Megatron steps out of the washrack, still dripping, and nearly collides with Soundwave, who has a grave expression on his face. For all that Soundwave can have expressions.
Laserbeak sits on his shoulder, head docked, wings ruffled. “Trouble,” he squawks.
“What’s going on?” Megatron flicks a meshtowel over his frame, wiping up spots of lingering solvent.
Soundwave hands him a datapad without a word. It’s already online and tuned to a news channel. The headline catches Megatron’s optic.
“Senator Sherma dead! The Decepticons claim another victim!”
Megatron frowns. “This was not us,” he murmurs, but no doubt Soundwave already knows as much. There is precious few secrets between them. “I take it he’s another on the committee?”
Soundwave tilts his head in a nod.
“Damn.” Megatron hands the datapad back. He sweeps a hand over his head, tossing the mesh cloth into a corner. “You’re certain Ratbat isn’t behind this?”
“Affirmative.” Soundwave follows as Megatron abandons his sleeping quarters and slides into the narrow closet he uses as an office. They move around too much for him to have anything like a permanent home.
He can’t be too comfortable when half of Cybertron’s leadership wants him dead on sight.
“Who has the case?”
“Of course.” Megatron cycles a ventilation and logs into his console, seeking out the most recent news reports. “You know, he’s right. If we can’t get the will of the average mech on our side, there’s no point. This sort of accusation will lose us the support of the citizenry faster than anything else.”
Soundwave hovers over his right shoulder, but doesn’t try to take Megatron’s search for himself. “Offer assistance to Enforcer Prowl?”
Megatron rubs a hand around his mouth. “If he’ll accept it. We can at least prove we’re on his side and we’re not to blame.” He nods decisively. “That’s a good plan. I’ll contact him later and see if he agrees.”
No sooner does he speak than his comm chimes. Megatron straightens, expecting it to be Starscream, reporting in on their newest potential recruits. But no, the ident code reads Prowl, and that’s most unexpected.
Prowl never reaches out first.
“Well, speak of the Enforcer,” Megatron murmurs. He answers the ping as he swivels in his chair to face Soundwave. “Prowl. What an unexpected and yet pleasant surprise.”
“It’s not pleasant for me,” Prowl replies, his tone dark and heavy, lacking any trace of amusement. “I have a question for you.”
Megatron straightens, casting Soundwave a pointed look. Soundwave nods and tilts his head, visor dimming. Prowl won’t know he’s there, but Soundwave will at least be able to pick up on nuances Megatron might miss.
“And I have an answer,” Megatron replies smoothly. “What can I do for you?”
“Are you aware Senator Sherma was killed sometime last night?” Prowl asks.
“I am. And before you ask, no, we are not responsible.”
Prowl sighs into the comm. “I know. Because neither am I.”
Megatron’s forehead crinkles. He exchanges a confused glance with Soundwave. “What do you mean?”
There’s a long moment of silence, as though Prowl is debating with himself once more before he says, “Is your offer still valid?”
Triumph surges through Megatron’s spark. He’s up on his feet before the words leave his mouth, “There is a place for you in my organization, if you want it,” he says, excitement making it impossible for him to be still, and it takes all he has to mask it in his voice. “Might I ask why?”
“It’s too complicated to discuss over a comm. Suffice to say, it’s quite clear there’s not a place for me anymore.” Prowl’s tone shifts to something soft and defeated. “Right now, the only future I have left is the one you and your Decepticons can hopefully bring.”
Megatron looks at Soundwave who nods. Prowl is telling the truth. This isn’t a subterfuge, a means to trap Megatron and cripple the Decepticons.
Soundwave taps Megatron’s arm and slides a datapad into view. There’s a time and place written on the screen.
“I assume you’ll want time to get your affairs in order,” Megatron continues, trying to focus while his processor spins the possibilities of victory one after another. “What say we meet at Saberfall Gardens after the morning rush tomorrow?”
“That will suffice.”
Megatron grins and hopes his glee isn’t audible through the comm. “Then I will see you tomorrow, Prowl. Welcome to the team.”
Megatron chuckles. “He’s so polite.” He slides back into his chair, his internals jittering with delight and triumph. “Well? Thoughts?”
