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Warning: this log contains a mech being deliberately and somewhat graphically tortured and pushes the PG13 rating. Read at your own risk.

Vortex First Aid

(Intelligence Compound, Polyhex)

First Aid wasn't quite sure when Vortex had left, or when Robustus had come in. Robustus had left when Aid wasn't willing to talk to him anymore after running a basic scan and checking his fluid levels, muttering something irritable sounding to Soundwave as he'd left the room. And what he'd said hadn't made any sense. Lifeline wouldn't have joined the Decepticons, it had to be another lie. Robustus had been.... odd. Almost unhappy, and if it hadn't been for the scan and coolant- no energon, though- that Robustus had added to his lines making him feel more alert, he'd have thought the whole thing was some sort of defragment process gone wrong. He still hurt, but the unpleasant vagueness and distance was gone, at least for the moment...

Vortex strides happily into the room, a quarter-full cube of energon in one hand and an optic that's as close as Soundwave could find to Lifeline's in the other. He's more than a little torqued that Soundwave doubts his professional abilities enough to have brought Robustus in, although he doesn't yet know about Robustus talking to First Aid about Lifeline.

"Thirsty?" he says, and sets the quarter cube down on a shelf against the wall, well within First Aid's field of vision.

"Why do you care?" First Aid says after a long klick of silence watching Vortex and the cube. His tank is low, but whatever Vortex will want in exchange for energon will certainly not be worth it. Someone has to have noticed he's missing by now, and they'll be looking. He just has to hold on.

"Because," Vortex says cryptically. He leans over and pokes the edges of the empty optical orbit. "Hmm... That came out nicely. Hey, look what I found!" He holds the Lifeline-look-alike optic up in front of First Aid's face. He's even gone so far as to dribble a little energon and other fluids on it in pleasing (to him) patterns.

First Aid winces away as Vortex pokes the painful edges of the wound on his face, drawing a sharp intake of air through his vents but holding back any other sort of outcry. The little lens that Vortex is holding is blue and easily recognizable as an optic, but otherwise not identifiable, although the edges are obviously not clean, dried fluid sticking to it. He turns his head away from the grisly little part and closes his mouth firmly.

"I did say I might bring you something of Lifeline's," Vortex says. "Remember?"

The optic is blue. But a lot of people have blue optics. "I don't believe you," First Aid says. Lifeline is safe somewhere laying low, nowhere near Polyhex, not a Decepticon and certainly not a prisoner. Has to be. He can't help but looking at it again before firmly shaking his head and shuttering his optic, refusing to look or to think about how much harder it might be to come by a blue optic that /hadn't/ been cut out of someone here in Polyhex...

The denial's easy to pick up on. Vortex grins and puts the optic beside the energon on the shelf. "I thought we'd pick up on where we left off," he says. He selects a regular blade from a tray by the chair, and runs the blunt edge along the back of First Aid's damaged hand, then he uses it to tap the sensor block. "Two untouched fingers and a world of possibilities, won't that be fun?" He draws back his mask, having decided that it could be productive to allow First Aid to see his face; he's still grinning. "Who's Alpha?"

He vaguely remembers saying something about Alpha when everything seemed so far away, but this... Alpha can take care of himself, and it's not like Aid really knows anything about him anyway. "Old mech- a priest." That's safe enough.

"Where do you know him from?" Vortex says. He taps the sensor block again, partially dislodging it. "Oops."

First Aid draws in another sharp intake, fans spinning up a little. It hurts now, but it's not like before, and even knowing that it's probably inevitable- sooner or later the mech will ask something he won't answer, he can't help tensing up and wishing for, at least, not now, leave it alone, a little longer. "Met him in Cubicron," First Aid says.

Vortex lays off poking the sensor block again, simply because First Aid is being remarkably compliant. "How much does he know about you?" he says. A lot, he thinks, or at least that was the implication from what First Aid said before. Alpha had answers, hence he needs to know more about Alpha.

"I don't know," First Aid replies. He relaxes, tension cables loosening from the involuntary clench that he'd found himself in as Vortex began messing with the sensor block.

"Guess," Vortex says, his optics flaring.

"I don't know-" First Aid repeats quickly. "He just... shows up, sometimes. Ev- just gives advice and then disappears agin."

"In Iacon?" Vortex asks. Alpha must be one of the more mystical priests of Primus, he thinks. Someone who's taken an interest in telling the younger generation what they should do and how they should do it. He doesn't realise that 'disappear' could be meant literally in this case.

"Just once," First Aid says. This topic of conversation is much safer than the others. Vortex takes a seat next to the chair, and leans his arms next to First Aid's broken hand. "What kinds of things has he told you?"

