Slow Burn

Chapter 8

Chapter 8

Sitting on Frenzy’s recharge berth, it occurred to me that I seemed to have taken up an unofficial residence with the tapes in Soundwave’s quarters. Glancing over at the large blue mech, currently pouring over a myriad of dataplates monitoring God only knows what, or more exactly, who, I wondered once again, how I was going to survive here without my purple lover. He would be leaving soon as part of the first wave headed for Earth. It was only a matter of hours now. Frenzy was engrossed in final preparations, collecting necessary equipment and weaponry. I held one of his metal throwing stars in my hand, turning it over and over, watching it gleam and trying not to think of what it would do to human flesh. Rumble stood near the end of the berth, helping his twin make adjustments to his jetpack, and Lazerbeak watched the shattered light break off the edges of the star twisting between my fingers. Ravage lay on the floor a few feet away, passively monitoring.

The conversation between the two humanoid tapes caught my attention with the mention of Air Force One. I looked up, surprised at hearing familiar American military jargon shoved between the smooth syllables of the Cybertronian language they were speaking in. Rumble noticed my sudden focus and asked, “Hey, Natty, you’re from Earth. You should know… If Air Force One is a target, how guarded will it be?”

Frenzy’s optics zeroed in on me and I dropped my gaze back to the throwing star in my hands. Torn between a sworn allegiance to a country I could not return to and an alliance to a destructive insurgency that held the key to my survival, I opted for a vague answer. Nothing classified. “Very.”

But Frenzy knew me too well. “Natty. What do you know about Air Force One?”

My gaze flicked up to him guiltily and back to my fiddling hands. I was not getting out of this, the wolves had caught a scent and they would wrest all the information they could out of me. It was ironic that in all the preparations no one had ever thought to ask the one human on this base about the American military capabilities or how to suss out information in a human information system. I had come from those very things they sought to infiltrate, and until now, only hours from launch, no one had thought to ask me anything.

“Not much,” I admitted. “I was never assigned to it. I crewed Blackhawks in the Army. Air Force One is… Air Force.”

“Blackhawks…?” Rumble carefully intoned the English word.

“Blackout’s alt mode. I was a mechanic. I fixed them. And I rode along manning the .50 cal. Sometimes.”

The tapes exchanged a look and surrounded me. I sighed knowing I was about to be interrogated. Glancing over my shoulder at Soundwave, I confirmed that even he was intrigued, having set down all his dataplates and turned that red visored face in my direction.

Hanging my head, my shoulders slumped, I asked, “What do you want to know?”

“How do we infiltrate their IS?” Frenzy queried, his excitement at finding a new source of information not, as yet, uncovered by anyone else evident in the rush of his words.

“I don’t know. I wasn’t Comm, Zee. I fixed helos. That’s all.”

He frowned at me.

“Zee… every computer system on earth is interconnected. Even the military’s. If you start out on the internet, you can eventually make your way into the secure servers. But there are lots of security protocols that you have to circumvent.”

He stood over me still and silent. Waiting.

I tossed the star onto the bed, throwing my hands into the air with a frustrated yell. “Alright, look. If you can get to a Command Center, there will be a direct line into the Pentagon’s secure servers. You have to get into that system first, but eventually, you should be able to connect to the most important systems. Why does it matter? Isn’t there some way of tracking Megatron that doesn’t involve wrecking the entire planet’s datanetworks?”

Rumble grinned at me, “Now where’s the fun in that?”

I snatched up the star off the bed and threw it at him, the razored edges sinking into his upraised, deflecting hand. Scowling and cursing at me he yanked the star out, but stopped short of throwing it back when Frenzy shot him a scathing glare.

Straddling the berth in front of me, the purple mech took my hands in his own, catching my reluctant gaze with his. “Natty, where are these Command Centers?”

“SOCCENT. It’s in the desert. It would be the easiest for you guys to infiltrate. Failing that, maybe Air Force One itself. You wouldn’t make it into the Pentagon fast enough to get anywhere. They’d have everything destroyed before you could get through the front doors.”

Frenzy grinned his crooked smirk at me, grabbing my jaw and pressing a rough kiss onto my mouth. I whimpered softly against him, hungry for more, aching for him to stay. Sensing my desire, he grabbed my body, pulling me close, and slipping his hands under my shirt, one at my back, one breezing over my chest. Every fiber of my being wanted to beg him not to go, but I couldn’t. He would leave anyway, but if I asked him to stay, he would scorn me.

“Primus! Need the room Zee?” Rumble grumbled, dropping the star in my lap.

“No,” he quipped against my mouth, his optics slitted open, gazing lustily into my eyes, “You can watch if you want.”

