His steps slowed as he entered his quarters, the first outward sign of his stress he had allowed to slip through his stoic facade in nearly a joor. He knew there was no need for such pretenses any longer, but it was hard to unlearn habits from his tenure as Prime.

It seemed like a lifetime ago now.

Sighing softly, Optimus he dimmed the room's lights. After a few moments, he resigned himself to his chair, tiredly leaning his elbows on the desk before him, resting his chin on his hands. The change from his offices in Iacon to his infinitely smaller quarters on the Autobot base had happened so quickly and suddenly, it was merely a blur in his mind. Yet he was beginning to wonder if he had ever lived in Iacon at all, or if he simply imagined it, and the base had always been his home.

He rubbed at the bridge of his nose. No, he reminded himself. We've not always been forced to live hidden in fortresses. The war had not been going on for all that long.

But long enough.

And in that short time, so many questions had arisen. Too few had been answered.

There was a soft pinging on his comm frequency. Optimus acknowledged it silently.

-He actually responded,- Red Alert said, his voice tense-tenser than normal.

-Let him through,- Optimus replied.

-Are you sure about this?-

-Let him through,- the Prime repeated.

There was a brief moment of silence, then the holoprojector on his desk lit up. Megatron's none-too-happy face appeared before him, bright against the dimness of the room. "Well?" the mech growled. "You'd better have a good reason for putting us through the hassle of dealing with your pet security mech."

Out of everything he wanted to say, only one question made its way through Optimus's vocalizer. "Why?" The word came out too quickly, too loudly.

Megatron's face receded a bit, as if he was leaning back in a chair. "You'll have to be a bit more specific."

"Why the younglings? That's low, even for you."

The Decepticon leader was silent. Even his facial plates remained still.

Optimus could feel an anger welling up in his spark. "Why just the Seeker younglings? Why not the entire youth complex? If you wanted to wipe out the next generation of Iaconians, you did a pretty damn lousy job." He nearly snarled the last words in his disgust.

"I had nothing to do with the attack on the rookery." Megatron's tone was harsh, yet he spoke more softly than he had earlier.

It was a tone of voice Optimus rarely remembered coming from him, one that gave him hope that maybe, somewhere, deep in his spark, Megatron was still the just and wise Lord Protector he had once been.

"I have no interest in younglings," Megatron was continuing.

'Understatement.'

"But despite what you may be thinking, I find no joy in slaughtering future Cybertronians."

"Then why?"

"I told you," Megatron said, speaking slowly and deliberately, "I had nothing to do with the attack on the rookery. You would have to ask your dear deceased Jhiasian ambassador what happened, Prime." The Lord Protector spat the title.

Optimus narrowed his optics at the flickering holo in response to the disrespect to his rank.

Megatron laughed then. "Don't give me that look! What, you think you can march yourself and your pathetic excuse for an army over here to try another 'righteous anger' stunt? Please."

"I may, if only for the entire generation of Seekers that is now dead."

"You and your foolish ideas. I will never understand why someone as stupid and weak as yourself was allowed to be Prime."

"I will never understand how you can mistake morality and compassion for stupidity and weakness."

Megatron idly waved his hand, as if brushing the Prime away. "That tired old argument? How boring."

Optimus was surprised to realize he had been clenching his fist; slowly, he relaxed it. Yes, they could all see what the result of that argument was. "So do I need to unleash my 'righteous anger' on whoever was responsible for the massacre, or do you have that under control?"

The Decepticon did not miss that slight jab at his leadership abilities. His features suddenly became quite terrifying as he leaned in close to the holoprojector. "I have always had, and always will have, things under control."

The holoprojector abruptly shut off, leaving Optimus alone in the relative darkness of his quarters.


Ironhide didn't need to look to know who had just entered the room. 'About fragging time. If he keeps this up...'

As if echoing his thoughts, one of his soldiers spoke up. "Well, look who finally decided to show his faceplates."

He was far more familiar with that tone of voice than he would have liked. On the surface, it was a light-hearted jab, but the fact that it came from Sideswipe meant that it was anything but. Ironhide was in no mood to be dealing with the gladiator's idea of 'fun' this cycle. "Sideswipe!" he barked.

