+ Skywarp's Advanced Degree (in Dumbass) +

"You want what?"

Starscream stared at Skywarp. That was the best he could do in terms of a reply. In fact, it had taken him some time even to come up with that.

"A shrink ray." Skywarp shrugged. "Shouldn't be so difficult, really."

Starscream nodded slowly, standing up. He stretched his arms before him with interlaced fingers, palms out: the pose of someone preparing to do something that requires some effort. Skywarp had tracked him down all the way to his lab, here in the deepest, darkest part of the Nemesis. "Out. Now." Starscream pointed to the door.

"Come on," Skywarp pleaded. "I need it."

Need: such a relative concept. Starscream narrowed his optics at his wingmate. "For what? A prank?" It was only because Skywarp was his wingmate that he'd gotten so far without a null ray blast to the face.

"What do you take me for?" Skywarp stiffened. "This is personal."

Personal. Apparently Starscream had inadvertently slandered some aspect of the pranksters code of ethics. "I assure you, your interface equipment is standard issue," Starscream replied dryly. "Unless. No, don't tell me. You haven't developed inappropriate sentiment for a fleshling, have you?"

If possible, Skywarp managed to look even more offended. "No."

Starscream sat back down, and waited.

"It's time," Skywarp said, clenching one hand into a fist and shaking it in front of his chest.

Okay. "Time for what?" Starscream prompted, knowing this was his cue. He waved his left hand in a loop, signaling for Skywarp to hurry it up.

"Time…" Skywarp paused. He needed even more dramatic effect? Primus. "To interface with Rumble."

Oh. That time.


"I… see." Starscream's voice was a bit faint. "Is Rumble… aware of this?"

The least of Starscream's questions at the moment, frankly. But the only one he could bring himself to ask.

"He wants me. I can see it in his optics." Skywarp came a little closer, and Starscream found himself leaning a little backwards. "I've decided to make his dreams come true."


Starscream decided to take that as a 'no.'

"Ah. Um. Just for the sake of discussion, I should probably point out…" Starscream evaluated the expectant, hungry look on Skywarp's face. "You know that adaptors can be made… right?"

"What, so I can interface him like this?" Skywarp looked down at his own body, expression both impressed and fearful. "I'd blast that midget to bits."

Starscream buried his face in his hands. No, no, no. No. "I… forgot." That you are an idiot, he added mentally.

"Will you do it?" Skywarp reached out to take Starscream's hands from his face, clutching them to his own chest.

Not a chance. "Perhaps, for a price..." Best to make Skywarp go away by giving him some challenge he couldn't possibly fulfil.

"Name it."

What was the worst, most impossible thing he could think of? What was the one thing above all things Skywarp would refuse to do? "You could… mmm." He considered all options. "Get Megatron to interface with you."

As expected, Skywarp's expression became crestfallen. He looked down at the ground for a while.

Just as Starscream was about to congratulate himself for a disaster well avoided, Skywarp looked up again, now mournful. "You should stop trying to challenge Megatron all the time." Shaking his head in disapproval. "Well, whatever. No problem."

No…? "Wait," Starscream said suddenly, alarmed. "You can't!"

"Jeez, Starscream." Skywarp crossed his arms. "I said no problem. Don't glitch."

Starscream reached out, grabbing for Skywarp convulsively, wanting to explain to the idiot that he must not under any circumstances actually do this thing.

But before his hand could touch metal, Skywarp had already flashed into nothingness.

. + .

Megatron was relaxing in an electroplating bath when he received the transmission from Soundwave.

"Skywarp: requesting audience. Advice: refuse."

Interesting advice, and probably sound. From the point of view of protecting battle-readiness of the troops, it was almost guaranteed that Skywarp was primed to propose something of such amazing inanity that he would find himself in the repair bay for prolonged traction, pulverized to scrap by Megatron.

Oh well. He was bored.

"Send him in," Megatron signaled back.

