Dead Aces
******


670378 (08.14.85)
08:51
BOX 01, Message 7 of 18
To: COMM (CO)
From: MED (CMO)
TRANSCRIPT:

Hey Prime, it's me. Uh. I guess you're not there right now... agh... okay, I hate leaving messages on this thing, so I'll keep this short. I've got a couple things I need to run past you - uh, you know, maybe I should just come up to Communications and look for you in person. Don't tell Wheeljack I said this, but honestly, I can't stand this thing, I never know what to say, it makes my voice sound weird, I'd love to just switch back to the old text system through Teletran-

Agh.

Mmm, no, I guess I'd better not leave the ward. Lately it seems that every time I step out something new sidles in behind my back. Odds are as soon as I leave half the base will get crippled and come stomping through the door- holy Primus, did you hear about two weeks ago after that patrol north of Portland? I had Cliffjumper, Sunstreaker, and Ironhide all down in here at once - all of them with superficial stuff, fortunately, but god, it was hell.

Eh, I'm rambling. Well, there were just a couple thing I wanted to tell you: first off, could you pass a message on to Jazz for me? I'd just ring up his box, but I told you I hate using this thing and I'd rather just get all of my messages over with all at once. All I need is for him to stop by Medical later this afternoon and go over the inventory with me. I've got some specifics I'd like to add to my usual list - like overhead lights for that damn biobed. You know the big one? Yeah, well, Ironhide punched two of them out by accident while he was down here. Well, he said it was an accident, anyway - this being Ironhide, I hold my doubts. So I need lights. They're not special lenses or anything, but it's not often I need ordinary stuff down here, and I want to make sure they get tossed on the list with my usual supplies. I'd go up to find Jazz myself but, well, you know.

Secondly, Slingshot's still down here from the August eleventh thing, and he's pretty stable, so if you want to shoo someone his way to get a report off him for Prowl, I'll find something in my office to keep me busy long enough for him to spill his guts. It might be for the best - he still seems pretty down in the dumps over the whole thing. He might like a chance to talk to someone sympathetic. And, uh, while I like the kid enough and all, I really don't have the time to wheel him around the ward and pet his hand every five minutes.

And hey, while you're at it, could you please have a chat with Silverbolt? Every time I turn around I trip over one of his hooligans. I've told them fifty times if not a hundred that Sling and Skydive are going to be perfectly fine, but they still keep pecking around in here. I think they've even been sneaking in at night too, and that's a thought that's giving me mental issues. I don't mind if they visit - I just don't want them underfoot twenty-four, seven. And Primus knows I don't want them rooting through my ward when I'm not around! If I catch one of them poking through my equipment, I'm running the lot of them down with a damn arc welder.

Hmm hmm hmm. I think that was it. Yeah, probably, and if not it can wait until later. Hey, and if you've got some free time this afternoon, feel free to drop by. I'll dig up someone to keep an eye on the ward, and we'll go crash the Rec for a while. I gotta get out of here, even for a little while. Work is pretty light now that Skydive's out of the way, and if I have to look down at Fireflight's worried face one more time I'm going to scream. Anyway. Take it easy. I'll talk to you later.

… uh, bye?

...

...

(AGH, I'm telling you, I really can't stand talking on that thing. It makes me feel like an idiot because I never know what to say-)

(What?)

(It IS?!)

(Oh, for the love of Primus-!)

(-click-)

******

67.03.78 (08.14.85)
TRANSCRIPT, AIR RAID: MED HALL, 09:40

Uh, yeah, hi, excuse me-

Huh?

What?

Look, I'm sorry, but I really can't stop right now, I gotta go find Silverbol-

Uh, I can't- agh, look, come over here for a second, out of the hall, GEEZ, what's with all the people around here today, doesn't anybody have someplace better to go- there, that's better. Now, what did you say?

Aw man, um, I really wasn't kidding when I said I can't spare any time right now- waaait.

You were just heading to Medical, right?

Um.

Agh.

All right, all right, but only for a couple minutes, okay? I just got radioed by Bolt-

Oh, I don't know - he probably wants to talk with us about something. Who knows. Maybe we buzzed the Ark once and it pissed someone off and now we gotta sit through one of his lectures as he adds to the mile long list of stuff we're not supposed to do anymore Primus, we only been here a month and we've heard more about things we CAN'T do than jobs we should be doing-

Yeah, I guess.

Uh… hey, don't take this the wrong way, but…

What was your name again?

Oh, right, right, sorry about that - I still haven't got all the names of everybody here sorted out yet. There sure are a lot of you guys on this base. Autobots, yeah. Why the hell did they need us for, anyway? There's gotta be enough people already here to-

Oh, right. The flying thing. Heh heh.

Anyway. What can I do you for?

Uh huh?

Yeah, I just came back from checking in on Sling and Dive. Actually, uh, to tell you the truth Ratchet kicked me out a couple of minutes ago- oh, I don't know. Ratchet does lots of stuff that doesn't make any sense. What's his problem, anyway? I mean, it's a medical ward, so of course people are going to want to visit friends that are stuck in it. Man. Ha. You should have seen the way his face would twitch whenever he turned around and spotted me. Heh heh, Fireflight too. It was awesome. I thought his head was gonna explode a couple times, or he was gonna throw something at us. And we've been in there, like, every day since Sling and Dive were first brought in, too. That guy needs to relax more, man.

Mmm?

Yeah, they look a lot better, especially Sling. Dive still looks pretty bashed up, but I was there when they first carted him in and he looked a lot worse back then, trust me. Holes all over him, wings all torn up, and that big ugly dent in his back like somebody'd gone and just dropped a huge weight on him once he was down, and- and, slag, this is stupid, you can go look up the medical reports if you want to know that sort of stuff, okay? I don't need to- to draw it all out for you. He just looked like crap, okay?

Uh. Yeah, I'm fine. Just been a rough couple days, that's all. I think I'm gonna go crash somewhere after listening to Silverbolt.

Slingshot?

Oh yeah, he's up now. He wasn't nearly so bad off, so it didn't take Ratchet long to slap him back together again. You can tell the arm thing is still bothering him a bit, but I dare you to try to get him to admit it. I was bugging him about it last night after he was back online, and he tried to hit me with it, so yeah, I think the little twerp's gonna be just fine.

And… uh, don't tell him I said this, but you're probably the right guy to know that he's still kinda mopey over the whole thing, which is so not Slingshot. Hey, don't look at me! We're cool now! Yeah, we sorted out everything when he first woke up. Geez. Maybe he's still worried about Dive. I don't know, I can sympathize with that. Maybe he's just bored or something. He did look a lot happier when I arrived today and showed him all the stuff I'd smuggled him in from the common room- GAH!

Did I say 'smuggled?'

You didn't hear that.

So, what - you're going over to talk to Sling now? Ah, it's probably for the best. And hey, if you want some advice, tell him Prowl sent you for a report, or something. No, trust me. He'll get all embarrassed and sour and shut up really fast if he thinks you're there just for him. Which even I don't really understand, because if there's a guy out there who just love talking about himself and bragging about every stupid little thing he does, it's Slingshot. It's weird, you know, because half the time he's doing his best to steal everybody else's thunder, but then you get him into a position where he actually does something amazing all on his own and suddenly he turns mute and gets all defensive about it- hey, I know these sorts of things. And I know Sling, all right.

Huh?

The August eleventh-?

Look, I really can't hang around any more. I gotta go find Bolt before he starts getting antsy and comes looking for me. And Primus only knows where Fireflight is- if you want to know what happened, you can either read Silverbolt's full report or go ask Slingshot about it.

Actually, now that I think about it, it's probably best that you get Sling's side of the story, anyway. I think he's getting a little frustrated over the fact that nobody's really asked him for it yet, aside from the other Aerialbots. Look, if we can take the time to sort out our stories and smooth things over again, then you can do the same. Okay? Okay. Cool.

Gotta fly! See ya! Say 'hi' to Ratchet for me!

Hey! HEY! And don't pester Slingshot too much! If I hear you've been bugging him to death, I'll come back and kick your ass!

What?

What?

Well, no, not really.

******

670378 (08.14.85)
TRANSCRIPT, SLINGSHOT: MED, 10:13

Well, well. Look who's here.

You know, I had a gut feeling you might show up. You're running a pretty big risk, you know, sneaking in behind Ratchet's back like this. He just chased out Raid like, ten minutes ago-

Yeah, he was in to visit me and Dive. Second time today. The twit.

Uh?

Eh, I'm all right.

Mmm?

Oh, come on. I mean, I'm not great or anything, and I'm not gonna be out running laps anytime soon, but geez, it's not that bad. It just looks a lot worse than it is. See? Check it out. I can move it now. I can even wiggle my fingers a little bit. Before I couldn't even rotate that arm at all. It was just stuck that way, bent over, like somebody had twisted it around and then pounded a big nail right through the joint. But now it hardly even hurts anymore. Just a bit of a twinge if I start moving it around a lot. And check it out - Ratchet put all these metal plates and things into my elbow to stop it from tearing any more while auto-rep gets the little stuff all fixed up. It's still really stiff, but at least I can move it again. Pretty good, huh? So yeah, I'm doing all right, I guess.

Look, forget me. Have you checked up on Skydive lately? Naw, naw, he's not here - he's a couple rooms down, or something. You know. Extensive Repairs, or whatever the hell Ratchet's calling it this week. Go stop by and visit. He's still totally offline, but I bet he'd appreciate it anyway. Now he's the one who looks like he got dragged through a combine backwards. He was a real mess when they first brought the two of us in. Silverbolt came by last night when I first woke up and confessed that he was real scared that Dive was gonna, uh, bleed to death right there on the biobed for the first few hours. I don't know about you, but to me that says a lot. Not much gets to Bolt when he's parked safe on the ground, so when he gets freaked out you know it's for something real serious. Later on when we were alone, Raid told me that Fireflight was so upset that he wouldn't shut down or recharge or anything the whole time Ratchet was working on Dive. Hell, when I think about it, I got off pretty easy in comparison. Some dents, some scratches, the thing with the arm- yeah, I got real lucky. But I swear, if I could get my hands on Skywarp right now, I'd fold his wings until they were all sharp corners and jam them up his-

What?

What, you want to sit? Planning to hang around a bit, eh? Yeah, sure, go ahead. Knock yourself out. Uh, I guess you could just try the edge of one of those biobeds over ther-

No, not that one!

...

Oh man, just please, sit! Siddown!

Oh man! Man! Yeah, that one's just fine! Just sit, okay! God, I just about blew my fuel pump when you-

Huh?

Uh. No reason.

...

What, what are you looking at? I didn't do anything! Look, uh, if you really gotta know, let's just say that Raid smuggled me in a few, er, essentials for while I'm stuck in here and leave it at that, okay? Okay? Yeah, we stashed 'em in the biobed when nobody was looking. Yeah, that biobed.

Heh heh. That was a close one, huh? Aren't you glad you didn't sit there now? And considering that me telling you this now makes you an accessory, I won't be going around blabbing to Ratchet about our stash if I were you.

Damn straight.

(Whew.)

So, what the hell are you doing down here, anyway? Shouldn't you be up in Communications with the rest of them? What, you looking for someone?

Me? What for?

Aw geez, I'm not in trouble again, am I? What did I do now?

... Oh. Uh. No, that's fine, I guess.

No, why the hell should I care? You can do whatever you want. But if Ratchet sees you've snuck down to interrogate one of his patients behind his back, he's going to blow a fuse-

Yeah, interrogate, that's what I said. Well, that's why you're here, isn't it?

Uh huh. Yeah, whatever.

So, what do you want, then? I'm pretty sure you're not here just to check up on my welfare. No, no, wait, let me guess:

Optimus Prime sent you.

Ha! I'm right, aren't I?

Huh?

Prowl?

Uh huh. Of course he did.

Oh, pfft, yeah, I bet he wants a report. He's just nuts about those sorts of things, isn't he.

Uh?

What the- no, shut up, it was a rhetorical question!

Geez.

Oh, what now?

Hey, I said I'm fine, didn't I? Man, you're pushy. And don't give me that look - I'm just bored, not crazy or anything. I don't know - maybe I just don't like it in here, you ever think of that? But what poor sap does like being stuck in a medical ward, right? I mean, there's nothing but walls and medical stuff and Ratchet to look at, nobody ever comes by to visit because nobody really wants to hang around with a depressing bunch of cripples, it's boring, everything smells funny, the energon sucks, and orange is a shitty colour for jerks that sucks too. Why the hell doesn't somebody just, I dunno, repaint this whole place? All of it! Who the hell picked orange for a medical ward, anyway? Were their optics screwed up, or were they just stupid to begin with? This is not a calming colour! Orange! I hate it! Makes me want to slit my fuel line, or climb the walls, or something.

But how about blue, eh? A nice, relaxing sky blue. Wouldn't that be cool? Hell, I'd even volunteer to repaint it myself. I won't mind lying flat on my back in Medical doing nothing all day if I could look up at the sky. Or the ceiling, all blue. Whatever.

Uh. Maybe they could just get a TV, or something.

Eh, no, that would drive me nuts too. Have you ever seen human television? I mean, actually sat down and tried to watch it? Oh man, is it ever lousy! Yak, yak, yak, stupid soap operas and dumbass game shows and crappy sitcoms that make you want to kill yourself because they're so frigging awful and yet so insanely addictive at the same time. Does the entire species have no taste, or is it just a local thing? Honestly, I think I could pull something more entertaining out of my a-

Huh?

Eh, I don't know. Like I said, I'm going kind stir crazy in here. I want to fly again. Hey, if you could do it you'd be nuts about it too. What's with you Autobots, anyway? What's so great about cars and trucks? Who'd want to crawl around on the ground like a sucker when they could fly? I don't get you guys. I mean, even the- the fragging humans can fly! Okay, so they gotta build jets like us to do it, but still! At least some effort is there!

Uhh. Look, what was I talking about again? No, before that. Forget the human thing! Primus, you've got a one-track mind sometimes-

Oh, right, flying. Yeah, well, like I was saying, even if they cut off my legs they couldn't keep me out of the sky, because I'd still drag myself up on my arms and bash their damn heads open. Flight! There's nothing like it, man! It's like… you jump out into the middle of this big nothing, and it doesn't care about you or what you've done or what you might do someday, and you're right in the centre of it, while everything that's back on the ground just falls away. All of it. Because the sky is this whole other private place, and it doesn't invite just anybody up there. You've got to be special, and - I'm not making any sense, am I? You've got that dopey look on your face again like I'm talking another language.

Well, what the hell were you expecting me to say flying was like, anyway? Swimming?

Eh. I guess I can't expect an Autobot to really get it, anyway. You guys are all stuck on the ground, and-

Huh?

Sideswipe?

You're comparing real flight to just blasting around on some stupid… jet pack? Try again, pal!

Uh? Who the hell is Tracks?

Yeah... that blue car? With the little wings?!

AH HAHAHA!

Are you kidding me?! You call THAT flying?

AHAHAHAHA- huh?

Err…

Well, yeah, there's Skyfire… he's pretty cool... and really big

And Omega Supreme… he's… really huge…

All right, all right, point taken - forget I brought it up! Yeesh.

Look, can I do something for you, or are you just going out of your way to ensure my day is one long hellish experience? Ah, look, I'll admit it - I'm tired, all right? I'm tired, I'm sore, I've got… metal plates screwed in my arm to keep it from twisting right off, and all things considering I really I don't feel like hashing through your psychoanalytical bull right now. Ugh, my head. No, no, I'm fine. Look, if you want to talk that's great, I'm okay with that, but man, could you just ease off the good cop questioning, all ri-

What?

Oh, for the love of fu- don't give me that stupid surprised look! I damn well know what 'psychoanalytical' means, you lousy- what the hell do you think I am, retarded? I got a computer brain in here, same as you. Primus.