Soundwave straightens, and though his mouth isn’t visible, there’s an impression of a frown in the tilt of his head. “Prowl out of options.”
“Yes, I agree.” Megatron braces an elbow on the arm of the chair. “The situation is not ideal. He’s probably using us to run from something, but that’s not a problem. If he trusts me enough to come to me for aid, then he’ll be one of us not long after. I’m sure of it.”
“Permission to investigate?” Soundwave asks as Laserbeak cocks his head, and Soundwave reaches up to scratch him under the chin.
Megatron flicks a hand and swivels back to his console. “Find out what Prowl’s running from. I want to know what danger snaps at his heels and what we’re taking on.”
“Understood.” Soundwave eases into the doorway, Laserbeak shuffling around on his shoulder. “Arrangements to be made for Prowl’s arrival also.”
“I trust you to take care of it.” Megatron pauses and raps his fingers on the desktop. “I’ll handle Starscream.”
A snort of laughter bubbles out of Soundwave’s chassis. “Reinforcements needed?”
Megatron snorts and rolls his optics. “Thanks, but I can handle him.”
Starscream will be miffed, but he’ll get over it. He’s known of their intentions to get Prowl on board. He knows they need Prowl’s tactical expertise and political knowledge. He knows the Decepticons need all the bright minds they can gather.
Soundwave chuffs a vent of disbelief.
There’s a first time for everything.
It is surprisingly easy to pack.
Perhaps because there is little in the sterility of his suite that holds any value to Prowl, sentimental or otherwise.
He has some image captures, easily stored on a datachip. He takes his weapons, both his handgun and a few others he’s indulged in over the decades. His datapads are replaceable, especially since he can’t remember when he last had free time to enjoy them. He doesn’t need to bring cleaning supplies.
He might as well have been living in a hotel for all this apartment means to him. There’s nothing here he can’t bear to lose. There’s nothing in his life he is upset to leave behind.
His career? It’s going nowhere fast. Silverspire and all of his superiors ensure as much. The situation at hand is further proof.
He could stay. He could fight. He could try and prove his innocence. He knows running only makes him guilty. He knows there is no return, not after this.
But really, what’s left?
No friends, no family, no co-workers.
He’s lived for work, and it’s gotten him nothing and nowhere.
At least with the Decepticons there’s a chance. He could do something, change something. If he can get Megatron to listen to him, with the might of the Decepticons and the people, they can change the planet.
It’s worth it.
Prowl debates whether he should report to the office before he meets Megatron. Silverspire will want an initial report on Sherma’s murder. It’s a surprise that he hasn’t commed Prowl already with a demand for an appearance.
Should he pretend all is business as usual before he vanishes? Will the effort matter?
Prowl supposes it doesn’t.
Nothing ever really mattered.
The appointed time comes. Prowl gathers his belongings, but it all fits into subspace, there’s so little of it. He stands in the doorway of his hab and looks over his shoulder, seeing nothing of himself he’s leaving behind.
It’s something of a revelation.
Prowl shakes his head and departs, the door locking shut behind him. He won’t miss this place. It was never home.
He’s not sure what home feels like anyway.
Prowl rides the lift down to the front floor lobby. The main desk is empty, which is unusual for this time of day. Perhaps the attendant had stepped away for a moment. A soft music plays through the overhead speakers, but no one loiters in the news stand or the in-house energon vendor.
Prowl’s gait slows. He frowns and flicks his sensory panels, trying to read the latent energies, but there’s nothing to be found. Not even a blip of an idle comm. Has someone activated a sensor dampener?
The front doors slide open, and Prowl turns toward the first sign of life. Ice slushes through his lines in the same moment.
“Prowl,” Silverspire greets him, but there’s nothing pleasant in his tone or his expression. He’s flanked by a half-dozen other Enforcers, two of whom have their blasters trained on Prowl. “I wondered if we’d see you in the office this morning. Imagine my surprise when you didn’t show.”
Prowl calculates his odds. “I’m running late,” he lies. “What brings you here, Silverspire? I’m not aware of a call to my building.”
