Categories > Cartoons > Transformers

Life's Lessons

by Wyntir-Rose 1 review

Smokescreen's origins are shrouded in mystery. Now he tells the tale of how he came to work for Argent's Neutrals in the early days of the war. Prequel to Regrets and Bad Day

Category: Transformers - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Action/Adventure - Warnings: [V] [X] - Published: 2007-07-10 - Updated: 2007-07-11 - 7362 words - Complete

I haven't always been as I am. I haven't always been the con artist and resident shrink of the Autobots. There was a time when I was far less than I am today.

Back on Cybertron, before the war, I lived in the Crystal Towers. What? You don't believe me? Well it's true. Oh, sure, I didn't live across from Mirage, but I was in the Towers. Well, under the Towers might be a bit more accurate, but it was a Crystal Towers address and that was all that mattered.

When the war started, when the 'Cons blasted the life out of the area, I was left homeless and destitute, just like everyone else. Some of the survivors chose to join the Autobots, while others tried to remain neutral. I fell into the second camp. I suppose that it would have been easier to simply haul aft over to the Autobot base and enlist, but I was too stubborn and thick and stupid to "lower myself" by becoming a militant. ... So instead I lowered myself in other ways.

Most of the Autobots don't know what my life was like back then. I think that only Jazz knows for sure, and that's only because trying to keep a secret from him is like trying to keep a ferret out of a jewellery box. It doesn't matter how strong the lock is, eventually he pries it open and gets at everything inside. Wheeljack and Ratchet knew me back then too, but I was in a different body with a different face, and I don't think they ever put two and two together. I doubt that they'll ever connect me with the mech they once called Blue.

By the time they met me, I knew what I was doing. I had been under Apogee's wing for a long time and I'd learned how to survive. By the time they came into my life, I was already an old pro at the con and knew how to get the most out of a deal while putting out very little in return. Times were hard then, and those of us who remained neutral had to do some pretty ... well, I had to do some things that I'm not exactly proud of. I've heard that things got a lot harder during the Great Shutdown, but I wouldn't know anything about that. I was quietly sleeping away the millennia enmeshed on my data crystal back then.

But the Great Shutdown is neither here nor there. I was going to tell you about the days right after the Towers fell, when my life came crashing down around me.


Theatre District, Iacon. One week after the sector fell

I woke up with a start, looking around the alley that I had called home for the last few days. There it was again, voices coming closer to my hiding place. I pressed myself back against the wall, trying to wedge my body between it and a large crate, hoping that no one would find me. I was weak from running, weak from fuel loss, and unbelievably tired. I wouldn't be able to put up a fight and I certainly wouldn't be able to run far, so I just held my breath and prayed.

"Hey, Dynamo? I don't think we've checked down here yet," a soft, feminine voice said.

"Yeah we did," a second voice said, sounding bored and annoyed. This one was male, gruff, and sounded like it came from someone big.

"Nah, I'm pretty sure we didn't," the first voice said. I head footsteps come closer to my hiding place, and closed my optics. It was juvenile, but a part of me hoped that I might disappear, that if I couldn't see them, then they couldn't see me.

"And I'm pretty sure we did check it!" the second voice said angrily. "Look, I'm tired and I wanna go home. Argent won't know if we checked down every alley and hole, and he won't care neither."

"Fine. You head back and I'll just take a look. There probably won't be anything but I'll feel better having checked," the first voice said, coming closer to my hiding place. "Besides, if he asks us point blank and we lie, he'll give us to Slice." There was an edge of fear in her voice at the name.

"I suppose," the second voice said reluctantly.

I was still sitting there in my corner with my eyes closed and my hands over my audios, so I didn't see or hear the femme's approach. My first and only warning I got was a gentle touch on my cheek.

"Hey there sparklet. What are you doing here?" she asked.

I think I would have jumped out of my skin if I hadn't been bolted into it. As it was I was half-way across the alley before she had finished speaking. I think I would have made it to the next sector in record time if I hadn't ploughed into her partner. I felt rough hands grab me and stop my flight, lifting me off the ground. I was spun around and held in a tight embrace, almost as if the behemoth who had me intended to make me one of his components.

"Hey, Apogee! Lookit what I caught!" a rough voice crowed from somewhere above me.

