Please accept my apologies for taking so long to update this story. I really didn't mean to take – oh my Unicron – almost 4 months to post a new chapter, but somehow I lost track of time and got busy with my other stories.
You have been such a wonderful group of readers, which makes me feel even worse for keeping you waiting for so long, but I'll do my best to make it up to you. For starters, I will update much more often, and I also want to give you a little treat. It's a Christmas one-shot that will happen during 'Deviant' and which will be posted next December 23.
But let's focus on this update first, brought to you thanks to the generosity of my dear friend and beta reader iratepirate, who always find time to revise my grammar despite of her very busy schedule.
The alien melody kept sounding as the distant lights of the explosions created yellow reflections on the black and purple armour. A metallic tapping could also be heard; heel-thrusters against the roof of the communication tower, not really following any rhythm but still accompanying the song that the Cybertronian state-city of Kalis had heard countless times that cycle.
Nobody could have ever told how Skywarp had learned to whistle, not even himself. He didn't have the organic components that made it possible, but somehow he had adapted his lip components and his glossa to do the trick. Whistling was the one thing he had brought back from his long stay on Earth. It didn't matter that he had only been online five of those four million years; by his standards it had been too long.
The buds were bursting and the air smelled sweet and strange
It seemed about a hundred years ago
He had never cared enough to learn the lyrics, that's why he frowned when they suddenly popped up somewhere in his processor. He knew the melody quite well, though; it had been glued to his memory banks since the day he had heard it for the first time – and last, also. He had never cared about the slagging song after that day, but he had started to whistle it, almost unconsciously, every time his mind had been so absent that any other kind of activity became impossible.
Mary and I, we would sit upon a gate
Just gazin' at some dragon in the sky
That day, that day… he remembered that day. An energy raid on some anonymous terrestrial oil refinery… What was new?
There had been a human on the platform, its vital fluid and internal components splattered all over the grey pavement. Skywarp was sure it had been his doing. Faithful to his style, he had arrived at the oil refinery shooting first and evaluating the situation later. It could have been that Ravage had gotten to the human first… but it wasn't likely. No Cybertronian was faster than Skywarp when he teleported, not even Starscream.
There had been other humans too, of course, all deactivated and messy with their internals exposed, but Skywarp had only paid attention to that one, and only because of the tape recorder that it was holding in one clawed, half carbonized hand.
Now all my friends are wearing worried smiles
Living out a dream of what they was
Don't you think it's sometimes wise not to grow up?
The recorder was still functioning, and it kept playing the song even when the rest of the Decepticons arrived and got rid of the remaining humans. Skywarp was pleased because the tune wasn't annoying, and it made the tedious work of filling the Energon cubes less uh… tedious.
But when the other memory made its way through his data banks, Skywarp frowned. He was always there, slagging up his memories as he had slagged his life.
"Give up the long face, would ya TC? Come on, we've got cubes to fill."
"This carnage is disgusting… and totally unnecessary. Couldn't you resist showing up with your fragging heat-seeking missiles just this once?"
The song had been so catchy that Skywarp had almost succeeded in not noticing the grimace of disgust displayed on a certain slagger's face as the slagger kept staring at the slagging amounts of deactivated, slagging flesh bags...
Yeah, Skywarp had almost succeeded, but he failed because it was always the same thing; every energy raid, every attack, every special operation, there was always that uncomfortable gaze blaming him for being himself. It was curious how Skywarp had gotten used to such gaze during the vorns – he being disgusted about something, he not bothering to stain his hands with what he called the blood of innocents, he being a boring aft, plus many etceteras – but still it had always managed to get to the black Seeker, just as any other difference had always found a way to get to him. Slag, how he hated everything that was different from himself. How he hated him!
Skywarp frowned and pushed the memory of that day at the oil refinery back to the bottom of his data banks. But he kept whistling, always unconsciously, as the battle continued illuminating his armour from the distance.