The Enforcers spread out, clearly surrounding Prowl. It’s too late, he realizes. It was probably too late by the time he had his realization.
“There isn’t. Though we are here because we have a warrant,” Silverspire says. Everything about his tone, his expression, his field, reads sly and triumphant. “To arrest you, to be perfectly clear.”
Prowl cycles a ventilation and feigns ignorance. It strikes him how he suddenly feels a kinship with the offenders he’s arrested. “On what grounds?”
“Communicating with known criminals for starters.” Silverspire tucks his hands behind his back and strides forward slowly, as if measuring each step. “Tampering with evidence. Conspiracy to commit murder. Three counts of first-degree murder. There’s more. Shall I go on?”
“That’s quite the lengthy list already,” Prowl says, holding to his composure with a will made of duryllium. “Upon whose authority are you executing the warrant.”
Silverspire’s smile lengthens until it shows a row of neat, even denta. “The Most Honorable Ironstock.” The capitalizations are apparent.
Prowl’s expression is a mask of neutrality, but inside the rage swirls in a maelstrom. Judge Ironstock has always loathed Prowl. He’d squirmed out of a conspiracy hearing decades ago because Prowl’s two witnesses had turned up dead, but Ironstock never forgot the humiliation. Just as Prowl never stopped trying to find irrefutable evidence Ironstock was dirty.
‘You rattle too many cages, Prowl,’ Tumbler had said to him over dinner one night, his field one of worry and exasperation. ‘One of these days, those cages are going to rattle back.’
‘That doesn’t even make sense.’
‘You know what I mean.’
Silverspire is within grabbing range now, though Prowl has few illusions of making an effective escape. “He was a little concerned he might be next, you see. Since it appears you have something of a hit list.”
“I am not responsible for those murders,” Prowl says.
Silverspire holds up a hand. “If I were you, I wouldn’t speak without a lawyer present.” He tilts his head. “You were sloppy, Prowl. Working with the Decepticons? That’s low, even for you.”
He isn’t going to bother to ask how Silverspire knows. Prowl’s communications have probably been tapped for a long, long time. Even if he hadn’t made the call to Megatron last night, it wouldn’t have made a difference. He has little doubt they know about his trip to Slaughter City, about meeting Megatron at the Leaky Spigot and at the Collective.
He’s been trapped for weeks. He just didn’t know it.
“Your information is flawed,” Prowl informs Silverspire, though he knows it’s pointless. But if there’s a scrap of honor in Silverspire’s frame, perhaps there’s a modicum of doubt. “Whatever conspiracy you’ve been fed, I promise you, sir. I did not kill those mechs.”
Silverspire’s optics flash. “Notice you did not deny the communications.”
“Because to do so would be a lie.” Prowl holds his ground. “Sideswipe and Sunstreaker are informants. We all have them. As for my conversations with Megatron, I was under the impression we were trying to communicate with the Decepticons in a positive manner. Or has that directive changed?”
“Don’t play politics with me. I don’t want to hear it.” Silverspire’s shoulders stiffen and he holds out a hand. “Cooperation is in your best interest. But then, this is a speech you should know very well by now.”
Prowl twists his jaw and unholsters his blaster. He hands it over slowly, telegraphing his movements, so none of the jittery officers surrounding him shoot first. Silverspire takes it from him and hands it to one of the officers standing beside him.
“Thank you,” he says. “I appreciate you making this easy.” He tilts his head toward Prowl. “Wrists.”
What can he do but offer his hands, head bowed as magna-cuffs wrap around his wrists, dampening the signals from the joint down. He cycles several steadying ventilations, but it still doesn’t prepare him for the sensation of the clamp of an inhibitor claw on his back and over his t-cog. He won’t be able to transform. His sensory panels droop, unable to stay upright and read the ambient noise.
He feels deaf and blind without them. It’s like someone cut the volume in the room by half. It’s dizzying, and he stumbles when one of the officers push him forward, forcing him to fall in line before Silverspire.
“Prowl of Petrex, you are being placed under arrest by authority of…”
The words wash over and through him, crackling in his audials. He could recite them to himself if he wanted. It’s a show, a humiliating one, and made all the worse by the fact the moment they lead him outside, there’s a mob of reporters waiting. Cameras flash, recorders are shoved in his face.
