brilliant blue

✧ CH09

hidden power

The Lost Light had been nonchalantly making its way to Cyberutopia when they were suddenly hailed by a party claiming to be the “Improbability Police” accusing them of “unlikely crimes and misdemeanors”. Rodimus’ first instinct was that it was a joke. Upon realizing that it wasn’t, his second was to floor it. Everyone else insisted that they comply with the police’s orders to land in a spaceport of the nearby Galactic Council-aligned planet. Once docked, they were forcefully evacuated and their vessel impounded. The crew was ordered by command to stay at the spaceport. There had been whispers of this being the “perfect” opportunity to leave Megatron high and dry, but Atomizer made no move to mobilize the mutineers.

About half the crew were inside the spaceport checking out the amenities, the other half was in the massive parking space where their ship had been. Team Rodimus was off to the side, all huddled in an attempt to problem-solve their way out of the situation. Siren was clear across parking space, taking the opportunity to burn off as much of his copious amounts of energy as possible by having foot races with whoever was up to the challenge. A few onlookers had parked themselves along the sidelines to cheer or boo at the free entertainment. Siren was already at a good speed when he spotted Nightbeat strolling to meet him at the finish line. He bolted ahead, leaving his competitor in the dust.

“Hi!” He skidded to a stop just past his target.

Nightbeat greeted him with that strange, observant look he usually did. “Hey, you.”

“Wanna race?”

“God, no. You seem to be enjoying the impromptu shore leave, though.”

“Trying to! At least I can stretch my legs! Course, you could probably have a field day with a place like this, huh? A snippet of a conversation from someone waiting for their plane and you know exactly what they’re trying to get away from, or the way the paint is chipping reveals…something, right?”

“I could, but I’m not that desperate. There’s a whole city to explore. Whaddya say we blow this joint and check it out?”

“You’re not helping them figure this whole thing out? It seems right up your alley!” Siren pointed towards the captains and their company, surprised.

“I tossed in my two shanix and it devolved into more of a quip-making competition than an actual meeting, so yes and no.”

Siren’s challenger, Powerglide, finally caught up and happened to have overheard some of the discussion. “How much longer do you think it’s gonna be? Some people are saying an hour and some are saying the rest of our lives!”

“I might complain about their methods, but they’re actually pretty effective. I don’t think anything catastrophic will happen—Ultra Magnus is going to represent us and a courtroom is the only place he’s ever truly comfortable. If all goes as planned we’ll be back on the road tonight.”

“Hey, good point!” Powerglide pointed in agreement. “I’m just gonna keep runnin’ in circles in that case. Awaaaay I go!”

And with that, Powerglide sprinted back to the starting line. Nightbeat reset the conversation. “So. Let’s get some sightseeing in, yeah?”

“Aren’t we supposed to stay here, though?”

“Is that what they told you? Probably just trying to make sure they don’t lose anyone, but we know what we’re doing. Those cops confined us to city limits.”

Siren glanced at the small audience he had amassed, who had all turned their attention from him to the race that was about to start between Powerglide and Gears. He looked back to Nightbeat. “Sure! Later, Hosehead!” He singled out his friend. Hosehead waved back and went back to waiting for the race to start.

Nightbeat slipped his arm under Siren’s and dragged him off to the downtown streets. He was quick to stop holding onto Siren once they realized how much easier it was to walk apart. At first, they just meandered around to get a feel for the city’s literal and social climate. It was dark and cool, so plenty of other mechanoids were out and about, unafraid that they might become hot to the touch of their organic cohabitors. Either it was some minor holiday or the place was always lively. Though it seemed friendly and inviting at first glance, Nightbeat pointed out all the people and places peddling questionable merchandise under the cover of night: bootleg hyper-realistic hologram tech with a range of questionable settings, recreational drugs that were perfectly safe for some species and lethal for others with no disclaimer and seemingly indifferent salespeople, Cybertronian artifacts that were in clear violation of the Tyrest Accord (but this far out, who was around to enforce it? Ultra Magnus had passed on his mouthful of a title too soon, it seemed)…

Further down, the first suggestion of trouble made itself apparent. Some small organic being stood on the staircase leading up to a building to get a view of the traffic from above and kept crying out the same thing over and over, stopping occasionally to catch their breath or ask strangers for help.

