Saturday, March 27th, 2010 10:31 pm
Title: A Wing and a Prayer - Chapter 6 (Read or Download at AO3)
Pairing: Skyfire/Silverbolt

Summary: The problem with falling in love with an Aerialbot is that his brothers are pretty much part of the package. And the problem with falling in love with someone who has unfinished business from his past is that sometimes the unfinished business is Starscream...

Notes: I am a fic-posting MACHINE this week, clearly. This chapter got ridiculously long, so I have split it in two - next chapter should therefore be up within the week.

A Wing and a Prayer
Chapter 6

The Autobots' luck held - or the Decepticons' was exceptionally poor. Though Megatron made an attempt to retake the space bridge, Optimus Prime had seen it coming; Red Alert's defences and Prowl's deployment of troops held their own.

For the first time since their awakening on Earth, the Autobots had easy, stable access to Cybertron. Rumour was rife with speculation on what that might mean. There was talk of returning to Iacon, but Skyfire doubted anyone really believed that was likely. Cybertron was as drained of energy as it had been when they'd set out millions of years before, and besides, they couldn't leave Earth in the hands of the Decepticons.

The space bridge was, at the moment, their most precious commodity, and it had to be guarded at all costs. Constant patrol shifts and the tension of waiting for the inevitable Decepticon counter-attack began to take their toll - tempers were short and many of the Autobots were itching for a fight. No-one seemed to know exactly where the Decepticon Seekers were, which meant everyone was expecting them to show up at any given moment. It made for jumpy patrols - especially since, to keep the space bridge covered at all times, the Autobot flyers were stretched even thinner than usual.

Skyfire took his turn without complaint - he even volunteered for extra shifts, since he could stay in the air longer than most of the others - but after a week of it he caught himself wishing the Decepticons would just take the space bridge back and be done with it.

"Now, now, I'm shocked by your lack of proper Autobot fervour," said Perceptor mock-primly when Skyfire mentioned this. He held the disapproving look for barely a handful of seconds before breaking into a rueful smile. "And I agree completely. I'm not cut out for this sort of thing any more than you are."

"It's a pity we can't move the wretched thing closer to the Ark."

"The thought had occurred, but I don't believe we would be able to successfully recalibrate the vectors without—"

"I know, I know."

Skyfire sighed, leaning back in his chair and taking another sip of energon. The common room was crowded. He usually avoided it when it was this busy, but at the moment he had no choice but to refuel whenever he had the chance. At least he and Perceptor had managed to find a corner to themselves.

"I gather Silverbolt is working with Prowl on the defence patrols," said Perceptor after a moment.

"Yes... it makes sense, the ground forces have to fit in around what we can cover from the air." Skyfire didn't add that the responsibility was weighing heavily on his friend, or that on the brief occasions he'd managed to speak to Silverbolt, his optics had been pale with weariness. "I've hardly seen him all week, he really needs to—“

He was interrupted by a crash, a babble of raised voices, and someone - he thought it was Cliffjumper - cursing roundly. Skyfire and Perceptor both looked around in surprise, to see that the attention of the rest of the room was focused on a pair of struggling mechs - and Skyfire realised belatedly that he'd been hearing the sounds of an argument for several minutes, but that it hadn't really registered. Then he got a good look at the two mechs in question, and had to stifle a groan.

Slingshot and Blades. Skyfire hadn't even noticed the Aerialbot come in, and obviously no-one else had been paying attention to the impending disaster of having the two of them in the same space without any of their teammates present. It wasn't entirely clear what had originally sparked off their shared animosity - the best Skyfire had been able to come up with was that they were too similar, both too proud to back down from a challenge, both unable to resist getting in a jab at a perceived rival. Silverbolt had confessed that he and Hot Spot went to a good deal of trouble to keep the two apart on a daily basis; no amount of intervention seemed likely to reduce their mutual loathing, and letting them 'get it out of their system' only resulted in excessive collateral damage.

