Thundercracker beards the Constructicons in their lair, Starscream lies in danger of becoming a Constructicon trophy, and Skywarp reluctantly acknowledges what the Constructicons have done. The winning side certainly has its peculiarities.

Disclaimer: Whaddya know, I still don't own the Transformers or make any money off them. (Edit 03/25/08: I noticed a major spelling error for the Aerialbots, which I had spelled Arielbots. I had to change it. Otherwise I had this mental image of the Little Mermaid as an Autobot, and that's just not right.)

Surface Deep

By Lady Dementia

Part One

The humans didn't mention these kinds of battles; it made bad press for the losers, which they were. The Autobots used it in their propaganda; failure seemed to spur them onward.

The Decepticons accepted it as their due. Reveling in winning a battle seemed like overkill, and while they thrived on that as well, the benefits of winning spoke for themselves. The Autobots retreated to lick their wounds in shame and refire their wills, but the Decepticons held singed armor out to each other and bragged about how it happened. The bigger the battle, the more tales they could spin out into exaggerated stories about their own accomplishments in the heat of it. Winning just meant they could be noisier about it since Megatron was in a good mood afterward. He'd occasionally been known to join in on the laughter at the losers' expense.

Since coming to Earth, there hadn't been many of the bragging sessions. The wounded were fixed as quickly as possible and quietly went about their duties, trying to dodge the silver tyrant's attention in a base far too small for such a challenge. When they won, on the other wing, Megatron's mood seemed to infuse the air underwater, as unavoidable as his fists on a bad day. He'd even been heard to say something almost complimentary to Motormaster, although both would deny it vehemently if queried later. The result was a charged atmosphere in the base. The Decepticons didn't hold a celebration for winning the battle as Autobots might have. They only turned up the volume on their pride and lingered in small groups during their duties, loudly contesting who had done what to whom and exactly when--and did they remember way back on Cybertron when..?

It was less of a party than something in the back of their minds saying, "Finally, back to normal." The Decepticons were winning the war. Things were right in the universe—and especially on Earth—again.

The duty roster had correspondingly relaxed with the fool's-gold ambiance in the base. Nobody slacked off, exactly, but nobody hurried to get on with things when Motormaster started in on how he'd gotten Optimus Prime into the final fenderbender that had given them the day. Whatever the piece of technology was that the Decepticon gestalt leader had pried out of the Autobot's leader's frantic hands, it had actually drawn a look that oddly resembled a gleeful smile out of Soundwave—well, as close to smile as could be had on a robot with a face mask. That was sufficiently bizarre that the other Decepticons, not being in Megatron's close confidences, were deathly curious and gathered around the only one who'd gotten a close look at the thing they'd fought and won for.

Thundercracker passed them by somewhat glumly. He also wanted to know what the thing was—it seemed awful small for all the fuss the Autobots had put up for it—but when Megatron sent one on an errand, one did not mistake the benevolent mood of the tyrant as an opportunity to slack off, even for a few minutes. Normally, being sent to pester Starscream in the medical bay after combat presented a prime opening to annoy classified details out of him, but not today. Today, he had serious injuries to recover from. Whatever it was that they'd fought for had been important enough to cause the Air Commander to throw himself into battle with the abandon he usually directed toward attempting to take over Megatron's position. That had, surprisingly, pleased Megatron to no end. Even the other Decepticons had been impressed, if only against their wills.

One of the battle details being avidly dissected in the base's halls was Starscream's spectacular and potentially fatal battle with three of the Aerialbots and the pink-faced Autobot, what's-his-name, Trademark or Trace or something. The red jet had successfully prevented the Aerialbots from combining to their stronger gestalt-mode, but the part that had the Decepticons talking was when the Air Commander had landed on and tangled with the Corvette. Swindle had immediately started a betting pool on which Autobots would die after the battle, and that Autobot—Tracks? Yeah, that was his name--had a lot of credits riding on him.

