Big Thank You's to everyone's support over the plagiarism accusation. I wish I could give you all a box of Roses chocolates (Cadbury Roses mean "Thank you" in Australia :)
Thanks for all your reviews and kind words, and for believing I would never plagiarise.
Thundercracker slowly onlined, and the first thing in his visual range was a glaring red insignia.
He couldn't stop himself flinching, everything he'd been taught about how the Autobots treated their prisoners uppermost in his CPU.
Thundercracker sat bolt upright on the bunk and skittered back until he made harsh contact with the wall.
It sent a sharp pain through his already aching right wing, but he ignored it, never taking his optics off the big white mech.
He was the one with medical symbols on his shoulders.
Thundercracker had heard how Autobot medics experimented on Decepticon wounded.
"Hey, settle down! I haven't got the time to put your wing back together again just now."
"You...fixed my wing?"
The white mech snorted, and Thundercracker realized he was offended.
"What sort of medic would I be if I let someone suffer?"
"Insignias don't mean a thing to me when someone's injured," he added at the Seeker's look.
"It was interesting. It's been a while since I operated on a Decepticon. Not since before the war, actually."
Thundercracker stared at him, and reached for his wing without realizing it.
"It's still there," the medic said dryly, "I don't have the room to display a trophy Seeker wing in here. But we did remove your forearm rifles,"
The white Autobot studied him for a tick.
"Well, you're conscious, and lucid," he sighed, "I'm sorry, but now we have to put you in our holding cells,"
The white medic raised his voice slightly.
"Ok, he's awake,"
A large blue mech entered the medbay immediately, and Thundercracker realized he'd been on guard...but why outside the medbay?
"I didn't want to frighten you any more than necessary," the medic said, picking up on the Seeker's look.
Thundercracker eyed the armed warrior as he approached him.
They'd tangled before, and the winged Autobot was no weakling, that was for sure.
"These are just protocol. They won't hurt you," the cultivated mech commented, holding up a pair of plain wrist restraints.
The Seeker slid off the medbunk and submitted silently, realizing he had little choice.
"Go easy on that wing," the medic called as they left the medbay.
"That must've hurt quite a bit," the big warrior said amiably, as he guided Thundercracker down the hall.
"Uh, yeah," the Seeker grunted, distracted and growing increasingly uneasy.
Where was this Autobot really taking him?
Sure, the medic had referred to "holding cells" but that could just as easily translate as "torture chamber".
The winged mech was speaking again.
"All right, just down here...careful, there's an uneven bit of floor just ahead of you..."
The warrior guided the Seeker down a dark, narrow tunnel.
Unnecessary should his hands be free, but a surprisingly thoughtful gesture to the cuffed Decepticon.
They came upon the holding cells, and Thundercracker glanced around anxiously.
But there were no restraints, no instruments of torture...at least none that he could see right away.
The Autobot led him to one of the six barred cells, and Thundercracker entered it without a word.
"Optimus Prime is trying to contact Megatron about a prisoner exchange," the warrior informed him, as he methodically set the intricate computerized locking mechanism.
Enemy prisoners were a pain in the aft, especially if capture wasn't deliberate.
The big Autobot paused.
"It was a waste of time, wasn't it?" he said quietly, referring to the morning's scuffle over an oil refinery.
Little had been achieved, other than both sides sustaining nuisance injuries, and each gaining a temporary POW.
Thundercracker hesitated, then reminded himself no other Decepticons were around.
"Yes. It was," the Seeker agreed with sincerity.
The blue Autobot left him, and the Decepticon looked around with increasing uneasiness.
The jet spun around at the sound of his name.
He eyed the black and white Autobot.
Thundercracker hadn't heard him appear.
His reputation was well-known among the Decepticons as a strategist with no parallel.
But he was also a fearless fighter and Thundercracker sincerely respected that.
"Settle down," the black and white mech said quietly, stepping close to the solid Energon bars.
"Settle down! You Automoron, you want me to settle down? I know what you Autobots do to prisoners!" Thundercracker babbled panickedly.
The Autobot watched him for a few astroticks.
"No one's going to harm you," he said deliberately, "If that helps at all,"
The black and white mech looked him over.
"Come over here and I'll get those off you," the strategist said calmly, pointing to the Seeker's shackles.
Thundercracker glared at him fearfully.
Why was the second in command performing guard duty? Surely that was a menial task left to the lower ranks?
And why was he willing to remove the restraints? What kind of torture did the Autobots carry out on an unrestrained prisoner?
"Why are you here?" Thundercracker snapped, backing away a step or two.
The Autobot folded his arms and studied the Seeker.
"What do you mean?" he asked levelly.
