Wow! I am on FIRE! Metaphorically speaking that is! Thought I'd go ahead and get this chapter out there. I'll be in job training in the upcoming few weeks, so time to write will be, like, nil. I hope you guys are enjoying the story thus far! I promise it'll get better! Let me know what ya think!

Chapter 8: Heights and Hates

"Screamer says we will be leaving at nightfall," Skywarp said, walking up to stand behind the young girl. She had heard his approach long before he said anything, resignedly expecting it as the ground trembled slightly with his weight. Their size and stature still intimidated her just a little, but overall she had come to terms with the fact that if these beings were going to harm her, they would have already done so. But instinct was still hard to overcome.

"Whatever," she replied, not even bothering to turn and look at him.

"What's your malfunction, femme?" Skywarp asked, taking a knee beside her. His optics studied her hard and for once he traded his care-free attitude for a more serious tone. Ever since their escape from the air base, he had slowly been picking up on her mannerisms—her behavior, her attitude, tone of voice, and body language. This human seemed more depressed than Dead End and as angry as Motormaster on the losing-end of a battle with Optimus Prime. She didn't act nothing like her creator and it greatly puzzled the dark Seeker. Weren't squishies supposed to pick up some of their creators' traits through heresy, err no wait, heredity, or some fancy word like that?

Maria did turn and look at him at that. Her grey eyes were hard like slate as she replied, "What do you mean?"

"You're nothing like your creator," Skywarp said, voicing his thoughts, "You act like Megatron after he's just gotten his aft beat by the Prime. What's got your tailfins all bent out of shape?"

She continued to glare at him saying, "I don't know what you're talking about," and then turned back around to stare out across the desert.

Skywarp withheld a growl of frustration, this human reminding him quite poignantly why he had grown to hate humanity in the first place. Ok Warp, let's try a different approach, the reason you came over here in the first place. "You haven't even asked about your father-creator. Do you know where he is or what happened back there?"

"No."

"No?"

"Is there an echo out here? I said, 'no' and nor do I care!"

Her last words caught him by surprise and temporarily suppressed any anger that had flared up at her tone. "What!? Why? You're his offspring! Don't humans usually care about such…things?" he said, looking at Maria sharply.

"Usually, yes, but in this case I don't give a rat's ass what happens to my father. As far as I'm concerned my life would be better off without him; it certainly was before." She turned and gave Skywarp another hard glare, her eyes only reinforcing the bitterness behind her words. She took in the stunned expression on his faceplates and decided to elaborate.

"Look. I've only known…Stinger…for like, a couple months, OK? His wife Carla is not my Mom; my Mom died in a car accident three months ago. Stinger met her when they were in college; they had a fling and BAM! I'm in the picture. He goes one way, me and my mother go the other and I don't hear jack-shit from that man for years and then all of a sudden he wants to step in and be my father!? Sorry, that doesn't work with me. If he's disappeared again, that's no big surprise to me."

"I know Stinger," Skywarp growled, "He'd never abandon anyone that he thought needed help and I don't see him abandoning his family unit. Do you still have that beacon?"

"What?" She asked, brow furrowed before remembrance hit her. "Uh, yeah," she said, pulling the tiny piece of metal from her pocket and glancing at it.

"Well that's how I found you," Skywarp spoke sharply. "And I'd bet my last batch of high grade that you didn't activate it yourself, did you?" She shook her head.

"I thought so. I gave your father that piece and I know he'd only ever use it if he got his stabilizers in a bind. Now I don't know about him abandoning you before, but I do know he wouldn't do it now."

Resentment flashed in her eyes and the young girl flushed angrily, she temporarily forgot she was arguing with a 30-foot tall, walking weapons platform and let loose with all the pent up fury a teenager could harbor.

"Do you think I even care!? How did you even meet—Wait. You know what? I don't want to know. I'm better off not even knowing. Just take me to these 'Autobots' or whatever they're called and let me move on with my life!" And then she turned on her heel and stormed off back towards the warehouse, blonde hair trailing behind her.

Skywarp stood back up and growled lowly to himself. That…that…femme…was absolutely infuriating! Not even so much as a 'thank you for saving my life' or repairing her arm from injuries she inflicted herself! But the fact that she wasn't even interested in making an effort to find Stinger was what made Skywarp's circuits sizzle with pent-up rage. She didn't even want to know how they had met. Slag, it almost would have been better if he had never rescued her in the first place. If it wasn't for the fact that he had made Stinger a promise to look after the girl, he would have gladly put her out of her misery then and there.

