Starscream swiped at the pulsating green icon that was demanding his attention, and Skyfire’s face filled the phone screen.
He crossed his legs at the ankle and reclined on his bed. In the small box in the corner of the video call, he could see his own hair splayed across his sheets and the folds of his neck and chin highlighted with unflattering shadows. He readjusted the angle of his phone camera before speaking. “Well, well. Look who’s pestering me again. Just couldn’t stay away, could you?”
Skyfire’s expression softened into an easy smile. “It’s good to see you too, Starscream,” he said, eyes trained on the screen. “How’s the semester been?”
“Oh, it’s barely started,” Starscream answered, voice lilting with faux dismissiveness. “I’m sure it will be just as amusing as the last one.”
Skyfire looked into the camera, still smiling. “I wish I was there. I miss you.”
Starscream waved his free hand across his phone screen. “I’m sure the lab misses you, too. Don’t tell me you’re spending all your time pining for the university on your big research trip.”
Skyfire laughed. “You know me, always sentimental. No, we’re getting some incredible work done. It’s a shame we’re so far away, though.” The image of Skyfire came in and out of focus as Skyfire adjusted his phone. “Are you holding up?”
Starscream scoffed and rolled his eyes. “O ye of little faith. Yes, I’m fine.”
“Did you find some decent housing this semester?”
Starscream exhaled dramatically. “Yes, of course. We found a duplex willing to rent to us on short notice. Thundercracker and Skywarp are unpacking as we speak.”
Skyfire’s eyebrows furrowed. “You’re still living with them? After they got you kicked out of your last apartment?”
Starscream shrugged. “They pay rent on time and they’re easily persuaded. I would be remiss to let them get away.”
“I just worry—“
The sound of grown men screaming cut off Skyfire’s statement. In desperation, someone cried out: “Mayday! Mayday! Starscream, we need backup, stat!”
Starscream closed his eyes and feigned annoyance. “Duty calls,” he said, looking back into the camera.
Skyfire sighed. “Just promise me you won’t do anything rash while I’m away,” he said.
The corner of Starscream’s mouth tugged into a fleeting smile. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
“That’s not a promise, Starscream.”
“Isn’t it?” he asked, sitting up. “I suppose that’s disappointing.”
Skyfire’s eyes hardened. “I’m serious, Starscream. Don’t go looking for trouble—“
“Okay, talk soon,” Starscream said mockingly, bringing his phone back to eye level and waving at it. “Bye!”
He tapped the red icon at the bottom of the screen, and Skyfire disappeared.
Starscream sauntered into the kitchen to find his roommates crouched around the dishwasher, shouting incoherently as a growing mountain of suds spewed forth from the edges of the dishwasher door. He cleared his throat, and the screaming stopped.
Thundercracker stood, looking embarrassed. “We tried to run the dishwasher,” he said, coughing into his fist. “We ran into some complications.”
“Yeah, and we even used one of those dishwasher soap pods instead of dish soap this time,” Skywarp added, staring up from his position on the ground.
Thundercracker shot a disapproving glance in Skywarp’s direction. “That was one time. But yes, we did follow standard dishwasher procedure.”
Starscream crossed his arms and threw his head back. “Fine, I’ll get the landlord,” he said, turning toward the door. “Try not to destroy anything while I’m gone.”
“No promises!” Skywarp called, a touch too brightly for Starscream’s liking.
He tromped down the stairs and up to the door of the lower-floor apartment, where the landlord resided. He knocked with a closed fist. “Hello, we need to speak to—“
The door opened away from Starscream’s knocking, revealing a tall, clean-cut man in a polo shirt whom Starscream did not recognize. “Is the man of the house available?” he asked, leaning on the door frame.
The man blinked, taken aback. “I am not sure what you are asking,” he said flatly.
Starscream rolled his eyes. “Megatron. Is he here?”
