1AIR BORN

Red sunset streaks on red metal.

Thundercracker sat on a cliff overlooking the Pacific ocean. Overhead, a red-and-white F-16 halved the sky. He watched as serpentine smoke trailed from its engines. By the time the sonic booms reached his audials, the red jet had already vanished into the upper reaches of suborbital space.

Occasionally Thundercracker shot at the dense flock of seagulls nesting on the cliff's face. A pile of tiny charred corpses were accumulating on the water 120 meters below. Earthbirds, he thought contemptuously. Pathetic fleshbag parodies of Seekers. Wings wasted on mindless quests for food. And, their shit stank. He'd finish them off at one go if he could- killing them one by one was getting boring.

He shot again. A burning gull plunged into sea foam. He shot three more before an exultant roar signaled Starscream's re-entry into the atmosphere. The red-winged jet hurled towards the water in a pinwheel dive at 83 degrees. Against the indigo sky, haloed with friction-heat, he sparked like a falling star.

The G-forces stresses on Starscream must've been excruciating. Hitting the ocean surface at this speed and trajectory could shatter even a Decepticon's hyperalloy skin. Amazingly, at 40 meters to sea level Starscream crawled out of the dive, righted his fuselage and slowed to a leisurely glide until ocean spray slicked his red-tipped wings. He circled Thundercracker's cliff before transforming and gracefully touching down upon the sandy cove two kilometers north.

"Nice maneuvers, Chief," radioed Thundercracker. "'But you think you could tone it down a little? Your tail fin looked ready to snap off back there."

"Eyeing my tail again, I see. No surprise, if all you've had lately was Skywarp's." Starscream radioed back. "Wait for me, I'm climbing to meet you."

His voice, noticed Thundercracker, sounded thinner than usual. He briefly wondered if Starscream chose to climb instead of fly because he'd sustained damage from the dive. Screamer hadn't been appointed Decepticon Aerial Commander for his good looks. Even back when he'd been a Cybertron egghead in a lab-skin, he held a reputation among the Seekers for crazy reckless batshit flying. The fact that he was still among the functional was a testament to his skills and almost supernatural talent.

"You don't look cracked," he remarked when Starscream finally reached the cliff top." So I assume the cracks're in your head. What the hell was that dive? Megatron wouldn't want you taking superfluous risks. Not when we're getting our collective chassis kicked by Autobots and the human ground-grubbers."

Thundercracker kicked and sent several boulders crashing. " Primus! I can't wait to blast off this gravity-cursed asteroid fly somewhere civilized!"

He thought longingly of Cybertron's craggy towers jutting into endless space, or the planet-length tunnels riddling its mass. As a young Seeker he'd fallen through one such tunnel and emerged into a blinding flood of stars. Their frozen light, raw and untempered by atmospheric gasses, seared his optics like the disembodied sparks of Cybertron's dead. Ever since then he'd preferred eternal starfields to horizons. Horizons set limits. They defined your flight. They reminded you that sooner or later, you were going to have to land.

Starscream smirked and settled on the cliff's edge beside Thundercracker, giving his disgruntled wingmate's left wingtip a comradely nudge.

"It's not so bad," Starscream whispered hoarsely. "Earth's thick atmosphere...it has a mass. Like a skin, even. And when you fly through that–" he mimicked a dive with his shoulder guns " -it's like punching a hole into someone's shell. Best rush in the universe. You should try it sometime, Thundercracker." Starscream edged closer, his gray lips nuzzling Thundercracker's neck.

"If you want, you can dive with me."

"No offense, Chief, but you really are a freak."Thundercracker turned his gaze at the horizon, a thin line of fire dividing inky sea from inky sky.

The next instant he was airborne, with the sea rushing up to meet him. Above, Starscream laughed, arms still raised from when he'd pushed Thundercracker off the cliff.

Great, Thundercracker thought, Saltwater in my intakes. Again. Skywarps's going to bitch when he ventilates them.

Just before the splash he heard Starscream's teasing shout above throttling engines:

"Consider that a free sample!"