An Inverted Insignia

An Inverted Insignia Part Three: Advanced Training By: Sunstar

Authors note:

The Cybertron War Academy was once the most prestigious of the Decepticon Military Colleges. Graduation through high grades and credits was a bonus, the real passing grade was not getting killed.

This fic is an event that occurred in the distant past of Starscream. This is not based in any particular continuity other than what the author calls Seekerverse or Starscream Chronicles.

If anyone wishes to assist in editing this fic, please contact Sunstar. My email is at the bottom of the page


Chapter 14 New Challenges
Chapter 15 Lockout
Chapter 16 Resistance
Chapter 17 Picking a Fight


Chapter 18 Migraine
Chapter 19 Warped Humour
Chapter 20 Megalostag Cybertronus

New Challenges

The mess hall was quiet, the main rush for meal hour had passed and those that remained hurried their fuel cubes down, or chatted quietly amongst each other. Some even took this time to study their subjects. The examinations for some subjects were coming up. Starscream had opened his files and began his reading. His meal had been finished and he was interrupted a whole three times during it. With one leaving the mess hall to run to the medical bay with two fingers less. These fingers, Starscream had displayed on the table in front of his tray as a warning, "stay the pit away". The fingers appeared to have worked. Others who might have challenged him stopped to look at the blood covered fingers then walked on, perhaps looking for less alert targets.

Starscream noticed that the meal hour attacks had slowly tapered off. They were infrequent and those that had tried were desperate new cadets. He avoided slagging brand new cadets because he felt it was the job of their peers as opposed to established ones. He found it fascinating when they dared take on a more experienced cadet and even more amused when they actually killed one. The attacks he suffered did taper off partly due to him stepping up his game and proving himself not to be trifled with.

His meal finished the flier then pushed the tray aside and leaned back. It was time to leave and head to his flight manoeuvre classes. Flight Manoeuvres were simple to Starscream; his instructor admired how he was a gifted natural. His flying skills did rival the instructor and rather than be annoyed, the instructor decided to take the young flier under her wing and have him assist in instructions. Even occasionally having Starscream aid her in teaching newer recruits. This was how he started his Junior Instructor training course; recommended by Flight Sergeant Acidtwist.

Junior Instructor was prerequisite to Junior Leader and then Junior Leader was followed by Advanced Leadership. He found the Instructors course informative, learning the different methods of teaching knowledge to others. How other people learned, the difference of learning between types of transformers and how to make learning entertaining.

He was just packing his datapad up when the screen flashed an alert.

"Incoming message" it read:

Mandatory Pit Fight Summons: Starscream Level 4 Challenged
Requested by: Lockout Level 4 Challenger.
Fight Time: 22:30
Arrive at: 22:00 for battle preparations.
Meet: Battle Master, Ground Zero

Notice: Pit fight winners will obtain a portion of bet credits, obtain weapon and armour upgrades as well as meal priority. Failure to present oneself to the pit will be recorded as a permanent black mark denoting cowardice.

Battle Master, Ground Zero.

The young flier put the datapad down and stared at it in disbelief. He knew that it was possible, after Thundercracker had warned him that those who were classified as level four would find themselves in armed battle at some point. Those who were classified level four would often find themselves sent to the crypt.

He mulled over the idea of fighting in the pit. It was entirely one thing to bicker over who had a meal or who's possessions belong to whom. But fighting in the pit was not only a test of one's learned combat skills but entertainment for spectators. Spectators who guessed who lived and who, in many cases, died.

The arena was adjacent to the Academy. It was a shared facility with battle hardened gladiators and Academy cadets. It was not typical for Cadets to fight the experienced Gladiators. Only those who were confident enough to challenge such a warrior would even dare. For those who dared it usually ended with them being shipped to the mortuary. To fight a Gladiator was a fight to the death. The prize for winning such a battle would be obtaining a position of a rank six officer in the Decepticon military, higher than what the Academy would grant a typical cadet. It was a worthy prize for those who dared.

To understand rules of the game, Starscream had viewed several fights in recent months to get an idea of what he would expect. Even then he really did not anticipate actually being called in. The flier had somehow imagined he would have to initiate the challenge, not have a pit fighting cadet challenge him. He shuddered recalling the broken or lifeless bodies of cadets being removed from the field as the crowd cheered on the winner.

Starscream's fingers closed around the datapad as he stood up. He shook his head and strode purposefully to Riftwing's training centre. He sent a message to Acidtwist and informed her that he was being called to the pit. And required advice from Riftwing. Her reply was a simple but kind "good luck."

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There was a combat class in session, and Riftwing had the class riveted with his hand to hand combat instruction. Starscream stood and observed, waiting for the older flier to finish his lesson. It was apparent to Riftwing that Starscream had a problem. He was a few shades lighter in the face and he was concerned. The older flier apologised to his cadets, dismissed them and wandered over to see what the younger Seeker required.

Starscream said nothing, but then showed him the datapad.

Riftwing read the datapad over and nodded. "I see," the older flier commented as he took a look at the youth. He could see the worry in the cadets optics. "You have an excellent combat foundation. I know you have been running simulations in your free time. I am sure you can do it. But you want to know what your odds actually are?"

"Not every fight ends in a kill...I know this, but it does depend a lot on the injury received," Starscream said. "I probably could do it...but I really don't want it to end this way."

"The trick, Starscream, is not to get injured. First and foremost you must avoid it; however, even the most accomplished pit fighters still get injured." Riftwing led the cadet into his office and gestured to the chairs "Take a seat."

The young Seeker nodded. "Have you any useful advice?" he asked hopefully.

"My best suggestion is pain management," the older Seeker replied. "You need to push past pain to keep fighting, even if you are bleeding heavily from wounds."

"This is not something one can learn in just a few hours now is it?"

"Ordinarily no, but your particular defensive system may allow for it to be used on you as an anaesthetic."

"The null rays?" Starscream asked, "But it was neutralised when I was zapping medics while they were attempting to fix my wounds."

"Outward reaction, yes; that was neutralised. Inward is something you likely have not yet figured out, yet. You appear to not understand your own basic capabilities. And the only one who can truly shed light on it is Darkstar. His EMP system is quite similar to yours. He can use his EMP to turn off entire sections of his nervous system, yet he needs to be careful of how much he does neutralise. He could cause cessation of all pain in an area and not realise he got himself badly injured. Such a thing could lead to a death just as easily as being blinded by pain. The trick, and he will show you, is to reduce how much pain you are feeling. He can teach you how to keep it at an acceptable and bearable level."

Starscream turned around as he felt the presence of another entering the room.

"Ah, Darkstar. Glad you could come," Riftwing acknowledged.

"You requested my presence?" the Sergeant inquired. Looking over at the pair and the datapad in Riftwing's hands.

"Cadet Starscream has been formally challenged into his first pit fight. He needs some last minute training." Riftwing handed the datapad over and Darkstar nodded.

"I knew this day would eventually come," the old flier frowned. "His fighting skills are coming along well, but what do you think can I teach him in the few hours he has left?"

The young Seeker's wing twitched as he went a shade lighter at the words 'few hours he has left.' He felt sick as he realised the oldest of the training trine did not appear to have much hope for his outcome. He felt his tanks starting to churn as nausea swept over him.

"He needs to learn how to manage pain like you do, Darkstar. His survival may actually depend on it. Starscream is fighting Lockout."

"Lockout eh? That can take a lot longer than a few hours to learn," the older Seeker replied. Taking a seat beside the paled youth.

"Why didn't he get these lessons sooner when you learned of his ability, Darkstar?" Riftwing inquired. "It could have saved him a fair amount of grief- especially now."

Starscream nodded in agreement to Riftwing's counter.

"Because I thought the boy could and would have figured it out naturally, as I did. Considering his history, I did not expect him to be so fragging stupid."

The young flier recoiled as if slapped across the face. His jaw dropped slightly at the stinging words. "In spite of that, you can still teach me though can't you?"

"At this time? Starscream, I really can't."

"But..."

"Your opponent is a tough fighter, strong and will hit hard. Pain training is essentially torture; I have to physically, and mentally hurt you. You will be taught how to deal with torture and the pain associated with it. This is not something you or anyone else can endure before a life and death fight. After yes, but not before. You'll be far too tired and drained from the training to fight at your capacity. You will most assuredly die."

Starscream closed his mouth and said nothing. Riftwing also said nothing but allowed the older flier to continue on.

"You can win this, but I cannot teach you the techniques as we typically would. All I can say is, when you feel pain that is intolerable, find the nearest sensory hub and think 'shut down.' You should be able to cut off all nervous receptors in the area; however, this means the entire section beyond that hub will be dead to you. I would recommend you not use that method for any needed extremities, this includes both legs, head and you can get away with shutting down a single arm. All you can really shut down is your wings. You may want to do that before battle because your foe will target them. It's our greatest asset and our greatest weakness."

The Cadet nodded barely reassured. "I guess I can try that...."

"If you should survive, Riftwing, Stellardrift and I will teach you how to resist pain, through the torture resistance training. It will not be a pleasant experience though." The old Seeker said in as gentle a tone as possible. "And finally, your ability, in-spite of its apparent limitations, is actually very useful. Indeed, Skywarp can move from place to place in a flicker of an optic, Thundercracker can shake the foundations of the city with his booms, but neither have a built-in defence that can allow them to push past the normal punishment that is typically borne by Seekers."

Starscream exhaled frowning. He only received a promise of teaching provided he lived. He glanced at the two older mechs and nodded. "Thank you for your information, I will attempt to find the hubs beforehand so I am not too distracted trying to find them later- if I need it."

Darkstar nodded, "good plan."

Starscream left with a number of questions rolling through his mind. Torture training- exactly what did that entail. He knew by its sound that it was going to be very unpleasant and a lesson he probably would quickly want to avoid. He wanted to know why they left the training for pain management so late, and why it was not part of compulsory learning a lot sooner.

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Starscream sat on a chair, optics offline, as he focused on his entire nervous system. It was difficult after a while as his body reacted with itching and tingling sensations clouding his ability to figure out where individual sections were. He thought he had located the major hub groups when Skywarp teleported in. Thundercracker came in along just behind at a jog.

"Whatcha doing screamer?" the dark Seeker asked as he usually did.

"Trying something new..." the young flier explained "Skywarp... punch my arm."

"Punch you- really?" Skywarp asked, smiling with dangerous glee. "Is it my hatch-day or something?" The dark Seeker practically hopped from foot to foot hoping that what Starscream was asking was true. It was something he dreamed of doing.

"Shut up Skywarp and just do it already before I change my mind...."

"Screamer, I thought you'd never ask," he said with alacrity, he balled his fist and raised his arm, bringing it down with a powerful slam that sent Starscream spiralling over his chair onto the floor. "Oh! Was that too hard?" Skywarp asked looking over.

"Nyargh!" Starscream cried out grabbing his shoulder, then focusing carefully, he attempted to trigger the nearest hub. It worked, unfortunately it shut him off and the younger Seeker crumpled to the floor.

Thundercracker's jog had turned into a full run as he arrived just too late to stop the dark Seeker from attacking their unit leader. "Skywarp, have you lost it!? What in the pit are you doing?!" the blue Seeker demanded. "He's on our side!"

"I know, Thunder, but Screamer asked me to punch him... do you think I'd turn down such a golden opportunity? Heck you wouldn't turn it down if he asked you," Skywarp remarked as he leaned in and poked the unconscious flier.

"As if." Thundercracker reached down and pressed his fingers to the flier's throat. He could feel a pulse and exhaled slowly. "Where did you slug him?"

"He did ask, Thunder. Believe me." Skywarp pleaded, his main worry was alienating his closest friend. "I only punched his arm, I dunno how I managed to knock him out cold, but... he's out cold."

"Why would he ask for you to punch him out?" He asked, perplexed. An unusual action for their unit leader.

"No idea, he said he was trying something and then asked for me to punch him...He's a scientist, he probably was doing weird science-y stuff."

Starscream groaned and his optics flickered on after about two minutes. "Oh primus, that...ugh."

"Did it work, Screamer?" the dark Seeker inquired. "Did it?"

"A loose yes, and a definite no." Starscream responded by pushing himself up and off the ground rubbing his head groggily.

"What were you trying to prove, Starscream," Thundercracker asked.

"To see if I can shut down a hurt area...if only temporarily." the young flier replied. "It failed spectacularly.

"Should I even ask why you would think this is even necessary?" Thundercracker reached down and helped the other flier to his feet.

"Because, Thundercracker, tonight might be my last night alive..."he exhaled, rubbing his arms and flexing his fingers trying to get the shooting pain and tingling out. "I am being called to fight in the pit tonight...."

"Pardon?" the blue Seeker said in disbelief, "Can't you refuse?" Skywarp's smile faded rapidly, the fun had ended.

"If I refuse, then I get a black mark on my transcript," he replied, giving his arm a final rub down.

"If you go, then you get a plot number on your transcript." the blue Seeker replied darkly.

The dark flier's smile returned. "I call dibs on his third of the supplies!" Skywarp chimed in.

Both Starscream and Thundercracker gave the dark flier a silencing glare. Skywarp stepped back knowing he had overstepped his bounds this time.

"Anything Skywarp and I can do?" Thundercracker asked.

Starscream raised his wings and shook his head. "No, nothing really. I suppose I should eat, but I really do not want to go to the mess hall at this point. I can't risk conflict right now." A second later Skywarp smiled brightly then vanished in a blast of cold air.

"I think Warp's gonna take care of dinner arrangements," the blue Seeker surmised.

"Look, there might be something you two can do. Please watch my fight and... uh, place some bets..." he said, sounding nervous.

"We don't have credits, Starscream." the older Seeker held his hands out to indicate being broke.

"Yeah, but I do...." The flier reached around and unlocked his foot locker. "I have some," he took out a box and opened the lid revealing a significant stack of credits. "I have about a thousand credits, that is five hundred each. Bet wisely- maybe not waste it on me. If you do bet on me and I live, I want my 1000 credits back, but you can keep what remains. If you bet on the other and I die, see that something nice is placed on my marker." He handed the box over to his wingmate.

Thundercracker opened his mouth to speak.

"Humour me, Thundercracker," the younger flier demanded, cutting him off before he could respond. "I have not left you anything in my will- You remember the one we wrote out at the start. All my stuff goes to the academy- all of it. At least this way, I can see you two get something at least. Think of it as a thanks."

"You aren't dead yet, Starscream, but I will do as you want with it." The blue Seeker tucked it away.

Skywarp burst back in with three trays of meals. Starscream could not help himself but grin at what was clearly a theft of decent magnitude. "You stole them from new recruits?" Starscream asked.

"No, I took a more challenging target, the canteen staff; as they were serving it," Skywarp bragged.

"Maybe I do have an appetite after all." The young Seeker laughed as he took a tray. He sat down and ate hungrily. He had to admit, Skywarp always came through.

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Lockout

Day one at the CWA

The arena was a large structure with an enclosed dome roof. The roof could be opened for more spectacular night fights, when the moons hung high in the sky. He stopped at the usual entrance where cadets and local citizens were lining up for tickets or to place bets. He checked the sign boards and found his name illuminated on the screen and beside it, in larger letters Lockout. He turned away from the throng and followed the halls to a more dimly lit area. Arrived at the designated door and knocked on it lightly.

The grating opened up and a pair of crimson optics glared out at him. "Who are you?" the mech on the other side asked.

"I'm Starscream, I was asked to arrive here for ten. I have a fight at ten-thirty."

"Starscream...yes, you are expected." The grill snapped shut, and the door unlocked. He invited the Seeker into the staging area.

"Ground Zero, that new corpse just walked in the one- they call Starscream."

"New corpse...?" Starscream said quietly, looking appalled. He stepped back and tripped over a dismembered head, and he gasped, rapidly moving away from it as if it was dangerous.