A raucous noise of questions scream static through his audials. He lifts his head, looks straight before him, toward the waiting transport vehicle. The grip on his elbow keeps him moving forward, propelling him.
Silverspire drifts away, catching the attention of the mob, and he starts to give a speech. He reassures the public. He tells them the serial killer which has terrorized their beloved politicians has been arrested. They can all recharge peacefully now. The Enforcers have done their duty.
Prowl’s name is mentioned more than once. More photos are taken, up until the moment he’s shoved into the back of the transport and a single guard climbs in after him. They lock his magna-cuffs to a magnetic bar as the doors slam shut, bathing them in dim broken only by emergency runners.
“Traitor,” his guard hisses, his voice so full of disdain it seems to fill the small space.
Prowl says nothing.
He offlines his eyes and tilts his head back against the wall of the transport as it growls to life and rumbles down the road. Silverspire will have him taken to the station he once called home, where he’ll be processed, interrogated, and imprisoned. Sentenced to Blackgate, most likely, if they don’t execute him first.
It’s part of the show. The constructed cold mech. The failed experiment. He who should have been a soldier, granted leniency, and repaying said indulgence with anger and violence. They’ll make an example of him. They’ll tarnish his arrest record. They’ll drag his name through the muck.
He honestly doesn’t know which is worse.
The sander comes to a loud, grinding halt. In its absence, Sunstreaker swears his audials are still buzzing.
He whips off his goggles and sets them aside, peering down at the bumper stripped smooth. Without the goggles, the perfection of his work is undeniable. Sunstreaker grins and runs a palm over the gray plate.
The next step is to lay down the primer, than the base coat, then the multiple overcoats until it gleams like new. Only then can he reattach it to his client. He still has to add the decorative mark on the front – an odd red and yellow flame design. It’s going to be freehand, and it’s going to be beautiful.
Sunstreaker doesn’t much care if his clients ask for something weird. So long as he gets paid.
He leans back, rubbing a hand over his neck, easing the cramped cables. He’s been bent over the chestplate for hours it feels like. His grumbling tank certainly thinks so.
Sunstreaker pushes to his feet, hydraulics creaking, and shuffles out of the paint room. He frowns at himself, picking at spots of wandering paint with his free hand. No matter how careful he is, there’s always spatter.
He hears the newscast before he sees it. Sunstreaker snorts. Trust his geek of a brother to be watching the news when he could be watching something much more interesting instead.
Sunstreaker sidles into the storage room and ducks under the mounted vidscreen. He rummages through the cabinet looking for a cube of midgrade.
“Sides, we got any of that cesium-spiced left?”
“I drank it all.”
There’s a bottle of manganese at least. Not his favorite, but it’ll do.
“Finish the hood?” Sideswipe asks as Sunstreaker straightens and leans against the counter, tilting his head to keep from banging it on the underside of the vidscreen.
Sunstreaker snorts. “You know better than that.” He pops the cap on the flavoring and dumps the whole thing into his cube, giving it a good shake to mix it up. “Anything good on?”
“There never is.” Sideswipe lifts a remote and turns up the volume as the opening tines of a breaking news alert echoes around them.
Sunstreaker ducks down and leans beside his brother, hip to hip, thigh to thigh, their fields unconsciously tangling. He looks up at the vidscreen and freezes, because while a newsbot mindlessly reads off a script, there’s a crystal-clear image running beside him.
Prowl. In cuffs. Being shoved into the back of an Enforcer transport.
“What the frag?”
Sideswipe stiffens beside him. “They did it,” he breathes. “They actually did it.”
“Who?” Sunstreaker demands.
Sideswipe gestures to the screen as the video shifts to something that’s pre-recorded like the footage of Prowl’s arrest. Sunstreaker doesn’t recognize the mech with the impeccably shiny armor or the slag-eating grin, but he hates him on sight.
“Captain Silverspire,” the interviewer says with that cadence all reporters seem to perfect, “Can you please give us more information on the arrest of one of your best homicide detectives?”
