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            “It will work out. You’ll see. I’ll be ruler of the Decepticons and no one will be allowed to question your loyalty.”

            Starscream’s voice is faint, echoing. Skyfire hears it as if from a great distance away despite knowing Starscream is right by Skyfire’s side. He wishes he could reply, but his frame is largely nonresponsive, including his voice box.

            The chamber Starscream had put Skyfire’s stunned frame in is doing what it was designed to do… infiltrate Skyfire’s body and place it in suspended animation. Much like the ice he had once been frozen in, the viscous gel around him is frigidly cold. Despite being forged for deep space exploration, the temperature is beyond what even he can tolerate.

            It’s so cold it burns and Skyfire can only subvocally keen his misery.

            A pair of crimson optics suddenly fill Skyfire’s downward angled field of vision.

            “I’m sorry,” Starscream whispers, biting his lower lip. “I’m sure it’s not pleasant, but it must be done. This will keep you off everyone’s sensors; you’ll be safe until the coup is over. And once I’m leader, I’ll come back for you, I promise.”

            Skyfire tries to say a thousand words with his gaze alone, but Starscream could get so fixated, so obsessed at times that nothing reaches him, not even Skyfire’s rational arguments. Or Skyfire’s pleading optics apparently. He thought that they had agreed to disagree this time, but being null rayed from behind and kidnapped proves otherwise.

            It is irksome, although Skyfire still cannot muster up any true hatred for Starscream. Their friendship has long been a series of ups and downs and Skyfire knows Starscream always has Skyfire’s best interests in mind. Although sometimes that mind could be a little unstable.  

            “The process is almost complete,” Starscream announces, leaning back and examining the instrument panel on the chamber’s front. “It won’t be much longer.”

            He reaches up and places his palms on the sides of the machine at Skyfire’s cheek level. Then Starscream leans forward and presses his lips against the clear material separating the two of them. At the bottom of Skyfire’s vision, he sees the white-blue gel creep up to his shoulders. He feels it rise along his neck, lap against his jaw. He’s already been frozen from the inside out, but now he’ll be iced over from the outside in.

            His core processor is the last thing to begin shutdown. It’s horrible… his thoughts slowing, matching the plodding beat of his spark. Once he’s fully encased, the chamber will solidify the gel and his spark will stop completely, perfectly preserved. His awareness should cease just before that happens, but he would have far preferred that it had been the first thing to go.

            “I will be here for you,” Starscream whispers, gaze boring into Skyfire’s.

            As the gel reaches Skyfire’s optics, he shutters them, hoping Starscream is right.

--

            The first thing he’s aware of is a jumble of sound. It comes and goes, becomes softer, then louder, then louder still. It echoes in his very struts, makes his head throb. He tries to speak, ask whoever it is causing the ruckus to please lower their voice, but he finds he can’t talk. He can’t move either, and a swell of panic momentarily overwhelms him before his processor catches up and starts reviewing his most recent memories.

            The chamber. The ice.

            Starscream…

            The cold is still present and he remembers that his processor was one of the last things to shut down and therefore the first to boot back up. A chill of another kind goes through him. What if someone has found him? What if Starscream isn’t here to protect him? Because Skyfire is essentially defenseless right now. He doesn’t even know how long it’ll take for his frame to come out of suspension.

             The sounds still echo, but his processor begins to analyze them, pick out cadence and pitch and he realizes the noise is three separate voices. The loudest makes Skyfire want to twitch his wings flat to his back because it is angry and hard. The second loudest is more carefully controlled, although there is a note of… sarcasm? insolence perhaps? …contained within.

            The sound of someone trying to be obsequious, but it not being in their nature.

            And the last voice is deep and sonorous, properly respectful, but also hesitant. Not in service like the second mech, but regarding something.

            Him, Skyfire realizes, as his processor begins to identify words.

            “… traitorous…”

            “… scientist and…”

            “… kill him…!”

            “… but could be…”

            “… Starscream’s little pet…”

            Skyfire’s spark aches at the mention of Starscream. It’s obvious now he’s not here. Skyfire’s chronometer appears to be damaged, so he has no idea how much time has passed. It could have been a cycle, it could have been a vorn. Starscream could be held up somewhere… or he could be dead.