A few hundred astroseconds later, Skywarp walked into Megatron's sanctum. With careless ease the Seeker dropped to one knee and bowed his head. "My lord." So far, very respectful.

"What do you want?"

"I am on a quest to acquire a shrink ray, sir, and Starscream placed a condition on his cooperation. One which requires your consent before I can proceed."

A tidy little speech. Promising, too. A quest, a shrink ray, and Starscream. Megatron smiled. "Inform me how you plan to use this weapon."

"Ah, not as a weapon." Skywarp bowed down even further. "I need it to interface with Rumble, sir."

The not-boring test was now officially passed. Megatron had little interest in the recreational affairs of his troops. The only important thing as far as he was concerned was that they performed optimally on the battlefield; interpersonal concerns involved him only when they might bring about mutiny. Still, he was quite sure there was an understood policy of " don't ask, don't tell, don't get your face punched in." Megatron did not want to hear about these sorts of trivial things.

But involve a shrink ray…

"What is the condition?"

"That you interface with me first, sir."

… and Starscream…


…That changed everything.

After administering a refreshing beatdown on the unresisting Seeker, dripping electroplating medium and splattering it everywhere, Megatron lowered Skywarp to the floor.

"Starscream proposed this, you say." Megatron continued conversationally, as if he hadn't taken a break to make a mash of Skywarp's frame.

"Yes, sir." Skywarp, for his part, sounded remarkably sanguine for someone with a fritzed vocalizer, rent armor, copious amounts of exposed wiring, and leaking fluid lines.

Megatron wiped some of the energon from Skywarp's face. Of course it had to be Starscream behind this. Proposing that Megatron dishonor himself for the sake of some foolish… no, ridiculous… desire of one of his subordinates. "I will do this thing," he said, leaning in. "But I want something in exchange."

"Anything, sir."

"I get the shrink ray when you are done."


Megatron nodded, and then pressed the damaged Seeker to the floor. "Very well. Let's get this over with."

. + .

Thundercracker had just returned from patrol and was on his way back to his quarters to recharge when he found Skywarp staggering along in the hallway, obviously on his way to the same place. Rushing to Skywarp's side, he hooked one of Skywarp's arms over his shoulders, and helped him stand.

"Give me the short version," Thundercracker asked curtly.

"Megatron--" Skywarp wheezed, some kind of glitch in his vocal processors adding a whistling undertone to his words.

Oh, slag. "I guess there's no use going to the repair bay, then." Megatron usually liked his troops to meditate on their crimes while in pain before allowing them to be repaired after one of his beatings.

"Am… just back…" Skywarp obviously was having a tough time of it. "Hook… fixed… spark-threatening…" Wheeze. "Damage."

Oh, it had been even worse? This was the "fixed" version?

"I'll get you patched up as best as I can, Warp. Hang on."

Since his own quarters were closer, Thundercracker took him there. Assisting Skywarp to his berth, Thundercracker then proceeded to collect some small tools from a kit nearby. "It hurts just to look at you." He said this as he clambered onto the berth, straddling Skywarp in a careful manner. He looked over all the problems, and laughed helplessly. "And I have no idea where to begin."

Skywarp just looked up at him. Trusting. Pleased with himself, too, but mostly trusting. It was a look that had gotten Thundercracker in more trouble than he cared to recall.

"I hope it was worth it," Thundercracker said with a shake of the head, and then bent to start the painstaking process of reconnecting coolant lines and restoring sensory and motor control systems. "Recharge," he ordered. "I'll rouse you when the worst part is over."

With perfect obedience, Skywarp offlined his optics, and in a moment the slow-wave readout Thundercracker's analytical programs were picking up from Skywarp's processors indicated a drowsing, drifting consciousness.

Having Skywarp at his mercy like this put Thundercracker into a very particular state of mind. The Seeker licked his lips slowly, thoughtfully. He reached forward and stroked the side of Skywarp's face with the side of one finger. To outsiders, all Seeker-class mechs looked basically the same, and it was only their distinct paint jobs, voices, and overall demeanors which differentiated them.

