“It’s important that we celebrate your achievements,” Termina had said as she watched Dominug get buffed to perfection, his armor gleaming with an opalescent sheen. “It’s even more important we continue to honor the Ambus name with events such as these.”
As recruitment, it does little to sway Dominus. But he’s heard the warning in her tone, in her words. Behave. Enjoy, even if he has to pretend, and be grateful for the accolades. He is the rising star of the Ambus family. It is part and parcel to his duty.
Dominus loathes parties.
He loathes the noise and the crowds, the pretend smile he plasters on his face, the fake congratulations from other noble families, all eager to brag about their own creations and their own descendants. These parties are just another opportunity to play a game of one-up-manship and Dominus hates that, too.
He succeeded because he has no other choice. Is he proud of the award? Certainly. But he wishes earning such things didn’t mean a meaningless party every time.
Mechs crowd the massive ballroom and the veranda. Overburdened tables creak under the weight of platters piled high with treats, and fancy goblets filled to the rim with expensive engexes of fine vintage. Dominus swears he doesn’t recognize half of the faces in the crowd. Those that are familiar, he wishes he didn’t.
Except Minimus, of course. Dominus is always pleased to see his sibling, something which has been less and less as of late. Minimus has been quite distant, and Dominus has been unable to discern a reason why.
Dominus has been nursing the same glass of engex all night. He needs to keep his wits about him if he has any chance of keeping up with the political undercurrents simmering beneath the surface. There are far too many noble families here for him to be anything but cautious.
He floats from group to group as the hired entertainment for the evening shifts from solemn music, to something more energetic and upbeat, encouraging the already inebriated patrons to move to the dance floor. How many political bondings will be decided tonight? How many accidental sparkings?
He runs into Minimus near the balcony door, his younger brother frowning at the congregation of mechs having too much fun. Minimus has never approved of fun. It’s too much chaos for him.
Granted, Dominus doesn’t enjoy parties either, but at least he knows how to have fun. He thinks, sometimes, that Minimus’ logic chip is too tightly implanted, and there’s no give in his little brother’s spinal strut.
“Minimus, you’re not drinking,” Dominus observes as he moves alongside his brother, who stands at parade rest of all things.
Minimus shakes his head. “No, someone needs to keep a cool processor. You know how these things go.”
“I can’t imagine Termina gave you an assignment like that. Not for a celebration.” Dominus frowns, already composing the query for the house-head.
“I took it upon myself.” Minimus’ optics cut toward him. His facial decoration, a trademark of the Ambus house and only a shade smaller than Dominus’ own, quivers. “You’ll have to forgive me for not celebrating. It seems we have one of these parties every week.”
Dominus sighs and peers out over the crowd. “The House of Ambus is proud of their heir,” he says. “Even if it is superfluous.”
“Ambus has always celebrated perfection. It’s a good thing you’re a prime example of it,” Minimus replies, and there’s a tightness to his tone.
“Mims.” Dominus uses their childhood nickname and leans closer, resting a hand on his brother’s shoulder. He feels the tension in the taut, green armor. “Is everything all right?”
Minimus shakes him off. “I’m fine.”
“You know you can talk to me, right?” Dominus presses. He tucks his hand at his side, reaching out with his field instead.
Minimus rebuffs him. “Of course I do.” His brother slants him a sideways look. “It’s nothing. Don’t you have a party to get back to? There’s an adoring throng out there eager to compliment you.”
“I am not certain I’d call them adoring,” Dominus starts to say, but Minimus sighs and eases another step away.
“I am sorry, Dominus. I think I see Ferris heading for the punch bowl again, and you know how he likes to overindulge.” Minimus smiles but it’s thin at best. “Enjoy your party.”
He’s gone before Dominus can form a rebuttal, or even catch him long enough to pry an answer out of his brother. Perhaps tomorrow Minimus will be more amenable to a talk. Something is clearly bothering him.
And to think, there was a time they used to be so close. They shared everything with one another. Their dreams, their secrets, their hurts. They were inseparable. Strangers used to think them twins.
Now it’s a story of a broken spark.
Dominus sighs and clutches his engex a little tighter. He glances at his chronometer and despairs. It is too early for him to beg off. Minimus is already gone, vanished into the crowd, and there’s not a friendly face to be found.
He surveys the ballroom before he decides to make another circle of the vast space. He takes a calculated sip of his engex. He’s only finished about half the glass, but if this keeps up, he’ll need another just to keep up appearances. He needs something to do, but getting caught in a group of chatting nobility is the last thing he wants.
Which is of course what happens.
“Dominus, come here child,” Silverspire croons.
Head of the House Argent. Dominus can’t refuse him, even if Silverspire’s voice makes his plating crawl. He knows Silverspire’s been wheedling Termina to join their houses. He’s attempted on several occasions to get Termina to agree to an arranged mating between Dominus and Argent’s heir, Silverwing. Neither Dominus nor Silverwing are interested in this.
In the end, it won’t be either of their choices.
“Lord Silverspire.” Dominus tips his head in a polite, respectful greeting. “I am so glad you could make it tonight.”
“But of course, Dominus Ambus.” Silverspire puffs up like an overpolished turbocat, not an ounce of transport kibble to be found on his frame. “I could not miss seeing you receive such an honor. You’re truly a testament to your house name.”
Funny how his accomplishments are only of worth to the Ambus House, but never of worth to Dominus himself. Everything he does is tied to Ambus. He’s not recognized as Dominus, as himself.
He’s only an Ambus.
“Thank you.” Dominus tips his head and takes a huge drink of his engex. He’s going to need it to get through this conversation. “Are any others from the House Silver here tonight?”
Silverspire barks a laugh and slaps him on the shoulder, gripping tight. “Missing your prospective conjunx, eh?” He gives Dominus a little shake. “No. Silverwing isn’t here. He had other obligations unfortunately. But I’ll let him know you asked.”
Dominus swallows a grimace. “I appreciate it.”
“Anyway, have you met Equalizer?” Silverspire continues, gesturing to the brightly colored mech beside him. He’s been mostly silent thus far.
“I don’t believe I have.” Dominus plasters on his fake smile. “It’s a pleasure, Equalizer.” He offers a hand.
The mech, who is a garish contrast of chartreuse and magenta, grins and grasps Dominus’ hand in a firm shake. “Oh, no. The pleasure is all mine, Dominus Ambus,” he purrs, and pulls Dominus’ hand up to his mouth, brushing his lips over Dominus’ knuckles. “Have you ever been told how handsome you are?”
Dominus retrieves his hand with a bit of effort, resisting the urge to wipe it on his thigh. “My frame was carefully sculpted by the Ambus House. I adhere to their standards of beauty.”
Equalizer chuckles. “Fair enough.” He leans in and winks. “But you know, it’s not about what you’re wearing, so much as it is about how you wear it.”
“How true!” Silverspire laughs loud enough to gather far too much attention. “And I must say, the Ambus House has always had a keen optic for design.”
Dominus drains his engex and hopes it’ll give him an excuse to get out of this conversation. It burns on the way down, settles hot in his tanks, but it’s not enough to burn away this party.
“Oh dear, Dominus,” Equalizer purrs, slipping the empty cube out of Dominus’ hand before he can so much as get the word out. “You’ve run out. Allow me to get another for you.”
He vanishes into the crowd.
“My, I think Equalizer might be sweet on you,” Silverspire remarks as he nudges Dominus with an elbow. “You’re going to break his spark.”
