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Windblade stared at the blue and silver form curled up on on the recharge berth in front of her, a look of confusion bordering on contempt on her face. "How long is he gonna recharge, Mom? Did you get a lazy spark or something?"

Drillbit chuckled and patted her shoulder. "All sparklings rest a lot for the first few cycles, Windblade. They're building their energy for testing their new bodies out later. Now I have some things to do, so will you watch Thundercracker for me and call me if he wakes up?"

"Why not just wake him up now?"

"Sweet-spark, he needs his rest. Just keep an optic on him but let him be, all right?"

"I guess..."

"Good girl." She squeezed the young femme's shoulder before hurrying off.

Once Drillbit was gone, Windblade leaned on the end of the berth near her co-creation's feet, staring at him. She didn't understand why Drillbit and Whirlwind were constantly going on about how adorable he was -- he was actually kind of ugly, with his too-big optics and olfactory sensor and blocky blue helm. The fact that his vocalizer was online and snoring as he recharged didn't really help matters, either.

She sighed and picked a little at her arm plating, recalling that conversation she'd had just a lunar cycle ago with her parents...


Drillbit's cheerful grin wavered slightly, but stayed put. "What do you mean why, dear? Aren't you excited?"

"Why do I need a brother?" she insisted. "Aren't I good enough?"

"It's not about you being good enough, Windblade," Whirlwind said firmly, folding his arms across his cockpit. "You're our creation, and we love you. That won't change because you have a brother."

Windblade's gaze moved back and forth between her parents in disbelief. They had to be joking, right? This was some kind of payback for all the pranks she'd pulled on them over the cycles, wasn't it? But Drillbit only looked cheerful and hopeful at the announcement, while Whirlwind wore his customary stern expression. They were totally serious about this... and worse, they expected her to be fragging HAPPY about the news.

"I don't want a brother," she complained, sitting down on the floor and hugging her knees to her chest with a scowl.

"Sweetie, I thought you were tired of being the only sparkling in the residential sector," Drillbit said coaxingly, leaning forward in her chair toward Windblade. "This'll give you a playmate..."

"I don't NEED a playmate," she insisted, which was partly true. While it did get kind of boring being the only child around, she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself.

Drillbit looked appealingly toward Whirlwind. A tall and sturdily-built brown femme with a scarlet visor and a mining-vehicle alt mode, she had an easygoing nature that unfortuantely didn't lend itself well to "tough parenting."

Luckily Whirlwind, an orange Seeker with a stern humorless outlook on most matters, was able to pick up from this point forward. "Whether or not you need a playmate is beside the point, Windblade. Your mother and I have already made the decision. And you'll be expected to treat your co-creaton kindly, especially for the first deca-cycle until he adjusts to being here. Understand? No pranks."

Windblade huffed. "Yes, Daddy," she grumbled.

"And if you start tormenting him for no reason, there'll be serious consequences..."

Well, that just killed all the fun of having a sibling right there. What fun was it going to be having a co-creation around if she couldn't pick on him just a little? She wouldn't HURT him, just play with him a little. It was how she showed affection -- if she didn't pull an occasional prank on someone, it was because she didn't think they were worth her time.

Wish they'd gotten me a turbo-puppy instead of a brother she thought annoyedly, and kicked at the end of the recharge berth.

She must have kicked harder than she'd intended, because Thundercracker's optics blinked to life at that moment. Oops. She got ready to bolt in case he started screaming at being woken up...

Thundercracker blinked a few times, then raised his head a little and looked around. He looked oddly thoughtful as his gaze took in the former guest room that would soon be refurbished to serve as his permanent quarters. Then he turned to look at Windblade, that same thoughtful look on his features.

"Who are you?" he asked.

Windblade just stared back for a moment. She didn't realize sparklings this young could talk yet. "Uh... I'm Windblade. I'm your sister... uh, co-creation. You're my little brother."

"Oh." He seemed to ponder that a moment, then smiled a little. "I'm Thundercracker."

"Hi, Thundercracker." She fell silent again. What kind of conversation could you have with a sparkling this age anyhow, one who didn't even know anything yet?

Luckily, Thundercracker solved that problem for her. "Where's our creators?"

Our creators. This was good. He already seemed to comprehend that they weren't just his creators, but hers too. This wouldn't be quite as bad as she thought. "Dad's off doing flight maneuvers with his Seeker trine, and Mom's fixing the main computer in the house..."

"What's a Seeker trine?"

She giggled. "You got a lot to learn, TC."

"TC?" He considered the nickname for a moment, then seemed to decide it was acceptable. "Then could you teach me?"

A wide grin crossed her face. "You bet." Looked like having a little brother would be a lot more interesting than she first thought.

Thundercracker supposed that having an older co-creation around was a handy thing. Once his energy levels were finally high enough for him to be mobile, he took to following her as much as he could, absorbing everything she told him and filing it away to process and review later. Windblade had a vorn-and-a-half of experience over him, after all, and while she was a long way from an adult upgrade herself, she did have a healthy store of information on the world around her and was eager to pass it on to her brother. Drillbit and Whirlwind stepped in to educate him and correct Windblade's information where it erred, of course, but it was nice having a teacher who was closer to his own age.

That didn't mean she never got on his sensory circuits, however.

"MOM!" Windblade howled. "TC's hogging the couch!"

"I was here first!" he insisted, looking up from his handheld video game to glare at her. He wasn't sure why, but he found he played better when in a horizontal position, and since his creators complained about tripping over him when he lay on the floor to play, the couch was the next best place.

"Windblade, let your brother have the couch," came Drillbit's reply. "You can sit on a chair."

"But he's always taking the couch!" Windblade complained. "How come I never get a turn?"

"Just wait until he moves," Drillbit ordered, a pleading tone to her voice. "He won't be there all day."

Windblade waited until Drillbit had left the sitting room, then turned to glare at Thundercracker. "She's just spoiling you 'cause you're the youngest, you know."

"Shut up," Thundercracker huffed, turning back to his game.

"MOM! TC told me to shut up!"

"Windblade, Thundercracker, PLEASE," Drillbit said exasperatedly, marching into the sitting room. "Can't you two be civil to each other for two minutes?"

"I AM being civil!" Thundercracker retorted. "She's just being annoying."

"I am not!" Windblade shrieked.

"Both of you quiet!" thundered Whirlwind, striding in at that moment. "Go to your rooms! You can come out when you can act like sentient mechanisms instead of animals!"

Windblade shot Thundercracker a fiery glare. "Scraplet."

"Rustbucket," he retorted.

"Children..." Whirlwind said warningly.

Thundercracker stomped as loudly as he could toward his room, the alloy floor ringing with each step. Why did Windblade like to get him in trouble so much? Half the time when he received a punishment, it was because his sister had goaded him into something. If she liked being in trouble so much -- and she was disciplined enough for pranking their creators that he was beginning to think that -- then let her get herself in trouble, but he just wanted to be left alone and play his games or read in peace.

He continued to stew over it as he flopped onto his recharge berth, but soon the game recaptured his attention and he shunted his frustration to the back of his CPU. He could be angry at Windblade later -- right now he had a high score to beat. Just fifty thousand more points...

"Whatcha playin'?"