But for a Seeker such as himself, he could see what outsiders could not. And Skywarp was beautiful.

Even when totally slagged.

For the most part Thundercracker behaved himself, and restricted his ministrations to those required for repair. But if he did his job slowly, lingeringly... well, Skywarp would never need to know, would he?

He ended up taking quite some time.

"Wake up," Thundercracker crooned softly into Skywarp's audials once he was done. Sound itself would not be enough to bring Skywarp back from recharge... this was accomplished primarily by tripping certain internal alertness triggers... but Thundercracker wanted to give Skywarp something nice to wake up to. "Come on, you idiot, wake up."

"I just had the most amazing dream," Skywarp eventually said, sleepily, his vocalizer still somewhat fragged (but not so much as to destroy his sexy voice). Brilliant red optics flickered to life.

"Oh?" Thundercracker backed off, enough so that Skywarp could sit up.

"Rumble and me, we were interfacing... it was so amazing, I was so hot. He couldn't barely handle it."

"You've had the same dream for the last fifty-six orns." Thundercracker couldn't help but sound a bit exasperated; he certainly didn't care who Skywarp interfaced with, but it was irritating to have to listen to him go on about who he wanted to do. "How is that at all amazing?"

"Oh!" Skywarp grinned, leaning forward. "Because it can happen now!" With casual, careless seductiveness, Skywarp fingered the front of Thundercracker's chestplate. "It will be epic," he added, pitching his voice low as if attempting to sound sultry.

"Yeah?" What idiot agreed to make Skywarp a shrink ray? Thundercracker wanted to know.

Not that the shrink ray was at all required-- a fact he'd tried, unsuccessfully, to hammer into Skywarp's processors for at least half of those fifty six orns. But Skywarp had his reasons, as occult and as unnecessary as they were, and Thundercracker hadn't enjoyed the privilege of being Skywarp's closest confidant and primary lover without learning how to roll with certain punches.

And so, just now when Thundercracker heard that the idiot in question was Starscream, Skywarp babbling happily about the further prosecution of his plans, he had to wonder: really? No. Really?

"Back up," Thundercracker found himself saying. "Are you sure that Starscream... you know, Starscream, lord of the firmament and royal pain in the aft... is going to make you a shrink ray?" He was suspicious. "For Primus' sake, why?"

"Because of this." Skywarp pointed down at his still trashed frame, much in need of dent repair and a new paint job. "He wanted me to interface with Megatron, as a condition of his cooperation. I did it, and so now he totally owes me." He was practically shining because of his pride. "And hey, that was kind of fun too. Megatron was pretty hot, but in, you know, in a masterful and sadistic kind of way."

"You're serious." That was so ridiculous, he had to be serious.

At least that explained the Megatron beating. Mystery solved.

"Would I lie to you?" Skywarp pouted.

Yes, repeatedly. But that was hardly the point. "Why would Starscream ask you to do that? That's stupidly suicidal, even for him."

"Ah." Skywarp nodded, seemingly appeased that his Decepticon honor wasn't being called into question. "Yeah. Who knows?" He shrugged.

Who knows. Thundercracker was going to pulverize Starscream for this. Or at least, he wanted to: it really sucked that Starscream was Air Commander and so touchy that any frontal attack would inspire a grudge to last eons. "I see," he said, in his best level tones.

And in some ways, he really did see. Starscream's tedious, ongoing thing with Megatron superceded mere grudge and was elevated to the level of fine art. Did there even need to be a point any more for the endless sniping and brazen treachery? Thundercracker thought not. Starscream's reasons, such as they were, were unimportant. The only important thing was that Thundercracker was going to pulverize Starscream for this.

Or at least, he wanted to.


Frustrating! Well, first things first. "You need to rest now for real," Thundercracker said, pushing Skywarp back gently into a reclining position. "Shrink rays don't build themselves in an orn, and I doubt Starscream is going to make one for you that quickly anyway, either. Get well, and we can worry about Rumble after you're better."