Dominus fights back a sigh. Now he’s stuck here until Equalizer returns, lest he come across as rude to the House Silver. “I do wish to concentrate on my studies and my career right now,” he says. “My work is very important to me.”
“Well, hobbies can often seem like they are as necessary to functioning as actual work,” Silverspire says with a shrug. He gulps his own drink, no doubt the finest vintage Termina had made available.
“It’s not a hobby, it’s my career,” Dominus corrects.
Silverspire shakes his head and gives Dominus a patronizing look. “You are heir to the House Ambus, Dominus. Careers are hobbies until the time comes for you to take Termina’s place.”
Dominus twitches. This has been an argument he’s had with Termina on multiple occasions.
“I have returned!” Equalizer says loudly, bursting into the conversation and thrusting a cube in front of Dominus. “And I’ve found an old friend in the crowd.”
He has another mech by the elbow, and this one is an equally offending shade of paint – orange and white, more of the former than the latter. “Hi, I’m Cork!” he says cheerfully. “I work with Equalizer. Wow, you’re pretty.”
Primus spare him.
Dominus manages a thin smile. “Nice to meet you, Cork. And thank you.” The engex Equalizer brought him looks much stronger than whatever Dominus had previously.
He doesn’t care. He takes a large gulp, welcoming the heat of it, even as it settles heavy in his tanks. He tries to find a way to gracefully exit the conversation.
“Dominus has a younger brother,” Equalizer says as Cork continues to stare at Dominus in a way that makes him uneasy.
“Is he pretty, too?” Cork asks.
Silverspire barks a laugh. “Mech, the whole Ambus line is pretty. Of course Minimus is as well. Both of them are quite the spark-breakers.”
“Is he single?” Cork asks and rises on the tips of his feet, peering over the crowd as though he will find Minimus so he can immediately go proposition him.
Equalizer chuckles. “Cork, he’s an Ambus. He’s way out of your league. And probably already promised to someone.”
“Not as of yet, if I recall,” Silverspire says with a gleam in his optic. “Perhaps if my proposal is rejected, Minimus will be more amenable. What do you think, Dominus?”
He briefly presses his lips together. “I think Minimus can certainly choose for himself. He has that luxury.” Unlike Dominus, who already knows the time he has for freedom is drawing closer and closer to an end. The Ambus House is a noose around his neck, and it’s tightening.
Just like this conversation, as a matter of fact.
He’s trapped. And the more he tries to bow and make his escape, the more they spin the topic into something new. Silverspire has no intention of letting Dominus out of his sight – perhaps afraid one of the other Houses might snatch him and present a better merge proposal.
The engex is his only salvation. It bubbles in his tank, leaves him a little dizzy, and altogether makes it easier to digest the nightmare that is this party.
Equalizer fetches him another cube. Cork hovers closer, and Dominus finds himself inching toward Silverspire if only because he doesn’t like the way Cork looks at him. He wonders if Cork is a few chips short in his processor.
Cork, again, mentions Minimus. “Well, you never know,” he says with a shrug. “Sometimes mechs like to slum it before they get tied down.” He waggles his orbital ridges. “I’m good for a one night stand.”
Silverspire shakes his head. “You are quite confident, Cork. But I assure you, Minimus will not be interested. He’s very… law oriented, is that not right, Dominus?”
“It is.” Dominus fiddles with his third cup of engex. “Minimus idolizes jurisprudence. You can’t hardly find him without his nose buried in some datapad or judicial proceedings vid.”
“Ah, the boring type,” Equalizer says. “Sorry, my friend. I don’t think he’s going to have much interest in you.” He slaps Cork on the back.
Honestly, Dominus isn’t sure Minimus has interest in anything beyond his textbooks and his studies and his aspirations. He’s not sure of anything when it comes to his brother, especially lately. Minimus has been so distant. They don’t spend half as much time together as they used to, and they share nothing of their dreams or their troubles.
Dominus knows that as siblings grow older, they sometimes grow apart, but it still weighs heavy on his spark. Minimus used to be his very best friend. Whatever happened?
“Aww.” Cork slumps. “That’s a shame.”
Dominus snorts behind his engex.
The party drags on.
Dominus remains trapped, finding solace only in his engex. He doesn’t know how long he would have stood there, conversation washing over and through him, Cork inching closer and closer until Dominus is crowded near Silverspire.
At once, there is a ruckus on the other side of the room.
Minimus must have failed in getting Ferris away from the punch bowl, because the heir to the House Largus has just tackled one of House Rouge’s soldiers. Other partygoers shriek and scuttle away from the scuffle. Ambus guards wade into the fray, and Termina appears out of nowhere to bring sanity to the madness.
It’s all so… pointless.
A wave of fatigue strikes Dominus. He sways on his feet, his thoughts running through a cotton filter. A hand on his elbow steadies him, keeps him from careening to the floor.
“Dominus, are you all right?” Equalizer asks, his voice laced with concern.
Dominus eases out of his grip, an odd chill racing through his armor where Equalizer had touched him. “I am. Thank you.” He manages a thin smile. “But I think you’ll all have to excuse me. I had quite the early morning, and the engex is stronger than I thought.”
“Aw,” Cork whines and slumps his shoulders. “I was hoping to entice you into a dance.”
Dominus shakes his head, and hates how it makes him dizzy. “Perhaps next time.” He tips his head politely. “Thank you all for the conversation and for attending this celebration. Please continue to enjoy the party.”
“Of course.” Silverspire smiles patiently. “Do get some rest, Dominus. We’d hate for you to catch ill.”
They let him go this time. Finally.
Dominus drops his empty engex cube off with a server and heads straight for his private suite. He finds Minimus along the way, frowning over a datapad. He’s tucked in a corner away from the dancing and the drinking and anything resembling fun. Brooding, perhaps, over the fact he’d been unable to prevent Ferris from causing trouble.
“Mims, I’m heading to recharge.” Dominus’ foot catches on nothing, and he stumbles.
Minimus blinks at him. “Are you drunk?”
“Of course not. I’ve barely had anything.” Dominus waves him off and catches himself on the wall. “But clearly it was a bad idea to consume any kind of intoxicant while I’m operating on so little recharge.”
“But the party is for you.” Minimus straightens, his frown echoing the disapproval that would likely be on Termina’s face as well. “You can’t leave.”
Dominus shakes his head. “I must. I am far too tired to be of use to anyone right now. Make my apologies to Termina for me?”
Minimus works his jaw before he sighs and looks down at his datapad. “Very well. You’ll do as you want anyway. She knows that.”
There it is again. His tone hints of something being wrong, but his words say nothing. Even his field is closed to Dominus’ without allowing a hint of interpretation.
Dominus steps back to leave, but he pauses. “Mims, are you busy tomorrow evening?”
“I’m always busy.”
“But tomorrow specifically?”
Minimus cycles a ventilation and lifts his gaze. “There’s nothing that can’t wait. Why?”
“Can we talk?” Dominus asks. He wonders if the hope bleeding through his spark is clear on his face. “I thought we might have dinner. Perhaps play a round of Quatra?”
Minimus’ optics flicker. His mustache twitches. “Fine,” he says at length. He focuses on his datapad again. “Now go recharge. You look like you’re about to fall over.”
Dominus smiles and decides not to push his luck. He leaves Minimus be.
