::Megatron to Thundercracker!::
The harsh, rumbling voice practically yelled through the comm. link, almost causing the blue-and-white jet to knock his head over on the monitor. Steadying his still shaky grip, Thundercracker opened his connection and said:
::Thundercracker here, sir.::
The Seeker had always being cautious when talking to the Decepticon Supreme Commander, but this time he put more effort in sounding even more polite when replying, knowing the tone that Megatron used indicated that he was recently being slagged off by something – or someone, for that matter.
::Get to the detention brig, NOW!::
Detention brig. Thundercracker cycled air out through his vents, letting out the Cybertronian equivalent of a sigh. That place, when was required for him to come over, meant only two things; either that Megatron needed his creativity in torturing captured Autobots or his trineleader had managed to somehow landed himself, again and again, in the fiery path of the warlord's anger. Probably – no, that's an understatement – very likely, the latter, since it had been orns they have met the damnable soft-sparked Autobots. Since he suspected he needed more than two servos in this circumstance, he again opened his comm. link and contacted a presence that was much more welcoming.
::'warp, need you in this. I think Screamer is in it again. Be quick, ol' Megs didn't sound happy at all.::
::Be right there.:: Answered a much smoother voice at the other end of the link before it was shut off again.
However, through the Seeker bond he shared with his trinemate, Thundercracker could sort of feel the black-and-purple Seeker's presence vanished for an astrosecond before the said mech appeared almost at the same instant right at his side, a frown adorning his faceplates. Such expression was rare for Skywarp to show, but when it concerned their overly-brave-if-not-foolish Air Commander, none of them could escape the feeling that was coursing within their systems right now – worry.
Without a word, Skywarp's purple servo clutched around Thundercraker's left fore-arm, taking care not to grip too tightly and activated his warp gate projector. The instant he did, Thundercracker braced himself for the tank-lurching, gravity-defying sensation of teleporting as Skywarp initiated the process. The blue jet never really liked teleportation – at the end of each, his CPU would feel a little addled for a few astroseconds, and when he first experienced it, it took all of his willpower not to purge his tank empty. He wondered briefly how on Cybertron did Skywarp managed to be battle-ready whenever he re-appeared, nor how he could possibly like to do it repeatedly.
Thundercarcker's wonderings were cut short as the familiar yet uncomfortable teleporting began. The only good thing in this was that the process took hardly a nanoklik, and when he onlined his optics (Thundercracker never let his optics online when teleporting) again he was already just outside the metal door of the detention brig. All around him was dark because Megatron made sure that when Nemesis was built, he wanted this place to be as uncomfortable as possible, going to the minutest details like the lack of lightings. He didn't know if it worked for the captives, but the dimly lit space, suffocatingly narrow hallway always managed to put his Seeker-inherent claustrophobia to the surface. Skywarp must have been feeling the same as he, with the younger Seeker being of the same model. This was confirmed by the slight fear floating through their Seeker bond and the faint shiver briefly shaking his chassis.
"What do you think Megatron has done this time?" Skywarp was the first to speak, he being unaffected by his the teleportation. His grip on the blue arm loosened.
"One way to find out." Thundercracker rapped his knuckles to the metal surface lightly, but the sound-reflective surrounding amplified the sound to a level that it seemed he was banging on it instead.
"Enter," came the cold reply from inside. Both Thundercracker and Skywarp let their air vents cycle air once to calm their slightly heated circuits, courtesy of their anxiety, before the blue mech led the way into the detention brig, his trinemate followed closely behind.
Both barely managed to restrain their vocalizers from hitching at the sight that met their optics once they were inside.
Of course, Megatron was there as expected, as was his 3IC, Soundwave. Their figures were familiar enough to be recognized even with the poorly-lit space, with only a lamp to provide lights for the whole cell. In the near total darkness, Soundwave's visor glowed a deep shade of orange, which was unusual enough since it was a sign of interest or inquisitiveness. None of its cassettes were activated, and in his servo seemed to be holding something small in its palm, though the Seekers couldn't quite make out what. Contrasting to the horrified expressions on the Seekers' faceplates, Megatron appeared as he always did when enraged, with a scowl set firmly in place. Even in gay mood, the silver tyrant was a figure to be feared but with wrath still boiling in his energon blood, Thundercracker and Skywarp found themselves fearing for their activation. His Fusion Cannon, almost always strapped to his right arm, hummed faintly from recent fire, as was its smoking barrel indicated. His optics flared a deeper shade of red for an instant upon seeing an extra Seeker figure at the doorway instead of only the summoned Thundercracker.
"Lord Megatron?" Thundercracker croaked, his CPU screaming for him to flee but he kept his pedes anchored to the place. If Megatron decided to blast his cannon at him, he was sure Skywarp would be fast enough to grab him out of the harm's way via warping off to somewhere safe.
"Well? Do I have to spell out everything?" Megatron roared furiously, one black finger jabbed out to a far corner of the cell, where a comatose figure laid in the dark.
The Seekers understood the sign well enough and hurried over, struggling to suppress a shudder as their comatose Air Commander came into clearer view. His offlined optics were almost invisible against his dark faceplates, splatters of energon-ish purple staining a large portion of them. His dental plating was half crushed, probably by the warlord's fist whose prints were imbedded elsewhere on his chassis. One of his legs was bent at an unnatural angle with its metal joint completely dislocated from his hip component. Blue arms lay several feet off his body, entirely dispatched from their shoulder joints, energon blood pouring out of the wounds with nightmarish rush. One side of the mech's helm no longer retained its original shape, being bent and crushed by Megatron's punches and kicks. Torn circuits and broken lines were exposed where his armors were ripped, cracked or dented, sparks emitting from cut live wires. Right at the centre of his chestplates, a weak glow of the injured mech's Spark pulsed with dying frequency, it being exposed for the sake of Megatron's torture – Even Skywarp had to bit on his lip components upon seeing the abused Spark, knowing just how much agony it could inflict to the bot owning it when it was mistreated even slightly. His Air Commander's looked as if it had been through torture Megatron specially reserved for hardy Autobots. However, all these were nothing compared to the revelation that hit the blue and purple Seekers when they turned their trineleader's limp body over in an attempt to lift him up.
He had no wings.
As if realizing what had shocked the two jets into temporary stasis, Megatron kicked a pair of white, angular pieces of metal already stained with energon towards them. They skidded to a halt at the Seekers' sides, drawing out surprised gasps.
Seekers were a mech-model specially designed for flight; they are the masters of the sky and every inch of their chassis is shaped to the purpose. They carry lightweight armors to reduce weight and minimum artilleries; legs were built especially strong for landings and take-offs in root mode while their wings…their wings, the simple-looking yet elegant parts of their bodies, calibrated to extra sensitivity to sense subtle changes in air pressure while in flight, are probably the one treasure they prize above all else. Without them, flight is impossible. Without them, they are trapped to the ground. Without them, they are not free in Seeker's sense.
Without them, they are simply not Seekers.
Where the white wings were once attached to the Air Commander's chassis, Skywarp and Thundercracker could see bits of ripped metal from the wings still clinging to the joints. Wires dangled free from damaged circuitries, energon dripping generously to the slick floor, forming puddles in which the unconscious mech was lying. Further scrutiny showed a rather jagged line of tear, signifying that the ripping was done slowly by bare servos. They could not even grasp the extent of pain their trineleader was subjected to; Seekers' wings were too sensitive for their own good – harsh grips on them were enough to send the owner reeling in pain. Tearing them off would have felt like the agony of deactivation itself.
Skywarp took the abused wings into his arms, along with other collections of ripped-off limbs, handling them gently and with utmost care as if they could still register pain. Thundercracker worked in similar silence, sliding an arm under the injured mech's knee-joints and one behind his wingless back. Bridal-style, the blue Seeker lifted his Air Commander; with a final acknowledgement to the still-seething warlord, Skywarp extended a servo to wrap his fingers around Thundercracker's while the other touching his trineleader on the helm, he initiated the teleportation sequence. In a nanoklik, the three Seekers were gone from the cell, leaving Megatron and Soundwave alone.
Once the Seekers were gone, the seemingly perpetual scowl on Megatron's face mutated into a smirk, optics following the trail of energon on the dark floor in a show of sadistic satisfaction. For an astrosecond he ignored the company of his telepathic Third-In-Command while opening a comm. link to the Decepticon CMO.
::Megatron to Hook.::
A deep voice answered over the quickly established link. ::Hook. What is it, Lord Megatron?::
::Expect a visit from Starscream. Repair him, but only so he did not stay in stasis lock. Finish all else while he was conscious, and make it as slow as possible.::
::As you wish, Megatron.::
::Good. Megatron out.::
The silver tyrant turned to face Soundwave just in time to see the cassette-deck's visor flared in a nanoklik before settling down to its usual glow – obviously his telepathy had told him exactly what Megatron had in store for Starscream.
"How is it with that memory drive of yours?" Megatron asked, voice only a notch softer than the tone he used to order his Seekers.
"Mission: accomplished. Starscream's personal code retrieval: 78% successful. Corrupted files: 23% of overall downloads," the monotonic voice of the 3IC replied, a slight raise in his tone being the only indication of fear in delivering the report.
"'Corrupted'?" The ex-gladiator repeated. "How in the Pit they become corrupted? Will they be of any use?"
"File status: unreadable. Possible cause: Starscream's abuses interferes with his processing unit. Suggested course of action: Defragmentation."
Megatron's anger abated somewhat at Soundwave's display of efficiency. Black fingers reached up to stroke his square jaws in a fashion of 'I-will-rule-the-universe' as he said, "Good, Soundwave. Do that, and when it's ready, deliver it to me right away. Then…Starscream will not be able to hide his insidious plan to usurp my throne in his dirty little processor any longer." The last bit sounded more like a monologue to the stoic 3IC, looking at the fact that the dictator's optics dimmed slightly.
Megatron growled, suddenly aroused from his fantasy by the electronic monotone of his subordinate. Without doubt, the navy-and-white mech must have sensed his wandering thoughts and only tried to bring his focus back to the present. If this was done in front of the other Decepticons, he would have raged. As it was, though, the Decepticon overlord suppressed his seething annoyance down – Soundwave only did what he thought was best, and it was well too. When left unattended with his own actively fantasizing processors, Megatron could be lost in his thoughts for breems or maybe joors.
"Dismiss." The silver gun-former waived a careless hand before Soundwave's hidden face, emphasizing his order. The Third-In-Command did not voice out a syllable as he went off, only a slight dip of his head to signify his acknowledgement of the order.
The silver dictator held back a dark chuckle. Soon…very soon, his traitorous Air Commander would find his will bared and naked to the Lord High Protector, who saw and read every planned move, every orchestrated word, to the point that insubordination would be impossible…
"How many times do I have to tell you, Skywarp, that my med bay is off-limit for your teleporting antics! Of all the whole Nemesis, why do you have to do it, again and again –"
Whatever else the old Decepticon had to spill, the words died out in his vocalizer as he spun around to face the expected black and purple flyer, but instead saw one of the most gruesome sight he ever laid his optics upon.
"What happened?" The Constructicon asked, then remembered Megatron comm. linking him only a few astroseconds ago. "Wait, don't tell. It's Megatron throwing his tantrum again."
Without further ado, he motioned Thundercracker to lay the unconscious Starscream on one of the operation berths in the med bay while gesturing Skywarp to line the dismembered limbs of the colourful Seeker in a prepared tray on a nearby desk. The jets retreated a few steps, giving room for the medic as he began to scuttle around, mumbling incoherent words and shaking his helm as he started to work on Starscream.
"Whatever our Air Commander did this time that get Megatron this slagged," Hook said while cycling air through his intakes, resulting in the Decepticon sounding like he was huffing. He searched through the battered form for Starscream's connection slots – a surprisingly difficult task, since he was required to find them among all the intricacies of dented, plied, split armors, not to mention the drooping wires and cables.
Thundercracker suppressed his growing unease as he watched Hook being none-too-gently in his search – the medic was not known to be tender with his patients, a Decepticon as he was. Skywarp, though being the least sensitive in the trine, did not go unaffected while seeing Starscream's armors being removed to expose…whatever it was that the Constructicon was trying to find. It was a good thing that Starscream was in stasis lock or the pain would have been, to say the least, too much. Hook was indifferent to the uncomfortable fidgeting of his patient's trinemates, plugging in wires and cables from his medical monitoring machines into Starscream's slots. The screens flickered online to show the SIC's various stats – his sparkbeat, energon fuel pressure, processor activeness, among many others, but they all did not show anything to celebrate upon.
"Slag this…his energy's too low to continue the repair…" Hook mumbled upon setting his optics on the energy reading – barely 5%. He produced a cube of energon from his sub-space and attached a tiny hose into it while the other end was slotted into a port that led to Starscream's main fuel pump. Tiny dribbles of the pinkish fluid were sucked up the tube, drawn by the mech's starving tank pump, to receive nourishment of any kind.
As if suddenly realizing that he had audiences, the lime-and-purple medic whirled around and growled, "Are you two going to stay and watch? If you do, don't get in my way."
"I…uh, we think we better let the medic stuffs to you," Thundercracker interjected sharply; he shot his trinemate a look that said 'don't say a word, I have enough with this.' Apparently, even the hardy jet could not afford to see the fixation being carried out, with Hook being the one to do it. Sure, he knew how to repair, but his method was really not for the weak-Sparked. Skywarp had no protest about this at all and nodded vigorously.
"Fine. Get your afts out of here before someone purged in my med bay," the Constructicon shrugged, a Cybertronian gesture that somehow coincided with human culture. He turned his back to the duo, a laser scalpel in one servo, and bent down over the unconscious form of Starscream.
That was the cue for the two jets to leave. Skywarp grabbed hold on his trinemate's black servo, their chassis shimmering with the initial glow of teleportation when Hook suddenly turned to face them and practically yelled, "Oh no, you don't! No teleporting in and out –"
Too late, the two Seekers vanished into Skywarp's invisible warp gate before Hook could finish scolding them. The air crackled for a few nanokliks from the jet's teleportation afterglow around the fuming Hook, who resumed working on his latest patient.