First Aid watches carefully, nervous to have Vortex anywhere near that hand, but obviously unable to move it out of reach. "Have faith. Be strong. That-" he stumbles. "That I'm not alone." Don't bring up brothers again, please, for Primus' sake...

"He's right," Vortex comments. "You're not. Where does he live?"

First Aid shakes his head. "I don't know, he just shows up."

"Does he talk to your brothers, or just you?" Vortex asks.

First Aid hesitates. He doesn't know that Blades or Groove has ever spoken to the mech but... still, better to sta on the topic of Alpha. "Maybe? I don't know."

Vortex nods, his grin fading to a happily self-indulgent smile. He nudges the sensor block again, this time putting it back where it's meant to be. "Was Alpha involved in developing the combiner technology?" he asks.

First Aid shakes his head and oh, that's making him nervous, don't move that, please. "I don't know." All they've ever gotten are evasions, and every time First Aid thinks he has a guess about what was done, something upsets it. "I don't think so."

"Who did design you?" Vortex asks. He gently pats First Aid's arm in a way that might be considered reassuring in any other circumstance and, as a reward for his openness, leaves the sensor block along.

You will no longer hear messages on channel <Decepticon>.

"I don't know that either," He says. His plating crawls and he edges away, as much as he can, from Vortex's creepy gentle patting.

"What about Adroita?" Vortex asks, picking up on something First Aid had said in the previous session.

"Adroita- I don't remember. She's in one of the books from a long time ago. Alpha said her name once, a legend." Hot Spot's memories contained a mech that might have been Adroita, but it surely couldn't be the same person after so many vorns. First Aid doesn't remember her, though, whether a namesake or a truly ancient femme herself.

"Alpha's a legend too," Vortex says. "Or maybe they're just named after legends..." Although he voices it like a suggestion, he thinks it's the likeliest explanation. That is, if neither Alpha nor First Aid are lying, and Vortex is sure that First Aid is telling the truth. "Did they give your team a name?" he says. "Like the Intellibots, wasn't it? From the stories."

First Aid squirms. He's loathe to give out any information about the team directly. "I can't say," And the reminder of what all was on that datapad doesn't help. Thank Primus he hadn't finished that letter.

"Really?" Vortex says. He nudges the sensor block again so that it's half off. "I think you can." "No," First Aid insists. There's a line here he isn't willing to cross, and it's a little thing, but just.. no. "I can't."

"Tough little thing, aren't you?" Vortex says with evident amusement and just a touch of admiration. "All right, I'll be kind. Tell me about your earliest memories."

"Running- falling - Lifeline fixing me," First Aid shrugs, as if it's nothing important or detailed. He really does /not/ like this amused Vortex, he was fairly certain before that the mech couldn't get any creepier.

"Tell me all about it." Vortex goes back to the 'reassuring' patting. "I like reminiscences." First Aid shivers. "There- there's not much to tell. I was in the tunnels near Cubicron and running away from something. I fell, and someone hurt me. One of Lifeline's clients found me and she brought me back online in her clinic. Ratchet helped her, they were friends, they're both just not easy to get along with." Vortex nods again, and this time rests his hand on First Aid's arm. It's dangerously close to, but not touching, the sensor block. "How long before you went to work for Ratchet?" he says.

"A... few months. Four quartexes. Something like that." First Aid twitches away from the hand, or tries to.

As a reward for his continued talking, Vortex withdraws his hand. "Do you have a specialisation?" he asks.

First Aid shakes his head. "I'm an intern. That's all."

"Do you want to?" Vortex is curious; the more he learns about First Aid, the more useful this interrogation will have been.

First Aid hesitates, but what can it hurt, it's not about his brothers or anything that's even particularly secret. "Field medic. Trauma specialty. Like Ratchet."

"Will they let you?" Vortex says.

"No," First Aid shakes his head. "Not for combat. I don't like violence. But they need help."

"Where would you work, if not on the battlefield?" Vortex is beginning to really enjoy this; it's nice when his subjects actually talk to him - even if First Aid is obviously avoiding the topic of his brothers.

First Aid shrugs. "Medbay, b-" He opens his mouth to continue- he doesn't like violence, but he's even less willing to let his brothers go out to fight without him, but that's en ly too much information, stopping himself just int ime.

"Not a lot of action stuck back in Iacon," Vortex comments. "How are you going to help people from there?"

First Aid frowns, but answers anyway. "I'll find a way- and I won't be stuck forever."

"Stuck?" Vortex says. That's an interesting way of putting it.

First Aid gives Vortex a slightly incredulous expression. "I'm not supposed to be going out without someone with me." A fact that Vortex obviously knows, given the effort to get Dually to make an offer to a mech he barely knows, and the rest.

Vortex 's suspicion is confirmed; First Aid doesn't seem to like being confined to Iacon. "Given the lack of care you take in choosing your friends, that's not surprising."