He looked up to see Windblade standing beside his recharge berth, peering over his shoulder. "Go 'way," he mumbled.

"I just asked," she huffed, and stepped back a pace, though she gave no indication that she intended to leave his room. He ignored her and kept playing, directing the tiny Seeker on the screen to navigate the maze of buildings and hit the right targets.

"Wow, you're pretty good at that," Windblade noted, bending over to get a better look.

"Thanks," he replied absently, more focused on the game than on her. "It's the new Wings Over Cybertron game, Squad Commander. I've almost got the high score."

"Cool." She cocked her head to one side. "What are those diamond-shaped things?"

"Air mines," he replied. "You get points for shooting them, but if you're too close when they blow up you lose shields."

"Oh." She flopped down on the edge of the berth. "Maybe you can show me how to play sometime."

Thundercracker gave her a funny look. "You want me to show YOU how to do something?"

"Sure," she replied with a shrug. "I've never played video games."

"It's just... kinda weird," he told her. "Usually you're the one having to show me how to do things."

"Well," she said with a disparaging grin. "I don't know EVERYTHING." She hopped off the edge of the berth. "I better get back to my quarters before Mom and Dad notice I'm not there. Oh, and TC? Sorry for getting you in trouble."

"That's okay," he replied out of reflex, and was surprised to find that he meant it. Why couldn't he stay angry at his sister for too long?

"See ya," she told him as she hurried for the door. Once she was gone, he focused on the game once more. Ten thousand more points...

"Thundercracker, Windblade, refuel time!"

With a groan he paused the game and set it aside. Typical. He was always being interrupted when the game got to the good part. He swung his legs over the side of his berth and slid off...

"AUGH!" The moment his feet hit the floor there was the sound of an explosion, making him jump... and that set off another horrific SNAP under his feet. He kept yelling and jumping in surprise as every impact with the floor made his audials ring with the exploding sounds. There could be only one explanation for this -- while in his room, Windblade had dusted the floor with snap powder, one of her favorite prank materials.


Only the faint glow of her optics betrayed her position as she slipped cautiously forward, pressed against the wall and taking each step with infinite care. There was her target dead ahead, relaxed and completely oblivious to imminent attack. He would regret letting his guard down, especially out here in the open like this...

She reached into subspace and gripped her weapon, making sure it was still there before continuing her slow but steady approach. Just a little further, and she could spring to attack. Just a little bit further, and her prey would be hers.

The target lifted his head a little, and she froze, wondering if she had made some sort of sound that had given her away. But after a moment she saw his shoulder joints relax and his head droop again, and she gave a fierce grin before tensing for the final pounce. This was it, victory was hers! A crouch, a leap, and...

"WINDBLADE!" Thundercracker shrieked as she landed atop him, wrapping one arm around his neck in a headlock and using her free hand to pull the shard of frozen nitrogen out of subspace and stick it in a gap in his neck joint. It wouldn't do any permanet damage to him, but it would give him a serious case of the chills until the substance finally evaporated.

"Gotcha!" she cackled, and poked him in the side seams where she knew he was ticklish.

"Get off!" he shouted, writhing beneath her. "I was THIS close to beating the final boss, too!"

"You and your silly video games," she chided, continuing to tickle him. His shouts soon gave way to reluctant giggles, and he arched and wriggled in an effort to break free from her grasp.

"Windblade, play nice with your brother!" Whirlwind snapped, entering the sitting room at that moment.

"I am!" she insisted.

"Sitting on him and putting him in a headlock doesn't constitute 'playing nice,'" Whirlwind said sternly.

"I'm not hurting him!" she huffed, but she let go of him anyhow and got to her feet. Thundercracker rose to his hands and knees, shook his head briefly, and looked up at their creator with a sheepish grin.

"Thundercracker, did she hurt you in any way?" demanded Whirlwind.

Windblade shot Thundercracker a warning look, but Thundercracker was looking at their father and missed it. "No, Dad."

"Are you sure?"

"We were just playing."

"All right. You two do your roughhousing in the courtyard from now on. We don't want broken furniture." He strode out.

Windblade snorted through her facial vents. "It's not like there was fluid leaking anywhere..."

"Let's go out to the courtyard," Thundercracker interrupted, standing and subspacing his video game.

"What? No boss fight?"

"I can do that later." He grinned eagerly. "I wanna beat YOU in a boss fight."

"Yeah, like that'll ever happen," Windblade chuckled, and she dashed for the courtyard, Thundercracker right behind her.

Thundercracker stared up at the bright chrome archway hanging over the doorway to the Decepticon Youth Academy, his fuel tank feeling as if it were full of gravel. He'd seen holos of the building before, of course, and even seen it in person when Drillbit had brought him along when dropping Windblade off for classes. But today was different. Today, for the first time, he would be entering those doors himself, taking his part in the classes and learning the data necessary for him to survive and thrive in the world... and to serve the Decepticon cause. It was an exciting, frightening prospect, and it nearly overwhelmed him.

The glyphs etched into the metal boldly proclaimed the Academy's mission statement for all to see -- KNOWLEDGE IS THE KEY TO VICTORY. He read it over a couple of times, committing it to his memory banks but not really absorbing the meaning. Then he shifted his datapads in his arms a bit and hurried up the steps. Being late for his first day wouldn't make a good impression.

"Just don't embarass me, okay?" Windblade told him as they walked side by side into the school. "Stay with kids in your own level. And don't bug me during breaks."

"Why?" he asked. "Is it against the rules?"

"No, but it'll get us laughed at," Windblade replied. "You can walk to school with me, but that's it." She spotted a couple of femmes chatting and laughing near a statue of what looked to be the Academy's founder -- some weird one-opticed mech named Shockwave -- and nudged Thundercracker away. "I gotta run. You know where your first class is, right?"


"Good. See ya after classes." And she rushed toward her friends, leaving Thundercracker to stand there and stare blankly after her.

Well, he supposed he was on his own now. He looked down at the top datapad in the stack he was carrying to find his class schedule. History of Cybertron was first, and it was two corridors down from here...

"Hey, it's a newbie."

Thundercracker looked up from the 'pad. Two mechs were approaching, nasty smiles on their faces and a casual, cocky saunter to their strides. One was over a head taller than he was and broadly built, with a dull gray body highlighted here and there with purple. The other, skinny as most femmes but with a tough and nasty air, gleamed violet and beige, with gaudy gold trimmings that marked him as the creation of the Towers District. Both of them wore unpleasant smiles as they strolled over to Thundercracker and regarded him with folded arms and glowing optics.

"...hi?" Thundercracker said nervously, stretching his lip plates in what he hoped was a smile.

"What junkyard did you crawl out of, scraplet?" the skinny one demanded, baring his dental plates in a fearsome smile.

Thundercracker opened his mouth to answer, but his vocalizer failed him.

"First day of school, huh?" the bulky one grunted, pacing around him like a cyberwolf sizing up its prey. "Didn't know they were letting newbuilts sign up fresh from Vector Sigma."

"I'm... not a newbuilt," he managed to get out. "I'm a vorn old. That's old enough for school..."

"Aw, he's a vorn old, he's a big boy now," cackled the skinny one, and he gave Thundercracker's stack of datapads a sharp rap from underneath that sent them scattering. "Listen up, scraplet, newbies answer to US here. You do as we tell you, and if you don't or you mouth off or if we just don't like you..."

