ship in a bottle

✧ CH01

the flesh is weak

“Color me surprised! You’re actually where you said you’d be.”

Siren’s voice never failed to capture attention, least of all Nightbeat’s. He looked up from his desk and the safe he was attempting to crack (not exactly detective work, but it seemed like lately Nightbeat would do whatever he was offered).

“I wasn’t kidding about needing to get this done ASAP. Command can’t account with out it.”

Siren fully entered the room—the tiny size of Nightbeat’s office really set in when the door closed behind him. It was less of an office, really, and more of a closet that a desk had been shoved into, but that’s what he got for not thinking to ask the Exitus’ leadership for a space before they were already far from home. He was too used to making do with whatever random setup Autobot command had to offer him at the time. “But you’re not so busy you can’t spare a sec, right?”

“For you, no question.” Nightbeat said—he sounded relieved by Siren dropping by to break up the monotony of his day. “You may not be, but I’m glad the fire department hasn’t been keeping you busy. It’s nice to have visitors.” As he spoke, he gestured for Siren to show him whatever it was that he had brought with—he didn’t even need to ask if it was for him. Siren always held gifts behind his back like that.

Siren handed it over with no hesitation and took a seat on the built-in bench, carefully not to disturb any of the methodically chosen yet chaotically arranged piles of tools and documents that barely left them any space.

Nightbeat looked it over: it was a featureless metal box, aside from its closed clasp and a code for its place in the interstellar mail system. He shook it and listened for the sound: something equally metallic inside banged against it.

Usually, Nightbeat made a game out of guessing anything that could be guessed, but, as he said, he was busy and so cut to the chase of unceremoniously opening it and dumping the contents into his open palm.

Staring back at him was a glistening new Autobot brand.

“Whoa! That’s gorgeous!” Siren marveled, not having seen a new one in millennia (or at least, not that he realized. Plenty of newly minted post-war Autobots bore them, that just never registered).

“That’s not my size.” Nightbeat said, unimpressed.

“Sure it is!” Siren took it and held it up to Nightbeat’s chest plate where he had affixed his previous one—the one he had lost in the process of being forged back to life after his second untimely demise.

“It’s too small. Not by much, though.” Nightbeat tried to look down at his own chest.

Siren handed it back. “Well, it’s not like they can just manufacture the perfect one for everyone, right? I’m pretty sure they converted the factory into something actually useful by now.”


“You don’t like it?”

“It’s suitable. Just an observation.” Nightbeat stuffed it back into the box it had come in and slid out a desk drawer to shove it in.

“You’re not gonna wear it?” Siren asked, disappointed. ”I can stick it on for you!”

“Not much of a reason to announce you’re an Autobot anymore, is there? They sent it for the occasional ceremony, so that’s when I’ll wear it.”


“You keep wearing yours, though. It looks good on you. And I do appreciate you picking it up for me.” Nightbeat’s arm snaked around Siren’s. ”I saw the notice that there was mail waiting for me, but I wasn’t expecting it to be personally delivered.”

“Heyyy, even if I didn’t like waiting on you hand and foot, I’d take any excuse to make it to mail day! ‘Specially the first one ever!”

“I was thinking of doing the very same until they dropped this safe in my lap. I wish you’d told me what you were up to, though, you could have taken notes. You could’ve put together an interesting little database of who was waiting for what sort of delivery…”

“Aw, man, I totally should’ve! It was just too fun seeing everyone I don’t usually see, I guess.”

“Like who?”

“Uh, all the kids, mostly. Not literally all. But a lot of them were waiting for school stuff, and I guess a lot of them have pen pals, too.”

Nightbeat unwound himself from Siren’s arm to rest his head on his chin. “So you did get some intel. Go on.”

“This big pack of them were asking me all these questions! Mostly, like, what would happen if you set this on fire, or that.”

“I leave you to your own devices, and you start fueling the flames of a new generation of arsonists.”

“Hey, I was super clear about them not doing that. Which they all thought was hilarious. I don’t think any of them are seriously interested, though, they just wanted to laugh, they didn’t care about what. They’re not all like that, though… this one kid I didn’t even notice was there at first was just being dead quiet in the corner, he just got his stuff and left.”


“Oh, yeah, yeah! Of course you’d recognize him from a single sentence. I always forget you’re related.”

