A/N: Sorry for the longer amount of time for the update. Real life has been keeping me pretty busy of late. Also, I was having some problems coming up with an opening scene for this chapter. But I am now (hopefully) back on track.

The chapter isn't a very long one this time. Consider this a type of filler or transition chapter.

To Archaeopteryx Feather, I did consider what you said to me in that e-mail, but I couldn't find a way to fit your suggestion as an opening scene. I do agree with what you said in your review, that I need to put Starscream in a stronger role. Even I can admit he has been too minor a character for the past several chapters. Your suggestion will be used here, just not where initially planned.

Some time ago, Taipan Kiryu gave me something to think about concerning the Constructicons being brought into the war. While she may not remember that PM exchange, I hadn't forgotten it, and decided to use that idea. If she does remember, then thanks much.

To Anon: IDW is definitely where I got my inspiration for Prowl. When I started writing him the way I have here, I honestly had no idea just how dark he was getting in IDW, but I do know now, and it certainly is chilling seeing just how far someone will go in the name of their "cause". The most frightening thing about him is the fact he does believe he's doing the right thing even though he's obviously become very like those he hates. It's definitely not a pretty picture.

Edit (June 22): At suggestion of beta, Chapter 8 has been cleaned up a bit.

Warning for chapter: Mention of character death (OC)

Time units (as found on TFWiki):
Breem - 8.3 minutes
Orn - 1 Cybertronian day (2 Earth weeks)
Joor- 1 Cybertronian hour (6 to 6.5 hours)
Vorn - 1 Cybertronian year (83.3 Earth years)
Klik - 1 Cybertronian minute

Iacon - Autobot Headquarters - 2 orns later
Optimus Prime's office

Optimus sighed after reading the report.

"Are you certain this information is accurate?"

Jazz nodded. "Yeah. Punch told me he saw him on the base right after Simfur. Also heard from a couple of my contacts here that he was seen near Mecurion's place around the time he was deactivated." His tone was flat, and Optimus couldn't blame him for sounding that way. While some might not think the disappearance or death of the unpopular Senators was a great loss, Prime couldn't quite see it that way. Soundwave's knowledge of the city-state meant he was well-acquainted with all the ways of getting in and out of the city without being seen, and no one would have thought it strange if they did see him. What made the situation worse was the fact that very few were acquainted with his symbionts Laserbeak and Ravage. Prime had seen the vid-images of what remained of Mecurion's shell, and the scene had been gruesome. If Jazz's suspicion was correct that Ravage was responsible, and it seemed highly likely from what he'd seen, then that put Ratbat's disappearance in a new and more sinister light.

The implications were not pleasant ones. "So we can safely assume that Soundwave has chosen his allegiance, then."

"Looks like, Boss 'bot." His tone was still flat, but Optimus could swear that he now heard a trace of restrained anger there. The Autobot leader couldn't blame him if he was since both the disappearance and the murder had occurred while under his watch. Jazz took his job seriously, and his first thoughts would involve dealing with Soundwave personally for making him look like a fool. Right now, though, there were more important matters to consider.

"We're going to need to shore up the city's defenses, Jazz. I'm going to leave it to you and Mirage to check for all the weak points, and from there we can work out the best ways to repair them." Even if it was already too little, too late in some respects.

"Got it," Jazz nodded. This was a task he would take on with the greatest of pleasure. He'd get even more pleasure when he could put a vibro-dagger in that slagger's Spark. Soundwave may as well just come right out and said that their defenses were laughable, and that if he could get in, so could the rest of the 'Cons.

No one made Jazz look like a fool and got away with it.

"Ya want me to bring Red in on this?"

Prime nodded. "That would be best. We need to take the necessary steps to mitigate the damage that's been done. Furthermore, I want it to be posted that Soundwave should now be considered a traitor and I will leave it to your team to deal with him."

Jazz gave a cool inward smirk. Oh, he would definitely enjoy this assignment. He posed his next question, the concern that had been bugging him ever since Mirage's report. "And what about Starscream?"

Prime looked sharply at Jazz after he asked the question. "What do you mean?"

Jazz shook his head. "Don't try that on me, Optimus. Ya know what Ah mean." Optimus now watched him warily, marking the tone in Jazz's voice. It was cool, calm, measured. He only spoke like this when he was extremely focused.

And he didn't refer to the Prime by name unless he was being extremely serious.

Optimus Prime gave Jazz a very level look. "Supposing I don't entirely. Elaborate, please."