And with that thought, Skyfire was abruptly, startlingly angry. He had a good deal of sympathy for the Aerialbots as a whole, and had never taken Slingshot's obnoxious attitude to heart, but Primus, didn't the little idiot realise that this sort of thing just made Silverbolt's life even more difficult? Skyfire was sure he did care, underneath the attitude, for his wingmate's wellbeing - Slingshot got into enough fights defending Silverbolt, though Skyfire wasn't sure Silverbolt knew about that - so why couldn't he keep himself under control for five minutes together?

Skyfire wouldn't normally interfere. It wasn't his call, and he held brawling in great distaste. But at the memory of the last time he'd seen Silverbolt - had it really been two days ago? - distracted and exhausted - Skyfire unfolded himself from his chair and strode past the onlookers. He passed Sunstreaker, who was shouting "Bend his rotors!" with a fervour unbecoming of an Autobot, and stopped Hound, who was just about to wade in, with a hand on one shoulder.

Pausing to assess the struggle, Skyfire chose his moment, stepped forward, and managed to grabbed the two combatants by the backs of their necks, hauling them off the ground and away from each other.

Neither of them took very well to this, Slingshot wriggling like a rattlesnake and Blades trying to claw at Skyfire's hand, spitting out a stream of curses, but Skyfire just held them up higher, keeping them at arm's length so they couldn't kick him, and waited a few minutes. The rest of the room had gone silent.

"Are you going to come to your senses any time soon?" he asked, tone as mild as he could make it. "Or am I going to have to bang you together until you stop moving?"

That earned him scattered laughter from the spectators, and Blades finally seemed to realise the ridiculousness of his position. He went limp, scowling through his humiliation. Slingshot, snarling, twisted in Skyfire's grip and fired his thrusters. Various nearby Autobots leapt back from the fiery outpouring with shouts of alarm.

"Stop that!" snapped Skyfire, giving Slingshot a good shake without even thinking about it. "Do you want to get yourself in the brig again?"

Slingshot cut his jets with a look of pure loathing for Skyfire, who glared right back, patience close to breaking point. He transferred his gaze to Blades, who seemed more perturbed by it than Slingshot.

"I'm going to put you down," Skyfire said. "I suggest you find your gestalt and stay out of trouble for the rest of your downtime."

"Okay." Blades attempted nonchalance, a tricky feat when dangling in mid-air. "Sure. I'll do that."

Skyfire resisted the urge to just drop the helicopter, instead setting him down and watching pointedly as he beat a hasty retreat. Only then did he lower Slingshot back to ground level. The small jet twisted out of his grip immediately, bristling with fury.

"You've got no right--"

"Shut up," Skyfire snapped back, winning startled silence from Slingshot, and a soft whistle from Sideswipe. "The only reason I'm not dragging you off to Prowl is that I don't want to cause Silverbolt any more trouble."

That hit home unexpectedly - just for a second the furious arrogance cracked, and Skyfire saw a rare flash of guilt on Slingshot's face. It was gone almost too quickly to be sure.

"He started it!"

"I don't care who started it." The anger was already leaving him, and Skyfire was uncomfortably aware that he was the centre of attention of a room full of fascinated Autobots. Primus, he wasn't cut out for this. He had no idea what to say to Slingshot, and no authority to punish him. "Just... go away. Go and find something to do that isn't going to end with you in the brig, or worse."

Slingshot seemed on the point of arguing, but instead cast a disgusted glare at the spectators, a last withering look at Skyfire, and then stalked out of the rec room.

"Nice," said Sideswipe, grinning at Skyfire.

"You shouldn't encourage them," Skyfire replied testily, then added, to the room at large, "And one of you could have stopped it before it got that far!"

Sideswipe gaped at him, and in the silence that followed, as Skyfire moved back to rejoin Perceptor, he almost regretted it. He liked Sideswipe, most of the time, and it wasn't his responsibility to go around herding young idiots any more than it was Skyfire's. All the same, Skyfire couldn't shake the irritation: sometimes it seemed to him that no-one around him was willing to take responsibility for the inexperienced mechs they had created and dragged into this Primus-forsaken war.

"Sorry," he murmured to Perceptor as he sat down.

