any chance of that.

Vortex passed by Horizon with a conspiratorial smirk - no need to disappoint the mech - and let himself upstairs.

Blast Off was in recharge, or pretending. Vortex hadn't known him long enough yet to tell. And look, there was only the one bed, what a shame. He guessed they’d just have to share.

He checked his compartments, securing anything that was likely to rattle, and went over to the bed. Blast Off didn’t stir. He was laying on his back, one arm draped over his face, the other nearly dangling off the edge of the padding. It gave Vortex a nice view of his chest, and a lovely view of his heat profile when he turned off the light and switched to night vision.

Vortex tested the edge of the shuttle’s energy field with his palm, ready to jump back if he were to startle.

The energy field was warm, stable, neutral; he was definitely asleep. But was he asleep enough to tolerate the presence of another body on the bed?

It wasn’t as though Vortex had a choice, after all. Horizon had given them one room and one bed, and what was Vortex to do? Sleep on the floor?

Yawning, he pulled in his his rotor hub and rotated his blades down. The shuttle really was appealing. The jut of his hip was a nice contrast to the subtle curve of the wiglets on his upper arms, while the chunky solidity of his thighs went very well with the broadness of his chest. And all of that was augmented by how much sheer heat the mech put out.

He was exactly the right size, shape and temperature for sleeping on, although Vortex was pretty sure he couldn’t get away with that just yet.

He sat on the edge of the bed, letting his weight settle, seeing if his presence would set off any alarms for the sleeping mech.

Blast Off didn’t so much as stir.

Getting bolder, Vortex slowly lay down. And damn, but the padding felt good. Smooth and firm, and there was a thermo-reg blanket folded up near the pillows. Not that he’d need it, the shuttle’s warmth spread three times as far as his energy field; it was like laying next to a radiator. Even Onslaught didn’t put out this much heat.

“Guess you’re just hot,” Vortex whispered, hoping Blast Off would wake up. But he didn’t.

Vortex rolled onto his front, settling his head on a balled up pillow in the crook of his arm, and watched the rolling yellows and oranges of the shuttle’s inner workings. A breeze from a vent on his side blew warm air over his rotors, and Vortex sighed.

After a while, when Blast Off completely failed to wake up, Vortex took his optics offline.

What if he was to touch?

Even better, what if Blast Off were to wake up and touch him...

He wouldn't need to move far. And the shuttle’s hands were so big. All that bulk, that strong thick armour, those arms. His smile grew, and he thought of the time Blast Off had held him, pinned him. The shuttle knew his own strength perfectly.

And he was willing to use it. Vortex sighed; he’d taken it slowly in seducing the shuttle, had judged it carefully, and Blast Off hadn’t ripped off his arms and used them to beat him unconscious.

It hadn’t been an unfounded concern. Vortex had seen what had happened the last time someone tried his luck without due care and attention.

But one hot frag against the wall in an empty briefing room had sadly not evolved into regular shuttle rides. Which was a shame, because that first one had been phenomenal. Vortex had no idea why it had been so good, but it had been, and he was determined to have that again. And again. Ad infinitum for preference.

Vortex wasn’t completely sure, but Blast Off had looked at him as though he’d wanted him. Admittedly, it had mostly been when he was angry or frustrated or drunk, but those were the times it should have been most likely to have come to something.

It never had.

There was to be no gentle press of warmth against the shuttle’s large frame, no inviting stroke of fingers over his interface panel answered with a deep rev of a massive engine and those large black hands on his rotors.

Vortex sighed again and stretched, his arms above his head. He couldn’t reach the top of the shuttle-sized bed, nor the bottom with his feet; it made him feel small. It made his fantasy of Blast Off looming and pressing him into the bed a little more real.

He reached slowly down, bringing his fingers into contact with the tip of one of his rotors. The sensors lit up, and he began a slow caress. It was just enough to build the charge in his circuits, just a whisper of metal on metal. The sounds were lost in the muted whir of the shuttle’s vents and the hum of the air conditioning, but Vortex took it slow and careful.

He could always imagine that it was Blast Off touching him. And it was a long while until morning.