"You're the second in charge!"
"We all do what needs doing," the black and white mech told him, "Rank doesn't dictate who gets what duty among the Autobots,"
He beckoned the Seeker once more.
This time Thundercracker slowly moved close enough to the bars for the Autobot to reach him and release the shackles.
The Decepticon flexed his wrists a little as the door-panelled mech subspaced the restraints.
He then settled at the beat-up desk, (positioned to give the guard full view of each cell) pulled two or three datapadds out of a subspace pocket, and began going over them.
Thundercracker stood with nervously clenched fists for a little bit, then began pacing, unable to accept he'd be getting out of this in one piece.
He glared at the quiet mech on each turn.
Thundercracker gradually slowed his pacing, and eventually sat on the cell's recessed bench.
Whatever he'd been given to knock him out for surgery was still strong in his system, and he felt kind of woozy on top of his nervousness.
The Autobot had been watching him discreetly, and now laid down his datapadd and looked him in the optics.
"Thundercracker, what can I say that will make you believe no harm's going to come to you?"
The big jet stared at him, wordless.
He'd never before had the privilege of hearing that benign tone from Optimus Prime's strategist.
The black and white mech spoke again.
"I happened to be present when you were taken to our medbay, and because you were the most seriously injured you were treated first. Do you think Prime would have allowed that if we intended to damage you in some way?"
Thundercracker couldn't believe his audios, but his CPU told him to get a grip and look at the Autobot second in command's tone and body language.
The Seeker couldn't deny the strategist spoke the truth.
He slowly settled back, still somewhat wary, wing still throbbing a little, and gave up the fight to keep his optics online.
Rusting Autobot medication, he managed to growl to himself before passing into a half-dozing state.
When he groggily onlined, the black and white mech was still at the desk.
Thundercracker's inner chronometer had been knocked around just enough to fritz it up, but he sensed a fair passage of time had passed.
Thundercracker stayed still and eyed the other mech.
The Autobot kept steadily working through whatever was contained in his datapadds, never once distracted into pausing.
Thundercracker watched him for several astrominutes.
Once the Autobot finished, he quietly stacked the datapadds, and pulled out a bookfile.
Two or three sentences in however, he lowered it absently and gazed into space.
"What's wrong with you?" Thundercracker gruffed eventually and sat up stiffly.
"What's your problem? You look like you've lost your best friend,"
The door-panelled mech looked at him steadily.
"You're very perceptive," he said quietly, "It happens that the prisoner your faction is holding is my closest friend...and I'm a little worried about him," he added.
"They won't hurt him," Thundercracker protested, cottoning on.
The military strategist looked him right in the optics.
"Will he know that?" he said softly.
They stared at each other, the Autobot with steady calmness, the Seeker with a brand new perspective.
"My turn," a cheerful voice drifted from the entrance tunnel.
Thundercracker broke his gaze as the Autobot engineer side-stepped into the cell block, carrying an armful of...stuff.
"Prime wants to see you," the engineer said to the second in command, vocal indicators showing electric blue.
The black and white mech nodded.
He stood up, glanced at the bookfile in his hand, and held it out to the Seeker between the thick bars.
"There's nothing worse than being bored...except being afraid," he said softly.
Thundercracker slowly accepted it.
The black and white mech exchanged a few quiet words with the engineer, who extricated his hand from the junk to give him a reassuring pat on the shoulder.
Thundercracker looked down at the bookfile, wondering what Earth rubbish had allured that bright mech.
He'd always assumed Prime's strategist would be cold and ruthlessly efficient.
How wrong was I, he thought to himself as the engineer carefully let the junk spill onto the desk the strategist had vacated.
Thundercracker looked at him warily.
The Autobot engineer had a reputation among the Decepticons too: basically crazy.
"How's your wing?" he asked the Seeker, "If the pain's too bad I can get you something for it,"
"Uh, no, it's not too bad," Thundercracker fumbled, staring at the Autobot.
He'd always been intrigued by the engineer's vocal indicators.
"Well, that's good."
The engineer settled at the desk and moved some of the bits and pieces to the floor, then picked up a project-in-progress.
The Seeker watched him apprehensively.
What was that the Autobot was working on?
A new hand weapon? A portable energy infuser? A remote sensor link?
Whatever it was, it was sure to be bad news for the Decepticons.
"What's that?" Thundercracker snapped without intention.
The Autobot held it in the palm of one hand.
"It's a new piece of medical equipment I came up with, but I just can't seem to align the electron buffers," the engineer sighed, chin in other hand, studying it.
"Did you try calibrating the minor ion phase variants?" Thundercracker asked abruptly.
