Emirate Xaaron must’ve been out of his mind, Hotlink thought, when he chose the three of them to escort the Alchemist Prime around Kimia. Like, yes, Hotlink herself had a surprisingly high turnout for her showings, but she was very much aware that she was completely incoherent. Ironfist was a similar issue, a bit more coherent, but with a dangerous lot more celebrity worship. And Afterburner? Well, for starters, they were Afterburner .
“I just don't see why we owe that old bastard anything! He clearly doesn't want anything to do with us or Velocitron, and I don't trust him!” Afterburner gesticulated wildly as they paced back and forth across the study room the three of them booked to plan this new assignment out. “I mean, when was the last time he came to see us?”
“A few dozen vorns, I think,” Ironfist piped in, “Definitely more than either of us have. Actually, maybe that’s the whole point? To show that there’s been an entire generation of scientists since his last visit? And that life just went on without him?”
“So we’re supposed to show the leader who forsake us that, as you like to say, ‘life persists’ with or without him venting down our necks?”
“I didn’t say that. ”
“ Guys, ” Hotlink interrupted, as it just hit her, “when did Xaaron say Alchemist was coming again?”
As it turned out, their glorious leader really did just shove this responsibility at them with less than two orns warning, which to be fair was about as much warning as he got. And that’s what sparked Ironfist’s latest theory as the three of them took the elevator down to Shuttle Bay 14.
“Ok, what if the Emirate chose us because we’re good improvisators? I mean, Afterburner is a master of speed maths, I write my reports in one sitting and you do your presentations all off the top of your head, right?”
“I… yeah,” Hotlink tinkered nervously with her fiddle toy, “Don't think it's quite that though. We're not great conversationalists, IF,” then mumbled, “If Nacelle was still here…”
“Maybe he picked us out to cause discord,” Afterburner fluffed his shoulder plating, “Just like, for the drama of it.”
The elevator doors opened soon after and they were greeted by the soft purple of Sublevel 14, sterile but still noble, made for receiving important visitors. Kimia didn’t get many of those, Primes and Magni and Magistrates didn’t often see fit to grace the scientific outpost with their presence, but the architects and shipbuilders involved in the design still made sure to have it ready for such occasions.
The sight that met them there was underwhelming.
Instead of an entourage, there was a single utilitarian shuttle in standard colours with what seemed like a crew of two — and now the small size of their welcoming committee started to make sense.
Ironfist took the lead and quickly shuffled across the hangar, followed not too closely by the others. The larger of the two — their Prime? — greeted them warmly with a loose handshake and a slap on the back, the smaller one just waved at them with both hands.
Afterburner's expression lost some of its sourness. Mostly they were confused; even the chillest of Primes still had some degree of ceremony to their every move, but they couldn't find it at all in either of the newcomers. Of course Ironfist treated them with that same euphoric admiration they reserved for legends of all kinds, and Hotlink stopped fiddling and fixed her posture as she was wont to when faced with actual duty, but Afterburner just didn't feel the same old contempt that authority figures gave them, in fact they didn't register any authority figure at all. It unnerved them quite a bit.
“...and these are Hotlink and Afterburner. They were constructed here in Kimia! We’re all around the same age, give or take a couple vorns,” Ironfist introduced their little group excitedly, still holding onto the Prime’s hand, “And guys, these are Alchemist Prime and his apprentice Lickety-Split!”
“You can just call me Maccadam,” he rumbled amusedly, “That old title doesn’t mean much to me anymore.”
"...As in the oil house? In Cybertron?" Hotlink's wings twitched to attention.
"What are you, an alchemist of engex?" Afterburner joked. Ironfist kicked them in the shin.
"I thought it was public knowledge that that’s where the nickname came from," Maccadam explained, "And Lickety-Split here is gearing up to take my place!"
"I might as well be Alchemist Magna with how much work I do,” Lickety-Split scolded him, but quickly broke into a smile, "But it is my fault for making the bar a constitutional monarchy."
Ironfist laughed and Hotlink’s lips twitched into a small smile. Maybe Afterburner could give this Prime a chance. Once.
“...And this is the mechatronics lab! It’s strategically close to the medbay and medical labs because a lot of our work is mutually beneficial and we do lots of collabs,” Hotlink chattered excitedly, “I’m currently working with Flatline and First Aid on more efficient repair drones! And now let’s please move on before I spend the whole orn going on about that.”
