Some orns later, after being scrubbed so clean it had almost taken his own enamel off, Starscream would claim that he’d only done it to ensure Skywarp’s idea had been done proper justice. But everyone knew that was mostly to save face.
It all started after a particularly trying orn spent chasing escaped criminals around Rustig’s abandoned alleys.
Deixar Constabulary had a pretty good system for tagging the crims in their patch, but as with everything else, there were those who thought they were smarter than the law. Monitoring tags were only any good when they remained attached to the person they were meant to be monitoring. A tag that stopped moving could be attached to a recharging mech… or someone who’d taken it off altogether. The smartest glitches paid other machines to wear their tags for them.
Only half-jokingly, Skywarp had suggested that they should get him to teleport the tag onto the criminals, in the future – a quantum bond would be a whole lot harder to break than a bit of glue.
…lubricated by a little too much high-grade, he and Thundercracker had ended up devoting the rest of the dark cycle seriously to discussing the practicalities of it.
That was as far as it had gone, to start with. Designing a system that would have worked required a much bigger brain than Skywarp’s. He kept a datapad in his subspace, anyway – to note things down on the rare times that inspiration struck – but wanted to have something a tiny bit more practical to discuss when he finally went to talk to Screamer about it.
Four orns later, one of the technicians for the scientific services had cornered him in the galley. “Would you come with me, Skywarp? We could do with your expertise for a few breems.”
“My expertise?” Nonplussed (and slightly leery), Skywarp had followed him – what in Pit did forensics want him for? (Unless it was to lecture him on stealing / breaking supplies again.)
He found the main lab bustling with activity. “So, uh.” He loitered warily in the doorway. “What do you need me for, guys?”
“Well, you’re the expert in the practical side of quantum mechanics. Starscream has had an idea for improving the system we use for tagging prisoners out on licence, and we imagine you could probably have some input on it?”
Starscream glanced up at hearing his name. The two Seekers matched stares over the heads of the much smaller technicians busy in the lab.
Skywarp couldn’t quite keep the petulant note out of his voice. “But… that was my idea…!”
Starscream’s insufferable smirk made Skywarp want to punch him in the face. He probably would have, if he’d been a few steps closer.
“I liked it. It was actually a good one! But it was your idea, so.” The red jet spread his hands. “No-one would have trusted it, if that little fact had got out. I picked it up. I didn’t think you’d mind, and I knew I could do it better than you anyway.”
For several seconds, Skywarp could only stand and stare, mouth open but no words emerging. “…you coulda at least asked me!”
“Asked you what?” Starscream narrowed his optics in a frown – that same expression that Skywarp usually saw when he was being his most illogical, and actually, you know, deserved it. “Don’t be ridiculous. This isn’t worth being upset over.”
“I’m… sorry- Don’t be ridiculous?!” Skywarp pulled himself upright, wings stiff and flaring. His fists trembled at his sides. “Well, Primus, I can’t even begin to imagine why I may be upset about this. It’s not like you’re copying something of mine and taking all the credit for it, or anything! Here. You might as well have all my notes, as well!”
He hurled his pad down on the closest bench, and stomped away.
Frustrated and hurt, Skywarp had promptly called in sick. He’d even convinced a doctor that he was genuinely ill and triumphantly waved his sick-note in Starscream’s face before retiring melodramatically to the couch, with a bag of “medicated” candy, an ice-pack and a blanket.
Conveniently, it also got him out of a planned research trip to Earth, forcing Starscream to hastily reorganise all his plans and persuade Skyfire to join him instead.
The teleport had been unrepentant. “Why do you need me to make the effort to come along, anyway? It’s not like you wouldn’t steal my ideas and do it better than me anyway,” he’d sniped, from underneath a stolen icepack.
The scarlet jet glared at him, but didn’t qualify it with a comment before departing. The trip to Earth played into Skywarp’s plan for revenge even more beautifully than the teleport had expected – because of course the epitome of vanity would go straight to the washracks before doing anything else.
Thundercracker returned from work some time later to find the “sick” jet had made a miraculous recovery. He wasn’t completely sure what Skywarp was up to, but had an inkling that it wasn’t particularly productive. When he finally located him, the teleport was on his back on an access trolley, half buried in the wall, tinkering with the pipes.
Thundercracker hesitated before stepping down onto the rough tiles of the washracks floor. “…are you turning the water off?”
Skywarp rolled himself out from the wall, spanner in hand. “Yep.” He looked insufferably pleased with himself.
“All right, let me rephrase that. Why are you turning the water off?”
Skywarp shrugged one shoulder, and stepped gingerly over the large mystery cylinder which was blocking his way to the taps. “Just because.”
Thundercracker narrowed his optics. There were actually three of the mysterious objects in the room, at strategic places that formed the points of an equilateral triangle, with the shower midway between them. It looked like paint? In very old cans, dented and covered in spots of rust. He recognised the brand, just about. They’d been getting through a lot of the reformulated stuff lately – super-thick, self-levelling, it was designed to provide oxidation-proofing and structural support to buildings they didn’t yet have adequate resources to properly repair.
This looked like an older formulation, though – thick, sticky, sludgey stuff that was difficult to apply neatly and almost impossible to get smooth. And nobody in their right mind should have wanted such obnoxiously neon colours – the one closest to him was an optic-gougingly bright turquoise. Small wonder it had been reformulated.
He wasn’t entirely sure why there were three tins of it in their washracks, either. He stooped to pick one up-
“Don’t touch that!”
Thundercracker froze, then backed away, carefully. He lifted a finger and opened his mouth to speak, then apparently thought better of it. “You know what? Actually, I don’t want to know. Plausible deniability. If I don’t ask, I don’t know, and then nobody can ask why I didn’t stop you.”