Skywarp heard the gentle grinding of shifting sand and turned to see Thundercracker walking toward him. "On second thought, I think it's a good idea we're taking that fleshbag to the Autobots," the black Seeker muttered sourly. "Did you happen to hear any of that?"

The blue Con nodded his head. "Much trouble, that one," he rumbled. "The 'Bots will have their servos full that's for sure." He placed a black-enameled hand on his wingmate's shoulder.

"Huh. Well for once Screamer had a good idea. Better them than us," Skywarp groused.

"Come on, Warp. Let's just leave her alone for now. We don't have much longer to enjoy her company," the blue Seeker replied drolly.

Skywarp glanced at the blue Seeker and then turned to walk back to the opposite end of the warehouse, wings hitched in agitation. Thundercracker followed suit, pausing briefly to stare at the door from which Maria disappeared from sight.


Nightfall came quickly, much to the relief of the three metallic beings and their human guest. Maria had kept to herself most of day and though she was terribly famished, she opted not to comment on the situation. After her and Skywarp's discussion earlier that morning, none of the Cybertronians approached her, for which she was grateful. It kept her from having to dwell on the past two day's events. Every time she did think about it, she felt a little twinge of guilt for not at least wondering if Stinger or Carla were all right. After all, what little bit of time she had spent with them, they had tried relentlessly to make her feel welcomed and cared for. But then she would remember all those years when it was just she and her real mother and the bitterness would return, mixing with the guilt to create a volatile mash of pent-up frustration and anger.

She would catch glimpses of the mechs moving about, one or two of them often taking flight, only to return a few hours later to repeat the process. There really was no point in trying to run away again. Her arm still hurt like hell and with the robots apparently running some type of patrol, she knew she wouldn't get very far. As the hours passed and she busied herself with rummaging through old files and forgotten books, Maria would catch herself wondering just how her father had come across Skywarp and his two "friends." It had to have been work-related. What had Stinger done to get along with these guys?

Skywarp and Thundercracker seemed friendly enough—well, if you could call the blue jet's eternal stoicism "friendly"; that one really hadn't spoken to her since she awoke earlier that morning. And as for Skywarp, Maria knew they didn't see eye-to-optic about her father. Just as well. Her opinions were her own as were her feelings and no giant, metal tin-man was going to change that. It was the red jet that made the girl extremely edgy. While the blue and the black robots had made a somewhat decent effort to be civil to her, the red one made no secret of the fact that he absolutely loathed her. She didn't see him often, but when she did and their eyes met, she saw nothing but pure hatred. As far as she was concerned, the sooner she made it to these Autobots, the better.

Outside the sun had set in a fiery display of color—rose, magenta, oranges, brisk yellows, cool blues and vivid violets highlighted the sky against a nearly black, desert horizon. The time for departure was nigh at hand. Seeing as how Maria really didn't have any belongings with her, she waited somewhat impatiently in the room where she had woken in the company of "TC" and "Prawsky." Skywarp and the one called Starscream had left hours previously; she imagined they were only waiting for their return. Hollow footsteps sounded just outside the door; she turned in time to see Thundercracker's holoform walk through the doorway. She didn't say anything, just watched warily as he approached her. He stopped a few feet shy of her and held out his left hand. His fingers were clasped loosely around a small, square folded piece of brown paper.

"Take it."

Maria still stared, a little unsure of his intentions. Finally she reached out and took the offering. She unfolded it only to realize it was a brown, paper bag, like what her old elementary school lunches used to come in.

"What's this for?" she asked genuinely puzzled.

The slightest hint of a smile crinkled the corner of one of his lips. "Trust me. You'll need it. Just don't be afraid to use it," he said turning to leave.

"What do you mean?" Maria asked, still not completely understanding. He turned slightly and raised an eyebrow. "You wouldn't want anyone purging their fuel tanks on you, would you?" Outside the twin roar of jet engines streaked overhead before lessening and then growing in volume once more as Starscream and Skywarp circled for their approach.

She shook her head, brow still furrowed.

"Well, neither do we." And he disappeared.

Still bewildered Maria decided to head outside, the bag held tightly in her palm; it was nightfall after all. Starscream and Skywarp were just touching down, fully transformed, dust and small bits of sage twirling around their thrusters in a series of mini-dust devils.

"Are we ready?" Thundercracker's booming voice sounded from behind her. Startled, she watched as he approached from the opposite end of the warehouse, stepping high above her like a hiker over a fallen limb. She ducked instinctually, not really partial to having a giant metal foot hovering over head, cautious or not.

