Okay, I had a gust of inspiration for this story and hence you have a fast update – fast considering I'm writing other stories at the same time, that is…
There's a mention of an event that happened some chapters ago between Starscream and Ironhide. In case you don't remember it, maybe you should take a peek to chapter three. I only say this because I know I had this story in hiatus for a long while and maybe you already forgot about it :oP
Many thanks to my beta reader and friend iratepirate for her priceless help with my grammar. And many thanks to all of you for reading and reviewing. I hope you will enjoy this update.
"OK… explain this to me as if I were ten vorns old," Ironhide stated, appealing to all his patience and doing his best not to spray the hated figure of the Decepticons Second in Command with acid.
The slagger only smirked. "I could try, but I think it would suit your rusted cerebro-shells better if we try the five year old version, don't you agree, old timer?"
Ironhide scowled, the tingle of melting the Decepticon scum's pretty face with his Water-Gun never bigger.
"You will shut that trap hole you have as a mouth, Decepticlown!" Brawn spat as he punched Starscream's face, sending the Seeker to the ground.
Starscream returned calmly to his previous sitting position and leaned on the wall, somewhat laboriously due to the stasis cuffs that kept his arms immobilized behind his back. Normally he would have expressed himself through insults and yelling, but he remained unusually composed, an attitude that both surprised and disappointed his captors.
"Ah, violence… the resource of the fool and the ignorant," Starscream said. "What else could be expected from you warmongers?"
"Warmongers? You call us warmongers?" Ironhide repeated, frowning. "Now it's official… I think ya jus' fried your last functional circuit, Deceptiscum."
Starscream smirked angelically. "Says the bot who can't tell the difference between a red and a green cable... I will spare you the humiliation of going into details, Autobot."
Embarrassment intertwined with anger as Ironhide recalled the incident at the power plant. He had committed himself to forgetting about that, but it seemed like an impossible achievement due to the already bizarre attitude of the Decepticon Air Commander. Ironhide was an old timer indeed; he had seen more than most of his comrades, like, for example, the very beginnings of that cocky flier whose delusions of grandeur were only matched by his speed. Despicable as he was, in all those millenniums Starscream had only been loyal to his ambition and lack of self control, so his current attitude pointed to one single explanation.
"How wasted are ya, Decepticon punk?"
Starscream frowned at Ironhide's question, anger momentarily taking over. "I think I made myself clear last time we met that such wasn't the case! It's quite the opposite, you Autobot fool!"
"Who do you think you're talking to, junk pile?" Brawn growled, grabbing Starscream by one wing and raising a fist.
Starscream calmed down at incredible speed, honouring his fame of being one fragged up and unstable mech. He smirked at Brawn. "Are you going to hit me again, Autobot? Go on. You brutes seem to share the same language."
"We'll see if you keep talking like that when I finish with you, slag-sucker!"
"Brawn, stand down."
Three words. That's all it took for Brawn to release, even though reluctantly, his candidate for a punching bag. But, of course, it wasn't the words, but the mech who had pronounced them.
Starscream addressed the newcomer with the same smirk he would have dedicated to an acquired target. "Why, but it isn't the leader of the Autobots himself… Nice of you to finally show up, Optimus Prime. I have made a number of interesting observations regarding the violent ways of your welcoming committee. I'm hoping you Autobots have a decent complaints box."
Optimus Prime didn't seem impressed by Starscream's words; he was well acquainted with his irony, after all. "Save the acid remarks, Starscream, and proceed to explain the reason for your presence here."
"My voluntary presence here, you may want to rephrase. Don't forget that it was I who surrendered to your troops, and without any violence on my account, I have to add. Your Autobots, on the other hand…"
"Oh, there he goes again!" Brawn spat. "Little lady wings here just can't have a nail broken without making a fuss about it."
"Verbal harassment is just another form of violence. Do you think I can't see all the fear that lies behind your brutish bravado, Autobot?"
"Why you frag face punk—"
"Brawn, I said enough," Optimus Prime stated severely, putting an abrupt halt to Brawn's rant with a single movement of his arm before addressing the prisoner again. "My time is limited, Starscream. I asked you a question and I demand an immediate answer."
Starscream narrowed his optics evilly. "What's so hard to understand? I surrendered voluntarily and peacefully to your valiant forces, Optimus Prime."
"Do ya have any idea of tha kind of slag I can hear in your words, Deceptiscum? What Prime here wants ta know is what tha frag is tha catch." Ironhide said, as eager as Brawn was to pound the Seeker to junk.
