Trying to be an Autobot
"Chapter 6: Whatever it Takes"
By Leah King
As the Autobots walked through the Ground Bridge, Starscream out ahead of them, they couldn't help but notice his gait to be a bit faster and lighter. It was as if the flying had made him chipper…or at least halfway sane again. In a few moments they were back at base.
Starscream stretched his wings, giving them a brief flutter, "Ah. That was diverting…" then mumbled under his vocalizer, "…despite my forced limitations."
Arcee strode by him, "Be grateful we let you out at all."
The Seeker gave her a dirty look but bowed his head; "Of course." he turned to Optimus, "My sincerest thanks for allowing me my flight."
"Thanks are unnecessary." Optimus assured him. "As long as you continue to demonstrate good behavior you will be granted that freedom."
Starscream looked at his cuffed wrists, "And perhaps very soon rid myself of these?"
Bulkhead barked a laugh as he passed, but kept walking.
Starscream lowered his wrists slowly, "I'm…never going to earn that chance am I?"
"You can. But our trust must be earned gradually. Years of war and lies have grown a huge chasm in our trust of Decepticons…you being no exception." Optimus explained evenly, "But I am willing to grant you a chance to prove you are trustworthy."
"And…I will try to earn that trust." Starscream announced, holding his head up a bit more.
Optimus nodded and walked past him.
Starscream watched him go, "No matter what it takes…"
After all, it wasn't the first nor the last time he'd had to prove himself.
A very long time ago, at the Cybertron War Academy …
The air was electric. Nearly every cadet could feel the anticipation tingling over their plating at the thought of flight. For a torturous week they'd languished in the classroom merely talking about flight maneuvers and now they were going to be put to the test to see what they'd learned.
Their instructor Alclad stood before them, wings extended to their mighty width, "Cadets! Today is the day you will show us what you've learned: your first day of flight training."
Several enthusiastic whoops erupted from the assembled fliers.
The green and silver instructor pointed to an elaborate construction above their heads, spread out over the academy's sky, "Up above is 'The Gauntlet'. Only the most skilled fliers can complete it without flaw. Those of you who can will most likely move on to become part of the Seeker Elite."
At once the sky was rumbling and from the right flew in three members of the Seeker Elite. The cadets watched in awe as the fliers, in tight V-formation, flew straight for the Gauntlet course. In a split second they broke formation and dove in sync through the elaborate rings, dove around bars, and performed other tight maneuvers through the obstacles that floated above. Turning, diving, weaving, twisting, and rolling the three Seekers flew the intricate course to the awe of the gathered cadets. After a couple tense minutes of aerobatics the Seekers rejoined their previous formation and flew away with a roar of afterburners. The cadets were silent for a moment but immediately began cheering.
"And THAT, cadets is how it's done." Alclad gestured proudly.
Amid the excited crowd, Starscream looked up at the course; trying to memorize the aerial maneuvers he's just witnessed. It looked complicated, but nothing he couldn't achieve if given the chance. He glanced over through the crowd a second to see Rapida still excitedly clapping her hands after the performance.
He smirked and thought, "So…she likes fliers."
As he was looking at Rapida, a red plated arm slid over her curved waist. Starscream knew immediately the arm belonged to Contrail.
"Yeah…she likes fliers." he thought bitterly.
One day it would be HIM she was clapping for; and perhaps so much more.
Alclad continued, "In order to progress to the next phase of your training you must be able to complete the Gauntlet; individually first and then with your assigned squadron. Because it is not only your individual skill, but your ability to fly as one with your squadron that separates the hot shots from the Seekers." Alclad informed with certainty. "You will have three days to study the course. On the fourth day you will be given your individual test. Those of you who pass will be placed into Trines for the group performance. The group with the best performance will be accepted into the Seeker Academy. And the flier who achieves the best score will be named Top Wing in their class."
Starscream raised his head a bit more. Top Wing. That would be him. Top Wing and Rapida would both be his.
"So…do we have any volunteers to try the first three legs of the course?" Alclad's optics scanned the cadets.
