Disclaimer: I, in no way, shape, or form, own the Transformers© franchise or the characters it contains. All publicly recognizable characters are copyrighted to Hasbro, and the respective artists/writers/et cetera. No infringement intended.

Continuity: Generation One (G1) cartoon-verse

Characters: Megatron, Starscream, Hound, Jazz, Optimus Prime

Warnings: None.

Author's Note: Criticism encouraged, technical points preferable.

--

Monument Valley, Utah

Fundamentally, long distance patrol was boring. It primarily consisted of cruising over featureless, dull landscape, uselessly burning energon on the off chance that maybe, by a quirk of fate, someone might just happen to be meandering through that particular area, up to no good. Or up to some good, really, as the case would be. It was all relative to perspective.

In fact, he'd go as far as to claim that it was, indeed, meant to be boring. It gave the unlucky spark chosen a mindless task, burning energy and fuel to wear out any potential insubordination that may, or may not, be festering deep inside their hard drive. Convenient, really, that one could be so easily shoved away, removing the mutinous threat from the uncontaminated whole. Convenient indeed.

Perhaps that was bitterness on his part. To bad he didn't give two frags at the moment.

Starscream drifted listlessly over the dusty earth, lazily dogging a pair of frazzled birds towards the ruddy walls in the slim chance they might splat against the rough surface. No such luck; the tricky little avians darted into one of the numerous crevices, effectively escaping his spiteful hail of gunfire.

Tipping his nosecone up, the Seeker pulled out of the gap between so-called 'mountains', thrusters screaming as he kicked in high gear. The tedious sight of seemingly endless rock disappeared, replaced by – gasp – flat, monotonous dirt and scraggly brush, only broken by more hideously random lumps of stone. Oh, such an improvement.

Leveling out, the Air Commander nudged to the left, hugging to the lip of the wind-sculpted rock. In either direction, he saw nothing amiss – though where Autobots were involved, such things could not be taken at face value (or so Hound had taught him, by unfortunate experience). Following protocol, he checked his radar, looking for any intruding signals. Of course, there was absolutely nothing there. There was nothing there, namely, because there was no reason for anything to be there, because ultimately, this was a mock-up patrol.

Starscream, despite many arguments to the contrary, was intelligent enough to know when he'd been given a superfluous mission.

The nerve of that rusted junk-hugger. He felt threatened by Starscream; that was the only explanation. He was afraid that, left to his own devices, the illustrious Air Commander would attempt to overthrow him. Which, in retrospect, he probably would, but that wasn't the point.

The problem was that he had been a pest. A fully-justified, incredibly annoying, scheming pest who had, true to form, pushed just a little too far over that implicit line

And thus, mighty lord Megatron sent the would-be usurper on this waste of a patrol, letting him cool his thrusters a bit over the bleak expanse of American desert. Sending his best flier, his second, his slagging Air Commander out to monitor empty sand and stone. This was grunt work! Surely a ground-pounder squad, with a low ranking cone Seeker for aerials, would have been better suited for the task. It was Starscream's place to be at the base, assisting with the scheming, directing his fellow jets against the Autobots.

The Seeker's turbines whined as he put on a burst of speed, remembering making that same argument not three groons ago. He had tried to reason with Megatron, reminding him that he was the fastest flier in all the Decepticon forces…

Only to be met with that self-satisfied little smirk, and the snide, "Then this should be over quick enough, Starscream." And the impetuous, oh-so-human little 'shoo' motion – ugh! Earth was rubbing off on the bucket.

Unable to concentrate on his delegated task, the jet slowed, cooling himself off and cruising on as little energy as possible, drifting away from his course to loiter over open ground. Despite the apparent slowing, the monotonous landscape whipped past his nosecone, dust rising in great billows in his wake. He was taking quite a risk, exposing himself on all sides, alone as he was.

Of course, it wasn't like anyone was going to take a shot at him.

