Title: What it Means

Fandom: Transformers

Pairings: Well….blinksblinks Thundercracker and Skywarp are Companions and wingmates, Starscream used to be their wingmate, and I have an unhealthy fascination with the Screaming One and Megatron. Does this count?

Summary: A conversation with Starscream and Megatron leaves Thundercracker with more questions then answers.

Notes: I'm borrowing an idea I've seen in numerous fics starring Screamer, and that's that he had a bad experience in stasis mode, a long period of time where he spent with his mind free of stasis, trapped in what is comparable to a total sensory deprivation chamber. This left him with an understandable fear of stasis mode. The first time I read this was in Wayward's fanfiction, but I've seen it in so many others, I don't know if it's canon, or if everyone just loved Wayward's idea so much they decided to use it for themselves. I just thought I'd mention it, just in case.

I don't think I've stated one way or the other, but this really isn't a slashy-bot story. I mean, if you're looking for it, there are certainly enough hints, and normally I slash everything I possibly can. But in this particular fic, I'm stressing the almost brotherly bond that I firmly believe exists among the Seeker trio. The slash, if there is any, is more likely to be found with Megs or Skyfire here, not Thundercracker as some have asked me. Sorry.

Again, thanks to all those who've been following along. I really feel like I'm stretching my writing wings with this one – the there are so man more details to keep track of then in anything else I've ever written, and I'm proud of the way this seems to be shaping up. That being said, I don't think this chapter is as…together, as it could be. Let me know if reads too unclear, or jumbled, will ya? Your comments are most appreciated.

Date Posted: Monday, March 28, 2005

Part 4

Thundercracker sat in front of his personal data computer. Feeling much better from a full night of recharge, it gave him a new, more positive outlook on the mystery of Starscream he was determined to solve.

Skywarp was out on patrol. Normally, Thundercracker would be with him, sky partners to the end, but apparently the information he and Starscream had rescued – at great personal risk, he grumbled again – had been sufficiently important enough that Soundwave had told him to take an extra day to recover, giving his patrol orders to Astrotrain instead. Skywarp and Astrotrain generally got along as long as Skywarp kept the earth-based chatter to a minimum, so naturally, Thundercracker was expecting to pick up his companion at the end of his shift from the repair bay.

A whole day to myself and I'm spending it in front of a computer, he groused, glancing at one of the security monitors in his room at the bright day outside. It was perfect flying weather, with just enough clouds to play tag in, if he wanted to lower himself to recruit the Coneheads for a game.

But his rather close brush with death had left him feeling unsettled. Thundercracker was one of the more levelheaded Decepticons, and sometimes his way of thinking was dangerously close to a Neutral's point of view. His love of combat was what prevented him from being a Neutral. His dislike/disdain of organics would forever keep him safe from being an Autobot. He cared for his companion, he guarded his back and did his job. That was it.

It was his way of thinking that had him almost relentlessly fixated on what had happened to him, and why it had played out the way it had. There was no love lost between him and Starscream despite being wingmates and part of the original Seeker triad due to a falling out years ago that had more or less resolved into mutual tolerance, if not acceptance. The question of why Starscream had performed a life energy transfer would continue to nag at him until he figured it out – especially if he was to prepare for any kind of blackmail from the Air Commander.

There was also a small part of him, he was forced to admit, that wanted to know if it had been for him, or if Starscream would have done the same for anyone who had been in his situation. They were wingmates, after all. Thundercracker knew if it came down to it, he would do the same for Skywarp in a nano-click, and after a few seconds of deliberating, he would do it for Starscream as well, though the reasoning would be different. Skywarp was his companion. Starscream was his Air Commander.

Thundercracker began randomly clicking on files in the Decepticon database, unsure of what he was looking for, really. Maybe some insight to what made Starscream the way he was, a portal into his mind to see what made him tick, what made him act the way he did. Personnel files is as good a place to start as any, he decided and opened up a new window.

One of the best things about being an Elite was having the security clearance to look at almost anything without fear of reprisal. There were still some levels restricted to Soundwave and Starscream, and of course, Megatron's top secret files were given to no one, but the old war files were still open to Decepticon public. A picture profile of Starscream came up, followed by a brief overview. Thundercracker scrolled down, after making a quick face at the old Academy picture.

