casusfere: (Burny)
[personal profile] casusfere
Title: Collars
Chapter: 3: Plots and Complications
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: This fic contains Vortex being a manipulative bastard, dark humor, regular humor, Vortex's glue gun, serious ethical dilemmas, and non-explicit references to the horrible things Vortex did in previous fics
Series: Warden (knowledge of previous fics not required)
Universe: G1
Summary: After the Combaticon's second attempt to overthrow the Decepticon leadership, Megatron had Shockwave insert a "Loyalty program" into their code to insure their continued obedience. When Onslaught is captured in battle, the Autobots discover the program. Now, for the first time since the Detention Center, the Combaticons may have a say in their own fate - provided Onslaught can keep Vortex on a leash, stop Swindle from selling the minibots on the black market, prevent any Brawl-related explosions, and keep Blast Off from shooting all these Autobots who won't stop talking to him.

Previous: Chapter 1
Chapter 2
On AO3


'Copter inbound,” Vortex said over private encryption. “Ready?

Yeah, yeah.” Swindle sounded less than enthusiastic.

C'mon, perk up, Stumpy! Promise not to let them hit you too much.”

Once is too much, nutcase.” But Swindle moved anyway, sliding over to the two Autobot frontliners with an oily grin calculated to infuriate rather than ingratiate. “Hey, guys!” He dragged a chair over, plopping himself between the twins, seeming completely oblivious to the sour looks he got in return.

“Scram, Decepticreep,” Sideswipe said.

Swindle held up his hands, making placating gestures. “Now, there's no call for that. We're all on the same side, right?”

“Wrong,” Sunstreaker said flatly.

Vortex waited for his target to enter the rec room before acting. He let Blades pass him, retrieving a cube of energon and turning to find a seat. Perfect. Vortex looked up from where he'd been lounging near the energon dispenser, tilting his head toward Swindle and the frontliners. He gave his rotors a flick in a gesture most Autobots wouldn't understand, but the other rotary would take as displeasure.

“Hey, c'mon, we can be friends-” Swindle made his move, reaching out to clap both twins on the shoulder. It was hard to tell which one moved first – Sideswipe smacked Swindle's hand away, but Sunstreaker grabbed for the other hand, intending on removing the offending appendage by force. “Hey! Ow!”

Vortex straightened, careful to keep his body language angry, but it was an effort to not laugh. Swindle was certainly capable of taking care of himself in a lot rougher areas than this, with far nastier mechs, but the Autobots didn't know that. Around Decepticons, it was rarely a good idea to play up weakness, but Autobots didn't have the elitist drive of the Decepticon warrior.

“C'mon guys, I didn't mean anything by it-” Swindle kept up the whining tone. “Tex, get your aft over here before I hurl.

Sunstreaker's lips twisted and he dropped a shoulder, about to shove Swindle off in disgust. Well, that wouldn't do. Vortex stalked across the short distance to the three. He checked his target out of the corner of an optic. Yep, 'copter was watching the scene with a frown. “Back off,” he growled, looming over the more volatile of the Autobots.

Sunstreaker looked up at him, expression dark. “Frag off, Decepticon.” He let go of Swindle, standing to face the helicopter.

“You don't touch him,” Vortex said, cold. Behind Sunstreaker, Swindle's lips twitched before he schooled his face to a pleading expression.

“Let's just go, Tex.” Swindle moved around Sunstreaker, grabbing Vortex by the laser mounts on his forearm.

Vortex planted his feet – not that Swindle was really trying to move him. Short Stumpy might have been, but he was strong. He glared back at Sunstreaker, leaning forward in a deliberate threat. “Huh. I don't think he's gonna hit me. Amazin', he might have some restraint after all.

Worse, it looks like the truck with the shields is 'bout to come break up the party. So much for that plan. Improvising time- Swindle to Onslaught, come break up our fake fight in the rec room before the 'Bots do.

...Your what? Nevermind, I was heading there anyway.”

“You frag with my team, you deal with me.” Vortex kept his glare on Sunstreaker. “Okay, so I thought he was more violent. Hey, this works too.

“What is going on here?” Onslaught demanded, right on cue. The Combaticon leader loomed in the doorway.

Vortex pulled away from Sunstreaker, glaring for a brief moment longer before turning to Onslaught. “Nothing,” he said, voice flat.

