Chapter 31: Important
To say that Megatron was disappointed was an understatement. A serious understatement. Not only had Starscream made him waste precious time and resources in a fruitless enterprise, but also Skyfire had turned out to be completely useless to his current goal.
"Out." The Decepticon Leader ordered, turning around, presenting his back to the seeker in favour of staring out of the bridge's windows, dismissing his Second in Command and the white mech next to him.
"Knock Out informs me that this may be only a temporary amnesia caused by the trauma of crash-landing into this frozen planet, that it is still possible for him to recover his memories in time." Starscream said, trying to pacify his Leader.
Megatron turned slightly, just enough to glare at his Second over his shoulder, ruby optics flashing dangerously.
"Out." He repeated, his voice so cold that suddenly the planet below them looked like a summer paradise.
Starscream knew that if his Leader had to repeat himself a third time, it was going to be his fusion cannon speaking for him, not his vocalizer. With a respectful bow, he exited the bridge, dragging the silent and quite confused shuttle with him.
"He doesn't look very happy." Skyfire stated the obvious, once the doors of the main bridge had closed behind them.
"No, he isn't." Starscream heaved a sigh, wings dropping low. "Why does everything have to always go wrong?" He muttered, mostly to himself. Skyfire's wings dropped too, upset by the seeker's obvious concern.
"Was I really that important?" He asked softly. Everyone seemed to be greatly disappointed with his amnesia, and he was starting to worry.
The seeker turned to look back at him, his optics hard as he studied the other mech with a stern look. Skyfire, with whom he had shared so many discoveries, so many good and bad moments. They had been one of the best teams in the Science Academy, long before the War. Long before meeting Thundercracker and Skywarp. His old friend was still somewhere inside the white mech. However, despite what Knock Out had said, Starscream wasn't sure if Skyfire would ever be able to find himself. It could take days, months or years. Or maybe he would never regain access to his memories.
Skyfire fidgeted under the scrutiny despite being much bigger. Starscream's gaze softened and he looked away, feeling guilty.
"You were important..." He replied, hiding the sadness he was feeling. "...You still are."
Starscream sighed, biting back the answer lingering in his processors, still unable to meet the other mech's innocent optics, the silence stretching awkwardly between them.
"I'm sorry, Starscream..." Skyfire said after a while.
"Stop being sorry. It's not your fault." The seeker said, trying to sound reassuring, finally looking back to the shuttle. "I'm sure you will recover your memories soon, you'll see."
"...I hope so." He said, smiling faintly.
"Let's go to the rec. room. Most of the crew will be there, and speaking with other mechs could help you."
"My Liege." Shockwave saluted as he entered the main bridge of the Nemesis. Megatron had summoned him after his meeting with Starscream and Skyfire, and if the coldness in his Leader's voice when he called him through the comm. link was anything to go by, Megatron had not been pleased at all with the new mech.
"Shockwave." The Decepticon leader nodded, acknowledging his Lieutenant's presence and motioning for him to come closer. "Perhaps your skills could be useful with our current predicament."
If he had any, Shockwave would have quirked an optic ridge as he approached.
Meanwhile, in the rec. room, things were getting more confusing for Skyfire with each passing moment. He had met some new mechs there, Jazz, Brawl and Blurr. First, they had sent him a data package with a new language to learn, and now they were trying to explain to him the meaning of the two different emblems that the crew wore on their frames.
"No, no, you got it all wrong." Brawl said, over the top of an energon cube. "The red insignia is the Autobot's," he pointed at Blurr's chest for emphasis, making the smaller mech flinch slightly in reflex. "And the purple one is the Decepticon's."
"And what's the difference again?"
"Well..." The heavy Decepticon gathered his thoughts for a moment, trying to synthesize a better answer, but failed in his attempt. "Everything!" He finally exclaimed, indignant. Skyfire, sitting at the other end of the table, raised a questioning optic ridge, clearly unconvinced. Fortunately, Blurr was better at giving quick explanations.
"There has been a war while you were in stasis. Our race divided into two factions: the Decepticons, who followed the Leadership of Megatron, and the Autobots, who followed Optimus Prime. The War has lasted thousands of years and has decimated our population. Our planet itself was on the brink of dying, and the Allspark was destroyed." The Autobot explained efficiently.
"What!?" The shuttle exclaimed, horrified by the revelations. "That's... that's terrible! What were you people thinking!? Without the Allspark our race is doomed!"
"It was the Autobot's fault for launching the Cube into space!" Brawl huffed.
"In order to keep it out of Megatron's servos! He wanted to turn it into a weapon!" Blurr snapped, unable to keep his mouth shut at that comment.
"Oh yeah? And what excuse do you have for its destruction at the hands of that human pest and Optimus?" Brawl's armour panels flared out, making him look even bigger.
"To save Earth and stop Megatron once and for all!" Blurr refused to back down in front of the other mech.
"Condemning us all to extinction in the process!" Brawl brought a huge fist down on the table, leaving a dent.
"Humans didn't deserve to suffer because of our mistakes. They were innocent. It was not their fault that the Allspark landed on their planet and they got involved." Blurr said, optics narrowed to slits as he glared at the much larger Decepticon.
Skyfire looked on helplessly between them as Brawl rose from his seat and Blurr tightened his servos into fists.
"That's enough." Starscream intervened, approaching the table and stepping between the two mechs. He had been idly looking by the rec. room's windows until then, but he decided it was the moment to stop a potentially disastrous quarrel. "We have enough problems of our own. I don't need your petty fights added to the list." His tone was calm, but brooked no argument.
