Soft knocking interrupted Whirl's concentration causing the helo to stop his work and jerk his helm towards the door. He waited and for a moment there was nothing but silence. The knocking came again confirming that he wasn't imagining things, though this time it sounded more like clanking than an actual knock. Irritated and slightly curious, Whirl sat his latest clock on the floor and crept to the door. Whirl hardly got any visitors. No one was stupid enough to bother him. Suspicious, he onlined one of his guns in case it was some kind of ambush and yelled to whoever was on the other side of the door.
"Friend or Foe?"
A moment of silence. "Uh...friend?"
Not really the answer he expected but then again, he didn't put much thought into the response. Opening the door just slightly, he pointed his gun to the hallway and glanced over.
He looked down and saw a familiar blue visor blown wide at the sight of a gun barrel pointing just above his head. His small claws were held to his chassis as if protecting his stunned spark from the dangerous weapon. "Uh...friendly?" Wet streaks were beginning to leak from the corners of his visor.
Whirl sighed before drawing his weapon back, a bit disappointed that a possible fight wasn't going to happen. He nodded to the frightened minibot. "Whadya want pipsqueak?"
Taking a klik to compose himself, Tailgate reset his visor a few times and looked to the helo before answering. "Hey, Nutjob. I was wondering if you can help me out with something."
Whirl narrowed his optic at the name and thought about what the mini said. Favors? He didn't like the sound of that.
"I don't do favors."
He began to close the door before feeling a pair of claws pushed their way to the wall, blocking the door from closing shut. "I heard you were the best craftsman on the ship and I really need your help with a project I'm working on!"
His irritation stalled for a moment. Craftsman? Well, he wouldn't call himself that, but Tailgate wasn't entirely wrong. The best? Why that he is! He is the best mech on the ship. Unfortunately for Tailgate though, Whirl wasn't completely blind to flattery. He studied the minibot closely. "What kind of project?"
Noticing he got Whirl's attention, finally, Tailgate released the wall and dug his claws into his subspace all the while speaking to the mech in front of him.
"Well I'm trying to build this—this thing but I'm having trouble getting the structure to stay put and—ack! Where did I put it?! And it's really hard shaping it to its exact measurements since it's a bit complex. And these—these DAMN PINCERS aren't used to this kind of stuff so I'm fumbling all over the place-"
Tell him about it. It wasn't hard for Whirl to see the mess of a bot in front of him. Leaning on the side of the wall, Whirl crossed his arms and began to tap a claw to one arm, showing his rapidly depleting patience.
"-messing up. So, I thought I could use some help from a mech who actually knows how to do this—aha!”
The small bot pulled out a badly disjointed object and presented it to Whirl. It was a long object that had a rounded base and narrowed to a sharp point at the top. Multiple wads of tape stuck all around the piece adding more to its pitiful appearance.
"It's obviously not a looker." No slag. "But it's supposed to be a gift for someone, and I need help fixing it. Please, Whirl. You're the only one who knows how to work with this kind of thing." His blue visor changed into a helpful glow, little claws held together in a pleading stance.
Whirl looked down at the minibot for a minute, silently debating what action to do next. He could say no after all. Shut the door on the mini's face and ignore him until he went away. Then again this particular mini was persistent and probably wouldn't stop bugging him until he gave.
He eyed the pitiful display in front of him and knew that it needed a lot more than a fixer-upper, something this minibot was painfully aware of else he wouldn't have gone to Whirl for help. Still, if Whirl was going to cave in he wasn't going to do it for free.
"What's in it for me?" he asked with a quark to his single optic light.
The minibot paused before placing a single talon under his chin in thought. With a tilt to his little head, he responded, "Would a round of drinks at Swerve's do? My treat?"
Little guy knew how to barter.
With that, Whirl stepped aside to let Tailgate practically skip right into his hab suite before closing the door behind him. The small mech looked around with a wide visor, taking in anything and everything around him. All the while cradling his own project protectively to his chassis. "Neat."
Whirl scoffed. "What? Thought it was gonna be a mess around here?" He walked to his own personal project that he left on the spot of the floor near the window. Looking at it for a moment, he plopped down in the same position that he last sat previously and moved the unfinished clock to the side. He could work on it later, he supposed.
"Well, to be honest, I really had no idea what to expect." As if suddenly realizing the possibility of offending his host, he quickly added, "I didn't want to be presumptuous that's all." After spotting Whirl seated by the window, Tailgate quickly scurried to him and placed himself right next to the helicopter. Once seated, he looked up expectantly and waited for his first instruction.
