World of the Mind
Disclaimer 1: This is fanfic. That means I do not own any of it. I just borrow it to play with for a little while and let people see the pathetic
results if they really want to.
Disclaimer 2: I'm not making any money from it. It's just for fun.
Disclaimer 3: What isn't borrowed is all made up. None of this is real or most likely at all realistic. Please don't trust any of the information in here.
Most likely you know more about whatever I'm writing about than I do.
Disclaimer 4: Attitudes, views and opinions expressed by the characters or in the story are not necessarily those of the author. Even when writing Science
Fiction or Fantasy I do not tend to attempt to create perfect/better worlds in which everybody gets a happy end ... or whatever is best for them. Please
accept that some characters will have a bad ending or be unhappy.
Disclaimer 5: I intend no insult to anyone. If I offend anyone I'm very sorry. Please understand that it was an accident as I tend to be very clumsy in these
Disclaimer 6: If my characters' conversations seem odd or they appear to be talking past each other the latter might occasionally be intentional, but most
likely it is an accident and I'm not aware that they are. It's just my bad communication skills.
A/N: This was written for Wayward's Mystery/Horror Challenge. It's slightly experimental and I have shown it to only one person to test, so I hope it really
This one was Mystery or Horror and had to have a cano security officer as the protagonist.
Of the ones proposed only Soundwave and Ravage appealed at first glance and at first I couldn't think of anything that would scare Soundwave, so Ravage it was ...
The piece did turn out a bit of an experiment, but I still rather like it.
~Worry.~ It wasn't his own. It came in over the mind-web, all the links to some degree, but the origin was Soundwave which was unusual in itself. Normally things that worried Soundwave originated within the mind-web. He lived so deep in it that little that happened in the outer world filtered through. Things that didn't happen on a mental level just weren't real enough to provoke an emotional reaction in him.
=Concern. Question: Worry?= Ravage sent to Soundwave directly, though the others would still feel the echoes of it. There were few things one could keep private among telepaths, but it didn't bother him. After all Ravage had been created a telepath. He'd never known what it was to have privacy for his emotions.
=Worry. Need you.= Soundwave returned alongside a memory data-stream that only Ravage would be able to decipher.
=Love.= Ravage sent. He called the emotion a purr, others called it love. But words didn't matter in the world of the mind and either way it was the best feeling of all. It was the feeling of mind links, warm gentle and eternal, always there offering comfort and home. This was his world, the real world, though he was always fighting against sinking as deeply into it as Soundwave. Once you did there was no way back and he had to live in the other world as well.
~Love.~ it washed back at him through all the links.
Unravelling the concentrated data-stream took a little longer and the information sank into his conscious more slowly than a proper mind-message.
Starscream. Asking for help? =Surprise. Worry.= Starscream never asked for help. He liked his independence too much. He was also totally mind-blind which in Ravage's opinion explained both his love of independence and his request for help with a problem that seemed to at least partially lie outside of his sensor range.
=Starscream?= he asked Soundwave.
=Starscream.= Soundwave confirmed. =Vos. Megatron. Polyhex. Need stay.=
=Love. Reassurance.= No, of course he had no problem handling Starscream's request on his own.
Starscream was there to meet him the moment he stepped off the shuttle. To Ravage's dismay he hadn't brought anyone who was able to receive telepathic messages forcing him into verbal communication which was extremely annoying. It was so easy to misunderstand or misuse words.
"Rwrrrr," he greeted noncommittally.
"Welcome, Ravage," Starscream returned, genuine happiness and relief radiating off him.
"You have dead telepaths?" Ravage interrupted what, knowing Starscream, was going to be a long and mostly pointless speech.
+Worry! Loss!+ Those two emotions spiked in Starscream's mind and immediately mixed back into the rapid flow of unconnected and contradicting emotions and pictures that made the Air Commander impossible to read properly.
=Comfort.= Ah, but Starscream wasn't able to receive him, so Ravage butted his head lightly against his leg. Unfortunately Starscream didn't interpret tactile messages very well either and the message never made it through. Ravage didn't know how to express comfort in the verbal way that defined Starscream's world.
Like most mind-blinds Starscream's mind was perfectly easy to enter. The speed and disjointed nature of his thought processes however was the most perfect protection against mind-reading Ravage had ever encountered. There were tricks and technical enhancements that could help you break into a shielded mind, but no way to speed up the function of your own brain. Starscream's hyperactive thought processes were a by-product of the extra fast electrical transmissions that allowed his reflexes to keep up with the flight speeds he could reach. For the reflexes it was a survival need, the faster thoughts however were not only an advantage as a defence against mind-readers, but also allowed him to make more thought out split second tactical and strategic decisions. It was the slow, long term planning where Megaton was truly superior to Starscream. All that fast thinking was probably also accountable for lack of patience.
"Yes, an archaeological expedition into the lower levels brought back a large shuttle that might date back to Quintesson times. It isn't functional and doesn't seem to have been sentient, but the size and construction don't match what data we have of that time."
Ravage yawned. He was not interested in archaeological findings.
"It is of great scientific interest and its origin is still undetermined." Starscream summed up.
Ravage tilted his head quizzically. What did the shuttle have to do with the dead telepaths? This method of transferring information was unbearably inexact and slow!
"Because of that great scientific value it was put under guard," Starscream continued.
Ravage's laughter rang out into the mind-web thankfully completely outside of Starscream's sensor range. Only Starscream would put a non-functional, non-military object under guard for scientific value. But then he had been a scientist once. Occasionally it still showed through.
"All telepaths assigned to guard duty either reported that something felt wrong about the shuttle or were later reported to have mentioned something similar to others privately. On three occasions telepaths were stationed there during recharge cycle. All three were found dead at their posts at shift change. The first two seem to have committed suicide, the third's fuel pump failed. The remaining guards refuse to go anywhere near the shuttle."
"Those telepaths," Ravage asked. "Were they strong?" He hadn't felt anything through the mind-web, but then he hadn't been near, nor had he known the victims. True telepaths that could maintain long distance mind contact the way he did were rare, though. He didn't think there were likely to be any among Starscream's common guards.
"No, they were rank and file seekers with more or less developed receiver abilities. Winterwing had an unreliable sending talent, but required touch to have any chance at making mind contact at all. I wouldn't have wasted an actual sender on simple guard duty. We weren't actually expecting anyone to attempt to steal the shuttle. It should not have been a dangerous mission."
"Are there telepaths among the surviving guards?"
"Starray," Starscream answered immediately. "I had to remove her from the duty rooster entirely after Winterflight's death, though. They were wingmates and by then we were aware of a possible connection with telepathy as well."
"I need to see her."
Starray was a standard Cybertronian pyramid seeker model, yellow and blue with frightened red optics that flickered at Ravage nervously.