First Aid looks defensive. "What about my friends?" It's a little bit weird to hear Hammerstrike's complaint coming from a Decepticon- THIS Decepticon, even.

It looks to Vortex as though he's accidentally hit a nerve. He decides to attempt to capitalise on it. "They're not exactly prime Autobot material, are they?" Vortex says. "And the ones who aren't Autobots," he takes a bit of a leap with this, "aren't the kind of people you should be running your mouth to. Or going into dark tunnels with. Look at Dually."

First Aid grits his teeth. "Dually's not my friend- He's just... I don't know. If you think he's my friend, you don't know me as well as you're pretending to,"

Vortex gives First Aid a condescending smile. He certainly doesn't know First Aid anywhere near as well as he's pretending to, but he isn't about to admit that. "Friend, ally," he says, "It's all the same over here. But the words have different associations for you, don't they? I was built a Decepticon, you'll have to forgive me if I don't share your cultural background. How about you educate me? You can think of it as doing something to further the Autobot cause."

This has entirely taken a turn for the surreal, and First Aid'd be annoyed enough to stop except that he's afraid of what will happen when he does. "Why?" He asks, instead. Let the Decepticon talk, while he tries to think.

"Because I'm interested," Vortex says. His fingers hover over the sensor block again. "But you do know that I'm the one asking the questions, don't you?"

First Aid looks away. "I'm not likely to forget it, no," He sucks a long breath of air through his intakes. "I.. I don't know. Friends are friends. You do stuff for each other because you care and you can, not because they might owe you or because you owe them."

"And what about brothers?" Vortex asks.

First Aid 's vents catch. "I'm not talking about them." It's always going to come back to this, isn't it.

Yes it is. "Because you care?" Vortex taunts. He takes another risk. "I could easily put Groove in your place. Or maybe I could have Dually hunt down your gestalt leader. Would they be more helpful than you've been?"

"No!" He can't quit stop the reflexive cry in time, but it comes out only a little bit louder than normal. "No. I won't tell you anything about them." Groove and Hot Spot wouldn't have broken the rules and left the city. Streetwise would have realized it was a trap, and Blades- Blades wwould have been able to get away from Vortex during the ambush in the tunnel. First Aid closes his optic and lturns his head away from Vortex.

"I think they'd be more helpful," Vortex says. he removes the sensor block entirely and tucks it away in a drawer under the chair. "I think they'd realise something very important that you've entirely failed to grasp: no-one cares if I hurt you. No-one's going to stop me. And no-one's come to rescue you. Iacon and Crystal City are business as normal." This is a lie, although Vortex doesn't know it just yet. He's sure First Aid's superiors will have noticed he's missing and be searching for him, but he doesn't know about Iacon and Cyrstal City going into lockdown. "We haven't even had one of those pathetic comms from the higher-ups asking if we've taken a prisoner." He sighs and shrugs. "They don't care."

First Aid gasps as the injured hand goes from a serious but dull ache to a loose group of sharply agonizing cuts as full power rushes back into the sensory lines. His good hand is clenched into a fist and he vents hard, trying to think through the pain, anticipated as it might have been. "They care," First Aid insists, when he can talk again. "They're looking for me."

"You've got a heavy dose of faith in people who haven't protected you until now, you realise that? If they'd been doing their jobs, or /caring/ as you put it, you wouldn't be here right now." Vortex sits again, and gives the empty optical orbit another inspection. "They're not looking for you, and the only hope you have that you'll get out of here alive is me."

First Aid shakes his head. "I don't believe you. And it's not the Autobots' fault I left the city. I broke the rules." With his good optic closed, he can only tell Vortex is close because of the sheer size and power of the mech leaning over him, and he can only tell that Vortex is close, not exactly what he's doing. After a second, he cautiously unshutters the other optic, scared of what he'll see, but too afraid of being taken by surprise by some other new horrible thing.

Vortex is just looming, looking. He flashes First Aid a happy grin. "Then think of it logically," he says. "You're in here, they're out there. How long's it going to take them to fight their way through?" He takes hold of First Aid's throat and squeezes. "Far longer than it would take me to kill you, that's for certain."

There's nowhere to go and nowhere to get away. "They'll get me out," First Aid's vocalizer is choking with static and his fans are cycling with a near frantic note as air intakes are blocked and First Aid's system struggles to route enough coolant quickly enough to keep his system from beginning to overheat. "They /will/!" There's more of a quaver in his voice at the last, but he forces the sentence out anyway. He has to believe that.

"No, they won't," Vortex says. The sound of First Aid's fans is like music to his audials, and that's nothing compared with the wonderful uncertainty in his voice. "Only fliers come here, grounders just can't reach. That's no problem for a Decepticon, but an Autobot? They'd have no chance." He adopts a gentler tone. "The engineers are coming soon. They'll cut you apart and break you open, but not before hacking your firewalls and draining every last bit of data from up here." He gives First Aid's helm a tap. "Unless you tell me what I want to know, then they won't have to be so... thorough."