“Certainly.” Silverspire’s smile widens. “I’d like to take a moment to reassure the public that this is an isolated incident perpetuated by an individual who had a grudge and used the Decepticon movement to redirect attention from his crimes. It is by no means representative of what the Enforcers as a whole are prepared to do to protect this city.
Those killed were part of a committee put together to communicate with the Decepticons and come to an accord regarding their concerns. New members will be appointed. We remain fully committed to working with the Decepticons to address their grievances and make a better, safer Cybertron for all. Thank you.””
“That is the fanciest pile of pitslag I’ve ever heard,” Sideswipe growls as he clicks off the vidscreen and silence descends in their shop, save that of the machines whirring away in a ready-state.
Sunstreaker’s jaw tightens. “We told him. We warned him.”
“Yeah, we did.” Sideswipe tosses the remote on the counter. “You know he didn’t kill those mechs. Wanna bet the Decepticons didn’t either?”
Sunstreaker sighs and clicks off the vidscreen, drowning the room in silence. “There’s something very wrong here.”
“You’re telling me.” Sideswipe chuffs a vent. “What do you wanna do about it?”
Sunstreaker frowns and rubs a hand down his face, grimacing at the gritty sensation of sanded paint still clinging to his fingers. He side-eyes his brother. “You still got Starscream’s comm?”
There’s a moment where Sideswipe stares at him before he breaks into a bright grin. “Frag right, I do. You thinking to cause some mayhem?”
Sunstreaker flexes his fingers together, the joints crackling and popping. “I’m thinking it’s time we stop straddling fences.”
“Me, too, bro.” Sideswipe pecks a kiss over Sunstreaker’s cheek. “I’ll make the call. You close up shop and send out the notices.”
Sunstreaker catches his hand before he can get too far. He draws it up to his lips, brushing a kiss over black knuckles. “You sure you want to do this? You don’t have to agree just because it’s my idea.”
Sideswipe’s fingers curl against his. He grins, crooked. “Bro, I go wherever you go. So long as it’s you and me, I’m good.”
Sunstreaker’s spark warms, as it always does when Sideswipe gets like this. “Just checking.”
Sideswipe winks and pulls away, already pulling a datachip out of subspace with Starscream’s contact information on it. It’s probably a terrible idea that’s going to get them killed, but then. Better to die for something than merely because of something.
“Or he’s not going to show.” Starscream kicks a heel against the ground. “Face it, Megatron. Your little pet Enforcer is not going to join us no matter how much you entice him.”
Megatron cut the Seeker a sharp look. “He is not a pet. He is integral to the continued success of the Decepticon rebellion.”
Starscream sniffs, his wings flick-flicking with agitation. “And I’m sure that has nothing to do with how pretty he is.”
“There are others,” Starscream near-hisses, an argument he’s made before. “Enforcers more pliable, those already on our side. Why do you insist on courting the one most likely to refuse you?”
“Because he’s the best,” Megatron growls. He steps closer to the Seeker, whose talons extend on instinct. “He’s one of us. He understands.”
Crimson optics flash at him. “Your insistence on relying on faith in those who would return us to our chains is nauseating,” Starscream snaps. “And it’s going to get us all killed.” He cocks his head. “Did you like prison that much, Megatron? Because that’s the only place your pet is leading us.”
Anger flashes hot and bright. Megatron’s engine revs. The distance between them is a few steps.
Megatron goes still. Starscream freezes. They both turn to acknowledge the third voice – Soundwave. His terse monotone slices through the tension like a vibroknife, and though masked and visored, his expression is clearly one of disappointment. Not unlike Terminus as a matter of fact.
Megatron presses his lips together and cycles a ventilation. “You have news?” he asks.
Starscream mutters something and folds his arms over his cockpit, wingtips twitching.
“Prowl arrested,” Soundwave says as he moves into their sphere of tension, gaze cutting from Starscream to Megatron. “Moments ago.”
“Why?” Megatron demands.
“Murder.” Soundwave produces a datapad and hands it over.