=Comfort.= Ravage sent. =Love.=
#Fear. Grief. Loss. Fear!# She was basking in his touch, though, starved for mind to mind contact.
#Terror! Worry! Fear! Death. Evil. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.#
Ravage shuddered as he viewed the feelings Starray associated with the shuttle. Despite the emotional distress it caused her she allowed him access to her memories of it without a fight.
He'd caught an image of the shuttle from Starscream's mind, but it had been only a flicker before the Air Commander's thoughts had moved on. Just barely enough to get a mental concept Starray had been able to recognise. What he saw in her mind was much more detailed and included that oh so important mental feel of the object Starscream was unable to give.
It had a feeling of wrongness about it that Starray hadn't been able to place, but that had spooked her even the first time she'd felt it before the first death. Her non-talent companion during the first watch hadn't felt a thing, nor had she been able to detect anything incoming on the telepathic level. The feeling had just been there.
Ravage probed her mind and decided that Starscream had been exaggerating when he'd called her a telepath. She was a brave little thing, no doubt, and Ravage liked the feel of her mind, but telepath she was not. She had a very weak receiving talent, just barely enough to be conscious of it. A low level transmission or a halfway decent sender could easily enter her mind unnoticed.
Well, Starscream couldn't know the first thing about such details. Try explaining colour blindness to someone who'd been created without optical sensors. Luckily truly mind-blinds were almost as rare as true telepaths, but he was stuck dealing with Starscream for now. If Starscream saw someone receive a mind-message, that made them a receiver in his opinion and compared to him they were. No use asking Starscream whether the three dead guards had been equally limited.
Starray had discussed her experience with Winterflight, though and through her Ravage could see the results of Winterflight's attempt to probe the shuttle.
=Winterflight. Sender?= Starscream had mentioned that, too, he remembered but Starray was probably a more accurate source of information.
#Sender. Mighty. Admiration. Envy.# Well, what a just barely receiver would consider a mighty sender, Ravage suspected remembering Starscream's description. He'd need a decent telepath who'd known the seeker, if he ever was going to get a clear picture of Winterflight's abilities.
#Embarrassment. Ravage. Awe.#
=Love. Understanding.= He suppressed his pity for her pathetic talent glad she was unable to get echoes of anything he wasn't deliberately sending. It was just barely better than being mind-blind, maybe even worse, because she had just enough talent to have a taste of what she was missing. Starscream would never know. He might envy the ability to send messages from mind to mind or to draw information from another's processor, but he couldn't imagine the love and comfort, the feeling of safety and belonging that the mind-web radiated. Starray had felt it all, but she could never enter the web under her own power. She only got little tastes whenever a sender spoke to her.
So Winterflight had tried to enter the shuttle's mind, but hadn't found one. Undirected messages hadn't been answered. All that had come back was a feeling of death and emptiness.
Ravage cursed his luck that the sender was dead. It would have helped greatly to question him directly or even just to know what his abilities were. Most likely his results weren't very trustworthy. Finding a cloaked mind was difficult and an undirected message from a weak sender might well be missed if you weren't looking for it or they didn't have the range. According to Starscream he'd required touch, but what had he touched in order to send to the feeling? It's origin had been undetermined after all.
=Love. Question: Winterflight?=
=Who? Blank. Starscream? Worry.=
=Reassurance. Sender. Victim. Witness. Love.= He added a quick data-stream summing up his results so far. =More later.=
It shouldn't have surprised him that Soundwave hadn't known Winterflight. Starscream had said that he wouldn't have wasted a true telepath on guard duty for an unarmed shuttle after all. Still it put Winterflight's abilities into better perspective. A halfway decent telepath could be a very useful political tool for Starscream and therefore Megatron needed to be informed of any telepaths the Air Commander had. Soundwave must have screened Winterflight for him at some point. That he hadn't found it worth remembering spoke volumes.
Then again it didn't have to mean that the sender had been a complete loser. He couldn't have entered Megatron's mind with the best artificial aids known to science, but Megatron, though merely a receiver, was no lightweight at defending his mind. Even Soundwave himself would not be able to enter his thoughts unnoticed.
Ravage suspected that he'd be able to tear information from any mere receiver, but neither he nor anybody he knew had ever attempted it with Megatron. It was polite to ask after all. Thinking of asking and Megatron...
#Surprise. Ravage? Where?#
=Love. Query: Winterflight?=
#Starscream's. Fool. Laughter.#
#Curious. Interest. Vos?#
Oh Primus, no! =No. Danger. Mindcheck. Maybe later.=
=Worry. Death. Inconclusive. Polyhex. Stay. Wait. Results.=
#Grumbling. Can't leave. Later.#
Ravage breathed a sigh of momentary relief, but sent a mental transcript of the conversation to Soundwave anyway just to be sure he kept an eye on Megatron.
=Displeasure. Stupid.= Soundwave sent back.
He had to make up for his mistake and assure Megatron's safety by solving this mystery as fast as possible. The remaining witnesses turned out to be extremely difficult, though. Not that Ravage could blame them. The problem had little to do with them. All of them were non-talents which was just barely better than being mind-blind not that either group really got the difference. Quite often the terms were confused, mind-blind for some reason being the more popular one, despite the fact that mind-blinds were a lot rarer than non-talents and had an actual disability.
Non-talents weren't talented enough to consciously receive a telepathic message, but it was possible to nudge them by strongly projecting a picture or emotion. Reading them was almost ridiculously simple.
Only that this bunch was hopelessly confused about what had happened and he needed to guide them to the right memories by asking verbal questions. Unfortunately he was hopelessly inadequate at fine tuning his steering which meant the interviews took much longer than he'd hoped and left him with the distinct feeling that he'd missed at least one crucial point.
"I don't see how I could help you much. I don't know anything, really. We just went in and guarded the shuttle, like any other object," one orange and blue seeker said while all his mind provided was #Nervous! Telepath! High ranking! Scared!# "There didn't seem to be anything special about it."
High ranking? Ravage had to consider this for a moment. He didn't have a particularly high rank, though his connection with Soundwave gave him a higher status than his rank would warrant. Compared to the people he usually dealt with on a day to day basis his rank was downright low.
On the other hand he had to remember that these were common guards. You couldn't get much lower than that and still be considered part of the Decepticon army. Then again Vos wasn't just anywhere and they did work for the Air Commander. It was also notable that Starscream's presence didn't make the witness nervous at all.
"Not special?" he prompted.
"Uh ..." #Insecure. Question?# Too late Ravage remembered that verbal communication usually required complete sentences to be understood. "Well, it seemed a rather boring old thing to me. I actually wondered why it needed guarding. It had no functioning systems that could prove dangerous, nor did it look valuable. Only then Starray said ... Starray was my partner that first time and she felt something odd about the shuttle." #Pictures of Starray. Talking. Feeling? No, don't feel anything.#
"You noticed nothing before she asked you?" Ravage asked sifting through pictures of uneventful guard duty in the witness' mind. It almost looked like Starray had brought up the topic more to pass the time than out of an actual concern.