"You'll wish you'd never been sparked," sneered the bulky one. "Got it, shorty?"

Thundercracker felt his optics burn as cleaning fluid threatened to leak from them, but he managed to fight off the urge to cry and bent down to pick up his datapads. But the bigger mechs wouldn't leave him alone, and the bulky one planted a foot in his side and bowled him over, laughing.

"Astrotrain asked you a question!" the skinny one barked. "You gonna answer or what?"

"I... uh... I..." The burning feeling came back, and Thundercracker stared at the floor, trying to formulate an answer.

"Hey, look at me when you talk to me, scraplet!" the skinny one demanded.

"Leave him alone, Blitzwing!"

The skinny one -- Blitzwing -- whirled around with a stunned expression, as if shocked that anyone had dared address him. Upon spotting the speaker, however, he cackled and planted his fists on his hips.

"Defending the scraplet, Windblade?"

"Defending my brother, drone wannabe," she snapped, storming forward until she was a mere handspan from him and jabbing her finger into his chestplate. "You leave him alone right now, you here me? I don't care if your creator is on the High Council, that doesn't give you a license to pick on other kids!"

Blitzwing swatted her hand away. "Don't touch me!"

An evil grin crossed her faceplate, and she poked his shoulder with a finger. "Why not? You don't like being touched?"

"Knock it off!" growled Blitzwing, backing away. Thundercracker hurriedly retrieved his schedule datapad before the bully could step on it.

"I'm not touching you!" Windblade said in a singsong voice, holding her finger just centimeters from his face. "I'm not touching you, I'm not touching you..."

"Astro, hit her or something!" Blitzwing demanded.

Astrotrain hesitated. "My creator says it's impolite to hit a femme..."

"Who gives a slag, just hit her!" Blitzwing howled.

Astrotrain shrugged, then pushed past Thundercracker with his fist raised to punch her... but gave a startled cry and fell on his faceplate as Thundercracker launched himself at his leg, grabbing it and tripping him up.

"You're gonna pay for that, scraplet..." Blitzwing began, but cut his threat off with a howl of pain as Windblade "accidentally" jabbed him in the optics with two fingers.

"Oops," she said unconvincingly. "I touched you."

Astrotrain picked himself up off the floor, brushed his chestplate off, and glowered at Thundercracker, who scooted away hurriedly. "Forget this," he muttered, and stomped off. Blitzwing trailed behind him, but not without a last venemous glare back at Windblade. She just gave a sweet smile and a cheerful wave, as if saying goodbye to a boyfriend.

Once the two bullies had left, Windblade bent down and helped pick up the fallen datapads. "You okay, TC?"

"I thought you weren't supposed to talk to me," he replied, confused but grateful for the help.

"Well, someone's got to make sure you don't scrap yourself," she pointed out, handing him his chemistry and History of Cybertron datapads. "I'll walk you to class just this once, okay? After that, you're on your own."


"Now c'mon, you're gonna be late." And she grabbed his hand and half-dragged him along.

Thundercracker feared for awhile that he'd made enemies in Astrotrain and Blitzwing, but after that day they limited their harassment to a few hissed threats and plenty of heated glares. They never again tried to physically intimidate him in school. Then again, the fact that Windblade walking him to class "just this once" turned into an everyday occurance might have had something to do with that. Despite what she had told him that first day of school, evidently she felt her responsibility as an older co-creation took precedence over any sort of social rules.

"Is it gonna hurt her?"

"No, Thundercracker, the transfer is completely painless."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure."

"She's not going to die or anything?"

"Thundercracker, mechs are upgraded all the time. It's a perfectly normal process."

"She'll still remember me, right?"

"Yes, her memory banks will be completely intact afterward."

"Are you sure?"

"Thundercracker, why don't you play your game for awhile? It'll take your CPU off of things..."

"But I can't concentrate."

"Just relax. It won't take long, and Windblade will be right out when the process is finished."

But Thundercracker couldn't relax, and he kicked his feet and squirmed with nervous energy as he and his creators sat outside the workshop where Windblade was receiving her adult upgrade. He occasionally leaned toward the doorway where Windblade had vanished, straining his audials for any sound that might hint at what was going on in there, but either the doors were soundproofed or the technicians were being awfully quiet as they worked. And despite bombarding his creators with constant questions about the upgrading process, he still didn't know nearly enough about it to feel at all comfortable with it.

Sure, Thundercracker knew that upgrading was just part of growing up for any Cybertronian. But still, the thought of having his spark, lasercore, and CPU cut out of his body and placed in another shell sounded more like something out of a horror holovid than a natural part of mechanical life. And knowing his sister was in there, with technicians digging around in her internals, was circuit-wracking...

Heavy footsteps rang against the alloy floor, and Thundercracker jerked up straight in his seat as a thunderous bellow flooded the room.

"I was told my triple-changers would be ready by now! What's taking so long?"

"They're almost ready to be reactivated and released, Lord Megatron," a technician assured him, rushing out with both hands raised in a placating gesture. "Installing the CPUs and lasercores in a body with multiple alt modes is proving tricky..."

Thundercracker's jaw dropped as he stared at the newly arrived mech. THIS was Lord Megatron? The leader of the Decepticon Empire, the one whose voice he'd heard on countless broadcasts and whose face he'd seen on countless vidscreens and in all his history datapads? He couldn't tear his optics from him -- he was HUGE, bigger than he'd seemed onscreen, and seemed to exude a commanding aura as he stormed into the waiting room and let his burning gaze sweep the chamber.

Whirlwind and Drillbit immediately stood, arms raised in salute. Thundercracker didn't know if he needed to do the same, so he just remained where he was and continued to stare.

"At ease, Squad Commander Whirlwind," Megatron ordered. "What are you doing here?"

"One of my creations is being upgraded, my Lord," Whirlwind replied, inclining his head toward the silver mech.

"A triple-changer?"

"No, sir, a Seeker."

"Ah." Megatron nodded, smiling at that news. "The Decepticon Empire is always in need of Seekers. Our flying soldiers are our key to keeping the Autobots subjugated."

"Yes, sir," Whirlwind replied.

Megatron's gaze moved to Thundercracker, who scooted back in his seat as if hoping to hide from those intimidating scarlet optics. "This is the creation being upgraded?"

"This is our youngest creation, sir," Drillbit informed him. "Our elder creation is in the labs. She should be out any moment now..."

As if on cue the doors to the labs opened, and a green and silver Seeker stepped into the room, walking slowly as if unsure of her footing. Thundercracker tore his gaze from Megatron to study the new arrival. She gleamed brightly, her plating free from the scratches and nicks that even the most fastidious mechs tended to acquire on a daily basis, and her newly acquired height and her broad wingspan were somehow even more intimidating to him than Megatron's presence had been. The sister he had known all his life had been, by all appearances, replaced...

But the moment her optics rested on him, he realized that despite the upgraded body, this was still very much Windblade. The smile she offered him, brimming with good-natured mischief, could belong to no other.

"Heya, scraplet," she chuckled, reaching his side in two long strides and wrapping an arm around his neck, grinding her knuckles into the top of his helm.

"Get off!" he shouted, but couldn't help but grin.