I still hadn't opened my optics. I think that somewhere I hoped that if I couldn't see what was happening, it wasn't real. I had heard stories about what the Neutral gangs did to mechs they found out at night, and I wasn't going to acknowledge any of it.

I felt a gentle hand touch my cheek again and a whimper of fear escaped from my vocalizer. The hand withdrew.

"Let him down, Dynamo," Apogee said. Her voice was soft, but there was a tone of command in it.

"Aw, I was just playin' with him," Dynamo said. "How was I supposed t' know he'd freak out like that?"

"He's just a sparklet. And you've got him scared out of his mind," Apogee said.

I felt those rough hands put me down gently. I guess that the stress was too much for me to take in my frail state, because I felt myself begin to collapse. My fall was halted by those gentle hands that had touched my face before.

"Open your optics, sparklet. We're not going to hurt you," Apogee said.

I just shook my head, squeezing my optics closed tighter. I tried to pull away from those hands, but Dynamo held me in place.

There was a soft, pitying sigh from in front of me.

"I swear to you, we're not going to let anything happen. You're safe. Now just look at me, please," Apogee said.

Trying desperately to control my shivering, I opened my optics slowly. She didn't look like a monster, in fact, she looked completely normal. But I knew that looks could be deceiving and I wasn't about to let my guard down.

"There, that's better," Apogee said, smiling. "Now, what are you doing in this ally?"

I kept my mouth shut and shook my head again.

"Apogee asked you a question!" Dynamo said, shaking me roughly.

I heard a squeak of fear escape my mouth as I squeezed my optics shut again.

"Dynamo! Stop that!" Apogee said sharply.

"Yeah, but-," Dynamo began.

"I don't care! Stop frightening him!" Apogee ordered.

"Please, let me go! Just get it over with and let me go," I begged. "Please!"

I felt those hands on my face again and I flinched. This time Apogee didn't pull away. She tilted my head up and held it there.

"Open your optics and look at me," she said.

There was something in her voice, something caring and gentle. It made me want to trust her. So against all the instincts that were screaming in my head, I opened my optics, and found that she was staring right at me, looking at me with nothing but compassion in her blue optics.

"That's better. Now I swear to you, we will not harm you," she said. "I need you to tell me why you were in this alley."

"I was hiding from the gangs," I said, my voice barely above a whisper.

"Yes, but why are you here. Don't you have a home to go to?" she asked.

"I ... no," I whispered miserably.

The look of compassion on her face turned to one of infinite sadness and understanding.

"Alright, you're coming with us then," she said.

"We can't just take him with us!" Dynamo said, taking firm hold of my arms. "The boss'll kill us if we bring in some useless sparklet."

"And what would you suggest we do?" Apogee asked. "We can't leave him here. Look at him! He'll be lucky if he survives the night."

"That ain't our problem," Dynamo argued. "If he dies then so be it. Let 'im be used fer parts fer all I care. I ain't takin' him back!"

"That's not your decision to make!" Apogee said, a hint of irritation creeping into her voice.

Through the argument I did what I could to escape, which wasn't much. It was as if Dynamo's hands had been welded to me. I didn't know if I could trust Apogee, but I did know without a doubt that Dynamo would kill me as soon as he had the chance. I had to get away any way I could.

"Stop strugglin'!" Dynamo barked at me. "Yer gonna stay right here until we figure out what we're gonna do wit'cha!"

"I-I promise I won't tell anyone anything! Please, just let me go and I'll forget all about you! I'm sorry I was in your alley! I won't come back! Please just let me go! Don't hurt me! Don't kill me! Take whatever you want, just let me go! I promise I'll forget all about you!" It was like my vocalizer was purging every thought that had ever been in my head.

"Dynamo! It is not your decision!" Apogee yelled. "I will deal with Argent and I will take responsibility for this one! Now. Let. Him. Go!"

I felt Dynamo let go of my arms and I tried to run, but my body betrayed me, and as before, I collapsed. This time though, Apogee didn't catch me, and I landed in a puddle of cold liquid that I prayed was water. It was all too much. I couldn't take any more, and I felt the world begin to close in around me. The last thing I remember was curling into a foetal ball, and the vague, distant sound of Apogee speaking softly to me.


Under the Moons' Shadow Oil Bar, Theatre District, Iacon.