“That kid’s looking for their parent!” Siren deduced. “We should help, but—”

“But what? Afraid it might take too long?”

“Exactly! Rodimus always says during shore leaves that anyone not back in time gets left behind!”

“Does he say that?” Nightbeat shook his head. “Well, it’s not true. That’s just his way of making sure everyone is actually back in time.”

“So they’d wait for us?”

“They’d probably want us to feel bad about disobeying orders and make us wait for a shuttle, but they wouldn’t maroon us. Besides, we’re invaluable, I bet we’d get off easy.”

Siren didn’t like the hypothetical favoritism or dishonesty but he might as well take advantage of it. He went on ahead, trying to be noticed. “Excuse me!”

It worked, of course. Anyone who could hear would be hard-pressed not to notice Siren. They turned around, wide-eyed, the brown fur that covered them bristling with fear, protruding ears flat against their head. Siren knelt down but still towered over them. “Are you lost?”

The child held their bag close to their body. “My mom said not to talk to people like you.”

That was odd. Even from a distance Siren had been certain that he had seen them ask all sorts of strangers for aid, large and small, metallic and not. Siren was even sure they had spoken to a group of mechs who looked decidedly Cybertronian, even if they had adopted alien alt modes. Noticing the confusion on his partner’s face, Nightbeat tapped his own Autobot badge.

“Oh,” Siren instinctively put his hand over his own, feeling some sort of shame for the terror they had been complicit in spreading throughout the universe. Those other Cybertronians must have been neutrals. It was strange to think that the Cybertronian diaspora outnumbered Autobots and Decepticons combined nearly 20 to 1. Most who had decided to live their lives far from home went out of their way to avoid their warmongering siblings, so for someone like Siren, it was strange to be reminded that they did really exist.

Nightbeat was not giving up. “How about you tell us what she looks like so we can point her in your direction if we see her?”

The kid scratched behind their ear, stalling. “Why do you care so much? It’s weird.”

Concerned parents didn’t explain that Autobots weren’t as bloodthirsty or unhelpful as their counterparts, apparently. “I’m a detective, he’s fire and rescue. Things like this are our raison d'être.”

Nightbeat didn’t look like much of a detective (what was a detective supposed to look like, though?), but Siren’s decals didn’t lie. Still, they resisted. “She’ll be mad that I talked to you.”

“I think she’ll be madder if she doesn’t find you!”

“Not to mention that we’re masters of disguise…” Nightbeat said, flickering his holoform avatar on for a moment.

The kid stared at the mirage before deciding that plan might be their best option. “…Okay. She looks a lot like me but a little bit shorter and she’s wearing all orange and she probably has her stupid hat on. I hate that thing. It’s really ugly.”

It wasn’t a great description, but the kid spoke fast as if a brief conversation with Cybertronians lessened their violation of their parent’s rules. Or, maybe, they had just had enough of Siren’s volume. Siren looked to Nightbeat to see if that was enough to go off of, which it was. They kept walking.

“So, maybe I can take a page from your playbook. How do you say we go about this?”

Siren looked at the nearby buildings for architecture that might serve them. “Get up high and look around!”

“We should probably avoid trespassing. Let’s see…” Nightbeat also looked around. “That looks like a parking garage, but I know from experience that people tend not to appreciate when you transform in places like that—‘I issued you a parking pass, not a do whatever you want pass’…”

“What about there?” Siren pointed. “A rooftop restaurant?”

“We probably can’t eat whatever they have, but I doubt they’ll care so long as we fork over some cash. Let’s figure out how to get up there.”