Sideswipe was silent for a moment. Then, he could be heard messing with his field generator again. Whatever he had been planning must not have been worth disobeying his commanding officer for this time. Thank Primus.

Ironhide quickly glanced around the room. Sideswipe's intended target was also behaving himself today, not rising to Sideswipe's jibe in favor of walking to the opposite side of the room. Ironhide grunted to himself, mildly pleased that so far, things were looking promising regarding his subordinates' attitudes today. "Hurry up and get yourself a field generator, Wheeljack." 'We've only been holding this thing up for you, smart-aft.'

Satisfied that the engineer was doing so, Ironhide turn to the rest of his squad. "Inferno's requested to train with us today. He's been-" His processor suddenly buzzed softly, indicating someone was having a comm talk, and therefore ignoring him. Ironhide clamped his jaw plates together in irritation. 'For Primus' sake. Why do I get stuck with all the difficult ones?' He returned his gaze to Wheeljack. Sure enough, the mech was giving the much-smaller Cliffjumper a death glare, complete with angrily-glowing resonators.

Two quick steps was all it took for Ironhide to get to their side of the room. Before the engineer even realized he was there, he reached out and sharply cuffed Wheeljack on the back of his helm. Wheeljack's resonators flashed white once before going dark. "Pay attention!" Ironhide growled. He could see Cliffjumper's face twitch into the slightest of amused expressions. Ironhide frowned down at him. "Don't think you're off the hook either."

'Why in all his infinite wisdom did Prowl think it's a good idea to stick all of these mechs together?' With his squad now paying attention, or at least, paying as much attention as they ever would, Ironhide moved back to his original position in the room. "As I was saying, Inferno's been handed a bunch of the militia mechs and they need some work on fighting army-style. So his squad is training with us. Do not..." He paused to look directly at Sunstreaker.

The gold mech huffed. "Yeah, yeah." Then, in a softer voice, "He started it."

"I don't care who started it, don't-" Ironhide's comm suddenly clicked to life. 'It never fragging ends around here.'-What?-

-Optimus requests your presence,- Red Alert stated.

The weapons specialist sighed. -I'll be there in a bit.- He looked back at his soldiers. "I have to speak with Optimus. Tap-Out, you're in charge. And I swear to Primus, Sunstreaker, this is a training exercise, not a-"

Sunstreaker growled. "I know! Slagging Pits, it wasn't my fault!"

"I don't care. It'd better not happen again. I'll be back shortly."


Optimus was not in his office, as Ironhide had assumed. After a brief, irritating discussion with Red Alert over the intercom, he discovered Optimus was actually in one of the loading bays. Ironhide finally got himself going to the correct location, grumbling the entire way about how ridiculous it was to have a security officer who didn't communicate clearly half the time.

He was not prepared for the sight of a small, unassuming cargo ship in the bay. Optimus was standing by it, along with a familiar-looking mech, obviously the ship's pilot. Ironhide quirked an optic ridge at the sight. "Sandstorm?"

The mech tilted his head slightly by way of acknowledgment. "Glad you could make it, 'Hide. I was just in the middle of telling the Prime here the reason for my unannounced visit."

"It'd better be good," Ironhide muttered as he joined them. "You can't just up and abandon your post in the Reaches."

"He was getting to that," Optimus said, trying to assuage his weapons specialist.

"I was getting...yeah, what he said." Sandstorm made his way to the rear of his ship and began fiddling with its hull. "Nothing much happens out there you know. Pretty boring."

"I stationed you there for a reason."

Sandstorm's blue optics flicked to one side, eying Ironhide. "Well, a few joors ago I got a comm from the 'Bot outpost on that Zel Samine moon, saying some 'Cons had tried to slip something out of the ELTA mine on a drone ship."

Ironhide felt his energon pump falter briefly. Thankfully, neither Sandstorm nor Optimus appeared to have picked up on it.