"Don't worry, little Seeker, the head won't kill you," the doormech laughed. "But the mech that just took it off likely will." He bellowed with laughter, followed by the raucous laughter from other mechs in the room.

The mortician was busy welding the lid onto a coffin in the corner. Starscream backed away, wings twitching as his bright optics darted around in panic. Grizzled, heavily scarred mechs sat around on benches sharpening tools, or fixing armour. Likely the professional gladiators who regularly fought in this arena for the entertainment of others. Starscream could challenge any of them if he wanted. He looked at each one and at the array of deadly weapons that hung on the wall behind their heads. Some were stained with the dried out violet blood of their victims and the scent of death was heavy in the air.

"Come now Deathrow, be nice to the new body. It probably won't be with us all that long." Ground Zero said as he approached the young flier. "Time to check you in, and run the mandatory tests."

"Tests?" Starscream asked half panicked as the large grizzled Decepticon pushed him into a small holding cell. "There are tests?"

"Yep, tests to determine if you are entering this arena as naturally as you entered the Academy. Now when we are not processing Cadets for their sporting demise, we are actually running legitimate gladiatorial combat operations."

"I thought the pits were technically illegal..." Starscream commented.

"Depends on what side of the fence you're on, Iacon. Yeah this is illegal. Kaon, Nope, very much in play. Anyway Megatron wants the top ranking Officer-cadets to go through this to weed out the weaklings from the true officer-classed fighters."

"Officer Cadet?" Starscream asked, tipping his head slightly.

"That is what you record is clearly stating. Let's see... place your weapons down, as I call them, on the table. Null Rays?"

Starscream disconnected the arm mounted rifles and set them down.

"I thought firearms were not permitted to cadets?" Ground Zero asked, turning them over.

"They're not really firearms, although they support that upgrade. They channel a natural ability to make it less hazardous, to others."

"A weapon that is not hazardous, ingenious." Ground Zero nodded. "Sling shot and ammunition." The warrior started to laugh as Starscream placed the manual draw weapon on the table, along with several of the unstable energon crystals. "You are bringing a child's toy to a pit fight... Primus have mercy on your spark."

"Don't underestimate me," Starscream hissed darkly, his wings flaring out a little.

"Energy Dagger..."

Starscream pulled the weapon out of subspace and laid it beside the other weapons.

"That is all you have?" Ground Zero asked disbelievingly. "No swords, shivs, or anything else that could be stashed in subspace or other crevices?"

"No."

"Plate armour, chain armour or even energy armour?"

"No."

"You have slag all armour and weapons and you are pit fighting, Estimated survival time, three minutes. How is it marked as a significant challenge, in the records? You have recorded about 15 kills to date, including a full team on your own. What else do you have that might give you an edge?"

"Would you believe my brain? I know how to use my weapons." the flier assured.

"Brains?!" Ground Zero laughed loudly. "Scrap, you're a scientist aren't you, downgrading the survival to two minutes. And I will somehow even the battlefield just a little. I would hate to see this battle end with you dead too fast. Barely a chance to take bets."

The young flier snorted disgustedly at the Battle Master. "Just how long am I required to remain in the ring to, at least, win my life?"

"Oh for green-sticks like yourself, ten minutes; goes up the more fights you do. If he doesn't kill or incapacitate you in ten minutes, you will fight again another night." Ground Zero scanned the Seeker up and down for any hidden weapons and hidden power ups. He found none. The grizzled warrior shook his head. "You are out there in ten minutes, so I suggest you get used to the idea that you will die.

Ground Zero left the cell and locked it behind him leaving Starscream feeling like a prisoner. As he left, Starscream could hear him talking about the slingshot following it with raucous laughter. The others joined in as well and the Seeker's spark burned with ire.

Starscream grabbed the bars with his hands and whispered very quietly. "Or go ahead and underestimate me, perhaps no one seeing me as a real threat will be the critical mistake made tonight that allows me to survive this."

A few minutes later Ground Zero returned and unlocked the door. "You fight in two minutes."

The young flier nodded, his wings quivering in anxiety.

"Altmodes are locked out and once you are in there you either leave alive or as a corpse." He looked at the flier who turned to face the door with courage, but he could also see the fear. He had seen it thousands of times. "I can't get friendly with you, Cadet. It's not because I don't want to, it's because most of those who go in, don't come out as functioning mechanisms. Best of luck, Starscream."

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The gate opened and he took a deep breath as he was shoved into the ring of the arena. The heavy metal gate clang shut behind him and he could feel the inhibitor settings that would lock his altmode out, Effectively keeping him grounded. He spared a quick glance behind him as his passage to freedom was finally shut out. It was his worst nightmare realised. A Grounder had chosen his name out of the list and requested a formal challenge. Starscream had to comply- it was the battle code.

Armed with his null ray rifles, a slingshot and a dagger, he took a step into the ring. He felt a bout of fear and electro-adrenaline flooded his veins, giving him a rather wild burst of energy. Lights from a spot arched across the arena and illuminated him where he stood. He took a deep breath. As he did the fanfare trumpeted and the fan favourite, Lockout, stepped into the ring. The Grounder was heavily armoured and held a heavy mace in his hands. His altmode appeared to be that of a tank. Heavy built with massive plates that protected his chest and back, thick treads that went down his arms and legs. The young flier could not help but let out a startled gasp as he realised he was in this fight, possibly to the finish with this monstrous Grounder. He had at least hoped he was fighting a Seeker or someone of similar size.

A beam of light illuminated the other fighter in all his ferocious glory. He made fearsome gestures to the crowd and the arena went wild. He stomped his feet and the vibrations unsettled the Seeker and the attendees joined in, creating such a noise that it reverberated through the flier's very struts. Starscream turned his head scanning the wild throng until he located his wingmates and the Sergeants- all three of them, Riftwing, Darkstar and Stellardrift were present.

"Tonight we have a new 'challenger' in our arena, The Young, The Intelligent and the So-very-dead... Starscream!! A skilled flier from the Cybertron War Academy's Seeker Division." The announcer said with far too much enthusiasm. "Sorry to say, folks, his astounding air show flight skills will not be of any use to him today!"

"And we have our favourite, sixteen win streak including fourteen kills, The Harbinger of Death, Lockout! From the War Academy's Grounder Division. He is a master of close combat!"

'Fourteen kills?' Starscream thought as his optics locked onto the mace as the other started to power it up. He had seen such weapons before from the stands in the past, it was the first time he had seen one so close. The head of the weapon was large, almost the size of his torso. It was not a solid head, but edged with razor sharp blades. The other warrior raised his weapon and slammed it into the ground and the floor of the arena shuddered from the impact.

The flier's reaction was to immediately have his own rifles power up. Something he realised he should have done before stepping into the field. He shook his head pushing back a surge of fear. He knew the other was attempting to intimidate him. Unfortunately Starscream knew it was working, and working extremely well. The flier's wings instinctively flicked back out of harm's way.

"Hah Ha! See that?'' The announcer laughed. "Place your bets, Femmes, and Gentlemen. See the bookie right now, but I predict that the Seeker will meet a messy, but mercifully quick end. But so no one can say we're out to get the flier, we have given him some opportunity for advantage. We will be providing him with a sword and a shield that Lockout will be protecting."

The young flier glanced up toward the announcer's protected box and wondered if there was some way he could shut the annoying little mechanoid up, maybe kill him. Then it came to him, the tedious announcer likely had placed a large sum of credits in bets in favour of Lockout. "If I can't kill you, I'm gonna really, really disappoint you," the youth hissed, forming his resolve about winning, if only so the dislikeable announcer would be out of pocket.

"Can Starscream survive ten minutes in the ring, or is his short life coming to the most violent end." Two hatches opened on the floor and a platform raised. One having an ornate metal shield laying on it and the other a heavy looking, twin handed sword. He appraised the sword, he had practised in the simulator with these on a number of occasions. They were not a weapon a flier would go for as they were generally too large and too heavy for their light frame and those were the very reasons he chose to practise with them. Such swords were not impossible for a flier to use, particularly if he understood the laws of physics and how opposite reactions operated.

He glanced at the shield. He knew what the audience would expect a Seeker to do and he decided he would play with their expectation and demand for Seeker predictability. This would also placate his opponent who would then anticipate an easy victory and make mistakes. He made himself ready and took a stance that would easily propel him toward either position. He intended to collect the shield hopefully it would hold up. That was the unknown that bothered him. He was unsure if it was made of brass, a weak soft metal, or something stronger like trinium.

He knew bets were being taken on how long he'd last, what he'd take first. He understood that most bets were against him. He allowed his body to project an image of extreme fear. This was easy, he was afraid, but he was not yet blinded by it. He felt some relief that he could utilise his knowledge of science in this frightening environment. Turning what was perceived as a weakness into, at least for his mental well-being, a strength. He hoped he could hold off the attacks for the required ten-minutes and hopefully be granted mercy.

Starscream took a deep breath and felt the fluids flowing hard and fast through his lines,his head started to clear and his senses sharpened. He could feel electro-static prickles playing at the wing surfaces as he started to read the air. The flier fingers closed into a fist as the gong sounded indicating the start of the match.

Turning quickly, the flier bolted toward the shield. His stride wide and fast and the wings swung back to reduce wind resistance and allow for speed. As he neared he wondered how much protection it would provide against the energy enhanced mace. It was long, but not very wide, being thinner at the bottom and broadened a bit at the top.

As he reached for the shield, his wings tingled their warning. Alarmed, he glanced up, and just in time. As his hand touched the edge of his target, the mace was coming down over his head. The flier danced aside by flinging one of his wings sharply. The mace head impacted the ground with a significant thud. The ground shuddered beneath his feet and his wings prickled at the shockwaves it created. It did not take science to realise that only his quick reflexes had saved him from being crushed to death.

The swing, however, had been so powerfully executed that the head of the weapon had buried itself into the packed dirt floor. This would mean Lockout would have to either abandon it, or pull it out, considering how the warrior seemed to favour it. He anticipated his opponent would take the time to retrieve it, probably with the expectation that the flier would not be so lucky the next strike. This slight delay gave the flier a second to make a rapid lunge for the shield one more time and before the other could extract the weapon. As his fingers closed around it, he could see the other pulling the weapon free, charging it up once more and making ready for another strike.

The shield was light and made from a strange ultra light metal. Aluminium? He wondered. Even worse than brass. The edge of the shield was detailed with a fine gold coloured ornate trim. It looked to be an ancient relic of some other time, it had some dents in it. He wished he had more time to study it. But he could not, his life depended on him not getting distracted by unimportant details. Nonetheless, his mind briefly wandered, he wondered if it had been used in previous battles and pondered how the others who used it fared. Were they dead? As he slipped the fingers of his right hand into the grips and raised the shield up in front of him. He braced his body, wings back, feet planted well to take the impact as the other hammered the mace down once more.

The power of the impact was phenomenal. And the holding power of the shield was remarkable. It was light, and relatively durable, however the impact did cause stress fractures to appear. It was an old shield and clearly it had seen battles before. Maybe not with weapons as modern as what his opponent bore- which led to its rapid degradation. The impact also caused the young flier to stagger back, but he was alive. He pushed his shielded arm out and shoved the mace away. He then cautiously glanced to determine where Lockout was, and moved in the opposite direction.

Lockout's strength was close combat, Starscream, as a Seeker he would choose distance. He played his part all the while working toward his goal; the sword. His null rays were fully charged and he finally had the charging tank coming at him with speed. He never actually used the rifles against a being of that size. He fired the weapon nearly screaming in glee that he had directly hit Lockout, he watched in dismay as the other simply shook his head and continued on. Apparently the big guy was rather resistant.

The tank raised his mace once more and Starscream attempted to sprint aside, protecting his retreat with the ancient relic. The mace struck and the swing continued, wrenching the shield from his grasp. He shrieked in surprise and his fingers stung sharply. Were they broken? He closed a fist, they operated as they should, but sending pain signals. He figured it was a small enough hurt to ignore.

Null rays were ineffective. He might have, in less extreme situations experimented with settings, however he deemed them useless. He would have to play his backup distance weapon, the slingshot and the energy crystals.

As he brought the Slingshot out, the announcer spoke up. "Femme and Gentlemech, What we have here is a relic from days before firearms. A primitive form of weapon, known as the slingshot. Useful for firing small rocks and shards. The general result is to annoy the target more so than harm it." The Colosseum erupted in laughter.

Starscream's face burned with embarrassment as he glanced down at the weapon in his hands. It could do more than simply irritate his opponent. Due to his opponent's size, Starscream loaded several of his largest chunks of destabilised energon into the pouch and pulled it back. He took careful aim at the Warrior who was ripping the mace from the shield then let it fly.

Lockout glanced up as the tiny white specks of glowing crystals came toward him. He almost laughed when they impacted him and the surrounding floor. The ground erupted into multiple small explosions. The hard packed dirt was ripped up around his feet sending hard shards of dirt rock and fragments of metal from previous fights against him. Unfortunately the explosion also aided in the extraction of the mace from the shield yet it did do him some damage. Small wounds leaked mech fluids, it was a minor victory on the Seeker's part. Lockout stumbled then roared in anger. The crowd let out a collective gasp at the surprising effect of the otherwise laughable weapon.

"That was... unexpected," the announcer stated, speaking for himself and most everyone else in the arena.

"No scrap, slag heap," the youth snarled. He rapidly loaded the remainder of his ammunition and fired them again. This time Lockout attempted to avoid the volley. The peppered wounds meant he had to deal with more pain centres which would become harder the more he took.

Starscream now had only two options left to him, the two-handed sword, which the larger warrior was effectively cutting him off from, or his dagger. The dagger would mean close combat once more. He was not so keen on getting that close. It was still a few minutes to go, and to get that close could mean death. Lockout would have to come to him and not with the infernal mace.

Lockout charged, this time he was not laughing or in a good mood. The young flier was oddly quick and his unorthodox weapons were strangely effective. Starscream danced aside once more, but not enough. The edge of his wing was clipped by the heavy weight. The wing tip buckled then tore. Fluids spurted forth from a torn outline. Starscream could not help it as he screeched out a cry of pure agony. The crowd erupted in cheers at the sight of fast flowing injury chanting, "finish him! Kill him!"

Lockout raised his fluid wet mace and rested the shaft on his shoulder as he came toward the flier. His pace was casual as if he would take the time to end the youth.

He face-planted into dirt and was screaming from blinding pain. Wing injuries were some of the worst. He could hear a voice in the distance, "Starscream, get up! Get up boy, neutralise the sensation and fight!" he obeyed. Once on his feet, he could feel the enemy's presence to a lesser degree with what remained of his damaged wing, and fully in his undamaged wing, he read the speed and direction. He reacted with unexpected haste to dodge the attack. The crowd uttered a disappointed "Ooh!"

A few steps ahead of his foe, he focused on the pain centre, then located a hub roughly in the centre of his wing. It was located directly underneath his inverted insignia. He shut the hub down and the pain vanished. Only a warning message flared in the corner of his vision warning him of pending danger. He pulled himself to his feet and took a moment to glance at his bleeding wing. He grimaced and faked the pain he no longer felt.

He was concerned about the amount of fluids he was losing. He felt a little light-headed. He could not worry about that now. He was into the phase of the battle where it was crossing into the life and death lines. He felt like his wing was amputated halfway out, and that was disconcerting. However, he did not have the weight imbalance associated with it. The wing still moved at the hinge, and he could still use the weight advantage of it.

The clock struck a five-minute gong. "Femmes and Gentlemech, The young Starscream is still in this match, can he hold out for five more minutes or will he find himself in death's grip from his bleeding wounds?"

"You're fraggin' right I am still in the match," he hissed. He had survived half the time, and it felt like an eternity. He somehow had thought he was close to the ten-minute mark. He realised he was in more of a dire situation than he had hoped.