Designation: Starscream

Rank: Air Commander, Second-in-Command to Lord Megatron

Model: Decepticon, Seeker, Aerial combat squad captain

Previous Titles: Scientist, mechanic

Summary of basic skills:

Seeker, capable of speeds exceeding all known seeker models (see design. Files, psswd req)

Intelligence recorded at higher levels, possessing unlimited capacity for knowledge adaptability and growth

Perfect score attained Decepticon War Academy

Summary of accomplishments:

Only Seeker model to enter and graduate Cybertron Science Academy (see Acad. Files)

Awarded several distinctions for development in energon cube storage technology, and weapons technology (see Tech. Files)

Council advisor re: weapons technology

Member of first off-planet explorer team, partner: Neutral, designate Skyfire (see Plan.ex files)

Note: Designate relieved of Council duties prior to exploration assignment due to irreconcilable differences with council members (see Tech. Files)

Thundercracker blinked in astonishment at the pages and pages of data links following the summary of Starscream. Almost fifteen thousand pages devoted to his research at the Cybertron University alone, not to mention his pages of records, target acquisitions and mission accomplishments at the Decepticon War Academy. The technology files were divided by time period and then by level of importance and that still meant wading through almost 180,000 gigs of data from various schematics, diagrams, simulations, recordings and notes.

He had no idea Starscream had been so thorough in his work. The Seeker had a habit of appearing off-kilter more then he ever appeared lucid and organized.

Thundercracker sat back and just stared at his console. He had no idea where to begin, or really, what he was even looking for. He scanned the first line under accomplishments again:

Only Seeker model to enter and graduate Cybertron Science Academy

He remembered that day. All to well, in fact. They – Starscream, Thundercracker and Skywarp – had only been a Triad for a few decavorns. Starscream had been their leader though at the time, it hadn't meant much to anyone really. Mainly, it meant that Starscream did all the talking during report time, and that had suited them fine. Starscream, even then, had loved taking charge, being responsible. A prelude to his later behavior with Megatron no doubt.

In fact, Thundercracker could remember the exact circumstances surrounding Starscream's admittance into the Academy. A routine patrol resulted in Skywarp picking up a distress signal from an energon factory outpost outside the main city. A request for rescue of the factory personnel due to an imminent explosion, and time had been of the essence.

As usual, Starscream had arrived first, but instead of immediately beginning the transportation of the worker 'bots, he had gone straight to the heart of the factory where a core explosion was minutes away from happening.

The funny thing about factory workers was that none of them was programmed any real scientific knowledge. They knew how to perform their functions, and almost every transformer possessed some degree of mechanical knowledge, but the energon refiner cores were left to the actual builders and scientists.

Thundercracker remembered beginning the removal of the workers with Skywarp, all the while shouting into their radio for their incendiary wingmate to get his afterburners out of there. Suddenly, the alarms had all gone silent, and the stereotypical green light that signified 'all's well' went on in the tower. Starscream had walked out of the building, covered in soot and melted spots from burning energon that had spat on him from the core as he worked, but otherwise functional and smug as all hell about what he'd done.

He had been questioned about his knowledge of the cores, and he replied that en route to the disaster, he'd requested and downloaded pertinent core information over his internal radio from his personal computer. He'd then been able to diagnose the problem with the core and rectified the wiring error that had triggered the whole mess.

Subsequent searches of Starscream's personal quarters revealed hundreds of data pads of information that the Seeker had picked up from listening to others, downloading from the public sectors to learn for pleasure during his own time. Thundercracker had asked him what had possessed him to try and solve a problem only competently trained mechanics were supposed to handle. Starscream's reply had been that the whole dammed place had been about to blow anyway and that there was nothing for him to lose.

Just your life, Thundercracker had pointed out, angered that his friend and teammate would risk himself so carelessly.

Until he'd realized that Starscream had been so confident in what he'd been doing, it had never occurred to him that he would fail.

A few days later, a knock came on their door and a large white-painted robot – a flier, based on his large wings and equally large afterburners – had stuck his head in the doorway, cheerfully asking if Starscream was available.

"I'm a professor at the Science Academy and I heard about what you did. I am a designated Nuetral. Name's Skyfire. Pleased to meet you."

