“So, are you sure that thing is safe?” Swerve asked nervously.
Brainstorm was holding a too-big-to-really-be-a-scanner in his hand, and Swerve could see bits of wiring peeking out from in between Brainstorm's fingers. Brainstorm waved a dismissive hand in the air. “Yes. Yes, it is safe. Would I be holding it if it wasn't safe?”
Swerve thought of the wide variety of Brainstorm-patented guns that had exploded in Whirl's claws during testing. “Uh, yes? I once saw you walking around with a bomb in your hands. An experimental bomb. With enough explosive for eradicating small planets.”
“That was just one time, and it wasn't going to blow up anyway!” Brainstorm scoffed. “And could you shut your trap for a few minutes? I have important experiments to get back to and if you keep talking this whole 'exploration in a dingy cave on a backwater planet' is going to take forever.”
“Gotcha.” Swerve replied. “It's not so hard to keep quiet- I do it all the time, but people are never around when I do it, so it's kind of hard to prove that I actually do it. But I do it all the time.” He held his gun a little tighter, and watched as Brainstorm waved his scanner at the passageways in the rock before them. The whole place was nothing more than a long maze of holes in the rock, but a scan had thrown up some interesting readings, and Drift had immediately jumped on the chance that it could be a hiding place for the mechs of Crystal city.
“Kind of creepy place huh?” Swerve continued. “All the rocks... I think I stepped in something squishy a few minutes ago, and it's making the bottom of my pede itchy. I really hope that this time nobody's gonna get injured, or turned evil, or brainwashed. Speaking of brainwashed, did I ever tell you that I once convinced Red Alert that the cleaning drones were programmed to think they were sentient? He tried to have them scanned, and then stalked Chromedome for a solid week trying to make him mnemo the things to see if they were Decepticon spies or government agents, like we even have a government-.... Uh- are you listening?”
“I'm picking up a reading.” Brainstorm said distractedly. He activated his commlink and his scanner made a cheery bleep. “This is the most intelligent bot alive speaking to the Lost Light; my scanner is picking up some old electrical output- I'm thinking we might have found some old tech for energy generation.”
“Old tech... Any chance of it being stasis pods, or escape pods?” Drift's hopeful voice came over the commlink.
“Maybe it's a nest of energy slugs!” Swerve piped up. “I really hope so, those are just great for pranks- erm- you didn't hear me say that.”
“It could be anything from a leaking battery to a colony of tiny energetic lifeforms.” Brainstorm mused. “Whatever it is, it's unlikely to be anything dangerous.”
“Get closer and find out what it is.” Rodimus' said. “Also, Brainstorm? Since your idea of dangerous is a little different from most other mechs, comm me or Perceptor before you touch anything.”
Brainstorm narrowed his optics angrily. “I'm a genius! I know what I'm doing!”
“Just like when you blew up your own lab and soldered your foot to the ceiling when you were trying to 'enhance' your lunch?” Swerve couldn't help but chortle. “I mean, stupidness aside, that was pretty awesome. I think it was raining flakes of your paint all over the-”
“Fine fine- I'll comm before I touch.” Brainstorm said, and he sounded as if he was trying very hard not to sound annoyed. “Swerve, take the right corridor, and if you commlink me just to chatter, I'll detonate the self-destruct chip in your gun.”
“Just try to hurry up, alright?” Rodimus said. “Ultra Magnus has been telling me that this place is under Galactic council rule or whatever, and I want him to stop bothering me about it. Oh, and for the record Brainstorm, you have no permission to kill Swerve.”
“Great! Er, I'll just go and check out the right.” Swerve chuckled nervously. He threw a suspicious glance at the gun in his hands and wondered if Brainstorm had really chipped the thing with a self-destruct device. It wouldn't be a surprise if he had. Swerve decided that it'd probably be best to look for another gun after he got back, just in case.
Brainstorm was already moving down the left corridor, and Swerve increased the power to his headlights to scare off the darkness. “Okay, so, I'll go right, and then we'll meet back here again right?”
“Sure, whatever...” Brainstorm murmured absent-mindedly, and his scanner beeped again.
“Okayyy...” Swerve stepped into the right cave, and dialled up his audial sensors a little. The place was deadly silent apart from the sound of his pedes, and the thick atmosphere of the planet was leaving droplets of liquid running down his plating.
Adventures, quests.... it all sounded a lot better when you were handing drinks to your friends and sporting an 80% full fuel tank. 'Go walk around in some cave' didn't sound bad at all, until you were actually IN said cave, with only the sound of dripping liquid and the eerie shadows that his headlights threw on the rock for company.
After a few minutes of walking, he couldn't hear Brainstorm's beeping scanner anymore. Instead, there was a soft buzz in the air. It reminded Swerve of the older vid-screen models, the ones that guzzled energy like a triple changer and always hung in the cheap energon stores. Those always buzzed like that as well.
It would be really amazing if he could find a whole stack of vidscreens in some weird cave. He'd been planning to buy something like that to hang in his bar so he could play entertainment video's without needing to comm Rewind.