He had danced to the side of Lockout that was nearer to the sword leaving a clear trail of energon. With a short burst of energy the flier leapt across the dirt and skidded past the sword, reaching out to grasp its handle in his fingers. He pulled it out of the sand and gained his bearings; his head spun around from the rapid movement. The fluid loss was starting to be felt more keenly. He had to end the battle soon in order to survive. The bleeding would probably be lethal if it continued for the remaining five minutes.

The sword was relatively heavy, and almost too large for his form. He had fought with such weapons in simulations, as he attempted to learn all he could about different fighting forms. He dragged the blade through the dirt as if it was far too heavy for him. His actions would have to be fast as his loss of fluids would cripple his ability to use the weapon effectively.

"Weakling Seeker," Lockout said, pulling his mace around for another strike. "It ends here, make peace with primus."

"I'm still a tricky kill, Lockout," Starscream replied. Grasping the blade in both hands, his body actually shook from the strain of the weapon's weight and injury. He used his wings to counterbalance himself in a controlled manner, so he could whirl himself around. As he spun, the blade met the mace, just below the heavy head. The sword was sharp, and it sliced through the other's weapon. The mace-head hit the ground. His ability to utilise the sword surprised his opponent, yet it did not phase him either.

In an unexpected turn of events the Tank simply turned the handle around swinging the now headless mace shaft's, war hammer shaped butt at the flier. It connected with the Seeker's head, sending him screeching to the ground. Fluids oozed from a large indentation and crack in his helm and fluids spurted from his mouth. As soon as his body impacted the dirt, Starscream fell silent and his optics darkened. The young flier laid in the dirt with his wing still bleeding out. He was not dead and his colours were still reasonably bright. He was, if anything, dying.

"Starscream!" Darkstar leapt from his seat and was nearly over the railing.

Riftwing and Stellardrift held him back. "Are you insane, the cadet has to prove himself." Riftwing shoved Darkstar into his seat. "or die trying."

"Not tricky enough, Seeker..." Lockout stated, "But to make sure you are... finished and end your tricks." he leaned over the offline Seeker and picked the sword up out of the unconscious flier's still fingers.

He raised it to drive it through the youth's spark when Starscream came back online suddenly activated his dagger and drove it into the other's chest just before Lockout could run him through. The Seeker was not unconscious but playing possum. He allowed the other to feel confidence and expose himself so Starscream could deliver the final blow. The flier's intent was not to kill, although he had every right to at this point. His strike was critical and cut into a fluid line that, if unchecked, would be lethal. The other warrior was taken by pure surprise, and it came across in his startled cry of pain. When it was clear to Starscream that the Tank would not be fighting anymore that day. He withdrew his blade out and then punched the other in the head rendering him unconscious.

"As I keep saying, don't underestimate me. I know how to use my weapons." The Seeker spat fluids on the other and dropped back into the dirt. Blood flowed down the side of his head as he laid there dazed. The gong sounded. As it did, the youth dug his fingers into the dirt and laughed. It was the laugh of someone who had found reprieve and beat the odds. A laugh that reassured some members of the crowd that the flier might be down, but he was not out- he won.

"We have a surprise winner this day. Starscream!" The crowd was silent except for the five voices that cheered the victory.

Medical teams ran in and collected the two fighters and carried them off to a medical bay. He struggled to remain conscious, afraid that if he did he would not wake up. His injuries were significant, and he could still, in spite of his win, fail to survive. The medics hurried him into the hospital and put him under to repair the injuries.

Now that he was in the arena, he would continue to have to challenge and accept challenges until he either died or graduated from the academy. It was how the game was played and the youth's first fight made him a tantalising prospect to those who were already well up the gladiatorial ladder.

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Following Morning

Starscream was sitting on the exam table while a medic gave him a final once over. His damaged wing tip had been repaired, his head had been examined and a plate of fuel-cubes had been given to him to re-supply his spent energy.

"Excellent," the medic mused, "for a Seeker who was in the Academy pit, you did come out well for all the damage you took. Your head wound will heal fine. I would recommend not doing anything crazy for a few days. Until you can replenish your reserves."

"Crazy like pit fighting with maniac Grounders?" Starscream asked with a slight smile.

"That would be ideal; however, the 'maniac Grounder,' as you call him, survived as well and he may want a rematch..." the medic warned.

"I figured that," Starscream said with a quick dismissive flick of his hand.

"...until one of you is dead." the other continued.

"Oh." was the flat reply.

"Well I will discharge you, your friends are waiting to collect you."

Starscream rose to his feet and his head started to throb. A residual headache. The medic noticed the flier's change in disposition and injected him with a hypo-spray. "This headache may continue for a while still, it was a hard impact."

The waiting room was down a long hallway. He had been in the medical bay a number of times and yet this time it was feeling extremely unfamiliar. Had he taken greater wounds than he had anticipated? As Starscream arrived at the end of the hall the Seeker realised he was still in the Arena grounds.

He met Thundercracker, who was the one grinning this time. "You did it. You actually did it!" The blue Seeker clapped Starscream's back with his hand so hard it nearly sent him spiralling to the ground. "Oh, sheesh, sorry there!" he helped the young Seeker up with the aid of Skywarp.

"Yeah, still a bit off," Starscream whispered.

"We won big time too, I bet it all on you." Thundercracker crowed.

Skywarp shrugged, "Eh, I wanted to bet on the other guy. Face it... Starscream usually sucks in combat."

"But he didn't suck, he won, and won smartly." Thundercracker defended.

"I say he just got lucky. I wanted his supply of energon anyway," Skywarp said in a sour tone, but he smiled slightly, implying he was teasing- somewhat.

Thundercracker pushed a receipt of winnings into Starscream's hands "I won enough we could split it three ways evenly and still allow you your thousand credits back."

"I still think you shoulda given Starscream his thousand back and split the remainder two ways," That was what he told you to do anyway.

"How much did you guys get?" he asked rhetorically as he glanced at the receipt and the Seeker's optics flickered in surprise. "Wow..."

"Fifteen-hundred credits each. So you got twenty-five-hundred. We won big with your fight."

"Glad to be of service... I may get you two to place bets in my name since I can't bet on myself," the youth stated.

"You have to fight more?" Skywarp asked in some concern.

Starscream nodded. "Once a week," he replied with a frown. "Until I graduate or leave in a box."

"Slag, Starscream, I'm sorry," Thundercracker said, resting his hand on the other's shoulder reassuringly. "We'll help train you." Skywarp nodded in agreement.

The young flier nodded. He was relieved his wingmates were supporting him.

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Resistance

Inside the holographic simulator Darkstar and Riftwing set up the interrogation program. Darkstar quietly described a scene, while Riftwing programmed it. As he did, the room took form. This method was a bit more laborious than using the standard ready to go program. Darkstar insisted on something a little less intimidating than the usual settings. This room would be clean, sterile, state-of-the-art technology, viewing screens, monitors, and then of course tools. In the middle of the room was a semi-reclined chair. This chair had straps to restrain its occupant should the need arise.

It would have looked like a medical facility if it were not for the tools that were on the table before the chair. There were energy prods, plate lifters and bolt cutters. The monitors were black, but they would be ready to display anything from diagrams to real-life instances of interrogation tactics. It was more than an interrogation room, but a lab for the study of torture and its techniques. The only thing that was missing was the pupil; and he was abnormally late.

This was not a subject that they really wanted to have to teach, especially to a student they all had connected to on a friendly level. However, with the arena now becoming a regular part of his life and academy training, they had to step their game up to keep him alive. They chose to teach him the subject early so that he could use the techniques to push past any injuries he received in combat. There was more to the subject than simply inflicting pain but the understanding of how and why.

Starscream did well the previous night, fighting smart and working past his painful injuries to ultimately win. They were pleased that he did take out the more experienced fighter in just under eight minutes. The older trine did have some trepidation about Starscream allowing his opponent to live. They knew that the other would come after him at some point, should he survive the next few battles. They also felt that the only way for Starscream to survive that battle would be to finally kill his foe and they were unsure if he would be keen to do that.

As for the upcoming lesson, the older fliers were concerned they were bringing in the younger flier a little too soon after the fight he had the night before, considering his injuries were severe. The medics had treated and released him and Starscream did appear to rebound from it quickly.

Starscream arrived at the simulator and looked around with a hint of distrust and distaste. It was a familiar room with an unfamiliar setting. He exhaled, stepping past the threshold. The young flier's wings flicked back as he glanced around at the tools realising they could have unpleasantly painful effects.

"Welcome to Torture resistance training," Riftwing said with his arms open wide in friendly greeting.

"What exactly is....torture resistance training?" the youth asked, knowing more or less what the answer would be. He speculated it would be a 'practical lab' where he would experience it first hand.

"It is exactly how it sounds, We'll torture you, you'll learn to handle it. But for the time being we'll give it a euphemism. Perhaps call it Pain Management Therapy." Stellardrift said.

"What it entails is giving you experiences of torture scenarios. Starting with the most traditional and easy to manage ones. Then we work up the chain to the more dangerous methods. We are using the simulator at moderate pain levels for any of the in-sim mechanisms," Riftwing explained.

"You may experience post-traumatic stress symptoms after these sessions. But understand we are attempting to guide you into understanding how to deal with such circumstances. In war, you can expect to be tortured if captured. There are many people who enjoy inflicting pain on others, watching them suffer. We aren't here to teach you how, but you will undoubtedly learn these techniques and be able to master them. Darkstar's role is to coach you through your native abilities, Riftwing is to maintain and monitor the simulation, and it is my job to make you hurt," Stellardrift picked up some items from the table looking them over." Stellardrift explained.

"Admittedly," Darkstar started, "I am the most qualified here to do the torture, because to know how to resist the pain, you need to understand how the pain is being created. Interestingly, medics will typically make the best choices for interrogators. Simply because of their experience in healing, repair and vast knowledge of how the entire nervous system works- they can use that information to harm. Unfortunately many of them have certain rules regarding treatment of those under their care."

"I will be teaching you the techniques on how to deal with pain in the manner you and I, as producers of an electromagnetic pulse, would. I will describe how, what and why things are happening to you so you understand the forces at work. Through this understanding, you will ultimately learn control. The three of us will also counsel you after so you do not have lasting negative effects from the training."

"First of all," Stellardrift said, "We need to comprehend what pain actually is- Starscream, what is pain, define in your own words?"

The Seeker glanced at the older warriors. "Your body is reacting to stimulation that could possibly harm it." he replied quickly, "it's a warning."

Stellardrift nodded, "That is pain in its simplest form. It's actually a combination of many complex interactions, for example." Stellardrift had Riftwing project a transparent hologram of a Seeker. It was a science and medical model often used to teach classes in medicine when cadavers of the right type were unavailable. The model also allowed simulations of situations that could arise during field operations and field medicine up to and including battle simulations where medics were required to treat warriors amongst bombardment. The Riftwing adjusted the settings and then the inner workings of the model came into view. With the vast network that made up the nervous system glowed luminous green. "This fully reactive model will demonstrate visually what happens to a Seeker's systems when they are damaged."

"This green mass here is the nervous system." Stellardrift explained. "As you have already learned yesterday, these points here are the primary sensory hubs. These are the systems that any Cybertronian can turn off by willing it so. But it takes training to learn how to find the individual hubs in the smaller sections. You did this by shutting the wing down." Stellardrift took a probe and jabbed it into the wing, a reaction like waves of colours flung back and forth across the hologram, the figure then sent a signal out that shut the section down leaving it grey and unlit.

"To learn where the hubs are you need to be repeatedly shown, through pain, or touch. Eventually a warrior can learn how to shut it down almost immediately as second nature. As we did say though, shutting off a needed limb or anything near the chest, or head could result catastrophically and see to a quick unnecessary end."

Starscream nodded. He had experienced what happened when Skywarp had punched him and he shut the wrong hub down. "Indeed," was his only reply.

"You saw multiple reactions. Not just the pain being relayed to the brain, but other reactions in the body. Chemicals released by the brain wake you up and let you know there is something wrong and needs your awareness. Pain can be so bad it can cripple you and this is where we need to create a workaround. Stopping for pain in battle is another way of saying 'time to die'. You need to allow yourself to understand that, yes you are hurt, yet make this not an issue."

Stellardrift stepped up to Starscream with the prod and held it near his chest. The Seeker drew back his optics wide with fear. "Next point to make. Fear exacerbates pain. The more you fear it, the more tension you build and the harder your nervous system reacts." He pressed the activation button and the rod arched and sparked. The young flier attempted to get himself away from what he knew would hurt.

"Riftwing, please link the subject with the hologram so he has both a visual and sensory understanding." Stellardrift then pressed the prod against the Seekers chest then held it fully activated. The Hologram lit up as Starscream cried out from the pulsating electric pain. Darkstar winced, flicking his wings back with some agitation. The orange Seeker removed the prod and allowed the younger flier to calm down. Starscream panted rapidly, his fingers releasing the armrests of the seat. "Riftwing, roll the reaction back," Stellardrift said as he moved in beside the holographic model.

Darkstar stepped beside the Seeker and put a reassuring hand on his shoulder as Riftwing rewound the recorded information. The model lit up as Stellardrift applied the probe. The signals went out to all the systems and the model's sensory network glowed brightly and stayed brightly lit even after the pain source was removed. The Chemicals from the brain moved slowly along to calm the system. Oddly when Darkstar placed his hand on the flier's shoulder he calmed much faster. Darkstar was oddly reassuring.

"That is what your nervous system looked like when all your nerves were firing, responding to the stimuli given by my prod. There is no way you could have turned off the pain hub nearest to the touchpoint as that would arrest your fuel pump and other required systems. Turning off that hub could actually kill you. You will find this is a popular location for interrogators to start pain, for that very reason. The victim is unable to safely shut the hub down."

Darkstar patted the youth then gave Stellardrift a slight nod indicating to proceed. The orange Seeker immediately turned and jabbed the hologram in the exact same location as he had on Starscream himself. The hologram's systems lit up and youth let out a small cry of dismay. The reaction was faster, less intense and very short-lived.

"What the pit?!" Starscream cried out shortly after the experiment. "I can feel its pain?" he did not like the direction this had suddenly taken.

"As you can see," Stellardrift explained, as he stood between Starscream and the hologram. "What happened when I wound you up prior to your treatment, your reaction was much more severe than when I took you by surprise by attacking your hologram avatar. Although the actual amount of pain you received each time was identical. Your perception of pain was influenced by your fear of it. The more afraid you were, the worse the pain became. Now in order to teach you how to manage the pain, we need to help you overcome the fear, to accept that there is danger and hopefully alter how the pain is perceived. You could see it as some sort of pleasure. The more I hurt you, the more you laugh. However, you decide to read it, never lose sight that the reaction is in fact warning you that damage is happening to your body. Or that something is simply not right."

Starscream nodded, rubbing his chest. "So the torture will be only though the avatar?" He inquired hopefully.

"Yes and no. It is, unfortunately, important for you to experience this type of pain and fear first hand." Darkstar turned to a vidscreen that showed footage of an interrogation where torture techniques were being applied. The young flier winced as the victim on screen screamed.

The older Seeker paused the footage and allowed the youth a moment to take it in. "You need to feel it so you know what to expect and be able to take the correct measures to control it. You need to fully understand how it works against you, and how to deal with reducing its ability to cripple you. How you decide to manage the pain, turning it to pleasure, ignoring it, making it do something else, is entirely up to you and is your own personal decision. But I will show you how to reduce pain faster, so you can learn the more in-depth methods that others will be taught later."

Darkstar stretched his wings out so far that one of them popped noisily. The older flier cringed and grimaced. Stellardrift and Riftwing came alongside him and lifted it then shoved it back. Darkstar had actually demonstrated control of pain by dislocating the wing from its hinge. "When I'm injured I can concentrate on the centre of pain, feel it and how it spreads, and then I feel how it fades and then finally remains as a feeling in the background. It's nullified, numbed, but it still allows me full feeling in the extremity without the deranged laughter some people get when hurt. There is also something else."