When Skywarp and Thundercracker re-appeared, they found themselves standing in the middle of the latter's personal quarters. To Thundercracker, Skywarp's choice of destination was most tantalizing, with his recharge berth only a few metres away, compared to the other option – going back to the security room and spent 2 more joors staring at the blank, dull monitor.
Thundercracker cycled out a huff of heated air. Better get going or risked crossing lines with the fearsome, illustrious leader of the Decepticon.
"Awwhh, TC, leaving already?" cooed Skywarp, already shamelessly lying himself on his trinemate's berth.
"Don't know about you, 'warp, but I still had a monitor duty to do. Ol' Megs won't be too pleased if Autobots come to attack without warning and I happen to be on the guard duty."
Skywarp harrumphed a little, both through his mouth components and the twin intakes on his shoulder plating. "Swell. You know those slaggin' Autobots never attacked at night. It's what we – Decepticons – do."
Thundercracker considered this for a few brief nanokliks, optics sweeping lazily the elegant length of his purple-and-black design copy sprawled on his berth – he knew that all those teleportation must have drained Skywarp of considerable energy. A brief scan confirmed his inference, the report scrolling before his optics informing of his trinemate's low-energy state.
"I need energon. All what's been happening's too much to take, if you know what I mean," Skywarp groaned, stretching his bearing-stiff limbs and got up.
Thundercracker hesitated. "'warp, in case you haven't notice, which I presume is the case considering your carefree suggestion, it is I who is on the current shift, not you. If Megatron found the station empty it will be I who is in trouble, not you. Didn't matter if Autobots never really did attack in dark hours, Megatron will get the slag out of his way if any of the 'Con not being where they supposed to be."
A collective shudder ran through the Seeker's frame when they remembered the battered, tattered form of Starscream, barely functioning, lying in the dark cell. Granted, their Air Commander always had the zeal to tease and mock and challenged the silver warlord from time to time again, managing to escape – Primus knew how – from time to time again, with his Spark. A clever mouth, and the next joor would see the red-blue-white Seeker with Megatron's servo-prints denting his exquisite chassis. Raising his null-ray in defiance usually reaped a brutal kick or two. It was a twisted dance that Megatron and Starscream seemed to never get tired to engage in, but never in the millions of stellar cycles did the Second-In-Command came as close to deactivation as this time. It was usual to see crushed armors here and there if it was Starscream, but Megatron, though fond of wing-abusing where the Seeker was concerned, never gone as far as tearing them off.
Skywarp seemed to give up arguing with his Seeker-mate when he raised his servos beside his black helm. "Fine. When's your shift over, TC?"
"My turn will end in 2 joors. But I guess I can get out a few breems early…"
Skywarp's lip components curled into a smile. The purple Seeker hated two things; being alone and monitor duty, and the fact that Thundercrcker would work out something so that he can get off early was a relief. "Right. I'll be waiting in my quarters, TC."
The ebony-purple jet teleported away with the usual farewell crack while Thundercracker groaned at the thought of the dullness that lied ahead. Nevertheless, he was not Starscream, and he would do whatever it was that he was ordered to and preceded to the security room with heavy pedesteps and even heavier Spark.
Being a telepath had its pros and cons, but one of the things that he dreaded was Megatron's emotions whenever Soundwave felt it. The warlord possessed one of the most raw-feeling mental the 3IC had ever felt, so naked and unabashed with his wants and cravings, that Soundwave did not really have to delve into Megatron's mind to know what he was thinking – not that the mech would purposely do so without the other's consent. There was invisible barrier that Soundwave would not dare cross, even though he was perfectly capable of it, one of them being invading the privacy of Megatron's processor though the gun-former did encourage his 3IC to keep alert of possible traitorous thoughts. He rarely sensed such things, mostly because no sane mechs would ever dare doing so in the presence of Megatron, but Primus knew how very strong the firewalls that Starscream had somehow learned to erect whenever Soundwave was nearby. In fact, such was its strength, the cassette-deck had never been successful to penetrate past it to sift through his multi-layered thoughts.
Soundwave continued working in silence, hidden optics staring resolutely on one of Nemesis's system computer screen as the defragmentation of his memory drive began. At least, now that he had the control room all to himself, Soundwave permitted himself a sigh of relief. Megatron's latest demand for a way to spot possible insolence among his soldiers had resulted in Soundwave's latest creation, the memory drive, which enabled the warlord to become a sort of telepath, though an artificial one at that. It was not that the communication officer was incompetent at his jobs; rather, Megatron had lusted for Soundwave's unique ability for a while now, particularly in invading Starscream's traitorous mind. To do so, though, needed Soundwave to copy said mech's personal codes before the memory drive could be integrated into Megatron's processors. After that, the Decepticon Supreme Commander would have an instant, easy access to Starscream's consciousness whenever he felt like it. All he had to do was to activate the memory drive.
There was a beep announcing that the defragmentation had been completed, coinciding perfectly with the soft hiss of the main door sliding open to admit a certain blue Seeker into the control room.
Soundwave did not have to turn to identify the newcomer, his telepathy already recognizing the 'Con entering, although his did have a particular difficulty in distinguishing Thundercracker's presence from Skywarp at one scan.
"…Soundwave?" Came the puzzled 'greeting'; of course, the cassette-player was not exactly a midnight-wanderer and his figure was hardly seen walking around Nemesis at hours like this. "What are you doing here?"
"Explanation: Megatron's order," Soundwave decided to humor the Seeker's bewilderment by telling him, more or less, the cause of his presence here.
Thundercracker resigned himself to a shrug, though the 3IC knew better; bubbling just beneath the pretended satisfaction was inquisitiveness just waiting to burst forth while the jet took his seat before one of the security monitors.
Sure enough, an astrosecond later, the F-15 swiveled his chair around to ask the navy mech, "So what is exactly 'Megatron's order'? And don't give me a slag that you don't know because you're following his order."
Behind his facemask, Soundwave actually smiled at the comment – those were his usual lines if asked of his motive. However, he saw no harm in revealing to the blue Decepticon, thus answering, "Explanation: Defragmentation of memory drive. Reason: Make it presentable to Lord Megatron's observation."
"Uhuh, very 'clear' there, 'wave. What the frag is this 'memory drive', and why's our leader interested in it?"
Soundwave answered the questions with exactly the same words as he previously used to tell Megatron. "Object usage: Extrication and storage of memory files. Possible application: Detection of possible threats in one's processor."
"You mean 'detection of treachery in Starscream's processor'. Like I'm not used to the megalomaniac's glitchy paranoia," Thundercracker managed to mumble.
Soundwave made no comment this time – he didn't have to. It was a base-wide knowledge that Megatron, possessive and overbearing tyrant he was, could hardly tolerate betrayal and that power-hungry Starscream was in constant planning to overthrow the leader. With other mechs, Megatron would take only a nanoklik to point his Fusion Cannon at the offender's head and half of a nanoklik to blast the victim's head off. There was no such liberty with Starscream, though, but it was not because of the flyer's position; rather, Starscream would serve Megatron better alive than dead – Traitorous or not, that blue-red-white jet knew how to really be a Decepticon Air Commander and Megatron's SIC. It was only him who was brave – or foolish enough – to keep pointing out flaws and mistakes in Megatron's many battle plans.
Even Soundwave could not gather adequate boldness to deliberately do something like that and knew that he would be punished for it later. No, the credits were solely Starscream's.
"I guess that's why ol' Megs was out of his processor this time? He finally found what Screamer is up to?"
"Supposition: Incorrect. Starscream's position: Lord Megatron's punishment to his previous betrayal."
Oh pretty much summarized the thoughts crossing Thundercracker's processor, knowing exactly what his latest betrayal was. The one that had Starscream manipulating Dr. Arkeville's invention to blow up Earth in order to absorb the aftermath energy explosion, creating a massive stock of energon cubes. It would have been a perfect plan…if not for the simple fact that if Starscream had succeeded, they would have gone along with this planet.
Soundwave retracted his memory drive from the computer's port and stored it away in his sub-space. It was time to leave.
Thundercracker arched an optic ridge as he watched the communication officer rose from his seat and made his way to the door. Soundwave felt his comrade's optics following his movements, no doubt still curious of the contents of the memory drive and was disappointed that he left so soon. Still, an order was to be followed, especially Megatron's – deliver it to me right away, he had said. It couldn't have been blunter than that.
Megatron's private quarters were situated somewhere on the upper deck of Nemesis where the warlord would have access to wide view around the battleship. It was there that Soundwave's pedes were carrying him to and, as he stood outside the door, his fingers hovering above the intercom button, the 3IC prepared himself to face the overwhelming mental of his lord.
He pushed the comm. button and spoke to the speaker above the control panel. "Lord Megatron. Soundwave is here."
A moment's silence, then, "Come in, Soundwave."
The cassette-player did just that as the door slid aside, admitting entrance into Megatron's spacious and luxurious living space. Off to a corner was a large desk, and in front of it was Megatron-occupied chair. An optic ridge was raised in a silent inquiry, and Soundwave knew exactly what Megatron was about to ask.
"Task completed. Memory drive defragmentation: 100% successful. Corrupted files: Non-existent."
Megatron's lip-plates were pulled apart into a smile upon hearing the mech's report. Black servos rubbed together in a gesture of satisfaction while the red optics flashed with sinister light. All in all, the reactions left Megatron looking more foreboding than his usual self but Soundwave knew that he was in no immediate anger – Megatron was actually rather pleased.
"Excellent, Soundwave. Excellent," he drawled in his usual manner of showing approval. Hearing the tone, the 3IC mentally counted 2 astroseconds and braced for the impact as he handed said device into the leader's extended servo.
It rolled around the room with unrestrained vigour, overwhelming the telepathic Soundwave like unstoppable tidal waves; Megatron's lust and sense of triumph were always powerful enough to make the communication officer shudder, albeit very faintly it was negligible.
Megatron reflected on the gadget for a few astroseconds longer, entranced by its power. Soundwave, his ever loyal officer, succeeded again in his job as was given. Admittedly, he had ordered the 3IC to invent it for the sake of his sole amusement…to steal a look into his traitorous Air Commander's mind, though when it was created it proved to be more potent than expected, when all Megatron intended to achieve was to personally indulge in the thoughts of Starscream himself, wanting to feel, see and hear all the perceptions that Soundwave experienced when he delved into someone's mind. Before, Soundwave's mental probing had always been deflected by the Seeker's firewalls – therefore, the 3IC had thought, very brilliantly, that if he could not access his memories from outside, then maybe if it is done from inside, Starscream's processors would be more susceptible to revelation, only Megatron had ordered it to be himself turned into Starscream's 'mind-reader'.
The theory was proven correct when the file streams from Starscream's data banks were readily downloaded into the memory drive under Soundwave's telepathic guidance. There was little resistance from the screaming, thrashing and helpless Seeker as his personal codes, deeply stored in his processors, were torn away and violated. The reactions were so intense that Starscream stalled Soundwave's progress for a few astroseconds before regaining himself under the dictator's warning glare that spoke of his demand more clearly than any of his ramblings could. Megatron was sorely tempted not to stop until his SIC reached permanent deactivation but even in the haze of killing joy, the warlord could reason enough that Starscream still had his uses. That was when he called Thundercracker to take the injured Seeker to the medical bay – if he had called Hook, the uncaring medic would most likely cause more damage since he was not very impartial in being caring.
Megatron laughed out loud, uncaring if any Decepticon happened to be passing by or not – after all, his quarters were fairly sound-proof. Oh, the joy he was feeling! Starscream prided on two things; his wings and his mind. Now, both were Megatron's to use as he pleased and he chose to deprive the Seeker from his flying appendage to humiliate and pain him. The memory drive in Megatron's servo, however, was a rather cryptic meaning of his Air Commander's torn freedom of mind. Life was indeed sweet if you know how to make the best of it, Megatron mused. With that thought, came a heavier notion that despite this being a part of his wicked amusement, Megatron realized that he also had a responsibility to fulfill as the leader of the Decepticon – to straighten his soldiers into complete obedience, which was the exact thing Starscream was rather lacking. Perhaps in his memories Megatron could find the reason behind it, and once the source was identified, it would be easier to find the cure.
To his shock, though, and much bewilderment, Megatron had motioned the communication officer to come closer whilst opening a small paneling to reveal an outlet at the side of his helm. Almost instantly, though, understanding dawned on him.
"Lord Megatron…" It was rather uncharacteristic for Soundwave to fidget, but that was exactly his reaction right now.
"Install. The. Memory. Drive. NOW!" Megatron hissed, baring his fang-sharp incisor dental plates and gesturing insistently at the opened outlet.
"…Request: Delay the installation process. Reason: Dangerous consequence under unprepared situations," the cassette-deck's voice was flat as usual, but the wording was chosen so Megatron would recognize the plea in it.
"Heh, Soundwave, don't tell me what's dangerous and what's not; me, of all mechs out there. Now do it, before I lost whatever little patience I have left. You don't want to end up like Starscream, do you?"
The subordinate mech sighed inwardly at his lord's impatience and moved forward, the gadget held firmly between his fingers. "Lord Megatron: Request for mind connection."
"Granted," was the dictator's one-word reply. Soundwave carefully extended his mind to link to Megatron's, hoping fervently that his firewalls would be strong enough to hold against the other mech's mentality.
Once the link was established, Soundwave carefully slotted in the memory drive into the outlet, careful to not touch sensitive wirings inside – not that Megatron was that bothered with a little discomfort. As was expected, Megatron's systems reacted negatively to the presence of the gadget once it detected another mech's personal codes contained inside it. His defense mechanism kicked in, trying to expel the 'intruder', and this was when Soundwave's telepathy was needed, guiding Megatron's mind from repulsing the device and relaxed as it throbbed and hummed faintly while it sought compatibility with its new host. Megatron groaned the entire way, fighting the urge to rip the memory drive out of his head but forced his body to accept it – and it was not easy, seeing how very conservationist he was.