"I thought that was kinda strange," Sandstorm was continuing, "seeing as the 'Cons have ignored the Reaches. Until now. So when the drone ship came in range, I went after it." Something clicked and whirred within the ship, then the hull was folding back to expose the main cargo area. Sandstorm motioned the two Autobots closer.

Ironhide cautiously peered inside the hold. It was surprisingly large for a ship of this size, though whether that was the ship's original design or a later retooling, he couldn't tell. Within the space sat only a nondescript hovercrate, like any used by Cybertron's various mining outposts. It was, however, quite a large crate, big enough that all three mechs could sit inside, with room to spare. The crate took up most of the free space in the hold, leaving only enough room between it and the hold's walls for the mechs to sidestep along. "So you lifted this crate from the drone ship," Ironhide said, unimpressed.

Sandstorm was stepping into the hold. "Don't lose faith in me so quickly, Ironhide."

"I'm not the one who abandoned my post," the black mech muttered. Optimus glanced down at him, as if warning him to drop the attitude.

"The 'Cons dug this up and obviously didn't want you to know about it." The pilot released the clasps on the crate's lid.

That uneasy feeling was settling on Ironhide again.

Optimus was helping the smaller mech lift the lid. From where he stood, Ironhide could see into the crate, which was filled by what appeared to be nothing but a giant chunk of snow and ice.

The Prime was silent as a cold mist seeped out of the crate, spilling over its side and settling on the floor, around the mechs' feet. "Vector sigma... How...what...is he alive?"

The uncomfortable sensation sank into his core. Ironhide balled his hands into fists, resisting the growing urge to activate his cannons.

"Stasis lock, I guess," Sandstorm was saying. "Pretty badly damaged, but the cold must have gotten to him before his injuries."

"We need to get him to the medbay," Optimus said.

"No."

As one, Sandstorm and Optimus turned to Ironhide. "No?" the Autobot commander repeated.

"He's one of them." He could feel power thrumming in his arms, aching to deploy his weapons.

Optimus was giving him a look no unlike what a disappointed youngling-master would give his young charges. "Not all Seekers are Decepticons."

"I was there, Optimus," Ironhide said, his voice growing louder. "On Zel Samine. I set up that base, remember?"

"Of course. I gave those orders."

"Starscream was there, scouting, and this Seeker with him. I defended the base. I shot him down." It had been a viciously cold and snowy day, he remember, even compared to Zel Samine's normally cold and snowy climate. No one, least of all Seekers, should have been out in that weather. But these two had been, and they had been heading right for the Autobot base, obviously on the prowl for something. Ironhide rumbled in anger. "I shot him down, and Starscream escaped. The worst mistake I ever made, letting that fragger fly away. And now this one still lives? No. Let him die, let him stay in stasis lock for all I care. There's no way in the Pits I'll let you bring that thing back online."

Sandstorm was looking quite uncomfortable at this sudden turn of events. Optimus, on the other hand, was furious. "Stasis lock is a cruel existence."

At that, Ironhide activated his cannons, raising his arms to aim for the crate as the massive weapons locked into place. "Then I'll end it right this time. Move aside."

He wasn't sure why he had expected Optimus to simply step away. No, true to form, the commander instead moved himself directly into Ironhide's line of fire. "Put those away." It was a voice rarely heard from the Prime, something frightening and threatening that made far too clear his familial tie to Megatron. Then, he spoke again, in a much gentler tone that was much more himself. "You aren't one to kill someone who can't fight back."

The weapons specialist hesitated. 'Damn it. He's right.' Slowly, slowly, Ironhide lowered his arms and powered down his cannons. 'Stupid Prime and his stupid convincing...-ness.'

"We will take him down to the medbay." Optimus was speaking evenly, as if daring Ironhide to contradict him again. "When he is awake and able to speak, we may be able to get intel from him."

"And what's your plan for keeping him here?" Ironhide nonetheless countered. "He's not your average Seeker. We have nothing to contain him."

Optimus glanced at Sandstorm, as if judging whether or not to say something. Then he looked back to Ironhide. "I believe Wheeljack can help with that."


"I don't like this."