As I slowly crawled back to consciousness, the first thing I became aware of was voices. At first they were dull and muffled, like they were coming to me from far away, or through lead plating. Slowly my audios came back on line properly and the muffled thrumming coalesced out of the fog to become real voices.

"We couldn't just leave him out there. He'd have been killed before the night was out," I heard Apogee said.

"I tried t' talk'er out of it, but she never listens!" Dynamo said, a definite sulk edging into his voice.

"I'll take full responsibility for him. I'll train him and you won't even know he's here until you need him," Apogee said. There was a hint of fear there, and I didn't know if it was for her or for me.

"Oh really? And will I not notice the energon he consumes? Or the space he takes up?" This was a new voice. It was smooth and silky, like a velvet shadow, but there was a cold edge to it, like the depths of the void.

"He's just a sparklet, he won't consume much. I'll even split my rations with him. I promise that it won't strain the system at all," Apogee said.

"And will you take responsibility for his actions? Will you take the blame for his errors? Will you accept his punishments as if they were your own?" the velvet voice said. "You're suggesting a huge responsibility, and I'm not entirely sure you're ready to carry it yet, my dear."

"I ... I am ready, and I will accept all responsibility for him and his actions," Apogee said after a moment.

"If that's your choice then so be it," the voice said, sounding like it was moving away. "Oh, and Apogee?"

"Yes, commander?" she replied.

"I want to meet him when he comes out of recharge. I will be very interested to see why you are willing to throw your life away for this particular sparklet," the voice said.

"I told ya he wouldn't be happy," Dynamo said.

"Yes, you told me. Congratulations of becoming prescient," Apogee said, sarcasm dripping from her voice. "Just go away and leave me alone, alright? I want to check on him."

I heard Dynamo grumble something unintelligible then walk away. I listened to his heavy footsteps until they disappeared and all that was left was the soft hum of nearby equipment.

After I was sure that I was alone, I opened my optics a crack and looked around as best I could without moving. I was in what looked like living quarters. The room was small and sparsely furnished, but it looked comfortable. I was lying on a recharge berth that was obviously intended for a much larger mech than me, and while it was hard and rough, it was heaven compared to the deck plating I had been sleeping on for the past week. I tried to take in the rest of the room but found that my field of vision was severely limited by the position I was laying in.

"I know you're awake, sparklet," Apogee said from the foot of the berth. "No one else is here so you can quit pretending."

I waited a moment then sighed and sat up. Or, I should say that I tried to sit up. As soon as my head left the berth my tank lurched violently and the next thing I knew, I was purging into a bucket. Eventually my tank was empty and I was left coughing and sobbing into the bunk. I had never been in so much pain in my life. My head felt like a jackhammer quartet had taken up residence, my tank ground and lurched angrily, and my body felt like it was made of dense lead.

"Shhh ... Just relax," Apogee whispered, stroking the top of my helm with those gentle hands of hers. "It'll be okay. You're safe and you'll be fine. Shhhhh ...."

After a long time I finally felt well enough to sit up. My movements were slow and measured, fearful that any sudden jar would cause me to loose it again. All the while Apogee's gentle hands were guiding me, helping me, soothing me. I felt like I was with my creator again, and, in that moment, I knew that everything would be okay.

Now that I was calmer I was finally able to look at Apogee properly. She looked like she was a grounder of some sort, and was rather heavily built for a femme. All in all she was rather plain, painted as she was in browns and tans, but she had a beautiful golden crest atop her helm and surprisingly green eyes.

She passed me a small cube of energon which I began to drank greedily until she stopped my hand with hers.

"Whoah, slow down there. You'll make yourself sick if you drink that fast," she said.

I did as I was told, then held out the cube for more.

"Nope," she said. "If you can keep that down, you can get more, but take it slowly for right now. ... How long has it been since you had a proper refuelling? Or time in the washracks?"

I drew my knees up against my chest protectively and shrugged in response. It had been over a week since I'd had a proper meal, and longer than that since I'd felt even vaguely cybertronian.

"Alright, well let's get you to Slice so he can check you over, then we'll get- What? What's wrong?"

At the mention of the name Slice I began shaking my head furiously. I had no idea who this mech was, but I did know that both Apogee and Dynamo were afraid of him. That was enough to let me know I didn't want to get within 50 feet of him.