            “… valuable! I could program…”

            “… risk, sir. I caution…”

            A sudden warmth over his chest makes Skyfire wish he could open his optics. But they, like the majority of his other systems, still won’t respond.

            “… should kill him. Display him! A warning…”

            Is someone holding an onlined gun against the ice covering his spark? Is that… is that Megatron? The anger, the volume… it suggests so. Skyfire can imagine the warmed tip of a fusion canon aimed at his chest.

            But there is something off in the other’s voice. Something that reminds Skyfire of Megatron, but isn’t quite right.

            “No, you can’t! He could be useful!”

            The second voice comes through loud and clear, as if the owner had stepped in closer. The warmth disappears and rumble of a displeased engine vibrates Skyfire’s very being.

            “Watch yourself, medic. No one tells me what I can’t do.”

            “Yes, sir. I apologize, sir. I did not mean to presume. I just… he’s incredibly intelligent. And his size alone… if I could install a loyalty program… he’d be quite the asset.”

            The second voice is wheedling, almost desperate sounding and Skyfire holds his figurative breath as the leader thinks.

            “… originally… fighter?” The third mech speaks up, more quiet and sounding farther away.

            “A scientist. He could fire a gun, but he wasn’t a frontliner. He slept through most of the war, much like this. Lucky glitch,” the second voice says bitterly.

            This mech knew Skyfire. Or knew of him, especially his preferences. Skyfire wracks his processor trying to match a name with the voice but comes up empty.

            There is a long pause and Skyfire’s spark skips a beat as the leader ponders Skyfire’s fate.

            “And he’ll be loyal?” First demands. “He’ll do what I’ll tell him?

            “I’ll make sure of it,” Second promises, sending another cold chill through Skyfire. Loyalty programming is not unheard of and is at least better than death. Skyfire is also a decent programmer in his own right, one who may be able to alter any loyalty coding implanted in him. 

            “Cyclonus? What do you think?” First asks.

            There is a pause before the third mech, presumably Cyclonus, responds. “If he does not perform to your liking, I will personally dispatch him, my lord.”

            Not an unsurprising promise, but the even tone would have made Skyfire shiver if he had been able to.

            “Hmm… what will I get from you, Hook… if I do this thing you apparently want so much?” the first mech purrs.

            Hook!

            Now the voice registers in Skyfire’s processor. He hadn’t known the Decepticon medic very well, but it made sense why Hook was advocating for Skyfire. The scientifically minded did tend to protect one another even if they had a long-standing rivalry like Hook and Ratchet.

            “I… whatever you want, my Liege. I am yours to command,” Hook replies, his voice turning subservient. Skyfire wonders if the leader can hear the underlying tone of nervousness… and hatred.

            “You are always mine to command; do not forget it, medic,” the leader snarls. “Bring him back to base; Cyclonus will help you. Install the coding. And if anything goes wrong I’ll kill you both.”

            “Yes, my lord Galvatron,” Hook says and a pair of heavy pedesteps stomps off out of Skyfire’s limited range of hearing.

            Then Skyfire hears a soft whisper from Hook, “…glitch.”

            Galvatron. Skyfire is not familiar with that name, although his time in the ice on Earth certainly has made him miss a great deal. This mech is apparently at least a leader to these others, if not the entire Decepticon army.

            “How do you want to proceed?” Cyclonus asks, also moving closer.

            Hook sighs and Skyfire hears an odd thunking sound which reverberates within the chamber. Had the medic patted it?

            “Transform. I’ll get him loaded up and you can fly him back to base. I’ve halted the melting process. Once he’s in Medical, I’ll continue it far enough along that I can reach a data port to upload the coding. Then we’ll defrost him the rest of the way. I sincerely doubt he’ll be an issue, Cyclonus,” Hook says. “He was a soft spark through and through.”

             “… a rather large soft spark,” Cyclonus murmurs, sounding the slightest bit awed.

             Skyfire hears the sounds of transformation and then the chamber begins rocking back and forth, Hook grunting with effort.

             “You got that right,” Hook mutters.

