Title: All Friends Here
Date: 24 October 2014
Summary: Everyone is a friend of a friend.
Maybe the Acroplex was once grand, but it is now a ruin. There are more broken, forgotten chambers in its walls than open, used ones. There are secrets here. Hot Rod adds a few more. The rooms go deep beneath the surface, and it's very nearly a maze to those unfamiliar with its halls. It's a good place to hide things.
But Hot Rod knows this path, anyway, and as he walks out from deeper within he looks very much assured of his place. He still shows signs of his recent battering by Blurr's handlers -- there's been no time (or shanix) to fix his paint, leaving his right arm a dull gray. There are subtle changes to the metal laid over his arms, like maybe it's not just for a boost of speed in his alt-mode anymore.
<< So. I hear you like busting Institutes. >> A fembot's voice comes over the radio to Hot Rod on his personal frequency. It might be familiar, but not one that Hot Rod has probably heard very often - is this Blast Off's mysterious friend?
There's a click as Hot Rod very /nearly/ says the first thing to leap to mind -- probably something stupid, probably something he really shouldn't be saying to someone who has yet to identify themselves. It might be his personal frequency, but there's no guarantee. << --. >> Then there is a pause. Hot Rod stops where he stands and sweeps the area in a quick glance. Stance settling, he tries again: << Who is this? >> It's certainly not a 'no, I would never'.
<< Well, Blast Off said this was pretty important. Name's Shiftlock. You sound familiar -- Hot Rod? >> Hopefully that is friendly enough that Hot Rod will be willing to reply.
<< Blast Off was talking about /you/? >> Hot Rod's surprised excitement is easy enough to read even without being there to watch him perk up, right to the tip of his angled spoiler. << Yeah, it's Hot Rod, >> he says, clearly more than willing to reply, << and I kind of thought maybe they'd got you. Still free, then? >>
<< So far! I found Blast Off in Hive City, he was being hunted by the police. I thought I'd give him a hand, seeing as how he decided to give Proteus the middle digit. Nice to hear you're still kicking. Things are getting nuts and bolts around here, >> Shiftlock radios. << Look, I'm gonna try to find you in person so that we can talk without being tracked. That okay with you? >>
<< He's kind of got an attitude-- >> HA. HA HA. Says HOT ROD. He seems entirely unaware of the raging hypocrisy of his statement. << --but he's got the right attitude on the institute. Yeah. I'm in Nyon, Acroplex if you know it. >>
<< If Blurr meets you, don't punch him in the face, because he'll be me. >> Shiftlock disconnects, and the wait for her arrival begins.
Waiting. Hot Rod has this thing about waiting. He isn't good at it. So even with the promise that it will be a short wait given that she takes Blurr's form, he finds something to occupy himself in the meantime. That something turns out to be explosives. This can't possibly end in disaster. He blows up a few bits of rubble around the Acroplex, learning to use the detonators and timers. Or possibly just being a destructive little child. A lot depends on perspective.
Blurr's voice is calling for the other mech, and there's a gust of wind that blows past his general location along with, well, a blue blurr. Shiftlock is searching every last room of the Acroplex trying to find him - at mach 1.
Where there's smoke, there's a fire-painted mech: "Here!" Hot Rod calls, stamping out a smoldering bit of rubble. He's placed himself where he's fairly easy to find without going too deep -- but a few wrong turns could take Shiftlock into rooms filled with contraband and smuggled goods. It's not all weapons and bombs: someone's started to stash rations. But that'd take a couple wrong turns, and where Hot Rod stands, he's all guilt- and plan-free and blowing things up, so surely that isn't him.
'Blurr' zips right to the doorway. "Oh! ThereyouareIwaslookingalloverforyouevenlikethisittakesalittlebittodothat." Yeah, she hasn't mastered talking slowly like this, but soon it doesn't matter; she transforms from root mode to root mode, losing height, turning copper and black, and going from mech to femme. "Good to see you --" Her glance falls right to Hot Rod's arm. "Okay so some things have happened. You okay?"
Hot Rod looks a little dazed by the verbal assault. "Uh -- yeah." It's an open question, how much of what she said he actually understood, but in true Hot Rod fashion it doesn't matter: understanding or not, he answers, and the moves on.
He gives her a wider smile when she shifts back to default. "Good to see you, too. It's a relief knowing they didn't pull you back under. Yeah -- I'm okay." Hot Rod glances down at his arm with a grimace. Though it is the most obvious sign of injury, there are unpainted patches scattered here and there that make a positive mess of his paint from head to toe. "Got on the bad side of the IAA in Kaon trying to get help for Blurr, then Blast Off about took the head off the mech who helped me out of it."
Shiftlock frowns. "Wonderful. Yeah, Blurr stabbed me in the back of the head with a memory eraser. Drift isn't real happy with him for that, but then again, Drift needs a good swift kick in the aft right now." She sighs and shakes her head, frustration obvious. "Not sure what IAA is doing in Kaon, but I know what Blast Off's doing there. He's considering switching badges. Anything's better than 'Bot right now."
"--Drift's the one Blast Off shot," Hot Rod admits with a startled flicker. "He helped me get Blurr to Kaon -- I'd hoped that Senator Shockwave could fix his memory, but." He glances up with a shrug that says a lot: not so much. "Keeping Drift from killing Blurr took some doing. Now I've got a better idea why." He gives Shiftlock a closer look, then asks, "What about you? Joining the people in Kaon?"