Eventually, the discomfort passed quickly. Soundwave knew then that the installation was complete and a total success so he withdrew his mental presence from Megatron's. The cover panel slid over the now-occupied port and locked with a click. The communication officer belatedly realized that condensation was slick on the tyrant's face and his servos were faintly shaking. Granted, he had thought that it would end up a lot worse, seeing that what they were doing was actually rather violating – to trap a copy of Starscream's personality inside Megatron's systems, which was linked to the actual being when Megatron wanted it. Soundwave honestly thought that his leader was in for some head-banging pain or processor-splitting sensation. Apparently, Megatron's restraint was a lot stronger than that.
"How are you feeling, Lord Megatron?" The cassette-deck asked.
"I…ah, I am functioning," the silver tyrant groaned, then swallowed hard. "My body is rejecting it…I feel like a slag."
"Assumption: Incorrect. Systems are compatible with the memory drive. Re-wiring of some circuitries will be complete in a few joors."
Megatron nodded in understanding. "It will come to pass, you mean." Again, a groan escaped the silver lip components and the head was quickly buried in black servos.
"Observation: Prolonged resistance causes systems overheating. Suggestion: Refuel and recharge to replenish lost energy."
"Yes…that sounds acceptable. You…may leave, Soundwave." The larger Decepticon's voice was muffled, it being spoken from the confines of his own servos massaging his face up and down and around the temple. With any of the other Decepticons, such display of pain would be unwise, but he knew that Soundwave would know what he was going through, pretenses or no. It would be a waste of energy if he tried to hide it when the other mech's telepathy would read the signs just as easily.
Soundwave did not dare linger that the command had been given despite the obvious pain Megatron was in. Bowing slightly, the navy 'bot retreated, glancing back only long enough to catch a glimpse of his leader's figure slumped in his chair before the door slid close completely, blocking his view.
Ensuring that none was within audio range, Soundwave released a rarely-heard sigh, emotions mixed within it, before turning around for his own quarters a few levels down below.
Soundwave's departure had left the tyrant alone with his dark thoughts, despite the annoyingly intensifying throbbing in his cranium, his mouth forming something between a smirk and a leer. The small, seemingly insignificant memory drive currently occupying his port had his processors crazy with all its promising possibilities. Such an amusing joke that such small thing could be so very…dangerous.
Not now, though. It was time to relax, Megatron reminded himself. His processor was already overworked for the day, and sifting through immense data was exactly what he did not need. The silver mech rubbed at his temple to ease the discomfort that refused to fade and extracted a cube of energon from the side of his desk when he realized how low on energy he was. He might be greedy and ruthless, but when it came to 'table manners', as the fleshlings called it, Megatron was surprisingly decent, sipping the content slowly to avoid spilling. When he was a gladiator millions of stellar cycles ago, he did not have the privileges to take his own sweet time to relieve the deliciousness of energon after a day full of battles, and definitely not high-graded ones at that. Now that he became the Supreme Commander of a vast army, Megatron wanted to cherish what was denied to him before.
Frag, Thundercracker's right when he said these were high-grades, Megatron thought when his processors became decidedly slower and his vision grainy after finishing his third cube. Not that he had low tolerance for high-grades – in fact he could normally get done with at least five before falling into highly energized state – but the stuffs were rather strong. He dragged his pedes to his large recharge berth in the next section of his living quarters, stumbling a little along the way as the high grades took him further and further into inebriation. With a groan, Megatron's huge chassis slammed on his berth. In a matter of kliks, his optics dimmed completely and he drifted into recharge.
Transformers did not dream in normal circumstances. A few never did experience it as a matter of fact because to them it was caused by a glitch in memory banks, which was rather undesirable. So, when Starscream's processor pulled up certain files from his data bank while said mech was still in stasis lock, he was very much unwelcomed by the flicker of images racing before his offlined optics. Unable to stop them, Starscream was forced to endure the emotions each of the pictures conjured, all alone and in silence…
The look that Starburst had on his faceplates spoke nothing that could be associated with 'positive'. The ancient Seeker sat on his chair for long kliks, fingers entwined together, vents whirling as they gulped cool air and ejecting warm. Starscream waited for the same period for reactions, any reaction at all, from his creator. So far he was granted with none.
"Science academy, you say?" the huge mech finally spoke after what it felt like joors. This startled the young tetrajet so much, Starscream nearly fell forward in his smaller chair – he honestly didn't think that Starburst would speak so soon.
"Y-yes, father." Starscream realized that he was stuttering and cursed his voice more than ever. "Solardance and Spitfire were already in the War Academy, so I thought…It would be reasonable that I choose a different path."
Starburst's cooling vents kicked a notch speedier at the reply. His optics brightened with lighter red shade and Starscream found himself scared at the displayed reactions. His creator was definitely, obviously angry.
"And what do you intend to be by 'choosing this different path'?" His voice was dripping with the suspected emotion.
"I…I want to be a scientist," Starscream paused, thinking whether he should elaborate or not. "Maybe an explorer…I have always been fascinated by worlds outside of Cybertron."
More to himself than to his son, Starburst mumbled, "I have always thought you are different than your siblings, but never in this sense."
Starscream gulped air through his intake vents sharply; would his father approve? Starburst had speaking in riddles so far, only asking, but never replying.
His intake vents hitched at the single word.
"A pity of metal. A Primus-damned creation. A glitch in the family. A taint in our lineage," the insults were hurled in a low voice, but it cut through Starscream's Spark more potently than any physical weapon could. He had been hoping, at least faintly, that Starburst would approve of his choice, if not be happy with it. It had been an empty hope to hold on to.
"We have always been warriors, Starscream, the only course of life worth following." Starburst added, impartial to the mental hurt his youngest son was enduring. "The House of Star is known because of their members being fearless warriors, not some fool scientists. I expect you to be the same."
Starscream knew that he should not have objected to his creator's dictation, but he did anyway. "But Father, I see no reason why I could not become a scientist. If you are worried about family name, Solardance and Spitfire had lived up to the reputation well enough. It would not hurt at all to be something else…something different…something that has nothing to do with fighting."
The moment he finished speaking, Starscream knew he was in big trouble when Starburst surveyed into his optics with intense, unwavering glare. "Tell me, Starscream; is the life of a scientist, locked away in laboratories doing worthless things instead of serving Cybertron on the battlefield, is what you truly want?"
"Scientists can serve Cybertron just as much, only in different way. Yes…yes father, I truly wish to be a scientist. I want to enter the Science Academy."
"Then…you are no longer of the House of Star, Starscream. I have no son who is such a fool."
Starscream stiffened, terribly surprised at the declaration that he was slow to react to Starburst's servo shooting out from its place on the desk. Fingers stronger and larger than his own were warped around his neck, constricting the flow of energon in the main cable until he choked and sputtered in discomfort and not a little pain.
"From now on, you are free to go wherever you please and do whatever you want, but mark this; once you are out of the door of Shootingstar Mansion, you are no longer welcomed here. When you meet other people, you will not introduce yourself as Starscream son of Starburst. You are not mine, and never again will be. Understood?"
Through the choking grip, Starscream gasped and panted as he struggled to form coherent words to plea to his father. "P-please f-father…don't d-d-do th-this…I'm sorry…!"
The hold on his main energon line tightened, reducing Starscream into a choking, whimpering disarray. "Understood?"
Never the one to be impatient, Starscream's resistant drove him into uncontrolled rage as the servo on his throat tightened enough to severe a few minor energon lines and denting the main one. Starscream was in full thrashing mode now, unable to either escape the pain or enduring it. Through the haze of agony he lived up to his name, screaming his tank out that statics sparked out from his mouth. At one point, his voice faltered even though Starscream never intended to stop as of yet – and he knew that his vocalizer had been damaged from the intense pressure.
The malfunctioning of Starscream's vocal processor seemed to be the cue as Starburst released his hold on his disowned son's neck and let him slumped to the tiled floor unceremoniously. Cycling air rapidly through every available intakes he had, Starscream sounded as if panting as his internal cooling systems tried to cope with the massive rise of his core temperature. A blue servo massaged the abused neck to soothe the pain still throbbing, hissing as the tender metals were touched. He ran a quick scan to assess his damage and discovered that his vocalizer was still partly functioning, though its circuitries were not exactly as they were anymore.
"F-father…" Starscream stalled upon hearing his own voice – he remembered his voice being smooth, if not slightly aloof, and it was pleasant to his audios. But this…this raspy, whiny, high-pitched tone was not his! It couldn't possibly be his voice!
"Begone, you Primus-cursed glitch!" Starburst spoke again, his tone commanding and unforgiving.
"Please…forgive me…" By Primus, Starscream himself could not bear the frequency of his own voice! Hearing himself made his longed to drive laser cutter through his own vocalizer – anything to get rid of this pathetic excuse of a voice.
"I will not repeat myself again, Starscream. GET. OUT. NOW!"
At this point, Starscream knew that he had no hope of regaining his creator's trust anymore; slowly, very slowly, he lifted himself from the floor, knee-bearings feeling somewhat loose as he did so, and took one last look into Starburst's optics, searching for the tiniest hint of regret, of irresoluteness, but found none. He had truly meant it when he said Starscream was not of his family anymore.
The Seeker left his creator's chamber with heavy pedes, keeping his optics down to the floor even when his siblings came near. When he was out of the front gate of the Shootingstar Mansion, Starscream felt as if his Spark was torn into two. However, he reigned in his sorrow, too proud to let his tears visible as long as he was anywhere near this place he had once known as home.
Thus it was that Starscream, though Spark-broken at the commandment, turned his back to the Shootingstar Mansion to step into an uncertain future alone.
He was low on energy, very, very low…he knew it even without the annoying warning in red flashed before his optics. Stasis lock was imminent, so Starsceam forced his himself to land in the snow-covered ground below, almost crashing while doing so. He was grateful that the blizzard had passed, but fighting the catastrophic weather was rather energy-consuming, leaving the tetrajet exhausted beyond hope if he did not rest.
Leaning his back on a nearby rocky outcropping, Starscream sub-spaced a cube of energon and downed half of its content greedily, still remindful that his supplies were short. Skyfire had more in his sub-space, but the shuttle was not around to give his share.
Starscream held back a choking feeling in his energon lines as waves of sorrow crashed upon him. He bit his lip components as images of the white-and-red flier came to him, how they had spent their times together doing experiments back on Cybertron, how his face had radiated joy upon landing their pedes on this alien planet for the first time…
How the shuttle had looked so desperate to escape the thunderstorms that suddenly hit them, sending Skyfire spinning away from Starscream, who was likewise thrown further and further from the grasp of his friend.
Why did he agree to come to this Primus-forsaken planet in the first place? Why must he give in to Skyfire's request to land on this mud ball of a planet? If he had just said 'no' to either of these questions, he would not lose Skyfire. If he had refused, they would not be separated. However, he did neither, and now, Skyfire, his dearest friend, was lost. Starscream had been flying for days on ends, stopping only occasionally when the forces of nature seemed to conspire against him, ignoring his own health as he tried to find the red and white glimmer of Skyfire's armours in the white expanse of snow below, hoping to discover his fate no matter what it would be. He had travelled half the planet…and he had found nothing.
Granted, Starscream would happily stay there and travelled all the distances needed to be re-united with the shuttle again, but his stocks of energon were running dangerously low, only enough for a trip back to Cybertron. Starscream gritted his denta hard as decision was made in his processor. It was a cruel thing to do, but it was necessary. He must leave this planet and returned to his home planet without Skyfire. Starscream never cried, but once he was done refueling and took to the air again, all the way into the dark confines of the outer space, the Seeker felt the burns of coolant on his faceplates before the rushing wind swept it away.
From that day onward, Starscream would curse his very being for that one action he was forced to take.
Starscream stared and stared at the words scrolling on the monitor of his dormitory's computer without really taking in the meaning of them. All that he could focus on was the little inset image at the upper right corner of the screen – a picture of a certain silver mech with burning red optics.
Leader of the Decepticon.
Truthfully, Megatron was one of the last Transformers Starscream could ever thought of being contacted by, the last being Starburst, and when a very curious-looking purple mech, with absolutely no face except a single yellow orb that glowed every time he spoke and a gun for his left hand, came knocking at his dormitory's door two orns ago, claiming that he was an agent of the infamous warlord, the young Seeker almost sagged against the door.
The meeting was short and formal; luckily, daily interactions with his creator had prepared him beforehand with just this kind of situation. The violet bot, who introduced himself as Shockwave, had rather straightforwardly informed the tetrajet of Megatron's intention to recruit him into the rank of Decepticon army, and that he had until his graduation day to answer. That meant another week to decide what his call would be.
Starscream had not tell this to anyone else save his two trinemates, Thundercracker and Skywarp; the two Seekers had been with him the day he first converted from Science Academy to War Academy, sensing a certain inner hurt that the other tetrajets felt compelled to ease. Their…kindness, had soothed the ache in his Spark at his disownment by his own family, the sting made more potent by the other students who had chose to torture him by teasing his strange voice. Starscream could easily had the resident medics fix that for him, even going as far as replacing his vocalizer with a new one, but the red-white-blue Seeker downright refused it; as humiliating as it might be, it was a reminder of what had befallen him and motivated him to keep moving forward. Moreover, the late Skyfire had once objected to the notion, saying that the voice was a part of Starscream's unique characteristics, and that removing it would make him less…'Starscreamy'. At least, keeping his current voice would be for the memory of his dearest friend, since he could not carry on with the shuttle's interest in science – he had left his study in science because without Skyfire at his side, he felt as if there was no meaning to stay anymore.
Anyway, since then, Starscream had spent a good deal of joors an orn in researching for information on Decepticon and its leader. In all honesty, Starscream was more than intrigued by this army and was even more interested in its leader – The name Megatron had not escaped notice by residents of War Academy, including Starscream and his trinemates. He had to admit that the reason behind the temptation was that somehow he could prove his prowess in the optics of Starburst once again; as much as he loathed to confront his creator, the pain of being disinherited was potent even to this astrosecond. Skywarp and Thundercracker had agreed in joining the moment they were informed by it…and Starscream was, much or less swayed by their decision.