First Aid shakes his head. "I can't tell you what you want to know," He insists. He didn't see much of Polyhex on the way in, and he wonders how true it is, even if he could get out of here, even if he wasn't hurt and alone and completely lost in a huge base.

"All right," Vortex says. "Tell me why you can't tell me what I want to know."

"You'll hurt them," First Aid says, shaking his head again, stubbornly. He turns his head away from the side Vortex tapped on.

"Wrong," Vortex says. "If you don't give me what I want, I'll just get it from them. If you do... I'll have no reason to bother."

First Aid vents air and shakes his head again. "I can't- why would I believe you, anyway? You're a /Decepticon/." And please, let everyone STAY safe and far away.

"Because," Vortex says, poking indelicately into the space where First Aid's optic should be. "It's common sense. I want the intel. If I just wanted to cause you pain, I could do this." He scrapes his finger very roughly over the raw edge.

First Aid didn't think it could hurt more than when Vortex had cut into his faceplate in the first place, but he was wrong, and this pain is somehow different, hot and pressing and jagged against sensory nodes from the abused outer plating all the way deep down into the frame where those nodes ground to prevent overloads from arcing and causing a bigger problem in case of any sort of electrical problem. He presses his head back into the headrest of the chair, trying to get away from Vortex's hand on his face. "No!" He grits out around the damage warnings that pop up again on his HUD, reminding him that damaged nodes should be repaired immediately to prevent further system failures.

"Just tell me what I want to know," Vortex says, continuing to scrape, "and I'll stop."

First Aid is venting hard, and he can't help from crying out as the pain continues even as he struggles. "No- I won't! Can't! I won't let you hurt them!"

"We've been through this already," Vortex says, his smile vanishing. He keeps up the pressure, aiming to increase the pain. "Holding out on me is the only thing going to hurt them. And believe me, if you keep on holding out on me, you won't be able to recognise them when I'm done."

"STOP!" First Aid chokes out, still trying to turn his head away from Vortex and stop the waves of agony that are radiating out from his damaged optical socket. "Please, stop, I can't tell you, I can't!" His ventilation fans whine on their highest settings as his ensystem tries to prepare for an escape which can't come, restrained as he is.

Vortex doesn't stop, because that's not what he wants to hear. "Wrong answer," he says. "Do it again and I'm taking your hand."

First Aid shakes his head frantically in the tiny amount of play he has between Vortex's hand pressing optical socket and the chair, which isn't much. There's no other choice though. "I can't- you don't understand, they're my brothers- I can't do it." The words are half-sobbed, tumbling out one on top of the other as he tries to find a way out of the situation.

"Then tell me what they mean to you?" Vortex says, offering it as an alternative, but not letting up on the scraping.

"They're my brothers, what don't you understand? I have to take care of them, protect them!" First Aid cries. "Hav-have to, they would for me."

"Why?" Vortex presses. He has an academic knowledge of how this kind of relationships is meant to work, but no real understanding, and it's fascinating to him.

"Because- because that's what brothers /do/, it's just how it is," First Aid says. "They're my brothers and I love them." And he really can't distill it any further than that, even though it's dubious that that will make any particular sense to Vortex.

It makes academic sense, but doesn't strike any particular intuitive chord. "Would you die for them?" Vortex asks. He leaves the optical orbit alone and waits for the answer.

"If I had to," First Aid replies, huffing to slow his ventilation as the pain ramps back down, although he's still seeing white sensor-ghosts across his visual field as his other optic tries to compensate for the missing optical processor and the feedback from the sensory nodes that Vortex was molesting. "I'd rather live, but if I had to, yes,"

That's not surprising. "Would you endure an eternity of pain for them?" Vortex says.

"If it meant they didn't, yes," First Aid says, although his voice shakes, because the last cycle has shown him if nothing else that he had no idea how much he could hurt and still be online.

"Funny that," Vortex says, "because you can save them from a whole universe of agony, and not by enduring it yourself, just by talking. Are your brothers Autobots like you?"

"Not- not telling," First Aid shakes his head. "I don't believe you, you'll hurt them."

"Whyever not, it's not like you're giving me their schematics and the code to their private comm frequency." Vortex moves around to First Aid's good side and openly contemplates some rather nasty looking tools.

First Aid turns his head away and shutters his optic, pointedly looking away. "I won't tell you about them," He repeats, firmly squashing down the tremor his voice- the tools aren't all identifiable, but they appear to have been chosen for being gleaming bright metal with a multitude of long, sharp blades.