"All right, TC," Skywarp said. It was very sweet and adorable, the way he smiled and did as he was told. "Maybe I'll have another dream where I am so awesome he almost expires from lust overload."

"Maybe," Thundercracker said, as he patted Skywarp's cheek. "Rest."

Even if he couldn't technically pulverize Starscream, there was no way he was going to hold back from subjecting him to his most legendary complaining.

There was no one who could best Thundercracker when it came to contemptuous insubordination. No one.

. + .

It was the end of the universe as Starscream knew it, and no he was not feeling fine, thank you for asking.

Who could have guessed that Skywarp would have been so willing to go to Megatron and demand sex? The idea was so preposterous that a part of him wistfully wanted to imagine that this whole thing would just blow over with Skywarp coming to his senses in the final breem and realizing that there were survival advantages in cowardice. But that was just foolish fancy; Skywarp was many things, but insightful he was not.

Starscream didn't care if Skywarp survived such an ill-advised attempt... in fact, at this point he was maliciously rooting for Skywarp to be swiftly and painfully dispatched to the Well of All Sparks. Should that idiot find the courage to do what few Decepticons ever dared, and furthermore have to audacity to actually survive... well. Starscream might be tempted to dispatch him there personally.

Obviously Starscream had seriously underestimated Skywarp's stupidity. But did that make it fair that he'd have to pay for it? No!

In the end, Skywarp's fate was trivial, unimportant. The only important thing here was what Megatron was going to do to him, the Mighty Starscream, afterwards.

It had started out to be such a good day, too. He had a new plan for overthrowing Megatron and everything.

Despite the fact that he was all alone, Starscream naturally found himself in a pose of picturesque angst, leaning against his desk, the perfect image of noble sorrow. It was amazing he ever got anything done, considering the magnitude of the moronic obstacles thrust in his path. As usual he congratulated himself on his perseverance in the face of such ill fortune. No one but he was equipped to make any kind of serendipitous happenings out of such base bad luck.

However. This would stretch even his brilliant capacity for self preservation and it was just not fair at all.


Aaand.... here came the cavalry. Or rather, Skywarp's cavalry. Thundercracker burst into his lab, almost as loud as his booming sonic weaponry. He did not look pleased.

It was just so predictable for Thundercracker to come running. So deliciously, mockably predictable. Were Starscream in a less distraught state, he would be all over that. As it was, even knowing that Thundercracker's arrival portended the end of everything fun for the foreseeable future, he couldn't help but let slip a scornful smile. For such a brilliant flier, Thundercracker could reliably be counted on to stall out into a dead spin every time Skywarp got himself in any kind of a jam. How could that not be amusing?

"What's wrong with you?" The smile didn't deter Thundercracker at all, of course. Thundercracker was so pushy and loud, it often gave Starscream headaches. "You geeky loser, are you trying to get yourself slagged?"

Starscream felt the smile fade from his face. Normally he'd make a speech about how touched he was by his wingmate's (patently false) concern. But if Thundercracker's opening gambit came in the form of concern instead of outright accusations, no matter how diversionary, that meant the situation was truly grim. "Did he do it?"


"He did it... with Megatron?" Starscream asked, in a softer voice.

"Yes! And survived-- but barely!"

That caused Starscream to falter in earnest. He buried his face in his hands, for the second time that day. "I'm doomed." It was so unfair. "Do you hear me? Doomed."

"That's right!" But apparently something in Starscream's presentation caused Thundercracker himself to pause. "Why did you tell him to do something so stupid if you knew you were going to be doomed?"

"Blame your idiot boyfriend!" Starscream was too upset to even gloss over the nature of Thundercracker's perverted feelings. "I never wanted him to do that!"

This shocked Thundercracker, of course. "He's not my boyfriend!"

"Whatever." Starscream waved that off. There were more important matters to discuss, namely, himself. "It was only a joke! I never meant for him to take me seriously! He wouldn't listen!"

"How dare you call him my boyfriend."