Starscream nodded, "Autobot forces at the Ark are at a minimum. Let's get this over with." He transformed once more, leaping into the sky and shooting away like a SAM. Skywarp transformed as well, but he remained ground-bound, canopy open in expectation. Suddenly Maria understood why Thundercracker had given her a brown, paper bag.

"Oh, hell no!"

"What? What's the matter?" Skywarp asked, rocking slightly on his landing gear.

"There's no way I'm riding in that!" Maria protested, backing away slightly. She loved watching fighter jets, but that didn't mean she wanted to ride in one, especially one that was technically "alive."

"You rode in me before," Skywarp argued, paused and then added, "…Oh, wait you were offline."

Maria gaped wordlessly, her head shaking firmly. "No. No. I won't do it. I'm afraid of flying, I don't like heights, and I really, really don't like you!" She turned to run, but didn't get nearly as far as she did the first time. In fact, Maria didn't even get the chance to take a step.

She felt something grab the back of her shirt and lift her up off the desert floor. She kicked, she twisted, she thrashed but all the girl succeeded in doing was make an absolute fool of herself. She saw Skywarp's cockpit slide into view beneath her and had just a moment to prepare herself before falling a few short feet into the seat. She landed with a loud "oomph," the breath knocked out of her from the impact. The cockpit quickly closed, preventing any further escape attempts. Angry eyes followed the withdrawing hand of Thundercracker, the culprit responsible for foiling her escape. He transformed next to his wingmate, rear thrusters glowing faintly in anticipation of take-off.

"All righty then, now that that's settled," Skywarp's chipper voice cut through the radio. "I'd put those restraining harnesses on if I were you," he added, beginning to roll forward.

Maria just glowered at the console, but did as told, slipping into the thick straps and buckling them in place. As soon as the last click was heard, Skywarp hit his afterburners and rocketed into the sky like a black, screaming banshee. The poor girl suddenly found herself pinned to the seat unable to even lift an arm to cover her eyes in fright. The paper bag was crinkled tightly in her palm. With a sudden jolt, Skywarp banked sharply to the right, diving as he went. By this time Maria had finally found her voice and she was screaming with gusto.

Now Skywarp knew she wasn't exactly screaming for joy, but he figured she owed him for at least saving her life. At the very least this was payback for her fragged-up attitude. Had she said a simple "thank you" the ride might have been a little more, shall we say, boring, but as it stood, Skywarp was still a little irked by the girl's attitude towards him and towards Stinger. And as juvenile as it was, this was Skywarp's way of teaching her a lesson—whether she realized it or not. At least it made him feel better.

"Are we having fun yet?" he called over his speakers.

By the sound of the continued screaming, I'll take that as a 'yes.'

The ground rushed up to meet them only to fade back down into the depths of darkness, the black Seeker shooting into a straight vertical climb, nose pointed at the stars. Maria's vitals were through the roof and her face was as pale as ash. He decided to chide her just a little more. "See it's not that bad, is it?"

But he never gave the girl time to answer. Abruptly, Skywarp cut his engines and began to pitch over backwards, hurtling them both back towards the ground.

"OhmyGodOhmyGodOhmyGod…!!!" followed by more intense screaming ensued. Her volume was at audio receptor-shattering pitch, but oh, it was so worth it!

"Oops, looks like I forgot to fill up!" Maria stopped screaming long enough to gawk in disbelief.

"Pleeaasse tell me you're kidding!" she squeaked, terrified.

"Eh, I forget from time to time. Oh, well. Crash landings aren't that bad—oh, wait. I've never had a squishy in me before when it happened. Just hold tight," he added casually, as if crash landing were an everyday occurrence for him (although back in the early days of the Academy it was another story). And just to add a little dramatic flair to his performance, Skywarp began to barrel roll violently to the left. The screaming had resumed.

'Skywarp! What in Primus's name are you doing!? Trying to scare the fleshling to death?' Thundercracker's voice broke into his com-link.

'How'd you guess?' Skywarp sniped right back, continuing his fevered downward descent. He heard Thundercracker grumble something in response, but the black Seeker was now focusing all his attention on his last and final trick of the night.

"Hang on fleshy! It's gonna be a rough ride!"

"We're gonna die! I'm gonna die! OhmyGodOhmyGod—Ahhhhhhh!!"