Starscream heard a sigh and the sound of a textbook hitting the floor from somewhere inside the apartment. In seconds, Megatron appeared in the doorway, all broad shoulders and text-weary eyes. “It’s all right, Orion, he’s one of the new tenants.” He turned to Starscream. “How, exactly, can I help you?”
Starscream pushed off the door frame and met Megatron’s eyes, well above his own. “We seem to be having problems with our dishwasher. Would you be so kind as to solve them?”
Megatron nodded, refusing to break eye contact. “I suppose I should, yes. Orion, get the toolbox.”
Orion obliged, and the trio ascended the stairs to the second-floor apartment. When Starscream opened the door, a trail of suds leading from the kitchen greeted them.
“Thank god you’re here,” Thundercracker exclaimed, moving through the growing mounds of foam. “It just won’t stop. Skywarp and I tried to—“
“Say no more,” Megatron said, holding up one hand. “My associate will take care of the problem.” He turned to leave. “Orion, be sure to knock before letting yourself back in.”
Orion watched Megatron leave, appearing slightly dejected. “O-of course, old friend,” he called back, just as Megatron closed the door.
Several seconds of silence passed before anyone moved. Starscream crossed his arms. “So, are you the handyman, or…?”
Orion snapped to attention. “Oh! Yes! Well, no, but I do know how to fix the dishwasher. Give me a moment.” He entered the kitchen calmly, batting away suds as he moved.
Seconds later, Skywarp emerged from the cloud of bubbles, soap stuck to his hair and clothes. He scrambled to stand near Starscream and Thundercracker, panting. “I thought I was gonna die in there,” he said, hand over his heart. “I was going to suffocate!”
“Don’t be dramatic,” Starscream chided, clicking his tongue. “It’ll be over soon enough.”
“Is that our landlord?” Skywarp asked, shaking suds out of his hair and onto his roommates. “He seems nice.”
“No, that’s just his friend,” Starscream answered, flicking away an errant clump of bubbles perched on his shoulder. “I suppose Megatron can’t be bothered to get his own hands dirty.”
“’Friend’ like you and Skyfire, or ‘friend’ like me and Thundercracker?” Skywarp asked, nudging Starscream with his elbow.
“I can assure you that I haven’t the slightest idea.”
Thundercracker shook his head. “Either way, he’s not being treated very well. He should stand up for himself.”
“For the love of god, Thundercracker, please don’t start meddling with our landlord’s relationship again,” Starscream groaned. “That’s how you got us kicked out of the last one.”
“He was cheating on his wife! What was I supposed to do, let it happen?” Thundercracker’s tone escalated as he spoke.
Starscream brushed past Thundercracker as Orion left the kitchen, tools in hand. The mound of suds had stopped growing, and the top layer of suds had begun to deflate. Starscream held out a hand. “Thank you for your assistance, Mister…?”
“Pax,” Orion said, shaking Starscream’s hand. “Orion Pax.” He turned to address Thundercracker and Skywarp. “Please do not feel too badly. Many of my friend’s tenants experience similar problems with that appliance. It only accepts small amounts of powdered detergent at a time.”
Thundercracker and Skywarp raised their arms simultaneously in a shared moment of epiphany. Thundercracker shrugged as Skywarp shot finger-guns at Orion to cover their combined mortification.
Starscream released his grip and moved between Orion and his roommates. “Please excuse my associates. They tend to be classless.”
“No, we’re authentic,” Thundercracker insisted, through peals of nervous laughter. “You’re more performative.”
Starscream threw Thundercracker a sideways glance before gesturing to the door. “Thank you again,” he said, leading Orion out. “Please feel free to stop by if you’re ever around.”
“And make sure you’re being respected! You’re worth it!” Thundercracker yelled, his laughter subsiding. Starscream shut the door before Orion could answer.
Starscream rested his hand on the doorknob and took a deep breath. “Thundercracker. Skywarp. Please clean up your mess. I won’t let your reckless behavior have us evicted again.”
“I won’t. Be quick about it. We have class in the morning.”