"You're the one who proposed this drone. It is time to test it."

Wheeljack looked down at said drone. "He's not ready."

Next to him, Perceptor huffed irritably. "You've been over every detail of this creature countless times. I have been over it. It is as ready as it's going to be this century."

'Not every detail...'

"Oh, it's a 'he' now, huh?" Ironhide stepped closer to them as he picked up on their conversation. "Let me guess, you gave him a name, too."

"Yeah. Grimlock."

There was an uncomfortable silence from the older mech. "You named the drone...Grimlock."

Wheeljack shrugged a shoulder. "Sideswipe kept calling him a haroon. I figured he's my first haroon, so why not, I'll name him after the first haroon ever."

"You're just as disturbed as that red devil is," Ironhide muttered. Perceptor grimaced in agreement.

"It's as good of a name as any," Optimus said as he entered the lab. "You're sure the Seeker is stable?"

Ratchet, who had entered with the Prime, nodded. "It only took a joor to get most of the ice off of him, but he's stable enough for me to slip out for a few breems." He was rubbing his hands together, though whether from excitement or nervousness, Wheeljack couldn't tell. "So? Let's see if this piece of genius works before First Aid needs my help again."

Normally, Wheeljack relished in showing off his inventions to a crowd. But these were not fellow engineers and scientists (save for one, but he hesitated to call Perceptor a 'fellow scientist'). These were soldiers, present to take down his creation in the event of a malfunction. Yes, Wheeljack had taken care to retain as much of the drone's obedience programming as would not interfere with the combat protocols, and with Perceptor's help he had also added failsafes on top of everything. He rather hoped they would not need to resort to those, as 'failsafes' in this case meant 'remote kill trigger.' Having all of his hard work instantaneously wiped out was not something Wheeljack enjoyed dealing with. Especially not with as much turmoil as he had gone through with this particular project.

Aware of the Autobots around him, Wheeljack knelt next to the drone's open helm. The sheer size of the creature had proven too much for the work tables, which had been pushed against the walls in order to use the floor as work space instead. The drone was sprawled on the cold smooth metal, as if asleep. Wheeljack sighed softly, double-checked that the weapons systems were still disconnected, then welded the final processor link into place and snapped the smooth helm closed.

A shudder ran through the drone. Ruby optics flickered to life.

Then the beast growled, pushing himself to his feet. Though he was not much taller than Wheeljack at his shoulder, his four-legged frame was undeniably massive. Perceptor almost jumped back; Ironhide tensed, ready to defend against the drone.

The creature swung his toothy head back and forth, scanning the residents of the lab the way a cyberhawk might scan potential prey. Wheeljack should have felt excited. Instead, he felt a heavy sense of dread.

After a few moments, the drone stopped looking at the mechs and settled into a rest pose, body still, optics staring blankly at some distant point.

"Well," Ratchet said at least. "Something of yours didn't explode. I'm impressed."

"But how do we know it'll attack Seekers and not us?" Ironhide had not yet relaxed.

"It's not attacking us now, is it?" Wheeljack replied. "Just trust me."

"That's a tall order," Ironhide shot back.

Though it still stared purposelessly, the drone seemed to be listening to them, head tilted slightly to catch their voices.

"So, do we station it in the medbay?" Ironhide asked.

Ratchet snorted. "Yes, put a Seeker-killing machine in a confined space with a Seeker. That will end well."

"It wouldn't be a bad idea," Perceptor put in. "Its programming should allow it to differentiate between threats and non-threats."

"'Should'," Ironhide commented.

"But as it has only just come online, it may need some time and experiences to fully adapt to its programming."

"Meaning?"

"He needs to see a non-threatening Seeker so that he knows what a one is," Wheeljack explained.

Ratchet frowned. "Okay, maybe I wasn't perfectly clear before: I will not have a Seeker-killing drone in my medbay so long as there is a Seeker in it."

"So what do you propose we do with him?" Ironhide directed the question at Wheeljack.

Wheeljack's wing-blades flicked downward once in irritation. "I don't know, let him wander the base like a guard hound? He'll do his job should that Seeker cause trouble."