"He won't hurt you. He's a medic ... well he was a medic. But he can fix you up. You've got holes and scrapes that need to be dealt with, and I don't have any training in that," Apogee said.

When I shook my head again, she stood and held out her hand to me.

"I promise that I won't let him hurt you," she said.

After a long moment, I hesitatingly reached out and took the proffered hand, and allowed her to lead me out of the room. She led me down a short passage to what looked like an old storage bay. The space was Spartan and antiseptic, but there was something indefinably creepy about it. A slender yellow and pink mech stood over a worktable, poking at a maintenance drone with a laser scalpel.

"What do you want, Apogee? I'm busy!" the mech said, not looking up.

"I need you to look over this new recruit, Slice," Apogee said. "He's hurt and I need you to patch him up before I bring him to Argent."

I'm not sure if she was conscious of it, but Apogee had placed herself between me and the medic.

Slice looked up then tossed the maintenance droid across the room, where it landed in a heap before scuttling off as quickly as its legs would carry it.

"Well, bring him over, let's see him!" Slice ordered. His voice was smooth, but nothing like the velvet voice I had heard before; it had a manic edge to it, an insanity that hid just below the surface. The sound of it made me shiver.

Apogee pulled me out from behind her and gave me a gentle shove in Slice's direction. The medic looked at me and snorted rudely.

"Cuts, scrapes, dings, and dents. Nothing worthy of my talents or my time," he said derisively.

"Yes, but he needs to be in working order for Argent," Apogee reminded Slice.

"I never said I wouldn't fix him. I simply said that this is hardly worth the effort," Slice said, looking at me carefully. "He'll be decorating the smelting pool in a week. Tops."

He pulled over a gurney and patted it with one hand.

"Alright, up you get. I can't fix you while you're standing."

After a reassuring nod from Apogee I did as I was told and allowed Slice to tend my wounds. He was surprisingly efficient, if not gentle, in his ministration, and I was soon repaired and off to see Argent.


Warehouse district, Polyhex

Apogee led me through the streets of the Theatre District down alleys and passageways that I had never known existed. Our trip was quick and focused, Apogee didn't allow for any sightseeing, not that there was much to see. The Theatre District had not been directly hit by the Decepticons, but the recent loss of the wealthiest sectors of Iacon told on the economy of the once thriving area. It was obvious that the Theatre district had been dealt a fatal blow, and was dying where it lay.

After a quick, almost frenetic trip we arrived at an old warehouse just inside the border of Polyhex. Apogee approached the door and placed her hand against the metal. I heard her send a quick series of vibrations through the door and receive a series in return. After a long moment, the door swung open and we were greeted by two small, heavily built mechs, both obviously soldiers, both bristling with weapons.

One of the pair, a burnt red and tan mech motioned for me to step in and spread my arms. I did as I was told and he proceeded to search me for weapons.

"He doesn't have anything," Apogee said.

"You know the rules," the red and tan said. "Now transform and let me check you over," he added, turning to look at me.

"I don't have an alternate mode," I said quietly.

"Oh," the red and tan said. There were a million words in that single syllable, and most of them were words of disgust.

The other mech, this one orange and black, motioned into the building proper.

"He'll see you in the back room, Apogee," he said. "Make sure you never leave that unattended," he added with a sneer, motioning in my direction.

"Don't worry. He will never leave my side," Apogee said, more than a hint of anger in her voice.

I followed Apogee into the building, wishing that I could just crawl away and hide. I was used to other mechs looking down on me, but this was something else. I felt like I was a piece of rusted scrap metal, that I was less than nothing. My depression must have shown on my face, because the next thing I knew, Apogee had her arm around my shoulder and was holding me close.

"Don't let them get to you, sparklet," she said. "Some mechs are only able to pull themselves out of the smelting pools by pushing others down. ... Say, I don't even know your name. I can't very well introduce you to Argent as the sparklet, now can I?"

"I ... my creator called me Smokescreen," I replied hesitantly.

"Smokescreen ...," Apogee said, as if tasting the word. "It's a good name. Now let's go introduce you to the boss." She gave my shoulder a quick squeeze and continued to lead me through the warehouse.

