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Still Alive

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It was nights like this where Shockwave almost enjoyed his day job.

Careful to lean against the heavy metal rear door of Sumdac Tower, he released the handle with a practiced grace. The latch seemed to click much louder than he felt comfortable with, but he shouldered his duffel bag and slunk just outside of perimeter camera view.

Being an employee certainly came with perks. He got to sit at the big table within the company, right there next to Isaac himself. Isaac practically considered Shockwave a friend with how often the two collaborated on more than just the projects of Sumdac Industries. Company dinners, attending business conventions, stimulating conversations on science and all manner of the involved philosophy. It would almost have warmed Shockwave’s insides.

He picked at a stray wire hanging from the purple duffel. An external hard drive with an index card reading “I.SUMDAC-COPIES” was hastily taped to one of the broad sides. Shockwave shoved it deep into his blazer’s pocket. He couldn’t afford for any of these goods to end up damaged on the trip, or it would be his head Megatron would personally tear off.

Shockwave glanced about the street once he felt the tower was a good distance behind him. The air smelled damp and sulfurous, and there didn’t seem to be another soul out, which was just as well. It wouldn’t have killed Megatron to send in a car for the least part, he couldn’t possibly expect Shockwave to make the distance across town without considering the subway.

He spotted a pair of headlights coming from the distance and made to cross the blacktop. Perfect, a bus when he needed one. It couldn’t look too suspicious to folks riding the lines at 12:30 at night to see one of Detroit’s greatest minds toting a bag half his size. Shockwave checked his watch for a second before he heard a roaring engine, suddenly blinded in a swathe of brilliant blue light. He couldn’t recall much after that.

Thinking back on all the work being done under the table, Shockwave would liked to have thought his efforts contributed greatly in Meltdown Incorporated’s near fantastical rise to public eye. It had taken months of sculpting, marketing, dealing. Prometheus was truly a genius, deep down, if not an ambitious one. His ideas came out grandiose in design, terribly unattainable that would keep the scientist holed in his lab for endless nights.

Megatron had admired that in the mad scientist. He provided Prometheus the funding, but the public couldn’t be so swayed into his work as it had originally been. Nothing more than nightmarish bodybuilding at best. The scientist still claims that he can only truly will the greater ideas to come “when inspired”, which Shockwave finds a convenient excuse to get off from actually making anything worth people’s time. Between backing from the local crime syndicate, and having his greatest rival’s codes and schematics quite literally handed to him on a silver hard drive, the odds in favors just didn’t seem to add up.

Shockwave was acutely aware of the weight of his own head as he tried to turn about. His vision came to him like a camera sluggishly coming back into focus. His tongue seemed to betray him for the better part of a minute, but the first thing he recognized was a voice.

“Alright, geez kid, give the man some room.”

As his eyes finally begun to adjust to the burning overhead lamp, Shockwave saw Ratchet shooing off another figure. Ratchet returned to Shockwave’s side, holding his eye open and checking his pupil’s in the light. “You’re in Lockdown’s hideout in the Dead End. Lucky I was awake doing inventory, or who knows what sorta attention Zippy here would’ve grabbed for mister Sumdac’s loyal lapdog.”

Shockwave barely registered the other figure stiffen up from a chair off to one wall. “My name’s not Zippy!” The first thing anyone was likely to see was the obnoxiously colored hair. A bright blue, windswept mess. The man was sporting a thick, white racing jacket over what looked like a blue tracksuit. Ratchet merely waved a dismissive hand in the racer’s direction before turning to a work table and cabinet for supplies.

“Now Shockwave, you’ve sustained some pretty serious head injuries if you can believe it. If you start to feel nauseous or fainty you tell me, I’m not having some shark start hurling on any of the boxes in here or I’ll kick you both back to the curb.”

“I feel like I got hit by a car…” His voice sounded foreign. Graveled. Shockwave feared he’d spit up asphalt.

Ratchet froze for a moment from organizing, and the man in the chair began to bounce his leg. “I did, didn’t I?” Shockwave distantly asked.

The man in blue hesitated just a beat too long, really mulling over something in his head before he sputtered. “Yes- but I mean, completely unintentional, of course! The lighting’s terrible on those streets,” he gestured to Shockwave incredulously, face heating at his quickly decaying composure, “and with your uniform I wouldn’t have even been able to make out with you if I wanted to- M-make you out!” He went from one hundred to zero in quite possibly the quickest effort of backpedaling Shockwave had ever witnessed. His posture straightened, hands clasped in his lap. “Make you out… in the streets. Terrible lighting-”

“It was your car?” Between his pounding head and no doubt the sleep deprivation, the kid was lucky Shockwave didn’t have the heart to throttle him in his chair.