There was nervous laughter tittering amid the crowd. Clearly no one wanted to be the first to brave the Gauntlet on a cold run.
"No one at all?" Alclad asked coyly, knowing it was unlikely a willing volunteer would present themselves. Suddenly his optics stopped and he grinned, "Ah! A volunteer!"
Starscream followed his gaze and huffed when he saw it was Contrail who was raising his hand. The red flier nodded and gave Rapida a confident wink.
Starscream flared his wings, not wishing to be outdone he raised his hand as well.
Thundercracker, who was standing next to him, looked up at Starscream's raised hand, "Are you crazy?!"
Alclad noticed the movement and gestured, "TWO volunteers. My, my. Very well. Contrail you shall be first and you…" he trailed off prompting the name.
"Starscream." the silver flier announced boldly and with some annoyance.
"Starscream. You will be after Contrail. Would both of you join me on the platform?"
Alclad gestured to Contrail and the red flier strode out of the crowd to the takeoff platform. Starscream watched him and then looked at Rapida. Much to his surprise she was looking at him as well.
"Have you blown a logic chip Starscream?" Thundercracker asked quietly.
Starscream looked at him over his wing as he strode toward the platform, "Quite the contrary. I'm going to show everyone here what sort of flier I am …the best."
"Or you'll screw up and show everyone just the opposite." Thundercracker mumbled and shook his head.
When both fliers had taken the platform, Alclad began to explain the course, "After takeoff you will fly through the lit hoops without touching their boundaries. Then you will execute a tight eight point roll to pass through the second set of hoops. You must be precise on each roll or the hoops will turn red, meaning you touched them." He pointed to several long beams of light, "After that you will weave through the bars. The last bar is the toughest. You must execute a dive while rolling around the pole." He pointed up, "When you reach the bottom you will climb to the highest light hoop, pass through it, and snag the flag with your wing tip. Got it?"
Both cadets nodded.
Alclad nodded back and gestured to Contrail, "You're first Contrail. Good luck."
A transformation sounded at the platform and Contrail ignited his thrusters as he shot into the air. The crowd watched with rapt interest. The large red jet form swooped through the first hoop-like obstacles with ease. He flew toward the energy hoops, the ones that only fit a precise turn or position. Turn wrong and a flier would never make it through. Contrail rolled left and made it through. He rolled right; again through. He rolled all the way over and just gently grazed his tail against the edge of the "hoop" which made it flicker to red. His movements became more direct and less smooth as he was obviously concentrating on what position he needed to take to pass through. The final hoop he grazed as well, making it change color to red.
Contrail banked hard right and left to dodge the line of light beams that stood in his way. He made it through all of them. Then came the last beam which angled at a sharp 45 degree angle downward. The red flier dove, rolling slowly around it. But near the end of the "pole" his wingtip crossed the beam and it turned red.
Another smirk from Starscream; he could do better than that.
Contrail finished the beam and soared high into the air to complete the last set of "hoops" and snag the red flag high above before returning to the landing platform and transformed with the flag in hand.
The crowd cheered and Alclad nodded with approval, "Not bad Contrail. Not bad at all. Most cadets can't make it past that first leg of the course."
Suddenly, a transformation sounded and Alclad turned sharply to see the other cadet eagerly soar up to the first set of light hoops. The crowd watched, surprised by the quick movement. Starscream flew up and through the first set of hoops with little effort. He then began the eight point roll. One hoop, two hoops, three, four, five, six, seven. Fluidly and with confidence he rolled through the eighth hoop. None touched. Then as smoothly as a floating leaf he angled down and rolled around the beam in ever tightening circles. A uniform gasp seemed to suck out of the crowd. Finally he finished the beam roll and shot straight in to the air toward the flag. He cast a sensor "glance" down into the crowd and saw Rapida's awe-struck expression.
He smiled to himself, "Yes…want me."
With a flashy twist he snagged the flag and returned to the platform where he transformed. The crowd of cadets erupted into a frenzy of cheers. Starscream handed the flag to Alclad and gave Contrail a lofty smirk before waving to the crowd.