Whirl sighed. Well, better get this over with. "Let me have a look at it."
Tailgate wordlessly placed the contorted object in his awaiting talons. Raising it to optic-level, Whirl moved the object at different angles, trying to get an idea of what the pit he was working with.
"What's it supposed to be?"
He didn't miss the slight shift in the other mech's plating; an obvious sign of embarrassment. "It's supposed to be a horn."
He'd pride himself later from stopping the laugh that threatened to come out. "Well panic-button, you got a long way to go.
"First off, the material your using is too flimsy. See how it caves easily?" He pressed to one side of the model and showed Tailgate the noticeable dent it left. "It's no wonder you couldn't get the structure to stay. What'd you use anyway?"
The smaller mech dipped his head slightly. “Aluminum” was the meek response.
Whirl shook his head. "I don't know why you'd use that stuff for this anyway. You want this to last? You gotta use stronger material."
"I didn't know what else to use! I want it to withstand transformation sequences without damage in the process."
He eyed the minibot with a tilt to his helm. "Who's the horn for anyway?"
Again, the minibot fidgeted. It took him several kliks to answer. "It's a gift for Cyclonus. To replace the one he lost."
Whirl rolled his single optic when he heard the mech's name. "Tch. Don't know why you'd do something for that loser." He placed the horn down on the space between them. "Bet he doesn't even like you."
"He can be difficult at times but he's not that bad of a mech. You just need to get to know him that's all." Tailgate picked up the model and placed it in his lap. He ran a talon down its length. "Besides I owe him a lot already. He saved my life after all."
The helicopter stared down at the smaller mech, taking note of the way Tailgate held the model gently, almost lovingly stroking it like it was the most precious thing in the world. He shook his head. The little guy had it bad. And to CYCLONUS of all mechs. Terrible taste if anyone asked him. Oh, well. It was the little guy's fault if he got his spark crushed by the purple menace, not Whirl's.
After that, both mechs set to reconstructing the little project. After swapping the material for a more sturdy and elastic Titanium sheet metal, Tailgate gave Whirl the different dimensions of the horn so he can plan its construction. Grabbing several of his own tools, he explained to the minibot the purpose of each utensil and described each step of the construction process in fine detail. Once that was done, Whirl grabbed the metal sheet and showed Tailgate how to maneuver the metal into a rolling slab in order to get the fine curves needed for the horn. Eventually, they cut the sheet into the precise length needed to get the nearly conical shape of the model. While Tailgate was busy molding, Whirl set to constructing the latches that would be placed inside the figure, where they would serve as a strong grip to whatever surface they would attach to—presumably Cyclonus' own stump—and not wiggle or fall off during transformation. After several arduous steps and a few hiccups, they were near the final stages of completion of the model.
"So marshmallow, what made you decide I would be the perfect teacher to show you this stuff?" Whirl had been wondering about that for a while. Sure, he was good at building stuff, but there were others who were also good and making things too.
"I had thought of a few others who could also teach me," Tailgate responded while continuing to smooth over the nearly complete piece, shaving off any bumps and ridges from the white surface. "But I felt you would be the best since," he paused on his work and lifted both sets of pincers. "You understand what it's like to live with these."
That... wasn't the answer he expected. He was taken back a bit, however, it didn't take long for Whirl to recover and home in on the minibot His mood suddenly shifting to a more serious tone. His pincers were a sensitive topic whether others knew it or not. Anyone mentioning his figure due to empurata usually ended up with a bullet through their spark. Whirl became very unpredictable when someone so much as mutters the words "empurata victim" in that order.
"Hmph. Yeah, and what about those?"
Tailgate looked up at the larger mech, seemingly oblivious to the shift in his host's attitude. "Not everyone has these things ya know? And you know how troublesome they can be with certain tasks."
Whirl, for his part, still eyed the mini. "Yeah well, you were created with pincers. Shouldn't you be used to them or at least have some built-in code on how to maneuver 'em?"
"Actually I wasn't made with them. The council switched out my original servos when they did empurata on me."
Whirl's processor nearly stalled. What?
Tailgate, much to Whirl's complete bafflement, was completely unfazed. "The council switched out my servos and gave me pincers when they empurata-ed me."
Whirl could only stare in shock as if the mini just grew a new head. Empurata? Tailgate a victi—No. Fragger has gotta be joking.
"You don't look like a vict—like someone who was operated on."