"Windblade, behave yourself," Whirlwind barked. "You're in the presence of Megatron!"

"I am?" She released Thundercracker and turned to face the bemused Decepticon leader. At once her hand flew to her helm in salute and she clicked her thruster-heels together. "Sir!"

Megatron barked a laugh. "Your creation has spirit, Whirlwind! She will serve us well!" He nodded at Windblade, then at Thundercracker. "Let us hope both your creations have inherited your flight programming, Squad Commander. I suspect they will be valuable assets once they have both received the proper training."

"Sir," Whirlwind replied, nodding.

A technician poked his head out of the labs. "The triple changers are ready for your inspection, Lord Megatron."

"Finally," Megatron growled, and he strode off, the doors snapping shut behind him.

Windblade grinned. "I thought he'd be scarier."

Whirlwind gusted a sigh. "I see getting an upgrade hasn't matured you as much as I hoped it would."

"Even an upgrade can't change her base personality, dear," Drillbit said with a smile.

Windblade laughed and hoisted Thundercracker up to her shoulders, carefully arranging his legs around her newly acquired wings and shoulder vents. "C'mon, TC, let's go home."

"Hey Blue, what's up?"

Thundercracker glanced over one shoulder... and saw only his shoulder vent. Scowling, he twisted his neck joints further in an effort to see behind him. This new Seeker body was going to take more getting used to than he'd first thought, but Windblade insisted the difficulties were worth it...

A black and violet Seeker stood behind him, waving. "Hello, Blue. Ain't seen you around here before. New?"

"Name's Thundercracker," he replied, turning around to face the other mech, mindful of his wings -- he'd already whacked a femme by mistake today when suddenly turning around. "And can I help you?"

"What, a mech has to have some sort of ulterior motive for just saying hi to a stranger?" the black mech demanded, voice thick with mock hurt, and he pressed a hand over his cockpit. "You wound me, Blue. You cut me deep."

"It's Thundercracker," he repeated, a little annoyed. For some reason many younger mechs had picked up the practice of calling other Cybertronians by color until learning their names, and while many found it convenient, Thundercracker personally found it rather annoying. Especially since one couldn't swing a dead turbofox on Cybertron without hitting a blue Seeker, it seemed...

"Thundercracker's a vocalizer-ful, though," the black mech replied. "What am I supposed to call you if I'm in a hurry? What if an Autobot's swinging an energo-sword at your head? By the time I'm done saying 'Thundercracker, duck!' we'll be scraping your CPU components off the floor." He grinned brightly despite the macabre nature of his last sentence. "You can call me Skywarp." And he extended his hand.

"Hey Skywarp," Thundercracker replied, shaking the proferred hand. "And I guess if it's an emergency you can call me TC. A few other people do."

"Gotcha, TC," said Skywarp, and he grasped his shoulder and led him further down the corridor. "Welcome to the Decepticon Military Academy. I'm assuming you'll be in the Air Force wing, 'less you're signed up to be a medic or a bomb tech..."

"No, just a soldier," Thundercracker replied.

"Checked the room roster yet? Maybe we're roomies this cycle..."

"Already did. I'm in room E-1984 with someone called..." He checked the datapad again. "Starscream."

Skywarp cackled and slapped his shoulder. "Oh Primus... you got rotten luck..."

"What's so funny?"

"Starscream goes through roommates like some mechs go through paint jobs," Skywarp informed him gleefully. "Seems none of them can stand to be cooped up with him for longer than an orn. Slag, Sunstorm didn't even last two solar cycles, and he's his own co-creation! Something about him just wears on ya... but you'll find out eventually."

"If he's a prankster, I can live with that..." But before Thundercracker could say anything about having lived for five vorns with one of Cybertron's biggest pranksters, they'd reached room E-1984. Skywarp keyed open the door and gestured inside with a flourish and a bow.

"His Excellency Lord Starscream has a guest!" Skywarp announced. "And a new boarder, too."

"Fraggit, Skywarp, will you learn to knock!" came a screech that took Thundercracker by surprise. Skywarp hadn't mentioned that he'd be sharing quarters with a femme...

"You got a new roomie," Skywarp informed him. "Try not to drive this one out of his processors, okay? He's a nice kid, I'd hate to see him dragged to the psych ward."

"I've NEVER driven a roommate to the psych ward, you liar," hissed Starscream, getting up from his desk and walking over with quick, impatient strides to take a look at the new Seeker. Not a femme, Thundercracker corrected himself, but a white and scarlet mech Seeker with blue hands and lower arms and an unusually dark face. Said face seemed frozen in a permanent scowl of disdain, one that only deepened as he gazed at the two intruders. He gave Thundercracker a cursory inspection, then snorted and motioned into the room with one arm.

"Come in if you're coming," he growled. "Don't disturb me, I'm in the middle of an important assignment for one of my classes..."

"You're surfing the information networks for dirt to dig up on the head of the class," Skywarp interjected, grinning. "Don't give us that 'assignment' slag."

"Whatever I'm doing on my personal computer is none of your business, Skywarp!" Starscream snapped.

Thundercracker edged past the bickering mechs and entered what was to be his and Starscream's quarters. Already the red-and-white Seeker's unpleasant attitude grated on his sensors. Hopefully their class schedules and other activities allowed for time spent together to be minimal.

"Um, where's the other recharge berth?" he asked, looking around. Didn't most rooms come with two berths?

Starscream waved vaguely at what Thundercracker had first taken to be a low shelf before turning back to his argument with Skywarp. Apparently Starscream had been without a roommate for awhile, because the second berth was strewn with containers of wax and polish, stacks of datapads, and various tools. Thundercracker stifled the urge to sigh and set his traveling bag to one side before setting to the task of clearing the bunk off.

"Where do you want all this?" he asked.

"Don't touch my belongings!" screeched Starscream. "I'll do it!" He waved Thundercracker away from the berth and began collecting his possessions, muttering and grumbling about bothersome interlopers on his personal space.

"You two have fun!" Skywarp chirped, still grinning -- were his facial plates stuck in that position or something? "I'll just be off..."

"Maybe you can give me a tour of this place, Skywarp?" suggested Thundercracker, trying to merely sound interested and not as desperate to get away from Starscream as he felt.

"Sure thing!" Skywarp replied enthusiastically. "Grab your bag so Screamer doesn't trip over it while he cleans up."

Thundercracker scooped it up and hurried out after Skywarp. "Primus, what an aft," he sighed as soon as they were out of hearing range.

"Yup, I know," Skywarp replied. "Sorry to make you lug your stuff around some more, but Screamer's got a habit of going through people's stuff. He's not klepto or anything, just a snoop."

"Thanks for the warning."

"Come on, I'll show you where our classes are. Instructors here are real touchy about being on time, so it helps to know where everything is before you start out. Especially Commander Soundwave, you don't want him on your bad side..."

Thundercracker let Skywarp ramble as he trailed after him, smiling slightly to himself. He'd worried that, with Windblade enrolled in more science and technology classes than aerial combat classes and so unable to keep him company very much at the Academy, he'd be pretty much alone and friendless here. But it seemed Skywarp would fill in that gap. And if Starscream wore on him too much... well, maybe Skywarp had a few ideas on how to handle the other Seeker.

