It was an exceptionally beautiful day in Upper Petrohex, the sun glinting and refracting into shimmering multi-color light shows over the surface of the metallic tributary river that cut across the landscape, splitting Upper Petrohex from its sister city to the south. This far north, the process of rebuilding had been slower, the rippling waves of construction projects blooming out from Iacon not quite having landed out in the fringes just yet. It made for a city that tapered slightly, buildings growing smaller before surrendering to wide open fields that were gently dappled with rust. The Lost Light was perched in one of those wide fields, a stone’s throw away from the riverside venue where the crew had set up, setting out tables and seating between the squat buildings that they had rented for the staging.
Nautica eyed the distance to the ship and tried to estimate how long it would take her to get there at a sprint. Would anyone notice if she slipped away? How long would it take Chromedome to realize that she had bailed? More importantly, could she hotwire the ship before he came to kill her?
“I know that look.”
She looked over to see Wheeljack looming over her. He quickly commandeered one of the chairs and pulled it to sit next to her. She hadn’t known him very well, their work in the sciences keeping them mostly apart and only briefly acquainted, though Brainstorm had been quick to remedy the situation when the opportunity presented itself.
Now, however, she might be closer to him, Nautica thought to herself, as well as closer to understanding the kinship two people could build being stuck in the same calamity.
“I’d be lying if I said the same thought hadn’t occurred to me,” he said, resting an elbow on the back of the chair.
Nautica hummed, looking out over the blindingly colorful river. It was certainly a lovely aesthetic for the day they had planned, if only they could get things rolling. “So,” she said, turning her gaze to Wheeljack again, “Perceptor?”
“Still a wreck, yeah,” he said, gaze wandering a bit as well.
“So, you got a reprieve?” Nautica asked.
“Out on a special mission,” he said. “Can’t say I’m much of a hurry over it though.”
Nautica huffed. “Lucky bastard.”
To that, he only laughed. “Brainstorm, then?”
She hummed thoughtfully. “What was that scale you told me about? The one you based on him?”
“The Brainstorm Scale, yeah,” Wheeljack replied matter-of-factly, as if it was such an obvious and well known system of units that anyone could easily convert to it given a quick minute to consider it. “It goes in decimal points from zero to one, one being The Full Brainstorm of short-circuited schemes.” He shrugged. “I’d say Perceptor is definitely The Full Brainstorm right now.”
“I think we might have broken the scale,” Nautica said. “Brainstorm is more Brainstorm than ever.”
He raised an eyebrow at that, looking at her consideringly. For a moment, she wondered if he was upset that she suggested his scale could be broken. “Put a decimal point on it.”
She tapped her lip in thought. “One point five?”
Wheeljack considered her for a moment, before whistling, the sound coming out slightly echoed from behind his mask. “We’ll be lucky to get out of this one without an interstellar incident, huh?”
Nautica’s eyes were glazing back out at the river, wistfully. It was then that she spotted a new figure. Rewind was perched on the river bank, seeming to be picking out good rocks to try to skip. Or else, wondering if he could bury his head in the sand of the riverbank and be done with it.
Nautica sighed. “I should head back before someone breaks the universe.”
With a tilt of his head and a concerned look, Wheeljack stood. “Best of luck.”
“See, now, that’s only if the experiment grade nucleon was in fact for a flux variable phase generator. Now, he might have assumed that I would assume that that’s what he’s using it for, given the induction funnel of course. But, what if the funnel is there to throw me off the trail? So in that case it’s more likely that it might be for an invertion generator, in which case, gifting him with a multi-channel hyper-space configured controller would be utterly meaningless…”
Nautica shoved a cube of warmed energon in Chromedome’s face, whose optics were clearly dimming as Brainstorm continued his ravings. He looked up at Nautica with a quiet desperation. “Oh, my savior,” he said, not bothering to lower his voice, knowing that Brainstorm would just continue on, no matter what was going on behind him. “Is my shift over yet?”
Nautica shook her head, sipping her own cube. “No, I just saw that your conjunx had abandoned you so I figured you hadn’t made any progress.”
“Rewind said if I didn’t let him take a break he’d divorce me,” Chromedome muttered as he stuck a straw into his cube.
“Fair.” Nautica shrugged.
“Do you understand any of that?” Chromedome asked, nodding at the dry erase board that Brainstorm was feverishly scribbling on, and occasionally gesticulating at while shouting.
“I mean, sure,” Nautica said with a dismissive shrug. “But, it’s still hot nonsense even if you understand the words.”