Skywarp smirked as the high grade kept flowing through his fuel lines. How many battles had he fought in? Zillions, it had to be zillions… Well, maybe not that many, but still…
"Ha! And the fragger meant to offline me is yet to be built!" he cried to the black skies, shaking his fist. Then he returned his attention to the fight again. A couple of mechano miles separated him from the battlefield, but still he could smell it.
It was more a skirmish than a real battle, another Autobot squad playing the hero and trying to stop the Decepticons from gaining positions in the city-state that had become the Autoscum's new capital.
In a perfect world, he would have been there; he would have been one of the conquerors, making his way to glory by shooting one Autobot after another, just like that glorious first time in which Skywarp's trine had slaughtered everyone in that Autobot medical facility in Iacon following Megatron's orders, thus starting the war.
"Body count?" Dirge had asked him when he returned covered in blood and glory.
He had replied proudly, because pride was what he had felt. "Twenty."
"You're so full of slag!"
Ah, the Coneheads, always complaining, always aware of their own inferiority…
Okay, maybe it hadn't been twenty, but he had slagged at least seven Autobots by himself. One of them, as he had learnt later, was the brother of those lunatic Autobot Lamborghinis… It served them right. He wondered if they knew that, from triplets, it had been him who made them twins.
The memory left as fast as the first one, hurriedly escaping before he appeared and ruined everything again…
Skywarp couldn't repress the shiver as he dragged his inebriated self closer to the edge of the narrow roof of the communication tower, his heel-thrusters always poking the dented metal of the edge of the roof in complete disrespect to the abyss below, not to mention to the tune he was whistling.
Like any other Seeker, he didn't give a slag for any distance separating him from the ground. Heights would never be his enemies; the sky was all that he had left, all that he could trust in and the only thing he had ever loved.
It was the coldness that bit him hard. He increased his inner temperature but found little release. Ever since the one mech he used to call brother had come up with his big revelation and decided to play the goodie-good Autobot, Skywarp's energy core had insisted on remaining cold.
The distant explosions did nothing to decrease his anger. Perfect world, perfect world… In a perfect world, he would be there, perhaps leading the squad. Once – was it so long ago, really? – he had been one of Megatron's Elite Seeker Trine, he had been a slagging god… and now he was junk, junk that whistled a slagging terrestrial song. He couldn't remember the last time he had felt so powerless, his former status being nothing but a bittersweet memory. The irony of it all was that only a few dozen cycles had passed since then. Could a life be lived in just some days? Maybe not, but it slaggin' sure could be destroyed.
Skywarp got up and grabbed the slim antenna of the tower to stabilize himself, raising his right arm toward the distance. If at least his targeting system would have been a little more cooperative in his current over-energized state, everything would be too easy. It was a battle, after all. Nobody would even notice that the killer shot had came from a place very far away from the battlefield. The reports would say that some Autobot got a lucky shot, or that collateral damage had taken its toll… but the brand new, heroic and hypocritical Commander would fall just the same. Ah, such a big loss… Megatron would order some memorial service according to his rank, and his name would be craved in the Decepticon Hall of Glory, maybe he would get a statue too… But he would be dead anyway, unable to witness his posthumous glory, all obtained from the lies and weaknesses that were proper of histrue kind. Skywarp sniggered stupidly when he wondered if the Autobots would spare a bit in their data banks for that accursed name once they knew about his termination… Heh, he was one of them, after all, he had even worn their insignia, and they had trusted him, and he had stabbed them in the back…
And Skywarp? Perhaps he wouldn't say anything to stain the heroic memory of the fraggin' renegade Autobot and would allow him to have his glory. Skywarp had shut up all this time after all, hadn't he? Despite having being betrayed, he had shut up… and all because he had loved that mech, because he had been his brother…
Skywarp's legs failed to sustain him. To his frustration, he didn't fall into the abyss. His back clanged sonorously on the roof of the tower and Skywarp started to shoot his arm-mounted rifles into the skies, to the only thing he had left to love.