Their adulation was euphoric. Never had he felt such a rush in his systems. Amid the crowd he saw his friends cheering but seeming in complete disbelief. Then he looked toward Rapida whom was jumping with excitement at his performance. He pointed and winked at her.
Just then Alclad spoke to him, "That was…very impressive cadet Starscream." He sounded impressed but reserved as well as if he were loath to extend the praise to such a brash cadet.
"Thank you Flight Trainer. It was nothing really." Starscream stated with false humility.
Starscream smiled fondly at the memory. Those were the beginnings of his glory days; the days when he was looked upon with respect and awe. All he'd ever wanted was to feel that again. To have crowds of adulating followers adore his very presence. And as Megatron's Second in Command he thought he'd achieved that…but no. Now he was just a joke; a shadow of his former self. But one day he'd get that back. One day the crowds would echo his name in the annals of Cybertronian history. Although, he would rather forget this particular low in his career as an Autobot prisoner.
"Starscream." Ratchet's voice called, drawing his attention. The medic was standing near his quarters, "How would you like to rid yourself of those stasis cuffs for a couple hours?"
The slender Decepticon raised a suspicious questioning brow for nothing good came without a price, "What do you want?"
The medic had a not so pleasant smirk on his face as he produced the key card, "There's a storage closet over there that is in need of organizing."
Starscream huffed, straightening his posture indignantly, "Do I LOOK like a cleaning drone?"
"No…more like a Decepticon prisoner who doesn't have much of a choice." Ratchet tossed the key in his hand a couple times, "Optimus told me to give you the option…but I'd rather lock you in your cell for the remainder of the day."
Starscream's optics flashed as he debated. There was no way he wanted to degrade himself…then again being confined was a horrid option.
He sighed with defeat and held up his wrists, "Alphabetically or by type?"
Ratchet walked over to the storage unit and opened the door. A small avalanche of parts, metal scraps, and other various objects slid out into the hall. Starscream grimaced.
"Just make it look nice." Ratchet ordered, carefully unclasping the stasis cuffs. "Don't make me regret this more than I already do."
Starscream flexed his wrists and arms with relief. It felt good to get those accursed cuffs off.
"Now get to work." Ratchet commanded as he headed back toward the main atrium.
Starscream looked at the mess before him and then turned his optics skyward in a "why me?" expression. He knelt down and began picking through the various metal parts when he realized there were several components he could use to build a sanitizing drone…or something extra.
Just as Ratchet entered the main atrium an alarm was sounding. He rushed over to the main panel to see the global sensors had picked up a surge of energy, possibly another Energon deposit. Optimus, hearing the alarm, entered the atrium with Ratchet.
"Seems we have another Energon spike Optimus." Ratchet announced. "Possibly another mine."
The leader nodded, "Send Bumblebee to scout the area first. We don't want to walk into a trap."
"He is picking up Raphael from school. I will notify him of the situation and bridge him here."
Optimus nodded and in a few moments the Ground Bridge opened and in drove Bumblebee. The yellow muscle car opened his door and let Raph out before transforming.
"Bumblebee, I need you to find out more about this recent Energon spike. Report back as soon as you learn more."
The yellow scout bounced on his feet with eagerness and beeped with affirmation. Ratchet redirected the Ground Bridge and the scout rushed through, disappearing into the green swirl.
Optimus touched Ratchet's shoulder, "Notify me the moment you receive word. I have a video conference with Agent Fowler."
Ratchet nodded and closed the portal and briefly glanced at Raph, whom hadn't said much since arriving.
The medic asked offhandedly, "How was school?"
The boy paused a moment but said, "Ok I guess. Just…school."
Ratchet cleared his vocalizer, uncomfortable with small talk, "Well…good then. I'll waiting on word from Bumblebee." He thought a moment, "If you'd like you can help me calibrate some tools later?"
"No thank you. I've…got other stuff to do." Raph explained.
"All right. OH. And Starscream is in the other wing organizing a storage closet. I suggest you stay well away." Ratchet warned as he moved away.
