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Title: The Freemark Conspiracy, Chapter 3: Tagged and Chained
Rating: PG-13 (for now)
Warning:Vortex in charge of prisoners.
Universe: G1
Characters: Onslaught, Vortex, Swindle, OCs
Summary: The Decepticons have taken over the Freemark Prison outside Protihex. For the Decepticons, it's a footnote in the greater battle. For Onslaught, it's an opportunity.
Previous:
1: Entering Freemark
2: The New Administration


"What's this?" Swindle turned the device over, scowling. "Tracker?"

The interrogator's rotors bobbed. "Yep. but more importantly, it rates prisoners by necessity." there was an expectant feeling to his pause.

"The new prison commodity," Swindle mused, rolling the almost rivet-sized device between his fingers.

Vortex laughed, an unpleasant, nasty sound. "An old one, really. Survival in a few bytes of data."

"Protection," Swindle summarized. "Get the right rating, and the guards won't hassle you. get the wrong one and well..."

The interrogator's visor glowed. "Demonstration on the main floor, right after install."

"You've made arrangements?"

A huff of air. "Why bother? Got a bunch of angry frontliners stuck on short rations. Soon as they get told who they can hit, 'spect energon on the floor."

"The guards all have an instant ID on who they can hurt," Swindle said.

"You too," Vortex said cheerfully. "Gonna give you the alteration protocols."

Swindle looked up sharply. "Why?" he demanded.

"New prison commodity," Vortex reminded him. "I could use a broker on the inside, y'know?"

That made a whole lot more sense than niceness. Something in Swindle relaxed. Racketeering, he could understand. "Yeah," he said. "I could maybe work somethin' out, for a few perks."

Vortex laughed, delighted. "I knew I had the right mech. Welcome to the Decepticons, Swindle."

x-x-x


"Forced labor?" Onslaught asked as Vortex entered.

"Yup," Vortex said cheerfully, not elaborating.

Onslaught gave him an unamused look. "I was asking for an explanation, not confirmation."

"Why didn't you just say so?" Vortex held out for a few astroseconds longer before giving in. "Usin' Swindle on the inside like we talked 'bout, but he can't exactly find out much if there's no circulation 'mongst the prisoners, y'know?"

"It also increases the risk of prisoner collusion and uprising," Onslaught said. In addition to being against all accepted rules of warfare, he added to himself. It wasn't an argument that would have any traction with Vortex or Onslaught's own commanders.

A jaunty tilt to the helicopter's rotors said Vortex had guessed the second reason anyway. "Labor's lettin' us dictate who's in contact with whom," he said. "Pick out who's likely to be a leader-type, toss 'em together in hard labor, wait to see who emerges on top." Vortex laughed. "Swindle tags him, guards take care of the problem. Uprising taken care of."

"And when Swindle starts 'tagging' for his own profit, rather than ours?"

Vortex snorted, rotors flicking. "'Course he will. Already has, actually. Plan only works if he gets a rep for bein' the guy to go to for favors, and he's gotta have somethin' to use for leverage.'

"So the extra requisitions I've been authorizing are not 'leverage'?" Onslaught asked archly.

"Some mechs want fuel, some mechs want safety. 'Sides, it's fraggin' cheap intel, either way."

That, he had to admit. So far, the extra requisitions hadn't even come close to the fuel saved by Vortex's ration cuts. Add the value of the prisoners' labor, and Freemark was, financially, the most efficient segment of his command, any personal feelings he had about Vortex's methods aside.

"Now can we talk about these idiot slaggers you've stuck me with?" Vortex groused.

"Interrogation's a small specialty. The options are limited," Onslaught said, the same thing he'd said last time Vortex had complained.

"Turnpike shoulda never been pulled for interrogation. The only thing he's useful for is cannon fodder." Vortex folded his arms. "Ain't worth his fraggin' scrap value."

"I'm sure you'll find a use for him anyway," Onslaught said calmly, turning back to his reports.

"Burn's almost as bad," Vortex continued. "Mech's as stupid as that fraggin' tank you picked up, and three times as useless."

"So you've informed me," Onslaught said. He wasn't going to authorize a transfer, but it didn't hurt to let the helicopter rant a bit. "And Sliver?"