Darkstar took the prod from Stellar and jammed it into the throat of Starscream before the young Seeker could react. The pain was intense, and he allowed it to build for over thirty seconds. The young flier was unable to make a sound. His mouth hung open in a silent scream while his optics glowed in terror. The avatar started showing the panicked firing that the first model displayed. He put the prod down and then put his hands on the area and focused carefully. A cooling sensation filled the flier and the nervous system calmed down. The young flier closed his mouth and offlined his optics. His body relaxed a little."Your EMP, once you learn to control it, can be used to reduce pain in others. When you learn to control it, we can unlock the controls we put in the chip to allow this to be accessed. As I said, this gift is by far better than what a teleporter can do."

"So, it's a multi-use ability," the youth asked weakly.

"Very much so. Your training will be based around what you experience in the ring, Some of it will be direct against you, some will be against your avatar. Now that you know your avatar will send you the pain messages, you probably will fear strikes against it as you would strikes against your own body. Strikes that would harm you, such as cuts, gouges, or even shots will be made against the avatar. Pain such as kicks, punches and other, typically, non-wounding blows will be made against your physical self. You watch your avatar's pain response and identify how to control it."

"Yeah," the young flier agreed. "That would make sense to me."

"There is more though, something else we have to address at the very same time." Darkstar pulled up a chair that materialised in the room and sat in front of the young flier. "It is the fear."

"Fear can cripple you instantaneously. Fear can be so intense that it will prevent you from thinking at all. These fears are typically called a phobia. Phobias can cause all rational thought to go out the door. It is one of the hardest types of fears to conquer. You may acknowledge that the phobic reaction you have is an over reaction. Yet when faced with it, your reaction is out of your control. It is also called an irrational fear, or a morbid fear."

Starscream slowly. He understood phobias, having at least one himself.

"People like Megatron have learned to control some of their most basic fears and turn them to their own purposes. He probably still fears things, but he controls it rather than allow it to control him. Our own kind has a form of phobia that is so deeply ingrained within us that we can do little about it other than to manage it as best as you can. However, it is rare that we are affected by it. The phobia I speak of is the loss of our wings or the ability to take flight." He studied the Seeker carefully. The mention of loss of flight had less of an impact than it did on Riftwing and Stellardrift. "Yet this is not your greatest fear, is it? You managed well in the arena, even when your flight was taken for the duration of the pit fight."

"No, it didn't seem to bother me that much," Starscream agreed. "I think I was more annoyed that I could not take flight to fight. But It seemed like a reasonable thing at the time. Could be because when I was in space I was not exactly flying, I was drifting. I drifted here for ten straight years. Also, Now that I think about it, It took... a long time before I learned I even could fly..." the youth trailed off. He did not want to describe that his first transformation and flight was the result of falling into a chasm that went almost to the core.

"There is something more intense that would cripple you. Something more likely to happen. It, too, is a common phobia in our kind. Fear of being in enclosed locations. Claustrophobia." A Seeker shaped box appeared next to the holographic avatar. "How about we place you in that and close the lid?" Darkstar asked. "Keep you sealed in there for half an hour, unable to move, in pitch blackness." The hologram displayed a new set of electo-chemical changes that rapidly flooded across the Seeker. His pulse quickened, the intake of air quickened, and the tension built up in the flier's extremities. The box vanished, and he began to relax, slowly.

"We will work with this, because most assuredly, you will find yourself tortured at some point through use of your greatest fears. Here in this training, and again if you are ever taken captive."

Starscream nodded. "Seems to make sense to me," he agreed.

"Good, then we shall start with your training," Stellardrift said, grabbing the prod once more. As he grabbed the prod, the "coffin" appeared beside the avatar.

"Wait....that wasn't the training?!" he cried out as panic fully kicked in.

"Unfortunately, no." Darkstar rumbled and then the class started.

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Picking a Fight

Starscream hauled himself back to the barracks. His body and head was aching, his wings were stinging, and he had no appetite to speak of. The actual training took two hours and was extremely intense. Darkstar informed him they were starting off easy to get him used to the concepts and to build a level of tolerance to pain. He shuddered to think of what the more extreme lessons would entail, and he chose not to think about it. He dropped himself on the platform and laid there, quickly falling asleep.

He became slowly aware of a presence in the area. It was not Thundercracker or Skywarp, but someone else, someone unfamiliar. He could hear the click of small tools and a slight rattle followed by a creak. He flicked one optic on and noticed someone was in the foot locker at the base of his platform. How daring, someone was trying to steal his stuff with him present. He then noticed that the foot locker of both Skywarp and Thundercracker were opened, and he wondered...what did they have that was worth stealing. Then the young Seeker realised; the credits from the arena.

Most of the cadets had made a habit of sleeping with a weapon, Starscream was no different. The hunting dagger was close to his head. His rifles were too big and were kept in the locker the thief was entering. Suddenly angered, the Seeker powered his dagger and leapt from the platform with a blood-curdling scream. The thief, startled, tried to run, but Starscream was on his back and in seconds had driven the blade through the thief's throat. He withdrew the blade and drove it home into the spark. Fluids from the severed fuel lines in the throat spurted forth as the pump hammered out the last few beats and the intruder died. Starscream was coated in the fluids, and he stood over the carcass, nearly protecting his kill, tossing the blade from hand to hand as if daring anyone to attempt to attack him. His optics were bright and wild, for the moment he almost appeared feral.

The lights flicked on and Darkstar, followed by his trine entered. They spotted the fluid soaked Seeker in the middle of the room, the opened locker boxes, and the scattered tools. "Problems?" Darkstar asked as he came in, moving in on Starscream's kill. The young flier hissed as he backed away, allowing the older warrior onto the scene. Skywarp hung over the edge of his platform and Thundercracker looked into the chest that was opened.

"I found him, stealing from us." The young Seeker snarled. Starscream glanced around at the others who were roused by the commotion. "Check your lockers," he ordered.

Darkstar scanned the body and did an identification on it. "He's not one of ours. Not a War Academy Cadet. Just some thug."

Thundercracker came over to look at the body laying in the pool of fluids. "I saw him, when I was collecting our winnings. Sheesh, he could have whacked me on my way back to the barracks with it."

Skywarp picked up several items from around the floor of Starscream's foot locker. "What are these?" the dark Seeker asked as he held up the small tools.

"Lock picks." Starscream supplied. "I'm claiming them, my trophy for this kill."

"Are you okay, Starscream?" Thundercracker asked. Concerned for the fliers' fast, savage attack, the display of aggression immediately after and the almost instant fatigue thereafter.

"I'm fine. I just need to bathe," the Seeker replied sharply, walking off toward the wash racks.

"You seem a bit off today, I mean, we don't usually find you asleep when we get home from a meal."

Starscream stopped and turned to the blue Seeker. "Training was a bit rough. I am tired, I just want to rest, go back to sleep." He waved his hand dismissively and headed to the wash racks.

Once inside, the flier chose the more enclosed cubicle, this one had 360 spray, as well as ground and ceiling nozzles. It would strike every possible crevice, cleaning deeply buried grime. He turned the power heads on and was struck with water spray. He was now at his blindest. His wings were being hammered by tiny water particles, his hearing was hampered by the hiss of jetting fluid and his vision was blinded by mist, and steam from heated water. Pink fluids washed off his body and thinned out across the white tile floor. He watched as it flowed down the drain until nothing remained of it.

He slowly lowered himself to his knees and lowered his head; crestfallen. He was now an instant killer. With reactions so fast, there were few who would survive once he kicked into action. He washed his face with the hot water and reached for a handful of cleaners and attempted to clean himself.

He idly wondered if the guilt he was feeling could also be washed away in the water. Starscream was not sure if it was guilt that he felt. What would he be guilty of? The Seeker felt an inkling of guilt at actually enjoying the kill. The pleasure of watching someone die at his hands. He smiled slightly, no, the kills were not the problem, not anymore. The kills were all part of the game. The game of life and death. The game of war and combat.

There was something else that bothered him. It was the perpetual level of uncertainty. His own survival was actively threatened, and he was unsure he had the skills necessary to survive. It felt like gambling, a game of chance. Each week he was now expected to fight in the Arena, Every week could be facing his last day. In some way it felt like he was once more in the council chamber Standing helpless in the court of the War Academy, facing an execution sentence. His only crime this time was being exceptional. His skills were being put to the test, it was the ultimate of the officer's exams, to pass was to survive, to fail was to die.

Now with the arena fights there were more aspects of his education he was to endure. Aspects that would become intensified, gruelling and painful. For three days prior to the fight, he would have to undergo intense physical, mental and emotional training. It had only just started, and he was not sure if he could manage it. Starscream felt like he was at breaking point already. The three elders outlined that he would endure some extreme experiences such as sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation. He wanted to run, run to safety. Yet he had no idea where on Cybertron he could find sanctuary. Starscream was well past the point of no return.

Part of him wished the thief had managed to kill him. It would have been an easy out, yet it was his keen survival instincts that the three elders wanted to tap into. No other Seeker they had trained had his level of survival conditioning. He was, as they would say, very street smart. He would not give up his life easily and anyone wishing to take it would most assuredly have to fight hard to do so.

He placed his head in his lather filled hands. The stress was overwhelming. No one could see him, no one could hear him. He understood now why some cadets purposefully had themselves scrapped. But it was not and never would be his way.

His wings twitched as the wash water stopped. Within a second he was to his feet, blade drawn. His teeth were clenched, and his optics burned with fiery rage. He attempted to locate the presence in the steam-fog. The haze was too thick.

Without warning a much larger person had his hand in theirs. Their thumb dug into the wrist joint and forced his fingers to fly open and drop the blade. "Starscream calm down, It's me. Darkstar." The large figure said in his audio.

"Nyargh! You followed me in here... You saw me..." the youth gasped, his wrist throbbing from the painful grasp.

You are coming with Riftwing and I. We were not sure how the training would affect you. We need to do counter training to try to resolve some of the trauma. We also need you to see a medic."

"What if I don't want to go?!" the young flier screamed at him.

"You do not have much choice, boy. You need our help because you are at wits end." Darkstar explained holding the youth firmly as he struggled. Starscream's wing flap caught on Darkstar's arm and bent. The youth cried out in pain then started to punch wildly with his fists. The older warrior put his hand on the youths head and emitted a gentle EMP burst. Starscream was immediately shunted offline and collapsed. Darkstar eased the youth down.

"This is one of those times I wished Cumulonimbus was nearby and he could activate a teleport portal," Darkstar muttered as he heaved the young flier over his shoulder.

"Are you sure he is in danger?" Riftwing asked, stepping into the cubical. "It's only been a few hours since the resistance training."

"I am." Darkstar replied. "You've seen it before, sometimes it's too much too fast. We can't afford to lose this particular Seeker or the trine he leads."

Riftwing gathered some cloth and followed Darkstar out. Cadets from the barracks peeked through the doors watching as the young flier was unceremoniously carried away. They wondered what would befall their peer. Skywarp and Thundercracker watched on in concern; however Riftwing had reassured them nothing ill would happen to their trine leader.

They carried on down the hall to the adjoining officers quarters. Several large rooms with an office at the front and sleeping quarters in the back. They also included a small private wash rack. It was Darkstar's quarters they arrived at. An office Starscream was all too familiar with. The older warrior carried the flier into the back and laid him on the platform. Stellardrift was nearby and took some of the towels from Riftwing and they both dried the youth off.

Starscream appeared at peace and tranquil. Darkstar leaned in and turned the youth's head to the wide to take a closer look where the young flier had taken the war hammer strike. His thumb gently pressed against the welds holding it closed and hummed to himself.

"You are thinking?" Stellardrift commented as he dabbed away water drops and leaned in to look at the welded wound as well.

"I think they released him too soon. He suffered a massive head injury and... the scans from the training earlier I think something is wrong, there was a slight abnormality in them. I worry it's cerebral fluid building up and... I appreciate the arena's medical efforts, but I do think our boy may have suffered some internal damage... Something they missed - get academy medics here. I trust them to do a better job than some half-baked-arena-quacks."

Riftwing nodded and called up the medical facility to bring in a qualified medic with decent scanners.

Starscream groaned as he came back online. Darkstar's EMP had taken a full twenty minutes to wear off. The flier reacted with a pat for his blade, but it was gone. He looked around groggily trying to figure out where he was and what danger he was in.

"I have your dagger, Starscream," Darkstar said holding it up, the young flier snatched it, but the elder had it out of reach. "You are in need of medical help."

"I'm fine!" the youth snapped.

"I hardly call an Officer-Cadet sobbing in the wash racks fine, Starscream."

Starscream's face darkened with extreme embarrassment. The older warriors had seen him weak, proof that scientists were weak.

"We are not judging you. This is perfectly normal in spite of how it looks, but the reaction can go to the extreme side and, I will be blunt, you may choose to take your life. Now you may not do it by your own hand, and no that is not why we took your dagger. That is more for our safety... you are very quick."

Riftwing tipped his head. "I am being told you have become very adept at reading energy signatures with your wings. That was how you identified the trouble wasn't it?"

Starscream nodded.

"And I saw you in the arena using your wings to sense the air. You were able to pinpoint where to strike from a position where you could not see your opponent."

Starscream nodded again. "Yeah, it's like having optics on the back of my head... I found I can judge speed and distance by the strength of the em fields I can feel. I'm still working on it. It's far from perfect. But has been quite vital to my survival." The Seeker nodded.

"But you cannot tell someone was there when the showers were on. Still you reacted fast, but were easily overpowered."

"Point?"

"You may not take your own life, Starscream," Darkstar spoke up, "But you may subconsciously allow someone to take it from you. I know you will fight for it, but you may be inviting harm without realising it."

"Why does my survival matter so much to you?" Starscream asked harshly. "I'm just a random number in amongst thousands. My existence should be as insignificant as a retro-rats to you. And yet you seem to pay me a particular amount of favouritism than you even give my wingmates. Sure they do the training you require them to do, but mine is different, more personal." the young Seeker sat up, and Riftwing pushed him back down.

"We're getting a second opinion on your head." Darkstar informed him gently.

"Why? Who am I to you?" he asked, unable to fathom as to why the old trine had taken such a keen interest in his education. As far as it seemed their interest clashed with the standard operating procedures of the Academy's "survival of the fittest" methods.

The military aspect of the academy had no tests, no final exam. The cadets passed if they survived their training. They were promoted based on whom they fought, what they fought and how often. They were promoted based on how the officers felt they were doing as well. Essentially it was a mock-up of the actual military procedures. Advancement was usually achieved through the death of superior officer. Whereas, the Academics aspect of the academy, where history, sciences, maths and other subjects were taught, they were tested in the standard Cybertronian manner. While tests, assignments and a standardised grading system that were generally transferable between cities or even Autobot and Decepticon. History typically had a bias in favour of the side that taught it. The academic section of the Academy did understand that many of the cadets would suffer injury and even some, most promising students, would never again sit in their classes. Time off was noted and often compensated for. In Starscream's case Thundercracker would usually collect his missed assignments and relay information.

Darkstar eyed the young flier with a long penetrating gaze. He slowly exhaled and shrugged his shoulders glancing over at his own wingmates. "I had a son once, and you remind me of what he could have been. He'd be your age. My bondmate died trying to protect him when he was a hatchling; I lost both.

The young flier frowned at Darkstar. "I'm so sorry for your loss, Sergeant. I'll try to bring you credit." The youth glanced around uneasily. "You likely know... I'm not a mill made Seeker. I was sparked, but I never knew my sire or dam. For whatever reason they deemed necessary, I was released to the wilds of Vos either just before or immediately after I broke my pod. That was where I learned to survive, as a hunter."