Ugh, look, you don't have to apologise, okay? No, no - look forget it. Forget it! It's nothing. You just hit a bit of a sore spot, that's all.

...

Oh, damn. Why the hell did I just say that?

Look, I didn't mean it, it just came out of my mouth, all right? What's with you, anyway? Do you have some sort of weird mental radar, or what? A guy can't even say anything the slightest bit different around you without you getting all exciting about it and twisting it up into this great big production-

I'm not avoiding anything!

Argh.

All right, look: if I tell you, will you get off my back about it? And I don't mean just now - I mean when I'm out of this stupid ward, too. The last thing I need is you hanging around the hanger, dogging my heels, turning everything I say into this huge cause for alarm-

You won't?

Mmm. I guess that sounds fine, so long as you mean it. Okay. It's a deal.

Sore spot, sore spot, right, uh… well, I'll keep this short, because it's not really that important. We five - and I mean the Aerialbots when I say that, right? - well, we're only been around for what, six months or so? Okay, so we haven't been on this stupid planet for as long the rest of the Autobots have, or been alive for nine billion years or whatever like everybody else has, big deal - would you still use that as an excuse to treat us like we were idiots, or sub-Cybertronian, or something?

Yeah, that's what I thought.

Oh, and then there's the whole creation thing. Yeah, we were built out of old shuttles - so what, right? You'd be amazed how many times we get hassled over that one - well, no, they don't actually say anything snarky, but you just know that's what they're thinking about when they're talking down to you. Shut up, I know these things. I mean, everybody's got to start out from something else, right? You don't just pop out of midair complete and perfect, do you? Jerks.

The only side effect I've seen to come from the shuttle thing so far is Bolt's weirdass fear of heights. That one just came out of the middle of nowhere, because the rest of us love flying, even if Fireflight isn't so hot at it. Luckily nobody dares bring it up in a mean way, or at least right to his face. I guess it's because Prime's already made it real clear it's not something that's worrying him, so it shouldn't worry anybody else either. He's pretty cool that way when you think about it. Yeah, Optimus. I bet you another Autobot would never have let Bolt up in the sky again, never mind actually lead us, and I bet you anything that Bolt would be a walking mass of mental issues if that were the case. He dwells on stuff and makes it worse in his own mind, you know? And if I ever catch you bugging Bolt about it, I'll kick your ass.

So, like I said. A sore spot. Oh, it's not a huge problem and I bet we're the only ones who notice it - but still. You get the vibe sometimes, you know? In flashes, like fast glances. Like you're only around on somebody's whim, that they're just putting up with you because you're some sort of new curiosity. What's the word I'm looking for here… it's patronizing, that's what it is. Even Silverbolt gets it sometimes, and he's supposed to be our leader. Okay, I give Bolt a hard time, I'll admit it, but that doesn't mean I don't want to see taken seriously, like he wasn't as important as Prowl or Jazz or that goddamn cowboy, Ironhide. It's annoying. We're new, not a bunch of stupid punks, and we're just as good as anybody else around here.

(And I don't see too many of them doing much flying.)

Huh?

Naw, nothing.

So, uh, anyway. Whaddya want to talk about?

August eleventh?

Ugh. Didn't you hear all you need to know from Silverbolt already? Or maybe you'd rather just run off to Air Raid and get the whole story from him, huh? That's what everybody did, I bet, just went galloping straight off to those two to find out just what happened, never mind that I was the one who saw the whole thing and saved Skydive's ASS. Forget Slingshot, he's dumped down in Medical anyway, who wants to hear what he's got to say-

Yeah, that's right - me! You heard it right! Just me and Skydive and those lousy Decepticons, and the woods that time forgot! You want a hear good story, you come to us!

Well, yeah, Raider was there too- but only at the end of it. Uh. Yeah, okay, so he might have been the one to finally find us both- but before you start falling all over him to hand out credit, you might want to remember just who deserves a big chunk of it himself. You're damn right that's me! Who was the guy who stayed back to fight off those damn jets? Who went running around through the woods after Dive was shot down looking for him? And gee, who was it that came up with the brilliant idea to get him to keep talking over the radio so that we could track him down again? Was it… AIR RAID?! No, I don't think it was!

Huh. Ha ha. You know, now that I think about it, maybe this whole thing with you visiting isn't such a bad idea after all. Yeah, I'll tell you all about it. What the hell, eh? I got time to kill while I'm stuck in here, and it sure beats sitting around waiting for Ratchet to yell at me. At least if you hear the story from me you'll get what really happened, straight from the mouth, with none of Air Raid's melodramatic bullshit thrown in or any of Fireflight's confused babbling - or even worse, get it from one of Silverbolt's reports, which are about as interesting to read as a goddamn phone book. Man. Ever taken a look at one? And I mean really read one, not just page through it. I made the mistake of trying once, and it nearly put me offline completely. Talk about... uh... what's the word I'm looking for here...

Uh? Dry, yeah, that's it. Ha ha, I forgot you've probably gone snooping through his reports before. You know what I'm talking about, eh?

Now look here, pal. Forget Silverbolt for a moment. Forget Air Raid. This is my story, and Skydive's, and I'm gonna make sure you get it right. I hope you're comfortable over there, because you're not weaselling out of this room until I'm satisfied you've got it all straight in your head. Oh, forget Ratchet. You're not the one he's gonna give any grief- I mean, you're practically command element, right? Besides, I bet he's all talk, anyway.

Oh, man. Where to begin.

Well, I guess I should start off with what you probably know already. The whole thing took place on August eleventh, or so I've been told. Mmm? No, it's not that - I still haven't sorted out the whole human calendar thing yet, that's all. August? What the hell does that mean to me? Jazz has been drilling us on a lot of stuff about humans now that we're stuck on this mudball, and I get most of it fast enough, but I always forget their dates and stuff. Like August. It doesn't even sound like a proper word. Au-gust. Like I said, stupid. I get June and July mixed up all the time too. It's annoying, but I least I got most of it straight in my head, enough of it that I'm actually going to need on a day-to-day basis.

Heh heh. You should see poor Fireflight, through. He's so lost on human currencies it's pretty funny. Denominations totally screw him up. He just hasn't figured it out yet that different items can represent different amounts. Ask him for change for a twenty some time, sit back, and watch the hilarity. No, don't actually expect change. Just enjoy the show.

Yeah, yeah, I know, I'm getting off track. So, like I said, August eleventh. That was what, only three days ago? Man, it feels like longer. That's what happens when you're knocked out, I guess - you loose all track of the time. Internal chronographer gets thrown out of whack. This is the fourteenth, right? Okay, cool, I got that straight, at least. Anyway, the morning of the eleventh had been pretty boring, as usual. I mean, what the hell are we supposed to do around here when we're not fighting, huh? We can't just go flying around because apparently that freaks out the humans. I know, because I asked Skyfire about it once. It was a couple weeks ago, and I was hoping he'd want to go out with me for a quick jump over those mountains out west to point out some good landmarks for me to get familiarized with for when I'm out on one of Prowl's stupid patrols. But, as it turned out, when I went to see him he was holed up in his quarters with some rocks and wasn't planning on going anywhere for a while. He apologized though, and he seemed pretty sincere about it, so no big deal, I guess.

He was a scientist once, right? Huh. I guess that explains all the weird stuff he likes to collect. Did you know he's got some sort of scanner jury-rigged up in his quarters? He built it himself, no help from Wheeljack or anything. I was pretty impressed. I didn't know what the hell it was at first, but he showed me how it worked, and then we got to talking about stuff. He ended up explaining about airspace and everything, and how you've got to warn the humans when you're flying near some of their installations, or let them know when you're flying through areas full of their own aerial traffic so they don't mistake you for hostiles or worry about you hitting any of their planes. I thought it sounded pretty paranoid, but he's got a lot of experience dealing with that sort of thing, so I listened. Skyfire's cool, not full of himself or preachy or anything. He's a good flier, too.

Yeah, there isn't much to do around here when you're not beating the crap out of something. Ironhide's always telling us, 'practice on the range, practice on the range.' But have you seen my shooting? Hell, I don't need to practice that - my aim's great. Everybody's always saying Mirage is this hotshot sharpshooter, but can he hit a moving target the size of a stop sign while ripping around at seven hundred plus miles an hour in low level flight? Can he loft a bomb through the side window of a truck from six miles away while he's in the middle of a hard climb? What the hell does he know about leading a shot and deflection and laser designation, anyway?

So, like I said. Boring. Usually when we're on base with nothing to do we either hang out in our common room or wander around the Ark. It gets pretty dull, all right. You can see even Bolt getting bored sometimes, and when he's got nothing better to do he likes to start getting on our case about little stuff, just to be a jerk. Whenever he starts to really nag we just ask him if he wants to go out for a quick flight around the area and he shuts up real quick. Air Raid's the worst of us, because he's one of those guys who just has to be doing something every minute of the day or he starts climbing the walls. Believe it or not, but he's the one who actually gets into the most trouble, not me. I can sit around and wait for something to come up if I have to - I don't like it, but no paint off my wings, right? But no, not Raid - if nothing's happening, then he's gotta get out there and make it happen, and usually it's something funny and stupid that gets him in all sorts of hell.

Fireflight's actually pretty cool about the boredom, but then again, it doesn't take much to keep him entertained. Just park him someplace with a view and he's happy for hours. Skydive reads a lot, straight off the computer, and most of what he digs up has to do with airplanes. He's just nuts about flying, even more than me. I mean, he's really into it - the physics, the history, the strategy, everything. But I guess the whole thing works to our advantage, because he's read up on so much aerial strategy that it now comes naturally to him. Right now he's hooked on studying one of the big human wars, or at least the part of it that took place twenty thousand feet above the surface of the planet. I keep expecting that any day now he's gonna completely exhaust Teletran's library files on the subject, and boy, will he every be disappointed it if actually happens.

And naturally he assumes that you're just as interested in whatever he's reading as he is. You'll be sitting there, right, just minding your own business, and he's off hunched over on a seat staring rapt at a computer scene and you think he's so totally into his reading that he looks half comatose - when suddenly he'll turn around and excitedly fire off something about those dead aces he's so enamoured over, about how they did such-and-such a great thing and got this many kills, and argh. Truth be told, I tend to just phase him out when he starts going on about it. I'm all for good stories about planes shooting up other planes, especially the ones with all the really awesome dogfighting in them, but history still puts me to sleep.

One day, though, he told me something that actually did sorta stick, even more so because afterwards I started wondering if he didn't do it on purpose to make a point. It was after a practice patrol near that big city up north… no, don't tell me… Portland, yeah, that's it. We five flew overhead a safe distance away from the city limits, and a couple of the Autobots followed us on the ground giving directions and pointing out landmarks so that we could get a feel for the area. Anyway, I was in a pretty bad mood when we got back to base because not only did we not run into any Decepticons while we were out, but, uh…

Ugh, okay, I'll admit I'm not the fastest flier around. There, I said it, and I'm sorry somebody had to hear it, but this story's supposed to make Skydive look good, not me. Okay? Right? I'm not as fast as the others. It's true. Well, I found that out pretty quick during that patrol, because as it turned out I was the last one to make it back. Flying full throttle the whole time too, completely buster. Ate up fuel like a monster. The other four strolled on ahead of me like I was standing still, engines barely clicking over, happily taking in the scenery and not even noticing that I'd fallen far behind them. Meanwhile I'm racing along full tilt just to maintain a decent distance. I even had to bleed off a little altitude just to keep up, which really didn't help much 'cause then I was flying low and slow as well.

Oh yeah, and you know I really wanted to thank them for leaving me behind like complete bastards, too. But hey, I'm a nice guy, so I kept my trap shut and when we got home I just landed real quietly and stomped back to the the common room. Didn't say a word to anybody, not even to mouth off. I wasn't going to let them know I was pretty pissed off over the whole thing - to hell with that! Let them figure it out themselves. I'm not around to make their lives easier, you know.

Well, Skydive must have sensed that something was up, because for a long time after we got back he kept shooting me these weird looks, which made me a little nervous, but what the hell? I hadn't done anything wrong, right? So I ignored him. Ignored everybody. It was only later on that he finally struck up the courage to inch up to me and say- and I remember this perfectly, because it struck me as being so goddamned strange at the time:

"Do you know what one of the most important abilities in air-to-air combat situations during World War II was?"

Oh Primus, he we go. He was gonna go off on one of his dead ace talks. I mentally steeled myself, expecting a long and tedious one-sided conversation. What the hell was World War II? Was that the one with all of those funny old metal prop planes he likes looking at and studying so much?

"No, what?" I said, sulkily.

He grinned shyly. "Tight turns!"

And at this point I'm staring at him like something just leapt out of his forehead on a spring. "Tight turns?"

Instantly, he was in lecture mode. He face grew serious as he elaborated. "Back then, there were often cases where the pilot who could turn inside his opponent in a fight was given a clear advantage. In fact, it was widely recognized that British planes such as the Hurricane and the Spitfire had a superior turn radius when compared to their German counterparts, which gave them a huge advantage in a turning fight because it meant they were the more agile aircraft. There was a rule of dogfighting back then: you never got suckered into something like a scissors fight with a more manoeuvrable plane. Never. It was a fast way to get yourself shot down."

Hurricane? Scissors fight? What the hell was he talking about? He was off in his own little world, speaking in his own private language. I just stared blankly, hoping he'd get the message and go away.

No such luck. I was in for the full haul. "But to do a tight turn you couldn't just fly very slowly. A low airspeed meant that you could make the smallest turn, yeah, but naturally it took much longer to complete it."

He wagged a finger knowingly. "But the alternative wasn't much better. If you flew very quickly you would make a very fast turn, but it would be dangerously wide and open at the same time."

Skydive had a triumphant look on his face, a sure sign he was getting to something important. I hoped it was THE POINT. "The real turn they wanted to do in combat was one that maximized the degrees of turn per second, the happy medium between the slow turn and the fast turn: the quickest turn!"

"I'm not following you," I said flatly.

Which didn't deter him one bit. "See, the whole way to win a turning fight back then wasn't to be the fastest guy in the sky," he said. "Sure, that might have gotten you through your acrobatics pretty quickly, but at the same time you wasted a lot of room doing them. You had to slow down to a proper airspeed to pull off the very best turns, the same ones that would make you that much more manoeuvrable and put you onto the tail of your enemy for a killing shot."

As he talked his hands had traced excited, elaborate motions in the air themselves, but now they fell to his sides, as if he'd suddenly noticed them and was embarrassed by his enthusiasm. He offered me a deflated grin and a shrug. "Basically, the slower you fly, the tighter you turn. You can't zoom around full bore like a maniac all the time and expect to win fights that way. Just something I read and found interesting, that's all."

And then he just sloped away, shut off like a faucet. I could only stare after him in disbelief, mouth popped open a little.

I mean, where the hell had that one come from? Was it really just a bit on random information that had caught his attention, like he said? Or, as I was beginning to realise on a level far deeper than surface, was he actually trying to make a real point, one that would make me feel a little better, or something?

That's Skydive for you.

… Man, that sure was one hell of a tangent, huh? But like I said, this is Skydive's story too, so he should get a big part in it. Nobody marched you down here at gunpoint, and nobody's forcing you to stay, so if you're not ready to sit around and let me give you a good idea of what happened, and everything that led up behind it, I wouldn't recommend hanging around wasting our time. So? Whaddya think?

Yeah?

Ha. All right, I'll go on, then.