After a long walk through a maze of boxes, climbing up two ladders, and making our way across a narrow catwalk we finally came to an unmarked door. Apogee moved to knock, but the door swung open as her knuckles struck the metal.

"Come in Apogee, and bring the sparklet with you." The voice that spoke was the one I had head earlier; dark, cold, and smooth.

Apogee took hold of my hand and guided me into the room. It was stark and bare, with only a single drain in the middle of the floor. The drain and the floor were stained with old oil and fuel. Inadvertently my hand closed tighter around Apogee's in a quick spasm, and I moved closer to her. As soon as I had cleared the door it was slammed shut and I spun around in fear.

A gigantic mech moved to block the exit, grinning down at me like something feral. He had the putty colour of someone who was in between paint jobs, and deep black welding scars crisscrossed his arms and chest. I moved away from the giant as quickly as I could, until I felt Apogee's arms wrap around me, stopping my backwards momentum.

With nowhere to run, I did what I always did. I closed my optics and prayed for it all to end.

"He's quite jumpy for a potential recruit, don't you think, Apogee?" the dark voice said.

"He's been through a lot in the last few days," she said, simply. "I think he was living in the Towers when the 'Con's brought them down.

"This one? Unlikely." I felt strong hands take hold of my chin and tip my head up.

"Look at me," the voice said.

I shook my head slightly and tried to pull away. The fingers tightened in their vice grip on my chin.

"Look at me," the voice ordered again. This time I complied.

The mech who held me was tall and silver-grey. There was something dangerous about him, and even though he was not much larger than I was, he frightened me more than the guard at the door.

"Hmph," he snorted, looking at my optics. "So you're consumer goods. ... What is your function?"

"My - my function?" I whispered.

"Yes, your function. Why do you exist? What do you do?" the silver-grey asked.

"I - I helped with clean up and repairs. I helped Jetty take care of the Towers," I said.

"Why should we keep him, Apogee?" he asked, still holding my chin. "I have no use for a second rate janitor and mechanic."

"I'll train him to help me. I can always use help, Argent. And frankly, Dynamo scares the marks," Apogee replied.

"We have more than enough trained people to help you," he said. "So I ask you again, why should we keep him ? Why should I not just give him to Juggernaut and be done with all this foolishness?"

I heard the giant mech at the door make a low rumble of anticipation. I would have bolted, but I felt those fingers tighten on my jaw, and I knew that if I ran, I'd leave half my face behind.

"Because I've asked for him, not any of your other troops," Apogee said, her tone defiant. "Because I can train him as I need to, rather than working with one of your grunts. None of them would know a confidence job from a hand job, and if you want me to do my job properly, I need a decent apprentice."

"You've put some thought into this," Argent said. "Or is this all an attempt to win me over with logic? Don't think that I'm such a fool that I don't see the resemblance between this one and Shell."

From the corner of my optic I could see Apogee, and she looked like she had been slapped.

"I ... No. This has nothing to do with Shell. I'll admit that Smokescreen looks vaguely like him, but that's irrelevant to all of this," Apogee said. "Now either let me train him or let us go."

"You are hardly in any position to make demands, femme. Need I remind you that you are still in my debt?" Argent said, his voice dangerous and low.

"I ... I apologise, Argent. I forgot myself," Apogee said. She sounded defeated and lost.

"That you did," Argent said. "However, you seem to want this one very much, and so, we can discuss it."

He let go of me and pushed me toward Juggernaut who grabbed me and held me tight.

"Now, Apogee, I ask you again. Will you take responsibility for his actions?"

"Yes," she replied.

"And will you take the blame for his errors?"


"And will you accept his punishments as if they were your own?"

"I will," Apogee said, looking directly at me.

Something about the whole thing made my fuel run cold. These were no mere words. All of this was deadly serious. Juggernaut let me go and roughly pushed me to the middle of the room. I landed on my hands and knees before Argent, who looked down at me with a small smile.

"You heard all of that, did you not?" he asked.

I nodded.

"And do you understand what it all means?" he asked.

Again I nodded.

"Then tell me, Smokescreen, what does it mean?"

"It means that if I make a mistake, then you'll punish Apogee," I said.

"Good. I'm glad you understand. I would hate for you to be the cause of Apogee's death," he said. "I dearly hope that you learn well and quickly young Smokescreen. I would hate for you to have to come back here."