The Autobot snapped his fingers.
"Perfect! Why didn't I think of it?" he chuckled, indicators showing warm orange.
He made the calibrations and regarded the instrument with satisfaction.
"Did that work?" Thundercracker couldn't help asking.
"Are the phase variants constant?
The grey and white mech checked the readouts with a small phase scanner.
"Yes, and they're within just two astromicrons of an acceptable ten variable,"
The Autobot looked at the Seeker.
"What made you think of that?" he asked curiously, "I'm impressed."
"I have some engineering experience," Thundercracker mumbled, "But Megatron only needs my flying abilities."
The Autobot studied him.
"Well I'm sorry about that," he said sincerely, "Sorry for you. Because when you were talking about this-" he held up the instrument, "You weren't a warrior. You were a skilled, interested mech,"
"Well...well I'm not giving you any more suggestions!" the Decepticon snapped, "A warrior is what I am, whether I like it or not,"
He stalked back to the bench, angry at himself for letting his guard drop like that.
The engineer made an adjustment to the instrument.
"I'm not thrilled about being a fighter either," he flashed without looking at the blue jet.
"I don't mind designing and building weapons, but I really don't like having to use them."
Thundercracker didn't acknowledge this.
He'd never really bothered to look at things from the other side of the fence.
He knew he himself was the least enthusiastic, least violent of the Decepticon warriors.
Megatron and Starscream, and occasionally Soundwave, made sure to inform him of that at every opportunity.
Maybe some of these Autobots were in the same situation.
Thundercracker reached to touch his injured wing.
The throbbing had almost disappeared, and he felt a lot better for that short doze.
The engineer had become all wrapped up in his project.
He was stuck on that thing until I helped, the Seeker thought with a bit of smugness.
He also couldn't help feeling slightly pleased.
After all, it was medical equipment, not a weapon, and would eventually help ease another mech's pain.
Just the way the Autobots had stopped his.
Thundercracker watched the engineer with unbridled interest, as the instrument slowly came together under his hands.
The Seeker was surprised when a new Autobot appeared to relieve the engineer.
"How are things?" the disappearing one asked the grey and white mech in an undertone.
"Fine," the engineer flashed cheerfully, "I'm nearly done with this, and our guest is being very quiet,"
Both Autobots glanced at the Seeker, who looked away.
The engineer chuckled and got to his feet, carefully subspacing the inventive medical instrument.
The slender mech helped the engineer gather the rest of his bits and pieces, delicately stacking the last few against the engineer's chest on top of the pile in his arms.
"Optimus Prime is still trying to organize the exchange with the Decepticons," the blue and white mech updated, "But Megatron is being difficult,"
"When isn't he?" the engineer remarked at the cell block entrance.
"I must remember to add lighting here," he muttered, "But we don't use these cells much."
The engineer departed, and they heard the chinking and rattling of his armful fading along the dark corridor.
The tall Autobot sighed and settled in the desk chair sideways, back against the wall.
Thundercracker eyed him.
Every Decepticon knew the blue and white spy.
He was the best in the business.
Countless plans had been foiled through this mech's secretly gathered information.
That drove Megatron crazy.
The Decepticon commander thought the ability to disappear into thin air was a cowardly one, but Thundercracker was secretly impressed by it.
What better ability for a spy to have?
The Autobot folded his arms and gazed at the cell block floor.
Thundercracker knew that look. He knew it from personal experience.
"You miss Cybertron," he grunted, startling the spy.
He looked at the Seeker carefully for an astrotick, then sighed again.
"Yes, I do," he mumbled in his refined accent, studying the floor again.
Thundercracker shook his head.
This mech practically radiated homesickness, and it was stirring his own longing for their home planet.
"I know how you feel, you know," the Decepticon said candidly, "I miss it too. Last time Megatron sent a few of us over the spacebridge...I nearly stayed there. It would have been so easy..."
He trailed off as the Autobot openly stared at him.
"What...made you come back?" he asked softly.
The Seeker stood up slowly to ease his stiffening servos, and leaned one shoulder to the cell bars.
"I don't know," he grunted, "Duty. Friends," he glanced up and saw the doubt in the Autobot's features.
"We are friends, most of us," Thundercracker stressed, "Some more than others. Skywarp and I get along great-"
He stopped himself short, suddenly self-conscious.
"I know," the spy said in a low tone, "I couldn't up and leave my duties or my friends, no matter how much I miss home. But I do miss it."
"I can't believe I'm discussing this with a Decepticon," he mumbled, looking at his hands.
"Don't you talk about it with your friends?"
The slender mech sighed.