They went through the interior of the building it was nestled on top of, having to duck most of the way up the stairwell. They secured a corner table where Nightbeat could face one way to watch the intersection and Siren could keep an eye on the kid further down the street. Nightbeat tried to explain to the waiter that they didn’t actually want anything besides a place to sit, but the waiter, a bespectacled and tentacled stick-in-the-mud, demanded they order.

“Fine. Get us these.” Nightbeat pointed to something on the menus that he handed back in the same motion.

“What’d you get?” Siren asked.

“I don’t know, I’ve never heard of the ingredients. It can’t possibly be nutritious but hopefully, it’ll at least have the decency to taste good.”

The waiter came back with their drinks and handed them a receipt, which Siren went to pay for with a commonly accepted currency he had plenty of from spending most of his time away from Cybertron.

They kept their eyes on the perpetually moving stream of people below. Nightbeat sampled the drinks, but both of them offended his sensibilities. The faces he made didn’t make Siren want them, either. Keeping an eye out for that mom was their first and foremost priority, but they couldn’t help sneaking glances at each other.

“Oh! Is that—no, never mind…” Siren said. He looked up when he sensed Nightbeat leering at him. “What?”

“Nothing. You just seem to be having fun.”

“Well, yeah! I mean—no, this is bad, I hope we find that kid’s mom, and I hope the Lost Light doesn’t get taken away, but—”

Nightbeat laughed. “Don’t pretend you don’t love a challenge. Now you’ve got me wondering…if you could have exactly what you want, would it be like this?”

Siren glanced up from the street again. “Yeah, this is basically it! I like traveling and I like helping out…It just sucks that we’ve always been at war and now that we’re not I'm stuck in that office. It’s like Rodimus said, you know? I always wanted to see the universe without a gun in my hand.”

Nightbeat turned his head so far that Siren thought he might do a full rotation, watching someone who matched the description. He didn’t spring, so it must not have been them. “I know that feeling. That was one hell of a speech he gave… He obviously didn’t write it, but he meant it. Wish I could’ve heard it live, I would have been first in line.” Nightbeat leaned back, considering what he wanted. “When this is all over, I think I’ll either hitch another ride or get a little craft of my own.”

Siren leaned forward, resting his head on his palm. Spacefaring was fulfilling in and of itself, spacefaring by Nightbeat’s side sounded like a dream. It was a hard thought to tear himself away from.

“Pay attention, Siren. Lost child at stake. Kids are as vulnerable as they are annoying.”

Siren sat up straight and put his eyes back on the crowd. Cybertronians didn’t have childhoods, per se, but they did grow and change like anything else. He couldn’t imagine how Nightbeat came to be the way he was. “What were you like when you were young?”

Nightbeat’s face grew amused at the thought of his own past. “Horrifically naive. Completely oblivious. Didn’t get people at all. I took it upon myself to study them like they were another species which only alienated me further for a long time. If I hadn't had to have done that little independent study, I probably would have gone into hard science. Sometimes I still think they all have the right idea, holing up in their labs instead of having to deal with people, but let’s be real, high command would have been so much worse off without a capable detective who doesn’t know when to quit at their beck and call.” He paused, then decided he’d said enough. “What were you like?”

“Oh my god, I was the worst. I was so competitive! Way too confident! painfully goal-oriented! So completely sure I had all the answers! Put the bow that is my voice on that package and it’s no wonder no one could stand me! I mellowed out, barely, but even this is a massive improvement—Oh!” He stood up at lightning speed. Nightbeat tried to spot what had caught his eye. “Look at that! That’s her, right?”

“Looks like it. That hat is stupid.”

“I’m on it!” Siren said, sprinting over to the fire escape. He circumvented the stairs by sliding down the side, landing heavily on the ground below. Nightbeat took the stairs. Siren speed-walked through the crowd, most of which were heading the opposite direction as him. It was a complete faux-pas for someone so large and so metal to go so quickly against the current, but it was something of an emergency. Nightbeat caught up and followed in his wake.

“Hey!” Someone cried out at whoever Siren was chasing. “Watch the horns!”