“Rodimus, Brainstorm?” He said quietly, and his voice echoed back to him. His headlights were casting light on a thick gleaming cable, mossed over with a purple fungi, leading into the darkness where the cave walls abruptly ended in nothingness. “I found something. I can pick up the electrical charge with my audials, and there are some thick cables on the ground.”
“Brainstorm encountered something similar. All safe, according to Perceptor. Anything more?” Rodimus asked over the commlink.
“Let me check-” Swerve stepped forward, and shone his headlights into the darkness. The cave, as it appeared, ended in a chiselled-out room. Large, Cybertronian-scaled machines and terminals were lining the walls, and a tangle of electrical wires was splayed all over the ground so thickly that the rock was invisible beneath it. There was a blinking light overhead, paired with a rather sinister bunch of mechanical arms and cables.
“Uh, I'm gonna need someone's help to ID this stuff, but it looks like a whole bunch of machines- Cybertronian sized and pretty old. It's all covered in purple muck, but there's a large battery unit in the corner- looks like it's partway charged.”
“We could definitely use that. Check the exact charge, and while you're at it look for a faction symbol.” Rodimus ordered over the commlink.
Swerve stepped over and onto the large coils in the room, and wobbled his way over to the battery. The electrical hum was grating on his audials, and a few sparks dropped from the ceiling. “Yea, just give me a minute-”
There was a sudden flash of light, and a flash of electricity sent Swerve sprawling into the countless cables on the floor. His optics were glitching, and the charge crawled painfully to his circuits. His frame spasmed with phantom input from the electricity, and then slowly returned to normal. Swerve regained his sight lying on his back, his right arm feeling like a dead weight, and the electrical hum quiet. It was even darker than before.
“...-erve? What happened? Brainstorm, I swear I'm handing you over to Ultra Magnus if you really had a self-destruct chip in his gun,” Rodimus half-snarled into the commlink, and Swerve struggled to get upright.
“I'm o-o-kay.” he managed to transmit through his commlink. “Sss-surge- must've stepped on-nn the wrong cable. The b-bb—battery is empty now, I t-think; c-can't feel my arm and my vo-vv-v-caliser is glitching, o-o-obbbviouss-ly.”
“Brainstorm, turn your aft around and get to Swerve.” Rodimus ordered. “We're gonna pull back and send a second team in later. Swerve? Stay where you are and try not to get yourself killed.”
“G-got it.” Swerve reset his vocaliser and staggered to his feet. His right arm was a limp weight, and the only neural feedback he was getting was a tingling rush of painful static that had him wincing. “I hope I can still bartend with one arm out of commission...” He mused humourlessly. The whole cave was wobbling before his optics, and the bunched cables underneath his feet did nothing to help him stay upright.
“Swerve?” Brainstorm walked forward at a brisk pace, and steadied Swerve by his shoulders. “You look woozy as the pit- are you alright?”
Swerve reset his optics and nodded dazedly as Brainstorm led him out of the room. “Yea, I think so? Vision is returning to normal, I have a slightly overcharged battery, but it's dissipating. My arm's not working, feels numb.”
Brainstorm pushed him forward. “Eh. Sounds like nothin's up. I get limp arms all the time when I'm working.”
“You work with dangerous experimental weaponry.” Swerve said.
Brainstorm made a short sound that sounded like a chuckle. “Maybe this means you got talent. Wanna try your luck in the Brainstorm lab for the genius mastermind?” he murmured ominously, and Swerve hurried to decline.
“Oh, oh no, that's fine. I'll just stay in my bar. More than enough stuff explodes there with Whirl and Cyclonus hanging around. Heh heh...” Swerve was also pretty sure that he was going to find an early offlining if he went into Brainstorm's lab, either by accident or by annoying Brainstorm.
Brainstorm's glee dimmed, and he shrugged. “Oh well, okay then. That's fine. Do drop by if you change your mind. I'm always in need of a good lab assistant.”
Swerve was relieved to hear that his arm was going to be fine. Ratchet had checked it over with his usual soft and caring bedside manner of cursing and growling like a Dinobot, and his arm was now secured in the optimal position to get the energy-relays to reset; strapped to his chestplates with a few numbing patches slapped over the neural pathways.
On the positive side, this meant that Swerve was currently 'unfit for duty' and that he didn't have to go back into the cave or do boring monitor duty. On the negative side, this meant that running his bar was going to take twice as long and be twice as hard, especially since he was expecting a busy night.
Swerve had never really noticed how hard it was to wring a cloth with just one hand until he found himself trying to scrub a small stain off his bar with a soaked rag. His arm was aching with exhaustion, and all he ended up doing was making a large solvent puddle on his bar.
Really, it would be better to just call it a day and go to his habsuite. Ratchet's recommendations for a swift recovery usually entailed sitting around doing a whole bunch of nothing. Too bad it was the last thing Swerve wanted to do. What was he going to do with himself in his habsuite? Stare at the ceiling? Look at Blurr's number in the palm of his hand? Try to self-service with his left hand? Try to draw improvements for his bar with his non-dominant hand? Stare at Red-Alert's empty bunk? Reevaluate life choices? Wallow in self-loathing?