Brawl returned to his seat, looking away and venting a gust of warm air with contempt. Blurr crossed his arms across his chest and glared at a distant point in the opposite direction.
"Is that true, Starscream?" Skyfire asked hesitantly, still finding the news too shocking to be true, his mind refusing to acknowledge that the only source of new life of their race was now gone.
Starscream rested both servos on the table, adopting the most neutral expression he could muster. Every optic turned to look at him with a variety of emotions. Some expecting lies. Others expecting half-truths. Others betrayal. And others with plain disbelief.
"It is true that the Autobots destroyed the Allspark in order to stop Megatron and save a world inhabited by sentient life-forms who were not responsible for our mistakes. If it was or was not a fair decision is up to you to decide." He conceded, and paused for some seconds to let the information sink in and give Skyfire time to reflect on his words. "After reviving Megatron using the last remaining fragment of the Cube and another failed attempt at destroying Optimus Prime and his Autobots, the Decepticons retreated for some time. All seemed hopeless, and any attempt at vengeance, pointless." He paused again. "However, that gave us time to think about other solutions and, after some time, we managed to reconstruct the Allspark and save Cybertron."
Skyfire looked positively relieved to know that the Allspark had not been lost.
"So, if the Autobots destroyed the Allspark and the Decepticons reconstructed it, you Decepticons are the good guys?" He asked, unaware of the multitude of disbelieving stares that that question earned him.
"...No." This time it was Jazz who had spoken, his tone unusually grim and serious as his visor dimmed. "Because it was da Decepticons who started da War." He said, clasping his servos over the table and looking back at the seeker.
Skyfire also shifted his attention to Starscream, the mech who had been taking care of him since he was brought out of stasis, who had claimed to have worked alongside him in the Science Academy and who had seemed most worried about his condition.
But Starscream didn't say anything to deny the Autobot's accusation. He just stood there, face-plates set in an emotionless expression.
"You... you can't be serious!" Skyfire rose from the table, indignant. "You have been seriously killing each other for... for..."
"For almost four thousand years." Jazz finished.
"Please, tell me not you too." Skyfire said, directing his words at the seeker.
But again, Starscream remained silent, optics focused on some distant point.
"But... but I thought you said we worked together at the Science Academy!" The shuttle said in disbelief, and the seeker's silence did nothing to stop his growing indignation. "How can a scientist become a soldier, an instrument of war?"
Starscream vented a heavy sigh and turned to walk away, leaving the table in favour of looking out of the rec. room's windows, at the distant points of light scattered across space, at the cold planet below them, anything but Skyfire's hurt optics.
"So, it is true then. You are a killer." Skyfire affirmed.
"I did what I had to in order to survive." Starscream spoke finally, his tone carrying unidentified emotions.
"Everyone did." Jazz added, dedicating a sympathetic glance at the Decepticon Second in Command.
Skyfire, however, couldn't accept any justification for killing other mechs. He didn't remember much of his past, but one thing he knew for certain, was that he would never kill a comrade for any reason. The mere thought of pointing a weapon at a member of his own race made his tanks churn with unease.
"Well, we are trying to amend things now... Trying to leave our differences behind us for the greater good." Blurr rubbed one his arms absently, feeling a little ashamed by how easily Brawl had provoked him earlier.
"Yeah, we are trying to save Cybertron... again." Brawl added, grimacing when Skyfire made a noncommittal noise at the irony. "That's why we came here to rescue you, so that you could help us. Starscream said you were looking for an ancient relic when you crash-landed on that planet."
Starscream's wings twitched almost imperceptibly as Skyfire rose suddenly from the table, his chair falling to the floor behind him with a loud clank.
"You are disgusting. All of you." He paused to stab an accusatory finger at the seeker. "But you, Starscream, you are the worst." He seethed, walking towards the unmoving seeker, his four wings flaring out and armour panels bristling in a menacing gesture. "I've been trapped in that frozen wasteland for four thousand years. And when did you decide to come back and look for me? Only when you needed me." He loomed above the smaller seeker, venting a gust of warm air over him, ice blue optics locked onto ruby red ones. "Clearly, I wasn't that important."
Starscream did not move or flinch in the slightest under Skyfire's words, but he felt as if they had pierced through his spark like an energon sword.
An uncomfortable silence fell upon the rec. room during which the two fliers held each other's gazes, none of them backing down or saying anything.
After a while, Skyfire simply turned on his heel and stalked out of the room, leaving behind him a speechless seeker and a bunch of shocked mechs. Starscream watched him leave, words and thoughts storming inside his processors, but refusing to come out of his vocalizer.
The other mechs stared at the seeker in stunned silence. If the Decepticon Air Commander was well known for something, it was for his sharp wits and scathing retorts, not for his silence. For him to be in such state, meant that something very grave had happened.
"But don't just stay there! Tell him something!" Brawl barked suddenly, making everyone snap out of their musings.
"...It's true." Starscream murmured absently, letting himself drop onto the nearest chair.
"Ah don't agree." Jazz shook his helm. "Ah think it would be better ta give him some time ta cool off."
"...It's true..." Starscream repeated, ignoring both mechs. "There is nothing I can say to justify my actions." He lowered his gaze to his claws, clutching empty air. "I really did abandon him there. How can I expect him to help me now?"