“If it’s any consolation,” Ratchet began from his station, “Blurr here is the fastest thing on wheels. Had it been anyone else trying to tote you here, I’m not sure you would’ve quite made it in in a reasonable time.” The way that Ratchet seemed to be cleaning off an assortment of finely crafted blades and surgery tools, Shockwave didn’t want to entertain what the doctor seemed to have prepared if his situation had been any worse.

“Well, I really must thank you, Ratchet. I’ll see myself-” A large silhouette burst through a curtain from the far wall.

“Not so fast there, stretch.” Lockdown set a purple duffel bag onto one of his workshop tables. He leaned on it with his hook arm and sneered down at Shockwave, no doubt having been woken up in the process of hauling Shockwave in. Shockwave briefly thought about how maybe it wasn’t Ratchet’s idea to set up the surgery tools. “I understand Megatron may have you under for the Sumdacs ‘n all, playing as their little gopher here. ‘N I gotta say, for a not-so-seeming kinda guy, you clean up shop nicely.” Lockdown shuffled a hand around, pulling out all sorts of wires and boxes and tools from the haul.

“Had my hands not already been full, so to speak, I’d almost consider offering you a part time job digging for me too.” Lockdown chuckled to himself. “But as you can imagine, hospitality down here in the Dead End doesn’t come without repaying it.” He angled his hook outwards, gesturing for Shockwave to respond.

Shockwave was at a complete odds. He couldn’t dismiss paying Lockdown, this was his shop after all. At the same time, if he gave over the equipment he spent hours meticulously hunting down without being caught by any of Sumdac’s security, he might as well have been asking to be shot by his boss.

“With all due respect, Lockdown.” Shockwave sat up from his place on a flimsy cot, swinging his legs off and trying to keep the world from spinning. “I appreciate your offer, but we both know that Megatron does expect me soon with my results.” Whether it was the pounding of his head, or his past charisma that’s kept him cool under pressure, Shockwave didn’t feel as perturbed under Lockdown’s scrutiny and facial tattoos. “If I’m not back by morning, there’s sure to be a search party sent out for me.”

Lockdown picked out a mechanical core from the bag, the heart and brain of a model drone in development. He turned the tech over in his good hand. “You talk as if I haven’t been doing my business for quite some time now. I know how these things are handled, and especially how to blow off some worker bees of your boss if they don’t end up finding a body next day.” He turned his back to wander over to a utility shelf among his clutter, piecing through the labeled boxes. “Where would you think of yourself vacationing, Shockwave. Cancun? Fiji?”

Shockwave gave a sidelong glance towards Ratchet, who seemed to be busying himself with other effects at the moment. Business as usual it seemed. The doctor made his way over only to offer Shockwave an ice pack and some ibuprofen.

“Surely this can wait until after I’ve delivered these to Meltdown?” Shockwave tried, it only earned him an insidious glare from Lockdown as he turned around before Ratchet piped in.

“Go easy on him. Kid gets hit by a car and as soon as he wakes up you’re handing him the bill. Unbelievable.” His tone seemed more so tiredly frustrated than angry, this sounded like a typical occurrence then.

Lockdown stalked back over to the group after having grabbed a manilla folder from one of the boxes. “Oh please, if money were freeloaders we’d all be swimming in gilded pools by now.” Lockdown dropped the folder onto a table like it had insulted his family. The corners of pictures slid just out. Blurr, suddenly interested in this exchange, hopped up from his spot and came to inspect the contents for himself.

Shockwave held eye contact with Lockdown for a good while, judging the meaning behind his smug grin. Turning to the first photo he picked up, it appeared to be security footage of a date back in late October. The resolution was shoddy at best, but caught under a halo of streetlight was none other than the face of Shockwave as he was fitting some sort of industrial box into a puffy jacket.

“Caught like a goddamn bigfoot.” Lockdown clucked from across the table.

Shockwave picked through more of the pictures. Each one sporting a silhouette of himself caught making his way through back alleys, slinking through broken fences, toting some sort of equipment with him of varying model and size. Blurr marveled at each one right after Shockwave put the next down.

“Took quite a few months to compile this much from every store’s footage, but here we are.” Lockdown waved his hook in the air and circled the table. Shockwave stood there dumbfounded.