Nope, Swerve would much rather trying to run his bar with one hand. The worst thing that could happen was that he'd spend an entire night to clean everything, and that was still preferable to a full cycle alone in his habsuite wondering who wouldn't be annoyed if he came up to them for a visit.
Swerve rolled up the cleaning cloth and tried to press more solvent out of it. It spilled past the bar and formed a small puddle on the floor, splattering over his pedes. Scrap, he hadn't thought that one out.
Someone snickered, and Swerve looked up.
“Need a hand with that?” Skids plopped down on one of the barstools, and it creaked with his weight. The mech grabbed the cloth from the bar, and squeezed the extra solvent out of it with a single wring before tossing it back at Swerve.
“Hey, thanks!” Swerve caught the rag, and he sent a smile Skid's way. He moved the cleaning cloth over the spill, and this time the bar was only slightly damp when he was done.
“I see the mission went awry as usual?” Skids asked, and his optics flicked meaningfully to Swerve's arm.
Swerve snorted. “Well, apparently stepping on electricity cables gives some people super-powers, and others a migraine and a limp arm. At least Ultra Magnus pulled me off duty for a while.”
Skids lifted an optic ridge. “Off-duty huh? Then what are you doing here? I think a migraine and a limp arm are enough reason to go off and relax.”
Swerve moved the cleaning cloth over a perfectly clean part of his bar and grinned. “Oh, you know me, cleaning up after Trailbreaker's drink-binges and Tailgate's spills are my favourite pasttimes, especially when Whirl is around to kick my aft every time I bend over to grab a glass from the floor.”
“You're not seriously planning to run the bar all day, are you?” Skids asked with a quirked optic ridge. “A lot of bots are planning to get completely cratered tonight.”
Swerve shrugged. “All the more reason to stay open.”
“Uh-huh,” Skids said sardonically. “and having one arm will make collecting shanix, cleaning and serving even more simple, right? You can just go to your habsuite for some free time mech, people can deal with getting their own drinks for once.”
Swerve had lost his smile somewhere, and he quickly put it back on his face. “I like to see it as an opportunity to learn.” He said with a shrug. “I mean, if you're in the middle of a battle and someone tears your arm off, it's good to know how to wring a cloth and pick up a handful of shanix with one arm, you know?”
Skids snorted. “You're incorrigible.” he chuckled. “I'll just have to come by tonight and help you out a little then, huh?”
Swerve snapped his head up so fast that it made the room spin for a moment. “You would?” he blurted out.
“Sure,” Skids shrugged. “Nothin' better to do in my habsuite anyways, and I like hanging out here.” Skids smiled at him.
Swerve stared at Skids, and tried to spot any sign in the other mech that he was joking. He had a retort ready, but Skids looked as if he genuinely meant it. Swerve found himself nodding, and his grin bloomed automatically this time.
“Wow, yea! That would be great! Nobody really offers to do work like that for free, usually it's just me and the Ten drone, and I lose out on some recharge cleaning the place up, and then Whirl just throws his first drink of the day straight to the floor, and then Ultra Magnus comes in with a new set of regulations-.” He cut himself short. Skids was still smiling, and a stray thought suddenly entered Swerve's head.
“... in case you're thinking you can get free drinks out of this...” he said with a warning.
“Nah mech, I don't need payment. I checked my credits account, and apparently I'm very well off. Besides, I like your company.” Skids spoke flippantly, as if his words didn't mean much at all. It couldn't be further from the truth, and Swerve couldn't remember the last time he'd smiled so easily. Skids was looking at something behind him. “Anyway, any chance I can order a quick mid-grade with mercury before I start my shift?”
“Of course! I'll pull some one-armed acrobatics. No better time to practice my amputee skills than the present, right?” Swerve said, and he pulled the biggest glass he had off the shelf. He wasn't about to hand out free drinks, but if he happened to pour a little more energex into Skids' serving, that was his own business.
“Swerve?” Rung's clear voice rang out from the very end of the bar, and Swerve stiffened. The image of a headless Rung sprung up from his memory core without prompting, and he flinched inwardly. “Swerve, can I speak with you for a moment?”
“Uh-, yea, sure.” Swerve made a quick excuse to the mech he had been talking at, and the mech barely moved a servo in acknowledgement. Swerve moved over to where Rung had approached the bar, and tried for his brightest smile.
“Good midcycle Swerve, I'd like a low mid-grade please.” Rung said. He was not really smiling.
“Hey spectacle-” Swerve said, and he filled up a glass for the psychiatrist. It was a larger serving than was standard. It made it just a bit more bearable to look at the face of a mech he had almost killed, even if he always ended up making the bar dirty because he filled the glass too much. “How's your head doing?”