So, on the morning of August eleventh we'd just been poking around our common room, doing nothing, as usual. Bolt was off doing Silverbolt stuff, and at one point we sent Fireflight wandering off to Communications to see if anything was brewing over there that we could horn in on, but otherwise it was boring as hell. It looked like it was going to be another dull day, and I remember thinking at the time, what the hell? Why had the Autobots slapped us together if things were always this quiet? Weren't we supposed to dig them out of the no-flight problem? And yet there we were sitting around on our asses collecting dust half the time, totally grounded. What a joke.

So, we did nothing. Just sat around and glared at each other. I think the inactivity was starting to seriously get on everybody's nerves, even Bolt's, because he was a bit short with us before slinking off to go talk to Prowl about the patrols. Skydive was over at the computer reading, so nothing was getting through to him, but by four o'clock Raid and I were getting pretty snappish. Yelling at each other seems to be our favourite way of killing time lately. Hey, can I help it if he turns into an annoying jerk when he gets bored? Fortunately, things were prevented from getting really nasty when news came down that Teletran had just picked up a big group of Decepticon jets flying in off the Pacific.

I think that was technically supposed to be bad news, but we were all still pretty happy to hear it, especially me and Raider. Our crappy moods miraculously vanished. I even felt like cheering. Finally, some real action, and not just another one of Prowl's dumbass patrols! I'd been starting to think the Decepticons were nothing more than a bunch of lousy skulkers, too chickenshit to fly up and give us a real challenge. What the hell do those guys do with their free time, anyway? Sit around on their butts and play with themselves?

So, we all went stampeding up to Communications to find out what the hell was going on, and as it turned out things were even better that we'd been hoping. Bolt ended up filling us in on the whole situation: not only were there a hell of a lot of Decepticons inbound, but they were going to be crossing inland over an area that was all really heavy woods for miles and miles in all directions. This was bad for the Autobots, because it meant they couldn't just drive to the spot to intercept the jets - too many trees and not enough roads or open land to travel over. And they couldn't just sit back and wait to see where the Decepticons were heading, because if all those jets ended up scattering on separate missions they'd have one hell of a job chasing them all down again. What they needed was somebody to jump them just as they were coming in off the ocean, break up their formation and head them off before they could sneak further inland and do some damage.

I think you can see where this is heading.

Heh heh, yeah, that's what I thought.

Well, Prowl wasn't too happy with the idea of sending us off to intercept the Decepticons alone, without any other Autobots for backup, and started rattling off this long list of things he didn't like about it. I wasn't paying much attention to him, to tell you the truth. I guess he figured we didn't have a lot of experience going up against the Decepticons, or didn't know the area well enough, or something. I didn't really care what he thought, because a) its Prowl's job to nitpick about stuff like that, and b) Optimus was standing pretty firm on our side, saying we'd have to start fighting the Decepticon jets sooner or later, and that we'd only learn through experience. Was this the same Autobot I was badmouthing a month ago? Man, I've sure learned since then. Say what you will about the guy, at least he's always willing to give you a chance to prove yourself.

And since Silverbolt always sides with Optimus, that meant we had two guys in our corner pushing to give us a shot at this. Even Ironhide seemed all for it, but I bet you anything he just wanted to see us get pushed around a bit - not really thrashed or anything, because he's a good guy when you get right down to it and likes to keep an eye out for everybody else - I think he just wanted to see us taken down a notch or two. I didn't care, because I knew we'd show him the stuff we're really made of soon enough. And Jazz just kept quiet, because he's one of those people too smart to jump in on an argument at anything but the exact right time. Eventually he grinned and poked a few neat holes of his own into Prowl's case, which was weird because the two of them usually back each other up. Not that time, I guess.

Anyway, it was around that point that Prowl finally gave up, and ten minutes later the five of us were barrelling out over the volcano, climbing hard for altitude and yelling excitedly over the radio between ourselves. Later on we found out that the only reason Prowl backed down was because Optimus agreed to send Skyfire after us once he got back from another patrol off east somewhere. We must have missed that little compromise. No surprise there, considering at the time we were too busy getting all worked up over the prospect of fighting the Decepticons to listen to much of anything else going on around us.

Hmm. But then again, late last night Bolt confessed to me that he knew about the arrangement between Prowl and Optimus all along. Figures that he'd be the only one paying attention, huh? Probably a good thing he did, and we didn't. We would have been insulted at the suggestion that Skyfire would eventually be coming along to babysit us, but to Bolt it would have been a good idea. There are lots of reasons why he's our leader, you know.

Huh?

Hey. I thought I told you we weren't going to bring this up. Bolt's problems are nobody's business but his-

Huh.

I guess I could.

Yeah, I guess that's true.

Yaagh. He doesn't like to talk about it, so I don't either. I dunno, I don't really get his fear of heights myself. He's pretty good when he's in the middle of a big scrap, or trying to figure out what to do next. Then it's like there's no problem at all, like he's forgotten he's even up there. But when he's just flying along without anything else to preoccupy him, you can drift off to one side and watch the fear take a hold of him.

Usually he's pretty good at keeping it under control, or at least from knocking him out completely. It's a big fight, but he's pulling it off. Sometimes, though, we've been out on a patrol and it would hit him really bad, completely out of the blue, and he'd be forced down to make a fast landing so he could take a couple minutes to get a hold of himself again. And we'd circle overhead and watch him pace around on the ground and you just know we're all thinking the same thing and pretending that it's never once crossed our minds: what if this happens at a much worse time, when it's really important, like in the middle of a fight? It hasn't happened yet, but who's to say it won't? He's our leader, but will there ever be a time when he's his own worst enemy, downs himself before the Decepticons get a chance to, right when we really need him the most?

I dunno. We tease him about it now and then, but nobody really wants to bring it up like it was a serious problem. Maybe we're just being paranoid. Besides, back then on the eleventh, as we flew high and fast towards that interception point on the Pacific, if the fear was bothering him at all he was doing a good job of keeping it stomped down. And we were flying at about thirty thousand feet too, putting ourselves in the best position to get the bounce on the Decepticons, and at that point the sheer height you're at starts becoming really profound. The horizon curves, the sky overhead is this insane colour of blue while everything beneath you turns pale and aquamarine, you can fly faster and farther on less fuel because the air is much thinner and there's less drag on your flight surfaces, crazy winds start throwing you around - you can even see clouds way off in the distance that probably won't even reach you until the very next day. It's one hell of a sight.

The rest of us didn't have much time to enjoy it through, because it was around then that our radar was starting to paint a fuzzy picture of the Decepticons flying in east about four thousand feet below, ten miles our or so - maybe five or six of them altogether? That gave us some time to manoeuvre to a point high above them, where we could get the jump and turn in behind them with lots of speed to spare. Silverbolt was pretty quiet the whole time, either thinking hard or just afraid to open his mouth in case he accidentally voiced his fears. Who knows. He was leading us up through the high level clouds steady enough, and we were following, too excited about fighting to worry much about our leader's weird phobia.

And when we finally spotted the Decepticons themselves, five shiny points flying line abreast against the ocean, and then their shadows thrown on the clouds a little below them, the last thing we were thinking about was Silverbolt. Until his voice cut in sharp over the radio, that is.

"See them, Air Raid?"

"You bet," I heard Raider reply, sounding hungry.

"Slingshot?"

"Hell, yeah," I said.

He seemed satisfied with that. "That's good, because you two are leading us down. Skydive, Fireflight, you guys are on wingman duty today, got it? Dive, you're with Slingshot; Fireflight, you're with Air Raid. How does that sound?"

We all called in to let him know we were cool with the arrangement, none so loudly as Raid and myself. Ah man, this was awesome! Flying as a wingman sucks, because all you do is keep anybody from attacking either you or your leader - you chase them away, is all. But when you fly as the leader, you're the real offensive, the guns of the pair - you're the one doing all the actual shooting! And I'm a damn good shot with anything you arm me with! Was I all right with Silverbolt's decision? You're damn right I was!

Something was bugging Fireflight though, and it didn't take him long to spit it out. "What about you, Silverbolt?"

"Hey, yeah?" Skydive chimed in.

"Don't worry about me," he said after a moment. "I'll fly alone between you, and help out if I see anybody's in trouble."

"You'd better," I threatened half-heartedly.

"What trouble?" Raid laughed, flippantly.

There was a long pause. "Don't do anything stupid," Bolt finally warned.

"Who, us?"

I silently agreed with Raid. Who, us?

Now there was an answer that didn't seem to sit well with Silverbolt, but I guess he wasn't willing to make a huge hash out of it right at that moment in time. "Just watch your tails," he grumbled instead, and began a sharp peeling turn to port.

We all shadowed it, rolling neatly onto our backs and nosing over into a steep dive, knowing instinctively that within minutes the Decepticons would be passing through a point just beneath our starboard wings. While we were sliding back into formation a silent squabble between me and Air Raid began almost immediately as we started jockeying for the best attacking position. I tipped his wing; he blasted to full throttle right in my face. Outraged, I did the same - wingtip to wingtip, we raced downwards in this staggering rolling dive until we were almost right on top of the Decepticons, a bewildered Skydive and Fireflight madly fighting to keep up at our heels. We shot past Silverbolt like he was standing still, one on either side of him, then closed together again to jostle for point position, still rocketing downwards. From the ragged edge of my sensors I saw the way our leader pulled up sharply in shock.

Sure enough, a minute later Silverbolt's astonished howl rang through my head. "What in the name of holy Primus are you two doing?"

"What are you doing, you idiot?" Raid echoed, ignoring him.

"What am I doing?" I shrieked back at him, starting to feel a little sick myself at the dizzying way we were hurtling through the sky in a two-ship helix with the wind screaming hollowly in our audio sensors. "What are YOU doing? Get out of my way!"

"YOU get out of MY way!"

"Make me!"

"Look out!" a panicky voice yowled - Fireflight!

Disoriented, I threw my scanners out ahead of me instead and let out a surprised yell when Ramjet's bulky jet profile filled my vision from one wing to the other, barely two hundred yards directly below me- and closing fast! While I wrenched myself hard to one side to avoid a collision I started flipping madly through a few radio frequencies and stumbled across the ones the Decepticons were using - it was full of noisy voices as they all began yelling warnings to one another all at once. Apparently we'd been spotted, but not quite fast enough, as by the time Air Raid and I had broken apart from our aerial row we'd already gone crashing through the Decepticon formation like rocks through glass and sent them scattering wildly in all directions.

Eh. Whatever works, right?

See, that's what I said!

I think Silverbolt was pretty pissed off at the two of us at the time, but he didn't have a chance to give us hell for fighting because at that moment the Decepticons were swarming all over us. All I was aware of were fast glances of metal flashing to either side of me - whip whip, streaking past - as I flattened out my dive and began a hard climbing turn back up into the fight. There long swooping contrails in the sky all around me.

Suddenly two big vertical stabilizers dodged down right in front of my nose - two of them, that means open fire! - and without thinking I snapped off a couple quick shots with my lasers. But they missed, and then the jet was gone again. Thundercracker, or Skywarp? Hoping for Starscream was a little too much, but at the same time Air Raid has an F-15 alternate form. It would have damn well served him right if that had been him, the glory-hogging air jock. I was still too disoriented to know for sure, everything was scrambled in my head from that crazy dive, like somebody had taken a hold of the world and given it a hard shake. Things were happening all around me, and fast, and here was my goddamn central processor stalled in midair, on the verge of a spin.

"You still there, Dive?" I called out groggily.

"I'm still right behind you, Sling," he said, after a few second burst of static. "Wow, that was some split-S!"

My sensors flicked through the sky behind me. Sure enough, there he was, climbing fast after me to join up off my wing. "Some what?"

You'd think I'd have learned not to give him openings like that. "It's really just an inverted Immelmann, where after a vertical dive you roll out with a new change of direction-"

"Could this wait?" I snapped at him.

Startled, he trailed off.

I almost felt a little guilty for that. Almost. "Is anybody after me?

"No, you're clear."

"I'd better be," I muttered, and dove down after the first Decepticon that flew into my line of sight.

For the past couple minutes I'd been climbing hard to get back into a position where I could get the drop down on one of those bastards. I had a hell of a lot of altitude to dump now, and I did so with a vengeance, careening down full tilt after a weird looking white jet flying rapidly off to the west - Ramjet again! This time I didn't even bother firing, I just pelted straight down on top of him. I smashed directly into his left wing and then looped underneath him with plenty of speed to spare. When I glanced back, soaring up again, the damn Decepticon was corkscrewing helplessly through the sky, desperately trying to right himself. Pow! The twit hadn't even spotted me once!

I was ridiculously proud of myself for that. So I looped high above him, turning over at the top of my roll and bearing my guns down on him again. Man, it was a beautiful shot, too, with his ugly jet form framed perfectly within my targeting sensors - I could just picture my lasers arcing out alongside my nose and riddling the stupid jerk full of holes. I was picking up speed again, racing down towards him in a killing dive-

"Slingshot, look out!"

Skydive! Without thinking I broke hard to the right, dragging myself through the sky just as a loose missile hissed wide of my nose, trailing a long banner of white smoke behind it. Holy shit! I don't like admitting it, but that had me rattled, and I didn't feel any better when I saw it curving around again on a wide arc, trying to track me. I hate those damn things! They've got a kind of radar too, you know, and that one had it fixed on me.

Ramjet was forgotten in all of two seconds. I kept banking hard in a turn and watched the missile try to follow me to get within a lethal radius, snaking in towards my tail. I blasted away at full afterburner for a few minutes, then pulled hard to the left, back in towards the missile. It tried to mimic my turn but ran out of fuel halfway through and fell down into the ocean, fluttering uselessly through the sky, empty and harmless.

I could only blow out a sigh of relief. "Good call, Dive."

I'm no coward, you know that, but I still felt every relay and resistor in my body freeze cold when I only got a snowy length of static in reply.

Throttling back I continued on a tight half circle, looking for Skydive. But he was nowhere in sight, and now there were two Decepticons behind me, scissoring through the sky, lining right up on my tail!

We've only been around for about six months, right, but already the five of us have noticed the Decepticon jets seem to resent the hell out of we Aerialbots. Which, on one hand, doesn't make much sense because they haven't had nine millions years worth of war to work up a really good grudge against us like they have the Autobots. But they still hate us. You can see it plain as day. Ask me about it, and I'll say they're all just pissed off at us because they were getting used to lording it up over the Autobots that they could fly and the 'Bots couldn't, all King Shits of Sky Mountain. And then we came along and suddenly it wasn't so lonely up there anymore. And they hate us for it.

Right then, I was suddenly getting a pretty good idea of just how much.

I started jinking back and forth, left and right, so quickly and violently that I could barely keep my gyros straight and my sensors focused. If Skydive was still out there I couldn't find him - all I could see were purple tracers needling past me as the Decepticons opened fire with a vengeance. Skywarp was back there, I was sure of it, because I could hear him jeering and yelling over the radio every time he shot. I could only guess the other jet was Thundercracker - those two idiots always stick together like twin STUPID.

But Air Raid and Fireflight - where the hell were they? Off tangling with Starscream was my only thought - Raid always makes a beeline straight for him in a fight, always wants to bag the biggest, flashiest kill out there, and Starscream's a mouthy target that draws a lot of attention to himself. Primus only knew what happened to Silverbolt - was he shot down? Did his fear of heights grab a hold of him after all, and do him in before our enemies had a chance to? Was he off scrapping with the fifth jet? And who the hell was that, anyway - it was red, it was red, a red jet, a red blur I saw real quick before diving through the formation… Thrust!

Well, all right, Thrust was a bit of a coward, Bolt could take care of him easy - but if that were the case, then where the hell was he? Where were any of my teammates? I couldn't see anything else in the sky for miles in all directions, not another plane or a flash of metal or anything. It had all happened so fast. According to my internal chronographer barely ten minutes had passed since we first attacked, but now I was utterly alone.

Save for the two idiots on my tail, of course.