"No, it was just a pile of rusting metal." #Rusty shuttle. Black and rust.#
"Not Starray's discomfort either?" The pictures of her in his mind looked bored rather than uncomfortable.
"No, I'm not a telepath. Completely mind-blind actually," he added with a nervous shrug.
Ravage didn't bother to correct him. The difference wasn't relevant now and it might hurt Starscream's feelings.
"You saw her behaviour, though," he pushed instead. "Your kind interprets emotions from that."
"Well, I wasn't really paying any attention to that," he hedged. "It was just a routine assignment and it's not like I know Starray all that well. We occasionally have duty together and then we talk to pass the time, but we aren't friends or anything."
#Pictures of Starray.# Random pictures, though. The idiot really hadn't paid his partner any attention. Or maybe he was bad at reading people or had thought the data too irrelevant to remember.
"That was before the first death," he assumed. "What did you think when you heard someone had died guarding the shuttle?"
"Well, Steelwing killed himself. That's what they told us at least. I mean, I knew it happened while he was guarding the shuttle, but I didn't see a connection. It seemed a bit odd that he'd do something like that. Didn't seem to have a reason, you see. There were rumours that it had been a well covered up murder, but that's normal when someone who's never seemed suicidal kills themselves."
#Various casual memories of Steelwing.# Not a likely suicide candidate, if the witness' mental image was good.
"It didn't last long," the seeker continued with an apologetic glance at Starscream. #Sorry!# "The whole thing was taped by a security camera, you see and from that there was no doubt about how he died."
No pictures of the recording. He hadn't seen it. Starscream would have, but there was no reliable way to filter the relevant information out of his mind. He'd have to wait until he could view it himself.
"And the other guards?" he asked the witness.
"We talked about the death, commiserated with his wingmates, the usual. I had shuttle guard with Winterflight a little after Steelwing's death when the wild rumours were still flying about. He was nervous, said he didn't like the place and that it felt wrong." #Winterflight. Nervous.#
"As Starray had already said earlier."
"Yes, though Winterflight was much less casual. But he was Starray's wingmate. You're not surprised when wingmates have similar theories. When he said the shuttle had to have had something to do with Steelwing's death, I thought he'd talked with Starray and constructed just another wild rumour from it. I thought it had been forgotten along with all the other rumours once the suicide was confirmed." #Quiet. Back to normal.#
Ravage viewed the memories about Winterflight intently. He had been very jittery which didn't fit in well with the impression Starray had given him. Starray's picture of her wingmate might be off. She'd hero-worshiped him for his mind-skills. Or maybe the shuttle had spooked Winterflight a lot more than was to be expected at that point. He'd been unable to stand still, but that was a hard task for many seekers, afraid of being left alone with the shuttle, which was unusual for a telepath who could rely on the comforting presence of the mind-net even if Winterflight hadn't been able to reach far into it, and apparently also afraid of silence. He'd done everything he could to keep his partner with him and talking.
"Was Winterflight usually this nervous?"
"No, but his friend had only just died and we still thought he might have been murdered. I remember wondering whether they'd both been caught up in some sort of plot and that was why Steelwing had been killed."
#Surprise.# it sparked in Starscream's mind.
"You didn't report that suspicion?"
"It was just a stray thought and once the suicide seemed to be proven I forgot it entirely. I only remembered because you mentioned Winterflight's odd behaviour." #Nervous! Telepath!#
He'd clearly made a mistake just when it seemed the witness was getting used to talking to him. Unfortunately he didn't have an idea what had set him off. Maybe he could distract him from his nervousness with a new question.
"So things calmed down again, but then there was another death." Too fast! A flash of another memory of Winterflight in the seeker's mind, but then they were on to the topic of the second victim. He'd have to find a way to get back to Winterflight before the second death later.
"Another obvious suicide, but this one shot himself. We arrived to relieve the recharge-shift guard and found Windfall lying dead right in front of the shuttle. It could have been a coincidence, but few of us believed it. Winterflight came back with his theory and this time all of us at least considered it. We started sticking together during shuttle guard, keeping more distance from the shuttle, mostly staying next to the door. I think I spent more time watching the shuttle than the door, though. Especially when I was assigned recharge-shift. I stood next to the door, keeping my back to the wall and optics on the shuttle, but nothing actually happened. It was just me and my fears in there."
He tried to laugh it off, but his terror clung inseparably to the memory. It was a creeping, unreal fear, colder and more terrifying than anything either of them had ever felt under Autobot fire. Ravage withdrew from the witness' mind for a moment to force it out of his system. This was ridiculous. How could a clueless non-talent's thoughts of a dead pile of rusting metal spook him? These were merely the ghost stories that always surrounded unexplained deaths. Letting an outsider's mind influence ones emotions was a beginner's mistake. He knew better than that. Neutrality. Distance.
"How did Winterflight react after the second death?" he asked. He still needed to figure out what that memory he'd missed earlier had been.
"He ran about telling everybody that the shuttle was death and would kill us all. Said that we should dump it back in the lower levels and melt down the sector. He'd just lost two good friends of course, but I thought he was overreacting."
"Was such a reaction likely for Winterflight?"
"Did he have a tendency to overreact, get nervous or advocate extreme actions?"
"No, he was a telepath. You know, all calm and distant like you guys always are. The shuttle really freaked him out."
#Memories of Winterflight.# These were older from when the two seekers had first met, long before the shuttle. The picture they gave him fit Starray's impression much better. Maybe it wasn't just her hero-worship then.
So Winterflight had expected more deaths. Ravage would have suspected that he'd driven himself to suicide because of his expectations that the shuttle would do so, but Winterflight had died of a mechanical malfunction that couldn't have been self-inflicted. He was the odd death out.
Of course fuel pump malfunctions could be caused by strain due to fear, so it was possible that his fear of the shuttle had killed Winterflight. Could the two suicides have been coincidences after all and the rest the result of Winterflight's overactive imagination?
All the pictures of Winterflight in the witness' mind now were either off duty or on different assignments.
"What was he like on shuttle-guard duty after the second death?"
#Pictures of the shuttle. Duty with different partners.# No pictures of Winterflight, though. Had he managed to avoid the assignment until his death?
"I didn't have guard duty with him again before his death. There was one occasion when I should have, but he'd traded with Starray. I was surprised how nervous, almost panicked she was about being near the shuttle."
"Surprised? But everybody was frightened by then, weren't they?" Considering his admission about his recharge-shift it seemed a particularly out of place reaction.
"It was such a contrast to her off-duty behaviour. She was always so calm whenever Winterflight was going on about his worries. She spoke of shuttle-duty so casually that I didn't expect her to be scared when actually doing it."