Rung's head had been rebuilt expertly, and there was not even a single weld-mark to show where his helm had been smashed into pieces via a thick bullet. Rung's not-really-a-smile dropped into cold neutrality, and Swerve couldn't for the life of him remember why he'd thought it was a good idea to make that sentence the second one in their conversation.
Rung was really neutral and calm, but Swerve could easily detect that there was a layer of icyness below that neutrality that was specifically meant for him. Swerve expected no differently. Had he even apologised? He couldn't remember. He'd done a lot of apologising in his head and late at night when he couldn't cycle into recharge, but he couldn't remember if he'd actually said it out loud. He really hoped he had.
“My head is doing fine. Thank you.” Rung intoned neutrally. His large eyebrows had drawn into a small frown that made Swerve want to run off and hide in some small crevice.
“Hehehe, yea, no hard feelings, right?” he said instead. “Total accident, didn't meant anything by it. I mean that, really! Who would ever have something against a nobody like you? Oh, uh! You're not a nobody, that was a figure of speech! You're definitely a somebody-...Somebody that nobody would have anybody against!” Swerve mentally congratulated himself on talking himself in a corner, and he quickly turned his head. “Er- I think I hear Sunstreaker calling for a refill-...”
“Swerve, I have been worried about you.” Rung said, and Swerve's idea of escaping Rung temporarily disappeared. Worried?
“Whuh?” He said dumbly. That was not at all what he had been expecting. Rung was rather known for keeping his job to emergencies and his office- outside of his work, he mostly liked to talk about old sophisticated vidfiles and model ships.
“I've noticed a recurring trend of flightiness and anxiety whenever you and I are in the same room.” Rung continued softly. “It's my duty to care for every mech on board, should they need counselling or help. Correct me if I am wrong; but does your behaviour have anything to do with the Fortress Max incident?”
Swerve's escape plans were starting to run at full speeds again, and he took a few steps back as he scrambled for an escape route. “Oh, uh, I think Skids is calling me from the other side of the bar- what did you say? Whirl broke my energex dispenser? I'm coming over right now-!”
“Swerve.” Rung had grabbed Swerve's good hand, and was stopping him from walking away. “You can stop blaming yourself,” he said, and his neutral expression had made way for that soft smile that looked far too kind to have survived a war. “Accidents happen, mistakes happen, and I'm still here. I am not one to hold a useless grudge over something that no longer matters.”
Swerve stared at the brightly lit spectacles and the soft smile that he usually only saw directed at Tailgate or Whirl's less harmful antics.
“I-....” He couldn't really find anything else to say. “.... you forgive me?”
Rung nodded. “Yes. I have had some time to mull it all over, and it's not something worth being angry at for much longer. I know you did not want to hurt me.” Rung let go of his hand, and took a sip from his drink.
“Well-... that's-... Wow, that's kind of unexpected. I was really really sure you hated my guts, and my aim, and my jokes, and me in general, but- really? You really forgive me? This is not some kind of joke is it?” Swerve asked blandly. He hadn't even forgiven himself, so how could Rung?
Rung looked a little put off, and the frown came back. “Do you really think I would joke about something like that?”
“No! Nooo of course not! You wouldn't! Of course you wouldn't!” Swerve didn't want to tell Rung that something like that had happened before, from mech's whom he hadn't shot in the head. “Just, I'm just surprised, that's all- normally people just kind of snark and get angry for a few weeks and put smokebombs under my...... Do you want another drink?” Swerve tried to change the subject, and Rung thankfully went along, one of his eyebrows quirked with an unspoken question.
“No thank you, your servings of low mid-grade are quite huge. I can't believe that Perceptor can drink two of these things...” Rung said, and he took another sip.
“Didn't you hear? He upgraded his tank so he could work longer shifts. He also said it'd help him survive longer in case Brainstorm blew up his lab and he got caught in the rubble.” Swerve joked. It was a relief to steer away from the previous subject, and he threw himself into the mundane conversation like a K-con into a battle. “I can give you smaller servings in the future if that helps? I'll even throw in a discount, just for you.”
“That would be appreciated.” Rung said with a smile. “A bit of a delayed question now, but how is your arm?”
“Oh, it'll be fine soon enough.” Swerve said. He could still barely feel it, but Ratchet knew best. “Still resetting the sensors and stuff, but no lasting damage. The thing about it that's most annoying is trying to wring out a cleaning cloth.”
“I'm happy to hear that.” Rung said, and he drank a few more sips from his drink before setting it aside. “I'll be back later tonight, I hear that there are plans for a party, and Rodimus asked me to keep an eye on Whirl.”
“I'll be here, and if you want to actually have fun, I can slip something in Whirl's drink to make him a little sleepy.” Swerve winked.
Rung was obviously not impressed with his joke, and he forced an overly polite smile. “That won't be necessary. Good day Swerve,” he said, before walking away and leaving his cup of mid-grade half full on the bar.
“GOOD DAY SPECTACLE!” Swerve called after him. He watched as Rung walked through the doors into the hallway. The unbidden image of Rung's lifeless body smoking from where the helm had exploded into a mass of metal bits came up again, and the guilt pressed down hard on his spark.