The old flier nodded. "I am aware of your history. It was part of why I chose you when I learned of your name. My research indicated that you, in spite of your science based knowledge, would be a good candidate for advanced training."

The door comms buzzed, and the person on the other side identified himself as the Medic. Riftwing was quick to respond and open the door. The medic strode in, with a bag in his hand he smiled serenely that caused Starscream to only smile back, nervously. "The young Starscream, I presume?" the medic asked. "I have watched your aerial demonstrations, you have incredible skill."

Starscream smiled warmly, he felt a little easier, he had an admirer and one who likely would not cause him any undue harm. "Thank you, some of the manoeuvres I designed myself."

Darkstar took a step toward the platform where the youth laid. "Starscream took a war hammer blow to the head, we suspect that some injury may have gone unnoticed by the Arena. The youth is also under considerable stress."

"Indeed, war hammers can be devastating, it is a miracle that the cadet survived, and as for the stress. Aren't all the cadets pushed through it to determine their ability to survive? Or do you feel this damage may be contributing to some of it, through processor damage?" The medic mused.

The medic took out a scanner from the bag and initiated a full diagnostic. "Interesting, the cadet has a unique system for Seekers. Duel fuel tanks, and a couple redundancies around fuel processing."

"He is genetically modified," Darkstar explained. "If you review his medical file it will explain the changes between standard Seekers and him."

"Ah," the medic muttered. He scanned the head thoroughly. "There appears to be a build up of cerebral fluid in the frontal section. This could be due to a leak from a line, and the repair nanites are not reacting to it. I'll need to trepan and then drain this fluid off. Hopefully then I can find the damaged section and seal it off. I strongly recommend he be given rest from any combat following this procedure. At least one week."

"He can't, he fights on Friday," Darkstar quickly responded.

"My efforts will be undone," the medic lamented, "particularly if he dies."

The older Seeker exhaled, "we're going to have to chance it, if he is to survive."

Starscream was highly displeased with what he listened to. They were going to drill holes in his head, release fluids and then patch him. The entire procedure sounded archaic. "I really wish I did not have to fight in the pit," he sighed. "I only hope your efforts are not for nothing." He tipped his head toward the medic and laid himself down, grabbing the platform tightly in his fingers. "You better proceed," he took his optics offline, no longer wishing to bear witness to the medic leaning over with an injection that would put him under, so the surgery could begin.

The surgery was a simple procedure, based on an ancient technique that worked to release dangerous pressure when concussive forces were applied to the brain. Such pressures could build up in the confined cranial space, leading to damage to the delicate structure that made up a Cybertronian's neural processor.

The medic picked some cyber forceps that activated the unlocking clamp which held the Seeker's helm to his head. The aural connectors released, and the helm became free to move. The result was a bare dark grey 'skull' with a minute circuit-like pattern that covered the now bared surface. The side of the skull had two ear-like openings which contained the aural connectors. These would plug into the amplifier section of his helm allowing him to hear.

Now it was time to scan the internal brain unit and the open cavity space. The medic hooked up a monitor and located, through ultrasonic scanning, the area that had the build up of the fluids. Out came the trepan drill. He connected it to a hand device and started to bore a hole into the area just around the temple, closer to the frontal section. This was where the largest pocket of fluids were. He expertly bore through to the inside and as he withdrew the drill, the membrane ballooned through. This was as he had expected. The pressure release on the brain caused the young flier to shift a little in his unconscious state. "Good, good," the medic muttered to himself, lost in his work on his young patient.

Using a laser scalpel he opened up the membrane and then opened the wound up to allow fluids to drain. At the chemical signal of a new wound, the nanites exploded to the surface, clustering around the opening in an attempt to close the membrane off. The medic nodded appreciatively at the lively self repair nanites and how they reacted fast. As the fluids drained out, the pressure began to drop.

He then inserted a small scope that was equipped with a light. He found the spot of injury. The shock from the hammer's blow broke a small fragment of the cranium off, and it cut into a line. The fragment remained, but it slowly leaked out fluids, building up pressure. With the insertion of a fine pair of forceps, the medic removed the fragment and quickly patched the wound with a nanite attracting seal. As soon as he did the nanites flooded the area and worked to rebuild the seal on the injury. Satisfied, the medic removed the tools and allowed the membrane to snap shut. The nanites quickly sealed that off.

To allow for monitoring, the medic left the outer helm off. He wanted to be sure the membrane would not bulge with building pressure again, and if necessary he could release it.

"The boy's prognosis?" Darkstar asked.

"Good, would be better if we didn't throw him into that death pit," the medic replied. "Nanites in his head react fast. He is healthy otherwise."

The older flier nodded. "I'm going to be next door, any problems get me." The large Seeker stepped out of the room, leaving the medic to his monitors and the patient. A few hours later the medic reinstalled the youth's helm and remained at his side as the flier came out of his anaesthesia and remained in a light sleep.

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Migraine

Lights came on and Starscream raised his arm. It was bright and his head throbbed. The surgery appeared to have been successful; Although, it seemed he had some photo sensitivity. This could be the result of some minor processor damage. He spotted Darkstar sitting in a corner, and he attempted to sit up.

"At ease, Cadet," the older flier ordered. He smiled lightly at the youth and put a datapad he had been reading down.

"My head hurts...." The young flier started. Touching his head on the side the pain was on. It was only one side, isolated- almost in one spot.

"It will, you may have to go easy for a few days. This means we cannot proceed with the pain resistance training." Darkstar said carefully, frowning at the datapad once more.

"Ugh, I wish I had enough of a training basis right now to deal with this headache," the Seeker grumbled.

The older warrior smiled lightly. "I am sure you do. The medic assures me that you should make a full recovery from the surgery."

"Provided I do not take head trauma in battle on Friday." the youth eased himself up just a little. "Or die, I can't recover if I am one with the all spark."

"That is correct, boy. It is most unfortunate you still have a headache." Darkstar stood up and strode over to the platform where the flier rested.

"Why is that?" Starscream asked shifting around, in an attempt to get more comfortable.

"Bad news I am afraid," Darkstar said with some hesitation. "To ensure your recovery we have had you in stasis-lock for five days..." The older flier looked at the datapad once more. "Unfortunately for you, it is Friday."

Starscream jerked himself upright and his head pounded intensely on the left side. He dropped back down in an attempt to get below the pain. He grimaced and tightly squeezed his optics shut. Raising his arm he attempted to shut out all light.

"Medic warned us you might suffer what he calls a migraine," Darkstar rested his hand on the side of the flier's head and emitted a low EMP. The pain rapidly faded from Starscream, settling itself more to the back of his consciousness. It was still there, but not an immediate issue. "I am going to need to teach you how to do that. For now, it'll help. Unfortunately this headache or not, you will be fighting tonight. I'll give you another pulse tonight."

"Wonderful," the youth commented. "How long am I to suffer this?"

Darkstar did not answer immediately. The medic said the side effects could sometimes recur. It depended on the individual and how much time they had to recover. This was the main factor that governed Darkstar and his trine keeping Starscream out cold for most of the week. "We don't know-could be hours, could be days."

"When is my fight?" Starscream asked.

"In a couple of hours, you better eat." Darkstar handed the young flier a tray of fuel cubes, a wide variety and more than he usually got at his academy rations. Apparently he was being paid well in being kept fed.

Starscream nodded and took the tray slowly consuming a variety of items. Taking time to savour the taste as his tanks occasionally jerked with anxiety. "Thanks Darkstar, I wish to be alone with my thoughts for now... I'll make my way to the pit shortly."

The older flier nodded. "I'll be there to give you your medicine." Darkstar stood up and left the chamber.

The room was comfortable. More than he had in the many months he had spent at the academy on the cadet bunks. Here there was room, his wing tips did not hang over the edge, and therefore he was not awakened in the night by his more than clumsy wingmate. To his left was a pile of datapads, stacked aside with a note from Thundercracker. His wingmate had seen to it his work had been collected. Starscream put his tray aside and quickly started working on his late assignments.

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Again he was in the staging area of the arena. He was shown to his cell again. Ground Zero greeted him with a smile. Deathrow appeared to size him up once more, as if designing a coffin.

"Welcome to round two, Starscream," the Battle Master announced. "You survived the first round, and you managed to collect a shield and a sword last round, we will allow you to start with a shield and a sword. He handed Starscream the well damaged shield and then gestured to the sword.

The young flier looked at the shield. He checked it over for viability as a defensive tool, but he deemed it useless. He put the shield down, then took the sword and held it. It was definitely too heavy and large for him to utilise effectively. "Can I make modifications on my weapons?" the youth asked.

"Within reason," Ground Zero agreed.

"Could I trade?"

"Again, within reason," he said. "But be careful of your choice. Quality can vary."

The young flier nodded, "I wish to see my options for trade."

"Deathrow, show the scientist what he can choose." Deathrow opened up a cabinet with several swords, some different sizes, thickness, and materials. These were not fantastic quality blades, being similar in quality and nature to what he already had. There was also a selection of shields, again of similar quality. Most were, however, in better condition than the one he used the previous week. For the shield, he chose the 'sister' to the one he used the week before.

As for the sword, his choice was more difficult. He was not allowed to choose an energy sword. He would have to win the right to pick such a weapon. For now his choice was fairly basic. He selected a single edged sabre. It appeared to be strong. It had a gently curved blade, sharp tip and a keen edge. It was well-balanced. The hilt was simple, not very exotic looking, with a fully enclosed guard. It came with a simple scabbard.

"Is that your final choice?" Deathrow asked, taking hold of the armoury door. Glancing over at the entry level weapons. He admired that the Seeker chose to trade in for a lighter, faster weapon, and was perhaps a little disappointed. He had hoped the Seeker could utilise the great sword. However, it was decided to give the Seeker some sort of in combat goal and was never expected to be handed over to a flier - they did not expect Starscream to live. Had the flier been expected to survive, they might have placed a more suitable weapon.

"Yes, I think this one will do." Starscream assured as he connected the sword's scabbard to his right hip.

"Just be warned you cannot exchange it until you obtain a better sword."

"So one exchange only eh? Good to know. If I live long enough to obtain a better sword. Can I steal from my foes?"

Deathrow nodded, yet said nothing.

"Starscream," Ground Zero called, "You are to report to the arena. You fight now. Good luck."

page break

Luck would have to be part of the fight as Starscream had no idea who he was scheduled against.

The young Seeker stepped out of the passage and into the brightly lit arena, armed with a shield tightly grasped in his right hand, so tight his knuckles sparked. The sword at his hip, null rays charged and ready. His slingshot and dagger were also within easy reach. He took several deep breaths in an attempt to clear his head - Darkstar did not show up as he had expected. He could smell tantalising wafts of foodstuffs and his tank gave a nervous flip of anxiety and hunger. Even though he had eaten, he did not eat what the spectators had and that smelled exciting.

"Welcome, Cybertronians, this evening we have the return of the surprisingly resilient Seeker, Starscream. Who, more by luck than judgement, won last week's battle; breaking Lockout's fourteen kill streak. Will he be so lucky tonight? I don't think so. Word on the wind says our young Air Cadet sometimes goes by the pseudonym; Silver Snake. So let's welcome Silver Snake Starscream to the field."

The crowd clapped, giving Starscream some feeling of confidence. The young flier stepped forward into the centre field to wave to the crowd. He forced a smile and attempted to look tough. He was not sure if it worked, but it felt okay.

"On the other side of the Arena is Deadbeat the daring. Yes, femme and gentlemech we have another fantastic battle between Seekers and Grounders. Whose life will you bet on? Hard to say, but Silver Snake is a natural pit viper. But Deadbeat has a perfect kill record. With 12 kills total.

"Last week, Starscream surprised us by lasting a full eight minutes. How long will he last this week? Yet Starscream did not make a kill and allowed his opponent to live. Place your bets! I suggest you don't get lofty ideas and keep your bets well grounded."

The young flier hissed again at the commentator. He would love to leap up and rip his vocalisers out. He still might one day, if he gets a chance. Starscream scanned the stands until he spotted the old trine and his wingmates. He tapped his head indicating to Darkstar, that the older flier failed in meeting with him to stem what was starting to become a problem. He knew he had to ignore it as best he could.

His opponent, Deadbeat, who stepped onto the field amid the cheers of spectators was not as large or as heavily built as Lockout, yet Starscream figured the other would have some sort of compensating ability. Smaller size often equated to faster speed. Lighter build usually meant fast reflexes. He had no previous knowledge of his opponent, but would learn very shortly.

The two squared off each halfway to the centre. They stood ready to charge once the gong was struck. They stared at each other, sizing the other up as if trying to gain some understanding of hidden abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. The young flier charged his weapons.

The bronze gong was struck, and the sound reverberated across the arena. The crowd erupted in cheers and roars as Deadbeat sprang into action. Starscream also lunged straight for his foe. As the two encountered each other. Deadbeat revealed he had twin swords. Starscream groaned inwardly. He had to somehow disarm the other and while watching two blades, it could be tricky.

Deadbeat brought down both swords, in duel arcs. Starscream raised his shield to block one and then defended using the sword. His small size allowed him to duck and swing his body around. Flicking the sword back against his arm he swung out with his fist and punched his opponent in the face. Enraged, Deadbeat swung at the flier's legs and Starscream leapt into the air; although, he could not fly he could use his thrusters to enable some extra lift.

Deadbeat slammed both fists together, palm to palm and then Starscream learned of the other's ability. He, like Thundercracker, could create some sort of sonic boom. It was more of a silent shock wave, or push of air. This wave sent the Seeker flying backward, head over heels. He hit the dirt with a resonant thud and quickly leapt to his feet. He could feel his nose running and his head, which had been aching earlier, was now throbbing even harder. Not only that, but he touched his nose, realising that it was fluids seeping out. Somehow he ruptured a line, he hoped it was nothing major. It did concern him that may have somehow damaged his head once more.

The enemy charged Starscream and the youth stepped out of the way, and fired his null rays. The shot missed and strayed into the crowd. There was a localised cry out as one of the audience was rendered unconscious. Fortunately the result would last only a couple of minutes, although the spectator would probably miss out on the main part of the fight.

"Oh, this is getting more and more interesting," the commentator interjected. "Collateral damage is always part of the intrigue of pit battles. I am receiving word from the Pit Master that the weapons that were discharged are called "Null Rays, and are meant for temporary stasis."

His head started to spin, lights started to form in his vision, small at first, until they developed into multicoloured lightning bolts that nearly obscured his vision. His head was pounding in extreme pain. The more activity he did, the worse it became. He realised he would have to end this fight in under five minutes or be killed. Nearly blinded by the migraine's aura he would have to rely more on his other senses.

Deadbeat again charged the Seeker and Starscream met the other's blades with both sword and shield, the shield cracked. He defended and with a twist of his blade, successfully disarmed one sword, sending it flying behind him, this left the other at a disadvantage. The youthful Seeker's optics flicked to the sword in the dirt, he knew if he could steal weapons from his opponent, that he could own them. Starscream threw the shield away from him, and then he gritted his teeth against the urges to vomit then dove behind Deadbeat grasping the second sword. The Seeker twisted his body to face Deadbeat's advance. He crossed the two across his chest in defence of his opponent's next attack.

Although Starscream had not actually trained in duel weapons, his ambidextrous nature permitted him to quickly adapt to using two. He pushed the swords upward and shoved his opponent back. With a quick leap, he was on his feet once more. His vision darkened as the sudden motion of ground to standing, drained fluids from his brain causing him to nearly black out.

Now fully blinded by his migraine, Starscream was at a strong disadvantage. He relied upon his ability to interpret energy fields, but even then that ability was being hampered by his condition. Deadbeat and Starscream faced each other, each one circling the other as if trying to determine the best way to proceed. Starscream tried to not show his weaknesses, but his face expressed the truth- he was unwell.