"Good for you," was Perceptor's unexpected, quiet response.

* * *

Silverbolt was so relieved to get into Skyfire's lab - where it was quiet, and comforting, and entirely lacking in brothers who seemed determined to drive him completely mad - that he was tempted just to sit down where he was as soon as the door slid shut behind him. If Skyfire had been there, he might have done it for the sake of hearing Skyfire laugh - but the lab was empty, so Silverbolt dragged himself over to one of the stools and flopped forward over the bench with a long sigh.

Even then he couldn't relax. His processor was busy running through a checklist: Air Raid is safely occupied on the firing range, Slingshot is out on patrol, Fireflight has security duty with Red Alert and he likes that so he'll be fine, Skydive is probably not sulking too much and I'm pretty sure he still has a big stack of those history of flight textbooks...

After a moment's consideration, he added: ... Blades is with Hot Spot, the Twins are both on duty on the perimeter (well away from the firing range), and neither Wheeljack nor Perceptor has been working with anything explosive lately.

So if he was lucky, Silverbolt thought, he might be able to enjoy a few hours of precious downtime uninterrupted.

He resisted the urge to wander around the lab - Skyfire got jumpy about people touching his experiments when he wasn't there to keep tabs on them - and rested his head on his arm, lost in his own thoughts until he heard the door open.

"Oh dear." Skyfire sounded like he'd stopped just inside the lab. "That bad?"

"If it's not one of them it's another," Silverbolt replied without lifting his head. "Skydive and Air Raid got into some stupid fight about manoeuvre technique, and just as I'd got them off each other, Slingshot comes in looking like murder and starts the whole thing up again by siding with Air Raid. Not to mention that Fireflight's even more scatterbrained than usual - he's gone off the patrol route three times in the last two days."

"Everyone's on edge," Skyfire reminded him, coming over to put a hand on Silverbolt's shoulder. Silverbolt sighed, his tightly-wound spark loosening at the familiar contact. "Are you off-duty now?"

"Yes. I ought to recharge, but I just can't shut down. I know you're on shift until midnight, but I thought maybe I could keep you company, if you don't mind..."

"Actually I'm not." Skyfire was running his thumb absently along the leading edge of Silverbolt's wing; Silverbolt wasn't sure he knew he was doing it, but hoped he wouldn't stop. "On duty, I mean. Prowl's just reworked the schedules again. I'm probably on downtime at least as long as you are. Would you like to go for a flight or something?"

"Really?" Silverbolt sat up, suddenly feeling better than he had done in days. "Primus, I'd give a lot to get out of here, but I don't dare leave the base... even if I'm not on shift, I ought to be handy in case..."

He left the rest of it unsaid, not even sure himself whether he meant in case of Decepticon attack or in case my gestalt gets into trouble again, but Skyfire didn't seem to need further elaboration.

"I'd suggest we find ourselves a cube or two of high grade..." he began, a teasing note creeping into his voice.

"... but then I'd have to kill you," Silverbolt finished for him, caught between wincing and laughing. "Can we just go somewhere and, I don't know... talk, or just... read or something? Hot Spot keeps giving me human books on datapad and I never seem to have time to look at them..."

"Hmm, actually..." Skyfire finally took his hand away from Silverbolt's wing, but only to catch hold of his elbow and gently tug him off the stool. "There's something I've been meaning to show you for a while, and if we've got a few hours..."

"This isn't going to be like when Fireflight has 'something to show me' and the next thing I know we've crashed in some unlikely part of the world, is it?"

"I promise," laughed Skyfire, pausing to switch off a couple of terminals and check all his experiments were idle. "No crashing involved. Just a cube of energon and a vidscreen."

Intrigued, Silverbolt followed him out of the lab.

* * *

Silverbolt knew vaguely where Skyfire's quarters were, but he'd never been inside. They usually seemed to end up talking in the lab, or going outside to fly or sit under the stars, and Silverbolt certainly wouldn't have considered inviting Skyfire back to the Aerialbots' rooms - they were too cramped, too disorganised, and definitely too full of inquisitive brothers.