Shutting down the computer, Starscream decided to go into recharge since his body seemed to be needing it by the way his joints ached and his processor somewhat hung up with every information it absorbed. However, one thought refused to leave him completely even as his systems quickly fell offline – that being a Decepticon did not seem to be a bad idea at all…
Starscream might as well cried as the painful images raced before his still-offline-optics, but stasis lock that he was in practically shut down all functions except the most vital ones.
All I want from you is a little appreciation, father, the Seeker seethed inside, shocked that the memories were still painful after all these millennia. Skyfire's images replaced the scowling face of Starburst, kind and loving, but no relief was kind enough to attend to Starscream. Skyfire, dearest, he faltered at the thoughts of the huge shuttle, I never meant to leave you. Not now, not ever. You don't know how much it hurt having to leave you behind, frozen on this planet, and it hurt much more when you decided to defect to the Autobot. Last to torture him was the memories of his leader, with the same red optics and unfaltering sneer, his hoarse voice hinting slightly of electronic whizz as he stood on his podium, declaring Starscream as his Air Commander, the Seeker unknowing of what lay ahead of him…
To his surprise, he did feel coolant pooling in the ducts behind his optics, ready to flow out as the urge to cry became more compelling. It did not make any sense; in stasis lock, a Transformer was physically incapable of any sorts of activities…which stood to reason that this form of offline mode which Starscream was experiencing had been converted from emergency stasis lock to the milder, more relaxing recharge.
Not that he felt relaxed right now. As a matter of fact, his processor slowly began to register ache and pain in his joints and motor bearings with sharper clarity to the point Starscream felt like living up to his name. However, his processor was still unable to connect to his vocalizer so that his voice was confined in his throat, but the sufferings grew even worse with each astrosecond until –
Full activation hit Starscream hard and so suddenly that he jolted upright like a spring, jaws pulled involuntarily apart to unleash a screechy scream that spoke of his agony unlike no mere words could convey.
In a desperate need to escape the overwhelming sensations, Starscream frantically keyed in override codes to disable his sensory perceptors. His thrashing subsided once his pain faded bit by bit as his pain sensors shut down, allowing his attention to focus to his surroundings. Without any hesitation, the Seeker could tell that he was in the med bay for he of all mechs was one of the most frequent visitors to this place, aside from the Constructicons, having constantly being beaten to heap of scrap metals by his 'lovely' leader.
As if to accentuate his guess, Starscream's optics caught the sight of a certain lime mech coming down from the adjacent room. No doubt that the medic had heard his screams and he was somewhat ashamed by it – it was not the first time he woke up from forced recharge, or occasionally stasis lock, screaming, but this time he knew he was being exceptionally loud if the ringing in his audios were of anything to judge by.
"Waking up at last, aren't we?" Hook's deep voice floated to his audios like smooth water; he had to admit that sometimes he found himself unwittingly jealous of the CMO's pleasant voice, unlike his own whiny tones. "Now lay down. I haven't finished with you yet."
Starscream obeyed soundlessly, too tired to argue further. Idly he realized of the various wires connected to his medical ports that the sight made him at ill ease – it reminded him just how damaged he was if he needed those life support systems to keep him from permanent deactivation.
Hook meanwhile was peering intently on the screen beside Starscream's berth. There was a frown in his voice when he commented, "You know it is unadvisable to stall your sensors." He jabbed a thick digit at a sharp spike in Starscream's readouts, "Your systems are already stressed from it and if you continue like this, the overrides will fail, and the pain will hit you harder."
"Then for Primus's sake do your work and fix me already! I'm NOT onlining my sensors when it's fragging hurt!" Starscream snapped irritably, denta clenched together as said stress began to creep into his circuitries – it wasn't pain, his sensors still being shut off, but his control on his systems began to slip.
With other Decepticons, Starscream would have earned himself a smack on his helm at such rudeness at the very least, but this was Hook he was speaking to – the medic was indifferent to his attitude and responded with a shrug instead of beating his patient.
"Then hold on. There are chances that you fail to stall the pain long enough before the repairs are finished," Hook said as he began to pick up a welder, turned it on and sealed whatever gashes there were on Starscream's armours.
"I know my limits; I'll worry about my own pain. Just get to work!" The SIC ground out as he struggled to maintain control. It was difficult to fight with your inner self that letting the pain to claim him seemed tempting enough that he almost let go, but Starscream did not go by being Decepticon Air Force Commander and Second-In-Command without being resolute. The restrain was feeding off his energy, and predictably, his state turned worse as his energy level dipped below 40%.
To Starscream's own surprise, through his weakness and the holding back, he managed to maintain his control long enough for Hook to complete his jobs. As much as it was gruesome, there was something in the sight of himself being repaired that anchored his optics to it. Oh, Starscream was not a masochist, he hated pain, especially if he was at the receiving end himself, but he was compelled to drank in the gory view – he needed the memories to remind him of what Megatron had put him through, to motivate his lust and ambition in throwing off said mech and put himself in the seat of power. Starscream knew that revenge bred on itself, and what he was doing was astronomically dangerous, but he couldn't stop himself; not when almost every day he had to endure tortures that he did not rightly deserve.
Barely he registered Hook's voice talking to him: "I'm not even going to ask you what have you done this time, but for the sake of Primus, at least give yourself, Megatron and me some rest! You know that our leader does not go well with treachery, and somehow you are doing exactly that time after time!"
Starscream snorted. "I was merely pointing out flaws in his grand battle design. It's my job to notice something like that and speak them out loud. It's the slagger's fault he couldn't bend his ego to accept the truth."
"I know, Starscream. But if you keep up like this…who knows how much patience Megatron still had in store? He was not the mech to be toyed with. One day you will cross his line and will be deactivated for it…or is permanent deactivation means nothing to you?"
Oh, Primus…If Hook was saying that, he certainly did not know the way Starscream's logic circuits works. If anything, the medic was stating the total opposite of what Starscream was feeling. He hated, feared, despised deactivation – he loved his life too much to let it go to waste that he would do everything, anything at all to ensure he could wake up another day with his Spark still pulsing with life and energy. His activation was on the top of his priority list that even begging to Megatron's mercy was something he could easily do if it led to his salvation.
Deciding that the need to justify his mind was unnecessary, Starscream did not say anything in reply. Instead, he distracted himself by retracting his overrides into dormancy and let sensations flow into him. Starscream, being used to the procedure, expect some stiffness in his limbs, and maybe numbness from recent repairs and braced himself for them. Sure enough, those were exactly what he received when his sensors flared to life, annoyingly registering his discomfort but welcoming the hints of life nevertheless.
"Hmm…seemed that you are still good at your jobs," Starscream found himself taunting the medic even though he did not really mean it. It was just a habit of him that the Seeker could not entirely throw off.
"Of course I am. I can perform repairs even worse than this," a slight smugness coloured his voice and hinting a little of indignation; if anything, Hook, the normally stoic Constructicon prided himself on his medical abilities, which were admittedly as superior as he had claimed.
Starscream's optic ridge shot up, disbelieving. Repairs even worse than this? He was close to permanent offline already, being in stasis lock and all, and Hook claimed he could fix damages that were worse? However, the Seeker chose not to broach the subject further, knowing the Constructicon's tendency to explain things in an exhaustingly elaborate detail. Usually, Starscream, with his science-oriented processors could understand what Hook was babbling about, but in his weakened state he found the notion unappealing.
"Hook…how badly damaged I was?" The words were out before Starscream could stop himself.
The medic stopped short in his work of cleaning his messy operation table. The SIC never asked him that particular question even though the number of times he had been deposited in the med bay was simply countless. "Why?"
"Just curious," Starscream gave a careless shrug while his optics still nailed to the face of the CMO.
"Thank Primus that Megatron decided to stop when he did. When Thundercracker and Skywarp brought you had one of your arms detached, your main fuel line was ruptured, and countless minor lines completely severed…sufficient to say that you barely look like you at all."
Starscream suppressed a shudder as his processor conjured up an imaginary image based on Hook's details. Hook was silent for a nanoklik, hesitance clearly be the cause of it, before the medic added, rather guiltily, "You are lucky that Megatron was not a very specific mech…"
"What the slag are you talking about, Hook?"
"…Megatron had ordered me to bring you out of stasis lock but save the repairs when you are online…Primus is helping you that he did not detail to do it with fully engaged sensors."
Even Starscream's powerful will could not suppress his optics from flaring bright with fear to hear so. As accustomed he was to pain, the Air Commander was not impervious to it. The pain from repairs would be…unimaginable, and even that was an understatement, more so with Hook who carried it out.
"Hmm, lucky me," Starscream tried to sound disdainful for the sake of maintaining his irritable image, but the voice that came out was desperate instead.
"Well, yes, lucky," Hook reciprocated lazily – he was used to Starscream's antics by now, "We'll see if you consider yourself lucky when you have barely 2 breems to refuel and then get ready for patrol duty."
Starscream slid off the operation table only to discover that his legs were slightly trembling, weakened by both Megatron's beating and fresh weld lines. He suppressed a grunt and stood up, ignoring the flashes of pain his nodes were registering. "Then I better get ready. I suppose you don't like me depleting your supplies so quickly."
Hook responded with a simple harrumph as he watched the colourful jet took his leave, taking note of how his wings perked up a little despite the stoic faceplates the Seeker chose to display. Starscream was still in discomfort but he would be damned if something like this hindered him from his duty. At any rate, failing to show up would probably be bait for another of Megatron's punishments, and that was reason enough to get his pedes shuffling down the main hallway to Nemesis's mess hall.
Thundercracker and Skywarp had been sitting together at a table at a more secluded corner of the mess hall, simply drinking in their cubes of energon without paying much attention to the other mechs there…until the huge door slid open to admit a sleek figure through.
The Seekers gaped at the sight of their trineleader, battered, weak yet alive striding into the place with all the dignity that Starscream could muster in his current condition. Red optics swept the length of the mess hall before locking onto Thundercracker first, and then Skywarp. The SIC made his way to his trinemates without at once glancing in other directions, knowing his appearances were not that very much impressive to begin with – Thundercarcker knew how his Air Commander hated to be present in public looking less than his best.
When Starscream finally reached the two Seekers, he practically slumped into a spare chair Thundercracker had retrieved from the side table.
Through the Seeker bond that the three jets shared, Thundercracker and Skywarp could sense their trineleader's apparent distress, and he their concerns. After a few kliks of silence, Thundercracker began, "We are wondering when you will be released from the med bay. It's good to have you back…"
"Yeah, we thought you're done this time, Screamer!" This came from Skywarp, of course. No one else dared to be so blunt with a moody Starscream. Thundercracker winced physically and sent a wave of displeasure at the purple-and-ebony Seeker through their bond at his tactlessness. What he got in return was a somewhat puzzled sensation that was reminiscent of what? in speech term. The blue jet sighed; Skywarp had never been particularly gifted with well-tuned processor-to-vocalizer filter.
Starscream, however, was in no mood to face Skywarp's obliviousness and instead said, "Get me a cube, will you? I'm starving."
Thundercracker nudged his purple trinemate and gestured to a stack of energon cubes nearby. Skywarp groaned but stood up nevertheless to do as bidden, returning a short while later with three energon cubes balanced in his arms.
Starscream accepted his with a nod, his thanks already conveyed through their Seeker bond while downing his energon with a single gulp – he was very low on energy, there was no denying that and in front of his trine he did not have to conceal his hungriness.
Starscream finished his cube far too quickly to be a simple reaction from his lack of energon, Thundercracker noticed. "Are you going on duty?"
Starscream tossed his emptied cube and reached out for Thundercracker's next. "It's not like I have any choice. That slag-maker would rip my limbs if I don't go on a patrol."
"But you're just out of med-bay! He couldn't have –"
"When did Megatron have any consideration for wounded troops? All he cared is to get the job done!" The Air Commander snapped before Skywarp could finish his sentence, throwing the purple Seeker into a stunned silence while Starscream gulped down the last drop of energon from Thundercracker's cube.
"When is your turn?" This was Thundercracker, apparently understanding that to pursue the unfairness of it all would put his trineleader in worse moods.
Starscream was silent for a nanoklik while checking his chronometer. "In about breem. Why? Fancy a fly for a round or two?"
Thundercracker shuddered. "No, unless I want my armours ripped apart." As he had said to Skywarp much earlier, Megatron hated it when he found his soldiers not where they were supposed to be – misplacement meant somewhere had reduced firepower or defense force.
The Air Commander sighed. "Exactly, you know why. And I must get to the air before my armours are ripped apart. And they're just freshly repaired too."
The last bit was meant as a jest but Thundercracker and Skywarp found it rather disturbing. However, Starscream looked barely affected as he stood up, pedes still quite shaky unsupported, and made his way out of the mess hall. As the last of the Seeker's glimpse vanished behind the closing door, the two trinemates echoed each other's sigh.
"I wonder how long Screamer's going to last," Skywarp mumbled, speaking out Thundercracker's exact thoughts.
Starscream loved flying. Primus, he loved it so much, he sometimes hoped that if end must come to him, then he would go either in battle or on his wings.
Apart from to stay away from Megatron as far as possible, Starscream had endured his patrol duty because he also wanted to feel the rush of air as it caressed his smooth, alt-form chassis like cool breath, hearing the whirr of his engines powering him through the sky and forgetting all the torments he was made to endure back at Nemesis. The sky was dark…but it didn't matter. The heaven was his kingdom and he conquered it no matter what mood it was in. He was Starscream, after all, the Prince of the Sky!
Snapping into a turn that only a top-notch flier could manage, Starscream altered his angle and headed South-West, to the land. If he was lucky, he would meet with an Autobot scout or two to vent his anger upon. Very soon, the azure expanse below was replaced with muddy brown flatness, punctured here and there by lone rocks. He was deviating from his original course, he knew that, but it wasn't like Megatron was stalking him 24/7 to pinpoint his wrongdoings, especially now that he was so far from Nemesis.