I giggled, pulling away from him and smacking his arm.

“Why not?” he went on, leaning forward in pursuit of me, “We already have an audience.” He waved one hand at Soundwave in implication of the mech’s notorious reputation for having spies and devices in every nook and cranny.

I rolled my eyes, leaning backward away from Frenzy. “I try not to think about that,” I said.

His smirk deepened with mischief as he pushed me down against the recharge berth, and positioned himself over me. “I’m going to miss this,” he whispered huskily into my ear before nipping at my neck.

With a squeak of protest, I pushed against him, but he didn’t budge, continuing his trail of nips and bites down the side of my neck, leaving purple marks in the flesh and chuckling at my squirming body underneath him.

Rumble sighed resentfully, and smacked his twin on the back of the head. “Come on, Zee. We’ve got to stow that jet pack on board the Nemesis.”

Frenzy stopped his exploits, pausing to give me a rueful wink and a quick kiss on the mouth. As he pushed himself upward, I grabbed his shoulders and pulled him back down, eliciting a confused wide-opticed look from the mech. Almost. The words almost made it past my lips. But I knew better. I couldn’t have him leave for Earth angry with me. So many things could happen between here and the time that I arrived with the second wave. My gaze flicked down and then back up to meet his questioning expression. So many things I wanted to say…

“Return to me. When this is over. Don’t you dare leave me alone,” I whispered.

His face relaxed into a rare affection. “I will.” And against the pressing ache of it all, I let him go.

Months. It could have been years—it felt like forever. But it was only months. Months after the departure of the Nemesis, I had a horrible dream. It was so terrifyingly real that it haunted me from then on. It haunts me still. There was an underground cavern. And behind a sealed door were a handful of humans desparately putting together an old computer system attempting to get a message out via Morse code. A tall thin man with dark curly hair and a black beret stood holding a shotgun. The blasts tore chunks from my body and eventually, tattered and mostly dismantled, my life force slipped away on the floor of that cavern. But it wasn’t me. It couldn’t have been me because the last thought that went through the mind of the dying Decepticon was a promise that could no longer be kept: Return to me… I will…

And months later Skyfire and I boarded the next ship bound for the Sol solar system. All told it was roughly two years from the time the first wave departed to the time of our arrival. We were greeted and briefed by Starscream and Blackout. Barricade was holding down a location planet side and I was informed that I would be assigned to him, both of us falling under Skyfire’s command. I didn’t care much for the reckless, flamboyant mech, but there were worse assignments. It could have been Blackout. There was no mention of those lost to us, whether dead or just missing in action. It was just the way of the Decepticons to not speak of the dead. Frenzy’s name was never uttered. Dread filled my belly like a lead sinker on a fishing line. And the nightmare haunted my waking thoughts. I never told anyone about it, but Skyfire knew. Thanks to our shared spark, he always knew.

The ship was settled into a far orbit of the yellow star central to my planet’s solar system and the Decepticons made their way to Earth in exo-suits that mimicked asteroids to avoid detection. It worked for the first few mechs, but the NEST teams quickly picked up on the rouse and began hunting them all down. Skyfire’s alt mode had been adjusted to a spacefaring fighter similar to Starscream’s for the journey to Earth and I rode down in his cockpit, complaining the whole way.

“I really hate you right now,” I groused, trying not to stare out at the vast emptiness of space as we exited the ship’s boarding pad and circled around to the sunward side of Saturn. I’d had entirely too much space over the last few months.

“Then you should have rode down with Starscream,” he snapped.

“That would end well.”

“I guarantee you wouldn’t be complaining.”

“Oh, I’d still complain.”

Once. You’d do it once.”

I laughed despite my sour mood. “And then I’d get a much faster ride planet side! One way trip.”

“Exactly. So shut up. I have half a mind to do it myself.”

I leaned back into the seat, the straps wrapped securely around me held me in place against the lack of gravity. We were traveling in a sort of halfway phased into hyperspace mode, so I could still see everything exactly as it was, but the planets and asteroids whipped past at an alarming speed. It was very unnerving to me, still being relatively new to space travel. My first trip through the galaxy had been rather disastrous and nearly deadly.

“It won’t happen again.” Skyfire responded to my dark thoughts.

“I know,” I said. “That doesn’t make this any easier. You’d think I’d be all excited, you know, first human to travel this far out—but I’m not.” I sighed heavily, my hand lightly patting the interior of the cockpit. “I just want my feet on solid ground.”

“Soon enough.”

It always seems to rain at funerals.