The pictures in his mind spoke a clear language to Ravage, even though they didn't allow him to look into Starray's mind. She'd obviously tried to project calm to stabilise Winterflight's emotions. It might have worked, if only she'd been the sender and he the receiver. As the situation had been, however she couldn't have sent her false emotion and he'd been able to read the truth whenever he'd touched her mind. It was near impossible to lie convincingly inside your own mind.
He wondered whether it would have saved Winterflight's life, if somebody had projected *Calm* at him all through his last shift. Wouldn't that have been the natural reaction of whoever his panicked thoughts touched in the mind net, though? Perhaps he was wrong to attribute Winterflight's death to irrational fears. As the only sender he was the least likely candidate out of the three.
All three had died alone, though. Could it be that the presence of another person would have protected them?
"I need to see the security cameras' recordings of the deaths," he told Starscream the moment he'd finished with the last witness.
"There's less to see than you'd expect," the Air Commander commented. "But some strange details as well."
And Starscream hadn't thought to show them to him sooner, but then Ravage should have remembered to ask.
The first recording began in the middle of Steelwing's last shift. It showed a near paranoid looking seeker pacing about and more and more frequently looking behind as if he expected to see something there. This went on for a while until Steelwing abruptly dropped his weapon and covered his audio-sensors with his hands.
"Is there an audio-recording to go with this?" Ravage asked Starscream.
"No, it's a storage room, not a high security cell. What would you expect to hear in there?"
Ravage suppressed a pointless ~Frustration!~. It was bad enough that security cameras didn't record emotions and thoughts, but at least sounds could be recorded by standard security devices. Of course those were more expensive than your standard security camera, though and the objects kept in storerooms were usually silent. There had been no reason for more than the most basic equipment to be installed in this one when it had been built. It had never been meant to house anything dangerous.
On the screen Steelwing was shaking his head apparently still trying to get rid of whatever he was hearing. It didn't seem to help and he dropped onto his knees in a corner and later sat back against the wall with his head buried in his arms. He tried several different positions after that, as if looking for one in which he could comfortably cover his audio-sensors before curling up miserably.
Some time passed during which Steelwing only shook occasionally and then he abruptly sat up and tore out his own fuel line.
"A straightforward suicide?" Ravage asked Starscream. "What about the sound that was bothering him so much?"
"According to our psychological analysis he most likely didn't hear anything at all. He was just trying uselessly to block out his own guilty thoughts. It was those that drove him to suicide."
"Guilt of what?" It might have seemed likely back then, but in light of the second death the evidence should have been re-examined.
Starscream shrugged. "We never found out."
"You also never told his fellow guards." Was he covering up something or truly ignorant? Starscream never had a clear conscience, but despite appearances he wasn't involved in every plot in the Decepticon army, most likely not even half of them. There also was the possibility of some other criminal or simply shameful sort of activity which wasn't really Starscream's cube of energon.
"It seemed best not to give them all the disgusting details. Embarrassing enough that he died by his own hand."
"The second death?" If the next victim had shown the exact same behaviour, Starscream's continued silence had been highly irresponsible, but then this was Starscream, the mastermind behind an uncounted number of highly irresponsible plots. Seekers in general were a difficult breed, but Starscream had contradictory behaviour down to an art form. Ravage reminded himself not to be surprised should it turn out that Starscream was withholding crucial information because he found it amusing to watch him puzzle it out on his own. Starscream was quite capable of deliberately holding up a process, the results of which he eagerly anticipated.
The second recording was different, though. Windfall too showed signs of nervousness from the beginning, but not to the same extent Steelwing had. Or perhaps Steelwing would have seemed much the same, if the first recording had started earlier during his shift? This was a little earlier according to the timer, but was the timing of events even significant?
There was no indication that he was hearing anything either. He just looked more and more scared. If Ravage hadn't known better he'd have expected this one to be the fuel-pump failure.
"It looks very different," he commented to Starscream when Windfall abruptly raised his gun and started to methodically turn around as if expecting an ambush from an unknown direction. A move right out of basic training, though meant for securing corridors in an advance into occupied or enemy territory. It might have made sense, if he'd expected somebody to be hidden somewhere in the room. If he'd heard a suspicious sound, he'd have done better to point his gun in that direction, though and the only way to enter the room was through the door.
"It shows more similarities with the third death," Starscream explained. "Winterflight acted much the same, but chose a different position."
"A different position?"
On the screen Windfall was slowly retreating towards the shuttle until his back touched its hull. That was the first nervous mistake he'd made. Seeking cover from behind was another lesson from basic training, though this time meant for fighting numerous opponents. You had to remember to keep a little manoeuvring room between yourself and the wall, however. The way Windfall stood now he'd be unable to transform without stepping forward first and he was also limiting use of his arms.
His hands were shaking as well now, so his aim would probably have been off anyway had there been anything to shoot at. He stood there shaking and clutching his weapon for a long boringly eventless time that ended so quickly Ravage almost missed it. With no apparent reason Windfall turned his gun around and fired a single, deliberate shot right through his spark.
"Well, that was less dramatic."
"Indeed," Starscream confirmed. "Now compare it with this."
The picture on the screen was replaced by another nervous seeker, Winterflight this time and Ravage soon realised why Starscream had said the two deaths were similar. There was the same raising of the gun and securing to all sides, though Winterflight had a preference for the direction of the shuttle the second victim hadn't shown.
This was odd. There still didn't seem to be any reason for the move.
"Did Winterflight see the recording of the second death, or is it possible that he'd heard of it?"
"No," Starscream shook his head. "It was kept under lock. Unless it got out via telepathy. Could he have picked it out of my mind?"
"Read you?" According to Starscream he'd required touch to send. Starray's thoughts had shown him memories of close range mind-contact when he hadn't actually touched her, but in none of the cases had they been more than a step apart and as wingmates they had been particularly attuned to each other. "Maybe if he'd touched somebody else who'd seen it while they were thinking of it. Your mind may be easy to gain entry into, but he wouldn't have been able to make sense of it."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Oops, dangerous ground. Tread carefully.
"That he wouldn't have been able to isolate a particular train of thought. There's too much going on in your mind at once for a low level amateur like him. His talent was pathetic. There's always a chance he got a more direct account of the victim's experiences through the mind net, though." No reason to let Starscream know just how difficult his thoughts really were. It was better, if he continued to believe that true telepaths could read him.
Ravage was sure that he could rule out any ability to establish mind-contact with the victim from outside the room.
"Windfall wasn't a sender," Starscream reminded him.
"Unnecessary, if a sender read him and relayed the information. It's a standard way for weaker telepaths to keep in contact when out of range." Of course you also had to convince said telepath to help you out and to keep quiet about having witnessed a death. It was also possible that somebody in the mind-net had touched Windfall's mind in greeting, noticed his distress and stayed with him in an attempt to calm him. Receivers were detectable from the mind-net even if they couldn't use it themselves.