"Eh." Vortex shrugs, as though it's of no consequence whatsoever, then goes over to First Aid's undamaged hand. He doesn't talk at all, but proceeds to attempt to cut it off in one steady motion.

Vortex picks up the dicebag and rolls against its intelligence. Vortex's roll succeeds!

There's a high, whining buzz as Vortex activates something he can't see; First Aid unshutters his optic because not knowing seems worse and immediately wishes he hadn't. The tool Vortex is holding looks like some sort of plasma cutter of the sort used on structural metals, a round, toothed blade glowing with some sort of charge and revving up to high speed as VOrtex lowers it to his arm. Meant for use on thick structural struts and beams, it cuts through First Aid's relatively thin plating with ease, severing tubing, tension cables, hydraulics, and the lower end of his radial strut, the blade chewing a bit on the flexible tubing and cabling and a few sparks going up as energon and lubricant begin bleeding out rapidly.

It hurts too much to do anything but scream, and First Aid's faceplates are frozen in an expression of shocked horror even as he can't stop the staticky wail that escapes his vocalizer.

Vortex grins again very happily, and enjoys the screaming. After a moment, he puts the tool down, set the hand on a shelf next to First Aid's optic, and starts to clamp off the leaking lines and hoses in the stump of First Aid's wrist.

Vortex picks up the dicebag and rolls against its intelligence. Vortex's roll succeeds!

First Aid slumps, panting in the chair, flinching every time Vortex digs in the stump of his arm for another leaking line to clamp off, screaming replaced with horrified sobbing.

"I did tell you I'd take the hand if you weren't helpful," Vortex says. "Autobots never listen." He finishes tying off the lines, and fetches a cloth to mop up the spilled fluids. "Now, would you like to try again? Are all of your brothers Autobots like you?"

First Aid picks up the dicebag and rolls his courage against First Aid's endurance. First Aid's roll fails!

"N-n-no," First Aid manages to squeeze out, although he's shuddering almost too hard to engage his vocalizer, plating rattling quietly. "Not all of us."

"How many are Autobots?" Vortex asks. He's pleased, the shock of amputation seems to have done some good. He wouldn't usually have done something this drastic quite so soon, but Megatron wants quick results, and quick results don't allow him to put the subject in sensory deprivation for a few cycles before questioning.

"Two," First Aid says. He just can't think, hhis arm, his optic, his other hand, and his hand is GONE and even if he COULD somehow get the straps off the chair he would have trouble doing anything about it.

"Including yourself?" Vortex prompts, for clarity. "And where do the others live?" First Aid looks down at his plating- there's energon dropped on it, but the Autobot symbol is painted on his chest in gleaming red with a white outline to stand out against his red plating. "Including me." He takes a deep breath. As for where everyone lives. "Iacon and Crystal City." It's a lie, and a deliberate one, but Streetwise's dad's place in Cubicron wouldn't be any kind of challenge for the Decepticons, who play on a whole different scale than the crime lords in the slum-city.

"Good," Vortex croons. "How many in Crystal City?"

Lie or truth, better not have to keep it straight later, First Aid already knows he can't think. "J-just one," He shivers, suddenly realizing how cold it is in the cell.

"One more good answer, and I'll get you some energon," Vortex says. He doesn't want Soundwave feeling as though he needs to bring in Robustus again, not just yet anyway. "Are you all medics?"

First Aid shakes his head silently, the faint rattle of his plating as he shivers audible in the quiet room.

True to his word, Vortex goes across the room and fetches the quarter cube of energon. He decants a little into a glass beaker with a lip designed for pouring. "Open wide," he says, and places it very close to First Aid's mouth. All the Autobot needs to do is part his lips, and Vortex will let him have the energon in a sensible, controlled way. "Do you remember a time before Lifeline found you?" he says quietly.

First Aid stares at the energon, but reluctantly opens his mouth, then pauses at the question. He doens't want to answer, but he's afraid of what might happen if he doesn't.

First Aid picks up the dicebag and rolls his courage against First Aid's endurance. First Aid's roll fails!

"It's- it's not like they're real. Not mine," First Aid says.

"What aren't yours, Aid?" Vortex says, using a diminutive of First Aid's name to encourage him to think of himself as younger than he really was. He holds the beaker still, although after First Aid has answered, he's happy to let him drink the rest.

"Memories." First Aid says. "Watching him- my brother activate. Playing," First Aid explains.

"Which brother?" Vortex presses.

First Aid shakes his head, letting it tip forward, the energon suddenly looking unpleasant. Not for that, please, not again. "I told you where- please, no more." First Aid pleads.

"If you're good," Vortex says. He puts the beaker down on a shelf. "Where did you all come online?"

That's safe enough. "Iacon," First Aid says. "I think, anyway." Which is only true- it's someone's memory, whose he can't remember at the moment, standing in a courtyard looking up at a dome that seems to be Iacon.