"No. Something about Megatron rubs me the wrong way. I can't put my servo on it, but I've always gone with strut instinct over circumstances," Shiftlock explains. She ponders over recent events and the tangled mess of who is trying to kill who and why. "Looovely. The guy that saved my life when my memory was completely fried is trying to kill the guy that says he's in love with me but is bad for me."
Hot Rod settles back with a flicker of relief. "Yeah." He rubs his left hand over his right arm with a rough scrape of unpainted metal. "Not that I'm any more fond of the Senate, but I'd rather go at it my way." He looks fairly openly amused by the complexities of her love life. "Yeah, well -- the trying to kill seemed pretty mutual. So Drift's the one in love with you, but bad for you? Why the kick in the aft, anyway? I've heard a few things that I want to talk to him about. Do you know if he really went after Arcee? Why would he?"
"Do you have a chair?" Shiftlock ask wearily. "This is going to take some explaining."
"I have some rubble." Hot Rod makes a show of finding and dusting off a fallen column and clearing a space on it where they both can sit. He gestures: VOILA. He sits first. No manners.
Shiftlock doesn't care. She hops up onto the fallen column and straddles it comfortably, hands on the surface in front of her. "Yeah, so, I've known Drift for quite awhile now, since I was given to Ratbat as a present and started working as a spy for him. I found Drift when he was an empty wandering around the Dead End; guy was frying himself on whatever illegal substances he could get, and selling the rest for energon. I felt bad for him, so I tried to look after him and keep him out of trouble. Scrap, I broke into the Rodion police department and ducked out past Prowl in a jailbreak."
She sighs a little again, looking down at her fingers. "I lost track of him when I lost my memories and the first thing I wanted to do when I got them back was find him. Now he's lost a friend, Gasket, and he's decided to be a killer for hire. Working for Lockdown, the bounty hunter, so, if he's going after people, it's because he's being paid to do it." She looks back up. "I can't walk that path. I can't be a murderer for money, and he's worried that I'm gonna be like Gasket, and get killed trying to save people without fighting back."
She shakes her head again sadly, just tired of this whole mess, and it shows in the lay of her plates and the duller sheen to the glowing parts of her frame. "He just -boom- out of nowhere says he's in love with me and wants me to run away with him off planet. I had no idea what to do other than stick around and play 'save Drift from himself' as usual. Then when I confront him over trying to kill people, he says he's no good for me and that I should leave him." She lifts her arms and shrugs. "I'm as confused as anyone else on this."
It's a good thing that they sat down. Hot Rod sits forward, listening as she talks. He nods once or twice as though what she says confirms things he already knows or has guessed at. Picking up where she finishes, he says, "I think that's probably when I met him, then. He was pretty low." He does not say /how/ low, but he does hesitate in a particular way. Shaking it off, Hot Rod brightens. "He just needs something bigger than killing people," he says, like that's so easy. It's okay, everyone: he has a cure! He has a magic bandaid to fix every ill! "Helping Nyon. Making things better. Putting an end to the Institute clinics."
"As long as he's still alive and sane. I don't think I'd be able to forgive myself if anything happened to him. I'm not ready to settle down and be anyone's spark mate but I -do- care about Drift. I tried to do as he asked and give him what he wants, but I don't think he /knows/ what he wants." Shiftlock drums her fingers on the column, expression shifting a bit into thoughtfulness. "Come to think of it I don't know what I'm gonna do with -myself-, I mean, I threw away -Senate access- trying to beat Ratbat half to death and now I've probably got a bounty on my head... probably wasn't my best idea. Not a lot of forethought or planning."
"More or less," is not the most reassuring report that Hot Rod could give on Drift's condition, but he gives it cheerfully and without concern.
Breaking off, he glances around and then back to Shiftlock. He gives her a smile that's as good as a dare. "Hey, if you want a challenge, we've got plenty here. You've always struck me as someone with your spark in the right place. Want to do some good?"
Shiftlock grins. "Define doing good. Is it going to be assorted daring do fighting alongside a certain someone with flames on their paintjob?"
Hot Rod assumes an innocent expression.
No, scratch that: Hot Rod /tries/ to look innocent. It fails.
"It might. But it is going to be for /good reasons/." He settles a little more solemn as he goes on: "I think putting an end to this Institute slag is worth a fight."
"Considering that some of my earliest memories are within that place? Yeah, not gonna disagree with you," Shiftlock nods, folding her arms. "So... if we're in a fight, what skills do you bring to the table? Any formal military training? Police training? Anything?"
...yeah, that. Hot Rod glances away. "I'm working on it," he says, sneaking a look back at the end with a careless shrug. Skills are for nerds. He has RAW PASSION.
Smug Shiftlock is smug. "So you need training. Gotcha," she smirks with a playful tone.
"I'm working on it!" Hot Rod insists again with a wave of his hands. He drops them again when the gray catches his eye. He looks back at her. "But -- yeah. I do. I know it. I've had that amply proven. Last time we went into the Institute I got out on raw luck and the kind of thing you pick up in street scraps. I don't think that'll happen again."
"Well, you've come to the right shifter," Shiftlock beams. "Being Ratbat's little gopher meant that I had to have both combat training -and- breaking and entering. Survival skills, interrogation, all sorts of interesting techniques I'm sure you could put to good use. It's not going to be easy, but I'll help you as much as is possible."
"That sounds spectacularly useful," Hot Rod says, his eyes going wide as he considers the many possibilities offered by her talents. He laughs a little, stretching his arms wide. "I'm not exactly used to easy. That's not a problem. But I'm not used to help, either. You want to? Making my day."