“It’s not really worth remembering. And I’d recognize anyone from a single sentence, thank you very much.” Nightbeat said. He’d had a new brother for almost an entire cycle now, yet they still barely knew each other. At first, Siren had blamed it on the obvious culprit of physical distance—he and Nightbeat were temporarily residing in Iacon while Nightscream was half a planet away, where a good deal of the Lunarians had been sent—but now that they’d both relocated to the same ship, it had become apparent that the culprit was something else.

Not really worth remembering. The statement rang in Siren’s head. It bothered him in some way he couldn’t explain—or, apparently, hide.

“What?” Nightbeat laughed in a way that showed how trivial a thing it was to him. “Seriously, Siren! Sure, I was remade with the sentio metallico that was intended for his unfortunately expired spark twin… so what? It’s not like he was the one who offered it to me, he didn’t even exist yet. There’s no reason for me to interfere with his life any more than the other five hundred million Lunarians.”

“That’s ridiculous. That’s like saying you wouldn’t care if he was your spark twin.”

“That would be another matter entirely. But still not one that would necessarily warrant any obligation.”

“Another matter entirely? Related is related. Sentio metallico’s pretty special stuff.”

“Of course you think that. You were born forged.”

Siren grumbled. Nightbeat probably had a point about that. But, still, a mystical outlook on the stuff of life was something that was millions of years ingrained into Siren’s worldview; it couldn’t be undone with a single sentence. “Don’t you think it’s weird how similar he’s turned out to you, though? The way you guys do stuff is like, exactly the same, sometimes. How do you explain that?”

“As a coincidence. There are plenty of people I happen to resemble. Should I try to kindle something between Counterpunch or Minerva, too?”

Did Nightbeat have a counter to everything Siren could possibly express? He was being reminded why he preferred not to purposefully get into arguments with his conjunx. “Okay, let’s say it really doesn’t mean anything. But still! You have a—a little twin who’s seven million years younger than you! How does that even work? It’s a really unique situation! I’d be really excited to have someone like that!”

“Of course it’s interesting, but he’s his own person. He’s had every opportunity to ask something of me, and he hasn’t. Considering he’s almost grown, it’s pretty clear he doesn’t need me.”

Siren wasn’t sure what to say. He stared blankly ahead. Nightbeat was right that it was more Nightscream’s choice than anyone’s, and, to be fair, they didn’t get along spectacularly from the few instances they had spent time together, but, still…

“You distracted me.” Nightbeat set his hand near the safe for the first time in minutes. ”You’re good at that. I knew I had the right idea not inviting you today.”

“Oh, sorry. I’ll leave you to your thing.”

“Where are you off to?”

Siren patted Nightbeat’s shoulder as he got up. “The lounge, I guess. I don’t know. I’ll find something to do.”

“Have fun.” Nightbeat said, finally returning his full attention to the still-locked safe. His goodbyes could be curt, but Siren knew it was just because his mind was on what it was good at. Besides, a long look at him in his element was just as good as a waterfall of affection.

He could stand to look like he was having more fun, though.

Wandering towards the lounge gave Siren plenty of time to reflect. Maybe Nightbeat didn’t feel like trying to get to know his brother, but there was no reason Siren couldn’t take a stab at it.

He was fairly certain he had seen him in the very lounge he was heading too a few times before. Maybe today, he would be so lucky as to find him there. Most students had today off, and it was a pretty popular destination, after all. If not… he had an egregious amount of free time to figure something else out.

People came and went from the community space throughout the day, so his entrance was completely unobtrusive. It was only once he entered that he realized that, despite deciding on a location, he hadn’t thought up an activity. Maybe there was one he could join in on? He looked around. Some people were working, others, playing. Upon closer inspection, the large room was actually more populated than it at first appeared—even when they were out in the open, those Lunarians could be so easy to overlook.

Siren did a double-take. One of them was Nightscream.

His size certainly didn’t help him stand out. He was smaller and lither than Nightbeat—which, as a bike and car respectively, made perfect sense, but even with the physical discrepancies, the way he held himself was just so similar. He was hunched over one of the several computers, engrossed in whatever it was he was doing, oblivious to the world.

It was shockingly similar to how he had last seen Nightbeat. How to approach, Siren wondered.