"Were you built as Autobots?" Vortex asks. This is significant to him, as it'll help narrow down their potential creators.

First Aid shakes his head. "They wanted us to choose," First Aid says.

Now that's very interesting indeed. "What did they look like?" Vortex says. "The femme, Adroita, and the others."

"I don't remember," FIrst Aid replies. The only one he does remember himself is dead- Coruscate, in the tunnels, when they were attacked and separated, an orn before he met Lifeline.

Vortex decides to change tact. Interesting as the past is, Megatron is likely to put far more stock in the present. "Your brother who chose a side - how long has he been an Autobot?" he asks.

First Aid vents hard as another wave of trembling comes over him. It's just hard to /think/. He realizes he's been staring at Vortex through a warning on his battered HUD for at least the last few breems and dismisses it, along with the cascade of warnings that follow. "A couple of quartexes. Maybe three."

"Would you like the rest of the energon now?" Vortex says, presenting it as a reward for good behaviour.

First Aid shakes his head carefully, trying to clear his field of vision before realizing that some of the errors are not clearing. "What do I hae to do?" He asks suspiciously. "Open your mouth, then swallow?" Vortex suggests. "In that order, otherwise you'll spill it." He presents the beaker again, pressing the lip against First Aid's lower mouth and tilting it. "And afterwards, you can tell me all about Ratchet's involvement in the gestalt project."

First Aid opens his mouth reluctantly, but he needs the energon- and drinks as Vortex tilts the beaker, swallowing the small amount in teh beaker and trying not to look past it to Vortex's hand or Vortex himself.

"There," Vortex comments when the beaker is empty. "Isn't that better? Now, tell me about Ratchet."

One of the warnings must have been about low fuel, it disappears from his HUD. First Aid isn't even reading them anymore, just trying to clear them so he doesn't have to think. Ratchet- Ratchet will forgive him. There's nothing about him that Aid knows that the Decepticons probably don't, anyway. "He's my mentor."

"Like Lifeline used to be," Vortex comments, and like most of his comments it's intended to wound. "What does he know about you and your brothers?"

The tense shift goes over First Aid's head- of course Lifelien used to be his mentor, he's Ratchet's apprentice now. "He helped us figure it out." First Aid says.

"You didn't know when you were found by Lifeline?" Vortex says. He's beginning to put things together in his mind, and it's a very interesting picture indeed. He doesn't realise yet that he's gone back to the past again, it being highly intriguing to him.

First Aid hesitates- he doesn't like questions that Vortex goes all intent and interested on- but finally answers. "No, I didn't."

"And your brothers?" Vortex asks. He knows he probably doesn't have much longer with First Aid, although the timescale never was made clear. Still, he plans on getting the most out of the time he has left.

That, First Aid wants to answer even less, but he does. "They didn't either." Hot Spot and Streetwise hadn't remembered that they even had brothers, and Blades... First Aid has never been quite sure what Blades does remember.

"But they all know now?" Vortex asks, wanting to be absolutely clear on this.

First Aid nods miserably, feeling like he's betraying them again.

Vortex smiles, not unkindly this time. Despite his mask, First Aid's emotional state is pretty clear. "Do the neutrals plan to remain neutral, or to join the Autobots?" he asks.

"I don't know," First Aid says softly. He'd hoped they would. Groove is sworn to Crystal City though, and Streetwise seems intent on staying with his father.

Vortex takes that response at face value. "How often do you talk to them?" he says. First Aid frowns again. He'd really like to move off this topic. "I don't know. Every day? They're my brothers." He looks away from Vortex, staring at the far wall. How can he change it, he just can't /think/.

Vortex goes over to the shelf and picks up First Aid's severed hand, then begins to clean off the energon and assorted other stains. "Are you planning to learn to combine?"

First Aid relaxes minutely as Vortex steps away from him. "I... I don't know. We haven't decided." That's not entirely accurate- everyone but Blades would like to figure it out, but until someone figures out HOW, they've not really even tried.

"Has anyone told you how?" Vortex is curious; he'd like to get in the rest of the team, run experiments on them in isolation and together, see whether or not the mythical gestalt bond is a real or imaginary thing.

"No one to tell us," First Aid says, shrinking back a little bit at the intense, curious gleam in Vortex's visor. "We have to figure it out on our own."

Vortex continues to clean the hand, only it's more like polishing now. Every so often a little drop of fluid travels far enough down the severed lines to drip to the floor. "Where are your creators?"

"I don't know that, either." First Aid can't take his eyes off the hand that Vortex is holding, feeling a sick, uncomfortable sensation coiling in his tanks. That's his /hand/ and the agony blazing up his arm is proof it's really no longer attached to his body.

