A/N: Ok I suck more than I sucky thing that sucks... I started a new job and so have let things slide. Getting back on top of things now though. Very nice long update for you.
Nadya was now entirely sick of being in the ventilation shafts. Her back hurt, her knees were aching and their space suits as cumbersome as they were, were just not made for crawling around in. It was hot, sticky hot, and her oxygen meter read low. She tried to ignore the red flashing light on her wrist where the LCD readouts were attached: she'd already calculated they had a couple of hours at best, but at the rate they were using it up perhaps not even that much.
She glanced up to see Stokes's backside disappear around a corner. "Stokes, hey wait up will you?" She shuffled along faster. "Stokes?!" She hissed when she turned the corner and found the vent shaft empty. Cursing under her breath she continued on. Stokes had been quiet, too quiet for a short while now. He was never quiet unless he was concentrating on his research or he was wrong and didn't want to admit it. Despite his frat boy attitude he had a knack for coming through in a crunch. Nadya sincerely hoped this was one of those times, a quiet Stokes was just unnerving.
"Phillippe Stokes, what the hell are you playing at?" She glared at his silver suit shimmering in the light cast through a vent. He frowned at the use of his full name she only ever used it when she was either teasing him or was pissed. From the dark look on her face he was going to go with pissed, something to deal with later no doubt. He grabbed her suit sleeve and pulled her close putting his finger to his visor to stop her talking.
Nadya was about to protest loudly when he pointed through the vent onto the scene below them. Stifling a gasp Nadya stretched out, lying flat against the cold metal leaning as close as she could to the narrow gaps. Stokes lay beside her and opened their internal suit comm.
"Looks a little tense in there- you think we should do something?"
Nadya shook her head, forgetting he couldn't see the gesture. "What exactly do you suggest?" She couldn't keep the sarcasm from her voice. "Giant alien robots vs the humans? Sounds like a bad American B movie."
"Hey I'll have you know we make some good bad films. There was this one film based in space right and the monster was a--"
"Not the time, Stokes." Nadya interrupted.
Both humans froze as a deep voice vibrated through the shaft.
"That's Optimus." Stokes stated.
Nadya rolled her eyes. "Great. Do you want a cookie?"
"I was just..."
"Shush: trying to listen." She glared intently at the vent just in time to catch Ratchet's typically gruff tirade describing the ship's current dilapidated condition.
"In short, Prime," Ratchet was saying, "while I can fix most of the outer plating, especially with extra hands, without the Catalyser the engine won't turn. Engine doesn't turn we don't fly."
Optimus moved into view of the humans watching above. Stokes whistled silently at the damage he appeared to have suffered since they last saw him.
"Could you get one, Blackout?"
"What? A catafratalizer-thingie? Yeah I'll just stroll into the base and demand Hook remove one from our ship." The copter shifted uncomfortably.
"So, your side can't really help," Ratchet said, arms folded over his chest.
"Just that, well, they're not just going to hand it over. Someone's gonna ask some questions."
"Bring Hook back with you." Starscream spoke as if this were the most reasonable thing in the world. Blackout wondered if the hit to his optics had shaken something in his cortex: Hook wasn't exactly a terrific traveling companion.
Blackout, along with the rest of the bridge turned to stare at Starscream. "Have you finally snapped, Starscream?" Sideswipe growled. "You think we're dumb enough to let a constructicon on board and frag up the systems for you so you can slag us all in the back and take everything you want?"
"It will not damage the ship any more than you and Soundwave have already managed." Starscream replied with a bland smile as Sideswipe once again glowered at the accusation.
"I like to see any of you glitches land a fragged ship any better." Sideswipe lifted his blades defensively, daring any of them to argue with him.
"Now who's being hostile?" Sideswipe jumped as Prowl rested a firm hand on his arm coming to stand between him and the 'cons. Sideswipe glared at his SIC whom he hadn't even heard move.
"We can't just let them take over, Prowl." Sideswipe hissed.
Optimus interrupted. "Sideswipe, you need to put your grievances aside for the moment. You are not helping the situation."
Bumblebee bleeped in agreement with his Prime earning a cold glare from a highly agitated Sideswipe. Optimus turned back to Ratchet. "What do you need us to do?"