Skyfire's room was bigger than most - it had to be, Silverbolt supposed - but like so much of the accommodation on the Ark, it had been reclaimed from unused storage space and fitted out with whatever supplies Hoist and Grapple had been able to get hold of on Earth. The ship had never been meant to hold so many as it currently did, even before the crash had wrecked most of the crew quarters.

The fact that Skyfire's quarters weren't crammed with personal possessions helped make them seem bigger - in fact, the place looked like he seldom used it for more than recharging. Most of what was important to him was in his lab, including the gadgets and programs he worked on in his spare time - all that was visible in the way of recreation were a stack of datapads on the desk. Skyfire didn't even have much furniture apart from his berth and a desk that Silverbolt suspected never got used.

"There isn't really anywhere to sit," Skyfire was saying as he keyed open the door. "Grapple keeps promising me a chair, but he's got so much else to do, I haven't pushed for it. I usually just sit on the berth."

"That's okay with me." Silverbolt wandered across the room, carrying both their energon cubes, while Skyfire busied himself with the vidscreen hooked into the wall. "It's nice not to feel like I'm going to collide with the furniture every time I turn around."

"Tell me about it."

"What's this?" Silverbolt went on, pausing by an object that reminded him of a gyroscope - a number of rings and discs that interlocked in three planes. "It looks a bit like one of your solar generators."

Skyfire didn't look up from the console; apparently Silverbolt's comment was enough to convey what he was looking at, not that there were many other possibilities.

"It's an orrery - very old-fashioned, I know, but I've always liked them."

"Does it work?"

"Give me a moment, I'll show you."

The orrery was sitting on a small cabinet next to the berth, so Silverbolt put the energon cubes down beside it and took a seat. The berth was the one thing in the room that looked like it had come from Cybertron. Silverbolt's had been built into his quarters as a kind of alcove, and though Hoist had done his best, it always felt slightly claustrophobic, and didn't quite fit his wings. Skyfire had one of the high-spec adjustable models, presumably because it was the only thing that would fit him; it would probably accommodate Silverbolt's entire gestalt without too much squashing. Silverbolt took a moment to feel appropriately jealous.


Skyfire finished programming the console - the screen flickered to life, but he hit pause immediately - and came over to stand by the berth. He fished a long, slender metal key out of subspace and inserted it into a slot at the base of the orrery. After a few deft turns, he left it in place and gently pressed down a small lever with one finger.

Immediately, the orrery began to move smoothly, the rings rotating and twisting around each other as the polished metal spheres traced complex paths in the air. Silverbolt watched in fascination as the smaller globes seemed to dart in and out of the larger ones, which spun with stately dignity like birds of prey ignoring the flight of sparrows. Most of them were on a broadly similar plane, but there were two that swooped up and down at almost right angles to the rest of the display. As the orrery picked up speed, the cluster of spheres at the centre of it all - which Silverbolt had thought were just inert crystals - began to glow in colours from blue to orange to brilliant white.

"This isn't Earth's solar system, is it?"

"No - the Sol system is much simpler. This is Medusa Gyr - it's out in the Epicor sector, beyond Sigma 957. The system comprises six stars, seven planets, and two debris belts. No life - the planets aren't exactly hospitable even for Cybertronians. It was one of the first assignments I ever took, and I've never forgotten it."

"Wait, you built this?"

"Yes - but a long time ago, on Cybertron." Skyfire paused, moved to sit next to Silverbolt on the berth, and when he spoke again, there was a soft note in his voice. "It's pure mathematics in motion. I've always thought it astounding that something so incredibly complex can be described in vectors and magnitudes. It took me vorns to find the key to it, to understand how the system functioned. I was afraid that when I cracked it, it wouldn't be beautiful any more - but now when I look at it, it's like watching my calculations come to life. It's probably the only thing I own that I couldn't bear to lose."

Silverbolt tore his optics away from the orrery to look at Skyfire.

"This is from before? How did you get it back?"