Vortex notices First Aid looking at the hand, and holds it up, making it wave at its former owner. "Why not?" Vortex asks.

First Aid looks downright queasy. "They're gone- they sent us away." He manages to say as his tank tries to turn over in his chassis, twisting unpleasantly. He clamps his mouth shut, fighting to control his reaction.

"Why?" Vortex presses.

First Aid 's vents kick into high for a moment, then drop back down to their normal- for now-normal, anyway- speed. "Thought we'd be safer," He says, sounding a little bit strangled.

"Safer than being able to form a gestalt?" Vortex says. "I don't see the logic." He holds the hand up to the lights, smiles at it, then puts it back on the shelf. "Tell me, can you feel it when one of your brothers is hurt?"

First Aid shivers and watches the hand until it's almost out of sight again on the shelf, the shakes his head at Vortex. Another thing he doesn't know, and a silly question to boot.

"Hmm... I had to wonder, given all those myths and fables you've collected." Vortex resumes his seat, and flexes his rotors to emphasise his superior size. "Are there any benefits to being in a combiner team?" he asks. "Aside from getting to talk to me."

How is he supposed to answer that. "This /isn't/ a benefit," He finally manages. "Those are just stories."

"Sure it is," Vortex says. "You wouldn't wanna be alone in here with Soundwave now, would you? He'd have your databanks cracked open just like that." He snaps his fingers over First Aid's working optic. "So, there aren't any benefits, just an inaccessible alt mode and a..." Vortex pauses as though realising something. "You sure you even /have/ an alt mode?"

First Aid jumps as Vortex snaps right in front of his face and tries not to show how disturbing he finds that thought.... "I have one, it just doesn't work. The others' do." Well, Hot Spot's, at least, and Groove's, before they began modifying his frame for the Crystal Guard's upgrades. "There's... I have my brothers." That's a benefit, but not really one he can quantify.

"What are their alt modes?" Vortex says. At least now he knows that First Aid is the only one who's currently broken. The thought almost makes him laugh, but he has enough professional composure not to.

First Aid 's fans whine. Not again, please- he looks away, not saying the specific words that have been forbidden. It was a hand last time, what next?

First Aid picks up the dicebag and rolls against his endurance. First Aid's roll succeeds!

Vortex isn't pleased about the lack of an answer, and moves himself back into First Aid's field of vision. "I'll find them," he says. "And anything you haven't told me, I'll just get from them. You're not helping them, you know."

"I won't help you find them," First Aid says with finality, trying to look away from Vortex again. There's not a lot of room, but he can't meet the bigger mech's optics, dreading what will happen with this answer.

You say, "I don't need you to," Vortex says. He moves behind the chair and looks down on the Autobot's disfigured face. "But you can tell me just a little more about them, can't you?""

First Aid shivers, and his voice shakes. "No, I won't. I-" He bites off the rest of whatever he was going to say- probably that he's said too much already. Anything is too much, but it hurts so much that he can't think straight.

He has indeed said a lot already that's useful, and Vortex doesn't want to ruin him for the engineers (well, that's not strictly true, he'd love to take First Aid apart until there's nothing left but a heap of parts and a smoking empty spark chamber, but he's not allowed), so he changes tack. "Aside from Ratchet, who else knows you're a combiner?"

That's not as bad, is it? Most of the people who know, they could probably guess. First Aid gratefully seizes on the new topic. "Prime and Prowl. Some of the science team mechs," He twists as much as he can to try and keep Vortex in view, letting out a tiny moan as the strap on the arm of the chair digs into his arm.

"Don't fidget," Vortex warns, "you'll hurt yourself." He leans over, so as to be upside down to First Aid's view. "Which science team mechs?"

First Aid picks up the dicebag and rolls his courage against First Aid's endurance. First Aid's roll fails!

First Aid hunches down in the chair, trying to get as far aawy from Vortex as he can. "Perceptor. Wheeljack." He's not sure if Crackshot knows or not.

Vortex saves the names to his hard storage; both are familiar, although he doesn't have any specific data on them. "Anyone else?" he says.

First Aid shakes his head. "I don't know," Lifeline. Maybe Swivel, but they don't even bear thinking about around Soundwave."I don't think so?"

"No friends in Cubicron?" Vortex says, thinking of First Aid's time there as Lifeline's assistant.

"Ratchet figured it out once I was in Iacon," First Aid says. "After I was living there and not going back and forth."

"Friends in Iacon, then?" Vortex says, picking up on something First Aid had been a little snippy about earlier. "Perhaps unwisely chosen ones."

First Aid shakes his head. "I - Prowl said not to tell." First Aid's vocalizer clicks. "Too much risk of someone finding out. Someone bad."

Vortex can't help but laugh at this. Well, it /is/ funny. "We can't have that now, can we?" he says, patting First Aid condescendingly on the helm. "How did you find out about being a combiner?" he knows he's covering similar ground to that which he's already covered, but there's no harm in trying.