"Well, it seems as if the more I help others, the more I find out about who I was before Tarantulas got ahold of me. While I was helping Blast Off and running from the orbital patrols, I got a flash of a buried memory." Shiftlock brightens up, positively giddy. "I'm not from this planet, Hot Rod! I remember being out in space, being a part of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of other colonists! We were all linked together in a giant ship, sailing through the stars. We're called 'Mutacons'!"
Hot Rod looks more than a little envious, as he didn't when Blast Off called him a groundpounder. "What, are you serious? Do you know where?" He turns his eyes toward the sky which is wide and far and space more distant yet. "So ... does that mean--" He mimes a little, arms wide, but it's his spoilers that make better wings than his arms. "Do you fly? Like a shuttle? What do you mean you link together in a ship?"
"Well I can, yes," Shiftlock replies. "I copied Blast Off's form completely - same with Blurr and Drift, but there's another form in here that I don't remember copying. It's uh, it's been in the news lately."
She unfolds her arms, and then a subtle change over her form takes place; her edges seem to loose distinction and she becomes a liquid-looking silver fembot with aqua blue power lines. Her form doesn't have any real distinct shape; you could call it a protoform. It's humanoid but has no altmode distinctions. "Apparently... this is me. This is what I looked like before. As for linking, well, how much do you know about shifters?"
"Yeah, but by yourself," Hot Rod corrects, "what would you--." He breaks off as she shifts, and his attention sharpens. He looks openly fascinated. It could be a little rude. He leans forward, reaching for her arm and then hesitating. "Cool." He shakes his head at her question. "Obviously not as much as I should. Have you ever met another?"
Shiftlock withdraws her arm. "Whoa, wait, you may not want to do that. See, contact will bridge us. I'll know what's going on in your head and you'll know what's going on in mine." She grins. "Then again I'll be able to change into you, but not permanently. Permanent takes deeper contact which might be more than you want."
She looks at her hand. "Far as I know, I'm it. I did some looking - Nova Prime went on a crusade to kill as many Shifters as he could find; he didn't trust them. We're supposed to be extinct, so I don't know how old those memories I uncovered are."
"From what I remember, Mutacons are omnicombiners. We can link with each other in any way and in any number, so we just all fused together into one big ship to travel."
Never has Hot Rod pulled his arm back so fast as he does in this moment. NOPE. NOPE NOPE NOPE. He holds his hands up and out and NOPE. Not touching. "That's -- okay." He gives her a smile to soften the speed of his withdrawal. "Definitely not going to do that without thinking about it, anyway."
He breathes out -- an aggravated noise -- and says, "When's the last time a Prime's done something worth the title. Do you really remember much about what that was like? I mean--." He stalls out and looks to the side, eventually shaking his head. "I can't even imagine it. Would you all be in each other's heads or what?"
"Don't worry, it's only surface thoughts. Nothing deeper. That's what Ratbat would use me for - go up and put my hand on someone and take the information he wanted straight out of their heads. I remember protesting a few times but whenever I did, it's off to the Institute for a mind wipe." She waves her hand at that last comment as if it were no big deal - a minor annoyance at best.
Her form solidifies back into the copper and black speeder she was before. "There, now I can touch you without any problems. Yeah, far as I can tell - and I need to remember more - we were all interconnected mentally. It was kind of nice, like having thousands of neighbors to talk to all at once, without waiting on mouth movement to convey information."
There's a low, scarcely controlled fire in Hot Rod's voice as he says, "How can you just wave your hand at that. What if it was someone else?" He flips it around on her, asking, "What if it was Drift that they took and wiped when he protested? You should be just as mad for yourself."
He shakes his head as she tries to explain it as /nice/. "I can't imagine it," he admits. "I'm not sure I want to. You tell me about that, and all I can think about is the Institute, getting into everyone's heads and turning people into weapons, like Blurr. So -- what've you got on those places? Do you know anything from working with Ratbat? From your own time there?"
Shiftlock just smiles. "I can forgive things being done to me. It's just -me-. I'll survive. I'm still here after all. Now, if they'd done that to Drift, I'd be angry. But when it's me? Live and let live. I mean, I'm not hold it against Blast Off that he tried to kill me, that's just business." Maybe she should care more about what happens to her, but it appears she simply doesn't. It doesn't phase her at all.
"A lot of my memories are scrambled still. I owe Rung for sorting me out, but Ratbat had me wiped pretty hard. Whatever Blurr was using was the cheap stuff; it's not -good- enough to be Institute. It just sort of compressed my memories." She taps her chin with one finger, thinking. "I have a lot of lists, numbers, and figures. Ratbat is a financier, and he's concerned about profits above everything else. He's the one making the Prime's share of money on the gladiator matches, for example. As for more concrete institute details, I can't help a whole lot. I don't have any locations, just names and figures."
Hot Rod throws his hands up in an openly exasperated gesture. "No. No, that's exactly what I mean. You should be just as mad." He does not take the time to pick apart her self-sacrifice, he just points at her: noted and DISAGREED WITH.
"If it's the cheap stuff, do you think it might be easier to reverse?" Hot Rod tries for sympathy -- kind of fails, but tries -- when he says, "I heard about that Rung guy -- sorry. But is there anyone else you'd trust? I've been trying to find out more based on the data /I/ got. Maybe putting it together with yours would help."
Shiftlock pauses, taken off-guard by Hot Rod's phrasing. "Wait, why are you sorry about Rung? What happened?"