That, too, felt normal. It seemed like none of the Autobots that had come to Earth had died at their hands yet, and that was strange. Except for the few officers that persistently stayed alive, knowing names of the Autobots he faced from battle to battle in this war felt very odd. It made it harder for Thundercracker to TRY and kill them, as if they were real Cybertronians instead of faceless enemies…

Thundercracker paused and shook his head. He was overthinking this. Megatron had sent him down to the medical bay for a reason, and that reason had probably slaughtered an Autobot today. Just another Autobot. Admittedly, he'd done it in a brutal, messy way, but that was no excuse for Thundercracker to care either way about who that Autobot had been.

Unless Tracks died, of course. He personally had a cube and a half of high-grade energon ready to wager in Swindle's betting pool as soon as he decided which way he'd bet. He had his doubts about whether the Autobot would die. After all, Starscream himself had taken so much damage during the fight that two of the Constructions had carried him back to the base. Even allowing for taking on three Aerialbots previously, an Autobot who could deal out that degree of damage to the Air Commander wouldn't go down easily.

A sly grin tried to cross Thundercracker's face as he entered the medical bay, but he squashed it before the six robots in the vast bay could notice. He wasn't the sneaky jet of his wing, an image that made him perfect for a job like this. But if he looked like he was up to something besides the obvious, Hook could pick up on it and ruin the take. Hook was demonically good at picking up little details like that. Luckily for Thundercracker, both he and Scrapper were working on the far side of the bay, and Long Haul, as per usual, was preoccupied in griping as he lifted Starscream to the repair table.

"…could repair a fused micronbolt if they'd give me half a chance, but no, I'm the one who has to haul your reject carcass around like it's welded to my arms. Do I look like a scrap collector? Think I do this for fun? I'd drop you in a nanosecond if it wouldn't mean I'd have to pick your pieces up again, and would you LOOK at the scrapes you're leaving on my paint job?" Despite his grumbling, Long Haul maneuvered the Air Commander's wings into place with an ease that spoke of long experience. He barely jostled the nearly-detached metal. A faint buzz made Thundercracker cock his head as he came up behind the dump truck Decepticon, but the high-pitched, metallic sound made Long Haul shake his head. "Wings are last. Leave this to the professionals. Lacking any of those…Bonecrusher?"

"Outta my way." Thundercracker sidestepped automatically, something one had to learn quickly when in the path of Bonecrusher. The heavy Constructicon had a tendency to start brawls for little reason, and here in the realm of his gestalt, a wise jet heeded what warnings were given. The fact that Bonecrusher was holding Starscream's lower right leg only emphasized that fact, even if he himself hadn't taken it off. Pissing off the best repair team in the base was a Bad Idea. If such an unwise thing was done, there was no guarantee one's leg would be reattached once it was removed.

Bonecrusher stopped beside Long Haul and clunked the separated limb down on the table. "Whatta slaggin' pile of chewed-up parts. It looks like junk metal Scavenger dragged in. You sure there's an Air Commander in this?" Bonecrusher's hands, familiar as they were with being fists driven into other's faces, were unexpectedly gentle as he probed into the mess that had been Starscream's cockpit. Another buzz whined through the air, and the two Constructicons chuckled, albeit somewhat cruelly. Thundercracker, peering over their shoulders, finally figured out what the buzzing noise was. Starscream saw him looking down, and the buzz gained strength. And irritation. "Shut up," Bonecrusher ordered.

The downed jet's remained optic blazed with anger at the off-handed order, but Long Haul pinned him down when his hands would have risen toward Bonecrusher's insolent face. "Easy, easy," the dump truck soothed. "You're straining your vocalizer. It won't repair right if you keep using it, so shut it down."

The warrior Constructicon shrugged with guileless innocence. "That's what I SAID, isn't it?" Typical of Bonecrusher, Thundercracker noted, to have stated a repair order in the most offensive and unexplained way possible. Long Haul smoothed laughter into a cough at the act but kept Starscream's arms down until the Air Commander sullenly surrendered. The buzz cut off with a crackle of damaged electronics.