Even if there had been a point to the mission, or if Autobots had miraculously shown up, he needn't be overly concerned with a fight, being able to just fly away from the earthbound 'bots. A long distance circuit was mostly just reconnaissance, gathering information on the natural habitat of earth, checking for any resources. Scientific work, to be exact. Another subtle barb from his leader, no doubt – or so thought the frequently paranoid second.

Being scientifically oriented as the Seeker was, it also gave Megatron an explanation, if anyone was foolish enough to ask for one. Call him what you will, the Commander knew how to cover all his bases.

Consequently, Starscream found himself quite solitary, surveying all manner of scrub and freakishly abundant organic sub-species. Earth truly was an unsystematic place, if anything – so many climates and creatures and inconsistencies. Cybertron was much more preferable, being all-but universal in its design and structure.

Not to mention one never got birds in their intakes back home.

His internal chronometer beeped once, indicating it was time for another radar sweep. After a brief interval of consideration, he turned off the alarm. Time to give up the ruse of surveillance. It was pointless to continue looking for what was simply not there. Instead, he let himself enjoy the diversion of leisure flying, slowing to his minimum speed. The sensitive leading edges of his wings fed a steady stream of information to his sensors, the relaxing, familiar sensation quieting his indignation for the moment.

Dipping his right wing, the jet swung slowly about, banking seamlessly around a rather pathetic outcropping of craggy rock. If taken at such an angle, he could almost imagine it to be the back of Megatron's head…

The entertainment value soon faded as the smoke cleared, revealing a rather smaller boulder in the midst of the rubble.

He circled his 'sculpture' once, inspecting his handiwork. Alas, the diversion only broke the tedium slightly. There were still several more groons to go before he could start heading back to base.

With that sobering thought, the jet petulantly turned back the way he had been heading. He still had miles of useless dirt to evaluate. Who knew – if he were lucky, maybe he'd run into some tourists.

Though that was probably too much to hope for. Fleshlings had the irksome habit of only turning up when it was completely inconvenient. And here he was, with an eternity of empty free time to play with, and…

The strikingly colored Seeker paused his train of thought, his engines stalling briefly to punctuate the lapse. The idea churned through his mind, soaked into his CPU. If he really thought about it, this was a sort of leave time. All he had been told to do was to look for Autobot activity – which he had done – and check for energy sources – which he had also done. He was, as of the moment, a free 'con.

Revving up his thrusters again, the Seeker continued forward, mulling. It had been quite a while since he had had time to himself. Usually, any free moment was spent completing some command-related errand or other before it had time to really become an issue, or spent in a recharge berth.

Amazingly, he found himself vaguely uneasy about having no task to occupy him. He was directionless, with nothing to nitpick at, no goal upon which to orient himself. Just … space.

Well, technically he had a task, but all the same…

Giving in to impulse, the jet blasted to the right, the wind from his passage flattening the sparse vegetation. He rolled aside with laughable ease, neatly skirting a large bit of brush, before corkscrewing up and bobbing around, cockpit to the ground. His gyroscope went mad; his pressure sensors practically sang; his equilibrium gyrated riotously, sending a wave of something akin to what humans would call 'adrenaline' through his systems.

Elated, but self-conscious at the indulgent maneuver, he rotated back into an upright position, swinging back on course. Uneasily he scanned the area for enemy movement, just in case one of those blasted menaces he called trinemates had decided to ghost him out there, no doubt in the hopes of playing some asinine prank.

He bobbed again in relief. Not a hint of fellow aircraft on his radar. No one saw his brief bout of misconduct.

Still, it had been rather exhilarating, pointless though it was. He could remember when he used to play often—

But such games were for fresh-sparked fools. He was a Decepticon elite, a warrior Seeker, through and through. He had no use for fancy, inane maneuvers. Certainly not.