He keeps to the wall and the periphery of the party, hoping not to be noticed and pulled into another conversation. That he needs the wall to stay upright might also be true.
He makes it to the exit without incident and pushes through the double doors into the main hallway. The doors thunk shut behind him, reducing the noise of the party to almost nothing. It feels like his suite is miles away, and Dominus drags his feet, his vents slowing, fatigue clawing at his limbs.
It’s strange. He’s never felt this tired before. And his thoughts seem to be slower. Had he truly imbibed more than he thought? He tries to think back to his consumption. He remembers two drinks distinctly, not nearly enough to inebriate. The night, however, is starting to blur.
Dominus stumbles. On any other day, he would have been able to catch himself. But not today. His hand misses the wall, and he’s going to make a fool of himself by landing on his face on the floor.
Someone catches his arm and steadies him.
“Whoa there,” a pleasant voice says, emerging from a mech much taller than Dominus, with polished gray armor. “Had a bit too much to drink, I gather?”
“I do believe so. Thank you.” Dominus straightens, leaning heavily into the mech’s support. He rubs his forehead, an ache building behind his optics.
Dominus peers up at his savior. “You are familiar,” he says. He’s seen this mech drifting through the party, but always at a distance. “I’m sorry, but I can’t place your designation.”
“It’s Lore. I’m one of Equalizer’s associates.” Lore smiles, and smiles should always be pleasant, but there’s something about Lore’s that isn’t. “You seem to be struggling a bit. Might I be of service?”
Dominus, for the life of him, can’t figure out why this might be a bad idea. “That would be wonderful, thank you. I don’t know why I’m so off balance.”
“Pleasure to be of service.” Lore hooks an arm around Dominus’ frame and takes most of the burden of his weight. “Working together, I think we can get there in no time.”
“I apologize in advance if I pass out on you,” Dominus says as they start down the hall, moving much faster than Dominus had on his own.
The walls blur, lights turning into a harsh stream of brightness. Down one corridor and then another, and he realizes he’s not giving Lore any instructions. Lore seems to know precisely where to go. Perhaps he’d asked a servant?
Dominus’ processor spins. He can’t remember if they passed a servant.
“Don’t worry, dear,” Lore says, and his voice sounds as though it’s coming from a long tunnel. “There’s no fear of that.”
Whatever does he mean? Dominus hasn’t the foggiest. Because now he’s standing – or listing against Lore – in front of his bedroom. The door slides open without him touching the panel. That, too, is odd.
Before Dominus can question it, Lore whisks him inside. A spark of logic breaks through the fog. Something uneasy crawls up Dominus’ spinal strut because his room is dim, and he distinctly remembers leaving the shutters open and his desk lamp on at the very least. It should be bright enough to see by, but instead it’s shadowy and dark.
Lore shoves him forward, toward the berth, and Dominus stumbles. He tries to get his feet beneath him, but he’s still dizzy.
“What are you doing?” he demands.
Hands snatch him out of the dark. Dominus tries to fight back, but a wave of vertigo sweeps over him.
He moans as he lists and two pairs of hands lift him up, toss him onto his berth. He lands on his back, head spinning, limbs feeling numb. He tries to roll over, off the berth, and kicks out at the dark figures with uncoordinated feet. His vision washes with static, except for the gleam of biolights – Lore’s and someone else’s. They’re a smear of color, too many to identify.
They grab his hands, wrapping something tight around his wrists, pulling his hands above his head. It pulls at his shoulders, holds him firmly. They must have lashed the binding down, because he can’t lower his arms, no matter how much he tugs.
“Stop it!” Dominus struggles.
Hands grab his ankles, treating them to the same as his wrists, only they are bound to opposite corners of the berth, spreading his legs wide. Terror throbs through Dominus’ spark. He thrashes on the berth and immediately tries his comm.
Nothing. Static. They’ve got a signal dampener.
“Let me go!” Dominus yanks on his limbs as hard as he can, hears metal creak and groan, but not budge. His vents labor for the next cycle, energy draining out of him as though it’s being siphoned. “Release me at once!”
A large hand grips his jaw, fingers digging into his cheeks, prying his mouth open. Dominus whips his head left and right, or tries to, but the hold is too strong. Something bumps against his lips and denta, and then slides into his mouth, nudging against the back of his intake. It’s long and cylindrical with a ridged, rounded head.
It’s a spike. No, no, it can’t be. It’s cold and doesn’t hum with an energy field. A false spike? It fills his mouth, makes his intake ripple and gag, stretches his jaw wide. His glossa is pinned to the bottom of his mouth.
The hands leave his face, but the spike is still in his mouth. There’s something tight around his cheeks and the back of his head. Have they tied the spike in place?
Dominus’ head spins. He can’t ventilate, not with the fear squeezing his spark, the spike at the back of his intake. What is this? What’s going on?
The main light clicks on, nearly blinding him. He cycles his optics, reboots them, and the spots clarify from his vision. He counts three, no four mechs scattered around the room. He only recognizes three of them: Lore, Equalizer, and Cork. There’s a purplish mech standing by a large device – is that a camera?
“Nice touch, Cork.” Equalizer leans over Dominus, and flicks the end of the spike-gag. “Using your own spike to gag him? Aren’t you worried he’s going to bite it?”
Cork rolls his optics. “It doesn’t work like that, idiot.”
Dominus makes a muffled noise of protest. They ignore him.
The door opens again, and for a minute, Dominus thinks it’s a rescue. That someone saw him leaving with a strange mech and called for help.
Instead, one more mech walks inside, a dull gray-blue with an opalescent visor. Dominus doesn’t recognize this one, but he’s frowning as he casts a quick glance through the room.
“Is everything ready, Playback?” he asks in a sharp clip.
The mech by the camera gives him a thumbs up. “Yes, sir.” He taps himself on the temple. “I even have the portable unit prepped just in case.”
“Everyone else?” the new mech asks. He hasn’t even looked at Dominus yet.
“Yes, sir,” Equalizer and Cork say in unison.
“Yes, Fallout,” Lore replies.
Ready for what? Dominus fears he already knows.
Fallout crosses the room and stands beside Dominus’ berth, opposite of Equalizer. His gaze rakes across Dominus, from his bindings, to his gag, and there’s something assessing in it. Something evil.
“Good.” Fallout rests a palm on Dominus’ abdomen and drags it down, toward his groin. “Our commissioner is paying a lot of shanix for this, so we owe them a good show.”
Dominus squirms, tries to twist his hips away from Fallout, but there’s nowhere for him go. He jerks again on his bindings, but his protests fall on deaf audials. Whatever they’re here for, whatever they’re getting paid for, these mechs have no common decency. They don’t care about his protests, his comfort, anything.
He should save his strength. Keep his optics open for an avenue of escape. Keep pinging his comms and sending out demands for help. Surely something will get through. Someone should come check on him. He left so early! Termina must be coming to fuss at him about it.
He need only endure.
Playback moves back behind his camera. Lore sits at the head of the berth near Dominus, out of sight. Cork stalks around the berth like a restless turbowolf stalking a petrorabbit. Equalizer loiters in the background, watching. And Fallout… he settles at the base of the berth, between Dominus’ thighs.
His hands slide up the inside of Dominus’ thighs, his visor gleaming. “Open up for me, Dominus,” he says, in a sickly sweet tone. “You really want to make this easy for us, I promise.”
Dominus shakes his head. If he could snap his legs closed, he would.