Arcee has travelled to Nyon specifically to purchase large charges for her newly-acquired plasma rifle, which she's been training with almost non-stop at a shooting range...when she's not busy on her *other* assignment. The one Elita currently has her on in Altihex.
But she had to take a break from that. Something almost obsessive has driven her to mastering her new weapons skills.
So now that she's acquired the ammunition from a rather interesting vendor, Arcee stays around the periphery of the Acroplex, choosing a more roundabout way to return to Altihex in the event she's being tracked, stalked, or targeted. She's learned to think like that now, all cycle, every cycle.
"Uh." Hot Rod glances at Shiftlock once, twice then says: "His clinic was hit. Wiped out by someone working for the Senate, Blast Off said." Again, quieter, he repeats: "Sorry."
As ever, he's hard to miss. Scattered signs of recent damage show as dull patches against the brilliance of his paint job, and his right arm seems to have been all but replaced. But Hot Rod's still Hot Rod, and he's still bright red, and he still has flames on his chest. So, you know. He's incognito.
Shiftlock blends in more with the rust, being coppe-orange; her black stripes serve as a fairly decent camouflage in these kinds of run down areas - not that she's actually looking to be camouflaged. Hot Rod's words hit her like the fist of an angry Omega Destroyer. "..." She wouldn't be surprised if it was Drift, as she tries to put all the puzzle pieces together. "... He didn't deserve that. He helped me get my memories back, and then ... " -Now- she shows some emotion. She'll take all the beatings in the world, but when she can't protect someone, that's when she actually has some anger.
In a fit of uncontrolled emotion she transforms out of root mode and into something much, much larger. Something with a beak, claws, and wings, until the huge bulk of a black and silver ursagryph is filling the area. It tosses back its head and gives a whistling, shrieking metallic roar, bellowing out anger and grief.
Arcee can't miss it.
As soon she sees the ursagryph, Arcee presses up against the nearest wall and remains quiet and silent. She's nearby, and...clearly, she has no special powers to hide herself, but she's hoping that she isn't particularly obvious, as she warily keeps her weapon within close drawing range. She hopes the pissed-off gryph is too busy being pissed off to notice her, while she tries to determine what's going on.
Hot Rod falls off his perch atop the broken column in a startled flinch. (Dignity.) From his new perspective, he gets an upside-down look at Arcee across the distance. He waves. He does not seem nearly as terrified of the ursagryph as he should be, despite his startled toppling.
"Well, you wanted me to be upset about wrongs done." Ursagryph Shiftlock snaps her wings down against her back, and pads a few steps away from the column, settling in like a cat, tucking clawed legs in under her. "Sorry... I didn't know it was that bad. ... Didn't mean to take you off-guard." She knows Drift is a part of this somehow. Why is that everyone she cares about and tries to help end up trying to kill each other.
Arcee steps over to glance up at the upside-down Hot Rod, and she waves back. There's something very different about the way she carries herself now...she seems to always take note of who is around her, glances around frequently, and especially checks in back of her quite a bit. She also glances down at her armor a lot -- not out of conceit, but she's looking for light-targeting. "Hello again. Sorry if I interrupted anything..." She gives a courteous nod to the angry gryph. While she didn't overhear what was said earlier, she can understand there's been something of some serious substance discussed.
Picking himself up, Hot Rod leans against the column rather than get immediately back up on it. "Yeah, well. You already get upset about /those/ wrongs. You should be as mad about those done to you." Studying Shiftlock with something just this side of disbelief -- after all, he has to believe it when it is in front of his face, he adds, "Seemed like he was a good mech. I'm sorry I never know him." Because of course you'd say nice things to an ursagryph.
"Hey, Arcee. Uh -- not really. I was actually just thinking about you," Hot Rod admits. "I was talking about that information we got out of the Institute, acting on it, that kind of things. You look armed and ready."
Shiftlock realizes she's XYBER Mamba-Jamba XXL Huge (2dmax), and transforms back out of Ursagryph mode. "That keeps happening. Every time I get mad, that happens, and I don't even know where that one came from." She winces and puts a hand over her torso. "Sorry, gimme a minute. I've had to shift so much lately that I'm really burning through my medication."
"You *were*?" Arcee exclaims to Hot Rod with some surprise. "...Oh yeah, I'm definitely prepared. You get any more information like that, give me a call. I'm actually not far from here now. Long story." Shiftlock gets a sympathetic look. "I can tell you just got some bad news, and...there's been a lot of that going around lately, so I can understand. Name's Arcee," she introduces herself to the other, upset femme.
"You okay?" Hot Rod folds his arms in his lean as he studies Shiftlock. "Have a seat." Once again he gestures with exaggerated irony to the hospitality of his rubble. "Uh -- speaking of, I heard something about you and a bomb."
Chromia is also not from around here, and she might be an upset femme, but her aspect as she roars into view is as a motorcycle speeding over the ground, not like she is going anywhere in particular, but like wherever she is going without particularity is in a real damn hurry. Rrrrrrrm. Dust clouds with the squeal of her tires as she spins over an unaccountable bit of rubble and wheelies, turning in a sharp left that squeals and spits crackles of broken road with her next impact. She reverts to root mode and cracks down hard on a knee, fist punching hard into the ground because it prevents her from anything so undignified as a motorcycle accident.
She meant to do that.