"My two best friends love being here. One is infatuated with his Earth alt form, and the other thoroughly enjoys exploring this planet."
"What do you do when you get homesick?" Thundercracker asked curiously, completely forgetting he was talking to the enemy.
For the moment they were just two mechs with something important in common.
The spy smiled - a little.
"I do extra work, or volunteer in the medbay - there's always something that needs doing. It helps me forget sometimes,"
He looked at the Seeker.
"What do you do?" he said softly.
Thundercracker moved away from the bars and shrugged.
"I make an excuse to leave the base, alone, and I fly. One time I flew right down to the South Pacific and came across this air force formation,"
"You didn't attack them?" the spy asked sharply.
The big jet snorted.
"Of course not. They didn't even know I was there. But I watched them practice and flying in formation. It was another country's air force, and they perform different things than the ah...Americans. I was fascinated,"
He looked at the Autobot.
"I tried to duplicate some of their moves, and I was impressed. These squishy humans build and control these mechanical things. That's incredible to me."
He ran a hand along the bars.
"The other Decepticons are happy to just stay here and plunder," he said, almost to himself, "But I don't see why we should put the people of this planet in danger..."
"Incredible," the Autobot murmured.
"Thundercracker, I never thought I'd say this to a Decepticon, but you've given me a reason to respect you,"
He stopped as his commlink chirped, listened, and stood up.
"I have to go,"
The Autobot smiled and shrugged.
"See, busy now, so I'll forget I'm homesick."
He left quietly, and Thundercracker sat on the bench again, unable to comprehend what had made him share what he'd had with an Autobot.
A distinct humming made itself heard, and the Seeker looked up to see the young Autobot gunner bounce in.
"Aren't you a happy sort," Thundercracker grunted.
The young Autobot grinned.
"Why not? Life's too short to be miserable, especially in a war,"
"Makes sense," Thundercracker mumbled.
The silver mech laughed.
"I didn't think you'd talk to me,"
"Well I don't have much of anything else to do," the Seeker pointed out sharply.
"Did you read any of that bookfile?"
Thundercracker had just about forgotten about it.
He glanced around and remembered laying it on the bench.
"Uh, no. I haven't,"
The Autobot shrugged.
"You should. It's a great story. Our second in command is a big reader, and when he finds a book that impresses him, he'll force it, oops, I mean, recommend it to the rest of us," the gunner grinned.
He glanced around the cell block.
"Are you too warm? We carved out this block down a level, closer to the volcanic heart. Some of our sleeping quarters sort of back onto the heart wall and keep them warm. I thought you're being used to living underwater you might be feeling hot. Not that I could really move you, but sometimes after surgery the heat can make you feel a bit off, then we'd have to take you back to the medbay,"
He looked at the Seeker, who was staring at the silver gunner.
Thundercracker couldn't believe how this Autobot could talk.
"So, are you?" the Autobot asked, sounding a little put-out by the lack of reaction.
"Am I what?" the Decepticon asked in confusion.
"Are you too hot?"
"No. It's a change from our base though," Thundercracker allowed.
What he didn't say was his cell was warm and dry.
"It must wet and miserable in your base," the youngster commented blithely, and tugged something from a subspace pocket.
The Autobot...threw? the thing at the floor, and it came back to his hand.
"What in the Universe have you got there?" Thundercracker had to ask.
The young mech grinned. "It's called a yo-yo. I saw them on TV and our engineer made it for me,"
He flicked his wrist again, straight out in front of him this time, and the Seeker saw the thing was attached to a knuckle-joint with a fine, flexible Energon fibre.
The thought crossed Thundercracker's CPU that Skywarp would be enthralled with one of those.
"A lot of the Autobots think I'm kind of klutzy," the gunner said with a chuckle, "But I'm the only one who can do anything with this yo-yo!"
"They think you're klutzy?" Thundercracker said, surprised.
He'd never seen anything from this young Autobot but precision shooting and a lot of guts.
"Doesn't that bother you?"
The Autobot shrugged, spinning the...yo...at the end of its fibre.
"I'm the youngest, the "baby" of the group, so I don't say much,"
He glanced at the Decepticon.
"I mean, I don't say much back," he grinned, "I like to talk, but I don't like this war,"
He stopped and swung the yo like a pendulum.
"It scares you," Thundercracker said gruffly.
This Autobot reminded him of young Skywarp. The black jet was the "baby" in the Decepticon ranks.
"Yeah," the gunner admitted, "But what really scares me is thinking that one of my friends might get hurt -or worse- because of me. I hate that. So I try not to think of myself in battle, just try to be the best fighter I can and not need defending."
He collected the main piece of the yo and carefully wound the fibre into the middle recess.