Skywarp smirked to himself, running last second calculations for confirmation. The dark, foreboding desert floor reared up to meet them. Maria's eyes dilated and she froze in horror as it seemed they really were going to nose-dive straight into the ground. She closed her eyes waiting for that last, sudden impact that would end her life.

The instant Maria closed her eyes, Skywarp engaged his slipstream drive. The black and purple Seeker teleported just as his nosecone seemed to kiss the desert floor. A flash of vivid, violet light briefly illuminated the rock and cacti-strewn ground, only to have the jet reappear several miles away cruising at altitude on Starscream's right wing.

A wave of nausea washed over Maria at the sudden disorientation. The first thing she noticed was that they were still flying, thus she was still alive. The second thing she noticed was how terribly queasy she felt. With hurried, clumsy fingers the teen unfolded the squished and wrinkled bag and promptly began filling it. Granted she had had nothing to eat for hours, but that still didn't stop her stomach from telling her just how much it did not appreciate her right now. It took some time for her heaves to die down, but after about five minutes of straight and level flight she was able to speak once more.

"I'm…still alive?" she gasped, spittle dripping from her chin as she risked a look up. The girl looked absolutely wretched. Her hair was splayed wildly about her head, some of the damp tendrils even clinging to her face and chin. Her eyes were red and moist and her skin was damp and clammy. Her breaths were still somewhat ragged, but it appeared she had caught a hold of herself.

"Yep," came Skywarp's chirpy reply, as if nothing had ever happened.

"You did all that on purpose." It was more of a statement.

"Yep."

"I. Hate. You."

"Feeling's mutual."

And so they flew in silence for the remainder of the trip.


**Autobot Base**

"I still think we should have put up those surveillance cameras in Sector 7-Delta."

"Would you just cool it, Red! It'll be all right. Stop your worryin' already; we've got more important things to worry 'bout," Inferno said, holding his head in one hand. Things had been relatively quiet for the past two hours (not including Red Alerts complaints)—that is compared to earlier that day. Both bots were nearly exhausted from the constant monitoring of activity and radio relays they had had to perform in the interim. Most of the Autobots were currently out answering calls on various reports of Decepticon activity that had suddenly sprung up since early morning. And boy, had it been odd occurrences too! First Starscream and Skywarp were spotted over Seattle and then Skywarp and Thundercracker were in San Francisco; next Thundercracker was reported all the way south in Los Angeles—and so the pattern continued, always one or two of the Seekers over a major city, never leaving until the Autobots appeared within city limits.

No shots were ever fired either, which Inferno found particularly odd. Skywarp loved terrorizing the humans now and again; even Starscream took malicious joy in causing mayhem where he could. As for Thundercracker, well the blue Seeker wasn't as blood-thirsty as his counterparts…but still it was very odd that the Seekers were out and about and not causing some form of chaos. These sightings seemed absolutely pointless as well as random. Not to mention it was the first actual Decepticon sighting in months. If I didn't know any better, I'd say it was almost as if they were trying to dis—

"Decepticons inbound!" Red Alert's voice broke into Inferno's musings. Instantly the fire engine was on full alert.

"Where?"

"Sector 4-Bravo. Looks like Starscream and Thundercracker. They're inbound and they're coming in fast!!"

"Alert Optimus and the others! Tell 'em to get their crankcases in gear and get back here pronto! I'll grab Bluestreak and Brawn and see if we can hold 'em off." And then the fire truck was gone racing down the Ark's main corridor comming the aforementioned Bots as he went. Inferno was afraid this would happen. Autobot forces were stretched horribly thin at the Ark. It seemed his musings had proven true; the Seekers "hide-and-go-seek" game was a ruse to draw them out and make their base vulnerable to attack. Well, that wouldn't happen! Not on his watch! He'd beat them to the punch.

"What is it, Inferno?" Brawn called, quickly transforming to catch up with the speeding engine.

"Decepticons! Starscream and Thundercracker. There're headin' this way!"

"I've been hopin' to kick a little Decepticon can lately!"

"Well here's our chance, partner!" Inferno whooped, racing out into the fresh air, Brawn hot on his wheel wells. Bluestreak was already outside, waiting for them. Together the trio raced for Sector 4-Bravo, pushing their engines as fast as the terrain would allow. Above all else, they needed to stall the Decepticons long enough for some of the other teams to return.

"There they are! I see them!" Bluestreak announced, transforming and skidding to a halt.

"Good optics, kid. Now git up into those rocks and do what you do best!" Brawn encouraged, him and Inferno transforming just as quickly, blasters drawn. On the horizon two dots were quickly streaking across the sky, vapor trails tailing the two jets like kite strings. But there was something off about the whole situation; something that Inferno had been mulling over since the sightings had began. Why were there only two Seekers?