Swerve hadn't forgiven himself. He wasn't sure if he ever would, but it was an almost palpable balm to know that Rung had.
Skids and Rung had been right about mechs looking forward to a night of drinking. The bar was filled up to the brim, and there were almost not enough chairs to accommodate everybody.
Swerve had been expecting a massacre inside of his bar by the end of the night, but everyone was so well-behaved he could barely believe they were the same people that regularly thrashed his bar over a game dispute.
Sunstreaker was being his usual moody self, but his Insecticon was lying by his pedes instead of wreaking havoc around the bar. Whirl was preoccupied with Rung- playing a dexterity game with his claws. He was actually pretty good at it, and he had accumulated a circle of overcharged bots who were cheering as he moved to stack a shotglass onto a towering pyramid of glass.
As for Swerve himself- he was on a roll.
“-don't have a regular meeting, no, they call them CONferences!” Swerve finished his joke, and a pail of laughter burst from the bots that had been listening.
“Where do you come up with these?” Rodimus half-laughed, and Swerve grinned as he watched the success from his joke play out in front of him. Chromedome had choked on his fuel two times now, and Rewind was busy cleaning the spill from where it had splashed over him.
“Oh, it just comes naturally to the smart-sparked.” Swerve said. “I got another one for ya! Why do mecha need a chronometer? To tell the Optimus Time!”
Tailgate laughed out loud, and Cyclonus gave him the most dour unimpressed look that Swerve had seen in megacycles. The rest of the mechs laughed as well.
“Who wants more drinks?!” Swerve called out, and quite a few hands flew into the air, prompting a lightweight Tailgate to almost drop off his seat. Cyclonus caught the minibot by the arm, and managed to pull him upright, trying to look chastising through a haze of energex.
Swerve took the orders, and made his way through the crowd busying his bar. Someone clapped him on the shoulder with a slurred compliment, and there weren't even many spills on the floor.
Swerve couldn't remember the last time there had been such a good mood, and so little mess! Ultra Magnus had to be behind the orderliness somehow, but the enforcer of the Tyrest accord had left early with a tight expression and a warning not to let things get out of hand lest he had to break up the party.
Swerve almost thought that Ultra Magnus had been cutting him a break, but that was such a ridiculous thought that he dismissed it right away. It was far more likely that Rodimus had given Ultra Magnus another mission to 'unwind'.
Swerve finally reached his bar, and Skids grinned at him from behind the energon taps. “Here's the drinks for Chromedome's table.” Skids said, and he passed a large serving tray into Swerve's hand.
Swerve grinned. “Thanks!”
“No thanks needed, mech. You do this all the time, so I guess you can get a break too every once in a while. I think most of the busywork is over for now. If you want, I can take over for the rest of the night, and you can play patron to your own bar. How's that sound?”
Swerve looked over his shoulder, where Rewind and Chromedome were acing the game of 'guess who transforms', and the transformee's were falling off their pedes from sheer overchargedness.
Tailgate saw him looking, and immediately started waving excuberantly, pointing at an empty seat next to him and trying to lure him over.
“I-...That sound really neat, yea.” Swerve said hesitantly. “I'm not sure...”
Skids seemed to catch his thoughts and shook his head again. “Don't need any payment. Just see it as a gift from one friend to another,” he said with a wink.
Swerve started to decline Skids' offer, but then the rest of his words sank in, and he feel quiet. “Do you mean that?” He asked before he could stop himself.
“Mean what? That it's a gift?” Skids asked.
“No, no, the- the friend part.”
“Umm, yea?” Skids quirked an eyebrow, and he looked a little confused. “Of course I meant that, you didn't think we were friends? We hang out literally every cycle!”
“I-...” I hoped, but I wasn't sure. I didn't dare to ask because the answer could have been no. And everyone on the entire ship hangs around my bar every day, and none of them ever said they were my friend. “Of course! Of course we're friends! I don't know what I was thinking there, sorry!” Swerve forced a quick laugh. He hoped that Skids wouldn't inquire further, and his hope seemed granted as the mech continued making drinks.
“Looks like Tailgate wants to hear that story about that heat-sensitive-paint-in-the-washracks prank.” Skids mused. “He's practically begging you to come over with those sparkling big optics of his. You should take a day off. Enjoy your bar as a patron for once.”
Swerve looked over his shoulder. Tailgate began waving as soon as he saw Swerve looking, and enthusiastically invited him to take the seat in between him and Cyclonus.
Swerve hadn't forgotten that Tailgate had preferred Cyclonus as a roommate, and he looked back at Skids. The mech was cleaning glasses like he'd never done differently in his functioning quietly urging him to go and sit with Tailgate and the others. Like a friend would do.
Swerve shook his head. “Nah... I think I'll keep working with you tonight. Hand me a tray.”
“Really? It's no problem, you can go and enjoy yourself.”