 

--

 

              Skyfire wakes to a delicious warmth. Something heavy is on top of him, tucked around him, and Skyfire reflexively nuzzles the soft thing brushing his cheek. He sighs happily, the most comfortable he has been in… well, a very long time.

              “Starting to finally wake up, are you?” a dry voice asks, off to Skyfire’s side. Skyfire’s optics pop open (and what a relief it is for his body to actually obey him) and he turns his head. A purple and green mech stares down at Skyfire, arms crossed over his chest. He’s perched on a stool in front of what looks to be a workbench of some kind.

              “It’s about damn time.”

              Skyfire finally puts a face and voice together and identifies the mech as Hook.

              “Hello.”

              Hook rolls his optics. “’Hello’ he says. I can see you’re going to be a stimulating conversationalist.”

              Skyfire sits up, Hook’s optics widening at the motion. Even perched on the stool, Hook is still shorter than Skyfire by a few inches. But he doesn’t back down.

              “Give it time,” Skyfire responds mildly. “I am honestly surprised I have not sustained processor damage; this is the second time now it’s been subjected to such extreme temperatures.”

              “Hmph. Only the very best for Starscream’s closest friend,” Hook replied snarkily. “And lover, I’ve heard?”

              Skyfire ignores the question and strokes a hand over the bunched up warming blankets in his lap. There appears to be at least six. “Is he dead?”

              Hook hesitates for a moment. “Yes. I’m sorry. He was an aft, but at least he was a predictable aft.”

              Skyfire begins folding the blankets, one by one, trying to keep his mind off the grief. He and Starscream had parted ways for a time, but at one point, they had been as close as could be. And there at the end, it had seemed they had been getting back to that and maybe even more. But now it would never come to fruition.

              “How, if I may ask?” Skyfire inquires, looking at the medic.

            Hook purses his lips. “Galvatron. You haven’t met him yet. But don’t worry; you’ll do everything he asks of you. I made sure of that.”

            “Yes, I see,” Skyfire responds, a portion of his processor busy at work examining the new coding. It’s elegant work, but Skyfire’s already found at least two loopholes. “And I have actually met him before. You and Cyclonus as well – I started to gain awareness while you asked Galvatron to stay his hand. Thank you.”

            Hook looks taken back for a moment, and then the haughty mask returns. “Yes, well, you’ll be useful.”

            “What will Galvatron require of me?” Skyfire asks, not pushing the gratitude further. He has had found Dececiptons didn’t receive thanks well.

            “Whatever he feels like in the moment. That may be hauling supplies or serving him drinks and rubbing his pedes. There’s no way of guessing,” Hook says, turning back to his project.

            “I… see. He is mercurial, then?” Skyfire ventures, placing the last blanket on top of the pile. Fourteen total. They had even been wrapped around his wingtips.

            “You could say that again. He’s got pretty severe processor damage. Apparently hardware does better in the cold than molten lava,” Hook says, making Skyfire blink in surprise. That sounded like quite a story.

            “It can’t be fixed?”

            Hook sighs before turning to watch Skyfire climb to his feet. “He insists there is nothing to be fixed. And I’m not about to argue. He packs quite a punch.”

            “But surely…”

            “Surely you’ll get yourself killed if you push it,” Hook says intently. “Drop it. You’re technically under my jurisdiction and I’ve been desperate for someone with functioning chips to assist me. My backlog is immense so let’s put that processor of yours to use.”

 

--

 

            Hook quizzed him, determining that Skyfire’s claims as an adjunct medic to be true. Then they start calling Decepticons into the dilapidated building that was Hook’s medbay. One by one, they slink in and Skyfire finally truly sees the sad state these mechs are in.

            Everyone’s paint is chipped and worn and the majority of the soldiers’ armor is dented in multiple places. No one’s tanks are full. No one’s tanks are even half full and Skyfire realizes the hollowness to his own will likely only get worse. He has a very large frame with an above average fuel drain. If he’s not flying, it will be much less, but who knows what Galvatron will have him do?    

            “Is there a lot of infighting?” Skyfire asks in an aside during a slow moment.