So I did the only thing I could think of, which was flip out completely, half furious, half panicked. I hurled myself into every insane manoeuvre I could, thrashing around like a maniac. I banked, I rolled, I slowed down to nothing hoping I could force them to overshoot me, I dove at obscene speeds hoping to put some distance between us. I think I saved my own life with all that freakshow flying, because none of Skywarp or Thundercracker's shots managed to hit me. All of them cut close, dangerously close sometimes, so that it looked like I was flying through a hedge of purple lasers, but they all still went wide. I had a couple of them even clip my wings with a nasty spray of sparks, but nothing contacted hard enough to do any real damage. I was alive - fighting like crazy for my life, maybe - but unhurt.

Huh?

Hey, I told you I like stories with lots of dogfighting in them, didn't I?

Heh heh heh. Oh, don't look so worried. It's not like you don't know the end of this one already, right? I mean, I'm still here, aren't I?

Now. Where was I.

Oh, right. Yeah, thanks. Fighting for my life. Man, that sounds cool when you say it like that, doesn't it? Well, it's not so hot when you're actually out there doing it, with real lives and everything.

So, after all that I was still alive. On the other hand, I wasn't exactly winning the fight either - everything I did was crazed and defensive, pure instinctive reaction, like the way your hands go up on automatic when somebody throws something at you. I wasn't trying to win, I was just trying to keep myself alive, and the problem with that goal is that it lacks ambition. Skywarp and Thundercracker couldn't hit me, maybe, but they could match my manoeuvres easily, and the damn Decepticons chased me all the way down.

And that was the only direction I could go in, trust me - straight down. If I tried to climb they'd jump all over me. If I just kept turning I might shake them eventually, but it would take too long and I'd eat up a ton of fuel doing it, and then I'd be in a whole new world of SCREWED. Every time I went into another batch of psycho acrobatics I lost a little altitude to gain back speed, and then a little more, and a little more. In ten minutes Skywarp and Thundercracker had chased me down from thirty thousand feet to a measly five.

Needless to say, I was running out of room real fast. I wasn't even over the ocean any more, but a huge forest instead. Miles and miles of big black pine trees were whipping past me in long dark speed lines. All my desperate manoeuvring had carried me right over the shore of the Pacific, and back over land. If I was gonna go down, it wouldn't be a soft landing.

Then again, have you ever hit water? Naw, naw, I mean really hit it, slam into it going over a thousand miles an hour, not on an angle but straight down - CRUNCH!

Then do yourself a favour and don't.

I'm serious, here. It's just like hitting a brick wall, only much, much worse, because a wall is what, three feet thick? It'll crumble if you crash into it. The ocean is a damn sight deeper than three feet, and it sure as hell doesn't break when you hit it. Trees are crappy to ram, especially with all of those branches and leaves and stuff that get jammed so deep into your frame it takes days to get them out, but at least they give way when you smash into them. I wasn't crazy about the trees, but at that point in time they looked a lot more inviting option than the frigging Pacific.

Which goes to show you just how desperate I was getting, I guess, if I was planning on what my crash would be like beforehand.

At a thousand feet I obviously figured out real quick I wasn't going to be diving much anymore, so I did the last thing I could think of and started doing the hardest, sharpest turns I could, sometimes flying so low my wingtips actually tore through the treetops and sent needles exploding everywhere. I mean, fuck the fuel thing, right? I wasn't going to piss around with those two much longer. I was still fighting purely on instinct, but at that point it was laced with a kind of stupid, aimless outrage as well. If I was gonna go down, I wasn't going to make it easy on any of us. Even if they did shoot me down right then and there, at least nobody could say afterwards that I hadn't tried to put up a fight.

And do you know what was weird? I look back on the whole lousy situation now, and it was as if a little self-preserving program kicked off on its own initiative just as things were looking their worst, because perversely, my central processor picked that moment in time to remind me of that conversation with Skydive - that's right, the same one I told you about earlier:

"The real turn they wanted to do in combat was one that maximized the degrees of turn per second, the happy medium between the slow turn and the fast turn: the quickest turn."

Primus. I still can't believe I still remember that stuff, word for word. It's nuts. If I'd heard it from anybody but Skydive, I bet you I would have forgotten it two seconds after being told. I hear things from him, it sticks somehow. I dunno - I don't get it either.

What the hell, right? I sure had nothing to loose. Skywarp was still hot on my heels, and Thundercracker was circling around overhead like a damn vulture, just waiting for me to climb so he could shoot me himself. I had nowhere else to run. Nobody was around to bail me out. I sure wasn't going to just roll over and let them blast the slag out of me. Oh well, what the hell. So I throttled back instead, dropped my airspeed, and started to scissor around in series of half-figure eights to get myself turned back in towards Skywarp - ha! And what did you know, it actually worked! It took a while, and I was half expecting to get my back shredded with laser fire at any moment, but gradually I became aware that I was out-turning the Decepticon!

Oh, he was still following me, don't get me wrong. But my manoeuvres were faster now, cleaner, more efficient, and soon I could see that our turns were falling out of synch because mine were getting smaller, so that every time I finished one I would see him in front of me for a couple seconds. It was just enough time for me to soundly hose him down with some laser fire before we broke apart again, curving around to repeat the whole thing.

Soon we were butting heads like that on a regular pattern, and every time we veered away to avoid a collision after firing our guns Skywarp had something real friendly to tell me over the radio.

"Getting scared yet, you stupid little punk?"

Hard turn, hard turn, FIRE, FIRE!

"We already killed your other friends, they ain't coming to help you-"

Ignore him, ignore him, hard turn, hard turn.

"They didn't put up much more of fight-"

"Got the one that was following you with just one shot-"

"Went down in flames, didn't he, Thundercracker?"

"You can't keep this up forever, you know."

"Go eat scrap and die!" I finally yelled back, nerves fraying.

Nothing but hysterical laughter for the next couple passes.

Assholes.

Huh?

No, of course I didn't believe him. About the others being dead, I mean. I haven't been around that long, but still, I know idiot psyche-out tactics when I see them. The whole thing reeked of retarded mental head games - they were trying to rattle me, make me slip, do something stupid that would get me in trouble. I obviously wasn't trucking with that idea, so I blocked him out as best I could, just ignored his stupid taunts.

Besides, I know it if the others were gone. I'd just know it somehow. Not on a surface level, not in any smart way - I just would, like the way you know when bad news is only just around the bend.

But I also knew that, in his own screwed up way, Skywarp was right about one thing: I couldn't keep up that turning game forever. They were just playing with me now, having a little fun, but they'd get bored of it soon enough, and then Thundercracker would drop down from his perch to finish me off, or Skywarp would teleport behind me and that would be the end of it. I had to do something all right, something unexpected, something ludicrously stupid, something that would totally throw them off long enough for me to squeeze in that winning shot I badly needed-

-so I transformed.

Right in mid-air.

In all of his overbearing confidence, I think Skywarp was expecting a lot of things, most of them revolving around me crashing down into the trees a smoking wreck, but I don't think he was really ready to crank around that murderous turn and run into a robot instead of a jet.

Call me a punk, will you?

I said I was a damn good shot earlier, and I meant it. I mean, I am the KING. As I fell through the sky to avoid being mowed down by that goddamned teleporter, I swung my rifle in from subspace and took aim and fired off a volley of shots - and wouldn't you know it, all of them connected beautifully, punching holes through his wings and fuselage and blasting fantastic strike patterns right into the heavy armour underneath the cockpit. He let out a maniac shriek and immediately swerved off, trailing bits of metal and oily smoke in his wake.

And as he hit the trees I shouldered my gun, bent one knee and punched my fist down after him - hey, Skywarp! Do you suck, or what?

It was around that point that gravity really took hold, and I started falling faster. So I gripped my rifle real tight in both hands and flipped around until my feel were facing the ground so I could flare my thrusters a bit to slow my decent. None of us Aerialbots are real sure yet how well we can fly when we're in our robot modes, and having just escaped a mauling by Skywarp I sure as hell wasn't going to start experimenting with it right then and there. So I just let myself fall and ran through my options, real quickly.

First I decided I'd just drop down into the trees, where I could at least slip away from the fight under heavy cover and then be free to go looking for the others on foot. Then I changed my mind. Thundercracker was still prowling around somewhere above me, probably shocked stupid at the sight of his buddy taking a nose dive into the woods below. For the next couple seconds he'd be distracted long enough for me to transform and fly back up into a better position for a zooming attack, and I wanted to settle things with him bad enough to risk hanging around for a while.

So I was just getting ready to jump back into my jet mode when a bit of light flashing silver against the sun far, far to the west caught the corner of my optic. I looked around instead, and it was then that I finally spotted Skydive.

Well, of course he was still alive. But as you can probably guess, he wasn't looking too good.

"Skydive!" I shouted, already forgetting about all the static I'd heard over the radio earlier.

He didn't make any indication he'd heard me, and even then I wasn't surprised about that.

I wasn't surprised at all.

"Skydive!" I yelled again, not even thinking about Thundercracker at this point.

My wingmate looked like a can of death with the lid off. Even at that distance I could see that the was flying low, really low, just barely skimming over the forest, so low he kept clipping the tops of trees with the front edges of his wings and smashing them into splinters. It looked like he was putting up a huge struggle just to maintain that altitude, because every time he started hitting branches and stuff his nose would strain upwards for greater lift, and bits of needles and bark would rain down behind him. He shook like he was on the very edge of a stall, and I kept expecting him to wing over and ram into the woods at any moment. There was still a bit of fight left in him though, but it wasn't the urge to shoot and kill, but simply to stay airborne, to stay alive, and it looked like he was clinging to it for all he was worth.

His wings were shredded. And I don't mean they just had some slashes in them - I mean they were literally full of holes the size of my fist. Even worse, each of those holes had great tufts and streamers of torn metal and internal wiring flopped out and snaking back over his wings, like somebody had punched straight through and then yanked out great big handfuls of whatever they could grab a hold of. Whole metal panels were nearly wrenched right off his wings and were flapping feebly in the wind, rivets completely popped out and everything, and the aileron on his left one was so crumpled and twisted that I was amazed he was still flying straight. Later on, back when I was in here and awake again, I figured out that he must have been flying on a wide, limping left turn the whole time he'd been going down, which is why I'd lost sight of him for so long - it must have carried him so far away from the place I was fending off Skywarp and Thundercracker that I couldn't pick up any traces of him, even on radar. That's my guess, anyway.

I supposed that's just one more thing I'll have to ask him about when he wakes up, huh?

Anyway, the damage didn't stop at his wings. His entire tail assembly was chewed up, his vertical stabilizer burnt down to a stub, his rudder gone completely. A long trail of black smoke was pouring out of his engine, and from afterburner nozzles to compressor blades to intakes it was riddled with laser shot that ran all the way up his back right to the end of his cockpit. No wonder he'd lost so much altitude - from the looks of things he barely had the energy left to alter his flight path. He must have glided the whole way down, because his engine sure as hell wasn't keeping him aloft or getting him anywhere fast. It looked about ready to flame out at any minute, or worse, catch fire and explode. Already I could see spatters of energon flying back, mixing in with noxious jetwash and spraying down into the trees in a blood path that stretched out far behind him.

I couldn't believe it. He was alive, still flying! At first I was nearly overwhelmed with relief to see him still in once piece, but it didn't take long for a kind of poisonous anger to start creeping in. Where the hell were the others if Dive was left all alone in such a lousy state? And what the hell were they doing? He was injured, he was crippled bad - he needed someone flying with him, to escort him back home, for protection, because he sure as slag wouldn't make it on his own. Were they off having their fun tangling with the rest of the Decepticons, giving him up as lost? Did they get beat bad and all run off? I mean, it was like they'd left him there! Just left him behind, like he was... uh, like he was me, or something!

Oh, was I ever pissed off! Not only because it looked just then as if the other Aerialbots had flown off to save their own tails and left him there to crash on his own, but because I had this screwed up idea in my mind that they'd never even turned back to watch him go down as they were flying away. It was this demented vision taking shape in my head, a completely freak conviction that not once had they looked back at him, even just to see what was happening behind them. In my mind, they'd put their noses to the ground and flown out fast and low without bothering to look around, just like they had that one day they all flew back to base and didn't see me straggling behind them.

Hey, I told you it was screwed up. I don't know, I wasn't thinking real straight at the time. Weird ideas were banging around in my head, just looking for that right kind of outrage to connect with.

Skydive! I couldn't believe it. I was nearly incoherent with shock. I mean, he's our tactician, for Primus' sake! Nevermind the morality of it for a minute - he's the brains of our group! We lose him, who the hell is going to come up with all of those clever plans we throw around? Here's a hint: it sure as hell won't be me or Air Raid!

Mmm?

Yeah, yeah, I know better now - I heard it all from Fireflight. And then Air Raid, who actually apologized for it. Even Silverbolt shuffled through last night and recited the whole story all over again. Starscream suckered them completely, pretended to be fatally injured and drew them off on a wild goose chase so that and Skywarp and Thundercracker could smartly polish off any one of us left behind. They had no idea what happened to Skydive and me - we were all separated long before they could figure out what was really going on. Yeah, I know all about that now, what they were really doing, what had really happened to them. If you want to know about that story, then go ask Bolt, or Raid, or hell, even Fireflight. But you want to know what happened to me at the time, right? What I was thinking then, as it happened?

Yeah, that's what I thought. I got your number too, buddy.

Anyway, all you really need to know is that I was damn happy to see Dive again, but pretty steamed with the rest of the guys. I could barely think straight, I was so pissed. All I could figure out was that I had to get to Skydive right away, and fly cover for him before some other slagheap tried to finish him off.

Then, two things happened.

First, Thundercracker dove down and shot me in the back.

And second, it was right around then that I hit the trees.

It was a damn good thing I'd gone robot and tried hovering in one place for a bit when I took out Skywarp, because I probably would have fallen into the lousy forest a hell of a lot faster if I hadn't. One minute I was looking at Skydive, and the next thing I know my back feels like someone's gone and hit it with a power saw, and all I can see are needles and branches flying upwards past me at this obscene rate. For a minute I was too shocked to do anything but go limp and stare up at the patches of sky still visible overhead, and I just kept smashing down through layers and layers of those damn branches like an idiot - WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM!

I think I hit just about every one of them on the way down, too. It sure as hell felt that way. You saw all the dents on me when I first came in, right? Well, now you know how I got them.

Huh?

Hang on, we'll get to the arm in a minute - trust me.

Anyway, I must have bashed my head on something heavy, like a trunk or something, because suddenly everything went real black real fast. Next thing I know I'm slowly coming out of stasis lying back on this crazy angle with my top half on the ground and my legs wedged up between a couple of big fir trees, which were almost completely stripped of branches. I don't think I'd been out of it very long, maybe just for the last couple seconds, because when I came online again bits of bark and dead, crunched up needles were still slithering and plinking down after me. I could see the sky way, way overhead, maybe seventy feet up or so, just scraps of it poking through the trees. I even remember seeing clouds of dust swirling like mad through the light shining down, and a ton of little tiny insects drifting around through it. For a couple minutes I just laid on my back and stared up like a moron while my internal scope alignments sorted themselves out again. My head was spinning madly, and my back felt like it was on fire. Whatever damage Thundercracker's lasers had done hadn't exactly been helped out much by my trip down through the trees.

It took a couple minutes, but eventually I got enough sense back to figure out exactly what the hell had happened and where I was. There was a ton of broken off branches and debris and crap lying across me and I pushed all it off with one hand, then reefed my legs out of the trees, nearly pulling them down on top of me in the process. Sitting upright was a bit of a bitch, because the forest and underbrush was so thick I first had to beat it back with one fist before I had a little room to manoeuvre around in.