"By the lucky chance of bringing it with me in the first place. I'd taken it apart and packed it into subspace before I left Cybertron that last time. We were going to be gone so long - almost a vorn for the round trip - that I decided it was worth the risk of damage. Everything was so chaotic then... I had no idea what things would be like when I got back." Skyfire paused, and laughed with only a trace of sadness. "Of course, I never thought it would be ten million years. Everything else that was mine is long since lost or destroyed."

One of the larger rings was slowly tilting, lifting its planet out of the plane in a wobble that even Silverbolt could see would take thousands of years in real time. The miniature suns in the centre were spinning around each other in circuits that made him dizzy. Each planet had been carefully moulded with rough topological details, and the rings were engraved with delicate scales to indicate rotation and speed.

"It's beautiful," murmured Silverbolt, though he was thinking more of the model than the astronomical phenomenon it represented. He had seen Skyfire work on dozens of intricate projects, but they were all purely functional and had nothing of this exquisite craft. "I'm so glad you didn't lose it."

They watched the orrery spin through millennia with smooth precision. Skyfire pointed out an upcoming solar conjunction, and Silverbolt wondered what it would be like to stand on the surface of one of those planets and see the suns aligned like a spear in the sky.

"Could we go there, some day?" he asked.

"I-- yes, I don't see why not." Skyfire scooted himself backwards on the berth so that he could put his back against the wall. He stretched out one arm for his energon, bumping Silverbolt's. "It's a long trip, though - too far for a casual jaunt. We'd need a lot of fuel."

"Maybe if we can hold onto the space bridge, we'll be able to stockpile some." Silverbolt picked up his own energon cube and moved to sit against the wall with Skyfire. "I hope Slingshot's alright on his own, I didn't like sending him off but we've got to spread ourselves out as much as possible..."

"You're supposed to be relaxing, remember?" Skyfire flicked the edge of one of Silverbolt's wings with a mock frown. "No worrying about the others. They'll be fine for a few hours without you."

As Silverbolt took a sip of his energon, Skyfire activated the vid console remotely. The screen immediately lit up with a sweeping shot of an alien landscape. Silverbolt had seen enough Earth movies to be sure that it wasn't a set - which meant it couldn't possibly be from Earth. He sat up straighter in surprise.

"This is Cybertronian?"

"Oh yes. One of the classics, from long before I was even sparked. I wondered if you'd seen any."

"I didn't think we had anything from Cybertron!" The establishing shot had given way to a city that touched the clouds. "Everyone seems to watch Earth movies all the time, I thought..."

Skyfire laughed. "I should think they've seen all of these many times by now. Teletraan-1 only has a couple of hundred in the databanks, and they're all old - the entertainment industry was one of the casualties of the later vorns of the war, or so I understand. But I thought... well, I thought you and your brothers might like to watch some."

"They'd love it," Silverbolt agreed absently, listening with delight to dialogue in his own language - the script flowed differently from anything he'd heard in English, and even though he was used to the American movies his brothers liked, this appealed to his spark in a way he couldn't put words around. "We'll show them some other time."

He couldn't see Skyfire's smile, but he could feel it in the way his field had gone warm and bright. Silverbolt settled back against the wall - and then, because there didn't seem any reason not to, settled in closer to Skyfire so that their shoulders brushed and their fields could interwine at the edges. Skyfire's hand found its way absently back to the leading edge of Silverbolt's wing, working at the tension there with thumb and forefinger, and Silverbolt found it was much easier than he'd anticipated to temporarily put his anxieties out of his mind.

If he was really lucky, he thought, he might even get to see the whole movie before the next crisis landed on his head.

* * *

Skyfire wasn't entirely surprised when he realised that Silverbolt had drifted into recharge against his shoulder. He contemplated switching off the vid, but it was one he liked and wouldn't mind watching again later, so he just let it play and adjusted his position so that Silverbolt could lean more comfortably against him.

It felt good to have him close like this, their fields lightly intermingled and Silverbolt's warm plating under his arm. Skyfire had never been someone who especially craved physical contact - or even close company - until he'd met Starscream. Starscream had coupled a jet's need for wingmates with his own compulsion to claim and possess, with the result that Skyfire had become accustomed to field contact and casual touches even before they'd been lovers. He'd thought it was just a facet of their relationship, but he'd found after his awakening on Earth that he missed that closeness fiercely.