"What do you want?" Long Haul asked after releasing the jet's hands and turning to fix an inquiring optic visor on Thundercracker. He swept the blue jet with a look and focused on the only flaw visible. "Don't tell me you're here for that chip on your shoulder. We don't do paint jobs."

"I'll adjust the attitude, if you'd like," Bonecrusher said sweetly without looking up from his careful exploration of the damaged jet before him.

Thundercracker sneered at his back. "I like the chip on my shoulder, thank you very much. It adds character." Especially since it gave him a great excuse to get Skywarp alone in his quarters later, but they didn't need to know that. Speaking of attitude, however…Matching his sweetness to Bonecrushers', the jet turned limpid optics on Long Haul. "I'm so tired, I thought I'd stop in and ask you for a ride back to the bridge. I mean, since you're such good transport…"


"Stuff it," Bonecrusher interrupted before Long Haul could erupt in a rant. He'd normally side with his gestalt-mate, but they'd just gotten back from battle. The recent fight made him mellow enough to recognize a taunt when it wasn't directed at him. "He's here because Megatron sent him down. Status report, right? Go ask Scrapper and leave us to our work."

The jet eyed Long Haul with interest; the dump truck appeared ready to explode, and he was sure Bonecrusher was going to get an audio-full for his interference when he was out of listening range. "Megatron wants to know when Starscream's going to be back on his feet, too."

Bonecrusher freed a hand to wave threateningly under Thundercracker's nose. "I SAID, go ask Scrapper. I'll know in a minute what we're gonna have to do on him. It looks like he's in for an extensive rebuild. Part of it's just going t' be cosmetic, though." The Air Commander had landed hard on Autobot and the ground, and his exterior showed it. The mangled wings were the worst, but his throat had taken a blast and his right leg had twisted mid-thigh and lost the lower half entirely. His cockpit had definitely seen better days. Bonecrusher was wrist-deep in it at the moment, and Thundercracker hovered behind him, curious both to what he'd find and if Long Haul would really explode as he seemed about to.

Jet and dump truck shared a glare when Thundercracker showed no sign of moving on, but they were once again interrupted by Bonecrusher. "Wouldja look at that?" Something snapped in Starscream's chest as the bulldozer withdrew one hand holding an assortment of odd items. The Air Commander grimaced but stayed still and silent, presumably relieved to have the things out of him one way or another. "What on Cybertron are these?" Long Haul and Thundercracker peered at them, as baffled as Bonecrusher by the fuzzy cubes with dots, tins labeled 'Turtlewax,' and a weird statuette of a human wearing robes.

Scrapper had just walked around the other side of the repair table to look Starscream over critically. He glanced at Bonecrusher's handful of miscellanea and burst out laughing. "Starscream took some mementos for his trouble, it seems!" he said around his mirth. "Judging from how he slammed Tracks down the first time, I'd say that's the contents of the Autobot's glove compartment!"

The blue jet reached out and gingerly lifted the tiny, fuzzy cubes by the string joining them. "I always knew Autobots were crazy, but this is pushing it." And what could the plastic figurine be? Why would an Autobot drive around with a human statuette in him?

"Well, this is piece of a dashboard…" Bonecrusher poked at the bottom of the statue. "It must be a car thing. I've seen this or something similar in automobiles on human building sites." He shrugged eloquently. "Autobots and their 'going native' fetishes."

Long Haul and Thundercracker snickered, but Scrapper took the figurine. "Scavenger will want this. You," he pointed finger at Thundercracker, "tell Megatron this one will be operational in a day."

The jet looked at the finger in his face and blinked. "I need the full status report."

"I could have just sent it through the computer to the bridge." Inefficiency annoyed Scrapper, but he turned away to return to the computer and download all the after-battle repair reports to a chip for Thundercracker. A smart Decepticon did not tell his commander that he was being inefficient.