"No way is this thing wandering around unchecked." Ironhide shifted into a more battle-ready stance. The drone's optics seemed to focus on him briefly.

"Silverbolt may not appreciate that," Optimus agreed.

Wheeljack grimaced. While he was sure the drone would be able to recognize a comatose Seeker as a non-threat, he wasn't entirely sure Grimlock would be able to regard an awake, alert, Autobot-allied Seeker as the same. That had been a rather last-minute addition to the coding, and he hadn't been able to have Perceptor check his work.

"We can't leave the drone in here," Perceptor said. "We need the work area."

Optimus was rubbing the bridge of his nose in aggravation. "Just give him run of the west wing for now. That way he can still get to the medbay if needed, and Silverbolt can keep his wing away from the drone."

"And how do you propose we keep this thing in the west wing?" Ironhide was still watching the drone, who was now overtly staring back.

"We have blast doors," Ratchet stated.

"When they work, you mean." Ironhide gave Wheeljack a pointed look. The blast doors across the base had never quite been working properly ever since the solar grenade incident.

"What?" Wheeljack replied testily. "At least I took care of the Decepticon problem."

"That could have been done without toting explosives that could level the entire base in your fragging hold!" Ratchet said.

"You're damn lucky the blast doors are the only things still broken," Ironhide growled.

"You did what?" Wheeljack realized that this was the first time Perceptor had heard of this incident.

"For Primus'...would you just drop it already?" the engineer grumbled. He turned to Grimlock, who had been listening attentively for the entire exchange. "You hear that? This is the thanks they give you for saving their lives," Wheeljack muttered.

"Hrrr..." the drone growled, as if agreeing with him. Red optics turned to Ironhide, then around the room to the other Autobots, as if sizing them up once more. Wheeljack had programmed the creature to be a hunter, but it was rather unnerving to him exactly how intently Grimlock was eying the mechs.

Some part of him wasn't sure he wanted to be present to see his drone in action for the first time.

"Well, I'd love to stay for this scintillating discussion, but First Aid is calling," Ratchet said. After receiving a slight nod of acknowledgment from the Prime, he quietly turned, opening the doors with a touch of the activation panel, and left the lab.

Grimlock was moving before anyone could react. Silently, the drone lurched forward, reaching the doors in a single bound. He pulled up short, barely missing ramming his muzzle into the doors, which had closed not a moment too soon.

Ironhide had his cannons trained on the drone in an instant.

The next thing Wheeljack remembered, he was standing where Ironhide had been, while the weapons specialist himself stumbled back a few steps before falling over completely, as if someone had just knocked him aside. It took Wheeljack a few astroseconds to realize that he had been the one to lunge at Ironhide. His wing-blades were raised stiffly, armor plates shifted into an aggressive display, vents cycling at full capacity despite the minimal effort he had just exerted.

'Frag...frag...what was that?' The engineer stood dumbly where he was, shocked at himself. 'I don't even remember doing that.'

The other mechs were staring at him, likewise shocked. Ironhide slowly got himself onto his feet once more and turned to face Wheeljack, cannons still active. "Huh, Sideswipe was right. You really are another Primus-damned 4-Beta, aren't you?" From the look on Optimus's and Perceptor's faces, they had been ignorant of Wheeljack's true classification prior to this announcement.

The engineer was still trying to regain his composure. 'Thanks for announcing that to the world, Ironhide. I've spent my whole life fighting that programming, and all it takes is some idiot threatening my drone to set me off? Primus help me. I'm really losing it.' "And you're just a trigger-happy glitch-slagger, aren't you?" he snapped back. "Give Grimlock a chance before you go blowing his head off."

Ironhide snarled. "Stop fragging calling it that!"

"It's my drone, what do you care what I decide to call it?" Wheeljack could feel his body warming up. Ironhide wanted a verbal sparring match? He would certainly oblige.

"We're Autobots. We don't have slagging spark-eaters in our ranks!"

"At least I don't go around trying to destroy the things that could help us," Wheeljack retorted.

