Join Date: Nov 2007
Chapter 3: Shadows of the Past
“What was so important downstairs?” Powertech asked.
“Huh? Oh, Shockwave noticed something odd about my ship.”
“Other than a profane pilot? You should put that thing on stage at the Theorum.”
Magnus shifted the book in his hand uncomfortably, which immediately drew Powertech’s attention.
“Thrasher told me that this Captain was real particular about his books.” he smiled, “He’d be glad to know they’re with someone who appreciates such things.”
Magnus nodded even as he rubbed a finger along the edge of the data plate: The Case of the Impounded Megaboosters, no byline. Not that many of the books had a byline. None by Primus at any rate. It had looked like those books were in a specific order and this one was near the end, given that the equally anonymous Murder in Iacon: One Cop’s Revolutionary War Journal was at the other end of the shelves. He should probably read them in order but ... but for him this was the first book.
“So, are you going to tell me what it’s about?” Powertech pressed.
“It’s just a crime novel. I’ve only read the first few bits ... illicit ship mods, maybe some smuggling, suspicions anyway, that sort of stuff.”
“Good reading if you’re a cop. Which we are. Oculon was asking when we could put in some time. You know ... help pay for this place? You feeling up to it?”
Still a Decepticon? Magnus nodded. The assignment was still valid even if the team was incomplete. For a moment there, before Quevald, he’d been looking forward– This was what Blitz had been telling him about. Tannas’ numinous other had set him on a new golden disk ... one which apparently had no place for Blitz.
“Do you want to tell them about their new posting or should I? You know, me being in charge and all that.”
Magnus blinked, the question shaking him out of his funk.
“Well, they’re your subordinates and where you go, they go. Someone should tell them they’re Decepticons.”
“I’ll do it.” he looked around, no sign of either Combaticon.
“They’re on the balcony.... Hey Magnus, you gonna let me read that?”
He smiled: “Sure, once I’ve finished. It’s part of a series, though.”
He found them just where Powertech had said they’d be, milling about in silence looking up at the small patch of sky. Well, Hammer seemed to be looking a little lower than the sky....
“Looks kinda like the barrel of a rifle that’s being cleaned.”
Hammer startled and Thrasher began laughing.
“I’m sure that wasn’t what Hammer was thinking.”
“What do you think of your new home?” Magnus asked earnestly.
That really got their attention.
“New–” Hammer fumbled, “We aren’t going back to the fort?”
“Nope, where I go, you go. This is my place, so you stay here too.”
“But ... the rents?”
“Better than you might imagine. Listen, I just want to tell you that you’ll be joining me and Powertech ... well, Powertech and I – he’ll be in charge as per Oculon’s directive – in what’s supposed to be a temporary posting.”
“As Decepticons?” Thrasher asked.
Odd, he pronounced it differently and the meaning seemed changed as a result.
“Beat cops. Oculon said we’d be doing routine police work.”
“I was hoping to go back to Quevald.” Thrasher muttered, “Help finish the job. Maybe help them start rebuilding their world.”
“We’ve got a ship!” Magnus beamed with as much optimism as he could muster, “But we aren’t going anywhere till I’m sorted out.”
Hammer got a puzzled look even while Thrasher nodded.
“Well, why not?”
“That’s the spark! Tomorrow morning we’ll head upstairs and tell the boss he needs to give us a bigger office. Then we’ll see what he has for us to do.”
Magnus left them on the balcony. Behind the small area where the VR terminal was, there was a large room with a window looking out on the central shaft. Had lots of empty benches and shelves, power outlets of all sorts and a few stools. He found one shelf near the far corner of the room that looked about the right size for a bookshelf.
He pulled over a stool and started to read.
A ruddy haze was filtering down the building’s central shaft before he stopped reading. This deep in everything was still in shadow. He’d never bothered to ask before if it was spring or fall so he really had no idea if the cycles to come would bring a long night or a long day. He hoped for winter ... as awe inspiring as Iacon was by day it was a color feast for the eyes at night.
Odd that he should be thinking about this now when his own chronometer that could’ve simply told him what he wanted to know was off line.
“A chassis that doesn’t do anything for me, eh?”
He slid the book carefully onto the shelf, into the place it’d go if its brethren were all present. Stepped away and inspected the placement. It was a mystery to him why Primus hadn’t published. The book was really good! At least it seemed to be so far.
Primus hadn’t disappointed either: Magnus had a number of ideas of how to look for information on ship modifications that you shouldn’t make. A tantalizing prospect now that he had his own ship, small though it may be.
He really wouldn’t be needing the datacrystal now, so he placed it by his book.
Then he moved it to a lower shelf.
And again – which seemed better somehow.
He found the others lounging about in the refueling nook, a smallish room with a table and chairs as well as some equipment for dispensing and manipulating energon, oils and the like.