Maybe that was partly why he was drawn to the Aerialbots. They were so automatically tactile that time spent in their company was unusual if it didn't involve field contact of some sort.

Skyfire's comms pinged; he noticed with some trepidation that the caller was using an official channel rather than a personal one.

:Yes, Jazz?:

:Hey, Skyfire, sorry t' bust in on your downtime - is Silverbolt with you?:

:He's in recharge. Is it urgent?:

:Nah, don't wake him - just let him know when he comes out of it that Prime wants to see him at 0800. Nothin' major, just a couple o' reports he wants to go over. I dropped him a memo but I thought you two might be out somewhere an' I didn't want him to miss it.:

:I'll tell him. You ought to get some rest yourself, haven't you been on shift for the last two days?:

Jazz laughed over the comms. :Yeah, yeah, don't remind me. When this is over I'm gonna hit shuffle on my whole music collection and I ain't comin' out until it stops playin'.:

:How many tracks do you have, Jazz?:

:Oh, 'proximately seven million. See ya later!:

The movie was winding down. Skyfire half-watched it, thinking about Jazz's music collection - legendary by all accounts; 'approximately seven million' might not actually be an exaggeration - and wondering if it contained any of the artists he remembered. There was music in Teletraan-1, but like the vid library, it was limited. It hadn't mattered to Skyfire until now. In the years since he'd been pulled from the ice, he'd seemed somehow always busy, even when he wasn't - he'd spent all his time in his lab and hadn't even noticed the absence of things he'd once taken for granted.

Silverbolt stirred in recharge, shifting restlessly. Skyfire wondered when he'd last checked his defrag logs. Tired as he was, he ought to be completely in stasis. Skyfire ran a hand soothingly down the plane of one wing, and Silverbolt seemed to relax again. Would it be possible to lay him down on the berth without waking him? Skyfire could do with some recharge himself, but he would gladly give up his berth for a while if it meant Silverbolt got a chance to properly rest--

Silverbolt twitched suddenly, one arm coming up as if to grasp at something. Skyfire rubbed his wing again, hoping he'd settle back into recharge, but then all at once Silverbolt was awake - not just awake, but scrambling upright in a panic. The shockwave that went through his field bled into Skyfire's, jangling bright tones where there had been soft edges of relaxation.


"Slingshot," Silverbolt gasped, almost falling off the berth in his haste. "Something's wrong. Where's-- there's no alarm. Why is there no alarm?"

Skyfire scrambled after him and was just in time to grab his arm and steady him as he lost his balance, his systems still in the process of booting up. "Calm down. What about the others?"

"Going crazy over the comms. There's no alarm..."

Silverbolt's processor clearly wasn't fully online yet, but Skyfire grasped the significance of what he was trying to say. Spark cold with dread, he half-dragged Silverbolt across the room and hit the priority comm channel on the unit. A moment later he was looking into Jazz's surprised face.

"Skyfire? Silverbolt? Weren't you just--"

"The space bridge is under attack," Skyfire said. "Right now."

Jazz's jaw dropped. "What? But the perimeter's fine, Red's cameras are comin' up clear and we ain't heard nothin' from the guard squad--"

"They're being jammed," Silverbolt cut in, optics brighter now, and the panic forced down deep somewhere where Skyfire could barely sense it. "Or they've been disabled. Slingshot's down, I-- I don't think he's dead, but--"

Jazz swore violently in Cybertronian, reaching for console controls that Skyfire couldn't see on camera. A second later, alarms were blaring throughout the Ark - the signal for Code Red, Full Scale Decepticon Attack. Jazz glanced up at what was probably another comm screen and nodded once before looking back at Skyfire and Silverbolt.

"Get in the sky, Silverbolt" he said grimly. "Get there as fast as you can. You too, Skyfire. Prime's orders - get there fast, get them out."