"Well, first thing that needs repairing is the outer hull. We have breaches all over and without that we can't create atmosphere. Which means the humans will suffocate."
"Oh wouldn't that be a shame," Barricade muttered.
"We need to get back up computer running: the planetary thrusters are computer controlled."
Ratchet frowned at Prowl. "What the frag are you talking about?"
Prowl's tone had returned to his unflappable calm. "We need to utilise the thrusters to get ourselves out of the side of this mountain. If you repair the hull before then the movement will shred the new plating."
Ratchet raised his brow in surprise. "Ok, brownie points for you." He grumbled, ignoring the quizzical quirk of Prowl's supraorbital ridge.
"How long will that take you, Prowl?" Optimus glanced at his second.
"The back ups weren't damaged by the nano virus but I will have to access them directly via the mainframe in the engine room. I estimate around one Earth cycle."
Nadya felt her last shred of hope smash against the rocky despair of Prowl's words, she understood enough of the lingo to know a cycle was roughly one hour. That only gave them around one hour of breathable oxygen. She closed her eyes for a moment quashing the rising panic. She was trained to deal with this: keep calm, think clearly and most importantly don't panic, it only used up more oxygen. She felt a sharp tug on her arm.
"Look." Stokes whispered. She followed his gaze back through the vent the large red visored mech was shifting, subtly. They hadn't seen him before, but they were pretty sure he wasn't playing for the Freedom Team. His movements had gone unnoticed by the rest of the bridge. Ratchet was currently recruiting Sideswipe and Blackout's help to fit the plating where he was unable to reach, Bumblebee was covering Ravage avoiding the swishing barbs of the angry cat's tail, while Prowl, Starscream and Optimus were engaged in quiet discussion.
Not one of them had noticed Soundwave approaching a distracted Barricade who was still toying with Rumble, muttering to himself about pointless drones and liabilities. Barricade didn't stand a chance when Soundwave made his move. His panels flared out his reflective surfaces sending the glare of the artificial lighting shielding him from view. Rumble dropped to the floor with a choke and scrabbled back to hide behind one of Ravage's legs. Barricade let out a howl as Soundwave tried to hack into his cortex by prying off his helm plating. Blackout and Bumblebee rushed to help but were immediately attacked by the cassetticons. The bridge erupted into chaos.
The two humans watched open mouthed as Starscream and Prowl dragged a snarling, furious Soundwave off a twitching Barricade. Sideswipe went to slice through the tendrils snaking out from the larger mech's frame only to be stopped by Starscream grabbing his wrist.
"He will create a feedback loop more quickly than you can cut through them all, and simply fry Barricade's cortex."
Sideswipe looked horrified. "Slagger."
"Now you will suffer the fate you inflicted on so many others." Soundwave had gained control of Barricade's motor functions. Barricade's spokes came flying out, lashing into a nearby Starscream who hissed in pain before Ratchet dragged him out of danger, energon spurting from a wound in his thigh.
Barricade's optics were desperate, pleading.
"We've got to do something!" Nadya whispered urgently.
"I'm all ears."
Nadya shifted in the cramped space and started kicking at the vent. "You remember when Barricade opened up Dead End's head in the cave?"
"Think you can do it?"
Stokes frowned. "I think so..." A grin spread across face. "The bomb in the head. Such a cool idea. Man, I want one."
Nadya flashed him a desperate look. "Little help here, genius."
They kicked hard and the vent creaked loudly, metal shrieked and whined. The humans lurched as the vent jolted. Staring at each other they grabbed hold of each other's arms. The vent gave way with a crack. "Oh ****!" Stokes hollered not expecting the drop they were faced with. They plunged into the bridge, sending the other mechs staggering back in surprise. The heavy vent landed with a crunch onto Soundwave's helm. He dropped to his knees, his concentration broken.
"Now, Stokes!" Nadya yelled.
The astronaut scrabbled over the jagged helm and pried open the back of Soundwave's helm with the crow bar he'd kept strapped to his back pack. Soundwave howled as the determined human jammed the sharp edge of the crowbar into the node directly above where he'd seen Barricade attach the link into Prowl's head and where he'd deactivated Dead End's internal bomb.
"Now I suggest you put a stop to this squid look you got going on. It ain't fun and it ain't a pretty look for you."