"Nice to meet you Arcee," Shiftlock greets around a pained smile. "Wish it were on better circumstances." She opens her vents, fans kicking in. "Yeah, I'll be all right. See, when I do a lot of shifting it burns up something called Element Zero. Blurr uses it when he races as a speed booster, that's how I met him and got his form; I tried to show him what was going on in the bad parts of this planet. It was a heck of a wake up call for him, he almost panicked. Told me to go meet him at his apartment so we could figure out what to do to help people; when I get there, he acts like he doesn't know me, stabs me in the back of the neck like I said, tryin' to wipe my memory. He dumped me in the street and just left me there." She rubs the back of her neck absentmindedly, the injury site fresh in her mind. "If it weren't for Blast Off taking pity on me and helping me get repaired, well, I'd probably be dead."
"Anyways, if I don't get regular doses of element zero I'm hosed. It's how Ratbat kept me in line. I'm living on borrowed time unless I get more, and going back to him for another dose isn't an option."
"You heard right, I'm afraid," Arcee confirms to Hot Rod. "But you see, the rustbag that assaulted me?...He did a poor job of covering his tracks. Next time I see him, I'm not wasting any time at all, I'm just going to unload as many slugs as I can into his processor and be done with the sorry glitch. Sounds kind of cold, I know, but I'm nobody's victim anymore." She settles in to listen curiously to Shiftlock's tale, and she seems rather surprised and enlightened simultaneously. "You too, huh? That mech's got issues, but he sure doesn't believe it," she comments.
And then, Chromia zips right into the area and slides into a ground-punch. Arcee stares at her in sudden surprise. "..."
"Oh, hullo," Hot Rod greets Chromia's tumble-and-punch with a distant, thoughtful wariness. He glances from Shiftlock to Arcee and then back to the newest femme arrival on the scene. Femmes all know each other, right? He belatedly defends Blurr: "Hey! It's not really his fault, you know. You know where you can even find zero stuff without Blast Off able to get off planet?"
Oh, scrap. Chromia, rising to her full height, turns in a scrape of her feet against the ground, head lifting with a flare of glow-bright optics as she takes in several other bots present. Her hands drop to frame at her hips, as if very deliberately to indicate that she is defensive of nothing. "Hello," she states neutrally. Her body language is screaming with tension, but it doesn't seem to be directed at anybody here. Her smile puts in a (thin, tepid) appearance. "Sorry. Interrupting a party." She dusts some dust off her knuckles with the pass of her thumb. It is only an extremely passing resemblance to wanting to punch someone, right.
"If I weren't so tired right now I'd love to copy that form, I always wanted to try driving on two wheels." Shiftlock apparently appreciates Chromia's form, and entrance. Bonus points for action dismount. She's big on that. "Might as well come over and join the part, flames here is buying." She thumbs at Hot Rod.
Letting Rod take that statement as he will, she is curious about Arcee's problems. "So who tried to kill you? You're kinda familiar... might have seen in a personnel file somewhere. Senate?" she asks innocently enough. Shift isn't hiding her former ties, she doesn't really stop to think that arcee might want to hide hers.
"I agree, Blurr's problems are NOT his own fault...I saw with my own optics how he's gotten so messed up. I saw it. The IAA is behind it. They are doing something to his processor. I tried to convince him, but...pfft, you think he'd listen to me? Nuuuuupe." Arcee shrugs, looking from Hot Rod over to Shiftlock. "This mech -- not Blurr, but my attacker -- is pretty dangerous. He's crazy, not in a good way. And I worked for a senator at one time, but that isn't why he wanted to kill me. Anyhow, none of that's important. I'm going to kill him next time I see him, because it's not happening again."
From discussing killing, Arcee shifts flawlessly into niceness. "This isn't a very good party, to be honest, it's more like a gripe session," she tells Chromia.
"What? I'm not buying," is how he takes that statement. Hot Rod rears back, objecting not to party, but to spending. "Bring your own," he answers with a laugh. "The rest of you have."
Looking from Shiftlock to Arcee when the topic turns to loyalties, he grimaces. "Arcee--." Hot Rod breaks off, then asks, "Nautica said it was Drift. With the bomb. Is that right?" It is not even slightly subtle in his tone that he wants her to correct him. 'Oh no, no, it totally wasn't Drift. It was Draft, his evil twin!' "/Why/?"
Chromia has definitely heard enough in the course of a few seconds to tell her that this may not be a great party, but that it's certainly full of interesting things that she may not already know. She turns a look up 'flames' with a skeptical air. "Do I want to know what you're not buying?" she says.
Approaching the others on solid thunks of her feet, she stops a little hip-shot in her balance, frown crept into the weight across her brow. The angled wings of blue metal swept back from her face make for an excellent accent to a scowl. Then there's a beat, and she takes another step like she's going to get right up in his face now. "/Nautica/ said," she says. "What did Nautica say? What was Nautica doing with a bomb?"
"Nautica is correct, that's his name," Arcee confirms. "Looks like we share a lot of the same social circles, Rod, should I be surprised? Yeah, I have a lot to thank Nautica for, she and a mech by the name of Brainstorm helped diffuse that bomb. If they hadn't...I wouldn't be here, that's for sure."
Arcee doesn't know Chromia personally, but she seems to have some measure of trust in the other femme; perhaps she's seen her in files that Elita's been giving her to commit to memory. So she doesn't seem too paranoid of Chromia, because there's some measure of familiarity there, however faint. "Nautica was taking the bomb out of me and saving my life, therefore: being excellent," Arcee tells Chromia with a smile.