"Mind-net," Starscream repeated thoughtfully. "Do you hear everything I think?"
"Not unless I deliberately read you. Everything coming in via the mind-net has to be sent."
"So it's deliberate messages only." Starscream seemed relieved.
"Some of it. A lot is just senders's emotions. That's not deliberate, it just is. How much and how far you broadcast depends on the strength of your sending talent. Who can receive you on the distance and strength of receiving talent of the other."
"So Winterflight's fear should have registered with nearby receivers?" Now he was interested.
"He was very weak. I doubt even I would have received him unless I'd been inside the compound. Those who did were most likely recharging and not receiving consciously." Or somebody was keeping deliberately silent.
~Query. Winterflight. Fear? Death?~
~Fear? Death? When?~ It caused some chatter in the mind-net. Of course. His reach far exceeded the borders of Vos. People out there wouldn't have heard of the deaths at all. ~Fear? When?~ The closer ones knew Winterflight had died, but none of them seemed to have been close enough to have felt his fear.
~Receivers. Vos. Winterflight. Fear? Death? Call. Ravage.~ he sent and at the last moment added ~Starscream.~ Not every receiver would have a convenient sender around to reply for them and even fewer people in Vos knew Ravage's radio code number. They all ought to know how to reach Starscream, though.
"Sending. No mind-witnesses so far, but receivers might take a little longer to respond."
On the screen Winterflight backed away from the shuttle in the same way the second victim had backed towards it. He came to a stop when he hit the wall in...
"That is the exact spot Steelwing died in," Ravage observed.
"We didn't tell them the details, but Steelwing was found by the guards arriving to relieve him. Winterflight would have heard where and how he was found."
"The same should have been true for the second death, though, or did you find Windfall yourself?"
"No, he knew. Our theory is that Winterflight was afraid of the shuttle itself while the second victim sought its cover. He might have assumed that Steelwing found the most defendable position."
Steelwing had never tried to defend himself, though. Winterflight did, though he too was shaking and clutching his weapon too tightly. It ended very fast and suddenly as Winterflight let go of the gun with one hand to clutch at his chest and collapsed. Sudden fuel-pump failure. Maybe if he'd been found right away, he could have been saved, but it was too late for that now.
The recordings held no obvious answers, but perhaps there was something at the site of the deaths themselves that Starscream had overlooked. It was time to
take a look at the shuttle itself.
Starscream's mind didn't feel nervous at all as he led Ravage to the old storage room that held the shuttle. It was quite a contrast to the pair of guards that was standing at the end of the corridor leading to its door.
"They are both mind-blind," Starscream assured him. "But after three unexplained deaths it seemed safer not to place a permanent guard inside."
In other words there'd have been a mutiny, if Starscream had tried to force them to go inside. It was quite obvious in the guards' minds that they weren't going to do any check-up rounds. They'd report that they had and expected Starscream to pretend that he believed them.
"Non-talents," Ravage corrected. "They're not mind-blind."
"It's inexact to call them mind-blind," he explained. "True mind-blindness is rare. Most people usually called mind-blind are actually non-talents. It's like being so short-sighed you can't make any use of your optics."
"I'm mind-blind, they tell me."
"You are. The guards aren't. Not that they could tell the difference, though. The day shift was always guarding in pairs?" The guards' first memories of the shuttle had always included a partner.
"Yes," Starscream confirmed. "We placed only one guard for the recharge shift, because it seemed unnecessary. It's an unpopular shift and there shouldn't be anybody about at that time."
"Two guards at all times no..." Ravage stopped mid-question when Starscream opened the door. Verbal communication was an unusual task that required concentration while mind scanning was an automatic thing. When his attention was suddenly required in the mind-realm he simply forgot that he'd been speaking.
Here it was! That intense feeling of wrongness that Starray had first noticed. It was definitely inside his mind, though he couldn't identify which sensor it had entered through. This shouldn't be possible. He was one of the most sensitive telepaths on Cybertron. Nothing should be able to sneak into his mind unnoticed!
"Yes, and all of them mind-blind ... or non-talents, or whatever you'd like to call them. If our assumption that it only affects telepaths is correct, they should be in no danger," Starscream replied oblivious to what had startled Ravage so much. He was several steps into the room by the time he noticed. "Ravage?"
"Experiencing the wrongness," he explained. "This is where it first becomes noticeable to me."
"Do you think the place is significant?" +Curiosity.+
Of course. The scientist in Starscream showing through again.
"Starray only experienced it when she came closer to the shuttle. That could be due to her lesser talent, but without another low-level telepath here I can't be sure."
"So you think its range might have increased?" Starscream concluded. "Interesting hypothesis. I don't feel a thing. Should I call Starray down for direct comparison?"
"Not her. She's terrified of the feeling. If she realises we think it might be growing, she could go into hysterics. Do you have a more level headed receiver on hand?"
Starscream considered. "Mindwing's the most reliable. She's my strongest telepath, but on patrol right now. Lightbeam should be immediately on hand, but ..." +Shame. Displeasure. Despise.+ "Under normal circumstances he's more likely to go into hysterics than Starray."
"It can wait until Mindwing returns," Ravage decided. He didn't know Lightbeam, but had little use for cowards, especially in an investigation like this. Mindwing on the other hand was somebody he knew, not very well, but enough to be able to judge her abilities and emotions. She was still a low level telepath in his opinion, but could run circles around the likes of Starray and Winterwing. A comparison of her experiences with his own should be conclusive.
He tried to mentally catalogue what he was feeling to create a reference point, then entered the room.
Several steps closer to the shuttle a wave of wrongness washed over him, a sort of black emptiness, a non-ness that caused a shiver to run through him.
"Does it feel stronger here?" Starscream was paying his reactions more attention now and stopped as soon as he did.
"Yes, and it isn't telepathy. It must be influencing the telepathic spectrum somehow, but it doesn't feel like a mind. I think it's something dead, some kind of anti-telepathy."
"Like a mind-blind mind?"
Starscream really had no idea what he was talking of.
"No, a mind-blind mind feels just as alive as any other mind. It just doesn't react when you send to it. Like talking to someone who doesn't have audio-sensors. It can be located and read like any other mind. This thing doesn't seem to come from anywhere. It's there, but it is nothing."
"Maybe it's on a different wavelength that's just outside of your range and you're just hearing the static it produces on a neighbouring wavelength?"
Hearing didn't really fit the experience, but the basic concept of the theory was sound.
"Perhaps whoever built it had different sensors," he agreed. "And there's some kind of automatic message still running. It could be a distress beacon or even a sensor probe. We're probably just unnerved by it, because of its undetectable origin. If we find the origin, we can turn it off."
It didn't explain the deaths, though. Winterflight's fuel pump failure maybe. The creepy feeling would have aggravated his fear, but what about the suicides?