Oh, for the love of-- Thundercracker was intent on derailing this conversation in order to deny his blatantly transparent feelings. So. Unfair. "Fine. He's my boyfriend. I don't care." Starscream looked up, viciously testy. "Is that better?"

"No, not really..."

"Just shut up and listen." He paused, waiting for Thundercracker to make more protests, but apparently Starscream's bold claim had taken him aback. "I never wanted to make him that imbecilic shrink ray."

"No?" Thundercracker frowned.

"On top of everything else, don't you think it's highly unrealistic that Rumble will see such an overture as anything other than an insult? How is that even going to work? Be serious. Of course I didn't want to do it, he'd become the laughing stock of the base... which would reflect directly on both me and you."

"That's true..." Thundercracker went to sit down. "Primus."

Good, it was starting to sink in. Misery loved a complicit (or at the very least, captive) audience.

"So... Do you know how he got Megatron to agree?" Starscream dreaded the answer but he needed to know.

"No idea." Now it was Thundercracker's turn to sound and look glum. "I didn't think to ask."

Obviously. Starscream should have guessed that Thundercracker wouldn't be able to produce any truly useful intelligence. He waved it off as unimportant, though. Best to presume the worst, and proceed accordingly. "Oh well. Skywarp is crafty in his fashion. I have no doubt that he used my name as a means to manipulate Megatron, since it is clear that Megatron would go to any length, up to and including throwing this war, simply to spite me." Yes, no doubt about that. "Just to spite me."

For some reason, Thundercracker was giving him a strange look. "You don't say."

Starscream sighed, a very put-out, put-upon sigh. "Why must I be beset with morons?"

"Takes one to..." Thundercracker paused. "Never mind."

Hmm. Starscream narrowed his optics. That was perilously close to Unforgivable. Still, Thundercracker had cut himself off just in time, and in that fragment of restraint was just enough of a sliver of respect to keep Thundercracker from entering his ill graces (which tended to be memorably ill indeed).

More importantly, he needed Thundercracker's cooperation if he was going to get out of this with any measure of his native glory left untouched. Starscream limited himself to a menacing, glowering stare. Eventually, Thundercracker looked away.

Good. That just left him with the problem of figuring out how to salvage this wreck of a day. "So," Starscream said primly, continuing as if no insult had been given, but with a warning undertone-- "How do we fix this?"

Not that he was especially expecting Thundercracker to come up with any brilliant plan. The important part was the "we." Thundercracker had to agree to it.

"Yes." Thundercracker sighed. "That's the problem."

So predictable. Starscream stifled the urge to smirk. Decepticons with romantic entanglements deserved every bit of shame and suffering they got. It made them far too easy to manipulate. He would never succumb to such trifling weakness. "I don't suppose there is any chance Skywarp will give up on his plans for fulfilling Rumble's... dreams."

"Does that even matter? Megatron's involved. I doubt there's any going back, now."

"True." Still, Starscream felt his mood alight, as if catching an updraft. Having allies, any kind of allies, always made him feel invincible. And for all of his annoyingness, and his exploitable weaknesses, Thundercracker made for a pretty solid ally. That's why they were wingmates in the first place. Starscream became thoughtful. "I wonder if there is a way to turn this to our advantage."

"I can't see how." Always a mood killer, though, that Thundercracker. "Other than serving you up on a platter, Skywarp probably had to make some kind of concession to Megatron, and I doubt he'll tell us, since it has to do with Megatron."

"Why is he so loyal?" Starscream complained, bitterly. "It's not like Megatron has done anything to earn it."

Thundercracker shrugged. "He likes doing what he's told."

"Bah." That seemed like the only rational response to such foolishness.

"Still--" Thundercracker was giving Starscream a speculative look.

It was not an especially friendly look, either. More of a leer. "What?" Starscream asked, suddenly wary.

"You know, Rumble's always had a thing for you."

Who didn't? It was one of Starscream's many banes. "So?" He didn't at all like where this was going.