Whirlwind looked Thundercracker up and down with a slight smile, optics ablaze with pleasure as his gaze finally came to rest on the newly emblazoned Decepticon crests on his wings. "I'm proud of you, my creation. You've done well. You've made me proud, and I have no doubt that you'll continue to do so." He clasped the blue Seeker's shoulder like a comrade. "Perhaps someday you'll rise to the rank of Squad Commander and follow in my footsteps... though I can see you going higher, perhaps to Air Commander himself..."

"I don't want to be Air Commander," Thundercracker replied. "But I'll still do my best to make you proud." He highly doubted that he'd make a satisfactory commander at all, and besides, rising to the rank of Air Commander just meant there would be hundreds of other Seekers, Starscream included, hoping to oust him by force and take his place. Still, though, he wanted his creator to be pleased with him, to feel that his child had accomplished something in the world.

"Megatron's personal Air Squad," Whirlwind murmured. "I can hardly believe it..."

"You serve Megatron's army," Thundercracker protested.

"But I'm not directly under his command. He selects only the best of the best for his personal troops. You've done well, and I'm so proud of you."

"Aren't you proud of me, Dad?" Windblade piped up, sounding a bit put out as she poked her head out of the adjoining chamber.

Whirlwind's smile faded a bit. "Cybertron does need scientists as well as it needs soldiers, and I am proud of you graduating among the top of your class. But you could have gone higher had you focused on your studies and not on goofing around, painting your classmates in neon colors and changing computer passwords for the fun of it..."

"Hey, Sidewinder had it coming," she huffed. "And who cares if the passwords are goofy so long as they get the job done?"

"And I don't understand why a gifted Seeker like you would choose a non-combative role," Whirlwind went on. "You could do so much good as a Seeker!"

"I can do just as much good as a scientist!" she protested. "And I hate fighting."

"Father, she has the right to choose her own future, doesn't she?" Thundercracker asked. "And she's right. Without our scientists, us soldiers wouldn't have the technology we need to win the war. Besides, Mother would have been proud of her."

Whirlwind's optics dimmed in pain at the mention of Thundercracker's mother. He had not yet recovered from Drillbit's death in a mine cave-in a vorn ago, and Thundercracker doubted he would ever fully recover. Losing a loved one was always difficult, but losing a bondmate... that left a rift in the spark that no medic and no amount of time could mend.

"Drillbit would have been proud of her," he acknowledged. "And she would have been proud of you too. She always had the highest of hopes for you two. I wish she could have been at your graduation."

"I do too," Thundercracker admitted quietly.

"On guard, Seeker!"

Before he could react to that cry, something warm and slick drenched him from helm to foot, spattering Whirlwind in the process. Thundercracker howled in dismay and spun around to face his attacker, wiping the liquid from his optics in order to see her...

"Windblade, what was that for?!"

"For the fun of it!" she chirped, swinging the empty oil bucket and grinning brightly.

"Young lady, learn to restrain yourself!" thundered Whirlwind, gazing down at his black-flecked plating with an expression of disgust.

"Where's the fun in that?" she asked, then turned and bolted. Thundercracker made to chase her, but slipped in the oil puddle at his feet and fell flat on his faceplate. There was a flash as a holorecorder snapped an image of the event, then Windblade scurried off with a gleeful titter.

Whirlwind sighed. "Some days I wonder which of you is the more mature creation."

Thundercracker just groaned, internally debating whether he should run to the nearest washrack, hunt Windblade down and destroy her recorder, or just crawl under a berth and die of embarassment.

"All hail Megatron!" Skywarp hollered, raising his half-empty cube high in the air. His movements were clumsy, though, and energon spilled from the container and spattered down his arm in a glowing pink trail.

"You klutzy fool," sneered Starscream. "And here I thought you were a hopeless bumbler when you were sober."

"Ssssshut up, Shcreamer," slurred Skywarp, lowering the cube to the table. He stared blankly at the fuel dripping from his arm plating, then shrugged and began licking it off.

"That's disgusting," Starscream complained.

"Hey, why wassshte good high-grade?" Skywarp countered, his vocalizer stumbling over the word "waste."

Thundercracker just chuckled. Personally he enjoyed Skywarp's antics, even if it meant the black jet would be whining over a terrible CPU ache in the morning. Starscream was just arrogant and belligerant (well, more arrogant and belligerant than usual) when overcharged, and as for himself... well, he wasn't sure what kind of drunk he made, seeing as one or two cubes of the strong stuff generally made him keel over in stasis. This he'd discovered to his horror the first time Skywarp had invited him to one of his parties... and he'd woken up strapped to the ceiling and painted a delicate lavender shade from helm to thrusters.

"Battle well done, eh comrades?" Skywarp continued, wobbling back and forth as he stood, planting one hand on the table to try and maintain his balance and continuing to hold his cube aloft with the other. "We ssssshowed them Auto-bums whosssshe boss, didn't we?"

"You teleported on top of their transport and crashed," Starscream grumped.

"Took 'em down with me," Skywarp countered, leering defiantly at the white-and-red Seeker.

"And nearly had Hook dismantle you for spare parts rather than repair you," Starscream shot back.

"Guys, enough," Thundercracker told them. "We won, that's enough, isn't it? We came down to the oilbar to celebrate, not bicker..."

"It's not enough to win a battle," Starscream hissed rather loudly -- as his energy levels rose, so did his volume. "One must CRUSH his enemies utterly! One must show that HE is the supreme force on the battlefield! I don't understand HOW we can manage that with MEGATRON constantly bumbling his way to victory..." He tossed back the remains of his cube and slammed it back down on the table with enough force to make several other bar patrons jump and stare. "If I were the leader of the Decepticons, we'd see some REAL victories around here..."

"Shut up, Starscream," Thundercracker snapped. "You want Megatron to hear? He's got spies all over the place, you know..."

"Don't worry, no one listens to drunk mechs anyway."

Thundercracker turned to see the mech at the next table gazing at him, a knowing smile on his faceplate. This new mech was a bulky, blocky teal-and-white Decepticon, his alt mode defined by tank treads on each shoulder and a cannon jutting from his back, a scarlet visor covering his optics. His own table companions -- two non-Seeker jet-builds and a dark green cassette-carrier -- were slumped over in obvious overcharged stupors, while the tank mech appeared to be slightly overcharged but still in control of all his systems. His visored gaze moved to the loudly griping Starscream and the stupidly grinning Skywarp, and his smile widened.

"What is it about jet-builds not being able to hold their energon?" he asked, his tone completely serious but his mouth betraying his amusement.

"Beats me," Thundercracker replied, sipping a little from his own cube. "Though at least some of us know what our limits are."

"Good for you," said the tank mech. "Name's Piston. Scientist."

"Thundercracker, Megatron's Air Force," Thundercracker replied, extending a hand. Piston accepted it and shook it briefly but firmly.

"Megatron's Air Force?" Piston gave a low whistle. "Impressive. I take it you flew in today's strike against the Towers. Excellent job out there."

"Thanks. But most of the credit for today goes to Skywarp." He gestured back at the black Seeker. "He orchestrated that transport crash that took out most of the Autobot troops as well as the main Tower."

"I never would have guessed," Piston replied, again his tone completely serious but his mouth giving the joke away.