Well, Ravage had no intention to continue his investigation with the wrongness constantly in his mind. It had to come from the shuttle even if he couldn't trace its source, so the controls to turn it off had to be somewhere inside. He started towards the hatch that seemed to be the only entrance.
+Alarm!+ "Ravage," Starscream said just above a whisper. "There was no energy source found on the shuttle."
"So?" Now Starscream was scared as well. He didn't like this.
"What is powering the signal?"
"Maybe its leeching power off the base's systems?
"We'd have detected that." Starscream sounded almost insulted. "Either it's leeching off of us, or burning its own substance."
"How old did you say it was again?"
"Too old to have been burning itself for all this time and still be in this good a condition. Leeching off us would make a lot of sense, if ..."
"If our dead guards had been drained of energy rather than committed suicide, yes," Ravage completed. "Were there any parts of the ship that couldn't be scanned? Or were more difficult to scan than others?" =Soundwave!=
"No, nothing. Nothing in any way odd. Just dead metal. That time wasn't very advanced. It's surprising that they built shuttles this big in the first place."
=Love.= Ravage sent a data-stream with his newest findings anyway. He knew Soundwave would have a look at the information as soon as he could. He was more at home with scientific theories than Ravage, though as long as they could trust Starscream, that shouldn't become a problem. Of course trusting Starscream was always a risk and it never hurt to double check his information.
The hatch opened easily to his touch, much more smoothly than he would have expected considering the shuttle's condition. The inside remained dark despite the fact that he walked over a light sensor as he entered. It had long since run out of power and was unable to respond to his presence.
No matter, Ravage had other sensors and he didn't get scared in the dark either. "I'll try to find ..."
The hatch fell shut with a sudden bang and from one moment to the next the mind-web was gone as if it had never existed. Ravage froze for only an instant, and then bolted for the hatch in blind panic. When it didn't react to the release switch he pressed against it, clawed and bit, but it wouldn't budge.
=Soundwave! Lazorbeak! Buzzsaw! ... Megatron!= Nothing. Nobody. ~Alone! Lost! Terror! Fear!~
No, no, no, no, no! His claws didn't even dent it and he was about to blast his way out when rational thought finally returned to him. How ridiculous to blow up a shuttle and possibly damage himself and Starscream in the process because he couldn't feel any other minds around! So what? Starscream would laugh at him, if he knew that the mighty cat had panicked at the loss of one single sense that Starscream himself didn't even have.
Mind-blinds were fully functional after all. Surely Ravage with his extra fine sensors could do without mind-sight just as easily as without visual sight inside an empty shuttle. No reason he couldn't turn on his searchlights to regain visual sight, though.
The inside walls were rusty, black and empty. There were very few levers and buttons in here and none seemed to do anything when he activated them in turn. Maybe he had to find a special combination to turn off the wrongness or open the hatch?
The hatch wasn't important, he reminded himself. Starscream would easily be able to open it from the outside.
Then why hadn't he already done so? What if the reason he couldn't feel Starscream was that he was no longer there? The wrongness filled his mind now that it was the only thing he could feel anymore. Wrong, dead and hungry.
Hungry? Was it intending to eat him? What if it had already devoured Starscream and Soundwave? Was there anyone still alive out there? Was there even still an out there? He couldn't feel one. He should be able to feel minds out there!
~Starscream! Open! Slagging hatch!~ But of course Starscream had never been able to receive him. ~Mindwing! Soundwave!~
There was no reaction. He couldn't even tell whether his pitiful screams ever left his mind at all, had no way to direct them unable as he was to feel their intended recipients.
(Dead-dead. All-dead. Kill-kill-kill) the wrongness whispered in his mind.
He was alone. Lost, helpless and scared with nothing but that dead thing to keep him company. What if he'd have to remain here forever? What if he'd gone mind-blind and would never feel another mind again? Could he live in a world of cold words without the comfort of the mind-web?
(All-gone. All-alone. Dead-dead. Kill-kill-kill.)
Ravage curled up on the floor with a terrified whimper. He couldn't take this for the rest of his life, not even for ... how long had he been in here? It had to have been an eternity, he thought, though his internal chronometer insisted that he'd only just arrived.
~Out. Out. Please! Away. No more. Die. Please.~ Why couldn't it finally kill him and end this torture?
The connection cut off suddenly and with out warning. =Ravage?=
There was no response as he knew there couldn't be, but how could Ravage have died without even the slightest spark of surprise, fear or pain?
+Surprise.+ "Ravage?" +Worry.+
Had Megatron been in contact with Ravage as well? But then his reaction should have come the moment the connection broke off not this much later. Besides, not being able to send himself, all Megatron ought to be able to tell was that Ravage was no longer in his mind. They didn't have a permanent link, nor could a pure receiver detect an individual mind at this distance.
=Megatron? Query: Worry?=
+Ravage: Alone! Lost! Terror! Fear!+
=Gone. Nothing. How? Grief!=
+Comfort. Ravage? Here?+
+Gone? How? Worry. Confusion.+
=Gone. Worry. Fear! Vos.=
+Wait! Ravage: Starscream! Open! Slagging hatch! Mindwing! Soundwave!+
=Starscream? Mind-blind. Why send?=
=Connection. Love.= As if he'd ever consider leaving Megatron's mind while he was the only one who could receive Ravage. He should perhaps not have sent love to Megatron, though. If he hadn't been distracted by his worry for Ravage, he never would have. Megatron himself never used such intimate concepts.
He almost collided with Astrotrain on the way to the airport. Excellent.
=Astrotrain. Borrowing.= He didn't wait for Megatron's reply, nor did he receive any. "Astrotrain, take me to Vos."
Since he hadn't felt any immediate anger from Megatron, he didn't expect him to object and if anybody else had a problem with it, they could take it up with Megatron, though he doubted they would. Should Megatron get angry later after all, well, Soundwave knew him too well to be afraid.
"Vos?" Astrotrain stood in the door unmoving. "What's so important that ..."
"Vos." He didn't have time to deal with non-talent chatter, so he retreated deep into himself and sent out a strong compulsion straight into Astrotrain's mind. =Urgent!=
It was something he rarely did to non-talents on his own side. It felt like taking unfair and unnecessary advantage and might turn them against him. Right now it didn't matter though. Only Ravage did. He'd gladly take any revenge Astrotrain might think of or punishment Megatron might decide on in exchange for getting Ravage back.
Astrotrain reacted immediately. He turned around and headed back for the runway radiating urgency and confusion. Soundwave wasn't sure whether he even announced their take-off to the tower. He certainly hadn't waited long enough to gain permission.
=Soundwave? Worry? Urgency?=
He ignored his fellow telepaths. They were whole, so they were not important right now.
This was his fault. He'd sent Ravage to help Starscream and ignored his last report. Maybe if he'd viewed the data stream right away. He focused his entire attention on it now.