            Hook’s lips thin. “Yes and no. There are certainly scuffles for fuel. But the majority of the wounds actually come from…”

            “Hook!”

            There are three other mechs besides Skyfire and the medic in the room. All of them tense and somehow manage to shrink in on themselves as the Decepticons’ new leader strides in. Cyclonus trails a few steps behind.

            “Hook… where’s that damned… ah… there he is,” Galvatron announces, coming to a stop in the middle of the room and surveying Skyfire. “You’ve been hiding him from me, medic.”

            Hook bows from his position at Skyfire’s side and then slowly backs away, leaving Skyfire alone, his plating prickling with unease. “I apologize, my Liege. I did not realize you wanted me to present him to you. He’s been very helpful here though, perform…”

            A venomous glare instantly silences Hook and Skyfire blinks in surprise at Hook’s immediate quiet.

            “I decide what he does, not you, you worthless piece of…”

            As Galvatron advances towards Hook, hand raised and optics burning, Skyfire takes a step sideways and forward, intercepting the warlord.

            “How may I serve you, sir?” Skyfire asks softly, bowing his head.

            The two of them are only an arm length apart. Well. One of Skyfire’s arms. Bowing his head still means Skyfire is looking down onto Galvatron, even as tall as the leader stands. Skyfire briefly considers kneeling but disregards the notion as Galvatron studies him for a moment.

            Then he laughs, a short, amused sound. He moves forward and pats Skyfire’s arm. “I see the loyalty program is working. At least you can get one thing right, Hook.”

            Galvatron begins to circle Skyfire and Hook takes the opportunity to scuttle backwards, behind his lab bench. “Yes, sir, thank you, sir.”

            “Hmm. What shall I do with you…” Galvatron muses. His hand lands on Skyfire’s hip and trails across his lower back as Galvatron begins to move around to Skyfire’s front. Skyfire successfully fights the urge to twitch or pull away.

            “The energon shipments are ready for transport, my Liege.”

            Skyfire startles at Cyclonus’ soft suggestion. He hadn’t realized the Decepticons’ second in command had even moved forward but once Skyfire looks away from Galvatron, Skyfire notes Cyclonus standing only a short distance away.

            Galvatron stares at Cyclonus for a moment and then heaves a sigh. “Yes….you’re right. You’re always right, Cyclonus. What would I do without you?”

            He abandons Skyfire and strides over to his second, grasping Cyclonus’ shoulder and staring intently into his face.

            “You are a gift from Primus himself,” Galvatron murmurs, almost adoringly.

            “Thank you for such kind words, my Liege,” Cyclonus says and inclines his head respectfully. “I shall escort Skyfire to the docks to…”

            “Nonsense! Hook says he’s a smart mech. He’ll find the way. Come, Cyclonus, let us go and discuss ideas for the next raid.”

            Cyclonus’ gaze meet Skyfire’s for an instant and the sight makes Skyfire’s fuel tanks twist. The second’s face is completely serene and accepting but Cyclonus’ optics are miserably resigned.

            “Yes, my Liege.”

            It is only once the doors close behind the two that the other three soldiers relax. Seeing the speed in which Galvatron had resorted to violence against Hook’s supposed impertinence, Skyfire now realizes that the dents he’s been treating had mostly likely been inflicted by Galvatron himself.

            “Does Galvatron and Cyclonus…?” Skyfire quietly asks Hook as the medic moves forward again.

            “Don’t,” Hook mutters. “Just… drop it. Do what you’re told and keep your head down, Skyfire. Docks are to the right once you exit.”         

 

--

 

            “Hook? Would you mind taking a look at these scenarios to see if there are any improvements you could suggest to the treatments I’ve proposed?” Skyfire asks, sliding a datapad across the table to his mentor slash/manager.

            Hook looks up from his own datapad, optics pinched with weariness. Skyfire feels a pang of sympathy for the Constructicon. Skyfire has been here for several weeks now and not once has he seen any of Hook’s gestaltmates. From what he remembers, the Constructicons had actually been quite close. Skyfire doesn’t have the courage to ask if any of them had perished.  

            “Now? Right now?” Hook asks, gesturing around himself.