Unfortunately, not a single Autobot was in sight…either that, or that Pit-spawned magician of a noble – what was his name? Ah, Mirage – whom he acknowledged to possess invisibility cloaking device, was on patrol. Not even the Twin Terrors, Sideswipe and Sunstreaker, were there to alleviate his mood. Just for the pure sake of satisfying himself, Starscream let loose a strafing frenzy around the area, laughing like a glitched mech the entire time. He wasted one third of his arms in this way, then circled a huge radius of no-man (or no-mech, for that matter) land for a few times, willing for the time to pass, imagining things that he dreamed for so long…
What he actually dreamed? Ah yes, Megatron's seat, that was. He pointedly ignored the insistence from his processors of his other desires; they were too painful to be brought up. Eventually, a full two cycles of his duty expired and Starscream turned, thrusters roaring in delight, towards Nemesis. As much as he was fond of flying and the freedom that came with it, energy demands were always his greatest restraint, aside from Megatron's possible threats and the simple need to be with his trine.
He requested the surfacing of Nemesis's landing tower when he was about half a breem from the location, which was quickly granted by Mixmaster's cackling voice. The purple tower rose from the ocean's depth in answer, the landing dock opened and ready to receive the jet, who swiftly flew towards it and touched down. He rode the turbolift for the lower deck to report of his end of duty –
– only to have his optics greeted by Megatron's smirking face, the silver tyrant sitting proudly on his throne at the heart of the Command Centre.
Megatron awoke from his recharge with fully functional, completely efficient processors, signifying the inebriation caused by the high-grades had already been filtered out of his systems. Granted, he did not consume that much, so the side-effects wouldn't have been that severe, plus that Megatron's tolerance for high-grades was rather impressive compared to most mechs. A quick check on his internal chronometer told him that he had lain in recharge for barely 20 breems, shorter than he expected earlier.
Almost immediately his thought was turned towards the memory drive, his circuitries tingling in anticipation. Belatedly, he realized how his once throbbing helm felt completely normal, the pain from circuits integration having completely vanished. He ran a brief scan on is internals, confirming his guess earlier guess.
Anticipation blossomed in his Spark, thinking just what kind of power he now possessed over Starscream and the possible things he could manipulate with his new ability. With that in mind, Megatron began to activate the memory drive into functionality –
– and found himself buried under phantom sensations that were not his own. Gentle wind rushed over his body, and when Megatron allowed his optics to receive the feedbacks from Starscream's, connected via the memory drive inside the leader's head, the silver gun-former found himself staring at soft-blue sky; underneath was ground, muddy brown and totally boring since there was no life-forms at all to observe.
Frag it, where is the slagging Autobot when you need one?
Megatron stalled as the words registered in his processors – they weren't expressed by him. Instead, a dull heat throbbed where he knew the newly-installed device was located. So…this must be Starscream's thoughts, the silver tyrant concluded, amused as frustration flooded a small portion of his systems, identifying it to be coming from the absent Seeker as he tried to no avail to relieve the dullness of his patrol.
That slag-maker wouldn't know if I went off a bit, would he? Again Starscream's thoughts entered his processors as the flyer adjusted his trajectory path to somewhere not exactly included in his patrol perimeter. The irony of it all made the warlord released a dark chuckle, finding the whole affairs rather amusing. Of course, he knew what his Air Commander was doing.
To Megatron's surprise, he watched through Starscream's optics as the ground below exploded under the Seeker's crazy strafing, missiles going off like wounded flyer on collision course. The silver dictator sighed in exasperation; if this was what his Second was doing every time he went on patrol duty, Starscream had actually wasted valuable arms doing these pointless bombardments.
This activity lasted for about half a breem before Starscream seemed to realize that his shift was going to end soon. Megatron closed himself from the mental connection when he noticed that his Air Commander was heading for Nemesis, knowing exactly how to 'greet' the jet when he returned, the memory drive settling into dormancy as the last vestige of the link faded. The Decepticon leader pushed himself off his berth and onto his pedes, striding with all the triumphant air that was surrounding him when he made his way to the Command Centre and sat down on his throne. Now, all he had to do was wait.
Sure enough, the on-duty mech – Mixmaster this time – answered Starscream's request for the surfacing of Nemesis's docking tower only a few kliks after Megatron's arrival. It was the cue for the warlord to re-activate his memory drive while ordering the Constructicon to leave the place at once – Megatron wanted to deal with his Starscream uninterrupted. The lime-and-purple mech obeyed without a word, though his red optics did not hide the puzzlement at all at this command. Megatron ignored the Decepticon chemist, his attention attuned only to Starscream at this moment.
Barely a klik later, the door of the Command Centre hissed open, revealing a weary Starscream behind it, faceplates twisting into an expression of nasty surprise upon seeing the silver mech that sat on the high throne instead of Mixmaster who answered his request previously. Megatron smirked; he was definitely going to enjoy this…
Starscream stared hard at his leader, crimson optics glowing bright with surprise even though he tried hard not to let his emotions showed.
"Ah, my devious Seeker, you have returned," Megatron's rumbling voice was intoned in such a way that he sounded almost sweet, but Starscream knew better the underlying emotion that run beneath the surface.
"Of course, Lord Megatron. What is expected of me is to go on a patrol duty, which I did without fail," Starscream replied carefully. Usually he would accompany his answer with sarcasm, but the repairs still stung, making him reluctant to be his usual irritating self.
Megatron, still seated cross-legged on his high seat, stroked his chin in mocking thoughtfulness. At the gesture, Starscream's only thought was a nervous uh-oh, that's not good.
"Well, you did accomplish your patrol turn; that much I granted. However…do extending patrol zone to exceed 20 miles its usual radius and pointless strafing during duty are included in the list?" Megatron leaned forward, optic ridge raised in question, lip components carving a devious smile.
Starscream felt his body froze in shock; how did Megatron knew that? He couldn't have possibly monitored his movements, could he?
"M-my lord, I don't understand; what are you talking about?" the jet feigned innocence in the hope that Megatron's words were merely a seriously lucky wild guess.
Growling his usual dark chuckle, the Decepticon Supreme Commander rose from his throne and descended the steps, striding straight for the now trembling Seeker. A black servo was extended once he was within reach of Starscream, cupping a side of his dark face, tracing the line running from his optic to his chin.
"Oh, you know exactly what I'm talking about, as I know exactly what I'm talking about. Pretenses are futile, as are resistances…"
Starscream's whole body went rigid even further at his leader's touch; if he was not reminded of who was performing it, it would have felt lovely. As it was, only shivers of fear running down his backstruts.
"I-I…don't get it –"
Suddenly, the world lost gravity in a blur of silver, white, red and blue as Megatron court-martialed the Second-In-Command using skills he gained back when he was a gladiator. Pain erupted in every sensor in his body as his chassis hit the floor with a loud clang, face-down. Starscream had only enough nanokliks to be grateful that his wings did not receive the impact when a painful heaviness pressed down on his left wing, eliciting a pained gasp from the Seeker.
Said mech's laughter floated to his audio sensors at the pitiful begging, but the foot placed on his flying appendage only dug deeper. "Starscream…I warned you that your craftiness will no longer serve you. Whatever it is that cross your processors…I will know," Megatron growled.
Starscream briefly considered that Megatron was bluffing when he said that, looking to the fact that he was no telepath; he was not Soundwave, only Soundwave could read minds, and even that he could protect himself against…he was sure that he could block –
"Oh, is that so, Starscream? You thought that your firewalls are strong enough against me? You have no idea what power I possess over you, Starscream…"
The jet whimpered in both surprise and pain; Megatron answered exactly what he has been thinking! No, no, no! This isn't possible! This just can't be true! Megatron couldn't have become telepathic…!
"Did you not believe me? I have said that I will know whatever it is that cross your processors…don't tempt fate. You see the evidences of my ability already, Starscream. Accept the fact as it is. I am better than you…and you will always be second to me…second in everything!"
Starscream's whimpering continued as the pressure on his wings became almost splittingly painful – he would have begged for his mercy, but the shock of having Megatron answering each and every one of his thought with unerring accuracy deprived his processors of his routine pleas. The litany of this isn't possible this isn't possible crossing his minds was almost a prayer to him…only it was answered by Megatron's amused voice:
"Yes, yes, Starscream! It is possible, it is happening even now. Do not deny it. It is true, all of it. Accept the truth as it is! You are mine, Starscream…always be mine!"
Miserable and desperate in his helplessness, repetitious sobs grew louder and louder from his vocal passage, the Air Commander buried his face into the floor, ignoring the creaks of his nose bridge as it pressed down, and croaked:
"I…I am yours, Megatron, always…"
His insides burnt from the confession, humiliation corroding at him like acids that he could not wash forever. He had spoken quite the same words once, at his promotion ceremony to Megatron's Second-In-Command, but he had not felt the binds then – Starscream knew that it was an official vow in military, and apparently Megatron had taken the oath's exact wording for his own army. He had, therefore, felt no serious tie to it, considering it a necessity to be officially declared as the SIC…but now, to say it out loud, wings under Megatron's feet, his thoughts answered again and again by the tyrant, Starscream knew that he was admitting himself as the Decepticon's prisoner.
"Good, Starscream. And remember; I know each and every thought that cross your processors," with the last warning being delivered, Lord Megatron lifted his foot from the Seeker's wings, leaving behind a perfect imprint of its sole. Starscream frantically scrambled to his pedes, tears of indignation threatening to burst through from behind the lens of his optics. He had suffered enough, he didn't need to have the degradation of having his leader watching him spill coolants through his optic ducts. Whether or not Megatron wanted him to stay, Starscream could not find in himself strong enough reason to care. So he ran.
He ran as if his activation depended on it, Megatron's cruel laughter ringing in his audios and bouncing off the walls of Nemesis's Command Centre. He knew then, that even if he still had his wings intact, even if he had not chains binding him, that this was no different than slavery, one of which he could not see a way of escape…
"Hey ya, boss, don't cha' think Screamer's been…quiet?"
If anything, Soundwave found Rumble's statement as an understatement. Scratch 'quiet', the cassette-deck found that the Decepticon Air Commander acted like more or less a mindless drone. However, he found that voicing his own opinion in this matter was rather unnecessary so he replied instead:
"Observation: Correct. Further explanation: unavailable." Though he had a very good idea of the cause…
Soundwave and his cassette-minions had a whole table for themselves as they downed their morning energon rations in the mess hall. The 3IC took his own sweet time to finish his while surveying the other Decepticons there – some were already half-inebriated from having indulged in too much high-grades (Soundwave mentally listed their names down for some scolding later) and were causing a slight havoc when Dirge (who was fully inebriated compared to the rest) actually flew around the mess hall in his jet alt-mode. Further damage was thankfully prevented by Ramjet and Thrust who managed to grab onto either wing and brought him down.
"Shame the show can't go on…" Frenzy added rather mournfully as they saw the offensive Conehead being dragged out by his trine-mates out of the place. "I'd like to see him rammed his funny head through – "
"Request: Irrelevant," Soundwave quickly interfered; he had a buzzing in his logic circuits that he didn't really want to hear what the red cassette wanted to say next. He really wondered how on Cybertron he managed to cooperate with his two creations with their un-Soundwave personalities.
"I'm just joking, boss!" Frenzy countered defensively.
The humanoid cassettes groaned in dismal – Rumble going as far as commenting that Soundwave 'needed more time out than ordering mechs around'.
At Soundwave's pedes, Ravage was dunking its snout into his cube of energon, obviously unaware of the little arguments between his master and cassette-comrades – or he might just pretend obliviousness. The navy-and-white mech found the panther-bot's preference for seclusion something to be thanked for or he had to hear the whining of three cassettes instead of two. Laserbeak, meanwhile, was obviously just as interested to the sudden commotion of the three Coneheads as Frenzy and Rumble, but, like Ravage, he found that to argue with Soundwave was a stupid thing to do.
The door suddenly slid apart and a very familiar figure walked – no, shuffled – into the mess hall. Rumble, Frenzy, and pretty much every Decepticon present there watched, mouth agape, at the sight of their Air Commander's inglorious entrance. Dull red optics didn't seem to really taking in the views before him except for the stacks of energon cubes at the end of the mess hall. Murmurs rose among the troops at Starscream's obvious undignified appearance – he was dirty, as if he had given up washing three orns ago. Once held high and proud, his wings drooped pitifully on either side, twitching once in a while to signal his discomfort. Granted, his fellow Decepticons would gladly ridiculed him out loud, but the presences of his two trinemates –Thundercracker and Skywarp – flanking Starscream's either side made even the hardiest of them all thought twice about it. Only a downright fool did not know the consequences of messing with Seekers with a troubled trinemember to protect.
Soundwave was hardly a soft-Sparked Autobot, but his telepathy meant that he was rather susceptible to others' emotions – and Starscream's was affecting him greatly. If once his probing was met with unyielding firewalls, Starscream's mind now was not unlike Cybertron itself – dead, deprived of energy and wandering aimlessly in the emptiness of space. No one escaped unscathed once he had felt such frailty; not even Soundwave.
Starscream was aware of the many optics directed in his ways. Before, such attention would earn them snarky comebacks or maybe a hit or two from his null-rays; nowadays, he just couldn't find it in himself to care anymore. For what? His life was a joke now – seemingly free outside, but inescapably chained on the inside. At his sides, he did not fail to notice the angry glare Skywarp and Thundercracker shot at the onlookers, nor did he missed the concerned look they shared with each other. Never had he felt the presences of his two trinemates more welcoming as he sat down at a table at the most secluded corner he could find; Skywarp mirrored the SIC and took a seat on his left while Thundercracker went off to fetch them their morning rations.