Soundwave growled and withdrew the tendrils from Barricade's head, reaching up instead to swipe at the human.
"Nuh - unh." Stokes dug in the crow bar and wrenched it hard. Soundwave screamed and fell on all fours. The cassetticons howled as they felt the pain through their connection. "I think we've had just about enough of you." He lifted the crow bar and smashed the node in a crackle of sparks and Soundwave fell unconscious.
Stokes got to his feet looking rather smug. Every optic in the room was focused on the unlikely rescuers.
"So 'Cade." Stokes grinned and patted the thin slip of metal into his gloved palm. "What you say about me getting a closer look at your comm system now?"
Barricade glowered with embarrassed ire. Saved by a fraggin' human. Worse saved by what was probably the most annoying human who ever lived. "Try it and see what inventive things I can do with that crow bar."
"Now Barricade, that is hardly the way to respond to your saviours." Prowl quirked an optic ridge at him, clearly enjoying the reversed discomfort. "I believe the appropriate response is thank you." He added dryly the faintest of smirks pulling at his face plates, even Starscream let out a grunt of amusement.
Barricade just gave them his most loathsome glare. "Hate you all." //Sorry,// he subvoc'd to Starscream, who was wincing as Ratchet worked to seal the damaged hose. //Didn't mean to.//
//I know,//Starscream said. //Do not worry about apologies, Barricade. Though in the future, you might ruminate on the reason he chose to attack you and not one of these Autobots.//
Barricade frowned. //Gonna have to offline me again. Long as I was using the CC I was good. Now…// he hunched over, his frame shaking.
//I shall take care of it.//
"Seriously? Uncool." Blackout was squinting into the dark confines of the Autobot rescue pod. "Seen CR pods bigger than this."
"We have been through this, Blackout. We need someone to go. We do not know whom you shall run across and in an Autobot ship, the Autobots will hesitate to fire upon you."
"Your side, though," Sideswipe said, "Pretty likely to blow you on sight."
"That's not it," Blackout said. "Why can't Barricade go? He's smaller."
"Barricade," Starscream explained, as if straining against patience, "is abrasive. He would manage to irk even the Autobots into uncivilized behavior. Plus," he glanced down the corridor where the smaller 'con was kneeling in front of an open panel, the Autobot leader leaning over him, directing his smaller hands. As he watched, a small tremor ran through Barricade's frame. "he is indisposed and needs monitoring at the present time."
"Think he always needs monitoring," Ironhide grumbled. He moved stiffly on his bad leg, but his weapon's muzzle never drifted off Soundwave. He'd been dragged from the medbay to help. Fine with him: he hated lying there feeling useless. Now if only this slaggin' con would try something and give him an excuse to blow his processor out, this day would have at least one bright spot.
Blackout shifted uncomfortably. "Just gonna be…awfully tight in there. Don't know why you want to send the biggest mech, that's all."
"Your inability to grasp this simple concept is merely a reflection of your claustrophobia, Blackout," Starscream said. "Now, you know your mission. Be thankful that you are escaping the company of these odious Autobots and go."
Blackout grumbled, but began, gingerly, folding himself into the small pod. Bumblebee sidled over, his own cannon still pointed at the captives he was guarding along with Ironhide.
//Thanks for doing this,// Bee subvoc'd to the larger 'con. //I think you're very brave.//
"Really?" Blackout settled himself behind the small control panel. "Thanks a lot, Barbarella."
Barricade froze, then turned his head slowly toward the pod. "How did you know what the little yellow freak was thinking?" he asked, his voice tight.
Oh frag, Blackout thought. Busted. "Uhhhhnnn, I'm psychic. It's in my personnel file. Right, see you guys later, gotta go!" He hit the door release and the pod self-sealed for launch.
"Don't touch that!"
Stokes peered over his shoulder at Prowl his hand reaching out once more to poke at the console switches in front of him. "What... this?" He asked innocently.
"Yes that." Prowl responded placing his hand in front of Stokes's curious fingers.
Prowl turned back to his panel, his other arm buried deep into the wiring of the console, his concentration focused on trying to reboot the back up computer.
"What does it do?" Stokes idly, brushed over another panel, his crow bar too close to the circuitry for Prowl's comfort.