Chromedome groaned. “He spends centuries building a time machine, and yet this is the most manic I’ve ever seen him.”
Nautica chuckled slightly. “I told Wheeljack we encountered the rare one point five on the Brainstorm scale.”
Chromedome set down his cube and crossed his arms. “So, I guess the other side isn’t doing much better?”
“He told me Perceptor is at least a full Brainstorm right now,” she said.
“Damn,” Chromedome muttered.
“Yeah, likelihood of a space-time rip before the ceremony happens is at least 86%.”
Chromedome shook his head. “Okay, that’s it. I’m tagging out. You try to run interference with him while I try to find a suitable distraction.”
Nautica laughed. “Good luck with that.”
“Now, that’s the rub of it, isn’t it? Because originally I thought that an inversion generator would be the perfect gift, but then I realized: that’s what he expects! It’s too simple,” Perceptor continued monologuing, in between prodding a black box filled with a mess of wires and unidentifiable flashing parts. “If there’s anything that says ‘Brainstorm’, it’s certainly not the ordinary is it? So a flux variable phase generator is for the best. But! What if that’s what he has in the works, you ask? Well, I’ve thought about that, and I think the best way to prepare is—”
Ratchet jumped to his feet. “Alright, stop! I can’t do this!”
At that, Perceptor paused, his scope dialing in to Ratchet’s scowl. Drift was also startled, nearly falling off the chair that he had been sprawled out on, and only barely managing to brace himself to not fall straight on his aft.
“Perceptor, listen.” Ratchet whipped Perceptor around, settling a hand on each of his shoulders in a gesture that was both comforting and menacing in equal measure. “I know that Drift had faith that if we just let you get this out of your system, it would be fine and we could move on. But all of you should know by now that I have faith in nothing.” He leaned in closely, hissing. “Please. Stop.”
“I…” Perceptor looked to each of Ratchet’s hands — so, so very close to his neck — and sighed. “I suppose I have gone a bit off the rails, haven’t I?”
Ratchet blinked, long and slow, before finally hissing, “Yes.”
Perceptor sighed, letting his shoulders and scope droop. “I’m sorry, I just… everything has to be perfect, you know?”
“Aww, it will be,” Drift said, perking up just slightly into what little of Perceptor’s field of vision wasn’t obscured by Ratchet. “Of course it’ll be perfect, because Brainstorm is your perfect person.”
“No, that’s utter nonse—” Ratchet caught himself, and briefly looked back at Drift before sighing. “Fine, yes sure, but also…” He gave Perceptor a stern look in the eye. “It will also be perfect because you stopped panicking over nothing and actually got ready.”
“But the gift is very—” Perceptor’s protest withered and died in the face of Ratchet’s stern glare. “Fine, fine. You’re right. I can take a break at least.”
The door creaked, just as Ratchet began to feel it was safe to let go of Perceptor. “Uhh, is this a good time?” Wheeljack asked, half hiding behind the door.
“I think so,” Ratchet said, taking a tentative step away from Perceptor, though still eyeing him warily.
Wheeljack walked up to Ratchet, presenting a squat box. “Right where you said it was in your office.”
“What’s that?” Perceptor asked, though his eyes were still occasionally flitting towards his abandoned machine.
Ratchet huffed and grabbed the box from Wheeljack, setting it gently on a nearby table. The clasps flicked with a satisfying click. He seemed able to seamlessly hide the contents from Perceptor with his body even as he grabbed an object from the box, placing it in one palm and covering it with the dome of the other.
“It’s an old science mode tradition,” Ratchet said. “I’d say that I hoped you hadn’t forgotten, but come to think of it, you were never the type to pay much attention to those things anyway.” He placed his cupped hands over Perceptor’s chest, just on the lip of his glass stage, and Perceptor felt something cling on with a light magnetic force. When Ratchet’s hands retreated, there was a small domed medallion there, the center a black-purple stone shined to look like a starry sky, with filigreed golden arch framing each side.
“My physics honors,” Perceptor said, brushing it with a finger.
Ratchet nodded, while grabbing more from the box. “And all your others. It took me a while to gather them all. Prowl helped me get my hands on sniper honor cords as well, since that’s not a very common one for science frames.”
Perceptor turned to look at the mirror on the wall, still brushing the medallion thoughtfully as Ratchet affixed a few more.
“Funny, I always thought flyers were the ones with all the weird customs,” Drift said, eyeing the honors as Ratchet clipped them on.
“Well, sure,” Wheeljack replied, as Ratchet was too preoccupied. “But the old science caste never missed an opportunity to show off when it presented itself.”