“Come now.” Fallback strokes his fingers over Dominus’ closed array, his intentions clear. “If we have to do it for you, it won’t be pleasant.”
“It will be for me,” Lore croons above Dominus. One of his hands curl around the top of Dominus’ head, stroking it. “You know I love this part.”
“He truly does,” Fallout says. He leans forward, venting hot and wet over Dominus’ groin. “So are you going to make it easy?”
Dominus glares as much as he is capable.
Fallout sighs. “I didn’t think so.” He looks up at Lore and nods.
Lore chuckles, dark and excited. “I love it when they’re stubborn.”
Dominus hears a weird noise, like a thin vibroblade emerging from a hilt. Lore’s hand cups Dominus’ head, lifting it away from the berth, and his other hand feels along the back of Dominus’ neck. His fingers are gentle, for all that they poke and prod, seeking something.
Dominus tenses. Fear curdles in his belly. He jerks as something abruptly sinks through the thin armor on his head and into his processor. It doesn’t hurt, not like pain, but the sudden sensation of an alien presence makes him queasy.
He moans into the gag, his tanks rippling. He can track the presence’s progress as it effortlessly slides into his processor, into his central command, and leaves a sticky sensation behind. It pours like oil through the very sense of him and seeps all the way to his motor controls.
“Oh, you’re barely protected at all,” Lore moans, and his field pushes at Dominus with lust. “You’d think an Ambus heir would have better firewalls, but you’re so open to me.”
“Hurry up,” Equalizer says.
“Hush, you. This is an art,” Lore purrs.
Dominus jerks as something clicks in his processor, and a sick feeling washes through his internals. It echoes a click elsewhere, and the panel concealing his interface array slides open. His frame betrays him.
“Much obliged, Lore,” says Fallout and he sweeps his fingers over Dominus’ valve and spike panel, only for his face to light with glee. “Well, well, well, what do we have here?”
Cork leans in over his shoulder, and he lets out a squeal. “We’re so lucky!” he exclaims. “The Ambus brat is still sealed.”
“Everywhere?” Equalizer asks, and the hunger in his optics turns darker, deeper, like some sparkeater pulled from a storybook.
Dominus shutters his optics so he doesn’t have to see their lust.
Lore’s fingers scrub hard over Dominus’ panels, and though Dominus tries to twitch away, it’s futile. “Yes.” He laughs. “For someone I thought would have had his share of partners, this is a surprise indeed. No wonder Arrhythmia couldn’t entice him.”
Arrhythmia? The sweet two-wheeler he met a couple weeks ago? Is he connected to these five as well?
“Good news for us,” Cork says.
There’s a loud creak, and then the harsh slap of metal on metal.
“Back off,” Fallout snaps. “You know how this works, Cork.”
“Awww, you’re so stingy,” Cork whines.
Dominus unshutters his optics against his better judgment. Fallout has scooted down the end of the berth, kneeling between Dominus’ calves, his face inches from Dominus’ sealed valve. He grabs Dominus’ hips, cradling them, before he leans forward and licks a wet swipe up Dominus’ valve seal.
“You can wait your turn,” Equalizer says. His arms are crossed where he leans, and he watches Dominus like a predator might his prey.
Dominus squirms, fear and discomfort doing little to stop the rising tide of pleasure where Fallout is licking him. He seems to know all the nodes to focus on, all the right sensors. He’s focusing on Dominus’ panel seam as his hands stroke and fondle, and lubricant builds behind the seal. His hips are twitching, trying to rock into Fallout’s licks, and his spike thickens and grows behind his other seal.
It asks him if he wants it to extend. Dominus responds in the negative. For now, the presence in his processor is still, loitering, as if waiting to strike.
Fallout’s oral attention moves to his spike panel. He licks around it, forms a suction with his mouth, until Cork leans in to take his place, and Fallout goes back to Dominus’ valve.
“Come on pretty noble,” Cork says as he sloppily licks over Dominus’ spike seal. “Show us that untouched spike.”
Dominus moans around the gag in his mouth. His interface program asks him, again, if he’d like to extend his spike. He refuses.
“My, you’re stubborn,” Lore says. One hand continues to cup Dominus’ head, but the other cups over his lips, his palm on the end of the spike gagging him.
He gives it a push and the head of the spike grinds against the back of Dominus’ intake. Stars dance in his optical feed as a dull pain radiates through his intake. And then, mercy, as the spike withdraws, sliding across his glossa enough to free his intake. He relaxes for a fraction of a second, before Lore plunges the gag back into his mouth, choking him again.
Dominus whimpers with a crackle of static.
Cork licks his spike seal again, lips sealing around it, forming a suction that excites the sensors, makes another wave of liquid pleasure slide through Dominus’ sensornet. His spike pings him for release; Dominus denies it.
“None of that now,” Lore croons. “We can’t play if you persist on being stubborn.”
He shoves the spike deep, and something in Dominus’ processor gives way under a relentless tide of pressure. He groans as his spike surges through the seal with a sharp slash of pain cascading across his sensor net. He smells the bitter tang of hot energon, his spike stinging as it feels air rushing over the sensitive plating for the first time.
“Thank you Primus for this feast,” Cork exclaims giddily. Or at least Dominus thinks it’s Cork. “I’m so damned lucky.”
Something hot and wet encloses Dominus’ spike. He can’t tell if it feels good or not because the pain is still so sharp, both in his groin and at the back of his intake. His focus wavers, vision crackling. His jaw aches.
There’s so much sensation everywhere. The hot laps against his valve rim and seal. The wet suction around his spike. The sting of a burst seal. The grinding pressure against the back of his intake. The slithering presence in his processor.
“We’re all lucky. We get to teach him everything we know,” another voice comments, and Dominus forces his optics to unshutter. When had he closed them?
He follows the speaker to Equalizer, who’s moved closer, the heel of his palm scrubbing over his own panel, his optics dark and hungry. “Let me have him first, Fallout.”
“The client wants him humiliated, not fragging broken,” Fallout hisses, lifting his mouth from Dominus’ valve, his lips and chin wet with lubricant. “Wait your turn.” His hand slips between Dominus’ thighs, and he can feel the pressure of Fallout’s fingers against his seal.
“Fine. Gimme his spike then,” Equalizer insists, and his field pushes into the room, like a hot wave of burning charge, searing against Dominus’ own.
Fear throbs through his spark, fear of what this angry, violent mech is capable of.
Behind the camera, Playback laughs. “You and your fascination with spikes.”
“Shut up, slagger,” Equalizer snarls. He grabs the back of Cork’s head and pulls Cork away from Dominus’ spike, leaving it glistening where it bobs freely. “He’s ready enough. Move.”
Dominus whimpers behind the gag of the spike. Mercifully, Lore has stopped pumping it into his mouth, but it’s still pushed deep, still grinding hard. His intake keeps rippling, trying to expel it, his purge protocols trying and failing to activate.
Cork huffs but moves aside. “You’re so selfish,” he mutters as he slinks back.
“No one asked you,” Equalizer snaps, and he climbs onto the berth, straddling Dominus’ much smaller frame with little effort.
Hot drips of something patter on Dominus’ abdomen and groin. He realizes, to his disgust, that Equalizer’s already bared his valve, and it’s glistening with lubricant. Equalizer even rubs his palm over his valve, spreading the slick around, while his free hand grabs Dominus’ spike.