What horns, Siren didn’t know. Whatever species she was looked completely harmless. They were probably talking to someone else. He charged ahead and, spotting a clearing in the packed bodies, sent out his holoform to corner them. The species he left it on last time was just right for the job, as big and imposing as his real self. They ran into his hard-light legs and looked up. “You lost your kid, right, miss?”

“Oh, yes, my child, of course…” She said, looking him up and down. Siren was expecting a more emotionally charged response, but it didn't deter him. “Lead the way, please.”

Siren was about to do just that, but Nightbeat stopped him by holding out his Cybertronian arm in front of Siren’s holographic chest. “What is it?”

Nightbeat paused briefly. “You sound different.”

“Good different or bad different?”

“Just different.” Nightbeat stopped restraining him, using that arm to point. “That’s not who we’re looking for.”

“What do you mean? Look at her!”

“Yes, let’s do that. Sir?” Nightbeat picked someone at random from the sidelines. The mother suddenly looked nervous. Nightbeat moved behind them, lessening their opportunities to run off. “Would you describe this person, please?”

“Why, they look just like the shopkeeper I was eyeing earlier! Nice big wings and all!”

“Wh—? What? Wings?” Siren squinted. “What is going on?!”

“Whoever this is is using some sort of desire-based holographic tech. Everyone perceives whoever it is they want to see.” Nightbeat said, grabbing them by the shoulder once they tried to book it. Siren switched off his avatar and walked up in person. Nightbeat swiped a wallet from their person in such a swift motion that it seemed to just appear. Based on its contents, Nightbeat didn’t buy that it was theirs. “They’re a pickpocket. Isn’t that right?”

They put their hands up in surrender. “Fine. Yes. Sorry for trying to make a living in this dead-end of a solar system.”

“Hand over the generator.”

“Why should I do that when that friend of yours clearly has the same idea?! Lying about who you are, for shame.”

“You’ll notice he ditched it once he realized you weren’t opposed to talking to us. Our use of holographic technology is diplomatic, yours isn’t. Hand it over.”

Siren was so used to hearing Nightbeat use a soft and kind tone of voice that how he handled this stranger was nigh unrecognizable. The perpetrator placed their device in Nightbeat’s open hand and suddenly looked like their true self: the same species as the waiter they had earlier, and based on their body language, just as impersonable. Nightbeat crushed the device underfoot and let them go.

“Well.” Siren crossed his arms, more embarrassed that he had failed to realize the reality of the situation than anything. “That could have ended badly.”

Nightbeat pocketed the squashed device and the wallet that was now twice stolen. “Yes, you’re lucky I was here. Let’s keep looking.”

“Think that restaurant will let us back in?”

Nightbeat thought back to how unpleasant their waiter had been. “Um…no. We tried to not order anything, there was clear signage showing where to exit that we completely ignored, if we try to go back that’ll be three strikes. Let’s try my way.”

“Okay, explain away!”

Nightbeat went to lean against a wall, out of the way of foot traffic. Siren mimicked him. “Look around for someone who looks a certain amount of approachable and knowledgeable. The further from home, the more useful any info is, but faster’s always better. Someone who looks like they’ve been standing around all day is good, someone who—”

“Looks exactly like the description is even better!” Siren said, pointing at someone who looked just like the hologram user they had encountered earlier but with a more reasonable hat—it was almost tasteful, even. Based on the description they had been expecting something truly ridiculous, but it turned out to just be a kid terminally embarrassed by their parent’s perfectly reasonable fashion sense. Siren sprinted ahead again, considering his options. His initial plan to roadblock had worked, but now he was considering the stealthier option of switching his avatar to a smaller species to weave around the crowd instead of having to wait for an opening.

Nightbeat had the same idea and the advantage of having left his avatar on the relatively small human setting. He didn’t leave the wall he was leaning on as he sent his avatar striding off towards their target, passing Siren as he looked for an opening. It was strange to see Nightbeat’s exact mannerisms on a different body. Siren couldn’t help but stare.