“Consider it good luck, if that makes it better for you,” Ratchet muttered, while trying to get one just straight. “It’s about showing the best of yourself to your intended mate.”
Perceptor squirmed slightly as Ratchet settled the sniper cord around his neck. It was a woven metal fiber, unlike the rest, since it was coming from a different caste aesthetic entirely, though it didn’t exactly clash. “I wonder if Brainstorm will be wearing his honors…”
Ratchet eyed him a bit. “Well, he doesn’t exactly have any official ones…”
Perceptor frowned. He knew that, logically, but remembering it so abruptly made him frown.
“Don’t worry about that,” Ratchet said. “It’s just extra flair. It doesn’t mean anything bad to not have it.”
Perceptor nodded, taking a step back to look at himself in the mirror more properly. It did nothing to help his frown as he took the whole image in.
“We also don’t have to use them at all,” Ratchet muttered slowly. “If it bothers you…”
Perceptor shook his head. “No, it’s not that. I’m thankful for the effort. I just…” He sighed and looked over at Ratchet. “As long as I promise not to continue babbling at everyone, would you allow me to take a walk to clear my processor?”
To that, Ratchet only chuckled. “Well, since you promise…”
Nautica looked up from poking boredly at Brainstorm’s half-formed invention on the table. Lacking any way to make Brainstorm stop, she had decided to at least make herself useful and make sure the device wouldn’t explode. Looking up at the door, she saw Chromedome striding in.
“I wasn’t aware we were missing anyone,” Nautica said, nodding her head at the whiteboard where Brainstorm still frantically scribbling.
Chromedome ushered in a particularly dour looking Cyclonus. Not that dour wasn’t his default setting to begin with, but this was something else. At first Nautica wondered if he was displeased to have been summoned to help with this undertaking, but when he sat down the crate he was carrying it and opened it, his face deepened into a look of concentration that Nautica was much more familiar with. It even seemed to distract Brainstorm for a minute, looking over his shoulder as best he could, never one to like being left out of knowing what was inside a mysterious box.
Nautica was curious too, coming closer to investigate, though not so close that she might get gored with a distracted horn. “What are those?”
Cyclonus pulled out what appeared to be colorful streamers from the box, each one with a heavy weight on one end. Cyclonus looked up at her, and before Nautica could wonder if he was angry, he reached out and placed one of the heavy ends on the back of her hand, where it clicked on with a metallic grab. She looked at the purple strand curiously before pulling at it. The magnetic grip was strong, and the streamer itself was incredibly resilient. She ran it between her fingers, realizing that it was some kind of thin metallic mesh, that ran fluidly between her fingers.
“Metal cloth,” Cyclonus said, in answer to an unspoken question. “It took some doing to get ahold of a full set of these. The cloth used to only be produced in Staniz, though the streamers are a tradition native to Vos and other flier settlements.It wasn’t easy to find people with such an overlap of skill and knowledge.”
“What are they for?” Everyone seemed to be surprised that Brainstorm had turned his full attention to the box, much more so that he had actually asked a question. Cyclonus smirked.
“In traditional Seeker ceremonies, one would adorn their wings with them. The metallic grip is strong enough that they can withstand both transformation and flight, for traditional aerial dances. The colors have specific meanings about one’s life. Where you were made, where you’ve been, what you’ve done.” His look was nearly wicked at this point. “It declares what makes you a catch for your intended mate.”
Brainstorm gave the box another look. He reached in, and when Cyclonus didn’t stop him, he pulled out a bright red streamer that clung to his hand.
“That’s really interesting!” Nautica said. “Camiens have similar traditions, usually involving paint, but nothing so elaborate as this.”
Brainstorm was pulling at the streamer idly, glaring at it a touch. “But… I’m not really a seeker though, right? I mean…”
Cyclonus scoffed. “By a Vosnian standard, even I wouldn’t count as a true seeker. But you’re a flight frame, and you’re free to claim what you see fit.”
“Well…” Brainstorm shrugged. “Even so, I doubt there’s a specific streamer for ‘Created for Operation: Solar Storm’.”
“That means we can make one though, right?” Nautica asked, optics brightening. “Can colors be combined.”
“Yes,” Cyclonus said. “In fact, it’s encouraged. The streamers can be braided together with different weaves in order to signify different meanings.”
Nautica was already launching into the crate, rifling through the different shades. “Look at this orange,” she said, pulling out a particularly bright strand. “It looks just like Stormy’s colors. That could work for Solar Storm, right?”