The jet, reaffirmed in his cause, continued on his projected course, studiously ignoring all that empty, wasted airspace right above him. What if someone saw him frivolling away energon like that? Starscream, Air Commander of the Decepticon Air Fleet, second only to lord Megatron, playing sparkling's games – ugh, he'd never live it down.

But there isn't anyone to watch me. The traitorous thought latched on, flashing brief memories of such exercises through his databanks.

He contemplated the idea.

It wasn't that much of a waste, really; he had more than enough energy to spare. Their energon supply had recently gone up, resulting in a looser rationing.

And there was all that big open sky, there for the taking.

He wriggled his wing flaps gently, as if to shake off the silly urges. "I have a patrol circuit to complete." The Seeker told himself sternly, thinking that perhaps having it vocalized would somehow firm his resolve. He would just finish his route, head back to base, and ignore that empty, unused blue over him.

... Slag that.

Starscream snorted, tipping his nosecone upward and firing up his afterburners. Up the jet shot, nearly vertical as he climbed higher and higher, into the thick of the flimsy clouds. The moisture clung to his plating, dust and dirt running off in pencil thin streams to fall to the dehydrated earth below. A smattering of droplets touched his finely tuned pressure sensors, sending strange readings through his body. Oddly enough, it was a rather pleasing sensation, adding another layer to the addictive satisfaction of flight

He was built to fly; he might as well enjoy it.

Once he was satisfied with his height, as his sensors began to warn of the cold, cold expanse of space overhead, the Seeker stalled his engines, seeming to hang effortlessly in the empty airspace. He let go of the F-15 form, shifting back to his robot body, limbs hanging slack at his sides. His optics clicked offline.

Then gravity kicked in.

The Decepticon gave in to freefall, thrusters toward the ground, steadily reaching terminal velocity. His radar altimeter turned on, tracking the approach of the ground versus his current speed.

Through the diaphanous layer of condensation he went, the sensations reversed. Every system clamored to turn on his thrusters, to reverse the plummet his body was taking.

Not yet.

Below the cloud cover, now, the warning signals began to tingle through his internal sensors, GPWS making itself known. It prickled along the leading edges of his wings, making his energon pump convulse and thud faster, preparing him for impact.

Almost…

Five earth-seconds to the 'point of no return', he transformed back into his F-15 form, firing his engines and afterburners hard and fast. With a heady sense of disorientation, he jerked to a halt as gravity and momentum were pitted against the opposing force of his shrieking engines, and shot back up.

He laughed maniacally at the eggshell blue of the sky, exuberant in his moment of triumph. That had been… thrilling. And he still had groons to spare.

Gleeful, the jet pulled out of his climb, whipping around hard enough to make his G-force gauge blip.

Unable to contain the juvenile 'whoop' of excitement, he barrel rolled to the side, basking in the feeling of air rushing around him. His energon pump continued working double time, a rush of energy over-sensitizing his systems, finely tuned sensors relishing the relayed barrage of information. Dipping his left wing sharply, the jet swung back around, spiraling in a headlong rush toward the earth again.

At the last moment, he arced out of his rush; flying with one wing pointed the ground for but a moment, denying him lift. He leveled out again, taking a few astroseconds to get his bearings, and to allow his ever-too-responsive gyros to stabilize.

Task completed, Starscream proceeded to drop down past the lowest safe altitude, disregarding the buffer fleshling pilots gave themselves. His optics picked out the fleeing forms of the ridiculously small, fragile organics, breaking cover to escape the anomaly that had, quite unexpectedly, dropped from the sky.

In foolish abandon, the jet drifted as close to the dirt as he dared, nearly touching the ground. A slight rise in the landscape would send him spinning and broken, certainly, but what was the fun in playing if there was no risk?

It had the desired effect; rocks and creatures went flying, lifted off the ground by jet blast.

Tilting himself out to a diagonal flight path, the jet again shot into the open air, executing daring loops and spirals and dizzying spins no sane human pilot would dream of attempting. He played chicken with mountains, tore apart the fragile clouds until disjointed wisps remained, and left vast swaths of blasted desert behind him, for the sheer fun of it.