"You're gonna kiss and say good-bye, yeah, I warn ya," he half-sang, half-spat, almost on the edge of purging his fuel tanks. He had drunk too much, more than any Cybertronian could stand, and yet there he was, feeling like slag, but as functional as he could be as he slowly destroyed himself.
When he spoke again to the void, he had stopped singing. "You could never hold your high grade, TC…" When his optics turned glassy, he forced himself to ignore it.
Skywarp had the slagger in his hands, literally. Not only his secret, but his life was at a shot's distance, one shot that had to come from Skywarp's cannons, it was only fair… If someone was going to kill the traitor scum, it had to be his own brother. That's how perfect things had to be.
But perfection was something he definitely didn't have that cycle.
He got to one knee and aimed. Darkness, smoke and constant laser fire didn't do anything to aid his quest, distance either… Skywarp's targeting sensors allowed him to see some glimpses of the combatants, even some fallen corpses, but that was it. He couldn't have told Decepticon from Autobot, even less the one he was looking for, the ironic mixture of both.
He lowered his arm, his slim cannon humming almost painfully.
He could see clearly, though, that a victor had been defined. The Decepticons had won, had taken another step towards conquering Kalis.
Yes, in a perfect world he would have been part of that victory.
But his life had stopped being perfect for what seemed like forever.
And he was cold, he was so slagging cold.
After that day, he never whistled the terrestrial song anymore.
Dimmed lights and the scent of fuel welcomed Thundercracker as soon as he pushed the very old door of the Oil House open. Traces of rust stayed on his fingers, getting lost amongst the scratches and scorch marks that the recent battle had left on his frame as a reminder of that thing others called victory.
His desire to remain anonymous wasn't disappointed when he found the place almost empty and in frank decay. He hadn't been there in thousands of vorns, but it was curious that time seemed to have stopped in the old Oil House. It looked exactly like the dirty slag hole he remembered. It seemed that neither war nor deactivation had managed to shut down the most infamous tavern in Iacon, the place in which he and his two wingmates usually ended up after overloading all their excess of energy in whatever pleasure houses their Energon credits could afford. Youth had that thing; it made a mech believe that he was indestructible, able to frag the whole Universe up the afterburners and then frag it again. Thundercracker found it ridiculous how many of his former companions at the War Academy, now experienced Decepticon soldiers, had decided to stay living in that dream. The others had simply died.
The constant purr of the generators at the back explained the presence of light. Even though it was flickering, it provided the illusion of life in a city that he had doomed himself. Iacon resisted only to completely deactivate and, always a caring mother, hadn't rejected the most infamous and ungrateful of her sons as he made his return to the place that had seen some of his doubts surfacing for the first time.
"And there he is, the victor of the battle of Kalis… Where's your personal guard, hero? You are entitled to have one now."
Thundercracker turned to his left. His audio receptors had located the origin of the voice, but it was his instinct that guided him toward the darkest corner of the tavern, where his trine's old table still stood, marked with their initials and concealed within the very scarce light and some other rusted tables.
"I don't see you with a personal guard either," Thundercracker greeted back curtly, but still he didn't hesitate to join the mech who had spoken at the infamous table.
Starscream scowled, but didn't seem to find Thundercracker's company extremely disagreeable. "A bunch of lackeys kissing your aft all the time is Shockwave's style, not mine… as much as I was cursed with two of them for thousands of vorns."
Thundercracker smiled slightly as he sat on the chair across Starscream's. It was true; no matter what his former Air Commander said, he had lost the ability to annoy him.
"I don't remember having ever kissed your aft," he said. He could have said 'I miss you too, Starscream' and the effect on Starscream's face would have been the same. His features looked so odd when he was not sneering…
"Let's drink to that," Starscream said, lifting his arm and clicking his fingers. The bartender must have been very attentive to his half concealed but distinguished guest because he started to fill a glass immediately.
"I still don't do high grade," Thundercracker said gloomily.
"Not unless you are with your kind, you may want to add. Imagine Autobot insignias on my wings if it makes you feel more comfortable."