"No, you just go around trying to destroy us."

"Would you stop with the glitching solar grenades already?"

"Sure, when you get your processor in right and stop naming-"

"Enough." The Prime's firm interjection put just enough pause in their argument for the soft sound of opening doors to be heard.

The drone was standing in front of the open lab doors...in his bipedal mode. His hulking frame was easily as tall as a Seeker's, making the doorway seem somehow small. His outstretched finger hovered about the doors' activation panel.

Wheeljack's mind froze. 'He should not be able to transform yet. He should not be able to figure out doors yet.

Primus, what have I done?'

Perceptor turned his optics from Grimlock to Wheeljack. -What did you do to that thing?- he commed, echoing the engineer's thoughts.

-Nothing!-

"There, now he's out to wander the west wing," Optimus said, sounding quite exasperated indeed. "He can stay there until I speak with Silverbolt."

"I don't fragging like that thing walking around," Ironhide repeated.

"Then perhaps you should volunteer members of your squad to keep an optic on him," the Prime replied, a bit testily.

Ironhide made to protest again, but his expression softened a bit. "Not a bad idea, actually."

Wheeljack shifted uncomfortably. "Not Sunstreaker or Sideswipe."

Ironhide gave him a sly look. "It's supposed to fight Seekers, isn't it? I think it can handle a couple of overgrown 4-Beta pit fighters."

The engineer tensed. 'It's not Grimlock I'm worried about.'

"This sounds highly unsafe for everyone involved," Perceptor said.

'Damn scientist needs to stop reading my thoughts already.'

"Better than not having them watch him." Ironhide purposefully strode out of the lab. He glanced at Grimlock, who was investigating the exterior of the door frame, then headed down the hall, away from the drone.

Wheeljack suddenly realized that both Optimus and Perceptor were looking intently at him. "What?"

"That was some...unexpected behavior from a new drone," Optimus said.

Wheeljack grumbled and walked to one of his work tables, searching for something to distract himself with. "I don't know what's going on."

"You must have done something," Perceptor insisted. "This would not have been possible the last time I examined the drone."

"I didn't do anything!" Wheeljack set to work organizing some tools, even though they were already organized. "Just closed up the coding and got some fluids from Ratchet. And some nanites."

"I don't recall Ratchet currently having undifferentiated nanites in his supplies," the scientist said.

"He doesn't."

"Dare I ask where you obtained the ones now in the drone?"

"I would have gotten them from Ratchet," Wheeljack said. "It just would have been a few joors before he had any ready. Which was fine until you brought a giant frozen Seeker in. You wanted the drone now, Ratchet said the nanites weren't ready, so I had to improvise."

"That does not answer my question."

Wheeljack tried to lose himself in reorganizing the tools, to no avail. "Used my own." He tapped a finger against his chestplates once.

Silence reigned.

"You are quite possibly the single most idiotic mech in the history of the Empire," Perceptor stated. "'Didn't do anything,' my aft."

"I did what I had to." Wheeljack looked back over his shoulder at the scientist. "You try pulling base nanites from your core without any assistance some time."

Perceptor's face twisted into an expression of disgust. "There is a reason we utilize nanites from non-sentient sources in drones."

"I know. Like I said, the drone was wanted now. I didn't have a choice."

Optimus was rubbing the bridge of his nose again, optics shuttered lightly. "I think we could have waited," he said in a low voice. "Ratchet could have kept the Seeker in stasis until the nanites were ready."

"You didn't make it sound like that would be an option," Wheeljack said. "Next time, you should be more specific."

"Primus knows you engineers do remarkably stupid things without proper guidelines in place," stated Perceptor. Wheeljack shot him a glare.

"So where does that leave the drone?" Optimus paused at the sound of said drone shuffling down the hallway, much to the startlement of whoever had been there. "Deactivate him?"

"No!" Wheeljack felt his wing-blades rise aggressively again.

"That would be the wisest course of action," Perceptor said. "Those nanites were not meant for a non-sentient drone. There is no telling how they may counter its programming, now or in the future."

Wheeljack clenched his fists. "You touch him and I'll tear your arms off."