So after doing that I just sat for a bit and tried to reorient myself, which wasn't too easy thanks to the fact that no matter what direction I looked in all I could see were miles and miles of black forest, just rows and rows of tall trunks all packed together, topped off high overhead with a heavy mess of needles. I had no idea where the hell my gun was; I must have dropped it when I hit the trees. So now I was unarmed as well. Thundercracker was still circling around overhead somewhere - I could hear his engines off in the near distance, sounding loud and angry. He was probably looking for me, or Skywarp, which was fine with me because it meant he wasn't off harassing Skydive. On the plus side, self-dio at least wasn't yelling about anything serious, and although my back was killing me I didn't feel real hurt anywhere. Just bashed up and rattled, but you can walk that sort of stuff off easy enough.

But when I gave myself a quick look-over I soon figured out that there was something screwed up with my left arm that not even self-dio was registering, probably because the pain receptors all down that side were shot to hell. My arm was bent back real weird, right at the joint, and the metal had been wrenched so hard it was all frayed and torn around the edges - I must have smashed it bad on the way down.

Ugh. No, it didn't hurt or anything - I just couldn't move it, not even the fingers, and it was frigging lousy to look at on top of that. It looked like it was about two second away from twisting off entirely, which wasn't exactly a real comforting thing to contemplate and made me feel real sick at the time-

Yeah... real sick... uh...

Ugh.

Mmm?

Whaddya mean, I'm holding it weird?

Naw, it's just a little twitchy. You know how it is - you think about something hurting, next thing you know you imagine it starts to twinge a little-

Naw, naw, it's okay, it's just all this talk about my arm, and- ow.

Ah! No, it's fine! What are you, a doctor or something?

(Nng.)

Yes, look, you can come back later if you want, but just siddown, I'm fine, my arm's fine, everything's super, let's just keep talk-

AGH. It's these damn metal plates-

Hey! Hey! Where the hell do you think you're going?! No, get back here before I have to kick your ass-

GAH! I'm fine, it's fine! No! No, don't go get Ratche-

Oh, you bastard.

******

670378 (08.14.85)
PERSONAL NOTES:

- Have talked with SS; his arm was paining him (more than he willing to let on, I'll bet) and I broke off talk to allow time for his repair (more accurately: kicked out by R.) According to R. his self-repair made a small fault reconnecting several small relays, causing them to burn out during our conversation - painful. Minor damage, easily fixed; get info from R. later, plus off. med. reports for both SS and SD
- Will return later this evening to resume report, must admit I'm curious to hear how it ends myself - check on SD! Don't forget!
- NOTE: Talk to AR, talk to FF RE: Starscream incident
- NOTE: Talk to SB RE: Official Report
- NOTE: Talk to Jazz RE: R. Med supplies

SS

******

670378 (08.14.85)
TRANSCRIPT, AIR RAID: AERIAL COMMON, 13:43

Huh? You again?

Heeeey, didn't I just see you in the hall, like, two hours ag-

Yeah, uh, I guess you might as well come on it, just watch the door- yeah, grab a seat- hey, not that one! No, it's not that - it's just that Sling already broke it, so now if you sit on it the top part slips and it'll dump you right off. I dunno, he tripped over it or something. I think we were fighting about something at the time...

So! Howsit going?

Ah, pretty good, I guess. I'm getting pretty bored, if you want the truth. Actually, I was just thinking about sneaking down to visit Sling again, and Ratchet be damned. It gets pretty dull when there's nobody else in here to talk to. Silverbolt's still off looking for Optimus, and Primus only knows where Fireflight wandered off to-

Huh?

Eh, no, it's not that I'm trying to avoid you or anything. I'm just surprised, that's all. We usually don't get many of you Autobots stopping by our common room. What, does it smell in here or something?

Heh heh. Want the grand tour?

Ha, naw, I was just kidding. You look like you've got something on your mind already. Besides, there's not much in here to look at. Bolt's pushing to get us some more energon dispensers, and a better gun rack, and some more computers and seats and stuff, but what the hell - you take what you can get, right?

Yeah.

Anyway, what brings you to these parts? I thought you were off bugging Slingshot about the August eleventh thing-

You were? Did he, uh, give you the whole story?

Well, why not? It's not like him to just shut up in the middle of a good-

Ha! You got kicked out by Ratchet, didn't you? Ha! Oh, don't worry, I feel your pain. I've been booted out so many times he automatically yells when he sees me now-

Huh? He didn't? Then what-

What?! What kind of repairs? How bad- is he all right? Aw geez, I knew I should have been down there-

Yeah, I'm fine - look, what's wrong with him?

Uh huh?

Huh. Yeah, actually, now that I think about it, I noticed that myself. He was worrying that arm the whole time I was with him too. I don't think he noticed me noticing, or he wouldn't have touched it and would have put on this big production about being all right- ha. That's so Slingshot. What a twerp. I'll have to give him a hard time about being stoic the next time I'm down there.

Well, look here - how long will it take for repairs? Did Ratchet give you an estimate, or anything?

Yikes. Well, that's only an hour away. I guess we just kill time until then. I'd offer you some energon, except that, uh, we don't exactly keep any in here-

Heeeey, I know. Did Sling get around to telling you about what happened with us and Starscream?

He did mention it, eh?

Well, I'll tell you what. Since we're both just sitting around with nothing else to do until Ratchet fixes Sling's arm and lets us back into Medical, how about I run the whole thing past you? It's kind of a weird story, but it shouldn't take longer than a half hour to tell. Then we can both sneak down to Medical and you can sweet talk Ratchet into letting me back in again. Last I heard Skydive's still offline, but it would still be good to see him too. Maybe we could even hunt down Fireflight first, and all go together. He'd like that.

How does that sound?

Awesome. Okay, the Starscream thing. Man, where to start…

Well, I'm going to assume that Sling already told you about the events leading up to our mission over the Pacific, so I guess I'll start at the point things started going wrong. We were cruising around at around thirty thousand feet, trying to get ourselves into a good position to attack the Decepticons from. I was flying a little ahead of Fireflight when I heard Bolt's voice over the radio.

"See them, Air Raid?"

"You bet," I said. Of course I'd already seen them; I'd been watching them on radar since they'd drawn into range. Honestly, we're not as attention-deficit as the Almighty Silverbolt seems to think we are.

"Slingshot?"

"Hell, yeah," I heard him say.

Bolt seemed happy about that. "That's good, because you two are leading us down. Skydive, Fireflight, you guys are on wingman duty today, got it? Dive, you're with Slingshot; Fireflight, you're with Air Raid. How does that sound?"

Unsurprisingly, I got a private message from my new wingman at that moment. "Air Raid? Is that okay with you?"

"No worries, Fireflight," I told him. "Welcome to Raider's Wild Ride."

And I wasn't worried, not really. Fireflight flies like a cow and his attention tends to wander, but he's a good worker and a nice guy. Plus, he's got uncannily sharp vision, and that's a good quality in a wingman. No wonder he's always staring off into space. He's sees stuff we never do.

He laughed. In the background I could hear the others calling in to let Bolt know they were happy with the arrangement. I flipped off my private channel and added my own enthusiastic approval to the general din. I love flying in the number one position. Flying wingman blows. Dull, dull, dull.

Fireflight still seemed a little worried about something, and after a moment I heard him call out, "What about you, Silverbolt?"

"Hey, yeah?" That was Skydive.

"Don't worry about me," Silverbolt said. "I'll fly alone between you, and help out if I see anybody's in trouble."

For some reason that answer seemed to annoy Slingshot. "You'd better."

Personally, I couldn't see what was bothering him. For all his bragging and ego, Sling can be surprisingly touchy sometimes. That habit of his has started some fine old fights between him and Silverbolt in the past, particularly when Bolt goes into his Fussy Leader routine, and this looked like it might be shaping up into another round between them. Like the hell of a good guy I am, I decided it would be wise to defuse tensions before they got out of hand.

"What trouble?" I laughed.

I knew Bolt wouldn't like that answer, but maybe it would ward off a spat between him and Sling. "Don't do anything stupid," he warned me.

Geez, you'd think he'd know better. "Who, us?"

Silverbolt didn't seem any happier to hear it. "Just watch your tails."

We all began a sharp dive onto the Decepticons. Slingshot, of course, just had to be the first one down, and he tipped my wing when he tried to shoulder past me. Obviously I wasn't going to take that sitting down, so I blasted away to full throttle and let him have it right in the face. I almost expected him to just back off after that treatment - but, this being Slingshot, he seemed to view it as a challenge and fired up his afterburners instead.

Well, I wasn't trucking with that nonsense. Slingshot could just kiss my shiny metal butt. I went to afterburners as well, and the next thing I knew the two of us were in a race against each other and gravity as we blasted towards the ocean in a crazy spiralling dive with barely two feet of clearance between our wings. Poor Skydive and Fireflight must have thought we'd both lost our minds. Silverbolt was spitting nails as we shot past him.

"What in the name of holy Primus are you two doing?!" I heard him howl.

That was a good question. "What are you doing, you idiot?" I yelled at Slingshot.

"What am I doing?" he shrieked back at me. "What are YOU doing? Get out of my way!"

I was incensed. Junior thought he could push me around? "YOU get out of MY way!"

"Make me!"

"Look out!" Fireflight shouted.

We'd been so busy trying to outdo one another that we'd completely forgotten about the Decepticons. I looked down long enough to see that I was about five seconds away from ramming into Thrust. Instinctively, I braced myself for impact and aimed for his left wing, figuring that if I was going to hit him I might as well do a lot of damage on the way down. Wings are fragile; they rip off real easy if you hit them right. I intended to do a whole lot of ripping.

The crash was awesome. I don't think Thrust ever really saw what was bearing down at him at over two thousand miles an hour, because he certainly didn't move out of the way in time. All I can remember is a tremendous blow that rattled loose every rivet in my body, and the sound of screaming metal, and then tumbling helplessly through empty space with blue sky all around me. Still, as I tried to reorient myself and gauge the damage, I had to take satisfaction in the fact that Sling and I must have given the Decepticons one hell of a nasty shock. Death from above! It was a pretty wicked head rush for me, I have to say.

After a three thousand foot freefall I finally managed to right myself. I blasted back up towards the fray overhead with my head ringing. I felt kinda weak and shaky after the collision, but I still got off easy compared to Thrust, who was corkscrewing down towards the Pacific Ocean with one wing vibrating loosely behind him. I was absurdly proud of myself for that. One down, four to go! Chalk one up for Air Raid! How cool is that? I bet not many Autobots can say they've survived something like that, eh?

Naturally, at that point I was feeling pretty good about myself and having a hell of a great time. Okay, so I nearly ripped myself to shreds - yeah, whatever! Air Raid's Wild Ride doesn't stop for near misses. All I wanted to do right then was get back up into the looping dogfight taking place somewhere above me and start busting heads. The old laser-hungry demon burn was back, like a juiced-up jolt of electricity straight to the central processor. As you can probably guess, I'd completely forgotten about Fireflight.

Luckily, he hadn't forgotten about me. I think I gave him a bit of a nasty shock when I hit Thrust, but he kept his head and circled the place we'd gone crashing together, looking for me, or at least scraps from my corpse. As I banked up towards him from behind I noticed that I couldn't hear him calling over the radio; then I realised I couldn't hear much over the radio other than unhappy static. The impact must have jarred something loose. Actually, it jarred lots of things loose, but the long and short of it was that my radio had conked out. I tried flipping frequencies to raise him, then just gave up and tried a private message.

"Fireflight?"

"Air Raid?"

He was desperate with relief. "You're all right!"

"Heck, I'm thriving," I drawled.

Fireflight drew up onto my wing. I could feel his sensors flitting over me, searching for injury. "That was amazing! I don't think Thrust ever saw you coming. Are you sure you're all right?"

"Fine," I said, cutting him off. Far be it from me to discourage praise, but there were still four more Decepticons out there. "What happened? What's going on? Where's Sling and Dive?"

"You won't believe it!" Fireflight shouted. "We lost sight of those two after we scattered the Decepticons, but guess what happened!"

I hate guessing games. "What?"

Whatever it was, it sure had all of Fireflight's attention. "Silverbolt shot Starscream!"

Now that drew me up short. "He did what?!"

"Shot Starscream!"

I was amazed. Silverbolt? I mean, he's smart and a good leader and everything, but out of the five of us he's got the most awkward alternate mode, and was the least suited for any real serious furballs. Silverbolt didn't usually do a lot of shooting of anything. And Starscream is the best flier the Decepticons have, tricky and sly, and a devious little bastard on the side. Even I have a tough time flying one on one with Starscream. Primus.

So, like I said. Amazed. "You're kidding?"

"I'm serious!" Fireflight laughed. "Silverbolt caught him completely off-guard, and nailed him right in the afterburner! You should have seen all the smoke, it was incredible. Talk about a great shot!"

I'll bet it was incredible. Ha. Great shot. Suddenly Silverbolt's victory turned sour in my mouth. Fireflight's obvious admiration only made it that much more bitter. I'd been gunning for Starscream since I first met him, without much success… what the hell was Bolt playing at? He's a freaking Concorde, for flip's sake! Concordes don't shoot down military jets - I do!

Luck! It had to be luck! Nothing more than a case of being in the right place at the right time!

"Where are they now?" I asked sulkily.

"Below us, about five miles out towards the ocean, dropping altitude fast. Starscream's been crippled pretty bad, and Silverbolt's chasing him to make sure he's going down for good."

Good. There was still time. Starscream was still alive.

And yes, I know exactly what you're thinking. But the point is I wasn't thinking at the time. I know that now, and I've already apologized to Slingshot for it. All right? All right.

"Well, look here," I said briskly. "You know Silverbolt - once he gets a good look at the ground there's a good chance he'll lose his nerve. We should fly out and help him right away."

Fireflight apparently didn't share my enthusiasm. "Well, yeah, but-"

"No buts," I said severely. "Bolt and gravity have some issues. If his flying thing gets really bad he might be forced to land, or even crash on his own. And you can't trust a Decepticon, especially not Starscream, no matter how damaged he might be. Starscream's smart. He won't go down without a fight. He might even manage to get behind Bolt and shoot him while he's preoccupied. We need to help."

That was my excuse anyway, and I was sticking to it.

The idea still bothered Fireflight, though, that was clear as day. "But what about Slingshot and Skydive?"

Come to think of it, that was a good question. What about Slingshot and Skydive? I'd taken care of Thrust, and Ramjet was nowhere in sight. I assumed, carelessly, that he'd been shot down as well. That left Skywarp and Thundercracker, a tough duo with a lot of combat experience behind them. Surely Sling and Dive could handle those two themselves?

That got the old morals in an uproar. I was torn. On one hand, Starscream was the ultimate Decepticon kill. He's pretty thoroughly hated among the 'Bots. He lies, he cheats, he backstabs, he'll attack anything that suits him, including organics, he's smart and scheming and has done a hell of a lot of damage to the Autobots and the humans. Generally he's just an oily little menace to his friends and his enemies, and at that moment he was surely flying out of my reach with every wasted second. On the other hand, I couldn't leave Slingshot and Skydive to tackle a pair of his flunkies on their own.

Could I?

I mean, I always give Slingshot a hard time, but I'll still admit he's a really good shot - he's probably the best of all five of us. And there's no question that Skydive's the smartest. Both of them were well equipped to handle any Decepticon flier they came across, in weapons and skill if not in experience. Conveniently enough, I remembered this at exactly the same time I was looking for an excuse to leave them behind.

Finally, I made up my mind. Thundercracker and Skywarp were punks. Two good Aerialbots could handle them any day.

"Come on, Fireflight," I said firmly, and began a sharp turn to port. "Let's find Silverbolt."

He followed me out, but reluctantly. Fireflight's a good wingman.