“I… I was so careful.” His head throbbed from the stress, he pushed Ratchet’s ice pack harder into it. Lockdown slammed his good hand down on the table, between Shockwave and the bag still leaning against the wall.

“Now I’m not gonna ask you this time. You’re gonna hand your things over and get the hell out of my shop.”

Shockwave was mildly surprised at how Blurr could shoulder his weight, for as scrawny as the racer seemed. Unfortunately, his mouth didn’t seem to stop moving the moment they left the back alley shop. In his defense, Shockwave was sure that Blurr felt guilty of having just hit a guy while going well over the speed limit, and then sit there to witness him lose millions worth in research, only to offer to drive him back to the job where he’d most likely receive forty lashes for failing his assignment.

Blurr helped him take a seat in the passenger’s side, Shockwave only winced a little as bruises were no doubt clouding across his sternum and back by now. He took in the sports car’s interior, which was just as pristine and well loved as the outside, sans the dent on the hood. Pleather seats, sleek blue detailing, and a bright and glowing dashboard that really brought out all the rest of the blue in Blurr’s entire get up.

Shockwave briefly had to suppress the urge to ask him for his favorite color.

“-and it’s just like this friend of mine. He ended up completely shattering his kneecap snowboarding one time up in Vermont. Oh, do you want some air?”

Shockwave was almost caught off guard by the question, realizing he’d been lost in his own thoughts on their drive. He became terribly aware of how his head was still pounding. “Yes, thank you, that’d be appreciated.”

A plus to driving in the hours between midnight and dawn was the empty roads, which Blurr took full advantage of. For being in the exact same death trap that met his ribcage only a few hours ago, Blurr’s car felt smoother than silk whenever he’d take a turn and step on the gas, the car giving only the barest of a lurch as the engine would whine and kick into a higher gear.

The cool, whipping winds alleviated Shockwave’s headache only minutely, coupled with the ice pack. Maybe he could slip into the showers as easily as he could into Sumdac tower. Blurr kept up an idle chatter, Shockwave noticed how he’d drum his fingers against the wheel during their brief beats of silence. It was almost endearing to have someone so eagerly offer him a hand, especially one unrelated to either Sumdac or Meltdown’s business. Those crowds tended to respect Shockwave purely out of either fear, or an underhanded attempt at gaining reputation. Only sometimes was it mentally exhausting to him, but who was he to judge for having ulterior motives.

What would normally take Megatron’s entourage a forty minute excursion was over in only ten. Shockwave directed Blurr around the back of the establishment within one of its parking garages for employees.

They sat in silence for a good few beats, the weight of the inevitable almost palpable within the car. Shockwave took in a breath before Blurr held up a hand.

“Before you go,” he trailed off, struggling to pull something out of one of the pockets on his jacket, “I just- nngh, I know it’s not your bag or anything, but it seemed like this was still important to you, maybe.” Shockwave glanced down to a shining, rectangular port disk with an index card reading “I.SUMDAC-COPIES” taped on its broad side. He was frozen in shock. “I noticed it from your pocket when I was bringing you in, not that I was trying to steal from you or anything! But it’s pretty clear how those two get when it’s about making a profit, so I thought that I might’ve been able-”

“Blurr.” Shockwave managed to interrupt.

“Yeah?” Blurr’s eyes seemed to be lit up with a rapt attention on him as Shockwave grasped the hard drive.

“You may have just saved my skin.” It might have been the awful fluorescent lighting of the parking garage, but when Blurr gave a coy smile and tore his gaze away, Shockwave swore he noticed a spatter of freckles.

“Do you need help to the door?” The other offered, almost meekly.

“I’ll be fine from here, I’m quite a good actor after all.” Shockwave opened his door before pausing to dig in his breast pocket. He pulled out a small white card, and offered it over to Blurr. “In case you ever have time off.”

Blurr read the card, eyebrows peaking a bit as he flipped the card around. Shockwave walked (certainly not a limp) around to his window. “And by the way, pedestrians always have the right of way. Unless you usually meet folks by mowing them down on the streets.”

Blurr seemed to take a moment to process what Shockwave said, before laughing again and rubbing at the back of his neck. “Promise it’s not a habit!”

Shockwave smiled and pulled off, watching the blue sports car start up, and with a wave out the window pull back off into the night with a roar into the backroads.

He took a deep breath and steeled himself for the inevitable. As he paused to look down and marvel at Blurr’s saving grace, Shockwave couldn’t help but agree with Lockdown’s motto. Hospitality should surely be repaid.