Breaking News is Top News apparently. It’s on every channel, every feed. It is the only headline. There are images to accompany the report, of Prowl being led away in handcuffs and shoved into the back of an Enforcer transport. His crimes are splashed over very feed: murder, collusion, conspiracy.
There’s an interview with his commanding officer and an attached transcript. Megatron clicks on it, skimming through, anger boiling and bubbling in his belly.
“It’s a farce,” he realizes aloud. “All along. It’s been a farce to endear us to them.”
“Affirmative,” Soundwave says.
“That’s almost clever of them.” Starscream snatches the datapad from Megatron’s hands and reviews the contents for himself. “If Prowl is the murderer and not us, then it looks as though they are seeking justice on our behalf. By vowing to continue working with us, they appear to be on our side. Any Decepticon with only half a processing unit would fall for it. Might even support that ridiculous registry or worse, sign up for it.” His optics narrow, and he looks up at Megatron. “Do you think they knew we would attempt to recruit Prowl?”
Megatron folds his arms. “They would have guessed. Prowl does fit our requirements. They already know he was dissatisfied, the sort to… stir the pot.” He vents noisily, rapping his fingers on his folded arm. “The only question now is how we respond to this.”
“Deny or claim,” Soundwave poses.
Megatron tilts his head. “Exactly.” He presses his lips together, processor churning. “We had him,” he mutters through ground denta. “Prowl was ours. He intended to join us.”
“Or he’s been working for them all along, and he’s playing for our sympathies right now,” Starscream drawls. He smacks the datapad against Soundwave’s chestplate and lets it go, forcing Soundwave to catch it. “We go after Prowl, and we risk playing right into their hands.”
“You trust him so little,” Megatron says.
Starscream snarls. “And you trust him too much.” He shoves a pointed finger at Megatron’s chestplate. “Even if this doesn’t turn out to be a trap, who’s to say he’s not a spy afterward? It’s a classic maneuver. Just ask Soundwave.”
“Because I don’t think this is the case,” Megatron argues, his vents cycling in larger bursts. “I’ve spoken with Prowl. I’ve felt his field. I’ve–”
Starscream holds up a finger and turns away from him, other hand rising to activate his comm. “What is it?” he snarls. “I’m in the middle of something so if you–” He cuts off, and his wings jerk upright.
He turns slowly, very slowly back toward Megatron. One lip is curled upward in a curve Megatron would almost identify as triumphant.
“Really,” Starscream drawls and his wings flutter in a manner Megatron has learned to recognize as pleased. “In that case, start packing. I’ll give you a comm when we have a plan.”
He pauses before a dark chuckle rolls from his intake, “Oh, the promises you make.”
Starscream lowers his hand, clearly ending the comm. He pauses under Megatron and Soundwave’s expectant looks, examining the talons of one hand.
“Well?” Megatron prompts.
Starscream grins with a flash of denta. “You win some, you lose some,” he sings. “We’ve got two pretty twins who are anxious to get their favorite Enforcer back.”
“Starscream approves?” Soundwave asks.
Crimson optics cut toward him. “If Prowl can earn the trust of those two enough that they’re willing to drop everything and join us? Then I think I can give him the benefit of the doubt.” Starscream flicks his fingers as though scraping dirt from beneath the talons. “He gets one chance.”
Megatron sighs and resists the urge to growl his irritation to the heavens. “Then if that’s settled, we need a plan. An effective one.”
Starscream smirks. “Do you want to make a statement or do you just want quick and clean?”
“If they don’t realize it was Decepticons who sprung him, all the better,” Megatron says.
Soundwave shifts in Megatron’s periphery. “Onslaught.”
Starscream’s optics flicker. He stiffens. “What about that buffoon?”
But Megatron is already nodding. Soundwave says so little, but what he does say is worth so much more. “Yes, you’re right,” he says. “And Makeshift, I think.”
“Affirmative,” Soundwave says.
Megatron cycles a ventilation, finds calm now they have something like a plan of action. Starscream’s caution remains at the forefront of his thoughts, but he still finds it unwarranted. If it is a trap, Prowl is unwillingly at the center of it.
Megatron is certain of this.
Prowl is one of them. And if there’s any chance of achieving what they seek, they will need his help.