Miles and miles of sun,
Endless roads twist on –Goldfrapp
These were the sort of scouting missions that danced the thin line between enjoyable and excruciatingly painful. Endless hours of flight time were like bliss to any Seeker, even if it was poisoned with the task of tracking a pack of ground pounders. Sometimes it took days to find them, other times they flushed them out in a matter of hours. Thundercracker was hoping for the former, since he and Skywarp had been itching to stretch their wings.
"Anything?" Thundercracker asked over the radio, not all that interested in the answer. The only thing he wanted to hear was 'no', so that they could keep flying.
"Of course not," Skywarp replied. "I don't really want to find them, anyways."
They'd had enough dented nosecones, split turbines, and cracked wings to be excited about flushing out their targets. Still, putting forth the effort kept Megatron from scrapping their hides if they were stupid enough to complain about it. Their targets had gotten increasingly better at staying hidden when they didn't want to be found. That made for more flight time, but that also made them nastier once they were finally flushed out.
Thundercracker would prefer hunting Autobots. Those were cars he knew how to deal with, because all you had to do was shoot at them and drop them from dizzying heights. The Stunticons, on the other hand, were a nightmare to have to leash and drag back to base. When they got it in their thick processors to jump ship and hit the highways, there wasn't much use trying to convince them otherwise. Of course, if they stuck exclusively to the roads, the news reports of fifty-car-pileups would lead everyone, Autobots included, straight to them.
There were bunkers and warehouses, scattered all over North America, built by the Constructicons for Decepticon use. Thundercracker was convinced they started that project to get out of the base for awhile, but at least it was a project that sometimes came in handy. Except, of course, when Swindle used them for contraband storage or the Stunticons holed up in one during one of their jaunts. Thundercracker and Skywarp had checked three of them so far, finding no Stunticons, but reported some suspicious looking crates in one of them to Onslaught.
The fourth bunker looked like it had been used recently, the dirt path leading up to its doors carved with ruts from multiple vehicles. Thundercracker waited outside while Skywarp checked out the bunker itself. Every time they landed, he braced himself for an ambush, or some sort of trick on the Stunticon's part. He never felt right standing on the ground when he had to deal with them.
This was why fighting Autobots was preferable to fighting his own faction mates. Autobots rarely cheated, and when they did, Thundercracker could see it coming a mile away. Stunticons didn't know how to not cheat. It was against their core programming and, he thought, irrefutable proof of Vector Sigma's wicked streak. It still astounded him that the same ancient gold orb that had cracked out the Stunticons would be responsible for something as blindly naïve and stupid as the Aerialbots.
"Well, no one's home," said Skywarp, clapping his hands together as he walked out of the small base. "Time to move on!"
Thundercracker grunted in response. As far as he was concerned, the only thing that kept Megatron from ordering the Stunticons terminated was Menasor. The combiner was too powerful an asset to let go, which the Stunticons took advantage of frequently. Thundercracker and Skywarp could hunt them down, incapacitate them and drag them back, but inflicting serious damage was out of the question. The Stunticons fought bitterly to maintain their freedom, though they were well aware of the consequences. Eventually Megatron would tire of their shenanigans and drag them back himself if he and Skywarp failed to trap them.
Until that happened, the ground pounders enjoyed making their lives a living Pit when they realized they were being hunted. It wasn't that they were disloyal; if someone so much as joked about accusing Motormaster of treason, they were lucky to still be in one piece before the cycle was out. Thundercracker didn't pretend to understand their sudden vacations. May be, like he and Skywarp were made for the skies, the Stunticons were built for the roads, and felt at home on the twisting miles of concrete.
Of course, that reasoning was far too poetic, so it was dismissed from his processor in short order. Whatever their reasons, Thundercracker didn't care. Megatron wanted them back at the base, not joyriding like there wasn't a war going on.
Back in the air, the two of them continued their search, halfheartedly keeping an optic on the highways. This was why Thundercracker didn't try to understand their little act of defiance: no monitor duty, no guard duty, no patrols – not even the constant threat of Megatron's ire. Just the vast, wide open sky. The extensive range of the Stunticon's territory along the coast of California and up into Oregon provided for hours of uninterrupted flight time. Neither he nor Skywarp were going to argue about that.
"Oh, damn," Skywarp said, straightening out of the barrel roll he'd been doing. "I think we found them."
