This story is set early in the war, before Starscream became Air Commander.
"Where's your wingleader?" demanded the General, his yellow optics flashing the same bilious yellow color as the rest of his body.
Thundercracker scanned the empty expanse of the hangar, then looked at Skywarp.
"At his apartment maybe?" Skywarp suggested with a helpless shrug. "Did he miss a meeting or something?"
"He missed the last two meetings," Zerotime snapped. "Go find him. I want to talk to him at once."
Thundercracker slatuted. He and Skywarp made a short run across the hangar and launched themselves into the air.
They flew across Vos, zigzagging among the bombstruck towers until they came to the apartment complex by the southern edge of the airbase.
"What do you suppose he's been up to?" Skywarp asked. "Two meetings? That's not like him."
"Who knows? It does seem like he's been scarce lately..."
"I don't think I've seen him all week."
They landed and Skywarp transmitted the door code. Inside it was gloomy and rather spartan—Thundercracker didn't think Starscream was ever going to get around to unpacking his stuff.
"Starscream?" he called. There was a small noise from inside the maintenance room. "Hey Screamer?" The door slid open and Starscream poked his head out. There were unmistakeable signs of exhaustion in the Seeker's pinched face.
"Zerotime's looking for you. He's gonna chop you up for spare parts if you miss another meeting."
Starscream groaned. "Tell him I'll be there soon."
"Why not now?"
Starscream gave a peculiar grimace. "Personal matters. Just tell him I'll be there soon."
"What sort of personal matters?" asked Thundercracker. Starscream had no friends, no family, and despised the entire feminine race. There wasn't much he had to be personal about.
Starscream shook his head. "That's my business." He disappeared back behind the doors.
Thundercracker exchanged a glance with Skywarp. The black Seeker mouthed 'personal matters'?
Skywarp gave a fiendish smile. Raising his voice, he said, "Wow, Screamer must have some hot piece of work in there. No wonder he's so busy."
There was a muffled cry of annoyance. "That's not true!"
But the words were belied by a sudden fit of high pitched giggling. Thundercracker's optics popped. A moment later the door to the maintenance room was flung open, revealing tools and parts.
"There, see?—mmppheeheheh—There's nobody here but me," Starscream said between half-smothered giggles, gesturing at the empty room.
"Hey TC, looks like Starscream's girlfriend can turn invisible," Skywarp said, grinning.
Starscream snorted a laugh and began stomping the floor with one foot. "G-get out of my house!—snerrrk—that's an order."
"What's the matter?" Skywarp asked innocently. "Don't you want to introduce us to her?"
"Get out right now!" Starscream screeched. He was almost quivering as he pointed towards the door.
"Okay, okay," Thundercracker said, holding up a hand. "When should I tell Zerotime you'll be back?"
"Tell him—tell—" A crazed expression came over Starscream's face. Suddenly he gave a shriek. He whirled and smashed his wing into the wall.
"What on Cybertron is wrong with you?" Thundercracker exclaimed.
Starscream dashed his wing into the wall again and again. "Ow scrap ow ow slag-eating sump-drain-sucking ow!"
"What's going on?" Thundercracker leaned closer, trying to see what was wrong.
With an effort, Starscream managed to regain control of himself. He leaned back against the wall with a long, forced sigh, his optics dulling.
"So Starscream," Skywarp said. "How long have you had glitchmice?"
Thundercracker lurched backwards. "Glitchmice?"
Starscream's only response was a moan. He let his head fall backwards and stared at the ceiling. "Days. Weeks. Months. Years. It feels like a lifetime." Then his optics flared back into life and his head snapped back up. "But they won't defeat me!"
No wonder Starscream was in hiding. Glitchmice were a miserable affliction if only because no one felt sorry for you unless they had been infected themselves—as Skywarp's delighted grin proved.
"So where are you in the treatment?" Thundercracker asked. "Shouldn't you be lying down?"
"I've already decimated them twice," Starscream said, a rather defensive note coming into his voice. "The next time I'll exterminate every last one!"
"What do you mean, twice?" Thundercracker asked, confused. "Didn't the traps work the first time?"
Starscream drew himself up. "I haven't been using traps. I came up with a better way to kill them. It's much faster and—"
"And you're still infected. Lay down and let's take a look." He pointed at Starscream's recharge room.
Starscream scowled—then giggled. "I guess—heehehehehee—it couldn't hurt. There are a few places I couldn't reach, and I think—snerrrk—they've been holing up in there."
He laid down, and gestured at the panel on the tip of his wing. "I can feel them scurrying around under panel 402 heheehee."
Thundercracker undid the scratched up silver panel and instantly recoiled. Inside the wiring twenty pairs of tiny purple optics glinted up at him, then vanished into the darkness. The wires were nibbled raw.
He shook his head, shuddering. "This is the worst infestation I've ever seen."