Sunstreaker just sneered. “Let's go, Sides. The company here sucks.”

Onslaught stepped aside to let them leave. “Vortex,” he growled. “What are you two up to?

Everything's goin' perfect, Onsies.” Vortex looked away, rotors shuffling. The turn brought Blades back into view. “They started it,” he muttered. Swindle let go of his arm, taking a subtle step back.

“I don't care,” Onslaught said. “I told you to keep out of trouble. Don't let it happen again. Do you understand me?”

“Yeah, boss,” Vortex muttered sullenly. At the edge of his field of vision, Blades shifted.

“You'd better,” Onslaught said darkly, then looked to Swindle, but didn't say anything further. He turned sharply and strode to the energon dispenser. ”Whatever you're doing, be careful. Our position here is not sound,” he told them grimly over private encryption.

Vortex twitched his rotors and turned just as sharply towards the door, stalking out of the rec room. He checked the internal map the Autobots had provided, and headed for the nearest exit. “Relax, Ons, we got this.”

Bingo, one sucker. Helicopter's following,” Swindle said lazily. “'Scuse me, I need to go look friendless and miserable and see if I can catch a sucker of my own.

Vortex emerged on the side of the mountain, and stopped to let his target catch up. Crossing his arms, he scowled at the rocks below.

“Hey,” Blades called as he approached.

Vortex twitched his rotors in simulated surprise, glancing back over his shoulder. “Oh. Hi.” He went back to looking at the rocks.

“I wanted to introduce myself,” Blades said, coming to stand next to him.

“You're Blades,” Vortex said. The Protectobot looked surprised. “First Aid told me,” he added.

Blades frowned, optics sharpening. Well, isn't that interesting. Protective, yes, and suspicious. Gonna be on guard about his teammates. He filed that away, adjusting his angle of attack accordingly.

“Well, he did when I asked,” Vortex admitted, shuffling his rotors in apparent embarrassment. “And it's kinda hard to mix up the rotaries when there's only one, eh?”

“Yeah,” Blades agreed, relaxing again. “About that back there...”

It was Vortex's turn to shift suspiciously. “What about it?”

“Your teammates probably shouldn't try to make buddies with those two. They're good guys, but rough. It'll take them a while to adjust.”

“Yeah,” Vortex agreed. “Swindle's just got the worse judgment when it comes to people sometimes.” Now that was a lie and a half. Swindle read people like datapads. “Gets him in trouble.” He shook his head. “Enough of that. Y'know, I haven't gone flyin' with another 'copter since we was stationed in Kaon. Wanna take a spin? I ain't had a chance to do any explorin' yet, either.”

Blades brightened immediately. The Protectobot tried to hide it, but Vortex knew the tells better than Blades did. “Yeah, sure, I've got some time before I gotta head out for my patrol,” Blades said, a little too casually. “I can show you around a bit.”

Vortex laughed. “Then what are we waiting for?”

x-x-x


Swindle slunk over to the over-sized couch dominating one end of the rec room and flopped down, shoulders hunched. Autobots were, by and large, suckers for a pity case. The older mechs in the room might know enough to avoid getting caught up in his and Vortex's charade, but there were entire teams of young mechs in the Autobot ranks. He stared blankly at the screen in front of him, and waited.

Someone shifted behind him, footsteps coming over, and hesitating. Swindle kept the smirk off his face with effort. Perfect.

A second set of footsteps, then someone spoke, too softly to make out. Swindle twisted, glancing back – a young jet, mostly in red, nodding to a familiar shape. Door wings, racing stripes... Slag it.

“Swindle,” Smokescreen greeted, turning away from Fireflight.

“Smokescreen,” Swindle returned, guarded. “Been a while.”

“Yeah, we haven't gotten in each other's way since, what, Monacus?” Smokescreen took a seat on the short table between the TV screen and the couch. “You seem to be running in smaller circles these days.”

“Less ambitious partners,” Swindle said. Frag and frag. Why hadn't he considered Smokescreen when Vortex brought up this plan? He and Smokescreen hadn't associated, barely even knew each other by sight, but they'd competed fiercely before the war and in the early days of it. How much did Smokescreen know about him? “Can't say I'm sorry about it.”

“Oh, I think they're plenty ambitious. The whole dragging-into-the-sun thing, that was pretty up there on the scale.”

