Against the rasp of Starscream's voice—the rough edges of which could not be diminished over the com-line—Jack's spine stiffened, his stomach twisting in knots that would ache for hours to come.

"What do you want Starscream?" Jack repeated yet again, willing his voice to remain steady and strong.

"Ah, Jack…no pleasantries? I've heard that humans do so love to chat," Starscream's voice lowered, filling with annoyance, "and some like to prattle on incessantly…"

"We have more important things to do than waste time chatting, Starscream." Jack couldn't help but be amazed by the strength he heard in his own voice, it was almost believable…almost, "Call up your 'Con buddies if you want to talk."

"Hmmm, not up to talking? Alright, then how about a game?" Sickened by the mockery in Starscream's tone, Jack longed to muster up the nerve to simply end the communication then and there, but before he could the Decepticon Seeker continued on, "Yes, let's play a game, it's one of my own invention you know. It's called, 'I'll give you back something of yours if you give me something I want'."

Fear coiled around Jack's heart, drying his mouth and clenching his stomach tighter as his terror-stricken imagination ran rampant at what Starscream could mean. Arcee…Orion? The young man's mind practically whimpered at the possibilities. "We couldn't possibly want anything from you…" But Jack was no fool, his voice sounded anything but certain and rather weak and afraid.

"Oh, don't be so sure, Jack." Starscream's lazy drawl was as irritating as it was distressing. Unseen by Jack, Starscream turned away briefly from the communication screens aboard the wreckage of the Harbinger, his crimson optics set on an empty energon canister; or rather, it was devoid of the precious energy giving fluid, but it wasn't entirely empty. Instead, locked within its secure confines was Miko, her fists pressed against the container's clear sides, a scowl upon her features as she watched the Decepticon Seeker loom over her.

"Let me go 'Screamer and I won't have Orion scrap your worthless spark!" She threatened uselessly in a shrill voice.

Unfortunately for Jack, June and Raf, her voice carried over the comm. line. June felt faint and a small gasp escaped her as she reached out to her son, resting both hands on his tense shoulders.

"Miko!" Raf's distress echoed in the base and tears filled his eyes.

Now it was Jack who fisted his hands, "Starscream! You let her go!"

Chuckling and enjoying it all, Starscream lifted the energon canister enough to tip Miko into his palm. Clenching his digits around her tiny and oh so fragile, fleshy frame he carried her closer to the screens. Uselessly, Miko kicked and squirmed trying to free herself, but it was no use as he had her arms pinned within his grasp.

"I won't tell you anything, you worthless bag of bolts!" She hollered at him.

"Oh my dear…it's not your conversation I want…but a scream will do just fine." With deliberate care, Starscream began to tighten his grip, contracting his digits mercilessly.

And scream Miko did.

"Stop! Let her go!" Raf cried into the speaker.

"You monster! She's just a child!" June's voice echoed into Jack's ear, both her distress and Miko's tearing at him. But Jack knew it was not their pleas Starscream was looking for; no, it was his response that the Decepticon eagerly awaited.

"Stop! Stop! We'll give you whatever you want! Just let her go!" Jack yelled, aching for the sudden appearance of any Autobot, and wishing for all the world it was Arcee and Optimus beside him now instead of Raf and his mother.

Mercifully, Miko's screams did indeed stop as Starscream relaxed his hold on her. In the aftermath of their receding echoes Starscream's low laugh swelled, "Do I have your attention now, Jack?"

"Please…please, just let her go…"

"I'll give you back yours if you give me mine," Starscream taunted.

No use trying to hide the uncertainty in his tone now, "What…what do you want?" Jack shut his eyes as if he could shut out the awful reality of the situation before him.

"The Key, Jack."

Jack felt dizzy from the shock and dread that now threatened to overwhelm him, "Key…?"

Misunderstanding the hesitation in his friend's voice, Raf endeavored to help, "Yeah, we don't know of any keys—"

"Tsk, tsk, tsk! That's against the rules of my game!" Starscream taunted, and he briefly constricted his grasp earning a panicked gasp from Miko, whose ribs ached too much for her to muster the air to speak. However his mock levity was short lived as the Decepticon Seeker's timber quickly became a harsh, unyielding rasp once more, "The Key, Jack. I want the Key to Vector Sigma. I know the Autobots must have it, and I want it, I deserve it."

No longer able to stand mute, watching the distress gnaw at her son, June's voice rose unwavering and biting, "Fine. You want the Key to Vector Sigma? You'll get it, but only if we get Miko back unharmed."

"Very well…"Starscream muttered, "I will send you the coordinates so we may…exchange."

"We need time, Starscream," Jack heard himself interject as if from a great distance, "The bot's have the Key and…and they're not here right now. Give us time to contact them and get them back to base."