"Be on the look-out," he warned. "I don't see Skywarp anywhere."

He and Brawn were now standing back-to-back, each Autobot trusting Bluestreak to provide cover fire should the black and purple jet suddenly appear, as he was known to do.

Starscream easily picked out the three Autobots and smirked to himself. His plan was going perfectly. If these three goons were the only Autobots sent to intercept them, then Skywarp would have no problem warping to the Ark's entrance and dropping off their "package." But then again this was Skywarp he was referring to—he was a walking example of what human's had termed Murphy's Law. Slag, maybe they should just change Skywarp's designation to Murphy and be done with it.

"Shall we mix it up a little, Thundercracker?" the red Seeker asked blandly.

Thundercracker chuckled. "I've always enjoyed watching Autobots dance. Sure, why not?" As the Autobots drew down on them the two Seekers quickly diverged, one climbing straight up and the other barrel rolling across the sky to come at the tiny group from the opposite side. Thundercracker quickly banked and prepared his approach. Meanwhile Starscream had reached the apex of his climb and was now preparing to dive, null rays charged and ready. Together the two Decepticons swooped in on the Autobots strafing their feet with laser fire, watching with smug satisfaction as the Autobots hopped and skipped about in a desperate attempt to avoid their fire. Even Bluestreak was having a hard time getting a bead on the Seekers, an occasional, well-placed pot shot from Starscream spoiling any attempts thus far. Together the two Seekers swooped, banked and dived on the Autobots always strafing, but never quite landing a solid hit on any of them. The battle continued like this for at least two breems and it was beginning to piss Inferno off.

"Stop dilly-dallying around, you Deceptibums and fight like mechs!" He hadn't been able to hit one of those Primus-damned Seekers yet!

"Why haven't they hit us yet? It's not like they haven't had plenty of opportunity!" Brawn said, turning his head just a bit to speak to Inferno.

"You know how Decepticons are!" Inferno quipped, snapping off a shot to his high right, "They couldn't hit the broadside of a barn of their best of days!"

"Yeah, maybe for the regulars, but this is the Command Trine! What gives?"

Suddenly all three Autobots' emergency comm. frequencies crackled to life. The frenetic voice of Red Alert quickly filled their audios. "Inferno! Brawn! Bluestreak! Anybody! Come in, quick! Skywarp has just landed outside the Ark's entrance! We're under attack! I need help, quick!"

"Well that explains the sucky aim! Let's roll!" Brawn called, transforming and quickly breaking ranks with Inferno, who was hot on his heels. Bluestreak did his best to distract the Seekers from his rapidly retreating friends, but for the most part it was a futile effort. Almost as if the Decepticons were reading the Autobots' processors, Starscream and Thundercracker broke off their attack and retreated in the opposite direction. Baffled but now concerned for Red Alert, Bluestreak transformed and tore off after Brawn and Inferno's dust trail muttering to himself, "Primus I hope Red's all right…Cause if he's not all right then it'll be all our fault for leaving him alone, but what choice did we have…I mean it was Starscream and Thundercracker after all…"


"Do you think he pulled it off?" Thundercracker asked while impatiently waiting for Skywarp's return. He was anxious to say the least. Even though every formidable Autobot was at least 300 miles away, he was still worried that something would go wrong. It was Skywarp after all—trouble seemed to follow his wingmate like the contrails from his thrusters.

"Primus, I hope so," Starscream answered. The two Seekers were perched on a broad butte not too far from the Autobot base, in fact, just outside maximum scanner range. Not two astroclicks later, the distant air shimmered and wavered with violet light, the black Seeker appearing seconds later. He transformed and landed in front of Starscream, a lopsided grin on his faceplates.

"Whoo! Glad that's over with!"

"She's still functional, I hope," Starscream sniped, remembering the wild thrill ride Skywarp had given the human.

"Oh yeah, she was fine. A little wobbly," he said, wavering his hand, "but functional. Although I doubt she'll ever try flying again." He shrugged his intakes.

"Good," Starscream said, "At least now we're rid of the little wretch. Let's get back to the Nemesis before we're too greatly missed." And he jumped into the air, not bothering to wait and see if the other two were following. Skywarp and Thundercracker looked at each other and exchanged shrugs, leaping into the air and following close behind their wingleader. Their plan had been successful and now they could focus on the more trying issues at hand.