We entered a shallow dive in the direction Fireflight last spotted Sliverbolt flying in, our sensors alert. We were picking up speed fast; it was a great rush, with engines blasting and the wind whipping past, just incredible, and I loved every second of it. The coast was visible beneath us, rocky and dark and desolate, and I could see the white line where the waves were smashing up against the beach. The Pacific Ocean was a great blue shape directly ahead. We flew through clouds, which were thick and white, and when we broke free beneath them foggy streamers trailed from our wings. Our contrails disappeared as we dropped down into warmer air, and my olfactory sensors began picking up the smell of salt mixed in with cold water and vegetation. I didn't pay much attention to it at the time. All I could think of was Starscream, who was somewhere ahead of us.

We levelled out at around ten thousand feet and began a circling search pattern that started at the shoreline and gradually swept outwards, looking for any signs of another jet. We were low enough now to see smaller details of the landscape, like waves and whitecaps on the water, and submerged sandbars. There was a big pine forest on the edge of the land, and I could make out tiny human houses and thin dirt roads on the distant hills. Fireflight spotted Silverbolt first. He was flying perpendicular to us about a half mile out to the west, maybe three thousand feet below. His big alternate form stood out shiny and sharp against a bank of white clouds. We peeled off in his direction, and within minutes I spotted Starscream for myself. He was flying slowly and weaving in his flight path erratically, as if gripped with pain and fatigue. A long banner of oily black smoke was pouring from his engines, and our illustrious leader was in close pursuit.

At any other place and time, I would have been impressed at the sight of Silverbolt so obviously overcoming his fear of flying and putting a Decepticon on the run. This time, however, I could only see him as a fellow competitor.

I went to full throttle and dropped my nose, turning my dive steep. At the same time I turned hard to the left to pull in behind Starscream, instinctively knowing that my current path was carefully plotted to put me in a little ahead of Silverbolt. Once behind the Decepticon, I'd have roughly eight seconds to snap off a quick shot at Starscream's tail before my speed would force me to break off and disengage to avoid hitting him. While I wasn't crazy about the idea of trying to fly straight and level while attempting to make a dicey shot at an erratically moving target, I also had no intention of repeating my performance with Thrust, no matter how spectacular it was. A dull ache was starting to settle in across my body thanks to that last crash.

Fireflight followed me down. I don't think he really had an idea of what I was planning to do, but he didn't seemed to intend to chuck the job of wingman either.

I was flying in fast and was now a little over eight hundred yards from Silverbolt, who was drawing a careful bead on Starscream's cockpit. The Big S doesn't like to waste fire on random shots, and while he rarely runs out of energy, it also means he tends to let pass good opportunities that might have connected for some pretty wicked damage. As I closed in overhead I saw his lasers finally needle out- and miss, surprisingly enough. Starscream had jinked to the right just in time, and they lanced harmlessly past his nose - but if anything he now seemed to be flying even slower, as if allowing Silverbolt to catch up. This struck me as being pretty weird, but I shrugged it off and just decided to chalk it up to exhaustion or injury.

At the same time, I remember thinking in the back of my head that the damn Decepticon didn't even look that badly damaged. I had been expecting a lot worse. I could see evidence where Silverbolt's lasers had hit his engines, but the only injury done was some nasty black scouring up and down the length of his back. Otherwise, he looked pretty intact for a guy spewing black smoke all over the place and slowly gliding into the ocean. Again, I shrugged it off. At that point the only thing on my mind was giving him a short treatment of something that would really mess him up.

The distance between us closed rapidly: seven hundred yards, five hundred yards, four, two - and then I was flying directly above Silverbolt and easily overtaking him. Fireflight was still off my wing, and I think even he was a little cheered at the prospect of sending Starscream down into the ocean as a twisted lump of melted metal. Silverbolt's wings jerked in surprise when he finally spotted me hovering over him, and for all know he tried to hail me over the radio. I was still getting nothing more than unhealthy bursts of static over it, and I guess he didn't think of trying a private message instead. Either way, I probably would have ignored him. I had my sights dead set on the two big vertical stabilizers jutting up from the crippled Decepticon's tail, framing those awesomely explosive pair of afterburners. One good shot, and he'd go up like a rocket. The Autobots would be down one murderous enemy, and I'd be up one amazing story. Everybody's happy!

Besides, I still had to get revenge for that whole time machine thing. Call us stupid, would he? Asshole. We've been looking to settle the score with the three Seekers over that incident for a while now, and it was looking like I was going to get the chance.

I was half a length ahead of Silverbolt at that point, and slowly drifting down to lead a shot on Starscream. I could clearly see every scratch on his frame at that distance, and the way he was lurching from side to side as if ready to stall and fall out of the sky at any moment. I could barely see for all the smoke - I was flying straight through it. I lined up to take the shot, and Silverbolt drifted over to give me a little more room-

Then a couple things happened all at once. Even as I fired my lasers, I took a half-assed look at my altimeter and nearly yelled aloud when I realised how low we were all actually flying. Eight hundred feet! Primus! We'd been so intent on closing in on Starscream that we hadn't bothered keeping track of our altitude. That oversight had cost us a good nine thousand feet! We were low! We were low and flying dangerously slow, puttering above the ocean like a bunch of stupid novices!

We were so screwed.

All of a sudden Starscream righted himself and began to fly smartly. All of the drunken weaving stopped, the jinking, the staggering jerks, and he flew trim and straight. Instantly his engines stopped gushing smoke, as if he'd turned it off with a switch. It was then I realised that there was a small canister fastened in front of the afterburner nozzles, and that had been the real source of it. He wasn't crippled at all. His engines were grazed, blackened, but perfectly fine. He'd planned the whole thing. Duped, totally duped, all of us. I felt incredibly blind.

Starscream blasted up into the sky, straight as an arrow, completely vertical, and to add insult to injury he did three beautiful climbing rolls on the way up - victory rolls, the bastard! At around twenty thousand feet he half-rolled off the top of the loop and resumed level flight in the opposite direction, now inverted. Seconds later he idly flipped back over and flew off back towards the Pacific, now nothing more than a white speck against the blue sky. It all happened so fast we could only sit back on out butts and gape. Although I couldn't hear a thing over my radio other than static, I knew he'd taunted us the whole way up. Outwitted. He'd completely fooled us all. So stupid!

Radio, nothing. I had to talk to the others. "What the hell just happened here?" I bellowed aloud.

Fireflight must have heard me over the wind, because he zoomed up next to my starboard wing. He didn't bother to use his radio either. "It was a trick! He was just trying to lead us off on a wild chase!"

"I sorta figured that out!" I bawled. "Silverbolt?"

"Air Raid!" Fireflight sounded worried. "Silverbolt wants to know what happened to Slingshot and Skydive. I told him they didn't come with us, that we couldn't find them."

A dark shadow suddenly fell over me. Fearless Leader had just closed up overhead, blocking out the sun. There was a brief pause, and I assumed that Fireflight was explaining the situation with my dead radio. He must have been convincing, because after a minute Bolt shouted, "Air Raid! What happened? What are you doing here? What happened to your radio?"

"Thrust happened," I said shortly. "You were missing, so we came to help you. I thought you shot Starscream!"

"I did," Silverbolt said, clearly put out. "I hit his tail assembly. After I saw the smoke I assumed it was a damaging shot."

"He faked it," I seethed. "I saw the canister. He must have planned this from the very beginning! It was all a trick to separate us from the others! This whole thing was nothing more than a big plot to draw us out of the Ark!"

"And we fell for it." Silverbolt's voice grew very serious. "Guys, where are the other Decepticons?"

"I took out Thrust, no problem," I said. "I haven't seen Ramjet since we attacked."

"Slingshot got him," Bolt said absently.

"Oh. Good for him."

"What about Skywarp and Thundercracker?"

I winced inwardly. "No idea."

Tensely, Silverbolt said, "I can't believe it. That was it. That must have been the plan. Starscream was bait to lure us away while those two polished off anyone who lingered behind."

Primus, you can probably imagine how pissed off I was as he explained it. Suddenly the whole thing seemed so gruesomely clear and obvious that I couldn't believe we'd missed it. It was such a simple plan, but it had worked so well. The Decepticons had flown inland hoping to lure us up after them. Starcream would break our group apart by pretending to be injured, and whoever stayed behind would be killed by the other Decepticons. We'd all fallen for it. I could barely fly straight, I was so angry. I had been the one who persuaded Fireflight to join me in chasing after Starscream. I'd left Slingshot and Skydive behind. I felt embarrassed and furious and, above all, like the world's biggest jackass.

"Again!" I fumed. "They fooled us again!"

"We don't have time for self-recrimination," Silverbolt said sharply. "We need to find Slingshot and Skydive right away."

"How?" I said impatiently. "We have no idea where they are. Everyone got scattered after we dropped on the Decepticons. They could be miles away by now."

Silverbolt was silent for a moment. Then he said, "How long has it been?"

"About eighteen minutes."

"Then they should still be in the vicinity," Silverbolt said. "Even flying straight at full afterburner wouldn't take them out any farther out than forty miles. Nobody flies straight if they're being shot at. They must be within range somewhere."

"Well, I'm not getting anything on radar," I told him. "Fireflight?"

"I'm not either," he said. "Bolt?"

"Nothing," Silverbolt admitted grimly. "I don't like this."

Without warning he made a hard turn back towards the coast, banking so sharply he nearly flew at knife's edge. At the same time he began to climb to regain altitude so that he was making a tight upwards spiral. Fireflight and I slid back to flank him, me on the left wing and him on the right. Even then, we were hard pressed to keep up.

Silverbolt was talking again. "We have to find them. We'll do a circling search pattern in slewable radar mode, starting at the shoreline and working inland. Use a twenty by sixty scan pattern. Air Raid, you look high. Fireflight, you look low. I'll sweep the flight path."

Fireflight said, "Will it pick them up if they've crashed?"

"I don't know," Sliverbolt said tensely. It was an honest admission. "It might not. We may be stuck trying to get them over the radio. Er, Air Raid, if that's the case I guess you're just going to have to keep your optics peeled. Fireflight, if we have to use the radios to find them, you and I will begin broadcasting on the usual frequency and then start flipping every twenty seconds. Got it?"

"Yes, Silverbolt."

"No problem, boss," I added.

"Good," Bolt said. And then, awkwardly, "Don't worry, guys. We'll find them."

"I shouldn't have left them behind," I said bitterly.

"We can talk about that later," Silverbolt told me in a neutral tone. "For now, let's just concentrate on looking for any signs of them, all right?"

Neither Fireflight or I could get a word out of him for a long time after that.

We started our search in completely silence. With every minute that passed the unspoken tension between the three of us hiked up another notch. Nobody said a word, but I think we were all thinking the same thing: what had happened to Slingshot and Skydive after we ambushed the Decepticons and everyone was scattered? It had all happened so fast. One minute we were together, and the next we were flying alone. We hadn't even had the time to co-ordinate an attack before we were tossed in all directions and left to fend for ourselves. I kept trying to mentally play back the moment and only came up with confused, jumbled images. In hindsight, hitting Thrust hadn't been such a smart move; it scrambled my head, and the memories after it were all mixed up. All that time, I kept thinking over and over: I should have been paying more attention, I shouldn't have risen to Slingshot's bait and gone into that crazy dive with him. It had been a stupid thing to do, stupid and reckless, and it had gotten us both in trouble. I was pissed off, but only at myself. Silverbolt would be completely right to bang my head off a wall for being such a damn idiot.

There was nothing in the sky around us, nothing. When we flew back to the place where we'd first attacked the Decepticons, I remember looking about myself and thinking that you'd never even have known that a fight took place here to begin with. The only traces we'd left behind were long, looping white contrails that the wind still hadn't blown away. They hung in the air like smoky ribbons. Otherwise, the sky was blue and empty. No clues as to what had happened at all.

For at least a half hour we found nothing, absolutely nothing, not even wreckage. Big black pines stretched out unbroken for miles in all directions. I couldn't even find a telltale hole in the branches that would have marked the point where a heavy body impacted with the trees. None of us spoke, not even aloud, for fear that we might miss a call for help from one of our missing wingmates over the radio.

We didn't see Starscream again. I guess he figured his job was done, and he didn't want to risk tangling with the three of us on even footing. We didn't see Ramjet or Thrust again either, although at once point Fireflight excitedly reported that he was picking up some metal fragments on his radar. He was scanning low, and found several twisted strips caught up in the trees around the spot I hit Thrust. Of course, we couldn't find his body anywhere, which meant the lousy bastard must have gotten away after all. Too much to hope for, eh? I hope it was a miserable trip back home.

And as for Skywarp and Thundercracker…

...

...

Whoa, hang on, wait a minute - that's all you're gonna get out of me.

What? What? Oh, come on, it's not like you can't get an idea of what came next. What do you think happened: everybody hugged?

Heh heh. Hey, I like I said before, the rest of it is Slingshot's story, and if I told it to you he'd kick my ass. You want the rest of it, you go ask him.

Actually, now that I think about it, that's not a half-bad idea. What time is it?

Yeah? There, see, I said the Starscream thing would take about an hour, didn't I? Well, it was close, anyway. Are you sticking around here, or did you need to get back to Medical?

Well then, come on. We might as well head down together. I want to go check up on Skydive, and you can go bug Slingshot for the rest of that story. And you can get me past Ratchet while you're at it. He looked ready to kill last time.

******

670378 (08.14.02)
TRANSCRIPT, SLINGSHOT: MED, 14:51

Aw, Primus, no! Not you again!

What gives? What, you here to sic Ratchet on Skydive this time?

Aw, geez. Don't give me that look. I hate that look. Now I feel like the jerk. You always treat invalids this way?

Eh, yeah, sit down, what the hell do I care. It's not like I'm going anywhere anyway.

Huh? Fine. It's fine. Look - I can move it again and everything. Ratchet fixed it. I don't know what he did, but the pain's gone, and at least those damn metal plates are off. He gave me hell for not telling him it was bugging me earlier. Thanks a lot for ratting me out, pal.

Yeah, I know. Yeah, it was probably for the best. Yeah, yeah, I know, I know- hey, shut up, will ya? I get the point.

Man.

So, where'd you take off to after Ratchet tossed you out? Did you ever track down Silverbolt?

Air Raid? You went after Air Raid? What fo-

Oh. Wait. The Starscream thing, right?

Ah ha. Yeah, that's what I figured. Oh well, good for you, I guess. I haven't seen Fireflight since this morning, and god knows you would have gone into a coma if you'd tried reading one of Silverbolt's reports on the whole mess. Air Raid was probably the best guy to go to. I'm surprised you're here, that he didn't talk your head off.

So… he told you about the whole thing, eh? Like I said, it was nothing more than a stupid trick. Starscream suckered them good. His plan might have worked if I hadn't kicked Skywarp's ass, and even then I still got hammered by Thundercracker. And geez, then there's Skydive… he definitely got the worst of it out of all of us. I mean, I got smashed up a bit and Air Raid's ego won't be the same, but what the hell, right? That's all superficial stuff next to the big holes in Dive's back.

The next time we run across Starscream, though... man. We'll be lining up to kick his ass.

The whole thing put a big stick up Raid's butt, that's for sure. He sat down and explained what happened right after I woke up, like he was just waiting to get it off his chest the whole time I was out cold. I could see something like that coming from Silverbolt or Fireflight - but to see it from Air Raid totally threw me for a loop. I mean, Air Raid. He's about as deep as a puddle. I figured I'd have Silverbolt fussing over me once I woke up, because he's the leader and he tends to worry about us like that, and maybe Fireflight - but Air Raid? I dunno, I was expecting maybe a chummy punch to the shoulder, or a smartass crack about being shot down by Thundercracker. Instead, he turned all anxious and mad and looked really shook up about something, and the first thing out of his big mouth wasn't some angry rant about the Decepticons, but an apology.