Deadbeat could see the Seeker was injured, bleeding, and having some other unseen issues. But the flier now had a second sword and appeared to be able to utilise them. Starscream was busy attempting to decide if having two swords would give him an advantage over the long ranged weaponry such as his rifles or his slingshot. He realised his long range required perfect vision, and he could barely see past the interference of the aura. However, most Grounders would expect a Seeker to default to his preferred ranged weaponry as opposed to close. Starscream toyed with the idea of sheathing his original sword, but thought against it- he couldn't use ranged even if he wanted to.

Starscream took the initiative and made an attack, he raised his right arm and then drew his left slashing across the middle. The Grounder blocked both blows. Starscream spun, swinging his wings to create speed and momentum then kicked out, hitting his foe with his foot sending him flying backward into the dirt.

The young flier's vision had narrowed, he lost peripheral vision and felt more like he was staring down a pair of tin cans. Providing he kept the foe in his forward field of view, there would not be a problem. He swung both swords rapidly as he charged his opponent. Deadbeat raised his weapons and the Seeker, being unable to see other than the centre of his field of vision, Starscream impaled himself upon the blade. His optics flashed scarlet and blood started to weep out the wound. With an enraged scream, Starscream blindly slashed at the other with his blades.

Deadbeat grinned at the Seeker and twisted the sword, opening the wound wider, allowing greater damage and more fluids to be spilled. Starscream shrieked out, as he did, he located the pain hub and isolated it. As he did, he raised the second sword and drove it down at his foe. The Grounder rolled out the way kicking his feet out at the flier, and sending the Seeker off balance to the ground. He wrenched his sword out and licked the fluids off the blade in a gesture of sadistic savagery.

The youth dropped the sabre as he fell to his back. His head gave a terrible nauseating throb, his tanks kicked into reverse, and he expelled their contents onto the dirt. With a small groan, Starscream raised his hand instinctively to massage his head in an effort to soothe it. He wished the pain would go away, it was going to be his end if it continued to blind him. As he touched the area where it hurt he felt a numbing coolness directly under his fingers. His vision cleared, and his pain faded until it was at the back of his mind. He gasped in surprise; somehow he had learned the trick.

Starscream was so distracted by the revelation, that he did not see his enemy raise his heavy blade and drive it downward into a wing, it was embedded deep into the dirt of the arena floor. Starscream screeched and attempted to jerk away, the blade cut further into his wing, the lines within severed, and they started to bleed out onto the floor.

The crowd cheered in anticipation of the Seekers sporting death. The young flier had won a battle, but that was clearly a fluke. This time the flier would meet his end. He glanced up as he heard the crowd crying out "Kill Kill!" He looked at his enemy who had taken the sabre from the ground and was examining the edge.

Starscream glanced in the direction of Darkstar and his wingmates. He looked away having read their expressions. He attempted to raise his other arm, and swing the sword then realised there was a weight on it. He glanced over and realised the Grounder had his foot on his forearm.

Deadbeat cried out "What do you want me to do with this- pathetic Seeker fledgling!"

"Kill! Kill!" they urged again.

"Sorry it has to end so quickly, Silver Snake Starscream, but the best way to kill a pit viper is to cut its head off, and I have a streak to maintain."

The sword was raised and the Decepticon started to bring it down. Time appeared to slow, and the Seeker tensed up fully, fearfully bracing himself for the blow. He could hear Darkstar in his mind telling him that fear will make it hurt worse. It would only be a second. He could feel his hands release the sword he was still clutching and instinctively grab the foot of his enemy. His wing was no longer a bother, somehow he must have turned the pain hub off. His focus was on what could be his final nanoseconds of life, he would not willingly give it up without a fight.

He realised his weapons would actually take too long to discharge, he forgot the null rays, he could have used them. He pushed on the foot in an attempt to get it off himself. As he did, he felt the tension leave his body, he wondered if he had taken the lethal blow of the sword and his head was detached from his body. There was no apparent pain. Starscream expected oblivion to set in immediately as energy and fluid drained from his head onto the dirt. However, he could still feel his extremities, the ones that he had not previously neutralised. As he turned his head to look up at his foe, he realised his body was still attached. Deadbeat's expression was of pure surprise. The young flier was startled as the sword dropped from his foe's hand and landed in the dirt between his intake and audio.It was then he realised he wasn't being killed.

The crowd drew in a collective gasp.

Deadbeat cried out in surprise as his leg went numb. Using the same ability that numbed his own pain, he rendered his opponent's leg unresponsive. The Grounder had much of his weight pinning down the Seeker found himself losing balance and crashing down on the young flier. Starscream used that moment to grab his dagger and hold the blade upward as his enemy fell down onto him. The weight of impact drove his small dagger through plates and into the fuel pump, severing major arteries. And sinking into one of the pump chambers, where the hammer feebly tapped the blade, before slowing to a stop. He watched as the light and colour drained from Deadbeat. There was no argument, the grounder was dead.

"Femmes and Gentlemech, that was an unexpected turn of events. Silver Snake Starscream has claimed victory in his second fight. Such unexpected luck."

Starscream was unable to move due to the dead weight pinning him down as warm fluids seeped over his chest. Sticky, pungent, strong, the smell was somewhat alluring- was that what drove pit fighters to savagely kill again and again? Once more he won. This time more by dumb luck than by actual skill.

Shuttering his optics, Starscream waited for the pit crew to remove the body, and haul him to the medical facility. He sincerely hoped that all his battles would not end with him having to be rebuilt. He had lessons to attend, flight manoeuvres to practice. There was so much to get done and laying down in recovery was not getting them completed. He felt his body being lifted onto a cart and listened to its squeaky wheels cry out for oil. He absently nodded in agreement with it. He felt like he needed that too.

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He recognised that he was in the pit's medical facility, yet instead of a grizzled arena medic, he was greeted by the Academy medic and the old-trine. "Congrats on another win." Riftwing said softly.

"Pure dumb luck... I... that was very nearly my end."

Darkstar nodded. "You managed to find your abilities last minute it seems. It'll be easier to teach you how to use them now you know what they are." Darkstar looked across the injuries. "Wing is easily repaired. However, we're going to get that head scanned- at a proper facility. Medivac vehicle is outside to transport you back to Academy Medical."

"I would have done better if my head was not hurting so bad... I couldn't see very well. It was all, lights and shadows. Sort of looking at a stained window at the temple of Primus, through a tin can. I actually thought being killed would be a pleasant relief at that point."

"I bet it was uncomfortable, but you came out on top in spite of it all," Darkstar reassured.

The medic leaned in and shone a light into the Seekers optics. The youth winced but didn't push him away. "Quite a severe form of the migraine, from what you described. You should recover from them. But there is a chance you will continue to get these headaches for the rest of your life. Hopefully not as severe."

Ground Zero entered the medical bay with the two swords his now deceased opponent used. "You have won these, they are now yours." the Battle Master informed the youth, handing them over.

"So, I claimed better tools for the fight, which means I probably will be fighting someone with better weapons... and possibly some poor new fighter." He closed his hands around the weapons that had pink stains on the blade. He realised these to be his own fluids.

"You can pick your new opponent at some point soon, maybe even next week if you desire." The battle master smiled brightly, anticipating another interesting fight with the flier.

Starscream only moaned in dismay.

"Ground Zero!" The medic grabbed the Battle Master with such force it surprised both The pit boss and Starscream. He pinned the warrior against the wall. "My patient needs time to heal, and he is not to participate in battle next week. He requires a full ten days to recover. You filthy retro-rats might be fine for getting up and fighting in the next round... He had a significant head injury last week. If you force him to fight, I will make you hurt in ways you can't even comprehend."

Ground Zero looked slightly disquieted. Medics, although they were generally pacifists, could inflict pain. Darkstar gave the Arena boss an equally dangerous glare. As the older Seeker once pointed out, medics made the best interrogators. "Okay, one week off. But I can't keep doing that, it's against our rules. If he can't survive combat, then it's for the best that he dies sooner than later."

"Hey!" Starscream snapped, his voice rising in pitch. "I'm still in the fragging room. I am not some beast to be 'put down' as soon as it's injured. If I can get time to recover, I would really like that. For the love of Primus, I am behind in my academics thanks to the last head injury. This pit slag is going to destroy my standings as a flier, and academics. If you really want a pit fighter for the entertainment of your masses, go get Skywarp. I am sure he'll provide both comic relief and blood for the entertainment of your betting hoards."

Starscream leaned back down, his head was starting to throb again. He was angry at how much this gladiatorial combat was interfering with his routine. He realised that in order to survive pending fights, he would need to see who was actually in play, who would challenge him, what their strengths and weaknesses were and play with them. It could take more time out of his regular routine, but it would then provide him with an edge of being prepared. Allowing him to win with skill rather than chance and dumb luck. He shook his head and chuckled softly. Maybe he could still take a brain to a pit fight after all.

The young flier understood that going into combat had another form of teaching to it. It would eventually get him used to going into actual battle, where his life was also on the line, with much less apprehension and fear. Being battle ready would give him more confidence .This would allow him to focus on the mission. As scary as it was, the process of sending officers into battle-like situations had this benefit. And if he was an officer going into a battle situation without showing fear, this would lend strength to his troops. People would more readily follow him into danger if he showed courage. This actually benefited the Decepticon cause.

Starscream realised that after a while a simulation could not actually hurt him. He felt ready for anything, yet once he faced a living opponent in a non-simulated field it made him see that he had no option but to avoid damage, when facing an enemy he had to fight. Both parties were interested in survival, although he could choose to spare one, he could not count on the other to spare him.

The medical team wheeled Starscream toward the waiting medivac vehicle for its short trip to the academy. He inhaled the air, a hint of dampness with a sharp metalling twang that suggested hints of acid rain. If that was the case, flight training would be grounded. People would use the underground tunnels and passages to get between locations. Seekers would likely remain in their barracks.

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Warped Humour

Thundercracker and Skywarp leaned back in their chairs as they played poker with another Seeker team. It was downtime. Starscream had declined to participate as he wished to work on his assignments, some of which were delayed, yet he was distracted by the weather. He glanced into the sky and stared at the pinkish clouds; Acid storm clouds. Meteorologists suggested acidification of the rain was increasing and could become quite dangerous in future. What that stood for in regard to the viability of Cybertronian landscape and wildlife was anyone's guess, but scientists speculated that it would be devastating.

It was the Seekers who were the first to notice the change in rainwater. The acidic drops had a different feeling, rather than being cool and refreshing they found it to be hot and unpleasant. The new rain seemed to burn their sensitive wings, some even complained of blistering, particularly along the leading edges. As a result the Seekers elected to withdraw to cover until it passed. Yet this also had a second drawback.

Seekers were claustrophobic, some worse than others, and they found it uncomfortable to be held inside. They found ways of dealing with the feeling. Some slept it off, some paced like caged beasts, others, like Skywarp and Thundercracker, distracted themselves with games of chance. But those like Starscream found themselves in front of large windows looking out. Even his assignments were not distracting enough. It had rained for over forty-eight hours and it did not appear to be letting up. Starscream was getting edgy. He decided he might have to check out the simulators for some game that gave him an illusion of clear skies and outdoors.

The young Seeker glanced over at Skywarp. The dark Seeker had won several games and a large cache of energon and a fair pile of credits. It was only a matter of time that Skywarp would end up getting into slag for his cheating. No one could really prove he cheated, most who played him were fairly sure he was, yet they were unsure how. Skywarp saw to it, he lost a game or two, but not usually when he had a lot to lose. Starscream watched in an attempt to analyse his methods and could only come up with one possibility. Skywarp was a magician who had extremely excellent sleight of hand abilities. Had they been in peacetime, he might suggest that the dark Seeker act as a magician. After all, the flier could disappear. And he would make a significant amount of credits on tours. He would be his agent...no, Thundercracker would end up being Skywarp's agent. They were the true friends, Starscream was only a tag along who ended up leading the unit.

The room brightened pink-white, as lightning struck a nearby spire and thunder rumbled across the room. Skywarp glanced up as the lights flickered and the power died. Starscream quickly grabbed a lantern off his desk and slammed it into the middle of the poker game before Skywarp could be caught stealing from the pot. He knew how his wingmate would think and wanted to protect his team and their assets.

Again lightning flashed and thunder rumbled, rain started to hammer heavily against the heavy translucent aluminium windows. "I suggest you call it an end to the game and find out who won, because I think we're going to get hammered with this storm." The gamers murmured in agreement. In spite of its early end, Skywarp's hand appeared to be strong, and he won the pot. "You might want to work on your academics, Skywarp." Starscream suggested.

"Yeah, Screamer, I was gonna ask you, mind doing it for me?" the dark Seeker smiled as he took the chips and tucked them away into subspace. "You aren't doing anything productive."

Starscream snorted in disgust. "No," was the trine leader's sharp reply. "I am not doing your work." The youth turned back to watch the storm pick up steam.

"Why not? You're smart. This would be easy-peasy stuff to you," the dark Seeker continued.

"Exactly. I can not write like you. And I am not prone to drawing inane 'scrawlies' across my papers... some of which are questionable, if not embarrassing in nature." he spat.

"Are ya calling me an idiot?" Skywarp demanded.

The young flier shook his head. "No, but you write like one."

"You're saying I'm an idiot," he repeated.

"No Skywarp. I am just not good at writing like you, you have a more simple way..." the youth started.

"So I'm simple to you?"

Starscream groaned inwardly. He knew how Skywarp liked to twist and manipulate others and he now was bored out of his mind and wanted to toy with him.

"Uh...in a good way, yes. I mean you are happy with what you got...stop twisting my..."

"Starscream," Thundercracker interjected, "You best walk away from this, you're digging a big pit and jumping in."

Starscream nodded and turned to leave, as he did Skywarp leapt out of his seat and teleported mid-jump and was on Starscream's back in a blink of an eye. Starscream was unable to perceive the attack from behind due to the nature of Skywarp's ability. He knocked his leader to the floor and attempted to wrap his hands around the youths throat. Starscream grabbed his wingmate by the wing tip and wrenched him off. In a moment he had the dagger out and pressed to the other Seeker's throat. "Listen 'warp, I am not doing your homework. The professors could tell in an instant it is not your work. Also, don't jump on me again or this blade will find its mark and I will kill you. I do not wish to do that."

Skywarp nodded. "I got it, I'll get nailed for cheating."

Starscream smiled slightly and nodded pushing the other away before putting his dagger back in its scabbard.

"Skywarp, don't take on a pit fighter, and Starscream don't antagonise Skywarp." Thundercracker shook his head then grabbed a towel and sauntered off to the wash racks and left his two wingmates to settle down.

Skywarp sat back down and smiled at Starscream.

The trine leader stated to feel uneasy as wherever he moved he Skywarp' head would follow. Starscream could see the light of the lantern reflecting off Skywarp's face, in the window, that he was smiling. He watched, and he smiled until the dark Seeker was wearing a broad disconcerting grin. Raising a wing and tipping his head slightly he turned to glare at Skywarp. "What are you doing?"

Smiling, the dark seeker replied, "Nothing, just watching you."

The young Seeker snorted. "Please stop, I dislike being stared at."

"Why?" Skywarp asked innocently.

The young flier groaned again, it appeared Skywarp was about to start once again, and this time Thundercracker was safely in the wash racks. Starscream hoped that perhaps the power failure was affecting that building, but he doubted it. Thundercracker was gone too long and would not come to break the pair up if it was needed. "Because, It's creeping me out."

"Fun isn't it?" the dark Seeker grinned.

"You're pissing me off," Starscream snapped.

"I know," Skywarp smiled with a delighted grin. "I like seeing you angry. Your face gets dark, you grit your teeth and clench your hands on top of this your wings vibrate."

"Do you want to die?" the youth hissed reaching for his blade.

"Ya know what? You're really becoming a mean guy... I once knew you as a soft shelled scientist and now you're a cold-blooded killer. It's amazing... it's like watching a fledgling grow into his wings. I am so proud of you." Skywarp touched his chest in a near loving manner.