“Love the bare ones,” Equalizer breathes with nothing short of lust in his tone. His fingers dance up and down Dominus’ unadorned unit. “Swear they’ve got the best slide.”
“Get on with it!” Cork whines.
“Yes,” Fallout says, his vents puffing against Dominus’ valve. “Do hurry.”
“Got no sense of anticipation, either of you,” Equalizer huffs, but he positions himself over Dominus’ spike and sinks down until swollen pleats of his valve rub the head of Dominus’ spike.
He looks up then, catches Dominus’ gaze. “You ready little Ambus?” He licks his lips, sucking the bottom one between his denta. “By the time we’re done with you, there won’t be a bit of you that’s pure.” He laughs, dark and dirty, and then he drops down, valve swallowing Dominus’ spike in one fell swoop.
Dominus groans, his back strut arching, conflicting sensations making him dizzy. Equalizer’s valve is hot and wet, rippling around him, a delicious pleasure against his untouched sensors. But disgust ripples through his tanks, calls for a purge, because he doesn’t want this, he doesn’t want any of this, why won’t they leave him alone?
“Because we got paid, Dominus,” Lore murmurs in his audial, glossa snaking out against it. “We got paid to ruin you.”
“Oh, he hates it,” Equalizer moans as he starts to lift and lower himself with creaks of his knees, riding Dominus’ spike with abandon. “Look at his face, Falls. He hates it so much.”
The wet vanishes from his valve. Dominus can’t relax from relief, however, because fingers take their place, rubbing and nudging at his rim and the swollen pleats. His valve throbs against the seal, and he can feel lubricant pooling against it.
Is it a mercy or a greater humiliation that they are making some attempt at preparing him?
“You’re right.” Fallout peers over Equalizer’s shoulder. One arm wraps around Equalizer’s waist, his fingers slipping down to circle around Equalizer’s plump anterior node.
Equalizer arches into the touch, releasing a guttural moan of pleasure, his hands clawing the air. “Ah, keep doing that,” he moans. He slams down harder on Dominus, the squelch of lubricant an obscene noise.
Pleasure ripples through Dominus’ groin. He whimpers behind his gag, hips twitching, moving up into Equalizer’s valve without his permission. His spike is throbbing, and his sensors are hot from the sensation.
Above him, Lore chuckles and starts toying with the end of the gag again, pumping it in and out of Dominus’ mouth to the same rhythm as Equalizer’s hips.
“Oh yeah,” Equalizer pants as the slick noises of Fallout fondling him matches the obscene squelch of his valve around Dominus’ spike. He leans back against Fallout, glossa sweeping over his lips. “I’m going to ride this thing all the way to overload.”
Dominus groans behind his gag, his visual feed filling with static. He twitches beneath them, intake rippling with the threat of purge, pleasure shooting like lightning through his sensornet, while his tank churns with nausea.
Lore hums a laugh. “Let’s just dial that up a bit, shall we?”
Dominus screams as the bursts of pleasure turns to white-hot surges of it. He thrashes, his spike jerking, his valve throbbing with denied sensation.
They’re going to kill him, he despairs.
“Oh no, little Ambus. Not yet,” Lore whispers and pushes the gag deep, until Dominus’ lips almost close around the end of it. “There are some things worse than death.”
By the time Minimus arranges for the last severely inebriated partygoer to go home in a transport, it’s so late as to be early. The previous cycle has officially crossed over into the next one, and Minimus is both exhausted and annoyed. This should have been Dominus’ task. He should have been here to make sure his guests left the premises, to thank them for coming, to soak in the last echoes of praise.
“Tell your brother he’s a fine example of a mech.”
“Dominus will make a fantastic heir.”
“He’s so talented.”
It’s enough to rankle.
It’s not that Minimus isn’t proud of Dominus, because he is. He knows how hard his elder brother works, and he knows the burden that awaits Dominus in the future. It just bothers him that everyone tends to forget Minimus exists. That he’s always just a shade lesser than Dominus. Near-perfect scores rather than perfect. And always, always, not good enough. A pale imitation.
Minimus sighs and surveys the ballroom. It and the surrounding corridors are a mess. Nobility, he’s noticed, is never one for being polite and clean. Why bother when servants take care of the mess, yes? Granted, the Ambus House has servants as well, but both Minimus and Dominus were taught to respect the property of others.
Spills of engex sit tackily on the floor. Two of the tablecloths are ripped. It looks like a hoard of empties went through the treat trays, leaving crumbs and half-consumed bits in their wake. Half of the decorative streamers hang in rips from the ceiling, torn from their housings.
There ought to be a law.
Minimus sweeps his hand over his head and trudges back to his own quarters, across the hall from his brother’s. Dominus doesn’t respond to a querying ping, so he truly must be recharging. Termina is going to lecture him for sure tomorrow. It’s a form of disrespect to leave a party in your honor. Though Termina will probably find some way to excuse Dominus’ behavior. He is, after all, the golden heir.
If he’s truly ill…
Minimus hesitates outside his sibling’s door, hand raised to knock or ping. After a moment, he turns away and vanishes into his own room. If Dominus doesn’t emerge for morning meeting, Minimus will send one of the on-call medics in to check on him. He can’t think of anything severe Dominus might have contracted. Surely his brother is in no danger.
Minimus doesn’t bother with lights. He flops onto his berth facefirst and stretches out across the massive surface. In his reducible form, he doesn’t take up much space, which leaves him more surface to occupy. His one indulgence, this berth.
It’s been a long night. Tomorrow will be even longer, with Termina eager to congratulate Dominus on the success of his celebration. And probably the stack of merging proposals no doubt decorating the Head’s desk. All of which Dominus will refuse of course. Still holding out for that special someone, as though he has any choice in the matter.
He hasn’t realized it yet.
No Ambus ever has much of a choice.
Equalizer is vocal and unashamed of it. He braces one hand on Dominus’ abdomen and slams down on Dominus’ spike, panting and moaning and gasping with pleasure. His other hand strips his spike, chasing his pleasure with single minded determination.
“Frag but he’s good,” Equalizer moans.
“Your love of spike will never cease to amuse me,” Lore says.
Fallout laughs from behind Equalizer. “Puts on a good show though,” he says, and his fingers rub more firmly on Equalizer’s nub, rolling and squeezing it between his fingertips.
“He sounds like a pleasurebot,” Lore says.
“S-shut up,” Equalizer stutters and grinds down on Dominus’ spike, the head of it pressing hard against Equalizer’s valve ceiling.
Cork laughs and bounces up beside Dominus. He leans over, peering at Dominus’ face, like one might a mechanimal at the zoo. He cocks his head to the side.
“Think I’ll take this back now,” he says, and grabs the end of the spike gagging Dominus. He pulls it in a yank with no regard for Dominus’ comfort.
His intake ripples. His purge protocols rise up, his tank clenching, and it’s only Lore’s firm grip on his processor that keeps him from actually purging. Dominus sputters, intake aching as he coughs, swearing he can taste energon on his glossa. His jaw aches. Closing it isn’t any better.
His vents heave. His thoughts spin.
Something hot and wet splatters on his chest and belly.
“Yessss,” Equalizer hisses as he slams down on Dominus’ spike, grinding hard, his valve clenching tight around Dominus’ spike. Overload. He’s actually finding completion on Dominus’ spike.
Two more spurts stripe the air. One lands on Dominus’ face, over his lips. The stench of transfluid fills his nose. He tastes it on the tip of his glossa. Nausea roils through him.