We entered the atmosphere in a blazing fury, breaking through and then gliding down into the dense cloud cover of a cool Spring rain. The water hissed off Skyfire’s superheated metals as the rain drizzled over his alt mode. He set us down in a remote location at what appeared to be a small, abandoned airport. As soon as he pulled to the end of the runway, and was moving slowly enough, I opened the canopy, ignoring his protests and scampered across his wingspan, leaping off the end and landing with a roll. I pulled myself into a four legged crouch and wretched like there was no tomorrow. I don’t actually eat, so it was merely my human side going through the motions. Skyfire transformed, watching me with a puzzled look on his face. While I convulsed my figurative guts out on the end of the runway, a black and white police car screamed down the access road, lights and siren blaring, sliding to a halt mere inches from my shaking body. I was unfazed. I spared a caustic, half open eyed glance at the glistening mech and dropped into the grass panting and clutching at my overexerted torso.

“I hate flying,” I muttered into the dirt. Barricade said nothing, pausing a only a moment before spinning his tires and covering me with mud as he pealed out heading back toward a lone hangar halfway down the ramp, Skyfire walking along behind him.

By the time I reached the hangar, the downpour had washed most of the mud off my shivering frame. Neither mech seemed to notice my entrance, and I stopped at the Seeker’s side, leaning against the warm metals of his left leg. Barricade was briefing him on the situation here on Earth as it currently stood, speaking strictly in Cybertronian, as was his wont. I didn’t bother paying any attention, instead focusing my efforts on soaking up as much of the lingering heat off the jet as I possibly could. My thoughts turned, as they always did, to Frenzy. Why had no one spoken of him yet?

“Natty… Livewire!” Skyfire’s deep voice broke into my inner sanctuary.

Startled, I gazed up at the jet. “Huh? What’s up?”

“Pay attention,” he chided, pointing at Barricade. The black and white mech was scowling impatiently at me, arms crossed over his chest, door wings raised high.

“What?” I said flatly.

“Understand this, half aft, I do no repeat myself,” he growled.

I shrugged, ignoring the cruel nickname and tapping on the Seeker’s leg. “I’m cold. He’s warm. It’s very relaxing.”

Barricade threw up his arms in disgust and turned on his heels striding toward the exit at the back of the hangar. “Wait!” I called after the retreating mech. He stopped, twisting halfway around to glare down at me. I stepped toward him, needing to ask, but not wanting to hear the answer. His name had not been mentioned since our arrival. We had all been briefed on the status of every survivor, but no one uttered the purple tape’s name. Dread curled around my spark and tightened inside my chest, threatening to crush the very force keeping me alive.

My voice came out small and tenuous, “Where is Frenzy?”

Barricade’s optics widened, his mouth dropped open, and he stared at Skyfire for a long, painful second. I knew the words were coming before he said them, but even then I could not accept it. I had known from the moment the nightmare woke me, trembling and terrified, nearly two years ago. But he promised.

“Frenzy is offline.” Barricade’s gaze had returned to me carefully measured, his voice flat and even.

Nooo!” My scream ripped through the hangar, echoing out into the rain. I fell to my knees under the weight of the words. “You’re a liar!”

The accusation brought the mech round on me, door wings back and optics narrowed. There was steel in his voice as he answered, “I may lie about a great many things, but the death of a fellow Decepticon is not one of them! Frenzy is gone and you dishonor his memory with your behavior!”

I dropped completely to the floor, my hands covering my face, my body racked with sobs. Skyfire staggered at the piercing agony that seeped through our shared spark. Kneeling behind me, he placed one large hand over my back in effort to lend some small comfort. “They were bonded,” he said in quiet explanation. “She already knew. She hasn’t been able to accept it yet.”

Barricade stalked across the hangar to a stack of wooden crates, pulling something from inside one of them, and dragging it back to where I shook on the cement floor. What he dropped in front of me was a long, wiry, headless body. It was silvery and smaller than myself, large portions were missing, and as my mind replayed the nightmare, I could see each blast from the shotgun and its correlating damage on the body laying lifeless before me. I had no idea the form which Frenzy had adopted for his mission on earth and at first my mind railed against the idea that this could be him. On Cybertron he had towered a foot and a half over me, this body was practically child sized. But the distinctive throwing stars gave him away. One was lodged in its firing shoot above his shoulder and another clasped in the remaining, razor clawed hand. The memory of another time and place washed over me, carrying me deeper into the insanity of this sorrow. I could still see the light breaking off the sharpened edges of the star in my hand as I sat on Frenzy’s recharge berth. He and Rumble were adjusting his jet pack and questioning me about Air Force One. And then he tackled me to the bed with rough kisses and his mischievous, lopsided grin, promising to return to me when he rose to leave.

He promised…

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