Raph moved away too, finding his favorite spot on the catwalk to sit down. The boy sat gingerly, the fresh scrapes and bruises on his elbows and hands seeming to hiss with anger at the slightest touch. He unzipped his bag to pull out his computer which was "wounded" to say the least. Trevor's heel had busted the screen into slivers, making the device virtually useless. He hoped he'd be able to take it apart and at least save the mother board and power pack. Putting together and taking apart computers was something he'd done since he'd watched his dad doing so on the kitchen table. Still…trying to stomach the assault of his computer and himself was hard to handle. Thankfully in the rush to base, Bumblebee hadn't noticed his scrapes. His long sleeved shirt helped hide them from concerned eyes and optics. Raph didn't want his guardian or any of the other bots to worry about him whilst they were on and directing a mission.
He sighed at his reflection in the cracked screen. Carefully he rolled up his sleeve to look at his elbow. It was dark red, caked with dried blood and looked very angry.
Nerd. Loser. Wimp. Shorty. Every word screamed in his head again and again. A tear slid from behind his glasses. He barely even noticed Starscream stalk into the atrium, carrying a crate of various mechanical parts. The Seeker gave the human a cursory glance, his red optics flashing briefly as he passed. Raph rolled down his sleeve. Starscream placed the box in an open area of floor and began to methodically empty it; sorting each piece into a pile according to its type.
Raph jumpedwhen the Con's low sinister voice inquired, "Beaten up were we?"
The boy quickly wiped his moist eyes and replied with a lie, "No. I just…fell."
Since the ex-Con had been brought to the base, he'd never shown the slightest interest in him, Jack, or Miko…well…other than giving them looks of disdain and annoyance. But now he was talking to him…why?
"You fell?" Starscream chuckled darkly, "What a terrible liar you are. I know the aftermath of a beating when I see it… even on a human."
The Decepticon flexed his claws, watching them move. "Oh yes. I've been on the receiving end of a fair share of them in my life."
Raph looked down, "Megatron?"
"A great number of them yes." Starscream said in almost a bored tone, "But not limited to." His optics directed at him as he tipped his head, "You're supposed to be the smart human aren't you?"
Raph nodded, "I guess so."
The Seeker smiled in not the most pleasant way, "I'm the smart one too. They always single out the most intelligent mechs…try to make us feel inferior because of our gifts.
It was strange but Raph was in agreement with the former Decepticon's statement.
Starscream gestured with his claws, "But in actuality we are greater than they could possibly be."
Raph looked down a moment, uncomfortable.
"You don't believe me?"
The boy shrugged.
"How do you think I achieved the position of Second in Command?"
Again Raph shrugged.
"Even I, Commander Starscream, admit I am not the strongest of mechs." He stated raising his chin almost proudly, "But it is my guile and intelligence that lifted me to my post. You see human, it is not mindless brawn that conquers worlds but cunning strategists." he tapped his helmet with a claw for emphasis.
"But I don't want to conquer worlds…I just want them to leave me alone."
Starscream's optics glanced to the side a moment then rolled slightly, "Of course…you have shallow ambitions…well the solution to THAT problem is quite simple."
Raph blinked, "It is?"
"Use your intelligence to find their weakness and then…eliminate them." Starscream said in that low slithering voice.
The boy sat up straight, eyes wide, "You mean kill them?!"
"A simple solution is it not?"
"No! I can't kill them!" Raph protested earnestly. "That's not a solution!"
Starscream let a slow smirk grace his narrow face, "It works for me."
Raph visibly shivered at that, which didn't go unnoticed by the Decepticon.
The Seeker chuckled, "But then again, making your enemies suffer has its benefits."
"But that's…wrong." Raph shook his head.
Starscream sneered, "Wrong? Wrong is being treated the way I have been treated for millennia by those hulking, processor-dead ruffians!"
Raph looked down, "Well, yeah. But…"
Starscream let his arms fall down with a fervent chop, "Amongst the Decepticons it is unwise to let your enemies live. They will kill you if you don't kill them first. And if you CAN'T eliminate them…well…then you make them wish they never crossed you."