"It is the central coolant panel; it regulates flow through the engine." His optics narrowed as he watched the human explore sensitive circuitry beneath the console. "Please don't touch that." He repeated.
Stokes fell silent for a few moments, while Prowl returned to his work. "Why what happens if it doesn't work?"
Prowl frowned at the break in his concentration once more. "The engine will explode." He stated blandly quirking an orbital ridge at Stokes who snapped his hand back sharply.
"Well thanks for the heads up." He muttered shooting Prowl a sullen glare.
"You were told not to touch anything." Prowl replied, wishing there was something he could distract the ever curious human with, something as far away from him as possible.
"Is there something we can be doing you know... to help?" Stokes continued trying very hard to peer into the paneling from beneath Prowl's arm.
"You could get out of the way."
Stokes glanced up at Prowl who looked down at him, unable to retract his arm while Stokes stood on his leg. "Alright, alright, no need to get your panties in a twist." Stokes leapt from Prowl's leg allowing the mech to retrieve his arm. "I mean it's not like we saved your asses from the big bad Decepticon or anything."
"While your actions were commendable if foolhardy, it isn't a prerequisite for tampering with our engines."
"Spoil all my fun why don't ya?" Stokes grumbled rolling his eyes at Nadya.
"We're not here to have fun." Prowl ignored Stokes's muttered retort. "Nadya may I have your assistance please?"
"Me? What do you need me for?"
"The wiring inside the panel is too far for me to reach, you have shown a great deal of competence in repairing our systems and you are sufficiently small enough to fit inside without being injured."
"Now that's just sexist, I am just as competent!" Stokes managed to pout as Nadya gently pushed him aside and climbed onto Prowl's hand.
"It is not sexist Lieutenant Stokes, she is the smallest and so is the most logical choice."
"Oh yeah? Well if you're not sexist, why do you call her by her first name?" Stokes folded his arms and quirked a smirk up at the Autobot SIC.
Prowl tipped his head back and vented a heavy sigh. "How is that relevant?"
"Just sayin' you know. You use her first name but not mine, respond to me with my rank and surname... kinda sexist and more than a little impersonal." Stokes couldn't help but grin at the confused expression on Prowl's face, before Nadya interrupted his enjoyment by peering over Prowl's hand and glaring at him.
"That might have something to do with the fact you introduce yourself to everyone as 'Stokes' and told them if they used your first name you'd demonstrate number 56 of 101 things to do with a crowbar."
"Hey, whose side are you on?!"
"The side that's actually trying to fix the damn ship BEFORE we run out of air!" Nadya turned back to Prowl who managed at least not to look too smug at Stokes's sullen glare. "Can we get this done please? Before you find anymore tight spaces for me to crawl into?"
Prowl helped her into the small opening of the panel, using his headlights to give her visibility. He waited patiently, his brow furrowed with concern when a scraping sound reached his audios followed by soft Russian cursing. "Are you alright Nadya, are you injured?"
"Give me a damn minute will you?" came her muffled reply.
"Better watch out Prowl." Stokes fidgeted beside the seated mech. "She bites, too."
"All right, I'm in! What do I do now?"
"There should be a bundle or wires directly in front of you."
"Yes, I can see it."
"It is connected to a circuit panel above you. It requires disconnecting from that and joining to the wires to the left of you."
"All right. Give me a few minutes: need to climb about a bit in here."
Prowl sat back, keeping his light directed at the small opening. Stokes sighed and plonked himself onto Prowl's leg to get his attention.
"So what do you do for fun ,Prowl?"
"I don't see how that is important."
Stokes snorted, the answer was so typically Prowl. "Humour me... if you're capable of it."
"I enjoy problem solving, logic puzzles, tactical games."
"Huh. That is actually cooler than I expected." Stokes raised his brow in excitement. "Hey, do you play chess?"
"Yeah-human game, tactics, lot of patience."
Prowl paused his optics dimmed as he searched the reference through his data banks. "Ah, no. I have never played. It does appear intriguing."
"Bet you're just a giant super computer aren't you? No flaws, rigid, predictable moves?" Stokes goaded cheerfully.
"I am not devoid of emotion Lieutenant, nor am I flawless with my tactics."