Those words in anybody else's vocalizer would have obtained a very different, physical response. But once again, Thundercracker and Starscream had gone through a lot over the past joors and they were totally over cheap games of provocation.
"I will, if you imagine that I'm someone having a drink with you because he actually likes you."
"Touché," Starscream said, unable to repress a slight smirk. The bartender left a filled glass on the table and hurried to leave, as the insect that Starscream considered him to be.
"It's just oil," Starscream explained as he saw the distrustful look that Thundercracker gave to the glass. "We are not precisely abundant in high grade these days… Strange, considering we are, mm, how did Megatron put it? Oh yeah… winning the war."
Thundercracker took the glass and frowned at it. "We are winning nothing."
"Ah, finally somebody who agrees with me. It's good to see that some mechs still have a minimal amount of common sense around here… But I shouldn't be surprised; you are an Autobot, after all. As much as I despise your pathetic kind, I must admit that you Autobots compensate your natural lack of courage with a minimal amount of brain activity."
"You would be surprised by just how scarce of courage the Autobots are, Starscream…"
"Was that sarcasm in your voice, Thundercracker, or just your Autobot side acting up?" Starscream said, almost emptying the contents of his glass in one single swig, only to scowl immediately after. "Gah! Terrestrial fuel tasted better than this slag."
Thundercracker had to agree when the scent of the dark oil reached his olfactory receptors. Still, he took a small sip.
A small crack inside his processor announced the incoming transmission. Thundercracker wasn't surprised, even though Starscream hadn't used that private frequency since they were cadets at the War Academy. He had been expecting it since the very first moment he had stepped into the tavern.
"Were you followed?" Starscream asked him.
"I'm always followed," he replied as curtly as he could, even considering that Starscream was not hearing his voice but receiving an encrypted message in his HUD.
"I heard about your victory in Kalis," Starscream said in loud voice, returning to the beginnings of their apparently casual conversation. "Very impressive."
"What do you want, Starscream? Why did you want to meet me here?" Thundercracker transmitted back whilst his vocalizer articulated a very different response. "You should not pay so much attention to gossip."
"We are not friends," Starscream's next encrypted message said. Even though it was only displayed in characters on his HUD, the coldness of the statement could be felt through the virtual link.
"Indeed we are not," Thundercracker replied through the same channel, hoping that his words would be deciphered with the same curtness he would have used had he said them aloud.
"Megatron assigned you to Kalis…" Starscream insisted in loud voice. "Big deal. Do you know how many missions of that kind he has assigned me?" At the same time he was speaking, he continued transmitting his private message. "So make sure that friendship is not the motor guiding my words."
"Oh, I would never dare to think otherwise," Thundercracker transmitted back, leaning slightly toward his former Air Commander. "Seven hundred thousand and thirty six. I was your wingmate in every one of them, remember?"
Starscream scowled. "Stating that last part was completely unnecessary." "I know that a distress call emitted from the proximities of the Imperial Amphitheater was intercepted two solar cycles ago. Who were you going to meet?"
Thundercracker remained silent on both accounts for a moment. As far as he could tell, his mind had never been invaded, so there was no way of knowing if Soundwave was peeking into his processor at that single moment. He disregarded the thought; he couldn't be that paranoid. Soundwave was a telepath, not omnipotent. Besides, Thundercracker had risked too much to live in fear.
"What makes you think that said call was intended for me?" he asked through the secret link as he carefully analyzed Starscream's face. "You don't have to worry, Starscream. We are still ages away from snatching Kalis from Autobot control. There will more opportunities for you to show Megatron just how valuable you are."
Starscream narrowed his optics with anger. "Careful, Thundercracker… You seem too overconfident in your new position as squad Commander, but you should know that a handful of victories don't mean a thing, not in this war." Starscream hadn't finished speaking when his next message arrived at Thundercracker's processor. "I thought that you and I had reached a tacit agreement concerning pathetic lies. Who is this mech, Thundercracker? Why did he suddenly disappear from satellite detection?"
