All Splint knew were the mines. He knew them better than he knew himself; the weak points in the rock, ore hotspots, support pillars that couldn’t be removed, everything. He wasn’t considered a genius for knowing it though. As his superiors loved to remind him, blows reigning down on his back, he was just another nobody. Another cog in the machine that wasn’t built for him. Splint’s entire life was dedicated to Mining Outpost C-12, where it all began.
He knew the mech, the hulking silver one, that started the uproar. They’d worked side by side for eons but never spoke a word. There was an air to the mech that made Splint’s wires twitch with anxiety. He was massive, easily towering over Splint, and he threw his all into every swing of the pickaxe. He was another nobody, but the scowl welded onto his face mimicked that of their superiors’: borderline taunting.
When half the advisors were pulled from the mine, everyone caught on. Something was happening, and they wouldn’t be told till the last nano-click. Like always. In those last few cycles, the big silver mech started whispering, muttering simple things. Socializing when no one was looking: making friends, allies.
Not long after, everyone was called into assembly. Senator Decimus had arrived, and he stood on a raised platform, looking down on the workers like they belonged in a dump, eyes slanted and lips pressed tight. It was nothing new. His guards stood at an angle, tense and waiting.
Splint hovered near the rear of the crowd, shifting from pede to pede, optics downcast as his servos wrung themselves in front of him. This is it, he thought. He knew the mine had been producing less and less energon; There were just no more streams to be harvested. Which meant they were wasting time, wasting resources. He stopped listening after Senator Decimus thanked them for their hard work. Around him, frames pressed closer, fists balled, mouths gaping, shouting obscenities, trying to come to reason with the uncertainty of their future.
“The Senate takes care of its people.”
Splint tried to back away, wary of the rage fogging the domed room. Someone shouldered past and knocked him to the ground. He scrambled to get up, but his processor was swimming, and he kept losing any solid footing. He barely registered a servo wrapping around his arm and hauling him to his pedes. There was screaming coming from the front of the room, and Splint hunched in on himself even as a rustic green mech led him to the back of the assembly. Guards marked each entrance and it was as far as they could get.
“Hey, you okay?”
Splint looked up, finally meeting the blazing red optics of his savior. The mech was a head or so shorter than Splint, but he was compact and strong, with broad, angled shoulders and a grip more gentle than any miner’s.
“I think so. Just…” Splint trailed off as he glanced back to the crowd. The screaming stopped, replaced by shrieks and gasps of terror. He could just barely see the Senator above the crowd, and there was something pleasing about watching him fall, disappear into the masses. Splint grabbed his savior’s wrist.
“What’s going on?” he asked. The other mech shrugged, but his brow was crunched together and his fists gripping a pickaxe Splint hadn’t noticed before. “We were supposed to leave our tools at our stations,” Splint said.
“Yeah, well I had a feeling I’d be needing mine.” The mech disappeared into the crowd before Splint could stop him. He reappeared moments later, terror morphing his faceplates. “We gotta go, now!”
The guards behind them prepared their blasters and rushed to the front, abandoning their posts at the doors. The mech yanked Splint forward just as the shots rang out. Splint could barely keep up with the stocky mech, but he quickly realized where they were headed. They breezed past the mines and into the supervisor chambers and came to a skidding stop in front of a row of pristine, yellow-rimmed escape pods.
As the new mech tried to open one of the pods, Splint keeled over. He felt like purging his chambers and slamming his fist into a wall at the same time. “What’s going on?” he asked through clenched dentae. “Who are you?”
The mech paused then returned to the control panel next to the first pod. “A riot, that’s what’s happening. Some dumb hunk of scrap metal hurt the Senator, and slag was about to hit the fan.” He pulled a silver keycard out of a seam in his neck. “You heard the shots. It’s a full-out war zone back there.” The hatch to the pod hissed and popped open.
Splint didn’t move as the mech entered the pod. The mine was his home; It always had been. He couldn’t just leave, could he? It wasn’t as if he had a box full of pleasant memories, but it was all he ever knew. The beatings, the rough clasp of digits around the melded handle of a pickaxe, the comfort of familiar, nameless faces.
“Hey, you coming or what?”
Splint stepped into the pod.
“We’re underground, how will this work?”
The other mech pushed some buttons on the interior control panel and the door latched. “When they built this place, they made ventilation shafts.” The engines whirred to life. “Once they realized folks like you and me didn’t need safety precautions against all the toxins underground, that we were expendable, they dropped escape pods into the vents. And, voila, emergency route for the mechs that actually matter.”
As the pod began to rise, Splint strapped himself in. There was barely enough room for the two of them, and he honestly didn’t care that the stranger had to stand to man the controls. Splint watched the tunnel fade away through a small window next to his seat. Goodbye.
From the controls, the smaller mech asked, “What’s your name? If you got one, that is.”
Splint tore his gaze away from Croteus 12 and its endless expanse of rock. “You never told me yours.”
“Oh.” The mech chuckled. “Guess I got distracted. My pals...” his shoulders slumped briefly. “I’m Croon.”
There was something appealing about the odd distinction between Croon’s personality and his name. Splint almost asked why that was his name, but he figured it wouldn’t be a pleasant conversation.
A silence passed between the two.
“You know,” Croon said. “If you need a place to stay or anything, I know a mech. All you gotta do is work for him and he’ll give you a place to stay. It’s a real nice hook up, if you ask me.”
Splint almost refused, but he realized he had no idea what he was doing. He could barely remember the cycles he spent on Cybertron, in his earliest stage of life. They were filled with confusion and fear and constant running.
“Is that where you are going?” he asked.
Croon glanced over his shoulder. “You bet. I’ll figure out bunking, and as long as you ain’t squeamish, you’ll do fine.” He eyed Splint, optics trailing the length of his slim figure. “And don’t worry ‘bout being shy. Trust me, you’ll sell like hotcakes.” He winked and Splint managed a grim smile.
“Thank you, Croon.”