"Well we're not amongst Decepticons here. I thought you wanted to be an Autobot?"
The ex-Con scowled, "After THIS insufferable treatment I would be pressed to even consider that possibility! Offering MY valuable assistance to your cause and being given nothing but mistrust and imprisonment in return; no wonder you're losing this war."
Raph thought a moment, "You have been helping us with your information. But maybe…if you weren't so mean they'd be able to trust you? Kindness can go a long way you know."
"Kindness..." Starscream snorted derisively, "Since when has anyone been kind to me without wanting something first? No human. Kindness is a ploy that lowers your guard just long enough for your enemies to take advantage."
"Not if it's genuine kindness." Raph argued.
"And can you tell the difference? Because I can't."
The boy nodded, "There is a difference…and when it's genuine you'll know."
Starscream snorted and resumed his sorting.
After a moment Raph asked, "What are you building?"
Starscream stopped, "What makes you think I was building something?"
"Don't you have some work to do?" Ratchet suddenly approached upon catching the sound of the two conversing.
Starscream straightened himself up, giving the medic a look of derision, "Don't you?"
The medic looked at Raph, "What did he tell you?"
Raph looked at Starscream a moment, then to Ratchet, "We were just…talking."
"About…what Starscream is building." The boy pointed to the parts scattered on the floor.
Ratchet suddenly noticed the sorted parts on the floor, "Where did you get all of those parts?"
"From that horrid storage closet you had me cleaning out." The tall silver mech brushed his chest plate.
The medic marched over to the Seeker, "What are you planning on building with these parts? And for THAT matter who said you could build anything?"
Starscream gave him a look and flared his wings huffily, "Well since you Autobots seem to either lack the motivation or the processing power to DO so, I was going to build a sanitation drone or two so I wouldn't have to do your janitorial services."
"You'll DO what is asked of you." Ratchet pointed firmly.
The Seeker's expressive brows shadowed his optics with anger, "You imprison me here and expect me to perform menial labor tasks to earn your respect? My talents are being wasted! I should be out scouting for Energon deposits or something more dignifying than cleaning out your spaces!"
"You wanted to build a cleaning robot?" Raph interrupted tentatively at the Seeker's outburst.
Starscream's red optics directed at him.
"I…I could help." The boy offered.
Ratchet looked at the boy with an equal amount of puzzlement to Starscream's expression.
The Seeker seemed to sneer at the idea, "How could you possibly…?" he paused then said, "Yes…if the boy were to assist me would that satisfy your misgivings?"
"Hardly. Then I'd have to worry about what you'd do to him." Ratchet stated harshly.
Starscream rolled his optics, "Oh please. Do you think I'd risk my own well-being on one measly human? You Autobots would beat me senseless for even looking at him wrong."
Ratchet lowered his brow plates suspiciously, "You're up to something. Why would you willingly offer to work with a human? You'd just as soon step on them as look at them."
Starscream glanced at Raph and then back to Ratchet, "When faced with the options given to me I'd rather work WITH your human than be stuck performing your grunt work until the end of time. Besides…wasn't it Optimus's request that I 'get along' with the humans?"
The white and red medic frowned with deliberation.
"Can I Ratchet? I've always wanted to build a real robot." Raphael requested with enthusiasm.
Ratchet looked at the boy and then jabbed a deliberate and serious finger into the Seeker's chest, "If you so much as knick Raphael, I'll have your wings dismantled, right here, right now."
"I won't harm the human." Starscream assured with exasperation.
"Finish the first job I gave to you…then you can build the sanitation drone." He commanded, "I will be keeping an eye on you."
"Of course." Starscream mumbled.
He glanced at Raph who seemed oddly excited. Sure the human had deduced he was building something and revealed it to Ratchet, and now he had to "work" with it. Of course…that might tilt in his favor. If he could gain the boy's trust then perhaps the Autobots would also be trusting of him? The cogs were beginning to turn.