Double frag. Swindle shrugged, slouching more into the couch. “Yeah, well, that wasn't the smartest thing we've ever done. None of us were exactly thinkin' clearly at that point.”

“I'd say so,” Smokescreen said, never losing the friendly tone or the easy smile. Swindle didn't believe it for a second.

“So what, you've come to gloat?” Swindle scowled.

“No, just to look things over,” Smokescreen answered. “I admit, I don't envy you all. It's a bad position you've been caught in.”

Swindle gave him a hard stare, wondering where Smokescreen was going with it.

“I mean it. You've got a second chance here, Swindle. You and your whole team, you could be real assets to the Autobots.” Smokescreen's smile didn't seem so friendly suddenly. “Don't screw it up.”

Swindle watched the Autobot leave, frowning and already calculating how this development would affect their plans, and how exactly he could turn in to his advantage.

x-x-x


The Autobot intercepted Onslaught as he left the rec room. His new transponder recognition protocols identified the mech, and Onslaught was familiar with the name. Autobot second in command, tactician, competent. Good group tactics. Fond of multiple-prong attacks, but cautious. Prefers to strike from fortified positions. "Prowl," he said, inclining his head slightly.

"Onslaught," Prowl greeted him. "I wish to speak with you regarding tactical applications of your team."

"I am at your disposal," Onslaught answered. He stepped back, letting the Autobot move around him and take the lead.

"I assume that you're familiar with Hull-Down's theories of small unit tactics?" Prowl spoke as he walked.

"Of course," Onslaught said. He knew very little about the mech off the battlefield, he realized. Tactical intel gave Onslaught a good idea of what orders Prowl would issue in a confrontation, but considering both the Autobot's position and his own, it may become imperative to know more.

Silently, he pulled up a private comm channel. "Vortex. I need intel on an Autobot.

"Aw, come on, I'm busy," Vortex came back immediately with a distinctly familiar—and completely fake—whine.

Bored already? he thought in amusement. "Give me everything you know about Prowl, and I will let you go back to your little games," he said instead.

"Yeah, yeah, sure... everything, or just the good stuff?"

"I'll take the highlights," he told the helicopter, absently answering a question from Prowl outloud.

"Alright..." There was a pause as Vortex reviewed and analyzed his observations. "Older mech, been in service at least as long as us. Been in tactics all of it, in command staff positions most of it. Don't think he likes bein' on top. Relies too much on his battlecomputer. Pfft, Paraxians. Won't improvise well, but he's good enough at dynamic tactics and his battlecomputer's fast enough that you ain't gonna be able to tell. Talkin' about corruption in the old regime'll annoy him, because he didn't have a problem with the way things were. Ain't good with people, but he's old enough that it don't bother him anymore. Keep it professional, he'll like that. You remember how the whole value-risk assessment goes; go with that. Get him emotionally upset, and I think his tactical abilities will cave. 'Course, he ain't gonna get emotional about, well, anything."

"How much danger does he pose to us?"

"For now, probably less than most. Keep a lid on it, and he'll get on with you great. Uh, keep Swindle away from him, though. That's just not gonna work out good for anyone."Vortex snickered at something. "Most anyone. And probably Brawl, too."

Onslaught decided that he really didn't need to know. "How much of this did you get from the archive files and how much from seeing him for what, a breem in the hallway?"

"Some of it and some of it. I'm observant like that." Vortex sounded smug.

"How would you handle him?" Curiosity prompted him to ask more than a need for the information—Vortex's methods weren't his, and wouldn't help him.

"Normally? Wouldn't. Yank the battlecomputer, straight hack, let cryptography handle it. Sure, he'd be fun to play with, but wouldn't get much from it. If I wanna break him..." Vortex laughed. "I'd wanna be on his side, work on 'em for a few orns, slow-like, where he don't know I'm doin' it. Go from the inside out, get him to break himself down. Might turn, or more likely just off himself and save us the trouble."

"Don't get ideas," Onslaught said dryly.

"You sayin' that always gives me ideas," Vortex said cheerfully. "Anything else, or can I go back to fluffin' up this little rotary? Seriously, so naive it's adorable."

"Try not to maim anyone. Onslaught out." Onslaught nodded in response to Prowl's question. "Our function since our release has been largely as a strike team," he said, agreeing with Prowl's assessment. "Prior to our incarceration, under Shockwave, we operated differently-"



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