Perceptor was clearly imagining the engineer's attack on Ironhide mere breems earlier, but he held his ground. "The nanites could destroy the safeguards we put into its battle programming. Then we would have a war machine running rampant on the base."

"That's what we made the failsafes for."

"The nanites could also destroy those."

"Or they might not. They might not do anything." 'Besides accelerate Grimlock's learning, apparently.'

"It's too great of a risk," Perceptor insisted.

"I'm not going to let Kree...my work be destroyed just like that."

"Then he will be your full responsibility." Both mechs looked at Optimus, who still wore a rather unhappy expression. "You're right, he has been a rather involved piece of work. It would be a shame for all the time and materials to be wasted." He gave Wheeljack a severe look. "You will think of him as your symbiote drone. You will be his caretaker, and should he cause any trouble, it will fall on your shoulders. Do not forget that I also have use of the failsafe. Do you understand?"

Wheeljack was silent. 'Frag, now I'm going to have a Unicron-spawned haroon following me around?' He fervently hoped that did not mean more cyberhawks plaguing his recharge. "Yes. Sir."

Another yelp from a startled mech in the hallway echoed back to them. Optimus narrowed his optics. "Then I would suggest you start taking care of things right now."


He was vaguely aware of not being quite as cold as he had once been. And also of new aches all over his body, wounds he had not been able to feel previously thanks to the paralyzing cold.

Eventually, the aching from his wounds turned into true pain. He tried to ignore it, but as he continued to warm, the pain continued to grow. He whimpered like a tiny Seeklet.

To his surprise, the pain soon abated. He was able to relax. Until the pain returned. Once again, he whined. Again, his pain soon went away.

Someone must be nearby, he reasoned. Someone with the knowledge to stop pain. A medic, perhaps. He decided that he must be in a medbay. But how had he gotten there? Someone must have come looking for him and towed him back to the mining outpost, obviously. Probably one of his wingmates. Cautiously, he felt around with his spark, searching for the familiar spark signatures.

He began to worry when he couldn't name any of the signatures he felt.

'Where am I?'

He had to wait until he was fully online, a frustratingly slow process. Then he opened his optics, and just as quickly closed them again. Whoever had built this medbay had so kindly put blindingly bright lights right above the berths. Grumbling softly, he went to swing his arms up, hoping to move himself into a sitting position. Except that his arms wouldn't move. He jerked his right arm a few times, feeling something catch against his wrist. A restraint device of some sort. He wriggled his legs and found they were likewise immobilized.

"Would you stop jerking like that? You're going to ruin the tables."

He definitely did not recognize that voice. "Release me, then!" he commanded.

"I can't do that." He heard the speaker walk closer, but the view to either side of his head was blocked by the wing-panels coming from his collar, which had been forced up into his line of sight by his awkward on-his-back position.

"Do it or I will do it for you!" He tried to initiate his arm-mounted weaponry...to no avail.

"Please." The exasperation was heavy in the other's voice. "You really think we'd allow a potentially unfriendly Seeker the use of his weapons?"

He strained against whatever was holding him down, and could hear the table creaking as it resisted his efforts. "Why would I be unfriendly to you? I don't even know who you are!"

"Better safe than sorry. Ironhide said you and Starscream-"

Starscream.

"Where is Starscream?" he hissed in a low, dangerous voice.

"Not here, that's for sure."

"Where is he? Is he alive?" He couldn't feel his wingmate's spark, and he could always feel it, even when Starscream was far away.

"Unfortunately."

Again he tugged at the restraints. He could feel something start to give way. "Let me go! I must see him!"

"Not a chance."

'Starscream is here somewhere! He's alive! Does he even know I'm alive? Can he still feel my spark? Why can't I feel his? Where am I? What's going on?' "Take me to him!"

"Definitely not happening."

"Starscream!" He could hear his voice echoing through the walls.

"Primus, would you shut up?"

The next sound that came from his toothy maw was an infamous processor-piercing Seeker shriek.

From somewhere far off in the building, a different, but equally chilling cry answered his.