“I’ll never understand you,” Fallout says as he slides his hand from around Equalizer, fingers wet with Equalizer’s lubricant. “Getting off on spike that much.”
Equalizer rises up on his knees, bobbing his aft at Fallout. “You just need a good spiking to see where I’m coming from.”
“Hey, pay attention to me.” Cork slaps Dominus on the cheek, forcing him to look at the orange and white mech. “It’s my turn to play.”
Dominus licks his dry lips, but his vocalizer won’t activate, save to spill a staticky groan.
“Eh, close enough.” Cork clambers onto the berth and straddles Dominus’ chassis. His panels are open, valve leaving a wet streak on Dominus’ chest, his spike panel oddly concave, with a screw-like interior.
The reason why becomes clear when Cork takes the spike they’d been using as a gag and slides it into the slot. With several twists and a click, it notches into place, pressurizing fully, pre-fluid beading at the tip.
“Nice, huh?” Cork says. He grips the end of his spike, and paints Dominus’ lips with the head of it. “Came up with the mod myself. Lets me be all kindsa creative.”
The word screams at the back of Dominus’ processor, but his vocalizer only produces static. There’s a manic gleam in Cork’s optics, his lips stretched wide in a grin. He rubs the head of his spike all over Dominus’ face, smearing it with pre-fluid, spreading around Equalizer’s spill.
Dominus jerks his head left and right, trying to avoid the dripping length, but Cork is too persistent, and Lore’s grip on his head too firm.
“You just gonna watch, Lore?” Cork asks as he nudges the head of his spike firmly against Dominus’ mouth, making his lips shiny with pre-fluid.
“I was actually thinking I might participate,” Lore says with a hum.
Dominus’ spike slips free of Equalizer’s valve. He feels cold air seep over his soaked length, and his spike twitches, still throbbing with denied pleasure.
“Participate?” Fallout’s voice emerges from somewhere below Dominus, and it must be his fingers applying a steady, circling pressure over Dominus’ valve seal.
“I could go for some valve right now,” Lore says.
Dominus jerks as the connection retracts from his processor, like someone yanking free a handful of thin needles.
Core giggles madly and rolls his hips, pushing his spike into Dominus’ mouth in the same motion. He grips Dominus’ head with both hands, his spike plunging forward earnestly, worse than when it had been the spike alone. Each thrust is forceful, bruising his intake.
Dominus thrashes, yanking on his bonds, making choked noises around the spike. Purge threatens to rise all over again, moistening his mouth. Oral lubricant bubbles up around his lips, drips down into his intake.
“Is that right?” Fallout asks, on the edge of Dominus’ awareness.
“Mm. You’ll see.”
The berth dips again. Cork leans forward, hips thrusting hard, hands yanking Dominus onto his spike, deeper and deeper. There’s a mad cant to his optics, his denta gritted and bared, pre-fluid seeping down Dominus’ intake.
Suddenly, Cork yanks on his head, pushing so deep Dominus’ nose presses against his spike housing. His spike slides all the way into Dominus’ intake, forcing his secondary ventilation system to kick into action. His vision goes gray, his intake convulsing.
“What the frag?” Cork gasps as he curls over Dominus’ mouth, hips making little humping motions.
“I said I wanted valve. I didn’t say it would be the Ambus brat’s,” Lore replies.
Cork jerks forward again, like someone is thrusting into him and forcing him into Dominus in turn.
“A little warning next time, fragger!” Cork snarls, but pleasure ripples through his field. He humps Dominus’ face, not even bothering to withdraw.
Darkness surrounds Dominus. It takes him too long to realize he’s shuttered his optics. He doesn’t have the wherewithal to open them again. Besides, all he can see is Cork’s groin, and the thick plating of it bumping his lips, bruising them against his denta.
Cork snarls a curse, but then it devolves into a whoop of glee. “You feel that?” he asks, fingers squeezing against Dominus’ head. “Feel that pressure on your glossa? That’s me, little Ambus. That’s my knot.”
Dominus can’t do anything more than gurgle. But he can feel it, the growing mass against his glossa, pushing it down into his oral cavity, stretching his jaw wider and wider. Cork isn’t thrusting now so much as he’s grinding into Dominus, over and over, that thickness at the base of his spike growing larger and larger.
Cork gasps a laugh. “Love me a valve,” he says. “But for knotting, nothing beats a mouth, you know?”
“You talk too much,” Lore says, and Cork jerks forward as if Lore has just thrust hard into him.
Pain radiates through Dominus’ intake and mouth. His optics grow hot. Stress warnings light up his HUD with bright orange and red caution lights. His system tells him to remove the obstacle, and he can’t.
Dominus makes a choked noise. His arms jerk. They’re fragging harder on top of him now, Lore shoving into Cork and forcing Cork to grind into Dominus’ mouth. He tastes energon as much as he tastes transfluid. His focus crackles until only snippets of awareness poke through the agony. He can’t ventilation, can barely move, all he knows is the pain and the shame.
A new touch at his valve stirs Dominus from the gray. His focus draws southward, where something much larger and blunter presses against his valve seal. It applies a firm pressure, not enough to break the seal, but definitely tangible.
“Get a close up of this, Playback,” says Fallout. Dominus knows their voices at least. He’s sure they’ll haunt his night purges for decades to follow. If he even survives this.
“Sir, yes, sir.” Playback sounds gleeful. His voice also sounds closer.
There’s a grip on Dominus’ thighs. The pressure against his valve gets stronger. Then it retreats, and for a moment, Dominus dares to hope.
That’s when Fallout thrusts into him in a sharp, quick jab, breaking his seal in an instant. Jagged pain lances through Dominus’ groin. He screams static around the spike sealing his mouth, the knot stretching his jaw. He goes stiff from head to foot, spark strobing a violent pattern of panic.
Someone’s laughing, he thinks. His frame keeps juttering, jerking, as they frag him like he’s a toy, a doll for their amusement.
“I’ll warm him up for you,” Fallout grunts. He falls into a steady rhythm, plunging forward without pause, despite the pained clutch of Dominus’ valve.
There’s no moment to get used to it, no moment to catch a vent. It’s just pain. Agonizing, searing pain. There’s not even pleasure in it. Or if there is, he can’t tell.
Fallout assaults him, harder and faster.
Cork squeezes his head, his spike thickened in Dominus’ mouth, pinning him around the knotted length.
Lore frags Cork with abandon, pulling and pushing Cork against Dominus’ face, his heated vents blasting down against Dominus.
It’s a blur. A mad blur of agony.
Cork overloads first. If Dominus can even call it an overload. He can feel the pump of Cork’s spike over his glossa. He can feel the thick spurts of transfluid filling up his intake faster than he can swallow. More and more of it. So much that it backflows, filling every nook and cranny of his mouth, squeezing past the seam of his lips and Cork’s spike.
More liquid splatters on Dominus’ chestplate. It slides hot and sticky into his seams, congealing into globs. He doesn’t know where it’s coming from, he doesn’t care.
The spike plunges into his valve again and again, slamming against his swollen rim, driving away any hint of pleasure. Something hot and wet brushes over his spike before someone swallows him. They must have. They’re licking and sucking, denta dragging over desperate sensors.