I think that was around the point I stopped being angry with them for leaving Dive behind - which, yeah, I know they didn't really do. But I didn't really believe it until Air Raid sat down on the biobed you're on right now and started talking. Maybe it was because he actually sounded sincere.

Now I sit back and wonder if I should have given him a hard time about getting fleeced by Starscream so bad. Heck, once I get out of here I might still do it. But eh, I don't know. I didn't back then. I guess that because it seemed like he was doing a good enough job of it himself, or something.

Of course, the next thing I know he's in here all the time. I mean, visitors are cool and everything, and I'd be bored stiff in this orange hellhole if somebody didn't make a half-assed effort to drop by and say 'hello' from time to time, but Primus. Every hour of the day: Air Raid. Everywhere I look: Air Raid. Even Silverbolt takes time off to get his own stuff done, you know? No wonder Ratchet looks two seconds away from slapping him out all of the time. Woo hoo, somebody's conscious must really be keeping him up at nights, eh? That twit.

I noticed he came in here with you. What, is he going over to check on Skydive?

Ha. Good for him.

I was talking to Ratchet when he fixed my arm. Yeah, after you left. He said Skydive is doing good, really good. He's still out cold, but he should be online sometime tonight. Ratchet's going to try to reactivate him anyway, and see if everything's firing okay. If it all goes well, Dive might even be out of here in about a week. Pretty cool, eh?

Yeah, that's what I thought.

So, anyway, uh, what do you want? No, wait, hang on, let me guess…

You're here for the rest of the story.

Yeah, that's what I figured. Heh heh, oh well, I guess I gotta say you've got good taste. Although I'm kinda surprised you didn't just squeeze it out of Raider when you had the chance-

Huh?

Air Raid said what?

… Ha! Well, for once he was right. You better damn well believe this is my story! I can't believe he didn't try to horn in on it while he had you cornered in the common room. Wow. He really must be feeling guilty, or something. What a dope.

Yeah, sure, I'll tell it to you. No paint off my wings, right? Yeah, so you sold me out to Ratchet - what the hell. Looking back, it wasn't so bad. I've seen guys do worse. You were only doing your job. No worries.

Besides, it's not like I got anything better to do in here. I can't wait for Dive to wake up. At least then I'll have someone else to talk to. And then Air Raid'll come down, and he bring Fireflight with him, and Bolt will make some stupid excuse to wander through-

Oh man. Ratchet won't know whether to shit or go blind. It'll be great.

Anyway. Back to business. Might as well make yourself comfortable, there's still a bit of that story left. Uh, do you remember where I left off? I think I'd gotten to the part where Thundercracker shot me in the back-

Oh, right, the arm thing. Geez, I should have thought of that. Yeah, it's fine now. I don't know what went wrong with it back when you were here earlier, and Ratchet's explanation was about as easy to figure out as a medical text. Whatever. It's fine now, and that's all I care about. But, like I said, back then it was a real mess.

I still don't know what I hit it on. It must have been a heavy branch, or maybe it got jammed between some trees on the way down. And although it was bent completely around, it didn't hurt or anything. It freaked me out to look at it, and I couldn't move it at all, but at least there wasn't any real pain. Even my back felt worse than my arm did, and my back was only a bit torn up where Thundercracker's lasers hit. Still, I didn't like looking at it too much. I kept expecting it to just fall off at any moment.

After a minute or so I climbed to my feet. It wasn't easy, because my head was still spinning like crazy and I could only use my good arm to pull me up. Once I was standing I ended up just leaning against this one big pine for a bit, trying to get my balance back. That's the thing about a crash like that: it really throws you off for a minute or two. I remember this one time Air Raid accidentally clipped some trees on a hill when we were flying through this narrow valley out east. He caught the tip of his wingtip and it sent him cartwheeling into the woods. Funniest thing I ever saw. One minute he was right beside me, the next minute - gone! It was his own damn fault too; he was flying way too carelessly and not paying enough attention to what he was doing. He was so screwed up after hitting the ground it took him five minutes just to figure out which way was up. Eventually Silverbolt had to double back and scrape him off the hill and point him in the right direction. We gave him a hard time about it all the way home, especially Fireflight. Raid's always the first to laugh whenever Fireflight does something stupid, so it was good revenge.

So there I was, lost in the damn woods with no idea where I was. For a while I just sorta stared off into space like a moron as I tried to get my head on straight. I was just aching all over, like somebody had take a great big metal pipe and beat the hell out of me with it. I had dents in places I didn't even know I had, and broken branches had ripped big scratches up and down my back. I was so sore I didn't want to touch anything. Even leaning hurt. Every time I moved, bits of leaves and bark and tree splinters would just shower down off me. I had a lot of that crap jammed into all my joints as well, and that was scratchy and painful too. The only thing that didn't hurt was my stupid arm, and it was so twisted I felt sick even looking at it. I couldn't move it, so I had to let it flap at my side. For a while I didn't want to go anywhere or do anything. I felt so crappy I just wanted to sit and wait for somebody to find me.

Then I remembered Skydive.

All of a sudden I felt about a hundred times worse. It was so bad I even forgot about my dead arm. It was like someone had just drained the fight right out of me. I went cold and shaky. Skydive! What the hell had happened to him? Last I saw he was flying low over the trees, smoking bad, looking about two minutes away from a mid-air stall and a nasty crash. There was no way he could still be in the sky at that point, barring some miracle. And I don't believe in miracles. His engine was in rough shape, and his wings were so full of holes they couldn't have provided lift for much longer. If his engine flamed out, or exploded from the damage, he wouldn't have gotten too far gliding alone. He had nowhere to go but down. He could only have slammed into the trees like I did, in which case he was probably stranded way the hell off in the woods in far worse shape than I was.

I didn't know what to do, whether to try to get the others over the horn or go looking for Skydive myself. It was like a sucker punch to the side of the head; I was totally blindsided by the thought that Skydive was out there alone somewhere, injured, badly damaged, maybe dying.

And what the hell could I do? That was the real blow, and it just about did me in. Suddenly I was totally sapped of the will to move. I could only sag against the tree and stare. It all hit me at once: I was down myself, crippled and weak. I could barely walk, let alone go tearassing off through the woods like some stupid hero. I didn't have the energy left for any last minute rescues.

I was lost. I'd gotten a good look at the damn forest before I hit the trees - I'd see it plain as day, and I knew it stretched out for miles and miles in all directions. After getting shot by Thundercracker I'd completely lost my bearing, and as I stood there propped up again that pine all I could see was underbrush and branches and hundred and thousands of those lousy black tree trunks, just acres of forest without end. Look for Skydive? I didn't even know which way was north! Primus, searching for one Aerialbot in that jungle would be like trying to find one drop in the ocean - impossible. I didn't even know where the hell I was, never mind Skydive.

I couldn't do it. I couldn't. I had no idea where he'd finally crashed. For all I knew, he could have gone down miles away from where I'd last seen him. For all I knew, Thundercracker could be finishing him off in revenge for Skywarp while I was standing around like a useless idiot. For all I knew, he was already dead, and I was completely alone.

That was probably the worst moment of my life, right there. Standing there, not knowing anything - that was the worst. The absolute worst. It was like being swallowed, and letting it happen, and knowing you let it happen. You can't imagine it until you've been there.

And it's funny, but as it turned out, hitting rock bottom like that was probably the best thing that could have happened to me at that point in time. Doesn't make any sense, does it? I sure as hell couldn't appreciate it at the time. I was bad off, laid out, nobody around to help me, one teammate down, probably dead, and I couldn't think about that because it made me want to just sit down myself and give up. My arm was as good as gone, I hurt all over, my radar was smashed, I had what looked like one hell of a long walk back home through hostile territory looming ahead of me - the only thing I had left was my radio, which somehow managed to survive the fall. I was at the bottom, and that was the best place for me. Because when you're at the bottom you can't help but look up, if only because there's nothing left underneath you but the empty void. When you've got nothing to look forward to, you start looking at what you've got. And that's when it suddenly hit me:

The radio!

I couldn't find the spot Skydive went down, couldn't use my radar to track his failing life signs - but by god, I could damn well track his voice!

That haze across my head cleared. Suddenly I was thinking again. I could use my radio. I could! I'd honed in on a radio message before, and if Skydive was still alive to answer my call I could do it again. It's like that human game, Hot or Cold. If you get close to a signal, it'll get stronger. The further you get, the weaker it gets, especially if it's a weak signal to begin with. If I could just get him to talk on his radio, I could trace the signal right back to him. At that point it was just a matter of following it until it led me back to his body. And to hell with the damn trees! If Skydive was alive and could talk to me, they could have thrown a thousand more acres in front of me and it wouldn't have changed a damn thing. I'd still know where to find him! And I would!

It was like getting a shot of energy straight to the core. I couldn't have been more fired up than if I'd just jumped out of recharge booth. Suddenly my crippled limbs could just go screw themselves. To hell with the woods and to hell with the Decepticons and to hell with my stupid arm! I was going to find Skydive, and the first thing to get in my way would be the first thing to get its ass kicked!

Of course, you've probably already figured out that this was all sorta hinging on the fact that I would be able to get Skydive to talk over his radio in the first place. If he was knocked out or, god forbid, if he was already dead, my plan would have fallen flat and that would have been the end of it. But at that moment, even if Skydive wasn't able to reply, I still felt as if I could have just stuck out my arm and reached out and hauled him up out of the trees by the top of his head.

Huh?

Yeah, I know, I wasn't exactly thinking straight. My head was all messed up, and I was grasping at all of those crazy ideas because they looked a hell of a lot better than how things really were. Of course, you tell me that, and I'll just ask you this: when do you figure I was thinking clearer, when I was ready to just shuck the whole thing and give up, or when I was jumping at stupid hopes?

Well, there you go. Now shut up and let me finish. We're just getting to the good part.

I pushed myself off the pine tree. Suddenly I didn't want to be leaning against it any more. My head swam and I was still wobbling around on my feet all right, but at that point there was no way in hell I was going to fall over like a twit. Nothing was going to stop me from finding Skydive, myself included.

I fired up my radio with a vengeance. I couldn't believe it was still working - if there's a god for lucky bastards, he was looking down on me at that moment, for sure. I was getting a bit of static, but nothing serious, and the channel was otherwise clear and strong. I could send and receive, no problem.

Then, for just an instant, I hesitated. Suddenly I didn't really know what I wanted to do: send out a private message just to Skydive, or put out a general holler on the Aerialbot frequency?

In the end I went for a general message, and as it turned out it's a damn good thing I did. I didn't know it at the time, but going that route was the smartest thing I'd done all day. Back then I only figured that Skydive might be too badly damaged to receive anything but a strong, powerful radio signal, which a broad frequency will give you. That was the only thing on my mind. I never once thought about who else might be listening in.

In another other time or place, that would have been the world's most idiotic screw up. I mean, hell, Thundercracker was still circling around out there somewhere, and he was almighty pissed. If he hadn't shot down Skydive already, then he would have jumped at the chance to. Not to mention he probably would have loved to take another stab at yours truly. If he'd heard that message, he could have followed it back to both of us, and I would have unwittingly killed us both. All of those things could have happened, and worse. But as it turned out, that general shout to the world was the best thing I could have done.

So, I shouted.

"Skydive!" I called, and I didn't even wince when my radio made a hideous screech as a burst of feedback came through. "Skydive! It's me, Slingshot. That dope Thundercracker shot me down, but I'm coming to get you, buddy. Where are you? If you don't know, then talk. Just talk, and keep talking so that I can follow your signal. Wherever you are, I'll find you!"

Yeah, okay, so it wasn't exactly the world's most profound broadcast. Ah, shaddap. I never said I was some kinda poet. Besides, it worked, didn't it?

Oh yeah, you're damn right it did.

I repeated my message. I repeated it again, and again. My radio stopped giving me grief with feedback and sent my message across the Aerialbot frequency loud and clear. Like a real grade A moron, I even started shouting it aloud as well. I begged for him to reply. I even threatened him a few times, and my radio rang and my voice boomeranged off through the trees. Anything living in there could have heard me from miles away. Screaming flocks of birds started shooting up out of the trees and flying away. Basically, I made one hell of a scene. Primus, that was stupid, but at that point I was on my last stand, and if Thundercracker had heard me and zoomed in for the kill, by god, I would have given him something to think about before he cut me down. Yeah, I wasn't thinking straight-

But damn it, I was thinking right.

For a long time after that I stood stock still in the centre of the clearing my body had made when it fell through the trees and heard absolutely nothing. Just a bunch of birds yelling as they flew off in a panic, and twigs and stuff crunching unseen off in the woods. The wind whipped through the branches, and I was listening so hard for that telltale voice I could even needles plinking down into the earth.

And then, just as I was getting ready to start repeating my message all over again, I heard laughter. Faint and weak-

- and over the radio!

I couldn't believe it. I actually reeled back into a tree, I was so shocked. Laughter! It was feeble, it was shaky, it sounded about as funny a dry wheeze, but it was Skydive, and he was laughing!

Laughing at me, the bastard!

Any other time or place, I would have kicked his ass. Now it was the best thing I'd ever heard in my life.

"I hate it when people tell me to talk," he said, chuckling weakly. "I never know what to say."

His signal was dim, but it was his, and that was all that mattered. I had to grab a tree with my good arm to stop myself from sliding back to the ground. I felt like somebody had pulled back and reefed me one right in the head, I was so dizzy with shock. Bits and pieces of my processor seemed to be melting together. Pow! A mental sucker-punch!

I must have sounded like a complete idiot when I screeched out, "Skydive?!"

The answer was faint, like he was fighting say it. "Yes."

I wanted to punch both hands up into the air in triumph. Instead I clung to my tree and shouted, "You're alive!"

"Yes."

I started to laugh myself, hysterically. I couldn't help it. "Where are you?"

He took a long time to answer. "I don't know."

Suddenly my mind was moving very fast. He didn't sound right, not like Skydive. He was injured, he wasn't thinking straight. I'd have to coach him through it. I thought for a moment, and then said, "Are you in the trees?"

"Ah. Yes."

Forest. He went down in the forest. We were halfway there...

"Aw right," I cheered. "Hey, you're in good company, pal. I'm in the lousy trees too. Thundercracker shot me. I'm okay, though, just bashed up a bit. I'm coming to get you, don't worry. Just talk. I'll follow your radio signal straight back to you."

"Yeah?" he said, with effort. He sounded exhausted, and his voice shook. "You want me to talk. What do you want me to say?"

I grinned broadly. I knew he couldn't see it, but maybe he could hear it in my voice. That's all we were operating on at that point. Nothing but voices.

"Are you kidding?" I laughed. "You can say anything you want. You can recite back one of Silverbolt's lousy reports back to me for all I care. Heck, you can tell me all about those dead aces of yours if that's what you want. Anything you can think of, buddy. I'm coming to get you. We'll get out of here together. Just talk!"

Skydive actually sounded amused at that. "Primus, not a report. That… would be hell."

I let out a snort of laughter. If Silverbolt had been listening at that point, we'd both be getting our heads thumped off a wall when we got back, injured or not.

"I was kinda hoping you wouldn't," I said with honest good humour. "This is great, though. Keep talking. I'm getting your signal nice and strong."

I wasn't, actually, but the truth would have left us both in the dumps. The signal was thready and popping in and out, but I could still follow it.

Hell, I sort of had to, didn't I?

Skydive was still talking, fortunately. "Dead aces, huh? Ha ha… this is a first… don't forget you're the one who suggested it…"

I'll tell you, I didn't like the waver I heard in his voice, so I kept my reply real light. "And you better believe it's the last time you'll ever hear me say it, pal, so you might as well get it all out of your system now while you've got the chance."