"Eh, Sliver's okay. Not what I'd call a 'shinin' example' of processin' power, but least he's competent."

"High praise," Onslaught commented, amused.

Vortex glared at him.

"You will have plenty of work for all of them," Onslaught said. "Outflank's sending a detachment with more prisoners. I trust you'll find space for them."

Vortex shrugged. "Yeah, sure, we got some attrition to reverse. He sendin' up what he knows 'bout 'em?"

"It will arrive by the time you get back to the prison," Onslaught said. "You're dismissed, Vortex."

"Yeah, yeah," Vortex said, taking time to stretch his rotors before sauntering out.

Onslaught smirked behind his battlemask and went back to his reports.

x-x-x


Wayfall stumbled as he exited the transport, hampered by his restraints. Behind him, the rest of the Autobot prisoners were shoved out one by one under the watchful gazes - and guns - of the Decepticon guards. It was a relief to be out of the cramped and overheated transport, but honestly, the courtyard they found themselves in wasn't much better. Floodlights glared down at the prisoners but threw the guards in shadows, making them little more than reflected light gleaming off readied guns and red glowing optics. Above them loomed the massive hulk of a building, defensive towers spaced around its exteriors.

"Welcome to Freemark," a looming shape growled.

"What the slag is Freemark?" Wayfall hissed at Lifter as the Decepticons herded them towards the building.

"Shut up, Autotrash!" a guard snapped, shoving Wayfall forward. "No talking."

They were funneled along a series of twisting corridors, through foreboding gates, and finally lined up against a bare metal wall. An irritated-looking Decepticon grabbed Wayfall, shoving him hard against the wall, removing his restraints and shoving a device against his armor with enough force to dent. A click, a sharp pain, and the Decepticon threw him to the side and moved on to the next in line. Another set of corridors, and finally they were pushed into a massive room, vaulted ceiling high enough for a guardian to stand upright. walkways criss-crossed room above their heads. The floor, though...

The floor was rows upon rows of cells, each filled with mechs. Wayfall found himself dragged to a cell and shoved inside, the forcefield snapping back into place behind him.

"Fresh scrap," one of the other prisoners said from his place, seated against the back wall, and cackled. An Autobrand was barely visible on his battered chestplate.

"Oh, leave him alone," said another, sprawled carelessly an arm length away. "We get enough of that slag from the guards without you adding to it," The mech waved vaguely from the floor. "I'm Tach, the rusting pile of cheer is Backdrop,' the hand pointed to the side. "That's Fascia, Redlight, and Curbstand."

"Wayfall," he returned, rubbing at the odd little rivet the Decepticon in the corridor had punched through his armor.

"Don't play with that," the mech Tach had identified as Redlight muttered, hunching in on himself. "Guards don't like it."

"What is it?" Wayfall asked.

Tach shrugged, tucking his hands under his head. "Tracker. Tells 'em where we are, who we are, and what level of usefulness we are." He smiled mirthlessly. "Be useful, and the guards leave you alone. don't, and well, they don't, either."

"Oh." Wayfall let his hand drop. "Where are we? We were out of Iacon, near Nova Cronum when we were taken. Felt like fraggin' forever in the transport."

"Protihex," Tach said. "Welcome to the Freemark Incarceration and Rehabilitation Center, the modern pinnacle of humane detention facilities." He spoke with heavy irony. "The 'Cons took the place without a fight a couple orns ago, and we've been packed in like a shipment of washers ever since."

"Were you... it sounds like you were here," Wayfall said, finding himself a seat on the wall.

"I was," Tach said. "Redlight here, too." Tach grinned. "I was a guard, Redlight was in for - what was it, assault and vandalism?"

"They deserved it," Redlight muttered.

"Don't know where Curbstand's from, and Backdrop and Fascia came in on a couple transports a bit ago, like you. But we're all in it together now," Tach finished, shrugging. "'Cons don't care how we got here."

"Has anyone escaped?" Wayfall asked. Redlight hunched in more, while Backdrop just laughed.

"Had a couple before the 'Cons, but mostly on work details." Tach tilted his head to look at Wayfall. "But we didn't make a habit out of shooting prisoners and went a teensy bit less heavily armed."

"Everyone who tries, dies," Fascia said coldly. "And if you're going to be a suicidal idiot, please leave us out of it."

x-x-x


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