With recklessness, he even went so far as to play at the fleshlings' maneuvers, things of little practical value that they were. Pugachev's Cobra was rather fanciful, and the Immelmann turn struck him as somewhat silly for the loss of speed, but potentially useful if tightened up a bit. Perhaps the air shows Skywarp had insisted on dragging the trine to watch weren't an utter waste of time.

Bored with nearly-suicidal stunts, he playfully turned toward the unfortunate natural residents once more. Like some horrendously disfigured raptor, he circled indigenous wildlife, driving the organics into fits of terror, their squeals drowned out by the screech of his overworked engines. He burst out in uncontrollable, undignified sniggering when he startled a pair of vultures so badly that one actually dropped out of the sky. He managed to send a turtle spinning into a ravine merely by blasting over its head.

He probably would have been terribly embarrassed if he realized he was being watched.

--

"I don't believe what I'm seeing," Hound said with deliberate slowness, watching the moonstruck Decepticon as he, apparently, tried to catch his own vertical stabilizers in a fit of aerial loops. Turning away from the rather graceful, if manic, display, the jeep regarded his lone companion. "Are my optics broken, or has the universe finally gone wacky?"

Jazz took a long, uncharacteristic moment to respond. Frowning mightily, the normally voluble 'bot replied. "I think he's—"

The Autobot was interrupted by another fit of rather frightening laughter as the wayward Air Commander dropped like a rock and began to harry a terror-stricken jackrabbit.

Jazz couldn't help himself; he chortled. "—playing." It was a ridiculous concept. Far-fetched, even. But honest to Iacon, he couldn't explain it any other way.

The two watched the Decepticon for a few moments longer, before sliding carefully back into their chosen outcropping, crouching in the shadows. The concave nature of the dip would mostly shield them from Decepticon radar, so long as they didn't move around too much. Of course, it was doubtful that the lone Seeker was paying any attention to his surroundings, given his activity. "Well?" Hound queried, glancing upward to confirm the madcap jet wasn't overhead. "What do we do?"

"We do what we were sent to do," Jazz opened up radio with the Ark, his mouth set in a puzzled smirk. "Prime? We found him."

"What is he up to?" Optimus' voice crackled back immediately, tense and ready for the worst. And for good reason: when one of Megatron's personal staff showed up, it usually boded ill for the Autobots. Doubly so if it were the second himself.

Of course, as soon as the hint of a Seeker over the midsection of the states came upon the Autobots, they had sent out two small scouting teams. Jazz and Hound happened to be the first to track down the unexpectedly lone jet, confirming that it was Starscream. To a one, the Autobots decided that the Decepticon Air Commander could be up to no good, and had immediately set upon trailing him across the landscape, warily holding back to figure out what nefarious deed he was up to.

They hadn't really expected this.

"Well, Prime, I can't think of a better way to put it," Hound drawled, moving in to regard the small screen. "Ol' Screamer's… playing."

There was a long silence. Then, a rather confused, "What?"

"For the last few breems or so, he's been chasing down bunnies and birdies, but we have yet to see any world domination schemes come outta that one." Jazz bemusedly grinned at Prime's disbelieving stare, crawling back up the slope. "Maybe you should take a look for yourself." With that, the lieutenant held up the radio, screen outward, to give Optimus the view of a lifetime.

There was no audible response for a long moment. Then, "So it would seem."

"So, uh, should we slag him?" Hound asked uncomfortably, glancing again at the sky. Even as alone as the jet apparently was, the jeep-former didn't like the idea of opening fire on a possibly insane Seeker with plenty of cluster bombs for the dropping.

Jazz pulled the communication device back down again, gauging Prime's reaction. He wasn't disappointed.

"I don't see a reason why we should," Optimus replied, somewhere between amusement and bafflement. "If he tries anything that could be a threat, open fire, but… as it stands, I don't believe we have anything to worry about for the moment."