“I'll enjoy myself just plenty,” Swerve answered. He was almost surprised to find that he meant it. It had been a very long time since he had preferred a single person over the bustle and hustle of a group. It was easier to pretend he wasn't lonely when there were a lot of people around. Swerve felt that he could trust Skids- at least try to trust that the mech would not leave him for something better halfway through the night.
Skids grinned, and pushed a large tray in Swerve's direction. It looked very heavy, and Skids laughed at Swerve's worry as he eyed the large stacks of big drinks. “You can still change your mind.” Skids hummed teasingly, and he waggled an optic ridge.
Swerve struggled to balance the tray on his good hand, and threw a defiant look in Skids' direction. “No way, Jose,” he said, and determinedly made two steps before crashing to the ground – tray and all.
“G'night Skids.” Swerve called out. “Thanks again for the help!”
Skids just mumbled something by way of an answer as he wandered to his own habsuite, but there was the sound of a smile in his voice. He had helped Swerve to his habsuite. The bar was still a mess and a half, but they had managed to clean most of the spills, and even Whirl's attempt at stacking shot-glasses to the ceiling had gone over quite well.
Swerve didn't think it was possible to have such a good night. He'd have to revisit the story of his metallurgist job more often with how much laughs he'd pulled from his audience tonight.
And yes. He had had an audience, a big audience actually. At one point he'd almost lagged behind on serving the drinks because he kept hanging around the tables to finish his stories. Skids had done most of the bartending when he'd been busy. Swerve's night had been so good that he barely even cared if Skids had handed out a few free drinks.
Swerve staggered into his habsuite, and dropped himself onto his berth. The silence was deafening, but for the first time in forever, the aching sense of loneliness didn't come to haunt him. Instead, the absence of noise was calming, having been in the middle of the hustle and bustle for the better part of the night.
He couldn't really remember feeling this way before. Maybe when he executed a prank perfectly and managed to pin the blame on someone else, but that never gave him these warm fuzzies in his chassis. Swerve felt like he'd experienced what the humans would call a perfect day. Heck, if this was what he got from a near-crippling accident, he'd gladly do it again.
All throughout the night he'd half expected someone to stand up and loudly proclaim that all the good stuff was just a joke that everyone on the ship was in on. It just felt a little surreal, the offered help, the laughs at his jokes, an actual mumbled apology from WHIRL of all people.
But here he was, in his berth, and there was no prank, no 'kick my aft' note on his back, no paint-trap over his berth, no credits missing from his bar-checkout.... It wasn't fake. It had just been a wonderful, amazing, jaw-achingly good day. Swerve still couldn't get the smile off his face.
A message pinged his commlink just as he was about to drop into recharge, and he shifted tiredly into the padding of his berth. Who messaged a bot this early in the dayshift? Most likely, it was Ultra Magnus pinging him with the list of regulations that he'd broken, and the brigtime sentence he'd have to sit out because of it. Swerve sighed. Nothing could be perfect to the end, he supposed.
He opened the message just so he could mark it as 'read', and then froze.
He shot up from his berth, and stared at the name at the top of the message. Blurr? THE Blurr? The winner of seventeen consecutive races at the most competitive cups? The most famous bot ever, who had given him an Autograph with an added 'for Swerve', and who he was going to own a bar with, and who was the most amazing person he'd ever shared venting-space with-!
Swerve zipped past the sender confirmation, and started reading the message like a Syk-addict craving a fix. If his frame trembled, he was too excited to notice.
I didn't think you would have kept my old number for so long. I hadn't checked it for a while since it was pre-war, but I am happy I did. The war has changed us all a lot, but your message was a great reminder as to who I was, and who I want to be. It came at a great moment too- things are hectic around here and your message reminded me of calmer days.
I am going to start a bar as well. I'm currently looking for a building on Cybertron that I can claim for that purpose, but it hasn't been much good so far. When the Lost Light gets back, you should come by and we can talk. I'll make time for you.
You're a special bot Swerve, and don't forget it. I wouldn't have given you my commlink number if I hadn't seen something in you.
Swerve checked the commlink number, and with trembling hands, he looked at the number that Blurr had scratched into his palm so many years ago. It matched perfectly. Swerve felt as if someone had set fire to his spark.
“Blurr messaged me,” he whispered in awe. “He remembered me.”
His spark felt almost painful as he re-read the message, and read it again.
“Of course-... Of course he would remember me,” he said to himself. “We were buddies! Best buds!”
He'd never really believed it when he'd told others that Blurr was his friend- but here it was, black on white, right here in front of him – solid proof.
He copied the message, and started placing it all through his databanks. There was no way in the pit he was ever deleting this message- not even if someone shot him in the primary memory core. He'd absorb it in his spark if he could.
He was going to show Skids first thing in the morning, and then Ultra Magnus, and Tailgate, and Rung, and Whirl, and Red Alert and Rodimus and Drift and Pipes and-!