Cyclonus seemed unbothered by her enthusiasm. One might even go so far as to say pleased. “Yes. Maybe braided with a more pale yellow, to get the effect across.”
“Come here, Stormy. Let me attach these to your wings so I can box braid them,” Nautica said with a wide smile.
Brainstorm squirmed for a moment. “Umm, sure… maybe I can take a quick break after you two have played around with colors for a bit though. I feel like I need to clear my processor.”
“Gee, I wonder what could be clouding it,” Chromedome muttered from the corner, glaring at the whiteboard.
Whether Cyclonus and Nautica were agreeing to this request or not was lost in a flurry of discussion over different colors. Brainstorm sighed and, for once, resigned to his fate.
Perceptor was still considering the awards, toying with the bangles gently as he walked. He wasn’t sure where he was going, the area mostly unfamiliar to him other than the fact that it made for an aesthetically pleasing view and had enough room for the Lost Light to land easily. It had been a logical choice of venue.
As much as wandering the riverbank might have been an enticing prospect, Perceptor found himself flocking to the outskirts, where none of the partygoers were setting things up, or might be keeping a close eye on him. He wasn’t sure exactly what it was that he was trying to work out, but things weren’t sitting right with him, and further thought was required.
He was just rounding a corner when he nearly bumped straight into someone’s face. He startled, before the bright, orange face came into focus.
Brainstorm seemed equally shocked to see him. His optics were blown wide, and his shoulders were slightly hunched, as if timid, though Perceptor wasn’t familiar with that expression on him. His hands were tangled in something bright and colorful, and as Perceptor followed the line of it, he realized that whatever it was covered Brainstorm’s wings.
Without saying anything, he reached out, giving the streamers a testing pull, finding them to be very sturdy. He cocked his head. “Interesting.”
“They’re supposed to be less of a mess,” Brainstorm said, meekly. “Apparently, anyway. I left before Cyclonus finished fussing with them… also I’ve been messing with them a lot since then.” His optics darted away, anywhere by meeting Perceptor’s eyes. Eventually they fell on Perceptor’s physics honor, and he reached out a finger to trace the gold filigree design on its sides, just as Perceptor was twiddling with his adornments.
“An old science mode tradition, apparently,” Perceptor said. Brainstorm merely huffed a laugh at that. “This is weird, isn’t it?”
Brainstorm looked away again, his hand falling away. “It’s not the traditions. I know what Chromedome was trying to do, distracting me from… well…”
“Panicking?” Perceptor finished for him. Brainstorm seemed to try to curl into himself, but he he continued before he could. “I believe Ratchet was attempting to do the same with me.”
Brainstorm gave him a startled look, before placing both hands on his chestplate, in between the medals. “I just…” He trailed off and sighed, taking his hands away to unclip his face mask. “I felt like I needed to build something for you, to prove I was good enough,” he said, his bare face twisting in a frown. “I know that probably sound silly to you, but…”
Perceptor grabbed his wrists while shushing him, cupping their hands together. “I felt the same…”
Brainstorm smirked. “Well, now that is silly.”
Perceptor mirrored the smirk as well. He pulled one hand away, cupping the physics medal that Ratchet had affixed to his chest, and tugged it until the magnetic hold was broken. He smiled brightly as he affixed it right onto the center of Brainstorm’s chest, right over his spark.”
“You’ve always been good enough for me…” Perceptor said, as Brainstorm wondered at the glittering award affixed to his chest. He smiled, and shook his head in awe.
“Sometimes I think you’re too good for me…” Brainstorm muttered.
Brainstorm worried his lower lip, his face wracked with a flood of emotion. He looked away at one of his wings. He tugged at one of the streamers, a bright teal, and tugged it until it popped off, before gently affixing it to the side of Perceptor’s scope. “I have no idea what that one’s supposed to mean,” Brainstorm said, “but I can’t let you get away with all of the touching gestures…”
Perceptor grabbed at the streamer, eyeing it fondly, the striking teal hitting a stark contrast with his red. “Brainstorm…”
Brainstorm met his eyes slowly, as if afraid that he might have offended.
Perceptor smiled. “How would you feel if we did things a little less traditionally?”
Brainstorm followed his gaze, hitting the Lost Light off in the distance. “You think we can make a run for it?” he asked, eyes glinting.
“Only if your streamers don’t make for too much of an eye-catching display…”
Brainstorm playfully pushed him for that, but took off in a sprint to the ship with Perceptor following close behind.