"So... scientist," said Thundercracker, hoping to shift the conversation topic to the other mech. "What branch?"

"Chemical warfare division. It's a small branch of science at the labs, but hopefully with Megatron's approval one that we can expand on. We're always short on chemists, and many of the ones we've got tend to be... how to put this... unbalanced."

"You counting yourself among the unbalanced ones?"

Piston chuckled. "I'm just hoping against hope that insanity isn't contagious."

Thundercracker laughed, then tried to be serious again. "You wouldn't by chance know a Windblade, would you?"

"Oh yeah, she stops by occasionally. Very enthusiastic about the projects, always wanting to help around the labs. Poor thing -- has the spark and CPU of a true scientist and she's consigned to the fighting ranks by her alt mode." He shook his head sadly. "Nothing wrong with combat, but too many of our top scientists are being tossed onto the battlefield and lost. It takes more than guns and brawn to win a war, after all."

Thundercracker nodded grimly. Windblade had complained often enough about being forced to divide her duties between the battlefield and the laboratories. Megatron used Seekers in so many of his battles and missions that practically anyone with a Seeker build, even business and scientist mechs who had never fired a gun in their lives, were being swept onto the battlefield and thrust into open warfare. Whirlwind had retorted that if Windblade was unsatisfied with that state of affairs she could always schedule a downgrade to another form, but downgrades were expensive and often left traces of old programming behind that couldn't be completely erased. Besides, Seekers by nature were a proud lot, and Windblade was reluctant to trade in her Seeker form for something less striking.

"Any particular reason you ask?" Piston went on. "She a friend of yours?"

"She's my co-creation," Thundercracker clarified.

A look of understanding dawned on Piston's faceplate. "Oh! Oh, I should have guessed... I see the resemblance now. Commander Whirlwind's creations, right?"

"It's that obvious?"

"I've helped my fellow mechs design sparkling shells before, my friend, and they ALWAYS have to design the faceplates to look like themselves," he laughed. "Our kind has a vain streak, you know..."

"Gettin' overcharged again, TC?" Windblade chose that moment to put in an appearance, draping an arm around Thundercracker's shoulders and giving him a one-armed hug.

"I only did that once," Thundercracker complained. "You're never going to let it go, are you?"

"When I have to come scrape my brother off the ceiling of a cheap dive and haul him in for a repaint, I deserve some right to tell the story, don't I?" she retorted, grinning. She turned to Piston, giving the tank mech a quizzical look. "Thought you didn't normally talk to ground-pounders, TC..."

"Windblade!" snapped Thundercracker.

Piston gave a resigned smile. "It's all right. I understand most Seekers don't like to mingle with us ground-bounds. Was still nice talking to you." And he rose to go.

"Oh, sit down," urged Windblade, laughing. "I'm just giving my brother a hard time. So who's your new friend, TC?"

"This is Piston," Thundercracker introduced. "He's a chemist."

"Oh yeah, I've seen you around the labs!" Windblade exclaimed, extending a hand for Piston to shake. "'Sup?"

"Just catching a drink and some gossip before heading back to work," Piston explained. "Shockwave's been keeping us all working overtime on his latest project... which I won't say anything more about, it's top secret."

"Aw, you can't keep us in suspense like that!" Windblade whined. "C'mon, tell us! We can keep a secret!"

"Windblade, if Shockwave himself ordered it kept secret, we shouldn't pry," Thundercracker informed her.

"Where's your sense of adventure?" Windblade demanded.

Piston quirked a grin. "Are you sure you're the older creation here, Windblade?"

Windblade had just opened her mouth to snark a reply when the entire bar shook as if Cybertron itself were bucking in pain. Mechs and femmes staggered in place or fell out of their chairs, shouting and flailing. Skywarp slid from his own seat and collapsed in a heap on the ground, still in an overenergized stupor, and Starscream landed with a squall on top of a luckless serving drone. Windblade would have fallen clear over had Piston and Thundercracker not both been there to grab her arms and stay her fall.

The doors to the bar flew open, and a white-and-gold "Conehead" Seeker charged in, optics wide with alarm. "It's an Autobot strike! All civilians evacuate NOW! All warriors, scramble! Defensive positions!"

Thundercracker stood, reflexively checking to be sure his arm-guns were in place and ready, then turned to face his wingmates... and stifled a groan. Skywarp was still out cold, and Starscream was too busy arguing loudly with the bartender and struggling to disentangle himself from the serving drone to even notice the attack. Sighing, Thundercracker hurried out of the bar and transformed, ready to fly out against the Autobot forces...

There was a grind of gears as Windblade transformed to his right. "You think I'm letting you out there by yourself, TC?"

"I thought you hated fighting," he demanded, though secretly he was glad of his sister's company.

"We all have to do things we hate to protect those we care about," she replied. "I'll cover you, 'kay?"

"Thanks." Thundercracker soared high over the street, joining the growing throng of Seekers and other fliers. Whirlwind and his squad were there, and the orange Seeker was barking orders to his troops, ordering some to remain high and intercept enemy missiles, directing others to swoop low and take out the attacking Autobots. Upon spotting his creations he angled with a wing to indicate an oncoming squad of foot soldiers.

"Thundercracker, Windblade, drive them off or eliminate them," he ordered. "Don't worry about prisoners."

"Yes, sir," Thundercracker replied, and he stooped low and opened fire. Liquid flames erupted all around the Autobot troops as his incidenary shells struck and ignited the street all around them, and two of the soldiers fell screaming, wreathed in fire. The rest returned fire, and Thundercracker pulled sharply up to avoid the energy bolts.

"Slag, they're lousy shots," Windblade noted, peppering the squad with fire before following her brother into the sky. "Thought this would be more challenging."

"They're Autobots, they're not programmed for combat," Thundercracker replied. "I doubt they could hit the broad side of a Guardian at this distance..."

The words had barely left his vocalizer when a plasma blast shredded through his right wing, taking off nearly three-quarters of it. A pained roar wrenched itself free as he hurtled down gracelessly, sparks and smoke pouring from the ragged stump and leaving a gruesome trail in his wake. He barely had time to transform and right himself in midair before he hit the street with enough force to dent the alloy. Stars danced before his optics, and his systems sputtered briefly as they threatened to throw him into stasis lock.

"Holy Primus, we got one!"

He onlined his optics, ignoring the scrolling damage report and struggling to focus on the mechs leering over him. One scarlet and one yellow, with identical evil grins on their faceplates, the two car-bots looked as if they'd just received a coveted gift from their creators. Before he could gather his scattered datachips enough to attempt an escape, the red one reached down and snapped an energy cuff around one of his wrists.

"First sortie into D-con territory and we get a Seeker!" he crowed. "I can't wait to see the look on Brawn's face when we haul him in -- he's going to blow a fuse!"

"Who cares what Brawn thinks?" the yellow Autobot huffed, though his grouchy tone didn't detract from his pleased look. "You see where his wing fell? You know Prime's going to want all his pieces brought in -- 'even prisoners deserve to be repaired and treated with dignity.'" That last was said in a tone that was obviously meant to mockingly imitate the Prime's voice.

"I don't keep track of falling parts, Sunbeam," the red one retorted, snapping the cuff around Thundercracker's other wrist.