Again, Juggernaut let out a vicious chuckle.

"Both of you are welcome to leave," Argent said. "And Apogee? I want him trained and on the streets in one week's time. Otherwise you and I will be forced to have words."


Under the Moons' Shadow Oil Bar, Theatre District, Iacon.

For the next week Apogee put me through intensive training. Thankfully I proved to be a quick study and I was able to help her with the most basic of cons before Argent's deadline. I also discovered that people wanted to trust me, to help me. Believe me, Apogee and I used that to our advantage time and time again. Soon we were partnered together permanently, and Dynamo was transferred to a thug squad. It was a function that was far better suited to his temperament.

Over the next few years I became better at what I did, and we found that we were an almost unbeatable team. We brought in more energon than anyone else, and were masters at diverting both the Decepticons and the Autobots away from their respective supply depots.

I'm not sure when things changed between Apogee and me. It seems like one minute we were friends, then partners, and then, suddenly, we were something more. We never openly voiced our feelings, but that didn't stop us from sharing a recharge berth at night, and seeking comfort in each other after the more degrading jobs. Somewhere she became my everything, but as the humans say, all good things must come to an end, and for us, the ending came far too quickly.

"Smokey?" Apogee said, stepping into our shared quarters. "Can I talk to you?"

"Of course Apogee," I said. "You know I'm always at your ...." The words died on my lips as I saw the stricken look on her face, her defeated posture.

"What's wrong?" I asked, moving to embrace her, as if I could shield her from whatever was bothering her.

She stepped away from my approach, crossing her arms defensively over her chest.

"I ... we have new orders from Argent," she said, coming further into the room and sitting on the edge of the recharge berth.

"Okay ...," I said, confusion clear in my voice. "But what's wrong? You look like someone died."

She looked up at me suddenly, optics wide with shock. She looked like I had slapped her. I moved to quickly kneel before her, taking her hands in mine.

"Ap! Please, what happened? What's wrong?" I asked.

"Argent has new orders for us. He needs us to go pick up the supply shipment at the Smelting Pools immediately," she said, looking down at her hands.

"Us? But that's Dynamo's ..." Suddenly realization dawned on me. "Apogee, what happened to Dynamo?"

"His team was wiped out and he was taken by the Decepticons ...," she said softly. "Argent thinks he'll crack under interrogation so we have to go get the shipment and then haul aft to another hole."

"That's awful," I said. "But why is he sending us? The two of us can't possible get a shipment back and there are other teams he can send in."

"I ... I don't know. He insisted that it had to be us. No back up," she said. "Maybe we can pull a bait and switch or a ... I don' know. We'll think of something once we get there."

She disentangled her hands from mine, stood up, and left the room, never turning back to see if I was following. Deep, in the back of my mind I knew there was something she wasn't telling me. I knew that something was terribly, terribly wrong. But pushed it aside and instead trusted that Apogee knew what she was doing and that Argent wouldn't jeopardize the shipment or his troops in any way.

I had never been more wrong in my life.


The Smelting Pools

We made the way to the safe house to the Smelting Pools quickly, ensuring that we weren't being followed. Throughout the trip something bothered me about the whole thing. One of the first rules of the con was that you never went in flat-footed. Not if you could avoid it. This was going to be a lot more difficult than a simple smash-and-grab, and I was worried that we had no plan at all.

"Hey, Ap?" I whispered. "What's the plan? If this is a normal shipment, there's no way we'll be able to get it out on our own."

"Don't worry about it and just follow my lead," she said dismissively.

I opened my mouth to ask another question but she cut me off with a quick gesture.

"No questions! Just do as your told," she said sharply.

She had never spoken to me like that before, but I assumed that she was upset over the loss of Dynamo. In the back of my mind, my instincts told me something was wrong, but I dismissed them all. Today I would have known better, but back then I was too young, too inexperienced.

We arrived at the Smelting Pools and found them practically deserted. A single guard stood by the boxes, staring off into the pools' orange glow, ignoring us completely. We snuck forward as quietly as we could, and still the guard didn't acknowledge us.