Shift just dies a little more inside and buries her face in her hands. "... Dammit Drift," she mutters. "Blast Off, Rung, Arcee, is there -anyone- you haven't tried to kill? Maybe Lockdown will pay you to go after /me/ next, after all I'm on the Senate's slag-list." She's distressed enough that she isn't paying attention to Chromia coming up to manhandle Hot Rod. Sorry kid, you're on your own with this one.
"You can thank Prowl for that," Hot Rod says. He does not name Prowl with any affection; he sounds mostly irritated. "He dragged me and Nautica in to try to grill us for information about Blast Off. Didn't know a thing, then." He pauses a little extra-long following that. He might as well shout aloud how much that is no longer the case.
Echoing Arcee, he says, "Yep, Nautica was stopping a bomb from what I heard." He faces Chromia's advance without reaction. He squares off against her, fully willing to meet whatever challenge she cares to present. Admittedly, he's a little distracted processing Arcee's confirmation, but he doesn't seem to have taken it as much to heart as Shiftlock. It's a much more distant 'Bad Drift' than her distress.
Arcee doesn't really know Hot Rod's connections to Drift, or Shiftlock's, for that matter; Arcee is just under the assumption that they're familiar with the name in some way. But Shiftlock's anger provides her some clues. "So...you're familiar with the level of...of mental *sickness* we're dealing with, here. I wouldn't be surprised if he was behind Rung's death, although I can't confirm whether or not he was involved with that," Arcee notes. "But yes. Exceedingly dangerous. I don't really think I need to explain why I have to do what I have to do. He showed no mercy on me as I pleaded with him, so...I don't really see why I need to respond any differently." She gives Hot Rod a sympathetic look. "Oh Primus...Prowl's just a jerk. I'm sorry he's giving you problems."
"Oh." Chromia settles back on her heels a little bit when Arcee shares this information, so it is that Hot Rod appears to be marginally less at risk of getting lifted by the collar, not that he has a collar, not that he wouldn't attempt to defend himself from being elevated by the collar, but you get the idea. She's been detached from Elita One's group to work with the Autobots, part bodyguard, part military trainer; in short, she's been a show of diplomatist work, /helping/, and you can't really tell at the moment because right now she looks about an inch from steam seeping out of her ears. "Who the hell is Drift?" But she isn't asking like she cares, particularly. "At least she was doing something sensible about that bomb," she says, with emphasis running to deep exasperation about NAUTICA and SENSIBLE THINGS.
"He's my friend."
Shiftlock is starting at the ground, her voice low and miserable. "I've looked after Drift for a long time. He was an Empty and an addict, I was always having to save his mesh and break him out of jail, but he wasn't this bad, not until his friend Gasket died. Something in him just snapped."
"I don't know what to do with him; I feel responsible for him, I mean, he said he loved me, wanted me to leave the planet with him," she explains to Arcee as she did for Hot Rod before. "I don't know why he's decided to be a killer for hire, and I don't know how I'm going to get him to stop."
"Drift's...." Hot Rod trails off. Dot dot dot, indeed. He looks at a loss for where to stand on this one. "You know, you're right, Arcee. You don't have to respond any differently. You don't have to show mercy. But you can." He's just saying. It's an option.
"He's angry. Lost. He's wrong, and I'm sure if I talk to him, he'll see that," Hot Rod says with a certain blindly optimistic faith. Come on, Shiftlock. JUST BELIEVE. "He didn't kill Blurr, after all! And he didn't kill you." (Not for lack of trying.)
"You're one of Nautica's friends, then?" he asks, turning to Chromia. Everyone is friends. /Everyone be friends/.
Chromia turns a blank look on unfamiliar Shiftlock. She is silent for a long moment and then intones: "That's rough, buddy."
It is the maximum of empathy. She doesn't even know Shiftlock's name at this point.
Canting her head back at Hot Rod, Chromia's hands fist at her sides, a little like just asking the question has put him at risk of violence. "/Yes/," she says. Or snarls. It sounds kind of like a snarl. She is Nautica's friend and is apparently pissy about it. Belatedly, she walks it back, and goes with more restraint: "I'm Chromia. We all came with the delegation."
"Hi, Chromia, I'm Arcee," the pink femme greets, as now Arcee can put a name with the face. Shiftlock and Hot Rod get curious looks from her, but remarkably, Arcee doesn't seem at all angry or vengeful towards *them*. "Everyone has a past, they have to start somewhere, and it's a shame this one started out nice. If Rung were still alive, it would be my wish that he seek help for his problem. But his problem is...a little more complicated than being an annoying mech, don't you agree? Rod, what do you think you could say to him to...to get him to stop doing what he's doing? Anything? IS there anything you could say? Please tell me there is, because I don't really want to have to shoot him in the processor, but I'll probably HAVE to if he shows up again, for my own protection."
"It -is- rough," Shiftlock agrees with Chromia. "Seems like my friends are all trying to kill each other. All two of them, anyways." She shrugs helplessly and spreads her hands, letting it all go. "But what are you gonna do, y'know?"
The mutacon moves away from the others a little more. "Arcee, if he comes after you, kill him. Defend yourself." Does it sound harsh? It probably will to Hot Rod, who is full of youth, justice, and vinegar. Maybe something else, if Cybertronians do that sort of thing. "Drift has to live by the consequences of his actions and the decisions he makes, even if they're stupid - or fatal." Regardless of how much it would hurt, she will not violate her core beliefs: Everyone has a right to chose their own path, even if it's off a cliff.
Hot Rod leans away from Chromia and casts a glance at the others all 'what's /her/ problem' with the tilt of his head and arch of his brow. "Didn't realize that Nautica was an /issue/," he says, because that's the sensitive thing to do with with an obviously touchy subject.