The message proved to be interesting. A signal that ran without fuel? Impossible. Illogical. Unnatural. And Ravage had gone inside? That was the only logical explanation for the mind-call about the hatch. Curse Starscream and his treacherous games! Trust a mind-blind traitor!
What a fool he'd been, but he'd been so sure that Starscream was unaware of his ability to fool a full telepath. Somehow that clever little insecticon had found out!
+Not insecticon. Seeker.+ Megatron commented dryly.
He was broadcasting!
Only to Megatron, as a quick check assured him. It was that desperate link he was keeping with Megatron's mind. He was putting too much energy into it.
=Treacherous seeker. Anger. Hate. Revenge.=
+Playful. Not evil. No intent.+
=Anger!= Oh yes, go right ahead and excuse him like you always do!
Megatron's ability to still receive Ravage did prove that Starscream had indeed not killed the cassette. Perhaps it really was just one of Starscream's cruel pranks. Or maybe Starscream didn't realise what effect blocking someone from the mind-web would have? He had never experienced it himself and might not see that much harm in it.
Now that he thought about it, was Starscream even aware that he had blocked Ravage from the mind-web or was this an unexpected side-effect of some other experiment?
+Ravage: Out. Out. Please! Away. No more. Die. Please.+
+Die. Worry. Hurry.+
He had to know what was going on in Vos!
=Mindwing!= he contacted the telepath Ravage had named earlier.
=Soundwave? Love. Comfort!= the answer came right away, though he was just barely within her range.
=Urgent. Ravage. Starscream. Where?=
=Confusion. Search. Ravage?=
=Vos. Starscream. Where?=
=Starscream: storage room. No Ravage. Patrol. Lightbeam?= Mindwing suggested.
=Meet. Storage room.= He hoped he wasn't contradicting a direct order from Starscream, by telling Mindwing to abandon her patrol. In general telepaths were more likely to obey another telepath when receiving conflicting orders, but the Air Commander outranked Soundwave and the seekers were practically his personal army. This could have serious disciplinary consequences for Mindwing, if Starscream took offence. Unfortunately Starscream’s sensibilities were almost impossible to predict. Sometimes he'd feel slighted by the tiniest things at others he'd completely overlook severe misconduct.
Well, it was Mindwing's choice and her problem. She wasn't obliged to obey him, if she had different orders from Starscream.
=Lightbeam?= he cast his mind out to the seeker he barely knew.
=Hectic!= =Hectic!= =Ravage!= =Starscream!= =Hatch!= =Wrong!= =Hectic!=
Each of the fast staccato messages arrived like a stab in Soundwave's mind and he replied with a strong wave of calm that he knew would have had little effect, even if it had been honest. Lightbeam was cursed with the same abnormal thought-speed that made Starscream’s thoughts so erratic, but he lacked the smooth motor control to reach the Air Commander's flight speeds as well as the intelligence to make any scientific or strategic use of it. The only effect it had on him was to make him impatient, hectic and prone to hysteric outbursts.
=Starscream. Ravage. Where?=
=Shuttle!= =Hatch!= =Stuck!= =Worry!=
The mind-web provided some emotional balance for Lightbeam, but there was no slowing down his mind to normal speeds, so he'd learned to compensate by cutting off and pausing after each concept to give the recipient time to process the message.
It still took a second view for Soundwave to realise the significance of the mental picture that had accompanied the concept 'Hatch'. Starscream pulling with all his strength on a rusted hatch that wouldn't give? He replayed it to Lightbeam.
=Worry!= he sent back to Megatron with a slightly chiding undertone.
+Comfort.+ He was still more amused than concerned, though.
=Hatch!= Lightbeam confirmed. =Stuck!= =Rust!= =Heavy!=
Heavy lifting wasn't for seekers and knowing Starscream's preferences there wouldn't be any ground personnel on hand for it either. It was the price the Air Commander paid for the high mobility and fast reaction times of his troops.
"Soundwave, we're approaching Vos. Any preferences where I should land?"
"Cargo docks." It was the closest landing area to the storage rooms.
Maybe Astrotrain would have had the strength to tear the hatch open, but Soundwave didn't feel like waiting.
=Starscream: Cut open.= he sent to Lightbeam to relay.
=Cut?= =Damage.= =Valuable!=
Unlike Ravage Soundwave did have a certain appreciation for archaeology, but he also suspected that Megatron was censuring just how much of Ravage's fear he replayed. This rusty old shuttle was holding his cassette prisoner and cutting off its hatch didn't mean it would be rendered useless to the scientists. They'd still be able to examine and analyse the parts.
Well, Starscream could override his orders, if he felt he had a better idea.
He got off the moment Astrotrain came to a stop and didn't even bother to check whether the triple-changer was following as he raced through the corridors. He didn't need his help anymore.
The two guards he remembered from Ravage's last report were nowhere to be seen, but the feeling of wrongness radiating from it made it easy to identify the right corridor. Soundwave suppressed a shudder at the feeling and forced himself to move on. Megatron's amusement disappeared the moment he first made contact with the wrongness.
Soundwave didn't answer. The feeling was spooky and he wouldn't tell Megatron an obvious lie, but he also refused to admit to feeling fear.
The door of the storage room was standing open, but almost entirely blocked by nervous seekers. So this was where the guards had disappeared to.
He sent a quick greeting to Mindwing and Lightbeam as he stepped past the group.
=No closer!= Mindwing warned, but he was distracted by the fact that he couldn't feel Starscream’s mind, even though the Air Commander was right in his sight trying to remove the shuttle's hatch with a heavy laser.
"Starscre..." In a sudden burst of wrongness all mind-links disappeared. =Megatron!=
"Telepaths don't seem to like being this close to the shuttle," Starscream informed him with a smirk. "You'll feel better, if you take a few steps back."
He did only half aware of the words or his actions in his panic. =Megatron!=
+What? Heard. Loud.+ Megatron complained.
+No. Heard.+ Megatron insisted.
Of course he could hear Ravage as well, but what use was that when Soundwave could no longer read him?
=Terror!= Lightbeam commented from where he was fidgeting about next to the door.
=Afraid.= Mindwing admitted.
He clung to the comfort of their mind-messages, the warm safety of the web restored. Whatever this wrongness was inside it was no place to be for a telepath. How could Ravage have been stupid enough to enter this far into it? He had to be much braver than Soundwave felt. Still, now he was caught in there all alone and terrified.
"Open hatch," he told Starscream. "Ravage must get out."
That one short moment he'd spent without mind-contact had been terrifying, crippling even though he'd still had a way out, had been able to see and hear others around him. He couldn't even imagine how bad it had to be for Ravage.
"I'm working on it. The hatch is thicker than it looks."
"Cut off the hinges," he ordered despite Megatron once again reminding him that he was overstepping his authority. There were few Decepticons that outranked Soundwave, but Starscream did and this time he made use of the fact.