"Catch?" Starscream said, laughing. "There is no such thing, Autobot, I assure you… I just gave myself to my noble, former enemies as part of my new, pacifist convictions. I'm done with violence, and thus with war."
Ironhide took Optimus Prime's arm and awkwardly took him outside the cell. "See?" he said in low voice. "Told ya he's acting all weird… He must be up ta somethin'. That, or whatever virus he was carrying in the power plant just got worse."
"Knowing Starscream as we do, he must have his own private agenda. Tell Ratchet to have the Repair Bay ready. I want a full examination of both Starscream's structural and mental conditions. It is clear that Starscream's word is not to be trusted and that we will only obtain the truth by ourselves. And tell Prowl to redouble the vigilance. I'm afraid that Megatron has just thrown us his latest and most twisted scheme."
Starscream didn't remember the last time he had forced his very fragile patience to the breaking point. Correction, he could actually remember. It was that very current and slagging moment. It was true that he had been pushed to insanity countless times during his life, but at least back then he had been able to fight back or put up some kind of resistance. But now, as he lay strapped to a repair berth and was disturbingly being touched by Autobot hands, he was sure his breaking point was about to do that, break in the most memorable nervous attack he could ever recall.
But then he remembered what was at stake and, as always, priorities found a way. He had found a unique way of resistance, and even though it went against all his convictions, it was proving to be as easy as it was rewarding. Just the looks of confusion on the Autobots' faces, for example, were priceless. If it hadn't meant the use of energy that he needed to save, he would have recorded those images in his memory banks. He could always use a good laugh over those stupid, clueless faces.
"We're done here," Ratchet said, approaching Optimus Prime and with a glare that clearly expressed how he would prefer to be dealing with Scraplets than with the enemy Second in Command. "And we found nothing. No bombs, no hidden spy devices, no viruses, nothing… even his processor is working normally. The slagger is as clean as he was the day some lunatic had the wonderful idea of creating him."
"I told you," Starscream said, trying to overcome the discomfort of being in a completely defenseless position. "You would have spared yourselves from wasting all this time if you had listened to me from the beginning. Your distrust doesn't say anything good about your oh so honourable principles."
"There is something, though," Ratchet said, ignoring Starscream. "His energon levels are very low. I'd say he hasn't refueled in days."
Starscream sneered, the moment had come to state his position – and give a start to his amusement. "And just how much time did it take all you Autobot scientists to reach that conclusion? Almost fifteen breems? I'm amazed."
"Give it to Megatron to starve his troops to death," Ironhide said with a mixture of contempt and mockery. "You're not gonna make us refuel him, right Prime? It would be a waste of Energon."
"I couldn't agree more with you on this one, old timer. I won't accept a drop of your Energon, make no mistake about that."
Ratchet turned around and raised a hand armed with a wrench, but Optimus Prime walked towards the Seeker and stepped between the projectile and its intended target. "I will ask you this one last time, Starscream. What is happening?"
It took Starscream a big effort to avoid bursting into laughter. "I started a hunger strike."
It was as if he had spoken in a language no Autobot could compute. Only Optimus Prime didn't look as if he had been hit by Unicron's fist itself.
"Hunger… what?" Wheeljack repeated stupidly, his headfins blinking in confusion.
Starscream rolled his optics. "Just how long have your pathetic lot been on this planet, not to mention in constant contact with the human vermin, and yet you don't know? I said I started a hunger strike! The reasons are not really of your concern, but you should know that I decided to expand my protest to your territory."
Ratchet advanced towards Starscream. Unlike his previous grumpy and somewhat amusing mood, the medic seemed really upset this time. "Do you know at least what a hunger strike is, you insolent punk? How do you dare joke about a serious thing such as this? Humans have died because of hunger strikes, you micro-brained maniac! And there are also the thousands who die because they have no food to energize with!"
"My, my…" Starscream sneered. "How tragic, I am touched… Would you believe me if I told you that my spark is currently being crushed by all those excruciating images, doctor? Yeah, I didn't think so… But that's the case, honestly. And yes, I know what a hunger strike is and its possible consequences, another reason why I assure you this is not a joke. I am not one to play with my life."
"But you surely love to play with our time, don't ya slagger?" Ironhide growled. "Why didn't ya tell us 'bout this hunger strike nonsense from the beginning?"