I moved closer to Apogee to voice my concerns but was stopped by a shake of her head. She motioned for me to move closer, to check out the scene. I shook my head, motioning that we should pull out. I knew something was wrong, even if, Apogee wasn't seeing it. Our silent argument probably saved my life, because as I told her again that I wasn't going out there, a concussion force shook the entire platform, loud enough to temporarily short out my audio sensors.

It was like watching events in slow motion without any sound. First the guard seemed to come apart at the seams, blossoming out from within. Then the shipment boxes rolled precariously close to the edge of the nearest pool. And looking up, I saw the cause of it all. Decepticons, flying high above us, being led by Dynamo, surveyed the scene, searching for something. Knowing that we were probably that something, I slid further back into the shadows, hoping that I wouldn't be seen, hoping that Apogee was doing the same.

The Decepticons landed and began to look around. It was a small contingent, only Dynamo and two Seekers, but those three were more than enough of a threat. As I continued to hide I watched in confusion and fear as Apogee ran out to them. Dynamo grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her into a quick embrace. She pulled back, shook her head, and pointed in my direction. Dynamo yelled something back at her, and the two Seekers laughed and elbowed each other, obviously thinking that the argument was a lovers' spat.

Apogee shook her head again, more emphatically this time. Dynamo gestured furiously in my direction then narrowed his optics. He peered into the shadows and then raised his arm and fired at an area just above my head. While the shot missed, whether by accident or design, it did succeed in flushing me from my hiding place. As I was about to raise my puny weapon, Apogee threw herself between me and Dynamo. It was then that my audios finally came back online.

"So this's yer choice, Ap?" Dynamo spat out.

"No, but there has to be another way, I can't loose Shell! Not again!" Apogee cried.

"Primus damnit, Ap! He's not -," Dynamo stopped suddenly and narrowed his optics. "Ya know what? If this is what ya want, then fine! I'm done with it and you!"

He spun and fired at the shipping crates, pushing them fully into the Smelting Pool. The last thing I saw were the Decepticons taking to the sky as the shipping crates exploding. The force of it knocked me off my feet and offline.

When I came to I thought I was alone for a moment, until I realized that Apogee was sitting nearby, in a small, miserable ball.

"Are you alright?" I croaked.

"Fine," she said. Her voice was filled with sorrow, but sharp at the same time. A silent 'drop it' was laced into her words.

"What happened?" I asked, crawling up to her. "Are you sure you're okay?"

Apogee stood suddenly and began to walk away.

"Come on," she said, "we have to get back to Argent."

"But what do we tell him?" I asked standing up and following her. "We've lost the shipment. We can't go back without an explanation."

"That's irrelevant. It doesn't matter," she said. Her voice was cold and distant, and she never looked back at me or slowed.

"What do you mean? Of course it matters!" I cried. I sped up and moved to block her path. "We can't just go back to him! He won't accept a failure like this!"

"And what do you suggest we do?" Apogee sneered.

"I ... I don't know," I said, taken aback by her tone. "We could hide! We could go to the Autobots!"

"Neither of those are options, Smokescreen. We need to go back to Argent and you know it," Apogee said, stepping around me and walking away.

"But if you want to renege on your debt to Argent then be my guest, but I am going home!" she spat out.

"I ... Apogee, I don't understand! What's wrong with you?" I cried.

Apogee stopped and sighed. She turned slowly toward me.

"I'm sorry," she said softly. "I'm just a little thrown off by all of this. ... Look, you have no need to hide. Argent won't take anything out on you."

Her voice was still flat, expressionless. But I took her at her word, and followed her back to Polyhex.


Warehouse District, Polyhex

We returned to Argent's warehouse in silence. Little did I know that I was to loose more that night than a few shipping crates. Reflecting back on it, however, I'm sure that Apogee knew what was in store for her. I think she had known from the very beginning.

Getting into the warehouse was business as usual, as was getting into Argent's office, but that was where things went terribly wrong. The moment the door opened Apogee was grabbed and dragged inside. I moved to follow but found myself facing Juggernaut's massive chest. He blocked the doorway with his bulk so that I couldn't see what was happening, but I could hear. Oh yes, I could hear everything. Even today, vorns later, I can still hear her screams as they beat her to within an inch of her life.

Finally after what felt like forever Juggernaut stepped aside and ushered me in. The first thing I saw was Apogee's still form, and Slice hovering over her.