Tailgate tilted his head at that. "I did notice that there are some differences between you and me. I guess the process must have changed over the centuries. But I'm not lying."
Whirl could only ponder his words as he looked down at his own servos, to Tailgates, then back to his own. He couldn't deny their uncanny resemblance. But Tailgate undergoing empurata? It didn't make sense. What could this marshmallow have done to warrant a cruel punishment like that?
A heavy feeling washed over him and all of a sudden, a part of him didn't really want to know the answer. Still, knawing curiosity beat out his other emotions. "So. Whatdya do?"
Confusion flashed in his visor. "What did I do?"
"Why did the council do empurata on you?"
Tailgate was silent a moment before looking down at the nearly complete project in his talons. "It wasn't just me actually. It was all of us—us waste disposal bots and others like us. The council figured that we didn't need real servos or proper bodies like everyone else since we didn't fall on the same category. So they reformatted us. Took our servos and optics, reshaped our legs, they even removed our own mouths and replaced all of it with 'simpler' parts." He placed a talon on his faceplate. "They even put visors and facemasks on us so the public wouldn't be horrified at what they saw. 'The new and improved waste disposals' is what they called us." Tailgate sighed. "They flaunted us like we were some brand-new product and yet, they were so ashamed of our appearances that they tried covering us up and hope no one would notice what's beneath the surface."
Whirl could only stare at the minibot before him. He didn't quite know what to think, let alone say. The council. The fragging council operated on hundreds, if not thousands of innocent mechs like the one before him like they were nothing but fodder. They didn't even have a reason, not even something stupid like breaking a fragging law or saying something they weren't supposed to. They were all innocents. Every fragging one of them.
Just picturing Tailgate and hundreds of others like him undergoing that cruel process was just...just so fragged up. It made Whirl's energon boil.
Tailgate looked at him but didn't comment. Instead, he said this, "It took a while to get used to the new upgrades and it didn't exactly make our jobs any easier. For a while, I hated the council for what they did to us. People looked down at us and didn't even see us as real mechs. It was because of the way we were treated that I started hating my body and the function I was placed in. It was like everything and everyone was against me and I couldn't do anything about it. I began resenting even online."
Whirl couldn't do anything but stare at the minibot as he spilled his darkest secrets. Too engrossed to even interrupt.
"I was just in a really bad spot where I just hated everyone and everything around me and I didn't know what else to do. I was tired of being hated; tired of hating my body; tired of being excluded by society. Then one day it hit me."
He looked from the one-eyed mech before him to his own clawed digits. His visor dimmed slightly as he studied them closely, reminiscing a life long past.
"That's when I realized no one can hate me more than I hate myself."
Tailgate missed the sight of Whirl's optic widening and continued. "I realized no one was going to like and accept me if I didn't even accept myself. How could I when I hated everything that was me?"
He looked up. "So I thought, 'well then I better find something to like about myself, else I'm better off dead!' And what use would I be if I'm nothing but a self-loathing corpse!"
The glow of his visor softened. "I won't lie. It took quite a while to finally accept myself. Even now there are times where I wish I had my old body back, but now that I know that my frame doesn't define who I am, I learned that only I can perceive my own worth and not what others say I am." The edges of his facemask crinkled upwards in a way only he can show his smile. "And if anyone else thinks that I'm nothing but slag, well then that's their problem, not mine!"
He turned back to the horn he placed in front of him and picked it up. "I choose who and what I want to be and no one else can take that from me." With that, he continued smoothing the surface.
For a long moment, neither spoke. The only thing that filled the silence was the scraping of shaved metal from Tailgate's actions. Whirl, on the other hand, was busy mulling over Tailgate's words. He didn't really know what to say. What was there to say? Whirl didn't sign up for this make-shift therapy session. He didn't ask for a life story—well technically he did ask but not for an entire backstory! And yet, he couldn't help but feel a little awe at the minibot beside him. Somehow, in the past 20 minutes or so, this little bot made Whirl feel like he was the naive one.
"Hey! I think I finished!"
Whirl turned to the excited bot and saw how he lifted the horn up to the helo. Whirl gripped it in his own claws before taking a good look at it, turning it this way and that. Eventually, he returned it to its creator. For a second, he was burning to tell Tailgate something, something that had nothing to do with the horn.
"You missed a spot." He lied.
The mini turned towards the horn and looked at the spot that Whirl indicated and gasped. "You're right! Thanks, Nutjob!"
Whirl didn't have the spark to correct him.