Jazz's optics narrowed behind the visor. "We both know that Soundwave didn't come here just to kill the Senator and test our defenses. He wanted to know about our Seeker as well."

Prime was quiet for a moment. The thought had actually occurred to him while reading the report. Not only had Punch told Jazz about Soundwave's being seen in the main Decepticon base, he'd also informed Jazz when the saboteur had gotten in touch with him that he had overheard Stormraiser saying he had learned some information about a "rogue" Seeker and would be taking it straight to Megatron. No doubt Starscream had been spotted fighting for their side at Simfur. He focused as he heard Jazz continue.

"Ya know as well as Ah do that Megs ain't gonna overlook his presence here. He's either going to try and suborn or kill him. And with Prowl's machinations, we both know that Starscream's life probably ain't gonna be pleasant around here." Jazz shut his mouth, letting the implications sink in.

Optimus' optics narrowed. "He was in stasis up until five orns ago, Jazz. And after that, there was someone nearby at all times. Even if your suspicions are correct and Megatron is looking for Starscream, Soundwave would not have been able to get into our headquarters unseen to speak to him."

Jazz raised a browridge, not as sure as Optimus that that last part was true, knowing what he did about Soundwave's abilities. Anyone who'd been brazen enough to meet with a Senator in his own home and kill him in such a fashion wasn't going to draw the line at the notion of strolling into the Autobot base. Only a few knew about Jazz's suspicions concerning Soundwave, but there was no way any of them could have stopped the slagger if he was determined enough to get to Starscream. On the other hand, Soundwave believed in self-preservation, and knew that Jazz was aware of his abilities. Since he wouldn't have known for sure if Jazz was in the Autobot HQ, he wouldn't have openly risked himself. So while it was likely Soundwave had sent in one of his two symbionts instead, there was no way to know for sure. Either way, he was going to let Red know about that possible breach, too.

What puzzled him was how quickly the Prime jumped to the Seeker's defense. Again, he pondered all he had learned from Mirage.

Definitely time to dig for some answers. Past time, as a matter of fact.

But for the moment..."Don't get mad at me, Boss 'Bot. Ah'm just sayin' that it's a possibility we need to consider. Ah mean, we all know that Megs don't like takin' 'no' for an answer, and if Starscream's life is miserable enough, he might just accept an offer if it's made. Plus, Sounders has his own unique ways of getting in and out of places without bein' noticed. Ah know this for a fact."

Prime was quiet. While Jazz's last comments were unsettling, he still felt that Starscream's departure was far from likely. But even if Optimus didn't believe that Starscream would abandon those who'd earned his trust, there was still his prison record to consider. The jet was likely to give as good as he got if he was attacked in any way, in spite of the promise he'd made to report any such attacks. But Prime also knew his mechs. While Jazz was known as a friendly mech, his line of work led him to be somewhat mistrustful. Even when one became his friend, he still always seemed watchful of that individual. The Autobot leader knew that he could not expect Jazz to trust Starscream as easily as a handful of others did.

But the fact remained Jazz had gone so far as to have Mirage watch Prowl and report any incidents that indicated he was undermining Prime's orders regarding the Seeker. This implied that even if Jazz didn't see Starscream as a friend, he did at least acknowledge him as an ally. And that was something Optimus was interested in seeing continue.

"I've spoken with Starscream, Jazz. And I've had a few other conversations concerning him which have me believe he is not the type to just run when things get difficult." Before Jazz could reply, Prime continued. "I know you have likely had him watched as Seekers do have a dangerous reputation, deserved or not. What would you say of him from those observations?"

Jazz was quiet for a moment. "His behavior wasn't what Ah was expectin'," he eventually replied.

Optimus nodded. "If you have seen he's not what reputation suggests he should be, what makes you so sure he will just leave?"

Jazz didn't answer for a few kliks, considering this. Finally, he nodded. "Understood. Just be careful here. Ya may not worry about Starscream up and runnin' on us, but Megs won't care 'bout that."

Prime nodded and dismissed Jazz. As Jazz left to take care of the assignments he'd been given, Prime sat back in his seat, thinking. None of this was good news. If Soundwave had been responsible for Mecurion's assassination, then at the very least it proved that their city-state's defenses may not be strong enough to deal with a full-scale offensive should that occur anytime soon. If one individual could slip in and out of the city so easily, others could as well. Further, the possibility that Soundwave might be able to breach their headquarters' defenses and steal information without anyone's knowledge only compounded the threat, as it meant he could get his hands on whatever information he wanted whenever he wanted.