Now it was Starscream's turn to sigh, though his was a sound of annoyance rather than Miko's whimper of hurt, "Fine, fine…" He grumbled, "Oh, Jack? Do hurry…I do have a temper when I get impatient…"

Her patience hurt.

More than her physical wounds, her patience cut at her, weeping anguish and impatience her emotional cores whimpered under the strain and Arcee's frame trembled as she struggled to still her spark, wrestled it down into the still waters of patience. Freed from the confines of her prison aboard the Decepticon's warship, Arcee was suspended between two Vehicon troopers, while still two more followed. Where they were taking her Arcee could only guess, and was surprised at how relatively little she cared. All she wanted now was a moment, her moment, of opportunity. Just a flux, a fleeting lapse of attention was all she could ask for, was all she needed. She wouldn't and couldn't doubt herself now, even while she knew her systems were functioning at far from optimal levels, she would have to believe in herself, she would will herself into being able to overcome those who carried her down the halls. The vehicons, though in daunting numbers for her, were not her primary concern, couldn't be, rather doubt gnawed at her, hemming her eagerness in, because of who led her entourage: Soundwave. The optics and audio receptors of the Decepticons, of Megatron, the moment she broke away Soundwave wouldn't hesitate to notify Megatron and bring down the wrath of not just the Decepticon Lord, but the entire Decepticon Warship as well.

So they dragged her step, by wrenching step through the halls, Arcee didn't try to keep her bearings, even after the first few turns she had become hopelessly lost. She winced as one of the vehicons pulled her arm roughly as they turned yet another corner.

"Soundwave!"

At that shrill feminine voice, Arcee looked up in surprise as her entourage came to a cautious halt. Apparently Airachnid had lain in wait for them, her many legs flashed dangerously as they hung suspended behind her, posed at the ready to slice into tender and waiting mesh.

"You have something of mine, something that you have no right to take from me."

Unfazed, Soundwave made a motion as if to merely push past her, but Airachnid had other ideas. Transforming, she lifted herself on her eight dagger sharp legs, raising herself to tower threateningly over Soundwave. "Megatron promised me Arcee's spark! He owes it to me, and I will not let you parade her before the Deceptions just so that Megatron's new Prime can carve her to scrap—that right is mine and mine alone! Now, hand her over!"

Arcee felt her spark seize at Airachnid's litany, Megatron's new Prime…? Her processor panicked, Oh Optimus, what has become of you…? Yet, she did not have long to ponder. When Soundwave merely continued to glare at Airachnid, the spider-bot apparently decided that she had had enough and with a snarl, launched herself at Soundwave. Her assault sent her barreling into not just the Decepticon Spymaster, but into Arcee and her armed escort. Arcee was sent tumbling free, yanked from the grasp of the Vehicons by the momentum of the spider-bot.

Arcee did not waste a moment. Somewhere behind her, Airachnid shrieked, enraged to be stymied as Soundwave twisted one of her limbs beyond its range of articulation. But Arcee did not spare them a backward glance; her transformation was forced and hurried. Her tires squealed against the smooth floor as she raced away, taking every turn she could as fast as she could. Arcee knew better than to attempt at navigating the labyrinth of halls, rather she aimed for only the darkest corridors in the hopes that their lack of illumination meant disuse. Blissfully, it didn't take long for the sound of Airachnid's shrieks to fall away behind her. Still, Arcee kept going, pushing her overtaxed servos for all they were worth. Finally, countless twists, turns and passages later, Arcee stumbled, her terrestrial guise shattering away from her as she staggered into her bipedal form. Shaking from exhaustion, Arcee strained her audio receptors for any indication of approaching troops, only when she failed to detect anyone did she dare to activate the first door within her reach. Stumbling through the portal, she was quick to close and lock it behind her.

As soon as her audio receptors registered the sound of the lock clicking into place, Arcee tapped into the little energy that remained to her and whirled around to survey the room. Optics swiveling to take in the contents, she allowed her servos to relax only marginally as she realized it was an unoccupied examination room. Too exhausted to care that she had found the Decepticon's med-bay, wearily she moved to tuck herself behind a large console, shielded from immediate view, it was only then in her newfound quiet haven that Arcee began to allow herself to rest. Shaded in darkness, wedged as she was in the small and unobtrusive space, she allowed herself a shred of confidence that for now, for once, she was at last safe. Emboldened by the utter stillness and silence that accosted her audio receptors, Arcee tucked her knee plates up to her chest and resting her cheek on them, she began to slip away into a deep and untroubled stasis.

A/N: An update WAAAY too long in coming, we're so, so sorry dear readers. Thank you for keeping with us over the long haul, we're working to bring Nova Vita to its conclusion soon-ish. Arcee will definitely have a nasty surprise when she wakes...and with that I humbly ask you to please share the love and review!

~Epsilon Pax