Swerve was shaking with excitement as he started forming a new message for Blurr. There was so much more he had to tell the mech. He could tell him about the trip to the cave, Skids helping him out in the bar, Fortress Maximus' weird freakout, Whirl's fight with Cyclonus, Cyclonus and Tailgate becoming friends, Brainstorm's briefcase, the legislators, and how awesome Blurr was, and how awesome it was to even receive a message from him, and that he was totally wanted co owner ship with the bar, and maybe Blurr could come along with the Lost Light on the next mission, because he still had an empty berth in his habsuite and then they could share Swerve's bar AND habsuite-
It took a good half joor before Swerve stopped writing, and by that point he felt hot from his pedes to his helm. Any notion of recharge had been overridden by the excitement running through his systems
Swerve looked at the fifteen-page document of fine print that he had written down for Blurr, and added his name in proud capitals underneath his letter.
He looked at the number on his palm, and sent the message straight to the commlink number. The message went through without a problem, and Swerve tried to calm his swirling spark by taking a few calm invents and exvents with a grin as wide as his faceplate.
His arm was starting to hurt through the numbing patches. His bar was still a mess. Whirl had broken over a half of his shot-glasses, and he still had no roommate, but today had been a good day. It'd been the first day in ages where he had an actual smile on his face at the end of the day.
Swerve let himself fall back on his berth, fully expecting to land on the regulation-style berths of the Lost Light. Instead, there was only a gaping emptiness behind him.
There was an awful ripping sound, and then harsh impact with the floor. Swerve jolted. His optics were offline where they had been online just a second before, and his entire frame felt sluggish and weak.
He tried to online his optics, and was met with First-Aid flashing a light into his visor. A thick film of goop was plastered all over his visor, and it was in his mouth too. He tried to wipe the slime off him, and First-Aid was shaking him.
“...-erve? Can you hear me?” The medic asked.
“Y-... yu...yes- what happened, where's-.... w..'whats going on?” Swerve tried to look around, but there was barely any light. He was lying on a hard bobbled surface, and his groping hand could feel thick electricity cables running under him.
“Follow the light with your optics.... good. As to what happened; you got caught in an experimental trap.” First-Aid stated, and he wiped more grime from Swerve's frame. “Don't worry, it's deactivated now, you'll be fine.”
“Experimental trap...?” Swerve's voice crackled as he tried to sit up. His frame was giving him fuel warnings, and First-Aid handed him a cube of energon.
“Yes. Possibly a prelude to the phobia shield, or maybe it was just based on it, we're not sure. It harvests energy from sparks, and stores it in a battery.” First-Aid grabbed a tool of some sort, and Swerve jolted as a low current connected to his frame.
“H-harvest my spark??” Swerve stuttered, horrified.
“Yep. Don't worry, there's no permanent damage and most of your discomfort comes from the way you were restrained. You were pretty far in, you were the last one we got out.” First-Aid pointed to the ceiling, and Swerve could see a mangled mess of machinery. “How are your memory banks? The machine induces fantasies to keep victims pliant. Fake visions and memories.”
“Fake...?” Swerve echoed. His world was still spinning slowly, and his frame was pinging him with urgent damage reports that had five joor old timestamps.
“Yes, fake. It'll take a while for the false data to rectify itself but it should work out just fine. Your arm was blasted with some electricity so you'll have to walk around with a holder for a few days.” First-Aid said with a comforting tone.
Swerve looked around. The cave was still as gloomy as he remembered it, but there were several more bots around, and the machines were smashed. A few cables hanging from the ceiling were dripping goo to the ground, and sparks flew where it dripped over an exposed conduit.
“Fake.” Swerve repeated.
“Yea. Okay, try to stand up...” First-Aid tried to lug Swerve upright, and Swerve worked with him automatically, still working to understand the implications in First-Aid's words.
Swerve felt cold and sickly, and he let a few other bots drag him towards the Lost Light. Nobody asked why he was so uncharacteristically silent. He was brought to the medbay, and then dismissed after a few short scans. Ratchet bound his electrified arm to his chassis for correct healing. Swerve tried not to notice that there were no neural-numbing patches this time. Those only got administered when the pain limit was above a certain level. He'd forgotten about that. After he'd been tossed from the medbay, Swerve went over to his bar.
It was mostly empty. All the bots that had been caught in the trap had gotten a cycle off, but it seemed that a lot of them needed some alone time to deal with whatever their fantasy had been. Swerve wasn't sure why he was in his bar. It was so similar to the 'fake' dream that he had to check with Ratchet to make sure that he really was awake.
Swerve handed drinks to the few bots that were hanging around, and then started cleaning his bar. Wringing out the cloth turned out to be just as hard in reality as it had been in the fake reality.
“Need some help?” Skids asked, and Swerve's spark made a small leap of hope. It was similar, almost perfectly similar to what had occurred in his supposed 'fake' reality. It didn't really matter that Skids always came by around the bar this time of day for his serving of mid-grade.
“Yea, that'd be appreciated.” Swerve replied, and Skids wrung out the mesh for him.
“Here. Triple high-grade with mercury for me,” he said, and he looked around the bar. “Kinda quiet today.”
Swerve made him his drink, and handed it to him. “That thing in the cave was depressing. I wouldn't be surprised if they're gonna stay all night to get cratered. I'm not looking forward to cleaning up the mess.”