“This place has everything!” Thrasher said as he waved, “We’ve got an infusion ready for you in the cooler.”
Magnus opened the largish cooler, probably designed to support a party like last night’s. There was one full mug. He rubbed his fingers for a moment before taking it. Even with the GAR’s senses the thing felt almost deep space cold! He glanced at the manufacturer’s logo ... heh, they weren’t far from literal: Absolute Zero indeed!
He took a sip. Extra sweet style and very cold.
“I see you’ve laid claim to the lab?” Powertech observed as he rolled his own mug between his hands.
“Is that what it is? No, I’m willing to share. Just give me my space near the wall and I’ll be happy.”
He took a longer sip. Well, at least someone had thought it important to give a GAR a sense of taste ... though the aroma of lubrication oil gave the infusion an odd bouquet that was out of place. Magnus reflexively sniffed and he could almost smell the old guy hovering over him. Maybe he was working near the head?
“I think I’ll get my stupid question out of the way for the cycle.” he announced, “Do infusions have an aroma?”
“Not that I’ve ever noticed.” Thrasher quipped, “Why?”
“Well, just now my sense of smell is ... elsewhere, and the infusion seems different for seeming to smell different.”
Powertech sniffed at his infusion.
“Might be something from the oil?” he allowed, taking a big sip.
Magnus slowly drained his mug as he listened to the others talk. Powertech seemed a real fan of war stories and had managed to get Hammer to brag about some of his exploits.
“You’d have been right at home with A-3’s sniper team, my friend.” he silently mused.
Then he had a very naughty thought! Something to consider for later....
He drained the last of his infusion just in time for Hammer to finish his tale. Just in time to start heading upstairs by the 210’s simple chronometer.
In short order he was sitting in his brother’s outer office. The bench that had broken under Blitz’ ‘fall’ was still missing. Hammer had spent some time with Oculon and now it was Thrasher’s turn.
“What did you talk about?” Powertech pressed.
“Not what you’d expect. He asked me lots of questions about what I did in my free time, the sorts of people I had for friends outside of the Combaticons, hobbies ... that sort of thing.”
Powertech nodded thoughtfully.
Magnus leaned back and let his thoughts drift elsewhere. He’d promised himself he would finish going over his friend’s presentations. But which one first?
He could remember what they were called and what they’d been about but the wording was elusive – which was odd. Though he hadn’t recorded them, he HAD paid very close attention. Maybe he had used a subprocessor’s help without even knowing it?
Both Broadback and Fastrack had given speeches about practical philosophy – how to live life to the fullest kinda stuff. Comdec too, but his was more focused on leadership – not that it’d surprise anyone that he was ambitious. Cobatron had spoken passionately about the natural wonders of Cybertron. Havitron’s had been mundane much like Harvester’s: something legal from no where.
But ... Harvester had proven to have a most interesting story about why something so drab could be life changing. Maybe with imperfect memory to work from he could still speculate accurately?
His mind made up, Magnus’ train of thought was derailed by Thrasher and Oculon entering the outer office.
“I suppose I can make due with a few more raw recruits.” Oculon sighed, “As for putting you four to work, I think I’ll send you out with Blackfire for the time being and let him show you the ropes. You remember where his office is, correct?
“Yes, Sir!” Powertech beamed.
“Well?” he folded his arms across his chest and stared down at them.
Magnus was last to shuffle out.
“A question, little brother?”
“Yes, about my memory?”
Oculon gave a quizzical look before smiling: “I’ll look into it. Powertech probably has your subprocessors down for the time being. You better get moving so I don’t have to dock your pay.”
He found the others waiting for him just outside the door.
“I’m not going to be the one to offer any explanations to Blackfire.” Powertech said glumly.
“Thanks.” Magnus muttered.
He didn’t need to be reminded of how Blackfire had asked him to look after Blitz. Thankfully, Blackfire didn’t say anything.
He led them to the garage where a medium sized cargo van whistled at them as if to acknowledge their approach.
“Welcome to the glamorous life of a beat cop!” he chimed as they pulled into traffic, “Today’s lessons will be given in the vicinity of the free docks.... As usual.”
No one said anything.
“Right....” Blackfire muttered.
As they neared the port, he began asking them if they had any experience with “surplus bins.” Only Thrasher seemed to recognize the term beyond its obvious meaning.
“Where’d a regular like you run up against surplus?”
“Something Captain once told me. It was from a story he’d picked up about the revolution, about how Decepticons–”
“Decepticons. Not ‘Decepticons.’” Blackfire corrected the pronunciation.
“But Captain said–”
“Sir, if you go about saying it that way, someone might take you for the real deal. Unless you actually are, it’s not something you want floating around out there.”
“But, what's wrong with Decepticons?” he asked using the way Captain had apparently taught him.