And that would be a disaster, as they were barely holding on as it was.

Some advantage was already lost, as the extra numbers they'd gained had been cut down at Simfur. Plus, by now Megatron was more than likely aware the Autobots had a Seeker on their side and, as Jazz said, he would stop at nothing to take him from them.

A few orns ago, he'd come to the decision to take a stronger offensive, but he'd forgotten that their defenses needed to be just as strong. Hopefully, with Jazz and Red Alert working in tandem, they'd be able to fix this oversight. With luck, they could even nullify some of the information Soundwave had more than likely already transmitted to Megatron.

The Autobot leader rose from his desk and went over to the window. But this time he barely saw the scenery below him, keeping his gaze fixed to the horizon. Somewhere out there, Soundwave was roaming Cybertron, and who knew where he was or what he was doing right now.

Optimus had a feeling he wouldn't like the answer when it finally came.

Crystal City
Science Academy - Secure Records Room




A pair of blue hands moved swiftly over the keyboard, hacking into the most protected records the Academy contained. The room was nearly dark, with the viewscreen casting the only bit of light over the visored mech. Nearly invisible in a corner near the door lay the grayed out shell of a spindly-looking mech, his chestplates open and Spark chamber a crumpled mass within.

Soundwave allowed himself a rare smirk as he finally breached the final firewalls and was allowed into the databases containing the details of the construction and defense schematics of some of the larger city-states: Altihex's anti-grav engines, the sensor gun turrets of Praxus...Besides that, the databases contained information regarding spacebridge technology concepts and tech, which would prove useful when they were ready to expand. All of this and more was created by some of the most brilliant minds the Science Academy had ever produced, and every byte of it was now about to fall into Decepticon hands.

So easy. Fools.

Soundwave had arrived at Crystal City the previous orn, and used his connections with the Senators to get an appointment with the Academy for the following orn in order to speak to the Council in regards of what weapons would need to be created in order to facilitate a victory in the war. When the mech formerly known as Transit appeared to welcome him, Soundwave couldn't help but feel pleased. He couldn't have chosen his victim better. Transit had been a friend of Mecurion, and using his name had apparently been enough for the Councilor to volunteer to meet with him to open the discussions.

It had been Sparkling's play for him to take control of the weak mech's mind and have him lead him to the Secure Records Room. Even easier was convincing the mech to open up his own chassis. He had never even realized what was coming.

Soundwave downloaded the last of the defense and construction information of the major city-states. Now for phase two...

Omega clearance was nearly impossible to hack for a laymech, but Soundwave had had many vorns of practice. Within a few short kliks, Soundwave received access to some of the most private individual records ever. Without another thought for the dead mech in the corner, he began to search for one particular set of records.

It didn't take long.

Iacon - Autobot HQ - 2 joors later
Barracks - Upper level

So these are my new quarters, Starscream thought as he gazed around the room he'd been escorted to. The room was on the top level, close to the emergency escape. It was fairly standard as rooms went: a cool gray color with a table and chair alongside one wall, and a recharge berth along the other. From what he could see, the berth seemed like it was large enough that he could settle his wings comfortably. A few bare shelves above the table completed the decor of the room. There was a large window directly across from the door which seemed to have a tint to it, as if to prevent any possible spies from seeing in. The room seemed to be fairly wide, with more than enough space for him to move around easily.

Prime likely went to a lot of trouble to select this room, Starscream reflected as he looked around. He couldn't imagine the choice went over well with the other officers. Ironhide (while more than likely glad to not have him around in the training barracks) would have objected just on principle. Starscream knew little of who was in the High Command beyond he, Optimus, and Prowl (and what Prime had told him about the SIC concerned him more than he would admit to anyone), but Ratchet had taken the time to educate him a bit on some of those details, so he'd have some idea of who he should and shouldn't slag off.

Of all of them, Red Alert mech seems like he would be the most amusing to mess with. Starscream grinned. He would have to remember what Ratchet had told him in the future for entertainment purposes. He pondered over the rest of what was mentioned to him.

Jazz seemed like a study in contrasts, from what Ratchet had mentioned. Friendly on the one hand, but cool and calculating on the other. Starscream had a feeling he'd need to be a bit wary of him. That sounded like one mech he wouldn't want to anger in any way, shape or form.