“Yea, I'm happy I didn't get snared in that trap. Brainstorm looked like he'd seen a ghost after he came out of it.” Skids said, and he took a swig of his drink.
“It's going to be a real pain to keep the bar clean with just one arm.” Swerve hinted as subtly as he could, and judging by Skids' look, he hadn't been that subtle at all.
“Heh. You couldn't pay me to clean up after Whirl's purge-fest! I can barely believe you're still running the bar with how much regurgitated fuel you have to scrape off the floor every day.” Skids said, and he threw back most of the energon left in his glass.
“...There's free drinks in it for you?” Swerve suggested.
Skids just laughed. “Not for all the energon in the universe! Anyway, I'm gonna go. I got patrol soon, and it's a little too gloomy for me here. Good luck mech!”
Swerve forced a smile. “Yup! Good orn to you!” He returned to the stain. In the fake world, it had come right off with a few scrubs. Not so much here. Swerve's good arm ached by the time the stain was gone, and the corners of his mouth felt heavier than usual.
“There's good company in it...?” He quietly tested the question to himself when nobody could hear him. He wondered if Skids would have stayed if he'd asked that. He really doubted it. Free drinks, in general, had proven to be much more valuable than his company.
Rung came by later in the midday, sitting at a table with Chromedome, Rewind and Whirl. He seemed contemplative, preoccupied with something, and Swerve had blurted out something akin to 'getting his head in the game' before he could help himself.
Rung's frown had been impressive, and it'd been a rather... effective reminder that THIS Rung had not forgiven him. Whirl had laughed as Swerve had made a quick retreat, and when he made Rung's drink, he chose a large glass that he filled to the brim. The full weight of guilt was back, maybe even heavier than before. It reminded Swerve of getting a silicone patch over a fresh weld, only for someone to rip it off and take half of the new weld with it.
The rest of the day went by in a painfully slow drag. The only people in his bar were a few mecha looking to get overcharged into oblivion. Even with as little people in the bar, keeping it clean was almost impossible with just a single functional hand. As the day progressed, his bar started to look like a house-bar from the Dead End.
In between trying to clean spills and serving drinks, Swerve attempted to retell the successful stories from his fake reality. It had as much success as usual – a bland look and a kind query to stop talking.
It wasn't as if many people laughed at Swerve's jokes to begin with, but with the memories of a guffawing audience still fresh in his processors, his jokes felt even more like failures than usual. He tried repeating the 'CON-ference' joke to Tailgate, but the short chuckle that he earned from that was nothing in comparison to the loudly laughing table of bots in his memory.
He closed the bar early, and didn't try to clean the mess that was still left.
That night in his habsuite was lonely, and eventually painful when his arm started to sting and burn in the middle of the night. He had a list of contacts open on his HUD, all of them with various reasons as to why it would be an atrocious idea to call them in the middle of the dark cycle.
Swerve was tried to rub some pain out of his arm, and his eyes fell the scorched numbers of Blurr's hailing frequency on his palm.
He held little hope that that part had been real, but there was still hope, no matter how little. Swerve opened his inbox and looked. The message was at the top of his queue.
He deleted it without looking inside, and curled up on his berth. He didn't want to think about the contents of the message. Red-Alert's bunk was empty across from him, and Swerve stared at the empty space.
Drift liked to say that having something good and losing it was better than never knowing it at all. Swerve wasn't sure if that sentiment worked in this situation. Had he even 'had' that day? Maybe, if it'd all been real, and he would have died the next day or something, Swerve could have agreed with Drift's sentiment. He would be able to look at Skids, and remember that it was the same bot that had helped him with his bar when he'd been down one arm. He would be able look at Rung without feeling like the worst scum, or he'd be able to believe that bots were going to miss him once he was gone. Or at least miss his jokes.
Swerve had half a mind to call Ultra Magnus. If anything, the large bot was predictable. He could count on Ultra Magnus- even if it was just that he could count on the bot putting him in the brig for interrupting an officer's designated recharge time without suitable reason.
Swerve looked at the palm of his hand, where Blurr's personal commlink number was still engraved. He still had the other fake messages scattered through his databanks- an effort to preserve a perfect moment turned into a painful reminder that it hadn't been real. Blurr didn't remember him. Probably never would.
No, that wasn't necessarily true, was it? Swerve looked intently at the numbers on his palm. Even if Blurr hadn't messaged back in reality, that didn't mean he never would! Messages got lost all the time, and they were very far apart. Blurr had given him his personal commlink number. They were going to start a bar- that was all real! Blurr would send a message as soon as he could, because they were friends.
Swerve clung to that thought as he wrote Blurr a message about the Lost Light's travels, and the adventure of the weird spark-harvest machine. It was short, compared to the message he'd written while under the illusion. Swerve sent the message into Blaster's queue, with Blurr's personal commlink number as the recipient, and tried to cycle into recharge as the Lost Light flew on through space, towards the next adventure.