Two drunken soldiers on the edge of interfacing crashed against the table, almost spilling the two Seeker's drinks. It took only a single glare from Starscream to make them flee along with their lust.
"I know that, and apparently better than you. What have all your victories gained for you, Starscream? Not as much as your defeats, I'd say," Thundercracker said as he brought the glass of oil to his lips. "You shouldn't be so afraid of me, Air Commander. I'm not interested in your position." "He never gave me his real designation, but I know for sure that he was a civilian. One of the Seekers under my command was supposed to pick him up at the outskirts of Iacon, but he never made it to the extraction point. How did you know about his disappearance? I wasn't aware that we still had such thorough surveillance over Iacon."
"You'd be a fool if you were. You may think you're flying higher than ever, but the truth is that you will always be beneath me." "I told you. As careful as your mysterious Empty may have been, he didn't escape Soundwave's surveillance. Fragger has eyes everywhere, but you were lucky that Megatron had his telepathic drone occupied at that moment."
That caused a slight frown on Thundercracker's face plates. "How can you be so certain?"
"Because I intercepted the signal before it arrived at Soundwave's station. It seems that once again I saved your aft."
"It would appear so… And I suppose you expect my gratitude in return."
"Keep it. I'll collect recompense when the time comes. In the meantime, you could give me proof of your good intentions by telling me what business you had with that Empty. Call it simple curiosity."
"As you said, your recompense will come when the timing is right. All I can tell you right now is that that mech had some schematics I needed to infiltrate Kalis."
"Is that so?" Obviously Starscream wasn't buying it. He clicked his fingers at the bartender without detaching his gaze from Thundercracker's face, scrutinizing it so thoroughly that for a moment Thundercracker felt as if he had been stripped of all his armour. "So what are you doing here, Thundercracker?" Starscream finally spoke in loud voice again. "Any other Decepticon would have gone to Darkmount to gloat about his victory, or even to good ole Kaon... What brought you to the city you shut off so beautifully?" At the same time, Starscream continued their encrypted conversation. "So, schematics? Which, in case of being real, may already be in your hands. I couldn't track the Empty after he sent you the distress signal. His whereabouts are unknown."
"His whereabouts perhaps, but not his fate. He was terminated." Thundercracker felt uneasy on both accounts, but there was no use in lying to Starscream. Disguising the truth had always proved to be a safe exit, especially when dealing with the mech that would betray him or help him with the same ease, depending on what served his interest better. It had always been that way, ever since they were cadets.
"You were always the genius of the trine, Starscream. Why don't you tell me what brought me here?"
The bartender placed another glass before Starscream and left. Starscream waited until they were alone again before smirking and leaning towards his former wingmate. Thundercracker could see that he was slightly over-energized; he had certainly been refueling with something other than pure oil.
"Not nostalgia toward our old tavern," Starscream said in low voice. "That would have been an expected reason in your immediate past, but not now… Not glory, either. Eons would have to pass before you gloated about victories that you don't consider as such. That leaves us a third possibility: an official matter. You are here because Megatron summoned you, perhaps?"
Thundercracker smirked slightly. It was a dangerous game… it had been since the very beginning. He and Starscream had agreed to the rules ever since they had been reassigned to Cybertron. There was no cat and definitely no mouse; they were two mechs sharing a fleeting alliance that inevitably would end in the termination of one of them. The duel they had started in the Kaon Coliseum had just taken another turn, that was all. In that moment, Thundercracker could have killed Starscream with the same naturalness he was drinking his glass of cheap oil with. He had been very close to doing it just some cycles ago, after all… and he was certain that Starscream wouldn't hesitate to rip his spark from his chest either. That was the unique relationship that two Seekers could have, both competitive, both distrustful, both eager to take the first shot. They owed it to each other; they hadn't shared the bond of trine brotherhood for so many vorns for nothing.
"So the Empty was terminated…" Starscream transmitted, returning to the matter that really interested him. "How can you be so sure?"
"He was carrying a tracking device hidden on his energy core. It stopped functioning exactly thirty one astro seconds after his distress call was emitted. His life signal offlined abruptly, his spark extinguished."