"Certainly not because I wanted to be handled by you, loathsome losers! Have you heard the word 'molesting'? Now that's another human term you might find interesting!" Starscream spat, elevating his voice only to almost immediately lower his tone. "But now that you mention it, there's an interesting reason behind my initial silence. May I bring to your attention, oh honourable Optimus Prime, the paragraph 716, section Axis, of the no less honourable Autobot Code?"
"What do you know about our code, you frag?" Ironhide said, threatening Starscream with a fist.
"I don't need any reminders about the code that make us Autobots what we are. It's one of the things that separate the followers of peace and justice from the ones who are guided only by ambition," Optimus Prime said severely. Starscream was invaded by satisfaction when he noticed that the Prime had already understood his next move.
"Yeah, I can see just how much you love peace. By the way, yours is a nice rifle, Prime, very fitting of your peaceful convictions… but I shall not deviate from the point that I want to make clear. Am I correct when I say that paragraph 716, section Axis of the Autobot Honour Code states that a Decepticon deserter cannot be treated as a regular Decepticon soldier under any circumstance?"
"You seem to know our code well, Starscream, as much, of course, as it serves to your twisted purposes," Optimus Prime said.
Starscream chuckled. "You judge me hard, Prime, but I won't return you the courtesy. I suppose you are allowed to have a mistaken opinion of my… purposes, considering what has happened between me and your faction in the past. What matters now is that I'm not a Decepticon anymore, and thus the protocol to follow concerning my imprisonment must be adequate to my new status."
"An' what's that status? Insane?" Ironhide said with hoarse voice, unable to stop insulting a prisoner that soon he wouldn't be able to touch.
"Civilian," Starscream said seriously, although the word hurt him more than he had thought. "Or Empty, as we commonly refer to those Cybertronians without a faction…"
"You deserted, then?" Optimus Prime asked. To Starscream's annoyance, the accursed Prime seemed not to be impressed by his speech.
"Yes. I resigned from my position of Aerospace Commander and Second in Command of the Decepticon Empire three solar cycles ago."
Prime nodded slowly. "By resign I assume you mean that you were removed … by Megatron, I suppose."
Starscream shrugged his shoulders, or at least he tried to. Being strapped to the berth did nothing for his mobility, and a lot for his claustrophobia. "You know Megatron. He can be quite… temperamental."
"Not as much as you can be quite a glitch," Ratchet growled, toying with his wrench, more eager than ever to hit Seeker metal.
Starscream recovered his smirk, the satisfaction of annoying his enemies making his confidence arise as if propelled by a thruster. "Don't let your rage cloud your judgment, good doctor. Don't forget that you are dealing with a civilian in the middle of a hunger strike. How would history judge you if you forget about your ancient Autobot principles and hurt a mech who no longer defends the emblem of your sworn enemies? How would Primus judge you?"
"Shut yer trap hole!" Ironhide cried, unable to stand the charade anymore. "Don't ya think we know all this is your fraggin' idea of a sick joke? We won't fall for your game, Decepticon scum!"
"That would be scum alone, pops. Remember that I'm not a Decepticon anymore. My destitution was caused by the Decepticon Commander himself, which makes it as official as it could be. I'm a civilian, record that in your rusted processor. Your brig is not for me!"
"Civilian as you claim to be, that doesn't erase the high treason crimes you committed against your fellow Cybertronians," Optimus Prime said. "Coming here was a bold move, Starscream. I can understand your desperation of not having anywhere else to go after Megatron expelled you, but your criminal record remains the same. Do not expect a privileged treatment because you won't have it."
"Oh, but I expect it, Prime," Starscream sneered, malice darkening his features. "As I said, I cannot be treated as a regular Decepticon prisoner, no matter the crimes you impute me. Your beloved Autobot Code, you see, contains a not so small amount of interesting flaws, one of them the lack of regulations about the protocol to follow with a civilian prisoner. So what are you going to do, Optimus Prime? Impose your authority through might, which would make you the same as Megatron, and lock me in the brig to rust? I would have expected better of your… peaceful ways."
Trapped! The mouse had fallen into the maze, as much as he knew what was coming. The Prime was no fool, but he was starting to realize that his righteousness would become his own doom. Starscream couldn't help but pity the Autobots, their noble ways not allowing them to leave their little zones of honour. The Decepticons, on the other hand, had no limits other than the ones of their own ambition.
All hail Megatron… Starscream thought with certain nostalgia. Don't you believe that I'm not grateful for your teachings, leader, but still you will suffer…
"You will remain in the brig until further notice, Starscream," Optimus Prime said finally. "Consider yourself free to judge my decision unfair, but I am the Autobot Supreme Commander and I have the moral and military authority to decide in cases that our Honor Code does not contemplate. However, know that my decision is not definitive, but don't allow that to encourage you. Decepticon or not, you are a war prisoner and you will be acknowledged as such at all times."