Stokes grinned, Prowl almost, ALMOST seemed insulted. "All right. I'll play you a game when we get back."
"I don't think that would be such a good idea."
"Why because I'm human, you think I can't beat you?" He folded his arms in indignation.
"I didn't say that."
"But you think it?"
"Then play me!"
Nadya poked her head out of the panel before Prowl could respond. "Have you boys quite finished?" She climbed back onto Prowl's offered hand and smiled. "It's done. Give it a kick."
Prowl placed her on the floor and stood. He pressed a few commands into the console and was rewarded with a low rumbling throughout the engine room.
//Prowl to Prime. The thrusters are operational. I will re-route power to the bridge console.//
//Acknowledged, Prowl. Good work.//
//It was thanks to the humans, Sir. Prowl out.//
Stokes was practically bouncing in his suit. "That's good then, we're going home?"
Prowl hesitated, not wanting to pass along false hope. "With any luck Blackout will return with the necessary component and we will be able to return to Earth." He cast them a tiny smile as Stokes engulfed Nadya in a surprising hug.
"Great! I'll be beating you at chess before you know it." Stokes grinned while Nadya simply shook her head in bemusement; there was just no end to the man's positivism.
"So what now... we get to... to... fly the... oh crap..."
Prowl frowned crouching before Stokes as he slumped to his knees. The human peered through his helmet visor, eyes wide and fearful. "I can't breathe."
As if on cue Nadya mumbled incoherently before falling to the floor. Prowl turned back to the console and swiftly input a command. In one swift motion he gathered up the two astronauts and sprinted from the engine room. Reaching the med bay he skidded to a halt, placing the humans into a chamber, he began to work on the adjacent console.
Ironhide spun startled, straining his leg, his cannon whirring at the intrusion. "Primus, Prowl! I almost blew you back to Cybertron!"
Prowl ignored his grumbling and headed to a nearby berth. Bumblebee and Ironhide glanced at each other, worry etched on the yellow mech's face. They had to guard Soundwave and his Cassetticons . They were in the dark as to Prowl's urgency.
"What... you doing?" Stokes tried to reach out, his voice faint, strained.
"Putting you both into stasis; it's the only way to keep you alive." Prowl glanced worriedly over the humans' vitals, frowning when Stokes grabbed his hand.
"Have a game with... me... when we get back...please?"
Prowl frowned at the completely illogical request. "I can compute 800 different courses of action on a battle field in less than a second, I don't think it would be a…."
Stokes managed a short laugh. "Something...to look forward to...."
Prowl ceased his protest and gave Stokes a quick nod in affirmation. "When we return." He closed the chamber as Stokes threw him a grateful grin. Activating the stasis pod the two humans fell into a comatose but alive state, their vitals clearly displayed on the screen.
//Prowl to Ratchet.//
//Kinda busy here, Prowl. With repairs, demented Decepticons, and Sideswipe.//
//The humans have almost run out of oxygen. I have placed them into a stasis chamber in the med bay. How long can we keep it running on minimal power?//
//Slag... couple of cycles maybe more if we divert power from non essential systems.//
//Thank you, I'll inform Prime.//
Prowl took one last look over the humans in stasis and turned back to Ironhide. "Have they been any trouble?"
Ironhide shrugged. "Sleeping Beauty over there just woke up, others are too scared of getting slagged if they so much as twitch. I got it covered, Prowl. What was that all about?"
Prowl remained impassive, activating his internal comm. //Humans have almost run out of Oxygen. Please ensure that Soundwave or the others don't learn of their vulnerability. Keep them away from the stasis pods, I have no doubt that he will not hesitate to kill them.//
Ironhide gave him a terse nod, both his cannons armed and pointed at the 'cons. Bumblebee glanced fretfully between them, his optics wide. He liked the humans and always felt more concern than most when they were at risk. Prowl noticed his restlessness and placed a hand on his shoulder in reassurance before turning on his heel and heading for the bridge. He could only hope that Blackout came through for them.
Starscream tried to make a reasonable excuse why he should stay near Barricade without making it too obvious. He suspected Prowl had figured it out from last time, but had, after one last sidelong glance, gone with the humans to the engine room to repair the thrusters. But in the end, he was needed outside to hold up newly fabricated external plating for the ship. Which, if you asked him, was a complete underutilization of his skills, but then again, what else did one expect from these hateful Autobots? And perhaps, he had decided, it was good not to have them know his true potential.