“Nothing. They were disciples of Primus long before it was the thing to be. But they’re also a this who-knows-how-big secret society that puts some folks off.”
“But ... Captain served with Primus?” Thrasher seemed confused.
“Decepticons run ‘surplus bins?’” Powertech asked.
“Not anymore. Or not the ones we’re concerned with. For some reason, off worlders seem to imagine that ‘free docks’ means ‘no security’ simply because they don’t have to pay to shuffle their wares. It never seems to compute with some of these people that the government pays the dock workers because they’re reliably informative.”
There was a moment of silence before he added: “We catch all the stupid ones this way. Whoever thought to install a landing beacon that reminded people to obey import and export laws was a genius!”
No one said a thing until Powertech spoke up: “It’s easier to smuggle through the pay docks?”
“Hey, at least there they get to select their own crew.”
Magnus was still trying to wrap his circuits around the notion that reminding people to obey the law could somehow assist in catching the “stupid ones” among criminals.
Blackfire settled the transport down into a reserved spot and had them pile out after him. He led the way to an observation lounge that overlooked a number of filthy docks and one conspicuously cleanish one.
“I’m responsible for that one.” Powertech almost seemed apologetic.
“Hey, Sideways is ok with the results. Says he doesn’t have to pay as much for autoshowers these cycles.... Not that he and his crew have done any follow up work, mind you.”
“Is this Sideways a Decepticon?” Thrasher asked.
“A hired hand like the rest of them. Not many places will give detail-freaks a good job.”
“So what do we do now?”
Magnus looked back into the room when Blackfire didn’t respond to Thrasher’s question. He’d taken the one chair, by what would’ve been a drone attendant’s desk if a drone was here, and produced a data plate. He was already reading.
“I guess we wait.” Powertech sighed, producing his own data plate.
“Maybe I should’ve brought my book?”
He leaned against the glass and watched a number of ships unload and load as he mulled over what he could remember of Havitron’s speech. A Point of Jurisprudence he’d called it. A rather detailed discussion about standards for evidence credited to someone called Panacron. The odd thing was that it seemed to have dealt with statutory evidence as concerns people rather than their actions. Like who or what a person was could be more important than what they did or didn’t do?
Well, since Blackfire was their professor this cycle, Magnus went over and tapped on his data plate. He listened carefully to the description of the speech: “I’ve run across that name before. There was a Panacron who authored a lot of influential text on jurisprudence, most of which are considered obsolete. Though you still see them referenced from time to time.”
“But why treat people differently depending on who or what they are?”
“Ask a Predacon.” Blackfire shrugged even as he dove back into his own data plate.
Now that was a thought! Predacons were treated like things by most people. Had Havitron acted any differently towards Ravage than the others?
Magnus returned to the window to watch ships and think.
“Ok, Decepticons,” Blackfire broke the silence some microcycles later, “someone’s about to do something stupid. Lets get moving before they have to appear before a magistrate.”
He led them to an elevator that turned out to be a standing room only tube car. Once it had dropped down several levels it moved off towards the center of the free docks. Then it opened onto an observation lounge where an unfamiliar ‘detail-freak’ was waiting for them.
“Seems we aren’t the only ones on schedule today.” the detail-freak quipped.
“What have you got for me?” Blackfire asked.
“Our Terranoirian friend from three megacycles ago is back exporting petrorabbits.”
“Again?” he sounded exasperated.
“He’s got the proper files this time but he seems to have neglected laying in a good store of cybertronium with the shipment. I spotted the discrepancy when I came on shift.... Your new crew?”
“Powertech, Magnus, Thrasher and Hammer.... Gambit, listen, unload his cargo but keep him occupied before you load. I want to see if we can get on that ship unnoticed.”
“That will hurt my efficiency rating.”
“You’ll be compensated for your trouble: standard percentage.”
Gambit nodded and left.
“Remember this Magnus: nothing in life is free. Powertech, how good are you with lock picks?”
“Well, if I even knew what a lock pick was much less had any on me: I’d assure you that they had only ever been used to score an unsupervised night or ten on the town.”
“Good ‘bot! I want you to work around through the conveniently suitable duct work and see if you can get onto the Cazarli without being noticed. If you can get in, use this.” he tossed him a small optical transceiver.
“Entrance is behind you. Thrasher, go with him.”
“What do we do?” Magnus asked.
“We wait until we’re called in.”
More waiting? Didn’t really feel like he was earning his pay.
In short order the Cazarli landed and began off loading her cargo. Then the loadmaster started a heated discussion with the ship’s master, probably about the petrorabbits.
“I don’t get it?” Hammer spoke up, “What’s the deal with exporting petrorabbits? Doesn’t Terranoir have her own?”