"What about his Energon levels, Prime?" Ratchet asked, not able to hide his preoccupation about a life, as despicable as he found it. Starscream felt like purging his fuel tanks, but he contained himself. He couldn't afford to waste the vital fuel, not even by manifestations of disgust caused by those Autobots fools and their pathetic ways.
"My fuel levels are not of your concern!" Starscream said angrily, shaking within his bonds. "You can call me criminal and do whatever you want with me, but depriving myself of Energon is my right and my decision! You can't force me to refuel!"
"Do you insist on playing with your life, punk? You are more insane than I thought!" Ratchet yelled, losing all patience.
"If tha fragger wants ta starve, I say we let 'im," Ironhide said. "If he dies 'cause of Energon depletion, I'm not one who'll cry for 'im. One scum less to worry about."
"Oh yes, you may be right about that, Autobot, but you are forgetting one very interesting detail."
"Ah yeah? And what would that be?"
Starscream smirked. "That if this scum dies, it will be practicing a valid form of pacific resistance… and it would happen in your base."
Ironhide left his mouth components open. And he wasn't the only one who was out of words, as all the Autobots present temporarily lost the ability to speak.
If anything, Optimus Prime had to admit that the Decepticons were very organized concerning their communications protocol, but it most likely had to do with Soundwave being the Communications Officer rather than Megatron actually giving any importance to the matter.
The leader of the Autobots didn't comm his evil counterpart on a regular basis, but he was certainly relieved that reaching Megatron wasn't such a difficult thing to do, considering, of course, that the Decepticon leader wanted to be reached. But in matters of simple protocol, Soundwave was very respectful whenever Prime accessed Decepticon frequencies – respectful as synonymous of silent and emotionless – and always connected him with Megatron without any delay. This time the case had been the same.
"Prime," Megatron said with tired voice. There were still some signals of the recent battle on his helmet. "You are not one to call only to gloat about your victories. What do you want?"
Optimus Prime straightened in his chair, his glance fixated on the image of his sworn enemy displayed on the screen. "I should ask you that same question, Megatron, as I have in my possession something that belongs to you."
Megatron didn't seem to know what Prime was talking about, but his confusion didn't last more than mere astrokliks. "Ah… so the little cockroach ended up in your base? I should have imagined… But I insist, what is the purpose of your call? Do you expect me to congratulate you for the acquisition of your newest pet vermin?"
"I want to know what in the Universe is going on," Optimus Prime said severely, his humour worse than his composed façade. "Starscream comes here, surrenders and claims that he has started a hunger strike. What kind of twisted scheme are you planning this time, Megatron?"
"This is no scheme of mine, I can assure you. If you want answers so much, I suggest you go and ask the striker himself."
"I already did, but Starscream has been very vague."
Megatron's face relaxed, amusement starting to take shape on his features. "Well, perhaps you haven't been persistent enough. In order to have the right answers, you should start to ask the right questions."
Optimus Prime could feel his discomfort increasing. He usually didn't have second thoughts about the quarrels that happened constantly between Megatron and his unstable Second in Command, but when he and his Autobots were trapped in the middle of whatever sick game they were playing, of course he had to take a personal interest in the matter.
"Starscream says you expelled him from the Decepticon ranks."
"And he didn't lie."
"Was it because of his… hunger strike?"
Megatron leaned forward, his face acquiring his usual angry features. "No. I kicked him out because the traitorous junk pile revealed confidential intel to the enemy. Or what? Do you expect me to believe that your victory today was the result of your brilliant battle strategy? Please!"
"It is true that we received an anonymous codified message with the information about your strike on that power plant…" Optimus said with lower voice.
"Well, now you know who you have to thank for that. Now, if that was all you wanted…"
"Wait!" Optimus Prime said severely. "The reason why I commed you was because I want to reach a mutual agreement concerning Starscream. I can't keep him in this base under these circumstances."
"And why not? He's your prisoner now, isn't he? Oh… I see what you mean. Since he's not a Decepticon anymore, you cannot apply the rules of your obsolete code with the severity you would want… Poor Prime, such a big dilemma you have between your hands. You would save yourself a lot of trouble if you just simply terminated your prisoners without giving any importance to their allegiance. One shot to the head and you would spare yourself of all those demagogic politics. There's no doubt you will lose this war if you insist so much on maintaining the ancient, useless regulations of the Golden Era."