            Hook is in charge of medical, of course. But he also handles the entire inventory of the ramshackle base from energon supplies to ammunition and weaponry. It’s a great deal of responsibility on top of his medical duties and until Skyfire had arrived, there had been no one Hook had trusted to help.

            Skyfire wavers for a moment but then nods. “Yes. Now, please.”

            Hook glares and snatches up the datapad, powering it on. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re needy?” he asks, optics narrowing as he looks over the file’s content.

            Skyfire blinks a few times. “No. No one has ever said that.”

            Hook doesn’t reply. His mouth is moving silently, his body slowly becoming more and more tense. The frame of the datapad creaks ominously as Hook’s fingers tighten around it. Finally he gently lowers the datapad back to the table surface, powering it off. With a single digit, he slides it across to Skyfire.

            “That… that is madness,” Hook says quietly. “And I will have no part of it.”

            “No part of what?” Skyfire asks innocently, picking up the device. “It is just a training exercise. I wanted to learn more medical techniques. To better be able to help you and others.”

            Hook closes his optics. He passes a hand over his face and is quiet for several minutes. Skyfire waits patiently.

            Finally Hook sighs and he blindly reaches out. Skyfire places the datapad back in Hook’s hand.

            “Scenario three and four are flawed, although the other nine look good. I’ll walk you through those corrections and then I’m done. I want nothing more to do with it,” Hook snaps. He grabs his stylus and begins making notes in the file. “I’m gonna be so torqued at you when you die.”

            “…if. Nothing is certain,” Skyfire responds, smiling faintly.

 

--

 

            Cyclonus hitting the ground in Skyfire’s defense is the last bit of incentive Skyfire needs.

            It is an almost routine encounter by this point. Galvatron stumbles across Skyfire and remembers he exists. There are gliding hands and suggestive words and then Cyclonus speaks up, drawing Galvatron’s attention away.

            Lately however, Galvatron is not as easily swayed by his second as in the past. And this time, Galvatron becomes incensed by Cyclonus’ almost desperate wheedling, turning on him and striking Cyclonus hard enough across the face that the flier drops to the floor, stunned.

            As Galvatron looms over Cyclonus, one foot lifting in preparation of a kick, Skyfire leaps. He’s not a warrior. He only has the element of surprise and his sheer weight.

            But it is enough.

            The two of them hit the ground with a clash ten times louder than Cyclonus’ fall. Before Galvatron can do more than wordlessly yell in fury, Skyfire clamps a hand over the warlord’s mouth, silencing him.

            Skyfire is sure Galvatorn will try and hail Skyfire over a private comm line next, but Skyfire has already disabled his receiver. He is 90% sure the patch he inserted over the loyalty program will hold against a direct command, but Skyfire would rather not chance it.

            Riding the bucking motion of Galvatron’s body with ease, Skyfire twists his wrist, an interface jack falling into his hand. He searches along Galvatron’s neck until he finds a nearly hidden access port and moves to plug in.

            Before he can do so however, the glowing tip of a sword appears in Skyfire’s side vision.

            “Get off of him,” Cyclonus commands, gaze hard when Skyfire twists his head around to meet it.

            “He is damaged, Cyclonus. Let me heal him,” Skyfire says calmly.

            “You’ll kill him,” the Second accuses, sword tip advancing several inches.

            Skyfire shakes his head. “I will not. I vow it. But his processor damage is severe. I can at least perform a temporary patch to restore normal working systems as well as his sanity.”

            Cyclonus stills. “You can? Are you sure? You’re not a medic.”

            Skyfire chooses his next words carefully. “I have worked side by side with many for centuries. I have picked up a few things. Please. Please, Cyclonus… let me do this for him. For all of us…”

            One of Cyclonus’ hands rise up to touch the deep gash in his right cheek. After a long, tense moment, he finally gives a terse nod and takes a step back.

            Skyfire quickly plugs in to the struggling mech beneath him, ignoring the denta which have managed to clamp down on Skyfire’s littlest finger. Galvatron screams in outrage, a muffled sound, as Skyfire ruthlessly dives deep into Galvatron’s processor. It takes less than a second to assess the damage from the lava. Three quarters of the scenarios and subsequent treatments Skyfire had proposed are discarded.