Skywarp, Breakaway and Eleonor were headed for the rec. room. She was perched on the black seeker's shoulder, still feeling a little dizzy after the short but intense training session she had just endured. The two jets had been giving her some basic instructions about how to operate the flying controls of her exo-suit. Of course, the refined mechanics of flight while in their aerodynamic alt-modes couldn't compare to the exo-suit-aided hovering and limited flight capabilities, but it wasn't too far different from flying in mech form, and in that task they could offer some good advice.
Eleonor, however, lacked their innate disposition for flight, their lightning reflexes and their self-calibrating gyros, which resulted in a painful amount of... inelegant landings. Of course, she never rose too high above the floor, she didn't reach great speeds and the exo-suit protected her from serious impacts, but still... crashing was not funny at all.
"The others are going to laugh their afts off when I show them the video." Skywarp said, and Eleonor didn't have to look at his face-plates to know that he was currently sporting a wide mischievous grin.
"I think she did quite well, bearing in mind that humans are, by nature, incapable of flight." Breakaway added, still feeling a little guilty after seeing the woman crash so many times without being able to help. But Eleonor herself had insisted that she must learn to do things on her own, no matter the cost. Just like when she had learned to walk with the suit.
"Primus." She sighed in defeat. "I'm not going to live that down, am I?"
"You are the pet of the Air Commander. We can't have you flying like a brick." Skywarp explained, picking Eleonor from his shoulder and cradling her in his servos as if he was about to release a bird into the air. "We are going to turn you into a little..." He paused, searching his data-bases for the correct word. "...Hummingbird!" And with that, he released her into the air with a gentle push.
Eleonor yelped in surprise at the sudden feeling of weightlessness just before gravity claimed her again. She barely had time to ignite the little thrusters attached to the back of her exo-suit to avoid plummeting down like a rock, but that didn't save her from an undignified landing on her butt.
"Skywarp, don't be so mean!" Breakaway sighed with a desperate edge to his voice as he crouched down to pick up the woman. "Are you okay?"
"I'll survive." She replied, and secretly wished for the Librarian to be there and to give the seeker a well-deserved smack to his helm.
"Well, maybe not a hummingbird. How about a hen?" Skywarp asked, after another quick search through his data-bases.
Eleonor gave an aggravated sigh, inwardly wondering how many earthen birds the black seeker could possibly know.
They were about to arrive to the rec. room when a huge, mostly white mech passed by, his steps brisk and his face-plates set in an unfriendly frown.
"Oh, hello! You must be Skyfire..." Eleonor started to say, but she trailed off when the mech simply rushed past them without even a glance in their direction and continued his way down the corridor.
Eleonor, Breakaway and Skywarp exchanged confused looks before finally entering the rec. room. There, they were met with an unusual scene. Starscream was sitting on a chair with a defeated aura, optics focused on some distant point and shoulders dropped, wings tilted at a low angle. Jazz, Blurr and Brawl were looking at him, as if trying to say something but unsure of what to say.
"Oh, oh. What happened?" Skywarp asked as they stepped inside.
Skyfire walked through the large halls and corridors inside the warship. After some minutes of aimless wandering about, he realized that he didn't know where he was or where to go. He didn't have the plans of the ship, but it didn't matter. He just wanted to get away from that bunch of disgusting mechs, especially that arrogant seeker, Starscream.
The fool even had the gall to claim he was his friend. Hah. He may have spent thousands of years buried in the ice, but he doubted that the definition of 'friend' had changed during his absence, and a 'friend' definitely didn't leave another friend to rot in a distant planet, definitely not for four thousand years and definitely didn't come to rescue him only when he needed a favour.
He stomped a foot on the floor in frustration. Everyone seemed so worried about him when he had come out of stasis. Now he realized they only seemed to worry because they needed him. And they needed him for something he didn't even know. He knew absolutely nothing at all!
He leaned against a bulkhead, the gravity of the situation starting to weigh down on him.
At least if he could remember something about his past he wouldn't be so dependent on others. However, as much as he tried, his memory files wouldn't open. The files were there, he knew it because they took up a measurable space inside his data-banks. But it was as if the memory directions that tagged those files had been deleted or lost. It was like a fortress with his entrance bridges destroyed. He could not access them because there was no path leading to them. He had to rely on what other people told him, and he had no way of telling if they were lying to him.
With a long suffering sigh he let himself slide down until he was sitting on the floor, his back against the wall, wondering what to do.
"Hello?" A voice pulled him out of his thoughts, and he looked up to discover another flier, smaller than Starscream, with a different design and brownish colours.
Skyfire looked away, not in the mood for a conversation.
"Do you mind it if I sit here?" The brown flier asked, although he was already making himself comfortable on the floor, against the opposite wall of the corridor.
"Go away." The shuttle said coldly. "I want to be alone."
"But that's so sad, not having anyone to talk to." The other mech said, refusing to let Skyfire's contempt deter him. "I'm Breakaway. Pleased to meet you."
"For all I know, you could be lying to me and I wouldn't have a clue." Skyfire looked back at him, resentment in his ice blue optics.
"But why would I want to do that?" Breakaway asked in honest confusion.
"Then what do you want?" The shuttle snapped, crossing his arms across his chest-plates and glaring at him.
"I... I just wanted to talk to you about someone-" The Autobot started to say in a soft voice, but the white mech cut him off.
"Oh, yes. Everyone here seems to know a lot about me and about how I should be." Skyfire said sarcastically.
"I wasn't going to talk about you." Breakaway flinched away from the other mech's negative disposition. "I wanted to talk you about Starscream." He said timidly.