The tour through the lab sectors had been mostly uneventful, just several joors of mostly Hotlink and Ironfist giddily explaining everything everyone was working on. Maccadam laughed lots at their rendition of Anomaly and Sunstorm’s radiation poisoning experiment and at Afterburner’s rare quips. Lickety-Split encouraged it a little too much when Hotlink’s gushing about Cosmos and Lightspeed’s quantum physics work turned into gushing about Lightspeed (their Prime absolutely lost it at Afterburner's apparent distress), but was otherwise not very disruptive.
“That’s pretty much it for the labs though, do you guys have anything specific you wanna see? Brainstorm’s always got something fun and dangerous cooking in their hab,” Ironfist suggested, but was quickly shot down by Afterburner reminding them that First Aid banned Brainstorm from taking lab supplies home for the quartex.
"Actually… we were hoping to see that bar you mentioned. That's kind of our realm," Lickety-Split interrupted, “Last time we came it was run by Swerve, it would be nice to see what new management’s done with the place after he went back to Velocitron.”
The bar in question was more of a restaurant. Quickmix took it upon himself to create a new and improved menu with his chemical background, as well as keep the basics. It was no Jewel, and Quickmix was no Bluestreak, but he’d succeeded in making it feel like home to the residents, even the majority that had come from elsewhere, like Ironfist. Kimia was certainly no bustling metropolis like Tempo, but it held a mesmerising small town charm that Quickmix was more than successful in capturing.
The soft orange lighting and warm toned furniture in the Jubilee was perfectly designed for a welcoming effect, Maccadam noted as they walked in, different from the more lively decoration it had when it was Swerve’s. Less Velocitronian. He didn’t know what to liken it to, but that was a bonus in his opinion.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Lickety-Split pointed out as they checked out the menu, “I’ll have a Solar Sail, you?”
“What do our gracious hosts recommend?”
They ended up sharing a pile of energon pancakes with mercury sauce — Afterburner had jokingly suggested a Planet Eater, but none of them were quite that hungry — over light drinks. Quickmix slid over and bumped fists with the Prime when delivering their order; they had met during the previous visit, apparently.
It became quiet as they ate, there was too much they could ask, and too little they were willing to. Maccadam seemed content to scan the room and make small remarks about ambiance and other such things Kimia’s general population had no business knowing much about. Ironfist managed to keep up with him to some extent, being from a philosopher’s colony, but Afterburner and Hotlink didn’t have the same luck — although Kimia’s older inhabitants did have unscientific interests carried over from their places of origin, the younger Kimia-built generation hadn’t that opportunity just yet.
Then the bubble just burst.
“What is the point of this, really?” Afterburner sharply interrupted Ironfist’s comment about colour theory, “Why are you here if all you don’t give a glitchmouse’s tail about us? What’s the point of you ?”
Lickety-Split stood from her seat, little motorcycle engine roaring, and Afterburner met her in kind.
“It’s fine,” Maccadam laid his hand on Lickety-Split’s back, urging her to sit back down, “I’m afraid I don’t have a good explanation for you. I have abandoned my people, I am aware of that. I know I’ve never been a leading type, I hoped Velocitron would learn to live without me, become a home instead of a lab. And it has, under Override. But my people who still held onto the ideal of a world of scientists made Kimia, and I could not stop it from being as sterile as I feared.”
“Kimia is not… sterile ,” Ironfist spluttered.
“Not as much as it once was,” their Prime smiled in sympathy, “and for that I am grateful. I had my doubts about Xaaron, but he succeeded where his predecessors failed. He let you cultivate your own activities, even when they are not scientific or necessary for colony management. It disappoints me that you are allowed instead of encouraged , yes, but overall I am content with the progress that was made.”
“It still is a bit too much, I think,” Hotlink interrupted, “I was built under the current regime, so I don’t know how it was before, and,” she finally looked up from her drink, “I’m not unhappy per se, but… there’s so much we’re missing.”
“Like a space bridge.”
“Like a space bridge!” She forcefully put her glass down on the table. “We’re missing so many structural functions, and our complaints never seem to reach government.”