The screen flashed with eye-searing colors, accompanied by a tinny music track. Whatever tact Siren was trying to muster left him, pushed aside by a newly-formed genuine question. He walked over almost entirely without thinking. “Whoa, what is that?”

Nightscream reflexively paused the program to guard his progress from interruption. It was seconds before he said, “Um, nothing important. Do you need this? Because I can—” Nightscream continued, his cursor hovering to quit.

“Oh, no, no, no! I was just wondering! It looks cool.”


Siren had never wished he wasn’t making eye contact less until now. Nightscream’s gaze was intense as a baseline. The green tint of his cyan eyes scorched like acid.

“Well, it’s this game called—” Nightscream gestured to the title splashed across the pause screen. Was Siren supposed to be able to read that? He couldn't tell if it was highly stylized or literally alien. “It’s pretty obscure.”

Siren leaned in a little closer, instantly forgetting the daggers just stared into him. “Is that your score? It looks huge. Is it?”

Nightscream almost laughed—almost. “Uh… yeah. It is. Just trying to beat my old high score before—uh… never mind.”

Siren opened his mouth, but Nightscream sensed the explosion of questions about to come out. He looked away as he spoke, determined to get back to his game.

“Look, I’m kind of preoccupied, so was that really all?”

“Well—I guess. Actually, not really. Just trying to get to know my crew mates, is all.”

“…Seriously?” Nightscream snorted. He rested his elbow on the armrest and propped up his head with his palm. “Six months in and you’re only now bothering with that? Who does that? Is that an old Cybertron thing?”

“Kind of?” Siren answered in complete earnest, before realizing those questions were rhetorical. Then, something hit him. Trivia about the kid was all he had to work with, and this was one of the few things he knew. “Oh, wait, wait, wait—speaking of Cybertron, you’re from the Sonic Canyons, right?”

“No, I’m from Luna 1.”

“But no one stayed there! You know what I mean! C’mon, I remember, you moved for the acoustics, which are killer. Right?”

Nightscream crossed his arms and tossed his head. Whatever Siren was trying to serve, he was having none of it. “…Hey. The whole planet got eaten and replaced, remember? It’s an easy thing to forget, I know, but my Canyons and yours couldn’t be more different. Nice try, though.”

Siren scratched his head. His mind felt blank. Was his agenda that obvious?

“…Wow. Ground control to major space case? Just standing there staring is maybe worse than trying to chat. No… definitely worse.”

“Oh, sorry, uh… That’s—well…”

Nightscream rolled his eyes and shook his head at Siren’s unraveling. “Just… mind your business, alright, brother-in-law? Now, I’m out of here—my ears are seriously ringing.”

Nightscream pushed his way past Siren, who was too late to think of an adequate response.

The computer had been left running. The game seemed much less interesting now. Siren set it to sleep mode and left.

So, that hadn’t gone as anticipated, but hope wasn’t lost. Siren had tried things of the sort enough times to know that awkward encounters didn’t have to define anything. Now, the problem was simply how to re-approach. If Siren’s duties on the ship overlapped more with Nightscream’s, this would be considerably easier—Siren wasn’t even entirely sure what division he belonged to… science, he thought, or maybe communications? Those sounded the most correct in his memory, but he supposed it could be any of them.

The Exitus, unfortunately in this instance, was far less lax than the Lost Light had been when it came to others’ privacy. He couldn’t just walk up to the front desk and ask to see Nightscream’s profile without good reason, which, in his opinion, he had, but he knew others wouldn’t agree.

This was a rare instance where he felt like no one alive would possibly agree with him, not even his most trusted friends. He already knew what Nightbeat thought. Hosehead was always too shy to understand things like this. And although Nautica could be completely socially clueless at times—enough that she might think this was a good idea—it was pretty likely she’d side with Nightbeat rather than him.

He’d try to think of a solution, but in the back of his mind he sincerely doubted it would come to him. It almost felt as if the universe were affirming Nightbeat’s opinion that the two didn’t have anything to do with each other, and they didn’t need to. After a bit of thinking, Siren supposed he had no choice but to agree. He stopped trying to convince himself that any of what he was doing was for Nightbeat’s sake and not his own. Nightscream was interesting, that’s all! What wasn’t interesting about a brand new person?