"I'll figure it out," he tells Arcee, recklessly promising himself to what may be an impossible task. "I'll find what it takes and stop him." Hot Rod grimaces at Shiftlock. "It won't come to that. You guys should be working /together/. We all should."
"Stupidest genius I ever met," Chromia sighs, and doesn't expand, because she promised she wouldn't. Her weight shifts, a little like she is keeping herself from stamping, or kicking, or hitting Hot Rod. She narrows a glare at him, and then looks away.
"You can't save people from themselves, can you?" Chromia's smile flashes, sharp and tense. "But can you stop yourself from trying?"
Arcee is quiet for a moment. She takes what Shiftlock tells her very seriously; that's been the motivation behind her silent rage this entire time. She just doesn't want to be a victim again. Then, she looks over toward Rod. She senses that he has something of a kinship with whatever personality Drift presents as 'normal', but it isn't like he's discounting the horrors that she's been through. Then, she looks over to Chromia, and shrugs. It's a good question, rhetorical or not. "Okay. Tell you what. For...for the sake of cooperation...I'm not going to go after him. Rod, if you really think you can talk him down from attempting any more murders...then please, talk to him. I'll leave him alone, so long as he leaves me alone. But if he makes any move whatsoever to try and take me down again, I'm going to have to defend myself," she says. "I've got enough to worry about without him restraining me in his ship and implanting a bomb in my chassis while insulting and threatening me like a lunatic."
And that's all she can take. Shiftlock has seen enough of Drift's wild mood swings to know that Arcee's extremely unlikely to be lying. It's too easy to believe because she's been on the brunt end of it herself.
Weary and heartbroken, she can't bring herself to say anymore. Transforming into a tunnel speeder, she shuts off her lights and runs dark into the street and into the alleyways of Nyon, seeking solace underground and alone.
Hot Rod gives Chromia a particularly aggressive shrug. Shrug. SHRUG!!! "I figure when you stop--." Oops. There goes Shiftlock, speaking of. He watches her go with a troubled look. "I think it's worth trying," he says quietly once she is gone. Looking at Arcee, he says, "Not just for his sake. Yours, too. You might not see him coming. And even if you do, what then? Fight could go the other way, and even if it doesn't -- that's not an easy thing. So. I'll talk to him." And everything will be fine.
"Yeah, me too. Just goes to show, we're /all/ stupid." Chromia snorts. As Shiftlock leaves, she takes a step back, arms folding across her chassis with the narrowing of her gaze. She glances at Arcee. Her mouth skews sardonic, a little like she can't quite repress it. She states, "You sound a lot more forgiving than I would be."
"...Oh, I was hoping I wouldn't upset her like that," Arcee says in disappointment as Shiftlock tears off angrily. She watches Shiftlock transform and zoom away, then hesitates, and looks back toward Chromia. "I'm still very angry, make no mistake. But..." She suddenly looks right over at Hot Rod. "But if Rod says he might be able to change this situation without it becoming worse, then...then I'm willing to give that a chance."
"I'd almost start to think it was kind of his thing," Hot Rod tells Chromia. He aims for something almost teasing, but it skews a little too tense: he can't quite make the joke of it that he would like to. "He tried to kill me. He tried to kill Shiftlock. I'm starting to think that's his idea of saying hi. Bomb's taking it too far, though." Looking back at Arcee, he inclines his head. "Thanks for giving me the chance."
Chromia smiles, just a little wider, and then says blandly to Hot Rod: "Hi."
But she doesn't follow this up by immediately trying to kill him, so she clearly isn't as into him as Drift.
Arcee is finding it increasingly difficult to trust *anyone* anymore, but...something inside of her, instinct perhaps, is telling her that Rod's going to follow through. Whether Drift will respond, that's another thing entirely, but she's at least willing to give it a chance. "Well...I'd better go," she tells Hot Rod and Chromia. "Thanks for understanding."
Hot Rod fends off Chromia's implied threat with, "Nautica likes me!" which may be overstating things. "We're totally friends. Let's not make this into another friend-murder thing." Glancing back at Arcee, he gives her a closer look, marking all those little things that show her more wary, more aggressive, and very simply and directly says, "Take care of yourself."
"Good to meet you, Arcee. I'm sure I'll catch up with you sometime when things are less--" Chromia pauses, taking half a step back with a foot scraping hard against the rubbly ground underfoot. "Well, I don't know if things actually are going to get less weird," she says. She turns her glance back to Hot Rod. Her smile flickers briefly wider again and then fades, like, of course she's not actually going to kill him, but it's great he got her little murder joke.
Head lowering a little, Chromia kicks at the ground with the heel of her foot, and says: "Have you /seen/ Nautica lately?"
"Thanks, you too," Arcee tells Hot Rod with the hint of a smile. She nods to Chromia, then mentions, "There's going to be happenings in Altihex soon, I'll let you know." Hmm, maybe this is a femmes-only thing. Some secret...club?
Without further ado, she transforms and heads westward.
Given that bulls haven't even evolved yet, there is no reason for Hot Rod to see such body language and think Chromia is getting ready to charge. And yet. He studies her, straightening out of what remains of his lean. "Not too long ago, I guess, but it's been a little while. You're worried? Why?"