"Just what I needed. Starscream sending me his subordinates to try to persuade me." The shuttle huffed in annoyance.
"Starscream didn't send me." Breakaway shook his helm. "In fact, he was so engrossed in his own musings that he didn't notice me sneaking out of the rec. room and following you, and I'm sure I'll get scolded later for acting on my own." He managed to give a small guilty smile.
Skyfire inspected him more carefully with his gaze, and noticed that Breakaway sported the Autobot badge, while Starscream was a Decepticon.
"You were his enemy." The shuttle stated flatly.
"Yes..." The Autobot replied softly, with no small amount of regret. "Although it wasn't always like that." Breakaway looked at Skyfire, and took his silence as a permission to go on. "I also worked at the Science Academy for some time before the War. Starscream probably doesn't remember me, because we didn't really meet each other formally, as we worked in different departments." He paused for some seconds, memories long forgotten resurfacing as clearly as if they had happened yesterday, eliciting an amused chuckle from him. "Well, the truth is that I was merely an errand boy, good for nothing." He admitted. "I was still too young and inexperienced, there were many things I had to study yet, but hey, a young mech could dream! And I dreamed about becoming an explorer. To take flight and travel through distant galaxies, discovering new planets and stars..." He trailed off momentarily, his focus drifting to his memories before returning to the present, to the mech in front of him. "...Just like Starscream and you."
"Starscream... and me?" Skyfire asked incredulously.
Breakaway nodded. "I looked up to you two a great deal. You two were the best exploration team in the Academy. Starscream was brave and cunning, facing any danger he might encounter head on. You, on the other servo, were more restrained and prudent, thinking things through carefully before acting."
"I thought this story wasn't about me."
"It is not, but you are indispensable to understand what happened next."
"Go on then."
The Autobot nodded and resumed his story. "Starscream was quite popular and well known in the scientific circles. He was brilliant and intelligent, but had a bad temper and short patience when it came to dealing with setbacks. Fortunately, he had you. You were the one who balanced him. You and your good natured disposition. Your perseverance. Your kindness." He paused. "That's what made your team the best one. The balance." Breakaway shifted slightly, uncomfortable with the next part of the story. "But one fateful day, only Starscream came back from the mission."
"Because he lost me here." Skyfire guessed, and the other mech nodded.
"Starscream tried to assemble a rescue team by all means, but the High Council wouldn't listen to him. Some of them even had the gall to accuse him of abandoning you." Breakaway frowned and shook his helm.
Skyfire made a gesture for Breakaway to pause while he reflected on his story. "How can you be so sure that he didn't abandon me here?" He finally asked, suspicious. "Those members of the Council could have been right in their guess."
"I am so sure because those members of the Council didn't witness what I did. I was on guard duty when Starscream arrived at the Science Academy that day." The Autobot replied, his expression grim. "Starscream was the best flier Cybertron had to offer, and that day, he did something that no one had ever seen him do before." He leaned in, an apprehensive look in his optics. "He crash-landed on the landing deck." Skyfire's optics widened ever so slightly. "I immediately called for the medics and came to his aid. He was barely conscious when he arrived, with serious signs of frostbite all over his frame. His energon reserves were almost depleted, and he couldn't even transform." Breakaway grimaced. "But before he finally went into stasis, he managed to utter three words: Skyfire needs help."
The shuttle vented slowly, mulling over Breakaway's words.
"A couple of days after that, when he recovered, Starscream appealed to the High Council, but they denied him their help, alleging that the agitation that had been boiling among the citizens was brewing into a serious conflict, and that they couldn't afford to waste resources in a rescue party with a small chance of success." The Autobot paused for a moment. "I wasn't there, but I was told that Starscream got angry. Really angry. So much that he shot down all the stained-glass windows that decorated the court, bringing down a rain of shards over the members of the Council. Then, he left without another word, and never returned to the Science Academy."
"The next time I saw Starscream was on the battlefield, on opposite sides." Breakaway continued. "He had changed. There was no remorse in his optics, no trace of guilt as he shot down his enemies and rained fire over his targets. Only cold determination. He soon climbed up through the Decepticon hierarchy, and ended up as Megatron's Second in Command. Even today, his ferocity and prowess in battle are feared by allies and enemies alike."
"He turned into a monster." Skyfire growled, taking Breakaway's words as a confirmation of his theories.
"That's what I thought at first." The Autobot nodded. "But I was wrong."
"A monster would never care for anyone but himself. And Starscream clearly does. He cares for his trine-mates, Thundercracker and Skywarp, whom I assume he met later." Breakaway replied, and was distant for a while, recalling a memory from early on in the War. "He shot me down once. He almost killed me..."
"Starscream." The Autobot replied absently. "I remember it painfully clear. He shot me down and came to finish me when I was lying on the ground. He aimed his null-ray at me. I remember the loud whine of the weapon capacitor. He was about to shoot when he... stopped."
"He just stopped?"
"And left." Breakaway's wings stirred behind his back. "I found out later that one of Starscream's trine-mates had been wounded, and he went to his rescue. The mech that wounded his brother, wasn't so lucky, and paid with his life that day." He grimaced. "After that, I became more attentive in battle, and I realized how much Starscream cared for his brothers. They arrived together to the battlefield, and left together. They never fought too far from each other, and if one of them was grounded, the other two immediately flew to his side. The Decepticon elite trine was dangerous in itself, but when one of them was threatened, Starscream became especially violent and deadly."
"Where are we getting at with this story?"