It was rather unnerving for the rather talkative Skywarp to sit with a silent, almost apathetic Starscream, but his trineleader had been in this state for three orns. He had no choice but adapt to Starscream's new personality, no matter how unpleasant that was. Thundercracker returned with three energon cubes, one for each, and flopped down into a chair on Starscream's right. Skywarp finished his in three astroseconds, but Starscream only stared at his cube with dreamy optics, fingers dancing around the cube's edge without really realizing it.
The blue Seeker noticed how lost in thought Starscream appeared to be and placed a servo upon the other's. Starscream flinched, the simple gesture having successfully pulled him out of processor-drift.
"Feeling alright, Starscream?" Thundercracker asked carefully. The expressionless face that Starscream had was a far cry from the Starscream that the blue-and-white jet was used to, and truth to be told, he was more than worried for his trineleader.
"No, but I'll function." Starscream did not even bother to be annoying like he usually did, returning his attention quickly to the untouched energon before him.
"Well, you better finish your rations quickly so we can get the Pit out of here," Thundercracker insisted, gesturing at the other's energon cube. "I'm sick of getting watched like we are some overgrown petro-rabbits."
Skywarp actually giggled at the unlikely comparison but was quickly silenced by a glare, aside from a wave of displeasure he received via their Seeker bond, from the blue jet-former. Skywarp still had some issue in being tactless, but at least he was improving on the subject thanks to Thundercracker's patience in correcting the purple jet-former when he needed it.
"I don't care about them," Starscream replied curtly; however, he did take a sip of his energon, unconsciously heeding the blue Seeker's advice.
"Well, we do," Thundercracker countered; he was relieved that Skywarp supported him with energetic nods instead of returning to his cackling fits. "Whether you want it or not, you are still the Decepticon Air Commander and Second-In-Command. You got to have respect from those lots, and on top of that, you are our trineleader; highs or lows, we'll get through them together."
Such display of affection would have surely earned them displeasure from Megatron, who was virtually Sparkless himself, if he was in the vicinity – showing any sense of Autobot-like soft-Sparkedness was a universal taboo when in Nemesis. However, seeing Starscream being reduced to such pitiful irresponsiveness made it hard for Thundercracker to care about anything outside of his trine.
"Yeah, TC's right; you can't go on like this, Screamer. You've been a good trineleader to us – it's time for us to help you through this," Skywarp supplied. This time, Thundercracker was rather surprised at the genuine concern the purple-and-black flyer was showing through his voice. By the subtle brightening in his optics, he judged that Starscream was just equally shocked at the uncharacteristic openness.
Starscream regained his composure soon enough and replied, "For the love of Primus! I'm not virus-ridden or anything, it's just –"
Whatever the colourful Seeker had to spill remained unspoken when he suddenly stopped mid-sentence, his helm cocked slightly to a side as if listening to a voice belonging to some unseen speaker. Whatever it was, it couldn't have been good as was indicated by the droop in Starscream's wings and the shoulder-plates slumping in obvious distress.
"What is it?" Skywarp asked before Thundercracker could begin.
"Databurst from the oh-so-mighty Megatron – meeting in rec. room in 2 breems," the dull tone Starscream used was enough to tell even the slowest processors that he was not very happy about the notion.
"Strange – He didn't comm. link us about anything," the purple-and-black jet wondered aloud; Megatron usually called for assembly if there was a raid to be done in near future and he normally included Seekers in his battle plan. After all, aerial assaults were an obvious advantage the Decepticons had over the Autobots, looking at the fact that their enemies had no flight-capable mechs.
Starscream shook his helm, equally as puzzled. "Who knows what's been crossing the Slag-maker's processors? If I do, it'll be I who sit on the throne, not he."
It was as if Starscream had been hit with a null-ray; the Air Commander stiffened so much it looked as if his motor-bearings had frozen over, though in reality the temperature in the mess hall was quite warm. Through their Seeker bond, both Thundercracker and Skywarp felt the ghostly sensation of dread and horror from their trineleader as the horrible memories were pulled out of his data banks. The sting of them was so potent that the two Seekers would have flinched had they had lesser self-restraint; they knew how much worse it would feel to Starscream if his trinemates displayed any form of discomfort at his own predicament of having discovered Megatron's processors-filtering ability.
"Well," Starscream spoke suddenly after rousing himself from the haze of processors-drift upon seeing the Casetticons folded themselves and slipped into Soundwave's chest-piece. Then, the cassette-deck himself left his place and went out of the mess hall – obviously the 3IC had received similar summons. "I better get going or I'm in for another beating – and I have enough of our lovely leader's touch, thank you."
"Err…um, yeah, see you later, Screamer."
"Don't call me that!" the red-blue-white flyer snapped, more out of habit than because of any real anger towards the black-and-purple Seeker, and rose from his seat. He didn't even bother to finish his little-touched cube of energon so Skywarp, ever the opportunist, gulped in down in a single go.
Thundercracker said his farewells too, but Starscream was at ill ease to reply anything in return – the thought of having to face Lord Megatron again was far too disconcerting to let any other thoughts rule his logic circuits.
As Starscream made his way to the rec. room, he could not help but be puzzled by Megatron's newfound ability – to read his processors as if he was telepathic himself. That was three orns ago, but the feelings were still fresh in his CPU; the shock, the dread, the humiliation, all felt as if it happened only a few kliks ago. It made him feel vulnerable, exposed and somewhat tainted – his mind was only next to his Spark in his priority list that he would do whatever it takes to protect them both. His mind was his own private sanctuary, a place where he could retreat to nurse his injured pride after receiving his more-often-than-not unjust punishments. To have that sanctuary ripped away from him…Starscream couldn't even be sure if he could live out another orn like this. Though he had no details over the extent of Megatron's ability, the knowledge that the silver warlord could access his thoughts was very much disturbing, it exhausted the Seeker both mentally and physically.
When the Air Commander arrived at his destination, he was not surprised that everyone else was already there. There was Megatron, of course, the summoner himself, sitting smugly in his designated chair at the far end of the meeting table, datapads strewn untidily before him. He held one of them in his servo, optics scanning the information on it with rarely-seen attentiveness. The other servo tapped one digit rhythmically on the metallic surface of the table, further displaying his single-minded attention. At his left side, in the official position of Decepticon Third-In-Command, was Soundwave. The navy-and-white mech was as stoic as ever, visor neither flashing nor dimming, which usually meant that he was not emotionally affected. In fact, he was hardly ever. However, what caught his attention was the unusual addition to the crowd – Scrapper and Scavenger. Judging by the expressions on both Constructicons' faceplates, Starscream dared betting his orn's worth of energon rations that neither of them were aware why they were called to attend this meeting – if Megatron felt like using Devastator, he would only call one representative, usually Scrapper or Hook. The Decepticon overlord never called both of them together.
Starscream's own seat, at Megatron's right, remained unoccupied, to the Seeker's huge relief. There were orns when the Air Commander thought he had gone too far in testing the Decepticon Supreme Commander which was usually indicated by him slagged to a pile of energon-covered metals. During those times, Starscream would always feared that the next time he attended meeting, the seat for Second-In-Command would be no longer reserved to him alone – that Megatron demoted him to lower office and raised another in his previous stead. However, until this very astrosecond, Megatron somehow still saw him fit to be the next in leadership even after all those treason he had committed – not that he was complaining, mind you.
Once Starscream took his place, Megatron put down the datapad he had been examining and surveyed the present mechs. To others, the brief sweep of the red optics meant only that Megatron acknowledged them, but to Starscream, he knew that the nanoklik's glare the leader granted him contained an unspoken threat that he alone could decipher; defy me, and you will pay dearly for it.
Starscream had no intention to disobey, not after knowing the possibility of Megatron catching glimpses of his twisted thoughts whenever he thought of betraying the Decepticon Commander.
"We have a situation, here," Megatron began unceremoniously. He was never the type to make his speech poetic or full of lengthy introductions, preferring to go straight to the point. "We are low on energon and Cybertron had not received supply from us for almost two quartexes."
Like I'm not aware of that already, Starscream thought. The instant it crossed his mind, however, Megatron shot a venomous glance in his direction, causing the Air Commander to coil inwardly.
However, Megatron chose to spare himself the need to further chastising his Second and continued on. "We must make raids soon or risk malfunctions among the troops. Soundwave has reported that our stocks are estimated to last for only another two orns – and that if and only if each of you does not exceed the assigned rations." He gestured towards the stacks of datapads on the table in front of him and continued, "On top of that, I have pinpointed the location of our next target."
So saying, a holographic screen popped up before each of the present Decepticons, readily displaying a map of power plant and its exact coordinate –
"But Megatron, that location is unsuitable!" Starscream realized too late that his habit of pointing out flaws in his leader's plan had resurfaced. This time, Megatron made no attempt to hide the cold fury bubbling just beneath his faked calmness.
"Oh, the brilliant Starscream finally found his voice, I see. Indulge me then; why do my chosen location, like hundreds of others before, is unsuitable?"
The whole room fell silent at this – it did not have to take much works for even the most inefficient processors to detect the incoming threat in Megatron's tone.
"I…ah, that location…we have raided it in the past lunar cycle! If we attack it again this early – the security around that place must still be high, not to mention the possibility of Autobots monitoring the area too." Truthfully, Starscream did not know why he did even bother to explain himself to the Slag-maker. Every time he did, nothing good ever resulted from it but his beatings and a trip to the med-bay.
"I see," Megatron replied, mockingly calm. "But I also have to remind you that we are short on energon, which means that we can't travel far without exhausting ourselves for the journey and – as you have so kindly pointed out – we may have to confront the Autobots, which also means that we have to arrive there battle-ready."
"But Meg –"
"– but nothing, Starscream. I have heard enough. We will proceed as I have planned. You are certainly not welcomed to interrupt me."
Having said that, Megatron proceeded in explaining his battle plans to the present Decepticons, pointedly ignoring Starscream's failed attempt to reason with the leader. In the end, the Air Commander was forced to swallow all the arguments filling his logic circuits even though the possibility for failures if they continue with Megatron's designs was decidedly high.
It turned out that Megatron had called for the two Constructicons because he needed Scavenger's expertise in geology to detect the most vulnerable site of the power plant to breach, aside from his usual requirement for them to form Devastator, which was the reason for Scrapper's attendance. Having discovered this, Starscream couldn't help but feel humiliated – that sorts of things were the jobs of a Second-In-Comand! Megatron did not need Scavenger's opinions on Earth's features to devise a battle plan that would succeed – Starscream was more than qualified for it!
However, before he had the chance to interrupt Megatron again, the need to do so was spared by – surprisingly – Soundwave.
"Attention: Lord Megatron."
The Decepticon Supreme Commander's words halted at the call of his name. Jealousy inescapably swept Starscream's processors at the Spark-aching sight; had he attempted similar things, the least he would get was a faceplates-scrunching backslap.
Soundwave, on the other servo, received undivided attention from Megatron, whose optics were kept locked on his 3IC's visor. A subtle nod signified the permission granted to continue.
"Devastator: Unrequired. Reason: Laserbeak's surveillance reveals structural weakness in building. Collective firepower is enough to destroy external walls," Soundwave's drone-like voice carried across the rec. room easily, given that Megatron was giving the navy-and-white mech unrestrained freedom for explanation – and when Megatron paid attention, it would do well for others to follow suit.
"And what will happen if the Autobots arrive before we finish making enough energon cubes? The power plant is quite near to their base," Megatron inquired. His voice held patience within it, a note that never failed to miss whenever the warlord spoke to Starscream.
"Suggestion: Destroy means of communication before starting production."
"What about Telatraan-1? The Skyspy? They will surely pick up our activities."
"Suggestion: Deploy Laserbeak to spy on Autobot Headquarter. Explanation: Early warning to Autobot's movement and allow Decepticons to prepare for early escape."
Megatron's excellent, Soundwave was in synch with the one running in Starscream's processors, knowing too well the warlord's respond to every one of the telepathic mech's suggestion.
If only Megatron would praise him just as much…
It was time like this that the flyer was grateful for his silent cooling systems – his cooling fans were working at high gears from having to lower his core temperatures which resulted from his extreme anger. He did not fully successful in restraining his body from showing his emotions, though – the annoyed flicks of his wings might be subtle, he having learned to temper his physical reactions more readily compared to the other Seekers, but they still showed. So engrossed he was in dealing with his inner urges to throw up tantrums, the jet-former barely realized of Megatron's declaration of "Decepticons, dismiss."
Starscream allowed his vents to cycle an intake in relief as the meeting came to its end; he was about to get up and followed the others out of the room when he was stopped in his track by Megatron's voice calling for him from his seat:
"Not you, Starscream. I am not done with you yet."
Several pairs of optics automatically looked in his direction but were quickly averted away – Megatron in his wrath was a scary thing to behold and Starscream's obvious fear did nothing to assuage the uneasiness quelling in the leaving Decepticons. The last to leave was Soundwave; there was something in his pause that made Starscream all the more angry – he did not need audience to witness his humiliation in the hands of the leader – and bared his dentas warningly at the telepathic mech. Soundwave stalled at the display, waited a few more astroseconds before leaving the place when Megatron did not pay any mind to his presence. It was nothing to be really grateful about, but at least he only had to endure this torture alone. This thought did not, however, ease any worry weighing in his CPU and in a display of extreme anxiety, his wings arched so high on his back that they formed a tight 'V'.
"Yes, Lord Megatron?" Starscream began cautiously. The Seeker was grateful that his voice did not come out shaky with fear – even if he did not look forward to whatever Megatron had in his twisted processors, at least he could faked out bravado before the warlord.
Megatron, still sitting in his designated chair, leaned forward slightly and growled, "I am intrigued, Starscream. Of all things, I expect your complete obedience after the demonstration of my…ability. And yet, here you are, still stubbornly defying me and strive for my humiliation."
Starscream could neither suppress the shudder coursing through his colourful chassis nor the nervous flutters of his wings; even if ten vorns had passed, the vividness of the memories would never fade, not when the horror of it was so overwhelmingly devastating…nor the indignity of having to concede being Megatron's property. He had heard a fleshling's saying that time could heal any hurt, save death, but he doubted very much that such cure would affect him. He was of a long-living race of Transformer, and he was inarguably vengeful; a being like him was condemned to suffer the torture of millennia of unfading memories, be them pleasant or hurtful.