"Thundercracker said not to antagonise me..."

"No, what Thundercracker said was not to fight you, he told you not to antagonise me." Skywarp smiled serenely. "He never said I couldn't antagonise you. But I'm bored... show me what you do before you fight, ya know your training against interrogation."

Starscream let out a long-winded sigh. "I suppose that won't hurt, if you get off my case..."

Skywarp leapt to his feet so fast, Starscream was not sure if he had actually stood up or teleported into standing position. "I can't wait to see how they torture you, I wish I could be there."

"You would..." the youth muttered under his breath as he glared at his wingmate, but shrugged. "Fine, hopefully the sim generators are on..."

Skywarp rubbed his hands in glee. He was a true Decepticon to the core.

Sections of the campus were dark, and other sections were lit. There were maintenance staff running to different parts working on getting power back to various sections. Living quarters were usually the last sections to get brought back online. Hardly anyone was there except to sleep. Except Seekers who wanted to hang low while storms raged outside.

The simulator wing had power. This was fortunate. He was tempted to operate a game program but decided to appeal to his wingmate's sadistic side and show him his training program. Within a few moments, Starscream had initiated the lesson and stepped in. He glanced at the casket propped against the wall and gave a shudder. The thing gave him the creeps.

Skywarp walked over to the tools, some of them terrifying in nature. The dark Seeker might have shuddered slightly at some of them, or it was a vibration of excitement. Starscream was never sure. Skywarp was psychotic.

"We are all going to be trained in this stuff, eventually, but I am advancing due to my pit fighting." Starscream gestured over the tools and then pointed to the chair. "They strap me in and then either attack me or my holo-avatar." The Seeker turned to the console and activated the transparent Seeker. "I get given low level toxins, truth serums, electric prods, phobia desensitisation. They view my reactions, I view my reactions and I am taught how to control those areas.

"Seeker phobias... like being in coffins?" Skywarp asked, pointing to the obvious box.

"That's one of them," Starscream agreed.

"Have you been in it?" Skywarp asked, looking a little disturbed.

"No, not yet... They are attempting to get me used to it by keeping it in the room. I know what it is, they want me to go into it willingly." Starscream explained. "The training is gradual. They inflict pain and suffering until I get used to it. Then they increase the levels. I'm still at the entry level. They teach me to shut off pain centres. Remember when I passed out after you clocked me?"

Skywarp laughed. "Yeah, in the shoulder. You shut the wrong spot off if I recall." Skywarp touched a long staff with a dual pronged tip. In the middle, between the prongs was a small pink crystal. He touched the activation button and it arced. Skywarp smiled.

Starscream nodded. "Energon prod can inflict varying levels of pain. Mild shock to stasis shut down. It'll last a minute or two. I have some natural resistance to it, so it'll not last long on me."

"Really?" Skywarp looked the prod over and then glanced at Starscream, who had turned to look at the chair.

The young flier should have anticipated what Skywarp was thinking of doing, but Skywarp was rather unpredictable at times. Starscream should have been watching his back, but he never really expected his wingmate to dial up the energon prod and jam him in the back of the neck with it. Starscream let out a startled, strangled cry as he collapsed to the ground.

Skywarp giggled as he watched the avatar's nervous system light up then shut down. "Screamer, this stuff is boss!" The dark Seeker said, dragging Starscream over to the casket. He heaved Starscream up and shoved him in. He arranged the young Seeker's arms and then closed the lid down, clasping the latches. The lid was secured.

Skywarp grinned savagely as he took a step back to admire his handiwork and brushed his hands on his thighs. He sat down in Starscream's chair and took out a bottle of energon he had won, then took a swig. As he did, he watched as the avatar's core rebooted and the Seeker came back online. His grin grew larger as Starscream woke up. He leaned forward to his face expressing sadistic pleasure.

The avatar started to display multiple colour patterns as the young imprisoned Seeker realised he was confined within the Coffin and was unable to get out. The tight space did not permit him to move much, his feet kicked as best they could and his cries were muffled as he begged to be released. Skywarp watched until the avatar shut down again. Small dwindling indication of functionality. He got off his chair, the show was done. Skywarp exited the simulator and trotted off to his Cybertronian history class, with great spirits.

Thundercracker eventually caught up with Skywarp in the canteen. "Where's Starscream?" he asked.

"Oh he said he was going to the simulator to practise after our scuffle. I left him- you know how he likes being left alone."

Thundercracker nodded but gave his wingmate a long penetrating gaze. This was typical Starscream behaviour, to escape Skywarp he would often head to the simulators, but something about it was not right. There was a glint in his friend's optics that suggested something sinister.

"You did something didn't you..."

Skywarp looked shocked and appalled at the accusation. "Me? Do something to Starscream? Never."

With that, Thundercracker charged out of the canteen leaving his serenely smiling wingmate behind.

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Thundercracker arrived at the simulator to find Riftwing, Stellardrift and Darkstar already inside. Stellardrift had opened up the casket and the unconscious Seeker tumbled out into the arms of the other two. The pair hefted him to the chair and ensured the computer link with his nervous system was active. "He's alive," Darkstar informed.

"Is he okay?" Thundercracker asked.

"He should be, just passed out from his phobia. Wish I knew how he got in there..." Stellardrift replied.

Darkstar rumbled. "I don't think we're ever going to get him sufficiently desensitised to claustrophobia, if anything this will just reinforce his fear." the older flier said sadly.

Riftwing brought bright lamps and turned them onto the Seeker, he turned on fans to blow air. It was to cause the young cadet to realise that he was no longer confined in a casket, but in a brightly lit airy area. Stellardrift changed the scene to resemble an alien world that Starscream frequently ran when he wanted time alone. However, he left the holo-Avatar in place. They needed to monitor him.

Starscream slowly came to and when he realised he was awake panic set in. He started to hyperventilate. Darkstar pushed everyone back away from the flier and allowed him to have room. They also did not want to encounter the blade, should the Seeker choose to lash out with it.

"Starscream," Darkstar said in a firm voice, "You are freed from your enclosure, and you are fine. Relax... no one is going to hurt you."

The young flier took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. His optics are set on Thundercracker. "Give me a reason not to murder Skywarp the moment I see him."

Thundercracker rumbled. "I really can't defend Skywarp's actions. But killing him would destabilise a strong unit. I admit I probably would join you in murdering him, for what he has done, but this is Skywarp. He is basically a sociopath, he does it without thinking of how it affects anyone. Just as long as he gets his amusement out of it.

Starscream growled in irritation. Thundercracker was right, this was typical Skywarp antics. But it was not funny. Fortunately the others did not appear to take humour in his situation, they were quite upset by it. The older trine allowed the young Seeker to settle down, relax. They monitored his system through the avatar, which took Thundercracker's interest.

As he rested in the seat they explained to Thundercracker how the avatar and Starscream were usually connected via a two-way link. Currently, a one way connection was being utilised, and more as a monitor of the traumatised youths systems. They even explained the purpose of the Seeker Casket. Thundercracker shuddered at the thought, emphasising Starscream. There was nothing in the world that would make him willingly crawl inside.

Thundercracker nodded now having a better understanding of what purpose the young flier's dangerous education served. He understood that they wanted the youth to be successful, and the trine as a whole to do well. As uncomfortable as they were regarding Starscream's entrance into pit fighting, they felt the youth would succeed and survive it - but only if he had a little more time to recover. They feared that the young flier would have done himself some damage in an attempt to break free of his confinement, but he did not. He simply passed out.

"I still want to kill him," Starscream murmured.

Thundercracker tipped his head slightly. "It's becoming easier for you, to end someone isn't it?"

"I wouldn't have thought it possible, but yeah. Much easier. My instinct to protect myself in whatever way possible, I think, is growing."

"You have a good skill set, young cadet." Darkstar agreed. "Your intelligence and ability to think ahead should serve you well. You just need to get used to thinking extremely fast and considering all your options and outcomes in only a few seconds then acting upon them. I see that you have already been reviewing pit footage of those who you probably will be pitted against in future, as well as your first foe, Lockout. This is a good strategy. Keep in mind they are also doing the same thing. However, the best pit fighters will be doing that type of study. This is how they stay alive." Darkstar sat down on a chair across from the young flier, who was listening with intent.

Thundercracker also found himself a perch on the edge of the dissection table.

"You need to take your study further. As a strategist, you need to think a few moves ahead. If they lunge at you, what is their favoured motion after, do they prefer to go left, right, use their sword, or their shield. Then you need to plan to counter their action. If they move left and use their sword, go right and have the shield ready but keep the sword in hand to get a jab in. if you can anticipate several moves based on what you learn in the recordings, you may actually become more advanced tactically than they are. They are looking for your weaknesses. Such as your wings, an injury like your head right now. Your tendency to forget you have null rays or are a shoddy shot and hitting people in the stands. Or you can even use this to your advantage. Keep playing a strategy that does not reveal your true strengths, appear bumbling and succeeding on just 'dumb luck'."

"They know you have null rays, and they know you got the slingshot. And they also know you will use a dagger in very close range. If you play to keep your strengths truly hidden, your superior intelligence, perhaps not seem as good as you actually are, you will then take a great many more by surprise when you reveal yourself."

"So be like Skywarp?" Starscream asked.

"Not quite that range. You'd have to find what suits you best. We know you are an intelligent person and you excel in all of your subjects. Your tests indicate you are a genius. There are some, particularly in the military, who will find your level of intellect threatening. Skywarp is ideal as a soldier. Not overly bright, and will follow orders to the letter. You are likely to question them or outright do your own thing. Even Thundercracker here is a thinker and will question orders. I am not saying to act dumb, but to use what you know in a way that can gain you an advantage. And if you act in such a way to be perceived as less of a threat, you then can climb the ranks, maybe even to the very top. But the higher you go, the more cunning you must get."

"I ask again, why are you so interested in my future... what is in it for you?"

Darkstar said nothing.

Riftwing put a datapad down after logging a small entry into it. "We may have to reassess the training due to Skywarp's interference. In the meantime, Darkstar, I suggest you train Starscream on his newly understood abilities and get him to speed with those. We can maintain the fundamental study of pain suppression via hubs. But we will not resume the torture simulations for the moment." Riftwing gave Starscream a glance over. "You've not sustained any apparent damage. Medical will get a copy of your readings just to be on the safe side. You can return to your barracks... Avoid murdering Skywarp please."

As he slid out of his chair, Starscream glanced at his wingmate. The older Seeker nodded, indicating he would follow along. He slipped past the others then strode into the hall, he flicked his wings back and frowned deeply. Skywarp was in for it. He knew that he somehow had to get his wingmate back for the damage he did. The game was on.

Starscream realised that his best success tactic was to not let people know exactly how dangerous he was... they knew he was a 'weak scientist' perhaps let them believe he just had uncanny luck.

He smiled.

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Megalostag Cybertronus

As weeks went on, Starscream became less afraid of the arena challenges and enjoyed them more. He learned to study each of his arena opponents and decided to shake things up a little with his strategy. Each of his foes appeared to fight with what seemed to be their favourite weapons. Something they selected through either a trophy or bought with points they earned through victory. Starscream also learned that kills gained more victory points. He chose to take the opponents weapons, but rather than trade them in for more points, he would keep them aside. Ground Zero and Deathrow had to grumble at the youthful flier for his weapons armoury was taking up an entire cell. It also inconvenienced them on available weapons to sell through points with other combatants.

The purpose of his hoard was not so much to starve his opponents of choices; However, that was an unexpected benefit. It allowed him to change weapons frequently enough that his foes never really knew what he would bring to the table. It never occurred to them to change up their weapons to disable Starscream from picking a tool that would accomplish the task of ending the fight quickly. If the warrior brought a heavy mace and chain, the youth would pick a sturdy shield and light sword, allowing him to dance around the opponent.

They could guarantee that the young flier would have his dagger in an accessible location, and they also knew he had his null rays at the ready. Starscream always made his rifles appear unreliable. However, from time to time if the combat became frighteningly dangerous, he would use them to immobilise his foe. It was clear people came to be entertained and if he used the rifles too soon, they would get bored quickly.

For his twenty-third combat; the arena's opening anniversary spectacle, they decided to give him a new battle. Unlike previous combats where he fought other cadets or low grade warriors or criminals, he was set to fight a ferocious Cybertronian beast. Starscream checked the pairing list and found him set to fight Megalostag Cybertronus. He was fairly certain someone wanted him dead.

There were not many megafaunae left on Cybertron, some were kept in zoos, while others were found as ancient relics in museums of Iacon such as the ancient and ferocious Predacon, the Predaking Dragon. The Predaking's descendants, the mini-dragon or micro-predacon, was rumoured to be part of the genome base for the original genetically engineered Seekers; it gave them their keen sight and hunting instincts. But today's quarry was not an ancient cloned relic, although there were suggestions of such research being done in that area, but a rare beast commonly known as the Giant Iron Hoof Stag. It came from more mountainous regions of the planet where huge forests of gold and copper leaf trees were found. It was the king of the region and was only hunted due to its prize antlers and the fact that it was extremely dangerous.

Starscream had read about them, and seen them in the wilds only twice, he remembered a massive stag, standing near a doe, which was grazing the petals off delicate daisies as her fawns frolicked in the razor grass. The massive Stag had seen him, and lowered his head, shielding the doe and the fawns from the Seeker with his massive wall of antler. Starscream had left them in peace.

Iron Hoof Stags, not to be confused with the smaller iron hoof deer, were enormous beasts, towering over the average Seeker by about half his height more. The males had massive antlers that grew out from its head, it was wide and flat with eight points ending in sharp tips. The points of the antler crown were shiny, growing longer as the beast aged. The main structure of the antlers were covered in a patina of oxidation. The head and neck of the beast were wide and strong in order to support the weight of the antlers, which had a span wider than that of Starscream's own wings.

Iron Hoof Stags had very few natural enemies. The razor backed, steel clawed lions might take out a doe, or isolate a fawn, but if a stag was nearby, even the deadly lion would take a miss. The only creatures insane enough to hunt the Stag were wealthy Cybertronians doing it for sport, and sometimes they chose to donate the live animal to gladiatorial pits and watch others fight the beast. Most often the stag won, crushing his opponent under its sharp steel hooves, or goring the opponent to death by grinding him into the ground with his antlers.

The young flier quickly understood that the enormous plate antler might make the creature slow in its movement. They were not aerodynamic in nature, and were extremely heavy. It would take a lot of energy to move them. The stag's antlers had lethal spikes growing in almost all directions, it being somewhat slower might not be a problem for it.

Starscream understood that close range weapons would likely be unusable. Distance weapons such as his null rays might be possible, but people would want to see a fight. If the beast lowered his head or turned it, the creature could easily use the bulk of his armoured crown to deflect weapons fire, or stop bullets. As it was his opponent already bore the marks of arena battles, some points in the plated antler had gouge marks from axes that failed to find the mark. The tines had stains on them which was likely the result of mech fluids spilled as it won its previous fights.

The body of the creature was colossal, and was supported by four huge pillar-like legs. Each leg ending in shiny razor sharp iron-steel hooves; which sparked each time the creature stepped on metallic surfaces.

As the handlers led the immense creature out, they had to restrain it by four tethers on stiff poles. Followed by one with an energon prod. Each of the poles had a pair of heavily built handlers who struggled to contain the massive animal. It stomped its hooves kicking up sparks and dirt. It stared balefully at Starscream with deep amber coloured optics which burned with hatred at the mechanoid before him then snorted out small jets of flame from its nostrils. As it did, the young flier's fuel pump hammered harder, and the cool feeling of electro adrenaline flooded his systems.

The Seeker saw a magnificently beautiful and powerful creature before him bent on his destruction. He was no stranger to hunting dangerous antlered beasts, the young flier understood that this would be a tricky fight.