"But then I wouldn't have been able to see my dear wingleader." Thundercracker oozed concern. Scrapper scoffed over his shoulder, and Bonecrusher openly laughed. Even Long Haul cracked a smile before snatching the 'Turtlewax' containers out of his gestalt-mate's hand and stomping off in Mixmaster's direction. The chemist would surely enjoy having a new substance to tinker with. The expression on Starscream's face was priceless, a combination of smugness for having accidentally swiped an Autobot's possessions in the course of attempting to rip out his spark and stark disbelief at his wingmate's concern. The blue jet hammed it up. "How is my dear wingleader?"

If looks could kill, his 'dear' wingleader would have just murdered his mouthy subordinate. Bonecrusher continued to run careful hands over the damage but otherwise ignored his temperamental patient. "Megatron's gonna have to wait a bit longer than Scrapper thought. We're going t' need to pull his sensor net and rewire everything through a new support structure."

"What about his throat?" Hook called from across the medical bay.

"Internal systems will handle most of it, but we might as well take most of his upper torso armor completely off and rebuild over the new struts." Bonecrusher wormed a finger underneath a deep groove and tapped from the inside; the metal at the deepest part of the furrow warped on impact. Starscream glowered, but the Constructicon grinned. "You could do a weld over some of the weakest points, but it'll be faulty protection and probably look hideous. I'm gonna assume Megatron doesn't want his Air Commander held together with spackle and new paint?" He gave the blue jet a hopeful look. Bonecrusher liked destroying things, and while the other Constructicons were better at building stuff, he was often the best at seeing the faulty areas that couldn't be fixed and needed to be demolished in order to rebuild a more perfect whole. Right now, Starscream was a giant imperfection. Entire sections of his armor needed to be hammered out or replaced, and his right leg was a disaster. Bonecrusher's fingers itched to start pulling him apart.

Thundercracker could see the urge in the Constructicon's twitching hands, and he smirked down at his wingleader. Starscream watched them both warily. It was a strange conversation to be having in his presence without the red jet's screechy voice yelling at them. His wingmate thought it was a rather pleasant change. "Yeah, Megatron's orders are to get him fully functional. Do whatever you need to and don't worry about time, I guess." Unlike the treacherous Air Commander's usual reason for being in the medical bay, today's injury had him firmly in Megatron's favor. Hence the Constructicons' careful treatment and Starscream's uncharacteristic calm. Aggravating a Decepticon officer injured in the line of duty was another Bad Idea guaranteed to get the annoyer some damage of his very own.

"Fine. Get over here and give me an estimate of the damages for the report, then." Scrapper beckoned to Bonecrusher. "Long Haul, go tell Scavenger he has to pull enough scrap iron out of his collection to give Mixmaster something to manufacture replacement armor out of. We can recycle most of the armor plates, but I want something to reinforce the worst buckle-points since we're doing a full refit. Take this thing to him while you're at it." He tossed the tiny plastic figurine in Long Haul's direction and turned back to Hook. "What upgrades can we do on his systems while we've got him open?"

Constructicons scattered across the medical bay, complaining and discussing and generally leaving the two jets alone. Thundercracker smothered a wily smile. Wonderful. He looked down at Starscream and moved close enough that it would take Soundwave to overhear any conversation between them. "So, my dear wingleader…"

The damaged Air Commander's uncracked optic cut sharply away from watching Scrapper to studying Thundercracker. That tone of voice, while rare in the blue jet, was not one he associated with good things. Starscream swore he'd learned it from his more devious wingmate, and Skywarp mischief was of the dangerous variety. Keeping Skywarp from pranking--an all-encompassing term including, at the very least, bombing, whitewashing, or knocking unconscious--other Decepticons amused him when he was able to stop the loony Seeker, but seeing a scheme in the making between his wingmates when he couldn't get up off the table was NOT funny. Nobody ever suspected the laconic Thundercracker.

The other Decepticons had no idea what they were in for.

"Don't give me that look," Thundercracker chided him. "I won't let him blow up the base."