* * *

:Still nothing?:

:Not a blip. I can't even get a fix on the space bridge.: Skyfire was as calm as ever. Silverbolt clung to the sound of his voice like a lifeline. :It's definitely some sort of jamming, but it's nothing I've seen before.:

:Primus, how did they get the drop on us?: demanded Hot Spot. Silverbolt hadn't wanted to wait for anyone, but Hot Spot's team had been right by the Ark entrance when the alarms sounded, and Skyfire had stayed behind to take the non-flyers in his cargo hold. He was more than fast enough to catch up with the others afterwards. :Red Alert's got the whole place wired up like a Christmas tree, we've had patrols going 24/7...:

:Obviously they thought of something we didn't.: Silverbolt checked his fuel levels - thank Primus he'd refueled with Skyfire - and accelerated. The others obligingly sped up to match him. He was aware that Blades, particularly, was pushing himself to the extreme limits of his top speed, but he couldn't bring himself to slow down. :ETA five minutes. Get ready, we don't know what we'll... find...:

Halfway through the sentence, he was aware that something was off. His words seemed to drop into space; the background hum and whisper of the comms had cut out.

:Hot Spot?:

No reply.

:Skyfire? Air Raid?:

Nothing, even though they were right there. After a few seconds - during which Silverbolt supposed the others were trying their own comms and getting nothing - Skydive sideslipped in so he was flying almost wingtip to wingtip with Silverbolt.

"Jamming field?"

"Must be," Silverbolt shouted back. "But I thought they only extended a few hundred metres above ground!"

Skyfire had come lower, his shadow falling over Silverbolt's wings.

"This is something different," he called out. "It's not a standard jamming signal - it can't be, not if it's hitting us out this far. Groove says it's not registering on any of his scans, so it's not an interference pattern."

"Great." Air Raid had edged in close as well, as had Fireflight; the four of them were flying as close as a flock of birds, with Skyfire above and Blades trailing some way behind. "How do we find the garrison if we can't get them on the comms?"

"More to the point, if we can't communicate, we can't work together," Skydive said. "And we can't come up with a strategy in advance without knowing what the situation is..."

"Hot Spot says," Skyfire put in, "that he's going to have the Protectobots combine into Defensor - at least that way they'll be in communication."

"That's not a bad idea." Silverbolt strained his sensors to try and get an idea of what was going on down in the canyon that sheltered the space bridge. "We'd better stay airborne though... okay, guys, listen up, can you all hear me?"

The other three piped up in the affirmative, while Skyfire dropped back, presumably to let Blades know what Hot Spot intended.

"We're going to combine into Superion on our way down. It'll be harder without Slingshot, but we'll be able to fly - and more importantly, talk to each other. As soon as we've got an idea of the situation, we'll split off, but if I give the signal, we recombine so we can reassess. Got that?"

"What signal?" asked Air Raid.

"I'll use my lightning."

"Won't you need that to fight?"

"No, I can't just strike out without knowing who's on the ground and where. I'll just bleed off enough for a quick flash - you should hear it easily enough."

Skyfire caught them up again, Blades close in his wake.

"I'm going down now," he said. "Hot Spot's team are going to jump out just above ground so I don't have to land. Listen, Silverbolt, I've been thinking about the jamming - they can't be doing it remotely. I've got an idea of what they might have done, but it means there's got to be a device down there, and it should be pretty obvious."

"Can you track it down?"

"I'll do my best."

"Okay, stay high and keep scanning. Our first priority is locating the other Autobots and--"

"Silverbolt! Incoming!" shouted Fireflight.

"Looks like Starscream finally showed up," Skydive observed.

Air Raid made a noise that was halfway between a snort and a snarl. "And he's brought aaaaall his friends."

"Get going," Silverbolt told Skyfire, who was already losing altitude. "Here we go, Aerialbots - first thing we do is keep Skyfire covered while he offloads Hot Spot and the others. Then we combine. Got it?"

"Got it!" Air Raid opened his throttles, shooting ahead towards the six Seekers rising from ground-level. "Let's do this."

- end chapter 6 -