“My siblings and I have been on the wait for being able to combine for almost as long as we’ve been alive because there’s no place large enough for that here,” Afterburner’s harmonies started getting dissonant, “Or at least no place they’re willing to concede to us. I’d get the Pit out of here if I knew where to go.”
Afterburner’s words rang loud, and this time the entire bar fell into a tense silence. Their optics started sparking. It was true that Afterburner was constantly disproportionately angry, yes, but nothing else had gotten them angry enough that it looped back into despair.
“If those bastards think there’s anything still special about you, make good use of that and make things better , you filthy coward.”
They slid their glass across the counter back to Quickmix and stormed out before they could make more of a fool of themself. Crying where others could see them was a bit too much for Afterburner’s dignity.
“I take it you’ve had a rather… illuminating visit,” Xaaron stared down at Maccadam, "Did you see what I meant?"
His Prime remained quiet, mirroring his steely expression.
"There's only so much we can do on our own, Alchemist. We need your influence to get assistance from the rest of the Union," Xaaron slid him a steel tablet, "I'm not asking you to take over, I just need you to handwrite our request forms. Maybe like that they’ll hold some weight."
With a heaving minor seventh sigh, Maccadam took it and extended his claws.
“What do you need me to write?”
Ironfist’s plating jingled as they waited at the door to Afterburner and their siblings’ quarters. It hadn’t been their fault, they knew that, but they couldn’t help but feel responsible for reminding his Kimian acquaintances of their inadequacies. So they’d come to apologise. Now if only they could just ring the damned d—
“Just come in, your rattling is bothering me,” Strafe opened the door with an atypical scowl on her face.
And come in they did. Strafe rejoined most of her siblings in piling up on the couch, the three of them — barring Afterburner, who was currently face down over Scattershot’s lap, and Lightspeed, who was oblivious to the world curled up on the floor with Hotlink — had similarly sour expressions.
No one confronted them, and they didn’t have the slightest idea of how to breach the topic of Blades of Time, I’m so so sorry , so Ironfist did the next best thing: They squeezed into the couch alongside the other four, taking care not to step on the lovebirds.
And so the seven of them stayed. Just the meshing of energy fields and harmonised hums said enough.
Some joors later, Strafe woke up to more annoying rattling. Seriously, didn’t bots know not to rattle where she could hear them?! Taking her sweet time to calm herself to a non-murderous mood, Strafe carefully disentangled herself from the others before darting up to the door, her own plating traitorously rattling in distaste.
“What do you want ?”
The door couldn’t open soon enough, and she was faced with a spooked Scavenger. The rattling stopped, from both of them.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to snap at you,” Strafe’s wings lowered, “But what do you want?”
“It’s okay! I’m used to that. It’s just that, uh,” Scavenger started jingling again, “our project for turning the less used shuttle bays into a larger common area is almost approved! We’re getting a response within the decaorn!”
“ What? ” She started jingling as well, in time with the high pitched major squeal she tried to pretend wasn’t there.
“No, no, I got it! It’s just,” Strafe paused, suddenly out of sorts, “ finally .”
Strafe pulled Scavenger into a hug, a little awkwardly considering their size difference, laughing into the crook of her neck.
“We’re really doing this!”
Her siblings were not gonna believe this when they woke up.
Lickety-Split sat alone in the shuttle, picking flakes of dried energon from the control panels. They really blew this, huh? The last visit, well over a hundred vorns ago, had been much more fun. Their hosts were actually ecstatic over living at a space station, but then again those had had a choice about it. These kids, the ones that got upset, were just built into it. They didn’t make the conscious decision to forego worldly comforts in order to dedicate their lives to science like the others did.
She sorely regretted getting mad at the grumpy one. They had a point! There was no real purpose for the two of them other than guarding the Lenses. That was true of all the remaining Primes, but she was uncertain if newbuilds in Kimia got even that much of politics and history in their formatory lessons.
It was quite sad, really.
“What’s eating at ya, little lady?” Maccadam swaggered in, jolly as ever.
“You know damn well what,” she snapped, “Why’s it not eating at you ?”
His face softened, and the goofy smile was no more.
“It is. I don’t think it’ll ever not eat at me. But I did something about it.”
“ Did you?”
“I did ,” he punctuated as he initiated taking off protocols, “And I’ll keep doing it. From home.”
Lickety-Split huffed a discontented added ninth, but let it be.
Home. They could really use some of that right now.