Breakaway stared at Skyfire in silence for some seconds. "Despite what it may seem, Starscream never got over losing you. At least, not completely." Breakaway said bluntly. "I do not know how much you meant to him, but what I do know for sure is that losing you was what made him change. He became fiercely protective of his trine-mates, even to the point of pulling stunts in combat that would be labelled as suicidal by most mechs." He gave a pause, frowning slightly in his musings. "I do believe that after losing you, Starscream promised himself that he would never lose another mech under his command, and to date, he has maintained that promise."
Skyfire shuttered his optics for a moment, reflecting on the Autobot's words. Was all of that true? Had Starscream really changed after losing him in that storm? Or was everything just a trick to lure him into trusting him once again? With his memory files still inaccessible, he had no way of knowing the truth.
"That still doesn't explain why he didn't come to rescue me earlier. As Megatron's Second, it stands to reason that he has a lot of influence. He could have assembled a rescue team once he got enough power or free time." He said, his voice carrying an old resentment.
Breakaway shook his helm. "You still don't get it, do you?"
"Get what?" The shuttle frowned, disgruntled.
"Think again." The Autobot leaned in. "You don't have your memories, but your personality core is unaffected. Would you have enjoyed to be awoken in the middle of a war? Forced to choose between two sides? Forced to fight? Forced to kill your own kind?"
"But..." Skyfire grimaced, and his voice faltered.
"Starscream knew you very well, and I think that consciously or not, he made a decision." Breakaway continued, undeterred. "As much as losing you affected him, he wouldn't come back for you. He didn't want the War to corrupt you like it did to him, and in doing so, he probably saved you from dying in combat."
Deep anguish and remorse seemed to cross Skyfire's expression. "How would you know...?" He asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
Breakaway's wings trembled slightly before dropping low, flat against his back as he recalled the horrors endured in the unending years of conflict. "I know, because I would have done the same in his place." He whispered back.
Skyfire fell into silence for several minutes; Breakaway's revelations lingering in his processors, making him feel inexplicably guilty and uneasy. "And why would Starscream...?" He started to ask, but he trailed off at the end of the question.
"Because, Skyfire, you were-" Breakaway started to reply, not needing to hear the end of the white mech's sentence to know what he was about to ask. However, he didn't get the chance to finish.
"Breakaway." A deep voice spoke suddenly, startling the fliers from their conversation. Both of them looked up to discover a huge mech, slightly smaller than Skyfire but definitely heavier, with thicker and darker armour. His single scarlet optic brightened as he scanned the two fliers sitting on the floor.
"...Shockwave." Breakaway gasped softly, and couldn't suppress the shiver that ran up his spinal struts when that cold gaze landed on him, making his wings tense in reflex. The War could be over, but battle-forged instincts were hard to forget, and the Decepticon Lieutenant was one dangerous and ruthless mech.
"I would like to speak with our guest... alone." Shockwave spoke calmly.
Breakaway looked at Skyfire and then back at the Decepticon before he nodded and rose to his feet, finally turning to walk down the corridor, obediently following the order.
Shockwave's deep and smooth voice lingered in his processors as he walked. The Decepticon Lieutenant's voice didn't usually betray emotions, not even in the heat of battle, but when he had spoken there had been something in his tone that Breakaway couldn't quite place. Something that made him shiver with unease and quicken his pace as he headed back to the rec. room.
He had to warn Starscream.
"As you have already heard, I am Shockwave." The Decepticon introduced himself with a polite nod. "I serve under Megatron's command as his Lieutenant."
Skyfire looked at him, still too shaken by Breakaway's story to properly focus on the mech before him. Shockwave offered him a servo -his only servo, because his other arm was entirely a cannon- to help him stand.
"Breakaway... seemed a little concerned about you." Skyfire stated, his gaze never leaving the imposing Decepticon as he rose to his feet.
"We've been at war for a long time." Shockwave admitted, his tone measured and calm. "The conflict has ended, but old grudges are difficult to forget, and some wounds will take long to heal."
Still, something about the hurried pace at which the Autobot flier had left told Skyfire not to let his guard down.
"Why did you want to talk with me?" He asked, trying to keep the concern out of his voice.
"To offer my help." Shockwave replied. "I'm an expert technician, and I believe my knowledge in data-storage systems could be helpful with your current predicament."
Skyfire looked back at the cyclops mech for some seconds, trying to guess his thoughts. "You mean tinkering with my processors, don't you?" He said slowly, narrowing his ice blue optics.
"That's a less pleasant way to put it, but yes." The Decepticon replied, impassive.
Skyfire studied the other mech for a moment, taking in his stance, his impressive armour, his unreadable face-plates... and then he noticed the casual way in which he was blocking the corridor, his only way out. "Do I really have a choice in this matter?" He asked, his voice calm despite the tension suddenly floating around them.
"You can accompany me willingly... or not." Shockwave replied, dropping any pretensions and stepping towards the white mech. Not his voice, or his stance showed any hint of aggressiveness, but his intentions brooked no argument. That much was clear to Skyfire.
Brawl, Jazz and Blurr were arguing about the best way to approach Skyfire, brainstorming and throwing ideas back and forth about how to explain the situation to him without hurting his feelings. Eleonor, for her part, decided that she was not the right person to give advice, as she barely knew anything about Skyfire, so she was intently listening to the mechs, trying to learn more.
"I don't believe you, Starscream." Skywarp said, standing beside his trine-leader and brother.
"Well, you'd better do, because it is the truth." Starscream replied slowly, his optics glowing dimly as he gazed through the rec. room's windows into empty space.