"Don't call me Sunbeam, fragger."

"Whatever, Sunspot."

The yellow one growled warningly.

"Okay, fine, let's just get him to Prowl before they notice he's gone..."

A flash of green, and the red Autobot yelped in dismay as he tumbled over, trying desperately to throw off the Seeker that had suddenly jumped him. The yellow mech whirled, gun drawn, to fire on their attacker, only to grunt and topple as Thundercracker raised his legs and slammed his heels into the small of his back. Once his captor was down he struggled to get to his feet, but with his hands bound the task was far more difficult than he'd anticipated.

"Don't mess with my brother, retrorat!" Windblade growled.

"Gerroff, femmecon!" the red mech shrieked, grabbing one of Windblade's wings and wrenching it out of shape. Windblade's face contorted in pain, but she refused to relinquish her hold on him. Instead, she kneed him in the side, flipped him, and held him in a headlock much as she had done with her younger co-creation vorns ago, only this hold was far less playful.

The yellow mech finally scrambled to his feet, gun in one hand and an energo-blade in the other... then froze as an arm-gun was leveled with his head, aiming between his vivid blue optics.

"Keep your filthy Autobot paws away from my creations, Sunstreaker," snarled Whirlwind, optics blazing with fury.

"Whirlwind," the mech called Sunstreaker hissed, his own optics flaring with anger as he recognized the squad commander. "I'm going to make you pay for what you and your trine did to our home base."

Whirlwind smirked slightly. "You and what army?"

At that moment, Windblade screamed, and both Whirlwind and Thundercracker jerked their gazes toward the green Seeker as the red mech flung her away. Her optics were dark and her features slack, and as the red Autobot flipped a stun baton into subspace Thundercracker realized she was in stasis lock. Snarling in rage, he managed to finally get to his feet...

Too late. Windblade's cry had distracted Whirlwind for a fatal moment, and Sunstreaker took advantage of that moment to pounce upon the elder Seeker. Before Thundercracker could do more than take a step in their direction, Whirlwind's optics had gone wide with horror, then dimmed to black. His bright orange armor faded to a deathly gray as he crumpled, Sunstreaker's energo-dagger buried in his lasercore.

Thundercracker roared and charged Sunstreaker, completely forgetting in his shock and rage that his hands were still bound. The yellow Autobot grunted at the impact as the blue Seeker drove his shoulder into his chest, sending both of them sprawling. Straddling his foe, Thundercracker raised his bound fists and clubbed the yellow Autobot over the head with them, crying out with every blow...

Scarlet arms wrapped around him from behind and hauled him off. "Don't mess with MY brother, Decepti-creep!"

"I had it handled, Sideswipe!" Sunstreaker spat, rising unsteadily and rubbing the side of his now-dented helm.

"Sure you did," Sideswipe muttered sarcastically. "Get the green one and let's go..."

A column of plasma crackled overhead, so close that it scorched the paint on Thundercracker's remaining wing. Sideswipe twisted around to face their attacker, yanking a gun out of subspace and jamming it against Thundercracker's neck joint.

Piston faced the Autobot brothers, his back cannon still smoking, an acid rifle in his hands. The easygoing scientist was no more, replaced by a grim-faced warrior. Even as Thundercracker gaped at the chemist's sudden transformation, Piston slid to one side to put himself between the Autobots and Windblade's prone form.

"Let the Seeker go," Piston ordered. "Or I shoot."

"He's coming with us," Sideswipe insisted. "I so much as see your fingers twitch and he goes with us with a hole in his CPU. Drop the gun. And disarm the cannon while you're at it."

Piston looked at Thundercracker, then at Sideswipe, then at Sunstreaker, as if weighing his options and estimating the various outcomes. Then he sighed and lowered the rifle, and his cannon whirred and clicked noisily as it powered down.

"On your knees, hands on your head," ordered Sunstreaker, stepping forward, gun still trained on the chemist. "We'll see what Prowl has to say about all this..."

Piston's fist drove into Sunstreaker's abdomenal plate. The yellow Autobot's optics flashed in surprise and pain, but he did nothing to return the blow. Instead, his legs went limp and he collapsed on top of the tank mech. Piston shoved him aside and jerked his arm back, revealing a curved blade, dripping with energon, that had extended from his forearm.

"SUNNY!" Sideswipe pulled the gun away from Thundercracker and fired at Piston, the shots glancing off the thick panel of tank armor covering the chemist's shoulder. In return Piston picked up Sunstreaker's weapon, made a quick adjustment to the setting, and fired, hitting Sideswipe square in the chest. The red Autobot gave a ihrrk/i and sank to the ground, his plating crackling with energy.

Piston hurried to Thundercracker's side and uncuffed his hands. "You need a medic bad, pal."

"Why did you just stun him?" demanded Thundercracker, gripping the ragged stump of his severed wing. "And why didn't you finish the other one?"

"I hate fighting," Piston said in a low voice, setting his jaw. "Why do you think I joined the ranks of the scientists? You Seekers have it easy, dealing death from the sky and never having to see it up close. Those of us on the ground, who have to watch it day in and day out..." His voice trailed off, and for the first time Thundercracker was struck by how tired he looked, how worn out...

"TC?" moaned Windblade, optics flickering online. Thundercracker hurried to her side and helped her to her feet.

"Easy, sis," he warned her as she stumbled. "Let your gyros settle..."

"TC, you're hurt," she insisted. "We've got to get you out of here..."

"I'm fine, Windblade, really," he lied. "I'm more worried about you."

Her optics met his, and a worried look crossed her faceplate. "Where's Father?"

Thundercracker tried his hardest to appear calm, but despite his best efforts he couldn't suppress the pained expression. "He's gone. The Autobots..."

Windblade turned to Piston, as if hoping he could deny the claim, but the chemist only shook his head sadly. She gasped and hugged Thundercracker close, pressing her head against his shoulder.

"He died in battle," Thundercracker managed. "You know that's how he wanted to go. Fighting for the cause."

"That's supposed to make it better?" demanded Windblade quietly.

Piston allowed them a few moments to grieve before bending down to collect the fallen Seeker's body. "I'm sorry, my friends, but we've got to get back. We're too exposed down here, and Thundercracker needs repairs."

"The Autobots?" TC asked, his gaze moving to the unconscious forms.

"Leave them," Piston replied. "With any luck the glitch-buzzards will get to them before the Autobot field medics do, but maybe we shouldn't get our hopes up. These two are infamously hard to kill." He shook his head. "At any rate, we should get out of here before they send reinforcements."

Thundercracker nodded, and the three of them activated their anti-gravs and slowly flew to the nearest base.

"Nervous, Windblade?"

"Of course not, TC, whatever gives you that idea?"

"Just the fact that you keep pacing, which you always do when you're nervous..."

"Shut up, I'm just excited, okay?"

"Which means nervous."

"I don't care if you just got a new paint job and a wax for the occasion, scraplet, I'll tackle you if you say that again."

"Fine, I'll keep my mouth shut."

"This is an important day, TC."

"I know."

"I don't want anything to screw it up, okay?"

"Why do you think I refused to tell Starscream and Skywarp the real reason I needed a day of leave? They would have insisted on coming with me, and they WOULD have screwed it up."