            Scenario 10 is a near perfect fit however, and Skyfire quickly begins implementing the patches to reroute neurological impulses and thought algorithms. He also borrows a few ideas Hook had come up with for potential damage Skyfire hadn’t considered. And finally… finally, Skyfire inserts several lines of dormant code into Galvatron’s personality matrix. Skyfire hopes it won’t be necessary, but if the repair programming doesn’t work, the code can be activated with a few choice phrases from Skyfire, rendering Galatron instantly docile.

            The ultimate goal is to get Galvatron to acquiesce to physical surgery to remove the damaged hardware and replace it with functional processing boards. Skyfire would hate to resort to further nonconsensual methods, but he will if it saves the other soldiers from further physical and mental abuse from the very leader who is supposed to care for them.

            The more Skyfire works, the more Galvatron’s struggles weaken. A primal part of his base coding must realize that Skyfire is helping, because several firewalls drop of their own volition. After only a minute, Galvatron goes limp, his mouth slackening around Skyfire’s finger.

            While Skyfire finishes up the programming work, he carefully starts leveraging himself up off the warlord, watching him carefully. But Galvatron’s optics are dim and unfocused and he doesn’t move to take advantage of his physical freedom.

            “Is it working?” Cyclonus’s voice is hushed, and Skyfire looks up to see the other mech kneeling down a few feet away. Several other mechs have crept into the throne room, warily watching the tableau in front of them. “I called for Hook…”

            “Yes, it is working, and that was an excellent idea, thank you,” Skyfire says gratefully. There had been a slim chance the reroutes and patches could have caused a cascade failure leading to spark death. Skyfire hadn’t dared chance Hook getting involved more than he already had been in case this hadn’t worked. He also hadn’t had time to contact Hook before Skyfire had disabled his communication relays.

            There is only a few remaining lines of code to fix now and just before Skyfire finishes, Hook comes barreling into the room. He drops to his knees at Galvatron’s other side and together, he and Skyfire turn Galvatron over.

            “How is he taking it?” Hook asks, pulling out a scanner and running it over Galvatron’s frame. The medic grimaces at the results and Cyclonus shifts restlessly.

            “What? What is it? Is something wrong?” he asks worriedly.

            “A side effect of not letting me touch him to fix the processor damage is that he wouldn’t let me touch him for anything else. His body needs a lot of work. And it’s nothing to do with what Skyfire has done, so back the frag off!” Hook snaps, glaring over his shoulder at Cyclonus.

            “I’m done,” Skyfire announces, not overly concerned about the looming Second. His weapons have been put away, although Skyfire has no doubt they could come back out in an instant. “All the reroutes are running successfully. He will still greatly benefit from surgery, but his thought processes should be much more rational now.”

            He gently disengages his plug and lets it spool back into his wrist. Skyfire looks back up to Cyclonus. “Thank you for trusting me.”

            Cyclonus makes an uncertain noise in the back of his throat. “I… it had come to a point where I feel like I had no choice. Did you assist in this, Hook?”

            Hook is silent for a moment before giving a short nod. “A little. Skyfire was the brawn and honestly, even the majority of the brain. I just suggested a few other possibilities of the damage Galvatron could have sustained.”

            Before Cyclonus can say anything else, Galvatron moans quietly. Hook reflexively jerks back a little, but Skyfire looks on calmly. He trusts his work.

            Galvatron’s optics flicker, go dark, and then reboot. He stares up at the ceiling as his left hand comes up and presses against his forehelm.

            “My Leige? How are you feeling?” Hook asks carefully.

            Galvatron’s gaze shifts to the medic and then over to Skyfire. “I… it doesn’t hurt anymore.”

            His voice is quiet and awed and Skyfire’s spark spasms in sympathy. Based on the damage he had seen, it makes sense that Galvatron had been in chronic pain.

            Skyfire’s apparent success makes him bold. He smiles gently, daring to reach out and place a hand on Galvatron’s forearm.

            “I’m so very glad to hear that, sir. Welcome back.”

 

~ end