"I've known you for a very long time, Starscream. And I know you would never leave a mech under your command behind." The black seeker insisted, wings twitching in irritation behind his back. "Heck, you are one of the few Decepticons who wouldn't."
Starscream gave an aggravated sigh. "It was before the War, Skywarp. Before meeting you and Thundercracker. I was a different mech then... My priorities... were different."
"Then why can't you look at me?" Skywarp growled, grabbing his trine-leader by the shoulder and turning him around so that he had no choice but to meet his gaze. "Look into my optics and tell me you left a friend behind." He said, optics hard as he looked at his brother, something that rarely happened.
The beige seeker growled back and frowned, annoyed by the disrespectful treatment, slapping Skywarp's servo away. "Skywarp, I'm tired. Everything is falling on me as of lately and your nagging is the last thing I need right now." His optics narrowed and his wings rose behind his back in a warning gesture.
"This is not you, Star." Skywarp shot back, refusing to stand down and using the affectionate nickname, knowing it would have an effect on his brother. "If there is a different Starscream it is the mech I have in front of me right now." He hissed. "The Starscream I know never breaks, no matter how many things fall upon his shoulders. The Starscream I know laughs in the face of adversity before crushing it under his feet. But most importantly, the Starscream I know never gives up a friend."
Starscream's optics widened for a fraction of second, Skywarp's words reigniting a dying ember somewhere inside his spark, and for a moment, he was stunned into silence. His brother was right. This was not him. He was the Decepticon's Second in Command, and he had not reached that place thanks to his good looks, but for his sharp wits and tenacity. He still wasn't sure of how he was going to pull this off, but he was resolved to do it.
It was at that moment that Breakaway burst into the rec. room, an alarmed expression on his features as he made a beeline for the Air Commander.
"Starscream, Sir!" The aerialbot said, coming to a stop next to the seeker.
"Breakaway? Where were you?" Skywarp asked, suddenly realizing that he had lost sight of the Autobot a while ago, distracted by his trine-leader's unusual behaviour.
"I-I wanted to talk with Skyfire..." Breakaway started to explain, but the beige seeker cut him off.
"You did what?" Starscream glared at the Autobot.
Breakaway hesitated, his vocalizer faltering under the disapproving gaze of his current superior, his own wings lowering in shame. He had gone away without express consent, even after Starscream's direct order of not wandering alone around the Nemesis, an order that had been issued mostly for his own safety.
But the aerialbot had wanted to prove his worth, and had tried his best to convince the shuttle on his own anyway.
"I did wrong disobeying your orders, I know, but please listen, I think Skyfire might be in danger!" He blurted out, resolve fuelling him as he recalled the reason for his haste.
Starscream's optics narrowed on the aerialbot. "And what, pray tell, makes you think that?"
"Shockwave came and told me to leave. He wanted to talk to Skyfire alone. I'm not sure... but there was something about his tone... something scary. I... I don't trust him..." Breakaway tried to explain before realizing how stupid his own words sounded. Optimus had told them to be open-minded and tolerant among the Decepticons, and there he was, openly expressing his mistrust for the Decepticon Lieutenant.
"You want Starscream to go against Shockwave because of a hunch?" Skywarp asked curiously, trying to confirm if his deductions were right. He could be careless at times, but even he knew that those kind of accusations should be backed up with facts. An unsettling demeanour wasn't enough. Heck, even he was unsettled by Shockwave's cool attitude and formal tone sometimes, and he was in the same faction.
Starscream, for his part, was following a very different train of thought. It was no secret that the cyclops mech was a brilliant technician. Perhaps, skilled enough to design some way of extracting information directly from a mech's data-banks.
But if Starscream was sure of one thing, was that Shockwave never acted on his own.
"Megatron..." He murmured, optics narrowing to thin ruby slits that glowed with deep-seated hatred.
Skywarp and Breakaway paused to look back at the Air Commander, worry and confusion in their expression.
"Do you think Lord Megatron is behind this?" The aerialbot asked, his stance betraying the anxiety he felt at the mere thought of going against the Decepticon Leader.
"Shockwave never acts on his own. He follows Megatron's orders, and has no qualms about going ahead with them, even if they are... questionable." Starscream explained, and turned to contact his Leader via comm. link. After a couple of seconds of unsuccessful attempts, he slammed a servo on the nearest table. Megatron not answering the comm. link only served to confirm his suspicions. He was up to something. Snarling softly, he whirled around, face-plates set in a resolved expression, optics bright and narrowed as he headed for the exit. "Stay here." He growled.
"W-what are you going to do?" Breakaway asked, a shiver running up his spinal struts, his resolve faltering. What if he was wrong? What if Starscream got into a mess because of him?
"I'm going to fix some things and scrap some others." The Air Commander replied before the sound of his footsteps faded down the corridor.
"Now, that is the real Starscream." Skywarp's voice chimed in, a smirk in his tone, and Breakaway could only stare in worry, hoping that the black seeker's confidence was based on solid facts.
"Is it... going to hurt?" Skyfire asked from his lying position on the circuit slab, directing a sideways glance to Shockwave, who was walking around the laboratory, making adjustments to the machinery surrounding them and typing code into a control datapad.
"No." Shockwave replied, as he plugged another cable into a data-port on the left side of Skyfire's helm, which made the shuttle wince slightly. "But I've been told that it can be... unpleasant." He added, his voice even and detached.