Several hours later, Thundercracker leaned back and stretched out his cramped joints. It had been a long time since he'd spent so much time on the computer – he preferred to be more active then a simple monitoring 'Con. It gave him a new appreciation for Starscream's apparent ability to spend so much time, energy and patience in his scientific pursuits. He'd only been reading for a few hours and he was ready to go crazy.

There was a lot to take in, but nothing really that he could find relevant to what he was looking for, whatever that was. He snorted at the futility of it all. He kept running through the comments Starscream had made, particularly ones about his scanners, but all he'd been able to find in the vastness that was the Tech files, was countless references to modifications he'd made to existing systems, weapons and to his own structural design. But the technical details went way over his head.

Suddenly he recalled something and brought his arms down from over his head. He backed out of everything and went back to Starscream's personal files again. He read the footnote about Starscream being dismissed from the Advisory council after his graduation due to irreconcilable differences. What was that about?

Clicking the necessary links, he groaned aloud when he saw the reams of data that immediately piled forth in multiple windows. Primus, wasn't anything simple to look up? How the slag did Soundwave root through his garbage on a daily basis?

Scowling, he viciously punched the control, selecting a link at random. A new window opened up over the others, hiding them from view. He blinked as he realized it was a review from the Council about an invention of Starscream's. Clicking on the proffered link, yet another window popped up, exposing a schematic that Thundercracker recognized instantly.

Starscream's null rays.

Thundercracker's jaw plate nearly unhinged. According to the report, not only did Starscream come up with the idea himself, but he'd built it beyond the expectations of the Council – and then refused to say exactly how he did it. The schematics gave the general framework, but the internal structure, the wiring, the energy conversions, the mathematical equations – none of them had been submitted to the Council, and all of their attempts to duplicate Starscream's ultimate weapon had failed.

As had their attempts to find a way of blocking or defending against it.

Soon after his dismissal, Skyfire had recruited him for a deep-space exploration mission. Thundercracker and Skywarp had been steadily seeing less and less of their wingmate as his studies had eaten away at his free time, and their advancement through the ranks of the defense team had brokered them more responsibility. Starscream's acceptance of the long-term mission had driven an angry wedge between himself and the other two. Skywarp had been hurt by Starscream's apparent dismissal of them as a triad. Thundercracker had been the same. Neither of them had actually known what had happened to Starscream to cost him us Council job. They all knew how proud he'd been – how proud they'd been of him for accomplishing something no other Seeker had. They just knew that one day, he'd shown up in an energon bar in a foul mood and told them he'd been fired. Next thing they knew, he was off to another planet.

And then he'd returned without Skyfire, nearly dead from his exhausting journey from the outreaches of space. He wouldn't speak of what happened either – he'd just stumbled to the War Academy, signed up and proceeded to tear his way through the ranks like they didn't even exist. They couldn't even approach him to ask about reforming their Triad squad – Starscream was too aloof and kept himself too busy to stop by for anything. Something had happened to him, changed him. He was near fanatical about succeeding, regardless of risk to himself, and for the second time in his life, achieved a perfect graduate score from an institution.

Thundercracker was starting to understand just why Megatron had appointed Starscream Air Commander. It didn't however, explain what turned the loyal and brilliant Seeker into a neurotic, double-crossing, raving 'con with delusions of grandeur.

It also explained to him that Skywarp was right. The Starscream of old would have saved him. They had been friends. But the Starscream of new…that was still a mystery.

Thundercracker sighed and let his head drop down to the table. Part of him really wanted to drop the entire issue now. Cans of cyber-worms were being ripped open in his memory banks, and he didn't know if he wanted to dredge up the past when it should remain dead and buried. But the other part of him was registering things about Starscream he hadn't felt in years:

Pride, in his accomplishments.

Gratitude, for saving his life.

Concern, for Starscream's own.

Thundercracker blinked his optic circuits as a brief flash on the security monitor captured his attention. Skywarp was laughing manically at the Coneheads who had apparently collided in mid-air after trying to catch the teleporter at the same time. In the background, he could see Starscream on the ground, watching. Thundercracker hesitated for a second. Then he was up and heading for the door.

It was time for another talk with the Air Commander. And maybe he'd see if he could talk to an old friend at the same time.