Dominus shudders as he overloads, more agony than pleasure, thin streams of transfluid spilling into someone’s mouth. He hears a laugh as they let his spike slip free, the last spurt of his release spattering on one of his thighs. And then the mouth comes back, a different one, cooler like they’ve swallowed liquid nitrogen. Lips suckle at him with hard pulls, and Dominus screams into the transfluid drowning him.
It hurts, hurts, hurts, stop, stop, someone please make them stop.
Cork jerks his spike free, and Dominus coughs up globs and globs of transfluid, vents whining and intake convulsing. He can’t seem to catch an oral ventilation. His vision whites out with static.
Cork climbs off his chassis with a satisfied sound. He plays with the transfluid decorating Dominus’ face, smearing it all around. He laughs.
“What are you two trying to do? Suck him dry?” he asks.
Someone chuckles. “Well, he likes it so much, figure we’re doing him a favor,” Equalizer says in a nasty tone.
Searing heat splatters inside Dominus’ valve, burning as it splashes over his bruised nodes. Fallout plunges deep into him, grinding so hard it squeezes his anterior node in an unpleasant way. The pinch of it stings, but it’s just another pain to a litany of them.
Fallout removes his spike, leaving his spill seeping from Dominus’ valve. He smirks, and Dominus stares hazily at him, unsure what the sudden spark of sadism in his optic means. He strikes, faster than lightning, his palm smacking against Dominus’ valve, palm hitting his swollen anterior node.
Dominus’ backstrut arches. He manages a thin, shrill cry from his staticky vocalizer. His valve burns, his node feels as though it’s been set aflame.
“There,” Fallout says as he steps back. “I warmed him up for you.”
Playback takes Fallout’s place. “Good,” he says as he slides into Dominus’ valve, the wet push of his thick spike nauseatingly obscene. “You know I like them messy.” His optics brighten, optical lenses cycling in and out.
Dominus realizes, to his horror, that Playback has an internal recording system as well. Rewind has a very similar system, though he has an external one as well, for better quality films. Playback must be recording close ups of Dominus’ torture for whoever their commissioners are.
Dominus doesn’t know what’s worse. That someone paid them to do this to him, or that they’re filming it, and Primus only knows where copies of those recordings are going to go.
That worry is too fleeing, however. It’s a distant concern. Because Playback is fragging him, slow and deep, like he plans on taking his time about it. He’s rolling and pinching Dominus’ node between his fingers, vents rattling and gasping, lust so heavy in his field it’s choking.
Lore’s needles slide back into Dominus’ processor – when had he gotten near Dominus’ head? – and the pain suddenly melts into liquid pleasure. Heat, heat, ecstasy. Dominus gurgles a cry as he overloads.
His valve clenches down, tight around Playback’s spike, and the purplish mech hisses a cry of delight, his fingers digging into Dominus’ hip seams.
“He’s even messier now,” Playback pants. “Do it again.”
Lore laughs, dark and malicious. “With pleasure,” he purrs.
His needles dig deeper. Dominus’ vision whites out. His frame convulses. He doesn’t know if it’s pleasure or pain, but his spike jerks out a thin stream of transfluid and his valve ripples again. Charge crackles like lightning through his lines. His vocalizer stutters until a thin wail breaks free.
He frantically activates his comm, even though he knows all he’s going to get is static. He pings Minimus, Rewind, Termina, the house soldiers… He shouts and screams for help. He begs for someone to save him.
It isn’t until they start laughing that Dominus realizes some of his pleading has been aloud, in broken, staticky sounds. He garbles. He whines. He chokes on transfluid. The stench suffocates him.
His valve screams into another overload, but his spike remains rigid, swollen and seeping with pre-fluid. Equalizer climbs back on top of him, licking his lips, his valve dripping lubricant as he pumps his spike with abandon.
Playback grunts through an overload, filling Dominus with even more transfluid, painting his insides all the way up to his ceiling node. His spike withdraws, grating over every last one of Dominus’ nodes, and he whimpers.
Another body takes Playback’s place. Dominus can’t see who. It doesn’t matter. It’s another spike slamming into him, almost violently. It’s Equalizer still on top of him, enthusiastically grinding Dominus’ spike into his valve. Lore’s giggling as he wriggles his needles in Dominus’ processor, effortlessly manipulating his frame to enjoy or loathe their attentions.
He can’t see Playback’s camera, but he can feel its dispassionate gaze. The shame of it courses hot and heavy through his lines.
No one’s answering his calls for help. No one’s going to save him. He’s all alone.
There’s no one to stop the spike in his valve, the calipers around his spike, the fingers in his brain, the fingers on his mouth, pushing past his lips, gagging him. His assailants are talking, their voices a blur of agony. They’re laughing, and another overload tears through Dominus’ valve as his spike stays stubbornly pressurized, so swollen it aches and feels as though it’s going to explode.
“Get comfortable, little Ambus,” Lore murmurs into his audial, a parody of a lover’s caress in the way he tilts their cheeks together. “We get to have you all to ourselves all night.”
Dominus moans brokenly. His optics are unshuttered but he can’t see anything. He can’t feel anything but a rolling pulse of pain. Darkness creeps in at the edges of his awareness, and there’s nowhere to go, nowhere to escape.
It’s a small favor, he thinks, that they probably aren’t going to kill him.
He doesn’t know if he wants to survive it.
All is quiet and still in the House of Ambus. That, in itself, is not unusual.
Rewind can’t find Dominus. That’s the part which strikes him as odd. He’s the one who showed up late for their scheduled work shift. If anything, he expects Dominus to be standing outside his office, arms crossed, one foot tapping impatiently. He’ll have that firm glare, his mustache quivering, and Rewind should be in the middle of apologizing for his tardiness.
Dominus is not in his office. Odd. Because Dominus doesn’t know how to be anything but punctual. Late is not a word that has ever existed in his vocabulary.
Rewind knows there was a party last night. It’s no excuse. Dominus doesn’t overindulge and even if he had, he still won’t allow it to interfere with his work. Nothing is allowed to interfere. Not even… romance.
None of the servants have seen him. At least, none of the ones who would answer Rewind’s queries. Some still didn’t take too kindly to a disposable running around, much less a datastick. Without Dominus to ensure their polite behavior, they feel free to be rude.
The only place Dominus would be if not in his office would be his room. Perhaps he truly did sleep in. He could be sick, Rewind guesses. That might account for his lateness.
A weird something claws at Rewind’s backstrut. Especially when Dominus’ door comes into view. The panel glows a baleful red, like it’s been locked from the inside, which is unusual enough. But the lock itself looks to have been tampered with. There are scratch marks around the casing, and what even looks like a burn. What the frag is going on?
He immediately tries pinging Dominus, but he gets sent straight to the mail system. He’s told to leave a message. A direct ping gives him only static.
Rewind’s vents stall.
Dominus is the heir to the House Ambus. He’s a very valuable target, if one were so inclined. Rewind knows there are plenty who are inclined and have the funds to pull off such a thing.
He whirls and throws himself at Minimus’ door, pounding on it and pinging Dominus’ younger brother insistently. Minimus is like Dominus, an early riser. He should already be online. And he is, because he flings the door open, optics wide.
“Why are you making so much noise?” Minimus demands.
“Something’s wrong with Dominus. He’s not responding to my pings,” Rewind babbles. He makes a grab for Minimus’ arm, tries to drag him out of the room. “Look!” He points at Dominus’ tampered door panel.