"Okay..." Skyfire murmured, offlining his optics and forcing himself to relax. "Just warn me before you start."
Shockwave nodded and went to the main control panel to start powering up the equipment. A couple of verifications later, he spoke again. "Everything is ready." He came to loom over the white mech, his single optic scanning Skyfire's vitals on a datapad.
"Alright... let's get this over with..." The shuttle murmured, trying to look decided, but failing as his voice quivered slightly.
Shockwave gave a sharp nod and placed his servo on the main control lever, ready to activate the machine that would allow him to access Skyfire's data-banks. After that, it would only be a matter of de-encrypting the corrupted memories until he found what they needed.
"Stop right there!"
Shockwave turned around to discover a very dangerous looking and extremely pissed off seeker in the entrance of the laboratory, null-ray at the ready, its muzzle glowing faintly.
"Starscream." Shockwave acknowledged the Decepticon Second in Command's presence as if he didn't have a gun pointing directly to his chest from across the room. "I'd suggest you put your weapon down. We are trying to perform delicate surgical procedures here." He said calmly.
"You are performing nothing on Skyfire." The beige seeker snarled, his weapon humming softly. "Get away from that lever."
"...Starscream..." Skyfire spoke, turning his helm as much as he could to look at the seeker, which wasn't much, because the multitude of cables connected to his data-ports prevented him from that.
"Don't worry, Skyfire." Starscream said, directing his words to the shuttle without losing sight of Shockwave. "I'm going to get you out of here."
"Starscream, stop." The white mech insisted. "I am doing this voluntarily. Shockwave said he might be able to access my memory files."
But Starscream seemed unfazed by Skyfire's words. "I don't know what lies Shockwave has told you to convince you to consent to this, but I'm not letting him lay a servo on you. Tampering with a mech's data-banks is a dangerous procedure and I can't risk-"
"He told me that too!" Skyfire interrupted him, and the anger colouring his tone made both the seeker and the cyclops mech stare at him in shock. "In fact, he has done more than most of you here aboard this ship. He has explained everything to me!"
Starscream could only gape in confusion. "What do you mean-"
"I mean everything!" Skyfire seemed resolute about not letting the seeker finish a sentence. "The rest of you have been so engrossed with trying not to scare me away, centred in your own problems, worried about my memory loss that you have all but forgotten the main reason why you came to rescue me in the first place!" He pointed at the cyclops mech with a single digit. "Shockwave has been the only one to explain to me what happened. He told me about Unicron. He told me about the weapons. About the fragments of the Star Saber you are looking for. About how both factions were trying to put their differences behind them for the greater good." He gave an exasperated huff. "And yes, he told me about the dangers of this procedure." He paused to let the information sink in. "And I agreed."
"Is that... true?" Starscream turned to look at Shockwave, slowly lowering his null-ray gun.
Equally slowly, Shockwave released his hold on the master lever and put his servo away. "It is." He replied, emotionless.
"But what if the surgery damages you further? It could affect your processors, maybe even destroy your memories files before you have the chance of accessing them!" Starscream argued.
"Starscream..." Skyfire said softly, contrasting the seeker's desperate words. "You seem to be the one who worries most about me..." His expression seemed pained as he turned his helm to look away. "I don't know what I meant to you before... but I can't be it any longer. I am not the same mech you knew... I can't be the same without my memories..." He gave a pause, his voice threatening to break.
"You will recover your memories. It's only a matter of time!" Starscream came closer to Skyfire's berth, leaning both servos on it, trying his best to convince the other mech.
"Time is precisely what you do not have." The white mech shuttered his optics, trying to put his thoughts in order. "Look, I've known you for... a very short period of time, during which my opinion about you has gone from confidence to mistrust, from admiration to hate... and then from spite to wonder and a varied array of emotions I can't properly classify..." He trailed off for a moment, and focused again on Starscream. "But right now, I think... I think I believe you. I don't know why exactly, so don't ask me. But the thing is... I truly believe you." He placed one of his servos on Starscream's. "I guess something inside me tells me to trust you." He gave a faint smile. "If this is the only way I can be of help to you, and to your friends... then I think it's worth the sacrifice."
"Don't do this, please." Starscream murmured, feeling his spark shrink in pain inside his chest, his free servo coming to rest above Skyfire's. "I can't risk losing you again." He whispered.
"You are a strong mech, Starscream. You've been doing fine without me for four thousand years." Skyfire said, his features brightening briefly with that spark-wrenching smile of his. "If something happens... I'm sure you'll manage to carry on."
"I can't let you do this..." Starscream's servo tightened his grip.
"But you must." Skyfire said, locking his gaze onto the seeker's. "Starscream, please."
"You matter... I can't..."
"My knowledge is what matters. I... do not." Slowly, the shuttle pulled his servo free. "I'm not that important." He murmured, shaking his helm slowly.
"...You are wrong." Starscream whispered, so softly that only he could have heard it.
Shockwave stood near the control panel, patiently waiting in silence, giving the two old friends time to share one last moment in case the shuttle didn't pull through the procedure. Cold and detached he could be, but delaying his orders for a couple of minutes wouldn't affect the result.
Skyfire looked past Starscream and met the cyclops mech's gaze, giving him a faint nod, signalling him that he was ready. Shockwave placed his servo again on the main lever. He was about to pull it down, when he paused and opened a comm. link to Starscream.
Starscream looked back to Shockwave, his spark twisting in pain and his expression probably matching what he felt.