"Glitchmice?" Skywarp laughed incredulously. "Try glitchrats. What did do you, breed supermice?"
"Where did you catch these things, anyway?" Thundercracker asked.
"Oh, I don't know," Starscream said in a tone of despair. "They just popped up. They're growing because they're eating me alive!"
Thundercracker shook his head. "They don't grow, they just clone themselves. Were they this big when you started your...treatment?" Starscream's face tensed up, but he gave no response. "I'll take that as a 'no,' then. Skywarp, go to the commissary and buy an extermination kit—no, buy two. I'll start getting his panels off."
"Waitaminute!" Starscream cried, throwing up a hand. "You can't go to the commissary or everyone will know—besides, I've almost got the cure working."
"Starscream," Thundercracker said, "If your cure works any better, these mice will pose a military threat. If you don't want to be embarrassed, Skywarp can go to a regular store. Skywarp, go. Hurry."
Still grinning, Skywarp darted out. Starscream groaned and fell limp.
Thundercracker began removing panels. Every time he popped one off, a constellation of purple stars flickered and streamed away. Thundercracker tried estimate how many there were. Twenty glitchmice per panel, and some two hundred major panels...
"Do you realize there are thousands of glitchmice inside you?" Thundercracker asked. "Just what is your cure, anyway, feeding them?"
"Yes, but with poisoned energon."
Thundercracker stared at his wingleader. "Do you mean to say that you've been drinking poison?"
"It won't kill me, but it kills the glitchmice," Starscream explained. "Their tiny bodies have a lower tolerance and they—heeheheheheheeheeheeheehee!" The silver Seeker slammed his panel-stripped arm against the slab over and over, giggling desperately.
Thundercracker looked away and valiantly held back a smile. When he had composed his face again, he said. "So that explains why your glitchmice are so big."
"Exactly," Starscream panted. "Only the biggest ones survived, and they produced the next generation, and then I killed all those except a few really big ones, and that's the generation that's alive now. I want to try poisoning them one more time. Now that I know how much it takes to kill the biggest ones, I can adjust the dosage to compensate and get them all in one fell swoop. Hand me that red bottle with the radiation symbol on it."
"No way," Thundercracker said. "What if you died?"
"Don't be ridiculous. Anyway, I asked you for help. You have my full consent to proceed."
"I think the part of your processor devoted to common sense has been eaten," Thundercracker said. "Actually, that would explain a lot. Have you been infected before?"
Starscream glared. "For your information—IT'S IN MY OPTIC!" Squealing, he pounded at his face.
"Let me—" Thundercracker said, reaching out to help.
At that moment Skywarp appeared, a kit in each hand. "Woah, what's going on?"
"They've gotten into his optics," Thundercracker snapped, ripping a kit out of Skywarp's hand and tearing off the packaging.
"Ew," Skywarp said, shuddering and smiling at the same time. "Wow Screamer, I didn't know it could get this bad."
"Kill them! Kill them!" Starscream howled.
They laid out the traps, and flicked on the energy beacons. Then Skywarp turned off the lights and they waited.
Within seconds, streams of purple beads began to pour out of every access panel. Starscream gave a quavery gasp and Thundercracker instinctively drew back to the wall. The glitchmice swarmed into the traps and were instantly subspaced.
The migration went on and on.
"How did they all fit in there?" Thundercracker whispered.
"They made their own...hollow spaces," Skywarp said. Thundercracker shivered.
Finally the stream slowed. Thundercracker turned on a lamp and pointed it up at the ceiling, suffusing the room with a dim glow.
"Okay, Starscream. You're not gonna get eaten alive now. But you're still going to have to wait another day to make sure they all leave. Be patient, and don't poison yourself. In fact..." Thundercracker took the red bottle and subbed it. "There, you can have this back tomorrow. Anything you want before we go?"
Starscream mutely shook his head. The mass exodus seemed to have drained him.
Skywarp remarked, "Hey, I just thought of something I want. A day pass to Polyhex. Think you can swing it, Screamer?"
"I'll think about it," Starscream said.
Skywarp shrugged. "Okay. If you need me, I'll just be off chatting with all my online friends on my favorite videosharing sites. Good thing I cleaned my optics this morning; there's nothing worse than a gunky recording. "
Starscream groaned. "I don't have the energy to throttle you. Fine. Have the stupid pass."
"I knew you'd understand."
"Let's go, 'Warp," Thundercracker said, leading him out of the room. "The General's not gonna be happy when he hears Starscream won't be back till tomorrow."
"Ooh, I wonder what he'll have to say?" Skywarp said, rubbing his hands together.
Starscream stared up at the ceiling. It felt good to wallow in self pity.
"I wonder if glitchmice could really pose a military threat if they got big enough?"
"I wonder how big I could make them?"
A longer pause.
"I wonder how many I could fit in Skywarp's canopy?"
Starscream smiled weakly to himself. It would be an interesting investigation.