"That was sweet of you."


"What time is it?"

"A hundred astroseconds since the last time you asked."

"Frag! I'm so nervous! Can't they hurry up and start this thing?"

"I thought you weren't nervous."

"Shut it, TC."

The two Seekers waited in a small chamber in the Decepticon Hall of Justice, Thundercracker seated on a bench and Windblade prowling back and forth like a caged electro-panther. Both of them had touched up their paint jobs and polished themselves to a high sheen for this occasion, covering various scratches and nicks from previous battles and accidents. And while both of them looked forward to this event with both anticipation and foreboding, Thundercracker could at least fake being calm for the time being. Windblade looked ready to bolt at the slightest provocation.

"Why don't you sit down?" Thundercracker invited.

"I can't hold still," she protested, one hand moving up to pick at her left armgun.

"It'll help," he insisted. "I know you're nervous, sister. A Bonding Day is an important occasion. But relax about it. You've made your decision, and you're sure it's the right one. You have no reason to be worried."

At that moment Piston burst in, visor aglow with panic and his shinguards gray with filth. "Am I late?"

"Did you run the entire way?" demanded Windblade, looking down at his grimy lower legs with a dismayed expression.

"I can't exactly make a speedy journey in tank mode," Piston protested. "And there's a no-fly order at the moment..."

Windblade sighed and knelt down, pulling a cloth out of subspace and rubbing at his shinguards in an effort to clean them quickly. "Let's get you presentable, at least..."

"Don't worry," Piston assured her. "The pictures will only show us from the waist up anyhow."

"You got someone to take images?" Windblade's joints relaxed in relief. "Thank Primus, I thought we'd never find someone."

"Some mechs from the lab volunteered," Piston replied. "Reflector's a little creepy, but they're good at their job."

"They?" repeated Thundercracker, raising an optic ridge.

Piston shrugged. "Shockwave's been experimenting with shared personality components among several mechs. Reflector's the most advanced of his projects to date -- there's three of them, but they all share the same personality and, to some extent, the same CPU."

Windblade whistled. "That project's come a long way, then."

Thundercracker gave a little shudder. "That's a little freaky..."

"When you're a scientist, you learn to live with 'a little freaky' on a daily basis," Piston replied.

A courtesy drone rolled out of the next room. "Piston and Windblade, we are ready for you."

Windblade gave up on Piston's shinguards and stood, squaring her shoulders back and looking at Thundercracker. "Ready?"

"If you are."

She nodded. Piston took her arm, and they followed the drone into the next chamber. Thundercracker remained outside, waiting. Unlike many of the sentient beings of the universe, who celebrated such unions with grandoise celebrations and great pomp and ceremony, Cybertronian bondings were private, intimate affairs. Sometimes a justice official would be on hand to record the matter, but more often than not the bonded pair would simply submit records themselves into the database terminals before the actual bonding of the sparks. As for the act of bonding... that would be done in complete privacy, and having a third party witness it was considered voyeurism of the most taboo kind.

It was some time later when the two of them emerged from the chamber, the drone leading the way. Physically, neither had changed... but Thundercracker thought he detected a change in the way they looked at each other, some sort of unspoken connection between them. This was no longer a mere bond of friendship -- this was a true bond, a shared connection between two sparks that nothing but death could sever.

Thundercracker smiled slightly. While he himself had never considered taking on a bondmate, he didn't disagree with his sister's decision to bond with Piston. The scientist had proven himself in his optics, both with his mettle on the battlefield and his calm, unflappable personality. He would be a good match for his sister, hopefully serving to level her spontaneous nature just a bit.

"Congratulations," he told them, extending a hand.

"Oh, don't be so fraggin' formal, bro," laughed Windblade, and she swept him into a hug. "Say hi to your new brother-in-law, why don't you."

Piston chuckled, setting for patting Thundercracker's shoulder in a comradely manner. "Maybe brother-in-law is too casual, Windblade..."

"It works," Thundercracker assured him. "Welcome to the family."

"Glad to be welcomed. Now... I think this calls for drinks? Maccadam's isn't far from here."

"They're on me," Windblade informed them, and she took each of them by an arm and practically dragged them toward the door.

Windblade transformed and touched down as quickly as she possibly could, breaking into a run the moment her feet touched street plating. Guards moved to intercept her progress, but upon recognizing her as one of Shockwave's scientists they let her pass. At least working so closely with one of Megatron's commanders had some privileges, even if it meant working under the creepy ray gun's command...

Thank Primus she was on time. Megatron and his elite troops had yet to board the Nemesis -- from the look of things, the ship was still undergoing last-minute flight checks. The Decepticon leader himself was bellowing at the ground crew and their drones to work faster, while the soldiers milled about and made last-minute checks to their weaponry. Thundercracker himself was seated on a crate off to the side, loading his incidenary rifle...


The blue Seeker glanced up. "Windblade?"

She threw her arms around him before he could protest. "We just got the news... Shockwave announced it... I was so worried you'd be gone by the time I..."

"Windblade, calm down," he consoled, hugging her gently. "I was about to comm you and tell you goodbye."

She pulled away and looked into his optics. How could he be so slagging calm about this? He was being shipped off-planet, possibly never to return. Thundercracker was all she had left of her family. If anything were to happen to him... it might not be as devastating as losing a bondmate, but it would still be a terrible loss.

"Do you have to go?" she demanded.

"Windblade, Cybertron is on the brink of collapse," he replied. "Our energon reserves are dangerously low, and unless this war ends soon -- and it won't -- we'll all deactivate from energy depletion. The Autobots have gone to find new sources of energy, and Megatron intends to follow them and either take what energy they find... or simply stop them from succeeding in their task. We can't let them get the advantage."

"But why do you need to go? Can't you help the war effort here..."

"Windblade," he interrupted firmly. "I'm not a sparkling anymore. I don't need to be protected all the time. I'm perfectly capable of handling whatever we find out there."

She wasn't so sure of that -- from what she'd heard, his black wingmate ended up pulling his aft out of trouble more often than she liked. Still, if at least one mechanoid in Megatron's company was watching her co-creation's back... she supposed she could be okay with it. She didn't have to like it, though...

"Contact me the minute you land," she ordered, jabbing his cockpit with a finger.

"I will," he told her, mouth quirking in a slight grin.

"Decepticons!" thundered Megatron. "Board the ship!"

Thundercracker pulled Windblade close in one last hug. "Take care of Piston, all right?"

"I will. Take care of yourself."

"Till all are one, Windblade."

"Till all are one."

Thundercracker released her and, with a final salute in her direction, hurried toward the Nemesis. His wingmates followed, with Blitzwing and Astrotrain close behind. Blitzwing turned to give Windblade a caustic glower as he boarded, and she waved cheerily in return. She noted with some amusement that he'd taken to wearing a protective visor ever since the first (and last) time he'd harrassed her brother.

The doors of the Nemesis drew shut, and the ship roared into the starry expanse, a fiery comet that streaked over Cybertron's darkened towers before vanishing from view.

He'll be all right, she told herself, and was surprised to find she believed it sincerely. Wherever he goes, whatever he does... he'll be all right. Maybe I can't protect him anymore, but someone will.

It was several megacycles before she finally managed to tear her optics away from the stars and head back to the labs.