Optimus Prime found it very hard to ignore Megatron's last remark, but he did. "I am talking about Starscream's hunger strike, Megatron! Aside from whatever twisted reasons he may have, his strike is serious, as his low fuel tanks demonstrate. I can't allow him to starve to death in my base, especially if the cause is the practice of a pacifist way of resistance."
Megatron smirked. "And what do you expect me to do, Prime? To get him off your back? Now that's quite an unusual petition, considering where we're standing. I don't recall the last time you asked a favour of me, but most of all, I don't recall the last time I granted one to you."
"I can actually recall the first case. As for the second, spare me the need to remind you just how much of a liar you have been every time I have tried to reach an agreement with you."
"Now you make me sound like a tyrant… All right, you win. I'll make an exception this time and will actually do you a favour. No insignias right now, Prime, and definitely no tricks. Do you want help? Fine. Here you have it. I have some advice for you, some friendly advice, as bizarre as it sounds. Follow it, and you will save yourself from an unnecessary amount of problems. Disregard it, and you will find your doom."
Optimus folded his arms across his chest. Anything containing the word friendly coming from Megatron was beyond surreal indeed, but Prime knew his sworn enemy too well to know when he was being honest.
"I'm listening, Megatron."
Megatron's smirk increased. "Hit him."
Now that was something that Optimus Prime was definitely not expecting. "What?" he said, unfolding his arms.
"Hit him," Megatron repeated as if he were talking about the most normal thing in the Universe. "Beat Starscream up before he settles the conditions of the game, because believe me, he will if you let him do so. A good beating in the right moment can be the difference between keeping the little clown under control or allowing him to gain power. Starscream has a way with words and he will use them to his advantage, no matter how much your Autobots hate him."
"That's…" Optimus shook his head. "I won't even bother telling you what I think about your… advice. I should have known you would come up with that kind of solution. Why does it have to be violence that guides every one of your steps?"
Megatron laughed. "Now you sound like Starscream… Maybe he did the right thing coming to you. Who knows? Maybe he will find his inner Autobot."
Optimus Prime was close to crashing his fist against the console of his computer. "This is no joke, Megatron! I don't want to harm Starscream, and yet your way to reach an agreement is telling me to beat him?"
Megatron stopped laughing, but he kept his smirk. "All I'm saying is that if you want Starscream to listen to you, you have to make him respect you. And I speak from experience when I tell you that the only way to embed respect into his glitched processor is through fear. Make him fear you and your battle will be won."
"I'm starting to understand why Starscream started his hunger strike, Megatron…"
"The main reason is because he's a stupid child, and you will be even more stupid if you fall for his pathetic game. But now that I think about, this could prove to be very interesting…"
"So you find this amusing?" Optimus' optics narrowed. "The mech that has been your Second for millenniums is starving to death and you find it amusing?"
Megatron shook his head slowly. "No, I find it amusing that you have just become Starscream's new experiment. I pity you, Prime, I really pity you."
"I should have known that trying to talk to you was nothing but a waste of time," Optimus said, reaching out to the button that would end the communication.
"Speak for yourself. I, on the other hand, found this conversation highly entertaining. Thank you for lightening my day, Prime, I must admit I wasn't in the best mood before you called me."
"My response to your gratitude will come at the proper moment, Megatron, and in the proper shape. Is there some more wisdom you want to share with me before I forget we ever had this conversation? Perhaps some other friendly advice?"
"Advice? Such as being careful of irony because you only exposed just how angry and out of resources you are? Not what I would expect from your righteouskind."
"Alright, alright… Advice, you said? What about if I call your attention to a certainty, instead?"
Optimus Prime was close to rolling his optics. "And what would that certainty be?"
One of the most evil smirks that the Autobot leader had ever seen formed on the facial features of his sworn enemy. "Starscream is your responsibility now. He's at your base, a civilian with nothing left to expect but the decisions you will make regarding his life. If he starves to termination, that will be because you allowed it. You let him in, Prime, now face the consequences."
Something cold ran through Optimus Prime's back, reaching the very core of his spark.
"And don't you forget: Starscream is your problem now. Don't ever bother me regarding this matter again," Megatron spoke again before ending the communication.
The burden of leadership had always been a heavy weight to carry, but suddenly it had become very, very, uncomfortable…
To be continued.
No more long hiatus for this story, I have many ideas for the following chapters. See you soon and please review if you liked.