Nightbeat weaseled his way through the crowd with ease and conversed with her briefly. She bolted across the street, crying out her child’s name. She scooped them up and her smothering embrace hoisted them up high enough to be seen from so far. They crossed the street again. The mom was looking around for the Nightbeat she knew. The kid let her look for a while before hesitantly pointing out who had really reunited the two of them.

“Autobots!” She exclaimed. “I never!”

The kid groaned and dragged her up to them.

“I don’t care for your affiliation, but I can’t thank you enough. As far as I’m concerned, you saved my little one’s life.”

“Yeah, well, that's sort of our thing.” Nightbeat put a hand on his hip. “The war was preferable to letting the Cons have their way. You wouldn't be standing here without the Autobots.”

“What he means is 'you're welcome'!” Siren said. She greatly preferred that response and she and her child smiled and disappeared back into the crowd.

“That's not entirely what I meant.” Nightbeat sighed. “But anyway, good work back there.”

Siren grinned wide. “You’re not just saying that?”

“I don’t ‘just say’ anything.”

They looked around, surveying for some other predicament. None were apparent. “Think we should head back?” Siren asked.

Nightbeat checked in with his internal chronometer, then waved the twice-stolen wallet. “It's about that time, but we've gotta find the post office and have this sent back first.”

As predicted, the Lost Light was returned to its rightful owners thanks to law aficionado Ultra Magnus being the one to represent them. Command had brought it back to the spaceport and was inside setting its next course. The parking lot was less populated than when Nightbeat and Siren left as most had already reboarded. A miles-long ship could be surprisingly claustrophobic, so the two of them stayed outside as long as they could, listening to second and third-hand accounts of what had transpired while they were gone.

The sun was rising. Takeoff was imminent. They were among the very last still loitering outside. At some point, Aquabat had started doing gymnastic tricks up and down the racetrack Siren had established earlier, which was just barely clear of the ship itself now that it had returned. Riptide tried to pull off Aquabat’s moves but all he could muster were pale and clumsy imitations.

“I’ve never seen you so calm.” Nightbeat nudged Siren. “You finally got rid of that nervous energy for once.”

“Yeah! It’s nice!” Siren said. It may have been new to Nightbeat, but this was how he usually was until recently. He had spent plenty of downtime between missions wandering around bases and ships finding and inventing scenarios to keep him occupied (often to the chagrin of his superiors).

Nightbeat fished for something in his pockets and ultimately pulled out a juice box. “You want some? You got a lot more exercise today than usual.”

“You’re not hungry?”

“No, never. I refuel religiously. I can’t function if I’m the tiniest bit hungry.”

Siren thought about it for a second and took it. It was a standard-issue, perfectly acceptable, freely available strain of energon, but it tasted sweeter having been gifted.

Nightbeat rested his head on Siren’s pauldron. Staring off out into the landscape they would soon leave, taking in the city at dusk and the bot by his side. For as much as he liked to create the image of someone who was always busy, Siren either got him to step on the brakes sometimes or he simply let him see the moments where he did. There was no doubt that there was still something going on inside his head, but he didn’t feel the need to spring and conquer it like he usually did.

Rodimus appeared at the top of the loading ramp. “Okay, time’s up, everyone inside! We’re getting back on track!”

There was a chorus of disappointed expressions, but no one wanted to stay there forever. Nearly everyone did as requested, but Nightbeat didn’t budge.

“Nightbeat!” Rodimus called. He was clearly used to this song and dance of Nightbeat being the last one left.

“Two minutes!” Nightbeat held up two fingers.

Rodimus grumbled something obscene and, from their distance, inaudible. “Fine. Two minutes, that’s it!”

Rodimus walked out of sight. Siren felt he was missing something. “What do you need two minutes for?”

“Just thought I’d buy you some time.”

It had been forever since Siren saw stars as obscured by a planet’s atmosphere and a city’s light pollution. Most might prefer the uncensored view of deep space preferable, but there was just something about only being able to see the stars that burned the brightest. He savored those final two minutes for all they were worth. ✧

CH08 ←  index  → CH10