"Ha… okay. I'll be seeing you, Slingshot."

"Real soon," I promised. "Now shut up and talk."

So, he talked. What the hell else could he do?

And while he talked, I started to plough through the trees after him. The first few steps were just agony, plain and simple, bad enough that I could have just given up right then and there if it weren't for Skydive. I'd been standing still so long all my bashed up joints had started to seize up, so with every step I was fighting all the stupid cords and stuff in my legs and arms just to get myself to move. I couldn't walk properly, and blundered into the trees like I was blind. I tripped over the stumps underfoot, and smashed through all the broken pine trunks lying diagonally across the clearing. Every time my legs scissored through ruined underbrush they snapped it apart and sent woods splinters flying through the air. I was starting to wish I hadn't made such a hell of a mess when I'd gone crashing down through the woods in the first place. Thundercracker! That bastard. I'd be seeing him again some day, real soon. He'd sure as hell earned himself a friendly shot to the head.

Eventually I managed to fall out of the clearing and stagger into the woods. I ran into a tree and held myself up on it for a moment, half bent over, hand on my knee, braced on my good shoulder. Bits of bark and twigs rained off me, falling straight to the forest floor. My bad arm hung down. I couldn't work it at all, not even the fingers. It just sort of flapped around like a loose wire. Looking back on it, I'm kinda amazed I didn't rip it off as I went lumbering off through the trees. I mean, it was, like, dangling there by a couple good cables. That's what it felt like, anyway. I couldn't look at it to see for myself, it was just too wrong.

I stood there for a bit to get my gyros working straight again, staring down at the ground. My processor still felt really screwed up, like there was something knocked loose and banging around. When I lifted my head and peered off into the woods it looked like the trees were rocking gently back and forth, just like a swing. My vision was swimming. No wonder I kept staggering into stuff. I must have really bashed myself good on the way down. Oh well, Ratchet's always telling me I have a thick head. Looks like he was right after all. And Primus, don't you dare tell him I said that, or I'll kick your ass. Ratchet's smug enough as it is.

Meanwhile, Skydive was talking in the background. I could still hear him over the radio, faintly. Sure enough, dead aces. If I didn't feel so lousy I could have laughed. Him and his history. Oh well, what the hell. If it could save his life, I'd never badmouth his weird obsession again.

His voice was so weak I could only pick up bits and pieces of what he was saying: "Well, there's Douglas Bader... he was British, flew Spitfires... he was amazing, his legs were lost in a crash... but he still flew in the war with artificial replacements... he was captured, he died a couple years ago... is this all right, Slingshot?"

Suddenly I felt like a real jerk for stopping. I was only smashed up a bit. Skydive was much, much worse off - and he was still talking. Hell, Douglas Badar flew fricking airplanes with tin legs. I was looking pretty poor in comparison. "Yeah, it's great," I said, wincing. "Keep it up. I'm on my way."

Skydive kept talking. So I kept going. I pushed myself off the tree with my good arm and lurched off into the woods.

I dunno if you've noticed this, but this lousy planet wasn't really designed with giant robots in mind. Those trees were enormous old things that must have been around seventy feet high, but they grew so close together that trying to squeeze through them was like trying to push you fist through a manhole. At every step I had to somehow wedge my body through a bunch of trees, until I was half exhausted just from the effort. Every time I did it branches would scrape right across my arms and legs, grabbing at me and slowing me down even further. I could almost see my power levels draining away with every hundred yards I crossed - and Skydive's radio signal was still weak, still coming from some distance away. I'd put my head down and push through a clump of pines, then I'd have to stop and manually recharge a bit, just to have the energy for the next hundred yards. It must have been raining out that way a couple days ago, because the ground underfoot was damp and wet and dragged down my feet. I was too heavy for it, so it was like wading through mud. I only had one good arm for balance, so I kept weaving into stuff and bouncing back off it. And whenever I lifted my head again, all I could see were black shadows and tree trunks and thick underbrush in all directions, for miles and miles in all directions.

I even got so mad at one point after I tripped over my own foot and crashed sideways into a tree that I started to blindly punch out at whatever got in my way. I stopped that real quick after I only succeeded in putting some new dents in my good arm. Primus, I wish I hadn't lost my gun! I could have just shot my way through the woods if I still had it, blazed a trail, and to hell's gates with Thundercracker. If he'd seen the lightshow and popped up for a look, I would have just blazed a trail all over his stupid face.

Worst of all, there was Skydive talking in the background, still going, but getting more tired with every minute I wasted fighting with the trees: "There was George Beurling... he flew a Spitfire, they said he was crazy, people didn't like him, they thought he was arrogant... had thirty-one kills to his name... he died ferrying aircraft..."

Arrogant, huh? Ha. Good for him. You show 'em, George. You don't let anybody push you around.

"Or Erich Hartmann, who made so many mistakes at first... three hundred fifty two planes shot down at the end of the war..."

It was gruesome, man. It felt like I was following a trail of dead humans straight back to Skydive, and not getting very far. A trail of dead humans who had still done so much when they were alive, and accomplished all these great things… and there I was ready to call it quits just because I couldn't fight my way through a forest. A bunch of trees! Shot down, and then beaten by some lousy sticks. It was almost too much. I felt incredibly useless.

"... Richard Bong, the American ace... so many decorations, like the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star... his plane malfunction during takeoff, he bailed out, but he was just too low..."

I just kept plodding on, not really taking in all that much outside of his voice. There wasn't much else I could do, other than follow the radio signal. At least that plan was working out pretty good - once I figured out which direction I had to walk in to make the signal stronger, it was pretty much just a matter of going in a straight line towards it. Of course, there's no such thing as a straight line on this mudball planet, so to get to Skydive I had to make broad detours around thick places in the woods where the trees grew so close I couldn't push my way through them, or where the underbrush across the ground turned into a choppy fence. At once point the ground even sloped down towards a small channel where there was a lot of fast running water. I'd never seen anything like it before, at least not that small. I've flown over big rivers before - I've even seen the places where they join up with the ocean - but this thing was like a miniature version, and it was up close, and had rocks in it and white foam, and stuff was washing down with the current. At least the trees were a little thinner there, so it wasn't so hard to slide down one bank and awkwardly step over the water, and then scramble up the steep hill on other side. I had mud spattered all over my legs for a long time after that.

After that there was a long climb up a shallow hill, and then the ground flattened out again and dried up, and all the damn trees came back even thicker than before, so thick I could barely even see the sky overheard. That was a bad feeling, having all those branches close in on me like that. It was so dark in that part of the woods that the trees were damp and cold, and there was green moss and stuff growing all over them. Ugh. But on the other side of that little river thing the signal was stronger, and Skydive's voice was clearer than before. But weak, still really weak, and I knew he was starting to run on empty. I was just walking on automatic at that point, one arm swinging, head down, straining, and all I could think about were those big holes in his wings, and all the wires pouring out of them.

But Skydive was still talking in the background, and I was still listening.

"...Ivan Kozhedub... one of two Soviet fighter pilots to be awarded the Gold Star of a Hero of the Soviet Union three times during World War II…"

"… Witold Urbanowicz… joined the first group of Polish pilots in the RAF…"

"…'Sailor' Malan... one of the greatest... who wrote the classic Ten Rules for Air Fighting…"

And on, and on, and on. Skydive's dead aces were at least keeping him very alive. I was too out of it at the time to really take in everything he was saying, but now that I'm awake and I think back on it… man. It was pretty incredible. It was nuts. I still can't believe we pulled it off. I must have walked for miles, and Skydive kept talking the entire time. He wasn't going to let me down. Let me down! Talk about a kick in the head. I could hear the drain getting to him too, like he was winding down in broken spurts.

I wasn't in hot shape myself. All I could see were trees without end. And there was no getting around it: I was running out of energy myself, and fast. Every step was a struggle, with the trees, with the woods, with my aching frame and my dead arm, and with this horrible fear that I was totally screwing up, totally blowing Skydive's last chance with some crazy, messed up hunch that I could follow his signal straight back to him. But the signal was strong now, and the static was gone, which meant there wasn't much space in between its source and my receiver, which meant that he had to be somewhere nearby… but you know how it is when you're in pain, when you're frigging lost, when things look their worst. You start looking for stuff to go bad, and you start to doubt you even know what you're doing, and everything seems to turn wrong and sour because you've hit that point where you can't ever see it turning out any other way-

So of course, that's exactly when life decided to give me a right sharp kick in the ass to straighten me out, and when I found the place where he'd crashed into the trees.

At first, I was so thick and thinking so slow from shoving through the trees for the past four miles that I totally missed the signs of impact. Then it slowly began to dawn on me that there was a hell of a lot of loose debris underfoot, like smashed up branches and whole trees ripped out of the ground and dragged through the forest with their roots exposed and full of wet dirt. All the needles were burnt clear off the pines, and I was walking through splinters and black soot and soft grey ash. Slowly I began to see the tunnel that had been blasted straight through the trees, kinda like the way you eventually see shapes in clouds if you look at them for long enough. And my olfactory sensors were picking up this weird smell in the air, chemical and oily and strong, like… smoke! Smoke and scorched metal and electrical wiring!

It was like a light finally went off in my head. I started looking around wildly, taking in the scene. Sure enough, there was a huge gap in the trees, which were broken up and snapped off, the damage looking fresh and recent. It ploughed straight down through the woods at a shallow angle, so that I could look back and up and see clear sky overhead through the gaping hole in the shaggy pine branches some eighty feet above the ground. There was blue smoke hanging in the air, and dust was still trying to settle back onto the ground. The chemical smell was everywhere.

Sure enough, when I started pawing through the brush underfoot I found little scraps of metals imbedded into the earth, all of them twisted and burnt, all leading right down the length of the tunnel to the point where the crash ended. The woods were thick there, and the branches had closed up overhead so tightly that the far end of it was nearly pitch black with shadows. Whatever had hit the trees had done so at an incredible speed, and travelled so fast through the pines that by the time it had finally dragged to a stop it had buried itself in a thick tangle of forest undergrowth and smashed up trees, hiding it from sight completely.

… Wait, what the hell am I saying - 'whatever hit'? I damn well knew what had hit the trees. Skydive had stopped talking a while back, exhausted himself into silence, but I didn't need to hear his voice over the radio any more to track down his location. I was looking at it.

Without thinking, I bolted down the tunnel towards the crash site. I still wasn't firing on all four cylinders, so I kept tripping over debris and falling forward onto my good arm. I don't think I even really noticed it though, not even when my hand closed around dirt. I just ploughed straight forward and ripped and kicked whatever I could get a hold of. I threw branches out of the way, huge clods of dirt, even whole trees. All of a sudden that insane trip felt worth it, like I'd finally gotten somewhere, actually did something that paid off. About twenty yards ahead of me I could see metal glinting in the weak light, and what looked like the tip of a single vertical stabilizer, and I open my mouth to yell out…

And then I skidded to a halt, shocked stupid. Suddenly I realised that through the trees straight ahead I could see shapes moving - tall, upright ones. It was so dark inside the woods that I couldn't see what they were, and I was too worn down to really make out much detail, but I could tell they were circling, closing in on the point where Skydive must have finally come crashing to a stop...

It was as if all that energy I'd lost in the search came rushing back to me in one furious wave, all of it, all at once. I wasn't thinking straight when I charged out of the trees and into the clearing towards Skydive - I just kept repeating over and over to myself that there was no goddamned way in this world or the next one that those dirty Decepticon bastards were hauling any wingmate of mine away like scrap metal for the smelter. I didn't have my gun anymore, but I still had my hands, locked into strangling claws. There was nothing smart about it - I just wanted to get in there as fast as I could and start hitting anything standing between me and Skydive.

"He's mine!" I yelled as I burst through the trees. I lowered my right shoulder and blindly crashed into the first robot I could see, all the while steeling myself for a royal assbeating from the rest of them once they got over the initial shock. "Mine!"

I wanted to mangle and kill. My brain was firing on nothing but murder. At that point I don't think I could have even swatted a fly, never mind taken out an armed Decepticon. That treacherous energy surged away again and I was left stumbling, legs locked, falling forward without control while the other robot flailed for balance. I braced myself for a shot in the back.

Instead I got a firm hand around my upper arm, and a lift back up.

"Don't you mean, 'ours'?" Air Raid laughed.

There wasn't really much I could say to that, so I passed out instead.

Later I found out from Bolt that they had no idea where Skydive had crashed either - not until they flew overhead and heard us talking over the radio. Yep, the dead aces strike again. Then they swooped down to Dive's rescue and stabilized him by putting him into a tertiary shutdown mode, and just sat around and waited for me to show up. If I hadn't kept Dive talking, they never would have found him.

Not bad, eh?

Yes, I am a god.

Anyway, as it turned out, Skyfire arrived about ten minutes later and flew Dive and me out of the woods and back to base. Prowl strikes again. On the downside, it also looks like all the Decepticons survived the fight as well. Well, shit. Life Lesson Learned: sometimes you just can't win them all.

Well, that's it from me. And look, you make sure you remember our deal. Don't you dare go running off to Skydive about any of this. He's got enough to worry about as it is. If I hear you've gone behind my back and been bugging him like you've been bugging me, I'll kick your ass.

So, yeah. Thanks.

******

670378 (08.14.85)
17:00
BOX 01, Message 18 of 18
To: COMM (CO)
From: PRIVATE QUARTERS

Hello, Prime. Taking Ratchet's sage advice, I decided to just skip the inter-Ark vocal message system and simply send you a text note to let you know that I've finished the August eleventh report. I'll try to send it to your office terminal later this evening, after I put it through a final edit. Don't worry - it should at least be halfway presentable by the time it reaches your end.

You should be happy to know that the whole incident seems to have been resolved smoothly. I spoke with both Slingshot and Air Raid about it, and between the two of them I've managed to get most of the story. Silverbolt has called for a meeting with the other Aerialbots now that Skydive is up and online again, and I think he plans to get everything out in the open. Remarkably, Air Raid and Slingshot appear to have already gone some distance in tackling that very job themselves - we underestimate them far too often. I think Silverbolt's group meeting will be for the best - they're a young team, but at least that means they're still willing to give just about anything a shot once. Even something as 'undignified' as open communication. I don't believe I was exactly invited to attend it, but that's all right. I trust those five to sort things out their own way, without interference. And anything else I do would be exactly that. They'll be fine.

Oh, that reminds me - I went back to take a look at Skydive after my last talk with Slingshot. He was indeed online, and seemed well on the road to mend. Ratchet assured me that he's out of the worst of it, and should be up on his feet again in a little under a week. I didn't bother Skydive about details of the attack and his injury, as per Slingshot's request, but I did cautiously ask if he had anything he wanted to say. He did. He asked me to thank Slingshot for him.

So, I did. I think it embarrassed Slingshot to hear it though, because he told me to get lost. I did. So it goes.

Anyway, I really must go. Air Raid has invited me down to the medical ward to help him smuggle Skydive some essentials, as he put it. Of course, you didn't hear that from me. And after that Silverbolt asked for five minutes so that he could deliver into my hands his own report on the incident. He's quite methodical about these sorts of things, I've noticed. Extremely methodical. And after that I'm off for the next order of the evening, which appears to be a request from you to find Jazz and talk to him about the next inventory order. Seems Ratchet has had a bit of a problem with light bulbs lately…

Cheers,

Smokescreen

******

I love the Aerialbots. They're a great bunch of noisy personalities that got glossed over as the cartoon series continued. They went from being a ragged bunch of swaggering air jocks to the background air cavalry, and that made Lex sad. Boo. So, I decided to write a short fanfic set during the time when they were still rash little punks. Huzzah?

As always, all characters © Hasbro. No rights reserved, but cold drinks occasionally served.