"Ratchet figured it out," First Aid repeats, leaning away from Vortex's hand with a shudder.

"So you said," Vortex comments. He's amused by the leaning away, and continues the patting. "But you didn't explain /how/."

The patting is really annoying, especially when First Aid's already fighting to keep himself together. A particular twist makes him gasp as he tries to lean further away from Vortex and ends up twisting his thumb in the process. "Trying to figure out what we didn't remember," First Aid says. "He- I don't know what he thought."

"And physically?" Vortex says. He moves to drumming his fingers on First Aid's helm, with no hint that he's about to stop.

"T-transformation cogs aren't standard," First Aid says. "Extra wiring harness. Reinforced struts in my back and shoulders."

"How do they deviate from standard?" Vortex asks, continuing the drumming in case it wasn't already annoying enough.

"Like a triplechanger, but bigger," First Aid shakes his head irritably. "Bigger and oriented different. Not normal for mechs our size. Everything just made for higher tolerances, structurally, Ratchet says."

Vortex is highly amused, and a little surprised, by the efficacy of just plain being annoying. He makes a note to try that more often in future - it certainly wasn't a part of his training - and goes for another question, keeping up the annoying tapping. "What about your software?" he asks.

First Aid shakes his head again- the most irritating thing is that he doesn't want Vortex touching him, but on top of that, he just plain can't /think/ through the haze of pain, foggy but not distant like he'd managed to find somewhere in his own head before. That, and this topic means they're not talking about his brothers. "It shuts things down when we combine, for everybody but the commander. Not sure how the rest works."

"But your commander doesn't know how to work it?" Vortex says. It's obvious from before that the answer will be 'no'. He decides to reward First Aid by withdrawing again from his personal space, but only just. He remains behind the chair. "What about weapons?" he says.

First Aid shakes his head. "I don't know-" The answer to both questions. He leans forward the tiny bit he can, turning to try and keep Vortex in sight even with his reduced field of vision.

Vortex grins. "Well," he says, and comes around to make himself fully visible again. "Looks like you've exhausted your use, doesn't it. Far too many I-don't-knows and I-can't-tell-yous." He leers happily.

That is /very/ not a nice smile. "What does that mean?" First Aid asks, fairly sure he doesn't want to know the answer.

"Well," Vortex says, keeping up the happy leer. "You won't tell me about your brothers, and soon enough the engineers are going to want to crack you open and take a look. More than a look, really."

First Aid shudders but refuses to rise to the bait. "They know I'm gone. They're looking for me." In time, please Primus-if-there-is-a-Primus, in time.

"You think?" Vortex says. "What if they assume you've just gone off to check on Lifeline's old business, like you told Dually? How long before they realise you're not coming back?"

"Ratchet'll know something's wrong when I'm late for my shift. I'm never late for my shifts," First Aid says.

"So," Vortex says, enjoying playing now. "You were off cycle when Dually took you out of Iacon. That gives what five joors before your shift? But Dually went back and had you excused from duty," he lies, fabricating on the spot. "The rota was changed."

"H- he'll miss me when I'm not in the barracks. My brother, he always finds me after shifts." First Aid insists. "One of them will. Or Ratchet. Someone will notice."

"You're relying on a lot of people who you haven't known for very long at all," Vortex comments. "And they haven't come for you yet, have they?" He decides that now would be a good time to leave First Aid with his thoughts for a few joors, but not until he's had a chance to plant some rather nasty ideas in his mind. "Heh, you don't even have a working alt mode. You can't even /combine/ - and considering your little alt mode problem, that's probably entirely your fault. The Autobots have your schematics, don't they? It wouldn't be hard for them to find someone to replace you. I'm sure there are dozens of eager young recruits looking for a prestigious position under Ratchet, and who'd be happy to fill your empty bunk in the barracks."

First Aid shakes his head doggedly, looking less worried and more simply tired and hurting and afraid. What if Vortex is right, and they haven't noticed? He's pretty sure they have, but he can't /tell/. They'll find him, though, and get him out. He just has to hold on.

Yes, certainly time to leave the Autobot to his own thoughts. Vortex takes the optic and the hand, but leaves the other blue optic on the shelf. He doesn't say anything else to First Aid, curious to see if the 'bot will try to speak to him again. He reaches the door and switches off the lights. The dim light from the hallway illuminates the room for now, but as soon as it closes again, the interrogation cell will be pitch black.

"They'll come, someone will," First Aid says, remaining optic glowing tiredly in the darkness. It's not entirely clear if he's telling Vortex or trying to convince himself.

Vortex 's dismissive laughter rings out in the corridor, then he closes and locks the cell door, and heads off to make his report.