"Who killed him?"
"That's what I intend to find out." Thundercracker noticed that silence had become longer than expected, so he hurried to speak through his vocalizer again, and to whoever that may have been listening to them. "As he summoned you too. Or isn't Megatron the reason for your presence in Iacon? Why else would the Decepticon Air Commander be in a place like this, poisoning his brilliant processor with adulterated fuel when he could be enjoying the glories of his most recent victories instead? Oh, that's right… You have no recent victories. Megatron assigned me to Kalis, not you."
Starscream's grimace of anger was priceless. It was so easy to poke the place which hurt Starscream the most. He had always been a jealous slagger and always would be.
"Beware of your words. You certainly don't want to take a look at my war trophies."
Thundercracker had the feeling that there was a place reserved for his head between those trophies. The eerie feeling only increased with Starscream's next codified message.
"Do you believe in ghosts, Thundercracker?"
The blue Seeker frowned. "Trust me, Starscream, I'm not even slightly interested in seeing the ashes of your former glory."
Starscream smirked and rubbed his chin, once again drilling his ex wingmate's face with his penetrating stare. "Perhaps you should start believing, TC… I have a theory about what killed your mysterious Empty."
Of course, Thundercracker had heard rumours about something stalking the dead streets of Iacon. "I'm not superstitious," he transmitted back emphatically.
"Who said anything about superstitions? At least you could be a little more cautious. Dare to be even a little overconfident and you'll pay the highest price." Starscream sneered as he finished his oil and then did the same with what remained of Thundercracker's glass, a gesture of intimacy that he wouldn't have shared with any other mech. Thundercracker cursed inwardly. At which point had he and Starscream become friends? It only had taken for them to nearly kill each other to realize how close they had always been. And yet, their allegiance was so fragile, destined to end with the destruction of one of them. In a way, it was almost sad.
"You should be cautious as well, Starscream", Thundercracker transmitted through the link. "It would appear that you are worried about me."
Starscream burst into laughter. "You still have a lot to learn about glory, you fool! Although I'd say you're an expert in ashes… "Don't fool yourself, Thundercracker. You are of no use to me dead, not yet."
Thundercracker smirked and stood up from the table. Starscream was the only friend he had left… The thought alone was pathetic. Still, he walked calmly toward the other side of the table and grabbed his ex trine leader by the arm.
"Since we were summoned to Iacon for the same reason, what do you say if we fly together? For old times sake?"
Starscream raised his head and glared at him, but didn't attempt to release his arm from Thundercracker's grip. "I'm going to kill you one of these days, Thundercracker. You are aware of that, aren't you?"
Thundercracker's smirk didn't decrease. "You will try to kill me, but you will fail."
Starscream chortled and got up, putting one hand on the blue Seeker's shoulder. "Why not? I always loved how you used to eat the steam of my turbines."
They both laughed, and they continued to do so as they walked toward the exit. For a moment, the laughter was so genuine, so much that Thundercracker couldn't avoid turning over his shoulder and looking at the table one last time. At that moment, he would have given everything to return to the old times, in which the third chair had been occupied too.
But those times would never return. One of his trinemates hated him, and the other one was meant to be his killer or victim.
How ironic life could be.
To be continued.
Until a couple of years ago, I didn't know that 'rolling stone' had another meaning besides the rock band and the magazine, but that's what generally happens when English is not your first language. Anyway, I loved the meaning, and I thought it would fit great for this chapter. Also, in order to keep playing with the words, I chose the song '100 years ago' from their majesties The Rolling Stones.
There was a small reference to 'Deviant' during the first scene of this chapter. You may remember it, but still I want to call your attention to some liberties I took with the Lambo twins, mentioning that they were triplets but their brother was killed by one Seeker from Starscream's trine. Now we know who did it.
I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Please let me know your opinions and allow me to apologize once again for my delay.
Don't forget that we have a date next December 23rd for a 'Deviant' Christmas story. See you then :o)