Thundercracker watched him subspace it.
"Hey, know what time it is?" the Autobot said brightly, after checking his chrono.
"No idea," Thundercracker muttered.
"I'll be right back,"
"You're a "low risk" prisoner, so I can leave you for an astrotick," the silver mech explained.
"Happy days," Thundercracker said to himself darkly, wondering if he'd ever again be able to aim weapons fire at that young Autobot.
The gunner reappeared, carefully clutching two full Energon receptacles.
He sat one on the desk, spilling at least a quarter of the contents, and offered the blue jet the other through the bars.
"Do you think we'd let you completely lose power?"
Thundercracker eyed the pink stuff warily.
"We're not trying to poison you, that's no fun," the silver mech took a swallow of the Energon to prove his point, and then offered it again.
"Uh, thanks," the Seeker managed to utter, taking the receptacle of sustenance.
He'd never admit it, but he was very glad to see some Energon. He'd consumed none since the evening before.
"Is it afternoon?" Thundercracker asked of the Autobot as he threw himself into the desk chair, tipping it precariously.
"Almost night actually," the gunner said between mouthfuls, balancing the seat off his foot, "You might be with us overnight,"
He gazed at the cell that contained the Decepticon.
"If you are, we'll have to get you at least a headrest,"
Thundercracker's Energon went down the wrong way.
"What?" he sputtered, "Why the slag have all you Autobots been so-"
"Decent?" the gunner put in, letting the chair drop.
"You're here by accident, and anyway Optimus wouldn't have a prisoner mistreated,"
"Now if you were Starscream..."
He trailed off teasingly and Thundercracker tried to fight back a chuckle.
The Seeker finished the Energon and picked up the bookfile.
The Autobot pushed aside his empty receptacle and deposited the yo on the desk. The fibre had somehow become hopelessly tangled in his subspace pocket, and he began picking at it.
Good luck, Thundercracker thought, and activated the bookfile.
"Thundercracker," an authoritive and familiar tone rumbled.
Optimus Prime strolled into the cell block and the Seeker almost lost his grip on the book.
The Autobot commander gave the gunner a pat on the shoulder.
"It's arranged. Finally," Prime said, looking the Seeker in the optics.
"Megatron certainly enjoys giving me grief,"
The silver mech grinned and gathered the fibre tangle.
"Guess you won't be with us overnight, hey?"
"No, he won't," Optimus Prime asserted.
He unlocked the cell door, and the Seeker came forward hesitantly.
Being in Optimus Prime's presence, on his own turf, was not something Thundercracker wanted to experience more than once.
The jet awkwardly offered the bookfile back to the gunner, without looking at the big Autobot.
"You keep it," the youngster pushed it back, "I'm sure we've got other copies."
Thundercracker wasn't going to argue while Prime was around, so he pocketed it.
"Ok, let's go. I have arranged for Megatron to meet us near the canyon."
That point of reference meant nothing to the Seeker, but the gunner nodded.
Optimus Prime led Thundercracker through the cell corridor and out a back entrance, where the second in command joined them.
Megatron waited at the meeting point, and Thundercracker was overjoyed to see Skywarp.
Starscream was with the Decepticon commander too, and the two Seekers had the other white and black Autobot under grips.
The exchange parties paused several astrometres apart, and Thundercracker didn't move, even though he was not restrained in any way.
Megatron motioned to Skywarp and Starscream.
They forced the saboteur to his knees, getting rough when he resisted.
Thundercracker noticed the tactician's door-panels draw back slightly, and realized he was getting really ticked off.
"We have not mistreated your soldier, Megatron, and I expect the same from you," Optimus Prime said, the warning tone in his vocalizer plain.
"He is lucky he is still functional Prime," the Decepticon leader sneered, pulling the saboteur to his feet.
He glared at his biggest Seeker.
"Get over here," Megatron snarled.
Thundercracker stood fast.
"Not until you let him go," he said steadily, nodding at the Autobot saboteur.
He felt both Prime's and the strategist's gazes, and Megatron's glare could have melted tritanium, but he didn't care.
The Decepticon jerked his head and the jets flung the Autobot forward, who stumbled and landed on hands and knees.
The strategist was at his side in an astrotick, and Thundercracker walked forward to rejoin his faction.
Even without looking he could feel the intensity of the two commanders.
Skywarp threw his arms around the big Seeker, who gladly returned the gesture.
Megatron and Starscream took to the twilight sky without looking at him twice.
Thundercracker knew he'd get an audio full back at the base but he didn't care.
He transformed and lifted off with Skywarp, taking one last glance at the Autobot trio.
They were fighting because they had to.
Just like himself.