His options in weapons for fighting the beast were limited. Nothing he could choose was remotely a good choice, Starscream had chosen a light sword and a shield. He did not wish to be weighed down by heavier weapons; speed and agility were Seeker's advantage; although that was more tied in the air than movement on the ground. He was entirely unsure of his ability to survive this combat; it was bleak, and his handlers did not instil confidence in him. Furthermore, he realised when he had seen the marks on the beast that it was a gladiatorial champion. Starscream's only true weapon against the creature would have been null rays, but he was forbidden to use them, and they were forcibly removed. His handlers told him that if he left them behind, he would gain greater victory points should he win. He groaned, the words used were 'if he won.'

The announcer stood up and smiled to everyone and the crowd cheered him on. Starscream's wings prickled every time the commentator spoke. He wanted to murder him more each time. "Welcome Cybertronians for tonight's Arena Anniversary we have a combat feast laid out for you, where we pair our fighters with the wildest creatures to walk our world. Tonight we start off our show with the fantastic pairing of the unusually lucky Seeker, the Silver Snake Starscream, in a combat with the deadly Giant Iron Hoof Stag. Place your bets!"

The beast bellowed and reared up disturbed by the cheering from the stands, his handlers lost hold of the poles and tethers. The beast shook its head and the offending restraints were kicked off and the animal charged toward Starscream, head lowered snorting jets of flame, as his hooves kicked up a mixture of sparks and dust. The other handlers dropped their poles and ran for cover in the gated passage. The gong was struck, to announce the fight start, but it was too late the beast chose to start the fight, giving Starscream no time to get his thoughts in order and make a strategy. He had to think on his feet.

Starscream was briefly awestruck at how the light glinted off the antler points, and how the hooves sounded like the rumble of thunder, it was truly beautiful. He realised the creature was about to attack the only person on the field and that was him.

Diving to the dirt, Starscream dodged the antlers as they swept over him. Due to its speed and the weight, the animal had to run well past him before turning around. Starscream was back on his feet contemplating the animal's action. His pulse rang loudly in his audios and he found himself holding his breath as he tightened his fingers on the sword. He realised his best weapon might be a high-powered rifle fired from the back row of the stadium. No, all he had was a shield and sword.

He realised that as the first fight of the evening, and without his primary weapon, he was being set up to be killed. They were planning on his defeat. The Seeker's wings flared, and he turned to face the brute, drumming his sword against his shield, partly to build himself courage by the beat and to taunt the stag. Truly though, he would rather be in that back row with a rifle.

The animal was enraged that the little mechanoid before him had survived, it pawed the ground then let out another reverberating bellow of fury that silenced the crowd then lowered its massive head and rack of metallic antlers then charged.

For a creature that was so incredibly top-heavy, it had speed, more speed than Starscream had previously anticipated much like a high speed freight train, yet its turning time was slow, much like a ship in water. The young flier noticed that the beast was not swift enough to change direction quickly, whereas he was able to swing his mobile to throw his weight around. He also came to realise the beast's antlers were not directed backward, most likely, so it did not injure itself if it leaned his head back.

The only arguably 'safe place' on the field, he decided, was on the back of the rampaging creature. And then it was still tremendously unsafe, however, it was possibly out of danger from the main tines of the antlers. It depended on if the animal could tip its head back and fling him off.

As the beast thundered toward, the flier waited for the last moment to take a few steps aside. The Iron Hoof overshot him and started its slow turn around. As he did, Starscream leapt into the air with the grace of a Seeker. The crowd took a sharp intake of air as the youthful Seeker landed on the stag's back.

He leaned down and flicked his wings back to reduce drag. It was the first time Starscream could take in the details of the creature he had only seen from afar in his early youth. Instead of smooth metal plates the creature had a fine covering of fur-like projections that were bronze coloured on the surface and silvery closer to the body. The antler, which Starscream had a close and personal view of, was not perfectly smooth but covered in small patterns much like the Damascus of well-made folded steel swords.

It was fully metallic, not trans-organic like some Cybertronian creatures in the very distant past were, but all the same, its surface was difficult to grab onto. The young flier wrapped his arms around the thick neck and clamped his legs around the beast's barrel. His fuel pump hammered faster than he could remember. He was both exhilarated and terrified. He had never been so close to such a massive wild animal before. How he was on its back, it was a matter of deciding how to kill it. He leaned forward with his chest pressed against the back and neck of the monstrosity.

The creature's momentum shifted with the weight of the flier, and it became jarring. In his efforts to hang onto the charging brute, he lost grip on his sword where it fell to the ground and was useless to him. The stag reared up and Starscream found himself almost in a vertical position. The beast crashed back down shattering his sword to smithereens. He laughed nervously, smiling grimly, realising that all he had to his name was a small hunting dagger, he knew than to drop it.

The enraged beast reared once more, swinging sideways tilting its head back in an effort to sweep the small mechanoid off its back. Once its forelegs hit the ground, It then broke into a gallop. The Shield banged against the Seeker, being bounced by the motion of the animal's legs, and was beginning to make him feel sore. He flung the shield away to the ground, hoping that it would not share the same fate as the sword; he might need it later, if he did not find himself gored, but he needed his hands free.

The crowd in the stands stood up and leaned forward gripped by the tension of the battle. They had never seen anyone face such a creature so fearlessly.

The creature galloped across the arena, bucking, stopping, rearing and kicking. It's bellowed in fury as it charged a wall. Starscream's optics brightened, and he gritted his teeth waiting for the right moment to release his grasp and flipped onto the battlefield wall, just as the beast flipped its back against it. Had he remained there, he would have been crushed to a pulp. Starscream understood that this creature was intelligent enough to use its environment to his advantage. He would be facing a significant survival challenge.

Some members of the nearby audience attempted to reach out and touch the Seeker's legs. He quelled them with a glare so dangerous they drew back fearfully. The beast turned and began to run away from the perching flier and Starscream launched himself back at his unwilling mount.

This time he did not find the right position as the creature attempted to leap into the air. Starscream slipped sideways hanging as tight as he could, his fingers dug in feebly; he wished he had the claws like some Cybertronians had.

Dirt from the razor sharp hooves were kicked up into his face, he tried to look away struggling to not slide further. He was fully aware that to slip down would mean certain death. The beast would simply stomp on him until his lights went out. Even then, it probably would continue to blend him into the arena floor.

With a grunt of exertion, he pulled himself up into the correct position then reached for the only weapon he had left in his arsenal, his dagger. He laughed again nervously at the pathetic nature of the weapon to the beast he was supposed to kill with it. A trinium spearhead would have been better choice if on a long shaft. He could have driven it into the creature's massive fuel pump, it would have been a mid-ranged weapon which would have been worlds better than what he had. No, he had chosen a sword, which would have done the job, but he dropped it and that lay in a dozen pieces somewhere on the field.

The beast bucked as he removed his dagger from its scabbard. The hilt slipped from his fingers and, in spite of training that said to never grab a falling blade; he snatched after it. His HUD and pain senses flared as he sliced into his fingers, having managed to catch the well maintained blade instead of the handle.

He drew a sharp breath then jammed the weapon between his teeth, clenching down tightly as he grasped the creature tighter with a blood slicked hand. He drew himself along the neck precariously close to the plates of antler.

The stag flared his nostrils catching the scent of spilled mech fluid it realised its unwanted rider was injured then bucked harder in an attempt to dislodge him.

Starscream clung to the back tighter. His breaths were rapid and his pump's hammer was pounding in his audios. He lowered himself as best he could to ride out the series of bucks and rears. The blade nicked the side of his mouth, and he could feel his blood running down his chin. Once the creature returned to its gallop the Seeker withdrew the blade and drove it into the animals throat over and over again.

The beasts neck was too thick for the Seeker's short blade. He could not find the vital arteries that would need to be cut to in order to kill the beast. His hands were coated in the beast's energon, and it made the handle very slippery. The only thing he succeeded in doing was to further enrage the stag.

Starscream cursed to himself as placed the blade between his teeth. His tongue licked the edge, tasting the wild energon. It brought back memories of his early life, the taste the smell, the thrill. He was both afraid and not afraid. He was a hunter and had lived much of his formative years doing exactly this.

The Stag bellowed in pain then reared kicking out with its forelegs. The Seeker slipped from its back crashing onto the ground. He dropped the dagger from his teeth, and it fell next to him. He grabbed the dagger, and licked its sides free of the animal's blood. Then flipped out of the way, rising to his feet quickly. 'What was the best way to kill the monstrosity?' He wondered. Starscream was sure his fifteen-minute timer was nearly up, no one would dare enter the ring until one or the other was dead. They would let the fight go on because someone wanted him out of the picture. Regardless of the outcome, Starscream knew he had given them the fight of the night. He could see the spectators leaning forward in their seats.

As he expected, the fifteen-minute gong sounded, but the battle continued. They wanted to see this one finished, one way or the other. Was there nothing that could stop the beast? All he had to his advantage was a dagger and things were looking grim.

He understood fully that if he did not end the stag shortly, he would likely be the one being removed from the field. There was no mercy or spare life tonight. He did not always take his foe's life, only when it was apparent there would be no other option, or when he had enough of his tormenting.

The Iron Hoof had finished its turn and charged at the flier. Starscream stood his ground, wings spread wide. Held his tiny blade out, digging his feet in and swinging his wings back. He locked his optics with the optics of the animal that was running straight for him.

It was there he saw what could be the beasts weakness, the eye. He knew that the optic was one of the weakest points in any Cybertronian's head. A blade through the lens would puncture the softer optical socket and enter the brain unit. Now he had his attack point. He grimaced and took the blade in his teeth once more.

He would have to stand his ground and face the business end of the stag, the proximity to optic, meant the beast have unparalleled precision with his antlers. To strike that optic with the nearness of the antlers would an uncannily precise attack on Starscream's part.

Starscream faced forward, and bent his knees slightly, waiting as the creature drew near. The Stag lowered his head, the wall of antlers blocked any avenue of escape. He took a deep breath, wondering if it would be his last and launched himself toward the animal.

The audience drew a collective gasp as the flier executed another neat flip, flinging his body onto the antlers. Even Short Circuit did not make a comment. No one dared distract the Seeker from his Quarry. No one had lasted in the ring this long against this particular beast.

The Seeker grasped the tines in his hands and then hooked his feet into the others, holding himself on as best he could. His weight, caused the stag to become unbalanced, its head lowered until its antlers ploughed into the ground. Starscream grasped the dagger once more and drove it into the beast's optic. The lens shattered, and the blade sank into the optical orb, and into the brain behind it. He twisted the blade as the beast's hind legs flew into the air. The Stag let uttered a dying scream as it crashed down.

Starscream attempted to extract himself as it fell, however the largest of the massive points hooked the Seeker's foot, tripping him to the dirt. The animal tossed his head one last time, his uninjured optic blazing with burning malace on Starscream, and it tilted its head. The huge antlers punctured the youth's wing and pinned him helplessly to the ground. Within a few moments the other optic went dark. The creature was satisfied that he, at least, damaged his foe, before it died.

The gong sounded again, declaring the fights end.

Unable to move from the great weight, the animal's handlers ran out to heft the dead weight of the head off the flier and drag him out. Starscream gritted his teeth against the searing pain, then isolated the closest sensory node. The damage was done, he was bleeding, but there was no fear of harm. He could risk isolating the entire wing now. With his wing shut down, it dropped a bit awkwardly. He walked up to the stag and pulled the dagger from the eye socket and held it up.

He walked around the edge of the arena his head raised with fierce pride. Once again he licked the blade clean of the beasts fluids, enjoying the taste of his youth. He had succeeded where better armed warriors had failed. He completed his victory walk revelling in the energy from the crowd as they cheered and chanted out his pit name. Starscream knew he would gain significant amount victory points, and receive a huge payout. He stooped to collect his shield that had, fortunately, not been crushed.

The Silver Snake had struck again.

Even the announcer was lost for words. He simply stated "That was... un-fragging-believable."

Starscream gave one last wave before returning to the Gladiator's entrance.

The pit medic waited at the entrance to the passage and the beast handlers aided the youthful flier inside.

He could hear the Short Circuit ask for another cheer in his name and the Arena roared and thundered. The young flier smiled again being energised by the crowd's veneration.

"You are one crazy son of a slarg, Starscream," Deathrow commented. "I bet against you, but Primus, I am glad to have lost for that show."

"I can tell you bet against me," he said nodding at the Seeker sized and shaped coffin that leaned against the wall. He was the only Seeker in the fight this evening, he knew that it was meant for him.

Ground Zero smiled "I didn't bet against you. The payout was excellent. You've earned great points this round... Pity about the Stag, though. We had a difficult time finding one."

He made his way to the dingy medical area as he usually did after combat and sat down on one of the dark tables. The medics, along with one of the academy medics working in repairing the damaged wing surfaces. They argued back and forth about the merits of removing the wing and replacing or simply repairing it. In the end, they decided it could be saved and worked quickly to repair it.

As they did Darkstar, along with Skywarp and Thundercracker shoved themselves inside the repair area and shook their heads in disbelief.

"We're surprised you survived," Skywarp stated, almost sounding annoyed.

Starscream snorted. "I suppose you bet against me," he replied looking at his fluid stained hands. He rubbed his forefinger and thumb together. It was becoming sticky. Starscream licked his fingers, trying to clean the fluids off. He could taste that some of it was his own.

Skywarp watched as he did with an expression of intrigue.

"Pit, yeah! Size difference alone weighed you by about twenty times. I lost Three thousand credits," Skywarp stared at Starscream. "You owe me! I lost three thousand because you lived!"

"Knock it off Skywarp." Thundercracker elbowed his wingmate hard, shooting a death glare at him.

Starscream's elation was quickly snuffed out by Skywarp's apparent disappointment in his loss. It brought him back to his grim reality.

"My apologies, Skywarp. I did not realise that my survival would be such an inconvenience," he scoffed, snorting in disgust. "My sparkless friend, the only thing I owe you is simply to not murder you while you sleep... keep pushing it, and you might wake up next to Primus or most likely Unicron."

Darkstar cleared his throat. "I was sitting near some elders, and they said when the pit fighting was done, 'That Starscream was the pride of the Cybertron War Academy.' I think you won some sparks, Cadet." the older Seeker rumbled, having observed the rapid change in the younger Seeker's mood.

The youth smiled slightly, grimly. "Great, I at least know there will be people attending my funeral. When I finally get killed."

"Those are seriously dark thoughts, Starscream," Thundercracker commented. "Graduation is barely six months away... you'll make it."

"Right, the average life expectancy of a good fighter here are twenty battles." Starscream remarked.

"You won twenty-three," Thundercracker added, implying he was better than average.

"I lost two fights, it was only because of some sort of respect they let me live. The longest surviving cadet was thirty-four fights, and he died the eve before his graduation. You are expecting me to survive a minimum of forty fights, possibly fifty. And they just threw a fragging Megalostag at me."

Skywarp blinked in confusion "I thought they called that a Giant Iron Hoof..."

"That is the common name... never mind.... Yes, it was a Giant Iron Hoof, Skywarp." Starscream heaved himself to his feet and with medics following, stepped out of the repair by. "I'm going, I need something to eat."

He picked up his rifles from his armoury and then turned to Ground Zero, shaking his fist. "If you ever try to make me fight without defences, I will personally slag you where you stand." The youth threatened, in essence issuing a challenge to the pit boss.

Ground Zero smiled and nodded. "I might take you up on that challenge one day, Starscream."

The young flier returned to his barracks where he could find his platform and rest. His whole body ached from hanging on to the beast. Starscream's hand was sore from his blade, and his wings painfully throbbed now the hub was reactivated. The adrenaline rush was crashing down, and he was starting to move from elation to irritation and depression. His head ached significantly, and his tanks rumbled in objection to having used all its energy in one fight.

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