“Their own drones were decimated long ago. Problem is that the local equivalent to cybertronium isn’t fully compatible with anything else because of that nebula they live in. It’s why they’ve never left that junkworld.”
“Oh!” Hammer said as if that explained everything.
Magnus’ head just sort of bobbled in confusion.
“Like all natural drones, petrorabbits are constructs of plasma energy.” Hammer seemed to have noticed his confusion, “I had a pet petrorabbit once. They can go frenetic mad without cybertronium and get real destructive right before they die a horrible death.”
“They aren’t the same as drones ... they’re drones.” Blackfire said barely concealing his amusement.
“Kind of like how I’m a Decepticon but not a Decepticon?”
Magnus thought about asking why or how Terranoir’s native drones had been decimated, but decided against it. He’d already asked his one dumb question for the cycle.
“We’re in!” came a report from Powertech over some speaker.
Blackfire produced a counterpart to the other transceiver and led Powertech around the ship. In a secondary storage bay he had them focus on some poorly constructed crates.
“Would you look at that tin for shielding?!”
“It’s cybertronium.” Powertech informed.
“Probably bought from some cut rate vendor.” Thrasher added, “Surplus bin?”
“Yeah, look, you guys get out of there. I’ll send Magnus and Hammer in through the front door to ‘find’ the contraband.” he turned his attention to Magnus, “Our friend out there needs to produce evidence of proper export arrangements or else pay up. Tell him there’ll be no fines or delays if he cooperates.”
“What if he tries to bribe us?” Hammer asked.
“This one isn’t a real criminal. Just desperate. Magnus, if you feel like it you can miscount by one or two crates on the low side.”
“Me?” he realized he was expected to take the lead.
“Did I stutter?”
As he led the way down to and across the dock – picking along the cleaner bits of floor – his mind was racing. What was he going to say or do? As much as he tried to, he just couldn’t seem to remember the specifics about export laws that Nine had covered! Sure, he would grasp at paragraphs and out of context phrases, but it was as if he’d lost all the directory data for his own mind!
All he could really remember well was the stuff that had happened since he woke up as a GAR ... stuff like Primus’ book ... stuff like.... He got an idea!
The ship’s captain quickly noticed them and assumed the look of the downtrodden and oppressed.
“Is there a problem here, Autobot?” he asked impatiently in an official sounding tone.
“No problem, Officer.” Gambit reported, “Just some minor issues with cargo.”
“That’s my job.” Magnus informed, “This merchant has shown up on our list for previous ‘minor issues.’”
Sure, he was winging it ... but it sounded good. Maybe he’d really find a way to make use of that nifty dialogue from Primus’ book? He made a point of looking the Terranorian up and down. Except for an odd shape to his head and bright white eyes you could have taken him for a late 100 series. He wore a curious cloth draping thing that was bright blue with black trim. When he spoke he positively groveled.
“My Dread Lords, please, I have not neglected my obligations before your great law!”
Magnus paused before saying: “Then you have a transport with cybertronium on the way right now?”
“Do they have any with those beast?”
“Well then, you must already have some on board!” Magnus said in a cheerful tone, “I don’t suppose we could inspect it?”
“Dread Lord, if you know I have it then you must know I’ve already paid the proper duties?”
“Humor me, Captain ... of the Cazarli.” he said in a formal way.
“Blast it!” he silently fretted, “Blackfire didn’t tell me his name!”
The Terranoirian nodded his reluctant agreement and led them onto the ship. He started to go the wrong way.
“Captain, please don’t lead me on a merry chase.” Magnus sighed as he slipped in another phrase, “Just show us your cargo.”
The Terranoirian stopped in his tracks and seemed to be considering something.
“This way, Dread Lord.” he changed direction.
“My name is Magnus.” he said with forced frustration, “I’m not anyone’s ‘Dread Lord,’ much less a hard working Ship’s Master like yourself.”
No response. They were soon standing before the cybertronium.
“Are you going to make me ask?” Magnus asked, throwing in another snippet.
“This was purchased....” the merchant started before trailing off, “No, Mister Magnus, Officer.”
“Good! How many crates?”
The merchant blinked: “Twenty-eight. Enough for my cargo’s needs.”
“Wire the proper fees in to the port authority and have your files ready for the loadmaster before you take off. And put up some extra shielding. I’m feeling my patina brighten just standing here and, blast it, I worked hard for it!”
“Yes, Officer!” the merchant seemed confused even if he was less servile.
“We’re finished here? Officer Hammer?”
Hammer led the way off of the ship.
“You don’t know about petrorabbits but you can pull something like that off?” he wondered as they approached the observation lounge.
“Eh?” Magnus shrugged, still proud for having worked in so much dialogue.
One thing was certain, his WAS a treasure ship! Maybe by the time he’d read all about Lastus he’d know how to be a cop?
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