Oh, yes, like he believed that. Starscream drummed his fingers impatiently at his sides. Dried mechfluid flaked off the joints.

The blue jet threw his hands up defensively. "Or fill it with insulation foam."

Better. But he still wasn't convinced his wingmates weren't about to wreak havoc while he was convalescing. The last thing he wanted at the moment was to deal with an angry Soundwave after another one of Skywarp's attempts at catching unwary Casseticons with bear traps. Having a sneaky, underhanded idiot in his wing outweighed the disadvantages by a marginal amount, but he was in no mood to argue the matter with Megatron yet again. He drummed his fingers once more, unable to voice his doubts vocally.

"Relax," Thundercracker said in a low tone, leaning in to keep his words private. "I just want some…information. Swindle's taking bets on whether that Autobot you took out is dead slag or not. I want to know which way I should bet."

Well, that was different. He could see the angle immediately; everyone would know if Skywarp came to talk with him and placed a wager one way or another. But Thundercracker had been sent down by Megatron, and the blue jet wasn't known for his plots. A small amount of cunning could send the odds in their favor and win them quite a lot of the pot. Money and high-grade energon were nothing to pass on, especially since he'd get a cut just by telling what he already knew. Starscream relaxed a bit and inclined his head to indicate his interest.

"Last I heard, the odds are weighted toward Tracks dying. What do you think?" Starscream frowned and shook his head slightly, trying not to pull on damaged cables in his neck. "No?" One hand lifted to the center of his chest, pressing lightly against the shattered cockpit glass. Thundercracker sighed and shook his head at the action. "Missed his spark, huh? Too bad. Did you at least damage his main fuel pump?" Starscream pinched his fingers together, indicating that he'd inflicted some injury but not a lot. Not enough, anyway. "Frag. The way you tore into him, I thought you'd at least gotten something vital." It had obviously looked more impressive than it actually was. The Autobot medics were too good to assume that a near-fatal injury would become fatal given a chance at repair. "At least you took him out for a while. They didn't look happy when we took off."

The Air Commander looked justifiably smug. Sometimes his cowardice made it hard for others to remember exactly how he'd achieved his rank in the Decepticons, but today would certainly jog their memories. He didn't fight losing battles or a fusion cannon in his face, but pitch him against a foe in the air or from a stronger position, and it served as a reminder for why Autobots feared him.

The mechfluid dried on his hands wasn't his own.

Thundercracker rested a hip against the repair table. "How much do you want to throw into the pool?" He counted as his wingleader's fingers tapped. "Are you sure?" The taps repeated along with a definitive hand gesture at his side out of sight of the nearest Constructicon. "Twelve cubes? You must be REAL sure he'll pull through," the blue jet murmured. Starscream nodded slightly. "It'll be difficult getting that many cubes into the bets without clueing anyone else in. Skywarp will have to bet a hefty amount on him dying to convince everyone. He'll want a bigger cut from us when we win." Warning delivered, Thundercracker straightened as Scrapper approached. "Finished?"

"Get out of here before I repaint you to look like your 'dear' wingleader," Scrapper said back, handing over the status report for Megatron. "You've wasted enough of my time today."

"It'd be quicker if Long Haul would give me a ride…"

"Get him out of here before I run him over!"

Thundercracker waved in the dump truck's direction and strode toward the door before the threat became reality. He'd deliver the report to Megatron along with a run-down of how mangled Starscream looked, which had been the real reason for sending him down here in the first place. His next stop would then be Skywarp's duty station, where's he'd publicly cajole his seemingly reluctant wingmate into agreeing to touch up his paint job later in his quarters. Nobody would be suspicious of that. It would, of course, be the perfect opportunity to hand over the details for the gambling scam they'd put into place shortly. It would be a waiting game after that for the results of the betting pool, but he had confidence in Starscream's judgment on this. Having his hands--and arms--in the Autobot's chest cavity earlier in the day gave the Air Commander an excellent opinion on whose was the winning side.

Which probably explained why he was a Decepticon.

End Part One