I was frozen in place, unable to move, unable to process the scene before me. Apogee lay in a pool of her own fluids, her body broken, her once proud crest shattered.

"I believe that is enough, Slice. I've made my point. Feel free to do with her as you will, as long as I never see her again," Argent said, wiping her fluids off his hands with a cloth.

Those words were enough to break my stupor.

"NO!" I screamed, launching myself toward Argent. I hadn't even taken a step when Juggernaut had me in a crushing embrace. He pulled my arms back until I was sure that they would break off, but even the pain didn't stop me.

"No! Argent you can't! I'm the one who messed up! I'm the one who lost the shipment! If I'd followed her orders none of this would have happened! Leave Apogee out of this!" I cried.

"That may be true. But she took an oath to bear your burden. She knew what she was doing when she agreed," Argent said. Behind him Slice was eyeing Apogee, his hands twitching in anticipation.

"That was ages ago! I'm a full member of this gang and you can't expect her to still be responsible for me!" I gasped in pain as Juggernaut twisted my arms a little harder.

"Yes, you are that," Argent said. "In fact I'd be tempted to say that you've exceeded your mentor and that you are now an even more important part of my team then she ever was."

He walked up to Apogee's huddled form and crouched beside her.

"In fact, my dear, I would say that your student far exceeded any expectations I ever had of him," he said, gently stroking the shattered remains of her crest. Apogee barely flinched at the pain he was causing her.

"Then let her go! I'll take her place! Take on any debt she still owes!" I cried, straining against Juggernaut's hold.

"Oh, that was what you were going to do anyways," Argent said. "That offer hardly impresses me. And Slice has placed a far more ... interesting request."

"No!" I screamed. "You can't do this!"

Argent stood and approached me slowly.

"Why do you care? Why do you have any concern for this femme?" Argent asked. "It's not as if she has any feelings for you. All you are is the body double of a mech she lost long ago."

He leaned in close, lips almost touching my cheek. "When she lays with you at night, all she sees is Shell," he whispered.

His words were like acid, they burned as they hit me, hanging limp in Juggernaut's grip.

"Feel free to do with her as you will, Slice. I'm tired of picking up after her messes," Argent said, turning away from me.

I looked up, barely seeing anything, but somehow, his words sank in.

"Argent, I'm the one who messed up. Please, don't blame her for my mistake," I said, my voice barely above a whisper.

"You just don't get it, do you?" he asked, turning back to me. "This isn't about the shipment and this isn't about i your /i mistake. Though believe me, if you ever screw up like that again, what I did to her will be minor compared to what I'll do to you. No, this is about Apogee and Dynamo and where their loyalties really lie."

"I don't understand ...," I whispered.

"No, of course you don't. You're still far too young to understand the true subtleties of loyalty. So consider this a lesson. Dynamo was once in your position. When Apogee turned her considerable attentions to you, he decided that it was time to prove himelf. He sold his services to the Decepticons in the hopes that he and Apogee would be protected from the debt they owe me. That little accident at the Smelting Pools was intended to be used as cover for their escape. More than likely you were intended to be the recipient of an untimely accident."

"That's not true," I growled.

"Oh isn't it?" Argent said, arching one optic ridge. "I wouldn't be so sure of that if I were you."

"Well, if it is then you drove her to it," I spat out.

"Hold onto that belief if it helps you sleep at night," Argent said, dismissively. He turned and looked down at Apogee's ruined form. "Take this away, Slice. We're finished here."

I watched, mute, as the medic pulled Apogee from the room, trailing mech fluid in his wake. I no longer had the strength to fight Juggernaut's hold. All I would do was watch and mourn in silence.

Argent turned back to me and brushed his hand over my cheek.

"Learn from this little Sparklet. You owe me as much as she did. Take this as a reminder of what happens to those who defy me. And remember, there is nowhere on this planet that you can go where I can't find you."

I nodded my head, refusing to look him in the optics. Juggernaut released me and I sank to the floor. I heard both Argent and his brute leave the room, and I still remained kneeling where I had fallen. In one single act, Argent had taken everything from me. I swore in that moment that I would pay Argent back for everything he ever did to Apogee. I didn't know when that would be, but if there was one thing that she taught me, it was patience. I could wait. Eventually the time would be right. Eventually all the pieces would be in place. And eventually, Argent would pay.

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