Alongside his obvious fear, Starscream felt heat of annoyance rose in his systems, making him spat out in bitterness, "If informing you of the many flaws in your grandiose designs is considered treachery, mighty Megatron, then Primus tell me what use is having a SIC at your side! I expect even your limited CPU can process that, or are you a worse glitch-head than I perceive?"
The Air Commander could barely process the sudden blurs of silver dancing before his rage-clouded optics before his sensory networks on his midsection exploded with razor-sharp pain from the strength of Megatron's punching fist. It was times like these that the tyrant unleashed his full gladiatorial capabilities, moving with speed belying his bulky size and tremendous age – even by Cybertronian standard, Megatron was considered old, having lived through the planet's Golden Age and brought about its fall and was still battling for undisputed dominance over it. Seekers were granted with one of the most efficient battle circuits ever equipped in Transformers, they having to deal with the complexity of flight, and Starscream proved to be one of the most skillful flyers the Cybertron War Academy had ever seen, and yet, he was still unable to dodge Megatron's charge. That he was a little overburdened with his emotions might have contributed to his slow reaction, but the fact that the larger Decepticon had managed to move so fast so as to catch Starscream unguarded was something to be credited.
Not that Starscream could process much right now with his sensitive mid-riff plating dented and blazing with fresh pain. The punch had also caught the lower part of his cockpit and smashed the yellow glass, the pieces scattering around the Seeker as he curled himself into a protective ball on the floor. He could feel the warmth of spilled energon-blood smeared all over the abused section, adding to the agony of it all.
"Don't you ever dare raise your voice before your leader, Screamer. I regard very highly of manners; I barely tolerate the lack of them. That includes you, Second or no," Megatron's words floated to his audios clearly even though the Decepticon Commander did not shout them out. He did not have to with his voice being naturally loud, plus the ever-present growl of threat in it compelled the listeners to latch onto every syllable spoken.
Starscream wanted to argue back; he longed to snap before the leader's face that he would give his respect only if Megatron deserved it; he longed to shout at Megatron that he was merely doing his job to correct the leader, and he was being unjustly punished because of his boldness to do so; he longed to scream that Megatron was unfit to be leader of the Decepticons and the army would benefit so much more if he was out of the way. These and so much more he wanted to spit out, but his vocalizer was not very cooperative – overwhelmed by the sensations of pain his sensor nodes were sending his CPU, the Seeker discovered that the only sound he could make was pitiful whimpers.
Apparently, he did not need his voice to make his thoughts known.
Another series of pain hit his neural networks so viciously that he screamed to the best of his ability when Megatron's pede landed on his left wing, multiplying the agony further by squashing the sheet metal with firm twists of his leg. Starscream's torso arched up, only to be slammed down again by mighty hands grabbing the back of his helmet. Further attempt of struggles was thwarted when the Seeker was pinned down to the floor by Megatron's knee digging painfully into the seams where his wings were attached to his backstrut. Clear optical fluids burst through tiny ducts behind his lens as the torture exceeded his tolerance, his vocalizer spilling pleas he could not even hear himself.
"Starscream, Starscream…obviously you need lessons in manners if this is how you behave before your superior. Remember this, my Second; when I take on followers, I expect them to bend their will completely to me – never to question my orders but to merely follow them. Respect is a must – I do not need to prove myself to earn my underlings' loyalties. As for your duties…I will heed your advice only if I see fit to do so! You wish to overthrow me Starscream? Ha! I take a Second-In-Command not because I wish to be succeeded…on the contrary, I wish to never be succeeded at all. I do so because there needs to be a chain of command in my army so that order is always in place…even when I am away." Megatron paused to apply more pressure to the now slightly-crumpled wings before speaking again, "And I promise you this, Starscream; even when I am away, I will always return. No one sits in my throne but myself."
Starscream's vents sputtered in having to cope with the abusive pressure of being pinned down while trying to take in air to cool down his overheating internals. Cooling fans roared at full blast now that the sound of them whirring could be faintly heard despite all the silencing mechanisms. However, all these seemed insignificant right now compared to the dread he was experiencing – once again, Megatron answered to each and every one of his thoughts! He did not need Megatron's threats or pain-inducing touches to reduce him to a lowly, cowering wretch who existed only to beg for release. The knowledge that his thoughts were somehow laid bare for the warlord to assess was enough to degrade him like nothing else could.
"Y-yes…I understand, Megatron…please…"
"That's Lord Megatron to you!"
His subservience thankfully led to decrease in stress on his wing, and for that, Starscream could cower at the feet of his tormentor for as long as Megatron wanted him to. Let other Decepticons whispered words of indignity behind him; let even Megatron himself thought him as a cowardly slag-metal; whatever whoever said, his only purpose was to prolong his existence. As long as he remained online, the hope that one orn, he would be free to choose his own life, to live by his own rule, remained alive…
"Still very ambitious, aren't you, Starscream? You do realize that your position now is in no way fitting of a leader, don't you?" Even his tone was enough to convey the sheer mockery of the statement without Starscream needing to see the faceplates that were likely to smirk at his helplessness. Not that he could with Megatron's gladiatorial mass weighing down on his spinal-strut while the warlord knelt on his back, the other pede left free to brutalize the sensitive wing.
"No, leader…p-please…!" Starscream would have unleashed so much more pleas if only given the chance but his faceplates were being crushed to the cold floor which hindered him to form coherent enough sounds.
"…I will enjoy disciplining you so much, my traitorous Second, but I still need you and your sorry trine for my next raid. Until then…take care not to even think of betraying me."
Relief swept the colourful jet-chassis like cold energon over heated metals the instant Megatron retrieved his pede and stood up. The intensity of his optics scrutinizing Starscream's pathetic form lying curled on the energon-smeared floor felt like almost physical while the Seeker waited for his energy to return. They were ones of the worst astroseconds Starscream had to endure, being under the leader's contempt-filled gaze while he himself was unable to escape it. Starscream's resoluteness lent him the necessary strength to scramble to his pede even as his wing still stung and his back ached from the ungentle treatments.
"Prepare the Air Forces. I expect you and your dynametal ducks of Seekers to be ready in 4 breems," Megatron ordered. The obvious finality in his tone informed the injured Seeker that it was time for his departure or risked further damage – something he could not afford when he was at the brink of possible battles. He turned to leave, not bothering to even spare himself further indignity of bowing his homage to the leader.
Megatron's dark chuckles reached his audio preceptors even as he exited the room. He suppressed a shiver that threatened to visualize his fear in hearing such sinister sounds but the perk of his wings betrayed him. Megatron was already seated in his chair, the same chair he had occupied throughout the meeting, his back turned towards the Seeker, but somehow he seemed to sense Starscream's feelings when he said, "Oh, don't bother with your pathetic bowing, Starscream. I will ensure it myself you cower at my feet when we are done with this energy crisis."
Starscream didn't wait any longer. Even though his joint-servos creaked with protest, the Seeker forced himself to leave the place as fast as his pede could tolerate his forcing. He had had enough; Megatron as it was was bad enough; with his new processors-assessing ability, the warlord would now haunt him every nanoklik that his Spark pulsed with life.
The air hummed with faint revs of engines as the Decepticon raiding party, consisting of a few Coneheads, Soundwave, the command trine and Megatron himself, made its way to the aforementioned power plant. As usual, Megatron was positioned appropriately, at the forefront of the formation while the rest trailed behind him in their official position. Starscream was at his right, his wingmates following in his wake in their own Seeker formation while. The ever-loyal Soundwave still, like many flights before this, occupied the space to Megatron's left.
The flight wasn't as long as the Decepticons were used to since the power plant's location was not very far from their underwater base. Thus it was that it only took about half a joor to reach their destination and to Starscream's secret relief, the Autobots were nowhere in sight. A quick scan on the perimeter confirmed Soundwave's earlier reconnaissance that the security had been escalated, but it was nowhere near enough to give the Decepticons serious threat. However, Starscream was in no doubt whatsoever that the hotline was tuned ready to contact the Autobots should the need arise.
The moment they passed the imaginary line which Starscream privately dubbed as the 'Safe Zone', Megatron turned his head ever so slightly and spoke to the Air Commander.
"Starscream, deploy your Seekers for aerial cover."
"As you wish, Lord Megatron."
The red-blue-white flyer wasted no time to contact his trinemates via the comm. link.
::Starscream to Thundercracker and Skywarp.::
The aforementioned Seekers answered without fail, knowing all too well the procedure, waiting only for the order to be vocalized.
::Thundercracker, cover the East and North quadrant. Skywarp, keep an optic on Weast and South. I'll join you after I disrupt the generators. Return when I call to transport the energon cubes.::
There was a pause in their exchange, a pause in which hesitance from the inferior flyers' hesitance travelled through the Seeker bond and flooded Starscream's processors. At any other time, he would have appreciated such sentiments, but at the brink of battles they were at best distractive. Annoyed, he snapped through the connection as well as letting his own feelings washed over his wing-brothers.
::Will you be alright?:: Thundercracker's tone indicated that he was the least troubled by Starscream's irritation.
::Of course I'll be alright, you useless pile of flying scraps! Why shouldn't I?::
::'coz you're not acting like you are these orns.:: Skywarp supplied dully. ::C'mon, Screamer, don't lie to us. You can pretend being a pain in the afts in front of the other 'Cons, but not to us. We know you. When you spat at us in private, you're nervous.::
Starscream did not respond immediately – he could almost imagine tiny gears and pulleys turning in his cranial plating as his CPU worked out the best possible response. They acknowledge the source of his less-than-best state and were worried if his battle performances would be diminished. He himself could not deny the possibility of it – failure to other Decepticons meant almost-fried circuits in their audio preceptors due to Megatron's ceaseless rants. To him, it meant malfunctioning almost 89% of bodily functions after a good beating from the silver gun-former.
::Mind your businesses. I know what I'm doing.::
::Good luck, then.::
And with that, the blue and the purple jets split off from the main formation.
"Prepare for attack," Megatron declared suddenly, pulling Starscream's attention off the retreating figures of his jet mates. The Air Commander swooped off as was expected of him, strafing the main entrance with missiles at the guard booth. The tiny structure was engulfed in flame in a few nanokliks. The usual music of screaming humans reached Starscream's audios as they fled from the carnage and heightened his spirits. He pulled off his dive a mere hundred feet from the ground, thrusters firing at full capacity to battle gravity and shot off like a high-strung arrow skywards. Reaching suitable height, he entered another spiraling dive over the rooftop of the power plant, unleashing the power of his machine-guns on the radars and communication disks perched atop the building. As the last of communication antennas fell in broken pieces, he knew that the humans now had no means to contact the Autobots.
Now, only if he could be as sure that they did not manage to call for help before he destroyed their communication systems…
Starscream did not linger long on the notion; Megatron had already blasted an entrance through the side wall with his Fusion Cannon. The Decepticon Supreme Commander would have already waited for his null-rays inside. Starscream maneuvered himself through the hole with amazing precision that not a scratch marred his paintjob as he entered the building, transforming into his root-mode as he went.
"The null-rays, Starscream," Megatron said and pointed to nearby generators. Said Seeker understood and immediately set to work, firing off his characteristic weapons at the gigantic machines and stopping their functions.
Meanwhile, off to one corner, Soundwave was also busy with his role; the Communication Expert having deployed Ravage to chase off whatever humans foolish enough to remain behind, was now starting to produce empty cubes to be later filled with energon. Rumble and Frenzy had just finished unfolding themselves from their cassette modes, ready to initiate energon cube production. Laserbeak was nowhere in sight for the bird-like cassette was off spying in the Ark, as was planned earlier.
From there on, everything ran in monotonous progression; Megatron stood at the sideline, arms folded before his chest-piece while observing with critical optics as Rumble, Frenzy and the Reflector-gestalts worked to fill the empty cubes produced by Soundwave. Starscream, sure that he was not needed here anymore, was about to take off, already half-transforming into his F-15 jet mode, when Megatron's sneer caught his audios.
"Leaving, eh, Starscream?"
The Air Commander suppressed the reasoning his battle circuits threw into his processors, urging him to ignore the call, to leave as quickly as he could, to get as far away as possible from the larger mech.
He did none of these, considering the worse circumstances he would end up in compared to if he stayed and endured the insults. He reversed his transformation sequence and turned to face the leader.
"My trine needs me up in the air; we will be of more use there. We fly to such heights that we can spot the incoming Autobots – if they come at all – and warn you beforehand," Starscream countered. He refused to avert his optics from clashing with the leader's even though doing that in itself was a torture. It was as if he sensed Megatron's meta-processors probing into his data banks, stripping him bare of privacy.
"No," Megatron's smirk widened, showing animalistic fangs jutting from the upper corners of his jaws, "Skywarp and Thundercracker can handle some patrol duties by themselves. If they need reinforcement, they will call. Now spare me your hideous whining and get to work. We must squeeze as much energy as we can from this power plant before Prime and his rag-tag band arrive."
"Preposterous! I am the Decepticon Second-In-Command! I refuse to do manual labours like some – some slave drones!" The jet practically shrieked, ignoring completely the nasty glances the Casetticons and Reflector-gestalts shot in his way. Primus, he had enough enduring Megatron's mental and physical abuses without being unable to claim even such small perks that came with his high office!
As an answer, Megatron raised his cannon arm and tapped the barrel-end of his Fusion Cannon with mocked gentleness on the swell of the Seeker's yellow cockpit, right over his Spark chamber. Starscream's vents skipped an intake cycle as he felt the sensitive glass thrummed from the vibration of the charged weapon.
"You will do as I say, Starscream. This cannon will inflict bodily harm; that will be painful, of course. My mind, though…" Megatron's optics flashed with a mix of glee, menace and anger as he spoke in that low voice that Starscream knew held a muted rage, "One more word, Starscream, and pray that you have firewalls strong enough to hold me back."