"Mmmnnn." Chromia looks annoyed. Her mouth opens, and then closes again as with a little snap. "Because she's brilliant in a very particular way," she says, "and she is avoiding me in a very particular way." She doesn't get into the part where she had staked out Nautica's workplace between working with the Autobots on how to hold their weapons properly because she's self-aware enough to realize this isn't the kind of thing you tell to friend-of-friend acquaintances who might not understand. She stares at Hot Rod for a moment's frustration like she is trying to measure him and it's honestly very difficult for her to take him seriously, because she has friends with quite pretty, showy paint jobs and then there's him, but she's trying, because he knows her friend well enough to have gotten grilled by the cops with her.
Finally Chromia says grimly, "I know all isn't well and I can't say a /word/ as to why. I'm not worried. I /know/."
"You know much about where she's working, then?" Hot Rod asks with zero of the caution or circumspection she showed in careful evaluation. He is taking her quite seriously, for all his paint. "What do you mean, you know it isn't well? Why can't you say?"
Chromia narrows her eyes at Hot Rod, stance widening subtly as she refocuses on him. "Yes," she says crisply. "What do you know?"
Obnoxiously, Hot Rod says, "Lots."
"Don't play games with me," Chromia directs him (pointless). "You wouldn't ask about her work if you didn't know more than--" Her mouth snaps shut on that with a flare of temper blazing in her eyes. As much as she backed off before, she's advancing on him again now -- slower than the aforementioned charge, say, but not much less fierce.
Hot Rod shows clear signs of having been on the losing end of a fight quite recently. From the looks of it, it was a nasty fight. Please don't think that this in any way means he is likely to back down from Chromia's advance. He squares off against her in sharp lines. "Why do you know it isn't well?" he asks again.
Chromia snaps, "I can't--" and then bites off the end of the sentence. She fumes visibly. Although her wheels are stowed, or split, in her root mode, the sense of an engine revving in neutral while she spins her wheels is very clear; it's only that, standing straight with her hands in tight-knuckled fists, she isn't spinning up any dust. "Tell me why you know more than I do," she says, her voice dangerous. "If you have anything to do with what's happening to her--"
"Oh." First surprised, Hot Rod immediately flashes over into outrage. "What the slag? You seriously think I'd be part of that? Come on! Look around!" He gestures sharply at Nyon, as though that ought to explain everything about his objection to Nautica's workplace. "Wow, I can't believe -- look, I've been there. I got someone out of there." Him. All him. Definitely not a four person team effort. "When I found out she was working there, I asked her to keep me in the loop to get /more/. So if something's gone wrong...."
Chromia slams both hands into Hot Rod's shoulders and shoves him back two steps by the sheer force of driving forward. It's not an attack in the way that a punch would be an attack, although if Ultra Magnus were here he'd confirm it meets a textbook definition of assault. "She told us she was doing this for the /Autobots/," she doesn't hiss because there aren't enough sibilants. It's more like a snarl. But her anger is nothing compared to the determination that fires her intensity as she demands, "If you got someone out once you can do it again. Get me in there. /Get her out/."
Since Ultra Magnus isn't here, he can't say anything about the way Hot Rod shoves her right back. He's standing his ground. When he loses a step, he pushes right back into it. He leans in, claiming the space the flames stamped across his chest demands. "Well, maybe she is! She was already there. I didn't ask her to go there." Defensive in the face of Chromia's intensity, it's clear enough that whatever the facts of the situation, Hot Rod feels maybe a little responsible. "I just asked her to keep me in the loop. I know how awful it is there. How do you even know anything is wrong? For Primus's sake, you haven't said anything useful!"
From heat to ice, Chromia drops to barely above a whisper, but since there's barely any such thing as personal space in this conversation anymore, it's not like this will be hard to interpret. "I received an anonymous tip from some demented boffin working down there who grew enough of a conscience to try and reach out," she says. "Unless it was a trap. Which it completely could be. Whoever it was sent blueprint and floorplan along with image and audio files of her and some awful mech," her voice is gathering momentum, and the heat is coming back with a rise like panic, like what it probably was that sent her haring off in a rage to do nothing at all constructive, "--and a scan of some /weird thing/ that they /implanted/ in her /head/ and that could be /anything/ for all I know. I can't just charge in on my own -- it could kill her!"
Hot Rod grabs Chromia by the shoulders. It would be very easy to read this as an attack given the intensity of their conversation, but it's a grasp that holds rather than pushes, shoves, or grapples. Please note that the fact that grabbing Chromia might be a dumb thing to do /does not in any way stop him/. "Show me."
In the midst of all this high tension, high impact near-action, it almost turns into the kind of grapple that becomes a throw. Chromia's knee has picked up, her hands closed on either of his wrists, and she kind of stills herself mid-reflex like a dancer stopping just before the spin. It's a slightly awkward position in which to freeze.
Only when she forcibly stills herself does Hot Rod appear to realize it maybe wasn't the brightest idea he's had. He releases his hold and turns his hands up just slightly, otherwise letting her control his wrists. Harmless! "I can help."
Chromia puts her foot down again, although it becomes more of a stamp in the force of its impact. She says, "Can you help in a way that won't make it worse? Because I'm pretty sure I could make it worse."
Making all kinds of reckless promises to everyone today, Hot Rod says, "Yes."
Chromia lets go of Hot Rod and turns aside, arms folding across her chassis as she glares indiscriminately at the nearest walls of poor, abused Nyon. "I can share what I got," she says. "The place is in Nova Cronum. I've staked it out a dozen times already anyway."
"Okay." Hot Rod watches Chromia a moment, then gestures into the ruins. "Come on. Step into my office." PS: It's not much of an office.
They've got a lot to review.