"So... you need someone to run interference with Megatron." Thundercracker crossed his arms across his chest. "And Rumble needs a reason not to shame Skywarp... and bring disgrace down upon all of us." His tone was leading, and grossly suggestive. "Don't you agree?"

It was actually amazing, the lengths Thundercracker would go to protect his precious boyfriend. "What do you plan on doing to appease Megatron?"

Well, Starscream also would go to great lengths. To protect his own carapace. Some things simply overruled pride.

"Why, tell him the truth, of course."

"Ha! Like he'd care." No way was Starscream going to approach Rumble if Thundercracker's plan was that feeble. "What else?"

"Appeal to his higher nature?"

Useless. That's what Thundercracker was. Completely useless. Starscream mentally retracted his thought that Thundercracker made for a reliable ally, and re-categorized him as "flaky" instead. "You don't have a single clue on how to win over Megatron, do you?"

"Guilty." Thundercracker smiled a little, and shrugged. "What would you do? I mean, assuming you weren't you?"

"Other than abject flattery? Mmm." Starscream looked up, thinking. "You need to give him something he wants, obviously. Tricky, since what he wants are completely unreasonable things that any moron could tell you are dangerous, unfeasible, and overreaching." Fortunately, Starscream was an expert on what Megatron wanted. "Although the obvious thing to do would be to give him some valuable exploitable resource, such the location of a ruby crystal mine, or maybe give him the outline to some brilliant plan, he would find your timing suspect, and ultimately such a plan would backfire since he'd think you were holding out on him."

"What's left?" Thundercracker sounded wry. "That sounds like pretty much everything."

"Not quite." Starscream smiled slightly. "The main thing you can give him is... you."

"Oh no." Thundercracker stood up. "Frag no."

"Calm down. I don't mean interface with him, you dolt." As if Megatron would consider interfacing anything other than a privilege he was granting. He'd never accept it as a gift or a sop to his ego or even as a way to satisfy a craving. Megatron just didn't work like that. "All he wants is control. Give him a minor hold on you, and he'll be happy." Starscream adopted a lecturing tone. "And it shouldn't be anything other than minor, because if you offer him a lot then he'll realize you think that the insult was correspondingly large. Bargain up if you must, but always start low."

"I see." Thundercracker thumbed his chin. "He doesn't really care about me, though."


"Better if I offer him information about you, don't you think?"

"What?" Starscream paused. "What?"

"You said it yourself. I should give him information, right?" Thundercracker was being far too obvious in his attempt to sound serious and measured. "But I'm not the genius who told Skywarp he'd make him a shrink ray as a joke, nor am I the one who is in serious danger of being slagged to mini microns. All that threatens me is a little contact humiliation from Skywarp's ridiculous plans." It was all disturbingly logical. And that slagger knew it. His sympathetic smile said it all. "It's not like I need to offer anything big... that's what you said, right? So where's the problem?"

Where was the...? Everywhere! Maybe it would be better to just take his chances with Megatron.

... a Megatron who had just interfaced with Skywarp, out of what he surely thought was Starscream's goading. A Megatron who would want payback, no matter what. Payback, specifically, from him.

Thundercracker waited patiently for Starscream's response.

"I don't like it," Starscream grumbled, continuing after a weighty pause. "I don't like it at all."

"Duly noted."

"I get to decide what information is up for grabs," Starscream said, effectively giving up.

"Of course."

"And you are not to say anything... anything! when Skywarp gets the most miserable duty rosters for the next stellar cycle or so."

There was a pause, as Thundercracker mulled that one over. "Agreed," he said at last. He didn't sound especially happy, because Skywarp was his boyfriend and all, but even Thundercracker had his limits. Skywarp getting off scot-free would be a travesty of injustice. A complete betrayal of every Decepticon non-principle.

Taking care of Rumble would be easy. Coming out of this alive? A little less so.

Yes, his day was totally ruined.

"Listen closely." Starscream held up a finger, shaking it sternly. "This is what you are going to say..."

. + .

... to be continued...