"Right," Sideswipe said. "Now, just hold it steady…. Just like that."
"You do not need to give me instructions on how to hold a piece of metal immobile," Starscream snapped. "Unlike you Autobots, we Decepticons have basic skills."
"Oh yeah," Sideswipe retorted, "Basic skills like what? How to kill each other in your sleep?"
"We have much more entertaining things that we do when we catch others in recharge," Starscream smirked.
"I suppose you tedious Autobots simply sit around and tell each other how impossibly virtuous you all are, especially your Prime."
"You leave Prime alone, you filthy 'con!" Sideswipe threw down his riveter. It bounced off the hull of the ship and off into the low gravity.
"Oh, too close to home, Autobot?" Starscream said. Sideswipe shot him an angry look and scrambled off the hull to retrieve the tool. "And it appears you Autobots do need basic instructions. That is not how one uses that tool."
"Things would go a lot more smoothly," Ratchet snapped back, "If you'd both shut up and do your jobs."
"He started it," Starscream muttered. Ratchet made him uncomfortable. He hit his subvoc. //Barricade?//
//What?// Barricade sounded…annoyed.
Starscream hesitated. //Are you well?//
//Oh just fantastic. Stuck on the bridge with the Autobot Idol. I am truly unworthy of his perfection.//
//You are unworthy of me as well, but that has never stopped you,// the jet teased.
Starscream frowned, but he didn't want to push Barricade. Not yet. Barricade would tell him if his symptoms were getting worse. //How go repairs?//
That…did not sound good. Was this Barricade melting down again? Starscream looked down, trying to conjure an excuse to go back into the ship. //Barricade?//
//Hey, jet, you gonna tell me about the copter?//
//What about Blackout?//
//Know that coy act doesn't work with me, right?//
Starscream sighed. //I am merely inquiring what precisely you wish to know.// He shifted to one side as Sideswipe climbed up alongside him. Sideswipe glared at him, as if daring him to start something. Starscream shrugged. And noted that even his refusal to engage with the Autobot irked him.
//Want to know how he knew what Soundwave was up to?//
//I do not think that he does. He simply saw an opportune moment and inferred that Soundwave did not have our interests--or survival--at heart.//
//You make him almost sound like a Decepticon.//
//Do not underestimate Blackout simply because he chooses to be more personable than you.// Starscream winced as Sideswipe lost his grip on the riveter, driving it, accidentally, into the jet's hand. If Starscream hadn't been so preoccupied, he would have slapped the Autobot. Sideswipe looked up, muttered an apology, and bent back over the panel.
//You know what I mean--he was helping the enemy.//
//He was helping us get off this blasted moon. Aiding them until that goal is achieved is the only logical choice.//
//Slag. We could have worked around Soundwave ourselves after he did…whatever he did.//
Starscream heard his own shoulder gyros release some tension. Barricade sounded…sane. For the moment. He only had the mech's abrasive nature to deal with. And Sideswipe. //You sound confident that Soundwave's plan did not liquidate us.//
//Just asking--the copter's too innocent to think like that.//
Barricade had a point. //You suspect he was called there by an Autobot.//
//It's a possibility.//
//Barricade,// Starscream went for a clumsy deflection. //Say that were true--why did you help him?//
A long pause. //Not Soundwave's biggest fan.//
//He was attacking Prowl. You saved Prowl.//
A groan. //Shut it.//
//If that was not your motive,// the jet said, //then you were motivated either by friendliness to Blackout// another groan, as if in physical pain, //or you too decided to help the Autobots.//
//I-uhhhhh, decided that he would be less likely to face charges of treason if I did it with him.//
//Why, Barricade, how very noble of you.//
//Seriously? Why you doing this to me? Not bad enough I'm stuck here holding motherboards for Primetime here?//
//It behooves me to have the mechs under my command to be amiable with each other. The better you get along with Blackout, the more smoothly my life runs.//
Another long pause. //How you think he's doing?//
Starscream's turn to hesitate.
Barricade grunted. //That bad, huh?//