And then there was Prowl, someone he had unknowingly angered long before he'd ever become an Autobot. Starscream's grin faded. Pit, he'd had no reason to separate this Prowl from any of the other Enforcers on the day he'd been arrested. He could understand why the mech was angry. If he'd had friends injured in a brawl caused by one individual, he'd be pretty slagged off himself at said individual. What's more, Praxians were known to hold grudges for some time once they felt they'd been injured in some way, even if not directly. But what had the mech expected of him, just stand there and be taken into custody on charges he knew were trumped up?

To make the whole situation worse, Vos and Praxus had actually gotten along at one time, and if they were on opposite sides of the war as he'd learned during his first few vorns of freedom...

Starscream shook his head. Small wonder that Prowl had chosen this indirect method of revenge. While Prime's news had unnerved him, when he'd had time to think about it, he couldn't deny that it was any real surprise. The Seeker had known he'd be facing hostility, given his past experiences. Then Ratchet had let slip that a few of the other rank and file had asked to be allowed to have a few kliks alone with him to "teach the Seeker his place." The medic had given his opinion fairly vocally and physically enough that they hadn't repeated the request. But now he was out of the medbay and there was little Ratchet could do to prevent a problem should it arise.

That yellow minibot who'd been sent to escort him to his room (Bumblebee, if he remembered correctly) seemed friendly enough as he'd showed him the common area where he'd be getting his energon as well as the community washracks while on the way here, but even he seemed nervous around him and left as quickly as possible after showing him where his quarters were.

Fragging rumors...They'd caused a lot of damage to his life already, and it wasn't likely his problems would be ending any time soon. Starscream wandered over to the window and just stared out, not really seeing the scenery outside. He had too much to think about.

One thing was clear: Prime would do what he could, but Starscream knew for certain now that even the leader of the Autobots would not be able to prevent everything. When it came to disciplinary measures, Prowl would likely have the power, and it wouldn't take long for any tormentors of his to realize that. Even the most moronic ones would figure out pretty quickly that the Autobot SIC would be unlikely to punish them harshly, if at all, and any punishment would likely fall on Starscream. He'd learned the hard way about things like that in the penitentiary.

The fact that Prime hadn't even known about his unit being sent out there until it was far too late just gave this theory more credence.

Starscream was sure the Autobot leader would try his best to help him, and there was no doubt he had given him a few friendly faces to surround him and a chance to get back into science again (as upset as he'd been about how the situation was handled at first, he was actually glad for this), but it wouldn't be enough to protect him. Not from closeminded mechs who'd been fed lies and rumors for thousands of vorns not only about him, but about his frametype.

The tetrajet crossed his arms across his chassis and his face hardened. He'd allowed himself to sink into anger and depression long enough. He may have promised Prime he wouldn't fight back unless he felt his life was in danger, but there was more than one way to deal with an opponent besides fighting or arguing and he'd had a lot of vorns to figure that out.

He hadn't broken while in that prison in spite of all that had been done to him, nor had he given in to his temper in that training barracks even if he'd had good cause to do so. He'd be slagged before he let any fraggers get the best of him.

Whatever Skyfire would think of him for joining the army and killing, he would have been even more disappointed to learn that Starscream had quit on himself.

It was time to show what he was capable of.

And frag the idiots who try to stop me.

Crystal City
Science Academy Secure Records Room

Soundwave completed the download of the last files. He'd gotten everything he'd come for. The defense and spacebridge information would be vital to Lord Megatron's cause along with every bit of information the Academy had on the Seeker known as Starscream. Soundwave had received a databurst from the Tyrant regarding the change in plans and couldn't deny from what he'd read that the Seeker could be useful to the cause.

But he would have to be handled carefully should this happen as the academic records not only confirmed Stormraiser's tale, they also indicated he had a volatile temperament.

He shrugged. That could be dealt with when the proper time came. Now he had just a few more details to manage before he left.

It was the work of a few kliks to set the security cameras to not record his image and erase any traces of his presence, along with Transit's appearance for the past five joors. Signs of hacks in the system were also eliminated. A simple suggestion would erase the memories of anyone who had seen them.

Just one more thing to do. The database said that Crystal City's creators were still living in the city, but rumors had existed for vorns saying they were relegated to the lower levels of society and virtually ignored by the populace.

Megatron would be more than pleased if they could be convinced to join their cause.

Soundwave started to leave the room, then paused, glancing down at the shell of the scientist as a notion occurred to him. As easily manipulated as he'd been, the dead mech had proven useful...

After a few astroseconds he made a decision.

Gathering up Transit's remains, he placed them in his subspace, and slipped out of the room, leaving only darkness behind him.