Minimus’ face drains of color. “It did not look like that last night,” he says in a dark tone. He reaches for his comm, and his field goes sickly. “He’s not answering. All I’m getting is static.”
Rewind’s spark leaps into his intake. He can’t breathe.
He claws at Dominus’ door panel, trying to rip it off. “Call for help,” he demands as the panel starts to crack. “I’m going to see if I can’t get this door open.”
“Right. Right, of course.” Minimus stumbles, his back hitting the wall, and within seconds, alarms ring through Ambus Manor, loud enough to make Rewind’s audials crackle and his sensors go haywire.
He pries off the main panel and starts ripping out circuits, wiring, anything that might force the door to open. His fingers shake, his vents whirr. Minimus is pale and trembling behind him, his gaze locked on the door, his lips pressed together. He’s not being much help.
Rewind has a fistful of wires in his hand by the time security comes pounding around the corner. It’s Minimus who grabs him by the shoulder, pulls him out of the way of the three large mechs, built like tanks. They break down the door as if it’s made of tissue paper, and that’s when Rewind’s processor starts screaming. He gasps, drops to his knees, hears Minimus echo him, sway and hit the wall.
No, Rewind’s not the one screaming. Dominus is. He’s shouting for help, he’s begging for it, on all channels, on all frequencies. Rewind gasps as sparks fill his visor and his audials throb from the imagined decibels of it. His comms crackle and die, mercifully cutting off the agony, but he swears it’s still echoing in his processor.
“Dom…” he groans, and claws his way to his feet.
He staggers into the room, through the massive hole security left behind. The stench hits him then, that of overloads and lubricant and transfluid. Stale energon and despair. He sees the berth, and he sees Dominus on it, limp and unconscious. No, not just unconscious. He’s in stasis. His frame is covered in fluids, his face even more so. His optics are unshuttered but dim. He’s been tied down.
Minimus pushes past him, a strangled cry tearing from his throat. “Dominus!” He throws himself toward the berth before one of the security guards grab him by the midsection, pull him aside. He’s still reaching for his brother, face a mask of anguish, his field so ripe with it Rewind’s head spins.
Rewind staggers back against the wall, his spark squeezing into a tiny knot.
More members of the Ambus household stream into the room. One of them bears the distinct symbol of a medic. Termina Ambus arrives in their wake. A screech of horror still isn’t enough to shake Rewind from his stupor. Why? Who? How? Dominus is so limp, he’s so hurt, they’ve made a ruin of him.
“Oh, Dommy,” Rewind murmurs, sparksick to his very core. What have they done to him? And why?
The questions will haunt him forever, Rewind knows. Even as he prays to Primus Dominus comes out of this alive.
The steady beep of the sparkrate monitor is the only reassuring sound Minimus has to cling to right now.
Dominus vents only because of a machine, ensuring his system is cycling properly. His tanks are on an energon drip. He is a roadmap of dents and scrapes, and they’ve been too worried about saving his spark to pay much attention to the state of his paint. A forensics team had been here earlier, taking pictures and samples, but no one’s cleaned him yet. Minimus can’t stop counting the different paint transfers, the dents where fingers have gripped too tightly, the clumps of fluids still caught in his brother’s seams.
Minimus can’t take it any longer. He grabs a box of pre-moistened cloths and dabs carefully at his brother’s armor, wiping away the evidence of his assault. It’s too quiet in here, even with the ventilator and the sparkrate monitor, so he clicks on the vidscreen as well, something to run in the background. Anything to distract him from his thoughts.
“—begun an investigation of our own.”
The familiar voice cuts through Minimus’ musings, makes his spinal strut stiffen. He looks up at the vidscreen, where Termina Ambus is issuing a statement to the press.
“While we have utmost faith in the investigative forces of the Enforcers, there are few who will argue the Ambus family is not without its own talents. We will look into this matter vigorously, and rest assured, we will find the perpetrators responsible for this atrocity,” Termina says, face streaked with fury and voice menacingly calm. “An attack against the heir of the house of Ambus will not be tolerated. The assailants will face judgment. This is a matter of honor, of protecting my heir. The Ambus House will stand strong against this foe. Mark my words.”
The scene cuts away, back to the newsroom and the two reporters, who start discussing Termina’s announcement.
Minimus frowns and returns to wiping down Dominus. He wonders if Termina would have been so upset if it had been Minimus who was attacked. And then he berates himself for being so petty. Dominus is hurt. Minimus can’t resent him for it.
The door to the hospital room opens. Minimus startles and looks up, but it’s only Rewind. He’s clutching a datapad and despite his facemask, his expression is solemn. There’s something in the clamp of his armor, the firm grip on the datapad, that spills ill news.
“How is he?” Rewind asks as he moves to stand on the other side of the berth. His field is thick with concern, and his fingers tremble when he rests one hand on Dominus’ arm.
“Alive.” Minimus leans back, tucking the damp rag against Dominus’ hip, carefully around a few monitoring wires. “It’s just a matter of him waking up now.”
“How long will that take?”
Minimus cycles a ventilation. “That’s up to him.”
“Dom’s strong,” Rewind says. He strokes Dominus’ inner wrist. “He’ll wake up.”
“Of course.” Minimus pauses and looks at Rewind, who hasn’t looked up at him since, and who still clutches the datapad. “What’s wrong?”
Rewind sighs audibly and draws back from Dominus. “I got a ping from the darknet,” he says. “I’m going to send this to Termina but…”
A cold shock slashes through Dominus’ system. “What is it?”
“See for yourself. I warn you, though, it’s graphic.” Rewind offers him the datapad.
Minimus hesitates. How can he not? He may not be as deep in the interweb as Rewind and Dominus, but he knows what kinds of things circulate around the darknet.
“It’s already queued to play,” Rewind says softly.
Minimus braces himself. He grabs the datapad and turns the screen toward him. He sweeps away the screensaver, and sees a video on pause. It’s labeled “Ambus Heir is a Whore For It”.
Minimus’ tank churns. He presses play.
He recognizes Dominus’ room immediately. He recognizes his brother, tied down to the bed. Four mechs crowd around him, their paint obviously photoshopped and their faces fuzzed out, making identification difficult. Dominus is bound, gagged, but the terror in his optics is obvious. The video quality is almost professional.
There’s audio, too. Thankfully, Rewind has it muted. Minimus is glad for it. He doesn’t think he can bear to hear Dominus’ pain.
He flicks off the screen and offlines his optics, hiding the screen against his chest. “It–”
“It’s on every darksite, available for free download, and it’s only a matter of hours before people start making physical copies of it as well,” Rewind says. His vents shudder and he curls his fingers around Dominus’ hand. “And with his attack being public knowledge, everyone’s going to know the video is legitimate.”
Minimus steps back from the berth, clutching the datapad to his chassis. “I’ll—I’ll take this to Termina. You stay here with him.” He edges around the berth, his spark clenching with despair for his berth. “He’s going to need you.”
“I’m not going anywhere.” Rewind hops into a chair and threads his fingers through Dominus’. “No matter what happens, I’m here for him.”
“I’m glad to hear it.” Minimus’ smile is thin at best. “I’ll be back.”
He doesn’t flee from the room, but it’s a near thing. If only he’d checked on Dominus last night. If only he’d been more curious. If only he hadn’t let his own resentment get in the way. Maybe he could have done something, changed something.
It’s too late to change the past. But he can see if Termina needs any help tracking down these monsters.
There’s no better detective than an Ambus.