The two jets dipped lower in the sky, coming up on the westbound expanse of the highway. There were only a few human motorists, and most of them were smart enough to pull off the road when they recognized what was coming at them.
"One of them," said Thundercracker, watching a white Lamborghini as he flirted with speeds nearly triple the legal limit. "And two Autobots."
More Lamborghinis. Sunstreaker and Sideswipe, who had apparently tired of taking out jets and decided to stick to familiar territory. Considering their failure in the sky, it seemed they had taken to pounding on Stunticons. They were currently playing road tag with Breakdown, who was all alone and probably about to catch himself on fire.
"How long before Breakdown swerves into a ditch?" Skywarp snickered. Watching was a lot more interesting than intervening at this point. If the Autobots wrecked Breakdown, they might be able to use him to draw out the rest of the Stunticons. It was strange, however, to see a member of a gestalt alone.
"I'm wondering where the other Stunticons are at," said Thundercracker, dropping back and checking his radar to search for more signals. Where there was one gestalt member, there were always others nearby.
"Who cares?" Skywarp snorted, flying lower as they got closer to the game of Lamborghini Tag. So far, it looked like the twins were winning. "I want to see him get creamed."
Thundercracker continued to hang back, scanners actively searching for the other Stunticons. It wasn't long before Motormaster lumbered into range, cruising at the uncharacteristic speed of the legal limit. He didn't appear to be in much of hurry; but since they were on the same road, he had to know Breakdown was in trouble. Not seeing any of the other Stunticons, Thundercracker assumed Motormaster was hauling them in his trailer, which would explain his speed. His distance from Breakdown was steady, suggesting they didn't have any intention of assisting him, either.
Deciding not to waste his time figuring Motormaster out, Thundercracker followed Skywarp closer to the action. The Autobots didn't seem to have noticed their approach, busy boxing Breakdown in between them.
"Lamborghinis sure are high strung," Skywarp said, watching Breakdown slam on the brakes, while the advancing Autobots nearly collided with one another. Despite his maneuver, Breakdown still barely had control of himself, swerving wildly. He clipped a panicking station wagon, sending it spiraling across the road and into the ditch. The red Autobot slowed down for a brief moment, then sped up again when the human vehicle didn't blow up. "I'm surprised Breakdown hasn't fallen apart yet."
"Me too," said Thundercracker. In fact, Breakdown had stopped swerving, bracing himself as the other two moved in once again. The Stunticon had a habit of shaking himself to pieces, which was what it looked like he was about to do. May be it would do him some good; wrecking himself might cause the other two to crash. It would be like - how did the humans put it? Like killing two birds with one stone. Only in this case, it was two Lamborghinis with one Lamborghini.
Skywarp flew down closer, wanting to get as close to the impeding explosion as he could. Sunstreaker and Sideswipe moved closer, and Thundercracker could hear Breakdown's engine screaming even over his own turbines. He was probably going to blow any astrosecond –
The realization that it was a trap hit Thundercracker like a swat from Omega Supreme, but not because it had been so obvious. The other Stunticons had hung back to let Breakdown do what he needed to do, knowing it could damage them as well.
"Skywarp, what's Breakdown's weapon range?" Thundercracker asked, feeling a sudden twinge of panic.
"Weapon range?" Skywarp sounded incredulous, doubtful that knowing that would have any relevance to what was going on. "You mean – oh slag –"
Skywarp vanished in a flash of light, just as Breakdown's engine howled. Sideswipe and Sunstreaker lost control immediately, sparks and smoke erupting from under the hoods. Rubber burned against the pavement, and Sideswipe went into a fishtail, tapping his brother unit with just enough force to send him careening across the highway. Breakdown hit the brakes to get out of the wreck he was causing, and a tire blew out in the process. He flew off the road, landing himself in a thicket of bushes and trees.
Thundercracker missed the entire spectacle, having found out firsthand what the range was on Breakdown's engine His turbines whined briefly before cutting out, and he coasted through the air in a one hundred and eighty mph free fall. His systems were happy to tell him how quickly the ground was approaching, but would do nothing in terms of restarting and getting him altitude again.
Thundercracker hit the trees first, reflexively transforming halfway down before slamming into the dirt. Landing in a tangle of his own limbs and tree trunks, the only thing he could of was how much he hated the Stunticons.