Skywarp tossed the spanner lightly in one hand, then tucked it away in his subspace. “Good plan.”
It took Starscream a lot longer than expected to finally return home. Skywarp spent his time lounging on the couch, watching mindless garbage and worrying that his plan had failed and how the heck was he going to un-booby-trap the washracks.
Finally, the deserving target of his vindictiveness reappeared. Starscream was already in a foul mood. Glaring, he stomped past without the smallest hint of a friendly greeting, not even glancing in his wingmate’s direction, arms stiff and hands fisted at his sides. Thick mud coated his legs, all the way up and past his knees.
“Been having fun in the dirt with Skyfire again?” Skywarp called after him, but only got an obscene image pinged at him in response.
The door slammed loudly enough to make the huge glass front window ring alarmingly.
Skywarp just smiled, and lounged a little more comfortably on the big couch.
He listened to the clatter of hollow heels across the tiles, and the squeak of taps, and the murmur of confused speech, although he couldn’t make out the words. There was the low clonk of someone tapping the pipes, and a frustrated exclamation. Apparently Starscream had discovered the lack of water.
A little more clattering, and what sounded like it might have been a question?
A moment of silence.
Skywarp heard the thump of a small, muffled explosion, and an actual genuine squeal of outrage, and had to bite down on a grin. He slowly started to count down from ten.
When he’d got to about four, a vision in dayglow orange and neon turquoise paint appeared in the doorway of the washracks, trailing a cloud of glitter behind it.
“Was this you?!” it spluttered, scattering droplets of paint with every movement. “And why is there no water?!”
Skywarp silently appraised the result of his handiwork for a second or two, a genuine look of startled surprise on his face. The paint was a lot thicker than he’d been expecting, actually. His wingmate’s entire upper body had vanished under thick curds of bright, clashing orange, purple and blue – only his very wingtips were actually visible. It looked rather like he’d had a cement-mixer full of brightly-coloured custard dumped over him.
Finally Skywarp remembered he wasn’t meant to know anything about said exploding paint cans. “…what the slag happened to you?” he asked, at last.
Starscream attempted to scoop the paint away from his face, but mostly succeeded in just spreading out a little better. “Don’t you even try and- … I know this was all entirely your handiwork!” Clouds of glitter still drifted down around him, twinkling as he moved. “You obnoxious, glitching little slagmunch-… Just-… turn the water back on!”
“Don’t think I can.” Skywarp gave him the most guile-less look he could manage. “I heard they were doing work on the mains. It must have been them who turned the water off.”
Starscream just spluttered more and vainly tried to wipe the paint from his optics.
“The showers at the station will still be working, anyway?” Skywarp suggested, helpfully.
Starscream dithered in the doorway of the washracks, clearly not wanting to emerge and trail paint through the whole building. “I can’t go like this! There’s, it’s-… it’s all over my vanes! I can’t even fly right now-!”
Skywarp shrugged. “Sorry?”
“Can’t, dude. Sorry. Doctor’s orders. Can’t see where I’m going with this virus. Might even teleport you into a wall or something, then you’d have a lot worse to worry about than paint.”
Starscream straightened, alarmed. “But-”
“You better hurry up, dude, unless you want it to set before you get there. I heard that stuff goes pretty hard when it cures.”
Starscream threw his arms wide, scattering plops of orange across the floor. “How am I meant to get there?!”
“You got legs, haven’t you? Do what any other good little grounder would do; run!”
Starscream offered some hideous Vosian invective and staggered hastily towards the door, paint-covered feet skidding on the floor. “You better not still be here when I get back, because I swear, if I find any more of this slag, I will be feeding it to you.”
Skywarp smiled and wiggled his fingers in a wave. “Good luck!”
As soon as their wingleader had disappeared, in a scrambling, slippery whirl of vivid paint, Thundercracker re-emerged. He settled on the couch next to Skywarp, with a flask of energon and a round blue wafer. “That was mean.” He offered his wingmate half of the treat. “Where did you even source that pitslag? I thought they reformulated it vorns ago.”
Skywarp smiled, and accepted the biscuit. “Ah, some mech with a little shop on a backstreet in Rustig had some. Took me aaages to find it.” He nibbled around the edge, thoughtfully. “Thicker than I was expecting it to be.”
Thundercracker pursed his lips. “We’re going to be chipping it off him for orns, you realise. And the washracks, if we don’t go deal with it while it’s still wet.”
“Ah, he’ll be fine. I made sure I had the proper solvent for it.” Skywarp gestured dismissively with his half of the confectionery. “Besides, it was worth it.”
It didn’t take too long to clean up their paint-covered bathroom, after Skywarp turned the water back on; the sludge dissolved rapidly in the solvent, and the residue rinsed easily down the drains.
The two Seekers sat together on the roof to dry off, in a companionable silence, wings touching. They watched as the sky begin to darken, a rash of tiny pinpoints of stars becoming visible.
“D’you think we should go check if he made it?” Thundercracker asked, at last.
“Nah. He’s not screeched for help yet so I guess he’s okay?” Skywarp lounged back, waggling his thrusters. “Suppose we’ll probably find out tomorrow, if we find a new statue on the way to the station.”
Thundercracker snorted. “You got a good plan for getting the paint back off him? Or should I just find you a chisel and somewhere private to work?”
“I didn’t think that far ahead, but I’ll come up with something. I’m sure we could find a way to keep him busy until then.” Skywarp smiled and glanced sidelong at his friend. “Know anybody who needs a coat rack?”