"No, they might be of scientific interest. Besides I'm almost through."
Both telepaths in the room yelped in pain and even the non-talents took a few hesitant steps towards the hatch. Only Starscream mind-blind and within the mind-dead field of wrongness remained completely unaffected.
"Patience is a virtue, you know," he said slowly directing the laser downward. "Or so the humans claim. Seems like Megatron agrees on that, though."
+Amusement.+ But it was just a quick, nervous flash. Even Megatron was worried.
The Air Commander looked up, red optics sparkling in surprise. There was no way to tell what he was thinking.
"It really is no place for a telepath."
Starscream nodded. "One last cut. There's nothing in there that can harm him. It's just dark and rusty."
"I wouldn't be so sure of that," Lightbeam interrupted. "You can't feel this thing. It's ... it's ..."
"Pure terror," Mindwing completed. "And it's growing stronger. We need to get out of here, Starscream."
"Then wait outside. We don't need telepathy to free Ravage."
"But it's growing! What if it's feeding off our mind-energy?" Lightbeam whined. "Maybe it's already eaten Ravage!"
+Ravage here.+ Megatron reminded Soundwave, though he was clearly unwilling to repeat whatever Ravage was sending.
"No, Megatron still receives Ravage." Soundwave assured the others.
=How?= Mindwing asked.
It was a good question. If only he knew the answer, he'd most likely have the key to this mystery, but all he knew was that it ought to be impossible for even a strong receiver to outperform him.
"Megatron receives Ravage?" Starscream repeated once again interrupting his work. "Receives?"
Had Starscream been completely unaware of Megatron's receiver status? Megatron never made a big show of his telepathic abilities, but he'd never declared them a secret either. After all it wasn't something you could easily hide. Even a weak sender would detect the ability, if he was close enough.
"He shouldn't be able to," Mindwing said. "None of us can and we're full telepaths and right here."
"I don't know how," Soundwave admitted. "Open the hatch."
"My, my, we are single-minded today," Starscream commented, but obeyed.
The hatch fell out with a loud clank revealing a dark opening.
Soundwave's first impulse made him start for the hole, but once again he lost mind-contact and now the wrongness was forming words in his head. He stumbled backwards in fear.
Starscream looked back at him in surprise, and then his optics swept over his trembling troops.
"Wait outside!" the Air Commander snapped. "I'll get him. It can't touch me."
"Being mind-blind only means you don't notice when it touches you," Mindwing corrected causing the non-talents to shift even closer to the door.
Lightbeam was gone, Soundwave noticed somewhere in the back of his mind. He could still feel him retreat down the corridor outside, but with the wrongness echoing in his mind he barely noticed. All his attention was focussed on the hole Starscream had now disappeared through. If he didn't find Ravage, or didn't return, Soundwave knew he'd have to go after him. He wasn't sure he could bring himself to do it.
(Dead-dead-kill-kill-all gone-all dead.)
+Disgust. Pleasant vocabulary.+ Megatron was examining the wrongness as he would a particularly squishy flesh-creature. It was probably easier to stay calm, if you were only watching it as a data stream from somebody else's mind.
=Worry.= He wasn't going to admit to fear, but the distraction Megatron's commentary offered was welcome. It was soothing to have someone so unaffected to talk to.
+Comfort. Trust. Starscream.+
And then Starscream stepped out of the shuttle, a shivering, black bundle held safely in his arms.
=Ravage!= But there still wasn't any mind contact until Starscream finally stepped out of the mind-dead zone and Ravage's head snapped up in recognition.
=Soundwave? Soundwave! In! In! Home! Safe! Dread!=
He had just barely enough time to open his chest as the cassette leaped right out of Starscream's arms and inside him.
=Safe! Home! Rest! Fear!=
=Ravage?= Soundwave enquired gently.
He should probably question him, but right now Ravage's mind felt exhausted and traumatised. =Love.=
+Love.+ The concept was meant for Ravage, even though he wasn't reading Megatron at the moment and therefore couldn't see it.
Soundwave considered nudging Ravage to make a connection, but he doubted Megatron would be willing to repeat himself, so he just replayed it to Ravage.
=Disbelief. Gratitude. Love.= Ravage returned before dropping into deep recharge. Soundwave kept a strong link on him anyway, just to make sure the cat wasn't bothered by any nightmares after his ordeal.
Soundwave retreated from the room now that Ravage was safe. He didn't want any further contact with the wrongness, if he could avoid it and surely leaving its influence would do Ravage good as well.
Starscream fell into step beside him.
"Is he alright?"
"He didn't seem fine just now," Starscream pointed out.
"Exhausted," Soundwave allowed. "Resting."
"Your vocabulary's deteriorating."
Starscream knew better than that of course, so Soundwave didn't deem the comment worthy of an answer. He'd proven his eloquence to Starscream on more than one occasion in the past and the Air Commander had also known him long enough to be aware of his distaste for idle chatter.
"I suppose this proves that the shuttle killed the telepaths?" Starscream tried for a new topic.
"The wrongness drove them to suicide." That was all Starscream needed to know.
"I'll have it transferred into the weapons lab and restrict access to mind-blinds only. Nobody will be left alone with it anymore ..."
"Destroy it," Soundwave interrupted coldly.
"What? No, that's impossible. Don't you see how important it is to science?"
"It kills. Destroy it."
"If we can discover how it works, we could turn it into a weapon, use it on the Autobots ..."
"Autobots are mind-blind." At least most of them were. He'd met non-talent Autobots, so it was possible that there were telepaths, but the number had to be negligible and he really didn't want to subject another telepath to the wrongness, even if they were an Autobot. "Telepathy is a Decepticon trait. We'd kill only our own."
He could feel Starscream's reluctance. He'd have to talk Megatron into sending specific orders to destroy the shuttle. Most of the time Starscream did obey direct orders.
Inside his chest Ravage shuddered as a memory of the wrongness flickered through his memory, but a quick =Love.= steered his dream back to safer things.
Somewhere deep below Iacon a young Autobot explorer's attention is attracted to a dark, ancient tunnel by an inexplicable feeling of wrongness. All his instincts tell him to turn around and leave, but what kind of an explorer would he be, if he were afraid of the dark?
He is used to having strange echoes in his mind anyway. It is those inexplicable thoughts and feelings he gets in his head whenever he is around other people that keep driving him into these empty tunnels all on his own.
If he returns this soon they'll ask him why and he'll have to tell them about the feelings. They'll think he's going mad and perhaps he is, but he's been able to suppress and hide it from everybody so far. He won't give up now. Surely there is nothing down there.
He musters all his courage and starts down the corridor to prove it to himself. If he finds something interesting, then he'll have a reason to return.
Around the next corner he finds the perfect excuse, an apparently ancient hangar filled with unusually well preserved shuttles. Some of them look like they
might even still be functional.