::For Primus' sake. Just tell him.:: Shockwave's cold red optic brightened briefly. ::You won't have another chance.::
Something inside Starscream snapped. He had been about to give up, and realizing it made his resolve flare to life again.
"You are wrong! You were important. You have no idea of how much." He almost growled, servos balling into fists. "You were important... to me. You still are." He admitted.
The white mech stared back at the seeker, locking his gaze onto his and taking in his desperation and grief, wanting to remember. Needing to remember. If not for himself, then for Starscream.
"I needed you then... And I need you now." The seeker grimaced, shoulders sagging and wings dropping low.
Skyfire went very still and his optics widened. Suddenly, he was no longer on a circuit slab in the Nemesis' laboratory.
He was back on that frozen planet.
The cold bit at his frame like a furious animal, the icy winds howling around him like a pack of ravenous beasts. Snow swarmed around him, stinging at the weakest spots of his armour.
::Skyfire!:: Came the familiar voice over the comm. link.
::Starscream...?:: Skyfire commed back, trying to pull himself from the frozen ground, his frame suddenly twice as heavy as before, his joints protesting at the effort.
::Skyfire, do you read me?::
::I am here, Starscream. The storm diverted me from my course... I... I've crashed to the ground.::
::This isn't funny, Skyfire, answer me! Report your position!:: Starscream's voice had a desperate edge to it.
::I'm answering...! Damn it!:: Skyfire cursed his luck as he realized that his comm. unit must have been damaged in the crash. He was receiving Starscream but he couldn't make his messages reach him. ::Starscream I'm here!:: He tried again, this time using a different array of frequencies, but to no avail.
::Skyfire! Report!:: Starscream still couldn't hear him.
The shuttle tried his thrusters, but his engines were so cold that they couldn't start. Looking up to the darkening sky above him, Skyfire tried to remain calm. He had to keep himself focused. He had to find a way to make his signal reach Starscream. But everything was becoming harder. His processors felt sluggish. His frame, heavy. The cold was starting to seize his systems at an alarming rate, and there was little he could do to delay it.
Maybe rerouting his energon flow could gain him some time. He increased the power of his heating system and cut the energon flow to limbs, wings and thrusters, diverting all available heat and power to his vital systems and processors.
Grimacing when his outer armour and lines started to freeze, Skyfire activated a distress beacon, hoping that the signal could make it through the storm and the dampening effect of the ice.
It took Skyfire around a week to lose all consciousness and undergo stasis-lock.
But the worst part was having to hear Starscream's desperate calls through the comm. link, powerless, unable to reply to him.
::Skyfire... I... I'm running out of fuel." His voice sounded broken by then. "I'm going back to Cybertron to get help. I'll come back for you. I promise.
"Starscream..." The shuttle whispered, though he knew nobody could hear him.
::Please, Skyfire, don't be dead... I need you.:: Was the last thing Skyfire received before he lost all consciousness of himself.
"Star..." Skyfire's voice was so soft that it was barely audible, and yet, it sounded like the loudest shout in Starscream's audios.
There was something in his tone that hadn't been there before. The closeness of the nickname, the familiar edge in the voice.
And when Starscream looked back at him, he was met with familiar optics that shone kindly, a warm smile tugging at the corners of his mouth-plates. "You came back for me," was all Skyfire said.
The Decepticon Second in Command could only give a hint of a smile, feeling how all the stress melted away, leaving his spark at ease.
At the other end of the laboratory, Shockwave, released his hold on the control lever and slowly made his way towards the exit, stopping only to turn off some terminals.
"Where are you going?"
"I'll leave you two to catch up." The cyclops mech said evenly. "My job here is done."
"You must mean that your job wasn't necessary." Starscream corrected him.
"Are you sure of that?" Shockwave asked calmly, turning to give the two flyers a glance over his shoulder, his single optic brightening with an unidentifiable emotion before he exited the lab.
Later, when Starscream went to disconnect Skyfire from the data transfer cables attached to the data ports of his processors, he discovered that the cables led to...
They hadn't been attached to any machine.
[The rec. room. A couple of hours later.]
"So, you never had the intention of doing anything to Skyfire?" Breakaway asked, nursing a cube of energon between his servos, still looking at the Decepticon Lieutenant in a mix of respect and fear.
"Being an expert technician is one of my talents, but not the only one." Shockwave replied, faintly shrugging a single shoulder. "Sometimes, Lord Megatron requires me for my best skill."
"Which is...?" Jazz asked, leaning casually on the table, a smirk playing at the corners of his mouth, visor bright in amusement.
"I believe humans call it... poker face." Shockwave revealed. His unreadable face-plates betrayed no emotions, and his tone was even and detached, but his frame was radiating an almost palpable aura of smugness.
Megatron had been right when he had said that Starscream worked better under pressure. In the direst situations was when the Second in Command shone brightest, and the Decepticon Leader knew very well how to bring that out of him.
[A/N]: First of all, sorry for the long wait. I was stuck during a long time with this chapter. I didn't know how to overcome the problems and barriers I had set for the characters. Also, real life has been difficult lately. I think the song 'The Scientist' by Coldplay gave me a little final push to finish this. I hope the chapter is up to the expectations after so long. I put a lot of effort into it. Poor Starscream. All the emotional load had been weighing upon his shoulders lately. Breakaway's intervention was also nice to write. But my favourite of this chapter must be Shockwave :)
Just in case we can't speak again before the end of the year, I'd like to take advantage of the moment to wish you all a happy new year :D
PD: Special thanks to angelcakes19 for beta-reading this and putting up with me.