Afraid though as he was, the Air Commander refused to display any sign of it. At least he remained rebellious in the optics of his fellow Decepticons even if his leader could assess his feelings as easily as he crushed a fleshling with only two digits. "As you command."
As he worked to convert the raw electrical energy into energon, keeping a sufficient distance between himself and the others, Starscream opened his comm. link to inform his wingmates that he would not be joining them. Before he could initiate the call, though, a series of annoyingly familiar beeps echoed in the area.
Megatron looked immediately towards the source of the sounds – down to his own chest-piece. Lights flickered at either side, a sure sign that Laserbeak was contacting the warlord and delivering his reconnaissance reports.
"The Autobots are on the move," Megatron announced. "Fill in all the cubes and let's get out of here!"
The working Decepticons did not need telling twice; already they were moving twice as fast as before, filling and organizing the cubes in stacks. On the other servo, Starscream chose to leave his current task to return to his trinemates, knowing how full they would have their wings later to thwart the Autobots' coming.
A hard smack landed on the back of his helm the moment he passed by Megatron, knocking him down to his knees.
"You are to be at my side, fool. Your trine does not need you yet. Help me defend the perimeter," Megatron snarled as he grabbed the Seeker by the wing and roughly hauled him up to his pedes, bringing Starscream's head level with his own.
"– but NOTHING! Have Thundercracker and Skywarp strafed the Autobots; delay them, buy us some time! These energon cubes are few enough that we don't need their subspaces to transport them!"
Starscream glanced back to see that, yes, they had only managed to produce so little energon cubes that Soundwave, Reflector and his Casetticons would be enough to carry them back to the Nemesis.
"Yes, Megatron," the jet's answer came out in gasps as he struggled with the pain Megatron inflicted on his wing. Thankfully, it was released the instant he gave his reply.
Thundercracker chose that moment to comm. linked his trineleader.
::Thundercracker to Starscream.::
::Starscream here. Report.:: He returned, having a good guess of what this is all about.
::Autobots spotted, half a breem away from your location.::
::Acknowledged. Delay them as best as you can while we load our cargo.::
::…Don't you need us to transport those cubes?::
::Megatron doesn't see it necessary, and for once I agree. Not very much cubes, mind you. That slagger, I told him raiding here will be unprofitable.::
::Thundercracker, where are you? I have that yellow twin chasing my tail!::
The last come from Skywarp; his obvious distress meant only one thing – that he was about to be jet-judoed by either of the Autobot brother, and from his description, it was clear that this time he was being zeroed in by Sunstreaker.
::Uh-oh, Skywarp needs help. Thundercracker out.:: The blue flyer's line went dead so Starscream cut off his own. He realized how much in trouble a Seeker was if one was confronted by the twins' crazy wrenching-Seekers-out-of-the-sky fighting technique and so paid no mind to Thundercracker's abrupt excuse. To Megatron, he reported, "The Autobots are coming."
"Then let's prepare them for more 'welcome' than they would have liked," the silver mech growled and stroked the barrel of his Fusion Cannon.
Starscream said nothing and instead directed his focus to the Eastern horizon, cut short by the rising landscape, in the direction where the Autobot Headquarter lay and from which their enemies were also expected to come from even as Megatron shouted orders for his soldiers to work faster. Sure enough, barely half a breem passed when the Seeker's strained vision caught on the tell-tale kicked-up dust that signified their foes' arrivals. He didn't bother to inform Megatron this time, the displeased hiss from behind a sure sign that his leader had spotted them too.
"Quickly, you fools! Quick before the Autobots arrive!"
Starscream again spared himself from voicing out his opinion that they would not be able to make their escape even if the Decepticons laboured their hardest. Worry tugged in his CPU like an annoying retro-rat munching on a piece of rusted steel when he noticed the absence of a purple and a blue dot hovering in the sky. Given that they have the misfortune to battle the Pit-spawned twins, they would have likely crash-landed somewhere when he did not look.
Megatron's call alerted said Seeker just in time to extend a servo and caught his leader-turned gun with familiar precision. Sometimes, Starscream found himself wondering how perfectly his digits fitted into the nooks and crannies of Megatron's alt-mode form, as if servos and gun-handles were deliberately made for each other, nor could he grasp the reason the Decepticon leader trusted him, Starscream, of all mechs, to wield him like he did now. No doubt Megatron's split-astrosecond ability to convert back to his bipedal form decreased the possibility of being toyed around, but the brief nanokliks he was allowed the freedom to touch his leader like this, to confide trusts in one another in battles, made his thoughts wandered…
Starscream shook his helm as soon as processors-drifts threatened to engulf him. No time for that now.
Optics zooming in on a particular large rock perched precariously on a nearby cliff, Starscream pulled on Megatron's trigger without any hesitation.
The Fusion blast unleashed caused recoil to ripple through the gun and spread to Starscream's arm. The tingles were somewhere between ticklish and painful, but the Seeker was used to that sensation by now. So, instead on focusing on the backlash effects, Starscream watched with smug satisfaction as the blast hit the upper base of the cliff, shattering the ground on which the rock laid and caused it tumble down the slope. The familiar blue-and-red semi leading the vehicular convoy, no doubt Optimus Prime, swerved violently sideways in its effort to dodge the falling rock that threatened to smash it to pieces of scrap metal upon landing. Other vehicles trailing behind it followed suit to avoid the danger, momentarily breaking their formation.
Starscream fired a few more blasts at the army of Autobots, focusing largely on Optimus Prime himself. The vehicles scattered only for a while before they were rallied together again by the call of "Autobots, transform and attack!" from the large truck at the head of the team, who was changing itself to become the enigmatic figure of the Autobot Supreme Commander.
As if on cue, the colorful Seeker felt the gun-Megatron in his servo shivered slightly, the only warning Starscream got to release the weapon and allowed the Decepticon warlord to leap-transform back into his robotic form. Megatron stood proud and tall before his makeshift entrance, waiting as usual for his arch-nemesis to arrive. Without looking back to his SIC, he issued, "Starscream, to the air. Aerial assaults for cover. Rally your trine if you can."
It was times like these that Starscream was reminded why he looked up to the Decepticon Commander so highly when he first joined this army, and to some extent, was still holding some respectable amount of admiration for the silver mech. On the battlefield, Megatron was…gorgeous. He was intimidating; he was proud and confident; he was strong and powerful. The perfect antithesis of Optimus Prime.
"Right on it, Megatron," was Starscream's reply as he leapt into the air with a kick of his legs, transforming in mid-air and sped away towards the Autobots. He gained altitude quickly to avoid the open fires from the ground-walking mechs below, dodging, twisting and turning like crazy acrobats as he struggled to avoid their shots. At the same time, missiles flew off their pods like hungry barracudas aiming for their victims. The Earth trembled with each explosion of his missiles, whether they hit their marks or not. The freedom that air gave him, combined with the dangerous excitement of battles, caused his battle circuits to explode with gleeful sensations, while heats and rushing air ignited his sensors that they tore crazed laughs from his vocalizer. To Pit with his whiny voice – as long as these joys belonged to him, he could care less about his defects and basked in the savage glory of war.
Even with battle-haze consumed his logic circuits, Starscream still managed to focus on his objective. He rained the ground below with more missiles while keeping his scanner tuned towards the power plant, waiting for his fellow Decepticons energy signatures to leave the place. His waiting was frosted with further joy when additional strafing joined his own – his scanner detected and analyzed the feels of Thundercracker's and Skywarp's electromagnetic fields closing in on him from behind.
"Hey, we're baaaaacckkkk!" Skywarp shouted over the cacophony of the surroundings' turmoil. He like, Thundercracker, was in his vehicular form and looked perfectly fine – except perhaps for a few minor scratches and patches of dirt here and there, indicating that their encounters with the jet-judoers weren't completely a win for them. Still, they returned, and with noticeable lack of Autobots on their backs – that was enough to have relief swept Starscream's CPU.
"About time, you two. Go ahead and provide –" Starscream paused as a he tilted himself slightly to avoid his wing from being hit by Wheeljack's sneaky shot, "– air cover for Soundwave and the others. They have the cubes – priority is on them."
"But what about you?"
"I'll be fine, Thundercracker. I'm not an Air Commander for nothing. Besides, I'll be more dead if Megatron gets off on me because the cubes aren't delivered safely then having these Autodorks firing on my tail-wings."
The two jets said nothing more and fired off their thrusters at full capacity when they caught sight of said Decepticons flying out of the power plant. Starscream, however, snapped into a tight turn and showered the Autobots with more exploding gifts while he circled above them like a hungry vulture waiting for dying prey to breathe its last.
::Decepticons, RETREAT! We have what we came for!::
Megatron's voice boomed over the public comm. link as soon as the last Decepticon-courier left the encircling walls of the building. Gladly, Starscream obeyed and executed a corkscrew loop to right his trajectory –
"Ah!" The jet cried out as a laser shot burnt the underside of his right wing, right where it joined the fuselage. The smell of melted metal permeated his olfactory sensors along with stinging pain that seared his neural networks, the flight-sensitized chassis multiplying the burning sensation. For a few astroseconds he spiraled downwards before his training took control and he managed to stabilize his flight.
His victory, small though it was, was short lived.
A second shot fired destroyed his thrusters completely, and a missile fired only a nanoklik later ate away at his nosecone-side in a blinding explosion, wrenching out of him a pitiful shriek that would have likely short-circuited weak audio preceptors. Out of reflex, his body transformed to his bipedal mood to engage his anti-gravity, only for him to find out that his equilibrium rectifier – an important component in his stabilizing system – was burnt along with parts of his nosecone. Even though his optics recognized which was sky and which was ground, his logic circuits became completely overwhelmed under confusing feedbacks, inducing dizziness such that he had not known since the day he was blown off course during his tragic expedition with Skyfire long, long ago. The ground rushed up terrifyingly quickly to meet him, not to mention the many-coloured spots of Autobots littering the area around his expected crash-site. Starscream hated to scream in the face of danger – it made him looked cowardly – but he could not get enough willpower to stop his vocalizer from spitting out the incoherent noises as his body plummeted to his possible deactivation.
Starscream rarely prayed, a creature of logic as he was (though less logic-oriented than Shockwave), but as he succumbed fully to the might of gravity, he prayed – that this was not the last astroseconds he knew life.
Thundercracker and Skywarp reached the retreating party of Decepticons in no time, powered on by turbines whirring full-gear to catch up to them. Borne from years of practice, the two jets casually entered their 'bantering mode' as they blamed each other for their unlucky fights with Sunstreaker and Sideswipe – it was a routine Starscream developed for his trine to pretend hostility between them; though it was a common knowledge that trinemates were supposed to be intimate with each other, Starscream had theorized that it was better for them to appear not as friendly as they really were. Affection, after all, was a weakness only for Autobots to indulge in and Megatron despised any form of its display.
Megatron had no idea the depth of brotherly love the Seekers shared with each other that it was virtually impossible for Thundercracker and Skywarp to seem not to care when their trineleader sunk into depression.
"Thundercracker, Skywarp! Silence, you two, or I'll personally make sure of that!" Megatron snarled from his place at the head of the team, apparently annoyance of their loud bickering was getting to his nerve-bundles. The two jets fell quiet immediately, the only sounds coming from them being the high-pitched whines of their jet-engines, but a secret amusement was shared between those two via their private Seeker bond. Their acts were rather convincing if even Megatron could not stand them.
"Where is Starscream? He was supposed to join us by now!"
Their Sparks literally missed a pulse as realization dawned on them; Starscream shouldn't have taken this long to finish his business and Megatron's demand had just awakened them to their worst-case scenario.
"Well?" That tone demanded answer, and answer Skywarp did:
"He…he is providing cover to enable us to retreat."
"He has succeeded, then. So where is he?"
Apparently, Megatron had also reached the same theory as the two jet-formers because the warlord jerked to a sudden halt even as he whirled around to face Thundercracker and Skywarp, who were midway their transformations into bipedal modes. The whole party had also stopped by now, silence hung among them as if virus-ridden. Optics searched each other for confirmation but none answer the question held unspoken in their CPUs.
"Primus, NO!" Thundercracker whispered in dread as he wheeled around to direct his optics back to their previous battlefields – and saw a red dot in the sky falling, falling towards the groups of Autobots below, falling with no hope of regaining altitude.
"Starscream!" Skywarp shrieked – sounding incredibly like said jet in the process – and clutched his servos reflexively to Thundercracker who hovered at his side.
In the confusion, nobody realized the fear-struck expression gracing the contours of Megatron's faceplates – not even Megatron himself. His Spark lurched in time with Starscream's crash-landing. Out of instinctive drive, the Decepticon Commander activated the memory drive residing in dormancy in him and forced himself to connect with Starscream's meta-processors.
What greeted him was a myriad of sensations that he no longer had names enough to call them – predominantly was pain, and Primus it was overwhelming! It was felt in his backstrut, his helm, his neck-cables, his arms…everywhere. The distant jet's sensory preceptors registered feedbacks with decreasing quality to the warlord as Starscream's systems began to fail. The smell of energon blood was strong in his olfactory sensors; the bitterness of dirt lingered on his glossa, as if it was Megatron who had swallowed them during the landing. Most of disconcerting, though, was the grainy vision he was seeing through Starscream's cracked optics, and the obvious fear that came with it.
Autobots were everywhere, all around him as Starscream laid on his front, unable to move even a digit. A pair of blue legs moved into the frame and from their size alone, there was no mistaking of to whom they belonged.
A pair of royal-blue optics stared back when a masked face was lowered even as Starscream's visionary feedbacks flickered, faded, and blacked out completely.
The whole team turned towards Megatron, shocked as the harsh cry was forced out of Megatron's vocalizer even though he did not will it. The warlord could not understand the magnitude of fear his CPU generated when he realized that Starscream was at the mercy of Optimus Prime, nor could he handle such…alien…emotions.
Primus did Megatron hoped he was wrong this time.