But, of course, that logic applied to almost all of the Exitus’ cadets—most were fresh-faced Lunarians, some, the slightly older progeny of Trypticon, with a small handful of miscellaneous others. There was nothing particularly special about Nightscream. By the time Siren arrived back at his quarters, he had fully convinced himself to put it to rest. Still, he secretly hoped something would end up bringing them together, but who was he to force it?

He paused in front of his door, distracted by the eye-level nameplate. It always made him smile to see his name permanently etched next to Nightbeat’s. He thought back to earlier, when he had told Nightbeat he’d find something to do…

He realized that he had pretty much failed that mission, not just in the evening’s case, but, aside from picking up the mail, the entire day. Perhaps he had grown too accustomed to following Nightbeat around, he seemed to have forgotten how to self-entertain when his other half was busy. He considered turning right back around to find something to do, even if it meant staying out late… but, ultimately, he felt uninspired to.

Nightbeat was already home. He took a few seconds to finish cleaning before greeting Siren—a chore he did incredibly often. It seemed unnecessary to Siren, but he had come to understand that he could perceive practically every dust particle, and he wasn’t fond of them. Siren had come to associate the lingering smell of those chemicals with long, quiet embraces. He always felt that Nightbeat got a better sense of how he was feeling in moments like that than any other.

Nightbeat pulled back, waiting to see if Siren wanted to have a talk, or if he wanted a distraction. The look in his eyes was just as intense as Nightscream’s had been earlier—suddenly, Siren’s spark ached again. The two were so similar in so many ways, and Nightbeat had spent so much of his life in utter solitude… he deserved to feel kinship with someone so innately like him… didn’t he?

Siren still didn’t know the answer.

When Nightbeat asked him what he had been up to, he wasn’t sure how to explain himself without it sounding like meddling—meddling he was unsure if he stood by or not. He kept it vague—Nightbeat could obviously tell, but trusted Siren enough to not demand every little detail of his life (no matter how much he may have wondered).

They settled. Siren laid in bed, Nightbeat sat on the edge. Siren listened to him explain his day’s work now that it was concluded. How he could drone on and on about something that seemed so simple, Siren didn’t know, but he sure liked listening to it. He was lulled closer and closer to a recharge state.

After a while, Nightbeat took notice that he was losing him, and made sure he was listening to something he hoped he would actually hear. “It’s been quiet lately. I don’t know how much more boredom I can take.”

Siren shook his head, only then realizing how much he had zoned out. “Yeah? Me either…”

“Something about this ship… everything runs so smoothly. We should be glad, but, environments like that… they’re good, but not for people like you and I.”

“Definitely not.” Siren tossed his head to look at Nightbeat—which made him even more concerned than just hearing he was displeased. As long as he had known him, when his mind was given nothing else to do, it went places it shouldn’t. Siren would do whatever he could and then some to make sure Nightbeat didn’t start to muse on massive, looming, unsolvable problems. “Sometimes it feels like we don’t even need to be here! Primus, you’re right, I’m trying to think of the last time something unexpected happened… I mean even when something does it’s taken care of immediately… like it might as well have never happened.”

“Not to mention there’s no driving. The treadmills are nice, but it’s not the same. These tires are practically in mint condition, but it’s almost past the point where I can call them new. I’d even take a chase at this point.”


“And we’ve gone on woefully few missions, considering that they’re entire reason this ship ever set sail.”

“It’s more like they’re all too short cause you just solve everything instantly.”

“Oh, so it’s my fault? For the first time, flattery gets you nowhere.” Nightbeat chuckled. “Anyways. I have a plan. They’re finalizing assignments for the missions abroad tomorrow, and I heard there’s still some slots to be filled. There won’t be much of a say since it’s last minute, but I seriously need some air, so I don’t care…”

“What about your project?”

“I finished it. That’s what I was just explaining to you.”

“Oh.” Siren considered his own schedule. It wasn’t exactly empty, but his absence would give the firefighters-in-training something more to do—which Hot Shot and Brushfire had been very outspoken about wanting. It was also a convenient excuse to not immediately try and get to know Nightscream again. He knew seeming less pushy would be more favorable, but he also knew they only way to stop himself was to get up and leave. As far as he could tell, there were no downsides to agreeing. “I don’t care either! Let’s go!”

Nightbeat smiled at his sudden exuberance. “There’s my Siren. Get some rest, now.”