“So, let me get this straight,” Rodimus began, his chin resting on a hand as he slumped over on the ceremonial altar. “All of you had one job, and yet you lost both conjunxes-to-be?”
Chromedome, Rewind, Nautica, Ratchet, Drift, Wheeljack, and Cyclonus were all clumped together, each of them with a certain amount of guilt on their faces, clearly none of them in a hurry to make corrections to that statement.
Whirl on the other hand, was sprawled out across several chairs in what should have been guest seating, and let out a barking laugh. “Ah! This is the best wedding ever!”
Rodimus leaned back, surely about to make another disparaging remark about the failure among the ranks when a jet engine was heard overhead. Brainstorm’s alt-mode spun in the air, a rainbow of color flitting around him in thanks to his adorned wings. He spun once more and transformed mid-air, coming to a landing just to the side of the gathered crowd.
When all eyes turned to him, he had the good grace to look suddenly sheepish. “I, umm… sorry we’re late?”
Behind him, Perceptor’s tank mode made its way towards the crowd, transforming when he was just behind Brainstorm. “You looked incredible in the air, back there…”
Rodimus was making no effort to hide the roll of his optics, while Cyclonus scoffed. “If we’d had time to review any of the traditional aerial dances, it would have been much more of spectacle…”
Brainstorm looked over his shoulder, and just grinned at Perceptor.
“Okay, well ignoring whatever that look was and the fact that you probably went and defiled the ship somehow…” Rodimus trailed off, still frowning. “Are we ready to get this show on the road?”
Perceptor nodded at Brainstorm. “I think we’ve gotten it all out of our system.” To which they both giggled, and provoked a huff out of Rodimus.
“Oh! Here’s where everyone is!”
All eyes turned as Tailgate ran up to the assembled group, looking frantic.
“You can relax, we found them,” Rodimus said, rolling his eyes. “Let’s get everyone back together and get this show on the road.”
“Actually, I think we have a different problem,” Tailgate said, tapping his fingers together. “There were some loud noises coming from Perceptor and Brainstorm’s preparation rooms… no one was around that might know what was happening so I went looking for everyone and, umm…”
Brainstorm and Perceptor looked at each other and in unison asked, “What were you building?” only to repeat the sentiment with an additional, more emphatic, “Wait, what were you building?”
Wheeljack’s fins flared as he looked to Nautica. “One point five Brainstorms, huh?”
“Two point five,” Nautica said, “if you count Perceptor going the full Brainstorm.”
Then the whole field was engulfed in a flash of white.
“Look, I’m just pointing out the fact that the water sprinklers are the real heroes here,” Minimus said, waving a hand vaguely, ignoring Rodimus’s glare. “This is why you’re lucky that I performed a full inspection upon booking the venue, and then again on our arrival.”
Drift also gave a wary look at Minimus, while removing his sword from a blackened husk and wiped away the char before sheathing it. “Sure,” he said, before joining the rest of the crew on the boarding ramp.
“Again, I can’t say how sorry we are,” Perceptor said, gently leading Brainstorm away from the crowd of angry guests still boarding the ship.
“I don’t know that I’m sorry per se,” Brainstorm said before Perceptor could stop him. He was holding a blackened twisted hunk of metal, turning it over in his hands reverently. “What an interesting reaction between opposing forces. I’m really interested in trying to figure out—”
“You should stop,” Wheeljack stage whispered at him, brushing past him.
“We’ll figure it out later,” Perceptor muttered in his audial.
“Sorry your wedding kind of blew up,” Nautica said, as the last of the crew boarded. She paused at the terminal to begin the lift off procedures, bringing up the boarding ramp. She gave them a side-eyed glance. “I hope whatever it is you two got up to when you were running off made up for it.”
“It was nothing like that,” Brainstorm said, turning away with a dismissive flick of his wings. Nautica seemed completely unconvinced, but it didn’t matter. She’d continue her teasing for a long time coming, but Brainstorm didn’t really mind.
When he looked back to Perceptor, he was still wearing that goofy smile. Looking at it, Brainstorm felt he’d been transported back, to before the disasterous ceremony. He could still remember the warm look of Perceptor’s eyes as they slipped away, into the observation deck of the ship, the setting sun glinting through the windows, along with refractions of the liquid metal river filling the room with a dazzling light. Through it all, he could still tell the glowing of Perceptor’s spark lighting up his face, as if it was the only source of light in the room, in the universe, as far as Brainstorm could tell.
Snapping himself back to the present, he tucked his newest specimen under his arm, and freed a hand to grab Perceptor’s hand in his.