"Right, right. Should we still ghost him?" Jazz asked, reclining in the slope.

"Yes," Prime nodded the affirmative, and then hesitated, uncertain. It wasn't often that Prime was thrown for a loop, but it did happen occasionally. Jazz made it a habit to collect those moments. "Do you know why he's…?"

Fixing the screen a grave stare, Jazz answered readily. "Not a clue."

--

Flying in lazy loops, the Seeker contemplated quietly over the landscape. Though still monotonous, it held a certain austere allure. Certainly, it wasn't a beautiful place, as he understood the term and to his own sensibilities. There 

were simply too many… organic things for it to hold an aesthetic charm to the sparked and raised Cybertronian. The disarray of carbon life couldn't hold a glow stick to the exquisite magnificence that was his home planet back in its glory days.

No, the dirt ball simply didn't compare. Sand and stone couldn't catch the light of the single star quite the way the proud towers of Vos did. It didn't glow with the inner light of Cybertron, didn't thrum with a life all its own. Even if it were just a memory, Cybertron was beautiful in a way Earth never would come close to matching.

Yet, this place somehow appealed to him, on some introspective level. Perhaps the openness, the sheer barren brutality of it all, spoke to the jet. It was as—

\Starscream!\

Startled, the Seeker listed wildly, reverie broken by the radio hailing. Acting on long habit, he flicked on his own end of the connection, falling back on the usual routine. \I'm busy, Megatron.\ He worked in as much of a snide tone as he could without dipping into the hostile, treading that thin line he had spent millennia defining.

Megatron didn't rise to the bait, suitably distracted by whatever calamity had driven him to hail his snubbed Seeker. \Where are you? I need you back here,\ The indignant leader shouted back, his vocalizer conveying his readiness for a cold shoulder and a blistering retort from his spurned second. It was a shrewd expectation – after all, he had insulted the Air Commander's dignity, sent him off on a fraudulent patrol… and given Starscream's penchant for grudges, it was to be expected.

Unbeknownst to Megatron, he had caught Starscream in a rare good humor.

Of course, that only carried so far.

Feeling a need to be cheeky, Starscream dredged up his sweetest voice, responding brightly, \I'm currently on long distance patrol over the region of—\

\Never mind that. Return to base, immediately,\ There was a slight pause, followed by a preemptive strike of sorts, \Don't argue with me. I'm in no mood for it. And do not make me come looking for you.\

\Of course, leader.\ The Seeker responded with the barest trace of his habitual malice, banking sharply to put him on the most direct route to the underwater headquarters. He fired up his engines, putting on as much speed as he could toward base. Obviously, there was some crisis or other that needed tending. It was inevitable that he would be called back; Megatron couldn't seem to go long without commanding him to do something, whatever the status of their ambiguous rapport.

Like it or not, Megatron knew Starscream was adept at his job. That was why he always took him back, or so it was speculated. It certainly wasn't for their enjoyment of each other's company.

He thought the radio connection was cut for a few moments, and nearly closed his end, when a skeptical voice cut him off.

\…That's it?\

\I'm en route\, Starscream responded, somewhat archly.

After a suitable, unconvinced pause, Megatron's voice growled back, \Well, hurry up\. And the channel immediately closed with all the grace of a slammed door.

The Seeker snorted, having half a motherboard to open back up communications and start a screaming fight with his Commander. Such verbal clashes were hardly uncommon. He truly doubted he'd catch much flak for it back at base. If the need were dire enough, Megatron wouldn't care much for his second's insubordinate squabbling – so long as the jet got there at all.

Toying only briefly with the notion, Starscream shut his radio down again, determined to enjoy his last stretch of free time. And once whatever disaster brewing was resolved, he intended to have a long talk with his 'superior' about future long distance patrols.

After all, he'd always wondered if there might be energy deposits in the Himalayas.